The flourishing of the medieval Hungarian state 1301-1490

The Árpád dynasty died out in 1301. The Anjou dynasty emerged triumphant from the rivalry between European dynasties, and snatched the Hungarian crown. During the rule of Károly (Charles) I (1307-1342) and Lajos (Louis) the Great (1342-1382), the two Hungarian kings from the Anjou dynasty, Hungary started to flourish again. By pursuing a healthy tax policy and monetary reform, and by more effectively exploiting the rich Hungarian mines, Charles I managed to consolidate his grip on power. In 1335 he called together the kings of Bohemia and Poland, and at the so-called "Visegrád summit" he established the first Central European alliance by initiating political and trade cooperation.

The rule of the second Anjou king is memorable primarily due to his policy of conquests, reflecting the considerable strengthening of the country. As a result of the wars waged by "the knight king", Hungary's southern borders touched Bulgaria, the new Romanian principalities (Moldavia and Wallachia) swore feudal allegiance, and Venice yielded Dalmatia. Hungary had grown to become a Central European great power, and it managed to retain that status up until 1490, the death of King Matthias. A cultural boom and the foundations of the first Hungarian university (Pécs, 1372) bear witness to the fact that the Hungary of the Anjous flourished while Western Europe was in crisis.

King Louis died without a male successor, and the country was stabilized only after years of anarchy when Sigismund of Luxembourg (1387-1437) took the throne. It was not for entirely selfless reasons that one of the leagues of barons helped him to power: Sigismund had to pay for the support of the lords by transferring a sizable part of the royal properties, and the restoration of the authority of the central administration took decades of work. The consolidation of his rule was primarily cemented by his international prestige. In 1410 he was elected emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Sigismund did much to restore the peace and unity of the empire, but proved powerless in the face of the Turkish threat which had an enormous impact on Hungary's history in the next three centuries.

Turkish Ottoman troops attacking from the Balkans crossed the Sea of Marmora and stepped onto European soil in 1354 within a few decades they had subjugated Serbia, Bosnia and Albania and the Romanian principalities, and pushed ahead in an unstoppable wave towards the heart of Europe. Sigismunds crusading army suffered a defeat at the hands of these formidable conquerors in the 1396 battle of Nikápoly. At this point the Turks posed an immediate threat to Hungary.

The fall of Hungary was prevented by the legendary commander János Hunyadi. From a small noble family in Transylvania, János Hunyadi grew to become one of the country's most powerful lords thanks to his outstanding capabilities as a commander. He organized an army from the revenues of properties he was granted in exchange for his military successes, in which army soldiers from all peoples in the Balkans threatened by Ottoman rule fought alongside one another. In 1456 the outcome of the battle waged for Nándorfehérvár (Belgrade) was closely watched by the whole of Europe, and in the wake of the news of his victory thanksgiving festivities were staged across the Continent. Through his victorious campaigning which "Turk beater" János Hunyadi led for nearly 20 years, the further expansion of the Ottoman empire was warded off for another century.

This legendary commander died of the plague which erupted in his camp at the pinnacle of his success, after the victory won at Nándorfehérvár. His family, however, provided yet another scion who would go into Hungarian history. His son Mátyás (Matthias) Hunyadi who, thanks to the prestige of his father, was elected king in 1458 when still a teenager, grew up to become one of the greatest monarchs of medieval Hungary.

matthias rexKing Matthias established a strong centralized monarchy with stable revenues, a highly qualified clerical staff under his personal supervision, and a powerful and reliable army of mercenaries (the "black army"), at the head of which he conquered Moravia, Silesia, and a considerable part of Austria with Vienna. Renowned as the "just Matthias" of folk tales, he maintained one of the most luxurious Renaissance courts in contemporary Europe in Buda and at the scenic Visegrád overlooking the Danube. His library (the "Corvina") comprised one of the greatest collections in Europe at that time, and he played host to many famous artists and scholars. Matthias waged no major offensive campaigns against the Turks, merely wanting to ensure the status quo attained by his father along the country's southern borders. Instead his attention was riveted on the west and north: the objective of his dynastic aspirations was to establish a strong "Danube empire" that would represent an appropriate counterweight to the Ottoman empire.


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