The Frankish Period (1191 - 1571)

LEARN Wednesday, 05 August, 2015

The Frankish Period (1191 - 1571)

King Richard of England was reluctant to keep Cyprus under his control as his main aim was Palestine. For this reason, he sold it to the Knights Templar. The Templars ruthlessly exploited Cyprus so the inhabitants rose against them in the Easter of 1192 A D. Realising that it was difficult to keep it under their control they sold it in turn to the King of Jerusalem (Jerusalem was now in the hands of the Arabs) Guy de Lusignan who took possession of the island in May 1192 AD. From the very beginning, Guy saw the Cypriots as serfs so he invited the French nobility to come from Syria and Palestine and settle in Cyprus awarding them estates and ranks in his newly founded Kingdom. He reigned for almost two years. His brother Amaury who succeeded him reigned for eleven years (1194- 1205A D) and he is the real founder of the Lusignan Kingdom of Cyprus. He established the offices of the State which was organised on pure feudal principles.

The indigenous population consisting of Greek Cypriots was divided mainly in three classes: The 'Paroikoi' were the most numerous. They were bound to the land of their masters and they were almost slaves. Even marriage among 'Paroikoi' from different estates was prohibited. The second group was called 'Perperiarii' (hyperperon was a Byzantine coin). All of them belonged to the previous group but they bought off (redeemed) their freedom by paying 15 'hyperperon ' to their masters. They continued, however, to pay taxes for their land and produce as the 'Paroikoi'. The 'Lefteroi' were free citizens who either purchased their freedom or were set free by some kind of favour. The entire Greek population was reduced to a subject race by the French rulers. The hostility between the two was exacerbated by the introduction of Catholicism which people reacted to.

This climate changed only after mid 14th century and the Greek population was allowed relative freedom in religious matters. This allowed the Greeks to ascend the social ladder and even become officers in the army. The French dynasty co-operated with the Orthodox Church and mixed marriages were on the increase despite the obstacles put forth by the Catholic Church.

The last Frankish King James reigned from 1464-1473 AD and he chose as his consort a young Venetian girl of the noblest families, Caterina (Catherine) Cornaro, a marriage that was destined to seal the chapter of the Frankish Kingdom of Cyprus. Before her departure from Venice, Caterina was adopted by the Venetian State so when James II died unexpectedly a few months after his wedding and so did happen to his offspring James III, a few weeks after it was born, Caterina was persuaded in February 1489 AD to abdicate voluntarily. Venice offered to her an estate at Asolo where she spent her days until her death in 1510 AD.

The noble local Frankish families resented the way they were treated by the Venetians and the Greeks gained nothing from this change, in fact, they were squeezed by heavy taxes. The Orthodox Church, however, gained full freedom for political purposes. Rebellions did occur but were easily crashed.

Meanwhile, as all the countries around Cyprus fell to the Ottomans, obviously Cyprus could have been their prey any moment. The Turks sent an ultimatum with insulting terms in March 1570 AD to the Council of Ten in Venice, demanding the immediate cession of the island. Venice tried in vain to send reinforcements so any resistance was doomed to failure.

The Turks under Lala Mustafa landed near Larnaca, proceeded unharassed and laid siege on Nicosia on 25 July 1570 AD. Having relatively easily conquered that in about one and a half months they proceeded to Kyrenia which surrendered without a shot. The same happened with Paphos and Limassol, so Lala Mustafa moved his entire army outside Famagusta on 23 September. On 1 August 1571 AD Famagusta surrendered.

The Turkish occupation brought about two radical results in the history of the island. For the first time since the late 13th, 12th and 11th centuries BC a new ethnic element (save the Phoenicians in the 9th century BC) appeared, the Turks, whose religion prevented them from being assimilated by the strong and resolute Greek population, which is what happened earlier with the indigenous Cypriots, the Phoenicians and others.

The second important result of the Turkish occupation benefited the Greek peasants who no longer remained serfs of the land they were cultivating. Now they could acquire it against payment, thus becoming owners of it. At the same time the Orthodox Church was liberated because the Turks were afraid of the presence of the Catholic Church as it might instigate an attack of Western Europe against them. Gradually the Archbishop of Cyprus became not only religious but ethnic leader as well, something the Turks promoted wanting to have somebody responsible for the loyalty of the Greek flock. In this way the Church undertook the task of the guardian of the Greek cultural legacy which is partly carried on even in our days, although diminished after independence.