Hungarian History 1300 to 1444AD

Significant Events

 

1301 AD

The death of Andrew III last of the male line of the Arpad family plunged Hungary into a power struggle for the throne.


Charles Angevin (1308 to 1342 AD)

After eight years of infrequent civil war and feuding Charles Robert of the Anjou family was successfully Crowned King of Hungary. Though recognised by the majority of Hungary's magnates many 'little Caesars' controlled vast areas of the Country. Charles reorganised Hungary's military forces and over a period of years destroyed his rebellious Nobles. Their lands either enriching the Crown or being granted to new blood, loyal only to Charles.
     Charles restructured the royal finances and the economy of the Country. under his reign Hungary became the major supplier of Gold bullion and coins. The Country provided one third of the entire gold supply of Europe. Newly minted gold coins, called florins, similar to the Italian Florins, were soon preferred currency in much of Europe. By limiting Gold sales through ten Crown controlled Exchanges the Royal Treasury received a huge income every year. Charles broke the virtual monopoly on trade that was held by Austrian merchants by several astute treaties with Bohemia and Poland. Charles held a 'party' in 1335 for the Kings of Bohemia and Poland which cost the Hungarian treasury some 40,000 Florins. A truly vast sum but the return was ten fold when Bohemia agreed to renounce all claims on the Polish throne and to support Hungarian claims should it become vacant. Poland and Bohemia agreed to special trading status between the three that would under cut or by pass the Austrian strangleholds.
The rise of Hungary saw many European powers looking for alliances with their Royal family. One of these alliances was the marriage of the King of Naples daughter, Joanna, to Charles' second son Andrew. Charles successfully turned a divided and weak Hungary into one of the most powerful Eastern European Nations of its day. His death in 1342 left the throne to his eldest son Louis. Louis would become the only Hungary King to earn the adjective 'the Great'


Louis the Great (1342 to 1382AD)
     Unlike his father Louis was not the physical ideal of a warrior King. Small in stature, with misaligned shoulders and inclined more towards peace and diplomacy he never the less achieved a reputation as an exemplary Knight. From the moment of his accession Louis was embroiled in conflict.

The Italian conflicts.

     Louis' younger brother Andrew though promised the throne of Naples had instead been outmanoeuvred by his own wife Joanna. Andrew was awarded a small duchy while his wife became heir to the throne. Andrew apparently feared for his life at the hands of the Neapolitan Nobles and appealed to Louis for help. Louis responded by sending their formidable Mother, Dowager queen Elizabeth, to Naples. By the time of Elizabeth's arrival Joanna was queen and was able to calm her angry mother-in-law by massive ceremony and flattery. Elizabeth left Naples leaving Joanna secure on the throne and believing the situation resolved. Elizabeth however stopped in Rome on her return and convinced the Pope, by way of a massive bribe, to declare Andrew King of Naples and demand his coronation. By this act Elizabeth secured her own son's assassination at the hands of his wife and her supporters.
     Louis' response was an invasion of Naples, marching his army the length of Italy and routing Joanna's supporters. Joanna was forced to flee to France. Louis remained just long enough to install garrisons and then returned to Hungary. Once Louis and the bulk of the his forces had departed Joanna returned and roused the local population against the Hungarian garrisons. Joanna was restored to power. A second invasion by Louis followed in 1350 but was quickly abandoned because of the plague. Officially the invasion was stopped because of promises by the Pope to see the murders of Andrew punished. Louis would not interfere in Southern Italy again.
     Northern Italy saw numerous attacks by Hungarian forces on land held by Venice. Louis on gaining the throne had begun campaigns to regain the Dalmatia coast line which had long been held by Venice. This conflict would only be ended in 1381 when Venice agreed to return her Dalmatian lands to Hungary and pay a annual tribute.


Mary and Sigismund
     Louis died in 1382 leaving no male heirs. His eldest surviving daughter Mary was acclaimed by the Hungarian nobility and Crowned Queen. At the time of her Coronation she was betrothed to Sigismund of Luxembourg. However due to the interference of the Queen Mother (another Elizabeth), who hoped for a 'better' alliance the marriage was long delayed. Elizabeth's manipulation of the Queen and her meddling in Hungarian foreign affairs eventually created a back lash against her and the Crown. Several of Hungary's most powerful Barons reacted to this domination of the throne by adding their support to Louis' cousin, Charles, King of Naples who had a claim to the throne. This forced the issue and in an attempt to appease the increasingly hostile Nobility Mary and Sigismund were married. Sigismund was however reduced to the status of consort. The brief period of stability brought about by the Royal marriage was quickly overturned with the arrival of Charles of Naples and a substantial following in Buda. Mary was forced to abdicate in favour of Charles, who was promptly crowned King Charles II. Sigismund fled to his brother King Wenceslas of Bohemia.

     Charles reign lasted barely three months, his supporters dispersed after his coronation and Mary and her mother were able to launch a counter coup. Charles was imprisoned and died with in a month. The imprisonment of Charles and the arrival of Sigismund at the head of a Bohemian army meant there was little resistance to Mary's return to the throne. The only area to resist Mary's return was Croatia-Dalmatia where the Nobility proclaimed Charles's infant son László King.

     Mary and Elisabeth, in a move striking by its risk journeyed into the heart of the rebellion in an attempt to face down the Nobles. The ploy backfired spectacularly, Elizabeth was strangled and Mary imprisoned. Sigismund was declared co-ruler in with Mary in 1387 and given effective control of Hungary, though a league of Barons was formed to 'assist' the King. Sigismund managed to rescue his wife from her imprisonment but her health and possibly her sanity had suffered. Sigismund became sole ruler of Hungary, which was confirmed by the Nobles on Mary's death in 1395. 1395 to 96 saw Sigismund led a crusade against the Ottoman Turks. His forces were crushed at the battle of Nicopolis and Sigismund forced to flee for his life.
For the first half of his reign Sigismund can be judged to have been an effective monarch. During this time he oversaw a reorganisation of the legal system, commerce and Hungarian defences. Sigismund's organisation of defences for Hungary's borders were a major factor in successfully holding back the Ottoman advance for over a century.

     1411 however saw Sigismund successfully acquire the title King of the Germans and uncrowned Holy Roman Emperor. This effectively minimised Hungary on Sigismund's list of priorities. Sigismund's meddling in Bohemia largely caused the armed revolt which became the Hussite wars. This and increasing pressure from the Ottoman Turks prevented Sigismund from effectively ruling Hungary. A lull in the Hussite wars briefly saw Sigismund return to the affairs of Hungary. 1428 Sigismund and some 20,000 to 25,000 men, including a contingent of Wallachians sent by Dan II attempted to take the fortress of Golubac from the Ottomans. The Ottomans surprised the army during the siege and inflicted a heavy defeat. Sigismund concluded a peace treaty with the Ottoman Sultan and adopted a defensive policy for the remainder of his reign. The parliament increasingly dealt with domestic matters and developed a sense of its own importance. The heavy role of the Hungarian parliament in ruling Hungary meant that Sigismund's death in 1437 initially had little effect on the stability of the Country.


Albert (1438 to 1439AD)
     Respecting the wishes of Sigismund the Hungarian Parliament declared his son in law Albert King. Albert also became King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor. Albert relied heavily on the Parliament to effectively rule Hungary in his absence and in his short reign conceded numerous privileges to them. Several of the larger landholders in Southern Hungary launched quite successful, though limited attacks on Ottoman held parts of Serbia. Magnates of Transylvania along with the 'Saxon' and Szekeler groups crushed a peasant uprising in the province (1437-38). So successfully was the suppression that Ottoman attacks into Transylvania in 1438 met with very little resistance.
     Albert returned to Hungary in 1439 to be greeted with the news that parts of Southern Hungary had been overrun by Ottoman troops and that the free Serbian capital at Smedendria (Smederevo) was under Ottoman siege. The Hungarian parliament took the opportunity to extract concessions in return for troops. Eventually an army was raised and advanced towards the Ottomans. However within 15 days of the campaign starting the majority of the Hungarian Nobles left the army citing that their feudal obligations of service had been completed. Albert was forced to retreat and leave Smedendria to fall to the Ottomans. Albert fell ill during the retreat, possibly cholera and died within a month of his return. Four months after his death his wife Elizabeth gave birth to a son, christened László.

     Once again the Hungarian throne was vacant. Albert's widow Elizabeth, prior to giving birth to her son attempted to get the Parliament to appoint her Queen Regent for her unborn baby. She was supported by some of the greatest magnates of Hungary. It would however be the demands of the middle and lower Nobility for an adult King that would hold sway at the Hungarian Diet. One of the most vocal supporters for such a King was Janos Hunyadi. It was Hunyadi that proposed the 14 year old Wladislaw III of Poland. This may not have been his or his supporters first choice but the young age of the proposed King may have swayed some of the Magnates to support the choice. Elizabeth begrudging allowed representatives to approach Wladislaw. As soon as her son was born though Elizabeth demanded the representatives withdraw their offer and return to Hungary. Under instructions from Hunyadi and other Nobles the representatives continued negotiations. With Wladislaw's acceptance Elizabeth fled Hungary to Austria with her son and the stolen Holy crown of Hungary. The scene was set for a civil war. Western Hungary and Slovakia declared for Elizabeth. Eastern Hungary and Transylvania for Wladislaw. Southern Hungary was nominally controlled by Wladislaw's partisans but contained significant estates of Magnates loyal to Elizabeth.


Ulászló I (1440 to 1444AD)
     17 July 1440 Wladislaw was crowned Ulászló I of Hungary by the Archbishop of Strigoniu a staunch supporter of Elizabeth. His co-operation being secured by a large armed presence. The loss of the Royal Crown, stolen by Elizabeth, meant Ulászló's coronation could be regarded as suspect. Initially the civil war was a series of skirmishes. Elizabeth reinforced her Hungarian supporters with Hussite mercenaries under a Jan Jiskra. Elizabeth made a miscalculation with Jiskra, she gave him control of the rich mining areas of Slovakia. The local population welcomed the Hussites mercenaries with open arms and Jiskra was soon in complete control of the district. He would remain Slovakia's effective ruler until well after the death of Ulászló I. Elizabeth was forced to negotiate with her own mercenary captain for his support. This miscalculation and Elizabeth's pawning of estates in Hungary to King Frederick HRE and granting him 'tutor' rights over her son saw many of her supporters declare for Ulászló I. This was reinforced by the crushing of a pro-Elizabeth revolt by Southern magnates and the capture of her greatest supporter Ulrich Cilli. Ulrich Cilli and his family were the largest landholders in Central Europe. Ulrich was released by Ulászló I after swearing allegiance and promising to assist the King in ending the war.

     A revolt in Southern Hungary by Nobles in support of Elizabeth was quickly suppressed by the forces of Nicholas Ujlaki and Janos Hunyadi, Bans of Macva and Severin respectively. In February1441, at Bataszek the leadership of Hunyadi and the skill of his personal troops secured an overwhelming victory over Ladislas Garai and the only field army loyal to Elizabeth. This victory brought Hunyadi and Ujlaki to the attention of Ulászló I. In a move extraordinary in its largesse and trust Ulászló turned two relatively unknown nobles into the most powerful Barons of their time. Ujlaki and Hunyadi were made joint Voivodes of Transylvania, Counts of the Szekely and military commanders of Belgrade, Timisoara and all fortresses on the Danube. Along with these the King granted them all Royal revenues from the Crown monopolies on Salt production. Ulászló's reasons for such a move appear to have been twofold, Elizabeth's support appeared to be widespread in the area and the Ottomans were making significant raids into Transylvania. Though theoretically joint rulers of Transylvania and surrounding districts, Ujlaki and Hunyadi divided their responsibilities. Hunyadi took full control of Transylvania and all districts East of Tizsa. Ujlaki took control of the transdanubian and all districts West of Tizsa, though he retained equal control over judicial matters and the monopolies on Salt. Both men were already friends at the time of their elevation, Hunyadi having served under Nicholas' elder brother.

     The task of subduing the rebellious Nobles of Transylvania was in reality a far easier process than Ulászló and his advisors had believed. The appearance of Hunyadi and his troops was sufficient to quell any outward support for Elizabeth. Hunyadi confiscated lands of anyone suspected of harbouring pro-Elizabeth feelings and granted them to his own supporters and retainers. In this way Transylvania was rapidly subdued. By his methods Hunyadi turned Transylvania into the one of the most stable and loyal provinces of Hungary. This trust was sufficiently evident from the start, within a year of his elevation Hunyadi was able to mount an attack into Serbia. This brief campaign was able to drive off Ishak, Bey of Smederevo and his forces from around the Serbian town of Belgrade.

     1442 saw Hunyadi defeat two further Ottoman armies, inflicting large numbers of casualties and providing Christian Europe with their first significant victories. Hunyadi's successes inspired an enthusiasm against the Ottomans not seen since the disaster at Nicopolis in 1396. Cardinal Cesarini, the Papal representative in Hungary attempted to settle the civil war with the aim of starting a fresh Crusade against the Ottomans. Though unsuccessful in his main aim the Cardinal managed to negotiate a truce for a year between the warring factions.

     1443 to 1444 Ulászló and Hunyadi led 'the long campaign' into Ottoman held territories. Called the long campaign because it lasted over the winter of 1443-44. Militarily this campaign achieved very little. Though Hunyadi inflicted three serious defeats on Ottomans their military capabilities were barely dented. The campaign also failed to recapture any lands lost to the Ottomans. The campaign did however prove the Ottomans could be beaten and waved the Christian banner in areas long thought irretrievably lost. The campaign caused rebellions in Serbian lands against the Ottomans. More significantly an Albanian by the name of George Castriota, a commander in the Ottoman army used the confusion of the Ottoman defeats to rebel. Called Skanderbeg, a corruption of his Ottoman Name/title Iskender Bey he managed to liberate much of Albania. The end of the long campaign was exceptionally difficult for the Hungarian troops, most of their horses died and all of their wagons were burned. However the capture of the Sultan's Brother-in-law effectively ended the fighting and allowed an organised withdrawal back to Hungary. For more details on the campaigns and battle of Janos Hunyadi see The Battles of Janos Hunyadi

     1444 began with optimism for the Hungarians, their successes under Hunyadi made them the toast of much of Western Europe. The year would end disastrously though, their King, two senior Bishops, numerous Bans and the Pope's representative Cardinal Cesarini dead on the battlefield at Varna. The events leading up to this battle are convoluted and confused and it remains one of the most hotly debated events of Hungarian medieval history. The events are outlined in the significant Battles section.

History 1444 to 1490AD

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Copyright 2002 Matthew Haywood

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