5. Matthias, Hunyadi, Sigisimund (15th c)

The sorry state of affairs in the opening decades of the 16th century was due to the election to the throne in 1490 of Ulászló II of the Polish House of Yagiello, and King of Bohemia too, largely because he was expected to prove pliable - which he was to the point that he is known in Hungarian history as Ulászló dobje, (the Czech word for good, his habitual response to any suggestion put to him).

He followed Matthias I Corvinus the Just (1458-1490) on the throne - whose reign many consider to have been the most brilliant in the history of Hungary - in no small measure because the barren Dowager Queen Beatrice (of the Spanish-Italian House of Aragon) easily out-intrigued John Corvinus, her late husband's legitimised bastard, whom Matthias had wished to succeed him. And soon the saying Matthias is dead: Justice has gone became current.

At his death - in Vienna, which he had taken off the meddling Emperor Frederick III in 1485 - Matthias bequeathed to Hungary a just and effective administration, a strong standing army, a well-maintained line of fortifications in the south (many in the defensive provinces he had established beyond the river Sava), the memory of several victories over the Turks in open battle, as well as a Treasury that was overflowing, despite paying for all of these and sustaining lavish spending on a splendid Italianate renaissance Court, swarming with artists and savants, and a famous library - the Corviniana - at Buda (where the first locally printed book, a history of Hungary dedicated to the King, was published in 1473, some years before Caxton started printing in London).

Matthias I - whose reign followed brief ones by a couple of Habsburgs, one a child, and the Yagellonian Ulászló I (1440-44) who fell at the Battle of Varna, on the Black Sea, fighting the Turks - had owed his election to the throne, while still in his teens, largely to the prestige and wealth of his recently dead father John Hunyadi, the dominant personality of the preceding decades.

Regent in the years 1446-53 during the minority of László V (1443-58), and Captain General of the Realm, he repeatedly defeated the Turks in campaigns conducted deep in the Balkans (although defeated by them at Kossovo in 1448, in part due to the treachery of Serbia's Despot George Brankovich). Cholera carried him away in the summer of 1456, within weeks of his most famous victory: the relief of Belgrade, besieged by the very same Turks who had taken Constantinople but three years earlier. To this day that struggle for Belgrade is commemorated, in Catholic countries, by the noontime ringing of church bells.

Hunyadi may or may not have been a bastard son of Sigismund (1387-1437), also Emperor, of the House of Luxembourg (a grandson of the blind hero of Crécy.) Although later increasingly kept away by affairs of the Empire - notably the Council of Constance that ended the Great Schism in the Church - and of his other Kingdom, Bohemia, Sigismund did not neglect Hungary, where he asked to be buried, when on his deathbed in Moravia. Unfortunately, like Matthias later on, he did not have a legitimate son either.

Conscious of the mounting Turkish threat - the last European crusading army, assembled at his behest, had been annihilated by them at Nicopolis in 1396 - he initiated the construction of a continuous line of fortifications along the southern borders, placing them under unified command. It was from this time on that increasing numbers of Serbs and Vlachs (Romanians), fleeing from the Turks in the Balkans, settled in the safety of Southern Hungary and Transylvania.

He also saw to it that learning was promoted among his subjects, founding a (short-lived) university at Óbuda, intended to match his father's foundation at Prague, the Carolinska. Trade and commerce were encouraged by, inter alia, the standardisation of measures and simplification of tolls. Furthermore, following a review of all city charters, the main chartered towns - Royal Free Cities - were given the right to send Members to the Diet.

Sigismund was the first monarch to appreciate the advantages of working with the Diet, rather than treating it as a source of troubles for the Crown, regularly consulting interested parties and circulating drafts for legislation in advance (on subjects as diverse as reforming the status of towns, the army and the Courts of Law). And he had the gift of gaining and retaining the loyalty of others - several of his most trusted counsellors came from amongst those who had, in the early years of his reign, conspired to depose him.

Continue with 6. The Anjous (14th c) or go back to the Contents or the Hungary page.