Kingdom of Cyprus

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The Kingdom of Cyprus was a Roman Catholic Crusader kingdom on the island of Cyprus in the late Middle Ages.

The island was conquered from Isaac Comnenus, an upstart local governor and self-proclaimed emperor claiming the Empire of Constantinople, in 1191 by King Richard I of England during the Third Crusade. Richard then sold it to the Knights Templar, who in turn sold it to King-Consort Guy of Lusignan in 1192 after the failure of Richard's crusade and when Guy was going dispossessed from his late wife's kingdom. His brother and successor, Amalric I of Cyprus, received the royal crown and title from Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor. A small minority Roman Catholic population of the island was mainly confined to some coastal cities, such as Famagusta, as well as inland Nicosia, the traditional capital. Roman Catholics kept the reins of power and control, while the Greek inhabitants lived in the countryside; this was much the same as the arrangement in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The independent Eastern Orthodox Church of Cyprus, with its own archbishop and subject to no patriarch, was allowed to remain on the island, but the Latin Church largely displaced it in stature and holding property.

After the death of Amalric of Lusignan, the Kingdom continually passed to a series of young boys who grew up as king. The Ibeli family, which had held much power in Jerusalem prior its downfall, acted as regents during these early years. In 1229 one of the Ibelin regents was forced out of power by Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor, who brought the struggle between the Guelphs and Ghibellines to the island. Frederick's supporters were defeated in this struggle by 1233, although it lasted longer in Palestine and in Europe. Frederick's Hohenstaufen descendants continued to rule as kings of Jerusalem until 1268 when Hugh III of Cyprus claimed the title and its territory of Acre for himself upon the death of Conrad III of Jerusalem, thus uniting the two kingdoms. The territory in Palestine was finally lost while Henry II was king in 1291, but the kings of Cyprus continued to claim the title.

Like Jerusalem, Cyprus had a Haute Cour (High Court), although it was less powerful than it had been in Jerusalem. The island was richer and more feudal than Jerusalem, so the king had more personal wealth and could afford to ignore the Haute Cour. The most important vassal family was the multi-branch House of Ibelin. However, the king was often in conflict with the Italian merchants, especially because Cyprus had become the centre of European trade with Africa and Asia after the fall of Acre in 1291.

The kingdom eventually came to be dominated more and more in the 14th century by the Genoese merchants. Cyprus therefore sided with the Avignon Papacy in the Western Schism, in the hope that the French would be able to drive out the Italians. The Mameluks then made the kingdom a tributary state in 1426; the remaining monarchs gradually lost almost all independence, until 1489 when the last Queen, Catherine Cornaro, was forced to sell the island to Venice.

List of Kings of Cyprus


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