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Kingdom of Hungary (13th – 15th c.)

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

Dynastic turmoils in Hungary greatly weakened the royal power and resulted in the rise of powerful nobles at the beginning of the 13th century. Andrew II (1205-1235) was forced to issue the Golden Bull in 1222 giving nobility the right to disobey the king when acting against the law. The Golden Bull of 1222 also obliged the king to regularly convoke the diet and increased the power of nobility in the counties. Andrew’s successor Bela IV (1235-1270) tried limit the power of the magnates and to recover the lost crown-lands. However, his reign was marked by the Mongol invasion in 1241 and severe Hungarian defeat in the Battle of Mohi or Battle of the Sajo River in 1241. Bela IV fled to Dalmatia and appealed to Pope Gregory IX and to Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II for assistance against the Mongols. However, none of them responded to his appeal, while Hungary was meanwhile plundered by the Mongols.

The Mongols withdrew because of dynastic crisis in the Mongolian Empire in 1241. Bela IV returned to Hungary which was totally devastated, while western portions of the kingdom were seized by Frederick of Austria. The Hungarians were defeated by Frederick but the latter was killed in the battle at the Leitha River in 1246. The male line of the House of Babenberg became extinct on Frederick’s death but Bela was defeated by Ottokar II of Bohemia in their struggle for Frederick’s inheritance – the Duchies of Austria and Styria in 1260. Bela IV managed to repulse the second Mongolian invasion one year later but the last years of his rule were marked by struggles with his son Stephen V (1246-1272). The latter was crowned junior King and entrusted the government of Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia in 1246, and Transylvania in 1258. Stephen V ascended to the Hungarian throne on his father’s death but the deceased senior king entrusted his daughter Anna and his followers to Ottokar II of Bohemia. Ottokar II started a war against Stephen V but the Hungarian King decisively defeated his rival in 1271. He died suddenly in 1272 and was succeeded by his ten year old son Ladislaus IV (1272-1290). Ladislaus’ reign was marked by loss of royal power to the Hungarian magnates and lower nobility. He became very unpopular for favoring the Cumans but he was assassinated by his own Cuman favorites in 1290. Ladislaus IV without an heir to the throne and was succeeded by Andrew III (1290-1301) who the last Hungarian king from the Arpad Dynasty.

Medieval illustration of Charles Robert

Charles Robert

The Hungarian nobility elected Wenceslaus III Premyslid as King of Hungary after the extinction of the Arpad Dynasty. Wenceslaus renounced the Hungarian crown to Otto, Duke of Lower Bavaria in 1305 but the latter was imprisoned in 1307 and abdicated as King of Hungary one year later. The Hungarian throne was assumed by Charles Robert of the Angevin Dynasty as Charles I of Hungary (1308-1342). He managed to restore the royal power as well as to increase the Hungarian foreign prestige. In 1335, he concluded a mutual defense union with Poland which resulted in the victory over Holy Roman Emperor Louis IV and his ally the Habsburg Duke Albert II of Austria in 1337. Charles’ plans to unite the kingdoms of Hungary and Naples under his son Louis I disturbed Venice and the Pope that felt threatened from the eventual Hungarian supremacy on the Adriatic. One of his greatest achievements was the agreement with his ally and brother-in-law, Casimir III of Poland which foresaw the succession of Charles’ son to the Polish throne in case if Casimir III died childless. Thus Charles’ successor Louis I (1342-1382) assumed the Polish throne after Casimir’s death in 1370 but the Hungarian-Polish union fall apart after Louis’ death. His younger daughter gained Poland, while the elder daughter Mary became heiress to the Hungarian throne.

The Hungarian throne was assumed by Sigismund (1387-1439), Margrave of Brandenburg through marriage with Mary in 1387. Hungary was at that time seriously endangered by the Ottomans who invaded Hungary in 1395. Thus Sigismund concentrated on defending his kingdom against the Ottomans but he was severely defeated by Sultan Bayezid I in the Battle of Nicopolis in 1396. Sigismund’s authority in Hungary reached its lowest point after the defeat at Nicopolis and he put all his efforts in securing the inheritance of Germany and Bohemia.

A portrait of Ladislaus the Posthumous

Ladislaus the Posthumous

Both Sigismund’s successors Albert II of Habsburg (1437-1439) and Wladyslaw III of Poland (1439-44) died during campaign against the Ottomans. Ladislaus the Posthumous (1440-1457) was elected King of Hungary after Wladyslaw’s death but he was under guardianship of Frederick IV who virtually held him as prisoner. Janos Hunyadi acted as his regent in Hungary until Ladislaus was freed by Ulrich of Celje, Princely Count of Celje in 1452. Ulrich of Celje acted as his guardian until 1456 when he was murdered by his rival Laszlo Hunyadi.

Ladislaus the Posthumous died in 1457 and the diet elected Matthias Corvinus (1458-1490), brother of Laszlo Hunyadi as King of Hungary. He reasserted Hungarian suzerainty over Bosnia in 1458, defeated Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III in 1462 and launched a campaign against the Ottomans who remained a constant threat. Matthias got involved in the struggle for the Bohemian throne after the death of George of Podebrady in 1471. With the Peace of Olomouc in 1478 he gained shared title of King of Bohemia and forced his rival Vladislaus II of Poland to cede Silesia, Moravia, and Upper and Lower Lusatia to Hungary. Matthias Corvinus made Hungary the dominant power in south-central Europe by the end of his reign but his successor Vladislaus II (1490-1516) was not able to pursue Matthias’ policy and lost his power to the nobles.

Kingdom of Denmark (13th – 15th c.)

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

Danish territorial expansion reached its height under Valdemar II (1202-1241) who forced the king of Norway to pay him homage, gained recognition of Danish rule in northern Germany by Frederick II in return for his support against Otto IV and conquered Estonia in 1219. However, defeat in the Battle of Bornhoved in 1227 and collapse of Danish overlordship in northern Germany marked the end of Denmark as great power. The Kingdom of Denmark retained only Rugen and Estonia.

Miniature of Eric V of Denmark

Eric V “Klipping”

Three Valdemar’s sons succeeded him in turn: Eric IV (1241-1250), Abel (1250-1252) and Christopher I (1252-1259). The reign of Eric V “Klipping” (1259-1286) was marked by struggles between the king and powerful nobles which resulted in the issue of handfastening in 1282 which greatly limited the royal power, like the English Magna Carta. His successor Eric VI Menved launched a large-scale expansionist policy in northern Germany which almost caused bankrupt and provoked a dangerous rebellion in Jutland in 1313 that had to be suppressed with German military assistance. The central authority continued to decline and Eric’s successor Christopher II (1320-1326) was deposed when he tried to improve the financial state by raising taxes of nobles and clergy.

Struggle for the Danish throne that followed the deposition of Christopher II in 1326 was won by Gerhard III of Holstein who was appointed regent and guardian of his protegee Valdemar III (1326-1329). Gerhard III of Holstein was de facto ruler of Denmark but he became very unpopular and was killed in 1340. The Danish throne was assumed by Valdemar IV (1340-1375) who restored the royal authority, extended the Danish territory to its former extent and was triumphal over the powerful Hanseatic League but only for a short period. He was forced to sign the Treaty of Stralsund in 1370 which ensured the Hanseatic League a trade monopole in Scandinavia and Baltic coast.

Portrait of Margaret I, Queen of Denmark, Norway and Sweden

Margaret I

Valdemar IV died without a male descendant. His daughter Margaret I, Queen of Norway achieved election of her son Olav IV Haakonsson as Oluf II of Denmark (1376-1387). Margaret’s son also succeeded his father Haakon IV as Olav IV of Norway and united Norway and Denmark in a personal union. Olav IV died without an heir to the throne in 1387 and was succeeded by his mother Margaret I as Queen of Denmark and Norway. She defeated and captured the Swedish king, Albert of Mecklenburg in 1389 and added to her title Queen of Sweden. Margaret I assured the throne of Denmark, Norway and Sweden to her great-grandson Eric of Pomerania on the congress of the three Councils of the Realm at Kalmar which united the three kingdoms into the Kalmar Union under Eric of Pomerania. However, Margaret I wasde facto ruler of all three kingdoms until her death.

Eric of Pomerania or Eric VII (1412-1439) did not follow Margaret’s skillful policy of diplomacy and started a war against Holstein over South Jutland (Schleswig). Eric’s attempts to drive out the German merchants from the Baltic coast resulted in conflict with the cities of the Hanseatic League which joined Holstein against Eric. Eric VII failed to conquer South Jutland and lost the lands he had already gained. Heavy taxes and centralization of government caused an unrest which led to national and social rebellion known as the Engelbrekt rebellion in Sweden in 1434. The rebellion that was joined by the nobles resulted in the expulsion of the Danish forces from Sweden. Meanwhile arose opposition against Eric VII in Denmark leading to his deposition in 1439.

The Danish Council of the realm elected Christopher of Bavaria (1439-1448) who was also elected in Norway and Sweden. Christopher pursued Margaret’s policy of diplomacy and ruled each country through its council of the realm and its own laws. Christopher died without an heir to the throne in 1448. Christian I of Oldenburg (1448-1481) was elected in Denmark and Norway, while Sweden elected Charles Knutsson. However, his attempt to restrict the power of nobility resulted in bitter opposition and he was forced to leave Sweden. Swedish Council of the realm elected Christian I as his successor in 1457, while Denmark and Norway meanwhile signed the Treaty of Bergen which strengthened the union between both realms. Christian I was also elected Count of Holstein (in 1474 Holstein was elevated to a Duchy) when he inherited the Duchy of Schleswig to prevent an eventual division of Schleswig-Holstein. He was succeeded by John (1481-1513) whose reign was marked by the first Danish-Russian alliance against Sweden.

Holy Roman Empire (13th – 15th c.)

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

Frederick II became the undisputed ruler of Germany after the defeat of his rival Otto IV of Brunswick in the Battle of Bouvines in 1214 and was crowned Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Honorius III in 1220. In the same year, Frederick II decreed Confoederatio cum principibus ecclesiasticis giving up a number of regalia to the bishops in return for their support in the election of his son Henry as King of Germany. However, he was also forced to issue Statutum in favorem principum granting privileges to the German princes few years later. Frederick II left Germany and returned only twice after the election of his son Henry as the German King: in 1235 and in 1237 to depose his unpopular son Henry VII and replace him with his youngest son Conrad IV. Frederick II was primarily interested in the Kingdom of Sicily transforming it into a strong centralized monarchy after promulgation of the Constitutions of Melfi in 1231.

Like his father Henry IV and his grandfather Frederick I Barbarossa, Frederick II came into conflict with the papacy and the Lombard League. The delay of his departure on the Crusade resulted in an open conflict with the papacy and his excommunication. Despite being excommunicated Frederick II launched the Sixth Crusade in 1228 and returned the holy cities to Christendom for ten years, while his son Conrad was crowned King of Jerusalem. However, Frederick’s aspirations in Italy disturbed the papacy and Pope Innocent IV deposed him as emperor in 1245. Frederick managed to retain his authority in the Kingdom of Sicily until his death in 1250 but William II, Count of Holland who was elected anti-king in 1247 captured the Kingdom of Germany without any resistance because Frederick’s son and heir Conrad was primarily interested in the Kingdom of Sicily.

Conrad managed to suppress the anti-Staufen rebellion and capture Naples in 1253 but he died one year later. William II was killed by the Frisians in 1256 and Holy Roman Empire fell into political crisis known as the Interregnum which lasted until the accession of Rudolf I of Habsburg (1273-1291) in 1273. The period of Interregnum was characterized by the decline of imperial authority and power which was taken advantage by the princes who consolidated their holdings and increased their independence. The Holy Roman Empire became de facto a confederation of virtually independent princedoms.

Tomb effigy of Rudolph I of Germany

Rudolph I

Rudolf I of Habsburg established peace and order in Germany, and reconciled with Pope Gregory X who promised him imperial coronation but he died before fulfilling his promise. Rudolf was also in good relations with Gregory’s successor Pope Nicholas III but the latter did not crowned him emperor. Rudolf defeated his rival and powerful King of Bohemia, Ottokar II in the Battle of Durnkrut and Jedenspeigen in 1278 and granted the gained lands in Austria and Styria to his sons. Rudolf tried to secure the German throne to his son Albert but the Prince-Electors chosen Adolf of Nassau (1291-1298). However, the latter was deposed and replaced by Rudolph’s son Albert I, Duke of Austria (1298-1308) in 1298.

Albert I continued the territorial expansion of the Holy Roman Empire started by his father. He secured the Bohemian crown to his son Rudolph on the death of Wenceslaus III of Bohemia in 1306. However, Rudolph died suddenly in 1307 and was succeeded by son-in-law of Wenceslaus II, Henry of Carinthia. Albert I was killed by his nephew Johann Parricida in 1308 and the German throne was assumed by Henry VII (1308-1313) of the House of Luxembourg. Henry VII traveled to Rome to be crowned emperor in 1312 but he failed to restore the imperial authority in Italy. His greatest achievement was the arrangement of marriage of his son John of Luxembourg with Elisabeth, heiress of Wenceslaus III of Bohemia by which the Luxembourg Dynasty gained Bohemia.

Two kings were elected after Henry’s death in 1313: Louis IV of Bavaria and Frederick I of Austria (Habsburg). Louis IV of Bavaria (1314-1347) defeated his rival, became sole king and was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 1328. However, his unpopularity resulted in the election of Charles IV of Luxembourg Dynasty as anti-king in 1346. Louis IV died one year later, while Charles IV defeated the Wittelsbach candidate to the German throne. Charles IV (1346-1378) also inherited the Kingdom of Bohemia as the eldest son and heir to John the Blind in 1347.

Wall painting depicting of Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor

Charles IV

Bohemia reached its political and cultural height during the reign of Charles IV. Prague gained archbishopric and first university (1348) in Central Europe. Charles IV made Prague the imperial capital and proved to be a great builder: he expanded and rebuilt the Prague Castle, built much of the cathedral of Saint Vitus and ordered the construction of one of Prague’s most famous sightseeing, the Charles Bridge. He extended his territory to the upper Palatinate of the Rhine, Lower Lusatia, part of Silesia and Margrave of Brandenburg through marriages, purchase and inheritance. Charles IV was also crowned King of Italy but he did not involve in the Italian affairs and only traveled through Italy to Rome to receive imperial coronation in 1355.

Charles IV yielded to France at the end of his rule with an aim to assure the French support in the election of his son Wenceslaus as King of Germany. In 1356, Charles IV promulgated the Golden Bull which regulated the election of the kings and stayed in force until 1806. The last years of his rule were also marked by the struggles between the princes and the cities as well as by the Western Schism. His son and heir Wenceslaus (1376-1400) was unable to reestablish order and he was deposed in 1400.

A portrait of Sigismund, Holy Roman Emperor

Sigismund

Sigismund (1410-1437) was elected King of Germany after Wenceslaus’ death in 1410. Sigismund was also King of Hungary through marriage to Mary, Queen of Hungary from 1387 and was in first place concentrated on resolving the Western Schism. Hungary was seriously endangered by the Ottomans after the defeat of the Christian forces in the Battle of Nicopolis in 1396 but Sigismund could not expect any help in a form of a Crusade against the Ottoman Empire because of the Western Schism. For that reason Sigismund put a lot of efforts to convoke the Council of Constance (1414-1418) which ended the Western Schism but also resulted in the condemnation and execution of the Bohemian religious reformer Jan Hus. However, Sigismund did not manage to organize a Crusade against the Ottomans as he expected and had to face with the Hussite Wars (1419-1436) that broke out after the death of Wenceslaus IV. The Bohemians refused to acknowledge him as King of Bohemia because they held him responsible for the death of Jan Hus. All Sigismund’s military campaigns to suppress the Hussites failed and he had to wait for 17 years to win the Bohemian crown.

Sigismund was succeeded by Albert II of Habsburg (1438-1439) who died one year later during the campaign against the Ottomans at Neszmely, Hungary. Albert II died without a male descendant and the electors chosen his cousin, Frederick of Styria as his successor. The latter ascended to the throne as Frederic III (1440-1493) in 1440 and was crowned emperor in 1452. He tried to gain control over Hungary and Bohemia. However, he lost Austria, Carinthia, Carniola and Styria to Matthias Corvinus of Hungary in 1458 and regained them only after Matthias’ death in 1490. Frederic’s greatest achievement was arrangement of the marriage between his son Maximilian, later Maximilian I (1493-1517) and Mary, heiress of Burgundy. The marriage gained an enormous inheritance to the Habsburg Dynasty which ruled the Holy Roman Empire until its dissolution in 1806.

Crusades

27 Jul
July 27, 2012
A 14th century illustration of Pope Urban II

Pope Urban II

The Crusades were a series of military campaigns of a religious character fought from 1096 to 1291 by most of the Christian Europe against the Muslims in the Middle East. However, the Crusades were also launched against the pagan Slavs, Jews, Orthodox Christians, Albigenses, Hussites as well as against political enemies in Europe (such as the Crusade against Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II). The appeal of the Byzantine Emperor, Alexios I Comnenus to the Pope for military assistance against the Seljuk Turks resulted in the convocation of the Council of Clermont by Pope Urban II in November 1095. At the Council of Clermont, Pope Urban II called for the Crusade against the Muslims who had occupied the Holy Land and were attacking the Byzantine Empire and gave a cloth crosses to the knights to be sewn into their armor which gave the Crusades their name.

After the Council of Clermont, Pope Urban II travelled throughout France preaching and organizing the Crusade. Although he expected his call for the Crusade will be responded only by knights and warriors the majority of those who took up his call were the poor peasants without any fighting skills.

The appeal of the Byzantine Emperor, Alexios I Comnenus to the Pope Urban II is widely regarded as the immediate cause for the Crusades but the real cause for the Crusades laid in Papacy’s and Western Europe’s own interests. The Papacy saw an opportunity to establish its dominance over the Holy Land, while the Crusaders were primarily led by economic, political and social motives. The best evidence for that is the fact that the Crusaders were primarily concentrated on capturing of Palestine instead of helping the Byzantine Empire against the Seljuk Turks of Anatolia.

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