The governing bodies and officials

The government lay in the hands of the Haute Cour [Higher Court], or the whole body of barons presided over by the King or his representative. The King was at first purely elective and merely primus inter pares, but, by the time Cyprus was erected into a Kingdom, the succession had become in practice hereditary, although still formally requiring the approval of the Haute Cour. The grand serjeanties of the Kingdom of Cyprus were, at least in the 13th century, the offices of the

  • Seneschal [The Seneschal was master of the court ceremonies, and head of the financial administration with its central treasury office known as the Secrete; He also had general supervision of the fortresses (though without power over their governors); in judicial matters (as in convening and presiding over the Haute Cour) and in the military, he represented the King in his absence],
  • Constable [the Contestapili, a general commander of the army and the mercenaries, as well as a military judge],
  • Marshal [Under the Constable was his lieutenant, the Marshal. He was in direct command of the mercenaries, carried the royal banner in battle, distributed the spoils after a victory, replaced horses killed in battle],
  • Chamberlain [Campellanus was a senior royal official in charge of managing a royal household, one of the finest axioms] and the
  • Chancellor [A Cancellarius or Chancellor is a title for an official position in the government].

The officers of the first kind were called ‘officers of the Kingdom’, while the others, such as admiral, auditor, collector, turcopolier, were called ‘officers of Cyprus’. The Viscount was a local official, corresponding, though very roughly, to the English sheriff. He was chosen and appointed by the King from among the knights, 1 2 and presided in the Cour des Bourgeois [Lower Court]. [George Hill, 1948].

General notes on the administration

Strange and ill to hear of’, writes St Neophytus about 1196, “are the terrible sufferings of this land, so that its rich men have forgotten their wealth, their grand dwellings, their families, servants and slaves, their multitude of flocks of sheep, herds of cattle, horses and animals of all kinds, fields of corn, and fertile vineyards, and varied parks, and in great haste have stolen away and sailed to foreign lands and to Constantinople. And as for those who could not escape, who can recite the tragedy of their tribulations, the inquisitions, the imprisonment in public gaols, the extortion of money, up to thousands and thousands?” [George Hill, 1948].

It seems that during this era, the nobles’ class owned village(s) from which they earned a respectable income [feudal system]. For instance, Georgios Boustronios mentions two examples in 1460: “And the King [Jacques II] came to Nicosia and gifted him three suburbs, Vyzakia, Kafkalos and Athasi…”, and in the other one, “And he had 36 villages, and the King removed them from his ownership, and to be able to live, he gave him one golden coin per day” [Georgios Voustronios, 15th cent.].

Significant changes during the beginning of the rule

According to A. Sakellarios (1890), Guy de Lusignan immediately distributed the land to his knights who arrived alongside him [the half of the locals’ land possessions and land belonging to the churches and monasteries according to Hill]. Guy invited all the nobles, barons and timar owners of the Kingdom of Jerusalem to relocate to Cyprus and own land, with the term that they would support him in case of internal turmoil. To them offered also the land of the Greeks who were unwilling to live under the new rulers and abandoned the island. At the same time, he declared to the people of Syria that he would give those who moved to Cyprus land and that they will be ruled according to the Jerusalem Assise laws. Consequently, many who heard this invitation relocated to Cyprus. According to Mas Latrie (19th cent.), the Greeks who remained on the island kept into their possession their land and houses [Athanasios Sakellarios, 1890].

Districts and Towns

For better administration of the island A. Sakellarios (1890) mentions that it was divided since the beginning into 12 districts: Nicosia, Mesaoria, Famagusta, Larnaca, Mazotos, Limassol, Avdimou, Paphos, Chrysochou, Pentayia, Kyrenia and Karpasia [Athanasios Sakellarios, 1890]. Others also add Kouklia, Episkopi, Kilani [George Hill, 1948].

According to Wilbrand von Oldenburg (1211), Nicosia was the capital city. According to Francesco Suriano, Limassol, Paphos, and Salamina were ruined in 1484 [Claude Delaval Cobham, 1895]. Joos van Ghistele in 1482 or shortly afterwards calls Limassol a mere village of thirty or forty houses [George Hill, 1948].


According to Mas Latrie, the parici were paying a tax of 48 bezants per year [Hill talks about 38.5 bezants], they were giving away to the lord 1/3 if their production, worked twice a week in the land of their lords, and they had no permit to leave their village prior getting permission from the lord of the village. The perpirarii were working in the fields of the timar owners with payment and paid a tax to the owner of the timars of 3 bezants (Byzantine solidus) and 4 carats [Hill talks about 15 bezants, plus the 1/3 of their production]. According to Hill, Lefteri cultivated their own lands and crops, but a proportion (varying from one-fifth to one-tenth) of the latter was taken by the lord. If he asked them to work for him, he had to pay them wages, although most of them were content with very little. They paid tribute to the King for certain privileges and for salt [Athanasios Sakellarios, 1890 – George Hill, 1948]. Of the White Venetians, most lived in the province of Paphos, and, in Stephen de Lusignan’s time, they paid 300 ducats a year to the Captain of that place. In other parts of the island, there were a few who paid the tax to the Lieutenant of the Kingdom. They had bought their rights from the King, to whom they paid tribute every St Mark’s Day [George Hill, 1948].

The stratia or hearth-tax, originally raised for the payment of the military garrison, amounted, in the case of townsfolk, to one gold hyperper, whereas the villagers were mulcted in three times that amount. This was not a poll-tax, but was levied on each hearth; thus a son who lived with his father paid nothing until he set up for himself. This exaction was maintained by the Lusignans, although they suppressed the Stratiotai for whose payment it was originally established [George Hill, 1948].

Emergency taxation

A special tax was levied on all the people in 1229; and after the fall of Acre in 1291, a poll-tax (testagium) was imposed on all inhabitants, without distinction, in order to finance the defence of the island against the invasion which threatened it. In 1310 the Lord of Tyre extorted 100,000 bezants from the Jews of Nicosia, Famagusta and other places [George Hill, 1948].

Law and order

Haute Cour & Basse Cour

According to Sakellarios (1890), Guy de Lusignan formed the High Court (Haute Cour) consisted of the knights on the island, which was a royal council chaired by the king, or in case of absence by a senior officer of the kingdom and consulted on the state administration. The High Court was ruling regarding the succession to the throne, all the affairs of the Knights and the most important of the criminal cases[Athanasios Sakellarios, 1890]. The nobles were subject to the jurisdiction of the Haute Cour in all matters except religion, marriage and testament, which came before the Church courts, and their relations with their inferiors, which were reserved for the Basse Cour [George Hill, 1948]. The laws applied were the ones of the Jerusalem assises and the customs of the kingdom. The king needed the consent of the High Court for the appointment of senior officers in the strongholds of the kingdom, for the imposition of taxes, for the proclamation of war or peace [Athanasios Sakellarios, 1890]. All legitimately born noble holders of fiefs [timars], whether of land or money, of twenty-five years of age or more, were members of the Haute Cour, including ecclesiastics in right of their holdings. Privileges granted by the Kings gradually broke down many of these restrictions. The court could be attended, but only upon invitation, by important persons who were not members [George Hill, 1948].

The Cour des Bourgeois or Basse Cour, composed of jurats selected by the King, was independent of the Haute Cour. It was competent in all cases, criminal and other, concerning the non-noble Franks. Cases in which both noble and bourgeois were involved were also judged by it. It was presided over by the Viscount [George Hill, 1948].

The army

Besides the knights and serjeants, provided by the holders of fiefs [timars], the army included the arriere ban, or all citizens capable of bearing arms, and also the mercenaries, paid auxiliaries, for the most part, natives. These included the light horsemen or turcopoles such as those as having received grants of land from Guy. There might also be Frankish mercenaries, and in the 14th century much is heard of Bulgarians. A very important part was played in the wars by the fighting Orders, notably the Templars and the Hospitallers, and, to a minor degree, by the Knights of St Thomas of Acre [George Hill, 1948].

Regarding the law and the local population

According to Hill, there was at the time no written code of law, and probably never had been. The decisions of the courts had to be taken on the basis of customs and precedents, for which the only authority was the experience and memory of the lawyers. It was not until the reign of Guy’s successor that the oldest surviving portion of the great law-book of the Kingdom of Jerusalem and Cyprus began to be written down, and the remainder of the Assises de Jerusalem belongs to the thirteenth century [George Hill, 1948].

According to Hill, the Syrians in Cyprus at first had special privileges [Hill does not mention when this ended]; among these were their own courts and laws, the courts being presided over by a Syrian reis, but they were limited to minor cases. Indeed, it would appear that, though the Assizes of Jerusalem describe the law of Cyprus so far as concerns the Franks, there existed, side by side with that, laws and customs of the native Greek population, such as Richard Lion Heart had confirmed when he conquered the island, and which were not abrogated, except in so far as they clashed with the interests of the new regime [George Hill, 1948].

Famagusta under Genoese administration (1374-1464)

According to Hill (1948), in the October of 1372, in the coronation of King Peter II in Famagusta a conflict that led to a quarrel between the Venetians and Genoese at the banquet and ball which followed; the Genoese attacked the Venetians, who defended themselves as best they could. The Cypriot gentlemen interfered on the side of the Venetians. A number of the Genoese were wounded, and some killed, being thrown out of the upper windows of the palace at the command of the Prince. The mob attacked and wrecked the Genoese loggia, and sacked the shops and houses of the merchants. The Pope had received a report of the quarrel, and of the Genoese preparations for an expedition to avenge their wrongs. The Pope ordered that the Venetian murderers and any property stolen from the Genoese must be handed over. The Genoese now had an excellent excuse for the invasion of Cyprus.  The Genoese demanded: delivery of the murderers, or 50,000 ducats; 100,000 ducats for the breach of the 1365 peace treaty [a sum that the King also requested for the same reason]; the same for the property taken from the Genoese merchants; and the same for the costs of the present expedition [galleys were sent to Cyprus April 1373 to conquest the island and then retreated to Rhodes]; in all 350,000 ducats. In the course of negotiations that followed, the Genoese added to their demands the cession of a stronghold in which their merchants should be able to live in security. All this was naturally refused, negotiations were broken off, and the war was declared. After months of battles on the shores, following foul treachery, the Genoese entered the castle of Famagusta [George Hill, 1948].

King Peter II was forced to come to a humiliating agreement with the Genoese and that he would pay huge compensations to them. The peace treaty was signed on 21 October 1374; The Genoese were to be allowed to live freely on the island, having their consul and all their old privileges; They were to be compensated for all losses suffered in past disturbances and for advances made to the King; Famagusta, city, port and suburbs would remain in the hands of Genoese; The King was to have no jurisdiction there, but was to enjoy the revenues from the city and port; When the payment fixed for the period of twelve years should have been completed, and sufficient security was given for the annual tribute of 40,000 florins, Famagusta would be handed back; In case of contravention of any of the terms, the Kingdom was to be hypothecated and Famagusta to pass entirely into the hands of the Genoese [the terms were not respected]. The Venetians made peace with the Genoese in 1381: “The Venetians are to be free to go to Famagusta, trade and do other business there, and return thence, and in regard to customs and dues are to be treated like Genoese citizens”. Famagusta was given to the Genoese in 1385 in exchange for the release of the king-to-be, James, from captivity in Genoa. Peace treaties (following wars) between the Kingdom and Genoa were reached in 1403 and 1410. In 1419, the Genoese government made a surprising proposal to sell the place to the King but the amount seemed excessive [160,000 golden ducats] [George Hill, 1948].

Following the conquest, according to Macheras (15th cent), great numbers of captives were brought by the Genoese from Greece to the islands, including Cyprus, where they were treated so cruelly that they were driven to suicide [George Hill, 1948].

Piratical Cyprus under the Egyptians rented to the Franks (1426-1517)

A humongous financial blow for the Franks occurred in 1383 though, who in order to set free the king-to-be James I, agreed with the Genoese that “all ships trading to Cyprus are to be compelled to call at Famagusta, except those coming from Turkey, which may go to Kerynia. Local products, such as carobs, may however be exported from Salines (Aliki) and Lemesos without restriction” [George Hill, 1948]. Hence, the Kingdom’s war with the Genoese which required reparations and Cyprus diminishing role as an entrepôt caused at first the Cypriot nobility and later the Lusignan court to resort to piracy or harbouring pirates to raise money [Tamás Kiss, 2016]. According to Saracen sources, one galley alone took as many as 1500 prisoners in its various expeditions [around 1403-4]. From 1404 until 1414, say the chroniclers, the Sultan had to endure constant raiding of his coasts by the King’s fleet, which included a number of Catalans. The Cypriots grew rich on the booty and the slaves which these raiders brought home [George Hill, 1948]. Cyprus lost its suzerainty to Mamluk Egypt, which, in an effort to put an end to the piracy operated from Cypriot ports, defeated the island’s Frankish nobility in the Battle of Khirokitia (1426), where King Janus I was taken captive and carried off to Cairo [Tamás Kiss, 2016]. In order to retain peace with the Sultan of Cairo, to whom Cyprus was subjugated since 1426 [Georgios Voustronios, 15th cent.]. The ensuing agreement between the sultan and Janus involved an annual tribute of 8,000 ducats to be paid in cash and goods to the Mamluks [Tamás Kiss, 2016].

Paving the road towards the Venetian Rule (1472-1479)

From what we read from Boustronios, during the end of the Frankish Rule, at the time of the reign of Catherina, the Venetians in order to protect their interests and seize the island, had constant communication through the Pope, and the port of Famagusta hosted galleys of the Republic of Venice with their commanders on stand-by. At the same time, enemies or threats to the Republic [Catalans, Franks] were jailed or executed or banished, and key positions were switched to persons trusted by the Republic [Georgios Voustronios, 15th cent.].

error: Content is protected !!