Catherine was born in Venice in 1454 and was the daughter of a well-known and powerful family of the Republic of Venice. She was the younger sister of the Nobil Huomo Giorgio Cornaro (Venice, 1452 – Venice, July 31, 1527), "Padre della Patria", Knight of the Holy Roman Empire (Cavaliere del Sacro Romano Impero), Patrizio Veneto, Podeste of Brescia in 1496 and procurator of San Marco, who married at Venice in 1475 the Nobil Donna Elisabetta Morosini, Patrizia Veneta, and they had issue, called "Cornaro della Regina".
Catherine was a daughter of Nobil Huomo Marco Cornaro (Venice, December, 1406 – Venice, August 1, 1479), Knight of the Holy Roman Empire (Cavaliere del Sacro Romano Impero) and Patrizio Veneto (Patrician of Venice) by his wife Fiorenza Crispo. Her father was presumably a namesake grandson of Marco Cornaro,Doge of Venice from 1365 to 1368. The Cornaro family had produced four Doges. Her family had long associations with Cyprus, especially with regards to trade and commerce. In the Episkopi area, in the Limassol District, the Cornaro family administered various sugar-mills and exported Cypriot products to Venice.
Fiorenza Crispo was a daughter of Nicholas Crispo, Lord of Syros. The identity of her mother is uncertain as Crispo had two known wives. Either could be the mother. According to his own correspondence, Niccolò was a son-in-law of Jacopo of Lesbos. An account by Caterino Zeno dated to 1574 names another wife, Eudokia-Valenza of Trebizond. This Valenza was a reported daughter of John IV of Trebizond and Bagrationi However her alleged parents were married in 1426 and one of Valenza's daughters was reportedly married in 1429. John IV and his wife are unlikely to have been the grandparents of a married woman only three years following their own marriage. Valenza is considered likely to have been a sister of John IV, instead of a daughter. In this case her parents would be Alexios IV of Trebizond and Theodora Kantakouzene.
Niccolò had been created lord of Syros by his father Francesco I Crispo, Duke of the Archipelago. His mother was Florence Sanudo, a member of the previous reigning dynasty of the Archipelago. Florence was Lady of Milos. She was the daughter and successor of Marco Sanudo, Lord of Milos from 1341 to 1376. Marco wasa younger son of William I Sanudo, Duke of the Archipelago from 1303 to 1323.
She was painted by Dürer, Titian, Bellini and Giorgione.
In 1468, James II of Cyprus otherwise known as James the Bastard, became King. In 1473 he chose Caterina for a wife and Queen of the Kingdom of Cyprus. The King's choice was extremely pleasing to the Republic of Venice as it could henceforth secure the commercial rights and other privileges of Venice in Cyprus. They married in Venice, on July 30, 1468, by proxy, when she was only 14 years old. She finally travelled to Cyprus and married in person at Famagusta in October or November, 1472.
James died soon after the wedding due to a sudden illness, and according to his will, Caterina, who at the time was pregnant, acted as regent. She became monarch when their infant son James died in August, 1474 before his first birthday, under suspicious circumstances.
The kingdom had long since declined, and had been a tributary state of the Mameluks since 1426. Under Caterina, who ruled the island from 1474 to 1489, the island was controlled by Venetian merchants, and in 1489 she was forced to abdicate and to cede the administration of the country to the Republic of Venice.
According to George Boustronios, "On the 14th of February, the Queen dressed in black and accompanied by the Barons and their ladies, set off on horseback. Six knights held her horse's reins. From the moment she left Nicosia, her eyes kept streaming with tears. Upon her departure, the whole population was bewailing."
Finally she was obliged to leave the island on the 14th of May, 1489 but had been deposed since February.The last Crusader state became a colony of Venice, and as compensation, Catherine was allowed to retain the title of Queen and was made the Sovereign Lady of Asolo, a county in the Veneto of Italy, in 1489. Asolo soon gained a reputation as a court of literary and artistic distinction, mainly as a result of it being the fictitious setting for Pietro Bembo's platonic dialogues on love, Gli Asolani. Catherine died in Venice in 1510.
Today is also the birthday of my friend Bruni (Brunhilde) Dulaney. She married an American soldier after World War II. She is the mother of two choirboys, Rick and Andrew, with whom I sang at Grace Cathedral in the 1970's. Bruni lives in a retirement community in Santa Rosa, California (on the way to the Grove).