Lusignan (lüzēnyäNˈ) [key], French noble family. The name is derived from a castle in Poitou, built, according to legend, by Mélusine. The family was powerful in the Middle Ages and ruled (13th-14th cent.) the county of Marche. One branch was prominent in the history of the Crusades. Guy of Lusignan succeeded (1186) Baldwin V as king of Jerusalem; compelled (1192) to resign this title, he received the island of Cyprus from King Richard I of England. His brother, Amalric II, succeeded (1194) him as king of Cyprus and was also king of Jerusalem; his descendants continued to claim the kingship of Jerusalem. In 1342 a branch of their line ascended the throne of Lesser Armenia (Cilicia); in 1375 the last Lusignan king of Armenia was overthrown by the Mamluks, and the Lusignans of Cyprus added the empty title of king of Armenia to the equally empty one of king of Jerusalem. Cyprus flourished under Lusignan rule until about 1370, but then it declined and eventually became dependent on Venice and was obliged to pay tribute to Egypt. The royal capital, Nicosia, was long a center of French medieval culture. Famagusta, however, was ceded in the mid-1370s to Genoa as security for an indemnity in return for the release of the captive King Peter II. In the next century the Lusignan rulers of Cyprus had little power. The situation changed in 1460, however, when Queen Charlotte was expelled by the half-Greek illegitimate son of her late husband. The usurper became king as James II, recovered (1464) Famagusta, and married the Venetian heiress Caterina Cornaro. Their son, James III, died in 1474, and with him the Lusignan dynasty ended; in 1489 Venice took complete control of Cyprus.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: French History: Biographies