Sunday, 29 March 2015

The feast day of Saint Gwynllyw Milwr, patron saint of Welsh smugglers and pirates

29 March is the feast day of Saint Gwynllyw Milwr or Gwynllyw Farfog, St Woolos the Warrior or the Bearded, a late 5th century Welsh petty king who found religion and was later canonised as patron saint of Welsh smugglers and pirates.
“One night some of Gwynllyw’s brigands arrived for loot at a certain town, in which dwelt a certain religious Irish hermit, Meuthi by name, who served God very devotedly, inasmuch as the aforesaid Gwynllyw was very partial to thieves, and used to instigate them somewhat often to robberies. But that hermit possessed no worldly goods except one cow in calf, the best of all in that province, by whose abundance of milk the hermit himself and his twelve ministers were sufficiently supplied; which cow the aforesaid thieves vilely stole.“ (The Life of Saint Cadog)



The popular image of Sub-Roman Britain image is quite well set. Emperor Honorius orders the island’s three fighting legions back to the continent to fight the barbarian invaders around 410, leaving the Romanised cities to fend for themselves. The provinces become petty kingdoms, the British lords hire Angles and Saxons as mercenaries to defend their domains from marauding Pictish and Irish raiders, the Germanic leaders Hengist and Horsa revolt against their master King Vortigern, take the British eastern coast and invade the rest of the island with more Germanic tribesmen following up, brutally killing and displacing the former inhabitants until Romano-British warlords like Aurelius Ambrosius and later King Arthur manage to stem the tide for a while in hard fought battles that echo the events on the continent. After King Arthur dies, the rest of Roman Britain finally goes to the dogs as chronicled in the contemporary writings of Gildas the Wise and later those of the Venerable Bede. If the popular image would bear a reality test is questionable, though. Hardly any archaeological or even archaeogenetic evidence backs up the theory of a cataclysmic Anglo-Saxon invasion of Sub-Roman Britain, but rather suggest waves of immigration into a still rather Romanised world with local petty kings fighting each other from reopened Iron Age hill forts, while the large cities gradually decayed over a timespan of three centuries. And then there are the droves of saints in the Insular Celtic tradition, in Cornwall and Wales. Obviously, a lot of local chieftains, remembered in local tradition, had the rather dubious honour to get canonised in the Middle Ages, probably in the same spirit that transformed a cattle raid into a heroic epic. And one of the sanctified cattle thieves was Saint Gwynllyw Farfog, Woolos or Gundleus the Bearded, King of Gwynllwg in modern South Wales.


Romano-British cavalry from the days of St Gwynllyw Milwr, as reenacted by the wonderful people from Comitatus (image found on: http://www.comitatus.net/cavalry.html)


Late in the 11th century, a monk, Lifris of Llancarfan, then a monastery in the Vale of Glamorgan, wrote down the vita of Saint Cadoc, a popular Welsh saint and one of the four children of King Gwynllyw. The petty monarch had already made himself a name for cattle theft and then fell in love with the daughter of a neighbouring ruler, Gwladys, one of the 24 later beatified children of King Brychan of Brycheiniog. True to his old custom, Gwynllyw mounted an expedition to steal Gwladys straightaway, slaughtered the pursuers with the help of his kinsman King Arthur and married the girl and lived, cattle-stealing and saints-siring, ever after. Until the old rogue finally found religion, naturally in the vision of a stately black bull, guiding him to a monastery. There he lived out his life, first with his wife and later as a hermit, doing wondrous work until his son, St Cadog, administered the last sacrament to him around 523 CE. His hermit cell became a shrine and later St Woolos Cathedral of Newport. When the place was plundered during the 9th century by Viking raiders, the saint sunk their fleet into the waters of the Bristol Channel and Harold Godwinson’s defeat at the Battle of Hastings is attributed to him as a revenge upon the Saxon king for plundering the saint’s church during a foray into Welsh Gwent while fighting King Gruffydd ap Llywelyn of Gwynedd. And as curious as his life and medieval miracles were, so is his patronage. Besides being the patron saint of Newport, St Gwynllyw became the holy helper of Welsh smugglers and pirates, most notably that of Wales’ most famous buccaneer, Sir Henry Morgan.


Sir Henry Morgan, arguably the most popular protégé of St Gwynllyw Milwr's flock




Depicted  above is a late Roman ridge helmet from the 4th century CE, made of iron, sheathed in silver-gilt and decorated with glass gems. This type of helmet was worn primarily by Roman and post-Roman horse soldiers since the late 280s CE until about the late 7th century CE and a magnificent piece like the one below may have well served warlords in western Britain, if not as a family heirloom or highly priced trophy from a raid. The earliest find of a ridge helmet we have was indeed made in Richborough in Kent. The helmet below was found among the "Berkasovo treasure“ in Serbia and is on display in Novi Sad. 

(Picture found on
 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Late_Roman_ridge_helmet#/media/File:Casque_orn%C3%A9_4%C3%A8me_si%C3%A8cle_Mus%C3%A9e_Novi_Sad_Colis%C3%A9e_Rome_Italie.jpg)

And more about St Gwynllyw Farfog on:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gwynllyw

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Ragnar Lodbrok raiding Paris in 845

28 March 845, 1170 years ago, a large Norse warband of 5,000 Vikings in 120 longships led by the legendary Ragnar Lodbrok raided Paris.



"We fought with swords, at Bardafyrda. A mower of blood rained from our weapons. Headlong fell the palid corpse a prey for the hawks. The bow gave a twanging found. The blade sharply bit the coats of mail: it bit the helmet in the fight." ("The Krákumál")




Angus McBride’s (1931 – 2007http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angus_McBride) somewhat pulpy imagination of a 9th century Viking raid using almost all the popular clichés of a strandhögg with the dramatis personae with (to current knowledge) historically accurate costumes and equipment (probably from Osprey’s “Men-at-Arms” series, found on: http://haraldwartooth.es/hoy-racion-doble-de-vikingos/).

Snakes wiggle like a red thread through the tale of Ragnar. His second wife Thora breeds a pair of giant vipers the Norse hero has to overcome and protecting himself from the poisonous brood’s bites with loden or “hairy breeks”, gains the sobriquet “Lodbrok”, marries a third time, Aslaug, daughter of the legendary hero couple Sigurd and the Valkyrie Brynhild, has a son by her with the famous trait of the Völsung clan, a mark of a snake biting its own tail in his left eye hence his name Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye, and finally and famously, Ragnar Lodbrok ends his Viking hero’s life in the snake pit of King Ælla of Northumbria. The Lodbrok sons Ivar the Boneless, Halfdan Ragnarsson and Ubba didn’t take it too well, assemble the Great Heathen Army in 865, invade the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, wreak havoc for the next 14 years and finally capture Ælla and carve the blood eagle upon him. Or so the story goes. Whether there was a historical Ragnar Lodbrok at all is highly doubtful. More probable is that several Norse warlords of the early 800s have been condensed into one heroic figure centuries later. However, contemporary Frankish sources namen a Reginheri who had followed the prow beast along the whale road to the coast of the Frakkarlands and sailed his ships to Paris and this might have been the historical Ragnar "Leódbroga", the people frightener.


Hugo Hamilton’s (1802–1871) imagination of Ragnar Lodbrok in Ælla’s snake pit (1830)



It was a black year for Charles the Bald, King of the Franks. The war with his brothers Louis the German and Emperor Lothair I had just come to an end two years before with the Treaty of Verdun and now Aquitaine was in rebellion and it was raid-the-Franks time again for the Bretons as well as the Norse. By mid-March of the year 845, Ragnar and his raiders obviously brought one half of Charles’ army to battle while the other half was caught on the opposite shore of the Seine. The Vikings allegedly executed their prisoners in a rather unpleasant manner in full view of the rest of the Franks, they fled in terror, Ragnar proceeded to Paris, sacked the place and forced the king to pay a Danegeld, a ransom of 7,000 pounds of silver to make them leave. Not an uncommon practice until well into the 12th century when royal taxes became more common. Ragnar proceeded to the coast and north to England for a Strandhögg (a raid, more or less a fight on the beach) or three until he met his legendary fate after a shipwreck on the coast of Northumbria. Paris was raided again three times more during the 860s and fortifications considerably increased until they held and enabled Count Eudes to fend off the next major raid in 885, allegedly by 40,000 Vikings in 700 ships under their warlords Sigfred, Sinric and Rollo, the selfsame man who would become the first Duke of Normandy in 911, just two generations after Ragnar’s first raid.




The scene above pictures the legend about what kind of a vassal King Charles got. When asked to bow down and kiss Charles' foot in submission, Rollo asked on of his warriors to lift the king's foot so he hadn't to lower his stiff neck. The said Viking was perhaps a bit... impetuous and laid the French king flat on his back

And more on:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Paris_(845)






Sunday, 22 March 2015

”God bless you, Decatur!” - the fatal duel between US naval legend Stephan Decatur and James Barron

22 March 1820, 195 years ago, the duel fought between the 41 years old US naval legend Stephen Decatur and Commodore James Barron on the outskirts of Washington D.C. ended fatally for America’s foremost post–Revolutionary War hero.

"He was the friend of the flag, the sailor's friend; the navy has lost its mainmast." (Unknown American seaman during Decatur’s funeral)


Decatur's finest hour: "Thomas Birch’s (1779 – 1851) imagination of the engagement of
HMS “Macedonian” with Decatur’s USS “United Sates” (1813)*



The “horrible old” HMS Leopard lay in Hampton Roads, in wait for outgoing American shipping with deserters from the Royal Navy among their crews. The lure of the hinterland and the comparatively lax ways aboard merchantmen and US warships at peace was a problem for commanders of British warships maintaining wartime discipline on the North American station. Desertion of their crews, often pressed into service against their will, happened and Captain Salusbury Pryce Humphreys and his “Leopard” out of Halifax, a rather redundant 4th rate ship-of-the-line with 50 guns, had orders to search American and other neutral vessels for them. Nonetheless, the US were at peace and there was no reason for Commodore James Barron, sailing from Norfolk, Virginia, to clear his USS “Chesapeake” for action or at least expect a hostile act when he was hailed by Humphreys to heave to and have his frigate searched for deserters. Barron refused and the “Leopard” fired a broadside into the “Chesapeake” to press the point, Barron fired a gun pour l’honneur and struck his colours. A British boarding party came on board and apprehend four men, three Americans who had run from the Royal Navy and one Englishman, Jenkin Ratford, who was hanged from the yardarm for desertion in Halifax. The three Americans were released to mollify the US government in the following diplomatic tohu wabo-hu and Humphreys discreetly removed from service, while Commodore James Barron got court-martialled by his own people for unpreparedness. While the judgement ended with “five years suspension”, one member of the board of officers outspokenly demanded his sack: Barron’s former comrade-in-arms, the US naval hero Stephen Decatur. 



Removal of deserters from USS "Chesapeake"

It was a small world in the young US Navy at the turn of the 18th century. Most officers knew each other and served together aboard the few frigates available during the Quasi-War with France in 1798 and the conflict with the Barbary Pirates and usually, actions were rather successful, with the exception of Bainbridge who lost his “Philadelphia” to the Dey of Tripoli in 1803. Bainbridge and his crew were held in Tripoli and the captured American frigate enlisted into the service of the Corsairs. Young Stephen Decatur destroyed the prize, in the words of Lord Nelson himself, "the most bold and daring act of the Age" and distinguished himself further during what was known as the First Barbary War. When war broke out with the British in 1812, Decatur already had assumed command of one the three American Über-frigates, the “United States”, won one of the three one-on-one frigate duels that had the “Times” run the headline “Good God!” and made the British Admiralty issue the standing orders that such engagements were to be avoided at all costs. Bainbridge, then captain of USS “Constitution” who had captured HMS “Java” in the duel that won his frigate her famous nickname “Old Ironsides”, had somewhat re-established his reputation in the meanwhile, but while “Java” was shot to a wreck and had to be burned, Decatur’s prize was sailed intact into Newport, R.I., and could be taken into service as USS “Macedonian”, a noteworthy addition in times when the US Navy could boast a total of only six frigates. Decatur, seemingly, was always at least two steps ahead of him.


"The most bold and daring act of the Age" -
the destruction of captured USS "Philadelphia" in Tripolis
by Decatur and his crew


It might be navy gossip, but malicious tongues claimed that Bainbridge secretly rubbed his hands with glee, when Barron called out Decatur over the latter’s comments made in polite society about the former’s conduct in the Chesapeake-Leopard Affair back in 1807. Barron had just returned from Copenhagen, seeking employment again in the US Navy and the practice of the few experienced naval offices duelling and often killing themselves over supposedly minor slights was, at the very least, frowned upon by War Office. The threat of discharge from office stood, even for a naval hero like Decatur and Barron had nothing to gain either. But it was a matter of honour and that was that. After turned down by his friends who did not encourage duelling either, Decatur finally won Bainbridge to act as his second. Barron’s second, Captain Jesse Elliot, whose conduct during the naval Battle of Lake Erie in 1813 was found lacking, at least by his commanding officer Oliver Perry, couldn’t stand Decatur one bit either. What the two seconds, Bainbridge and Elliot, conversed about for almost an hour on the morning of the duel on the field of honour is not recorded, however, Decatur’s alleged attempt to reconcile with Barron was obviously ignored by the seconds afterwards, a grave breach of the established Code Duello, if it actually happened. Both Barron and Decatur were crack pistol shots and Decatur might have aimed to wound his adversary only, however, both fired as soon as they were allowed to and both hit and fell. Barron declared that honour was satisfied and that he forgave Decatur. Decatur, hit in the pelvis with arteries severed, suffered excruciating pain and knew he was dying. He managed to say “Farewell, farewell, Barron!” while Barron cried: ”God bless you, Decatur!” when they were both carried off the field. Stephen Decatur died in the following night after having played a not insignificant part in the young nation’s finding its own identity, while his famous dinner toast from 1816 became programmatic: “Our Country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but right or wrong, our country!”




John Wesley Jarvis' (1780-1840) portrait of "Captain Stephen Decatur, USN"




* Depicted above is the American naval painter Thomas Birch’s (1779 – 1851) imagination of the engagement of HMS “Macedonian” with Decatur’s USS “United Sates”, finished in 1813, only months after the event that took place on 25 October 1812. When the two frigates lay alongside in peacetime in Norfolk, Virginia, back in 1810, “Macedonian’s” commander John Carden had placed a bet that his ship would emerge victorious if they’d ever meet in battle. A rather fatal overlooking of facts. Carden’s 5th rate 38 gun frigate carried 28 18 pounders as main armament and threw a broadside weight of roughly 500 pounds while “United States” was armed with 32 24-pounder long guns, augmented by 24 42-pounder carronades and a broadside weight of 900 pounds, almost that of a 3rd rate ship-of-the-line. Decatur’s “United States” shot HMS “Macedonian” expectably to pieces at long range with her long 24s without suffering any major damage from the “Macedonian’s” 18 pounders in return. Her hull construction gave her the same iron sides as the “Constitution’s”. After Carden surrendered his frigate to Decatur, she was jury-rigged to sail into Newport to be completely restored. Bainbridge’s USS “Constitution” fought HMS Java in December 1812 at close range with her 24s as well as her 42-pounder carronades that resulted in irreparable structural damage for the British frigate.

And more about Stephen Decatur on:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Decatur


Saturday, 21 March 2015

"... forgets an army in Egypt... " - The Battle of Alexandria in 1801 and the end of Napoleon's campaign in Egypt and Syria

21 March 1801, General Menou’s defeat at the Battle of Alexandria, fought between French and British troops, marked the final stage of Napoleon’s failed campaign in Egypt and Syria.


“Frankreichs Liebling, die Säule der würdigeren Freiheit, rufet er der Vorzeit Begeisterung zurück, Zeiget dem erschlafften Jahrhundert römische Kraft“ (“France's favourite, the pillar of dignified freedom, he calleth back of old enthusiasm, Shew the slack century Roman force” - Caroline von Günderrode "Buonaparte in Egypt")

Philip James de Loutherbourg (1740–1812): The Battle of Alexandria, 21 March 1801 (1802)


It was a bit thick. After realising that his dreams of becoming a second Alexander the Great by conquering the Orient were decidedly over, Napoleon sneaked on board of one of the last French frigates in the eastern Mediterranean, slipped the blockade with the words “Bah! We'll get there, luck has never abandoned us, we shall get there, despite the English" and left his army in the lurch. 65 years later, Dostoevsky’s creation Raskolnikov, while preparing for his gory Übermensch exam, mused: “The real Master to whom all is permitted storms Toulon, makes a massacre in Paris, forgets an army in Egypt, wastes half a million men in the Moscow expedition and gets off with a jest at Vilna. And altars are set up to him after his death, and so all is permitted. No, such people, it seems, are not of flesh but of bronze!" They set up altars even during his lifetime. With the command of the Armée d'Orient and consequently the blame of her failure shifted to General Kléber, who was conveniently murdered in Cairo by a Kurdish Muslim student in 1800, Napoleon came off the adventure with a deserved reputation for tactical brilliance and his fame enhanced. He became First Consul, factual sole ruler of France, after his coup d'état of 18 brumaire, November 1799, even while his forgotten army fought on in the sands of Egypt.




Thomas Luny (1759–1837): "Battle of the Nile, August 1st 1798 at 10 pm"  (1834)


Basically, the whole undertaking went belly-up already before it really started when Nelson virtually annihilated the French Levant Fleet in the Battle of the Nile in August 1798, admittedly too late, after he couldn’t manage to bring the huge French convoy shipping the Armée d'Orient to Egypt to bay before Malta was captured or the 40,000 men strong army was landed in the first place. Never the less, Napoleon was cut off from supplies, the Royal Navy had him bottled up in hostile territory and could supply the Egyptian Mamluks and Ottomans in Syria with men and materiel at will. After half-bakedly securing his conquests in the Nile Delta, Napoleon tried to break out by the way of Syria, foundered at the Siege of Acre, now Akko in present-day Israel, in May 1799 and was forced to withdraw back to Egypt while the men of the Armée d'Orient died like flies from disease and exposure. The situation was hopeless and after the Corsican rocher de bronze had quit the place three months later, the newly appointed supreme commander Jean Baptiste Kléber did his utmost to agree on favourable conditions to withdraw what was left of his army with the British, was finally reneged, won an astonishing victory over an Ottoman army at Aboukir but was murdered before he could exploit his hard-won but still meagre advantage. And while his successor Menou desperately tried to hold the strings of the frazzling expedition together, the British landed 30,000 men under the old warhorse Lieutenant-General Ralph Abercrombie in Aboukir Bay for the coup de grâce.




Jean-Léon Gérôme: Bonaparte Before the Sphinx, (ca. 1868)


Desperately trying to halt Abercrombie’s advance on Alexandria, Menou threw against him what he had left of battle-hardened French troops and in the wee hours of March 28th, two veteran European armies faced each other on the outskirts of the city on the small isthmus between the Mediterranean sea and Lake Aboukir, 14,000 British and almost 20,000 French with a huge cavalry superiority. However, the British held against the French infantry columns and cavalry charges, even though Abercrombie himself was mortally wounded amidst his countrymen of the 42nd, while the “Black Watch” repulsed an assault of French dragoons for the second time on this morning. The siege of Alexandria commenced and six months later, on August 31th 1801, Menou and the Armée d'Orient surrendered and the 10,000 survivors were shipped back to France by the Royal Navy, the prelude to the short-lived Peace of Amiens concluded a year later. To the winner went the spoils, however, and it was a stroke of luck that the “savants”, the host of scientists accompanying the French army to Egypt, did not carry out their threat to rather throw their veritable hoard of discoveries, finds and notes into the sea rather than surrender them to the British. They finally did, though, and while they had caused the first wave of Egyptomania in Europe anyway, artefacts like the Rosetta Stone went to the British Museum where it became the arguably its most-visited object.


And more about the battle of Alexandria on:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Alexandria

and the French Campaign in Egypt and Syria on


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_campaign_in_Egypt_and_Syria

Friday, 20 March 2015

“From the era of Kai Khusraw till the days of Yazdegard..." - Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, is celebrated on the first day of spring.

20 March: Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, is celebrated on the first day of spring.

“From the era of Kai Khusraw till the days of Yazdegard, last of the pre-Islamic kings of Persia, the royal custom was thus: on the first day of the New Year, Now Ruz, the King's first visitor was the High Mobad of the Zoroastrians, who brought with him as gifts a golden goblet full of wine, a ring, some gold coins, a fistful of green sprigs of wheat, a sword, and a bow. In the language of Persia he would then glorify God and praise the monarch. This was the address of the High Mobad to the king : "O Majesty, on this feast of the Equinox, first day of the first month of the year, seeing that thou hast freely chosen God and the Faith of the Ancient ones; may Surush, the Angel-messenger, grant thee wisdom and insight and sagacity in thy affairs. Live long in praise, be happy and fortunate upon thy golden throne, drink immortality from the Cup of Jamshid; and keep in solemn trust the customs of our ancestors, their noble aspirations, fair gestures and the exercise of justice and righteousness. May thy soul flourish; may thy youth be as the new-grown grain; may thy horse be puissant, victorious; thy sword bright and deadly against foes; thy hawk swift against its prey; thy every act straight as the arrow's shaft. Go forth from thy rich throne, conquer new lands. Honor the craftsman and the sage in equal degree; disdain the acquisition of wealth. May thy house prosper and thy life be long!" (“Nowruznama”, attributed to Omar Khayyam)

A Zoroastrian bas-relief from the old Achaemenid royal palace and ceremonial capital Persepolis, destroyed by Alexander the Great in 330 BCE, depicting the powers of the Earth, the bull, locked in a fight with the sun, the lion, symbolising equality of both on March 21st's spring equinox.


Sine ages lions and kings were almost congruent in the ancient Iranian cultural circle, up to a linguistic consonance, with “shah” meaning king and “sher”, lion. The other association with Iranian royalty was the sun and the three images, the king, the lion and the sun merged in local mindscape, the Persian king-of-kings became the “Sun of the East”, in contrast to the Roman emperors being the “Moon of the West”, lions and the sun became part of the royal coat-of-arms. It was in those days of the Sassanian dynasty that the sun god culminated into an amalgam of Apollo and Mithras with the radiant crown worn by the Western Sol Invictus, became the patron deity of the kings. Naturally, the date when day and night became equal in length again, the spring equinox around March 20, was of special significance. It marked the beginning of the New Year since olden times and since the 2nd century CE, the day was called Nowruz, the New Day.



Sol and Mithras banqueting with Luna and the twin divinities Cautes and Cautopates

Xenophon described the New Year’s celebrations at the court of the Achaemenids almost 2,500 years ago and Nowruz is celebrated traditionally everyplace where the first superpower of Antiquity, the Persian Empire, had at least a bit of influence, continued into modern days by various religious traditions and cultures from the Balkans to Arabs, Turks and Mongols and was recognised by the UN as International Day of Nowruz to "draw on the holiday's rich history to promote peace and goodwill". And while Nowruz was one of the seven most important festivals in the Zoroastrian tradition, it is despite its decidedly pre-Muslim roots, still the most important holiday in Iran, with a lot of festive traditions, celebrated by Iranian communities all across the world along with the traditional greeting "Eid-i shoma mobarak!" (May you have an auspicious new year!).



A depiction of a traditional Nowruz Ceremony, together with a Haft Sin table and the reading of poetry, either from the Shahnameh or the Divan of Hafiz




And more about Nowruz on:


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nowruz



Saturday, 14 March 2015

"From the moment she left Nicosia, her eyes kept streaming with tears" - Catherine Cornaro, Cyprus and the end of the last Crusader kingdom

14 March 1489, Cyprus, the last Crusader Kingdom, became a colony of Venice when its queen Catherine Cornaro was forced to sell her crown.

“ ...the Queen dressed in black and accompanied by the Barons and their ladies, set off on horseback. Six knights held her horse's reins. From the moment she left Nicosia, her eyes kept streaming with tears. Upon her departure, the whole population was bewailing.“ (George Boustronios “A Narrative of the Chronicle of Cyprus 1456-1489“)




Titian: "Portrait of Catherine Cornaro" (1542)


Actually, Richard the Lionheart did not plan to be near Cyprus at all. In 1191, though, slightly detoured due to the weather while en route to join the Third Crusade, he was washed upon the shores of the renegade Byzantine island, took the place in a coup de main and rang in the medieval, western European-dominated period of Cypriote history that would last for the next three hundred years. After a lot of political hither and tither, Richard installed his crony Guy de Lusignan, the ex-King of Jerusalem, as Lord of Cyprus after the man had somehow gambled away his former kingdom and caused the Crusade in the first place. House Lusignan continued to supply the rulers of Cyprus throughout its varied medieval history while their actual kingship actually was deduced from the Lusignans being nominally still Kings of Jerusalem as well, even after the last outpost of the Crusader Kingdoms on the mainland fell in 1291. However, for the following two hundred years, the island became a hotspot for Christian trade with the Muslim world of the Eastern Mediterranean and a springboard for a few latter day crusading attempts while the Kings of Cyprus acquired a reputation of being the most effete and decadent rulers of Europe. Until King Peter came forth, toured Europe as a tournament champion, gathered an army made of volunteers and lots of mercenaries from the companies fighting in the Hundred Years’ War and the Italian conflicts and led it in a crusade against Alexandria. The city was sacked in 1365, a few other places along the Levant followed, until, finally, Peter was bribed by the Venetians to stop disrupting trade, pretty please, the mercenaries returned home, Peter, for a while King of Armenia as well, was murdered in 1369 and the fortunes of the Kingdom of Cyprus went completely downhill.



15th century illustration from Froissart's Chronicles,
showing the assassination of Peter of Cyprus


After intense power-mongering among the Genoese and the Venetians for control of the strategically rather important island, several plagues of locusts ruining the harvests and a long overdue major raid of the place by the back then admittedly rather hydrophobic Mamluks of Cairo, Venice forced a daughter of the patrician Marco Cornaro and granddaughter of the Byzantine Emperor of Trebizond Manuel III as wife upon King James II of Cyprus who was engaged in a Civil War with his Mamluk-supported half-sister Charlotte. A year after the arrival of the new queen Catherine Cornaro, James died, probably poisoned by Venetian agents, and Catherine was left as regent for their infant son. The child was gathered among his Lusignan ancestors just a year later in 1474 and Catherine became queen regnant of Cyprus by the grace of Venice’s merchant houses. However, Catherine ruled, at least in name, for 15 years, until the Venetians, hard pressed in the meanwhile back home in Italy and having lost a war against the Ottoman Turks, decided to end that state of affairs, ordered the queen to abdicate and established their own direct colonial rule. One of the worst times of the Cypriote rural population began and when the Ottomans finally conquered the island in 1570, they were, by and large, greeted as liberators.



Gentile Bellini: "The Miracle of the Cross at the Bridge of S. Lorenzo" (1500), showing Catherine Cornaro kneeling on the left bridgehead 


The disempowered queen was shipped back to Italy and interned in a castle 40 miles north of Venice. She nominally kept her royal titles, became Lady of Asolo and made the place "The Pearl of the province of Treviso", a centre of Renaissance art and learning, eternalised in Pietro Bembo’s “Gli Asolani”. She had to flee from her arty court in 1509, when the League of Cambrai took the place in 1508 and forced her to return to her native Venice where the last Crusader Queen died in 1510 at the age of 55. Her life and patronage of the arts in Asolo echoed through art history until well into the 20th century, with Titian painting her probably rather idealised likeness in 1542, depicted below and now at the Uffizi in Florence, various composers, most notably Donizetti in 1844, felt compelled to write operas inspired by her and several authors eternalised her in novels and dramas.

And more about Catherine Cornaro on:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catherine_Cornaro