Jan 31 2013

Got a spare Princess? Just dump her on the Cretans.


From 1204 until 1666 Crete was part of the Venetian Republic and from 1666 until December 1913, legally at least, a part of the Ottoman Empire. As a consequence, for slightly more than 700 years, between 1204 and 1913, in spite of all its many other trials and tribulations, Crete wasn’t burdened with a monarchy of its own. By the end of the 19th century the main impetus behind Cretan Christian politics was the unification with Greece, irrespective of the form of government that Greece might have. However, that didn’t stop at least one outsider promoting the notion that a “Cretan Princess” might exist and that she would be the person to solve the difficulties not only of Crete, but of the Ottoman Empire also.

Back in 1896, with another Cretan revolt in progress, the thoughts of at least one British journalist were looking beyond the immediate implications  of the continued fighting on the island and towards the wider question of the governance of the fast disintegrating Ottoman Empire. One unnamed writer, writing an article inaccurately titled “The Princess of Crete” in The Graphic on 7th October  that year, came up with a novel solution; ignore the fact that the Ottoman Empire was a Muslim Empire and had always, at leastnominally,  been ruled by a male and put in place as its ruler a British (or almost) Princess with an immaculate Christian pedigree.

The so-called 'Princess of Crete'.


As the author so susinctly put it:

“The Princess Christophoro Palaeologu Nichophoru Commnenu, President of the Ladies Cretan Relief Committee, represents a family beside which the lines of the reigning monarchs in Europe are of mere mushroom growth. She is the direct heir to the Byzantine throne, and unites in herself the claims of all the dynasties who from the time of Constantine the Great till the fall of Constantinople occupied the throne of the Eastern Caesars. As her names indicate, her Highness inherits the blood of the Palaelogi, the Nicephori and the Commneni, while in addition to these she traces her descent from the families of Ducas, Ange, Lascaris, Vatace, Gattilusio, Guistiniani, and De Bouillon. Through the marriage the marriage of Eudosis Jacita with Euforbeno Katakalone Ambusto (son of the Emperor Nichophorus Katakalone Ambusto Botiniatis) the Princess traces her line back to Constantine. The family of Katakalone-Nichophorus assumed the surname of Di Christophoro in 1448, while in exile on Prince Demetrius building a church in Lower Armenia to St. Christopher, from whom they claimed descent. In 1540 Emmanuele di Christophoro came to Malta with the grand Master L’Isle Adam, and in the documents of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem the family were acknowledged as Imperial Princes.

The pedigree of the Princess is verified by the archives of Constantinople, now at Rome, and from the archives of St John of Jerusalem at Malta, and its authenticity is verified by the Seal of the Chancery at Malta. Her claims to be placed on the throne of her ancestors afford a simple solution to the vexed question, Who is to succeed the Sultan?- while the fact that her Highness was born in Malta, under British rule, and during her early life spent much time in England, would ensure that such a solution would be in the interests of Great Britain.”

So there you have it; the ideal candidate, one possessing the bluest blood imaginable in any Royalist’s erotic fantasy and having not one, but two saints in the family tree; St. Christopher and St. Constantine. The fact that none of the titles to which she laid claim made any mention of a Cretan connection appears to have been irrelevant, or at least overlooked, given the most important fact; by George she’s British… well Maltese.

However, ignoring the farcical suggestion that an individual could possibly trace their ancestry back to Constantine the Great (Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus Augustus; 27 February c. 272 – 22 May 337), particularly given the antics of the Byzantine imperial families and their penchant for bumping off unsuccessful claimants to the throne even if they were members of their immediate family, one shudders to think what the reaction of the Ottomans would have been to any such attempt to impose a foreign, Christian, monarch on them. Although come to think of it, even the Greeks had to put up foreign monarchs of minority religions imposed on them; first a Bavarian Catholic (Otto) and later a Danish Protestant (George, who in fairness, unlike his predecessor, did convert to Orthodoxy on taking up the throne). Both were chosen for the Greeks by the European Powers determined to involve themselves in the internal affairs of Greece to promote their own interests, so it may not have been that far-fetched an idea.

There’s no suggestion that the Cretans were ever going to be consulted about their new ‘Princess’ and, needless to say, the ingenious idea of this newspaper man, or woman, came to nothing.


[It may help the reader to know that the following were family names, shown in roughly chronological order, of some of the Byzantine  Emperors who ruled from the start of the 11th century until Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks under  Mehmed II on Tuesday 29 May 1453 (at about 05.30 since you ask):  Komnenos, Doukas, Botaniates, Angelos, Lascaris, Vatatzes, Cantacuzenos, Palaiologos.
Clearly, this woman had managed to collect nearly the whole set.]

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