Matthias Corvinus (Part I)

Matthias I (Romanian: Matia Corvin, Hungarian: Matyás Király, also known as Matthias Corvinus or Matthias the Just; February 23, 1443 – April 6, 1490), King of Hungary.


Matthias was born at Kolozsvár, Kingdom of Hungary (present-day Cluj-Napoca, Romania) in the house currently known as Matthias Corvinus House, the second son of John Hunyadi (Romanian: Iancu de Hunedoara), a successful military leader of Hungarian and Romanian descent who had risen through the ranks of the nobility to become regent of Hungary, and Erzsébet Szilágyi, from a Hungarian noble family. His tutors were the learned János Vitéz, bishop of Nagyvárad, whom he subsequently raised to the primacy, and the Polish humanist Gregory of Sanok. The precocious Matthias quickly mastered German, Italian, Romanian, Latin and principal Slavic languages, frequently acting as his father's interpreter at the reception of ambassadors. His military training proceeded under the eye of his father, whom he began to follow on his campaigns when only twelve years of age. In 1453 he was created count of Beszterce, and was knighted at the siege of Belgrade in 1456. The same care for his welfare led his father to choose him a bride in the powerful family of the Counts of Cilli. Mattias was married to Elizabeth of Celje. She was the only known daughter of Ulrich II of Celje and Catherine Cantakuzina.


After the death of Matthias's father, there was a two-year struggle between Hungary's various barons and its Habsburg King, Ladislaus Posthumus (also king of Bohemia), with treachery from all sides. Matthias's older brother László Hunyadi was one party attempting to gain control. Matthias was inveigled to Buda by the enemies of his house, and, on the pretext of being concerned in a purely imaginary conspiracy against Ladislaus, was condemned to decapitation, but was spared on account of his youth. In 1457, László Hunyadi was captured with a trick and beheaded, while the king died suddenly in November that year (rumors of poisoning were dispelled by research in 1985 which gave acute leukemia as the cause of death). Matthias was taken hostage by George of Poděbrady, governor of Bohemia, a friend of the Hunyadis who aimed to raise a national king to the Magyar throne. Poděbrady treated Matthias hospitably and affianced him with his daughter Catherine, but still detained him, for safety's sake, in Prague, even after a Magyar deputation had hastened thither to offer the youth the crown. Matthias took advantage of the memory left by his father's deed, and by the general population's dislike of foreign candidates; most the barons, furthermore, considered that the young scholar would be a weak monarch in their hands. An influential section of the magnates, headed by the palatine László Garai and by the voivode of Transylvania, Miklós Újlaki, who had been concerned in the judicial murder of Matthias's brother László, and hated the Hunyadis as semi-foreign upstarts, were fiercely opposed to Matthias's election; however, they were not strong enough to resist against Matthias's uncle Mihály Szilágyi and his 15,000 veterans.


Thus, on January 20, 1458, Matthias was elected king by the Diet. This was the first time in the medieval Hungarian kingdom that a member of the nobility, without dynastic ancestry and relationship, mounted the royal throne. Such an elections upset the usual course of dynastic succession in the age. In the Czech and Hungarian states they heralded a new judiciary era in Europe, characterized by the absolute supremacy of the Parliament (dietal system), and a tendency to centralization. At this time Matthias was still a hostage of George of Poděbrady, who released him under the condition of marrying his daughter Kunhuta (later know as Catherine). On 24 January 1458, 40,000 Hungarian noblemen, assembled on the ice of the frozen Danube, unanimously elected Matthias Hunyadi King of Hungary, and on 14 February the new king made his state entry into Buda. Matthias was 15 when he was elected King of Hungary: at this time the realm was environed by perils. The Ottomans and the Venetians threatened it from the south, the emperor Frederick III from the west, and Casimir IV of Poland from the north, both Frederick and Casimir claiming the throne. The Czech mercenaries under Giszkra held the northern counties and from thence plundered those in the centre. Meanwhile Matthias's friends had only pacified the hostile dignitaries by engaging to marry the daughter of the palatine Garai to their nominee, whereas Matthias refused to marry into the family of one of his brother's murderers, and on 9 February confirmed his previous nuptial contract with the daughter of Poděbrady, who shortly afterwards was elected king of Bohemia (March 2, 1458). Throughout 1458 the struggle between the young king and the magnates, reinforced by Matthias's own uncle and guardian Szilágyi, was acute. But Matthias, who began by deposing Garai and dismissing Szilágyi, and then proceeded to levy a tax, without the consent of the Diet, in order to hire mercenaries, easily prevailed. He recovered the Golubac Fortress from the Ottomans, successfully invading Serbia, and reasserting the suzerainty of the Hungarian crown over Bosnia. In the following year there was a fresh rebellion, when the emperor Frederick was actually crowned king by the malcontents at Vienna-Neustadt (March 4, 1459); Matthias however drove him out, and Pope Pius II intervened so as to leave Matthias free to engage in a projected crusade against the Ottomans, which subsequent political complications, however, rendered impossible. On 1 May 1461, the marriage between Matthias and Poděbrady's daughter took place.


From 1461 to 1465 the career of Matthias was a perpetual struggle punctuated by truces. Having come to an understanding with his father-in-law Poděbrady, he was able to turn his arms against the emperor Frederick. In April 1462 the latter restored the holy crown for 60,000 ducats and was allowed to retain certain Hungarian counties with the title of king; in return for which concessions, extorted from Matthias by the necessity of coping with a simultaneous rebellion of the Magyar noble in league with Poděbrady's son Victorinus, the emperor recognized Matthias as the actual sovereign of Hungary. Only now was Matthias able to turn against the Ottomans, who were again threatening the southern provinces. He began by defeating the Ottoman general Ali Pasha, and then penetrated into Bosnia, capturing the newly built fortress of Jajce after a long and obstinate defence (December 1463). On returning home he was crowned with the Holy Crown on 29 March 1464. Twenty-one days after, on 8 March, the 15-years-old Queen Catherine died in childbirth. The child, a son, was stillborn.

After driving the Czechs out of his northern counties, he turned southwards again, this time recovering all the parts of Bosnia which still remained in Ottoman hands.

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