MEDIEVAL HUNGARIAN KINGS
OUTLINE HISTORY OF HUNGARY
The most ancient history of the Hungarian people is buried in darkness. But one thing is certain, that that people belongs to the same family of nomadic tribes which sent forth the Huns, Avares, Kumans, the Usi, and the Polowzi. The original country of these tribes is old Turan, that immense tract of territory extending from the lake of Aral, from the Oxus and Jaxartes, to the frontiers of China and the desert of Gobi.
Among those rudiments of nations which were taking shape from the commencement of the decline of the Roman Empire down to the fifteenth century, the Hungarians play a conspicuous and interesting part, from the fact that they alone, of all migratory tribes, succeeded in weathering the rocks which threatened those most who drifted most headlong in a current of conquest. They had sufficient strength to resist the enemies whom they stirred up by the conquest of their new country, and by those frequent predatory expeditions vhich are of common occurrence in the first historical epoch of conquering nations, without finding themselves compelled to sacrifice their domestic liberty to the arbitrary sway of one man.
The history of Hungary, from the ninth to the twelfth century, is consequently full of interest for the political philosopher. In the first years of that period, we see the Hungarian people, worried by foreign enemies, and hurried on by those migratory instincts which are peculiar to nomadic populations, leave their homes in Central Asia, and proceed to the Caspian, and thence to the Black Sea ; thence they direct their steps to the Danube ; for a legend is rife among them of a land of promise, belonging to the inheritance of Attila, Prince of the Huns, and kinsman to their tribe. Obedient to the advice of the Chazars, their neighbours, we behold the chiefs of the clans assemble for the election of a prince ; but, jealous of his influence, they limit the extent of his power. They make a State, and that State stands alone in history ; for it originated in a "social contract", the provisions of which were not only enacted, but also observed. Thus united into a nation, the Hungarian tribes proceed, toward the end of the ninth century, to conquer their present country. The conquest is an easy one. Fortune favours them; they become overbearing, and begin to devastate the neighbouring countries. They make inroads upon Southern Germany, Upper Italy, and the northern provinces of the Byzantine Empire. Some detached parties visit even the south of France, and advance to the walls of Constantinople, until the hero Botond—thus runs the Hungarian legend—breaks the gates of that city with his club.
The people of Western Europe prayed at that time in this litany : "Lord ! preserve us from the Hungarians!" and dreadful rumours were current of the Hungarian barbarians, who, it was said, delightpd in eating the hearts of their enemies. Neither the Byzantine nor the German emperors could resist their inroads ; all they could do was to conciliate them with gifts. The two emperors did, indeed, all they could to break the power of their new and formidable enemies ; and the manner in which they severally attempted that object is characteristic of the distinguishing features of the East and West of Europe. Henry of Germany (Henricus Auceps) bribed the Hungarians into an armistice of nine years, and during this time he built fortified cities and strongholds, and recruited his armies, so that when the Hungarian hordes advanced, they suffered several grievous defeats. The unwarlike Prince of Byzantium, on the other hand, purchases peace under the same conditions as Henricus Auceps ; and, as a pledge of the good faith of the Hungarians, he takes several of their chiefs as hostages, and conducts them to Constantinople. Here they are converted to the Christian religion, and when they finally return to their country, the Byzantine emperor sees that they are accompanied by the Bishop Hierotheos, for he is well aware that the Christian religion will change the barbarous manners of the Hungarians.
Christianity, thus transplanted into Hungary, had at first but an indifferent success. It was only after two generations that the real conversion of the Hungarian people took place. They adopted the forms, not of the petrified Grecian church, but of the Romans. Still, the reminiscences of the first Byzantine attempt at their conversion remained in the Hungarian language. To this day, the Grecian doctrine is called the old creed, and the Greek Christians are proud of the old faith.
While in this manner the predatory excursions become less frequent and formidable during the tenth century, we see the princes of Hungary intent upon strengthening their small modicum of central power, and defending it against the encroachment of the chiefs of the clans. They invited foreign colonists and cavaliers to settle in the country, and granted them the rights and immunities enjoyed by the native chiefs. The people meanwhile begin to settle, and to build villages and cities; indeed, the vast numbers of prisoners from all parts of Europe, brought from their predatory excursions, the aggregate number of whom exceeded that of their conquerors, familiarized the latter, by degrees, with the manners and customs of the West and the morals of the Christian population of Europe. Prince Geiza, a grandson of Arpad, the conqueror of Hungary, was favourably inclined to the Christian creed.
PRINCE ARPAD. (805-907.)
At the far end of the Andrássy-út, the most handsome thoroughfare in Budapest, stands the Millenary column. It was raised to commemorate the occupation of the country by our Magyar ancestors a thousand year ago. The column is surmounted by an angel, slim and tall, who announces to the world in the words of the great national poet that although diminished in number, the nation is still unbroken in spirit after centuries of vicissitudes and struggle. Round the base of the monument are several equestrian statues—the splendid creations of George Zala’s genius—representing some of the Hungarian leaders, who conquered the country. The central figure, resting his right hand on his club, gazes earnestly, almost sternly, into the distance before him, as if to read the future destiny of the people whom, after untold hardship and many a battle, he has led to the banks of the Danube. Obviously not merely ambitious, but also able to command, we cannot but feel that Prince Arp id deserves the respect and homage even of his remotest descendents. Of his person and subsequent exploits little is known. The history of his rule was not recorded by his contemporaries, or possibly, if any of the Hungarian Druids acquainted with the art of writing did leave records of it, they have been lost in the ensuing ages. Traditional lore, handed down by word of mouth from generation to generation, has kept alive the memory of his arresting personality and of the great achievement that made his name famous—the occupation of Hungary by the Hungarians.
The full significance of that historic event and the prominent part played in it by Prince Arpad will be best understood if we cast a glance into the history of the Hungarians—or Magyars as they are called in their own language—previous to it.
Their original home was probably somewhere on the western boundary of Southern Siberia, though we do not know exactly where it was situated. The total number of Hungarians at that time did not exceed that of the Hungarian prisoners in Siberia during the world war. In course of time this small nation split into two bodies, and the smaller of the two migrated westward. Today we can give no reason for this separation. Was it overpopulation that made co-existence difficult, or did internal feuds compel the vanquished to flee? Or was material adversity responsible for the exodus? Who today can tell?
In their westward migration the Hungarians had to battle their way along a route best by danger. They were few in number, for even some decades later, when they had been joined by other tribes, their total strength did not amount to the present population of Oxford and Cambridge. The lowlands north and west of the Caspian Sea, where they settled after leaving their original home, did not lend themselves to defence, and they lived in constant danger from surprise attacks. The migrating Hungarians presented the appearance of a band of nomads, but one whose line of march had been well explored, and only when the surrounding terrain had been thoroughly reconnoitred did they pitch their tents— usually in grazing ground. They subsisted, like other nomadic tribes, mainly on their flocks and herds, fishing and the chase. Small bands, or even, tribes, of men mounted on swift horses assembled from time to time and set forth on expeditions into far-distant regions, to spy out their populations and wealth, and to ascertain that no danger threatened their own camps. Thus their reputation as a stern, disciplined and warlike people had already preceded them when they arrived on the northern shores of the Black Sea. This newly acquired territory was named Lebedia after Lebed, who was the greatest chieftain during their migrations. Lebed, though chief of but one tribe, was by universal consent acknowledged leader by all the tribes throughout their wanderings. In course of time the number of these tribes had increased to seven. These went by the names of Nyék, Magyar, Kürtgyarmat, Tarján, Jenó, Kara, and Kaza. It had ever been their custom to invest one of the chieftains with supreme leadership—this being imperative to maintain order and discipline—who was obeyed without question during their migrations. His authority, however, came to an end the moment they settled down. However, when they came to live in Lebedia, and a little later in Etelköz, now called Bessarabia, the chiefs of the seven tribes, prompted by experience, decided to make the paramount chieftainship permanent, i. e. the leader or prince continued to rule even after they had settled and were living in peace. They had come to realize that divided leadership did not conduce to prosperity, for during their wanderings they saw that those families, or tribes, which were governed by one experienced, energetic, and just man prospered and were respected, and they came to the conclusion that if all seven tribes were under the permanent authority of one such man, the importance and strength of the Hungarians would not fail to increase. They soon acted on this wise resolve by choosing Lebed as leader. Although this was a universal choice, their old commander declined the great honour, feeling that it required a strong hand and a keen mind to govern. He recommended either Almós, chieftain of the Magyar tribe, or Arpad, the valiant son of Almós. And thus it came that Arpad was duly installed in his high position by being raised on a shield, according to the ancient custom. This meant that the tribes, which during their migrations had been but loosely held together, were now welded into one people, thereafter known to history as the Hungarian Nation. This union was by no means an unimportant matter, since it attracted the attention of the Greek Emperor, who began to take a greater interest in these Turk-like people—actually called “Turks” by the Greeks—who had made their appearance on the frontiers of the Empire and had just elected to themselves a Prince. Shrewd Greek merchants, under the Emperor’s instructions and no doubt also attracted by prospects of trade, visited the Hungarians in Etelköz, and reported Arpad, the Prince of the Hungarians, to be “a man wise in mind and council, eminently valiant and qualified for government,” also a strict disciplinarian supported by a brave and numerous army, with whom therefore it would be wise to establish friendly relations.
This report of the merchants was anything but welcome in the Greek metropolis, already seriously alarmed by the spread of the rising Bulgar Empire, the boundaries of which had been extended to include not only the Bulgaria of today, but also—with the exception of the northern and north-western parts—what later was to be known as Hungary. Now it seemed that besides these Turco-Bulgars, another race of the same stock was about to settle on the frontiers of the Byzantine Empire. Etelköz, bounded by rivers on the east and south and on the west by trackless wooded uplands, promised to be an extremely suitable domain for the Hungarians, and the possibility of these two peoples of kindred race eventually forming an alliance and founding a mighty Empire was a menace fraught with the uttermost peril to Byzantium. The Greeks already foresaw the country peopled with hordes of Hungarians and Bulgars, plundering and laying waste the towns and villages and destroying the fruits of Greek civilization. To avert this threatened danger Byzantium resorted to the policy of setting the two kindred races against each other. Whichever conquered would mean only one foe would threaten the Greek frontiers. The ruse was successful. On various pretexts and with tempting promises they induced the Hungarians to make war on the Bulgars. In the ensuing battles Prince Arpad’s warriors won such decisive victories and the Bulgars sustained such crushing defeats that the Empire of the latter was broken and the goal of Byzantine policy achieved: there was one enemy less on the frontiers of the Greek Empire.
But victory cost the Hungarians more than it was worth. The Bulgars did not forget their defeat, and aware that unaided they were no match for the Hungarians, cast about for allies. One such they found in the warlike Petchenegs, hereditary foes of the Hungarians, who at this time were living in Lebedia. They readily joined the Bulgars, and the Hungarians, attacked on two fronts in Etelköz, were defeated after a fierce struggle (895 A.D.).
This defeat taught the Hungarians a salutary lesson. The report of the Greek merchants about the wisdom of Prince Arpad was not a gratuitous assumption. He could take a warning when it presented itself and quickly realized that his people dare not remain in Etelköz, since it was threatened on two sides by enemies who could always repeat their invasions and whose numerical superiority would render resistance vain. The question, then, was to find a country easily defended against invasion in time of war and affording the possibilities of prosperous settlement in time of peace. After lengthy consideration Arpad decided to lead his people across the mountain ranges (the Carpathians) on the border of Etelköz and settle with them on suitable territory on the far side. His choice fell upon what is now known as Hungary, which ever since—for more than a thousand years—has been the home of the Hungarians. Arpad was not guided in his choice by chance. It had happened that one or other of the more venturesome and unruly tribes made raids which took them great distances from the settlement in Etelköz, and crossing the Carpathians, some of them had forced their way downwards (894 A. D.) to the region between the Danube and the Tisza (Parthissus). These marauders returned with the tale that this country was well-adapted to permanent settlement, protected as it was against invasion from the east and north by vast forests and high mountains and on the south by broad rivers. The conquest of the native population was not likely to present great difficulties. They argued in favour of the migrating Hungarians making their permanent home there, and Prince Arpad decided to take their advice and lead his followers to that land of promise.
The eastern part of the new land which was to become Hungary was, as stated above, under Bulgar rule. Indeed the Bulgars were the dominant race in the greater part of the territory between the Drave and the Save. However, after their defeat by the Hungarians, their power was so greatly impaired that they could hardly hope to defend the region north of the Danube. The prospect of the Hungarians being able to settle in those parts was therefore favourable, providing the advance were properly organized.
The soil of the coveted region was at that time held by various races. The east, — later known as Transylvania,— the district of the Tisza, and the banks of the Drave and Save were inhabited by Bulgar-Slavonic and Bulgar-Turkish races. To the east and west of Lake Balaton, Slav clans were living under the supreme rule of the Frankish Empire. The left bank of the Danube, almost as far as the river Garam was peopled by Slav races subject to the successors of the Moravian prince, Swatopluk.
It cannot be denied that the land to be occupied was but sparsely populated, but even so its inhabitants greatly outnumbered the conquering Hungarians.
It would be far from the truth to imagine that the Hungarians struck camp and set off on a migration to unknown regions, followed by a crowd of women and children and live-stock, without due preparations. Prince Arpad could not afford to risk the lives and property of his men and their families in an undertaking of which the issue was doubtful. Before they set out, the regions contemplated as their future home were reconnoitred and the mountain passes located in detail. Only then did Arpad elaborate lines of march. The Hungarians did not penetrate en masse and from one single direction into the country which henceforth was to be theirs. The advance took place along several routes and at intervals determined by the Prince. In this way not only were they successful in keeping the Bulgars and Petcheneggs in ignorance of their migration, but they also managed to gain a footing in different parts of the country simultaneously, thereby separating the native tribes and weakening their resistance.
Events proved that Arpad’s plan was a very practical one. The breaking up of the Hungarian camps in Etelköz took place without the Bulgars or Petchenegs being aware of what was happening. The Hungarians had long crossed the Carpathians before the news of their evacuation of Etelköz spread among the surrounding, peoples. It may well be imagined what a trial of endurance it was for a people hitherto accustomed only to the plains to cross the trackless ridges of the Carpathians! What unknown dangers had to be faced in penetrating the pathless forests of the mountain-chain and forcing a way through them with their women, children and cattle, followed by carts conveying their household goods and chattels! How arduous to ford foaming torrents and wade through the marshy fens. Even a thousand years after the migration of the Hungarians the traveller from Munkács to Verecke is obliged to ford the Latorca and its tributaries forty times. And the Hungarians were forced to carry arms and occasionally to fight the inhabitants of the regions through which they passed. A marvel, indeed, that, few in number as they were, they managed to reach the Alfold (Lowlands) at all.
Today we cannot state with any accuracy their line of march, but it seems fairly certain that they approached the banks of the Tisza and Danube by different routes. A number probably entered by the passes of the SouthEastern Carpathians, or followed the course of the Lower Danube, perhaps of the Aluta or the Zsil while another body made use of the Verecke Pass, as we are told by ancient chroniclers. Be that as it may, it is undoubtedly true that as early as 898 A. D. Hungarians were in possession of the territory lying between the Drave and the Save, and had ventured as far down as the north of Italy. In the following year these Hungarians occupied the region then known as Pannonia, now Trans-Danubian Hungary, a district stretching eastward and southward of Lake Balaton. Another body of Hungarians appeared in the latter half of the year 900 in the northern parts of Trans-Danubia or Pannonia and defeating the former masters of the country, the Franks, pushed on till they reached the borders of present-day Austria. They went even farther, penetrating into Bavaria. We read that the decisive victory over the Franks was won at Bánhida. An enormous “turul” (a legendary eagle figuring in Hungarian heraldry) set on an eminence near the railway station at the place, commemorates the victory.
Firmly established in Pannonia, the Hungarians set about the completion of their task. The Empire of Moravia on the left bank of the Danube, though greatly depleted by the repeated onslaughts and depredations of the Bavarians, was still powerful enough to hold down a considerable part of the Hungarian forces, in case the Petchenegs or Bulgars should attack. This probably induced Prince Arpad to make war in A. D. 902 on a Moravian Empire disintegrated by domestic troubles and party strife. He contrived to seize the territories east of the Morva and Lesser Carpathians. So the Hungarians obtained dominion over a well-watered country, particularly suitable for agriculture and cattle-breeding, and well-protected on all sides by the natural defences of the Danube, Drave, and the ring of the Carpathians.
The leader in this long struggle, the memory of which lives in Hungarian legends, was Prince Arpad. In council with the chieftains of the tribes it was he who decided the strategy to be adopted and directed the course of what fighting there was. It was he who treated with the enemy and who, when the great work of settling in the new home had been accomplished (about 902 A. D.), set about organizing public life. Tradition tells us that this was done along lines laid down by Arpad at the National Assembly held at Pusztaszer. His election as supreme ruler justified the opinion expressed by the Greek merchants that he was “a man wise in mind and in council, eminently valiant and qualified for government.” When he died in A. D. 907 he was sincerely mourned by a strong, united, and well-organized nation. According to historians of a later period he was “buried with honour above the source of a little brook, the rocky bed of which runs through King Attila’s city.” Many believe this to have been the present Ó-Buda (Old Buda). A church was erected by a later generation on the spot where his body was laid to rest, but like many other relics of the Hungarian Middle Ages it fell into decay in course of time, and today, we can, at most merely surmise where lie the remains of Arpad, the first Hungarian Prince.
ST. STEPHEN. 997—1038.
Migration through unknown and hostile territories had transformed the Hungarian tribes into a nation of rough but well-disciplined warriors. The nomadic Hungarians had always been forced to be in readiness to beat off surprise attacks. Everything was at stake. One overwhelming defeat and their wives and children would have been carried off as slaves, and their only assets, large flocks of cattle, would have passed into the enemy’s hands. But in the new country they were in no such danger. On three sides, north, east, and south, they were protected by wellnigh impassable mountains, gigantic forests and broad rivers. Moreover their first encounters with their neighbours to the west had been successful enough to make them feel secure in that direction. These first conflicts with western armies brought the reassuring conviction that they were immensely superior as fighters, not only to the Moravians and Bohemians, but also to the Italians and Germans. To this feeling of superiority may be ascribed the fact that for a time the Hungarians contemplated settling permanently in Upper Italy, and continued to hold a large part of what was later to be known as Lower Austria. Even a hundred years later Vienna and its environs were a Hungarian province.
In what, one may ask, did the military superiority of the Hungarians display itself? Were they merely more numerous or more formidable in the use of weapons? We have already remarked that the number of Hungarian settlers was less than the population of Oxford and Cambridge, which proves, that numerical odds were not on their side. This military superiority, then, was solely due to their valour, endurance and method of warfare. As lightly-armed horsemen, they had the advantage of being swift and mobile. Nor were they clad in mail from head to foot like the western armies and carried no unwieldy weapons, but light slightly curved swords, and arrows that could also be used as daggers. Their bodies and horses were protected by tough but resilient leather, and they used leather shields which protected them without overtaxing man or beast, or hampering their speed in attack. Thus they were able to cover enormous distances on horseback and swoop on the enemy when least expected. Foresight and prudence characterized their tactics, not only during the period of migration through unexplored territories, but also when face to face with their foes. No attacks were made on the spur of the moment, but only when the position and strategy of the enemy had been reconnoitred. They either avoided engagements with superior forces or lured them on by feinting retreat. This was one of their favourite stratagems. The main body of the army followed the line of the sham retreat until their pursuers were exhausted, and then turning on them fiercely with showers of arrows, attacked with fierce battle-cries. This usually threw the enemy into confusion and put them to flight before they could offer any serious resistance. It was a long time before the western armies became accustomed to these methods of warfare. Meanwhile they were powerless to defend themselves, and their territory lay exposed to the Hungarian raids. Greatly tempted by the prospect of easy victories and rich booty, the Hungarians continued to ravage the western countries year after year, indeed sometimes more than once a year. Fired by the irresistible urge of an adventurous spirit, the bold and hardy tribes swept through Germany, Switzerland, France and Italy, some of them venturing even as far as Spain. Though occasionally suffering a set-back, they usually returned without heavy losses. Only a bold and fearless people could have ventured on these expeditions.
The story of one of these raids has been preserved in a graphic description written by a German monk, who recorded events of which he had been the eyewitness.
In the mountainous eastern part of Switzerland, near the Austrian frontier, there stood, and still stands, a town called St. Gallen. At the time of the Hungarian conquest it was the seat of a monastery. The friars held close intercourse with the people of the neighbourhood, whom they taught various useful crafts. One day news was brought to them that the Hungarians had made their appearance in the vicinity, and would probably advance on St Gallen. The pious monks, knowing that the walls of their monastery could not withstand the onslaught of an army, prepared to make their escape. They transported the more valuable of their belongings to a neighbouring stronghold, and when the Hungarians arrived, took refuge there themselves. The Hungarians found the monastery deserted save for a single monk, who—as he himself states —could not follow his brethren, because the prior had forgotten to supply him with shoes. Heribald, as he was called, awaited the Hungarians without fear. When, to their surprise, he was discovered, they tried with the help of an interpreter to find out what he was waiting for and why he had not attempted to escape. Heribald gave the reason mentioned above. The Hungarians laughed heartily at his story and did him no harm. The friar was soon quite at home among them, and the soldiery began to question him about the valuables belonging to the monastery. Heribald was quite willing to show them the door of the treasury, which they immediately broke open. It was empty except for some candlesticks, gilded candelabras, and a few other objects not worth carrying away. Enraged and disappointed the soldiers at first threatened to flog Heribald but finally let him go and continued their search. Two casks of wine were discovered in a cellar. Having plenty of wine of their own, a Hungarian soldier began to knock away the hoops of one of the casks with his battle axe, to let the wine flow. “Spare the wine, my good fellow” pleaded Heribald, “What are we to drink when you are gone?” The soldier, sympathising with Heribald’s anxiety, desisted and told his companions to leave the casks alone. When sentries had been posted, the soldiers sat down in the courtyard of the monastery and began to make merry. Heribald took part in the revelry, declaring afterwards that he had never partaken of such good meats and wine. After the feast the soldiers took to shouting and singing, and forced Heribald and another monk who had been taken prisoner elsewhere to sing also. Dancing, wrestling, and jousting followed, to show the captains their prowess. But suddenly the sound of horns announcing the approach of an enemy interrupted their revelry. In a twinkling the soldiers had seized their arms, and were ready to meet the foe.
This took place in 926 A. D.
It is no biassed Hungarian chronicler to whom we owe this glimpse into the character of the Hungarian troops. The incident was preserved from oblivion by a German monk, and surely a German cannot be accused of falsifying the truth, in order to present the Hungarians in a favourable light. The record left by Heribald is very important evidence that the Hungarians at that period were not the cruel savages the Germans made them out to be, but a humane, jovial, fighting nation, fond of laughter and song, eager to take part in contests of skill and endurance. A nation, moreover, united by the bonds of discipline. Cruelty has never been a Hungarian trait. Even prisoners were treated with chivalry, since it was considered cowardly to torment or ill-treat defenceless foes.
As a result of these raids into foreign countries the name of our ancestors came to be dreaded by their neighbours, but in the long run the ranks of the Hungarians were being steadily reduced by these campaigns. Although few enough at first, further losses would have placed them at the mercy of a joint attack by neighbouring races. The peoples to the west, chiefly the Germans, were growing used to the military tactics of the Hungarians and were even themselves beginning to adopt them. As a result, the raiding Hungarians were so crushingly defeated on two occasions (933 A. D. and 955 A. D.) by the Germans that they ceased to raid the western countries and began to harass the Greek Empire. For some time no effective resistance was encountered, and more than once they overthrew the Greek army at the very gates of Constantinople, in full view of the inhabitants. Legend has it that one of the Hungarian chieftains, Botond by name, fought in single combat with a Greek warrior beneath the walls of the city and ran him through with his sword. But the Greeks gradually learned how to repulse these attacks, and in course of time the Hungarians were driven back.
After the death of Arpad two generations passed away in this manner. This period taught the Hungarians important lessons. Constant losses were sapping their strength, and their prestige was sinking year by year, owing to the victories of their western and southern neighbours. There was every reason to expect a united attack, for the surrounding Christian nations regarded the pagan Hungarians in their midst with the same hatred which centuries later was felt by the Christian Hungarians for the Moslem Turks when the latter conquered a great part of Hungary. It was Géza (972 to 997 A. D.), one of Arpad’s successors, who first realized that the position of the Hungarians in Europe had completely changed, and that nothing short of disaster could result from the dissipation of their strength in skirmishes calculated to irritate their neighbours in the east and south. He saw the necessity of coming to terms with the adjacent peoples, and also that the reconciliation must be lasting and genuine, even if it entailed sacrifices. In order to ensure the future of his country, he went so far in his efforts to prove that the Hungarians were peaceably disposed as to welcome Christian missionaries into the land.
The German Emperor, to whose court Prince Géza despatched envoys suing for peace, received his advances gladly. It was gratifying for him to learn that the formidable race which had been a constant menace and source of irritation to Germany, was now making overtures for peace. Friendship voluntarily offered would certainly be a better guarantee of amicable relations than a peace wrested by force of arms, or gained by the wiles of diplomacy. The peace thus established between Hungary and Germany was indeed of great benefit to both countries, each monarch being henceforth free to restore and maintain order independently in his respective country. No longer was it necessary to deal with malcontents and deserters on the frontiers, who in the past had always been assured of a warm welcome and assistance on the other side. Prince Géza issued decrees strictly forbidding his people, once and for all, to make raids on other countries, and welcomed foreign missionaries to his own. These decrees were strongly opposed by the whole nation. The first to murmur were the chieftains of the tribes, who during the reign of weak princes incapable of mastering them, had become wellnigh independent rulers. Then the priests of those pagan mysteries, who were jealous of the Christian faith in which they foresaw the decline of time-honoured rites and ceremonies and of their own power, strongly opposed Géza’s innovations. The Prince himself was in a difficult position. At the bottom of his heart he was true to the ancient faith and favoured the pagan rite of sacrificing a white horse to the national god of the Hungarians. He believed in good and evil spirits, in witches and gnomes, and hoped to be still a prince in the next world, where the enemies he had slain would be his henchmen. On the other hand, he was fully alive to the fact that peace between Hungary and the western nations was impossible unless he put a stop to raids and adopted Christianity. Convinced that peace and tranquility were indispensable to the Hungarians in their weakened condition, hard and ruthless measures were needed to enforce his will, cruel battles had to be fought against his own flesh and blood before he could overcome their resistance. His rule, lasting a quarter of a century, was one of constant strife and unceasing struggle against the chieftains and pagan priests. Later, in order to set an example, he embraced Christianity himself, but continued, nevertheless, to perform the ancient rites. He had his son Vajk baptized when still a child. Vajk received in baptism the name of Stephen, and was brought up in the Christian faith. By the time Prince Géza died (997 A. D.) opposition against the new order had more or less subsided. The neighbouring states were on a friendly footing with Hungary, and this was strengthened when one of Gaza’s daughters married the Doge of Venice and Stephen took Gizella of Bavaria to wife. The important results of Géza’s policy entitle us to consider him one of our wisest and greatest princes.
When young Stephen succeeded to the heritage of his forefathers it seemed as if his reign was to be an untroubled one. The chieftains who had opposed his father came to render homage, and even the followers of the ancient faith were loath to make trouble for the new sovereign. Stephen was justified in hoping to be able to conclude the work initiated by his father. He had received a Christian education and was a confirmed Christian, not merely a nominal one like his father, who had accepted Christianity from motives of policy, and propagated it without believing in it. Prince Stephen was determined that his people should not be half-Christian, half-pagan. He wished to make Christianity the established state religion and to imbue every Hungarian with a firm belief therein. Well he knew the magnitude of the task, but hoped to succeed by a process of patient enlightenment. He himself set a good example. Whenever opportunity arose or necessity made it advisable, he was ready to teach, expound, and preach. By means of viva voce instruction he strove to induce the nation to give up its old religion and accept the new faith, of which he was an enthusiastic apostle. He had churches built and provided them with books and vestments. The Hungarian coronation robe dates from that period, and tradition says that Princess Gizella embroidered it with her own hands for the church at Veszprém, then the capital of the country. The Prince was aided in his work of converting his subjects by the Benedictine monks in Pannonhalma. This religious order built monasteries in different parts of the country, and the Benedictine friars not only devoted themselves to the propagation of the Christian faith, but also assembled the youth of the surrounding districts in their schools and taught them reading and writing. Adults received instruction in handicrafts and home industries and were taught the art of husbandry by the monks on their farms near the monasteries. Thus the monks were successful in dispelling the native distrust of the Hungarians, and Christianity soon began to spread.
Every innovation has its enemies, and the new faith was no exception. It was strongly opposed by those who looked upon the decline of the old cult as a national disaster. They were not to be moved by the Prince’s example and refused to listen to the teaching of the priests. Stephen therefore decided to enforce obedience by legislative measures. He made a law by which every ten villages were to have at least one church, and forbade manual work on Sunday, the Lord’s Day, which was to be observed by attending Divine Service. In order to enforce his new laws he divided the country into dioceses under the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Esztergom. The bishops were ordered to undertake the spiritual guidance of the Hungarians in their respective dioceses, to discover their needs and provide for them.
By reason of their culture and erudition they became the Prince’s official advisers in matters both temporal and spiritual. But the anomalous fact remained that not only the bishops but also the parish priests and the many missionaries throughout the country were without exception foreigners. None of them spoke the Hungarian language, and being able to speak with Hungarians only through interpreters they could not bring home to them the essentials of their teachings. A change had also come over the Court of the Prince. Foreign speech and foreign customs had been introduced, partly to please the Princess, who was German, partly because the Court attracted many foreign knights and priests who were warmly welcomed by Stephen for the sake of the assistance he expected from them in his great work. But the more foreign the Court became, the more seldom did those chieftains and other Hungarians of high rank who were open or secret adherents of the religion of their forebears appear in the entourage of the Prince, until at last they disappeared altogether.
Stephen himself noticed that the number of those who were abandoning the new religion and the new order and returning to the old was on the increase. He was aware that the opposition which had died down during the last years of his father’s reign was reviving, and that agitation assumed menacing proportions. Determined though he was to stifle in embrio any revolutionary movement, he waited patiently in the hope of being able to avoid internecine war. Furthermore, his attention and activities were engaged in an endeavour to raise his principality to the level of the other Christian states in Europe by founding a monarchy, which besides reinforcing Hungary’s international position would have made him overlord of the chieftains. The latter continued to withhold their recognition of his suzerainty, and treated him merely as the chief of the “Magyar” tribe, which had been fortunate enough to gain ascendancy over the rest and become the greatest power in the nation. Pope Sylvester II readily complied with his request for a royal crown in recognition of his services in propagating Christianity, and Stephen had himself crowned King of Hungary at Esztergom, the capital of the country, on 15th August 1001.
The elevation of Hungary to the status of a Christian kingdom placed the country on an equal footing with other European states, conferring the same dignity and authority upon her anointed and crowned monarch as the crowned rulers of Christian Europe enjoyed. Stephen’s coronation raised him above his chieftains. He styled himself “King by the Grace of God,” to emphasize that fact that his royal power was independent of the will of any of his chieftains or his subjects. There remained, however, the question as to whether the enemies of the new order would acquiesce in his promotion to royalty, or attempt to restore the ancient order. The national party, with leanings towards paganism and led by Koppany, the chief of County Somogy, resolved to dethrone the King. A bitter struggle ensued between the King and Koppany, which though it ended in victory for Stephen, did not break the spirit of the opposition. Some years later the King was forced to make war on the Transylvanian army commanded by Gyula and it was only after a fierce struggle that he succeeded in strengthening the bond of union with an almost independent Transylvania and ensuring the authority of royal power there.
Having thus established peace, King Stephen took advantage of the following years to introduce great reforms. His ambition was to create a state between the Danube and the Tisza, the internal peace of which would be safeguarded by wise laws and its borders defended by a well-trained army. He it certainly was who founded the Kingdom of Hungary which to quote a national bard, “depleted but unbroken” has weathered centuries of storm and stress.
The most important of Stephen’s laws in its far-reaching results was that which made it possible for private individuals to own land. Hitherto private landowners had been unknown. The soil had been the joint property of the tribes, held in tenure by the various clans, and its cultivation was a common task. This joint ownership was abolished by Stephen. He seized the land held by the rebellious tribes and dans, and either converted it into Crown property or divided it among his loyal subjects. Indeed, he went farther and even distributed the land held by the loyal tribes, so that each of his subjects might till his own soil, as was the general custom in the western countries of Europe.
With a view to ensuring a better administration of the enormous Crown lands, he divided them into counties, over which he appointed Voivodes, responsible in time of peace for the management of the revenues and to be commanders of the troops levied in the counties in time of war. Crown revenues and the army were the two pillars upon which the might of royalty rested. The King had unrestricted command ever both and could at any time draw freely upon them for support against his enemies. His person embodied supreme authority at home and was the symbol of Hungarian unity abroad. Stephen’s reign lasted four decades. In his last years the aging monarch was beset by calamities. His only son, Prince Emericus, a young man of great promise, carefully educated by St. Gerhard, Bishop of Csanád, lost his life while hunting. This aroused the question of the succession. Opinion was divided. Parties and movements sprung up, each advocating a different heir to the throne, their choice depending upon the interests of the party or clique in question, and not upon what was likely to promote the welfare of the country. That disintegration had set in even at the Court is best proved by the fact that a conspiracy was hatched to murder the old King, who escaped a violent death by mere accident. Here it may be of interest to mention that Edmund Ironside’s two orphans found a home at the Court of St. Stephen. The boys had been sent to Sweden by King Canute with instructions to kill them, but the King of Sweden shrank from the thought of murdering the innocent children and despatched them to Hungary. The elder of the Princes died in his youth; the other, Edward, stayed in Hungary till 1057, when he was recalled by Edward the Confessor to succeed him on the English throne. He thereupon left Hungary accompanied by his wife Agatha, daughter of St. Stephen, and their three children, Margaret, Christina and Edgar. Later Margaret married Malcolm II of Scotland. Ethelred, Abbot of Rievaulx, who was an intimate friend of her son, David of Scotland, asserts that St. Margaret of Scotland was the descendant of “English and Hungarian kings.” Edward and Agatha were followed to England by a number of Hungarian nobles, who afterwards settled in Scotland. There are still some families among the Scottish nobility—e.g. the Drummonds and Leslies—which trace their descent from the Hungarian nobles in Edward’s train.
King Stephen died on 15th August 1038, committing his realm to the care of the Virgin Mary, the Patroness of Hungary. Half a century after his death both he and his son Emericus were canonized. St. Stephen’s day — 20th August — is observed as a national holiday, when thousands of pilgrims flock to Budapest to obtain a view of the Saint’s right hand, which is carried in procession through the streets to remind people of their duty to God and the fatherland.
ST. LADISLAS. 1077—1095
It was probably during the reign of Stephen that Poland, a flourishing country only recently created, was attacked by an uncivilized Slav people known as the Pomeranians. Miecislas, King of Poland, set out against them with a large army which when it came within striking distance, drew up in battle array. It was not without a certain measure of anxiety that the King of Poland resolved to engage in a decisive battle. The forces opposing him were greatly superior to his own army, and he knew that were Poland to suffer defeat she would be laid waste. The two armies were facing each other, waiting the bugle calls to attack when suddenly the leader of the Pomeranians rode up to the Polish ranks and offered to settle the issue of the day in single combat. Instead of the troops fighting, he proposed that their leaders, or a swordsman from either side, should fight a duel in the presence of the two armies, the result of which would decide the day. The King of Poland, though surprised, found it convenient to accept the Pomeranian’s offer. In spite of his advanced age and physical infirmity King Miecislas was still able to wield a sword, but he dared not risk his country’s future by accepting the challenge himself and called upon his knights. Profound silence greeted his appeal, and it began to look as if the Pomeranians would win the day without striking a single blow, when an unknown knight, sword in hand, came forward and offered to take up the challenge. In the ensuing combat the unknown knight unseated the Pomeranian in full view of both armies, and the Pomeranians then did homage to the King of Poland.
The unknown knight who saved Poland from disaster was none other than the Hungarian Prince Béla. King Miecislas adopted him and gave him his daughter Richesa in marriage.
Now it may be asked how came it that Prince Béla was living incognito in Poland?
Bela and his brothers, Andrew and Levente, had been forced to flee from Hungary. King Stephen himself advised them to do so when in old age he felt too feeble and infirm to protect them against the intrigues and plots afoot in Court. In the immediate entourage of the aged King, whose days were already numbered, different parties and factions—as has been said—had arisen round the persons of the various aspirants to the throne, and these were determined to do away with any serious rivals to their favourites. As we know, one of the parties even went so far as to attempt the King’s life. After this Stephen was not willing to incur the responsibility of safeguarding the lives of his nearest relatives, and urged the three surviving Princes of the House of Arpad to take refuge abroad as quickly as possible. Andrew, Bela and Levente then scattered in the surrounding countries.
The misgivings entertained by King Stephen during the last years of his life found their justification after his death. His nephew Peter succeeded him. Peter was an Italian, and he discriminated in favour of his own countrymen, appointing them to posts of honour in preference to the Hungarians. When the latter began to turn against him he sought the assistance of the Germans, preferring to sacrifice the independence of his country if he could thereby stabilize his tottering throne. The Hungarians, to whom independence was everything, were naturally enraged by this line of action. The Princes of the House of Arpad were in exile, so Samuel Aba, King Stephen’s brother-in-law, rose with a considerable army against Peter and drove him from the country. Samuel Aba was elected King, but was not able to defend his throne against the Germans, with whose assistance Peter recaptured it. Instead, however, of profiting by experience and trying to appease the nation, Peter took an oath of allegiance to the German Emperor and imposed German sovereignty on Hungary. At this betrayal of the country’s independence the nation again rose against King Peter and deposed him.
This took place within ten years of St Stephen’s death. It was but natural that the Hungarians felt embittered upon seeing a king foreign in sentiment and spirit surrendering their country’s independence to the Germans and discriminating against themselves in favour of foreigners. It was not to be wondered at if after the humiliation of seeing the Germans masters of a country from which they had hitherto been kept away, the Hungarians began to believe and proclaim that the cause of the country’s downfall was the introduction of a foreign tongue and foreign customs and the denial of the ancient faith. A violent hatred of foreigners arose, and in their fury the masses turned on the strangers and Christian priests, in whom they saw the enemies of the old religion. It almost seemed as if King Stephen’s work was to be undone by a national revolt. But Prince Andrew, who had been recalled from Russia, arrived in time to crush the rebellion and save the cause of Christianity. The re-establishment of internal order and peace was all the more essential since a German invasion was dreaded. It was obvious that the German Emperor, having once acquired possession of Hungary so easily, would not surrender his claim voluntarily. On the contrary, should the Hungarians resist, he was most likely to attempt the subjugation of the country. Andrew was no great fighter, and in order to protect himself against the threatened German attack he appealed to his younger and more soldierly brother, Bela, who with his wife and three sons, Geza, Ladislas and Lambert, was still living in Poland. King Andrew’s envoys went to him and begged him to hasten home and defend Hungary against the pending German onslaught. King Andrew sent solemn promises to make Béla his heir, and for the time being made him independent ruler over a third part of the kingdom.
Béla, who in his heart yearned for his fatherland, accepted the proposal and returned with his family to the home of his ancestors. And in the nick of time. For the German attack followed almost immediately. Advancing with a great army towards the Hungarian frontier, they crossed it and moved forward without encountering resistance on Székesfehérvér and Esztergom. Nothing barred their way, for Prince Béla had given orders that no resistance was to be offered, and the population, who were then still living mostly in tents, were told to move with all haste to outlying districts. The enemy forces thus found a deserted country. Expecting to subsist on pillage, they were but ill-provided with food and very soon found themselves in such dire distress that the attacks of Prince Béla’s horsemen in their rear ultimately broke their spirit and they finally decided to flee the country. The second German invasion in the following year also met with no success, and these two failures put an end to any further desire on the part of the Germans to tempt their luck in Hungary again.
It was hoped that after these many trials a period of peace and security would follow. A vast battlefield soaked with Hungarian blood for many years, the country was in urgent need of tranquility. But this was not to be. With the return of peace, Andrew conveniently forgot the promise he had given that on his death Béla was to inherit the crown, and took steps to secure the throne to his own son Salamon. But instead of trying to come to a peaceful agreement with his younger brother, he listened to evil advisers and conspired against Béla’s life when the latter put up a fight for his rights. Once again the country was ravaged by fraternal warfare, which ended in Béla’s victory, and after Andrew’s death he was elected king.
His two sons had taken part at their father’s side in the battles against the Germans which had insured the independence of the country. Ladislas in particular excelled both in personal valour and as a leader and it was not surprising that he became the object of the nation’s wholehearted affection and admiration. Gigantic in stature, towering head and shoulders above his fellows, he was held by all to be the ideal Hungarian knight eager and willing to risk his life when the security of the country, the welfare of his Hungarian brethren, or the triumph of a just cause were at stake. Legends multiplied concerning him. Little more than a child when he returned from Poland, his very first appearance gave evidence of his personal daring. A festival was being held at Székesfehérvár in honour of Béla’s and his sons’ return, at which tournaments were held. Suddenly a fiery stallion, whence no one knew, charged into the ranks of the competitors, who scattered in panic. Horror-struck they saw the stallion galloping towards Prince Ladislas, who, however, remained where he stood calmly awaiting the charge of the maddened beast, and seizing him, swung him on his back, and very soon had him completely in hand. This horse, which Ladislas named “Szög,” became his favourite charger. Ladislas had taken an active part in his father’s battles against the Germans. When Béla succeeded to the throne he appointed Ladislas chief captain of his forces. It was Ladislas who suppressed the second and last rising of the pagan Hungarians in the neighbourhood of Székesfehérvár and thus insured the peaceful and normal development of the country. After his revered father’s death (A. D. 1063) the nation’s affection and gratitude would undoubtedly have placed Ladislas on the throne, but he and his brothers declared their willingness to resign the crown in favour of Andrew’s son Salamon, if the latter guaranteed them the possession of the Transylvanian regions. Salamon readily accepted this generous and unexpected offer, and the people acquiesced in an arrangement which promised order and peace. The horrors of fraternal strife were passing away but great was the danger threatening from the Petchenegs, who at this time were living in Etelköz on the borders of Transylvania, whence they systematically began to harass Hungary through Transylvania. In A.D. 1070 great Petchenegs forces swept through the districts beyond the Tisza, and laden with booty they made hastily for the frontier to return to their own country. King Salamon and the Princes gave chase and near Cserhalom, not far from the Transylvanian frontier, they came up with the marauders. The Petchenegs retired to the ridges of the mountain ranges, and there, drawn up in battle array, awaited the onslaught of the Hungarians up the mountain slopes. The Hungarians, overcoming every obstacle, annihilated the enemy in a fierce hand-to-hand fight, rescued the prisoners, and recaptured the booty. Prince Ladislas, pushing upwards with his troops over the mountain slopes, came upon their leader making for the frontier with a Hungarian girl in the saddle before him. Ladislas outrode the Petchenegs, killed him in single combat and rescued the girl.
The ardour of the Petchenegs however, was not damped by this defeat and their invasion did not cease for some time to come. After the battle of Cserhalom we find them again raiding the south of Hungary. On his way home Prince Ladislas came up with them on the banks of the river Temes. Both forces were already drawn up for battle when the leader of the Petchenegs proposed—like the Pomerians captain before him— that the issue of the day should be decided in single combat. Ladislas accepted the challenge. In the ensuing duel the leader of the Petchenegs was slain, and the Petcheneg forces surrendered.
The Petchenegs had been supported by the Greeks in Belgrade, called by the Hungarians Nándorféhérvár. This fort was the key to the stretches of the Lower Danube. To be master of it was to command those regions. Salamon and the Princes resolved to conquer this important strategical point. But it was well-fortified, and the siege was a prolonged one. The Greeks fought valiantly, and it almost seemed as if the attempt to take the fortress would have to be abandoned, when one stormy night a Hungarian girl, a prisoner, set the city on fire, and in the confusion the Hungarians carried the stronghold by storm. The Greek guard withdrew into the terre-plein but seeing the uselessness of resistance opened the gates and admitted the besieging army.
Thanks to these exploits Ladislas became exceedingly popular. But the young King Salamon, who longed to be admired and feared, began to grow jealous of his kinsman. Bards and minstrels throughout the country were singing the praises of Bela and his sons, especially Ladislas’ heroic deeds, his generosity and chivalry. Legends bore the news to far-off places that Ladislas was the appointed of the Lord, the helper of the poor, of the widows and orphans, and an intrepid champion of justice. Nobody spoke about the King. His nimbus paled in comparison with that of Ladislas and his brothers. Gradually the King was possessed by envy and hate. Unscrupulous counsellors fanned the flame of these ignoble passions, until he was neither able nor anxious to hide them. From some members of the royal household the Princes learned that their lives were in danger. They decided to settle the issue by a call to arms and the bloody battle of Mogyoród ended in Salamon’s defeat. The unfortunate King fled to Germany to seek the aid of his son-in-law in an attempt to regain his crown (1074).
The result of the battle of Mogyoród was hailed by all classes in Hungary as an act of Providence. To a man the whole nation embraced the Princes’ cause, which was regarded as the cause of the nation itself, the more so as it was obvious that a fresh German attack was imminent. Béla’s eldest son, Géza, was elected king. Under his command the German attack was broken and the independence of the kingdom saved. After a few years’ reign Géza was called to his fathers (1077) when national feeling was wholeheartedly on the side of Ladislas.
Scarcely ever has there been a king in history upon whose reign such widespread hopes were set as upon that of Ladislas. And perhaps there has never been another Hungarian king whose rule—a comparatively short one of 21 years (1077—1095) —left such monuments behind it as his. Civil wars and the campaigns against Germany had not failed to leave their mark upon the national spirit. After all, even the exiled Salamon had some personal followers, who though outwardly loyal to Géza and Ladislas, would have been ready at any moment to support an attempt to depose the brothers. Then again the German attacks had agitated afresh those of the population who regarded the Christian faith as the root of every evil that had befallen the nation in that it favoured and facilitated foreign influence. This party was convinced that a return to the faith of their forebears was the only effective safeguard of national independence. King Ladislas did not fail to consider these elements, which at any moment might disturb the peace of his reign. He was anxious to solve these difficulties once and for all. This explains the fact that from the moment of his accession he tried to come to an agreement with the unfortunate Salamon, who indeed accepted his proposals. The agreement arrived at did not restore the crown to Salamon, but assured him an eminent, privileged position in public life. By this move, which proved that his aims were just and his intentions peaceful and free from any mental reservations, Ladislas won over those still loyal to Salamon. When that unstable spirit again began to intrigue against the King the latter’s newly gained partisans refused to support him in his plot to murder Ladislas. The King was obliged to imprison Salamon and not a single word was raised in his favour, for all were convinced that right and justice were on the King’s side. It was a far more difficult task to persuade those attached to the ancient faith that they were mistaken in assuming that the Christian religion was the chief source of all the trials and humiliations that had overtaken the country. The lessons of the two previous pagan risings, so cruelly crushed, made Ladislas see clearly the impossibility of changing the creed of the nation by political measures, or even by force of arms. His conviction grew that no permanent results were to be expected in this province except by way of conversion and with the aid of an inspiring personal example. He determined to supply that example himself, and to prove by deeds as well as words that to be both a Christian and a Hungarian was not a contradiction in terms, and that a man might be a faithful Christian without having to sacrifice his national feelings. When in the first years of his reign a bitter conflict arose between the Pope and the German Emperor over questions of political power, he sided with neither in order to be free to cast his vote as his heart dictated. When called upon to give his decision, he never lost sight of the interests of his own people even when this sometimes meant taking sides against the Pope and sometimes against the German Emperor. That Christianity ultimately became the national religion in Hungary was his work. It was thanks to the personal example set by the King that it became more and more firmly rooted in the country. When towards the end of his reign he published a new code of laws to meet changed conditions, it was no longer necessary to impose severe punishments on those who still clung to the old faith. Paganism was gradually and imperceptibly vanishing. How advanced Christian civilization in Hungary was in the days of Ladislas may be judged from the fact amongst others that the Anglo-Saxons who after the Battle of Hastings (1066) followed the Earl of Gloucester to Constantinople and from thence — probably years later — to the shores of the Black Sea, where they settled in a region which they named New England, sent to Hungary for bishops and priests to preserve them in the Faith.
Owing to his strict but equitable laws, internal peace and order were being slowly restored. This meant a great increase in strength. It made defence an easier task, and later paved the way to more ambitious ventures. The expeditions undertaken by the King, sometimes in very difficult circumstances, against the Petchenegs, the Cumanians and the Russians, safeguarded the territorial integrity of the country and spread the fame of Hungarian arms throughout Europe. The occupation of Croatia and its union with the Hungarian Kingdom in 1091 testified to the fact that a nation conscious of its own power and ready to exert it had become firmly established in the territories encircled .by the Carpathians. Since the day the Hungarians had settled in those regions the occupation of Croatia was the first territorial expansion, and for a long period subsequently it indicated the course Hungarian foreign policy was to pursue.
At this time Hungary was a country where peace and order prevailed—a land inhabited by a law-abiding, single-minded people governed by a just monarch. The attention of the Christian nations of Europe was directed to King Ladislas and his country, and when a leader was sought for the Crusades, his name became prominent. The Europe of that day was all afire to deliver the Holy Land from the Turk, Armed hosts were awaiting an inspired chief to lead them in a campaign under the sign of the Cross against the infidels. General opinion declared in favour of the King of Hungary, tales of whose valour, strategic skill and sincere Christianity were told in the western countries, and whose leadership would have been accepted by all. But his sudden death on 29th July 1095 prevented one of the greatest expeditions ever recorded in the history of the European nations from setting out under a Hungarian flag.
Within a hundred years of his death the Church canonized King Ladislas. Even during his lifetime many tales and legends were in circulation about him. It was said, for instance, that with God’s help he drew water from a rock to quench the thirst of his troops. That in answer to his prayer on behalf of his hungry army, a herd of stags appeared, and instead of taking flight at the sight of the soldiers, came tamely into the camp. Once when he had routed the Cumanians somewhere in Transylvania, the enemy, in order to save their lives, scattered their looted gold and jewels on the road, hoping cupidity would tempt their pursuers to stop and pick up the treasure and thereby give them time to escape. But the King prayed to God and lo! the gold and jewels were turned into pebbles. About 1093 the black plague was raging in Hungary. Ladislas, at war in Russia, was informed of this peril at the moment of returning home. He began to pray, and in a dream an angel appeared to him and bade him shoot an arrow into the air and search for the spot where it fell. He did so, and found an herb the juice of which was a cure for the plague, which soon afterwards ceased.
In Transylvania, of which he afterwards became the patron saint, Cserhalom, the Gorge of Torda and other innumerable spots are sacred to the memory of his miraculous deeds. Nagyvirad, a bishopric founded by Ladislas, has always been a place of pilgrimage for Hungarians. Some centuries later King Louis the Great went there on a pilgrimage, and kneeling on St. Ladislas’ tomb, vowed that he would endeavour to be a king worthy of his great ancestor. The last legend connected with St. Ladislas dates from the time of this same Louis the Great. In 1345 the Tartars descended on Transylvania. Their invasion was checked by the Siculians, who after three day’s fighting, succeeded in throwing them back. Legend says that on these days St. Ladislas’ body disappeared from the church in Nagyvirad, and when found later in its usual place, to everybody’s amazement the corpse was covered with sweat like the body of a man who had been doing hard work. An old Tartar was heard to declare that he had seen St. Ladislas fighting in the ranks among his beloved Siculian people, and that it was his presence that turned the tide of battle. Modern poets, as well as medieval chroniclers have found inspiration in the legends and tales surrounding the figure of St. Ladislas. The works of John Garay, Michael Vorosmarty, John Arany, Michael Tompa and others show that the reign of St. Ladislas was the most splendid period in the age of Hungarian chivalry. Each tale in the annals of that era has preserved records of Hungarian valour and fame for posterity.
KING COLOMAN. 1095—1116
Ladislas had no male issue. His only daughter, Piroska, married the heir to the Byzantine throne. The crown of St. Stephen would consequently descend to one of his brother Géza’s sons—either Coloman or Álmos. King Ladislas regarded them as the presumptive heirs to the throne. His own reign having been one of incessant struggle against enemies endeavouring to overthrow his kingdom, the qualities he most desired in his successor were courage and valour. For a long time therefore he preferred to think of his younger nephew Álmos, as his immediate successor. älmos was a fighter. He gladly took part in the different campaigns and in soldiering found the zest of life. Later, however, the King noticed certain deficiencies in his character, and turned his attention to the elder of the two brothers, Coloman or Kálmán, who though not lacking in courage, preferred books and learning to the stress of war. This trait earned for him the nick-name of “Konyves Kalman” (Bookish Coloman). Coloman was one of the most outstanding figures among the kings of Hungary in the Middle Ages. His wise laws, far-seeing foreign policy and successful defence of the country’s territorial integrity make his name memorable in the history of Hungary. At the time of his accession to the throne all Europe was humming with preparations for a crusade to liberate the Holy Land. Men flocked to fight under the banner of the Cross, and set out for the East in small and large bodies led by adventurous knights. In many cases no adequate preparations had been made for the campaign, and in order to subsist the crusaders were often guilty of acts of violence in the countries through which they passed. Terrifying rumours were in circulation all over Europe. This decided King Coloman to refuse the crusaders passage through Hungary, and he met them with an army at the frontier. The crusaders, unwilling to change their route, resorted to arms, and the King had a hard struggle to disperse these vagrant bands. But the main body of the crusaders was well disciplined and King Coloman not only allowed it to cross the frontier, but also provided plentifully for its needs (1096). After the march of the crusaders King Coloman was chiefly preoccupied for many years with events in Croatia. Authority in Croatia was invested in Prince Álmos, who received the title of King when Ladislas entrusted him with the administration of this newly acquired province. But Álmos did not know how to manage the Croatians, who in 1097 rose in open revolt against him. After a thorough investigation of local conditions, King Coloman felt obliged to recall his brother. This decision and other just measures finally restored peace. His dealings with the Croatians further matured in his mind the idea of acquiring possession of the Dalmatian sea-board. On the one hand he felt that a Hungary with a free outlet to the sea would be a greater power in Europe, and on the other he was convinced that the relations between Hungary and Croatia would be much stronger if the sea-board to the west of the latter also acknowledged Hungarian supremacy. This plan he carried out. He conquered Dalmatia and all its rich towns surrendered to him. But this new conquest aroused the hostility of the Venetian Republic. The latter was dependent on the Dalmatian forests for timber, and furthermore the establishment of the Hungarians on the coast was a menace to the naval supremacy and commercial interests of Venice. From this time on bitter warfare was waged between Venice and Hungary for the possession of Dalmatia. But apart from adding to the prestige of Hungary as a military power it profited her nothing.
It was not alone in the sphere of foreign policy that King Coloman followed in the footsteps of his great predecessor, but also in his domestic administration. He made every effort to consolidate internal conditions, one of the most important tasks undertaken by the saintly King Ladislas. He framed laws adapting civil and ecclesiastical administration, and taxation to the requirements of the age. On the whole his laws were more lenient than those of St. Ladislas, which, for instance, punished theft with death, and in which ordeals by fire, etc. still played a prominent part. King Coloman made the testimony of witnesses the basis of all evidence. This was a step towards modern ideas, as were the measures which punished murder with greater severity than offences against property. The most momentous of his reforms, however, was the banning of witches’ trials. King Coloman forbade them on the grounds that “witches do not exist.”
In the Middle Ages people believed in two kinds of witches. The one, the striga, was supposed to be a nocturnal, blood-sucking vampire. The rest, sorceresses, were credited with being able with the devil’s aid to bring every misfortune on mankind, from blasting their cattle and making the cows run dry to inflicting diseases upon people and even causing death by philtres, enchantment, and other secret rites. King Coloman’s law applied to the strigae, but not to the sorceresses in whom he still firmly believed, as all men did at that time and for centuries later. The belief in sorceresses led to the trials for witchcraft which were so frequent in Europe, chiefly in France, Germany and Italy, and which brought death in a most cruel form on thousands. These trials were not unknown in Hungary either, and it was only in 1768 that Maria Theresa abolished them for good.
As far as we can judge 169 persons were burnt at the stake for witchcraft in Hungary between 1565 and 1756, a period of nearly two centuries. The number is appalling enough, but nothing compared with the figures for the western countries of Europe. In 1589, for instance, on one single day 133 persons were burnt at Quedlinburg in Germany. At another place 360 persons suffered the same death in seven years (from 1587 to 1593), and a French Judge openly. admitted having sent several thousand sorceresses to the stake.
Hungary could not remain untainted by the influence of ideas prevailing throughout Europe. But in Hungary the persecution of witches never assumed such proportions as in western Europe. Certain it is that King Coloman’s denial of the existence of at least one kind of witch proved him far in advance of his age. If to this we add the other achievements of his reign (1095—1116) we are fully justified in including him among our greatest rulers.
KING BELA III. 1173—1196
At Székesfehérvár in the year 1848 the drains close to the wall surrounding the Episcopal Residence were being mended. On December 5th workmen uncovered some marble slabs, and when these were removed several marble coffins came to light. One of them contained a skeleton and some jewels. Excavations were undertaken by archaeologists, and it was found that the Episcopal Residence and Gardens covered the site of the cathedral erected by St. Stephen and destroyed in 1601 by the Turks. It was known that this church had been the burying place of the Kings of Hungary, and it seemed probable that the marble coffins contained the remains of some of them and possibly of their wives. Further excavations revealed that the workmen had stumbled on the ashes of one of the greatest kings of the Arpadian dynasty, Béla III (1173—1196), and those of his first wife, Queen Anne, who died in 1184. Pure accident led to this discovery, for none of the tombs of the thirty-five kings of Hungary reigning between St. Stephen and the battle of Mohacs (1526) have been discovered by posterity except this one. The rest of the Royal tombs were destroyed by the ravages of war. Now the ashes of Bela III and his Queen rest in the Church of the Virgin in Buda, where they were reverently deposited by the nation in 1897.
During the youth of Béla III Hungary was at war with the Byzantine Empire, which was then awakening to new strength. The Greek Emperor Emmanuel was a son of St. Ladislas’ daughter, Piroska. His ambition was to create a mighty empire including Hungary. King Coloman’s successors (Stephen II, 1116—1131; Béla II or Bela the Blind, 1131—1141; Géza II, 1141—1161) were weaklings. Internecine wars for the crown had depleted the country’s vitality and campaigns waged on foreign countries on the feeblest of pretexts had lowered its prestige. Enfeebled and torn, Hungary was not likely to be able to hold her own against so powerful a sovereign as Emmanuel. The Emperor made serious preparations to invade Hungary with a great army, and for many years skirmishes were the order of the day on the southern frontier. Sometimes the Hungarians were the victors, sometimes the Greeks. There was a period when Emmanuel’s slightest wish was law in Hungary and he was able to set up rival kings to Stephen III (1161—1172) who had been legitimately crowned. Emmanuel did this assuming that his nominees would be willing tools in his hands. Later, however, the Hungarian army repulsed the Greek invaders and forced the Emperor to sue for peace. Much blood was shed on both sides, but Hungary successfully defended her frontiers and checked Emmanuel’s aggressive designs. Hungary’s stubborn resistance brought the Emperor to a peculiar decision. Realizing that he could never bring about Hungary’s union with the Greek Empire by force of arms, he conceived the idea of doing so by means of family ties. In 1163 he invited Stephen Ill’s younger brother, Béla, to the Imperial Court and promised to betroth him to his daughter and make him his successor. He evidently held that a Prince of the House of Arpad wearing the Greek Imperial crown would command such respect among Hungarians that on the throne becoming vacant he would be elected King of Hungary. For several years therefore Béla was treated by the Imperial Court as the heir apparent to the Hungarian crown, and in accordance with the Emperor’s wishes all the powerful within the Empire pledged their faith to him. When, however, Emmanuel’s second wife bore him a son, his fatherly instincts began to assert themselves. The Emperor was still obsessed with the dream of a world-wide empire, but he relinquished the idea of seeing the two crowns united on Béla’s head. Thus it came that he had his newborn son crowned Emperor, and also broke off his daughter’s engagement to Bela, in order to preclude the possibility of the Hungarian Prince eventually aspiring to the Imperial crown which henceforth the Emperor naturally desired to secure to his own son. It was with something like relief, therefore, that Emmanuel received the news of the death of Stephen III and learned that the crown of Hungary had been offered to and accepted by Béla.
The years spent at the Imperial Court did not fail to leave their impression on Bela. It was a world foreign to him, one which at first he did not understand, and in which—so different was it in character from everything Hungarian—he never really felt at home. Nevertheless he was compelled to see that the Greek Empire was well-organized. Administration, finances, the army and diplomacy were a smoothly running machine, the control of which was in the hands of the Emperor. Internal and foreign policy were united and harmonious. The circumstances were in many respects totally different from those in Hungary. The constitution of the Greek Empire, its past history, its religion and its civilization were utterly different, as were all its political aspirations. But it was not to be denied that this foreign world was rich in customs and institutions the introduction and assimilation of which seemed imperative for Hungary, if she was not to be left behind by the great and progressive European nations. On the way home the mind of the Hungarian Prince was occupied with thoughts of reform. He crossed the frontier with the determination to establish in Hungary all the institutions which had proved a success in the Byzantine Empire, and for lack of which, in his opinion, Hungary could not enter upon the path of progress and development.
But at home a great disappointment awaited him. He was not received with that unanimous affection which he desired and the absence of which he had felt so keenly in the entourage of the Emperor.
In the first place his own mother felt coldly towards him, and made no effort to conceal the fact that a son who had passed so many years abroad seemed almost a stranger, and that she would have preferred to see the crown rest on his younger brother, Géza, whom she herself had educated. Béla was also regarded with suspicion by the Church, at the head of which was the austere Archbishop of Esztergom. The cause of this mistrust was a current rumour that Béla and his wife, Anne of Antioch, Emmanuel’s sister-in-law and French by birth, had been converted to the Oriental Orthodox faith. A large section of the nation also awaited Béla without enthusiasm because he came accompanied by Greek forces, and nobody knew whether there was not some pact detrimental to Hungary between him and the Emperor. It was a long time before Bela was able to consider himself master of the situation, and even then mastery had to be purchased at a great price. He broke off relations with his mother, whom he banished to Greece where she spent the rest of her stormy life in a nunnery. He imprisoned his younger brother, Géza, who did not regain his liberty until twelve years had passed. It was no easy matter either to dispel the distrust of the Church. The priests were jealous for the interests of the Catholic religion which Béla, they suspected, had most likely forgotten at the Greek Court or denied at the Emperor’s request when he still hoped for the Imperial crown. They therefore refused to support him until he had furnished further evidence of being a true son of the Catholic Church.
It must be admitted that Bela was always ready to oblige Emmanuel, even to the extent of sending armed assistance in times of need, but he never allowed the Greek Emperor to interfere in the affairs of Hungary, the independence of which he considered his first duty to safeguard. On Emmanuel’s death (i 180) he hastened to re-incorporate Sirmium and Dalmatia in the Hungarian Kingdom. These provinces had been wrested from Hungary by Emmanuel, and their restoration again opened up the way to the sea.
At first Bela contented himself with the task of reestablishing order and authority, but he never lost sight of the reforms on which his heart was set. One of his most important acts was to institute an office called the Royal Chancellory, the function of which was to preserve a record of every matter that came before the King, so that the royal decrees and judgments should not pass into oblivion. Every person who received estates from the Crown or otherwise, and every litigant whose lawsuit had been decided, received a written deed or document of sorts from the Chancellory which enabled him and his heirs to prove and defend their rights. The Royal Chancellory had therefore an important influence on the evolution of civil law and civil rights. Furthermore, it was instrumental in spreading a knowledge of reading and writing; a deed or document being of little value to its owner unless he could read and understand it. The post of an official in the Royal Chancellory—notaries, they were called—was no sinecure. Manifold and diverse were the matters dealt with, and frequently extremely involved. Only experts in legal and judicial affairs—men who were no mean scholars either—could attain that office by royal appointment. One of them was the notary who was known by the Latin appellation of Anonymus, and was the first to write a description of the origin, migrations, settlement and foreign raids of the Hungarians. His monument by Nicolas Ligeti—portraying the scholar lost in thought — adorns the City Park in Budapest.
Béla III was particularly anxious to spread civilization in his country. His conviction was that only a civilized nation could be rich and independent. France was the ideal he desired to imitate. He was also bound to her through family ties after 1186, when he took to wife the sister of Philip Augustus II, King of France. Thanks to this, during his reign and for some years later many hundreds of young Hungarians went to study at the University of Paris which at that time was the centre of European learning. Graduates returning to their own respective countries became the propagators and teachers of advanced western culture. An even more immediate influence on civilization in Hungary was exerted by the Cistercian monks who were brought from France by the King. It is well-known that this Order has always devoted itself with praiseworthy results to teaching and preaching. In Béla’s days they were chiefly occupied with agriculture, and thereby won the confidence of a race engaged almost exclusively in the art of husbandry. The friars, even those among them who were scions of the highest aristocratic families, put their hands to the plough, the spade, and the hoe to show their respect for labour and labourers and to teach the nobles and knights to honour the common people and their tasks. They were warmly welcomed everywhere and soon won the confidence of those among whom they settled. At that time the soil of the country was for the most part a barren waste waiting to be developed for farming, and the people had to learn how to reclaim the swamps and fell primeval forests. The Cistercians did not erect their monasteries in open fertile districts designed by Nature for agriculture, but—in order to develop the virtues of discipline and strengthen the character of the monks—in rough, wooded ormarshy regions. The diligent monks had to fight Nature at every step, and it was only by dint of the hardest toil that they could transform the wastes into arable land and grazing pastures. The fame of their model farms reached people in the remotest districts, who came to learn the art of profitable husbandry, which not only added to their own welfare, but also promoted the economic development of the country.
Evolution in farming naturally led to prosperity in other branches of economy. Within the precincts of the monasteries and in the Sepusian and Transylvanian regions, where the Saxons had settled down during the reign of Béla’s father, Géza II, a remarkable industrial and commercial growth set in, which in the course of time began to attract the attention of other countries. By then the western peoples had acquired some knowledge of Hungary and her inhabitants, especially at the time of the crusades, when the Valley of the Danube was the route for armies on the march to the East. Later Hungary became a link in the chain of international trade, the highways of which led through her territory to the great markets of the East and West. Numerous foreigners began to settle in the cities,—chiefly French, Italian and German tradesmen. They introduced new handicrafts and opened up foreign markets for raw materials. Thanks to the policy inaugurated by Bela III Hungary was on the way to become the most important agricultural country of Central Europe.
The centre of the life of the country was the Royal Court. Adopting the Greek Imperial Court as his model, Béla ruled in magnificent splendour. He could afford to do so with an income in gold that enable him to vie with the richest European sovereigns. His Court, above all after his second marriage, attracted many foreigners, chiefly French, many of whom settled in Hungary and became the ancestors of numerous noble families. To the Royal Court was brought news and knowledge from the remotest parts not only of the Kingdom of Hungary, but of the whole known world. Speedy and reliable information was always to be obtained there about everything that concerned Hungary and rest of the civilized world. The King was greatly interested in the events in the Holy Land. The Royal Court was astounded to learn that the Sultan of Egypt had annihilated the crusaders and taken Jerusalem. It was Béla’s brother-in-law, the King of France, who first informed the King that he had taken up the championship the Cross, and that following his example, the King of England and the German Emperor had likewise decided to recover the Holy Land from the infidels. Their expedition (1189) failed however, and they were unable to retake Jerusalem. But the nations of Europe were not disheartened. On the contrary, it stimulated them to constantly renewed efforts. Then it was that King Béla decided (perhaps encouraged by the Queen who was a zealous supporter of the crusades) to join the next expedition. But while making ready he fell ill, and feeling that he would not recover, he charged his younger son Andrew to go to the Holy Land and in his place fulfil his vow under pain of a father’s curse. Bela died on 23rd April, 1196, comforted by the knowledge that he had raised his kingdom from ignominy and isolation to a wealthy, a powerful state that made its ruler the equal of the German Emperor, the head of Western Christianity.
KING BELA IV. 1335—1370
The Hungarians had now been living some centuries in the basin of the Carpathians, but the tales of their first home never faded in the thoughts of the succeeding generations. Merchants and pilgrims told of Magyars living somewhere in the far East who were masters of a great independent country. No exact information, however, was forthcoming, but what was known was enough to fire the imagination of the Magyars in Hungary. Finally, about the year 1235, two Dominican friars, Julian and Bernard, decided to find the ancient home of the nation and bring back authentic news instead of tales and legend, and, if possible, establish direct communication between the two bodies of Magyars, or as they are called in English, Hungarians.
Their journey was beset by hardships. Brother Bernard died of privation on the way. But Julian continued with unflagging zeal towards the East, following up all the clues he found on his way. His perseverance was eventually rewarded, for he found the ancient land of the Hungarians where he was received with the greatest kindness. The inhabitants were able to understand his speech and listened with sympathetic ears when he told of the dangers and hardships endured by their kin who had migrated westward centuries earlier, but whose memory still lived dimly in the old country. He was happy to be able to verify the reports of a far-off ancestral home and was proud to be the first to obtain authentic information about his people’s brave and wealthy kinsmen in the Far East. He lived to arrive safely in the Valley of the Danube, and report all he had seen and heard. It was from him that our ancestors first learned with certainty that “Old Hungary” was no myth or traveller’s tale but a reality, and that Hungarians there were eager to renew those ties connecting them with Hungarians in the west. But Julian’s tale was not all pleasant hearing. He also told of an approaching peril which threatened the inhabitants of the old country filling them with anxiety for the future. Some years earlier the Mongols, or Tartars as they were then called, had founded a mighty empire in Asia somewhere to the east of ancient Hungary. It was said that the Mongols intended to subjugate not only Asia, but also Europe, in which case both the ancestral country of the Hungarians and the western Hungarian Kingdom would be endangered. News of Julian’s travels and his discovery were brought to Béla IV, who was eager to hear about his Hungarian kindred in the east, but the possibility of a Tartar invasion filled him with anxiety and alarm. Hungary was at this time no longer so strong and powerful as she had been but half a century earlier in the reign of Béla III. Under the rule of Bela IV’s immediate predecessors, Emery (1196—1204) and Andrew II (1205—1235), fraternal strife had again sapped the strength of the country and greatly increased the power of the oligarchs, who on various pretexts had seized large numbers of the royal estates and were oppressing the lesser gentry and serfs. Decline was especially noticeable under Andrew II. This monarch had proved a thoughtless master who improvidently dissipated his sources of revenue and the royal estates, and was even known to bestow a whole country on a single favourite. He spent his revenues as lavishly as though his resources were inexhaustable. Counterfeit money was in circulation throughout the country, which paralysed trade and commerce. Taxes were continually raised and exacted without mercy from the indignant population by collectors who were mostly of another race. The poor were without protection. The laws were excellent but nobody enforced them, and to crown all, King Andrew, in order to please his German wife, discriminated in favour of his German subjects. This led to a conspiracy one of the victims of which was the Queen herself. This event is the subject of Joseph Katona’s masterpiece “Bank Ban.” Hungary’s decay was a source of great anxiety to the King’s elder son, the noble Prince Béla, as well as to all right-minded Hungarians. They saw clearly that unless the system in force underwent a fundamental change, the country would be ruined and become an easy prey to her neighbours. Dreading what the future might hold, they at first tried to persuade the King to abandon the course he was pursuing, but seeing the impossibility of influencing him, they convoked a meeting of the Estates of the Realm and forced the King to acknowledge the laws of the land. These laws were then collected and embodied in a codex, and the King was made to swear an oath that he would respect them (1222). This document was called the Golden Bull, because it had a golden seal attached to it. It consisted of thirty-one points, in which the duties of the monarch and the nobility (which did not mean the aristocracy alone, but all who were not serfs) were clearly set forth. The intention was to obviate the possibility of any conflict arising in future between the monarch and the nation. The Golden Bull has ever since been the basis of the Hungarian Constitution. With the lapse of time some of its points have been modified, but in essentials its validity has been preserved throughout the centuries, and it has continued to be the pattern Upon which Hungarian public life has been moulded. Here let it be said in passing that the Golden Bull of Hungary (1222) followed closely on the heels of the English Magna Charta (1215), and that they both were the foundations of the respective Constitutions. The surprising similarity in form and substance between the Golden Bull and the Magna Charta seems to prove that the drafters of the Golden Bull had a knowledge of the Magna Charta. Indeed, we have records showing that the Primate of Hungary was the guest of Stephen Langton, the drafter of the Magna Charta, at Canterbury in 1220, i.e. two years before the Golden Bull was issued. We also know that Thomas, Bishop of Eger, spent several months with some of the Barons of the Magna Charta during the siege of Damietta, a port of Egypt, and that Robert—one of the most eminent of the Hungarian bishops—was of English origin.
Had Andrew II strictly adhered to the Golden Bull, internal peace and normal evolution would have been assured for a considerable length of time. But the weak King, lending his ear to evil counsel, continued to manage the affairs of the country as though no such document existed, and national decline continued its downward course. In vain did Prince Béla more than once intercede. Even the energetic protests of the Primate of Hungary, the Archbishop of Esztergom, were as the “voice of one crying in the wilderness.” Andrew could not or would not change his conduct and things went on as before until 1235 when he died.
Upon his father’s death Béla IV ascended the throne of a decaying, divided, and impoverished country. He was guided by ripe and sound judgment. He knew the history of the difficult years and was well-aware what the causes of the dissension had been. He inaugurated energetic reforms and after several years of untiring work succeeded, though at the cost of making many enemies, in laying the foundations of untroubled development and in re-establishing the prestige of the country in the eyes of Europe. Peace alone was needed to insure permanent progress. It was therefore with the greatest concern that the King listened to the monk Julian’s tale of an imminent Mongol attack. The whole future of the Country depended upon the truth or falsehood of the report, for it was questionable whether a Hungary but so recently recovered would be able to repel an invasion. The reports of the Mongol advance —alas!— proved only too true. Resistance was of no avail. The old home of the Hungarians had fallen along with all the greater and lesser countries situated in the territory now known as Siberia and Russia. In 1239 a piteous delegation appeared at Béla’s Court from the Cumanian king, Kötöny. These bearers of woeful tidings reported the conquest by the Tartars of the powerful Cumanian Empire. King Kötöny himself had only escaped being carried off into slavery by fleeing with his people, to the number of about forty thousand families, to the regions of the Lower Danube. King Kötöny now feared that even that place of refuge would not afford a secure asylum for his followers, and he asked permission to settle down in Hungary, promising to help to defend the country against the common foe.
King Béla pondered earnestly on the situation. The advent of the Cumanians would mean considerable reinforcement, and convinced that the Tartars were at his gates, it would have seemed folly on his part to reject the proffered help. He therefore eagerly assented and settled the Cumanians in the valleys of the Danube and Tisza, where the names Great and Little Cumania have survived to this day. But the settlement of the Cumanians gave rise to unforeseen difficulties. They were heathen, and like other nomadic folk, unruly, and they could not be made to understand that they must confine themselves to the territory allotted to them. They constantly harassed the Hungarian population and did not even refrain from acts of violence. Thus the sympathy of the Hungarians was soon lost to them. Complaints were lodged against them almost daily at the Royal Court. The population sued for protection and applied to the King or the Viceroy (the Palatine) for redress of their grievances. B61a was in a difficult predicament. On the one hand it could not be questioned that the complaints against the Cumanians were justified, but on the other to coerce them might result in Kötöny and his followers turning their backs on the Hungarians and leaving Hungary in the lurch at the moment when help was most needed. Influenced by this consideration the King showed marked leniency towards the Cumanians, and very often settled controversies by discriminating in their favour which enraged the Hungarians. In any case many of the latter were bitter against the King for the manner in which he had relentlessly swept away unjustice and oppression and restored order throughout the country. Public opinion worked itself to such a pitch of excitement and exasperation against the Cumanians that the King thought it wise to bring Kötöny and his family to the Royal Court, where they would be under his personal protection. Then he distributed the Cumanians in larger or smaller colonies in different parts of the kingdom, hoping they would adopt the customs and laws of the land and abandon their acts of violence. But the Cumanians refused to adapt themselves to their new surroundings, and complaints poured in from every part of the country to the Royal Court in an increasingly menacing manner, demanding strong measures against them. The King, who was in possession of reliable information concerning the impending onslaught of the Mongols, was less than ever inclined to treat the Cumanians with a high hand. His reluctance to do so soon led to his isolation till at last he found himself opposed by the entire country.
By the winter of 1240—41 it was obvious that the enemy might be expected to strike in a few months. The King did not pass the winter months in idleness. Announcing to all concerned that the Tartars were planning the conquest not only of Hungary, but also of Europe, and that the fate of the latter would be decided in Hungary, he solicited urgent aid from the Pope, the German Emperor, and the neighbouring monarchs. Meanwhile he blockaded the passes of the Carpathians, and sent troops to defend the frontier. At home he called every able-bodied man to arms. To symbolize the magnitude of the danger and to impress it upon all, he ordered bloodstained swords to be carried through every county.
His appeal for help was doomed to disappointment. A bitter struggle was being waged between Pope and Emperor, and neither of them would send assistance to the King. Of all concerned, only Frederick, Duke of Austria, was inclined to support him, but the body of men which he led personally to the walls of the city of Pest was scarcely more numerous than his usual hunting train. In Hungary itself the people regarded the blood-stained swords with indifference. Some there were who even refused to credit the report that the Tartars were coming. Others said that if the King was going to war, he should do so with his favourite Cumanians. But all were alarmed when the news came that the Mongols had crossed the Carpathians without difficulty, and having crushed the lines of defence, were pouring into the country. Now at length people hastened to take up arms. They hurried to the King’s camp. But only a few of them reached it, for the Tartar hordes, sweeping down like a whirlwind, wiped out the greater part of them on their march.
The Tartars followed a preconceived plan of campaign. Regarding Hungary as the strongest country in Central Europe, where the chance of their establishing a footing in Europe would be decided, their plan of attack was to isolate her from all foreign help and prevent the Hungarians from rallying round the King in their customary manner. Acting on this plan, Batu Khan the leader of the Tartars, sent a great army into Poland. It crushed the Polish forces and invaded Hungary from the north-west along the river Vág. The main body of the Tartar army under Batu Khan’s leadership entered the country through the pass of Verecke, while greater or smaller contingents made their way through the Transylvanian passes, advancing towards the great Hungarian plain (the Alföld), the object of which was to annihilate the various Hungarian units before they could concentrate.
By the end of March 1241 the agile Tartar horsemen were already encircling the walls of Pest, and in spite of the rallying Hungarians, they burned the surrounding village and granaries, after storming every town and village on the way. The Hungarians encamped in Pest were greatly enraged to see the sky red with the flames of surrounding villages, but were unable to seek vengeance, for the King, in order to conserve his strength, had forbidden sallies and sporadic attacks, though the Royal veto was not binding on the Duke of Austria. Frederick, to show his bravery, repeatedly hurled himself upon the foe. In one of these sallies Frederick captured one of the enemy’s soldiers who turned out to be a Cumanian. This fact soon spread through the camp and reached the town where King Kötöny and his army were stationed. Great was the indignation of the Hungarians. They had long hated the Cumanians, suspecting them of being allies of the Tartars sent to Hungary to incite unrest and thus weaken the defence of the country. No attempt was made to verify these rumours. The fact that the Tartars compelled their prisoners to fight for them was ignored. The capture of a Cumanian fighting for the enemy seemed proof positive of their treachery, and the quarters of the Cumanians were stormed and their lung killed.
The assassination of Kötöny had dire consequences. Hitherto the Cumanians had regarded themselves as allies of the Hungarians and were willing to support them wholeheartedly. But now they turned against Hungary, and fled the country, vying with the Tartars in sacking towns and villages. They cut their way through towards the regions of the Lower Danube, leaving Béla and his people to their own resources at the time of their greatest need.
In the early days of April the King gave the order to attack. The forces at his disposal, it is said, numbered some 50 or 60 thousand men. This considerable force surprised even Batu Khan, who decided to retreat. The retreat, however, was so cunningly conceived that it not only gave him time enough to rally his scattered troops, but also to choose the most advantageous ground for a pitched battle. This was the hilly land encircled by the rivers Tisza, Hernád and Sajó commanding the flats surrounding Onod, known as the Puszta of Muhi. There the Tartars, in obedience to their leader’s commands, pitched camp and fortified the banks of the river against surprise attacks. The Hungarian forces, close on the heels of the Tartars, came to a halt—just as Batu Khan expected —on the plain of Muhi. They assumed that the Mongols would retreat no farther, and believing themselves on the eve of an engagement, pitched their tents and posted pickets at places likely to serve as fords. The situation of the Hungarian forces was anything but favourable. Their camp was in the plain, and from the hills where the Tartars had pitched their tents Batu Khan and his captains were able to watch every movement of their enemies. Several fatal mistakes had also been made by the Hungarian leaders, who had overlooked the fact that their army, chiefly comprised of mail-clad horsemen, needed large open spaces for battle array, instead of which they were confined in camp, tent close on tent, where movement was greatly restricted. The encampment was surrounded by a stockade of heavy wagons to serve as defence against surprise attacks, but which, in fact, proved an obstacle to a rapid forming of line of battle.
Batu Khan himself is said to have been struck with astonishment at the sight, and to have told his men that victory was certain, for the Hungarians were crowded like sheep in a pen. He decided to open the attack in person and take the enemy by surprise. For several days the two camps seemed on the point of attacking each other. But actually the Tartars were concealing their exploration of points on the rivers Hernád and Sajó where their troops might cross unnoticed and descend unexpectedly upon the Hungarian camp. When they had found and proved the fords they began a series of attacks on the pickets stationed on the banks. The attention of the Hungarians was thus diverted to these points and the manoeuvre enabled the entire Tartar forces to cross the rivers and surround the Hungarian camp under cover of night.
Batu Khan’s prophecy was fulfilled. The Tartars rained showers of arrows on the Hungarian bivouac, the inmates of which, starting up from their sleep, were quite unable to defend themselves within the narrow confines of the camp. Some, such as Ugrin, the Archbishop of Kalocsa, and the Superior of the Knights Templars, attempted resistance, even to opening a counter-attack, but were both killed. The bulk of the army became panic-stricken and sought safety in flight, only to fall victims to the arrows of the enemy. In a few hours the Hungarian army was completely annihilated and the country at the mercy of a savage and cruel foe. That King Béla escaped was due to an accident and to the self-sacrifice of some loyal followers.
The Tartars did not fail to take full advantage of their victory, and crushing all resistance, they burned and destroyed everything in their advance. The population took refuge in marshes and forests, where they languished in misery, awaiting the hour of deliverance in vain. The King at length rejoined Duke Frederick, who persuaded him, defenceless as he was, to hand over all his gold and even forced him to cede the counties of Moson, Sopron and Vas. Béla determined to shake off this tyrant and speedily left the court of the Duke. Ultimately he found refuge in Dalmatia. The Tartars, taking advantage of the hard winter of 1241—1242 to cross the frozen Danube and pillage the Transdanubian districts, pursued the fugitive King as far as Dalmatia, in an attempt to capture him. But a distant event decreed otherwise. The chief Khan or Emperor of the Tartars died suddenly. Batu Khan, who hoped to succeed him, immediately withdrew his troops from Hungary and returned to his Asiatic home with all haste. Before crossing the Hungarian frontier he ordered the wholesale execution of all the prisoners, whereupon many thousands of Hungarian were cruelly slaughtered.
Béla IV learned from his spies of the departure of the Tartars. At first he was incredulous, but on being assured that the country was rid of its enemies he returned home immediately. Dreadful was the scene awaiting him. Scarcely a living creature was to be seen. Blackened walls and decaying corpses were all that remained of once prosperous villages, no trace of agriculture or farming, and roads had nearly all disappeared. Where they still existed packs of wolves or dogs that had run wild made them unsafe.
The King was torn with grief at the sight of his native land. Before him lay that Hungary which had but recently been a flourishing country, but was now desolated. But Béla was made of tougher stuff than to give way to despair. His first act was to reassemble the scattered population, which had been greatly thinned by famine, and create new settlements for them, providing corn and cattle imported from abroad. Towns were rebuilt, and the townsfolk were permitted to surround their cities with walls. The King bestowed special attention on the construction of fortresses. He had seen that the Tartar onslaughts were powerless against well-fortified strongholds, and it seemed probable that they would renew their invasion. Years of arduous toil were successful in restoring order and peace. Agriculture, handicrafts and trade began to prosper, and the country began to recover slowly from the devastation it had sustained in the years 1141—1242.
Béla IV may justly be named the second builder of the Hungarian Kingdom. The new settlers whom he brought from abroad supported his efforts to reconstruct the country, and in course of time became loyal and useful citizens. Among them we again find the Cumanians, who had begged to be allowed to return, and to prove their loyalty, became converted to the Christian faith. Béla even agreed to the marriage of his son Stephen with the only daughter of King Kötöny, in order to reinforce the friendship between the two races with links of family ties.
When the news of the battle of Muhi and the Tartar scourge reached the western countries, it was generally thought that Hungary had been wiped off the map of Europe. But in 1246, only five years after that battle, Béla IV was again at war, this time with Frederick, Duke of Austria, in order to recover the three counties he had been tricked into ceding to Austria. A battle fought near the Leitha ended in victory for Béla and cost Frederick his life.
Thereafter Hungary was on the way to becoming the most powerful country in Central Europe. Agriculture and cattle-breeding were prospering, towns sprang up in which handicrafts and commerce began to thrive, and along the frontiers and in the interior strongholds were built and garrisoned with well-equipped soldiers. This development was, alas, checked by dissension and quarrels. Béla was a high-handed king who brooked no opposition, much less insubordination. This made him many enemies among the nobility who did not forget that in the reign of Andrew II they had been almost independent oligarchs who could afford to ignore the King’s orders. The nobles now began to sow discord and dissension between Béla and his ambitious son Stephen (later Stephen V, 1270—1272), inciting the latter to claim a share in the government of the country. The King, who was growing old, made no objection. He ordered his son to be crowned, allowed him a household and a Palatine of his own, and conferred on him the right to mint money. But this dual monarchy failed to work in practice. The intrigues of evil councillors and their insinuations widened the gulf between father and son until a feud arose between them which put an end to all progress in the country and in many provinces even undid the work already accomplished. In 1270 Béla died, disheartened and disillusioned.
ANDREW III, THE LAST OF THE ARPAD LINE. 1290—1301
Under the rule of Béla IV’s immediate successors (Stephen V, 1270—1272 ; Ladislas IV or the Cumanian, 1272—1290; Andrew III, 1290—1301) Hungary declined rapidly. The nobles had seized the reins of government, but instead of using their power for the good of the country as a whole, they made it serve their own ends. One factor which at first helped to extend the power of the nobility was that at his accession the King was a minor. The country was ruled by regents and to them the oligarchs refused obedience. The mother of the boy-king was a Cumanian, and Cumanian influences prevailed, not only at Court, but also throughout the country, which was a great source of grievance to the Hungarian nobles. When the King grew to manhood he still clung to the habits and ways of thought of the Cumanians, and spent his time in their company (hence his nick-name “Ladislas the Cumanian”), which completely estranged him from the Hungarians. Yet Ladislas IV had many good qualities. His personal gallantry and strategic ability could not be questioned even by his enemies. On two occasions he gave signal proof of those qualities. Once in 12.78, when he took sides with the German Emperor, Rudolph Habsburg, against Ottokar, the powerful King of Bohemia, and helped to gain the victory over the latter which made the creation of the Habsburg dynasty possible. The second occasion was his victory over the turbulent Cumanians at Hódmezö-vásárhely. This campaign was undertaken in response to the pleading of the Lords Temporal and Spiritual. Had Ladislas been trained as he should have been and duly prepared for his work as monarch, he might have been one of our best kings, but unfortunately his reign was characterized by general decay and impoverishment. Even decades later, carts drawn by men instead of horses were called “Ladislas carts,” a reminder of the fact that during his reign destitution and want had lowered the peasantry to the level of draught horses. The decline of royal authority and the growth of the power and influence of the oligarchs continued even during the reign of the last King of the House of Arpad, Andrew III (1290—1301).
King Andrew II, whose name is famous in its relation to one the most important documents of the Hungarian Constitution, the Golden Bull (of which mention has been made), was an old man when he decided to marry again. His desire to do so was at first regarded with displeasure. His sons feared that were he to remarry and have children internecine wars would result, an evil they wished to avoid at all costs. But the old King, who was longing for the comforts of family life, refused to yield to their entreaties, and in spite of all opposition married an Italian Duchess, Beatrice of Este. The young Queen, who was Andrew’s third wife, was coldly received by the King’s family, who made no effort to conceal their hostility, and when in the autumn of 1235 Andrew died, she thought it advisable to leave the country with all speed. She returned to Italy, where, at the end of 1235 or the beginning of 1236, she gave birth to a son who was baptized Stephen.
The life of this last descendant of Andrew II was sad and stormy. The fatherless infant seems also to have lost his mother very early, and he became a homeless wanderer at the courts of the Italian Dukes, travelling from town to town. Go to Hungary he dared not, for Béla IV would have nothing to do with him. In Italy therefore he remained. After the death of his first wife he settled down permanently in Venice, and married Thomasina Morosini, a member of one of the most prominent families in the Venetian Republic. Of this marriage was born Andrew, known to Hungarian history as King Andrew III.
This child grew up in the knowledge that he was a legitimate descendant of the Arpads, and therefore entitled to claim as his patrimony part of the territory of the Hungarian monarchy during the ruling kings’s life. This was common usage under the Arp Ads, and conditions in the country were favourable to his claim.
After the Tartar invasion Béla IV had set about effecting a reconstruction of the country. As has been said, he built strongholds along the frontiers to serve as places of refuge in times of sudden attack. In order to secure a better defence of the frontiers he also readily consented to the landowners on the borderlands building fortifications and strongholds themselves. This system of border fortification was effective for the time being, but its disadvantages were apparent later when the peace of the country was shattered by the struggle for power between Béla IV and his son, Stephen V. As in every civil war, each side tried to secure as many supporters as possible among the big landowners. The donation of estates proving an effective means of ensuring loyalty, father and son vied with each other in conferring land on those whose assistance they considered important.
At the time of Béla’s death in 1270 and his son Stephen’s in 1272 there were a number of estates along the frontier from the Adriatic to the Lower Danube whose owners, the oligarchs, were practically minor kings. Some even had standing armies of their own, coined their own money, made war on neighbouring countries and concluded peace without asking the King’s consent These unhappy conditions had grown even worse during the minority of Ladislas the Cumanian, son of Stephen V. The oligarchs made no attempt to disguise the fact that they were ready to submit to the King only so long as he connived at their arbitrary lawless behaviour. They immediately turned against him when they saw or thought they saw that he wished to exercise his royal prerogatives. Thereupon the oligarchs took up arms to defend their position and influence even at the cost of civil war. Stephen, and later Andrew, who were anathema at the King’s Court, but as descendants of the Arpads were sure of a warm welcome from the Hungarians, seemed to them likely to be useful tools for that purpose.
As early as 1278 Andrew, supported by the powerful Counts of Németujvár, appeared in the country to lead in person the armed rebellion of the oligarchs in Croatia and the Littoral. Ladislas IV, however, was able to quell the revolt and Andrew had to flee the country. Some years later, when it had become manifestly hopeless to expect the King, who was wholly demoralized and given over to the company of the Cumanians, to mend his ways, certain of the Lords Temporal and Spiritual turned against him and resolved to send for Andrew, whom they believed would reign justly and live with a certain decorum. Andrew accepted their call, but soon realized that the numerous promises made to him before his embarkation on this adventure by no means represented the sentiments, temper and political views of the majority of the population. Only a few rallied to him, and his host, a gentleman named Arnold, hoping for a reward, made him prisoner and carried him to the court of the Austrian Duke Albert, son of Rudolph Habsburg, in Vienna. Albert however behaved with generosity, restored Andrew to liberty and invited him to stay at the Austrian Court. But Andrew did not feel at home and soon took his departure. The immediate reason why he left was as follows: Albert had gone off on a hunting expedition and was absent several days. Some of the courtiers asked Andrew to ride out with them to meet the returning Duke saying that the latter would take it as a mark of respect. Andrew refused, on the plea that by virtue of his origin and race he was of higher rank than his host. The latter, hearing of his refusal, withdrew his protection.
The exiled Prince of the House of Arpad had no choice but to retire to an Austrian monastery. In the seclusion of the monastery news reached him that Ladislas IV was dead (1290), and it was not long before the Archbishop of Esztergom assured Andrew that he was regarded by all as the legitimate heir to the throne, and urged him to return. Andrew, who had taken monastic vows, thereupon left Austria secretly. At the frontier he was received with the greatest honours. Many indeed there were who would have preferred another claimant, but his coronation took place without any untoward incident. This coronation deserves special mention since all the pageantry and ceremonies connected with it have been strictly observed at every coronation down the centuries to the present day. Andrew was the first Hungarian king to take a coronation oath in which he pledged himself to maintain peace and justice, protect the Church, punish evildoers, afford aid to orphans and widows, judge justly according to the laws of the land, defend the country and its rights, and reconquer the dismembered parts of Hungary. These points form the basis of the present coronation oath.
His undisputed coronation and the great interest in its ceremonies displayed all over the country showed that loyalty to and respect for the House of Arpad were alive in the hearts of the people. This was fortunate both for the King and the country, as there were several pretenders who laid claim to the crown on various pretexts, such as Albert of Austria, for instance, the son-inlaw of Stephen V, Charles II of Naples, and even the widow of Ladislas IV, who was supported by the Pope. In the face of these claimants royal power had no support other than the loyalty and attachment of the Hungarians and indeed it seemed as if the old reciprocal trust between King and Nation which had been forgotten in the violent party quarrels of the previous decades, had revived again. The Hungarians were united in one camp with Andrew III, and were convinced that the King would take his coronation vows seriously and do his utmost to create order and peace. The King was not an unapproachable man. He went about among his subjects, an embodiment of the law, a rewarder of the good and a chastiser of the wicked. To the people he was a king after their own hearts. Small wonder then that when pretenders to the throne made their appearance with numerous alleged proofs substantiating their claims, all classes and conditions of men in the country rallied round the King, who had become thoroughly Hungarian in sentiment and outlook. Since the Tartar invasion no King had had such a powerful army behind him as Andrew when in the summer of 1291 he opened hostilities against Albert of Austria. The war ended in victory for Andrew, which seemed likely to consolidate his rule.
But his reign was not to be a peaceful one. The oligarchs very soon realized the danger which threatened them as a result of the consolidation of the royal power. Much time and effort on the part of the King were needed to appease and win over the unruly Barons, and there were periods when it seemed doubtful whether Andrew would be able to remain on the throne. However, experience had taught him the advisability of keeping his throne independent of the oligarchs. His policy was distinctly a family one. The most important posts and the administration of the various districts were assigned to members of his own family, in the first place to his energetic and fearless mother and his maternal uncle, and through these channels to reliable Italians. By these means he was able to obtain mastery over the fierce oligarchs, aided by the loyalty which he had won by his justice and fair-dealing from the lesser squires, who looked upon him as their natural and disinterested protector. Through the offices of the Archbishop of Esztergom he also found favour with the Church, of which he constituted himself protector against the predatory oligarchs.
The Royal Family of Naples was determined to secure the crown of Hungary, and the oligarchs jealous for their own waning influence were ready to support the Neapolitans from time to time. On the whole, however, thanks to the energetic assistance afforded by the majority of his subjects, Andrew had every reason to view the future with confidence and satisfaction. But towards the middle of January 1301—some say on the 14th of that month—he died suddenly. His death, like that of his mother some months earlier, was attributed to poison.
“The last golden branch of the tree of the first Hungarian King, St. Stephen, is broken, the last male descendant of his blood, race and stock is dead ; and the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, the nobility, all classes and ranks of the people feel that Hungary has lost her true-born King and weep for him as Rachel wept for her children.”
In these words, uttered two years after the King’s death, the Palatine voiced more than a mere private eulogy, they were an expression of the true feelings of the whole Hungarian nation.
KING LOUIS THE GREAT. 1344—1382
After Andrew’s death the right to elect a king devolved unreservedly upon the nation. Though it was understood by all that only a prince whose mother or grandmother had been a princess of the Arpadian line was eligible, a unanimous election was difficult, since there were three princes who fulfilled that condition. They were Robert Charles, son of Charles Martel, late King of Naples; Wenceslas II, King of Bohemia; and Otto, Duke of Bavaria. Each of course had his own partisans headed by one of the oligarchs. Among the aspirants Charles Robert was the most active. His supporters lived chiefly in the southern or south-western regions. The other parts of the country would have none of him. This active Prince was actually crowned in haste at Esztergom by the Primate, but not with St. Stephen’s crown. Disregarding this coronation, the greater part of the country in response to the suggestion made by Matthias Csák, one of the most powerful oligarchs in the north-west, took sides with King Wenceslas and elected his son of the same name King of Hungary. This young King, however, turned out to be a ruler of questionable worth. He is said to have been a drunkard. His supporters soon deserted him, and his father found it wise to recall him to Prague. On the way home he sacked Esztergom and carried St. Stephen’s crown away with him. Otto, Duke of Bavaria, now became Csák’s candidate, and he was duly elected, but without the assent of the powerful Voivode of Transylvania. When the new King paid the Voivode a visit with the intention of asking his daughter in marriage in order to win his support, the Voivode seized him and kept him prisoner for several years. After his release Otto decided to return to Bavaria.
Like a ripe fruit the crown fell into the hands of Robert Charles. The majority of the population were anxious for peace and order after years of war and suffering. They elected him King in 1308, only Matthias Csák and a few other oligarchs protesting. But the King had need of all his wits and endurance before he reduced the malcontents to submission. Alone Matthias Csák remained irreconcilable and until his death led a wild, lawless life in his fastness at Trencsén.
The reign of Robert Charles (1308—1342) proved a blessing to the country. He restored internal order and strengthened the royal authority. Hungary became a peaceful, law-abiding country. Marketing, husbandry, cattle-breeding, and trade in general once again flourished. Economic progress was greatly furthered by the circulation of the excellent gold and silver money coined by the King. His Hungarian money was gladly accepted at its face value even in foreign countries. The King devoted special attention to the defence of his kingdom, which he completely reorganized, compelling every landowner to maintain a number of soldiers recording to the size his estate. No wonder that the fame of a Hungary financially solvent and strong from a military point of view increased, and that the European Powers vied with one another for the favour of an alliance with her. The King of Naples was proud to give his daughter in marriage to the King’s younger son Andrew and to make him his heir, and the King of Poland, grateful for the assistance repeatedly rendered by the King of Hungary against the pagan Lithuanians and Tartars, pronounced his elder son Louis heir to the childless King Casimir. Robert Charles was asked on one occasion to act as arbiter in a dispute between Poland and Bohemia, and settled the matter to the complete satisfaction of both parties. On his death (1342) his son Louis (1342—1382) inherited a kingdom well-ordered, powerful and wealthy and playing a leading r61e in Eastern Europe.
Louis known to history as “The Great,” was fully conscious of the magnitude of the task falling to him. He was a true Hungarian and wished for nothing better than to be the beloved king of a happy country. He desired to be in every respect worthy of the cloak of St. Ladislas, the glory of whose reign was still a living memory in the country. When Louis’ coronation had taken place he felt impelled to go on a pilgrimage to the tomb of that saint and king and there to make a vow to model his conduct as ruler on that of St. Ladislas. And in piety, humanity and courage he, of all the kings of Hungary, was the most worthy to be that great King’s successor.
During the first years of his reign he was often forced to wage war, but never without good reason. He never shed Hungarian blood unless circumstances compelled him. Whenever he could do so without jeopardizing Hungary’s prestige, he was the first to extend his hand in token of peace. But where energy and determination were necessary he was hard and unyielding. Louis’ first campaign was against the Kingdom of Naples. Mention has already been made of the agreement concluded between Robert Charles and the King of Naples by which the Neapolitan crown was promised to Louis’ younger brother Andrew. But this agreement irritated the Italians, for though Robert Charles was of Italian origin, and probably spoke faulty Hungarian, he and his family were regarded as aliens in Italy—foreigners who were not wanted on the Neapolitan throne. The King of Naples dared not act against public opinion. Arbitrarily cancelling the agreement with Robert Charles he drew up a will making his only daughter Johanna heir to the throne. Her husband Andrew, to whom she had been married several years, had perforce to content himself with a minor Duchy. After the death of the King of Naples Andrew was cut off from the succession. He was in fact treated so harshly that he went in fear of his life at that intriguing degenerate Court, above all when even his wife Johanna turned against him and joined his enemies. On learning of his intolerable position, King Louis at once sent his mother, the dowager Queen Elizabeth, to Naples to investigate the true situation and act accordingly. Johanna and her Court were anything but pleased to see Queen Elizabeth, but they received her with much apparent kindness and went so far to meet her wishes that she returned to Hungary completely reassured, especially when after prolonged negotiations the Pope decreed that Andrew was to be crowned King of Naples.
Great, however, was the consternation of Andrew’s enemies when they heard the Papal decision. Fearing Andrew’s vengeance when he became King they decided to make away with him before the coronation could take place. Fate favoured their sinister plans. The Royal Court was hunting in the neighbourhood of a town called Aversa. Andrew’s enemies were all present. After the chase the royal huntsman and his retinue put up for the night in a castle near the town. Under cover of darkness, in the small hours of the morning, the conspirators induced Andrew on some pretext to leave his chamber. As there was a superstitious belief that neither iron nor poison could harm him, they strangled him and flung his corpse into the castle garden. Johanna, who was well aware of what was happening listened to the sounds of the struggle between her husband and his assassins, but made no effort to save him. She attempted later to exonerate herself by professing to have been under the influence of a spell which made her powerless to prevent the crime (1345).
The news of Prince Andrew’s murder spread rapidly through Europe. The Royal Court of Hungary was in a ferment of horror and indignation. King Louis bitterly resented the cruel murder of his brother, and decided to inflict dire punishment on the perpetraters of this gross insult and injury to his family. For a time, in the hope that the Pope would pronounce sentence on the evil-doers he paused, but when no condemnation was forthcoming, he declared war on Naples. Johanna escaped to France, and when the news of her flight leaked out in Naples the city offered but feeble resistance and soon surrendered. Louis meted out severe punishment to the instigators of this dastardly crime. He adopted the title of “King of Jerusalem and Sicily,” and was considering having himself crowned King of Naples, when the plague that had broken out in Italy shortly before compelled him to return home (May 1348). But he left Hungarian garrisons in possession of Naples and other Italian towns.
The conquest of Naples, however, did not prove permanent. A national movement incited by Johanna and her followers broke out among the Italian population against Louis and his Hungarian rule. To the Italians the Hungarians were alien conquerors, and their proud spirit would not submit to domination by strangers. After King Louis’ departure the Neapolitans rallied round Johanna, who had meanwhile been recalled, and they assisted her to retake the Italian strongholds held by the Hungarians. The latter, who had meanwhile received reinforcements, fought with great bravery, but the King, who appeared at the head of an army under the walls of Naples (1350), could not but realize that his grip on Italian soil would depend entirely on force of arms This, being furthermore but a precarious hold, would put Hungary to enormous and perhaps unnecessary expense, and when the Papal See promised that justice should be done, he returned to Hungary and withdrew his forces from Italy.
The two Neapolitan expeditions were undertaken more in the interests of the Royal Family than of the nation, and were indeed productive of no tangible advantage to the country, yet they brought King Louis and the nation nearer to each other. The King proved an excellent commander and a gallant soldier. He shared the privations and discomforts of camp with his soldiers, lived with them, and rewarded liberally those who were deserving. He was as careful of the lives of others as he was reckless of his own. When one of his soldiers, who had been ordered to explore a ford for the army was attempting to cross the river, he was carried away horse and all by the current. Upon seeing this, the King himself plunged without hesitation into the torrent and saved the man from drowning. With such an example before them the soldiers could not but honour their King.
King Louis’ wars did not cease with the end of the Neapolitan campaigns. For several decades he was at war with the powerful and wealthy Venetian Republic, which at that time almost entirely controlled European trade. The war with Venice was undertaken in order to gain possession of Dalmatia and secure an outlet on the Adriatic for Hungarian trade. Venice, whose material resources were at stake, stubbornly defended her interests, but was eventually obliged to conclude peace (1381) and pledge herself to pay an annual tribute to Hungary.
As the ally of King Casimir, Louis also waged war on the Tartars, Lithuanians, and Bohemians. He forced the Prince of Serbia and the Wallachian Voivode to surrender, and enlarged the territory of the Hungarian Kingdom by the conquest of Bosnia and Bulgaria. It is not a matter for surprise that after Casimir’s death the Poles elected him King of Poland (1370), or that when the Turks appeared in Europe and the idea of a great crusade against them began to spread throughout the Christian countries at the appeal of the Pope, Louis was considered by the European monarchs as the leader who might bring victory to the Christian forces. Alas for Hungary, nothing came of the proposed crusade and subsequently for more than three hundred years she was compelled to wage a struggle to the death alone against the Turk, in which innumerable lives and untold wealth were lost. How different might Hungary’s position have been today had she not been bled white in protecting Europe from the hordes of Osman!
It was his martial achievements that earned for Louis the title of “the Great,” although his greatness was also manifest in times of peace. With an eye to the distant future, he did sot neglect the present. On his journeys through neighbouring countries he came to realize that the Hungarians were a race apart in the Danube Valley and that, isolated and surrounded on all sides by alien and hostile races, the integrity of Arpad’s heritage depended entirely on their own efforts and the cultivation of a higher standard of civilization.
In 1351, after the first Neapolitan campaign Louis had several laws enacted by the Estates of the Realm dealing with the organization of the country’s defence and the obligations of the nobility. (Nobility in Hungarian law meant all who were not serfs.) In his opinion the nobility had but one duty—to defend the country, but that duty was imperative. It must be remembered that in those times the peasants all over Europe were serfs. In Hungary the serfs were not obliged to serve in the army. To the nobles therefore also fell the task of protecting the farms of the peasantry. The one class had to fight, the other to toil. But the military obligations of the nobility cost them a great deal, especially during lengthy wars, and to provide them with means for the defence of the country, a law was passed laying a tax on the farms of the serfs, who had to pay one-ninth. The nobles were exempt from taxation. This was quite in keeping with the spirit of the age nor was it considered an injustice by the serfs, who saw that the National Assembly protected their interests and rights in other respects.
Another law enacted in 1351 by the Estates of the Realm, the so-called Law of Entail, dealt with the military obligations of the nobles. To understand this law we must bear in mind the Golden Bull and the Law laid down by Robert Charles which compelled the nobles to maintain a certain number of soldiers, corresponding with the size of their estates. As the Golden Bull gave every nobleman unrestricted rights over his property, so that he could sell it or give it away at his pleasure, it frequently happened that in the course of time these estates were broken up into small holdings which fell into the hands of strangers. In this, way the large estates gradually ceased to exist, and the obligation to supply the King with soldiers ceased with them. The Law laid down by Robert Charles would not have attained its object except in cases where the sale or donation of an estate was for some reason or other impossible, and the permanent possession thereof by the same family assured. To meet King Louis’ wishes this problem was settled in 1351 by the Estates of the Realm in such a manner that the unrestricted rights of noblemen over their property as embodied in the Golden Bull were abolished and a law passed by which ancestral estates could neither be cut up or given away, but must for ever remain the property of the same families. Should a family die out tie entailed land reverted to the Crown, became state property, and was entirely at the disposal of the King.
This Law ensuring the integrity of ancestral property remained in force until 1848. In the first half of the past century Count Stephen Széchenyi, one of the greatest statesmen Hungary has produced, fought against it as a superfluous relic of the past and a hindrance to economic development. By Széchenyi’s day that was as true as the fact that the Law fulfilled its purpose for centuries and was to a great extent instrumental in keeping the soil of Hungary in Hungarian hands.
During the Neapolitan and Venetian wars Louis had ample opportunity of studying life in the Italian cities. He saw that they were flourishing centres of industry and trade, where also the sciences and arts found ready supporters. They vied with one another, not alone in hoarding wealth within their walls, but also in creating the outward signs of prosperity. Every town boasted magnificent public buildings and churches adorned with paintings and statues of great value. Artists, poets and scientists were treated with great deference, for the citizens felt that the monuments, pictures, poetry, schools, and libraries would proclaim to posterity their love of culture. Nor were they mistaken. Today, as in the past, hundreds of thousands come from the four quarters of the world to delight in the art treasures that have accumulated in Italy down the centuries.
Louis the Great also came under the spell of the wealth and beauty of those cities. He was eager to encourage urban life in Hungary and raise its standard of civilization in general. To that end he encouraged the building of towns by granting them various privileges and indemnities. He promoted the development of handicrafts and trade and had excellent roads constructed.
As the wealth of the citizens grew he began to urge the erection of public buildings, the foundation of schools and hospitals, and the patronage of the arts. The King himself set a good example by building beautiful castles at his favourite resorts, such as Buda, Visegrád, and Didsgyor. A university was founded at Pécs and a magnificent Gothic church built in Kassa.
He was very generous to the Church. Deeply religious, he took pleasure in building churches, visiting shrines, and reading pious books. When fatigued by the cares of government or exhausted from fighting, he would retire into solitude and seek recreation in pious contemplation and religious exercises. His attachment to the Church inspired him with the idea of trying to draw the neighbouring nations into the fold of the Roman Catholic faith. He set about this task with the conviction that the removal of religious barriers between the Hungarians and their neighbours (the Serbs, Bosnians, Wallachians, and Bulgarians) would lead to more intimate political relations. His efforts, however, were more or less abortive. The peoples of the Balkan Peninsula remained faithful to the Oriental Church and regarded Louis not as a disinterested Catholic monarch, but as the King of Hungary, the ruler of a country which menaced their national characteristics. This was also the reason why Hungary could never rely on the help of the Serbs and Wallachians in her wars against the Turk. Louis died in 1382 at Nagyszombat. In accordance with his last wishes he was laid to rest in Nagyvárad by the side of St. Ladislas.
JOHN HUNYADI, (1406 – 1456) REGENT OF HUNGARY.
The enemies of Hungary accuse us of having oppressed the non-Hungarian speaking nationalities, of having checked their development and made self-expression impossible for them. This accusation is easily disproved. We have but to point to the Saxons in Transylvania and Sepusia who, though far from numerous, were able for more than seven hundred years to preserve both their language and habits, increase their wealth and make progress in civilization. Or take the Swabian, Slovak and Serb villagers in the vicinity of Budapest. Though living close to the capital for two hundred years they have never even learned the language of the country properly and suffer no loss or disability in consequence. Actually the Hungarians have always been tolerant towards those of alien race and tongue in their midst. Nothing was ever expected of them but loyalty to the country which adopted them and gave them their daily bread.
The case of John Hunyadi also proves that in Hungary foreign origin has never been a hindrance to the acquisition of wealth and power. The descendants of non-Hungarian families resident in Hungary have not only become members of the Hungarian nobility, but have also risen according to their deserts, to the highest positions in the land. John Hunyadi’s father, Vajk, immigrated with his parents from Wallachia to Hungary, where he became one of King Sigismund’s bodyguards. In 1409, for his loyal service, he received from the King the castle of Vajda-Hunyad with its adjoining estates. At the same time by Letters Patent the family took the name of Hunyadi. John Hunyadi came to the court of the King as a youth and was one of Sigismund’s favourites, accompanying him on his numerous journeys to foreign countries. A study of life in the Catholic countries of the west and many years at the Royal Court effected a complete change in the youth. He joined the Catholic Church and became Hungarian in his feelings. The change is not difficult to understand if we remember that his mother and his wife, Elizabeth Szildgyi, were both Hungarian by birth. All his life he fought for Hungary, and we are thoroughly justified in considering him one of her greatest national heroes, like Louis the Great, who, though his father Robert Charles was born in Italy—and we do not even know that he spoke Hungarian well—was a true Hungarian.
John Hunyadi’s name became famous throughout Europe through his wars against the Turks. As soon as they had gained a foothold in Europe the Turks began to overrun the Balkan Peninsula. The Christian countries of the west immediately realized that they were confronted by a new and serious danger. Of the once mighty Byzantine Empire scarcely anything remained beyond the capital, Constantinople, which was being more and more hard pressed by the Turks. One after another the Infidels had conquered the countries of the Balkans, and when in 1389 they subdued the Serbs, the way to the Danube stood open. The defeat of the Serbs and the tidings that the Turks had crossed the Danube and were on Hungarian soil filled the European nations with alarm. They felt that the Christian world of the west was seriously threatened with the danger of being overrun by the Infidels. If the growth of Turkish power could not be checked in time, it was evident that later all efforts to do so would fail. In response to the Pope’s appeal a large international army was recruited in the western states, but in 1396 it was annihilated at Nicapolis, and Hungary was left to defend herself as best she could.
It was unfortunate for Hungary that Sigismund, the husband of Louis the Great’s elder daughter Maria and by virtue thereof King of the Hungarians, became also Emperor of Germany in 1410. From that year he was solely concerned with the affairs of the German Empire, the Bohemian wars, and the crisis which had arisen within the Catholic Church. These troubles kept him away from Hungary for years at a time and the years spent abroad served to estrange the Hungarians from Sigismund. Among his frequent journeys in foreign lands he also visited England. On this occasion he concluded a formal treaty in Canterbury with Henry V, Sigismund was an ardent admirer of England. On his return he was loud in his praises of the excellency of English government and declared that it was as if he had been in Paradise. Ties of blood and friendship linked him with contemporary English monarchs.
Although the Turkish menace was growing increasingly threatening, King Sigismund had little time to devote to the task of averting it. It 1428 the stronghold of Galambóc on the Danube fell thanks to Serb treachery, and the Turks gained a footing on the Hungarian frontier. In vain did King Sigismund try to recover this important frontier fortress. In an attempt to do so he suffered such a shattering defeat that it was all he could do to escape with his life. He died in 1437.
His son-in-law Albert, who was also heir to the German Imperial crown succeeded him (1437—1439). During his short reign, Semendria, another important Hungarian fortress on the Lower Danube, passed into the possession of the Turks. Hoping to avoid further disasters Albert appointed John Hunyadi Ban of Szörény (1439). During Sigismund’s wars Hunyadi had more than once given splendid proof of his strategical ability, and this was why he was entrusted with the defence of the southern frontier. As things were, Hunyadi’s appointment was a stroke of good luck for Hungary, for King Albert died and there was no one to rule the country at the moment when a fresh Turkish onslaught was pending. The nation split into two camps over the question of the vacant throne. The widowed Queen claimed the crown for her infant son Ladislas and set about winning a large party of adherents in the country. In view of the imminent danger of a Turkish invasion others, Hunyadi among them, advocated the election of a king who would be a military asset and would add his own personal prestige to that of the country. This party offered the crown to Wladislaw, King of Poland, who accepted it. Meanwhile the Queen-dowager had her infant son crowned. Thus there were two Kings of Hungary backed by parties strongly opposed to each other. Those who had the future of the country and not their own private interests at heart tried in vain to effect a compromise. Their efforts suffered shipwreck on the rock of a mutual hatred that was stronger than patriotism, and civil war broke out when nearly all the forts on the borders were in the hands of the Turks who were preparing to attack.
In these desperate straits it was nothing short of providential that King Wladislaw made John Hunyadi Ban of Szörény, Voivode of Transylvania and Captain of Belgrade (1440). By doing so he placed the defence of the southern frontier, the region most exposed to danger, in the hands of one single leader. The Turks were quick to notice the radical change in the military situation.
Hunyadi remained aloof from the civil strife in which even foreigners, chiefly Czechs (Bohemians), who were the Queen’s hirelings took sides, and devoted himself entirely to his military duties. In 1441 he succeeded in inflicting a crushing blow on some Turkish bands who had crossed the Danube and were looting southern Hungary. This reverse made them hesitate to cross the Danube again for a long time. Instead they advanced on Transylvania: confident that there they would encounter no resistance and that rich booty would fall into their hands.
In the spring of 1442 a powerful Turkish army entered Transylvania under the command of Mezit Beg. Hunyadi with the small force at his disposal advanced at once against the enemy. His troops joined forces with the army of George Lepes, Bishop of Transylvania, and fought a losing battle against the superior numbers of the Turks. The Bishop fell on the battlefield fighting heroically and Hunyadi himself barely managed to make his escape. Defeat, however, did not discourage him from attacking again. Hearing that the Turks were laying siege to Nagyszeben (Hermanstadt) he recruited an army from among the Siculian and Hungarian population and joining the forces of his co-Voivode, Nicolas de Ujlak, hurried to the relief of the town. Some Turkish prisoners had brought tidings that Mezit Beg was determined at all costs to take Hunyadi, dead or alive, and that he had issued commands to that effect. Hearing this, a gallant Hungarian knight, Simon Kemény by name, begged Hunyadi to change horses and armour with him and let him ride at the head of a squadron of knights into the centre of the Turkish attack. Meanwhile Hunyadi was to outflank the enemy and attack in the rear. If this ruse succeeded victory would be assured. Hunyadi at first refused but later agreed and changed horses and armour with Simon Kemény. The Turks fell with savage ferocity upon the troops at whose head they thought to find Hunyadi, and broke into a roar of triumph when they saw the leader fall. They now confidently expected that the army, deprived of its leader would turn and flee. But at the critical moment Hunyadi, who had meanwhile outflanked the Turks, fiercely attacked, and the besieged garrison made a desperate sally. The Turks on learning that Hunyadi was alive and at the head of the army were panic-stricken, and fled. After the battle the bodies of twenty thousand Turks covered the field, that of Mezit Beg among them. Many prisoners and much booty were taken. As a result of Mezit Beg’s defeat at Nagyszeben the Wallachian Voivodes withdrew their allegiance from the Sultan and once more recognized the suzerainty of Hungary. This roused the wrath of the Sultan, who in the summer of the same year sent yet another army to Transylvania. Hunyadi routed it near Karánsebes, near the Iron Gates of the Danube.
The news of these two victories spread all over Europe. Hunyadi was regarded as a God-sent leader who would assure the victory of the Christian armies. Hunyadi appealed to the Christian powers to unite as speedily as possible and make a concentrated attack on the Turks. But his appeal met with scarcely any response. Only Hungary, encouraged by his victories, decided to take the offensive under King Wladislaw. Fighting began in July 1443 and lasted till February 1444. The Hungarians crossed the Danube and advanced through Sophia towards the mountains of the Balkans. They wiped out several smaller Turkish armies, took many prisoners and captured much booty.
The psychological effect of this successful campaign was important. It was the first time after several decades of purely defensive warfare that Hungary opened hostilities herself, and with splendid results. Rumours were in circulation that Germany, Venice and other European powers were making ready to join Hungary in striking a decisive blow at the enemies of Christianity. Encouraged by promises received from the Papal Nuncio Julianus, the Estates of the Realm resolved to continue the war. At that time Wladislaw and his court were in Szeged. The Sultan’s emissaries appeared at the Court and in their master’s name proposed peace on acceptable terms. Acting on the advice of his councillors, King Wladislaw concluded peace with the Sultan in July 1444. The King and the Estates were now in an awkward predicament. Those who did not believe in the sincerity of the Sultan argued in favour of a new offensive. Their arguments were supported by the fact that the Sultan had left unfulfilled certain conditions of the treaty. Finally the war party gained the upper hand and after much serious thought Wladislaw decided to accede to their demands.
The army which marched on the enemy consisted of scarcely 20.000 men, which were obviously not sufficient to achieve great results. But the Hungarians relied upon the promised assistance of the other countries and that the main body of the Sultan’s army would be preoccupied in Asia. They also hoped that the fleets cruising in the Straits would blockade that route and therefore they would be able to achieve the object of the campaign and drive the Turks out of Europe. Alas! All these hopes were doomed to disappointment. The western States failed them. The Sultan, on hearing that the Hungarians were on the march hurriedly concluded peace in Asia and returned to the European battleground. The European fleets in the Straits could not prevent the passage of the Turkish forces, the less so as the latter moved secretly, and with remarkable speed. It was only on November 9th, under the walls of Varna, that the Hungarians learned of the close proximity of the Sultan’s army, which was encamped but a short distance off.
After prolonged deliberation the Hungarian council of war decided to attack the Turks, although they outnumbered the Hungarians several times over. The battle began next day under circumstances that seemed to promise victory. Hunyadi routed the Turkish mounted troops and was already close on the heels of the Sultan. Then King Wladislaw thinking victory was certain and fearful lest Hunyadi should get all the credit for it, threw his own forces upon the hitherto unbroken ranks of Turkish infantry, the Janissaries. After a fierce struggle the Turks were victorious and nearly the whole of Wladislaw’ army was wiped out, the King himself being among the slain.
His death paralyzed the Hungarians, who wavered and began to break. In vain Hunyadi tried to rally his troops, but the battle was lost and Hunyadi himself was compelled to flee for his life.
As is usual when disaster overtakes an army the most conflicting rumours arose throughout the country. Nothing certain was known concerning the fate of the King, Hunyadi and the Papal Nuncio. Finally, it was established that Hunyadi escaped death but was taken prisoner by the Voivode of Wallachia, who, fearing the Sultan’s revenge and wishing to appease him, proposed handing Hunyadi over to the Turks. At the urgent request, however, of the Hungarian Estates, Hunyadi was liberated.
His return helped, but only partially, to clear up the situation. That the Papal Nuncio had been killed on the field seemed certain, but where was Wladislaw? Many asserted that he had escaped. This did not seem impossible, for in 1396, after the battle of Nicapolis, King Sigismund had shown no sign of life for months. Until, therefore, the King returned, the Estates placed the reins of government in the hands of five commanders or captains—Hunyadi among them. But this did not work well, and when the King’s death was more or less certain, Hunyadi suggested that Albert’s son Ladislas should ascend the throne, and that during his minority the country be ruled by a regent elected by the Estates with an advisory council to support him. The diet of the Estates, which met on the plain of Rákos, adopted this motion, and with great enthusiasm elected Hunyadi Regent of Hungary with almost royal prerogatives (1446).
Hunyadi’s regency lasted six years. During that time he had to contend with the jealousy of many rivals, who did their best to put stumbling-blocks in his path. This is why he could not boast of many outstanding achievements. Thanks to the treachery of the Wallachians, who went over to the enemy, he suffered defeat at Rigomezo in 1448. Nevertheless, his regency was fortunate for the country, since he checked the general decadence that had set in. His success in this direction was certainly in part due to the fact that he was able to organize a large army of volunteers. Under his rule the army ceased to be a haphazard militia dependent on the mood of the nobility. It became a well-equipped and disciplined regular army, and one of the best in Europe at that.
In 1452 he handed the country over to Ladislas V (1452—1457), who had now grown to manhood. Ladislas, as a token of his gratitude, appointed Hunyadi commander-in-chief of the army and thus the defence of the country fortunately remained in the same hands.
The young King had been brought up under the guardianship of his uncle Ulric Czilley, who educated the youth as if all a king needed to know was to dance and enjoy himself. He also poisoned the mind of the young King by making him jealous of John Hunyadi and his family, and filled him with distrust of the Hungarian nation as a whole. Thanks to this the unfortunate young King avoided Hungary and spent most of his time in Vienna or Prague among Germans and Bohemians. It is not difficult to guess what would have become of Hungary or of indolent Europe had the defence of the country been in the hands of Ladislas V, instead of in those of Hunyadi, at a time when the hordes of Islam were again preparing to attack.
In 1453 Constantinople fell and the thousand-year-old Greek Empire passed for ever from the map of Europe. The new Sultan, Mohammed, openly proclaimed his intention of subjugating Europe. By 1454 his armies were on the banks of the Danube, ready to advance, when the fortresses had been taken, on Hungary. Hunyadi’s alertness and courage, however, averted the danger. But the Sultan was not to be deterred from a second attempt. He assembled a great army and decided to lead it in person against Belgrade, then considered the key to Hungary. His huge preparations roused the anxiety of all the Christian nations of Europe. On learning of the Sultan’s intentions, Hunyadi first put the stronghold of Belgrade in a state of preparedness, duly garrisoned it and entrusted his son-in-law Michael Szilágyi and his own son Ladislas with its defence. He himself set about reinforcing the army. In this he was greatly assisted by John Capistrano, a Franciscan monk and an enthusiastic advocate of the union of the Christian nations against the Turks. His ardent and impassioned speeches induced a powerful host of crusaders to join Hunyadi’s army at Szeged, which advanced to the relief of Belgrade, by that time sorely pressed both by land and river. Hunyadi first scattered the Turkish boats and then penetrated into the city.
The relieving troops arrived in the nick of time. Shortly after their arrival the Sultan ordered the town to be carried by storm. At first the Turks managed to force an entrance, but after a fierce struggle the counterattack of the crusaders forced them to retire. Fired by this success, the Hungarians fell on the Turkish camp and captured it with its provisions and guns. The enemy fled leaving thousands of dead on the field, and the Sultan himself was wounded and barely escaped being made prisoner.
Hunyadi’s victory was overwhelming. The defeat sustained by the Turks was so crushing that Belgrade and its environs were safe from them for the next seventy years. When the glad news spread, the success of the Christian armies was celebrated everywhere by the Christian peoples, who felt that they had been saved from the Turkish yoke. In commemoration of that victory the Pope celebrated masses and ordered the church bells to be rung at noon throughout the Christian world. In Oxford the fall of Nándorféhérvár (Belgrade) was also welcomed—as we read in the history of the Oxford University—with a peal of bells and great celebrations. It is interesting to note that Hunyadi sent a special courier, Erasmus Fullar, to Oxford with the news of the victory. The custom still exists even among Protestant, Greek Catholic and Orthodox congregations, but Hungary’s service to Christian civilization, of which it was intended to be a reminder, has been more or less forgotten.
Hungary paid a very heavy price for this victory. The plague which broke out among the troops first carried off John Hunyadi on 11th August 1456, and some days later John Capistrano, who was afterwards canonized by the Catholic Church. Their memory is still revered in Hungary.
Ladislas V and his entourage held completely aloof from the deep national mourning which followed the great hero’s death. Who knows? Perhaps they even rejoiced in their hearts, for Czilley and others of like mind had always refused to see anything more than an envied and hated rival in Hunyadi, whom to their chagrin they had been powerless to harm. Personal enemies of Hunyadi and his family, they counted on the indifference and weakness of the young King and judged the moment favourable to seize control and break up the party that had been supporting the great Captain. They reckoned well. Ladislas V appointed Czilley chief military commander of the country and ordered Ladislas Hunyadi, who expected to receive the post, to hand over all the fortresses entrusted to him by his father. The King then went to Belgrade to inspect the battlefield, and took Czilley with him in his new capacity. Ladislas Hunyadi admitted the King and his Hungarian followers into the fortress, but invoking the constitutional laws of the country, refused to allow the German mercenaries to follow him. It may have been through this, or perhaps as an outcome of the new commander’s arrogant behaviour, that a bitter controversy arose between Ladislas Hunyadi and Czilley. The former reproached Czilley for his duplicity and hostility which had wrought so much evil on the country. The war of words soon developed into a fight with swords, Hunyadi’s followers intervened and Czilley was killed.
Terrified by his uncle’s unhappy end Ladislas V accepted the explanations of Hunyadi and his friends, but could not be brought to admit that Czilley was guilty of the charges laid against him. Surrounded, however, by the henchmen of the Hunyadis he pretended to condone by-gones and be willing to respect ancient traditions. As proof of his good faith he appointed Ladislas Hunyadi military commander of the country, and returning home, swore to Elizabeth Szildgyi not to seek revenge for Czilley’s death. But on reaching Buda he changed his mind. At the Court there was no one who was not a sworn enemy of the Hunyadi’s. His courtiers easily succeeded in fanning the flames of the King’s smouldering wrath. All argued that the assassination of Czilley had been deliberate, the authors of it wishing to make away with the most powerful and trustworthy of the King’s supporters prior to seizing the crown. According to opinion at Court, the King, if he wished to avert a catastrophe, could do no less than exterminate the Hunyadis and their party, root and branch. Ladislas, brought up to hate the Hunyadis, was inclined to believe what he was told. He had no personal objection to arresting the two young men with some of their more influential supporters and arraigning them before the courts of justice as traitors to King and country. The tribunal, composed of enemies of the family, condemned them to death without a hearing and ordered the confiscation of their estates. The sentence of death pronounced on Ladislas Hunyadi was executed on 16th March 1457 on St. George’s Square in Buda in the King’s presence. The others were imprisoned. When it became known that Ladislas Hunyadi had been beheaded, a revolution broke out. At the head of it was Michael Szilagyi. The squires in particular flocked to his standard and turned furiously against all who were suspected of being on the King’s side and enemies of the Hunyadis. General indignation was so strong that the King thought it wise to leave the country. He established his Court first in Vienna, then in Prague, and wherever he went he carried his prisoner, Matthias Hunyadi, with him. But it was not long before Ladislas V was called to his account before a Higher tribunal. He died on 13th November 1457, after a few days illness as he was contemplating marriage. He was one of the Hungarian Kings who have left the most tragic memories behind them — a men condemned from birth to be a constant provoker of strife and feuds.
After his death the chief question for the nation to decide was once again that of the succession. There was no lack of aspirants. But the overwhelming majority of the nation joined in an electioneering campaign with the name of Matthias Hunyadi on their lips. The Diet of Electors consisting of the nobility and gentry held their first session in Pest at the beginning of January 1458. It soon transpired that not only the squires but also the majority of the aristocracy were in favour of Matthias, and that there was no serious obstacle to his election. The debate, nevertheless, lasted for weeks, and the electors assembled in the city began to get impatient. On January 23rd a crowd of squires and citizens gathered on the ice of the frozen Danube and began to cheer Matthias. The response to this demonstration was so spontaneous and public opinion so unanimous that the Diet as one man proclaimed Matthias King of Hungary. With due regard to his youth they elected a Regent in the person of Michael Szilágyi. The news of his election to the throne was conveyed by a delegation to Matthias in Prague, where the young Hunyadi had just recovered his liberty after Ladislas’ death. The same delegation accompanied him on his way home. His journey was a veritable triumph, for his election was regarded as the victory of right and justice over tyranny, and the welcome was correspondingly warm.
WIKINOTES ON JOHN HUNYADI
Childhood (c. 1406 – c. 1420)
A royal charter of grant issued on 18 October 1409 contains the first reference to John Hunyadi. In the document, King Sigismund of Hungary bestowed Hunyad Castle (in present-day Hunedoara, Romania) and the lands attached to it upon John's father, Voyk and Voyk's four kinsmen, including John himself. According to the document, John's father served in the royal household as a "court knight" at that time, suggesting that he was descended from a respected family. Two 15th-century chroniclers—Johannes de Thurocz and Antonio Bonfini—write that Voyk had moved from Wallachia to Hungary upon King Sigismund's initiative. László Makkai, Malcolm Hebron, Pál Engel and other scholars accept the two chroniclers' report of the Wallachian origin of John Hunyadi's father. In contrast with them, Ioan-Aurel Pop says that Voyk was a native of the wider region of Hunyad Castle.
Antonio Bonfini was the first chronicler to have made a passing remark of an alternative story of John Hunyadi's parentage, soon stating that it was just a "tasteless tale" fabricated by Hunyadi's opponent, Ulrich II, Count of Celje. According to this anecdote, John was actually not Voyk's child, but King Sigismund's illegitimate son. The story became especially popular during the reign of John Hunyadi's son, Matthias Corvinus who erected a statue for King Sigismund in Buda. The 16th-century chronicler Gáspár Heltai repeated and further developed the tale, but modern scholars—for instance, Cartledge, and Kubinyi—regard it as an unverifiable gossip. Hunyadi's popularity among the peoples of the Balkan Peninsula give rise to further legends of his royal parentage.
The identification of John Hunyadi's mother is even less certain. In connection with King Sigismund's supposed parentage, both Bonfini and Heltai say that she was the daughter of a rich boyar, or nobleman, whose estates were located at Morzsina (present-day Margina, Romania). Pop proposes that she was called Elisabeth. According to historian László Makkai, John Hunyadi's mother was a member of the Muzsina (or Mușina) kenez family from Demsus (Densuș, Romania), but Pop refuses the identification of the Morzsina and Muzsina families.
With regard of John Hunyadi's mother, Bonfini provides an alternative solution as well, stating that she was a distinguished Greek lady, but does not name her. According to Kubinyi, her alleged Greek origin may simply refer to her Orthodox faith. In a letter of 1489, Matthias Corvinus wrote that his grandmother's sister, whom the Ottoman Turks had captured and forced to join the harem of an unnamed Sultan, became the ancestor of Cem, the rebellious son of Sultan Mehmed II. Based on this letter, historian Kubinyi says that the "Greek connection cannot be discounted entirely". If Matthias Corvinus' report is valid, John Hunyadi—the hero of anti-Ottoman wars—and the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II were first cousins. On the other hand, historian Péter E. Kovács writes that Matthias Corvinus's story about his family connection with the Ottoman Sultans was nothing but a pack of lies.
Hunyadi's year of birth is uncertain. Although Gáspár Heltai writes that Hunyadi was born in 1390, he must have actually been born between around 1405 and 1407, because his younger brother was only born after 1409, and a difference of almost two decades between the two brothers' age is not plausible. The place of his birth is likewise unknown. The 16th-century scholar, Antun Vrančić wrote that John Hunyadi had been "a native" of the Hátszeg region (now Țara Hațegului in Romania). Hunyadi's father died before 12 February 1419. A royal charter issued on this day mentions Hunyadi, Hunyadi's two brothers (John the younger and Voyk) and their uncle Radol, but does not refer to their father.
Youth (c. 1420 – 1438)
Andreas Pannonius, who served Hunyadi for five years, wrote that the future commander "accustomed himself to tolerate both cold and heat in good time". Like other young noblemen, John Hunyadi spent his youth serving in the court of powerful magnates. However, the exact list of his employers cannot be completed, because 15th-century authors recorded contradictory data on his early life.
Filippo Scolari's biographer, Poggio Bracciolini writes that Scolari—who was responsible for the defense of the southern frontier as Ispán, or head, of Temes County—educated Hunyadi from his very youth, suggesting that Hunyadi was Scolari's page around 1420. On the other hand, John of Capistrano writes, in a letter of 1456, that Hunyadi started his military career serving under Nicholas of Ilok. For Nicholas of Ilok was at least six year younger than Hunyadi, historian Pál Engel writes that Capistrano confused him with his brother, Stephen of Ilok. Finally, Antonio Bonfini says that at the beginning of his career Hunyadi worked either for Demeter Csupor, Bishop of Zagreb or for the Csákys.
According to the Byzantine historian Laonikos Chalkokondyles, the young Hunyadi "stayed for a time" at the court of Stefan Lazarević, Despot of Serbia, who died in 1427. Hunyadi's marriage with Elisabeth Szilágyi substantiates Chalkokondyles' report, because her father, Ladislaus was the Despot's familiaris around 1426. The wedding took place around 1429. While still a young man, Hunyadi entered the retinue of King Sigismund. He accompanied Sigismund to Italy in 1431 and upon Sigismund's order he joined the army of Filippo Maria Visconti, Duke of Milan. Bonfini says that Hunyadi "served two years" in the Duke's army. Modern scholars—for instance, Cartledge, Engel, Mureşanu and Teke—say that Hunyadi familiarized himself with the principles of contemporary military art, including the employment of mercenaries, in Milan.
Hunyadi again joined the entourage of Sigismund, who had in the meantime been crowned Holy Roman Emperor in Rome, at the very end of 1433. He served the monarch as a "court knight". He loaned 1,200 gold florins to the Emperor in January 1434. In exchange, Sigismund mortgaged Papi—a market town in Csanád County—and half of the royal incomes from a nearby ferry on the Maros River to Hunyadi and his younger brother. The royal charter of the transaction mentions Hunyadi as John the Vlach (Romanian). In short, Sigismund granted Hunyadi further domains, including Békésszentandrás, and Hódmezővásárhely, each incorporating about 10 villages.
Antonio Bonfini writes of Hunyadi's service in the retinue of one "Francis Csanádi" who "became so fond of him that treated him as if he were his own son". Historian Engel identifies Francis Csanádi with Franko Talovac, Croatian nobleman and Ban of Severin, who was also Ispán of Csanád County around 1432. Engel says that Hunyadi served in the Ban's retinue for at least one and a half years from around October 1434. A Vlach district of the Banate of Severin was mortgaged to Hunyadi in this period.
Sigismund, who entered Prague in the summer of 1436, hired Hunyadi and his 50 lancers for three months in October 1437 for 1,250 gold florins, implying that Hunyadi had accompanied him to Bohemia. Hunyadi seems to have studied the Hussites' tactics on this occasion, because he later applied its featuring elements, including the use of wagons as a mobile fortress. On 9 December 1437 Sigismund died; his son-in-law, Albert was elected King of Hungary in nine days. According to historians Teke and Engel, Hunyadi soon returned to the southern frontiers of the kingdom which had been subject to Ottoman raids. In contrast with them, Mureşanu says that Hunyadi served King Albert in Bohemia for at least a year, till the end of 1438.
First battles with the Ottomans (1438–1442)
The Ottomans had occupied the larger part of Serbia by the end of 1438. In the same year, Ottoman troops—supported by Vlad II Dracul, Prince of Wallachia—made an incursion into Transylvania, plundering Hermannstadt/Nagyszeben, Gyulafehérvár (present-day Alba Iulia, Romania) and other towns. After the Ottomans laid siege to Smederevo, the last important Serbian stronghold in June 1439, Đurađ Branković, Despot of Serbia fled to Hungary to seek military assistance.
King Albert proclaimed the general insurrection of the nobility against the Ottomans, but few armed noblemen assembled in the region of Titel and were ready to fight. A notable exception was Hunyadi, who made raids against the besiegers and defeated them in smaller skirmishes, which contributed to the rise of his fame. The Ottomans captured Smederevo in August. King Albert appointed the Hunyadi brothers Bans of Severin, elevating them to the rank of "true barons of the realm". He also mortgaged a Vlach district in Temes County to them.
King Albert died of dysentery on 27 October 1439. His widow, Elisabeth—Emperor Sigismund's daughter—gave birth to a posthumus son, Ladislaus. The Estates of the realm offered the crown to Vladislaus, King of Poland, but Elizabeth had his infant son crowned king on 15 May 1440. However, Vladislaus accepted the Estates' offer and was also crowned king on 17 July. During the ensuing civil war between the two kings' partisans, Hunyadi supported Vladislaus. Hunyadi fought against the Ottomans in Wallachia, for which King Vladislaus granted him five domains in the vicinity of his family estates on 9 August 1440.
Hunyadi, together with Nicholas of Ilok, annihilated the troops of Vladislaus' opponents at Bátaszék at the very beginning of 1441. Their victory effectively put an end to the civil war. The grateful King appointed Hunyadi and his comrade joint Voivodes of Transylvania and Counts of the Székelys in February. In short, the King also nominated them Ispáns of Temes County and conferred upon them the command of Belgrade and all other castles along the Danube.
Since Nicholas of Ilok spent most of his time in the royal court, in practice Hunyadi administered Transylvania and the southern borderlands alone. Soon after his appointment, Hunyadi visited Transylvania where the child Ladislaus V's partisans had maintained a strong position. After Hunyadi pacified Transylvania, the regions under his administration remained undisturbed by internal conflicts, enabling Hunyadi to concentrate on the defence of the borders. By effectively defending the interests of local landowners at the royal court, Hunyadi strengthened his position in the provinces under his administration. For instance, he obtained land grants and privileges for local noblemen from the King.
Hunyadi set about repairing the walls of Belgrade, which had been damaged during an Ottoman attack. In retaliation for Ottoman raids in the region of the river Sava, he made an incursion into Ottoman territory in the summer or autumn of 1441. He scored a pitched battle victory over Ishak Bey, the commander of Smederovo.
Early the next year, Bey Mezid invaded Transylvania with a force of 17,000 soldiers. Hunyadi was taken by surprise and lost the first battle near Marosszentimre (Sântimbru, Romania). Bey Mezid lay siege to Hermannstadt, but the united forces of Hunyadi and Újlaki, who had in the meantime arrived in Transylvania, forced the Ottomans to lift the siege.The Ottoman forces were annihilated at Gyulafehérvár on 22 March.
Pope Eugenius IV, who had been an enthusiastic propagator of a new crusade against the Ottomans, sent his legate, Cardinal Giuliano Cesarini to Hungary. The Cardinal arrived in May 1442 tasked with mediating a peace treaty between King Vladislaus and Dowager Queen Elisabeth. The Ottoman Sultan, Murad II dispatched Şihabeddin Pasha—the governor of Rumelia—to invade Transylvania with a force of 70,000. The Pasha stated that the mere sight of his turban would force his enemies to run far away. Although Hunyadi could only muster a force of 15,000 men, he inflicted a crushing defeat on the Ottomans at the Ialomița River in September. John Hunyadi and his 15,000 men defeated the 80,000-strong army of Begler Bey Sehabeddin at Zajkány (today's Zeicani), near the Iron Gate of the Danube river in 1442. Hunyadi placed Basarab II on the princely throne of Wallachia, but Basarab's opponent Vlad Dracul returned and forced Basarab to flee in early 1443.
Hunyadi's victories in 1441 and 1442 made him a prominent enemy of the Ottomans and renowned throughout Christendom. He established a vigorous offensive posture in his battles, which enabled him to counteract the numerical superiority of the Ottomans through decisive maneuver. He employed mercenaries (many of them recently disbanded Czech Hussite troops), increasing the professionalism in his ranks and supplementing the numerous irregulars mustered from local peasantry, whom he had no reservations about employing in the field.
The "Long Campaign" (1442–1444)
In April 1443 King Vladislaus and his barons decided to mount a major campaign against the Ottoman Empire. With the mediation of Cardinal Cesarini, Vladislaus reached a truce with Frederick III of Germany, who had been the guardian of the child Ladislaus V. The armistice guaranteed that Frederick III would not attack Hungary in the subsequent twelve months.
Spending around 32,000 gold florins from his own treasury, Hunyadi hired more than 10,000 mercenaries. The King also mustered troops, and reinforcements arrived from Poland and Moldavia. The King and Hunyadi departed for the campaign at the head of an army of 25–27,000 men in the autumn of 1443. In theory, Vladislaus commanded the army, but the true leader of the campaign was Hunyadi. Despot Đurađ Branković joined them with a force of 8,000 men.
Hunyadi commanded the vanguards and routed four smaller Ottoman forces, hindering their unification. He captured Kruševac, Niš and Sofia. However, the Hungarian troops could not break through the passes of the Balkan Mountains towards Edirne. Cold weather and the lack of supplies forced the Christian troops to stop the campaign at Zlatitsa. After being victorious in the Battle of Kunovica, they returned to Belgrade in January and Buda in February 1444.
Battle of Varna and its aftermath (1444–1446)
Although no major Ottoman forces had been defeated, Hunyadi's "long campaign" stirred enthusiasm throughout Christian Europe. Pope Eugenius, Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy and other European powers demanded a new crusade, promising financial or military support. The formation of a "party"—a group of noblemen and clerics—under Hunyadi's leadership can be dated to this period. Their main purpose was the defence of Hungary against the Ottomans. According to a letter of Đurađ Branković, Hunyadi spent more than 63,000 gold florins to hire mercenaries in the first half of the year. An eminent representative of Renaissance humanism in Hungary, John Vitéz became Hunyadi's close friend around that time.
The advance of Christian forces in Ottoman territory also encouraged the peoples of the Balkan Peninsula to revolt in the peripheries of the Ottoman Empire. For instance, Skanderbeg, an Albanian noble, expelled the Ottomans from Krujë and all other fortresses once held by his family. Sultan Murad II, whose main concern was a rebellion by the Karamanids in Anatolia, offered generous terms of peace to King Vladislaus. He even promised to withdraw the Ottoman garrisons from Serbia, thus restoring its semi-autonomous status under Despot Đurađ Branković. He also offered a truce for ten years. The Hungarian envoys accepted the Sultan's offer in Edirne on 12 June 1444.
Đurađ Branković, who was grateful for the restoration of his realm, donated his estates at Világos (present-day Șiria, Romania) in Zaránd County to Hunyadi on 3 July. Hunyadi proposed King Vladislaus to confirm the advantageous treaty, but Cardinal Cesarini urged the monarch to continue the crusade. On 4 August Vladislaus took a solemn oath of launching a campaign against the Ottoman Empire before the end of the year even if a peace treaty were concluded. According to Johannes de Thurocz, the King appointed Hunyadi to sign the peace treaty on 15 August. In a week, Đurađ Branković mortgaged his extensive domains in the Kingdom of Hungary—including Debrecen, Munkács (present-day Mukacheve, Ukraine), and Nagybánya (present-day Baia Mare, Romania)—to Hunyadi.
King Vladislaus, whom Cardinal Cesarini urged to keep his oath, decided to invade the Ottoman Empire in autumn. Upon the Cardinal's proposal, he offered Hunyadi the crown of Bulgaria. The crusaders departed from Hungary on 22 September. They planned to advance towards the Black Sea across the Balkan Mountains. They expected that the Venetian fleet would hinder Sultan Murad from transferring Ottoman forces from Anatolia to the Balkans, but the Genoese transported the Sultan's army across the Dardanelles. The two armies clashed near Varna on 10 November.
Although outnumbered by two to one, the crusaders initially ruled the battlefield against the Ottomans. However, the young King Vladislaus launched a premature attack against the janissaries and was killed. Taking advantage of the crusaders' panic, the Ottomans annihilated their army. Hunyadi narrowly escaped from the battlefield, but was captured and imprisoned by Wallachian soldiers. However, Vlad Dracul set him free before long.
At the next Diet of Hungary, which assembled in April 1445, the Estates decided that they would unanimously acknowledge the child Ladislaus V's rule if King Vladislaus, whose fate was still uncertain, had not arrived in Hungary by the end of May. The Estates also elected seven "Captains in Chief", including Hunyadi, each being responsible for the restoration of internal order in the territory allotted to them. Hunyadi was assigned to administer the lands east of the river Tisza. Here he possessed at least six castles and owned lands in about ten counties, which made him the most powerful baron in the region under his rule.
Hunyadi was planning to organize a new crusade against the Ottoman Empire. For this purpose, he barraged the Pope and other Western monarchs with letters in 1445. In September he had a meeting, at Nicopolis, with Waleran de Wavrin (nephew of the chronicler Jean de Wavrin), the captain of eight Burgundian galleys, and Vlad Dracul of Wallachia, who had seized small fortresses along the Lower Danube from the Ottomans. However, he did not risk a clash with the Ottoman garrisons stationed on the south bank of the river, and returned to Hungary before winter. Vlad Dracul soon concluded a peace treaty with the Ottomans.
The Estates of the realm proclaimed Hunyadi regent, bestowing the title "governor" upon him on 6 June 1446. His election was primarily promoted by the lesser nobility, but Hunyadi had by that time become one of the richest barons of the kingdom. His domains covered an area exceeding 800,000 hectares (2,000,000 acres). Hunyadi was one of the few contemporaneous barons who spent a significant part of their revenues to finance the wars against the Ottomans, thus bearing a large share of the cost of fighting for many years.
As governor, Hunyadi was authorized to exercise most royal prerogatives for the period of King Ladislaus V's minority. For instance, he could make land grants, but only up to the size of 32 peasant holdings. Hunyadi attempted to pacify the border regions. Soon after his election, he launched an unsuccessful campaign against Ulrich II, Count of Celje. Count Ulrich administered Slavonia with the title ban (which he had arbitrarily adopted) and refused to renounce of it in favor of Hunyadi's appointee. Hunyadi could not force him to submit.[
Hunyadi persuaded John Jiskra of Brandýs—a Czech commander who controlled the northern regions (in present-day Slovakia)—to sign an armistice for three years on 13 September. However, Jiskra did not keep the truce, and armed conflicts continued. In November Hunyadi proceeded against Frederick III of Germany, who had refused to release Ladislaus V and seized Kőszeg, Sopron and other towns along the western border. Hunyadi's troops plundered Austria, Styria, Carinthia and Carniola, but no decisive battle was fought. A truce with Frederick III was signed on 1 June 1447. Although Frederick renounced of Győr, his position as the minor King's guardian was confirmed. The Estates of the realm were disappointed and the Diet elected Ladislaus Garai—a leader of Hunyadi's opponents—Palatine in September 1447.
Hunyadi accelerated his negotiations, which had been commenced in the previous year, with Alfonso the Magnanimous, King of Aragon and Naples. He even offered the crown to Alfonso in exchange for the King's participation in an anti-Ottoman crusade and the confirmation of his position as governor. However, King Alfonso refrained from signing an agreement.
Hunyadi invaded Wallachia and dethroned Vlad Dracul in December 1447. According to the contemporaneous Polish chronicler Jan Długosz, Hunyadi had "the very man he promised to make voivode" blinded, and planned "to appropriate" Wallachia for himself. Hunyadi styled himself "voivode of the Transalpine land" and referred to the Wallachian town, Târgoviște as "our fortress" in a letter of 4 December. It is without doubt that Hunyadi installed a new voivode in Wallachia, but modern historians debate whether the new voivode was Vladislav II (to whom Hunyadi referred as his relative in a letter) or Dan (who seems to have been a son of Basarab II). In February 1448 Hunyadi sent an army to Moldavia to support the pretender Peter in seizing the throne. In exchange, Peter acknowledged Hunyadi's suzerainty and contributed to the installation of a Hungarian garrison in the fort of Chilia Veche on the Lower Danube.
Hunyadi made a new attempt to expel Count Ulrich of Celje from Slavonia, but could not defeat him. In June Hunyadi and the Count reached an agreement, which confirmed Count Ulrich's position of Ban in Slavonia. In short time Hunyadi sent his envoys to the two most prominent Albanian leaders—Scanderbeg and his father-in-law, Gjergj Arianiti—to seek their assistance against the Ottomans. Pope Eugenius suggested that the anti-Ottoman campaign should be postponed. However, Hunyadi stated, in a letter dated 8 September 1448, that he "have had enough of our men enslaved, our women raped, wagons loaded with the severed heads of our people" and expressed his determination to expel "the enemy from Europe". In the same letter, he explained his military strategy to the Pope, stating that "power is always greater when used in attack rather than in defence".
Hunyadi departed for the new campaign at the head of an army of 16,000 soldiers in September 1448. About 8,000 soldiers from Wallachia also joined his campaign. For Đurađ Branković refused to assist the crusaders, Hunyadi treated him as the Ottoman's ally and his army marched through Serbia plundering the countryside. In order to prevent the unification of the armies of Hunyadi and Skanderbeg, Sultan Murad II joined battle with Hunyadi on Kosovo Polje on 17 October. The battle, which lasted for three days, ended with the crusaders' catastrophic defeat. Around 17,000 Hungarian and Wallachian soldiers were killed or captured and Hunyadi could hardly escape from the battlefield. On his way home, Hunyadi was captured by Đurađ Branković who kept him prisoner in the fort of Smederevo. The Despot was initially contemplating to surrender Hunyadi to the Ottomans. However, the Hungarian barons and prelates who assembled at Szeged persuaded him to make peace with Hunyadi. According to the treaty, Hunyadi was obliged to pay a ransom of 100,000 gold florins and to return all the domains that he had acquired from Đurađ Branković. Hunyadi's oldest son, Ladislaus was sent to the Despot as a hostage. Hunyadi was released, and he returned to Hungary in late December 1448.
His defeat and his humiliating treaty with the Despot weakened Hunyadi's position. The prelates and the barons confirmed the treaty and assigned Branković to negotiate with the Ottomans, and Hunyadi resigned from the office of Voivode of Transylvania. He invaded the lands controlled by John Jiskra and his Czech mercenaries in the autumn of 1449, but could not defeat them. On the other hand, the rulers of two neighboring countries—Stjepan Tomaš, King of Bosnia, and Bogdan II, Voivode of Moldavia—concluded a treaty with Hunyadi, promising that they would remain loyal to him. In early 1450 Hunyadi and Jiskra signed a peace treaty in Mezőkövesd, acknowledging that many prosperous towns in Upper Hungary—including Pressburg/Pozsony (present-day Bratislava, Slovakia) and Kassa (present-day Košice, Slovakia)—remained under Jiskra's rule.
Upon Hunyadi's demand, the Diet of March 1450 ordered the confiscation of Branković's estates in the Kingdom of Hungary. Hunyadi and his troops departed for Serbia, forcing Branković to release his son. Hunyadi, Ladislaus Garai and Nicholas Újlaki concluded a treaty on 17 July 1450, promising each other assistance to preserve their offices in case King Ladislaus V returned to Hungary. In October Hunyadi made peace with Frederick III of Germany, which confirmed the German monarch's position as guardian of Ladislaus V for further eight years. With the mediation of Újlaki and other barons, Hunyadi also concluded a peace treaty with Branković in August 1451, which authorized Hunyadi to redeem the debated domains for 155,000 gold florins. Hunyadi launched a military expedition against Jiskra, but the Czech commander routed the Hungarian troops near Losonc (present-day Lučenec, Slovakia) on 7 September. With the mediation of Branković, Hungary and the Ottoman Empire signed a three-year truce on 20 November.
The Austrian noblemen rose up in open rebellion against Frederick III of Germany, who governed the duchy in the name of Ladislaus the Posthumus at the turn of 1451 and 1452. The leader of the rebellion, Ulrich Eizinger sought the assistance of the Estates of Ladislaus's two other realms, Bohemia and Hungary. The Diet of Hungary, which assembled in Pressburg/Pozsony in February 1452, sent a delegation to Vienna. On 5 March the Austrian and Hungarian Estates jointly requested Frederick III to renounce the guardianship of their young sovereign. Frederick, who had been crowned Holy Roman Emperor, initially refused to satisfy their demand. Hunyadi convoked a Diet to discuss the situation, but before the Diet made any decision the united troops of the Austrian and Bohemian Estates forced the Emperor to hand over the young monarch to Count Ulrich of Celje on 4 September. In the meantime, Hunyadi had met Jiskra in Körmöcbánya (present-day Kremnica, Slovakia) where they concluded a treaty on 24 August. According to the treaty, Jiskra retained Léva (present-day Levica, Slovakia) and his right to collect the "thirtieth"—a custom duty—at Késmárk (present-day Kežmarok, Slovakia) and Ólubló (present-day Stará Ľubovňa, Slovakia). In September Hunyadi sent envoys to Constantinople and promised military assistance to the Byzantine Emperor Constantine XI. In exchange, he demanded two Byzantine forts on the Black Sea, Silivri and Misivri, but the Emperor refused.
Hunyadi convoked a Diet to Buda, but the barons and the prelates preferred to visit Ladislaus V in Vienna in November. At the Diet of Vienna, Hunyadi renounced the regency, but the King appointed him "captain general of the kingdom" on 30 January 1453. The King even authorized Hunyadi to keep the royal castles and royal revenues that he possessed at that time. Hunyadi also received Beszterce (present-day Bistrița, Romania)—a district of the Transylvanian Saxons—with the title "perpetual count" from Ladislaus V, which was the first grant of a hereditary title in the Kingdom of Hungary.
Conflicts and reconciliations (1453–1455)
In a letter of 28 April 1453, Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini—the future Pope Pius II—stated that King Ladislaus V's realms were administered by "three men": Hungary by Hunyadi, Bohemia by George of Poděbrady, and Austria by Ulrich of Celje.[ However, Hunyadi's position gradually weakened, because even many of his former allies considered his acts to retain his power with suspicion. The citizens of Beszterce forced him to issue a charter confirming their traditional liberties on 22 July. Hunyadi's longtime friend, Nicholas Újlaki made a formal alliance with Palatine Ladislaus Garai and Judge royal Ladislaus Pálóci, declaring their intention to restore royal authority in September.
Hunyadi accompanied the young King to Prague and concluded a treaty with Ulrich Eizinger (who had expelled Ulrich of Celje from Austria) and George of Poděbrady at the end of the year. Having returned to Hungary, Hunyadi convoked, in the name of the King but without his authorization, a Diet in order to make preparations for a war on the Ottomans who had in May 1453 captured Constantinople. The Diet ordered the mobilization of the armed forces and Hunyadi's position of supreme commander was confirmed for a year, but many of the decisions was never carried out. For instance, the Diet obliged all landowners to equip four cavalrymen and two infantrymen for every hundred peasant households on their domains, but this law was never applied in practise.
Ladislaus V convoked a new Diet which assembled in March or April. At the Diet, his envoys—three Austrian noblemen—announced that the King was planning to administer royal revenues through officials elected by the Diet and to set up two councils (also with members elected by the Estates) in order to assist him in governing the country. However, the Diet refused to ratify most of the royal proposals, only the establishment of a royal council consisting of six prelates, six barons and six noblemen was accepted. Hunyadi, who was well aware that the King attempted to limit his authority, demanded an explanation, but the King denied that he had knowledge of his representatives' act. On the other hand, Jiskra returned to Hungary upon Ladislaus V's request and the King entrusted him with the administration of the mining towns. In response, Hunyadi persuaded Ulrich of Celje to cede him a number of royal fortresses (and the lands pertaining to them) which had been mortgaged in Trencsén County.
The Ottoman Sultan, Mehmed II invaded Serbia in May 1454 and laid siege to Smederevo, thus violating the truce of November 1451 between his empire and Hungary. Hunyadi decided to intervene and started to assemble his armies at Belgrade, forcing the Sultan to lift the siege and leave Serbia in August. However, an Ottoman force of 32,000 strong continued to pillage Serbia up until Hunyadi routed them at Kruševac on 29 September. He made a raid against the Ottoman Empire and destroyed Vidin before returning to Belgrade.
Emperor Frederick III convoked the Imperial Diet to Wiener Neustadt to discuss the possibilities of a new crusade against the Ottomans. At the conference, where the envoys of the Hungarian, Polish, Aragonese and Burgundian monarchs were also present, no final decisions were made, because the Emperor refrained from a sudden attack against the Ottomans. According to Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini, the Emperor hindered Hunyadi from participating at the meeting. In contrast with the Emperor, the new Pope, Callixtus III was a fierce supporter of the crusade.
King Ladislaus V visited Buda in February 1456. Ulrich of Celje, who accompanied the King to Buda, confirmed his former alliance with Ladislaus Garai and Nicholaus Újlaki. The three barons turned against Hunyadi and accused him of abusing his authority. A new Ottoman invasion against Serbia promoted a new reconciliation between Hunyadi and his opponents, and Hunyadi resigned the administration of part of the royal revenues and three royal fortresses, including Buda.On the other hand, Hunyadi, Garai and Újlaki made an agreement that they would refrain the King from employing foreigners in the royal administration in June 1455. Hunyadi and Count Ulrich were also reconciled in next month, when Hunyadi's younger son, Matthias and the Count's daughter, Elizabeth were engaged.
Belgrade victory and death (1455–1456)
Envoys from Ragusa (Dubrovnik, Croatia) were the first to have informed the Hungarian leaders of the preparations that Mehmed II had made for an invasion against Hungary. In a letter addressed to Hunyadi, whom he styled as the Maccabeus of our time, the papal legate, Cardinal Juan Carvajal made it clear that there was not much chance of foreign assistance against the Ottomans. With the Ottomans' support, Vladislav II of Wallachia even plundered the southern parts of Transylvania in late 1455.
John of Capistrano, a Franciscan friar and papal inquisitor, started to preach an anti-Ottoman crusade in Hungary in February 1456. The Diet ordered the mobilization of the armed forces in April, but most barons failed to obey and continued to war against their local adversaries, including the Hussites in Upper Hungary. Before departing from Transylvania against the Ottomans, Hunyadi had to face a rebellion by the Vlachs in Fogaras County. He also supported Vlad Dracula—a son of the late Vlad Dracul—to seize the Wallachian throne from Vladislav II.
King Ladislaus V left Hungary for Vienna in May. Hunyadi hired 5,000 Hungarian, Czech and Polish mercenaries and sent them to Belgrade, which was the key fortress of the defense of Hungary's southern frontiers. The Ottoman forces marched through Serbia and approache Nándorfehérvár (modern-day Belgrade) in June. A crusade made up mostly of peasants from the nearby counties, who had been roused by John of Capistrano's fiery oratory, also started to assemble at the fortress in the first days of July. The Ottoman siege of Belgrade, which was personally commanded by Sultan Mehmed II, began with the bombardment of the walls on 4 July.
Hunyadi proceeded to form a relief army, and assembled a fleet of 200 ships on the Danube. The flotilla assembled by Hunyadi destroyed the Ottoman fleet on 14 July. This triumph prevented the Ottomans from completing the blockade, enabling Hunyadi and his troops to enter the fortress. The Ottomans started a general assault on 21 July. With the assistance of crusaders who were continuously arriving to the fortress, Hunyadi repulsed the fierce attacks by the Ottomans and broke into their camp on 22 July. Although wounded during the fights, Sultan Mehmed II, decided to resist, but a riot in his camp forced him to lift the siege and retreat from Belgrade during the night.
The crusaders' victory over the Sultan who had conquered Constantinople generated enthusiasm throughout Europe. Processions to celebrate Hunyadi's triumph were made in Venice and Oxford. However, in the crusaders' camp unrest was growing, because the peasants denied that the barons had played any role in the victory. In order to avoid an open rebellion, Hunyadi and Capistrano disbanded the crusaders' army.
Meanwhile, a plague had broken out and killed many people in the crusaders' camp. Hunyadi was also taken ill and died near Zimony (present-day Zemun, Serbia) on 11 August. He was buried in the Roman Catholic St. Michael's Cathedral in Gyulafehérvár (Alba Iulia).
[Hunyadi] governed the country with an iron rod, as they say, and while the king was away he was regarded as his equal. After routing the Turks at Belgrade [...], he survived for a brief time before dying of disease. When he was ill, they say that he forbade the Body of Our Lord to be brought to him, declaring that it was unworthy for a king to enter the house of a servant. Although his strength was failing, he ordered himself to be carried out to church, where he made his confession in Christian way, received the divine Eucharist, and surrendered his soul to God in the arms of the priests. Fortunate soul to have arrived in Heaven as both herald and author of the heroic action at Belgrade.
In 1432, Hunyadi married Erzsébet Szilágyi(c. 1410–1483), a Hungarian noblewoman. John Hunyadi had two children, Ladislaus and Matthias Corvinus. The former was executed on the order of King Ladislaus V for the murder of Ulrich II of Celje, a relative of the king. The latter was elected king on 20 January 1458, Matthias after Ladislaus V's death. It was the first time in the history of the Kingdom of Hungary that a member of the nobility, without dynastic ancestry and relationship, mounted the royal throne.
Pope Callixtus III ordered the bells of every European church to be rung every day at noon, as a call for believers to pray for the Christian defenders of the city of Belgrade. The practice of noon bell&is traditionally attributed to the international commemoration of the Belgrade victory and to the order of Pope Callixtus III.
The custom still exists even among Protestant and Orthodox congregations. In the history of Oxford University, the victory was welcomed with a peal of bells and great celebrations in England too. Hunyadi sent a special courier (among others), Erasmus Fullar, to Oxford with the news of the victory.
Byzantine literature treated Hunyadi as a saint:
First, I glorify the Emperor of Hellas
who Alexander the Macedon, the son of Olympias.
The Christian Emperor, who is the peak and the root
and found the cross, the mighty Constantine.
and the third one is the absolutely marvelous Emperor John.
How to write a tribute for him
and should my mind how rise to exalted praise?
Because like the two Emperors mentioned above
I also pay such respect to the above Emperor.
It is worthy and appropriate that the Church of Rome
and the whole generation of Eastern and Western Christians
respectfully draw a full memory of the present.
Who became famous in the battles of wars
the brave and the timid ones and all the generations, I say,
to fall before John of Hungary today,
glorify him as a knight
glorify him today as an Emperor,
together with the ancient, mighty, and brave Samson,
with the terrible Alexander and the mighty Constantine.
I glorify the evangelists, I also glorify the prophets,
and the mighty Saints fighting for Christ,
and among them, I glorify Emperor John.
— Greek poem on the Battle of Varna
STATUE OF PRINCE ARPAD. Place of Heroes. Budapest
AUGSBURG IN THE MIDDLE AGES
Statue of Stephen I of Hungary in Buda Castle
South eastern Europe in 1444