|Stephen Sisa : The Spirit of Hungary|
Defender of Christendom
His name may not be widely known, but his memory has been honored since 1456 - albeit unknowingly - in Catholic countries all over the world by the ringing of church bells every day at noon.
János (John) Hunyadi was a truly universal hero of his time. Legends were woven around his name not only in Magyar folklore, but also in the sagas of other peoples whose fate was connected with 15th century Hungary. Other nations went so far as to claim him as one of their own. In a Serb epic, he is Sibinyanin Janko; the Slavs generally called him Ugrin Janko (Magyar János); to the Rumanians he is Jakula; and to the Bulgars and Macedonians he is Jansekula. Greek folk singers, who called him Hungarian Janko, arbitrarily changed his name to Janko of Byzantium. Dukas, the Greek historian, compared Hunyadi to the two most valiant figures of Greek mythology, Achilles and Hector.
Among all the idolizing adjectives and titles bestowed upon him, the Latin phrase Athleta Christi (Champion of Christ) is the most fitting.
Hunyadi's Origin Contested
Historians are still in the dark about the year and place of his birth, and even his parentage seems shrouded in mystery.
The earliest document dealing with the Hunyadi name is a royal patent signed by the Hungarian King Sigismund (Zsigmond) on October 18, 1409, in which the king donated Hunyadvár in Transylvania to Serba Vojk's valiant service at Court. Vojk, whose family had come from Wallachia, thereupon changed his name to Hunyadi. Vojk's wife, Erzsébet Morsina, was the daughter of a Hungarian nobleman. Hunyadvár, better known as Vajdahunyadvár, was, and still is, one of the loveliest castles in the Carpathian Basin. A close duplicate of it has been erected in the heart of Budapest behind Heroes' Square, built for the Millennium in 1896. The charming little lake next to it is a favorite trysting place for young lovers.
There is some doubt over the identity of Hunyadi's real father. According to contemporary gossip spawned by János Hunyadi's phenomenal rise in fame and fortune, his birth was the fruit of an illicit love affair between King Sigismund, a notorious womanizer of his time, and Vojk's wife, Erzsébet Morsina, either before or after her marriage to Vojk.
Hunyadi had two brothers: Vojk, who died early, and another who, strangely enough, was also christened János. The younger János also attained fame as a soldier, being dubbed miles militum - the valiant of valiants - until his early death in 1442 in a battle.
This version of his origin which, if true, would indicate royal blood, is vehemently disputed by Rumanians, who are proud of Hunyadi's Wlach origin. They point to numerous documents in which Hunyadi's by-name appears as János Oláh. (Oláh is the Hungarian word for Wlach.) This argument is tenuous, since Oláh is the surname of numerous noble families of purely Hungarian stock.
Disregarding gossip, the fact that he was Hungarian is irrefutable. His whole life was dedicated to the Hungarian and Christian cause; he married a Hungarian noblewoman (Erzsébet Szilágyi); and he reared his children as Magyars. He regarded himself as a Hungarian nobleman and went down in history as one of his country's most celebrated heroes.
A Born Soldier
Young Hunyadi began his career as a member of King Sigismund's bodyguards. He attended the king's campaigns against Venice and against the Czech Hussites, and accompanied him to Rome, where Sigismund was crowned Roman Emperor. After travelling in Western Europe, he spent a few years in the court of the Serbian despot, Stepan Lazarovits.
Since boyhood, he had not only fought, but had also stored up observations made during his travels and campaigns. He was not a learned man, but he studied his profession thoroughly by analyzing the history and methods of European warfare. Drawing from these experiences he conceived a new strategy which combined mobility with security for his forces. These were usually not very numerous, but their quality was unequalled.
Since he lived for years in Serbia, Croatia and Italy, he learned to understand their peoples and their languages. Strangely enough, he never perfected Latin, the diplomatic language of the time used by the higher echelon of Hungarian society.
Hunyadi grew up a deeply religious man who strongly believed in the power of prayer. His comrades at Court frequently saw him slip out of bed late at night to spend hours on his knees in devout prayer in the royal chapel.
He was a born soldier filled with a missionary devotion to one great cause: to fight the Ottoman Turkish Empire, the greatest enemy of his country and his Church, until its forces were driven out - not only from Hungary - but from Europe itself.
The Turks Are Coming!
Until 1441, Hunyadi's campaigns were only preliminaries to the protracted warfare against the Turks in which he won his fame as törökver (Scourge of the Turks). Appreciating his splendid talent, King Sigismund in 1437 appointed Hunyadi chief of defense of Southern Hungary, which stretched from eastern Transylvania to the Adriatic. The next king, Wladislas I, made him captain of Nándorfehérvár (Belgrade) and the Voivode of Transylvania.
As if by Providence, the king's appointment put the right man in the right place at the right time.
The years preceding his appointment saw a gradual Turkish advance on the Balkan Peninsula toward Hungary. "The Turks are coming!" was a cry that could be heard with increasing frequency in the southern regions of the country. Villages were being destroyed, thousands killed, and thousands of others, including women and children, taken captive to be sold in the slave markets of the Ottoman Empire where a beautiful girl could be bought in exchange for a pair of boots.
The Turkish raids had developed into a military campaign against Transylvania, where occasionally, the Sultan's troops were assisted by the Wlachian Vlad Drakul (better known in the West as Dracula). According to the Turkish historian Nesri, Drakul responded to the Sultan's call to "gather your troops and report with them in my camp" with these slavish words: "I am ready to serve my Sultan, even to lead his horse or walk his dogs!" (Drakul's role, however, is described by Rumanian history books otherwise. Called Prince Vlad the Impaler, he put 20.000 persons to death within the six years between 1456-1462. He refused tribute to the Sultan, defeated the Turks, and impaled the Turkish prisoners.) It is true that Dracula was more an enemy than a friend of the Turks.
The campaign against Transylvania had lasted for forty-five days after which the Turks returned home with tens of thousands of prisoners.
It was time to put a halt to Turkish intrusions and to teach them a lesson in warfare-Hunyadi style.
The first Turkish warlord to receive Hunyadi's "calling card" of war was Beg Iszhak, commander of the Turkish garrison occupying Szendr. As punishment for past raids, Hunyadi caught up with Beg Iszhak's troops and forced them to make a stand. It was a regular battle with "irregular" tactics on Hunyadi's part. Iszhak assumed that, as usual, the Magyars would attack the main body of the Turks with cavalry. Hunyadi, however, had planned otherwise. Instead of sending his cavalry against the Turkish infantry, he sent his own elite foot soldiers to meet the central Turkish force in hand-to-hand combat. At the same time, the Hungarian cavalry attacked the enemy flanks which, unprepared for mounted assault, were soon dispersed. With this part of the job done, the cavalry turned its attention to the central Turkish troops, who were already flagging from fighting the Magyar infantry.
The battle was an unmitigated disaster for Beg Iszhak and put an end to his marauding on Hungarian soil.
The "Death" of János Hunyadi
The next year another Turkish potentate, Pasha Mezid, had a fateful surprise prepared for him by Hunyadi at Nagyszeben, Transylvania. By that time Hunyadi was so feared by the Turks that the night before the battle Mezid ordered his elite troops to concentrate on Hunyadi and his bodyguards during the next day's battle.
"To kill the lion, his heart must be pierced!" Mezid exhorted his men. "We can defeat the Hungarian army if we get Hunyadi-dead or alive! Don't miss him! He wears a silvery helmet and carries a shield emblazoned with a raven. Mounted on a white horse, he is always found in the thick of the battle!"
"We shall find him and he will die!" thundered the cream of Mezid's army.
And, indeed, János Hunyadi died in the battle - but afterwards was still alive. A contradiction? Not quite.
Hunyadi knew that he would be the main target of the enemy, a surmise confirmed by a spy's report. His bodyguards knew it, too. Simon Kemény, in an act of the highest loyalty to his leader, offered to don Hunyadi's battle armor to draw the enemy's fire upon himself and thus secure freedom of action for Hunyadi.
After some hesitation, Hunyadi agreed and ordered his elite Székely troops to surround and protect Simon Kemény during battle the following day.
Almost everything happened the way Pasha Mezid
had calculated. His troops overwhelmed the Hungarian hero on the white horse in the belief that he was Hunyadi. Seeing his fall, the Turks scented victory. Triumphantly they began shouting: "Hunyadi is dead! Hunyadi is dead!"
What a mistake! In no time Hunyadi, wearing Simon Kemény's armor, emerged with his troops from the wings to swoop down upon Mezid's troops with a vengeance. The Turks quickly realized their mistake, but it was too late. This was Mezid's last surprise and ultimate terror, for he died on the battle field of Nagyszeben together with his son and many thousands of his soldiers. Mezid's severed head, along with rich booty, was sent to Buda.
Still, among the Hungarian casualties at Nagyszeben was a real János Hunyadi: János Hunyadi II, the valiant younger brother of the Hungarian warlord.
Simon Kemény's self-sacrifice is remembered in a celebrated poem by the great Hungarian poet, Mihály Vörösmarty.
A Mistaken Prophecy
Furious about Mezid's defeat, the Sultan was seething with vengeance. Later in the same year, he sent an even larger force under the leadership of Beglerbeg Sehabeddin to conquer Moldavia, Wallachia and Transylvania. To insure victory, the Sultan put his entire European army at Sehabeddin's disposal. Hunyadi's army stood waiting for the Turks at Iron Gate, the narrows where the Danube leaves Hungary. His force numbered only 15,000 men, but they were crack soldiers.
The Turks. who greatly outnumbered their enemy, regarded the coming clash with apprehension because the mere mention of Hunyadi's name struck them with foreboding and awe. Sehabeddin, however exhibited confidence. He boasted: "My sword is like a menacing cloud, but instead of rain, blood will pour in its path. Do you think I am like Mezid? Under my wings you have nothing to fear."
So boasted Sehabeddin. However, this time Hunyadi placed his troops in a rectangular formation with the sides and the rear protected not only by cavalry, but by armored "ironside" battlewagons as well. These were full of troops capable of great firepower, and were chained together to prevent penetration by the enemy. At the height of the battle they were suddenly unleashed and. executing a crisscross movement. created panic among Sehabeddin's troops.
Blood "pouring" from a menacing "cloud of swords" reddened the ground as Sehabeddin had predicted, but it was the Turks. not the Magyars, who were bled white on that particular day. Those Turks who could escape from the battlefield were hunted down by Serb and Wlach irregulars.
"That damned devil, Janko!"
News of this unique triumph echoed throughout Europe, giving new hope to the unfortunate countries of the Balkan still suffering under Ottoman occupation.
Sensing a turning point in the war against the Ottoman Empire, Hunyadi went on to exploit his victory by conducting a long campaign against the Turks the following year. He advanced to the vicinity of Adrianapolis, the European seat of the Sultan, and only a severe winter forced Hunyadi to withdraw his troops to Hungary. Nevertheless, he liberated Serbia and won all six of the major battles he fought against the Turks. The enemy felt 'jinxed" in fighting Hunyadi, and "That damned devil, Janko!" was a recurring phrase in Turkish war reports in describing how the troops of "the infidels surrounded Islam's soldiers, making many of them heroic martyrs for their faith..."
In the rest of Europe, only the Holy See took the great cause of expelling the Turks from the continent seriously. Other powers applauded Hungary's efforts, but offered no significant help. Nevertheless, a new campaign was being prepared, with Rome and Venice promising to send a fleet to prevent Turkish reinforcements from crossing the Dardanelles.
These preparations did not escape the attention of Sultan Murad, who unexpectedly threw a diplomatic bomb on the table in the form of a peace offer. According to his offer, the Sultan would recognize Hungary's sovereignty over Wallachia, Serbia and Bosnia; his troops would evacuate the Hungarian fortresses they held; he would release the two sons of the Serbian despot, Brankovics, who had been blinded by their Turkish captors; and he would pay a ransom of 100,000 gold pieces for the return of prominent prisoners. In addition, he would lend the Hungarian king 25,000 soldiers should he require their assistance.
This was such a generous peace offer that it could not be declined. A Turkish delegation of one hundred men arrived at Szeged for the signing of the peace treaty which stipulated peace for ten years. A solemn oath was taken by both sides, including King Wladislas, to abide by the treaty.
So far so good. But what happened a few days later went down in history as an unprecedented breach of faith. The young King Wladislas, allegedly influenced by the insistence of the Papal Envoy, Cardinal Cesarini, that an oath towards infidels had no validity, broke his vow and ordered his troops to war against the Turks. This time, the Hungarian troops did not take the usual road, but proceeded to the Balkans along the coast of the Black Sea. Sultan Murad, warned of Wladislas's breach of peace, hastily returned with his choice troops, who were transported across the Dardanelles on Genoese ships hired for gold. So much for Christian solidarity.
When the armies met at Varna on November 16th, 1444, the initial Hungarian success turned into a disaster when King Wladislas compounded his breach of faith with a fatal military decision. Against Hunyadi's advice, he entered the battle in close combat and was killed by the Janissaries. When the head of the Hungarian king appeared aloft on a Turkish lance, the fight ended in a rout for the Christian army. Cardinal Cesarini and most of the bishops perished, but Hunyadi escaped. only to be captured and imprisoned by the Wallachian Voivode Drakul, his supposed ally. At Hungary's intervention, he was later compelled to release Hunyadi.
As a result of the battle of Varna. Hungary lost her dominions in the Balkans.
Drakul the Turncoat
After the death of King Wladislas, Parliament made Hunyadi governor. The situation at home was bad. The Czech robber baron Giskra ruled over the Highlands in Upper Hungary. The egotistic oligarchs, many of them of foreign origin, regarded Hunyadi with contempt. With a few exceptions, they had only one interest: their own. If this interest happened to demand that they fight the Turks, they were ready for it. If not, Hunyadi was left to his own resources. Fortunately, he was the richest man in Hungary and considered his wealth a trust to be used to defend Hungary against the Turks. The Austrian Emperor Frederick added to Hunyadi's troubles by concluding an alliance with Giskra.
But Hunyadi's energy and popularity were unbroken, and he never lost sight of his mission. His resilience was astonishing. Four years after the disaster at Varna, he appeared at Kosovo (Rigómez) in the heart of the Balkans with a new army composed of Hungarians complemented by Polish, Czech, German, Bosnian and Croatian units. The Wlachs were represented by a force of 8,000 men, mostly light cavalry kept in reserve. Among the Christian rulers of Europe only the Pope aided Hunyadi, and even this aid -money - was not sent until Hunyadi's troops were already on their way to battle.
It was the hardest and most complicated engagement of Hunyadi's military career. The battle lasted for three days. Then at the decisive moment Drakul, the Wallachian Voivode, deserted Hunyadi and went over to the enemy with his troops. Again Hunyadi had to flee, and again he was arrested by a supposed ally, this time the Serbian despot, though he was not harmed and in the end released.
The Battle of Kosovo in 1448 was a watershed in Serbo-Hungarian relations. Comrades in arms till then, their ways now parted. never to be united again in their struggle against the common enemy. To survive as a nation, the Serbs had to choose submission while the Hungarians used Serbia as a base for military operations against the Turks.
As to the behavior of the Wallachians in general
and of Drakul in particular, a Hungarian writer, Andrew Harsányi analyzed their attitude thus:
The question may be raised: Were the Wallachians (Rumanians) traitors? From Hunyadi's point of view they certainly were. From their own point of view, however, they were not. They followed the pattern of that age by being faithful only to one interest; their own. It is obvious that the Wallachians did not care for Hunyadi or Hungary or the West. They hoped that by the Sultan's advance their land would come beyond the permanent battle-line. And the Sultan did not hesitate to promise them just that.
As history shows, such an attitude of double-dealing has become a permanent fixture of Wallachian (Rumanian) diplomacy. (See chapter 30.)
When King Ladislas V, a Habsburg, came of age, Hunyadi resigned his governorship but remained Chief Captain and Treasurer. The king's relatives, especially his talented hut wicked uncle, Count Cillei, did everything to estrange him from Hunyadi. They insinuated that he had his eye on the throne for him-self and for his sons, László and Mátyás.
The Fall of Constantinople
While this intrigue was still going on, one of the darkest events in the history of Europe occurred on May 29, 1453: Constantinople, the capital of Christian Byzantium, fell into Turkish hands.
This event of universal portent was the result of a strategy conceived by Sultan Mohammed II, who wanted to conquer Christian Europe. Shameful and terrifying scenes followed the city's fall, which on the final day was defended by only 9,000 men.
Most of the survivors, many nuns and monks among them, were chained together as prospective slaves. The world famous church, the Aja Sophia. was transformed into the scene of a bloody orgy staged by Islamic zealots. They placed a Janissary cap on the Crucifix, then carried it around amidst laughter ridicule and the shouting of profanities. Screaming girls were carried onto altars and raped, and horses were driven into the cathedral to be stabled there. The world famous picture of the Virgin Mary, Hodogetria. was slashed into four pieces while the severed head of the Greek Emperor, Paleologues XII Constantin, was placed atop a marble column for display.
These were only a few examples of the horrors that followed the fall of Byzantium, which was caused by internal strife and the moral disintegration of its people, only a few thousand of whom had volunteered for the city's defense. The rest of Christian Europe was to blame, too, because of its indifference. The exception was Pope Nicholas, who became so grieved at the loss of this Christian bastion that no one saw him smile or laugh thereafter and he soon died.
Hungary Under the Crescent's Shadow
In Hungary as well, the fall of Byzantium was perceived with utmost seriousness. It was clear that it would he Hungary's turn next. In anticipation of coming strife, Hunyadi made peace with the oligarchs, even with Cillei, who promised him soldiers and money. It was arranged that Hunyadi's younger son, Mátyás. would marry Cillei's daughter, which he later did.
Nevertheless. when news of the Turkish army's advance toward Nándorfehérvár (Belgrade) reached Buda, Cillei followed the king and other members of the Court, who, instead of returning to Buda after a royal hunting party, decided to ride on to Vienna, as a safer place from which to watch developments on the Turkish front.
In these difficult days only the new Pope, Calixtus III, who called Hungary the "shield of Christianity," did everything in his power to come to Hunyadi's aid. If Hungary was a shield, then János (John) Capistrano, a Franciscan monk whom Calixtus had sent to arouse the people of Hungary, was a savior worthy of
such a cause. An impassioned orator charged with religious zeal and charisma, he succeeded in recruiting tens of thousands from all echelons of Hungarian society to join his crusading army against the infidels. Complementing his role was János (John) Carvajal, the Papal Envoy.
Their efforts were reinforced by a prayer campaign ordered by the Pope for the Catholic world. On June 29, 1456, he issued a BulIa Oratorium (Bull of Prayers) decreeing that the bells of every Catholic church should be rung daily at noon for the victory of the Christian army led by Hunyadi and Capistrano. This edict gave the defenders a great moral boost, because they knew that the whole Christian world was praying for their success.
The Pope's efforts to obtain help from the West remained unsuccessful. As the historian Enea Sylvio remarked, "The Pope calls for help and nobody listens; he issues threats but nobody fears him."
The Siege of Nándorfehérvár (Belgrade)
Mohammed's army arrived at Nándorfehérvár weeks earlier than expected by Hunyadi and his brother-in-law, Mihály Szilágyi. the commander of the city. His garrison numbered 6,000 troops when the first reinforcements from Hunyadi's and Capistrano's camp of crusaders began to arrive. The Turks' early arrival and their encirclement of the city, helped by 300 ships, cut off the flow of new troops to the fortress.
According to contemporary reports, the Sultan's army was 150,000 strong, surpassing by far anything the Hungarians had seen in the past. Their white tents appeared like "freshly fallen snow" on the fields around the city. Of the 300 cannons the Turks had, twenty-two were monsters twenty-seven feet long, with a calibre of two feet. Seven giant catapults were set to bombard the fortress with huge stones. Sixty-four specially built ships were used to transport the artillery pieces to the premises. The Turkish fleet proper consisted of 200 ships with sixty-four fast galleys adaptable for either offense or defense. The flagship carried a military band aboard to fire up the Turkish warriors. The ship paraded almost daily up and down the Danube to challenge and ridicule the defenders until a giant stone, misdirected by a Turkish catapult, hit its deck and sank the ship, to the great embarrassment of the Sultan.
An appraisal of the situation convinced Hunyadi that he could not challenge the Sultan's immense army with his own forces, which at first did not
exceed 10,000, although thousands more were joining Capistrano's crusaders every day.
Breaking the Turkish blockade was imperative to re-establishing contact with the besieged city. Without wasting time. Hunyadi began assembling an emergency "fleet" for this purpose.
On July 14, 3,000 men boarded Hunyadi's ships, but ahead of them the swift current on the Danube bore a small "ghost fleet" of unmanned boats which were filled to the brim with "silent dynamite": sand. Hitting the Turkish phalanx, the fleet broke the chain of Turkish ships, opening the way for Hunyadi's crews to engage the enemy. This was a signal for Szilágyi's ships, and Hunyadi's and Capistrano's troops on the banks of the Danube, to join the fight. Soon the air was filled with the smoke of burning ships and pierced by pleas of "Jesus! Jesus!" from the Christian soldiers. Like an avenging angel, Capistrano,. holding a cross high on a hill overlooking the battle, kept shouting words of encouragement to the crusaders.
After a five hour battle, the Turkish fleet was partly dispersed. The blockade was broken! Szed-Edin, the Turkish chronicler lamented: "While the soldiers of our invincible army, drinking the honey of martyrdom, attacked through the gaps in the fortress wall, that son of the devil King Janko (Hunyadi) arrived with his damned troops and occupied the island."
The next day, Christian reinforcements started to pour into the city. With the strength of the crusaders growing day by day, the Sultan sped up the preparations for the final assault, knowing that time was working for the enemy. One night before the final attack, he resorted to psychological warfare: thousands of bonfires were lit in the Turkish camp amidst noisy revelry and dancing in advance celebration of the victory certain to come. The next day the Christian forces responded with a similar show of high spirits to deflate Turkish enthusiasm.
The Final Assault
On July 20 a deadly silence fell upon Mohammed's camp. Hunyadi knew that it was the silence before the storm, and quickly sent 4,000 fresh crusaders into the fortress. On July 21, the long awaited final assault began in the late afternoon. The lower city was the primary target of the ferocious attack with special detachments of Turkish warriors trying to fill the moats. After five hours of struggle the Turks advanced to the lowered bridge of the inner fortress, creating a critical situation for the defenders.
Then an unexpected event, later immortalized by artists and poets, lifted Christian spirits to a high peak. After Turkish guns had demolished a bulwark, a Turk climbed the top of the rampart and was about to hoist a flag to signal Turkish victory. A Christian soldier, Titus Dugovits, leaped at the Turk and hurled himself into the depths together with his foe, who was still holding the flag.
It was time for the hard-pressed Hungarians to apply their ultimate weapon. Hundreds of burning bundles of brushwood, soaked in liquid tar and sulphur. were thrown onto the Turks climbing the walls. Within minutes the attackers turned into flaming human torches. Their screams of pain so terrified those behind them that they all began to flee. The siege was broken and the Sultan had to order his troops back to their camp. Mohammed ordered all the remaining Turkish ships to be set ablaze lest they fall into Christian hands. This seemed to be a prelude to a general Turkish rout, but leaders cautioned the defenders to stay alert.
The next day, while the Turks were still burying their dead, something unexpected happened. Some of the crusader units which could not be kept under control bolted from the city and attacked the Turks. What had started as an isolated incident quickly developed into full-scale fighting. The rest of the crusaders - fired by János Capistrano's cry: "The Lord who made the beginning will take care of the finish!" -joined their brothers and swooped down on the Turks in an angry human avalanche. The enemy, caught by complete surprise and, as chroniclers say, paralyzed by some inexplicable fear, took to flight. The Sultan's bodyguard of 5000 Janissaries desperately tried to halt the panic and recapture the camp, but when Hunyadi's army also joined the unplanned fight, the effort seemed hopeless. The Sultan himself was badly wounded and unconscious. Still, the Hungarian raiders were ordered back behind the walls to spend the night on alert for a possible new battle, one which never came.
Under cover of night the Turks retreated hastily, bearing their wounded in 140 wagons. It was only at the city of Sarona that the Sultan regained consciousness. Upon learning that his army had been destroyed, most of his leaders killed and the equipment abandoned, he was barely prevented from committing suicide by poison.
The Turkish losses at Nándorfehérvár were unprecedented. They lost 50,000 men in the battle, and 25,000 more were slain by Serbians during their retreat. The Christians lost fewer than 10,000 men.
Te Deums followed by Requiems
What was an ignominious defeat for the Sultan was hailed as a glorious victory for Christendom. The
people of Hungary were filled with indescribable joy. Te Deums were sung in all churches, church bells pealed and bonfires blazed on mountain peaks in celebration of the event.
The old truism, "victory has a thousand fathers while defeat is an orphan," was proven again. Even those who had been hostile or indifferent to Hunyadi now joined the celebrants. King László V, still in Vienna, hurriedly sent couriers to the European courts with the good news. When Pope Calixtus learned of the outcome on August 6, he joyously spoke of another "victory from Heaven." Calixtus III immediately ordered celebrations of thanksgiving to be held throughout the Catholic world. According to the Milanese ambassador to the Holy See, Jacob Calcaterra, "the Pope praised Hunyadi to the stars and called him the most outstanding man the world had seen in 300 years."
In the wake of the victory at Nándorfehérvár, there was a general belief that the time had come to drive the Turks out of Europe. Who else would lead the Christian forces than Hunyadi?
It would have to be someone other than Hunyadi this time, for on August 11, 1456, he became the belated victim of his own victory. The hero whom thousands of swords could not harm was felled by the pestilence which broke out among his troops.
The jubilation of victory turned into sorrow the world over. In a requiem held in St. Peter's Basilica, the Pope posthumously bestowed on him the title Christianae fidei defensor. The Defender of Christendom.
Even Sultan Mohammed II joined those paying tribute: "Although he was my enemy I feel grief over his death, because the world has never seen such a man."
Aeneas Sylvio wrote: "It seems that with the passing of Hunyadi, our hope has descended into the grave."
János Capistrano addressed Hunyadi one last time: "Farewell. you star in the sky... where you celebrate your victory in the company of angels. Oh, you must be happy. It is we who are the unhappy ones, we whom you have left behind in this vale of tears."
In speaking these words Capistrano could not have known that in two months' time he also would leave "this vale of tears" to join his comrade in arms and that later, sainthood would be his reward.
Their sacrifice had not been in vain. After the defeat at Nándorfehérvár the Turks spared Christendom from major attack for seventy years.
Hunyadi left his most important message to his countrymen on his death bed:
"Defend, my friends, Christendom and Hungary from all enemies... Do not quarrel among yourselves. If you should waste your energies in altercations, you will seal your own fate as well as dig the grave of our country."
In the coming century Hungary would pay dearly for its leaders' failure to heed Hunyadi's political testament.
|Stephen Sisa : The Spirit of Hungary|