The Queen of Venice

Venice is the Queen of the Seas. But does Venice herself have a queen? Yes, she does. When you inch from the Rialto toward San Marco in the narrow passages, and, next to the church of San Zulian, look down from Ponte dei Bareteri, you read the street name Fondamenta Morosini della Regina – the Queen Morosini’s Quay.

The Morosini family is undoubtedly one of the oldest and most prestigious ones in Venice. They belonged to those twelve families, called “apostolic” because of their number, who first fled from Attila to the lagoons, and who participated in the election of Doge Paoluccio Anafesto (697-717). During the Serenissima’s existence, they gave four doges, four dogaresse (doge-wives) and twenty-six procurators.

“Die Herzogin von Venedig”, that is, the dogaressa of Venice. “Look carefully at this picture if you want to know, how luxuriously a princess is dressed in Venice, in Italian land, that only a few people know. In German land we do not find such a richly dressed lady.” Jost Amman’s woodcut in Im Frauwenzimmer Wirt vermeldt von allerley schönen Kleidungen vnnd Trachten der Weiber (In the boudoir. About all the beautiful ladies’ clothes and attires in the world), Nuremberg, 1586.

However, one of the members of the Morosini family rose to an even higher rank. The blonde prince virtually rode into the life of Tomasina Morosini on a white horse – or perhaps on a white gondola –, and thus she became the queen of Hungary. How did this happen?

“When King Andrew II, father of King Bela IV and Prince Kalman, after the death or rather the assassionation of his first wife, crossed the sea to the Holy Land, to victoriously fight for the Lord’s tomb, and he was returning home with glory and honor, he stopped in Italy, where he was received with great hospitality by the Marquis of Este. The Marquis, having learned that the King was a widow, presented him his daughter, of a great beauty. And the King, seeing that she was beautiful and of charming appearance, and since he wanted to find a new wife anyway, married her on the same day, and brought her to Hungary.

After the death of King Andrew, this lady, while preparing to return to her parents, summoned the magnates, bishops and archbishops of Hungary, and showed them with obvious signs that she was pregnant with the King’s child. Then she returned to their estate in Este. There, in the house of her father she gave birth to a boy, who was named in baptism Stephen. […] Stephen went to Venice. There, one of the wealthier and richer citizens, having heard and received proofs that he was the son of the King of Hungary, married him to his daughter. That woman gave birth to a son, who was named Andrew, after his grandfather’s name.”

The above narrative of the Chronicon Pictum (1358) needs to be corrected in several details, but it does not change much in the essence of the story. Andrew II led a campaign of the Holy Land not on this occasion (1234), but some fifteen years earlier, in 1217-1218. After his first wife, Gertrude, assassinated by the barons of Hungary, he had had a second one by this time, Jolanta, daughter of Peter of Courtenay, Count of Auxerre and Namour. He got to know his third wife, Beatrix of Este in 1233, shortly after Jolanta’s death, during his pilgrimate to Italy, and married her in 1234 in Hungary. And finally, Beatrix not simply “returned”, but fled back to Este. Andrew’s older sons, the future King Bela IV and Prince Kalman were opposed from the beginning to the new marriage of their sixty-year-old father, and looked suspicious on the pregnancy of his young wife, rumouring that the real father was the baron Dénes of Apold. After the death of Andrew II on 21 September 1235, they put Beatrix under arrest. She, however, escaped to Germany, and in Marburg gave birth to her son, Stephen the Posthumous.

Adventurous is the fate of exiled princes. I wonder why no TV series or historical novel was written about the life of Prince Stephen. How was it to be a pretender to a royal throne, to traverse cities and principalities with this card, obtain allies, court to heiresses, put a life on everything or nothing?

Prince Stephen grew up in Este, traveled through Spain and the princely courts of the Po plain, Ferrara, Verona, Ravenna, and finally he settled in Venice. Here he won the hand of the daughter of the patrician Michele Morosini, obviously not without the consent of the Grand Council of Venice, who knew how useful a Venetian-friendly Hungarian king would be in a situation where the Serenissima and Hungary were fighting for Dalmatia. Here was born, around 1265, their son Andrew, who, due to the fortunate collusion of the circumstances, and against all odds, came to the Hungarian throne in 1290. In fact, his predecessor, Ladislas IV, Bela IV’s grandson, spent his time in the tents of her Cuman mistresses, and was abhorred of his wife, Anjou Isabel of Naples, so he died without a legal heir. At this time the Hungarian barons turn to the “last golden branch” of the Árpád dynasty, as he is called in his necrolog of 1303, forgotten in Venice. Andrew was brought to Hungary, and crowned king on 23 July 1290.

Two commissioners of Lodomér, Archbishop of Esztergom, bring Prince Andrew to Hungary. Chronicon Pictum, 1358

The haste and the suppression of the doubts concerning the prince’s illegitimate origin were also due to the fact that there was another pretender to the throne of Hungary. Ladislas IV’s sister, Mary was married to the same Anjou family of Naples, from where Ladislas’ wife Isabel came. Her son, Anjou Charles Martell demanded the Hungarian crown on maternal lineage, and his claim was also supported by the Pope. However, the Hungarian barons did not miss a strong ruler of foreign origin, neither an increased influence of the Pope in Hungary. Only the son of Charles Martell, Charles Robert will seize the throne of Hungary in 1308, after the barons, following the death of Andrew III in 1301, tried two other kings of their own choice. No wonder, that under the Hungarian Angevin kings – Charles Robert (1308-1342) and his son Louis (1342-1382), the memory of Andrew III became increasingly negative. After some time he was openly considered illegitimate, and his diplomas were only accepted if Charles Robert also confirmed them.

Silver denar of Andrew III, 1290-1301

But back to Venice. Andrew was still a minor when his father, Prince Stephen the Posthumous died. His mother’s brother, Albertino Morosini assumed his guardianship. Shortly after he went to Hungary in 1290, his mother and uncle followed him at the head of an official Venetian delegation, to congratulate him on his election as king, and to find a definitive solution – of course to the benefit of Venice – to the Dalmatian question. Andrew appointed his mother Princess of Slavonia, and included his uncle into the Hungarian nobility, making him also his heir in 12900. However, after his death in 1301, the Hungarian estates of his mother and uncle were confiscated, and they returned to Venice. According to Donato Contarini’s Cronaca veneta sino al 1433 (Cod. 6260, fol. 106v.), preserved in the Nationalbibliothek of Vienna, they built a house near the church of San Zulian, and the queen lived there until her death in 1311:

“…Andreas nepote de lo dicto messer Albertin morì et non laso nisun eriede et conuene lo regno uiolentemente in man de realli tirani e prese per maior partido messer Albertin de recondur la sorela et la sua persona a Veniexia con quelle solamente perche la roba li fu tolta et venuto a Veniexia lo dicto messer Albertin el qual era spendidissimo et de degno prosepia esendo la sorela stata regina per honor suo et de la casa sua el feze edificar una posesion in S. Zulian in la ruga driedo le case del monastier de S. Zorzi avanti che se ariva al ponte de le balote et lì abitò la dicta regina in fina che quella uisse et uegniva ciamada quela corte de la regina et cusì se ciamo fino al presente zorno…”

“…Andrew, the nephew of said Messer Albertin, died without heir, and his country came into the hands of tyrant kings. Thus, the main concern of Messer Albertin was to lead his sister and himself without any harm back to Venice, since all their estates were confiscated. In Venice, Messer Albertin, who was generous and very proud, since his sister was a queen, built a house to the glory of his family and of himself in the parish of San Zulian, in the street behind the houses of the Saint George Monastery, before the Ponte de le Balote. The Queen lived there until the end of her life, and that house has been called to this day the Queen’s Courtyard…”

A relief of Saint George in the square of the church of San Zulian, at the beginning of the former houses of the Saint George Monastery. The Ponte de le Balote was a wooden bridge until 1725, when it was rebuilt of Istrian stone. Its name comes from the ballotte, the linen ballots used to the election of the doges and other officials, produced in the neighboring Calle de le Balote. The courtyard opening from Fondamenta Morosini della Regina bears the name of Tramontin only since 1743, after the ivory workshop of Zuane Tramontin opened here (under the sign of the Two Elephants); earlier, it might have been the Queen’s Courtyard.

This is the house of the Morosini Queen, who was forced to flee from Attila’s country to the land of the Venetians forced by Attila to the lagoons. Perhaps the oldest house of the world that is still standing today, which has a Hungarian connection.

Attila, the scourge of God. 15th-century bronze medal (Budapest, National Museum), and its copy in the above cited Viennese manuscript of Donato Contarini’s Cronaca veneta sino al 1433.

View from the Fondamenta Morosini della Regina toward the Armenian church of the Holy Cross, and the same on Giovanni Pividor’s 19th-c. drawing