Matthias Corvinus

Matthias Corvinus
Matthias Corvinus.jpg
King of Hungary and Croatia
Coronation29 April 1464
PredecessorLadislaus V
SuccessorVladislaus II
RegentMichael Szilágyi (1458)
King of Bohemia
contested by George and Vladislaus II
SuccessorVladislaus II
Duke of Austria
contested by Frederick V
PredecessorFrederick V
SuccessorFrederick V
Born23 February 1443
Kolozsvár, Hungary (now Cluj-Napoca, Romania)
Died6 April 1490(1490-04-06) (aged 47)
Vienna, Austria
SpouseElizabeth of Celje
Catherine of Poděbrady
Beatrice of Naples
IssueJohn Corvinus (illegitimate)
FatherJohn Hunyadi
MotherElizabeth Szilágyi
ReligionRoman Catholic
SignatureMatthias Corvinus's signature

Matthias Corvinus, also called Matthias I (Hungarian: Hunyadi Mátyás, Croatian: Matija Korvin, Romanian: Matei Corvin, Slovak: Matej Korvín, Czech: Matyáš Korvín; 23 February 1443 – 6 April 1490), was King of Hungary and Croatia from 1458 to 1490. After conducting several military campaigns, he was elected King of Bohemia in 1469 and adopted the title Duke of Austria in 1487. He was the son of John Hunyadi, Regent of Hungary, who died in 1456. In 1457, Matthias was imprisoned along with his older brother, Ladislaus Hunyadi, on the orders of King Ladislaus the Posthumous. Ladislaus Hunyadi was executed, causing a rebellion that forced King Ladislaus to flee Hungary. After the King died unexpectedly, Matthias's uncle Michael Szilágyi persuaded the Estates to unanimously proclaim Matthias king on 24 January 1458. He began his rule under his uncle's guardianship, but he took effective control of government within two weeks.

As king, Matthias waged wars against the Czech mercenaries who dominated Upper Hungary (today parts of Slovakia and Northern Hungary) and against Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor, who claimed Hungary for himself. In this period, the Ottoman Empire conquered Serbia and Bosnia, terminating the zone of buffer states along the southern frontiers of the Kingdom of Hungary. Matthias signed a peace treaty with Frederick III in 1463, acknowledging the Emperor's right to style himself King of Hungary. The Emperor returned the Holy Crown of Hungary with which Matthias was crowned on 29 April 1464. In this year, Matthias invaded the territories that had recently been occupied by the Ottomans and seized fortresses in Bosnia. He soon realized he could expect no substantial aid from the Christian powers and gave up his anti-Ottoman policy.

Matthias introduced new taxes and regularly collected extraordinary taxes. These measures caused a rebellion in Transylvania in 1467, but he subdued the rebels. The next year, Matthias declared war on George of Poděbrady, the Hussite King of Bohemia, and conquered Moravia, Silesia, and Lausitz, but he could not occupy Bohemia proper. The Catholic Estates proclaimed him King of Bohemia on 3 May 1469, but the Hussite lords refused to yield to him even after the death of their leader George of Poděbrady in 1471. Instead, they elected Vladislaus Jagiellon, the eldest son of Casimir IV of Poland. A group of Hungarian prelates and lords offered the throne to Vladislaus's younger brother Casimir, but Matthias overcame their rebellion. Having routed the united troops of Casimir IV and Vladislaus at Breslau in Silesia (now Wrocław in Poland) in late 1474, Matthias turned against the Ottomans, who had devastated the eastern parts of Hungary. He sent reinforcements to Stephen the Great, Prince of Moldavia, enabling Stephen to repel a series of Ottoman invasions in the late 1470s. In 1476, Matthias besieged and seized Šabac, an important Ottoman border fort. He concluded a peace treaty with Vladislaus Jagiellon in 1478, confirming the division of the Lands of the Bohemian Crown between them. Matthias waged a war against Emperor Frederick and occupied Lower Austria between 1482 and 1487.

Matthias established a professional army (the Black Army of Hungary), reformed the administration of justice, reduced the power of the barons, and promoted the careers of talented individuals chosen for their abilities rather than their social statuses. Matthias patronized art and science; his royal library, the Bibliotheca Corviniana, was one of the largest collections of books in Europe. With his patronage, Hungary became the first country to embrace the Renaissance from Italy. As Matthias the Just, the monarch who wandered among his subjects in disguise, he remains a popular hero of Hungarian folk tales.

Early life

The house where Matthias Corvinus was born in Kolozsvár (present-day Cluj-Napoca, Romania)
Matthias Corvinus as young monarch. Museum of Sforza Castle, Milan, Italy.

Childhood (1443–1457)

Matthias was born in Kolozsvár (now Cluj-Napoca in Romania) on 23 February 1443.[1] He was the second son of John Hunyadi and his wife, Elizabeth Szilágyi.[1][2] Matthias' education was managed by his mother due to his father's absence.[1] Many of the most learned men of Central Europe—including Gregory of Sanok and John Vitéz—frequented John Hunyadi's court when Matthias was a child.[3] Gregory of Sanok, a former tutor of King Vladislaus III of Poland, was Matthias's only teacher whose name is known.[4] Under these scholars' influences, Matthias became an enthusiastic supporter of Renaissance humanism.[5][6]

As a child, Matthias learnt many languages and read classical literature, especially military treatises.[4] According to Antonio Bonfini, Matthias "was versed in all the tongues of Europe", with the exceptions of Turkish and Greek.[7] Although this was an exaggeration, it is without doubt that Matthias spoke Hungarian, Latin, Italian, Polish, Czech, and German.[4][8] The late 16th-century Polish historian Krzystoff Warszewiecki wrote that Matthias had also been able to understand the Romanian language of the envoys of Stephen the Great, Prince of Moldavia.[9]

According to a treaty between John Hunyadi and Đorđe Branković, Despot of Serbia, Matthias and the Despot's granddaughter Elizabeth of Celje were engaged on 7 August 1451.[10][11] Elizabeth was the daughter of Ulrich II, Count of Celje, who was related to King Ladislaus the Posthumous and an opponent of Matthias's father.[12][13] Because of new conflicts between Hunyadi and Ulrich of Celje, the marriage of their children only took place in 1455.[14] Elizabeth settled in the Hunyadis' estates but Matthias was soon sent to the royal court, implying that their marriage was a hidden exchange of hostages between their families.[12] Elizabeth died before the end of 1455.[12]

John Hunyadi died on 11 August 1456, less than three weeks after his greatest victory over the Ottomans in Belgrade.[15] John's elder son—Matthias's brother—Ladislaus became the head of the family.[12][16] Ladislaus's conflict with Ulrich of Celje ended with Ulrich's capture and assassination on 9 November.[17][18][19] Under duress, the King promised he would never take his revenge against the Hunyadis for Ulrich's killing.[20] However, the murder turned most barons—including Palatine Ladislaus Garai, Judge royal Ladislaus Pálóci, and Nicholas Újlaki, Voivode of Transylvania—against Ladislaus Hunyadi.[20] Taking advantage of their resentment, the King had the Hunyadi brothers imprisoned in Buda on 14 March 1457.[18][21] The royal council condemned them to death for high treason and Ladislaus Hunyadi was beheaded on 16 March.[22]

Matthias was held in captivity in a small house in Buda.[20][23] His mother and her brother Michael Szilágyi staged a rebellion against the King and occupied large territories in the regions to the east of the river Tisza.[20][21] King Ladislaus fled to Vienna in mid-1457, and from Vienna to Prague in September, taking Matthias with him.[18][24][25] The civil war between the rebels and the barons loyal to the monarch continued until the sudden death of the young King on 23 November 1457.[20] Thereafter the Hussite Regent of Bohemia—George of Poděbrady—held Matthias captive.[26]

Election as king (1457–1458)

King Ladislaus died childless in 1457.[27][28] His elder sister, Anna, and her husband, William III, Landgrave of Thuringia, laid claim to his inheritance but received no support from the Estates.[27] The Diet of Hungary was convoked to Pest to elect a new king in January 1458.[29] Pope Calixtus III's legate Cardinal Juan Carvajal, who had been John Hunyadi's admirer, began openly campaigning for Matthias.[29][30]

The election of Matthias as king was the only way of avoiding a protracted civil war.[29] Ladislaus Garai was the first baron to yield.[30] At a meeting with Matthias's mother and uncle, he promised that he and his allies would promote Matthias's election, and Michael Szilágyi promised that his nephew would never seek vengeance for Ladislaus Hunyadi's execution.[29][30] They also agreed that Matthias would marry the Palatine's daughter Anna—his executed brother's bride.[29][30]

Michael Szilágyi arrived at the Diet with 15,000 troops, intimidating the barons who assembled in Buda.[18][29] Stirred up by Szilágyi, the noblemen gathered on the frozen River Danube and unanimously proclaimed the 14-year-old Matthias king on 24 January.[29][31][32] At the same time, the Diet elected his uncle as regent.[30][32]