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Theodora Phranza; or, the Fall of Constantinople

By John Mason Neale

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

Chapter XVI.

"That wealth, too sacred for their country's use;
That wealth, too pleasing to be lost for freedom;
That wealth, which granted to their weeping prince
Had ranged embattled nations at our gates."


Our tale must now pass over a period of about four months; and carry forward our readers to the April of the year of grace 1453.

But it will be necessary to give a short historical glance at the events of the interval. They then, who are acquainted with the annals of the period in question, may miss the present chapter, which shall be a short one; and will find the story continue, uninterrupted by the insertion, in the next.

Anna Patellari, the much injured wife of the Great Duke, did not desert her husband's cause when it seemed hopeless. That night she appealed to Phranza, to De Rushton, to the Emperor himself. All was in vain. In the grey of the morning she sent for Salathiel, the rich merchant of the Contoscalion, and by parting with all her jewels raised the enormous sum of five thousand gold pieces. This was too much for the fidelity of the guards: and long before the messengers of death arrived, Leontius and his wife were on their way to Hadrianople.

On the twelfth of September, 1452, the False Union of the two Churches took place. Cardinal Isidore offered Pontifical High Mass, according to the Roman rite, in the Church of S. Sophia: and the schism, from that time, became more determinately embittered than ever. The great church was deserted. The conforming Priests were suspended. Those that had communicated from their hands, or from the hands of those that had communicated with them, or that had merely assisted at the Mass, or even held communion with those that had assisted, were put to penance at the approaching Lent. The siege, now known to impend, was hardly talked of: the Azymite and Processionist controversies were in every one's mouth; Cardinal Isidore could not leave his mansion without a guard; the monk Gennadius issued his instructions and thundered forth his anathemas with the authority of a Pontiff; Constantine and Phranza were known to submit to the Union merely from motives of expediency; the monks were actively engaged against it: everywhere was polemical discussion and religious invective.

Constantine, meanwhile, was not inattentive to the military defence of Constantinople. Provisions of all kinds were brought into the city by sea: salt fish, salt meat, cheese, flour, biscuits, pease, beans, sheep, oxen, hams, wine, everything which prudence could suggest or art procure. Beside the native soldiers, he had two thousand western auxiliaries, under the charge of John Justiniani, a Genoese officer of noble birth and high reputation.

The reader must remember that Constantinople, properly so called, is in the form of a triangle, or to speak more accurately, of a half crescent. The convex part of the crescent is bounded by the Bosporus; the concave by the harbour called the Golden Horn, which runs up between the city and its suburbs of Galata; and the land side, or base of the triangle, presented a double wall of about four miles and a quarter in length, protected by an exterior ditch. The bastions of this wall, as they would undoubtedly be the first point attacked, so all the skill of the besieged had been laid out in their construction; and the Tower of S. Romanus, half way between the Golden Horn and the Bosporus, was considered the turning-point for the possession of the city.

On the 6th of April, 1453, which was Good Friday, the Crescent first appeared under the walls of Constantinople; and thenceforward the works continued with incredible ardour. Three great batteries thundered day and night against the wall; the three enormous cannons were, by great exertions, fired seven times a day each; and machines of the most formidable kind were then for the first time brought into operation, or at least so much improved as to acquire a new place in the art of war.

At one and the same time the cannon thundered, the cross-bows twanged; huge rams played against the bastions, the men that worked them being defended by a light roof of leather; flights of arrows were shot into the city; the Greek fire burnt through mail and plate; the match-lock musket was slowly and painfully discharged; in some cases a fire-arm, nearly resembling the then unknown snap-haunce, was brought into action; red-hot shot fell into the streets; and still, hourly, the trenches ran on; still the Christian chivalry of the west, either by a sudden sally, or by a well-directed flight of arrows, or by a deadly shower of bullets, larger than walnuts, held their assailants at bay. The great cannon burst, and killed all that were in attendance on it; and the progress of the Mussulmans, all through the Holy Season between Easter and Whitsuntide, was so slow that the besieged began to entertain the strongest hopes, diminished only by their rapidly failing stock of gunpowder, and by the increasing scarcity of provisions. They knew well that the Turks had neither patience nor means to carry on a prolong-ed siege: a resistance of two months would for that time, be successful; and April wore on, in the vain indignation of Mahomet, and the sanguine expectation of Constantine.

It was known that several of the Christian Princes were arming, slowly and tardily indeed, but yet surely, for the defence of Constantinople; that the merchant republics were preparing to send money and provisions; that a very moderate naval force could introduce anything by sea, as the Turkish fleet, though numbering three hundred vessels, consisted of little better than gunboats. Constantine himself seemed ubiquitous. Now he was actively engaged at the long wall, and the Tower of S. Romanus; now offering up his devotions in S. Sophia; now visiting the provision stores; now, in a little boat, venturing across the Golden Horn, to examine the security of the Great Chain that stretched from the Seraglio Point to the Lime Gate, and secured the harbour. All that man could do, he did; and he was well seconded by some four or five of his principal officers. But the western auxiliaries clamoured for pay; the Emperor was reduced to the expedient of taking the treasures of the churches with the promise of fourfold restitution; and the nearest Christian princes, Hunniades, and the King of Hungary, stirred not a foot to the relief of their distressed brother, believing an obscure prophecy that Constantinople would be the term of the Turkish conquests.

In the meantime, Sir Edward de Rushton continued the life and soul of the defence. The limit of the time fixed for Phranza's answer was now drawing near; and the old Greek nobleman, though determined to consent if the siege should continue, was in no hurry to anticipate what he considered the degradation of his house. The Emperor had been as good as his word; and had hinted to Theodora his knowledge of one great motive that influenced De Rushton, and his hopes that the exertions of that knight would not be in vain. Poor Theodora was much alarmed at the idea of the secret being discovered: but her fears were dissipated by the kind and frank declaration of the Emperor that he knew the worth of the Great Acolyth--could wish him a suitable reward--when the proper time came would not be wanting in whatever assistance he might give--and till that period, would at least show himself as discreet in his silence as he hoped then to be effectual in his words.

The offered exchange of Redschid Pasha for Manuel Chrysolaras was rejected by the Sultan with disdain. If the Pasha could not protect himself against infidels, he, the Sultan, was in no way bound to interfere for his deliverance. He might make his escape if he could; and if not, he must wait at Constantinople till, with the blessing of the Prophet, the green flag should float over the Palace of the Caesars. Chrysolaras was therefore obliged to accompany the Sultan on his expedition; and was witness day by day to the gigantic efforts made by Mahomet for the capture of the devoted city. He was not, however, entirely left without the means of benefiting his brethren within the walls. Calil Pasha, one of Mahomet's most trusted councillors, had been for some time bought over with Byzantine gold; and though, under the circumstances, able to hold little communication with the prisoner, yet they understood each other, and were able, occasionally, to interchange sentiments by a trusty eunuch of the Pasha's retinue.

Euphrasia, with her father and mother, still remained in the city when the siege commenced; for Silivri, after a brave but useless defence, had fallen before the Moslem troops were led to Constantinople. By the kindness of the Emperor, they were provided with suitable lodgings: the palace of Chrysolaras being objected to, under the circumstances, by both mother and daughter, to the great indignation of the old Exarch, who denounced their change of abode as a womanish affectation. Contari, on returning to Constantinople, had been promoted to a higher post in the guard than he had even requested; and, on obtaining this, he begged Eudocia to delay his happiness no longer: so that as soon as ever the return of January rendered marriages canonical, Father Demetrius performed the ceremony of the bridal coronation.

We have now only to speak of Leontius. He and his wife had made good their escape to Hadrianople; where, to her infinite grief, he instantly made a tender of his services to Mahomet, by whom they were readily accepted.

His perfect knowledge of Constantinople, his acquaintance with the disaffected party there, his intimate familiarity with the revenues of the Empire, all these had induced the Sultan to settle on him a handsome pension, and to place him in the confiscated palace of a Greek nobleman at Ha-drianople. He would also have induced him to change his religion; but Leontius, though declaring that at some future period he very possibly might do so, preferred retaining the faith in which he had been brought up, till he should see what degree of success favoured the Sultan's arms.

All these things were the deepest and most bitter affliction to Anna Patellari, but she bore it all, patiently and meekly: submitted to her husband's passive neglect, or active unkindness,--knew that, in the hour of her need, he was joining a hunting party of the Sultan's,--and finally, when able again to perform the usual duties of life, had the agony of finding that Leontius had openly introduced a Turkish mistress into his house and her place. This last blow she felt not called upon to bear; and taking advantage of one of the many embassies which passed between Hadrianople and Constantinople on the subject of the release of Redschid, she returned, to her husband's great joy, to the Imperial City, carrying her infant along with her, and leaving him to pursue his career of vice unobserved and unchecked.

Now we return to the course of our history.

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