Contemporaries spoke well of the Emperor Constantine and he was highly regarded by all.
Constantine XI married twice, on 1 July 1428 to Theodora Tocco, niece of Carlo I Tocco of Epirus and, after her death, on 27 July 1441 to Caterina Gattilusio, daughter of Dorino of Lesbos but she died in August 1442 after suffering a miscarriage. He had no children by either marriage.
After his imperial coronation in 1449, Constantine XI sent a commission under George Sphrantzes asking Mara Branković, daughter of the Serbian Despot Đurađ Branković and Byzantine princess Irene Kantakouzene, to marry him.
Sphrantzes started official negotiations with the Georgian king, who had sent an ambassador to Constantinople for that reason.
|Emperor John VIII Palaiologos|
from Benozzo Gozzoli's 1459 representation of the Three Kings
At the Council of Florence Emperor John VII was called by the Council "Emperor of the Romans", including in the preface to the decree of re-union, Laetentur Caeli of 1439, and his throne was placed, together with that of Pope Eugene IV, by the empty throne of the Western Roman Emperor, that office being temporarily sede vacante as the Prince-Electors of the Empire had yet to decide upon a new Holy Roman Emperor.
The Council of Ferrara had been moved to Florence in January 1439 and made steady progress on a formula for reunion.
On 6 July 1439 Laetentur Caeli was signed by Patriarch Joseph II of Constantinople and all the Eastern bishops but one, Mark of Ephesus, who, contrary to the views of all others, held that Rome continued in both heresy and schism.
Upon their return, the Eastern bishops found their agreement with the West broadly rejected by the monks, the populace and by civil authorities, with the notable exception of the Emperors John VIII and Constantine XI who remained committed to union until the fall of the Byzantine Empire to the Turkish Ottoman Empire two decades later.
|Eastern Byzantine Christian Roman Emperor Constantine XI|
Constantine and Thomas barely escaped to Mistra while Murad devastated the coast line, taking 60,000 prisoners for the Turkish slave markets.
When his brother, Emperor John VIII Palaiologos, died childless, a dispute erupted between Constantine and his brother Demetrios Palaiologos over the throne. Demetrios drew support by opposing the union of the Orthodox and Catholic churches. The Empress Helena, acting as regent, supported Constantine.
The Patriarch of Constantinople at the time, Patriarch Gregory III, being in favour of reunion with Rome, was shunned by most of his clergy. Constantine knew that to receive his crown from Gregory would add fuel to the existing fires of religious discord in the capital.
Sultan Murad died in 1451 and was succeeded by his 19-year-old son, Mehmed II, who was obsessed with the conquest of Constantinople and soon found an excuse to besiege the great city. Belligerent Turkish sultans were obsessively bent upon conquering Constantimople (just as they were obsessed to take what they called "the Golden Apple", Vienna, or, even better, Rome).
On 29 May 1453 Constantinople fell and the reunion with it.
|Sultan Mehmed II prepares to invade the great Eastern Christian Roman capital of Constantinople|
At the same time, he used his diplomatic skills to maintain the necessary unity between the Genoese, Venetian, and Greek troops.
|The Muslim invasion of Constantinople: Emperor Constantine XI leads his troops into battle for the final showdown against the heathen invaders...|
These were his last words to his soldiers:
"I would not go if there was any benefit to leave the city, but I cannot go away...I will not leave ever. I have decided to die with you."
He died heroically at the head of his men, sword in hand, faithful and loyal to the last.
He knew he was defending the ancient Christian capital of Constantine, the Eastern Roman Empire and ‘όι ρωμαίοι ("hoi Romaioi",“the Romans”, as the Easterners always called themselves) from the infidel horde, a true soldier for Christ defending the bounds of Christendom, faithful unto death.
He remains the hero of heroes to the Greeks (and, indeed, to all Christians) ever since.
μείζονα ταύτης ἀγάπην οὐδεὶς ἔχει, ἵνα τις τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ θῇ ὑπὲρ τῶν φίλων αὐτοῦ...
"Greater love than this no man hath, that he lay down his life for his friends...."
|An ikon of the saintly Emperor Constantine XI|
He is a saint for our time so threatened by those same heathen infidel terrorists.
|The imperial double eagle of the Palaiologoi emperors of Byzantium|