Joa'nnes Vii. Palaeo'logus
emperor of Constantinople (A. D. 1425-1448), was born in 1390, and succeeded his father, the emperor Manuel II., in 1425, after having been made co-emperor in 1419.
In the year of his accession he concluded a new peace with sultan Mürad II., and the Turks being then engaged in war with Hungary, Servia, Wallachia, Venice, and the Turkomans, in Asia Minor, he enjoyed the quietude of a slave during more than ten years. His empire consisted of the city of Constantinople and its immediate neighbourhood : the other Greek possessions in Greece, on the Propontis and on the Black Sea, were governed with sovereign power by his six brothers, among whom was Constantine, the last emperor of Constantinople.
But the peace with Mürad did not include his brothers also, and several of them were deprived by the sultan of their small principalities, and took refuge at Constantinople. Still, hoping that the Greek empire could be restored, through the western princes, he followed the line of policy which had been adopted by so many of his predecessors, and promised to unite the Greek church with the Roman, if the pope would rouse the kings of Europe for his defence. Pope Engene IV. invited him to Rome, alleging that his presence there would do most in his favour.
But the imperial finances were exhausted, through the heavy tribute paid to the Turks, and the emperor would have been unable to accept the invitation but for a timely succour of eight papal gallies laden with provisions, and the still more acceptable present of a handsome sum of money, to defray the expenses of his journey. John, accompanied by his brother Demetrius, a host of prelates and priests, among whom was the learned Bessarion, set out from Constantinople in November, 1437, and safely arrived at Venice, where he was received with all the honours due to his rank.
After a short stay at Venice, he proceeded to Ferrara, and there also was received with great state by the sovereign of that principality.
It was at Ferrara that the council was to assemble. Pope Eugene IV. had preceded him thither. Particular reasons induced the pope to treat the Greek emperor with much more attention, and the Greek prelates with much less pride, than the mightier emperor of Germany, or the arrogant prelates of the West.
The council of Ferrara was but a continuation of those of Pisa, Constance, and Basel, in which the supremacy of the popes had met with severe checks, especially in the latter, where the authority of the councils was declared to be superior to that of the popes; and Eugene flattered himself that, through the re-union of the widely-spread church of the Greeks with that of Rome, he would secure for himself and his successors that unlimited authority which was once possessed by pope Gregory VII., and others of the preceding centuries.
In the following year the council was transferred to Florence, and there, after long negotiations, carried on with remarkable ability and learning by Bessarion and bishop Marcus, of Ephesus, on the part of the Greeks, the re-union of the two churches was concluded in July, 1439.
The Greek Syropulus has written the history of the councils of Ferrara and Florence; and to his work, of which Robert Creighton published a Latin translation at the Hague, 1660, fol., we refer the reader for particulars.
The emperor and his suite returned to Constantinople early in 1440, rather disappointed that the western princes had declined giving any direct promise of restoring the Greek empire to its ancient splendour, and his disappointment was still greater when he went on shore in his capital. The Greek people considered their spiritual union with Rome as the prelude to a second Latin empire in the East; the orthodox and the bigotted thought their souls in danger; the learned were shocked at the idea, that by submitting to the infallible decision of the pope they would henceforth be deprived of all the honours and advantages they derived from either removing or creating religious difficulties; and bishop Marcus of Ephesus, who had constantly opposed a reunion on conditions dictated by the pope, raised the standard of Greek orthodoxy, and confined the doctrine of the united church within the palace of the emperor, and the narrow cells of his chaplains.
The journeys of several of the Greek emperors to Rome were of great importance in the revival of classical learning in Italy, and that of John VII. forms an epoch in the history of literature, the consequences of which we can trace down to the present day.
After his return to Constantinople, John was engaged for some time in secret negotiations with the pope, who, moved by the dangers of a Turkish invasion of Italy, rather than by compassion for the independence of the Greeks, roused king Ladislaus of Hungary to break the peace which he had concluded with sultan Mürad, and to invade Turkey.
The dreadful rout of the Hungarians, in 1444, at Varna, where king Ladislaus and the cardinal Julian lian were slain, placed John and his capital in jeopardy, but the sultan was bent upon retiring from the throne, and refrained from punishing the emperor. During the Hungarian campaign, the emperor's brother, Constaantine, had enlarged his dominions in Greece so much, that in 1445 he reigned over the whole Peloponnesus and a considerable part of northern Greece. Mürad marched against him with the victors of Varna, stormed the Hexamilion, or the wall which, stretching across the isthmus of Corinth, served as a barrier against an invasion from the north, took and destroyed Corinth and Patras, and was only induced through a second invasion of the Hungarians, in 1447, to allow Constantine the further possession of the Peloponnesus, on condition of paying an annual tribute.
The peace between Constantine and the sultan was concluded by the historian Phranza.
In the following year, 1448, John died, and was succeeded by his brother Constantine, the last emperor of Constantinople. John was thrice married, 1. to Anna, a Russian princess; 2. to Sophia of Montferrat; and 3. to Maria Comnena, of the imperial family of Trebizond; but by none of them did he leave any issue.
Phranza, lib. ii.; Ducas, 100.28-33; Syropulus, in the edition of Creighton quoted above.