Project Canterbury

Theodora Phranza; or, the Fall of Constantinople

By John Mason Neale

New York: E.P. Dutton, 1913.
First published London: J. Masters, 1857.

Chapter XV.

"But oh!
What shall I say to thee, Lord Scroop!
Thou cruel, Ingrateful, savnge, and inhuman creature!
Thou, that dost bear the bag of all my counsels,
That know'st the very bottom of my soul,
That almost might'st have coined me into gold,
Would'st thou have practised on me for thy use."

King Henry V.

The great meteor had excited the most intense consternation in Constantinople. Its passage through the sky was slow enough to allow many of the inhabitants to view it for themselves; and the report with which it exploded was enough almost to awaken the dead. Doors opened; tradesmen, half clad, poured out; patricians swarmed from the gaming-house, officers from the mess-room; all was terror and confusion.

"Saw ye ever the like of this?" said Theodosius, the wheelwright, to his gossip, the butcher at the corner of S. Irene's lane.

"Once, neighbour, once," said he; "and that was the year before the accursed Council of Florence."

"Ah! ah! it is clear enough!" cried Peter the sacristan; "it is the damnable doctrine of these Latins, that the sky itself rebukes. Mercy on us! mercy on us! what have we lived to see!"

"Oh, infamous Azymites! Oh, blasphemous Double-processionists!" sighed Pattelari, the schoolmaster; "the Turks, the Turks, say I, a thousand times rather than the Pope '. "

"Ay, my masters; and this spawn of hell, this Cardinal Isidore, is to celebrate next week in the Great Church," cried the butcher.

"Now God and All Saints forbid!" said Peter. "Twenty meteors were not so terrible!"

The bell of S. Irene pealed forth, and at the same moment a servant of the palace approached, crying, "Form! form, good people! the most holy Archbishop of Chalcedon will go in procession from the Great Church to the Tower of S. Romanus, incontinently, to implore the defence of the Panaghia the Protectress; and the ever illustrious Cassar will walk in it barefoot."

And a gorgeous procession it was that passed half an hour afterwards from the square of S. Sophia. First, with tapers and crucifixes, were the servants of the church, and a large body of the aristocracy of the imperial city; then came the deacons of its countless churches, two and two, the silver censers flashing in the dim light, and the sweet smell rising to heaven; then the Priests, in their gorgeous robes, the Bishops, of whom so many resided in the city; then the Metropolitan of Chalcedon, a venerable old man, his white beard sweeping over his mandyas; and the Caesar, barefoot and clad in mean attire, at his right hand, but a little behind him.

And wildly and plaintively that Litany rose, through the darkness and stillness of the night, as they passed through the echoing streets. They had now nearly reached the goal, the tower of S. Romanus,--of which we shall have to write so much when we come to speak of the great siege,--when Sir Edward de Rushton, hurrying along after the procession, came up with the Emperor, and falling on one knee, addressed a few words to him in a low voice.

"Mother of God, I thank thee!" cried Constantine Palseologus. "Most holy Prelate, God hears your prayers. Let them be guarded well, Lord Acolyth. Follow on, my Lords!" And the procession again moved forwards.

Sir Edward de Rushton lost no time in returning to the ship, and caused the prisoners, under a safe guard, to be carried to the palace. The Turks were confined by themselves near the quarters of the Varangians, Redschid Pasha being treated suitably to his rank. The Christians were led to the Emperor's private suite of apartments, and secured in different rooms, in order that there might be no collusion between them when put upon their trial.

It appeared that the most important of the traitors were the Great Duke Leontius, the Emir Neophytus, and the monk Joasaph. The other three were officers connected with the native forces, and under the immediate command of the Great Domestic. [Great Domestic: that is, Commander in Chief of the Forces: a dignity vhich had its rise under Heraclius. This was generally a sinecure; and the principal office of the person who held it was to carry the sword of the Emperor in processions. If he were absent, that duty devolved on the Great Protostrator.] Phranza was summoned, according to the directions left by the Caesar; and the Archimandrite [Archimandrite: literally, "The Head of the Fold:" that is, the Abbat.] of the Studium was hastily called from the procession: as, in a matter so nearly concerning the privileges of the Church as the arrest of Joasaph, it was deemed imprudent to act without his concurrence, or at least his privity. The Abbat and the Great Protovestiare were, accordingly, in attendance when the Caesar returned from the midnight procession; and Sir Edward de Rushton had kept them company during the weary and melancholy hour which had elapsed between their being summoned to the palace, and the notice that Constantine was ready to receive them.

They were accordingly ushered into the room of audience, where the Palaeologus was about to examine into the details of the conspiracy. He seemed pale, and worn out with anxiety; for, in truth, with one or two exceptions, he knew not on whom he might depend in that corrupt court. One of those on whom he had placed most reliance, Manuel Chrysolaras, was gone; another, the Great Duke, had proved a traitor; Sir Edward de Rushton, his chief stay, was a foreigner; and Phranza, by whose counsel he was principally guided in civil affairs, was so overwhelmed with grief, as to be of little use in suggesting remedies to an ill that truly seemed irremediable. Two secretaries were present; one or two of the Emperor's servants; and there was a strong guard of the Varangians at the door. It was Constantine's wish that the inquiry should be as strictly private as circumstances allowed.

"My Lord," he said to the Archimandrite of the Studium, "we much regret that treason of the most flagrant and palpable kind should have been brought home to one of your monks,--as we hear, a man of learning,--as we can testify, a preacher much approved and followed of the people,--named Joasaph. Nevertheless, such and so great is our veneration for that Church whereof we are but an unworthy son, though a crowned monarch, that we were willing to take no steps herein, as to his condemnation and punishment, till we had the benefit of your counsel. The evidence on which we proceed you shall hear, and shall then be able equally with ourselves to judge."

"The evidence," said the old man, sorrowfully, "I have, so please your Majesty, already heard; and it is conclusive. The Caloire Joasaph deserves death; yet I trust that the Cassar will show such respect for the Church in the first place, and for the Angelic Habit in the second, as to be content with perpetual imprisonment."

"Sire," said De Rushton, "from all that I saw and heard, this man Joasaph is the prime mover of the conspiracy---its life and soul. Consider therefore, with what justice others can be punished, if he escape. And you, reverend Lord, should rather, methinks, rejoice, by one just blow, to rid your Church of such a blemish, than to be exposed to the charge of unworthily sheltering- him therein." For Sir Edward, as a Latin, viewed the Greek monasteries with a pardonable prejudice, and was by no means willing to see them made asylums for criminals.

"I was sure," replied the Archimandrite, bitterly, "that I should not lack my Lord Acolyth's good word. But I will call on your Majesty to remember that pure justice is not always wisdom; that at this time, in consequence of this attempt at the Union, your Majesty's sincere devotion to our Eastern Church is somewhat questioned by some--far be it from me to agree with them! but yet, I say, by some that have the ears of the people,--and to punish Joasaph capitally would not tend to lessen that ill rumour."

"My Lord," said Constantine with dignity, "what is really right, is really expedient. We shall never suffer ourselves to be swayed in our duty, or turned from it, by popular opinion. Nevertheless, as we said, all the mercy that we can show to so well-known a Priest, and so noted a brother of the Studium, we shall desire to extend. And it is something in this man's favour that he opposed to the utmost of his power the most infamous part of the scheme,---that touching the Lady Theodora Phranza."

"My Lord Caesar," said Phranza, "I wish not to be swayed by any personal consideration in this business. If I thought that it were really for the good of the empire that he should die, my sentence should be for death, though he had spoken thrice as much on my daughter's behalf. But I think that, considering the state of things generally, the need there is of pacification, the fact that we dare not trace out this conspiracy too widely and deeply through all its branches,--the certainty that the common people will overlook the desperate villainy of this man,--and surely regard him as a martyr to his dislike of the Union, perpetual imprisonment were a better doom than death. Not, my Lord Archimandrite, in the Studium, but in such a prison as the Caesar shall, in his wisdom, judge fit."

"We will be guided by your advice," said Constantine; "of ourselves we are ever disposed to mercy. If He that harrowed Hell hath forgiven us, we are bound also to forgive."

"Save, sire," said Phranza, "where forgiveness to the guilty is cruelty to the innocent. I trust there is no one here who would for a moment advise the extension of mercy to the others. The Great Duke and the Emir should die, though an angel pleaded for them; the others should have promise of their life on condition of revealing all they know of the conspiracy."

"So be it," said Constantine Palaeologus. "The next question is, How are we to treat with the Turks?"

At this moment, a sergeant of the Varangian guard knocked at the door with intelligence that Sir Edward de Rushton was wanted without, on business of importance. The knight requested the leave of the Emperor, and on going into the antechamber found, to his equal delight and astonishment, Contari and Burstow.

"Now God be praised!" said he--"we had been told that you had all lost your lives in the attempt. How is it with your party? Where is the Lord Chrysolaras?"

In as few words as possible, Burstow acquainted him with all that had passed; and then added,--

"I should not have ventured thus to intrude on the Council, my Lord, but that the report goes you have a Pasha prisoner in this hellish plot. Is that so?"

"Yes," answered De Rushton.

"And I deemed that, before the Emperor's word was pledged to any course with him, he should know that Lord Chrysolaras was a prisoner. I am sure the Sultan will not release him for ransom; but for such a prisoner he perhaps might."

"You did well," said Sir Edward. "Return to the Exarch, and see that both he and his family, and the good Priest of whom you speak, be taken all care of; and tell them that as early as may be to-morrow I will wait upon them. Where are they now?"

"At the Lord Chrysolaras' palace," replied the Varangian. "The Exarch so requested; and Lord Manuel had himself mentioned it."

"It is well," said De Rushton. "I am sure that the Caesar will forget neither you nor Contari. Fare you well both! I must return to him with speed."

"Well, my Lord?" said Constantine rather anxiously, as the Great Acolyth entered the room.

"Good news, sire! The prisoners we deemed lost are returned, all but Lord Chrysolaras,--and he is not dead, but a captive at Hadrianople. They have had some hairbreadth escapes--which your Majesty may desire to hear at a less busy time. The Varangian Burstow, whom your Majesty remembers, deemed that, in dealing with this Redschid Pasha, it might much concern your splendour to know what had happened to Chrysolaras: in order that if need be, an exchange might be effected between the two."

"God has heard our Litany," said the Emperor. "They are well cared for?"

"At the Lord Chrysolaras' house, sire."

"I will be the first to visit that poor girl," said Phranza, joyfully. "I have done her injustice, and need is I make reparation. Now, sire, I can go to this work with a light heart."

"Would that all offenders could make reparation as easily!" said Constantine. "But we must not lose time. Let us begin with mercy. Let the monk Joasaph be called in; and, secretary, be exact in your notes."

Joasaph was presently introduced between two Varangians. He was a tall, dark, dangerous-looking' man: his eyes were deep-set, black, and with the sparkle of live coals; his beard unusually long; his forehead high; he had drawn the cowl as much as possible over his face,--but he stood erect, and seemed undaunted at the imminent danger in which he found himself.

"It grieves us deeply," said the Emperor, after looking at him for half a minute with a stern glance under which even Joasaph's eye quailed, "it grieves us deeply to find, as the prime mover of a plot against not only ourselves, but against the very existence of the Church wherein he is a Priest, to find, we say, a Caloire,--a learned man too--a brother of the first Monastery in the world. You deny not the charge?"

"If your Majesty means that I deny not the conspiracy,--I glory in it," replied Joasaph. "But it was to save our Church from the accursed Azymites, and the execrable Union, that I would have put an end to the existence of the State. And what of that? A few months sooner, or a few months later, it must come at last. Emperor, the next time that autumn chases the leaves--as I have just seen them,--along the gardens of Constantine, your throne will have been swept away like them, will be trodden to the ground like them, will be contemptible like them. Come it must; why seek by these subterfuges to put off------"

"Sir Monk," interrupted Constantine, "placed as you are, about to receive sentence for a crime which no subtilty can excuse or justify, it had better become you to ask pardon first of your God, and then of your Emperor, than to use such vain and impious sophisms. It is decreed, say you, that our throne is to fall. Be it so. To God's will we shall not be the last to submit with cheerfulness. We shall fall, I am bold to say it, like a Christian and an Emperor: and these brave men, and others Tike them, if they cannot be victors, will at least be martyrs. But may a man bring about a deed of blood, because it is ordained? Then were Iscariot excused."

"I die," said Joasaph, "for opposing the Union. You judge me now: God will judge you hereafter. I say no more."

"You would deserve to die," replied Constantine, gravely, "not for opposing the Union, but for selling the city to the Turks rather than submit to it. But in consideration of your office, and lest the vulgar cry should resemble what you have even now said yourself, we will be merciful far beyond your deserts. Your sentence is perpetual imprisonment: that the necessity of the State, and the well-being of those whom you would otherwise pervert, no less demand than your own guilt."

"Take notice," said Joasaph, "that this Union will not prosper; that God's curse is upon it; that all good men------"

"Take him off! Take him off, guard!" cried Phranza. "Keep him in the guard-room till further orders be issued. Is it your Majesty's will that the Great Duke should be summoned?"

"Let him be brought in," said Constantine. "My Lord Acolyth, is that day which is breaking?" and he pointed to one of the windows.

"It had broken, my Liege, when I was called out even now. Accept the omen, sire."

At this moment a scuffle was heard outside the door,--the stern voices of the Varangians, and the frantic exclamations of Leontius, "I cannot! I will not! I will die rather," hardly hushed even as the door was opened, and he was dragged, rather than led, into the presence of the Caesar.

The miserable man wore the same cloak which he had assumed when he set forth to the secret rendezvous: it was drenched with salt water, torn in the fight between the two boats, and as unlike the usual dress of the luxurious nobleman as imagination could conceive. His hair was loose and dishevelled; his face a ghastly pale; his fingers worked convulsively together; his eyes rolled restlessly around: the bitterness of death was already begun in him. The guards, as they stood on each side, half held him, half supported him; it seemed as though he would fain have spoken, but his voice refused its office; and there he stood,--shunned by all, contemned by all, marked out for punishment,--the verv image of a detected and impotent traitor.

"My Lord Grand Duke," said Constantine, "to prolong this scene were to change justice into cruelty. The proofs of your treason--your gross, diabolical treason,--are too manifest for you to attempt a defence. We suppose you will not attempt any." He paused; but Leontius only wrung his hands. "The necessities of the State would, in any case, have forbidden our extending mercy to you; but the villainy contemplated by you towards a noble lady of our court, dries up all pity in its source. God grant you forgiveness for this, and for all your other sins! Your sentence is, that you be beheaded at noon, in the inner court of the palace. Till then, you shall have all such ghostly consolation as you may need. Any Bishop resident in the city shall attend you, and your family, whom you have so deeply wronged, shall have free access to you."

Leontius heard as one stupefied. At length, by a sudden exertion of strength, he burst from his guards, and flung himself at the feet of Constantine, grasping his purple buskins with frantic violence.

"Oh, mercy, mercy, Lord Cresar!" he shrieked, in a voice that long afterwards rang in the ears of the auditors. "Only mercy for my life! Spare that, and take everything I have; spare it, and I will bless your clemency to the end of my days: spare it,--and imprison me where you will--only life!--for God's sake, life!"

"Lord Grand Duke," said the Emperor, "these effeminate entreaties advantage you not one jot. Your earthly doom is fixed. Only use the same vehemence towards God, and, as this holy man," and he looked to the Archimandrite, "will tell you, His ear is ever open. Secretary, give the warrant" (for one of the officials had been busy drawing it out) "and the purple ink."

The miserable nobleman uttered shriek after shriek, and would have clung more closely to the Caesar's knees; but the guards, who, out of a principle of humanity, had allowed him, when he burst from them, one chance for life, now dragged him off, and held him between them till the Caesar, notwithstanding the outcries of the prisoner, had calmly and quietly affixed his name to the death-warrant in the purple ink, which was the peculiar badge of the Emperor of the Romans.

Leontius was then dragged off, and the two inferior officers introduced,--the Grand Emir being kept back to the last. A choice was held out to them between immediate death and perpetual imprisonment: the latter being reserved for them if they made a full and free confession of all that they knew concerning the conspiracy. As, only too thankful to escape death, they revealed all their information, its ramifications were so extensive as to strike terror into the Emperor himself. Many of the highest officers of his court were implicated in it; none could say where it would stop: and at every fresh disclosure, the miserable chances of preserving Constantinople from the Turks grew less and less. When the informers were removed, Constantine gave orders that the secretaries and other officials should withdraw, and then, in private, with Phranza and Sir Edward de Rushton, he took counsel in the sad view that opened before him. The result of that deliberation we shall hereafter have occasion to relate.

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