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15: The House of Anjou

<< 14: Magyar Conquest of Hungary || 16: The Rule of the Hunyadi >>

IT was reserved for the two great princes of the house of Anjou, Charles I. (1310-1342) and Louis I. (1342-1382), to rebuild the Hungarian state, and lead the Magyars back to civilization. Both by character and education they were eminently fitted for the task, and all the circumstances were in their favour. They brought from their native Italy a thorough knowledge of the science of government as the middle ages understood it, and the decimation of the Hungarian magnates during the civil wars enabled them to re-create the noble hierarchy on a feudal basis, in which full allowance was made for Magyar idiosyncrasies. Both these monarchs were absolute. The national assembly (Országgyûlés) was still summoned occasionally, but at very irregular intervals, the real business of the state being transacted in the royal council, where able men of the middle class, principally Italians, held confidential positions. The lesser gentry were protected against the tyranny of the magnates, encouraged to appear at court and taxed for military service by the royal treasury direct - so as to draw them closer to the crown. Scores of towns, too, owe their origin and enlargement to the care of the Angevin princes, who were lavish of privileges and charters, and saw to it that the high-roads were clear of robbers. Charles, moreover, was a born financier, and his reform of the currency and of the whole fiscal system greatly contributed to enrich both the merchant class and the treasury. Louis encouraged the cities to surround themselves with strong walls. He himself erected a whole cordon of forts round the flourishing mining towns of northern Hungary. He also appointed Hungarian consuls in foreign trade centres, and established a system of protective tariffs. More important in its ulterior consequences to Hungary was the law of 1351 which, while confirming the Golden Bull in general, abrogated the clause iv. by which the nobles had the right to alienate their lands. Henceforward their possessions were to descend directly and as of right to their brothers and their issue, whose claim was to be absolute. This "principle of aviticity" (õsiség, Lat. avitisum), which survived till 1848) was intended to preserve the large feudal estates as part of the new military system, but its ultimate effect was to hamper the development of the country by preventing the alienation, and therefore the mortgaging of lands, so long as any, however distant, scion of the original owning family survived. Louis's efforts to increase the national wealth were also largely frustrated by the Black Death, which ravaged Hungary from 1347 to 1360, and again during 1380-1381, carrying off at least one-fourth of the population.

Externally Hungary, under the Angevin kings, occupied a commanding position. Both Charles and Louis were diplomatists as well as soldiers, and their foreign policy, largely based on family alliances, was almost invariably successful. Charles married Elizabeth, the sister of Casimir the Great of Poland, with whom he was connected by ties of close friendship, and Louis, by virtue of a compact made by his father thirty-one years previously, added the Polish crown to that of Hungary in 1370. Thus, during the last twelve years of his reign, the dominions of Louis the Great included the greater part of central Europe, from Pomerania to the Danube, and from the Adriatic to the steppes of the Dnieper.

The Angevins were less successful towards the south, where the first signs were appearing of that storm which ultimately swept away the Hungarian monarchy. In 1353 the Ottoman Turks crossed the Hellespont from Asia Minor and began that career of conquest which made them the terror of Europe for the next three centuries. In 1360 72 they conquered southern Bulgaria. In 1365 they transferred their capital from Brusa to Adrianople. In 1371 they overwhelmed the Servian tsar Vukashin at the battle of Taenarus and penetrated to the heart of old Servia. In 1380 they threatened Croatia and Dalmatia. Hungary herself was now directly menaced, and the very circumstances which had facilitated the advance of the Turks, enfeebled the potential resistance of the Magyars, The Árpád kings had succeeded in encircling their whole southern frontier with half a dozen military colonies or bánátes, comprising, roughly speaking, Little Walachia,¹ and the northern parts of Bulgaria, Servia and Bosnia. But during this period a redistribution of territory had occurred in these parts, which converted most of the old bánátes into semi-independent and violently anti-Magyar principalities. This was due partly to the excessive proselytizing energy of the Angevins, which provoked rebellion on the part of their Greek Orthodox subjects, partly to the natural dynastic competition of the Servian and Bulgarian tsars, and partly to the emergence of a new nationality, the Walachian. Previously to 1320 what is now called Walachia was regarded by the Magyars as part of the bánát of Szörény. The base of the very mixed and ever-shifting population in these parts were the Vlachs (Rumanians), Perhaps the descendants of Trajan's colonists, who, under their voivode, Bazarad, led ting Charles into an ambuscade from which he barely escaped with his life (Nov. 9-12, 1330). From this disaster are to be dated the beginnings of Walachia as an independent state. Moldavia again, ever since the 11th century, had been claimed by the Magyars as forming, along with Bessarabia and the Bukowina, a portion of the semi-mythical Etélköz, the original seat of the Magyars before they occupied modern Hungary. This desolate region was subsequently peopled by Vlachs, whom the religious persecutions of Louis the Great had driven thither from other parts of his domains, and, between 1350 and 1360, their voivode Bogdan threw off the Hungarian yoke altogether. In Bosnia the persistent attempts of the Magyar princes to root out the stubborn, crazy and poisonous sect of the Bogomils had alienated the originally amicable Bosnians, and in 1353 Louis was compelled to buy the friendship of their Bar Tvrtko by acknowledging him as king of Bosnia. Both Servia and Bulgaria were by this time split up into half a dozen principalities which, as much for religious as for political reasons, preferred paying tribute to the Turks to acknowledging the hegemony of Hungary. Thus, towards the end of his reign, Louis found himself cut off from the Greek emperor, his sole ally in the Balkans, by a chain of bitterly hostile Greek-Orthodox states, extending from the Black Sea to the Adriatic. The commercial greed of the Venetians, who refused to aid him with a fleet to cut off the Turks in Europe from the Turks in Asia Minor, nullified Louis' last practical endeavour to cope with a danger which from the first he had estimated at its true value.

Louis the Great left two infant daughters: Maria, who was to share the throne of Poland with her betrothed, Sigismund of Pomerania, and Hedwig, better known by her Polish name of Jadwiga, who was to reign over Hungary with her young bridegroom, William of Austria. This plan was upset by the queen-dowager Elizabeth, who determined to rule both kingdoms during the minority of her children. Maria, her favourite, with whom she refused to part, was crowned queen of Hungary a week after her father's death (Sept. 17, 1382). Two years later Jadwiga, reluctantly transferred to the Poles instead of her sister, was crowned queen of Poland at Cracow (Oct. 15, 1384) and subsequently compelled to marry Jagiello, grand-duke of Lithuania. In Hungary, meanwhile, impatience at the rule of women induced the great family of the Horváthys to offer the crown of St Stephen to Charles III. Of Naples, who, despite the oath of loyalty he had sworn to his benefactor, Louis the Great, accepted the offer, landed in Dalmatia with a small Italian army, and, after occupying Buda, was crowned king of Hungary on the 31st of December, 1385, as Charles II. His reign lasted thirty-eight days. On the 7th of February, 1386, he was treacherously attacked in the queen-dowager's own apartments, at her instigation, and died of his injuries a few days later. But Elizabeth did not profit long by this atrocity. In July the same year, while on a pleasure trip with her daughter, she was captured by the Horváthys, and tortured to death in her daughter's presence. Maria herself would doubtless have shared the same fate, but for the speedy intervention of her fiancé, whom a diet, by the advice of the Venetians, had elected to rule the headless realm on the 31st of March 1387. He married Maria in June the same year, and she shared the sceptre with him till her sudden death by accident on the 17th of May 1395.

During the long reign of Sigismund (1387-1437) Hungary was brought face to face with the Turkish peril in its most threatening shape, and all the efforts of the king were directed towards combating or averting it. However sorry a figure Sigismund may have cut as emperor in Germany, as king of Hungary he claims our respect, and as king of Hungary he should be judged, for he ruled her, not unsuccessfully, for fifty years during one of the most difficult crises of her history, whereas his connexion with Germany was at best but casual and transient.² From the first he recognized that his chief duty was to drive the

¹ That is to say the western portion of Walachia, which lies between the Aluta and the Danube.

² Though elected king of the Romans in 1411, he cannot be regarded as the legal emperor till his coronation at Rome in 1423, and if he was titular king of Bohemia as early as 1419, he was not acknowledged as king by the Czechs themselves till 1436.

Turks from Europe, or, at least, keep them out of Hungary, and this noble ambition was the pivot of his whole policy. A domestic rebellion (1387-1395) prevented him at the outset from executing his design till 1396, and if the hopes of Christendom were shattered at Nicopolis, the failure was due to no fault of his, but to the haughty insubordination of the feudal levies. Again, his inaction during those memorable twelve years (1401-1413) when the Turkish empire after the collapse at Angora (1402), seemed about to be swallowed up by "the great wolf" Tamerlane, was due entirely to the malice of the Holy See, which, enraged at his endeavours to maintain the independence of the Magyar church against papal aggression (the diet of 1404, on Sigismund's initiative, had declared bulls bestowing Magyar benefices on foreigners, without the royal consent, pernicious and illegal), saddled him with a fresh rebellion and two wars with Venice, resulting ultimately in the total loss of Dalmatia (c. 1430). Not till 1409 could Sigismund be said to be king in his own realm, yet in 1413 we find him traversing Europe in his endeavour to terminate the Great Schism, as the first step towards uniting Christendom once more against the Turk. Hence the council of Constance to depose three rival popes; hence the council of Basel to pacify the Hussites and promote another anti-Moslem league. But by this time the Turkish empire had been raised again from its ruins by Mahommed I. (1402-1421), and resumed its triumphal progress under Murad II. (1421-1451). Yet even now Sigismund, at the head of his Magyars, thrice (1422-1424, 1426-1427, and 1430-1431) encountered the Turks, not ingloriously, in the open field, till, recognizing that Hungary must thenceforth rely entirely on her own resources in any future struggle with Islam, he elaborately-fortified the whole southern frontier, and converted the little fort of Nándorfehérvár, later Belgrade, at the junction of the Danube and Save, into an enormous first-class fortress, which proved strong enough to repel all the attacks of the Turks for more than a century. It argued no ordinary foresight thus to recognize that Hungary's strategy in her contest with the Turks must be strictly defensive, and the wisdom of Sigismund was justified by the disasters which almost invariably overcame the later Magyar kings whenever they ventured upon aggressive warfare with the sultans.

A monarch so overburdened with cares was naturally always in need of money,¹ and thus obliged to lean heavily upon the support of the estates of the realm. The importance and influence of the diet increased proportionately. It met every year, sometimes twice a year, during Sigismund's reign, and was no longer, as in the days of Louis the Great, merely a consultative council, but a legislative body in partnership with the king. It was still, however essentially an assembly of notables, lay and clerical, at which the gentry, though technically eligible, do not seem to have been directly represented. At Sigismund's first diet (1397) it was declared that the king might choose his counsellors where he listed, and at the diet of 1397 he invited the free and royal towns to send their deputies to the parliament. Subsequently this privilege was apparently erected into a statute, but how far it was acted upon we know not. Sigismund, more fortunate than the Polish kings, seems to have had little trouble with his diets. This was largely due to his friendly intimacy with the majority of the Magyar notables, from among whom he chose his chief counsellors. The estates loyally supported him against the attempted exactions of the popes, and do not seem to have objected to any of his reforms, chief among which was the army-reform project of 1435, to provide for the better defence of the land against the Turks. This measure obliged all the great dignitaries, and the principal towns also, according to their means, to maintain a banderium of five hundred horsemen, or a proportional part thereof, and hold it ready, at the first summons, thus supplying the crown with a standing army 76,875 strong. In addition to this, a reserve force called the telekkatonaság was recruited from among the lesser gentry according to their teleks or holdings, every thirty-three teleks being held responsible for a mounted and fully equipped archer. Moreover, river fleets, built by Genoese masters and manned by Servians, were constructed to patrol and defend the great rivers of Hungary, especially on the Turkish frontier. Much as he owed to them, however, Sigismund was no mere nobles' king. His care for the common people was sincere and constant, but his beneficial efforts in this direction were thwarted by the curious interaction of two totally dissimilar social factors, feudalism and Hussitism. In Sigismund's reign the feudal system, for the first time, became deeply rooted in Magyar soil, and it is a lamentable fact that in 15th century Hungary it is to be seen at its very worst, especially in those wild tracts, and they were many, in which the king's writ could hardly be said to run. Simultaneously from the west came the Hussite propagandists teaching that all men were equal, and that all property should be held in common. The suffering Magyar multitudes eagerly responded to these seductive teachings, and the result was a series of dangerous popular risings (the worst in 1433 and 1436) in which heresy and communism were inextricably intermingled. With the aid of inquisitors from Rome, the evil was literally burnt out, but not before provinces, especially in the south and south-east, had been utterly depopulated. They were repeopled by Vlachs.

Yet despite the interminable wars and rebellions which darken the history of Hungary in the reign of Sigismund, the country, on the whole, was progressing. Its ready response

¹ In 1412 he pawned the twenty-four Zips towns to Poland, and in 1411 he pledged his margraviate of Brandenburg to the Hohenzollerns.

to the king's heavy demands for the purpose of the national defence points to the existence of a healthy and self-sacrificing public spirit, and the eagerness with which the youth of all classes now began to flock to the foreign universities is another satisfactory feature of the age. Between 1362 and 1450 no fewer than 4151 Magyar students frequented the university of Vienna, nearly as many went by preference to Prague, and this, too, despite the fact that there were now two universities in Hungary itself, the old foundation of Louis the Great at Pécs, and a new one established at Buda by Sigismund.

Like Louis the Great before him, Sigismund had failed to found a dynasty, but, fifteen years before his death he had succeeded in providing his only daughter Elizabeth with a consort apparently well able to protect both her and her inheritance in the person of Albert V., duke of Austria. Albert, a sturdy soldier, who had given brilliant proofs of valour and generalship in the Hussite wars, was crowned king of Hungary at Székesfehérvár (Stuhlweissenburg) on the 1st of January 1438, elected king of the Romans at Frankfort on the 18th of March 1438, and crowned king of Bohemia at Prague on the 29th of June 1438. On returning to Buda in 1439, he at once plunged into a war with the Turks, who had, in the meantime, captured the important Servian fortress of Semendria and subjugated the greater part of Bosnia. But the king got no farther than Servia, and was carried off by dysentery (Oct. 27, 1439), in the forty-second year of his age, in the course of the campaign.

Albert left behind him two infant daughters only, but his consort was big with child and, in the event of that child proving to be an heir male, his father's will bequeathed to him the kingdoms of Hungary and Bohemia, under the regency of his mother. Thus with the succession uncertain. with the Turk at the very door, with the prospect, dismal at the best, of a long minority, the political outlook was both embarrassing and perilous. Obviously a warrior-king was preferable to a regimen of women and children, and the eyes of the wiser Magyars turned involuntarily towards Wladislaus III. of Poland, who though only in his nineteenth year, was already renowned for his martial disposition. Wladislaus accepted the proffered throne from the Magyar delegates at Cracow on the 8th of March 1440; but in the meantime (Feb. 22) the queen-widow gave birth to a son who, six weeks later, as Ladislaus V. was crowned king of Hungary (May 15) at Székesfehérvár. On the 22nd of May the Polish monarch appeared at Buda, was unanimously elected king of Hungary under the title of Wladislaus I. (June 24) and crowned on the 17th of July. This duoregnum proved even more injurious to Hungary than the dreaded interregnum. Queen Elizabeth, aided by her kinsmen, the emperor Frederick III. and the counts of Cilli, flooded northern and western Hungary with Hussite mercenaries, one of whom, Jan Giszkra, she made her captain-general, while Wladislaus held the central and south-eastern parts of the realm. The resulting civil war was terminated only by the death of Elizabeth on the 13th of December 1443.

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