Are there any Habsburgs alive today? If yes, what are they up to?

  • First of all, the Árpád dynasty, the male-line descendants of Grand Prince Árpád, ruled Hungary continuously from 895 to 1301. The blood oath was a pact among the leaders of the seven Hungarian tribes around 890. The author of Gesta Hungarorum narrated its story in his book:

    “Then they said to Chieftain Álmos (Árpád’s father) together: »We have chosen you, from this day onward, to be our leader and commander, and wherever your destiny takes you, we are bound to follow«…And thus was the first part of the oath: That as long as they live and their descendants live, their leader will always be from Álmos’s lineage.“

    With Andrew III’s death in 1301 (“the last golden twig“), the male line of the House of Árpád became extinct and a period of anarchy began. Royal power was restored under Charles Robert (1308–1342), who reunited the kingdom after the death of the most powerful Hungarian lord, Mattheus Csák in 1321. Henceforward, all the kings of Hungary were matrilineal descendants of the Árpáds (for example, Charles Robert’s mother, Mary, was a daughter of King Stephen V).

    King Sigismund died in 1437 without an heir and the Estates elected his son-in-law, Albert V of Austria, king. He was a member of the House of Habsburg (matrilineal descendants of Árpád), so Hungary came under Habsburg rule in 1437, for the first time. Albert died of dysentery during an unsuccessful military campaign against the Ottomans in 1439. His widow, Elizabeth, gave birth to a posthumous son, Ladislaus. Most noblemen preferred a monarch capable to fight and they offered the crown to Wladyslaw III of Poland. He died at the Battle of Várna in 1444 and the Hungarian nobles acknowledged the infant Ladislaus V as rightful monarch. However, the Estates appointed seven “captains” – one of them being John Hunyadi – to govern the kingdom. Later they elected Hunyadi sole regent, who had established his reputation as a great general.

    Ulrich II, Count of Cejle became Ladislaus’ main advisor. In 1455, they persuaded Hunyadi to withdraw his troops from most royal castles and renounce the administration of part of the royal revenues. Shortly after that, the Ottoman sultan laid siege to Belgrade, thus Ladislaus and Ulrich II left the kingdom. Hunyadi relieved the fortress, but he died of dysentery two weeks later. Ladislaus and Ulrich II returned to Hungary and tried to force Hunyadi’s son, Ladislaus to renounce all royal castles and revenues, but Ladislaus Hunyadi murdered Ulrich II. Ladislaus V soon captured Ladislaus Hunyadi and his brother, Matthias. Ladislaus Hunyadi was executed in 1457, which caused a civil war between the lords loyal to the king and the supporters of the Hunyadi family.

    Ladislaus V fled to Prague, dragging the captive Matthias Hunyadi with him. He unexpectedly died in 1457 (his contemporaries suspected that he was poisoned). After Ladislaus’ death, a Diet was convoked and the assembled noblemen elected Matthias Hunyadi king in 1458. Matthias established a professional army (the Black Army) and reduced the power of the barons. The Black Army captured Vienna in 1485, Matthias moved the royal court to the newly conquered town and he forced the Estates of Austria to swear loyalty to him. Matthias’s marriage to Beatrice of Naples did not produce sons (his only known child John Corvinus was born out of wedlock). He tried to strengthen the position of his illegitimate son, proposed withdrawing from Austria and to confirm Emperor Frederick’s right to succeed him, provided the Emperor was willing to grant Croatia and Bosnia to John Corvinus with the title of king.

    After Matthias’ death in 1490, the Hungarian nobles did not want another heavy-headed king, so they procured the accession of Vladislaus II, because of his notorious weakness: he was known as King Dobže (meaning “all right”), from his habit of accepting, without question, every petition and document laid before him. His two supporters, Stephen Báthory and Paul Kinizsi, defeated John Corvinus. Maximilian of Habsburg invaded Hungary in 1490, but his troops withdrew from Hungary before the end of the year, because he could not finance his campaign.

    Vladislaus II donated most of the royal estates, régales and royalties to the nobility. The Hungarian royal power declined in favour of the Hungarian magnates, the king began to experience severe financial difficulties: he borrowed to meet his household expenses. Vladislaus II was not able to cover the cost of the Black Army, so it was dissolved in 1492. The wealthiest barons set up their own armies and used their power to curtail the peasants’ freedom.

    In 1514, well-armed peasants – preparing for a crusade against Turks – rose up under György Dózsa Székely, a borderguard captain, and attacked estates across the kingdom. The king ordered the peasants to disband, but they refused to obey. They took control of the southern lowlands along the rivers Danube and Tisza and laid siege to Temesvár. John Zápolya (the voevod of Transylvania at the time), who had returned from his Ottoman campaign, came to relieve Temesvár and his army routed the peasants. Dózsa and other rebel leaders were brutally executed. Dózsa was put on a red-hot iron “throne” with a red-hot iron “crown” on his head and his compatriots were compelled to eat his flesh, before being executed. This increased Zápolya’s popularity with the gentry.

    Shocked by the peasant revolt, the Diet of 1514 passed laws that condemned the serfs to eternal bondage, and one noble even branded his serfs like livestock. István Werbőczy included the new laws in his Tripartitum of 1514, which gave Hungary’s king and nobles, or magnates, equal shares of power: the nobles recognized the king as superior, but in turn the nobles had the power to elect the king.

    When Vladislaus II died in 1516, his ten-year-old son Louis II became king. Hungary was in a state of near anarchy under the magnates’ rule: border guards went unpaid, fortresses fell into disrepair, the king’s army dispersed. Sultan Suleiman recognized Hungary’s weakness and seized Belgrade in 1521. In the summer of 1526, the Ottoman Army (100, 000 men) defeated the Royal Hungarian Army (26, 000 men) at Mohács. The death of Louis II at Mohács marked the end of the Polish Jagiellonian dynasty in Hungary, whose dynastic claims passed to the House of Habsburg (Vladislaus’ daughter Anna was married in 1515 to Archduke Ferdinand of Austria).

    John Zápolya was en route to the battlefield with his sizable army (40, 000 men) but did not participate in the Battle of Mohács for unknown reasons. The higher nobility of Hungary (the magnates or barons) sided with Ferdinand, and gathered in Pozsony for Ferdinand’s election. However, the majority of Hungary’s lesser nobility (the gentry) backed Zápolya, who had himself proclaimed king by the Diet at Székesfehérvár in 1526. The Ottomans withdrew from Hungary in the same year.

    Zápolya sought an entente with the Habsburgs, proposing to form an alliance against the Ottomans, but Archduke Ferdinand rejected all attempts at reconciliation. In 1527, Ferdinand sent an army of German mercenaries into Hungary, when Zápolya’s forces were tied up in the southern counties of Hungary, where Slavonic peasants, incited by Ferdinand, had rebelled. Zápolya’s army was defeated by the Germans and he fled to Poland. In 1529 Zápolya approached the Ottomans, and agreed to make Hungary a vassal state in return for recognition and support. Sultan Suleiman sent Ottoman troops to invade Hungary and Austria, that allowed Zápolya to regain his position in Hungary in 1529.

    In 1533, the Ottomans made peace and ceded western Hungary to Ferdinand. Ferdinand now began to press Zápolya for control of the rest. In 1538, by the Treaty of Nagyvárad, Zápolya designated Ferdinand to be his successor after his death, as he was childless. However, in 1540, his wife gave birth to a son, John Sigismund (Zápolya died nine days later).

    The Diet of Hungary elected John Sigismund king in 1540, but he was not crowned with the Holy Crown. Ferdinand demanded the transfer of John Zápolya’s realm to Ferdinand in accordance with the Treaty of Várad. He informed Suleiman of the Treaty of Várad, asking the sultan to consent to the unification of Hungary under Ferdinand’s rule. Instead, the sultan stated that he supported John Sigismund. Ferdinand’s army again laid siege to Buda. Suleiman left Constantinople at the head of a large army to take advantage of the new civil war in Hungary. Ferdinand lifted the siege of Buda before Suleiman reached the town.

    Suleiman said that he had come to protect John Sigismund’s interests, but also announced that he wanted to see the infant king. During the meeting, janissaries entered Buda, saying that they wanted to see the town. This turned out to be a trick that enabled them to seize the capital of Hungary without opposition. Suleiman declared that John Sigismund could retain the territories to the east of the river Tisza in exchange for a yearly tribute.

    Central Hungary (2) came under direct Ottoman rule, while the eastern part of the Hungarian Kingdom (3) remained a semi-independent vassal state. After 1571 -when John II renounced his claim as King of Hungary – it became known as the Principality of Transylvania. Its territory, in addition to the traditional Transylvanian lands, also included eastern regions of Hungary, called Partium. Royal Hungary (1) was the name of the western and northern parts of the kingdom where the Habsburgs were recognized as independent Kings of Hungary.

    As a consequence of the recapture of Buda from the Turks (1686), as well as the victory in the second Battle of Mohács (1686), the Hungarian parliament recognized at Pozsony in 1687 that the inheritance of the Hungarian crown had passed to the Habsburgs, without the right to object as well as resist. The Hungarian parliament committed itself to crown the Habsburg successor to the throne still during his father’s lifetime as King of Hungary. Hungary became a hereditary country of the Habsburgs. The Treaty of Karlowitz (1699) marked the end of Ottoman control in Hungary and established the Habsburg Monarchy as the dominant power in the region.

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