Hungarian History 1444 to 1490AD
History 1300 to 1444AD
Ladislaus V (1444-1457AD)
The death of Ulászló I plunged Hungary into crisis.
Frederick III in the name of Ladislaus V occupied the Hungarian border districts
with Austria. Jan Jiskra seized Spis and the Cilli family took control of Slovakia,
driving out the supporters of Ulászló I. Once again Hungary was
heading for a full blown civil war. Hunyadi, in what can only be described as
an act of masterful diplomacy managed to organise a settlement. Possibly playing
on fears of Ottoman reprisals and from his position as most powerful landholder
in the Kingdom Hunyadi was able to convene a National Diet in April 1445. The
measure of the crisis can be judged by the fact that for the first time Hungarian
Towns were represented. The terms of the agreement were simple enough, supporters
of Ulászló I would acknowledge Ladislaus as their lawful King.
Frederick III would return Ladislaus to the Hungarian people, along with the
Holy Crown. Until the return of the King seven 'Captains' would be elected to
maintain law and Order. Hunyadi was the first of these Captains and of the remaining
six, five had been supporters of Ulászló. The final man to make
up the seven was Jiskra, not even a Hungarian! The choice in Captains reflects
several points. The old party of Ulászló under the leadership
of Hunyadi was still by far the strongest in Hungary and that the Czech mercenary
Jiskra had managed to build such a strong power base in Slovakia and surrounding
districts that he had to be acknowledged as one of the seven most powerful men
in Hungary. Despite the balance of power being firmly in favour of Hunyadi and
his peers this temporary solution worked very well. The Counts of Cilli and
Jiskra remained effective rulers of the territories they held but peace was
maintained and stability restored.
The seven ruled Hungary for over a year but by then it was clear that Frederick III was not going to release Ladislaus nor return the lands he had taken. A new Diet was called at Pest in June 1446. Outside of the Diet and by popular acclaim most of the Nobility pronounced Janos Hunyadi Royal Regent. The Diet had little choice but to ratify the popular decision. Though given Hunyadi's obvious popularity and sheer personal wealth and power the decision was never really in doubt. Never the less the Diet installed limits on just what Hunyadi could do as regent (He was given the title Gubernator (Governor)) The Diet elected a Regency Council to 'assist' the Governor in his duties. This Council was remarkably balanced in its composition. A second Diet in 1447 further codified the how the Kingdom was to be run. Ladislaus Garai, a supporter of Ladislaus V from the beginning was made Palatine. The Diet also decreed that if Ladislaus V should die without an heir it would fall to the Barons to elect a New King. Even so the Diet was unable to reassert authority over lands controlled by Jiskra or the Cilli.
The refusal of Jiskra to relinquish control to the Diet and Hunyadi immediately led to a resumption of hostilities. Over the next five years Hunyadi led a total of four campaigns against Jiskra. However he was never able to give the situation his full attention. As a result the campaigns never utilised the full force of the Hungarian army nor stayed in the field long enough to force Jiskra's army to battle. The campaigns instead of destroying Jiskra's strongholds was reduced to devastating the surrounding lands. 1451 saw a serious defeat for Hunyadi when Jiskra unexpectedly took to the field and his army surprised Hunyadi while he was besieging the fortified monastery at Lucenec. Hunyadi had no opportunity to revenge his defeat as the following year saw Frederick III unexpectedly returned Ladislaus V to Hungary. Jiskra's long support for Ladislaus V made peace inevitable.
Between 1444 and 1447 Hunyadi was unable to focus on the Ottoman threat but by 1448 he was in a position to revenge the defeat at Varna. The previous year Hunyadi had led a rapid campaign into Wallachia and replaced Vlad Dracul with a more amenable Voivode. With Wallachia secured Hunyadi gathered an army and marched into Ottoman occupied Serbia. The likely object of the campaign appears to have been to join with Skanderbeg and his rebel army in Albania. At the plain of Kosovo Polje Hunyadi rested his army, it may be that Skanderbeg was expected to march and join him. Instead it was the Ottoman army that appeared and after 3 days of fighting the Hungarian army was defeated. Hungarian casualties were heavy and included most of the senior commanders. Hunyadi was further inconvenienced in his retreat to Hungary when the Prince of Serbia George Brankovic seized his opportunity to revenge himself on the man he believed had betrayed the peace of 1444. Hunyadi was temporarily held captive until he agreed to return Brankovic's estates in Hungary to him. Once free though Hunyadi set about gaining his own measure of revenge. Brankovic was declared traitor and his lands subject to forfeiture. From 1448 to 1451 Hunyadi or his supporters waged war on Brankovic. This 'little war' combined with Hunyadi's on/off attempts to deal with Jiskra meant little was achieved on either front. His defeat at the hands of Jiskra in 1451 saw Hunyadi accept mediation from the Barons in his dispute with Brankovic. This presumably was to free up troops for a new campaign against Jiskra. Peace was achieved with Hunyadi returning all lands seized since 1448 and paying a massive 155,000 florins in return for retaining all lands ceded over in 1444. Also Brankovic's granddaughter was betrothed to Hunyadi's younger son Matthius.
The battle of Kosovo Polje was a watershed for Hungary, her efforts against the Ottomans would for many years be almost entirely confined to the defensive. Despite losing his second major battle against the Ottomans, failing to deal with Jiskra and having to relinquish some of his rights to Royal revenues Hunyadi retained his pre-eminent position in Hungary. In part this was due to Hunyadi being the natural leader of the opposition to the Cilli who had regained much influence by their blood relationship with the King. The Ottomans still threatened Hungary and Hunyadi remained the best general of the time. The return of the King Ladislaus altered the political makeup, no longer was there a 'Loyalist' and 'Nationalist' party, represented by Cilli and Hunyadi respectively. The Nationalists transformed into the Hunyadi faction, representing only their own interests. This shift to personal politics saw significant defections to the Loyalists. These included Ujlaki and the Bishop of Oradea. The struggle for control between the two groups increased steadily and had the Ottoman Sultan not signalled his intend to renew the war, Hungary may well have found itself in the grip of a new civil war.
1451 saw Mehmed II gain the throne of the Ottoman Empire. He began a concerted campaign to expand his European holdings. 1453 he took Constantinople, transferring his Capital there. 1454 he began fresh attacks on Serbia and by 1456 was in a position to attack Belgrade. The Sultan began the siege on the 4th of July 1456 and by the 22nd of July was in full retreat with the remains of his army and a healthy respect for the fighting qualities of the Hungarians. Mehmed's experiences under the walls of Belgrade appear to be the primary reason why the Ottomans would not launch any attacks on such a scale for the next 65 years. The breaking of the siege however cost Hungary dear as Janos Hunyadi died shortly after from the plague.
Hunyadi's positions and power were inherited by his eldest son Ladislaus. Unfortunately, as is often the case, Ladislaus had not inherited his Father's many talents, except ambition. By the end of 1456 Ladislaus had had Ulrich Cilli publicly murdered, Cilli was at the time Captain General of the Realm, taken the King into his 'care' and declared himself Captain General. In a move stunning in its stupidity Ladislaus released the King and then attended the Royal Court in Buda with his brother Matthius. The King had Ladislaus and Matthius arrested, charged and tried for high treason. Ladislaus was executed and the 14 year old Matthius imprisoned. The King rightly fearing the reaction of the Hunyadi party fled to Bohemia with Matthius as his hostage. A revolt against the King, led by Hunyadi's widow Elizabeth and her brother Michael Szilagyi soon broke out. The Royal army under Jiskra and Hunyadi's former compatriot Ujlaki put up an effective resistance. Despite pitched battles and innumerable skirmishes neither side was able to gain the advantage. The situation changed on the 23 November 1457 when Ladislaus V died in Prague, once again leaving Hungary with no legitimate heir to the throne.
King Matthius (1458- 1490AD)
There was only one realistic candidate for King, Matthius Hunyadi.
No one else mustered enough support to prevent a civil war. At the Diet of Pest
in 1458 Michael Szilagyi and some 15,000 supporters acclaimed Matthius King.
Szilagyi gave the Barons assurances that Matthius would not exact revenge for
the death of his brother. This was sufficient for the Barons to elect Matthius
as King and Szilagyi as governor. Matthius after some negotiation with his captor
George Podebrad of Bohemia was released and was crowned King on the 14th of
It was apparent from the start that this 15 year old boy had inherited in full measure the talents of his illustrious father. Within three months of his coronation Matthius had sidelined, then arrested his Uncle Szilagyi and taken personal control of his Kingdom. Matthius immediately began consolidating his kingdom. He faced the same three main problems his father had been unable to deal with. That of the Emperor Frederick III, Jan Jiskra and the powerbase of the Counts of Cilli, now in the hands of a foreign Mercenary.
Frederick III was proclaimed King of Hungary in 1459 by some of the Barons of Northern Hungary, led by Garai. The revolt was quickly crushed by Matthius but it did little to persuade Frederick to drop his claims to the throne. Frederick's support in Northern Hungary was still strong. Jiskra controlled Slovakia and a Jan Vitovec controlled most of the Cilli lands. It was inevitable that Jan Jiskra would not submit to the new King and almost as soon as Matthius was elected hostilities were resumed. Jiskra at first offered to support Casimir of Poland if he wished to push his claim to Hungary. When this failed Jiskra switched his support to Frederick III. Like his earlier successful resistance to Janos Hunyadi Jiskra was able to rely on Matthius being unable to give him his undivided attention. However unlike his father Matthius adopted a systematic approach to the problem. Each campaign was aimed at reducing Jiskra's strongholds and retaining them. Never the less it wouldn't be until 1462 that Jiskra was forced to negotiate. Jiskra's willingness to negotiate was only partially due to Matthius' successful campaigns mostly though it was because Frederick had made his own peace with Matthius. The peace saw Matthius declare Frederick his successor, so long as he was without a male heir, pay a massive ransom for the Holy Crown of St Stephen and agree to Austria retaining much of the lands taken from Hungary since 1440. Jiskra was effectively isolated and knew it. Matthius though dealt honourably with Jiskra and he was made a Hungarian Baron and one of his senior army commanders. Most of Jiskra's troops were incorporated into the Hungarian army though some preferred banditry and it wouldn't be until 1467 that the last of these marauding armies was destroyed.
Another mercenary to do well under Matthius was that of Jan Vitovec. Vitovec was originally in the employ of Count Ulrich of Cilli. With Ulrich's death in 1456 the Cilli estates were vacant. Ladislaus V appointed Vitovec Ban of Slovenia and Frederick III supported him when he took control of the Cilli estates within the County. Rather than confront him Matthius gave Vitovec the title Count of Zagorje, re-affirmed him as Ban of Slovenia and allowed him to keep the Cilli lands he had seized there. In return Matthius took control of all remaining Cilli estates in Hungary and gained himself another Loyal supporter. This period of consolidation was complete by Matthius coronation in 1464 with the crown of St Stephen.
The wars of Matthius
Bonfinius said of Matthius 'in order to rule in peace at home, he made war abroad'. The majority of Matthius' reign was indeed spent at war however despite popular perceptions of this 'Defender of Christendom' almost all of Matthius' conflicts were with his Christian neighbours.
The Ottomans had continued to gain ground even after Janos Hunyadi's heroic
defence of Belgrade in 1456. This defeat though appears to have altered Ottoman
objective, no longer was Hungary the primary target. Instead Ottoman armies
slowly whittled away at the States surrounding Hungary. By 1459 the royal residence
of Smederevo had fallen to the Ottoman armies and with it Serbia. Many Serbian
Nobles and their followers fled to Hungary. Matthius welcomed them and granted
them estates. These refugees provided Matthius with another excellent source
1462 saw Vlad Tepes driven from Wallachia and an Ottoman puppet placed on the throne. 1463 the Ottomans successfully conquered Bosnia, killing their king in the process. 1466 Hercegovina fell to the Ottomans.
In ten years the Ottomans had successfully removed all the Countries that had previously buffered Hungary from their attacks. Matthius' response to this apparently dangerous development was surprisingly muted. Matthius limited himself to a single offensive campaign into Bosnia in 1463 which captured several strategic fortresses, these would remain part of the Hungarian defensive network until 1527.
Despite his very public anti-Ottoman rhetoric Matthius was in reality following a policy of peace with his Southern neighbour. This can be shown by numerous ways. 1463 to 1479 Venice was at war with the Ottoman Empire. This war was one of Venice's hardest fought and costly in her history and it is clear from the sources at the time that she regarded Hungary as her most important ally. Yet between 1463 and 1674 Hungary carried out no military campaigns against the Ottomans and her southern borders were almost totally undisturbed by their raids. Further to this, Ottoman raids beginning in 1469 actually crossed through the Hungary provinces of Croatia and Slavonia to raid Venetian and Austrian lands. By 1490 over ten of these large scale raids are recorded and none of them appear to have devastated any of the Hungarian lands they past through. Certainly Frederick III accused Matthius of assisting the Ottoman raiders.
It would be the Ottomans that would force a change in policy. In 1474 the Bey of Smederevo launched a massive raid into Hungary, burning the town of Oradea and taking 16,000 prisoners. Matthius allied himself with Stephen of Moldavia and in 1474 at the battle of Vaslui a contingent of Hungarian troops assisted in the destruction of an Ottoman army. 1476 Matthius captured the fortress of Sabac and campaigned near Smederavo, constructing a series of temporary fortresses. Swift action from Sultan Mehmed II saw these fortresses destroyed and the status quo in the area restored. An Ottoman attack on Transylvania in 1479 was destroyed by the Voivode Stephen Batori. The death of Mehmed II in 1481 returned Hungarian-Ottoman relations to one of peaceful tolerance. The new Sultan Bayezid II being substantially less warlike than his predecessor, official peace treaties being signed in 1483 and 88.
Despite Matthius' lack of aggression against the Ottomans he was not foolish enough to ignore their potential threat. He maintained and improved upon the defensive border fortresses started by Sigismund. He also created a new levy of soldiers based on refugee Serbs settled in Hungary's border districts. These 'Gusars' or 'Husars' primary role was raids and counter raids. Their advantage was that they lay outside of traditional Hungarian laws on troop raising and much like the Szekely provided a reliable and determinable force.
Matthius' Western Wars
The first major foreign campaign
for Matthius was against his old captor King George of Bohemia. George's son
Victorin attacked Austria in 1468 and Frederick III asked Matthius for help.
In three years Matthius had successfully occupied much of Bohemia and captured
Victorin. Matthius' rapid victories managed to create him new enemies. Frederick
III convinced of Matthius' duplicity and involvement in Ottoman raids on his
territory and support for rebels in Styria constructed an anti-Matthius league
with George of Bohemia and Poland. The league achieved little until George's
death in 1471 when in accordance with his will Bohemia's crown passed to Wladislas
the 15 year old son of King Casimir IV of Poland. Initial attempts to exploit
an internal revolt in Hungary failed because Matthius was able to subdue the
rebels before troops from Bohemia and Poland could reach them. Peace negotiations
followed but almost as soon as they had been signed they were broken. In 1474
Casimir and Wladislas with a combined Bohemian and Polish army massed ready
to invade the territories occupied by Hungary. Matthius responded by devastating
the lands of Silesia and prepared himself for a siege behind the walls of Wroclaw.
Despite their or maybe because of their massive numerical superiority Casimir
and Wladislas were unable to siege Wroclaw for long and were forced to sue for
peace. Matthius supplied their army with much needed food and negotiated a favourable
truce between Hungary, Poland and Bohemia to last until 1477. In 1477 a permanent
peace was negotiated which re-affirmed Matthius' rights to the captured provinces
of Silesia and Moravia and stipulated that Bohemia could regain these lands
at the cost of 400,000 florins upon Matthius' death. For the remainder of Matthius'
reign Bohemia, Poland and Hungary would remain peaceful neighbours.
Frederick III and Austria were conspicuously absent from the negotiations of 1474. Frederick and Matthius' relationship had deteriorated into a personal feud when Frederick had given sanctuary to one of Matthius' advisors, John Beckensloer, the Archbishop of Esztergom. Frederick formally recognising Wladislas as King of Bohemia and as Elector of the Holy Roman Emperor in 1477. Matthius' response was swift and by December of 1477 Vienna was under siege. Frederick agreed terms and recognised the treaty between Bohemia and Hungary. Frederick then further twisted the knife in 1480 by getting Beckensloer elected Archbishop of Salzburg. Matthius made in clear from the start that his feud was with Frederick as the Archduke of Austria and not Frederick, the Holy Roman Emperor. Despite this in 1482 Matthius was at war with the Holy Roman Empire. Even with imperial troops Frederick was unable to fight Matthius' army in open battle and the war became one of sieges. Over 5 years Matthius' army reduced Frederick's strongholds one by one. By 1488 Matthius had taken the major towns and fortresses of Koszeg, Bruck, Korneuburg and Vienna. The fall of the Emperor's palace at Wiener Neustadt effectively broke Frederick's will to continue and a peace was negotiated. Matthius retained all of lower Austria and Styria. Frederick would not attempt to regain his territories until after Matthius' death in 1490.
Copyright © 2002 Matthew Haywood
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