King Géza II in the Chronicon Pictum

Géza was only 11 when his father died, but thanks to the determination of Queen Mother Ilona and the support of his uncle Belus, the young prince’s succession was not in jeopardy. In the early years of the minor’s reign, they ruled the country as regents, and Belus remained one of the most influential figures in Hungarian domestic politics in his positions as Bán (duke) and Palatine until 1156.

The Holy Crown of Hungary

The most serious problem for Géza was the illegitimate son of Kálmán the Bookish (r. 1095-1116), Boris, who had been fighting for the throne for decades and had won the support of the German ruler, Konrad III (r. 1138-1152), by offering his vassalage.

In 1146, Boris temporarily took control of Pozsony (Presporok, Pressburg, Bratislava) with German help, but Géza bought it back and the following year defeated the armies of his rival, the Austrian margrave Henry Jasomirgott, at the Battle of Lajta.

The Crusader Army of Emperor Conrad III marches through Hungary (Chronicon Pictum)

Conrad did not intervene in the war because of the start of the Second Crusade, but the threat to Hungary from the West remained for many years.

In the 1140s, to avoid isolation, Géza sought allies in the Russian principalities: first, he supported his father’s old confidant, Prince Vladimir Halich, and then he helped his brother-in-law, Grand Duke Isislav of Kiev, in the constant wars of the Russian states, precisely against Halich. On behalf of the King of Hungary, Bán Belus led alternately successful campaigns in the north, which only achieved results in 1152: Géza succeeded in forcing Vladimirko to cooperate, thus extending the Árpáds’ influence over Halich for another decade.

The Seal of Géza II

The politics of power in Europe in the mid-12th century were shaped by the rivalry between two systems of alliances, led on the one hand by the two empires of Byzantium and the Holy Roman Empire, and on the other by France and the Normans of Italy.

On the throne of the Eastern Empire sat a very energetic emperor, Comnenus Manuel (r. 1143-1180), who, in alliance with Conrad III, sought to conquer Naples on the one hand and reconquer the Balkans on the other. Géza defended the Serbian Grand Duke Uros II – his maternal uncle – against Byzantium and thus became involved in a war with the Eastern Empire.

Emperor Manuel I

The conflict was mainly fought in the Szerémség (Sirmium) region of Hungary and along the Lower Danube, and the Hungarian monarch supported Andronicus’ failed coup attempt in 1154.

After brief skirmishes, Manuel and Géza each returned to the status quo, helped by the fact that the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa (r. 1152-1190), who succeeded Conrad on the throne, did not intervene on the side of his ally, as he had no interest in further strengthening Byzantium.

Emperor Barbarossa and his sons

Géza was fortunate in that his country was not threatened by two empires, although both Frederick and Manuel wanted to make Hungary a vassal. Although in the late 1150s Géza’s two brothers, István and László – the future rival kings László II and István IV – asked both emperors for help in gaining the Hungarian throne, the king did not have to fear any conflicts during his reign.

At home, the young monarch – and initially Bán Belus, who ruled in his stead – pursued a centralizing policy, and Otto Freisingi, who wrote a biography of Emperor Frederick, wrote with admiration of Géza’s unlimited power. It was during the king’s reign – in 1142 – that the Cistercian order, which reformed Christian religious life, settled in Hungary and founded its first monastery in Cikádor, now Bátaszék. During his reign, however, Géza had many conflicts with the popes.

The Cistercian abbey at Bátaszék (Photo: Csanády)

He refused to allow legates to enter the country and overlooked the secular life of his high priests, despite the celibacy introduced by Gregory VII. When Géza became an ally of the papacy as a result of the power politics of Emperor Barbarossa Frederick against the strong-minded Alexander III, who had opposed him both in the conquest of Italy and his ecclesiastical measures, he was more easily reconciled and in the summer of 1161, he renounced the right of investiture, among many other concessions.

He strengthened his country’s influence in Europe through his extensive foreign policy, successful campaigns and significant church activities. During his reign, the Kingdom of Hungary came into intensive contact with Egypt and Hvarezm.

King Géza and King Louis of France

The greatest tragedy of Géza’s reign – apart from the struggle for the throne – was his short life, like that of the other Árpád kings, which ended on 31 May 1161 at the age of 31. His premature death ended Hungary’s peaceful development, and the accession of his son, the almost-child István III, promised further struggles for the throne and a turbulent future.

King Géza II (early modern picture)

Source: Rubicon, Tarján M. Tamás, Wikipedia

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