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King Matthias Corvinus

Born 23 Feb., 1443-Died 26 April, 1490

The son of John (János) Hunyadi, the White Knight of the Christian Crusaders, and Elizabeth (Erzébet) Szilagy, was born in Kolozsvar (now Cluj), Transylvania the 23rd of February, 1443 and died in Vienna, Austria on the 26th of April, 1490 at the age of 47 from an unknown cause. Many believed that he had died of a stroke, and though that was the final diagnosis, some brought about the speculation that his wife may had poisoned him. Matthias (Mátyás) was a good-looking, fair-haired man, and at a young age was taught by some of the best scholars of the time and had become fluent in many languages such as Latin, Greek, German and several Slavic languages. He also learned later in life Hungarian, which was a nessecity for a future Hungarian King, and Romanian and Italian which are equivalents of Latin. Perhaps because of his extensive education he had become known as a patron of learning and of the arts and not just because of the influence of the flowering Italian Renaissance that was happening to the west. And because of his love of art and learning, he had established during his reign two universities, the University of Buda and a university in Pozsony, located near the western boundry of Hungary. He also founded his library named the Bibliotheca Corvina which was located within his palace in Buda. He had his own workshop of Italian artists to make the books and Manuscripts, which many were beautifully illuminated and were written of various subjects in different languages. The library ended up having over 10,000 books and manuscripts in which Matthias himself enjoyed reading in his spare time and had allowed scholars to come and read them also, though it was not open to the public. After Turkish conquest of Hungary, many of the books were burned or destroyed in some way or another. Not only did he enjoy books, he also enjoyed paintings and had many portraits and paintings hung within his palace north of Buda, in the city of Visegrad, located at the bend of the Danube. Unfortunately, many of those had been destroyed as well due to war.

A painting of King Matthias' summer palace of Visegrad in ruins, by Karoly the Elder Marko, 1791-1869.

King Ladislaus V Posthumus of Hungary's sudden death on the 9th of December, 1457 at Prague was brought under the same mysterious speculation (poison) as that of the next king of Hungary, King Matthias. Matthias was only 15 when he was elected the Hungarian king by the diet, though not crowned, on the 24th of January, 1457. (Keep in mind that the new year during that time was March 22nd, the spring equinox, and that many history books write dates from our modern calander to help make it less confusing. That is why the year 1458 is used most often when describing the year in which he had become king.) His epithet Corvinus comes from the Latin word corvus meaning crow. He accepted this after he had become king because it is said that a crow had once saved his life. He has for his crest a crow perched upon the blade of a sword. Matthias's uncle, Mihaly Szilagy, helped to tutor Matthias in politics and to take charge because he had felt that in his young age and inexperience that he was not ready to control a country on his own. But Matthias had become ambitious and impatiant with his uncle and wanted to become his own master and get rid of him. At the end of 1461, Szilagy was captured by the Turks and then tortured into giving Hungarian military secrets and when he refused, he was killed by being sawed in half. Matthias was then able to rule Hungary on his own without authority. In june of 1463, Matthias sent 3,000 formally attired knights from the best families of Hungary to Wiener Neustadt to bring him the Hungarian crown, the crown of St. Stephen, from Frederick III, the Holy Roman Emperor, for the price of 80,000 gold crowns. Frederick had kept the crown in hopes that someday he would become king of Hungary. After he had received the crown for the sum of money, Matthias the following year had the first formal coronation since Ladislas V at the cathedral of Esztergom and for weeks after celebrations took place. Matthias could then say that he was the legitimate King of Hungary.

The King Matthias Cathedral.

While he was king, he distinguished himself as a statesman, a soldiar and a patron of art and learning. He was indeed intelligent, firm and witty but he was also just. Though he raised taxes during his kingship, he did break the power of the oligarchs and drew in support of the lesser nobility and developed a centralized administration. After he had paied Hungary's debts to the Holy Roman Emperor, he enjoyed great wealth. He often went out amongst his countrymen dressed in simple clothes to see how his people faired, most of the time without anyone even recognizing him. He solved the peoples problems and complaints and though he has been praised as a just king loved by his people, Matthias also had a dark side. He was thoroughly autocratic and unusually cruel at times. He traveled a lot within his country and liked to wage wars outside his country as well as within. He formed his army known as the Black Troop, so-called because of their black uniform, which then became the most powerful and effective army in Eastern and Central Europe and had been loyal to the king. He waged war against his father-in-law, George Podebrady, king of Bohemia, whose daughter, Katherine, he married and died during childbirth, and after George died in 1471, he continued waging war against his successor, Vladislav II Jagiello. In 1478, he signed a treaty with him known as the Treaty of Olomouc which stated that the two rulers share the title of king of Bohemia, now known as the Czech Republic. It granted Matthias to have in his possession Moravia, Silesia and Lusatia, areas north and east of Bohemia, during his lifetime and after which were to revert back to Vladislav. In 1485 he took Styria, a province located in lower Austria, and made his new capitol in Vienna. Along with his new possessions, Hungary already had Transylvania and the fortress of Belgrade in Yugoslavia which the country itself was under Turkish rule at the time. He was critisized during his life and even after his death for not concentrating on the Turkish danger that was slowly reaching northward but kept his ambition in making Hungary into a vast empire and even to the thought of becoming Holy Roman Emperor himself.

Statue of a young and handsome King Matthias Corvinus

Matthias was not lucky when it came to his private life. In 1456, the plague struck Hungary, Croatia and Slovenia. His father, John Hunyadi, was one of the victims along with a young lady that Hunyadi had in waiting for him. Her name was Elizabeth (Erzébet) Cilli and she was destined to be his wife, but did not live long enough to marry him. Matthias's older brother, his only other sibling, Laszlo, became governor of Transylvania after his father's death, but in 1457, he was taken prisoner by King Ladislas V for his act of revenge upon him and was put to death while Matthias was sent to jail for a year until the death of Ladislas, after which he was elected king of Hungary. While he was king, he married Katherine but she died during childbirth, leaving Matthias with an illegitimate son by the name of Joannes. Then in 1476, he married another, Beatrice, the daughter of Ferdinand I of Aragon, King of Naples, but she was unable to provide him with any children. His cousin, Ilona Szilagy, married one of the most notorious men in history in that region of Europe. He was the infamous Vladislav III, nicknamed the Impaler (Tepes) or as most will recognize his other nickname, Dracula, which means the 'son of the dragon'. In 1462, Matthias had imprisoned Vlad for twelve years, most of which were spent in the palace of Visegrad and was where Ilona had met the somewhat deranged prince of Wallachia. After his release from imprisonment, they married and had two sons, one named Vladislav IV and the other thought to be named Mircea. Vlad himself already had an illigitimate son before her with an unknown woman, probably a Transylvanian woman. His name was Mihail and had become known later in life as Mihnea the Bad. It was then his involvement into Vlad the Impaler's life that Matthias decided to take some action against the Turks since Vlad was known to be an avid crusader against them.

Fortress of Hunedoara, built by King Matthias's grandfather.

When Matthias died, he left Hungary the most powerful state in Eastern and Central Europe, but all of his work was left to be unraveled by weak and unsuccessful rulers. Because of his abrupt and unexpected, early death, afterwards there was an uprising and almost a panic as to whom was to replace the great king of Hungary. His successor, unfortunately, was Ladislas II whom ruled until 1516. He let all of Matthias's work go asunder within a few years and gave up Matthias's conquests. His son, Louis II was left king of Hungary after his father's death at the age of 10. His father arranged his marriage with Mary, the granddaughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian, a Hapsburg whose family Matthias had tried so hard to avoid getting involved with Hungary. Louis II let the Hungarian power disintegrate even more and in 1526, at the Battle of Mohacs, Louis was killed and Hungary was taken over by the Turks in the east and the Hapsburgs in the west. In 1540, the Turks took Buda and left the Hapsburgs with narrow strips of Hungarian land to the far west and north and though the Turks had Transylvania under them, it was left almost entirely free and it itself became powerful during the late 16th century under the Bathory's and other powerful Transylvanian leaders. After Matthias, it is said, there hasn't been another great ruler like him in Hungary since.

Replica bookends with the depiction of King Matthias and his Queen, Beatrice of Aragon. Kuvasz dogs were bred and trained by the King and used them as guard and hunting dogs.

Vladislav III Tepes
Elizabeth Bathory
Petrus Gonsalvus
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