Hungary, whose “shores were washed by three seas”
Despite the hardships that Hungary had to face during the early decades of its establishment and because of the Mongol Invasion, it eventually managed to arise as a strong and territorially great kingdom in the 14th century. As it is with all successes, years of struggle preceded this greatness.
After the Mongol Invasion which was discussed in a previous part of this history series, Béla IV introduced serious economic and state reforms with which he earned being referred to as ‘the second state founder’. However, this came at a price, as Béla had to strengthen the positions and authorities of the wealthy landholders in order to gain their trust. This seemed to backfire in the coming years, as the landholders often challenged Béla’s descendants.
The period lasting from 1000 (from the State Foundation) to 1301 is referred to in Hungarian as “The Age of Árpáds”, since in these three centuries only descendants of Árpád, who brought the Hungarians to their new home, ruled over the Kingdom of Hungary.
The Árpád-era ended with the death of Andrew III of Hungary in January 1301.
Andrew saw a hard time in the kingdom, as because of the ‘pact’ made with the noblesse by Béla IV, the noblemen were conspiring against the crown with the intention of electing a king of their own choosing, thus overthrowing the Árpád bloodline. The nobility ruled over autonomous provinces which helped them with their insurgent intentions. The death of Andrew insinuated anarchy in the kingdom.
The vacant position of the king was occupied for a brief period by Charles Robert from the Capetian House of Anjou. He was not welcomed by the lords, as they regarded him as a puppet of the Holy See in an attempt to exempt control over Hungary. He was quickly dethroned, followed by Wenceslaus of Bohemia.
Wenceslaus was merely a child when he was given the throne, but it did not matter, as he was the descendant of Béla IV, thus not a foreigner. His sovereignty was short as well, though he managed to keep the throne for four years, after which he resigned in favour of Otto III, who was Béla IV’s grandson.
Otto was not supported and liked, so the crown eventually returned to Charles.
The beginning of Charles’ second rule in 1308 marks the beginning of the Angevin period. Charles I of Hungary reunited the kingdom that fell to the hands of the oligarchs and was torn apart. As he felt he could not trust the landlords who became power-hungry, he restored the prestige of the ancient Hungarian families, who were cast into the shadows by the aspiring oligarchs.
The Kingdom of Hungary became a very successful monarchy both financially and from the point of view of international prestige. Charles I issued gold coins, the first ‘golden forints’, following the example of the florin of Florence. Uncoined gold could not be accepted during this period. Speaking of gold, the Hungarian Kingdom emerged on the top of the gold mining scene in Europe.
When Charles died in 1342, his son, Louis succeeded him on the throne and continued his father’s work. Louis I of Hungary was and is still often referred to as Louis the Great, as his autonomy seemed to be as hard as steel. As opposed to his father,
Louis did not participate in battles because he was forced to or because he had to protect his territories, but out of choice or on request.
This gained him international respect.
He gained the respect of his people too, by focusing on the oppressed: he eased the situation of peasants by introducing a uniform rent and granting them free movement. He also established a university in Pécs in 1367.
Now we arrive at our enigmatic title. It is not factually true that three seas washed the shores of Hungary. Urban legend says that these three seas were the Adriatic-, the Baltic- and the Black Sea. In reality, the Adriatic Sea did wash Hungary’s shores, as Louis was crowned king of both Hungary and Croatia, but he only had some influence over Poland (which would grant the Baltic Sea) and over Moldavia (the Black Sea). If one wants to stretch this even further, then it can be said that the Tyrrhenian Sea too washed the shores of Hungary, as Louis crowned himself as the king of Naples. However, this title was never recognised by the Holy See, so technically speaking he was never a lawful ruler of the Kingdom of Naples.
featured image: detail on the Hungarian Parliament, Daily News Hungary
Source: Daily News Hungary