The foundation of Hungary

The kingdom of Hungary was established by the semi-legendary figure of one Árpád who, sometime around the year 895, led his Magyar hordes through the Vereczka pass and precipitated the collapse of the Great Moravian Empire. By about the year 906 the Magyars had consolidated their control and Árpád and his successor princes raided the Eastern Empire and reached the very walls of Constantinople, caused havoc in Germany, invaded Italy in 943 and got as far as Otranto; and in 955 raided Burgundy and generally made a nuisance of themselves.

However, on the 10th August 955 the Magyars were overwhelmingly defeated at battle of the Lechfeld by the Holy Roman Emperor Otto I, following which in the best traditions of 'barbarian' invaders they settled down and adopted Christianity (the Roman version as opposed to the Orthodox version of their Byzantine neighbours and rivals.)

The Árpád dynasty

In the year 1000 Stephen was formally crowned by Pope Silvester II as the first king of Hungary and went about building a formal Hungarian church and state on the Western model and established the Árpád dynasty of kings that were to rule Hungary for the next three centuries.

The succession was not clear after Stephen's death and a number of the following rulers were troubled by pagan rebellions. Stability did not return until the time of Geza I who sought an alliance with Pope Gregory VII and formally accepted that the kingdom was a fief of the Holy See. The result of this papal alliance was to allow Hungary, under Geza's successors Ladislas I and Koloman to expand its borders adding Croatia and part of the Dalmatian coast.

Naturally as the kingdom of Hungary sought to extend its borders in the Balkans so it came into conflict with the Eastern or Byzantine Empire, which had ambitions of its own. Attempts by the eastern emperors to interfere in Hungary and expand their control on central Europe continued until the end of the twelfth century, but their power declined afterwards and Hungary was free to dominate the region.

The end of the Árpád dynasty

Early in the year 1241 the Mongol Horde under Batu Khan burst into Hungary, won victory at the battle of the Sajó and completely devastated the kingdom. The reigning king Bela IV,was forced to flee into exile and only returned after the whirlwind had passed, when he was left with the task of rebuilding his shattered kingdom. As much of the country had been depopulated by the attentions of the Mongols, Bela IV encouraged an influx of Kumanian colonists and even married his son Stephen V to a Kumanian girl.

Since the Kumanians were mostly pagans this led to an increasing pagan influence in the country, which enraged the Papacy who eventually launched a crusade against his successor Ladislaus which resulted in his death. The last Árpád king, Andrew III held a tenuous grasp on the throne until the year 1301, after which the country was plunged into civil war for the next seven years.

The Angevin kings

The crown of Hungary now passed into the hands of one Charles Robert of Anjou (via Naples) and with one or two notable exceptions it was to remain in foreign hands.

Both Charles Robert and his son, Louis the Great were responsible for the rebuilding of Hungary which was naturally suffering from the effects of the civil war as well as the previous Mongol invasion. They reformed the currency and the fiscal system, founded towns, improved law and order and encouraged foreign trade. Their efforts were of course hampered by the Black Death but by and large the nation benefited from their efforts.

But Louis died without any male heirs and following the intervention of his widow Elizabeth, their daughter Maria was crowned queen of Hungary in 1382. Not everyone was happy with the concept of being ruled by a queen and the powerful Horvâthy family invited one Charles of Durazzo to take Maria's place. Charles was crowned king on the 31st of December 1385 but was assassinated thirty-eight days later at the instigation of Elizabeth.

The Horváthys retaliated by capturing both Elizabeth and Maria and torturing the former to death in front of her daughter's eyes. Maria was saved by the intervention of her fiance Sigismund who was formally crowned king on the 31st of March 1387. He later married Maria in the June of 1387 and two ruled as joint monarchs until Maria's death in 1395.

Habsburgs and Turks

In 1353 the Ottoman Turks crossed the Hellespont and moved into Europe. In 1360 they conquered southern Bulgaria and in 1371 they defeated the Serbs at the battle of Taenarus. Sigismund therefore spent most of his reign trying to counter this Turkish threat, most notably constructing a massive fortress at Nándorfehérvár, (that is Belgrade) to help defend Hungary.

Sigismund's only heir was his daughter Elizabeth. However, her husband Albert duke of Austria, seemed well placed to be able to defend the kingdom. (He was also a Habsburg and his accession marked the beginning of Habsburg involvment in the fortunes of Hungary.)

Albert was crowned king of Hungary on the 1st of January 1438, elected as Holy Roman Emperor on the 18th of March 1438, crowned king of Bohemia on the 29th of June 1438 and died of dysentery on the 27th October 1439.

Albert left behind him two infant daughters and a pregnant widow. His widow Elizabeth gave birth to a son who was crowned Ladislas V at the age of only six weeks in May 1440. The impatient Hungarians however, invited Wladislaus III of Poland to take the throne and he was duly crowned Wladislaus I of Hungary on the 17th July 1440. Hungary therefore had two kings and a civil war, as Elizabeth called on her Habsburg relations to intervene militarily on behalf of her child, which continued until the death of Elizabeth in December 1443.

Whilst all this internal bickering was going on, the Turks were still pressing on the borders but were frustrated by the efforts of one John Hunyadi, who succeeded in winning some notable victories against them in 1442 and 1443. This was sufficient to persuade the Turks to agree a ten year truce at the Peace of Szeged in July 1444. However the envoys of the Papacy, anxious to prosecute a holy war against the Turks, persuaded Wladislaus I to break the treaty and attack. At the resulting Battle of Varna on the 10th November 1440, Wladislaus I was killed and the Hungarians annihilated.

Faced with this catastrophe the Hungarians elected John Hunyadi as governor of the country and despite the fact that much of the country was still held either by mercenaries or the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III in the name of the infant Ladislaus V, John Hunyadi frustrated Turkish encroachments and led the campaign of 1454 to successfully relieve Belgrade and defeat the sultan Mahommed II.

John Hunyadi died in 1456 as did Ladislaus V the following year, which left the throne vacant and the Hungarians chose Matthias Corvinus the son of the aforementioned John as their king. Matthias Corvinus turned out to be as capable as his father, driving out the remaining Habsburg forces and taking control of the country. He established a standing army as well as the means to pay for it, won territory from both Austria and Bohemia and raised Hungary to be the greatest power in central Europe.

The Jagiello kings

Matthias, despite his successes, was deeply unpopular with the Hungarian nobility who resented his taxation policies and his use of the standing army to enforce them.

On Matthias' death they took the opportunity of ignoring the claims of his son Jflnos Corvinus and looked elsewhere for their next king, finally selecting one Wiadislaus Jagiello the king of neighbouring Bohemia, who was duly crowned Wladislaus II of Hungary in the July of 1490. Wladislaus II gave the nobility what they wanted, the standing army was dissolved and the Matthian tax system abolished.

Wladislaus II died on the 13th of March 1516 and was succeeded by his son Louis II who continued to rule Hungary in the same manner as before whilst the frontier fortresses fell to pieces, and the border troops deserted or took to crime. The Turks continued to nibble away at the borders and 1521 captured Belgrade which to all intents and purposes was all that stood between them and Hungary itself.

In 1526 the sultan Suleiman led a large Turkish army against Hungary. Louis hastily assembled an army of some 25,000 to defend his kingdom, but at the battle of Mohács on the 29th of August 1526 it took a mere two hours of fighting for the Turks to kill Wladislaus II, both Hungarian archbishops, five bishops and 24,000 other Hungarians.

On the 12th of September 1526 Suleiman entered the Hungarian capital Buda but contented himself with looting the area before returning home with over a 100,000 captives in tow.

The last king of Hungary

In the wake of the disaster of Mohács the throne of Hungary was once again vacant, and John Zapolya, the voivode of Transylvania stepped forward and was duly crowned king, but was challenged by the archduke Ferdinand, who also claimed the Hungarian crown by virtue of his marriage to Anne, sister of the deceased Louis II, and duly had himself crowned king as well.

Once again there was civil war as the two rival kings fought over what was left of the country. Ferdinand would have overwhelmed John Zapolya had not Suleiman intervened on his behalf (The Turks preferred to see an independent Hungary rather than one under Habsburg domination.) The fighting continued therefore until 1538 when at the secret peace of Nagyvarad the two rivals agreed to partition the country; Ferdinand relinquished his claims in return for Croatia and Slavonia whilst John Zapolya got the crown and the rest of Hungary.

The end of the Hungarian monarchy

John Zapolya was to prove to be the last real king of Hungary.

When John Zapolya died on the 18th of July 1540, his infant son John Sigismund was formally chosen as his successor. Unfortunately this was in contravention of the deal made at Nagyvarad as Ferdinand was supposed to succeed. Ferdinand duly invaded Hungary in May 1541 but the Turkish sultan Suleiman was not prepared to see Hungary fall under the control of the Habsburgs so he duly invaded Hungary himself in August 1541. After six years of fighting the end result was a partition of the country between the Turkish and Habsburg empires.

John Sigismund was allowed to continue as prince of Transylvannia under overall Turkish suzerainty but there were to be no more kings of Hungary.


Hungary continued to be a battle ground between the Habsburgs and the Turks for many years to come. Eventually the Habsburgs won and Hungary became part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. There it remained until the end of World War I when Hungary re-emerged as a separate nation but this time as a republic. Although technically speaking, the monarchy was re-established in 1920, the nominal king Charles III never set foot in Hungary and this was purely a device for allowing one Miklos Horthy to operate as dictator by virtue of his being regent.

NB: I am aware that many of these names are probably anglicised versions of the Hungarian; anyone who has an opinion on how Hugarian names ought to be rendered is welcome to express an opinion.

Monarchs of Hungary

House of Árpád

1. Princes of Hungary

Stephen was crowned the first king of Hungary in 1000

2. Kings of Hungary

Civil war 1301-1308

House of Anjou and successor kings


King lists extracted from and kings_of_hungary.html

Historical infornation from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica entry for Hungary and the overview of 20th century Hungary at