Not too many armies were able to take Vienna before Bonaparte Napoleon but King Matthias Corvinus was one of them. We, Hungarians all learned in our National Anthem, that:
“Proud Vienna suffered sore
From King Mátyás’ dark array.”
It was only a matter of time before King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary, who harbored ambitions of regional power in Central Europe, and Emperor Frederick III, who also claimed the Hungarian throne, would come to blows. Although the two monarchs concluded a treaty in 1463 in Vienna, their differences remained and were exacerbated by, among other things, Matthias’ campaigns in Bohemia.
The war first erupted in 1477 on the pretext that Frederick had given refuge to Beckensloer János, Archbishop of Esztergom, who had been ignored by the king and then allied against him and had fled the country with his treasury. The Hungarian armies had already surrounded Vienna, but with the Pope’s intervention the two monarchs made peace again, and the Emperor agreed to pay the war debt – although only part of it was later reimbursed. You can read more about the reign of King Matthias on my page, there are several articles under this menu point:
The weapons did not rest for long, Matthias declared war again in 1482, and the formidable Black Army took the smaller Austrian castles one after the other, only to lay siege to Vienna again on 29 January 1485. Instead of an open assault, Matthias relied on starving Vienna, with a population of about 50,000. With no news of a relief army and food running low, some of the citizens of Vienna tried to open the gates to the conquerors as early as April, but it was not until 1 June 1485, when the defenders’ commander, Hans von Wulfersdorfer, realized that further resistance was futile. Let us take a look into the events, based on the research of Bánlaky József. Please, note that I use the Oriental name order for Hungarians where family names come first.
The Siege of Vienna
On 29 January, the king set up his headquarters in Währing, in the immediate vicinity of Vienna, and from there he took further measures to establish an even tighter encirclement and to send in more troops. After these had arrived, he formed three groups to completely surround the capital. The western group was commanded by the king himself, the southern group by Szapolyai István, but the commander of the eastern group is unknown.
As soon as the installation of the artillery in the new line was completed, at 12 noon on 29 January 1485, they began to bombard the city, but for the time being it had little effect. On 31 January Gumpendorf was taken by the Hungarians, but then nothing worth mentioning happened until 15 March, when the besiegers took possession of Tabor-bridge, for the defense of which fortifications were immediately erected.
Soon afterward, Ujlaki Lőrinc brought new reinforcements from the southern parts of Hungary, and the siege army was reorganized. Geréb Péter’s group surrounded Vienna from the north, Szapolyai István’s from the south and Ujlaki’s from the south-east. The king himself set himself the goal of taking Ebersdolf with part of the army.
During this battle, an enemy cannonball struck the little hut where Matthias and his entourage used to dine and the king almost fell victim to it. When Ebersdolf surrendered on 18 March, it turned out, at least those in favor of the queen claimed, that it was Joroslaw Csernahora (Schwarzenberg), the king’s Czech confidant, who had treacherously marked the hut where the cannon fire was to be directed. He placed a mark on the outside of the wall so that the king would be hit at lunch. The traitor, who was also suspected of smuggling foodstuffs into Vienna, was later beheaded by Matthias, although he repeatedly maintained his innocence.
Meanwhile, the siege of Vienna was not progressing as the king would have wished, and its defenders, in order to obtain at least occasional air and some food, frequently made raids that caused heavy losses among the besiegers. However, the king had fully achieved his aim, for he had seen with his own eyes and heard with his own ears how high the level of inequality had risen in the imperial city, which was accustomed to a good life. Many people were now only able to eat horsemeat, cats, mice, and other unclean animals; the price of a measure of flour was 107 Forints, or 14 pounds of silver money – an unheard-of price in those days -, of oats 11 pounds of silver money, of horsemeat 6 pounds, of veal 40 pounds, an egg cost 5 pounds.
Nevertheless, the people and defenders of Vienna held firm, giving credence to the Emperor’s pretense that his son Prince Michael was on his way with Burgundian and German armies to relieve the city, although he was being thoroughly tied up and employed by the troops of Gent, aided by King Charles VIII of France.
On 15 May, Maundy Thursday, Matthias ordered a general attack on the city, and on that occasion, the city of Leopold fell into the hands of the besiegers, who immediately set it on fire; But the attack had only a moral effect, especially on the miserable people, who began to demand loudly that the city be abandoned, but the troop commanders, Tiburtius Linzendorf, Gaspar Lamberg, Bertalan Stahremberg, Andrew Gall, Ladislav Prager, and Alexander Schiffer, were most strongly opposed, and the deputy emperor, John Koller, decided to persevere.
The people, tormented by hunger and desperation, urged even more loudly for negotiations, and the faculty of the Viennese school offered to act as mediators for the king, who was fond of science and a supporter of scientists, and Koller finally agreed. As a result of the repeated ambassadorships, the parties agreed on Pentecost Saturday, 21 May, that if the city did not receive help by 1 June, it would surrender, with all its patents intact, but the garrison would be free to leave the city with all its horses, armor, baggage and military equipment, unharmed.
As the expected help did not arrive, the city did open its gates on 1 June, and Matthias, at the head of 8,000 soldiers, made his entry that day, and the queen on 5 June, with great pomp and splendor. However, when the city opened its gates, 32 wagons of food arrived first, and the soldiers came only after them. Inside Vienna, the king received the welcome news that the noble estates at the Diet of Vác had again voted for him the extraordinary tax of one gold Forint per gate (household). Then, King Matthias immediately ordered the siege of Bécsújhely (Wiener Neustadt).
On the news of the surrender of Vienna, Emperor Frederick moved from Linz to Innsbruck, and in the meantime warned all the cities and noble estates not to comply with Matthias’ orders and pay him taxes; but his feeble efforts were of little avail.
From Vienna, Matthias dispersed his troops in several directions with the aim of conquering Austria completely and bringing most of the unconquered cities and parts under his power. In Upper Austria, supported by Ulrik Gravenecker, William Tettauer marched; Székely Jakab and Geréb Mátyás, the Croatian Bán (duke), advanced as far as Trieste, Duino, and Fiume, then under Austrian rule; on 29 July Tulln surrendered, and Szapolyai István marched towards Wiener Neustadt, which put up a strong resistance.
Matthias relocated his headquarters to Vienna
The King of Hungary saw the city not as a prize of war to be plundered, but as a possibility of permanent rule over the Austrian hereditary provinces, and in the long term even as a stepping stone on the road to the Imperial throne, so Vienna did not suffer too much because of the change of power. Soldiers were forbidden to loot, and the king had sent lots of food to the starving city ahead of the army. At the end of the king’s solemn entry, Matthias was received by influential ecclesiastical and secular leaders of Vienna and took the title of Prince of Austria.
In order to preserve the goodwill of the citizens, the new king seated only one of his chief captains on the town council retained the town’s old liberties, and granted it tax exemption for several years – although he took away the right to stop the trade that was flowing through the city. He did so for the benefit of Hungarian merchants.
Although Matthias retained the former status of Buda, he settled his court in Vienna, where he died unexpectedly early, on 6 April 1490. Frederick outlived his opponent by three years, but Vienna, weakened by the Hungarian throne disputes and the weakening of the Black Army, was retaken by his son, Nicholas, who invaded Hungary but failed to gain the Hungarian throne. Not many remains can be found of the short Hungarian rule in the Austrian capital, although some say that the roof of St Stephen’s Cathedral was covered with glazed tiles from a Buda workshop. Although this was later replaced and renovated several times, it retains the character of the image that even Matthias once saw.
You can read more about the suspicious circumstances of King Matthias’ death on my page: