GET A FREE BOOKGet a free book

Queen Charlotta of Cyprus

history hunter's report, part II

In my previous history hunter’s report on the treacherous medieval court of Cyprus, I laid out the history behind the Lusignan Kings, a French dynasty that ruled the kingdom of Cyprus, Jerusalem, and Armenia from the middle ages until the end of the fifteenth century. (They ruled Jerusalem and Armenia in title only, not lands). Today, I’ll follow up with a deep dive into Queen Charlotta of Cyprus, whose dramatic conflict with her half-brother Jacques (also known as Jacco) signaled the last gasp of the Lusignan Kings.

As is often the case with women in history, very little information remains about Charlotta (she was baptized as ‘Charlotte’, but signed letters as ‘Charlotta’). Various sources cite her birthdate differently, but 1444 seems to be the agreed-upon date by recent scholars. Charlotta was the only surviving child of King Jean II of Lusignan and his wife Eleni Palaeologina, princess of Morea. The following image is said to portray Charlotta, her mother, and her sister (subsequently deceased).

Charlotta’s father, King Jean, was by all accounts a genial and ineffective ruler who loved hunting, hawking, and spending money. The glory days of the kingdom seemed to have ended with his grandfather King Janus and grandmother Queen Charlotte I. By Jean’s era, three centuries of lavish living coupled with a weak military presence had crippled the once-powerful Lusignan dynasty. Sharks were circling: the Genoese had taken control of the main port city, Famagusta; the Mamluks of Egypt only paused their attacks thanks to tribute payments to their sultan from the Lusignans; and the Venetians underwrote many of King Jean’s expenses, miring the kingdom in crippling debt.

Hostile external forces were one thing; within the court, animosity festered like a battle wound. Queen Eleni was a proud Greek and a dominating personality. She purportedly bit off her rival Marietta’s nose when she found the woman in bed with her husband (some sources say she cut it off). Jean and Marietta’s son, Jacques (also known as Jacco the Bastard) was the apple of his father’s eye. A handsome, charismatic bully, he became Charlotta’s protector before his desire for the throne soured their relationship forever.

Photo of Jacques II silver coin by
Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. http://www.cngcoins.com

Queen Eleni raised her daughter to be a good Greek girl. Princess Charlotta lived with her mother and various Greek attendants; her understanding of French was rudimentary at best. When she was about 13, she was married to the teenaged Prince João of Coimbra (Portugal). The young couple moved from the royal palace to a house elsewhere in the Cyprus capital of Nicosia, angering Charlotta’s mother and delighting the Latin-origin members of court. Tensions grew between the two camps until Prince João suddenly died under mysterious circumstances; the queen’s chamberlain—who was like a brother to Queen Eleni—was blamed.

In a royal tit-for-tat, the queen’s chamberlain was then murdered. Palace gossips said Charlotta had asked Jacco to arrange the killing. Before he could be punished, he fled for the island of Rhodes and the hospitality of the Knights Hospitaller. Meanwhile, Charlotta grieved her dead husband and awaited a new betrothal, this time with her first cousin Louis of Savoy. Her mother Queen Eleni, who had been disabled by what appears to be a paralytic stroke not long after her children were born, slowly lost her health. Still, she fought the betrothal with every ounce of her strength, for in the Greek Orthodox tradition, marrying a first cousin was an unforgivable sin.

In 1458, both Queen Eleni and King Jean died; Charlotta became queen, though she’d had no training for the job. Jacco sailed to Egypt and charmed the Mamluk Sultanate; by the time Charlotta married Louis of Savoy, a groundswell of popular support for Jacco as king was sweeping over the island of Cyprus.

The powerful barons who had served her father as council members now whispered in Charlotta’s ear. Her husband Louis, who was designated the one true king (rather than serving as a symbolic King Regent) proved to be a disinterested and weak leader. When Charlotta was 16, she moved her court into the massive coastal fortress of Kyrenia, bracing for a siege.

Photo by Ad Meskens

Jacco and his army of Mamluk warriors sailed to Cyprus in 1460, determined to seize power. Unfortunately, Charlotta’s husband Louis was more interested in finding a source for his beloved milk-fed veal than making plans for war. The fate of their kingdom balanced on the point of a blade. Would Charlotta surrender to her half-brother? Would she find the allies she needed to retain control of her throne? Would she amass the gold needed to pay for a war? Would the impenetrable fortress of Kyrenia be smashed open, her treasures looted, her crown stolen?

All of these questions are answered in The Queen’s Scribe, the forthcoming final book in my Sea and Stone Chronicles series of stand-alone romantic suspense novels about medieval Rhodes and Cyprus. We know little of Queen Charlotta, but what exists is tantalizing. The historical record shows a courageous young woman who was unprepared to rule and unprepared for war, who was bullied and dominated by powerful feudal lords, and yet fought for her kingdom with breathtaking grit and tenacity. The Queen’s Scribe will be published in early 2023.

2 Comments

  1. Julie Cassin says:

    SUCH fascinating history and a book worthy of it!

    1. Amy Maroney says:

      Thank you, Julie!

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: