The rise of Hunyadi János to power, 1440-41

Hunyadi’s coat of arms

We saw that around the death of King Habsburg Albert – a beloved Habsburg king whose capital was Buda and not Vienna – Hunyadi was given the high rank of Bán (Duke) of Szörény.

He was the most experienced soldier at hand, a man who contracted mercenaries and did not rely entirely on the troops of local noblemen. And the Region of Szörény was in the south, literally in the throat of the enemy.

The kingdom was in anarchy. The widow of King Albert, Queen Elisabeth of Luxembourg tried to uphold the power of her baby, László, who was born after his father, King Albert’s death. The Queen had the Hungarian Sacred Crown stolen from Visegrád castle so as to legitimize the coronation of her son. She knew that the Hungarians would accept nobody who was not crowned with the Sacred Crown of Saint Stephan (István). 

The baby was crowned on 15 May 1440. In her desperate efforts, the Queen called in the Czech Hussites to support her case and the Upper Lands of the kingdom were burning. It took decades to fight the destructive Hussites from there who were terrorizing the northern part of the country. Jan Giskra’s 10,000 seasoned Hussites cut off the road between Hungary and Poland, unfortunately.

On the other hand, the Polish king, Jagellonian Ulászló was the other candidate who was crowned on 17 July 1440, supported by 45 oligarchs of the kingdom.

The Polish king was a grown man, at least he was 15 and spoke Hungarian fluently. He promised to give help against the Ottomans, offering his Polish resources. No wonder that Hunyadi was siding with him.

King Ulászló’s symbolic tomb in Wawel, Poland

As for the Ottomans, they recognized the opportunity and attacked Nándorfehérvár (Belgrade) during the summer. But they were unable to take the gate of the kingdom just yet.

The Queen was supported by the lords whose domains were in the western part of the country and they could count on the aid of the Serbian Despot, too. The Queen received help from Frederick, the Holy Roman Emperor of Germany, and Prince Albert of Austria who gave her the money to pay the Hussites. The Trans-Danubian Region was raided by the Queen’s troops and the Transylvanians were being instigated against the Polish king. King Ulászló was losing battles quickly. He had to summon Hunyadi from the Borderland. Luckily, the troops of Baron Újlaki who held the southern lands of Hungary were loyal. Lord Újlaki brought 5,000 soldiers to Hunyadi’s camp.

The final battle took place in January 1440 at Bátaszék. Hunyadí was able to deploy his disciplined men sooner than the usurpers’ army could react.

The Queen’s general, Lord Garai led his knights headlong against Hunyadi, without any plans. Hunyadi could mobilize his reserve forces and beat the enemy group by group.

The enemy fled and the king appointed Újlaki and Hunyadi (jointly) as Voivode of Transylvania and Comes of Temes County. Soon, Hunyadi was appointed as Chief Captain of Nándorfehérvár (Belgrade) and its area. It had been unheard of to rise so fast and gain three important ranks at the same time. When Hunyadi appeared in Transylvania in the spring of 1441, he had to force the Queen’s men out of their power, though.

Although the followers of the Queen were severely beaten by Hunyadi, the civil war went on until December 1442 when a Truce was made. Yet, the inner conflict remained until the end of King Ulászló’s reign who died in the Battle of Várna in 1444. 

As a Voivode of Transylvania, Hunyadi’s power has been greatly increased: he also ordered the County of Middle-Szolnok as its Comes. This county was next to Transylvania. The Voivode had great power, compared to the king’s: the Voivode automatically became the Comes of the Székely Border guards and the lord of the Saxon towns, on behalf of the king.

Hunyadi began to build his power out very quickly and skillfully; he may have guessed that the Ottomans were not waiting idly.

Next time, Hunyadi could try his new power against the attack of Bey Iszhák during the summer of 1441 at Nándorfehérvár / Belgrade…

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