King Szapolyai János of Hungary
Having talked of Sultan Suleiman, it is time to talk of King Szapolyai, too.
János Szapolyai (aka Zápolya) used to be a very dividing person in his time and he is the same in our days. Some historians regard him as the traitor of Christendom and Hungary while others see him as the savior and victim, the last Hungarian elected national king, the one who lay the foundations of the Principality of Transylvania. As always, the truth is more complex than that.
It is for sure that his younger brother, György Szapolyai died a heroic death at Mohács; or not…? According to other sources, he had killed King Louis right after the battle of Mohács, then he was slain by the men of Tomori, the King`s general who also died in the same fight.
Let me share with you the post of Gábor Szibler, interwoven with my little additions for which I beg for his forgiveness.
Let us see an overall summary of King Szapolyai, the details of his reign will be told in more details in the following posts.
His father was Palatine István Szapolyai (my remark: he came from the Croatian Zapolje family, made his military career under King Matthias but the Palatine may have had a hand in murdering King Matthias I in 1490) and his mother was Princess Hedvig of Teschen.
(My remark: So János, born in 1487, had „royal blood” in his veins and indeed, he had received an education befitting to a king. Thirty-nine years later, János Szapolyai was supposed to reach the battlefield of Mohács with his 15,000-24,000 men but he never got there. Gossip said he didn’t really want to arrive there; another gossip said he received a forged or a contradictious order, created by the Habsburgs or by the Fuggers, from King Louis to stop and not interfere in the battle. Some of his enemies said, that Szapolyai was cold-bloodedly waiting for the death of King Louis II to seize the crown.)
There was a law made by the Hungarian Estates in 1505 on the field of Rákos that said no foreign kings can any more be elected as kings in Hungary, only native ones could rule. This law was made to contradict the Jagellonian rulers’ law that would have let the crown go to the Habsburgs. According to the Law of Rákos, it was Szapolyai who had the highest chance to be elected as a king. Also, he was the greatest baron, he became the Voivode of Transylvania from 1511 and ruled there like a king. (He had taken part in many successful battles against the Ottomans before 1526.)
It was Szapolyai and lord Báthori, his greatest adversary in the future who together defeated the rebelling peasants of György Dózsa in 1514 at Temesvár, (punishing their leaders very cruelly.)
When the Turkish troops left the country after the battle of Mohács, he was elected to be king of Hungary on 11 November 1526, crowned at Székesfehérvár.
(My remark: Szapolyai made an attempt to propose a marriage to Maria von Habsburg but he was refused. Right after the battle, the widowed Queen fled to the castle of Pozsony / Bratislava, Pressburg / and thought her brother, Habsburg Ferdinand should be the king of Hungary, according to the Jagiellonian contract. Ferdinand was not there and didn’t have the Holy Crown with him, either: it is clear that János Szapolyai had been elected before him and was crowned properly with the Holy Crown. The nicety of the thing is, that Archduke Ferdinand, recently crowned King of Czechia, was crowned to King of Hungary not much later by the same priest, István Podmanitzky, the Bishop of Nyitra. Nevertheless, it made Ferdinand a usurper who took advantage of the situation and made a coup d’état. Although I understand his dynastic reasons it was a serious attack against Hungary in the time of Turkish peril and turned Hungary into the battlefield of the Germans and the Turks for 150 years.)
King János had to engage in war against Ferdinand (who intruded the country with those mercenaries of his elder brother Emperor Charles V who had sacked Rome previously in 1527). These troops made Hungary waste and forced King János out of the country in 1527. He fled to Poland (and after unsuccessfully pleading for help to all European rulers) he had to turn to the Ottoman Empire for help.
Sultan Suleiman led his army to Hungary in 1529 and took the castle of Buda back from the Habsburgs. Then, the Sultan gifted the country back to King János. Suleiman chose the native Hungarian king to support, hoping that he might become his liege lord (as he could not take Eastern Hungary by force just yet.)
King János Szapolyai restored the Hungarian laws and was ruling according to the old habits, keeping the country in strong hands. (He never gave troops to the Sultan to support their campaigns against King Ferdinand, though.)
He was forced to accept Suleiman’s man, Ludovico Gritti, an adventurer from Venice, as his “governor” in 1530. When Gritti was not loved anymore by the Sultan, the Hungarian nobles killed him in 1534.
Ferdinand and János realized that their war is only good for the Turks so they made a secret truce in 1538 in Várad. (Ferdinand hurried to inform the Sultan about it, though, thus discrediting Szapolyai before the Ottomans.) The treaty said that in case Szapolyai died without a male child, his country would go to Habsburg Ferdinand.
Next year Szapolyai got married (at the age of 50) and wed the daughter of the Polish king, Isabella. He had a boy from her in June 1540 but the king couldn’t see his son anymore. He was in Transylvania to put down the rebelling lords (István Majláth, Ferenc Balassa, and Ferenc Kendy) and after it, he got a stroke. (Some say he was poisoned by his doctor.) Before his death, he entrusted his friend, Brother György, the Jesuit monk, that he should make the Hungarian lords accept his son, János Zsigmond as a king.
The king was buried in Székesfehérvár. In the picture below you can see the portrait of the king as it is displayed in the Nádasdy Mausoleum.