Yes, we’ve still got troops on the island of Cyprus, and yes it’s a beautiful place with a complex and sometimes troubled history. But did you know Richard the Lionheart invaded Cyprus?
In April 1191, Richard was heading for the Holy Land when he was hit by a storm and his fleet was scattered. In the days before modern communications this, as you can imagine, was a major problem, especially since he’d lost his treasure ship, and his sister and his bride-to-be, Berengaria. We don’t know whether he was more upset about losing the treasure or his bride-to-be. Anyway, when he finally discovered where they all were, it turned out they were off Cyprus, so, not surprisingly, that was where he went.
The local ruler was a not very nice man called Isaac Comnenos, a minor Byzantine royal who had rebelled against the Byzantine Empire and who reputedly enjoyed the traditional warlord hobbies of raping, defiling and robbing. He had made (as it would turn out, from Isaac’s point of view) the unfortunate decision to be less than respectful and helpful to assorted members of Richard’s fleet and Berengaria herself. Richard was unamused. He arrived in Limassol in May 1191 and eventually took the whole island. According to tradition, Richard had Isaac bound in silver chains because he had said he wouldn’t bind him in iron chains. Richard married Berengaria on 12 May 1191 in the Chapel of St George at Limassol, and she was crowned the same day. Maybe it was not the happiest of marriages though, since when Richard finally got back to England, Berengaria didn’t join him. So, one for the pub quizzes here as Berengaria is traditionally known as �?the only English queen who never set foot in England’.
Our first period in control of Cyprus was about as illustrious as Richard and Berengaria’s love life. Richard left on 5 June, after a shorter stay on the island than some British tourists go for these days, and rapidly decided to sell the island to the Knights Templar. After a rebellion in 1192, the knights sold the island to Guy de Lusignan.
Our second period in control was quite a lot longer and had some better bits, although quite a few difficult bits as well. It all came about because the Ottoman Turks, who controlled the island at the time, needed our help against the Russians. In 1878 they handed over control of the island to us, though technically it remained part of the Ottoman Empire. The first British forces landed in Larnaca on 8–9 July 1878 and by 12 July we had reached Nicosia. Technically, Cyprus remained part of the Ottoman Empire, but in 1914, with us and the Turks at war, we dropped the �?technically part of the Ottoman Empire’ and annexed it.
Cyprus became independent in 1960.