Leo VI – The Last Ruler of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia

Leo VI – The Last Ruler of the Armenian KingdomCyprus was preparing to the meeting with the Cilician delegation headed by Armenian Catholicos Constantine V. Cilician elders arrived to request the King of Cyprus Peter II to crown his relative Levon Lusignan the king of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia.

The noble crusader Levon Lusignan (more commonly known as Leo V or VI) was fated to become the last king of Armenian Cilicia. In 1374, the to-be king arrived in Sis where his wife Marguerite of Soissons gave birth to daughters Mariam and Katarine in September. On September 14, on the day of the Feast of the Cross, Leo V was crowned the king of Cilicia in the Cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Sis.

Very soon, Leo V had to resist the assaults of the Aleppo Emirate. Anticipating that the Pope Gregory XI would not keep his promise of supporting Cilicia, the Mamluks confidently crossed the border of the Armenian kingdom. Leo V was unable to hold back the Mamluks and sheltered in the citadel of Sis lying on a hard-to-access rock. Even though the Mamluks weren’t able to conquer the citadel, they one day managed to severely wound Leo with an arrow.

The Cypriot legionaries of the king decided to hand him out to save themselves but were prevented from doing so by the guards of the king who were looking after him in one of the citadel’s towers.

Running out of food and energy, the population of Sis began to consider handing out the citadel. However, Leo soon received a letter from the emir in which he and his family were guaranteed to be spared if he surrenders the city. Realizing the futility of further resistance, Leo put a stop to it and was taken to Cairo along with his family, Catholicos Poghos I, and the majority of the Cilician princes. This ended Leo’s 7-month rule over Cilicia, marking the end of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia as well.

A year later, Armenians managed to ransom the Catholicos and return him back to Cilicia where he would head the Armenian Church until his passing in 1382. Queen Marguerite was also ransomed. Having lost both of her daughters in captivity, the sorrowful queen moved to Jerusalem to live in the Armenian monastery of Saint James until the end of her days.

Leo V was also freed thanks to the effort of European rulers. Having mourned his relatives, Leo left Cairo and departed to Europe to ask the Pope and Christian monarchs to support him in the restoration of the Cilician kingdom. The Pope coldly awarded him the Golden Rose and directed him to Britain. There, Leo would leave the state treasury of Cilicia in care of Edward III of England until the restoration of the Cilician Kingdom.

Leo then departed to Spain where John I of Castile presented him with three major cities – Madrid, Villa-real, and Andújar – which astounded the locals. There was one condition: Leo was to rule over the cities for the rest of his life, after which the cities would be returned to the Crown of Castile.

The noblemen of Madrid, who thereby had become the vassals of Leo, treated the gesture of John I – whom they had long been strongly disliking – with unconcealed enmity. After the mysterious death of the King of Castile, the regents of his underage son Enrico III determined to cease the privileges of Leo. The clergy and nobility of the cities began to demand the affirmation of their rights with not always peaceful methods. On October 19, 1389, Leo gave up his privileges and left the kingdom, perfectly aware that the princes were plotting against him.

The last page of the history of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia had been turned and Leo could only be consoled by the fact that he was the last symbol of the Crusades.

French historian Jean Froissart wrote about Leo: “Deprived of the throne, he retained the royal virtue and even acquired generosity and patience. He considered his well-wisher Charles VI of France a friend but never let go of his royal dignity with him. And the passing of Leo was worthy of his life path.”

Leo died in Paris on November 28, 1393, and was buried in Église des Célestins. After the French Revolution, the white-marble tombstone of Leo was moved to the Basilica of Saint-Denis. However, his grave itself has long been empty: the remains of the Cilician king were thrown away by the revolutionaries along with the remains of French monarchs.

After the passing of Leo, James I of Cyprus and his descendants, being the relatives of the Armenian Lusignan family, became the titular Kings of Armenian Cilicia. This title would be worn by James’ successors Janus, John II, Charlotte, James II, and Catherine. The tombstone of Catherine in the Church of San Salvador in Venice is inscribed by the words “Queen of Cyprus, Armenia, and Jerusalem.”

The title of the King of Armenia would also be worn by the Duke of Savoy Charles I after his marriage with a princess from the Lusignan family. The princes of Savoy would wear this title up until the mid-20th century!

The fall of the Cilician Kingdom commenced a new wave of migration of Armenians towards Eastern Europe, in particular, to Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, and Hungary. The fate of those Armenians who remained in Cilicia would be decided by the Turks in the early 20th with the commencement of the Armenian Genocide.

In the years of WWI, the powers of the Entente planned to drive the Turks out from Cilicia and establish an Armenian country under the protectorate of France. After the occupation of Cilicia by France, the Commissariat of the French Republic of Armenia and Syria organized the settlement of Armenians in Cilicia. Trusting the promises of the French, 200 thousand Armenians returned to Cilicia.

However, on December 27, 1919, the Turks seized a number of Cilician cities, and in the spring of 1920, the Council of the Entente decided to abandon Cilicia. In the fall of 1921, France handed over Cilicia to Turkey, after which 80 thousand Armenians migrated to Syria and other countries.

by Armen Merujanyan


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