The last and most enduring of the crusader states was established on the island of Cyprus at the end of the twelfth century. It lasted for over 300 years, thriving long after the Kingdom of Jerusalem had disappeared from the political map -- if not from memory. In a seven-part series, I'll be looking at this important -- but often forgotten -- crusader state. It all began by accident --
|Richard's Tomb at the Abbey of Fontevrault|
Richard was not so lucky. His fleet of a hundred ships did not set sail until April 10 — and almost immediately encountered a vicious storm. The fleet was scattered as the vessels, some large, some small, some oared and some pure sailing ships, each struggled to survive as best it could. Richard’s galley with a portion of the fleet eventually made safe harbor on the island of Rhodes on April 22, but the ship carrying his betrothed, Princess Berengaria of Navarre, and his sister Joanna, the widowed Queen of Sicily, was missing.
And indeed they had! But their reception had been far from welcoming. Rather than receiving the charity expected from a Christian monarch (Cyprus was ruled at this time by a self-styled Byzantine “Emperor”), the crews of three ships wrecked on the coast of the island were –- in Richard’s own words –- “robbed and despoiled.” The ship carrying the royal ladies had avoided shipwreck, but ir had taken refuge in the harbor of Limassol in a state of distress. The knights aboard this vessel somehow received word of what had happened to their comrades, and Joanna of Plantagenet (a woman who deserves a book of her own!) was clearly not buying the assurances offered by “Emperor” Isaac Comnenus about her safety if she came ashore. She smelt a rat and stayed aboard her damaged vessel.
Thus when Richard sailed into Limassol harbor on the evening of May 5, he found his bride-to-be and sister in a precarious situation aboard an unseaworthy vessel running out of water, but afraid of being held for ransom or worse if they went ashore. Richard at once sent an envoy to Isaac Comnenus requesting that his men be set free, compensation paid for the property seized (from the wrecks), and permission to come ashore for water and provisions. According to all contemporary accounts, the envoy returned with a very rude reply.
Richard responded as could only be expected of the proud Plantagenet: he attacked.
The exact sequence of events varies according to which chronicle one follows. One version has Richard ordering his galleys to break through a blockade of ships at the mouth of Limassol harbor and then storming ashore on foot. Another version claims he landed on a beach beyond Limassol harbor against opposition, and then took Limassol from landward. Either action (and the latter appears the most likely) was extremely risky.
He was helped, however, by the fact that his opponent was highly unpopular with his own subjects and relying primarily upon mercenaries.
Cyprus, an integral part of the early Byzantine Empire, had become a target for expanding Islam in the mid-7th century. Although it was not conquered and incorporated into the Muslim world, it was partially occupied, frequently raided, and forced to pay tribute to various Muslim overlords until 965, when Constantinople re-established control over the island. The three hundred years of turmoil had made it poor, and it remained a Byzantine back-water until the establishment of the crusader states following the First Crusade. Thereafter, Cyprus benefitted from the flood of Western pilgrims heading to the Holy Land and prospered from trade with the booming cities of the Levant. In 1126, the Venetians obtained trading concessions on the island and contributed to its commercial revival. After the death of Manuel I Comnenus, however, Constantinople drifted into chaos as first his son was murdered and then his son’s murderer was torn to pieces by a mob. Constantinople was too pre-occupied with this succession crisis to pay much attention to Cyprus, and into the vacuum stepped Isaac Comnenus.
|A Portrait of Isaac's Great Uncle Manuel I|
Nevertheless, although Richard had taken the beach and then the city of Limassol, Isaac Comnenus still had his army largely intact. He had simply withdrawn with the bulk of his troops farther inland. This situation was obviously precarious, and Richard knew he had to eliminate this latent threat. So he off-loaded some of his warhorses, exercised them through the night so they could get back their land-legs, and then attacked Isaac Comnenus’ army at dawn the next day. The location is sometimes identified as Kolossi, the later site of a lovely Hospitaller commandery.
|The Hospitaller Commandery at Kolossi as it looks today. (Photo by the author)|
Richard returned to Limassol and on May 12. Lent now being over, he married Berengaria and had her crowned Queen of England. The exact location is unknown, and several churches in Limassol claim the honor.
|These churches for the Hospital (left) and Temple (right) built much later but incorporate many features typical of church architecture on the island. (Photo by the author)|
As a result, Richard accepted Isaac Comnenus’ surrender on comparatively mild terms. He made no claim to Cyprus at this point. He simply demanded reparations from Isaac’s treasury (a welcome infusion of cash to Richard’s war chest so he could finance his crusade for Jerusalem) and, significantly, 100 knights, 500 light cavalry(turcopoles), and 500 infantry from Cyprus for the crusade. Isaac was to accompany Richard on the crusade, surrender his only child as a hostage of his goodwill, and place his castles under the control of Richard’s lieutenants.
|The Castle of Kantara, Cyprus (Photo by the author)|
But Isaac Comnenus reneged. That same night he fled inland. On the sharp and narrow ridge that ran roughly east-west like a backbone through the island stood three impregnable castles. These offered refuge and defiance. Isaac was clearly not about to become a crusader and was banking instead upon Richard being in too much of a hurry to get to Acre to come after him.
|The Ruins of St. Hilarion Castle, Cyprus (Photo by the author)|