1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Cornaro, Caterina

CORNARO, CATERINA (1454–1510), queen of Cyprus, was the daughter of Marco Cornaro, a Venetian noble, whose brother Andrea was an intimate friend of James de Lusignan, natural son of King John II. of Cyprus. In the king’s death in 1458 the succession was disputed, and James, with the help of the sultan of Egypt, seized the island. But several powers were arrayed against him—the duke of Savoy, who claimed the island on the strength of the marriage of his son Louis to Charlotte, the only legitimate daughter of John II.,[1] the Genoese, and the pope. It was important that he should make a marriage such as would secure him powerful support. Andrea Cornaro suggested his niece Caterina, famed for her beauty, as that union would bring him Venetian help. The proposal was agreed to, and approved of by Caterina herself and the senate, and the contract was signed in 1468. But further intrigues caused delay, and it was not until 1471 that James’s hesitations were overcome. Caterina was solemnly adopted by the doge as a “daughter of the Republic” and sailed for Cyprus in 1472 with the title of queen of Cyprus, Jerusalem and Armenia. But she only enjoyed one year of happiness, for in 1473 her husband died of fever, leaving his kingdom to his queen and their child as yet unborn. Enemies and rival claimants arose on all sides, for Cyprus was a tempting bait. In August the child James III. was born, but as soon as the Venetian fleet sailed away a plot to depose him in favour of Zarla, James’s illegitimate daughter, broke out, and Caterina was kept a prisoner. The Venetians returned, and order was soon restored, but the republic was meditating the seizure of Cyprus, although it had no valid title whatever, and after the death of Caterina’s child in 1474 it was Venice which really governed the island. The poor queen was surrounded by intrigues and plots, and although the people of the coast towns loved her, the Cypriot nobles were her bitter enemies and hostile to Venetian influence. In 1488 the republic, fearing that Sultan Bayezid II. intended to attack Cyprus, and having also discovered a plot to marry Caterina to King Alphonso II. of Naples, a proposal to which she seemed not averse, decided to recall the queen to Venice and formally annex the island. Caterina at first refused, for she clung to her royalty, but Venice was a severe parent to its adopted daughter and would not be gainsaid; she was forced to abdicate in favour of the republic, and returned to Venice in 1489. The government conferred on her the castle and town of Asolo for life, and there in the midst of a learned and brilliant little court, of which Cardinal Bembo (q.v.) was a shining light, she spent the rest of her days in idyllic peace. She died in July 1510. Titian’s famous portrait of her is in the Uffizi gallery in Florence.

Bibliography.—A. Centelli, Caterina Cornaro e il suo regno (Venice, 1892); S. Romanin, Storia documentata di Venezia, vol. iv. (Venice, 1855), and his Lezioni di storia Veneta (Florence, 1875); L. de Mas Latrie, Histoire de l’île de Chypre (Paris, 1852–1861); and Horatio Brown’s essay in his Studies in Venetian History (London, 1907), which gives the best sketch of the queen’s career and a list of authorities. (L. V.*) 

  1. Whence the kings of Italy derive their title of kings of Cyprus and Jerusalem.