her marriage to James II Lusignan of Cyprus in 1468, CATERINA CORNARO
of Venice became Queen of Cyprus when she was just 14 years old. The
initial wedding ceremony was conducted in Venice with the King represented
only by his proxy. The marriage was confirmed by a second ceremony
conducted in person in Cyprus four years later. Upon the death of
her husband in 1473 (and of their infant son Prince James III Lusignan
in August of the same year), Queen Caterina became sole ruler of her
propelled a daughter of a republic such as Venice--for whom the Venetian
government found it necessary to create the title Daughter of St.
Mark--to become a ruling monarch? The union was engineered by her
father Cav. Marco Cornaro and his younger brother Proc. Andrea Cornaro,
two of the most ingenious men in the illustrious history of the Cornaro
family and of Venice itself. In breath-taking fashion the event
culminated more than 100 years of influence by the Cornaro family
in the affairs of Cyprus.
The story began
in 1366 while Caterina's great-great-grandfather, another Marco Cornaro,
was Doge of Venice. The then King of Cyprus made a tour through European
capitals seeking money and allies to defend his kingdom against the
imminent threat of invasion by the Ottoman Turks. His royal hosts
through Northern Europe welcomed their fellow monarch but tendered
no useful aide.
In Venice, however,
Doge Marco Cornaro's vastly wealthy cousin Federico Cornaro hosted
the King's stay at his Cornaro palace on the Grand Canal. The Cornaros,
led in the venture by Federico, provided privately the bulk of the
financial resources that the King needed and that the royal houses
of Europe had not dared to advance. Their support brought the Cornaros
the rich plantations lying on the Episcopi peninsula along Cyprus'
south coast and inaugurated a long and close relationship between
the Cornaro and Lusignan families.
In the 1460s
Marco Cornaro, great-grandson of the Doge of the same name, together
with his brother Andrea, established a lucrative trade between Venice
and Cyprus. Andrea managed the family's affairs in Cyprus and Marco
in Venice. As a civil war erupted between a daughter of the deceased
King and her illegitimate half-brother, the Lusignans again turned
to the Cornaro family for massive financial support. Andrea Cornaro
became an indispensable advisor to James Lusignan, the half-brother.
When he had successfully seized the throne as James II, the Cornaros--supported
by the Venetian government--claimed their audacious prize: the marriage
of James II and Marco Cornaro's young daughter Caterina.
In fact, Caterina
was actually of royal descent herself; her mother--Marco Cornaro's
wife--was a granddaughter of the Emperor of Trebizond and therefore
a descendant of the Emperors of the Byzantine Empire. The Cornaros
presciently extracted an agreement that Caterina was to be not simply
Royal Consort but ruling Queen--with full rights of succession. Or
perhaps it was not prescience, but planning: some have suggested that
the King did not die of natural causes.
to discover, like her husband before her, that the eastern Mediterranean
was a difficult place for holding onto a crown.