Leon V, the Armenian King who ruled Madrid



Leo V or Levon V (sometimes referred to as Leon VI, 1342-1393), of the House of Lusignan, was the son of John of Lusignan and Soldane, daughter of George V if Georgia. Last sovereign of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia, he governed from 1374 to 1375. His reign was brief because his brother Constantine V attempted to kill him and he was forced to flee to Cyprus. Previously, he had been made a knight of the Order of the Sword in 1360 and appointed Seneschal of Jerusalem on 17 October 1372. 

In Cyprus he married Marguerite of Soissons and the couple were crowned King and Queen of Armenia at Sis, according to both Latin and Armenian rites. Following various battles against powerful Mamluk armies, he was imprisoned in the Cypriot caste of Kapan, and then transferred with his family to Cairo where he lived under the surveillance of the Egyptian sultan. His wife died during their captivity, sometime between 1379 and 1381.

The Franciscan monk Jean Dardel learned of Leon’s plight while passing through Cairo on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and persuaded King John I of Castile to intervene on his behalf. The Castilian monarch had to pay a sizeable ransom to the sultan to secure the release of Leon, who arrived ill and penniless at Medina del Campo in 1383. At this time, King John I, who was at Badajoz in western Spain to marry Princess Beatrice of Portugal, bestowed various honours and privileges upon the Armenian king and granted him the lordship of Madrid for life. Thus Leon V of Armenia became Leon I of Madrid.

Leon governed Madrid justly and fairly, and was admired by all. He had the towers of the Royal Palace of the Alcazar rebuilt, allowed the municipal and royal functionaries to keep their posts, and even granted pardon in advance to those who disobeyed him. He was much loved in Madrid and throughout the Iberian Peninsula. The exiled king was also uncommonly tall: nearly 2m in height.

Following the death of his protector John I in 1390, Leon of Lusignan left Castile and went to France. He died in Paris in 1393, having tried in vain to reconcile the warring French and English courts in order to promote a new crusade that would allow him to recover his long lost lands. He was buried at the convent of Celestines in Paris, but his body was later moved to the Royal Basilica at Saint-Denis, where it still rests today. He is remembered in Madrid by the Calle de León V de Armenia near Via Carpetana.


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