Kingdom of Hungary in the Middle Ages

Kingdom of Hungary in the Middle Ages
Kingdom of Hungary
Magyar Királyság (hu)
Regnum Hungariae (la)



Árpád war flag
(11th to 13th centuries)
Coat of arms
(late 15th century)
Territory of Kingdom of Hungary, without vassal countries, by the end of the 15th century
Capital Székesfehérvár and later Buda
Religion Roman Catholic
Government Monarchy
 - 1000–38 Stephen I of Hungary
 - Coronation of
    Stephen I

 - Ottoman occupation
    of Buda

 - Abdication of John II
    Sigismund Zápolya

Currency Denarius silver coin (from 970s) with Florentinus golden coin (from 1325)
History of Hungary

This article is part of a series
Prehistoric Pannonia
Prehistoric Magyars
Early history
Roman Pannonia
Magyar invasion
Middle Ages (896–1541)
Principality of Hungary
Medieval Kingdom of Hungary
Turkish wars
Early Modern history
Habsburg Kingdom of Hungary
Eastern Hungarian Kingdom
Ottoman Hungary
Principality of Transylvania
Late modern period
Rákóczi's War
Revolution of 1848
Lands of the Crown of Saint Stephen
Hungary in World War I
Interwar period
Kingdom of Hungary
World War II
Contemporary history
(1946 to present)
Republic of Hungary
People's Republic
Revolution of 1956
Republic of Hungary
(since 1989)
Church history
Military history
Music history
Jewish history
Székely people

Hungary Portal
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The Kingdom of Hungary was formed from the previous Principality of Hungary with the coronation of Stephen I in AD 1000. This was a result of the conversion of Géza of Hungary to the Western Church in the 970s.

This kingdom was led by the Árpád Dynasty for the next three centuries. Eventually the Árpád line died out and the Kingdom of Hungary again descended into anarchy, with the most powerful nobles competing for control. After the Árpád Dynasty ended, Hungary's nobles chose a series of foreign kings who re-established strong royal authority.

The kingdom disintegrated as a result of the expansion of the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century. Before the Ottoman occupancy, on 24 February 1538, the Habsburgs and Szapolyai divided the kingdom according to the secret agreement of Nagyvárad.[1] The country was effectively split into three parts in 1541: a central portion controlled by the Ottoman Empire as Budin Province, a western part controlled by Habsburg Austria as Royal Hungary, and Transylvania as the Eastern Hungarian Kingdom which became an Ottoman vassal state.



The Latin name Regnum Hungariae/Vngarie (as well as the Hungarian Magyar Királyság and the German Königreich Ungarn) was revived in the 1840s to denote the Habsburg-ruled Royal Hungary until the establishment of the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary in 1867.

The term Natio Hungarica was reserved for the elite with participation in the Hungarian Diet.

Árpád dynasty (970s—1301)

Principality of Hungary

Hungary in the 11th century

In the 970s—as a pressing result of the changed domestic and foreign affairs—chief prince Géza adopted Christianity, and started spreading it in the country. At the same time he started to organize the central power, too. He hardly ever made war against foreign countries during his 25-year-long princely rule. His peace policy was reinforced by dynastic marriages—which were quite usual at that time—between his children and members of foreign ruling families, in order to consolidate the rule of the Magyars in the Carpathian Basin.

Géza's efforts to establish a stable state power and guarantee the throne for his son were not successful because he had to share the country with the other members of the principal family. Prince Koppány also laid claim to the throne. In the Hungarian succession the theory of seniority—the right of the oldest living brother—prevailed. Koppány also laid claim upon the principal's widow, Sarolt. Géza's will, that his first-born son should inherit the throne, contradicted the ancestral right.

In connection with adopting Christianity, the question of vital importance was whether Hungary should join the western or the Eastern Orthodox Church. Initially (around 948) the Hungarian noblemen joined the Byzantine Church. In the autumn of 972 Saint Adalbert of Prague was sent as bishop of the Hungarians by Pope Silvester II to spread western Christianity among the Hungarians. He christened Géza and his family. His wife, Sharolt, had been baptized by a Greek bishop in her early childhood. The decision to accept the second christening was dictated by foreign relations. The last phase of the Hungarian raids was directed against the southeast, and this alienated the Byzantines. It may have been a warning to the Hungarian principality when the Byzantine emperor abolished the political and religious independence of Bulgaria in the mid 11th century, after a period of short integration of the First Bulgarian Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire.

Consequently, the Hungarian chief prince needed the political, moral, and occasional military help of the German empire because of the Byzantine threat. Adopting western Christianity was thus both a cultural and a political event for the Hungarians. During Géza's reign, the plundering campaigns came to an end. His efforts to establish a country independent of other powers was almost successful before he died.

The Reign of István (Stephen)

Europe in 1000 AD, during Stephen I's rule.
The Old Hungarian script, the so-called "Rovás alphabet" The country switched to using the Latin language and alphabet under king saint Stephen (reigned: 997–1038), and until as late as 1844, Latin remained the official language of Hungary

When Géza died the issue of succession to the throne created tension at the court: by ancestral right Koppány should have claimed the throne,[2] but Géza chose his first-born son to be his successor. The fight in the chief prince's family started after Géza's death, in 997. Koppány took up arms, and many people in Transdanubia joined him. The rebels represented the old faith and order, tribal independence and the pagan belief. His opposer, Vajk Stephen, got the name István (Stephen) when he was christened, at that time the prince of Nitra, supported by the loyal Magyar lords and German and Italian knights wanted to join European Christian community of independent states. Stephen won the throne struggle[2] and became chieftain/prince. The victory of the Christian István over the pagan Koppány in the battle for succession was of the utmost importance in determining the future course of Hungarian history.

Stephen consolidated his rule by ousting other rival clan chiefs and confiscating their lands. Stephen then asked Pope Sylvester II to recognize him as king of Hungary.[2] The pope agreed, and legend says Stephen was crowned on Christmas Day in the year 1000. The crowning legitimized Hungary as a Western kingdom independent of the Holy Roman and Byzantine empires. It also gave Stephen absolute power, which he used to strengthen the Roman Catholic Church and Hungary.[2] Stephen ordered the people to pay tithes and required every tenth village to construct a church and support a priest. Stephen donated land to support bishoprics and monasteries,[2] required all persons except the clergy to marry, and barred marriages between Christians and pagans. Foreign monks worked as teachers and introduced Western agricultural methods. In the earliest times Hungarian language was written in a runic-like script. The country switched to the Latin alphabet under Stephen. From 1000 to 1844, Latin was the official language of the country.

Stephen administered his kingdom through a system of counties[2] (administrative model of Frankish Empire), each governed by an ispán count,[2] or magistrate, appointed by the king. In Stephen's time, Magyar society had two classes: the freemen nobles and the unfree. The nobles were descended in the male line from the Magyars who had either migrated into the Carpathian Basin or had received their title of nobility from the king. Only nobles could hold office or present grievances to the king. They paid tithes and owed the crown military service but were exempt from taxes. The unfree—who had no political voice—were slaves, freed slaves, immigrants, or nobles stripped of their privileges. Most were serfs who paid taxes to the king and a part of each harvest to their lord for use of his land. The king had direct control of the unfree, thus checking the nobles' power.

Clan lands, crown lands, and former crown lands made up the early realm. Clan lands belonged to nobles, who could will the lands to family members or the church; if a noble died without an heir, his land reverted to his clan. Crown lands consisted of Stephen's patrimony, lands seized from disloyal nobles, conquered lands, and unoccupied parts of the kingdom. Former crown lands were properties granted by the king to the church or to individuals.

Stephen also subdued semi-independent princes like Ajtony in South-Hungary near the Mureş River (Maros) and Gyula in Transylvania.[2]

Stephen's most important successors, and the Mongol invasion, reconstruction

Stephen died in 1038[3] and was canonized[3] in 1083. Despite pagan revolts[3] and a series of succession struggles after his death,[3] Hungary grew stronger and expanded. Transylvania was defended against nomads from the east, and Székelys (a tribe related to the Magyars), and Saxons were settled in the 11th and 12th centuries. Stephen created the Hungarian heavy cavalry as an example for Western European powers.

After his death, a period of revolts and conflict for supremacy ensued between the royalty and the nobles. In 1051 armies of Henry III, Holy Roman Emperor[3] tried to conquer Hungary, but they were defeated[3] at Vértes Mountains and at Pressburg (Pozsony, today Bratislava) in 1052.

In 1091 Ladislaus I of Hungary conquered Croatia.[4][5][6][7][8] According to an alternative history based on the document Pacta Conventa, which is most likely a forgery[9] Hungary and Croatia created a personal union. There is no undoubtedley genuine document of the personal union, and medieval sources mention the annexation into the Hungarian kingdom. The actual nature of the relationship is inexplicable in modern terms because it varied from time to time.[10] Sometimes Croatia acted as an independent agent and at other times as a vassal of Hungary.[10] However, Croatia retained a large degree of internal independence.[10] The degree of Croatian autonomy fluctuated throughout the centuries as did its borders.[11]

The 11th and 12th centuries were relatively peaceful, and Hungary slowly developed into a western type of feudal economy. Crop production gradually supplemented stock breeding, but until the 12th century planting methods remained crude because tillers farmed each plot until it was exhausted, then moved on to fresh land. Gold, silver, and salt mining boosted the king's revenues. Despite the minting of coins, cattle remained the principal medium of exchange. Two important kings led portions of the remainder of the Árpád dynasty.

King Coloman the "Book-lover" (1095–1116)

King Coloman published his most famous law half a millennium before other governments: De strigis vero quae non sunt, nulla amplius quaestio fiat (As for the matter of witches, no such things exist, therefore no further investigations or trials are to be held).

Europe in 1190, during Bela III's rule.

Béla III (1172–1192)

Béla III was the most powerful and wealthiest member of the dynasty.[12] Béla spent annual the equivalent of 23,000 kilograms (51,000 lb) of pure silver. It exceeded those of the French king[13] (estimated at some 17,000 kilograms (37,000 lb)) and was double the receipts of the English Crown.[12] He rolled back the Byzantine potency in the Balkan region. Agricultural methods and the clearing of additional land produced enough surplus to support a class of full-time craftsmen.[14] In the 13th century Hungary's nobles were trading gold, silver, copper, and iron with western Europe for luxury goods.

The red and white stripes symbolizing the Árpáds used in 1202 on a seal of King Imre. This coat of arms was used for a short time only.

Andrew II (1205–1235)

Until the end of the 12th century, the king's power remained supreme in Hungary. He was the largest landowner, and income from the crown lands nearly equaled the revenues generated from mines, customs, tolls, and the mint. In the 13th century, however, the social structure changed, and the crown's absolute power began to wane. As the crown lands became a less important source of royal revenues, the king found it expedient to make land grants to nobles to ensure their loyalty. King Andrew II (1205–35), a profligate spender on foreign military adventures and domestic luxury, made huge land grants to nobles who fought for him. These nobles, some of whom were foreign knights, soon made up a class of magnates whose wealth and power far outstripped that of the more numerous lesser nobles.

In 1211, he granted the Burzenland (Transylvania) to the Teutonic Knights. In 1225, Andrew II expelled the Teutonic Knights from Transylvania, hence Teutonic Order had to transfer to the Baltic sea. He led the Fifth Crusade to the Holy Land in 1217. He set up the largest royal army in the history of crusades (20,000 knights and 12,000 castle-garrisons). When Andrew tried to meet burgeoning expenses by raising the serfs' taxes, thereby indirectly slashing the lesser nobles' incomes, the lesser nobles rebelled. In 1222 they forced Andrew to sign the Golden Bull. The Golden Bull of 1222 was the first constitution in Continental Europe. It limited the king's power. The golden Bull—the Hungarian equivalent of England's Magna Carta—to which every Hungarian king thereafter had to swear. Its purpose was twofold: to reaffirm the rights of the smaller nobles of the old and new classes of royal servants (servientes regis) against both the crown and the magnates and to defend those of the whole nation against the crown by restricting the powers of the latter in certain fields and legalizing refusal to obey its unlawful/unconstitutional commands (the "ius resistendi"). The lesser nobles also began to present Andrew with grievances, a practice that evolved into the institution of the Hungarian Diet.

Béla IV (1235–1270)

Kingdom of Hungary in the late 13th century
Eastern Europe around 1250

Andrew II's son Béla IV (1235–79) tried with little success to reestablish royal preeminence by reacquiring lost crown lands. His efforts, however, created a deep rift between the crown and the magnates just as the Mongols were sweeping westward across Russia towards Europe. Aware of the danger, Bela ordered the magnates and lesser nobles to mobilize. Few responded, and the Mongols routed Bela's army at the Battle of Mohi on April 11, 1241. Bela fled first to Austria, where Duke Frederick II of Babenberg held him for ransom, then to Dalmatia. The Mongols reduced Hungary's towns and villages to ashes and slaughtered a great part (estimations go to 25–30%) of the population before news arrived in 1242 that the Great Ögedei Khan had died in Karakorum. The Mongols withdrew, sparing Bela and what remained of his kingdom. Another theory says, that Ögodei's death wasn't the only reason for the withdrawal of the Mongol Army. It is also possible that the leadership of the army realized that the campaign wasn't so successful as thought, due to the well-fortified castles and towns, and this would lead to a demoralisation soon. Therefore they decided to abort the campaign. The biggest calamity for the population were the periods of diseases and food shortages after the Mongol invasion. Only strongly fortified cities and abbeys could withstand the assault. As a consequence, after the Mongols retreated, King Béla ordered the construction of hundreds of stone castles and fortifications, meant to be defense against a possible second Mongol invasion.

Bela realized that reconstruction would require the magnates' support, so he abandoned his attempts to recover former crown lands. Instead, he granted crown lands to his supporters, reorganized the army by replacing light archers with heavy cavalry, and granted the magnates concessions to redevelop their lands and construct stone-and-mortar castles that would withstand enemy sieges. Bela repopulated the country with a wave of immigrants, transforming royal castles into towns and populating them with Germans, Italians, and Jews. Mining began anew, farming methods improved, and crafts and commerce developed in the towns. Additional Rumanians (Wallachs)—who already had some settlings in Transylvania—were also welcome to cross the Carpathians. Furthermore he resettled the Cumans of Cuthen, who left the country before the Mongol invasion into Kunság/Kiskunság/Nagykunság, and gave them autonomy. After Bela's reconstruction program, the magnates, with their new fortifications, emerged as Hungary's most powerful political force. However, by the end of the 13th century, they were fighting each other and carving out petty principalities.

King Bela IV died in 1270, and the Árpad line expired in 1301 when Andrew III, who strove with some success to limit the magnates' power, unexpectedly died without a male heir. Anarchy characterized Hungary as factions of magnates vied for control. During the reigns of the Kings after the Árpád dynasty, the Kingdom of Hungary reached its greatest extent, yet royal power was weakened as the major landlords (the Barons) greatly increased their influence. The most powerful landlords started to use royal prerogatives (coinage ,customs, declaration of wars against foreign monarchs).

The Medieval Hungarian State

"Medieval Hungarian constitutional development made the power of Hungarian Kings the most efficient one of medieval age, and that reason was the absence of feudalism. No doubt, infiltrations of feudalism, as prevalent through-out Europe, are to be found in old Hungarian institutions, but as an accidental inter-mixture only, not as their essence and chief feature. That blending of public prerogative with rights belonging to the sphere of private law, which is the essence of feudalism never prevailed in the organisation of Hungarian public powers, never broke their action on the nation as a whole. To this early prevalence of public law in the government of the country do Hungary owe not only a superior efficiency not detrimental to liberty of Hungarian public powers, but in connection with it an early growth of conscious national unity, of patriotism on broad lines, at a time when tribal feeling and feudal allegiance sub-divided all European nations into small units which paralysed each other, and into a corresponding fractional mentality adverse to the very idea of State and to inchoate national feeling." ( Count Albert Apponyi: "The juridical nature of the relations between Austria and Hungary" Arts and Science Congress, held at United States St. Louis in 1904 )

Hungarian Aristocracy in Medieval Age

The local (regional) power of aristocracy from medieval Hungary was based on three pillars: the court offices they performed; their domains and castles; their suite based at the institution of familiaritas (a kind of vassality). This study – reconstructing a concrete instance – tries to follow the interactions between these factors and to introduce the reader in the strange world of medieval Hungarian noble society with its legal procedures, practical solutions, family links, policies and rivalries. One of the conclusions I made, is that from these factors the primary and the most active one is that of court connections of aristocratic people and their political roles. They had chances to obtain new estates (conserving they actual power) and to protect their interestes only being in this status. Another conclusion is, that political changes on the national level (in the royal government, for ex.) had an instantly effect on the regional situation, on the fate of some estates, on the family policies and regional balance of forces.[15]

Rank list of the most important medieval baronial titles and high offices

These barons were (under Sigismund of Luxemburg):

  • the count palatine (comes palatinus)
  • the voivode of Transylvania (woyuoda Transsiluanus)
  • the judge of the royal court (iudex curiae regiae)
  • the bans of Slavonia, Dalmatia, Croatia, Macsó, and Severin (bani)
  • the master of the treasury (magister tavernicorum)
  • the master of janitors (ianitorum regalium magister)
  • the master of stewards (dapiferorum regalium magister)
  • the master of the cup-bearers (pincernarum regalium magister)
  • the marchall (agasonum regalium magister)
  • counts of Pozsony (present day Bratislava) and Temes (present-day Timiş county)
  • the high treasurer (summus thesaurarius)
  • the count of the Szeklers
  • the secret chancellor

Golden Era (1308–1490)

This first phase of this era was characterized by early centralization of royal power at the expense of oligarchic baronial powers, followed by a period of vast political-military expansion and sphere of influence in Central Europe, the Balkans and Eastern Europe under Hungary's first foreign king, Charles Robert, from the House of Anjou and his son Louis the Great. Central Europe was at peace, and Hungary and its neighbors prospered.

Considerable political influence in European and in the affairs of Holy Roman Empire followed with the accession of King Sigismund as King of the Romans in 1410. The last phase of this era was dominated by the energetic House of Hunyadi embodied by Regent-Governor John Hunyadi, a much heralded crusading general and his son King Matthias Corvinus. The Hunyadis placed robust crusading interventionism into neighboring states at the forefront of their realpolitik foreign policies. King Corvinus' meritocratic secular humanist Renaissance bureaucracy and a flowering of Italian Rennaisance culture created Europe's first Renaissance state north of the Alps.

Hungary's first two foreign kings, Charles Robert and Louis I of the House of Anjou, ruled during one of the most glorious periods in the country's history. Central Europe was at peace, and Hungary and its neighbors prospered.

Charles I (1308–1342)

After the destructive period of interregnum (1301–1308), the first Angevin king, Charles I of Hungary (King: 1308–1342) -An Árpád descendant in the female line- successfully restored the royal power, who defeated oligarch rivals, the so called "little kings". Charles I was crowned as a child and raised in Hungary. His new fiscal, customs and monetary policies proved successful under his reign. Charles Robert also introduced tax reforms and a stable currency. (For the new taxation and customs system see the economic policy of Charles I article.) One of the primary sources of his power was the wealth derived from the gold mines of east and northern Hungary. Eventually production reached the remarkable figure of 3,000 lb. of gold annually—one third of the total production of the world as then known, and five times as much as that of any other European state.[16][17] He reestablished the crown's authority by ousting disloyal magnates and distributing their estates to his supporters. Charles Robert then ordered the magnates to recruit and equip small private armies called banderia. Charles Robert ruled by decree and convened the Diet only to announce his decisions. Dynastic marriages linked his family with the ruling families of Naples and Poland and heightened Hungary's standing abroad.

Hungary was the first non-Italian country, where the renaissance appeared in Europe.[18]

The Renaissance style came directly from Italy during the Quattrocento to Hungary foremost in the Central European region. The development of the early Hungarian-Italian relationships was a reason of this infiltration, which weren't manifested only in dynastic connections, but in cultural, humanistic and commercial relations. This effect was getting stronger from the 14th century. In the first half of the 14th century, the statues of ladies, knights, court musicians, servants and guardsmen mark not only the turn of the 14th and 15th centuries, but also the beginning of a new age. Dressed in full-length gowns, richly gathered cloaks, pointed shoes and daring hats, they are an unexpected reminder of a flourishing, almost decadent Hungarian Trecento, whose mere existence was no more than a conjecture before the miraculous appearance of the archaeological foundings at Buda Castle.[19]

The power of the former Árpad Dynasty was still based on the vast royal estates. Under the Angevins, the royal family was restored as the greatest land owning family of the realm (they had one-third of all lands), but Angevin power was rather based on the possession of castles (some 160 out of 300, while the most powerful non-royal family possessed seven).

Louis the Great (1342–1382)

Countries kingdoms under Louis' leadership in 1370s

Charles Robert's son and successor Louis I of Hungary (1342–82) maintained the strong central authority Charles I had amassed. In 1351 Louis issued a decree that reconfirmed the Golden Bull, erased all legal distinctions between the lesser nobles and the magnates, standardized the serfs' obligations, and barred the serfs from leaving the lesser nobles' farms to seek better opportunities on the magnates' estates. The decree also established the entail system. Hungary's economy continued to flourish during Louis's reign. Gold and other precious metals poured from the country's mines and enriched the royal treasury, foreign trade increased, new towns and villages arose, and craftsmen formed guilds. The prosperity fueled a surge in cultural activity, and Louis promoted the illumination of manuscripts and in 1367 founded Hungary's first university. Louis extended his rule over territories to the Adriatic Sea, and occupied the Kingdom of Naples several times. Under his reign lived the most famous epic hero of Hungarian literature and warfare, the king's Champion: Nicolas Toldi. Louis had become popular in Poland due to his successful campaigns against the Tatars and pagan Lithuanians. Two successful wars (1357–1358, 1378–1381) against Venice annexed Dalmatia and Ragusa and more territories at Adriatic Sea. Venice also had to raise the Angevin flag on St. Mark's Square on holy days. Louis I established a university in Pécs in 1367 (by papal accordance). The Ottoman Turks confronted the country ever more often. In 1366 and 1377, Louis led successful champaigns against the Ottomans (Batlle at Nicapoli in 1366), therefore Balkanian states became his vassals. From 1370, the death of Casimir III of Poland, Louis became king of Poland in 1370 and ruled the two countries for twelve years. Until his death, he retained his strong potency in political life of Italian Peninsula. While Louis was engaged in these activates, the Ottomans made their initial inroads into the Balkans.

Sigismund of Luxemburg (1386–1437)

Sigismund (1387–1437), Louis's son-in-law, won a bitter struggle for the throne after Louis died in 1382. Under Sigismund, Hungary's fortunes began to decline. Many Hungarian nobles despised Sigismund for his cruelty during the succession struggle, his long absences, and his costly foreign wars. In 1401 disgruntled nobles temporarily imprisoned the king. In 1403 another group crowned an anti-king, who failed to solidify his power but succeeded in selling Dalmatia to Venice. Sigismund failed to reclaim the territory. Sigismund became king of Bohemia in 1419. In 1404 Sigismund introduced the Placetum Regium. According to this decree, Papal bulls and messages could not be pronounced in Hungary without the consent of the king. Sigismund congregated Council of Constance (1414–1418) to abolish the Papal Schism of Catholic church, which was solved by the election of a new pope. In 1433 he even became Holy Roman Emperor. In response, Sigismund created the office of palatine to rule the country in his stead.

Like earlier Hungarian kings, Sigismund elevated his supporters to magnate status and sold off crown lands to meet burgeoning expenses. Although Hungary's economy continued to flourish, Sigismund's expenses outstripped his income. He bolstered royal revenues by increasing the serfs' taxes and requiring cash payment. Social turmoil erupted late in Sigismund's reign as a result of the heavier taxes and renewed magnate pressure on the lesser nobles. Hungary's first peasant revolt erupted when a Transylvanian bishop ordered peasants to pay tithes in coin rather than in kind. Also, Husite teachings spread among the population making the bishop more unpopular. The revolt was quickly checked, but it prompted Transylvania's Szekel, Magyar, and German orders to form the Union of Three Nations, which was an effort to defend their privileges against any power except that of the king. During his long reign Royal castle of Buda became probably the largest Gothic palace of the late Middle Ages. The first Hungarian Bible translation completed in 1439, but Hungarian Bible was illegal in its age. Hungary was the first non-Italian country, where the renaissance appeared in Europe.[18]

Additional turmoil erupted when the Ottomans expanded their empire into the Balkans. They crossed the Bosporus Straits in 1352, occupied much of Bulgaria in 1423, and defeated the Serbs at the Battle of Kosovo in 1389. Sigismund led a crusade against them in 1396, but the Ottomans routed his forces in the Battle of Nicopolis, and he barely escaped with his life. Tamerlane's invasion of Anatolia in 1402–03 slowed the Ottomans' progress for several decades, but in 1437 Sultan Murad II prepared to invade Hungary. Sigismund died the same year, and Hungary's next two kings, Albert II of Germany (1437–39) and Władysław III of Poland (1439–44), known in Hungary as Ulaszlo I, both died during campaigns against the Ottomans.

This coat of arms first appeared during the reign of Louis I (1342–1382) and evolved into the one used today.

Count John Hunyadi's era

After Władysław III, Hungary's nobles chose an infant king, Ladislaus V the Posthumous, and a regent, John Hunyadi, to rule the country until the former came of age. The son of a lesser nobleman of the Vlach ( though some historians suggest a Cumanic)[20] descent, who had won distinction in the wars against the Ottomans. Hunyadi rose to become a general, Transylvania's military governor, one of Hungary's largest landowners, and a war hero. He used his personal wealth and the support of the lesser nobles to win the regency and overcome the opposition of the magnates. Hunyadi then established a mercenary army funded by the first tax ever imposed on Hungary's nobles. He defeated the Ottoman forces in Transylvania in 1442 and broke their hold on Serbia in 1443, only to be routed at the Battle of Varna (where Władysław I (of Hungary) himself perished) a year later. In 1446, the parliament elected the great general János Hunyadi as governor (1446–1453) and then as regent (1453–1456) of the kingdom. In 1448 Hunyadi tried to expel the Turks from Europe, but because of the treachery of Serbs and Vlachs he was outnumbered and routed in the 3 days Battle of Kosovo Polje.

One of his greatest victories being the Siege of Belgrade in 1456. Hunyadi defended the city against the onslaught of the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II. During the siege, Pope Callixtus III ordered the bells of every church to be rung every day at noon, as a call for believers to pray for the defenders of the city. However, in many countries (like England and Spanish kingdoms), news of the victory arrived before the order, and the ringing of the church bells at noon thus transformed into a commemoration of the victory. The Popes didn't withdraw the order, and Catholic churches still ring the noon bell to this day.

Hunyadi died of the plague soon after.

Matthias Corvinus and the Early Absolutism

Western conquests of Matthias Corvinus.

Some magnates resented Hunyadi for his popularity as well as for the taxes he imposed, and they feared that his sons might seize the throne from Ladislaus. They coaxed the sons to return to Laszlo's court, where Hunyadi's elder son was beheaded. His younger son, Matthias Corvinus of Hungary, was imprisoned in Bohemia. However, lesser nobles loyal to Mátyás soon expelled László. After Ladislaus's death abroad, they paid ransom for Mátyás, met him on the frozen Danube River, and proclaimed him king. Corvinus (1458–90) was, with one possible exception (John Zápolya), the last Hungarian king to rule the country.

This was the first time in the medieval Hungarian kingdom that a member of the nobility, without dynastic ancestry and relationship, mounted the royal throne. A true Renaissance prince, a successful military leader and administrator, an outstanding linguist, a learned astrologer, and an enlightened patron of the arts and learning.[21] András Hess set up a printing press in Buda in 1472.

Although Matthias regularly convened the Diet and expanded the lesser nobles' powers in the counties, he exercised absolute rule over Hungary by means of a secular bureaucracy. Matthias enlisted 30,000 foreign and Hungarian mercenaries in his standing army and built a network of fortresses along Hungary's southern frontier, but he did not pursue his father's aggressive anti-Turkish policy. Instead, Mátyás launched unpopular attacks on Bohemia, Poland, and Austria, pursuing an ambition to become Holy Roman Emperor and arguing that he was trying to forge a unified Western or Central European alliance strong enough to expel the Ottoman Turks from Europe. He eliminated tax exemptions and raised the serfs' obligations to the crown to fund his court and the military. The magnates complained that these measures reduced their incomes, but despite the stiffer obligations, the serfs considered Matthias a just ruler because he protected them from excessive demands and other abuses by the magnates. He also reformed Hungary's legal system and promoted the growth of Hungary's towns. Matthias was a true Renaissance man and made his court a center of humanist culture; under his rule, Hungary's first books were printed and its second university was established. His library, the Corvina, was famous throughout Europe. It was Europe's greatest collection of historical chronicles, philosophic and scientific works in the 15th century, and second only in size to the Vatican Library which mainly contained religious material. His renaissance library is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.[22] In his quest for the imperial throne, Matthias eventually moved to Vienna, where he died in 1490. His death is supposed to be caused by poison.

Jagiellon Dynasty and Decline of Hungary (1490—1526 (1538))

The magnates, who did not want another heavy-handed king, procured the accession of Vladislaus II, king of Bohemia (Ulászló II in Hungarian history), precisely because of his notorious weakness: he was known as King Dobže, or Dobzse (meaning "Good" or, loosely, "OK"), from his habit of accepting with that word every paper laid before him.[21] Under his reign the central power began to experience severe financial difficulties, largely due to the enlargement of feudal lands at his expense.

Matthias' reforms did not survive the turbulent decades that followed his reign. An oligarchy of quarrelsome magnates gained control of Hungary. They crowned a docile king, Vladislaus II (the Jagiellonian king of Bohemia, who was known in Hungary as Ulaszlo II, 1490–1516) the son of King Casimir IV of Poland, only on condition that he abolish the taxes that had supported Matthias' mercenary army. As a result, the king's army dispersed just as the Turks were threatening Hungary. The magnates also dismantled Mathias' administration and antagonized the lesser nobles. In 1492 the Diet limited the serfs' freedom of movement and expanded their obligations while a large portion of peasants became prospering because of cattle-export to the West. Rural discontent boiled over in 1514 when well-armed peasants preparing for a crusade against Turks rose up under György Dózsa (a borderguard captain) and attacked estates across Hungary. United by a common threat, the magnates and lesser nobles eventually crushed the rebels. Dozsa and other rebel leaders were executed in a most brutal manner.

Shocked by the peasant revolt, the Diet of 1514 passed laws that condemned the serfs to eternal bondage and increased their work obligations. Corporal punishment became widespread, and one noble even branded his serfs like livestock. The legal scholar István Werbőczy included the new laws in his Tripartitum of 1514, which made up the espirit of Hungary's legal corpus until the revolution of 1848. However, the Tripartitum was never used as a code. The Tripartitum gave Hungary's king and nobles, or magnates, equal shares of power: the nobles recognized the king as superior, but in turn the nobles had the power to elect the king. The Tripartitum also freed the nobles from taxation, obligated them to serve in the military only in a defensive war, and made them immune from arbitrary arrest.

When Vladislaus II died in 1516, his ten-year-old son Louis II (1516–26) became king, but a royal council appointed by the Diet ruled the country. Hungary was in a state of near anarchy under the magnates' rule. The king's finances were a shambles; he borrowed to meet his household expenses despite the fact that they totaled about one-third of the national income. The country's defenses sagged as border guards went unpaid, fortresses fell into disrepair, and initiatives to increase taxes to reinforce defenses were stifled. In 1521 Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent recognized Hungary's weakness and seized Belgrade in preparation for an attack on Hungary. After that, Louis II and his wife, Maria von Habsburg tried to manage an anti-magnate putsch, but they were not successful. In August 1526, he marched nearly 100,000 troops into Hungary's heartland. Hungary's forces were just gathering, when the 26,000 strong Hungarian army met the Turks with bad luck in the Battle of Mohács. Hungarians had well-equipped and well-trained troops, and awaited more reinforcements from Czechia and Transylvania, but lacked a good military leader. They suffered bloody defeat leaving 20,000 dead on the field. Louis himself died, thrown from a horse into a bog.

After Louis's death, rival factions of Hungarian nobles simultaneously elected two kings, John I Zápolya (1526–40) and Ferdinand of Habsburg (1526–64). Each claimed sovereignty over the entire country but lacked sufficient forces to eliminate his rival. Zápolya, a Hungarian who was military governor of Transylvania, was recognized by the sultan and was supported mostly by lesser nobles opposed to new foreign kings. Ferdinand, the first Habsburg to occupy the Hungarian throne, drew support from magnates in western Hungary who hoped he could convince his brother, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, to expel the Turks. In 1538 George Martinuzzi, Zápolya's adviser, arranged a treaty between the rivals that would have made Ferdinand sole monarch upon the death of the then-childless Zápolya. The deal collapsed when Zápolya married and fathered a son. Violence erupted, and the Turks seized the opportunity, conquering the city of Buda and then partitioning the country in 1541.

See also


  1. ^ István Keul, Early modern religious communities in East-Central Europe: ethnic diversity, denominational plurality, and corporative politics in the principality of Transylvania (1526-1691), BRILL, 2009, p. 40
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h F. Sugar & Hanák 1994, p. 17
  3. ^ a b c d e f F. Sugar & Hanák 1994, p. 18
  4. ^ Free Dictionary – Croatia
  5. ^ Ladislaus I
  6. ^ "Marko Marelic : The Byzantine and Slavic worlds". 
  7. ^ "Hungary in American History Textbooks". 
  8. ^ "Hungary, facts and history in breef". 
  9. ^ Europe in the Middle Ages, 500–1250
  10. ^ a b c Bellamy, p. 38
  11. ^ Singleton, Frederick Bernard (1985). A short history of the Yugoslav peoples. Cambridge University Press. pp. 29. ISBN 9780521274852. 
  12. ^ a b Molnár 2001, p. 46
  13. ^ F. Sugar & Hanák 1994, p. 19
  14. ^ F. Sugar & Hanák 1994, p. 21
  15. ^
  16. ^ "Hungary—History". Nations Retrieved 2008-11-21. 
  17. ^ "C. A. Macartney: Hungary—A Short History". Retrieved 2008-11-21. 
  18. ^ a b The influences of the Florentine renaissance in Hungary
  19. ^ History of Hungary
  20. ^ Katolikus Lexikon: Hunyadi János, A M. Nemz. Tört. IV. Bp., 1896.—Elekes 1952.—Teke 1980.—Puskely 1994:279.(Hungarian)
  21. ^ a b "Hungary—Britannica Online Encyclopedia". Retrieved 2008-11-21. 
  22. ^ "Hungary—The Bibliotheca Corviniana Collection: UNESCO-CI". Retrieved 2008-11-21. [dead link]


  • F. Sugar, Peter; Hanák, Péter (1994). A History of Hungary. Indiana University Press. ISBN 9780253208675. 
  • Molnár, Miklós (2001). A concise history of Hungary. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521667364. 

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