The birthday of King Nagy Lajos (Louis I the Great) was on 6 March 1326. Let me take the opportunity to tell just a few words about King Lajos I and his foreign politics.
The Ottoman-Hungarian wars began during the reign of our King Lajos I, an Anjou king who was also King of Poland. History claims him the first European ruler who fought the Ottomans and beat them in a bigger battle. Also, we can count with Turkish raids in southern Hungary from this period on.
Let us take a bit closer look at this valiant and real „chivalric king”.
King Lajos who earned the epithet “the Great”, had reigned for four decades (1342-1382) and it was the age when the Kingdom of Hungary reached one of the summits of its medieval might and splendor.
Looking at the pages of the Képes Krónika (Illuminated Chronicle, 1360) one might readily believe the legend that „there were three seas washing the borders of Hungary during his reign”. (This is only true if we count the Mediterranean and the Adriatic Sea as separate ones; the third was the Black Sea.)
Having inherited a powerful and rich country, he could afford to spend his immense income, coming from the silver and gold mines of the Carpathian mountains, on conquering wars.
As for the neighbors were concerned, at first, he had to stabilize his rule by invading Wallachia and Moldavia in 1344, thus establishing a system of vassalage.
King Lajos was also the king of Poland (1370-1382) but it was a personal union between the two kingdoms, he didn’t pay more than three trips to Poland. The Polish lords rebelled against the foreign rule but he was able to pacify them in 1374 by giving them a wide range of privileges which were the basis for the special legal situation of the Polish nobles in the times to come…
The Hungarian king managed to strengthen the royal power in his country, he had no enemy inside his kingdom. No usurpers, no mighty oligarchs. The king had the greatest domains and income, unlike in less fortunate western kingdoms of the age.
The disastrous epidemics of the Black Death in 1348 left the country quite intact, causing much less harm than in West Europe, partly because the kingdom was not so densely populated and the people didn’t suffer from the sister of the plague, the famine, as there was an abundant amount of food.
After the king had finished his campaigns against Naples in Italy by 1352, he could increase his power at home and restrict the rights of the Hungarian noblemen one step further. On one hand, as it was declared on the Diet of 1351, all noblemen were regarded as equal to each other, regardless of their wealth while on the other hand, all the heirless lands were inherited by the crown.
So far, one-tenth of the peasants’ income had to go to the Church as a rule but from now on, the landlords received one-ninth of the products. There was peace and order, the country was prospering and no outer enemy had trodden the land since the second Mongolian invasion of 1285 which was promptly defended anyway. Nevertheless, our chivalric king spent almost all his life in wars.
King Lajos had to take care of the Serbian state which he considered to have grown just too strong. His 80,000-strong army defeated the Serbian Czar Dušan’s armies in the duchies of Mačva and the principality of Travunia in 1349.
When Czar Dušan broke into Bosnian territory he was defeated by Bosnian Stjepan II with the assistance of Lajos’ troops, and when Dušan made a second attempt he was decisively beaten by Lajos in 1354. In the meantime, King Lajos annexed Moldavia in 1352 and established a vassal principality there.
Soon, the Hungarian and the Serbian monarchs signed a peace agreement in 1355. It was three years after the Turks had set foot in Europe and a year after that Gallipoli Castle had fallen to them in 1354. A decade later, the capital of the Ottoman Empire became Edirne (Drinápoly), in Europe. It was not so visible from Hungary that this age was also the glorious century of the Ottoman Empire that began to extend over the eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans.
We call the Turks Ottomans or Osmanli after Sultan Osman I who died in 1326. A fierce and very effective enemy cast his eyes on the ripe cities of the west but the remnants of the Byzantine Empire were still in-between.
King Lajos’ latter campaigns in the Balkans were aimed at drawing the Serbs, Bosnians, Wallachians, and Bulgarians into the fold of the Roman Catholic Church.
It was relatively easy to subdue the Balkan Orthodox countries by arms but to convert them was a different matter. Despite Lajos’ efforts, the people of the Balkans remained faithful to the Eastern Orthodox Church and their attitude toward Hungary remained ambiguous if not hostile.
Thus, the rulers of Serbia, Walachia, Moldavia, and Bulgaria became his vassals. Not his friends, though. They regarded powerful Hungary as a potential menace to their national identity. For this reason, Hungary could never regard the Serbs and Wallachians as reliable allies in subsequent wars against the Turks.
Sadly, the Hungarian politics of this age can be made partly responsible for the weakening of the Balkanian people against the Ottoman invaders. Many smaller Balkanian nations had to seek the help of the Turks against the expansion of the Hungarian Kingdom which tried to use them as buffer states.
At the same time, we will see that the conquering Ottoman Empire was indeed bringing a sort of peace into the lands of chaos-torn Balkanian states, not to mention lower taxes to the simple people. The first clash between the Turks and the Hungarians took place in 1366 during King Lajos’s Bulgarian campaign.
Here is a cloak clasp from the Hungarian Chapel of Aachen that was built in 1367. You can see the COA of King Lajos (Louis) I of Hungary on the clasp. The original was made between 1367 and 1381, after the construction of the chapel, it is a replica made in 1884 in Budapest. It is on display in the Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest. Height: 15.5 cm
Regarding the COA, let me copy here a comment that explains it very well:
“Why the horseshoe? Because it identifies the bird as an Ostrich. Medieval illustrations show the bird thus because it was believed to eat iron. Actually it would pick up any stones and hard objects suitable as grinders in its gizzard, and the horseshoe was shorthand for this habit. First time I have met an Ostrich in heraldry.” (by Anthea Fleming)
We have an excellent series about his life and reign, with English subtitles: