Post-classical history

Lusignan, Family

A French family that came to form the ruling dynasties in the kingdoms of Jerusalem (1186-1192, 1197-1205, and 1269-1291) and Cyprus (1192-1474); one branch also occupied the throne of Cilicia in the later fourteenth century.

The lordship of Lusignan lay in the county of Poitou. Its lords were a seigneurial family of some importance who were involved in the crusading movement from its inception. Hugh VI of Lusignan, a half-brother of Raymond of Saint- Gilles, took part in the Crusade of 1101, and in 1102 he fought at the second battle of Ramla. Hugh VII participated in the Second Crusade (1147-1149), and then in 1163 Hugh VIII arrived in the East, only to be taken captive the following year. He died in Muslim captivity. Hugh VIII had several sons. The eldest, also named Hugh, died young, but two of the other brothers, Aimery and Guy, made their careers in the East; a third, Geoffrey, was one of the heroes of the Third Crusade (1189-1192). All the brothers were involved in rebellions against their overlord, King Henry II of England, and that may explain why first Aimery and then Guy left for the Holy Land. Aimery was certainly in the East by 1174 and probably arrived there not long after his rebellion in 1168. He married a daughter of Baldwin of Ibelin, lord of Ramla, and in about 1180 became constable of the kingdom of Jerusalem.

In 1180 Guy of Lusignan married Sibyl, the sister and heiress of King Baldwin IV. The marriage was unpopular with a significant section of the nobility who regarded Guy as an upstart whose rise threatened their own ambitions. But in 1186 Guy and Sibyl became king and queen of Jerusalem. In July 1187 Guy, who needed a convincing military victory to silence his critics, led what was almost certainly the largest army the kingdom of Jerusalem had ever seen to challenge the Muslims under Saladin, who were besieging Tiberias (mod. Teverya, Israel). The result was the catastrophic Christian defeat at the battle of Hattin. Guy and Aimery were both taken captive, and Saladin went on to occupy almost the entire kingdom, including Jerusalem.

Guy was held prisoner until the summer of 1188. By then, the only city of the kingdom in Christian hands was Tyre (mod. Soûr, Lebanon), saved by the timely arrival of Conrad of Montferrat. Conrad refused Guy entry to Tyre, and so instead Guy gathered an army consisting of survivors of Hat- tin and newly arrived participants in the Third Crusade; in 1189 he laid siege to Acre (mod. ‘Akko, Israel). It was a bold move; had Acre fallen quickly, Guy would have gone a long way to restoring his standing as a military leader. In the event the siege dragged on inconclusively until the arrival of King Philip II Augustus of France and King Richard the Lionheart of England in the summer of 1191. In the meantime, Guy’s authority was undermined by the death of Sibyl and by Conrad’s marriage to her half-sister, Isabella I. Opinion was sharply divided as to whether Guy should rule over what remained of the kingdom of Jerusalem. In arbitration, the kings of England and France decided that Guy should have the kingdom for life and that it should then pass to Conrad and Isabella and their heirs. This solution proved unworkable, and in the spring of 1192 King Richard decided that Conrad should be king of Jerusalem and that Guy should be allowed to purchase the island of Cyprus, which Richard had seized from its Byzantine ruler the previous year.

The Lusignan Family in Cyprus and Jerusalem (Simplified Genealogy)

The Lusignan Family in Cyprus and Jerusalem (Simplified Genealogy)

The year 1192 therefore marks the beginning of Lusignan rule in Cyprus. Guy died toward the end of 1194, whereupon his brother Aimery took charge. Aimery arranged with the pope for the establishment of a Latin ecclesiastical hierarchy in the island and, with the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry VI, for the elevation of Cyprus to the status of a kingdom, with himself as the first king. He was duly crowned in 1197, and the dynasty he founded lasted until 1474. Soon after his coronation as king of Cyprus, Aimery married Isabella I of Jerusalem—Conrad had died in 1192, and her next husband, Henry of Champagne, had died in 1197—and so became king-consort of Jerusalem as well. He ruled both kingdoms until his death in 1205. Cyprus then passed to the son of his first marriage, and Jerusalem to Isabella’s daughter by Conrad.

Aimery was succeeded in Cyprus in turn by his son (Hugh I), his grandson (Henry I), and his great-grandson (Hugh II). The throne then went to Hugh III, the son of one of Henry I’s sisters, who had married Henry, a younger son of the prince of Antioch. Even so, the family continued to be known as the Lusignans. In 1269, with the extinction of the Staufen dynasty, which had acquired the throne of Jerusalem as a result of the emperor Frederick II’s marriage to the heiress in 1225, Hugh III of Cyprus made a successful bid for the crown. Henceforth the Lusignan kings styled themselves kings of both Cyprus and Jerusalem. Their claim to Jerusalem, however, did not go unchallenged, and it was to bring them into conflict with the Angevin kings of Sicily. Hugh III and his son Henry II were both crowned king of Jerusalem in Tyre, and after the Mamlûk conquest of the last Christian possessions in Outremer in 1291, the fourteenth- century kings of Cyprus continued to have a separate coronation as king of Jerusalem in Famagusta.

In the fourteenth century, Guy, a descendant of one of Henry II’s brothers, acquired the crown of the kingdom of Cilicia (Lesser Armenia), taking the name Constantine II. That kingdom succumbed to Muslim conquest in the 1370s, and when the last member of the family died in 1393, the Cypriot kings laid claim to the titular kingship of Cilicia as well.

On the death of King John II (1458), his illegitimate son, James, ousted his legitimate half-sister, Charlotte, and reigned as James II (d. 1473). His son, the child James III, died in 1474, and with his death the line of Lusignan kings came to an end. In 1489 Cyprus became a Venetian colony. Some descendants of illegitimate members of the family, notably the historian Stephen of Lusignan, remained on the island until the Ottoman conquest of 1570-1571.

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