Chapter 51

Fathers and Sons


The break-down of family relationships is a significant factor in our study of the fall of the Balkan kingdoms.  As we have seen in Bulgaria, the enmity between the sons of Ivan Alexander’s two wives led to a catastrophic inability to unite against the Ottoman threat.  We will now uncover further wrangles between fathers and sons within the Byzantine and the Ottoman Empires.  

In 1373, disappointed by the behaviour of his older son Andronicus IVth, the Byzantine Emperor, John V Paleologus promoted his second son, Manuel, to become another co-emperor.  Andronicus’s refusal to pay his father’s Venetian debts still rankled. Manuel paid the creditors, freed his father and this was his reward. 12, 16

Murad’s relationship with his sons also proved problematic. Each son had to be given significant responsibility.   In 1373, Murad was involved in military actions and left his son Beyazid to guard the boundaries with the Germiyan Beylik in Kutahia, his second son – Yacub Chelebi he installed in Karasi and the protection of Bursa was entrusted to his younger son – Savci Bey, who was in charge of the Thracian army. 1, 12

In his position of vassal, John Paleologus had sent his youngest son Theodore to Murad to fight in the Turkish army. 4   This obviously appealed to Murad.   However, as events were shortly to reveal, the close contacts between the Ottoman and Byzantine courts, may have facilitated the planning of a synchronised rebellion by sons against their fathers.

On the 6th of May 1373, Andronicus IVth led a revolt against his father at the same time as Savci Bey rose against his father Murad.  They used the fact that Murad was on a campaign in Asia Minor and John Cantacuzenus was with him with a contingent of Byzantine soldiers. 12   They set up a joint camp near Constantinople. 3   Savci proclaimed himself as a sultan and order a “Hutba” to be read for him.14   Delighted with the initial success of the operation so far, Andronicus pronounced his 3 year old son as a co-emperor. 2

How had Savci Bey and Andronicus reached such a close understanding of mutual interest?  Had communication between the pair been aided by Theodore, now installed as an officer in Murad’s army or even by Tamara who was Andronicus’s aunt?

As one can imagine, Murad was absolutely furious and hurried back home.  He apparently disliked his son Savci Bey and was apprehensive of him. 12   He summoned John Paleologus to establish what his involvement in his son’s activities was and to answer for his behaviour.  He blamed the father for the actions of his son, stating that Andronicus had “corrupted his son.”  The Emperor denied any involvement and promised to join Murad in punishing the rebels.  The proposed punishment was death! 2, 18

The Ottoman army reached the camp of the rebels in the afternoon.  Murad rode his horse, under the cover of darkness, on his own and crossed the river separating the two camps.  He then called to his soldiers to return to their rightful leader and their regiments and promised them a pardon.  On hearing his voice, the troops were moved and the majority returned to his side.  The remaining rebels and the two princes escaped to the town of Demotica (Didymoteicho).   4, 12

The town was besieged and starved, until on the 30th of May the city, inhabitants opened the gates of the city and both rebels were led to Murad.  Murad ordered the blinding of Savci Bey.  Various sources suggest a different outcome for Savci – some suggest that his blinding led to his subsequent death14, others that after the blinding Murad had him killed.   Different dates are suggested for this, ranging from 1373 to 1385. 11   His young supporters, besieged in Demotica were fiercely punished – the Greeks were tied together and thrown in the river Tundja, while the fathers of the Turkish participants were ordered to blind their sons and then kill them. 12   Some fathers did so, others, who refused were executed themselves.  3, 7

It is interesting that according to the Ottoman historian Seddadin, there is no mention of Byzantine involvement with Savci Bay – the prince was just tricked by bad friends, no names mentioned! 1   Some sources suggest that Prince Beyazid played a major part in Savci’s death – by “intriguing to have his brother condemned”. 14   However, it was due to Savci’s rebellion that in the future princes were not appointed as Governors of provinces near to or in the European areas of the empire, but were mainly sent to Anatolian ones. This was to prevent future joint action with Christian princes. 11

Andronicus was sent to his father in chains, with the instruction to deal with him as sternly as Murad had dealt with Savci Bay. Murad ordered John to have Andronicus’s eyes gouged out. The same fate was supposed to be applied to  Andronicus’s five year old son John, but the blinding, done with boiling vinegar, was not very successful, which meant that their vision was not totally lost.  Andronicus could still see with one eye and his son John – with both. There was no order for the execution of Andronicus, but he was imprisoned. 7, 12, 18   It was obviously in Murad’s interest to keep Andronicus alive, so that the rivalry between son and father would be maintained, but he killed his own son, as he feared his rivalry. 12

Several rumours spread in Constantinople – one that Andronicus owed his sight to the empress, his mother, who came to his prison for months to apply remedies, until several months later Andronicus saw a lizard on the wall of the cell.   Another rumour stated that a Genoese physician was involved in the pair’s cure. 12   Other rumours claimed that his Bulgarian wife was using a magic ointment to restore the vision of her son and husband. 6, 7

Andronicus was officially disinherited and on the 25th of September, his brother Manuel became the heir apparent. 3, 7, 17   Andronicus’s family were first sent to one of the Constantinople prisons – to the Anema Tower on the seacoast. 

The imprisonment and suffering of Andronicus, his Bulgarian wife and son, resonated in the memories of the local people and generated many myths.

The ambassador Ruy Gonzalez Klaviha, who passed through Constantinople at the end of the 14th century to lead an embassy to Tamerlane in his capital Samarkand, retold one such story. 

According to the story, the Bulgarian Princess Maria had asked John V to allow her to share her son and husband’s captivity in the prison tower.  She saw with her perfect vision that every day a large snake entered the cell through a crack in the wall to go out through the window and bask on the sun.  She warned Andronicus and he managed to strangle the snake with his bare hands.  The large body of the dead snake was then shown to the Emperor, who was so impressed that he allowed his son and the family to be set free. 5    

This successful conclusion does not correspond to data from other sources, but this does not mean that the story is not of interest.   The fact that stories of Andronicus and his family were still retained and told by the population of Constantinople 30 years after the events happened, demonstrates how Andronicus and Maria had captured the imagination of the citizens of the capital. 6

Whether it was the story of the snake, or it was other reasons, the Emperor decided to send the family to the Island of Lemnos.  2, 5

These family squabbles took place in an area dominated by three major players – Genoa, Venice and the Ottomans.  While Genoa and Ivanko Terter – Dobrotiza’s son, supported Andronicus the IVth, Venice, the Ottomans, Dobrotiza  and John Vth younger son Michael Paleologus, supported John Vth and his second son Manuel II.  The Ottoman support played a decisive role but it was in the interest of Murad to have Andronicus IVth as a player in the game.  This would make John Vth and his son Manuel II more dependent on Murad for protection.  3, 19

John Vth younger son – Michael, who had a apanage in Mesembria, decided to attack the empire of Trebizond in early November 1373 and to dethrone its emperor Alexius Comnenus, supported by Despot Dobrotiza.  After their failure, on the 15 November 1373 (according to a Mesembrian Chronicle), he married the unnamed daughter of the Despot, whose mother was a member of the Byzantine Royal family.  The reader may remember that she was a grand- daughter of Ivan Asen III of Bulgaria and Eirene Paleologina – the sister of Andronicus II Paleologus.  After the wedding, strengthened by Murad I’s forces and those of Venice, the two men again attempted to take Trebizond.  On the side of The Empire of Trebizond were Andronicus Paleologus and the Republic of Genoa – the attempt failed again.   19, 20

Manuel did not make his father happier – when he was a Governor of Salonika he was involved in a plot to take Serres from the Ottomans.  After the failure of the plot, the Ottoman army besieged Thessalonica, Manuel wanted to go to his father in Constantinople, but the latter refused to welcome him. 7 He then tried to look for support from Lesbos, whose Genoese lord was his uncle.  He was turned away again – the uncle did not dare cross Murad. 12   Manuel had no option, but to go to Bursa and beg forgiveness from Murad, having confessed his culpability. 7 He was forgiven with the words “Let the city that was yours be mine from now on” and sent back to share the throne of Constantinople with his father. 3, 7 Emperor John only dared to receive his son after Murad’s letter of forgiveness was presented. 12

Shortly after that, Andronicus made his way to Bursa to ask Murad for his help.  He promised that if he became emperor, he would give the Ottomans the fortress of Gallipoli and grant them privileges in the Capital Constantinople; also, he would be Murad’s vassal. 6, 17   Some sources suggest, that Ivan Shishman of Bulgaria (Andronicus’s brother-in-law) and Marko Kralevichi of Prilep and Ivanko Terter (- Dobrotitza’s son, based in Druster) also encouraged and supported Andronicus. 16, 19 Soon the Emperor in Constantinople would give the Genoese the excuse to weigh in on Andronicus’s side. 2

In 1375, John V gave Venice the island of Tenedos in exchange of 3,000 ducats and the jewels, which were pawned during his visit to Rome earlier.  The Genoese could not allow their rivals to have this strategic island – it was situated in a position, which allowed its owner the control of the Dardanelles and all lucrative trade coming to and from the Black Sea.  They quickly equipped their fleet, gathered funds and sailed towards Byzantium. 12

In July 1376 Andronicus IV and John  VIIth– by then six years old – managed to escape and with the support of the Genoese and the Ottomans (tempted by Andronicus’s promise of the return of Gallipoli). 8

On the 12th of August 1376, Andronicus entered the capital and took the throne in Constantinople. 17   He rewarded the Genoese with a golden bull, which confirmed his gift of the island of Tenedos to Genoa, which unfortunately they never received, as the Byzantine Governor of the island refused to hand it over to them. 12, 17    Andronicus’s father and brothers Manuel and Theodore were promptly dispatched to the same prison – the Tower of Anema, where Andronicus had been previously sent!  Young John VII was crowned (again) as co-emperor.   7, 16

Shortly after that, early in 1377 Michael Paleologus was killed by his brother-in-law Ivanko Terter in Druster. His deed strengthened the coalition round Andronicus Paleologus, whose chief opponents were Genoa, John Vth, Manuel and his father Dobrotiza.  This left one less pretender for the throne of Byzantium, but led to the worsening of the relations between his father Dobrotiza and Constantinople! 19

Twenty days later his coronation, Andronicus visited Murad – this time possibly accompanied by his wife – Tamara’s sister, to thank Murad and to confirm the initial promises made.  He handed Gallipoli to the Ottomans in the spring of 1377 and by this he ensured their taking of the Balkans, as this was the fastest way of crossing the Bosphorus. 6 The Genoese had their promise of the island of Tenedos as a “thank you” gesture form the young emperor, but they still had to fight to secure it. 7

Andronicus ruled for 3 years – from 12 August 1376 to 1 July 1379, but was crowned officially on 18th of October 1377. 5   John V tried many times to escape from prison with Venetian help. 12

Finally, after three years in captivity, in June 1379, John and Manuel escaped from the prison tower with Venetian help and Ottoman help, crossed the Bosphorus to appear in front of Murad to ask for his support.  Murad agreed to offer this on a condition, that Andronicus would be forgiven.  John and Manuel entered Constantinople on the 1st July 1379.  Other conditions for returning the pair to the Imperial throne included a large annual tribute of 30,000 pieces of gold to be paid to the Ottomans.   A large, regular contingent of Byzantine soldiers of twelve thousand men were also required in support of any campaigns of the Ottomans, which included joining the Ottoman troops imposing Muslim rule on their fellow Christians.   The last requirement was a demand for the submission of Philadelphia – the last Byzantine possession in Asia.  When the citizens of Philadelphia refused to accept this undesirable alliance, John and Manuel, with their contingent in the Ottoman army, forced them into Ottoman domination.  2, 3, 12

 Andronicus managed to escape, with the help of the Genoese to Galata, having succeeded in taking with him his family and the Empress Helena – his mother, his sisters and his elderly Grandfather John Cantacuzenus. 7, 16

 For almost two years, a civil war continued between Constantinople and Galata.  The two sides of this conflict reached a compromise and the hostilities ended in May 1381.  Andronicus forgiven was given the Governorship of Selymbria, which was the capital of his appanage in Thrace.  (I should remind the reader, that Selymbria was/is situated on the coast of the Sea of Marmara (Бяло Море), in close proximity to Constantinople.  He was re-instated as heir presumptive, but the succession would pass though him to his son – John VII.  8, 12, 16, 17   

In 1381, Count Amadeo of Savoy, as well as Despot Dobrotiza, who was trusted by John Vth 23, acted as an intermediaries between the Venetians and the Genoese, who were still fighting and arguing about the island of Tenedos.  Count Amadeo signed a peace treaty with the Senate in Turin, in which he promised that if the island was handed to him, he would demolish the fortress within two years.  Another stipulation of this treaty was that Andronicus would be recognised as heir to John V Paleologus.  The Count of Savoy fulfilled his promise. 12

The re-instatement of Andronicus as John V’s heir made Manuel’s position much more insecure. The Emperor rewarded Manuel with the position of Despot of Morea in 1348 and he remained Despot of this province until his death in 1380.  His 32-year rule of this Byzantine province ensured its prosperity. He rebuilt fortifications. The splendour of its buildings and its monastic and cultural life became famous throughout the eastern Mediterranean.  When Emperor John Cantacuzenus decided to retire from earthly pleasures and power and become a monk, he went to Morea to spend a year with his grandson, and then to Mount Athos where in 1383 he died and was buried. 15

Concerned by the increased domination of the Ottomans on the Balkans, Ivan Terter (Dobrotiza’s son) sought the protection of the Tartar Prince Demeter, who settled with his people north of the Danube, near the delta of the river Dniester. Prince Demeter cut his own coins, stamped with Demetrii principis.  Another Tartar beg, who had a strong presence in the area was Kutlu-buga, who may have also provided protection for Ivanko Terter against his father, Bulgaria and Byzantium. 23

One could not refrain from concluding that the Ottoman Sultans appeared to be much more effective in dealing with disaffected sons.