Who was Oláh Miklós? (1493-1568)
Oláh Miklós (Nicolaus Olahus) was born in Nagyszeben /Sibiu/ on 10 January 1493 and died in Pozsony /Bratislava/Pressburg/ on 15 January 1568. He used to be one of the most determining persons in Hungary in the 16th century. His mother was Hungarian while his father was Romanian (Wallachian). His mother, Huszár Borbála, came from a burgher family in Szeben and was related to the Bogáths and the Gerends, who were also kin to the Hunyadi family.
Oláh Miklós was the son of Oláh István. Oláh István was the son of Hunyadi Mária, who was the sister of Hunyadi János, the governor of Hungary. At the same time, his father was related to the Voivode of Wallachia and was the King’s magistrate of Szászváros, one of the leading officials of the Transylvanian salt mines, the Salt Chamber, and his brother Máté was also the King’s magistrate of Szászváros (Orăștie, Broos).
His name, Oláh, is an indication of his ethnic origin (the word Oláh is derived from the word “vláh”, meaning “Romanian” (Wallachian). Between 1505 and 1512 he was educated at the Chapter School of Nagyvárad (Oradea). Oláh received his education in the Jagiellonian court in Buda, in the court of King Ulászló II (Vladislav II Jagellonský).
After the Battle of Mohács in 1526, he fled to the Netherlands (1532-1539) where he was learning and made contacts with the leading Latinist intellectuals like Erasmus of Rotterdam. (Their exchange of letters is an important historical source concerning the history of the Dutch Latinists.) At that time, from about 1535 to 1537, he was private secretary to Queen Maria Habsburg of Hungary, who later became regent of the Low Countries.
It was the time when he wrote a detailed description of Hungary (1536), the first of its kind. He was good at recognizing talented young writers whose studies he supported. He supported, among others, Forgách Ferenc, Istvánffy Miklós and Zsámboki János. Oláh also played an important role as a politician. The first letter of ennoblement of Oláh Miklós, dated 23 November 1548, issued in Pozsony/Prešporok, now Bratislava/Pressburg/, by the King of Bohemia and Hungary (future Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, since 1556) Ferdinand I. The diploma was written by Várdai Pál, Bishop of Esztergom, and signed by the Emperor, who praised the Transylvanian humanist for his “excellent knowledge of all the fine arts, for his understanding of the Greek and Latin languages, for his talent in writing, for his poetic talent”.
Oláh was the head of the Chancellor’s Office between 1543 and 1568 and was appointed Governor of Hungary from 1562 to 1568. Between 1549 and 1553, he was Archbishop of Eger, and financially supported the fortification of Eger Castle thus he could contribute to the successful defense of Dobó István’s castle in 1552, although he was not personally present during the siege. He was also the Chief Comes of Hont County after 1560.
His work was important because he helped to organize the smooth coordination between the Hungarian Estates and the monarch. This coordination enabled the Hungarian Estates to make good use of their resources and to make the best military effort to prevent the Ottoman Empire from conquering Hungary. Oláh was Archbishop of Esztergom between 1553 and 1568 and was able to bring about changes and reforms by visiting churches, organizing synods, reforming monasteries, and settling Jesuits in Hungary, not to mention establishing clerical seminaries that are still active in the 21st century. Among the publications initiated by Oláh were the Breviarium Ecclesiæ Strigoniensis (1558) and the Ordo et Ritus Ecclesiæ Strigoniensis (1560). He also revived the custom of ringing the Angelus.
Why can he be important to us today?
Oláh Miklós was both a Transylvanian and a European, but first and foremost he was a Hungarian, a “Hungarus” with Romanian origin. He had witnessed Mohács and the catastrophe of the partition of Hungary. Having fled abroad, he wrote his most important works and became a member of Europe’s Latinist elite. But although he lived in Brussels, he never forgot his roots and it was there that he wrote his most important books, Attila and Hungaria. He soon returned home to serve his country not only with his writings but in other ways as well. His works contain rich descriptions of Hungarian history – mainly based on Thuróczy’s Chronicle – geography and economy, especially of Transylvania. His works were translated into several languages as early as the 16th century.
Even in the darkest of times, Oláh Miklós trusted in the survival and rebuilding of Hungary, believing in the power of knowledge. And he worked hard to achieve this goal. He is an excellent example of how to survive the chaos with an unbroken spine, and how to work in the midst of confusion when all the values that were thought to be eternal seem to be gradually fading away.
Source: ELTE BTK Kora Újkkori Történeti Tanszék, and Hungarian Wikipedia
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