Matthias Corvinus of Hungary

Matthias Corvinus of Hungary

Matthias Corvinus [In English, his first name is occasionally given as "Matthew", while "Corvinus" may be rendered as "Corwin" or "Corvin". Hungarian: "Hunyadi Mátyás" or "Corvin Mátyás"; Romanian: "Matei" (or, seldom, "Mateiaş") "Corvin"; Slovak: "Matej Korvín or Kráľ Matej"; Czech: "Matyáš Korvín"; Croatian, Slovene: "Matija Korvin" (in Croatian also "dobri kralj Matijaš"—"the good king Matthew"—and in Slovene "kralj Matjaž"); Polish: "Maciej Korwin"; Serbian: "Matija Korvin" ("Матија Корвин").] ("Matthias the Just"; February 23 1443 – April 6 1490) was King of Hungary and Croatia ruling between 1458 and 1490. He was also crowned King of Bohemia in 1469 and ruled Moravia, Silesia, and Lusatia; from 1486, Matthias was Duke of Austria.

Early life

Matthias (Hungary: Hunyadi Mátyás) was born at Kolozsvár (present-day Cluj-Napoca) in the house currently known as Matthias Corvinus House, the second son of John Hunyadi – a successful military leader of Cuman descent, and Erzsébet Szilágyi, from a Hungarian noble family, who had risen through the ranks of the nobility to become regent of Hungary.His tutors were the learned János Vitéz (Hungarian: John the Valiant), bishop of Nagyvárad, whom he subsequently raised to the primacy, and the Polish humanist Gregory of Sanok. The precocious Matthias quickly mastered German, Italian, Romanian, Latin and principal Slavic languages, frequently acting as his father's interpreter at the reception of ambassadors. His military training proceeded under the eye of his father, whom he began to follow on his campaigns when only twelve years of age. In 1453 he was created count of Beszterce, and was knighted at the siege of Belgrade in 1456.

The same care for his welfare led his father to choose him a bride in the powerful family of the Counts of Cilli. Mattias was married to Elizabeth of Celje. She was the only known daughter of Ulrich II of Celje and Catherine Cantakuzina. Her maternal grandparents were Đurađ Branković and Eirene Kantakouzene. But the young Elizabeth died in 1455, before the marriage was consummated. Leaving Matthias a widower at the age of fifteen. [ [ Profile of Ulrich II and his children in "Medieval Lands" by Charles Cawley] ] :

After the death of Matthias's father, there was a two-year struggle between Hungary's various barons and its Habsburg king, Ladislaus Posthumus (also king of Bohemia), with treachery from all sides. Matthias's older brother László Hunyadi was one party attempting to gain control. Matthias was inveigled to Buda by the enemies of his house, and, on the pretext of being concerned in a purely imaginary conspiracy against Ladislaus, was condemned to decapitation, but was spared on account of his youth. In 1457, László Hunyadi was captured with a trick and beheaded, while the king died (possibly of poisoning) in November that year. Matthias was taken hostage by George of Poděbrady, governor of Bohemia, a friend of the Hunyadis who aimed to raise a national king to the Magyar throne. Poděbrady treated Matthias hospitably and affianced him with his daughter Catherine, but still detained him, for safety's sake, in Prague, even after a Magyar deputation had hastened thither to offer the youth the crown. Matthias took advantage of the memory left by his father's deed, and by the general population's dislike of foreign candidates; most the barons, furthermore, considered that the young scholar would be a weak monarch in their hands. An influential section of the magnates, headed by the palatine László Garai and by the voivode of Transylvania, Miklós Újlaki, who had been concerned in the judicial murder of Matthias's brother László, and hated the Hunyadis as semi-foreign upstarts, were fiercely opposed to Matthias's election; however, they were not strong enough to resist against Matthias's uncle Mihály Szilágyi and his 15,000 veterans.


Early rule

Thus, on January 20, 1458, Matthias was elected king by the Diet. At this time Matthias was still a hostage of George of Poděbrady, who released him under the condition of marrying his daughter Kunhuta (later know as Catherine). On 24 January 1458, 40,000 Hungarian noblemen, assembled on the ice of the frozen Danube, unanimously elected Matthias Hunyadi king of Hungary, and on 14 February the new king made his state entry into Buda.

Matthias was 15 when he was elected King of Hungary: at this time the realm was environed by perils. The Ottomans and the Venetians threatened it from the south, the emperor Frederick III from the west, and Casimir IV of Poland from the north, both Frederick and Casimir claiming the throne. The Czech mercenaries under Giszkra held the northern counties and from thence plundered those in the centre. Meanwhile Matthias's friends had only pacified the hostile dignitaries by engaging to marry the daughter of the palatine Garai to their nominee, whereas Matthias refused to marry into the family of one of his brother's murderers, and on 9 February confirmed his previous nuptial contract with the daughter of Poděbrady, who shortly afterwards was elected king of Bohemia (March 2, 1458). Throughout 1458 the struggle between the young king and the magnates, reinforced by Matthias's own uncle and guardian Szilágyi, was acute. But Matthias, who began by deposing Garai and dismissing Szilágyi, and then proceeded to levy a tax, without the consent of the Diet, in order to hire mercenaries, easily prevailed. He recovered the Golubac Fortress from the Ottomans, successfully invading Serbia, and reasserting the suzerainty of the Hungarian crown over Bosnia. In the following year there was a fresh rebellion, when the emperor Frederick was actually crowned king by the malcontents at Vienna-Neustadt (March 4, 1459); Matthias however drove him out, and Pope Pius II intervened so as to leave Matthias free to engage in a projected crusade against the Ottomans, which subsequent political complications, however, rendered impossible. On 1 May 1461, the marriage between Matthias and Poděbrady's daughter took place.

From 1461 to 1465 the career of Matthias was a perpetual struggle punctuated by truces. Having come to an understanding with his father-in-law Poděbrady, he was able to turn his arms against the emperor Frederick. In April 1462 the latter restored the holy crown for 60,000 ducats and was allowed to retain certain Hungarian counties with the title of king; in return for which concessions, extorted from Matthias by the necessity of coping with a simultaneous rebellion of the Magyar noble in league with Poděbrady's son Victorinus, the emperor recognized Matthias as the actual sovereign of Hungary. Only now was Matthias able to turn against the Ottomans, who were again threatening the southern provinces. He began by defeating the Ottoman general Ali Pasha, and then penetrated into Bosnia, capturing the newly built fortress of Jajce after a long and obstinate defence (December 1463). On returning home he was crowned with the Holy Crown on 29 March 1464. Twenty-one days after, on 8 March, the 15-years-old Queen Catherine died in childbirth. The child, a son, was stillborn.

After driving the Czechs out of his northern counties, he turned southwards again, this time recovering all the parts of Bosnia which still remained in Ottoman hands.

Wars in central Europe

Matthias gained independence of and power over the barons by dividing them, and by raising a large royal army, "fekete sereg" (the King's Black Army of Hungary of mercenaries), whose main force included the remnants of the Hussites from Bohemia. At this time Hungary reached its greatest territorial extent of the epoch (present-day southeastern Germany to the west, Dalmatia to the south, Eastern Carpathians to the east, and southwestern Poland to the north).

Soon after his coronation, Matthias turned his attention upon Bohemia, where the Hussite leader George of Poděbrady had gained the throne. In 1465 Pope Paul II excommunicated the Hussite King and ordered all the neighbouring princes to depose him. On 31 May 1468, Matthias invaded Bohemia but, as early as 27 February 1469, Matthias anticipated an alliance between George and Frederick by himself concluding an armistice with the former. On 3 May the Bohemian Catholics elected Matthias king of Bohemia, but this was contrary to the wishes of both pope and emperor, who preferred to partition Bohemia. George however anticipated all his enemies by suddenly excluding his own son from the throne in favour of Ladislaus, the eldest son of Casimir IV, thus skillfully enlisting Poland on his side. The sudden death of Poděbrady in March 1471 led to fresh complications. At the very moment when Matthias was about to profit by the disappearance of his most capable rival, another dangerous rebellion, headed by the primate and the chief dignitaries of the state, with the object of placing Casimir, son of Casimir IV, on the throne, paralysed Matthias's foreign policy during the critical years 1470-1471. He suppressed this domestic rebellion indeed, but in the meantime the Poles had invaded the Bohemian domains with 60,000 men, and when in 1474 Matthias was at last able to take the field against them in order to raise the siege of Breslau, he was obliged to fortify himself in an entrenched camp, whence he so skillfully harried the enemy that the Poles, impatient to return to their own country, made peace at Breslau (February 1475) on an "uti possidetis" basis, a peace subsequently confirmed by the congress of Olomouc (July 1479).

During the interval between these pieces, Matthias, in self-defence, again made war on the emperor, reducing Frederick to such extremities that he was glad to accept peace on any terms. By the final arrangement made between the contending princes, Matthias recognized Ladislaus as king of Bohemia proper in return for the surrender of Moravia, Silesia and Upper and Lower Lusatia, hitherto component parts of the Bohemian monarchy, till he should have redeemed them for 400,000 florins. The emperor promised to pay Matthias a huge war indemnity, and recognized him as the legitimate king of Hungary on the understanding that he should succeed him if he died without male issue, a contingency at this time somewhat improbable, as Matthias, only three years previously (15 December 1476), had married his third wife, Beatrice, daughter of Ferdinand I of Naples.

The emperor's failure to follow through on these promises induced Matthias to declare war against him for the third time in 1481. The Hungarian king conquering all the fortresses in Frederick's hereditary domains. Finally, on 1 June 1485, at the head of 8,000 veterans, he made his triumphal entry into Vienna, which he henceforth made his capital. Styria, Carinthia and Carniola were next subdued; Trieste was only saved by the intervention of the Venetians. Matthias consolidated his position by alliances with the dukes of Saxony and Bavaria, with the Swiss Confederation and the archbishop of Salzburg, establishing henceforth the greatest potentate in central Europe.

Wars against the Ottoman Empire

In 1471 Matthias renewed the Serbian Despotate in south Hungary under Vuk Grgurević for the protection of the borders against the Ottomans. In 1479 a huge Ottoman army, on its return home from ravaging Transylvania, was annihilated at Szászváros (modern Orăştie, 13 October 1479). The following year Matthias recaptured Jajce, drove the Ottomans from northern Serbia and instituted two new military banats, Jajce and Srebernik, out from reconquered Bosnian territory.

In 1480, when a Ottoman fleet seized Otranto in the Kingdom of Naples, at the earnest solicitation of the pope he sent the Hungarian general, Balázs Magyar, to recover the fortress, which surrendered to him on 10 May 1481. Again in 1488, Matthias took Ancona under his protection for a while, occupying it with a Hungarian garrison.

On the death of sultan Mehmet II in 1481, a unique opportunity for the intervention of Europe in Ottoman affairs presented itself. A civil war ensued in Ottoman Empire between his sons Bayezid and Cem; the latter, being worsted, fled to the knights of Rhodes, by whom he was kept in custody in France. Matthias, as the next-door neighbour of the Ottomans, claimed the custody of so valuable a hostage, and would have used him as a means of extorting concessions from Bayezid. But neither the pope nor the Venetians would accept such a transfer, and the negotiations on this subject greatly embittered Matthias against the Papal court. The last days of Matthias were occupied in endeavouring to secure the succession to the throne for his illegitimate son János; Queen Beatrice, though childless, fiercely and openly opposed the idea and the matter was still pending when Matthias, who had long been crippled by gout, expired very suddenly on 6 April 1490, just before Easter.

Policies in Wallachia and Moldavia

At times Matthias had Vlad III Ţepeş, the Prince of Wallachia, as his vassal. Although Vlad had great success against the Ottoman armies, the two Christian rulers disagreed in 1462, leading to Matthias imprisoning Vlad in Buda (Matthias, according to some sources, betrayed him). However, wide-ranging support from many Western leaders for Vlad III prompted Matthias to gradually grant privileged status to his controversial prisoner. As the Ottoman Empire appeared to be increasingly threatening as Vlad Tepes had warned, he was sent to reconquer Wallachia with Hungarian support in 1476. Despite the earlier disagreements between the two leaders, it was ultimately a major blow to Hungary's status in Wallachia when Vlad was assassinated that same year.

In 1467, a conflict erupted between Matthias and the Moldavian Prince Stephen III, after the latter became weary of Hungarian policies in Wallachia and their presence at Kilia; added to this was the fact that Matthias had already taken sides in the Moldavian conflicts preceding Stephen's rule, as he had backed Alexăndrel (and, possibly, the ruler referred to as "Ciubăr Vodă"), deposing Petru Aron. Stephen occupied Kilia, sparking Hungarian retaliation, that ended in Matthias' bitter defeat in the Battle of Baia in December (the King himself is said to have been wounded thrice).


In the course of his expansion, Matthias strengthened his state's diplomacy. Apart from his regular network of relations with his neighbours, as well as the Pope and Kingdom of Naples, he established regular contacts with France, Burgundy, Switzerland, Florence, most German states, Russia and, occasionally, with Persia and Egypt.

Matthias's empire collapsed after his death, since he had no children except for an illegitimate son, János Corvinus, whom the noblemen of the country did not accept as their king. The weak king of Bohemia, Ladislaus II of the Polish/Lithuanian Jagiellon line, followed him – Ladislaus nominally ruled the areas Matthias conquered except Austria – but real power was in the hand of the nobles. In 1514, two years before Ladislaus's death, the nobility crushed the peasant rebellion of György Dózsa with ruthless methods. As central rule degenerated, the stage was set for a defeat at the hands of the Ottoman Empire. In 1521, Belgrade fell, and, in 1526, the Hungarian army was destroyed by the Turks in the Battle at Mohács.

High taxes, mostly falling on peasants, to sustain Matthias' lavish lifestyle and the "Black Army" (cumulated with the fact that the latter went on marauding across the Kingdom after being disbanded upon Matthias's death) could imply that he was not very popular with his contemporaries. But the fact that he was elected king in a small anti-Habsburg popular revolution, that he kept the barons in check, persistent rumours about him sounding public opinion by mingling among commoners "incognito", and harsh period known witnessed by Hungary later ensured that Matthias' reign is considered one of the most glorious chapters of Hungarian history. Songs and tales converted him into "Matthias the Just" ("Mátyás, az igazságos" in Hungarian), a ruler of justice and great wisdom, as arguably the most popular hero of Hungarian folklore. He is also one of the sleeping kings.

This popularity is partially mirrored in modern Romania: 19th century Romantic nationalism invested in Matthias and his fathers' Vlach origins, their Christian warrior stances, and their cultural achievements.


Matthias was educated in Italian, and his fascination with the achievements of the Italian Renaissance led to the promotion of Mediterranean cultural influences in Hungary. Buda, Esztergom, Székesfehérvár and Visegrád were amongst the towns in Hungary that benefited from the establishment of public health and education and a new legal system under Matthias' rule. In 1465 he founded a university in Pressburg (present-day Bratislava, Slovakia), the Universitas Istropolitana. His 1476 marriage to Beatrice, the daughter of the King of Naples, only intensified the influence of the Renaissance.

An indefatigable reader and lover of culture, he proved an extremely generous patron, as artists from the Italian city-states (such as Galeotto Marzio) and Western Europe were present in large numbers at his court.

Like many of his acculturated contemporaries, he trusted in astrology and other semi-scientific beliefs; however, he also supported true scientists and engaged frequently in discussions with philosophers and scholars.

He spoke Hungarian, Romanian, Croatian, Latin, and later also German, Czech.

His royal library

Matthias Corvinus library, the Bibliotheca Corviniana , was Europe's greatest collection of (secular themes) historical chronicles and philosophic and scientific works in the 15th century, and second only in size to the Vatican Library (But Vatican library contained mostly Bibles for monks and parsons). His renaissance library is part of UNESCO World Heritage




External links

* [ "The Squash and the Colt"] , a folk tale reflecting Matthias' wisdom and sense of justice
* [ His picture on the Hungarian 1000 forint banknote]
* [ "Bibliotheca Corviniana Digitalis" - National Széchényi Library, Hungary]
* [ Map of Europe in 1500.]
*CathEncy|wstitle=Matthias Corvinus

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