Helena Palaiologina

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Helena Palaiologina
Queen consort of Cyprus and Armenia
Tenure3 February 1442 – 11 April 1458
Born3 February 1428
Castle of Mistras, Morea, Greece
Died11 April 1458 (aged 30)
The fortress of Nicosia, Cyprus
Royal Monastery of Saint Dominic's, Nicosia
SpouseKing John II of Cyprus
IssueCharlotte, Queen of Cyprus
Cleopha de Lusignan
FatherTheodore II Palaiologos
MotherCleofa Malatesta
ReligionGreek Orthodox

Helena Palaiologina (Greek: Ἑλένη Παλαιολογίνα; 3 February 1428 – 11 April 1458)[1] was a Byzantine princess of the Palaiologos family, who became Queen of Cyprus and Armenia, titular Queen consort of Jerusalem, and Princess of Antioch through her marriage to King John II of Cyprus and Armenia. She was the mother of Queen Charlotte of Cyprus.

She may have poisoned her son-in-law John of Portugal, and ordered the nose of her husband's mistress to be cut off.[1] She did, however, welcome and assist many Byzantine refugees in Cyprus after the Fall of Constantinople in 1453.[1]

Early life[edit]

Helena was born in the castle of Mistras, Morea, Greece on 3 February 1428, the only child of Theodore II Palaiologos, Despot of Morea, and Cleofa Malatesta. Her paternal grandfather was Byzantine emperor Manuel II Palaiologos, and her uncles included emperors John VIII Palaiologos and Constantine XI Palaiologos. When she was five years old, her mother died. Her father never remarried as he was occupied in the war which was fought against the Latin states in Greece for the unification of Morea.

Queen of Cyprus[edit]

Helena and her daughters

On 3 February 1442 at the Cathedral of Saint Sophia in Nicosia, Helena married King John II of Cyprus and Armenia, titular King of Jerusalem and Prince of Antioch.[1] He was the son of King Janus of Cyprus of the Lusignan dynasty and Charlotte de Bourbon-La Marche. Helena was John's second wife, his first wife Amadea of Montferrat having died in September 1440. She had turned fourteen years old on the day of her wedding, and John was twenty-seven. The Chronicle of Amadi recorded the arrival in Cyprus on 2 February 1442 of Madama Helena Palaeologo de la Morea and her subsequent marriage the following day.[1]

Shortly after their marriage, Helena ordered the nose of her husband's beautiful mistress, Marietta de Patras, to be cut off.[1] Marietta had borne John a son, James, several years before his marriage to Helena.[1] Later, Helena and James would become bitter enemies, each striving to gain influence over King John. Helena resented her husband having appointed James Archbishop of Nicosia when he was sixteen years old. When the boy murdered Iacopo Urri, the Royal Chamberlain on 1 April 1457,[2] he was removed from office, and he fled the island, but King John pardoned him and the archbishopric was restored to him.

Helena was largely responsible for the revival of Greek influence in Cyprus due to the numerous members of the Byzantine court who arrived in her wake and were given positions at the Lusignan court. This led to a renewal of ties with the Byzantine Empire.[3] After the Fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, she welcomed and gave assistance to many Byzantine refugees who had fled to Cyprus.[1] She was described as having been "stronger in character than her husband". She took charge of the kingdom, and her policies in favour of the Orthodox faith and Greek culture enraged the Franks who looked upon her as a dangerous enemy; however she had become far too powerful for them to attack.[4] Pope Pius II also condemned her for supporting the Orthodox Church, and her endowment of 15,000 ducats per annum to the monastery of Saint George of Mangana also drew much criticism as it was considered to have been "extravagant generosity in impoverished times".[5] The Greek Cypriots, on the other hand, had always revered Helena as a great heroine due to her bold, decisive character in looking after their interests.[6]

In 1457, she may have poisoned her son-in-law, John of Portugal,[1] who had given his support to the Catholic party, thus incurring her wrath and enmity;[6] also she wished for her daughter to marry Louis of Savoy. This second marriage Helena did arrange for her daughter, Charlotte; however, the marriage between Charlotte and Louis took place in 1459, when Helena and King John were both dead, and Charlotte by that time had succeeded her father on the throne of Cyprus.


Helena died on 11 April 1458 in the fortress of Nicosia where she and King John had barricaded themselves during the insurrection of his illegitimate son, James.[1] She was buried in the Royal Monastery of Saint Dominic's. John died the same year, and was succeeded by his only surviving legitimate child, Charlotte.


Together John and Helena had two daughters:[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Cawley, Charles. "Medieval Lands, Cyprus". Foundation for Medieval Genealogy. Retrieved 2009-06-26.[better source needed]
  2. ^ Benjamin Arbel, David Jacoby, Intercultural Contacts in the Medieval Mediterranean, p.45, published by Frank Cass, London, Google Books, retrieved on 19 June 2009
  3. ^ Evangelia Skoufari, Cyprus During the 16th Century: A Frankish Kingdom, a Venetian Colony, and a Multicultural Society, University of Padua, retrieved on 19 June 2009
  4. ^ Women in Power: 1400–1500, www.guide2womenleaders.com/.../womeninpower.1400.htm
  5. ^ Christoforaki, Ioanna. Sainted Ladies and Wicked Harlots: Perceptions of Gender in Medieval Cyprus. Oxford, England: Institute of Archaeology. University of Oxford. p.165
  6. ^ a b Women in Power:1400–1500
Royal titles
Preceded by Queen consort of Cyprus
Succeeded by