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THE extinction of the old national dynasty with Andrew III's death altered its conditions of existence for the Hungarian state. Under its own interpretation of the position, the right of electing its new king had now reverted to the nation, whose freedom of choice was in theory unlimited; there was no theoretical bar to its setting one of its own members over it. But a firmly-implanted European usage had by this time come to limit the enjoyment of royal dignity to those who could show some hereditary title to it, most of these persons belonging to a small clique - into which the Árpáds themselves had levered themselves - of interrelated families of, as it were, professional royalties. It would have required a strong man, with a united nation behind him, to defy a well-supported claim from a member of one of these families, and the Hungarians, too, admitted the compulsive virtue of the blood-tie. They themselves confined their search to persons in whose veins the blood of the Árpáds ran, at least through some maternal forbear, who could continue the line - the line, not an individual, for the choice once made, the principle of legitimacy came into operation again. It was the singular misfortune of the country that for over two centuries after 1301, only one king died leaving behind him legitimate male issue. This meant that except in the one case in question, and in the two others where peculiar circumstances resulted, after all, in the election of a national king, their chosen ruler always came from some foreign, and foreign-based, dynasty. In fact, until the sixteenth century, when the Crown became permanently vested in the Habsburg dynasty, it was worn (transitory and disputed cases apart) by two Angevins, one Luxemburger, one Habsburg and three Jagiellos; with, intervening, two national kings, one of whom ruled only in part of the country.

To have a foreign king was by no means always an unmixed disadvantage for Hungary. Fresh ideas and institutions were sometimes brought in which fructified and enriched the political, social, cultural and economic life of the country, and without which it might well have failed to keep pace with the general advance of the contemporary Europe towards a higher level of civilisation. It is true that the Hungarians did not always relish these innovations, and often bound the monarch of their choice by strict capitulations to respect their own hardly-won and cherished national institutions. Their ability to do this - an outcome, strictly speaking, of the electoral nature of the Crown, not of the fact that the candidate was usually a foreigner - was a main reason why, for good or ill (and the advantages did not lie all on one side), Hungary throughout her history was able to preserve her native features in a larger degree than most other European countries. But the central issue was nearly always that of power, in relation to the international situation. A monarch disposing of resources of his own could be hoped to use them for the country's benefit, and especially for its defence; it was this calculation which more than once determined the national choice. On the other hand, a too powerful monarch, the centre of whose power and interests alike lay outside Hungary, might too easily use those resources, not to develop the country's national life, but to crush it, and to squander its own resources in the pursuit of his private, extra-Hungarian, objectives. The balance of advantage and disadvantage, in this respect, swayed uneasily throughout the centuries with the fluctuations of the international power-position and the personality of the ruler. Under many of its foreign rulers, and almost continuously after the Crown became stabilised in the house of Habsburg, the central problem of the country's whole political life was whether the benefits brought by foreign rule outweighed its disadvantages; and on this question opinion in the country was eternally divided, up to the last day of Habsburg rule.

These considerations were not yet apparent in the first years after Andrew's death. What happened then was simply that the dynastic rivalry of ten years before broke out again in modernised form, the Angevin candidate, whom the Pope supported, being now Charles Martell's son, the boy, Charles Robert; the Czech, another boy, Wenceslas III, for whom his father stood sponsor. This time Albrecht of Habsburg did not claim the throne for himself, contenting himself with supporting Charles Robert. Charles Robert, Wenceslas and Otto of Bavaria all had their partisans inside Hungary, and at first Charles Robert's party was the weakest of all. Both Wenceslas and Otto were in turn crowned, and Charles Robert's supporters could only give him a symbolic coronation, with a substitute crown[11]. But in a few years his rivals gave up the struggle in disgust. On 20 August 1310 he was crowned again, this time in due form, and thereafter his rule was not seriously opposed from abroad. He still, indeed, had many opponents among the 'kinglets', but he was able to win most of them over by diplomacy, and in 1312 won a crushing victory at Rozgony over the chief of the remaining malcontents, the Amadés and the Csáks. This victory re-established the royal authority on a firm footing; the only internal trouble which he had to face thereafter was in reality only half internal, fomented by Venice.

Charles Robert was undoubtedly favoured by the international situation, which, with Germany distraught by the conflict between Empire and Papacy, the Tatars grown passive in the east and the power of Byzantium in full decay, was more favourable than ever before or since to the independent development of the states of east-central Europe. It is no accident that Poland, Bohemia, Hungary and Serbia should all look back on the fourteenth century as the age of their greatest glory. As these conditions favoured Hungary's neighbours, as well as herself, Charles Robert's attempts at expansion were only moderately successful. He made Bosnia his friend and client, but Venice snatched South Dalmatia from him, Serbia, the Bánát of Macsó, and the newly-founded 'Voivody' of Wallachia disputed Szörény with him and in 1330 inflicted a heavy defeat on his arms. Against this, he drove the Austrian and Czech marauders out of his land, and, on the whole, preserved friendly relations with Poland, Bohemia and Austria.

The latter part of his reign was in the main peaceful and marked by a steadily increasing prosperity, the lion's share of which accrued to the king himself.

One of the chief props of his power was the wealth which he derived from the gold mines of Transylvania and north Hungary, the production of which he stimulated by a number of sensible devices. Eventually it reached the remarkable figure of 3,000 lb. of gold annually - one third of the total production of the world as then known, and five times as much as that of any other European state. Some 30-40 per cent of this accrued to the Crown as revenue and enabled Charles Robert, first of all Hungarian kings, to introduce a systematic fiscal policy. He renounced the lucrum camerae, or profit on the coinage, on which many of his predecessors had largely depended, introduced a stable currency based on gold, and reformed the system of direct taxation, basing it on a house-tax levied on every porta or peasant household.[12] He still had enough to maintain a sumptuous and refined court, the cultural influences at which were, incidentally, French rather than German.

Not the least of the benefits conferred by Charles Robert on Hungary was to leave behind him, in the person of his son Louis (Lajos) an heir whose succession (jure legitimo) was not questioned either inside or outside Hungary. Conventional historians reckon the reign of Louis (the only one of its kings on whom the nation has conferred the name of 'Great') as marking the apogee of Hungarian history. Louis was, of course, fortunate in that the favourable European constellation continued to prevail, and, at home, he could build on the foundations laid firmly by his father; but in addition, he was a man of remarkable qualities of both head and heart. Charles Robert had been more respected than loved, especially after one curious incident in which he took an extraordinarily barbarous revenge on the family of a man who had tried to assassinate him; Louis was generally loved. 'I call God to witness', the Venetian envoy wrote of him, 'that I never saw a monarch more majestic or more powerful, nor one who desires peace and calm so much as he.' 'There was no other', wrote another contemporary, 'so kind and noble, so virtuous and magnanimous, so friendly and straightforward.' He was indeed a true paladin, distinguished not least for his extraordinary physical courage in battle.

It was chiefly his international triumphs that earned him the name of 'Great'. Keeping the peace with his western neighbours, he resumed Béla III's policy of expansion in the south and east. Venice was forced to re-cede Dalmatia. The Bánáts in the northern Balkans were restored. The Ban of Bosnia and the Voivodes of Wallachia and Moldavia (where a second Vlach principality had come into being when the Tatars were driven out of it) acknowledged him as their suzerain, as did, for shorter periods and more formally, the rulers of Serbia, northern Bulgaria and, for a few years, Venice itself. Galicia and Lodomeria were recovered in 1354. Over this ring of dependencies, Hungary presided as Archiregnum. The climax of Louis' glory came in 1370, when, by virtue of a dynastic compact concluded in 1354 with Casimir of Poland, he ascended the Polish throne.

At home, the gold flowed in an undiminished stream into Louis' coffers, enabling him to keep a court even more splendid than his father's. And the whole country, spared for two generations from serious invasion or civil war, blossomed with a material prosperity which it had never before known. By the end of Louis' reign its total population had risen to some three millions, and it contained 49 royal boroughs, over 500 market towns and more than 26,000 villages. The economy was still predominantly agricultural, but as these figures show, the towns, which the Angevins favoured especially, granting many of them extensive charters of self-government, prospered. Craftsmen began to practise their trades and to organise themselves in guilds. International commerce, favoured by the continued stability and high repute of the currency, began to make headway.

The arts, too, flourished. A university, one of the earliest in Europe, was founded in Pécs in 1367 (it is true that it proved short-lived). The first comprehensive national chronicle, one copy of which is one of the most magnificent illuminated codices in Europe, dates from about the same period.

This prosperity, and not less the order which the two Angevins were able to enforce, allowed the nation to accept, without serious resentment, the fact that their reigns constituted what to modern eyes would appear a period of political reaction. Even the memory of Andrew III's constitutional innovations (which had, indeed, never been put into practice) vanished, it seems, even from memory, under their rules. They made appointments according to their pleasure, legislated as they pleased, and when (occasionally) they convoked a Diet, it was simply to inform it of decisions taken. Their absolutism was, however, not the old patrimonial absolutism of St Stephen and his successors, which was foreign to their eyes, but a much more hierarchical structure which embodied many features of west European feudalism. Even after Charles Robert had broken the power of the kinglets, he did not attempt to destroy the magnates as a class, but bestowed a large part of the confiscated estates on a new set of great families. Louis continued this policy, and by the end of his reign about fifty of these families owned between them one-third of the soil of Hungary. The status and importance of the magnates was enhanced by the new military system introduced by the Angevins. Military service was still the obligation of all noblemen, who, when their services were required, were mustered under the 'banners' of the king, the queen, or one of the great officials (the Voivode of Transylvania, etc.), smaller contingents following the Ispáns of their counties. But the lords were now required to bring contingents of heavily-armed cavalry from among their own followers; if a force numbered fifty men, it served under its lord's banner, and was known as his banderium. Many small nobles took service in these private banderia. It was at this time, and largely through this innovation, that the class of familiares - small nobles who took service, military or other, under a magnate, becoming his henchmen and retainers, while he in practice, although not in theory, was their feudal superior, became numerous.

This growth of the magnates' power was, indeed, partially compensated by another development, in the opposite direction. It was not everywhere that a magnate's authority quite eclipsed that of the county in which he had his estates, and under the Angevins' system of delegating power, rather than exercising it directly through their own officials (they were no bureaucrats) the control of the administration and justice in each county passed during their reigns increasingly into the hands of the universitates of the local nobles, who exercised it through their own elected representatives. These 'noble counties', which now began to replace the old 'royal counties', first the special preserve and stronghold of the richer common nobles. They were, of course, still subject to the ultimate control of the king's representative, the Ispán, and the most common effect of the development, at least during its early stages, was to strengthen the king's authority by providing him, in the lesser nobles, with a counter-weight against the magnates, such as the rulers of economically more developed countries found in the burgesses of their towns. This consideration led several of the kings to allow the counties to develop a very extensive autonomy, which at a later stage, when the magnate class had allied itself with the Crown, became the defence of the smaller men and, the crown being worn by foreign rulers, the defence also of the national cause, which they came to represent against both the other forces.

In 1351 Louis also confirmed the Golden Bull, adding an explicit declaration that all nobles enjoyed 'one and the same liberty', a provision which, it appears, besides reaffirming the rights of the noble class as a whole, including the familiares, also enlarged its ranks by bringing full noble privileges to a further class of border-line cases. Other provisions of the law stabilised land tenure by universalising the system of aviticitas under which all land was entailed in the male line of the owner's family, collaterals succeeding in default of direct heirs; if the line died out completely, the estate reverted to the Crown. The daughters of a deceased noble were entitled to a quarter of the assessed value of his property, but this had to be paid them in cash.

At the same time, Louis standardised the obligations of the peasant to his lord at one-ninth of his produce -neither more nor less. As he also had to pay the tithe to the church and the porta to the state, the peasant's obligations were thus not inconsiderable, but do not appear to have been crushing in this age of prosperity; his right of free migration was specifically re-affirmed.

Some Hungarian historians do not count the two Angevin as foreign kings at all, and it is true that both of them, especially Louis, who was born and bred in Hungary, regarded themselves completely as Hungarians. Charles Robert had no other throne, and did not try to acquire another for himself. Louis treated all his acquisitions, except perhaps that of Poland, as appendices to Hungary, and even Poland he ruled through Hungarians. But it is easily arguable that his Balkan enterprises brought Hungary, on balance, more loss than profit, even if the large expense of them be left out of account, for few of the vassals proved loyal when a crisis came. Rather they regarded Hungary as an oppressor and hastened to make common cause with her enemies.[13] She certainly got nothing at all, except a little reflected glory, out of Louis' acquisition of Poland. In south Italy Louis and his mother, carrying out plans laid by Charles Robert, embarked on purely dynastic enterprises which brought positive and real damage to Hungary. The object was to secure the throne of Naples for Charles' younger son, Andrew, who, under a compact between Charles and Robert of Sicily, had married Robert's granddaughter, Joanna, on the understanding that he should succeed to the throne on Robert's death (her father, Charles, having predeceased Robert). But Andrew's accession was unpopular in Naples. To get him recognised at all cost enormous sums of money in bribes, and, after a short and insecure reign, he was murdered. Louis undertook two campaigns in Italy to avenge his brother and secure the throne for the latter's little son. Both were unsuccessful, and cost Hungary money which, spent in the country, would have transformed the face of it.

Matters took a sharp turn for the worse when Louis died in 1382. He had left no son, but two daughters, of whom he had destined the elder, Maria, then a girl of eleven, and betrothed to Sigismund, younger son of the Emperor Charles IV and himself Marquis of Brandenburg, to succeed him on both his thrones. The Poles refused to continue the union with Hungary, and although they ended by accepting Maria's younger sister, Hedwig or Jadwiga, as queen, they married her to Jagiello of Lithuania, under whom Poland's ways diverged from Hungary's. The Hungarians themselves were divided on the question of the female succession, and a party of them crowned the girls' cousin, Charles of Durazzo, only to see him assassinated a month later. Another party had already crowned Maria, but her rule was only nominal: Sigismund, after marrying his bride, got himself crowned as her consort in 1387 and, after her death in 1395, ruled alone until his own death in 1437.

Sigismund was at first extremely unpopular, not only for the cruelty with which, in breach of his pledged word, he put Charles' leading supporters to the sword, but also as an intruder and a foreigner. 'By God', one of his victims flung in his teeth, 'I am no servant of thine, thou Czech swine.' In 1401 a group of nobles actually held him in prison for several weeks, and two years later malcontents called in another anti-king, who, however, failed to establish himself, although he retained possession of Dalmatia, which he then sold to Venice. Later, passions cooled somewhat, but when Sigismund was elected German king in 1410, and still more when he succeeded his brother in Bohemia in 1420, the nation complained with acerbity that he neglected its affairs.

His reign had its redeeming features. The momentum imported by the Angevins was still carrying the country forward, economically and culturally, and Sigismund himself, although extravagant and - at least in his youth -silly, was an intelligent enough man, with a European outlook. He introduced a number of useful administrative and military reforms, the latter including the institution of a militia portalis, or second-line army of peasant soldiers, and not the Angevins themselves did more than he to promote the prosperity of the towns and to raise their status. He encouraged manufacture, and was the true father of Hungary's international trade, which he advanced by abolishing internal duties, regulating tariffs on foreign goods and standardising weights and measures throughout the country. Records show that Hungary in his day was importing cloth, linen, velvet, silks and spices and southern delicacies; her chief exports were linen goods, cloth, metal and iron goods, livestock, skins and honey. The memory of this well-being survives in the many fine buildings, dating from his reign, still to be seen in Hungary's towns. An unintentional benefit conferred by him on his country was that his repeated and prolonged absences from Hungary, and his extravagances, both enabled and compelled his subjects to recover some of the constitutional ground which they had lost to his predecessors. He found himself obliged to consult Diets, if not regularly, at least frequently, and to defer to the principle, then generally recognised in central Europe, that their consent was necessary when a subsidy, or new taxation, was required. It was during his reign that the office of the Palatine, who was head of the administration during the king's absence, developed (this was, indeed, formally legalised only under his successor) from that of the king's representative to that of intermediary between the king and the nation, whose function and duty it was to 'represent law and justice for the inhabitants of the country vis-à-vis the king's majesty, and for the king's majesty vis-à-vis them'.

Under the same influences there now began to emerge the famous and peculiar mystic doctrine, formulated in classical form in the sixteenth century by the jurist Werb czy, of the Holy Crown: to wit, that the true political being of Hungary resided in the mystical entity (of which the physical crown was the incorporate symbol) of the Holy Crown, of which the king was the head and the nation, or corporate aggregate of nobles, the body; each member being incomplete without the other, and complementary to it, in that the king was the fount of nobility and the nobles, in virtue of their right to elect their king, the fount of kingship.

But the debit side of Sigismund's all too long reign was also very heavy. He never succeeded in recovering Dalmatia, and in his efforts to do so, he pledged the valuable counties of Szepes, a main source of the king's wealth, to Poland. The nation was perfectly justified in its complaints over his long absences, and by reason of them, and for other causes, partly personal, he was never truly master in the country. The new big families whom the Angevins had promoted had on the whole remained loyal to their benefactors, but they had yet acquired an unhealthy predominance in the country, and an excess of power in their own preserves, and towards Sigismund, as we have seen, they showed no such loyalty. He did not willingly promote their power, but in fact he increased it by the lavish sale, to meet his extravagant expenditure, of crown lands, which by the end of his reign were reduced to 5 per cent of the area of Hungary. Unable to cope with his most powerful subjects as a class, he could do no more than play off some of them against the rest. This he did by organising a group of them in a chivalric league, known as 'the Order of the Dragon', of which he was himself President. Offices and favours were shared out among the members of this group, but even they were not always reliable; cases occurred when the Order itself defied the king.

The smaller men suffered, especially the peasants, whose condition deteriorated substantially, less owing to any aggravation of their legal burdens (peasants serving in the militia portalis were exempt from the porta tax) than from increases in the tax itself, illegal exactions, and perhaps most of all, under the increasingly rapid transition to a money economy, with which they could not easily cope. The consequent unrest was fanned by the spread from Bohemia of Hussite doctrines, which took hold especially in north Hungary, and was embittered by the cruelty with which the heretics were persecuted. The first serious specifically peasant revolt which Hungary had ever known broke out in the very last months of Sigismund's reign, as the result of the action of a bishop in Transylvania in claiming the tithe in money. It spread over much of Transylvania, and gained considerable temporary successes before it was put down. A consequence of this revolt was the birth of an institution destined later to become important, the 'Union of the Three Nations', under which the Hungarian nobles of the Transylvanian counties, the Saxons and the Szekels formed a league for the mutual defence of their interests against all parties, save only the king.

This grievous event occurred at a moment when Hungary was most sorely in need of all her strength and all her unity, for her old unthreatened state was over. In 1352 the Osmanli Turks had crossed the Straits and established themselves in Gallipoli. In 1362 they took Adrianople. In 1388 they made Sisman's Bulgaria tributary; in 1389 they annihilated the power of Serbia on the field of Kossovo.

Sigismund, to do him justice, had early recognised the reality of the Turkish danger (to which Louis had been curiously blind) and in 1395 had led an expedition into the Balkans which had met with some success. He had followed this up the next year with a larger expedition in which crusading contingents from many European countries had taken part; but this time the Christian armies had been disastrously defeated at Nicopolis in north Bulgaria (22 September 1396), the Hungarian contingent, which had formed the bulk of the army, being annihilated, and Sigismund himself barely escaping with his life. Hungary, and all central Europe, lay open to the invaders, and were only respited, not by their own efforts, but by the intervention of Timur's Mongols, who were now threatening the Turks' rear and in 1402 actually took the Sultan Bayazid himself prisoner, after a pitched battle outside Ankara. For some time after this the Turks' operations on their European front were on a reduced scale, but they recommenced in 1415. The Voivode of Wallachia submitted, Bosnia repudiated Hungary's suzerainty, and her only remaining Balkan client was a fragmentary Serbia under the 'Despot', George Brankovi . South Hungary itself and Transylvania suffered repeated raids.

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