Hungarian Civil Wars Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The unity of Hungary was torn by a violent phase of invasion, partition, and civil strife at a time when the country was embedded between the Habsburg Dynasty and the ever-expanding Ottoman Empire. Domestically, nobles increased their power and gained absolute control over the peasantry, and decreased tax revenues led to an ineffective military and a vulnerable nation.

Summary of Event

From the fourteenth through the fifteenth centuries, the Hungarian polity evolved from a feudal to an Estates system, that is, a protocapitalist society of the Renaissance model. The Hungarian region included the Carpathian Basin in east-central Europe, which was encircled by Poland and Bohemia in the north, Austria in the west, Russia in the east, and Bosnia, Romania, and Serbia in the south. Hungarian Civil Wars (1526-1547) Louis II (1506-1526) Süleyman the Magnificent John I John Ferdinand I (1503-1564) Charles V (1500-1558) Martinuzzi, György Hunyadi, János Matthias I Corvinus Dózsa, György Louis II (king of Hungary) Bakócz, Tamas Stephen Báthory Werbőczi, István Süleyman the Magnificent Tomori, Pál John I (king of Hungary) Ferdinand I (Holy Roman Emperor) Martinuzzi, György John Sigismund (king of Hungary, r. 1540-1571 Charles V (Holy Roman Emperor)

Under the two warlords of the Hunyadi Dynasty, from the Vlach noble family of Rumania—János Hunyadi (c. 1407-1456) and Matthias I Corvinus (r. 1458-1490)—Hungary emerged as a strong and cultivated Renaissance state of Eastern Europe.

Hungary’s development was retarded, however, by two major events in the first half of the sixteenth century: the abortive but violent Hungarian Peasants’ Revolt Hungarian Peasants’ Revolt (1514)[Hungarian Peasants Revolt (1514)] , led by György Dózsa (c. 1470-1514) in 1514 (during the reign of Vladislav II) and the invasion of the Ottoman Turks, culminating in the Battle of Mohács in August of 1526 (during the reign of Louis II). The peasants’ rebellion occasioned the infamous legislation called the Tripartitum Tripartitum , which entrenched the privileges of the nobility, rendering the kingdom of Hungary a virtual republic of nobles, and condemned the peasantry to servitude.

Hungary’s domestic instability began with the accession of the ten-year-old Louis when the government was entrusted to Cardinal Tamas Bakócz (1442-1521). Following his death, the government was vitiated by rivalries between the palatine Stephen Báthory and the eminent jurist and orator, István Werbőczi—both unscrupulous place-seekers—and the country stood defenseless as the frontier garrisons remained unpaid; even the king’s personal banderium was disbanded because of a lack of funds.

Taking advantage of the minority of the monarch, the holders of the royal domains refused to surrender them. Revenues diminished drastically as tax collection became increasingly difficult. As Hungary began to languish in corruption and weakness, the Turks began their advance toward Europe.

The first blow fell on August 29, 1521, when Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent occupied the southern fortress of Šabac and Belgrade. Ottoman Empire;western expansion Hungary, still reeling under the effects of the great Peasants’ Revolt of 1514 and rent by factions, was saved for the time being, as the Turks’ attention was diverted toward Egypt and the Island of Rhodes.

Meanwhile, the Hungarian government sought military help from the Holy Roman Empire, Rome, and other regions of Western Europe, though to little effect. A former court favorite, Archbishop Pál Tomori, was recalled to take over the southern command. Even the royal banderia was reactivated. Yet the Hungarian army proved no match for the Ottoman force, which renewed its advance in 1526. Louis set out from Buda with thirty-three hundred men, and by the time he confronted the Turkish army, his force had swollen to twenty-five thousand men. However, detachments from Transylvania and Croatia had not arrived. Without waiting for reinforcements, Louis attacked the Ottoman force of between seventy thousand and eighty thousand soldiers. On August 29, at the Danubian market town of Mohács, the sultan’s army routed the Hungarian host, and King Louis fell in the battle, most probably murdered by one of his enraged men. Mohács, Battle of (1526)

After this disastrous battle, the Turks occupied Buda on September 12 but returned soon after to concentrate on their Persian frontiers, carrying with them more than one hundred thousand captives to be sold as slaves in the markets of the east.

On October 14, John Zápolya, vojevod (governor) of Transylvania, was elected king of Hungary at the Diet of Tokai, representing the towns and the counties, and was crowned the following month at a second diet held at Hungary’s historical capital, Székesfehérvár. His forces occupied most of the country vacated by the Turks. Archduke Ferdinand I of Austria, however, claimed the Hungarian crown by right of inheritance in the name of his wife, Anna, sister of Louis II, and was elected in December at Pozsony by a diet of deputies from Croatia and the towns of Pressburg and Sopron. The two kings engaged in a civil war.

In May, 1527, King John I was driven out of Buda by Ferdinand’s faction. The royal fugitive retreated into Transylvania and, subsequently, in 1528, sought shelter in Poland and military support from Sultan Süleyman. The sultan preferred supporting a rival to the Austrian archduke so that he could transform Hungary into a vassal state; but he recognized John’s claim. By treaty in 1528, the Turks recognized his claim, and he became the sultan’s vassal.

In May, 1529, Buda was reconquered by the Turks, who had also laid siege to Vienna on September 28 and mounted a direct assault on October 14, failing, however, to conquer the city. The Turks tried to attack Vienna once more in June, 1532, and failed again. Süleyman was forced to enter into a treaty with Austria on June 22, 1534. The treaty’s terms stipulated that John should remain king of Hungary but Ferdinand was to keep the third of the country he had been occupying.

The existence of two rival kings of Hungary and the political volatility that resulted gave fortune hunters and desperadoes the chance to plunder the properties of the landowners and to oppress the peasants and workers as self-proclaimed representatives of the contending monarchs. Not wishing to partition the country, the Hungarian Estates arrived at a solution to these serious problems but could not reach a final decision because of powerful external influences: the Habsburgs and the Ottomans.

Because the civil war continued, a war in which only the Turks profited, Ferdinand and John were forced to come to terms. Ultimately at the insistence of Ferdinand, Hungary was divided between the two kings through the secret Peace of Nagyvárad Nagyvárad, Peace of (1538) on February 24, 1538. The archduke would control the mountainous northwest, which had the Slovak mining towns, and the five western counties partly settled by Germans. John would retain the remaining two-thirds of the royal title and have his court at Buda. Around the same time, Ferdinand was formally acknowledged as John’s successor, even if John had a male heir.

During the final six years of John’s reign (1534-1540), his kingdom, under the able guidance of the new treasurer, György Martinuzzi, bishop of Nagyvárad, grew stable and maintained a balance between Vienna and Istanbul. However, Martinuzzi refused to hand over the country to Ferdinand when John died. Instead, Martinuzzi had the infant son of the late king John I, John Sigismund (r. 1540-1571), elected monarch and had the election confirmed by the Ottomans. Ferdinand asserted his rights by force of arms and attacked Buda in May, 1541, but his less-than-adequate army failed to occupy the town.

In August, 1541, Süleyman invaded Hungary and occupied Buda on the thirtieth of the same month. During the following six years, several cities were conquered by the Turks. Buda became an Ottoman eyalet (province) and, in fact, the center of Ottoman Hungary. Hungary was divided into three parts: The west would be held by Ferdinand, the center would be a Turkish province, and the east—the principality of Transylvania—would be an Ottoman vassal state.


In 1547, the Turks were importuned by the Persian wars, and Süleyman was persuaded to enter into a five-year armistice with Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor and Ferdinand’s elder brother. According to the Peace of Edirne (1547) Edirne, Peace of (1547) , Ferdinand agreed to pay 30,000 gold florins (or ducats) annually to the Porte, the Ottoman government, as taxes for the thirty-five counties occupied by the Habsburgs, including Croatia and Slavonia, while the rest of the land, comprising most of the central counties, was annexed to the Ottoman Empire. John II would retain Transylvania and sixteen adjacent counties and have the title of prince.

The tripartite division of Hungary and the resulting Habsburg threat in the west and the Ottoman threat in the east made the land of the Magyars a focal point for the foreign policies of these two powerful monarchies. The twin threat to Hungary’s national identity and integrity inspired a sense of protonationalism among the emerging “gallant men” or “gentlemen,” a specific social class placed between the nobles and the serfs.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ignotus, Paul. Hungary. London: Ernest Benn, 1972. A straightforward, clear, and useful narrative account of Hungary.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kafadar, Cemal. Between Two Worlds: The Construction of the Ottoman State. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995. An extraordinarily perceptive and informative study of the way in which historiography and ideology came together to shape Ottoman imperialism.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kafadar, Cemal. “The Ottomans and Europe.” In Vol. 1 of Handbook of European History, 1400-1600, edited by Thomas A. Brady, Jr., Heiko A. Oberman, and James D. Tracy, 2 vols. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 1994. An excellent examination of the Ottomans in and around Europe, including Hungary.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kubinyi, Andras. “The Battle of Szavaszentdemeter-Nagyolaszi, 1523: Ottoman Advance and Hungarian Defence on the Eve of Mohacs.” In Ottomans, Hungarians, and Habsburgs in Central Europe: The Military Confines in the Era of Ottoman Conquest, edited by Géza Dávid and Pál Fodor. Boston: Brill, 2000. A study of a significant precursor battle to Mohács, analyzing the military strategies employed and comparing them to those of the decisive conflict that would occur three years later.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Steed, H. Wickham, Walter A. Phillips, and David Hannay. A Short History of Austria-Hungary and Poland. London: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1914. Though quite dated, chapter 27 is still extremely useful.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Szakály, Ferenc. “The Early Ottoman Period, Including Royal Hungary, 1526-1606.” In A History of Hungary, edited by Peter F. Sugar, Péter Hanák, and Tibor Frank. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994. A clear, concise, and authoritative study of the Ottomans in Hungary.

1458-1490: Hungarian Renaissance

1463-1479: Ottoman-Venetian War

Aug. 17, 1477: Foundation of the Habsburg Dynasty

Aug. 19, 1493-Jan. 12, 1519: Reign of Maximilian I

1514: Hungarian Peasants’ Revolt

1555-1556: Charles V Abdicates

1594-1600: King Michael’s Uprising

Categories: History