The Hungarian Kingdom
be formally recognized as a Christian king, one had to ask to be crowned by
either the Pope or another king, but in this case he would be accepting him as
his superior. Realizing
this, István the first Christian king of
Exhibit 24: Saint István from the Illustrated Chronicle
brother-in-law of István, Emperor Heinrich
II, died in 1024 and the good relationship between
Exhibit 25: St. István offers
was followed to the throne by King Kálmán
(1095-1116), the "Book Lover".
He was probably the most learned king of his time. He decreed: "witches do not exist", and
forbade witch hunts. He also relaxed cruel and unusual punishment for crimes
that did not warrant it. Yet, Kálmán was a firm and wise ruler. He became the
crowned King of
Taxation and other excesses of government under the rule of King András II (1205-1235) created great dissatisfaction. The threat of revolution loomed. Donating large portions of land to his supporters backfired in the end as trouble continued to brew; the financially weakened King seemingly added fuel to an already perilous fire. In order to bring about calm and order, in 1222, András issued the Bill of Rights. Known as the Aranybulla (Exhibit 27) (i.e., the Golden Bull is similar to the British Magna Carta document of 1215), the document unfortunately did not solve the problems that existed - András did not remove the government which was the cause of the dissatisfaction in the first place.
Exhibit 27: Boundary stone of Babylon and the seal of King András II. The Sun, the Moon and the rosette are displayed on both objects
After the death of András, his son inherited the throne as King Béla IV (1235-1270). His aim was to create a stable and powerful government and bring about respect for the throne. In order to do this, he took back the lands that had been given away by his father, levied new taxes, and made friends with no one. Obviously, dissatisfaction became rampant throughout the country. At this time, in 1241, news came that the Mongolian Armies of Batu Khan were approaching Hungary. A large number of Kuns (Kumanians) along with their king, Kutten, fleeing from the advancing Mongolian Armies, were given permission to settle in Hungary. Béla hoped that they would be of great help in the upcoming struggle. King Béla called the country to arms, but the enraged and uncooperative aristocracy either did not respond or came up with conditions. One of their demands was that the King turn over Kutten to the Mongols. Batu sent his envoys to Béla with the same demand. The King's enemies murdered the envoys - an unforgivable crime. They also murdered Kutten, resulting in his warriors turning on the Hungarians in revenge; consequently most of them fled the country. Béla suffered a crushing defeat from the Mongolians at Muhi (eastern Hungary), barely escaping capture; meanwhile, Béla's wife and the King's treasury fell into the hands of Prince Friedrich II of Austria. In order to regain the freedom of his wife, the treasury had to be forfeited, along with claims to three western counties while Friedrich joined the Mongols to loot and rampage. The Mongols were cruel and merciless, not surprisingly, avenging their murdered envoys. From Zagreb, the fleeing King Béla turned to the Pope, the French king, and the German emperor for help; his requests were turned down. In the spring of 1442, the Mongols left Hungary and the King returned to begin the rebuilding of the country.
The last male in the direct heir of the Árpád Dynasty, King András III died in 1301. The grandchild of the daughter of King István V, Robert Károly, was elected to the throne in 1308. Robert Károly was to become one of the greatest kings of Hungary. His wise economic and foreign policy made the country rich again and regained its old glory and respect. His son, Lajos "The Great" (1342-1382), inherited a rich and powerful country. Lajos was a peaceful and courageous man, but he did not have his father's leadership qualities. His restless and ego-driven mother was the force behind many of his decisions. They emptied the coffers of the treasury to wage war and bribed people to further their goals. Lajos expanded the borders of his kingdom to the furthest that they would ever reach (this is why "The Great" was bestowed upon him) and in the process bankrupted the country yet again. In the meantime, Turkish armies were approaching from the south reaching the borders of the Hungarian Kingdom in 1373.
After the death of Lajos, Hungary fell into feudal anarchy. Rich and powerful members of the aristocracy quarreled amongst themselves and ruined the country. They elected weak kings in order that the kings would serve them. Out of this chaos, the figure of a great military leader, János Hunyadi, emerged as the savior of the country. The decadent aristocracy did not dare to confront him, so in 1446 he was elected to be the Governor of Hungary, with most of the king's authority delegated to him. He resigned this post in 1452, so he could take firm control of the military. King László V appointed him to be General of the Armies and he became the caretaker of the King's treasury as well.
In June of 1456 the Turkish sultan, Mohammed II, marched his armies to capture Nándorfehérvár (today's Belgrade) on his way to conquer Europe. With a massive army of some 150,000 foot soldiers, 300 cannons, and 200 ships, the city was encircled. The defenders, under the leadership of Mihály Szilágyi (the brother-in-law of Hunyadi), numbered only around 6,000. With the help of some 12,000 men, János Hunyadi and John Capistrano (a Franciscan monk) broke through the encirclement and established contact with the defenders as more supplies and an additional 2,000 reinforcements were sent in. The Pope ordered prayers and church bells to ring at noon for victory. By this time, Hunyadi's forces in and outside of the city numbered about 25,000 strong. The Turks launched their final attack on the 21st of July. Hunyadi, Szilágyi and Capistrano were able to beat back the Turks, launching a counterattack and destroying the Turkish forces the very next day. The ringing of the church bell at noon is still a reminder of this victory. With this victory, Europe was saved from Turkish invasion; however, a plague broke out as a result of the decomposing bodies in the great summer heat. In three weeks, Hunyadi fell victim to the plague. Kings, leaders, and soldiers of Europe paid tribute to Hunyadi; even Muhammed II sent his condolences remarking, "The world has never seen such a man". About two months later, Capistrano also fell victim to the plague. He became a saint of the Roman Catholic Church; in California, Capistrano Beach is named after him.
The enemies of the Hunyadis, under the leadership of Cillei and Garai, used this opportunity to capture Hunyadi's sons, László and Mátyás. They beheaded László and kept Mátyás in captivity. The weak King László V., fearing for his life, escaped to Vienna (and then to Prague) taking Mátyás with him as a hostage. The friends of the Hunyadis took great exception to this, and Szilágyi paid 40,000 pieces of gold in ransom to gain his release.
Mátyás (Exhibit 28) was elected to the throne in 1458 and became one of Hungary's wisest, most powerful, and most beloved rulers. Mátyás enacted laws which were evenhanded and just. There are numerous legends surrounding him; there is even a saying often repeated today: "Mátyás the Just died - and so did justice." He set up a well-trained Black Army (a mercenary force whose uniforms were black) for the defense of the country. His campaign against the Turks was as successful as his father's had been. However, more than once, he had to buy peace from the Turks in order to defend the country from the West and keep the internal enemies in check. Mátyás was one of the most learned rulers of his time - his library was famous throughout Europe. He ran a splendid court which was the envy of Europe visited by scholars and scientists from all over the continent. He died - probably at the hands of an assassin - at the age of 50, in 1490. He was the last great and powerful King of Hungary. The anarchy among the aristocracy now re-emerged, worsening the internal conditions to the point that in 1541 the Turks marched into Buda and took over the city without any resistance.
Exhibit 28: King Mátyás from the Illustrated Turóczy Chronicle
The explanation that the demise of the powerful Hungarian Kingdom had resulted from the defeat at the hands of the Turks in 1526 at Mohács is inaccurate. That battle took place on August 29, 1526, King Lajos II losing his life also. The victorious Turkish troops wandered all over the country to loot and pillage. They stumbled into heavy local resistance and by mid-October had left the country; the Turks did not keep Hungary under occupation, much as the Soviet had in 1945.
It can be stated, unequivocally, that the demise of Hungary's greatness was caused by the decadence of the Hungarian aristocracy. In fairness, the point must be made that decadence is not unique to the Hungarian aristocracy. It is the result of material riches and feeble human character, demonstrable in the history of any nation or country. In the case of Hungary, it became disastrous; during this time of grave external danger no ironhanded leaders emerged (such as the Hunyadis had earlier) to save and protect the country. Hungary at that time had the economic and military power to stand up to the Turks - especially, if she did not have to defend herself from the Western threats at the same time. Hungary has an important geographic location, dividing Europe into the western and eastern civilizations. Culturally, Hungary had broken away from the East half a millennium earlier, yet was never fully accepted by the West. In her struggle for survival, Hungary defended not only herself from eastern invasions, but also defended the West. The West watched this struggle indifferently, at times seizing the opportunity and launching an attack on her.
The following is an excellent case in point, an illustration as to what it takes to destroy a nation or a great power -- any nation or any great power. After the tragic battle at Mohács, on the 10th of November, a group of aristocrats gathered at Székesfehérvár and elected János Szapolyai (1526-1540) to the throne. The aristocrats opposing Szapolyai gathered at Pozsony on the 16th of December electing the Habsburg Prince Ferdinand (1526-1564) to be King. (This event laid the foundation of the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy, the Habsburgs keeping the Hungarian crown for the next 400 years.) The primary goal of these two kings for the next thirteen years was to gain the upper hand or, if possible, destroy the other. In this struggle, Szapolyai more than once acquired the help of the Turkish sultan, Suleiman II. Ferdinand, of course, received help from Austria and from the West. In 1538, they finally made peace. Szapolyai agreed that after his death Ferdinand should become the sole king. Just as had happened with Emperor Manuel many years earlier, a son was born to Szapolyai two weeks before his death and he ordered his followers to elect the baby to be the new king. Suleiman was made guardian of the Baby King. On August 29, 1541, on the very day of the 15th anniversary of Mohács, Suleiman marched into Buda under the pretense of protecting the interest of the Baby King, and stayed.
Exhibit 29: The Turkish conquest and occupation (yellow wedge)
The advancing Turkish armies occupied the Great Plains and most of Dunántúl (western Hungary). Transylvania had purchased peace from the Sultan, thereby enabling it to keep its internal "independence". A narrow strip of western Hungary, along with the northern Carpathians, remained under Hungarian, that is, Habsburg rule. The following 150 years were to be an era of valiant struggle to free the country from Turkish occupation and Habsburg domination. We can take the heroines of Eger or the defenders of Szigetvár as examples of this great effort. In 1552, the women of Eger (Exhibit 30) fought alongside their men against overwhelming odds. Some fought with swords in their hands; others threw rocks or dumped boiling water on the invaders. Their efforts led to an incredible victory over the besieging Turks.
Exhibit 30: The heroines of Eger by Bertalan Székely
Sadly, the heroes of Szigetvár weren't quite so lucky. In 1566, some 2,500 Hungarians and Croatians defended their city surrounded by some 90,000 Turks. In attack after attack, they repelled the Turkish charges, inflicting heavy casualties upon them. Some 25,000 Turks died at Szigetvár, but because of their large numbers, they persisted in their attack on the city. With the number of defenders dwindling to about three hundred, their supplies having been used up; further resistance looked hopeless. The wives and daughters of the officers decided that they would rather die than fall into Turkish hands as well as dragged into slavery. They were killed by their husbands and fathers before the final counterattack. Count Miklós Zrinyi gathered his loyal troops and led the last brave and furious charge; all but three of them died heroes' deaths.
Exhibit 31: Mihály Dobozi and His Wife by Bertalan Székly
Though encircled, Transylvania enjoyed internal stability. History was made in 1568 when the Diet (Congress) of Torda declared religious freedom there, giving each individual the right to choose his or her own religion - further proving that Hungary was at the forefront of social development in Europe. At the very least, part of the country was able to exercise its domestic freedom. The Turks were forced out of Hungary in 1699; only five years later the anti-Hungarian policy carried out by the Habsburgs resulted in a War of Independence led by Count Ferenc Rákóczi II. After the Turks had been expelled, the Hungarians moved back to reclaim their former properties. The Habsburg armies chased them off and brought in foreign settlers to take their place. This became the basis for the Treaty of Versailles (Trianon) in 1920. It would be unfair to say that the Habsburgs alone were responsible for the dismemberment of Hungary, as the Hungarian nobility had done more than its share in this regard. In Transylvania, they brought in large numbers of Rumanians for cheap labor. The grandfather of Rákóczi II, György Rákóczi, translated the Bible into Rumanian, so they could be educated and cultured, and of course the pay-off came in the first quarter of the XX century. It is ironic that after the War of Independence was lost in 1711, Rákóczi escaped to Turkey where he died and was buried. One of his military leaders, Count Miklós Bercsényi, went to France and organized the French cavalry into an effective fighting force. Out of this unit came Colonel Mihály Kováts (Exhibit 32), who did the same to the American cavalry. He died at Charleston in the American War of Independence in 1779, leading the cavalry charge against the British. Interestingly enough, another Hungarian cavalryman, Captain Károly Zágonyi, fought and led the first victorious battle on the Union side of the American Civil War at Springfield, Missouri in 1861.
Exhibit 32: Colonel Mihály Kováts by Zoltán de Bényey
The Turkish conquest and Habsburg domination could not have come at a worse time in Hungarian history. The Renaissance renewed and revitalized European cultural and spiritual life. Universities and colleges had been built throughout Europe, while Hungary in the XV and XVI centuries spent her economic fortune on defense against the Turks. Afterward came 150 years of Turkish occupation resulting in one third of the country being ravaged and depopulated. As devastating as the Turkish occupation and Habsburg domination was with its resulting internal strife and discord, these were not the only reasons that Hungary could not regain her independence. In the early or mid-1700's, a new social order was in the making all across Europe. Beginning first in France in 1789, this new order became the guiding force in social and national life as it swept away the old. In the old order, the guiding force was loyalty to the ruler. In the new social order, the nation was elevated to an idealistic high. In light of this new patriotic ideal, the western nations rewrote their history books in service to the nation, and this ideal became the dominant force guiding their society. Relentlessly and mercilessly it rolled over ethnic groups like a steamroller and, in the West, most minorities disappeared overnight. In Hungary, had this new nationalistic idea taken root, social order could have grown as a result of the sound economic policies of Count István Szécheny (Exhibit 33). But the War for National Independence of 1848-49, led by Lajos Kossuth, was put down and with it all social and economic advancement went up in flames. Therefore, a true national identity never had the chance to take hold in the minds and hearts of Hungarians as a firm social guiding force. Hungary at the time of the birth of this new national consciousness was under foreign domination and still is to this very day. As a result, Hungarians never had an opportunity to write their own history in the best interest of their very own nation. It is in this written history in which the information is accumulated that is necessary to build national self-respect and a sound future. If the written history is negative and demeaning, it will destroy the spirit of a nation. Any nation.
Exhibit 33: Count István Széchenyi
One of the major problems Europe faced in the early 19th century was the question of equal taxation. The aristocracy paid no taxes (or very little) and because of this, a heavy burden was placed on the people of the lower echelon as well as on the serfs. It created an internal unrest and revolution was in the making. Western countries encountered similar situations. In early 1848, revolution broke out in Paris; Vienna shortly followed its lead. Hungary was also ready for a revolution. The aristocracy was certainly under great social pressure, but nonetheless, on the morning on March 15, 1848 the Hungarian aristocracy became the only upper class in history to give up its privileges of its own free will. With this step they averted revolution and allowed the country to turn its attention and resources to the War of Independence. The war was going well for the Hungarians, but when the Habsburgs were able to reach an agreement with the Russian czar in 1849 (sending some 200 thousand fresh eastern troops to the battlefields) the outcome was determined. The war was lost and was followed by the terror of the Bach-regime from Vienna. Hundreds of military leaders and politicians were jailed and many were executed.
In 1867, an agreement was signed between the Habsburgs and Hungary that was to return the country to internal independence. During and after the War of Independence, an oligarchy seized most of the economic wealth of the country; working from behind the scenes, it applied heavy pressure on the government, preventing it from solving the deep rooted national problems.
The First World War broke out in 1914 and was blamed on Hungary. This was a malicious fabrication. One has to know that Hungary at this time was part of the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy, and had no foreign policy of her own. The Prime Minister, Count István Tisza, was the only Hungarian member of the Monarchy's government - and he was the only one to oppose declaring war on the Serbs after the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand at Sarajevo. The war ended in 1918 in armistice, which was signed between Italy and the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy on the 3rd of November. Up until that day not a single enemy soldier set foot on Hungarian soil; however, the French did not recognize the armistice just signed, and kept moving their army toward Hungary, encouraging the Czechs, the Romanians and the Serbs to do the same. Anti-Hungarian elements seized the government, which called upon the Hungarian troops to lay down their arms wherever they were. Most of the Hungarian army disbanded and the remaining ones were totally disorganized. Hungary was on the losing side and became occupied by enemy armies.
Exhibit 34: The dismembered Hungarian Kingdom
In 1920 the "Peace" Treaty of Versailles (Known to Hungarians as the Treaty of Trianon) was forced upon Hungary. As a result, historical Hungary was dismembered (Exhibit 34). The Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and the Habsburg Dynasty were also disbanded. This was done in the "noble" cause of "self-determination". The newly drawn borders placed 3.5 million Hungarians under foreign rule overnight. Of that number, 1.5 million resided along the new borders. In these areas, the population was almost 100% Hungarian. There were 2 million Hungarians in the expanded Rumania, 1 million in the newly created Czechoslovakia and ˝ million in the also newly created Yugoslavia, amongst other nationalities. Therefore, Rumania and the newly created countries were just as diverse ethnically as Historic Hungary was. According to the "Peace" Treaty of Trianon, the affected people should have decided by referendum which country they wanted to belong to. This was done in only one such case: that of Sopron, the westernmost city in modern-day Hungary. Originally, Sopron and its vicinity had been given to Austria, but the people voted to remain with Hungary. Because of this result, no other village or city was given the chance for self-determination. So much for the high-sounding principles and noble causes put forth by the "Peace" Treaty.
Exhibit 35: Ethnic divisions of the Kingdom of Hungary based on the 1910 census
This catastrophe shocked the nation to the depths of her soul. A vibrant spiritual and cultural renewal began to grow out of the ashes. Hungary wanted to live again. In the late 1930's and the early 1940's, Hungary regained some of her lost territories. This Renaissance, however, didn't last long. It was buried by the Second World War. The war was followed by Soviet occupation and Communist dictatorship. In the second "Peace" Treaty of 1947, this time in Paris, Hungary lost the regained territories and three Hungarian villages on the right bank of the Danube; Slovaks wanted a foothold by the city of Pozsony (Bratislava). The nation rose once more in 1956 (Exhibit 36), but it was brutally suppressed. Some 200 thousand Hungarians escaped to the west, tens of thousands were deported to the Soviet Union, and thousands were jailed and executed in Hungary. The Communist government introduced free abortion and, as a result, the Hungarian population began to decline in the early 1980's.
Exhibit 36: Destruction in Budapest
It can be safely stated that Hungary, and the Hungarian people themselves, have never been in such grave danger in their vast history as they are today. No matter how devastating were the conditions of the past, the birth rate had never dropped under the replacement rate; the people and the country survived. Unfortunately, more than forty years of Communist rule extinguished the last glimmering flame of national self-respect. Astonishingly, perhaps all has not been lost; twelve years after the demise of communism, some awakening can be seen in the faces of the youth of this great and ancient nation, Hungary.