The Reign of Hugues I
Minority of Hugues I
King Amaury died at Acre in April 1205 and was buried in the church of St. Sophia in Nicosia. He left the crown of Cyprus to his eldest son, Hugues I, then only eleven years old, under the guardianship of Gautier de Montbeliard, his brother-in-law. In 1206 Gautier attempted unsuccessfully to seize the Turkish port of Adalia, one of the principal centres of trade in the Levant and within a day's sail of Cyprus.

Kyrenia CastleIn 1208 the first castle of Kyrenia was built by Jean d'Ibelin. The harbour of Kyrenia had at this time become an important centre of trade between Cyprus and Asia Minor. In spite of wars and revolutions, Asia Minor throughout the Middle Ages was a most profiatable source of trade between Europe and the East. To its ports were brought by caravan all the rich merchandise of the East: silk, wool, hemp and cotton; madder and other dyes; leather and moroccos, furs and goatskins; carpets, spices and jewellery. The fortifications of Kyrenia was therefore designed partly to afford a safe refuge for the sips trading with the opposite coast. There was, however, a further reason. During the Lusignan dynasty, the island was held by force under feudal law and it was necessary for the government to have a stronghold against any possible rising of the native population. Such a stronghold must needs be on the coast, in order that it might be open to reinforcement from Europe by sea. The castle of Kyrenia was thus regarded as the fortified palace or stronghold of the royal house. The castle was supported by two inland fortresses, St. Hilarion and Buffavento, which by securing the heights of the Kyrenia range formed a second line of defence against a foreign attack or, on the other hand, outposts against an internal rising.

Abbaye de la Paix (Bellapais Abbey)In 1206 was founded near Kyrenia the Premostratensian Abbaye de la Pais, or Abbey of Peace, which name became corrupted later to Bella Paise. This abbey, one of the finest specimens of Gothic architecture in the Levant, was afterwards reconstructed by King Hugues III, surnamed the Great. The head of the community was a mitred abbot who was given by the king the privilege of carrying when mounted a gilded sword and spurs like the nobles of the kingdom. The abbey fell into decline in the sixteenth century under the Venetians.

In 1209 was founded the cathedral of St. Sophia in Nicosia, which was completed in 1228, though it was not consecrated until nearly a century later. The cathedral enjoyed the singular privilege of being able to confer freedom from servitude upon any child of the Parici class deposited at its gates. This right was abolished by the Venetians in the fifteenth century. For the service of the cathedral was established, with the consent of the Pope, a chapter consisting of a dean and ten cannons, with a permanent staff of twenty-four clergy and ten acolytes for whose maintenance revenues were assigned. In addition to its regular sources of income, the cathedral was generously endowed from time to time by the kings and nobles of the island.

The Rule of Hugues I
Hugues I came of age in 1211, and was in that year crowned at Nicosia. His reign was short and was devoted chiefly to the restoration of order and prosperity in Cyprus. The election of a new Latin archbishop, which led to a dispute between the king and the Pope, illustrates the political tension which was apt to arise between the crown and the Church. The cannons of Nicosia, wishing to please the king, presented him with the names of two candidates for which the bishopric and asked him to select the one he preferred. The king selected one who was duly elected by the chapter. An account of this election was sent to the Pope by Gautier, who was jealous of the young king and sore at the loss of his own power as Regent. The Pope wrote to the king and the chapter quashing the election as invalid and nominating papal delegates to superintend a new election in which the king was to take no part. The succeeding Lusignan kings, without claiming the right of nomination, nevertheless appear to have exercised in practice the power of selecting candidates for election by the Church.

In 1217 Hugues I joined the crusading expedition against the fortress of Tabor, persuaded by King Andrew of Hungary, who visited Cyprus on purpose to engage his support. The attempt on Tabor was unsuccessful and Hugues retired to Tripoli, where he died in 1218. The heir to the kingdom was an infant of nine months, and the Queen Alix became regent with the assistance of Phillipe and Jean d'Ibelin, the grand-uncles of the child Henri.

The kings of Cyprus, being men of action frequently at war, often died young and left their kingdom to a young child. Hence there were constant minorities and the necessity for choosing a regent. The rule laid down in the Assizes was that the mother of the heir should be his guardian, and in case of her death the nearest next of kin to the king. If no such person could be found, a regent was chosen by the High Court of the kingdom.

The family of d'Ibelin, which had an influence on the history of Cyprus second only to the Lusignans, were the descendants of Balian d'Ibelin, viscount of Chartres, who fought for Guy at the disastrous battle of Hittin in 1187 and who subsequently married the widow of Amaury. Eschiva d'Ibelin was the first wife of Amaury and the mother of King Hugues I. Phillippe and Jean d'Ibelin, co-regents with the Queen of the infant Henri, were the brothers of Eschiva. Thus, during the minorities of Hugues I, and of Henri I, the family of d'Ibelin and especially Jean d'Ibelin, the Lord of Beyrouth, held a position in Cyprus more powerful than that of the reigning dynasty.

The Orthodox and Latin Churches
Meanwhile, the antagonism between the Orthodox and Latin Churches, embittered by the seizure of Constantinople by the Franks became acute in Cyprus. The Cypriots complained that not only had the revenue of their church been taken by the Latins but that their spiritual privileges were also in danger As a means of escaping from the new feudal impositions, many C ypriots began to enrol themselves as members of the minor orders in various churches and monasteries. At a meeting of the Latin clergy and nobility at Limassol in 1220, means were devised to put a stop to this practice.

Orthodox priests and deacons were declared exempt from all feudal charges only on condition of obedience to the Latin bishops. They could not hereafter be ordained except with the consent of their feudal superior, nor were they to be allowed to leave their village except by permission and after providing a substitute to their feudal lord. Any orthodox priest ordained in defiance of these rules was liable to be suspended and returned to the vassalage of his feudal lord. The election of an abbot to any of the Orthodox monasteries was to be subject to the consent of the feudal superior, and though when elected he could not be removed without due process of law, he was like Orthodox priests, to be obedient to the Latin bishop of the diocese. No Cypriot might be enrolled as a member of any monastery without the sanction of his feudal lord, and an offender could be seized and returned to his former state of vassalage.

Council of Famagusta
At a conference held at Famagusta in 1222 under the presidency of the papal legate, Cardinal Pelagius, assisted by the heads of two great military orders Hospitallers and Templars, the rules laid down at Limassol were confirmed. Other provisions were added which brought the Orthodox church still more under the power of the Latins.

It was decreed that the king and the Latin archbishop were to determine the number of monks to be allowed for each of the Orthodox monasteries. It was further decreed that the number of Orthodox bishoprics should be reduced to four, namely the sees of Nicosia, Paphos, Limassol, and Famagusta. As the Latin bishops of these dioceses resided in these towns, the four Orthodox prelates were directed to take up their abode at Carpasia, Arsinoe, Soli and Lefcara, and to surrender their functions and emoluments.

In vain did the regent, Queen Alix, in the interest of peace, petition that the Orthodox bishops might continue to supervise their own people. The Pope, while protesting that he would not respect the rites and customs of those of the Orthodox church who would give obedience to Rome, would not allow a state of affairs which would, in his opinion, involve spiritual danger and ecclesiastical disorder. The Queen, however, ordered that the Orthodox bishops should be allowed to retain for life their functions and emoluments.

Often during the Lusignan period the Crown thus intervened to mitigate the harshness shown to the Orthodox church. Not only were the sovereign and nobility anxious to retain the loyalty of their subjects, but they were also desirous of the Roman hierarchy for political power. They would gladly have granted to the Orthodox church its ancient liberties, provided that their civil authority over the island was maintained. At that time, however, the power of the Pope in Europe was unchallenged, and a kingdom such as that of Cyprus, which owed its existence to the crusading movement, was in no position to disobey with impunity the decrees of Rome.

The convention of Famagusta placed the Orthodox bishops and priests in a very difficult position. By refusing to obey they rendered themselves liable to be expelled, and their people thereby to be deprived of their ministrations. By acquiescing they seemed to be betraying their church. Neophytos, who had lately been elected Orthodox archbishop, decided to adopt the first alternative. Refusing to make submission to the Latin primate, he was expelled from Cyprus and, with the bishop of Soli, took refuge at Nicaea, where the Orthodox Patriarch then resided.

The Cypriots prelates on arrival at Nicaea asked the patriarch for advice as to whether they should give fealty and submission to the Latin bishops. The patriarch and his synod debated long and anxiously before giving a decision. Finally they decided that, while lesser matters might be conceded in the interest of peace, to swear fealty to the Roman church would be a surrender of their ancient faith. The patriarch therefore wrote to the church of Cyprus forbidding the clergy to give the required submission and exhorting them to hold fast their faith in spite of any persecution they might suffer in so doing. such persecution was soon to follow.

A body of Orthodox monks at the monastery of Kantara aroused the suspicion of the Latins, who sent a delegation to question them on their belief and practice. As a result, the monks were summoned to appear before the Latin archbishop of Nicosia to answer charges of speaking disrespectfully of the Roman rites. On being questioned whether the charges against them were true, they replied that they were ready to die, if necessary, for the Orthodox faith. For three years they were kept in close confinement to shake, if possible, their fortitude. At length the archbishop appealed to the Pope, who directed him, if they continued disobedient, to proceed against the monks as heretics. Tied by the feet to the mules, they were dragged to the place of execution and there burnt at the stake. News of this martyrdom moved Germanos, the Orthodox patriarch, to protest in writing to the Pope. In his letter, which lamented the dissensions which had so long separated the two communions, he pleaded for reunion of the two churches and an end to the hatred which had resulted in the tragedy of the martyred monks in Cyprus.

In his reply, the Pope contended that the sufferings of the Orthodox church were due to its separation from Rome, by which had it lost the privilege of ecclesiastical liberty. In a second letter the Pope announced the despatch of four envoys to arrange with the patriarch the terms of the proposed agreement. The discussion accomplished nothing, but rather served to widen the breach between the two churches.

St. Hilarion Castle
St Hilarion CastleDuring the long minority of King Henri I, when feeling ran high between the Latins and the Orthodox population, St. Hilarion Castle was built by the regent, Jean d'Ibelin, as a fortified residence for the young king and his two sisters. The site is supposed to have been occupied originally by the hermitage of St. Hilarion, but no trace of this remains.

The castle was of considerable military value at the time of the revolt of the Lusignans against the rule of the Emperor Frederick II, when it was besieged by the royalists. It was also of service at the time of the Genoese invasion and of the Mameluke raids.

Protected by inaccessible cliffs on the northern side, it was defended by a wall with semi-circular towers at intervals along the west, south, and east. The royal residence consisted of a large stone hall at the highest point of the hilltop. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the manner of living was so simple that a king, his family, and his personal staff would be accommodated in one great room, fitted with massive furniture and containing the royal bed enclosed by a partition of woodwork and curtains. Other buildings, serving as lodgings, stores and chapel, were grouped below the royal residence to the south-east. Water was supplied from great masonry cisterns which were filled during the winter rains. The castle was partly destroyed by the Venetians at the close of the fifteenth century.

  • From: Newman, P., (1940), "A Short History of Cyprus", Longmans, Green & Co., London.

Chronological History