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Matthias Corvinus of Hungary
Matthias was born in Kolozsvár (Cluj-Napoca) in Transylvania in 1443 as the second son of John Hunyadi, a famous Transylvanian warlord of Vlach origin who led a number of successful military campaigns against the Ottoman Empire. John Hunyadi led the Hungarian troops in the 1456 Siege of Nándorfehérvár (Nándorfehérvár is now the Serbian capital Belgrade, at the time it was a Hungarian border castle/végvár), which ended with the siege broken and the large Ottoman Turk army beaten. (A little-known fact is that the noon bell tradition of Catholic churches originated as a Papal order, given in support of the besieged defenders of Nándorfehérvár, an order not redacted after victory.) But John Hunyadi died just after the battle in plague.
The later epithet Corvinus, adopted by Matthias, originated from the Coat of Arms of the family which showed a raven (corvus in Latin). The Silesian Annals state that when a raven carried off a ring King Matthias had removed from his finger, Matthias chased the bird down and slew him, retrieving the ring, and in commemoration of this event he took the raven as a symbol for his signet sign. Others think that the Coat of Arms was derived from another property of the family, Raven’s Rock (Hollókő in Hungarian). Another legend says that when young Matthias was in prison in Prague his mother was able to send him a letter with a raven (and that's why the Hungarian Postal Service had a raven as its symbol for more than a century).
After the death of Matthias's father, there was a two-year struggle between Hungary's various barons and its Habsburg king (Ladislaus V, named Postumus, also king of Bohemia) with treachery from all sides, in which Matthias's older brother Ladislaus (László) Hunyadi was one party attempting to gain control. In 1457, Ladislaus was captured with a trick and beheaded, while the king died (possibly of poisoning) in November that year. But then the lower aristocrats and the people of Pest came out in support of electing Matthias as king, while most barons, thinking the young bookworm would be a weak ruler, also agreed to support his election. Thus and on January 20, 1458, Matthias was elected king by the diet. At this time Matthias was a hostage of the new king of Bohemia, George of Podebrady, who released him under the condition of marrying his daughter. The opposing party initially fought some battles against Matthias, but these came to close in 1463, when the other contender, Habsburg ruler Frederick III of Austria officially accepted Matthias as rightful king.
Matthias was 15 when he was crowned King of Hungary and he soon learned the finesses of power from his mentor, the Italian Bonfini , regent of Hungary until his adulthood. Matthias was educated in Italian and his fascination with the achievements of the 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. He has proven a most generous patron and artists from Italy (e.g., Galeotto Marzio ) and Western Europe flocked to his courts. His library, the Bibliotheca Corviniana , was Europe's greatest collection of historical chronicles and philosophic and scientific works in the 15th century, and second only in size to the Vatican library. He spoke Hungarian, Croatian, Latin, and later also German, Czech, Slovak, and other Slavic languages.
Matthias gained independence of and power over the barons by dividing them, and by raising a large royal army (fekete sereg = Black Army) of mercenaries, whose main force was the remains of the Hussites. At this time Hungary reached one of its greatest ever territorial extent (Southeast-Germany to Dalmatia in the west, Poland to today's Bulgaria in the East).
He was victorious against the Ottoman Turks, both in beating back attacks and starting smaller campaigns of retaliation: 1463-64 in Bosnia, 1475 in Southern Hungary, 1479-83 in Transsylvania, Wallachia, Serbia and Bosnia; and in 1481 he even sendt a contingent to help in the re-taking of Italian port city Otranto. But, following up his fathers' vision, he set out to build an empire that could not just hold up but beat the Ottoman Empire - for which he deemed necessary the conquering of large parts of the Holy Roman Empire, to have a safe background. Until his death in 1490, Matthias Corvinus gained control of Moravia, Silesia, Lusatia (these in 1468/1469/1479-1490), and half of Austria (1477/1483-1491) - he even ruled out of Vienna after 1485.
Vlad Tepes, the Vlach ruler who later became mythologised as Count Dracula, was at times a vassal of Matthias beating scores of Turkish armies, but in between (after Matthias fell out with him and invaded Wallachia in 1462) his prisoner in Buda. (But Bram Stoker messed up geography, he had no castle in Transsylvania: he only was born there, when his father was invited by Hungarian king and later Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund in 1431 to be governor, but five years later his father became the new king of Wallachia.)
Matthias's empire collapsed after his death, since he had no children except for an illegitimate son, John Corvin, whom the noblemen of the country didn't accept as their king. The then king of Bohemia, the weak king 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, there was even a major peasant rebellion (named after its leader, Dózsa), crushed with barbaric methods by the nobles. As central rule degenerated, the stage was set for a defeat at the hands of the Ottoman Empire. In 1521, Nándorfehérvár fell, and in 1526, the Hungarian army was destroyed in the Battle at Mohács).
High taxes to sustain his lavish lifestyle and the Black Army (and also that the latter went on marauding across the Kingdom after being disbanded upon Matthias's death) could imply that he wasn't 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 of course the misfortune that befell 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, the most popular hero of Hungarian folklore.
- "The Squash and the Colt", a folk tale about the wisdom and justice of Mátyás.
Names in other languages
- Hungarian: Hunyadi Mátyás, Slovak: Matej Korvín, Czech: Matyáš Korvín, Romanian: Matei Corvin, Croatian, Slovene: Matija Korvin.
- In English he is sometimes referred to as Matthias (occasionally 'Matthew') Corwin or Corvin.
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