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John Hunyadi

John Hunyadi (Iancu Corvin de Hunedoara in Romanian, János Hunyadi in Hungarian) (c. 13871456), Transylvanian statesman and soldier, was the son of Voicu (Vojk), a Magyarized Romanian who married Elizabeth (Erzsébet) Morzsinay. He derived his family name from the small estate of Hunyad (Hunedoara in Romanian), which came into his father’s possession in 1407.

The later epithet Corvinus, adopted by his son Matthias was originated from the Coat of Arms of the family which showed a raven (corvus in Latin). (The Silesian Annals state that when a raven carried off the ring King Matthias had removed from his finger, Matthias chased the bird down and slew him, retrieving the ring, and in commemoration of this event he took the raven as a symbol for his signet sign. Others think that the Coat of Arms was derived from another property of the family, Raven’s Rock (Piatra Corbului in Romanian). Another legend says that when Matthias was in prison in Prague his mother was able to send him a letter with a raven (and that's why the Hungarian Postal Service had a raven as its symbol for more than a century).

He has sometimes been confounded with an elder brother who died fighting for Hungary about 1440. While still a youth, he entered the service of King Sigismund, who appreciated his qualities and borrowed money from him; he accompanied that monarch to Frankfurt in his quest for the imperial crown in 1410; took part in the Hussite Wars in 1420, and in 1437 drove the Turks from Semendria. For these services he received numerous estates and a seat in the royal council. In 1438 King Albert II. made him ban of Szoreny, the district lying between the Aluta and the Danube, a most dangerous dignity entailing constant warfare with the Turks. On the sudden death of Albert in 1439 Hunyadi, feeling acutely that the situation demanded a warrior-king on the throne of St Stephen, lent the whole weight of his influence to the candidature of the young Polish King Wladislads III (1440), and thus came into collision with the powerful Cilleis, the chief supporters of Albert’s widow Elizabeth and her infant son, Ladislaus V. He took a prominent part in the ensuing civil war and was rewarded by Wladislaus III. with the captaincy of the fortress of Belgrade and the voivodeship of Transylvania, which latter dignity, however, he shared with his rival Mihaly Ujlaki.

The burden of the Turkish War now rested entirely on his shoulders. In 1441 he delivered Serbia by the victory of Semendria. In 1442, not far from Hermannstadt, on which he bad been forced to retire, he annihilated an immense Turkish host, and recovered for Hungary the suzerainty of Wallachia and Moldavia; and in July he vanquished a third Turkish army near the Iron Gates. These victories made Hunyadi’s name terrible to the Turks and renowned throughout Christendom, and stimulated him in 1443 to undertake, along with King Wiadislaus, the famous expedition known as the hosszu hdboru or "long campaign." Hunyadi, at the head of the vanguard, crossed the Balkans through the Gate of Trajan, captured Nish, defeated three Turkish pashas, and, after taking Sofia, united with the royal army and defeated Murad II at Snaim. The impatience of the king and the severity of the winter then compelled him (February 1444) to return home, but not before he had utterly broken the sultan’s power in Bosnia, Herzegovina, Serbia, Bulgaria and Albania.

No sooner had he regained Hungary than he received tempting offers from the pope, represented by the legate Cardinal Cesarini, from George Branković, despot of Serbia, and Gjergj Kastrioti, prince of Albania, to resume the war and realize his favourite idea of driving the Turk from Europe. All the preparations had been made, when Murad’s envoys arrived in the royal camp at Szeged and offered a ten years’ truce on advantageous terms. Both Hunyadi and Branković counselled their acceptance, and Wladislaus swore on the Gospels to observe them. Two days later Cesarini received the tidings that a fleet of galleys had set off for the Bosporus to prevent Murad (who, crushed by his recent disasters, had retired to Asia Minor) from recrossing into Europe, and the cardinal reminded the king that he had sworn to co-operate by land if the western powers attacked the Turks by sea. He then, by virtue of his legatine powers, absolved the king from his second oath, and in July the Hungarian army recrossed the frontier and advanced towards the Euxine coast in order to march to Constantinople escorted by the galleys. Branković, however, fearful of the sultan’s vengeance in case of disaster, privately informed Murad of the advance of the Christian host, and prevented Gjergj Kastrioti from joining it. On reaching Varna, the Hungarians found that the Venetian galleys had failed to prevent the transit of the sultan, who now confronted them with fourfold odds, and on the 10th of November 1444 they were utterly routed, Wladislaus falling on the field and Hunyadi narrowly escaping.

At the diet which met in February 1445 a provisional government, consisting of five Magyar captain-generals, was formed, Hunyadi receiving Transylvania and the ultra-Theissian counties as his district; but the resulting anarchy became unendurable, and on the 5th of June 1446 Hunyadi was unanimously elected governor of Hungary in the name of Ladislaus V, with regal powers. His first act as governor was to proceed against the German king Frederick III, who refused to deliver up the young king. After ravaging Styria, Carinthia and Carniola and threatening Vienna, Hunyadi’s difficulties elsewhere compelled him to make a truce with Frederick for two years. In 1448 he received a golden chain and the title of prince from Pope Nicholas V, and immediately afterwards resumed the war with the Turks. He lost the two days’ battle of Kossovo (October 7th10thth) owing to the treachery of Dan, hospodar of Wallachia, and of his old enemy Branković, who imprisoned him for a time in the dungeons of the fortress of Semendria; but he was ransomed by the Magyars, and, after composing his differences with his powerful and jealous enemies in Hungary, led a punitive expedition against the Serbian prince, who was compiled to accept most humiliating terms of peace. In 1450 Hunyadi went to Pressbourg (Bratislava) to negotiate with Frederick the terms of the surrender of Ladislaus V, but no agreement could be come to, whereupon the Cilleis and Hunyadi’s other enemies accused him of aiming at the throne. He shut their mouths by resigning all his dignities into the hands of the young king, on his return to Hungary at the beginning of 1453, whereupon Ladislaus created him count of Bestercze and captain-general of the kingdom.

Meanwhile the Turkish question had again become acute, and it was plain, after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, that Mehmed II was rallying his resources in order to subjugate Hungary. His immediate objective was Belgrade, and thither, at the end of 1455, Hunyadi repaired, after a public reconciliation with all his enemies. At his own expense he provisioned and armed the fortress, and leaving in it a strong garrison under the command of his brother-in-law Mihály Szilágyi and his own eldest son László, he proceeded to form a relief army and a fleet of two hundred corvettes. To the eternal shame of the Magyar nobles, he was left entirely to his own resources. His one ally was the Franciscan friar, Giovanni da Capistrano (q.v.), who preached a crusade so effectually that the peasants and yeomanry, ill-armed (most of them had but slings and scythes) but full of enthusiasm, flocked to the standard of Hunyadi, the kernel of whose host consisted of a small band of seasoned mercenaries and a few banderia of noble horsemen. On the 14th of July 1456 Hunyadi with his flotilla destroyed the Turkish fleet; on the 21stst Szilhgyi beat off a fierce assault, and the same day Hunyadi, taking advantage of the confusion of the Turks, pursued them into their camp, which he captured after a desperate encounter. Mehmed thereupon raised the siege and returned to Constantinople, and the independence of Hungary was secured for another seventy years. The Magyars had, however, to pay dearly for this crowning victory, the hero dying of plague in his camp three weeks later (11th August 1456).

We are so accustomed to regard Hunyadi as the incarnation of Christian chivalry that we are apt to forget that he was a great captain and a great statesman as well as a great hero. It has well been said that he fought with his head rather than with his arm. He was the first to recognize the insufficiency and the unreliability of the feudal levies, the first to employ a regular army on a large scale, the first to depend more upon strategy and tactics than upon mere courage. He was in fact the first Hungarian general in the modern sense of the word. It was only late in life that he learnt to read and write, and his Latin was always very defective. He owed his influence partly to his natural genius and partly to the transparent integrity and nobility of his character. He is described as an undersized, stalwart man with full, rosy cheeks, long snow-white locks, and bright, smiling, black eyes.

See J - Teleki, The Age of the Hunyadis in Hungary (Hung.), (Pesth, 1852—1857; supplementary volumns by D. Cs~inki 1895); G. Fejer, Genus, incunabula et virtus Joannis Corvini de Hunyad (Buda, 1844); J. de Chassin, Jean de Hunyad (Paris, f 859); A. Pcr, Life of Hunyadi (I-lung.) (Budapest, 1873); V. Fraknói, Cardinal Carjaval and his Missions to Hungary (Hung) (Budapest, 1889); P. Frankl, Der Friede von Szegedin und die Geschichte seines Bruches (Leipzig, 1904); R. N. Bain, “The Siege of Belgrade, 1456,” (f~ng. Hist. Rev., 1892); A. Bonfini, Rerum ungaricarum libri xlv, editio septima (Leipzig, 1771). (R. N. B.)

From the 1911 Encyclopedia.