Cornaro, Caterina (1454–1510)

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Cornaro, Caterina (1454–1510)

Queen of Cyprus. Name variations: Catherine Cornaro. Born in 1454 in Venice; died on July 5, 1510, in Asolo, Italy; married James II the Bastard, king of Cyprus (r. 1460–1473), in 1472; children: James III (b. 1472), king of Cyprus (r. 1473–1474).

Caterina Cornaro came from the powerful Cornaro family of Venice, which held large estates in Italy. As was the custom of her age, she was educated in the liberal arts and languages at a school for noble girls run by Benedictine nuns. When she was 14, a marriage was arranged between Caterina and the king of Cyprus, James II. Four years later, when she had finished her schooling, she moved to Cyprus; her married life ended a few months later when James died suddenly in 1473. The widowed queen gave birth to a son James III of Cyprus some months after her husband's death.

The birth of James III began a power struggle between queen Caterina and the Cyprian nobility, each of whom wanted to control the regency of the infant. After two years of war, Caterina was restored to the throne with the aid of her native Venice; however, the small boy for whom she had struggled died soon afterwards of malaria. Caterina retained her position as sole ruler of the island for 14 more years, but she increasingly found herself merely a puppet of the Venetian government. In 1488, she was forced to abdicate and deed the island of Cyprus to Venice. Caterina returned to Italy and took up residence on her fief of Asolo, where she established a brilliant court, patronizing Italian artists, humanist scholars, and writers whose lives were described by the Italian scholar Pietro Bembo in his dialogue Gli Asolani (1505). She also became known as a founder of hospitals and a generous benefactor to charities. Caterina Cornaro died at age 56.

Laura York , Riverside, California