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Chapter 5

The Age of Ruptures

14th--16th Centuries

After 1300, the gaps that were already visible between the westernized monarchies and the Balkan principalities began to widen. The political, economic, and cultural development of the Latinized West no longer had much in common with the Balkan principalities, which had been dominated by Byzantium and the Orthodox Church since the schism of 1054. Also by 1300, the menace of the Ottomans was on the horizon, threatening to nearly all of Christian Europe.


Prosperity in Bohemia and Hungary in the 14th Century

The demise of the national dynasties that founded the states of Bohemia and Hungary was followed by the arrival of two French dynasties, who brought with them a new dynamism characterized by remarkable cultural flowering and economic growth. While the countries of western Europe were beset by the Hundred Years War and by economic and social problems in the wake of the Black Death of 1348-1349, Hungary and Bohemia were experiencing a veritable golden age. After the grave crisis of succession that shook the country following the death of the last Przemyslide, Bohemia regained stability in 1310 with the

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ascension to the throne of John the Blind, son of Count Henry of Luxembourg. King John introduced French and Italian culture into a country where German influences had dominated. Under his reign, Bohemia became involved in the great controversies of the West. John sided with

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Philip VI of Valois upon the outbreak of the Hundred Years War, and it was while fighting for this cause that he died on the battlefield at Crecy on August 26, 1346. His son and successor, Charles IV (1346-1378), made Bohemia into a powerful state whose political and cultural influences reached into all of central Europe. Highly educated, Charles promoted the arts and letters and was a perfect example of an early humanist, summoning Italian scholars such as Cola di Rienzo to his court. Two years after his ascension to the throne, Charles IV founded the University of Prague, the first non-Germanic university in Central Europe. Charles preferred to accord it bylaws similar to those of the University of Paris. Under his reign the city of Prague expanded, particularly on the southern side of the Moldau with the beginning of construction on the New City (Nove Mesto). The New City was dominated by the Powder Tower and was linked to the Old City (Stare Mesto) by a new bridge, named the Charles Bridge. Simultaneously, construction began on the Gothic cathedral of St. Guy, under the direction of the architect Matthew of Arras. Arras was aided by the Czech master-builder Peter Parlerj, who also worked on the Karlstein castle built to house the crown jewels. By the middle of the 14th century, Prague was already a city of 35,000 inhabitants, capital of a centralized state, and seat of an archbishopric. Accomplished in 1347, moving the archbishopric to Prague emancipated the Bohemian church from the rule of the high German clergy. The state was organized around a framework consisting of a monarchy strongly supported by the aristocracy and the high clergy. The powers of the nobility, however, were clearly delimited by the Majestas Carolina, a code that defined the respective privileges of the Crown and the nobles. Charles IV extended the northern borders of the kingdom toward Silesia, and toward Lusace in the south. Southern expansion was accomplished at the expense of Lower Austria. Elected emperor in 1355, he made Bohemia the heart of the German Holy Roman Empire, a move accomplished with no detriment to the Czechs, whose language remained the official language of Bohemia. The Golden Bull of 1356 defined the rights of different political bodies within the Empire. Each of the seven prince electors--including the King of Bohemia--became ruler of his own territory, a shrewd move which also confirmed the sovereignty of the Bohemian kingdom, as the Emperor retained supreme judiciary powers. Prosperity within Bohemia climbed steadily. The countryside possessed rich agricultural reserves, and Bohemia exported wheat and fish to all of southern Germany. Trade brought in considerable revenue to the landed aristocracy. Mines were excavated, producing copper, iron, tin, gold, and most particularly argentiferous lead. At Kutna Hora, standardized coins began to be minted, the first of which was the gros of Prague.

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The golden age ended with the death of Charles IV, as his demise saw the beginnings of the serious political, economic, and religious crises that would weigh heavily on the future of the country.

In Hungary, the Anjous dynasty (1307-1382) produced the first renaissance. After six years of strife that followed the Arpadian dynasty, the Diet of 1307 offered the Hungarian crown to Charles-Robert of Anjou. Charles-Robert had been strongly supported by the Pope in his candidacy, and was a distant descendant of St. Louis. He was already ruler of Naples and Croatia. During his reign (1307-1342) order was brought to the country through the subduing of an over-bold nobility. Most notable among these was Matthias Csak, who had created a large principality north of the Danube. Charles-Robert also reorganized the army by creating banderia (banner regiments), in which the contingents furnished by the nobility were intermingled with the career army paid by the king. His son, Louis the Great (1342-1382), attempted to make the royal power even more efficient and structured. Alongside the Diet representing the nobility, Louis expanded the King's Council by inviting representatives of the clergy and the cities to take part. Under the Anjous dynasty, Hungary became the most powerful country along the Danube. Its gold coin (the Florin), of the same weight and purity of its namesake of Florence, was clear proof of the country's prosperity. Minting began in 1325, drawing on the vast mineral wealth of the northern Carpathian mountains in Transylvania. In the 14th century, a third of the gold produced in the known world and a fourth of the silver extracted in Europe came from the mines of Hungary. This abundance of precious metals provoked lively trade between Hungary and its neighbors. Italian, German, Czech, and Polish merchants flocked to Hungarian cities in great numbers. With more than three million inhabitants, Hungary was one of the most populous countries of Central Europe. It was part of the vast territory ruled by the House of Anjou, whose influence reached from the Mediterranean to the Baltic. Its power in Central Europe peaked in 1501, when the Polish Diet chose Louis the Great as King of Poland after the death of the last Piast, Casimir III. The reign of the Anjou sovereigns in Hungary paralleled the appearance and development of a first Renaissance. Italians were numerous in most of the cities, and introduced their culture and techniques. Many Hungarians were also attending the universities of Bologna and Padua. In Hungary itself, religious colleges existed, attended by the growing bourgeoisie. King Louis created two national universities, one at Pecs in 1369, and the second at O-Buda in 1389. Hungarian artists enjoying princely patronage increased their production in all artistic mediums. Examples of civil architecture constructed during this period are the citadels of Zolyom and Pozsony, while

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Gothic architecture peaked in Hungary with the construction of the church of Notre Dame in Buda. Sculpture also flourished, and was exemplified by the brothers George and Martin of Kolozsvar, who worked in Bohemia. Their major work was an equestrian statue of St. George at the Hradschin in Prague.

Light and Shadow in Poland of the 14th Century

Paradoxically, although its national Piast dynasty remained intact until 1382, Poland enjoyed a less brilliant history than did its two southern neighbors during the 14th century. Difficulties began in 1300, when the rebellion of the bourgeoisie in Krakow briefly deposed the national dynasty in favor of King Wenceslas II of Bohemia. Wenceslas, reign was short-lived, however, as the Piast Ladislas the Short led a victorious struggle against his Czech rival. Ladislas had himself crowned king in 1305, and in the years that followed attempted to restore unity to the country. Poland was marred by dynastic conflicts, however, conflicts that worked to the advantage of neighboring states by weakening Poland. King John of Bohemia gained a part of Silesia in exchange for the definitive renunciation of Bohemian claims to the Polish crown. A more serious threat came from the Markgraf of Brandenburg, who seized several territories east of the Oder, while the Teutonic Knights established firm bases on the shores of the Baltic in Pomerania and at Gdansk. Poland began to recover under Casimir III (1333-1370). While he was forced to leave all of Silesia to Bohemia, Casimir III was able to extend his rule to Mazovia and Galicia. It was the beginning of a slow shift of the Polish center of gravity to the east.

Casimir III, who was the brother-in-law of Charles-Robert of Hungary, never managed to endow his country with the strength and brilliance that Bohemia and Hungary were enjoying. He did, however, improve the internal organization of his kingdom. Casimir consolidated the numerous Polish common laws into a single code, the Statute of Sielicka (1364), which among other duties, facilitated the function of judicial institutions. Under Casimir, the nobility was allowed to retain its privileged political and economic status. And like his predecessors, Casimir III encouraged foreign immigration. Germans and western Jews were among those who found asylum in Poland. Under his reign, the countryside was improved, new villages were founded, and the cities developed. A well-known proverb credits Casimir with finding a Poland of wood upon his ascension, and leaving a Poland of stone at his death. He died without a son, and the crown fell to his next of kin, his nephew Louis d'Anjou of Hungary, who ruled until 1382.

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Crisis in Bohemia

In the last quarter of the 1 4th century, the kingdom of Bohemia entered a century-long period of turmoil, dominated by the Hussite controversy. Under Charles IV, Bohemia had already experienced a proliferation of heresies. They were disseminated mainly by individuals of German or Czech origin, who demanded the reform of an excessively wealthy church, and who preached a return to the principles espoused in the Bible. Beginning in 1360, a German priest named Conrad Waldhauser and a Czech prelate, Jean Milic, developed and polished these themes in their sermons. Others, many in contact with the Dutch Devotio moderna movement, soon amplified criticisms of the Church. The year 1378 marked the passing of Charles IV and the opening of the Great Schism, and its passing saw increasing demands for reform in a society beginning to feel the effects of a sagging economy. The Church was the sole organization that succeeded in retaining its wealth, and even attempted to augment the taxes received from its lands and the fees received for all new ecclesiastic appointments in order to compensate for the devaluation of the currency. The economic crisis soon had political and cultural repercussions. While the high clergy and the great Lords looked to the new king Wenceslas IV (1378-1419) for support, others looked elsewhere. Ruined by the economic crisis, the petty nobility as well as the common people of the towns listened with growing interest to the words of the reformist preachers. It was in this context that Jan Hus (1370-1415) appeared. While a student at the University of Prague, Hus read the works of the reformers of the time, particularly those of Jan Wiclif. He also became conscious of the social contrast between the Germanized upper class and the mainly Czech petty bourgeois and commoners in the cities of Bohemia. As a priest and Master of the Faculty of Theology, Hus began to preach in Bethlehem Chapel in Prague in 1402. Speaking in the Czech language to a very mixed audience, Hus took a strong position against the wealth of the Church, and in particular against simony. Up until 1409, he believed it possible to reform the Church from above, should reform efforts be supported by the king and the Pope. But when the Archbishop of Prague excommunicated followers of Wiclif, Hus and his colleagues officially broke with the Church, along with the king and the segment of the nobility that had supported them from the beginning. The break increased the support Hus received from the common people. From 1410 on, Hus wrote numerous works in Latin and in Czech, repeating his criticisms of the Church and emphasizing the necessity to return to the Holy Scriptures. In this spirit, he produced the first translation of the Bible in Czech. Summoned by the Council of Constance and equipped with a safe conduct from Emperor Sigismund, brother of Wenceslas IV, Hus

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went to Constance and vehemently defended his ideas against Church officers such as the Chancellor of the University of Paris, Jean Gerson, who criticized Hus's preachings for the social consequences they could produce. The death of Jan Hus at the stake on July 6,1415, followed by that of his disciple, Jerome of Prague, on May 30, 1416, instigated serious disturbances in Bohemia, peasant uprisings in the country, and revolts in the cities. Some of the nobles took advantage of the circumstances to seize church holdings, and followers of Hus--known as Hussites--organized a parallel "church, " in which they practiced dual communion in order to demonstrate that despite the prohibition decreed by the Council in 1415, church priests and laymen were to be treated in the same way. The Bohemian rebellion reached its peak on July 30, 1419, when the most radical Hussites led by minister Jan Zeliv seized the city hall at Nove Mesto in Prague, and massacred ten magistrates who had remained faithful to the Roman Catholic church.

The unexpected death of Wenceslas IV on August 1 6, 1419, resulted in a break between the Hussites and the crown. The Bohemian Diet refused to recognize Emperor Sigismund as king, as on August 1 , 1420, Pope Martin V called for a crusade against the followers of Wiclif and Hus. Supported by the common people of the towns and countryside and by a segment of the nobility, the Hussites attempted to organize a true "republic"; the high nobility and most of the Germans, however, sided with Sigismund. The religious crisis was compounded by social unrest, leading to open confrontation between the Germans and the Czechs. From 1420 to 1436, the Hussite Wars ravaged Bohemia and Moravia, not only pitting the Crusaders against the Hussites but also dividing the Hussites into moderates and radicals. Among the latter, lohn Zizka of Trocnov attempted an egalitarian republican experiment under the direction of reformers at Tabor from 1420 to 1424, based on Bible instruction. The Crusades failed one after the other, and by 1430 weariness began to overtake both sides. Finally, negotiations between King Sigismund and the Bohemian Diet resulted in the Compacta, the compromise of July 5,1436. Catholicism was reestablished in Bohemia, but the Utraquistes--those who took dual communion--were recognized as "true and faithful children of the Church." At the same time, Sigismund ratified by royal decree all of the property conveyances that had been made at the expense of the Church. He also made Czech the only official language of the country. Religious peace was thus restored, and the moderate Hussites welcomed the reform of the Church as resolved by the Councils of Basil and Constance; the country, however, lay in ruins. Hussite ideas were received with some interest outside of Bohemia and most notably in Hungary, where Sigismund had reigned since l387. The Slovaks in the northwest of Hungary, related to the Czechs although separated from them since the 10th century, initiated several Hussite

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inspired peasant uprisings. In 1437, Hungarian peasants and Transylvanian Vlachs revolted against the Church and their feudal lords. The cities were affected as well: in Pozsony, there were violent confrontations between the poor and the upper classes. While the Hussite movement failed to accomplish its most radical intentions, it did succeed in shaking the foundations of the Catholic church in Bohemia. It also put an end to the peaceful coexistence of Germans and Czechs, and inspired a Czech patriotism associated with devotion to Jan Hus. Hus was accordingly elevated to the role of national hero. Confronted by the theoretically reconciled Catholics and Utraquistes, diehard Hussites reorganized in the form of the United Brotherhood, a movement that stressed the need for strict adherence to the letter of the laws in the scriptures, and for the equality and fraternity which they believed should unite all men. Peter of Chelcice (1390-1470) was the leader of the Brotherhood, which by 1460 was organized into a church combining faith and humanism. After the death of Sigismund, the Catholics were briefly in command again under Albert of Habsburg (1437-1439) and his eldest son Ladislas (1440-1457). As was the case under Sigismund, Bohemia and Hungary were joined by a common sovereign. But in contrast to a Bohemia weakened and torn by religious conflicts, Hungary had remained loyal to the Roman church and represented a haven of peace in Central Europe.

Independent Hungary at Its Height (1458-1490)

After the death of Louis the Great, the Hungarian crown went to the deceased king's eldest daughter and Emperor Sigismund's wife, Marie. Under the reigns of Sigismund and his immediate successors, Hungary's destiny was intimately linked to that of the Empire and Bohemia. The frequent absence of a king concerned with crusades against the Turks and Hussites allowed the high nobility to strengthen its power at the expense of the cities and the peasants.

Upon the death of Ladislas V (also king of Bohemia under the title Ladislas I), the Hungarian Diet of January 1458 rejected the Habsburg candidate Emperor Frederick III in favor of a national king, Matyas Hunyadi. Born in 1443, Matyas came from a Transylvanian petty noble family that first made history when his father, Janos Hunyadi, stopped the Turks at Belgrade in 1456. Matyas is often referred to as Matthias Corvinus, a term originated by the Italian humanist, Bonfini. The name refers to the king's coat of arms; the coat of arms of the Hunyadi family contains a crow, corvus in Latin, which is an allusion to the family's origin in the village of Hollos, meaning "to crow" in Hungarian.

Matthias Corvinus was one of Europe's greatest sovereigns during the

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15th century. Under his reign, Hungary became the heart of a vast empire centered around the Danube. Matthias, fidelity to Rome earned him a directive from the Pope to conduct a new crusade against the Bohemian Hussites, who were resurfacing. In 1458, the Bohemian Diet had elected as king a Czech lord, George of Podebrady, who had never attempted to disguise his sympathies for the Hussites. As King George of Podebrady (1458-1470), the monarch wished to reconcile the Catholics and the Utraquistes within a national Czech church free from Roman authority, and disentangled from the radical elements of the United Brotherhood. Pope Paul II excommunicated King George, and in 1466 gave Matthias Corvinus the responsibility for conducting the crusade. Beginning in 1468, the king of Hungary led several campaigns in Bohemia, having at his disposal the well-trained troops of the Black Army, who were well paid and supported by Czech Catholic lords of the Zelena Hora Union. During a Diet session held at Brno, Matthias was elected king of Bohemia and had himself crowned in 1470. The death of King George of Podebrady in 1471 reopened the question. The Bohemian crown passed to the Polish prince, Vladislav Jagiello (1471-1516). Yet while under the peace terms of Olomouc, Matthias had to give up Bohemia, it was also understood that during his lifetime he would keep Moravia and Silesia. Matthias, however, did not discontinue his policies of expansion. He attacked his old rival, Emperor Frederick III, seizing Vienna in 1485 and the Duchy of Styria the following year. It seemed for a time that Matthias considered himself a candidate for the Imperial throne. Any such hopes were nourished by his reputation as the defender of Christianity against the forces of Islam, earned by his victories over the Turks in the Balkans. Hungary under Matthias Corvinus was one of the great states of Europe, with a population of over 3,500,000 inhabitants of which 80 percent were Magyar. It was as populous as England at the time. While most of the inhabitants of the kingdom were either free peasants or serfs dependent upon the church and/or nobles, the cities continued to expand. The residence of the sovereign was Buda, which reached 20,000 inhabitants, while Pozsony, Kassa, and Kolozsvar came close to that number. Although the gold and silver mines were experiencing a period of stagnation, the copper mines of Besztercebanya produced a flourishing refining industry, promoted by the Polish financier and entrepreneur John Thuro. Like the Italian princes of his time, Matthias Corvinus welcomed humanists at his court. Included were Hungarians such as his teachers Janos Vitez and John the Pannonian, or the financier Clement Ernuszt. Italians were also made welcome, and among those that were accepted were Bonfini, Galotti, Ugoletto, and Bartolome della Fonte. The influence of Italian

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culture began to increase and in 1476, King Matthias married the daughter of the king of Naples, Beatrice of Aragon. Education made great progress; a new university was created at Pozsony in 1467, and the old University of O-Buda was expanded and moved to Buda. This did not stop increasing numbers of Hungarian students from attending universities in Vienna, Cracow, Prague, Paris, Bologna, or Padua. In Buda, Matthias founded a royal library titled the Corvina, which housed nearly a thousand volumes including priceless Greek and Latin manuscripts. Adjoining the Corvina was a workshop where some thirty transcribers worked under the direction of the humanist Felix of Ragus. In 1471, at the invitation of the vice-chancellor Ladislas Kara, the German scholar Andreas Hess set up Buda's first printing press, which printed the Chronica Hungarorum by Thuroczy in 1473. The spirit of humanism and the Renaissance was also expressed in art. In Buda, the king had a palace constructed and embellished with works of Italian masters such as Verrocchio and Botticelli. Unfortunately, like most buildings of that period, the Buda palace was destroyed by the Turks in the 1 6th century. Numerous retables and pieces of gold and silverware, however, still exist today as examples of the artistic expression of 15th century Hungary.

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