The Recovery of Constantinople [1205–61]

In contrast to Doge Dandolo, who now proudly styled himself ‘Lord of a Quarter and Haifa Quarter of the Roman Empire’, the Emperor Baldwin cut a sorry figure. He was left with just a quarter of the territory that had been ruled by his immediate predecessors; and even this was contested. Boniface of Montferrat, furious at having been passed over, refused the Anatolian lands he was offered and seized Thessalonica, where he established a kingdom extending over a large part of Macedonia and Thessaly.

The new rulers were, not surprisingly, detested. The Franks, staunch upholders of the Church of Rome, unhesitatingly imposed the Latin rite wherever they could. Many Greeks left their ancestral lands and moved to the Byzantine successor states in which the national spirit and the Orthodox faith were still preserved. Of these states, the largest and by far the most important was the so-called Empire of Nicaea, where Alexius III’s son-in-law Theodore Lascaris was crowned in 1208. It occupied a broad strip of land in western Anatolia, extending from the Aegean to the Black Sea. Although the official capital remained Nicaea – the seat of the Patriarch, where the imperial coronations took place – Theodore’s successor John III was to establish his residence in the Lydian city of Nymphaeum; and for most of the fifty-seven-year period of exile from Constantinople this was the seat of government. The two other successor states, situated one on the Adriatic coast and the other at the south-eastern extremity of the Black Sea, were too remote to exert much influence. The Despotate of Epirus was founded soon after the capture of Constantinople by a certain Michael Comnenus Ducas, great-grandson of Alexius I Comnenus. From his capital at Arta he controlled the north-west coast of Greece and part of Thessaly – a domain substantially increased in 1224 by his half-brother Theodore who captured Thessalonica from the Latins and was crowned Emperor as a rival to John III in Nicaea. Unlike Nicaea and Epirus, the Empire of Trebizond was not the result of the fall of Constantinople. It had been founded in April 1204 by Alexius and David Comnenus, grandsons of the Emperor Andronicus through his son Manuel, who had married a Georgian princess. After the fall of Andronicus in 1185 the young brothers had been brought up at the Georgian royal court. Determined to continue the Comnenus dynasty, they had captured Trebizond in April 1204. For the greater part of its 257-year history the Trapezuntine Empire was confined to a coastal strip between the Pontic mountains and the sea.

As ruler of Byzantium in exile, Theodore I Lascaris of Nicaea faced a multitude of problems. Even within his own borders, petty Greek principalities were declaring themselves; then, in autumn 1204, a Frankish army led by Baldwin himself began to move against him. Theodore was still hopelessly unprepared; and on 6 December a calamitous defeat at Poimanenon gave the Franks control of the whole Bithynian coast as far as Brusa. But Baldwin’s arrogance soon caught up with him. The Greek landowners in Thrace offered the imperial crown to the Bulgarian Tsar Kalojan in return for driving the Latins from Constantinople. Earlier in 1204 Kalojan had been crowned King (though not Emperor) by Innocent III’s envoy and had accepted the jurisdiction of Rome; but he was as anxious to get rid of the Crusaders as were the Byzantines themselves. On 14 April 1205 he destroyed the Frankish army outside Adrianople, taking prisoner Baldwin himself who died soon afterwards. Just a year after the capture of Constantinople, the power of the Latins was broken. In all Asia Minor, only Pegae on the Marmara remained in Frankish hands.

Now at last Theodore could forge his new state, never for a moment doubting that his subjects would be back, sooner or later, in their rightful capital. He followed the old Byzantine pattern in every detail; thus, after his coronation in 1208, there were two Eastern Emperors and two Patriarchs, the Latin in Constantinople and the Greek in Nicaea, each initially determined to destroy the other. In the following year Baldwin’s brother and successor Henry of Hainault, swallowing his Crusader scruples, concluded a military alliance with the Seljuks, who also saw the new Greek state in Asia Minor as a threat; and in 1211 he inflicted a serious defeat on Theodore, pressing on to Pergamum and Nymphaeum; but he was too hard pressed by the Bulgars in his rear to be able to pursue his advantage. In late 1214 the two Emperors agreed to a treaty of peace: Henry would keep the north-west coast of Asia Minor as far south as Atramyttion; the remainder as far as the Seljuk frontier would go to Theodore.

The young Empire had finally obtained formal recognition by the Crusaders of its right to exist. Almost simultaneously, the Latin Empire began once again to decline; in June 1216 Henry died at Thessalonica. In barely a decade, by respecting the rights and religion of his Greek subjects and achieving a balance of power with Nicaea, he had saved an apparently lost cause. He died childless; and to succeed him the Frankish barons elected Peter of Courtenay, husband of his sister Yolanda. Peter, who was then in France, set out for the East in the first weeks of 1217. Unfortunately he stopped at Durazzo to recover the city from the Despot of Epirus, but his attempt ended in fiasco. He was captured, thrown into prison and never heard of again.

The Empress Yolanda, who had wisely decided to travel out with her children by sea, meanwhile arrived without mishap in Constantinople, where she gave birth to a son, Baldwin. She then governed as Regent until her death in 1219, confirming her brother’s conciliatory policy by giving her daughter Mary to Theodore Lascaris as his third wife. News of this step, however, was received with horror in Epirus, where the star of the Despot Theodore was rising fast. He had never accepted the treaty of 1214; here, he claimed, was a further betrayal. The truth was that Theodore could never be satisfied with Epirus. As the legitimate great-grandson of Alexius I, he could boast a far stronger claim to the imperial throne than Lascaris. His immediate ambitions were now focused on Thessalonica; but Thessalonica was, in the eyes of Theodore Angelus Ducas Comnenus, little more than a stepping-stone to Constantinople itself.

Since the death of Boniface of Montferrat in 1207, Thessalonica had been governed by his widow, acting as Regent for her son Demetrius; but after the arrival of the Empress Yolanda it could no longer rely on firm support from Constantinople. It was already plain that its days as an independent state were numbered; and in the autumn of 1224 it fell. Theodore of Epirus now ruled supreme from the Adriatic to the Aegean. Soon afterwards, in open defiance of Lascaris, he was crowned by the Bishop of Ochrid as Emperor of the Romans. Thus it was that, in place of the single Empire that had existed little more than a generation before, there were now four three Greek and one Latin. And not far away there loomed a fifth: for the Second Bulgarian Empire was growing rapidly. Tsar Kalojan had already extended his rule over much of Thrace and Macedonia; his second successor, John II Asen, also coveted Constantinople. By far the weakest of the powers was the Latin Empire itself, by 1225 reduced to the capital itself, the region immediately to the north and west, and a small area of Asia Minor south of the Marmara. Yolanda had died in 1219; her son Robert was a feckless youth, totally outclassed by Theodore, John Asen and John Vatatzes, who had inherited the Empire of Nicaea from his father-in-law Theodore Lascaris in 1222. After a punishing defeat by Vatatzes, the capture of Thessalonica was too much for him. From that moment on he gave himself up to a life of pleasure and dissipation, dying in January 1228.

Robert left no legitimate children; and since his brother and successor Baldwin II was still only eleven the barons therefore turned for a Regent to the most distinguished of living Crusaders: the former King of Jerusalem, John of Brienne. Though now nearly eighty years old, he was still remarkably spry – he had a daughter of four – and no one else could match his record. He made, however, a number of conditions. The young Emperor must immediately marry Maria, his own four-year-old daughter, who must receive a suitable territorial dowry; he himself must be recognized as basileus in his own right, with Baldwin succeeding him on his death; and at the age of twenty Baldwin, if not yet Emperor, should be invested with the Empire of Nicaea, together with all Frankish possessions in Asia Minor. He was still in no hurry: only in the autumn of 1231 did he finally appear off the Golden Horn. A few days later he was crowned Emperor in St Sophia.

During this three-year interregnum, the balance of power in the Balkans suffered a radical change. In April 1230 the Emperor Theodore Comnenus had been defeated and captured by John Asen. To be sure, his brother Manuel was allowed to stay on in Thessalonica with the title of Despot; but this was only because he was married to Asen’s daughter. He was a puppet of his father-in-law and made little pretence of being anything else. The Latins had been saved from almost certain destruction – and by a nation that they had previously spurned. But they now had to watch John Asen advance unopposed across the Balkans, from the Adriatic to the Black Sea.

The effective elimination of the fourth participant in the struggle for supremacy led inevitably to a radical realignment among the other three. To John Asen, Vatatzes now seemed a far more useful ally than the Latins, particularly since he was about to abandon the Church of Rome. Western Christianity had never really taken root among the Bulgars; besides, any future offensive against the Latin Empire would be a lot easier to justify if the Tsar were seen to be acting against heretics. In 1232 the break was made. A Bulgarian Orthodox Patriarchate was once again established; and three years later John Asen signed a treaty of alliance with Nicaea, which was subsequently sealed by the marriage of his daughter Helena to the son of John Vatatzes, Theodore II Lascaris. In the late summer of 1235 the combined forces of Orthodoxy were besieging Constantinople by land and sea.

Old John of Brienne fought like a tiger for the defence of his Empire, and Venetian ships provided invaluable support; but Constantinople was saved only by a change of heart on the part of John Asen, who suddenly realized that an energetic Greek Empire would constitute a far more serious threat to Bulgaria than an exhausted Latin one and called off the attack. Almost at once, however, disaster struck. His own capital fell victim to a furious epidemic, which carried off his wife, one of his sons and the recently-installed Patriarch. To John Asen, this was the judgement of heaven; immediately he made his peace with Vatatzes. Soon, however, he began to look for a new wife; and somehow his prisoner Theodore of Thessalonica managed to persuade him to marry his daughter Irene. As the Tsar’s father-in-law, Theodore was then released from his captivity and returned to Thessalonica, where he deposed his brother Manuel and enthroned instead his own son John, restoring to him the title of Emperor.

The year 1241 proved a watershed. Before it was over, three of the protagonists were in their graves: John Asen of Bulgaria, Manuel of Thessalonica and Pope Gregory IX, one of the most redoubtable champions of the Latin Empire. That same year also saw a Mongol horde sweep through Hungary into the Danube basin, leaving the Bulgars little opportunity to undertake further adventures to the East: another once formidable nation was thus effectively eliminated. The power of Thessalonica had already been broken. The Latin Empire, which now consisted of little more than the city of Constantinople itself had survived only thanks to dissension among its enemies. Of those enemies, there remained but one: the Empire of Nicaea, whose ruler John Vatatzes continued to prepare for its reconquest. He still had the problem of Thessalonica to settle. Its Emperor John was a weak and pious figurehead; the real power was back in the hands of Theodore, as ambitious as he had ever been. Thus it was Theodore whom in 1241 John Vatatzes invited to Nicaea as his guest. The old man accepted, and was received with every courtesy; only when he came to leave was it politely explained to him that his departure would unfortunately not be possible. He remained a prisoner until the following summer, when Vatatzes escorted him back to Thessalonica and then sent him as an envoy to his son to negotiate a treaty. The result was that John exchanged the title of Emperor for that of Despot, and acknowledged the supremacy of Nicaea.

While Vatatzes was still in Thessalonica, the Mongols invaded Asia Minor. In June 1243 they defeated the Sultan Kaikosru II at the battle of Kösedağ the Emperor of Trebizond, who had been a vassal of the Sultan, suffered much the same fate. Fortunately the Mongols moved away again, leaving a broken Sultanate behind them but the Nicaean lands untouched. The Bulgar Empire too had been crippled by this most recent of the barbarian invasions; while the death in 1246 of Coloman, John Asen’s twelve-year-old son, and the succession of his still younger half-brother Michael, further troubled the waters in which Vatatzes cheerfully intended to fish. By the autumn of that year he had occupied a good deal of western Macedonia. He was still encamped there when a group of Thessalonians arrived with a proposal. If he would guarantee to the city the continuation of its ancient rights and privileges, it would be surrendered without a struggle. Vatatzes agreed at once. In December he entered Thessalonica unopposed, exiled old Theodore and left as his Viceroy his distant kinsman Andronicus Palaeologus.

One more enemy was left for him to conquer before he could concentrate on Constantinople. Some nine years before, Epirus had separated from Thessalonica and set itself up once again under Michael II, an illegitimate son of its original founder Michael I. John Vatatzes did not attack it: instead, in 1249 he concluded a treaty of friendship with Michael, sealing it by betrothing his granddaughter Maria to Michael’s son Nicephorus. Theodore, still unreconciled, persuaded his nephew to take up arms once again against the Nicaean Empire; but John Vatatzes was taking no more chances. Early in 1253 he forced the Despot’s surrender. Michael ceded much of his territory; his son Nicephorus was carried off to Vatatzes’s court as a hostage for his future good behaviour. As for the old, blind, insufferable Theodore, he was shipped off to end his days in the prison he so richly deserved.

The Latin Empire was tottering. Already in 1236 the young Emperor Baldwin, now nineteen, had left for Italy in a desperate attempt to raise men and money; it was not until early 1240 that he returned to the Bosphorus. This chronic shortage was also responsible for another decision, deeply demoralizing to Greeks and Latins alike: the pawning to Venice of Constantinople’s most hallowed possession, the Crown of Thorns that Christ had worn on the Cross. The Emperor being unable to redeem it, the opportunity was seized by St Louis of France, who built the Sainte-Chapelle to receive it.

For Baldwin, even cap in hand, the courts of Europe must have been vastly preferable to life in gloomy, beleaguered Constantinople. In 1244 he was off again – to Frederick II; to Count Raymond in Toulouse; to Innocent IV in Lyon; to St Louis in Paris; and even to London, where King Henry III made a small and grudging contribution to his funds. But he returned in October 1248 to find himself in such straits that he was obliged even to sell off the lead from the roof of the imperial palace. He would never have reigned for another thirteen years if his enemy in Nicaea had survived; but on 3 November 1254 John Vatatzes died at Nymphaeum. During the last ten years of his life his worsening epilepsy had seriously unbalanced him: it was clear to everyone at court that he was rapidly losing his grip.

He had, nevertheless, been a great ruler. He had inherited from his predecessor a small but viable state; when, thirty-two years later, he left it to his son Theodore II, its dominions extended over most of the Balkan peninsula and much of the Aegean, its rivals were crippled or annihilated, and it stood poised to achieve the purpose for which it had been established. At home, John continually reminded his subjects that they lived in a state of emergency, and that sacrifices were required of them until Constantinople should be theirs. Foreign imports were forbidden; self-sufficiency was now the watchword, and he himself set an example by running a profitable farm, using the profits from his sales of eggs to buy his wife Irene her ‘egg crown’ – a jewelled coronet, which he publicly presented to her as proof of what could be achieved by efficient husbandry. The gift was well-deserved. Thanks to the two of them hospitals and orphanages were established, art and literature encouraged, and the foundations laid for the spectacular cultural revival which was to occur in the reign of their son Theodore, under whom Nicaea would become a dazzling centre for Byzantine culture. In consequence John and Irene were genuinely loved by their subjects.

John knew as he lay on his deathbed that the day towards which he had worked all his adult life could not be long delayed, despite some doubts that he may have entertained about his only son and successor. Not that the young Theodore II Lascaris was altogether unworthy of the throne. He was an intellectual who produced in the course of his short life a whole corpus of literary, theological and scientific works; and he never allowed these interests to deflect him from the business of government. Unfortunately he had inherited his father’s epilepsy in an even more serious form. This was dangerous enough in Constantinople; when he was with his army in the field it was potentially disastrous. He ruled, nevertheless, with a strong hand. Instinctively distrustful of the aristocracy, he relied on a small group of bureaucrats, chief among them being his protovestiarius George Muzalon and George’s two brothers, Theodore and Andronicus; and he enraged the clergy by appointing as Patriarch a bigoted ascetic named Arsenius, annihilating at a stroke his father’s old dream of union with Rome.

Theodore signed a peace treaty with Bulgaria in 1256, and relations were further improved when the Tsar Michael Asen was murdered shortly afterwards and succeeded by a boyar named Constantine Tich, who married Theodore’s daughter Irene. Another dynastic marriage was that of John’s daughter Maria to Nicephorus, son of the Despot Michael II of Epirus. This unfortunately proved counter-productive, Theodore having unwisely made a last-minute demand for Durazzo and the Macedonian city of Servia as a condition of the marriage. The bridegroom’s mother, who had accompanied her son to the imperial camp on the Maritsa, was intimidated into agreement; but when she returned to tell her husband that she had given away two of his most important cities, he immediately launched a furious campaign against Thessalonica, encouraging the Serbs and the Albanians to support him. Within days, Macedonia was up in arms.

The man best qualified to handle the situation was a young general named Michael Palaeologus; the Emperor, however, had always been jealous of this handsome young aristocrat, who seemed to possess all the gifts he himself lacked. He also mistrusted him. Earlier that year he had accused him – quite unjustifiably – of high treason, threatening him to the point where the young general had been obliged to take refuge with the Seljuks. Michael had since sworn fidelity to the Emperor; nevertheless Theodore had decided only hesitantly to entrust him with the new command. Fearing, presumably, that his general might turn against him, he also gave him too small an army to be of any real use. Michael and his men fought bravely, penetrating as far as Durazzo; but they were unable to stem the tide. By summer the Despot was at the gates of Thessalonica, and Michael Palaeologus, disgraced and shortly afterwards excommunicated, was languishing in a Nicaean prison. This shameful treatment of the Empire’s outstanding general confirmed the people of Nicaea in their conviction that their basileus was no longer capable of responsible government; and there would surely have been a military revolt had not Theodore suddenly and conveniently succumbed to his disease in August 1258, aged thirty-six. His eldest son John being a child, he had appointed the hated George Muzalon as Regent. On his deathbed he had forced the leading members of the aristocracy to swear allegiance to John and George together, but in the course of a memorial service held nine days later they murdered Muzalon at the high altar and hacked the body to pieces. A palace revolution ensued, the result of which was to nominate the hastily-liberated Michael Palaeologus – who had probably instigated the plot – in his stead.

Michael, now thirty-four, was in many respects the obvious choice. He could claim kinship with the houses of Ducas, Angelus and Comnenus, while his wife Theodora was a great-niece of John Vatatzes. His complicity in Muzalon’s murder should have been seen as a stain on his character; but the protovestiarius had been so hated that it was overlooked. He remained immensely popular with the army and was well thought of by the clergy. He was awarded the title of Grand Duke (megas dux) and soon afterwards that of Despot. Finally in November 1258 he was raised on a shield and proclaimed co-Emperor, his coronation taking place at Nicaea on Christmas Day. He and Theodora were crowned first, with imperial diadems heavy with jewels; only afterwards was a narrow string of pearls laid upon the head of his young colleague, John IV.

Few of the congregation doubted that it was Michael VIII Palaeologus who would lead his subjects back into their capital. First, however, there was one more enemy to be faced. Early in 1258 Manfred of Sicily, bastard son of Frederick II, had invaded Epirus and occupied Corfu. The Despot Michael had joined with him against Nicaea, offering him the hand of his eldest daughter Helena. Manfred had accepted and had sent his new father-in-law four hundred mounted knights from Germany. Soon afterwards the new alliance was joined by William of Villehardouin, the Latin Prince of Achaia, who married Michael’s second daughter Anna. The ultimate object of the expedition was Constantinople, but this would clearly involve the capture of Thessalonica on the way.

Thus, at the time of the accession of Michael Palaeologus, virtually the whole of the Greek mainland was ranged against him. Fortunately he had dispatched a large expeditionary force to the Balkans, commanded by his brother, the sebastocrator John Palaeologus, and the Grand Domestic Alexius Strategopulus; and early in 1259 he ordered them to advance against the enemy. The two armies met at Pelagonia; and almost immediately the coalition fell apart. The Despot Michael and his son Nicephorus, wrongly suspecting that their allies were planning to betray them to the enemy, deserted the camp and fled. Another son, John the Bastard, taunted by Villehardouin over his illegitimacy, joined the Nicene forces out of pique. By the time the battle began John Palaeologus found only the cavalry of Villehardouin and Manfred ranged against him; and they proved defenceless in the face of his Cuman archers. Manfred’s knights surrendered and were taken prisoner, as – subsequently – was Villehardouin himself, who was found hiding in a haystack near Castoria and was recognized only by his protruding teeth. John then advanced through Thessaly, while Alexius marched straight to Epirus and captured its capital, Arta. The victory was complete.

It was by now plain that the recapture of the city could only be a question of time, and a short time at that. Of all Baldwin’s allies, there remained only the Papacy and Venice. Pope Alexander IV was uninterested; that left the Venetians, who had been largely responsible for the Latin Empire, and whose fleet of thirty ships still patrolled the Bosphorus. But soon the value of even Venetian support began to appear problematical, for on 13 March 1261 Michael Palaeologus, desperate for a navy, signed a treaty with Genoa whereby, in return for their help, the Genoese were promised all the concessions hitherto enjoyed by Venice, with their own quarter in Constantinople and the other principal ports of the Empire and free access to those of the Black Sea. For Genoa it was a historic agreement, laying as it did the foundations for her commercial empire in the East.

The recovery of Constantinople eventually came about almost by accident. In the summer of 1261, Michael VIII had sent Alexius Strategopulus to Thrace with a small army to indulge in a little mild sabre-rattling, sounding out the city’s defences at the same time. At Selymbria, Alexius learned that the Latin garrison was absent, having been carried off by the Venetians to attack the Nicaean island of Daphnusia, a harbour controlling the entrance to the Bosphorus from the Black Sea. They also told him of a postern gate in the walls, through which a handful of men could easily pass into the city. The opportunity seemed too good to miss. That night a detachment slipped into the city, surprised the guards and threw them from the ramparts. They then quietly opened one of the gates. At dawn on 25 July 1261 the army poured in.

Baldwin, awakened by the tumult, fled for his life. Making his way on foot to the little harbour of the Bucoleon, he escaped on a Venetian merchantman to the Latin-held island of Euboea. Meanwhile Alexius and his men set fire to the entire Venetian quarter so that the sailors returning from Daphnusia, finding their houses destroyed and their terrified families huddled on the quayside, would have no real choice but to sail back to their lagoon. Among the remaining Franks – perhaps a thousand all told – there was widespread panic. Some hid; some fled to monasteries; a few even resorted to the sewers; but there was no massacre. Gradually they emerged from their various refuges and made their way down to the harbour where the thirty Venetian ships were waiting These too sailed for Euboea – not, apparently, even pausing to take on provisions, since it is recorded that many of the refugees died of hunger before reaching their destination.

The Emperor Michael was two hundred miles away, asleep in his camp at Meteorium in Anatolia, when the messengers arrived. His sister Eulogia woke him and told him the news; but only when he was handed Baldwin’s abandoned regalia did he believe her. Immediately he began his preparations; and on 15 August 1261 he made his entry into the capital. Entering by the Golden Gate and preceded by the great icon of the Virgin Hodegetria – She who points the way’ painted, as everyone knew, by St Luke himself he proceeded on foot along the traditional route through the city as far as St Sophia, where a second coronation ceremony was performed by Patriarch Arsenius. This time, however, he and his wife were crowned alone, their baby son Andronicus being proclaimed as heir presumptive. As for John Lascaris, Michael’s ten-year-old co-Emperor, he had been left behind in Nicaea, ignored and forgotten. A little over four months later, on Christmas Day, his eyes were put out. It was, as it happened, his eleventh birthday.

From the start, the Latin Empire of Constantinople had been a monstrosity. In the fifty-seven years of its existence it had achieved nothing, contributed nothing, enjoyed not a moment of distinction or glory. After 1204 it had made no territorial conquests, and before long it had shrunk to the immediate surroundings of the ruined and ravaged city. The only wonder is that it lasted as long as it did. Of its seven rulers, not one made the slightest attempt to understand his Greek subjects, let alone to learn their language. Meanwhile its knights trickled back to the West, its allies turned away, its treasury lay empty. And its fall was, if anything, even more ignominious than its beginning – overpowered by a handful of soldiers in a single night.

But the dark legacy that it left behind affected all Christendom – perhaps all the world. For the Greek Empire never recovered from the damage, spiritual as well as material, of those fateful years. Nor, with its loveliest buildings reduced to rubble and its finest works of art looted or destroyed, did it ever succeed in recovering its morale. Before the Latin conquest the Empire had been one and indivisible, under a single basileus, Equal of the Apostles. Now that unity was gone. There were the Emperors of Trebizond, still stubbornly independent on the Black Sea shore. There were the Despots of Epirus, always ready to welcome the enemies of Constantinople. How, fragmented as it was, could the Greek Empire continue as the last great eastern bulwark of Christendom against the Islamic tide?

But Christendom too was changed. Long divided, it was now polarized. For centuries before and after the Great Schism, the differences between the Churches had been essentially theological. After the sack of Constantinople this was no longer true. To the Byzantines the barbarians who had desecrated their altars, plundered their homes and violated their women could not be considered, in any real sense, Christians at all. Future attempts to force them into union could never succeed for long, simply because anything appeared to them preferable to the idea of submission to Rome. ‘Better the Sultan’s turban than the cardinal’s hat,’ they used to say; and they meant it.