House of Lusignan

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"Lusignan" redirects here. For the French commune, see Lusignan, Vienne.
House of Lusignan
Armoiries Chypre 1393.svg
Lusignan Armorial
Country France
Founded 885
Founder Hugh I of Lusignan
Final ruler King James III of Cyprus
Dissolution 1896

The Lusignan family was a European royal house of French origin that ruled much of Europe and Asia, including the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the Kingdom of Cyprus, the Kingdom of Cilicia, and had great influence in England.

It originated in Poitou near Lusignan in western France in the early 10th century. By the end of the 11th century, they had risen to become the most prominent petty lords in the region from their castle at Lusignan. In the late 12th century, through marriage and inheritance, a cadet branch of the family came to control the Kingdoms of Jerusalem and of Cyprus, while in the early 13th century, the main branch succeeded in the Counties of La Marche and Angoulême. As Crusader princes in the Latin East, they soon had connections with the Hethumid rulers of the Kingdom of Cilicia, which they inherited through marriage in the mid-14th century. The Armenian and Cypriot branches of the family eventually merged and the dynasty died out after the Ottoman conquest of their Asian kingdoms.

First House of Lusignan[edit]


Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, March: the Château de Lusignan

The Château de Lusignan, near Poitiers, was the principal seat of the Lusignans; it was destroyed during the Wars of Religion, and only its foundations remain in Lusignan. According to legend the earliest castle was built by the folklore water-spirit Melusine. The lords of the castle at Lusignan were counts of La Marche, over which they frequently fought with the counts of Angoulême.

In France[edit]

Lords of Lusignan[edit]

Arms of the lords of Lusignan

Counts of La Marche[edit]

Hugh VI inherited by collateral succession the County of La Marche (1091) as descendant of Almodis.

Counts of Eu[edit]

Counts of La Marche and Angoulême[edit]

The use of the Lion was a gift from Richard the Lionheart during the Third Crusade

Hugh IX's son, Hugh X, married Isabelle of Angoulême, thus securing Angoulême (1220).

Yolande sold the fiefs of Lusignan, La Marche, Angoulême, and Fougères to Philip IV of France in 1308. They became a part of the French royal demesne and a common appanage of the crown.

Crusader kings[edit]

Guy of Lusignan and Saladin. "Saladin en Guy de Lusignan", 1625 painting by Jan Lievens.

In the 1170s, Amalric arrived in Jerusalem, having been expelled by Richard Lionheart (at that point, acting Duke of Aquitaine) from his realm, which included the family lands of Lusignan near Poitiers. Amalric married Eschiva, the daughter of Baldwin of Ibelin, and entered court circles. He had also obtained the patronage of Agnes of Courtenay, the divorced mother of King Baldwin IV, who held the county of Jaffa and Ascalon and was married to Reginald of Sidon. He was appointed Agnes's constable in Jaffa, and later constable of the kingdom. Hostile rumours alleged he was Agnes's lover, but this is questionable. It is likely that his promotions were aimed at weaning him away from the political orbit of the Ibelin family, who were associated with Raymond III of Tripoli, Amalric I's cousin and the former bailli or regent. Amalric's younger brother, Guy, arrived at some date before Easter 1180. When he arrived is quite unknown, unless we accept the statement of Ernoul that he arrived at this precise juncture on Amalric's advice. Many modern historians believe that Guy was already well established in Jerusalem by 1180, but there is no contemporary evidence to support this belief. What is certain is that Amalric of Lusignan's success facilitated Guy's social and political advancement.

Older accounts (derived from William of Tyre and Ernoul) claim that Agnes was concerned that her political rivals, headed by Raymond of Tripoli, were determined to exercise more control by forcing Agnes' daughter, the princess Sibylla, to marry someone of their choosing, and that Agnes foiled these plans by advising her son to have Sibylla married to Guy. However, it seems that the King, who was less malleable than earlier historians have portrayed, was considering the international implications: it was vital for Sibylla to marry someone who could rally external help to the kingdom, not someone from the local nobility. With the new King of France, Philip II, a minor, the chief hope of external aid was Baldwin's first cousin Henry II, who owed the Pope a penitential pilgrimage on account of the Thomas Becket affair. Guy was a vassal of Richard of Poitou and Henry II, and as a formerly rebellious vassal, it was in their interests to keep him overseas.

Guy and Sibylla were hastily married at Eastertide 1180, apparently preventing a coup by Raymond's faction to marry her to Amalric of Lusignan's father-in-law, Baldwin of Ibelin. By his marriage Guy also became count of Jaffa and Ascalon and bailli of Jerusalem. He and Sibylla had two daughters, Alice and Maria. Sibylla already had one child, a son from her first marriage to William of Montferrat.

Battle of Hattin in which Guy de Lusignan was captured by Saladin, and Jerusalem was lost.

An ambitious man, Guy convinced Baldwin IV to name him regent in early 1182. However, he and Raynald of Châtillon made provocations against Saladin during a two-year period of truce. But it was his military hesitance at the siege of Kerak which disillusioned the king with him. Throughout late 1183 and 1184 Baldwin IV tried to have his sister's marriage to Guy annulled, showing that Baldwin still held his sister with some favour. Baldwin IV had wanted a loyal brother-in-law, and was frustrated in Guy's hardheadedness and disobedience. Sibylla was held up in Ascalon, though perhaps not against her will. Unsuccessful in prying his sister and close heir away from Guy, the king and the Haute Cour altered the succession, placing Baldwin V, Sibylla's son from her first marriage, in precedence over Sibylla, and decreeing a process to choose the monarch afterwards between Sibylla and Isabella (whom Baldwin and the Haute Cour thus recognized as at least equally entitled to succession as Sibylla), though she was not herself excluded from the succession. After the death of Baldwin V in 1186, Guy and Sybilla go to Jerusalem for the funeral with an armed guard. Sybilla is crowned as Queen of Jerusalem, on the condition that she annul her marriage with Guy. In return she can marry who she chooses, and chooses to remarry Guy, angering the barons.

Guy's term as king is generally seen as a disaster; he was defeated by Saladin at the Battle of Hattin in 1187, and was imprisoned in Damascus as Saladin reconquered almost the entire kingdom. Upon his release he and Sibylla sought refuge in Tyre, but were denied entry by rival Conrad of Montferrat, the husband of Isabella. During the Siege of Acre in 1191, Sybilla and their two daughters died. This made Isabella the queen of Jerusalem. Guy leaves for Limassol and meets with Richard, now king of England, and joins his conquest of Cyprus , retaliation for the lord of Cyprus taking Richard's fiancee as prisoner. After Richard and Guy return to the siege of Acre. Richard gives up his claim to Jerusalem and supports Guy, while the King of France and Duke of Austria support Conrad, their kinsman. The conflict did not stop Guy from saving Conrad’s life when he was surrounded by the enemy. Richard puts the matter to a vote, which Conrad wins, leaving Guy powerless.

Richard sold Cyprus to the Templars, who in turn sell it to Guy. Guy died in 1194, leaving Cyprus to his older brother Aimery. The Holy Roman Emperor crowned Aimery the first king of Cyprus, and in 1197 Aimery married Isabella, which brought the crown of Jerusalem back to the Lusignans. One of Aimery's first actions as king was to make a five year truce with the Muslims.

In England[edit]

Meanwhile, in France, Hugh le Brun ("Hugh the Swarthy"), like most of the lords of Poitou, backed Arthur of Brittany as the better heir to Richard the Lionheart when John Lackland acceded to the throne of England in 1199. Eleanor of Aquitaine traded English claims for their support of John. To secure his position in La Marche, the widowed Hugh arranged a betrothal with the daughter of his next rival of Angoulême, no more than a child; John however married her himself, in August 1200, and deprived Hugh of La Marche and his brother of Eu in Normandy. The aggrieved Lusignans turned to their liege lord, Philip Augustus, King of France. Philip demanded John's presence—a tactical impossibility—and declared John a contumacious vassal. As the Lusignan allies managed to detain both Arthur and Eleanor, John surprised their unprepared forces at the castle of Mirebeau, in July 1202, and took Hugh prisoner with 200 more of Poitou's fighting men. King John's savage treatment of the captives turned the tide against himself, and his French barons began to desert him in droves. Thus the Lusignans' diplomatic rebellion led directly to the loss of half of England's French territory, which was soon incorporated into France by Philip Augustus (The other "half", Aquitaine, was the possession of Eleanor, who was still alive). John died in 1216, leaving his son Henry III of England as king, and Isabella married Hugh X of Lusignan in 1220, they proceeded to have five children.

William de Valence, born Guilliame de Lusignan, a younger son of Hugh de Lusignan, count of La Marche, by his marriage with Isabella of Angoulême, widow of the English King John. In 1247, William, along with two of his brothers, moved from France to England, at the request of his half-brother, Henry III. The king quickly placed his brothers in positions of power, marrying William, to Joan de Munchensi (d. 1307), a granddaughter and heiress to the great William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke. Valence was granted custody of the lands, and the title of Earl of Pembroke, giving him great wealth and power in his new land. As a result, he was unpopular, and was heavily involved in the Second Barons' War, supporting the King and Prince Edward against the rebels led by Simon de Montfort. After the final defeat of the rebels at the Battle of Evesham in 1265, William continued to serve Henry III, and then Edward I, until his death in 1296.

William's eldest surviving son, Aymer (c. 1265–1324), succeeded to his father's estates, but was not formally recognized as Earl of Pembroke until after the death of his mother Joan in 1307. He was appointed guardian of Scotland in 1306, but with the accession of Edward II to the throne and the consequent rise of Piers Gaveston to power, his influence declined. He became prominent among the discontented nobles, but in 1312, after the Earl of Warwick betrayed him by executing the captured Gaveston, he left the allied lords and joined the King. Valence was present at Bannockburn in 1314, and later helped King Edward defeat Thomas of Lancaster. However, by his death in 1324, he was again marginalized at court, and in financial trouble as well. His wife, Mary de Châtillon, a descendant of King Henry III, was the founder of Pembroke College, Cambridge.

Kings of Cyprus[edit]

Main article: War of the Lombards

After another six year truce with the Muslims, Aimery and most of the royal family died. His only surviving son, Hugh, became King of Cyprus in 1205 while the kingdom of Jerusalem passed to Maria of Montferrat, eldest daughter of Isabella and Conrad. Hugh married his step sister, Alice of Champagne, daughter of Isabella and Henry of Champagne. They had 3 children. Henry the youngest child and only son became king in 1218 at eight months of age with Alice officially serving as his regent. In reality it was her uncle Phillip of Ibelin who ruled, followed by his brother John of Ibelin, the Old Lord of Beirut.

Henry was crowned at the age of 8 at Santa Sophia, Nicosia, in 1225.[1] The reason for the early coronation was as a political maneuver by his uncle, who sensed that Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor, was going to attempt to seize power. In 1228 this did occur, as Frederick forced John of Ibelin to hand over the regency, and the island of Cyprus. However, when Frederick left the island in April, John counter-attacked and regained control, which began the War of the Lombards. Henry was able to assume control of the kingdom when he came of age at 15, in 1232. He became regent of Jerusalem, in 1246, for the infant Conrad IV of Germany until 1253. Henry was married three times and had only one child, a son Hugh, who succeeded him upon his death in 1253 at only two months of age. Hugh died in 1267 at age 14, bringing an end to the first House of Lusignan.

Second House of Lusignan[edit]

Basin attributed to Hugh IV of Cyprus. An inscription in Arabic reads: "Made by the order of Hugh, favoured by God, the one at the vanguard of the elite troops of the Franks, Hugh of the Lusignans". Another inscription in French reads: "Très haut et puissant roi Hugues de Jherusalem et de Chipre que Dieu manteigne." ("Very high and powerful king Hugh of Jerusalem and Cyprus, may God maintain him"). 14th century, Egypt or Syria. Louvre Museum [2]

Fall of the Templars[edit]

At that point, Hugh de Poiters of Antioch, whose maternal grandfather had been Hugh I of Cyprus, took the name Lusignan, thus founding the second House of Lusignan, and managed to succeed his deceased cousin as King of Cyprus. In 1268 he was crowned King of Jerusalem following the execution of Conradin. Hugh grew sick of dealing with the different factions of Jerusalem nobles, and in 1276 he left for Cyprus. Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote On Kingship for Hugh. In 1284 his son John succeeded him as king of Cyprus and Jerusalem, but died only one year later. John is believed to have been poisoned by his brother, Henry. In 1291 the last remnants of the Kingdom of Jerusalem were captured by Khalil, the Sultan of Egypt. Henry fled to Cyprus and under his rule the kingdom prospered. He had the "Haute Cour" keep written records for the first time in their history, bringing them from a simple advisory council into a true court that tried criminals. His true goals of reclaiming Jerusalem went unfulfilled, despite alliances with Persia and twice requesting Pope Clement V for assistance.

King Henry suffered from epilepsy, which incapacitated him at times. Some of the nobles grew unhappy with his rule, and he had his brother, Guy, the Constable of Cyprus, executed for conspiring against him, prompting his brother Almaric, the Prince of Tyre to overthrow him with help from the Knights Templar. The revolt was quick and non violent. Almaric became regent of Cyprus and Jerusalem, and Henry was exiled to Armenia, where he was his imprisoned by Almaric’s brother in law King Oshin. Amalric repaired relationships with Venice, Genoa, and the Knights Hospitallers, and became popular among the people. In 1300, the Lusignans, led by Amalric, Prince of Tyre entered into combined military operations with the Mongols under Ghazan to retake the Holy Land, without success. In 1307 Pope Clement, under pressure from king Philip IV of France ordered that all Templars be arrested and their properties seized, leaving Amalric no choice but to comply. This led to a small uprising and calls for Henry to retake the throne, but it quickly subsided. Among those arrested were several nobles, including two members of the Ibelin family. Amalric was murdered in 1310 by Simon of Montolif. After this King Oshin released Henry II, and with the aid of the Hospitallers Henry regained his throne. Those who helped Amalric are arrested, including their brother Aimery, who was acting governor following Amalric’s murder.

Kings of Armenia[edit]

Constantin III of Armenia on his throne. "Les chevaliers de Saint-Jean-de-Jerusalem rétablissant la religion en Arménie", 1844 painting by Henri Delaborde.

1342, Amalric’s son, Guy de Lusignan, was elected King of Armenia and took the name Constantine II. He was initially reluctant as the regent, Oshin of Corycos, was rumored to have poisoned the previous king and killed Guy’s mother and two brothers. Under his leadership the Lusignans tried to impose Catholicism and the European way of life on the Armenian people. The Armenian leadership largely accepted this, but the peasantry opposed the changes. Eventually, this led way to civil strife.[3] Constantine was killed in an uprising in 1344, and the throne passed out of the Lusignan family to his distant cousin Gosdantin, who reigned as Constantine III. Constantine III attempted to kill his cousins, in an attempt to eliminate all potential claimants but they fled to Cyprus.

Golden Age of Lusignan Cyprus[edit]

Main article: Alexandrian Crusade

Hugh IV de Lusignan became king at age 29, and unlike previous Lusignan monarchs he was content being just King of Cyprus, refusing his son Peter’s requests to lead a crusade for Jerusalem. He instead preferred to focus on issues in his realm and was strict on justice. When Peter and his third son John journeyed to Europe he had the man who helped them tortured and hanged, and sent ships to find and imprison his sons. He had a strong interest in art, literature and philosophy, hosting regular philosophical discussions at his summer villa in Lapithos and commissioned Genealogia deorum gentilium by the Italian writer Giovanni Boccaccio. In 1347 Prince Peter de Lusignan founded the Chivalric Order of the Sword, whose motto was Pour Lealte Maintenir the motto of his house.

In 1358 Hugh abdicated the throne, passing it on to his military minded son Peter instead of his grandson Hugh, the heir apparent. Peter believed that since Cyprus was the last Christian stronghold in the mideast it was his duty to fight the Muslims, and raided the coastal ports of the Asia Minor. The people of Korikos asked for protection from the Muslims. Peter sent his kinsman, Sir Roberto de Lusignan to lead the siege of Korikos. The Lusignans succeeded, and the various Muslim leaders united against Peter, launching an assault on Cyprus. Peter united Knights of Saint John from Rhodes, Papal armies, and Mediterranean pirates to defeat the Muslim fleets before they could land. After another defeat at Antalya the remaining emirs in the region offered him tribute, and he accepted, sending the flags, coats of arms, and other symbols of his house to be raised in different cities. Peter personally visited many of the cities he conquered, where he was given trophies, gifts, and was even worshiped by some.

When Peter returned to Cyprus he was in risk of losing his throne. Hugh, his nephew who had previously been the heir apparent, went to Pope Urban V in an attempt to be recognized as king. Peter journeyed to Avignon to present his case. Urban sided with Peter, but Hugh was given a high annual benefit as recompense. Peter also discussed another crusade with the pope, and then decided to visit the other kings and rulers of Europe to strengthen his army. He visited Germany, France, and England, where the famed “Banquet of the Five Kings” took place. In 1363 Peter attended the Congress of Kraków, hosted by King Casimir the Great of Poland. In attendance were Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor, King Louis I of Hungary, the Valdemar IV of Denmark, and other lords and princes. Among the issues discussed were Peter’s crusade, peace treaties between the kings, and the succession for the Polish throne. While there Peter won a royal tournament, adding to his prestige.

The assassination of Peter. "Assassinat Pierre de Lusignan, roi de Chypre", 15th century painting by Jean Froissart.

While Peter was attempting to launch another crusade and gaining recognition, his brother Prince John ruled as vice-king in Cyprus and faced many challenges. There was an epidemic in 1363 that was death of many Cypriots, including their sister Eschiva. The Turks heard that the people of Cyprus were dying and took advantage by raiding and pillaging the villages. During this time there were also conflicts between the Genose navies docked at Famagusta and the native Cypriots. Peter was in Genoa at the time and negotiated peace. He failed to gain the support of the major rulers but set off on a crusade with what men he had. He sacked the city of Alexandria, but was prevented from moving on to Cairo, and succeeded only in angering the Sultan. Peter moved on to Beirut, Tripoli, and in 1368 attempted once again to unite Europe in a crusade. Pope Urban V instead had Peter make peace with the Sultan of Egypt, who was attacking Christian ships in retaliation for Peter's crusade. The increased commerce under Peter’s reign led to Famagusta becoming one of the wealthiest cities of its time. It became renown as a place where the rich could live in lavish surroundings.

While on one of his visits to Rome Peter received word that the barons of Armenia wanted him as king. He returned to Cyprus to find that his queen had been unfaithful while he was away, and he tyrannized all nobles she showed favor to, including his brothers. In 1369 Peter was assassinated while in bed by three of his own knights. During his reign he was known as the epitome of chivalry, and was the greatest king of the Lusignan dynasty. He was succeeded by his 12 year old son, Peter II.

Fall of Armenia[edit]

After the death of his kinsman, Constantine IV sought an alliance with the Sultan of Egypt, who Peter had made an enemy. This angered the barons of Armenia, who feared annexation by the sultan, and in 1373 Constantine IV was murdered. In 1374, Leon V de Lusignan was crowned King of Armenia. He was raised in Cyprus after having fled Contantine III, and while there he became a knight in the Order of the Sword, which was founded by King Peter I. In 1375, Armenia was invaded by the Mameluks and Leon was forced to surrender, putting an end to the last fully independent Armenian entity of the Middle Ages after three centuries of sovereignty. The title was claimed by his cousin, James I of Cyprus, uniting it with the titles of Cyprus and Jerusalem.[3] Leo and his family were held captive in Cairo for several years, until King John I of Castile ransomed him and made him Lord of Madrid. He died in Paris in 1393 after trying and failing to gather support for another crusade.

Kings of Jerusalem and Cyprus[edit]

Arms of the kings of Jerusalem and Cyprus

Kings of Jerusalem, Cyprus, and Armenian Cilicia[edit]

The Armenian kingdom was inherited by the Cypriot Lusignans in 1393. After the loss of Cyprus in 1489 the Levantine line continued in Constantinople and from the 19th century in Saint-Petersburg. The last reigning Prince in Constantinople was Christodule de Lusignan who was a direct descendant of kings Janus, Jacques I and Hugo IV. After his arrival in Russia in 1827, his son Louis de Lusignan was recognised as "Royal Prince of Cyprus, Jerusalem and Armenia” by the Russian Emperor Nicholas I. This line of descent was defended in the French civil tribunals in 1880's by Prince Michel de Lusignan, son of Louis and grandson of Chistodule, who resided in St.Petersbourg.[4],[5]

Arms of the kings of Jerusalem, Cyprus, and Armenian Cilica

In the late 14th century, Cilicia was invaded by the Mameluks. The fall of Sis in April, 1375 put an end to the kingdom; its last King, Leon V, was granted safe passage and died in exile in Paris in 1393 after calling in vain for another Crusade. The title was claimed by his cousin, James I of Cyprus, uniting it with the titles of Cyprus and Jerusalem.[3] The last fully independent Armenian entity of the Middle Ages was thus decimated after three centuries of sovereignty.

Besides the Cypriot branch, through the acts of the Count of Poitiers, Alphonse de Poitiers, by the 18th century the domains of Lusignans were divided among a number of other branches :

  • Lusignan-Lezay
  • Lusignan-Vouvant
  • Lusignan-Cognac
  • Lusignan-Jarnac (the Counts d'Eu)
  • The principal branch retains Lusignan and the County of La Marche

Two of the Lusignan domains in France were erected into feudal Marquisates in 1618 and 1722 by Kings Louis XIII and Louis XV respectively. ‘[6]’

Castles and Palaces[edit]





In Popular Culture[edit]

who married Guy de Lusignan, Count of Poitou, under condition that he should never attempt to intrude upon her privacy.... She bore the count many children, and erected for him a magnificent castle by her magical art. Their harmony was uninterrupted until the prying husband broke the conditions of their union, by concealing himself to behold his wife make use of her enchanted bath. Hardly had Melusina discovered the indiscreet intruder, than, transforming herself into a dragon, she departed with a loud yell of lamentation, and was never again visible to mortal eyes; although, even in the days of Brantome, she was supposed to be the protectress of her descendants, and was heard wailing as she sailed upon the blast round the turrets of the castle of Lusignan the night before it was demolished.
  • The civil war between James II (called "Zacco") and Charlotte of Cyprus forms the historical background to the events of Dorothy Dunnett's novel Race of Scorpions.


  1. ^ Runciman, p. 180
  2. ^ "Site officiel du musée du Louvre". Retrieved 2012-08-11. 
  3. ^ a b c Kurdoghlian, Mihran (1996). Badmoutioun Hayots, Volume II (in Armenian). Athens, Greece: Hradaragoutioun Azkayin Oussoumnagan Khorhourti. pp. 29–56. 

4.Chanoine Pascal, Histoire de la Maison royale de Lusignan, Paris, Léon Vanier, 1896.

5. Histoire Des Prices De Lusignan, Anciens Rois de Jerusalem, de la Petite Armenie et de Chypre, St. Petersbourg, Soikine, 1903.

6. Dictionnaire des Titres et des terres titrées en France sous l'ancien régime», Eric Thiou, Éditions Mémoire et Documents, Versailles, 2003

Further reading[edit]

  •  Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Lusignan". Encyclopædia Britannica 17 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 130–131.  Endnotes:
    • J. M. J. L. de Mas-Latrie, Histoire de l'île de Chypre sous les princes de la maison de Lusignan (Paris, 1852-1853)
    • W. Stubbs, Lectures on Medieval and Modern History (3rd ed., Oxford, 1900)