Caterina Cornaro

Portrait of Caterina by Titian (1542). Image Credit: WikiCommons.

By Holly Marsden

Caterina Cornaro was born in 1454 to a powerful Venetian family of noblemen, politicians and military officials. Her father Marco Cornaro served as a knight of the Holy Roman Empire and her mother was Greek princess Fiorenza Crispo. She had seven siblings.

Caterina was educated in Padua where she honed her love of the arts and humanist philosophy. The Cornaro family were tied to Cyprus through exporting Cypriot goods like sugar. This was solidified in 1468, when Caterina married King James II of Cyprus.

After the death of James’ father King John II in 1458, the heir to the Cypriot throne was contested. However, when Caterina and James were betrothed, and ties with the Republic of Venice were secured, James became king and Caterina, only 14, his consort queen.

The new queen travelled to Cyprus in 1472. James II died soon after whilst Caterina was pregnant. A plot to depose the new King James III meant Caterina was then imprisoned, but the plot was unsuccessful. Her son died in 1474 and Caterina became sole monarch.

Caterina ruled Cyprus with Venetian merchants until 1488, when Venice recalled her to the Republic after hearing of plots to take her crown. She was persuaded to abdicate by both her mother and brother in 1489 and the doge of Venice was given power over Cyprus.

In her life in Venice, Caterina was allowed to keep the title of queen and was also made a lady of Asolo, a county in the region. The Asolo court was known for its literary and artistic productions. Queen Caterina Cornaro died in 1510.

Her Cypriot summer palace in the village of Potamia is currently being restored. Her life and character are documented in many early modern paintings such as the above painted by Titian in 1542. Caterina’s image and legacy in trade are still remembered, and romanticised, today.

Recommended Reading

Holly Hurlburt, Daughter of Venice: Caterina Corner, Queen of Cyprus and Woman of the Renaissance (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015)

Liana De Girolami Cheney, “Caterina Cornaro, Queen of Cyprus,” in The Emblematic Queen: Extra-Literary Representations of Early Modern Queenship, ed. D. Barrett-Graves (New York: Springer, 2013)

Lisa Hopkins, “Caterina Cornaro and the Colonization of Cyprus,” in Colonization, Piracy, and Trade in Early Modern Europe: The Roles of Powerful Women and Queens, eds. Claire Jowitt, Estelle Paranque, and Nate Probasco (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017)

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