VILLEHARDOUIN, GEOFFREY OF(C. 1150–1213). Marshal of Champagne and the author of La conquête de Constantinople (the Conquest of Constantinople), Geoffrey is important for the role he played as an adviser to the leaders of the Fourth Crusade and for the account he wrote of that adventure—which saw the crusaders start off to conquer Jerusalem and end up conquering Constantinople.
Born a younger son of Vilain of Villehardouin, a nobleman of Champagne, Geoffrey of Villehardouin, through personal connections, marriage, and his own talents, rose to become the marshal of Champagne in 1185. This position made him the chief logistical officer and the first deputy in administrative affairs to the count of Champagne. He was respected for his good sense and organizational skills and appears as a conscientious, pious, and chivalrous noble of his day in his own chronicle. Although his rank did not place him among the nominal leaders of the Fourth Crusade, he still attended most of their councils, offered advice to them, and served as a diplomat or emissary on several missions where he represented the leaders of the crusade. It was on his suggestion that the leadership of the crusade was offered to Boniface of Montferrat. He served as one of the emissaries sent to negotiate with the Venetians for ships to carry the crusaders. He was also sent as one of the diplomats who went before the Byzantine emperor, demanding his compliance with the Treaty of Zara. When the emperor refused to comply, Villehardouin’s delegation declared war upon him.
La conquête de Constantinople, Villehardouin’s history of the Fourth Crusade, is the most comprehensive and arguably the most important narrative of that expedition. It was also the first history of a crusade that has come down to us to be composed in French prose (earlier histories were all written in Latin, and earlier French writings on crusading topics were poems). At least some modern scholars have praised Villehardouin as a chronicler. They cite his skill at using and portraying numbers accurately and his good memory, which may