Catherine Cornaro

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Catherine Cornaro
Gentile Bellini 002.jpg
Portrait by Gentile Bellini, c. 1500
Queen of Cyprus
Reign26 August 1474 – 26 February 1489
Predecessor James III
Queen consort of Cyprus
ReignNovember 1472 - 10 July 1473
Born25 November 1454
Venice, Republic of Venice
Died10 July 1510 (aged 55)
Spouse James II of Cyprus
Issue James III of Cyprus
House Cornaro
Father Marco Cornaro
Mother Fiorenza Crispo

Catherine Cornaro (Greek : Αικατερίνη Κορνάρο, Venetian : Catarina Corner) (25 November 1454 – 10 July 1510) was the last monarch of the Kingdom of Cyprus, also holding the titles of the Queen of Jerusalem and Armenia. She was queen consort of Cyprus by marriage to James II of Cyprus, regent of Cyprus during the minority of her son James III of Cyprus in 1473–1474, and finally queen regnant of Cyprus. She reigned from 26 August 1474 to 26 February 1489 and was declared a "Daughter of Saint Mark" in order that the Republic of Venice could claim control of Cyprus after the death of her husband, James II. [1]



Catherine was a daughter of Venetian Marco Cornaro, Cavaliere del Sacro Romano Impero (Knight of the Holy Roman Empire) and Fiorenza Crispo. She was the younger sister of the Nobil Huomo Giorgio Cornaro (1452 – 31 July 1527), "Padre della Patria" and Knight of the Holy Roman Empire.

The Cornaro family had produced four Doges. [2] Her family had long associations with Cyprus, especially with regard to trade and commerce. [2] In the Episkopi area, in the Limassol District, the Cornaro family administered various sugar mills and exported Cypriot products to Venice. [3]

Catherine was painted by Dürer, Titian, Bellini and Giorgione. [4]


On the death of the King, John II, in 1458 the succession was disputed between his daughter Charlotte and the illegitimate James, who tried to seize the island. On the strength of the marriage of Louis of Savoy to Charlotte, the duke of Savoy claimed the island and Charlotte was named Queen. In 1468 Caterina, through negotiations by her father and uncle, was offered to James as his wife. [5] The marriage was extremely advantageous to the Republic of Venice as it could henceforth secure the commercial rights and other privileges of Venice in Cyprus. The proposal was agreed to, and the contract was signed in 1468, strengthing James's position. [6]

Queen consort

Thus in 1468, James II, otherwise known as James the Bastard, became king of Cyprus. [5] He and Caterina married in Venice on 30 July 1468 by proxy when she was 14 years old. She finally set sail to Cyprus in November 1472 and married James in person at Famagusta. [7]


James died soon after the wedding due to a sudden illness and, according to his will, Caterina, who at the time was pregnant, acted as regent. As soon as the Venetian fleet sailed away a plot to depose the infant James III of Cyprus in favour of Charlotte, James's legitimate 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. [8]

Caterina became monarch when James III died in August 1474 before his first birthday, probably from illness, even if it was rumored that he had been poisoned by Venice or Charlotte's partisans. [9] The kingdom had long since declined, and had been a tributary state of the Mameluks since 1426. Under Caterina, who ruled Cyprus from 1474 to 1489, the island was controlled by Venetian merchants. In 1488 the republic, fearing that Sultan Bayezid II intended to attack Cyprus, and having also discovered a plot to marry Caterina to Alfonso II of Naples decided to recall the queen to Venice and formally annex the island. [8] On 14 March 1489 she was forced to abdicate and sell the administration of the country to the Republic of Venice. [10]

According to George Boustronios:

"on 15 February 1489 the queen exited from Nicosia in order to go to Famagusta, to leave [Cyprus]. And when she went on horseback wearing a black silken cloak, with all the ladies and the knights in her company [...] Her eyes, moreover did not cease to shed tears throughout the procession. The people likewise shed many tears." [11]

In February 1489, the Venetian government persuaded Catherine to cede her rights as ruler of Cyprus to the doge of Venice—and by extension the Venetian government as a whole—as she had no heir. [12]

1542 portrait by Titian Tiziano, ritratto postumo di caterina corner come santa caterina d'alessandria, 1542 (cropped).jpg
1542 portrait by Titian

Later life

The last Crusader state became a colony of Venice, and as compensation, Catherine was allowed to retain the title of queen and was made lady of Asolo, a county on the Terraferma [13] of the Republic of Venice in the Veneto region, in 1489. Asolo soon gained a reputation as a court of literary and artistic distinction, mainly as a result of it being the fictitious setting for Pietro Bembo's platonic dialogues on love, Gli Asolani. Caterina lived in Asolo until 1509, when the League of Cambrai sacked the town, then fled to Venice where she lived for another year, dying on July 10, 1510. [14]


A libretto based on her life by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges formed the basis of the operas Catharina Cornaro (1841) by Franz Lachner, [15] La reine de Chypre (1841) by Fromental Halévy, [16] and Caterina Cornaro (1844) by Gaetano Donizetti. [17]

The Cornaro Institute, a charitable organisation founded by the artist Stass Paraskos in the city of Larnaca, for the promotion of art and other culture, [18] memorialised her name in Cyprus, prior to its closure by Larnaca Municipality in 2017.

Also in Cyprus, in October 2011, the Cyprus Antiquities Department announced Caterina Cornaro's partially ruined summer palace in Potamia would be renovated in a one million euro restoration project, becoming a cultural centre. [19] [20] Work is on going in Potamia by craftsmen from the Department of Antiquities to renovate Caterina Cornaro's Summer Palace with about half now completed.

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  1. Wills, Garry. Venice, Lion City (New York, Simon and Schuster, 2001), 136.
  2. 1 2 De Girolami Cheney 2013, p. 11.
  3. McNeill 1974, p. 76.
  4. "Giorgione: Portrait of Caterina Cornaro, Queen of Cyprus".
  5. 1 2 De Girolami Cheney 2013, p. 16.
  6. Villari 1911.
  7. Luke 1975, p. 388.
  8. 1 2 Wikisource-logo.svg One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain :  Villari, Luigi (1911). "Cornaro, Caterina". In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica . 7 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 162–163.
  9. Luke 1975, p. 389.
  10. Mellersh & Williams 1999, p. 569.
  11. Philippe Trélat, "Urbanization and urban identity in Nicosia 13th-16th. Centuries", in "Proceedings of the 10th Annual Meeting of Young Researchers in Cypriot Archaeology", Venice, 2010, p.152
  12. "CORNARO, CATERINA", "Women in the Middle Ages" Greendwoods Press 2004, p. 221
  13. The mainland territories of the Republic of Venice were referred to as the Terraferma in the Veneto dialect. Source:Logan, Oliver Culture and Society in Venice, 1470-1790; the Renaissance and its heritage, Batsford 1972
  14. Churchill, Lady Randolph Spencer; Davenport, Cyril James Humphries (1900). The Anglo-Saxon Review. John Lane. pp.  215–22. Retrieved 13 March 2013.
  15. Lachner, Franz. Catarina Cornaro. Libretto. German.
  16. Halévy, F.; Saint-Georges, Henri. La reine de Chypre; opéra en cinq actes. Paroles De Saint Georges. Paris Tallandier.
  17. Ashbrook, William (2002). Caterina Cornaro. Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. doi:10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.o007589. ISBN   978-1-56159-263-0 . Retrieved 12 March 2018.
  18. "". Archived from the original on 27 June 2011. Retrieved 21 November 2018.
  19. Demetra Molyva, 'Palace of Cyprus’s last queen to be restored' in The Cyprus Weekly (Cyprus newspaper), 7 October 2011
  20. Di Cesnola, L. P. Cyprus: Its Ancient Cities, Tombs, and Temples, 2015.


Further reading

Royal titles
Preceded by Queen consort of Cyprus
Kingdom dissolved
Regnal titles
Preceded by Queen regnant of Cyprus
Kingdom dissolved