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Wolff, R. L.; Hazard, H. W. (ed.) / Volume II: The later Crusades, 1189-1311

V: The Fourth Crusade,   pp. 152-185 PDF (11.7 MB)

Page 169

whose appeal, we are to believe, had only recently been delivered to them.
It was, of course, this appeal and the eventual decision of the crusader
chieftains to accede to it that resulted in the "diversion" of
the Fourth Crusade from its original purpose of fighting the Moslems in Palestine,
or in Egypt, to Constantinople, where the expedition would first restore
Isaac and the young Alexius, and then oust them and found a Latin empire
on Byzantine soil. This endeavor coincided with the interests of Venice,
of Boniface of Montferrat, of Philip of Swabia, and - to the extent that
it placed a Roman Catholic dynasty and patriarch on the imperial and ecclesiastical
thrones of Constantinople - of Innocent III as well. So modern scholars have
often questioned Villehardouin's version of events, which has seemed to them
"official" history, concealing behind a plausible narrative a deep-laid
secret plot among the interested parties, hatched long before their intentions
were revealed to the rank and file of the crusaders, most of whom would have
much preferred to carry out a real crusade against the "infidel".
Few problems of medieval history have elicited so much scholarly controversy
as the "diversion" problem. Though numerous, the sources are often
vague or contradictory, naturally enough, since if there was indeed a plot
one could hardly expect a contemporary in the secret to reveal it, while
one who had no knowledge of it could not reveal any. Both the modern editors
of Villehardouin accept his story at face value, and are thus partisans of
what has come to be called the théorie du hasard or d'occasion, according
to which the decision to help the young Alexius was really not made until
the last moment. <43> 
 In the early days of the discussion, the Venetians received most of the
blame for the diversion. They had, it was alleged, concluded a secret treaty
with al-'Adil, the Aiyubid sultan, promising not to attack his lands. Indeed,
one scholar wrote as if the text of the treaty itself were available. But
by 1877, it was clear that the treaty in question actually belonged to a
far later date, and that Venice had made no secret promises to the sultan
before the Fourth Crusade. Though innocent of this charge, Venice was of
course profoundly hostile to Alexius III Angelus; she wished at least to
assure herself that the rights owed her by treaty would be respected, and
at most to take over the commerce of Constantinople completely. The doge
may have lost his eyesight through action by Byzantines, 
 43 In addition to the comments by Natalis de Wailly and Edmond Faral in
the introductions to their respective editions of Villehardouin, see Faral's
article cited in note 31 above. 

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