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The family originated from the castle of Lusignan, near Poitiers. According to legend the castle was built by the folklore water-spirit Melusine. The lords of the castle were counts of La Marche, over which they frequently fought with the counts of Angoulême. Count Hugh le Brun ("Hugh the Swarthy"), like most of the lords of Poitou, backed Arthur of Brittany as the better heir to Henry when John Lackland acceded to the throne of England in 1199. Eleanor of Aquitaine traded English claims for their support of John. To secure his position in La Marche, Hugh arranged a betrothal with the daughter of his rival of Angoulême, no more than a child, whom John married in August 1200, and deprived Hugh of La Marche and his brother of Eu in Normandy. The aggrieved Lusignans turned to their liege lord, Philip Augustus, King of France. Philip demanded John's presence— a tactical impossibility— and declared John a contumaceous vassal. As the Lusignan allies managed to detain both Arthur and eleanor, john surprised their unprepared forces at the castle of Mirabeau, in July 1202, and took Hugh prisoner with 200 more of Poitou's fighting men. His savage treatment of the captives turned the tide against john, and his French barons began to desert him in droves. Thus the Lusignans' diplomatic rebellion led directly to the loss of almost all of England's French territory, which was soon incorporated into France by Philip Augustus.
The Lusignans were among the French nobles who made great careers in the Crusades. An ancestor of the later Lusignan dynasty in the Holy Land, Hugh of Lusignan, was killed in the east during the Crusade of 1101. Another Hugh arrived in the 1160s and was captured in a battle with Nur ad-Din. In the 1170s, the brothers Guy and Amalric arrived in Jerusalem, having been expelled from Poitiers by Richard Lionheart. They allied themselves with Raynald of Chatillon, who led one of the factions currently dividing the kingdom. Raynald's faction was mostly composed of newcomers (also known as the "court party" due to their influence in the royal court), while the opposing faction of old established families was led by Raymond III of Tripoli. In 1179 Amalric became constable of Jerusalem, with the support of Agnes of Courtenay, with whom he was supposedly having an affair. The court party also elected Guy as regent of the kingdom in 1180. Guy became king himself in 1186.
Guy's term as king is generally seen as a disaster; he was defeated by Saladin at the Battle of Hattin in 1187, and fled to Cyprus as Saladin reconquered almost the entire kingdom. On Cyprus, in 1191, he met Richard, now king of England and a leader of the Third Crusade. Richard supported Guy's claim to the kingdom of Jerusalem, but in the aftermath of the crusade Conrad of Montferrat had the support of the majority of nobles. Instead, Richard sold Guy the island of Cyprus. Guy thereby became the first King of Cyprus.
Amalric succeeded Guy as King of Cyprus, and also became King of Jerusalem in 1197. Amalric was responsible for establishing the Roman Catholic Church on Cyprus. The Lusignans remained in control of Cyprus until 1489; in Jerusalem (or, more accurately, Acre), they ruled until the fall of the city in 1291, with an interlude during which the Hohenstaufen dynasty claimed the kingdom. After 1291 the Lusignans continued to claim Jerusalem, and occasionally attempted to organize crusades to recapture the mainland. In the 13th century the Lusignans also intermarried with the royal families of the Principality of Antioch and the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia.
Lords of Lusignan
- Hugh I the Hunter (1st half of the 10th century)
- Hugh II (died 967)
- Hugh III
- Hugh IV
- Hugh V (died 1060), married Almodis de La Marche
- Hugh VI
- Hugh VII
- Hugh VIII
- Hugh (died 1163), son of Hugh VIII, died before his father
- Hugh IX (died 1219 in Damietta on the Fifth Crusade), inherited by collateral succession the County of La Marche; married Matilda of Angouleme
- Guy of Lusignan, brother of Hugh IX, married Sibylla of Jerusalem and became King of Jerusalem (1186-1192), then King of Cyprus (1192-1194)
- Amalric, brother of Guy, king of Cyprus (1194-1205) and Jerusalem (1197-1205), founder of the Lusignan dynasty in Cyprus
- Hugh X the Brown (1219-1249), count of La Marche, son of Hugh IX, married Isabella, countess of Angouleme
- Hugh XI (1249-1260), son of Hugh X, married Yolande of Penthièvre
- Hugh XII (1260-1282), son of Hugh XI, married Jeanne, heiress of Fougères
- Hugh XIII (1282-1303), son of Hugh XII
- Guy (1303-1307), brother of Hugh XII
- Yolande (1307-1314), sister and heiress of Hugh XIII and Guy; sold Lusignan, Angouleme, and Fougère to Philip IV of France in 1308
- Leo of Lusignan (died 1393), of the Cypriot Lusignan dynasty, elected king of Armenia in 1373; he was defeated by the Mamluks in 1375 and after seven years in captivity sought refuge at the court of Charles V of France.
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