The Byzantine emperor maintained a ‘stable’ of pretenders to almost every foreign throne in the known world. For instance, if the Turkish sultan seemed poised to attack, the Byzantine emperor could release a pretender, perhaps a younger brother of the Sultan. With Byzantine gold in his pockets and some armed supporters, the pretender could be counted on to wreak havoc in Turkish territory, spoiling the Sultan’s attack.

In 1282, faced once again by the threat posed by Charles of Anjou, Michael VIII helped instigate the War of the Sicilian Vespers, in which native Sicilians rose up against Angevin rule. The rebellion ended Charles’ dream of ruling in Constantinople. Michael VIII himself wrote: ‘should I dare to claim that I was God’s instrument to bring freedom to the Sicilians, then I should only be stating the truth’.