All content on this blog is protected by copyright.
Content used elsewhere without attribution constitutes theft of intellectual property and will be prosecuted.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Behind the King's Back: The Imperial Siezure of Cyprus

Flushed with a sense of triumph after his victory at Casal Imbert, the Imperial Marshal Riccardo Filangieri made the strategic decision to strike at Cyprus. Just as he had seized at the city of Beirut while the Lord of Beirut was still on Cyprus with his fighting men, Filangieri took his army back to Cyprus while King Henry and the entire Cypriot host was in Syria -- without a fleet.

Cyprus had been denuded of troops by the call-up of the feudal host the previous fall. For a second time, the need to concentrate his defenses in one kingdom had left Ibelin vulnerable in the other. This time, however, King Henry of Cyprus stood to lose his entire kingdom. 

Marshal Filangieri's host supposedly numbered roughly 1000 mounted troops including the 600 knights and 100 squires he had brought with him, some 80 knights supporting the former imperial baillies, and allied knights from Armenia and Tripoli. The defensive installations at Famagusta and Kyrenia had already surrendered to the Cypriot lords siding with the Emperor, Amaury Barlais, Amaury de Bethsan, and Hugh de Gibelet. After the Imperial Marshal's arrival, the castle of Kantara also surrendered to him without a fight. 
Kantara Castle
The news of Filangieri's landing struck terror into the hearts of the "ladies and damsels" of Cyprus. Those that could, fled head-over-heels toward the mountain fortress of St. Hilarion, whose castellan Philip de Caffran held fast for the king. Most importantly, the king's two sisters, Isabella and Maria, took refuge here. Unfortunately, events had unfolded so fast that there had been no time to make preparations and the castle was poorly provisioned and not prepared to withstand a siege. It's walls and small garrison were, however, a sufficient deterrent to attack for the short term.

St Hilarion Castle
Those who found refuge here were the lucky ones. The vast majority of dependents who had no chance to get to St. Hilarion found themselves seeking other forms of refuge. According to Philip de Novare:

"... ladies dressed themselves as shepherdesses and their children as shepherds' children, and these women went to glean the grain which was there, and on this they lived, both themselves and their children, in such great misery that it is pitiful to relate. [The Wars of Frederick II against the Ibelins, CXI)
Others, on the other hand, took refuge in churches and "houses of religion," particularly with the militant orders, the Templars and Hospitallers. However, there was one notable exception. Lady Eschiva de Montbeliard "dressed in the robes of a minor brother" not only got herself to the least accessible of all the royal mountain castles (Buffavento), she "provisioned it with food, of which it had none." [Novare, CXI] Unfortunately for historians and novelists we know no more about this remarkable feat than this tantalizing mention in Novare's account -- and the fact that Eschiva was the wife of Beirut's heir, Balian.

Lady Eschiva, the royal princesses and the women in shepherds' disguise were the lucky ones. Filangieri's men had no scruples about breaking into churches and the Knights of Christ, who were not supposed to fight fellow Christians, stood by while the Imperial mercenaries dragged the women and children out of their houses. Novare claims that "they dragged out the ladies and children who clung to the altars and to the priests who chanted the Masses....They put the ladies and children into carts and on donkeys most shamefully and sent them to [Kyrenia] to prison, and they pricked with goads those who refused to go at once." [Novare, CXII]

With the bulk of the ladies and damsels of Cyprus now in a dungeon, the Imperialist army set about laying siege to St. Hilarion. The goal of this appears to have been the capture of the King's sisters, both of whom were of marriageable age. Presumably, Filangieri believed that if he had the princesses in his hands, he could force concessions from King Henry along the lines of "your sisters or the Ibelins." Alternatively, Frederick II, then a widower of five years already and not yet betrothed to Isabella Plantagenet, might have entertained the notion of marrying one of the girls and ruling Cyprus through her, deposing or sidelining King Henry. 

Any way one looked at it, Cyprus had been occupied by a hostile force not interested merely in control of strategic positions, but vindictively concerned about obtaining hostages with which to extort concessions from their foes.  It was probably during this period of Imperial occupation that the only incident in three centuries of Lusignan rule of religious violence against Greek Orthodox clergy occurred. Sometime in early 1232, 13 Orthodox monks were burned at the stake on the orders of a Dominican friar. 

Cyprus had good reason to wish for the return of her young king....

These events are depicted in detail in my latest release:

Dr. Helena P. Schrader holds a PhD in History.
She is the Chief Editor of the Real Crusades History Blog.
She is an award-winning novelist and author of numerous books both fiction and non-fiction. Her three-part biography of Balian d'Ibelin won a total of 14 literary accolades. Her current series describes the civil war in Outremer between Emperor Frederick andthe barons led by John d'Ibelin the Lord of Beirut. Dr. Schrader is also working on a non-fiction book describing the crusader kingdoms. You can find out more at:

1 comment:

  1. Yes, the truth is, often . . . depressing.

    They gave the women to the un-Holy non-Roman Emperor. How very "Christian" of them.


I welcome feedback and guest bloggers, but will delete offensive, insulting, racist or hate-inciting comments. Thank you for respecting the rules of this blog.