The Buffer State between Mohammedanism and Christianity -- The Mountains and Rivers and Plains of Hungary -- Where the Hungarians originated -- How they took the Oath in Ancient DayS -- The Battle-Cries of Two Nations -- How Duke Lehel used his Hunting-Horn -- A Race converted to Christianity -- St. Stephen the King and Patron Saint -- The Degenerate Successors of St. Stephen -- The Cruel Times of Old -- The Golden Bull of Hungary -- A Devastated Nation -- Hungary rises from its Sackcloth and Ashes -- Sigismund's Unhappy End -- The Golden Age of Hungarian History -- Brave John Hunyadi, and his Remarkable Victories -- Matthias, the Great Son of a Noble Father -- How he conquered the Austrians and the Turks -- His Strategy and Generalship -- The Turkish Victory at the Battle of Mohacs -- One Hundred and Fifty Years of Turkish Rule -- The Last Campaign of the Mohammedans against the Western Nations -- A New Chapter in the History of Hungary -- Transylvania, the Brightest Spot in the Domains of Hungary -- Hungary as a Province of Austria -- Maria Theresa and her Son Joseph II -- His Penny-wise Economy -- Revival of the National Spirit -- Stephen Szechenyi, the Regenerator of Hungary -- Louis Kossuth the Eloquent -- A Failure that resulted in Final Victory.
The fact that Hungary for centuries was the buffer state between Mohammedanism and Christianity, and often by her own unaided efforts prevented the hordes of Moslems from overrunning Europe, should alone commend her story to every American in whose veins flows the blood of Anglo-Saxon or Teuton, Latin or Slav. Hungary seems to have been cut out by nature for a great nation. Her natural features are on a large scale. The splendid Carpathian Mountains surround her territory with a wall of granite, but a wall made beautiful almost to its summit with trees of many kinds; while on the very crest of these mountains are found crystal lakes of unmeasured depth, and down their sides dash the beautiful streams that "make the meadow green." The rivers of Hungary, too, are planned on a large scale. The "beautiful blue Danube," the largest river in Europe, with one exception, Fows almost through the centre of the kingdom,while the Theiss and other large streams, navigable for hundreds of miles, are tributaries of the great river.
The great plains of Hungary are among the principal features which have made the nation great and prosperous,for they cover thousands of square miles in extent, and are of unfailing fertility, equaling in theirrich depth of soil our own noblest prairies. The great plain, the Alfold, as it is called, is the granary of Hungary, and not only supplies wheat and corn for the use of the nation, but exports much to foreign lands. The climate, as can be imagined in such a country, is exceedingly varied, ranging from the sub-tropical on the shores of the Adriatic to the sub-arctic as one ascends the Carpathian Mountains towards the borders of Galicia.
Their early history, like that of most great nations, is lost in the maze of mythology; but it is interesting to read the tradition that Nimrod, the grandson of Noah, was the founder of the race, and that his wife, Eneh, bore him two sons, Hunyor and Magyar.
These two brothers, -- who were great hunters like their father, who has given his name to every expert user of the arrow, spear, and gun since his day, -- while chasing a doe in the forests of the Caucasus, were led to move westward, and found a country rich in fertile meadows and green fields. The doe vanished from before their eyes, for she had evidently been invented by the myth-makers to lead the brothers into their new domain; and afterwards, we are told, the progeny of Hunyor settled beyond the Volga, while the sons and grandsons of Magyar settled about the river Don, and were known thereafter Magyars.
However much or however little true history is found in this maze of myths, the names have persisted through all the centuries. The Huns devastated Europe in the early centuries, and " Magyar" is still the most honored name by which the people of Hungary choose to be known.
From the beginning the Hungarians have been a warlike, conquering people, and we can easily believe the story of the Seven Dukes of Hungary, who sealed their union by each opening a vein in the arm of all the others, and drinking in turn from the spouting blood. This form of oath, we are told, was for a long time the custom in Hungary. One of the five conditions of their union was thus stated: "Whenever any of their descendants shall be found wanting in the fidelity due to the prince, or shall foment dissensions between him and his kindred, the blood of the guilty one shall be shed even as theirs was flowing when they gave their oaths of fidelity to Almos [their chief] ."
The blood that flowed from the veins of the Seven Dukes was typical of the blood which should freely flow through the history of Hungary, from those earliest days to the times of Kossuth and his unsuccessful and yet in the end gloriously successful uprising.
The romancer who should tell the story of Hungary would not have to draw upon his imagination for exciting situations and deeds of heroic valor. Some of them are well worth relating, as showing the innate characteristics of this heroic people.
Under the reign of Arpad, the first ruler of Hungary, whose rule spanned the last part of the ninth and the first Part of the tenth century, the Hungarians were everywhere successful, for Arpad was a great general as well as a great king; but upon his death there was no one of his ability to take up his work, and for the first time (about the middle of the tenth century) the Germans checked the advance of the Hungarian hosts.
The battle-cries of the two nations, one Christian and the other still pagan, though soon to be converted to Christianity, were significant. The Germans shouted, "Kyrie eleyson," as they drove their hosts against the Hungarian ranks, while the Hungarians repiied with their barbaric yell, "Hooy! Hooy!" But the Germans were better drilled and equipped, and for a time the advance of the Hungarians was checked and their army destroyed.
An interesting legend is still current among the Hungarians about the death of Lehel, one of their early heroes, whose ivory bugle-horn, which the iconoclastic archaeologists are cruel enough to call a Roman drinkingcup, is still seen; but this is the story, which we prefer to maintain in spite of the archaeologists, who, if they had their way, would make history so tame and commonplace.
In the disastrous battle of Augsburg, the Duke Lehel was taken prisoner and brought before his conqueror, Otto, He was condemned to death, which did not greatly frighten him, for he had faced death every day of his mature life; but he begged for one favor, and that was that he might be allowed to wind his horn once more, and so sound his funeral dirge. "The horn was handed to him. He sounded it for the last time; and, as he drew from it the sad strains which sounded far and wide and were mournfully reechoed by the distant hills, the dying warrior on the field of Lech lifted up his head, eagerly listening to the familiar bugle, and the soul which had come back to him for one instant took wings again as soon as the sad strains died away. At that moment Lehel broke away from his place, and seeing Conrad, his enemy, before him, felled him to the ground, killing him with a single blow from the heavy horn. 'Thou shalt go before me and be my servant in the other world,' cried Lehel. Thereupon he went to the place of execution." Moreover, we are solemnly told, in undeniable proof of this story, that "there is discernible on Lehel's horn to this day a large indentation which posterity attributes to the event just narrated."
The Hungarians were not content to remain long in the darkness and superstition of heathenism, for the good Bishop of Prague, St. Adalbert, before the close of the tenth century came to Hungary and baptized many of the leading people into the Christian faith.
Of all his converts, there was one who was destined to exert a remarkable and lasting influence upon the nation which had so recently been born. He was the son of Duke Geyza, one bf the reigning families of Hungary, and when he was baptized he was given the name of Stephen, after the first martyr. To the baptism of this noble youth, the Hungarian nation looks back with reverence and gratitude as the turning-point in its history; for young Stephen became, in course of time, King Stephen, and through his influence and powerful personality Hungary took her place among the ranks of the foremost nations of the West. He gave his name, indeed, to the whole country, for the natipn is called interchangeably "the Kingdom of Hungary" and "the realm of St. Stephen." No Hungarian king comes to the throne, and is acknowledged the ruler of the nation, until he has been crowned with the identical crown of St. Stephen.
The 20th of August is "St. Stephen's Day," and is the greatest holiday of the year throughout the nation. Then his right hand, embalmed and sacredly preserved for nearly nine centuries, is carried through the streets of the capital, followed by a great and notable procession of the people, while devout religious ceremonies are performed, showing the gratitude of the people for their first Christian king.
"The crown lands of St. Stephen" is a name given to the dependencies of Hungary, and there is no more interesting relic in the treasure-chambers of all Europe than the crown itself, which first adorned the head of the sainted king. As indicating the Christian character of the converted nation, a picture of the Saviour is embedded in the crown, surrounded by the sun and moon and two trees, while the figures of the twelve apostles, each having an appropriate Latin inscription, are also found in the crown, which is encrusted with pearls and diamonds and precious stones. Besides these pictures are representations of the archangels, Michael and Gabriel; of the four saints, Damianus, Dominic, Cosmus, and George; of two Greek emperors, and the Hungarian king Geyza, father of St. Stephen.
To this day the Catholic Church of Hungary holds vast amounts of Property which were bequeathed by King Stephen in the early glow of his religious zeal.
The advice given by King Stephen to his son, as quoted by Professor Vambery in his history of Hungary, is as noble and exalted as any advice that father ever gave to son:--
The time has arrived [said the king] to leave behind thee those pillows of luxuriousness which are apt to render thee weak and frivolous, to make thee waste thy virtues, and to nourish thee in thy sins. Harden thy soul in order that thy mind may attentively listen to my counsels. I command, counsel, and advise thee, above all, to preserve carefully the apostolic and Catholic faith if thou wishest thy kingly crown to be held in respect, and to set such an example to thy subjects that the clergy may justly call thee a Christian man, ... for he who does not adorn his faith with good deeds -- the one being a dead thing without the others -- cannot rule in honor.
Another quotation from St. Stephen is worth recording in this connection, when so many Americans are afraid of the influx of foreigners from many lands, and desire to adopt, for selfish reasons, an exclusive policy toward worthy immigrants. Hungary was facing in St. Stephen's time some of the same problems; for foreigners, attracted by the growingglories of the nation and the prowess of her soldiers, were coming from many lands. Concerning them, St. Stephen says: -
The Roman Empire owed its growth, and its rulers their glory and power, chiefly to the numerous wise and noble men who gathered within its boundaries from every quarter of the world. . . . A country speaking but one language, and where uniform customs prevail, is weak and frail. Therefore I enjoin on thee, my son, to treat and behave towards them decorously, so that they shall more cheerfully abide with thee than elsewhere. For if thou shouldst spoil what I have built up, and scatter what I have gathered, thy realm would surely suffer great detriment from it. . . . I therefore beseech and enjoin upon thee, my beloved son, thou delight of my heart and hope of the coming generation, be above all gracious, not only to thy kinsmen, to princes, and to dukes, but also to thy neighbors and subjects; be merciful and forbearing, not only to the powerful but to the weak; and, finally, be strong, lest good fortune elate thee, and bad fortune depress thee. Be humble, moderate, and gentle, be honorable and modest, for these virtues are the chief ornaments of the kingly crown.
But the young prince was not destined to succeed his father, for he died in his early youth. The kingly crown, however, remained in the family for three hundred years, and during all these centuries the memory of St. Stephen laid a restraining and guiding hand upon his successors.
The first two centuries of the rule of the House of Arpid, founded by King Stephen, were centuries of almost universal and continual victory, marred, however, by more or less internal dissensions; but the power of the kings did not seriously decline until the third century after the dynasty was founded.
Many are the romantic incidents recorded of the kings of the House of Arpad. In spite of the dawn of Christianity and its growing power, those early days of Hungary were marked by cruelty and vindictiveness which is now almost unbelievable. Especially was this true of the degenerate days of the successors of St. Stephen.
Bela II, who reigned in the middle of the twelfth century, before he ascended the throne had both his eyes put out by his enemies, who belonged to the Diet or legislature of the country. On his succession to the throne, he professed to forgive his enemies, and summoned the lords to meet in council at Arad. Bela's queen, Ilona, was even more revengeful than himself, and after the Diet was assembled she described with pathos and eloquence the cruelties which had been practiced on her blind husband, and denounced with terrible effect the crimes of those who had blinded him. Then she gave the signal of revenge. The soldiers of the King picked out among the crowd of lords and courtiers the King's enemies who had formerly imprisoned and blinded him. The hall of legislature flowed with the blood of the lords, and the eyes of many who were spared never looked upon the light of the sun again.
With the decline of the royal power during the period of civil strife which followed, the contest was between the royal famiIy and tbe nobles. Little by little the gentry waxed stronger than royalty, and at last wrung from the King, who at that time was Andrew II, one of the degenerate descendants of King Stephen, their Magna Charta. It was called "The Golden Bull." because the seal appended to the document by a silk string is inclosed in a golden box. This declaration of independence on the part of the nobles bf Hungary secured for them, on paper at least, the rights for which they had been long struggling; but theY had to continue the fight with King Andrew II and his son, Bela IV, and throughout all these years of contest the country of Hungary suffered untold miseries.
In the midst of civil strife the Mongols attacked the Hungarians, and the Hungarian army of fifty thousand warriors was almost wiped off the face of the earth. A contemporary writer, quoted by Professor Vambery, says: "During a march of two days, thou couldst see nothing along the roads but fallen warriors. Their dead bodies were lying about like stones in a quarry."
It seemed as though the last days of Hungary had come. Civil wars and foreign wars had devastated the land from the Carpathians to the Adriatic. The condition of the country was indeed deplorable. "Here and there," we are told by a writer of the day, "a tower, half-burnt and blackened by smoke, and rearing its head towards the sky, like a mourning flag over a funereal monument, indicated the direction in which King Bela, with a few of his followers, advanced after their defeat, into the heart of their once prosperous country. The highways were overgrown with grass, the fields white with bleaching bones, and not a living soul came out to meet them. And the deeper they penetrated into the land, the more terrible the sights they saw. When at last those who survived crept forth from their hiding-places, half of them fell victims to wild animals, starvation, and pestilence. The stores laid up by the tillers of the soil, the year before, had been carried away by the Mongols, and the little grain they could sow after the departure of the enemy had hardly sprung up when it was devoured by locusts. The famine assumed such frighful proportions that starving people, in their frenzy, killed each other, and it happened that men would bring to market human flesh for sale. Since the birth of Christ no country has ever been overwhelmed by such misery."
But Hungary was great even in her defeat; and the fact that she recovered from these awful disasters and maintained her place alnong the family of nations, and became greater and more powerful than ever before, shows the inherent virility of the people whom disaster could not daunt. Bela the King himself showed his noblest characteristics in the days of the greatest disasters. He set to work to rebuild the nation, to bring artisans from other countries, to found new cities and give special privileges to the older ones, to fortify his country from attacks of the enemies. Within five years, so great was the recuperative power of the nation that it no longer feared its Mongol invaders.
Two or three rulers followed the succession of King Bela before the dynasty of Arpad was extinguished and the Italian, Charles Robert, the founder of the Hungarian Anjous, was chosen to succeed. Under the rule of the Anjous, Hungary again prospered, and advanced greatly in arts and sciences. Even Venice was conquered by the Hungarians, and the children of the nobility from various countries were sent to Hungary to be educated, in such high esteem was the culture of the nation held.
One of the kings of the House of Anjou, Sigismund by name, touches modern history in many points, for he was the king who offered to John Huss, the Bohemian patriot and reformer, safe-conduct to Constance, where the Reformed faith was on trial. Bohemia had now become a Protestant country; almost to a man they had embraced the tenets of Huss when the Catholic Church, in 1414, called the Council of Constance whose chief object was to destroy the new heresy and its adherents.
Sigismund, who at this time was not only the King of Bohemia but of Hungary as well, in spite of his guaranty of safe-conduct, delivered Huss to his enemies, and, as we have seen in another chapter, the great former became the great martyr of the Protestant faith. Sigismund had to suffer for his treachery, for Bohemia made war upon Hungary, while the Turks were planning a campaign against the southern portion of his country at the same time.
Servia, Moldavia, and Bosnia, the three states on the outskirts of Hungary, acknowledged the rule of Mohammed I, and new perils every day seemed to gather around Hungary. Sigismund, in spite of his treachery, was no coward. He was a strategist as well as a brave general. He conciliated and conquered the Czechs, the inhabitants of Bohemia, and conquered the Turks finally, after many defeats, and became the Emperor of Germany and the King of Hungary and Bohemia. But his was a troulbled life to the very end, for though seemingly victorious everywhere, new complications constantly arose and new enemies appeared to take the place of those whom he conquered. Transylvania in the eastern section of Hungary was strongly Protestant; so he imposed the most burdensome taxes upon this part of his domain, until the people could stand it no longer and rose against their tyrants, killing the nobility and burning the villages in every direction. On his way to quell this uprising in Transylvania, Sigismund met the great Victor of mankind, whom he could not conquer. "It is rather saddening to reflect," says the historian, "that after a reign of fifty years, his funeral procession should have been lighted by the glare from the burning villages of Transylvania, set on fire by her own peasantry."
We now come to the Golden Age of Hungarian history, with the advent of John Hunyadi and his son Matthias, unless indeed we may say that the Golden Age of Hungary is in this twentieth century, for probably she has never been so prosperous, or her people more happy and progressive than at the present time. But in these prosaic days there is little that stirs the blood and arouses the imagination, while the years of the fifteenth century were essentially years of supreme daring and of martial glory, not unmixed with deeds of savage cruelty and barbarism.
In those days the poet, the artisan, the merchant, the statesman, had not come to their own; the successful soldier alone was considered the greatest of mankind, and to him every knee was bowed. On this account John Hunyadi, who was undoubtedly the greatest general of his age, came to the front, though his family was comparatively obscure and unknown until he made the name famous. He had enemies on every side. The Turks were constantly overrunning Hungary from the east, and laying waste its vassal states, while an equally persistent enemy of Hungary at this time was the Austrian power, always ready from its citadels in Vienna to take advantage of Hungary's distresses, and by sallying forth to add to her troubles.
The appearance of John Hunyadi upon the scene was most dramatic. The Hungarian troops were fighting the Turks near the fortress of Semendria, when a knight whom they had never seen before, to their knowledge, bearing on his coat of arms a black raven with a gold ring in his beak, dashed into the fray. He seemed to be in all parts of the field of battle at the same time. The enemy were seized with panic, and the Hungarian troops had new courage put into their veins by the unexpected appearance. "The Turkish general," we are told, "with the remnant of his army fled in dismay, and from this day forward the name of the Raven Knight continued to be the terror of Turkish warriors." We need not say that this mysterious knight was John Hunyadi. He seems to have had many qualities in common with the great Napoleon, who more than three centuries afterwards astonished the world by his marvelous manceuvres, his sudden, unexpected appearances, carrying dismay to the enemy and new courage always to his friends and followers.
But not only have the Hungarian people reason to consider John Hunyadi as their great national hero, next to King and Saint Stephen perhaps the noblest Hungarian of them all, but the whole Christian world is indebted to him, and his name Should be familiar to every schoolboy, for he it was, more than any other, who broke the power of the Turk in ssutheastern Europe, and prevented the Moslem hordes frorn overrunning every Christian land.
Moreover, he had to fight his battles almost alone. The other powers of Europe, though wealthy in promises, were very poor in performance, and sent but few troops to Hunyadi's aid. Poland, which was then united to Hungary under the same king, was the only exception to this rule. To be sure it cannot be said that Hunyadi never lost a battle or suffered a defeat. He was sometimes in sore straits, but.he was made of the stuff that never knew when he was defeated, and in good fortune and bad he continued to pound away at the Turkish armies, using all his military genius and strategy, as well as his almost superhuman courage, to conquer the enemy which all Europe feared and none save him dared attack.
At last came the decisive battle near Belgrade, the present capital of Servia, in 1456 The Turks had marshaled one hundred and fifty thousand men to attack this important and strategic fortress. Hunyadi had but fifteen thousand of his own troops, supplemented by sixty thousand Crusaders, who were armed with scythes and pole-axes only, and who "were led by the sound of bells instead of words of military command." One would not think that such an army would be more effective than the troops that marched about the camp of Midian with Pitchers and torches; but their zeal and fanaticism gave each of the Crusaders the strength of ten, and, under the unparalleled leadership of Hunyadi, they put to rout the vastly superior number of Turks, and saved Europe forever from the menace of Mohammedanism.
But the battle of Belgrade was his last. Suddenly as the Raven Knight came upon the field, so suddenly he died in the hour of victory. He never knew of the Te Deums that were sung throughout Europe, or of the grateful millions that blessed his name for relieving them from the fear of the Turk, which had so long been an incubus upon: the activities and progress of all Europe.
It is not every great man who has a great son to succeed him, but Hunyadi was fortunate in this respect, as in so many others; and his son Matthias, because of the great deeds of his father, was raised to the Hungarian throne by the will of the people, and became, the historians tell us, the greatest king of whom Hungary can boast; at least he divides this honor with St. Stephen. He was a great soldier, like his father, from whom he inherited his abilities as a strategist and a general, and he combined with these statesmanship of a rare quality, which his father, who was never raised to the kingly throne, did not have a chance to exhibit.
Many interesting stories are told of Matthias any one of which would furnish material for an interesting romance. A German bully, by the name of Holubar, on one occasion came to Buda, the capital of Hungary. He was so enormous in size, and his strength so far eclipsed that of all his combatants, that he was thought to be absolutely invincible in the tournaments; but Matthias, though he was king, was not afraid of him, and did not think he was demeaning himself to meet him in single combat. Holubar was afraid that he might in some way harm the King, and so expose himself to danger from the populace, and for a long time would not meet the King in combat; and when he did consent, he planned to use little of his great strength, but pretend to be overcome by the King's first attack. The King heard of this determination, and there vowed "By all the saints, that if he perceived Holubar doing this, he would have him executed, and at the same time make him swear that he would fight with him as if he were the knight's mortal enemy." "The contest took place in the presence of many thousands," we are told, "and many doubted the King's success, comparing the German giant with the middlesized Matthias. The two combatants rushed at each other with tremendous thrusts; the steeled muscles of the King proved superior to the heavy bulk of his adversary, who reeled from his horse, struck by a heavy blow on the forehead, and lay with his arm broken, and fainting on the ground.... The King, having humiliated the bragging foreigner, sent him away with presents of horses, splendid dresses, and a large purse of money." It can be imagined that in those days, when personal prowess counted for so much, the King's combat with Holubar made him the idol of his nation.
Matthias seems to have disdained no hardship and to have been daunted by no peril. We are told that when fighting the Austrians at the siege of Vienna in I485, he stole into the city in disguise. Made up for a countryman, with his basket of butter and eggs, he walked through the city, selling his eggs and at the same time finding out all the weak spots in the fortifications. He talked intimately with the common people. He heard what the military men were planning for the defense of the city, and after strolling out again with his empty basket, he laid his plans for the Capture of the city, which were entirely successful,
Though his father had broken the power of the Turks, they were not as yet wholly driven out of Europe, and he had many a battle with the Turkish forces in the eastern part of his domain. Learning a lesson from his successful experience with the Austrians before Vienna, he tried the same ruse on the Turkish camp, and, putting on the garments of a Turk, he went boldly into their camp to sell butter and eggs to them as well. He found the tent of the Sultan, and setting up his temporary market stayed there for a long time, nominally selling provisions, but really spying upon the camp and its defenses. The next day, when he returned to his own camp, he sent the Sultan the following letter:
"Thou guardest thy camp badly, Emperor, and thou art thyself badly guarded. For yesterday I sat, even from morn until night, near thy tent, selling provisions. And lest thou doubtest my words, I will tell thee nbw what was served on thy table."
It is said that the Sultan was so alarmed by this note, and so convinced of the important knowledge which Matthias must have obtained, that he at once broke camp, turned his back on Hungary, and sought the safer seclusion of his own country.
Like his father, Matthias had many Napoleonic qualities. The guards never knew where he would turn up next; in the middle of the night, in the early dawn, and at most unexpected times and places he might be seen, while in the midst of battle, when the cannon were belching out their loudmouthed cries and the musketry were rattling on every side, he seemed to be able to sleep in perfect calm.
Matthias was great not only as a general and a warrior, but as a statesman and a ruler. It was necessary, perhaps, in those days that he should prove his prowess as a warrior and as a man of tremendous personal bravery and endurance before he could command full respect for his intellectual and moral powers. Those were the days, as we have said, when strength and valor reigned supreme.
One of his captains, for instance, whom he raised from an obscure place to a prominent command, Kinizsy by name, we are told, was able to foot it through the national dance, holding the dead body of a full-grown Turk in his right hand, another in his left hand, and a third between his teeth. Horrible as such a spectacle would seem to a modern audience, in those ruder days it represented what was considered the crowning glory of personal strength and courage.
Not many great generals have made great kings or presidents, but this was an honor which can fairly be ascribed to Matthias, that he was as great on the throne as in the camp. The glory and splendor of his court may be indicated in some measure by the embassies which he sent in the latter part of the fifteenth century to Charles VIII of France. He collected three hundred horses, all of which were mated in color and size, on each of which sat a young man clothed in purple velvet. Long gold chains dangled from the sides of these attendants, and a crown of pearls was placed upon each head as they entered the cities through which they passed, while they took to the French king splendid horses, harnesses, robes richly embroidered, and many ornaments of gold and silver, all presents worthy of a great king to a great king.
Almost barbaric splendor was found in his palace at the capital city, Buda. Magnificept objects of art, costly and beautiful tapestries, precious stones, statues, and antique gems made this palace the most renowned of any in Europe. He had several royal residences, "which," we are told, "appeared like real fairy castles, with their hanging-gardens, fountains, fish-ponds, aviaries, game-parks, small pleasure-houses, arbors, and statues."
Unfortunately, Matthias left no son to succeed him. The glory of his house died with him, and the magnificent treasures that he had collected, and which made Hungary famous the world around, were soon scattered throughout Europe, for the rulers who succeeded Matthias were as feeble as he and his father had been powerful.
The years that followed were, indeed, sad ones for Hungary. Intrigue followed intrigue, weak ruler succeeded weak ruler. The country went into a steady and disastrous decline. The Turks again menaced her frontiers, until, in the disastrous battle of Mohacs, only a little more than a generation after the death of Matthias, the Hungarian army was defeated and almost annihilated by the Sultan Solyman, with an army of three hundred thousand Turks. Even Buda the capital was captured, and it seemed as though all that had been gained by the bravery and martial prowess of Hunyadi and Matthias was lost.
For one hundred and fifty years the Turkish flag waved over the battlements of the capital of Hungary. The nation was almost wiped off the earth. No capable general or ruler arose during these years, though Hungary showed in many a battle that courage and self-sacrifice and patriotism still found lodgment in the hearts of the common people. The Turks became so bold that they actually attacked the city of Vienna, and it looked once more as though they would overrun Europe. Again the Hungarians were called upon to defend the liberties of the country and the cause of Christianity in many nations, and though no great leader arose to command their forces, individual captains and People who were willing to lay down their lives for the cause of country and Christianity always prevented the Turks from gaining the complete triumph which they desired, and sweeping over the unprotected countries to the west. It would take many pages to tell of the heroic deeds that strewed the pages of history in this century and a half of national decline.
Finally the last great undertaking of the Moslems was begun, and the Sultan, Mohamlned IV, with two hundred and fifty thousand men and three hundred cannon, in the spring of 1683 appeared under the walls of Vienna; but Providence raised up a commander for the Christian forces, in John Sobieski, King of Poland, of whom we have learned in another chapter. The Turkish troops were defeated with tremendous slaughter, leaving sixty thousand men dead upon the field. "This was the last great campaign undertaken by the Osmanlis against the Western world. They could never recuperate from the effects of the defeat then suffered, and the great calamity which befell the Turkish power rendered it at length possible for Hungary, the bulwark of Christianity, which had been the scene of continual war during a century and a half, to regain her liberty."
It can be imagined that the condition of Hungary, after this century and a half of misrule and defeat, overrun by hordes of Turk ish soldiers, distracted by civil dissensions at home and the constant battles with savage foes from abroad, was pitiable indeed. "While the Moors," we are told, "had immortalized their name by memorials of a grand civilization, leaving behind them flourishing and wealthy cities, numerous works of art and marvels of architecture, the Turks left Hungary ruined and devastated. Throughout the whole territory of the reconquered country only a few miserable villages could be met here and there, population had sunk to the lowest ebb, endless swamps covered the fertile soil of the once flourishing Alfold, and the genius of the Hungarian nation had now to engage in the arduous labor of subduing, by the arts of peace and civilization, the sterile waste they had regained at last by their bravery and endurance. The work, hard as it was, was done. For a century and a half the severe task of colonizing and civilizing has been going on bravely, until finally that tract of land, which they recovered from the Turks an uninhabited desert, has grown to be populous, Aourishing, and one of the richest granaries of Europe."
A new chapter in the history of Hungary was opened when, after the defeats of Belgrade and Mohacs, the Hungarians were obliged to seek an alliance with a foreign power. Naturally they turned to the great House of Hapsburg, which ruled at that time Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain, together with Naples, Sicily, and Sardinia. It was by far the greatest nation of the worId, but the ever-present menace of the Turks threw Hungary into the arms of the Austrians, whose alliance for centuries was scarcely less disastrous than would have been an alliance with the Turks. The Turks were particularly averse to an extension of the power of Austria, and constantly made incursions into Hungary, for the sake of weakening not only Hungary herself, but through her the Hapsburg Dynasty. The poor country was, indeed, between the upper and the nether millstone.
It is scarcely worth while, in this brief summary, to dwell long upon these unhappy years. There was but one bright spot within the former domains of Hungary, and that was in the far eastern section, called Transylvania. The hardy people of this region had embraced, more largely than any other part of yungary, the Reformed religion. They were led by brave and powerful dukes. Even in the darkest days they never yielded wholly to the power of Turk or German, but the independence of Transylvania was maintained when all else seemed lost. In the meantime the Hungarian Protestants, who at one time were largely in the majority, were harried by the Austrian tyrants, and Transylvania alone seemed to be a bulwark for the Reformed faith.
The ancient constitution of Hungary was entirely ignored. Foreign soldiery from many countries were quartered upon the poor people, who were taxed to death to pay their oppressors. At last the Hungarian constitution was actually abolished, and Hungary became a province of Austria.
All Europe, however, began at last to receive new ideas. The common people were coming to their own. The French Revolution was symptomatic of the unrest of every European country. Hungary shared in the reaction against the privileged classes, though their authority was much more absolute and the power of the people at this time, after centuries of disaster, less able to cope with the nobility than in France.
During all these years, until I780, the Austrian kings had shown enough deference to Hungarian sentiment to be crowned with the sacred crown of St. Stephen. No other piece of the jeweler's art was probably ever so reverenced as this crown. For hundreds of years, to the present day, the Hungarians have regarded it as the very symbol of their national existence. Only once in his lifetime was the king allowed to wear it, and on that occasion he was obliged by the constitution to swear fealty to the people over whom he was to reign. In other countries the people swear allegiance to the king; in Hungary the king swears allegiance to the people.
Though the Austrian rulers forgot their vows and disregarded their oaths, yet until the time of Maria Theresa they all went through the form of being crowned with the tiara of St. Stephen, and of promising fealty and allegiance to the Hungarian people. Maria Theresa's son, however, Joseph II, who became king in 1780, refused to be crowned. He was a far better man than those who had preceded him, and he evidently had conscientious scruples about taking an oath which he did not mean to observe and which the former kings had utterly ignored. He introduced many wise reforms, and evidently desired to do his best for his people; but his refusal to be crowned displeased them, and they never called him their crowned king, but simply the "hatted king."
Together with his wise measures and the greatly needed reforms in church and state which he advocated, he proposed many foolish laws, which simply irritated the people and destroyed the effect of his wise progressiveness. One of these foolish regulations, which might be compared to cutting off the top-knots of the Koreans, an act which so exasperated them in the early days of Japanese rule, was that the dead, instead of being placed in coffins, should be sewed up in sacks and thus buried, in order that the boards of which coffins had been made might be saved, and the forests economized for other purposes than burying the dead. This foolish piece of penny-wise economy, together with many other similar edicts, cost the King his popularity among the people; but more especially when he commanded them to drop their loved Hungarian tongue and adopt German as their national language did they rise up in their impotent wrath, for they were not strong enough to overthrow him.
Other wicked and weak rulers followed Joseph II, and it seemed as though the troubles of this devoted country would never come to an end; but a people so virile could not be absolutely crushed. Misfortune was powerless to destroy their inborn love of liberty, and to Stephen Szechenyi must be accorded the name of the Regenerator of Hungary. He gave his money freely, and kindled like desire on the part of other men of wealth to arouse the national spirit to preserve the national language and to make Hungary again a centre of learning and of science. He was the first of the great lords who dared to speak in Parliament in his own native tongue, where Latin had hitherto been used. His influence was enormous and from the day he took his place in the Hungarian Diet in 1825, the revival of the Hungarian national spirit may be said to have dated. Yet Szechenyi was a conservative and not a radical, in spite of his innovations, and it required a more daring spirit still to complete the regeneration of Hungary.
Such a man was found in Louis Kossuth, a man who sprung from the people to tell them of their rights, and to lead them to final victory in achieving them. Szechenyi was too conservative for him to follow, for "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity," the watchwords of the French Revolution, were the mottoes of this new apostle of liberty. There are not a few Americans still living who remember the wonderful eloquence of Louis Kossuth. Probably no foreigner ever visited this country who aroused his audiences to such a pitch of enthusiasm as did this Hungarian exile. It may not be known to many, however, that he gained his wonderful command of the English language, and his power to move audiences in this country and in Great Britain by his persuasive eloquence, while he was in a Hungarian prison, for the revolution which he planned and conducted proved at first to be a failure. The reactionary powers were too strong for him. To be sure, his troops won many victories, especially under the lead of Gorgei, and even Buda, the capital, was taken from the Austrian troops; but at last Austria persuaded Russia to come to her help, and two hundred thousand Cossacks crossed the borders of Hungary and with nearly half as many Austrians attacked and finally routed the Hungarian army, exhausted as it had become in its many encounters with the Croatians and Slavs. Kossuth fled to Turkey and afterwards visited England and the United States, for Hungary at this juncture seemed to be completely under the power of Austria, her old-time ally, who proved to be her hardest taskmaster.
But Kossuth had not failed. Though defeated, the cause for which he strove was not killed. The spirit of the people was aroused. Their love of freedom could not be quenched, and at length the Austrian Government found that its best plan was to conciliate rather than to antagonize so powerful and patriotic a people. One by one their rights and privileges were restored to them. In 1861 the old constitution was given back to Hungary, and the Hungarian legislature assembled once more in its own capital. This legislature demanded the fullest autonomy for Hungary, a demand which was not at once acceded to; but when Austrian troubles increased, and the Austrians were defeated at Sadowa by Prussia, they concluded that it was best to grant to Hungary all that the Hungarians demanded rather than to witness a further dismemberment of their empire. In June, 1868, Emperor Francis Joseph I was crowned King of Hungary, and the two nations, Austria and Hungary, on an equal footing began their united career. "We have no Emperor," proudly say the Hungarians; "the Austrians have an Emperor, and we have a King; but our King swears allegiance to his people and not the people to the King."
Though there has been much friction at times, and many hot debates and scenes of violence in the Hungarian parliament, this dual arrangement has so far worked for the benefit of Hungary. It will last, doubtless, so long and only so long as it proves to be for the substantial benefit of a country which, amid all its vicissitudes for a thousand years, has shown itself to be indomitable in its love for liberty, in its hatred of oppression, and in its purpose, even in its darkest days, to remain a free and independent nation.
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