Catherine Cornaro was most definitely not born to be a Queen, let alone a Queen regnant. She was born on 25 November 1454 as the daughter of Nobile Huomo Marco Cornaro and Fiorenza Crispo. Her father was a great-grandson of Marco Cornaro, Doge of Venice. The title Doge is derived from the Latin Dux. The Doges of Venice were the chief magistrates and leaders of 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 even 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. During her reign of fifteen years, the island was controlled by Venetian merchants and by 1489, she was forced to abdicate and sell the administration of the country to the Republic of Venice. She was forced to leave on 14 May 1489.
As compensation, Catherine was allowed to keep her title of Queen, and she was made the Sovereign Lady of Asolo, which was a county in Italy. She ruled Asolo until her death on 10 July 1510. She is buried in the Chiesa di San Salvatore in Veneto, Italy.
Catharina Cornaro (1841) by Franz Lachner
Caterina Cornaro (1844) by Gaetano Donizetti