Queen of Cyprus sells her kingdom to Venice

On this day in history: Caterina Cornaro, Queen of Cyprus, dies

History of Italy

The last ruler of the Kingdom of Cyprus, Caterina Cornaro, died on 10th July, 1510 in Venice. She had been living out her life in a castle in Asolo, Veneto, retaaining the title Queen of Cyprus.

Caterina was born in 1406 into the noble Cornaro family, which had produced four Doges. She grew up in the family palace on the Grand Canal. The family had a long trading and business association with Cyprus.

Queen of Cyprus

Caterina was married by proxy to King James II of Cyprus in 1468, securing commercial rights and privileges for Venice in Cyprus. In 1472, she set sail for Cyprus and married James in person at Famagusta.

James died soon after the wedding and Caterina, who was by then pregnant, became regent of the kingdom, as was specified in his will. She was imprisoned briefly, after Cyprus was seized by the Archbishop of Nicosia. However, she was restored to the throne after a military intervention by Venice.

After her son, James II, died just before his first birthday, she became the actual monarch of the kingdom.

She ruled Cyprus for 15 years, assisted by Venetian merchants, who effectively controlled the island and guaranteed her safety from other conspirators.

As a ruler she became an admired figure in contemporary European society and she was painted by great artists such as Durer, Titian, Gentile Bellini and Giorgione.

Abdication and life in Asolo

In 1489, she was persuaded to abdicate and to pass the control of Cyprus to the Republic of Venice. After that, Caterina lived in Asolo Castle. She was allowed to retain the title of Queen and was also made Lady of Asolo.

Her court became a centre of literary and artistic excellence. The painter Bellini and the poet Andrea Navagero spent time there. She was said to have spent her days in ‘sweet idleness’, as the verb created by poet Pietro Bembo – asolare – translates. Bembo used Asolo as the setting for his dialogues on platonic love, Gli Asolani.

Caterina lived in Asolo for over 20 years before her death at the age of 55. Her grave is in the Church of San Salvador near the Rialto Bridge in Venice.

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