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  • Print publication year: 2018
  • Online publication date: July 2019

10 - Remembering the Crusaders in Cyprus: The Lusignans, the Hospitallers and the 1191 Conquest of Cyprus in Jean d'Arras's Mélusine

Summary

While the Third Crusade (1189–92) re-established Latin Christian control of the coastal regions of the Holy Land, arguably the most long-lasting consequence of the crusade was Richard the Lionheart's conquest of the island of Cyprus in 1191. The Anglo-Norman crusading army, accompanied by leading Templars and Hospitallers, overthrew the Greek Orthodox ruler Isaac Ducas Comnenus and took control of the island as a supply base for the forthcoming campaign on the Syrian-Palestinian mainland. Richard subsequently sold the island to the Templars, but when they decided not to keep it he sold it to the deposed former Latin king of Jerusalem Guy of Lusignan. Guy and his successors established a Latin dynasty which ruled Cyprus until the 1480s.

During 1392 and 1393 the French writer Jean d'Arras composed a story of the Lusignans’ legendary fairy ancestress, Mélusine, which depicted their acquisition of Cyprus rather differently. In this account the Lusignans acquired Cyprus through marriage and the heroism of Mélusine's sons, with the assistance of the Order of St John of Rhodes – otherwise known as the Hospitallers. Jean d'Arras claimed to have based his work on historical sources, but he was very selective in the information that he used, excluding the dominant versions of history in favour of an invented past which gave the Lusignans free agency and full ownership of the island. This chapter will consider Jean's use of both past and present, and what he could have intended to gain for his patrons by restating the Lusignans’ rights over Cyprus at a time when their control of the island was being challenged.

The legend of the fairy ancestress of the rulers of the castle of Lusignan in Poitou, the kings of Jerusalem and Cyprus, and the counts of La Marche and Parthenay already existed before 1362, although no written version has survived. Jean d'Arras's story tied the legend into historical events and particularly to war against Sarrazins – a generic term for non-Christians, especially Muslims. He stated that he was writing for Jean, duke of Berry, and his sister Mary, duchess of Bar, who were children of King Jean II the Good of France (reigned 1350–64). The kings of France had long been leading proponents of the crusade.