1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lusignan

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[ 130 ]

LUSIGNAN, the name of a family which sprang from Poitou[1] and distinguished itself by its connexion with the kingdom of Jerusalem, and still more by its long tenure of the kingdom of Cyprus (1192-1475). A Hugh de Lusignan appears in the ill-fated crusade of 1100-1101; another Hugh, the Brown, came as a pilgrim to the Holy Land in 1164, and was taken prisoner by Nureddin. In the last quarter of the 12th century the two brothers Amalric and Guy, sons of Hugh the Brown, played a considerable part in the history of the Latin East. About 1180 Amalric was constable of the kingdom of Jerusalem; and he is said to have brought his handsome brother Guy to the notice of Sibylla, the widowed heiress of the kingdom. Guy and Sibylla were married in 1180; and Guy thus became heir presumptive of the kingdom, if the young Baldwin V., Sibylla's son by her first marriage to William of Montferrat, should die without issue. He acted as regent in 1183, but he showed some incapacity in the struggle with Saladin, and was deprived of all right of succession. In 1186, however, on the death of Baldwin V., he succeeded in obtaining the crown, in spite of the opposition of Raymund of Tripoli. Next year he suffered a crushing defeat at the battle of Hittin, and was taken prisoner by Saladin. Released on parole in 1188, he at once broke his parole, and began the siege of Acre. Difficulties, however, had arisen with Conrad of Montferrat; and when Guy lost his wife Sibylla in 1190, and Conrad married Isabella, her sister, now heiress of the kingdom, these difficulties culminated in Conrad's laying claim to the crown. Guy found his cause espoused in 1191 by the overlord of his house, Richard I. of England; but Conrad's superior ability, and the support of the French crusaders, ultimately carried the day, and in 1192 Richard himself abandoned the pretensions of Guy, and recognized Conrad as king. Though Conrad was almost immediately assassinated, the crown did not [ 131 ] return to Guy, but went to Henry of Champagne, who married the widowed Isabella. Guy found some satisfaction for his loss in buying from the Templars the island of Cyprus, and there he reigned for the last two years of his life (1192-1194). He is judged harshly by contemporary writers, as simplex and insufflciens; but Dodu (in his Histoire des institutions du royaume de Jerusalem) suggests that Guy was depreciated because the kingdom had been lost in his reign, in much the same way as Godfrey of Bouillon was exalted because Jerusalem had just been won at his accession. Guy was a brave if not a particularly able knight; and his instant attack on Acre after his release by Saladin shows that he had the sentiment de ses devoirs.

He was succeeded in Cyprus by his brother Amalric, who acquired the title of king of Cyprus from the emperor Henry VI., and became king of Jerusalem in 1197 by his marriage to Isabella, after the death of Henry of Champagne (see Amalric II.). Amalric was the founder of a dynasty of kings of Cyprus, which lasted till 1475, while after 1269 his descendants regularly enjoyed the title of kings of Jerusalem. The scions of the house of Lusignan proved themselves the most sincere of crusaders. They possessed in Cyprus a kingdom, in which they had vindicated for themselves a stronger hold over their feudatories than the kings of Jerusalem had ever enjoyed, and in which trading centres like Famagusta flourished vigorously; and they used the resources of their kingdom, in conjunction with the Hospitallers of Rhodes, to check the progress of the Mahommedans.

Among the most famous members of the house who ruled in Cyprus three may be mentioned. The first is Hugh III. (the Great), who was king from 1267 to 1285: to him, apparently, St Thomas dedicated his De Regimine Principum; and it is in his reign that the kingdom of Jerusalem becomes permanently connected with that of Cyprus. The second is Hugh IV. (1324-1359), to whom Boccaccio dedicated one of his works, and who set on foot an alliance with the pope, Venice and the Hospitallers, which resulted in the capture of Smyrna (1344). The last is Peter I., Hugh's second son and successor, who reigned from 1359 to 1369, when he was assassinated as the result of a conspiracy of the barons. Peter and his chancellor de Mezieres represent the last flicker of the crusading spirit (see Crusades).

Before the extinction of the line in 1475, it had succeeded in putting a branch on the throne of Armenia. Five short-lived kings of the house ruled in Armenia after 1342, “Latin exiles,” as Stubbs says, “in the midst of several strange populations all alike hostile.” The kingdom of Armenia fell before the sultan of Egypt, who took prisoner its last king Leo V. in 1375, though the kings of Cyprus afterwards continued to bear the title; the kingdom of Cyprus itself continued to exist under the house of Lusignan for 100 years longer. The mother of the last king, James III, (who died when he was two years old), was a Venetian lady, Catarina Cornaro. She had been made a daughter of the republic at the time of her marriage to the king of Cyprus; and on the death of her child the republic first acted as guardian for its daughter, and then, in 1489, obtained from her the cession of the island.

See J. M. J. L. de Mas-Latrie, Histoire de l'île de Chypre sous les princes de la maison de Lusignan (Paris, 1852-1853); W. Stubbs, Lectures on Medieval and Modern History (3rd ed., Oxford, 1900).


  1. A branch of the line continued in Poitou during the 13th century, and ruled in LaMarche till 1303. Hugh de la Marche, whose betrothed wife, Isabella of Angoulême, King John of England seized (thus bringing upon himself the loss of the greater part of his French possessions), was a nephew of Guy of Lusignan. He ultimately married Isabella, after the death of John, and had by her a number of sons, half-brothers of Henry III. of England, who came over to England, amongst other foreign favourites, during his reign.