Hungarian Revolt Against Habsburg Rule Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

While the Habsburgs battled the Bourbons to gain greater power in Europe, the peasants of Hungary staged a rebellion against their Habsburg king, seeking Hungarian independence from the Habsburg Holy Roman Empire. The failure of the rebellions confirmed the strength of the Habsburg Empire and the predominance of the Hungarian nobility.

Summary of Event

February of 1699 saw the death of the heir apparent to Charles II, the Habsburg ruler of Spain. Leopold I, the king of Hungary, then proclaimed his family successor to the Habsburgs. Yet Louis XIV, the powerful king of France, opposed Leopold’s declaration, provoking the War of the Spanish Succession Spanish Succession, War of the (1701-1714) in 1701. In June of 1703, with Leopold I’s position in doubt, Ferenc II Rákóczi joined a Hungarian peasant army Army, Hungarian Peasant revolts;Hungary that was formed to fight for the country’s independence. [kw]Hungarian Revolt Against Habsburg Rule (1703-1711) [kw]Rule, Hungarian Revolt Against Habsburg (1703-1711) [kw]Habsburg Rule, Hungarian Revolt Against (1703-1711) [kw]Revolt Against Habsburg Rule, Hungarian (1703-1711) Habsburg Empire Hungarian independence Kuruc rebellion (1703-1711) [g]Hungary;1703-1711: Hungarian Revolt Against Habsburg Rule[0140] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;1703-1711: Hungarian Revolt Against Habsburg Rule[0140] [c]Government and politics;1703-1711: Hungarian Revolt Against Habsburg Rule[0140] [c]Social issues and reform;1703-1711: Hungarian Revolt Against Habsburg Rule[0140] Bottyán, János Vak Joseph I (1678-1711) Károlyi, Sándor Kollonitsch, Leopold Leopold I Louis XIV Rákóczi, Ferenc II

The immediate cause of the Hungarian revolt was the Habsburg decision to double taxes Taxation;Hungary and to conscript soldiers, a policy instigated by Leopold Kollonitsch, the archbishop-primate of Hungary. Kollonitsch was also part of the effort to convert the non-Catholic majority of Hungarians to Catholicism. Catholic Church;Hungary Although many of Hungary’s magnates were Catholic and benefited from the Habsburg monarchy’s patronage, many more Hungarian lords lived on lands far away from the center of power and resented their limited rights under a foreign ruling line.

Ferenc II, the grandson of György II Rákóczi (a prince of Transylvania honored for his anti-Habsburg record), initially had tried to negotiate an alliance with Louis XIV, but when that effort failed, he capitalized on the intensifying movement in Hungary to reject any kind of foreign domination. By early 1705, Rákóczi had taken control of nearly all of Hungary, solidifying his power base on his own estates and spreading out in southern Austria. By contrast, Leopold I ruled only the border regions on the west and certain Saxon districts. Yet he held on, bolstered by the defeat of Louis XIV’s allies at the Battle of Hochstadt Hochstadt, Battle of (1704) (August 13, 1704). Indeed, Leopold was still too powerful for Rákóczi to defeat in a head-on conflict. Even more threatening to Rákóczi was the string of Habsburg military successes in other parts of Europe, which permitted Habsburg emperor Joseph I to concentrate his plan of attack on Hungary.

Without a straightforward military solution, Rákóczi’s actions became muddled. In the fall of 1707, he offered the Hungarian throne to the Bavarian elector, at the same time diverting his attention to Poland, where he had a slim chance of becoming king. With the aid of the latter maneuver, Rákóczi hoped to enlist the support of Peter the Great’s Peter the Great Russia. Such complex manipulations took time, involving simultaneous diplomatic initiatives in several European courts. In fact, Rákóczi was not able to arrange a meeting with the czar until May 12, 1711, by which time much had changed in Hungary and in Europe.

In Hungary, Rákóczi had to contend with tensions between the lords and the peasants. A great many landowners and nobility favored the war of independence. As the nobility took over the peasant army, the Hungarian masses became disenchanted and then weary of war. They resented this aristocratic usurpation of what had been a grassroots effort to free the country, which meant to them not only expelling occupying powers but also eliminating the feudal Feudalism;Hungary system which kept them beholden to a master class. Rákóczi had promised freedom to the peasant soldiers and their descendants, but then he reversed himself and bowed to aristocratic pressure. In 1708, when he returned to his initial promise and succeeded in getting a law passed that freed serfs in arms and their children, the delay had already demoralized his peasant followers.

In addition, economic conditions steadily worsened throughout the period of rebellion. Although Rákóczi promised to rehabilitate areas devastated by war, in practice his officials devoted much of their time to collecting the heavy taxes needed for military campaigns. Indeed, the level of taxation was higher than that of the most onerous periods of Habsburg rule in Hungary. Putting more money in circulation merely debased the value of the currency, and the peasants suffered while the revenues for war petered out.

This degradation of the country, begun in 1704, continued for seven years, throughout which Rákóczi’s support dwindled. The independence movement, however, was periodically buoyed by military victories. János Vak Bottyán, a brilliant soldier, conquered and held much territory. Whatever his shortcomings as a political or diplomatic strategist, Rákóczi remained an inspiring figure, a towering personality whom his closest followers held in awe. Although the legislature elected Rákóczi “commanding prince,” and he continued to dominate this governing body, he was never elected king. Even when the legislature disqualified the Habsburgs from claiming the Hungarian throne, elements of the nobility had it in mind to invite a foreigner to become king rather than Rákóczi.

Finally, with the cost of the war reaching an intolerable level, not even the fierce desire to have a native-born ruler could stop efforts to sue for peace. Rákóczi’s forces were isolated, with only France sending some aid, and Joseph I successfully reconquered parts of Hungary and resettled them with Serbs and others who would not owe allegiance to Rákóczi. At the same time, Rákóczi found he could not rely on his own nobles, who refused to carry their share of the tax burden or to honor his pledges to the non-Catholic peasants that they would be free to worship as they chose. After 1708, Habsburg armies steadily gained ground against Rákóczi’s once-invincible forces.

On April 30, 1711, while Rákóczi was abroad, his remaining supporters, led by General Sándor Károlyi, negotiated a treaty that upheld the prerogatives of the nobility and affirmed Habsburg rule under Joseph I. Not a word was mentioned of peasants’ rights. Nothing had changed in the lives of the serfs. The nobility received a general amnesty, so that no aristocrat was punished for challenging Habsburg rule. As long as a lord swore a loyalty oath within three years, he would recover or retain his estates. Rákóczi preferred exile to accepting such ignominious terms. Joseph I agreed to abide by an earlier treaty (1687) that established certain Hungarian constitutional and religious rights, but in fact none of the rebels’ aims were achieved and they received no guarantees of reform.


Lasting nearly eight years, Ferenc II Rákóczi’s rebellion was the longest insurrection in the history of the Habsburg monarchy. The Habsburgs had to invest much of their fortune and more than 100,000 men in the effort to subdue Rákóczi’s forces. They had no choice, however, as reestablishment of the monarchy’s grip on Hungary was essential to its survival in other parts of Europe—notably along the Habsburgs’ German and Italian borders. Thus, although it ultimately failed, the rebellion demonstrated that European peasantry could constitute a force to be reckoned with. It thus foreshadowed the antibourgeois revolutions of the nineteenth century (1848) to a greater extent than it did the successful eighteenth century bourgeois revolutions against the aristocracy in France and the Americas.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Evans, R. J. W. The Making of the Habsburg Monarchy, 1550-1700: An Interpretation. 3d ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991. Chapter 7, “Hungary: Limited Rejection,” provides a comprehensive overview of Habsburg domination of Hungary, comparing Rákóczi with his predecessors and his successors in the effort to win the country’s independence.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ignotus, Paul. Hungary. New York: Praeger, 1972. Chapter 1, “The Foundation of European Hungary,” concentrates on Rákóczi’s “emotional and sensitive personality” and his feeling of family pride, as well as his identification with the destitute and the oppressed, whether they were nobles or peasants.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ingrao, Charles. The Habsburg Monarchy, 1618-1815. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Described as the “first accessible and comprehensive history of the early modern Habsburg monarchy.” Chapter 4, “Facing West: The Second Habsburg Empire (1700-1740),” provides a precise analytical account of the revolt in the context of the Habsburgs’ competition with the other great European powers.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lendvai, Paul. The Hungarians: A Thousand Years of Victory in Defeat. Translated by Ann Major. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2003. This overview of Hungarian history includes chapter 14, “Ferenc Rákóczi’s Fight for Freedom from Habsburgs,” an account of Rákóczi’s uprising.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Slottman, William B. Ference Rákóczi and the Great Powers. Boulder, Colo.: East European Monographs, 1997. The late Slottman, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, specialized in the history of the Habsburgs. This biography of Rákóczi, recounting his efforts to win Hungarian independence, was adapted from Slottman’s doctoral dissertation.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sugar, Peter F., Peter Hanak, and Tibor Frank, eds. A History of Hungary. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990. Chapter 8, “The Later Ottoman Period and Royal Hungary, 1606-1711,” has a clear overview of the events leading up to and following the revolt against the Habsburgs. Includes maps and bibliography.

War of the Spanish Succession

Ottoman Wars with Russia, Venice, and Austria

Treaties of Rastatt and Baden

Maria Theresa Succeeds to the Austrian Throne

War of the Austrian Succession

Joseph II’s Reforms

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Categories: History