Catherine Cornaro

For the opera by Donizetti, see Caterina Cornaro (opera).
Catherine Cornaro

Portrait of Catherine Cornaro by Gentile Bellini, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest
Queen of Cyprus
Reign 26 August 1474 - 26 February 1489
Predecessor James III
Successor Republic of Venice, until 1570
Born 25 November 1454
Died 10 July 1510 (aged 55)
Spouse James II of Cyprus
Issue James III of Cyprus
House Cornaro
Father Marco Cornaro
Mother Fiorenza Crispo

Catherine Cornaro (Venetian: Catarina) (25 November 1454 – 10 July 1510) was the last queen of Cyprus from 26 August 1474 to 26 February 1489 and 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 ("James the Bastard").[1]


Catherine was a daughter of Nobile Huomo Marco Cornaro (Venice, December, 1406 – Venice, 1 August 1479), Cavaliere del Sacro Romano Impero (Knight of the Holy Roman Empire) and Patrizio Veneto (Patrician of Venice), by his wife Fiorenza Crispo. Her father was the great-grandson of Marco Cornaro, Doge of Venice from 1365 to 1368.[2] 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.[3] The Cornaro family had produced four Doges. Her family had long associations with Cyprus, especially with regard to trade and commerce. In the Episkopi area, in the Limassol District, the Cornaro family administered various sugar mills and exported Cypriot products to Venice.[4][5][6]

Catherine's mother, Fiorenza Crispo, was a daughter of Nicholas Crispo, Lord of Syros. The identity of Fiorenza's mother is uncertain as Crispo had two known wives, either of which could have been the mother. According to his own correspondence, Niccolò was a son-in-law of Jacopo of Lesbos.[7] An account by Caterino Zeno dated to 1474 names another wife, Eudokia-Valenza of Trebizond; Valenza was a reported daughter of John IV of Trebizond and Bagrationi. However her alleged parents were married in 1426 and one of Valenza's daughters was reportedly married in 1429. (John IV and his wife are unlikely to have been the grandparents of a married woman only three years following their own marriage.) Valenza is considered likely to have been a sister of John IV, rather than a daughter; in this case her parents would have been Alexios IV of Trebizond and Theodora Kantakouzene.[8]

Portrait of Caterina Cornaro by Titian, 1542

Niccolò had been created lord of Syros by his father Francesco I Crispo, Duke of the Archipelago. His mother was Florence Sanudo, a member of the previous reigning dynasty of the Archipelago.[9] Florence was Lady of Milos. She was the daughter and successor of Marco Sanudo, Lord of Milos from 1341 to 1376. Marco was a younger son of William I Sanudo, Duke of the Archipelago from 1303 to 1323.[10]

Catherine was painted by Dürer, Titian, Bellini and Giorgione.[11]

Marriage and reign

In 1468, James II of Cyprus, otherwise known as James the Bastard, became King of Cyprus. In 1468 he chose Caterina for his wife and Queen consort of the Kingdom of Cyprus. The King's choice was extremely pleasing to the Republic of Venice as it could henceforth secure the commercial rights and other privileges of Venice in Cyprus. They 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.[12]

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. She became monarch when their infant son James 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.[13] 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, and on 14 March 1489 she was forced to abdicate and sell the administration of the country to the Republic of Venice.[14]

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."[15]

Having been deposed in February, Caterina was obliged to leave Cyprus on 14 May 1489.

Later life at Asolo

The last Crusader state became a colony of Venice, and as compensation, Catherine was allowed to retain the title of Queen and was made the Sovereign Lady of Asolo, a county in the Veneto of Italy, 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 died in Venice in 1510.[16]


The operas Catharina Cornaro (1841) by Franz Lachner and Caterina Cornaro (1844) by Gaetano Donizetti are based on her life. The Cornaro Institute, a charitable organisation based in Larnaca for the promotion of art and other culture,[17] memorialises her name in Cyprus. 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.[18]


  1. Wills, Garry. Venice, Lion City (New York, Simon and Schuster, 2001), 136.
  2. Cawley, Charles (12 June 2011), Profile of Marco Cornaro and his children, Medieval Lands database, Foundation for Medieval Genealogy, retrieved 16 December 2011,
  3. Geneagraphie - Families all over the world
  4. Venice: The Hinge of Europe, 1081-1797, p. 76. William H. McNeill
  5. Civilization and Capitalism, 15th-18th Century: The wheels of commerce p. 192. Fernand Braudel
  6. Sweet Invention: A History of Dessert. Michael Krondl
  7. Cawley, Charles, Profile of Niccolò Crispo and his children, Medieval Lands database, Foundation for Medieval Genealogy,
  8. Cawley, Charles, Profile of Alexios IV and his children, Medieval Lands database, Foundation for Medieval Genealogy,
  9. Cawley, Charles, Profile of Francesco I and his children, Medieval Lands database, Foundation for Medieval Genealogy,
  10. Cawley, Charles, Profile of Marco and his descendants, Medieval Lands database, Foundation for Medieval Genealogy,
  11. Queen Caterina Cornaro by Giorgione [Giorgio Barbarella]
  12. Sir Harry Luke, The Kingdom of Cyprus, 1369—1489 in K. M. Setton, H. W. Hazard (ed.) A History of the Crusades, The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries (1975), p.388
  13. Sir Harry Luke, The Kingdom of Cyprus, 1369—1489 in K. M. Setton, H. W. Hazard (ed.) A History of the Crusades, The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries (1975), p.389
  14. H. E. L. Mellersh; Neville Williams (May 1999). Chronology of world history. ABC-CLIO. p. 569. ISBN 978-1-57607-155-7. Retrieved 13 March 2011.
  15. 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
  16. Churchill, Lady Randolph Spencer; Davenport, Cyril James Humphries (1900). The Anglo-Saxon Review. John Lane. pp. 215–22. Retrieved 13 March 2013.
  18. Demetra Molyva, 'Palace of Cyprus’s last queen to be restored' in The Cyprus Weekly (Cyprus newspaper), 7 October 2011
Royal titles
Preceded by
Helena Palaiologina
Queen consort of Cyprus
Succeeded by
Preceded by
James III
Queen of Cyprus
Succeeded by
Office abolished by Venetian Republic, but succession remains in dispute to this day – see Pretenders
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