King Matthias Corvinus and England

King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary

The ultimate goal of King Matthias (reigned 1458-1490) was to drive the Ottoman Empire out of Europe. So as to achieve this, his diplomacy reached as far as England. He wanted to cover himself from the west in order to launch his attack against the Sultan. Good relations had to be established with the Christian monarchs, especially against the Habsburgs. As it had happened before, the Habsburgs would have attacked Hungary from the west if the Hungarian army had gone for an Eastern campaign.

Europe in 1470

As for England, it was the age when the War of the Roses was raging (1455-1485). Matthias’ foreign policy can be interpreted within the context of a prime antagonism of the 1480s, the French-Habsburg hostility. Matthias was bound to search for a counter-weight against the Habsburgs, which he was full-heartedly hoping to find in King Louis XI who was King of France from 1461 to 1483. When he got disillusioned in his expectations, he searched for other partners from England to Switzerland.

King Louis XI of France

The English relationship of Matthias was coordinated with the help of Milan. We know that the Sforzas at the end of the 1480s also concluded a treaty of mutual friendship with the Tudors, and the wife of Matthias, Queen Beatrix was also a Sforza.

Queen Beatrix of Hungary

The mid-1470s Burgundian-Hungarian-Neapolitan-English alliance had already had an anti-Habsburg color, knowing that France would seek the help of Emperor Habsburg Frederick. In fact, King Edward did receive three Hungarian knights, they were recommended to him like this by the chief-knight of the Order of the Garter:

“Most dread Souveregne Lord. Please jour Grace to understand that there be come to Canterbury III worshipful Knights of the King of Hyngaris court callet Uladislaus of Bodna, Fredericus of Waredma, and Lancelagus od Tresulwan…” (Harleian manuscripts no.69/12, p.113-114, British Museum, there is a list of Hungarian knights in Canterbury in 1474.) 

Later, the House of York considered the Habsburgs as allies. The English-Hungarian relations were better when we take a look at the Tudor-Hunyadi connections. We know of the mission of some James Radclyffe, who aimed to fight the Turks in Hungary in 1477, who might have been acting as an agent of England. The English rulers considered Matthias as a powerful factor to deal with and even months before the alliance with Habsburg Maximilian, the king of England sent ambassadors to treat with Hungary on 17 April 1479.

King Edward IV of England (reigned 1461-70 and 1471-83)

The members of the embassy – John, Abbot of Abingdon, John Sherwood, archdeacon of Richmond, apostolic protonotary, the would-be bishop of Durham, a pillar of the Yorkist government, and John Gyles, decretorum doctor, a papal tax collector in England – demonstrate that the king expected a lot of this mission. Probably Matthias, under the threat of an Anglo-Habsburg alliance, did not give a favorable answer to the English envoys.

King Richard III of England (reigned 1483-85)

King Richard III resumed the pro-Habsburg policy and in 1483 re-confirmed the Habsburg alliance. In the Habsburg-Yorkist rapprochement the anti-Habsburg continental powers, in this way, Hungary also had to search for other partners, and after the fall of the Yorkists at the Battle of Bosworth (1485), they hoped to find it in the Tudors who needed to find new allies at the back of Habsburg Maximilian. 

King Henry VII of England (reigned 1485-1509)

We know of an embassy from Matthias to Henry VII Tudor in 1488, to congratulate the king on his ascension, though, unfortunately, nothing more concrete has survived of the mission. 

As the English-Hungarian relations improved, an English nobleman appeared in the Turk wars of Matthias, Robert de Champlayn. It was quite likely that Henry VII tried to make a treaty with the King of Hungary. On 26 February 1488, a letter of protection was issued for Robert Champlayn, who betook himself against the Turks, testified by a commendation from Matthias.

The charter relates that he was dangerously wounded and captured by the Turks in Hungary, and the Court was to ransom him for 1500 ducats. It means, bearing in mind that he had all his household wealth valued at 300 ducats paid for his ransom, that the King paid a large sum for a knight of his, on the grounds of which it is to conclude that the knight had been on a diplomatic mission to Hungary just before, or, parallelly with the bishop of Várad’s French embassy, during 1487. That is, Henry VII felt important to contact the potential anti-Habsburg partner, Hungary.

The Gold Forint of King Matthias Corvinus

Sadly, the sudden death of King Matthias broke his planned campaign against the Ottomans. Later, there were talks again about a great Western crusade against the Turks; Henry VIII even sent money for it but it disappeared on the way to Hungary…

English connections blocked by Venice 

Venice in the 15th century

As far as Matthias’ diplomacy with the English is concerned, we have to talk about the role of Venice. The English were involved in the process of giving out Prince Dzsem / Cem to Hungary but the Venetians tried to undermine the English-Hungarian negotiations by all means. Matthias was persistently trying to get this Turkish Prince Dzsem aka Zizim, the usurper of the Ottoman Sultan to his court in Hungary. Matthias claimed that Prince Cem was the king`s relative. Read the background story following my link below:

Prince Dzsem / Cem (1459-1495)

The Hungarian king wanted to give a great role to this prince in his future anti-Ottoman war. Unfortunately, the prince enjoyed the “hospitality” of Pope Alexander VI aka Rodrigo de Borja in 1489. At first, the Pope wanted to sell him to the Muslims, though.

Pope Alexander VI

Matthias rather angrily reacted to the news that the Pope would want to sell Prince Dzsem to the Sultan of Egypt for cash like this, according to a foreign diplomat who witnessed his outburst:

“I swear on the cross of Christ – cried Matthias – if Prince Dzsem is transported overseas, it will be I who will lead the Turk Sultan to Italy.” Let us note, that Italy had been saved already by King Matthias in 1481 when his general Magyar Balázs liberated Otranto from the Ottoman invasion. Read more about this campaign here:

Nevertheless, Matthias was raging and he wrote a letter to the Pope in which he criticized the Pope’s friendly attitude towards the Venetians like this: 
“It seems as if His Holiness wanted to declare war against the Turks, allied with Venice. Yet, the Turks are impossible to be attacked from the direction of the sea. As for the Venetian fleet, what kind of decent deeds they have so far done for the benefit of Christendom? It (i.e. the fleet) is exclusively serving the Venetians’ interests and it is being used for carrying weapons, tools, and other goods to the enemies of Christianity. The Turks are making more profit from their Venetian import than from half of their Empire’s income! Despite this, the Venetians who are more unscrupulous than the Turks themselves, are in high esteem before His Holiness.”

The Venetian ambassador was hindering establishing the Hungarians’ contacts with the English court because he wanted to block Matthias` intention to get hold of the Turkish Prince. Matthias called Prince Cem / Dzsem his second cousin, and he was very serious about seizing him and launching a grand-scale war against the Ottoman Empire.

a heavy cavalryman in Matthias’ Black Army

In a way, it seems from the Venetian report that the French government might have intended to surrender Prince Cem aka Dzsem to Matthias. The Venetian ambassador was informed “the French court gave him hopes of the custody of Zizim”, and the king of France was measuring the alternative of handing over the prince since he “had taken 26 days for his reply and had sent a messenger to learn Zizim’s (Dzsem`s) wishes [!] and“[…] had ascertained from a trustworthy person that Zizim (Prince Dzsem) was willing to go to the King of Hungary […] he said that he (Dzsem) in France he is a lost man and that the promises made to him had not been observed”. 

Guy de Blanchefort, Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller (1446-1513)

Zorzi, the Venetian diplomat also speaks of the advice of Prior “Guy de Blanchefort who had Zizim in custody” to “surrender Zizim to the King of Hungary”. Truly, the surrender of Dzsem to Matthias would have turned the whole European political constellation upside down, and the Serenissima of Venice would have been ready to do everything to prevent it. 

Agostino Barbarigo, Doge of Venice

Zorzi was then working hard to convince French diplomacy and even Prince Dzsem, through intermediaries that the King of Hungary “wanted to deliver him to the Turk for the sole purpose of agreeing with the Turk”, in which case, was putting now pressure on Charles VIII at the same time, “the King of France would break his promise and place the whole of Christendom in very manifest peril, and by such proceeding, he would ill become the most Christian King”. As we can see, the Venetian diplomacy accused Matthias of eventually trading Prince Dzsem to the Turks.

King Charles VIII of France 

Sadly, the Pope sided with the Venetians. Matthias wrote: “…and His Holiness denies the Turk prince from me, listening to their (the Venetians`) advice; nevertheless, His Holiness knows very well that only the Hungarians can fight against the Turks successfully.” (…) “Just let His Holiness go and deny the Turk prince from me, listening to the advice of others: I have fulfilled my responsibilities. If the Venetians finally get their victim and the fire of peril will be burning, I am going to show that I do not belong among the very last rulers of the Earth. Then, the entire Papal States, Italy, and the whole of Christendom will feel the consequences of having sacrificed the Turk prince. I can state with maximal certainty that the Turks have never wished to make peace more than with me; nobody would make more profit from this peace than me. From these, His Holiness may predict what would happen after ceding the Turk prince to Venice.”

We know that Prince Dzsem was murdered in France after King Matthias` death in 1495: as the Venetians could not sell him to the sultan, he had to be put aside. All in all, the confusion made by the Venetians proved to be successful enough to block Hungarian-English connections for the time being.

Source: (partly) Bárány Attila

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