A country divided into three 1526-1686

After the defeat at the battle of Mohács the country was torn into three parts: the central section, the so-called Conquered part, was occupied by Turkish forces. The western and northern parts, so-called Royal Hungary, were governed by Ferdinand of Habsburg who took the Hungarian throne, while east of the river Tisza a new state was in effect established, the Transylvanian Principality.

Since the Turkish conquerors settled in the middle of the country, Hungary became a buffer zone between two cultures, European Christian and Turkish Moslem. The actual borders of the occupied central part of the country were in a state of constant flux, since fighting continued - with interruptions of varying duration - for 150 years to conquer castles or recapture them. These wars did tremendous damage to the cultural heritage and economy of the country, as well as to the population. Generations of Hungarian soldiers perished and the Turks carried many residents away from the country to work elsewhere as slaves. Virtually no stone or brick building was left intact in what had been the richest parts of the country /in today's Voivodina and the middle of the country. The systematic destruction perpetrated by the Turks fundamentally changed the medieval pattern of settlements and transformed the ethnic composition of the population. The Hungary of King Matthias was inhabited by four million people - as was contemporary England. In the next two centuries the population of Europe doubled, but Hungary had only 3 million residents by the middle of the 17th century. Balkan ethnic groups fleeing the Turks joined the dwindling number of Hungarian residents in the central areas that faced the greatest vicissitudes. They were later joined by Slovaks settling down following the routing of the Turks, and as a result of subsequent settlements Germans, Serbs and Romanians also moved here.

The lords of the so-called Royal Hungary elected Ferdinand of Habsburg to the throne which had fallen vacant following the tragic Battle of Mohács, thus recognizing his claims for inheritance. Their decision was to a considerable extent influenced by the realization that they needed support in the face of the Turkish world empire, and they hoped to obtain it from the Habsburg dynasty that was beginning to play an ever more important role European great power politics. Their calculations proved correct, since the neighboring Habsburg empire threatened by the Turks had a vested interest in the liberation of Hungary, and therefore the royal treasury - from funds collected from other provinces of the Habsburg Empire - continuously allocated huge sums for the maintenance of the about 100 fortresses in Royal Hungary, and provided for their defenders. On the other hand Hungarians frequently waited in vain for help pledged by the emperor in their bloody battles, since assistance was funneled in line with the interests of the Habsburg dynasty rather than Hungarian interests.

The establishment of a peaceful relationship between the king and his people was facilitated by the fact that the Habsburgs also relied on the Hungarians in the face of a Turkish threat, ad so they respected the Hungarian constitution. The Hungarian system of institutions, ranging from the national assembly to the counties, remained virtually intact. The posts of national dignitaries were filled by Hungarian lords who often maintained princely courts in their castles. The royal offices headquartered in distant Vienna barely interfered in domestic matters, and Hungarian lords could run their own affairs in keeping with their own traditions.

Transylvania, the eastern part of the country torn into three parts, constituted a separate zone for the Turks who were more interested in pushing on towards Vienna, and in which they satisfied themselves with taxation and indirect checks alone. Thus a Transylvanian Principality could be established in the eastern part of Hungary, which was dependent on the Sultan in foreign affairs but which ran its own internal affairs, and slowly gained in strength to the point where some of its outstanding princes appeared to be more sovereign European rulers than the governorship of the Sultan.

The Transylvanian Principality was forced to walk a tightrope between the two major powers, the Habsburgs and the Ottoman Empires. The rulers of Transylvania, by surrendering to the day to day demands of survival while at times also bowing to their egotistical interests, often established conflicting alliances. However, their most outstanding leaders, István Báthori, Gábor Bethlen and György Rákóczi I, were always guided by the objective to rout the Turks, a plan they wished to achieve by grouping forces in the western and eastern parts of the country, and reuniting Hungary. Later they were to resist the excessive Habsburg influence on Hungary.

The division and the Turkish occupation transformed the country's economic and social pattern. With virtual non-stop warfare stock raising became the only profitable activity since cattle - in times of need - could be rescued on foot, and to maintain them one only needed ample grazing areas and empty wasteland, of which thanks to the constant fighting Hungary had no shortage. In the 1580s Hungary was the worlds biggest meat exporter. In the long run, however, the successful cattle export market had its own harmful effects on the pattern of the economy since it just continued the lopsided progress, represented by a backwardness in industrial development, which had been typical of the Hungarian economic structure.

Noblemen and the wealthier burghers fled to Transylvania or to Royal Hungary while peasants living in the scorched areas became soldiers in those castles still left in the hands of Christian troops. The constant movement associated with fighting, flight and trade was typical of the entire era, and of all social sections, and it had much to do with the preservation in the country's population of an awareness of national unity and common resistance against the Turks.

It is thought largely due to the anti-Turkish unity that denominational strife during the Reformation and Counter-Reformation /fights which claimed so many victims in Western Europe/ took place peacefully in Hungary, despite the fact that the new ideas influenced all sections of society. Religious disputes gave tremendous impetus, instead of destruction, to the development of Hungarian culture and Hungarian literacy. In 1570, as first among all European countries, the Transylvanian national assembly declares in a law the free practice of Catholic, Reformed /Calvinist/, Lutheran and Unitarian religions.

egri csataIt was apparent in the early 1600s that the Ottoman Empire was no longer capable of adding to its European territories, but by the end of the century it still represented a significant power which implied that its expulsion from Hungary could only take place as a result of European cohesion. Events were accelerated by the abortive Turkish attack on Vienna in 1683. Subsequently at the initiative of Pope Innocent XI the Habsburg Empire, Poland and Venice established the Holy Alliance which - supplemented by further members - liberated Buda in 1686 from 145 years of Turkish rule. The allied forces continued their push forward and the entire Hungarian territory was cleansed of Turks under the greatest European commanders, Charles, prince of Lotharingia, Emanuel Miksa, Bavarian prince, and Prince Eugene of Savoy.

The fact that the empires forces played a decisive role in the final routing of the Turks only amplified the long-standing absolutist aspirations of the Vienna court. The triumphant emperor treated the liberated parts of the country as conquered provinces. He managed to force the national assembly to renounce the rights of Hungarians guaranteed since the Golden Bull, the right to freely choose a king and the right to resist the king. The Austrian court then redistributed the reconquered territories by passing the rights of established property owners on to its own followers, and had the country - which by now was virtual wasteland - pay the cost of liberation in the form of military taxes.


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