Matthias Corvinus


Matthias I, born Matthias Hunyadi (Cluj Napoca, 23 February 1443 – Vienna, 6 April 1490), commonly known as King Matthias, king of Hungary and Croatia from 1458, king of Bohemia from 1469, and ruling archduke of Austria from 1486 until his death. Also commonly known as Matthias Corvin or Matthias the Just, his official Latin monarchical name is Mathias Rex; his German, Latin, English, Matthias Corvinus, Italian, Mattia Corvino, Romanian, Matia Corvin, Czech, Matyáš Korvín, Croatian, Matija Korvin.

His father was János Hunyadi, Viceroy of Transylvania and later Governor of Hungary, his mother was Erzsébet Szilágyi, daughter of a Hungarian noble family. Although he reigned from 1458, his coronation as king took place officially in Székesfehérvár in 1464. He was elected King of Bohemia in 1469 and Archduke of Austria in 1486. He is considered one of the greatest kings in the tradition of the Hungarians, but also of many other neighbouring peoples, and his memory is preserved in many folk tales and legends. The popular ornamental epithet (epitheton ornansa) of Matthias’s name is Just. In both literature and the vernacular, he is mostly referred to simply as King Matthias, without a serial number.

His achievements as a ruler were the subject of great controversy among his contemporaries, and historians of posterity still disagree. According to the critical view, Matthias neglected the Turkish threat and squandered the military potential at his disposal and the economic potential he had gathered through the country’s ruthless taxation on the basis of which he had founded it on pointless campaigns of conquest in the West. The other view, however, is that he realised that Hungary was incapable of resisting the Turkish threat on its own and therefore sought to create a greater state power. According to this view, he recognised that the development of his time in East-Central Europe was moving towards federations of states in personal unions. However, he was unable to realise this plan fully, and only the Habsburgs were later able to build such a federal system.

His great achievement in domestic politics was to consolidate his power as an elected king, although he had to contend with legitimacy shortcomings. He made use of almost all the powers of the medieval monarch. With great skill, he brought together the social forces needed to rule at any given moment and built up a varied coalition of them. He was a master of contemporary social communication, and sought to build up a reputation for himself both at home and abroad, if only to gain support for his political goals. However, he did not succeed in his most important goal of securing his son’s succession to the throne of János Corvin.

In addition to his policies, his personality is not unanimous: he imposed huge taxes on his subjects, did not always spend the money he collected for the declared purpose, and towards the end of his reign he did not shy away from constitutional procedures to ensure his succession. His personality was not the most likeable, but he was clearly an outstanding Hungarian politician of the 15th century.

In the spring of 1442, János Hunyadi, the Viceroy, was in Transylvania, and on 28 May he sent a letter from Szászhermány, for example. It seems that his wife, Elisabeth of Szilágyi in Horogsberg, was with him, and nine months later, on 23 February 1443, she gave birth to his second son, Matthias, in Cluj Napoca. The upbringing of the child was primarily the responsibility of his mother, as his father was preoccupied with politics and wars. Except for the period between her husband’s death and her son’s election as king, Elisabeth Szilágyi was hardly involved in politics, but she personally managed the vast Hunyadi estates.

János Hunyadi was already actively involved in the upbringing of the growing Mátyás. As one of the country’s highest dignitaries, he gave his son much more than the average noble education and his own modest qualifications. In the circumstances of the high infant mortality rate of the time, he had to consider that in the event of the death of his son László, the burden of managing and raising the family would fall on Mátyás. János Hunyadi had observed the life of educated noble families on his foreign travels, and apparently wanted to give his sons a real knowledge of the times, i.e. in addition to military skills, they had acquired language skills and the basics of the general education of the time.

His military training was certainly supervised by his father; later records show that Mátyás was well versed in the arts of war at an early age, was physically fit and could swim across a major river. His first teacher may have been Gergely Szánoki, a Polish humanist who came to Hungary as tutor to King Ulászló I of Hungary. After the king’s death, in 1444, he took over the teaching of the Hunyadi sons, then known as László. However, he left the country in 1451, when Matthias was eight years old, to become Archbishop of Ilyvo. It is widely speculated that János Vitéz, one of Hunyadi’s chief advisers, may have been Mátyás’s tutor, but the bishop’s ecclesiastical and political duties make his actual role as tutor unlikely.

In any case, Mátyás’s humanist tutors gave him an unusually broad knowledge of the time, including in the fields of church and state law and the arts. He excelled in Latin, spoke German, Czech or the Western Slavic languages of the time, and probably also Romanian.

Among the aristocrats and nobles of the time, he also had a conspicuous love of reading, especially classical Latin authors, including works on military science. He read in Latin narratives of the courage of Alexander the Great and the cunning of Hannibal. His erudition enabled him to engage in scholarly conversations with Italian humanists in his time as king. He had practically established his knowledge in childhood, for he had not yet reached the age of fifteen when he was elected king, and after that he was actively involved in the difficult tasks of ruling, so he had little time for regular study.

The future king was not even 12 years old when, in keeping with the custom of the time, his father had already procured a bride for him. János Hunyadi and Ulrik Cillei agreed that Mátyás would marry the then 10-year-old Elizabeth of Cillei, the sole claimant to the vast Cillei estate. The planned marriage also offered advantageous family and political connections. Cillei was the nephew of the Grand Duke László Garai, son-in-law of the Serbian despot George Brankovic. In keeping with the customs of the time, Elizabeth moved in with her future husband’s family, while Matthias was taken hostage by the royal court. The wedding could not take place because of the death of Elisabeth Cillei.

Alternatives:His captivity in PragueHis imprisonment in PraguePrisoner of PragueCaptivity in Prague

After the death of János Hunyadi in 1456, László became the head of the Hunyadi family, the most powerful family in the country at the time, and immediately entered into serious conflict with King László V and the rival noble families. In the dispute, László Hunyadi and his supporters seized power and assassinated Ulrik Cillei, and then made the king swear that he would not take revenge. A few months later, however, the king, with the help of the lords László Garai and Miklós Újlaki and their supporters, set a trap for the Hunyadi brothers. They persuaded László to call his 14-year-old brother to the capital. Although their father at the time had ordered his sons never to stay together at the king’s court, and Szilágyi Erzsébet also opposed the trip, Matthias obeyed his brother. On 14 March 1457, the king arrested the two Hunyadi brothers and their supporters. On 16 March, László Hunyadi was executed, and Mátyás was taken prisoner first to the court in Vienna and then to the court in Prague. The 14-year-old Matthias spent ten months as a foreign prisoner. In attacking the Hunyadi family, however, the conspirators failed to take into account the fact that their opponents’ wealth and tried and tested army remained intact. Mihály Szilágyi and Erzsébet Szilágyi organised the resistance and conquered almost all of Transylvania, despite the fact that Matthias was a hostage in the hands of the king. However, 17-year-old László V died unexpectedly in Prague on 23 November 1457, probably of leukaemia.

The rightful heirs of the young monarch who died unexpectedly would have been his sisters. Anna was the wife of Prince William III of Saxony, and Elizabeth of Poland, whose predecessor, King Casimir IV of Poland, had already sat on the Hungarian throne between 1440 and 14444. Although the German Emperor Frederick III had no claim to the Hungarian throne by blood, Elizabeth, the daughter of Emperor Franz Joseph V, had had a claim to the throne from the time of his successor, King Franz Joseph V. László’s mother had pledged the Hungarian Holy Crown to him, as well as several castles and towns in western Hungary, so he had some chance of succession.

In Hungary, the most important internal forces were the families of Mihály Szilágyi, László Garai, Miklós Újlaki, and the Czech free groups who illegally controlled most of the Felvidék, the latter with János Jiskra at their head, who later formed the backbone of the Black Army. In this situation, it seemed logical for the Hungarian aristocracy to elect Mátyás Hunyadi as king, as they believed that the child-king would be easy to control. Pope Callixtus III also supported Mátyás’ election, as he was a great admirer of János Hunyadi’s anti-Turkish struggles and hoped that his son would continue them.

In the spirit of compromise, László Garai visited the Szilágyi brothers in Szeged, and on 12 January 1458 he agreed with them that the Szilágyi would forgive Garai, Barius Bánfalvi Barius II, Bishop Miklós of Pécs, and Pál Bánfi Lindvai, who had played a role in the execution of László Hunyadi, and support the release of Matthias, who was in the custody of George Podjebrád, and his election as king. In return, the Szilágyi family pledged on behalf of Mátyás that he would marry the daughter of Garai (his brother’s former bride), retain his father-in-law in the office of the nádor and in the possessions of Buda and all its properties. The agreement was sworn to, but it was also stipulated that it should be repeated before Cardinal Juan de Carvajal, Papal Legate, and Cardinal Dénes Szécsi, Archbishop of Esztergom. This was later cancelled and the Szilágyi and Mátyás were given a free hand.

This removed the obstacles to the election of Matthias. Mihály Szilágyi marched with an army to the king-electing Diet. In Buda, he assured the assembled lords that Mátyás would not avenge his brother’s execution, and they agreed to his election. On 24 January, on the news of the decision, a crowd of mostly Szilágyi’s soldiers and the nobility present at the Diet proclaimed János Hunyadi king on the Danube ice below the castle. The new monarch, who had not been involved at all in the political process leading up to the election – not even because of his imprisonment in Prague – and had been regarded as a child all along, was not yet fifteen years old. On the grounds of his age, his uncle Mihály Szilágyi was elected governor for five years. The new governor obviously expected that he would finally be in power. Until 1456, Szilágyi was only a second-rate political figure, a family friend of János Hunyadi, and it was only after the murder of Cillei that the king, who was prevented from acting freely, appointed him king of Macho. This is how he became a baron. His wealth did not reach the level of aristocrats. After the election of Matthias, however, he became the first man after the king. Even at the king-electing Diet, Szilágyi enacted in his own name the kind of law that new monarchs usually did when they came to the throne. In it, he also decreed that all the royal castles should be handed over to him, which immediately broke the agreement he had made with the Garai governor.

In January 1458, an ornate – and well-armed – delegation set out for Bohemia to accompany the young King of the Hungarians to Buda. The terms of the transfer were negotiated by János Vitéz, but the delegation also included Mihály Szilágyi and Elisabeth Szilágyi. Matthias was released from captivity by the Czech governor George Podjebrád only on the condition that Matthias would marry his daughter Catherine. The handover took place in the village of Strážnice on the Hungarian-Moravian border. After paying the ransom, Mátyás was released from captivity, but he solemnly confirmed his marriage vows in front of the audience. The new king and his entourage then crossed the cracking ice at Esztergom and arrived in Buda on 14 February 1458.

A serious problem was that, according to Hungarian customary law, the only legitimate ruler was the one who was crowned with the “crown of Saint Stephen” by the Archbishop of Esztergom in Székesfehérvár. However, the Holy Crown was in the possession of Frederick III. To replace the coronation, a carefully elaborated ceremony was eventually performed, combining the rite of the first entry of the kings into Buda with certain details of the secular aspects of the coronations in Székesfehérvár. The triumphal procession of the infant king was received by the clergy, the bourgeoisie and the Jews in front of the city, where he first affirmed the rights of the Jews. At the City Capitol he did the same for the liberties of the city of Buda. Prisoners were released from the City Hall jail. A Te Deum was held in the church, and the king pledged to uphold the freedoms of the church. He then confirmed the rights of the nobility in the castle gate. And in the palace, seated on the throne, he set about the business of state. Young Matthias thus became the legitimate ruler of the country.

However, the relationship between the king and the governor still had many question marks. Matthias turned fifteen nine days after his accession. This meant legal capacity in certain matters, but he would not have reached full majority, which included the right to donate property, until he was twenty-four. Nevertheless, on 9 March the king granted his uncle his family inheritance, Banská Štiavnica, and the title of hereditary count. This was an act of great age, and the beneficiary governor did not object. Matthias therefore exercised the power of monarch from the beginning, although he recognised the role of governor in principle. In March, he had foreign policy and property deeds issued in his name. He must have been well aware that when his father had abdicated the governorship a few years earlier, in 1453, he had been the first to give up the office of governor to King Louis V. King V. Lazarus was only thirteen years old.

Matyas’ relationship with his future father-in-law, Podjebrád, who was elected King of Bohemia on 2 March, seemed to consolidate. The former Hussite ruler secretly swore an oath of allegiance to the Pope, thus removing the obstacle to his coronation. For the coronation of Podjebrád on 7 May, Matthias sent bishops Ágoston Salánki of Győr and Vince Szilasi of Vác, who crowned him.

János Jiskra, who had sworn allegiance to Matthias at the beginning of February 1458 under pressure from Podjebrád, rebelled at the end of March. The king appointed Sebestyen Rozgonyi as the chief captain of the Upper Parts to lead the fight against Jiskra’s Czech mercenaries. After the initial successes, Rozgonyi had to fight against the Turkish invasion of Transylvania from September onwards as the Viceroy of Transylvania. In the meantime, Jiskra was also in the service of Frederick III, but finally, in 1462, he reached a comprehensive agreement with King Matthias. In exchange for a large sum of money and large estates at the other end of the country, in the Lippa region, he pledged his eternal allegiance to the king, which he kept. According to Miklós Zrínyi: “(…) he tamed the untameable mind of the king, and made himself a faithful and steadfast man of valour from the captain of thieves. No other king would have been eager to take him in hand, to carry him in triumph from town to town, but King Matthias had no such vain thoughts, he was for the good, and desired this rather than his own glory.” Some of his mercenaries went into the service of Matthias and became the nucleus of the later Black Army. The Czechs, still resistant or rebelling, were crushed by Matthias with a heavy hand, and by 1467 the Highlands had been cleansed of them.

In the summer of 1458, Mihály Szilágyi realised that Matyas had played him, so he conspired against the king with László Garai, the Prince-Nador, and Miklós Újlaki. Mátyás promptly replaced the Nádor and, together with his mother, tried to persuade his uncle to see reason. This was only temporarily successful, however, because Szilágyi turned against Mátyás again and again, who sometimes arrested him and sometimes reinstated him in his high office. Finally, at the end of 1460, Szilágyi, as governor of Transylvania, was captured in a battle against the Turks and executed by the Sultan. In his report, the Pope’s envoy to Hungary considered this a fortunate turn of events for Matthias, who had been plotting against the king all along.

Still in early 1459, Garai and Újlaki conspired again against Matthias and elected Frederick III King of Hungary at Németújvár. Soon after the election, Garai died, and Újlaki only half-heartedly continued the fight against Matthias, pledging eternal allegiance to him on 1 July in exchange for keeping his estates. Újlaki’s tactics strengthened his position, but in return Frederick III could call himself Hungarian king for the rest of his life, and later the Habsburgs derived their claim to the Hungarian throne from him. An important factor in the struggle for power was the fact that the Roman Pontiff, through Cardinal Carvajal, who was in Hungary, constantly secured the support of the Hungarian clergy for the king, especially in the hope of a Hungarian struggle against the Turks.

In 1463, as a result of lengthy negotiations, János Vitéz and Frederick III concluded the Treaty of Vienna, according to which – in the words of Miklós Zrínyi – “he throws a loaf of bread down the Emperor’s throat, throws him seventy thousand gold pieces for the crown, and covers the miser’s eyes with it”. In the pact they also named the fight against the Turks as their common goal. It was declared that if Matthias died without a successor, the Hungarian throne would be inherited by Frederick’s son, Miksa. For the 20-year-old Matthias, this did not seem a serious threat. The emperor, for his part, adopted Matthias, which opened up the theoretical possibility that he would inherit the emperor’s empire.

In the first period of his reign, Mátyás’s main domestic policy objectives were to strengthen his own power, then to increase the treasury revenues, and finally to secure the succession of János Corvin to the throne. As far as the noble ruling class, including the lords, was concerned, this policy was primarily about the almost continuous redistribution of power and the estates that went with it. Mátyás also paid attention to the situation of the wider common people, the urban bourgeoisie and even the peasantry. He did not relent from the squeeze of the tax squeeze, but sought to remedy the blatant injustices committed by the lords during his campaigns, and this activity later became the realistic core of the legends about the ‘just King Matthias’.

Alternatives:Coronation and reformsCoronation and reform

Matthias, who did not come to the throne by right of succession, must have been in particular need of a regular coronation in order to strengthen his legitimacy and social acceptance. Nevertheless, it was not until three quarters of a year after his recovery of the crown, on 29 March 1464, that he did so in Székesfehérvár. At the same time, he proclaimed a Diet in the coronation city. Bonfini wrote of the arrival of the crown: ‘The envoys announce and proclaim everywhere that all those who have a devotion and reverence for the holy crown now recovered will have an open opportunity to see and recognise it in Sopron for three days. Innumerable crowds from neighbouring towns and villages flocked in devout affection; they saw it, recognised it and paid homage to it with profound reverence. Then he was taken to Buda and laid in the castle.”

Immediately after the coronation, Matthias began his reforms and made personnel changes. He dismissed Primate Szécsi from the chancellorship, and appointed two chancellors of equal rank, István Várdai, Archbishop of Kalocsa, and János Vitéz. The actual head of the chancellery, however, was not Vitéz but Várdai. In addition to the chancellors, János Csezmicei, the Bishop of Pécs, or Janus Pannonius, played a major role in the issuing of the charters. Until 1468 he was considered the most influential adviser to Matthias, and then the king gave this role to Gábor Matucsinai, the parish priest of Buda. The reform of 1464, the establishment of a chancery, which was supposed to be unified, was not very successful. The emperor later fell out with all his chancellors except Vardai and Matucsinai.

The king also introduced reforms in the judiciary. He abolished the unnecessary dichotomy between the royal “special” and “personal” courts. The new court, presided over by a personal representative, took the name of personal appearance. Bishop Albert Hangácsi became the personal bishop, followed in 1465 by a provost named István and then by Gábor Matucsinai. After the death of Cardinal Várdai Matucsinai became Archbishop of Kalocsa in 1471 and one of the most influential politicians in the country, although he did not attend university and was not considered a humanist.

Before the coronation there were two chancelleries, the larger under the influence of the King’s Council, the smaller independent of the monarch. Matthias merged the two chancelleries. The high priests and lords who sat on the former royal council were able to influence the unified chancellery, so this was a serious gesture to them, while the king was given a free hand in many treasury matters. By the second half of his reign, the king had built up much more power for himself than at the beginning, taking advantage of the opportunities created by the two rebellions. His strong power and personality regularly led to serious conflicts with the chancellors of the high priests. As a consequence, Beckensloer and Veronai left, while Váradi was imprisoned. The others were perhaps saved from a similar fate by their deaths, with the exception of Filipec, who survived the king.

Alternatives:Financial reformsFinance reformsFinancial Reforms Payments

The most successful was the overhaul of financial management. Imre Szapolyai appointed Imre Szapolyai as governor of Bosnia, and also Croatian and Slavonian governor. The new treasurer was the simple nobleman Bertalan Bessenyői, who did not receive the title of treasurer-general and was therefore not considered a baron. This enabled the king to remove the landlords from the management of the finances and take control into his own hands.

In 1467, Matthias appointed János Ernuszt, a talented businessman and a converted Jewish merchant from Buda, as treasurer and knight of the court. The essence of the financial reform he devised was to manage all sources of income together (except for the management of the crown estates, for which the Buda court bailiff was responsible), making it possible to review revenues and prepare budgets.

The monetary reform was of particular importance. The Hungarian gold forint was always minted on the basis of the same currency rate, and thus its value remained constant. This was no longer true for silver denarii. In the second half of the 1460s, Matthias started minting high-quality silver denarii in the five mints (Buda, Kassa, Körmöcbánya, Sibiu and Nagybánya), which were decorated with the image of the Madonna, a tradition that continued for centuries. When a sufficient amount of new money was in circulation by 1470, the minting of additional silver coins was stopped in three mints in order to stabilise the amount of money in circulation. This only indirectly increased the Treasury’s revenue through the beneficial effect on trade. The value of the money remained unchanged until 1521, i.e. 100 silver denarii were worth one gold forint.

The 1467 Act directly increased royal revenues only slightly. The parliament abolished the ordinary tax, the chamber’s profits, and restored it under the name of ‘the royal treasury tax’. Similarly, the thirty-vadam was then called the crown tax. The essence of the name change was that the tax exemptions previously granted were thus no longer valid. However, the reform did lead to a significant increase in royal revenues, with the overall tax burden rising to between six and seven times its previous level.

The main source of revenue was the extraordinary tax on serfs, voted by the Diet or in other cases by the royal council. Although the number of tax units (serfs’ households, i.e. fiefs or portas) decreased under Matthias, the tax generated considerable revenue by being levied sometimes several times a year. Later, he also levied it on the peasant nobles who had hitherto been exempt from the tax, although he only levied half of the amount paid by the serfs.

From 1458 until his death in 1490, Matthias levied an extraordinary tax on a total of 43 occasions, which generated an average of 385 000 forints per year. The most important of his other revenues was the income from salt, amounting to HUF 80 000 per year. The mint and mining revenues amounted to 60 000 forints, the thirty-crown tax to 50 000 forints, and the ordinary and extraordinary taxes of the royal towns and the Saxons to 47 000 forints. Other minor revenues are estimated at HUF 6 000. The average annual income of Matthias was therefore 628 000 forints – with large fluctuations. In addition, he had regular income from the Pope and Venice until the 1470s, as well as sums received for the war against the Turks, and income from the later conquered Czech and Austrian provinces. However, Matthias was wary of imposing a tax burden on the occupied territories similar to that of Hungary, so these revenues were dwarfed by those from Hungary.

These revenues far exceeded those collected during the reign of László V. The maximum annual revenue was around 900 thousand forints. By European standards, however, this was not much, since the revenues of the Kingdom of France, for example, were between 1 365 000 and 3 345 000 ducats, and Venice had revenues of 1 020 800 ducats in 1464 (the value of the ducat was almost equal to that of the Hungarian forint).

The size of the revenues is even more relative to the military, which was the most important expenditure of the Treasury at the time. In Hungary, the annual pay of 10,000 light cavalrymen was 360,000 forints, that of 5,000 infantrymen 120,000 forints. These two items alone would have taken up half the budget if they had been properly paid. This is why it was common to withhold pay and to allow foreign loot to be taken instead.

Alternatives:Transylvanian rebellionThe Transylvanian rebellionTransylvanian revolt

In the spring of 1467, a rebellion broke out in Transylvania because of the new and old taxes, which were levied by Matthias in excess of the previous ones, as the new law mainly abolished the previous exemptions of the Transylvanian people. According to Miklós Zrínyi: “But they are fools, they did not think the end well (…) The tax is necessary for the king, especially for a king like Matthias. For the people have no peace without an army, no army without pay and pay without taxes. And King Matthias did not spend the revenues of the country on foolish buildings, nor on costly and insane entertainments, nor on enriching fools, but on the preservation, glorification and aggrandisement of his country. Who would not wish to help the king with his own wealth?”

In addition to Transylvania, there was fighting in Timis County, Bácska, the eastern part of Felvidék and elsewhere. The leaders of the Transylvanian “three nations” (Hungarian counties, Saxon and Szekler chairs) signed a letter of alliance at their meeting in Kolozsmonostor on 18 August 1467. In it they declared that they would unite against the king for the freedom of all Hungary. They elected as their leaders Counts János and Zsigmond Szentgyörgyi and Bazini, as well as Bertold Ellerbach, Viceroy, and Counts Imre (Szapolyai) and István (Szapolyai) of Sepesia. Transylvania had a war-torn population, so the rebellion was a particular threat to the king, and the disloyalty of Imre Szapolyai, who was close to him, affected him personally.

In uncertain situations, Matthias always acted forcefully. This time, too, he immediately mobilised his military units and set off for Transylvania. After the royal forces arrived, the rebels dispersed almost without a fight. The voivods surrendered, and although they lost their offices, they were not punished and were soon allowed to rejoin the royal council. Matthias was clearly afraid of the solidarity of the lords.

Among the common Hungarian, Saxon and Szekler leaders of the rebellion, however, there were those whom he had impaled and tortured with fiery pincers. The luckier ones were beheaded. Many of them fled to Poland, their estates of course confiscated by Mátyás. As a collective punishment, he reduced the blood money of the Transylvanian nobility from 100 forints to 66 forints, which had to be paid by the guilty party in case of murder.

The János Vitéz conspiracy

An integral part of Mátyás’s domestic policy was the frequent replacement of those serving in leading positions. From 1470 onwards, relations between the king and the family and entourage of János Vitéz Primate deteriorated mainly because of this. In addition, the king, mainly to cover his military needs, taxed the church with the Pope’s consent and confiscated part of the Archbishop of Esztergom’s income. In addition to the personal and financial conflicts, there were also foreign policy ones, as John of Vitus and his nephew Janus Pannonius had previously been advocates of the Czech war, but turned against it after the election of Ullászló as Czech king. At a meeting of the royal council, according to some recollections, the king slapped Vitéz in the face during an argument.

Vitéz and Janus Pannonius entered the field of active conspiracy in the spring of 1471. King Casimir IV of Poland wanted to invite Prince Casimir, his second son after Ulus, to become King of Hungary, as they saw a Polish-Czech-Hungarian alliance as a chance against the Turks. They hoped for a strong support from the public opinion of the country, and it is said that the great majority of the lords, nobility and counties supported them, mainly because of dissatisfaction with taxation and fear of the Turkish threat.

Through his spy network in Bohemia, Matthias learned of their plans almost immediately. The king, on the advice of Újlaki, who was loyal to him at the time, pretended not to know of the plot. He returned to Hungary with his troops and called a Diet on 1 September. Meanwhile, Vitéz’s envoys were in Krakow negotiating with King Casimir.

The position of the king and his army in the country was inevitably strengthened. For the first time since 1463, he invited all the nobles to the Diet. The laws introduced and passed on 18 September remedied many grievances. This turned the public mood around. On 21 September, 10 high priests (all except Vitéz, Janus and Tuz Osvát) and 36 barons declared their loyalty to Matthias in writing. It was not until early October that Prince Kazimierz set out with his Polish army for Hungary, and although the Vitézes opened the castle of Nitra and the fortresses of the northeast to him, and Miklós Perényi and János Rozgonyi the governor, the attack failed.

On 19 December, Vitéz also came to an agreement with Matthias, and Janus Pannonius fled. The king then broke the pact and on 1 March 1472 he imprisoned Vitéz. The Archbishop was placed under house arrest in Esztergom under the supervision of János Beckensloer, and died on 9 August 1472. He was succeeded by Beckensloer, who was also given the office of chief and secret chancellor.

Internal politics after the crackdown on the conspiracy

The fall of the Vitéz conspiracy fundamentally consolidated the king’s power. Earlier, Matthias had tried to involve as many barons as possible in the government in order to widen his circle of supporters, but from then on he did not need to do so. However, he continued to treat them with caution. Unlike the ruler of his time, he did not put any Hungarian lords on the scaffold, not even rebels, although he executed many of the common nobles mercilessly.

The king’s strengthened position of power is reflected in the change in his appointment practices.In the period up to the autumn of 1471, 61 persons were appointed as ‘real barons’ in 14 years, and in the period from the autumn of 1471 until the king’s death, in 19 years, only 38.

As for the later widespread assessment that Matthias relied on the common nobles against the lords, this is not justified. The greatest pressure on the lords could be exerted by inviting the entire nobility to the Diet, since if only elected ambassadors represented them, the nobles had a say in their selection. However, although Matthias held many assemblies, he invited the entire nobility to only five, three of which were held before his coronation, when his position was not yet stable.

The Diet after the defeat of the Vitéz conspiracy was a special one. Here the barons – to prove their loyalty – appeared in unprecedented numbers and the nobility were invited in full numbers. It was necessary to prove to the Polish pretender that the entire nobility of the country, with the exception of a handful of conspirators, was on the side of Matthias. After that, only once, in 1475, was the entire nobility invited, and then the ambassadors of the royal cities were also invited. At this time, after Mátyás’s ‘camping’ in Boroszló, the king’s power had to be demonstrated again, since some of the Hungarian lords expected defeat and a collapse of Mátyás’s power from the Boroszló adventure.

In the second half of his reign, the king held fewer parliaments, i.e. he appealed less often to the common nobility and more often satisfied himself with the agreement of the lords. Sometimes he did not even attend the Diet because he was abroad and was represented only by his agents. In the end, however, Matthias held more Diets than any Hungarian monarch before him.

Alternatives:The Diet and Code of 1486The 1486 Diet and Code

By Christmas 1485, the king had called the orders together for the election of a new governor, although this did not necessarily require a Diet. By this time, Matthias was systematically trying to ensure the succession of his illegitimate son, János Corvin. This is why the 1486 Articles of the Council of Nations deal in detail with the role of the Council of Nations in the election of the king. Imre Szapolyai was then elected as the reigning king, but he died shortly afterwards and was buried on 12 September 1487. Mátyás did not elect a new chancellor, but entrusted Bishop Orban of Nagylucsei, the treasurer, with the task of judging the cases before the chancellor, and he presided over the 1490 Diet.

The 1486 Diet adopted King Matthias’s code of law, which was intended to be perpetual. The king had it printed twice abroad, using the then brand new printing press to distribute it. The first publication was in Leipzig in 1488. In introducing the law, Matthias stresses the importance of the laws, which can be interpreted as a kind of self-criticism. He goes on to point out that during his absence due to the wars, he had not been able to pay enough attention to the internal situation in the country, and that order had been upset and crime was rife, and that he therefore wanted to restore order and peace in the country.

The Code, with its 78 articles, could be used to strengthen the rule of law. It mainly regulated the judiciary and the law of litigation. It incorporated the provisions of previous kings and collected the rules of domestic court practice. But it also laid down important principles, such as the replacement of the reigning customary law (consuetudo regni) by written law (ius scriptum) with hereditary effect. The king’s desire to strengthen the influence of the nobles was recognised, but the interests of the lords were not ignored. The earlier historians’ assessment that the king wanted to rely only on the nobility is exaggerated.

Two years after the death of Matthias II, Ulászló II replaced this decree with a new law, but this one largely simply copied the 1486 text, so its content really lived on. The amendments tended to emphasise the interests of the great lords, but this was not as clear-cut as had been claimed.

Alternatives:Ruling authority, methodsRuling authority, his methodsRuler’s authority, methods

Social mobility was also a tool in the hands of Matthias, which he deliberately improved in order to consolidate his power.He did not break with the baronial order he had inherited, but by the end of his reign half the aristocracy had been replaced. He brought a large number of barons into the government by giving them courtly dignities. Initially he appointed several men to a single dignity, and constantly rotated them.He held more than two dozen assemblies during his reign, which were very useful in appeasing the discontent of the nobility. He sanctioned laws that sought to limit the excesses of royal power, but he did not enforce them.

Mátyás’ foreign policy also developed as an organic continuation of the struggles to secure his domestic royal power. His power rivalry with George of Podjebrád and Frederick III was initially one of self-defence, and later aimed at increasing the power of the whole country. Both of his main partners were as flexible as he was in changing allies and opponents in order to achieve their own power goals.

According to Ferenc Szakály, the conquest of certain lands of the Czech crown and certain Austrian provinces by Matthias was closely connected with the defence against the Turks. Based on his father’s experience, Matthias recognised that defence against the Turks could only be successful if he “maintained a permanent line of defence, well fortified with guards, at the most important points of the border, and a mobile army, constantly armed, to support the fortresses and block the gaps in the line of defence.”

However, it is precisely the possession of these provinces, which are more advanced than Hungary, that is the fatal internal contradiction of Matthias’ “reign and foreign policy for Hungary: in order to keep an army, it had to possess these provinces, and in order to control them, it had to fight almost constantly there and for them. With this army he could counteract the Turkish ambitions from time to time, but the necessity of maintaining an army also paralysed his own military activity in the south, since if he turned his army southwards he could easily lose the base for his army’s deployment. Between these extremes grinds Matyas’ foreign policy, which is difficult to judge in these respects if only because it lacked the necessary run-out.”

The speed with which the western provinces were lost after Matthias’s death shows very clearly how justified it was to fight so much to keep them. The compulsion to fight wars in the west rather than against the Turks is expressed in the chronicle of George Seremias by the king’s exclamation when he had to abandon the siege of Szendrő on the news that the Germans had ‘invaded the Danube’: ‘O wicked Germans! What luck, what profit to Christianity I am losing because of you!” .

Mátyás thus recognised that Hungary alone was not “capable of the military efforts that could defend it against the Turks. It would have to find some way of ensuring that other countries contributed to the cost of Hungary’s defence. And since no country has been willing to do so voluntarily, as past and subsequent experience has shown, it must be forced to shoulder the burden.” The king’s long-term goal may therefore have been to obtain the title of German-Roman emperor, which may also explain his efforts to obtain the title of Czech king (the Czech kings were also elective princes).

Alternatives:His policies and wars in the Czech RepublicCzech politics, wars

On the death of László V, Matthias was taken into the custody of Governor Podjebrád in Prague, who, in exchange for his release, promised the boy, who was not yet 15, that he would later marry his daughter Catherine, then nine years old. As it was still in the interest of Matthias to strengthen this relationship, the marriage took place on 1 May 1463, but Catherine died in childbirth in the spring of 1464, aged 15.

The already existing conflicts of interest between the Czech and Hungarian sides then became even more acute. The Czech king did not support Matthias enough against the Czech mercenaries in the Highlands and against Frederick III. At the same time, the Pope, despite his conversion, considered the Czech king a Hussite and worked to overthrow him. In 1465, Matthias had already indicated his willingness to fight both the Czechs and the Turks in exchange for papal support.

In the spring of 1468, the son of the Czech king, Podjebrád Viktorin, the Moravian captain-general, launched an attack against Frederick III. The Emperor asked his adopted son, King Matthias, for help. The Hungarian king was also in a difficult domestic political situation, which is why he decided to go to war. Antonio Bonfini put it this way.

But Matthias misjudged the situation. The Bohemian War tied up the country’s forces for a decade, and the king received almost none of the money promised by Frederick III for this purpose. The anti-Pojebrád Czech Catholic gentry league was weaker than expected, and the Czech royal army, then considered the best soldiers in Europe, was stronger than expected. However, the Czech war also had a positive effect on the country: Matthias was able to employ his mercenaries (who were also largely Czechs), and wars at this time could sustain themselves and the armies involved to a certain extent, as they lived largely on plunder. Winning battles and sieges also provided income for the barons through their bands.

Militarily, the war produced mixed results. In May 1468, Matthias captured Třebíč in Moravia, but was himself wounded. At the siege of Chrudim in February 1469, the king went on a reconnaissance in disguise, according to tradition, and was captured but released because of his disguise. It was here that the legend of the king in disguise, which later became so widespread, first appeared. It is a fact, however, that at Vilémov the Czech king’s troops surrounded Matthias’ forces. The Hungarian monarch then requested a meeting with Podjebrád, which was held in a hut, a truce was agreed and another meeting was arranged at Olomouc. Podjebrád, as Electoral Prince of the German Empire, agreed to support Matthias in his election as King of Rome(wd), as already promised by the Pope and the Emperor, which was a stepping stone to the title of German-Roman Emperor. In return, Matthias undertook to reconcile his former father-in-law with the Vatican. Both parties were taking an impossible step, because Frederick III had already given the title of King of Rome to Charles the Meres, Prince of Burgundy, and the Pope was in no way prepared to make any concessions to the Hussite king. In any case, this allowed Matthias to escape from his military predicament.

On 3 May 1469, the Catholic Czech orders elected Matthias King of Bohemia in the cathedral of Olomouc. This left the country with two kings, and the possibility of an agreement between the two was abolished. In addition to the Czech Catholic orders, Matthias was accepted as king by the Catholic tributary provinces of Moravia, Silesia and Lusatia, as well as by the mainly German-speaking towns (especially Boroslavia). The fronts were stiffened.

In March 1471, King George of Bohemia died, but the Bohemian orders did not choose Matthias, who already held the title of King of Bohemia, but the eldest son of the Polish King Casimir IV, the then 15-year-old Polish King Ulászló Jagelló, to replace him. In the wake of this failure, and largely because of the heavy domestic tax burden caused by the Bohemian War, a rebellion led by János Vitéz broke out against Matthias. In the new situation, with Bohemia having a devout Catholic ruler instead of the Hussite Podjebrád, Matthias’s Czech war lost all legitimacy, although on 28 May 1471 the papal legate Lorenzo Roverella in Jihlava confirmed Matthias as King of Bohemia.

In 1477, under the terms of the Treaty of Gmunden-Korneuburg, Emperor Frederick also recognised Matthias as King of Bohemia, and took the traditional oath of allegiance to him. Afterwards, both Ullászló and Matthias resumed negotiations, and in 1478 they concluded the Peace of Olomouc, which was solemnly ratified on 21 July 1479. This confirmed the status quo, under which they mutually recognised each other’s titles as Czech kings, with Matthias retaining Moravia, Silesia and Lusatia, and Bohemia in the narrower sense of the term remaining in the hands of Ulfászló. Under the terms of the peace treaty, Ulászló could only redeem his territories after Matthias’ death for 400,000 gold florins.

The Electoral Prince was left with Ulászló, but Matthias also took the first step towards obtaining it. However, keeping the army abroad was both an advantage and a disadvantage. The pay itself resulted in a large gold outflow, but the ‘supplement’ did not destroy Hungary.

After the defeat of the Vitéz conspiracy, Matthias wanted to end the Czech war, which had become pointless and cost huge sums of money, without loss of prestige. His diplomatic negotiations were unsuccessful, however, and in 1473 Frederick III called for support against the Hungarian monarch at the German imperial assembly. In February 1474, the Polish war, which had formally existed since the Vitéz conspiracy, was brought to a formal end by a peace treaty, and a three-year truce was concluded with King Ullászló of Bohemia. The Czechs and Poles, however, intended this as a distraction, as they were negotiating a tripartite alliance with Frederick III against Matthias. They agreed on a timetable for a joint war against Hungary, but the Emperor had in the meantime got into a serious conflict with Charles the Great and was therefore unable to take part in the attack.

However, the forces of Casimir IV of Poland and his son Ulászló of Bohemia were much larger than those of Matthias, even without the imperial forces, and even separately. The Hungarian king prepared for defence in Boroszló. His military plans were based on starving the enemy, which he did perfectly. Matthias’s light cavalry, using scorched-earth tactics, ravaged Silesia to leave no food for the invaders. And he sent his two commanders, István Szapolyai and Paul Kinizsi, to attack other parts of Poland as a diversionary operation. He ordered the evacuation of the Silesian villages in the wider Boroszló area, the march of the population with all their belongings to the towns, and the transport of food supplies to Boroszló. The villages were then burnt (which would have been their fate even if they had been occupied by the Polish king’s troops).

Matthias arrived in Boroszló with a total of 8-10 thousand mercenaries, later known as the Black Army, but he sent most of his troops on a raid, with only a few small units entrenched in the city. He also had a chariot castle of about a thousand elements built near the centre of the town, and a strong artillery force. The army of the Polish king alone, consisting of some 50,000 men, was opposed to him; Lithuanians, Mazurs, Russians and Poles set out on 12 August in five large columns with five chariot castles for Silesia, but did not reach the frontier until the end of September. Matthias sent only two thousand horsemen to harass them.

The difficulties of supply soon began to have a serious impact. Food could not be found locally, and supplies sent from further afield were routinely intercepted and destroyed by the Hungarian troops on the march. Eventually the besiegers became completely demoralised. On 19 November, the desperate Czechs set fire to their camp, and the conflagration spread to the Polish positions: some 4,000 wagons were burnt to ashes. King Matthias’s art of warfare was a complete success in what later became known as the ‘Boroszló Campaign’. In a rare move in world history, the besiegers asked for peace from the besieged. On 8 December 1474, Matthias and Ulászló concluded a three-year truce, which was extended to King Casimir. It was one of the greatest military successes of Matthias’ reign, and one that was achieved without a large-scale military confrontation.

Alternatives:Wars in AustriaWars of AustriaThe wars in AustriaThe wars of Austria

The Czech-Hungarian reconciliation did not improve relations between Matthias and Frederick III. Another serious problem was that in the spring of 1476, János Beckensloer, Primate of Esztergom and Chancellor of the Privy Council, escaped to Frederick, taking with him his vast fortune, which he had placed at the Emperor’s disposal. The only option left to the Hungarian king was war. The royal council supported his plan; only István Báthori, the Transylvanian viceroy who had prioritised the war against the Turks, and the peace-loving high priests were said to have opposed the declaration of war. The leader of the war party was Pál Kinizsi, who argued that Beckensloer’s escape and the title of Hungarian king borne by the Emperor were a disgrace to the country. In the end, the majority enthusiastically voted in favour of the war, from which they hoped to reap large spoils.

Matthias declared war on Frederick III on 12 June 1477. The Hungarian army fought an almost ‘blitzkrieg’, occupying all of Lower Austria, invading Upper Austria and besieging Vienna. In the meantime, Pope Sixtus IV called for peace talks between the parties and refused to recognise the investiture of Ulászló II into the Kingdom of Bohemia. In the Treaty of Gmunden-Korneuburg, concluded on 1 December 1477, the Hungarian king settled for a war grant of 100 000 forints. As Czech king, Matthias was able to take the vows of fealty to the Emperor and received half of the money, but the remaining 50 000 forints remained unpaid.

But the peace left many important questions unanswered and did not promise to last. Frederick III wanted to appoint Beckensloer to the very important post of Archbishop of Salzburg, which included large territories, even castles and towns in Styria. The incumbent Archbishop of Salzburg was at the time Bernhard von Rohr, an ally of Matthias, and he turned to him for help. In 1479, in return, he gave him his estates in Styria, Carinthia and Krajina. In 1481, the Archbishop even tried to hand over Salzburg itself to the Hungarians, but the local burghers prevented this. Likewise, the Bishop of Passau gave Matthias control of Sankt Pölten and Mautern on the Danube, west of Vienna.

From 1479, in practice, a state of war existed between them again, but Matthias did not formally declare war on Frederick III until 1482. This war did not progress as quickly as the previous one; cities and castles had to be besieged and bought from their defenders. However, the capture of Vienna on 1 June 1485 marked a decisive turning point, as the German emperor’s capital fell into the hands of Matthias. The empire itself sent troops to retake it, but failed. On 17 August 1487, the Hungarian king marched on the emperor’s favourite city, Vienna. With this, Matthias conquered all of Lower Austria except Krems, as well as the eastern parts of Styria and Carinthia. The Hungarian king soon assumed the title of Duke of Austria and called a provincial assembly. After that, the military situation remained practically unchanged until the death of Matthias: the war fizzled out, just as it had in the Czech War after the conquest of Moravia, Silesia and Lusatia.

His successes in the Austrian wars, however, did not ultimately help him to realise his grand plans, to build up international positions for himself and Hungary that would have enabled him to successfully take up the fight against the Turks from a position of great power. The role of international public opinion was already growing at this time. For a long time, Matthias was able to successfully shape the image of himself abroad, but his main opponent, Frederick III, was also a master at dealing with mainstream public opinion. Matthias’ policies caused his image as a Turkish-battling hero defending Europe to fade, and he lost the confidence of the Vatican and Venice. The conquest of Austria led Frederick III to turn the awakening German nationalist sentiment against the Hungarian king. In 1486 he wrote in a letter: “the King of Hungary has been attacking us, our provinces and subjects, which are the gates and shields of the German nation against infidels and foreign nations” for many years; the following year, he said that Matthias was “of low birth and a special enemy and hater of the Germans”. Of course, Mátyás also described someone as being “of German descent, and therefore of blood inherently hostile to the Hungarian”. By this propaganda, Frederick III was able to prevent Matthias from finding an ally among the German princes, and to rule out the possibility of his winning the title of King of Rome and thus becoming a candidate for the imperial crown of the German-Roman Empire.

Alternatives:His battles against the TurksHis fights against the TurksFighting against the TurksFighting the Turks

A major factor in the election of Matthias as king was that, as the son of János Hunyadi, who, despite the limited success of his reign, was considered a “Turkish beater”, he was expected to actively fight the Turkish threat both in Hungary and abroad. The Vatican and the Republic of Venice were willing to provide substantial financial support for this purpose. Matthias received a total of 250 000 forints from the Holy See in various instalments between 1459 and 1479. In the 1480s, when it became clear that the king was not using the aid against the Turks, the papal aid dried up. In total, Matthias received a similar amount from Venice, but after the Sabacs campaign of 1476, this aid also ceased. From the Emperor and the German Empire, on the other hand, there were only promises, no concrete support.

The theme of the struggle against the Turks was used with great talent by Matthias in his foreign policy and diplomacy. Many foreign knights were in the service of Matthias for this very reason. Frederick III and imperial propaganda, on the other hand, spread the rumour (largely in accordance with reality) that Matthias was using anti-Turkish aid against the Turks for his own benefit, and even occasionally allowing Turkish marauders to pass through the southern provinces to fight against the Austrian provinces.

Based on his father’s experience, Mátyás launched an anti-Turkish campaign only in the autumn or winter, when he could be sure that he would not face the Ottoman main forces, because they were never mobilised from autumn to spring. In many cases, he did not intervene when it was necessary or did not take advantage of good opportunities. In the power struggles that ensued after the death of the Serbian despot Lazar Brankovic in February 1458, the Serbian territories in the Lower Danube, as well as the castle of Galamboc, were successively occupied from August 1458 onwards by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II under the command of Grand Vizier Mahmud. The following year, on 29 June 1459, the last seat of the Serbian rulers, Sandru, fell, ending the Turkish conquest of Serbia. In Hungary, the Diet of Szeged was convened in January 1459, and resolutions were passed on a number of defence-related issues, but these were not implemented.

In the spring of 1462, the Turks attacked Havasalföld, as Prince Vlad Tepes had signed a treaty with Matthias the previous year and refused to pay the Turkish tax. Despite Hungarian troops sent to his aid, Vlad was defeated and stripped of his dignity. The new viceroy, Radu, accepted Hungarian authority, and in September Matthias confirmed him in his position. It was clear, however, that Havasalföld could only be counted on in the absence of the Turks.

In May 1463, the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II set out to conquer Bosnia. The move was expected, the Hungarian Diet in March and the King mobilised the army. However, the troops were late in gathering, and by June the Sultan had captured the strategically important town of Jajca and executed Bosnian King Istvan Tomašević. The capture of Jajca by the Turks opened the door to raids into Croatia, Austria, Venice and Hungary. Jajca was somewhat exaggeratedly called the ‘gateway to Europe’ by contemporaries. In September 1463, Matthias entered into an alliance with Venice. They agreed that Venice would attack in the Peloponnese and Matthias in Bosnia; the republic also provided financial support.

After the Sultan’s retreat, Matthias captured the Sava crossings and began to besiege Jajca, “which no one else could take because of its strength, only King Matthias could do so, and he took it easily, to the eternal shame and annoyance of the Turkish emperor”. He took the city in early October, but the Janissaries held on to the citadel for another two months. Eventually, the castle captain Yusuf Haram, who was absolutely famished, began negotiations with Matthias. It was agreed that ‘the bishop would give up the castle, and whoever of those in the castle wished to serve King Matthias could remain there in honour, and whoever wished to leave would be dismissed by the king with all his property’. The majority of the Janissaries and the prince himself joined Matthias’ army, fearing reprisals from the sultan. Mátyás placed northern Bosnia under his jurisdiction, appointed János Székely Hídvégi as commander of Jajca, and Imre Szapolyai became a banan. “And the king, in order not to show off in vain in the winter, conquered twenty-seven castles and towns all around.”

Inspired by Matthias’ success, Pope Pius II saw the time had come to carry out his old plan and launch a crusade against the Turks. His plan was for Matthias to attack in Bosnia, Venice in the Peloponnese, then known as Morea, and the rest of the Christian army to sail into Albania at Ancona. The Pope arrived at Ancona on 15 June 1464, but only a few thousand crusaders and a few Venetian galleys had gathered there. However, the Pope died on 14 August and the campaign was cancelled. Sultan Mohammed, on the other hand, had already begun his ‘great preparations and a fierce siege’ of Jajca on 12 July. “But King Matthias did not sleep under the protection of the castle, as the Turkish emperor had done before (…). “The Hungarians successfully held the siege for 41 days, which the Sultan abandoned on 22 August and retreated: ‘he disappeared like smoke from under Jajca, leaving his tents, his cannons, his many riches there’. The news of the Crusade’s departure may have played a part in this. At the time, Matthias was on the northern bank of the Danube, in Futak, Bács county, with his army of 30,000 men – 17,000 cavalry, 6,000 infantry and 7,000 crusaders. Afterwards, Imre Szapolyai captured the castle of Szrebernik with part of the royal army, and Matthias marched with 20,000 men against Zvornik in the Drina valley. At the end of October, the reunited Hungarian army besieged Zvornik, but on 9 November they were forced to retreat because the Grand Vizier Mahmud, who had surrounded Jajca, moved against them.

The ceasefire and status quo on the de facto partition of Bosnia was not disturbed by either side until the death of Matthias. Matthias could fight in the West, Mohammed in Anatolia. A letter written by Matthias to Istanbul in 1480 revealed that an agreement had been reached between the two sides, under which the border Turks were free to march through Hungarian territory if they wanted to raid neighbouring territory. As early as 1474, the German-Roman Emperor Frederick III had accused Matthias of allowing the Turks to cross his territory on their way to Styria. It seems he was right. Matthias wrote the letter in 1480 because the Turks were then breaking the treaty and plundering Hungarian territory.

In 1472, Uzun Hassan, the Sultan of the Turkmen Empire of Akkoyunlu, who also ruled Iran and was the Ottomans’ strongest eastern adversary, sent his physician, the Jewish king Isaac, as an envoy to Europe and personally to Matthias, to unite against the Turks. An agreement in principle was reached, but in practice, despite repeated exchanges of envoys, nothing happened, and on 11 August 1473 the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II destroyed the army of Uzun Hassan.

After that, Hungary was mostly troubled only by minor raids by the Turks. One exception was in 1474, when in February, taking advantage of Matthias’s campaign in Silesia, Ali, the prince of Sendrő, invaded the Temesköz and burned it down, reaching as far as Oradea. In July, the Turks raided the Drava-Sáva river. In the winter, Suleiman Pasha, the beggar-bishop of Rumelia, attacked Moldavia, but his troops were forced to surrender at Vaslui on 10 January 1475 by the army of the Moldavian Viceroy Stephen the Great and the relief troops of the Transylvanian Viceroy Balázs Magyar. The Hungarian orders demanded that Matthias launch an anti-Turkish campaign instead of his western campaigns. He gave in, mobilised the Hungarian army in the autumn of 1475 and, together with Czech mercenaries, besieged the relatively weak castle of Sabács, newly built by the Turks. However, it was only after several months of siege that he succeeded in capturing it by trickery. An important element was added to the Hungarian fortification system, but an important lesson for the king was the difficulty he had in winning the victory with his already famous army. After that, he did not even deploy his mercenaries on the Turkish front.

In the diplomatic field, Matthias took full advantage of the victory. Pope Sixtus IV also sent him anti-Turkish financial support. However, Matthias himself considered his anti-Turkish campaign to be complete, and he needed the money for his marriage to Beatrix to support his plans for the West.

However, his generals led small campaigns against the Turks. In August 1476, István Báthori, the governor, successfully fought in Moldavia, then marched to Havasalföld, where he ousted the pro-Turkish viceroy Basarab III, who was replaced by Vlad Tepes after 14 years, but only reigned for a few months. He was assassinated and Basarab was again made Viceroy.

Another major Turkish invasion of Hungary occurred in 1479. In October, Prince Hassan-oglu Isa, at the head of an army of 35-40,000, ravaged the Kingdom of Hungary. However, István Báthori, the Viceroy of Transylvania, and Pál Kinizsi, the Grand Vizier of Timis, inflicted a huge defeat on him on 13 October at the Battle of Kenyérme between Alvinc and Sászváros.

On 10 August 1480, the Turks captured Otranto in Italy, directly threatening the country of Matthias’ father-in-law, King Ferdinand I of Naples. Ferdinand recaptured the city in September 1481 with the help of a Hungarian contingent of 400 infantry, 100 armoured cavalry and 200 hussars led by Balázs Magyar. In the meantime, at the end of 1480, Matthias attacked the Turks from Hungary in three directions: the troops of the Moldavian Viceroy Stephen on the Vallachian Peninsula, Matthias’ mercenaries on southern Bosnia, and Paul Kinizsi on Serbia. The Hungarians won two major battles near Sarajevo and Sandro. In late 1481 Kinizsi, who had retaliated against the raids of Ali, led another successful campaign into Serbia. The Ottoman Sultan Bayezid II, who succeeded Mehmed II, who had died in May, renewed the peace negotiations begun by his father. He was also encouraged by the fact that Matthias had begun to support the claim to the throne of his younger brother, Prince Djem, who had fled to Rhodes in 1481 to join the Johannite order of knights. Finally, in 1483, a truce was concluded for five years, which was extended for two years in 1488. Matthias thus secured his backing for another campaign in the West.

As a result of the wars, the Hungarian king gained power over a much larger territory than the countries of the Holy Crown. In the case of the Czech provinces, he was also elected King of Bohemia. For this reason, German imperial princes in Silesia, who preferred to support the Emperor against him, swore an oath of allegiance to him, as otherwise he could have confiscated their estates. His Austrian conquests, however, were obtained by force of arms from the hereditary ruler of these territories.

Matthias had a separate Czech chancellery, headed by Czechs or Moravians. At the end of his reign, however, Jan Filipec (János Filipec), Bishop of Václav, who was also a Moravian, held both the Hungarian and the Czech chancellorship in one person.

On 25 March 1475, the king attended the Moravian provincial assembly and agreed to the election of Ctibor Tovačovský z Cimburka, the Moravian lord, as provincial chief captain, although he was considered more a follower of Uladzimir. In 1479 the provincial assembly decided to make the Czech language official instead of Latin. In 1481, during the Austrian wars of Matthias, the Moravian orders decided to conclude a non-aggression treaty with Emperor Frederick III.

Silesia and Lusatia consisted of several almost independent duchies. In 1473, the king wanted to introduce a unified administration here, with a captain-general at the head, but the local assembly of the orders, called ‘princes’, refused to accept this. In 1474, however, Matthias himself attended the assembly, and István Szapolyai was finally elected captain general, with powers covering both Silesia and Lusatia. The king levied taxes in Silesia much less frequently and to a lesser extent than in Hungary, but opposition to his rule grew, and by the time of his death it had reached the point of explosion.

The city of Borosloh was in an exceptional position; the former Duchy of Borosloh had been granted to the city by the Czech kings a long time ago. The city administration exercised the power of the captain: the senior city councillor held the title of captain and was also the head of the city administration. Boroszló was initially considered the mainstay of Matthias’ Silesian rule, but later suffered grievances as royal influence increased. Heinz Dompnig, the town captain, sought to represent the interests of Matthias and was executed by the Borosloh council on news of the king’s death.

After the conquest of Vienna, Matthias began to organise the administration of Lower Austria. As early as 1486, he had an Austrian chancellery, headed by two secretaries, Lukas Schnitzer and Niklas von Puchau, who had previously served the emperor. In March 1487, the king convened a provincial assembly, at which he assumed the title of Duke of Austria, declaring himself the legitimate ruler of Austria and henceforth using the Austrian seal.

Here too, Mátyás formally adapted to the local rules. He convened the provincial assembly regularly, retained the existing institutions, and even filled them with mostly the same people as Frederick III had previously, but kept the real power strictly in his own hands. His main representative here was again the provincial governor-general, István Szapolyai, who had been transferred from Silesia. Hungarian or Bohemian soldiers were invariably placed at the head of the castles and towns. Only the bailiff of the castle of Vienna was an Austrian, Sigismund Schnaidpeck, but the knight, known in Hungarian as Sigismund Snapek, had already been in the service of the Hungarian king long before.

Mátyás was not only outstanding as a ruler, but also as a commander. His contemporaries considered him one of the best strategists. He was excellently informed in foreign policy, well versed in ancient and contemporary military literature. His diplomatic and intelligence network enabled him to learn about the plans of his opponents.

In the second half of the 15th century, European wars were mostly fought for a limited purpose, the conquest of a single castle or province. Matthias’s warfare followed this pattern, rarely undertaking costly and risky decisive battles that claimed the lives of many soldiers. He sought to achieve his goals by raids, raids, the destruction of enemy territory, and the capture of certain castles.

King Matthias’s strategy as a whole was effective. He achieved significant military successes against his opponents, for example in the Third Austrian War (1482-1487). In the battles against the Turks, he realised that his army could only act on active defence and acted accordingly. He also saw that the Turks could not launch a comprehensive attack against Hungary in the foreseeable future. He turned against Bohemia and Austria in order to make Hungary stronger against the expected attempts of the mighty Ottoman Empire to conquer it. These plans, however, ultimately proved unrealistic; Hungary’s resources were insufficient to carry out its conquest plans, but rather exhausted the country. In the light of later developments, posterity will judge this to be a mistake on the part of Matthias. According to Pál Fodor, historian, turkologist and Director General of the Institute of Historical Sciences of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Matthias generally kept 10,000 soldiers in arms during the second phase of his reign.

Matthias’ military plans were generally based on dispersing enemy forces and ensuring his own freedom of action. His main tool was the light cavalry, the Hungarian Hussars, which had been formed at that time. Its raids were aimed at exhausting the enemy and thwarting his major offensive plans. Major battles were rare, and Mátyás tried to avoid them. He did not aim for a quick or complete victory; he only wanted to achieve a total victory against Podjebrád, but he did not succeed in this either. His greatest success was achieved in the Silesian campaign of 1474, during the so-called Boroszló Campaign, when he masterfully exploited the mobility of the Hussars to force peace on his Polish-Czech opponent, who was outnumbered several to one.

There was relatively little change in the fighting and military tactics of the period compared to previous periods. The big, open battles were still decided by a rush of heavy cavalry. The most significant change was the increased importance of light cavalry on the great battlefields: the victories at Tobischau (1469) and Sarajevo (1480) were mainly won by the Hussars.

Mátyás was not always effective in fighting, in leading concrete battles. He was very skilled in city-streams, but he sometimes lost open battles. He surprised his opponents at Zvornik in 1464 and in Moldavia in 1467, and his troops were surrounded at Laan in 1468. The victories in open skirmishes were mostly won by his vassals.

In both the Turkish and Western theatres of war, the main aim was to capture fortresses, which was the main trend in international warfare at the time. The Black Army, and Hungarian troops in general, captured a large number of castles and fortified towns, the most important of which were Vienna, Jajca, Sabács, Bécsújhely, Korneuburg, Hainburg, Kosztolány, Magyarbród. Most of the castles, however, were not taken by a successful assault after an effective cannonade, but by a long siege, starvation, or perhaps by buying the castle captain. He did not build any new castles, but he took great care to maintain the system of fortifications, especially the outer ones. It remained the responsibility of the surrounding population to provide the castle with sufficient soldiers and to maintain the fortifications.

Alternatives:The southern citadel systemThe southern castle systemThe southern terminal systemThe southern system of castles

One of the most important military measures of Matthias was the development and completion of the southern system of fortifications already built by King Sigismund. For half a century, this fortification system was the main strength of the country’s defence against the Turks. The southern buffer states of Serbia and Bosnia had already fallen to the Turks early in his reign. The remnants of these under Hungarian rule formed three new counties, Sabac, Srebernik and Jajca. Thus, two lines of fortifications could be built. The outer one stretched from the Al-Duna across the Bosnian mountains to the Adriatic, and its main elements were Szörény, Nándorfehérvár, Szabács, Szrebernik, Jajca, Knin, Klissza and Szkardona. 50-100 km further inland, Caransebes, Lugos, Timisoara, the fortresses of Sirmium, Petrograd, Banja Luka, Bihac formed the second line.

In the year of his accession to the throne, the king granted tax exemptions to several Pauline monasteries. He donated several manors and monasteries to the white friends, and gave them the right to a pallet. The monastery at Budaszentlőrinci flourished under King Matthias, who visited the monastery several times and maintained cordial relations with the monastery’s chief.

Alternatives:He wrote this to Pope Sixtus IV:He wrote to Pope Sixtus IV:To Pope Sixtus IV he wrote:

“As a devoted son, I beg Your Holiness to approve everything and grant me permission to install in the church the Pauline hermit brothers, who are loved by all for their strict consistency and blameless life, and to donate the place to the Pauline Order.”

According to some research, it was this Pope who authorised the Csíksomlyó pilgrimage at the request of Matthias. Archaeological excavations carried out in 2010 identified 14th-century artefacts, indicating that before the Franciscan monks of today, there were Palaians living in Csíksomlyo.

“The best prince is mourned by the Pauline order, which acknowledges that on the one hand it derived its origin from one of the ravens, our father Paul the Divine, and on the other hand that it received from the other raven, Matthias, not modest material goods, and therefore mourns him and keeps him in its memory forever.” – The Order commemorates Matthias in its Book of Memory in 1490.

In 1455 János Hunyadi agreed with Ulrik Cillei that Mátyás would marry his daughter, Erzsébet Cillei, in 1455. However, as the bride died suddenly in 1455, the marriage could not take place.

While Mátyás was in captivity, in early 1458 his uncle Mihály Szilágyi agreed with László Garai that Mátyás would marry Garai’s daughter Anna. Later it turned out that Mátyás, in return for his release, had agreed with György Podjebrád in Prague to marry his daughter Katalin. This marriage took place on 1 May 1463, but Catherine died in childbirth in the spring of 1464, aged 15.

Legend has it that Mátyás’ great love was Ilona the Fair, who died of lovesickness. The king in disguise did not reveal his identity to her when they met. When Ilona found out that her lover was the same as the king, she died of realization, thinking their future together hopeless.

Throughout his life, Mátyás showed a keen interest in the female sex, and his environment was well aware of this. Janus Pannonius wrote about this in an epigram during Matthias’ 1462 campaign in the Wallachian Alps:

Later, he did not shy away from adventure during his campaigns in the West. Although Bonfini wrote that the king ‘sometimes showed himself indulgent towards the love of little women, but kept himself aloof from respectable women’, the reality was that in several Silesian towns the ‘political’ problem was that the citizens were grumbling about the king’s excessive attention to their daughters and even their wives.

Soon after the loss of his first wife, Mátyás wished to remarry, for dynastic reasons of course. He would have needed a wife from a respectable dynasty for his foreign policy goals, but the ancient dynasties looked down on the Hungarian king, who they considered to be uppity. For more than a decade, Hungarian diplomatic efforts focused on this issue. He could have had a German wife from Saxony or Brandenburg, but the Hungarian overlords were against it. The daughter of the Polish king Casimir IV, Hedwig, would have been politically the most suitable, but the Poles insultingly ruled her out. In 1470, the daughter of Emperor Frederick III, Kunigunda, was also considered, although she was only five years old.

During his visit to Vienna in 1470, he met a wealthy bourgeoise from Stein, Barbara Edelpöck (-1495), who brought him to Buda, kept him close to her, and from their relationship János Corvin was born on 2 April 1473. This long-lasting affair appears to have been a true love affair of great magnitude, and tempered the king’s adventurous spirit.

Before his second marriage in 1475, however, Matthias paid her a severance and sent her out of the country, leaving her three-year-old son behind. Borbala bought a castle in Enzersdorf on the Fischa and married Friedrich von Enzersdorf, to whom she had two more children. In November 1484, during the Austrian War, Matthias visited Barbara’s castle and may have taken his son with him to visit.

The king received the good news that King Ferdinand I of Naples was willing to marry his daughter Beatrix in October 1474, during the war with the Czechs and Poles, at the time of the “Boroslo camp”. In his joy, Matthias had the bells rung for an hour in the besieged city, lighting the town with candles and burning pitchers. His future father-in-law was a descendant of one of the most distinguished royal houses in Europe: the House of Árpád and the Aragonese dynasty, although he was born out of wedlock. Beatrix of Aragon was nevertheless a very distinguished royal daughter, both in terms of her Castilian and Aragonese ancestry. And her ancestor in the House of Árpád (daughter of Andrew I, named Jolánta) reinforced her dynastic ambitions.

Mátyás sent an entourage of several distinguished Hungarian lords to Naples to pick up Beatrix. On the way home, the bride and her entourage also stayed at the castle of one of the king’s most loyal supporters, Miklós Bánffy in Lendava. Beatrix met Matthias for the first time in Székesfehérvár on 10 December 1476, and was crowned Queen on the 12th, with a magnificent wedding on the 22nd.

Matthias seems to have been greatly impressed by the strikingly beautiful and highly educated Italian lady. According to the sources describing the wedding, the king locked himself and his young wife in a private room, excluding the servants, which was unusual for the time, and they stayed together all night.

The twenty-year-old lady, who was already a mature woman at the time, soon began to play the role of a fellow monarch, and not only influenced Mátyás, but also the court and the whole country through her. The princess of Naples was familiar with Western court etiquette and introduced it to Hungary. The king had spent the previous eight years in essentially permanent camp conditions, in direct contact with his vassals and soldiers. True, he was able to dazzle his foreign guests for diplomatic purposes, but he certainly felt more at home among his soldiers. His court then began to resemble that of an Italian monarch.

Mátyás must have fallen in love with his pretty and clever wife, and discussed his problems with her, giving her a say in affairs of state. In his letters of donation, he often mentioned that this was done with Beatrix’s consent. However, the Queen’s influence was not always favourable. In 1487, for example, the king appointed the eight-year-old Hippolytus of Este to the primacy of Esztergom, and this blatant example of nepotism caused understandable domestic political outrage (it should also be remembered that this move ensured the huge revenues of the primacy for the state and the imperial treasury, which was fully managed in this period). From the point of view of Hungarian foreign policy interests, one of the disadvantages was that Beatrix’s influence led the king to side with Naples in Italian affairs, and thus to confront his former supporters, the papal state and Venice.

It soon became clear, however, that Beatrix could not have children, meaning that Mátyás Hunyadi’s plans to found a dynasty were in danger of failing and that he could not have a legitimate successor. From then on, the king used every means at his disposal to ensure the succession of his illegitimate son, János Corvin, and from 1479 onwards he granted him vast estates and titles. From 1482 onwards, all donable estates were put in his name. By the time of his father’s death, John Corvin was by far the largest landowner in the country, with 30 castles, 17 manor houses, 49 towns and 1,000 villages. In addition, he received the castles of Bratislava, Komárom and Tata with the county sees of Bratislava and Komárom, as well as castles in Austria and Bohemia. He also betrothed and married Bianca Maria Sforza, also a descendant of Andrew II.

Mátyás’s plans for the succession of János Corvin did not please the queen, who hoped that as the crowned Hungarian queen she herself would inherit the throne and remain queen as the wife of Ullászló. Mátyás even asked his father-in-law to help him persuade his daughter, but the conflict between his wife and son only intensified. And when Matthias died, the marriage was dissolved and Bianca became the wife of the German-Roman Emperor Michael. Beatrix’s plans, however, also failed: her marriage to Ulysses was also annulled by the Pope. Hungary thus became the ‘buffer zone’ of Europe, defending it for 160 years of suffering.

Alternatives:Appearance, featuresAppearance, characteristicsAppearance and characteristicsAppearance and features

Matthias was a man of medium height, blond hair, red cheeks, large nose, arched eyebrows, broad shoulders and slightly stooped legs.

He was a well-educated and well-read man for his age, and he was also fond of intellectual duels, which he himself was skilful at. According to Galeotto Marzio, “From far and wide they visited the court of King Matthias, for the king’s generosity was known”, because the king “esteemed men of learning not from a compulsion of habit, but from his heart.”

“King Matthias’ table was food not only for the body, but also for the soul. The wise king seasoned his food with witty words and clever speeches.” “For everyone knew that Matthias liked to argue with scholars at banquets” and “King Matthias liked to listen to stories about the deeds of kings and always made clever comments on them.”

“King Matthias often spoke while eating, sometimes listening attentively to the speeches of others, and sometimes to the performance of heroic songs. But however attentive he was to what was happening at the table, he never forgot cleanliness. He ate meat with gravy like the others, but while their sleeves and clothes were always stained, the king rose from the table in spotless clothes and with clean hands.”

However, he seemed to feel most comfortable in a camp environment. Also according to Galeotto Marzio: ‘For it is wonderful that the king fell asleep quietly in the camp with the cannon thundering, and at home, in the greatest comfort, he avoided sleep when the chamberlains whispered or talked softly (…) Let no one attribute this to the king’s suspicion or caution, for such was his nature everywhere, in war and in peace’.

He liked jousting. As a spectator he was also interested in carriage races and horse races. He liked dancing, dice and other board games.

By 1489, Matthias was already very ill; his severe gout meant that he sometimes carried himself on a litter. In the autumn of that year, he made a surprising offer to Frederick III: if the emperor made John Corvin king of Bosnia and Croatia, Matthias would return the territories he had occupied in Styria and Carinthia, and he would swear an oath of allegiance with the Hungarian orders to Frederick III and his son, Miksa, and secure their succession to the Hungarian throne. However, he wanted to keep Lower Austria. The Emperor, however, insisted on the return of his hereditary province. Matthias was therefore willing to accept the accession of the Habsburgs to the Hungarian throne, and even to cede Croatia, a country of the Holy Crown, to Hungary, in order to ensure his son’s succession. Of course, Corvin, as an independent king and also the greatest possessor of Hungary, would have made the Habsburgs’ rule difficult, to say the least. The offer only shows that Matthias was far from certain of his son’s succession.

In January 1490, the King’s health improved, and the doctors agreed to his trip to Vienna. Before his departure, the emperor entrusted the Buda Castle with the library and treasury to his son, who then continued to administer them on behalf of János Corvin, the castle lieutenant and court bailiff Balázs Ráskai. Mátyás, Beatrix and Corvin travelled via Visegrád, where Prince János also took possession of the castle and the key to the lock of the Holy Crown. In Vienna, the king was apparently well, but the documented actions of his entourage suggest that they suspected the changes that were to come.

The king fell ill on 4 April and died on 6 April after two days of suffering. In 1890, Frigyes Korányi, a professor of internal medicine, diagnosed a ‘cerebral stroke’, which he attributed to gout, based on a description by Bonfini. Later, other doctors did not rule out the possibility of poisoning. However, Beatrix, who was implicated, had all the power and influence as long as her husband was alive, so it is unlikely that she poisoned him. In fact, the king was already seriously ill, and so death by natural causes was the most likely outcome.The news of his death was communicated to the lords by Tibrilli, a confidant of Matthias, his fool.

He was buried in the Basilica of St. Stephen in Székesfehérvár. In view of the growing Turkish threat, a king was needed who could remedy this problem after Mátyás’s westward-looking policy. The claimants to the throne were Matthias’ illegitimate son, John Corvin, King Ulászló Jagelló of Bohemia, and John Albert, son of the Polish king. The barons of the country clustered around them. John Corvin abdicated the throne in a bargain with the newly-forming leagues, Matthias’s agreement with Frederick III was ignored, and finally the Diet of Pest elected Ulászló king on 15 July 1490. The basis of King Matthias’ power, the Black Army, was disbanded in 1493, and the remnants of the army, which had degenerated into a band of raiders, were dispersed in battle in 1492 by the legendary leader of the army, Pál Kinizsi, Péter Váradi, Archbishop of Kalocsa, and István Báthory, Viceroy of Transylvania.

King Matthias is considered by posterity to be a great Renaissance ruler, who was the first to introduce the results of this new Italian movement and style to Hungary. He invited to his court not only many Italian humanists, but also natural scientists and artists. His library, the Bibliotheca Corviniana, was famous far and wide. It is also a fact, however, that the humanists who praised the cultural achievements and patronage of Matthias, and who gained a good reputation abroad, received generous financial compensation from the King for their activities, and therefore they certainly often exaggerated.

Matthias was genuinely receptive to Italian humanism, but he was also acutely aware that patronage of the arts was an important royal virtue. He was fond of ancient authors, and enjoyed participating in humanist symposia and debates. The main representative of this intellectual movement in Hungary was János Vitéz, although he never personally visited Italian soil. Among the royal secretaries and the heads of the court chancellery were many high-ranking clerics who had studied in Italy. The high priests, who were sympathetic to modern doctrines, sent many talented young men to study in Italy, with the approval of Matthias. Among them was János Vitéz’s nephew János Csezmicei, poetically known as Janus Pannonius. He brought to Hungary his friend Galeotto Marzio, who later dedicated his book on the sayings and deeds of King Matthias to János Corvin.

Matthias was keen to employ humanists as officials and diplomats. He himself stood out among the rulers of his time for his erudition. Ferenc Pulszky quotes a letter from 1471 in which the king thanks Pomponius Leatus for a printed copy of Silius Italicus’ epic, in which he writes that he finds time to read even in the midst of the series of wars he does not seek.

Latin was the language of international diplomacy of the time, but it was then that the classical language was used instead of medieval Latin, which also justified the employment of humanists who could learn it in Italy. However, the king did not rely on them exclusively. Neither did János Beckensloer, nor Gábor Matucsinai, who did not go to university, count among his main humanist advisers.

The Vitéz conspiracy did not discourage the king from employing humanist scholars, and his marriage to Beatrix gave a new impetus to the conquest of the Renaissance in Hungary. Towards the end of Matthias’s reign, the number of Italian scholars praising the king at court continued to grow. Matthias and Beatrix separately asked several of them to summarise Hungarian history. This development coincided with the loss of German imperial hopes in foreign policy, with Matyas having to give up his claim to the title of German-Roman Emperor and with a certain degree of international isolation. It was also at this time that János Thuróczi wrote his chronicle, which became the main source of the Hungarian noble historical view of the Hun-Scythian consciousness. It cannot be considered a humanist work, but Matthias found it useful and supported its publication in the then new printing press and its distribution in the German-Roman Empire. However, Matthias was not entirely satisfied with the work, and asked Antonio Bonfini to work on the subject. His work was called Rerum Hungaricarum decades, but it was not completed until after the king’s death. Beatrix, on the other hand, was particularly dissatisfied with the Italian aspects of Thuróczi’s work, so she commissioned Pietro Ranzano to write a Hungarian history, Epithoma rerum Hungarorum, or The History of the Hungarians.

It was also the dawn of astronomy and the heyday of astrology. Matthias himself was very interested in the study of celestial phenomena. János Vitéz also had a strong interest in astrology, which is why he invited one of the greatest naturalists of the time, the German Regiomontanus, and the eminent Polish astronomer Marcin Bylica z Ilkusza (known as Márton IIkusi in older texts) to the University of Bratislava, where he founded the university.

Mátyás supported a wide variety of arts. He donated the castle of Majkovec in the then Kőrös county to the sculptor Giovanni Dalmata, highlighting the sculptor’s artistic merits in the donation letter. In 1488, he donated a house in Buda to another artist, Master Martin Cotta, a converted Sephardic Jew from Toledo, Spain, with Queen Beatrix’s consent, so that this eminent man could remain in the country ‘for the ornament and adornment of our whole court and all our courtiers, and for the glory of our name’. What branch of art he practised is not known. He later became a respected merchant in Buda before moving to Venice in the early 16th century, where he died. Among the Jews expelled by Ferdinand and Isabella from Spain and Sicily were other artists who came to court, for example, in 1465, Beatrix of Aragon’s dance master was Guglielmo Ebreo da Pesaro, alias Giovanni Ambrosio.

There was much truth in the claims of the court sources praising Matthias. Indeed, Italian Renaissance art of the period first appeared in Hungary, outside Italy, in the environment of Matthias. He was one of the greatest builders of our medieval kings. One of his architects was the Chimenti Camicia in Florence. Unfortunately, the most important buildings of Matthias, the Buda Castle and Visegrád, were destroyed during the Turkish conquest, but excavations have uncovered many Renaissance details. However, the Gothic period played an important role alongside the Renaissance, especially in church architecture, but this was also the case in modern Italy.

Matthias had already commissioned Andrea Mantegna to paint his portrait in the 1460s, but only a copy of it survives. The Hungarian king often received gifts of fine and applied art. A painting by Filippino Lippi was sent to Matthias by Lorenzo de’ Medici. The monarch also set up his own majolica workshop.

Matthias’s court choir and orchestra was also renowned for its high standards, as noted by Bishop Bartolomeo de Maraschi of Castello, the papal envoy, who had previously been the director of the papal choir. The King’s singers and musicians were usually from abroad, such as the Flemish Johannes de Stokem and Jacobus Barbireau.

The use of the Hungarian language in the court and in public life also developed a lot during the reign of Matthias. In Hungary, as in the rest of Europe, diplomas and private letters were mostly written in Latin. The first surviving letter written in full Hungarian was written in the last decade of Matthias’ reign. The fifth surviving letter in Hungarian was written by János Corvin in Krapina, Slavonia, in 1502, and ends with the words ‘The hand of Prince Janoss in Irassa’. The use of the language by the prince, who lived in Slavonia in a Slavic-speaking environment, indicates that the Hungarian language was gaining a stronger position in the court of Matthias and in his family. According to the surviving documents, other persons who wrote in Hungarian were also in the service of Erzsébet Szilágyi, Mátyás or János Corvin.

The patronage of art and science was not cheap, according to experts’ calculations, Matthias spent 80-90 000 gold florins a year on this, especially after his marriage to Beatrix. Much of the country’s public opinion disagreed with this, and understandably attributed it to Beatrix’s harmful foreign influence. In the 16th century, Gaspár Heltai wrote that ‘an Italian daughter-in-law had changed the powerful king’. In June 1490, János Corvin was already obliged to leave ‘the library established for the jewels of the country’ in Buda, but was only allowed to take a few volumes for himself.

A legacy in the history of Hungarian culture

Mátyás left an extensive legacy in Hungarian public culture. The best known is the Corvina library, of which 216 surviving volumes are known to exist. The Franciscan architecture of the period, mainly through the work of Brother John, preserves monuments of the time of Matthias all over the country, among which the Gothic churches of Szeged-alsóváros, Kolozsvár, Farkas Street Reformed Church and Nyírbátor. Although its palaces fell into ruins during the Turkish wars, the reborn Visegrád Palace is a worthy representative of its time.

On the back of a 16th-century charter was written this inscription: “King Matias is dead and the True Dagh is dead.”

In Hungarian (there are many sagas and fairy tales on this topic. This picture, however, is very different from the opinions expressed about the great king in his lifetime, for example in the Dubnice Chronicle.

But almost immediately after his death, public opinion began to change. This was partly due to the fear of a change of ruler, which in the Middle Ages almost always brought with it a great deal of uncertainty and danger for the common man. Bonfini wrote that even the lords, who had hitherto blamed the king for heavy burdens and wars, were frightened. The fear was justified, for in practically two years Matthias’s empire had collapsed, and hostile armies were ravaging Hungary. The turbulent decades of the Jagiellonian era, followed by the Battle of Mohács, further increased nostalgia for Matthias.

The legend of the “just Matthias” came from several sources. It seems to have been spread by the ruler himself, but the image of the just ruler was also part of the ideology of humanism in general. Many of the details of the tales of Matthias are the appropriation of much earlier legends and fables, and their application to this age. The ruler who informs in disguise and then does justice is a particularly old wandering motif, probably first associated in Hungary with the person of Lajos the Great.

“Let others fight, you just marry, happy Austria” – some believe that King Matthias was the author of this widely known saying about the Habsburgs. The Hungarian king would have said this about Frederick III, who enriched his country not by his valour but by creating family ties.

The 19th and 20th centuries commemorated the great king with statues, the first of which are the ensemble of János Fadrusz in Cluj and Alajos Strobl in Buda. From the ecclesiastical point of view, the most noteworthy is the Calvary of King Matthias. Its bust was unveiled in Somorja in 2016. In Székesfehérvár, a downtown boulevard bears his name.

In 1845, Mihály Vörösmarty recorded the story of Matthias’ youth in his five-act historical drama Czillei and the Hunyadians.

In Ede Szigligeti’s 1858 play Mátyás lesz király király (Mátyás will be king), he told the story of the coronation of Mátyás.

Kálmán Mikszáth wrote a short novel about the “gallant adventures” of King Matthias called Szelistyei asszonyok, which was the basis for a highly successful film comedy in 1964 called What did your majesty do from 3 to 5? András Benedek, Jenő Semsei and Ernő Vince Innocent made a song play from the novel, which was filmed in 1974 under the title King Matthias was here…

In 1995, Péter Kárpáti’s play Országalma, a parody of the legend of King Matthias, was performed.

The portrait of Matthias appears on the Hungarian 1000 forint banknote.

In 2014, the New Theatre presented István Szőke’s fairy tale play Atilla, in which he adapted the well-known fairy tales.

His reign was already a source of great controversy among his contemporaries. The typical critical opinions were already summarised in his lifetime, in 1479, in the Dubnice Chronicle. According to this, Matthias neglected the Turkish threat and squandered the military power at his disposal and the economic power he had gathered through cruel taxation of the country on pointless campaigns of conquest in the West.

The other view, however, is that the king realised that Hungary alone was unable to resist the Turks, and therefore sought to create a larger state. According to this view, he recognised that development in East-Central Europe was moving towards federations of states in personal unions. However, he was not able to implement his plans, which only the Habsburgs were later able to do.

There is also historical debate as to whether the state organisation established by Matthias was a monarchy of the order or a centralised kingdom. As for the importance of the laws, highly characteristic formulations of them have survived from several sources. These are: ‘The king is not a servant or instrument of the law, but is at the head of the law and rules over it’ (Aurelio Brandolini Lippo), and ‘the king is the living law’ (Filippo Buonaccorsi).

In any case, the great achievement of his domestic political activity was that he managed to consolidate his power as an elected king, i.e. by struggling for legitimacy and social acceptance, which was less than that of kings ruling by birthright, and by making use of all the possibilities of medieval sovereign power. With great skill, he was able to bring to his side the social and political forces and their varied coalitions needed to rule at any given moment. However, he failed to achieve his most important goal, the succession of his son John Corvin to the throne.


  1. I. Mátyás magyar király
  2. Matthias Corvinus