I do love reading about the more unknown Queens of history and I must admit Caterina Corner (or Cornaro) was quite a mystery to me. This is perhaps also due to the fact that she not born a royal but rather the daughter of Nobile Huomo Marco Cornaro and Fiorenza Crispo. Her father was a great-grandson of Marco Cornaro, Doge of Venice. I had never heard of the title Doge before, but apparently it’s derived from the Latin Dux. The Doges of Venice were the chief magistrates and leaders of the Venice. They were elected for life.
In a perhaps unusual choice for a royal bride Catherine was selected by James II of Cyprus as his wife. James himself was known as James the Bastard and he had challenged his (legitimate) half-sister’s rights to the throne of Cyprus. When she fled to Rome, James was crowned King. The Republic of Venice was quite pleased with James’ choice for a wife. The two were married by proxy in Venice on 30 July 1468. Catherine was just 14 years old, while James was around 30. They married in person at the end of 1472 in Famagusta.
James died not long after the wedding, leaving behind a young and pregnant widow. His will was quite specific, leaving the throne to his universal heirs ‘the most illustrious Catherine of Lusignan, through the grace of God Queen of Jerusalem, Cyprus, and Armenia, his most beloved wife, and her unborn child, male or female’. However, fearing that if they might die childless he also included his illegitimate son Eugenios and Janos, and also his illegitimate daughter Charla. Surprisingly he noted that a mistress was also pregnant at the time of his death and included them in the will as well. This will made it possible for Catherine to succeed her son as Queen regnant, though she had no blood relation to the Kings and Queens of Cyprus.
She gave birth to a son on 6 July 1473, named James after his father and he became James III upon birth. However, he would die before his first birthday of malaria, paving the way for Catherine’s solo reign.
I received this book from the publisher and it’s a beautifully illustrated hardcover with glossy pages. The book chronicles her entire life. She was forced to abdicate in 1489 as Venice annexed Cyprus. It must have been a trying time for her, she had lost her husband, her son and now her kingdom. In return Catherine received the town of Asolo and was now called Lady of Asolo. She spent 21 years as the Lady of Asolo and she took great care of the citizens. She died in 1510 after being ill for three days and she died ‘from a pain in the stomach that had burst’. Her legend continued after her death, promoted by her brother Zorzi in order to further the family’s interests.
I really enjoyed reading about Catherine and the book contains so much information and images, even the only surviving image of her signature and it’s things like that which make an unknown Queen come to life. It’s an extraordinary life too, from Venetian noblewoman to Queen in her own right, though she paid for it with the losses in her life.