1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Matthias I., Hunyadi
MATTHIAS I., HUNYADI (1440–1490), king of Hungary, also known as Matthias Corvinus, a surname which he received from the raven (corvus) on his escutcheon, second son of János Hunyadi and Elizabeth Szilágyi, was born at Kolozsvár, probably on the 23rd of February 1440. His tutors were the learned János Vitéz, bishop of Nagyvárad, whom he subsequently raised to the primacy, and the Polish humanist Gregory Sanocki. The precocious lad quickly mastered the German, Latin and principal Slavonic 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 Bistercze, and was knighted at the siege of Belgrade in 1454. The same care for his welfare led his father to choose him a bride in the powerful Cilli family, but the young Elizabeth died before the marriage was consummated, leaving Matthias a widower at the age of fifteen. On the death of his father he was inveigled to Buda by the enemies of his house, and, on the pretext of being concerned in a purely imaginary conspiracy against Ladislaus V., was condemned to decapitation, but was spared on account of his youth, and on the king’s death fell into the hands of George Poděbrad, governor of Bohemia, the friend of the Hunyadis, in whose interests it was that a national king should sit on the Magyar throne. Poděbrad 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 was the elect of the Hungarian people, gratefully mindful of his father’s services to the state and inimical to all foreign candidates; and though an influential section of the magnates, headed by the palatine László Garai and the voivode of Transylvania, Miklós Ujlaki, 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, they were not strong enough to resist the manifest wish of the nation, supported as it was by Matthias’s uncle Mihály Szilágyi at the head of 15,000 veterans. On the 24th of January 1458, 40,000 Hungarian noblemen, assembled on the ice of the frozen Danube, unanimously elected Matthias Hunyadi king of Hungary, and on the 14th of February the new king made his state entry into Buda.
The realm at this time was environed by perils. The Turks 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 not unnaturally refused to marry into the family of one of his brother’s murderers, and on the 9th of February confirmed his previous nuptial contract with the daughter of George Poděbrad, 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. Nor did these complications prevent him from recovering the fortress of Galamboc from the Turks, successfully invading Servia, 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); but Matthias drove him out, and Pope Pius II. intervened so as to leave Matthias free to engage in a projected crusade against the Turks, which subsequent political complications, however, rendered impossible. 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 Poděbrad, he was able to turn his arms against the emperor Frederick, and in April 1462 Frederick 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 Poděbrad’s son Victorinus, the emperor recognized Matthias as the actual sovereign of Hungary. Only now was Matthias able to turn against the Turks, who were again threatening the southern provinces. He began by defeating Ali Pasha, and then penetrated into Bosnia, and captured the newly built fortress of Jajce after a long and obstinate defence (Dec. 1463). On returning home he was crowned with the holy crown on the 29th of March 1464, and, after driving the Czechs out of his northern counties, turned southwards again, this time recovering all the parts of Bosnia which still remained in Turkish hands.
A political event of the first importance now riveted his attention upon the north. Poděbrad, who had gained the throne of Bohemia with the aid of the Hussites and Utraquists, had long been in ill odour at Rome, and in 1465 Pope Paul II. determined to depose the semi-Catholic monarch. All the neighbouring princes, the emperor, Casimir IV. of Poland and Matthias, were commanded in turn to execute the papal decree of deposition, and Matthias gladly placed his army at the disposal of the Holy See. The war began on the 31st of May 1468, but, as early as the 27th of February 1469, Matthias anticipated an alliance between George and Frederick by himself concluding an armistice with the former. On the 3rd of May the Czech Catholics elected Matthias king of Bohemia, but this was contrary to the wishes of both pope and emperor, who preferred to partition Bohemia. But now George discomfited all his enemies by suddenly excluding his own son from the throne in favour of Ladislaus, the eldest son of Casimir IV., thus skilfully enlisting Poland on his side. The sudden death of Poděbrad on the 22nd of 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 skilfully harried the enemy that the Poles, impatient to return to their own country, made peace at Breslau (Feb. 1475) on an uti possidetis basis, a peace subsequently confirmed by the congress of Olmütz (July 1479). During the interval between these peaces, 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 Czech monarchy, till he should have redeemed them for 400,000 florins. The emperor promised to pay Matthias 100,000 florins as a 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 (Dec. 15, 1476), had married his third wife, Beatrice of Naples, daughter of Ferdinand of Aragon.
The endless tergiversations and depredations of the emperor speedily induced Matthias to declare war against him for the third time (1481), the Magyar king conquering all the fortresses in Frederick’s hereditary domains. Finally, on the 1st of June 1485, at the head of 8000 veterans, he made his triumphal entry into Vienna, which he henceforth made his capital. Styria, Carinthia and Carniola were next subdued, and 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, and was henceforth the greatest potentate in central Europe. His far-reaching hand even extended to Italy. Thus, in 1480, when a Turkish fleet seized Otranto, Matthias, at the earnest solicitation of the pope, sent Balasz Magyar to recover the fortress, which surrendered to him on the 10th of May 1481. Again in 1488, Matthias took Ancona under his protection for a time and occupied it with a Hungarian garrison.
Though Matthias’s policy was so predominantly occidental that he soon abandoned his youthful idea of driving the Turks out of Europe, he at least succeeded in making them respect Hungarian territory. Thus in 1479 a huge Turkish army, on its return home from ravaging Transylvania, was annihilated at Szászváros (Oct. 13), and in 1480 Matthias recaptured Jajce, drove the Turks from Servia and erected two new military banates, Jajce and Srebernik, out of reconquered Bosnian territory. On the death of Mahommed II. in 1481, a unique opportunity for the intervention of Europe in Turkish affairs presented itself. A civil war ensued in Turkey between his sons Bayezid and Jem, and the latter, being worsted, fled to the knights of Rhodes, by whom he was kept in custody in France (see Bayezid II.). Matthias, as the next-door neighbour of the Turks, 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 hear of such a transfer, and the negotiations on this subject greatly embittered Matthias against the Curia. The last days of Matthias were occupied in endeavouring to secure the succession to the throne for his illegitimate son János (see Corvinus, János); but 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 Palm Sunday, the 4th of April 1490.
Matthias Hunyadi was indisputably the greatest man of his day, and one of the greatest monarchs who ever reigned. The precocity and universality of his genius impress one the most. Like Napoleon, with whom he has often been compared, he was equally illustrious as a soldier, a statesman, an orator, a legislator and an administrator. But in all moral qualities the brilliant adventurer of the 15th was infinitely superior to the brilliant adventurer of the 19th century. Though naturally passionate, Matthias’s self-control was almost superhuman, and throughout his stormy life, with his innumerable experiences of ingratitude and treachery, he never was guilty of a single cruel or vindictive action. His capacity for work was inexhaustible. Frequently half his nights were spent in reading, after the labour of his most strenuous days. There was no branch of knowledge in which he did not take an absorbing interest, no polite art which he did not cultivate and encourage. His camp was a school of chivalry, his court a nursery of poets and artists. Matthias was a middle-sized, broad-shouldered man of martial bearing, with a large fleshy nose, hair reaching to his heels, and the clean-shaven, heavy chinned face of an early Roman emperor.
See Vilmós Fraknói, King Matthias Hunyadi (Hung., Budapest, 1890, German ed., Freiburg, 1891); Ignácz Acsády History of the Hungarian Realm (Hung. vol. i., Budapest, 1904); József Teleki, The Age of the Hunyadis in Hungary (Hung., vols. 3-5, Budapest, 1852–1890); V. Fraknói Life of János Vitez (Hung. Budapest 1879); Karl Schober, Die Eroberung Niederösterreichs durch Matthias Corvinus (Vienna, 1879); János Huszár, Matthias’s Black Army (Hung. Budapest, 1890); Antonio Bonfini, Rerum hungaricarum decades (7th ed., Leipzig, 1771); Aeneas Sylvius, Opera (Frankfort, 1707); The Correspondence of King Matthias (Hung, and Lat., Budapest, 1893); V. Fraknói, The Embassies of Cardinal Carvajal to Hungary (Hung., Budapest, 1889); Marzio Galeotti, De egregie sapienter et jocose dictis ac factis Matthiae regis (Script. reg. hung. I.) (Vienna, 1746). Of the above the first is the best general sketch and is rich in notes; the second somewhat chauvinistic but excellently written; the third the best work for scholars; the seventh, eighth and eleventh are valuable as being by contemporaries. (R. N. B.)