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The First Habsburg on the Hungarian Throne

Sigismund, German-Roman Emperor, as well as Hungarian and Czech king died without a male successor at the end of 1437. In his will in 1402 he had appointed Albert IV, Austrian prince, to the Hungarian throne, in the event of his dying without inheritors. After the death of the prince, he named his son Albert V as his successor, so the only daughter of the king, Elisabeth, was married to Albert. Sigismund had such great authority even after his death that his will was fulfilled. About two weeks after the king's death the royal council chose Albert to be king. Nobody had been king of Hungary under such a name. By the middle of the following year Albert I had a large Central-European empire: besides Hungary he controlled the Czech state and Austria. He also became a German-Roman emperor.

The conditions of his election showed that a change had taken place in the political system of Hungary. Albert had to promise that he would use the revenues of the kingdom only with the approval of the prelates and barons, and he would ask for their opinion when appointing people to the main offices. He was obliged to stop Sigismund's "damaging reforms", among which the confiscation of vacant church incomes was considered to be the most dangerous. The conditions in the royal council were most favourable for the prelates and the barons. Their main aim was to repress the central royal power established by Sigismund.

In the spring of 1438 King Albert travelled abroad for a year. Hungarian matters were settled partly by the Queen, who reigned with her husband, and partly by the vicarious, who were members of the royal council appointed to this special post. Public opinion - which was the opinion of common noblemen at that time - began to change while the king was abroad. In the summer and autumn of 1438 Turkish armies were able to attack Transylvania without difficulty, destroying first Saxonia, and then the Székelyföld, capturing thousands of prisoners. Common noblemen blamed the foreign king and his advisers, who were negligent on matters of the country.

In May 1439 the king convoked a parliament in Buda. While the members were having a meeting there were riots in the town. German tradesmen, who had a very big influence on the governors of the city and who rented certain incomes of the royal chamber, did not want to share their power with the rich Hungarian citizens, and they had the leader of the riot, a goldsmith, murdered in secret. After uncovering this plot the houses of Hungarians and Germans were ruined, and their shops were ransacked. From this time on the Judge of Buda was appointed from among the Hungarians one year, and from among the Germans the following year. Half of the members of the council were Hungarians, and half of them were Germans. The city of Kolozsvár had a similar system.

The hatred of foreigners also had an influence on the laws enacted at the sessions of parliament. Laws banned the employment of foreigners in offices, and they could not derive an income from the country either. The conditions for elections were also changed: from that time on common noblemen could interfere with affairs of state. The defence of the country and its borders became the responsibility of the king, and Hungarian noblemen were not obliged to cover the costs of the defence. They reconfirmed the act of the Golden Bull, so that noblemen could not be forced to take part in wars outside the country. With these laws a new political system was formed in Hungary: the common power of the estates and the king. This was called the system of estates.

Albert was able to accept these modifications easily, since in Austria he had already been governing in co-operation with the estates for a long time. After the session of parliament the king marched to the southern borders against the Turks. As troops were difficult to gather the only thing they could do was to prevent further Turkish attacks. However, they could not prevent the siege of Szendrő, the residence of the Serbian despot, and then when there was an epidemic of dysentery they withdrew. The king was also infected with dysentery, and he died in October. At that time the queen was already pregnant.

When he was dying, Albert had his will noted down. If his baby was to be a boy, his guardian would be Elisabeth and the eldest member of the Habsburg dynasty. He wished to entrust a joint council with governing the country, and the revenues would be common, too. His will was not fulfilled, joint governing and common revenues remained impossible to attain in the Habsburg countries even centuries later.

Troublesome times and Ladislaus V's Reign

The Hungarian estates chose the 15-year old energetic person, member of the Jagello dynasty Ulaslo to be Hungarian king. Queen Elisabeth had the Holy Crown stolen from the fortress of Visegrád then she had her six-week old new-born child, Ladislaus V, crowned, who was born after his father's death. The coronation ceremony met all the three requirements of Hungarian customary law: it was performed with the Holy Crown in Székesfehérvár, and with the participation of the Archbishop of Esztergom. When Ulaslo I arrived in Hungary the queen and her escort escaped to western Hungary, and the young king had himself crowned with the crown of Saint Stephen's head relic holder.

The country was divided into two parts: Elisabeth and the baby king ruling one part and the followers of Ulaslo I ruling the other. The following 15 years was a troublesome period. During this time there was a civil war in Hungary - except for the armistices for the winter months. The violent occupations of lands were political actions, so whole estates changed hands for long periods or sometimes permanently. Laws declared that the occupied lands be returned but they were not enforced.

The queen brought in Czech mercenary troops to Upper Hungary under the command of Jan Giskra. They served her for roughly two decades. The queen authorised Giskra to use the revenues of the local mines, to impose taxes, and to occupy the royal castles and fortresses of Ulaslo's supporters. The other significant base of the Habsburg party was Slavonia, where Ulrich Cillei was in power. At the beginning of 1441 Ulaslo occupied Transdanubia. An influential political figure, John Hunyadi, appeared at that time, who drove out the followers of Elisabeth from this region with the help of Nicholas Újlaki.

In her hopeless situation, Elisabeth gave the crown and her child to Prince Fridrich, who was meanwhile chosen to be German-Roman king. Újlaki and the ambitious John Hunyadi, an associate of his family, became Transylvanian voivodes together in February 1441, so Ulaslo I's power also ended there. The king was engaged in fighting the Turks and with domestic problems. He exercised his power together with the estates, and it was only in the last year of his reign, that he tried to restore his lost royal power. His plans failed, since he died in the battle of Várna.

In Hungary months after the battle of Várna people still expected King Ulaslo I to return. The state council was responsible for governing the country in 1445, and domestic peace was maintained by the seven chief captains, among whom there were also some followers of the Habsburgs. The Hungarian estates could only accept Ladislaus V as their king on condition that Fridrich III gave them the child and the Holy Crown, but Fridrich refused. The civil war continued. At Whitsun 1446 Hungarian dignitaries, the majority of whom used to be followers of Ulaslo, elected John Hunyadi as governor, till Ladislaus V became of age.

Giskra and Cillei did not turn up at the election of the governor. Military action against them was not very successful, and the country was engaged in war with Fridrich III, too. Barons united in so called leagues to protect their families and estates. Austria, the Czech state and Hungary were formally united in a personal union, under the reign of Ladislaus V. As a result of the joint action of the estates of the three countries Fridrich III set the young king free in 1452 and handed him over to Ulrich Cillei, but he did not return the crown. In January 1453 John Hunyadi resigned, but he kept the royal castles he was in charge of as chief captain of the country.

Domestic conflicts ended, but the barons wanted to keep their power and estates gained in those troublesome times. The rivalry of Hunyadi and Cillei continued. When John Hunyadi died after the victory at Nándorfehérvár, Cillei became the chief captain of the country. Ladislaus V claimed his royal castles back, which were still in the possession of the Hunyadi family. However, the leader of the family, Ladislaus Hunyadi, did not want to return them. He had Cillei murdered by his associates in the presence of the king, when he came to Nándorfehérvár to negotiate. He appointed himself to the post of chief captain of the country.

In the spring of 1457 the king had Ladislaus Hunyadi, his younger brother, Matthias and several of their associates captured. Ladislaus was executed for high treason. But the power of the Hunyadis was not broken. The widow of the governor, Elisabeth Szilágyi and her brother-in-law, Michael Szilágyi, did not give up, so the civil war started again. Ladislaus V took Matthias with him to Prague as a prisoner. As the military campaign against the Hunyadis was unsuccessful the dignitaries started to negotiate, and this process was accelerated by Ladislaus's death. The death of the king, who did not have a successor, put an end to the first reign of the Habsburg dynasty in Hungary.

Matthias Hunyadi

In 1458 Matthias Hunyadi was about 15 years old. His followers started to negotiate with the Czech governor and the Hungarian dignitaries so that they would accept Matthias as the Hungarian king. During these separate negotiations they agreed to two marriages: according to one version Matthias would marry Anna, the daughter of the most powerful baron, palatine Ladislaus Garai, and according to the other version he would marry Katharine, daughter of George Podjebrád. Under the pressure of the Hunyadi party, which was led by Szilágyi, the parliament in Pest chose Matthias to be king, and assigned Michael Szilágyi to him as a governor for five years.

The acts of the parliament, which elected Matthias king, showed the interests of the estates that had become very powerful during those troublesome times. Returning home, the elected king got engaged to Katharine Podjebrád at the border, then in the first year of his reign he appointed different people to important positions: Ladislaus Garai was replaced by Michael Ország Guti in the position of palatine, and remained palatine until his death. Michael Szilágyi resigned, then when he entered the league with Garai and Újlaki against the king, he was sent to prison.

The dignitaries deprived of their power, a total of 25, elected Emperor Fridrich III to be Hungarian king at Németújvár on 17 February, 1459. Matthias had already been privy to this plot, so he asked for a petition of loyalty from the majority of the Hungarian barons and prelates a week before Fridrich's election. Then he won a military victory over the plotters. The emperor's election to be Hungarian king did not threaten Hunyadi's royal power, but it became important from the point of view of future events. From this time on Fridrich carried the title Hungarian king and this election was the basis of the claims by the Habsburg dynasty for the Hungarian throne at a later time.

The first phase of Matthias's reign lasted until the coronation in 1464. Then his main aims were to recover the prerequisite of his authorised power the Holy Crown to force Fridrich to give up his claim to the Hungarian throne, and to consolidate his power over the whole country. He initiated military campaigns against Fridrich; and in the summer of 1461 Czech power in Upper Hungary was broken first under the command of the king, and later under Emerick Szapolyai. It was finished by Giskra's surrender in the spring of 1462. Fridrich III and King Matthias made peace in 1463 at Bécsújhely.

Fridrich gave back the Holy Crown and the town of Sopron to Matthias for 80,000 Forints, adopting him as his son, and promising to help in the military campaigns against the Turks. The emperor kept some fortresses along the border, and he was permitted to use his title King of Hungary. In the event of Matthias dying without a male successor, Fridrich's descendants would inherit the Hungarian throne. The coronation ceremony was not held until 1464 because of the Bosnian campaign. The universal reform of the state administration started right after the coronation. There was a revolt in Transylvania in 1467 because of the new taxation system. Matthias put down this revolt, but he had mercy on the ringleaders. However, several participants, common noblemen, died in this conflict.

The Hussite George Podjebrád was deprived of the throne, and this was declared by the Pope in 1466. Matthias thought it was time to unite several countries under his reign. In 1468 he declared war on Victor Podjebrád in Austria, who was the son of the Czech king. Of the countries under Czech rule, Moravia, Silesia and Lausitz remained Catholic. The local estates and the Czech Catholic minority offered the Czech crown to Matthias. In 1569 he was elected Czech king in the Moravian Olmüc, and wore the title Czech king until his death. Matthias reigned over two thirds of the countries of the Czech crown, but he could never conquer the Czech state.

The relationship with the Poles became quite hostile owing to the Czech problem. When George Podjebrád died in 1471, the Czech estates chose a new king; Ulaslo, son of the Polish king, Casimir IV. The Jagello dynasty voiced their claim to the Hungarian throne in the very same year. In the absence of the king several Hungarian noblemen participated in a plot against Matthias, under the leadership of John Vitéz, the Archbishop of Esztergom, who was a loyal supporter of the Hunyadi family. According to contemporaries there were a lot of reasons for the plot: excluding noblemen from government, high taxes, restraints upon church revenues. The plotters offered the Hungarian crown to Prince Casimir, the Polish king's son.

Just as in 1459, Matthias first requested a guarantee of loyalty from his supporters, and only then prepared for the defence of the country. Casimir's Polish troops suffered a defeat in Hungary. John Vitéz died in captivity, Janus Pannonius, the Bishop of Pécs, died while escaping. Most participants of the plot received a pardon, and Michael Újlaki, who was loyal this time, became king of Bosnia. Peace was made with the Poles only in 1474, but it did not last long: a war broke out for the possession of Silesia. There was another war with Fridrich III for the Czech kingdom, which was also the vassal of the German-Roman Empire.

Emperor Fridrich initiated Ulaslo as Czech king in 1477, but after the success of Hungarian military troops, he gave the Czech tenure to Matthias in the same year. However, this fact had no practical consequence, as none of the dignitaries were invited to the political meetings of the empire. Ulaslo and Matthias made peace in Olmüc in 1479: both of them were allowed to bear the title Czech king, but Moravia, Silesia and Lausitz belonged to Matthias until his death. After that these regions came under the authority of Ulaslo. Upon normalising his relations with the Jagellos, Matthias turned against the Habsburgs. His aim was to conquer Austria and Styria.

With the occupation of Vienna in 1485, Matthias possessed almost the whole of Lower-Austria, and from 1487 he used the title Prince of Austria. He gave small favours to the estates at the parliament in 1485 in Hungary, and he made his centralised power stronger with the help of his juristic reforms. During the reign of Albert I, Ulaslo, Ladislaus V and Matthias the Hungarian king ruled in other countries, too. However, they had no real empires in the modern sense of the word, the individual countries being governed separately, which also served the interest of the local estates. Matthias, who had a centralising policy in Hungary, adopted a very compliant attitude in regard to the estates in Austria and Moravia, while in Silesia he was a very strict ruler.

The Hunyadi family could not found a dynasty. In 1474 Matthias married Beatrix of Aragonia, daughter of the King of Naples, through his representatives. They did not have any children, so the king spent his last years ensuring the succession of his illegitimate child, John Corvin, who was brought up at the court. He received the huge Hunyadi estate, and inherited the revenues of the estates of the king. Matthias's supporters were in the leading positions, for example, in charge of the fortresses. John Corvin received the title Prince of Lipto in addition to the Hunyadi countship.

The Jagello Age

Matthias could not assert the prince's right to the throne in a diplomatic way, so when he was dying he made Hungarian noblemen swear that they would support John Corvin in his succession. In May 1490 a group of 9,000-10,000 noblemen gathered in the Rákos-mező [Rákos field] to elect a new king, and the representatives of towns also appeared, after 15 years of passivity. There were four candidates for the Hungarian throne: John Corvin, Maximilian - German-Roman King, and two brothers from the Jagello family - Ulaslo, the Czech king, and his brother Prince John Albert. They had to be able to do two things: first they broke up with Matthias's domestic policy, then they had to enter into alliance with another country to ensure Hungary's defence from the Turks.

Maximilian, who also became ruler of Tyrol in those months, referred to the 1463 succession contract. He did not have many supporters, since the Hungarian estates saw him as the representative of the defeated Austria, nor did they like the fact that he based his claims to the throne on the right of succession, in contrast with their own right to choose a king. The estates were afraid that his western interests would be more important for him. John Albert was popular with the common noblemen because of his military successes over the Tartars. He was also supported by his father, Casimir IV, King of Poland. Common noblemen proclaimed John Albert king, but they did not wait until the end of the parliament, most of them returned home for the harvest.

The Ulaslo party suppressed John Corvin with the aid of military troops. The escort of the prince, who was marching with the treasury southwards to his followers, was defeated by Paul Kinizsi and Stephen Báthori, Transylvanian voivodes at the Csont field in county Tolna. Ulaslo accepted the conditions of the election at Farkashida in county Pozsony, near the Moravian border. He promised he would put an end to Matthias's damaging reforms and the collection of the 1 Forint tax. These conditions were not much different from those accepted by Albert or Matthias, and they met the general expectations of the European system of estates. Ulaslo however, kept most of his promises.

Ulaslo II came to an agreement with Corvin, but the other two pretenders caused a lot of trouble for him during the first two years of his reign. John Albert's Polish troops took over Eperjes and sieged Kassa. By the end of autumn Hungarian reign ended in Austria, Styria and Carinthia. Maximilian sieged Transdanubia and occupied Székesfehérvár in November 1490. At the end of the year Ulaslo started his campaign to take over the country.

First he forced his brother out of the country, who then returned once more in the second half of 1491, only to suffer a defeat. Maximilian's mercenary troops disbarded and they gave up Székesfehérvár in the summer of 1491. Ulaslo even had time to attack the Turks in Bosnia. To ensure his reign he made peace with Maximilian in Pozsony in November. The treaty they made was a renewal of the 1463 contract. Maximilian was allowed to keep the title King of Hungary, and the barons of the country took an oath to accept his right of succession.

The peace treaty of Pozsony declared should Ulaslo die without a legitimate male successor, Hungary and the Czech state would fall to the Habsburgs; in addition to this Ulaslo had to return the Austrian fortresses. Following this Ulaslo enjoyed some peaceful years of rule. If the king stayed in the Czech state, the country was governed by the palatines as governors. The estates were allowed to intervene in governing, and it became a general rule. From 1498 permanent assessors were elected to the royal council from among common noblemen. As far as finance was concerned (which was under the king's authority), they tried to separate royal and national revenues, and sometimes a separate treasurer was appointed from among the estates alongside the royal treasurer.

The Jagellos continued Matthias's policy regarding the Turks. Except for some short periods, there was peace from 1495 to 1520. In fact, however, there was a permanent war along the southern border, which gradually weakened the most developed region of medieval Hungary, Sermia. Ulaslo's problem of succession started when he had two children from his marriage to Anna of Candale: Anna and Louis. The main concern of common noblemen was national policy. Before Louis's birth, at the 1505 parliament they declared that if Ulaslo were to die without a male heir, they would elect a Hungarian king. The declaration of the idea of a national kingdom was against the Habsburgs.

Ulaslo did not assert the resolution, which was later called the "Rákos resolution", but rather he invalidated it when he made a Habsburg-Jagello succession treaty with Maximilian in 1506. In accordance with this contract, if he had a son he would marry Maximilian's granddaughter, Maria, and his daughter would be married to the other grandson Ferdinand. As Ulaslo II had had a stroke earlier, they declared that if he died, the guardian of his children would be Maximilian, and in the event of him dying without a male heir, the Habsburgs would inherit the throne. In 1515 in Vienna Sigismund I, the Polish king, Ulaslo II and Maximilian confirmed this treaty, so Louis's guardian became Maximilian and Sigismund. After a few days they held the double engagement ceremony in the Stephansdom in Vienna.

The biggest peasant revolt of Hungarian history led by György Dózsa took place in 1514. In the previous year Pope Leo X had started a crusade against the Turks. The papal representative, legate of the campaign was Cardinal Thomas Bakócz. The Observant Franciscans were in charge of the organisation of the crusade. When this crusade turned into a peasant war, they provided the ideology. Mainly villeins gathered in the military camps and their leader was the Székely George Dózsa. When the gathering troops started to plunder, recruiting was stopped in May, and the crusade was cancelled.

The crusaders formed an independent group, the main army - under the command of Dózsa - killed the Bishop of Csanád, took over Lippa, and then laid siege to Temesvár. The king began to gather an army to fight against the rebels only at the beginning of June. Troops around Pest and in county Heves were defeated at the end of June. Dózsa's army was defeated at Temesvár by John Szapolyai, a Transylvanian voivode. George Dózsa and the captured leaders were executed, but the majority of the crusaders managed to return home unharmed. The punishment of the villeins who had taken part in murdering and plundering was prevented by their landlords.

The peasant war did not spread to the whole country. The peasants of Transdanubia, Upper Hungary and the greater part of Transylvania, and Slavonia did not take part in the conflicts. Neither did the people of the market towns of the Great Plain, who lived from breeding cattle. The direct reason for the outbreak of the Hungarian peasant war did not have its origin in the social situation or the crisis in trade, but could rather be attributed to the fact that the armed crusaders believed that noblemen did not defend the country and its villeins. Owing to similar reasons there was a peasant revolt in Central-Austria in 1478.

Ulaslo II was followed on the throne by his son, the ten-year old Louis II. During his reign the estate system strengthened, and the Turkish threat became bigger. Common noblemen left the 1518 parliament at Rákosmező and formed an independent parliament in Tolna. Their leader Stephen Werbőczy, demanded a campaign against the Turks from the king. However, in 1519 they made peace with the Turks, for three years, and for the last time. In 1520 a new sultan mounted the throne of the Osman Empire: Suleyman the Great. When the minister, Chaus Behram, sent to Buda to prolong the peace treaty was captured and sent to prison, an attack against Hungary was started. The Hungarians were defeated at Nándorfehérvár in 1521.

Louis II wanted first to solve his domestic problems. In 1523 he wanted to strengthen his royal power in both of his countries: Hungary and the Czech state. His attempts failed. The idea of an international alliance against the Turks was not realised, either. Poland made peace with the Osman Empire in 1525, and the German and Venetian ministers left the country at the request of the common noblemen, who were against foreigners. Only the Pope gave financial help to Hungary. The sultan's army, which attacked the country in 1526, defeated the royal army at the battle of Mohács, and Louis II also died in the battlefield.


The Armed Forces

The organisation of the army was totally changed in the 15th century. The military role of noblemen was pushed back, the old forms of recruitment in Hungary, such as the general declaration of war, when all noblemen were liable to military service, no longer applied. The Hungarian army of the time was divided into three main parts: the royal, the baron-prelate and the county banderies. After Sigismund's reforms it was king Matthias who first reorganised the army. The secular and ecclesiastic dignities who presented their own banderies were called barons. From 1498 they were the ones who collected half of the military tax, which they spent on equipment for their own armies, and the other half of the tax was the king's income.

Most of the baron and county armies were the estate armies. If there was a general declaration of war, noblemen joined the county banderies. The modern army of the age contained permanent mercenary troops. In Hungary it was introduced by Matthias Hunyadi in the middle of the 1460s. First it was founded when Giskra and his warriors changed sides, but it became more important during the Czech wars, when mercenary commander, Frantisek Hag organised a permanent mercenary army for the king's service, which consisted of about 6-8,000 soldiers. The majority of these soldiers were Czech or Polish.

After Matthias's death, part of the mercenary army became known as the black army. It derived its name from one of the mercenary commanders, the "black" Haugwitz. These mercenary armies were employed mainly in the western battlefields. Ulaslo II also employed them against Miksa and John Albert, but when they had no war to fight and no job and money was provided, they started to plunder. They were sent to the southern border, where they plundered the land instead of fighting the Turks. In 1492 they were put down by Paul Kinizsi, those who survived were sent to Austria. Some mercenary soldiers were still to be found in the Hungarian army during the reign of the Jagellos, but there was no need to employ them in great numbers on a regular basis.

When Matthias started his second campaign against Austria the age of war for its own sake started in Hungary. Besides general reasons to conquer, the main aim was to keep the army prepared for war, and the conquered land could sustain the army. Hungary lived in peace with its northern and western neighbours during the reign of the Jagellos. It had peaceful relations with the Czech state because of the common ruler. In Poland they had kinship with the ruling dynasty, and the country could also maintain peace with the Habsburg provinces because of the dynastic contracts - except for the short military preparation in 1506.

There were 5 different branches of service in the army. The light cavalry played an important role in the wars with the Turks. Most of the hussars, who served in the light cavalry earlier, were of southern-Slav origin. The heavy cavalry was employed in open battlefields. The infantry had a defensive role, they hardly ever used the wagon-fortress tactic, which was the favourite tactic of the Hussites. The importance of the artillery had slowly increased, at the beginning of the age siege machines were more useful than cannons. The task of sloopers - that is soldiers on ships - was to defend the lower part of the Danube.

The Turkish Wars

King Sigismund changed the political-military system of the defence against the Turks in the 1420s. Up to that time buffer states (Havasalföld, Serbia, Bosnia) defended Hungary and Croatia from the Osmans, but then this became the task of the border fortresses. During the reign of Matthias the double line of the border fortress system was built, which survived until 1521. The outer line started at Szörény, Orsova and went through Nándorfehérvár, Szabács, the ban district of Srebernik, Banja Luka, Jajca, Knin, the Klissa line to Scardona, while the inner line started at Temesvár, went through Karánsebes, Lugos, Sermia, Dubica, Kruppa, Otocsác, Bihács to Zengg.

Serbia was first taken over by the Osman Empire in 1439. Although George Brankovics got his country back in 1444, the Turks reoccupied South Serbia in 1455, and the residence of the despot, Szendrő, was also occupied by 1459. In 1439 the Turks attacked Krassó and Keve counties as well as Transylvania, taking advantage of the internal troubles in the country. The Hungarians started to fight back only in 1442, when the Osman army was engaged in conflicts in Karamania. The so-called winter or long campaign, led by John Hunyadi in 1443-1444, then the 1444 (starting with the battle of Várna and finishing with the 1448 battle of Rigómező) campaign were not very successful.

After Hunyadi's long campaign the Pope, Ulaslo I, the Prince of Burgundy, Venice and Geneva started a common war against the Turks. The main aim was to put an end to Osman reign in the Balkans. According to the military plans the galleys of the sea powers would have defended the Dardanellas, and the land army would have attacked the Osman troops in Europe (Rumelia), which would have their line of retreat cut off. The sea battle was unsuccessful, Sultan Murad crossed the strait from Asia, united his armies in Anatolia and Rumelia, and defeated the Hungarian-Polish-Havasalföld armies at Várna on November 1, 1444.

Although Serbia became a Turkish vassal state for only a short time, the Hungarian positions in the Balkans could not be regained. When in 1456 Sultan Mehmed II wanted to occupy Serbia, he planned to conquer Nándorfehérvár as well. Since the fall of Byzantium in 1453 the a crusade against the Turks had been organized on the Pope's initiative. In Hungary it was organised by John Kapisztrán. The Pope ordered that the bells be rung at noon as a prayer for the success of the crusaders. The victory at Nándorfehérvár was John Hunyadi's greatest victory: this was the only occasion, when the army of the medieval Hungarian Kingdom defeated the sultan's army.

Independent Bosnia fell in 1463. After the sultan's army had left, Matthias personally led a campaign to the freshly surrendered province in the winter of the very same year. He took over Jajca, Kljuc and Banja Luka. Then Bosnia, divided between the Turks and Hungary, became a means of defence as part of the border fortress system, rather than a buffer state. Nicholas Újlaki's Bosnian kingdom did not become a real country, the Bosnian bans did not become barons, they remained simple military commanders. Jajca was kept under the authority of Hungary till 1527, but in the final years supplying this region could only be undertaken through real campaigns.

Focus on the West: the Czech and Austrian Wars

The war against the countries of the Czech kingdom started in 1468. In the first year Matthias occupied Moravia, and in the next year a great part of Silesia. But this time it turned out that there was a chance of a very long war; the Czech defeated the Hungarian army at the Moravian Magyarbród. In the year 1470 there were campaigns of varying success. Podjebrád created problems in Matthias's provinces, while the Hungarian king tried to occupy the Czech silver mines - albeit without success. The campaign turned into an expensive war, which contributed to the 1471 Hungarian plot.

The war was resumed in 1474, when Frederick III and Ulaslo, the Czech king, formed an alliance against Matthias. This alliance was also joined by the Poles, although it was only a month after the peace treaty signed in Ófalu. In Silesia military events took place in the autumn. Matthias had the reserves transported to the strengthened fortresses and towns away from the Czech-Polish troops, and his mercenaries harried the enemy. The Hungarian king went to Boroszló (today Wroclaw), and declared his engagement to Beatrix during the siege of the town. The attacking soldiers took a lot of captives, and the warriors attacking the town, who did not have enough food, asked for a truce from the ones they were fighting against. It was a very strange event in military history.

The Austrian campaign, started in 1482, was fought mainly by mercenaries. They fought for the occupation of certain fortresses, which were very difficult to take over one by one. The first two years of the war were limited to Lower-Austria, the estates of Carinthia having already signed a separate peace treaty with Matthias in 1482. In 1483 the Hungarian army took over Klosterneuburg near Vienna, and the emperor escaped to Graz, which seemed to be a safer place. In the next year they devastated Styria and Carinthia, but the main battlefield remained Lower-Austria. The blockade around the city of Vienna ceased in January 1484.

The defenders' ambitious struggle was in vain, as the hungry city capitulated after a siege of several months. Matthias marched into the capital city on June 1, 1485, accepting the praise of the Austrian estates there, and ruling his new province from here. However, the war did not end, as Bécsújhely surrendered to the Hungarians only in 1487. After this the Austrian campaign was practically over.

War Against the Turks

From the middle of the 1460s till 1521 there were hardly any open conflicts with the Turks. Peace practically meant static warfare. The last western buffer state on the Balkans fell with the occupation of Hercegovina. No army of the sultan attacked the country, only the neighbouring beys led some military actions. As there was a long distance between the neighbouring border fortresses, the Turkish troops attacked Hungary many times. In 1474 and 1490 they reached Várad, in 1479 they devastated Transylvania. During this attack they suffered a defeat at the battle of Kenyérmező, then in 1480 Matthias led a three-front campaign of revenge to the Havasalföld, Serbia and Bosnia.

Matthias also used the Osman campaigns against Fridrich III. In the 1470-80s he allowed Turkish troops making incursions in Inner-Austria to pass through the country. So the Habsburgs claimed in the Jagello age that they also should be included in the Hungarian-Turkish peace. There was already a crisis in the Croatian border defence in the last decades of the 15th century, so in the 1493 battle of Udbinja the Croatian troops suffered serious defeats.

The Havasalföld managed to retain its independence, since it played no role in supporting the expansion of the Osman Empire. However, the voivodes of the Havasalföld paid taxes to the Turks from the end of the 14th century. Sometimes they surrendered to the Hungarian king, or entered into an alliance with him, but such events were limited to a very short period. Moldavia, which was under the influence of Poland, resisted the Turks for a longer time, but after the death of Chief Prince Stephen Nagy also submitted to the Osmans.

In 1520 Hungary did not want to enter a war, but its unfriendly movements were considered reasons for war by Emperor Suleyman. Because of the devastation on the southern regions the Hungarians saw war as a better alternative to a demolishing peace. The army of the sultan attacked Hungary in June 1521. They also occupied Szabács and Zimony. After a 66-day siege Nándorfehérvár also capitulated. After taking control of the fortress the sultan left for home. Local forces widened the wedge at this front, too, having occupied Orsova, Szörény, Tinin and Scardona in the west.

After 1521 the Hungarian Kingdom could not defend the country by itself. Sermia was demolished in a couple of years in continuous fights. Territories in the north were defended by the Danube and the second defence line of fortresses. Since 1522 the Habsburgs sent regular military and financial help to Croatia, and this contributed to the fact that after the battle of Mohács the Croatian estates chose Ferdinand as their king, and later they were more loyal to the Habsburg rulers than to the Hungarians.

In 1526 the army of the sultan started a war against Hungary, their aim being to defeat the Hungarian royal army. The Hungarian troops gathered at Tolna, and the Czech mercenaries financed by the Pope also went there. The commander of the army was Paul Tomori, Archbishop of Kalocsa, who had earlier commanded the defence of the southern regions, and George Szapolyai. Voivode John Szapolyai's Transylvanian troops and Christopher Frangepán's Croatian troops did not arrive. The Turks occupied Pétervárad, and Újlak, setting up a bridge at Eszék and crossing the river Dráva. The battle took place at Mohács on 29 August, 1526. The Hungarian army suffered a catastrophic defeat.


The Inhabitants of the Country

In Hungary, as in Western Europe, social classes or groups were called estates. The estate was the community of people with the same rights, but there could be a tremendous difference within an estate in regard to the wealth of the members. Belonging to an estate was defined by birth (the only exception was the church estate), so the possibility of changing one's social status was slight. The privileges of social groups were called liberties, for example, the liberty of the nobility. The end of the Middle Ages was the age of social stability, the walls between the estates consolidated and in some cases they remained unchanged until 1848.

There are no exact data concerning the population of the country in this period - similarly to earlier periods, figures can only be estimated. In 1494-1495 Sigismund Ernuszt compiled the statistics of the treasury on the revenues and expenditures of the state. Based on this source, the population could have been around three or possibly even five million. According to the most probable estimate the population (including Transylvania and Slavonia) was about 4-4.5 million. Any changes in the population level are even more difficult to define, there may have been a very gradual growth, or sometimes stagnation.

In this period there were no serious epidemics or famines in Hungary, which would have caused significant demographical changes. There are different data about households: in the 1520s in a village in county Hont there were 7.6, and some decades later in a village in county Sopron there were 6.3, and in today's market town of Szigetvár there were 13 persons living together in one household on average. Servants were also included in these numbers.

The Nobility

On top of the secular hierarchy were the barons. At the beginning of the age this concept referred only to office holders at the royal court, but after some decades it became the term for a social group to which one could primarily belong by birth. Sons of barons had usually become barons earlier too, and they inherited their fathers' estates, however, they could not bear the title until they received an office. In the Jagello age the real barons of the country - who were holders of the most important offices - were distinguished from natural barons, or as they were called then 'barons' sons' or 'magnates'.

In 1498 there was a law that listed the noblemen (barons) by their names who were obliged to set up a bandery. The magnates who were not included in this elite group on the basis of their wealth were practically discluded from the aristocracy. Up to that time aristocrats were barons, the title marquis was used only by a few families of German and Croatian origin. From that time on, however, titles bestowed for political deserts or merits, such as John Hunyadi's, then Michael Szilágyi's (from Beszterce) and the Szapolyai family's (from Szepes) 'marquis' title, became highly respected and the Hungarian marquis title was born.

The real barons of the country were the palatine, the chief judge of the country, the Slavonian and Dalmatian-Croatian ban, the Transylvanian voivode, the Székely ispán (bailiff), the ban of Macsó and Szörény, the main office holders of the royal court and the ispán (bailiff) of Pozsony and Temes. The rights of barons differed from general noble rights in four respects. They entered a war at the head of their own bandery, their oath was worth ten times that of other noblemen, but one hundred noblemen's oaths were needed to take an oath against them, and their widows were due to receive a sum of one hundred marks.

In this period common noblemen were also called noblemen. There were big differences between the wealth of noblemen with estates. Barons owning a fortress and the surrounding villages, noblemen engaged in trade, as well as lower noblemen owning only two or three villein families all belonged to the very same social group. The members of the higher layer of estate owners were called "well-off noblemen" by their contemporaries, and this category was used without numerical limitations. Their votes were the casting ones in matters of the county, their opinions were very important at the meeting of the parliament, and they had a great influence on common noblemen when they were taking up positions.

The majority of noblemen were noblemen owning only one small estate and no more. However, they owned that estate by their noble rights, just as barons owned their estates, which were sometimes as big as half of the county. Since the time King Matthias's tax reform was enacted noblemen with only one smaller estate also had to pay tax, though they often objected to this, and their taxes were not always regular. Most of these noblemen lived like peasants, with no obligation to take part in parliamentary meetings personally, and with only a very minor political influence in matters of the state.

Common noblemen often referred to the very same noble liberties, by which they meant that all noblemen of the country had the same rights. Werbőczy's Triple book summarised this concept in four points. 1. They could not be arrested without previous summoning and legal sentence - except in the event of being caught in the act. 2. They were subject only to a legally crowned king. 3. They could freely exercise their legal rights, or use the revenues of their estates; they did not have to pay any taxes or customs duties, their only obligation was to defend the country in the event of war. 4. If a king acted against any of their rights, they could rebel without being accused of disloyalty.

At the beginning of the age the institution of 'familiares' was flourishing. Barons and rich noblemen employed noblemen in their families in return for accommodation and board. The relationship between the lord and his familiare became looser by the end of the Middle Ages, and noblemen were employed for only a very short time, for example, one year. The expression 'servitor' appeared in the Jagello age and referred to noblemen in service. There were big differences among noblemen in service too: the income of the chief officer in a fortress could be as much as that of a noblemen with an average-size estate, but there were people who worked merely for food, accommodation and clothes.


The majority of the population of the country belonged to the group of villeins. The merging, which had started at the beginning of the previous century, was completed by the 15th century. Then everybody was considered a villein who was subject to the authority of a landlord, no matter if he was a person renting several waste areas or a burgher of a market town keeping a whole flock of sheep or a cottar living in the house of another person. Villeins did not own their lands, although their sons could inherit it under certain legal conditions. They came under the legal authority of the landlord: and their cases were judged at the local court, the landlords being obliged to see to their defence.

After the peasant revolt of 1514 was put down, the free movement of the villeins was prohibited by law, though it was not put into practice. For centuries the relationship between the landlord and villein was determined primarily by local customary law - and not by enacted laws. The allowances paid to the landlord were also determined by local customary law, which was often recorded in writing, in the so-called urbariums. Regular revenues, gifts given twice or three times a year and the rent for the land (terragium) recorded in the urbariums were not very high, but these were supplemented by the 'irregular task', which was quite regularly collected in some estates. A ninth was not paid everywhere, the amount of robot was slight, and it usually included cartage and hay making.

The Burghers

The layer of burghers - just like other estates - was not a unified group. The upper layer of the population of bigger towns were tradesmen, renters of royal chambers, and tradesman artisans; in mining towns they were the owners of mines and smelting-furnaces. They controlled the town, and the members of the so-called 'inner council' were elected from among them. Artisans were the middle layer in towns, they interfered in the governing of the city through the outer council. The majority of city people were called city-dwellers. Although they were considered burghers outside the town walls, the leaders of the city did not accept them as real burghers. They worked as day-wage men or transporters, or performed other services.

According to general law the dwellers of market towns were villeins, but they were usually called burghers, like those who lived in bishopric centres. In the 15th century there were also several new guilds in the market towns. Usually all the craftsmen joined a common guild. At that time there was no difference between guilds and religious associations. Such associations set up their own altar, and their meetings were the scenes of political life in the city. Christ's body guilds of bigger cities were associations of rich tradesmen, but there was also a separate guild for those who were very poor.


State finance was an unknown concept in the Middle Ages. King Matthias was the first ruler who made an attempt to separate royal and state incomes. The estates had the right to intervene in how state incomes were spent. There are no exact data on all the incomes and expenditures on the central account, not even after the reform of the treasury. The budget of the late medieval Hungarian kingdom, like those of other European countries, was in the red, and there was a continual shortage of money. There were two distinct periods in the finances of the age: the one before and the one after King Matthias's reforms.

In the first period the income of the state was lower than in the Sigismund age, which can be explained by the chaotic political situation. Most of the income came from the salt monopoly, the money reform, the thirtieths and finally from the exchange of precious metals. King Albert introduced the system of regular money reform. After his death there were chaotic conditions in money minting: money being minted in the name of several rulers at the same time. Although the golden forint was able to keep its value, the silver money used in everyday life was devalued.

The initiator of the financial reform carried out between 1464-1470 was John Ernuszt. There were four main innovations. Money reform was cancelled, as a lot of landowners were exempted from paying the tax known as the profit of the chamber. It was cancelled, but a new tax of the same value was introduced in the same year under a new name: royal fiscus. The name of the thirtieth customs duty was changed into crown customs duty. There were innovations in money minting, too, and finally the structure of financial control. The treasury was also changed. After the reform the income from taxes became the number one income of the state, exceeding all others.

There were two kinds of taxes: 1/5 golden forint treasury tax per house, and an extraordinary tax of 1 forint per house. The latter was imposed at the beginning of King Matthias's reign, and then collected more often, almost every year during the Czech wars. The Jagellos did not change this system, although they made promises. The cities, the Jews, the Rumanians and Székelys paid tax separately. King Matthias's income amounted to about 900,000 golden forints in the best financial years. At this time Venice had an income of about one million golden forints, the Osman Empire 1,800,000, and the French Kingdom 4,000,700.

Before the reform three kinds of money were minted: the golden forint and two kinds of silver coins, the denarius and the obulus. After 1467 the minting of the groat was reintroduced. At that time 1 golden forint was worth 100 denariuses, 1 groat was worth 4 denariuses, and 1 denarius was worth 2 obuluses. During the reign of Ulaslo II a new valuable silver coin was minted, which was called guldiner, and later thaler, but it was still not used in everyday life. The appearance of different coins also changed. Coins with the picture of a madonna appeared, which were minted for centuries after. The face of the coin showed a shield, and on the back was the Virgin Mary. From 1471 the picture of the Virgin Mary appeared on the forint coin too.

Because of the 1521 Turkish campaign the royal court made changes in the minting of money, which had been unchanged since 1467. This innovation meant the devaluation of money, the 'new coins' containing only half the amount of silver as that of the older coins. This experiment lasted until 1525. Although it helped solve the problems of the treasury in the short run, it could not continue as a result of inflation. By the time of the battle of Mohács expenditures took up all the income. Foreign money was also used in the period: in Western Hungary the Austrian denarius was used, while in Transylvania the Havasalföld ospora was used.

The income from the gold and silver mines was gradually decreasing, as the mines became useless because of the deep excavations. Water leaked into the tunnels. The maintenance of the water pumps was too expensive for the citizens of mining towns, and foreign entrepreneurs were needed. The Fugger family, for example, had a banking network in Europe, and were the creditors of the Habsburgs. They and their Hungarian relatives, the Thurzó brothers rented the production and trade of the Garam region copper and silver mines from 1496. As in the 13th century the silver of Selmec, in the 14th century the gold of Körmöc, then the copper and silver of Besztercebánya were the famous products of the Hungarian mining industry.

Hungarian foreign trade was mainly with the west, and after this with the south, towards Italy, then came trade with the Polish and Rumanian principalities. Western trade was carried out along the Danube between Vienna and Buda, or on the Danube itself, in the valley of the rivers Mura and Sava. Cities on the borderline, Sopron and Pozsony took advantage of this trade. It decreased later in the 1460s because of the worsening internal conflicts in Austria, something which Buda and Pest profited from. From the west textile and iron goods were imported, and from Italy quality textile and luxury items.

Owing to King Matthias's conquest of Silesia, the road from Boroslo, through the valley of the river Vág, to the centre of the country became very important, and copper exporting was carried out here too. The main item of export was cattle. The cattle trade and husbandry were inseparable: Pest, Szeged and Székesfehérvár took advantage of this, as big flocks were kept in these regions. Pest, under the authority of Buda from the 1250s, became a free royal town, its outer appearance also being determined by the cattle trade. Originally there was a big square inside the city walls, which was built in the second half of the 15th century, and this was used for markets, but some decades later markets were to be held outside the city walls.

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