She was the first Hungarian queen who was allowed to wear the so-called Holy Crown of Saint King István.
Mária was the third daughter of Queen Kotromanics Erzsébet, born probably in 1371, during the reign of King Lajos (Louis) I (reigned 1342-1382). Since our King Anjou Lajos (Louis) had only daughters, the question of succession made the ruler think very early, about who was the right bridegroom. There were a few high-ranking men from noble families like William Habsburg, and Zsigmond of Luxembourg, who could be good choices to make his countries (both Hungary and Poland) accept the succession of women.
After the death of Princess Catherine in 1378, Mary and her betrothed, Zsigmond (Sigismund) of Luxembourg, became the first claimants to the throne. The king’s eldest daughter had barely reached the age of 11 when her father (King Lajos) died, leaving the country in the hands of Queen Erzsébet and Palatine Garai Miklós. The country soon fell into turmoil as Mária’s mother and her supporters opposed the marriage to Zsigmond, saying it would serve Bohemian Czech and German interests (Zsigmond’s brother Wenzel von Luxemburg held the Czech crown).
Instead of the Duke of Luxembourg, they wanted to invite Lajos (Louis), the younger brother of King Charles VI of France (r. 1380-1422), to Hungary. On the other hand, the ‘female domination’ was not a successful idea, Mária and Erzsébet had to give up in 1383 to keep King Lajos the Great’s empire together, and the Polish throne went to the youngest princess, Hedvig. The chaos and Mária’s marriage plans led to civil war from 1384 onwards, as many expected Zsigmond to bring peace; the regent queen tried to settle the differences, but even after her failure, she supported Prince Louis of France, and the two young people were married by proxy. Zsiigmond, the outlawed bridegroom, then came to Hungary with an army from his brother and forced Lajos to retreat in November 1385.
The disputes were apparently settled, but then the Horváti family from the south of Hungary interfered, inviting Lajos the Great’s relative, Charles Durazzo of Naples, who took the Hungarian throne on the last day of 1385, under the name of Charles II (r. 1385-1386). The new king’s reign lasted only 55 days, for the nobles, led by Forgách Balázs, organized an assassination attempt against him on 7 February 1386 and imprisoned him in Visegrád, where he remained unburied for four years after his death, under a papal curse.
Despite the failure of Charles, the Horváti family did not falter, and soon László of Naples, the son of the deceased monarch, was put forward as another candidate. Mária and Erzsébet thought they would be able to personally pacify the disobedience in the south, but the Horvati attacked the queen’s entourage at Diakóvár on 25 July 1386. During the brief battle, Palatine Garai and Forgách gave their lives in defense of the queens, who were taken by the rebels to the castle of Novigrád on the Adriatic coast. There Erzsébet was strangled in January 1387, but the rebels lost the sympathy of the country for good.
In the meantime, Zsigmond returned to Hungary and, in March 1387, he took the crown as Mária’s husband and freed his wife in June, thus ending the civil war. With the consolidation of the order, Mária and Zsigmond officially became co-regents, with Kanizsai János, Archbishop of Esztergom, acting as chancellor on his own. Although the law was in favor of the queen, the custom was so unfamiliar with the rule of women that Mária only wore the Holy Crown by sonship, i.e. by the title of “rex”.
In practice, the reign soon passed into the hands of Zsigmond of Luxembourg (r. 1387-1437), and his wife retired from politics to court life. The death of the young queen, who was about to give birth in May 1395, was finally caused by a reckless and unfortunate outing: on 17 May, Mária was riding alone out of Buda and fell from her horse in the hills. The Queen suffered a miscarriage as a result of her injury, and the loss of blood caused her and her child to die.
Maria of Anjou, the first Hungarian queen who could wear the Holy Crown, was buried in Várad, and her throne was inherited by Zsigmond of Luxembourg, who later married Cillei Borbála. Unlike Hedvig, who was later canonized in Poland, Mária did not become a monarch of great stature, and the chronicles and legends about her life focus on her imprisonment in Novigrád. Popular memory also associates her with Diósgyőr, one of Mária’s favorite places of residence during her short reign.
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