Baldwin I (1172 - 1205), the first emperor of the Latin Empire of Constantinople, as Baldwin IX count of Flanders and as Baldwin VI count of Hainaut, was one of the most prominent leaders of the Fourth Crusade, which resulted in the capture of the city of Constantinople and the conquest of the greater part of the Byzantine Empire, and the foundation of the Latin Empire, also known as Romania (not to be confused with modern Romania).
Baldwin was the son of Baldwin V of Hainault, and Margaret I, sister of Philip of Alsace and countess of Flanders. When Philip died childless in 1191, he was succeeded in Flanders by Baldwin V, who ruled as Baldwin VIII of Flanders in right of his wife.
In 1186 the younger Baldwin married Marie of Champagne, daughter of count Henry I of Champagne.
Margaret died in 1194, and the younger Baldwin became count of Flanders. His father died the next year, and he succeeded to Hainault.
Count of Flanders and Hainault
Baldwin took possession of a much-reduced Flanders, for his uncle had given a large chunk, including Artois, as dowry to Baldwin's sister Elizabeth (also known as Isabelle) on her marriage to King Philip II of France, and another significant piece to his own wife. Elizabeth had died in 1190, but king Philip still retained her dowry. The eight years of Baldwin's rule in Flanders were dominated by his attempts to recover some of this land, culminating in January 1200 in the Treaty of Péronne, in which Philip returned most of Artois.
In this fight against the French king Baldwin allied with others who quarrels with Philip, including kings Richard I and John of England, and the German king Otto IV.
A month after the treaty, on February 23, 1200, Baldwin took the cross (committed to embark on the Fourth Crusade). He spent the next two years preparing, finally leaving on April 14, 1202.
As part of his effort to leave his domains in good order, Baldwin issued two notable charters for Hainault. One detailed an extensive criminal code, and appears to be based on a now-lost charter on his father. The other laid down specific rules for inheritance. These are an important part of the legal tradition in that part of Europe.
Baldwin left behind his two-year-old daughter and his pregnant wife countess Marie. By early 1204 she left had both behind to join him in the east. They expected to return in a couple of years, but in the end neither would see their children or their homeland again.
Marie was regent for Baldwin for the two years she remained in Flanders and Hainault. Afterward Baldwin's younger brother Philip of Namur was regent and also had custody of the daughters. Baldwin's uncle William of Thy (an illegitimate son of Baldwin IV of Hainault) was regent for Hainault.
Meanwhile, the crusade had been diverted to Constantinople, where the crusaders had captured and sacked the city, and decided to set up a Latin empire in place of the fallen Greek one.
The imperial crown was offered to, and refused by, Enrico Dandolo, doge of Venice. The choice then lay between Baldwin and Boniface of Montferrat. Baldwin was elected on May 9, 1204, and crowned on May 26. He was young, gallant, pious and virtuous, one of the few who interpreted and observed his crusading vows strictly; the most popular leader in the host.
Baldwin's wife Marie, unaware of these events, had sailed to Acre. There she learned of her husband's election as emperor, but died of the plague in August 1204 before she could join him.
The Latin Empire was organized on feudal principles; the emperor was feudal superior of the princes who received portions of the conquered territory. His own special portion consisted of the city of Constantinople, the adjacent regions both on the European and the Asiatic side, along with some outlying districts, and several islands including Lemnos, Lesbos, Chios and Tenos. The territories still had to be conquered; and first of all it was necessary to break the resistance of the Greeks in Thrace and secure Thessalonica. In this enterprise in the summer of 1204, Baldwin came into collision with Boniface of Montferrat, the rival candidate for the empire, who was to receive a large territory in Macedonia with the title of King of Salonica. He hoped to make himself quite independent of the empire, to do no homage for his kingdom, and he opposed Baldwin's proposal to march to Thessalonica. The antagonism between Flemings and Lombards aggravated the quarrel. Baldwin insisted on going to Thessalonica; Boniface laid siege to Adrianople, where Baldwin had established a governor; civil war seemed inevitable. An agreement was effected by the efforts of Dandolo and the count of Blois. Boniface received Thessalonica as a fief from the emperor, and was appointed commander of the forces which were to march to the conquest of Greece.
During the following winter (1204-1205) the Franks prosecuted conquests in Bithynia, in which Henry, Baldwin's brother, took part. But in February the Greeks revolted in Thrace, relying on the assistance of John (Kaloyan), king of Bulgaria, whose overtures of alliance had been rejected by the emperor. The garrison of Adrianople was expelled. Baldwin along with Dandolo, the count of Blois, and Marshal Villehardouin, the historian, marched to besiege that city. The Bulgarian king led to its relief an army which far outnumbered that of the crusaders. The Frank knights fought desperately, but were defeated (April 14, 1205); the count of Blois was slain, and the emperor captured (see Battle of Adrianople (1205)).
For some time his fate was uncertain, and in the meanwhile Henry, his brother, assumed the regency. Not till the middle of July was it definitely ascertained that he was dead. It seems that he was at first treated well as a valuable hostage, but was sacrificed by the Bulgarian monarch in a sudden outburst of rage, perhaps in consequence of the revolt of Philippopolis, which passed into the hands of the Franks. One contemporary writer says that his hands and feet were cut off, and he was thrown into a valley where he died on the third day; but the manner of his death is not confidently known. King John himself wrote to Pope Innocent III, reporting that Baldwin had died in prison.
Children and Successors
It was not until July 1206 that the Latins in Constantinople had reliable information that Baldwin was dead. His brother Henry was crowned emperor in August.
Back in Flanders, however, there seemed to be doubt whether Baldwin was truly dead. In any case, Baldwin's other brother Philip of Namur remained as regent, and eventually both of Baldwin's daughters Jeanne and Margaret were to rule as countesses of Flanders.
The False Baldwin
Twenty years later, in 1225, a man appeared in Flanders claiming to be the presumed dead Baldwin. His claim soon became entangled in a series of rebellions and revolts in Flanders against the rule of Baldwin's daughter Jeanne. A number of people who had known Baldwin before the crusade met the supposed count and emperor and rejected his claim. In the end he was executed in 1226.