Was King Matthias related to Sultan Mohamed II?

Prince Djem 1459-1495 (painting by Pinturicchio)

The mysterious Prince Djem

According to Bajcsy-Zsilinszky Endre’s book about King Matthias Corvinus, the Ottoman sultan, and King Matthias were blood relatives. He is citing the king`s letter to the Pope:
„Your Holiness knows well with what a heated desire I wish to get hold of Prince Djem, the younger brother of the Turk Sultan. It is also the wish of the prince and many great leaders in Turkey would like it, too. He is my blood-relative: because the sister of my grandmother was captured by the Turks and she became the wife of the Turk Sultan, and the present Sultan and Prince Dsem are deriving from her.”

Sultan Mohamed II

The king goes on:

“The followers of the latter had assured me that I could force the current Sultan back into the Caucasus Mountains easily if I joined hands with them. I was also feeding the hope in myself that I would be able to convert the Turks to Christianity or at least I could make a better riverbed for the issues. Despite all this, your Holiness is not supporting me in my intentions and would not listen to my pleadings. Moreover, he acts as if he is envying my authority and glory. It was not enough to Your Holiness that you listened to the instigations of my enemies and you told the French king not to give out the Turk prince to me.

You have also made my servant, the Bishop of Várad betray me. He was sent to France by me but he was talking to the French king in favor of Your Holiness that the king should give the prince out to Rome. (…) The poor Turk prince might be given to the Venetians in exchange for a couple of hundred thousand pieces of gold. And Lord Legate, you should not think that the Venetians want to use him for the mutual benefit of the Christians. On the contrary. They want to cede him to his brother to regain some of the things that they had lost by behaving like dawdling women, and then, they would like to surprise me and the King of Naples with certain most inconvenient things.”

King Matthias Corvinus

Also, Matthias wrote to the Sultan in 1480 “There is one blood flowing in our veins”. To Prince Djem, he wrote in April 1483 where he called him “our brother and relative”.

Professor Kálnoky says that Mehmed (Mohamed) II confirmed this relationship because Matthias inherited a ceremonial saber from him, and the Sultan addressed him as “my kind younger brother” then. Later, Matthias showed this saber in person to the envoy of the Prince of Ferrara. Sultan Bajazid II called him in 1488 “my brother and relative”.

The Sultan and Matthias mutually addressed each other as “relatives” in their correspondence so the Turks must have known it better. We know how seriously Matthias was engaged in political games with Venice to get Prince Djem, and the story has not been finished here. King Matthias thought this political thread very important.

The hope for the liberation of Europe – sold for gold

a Venetian gold Ducat, 15th century

“I swear on the cross of Christ – cried Matthias – if Prince Djem is transported overseas, it will be I who will lead the Turk Sultan to Italy.” (The reason for this outrageous exclamation of the king was the news he received from Rome, namely that the Pope would want to sell Prince Djem to the Sultan of Egypt for cash.) I have already cited a letter from King Matthias, now here are some more parts from his correspondence with the Pope (according to Bajcsy-Zsilinszky Endre’s source). It must be remarked, though, that the succeeding Popes had always been the closest allies of Matthias against his Bohemian and German enemies. The own words of the king can speak better about the situation than all the historians ever after.

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. Although they have taken many foreign towns and plenty of properties of the Church; they belittle and despise the penalties and bans of the Church and they are still boasting about it.”

Prince Dsem in Rhodos

“And His Holiness denies the Turk prince from me, listening to their advice; nevertheless, His Holiness knows very well that only the Hungarians are able to fight against the Turks successfully. In a word, the Venetians now are the advisers and allies of the Papal State; they rule on behalf of His Holiness. On the other hand, His Holiness joins others and scorns me, not knowing me well, and when we are approaching His Holiness, he pushes us away. Moreover, he makes it one step further. As the Venetians accuse me that I would instigate the people of Ancona to break up with the Papal State, His Holiness, not even waiting to hear out my envoys, bans the town of Ancona with a Papal ex-communication and harassed them with sacking and raiding campaigns, just because of listening to the Venetians.”


“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.”

Pope Innocent VIII

Bajcsy remarks that the legate of the Pope noted that the king was pouring out these from himself angrily “It seemed as if a flood of flames broke out from his mouth, noses, and eyes”.

The legate, Pecchinolli tried to calm the raging monarch down by promising him: “…if it was desirable to hand (the Turk prince) over to somebody, it would be only Your Majesty, for the advantageous situation of Hungary and the leadership of the military actions would make Your Majesty the most capable person due to your military abilities and victories.”

the gold Forint of Matthias

Later, Matthias seemed to have given up and accepted the Pope’s decision but some historians think he was secretly planning to kidnap the prince. He was more stubborn to give up so easily.
Yet, Prince Djem was never handed over to Matthias; he was poisoned in 1495 in France, and five years later the death of the king was similarly poisoned in Vienna. (Some Hungarian historians say King Matthias was not poisoned but I agree with those who say it otherwise. However, it is interesting, that the Turk envoy suggested King Matthias leave Vienna, claiming that he was being poisoned.)

We have not gone into the details of Prince Djem’s life here but this story might be a fine example of how King Matthias’ anti-Ottoman strategy was being undermined by the West.

We would never know what would have happened if Matthias had been joined by his Turk second-cousin because Matthias died at the very top of his power, a single step before launching his mighty war against the Turks he had always been getting prepared for.

King Matthias Corvinus

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