Matthias Corvinus as young monarch. Museum of Sforza Castle
, Milan, Italy.
Matthias was born in Kolozsvár (now Cluj-Napoca in Romania) on 23 February 1443. He was the second son of John Hunyadi and his wife, Elizabeth Szilágyi. Matthias' education was managed by his mother due to his father's absence. 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. Gregory of Sanok, a former tutor of King Vladislaus III of Poland, was Matthias's only teacher whose name is known. Under these scholars' influences, Matthias became an enthusiastic supporter of Renaissance humanism.
As a child, Matthias learnt many languages and read classical literature, especially military treatises. According to Antonio Bonfini, Matthias "was versed in all the tongues of Europe", with the exceptions of Turkish and Greek. Although this was an exaggeration, it is without doubt that Matthias spoke Hungarian, Latin, Italian, Polish, Czech, and German. 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.
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. 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. Because of new conflicts between Hunyadi and Ulrich of Celje, the marriage of their children only took place in 1455. 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. Elizabeth died before the end of 1455.
John Hunyadi died on 11 August 1456, less than three weeks after his greatest victory over the Ottomans in Belgrade. John's elder son—Matthias's brother—Ladislaus became the head of the family. Ladislaus's conflict with Ulrich of Celje ended with Ulrich's capture and assassination on 9 November. Under duress, the King promised he would never take his revenge against the Hunyadis for Ulrich's killing. However, the murder turned most barons—including Palatine Ladislaus Garai, Judge royal Ladislaus Pálóci, and Nicholas Újlaki, Voivode of Transylvania—against Ladislaus Hunyadi. Taking advantage of their resentment, the King had the Hunyadi brothers imprisoned in Buda on 14 March 1457. The royal council condemned them to death for high treason and Ladislaus Hunyadi was beheaded on 16 March.
Matthias was held in captivity in a small house in Buda. 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. King Ladislaus fled to Vienna in mid-1457, and from Vienna to Prague in September, taking Matthias with him. 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. Thereafter the Hussite Regent of Bohemia—George of Poděbrady—held Matthias captive.
Election as king (1457–1458)
King Ladislaus died childless in 1457. His elder sister, Anna, and her husband, William III, Landgrave of Thuringia, laid claim to his inheritance but received no support from the Estates. The Diet of Hungary was convoked to Pest to elect a new king in January 1458. Pope Calixtus III's legate Cardinal Juan Carvajal, who had been John Hunyadi's admirer, began openly campaigning for Matthias.
The election of Matthias as king was the only way of avoiding a protracted civil war. Ladislaus Garai was the first baron to yield. 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. They also agreed that Matthias would marry the Palatine's daughter Anna—his executed brother's bride.
Michael Szilágyi arrived at the Diet with 15,000 troops, intimidating the barons who assembled in Buda. Stirred up by Szilágyi, the noblemen gathered on the frozen River Danube and unanimously proclaimed the 14-year-old Matthias king on 24 January. At the same time, the Diet elected his uncle as regent.