Medieval History of Hungary – Today's Relevance

Medieval History of Hungary –
Today’s Relevance
Dr Jozsef Szakos, CBS, PolyU
The Chinese University of Hong Kong
• Where do we come from?
• Why did we settle in the Carpathian Basin?
• What were the religious and social factors
surrounding our nation-building?
• How did Hungary shape the Europe of
Middle Ages in art, politics, power?
• Why is the study of medieval Hungary
relevant for approaching Europe?
Where do we come from?
• Geographically: From Central Asia to
• Ethnically
• Linguistically
• Religious roots: Shamanism, natural
• Lifestyle: hunting, nomadic
What awaited us: Decline of
Roman Empire, Province of
Pannonia, Province of Roman
Events timeline 1.
• 896 Crossing the Carpathian mountains, taking
the country
• 955 Defeated after yearly campaigns over
Western parts of Europe (by Otto I of the Holy
Roman Empire, at Lechfeld near Augsburg)
• 970 Last campaigns against the Byzantine
• 970s – 1301 Arpad dynasty: Stephen, Ladislaus
as examples
Events 2.
• Golden Era: 1308-1490
Charles I 1308-1342
Louis the Great 1342-1382
Sigismund of Luxemburg 1386-1437
Janos Hunyady era 1446-1456
Matthias Corvinus 1458-1490
• Jagiellon Dynasty and Decline of Hungary
Timeline of rulers
The House of Arpad
Stephen I of Hungary
Born 967 in Esztergom, Grand Prince of the Hungarians,
crowned King 1000, + 1038,
Canonized by Pope Gregory VII together with his son
Emeric on 20 August 1083.
Saint Stephen was born "Vajk" in the town of Esztergom. His father
was Grand Prince Géza of Hungary; his mother was Sarolt,
daughter of Gyula of Transylvania a Hungarian nobleman who had
been baptized in Greece. Though Sarolt was baptized into the
Orthodox Christian faith at her father's court in Transylvania by the
Greek bishop Hierotheos,she did not persist in the religion.
According to his legends, Vajk was baptized a Christian by Saint
Adalbert of Prague. He was given the baptismal name Stephen
(István) in honour of the original early Christian Saint Stephen.
The baptised name was possibly chosen on purpose, as it doesn't
mean only "crown" as mentioned, but also, and "norm, standard" in
Hebrew. So the mission of St. Stephen was to grant a norm to
Hungary through the Holy Crown (also called the Doctrine of the
Holy Crown). However, another reason could be thought of: that
Stephen, as fiancé of a woman from the diocese of Passau, simply
wanted to do honour to the then-major saint of Passau, Saint
Stephen, after whom the Passau Cathedral is named up to today.
Internal politics
Stephen I founded several dioceses, ie, the dioceses of Veszprém, Győr,
Kalocsa, Vác, Bihar. He also established the Archdiocese of Esztergom,
thus he set up an ecclesiastical organisation independent of the German
archbishops. He also began to organize a territory-based administration by
founding several counties (comitatus, megye) in his kingdom.
Stephen discouraged pagan customs and strengthened Christianity with
various laws. In his first decree, issued in the beginning of his rule, he
ordered that each ten villages would be obliged to build a church. He invited
foreign priests to Hungary to evangelize his kingdom; Saint Astricus served
as his adviser, and Stephen also employed Saint Gerard Sagredo as the
tutor for his son Emeric (also rendered as Imre).
Around 1003, Stephen invaded and occupied Transylvania, a territory ruled
by his maternal uncle, Gyula, a semi-independent chieftain; and after this
victory, Stephen organized the Diocese of Transylvania. In the next few
years he also occupied the lands of the Black Magyars in the Southern part
of Transdanubia, and there organized the Diocese of Pécs. Shortly
afterwards, it is believed that he made an agreement with Samuel Aba, the
chieftain of the Kabar tribes settled in the Mátra region, who married
Stephen's sister; in his brother-in-law's domains, Stephen founded the .
Finally, Stephen occupied the domains of Ajtony, a semi-pagan chieftain
who had been ruling over the territories of the later Banat. Here Stephen set
up the Diocese of Csanád.
External politics
• Stephen I allied himself with his brother-in-law, the Emperor Henry II
against Prince Boleslaw I of Poland, who had extended his rule over
the territories between the Morava and Váh Rivers. Stephen sent
troops to the Emperor's army, and in the Peace of Bautzen, in 1018,
the Polish prince had to hand over the occupied territories to
• Shortly afterwards, Stephen sent troops to help Boleslaw I in his
campaign against the Kievan Rus'. In 1018, Stephen lead his armies
against Bulgaria, in alliance with the Byzantine Emperor Basil II, and
collected several relics during his campaign.
• After the death of Henry II ( 3 July 1024), Stephen broke with the
German alliance, because the new Holy Roman Emperor, Conrad II
claimed the supremacy over the Kingdom of Hungary, while
Stephen demanded the Duchy of Bavaria for his son Emeric who
was the nearest relative of the deceased Emperor Henry II (who
himself had been the last male descendant of the old dukes of
Bavaria). In 1027, Stephen had Bishop , the envoy sent by Conrad II
to the Byzantine Empire, arrested at the frontier. In 1030, the
Emperor lead his armies against Hungary, but Stephen's troops
enforced their retreat. Stephen and the Emperor Conrad II
concluded peace negotiations in 1031, and the territories between
the Leitha (Hungarian: (Lajta)) and Fischa Rivers were ceded to
Wars of St Stephen
Last years and Legacy
Stephen mourned for a very long time
over the loss of his son, which took a
great toll on his health. He eventually
recovered, but never regained his
original vitality. Having no children left,
he could not find anyone among his
remaining relatives who was able to
rule the country competently and
willing to maintain the Christian faith of
the nation. He did not want to entrust
his kingdom to his cousin, Duke Vazul
whom he suspected to be following
pagan customs. The disregarded duke
took part in conspiracy aimed at the
murder of Stephen I, but the
assassination attempt failed and Vazul
had his eyes gouged out and molten
lead poured in his ears. Unable to
choose an heir, King Stephen died on
the Feast of the Assumption (15
August) in the year 1038 at
Esztergom-Szentkirály or
Székesfehérvár, where he was buried
Remembering St Stephen
Internal organization structure of
the kingdom
Eastern and Western Christianity
Original Documents by St Stephen:
Laws, Foundation of Pannonhalma
Church organization of St Stephen
Pannonhalma, Tihany Benedictine
King St Ladislaus
Saint Ladislaus I (Hungarian: I. (Szent) László,
(in Medieval English texts: Saint Lancelot[2][3]),
Croatian: Ladislav I., Slovak: Svätý Ladislav I,
Polish: Władysław I Święty; c. 1040 – 29 July
1095) was King of Hungary from 1077 until his
death, "who greatly expanded the boundaries
of the kingdom and consolidated it internally;
no other Hungarian king was so generally
beloved by the people".Before his ascension to
the throne, he was the main advisor of his
brother, Géza I of Hungary, who was fighting
against their cousin, King Solomon of Hungary.
When his brother died, his followers proclaimed
Ladislaus king according to the Hungarian
tradition that gave precedence to the eldest
member of the royal family to the deceased
king's sons. Following a long period of civil
wars, he strengthened the royal power in his
kingdom by introducing severe legislation. He
also could expand his rule over Croatia. After
his canonisation, Ladislaus became the model
of the chivalrous king in Hungary
Hungary with Croatia 11th Century
Struggles inside, to West and East
When Ladislaus was crowned, the Counties of Moson
and Pozsony, were still under the rule of King Salamon,
who could count of the assistance of his brother-in-law,
King Henry IV of Germany. Therefore, Ladislaus sought
the alliance of the German king's rivals, and in 1078, he
married Adelaide, the daughter of Duke Rudolf I of
Swabia, who had been proclaimed King of Germany by
the emperor's opponents.
In 1079, Ladislaus took the fortress of Moson from King
Solomon, but he was not able to occupy Pozsony.
Afterwards, he began negotiations with his rival, who
finally abdicated in his favour in 1081 in exchange for
extensive landholdings. Although, the deposed king tried
to plot against his cousin, but Ladislaus overcome the
conspiracy and had Salamon imprisoned.
Upon Ladislaus' initiative, Pope Gregory VII ordered the
canonization of the first king of Hungary, Stephen I and •
his son, Emeric (Imre). On the occasion of the
celebrations, on the feast of the Assumption (August 15),
1083, Ladislaus allowed Salamon to go free. Salamon
subsequently fled to the Pechenegs. In 1085, the
Pechenegs invaded the Eastern territory of the kingdom,
but Ladislaus defeated them. Following upon his victory,
no-one disputed Ladislaus' right to rule.
The continuous struggles for the throne following the death of
Saint Stephen I in 1038, had resulted in a confused internal
situation when Ladislaus ascended the throne. Therefore,
Ladislaus issued extremely severe decrees against criminal
offenders that made provision for penalties such as mutilation,
enslavement or execution for minor crimes against property or
the Christian Faith.
King Ladislaus took an active part in the reorganization of the
Roman Catholic Church in Hungary, by the setting up a new
bishopric in Zagreb in 1087, the founding of the Archbishopric
of Bacs by its separation from Kalocsa,[6] and transferral of
the See of Bihar to Nagyvárad, which was not entirely in line
with the normative practice of the Church. Similarly, the synod
of Hungarian prelates at Szabolcs in the year 1092 recognized
the legitimacy of the first marriage of the members of the
clegry, which was contrary to canon law.
The collapse of the German emperor in his struggle with the
pope left Ladislaus free to extend his dominions towards the
south, and east toward the Eastern Carpathians. In 1087, he
sent his envoys to the court of Herman of Salm, who had
been proclaimed King of Germany by the opponents of Henry
IV, Holy Roman Emperor following the death of Ladislaus'
father-in-law, but after he received information of Salamon's
death, he did not intervene in the internal struggles in
In 1092, Ladislaus lead his armies against Prince , who had
allied himself with the Cumans, and won a victory over him. In
1093, Ladislaus supported Duke Zbigniew's revolt against his
father, Duke Władysław I Herman of Poland.
Ladislaus the saint
No other Hungarian king was held in such high
esteem. The whole nation mourned for him for
three years, and regarded him as a saint long
before his canonization. A whole cycle of legends
is associated with his name. He was canonized on
June 27, 1192.
A number of miracles are attributed to him. On the
occasion of some pestilence in the country, he is
said to have prayed for the cure before shooting an
arrow into the air at random; the arrow then hit the
herb which would cure the illness. At another time,
he was pursuing a Pecheneg force raiding the
realm. According to the story, the king was
catching up to the raiders, who decided to scatter
the money they had looted before the pursuing
Hungarians. The ruse worked as the soldiers
stopped to gather the money. The king is then
reputed to have turned all the gold to stone through
a prayer, allowing him to put his army on the march
again, defeat the raiders and free their captives.
C.A. Macartney, in his Hungary: A Short History,
eulogizes Ladislaus thus: "Ladislas I, who, like
Stephen and his son, Imre, was canonised after his
death, was the outstanding personality among
them: a true paladin and gentle knight, a protector
of his faith and his people, and of the poor and
Mongol Invasions 1241-1242
The Mongols invaded Central Europe with three armies. One army defeated an alliance which included forces
from the fragmented Poland and members of various Christian military orders, led by Henry II the Pious, Duke
of Silesia in the battle of Legnica. A second army crossed the Carpathian mountains and a third followed the
Danube. The armies re-grouped and crushed Hungary in 1241, defeating the Hungarian army at the Battle of
Mohi on April 11, 1241. The devastating Mongol invasion killed half of Hungary's population. The armies
swept the plains of Hungary over the summer and in the spring of 1242, regained impetus and extended their
control into Austria and Dalmatia and Moravia. The Great Khan had, however, died in December, 1241, and
on hearing the news, all the "Princes of the Blood“ went back to Mongolia to elect the new Khan.
After sacking Kiev,Batu khan sent a smaller group of Mongols to Poland, destroying Lublin and defeating an
inferior Polish army. Other elements—not the main Mongol force—saw difficulty near the Polish-Galich border.
The Invasion of Poland and Hungary were not reconnaissance operations, but, rather, retaliations for the
killing of Mongol envoys[citation needed] (also related to the issue of escaping Cumans), and an occasion to
plunder. The Mongols suffered significant casualties at Olmutz in Moravia, in a fight with a numerically
superior pan-European army in terrain disadvantageous for the use of cavalry. As for Poland, the Mongols
were just passing through and the efforts of king Wenceslas amounted to little in Mongol strategic
The Tatars then reached Polaniec on the River Czarna, where they set up camp. There, the Voivode attacked
them with the remaining Cracovian knights, which were few in number, but determined to conquer or die.
Surprise gave the Poles an initial advantage and they managed to kill many Mongol soldiers. When the
Mongols realized the actual numerical strength of the Poles, they regrouped, broke through the Polish ranks
and defeated them. During the fighting, many Polish prisoners of war found ways to escape and hide in the
nearby woods. In part, the Polish defeat was due to the fact that following their initial success the Polish
knights were distracted in searching for loot. The attack on Europe was planned and carried out by Subutai,
who achieved, perhaps, his most lasting fame with his victories there. Having devastated the various Russian
Principalities, he sent spies into Poland, Hungary, and as far as Austria, in preparation for an attack into the
heartland of Europe. Having a clear picture of the European kingdoms, he prepared an attack nominally
commanded by Batu Khan and two other princes of the blood. Batu Khan, son of Jochi, was the overall leader,
but Subutai was the strategist and commander in the field, and as such was present in both the northern and
southern campaigns against Russian Principalities. He also commanded the central column that moved
against Hungary. While Kadan's northern force won the Battle of Legnica and Güyük's army triumphed in
Transylvania, Subutai was waiting for them on the Hungarian plain. The newly reunited army then withdrew to
the Sajo River where they inflicted a decisive defeat on King Béla IV of Hungary at the Battle of Mohi. Again,
Subutai masterminded the operation, and it would prove to be one of his greatest victories.
Invasion of Hungary
Around 1241, Kingdom of Hungary looked much like any other feudal kingdom of Europe.
Although the throne was still inherited by the successors of Árpád, the authority and power of
the king was greatly curtailed. The rich magnates cared less about the national security of the
whole kingdom than about petty feudal quarrels with their fellow landlords. The Golden Bull of
1222 authorized the magnates to rebel against the king in some circumstances, and made the
king only 'primus inter pares'—first among equals. Bela IV tried to restore the king's former
authority and power without much success. Thus, Hungary lived in a state of feudal anarchy
when the Mongols began to expand toward Europe.
The Hungarians had first learned about the Mongol threat in 1229, when King Andrew granted
asylum to some fleeing Russian boyars. Magyars, left behind during the main migration to the
Pannonian basin, still lived on the banks of the upper Volga; in 1237, a Dominican friar, Julianus,
set off on an expedition to lead them back, and was sent back to King Béla with a letter from
Batu Khan. In this letter, Batu Khan called upon the Hungarian king to surrender his kingdom
unconditionally to the Tatar forces or face complete destruction. Béla did not reply. Two more
Mongol messages were brought to Hungary: the first, in 1239, by the defeated Cuman tribes,
who asked for and received asylum in Hungary, and the second, in February, 1241, by the
defeated Polish princes.
Only then did King Béla call his magnates to join his army in defense of the country. He also
asked the papacy and the Western European rulers for help. Foreign help came in the form of a
small knight-detachment under the leadership of Frederick, Prince of Austria, but it was too
small to influence the outcome of the campaign. The majority of the Hungarian magnates did
not realize the seriousness of the Mongol danger. Some may have hoped that a defeat of the
royal army would force Béla to discontinue his centralization efforts and thus strengthen their
Although the Mongol danger was serious and real, Hungary was not prepared to deal with it, as
in the minds of the people (who had lived free from nomadic invasions for the last few hundred
years) a new invasion seemed impossible. The population was no longer a soldier population.
Only the rich nobles were trained as heavy-armored cavalry. The Hungarians had long since
forgotten the light-cavalry strategy and tactics of their ancestors, which were similar to those
now used by the Mongols.
Lessons learned 1.
• Arriving at the Hornád river without having been challenged to a fight by the
Mongols, the Hungarian army encamped on April 10, 1241. The Mongols
began their attack the next night. Soon, it was clear that the Hungarians
were losing the battle. The king escaped with the help of his bodyguard, but
the rest of the army was either killed without mercy by the Mongols or
drowned in the rivers while attempting an escape. The Mongols now
systematically occupied the Great Hungarian Plains, the slopes of the
northern Carpathian Mountains, and Transylvania. Where they found local
resistance, they mercilessly killed the population. Where the people did not
offer any resistance, they forced the men into servitude in the Mongol army.
Still, tens of thousands avoided Mongol domination by taking refuge behind
the walls of the few fortresses or by hiding in the forests or the large
marshes alongside the rivers. The Mongols, instead of leaving already
defenseless and helpless peoples behind and continuing their campaign
through Pannonia to Western Europe, spent the entire summer and fall
securing and pacifying the occupied territories. Then, during the winter,
contrary to the traditional strategy of the nomadic armies which started
campaigns only in spring-time, they crossed the Danube and continued their
systematic occupation including Pannonia. They eventually reached the
Austrian borders and the Adriatic shores in Dalmatia. At this time Croatia
was part of Hungary, since it was conquered by the Kingdom of Hungary in
Lessons 2.
At least 20%-40% of the population died, if not in slaughter then in epidemic. However the
Mongols took control of Hungary they couldn't occupy any fortressed cities like Fehérvár,
Esztergom, Veszprém, Tihany, Győr, Pannonhalma, Moson, Sopron, Vasvár, Újhely, Zala,
Léka, Pozsony -(today Bratislava Slovakia), Nitra, Komárom, Fülek and Abaújvár. Learning
from this lesson, the fortresses came to play a significant role in Hungary.
King Béla IV rebuilt the country and invested in fortifications. With a shortage of money, he
settled down Jewish families, investors and tradesmen giving them rights. The King settled tens
of thousands of Kun (Cumans) who had fled the country before the invasion. This is called the
second foundation of Hungary.
During the spring of 1242, Ögedei Khan had died at the age of fifty-six after a binge of drinking
during a hunting trip. Batu Khan, who was one of the contenders to the imperial throne,
returned at once with his armies to Asia (before withdrawal, Batu Khan ordered wholesale
execution of prisoners), leaving the whole of Eastern Europe depopulated and in ruins. Because
of his death, the Western Europe escaped unscathed.
Some Hungarian historians claim that Hungary's long resistance against the Mongols actually
saved Western Europe. Many Western European historians reject this interpretation
. They point out that the Mongols evacuated Hungary of their own free will, and that Western
Europe was saved by the sudden death of Ögedei Khan, not by the struggle of the Hungarians.
Other European and American historians have questioned whether the Mongols would have
been able to, or even wished to, continue their invasion into Europe west of the Hungarian plain
at all, given the logistical situation in Europe and their need to keep large number of horses in
the field to retain their strategic mobility.
The Mongolian invasion taught the Magyars a simple lesson: although the Mongols had
destroyed the countryside, the forts and fortified cities had survived.
King Bela IV
Béla IV (Hungarian: IV. Béla), (29 November 1206 – 3 May 1270), King of
Hungary[1] (1235-1270) and of Croatia (as part of the Hungarian Kingdom)
(1235-1270), duke of Styria between 1254-1258. One of the most famous kings
of Hungary, distinguished himself through his policy of strenghtening of the
royal power following the example of his grand father Bela III, and by the
rebuilding Hungary after the catastrophy of the Mongolian invasion in 1241. For
this reason was called by the Hungarians "the second founder of our country".
21 September 1235, Béla ascended the throne without any opposition and
crowned him on 14 October in Székesfehérvár. Shortly afterwards, he accused
his young stepmother and his father's main advisor, of adultery and ordered
their arrest.
Béla's main purpose was to restore the royal power that had weakened during
his father's rule; e.g., he ordered the burning of his advisors' seats, because he
wanted to force them to stand in the presence of the king. As he also wanted to
strengthen the position of the towns, he confirmed the charter of
Székesfehérvár and granted new privileges to several key towns in the kingdom
(Pest, Nagyszombat, Selmecbánya, Korpona, Zólyom, Bars, and Esztergom).
He sent Friar Julian to find the Magyar tribes who had remained in their eastern
homeland. Friar Julian, after meeting with the eastern Magyars returned to
Hungary in 1239 and informed Béla of the planned Mongol invasion of Europe.
Béla wanted to take precautions against the Mongols; therefore he granted
asylum, in Hungary, to the Cumans who had been defeated by the Mongols.
Extern expansion – struggles w son
in 1242, he could lead his troops against Duke Frederick II of Austria. During his campaign, he
managed to reoccupy Sopron and Kőszeg and he compelled the duke to renounce the three
counties he had occupied during the Mongol invasion.
On 30 June 1244, Béla made a peace with the Republic of Venice and he surrendered his
supremacy over Zadar (then called Zara) but he retained the 1/3 of the Dalmatian city's
revenues of customs. In 1245, Béla provided military assistance to his son-in-law, Prince
Rostislav against Prince Danylo of Halych, but the latter forced back the pretender's attacks.
Upon his request, Pope Gregory IX absolved Béla of his oath he had taken to the Holy Roman
Emperor during the Mongol invasion on 21 August 1245. Shortly afterwards, Duke Frederick II
of Austria, who did not give up his claims to the western counties of the Kingdom of Hungary,
launched an attack against Hungary. Although, he could defeat the Hungarian troops in a battle
by the Leitha River, but he died in the battle. With his death, the male line of the House of
Babenberg became extinct, and a struggle commenced for the rule over Austria and Styria.
Béla granted the Banat of Szörény to the Knights Hospitaller in 1249, when a rumour was
spreading that the Mongols were preparing a new campaign against Europe. In the same year,
he assisted again his son-in-law against Halych, but Prince Danylo defeated his troops by the
San River. Finally, Béla decided to make an agreement with the Prince of Halych and they had
a meeting in Zólyom in 1250 where Béla promised that he would not assist his son-in-law
against Prince Danylo.
Béla decided to intervene in the struggle for the inheritance of the House of Babenberg and
arranged a marriage between Gertrude of Austria, the niece of the deceased Duke Frederick II
of Austria, and Roman Danylovich, a son of Prince Danylo of Halych. In 1252, he led his armies
against Austria and occupied the Vienna Basin.
Béla had had his eldest son, Stephen crowned junior king already in 1246, but he did not want
to share the royal power with his son. However, Stephen recruited an army against his father
and persuaded Béla to cede him the government of Transylvania in 1258.
Béla lost his favourite son in the summer of 1269. Afterwards, his favourite daughter, Anna
exercised more and more influence over him. In his last will, Béla entrusted his daughter and
his followers to her son-in-law, King Otakar II of Bohemia, because he did not trust his son.
Prosperity under foreign kings:
Charles I (1308-1342)
After the destructive period of interregnum (1301–1308), the first Angevin king,
Charles I of Hungary (King: 1308–1342) -An Árpád descendant in the female linesuccessfully restored the royal power, who defeated oligarch rivals, the so called
"little kings". Charles I was crowned as a child and raised in Hungary. His new fiscal,
customs and monetary policies proved successful under his reign. Charles Robert
also introduced tax reforms and a stable currency. One of the primary sources of his
power was the wealth derived from the gold mines of east and northern Hungary.
Eventually production reached the remarkable figure of 3,000 lb. of gold annually—
one third of the total production of the world as then known, and five times as much
as that of any other European state.He reestablished the crown's authority by ousting
disloyal magnates and distributing their estates to his supporters. Charles Robert
then ordered the magnates to recruit and equip small private armies called banderia.
Charles Robert ruled by decree and convened the Diet only to announce his
decisions. Dynastic marriages linked his family with the ruling families of Naples and
Poland and heightened Hungary's standing abroad.
Hungary was the first non-Italian country, where the renaissance appeared in Europe.
The Renaissance style came directly from Italy during the Quattrocento to Hungary
foremost in the Central European region. The development of the early HungarianItalian relationships was a reason of this infiltration, which weren't manifested only in
dynastic connections, but in cultural, humanistic and commercial relations. This effect
was getting stronger from the 1300s. In the first half of the 14th century, the statues
of ladies, knights, court musicians, servants and guardsmen mark not only the turn of
the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, but also the beginning of a new age.
Louis the Great (1342-1382)
Charles Robert's son and successor Louis I of Hungary (1342-82) maintained the
strong central authority Charles I had amassed. In 1351 Louis issued a decree that
reconfirmed the Golden Bull, erased all legal distinctions between the lesser nobles
and the magnates, standardized the serfs' obligations, and barred the serfs from
leaving the lesser nobles' farms to seek better opportunities on the magnates'
estates. The decree also established the entail system. Hungary's economy
continued to flourish during Louis's reign. Gold and other precious metals poured
from the country's mines and enriched the royal treasury, foreign trade increased,
new towns and villages arose, and craftsmen formed guilds. The prosperity fueled a
surge in cultural activity, and Louis promoted the illumination of manuscripts and in
1367 founded Hungary's first university. Louis extended his rule over territories to the
Adriatic Sea, and occupied the Kingdom of Naples several times. Under his reign
lived the most famous epic hero of Hungarian literature and warfare, the king's
Champion: Nicolas Toldi. Louis had become popular in Poland due to his successful
campaigns against the Tatars and pagan Lithuanians. Two successful wars (1357–
1358, 1378–1381) against Venice annexed Dalmatia and Ragusa and more
territories at Adriatic Sea. Venice also had to raise the Angevin flag on St. Mark's
Square on holy days. Louis I established a university in Pécs in 1367 (by papal
accordance). The Ottoman Turks confronted the country ever more often. In 1366
and 1377, Louis led successful champaigns against the Ottomans (Batlle at Nicapoli
in 1366), therefore Balkanian states became his vassals. From 1370, the death of
Casimir III of Poland, Louis became king of Poland in 1370 and ruled the two
countries for twelve years. Until his death, he retained his strong potency in political
life of Italian Peninsula. While Louis was engaged in these activates, the Ottomans
made their initial inroads into the Balkans.
Sigismund of Luxemburg (1386-1437)
Louis's son-in-law, won a bitter struggle for the throne after Louis died in 1382. Under
Sigismund, Hungary's fortunes began to decline. Many Hungarian nobles despised Sigismund
for his cruelty during the succession struggle, his long absences, and his costly foreign wars. In
1401 disgruntled nobles temporarily imprisoned the king. In 1403 another group crowned an
anti-king, who failed to solidify his power but succeeded in selling Dalmatia to Venice.
Sigismund failed to reclaim the territory. Sigismund became king of Bohemia in 1419. In 1404
Sigismund introduced the Placetum Regium. According to this decree, Papal bulls and
messages could not be pronounced in Hungary without the consent of the king. Sigismund
congregated Council of Constance (1414–1418) to abolish the Papal Schism of Catholic church,
which was solved by the election of a new pope. In 1433 he even became Holy Roman
Emperor. In response, Sigismund created the office of palatine to rule the country in his stead.
Like earlier Hungarian kings, Sigismund elevated his supporters to magnate status and sold off
crown lands to meet burgeoning expenses. Although Hungary's economy continued to flourish,
Sigismund's expenses outstripped his income. He bolstered royal revenues by increasing the
serfs' taxes and requiring cash payment. Social turmoil erupted late in Sigismund's reign as a
result of the heavier taxes and renewed magnate pressure on the lesser nobles. Hungary's first
peasant revolt erupted when a Transylvanian bishop ordered peasants to pay tithes in coin
rather than in kind. Also, Husite teachings spread among the population making the bishop
more unpopular. The revolt was quickly checked, but it prompted Transylvania's Szekel,
Magyar, and German orders to form the Union of Three Nations, which was an effort to defend
their privileges against any power except that of the king. During his long reign Royal castle of
Buda became probably the largest Gothic palace of the late Middle Ages. The first Hungarian
Bible translation completed in 1439, but Hungarian Bible was illegal in its age. Hungary was the
first non-Italian country, where the renaissance appeared in Europe.[13]
Additional turmoil erupted when the Ottomans expanded their empire into the Balkans.
Count John Hunyadi's era
After Władysław III, Hungary's nobles chose an infant king, Ladislaus V the
Posthumous, and a regent, John Hunyadi, to rule the country until the former came
of age. The son of a lesser nobleman of the Vlach ( though some historians suggest
a Cumanic) descent, who had won distinction in the wars against the Ottomans.
Hunyadi rose to become a general, Transylvania's military governor, one of
Hungary's largest landowners, and a war hero. He used his personal wealth and the
support of the lesser nobles to win the regency and overcome the opposition of the
magnates. Hunyadi then established a mercenary army funded by the first tax ever
imposed on Hungary's nobles. He defeated the Ottoman forces in Transylvania in
1442 and broke their hold on Serbia in 1443, only to be routed at the Battle of Varna
(where Władysław I (of Hungary) himself perished) a year later. In 1446, the
parliament elected the great general János Hunyadi as governor (1446–1453) and
then as regent (1453–1456) of the kingdom. In 1448 Hunyadi tried to expel the Turks
from Europe, but because of the treachery of Serbs and Vlachs he was outnumbered
and routed in the 3 days battle of Kosovo Polje.
One of his greatest victories being the Siege of Belgrade in 1456. Hunyadi defended
the city against the onslaught of the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II. During the siege,
Pope Callixtus III ordered the bells of every church to be rung every day at noon, as
a call for believers to pray for the defenders of the city. However, in many countries
(like England and Spanish kingdoms), news of the victory arrived before the order,
and the ringing of the church bells at noon thus transformed into a commemoration of
the victory. The Popes didn't withdraw the order, and Catholic churches still ring the
noon bell to this day.
Hunyadi died of the plague soon after.
Matthias Corvinus
Some magnates resented Hunyadi for his popularity as well as for the taxes he imposed, and
they feared that his sons might seize the throne from Ladislaus. They coaxed the sons to return
to Laszlo's court, where Hunyadi's elder son was beheaded. His younger son, Matthias
Corvinus of Hungary, was imprisoned in Bohemia. However, lesser nobles loyal to Mátyás soon
expelled László. After Ladislaus's death abroad, they paid ransom for Mátyás, met him on the
frozen Danube River, and proclaimed him king. Corvinus (1458-90) was, with one possible
exception (John Zápolya), the last Hungarian king to rule the country.
This was the first time in the medieval Hungarian kingdom that a member of the nobility, without
dynastic ancestry and relationship, mounted the royal throne. A true Renaissance prince, a
successful military leader and administrator, an outstanding linguist, a learned astrologer, and
an enlightened patron of the arts and learning.András Hess set up a printing press in Buda in
Although Matthias regularly convened the Diet and expanded the lesser nobles' powers in the
counties, he exercised absolute rule over Hungary by means of a secular bureaucracy.
Matthias enlisted 30,000 foreign and Hungarian mercenaries in his standing army and built a
network of fortresses along Hungary's southern frontier, but he did not pursue his father's
aggressive anti-Turkish policy. Instead, Mátyás launched unpopular attacks on Bohemia,
Poland, and Austria, pursuing an ambition to become Holy Roman Emperor and arguing that he
was trying to forge a unified Western or Central European alliance strong enough to expel the
Ottoman Turks from Europe. He eliminated tax exemptions and raised the serfs' obligations to
the crown to fund his court and the military. The magnates complained that these measures
reduced their incomes, but despite the stiffer obligations, the serfs considered Matthias a just
ruler because he protected them from excessive demands and other abuses by the magnates.
He also reformed Hungary's legal system and promoted the growth of Hungary's towns.
Matthias was a true Renaissance man and made his court a center of humanist culture; under
his rule, Hungary's first books were printed and its second university was established. His
library, the Corvina, was famous throughout Europe. It was Europe's greatest collection of
historical chronicles, philosophic and scientific works in the 15th century, and second only in
size to the Vatican Library
20 January 1458, Matthias was elected king by
the Diet. This was the first time in the medieval
Hungarian kingdom that a member of the nobility,
without dynastic ancestry and relationship,
mounted the royal throne. Such an election upset
the usual course of dynastic succession in the age.
In the Czech and Hungarian states they heralded
a new judiciary era in Europe, characterized by
the absolute supremacy of the Parliament, (dietal
system) and a tendency to centralization. At this
time Matthias was still a hostage of George of
Poděbrady, who released him under the condition
of marrying his daughter Kunhuta (later known as
Catherine). On 24 January 1458, 40,000
Hungarian noblemen, assembled on the ice of the
frozen Danube, unanimously elected Matthias
Hunyadi king of Hungary, and on 14 February the
new king made his state entry into Buda.
Matthias was 15 when he was elected King of
Hungary: at this time the realm was environed by
perils. The Ottomans and the Venetians
threatened it from the south, the emperor
Frederick III from the west, and Casimir IV of
Poland from the north, both Frederick and Casimir
claiming the throne.
Culture under Matthias
Matthias was educated in Italian, and his fascination with the achievements of the
Italian Renaissance led to the promotion of Mediterranean cultural influences in
Hungary. Buda, Esztergom, Székesfehérvár and Visegrád were amongst the towns
in Hungary that benefited from the establishment of public health and education and
a new legal system under Matthias' rule. In 1465 he founded a university in
Pressburg (present-day Bratislava, Slovakia), the Universitas Istropolitana. His 1476
marriage to Beatrice, the daughter of the King of Naples, only intensified the
influence of the Renaissance.
An indefatigable reader and lover of culture, he proved an extremely generous patron,
as artists from the Italian city-states and Western Europe were present in large
numbers at his court. The most important humanists living in Matthias' court were
Antonio Bonfini and the famous Hungarian poet Janus Pannonius.
Like many of his acculturated contemporaries, he trusted in astrology and other
semi-scientific beliefs; however, he also supported true scientists and engaged
frequently in discussions with philosophers and scholars.
He spoke Hungarian, Croatian, Latin, and later also German, Czech.
Matthias Corvinus's library, the Bibliotheca Corviniana, was Europe's greatest
collections of secular books: historical chronicles, philosophic and scientific works in
the fifteenth century. His library was second in size only to the Vatican Library.
(However, the Vatican Library mainly contained Bibles and religious materials.)[11] In
1489, Bartolomeo della Fonte of Florence wrote that Lorenzo de Medici founded his
own Greek-Latin library encouraged by the example of the Hungarian king.
Corvinus's library is part of UNESCO World Heritage
Jagiellon Dynasty and Decline of
Hungary (1490—1526)
The magnates, who did not want another heavy-handed king, procured the accession of
Vladislaus II, king of Bohemia (Ulászló II in Hungarian history), precisely because of his
notorious weakness: he was known as King Dobže, or Dobzse (meaning “Good” or, loosely,
“OK”), from his habit of accepting with that word every paper laid before him.[16] Under his
reign the central power began to experience severe financial difficulties, largely due to the
enlargement of feudal lands at his expense.
Matthias' reforms did not survive the turbulent decades that followed his reign. An oligarchy of
quarrelsome magnates gained control of Hungary. They crowned a docile king, Vladislaus II
(the Jagiellonian king of Bohemia, who was known in Hungary as Ulaszlo II, 1490-1516) the son
of King Casimir IV of Poland, only on condition that he abolish the taxes that had supported
Matthias' mercenary army. As a result, the king's army dispersed just as the Turks were
threatening Hungary.
When Vladislaus II died in 1516, his ten-year-old son Louis II (1516-26) became king, but a
royal council appointed by the Diet ruled the country. Hungary was in a state of near anarchy
under the magnates' rule. The king's finances were a shambles; he borrowed to meet his
household expenses despite the fact that they totaled about one-third of the national income .
In 1521 Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent recognized Hungary's weakness and seized Belgrade
in preparation for an attack on Hungary. After that, Louis II and his wife, Maria von Habsburg
tried to manage an anti-magnate putsch, but they were not successful. In August 1526, he
marched nearly 100,000 troops into Hungary's heartland. Hungary's forces were just gathering,
when the 26,000 strong Hungarian army met the Turks with bad luck in the battle of Mohacs.
Hungarians had well-equipped and well-trained troops, and awaited more reinforcements from
Czechia and Transylvania, but lacked a good military leader. They suffered bloody defeat
leaving 20,000 dead on the field. Louis himself died, thrown from a horse into a bog.
Ottoman–Hungarian Wars
The Ottoman-Hungarian War refers to a series of battles between the Ottoman
Empire and the medieval Kingdom of Hungary. Following the Byzantine civil war, the
Ottoman capture of Gallipoli and the decisive Battle of Kosovo, the Ottoman Empire
seemed poised to conquer the whole of the Balkans. However, the Ottoman invasion
of Serbia drove Hungary to war against the Ottomans, with the former having
interests in the Balkans and competing for the vassalship of the Balkan states of
Serbia, Bulgaria, Wallachia, and Moldavia.
Initial Hungarian success culminated in the Crusade of Varna, though without
significant outside support the Hungarians were defeated. Nonetheless the Ottomans
suffered more defeats at Belgrade, even after the conquest of Constantinople. In
particular was the infamous Vlad the Impaler who with limited Hungarian help
resisted Ottoman rule until the Ottomans were able to place his brother, a man less
feared and less hated by the populace on the throne of Wallachia. Ottoman success
was once again halted at Moldavia due to Hungarian intervention but the Turks
emerged triumphant at last when Moldavia and then Belgrade fell to Bayezid II and
Suleiman the Magnificent respectively. In 1526 the Ottomans crushed the Hungarian
army at Mohács with King Louis II of Hungary perishing along with 14,000 of his foot
soldiers. Following this defeat, the eastern region of the Kingdom of Hungary (mainly
Transylvania) ceased as an independent power and served as an Ottoman tributary
state, constantly engaged in civil war with Royal Hungary. The war continued with
the Habsburgs now asserting primacy in the conflict with the Suleiman and his
successors. The northern and western parts of Hungary managed to remain free
from Ottoman rule, but the Kingdom of Hungary, the most powerful state east of
Vienna under Matthias I, was now divided and at constant war with the Turks.
Hungary around 1550
Szombathely – Colonia Claudia
Thank you