The Cambridge Modern History/Volume I/Chapter X
In the generation preceding the rise of the Reformation, the Magyar and Bohemian kingdoms underwent an internal decay that finally, in 1526, led to their incorporation with the empire of the Habsburgs, while Poland, although far from being sound or strongly organised, continued to maintain her imposing position against Turks and Tartars on the one hand, and Muscovites and Germans on the other. The decay of Hungary and Bohemia was unexpected and has always offered one of the most perplexing problems of modern history. About the middle, and still more during the sixth and seventh decades of the fifteenth century, both kingdoms seemed firmly established, the one (Hungary) in the immense basin of the middle Danube; the other (Bohemia, together with Moravia and Silesia) on the vast plateau of the great watershed of central Europe. Their rulers had real international importance; their armies were numerous and well disciplined; and their administration and revenues furnished them with ample means for making war or securing peace. Yet within a comparatively short period the prospects of the two kingdoms were blighted, their independence as national States was lost, and both were made to swell the rising imperial power of a dynasty that, a few years previously, had seemed to have lost the last vestige of its pretensions to greatness, and that had moreover repeatedly been worsted in the field and in diplomacy by both Bohemia and Hungary.
The power of the Habsburgs during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries is intimately connected with, and conditioned by, their acquisition of the Crowns of Bohemia and Hungary in 1526; and, since that central fact of Austrian history has at the same time also told on most of the international currents of European history, its cause, that is to say the decay of Hungary and Bohemia during the last years of the fifteenth and the first twenty-six years of the sixteenth century, must necessarily be viewed as possessing a more than local or temporary importance. A glance at the map of Europe in the period just indicated will suffice to show that there were, in central and east-central Europe, no less than four serious aspirants for a comprehensive monarchy, which should comprise all the fertile countries of the middle Danube, the upper Elbe, and the upper Oder. The Dukes of Bavaria, the Archdukes of Austria, the Kings of Bohemia, and the Kings of Hungary, had long been bidding, intriguing, and warring for the great prize. The spoils went to the House of Habsburg. The burden of the narrative to be attempted in this chapter is implied in this one historic result; and only by a comprehension of its gradual accomplishment can the more or less incoherent events which passed over the scene of south-eastern Europe before the advent of Luther, Charles V, and the great Popes of the Counter-Reformation, be made really intelligible.
Thus a clear solution, one might almost say a technical answer, may be found for the problem, why Austria, and not Bavaria, Bohemia, or Hungary, was to become, in 1526, the political centre of gravity of a part of Europe, where for geographical and historical reasons small independent States could not well hope for enduring existence, and out of which Poland was to retreat behind the Oder, leaving central Europe unaffected by her influence. All personal or accidental events and causes were overruled by one potent general cause, working on behalf of the Habsburgs. However bad the tactics of the Austrian rulers, however insufficient or dishonourable their means, they surpassed their rivals in respect of political strategy, more particularly in the strategy of foreign or international policy, and thus carried the day in a period when, all over Europe, international forces had a decided ascendancy over local or national influences. To this remarkable result the shortcomings of their rivals contributed perhaps more than their own superiority in political insight. The glaring and fatal mismanagement, or rather neglect, of foreign policy by Austria's three rivals rendered fruitless all their efforts for the consolidation of their States.
In approaching the melancholy history of Hungary and Bohemia from 1490 to 1526, one cannot but be struck with the analogies, amounting to complete resemblance, both in the circumstances and in the institutions of the Cech and Magyar kingdoms in the fifteenth century. In natural conditions, in number and quality of population, and in the conjuncture of circumstances historical and historico-geo-graphical, there is indeed a great difference between the two countries. The Magyars are a Turanian, the Cechs an Aryan people. In their languages, their customs, their music, they have little in common. The Cechs have always been, and were especially in the earlier half of the fifteenth century, profoundly troubled by religious movements of their own; while we can detect no parallel in Hungary to the rise and progress of the Bohemian Hussites. The international position of Bohemia was centred in a close, if latently hostile relation to the Holy Roman Empire, the King of Bohemia being one of the seven Electors. The claims to overlordship over Hungary put forward by earlier Emperors were mere pretences. Bohemia, after the fashion of small States hard pressed on all sides by an overpowering empire, was naturally led to intensify her powers of resistance by fanatic nonconformity, and her religious warriors (Ziska, the two Procops) held large parts of central Germany in terror for several years (1419-34). In Hungary there were no such motives for religious isolation and fanaticism, and the relations of the Kings of Hungary to the German Emperors were purely international or political.
Yet notwithstanding all these differences there is, in historical antecedents and in institutions, an unmistakable similarity between Bohemia and Hungary. Until the beginning of the fourteenth century both these countries were under native Kings, Hungary till 1301, Bohemia till 1306. Then followed in 'both of them foreign dynasties,—in Hungary the Angevins, in Bohemia the Luxemburgs; and so it came about that in both the Crown was made elective. In both countries, during the latter half of the fourteenth and the former half of the fifteenth century, the Estates won political ascendancy, and in both the protectorate of successful leaders in war or politics led to the throne,—in Hungary in the person of Matthias Corvinus, in Bohemia in that of George Podiebrad. Neither of these very able princes was, however, fortunate enough to found a new dynasty; and both were succeeded by two princes of the Polish House of the Jagellos, Wladislav and his son Louis, each of whom, though incapable and unworthy of his position, became King of Bohemia and of Hungary at the same time.
This profound parallelism, indicated by the mere external sequence and form of rule, becomes still more striking and symptomatic of deeper analogies when we turn to the social and political structure of the two kingdoms.
In the last quarter of the fifteenth century Bohemia consisted legally of Bohemia proper, together with the margravate of Moravia, the duchy of Silesia, and Lower Lusatia. Since the Peace of Olmiitz in 1477, most of Moravia, Silesia, and Lusatia were under Hungarian sovereignty, Matthias Corvinus having forced Wladislav of Bohemia to cede these territories. The population of Bohemia was not over 400,000; and then, as now, it was made up of German and of Slav-speaking inhabitants. The Bohemians were settled in the centre, and the "Germans" around them.
Hungary was in 1490 a very large kingdom, stretching from the eastern portion of the modern kingdom of Saxony through Silesia and Moravia, to Hungary proper, occupying wide tracts of fortified lands on the Drave, Save, Una, Bosna and Drina, as far as the Aluta or Olt river, thus comprising large portions of modern Bosnia, Servia and of western Rumania. The population of Hungary amounted towards the end of the sixteenth century to about 1,100,000; we may therefore assume that at the end of the fifteenth it had reached about 800,000. Venetian diplomatic agents were, it is true, repeatedly assured by the Magyars of the time of Wladislav (1490-1516) that Hungary could muster an army of no less than 200,000 men. This assurance, however, cannot be taken as a basis for serious computations of the population, and undoubtedly possesses patriotic and political interest rather than any statistical value. Hungary was then, as it is now, the meeting-ground of a very large number of nationalities. The towns were mostly inhabited by Germans who, as a rule, could not even speak the language of their masters. The mountainous regions in the north were thinly inhabited by Slav peoples, those in the south-east by Romance-speaking Rumanians, by Dalmatians, Servians, Armenians, Cumanians, etc. All social and political prestige and power was with the Magyars-or, to speak more correctly, with the Magyar noblemen.
The political structure of either country was likewise analogous to that of the other. In both, the aristocracy was the paramount element, endowed with chartered or traditional privileges, to the practical exclusion from political power of certain classes of citizens endowed with rights in the modern sense of the term. In Hungary the ruling Order was, in general terms, the nobility. It consisted of the great prelates of the Church (Domini Praglati, J'SpapoTc), the magnates (Barones et Magnates, zaszlosurak es orszagnagyok) and the common gentry (nobiles, nemesek). To these three classes of personal nobles were, since 1405, added the corporate nobles of the free royal towns (szabad Mralyi varosole), which as corporations enjoyed some of the rights of Hungarian nobility. Of the prelates, the first in dignity and power was the Archbishop of Esztergom (in German, Gran) who was the Primate of Hungary, the legatus natus of the Pope, and the Chancellor of the King; next to him ranked the Bishops of Eger, of Veszprem, of Agram, of Transylvania, and the Abbot of Pannonhalma, in the county of Gyor (Germanice: Raab). The magnates were not, with just two exceptions (the Eszterhazys and the Erd6dys), distinguished from the common gentry in the way of title;—for such titles as "Baron," "Count" or "Prince" were first introduced into Hungary by the Habsburgs, after 1526. They consisted of noblemen who were either very wealthy, or incumbents of one of the great national offices of the country. In perfect keeping with the medieval character of the entire social and political structure of Hungary, these great offices implied immense personal privileges rather than constituting their bearers definite organs of an impersonal State. The highest office was that of the Count Palatine (Regni Palatinus, nddor), the King's legal representative, and when he was a minor his legal guardian; judge and umpire on differences between King and nation; Captain-general of the country, and Keeper of the King's records. After the Count Palatine followed the Jvdex Cnrlae regiae; the Bonus, or Seneschal, of Croatia; the Tavernicorum regalium magister (fdtarnolemester) or Chancellor of the Exchequer; the vajdak or Seneschals of Transylvania and the minor border-provinces on the Danube; and the Lord-lieutenants of the counties (fflispanok).
The common gentry, about 15,000 families, consisted of persons forming the populus as distinguished from the plebs. They alone possessed real political rights; they alone enjoyed the active and passive franchise; their estates could not be taken away from them (a right called Ssiseg); they were exempt from taxation; they alone were the leading officials of the county-government, and their chief duty lay in their obligation to defend the country against any enemy attacking it. Even in point of common law they were, unlike Roman patricii or English gentry, in a position very much more advantageous than that allowed either to the urban population, called hospites, or to the rest of the unfree peasantry (jobbagyok).
On this stock of privileged nobility was grafted a system of local and national self-government closely resembling that of England, although the similarity holds good far more with regard to the Hungarian county-system than in respect of the Diet. In the former the local nobility managed all the public affairs with complete autonomy, and there was, especially in the fifteenth century, a strong tendency to differentiate each county as a province, unconcerned in the interests of the neighbouring counties, if not positively hostile to them. Inter-municipal objects, such as the common regulation of the unbridled Tisza river, proved as impossible of achievement as was the uniform assertion in all counties of recent legislative acts. Yet it was the county organisation, itself the outcome of the rapid conquest of all Hungary by one victorious people in the last decade of the ninth century, which preserved the unity of the Magyar kingdom.
The Diet (orszaggyHtts) on the other hand differed from the English Parliament in two essential points. It consisted, not of delegates or deputies, but of the mass of the nobles assembled in full arms on the field of Rakos, near Budapest, or elsewhere. Examples of delegates at Diets are, it is true, not entirely unknown in the period preceding the disaster of Mohacs (1526); yet as late as 1495, and repeatedly in 1498, 1500, 1518, special acts were passed enjoining every individual noble to attend the Diet in person. It may readily be seen that such an assembly possessed the elements neither of statesmanlike prudence nor of sustained debate. The poorer members, always the great majority, soon tired of the costly sojourn far away from their homes, and hastened back to their counties. The other essential difference from the English Parliament lay in the fact that down to the end of the period under review (1526) the Hungarian Diet consisted of a single Chamber only. Thus both in structure and in function, the Diets, although very frequent, very busy and very noisy, remained in a rudimentary state.
This short sketch of the political constitution of pre-Reformation Hungary would, however, be incomplete without laying special stress on the fact that there was no trace of Western feudalism either in the social or the political institutions of the country. Medieval no doubt the structure of Hungary was, even in the opening period of modern history; it was, however, a type of early, almost pre-feudal times, tempered by strong and wholesome elements of the modern national State. The adherence of Hungary to this medieval type rendered her less capable of progressing by the side of the far advanced and modernised States of the West with anything like equal rapidity; the factors of national life, on the other hand, afforded her the possibilities of a greater, if belated, future. Thus the Magyar kingdom stood in point of time between the Middle Ages and modern times; just as in point of space it lay between the Orient and the Occident.
In Bohemia, again, only noblemen enjoyed the actual rights of full citizenship. However, owing to the constant intercourse between Bohemia and Germany, German feudal ideas penetrated into the Cech kingdom; and in the fifteenth century Cech noblemen were divided, not merely de facto, as in Hungary, but de lege, as in Germany, into two classes-the Vladyks or magnates (in Cech also: pani, slechtici), and the knights (in Cech, rytierstvo, meaning the Estate or Order of the knights). The most important gentes of the Bohemian magnates were the Vitkovici, Hronovici, Busici, Markwartici (to whom belonged in the seventeenth century the famous Wallenstein), Kounici, each branching off' into a number of noble families, frequently with German names (Kiesenburg, Schellenberg, etc.). The tendency to make of the Vladyks or magnates a real caste, differing in rights, power, and prestige not only from the burgesses and unfree classes, but also from the knights, was so strong, and was so much aided by the terrible Hussite movement, from which the magnates contrived to derive more benefit than any other section of the population, that by the end of the fifteenth century they had in Bohemia proper monopolised the whole government of the country, and were possessed of most valuable and almost regal rights as lords on their estates. The Moravian high gentry, by a convention of 1480, entered on the statute-book, actually went so far as to restrict the number of Vladyks to fifteen, and thus practically established themselves as a closed caste. In Hungary, as we have seen, the magnates were never able to assert similar privileges at the expense of the ordinary gentry.
The Bohemian peasantry (in Cech: sedldk, rolnfk) were, previous to the Hussite Wars, in a tolerable position, although there always was among them a very large number of villains and half-serfs (in Cech: chlap, sluh). The introduction of German law into Bohemia undoubtedly helped to mitigate the condition of the rural population. The burgesses of the towns, mostly Germans, played,—as in Hungary and Poland,—a very subordinate part, and were admitted to the Diet only after the great Hussite upheaval, in the middle of the fifteenth century. The Diet of Bohemia (mem), and that of Moravia, were considerably better organised for efficient work than was the case with the Diet in Hungary. In Moravia there were four Estates (magnates, prelates, knights, and towns), in Bohemia only three, the clergy having here, as in England about the same time, disappeared as a separate Estate from the Diet. The assemblies were not frequented by unmanageable numbers, and were accordingly less tumultuous and more efficient than the national assemblies in Hungary. Yet the proper sphere of the influence wielded by the gentry was the Privy Council (rada zemska), where the Kmets, or Senwres, advised and controlled the King. When we reach the period specially treated here, we find Bohemia practically governed by a caste-like oligarchy, and uncontrolled either, as in Hungary, by a numerous and strong minor gentry, or, as in England, by a strong King.
From 1458 to 1490 Hungary had been ruled by King Matthias Corvinus, son of John Hunyadi, the great warrior and crusader. Matthias was in many ways the counterpart of his contemporary Louis XI of France, except that he surpassed the French ruler in military gifts. Both of them were, like so many of their fellow-monarchs of that time, historical illustrations of Machiavelli's Prince:-unscrupulous, cold, untiringly at work, filled with great ambitions, orderly, systematic, and patrons of learning. Matthias, whom the popular legend in Hungary has raised to the heights of an ideally just ruler ("King Matthias is dead, justice has disappeared" said the common people) had, as a matter of fact, made short work of many of the liberties and rights of his subjects. He controlled and checked the turbulent oligarchs with an iron hand; and his "black legion" of Hussite and other mercenaries,—his standing army, in a word, and as such an illegal institution in Hungary,—was employed by him with the same relentless vigour against refractory Magyars as against Turks or Austrians. In his wars he was particularly fortunate. On the Turks he inflicted severe punishment, and his Herculean general Paul Kinizsi, aided by Stephen Batori, completely routed them at Kenyermezci near Szaszvaros (Broos) on the Maros river in Transylvania, October 13, 1479.
It has already been seen how in 1477, Matthias, after a successful war against Wladislav of Bohemia, obtained by the Treaty of Olmiitz the larger portion of the territory of the Bohemian Crown. In 1485 the great Corvinus was still more successful. On May 23 of that year, Vienna capitulated to him as victor over the Emperor Frederick III; and thus he added Lower Austria to his vast domain. Nor were his successes gained only by laborious fighting. His diplomatic activity was hardly less comprehensive and elaborate than were his numerous campaigns. Yet, with all his successes and triumphs, Matthias, like the Emperor Charles V at a later date, belongs to a class of rulers more interesting by their personality than important by reason of their work. Like Charles, Matthias triumphed over persons rather than over causes. He humbled nearly all his opponents, and his statue or image was set up at Bautzen as well as at Breslau, in Vienna, and in the border-fortress of Jajcza, far down in Bosnia. When on April 6, 1490, Matthias breathed his last, he left the interests of his only, but illegitimate son, John Corvinus, and those of his realm, in so insecure a condition that no less than four or five rival candidates were striving for the Crown which he had fondly hoped to secure for his amiable but weakly son.
The oligarchs decided to confer the Crown upon Wladislav of Bohemia, a prince of the Polish House of the Jagellos, whose indolent character promised well for their ardent desire of retrieving the ascendancy which they had long since lost under Matthias1 stern rule. The campaign of his competitor Maximilian, the Emperor's son, broke down, while Wladislav's other competitor, his brother Albert, since 1492 King of Poland, was persuaded by him to withdraw. Thus began the period of Wladislav IPs reign over Hungary (1490-1516) during which the country, both at home and abroad, was rapidly falling into ruin. The King, commonly called "Dobzse Ldszlo" from his habit of saying "dobzse" ("all right") to everything, was a mere plaything in the hands of Thomas Bakdcz, the all-powerful Primate, of George Szakmary, the Bishop of Pecs, and of Emericus Perenyi, the Palatine. This Primate is the Hungarian Cardinal Wolsey. Like the great English prelate he commanded all the resources of clerical subtlety, and knew how to humiliate himself for a season. Like Wolsey, he aimed at the highest object of ecclesiastic ambition, the Papacy, and because of the same fatal conflict within him of two contradictory ambitions failed alike to render good service to his country, and to fulfil his hierarchical aspirations.
The Court-party centring in Bakdcz was opposed by the adherents of the powerful House of the Zapolyai, who after Stephen; Zapolyai's death in 1499, put up his son John as the national candidate for the Crown. John's friends, chiefly the childless and wealthy Lawrence Ujlaky, counted on the King's imbecility in council and war; and finally John proposed to Wladislav repeatedly, and even in threatening fashion, a marriage between him and the King's first child Anne. Wladislav, however, with the cunning which often accompanies dulness, contrived to obtain delay after delay, together with new treaty-assurances from the Emperor Maximilian, until his French wife, Anne de Candale, a kinswoman of Louis XII, King of France, bore him in 1506, a son, Louis, whose birth put an end to the intrigues of John Zapolyai. All through these years the achievements in arms of the kingdom, if not of the King, were by no means altogether unsatisfactory. In the early years of Wladislav's reign, the old hero Paul Kinizsi still continued to inflict heavy losses on the ever aggressive Turk; and John Zapolyai, too, earned some military glory. Ujlaky's rebellion was put down by the King's general Dragfy in 1495. The internal dissensions, however, were sapping the very foundation of the kingdom; and in 1514 Hungary was afflicted with one of the terrible peasant revolts then not infrequent in Austria and Germany, which invariably led to the most inhuman as well as illegal treatment of the defeated peasants. A crusade against the infidel Turk, announced by Bakdcz as legate of the Pope, gave rise to vast gatherings of peasants and other poor people who, on finding that the nobles refrained from joining them, took umbrage at this refusal, and speedily turned their pikes on the nobility as their oppressors. A large number of noble families were cruelly and infamously murdered by the Hungarian Jacquerie led by George Udzsa. The untrained masses of the insurgents, however, fell an easy prey to John Zapolyars soldiers. Ddzsa was roasted alive, and the peasants were by a special statute degraded to everlasting serfdom.
After the death of Wladislav II (March, 1516) his son, a boy of ten years, became King, under the name of Louis II. He had been brought up under the baneful influence of his cousin Margrave George of Brandenburg (Prince of Jagerndorf), and knew only of untrammelled indulgence in pleasures and pastimes. Under such conditions there was no vigorous reform to be expected, and the new Sultan, Sulayman the Magnificent, occupied in 1521 the important border-fortresses of Szabacs and Nandorfehervar (Belgrade), after their Hungarian garrisons had exhausted every effort of the most exalted heroism. However, even the loss of these places, the two keys to Hungary, failed to produce a sensible change in the indolence and factiousness of the people. In vain was Verbckzy,—an able and truly patriotic statesman,—made Palatine in 1525; in vain good laws were passed to meet the imminent danger at the hands of the victorious Sultan. The disaster of Mohdcs, August 29, 1526, described in an earlier chapter of this volume, showed but too clearly that the Sultan's destructive plans were prompted and aided rather by the fatal disorganisation of Hungary than by the number and valour of his troops. The Jagellos ceased to exist, and at the same time an integral portion of Hungary, soon to be increased to one-third of the whole country, fell into the hands of the Turk. Other nations before this had suffered their Cannae, Hastings, or Agnadello; but either the victor was equal if not superior in degree of civilisation to the vanquished, or the latter afterwards found means at home or abroad to shake off the torpor of defeat. Hungary, with the exception of Transylvania, was after Mohacs not only defeated but paralysed; and for three centuries she could not resume her historical mission, inasmuch as she was able to repel her foreign enemy only by the aid of her domestic oppressor, Austria, and of Austria's allies. Cannae steeled Rome, and Hastings made England an organic part of Europe; Mohacs buried the greater part of Hungary for more than nine generations.
Passing now to events in Bohemia, we find them full of similar perturbations. Here, since 1476, the Vladyks were involved in interminable struggles with the towns. The common people, especially the German settlers, had suffered exceedingly at the hands of the Hussites who, by impoverishing or massacring the industrial population of their own country, paved the way for an uncontrolled oligarchy. Of these class-wars, the cruel, not to say inhuman, campaign waged by the Vladyk Kopidlansky of Kopidlno against the city of Prague, from 1507 onwards, is perhaps the most remarkable. It was not until October 24, 1517, that the higher gentry and the towns arrived at an arrangement in the so-called Treaty of St Venceslas. The leading politicians and generals of those internecine troubles were John Pashek of Wrat, William of Pernstein, Zdenko Lew of Rozmital, and Peter of Rosen-berg. After 1520 the old religious dissensions, now intensified by the introduction of Luther's ideas, were resuscitated. The Kings, Wladislav and Louis, were quite unable, and it is doubtful whether they were willing, to stem the tide of internal strife. At any rate, they appear to have counted for nothing, and Bohemia as well as Moravia was practically handed over to a very limited number of aristocrats, uncontrolled either by the small gentry, as was the case in contemporary Hungary, or by the towns or peasants. Even without a battle of Mohacs Bohemia had reached the stage when any bold and able foreign prince might very well hope to possess himself of a country important alike by its situation and its resources. The Habsburgs were not slow to see and appreciate their opportunity.
The political and moral gloom weighing upon Hungary and Bohemia during the reign of the Jagello Kings is undeniable. At the same time it is easy to exaggerate its consequences. The historians of both countries, and more especially the Magyar authors writing on the reigns of Wladislav II and Louis II, seem at a loss for sufficient terms of reproach and recrimination with which to assail the Hungarians of this period; and they agree in tracing its catastrophe entirely to the moral and unpatriotic shortcomings of the Zapolyais and their contemporaries. Yet these authorities abound in statements implying high-spirited actions of good and great men, and serious and well-meant efforts for the preservation of the country. It is precisely in dark periods such as this that an advance in statesmanship and earnest patriotism is apt to make itself manifest. Any age of Hungarian history might have been proud of a patriot, jurist and statesman such as Stephen Verbo'czy, the author of the first authoritative if not strictly official codification of Magyar law, written and unwritten, the Decretum Tripartltum juris conftuetudinarii inclyti regni Hungariae: (Harma-skonyv). Utterances nobler and truer than the speeches delivered by him at the Diets never fell from the lips of a sincere and wise patriot. Nor was Bornemisza a commonplace or mediocre politician: while Paul Tomory, Archbishop of Kalocsa, both as an ecclesiastic and as a commander, to whom the defence of the south of the country was entrusted, deserved highly of his country.
The existence of an ample stock of public and private virtues even in those dark times becomes, however, more evident still when we study the collective actions of the Diets. After making all due allowance for their ultimate barrenness, one cannot but acknowledge that the public of that time, that is to say, the bulk of the magnates and common gentry, were at least very anxious to bring about in the government of the country a tolerable equilibrium between the powers possessed by the legislative, executive and judiciary authorities respectively. As to the legislative, they carried two great principles which in any other age would have been considered a distinct gain for any liberal constitution. One was the law that taxes can be levied by decree of the Diet alone; the other was the equally important law contained in the decrees of 1495, 1498, and especially 1507, by virtue of which the common gentry (not knights, there being no such Order in Hungary) were always to have an equal share with the magnates in the government of the nation, particularly in the Privy Council. Other important laws, salutary in themselves though still-born, were passed in great number; and immediately before the disastrous campaign of Mohacs the gentry of their own accord temporarily abandoned their exemption from taxation. Highly commendable from the same point of view are the motives discoverable in numerous measures of the time, endeavouring to regulate the working of the county organisation; and the very high reputation of Verb6czy, who was rewarded by a national gift for his codification, tends to show the genuine interest taken by the commonalty in the important work of legal reform.
The Renaissance, it must be admitted, left but a faint impression on Hungary. The magnificence with which Matthias had patronised Italian scholars and artists, and established his famous collection of books, the Corvina, was only feebly imitated by a few noblemen and churchmen. As late as 1491 we find that the Judex Curiae (Lord Chief Justice) of Hungary, Stephen Batori, was so illiterate as to be unable to sign his name at the treaty negotiations between Maximilian and Wladislav II at Pozsony (Pressburg). In the field of architecture there was some progress. Thus the largest and most beautiful cathedral in the Gothic style in Hungary, that of Kassa, was finished under the Jagello Kings; and Bakdcz embellished the great cathedral of Esztergom with much exquisite work. Nor were the seats of the nobles neglected, and the pleasant manor-style of fifteenth century Italy may still be admired in the northern counties of Zemplen and Abauj, whither the Turk seldom extended his ravaging expeditions.
But if, as will be noted below in connexion with other equally deplorable facts, the Renaissance proper can scarcely be regarded as having attained to any national importance in Hungary, the Reformation soon penetrated into the various regions and social strata of the country. Already in 1518 traces appear of the influence of the teachings of Luther and Melanchthon in Bartfa, Eperjes, Lcicse, and other towns of northern Hungary. Even among the magnates we find several adherents or patrons of the new creed, such as Peter Perenyi, Th. Nadasdi, Valentine Torok. The bulk of the population, however, remained faithful to the old religion, and in 1523, 1524, and 1525 very stringent laws were passed against the " Lutherani?
In Bohemia the Hussite movement and the aspirations of the Utra-quists, which were not appeased before the Diet of Kuttenberg in 1485, paved the way for the Reformation. Gallus Cahera, a butcher's son, who became vicar of the great Teyn-church at Prague, and John Hlawsa of Libocan were the chief leaders of a religious revival in the sense of Lutheranism.
There can thus be little doubt that, with all the undeniable drawbacks of oligarchic or aristocratic misgovernment, both Hungary and Bohemia still possessed numerous elements of prosperity, and that the relatively sudden downfall of both kingdoms, while certainly connected with some moral failing in rulers and ruled alike, cannot be attributed to ethical deficiencies. These were certainly not so exceptional as to account for the disappearance of national independence after a single great defeat on the battlefield. As was remarked at the outset of this chapter, the unexpected dissolution of the two kingdoms and their absorption by a Power not very much better organised than themselves and suffering from many similar evils, remains one of the great difficulties besetting this earliest period of modern history. To seek to remove such difficulties by moralising on the selfishness or greed of this Palatine or that magnate, supplies no historic synthesis of the true relation of facts. Whenever a disaster like that of Mohacs stands at the end of a long series of events, it is only fair to assume that the country in question must have been terribly misgoverned. The neglect, not so much of one or the other of the ordinary virtues indispensable under all circumstances, but rather of one of the directive forces of national life and progress, will-except when a nation is specially protected by nature, as for instance by the geographical configuration of the country-invariably land it in serious predicaments, and eventually in political ruin. One of those directive forces is what is commonly called foreign policy. In Europe at any rate, and most certainly since the downfall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, the action and reaction of its several countries on one another have been so powerful, that Giuseppe Ferrari's suggestion of writing history in a binary form ought to have been carried out long since for every one of them, as fortunately it actually has been for some.
In the latter half of the fifteenth century the whole tenor and nature of state-craft and policy changed from what it had been in the preceding centuries. The Middle Ages knew only of two "universals" in politics, the Empire proper, that is, the Holy Roman Empire, and the Catholic Church; the Byzantine Empire having little if anything to say in questions of Western policy since the days of Charlemagne. Of those two empires that of the Church alone possessed adequate organisation and means for the purpose of efficient government. The Holy Roman Empire was a fiction, or at best an ideal, lacking all the realities of power. In the face of that vague "Empire," the less ambitious but more practical smaller sovereigns and lords in Germany, France, Spain, and Italy, and likewise those of Bohemia, Hungary, and Poland, endeavoured during the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries, to build up well-knit and well-organised smaller realms. In this some of them succeeded but too well; and by about 1475 Europe was again divided into two groups,—but groups of a character totally different from the medieval classification.
Instead of a loose fiction, such as the Holy Roman Empire, and the Church, Europe then displayed a series of relatively large and fairly centralised monarchies, such as England, France, Aragon, Bohemia, Poland, and Hungary on the one hand; and small semi-monarchies or still smaller but highly organised city-States, such as the duchy of Bavaria, the electorate of Saxony, the free imperial towns and the Italian city-States on the other. The old political "universals" however, the Empire and the Church, were not yet extinct. The Church, although undermined by deleterious influences, internal as well as external, could still draw on vast resources of policy, treasure, and men; the Empire, although antiquated as an institution, still possessed stores of vitality as a diplomatic contrivance and a political allurement. Owing to the "universal" character of both Emperor and Pope, nothing but an international policy could be expected from either; but all the minor sovereigns who were constantly striving to enlarge their domain were likewise inevitably driven into the maze of this species of policy. However, there was a great difference (though hitherto this has remained almost unnoticed) between the realms east and west of the Oder and the March. All the States west of these rivers, especially Austria, Saxony, Bavaria, Burgundy and France-to mention only the most important ones-consisted not of continuous territory, but of larger or smaller enclaves, broken territory straggling irregularly over several latitudes, and sometimes severed by hundreds of miles. Austria since the acquisitions of Archduke Leopold III in the fourteenth century had enclaves on the Rhine, in Swabia, in Würtemberg, not to mention those in Switzerland, Tyrol, and Friuli. Bavaria's map in the fourteenth century is as bewildering as Italy's in the thirteenth, or that of the Thuringian Princes in our days. The same remark holds good as to Burgundy, France, and even England, with her enclaves in France, Ireland, and Scotland.
To this singularly disjoined state of the territory in all the sovereignties west of the Oder and March rivers (with the solitary exception of Bohemia), the realms east of that boundary, such as Poland and Hungary, offer a remarkable and suggestive contrast. Whether Hungary extended, as it did under Louis the Great in the fourteenth century, from Pomerania to Bulgaria, or as under Matthias, from Saxony to Servia, the Magyar kingdom always had an unbroken continuity of territory such as is in our own times possessed only by the several great States of Europe. The same remark applies to Poland, with a few insignificant allowances, and also to the kingdom of Bohemia.
This then is the chief difference between the States of Bohemia, Poland and Hungary as they are found at the end of the fifteenth century, and the rest of the western States of Europe. The unbroken continuity of those eastern States might have seemed to imply a greater unity, and thus greater strength. In reality, however, the effect was entirely different. The western sovereigns, from a natural desire to round off their far outlying possessions, and the western peoples from an equally natural desire to render their nationality coextensive with their land, were constantly anxious to improve and strengthen their organisation at home, while at the same time taking a deep, practical, and incessant interest in the affairs of their neighbours and rivals. The very fact of the situation of their States, and of the fundamental desires and needs to which it gave rise, thus made the western monarchs of the fifteenth century at the same time better or at any rate more efficient rulers at home, and trained diplomatists abroad. They soon learned the lesson, so indispensable in all foreign policy, that no dependence can be placed on any alliance unless it is based on substantial and mutual "consideration,"—to use a lawyer's term. To render themselves valuable, that is, eventually dangerous, was their first and most pressing object, and their subjects could not but feel that at a time when a consistent treatment of foreign policy was the supreme need of their country, the monarch and his counsellors justly claimed absolute power.
The intimate connexion, then, which existed in the case of the western monarchies between the discontinuity of their territories, and absolutism on the one hand, and their spirited foreign policy on the other,. goes far to explain the political failure of Hungary and Bohemia at the end of the fifteenth century, in spite of their brilliant beginnings fifty years before. Precisely at the times when the western States, even England, practically abandoned their faith in parliamentary institutions, and fell into more and more complete subjection to an efficient absolutism, the eastern countries were intent upon weakening the central power and drifted into a quite modern system of Diets and Parliaments. Their territory being continuous and large, neither their Kings nor the peoples underwent any pressure from the outside urging them to undertake the consolidation of their political fabric at home with any degree of superior efficiency, or to devote careful study and effort to the cultivation of foreign policy. Without such pressure from the outside no nation has ever persisted in the arduous work of reform for any lengthy period. In the times of Matthias, it is true, we notice that foreign policy was made a subject of constant and rigorous attention on the part of the King, who even tried to bring up a trained body of diplomatists, such as Balthasar Batthyanyi, Peter Ddczi, Gregory Labatlan, Benedictus Turoczi, and others. These were, however, mere beginnings, and very inferior indeed to the systematic work of the foreign representatives of Burgundy, or Austria, not to speak of Venice and the Pope. Under the Jagellos even these feeble attempts were abandoned, and Hungary and Bohemia were from 1490 to 1526 quite outside the main current of the international policy of Europe; alien to all the great interests then at issue; neither valued as allies, nor dangerous to any one except to minor countries in their immediate neighbourhood. When therefore the Turk in 1526 invaded Hungary with overwhelming forces, no serious attempt whatever was made to save Hungary on the part of any of the Powers, and the Turk, instead of meeting a European coalition, like that which he was to encounter at Lepanto in 1571, when he planned the ruin of Venice, was only confronted by a tiny Magyar army which he easily destroyed.
One has only to compare the incessant activity in foreign policy of Maximilian, or Ferdinand I of Austria, with that of Wladislav II and Louis II of Hungary and Bohemia, in order to see how utterly inferior Magyar political strategy was to that of the House of Habsburg. Maximilian's great wars with Venice, France, and Switzerland, his incessant diplomatic campaigns with the Curia of Rome, with the princes of Germany, with Venice, are all discussed in other parts of this work. It will be sufficient here to limit our attention to Maximilian's eastern policy. In addition to his repeated action in favour of the Teutonic Knights in what was afterwards known as East Prussia, he made several treaties with the "White Czar," such as those of 1490, 1491, and especially that of August 9, 1514, concluded at Gmunden with Czar Wasiliei Ivanovic, through an embassy previously sent to Russia and intended to bring pressure upon Sigismund, King of Poland, who tried to thwart Maximilian's plans in Hungary. With the Jagellos of Hungary he carried on several wars, all of them being in point of fact designed on one pretext or another to renew and improve upon the original treaty, dated July 19, 1463, between the Emperor Frederick III and King Matthias, in virtue of which the Habsburgs were eventually entitled to claim the crown of St Stephen. The Treaty of Pozsony (Nov. 7, 1491) as well as the negotiations of March, 1506, leading to the Treaty of July 19, 1506, and the "Congress" of Vienna (July, 1515), all terminated at the last-named date in an arrangement according to which Wladislav's daughter Anne was to marry Ferdinand, Maximilian's grandson, and Wladislav's son Louis was to become the husband of Maximilian's grand-daughter Mary. By these double marriages the Habsburg claim to the kingdom of Hungary was brought within measurable distance of consummation. It is impossible here to do more than indicate the immense diplomatic activity of Maximilian in this the most lasting of his achievements. All the levers of the international policy then in operation were put in motion by him. His policy towards Louis XII of France, and that towards the Dukes of Milan; his European league against Venice (the so-called League of Cambray), all and everything was utilised by him to flatter, threaten, bribe or cajole Hungary into accepting his House as the eventual heir of the Jagellos. In July, 1510, his ambassadors, together with those of France and Venice, pleaded before the Hungarian Diet at Tata, pretending to be very anxious for the participation of Hungary in the league against Venice.
As against this business-like and powerful policy of the ingenious Habsburg, what do we find in Hungary? Nothing. Hungary had neither standing ambassadors at the various Courts, nor any class of trained diplomatists. At Tata the assembled gentry listened with self-complacency to the eloquent foreign orators, but as usual the noblemen soon lost patience and dispersed. Venice rightly judged the nullity of Hungary's international position, when even in the midst of her danger she refused to make any concessions whatever to the "Venetian" party amongst the Magyar nobles. The Popes, whose still very valuable countenance Hungary might have secured by a more aggressive policy against Venice in Dalmatia, or in Friuli, likewise dropped Hungary. Ignorant of what passed beyond the Carpathian Mountains; unable to avail themselves of the currents and counter-currents of the international policy; rendering no service to the chief Powers of the day,—the Hungarians were left in the hour of their greatest danger to their own slender resources as against the most formidable military Power of the time. The Habsburgs, both from having worn the imperial dignity for ages, and because their countless enclaves brought them into incessant conflicts with nearly all the Powers of Europe, had by long and patient study learned the priceless value of a sound and sustained foreign policy. In that vital point neither the Bavarian Dukes, from the exiguity of their domain, nor the Bohemian or Hungarian Kings, from their totally different habits of political thought, could vie with them. Even Matthias could not, in the end, have prevailed against Maximilian, inasmuch as the Hungarians from the very nature of their unbroken, self-sustaining territory would neither have understood, nor have readily followed a Habsburg policy carried out by a Magyar King. Mohacs, then, was the necessary outcome of the neglect of foreign policy at a time when it was most needed; and this neglect again cannot but be ascribed chiefly to habits of political thought inevitable in a nation which lacked all those geographical and economic incentives to the maturing of a foreign policy that raised the nations ruled by the Valois and Habsburgs above all other nations of the continent. It is infinitely more becoming to lament Mohacs as an unavoidable calamity, than to use it as a text on which to lecture an unfortunate nation.
The fatal failings of Hungarian policy may be traced in Poland also. In the first quarter of the fifteenth century the great Prince of Lithuania, Vitovt, had had indeed far-reaching ideas about the foundation of a vast Cech-Polish empire, which was to dominate the whole east of Europe. However he failed, chiefly because he was antagonistic to the Catholic or national Church of Poland. Kasimir IV (1445-92), father of Wladislav II of Hungary and Bohemia, successfully combated the Teutonic Order and other neighbouring Powers. Doubtless, like his contemporary Matthias Corvinus, he had clear views about the necessity of reorganising his country on the basis adopted by the monarchs of the West. However, both he and his sons and successors after him, John Albert (1492-1501) and Alexander I (1501-6), tried in vain to break the power of the magnates by countenancing the minor gentry (szlachta). In 1496 the peasants were completely disfranchised; against the urban population, mostly Germans, and termed hospltes, several very damaging laws were passed; and the royal power was seriously reduced by the magnates. After suffering more particularly from the Statute of Nieszava, 1454,—the Golden Bull rather than the Magna Charta of the Polish oligarchs,—and from the Constitution "Nlhil novi" of 1505, the monarchy became practically helpless in the hands of Sigis-mund I (1506-48), brother to his predecessors. It was during this period that both the General Diet (izba poselslea, Chamber of Deputies) of all the various absolutely autonomous provinces of Poland, and the several Provincial Diets, acquired the fulness of actual authority in the legislative and administrative branches of government. The King might appoint, but might not remove officials. The nuntii terrae or representatives at the national Diets were inviolable and omnipotent. Thus in Poland too, Parliamentarism in a rather extreme form arose at the very conjuncture when it had proved inefficient in all the occidental countries. As in Hungary and Bohemia, so in Poland, its undue development crippled any consistent and sound foreign policy; and we accordingly find that although during the whole of the sixteenth century Poland still appears imposing and still achieves many a remarkable success, yet she can neither stop the growth of hostile Russia in the east, nor the insidious rise of Prussia in the west; she can neither amalgamate her population into one nation, nor endow it with a less anarchical constitution.
With a country three times as large as modern France, and territorially unbroken, besides possessing a fair outlet to the sea, the Poles were in possession of many of the factors that contribute to establish a State, and to give an assured balance to its position. That pressure from the outside, however, which has probably done more for the good of nations than most of their virtuous and patriotic qualities, was wanting. In proverbial prodigality and pleasure-seeking, the nobility of Poland spent the intervals of war on their neglected estates, leaving the great sea commerce to the German patricians of Danzig, the internal trade to the Jews, what little industry there was to the German burgesses, and the schools to the priests. Although most Polish noblemen of the wealthier classes had received a careful education at the universities of Italy, and many of them were imbued with the spirit of the classics, and fired by the ideals of true patriotism, yet all these and many other fine qualities of this most distinguished of Slavonic nations, were rendered useless and barren by the apathy and indolence of the great body of the nobles. Surely in a nation which could produce a Copernicus and so many great poets, there must have been much natural endowment even for the highest spheres of thought. In the midst of general indifference, however, the richest soil must lie fallow. The Poles, like the Hungarians, were utterly without any power of self-orientation in matters to the west of their vast country; they neglected European interests-both the Renaissance, the new international movement in the realm of intellect, and the new international policy of contemporary monarchs. In return, Europe, indifferent to Poland, as she was to the Magyars, suffered her to sink slowly but surely into inevitable dissolution.