Tamás Bakócz was the son of a serf, but during his long life he became astonishingly rich and tried to acquire the Papal tiara in 1513 by money, cunning and cleverness. If elected, he promised a crusade against the Ottoman Empire, but the Italian cardinals chose a Medici instead of him.
Fulfilling the American dream in Hungary and the Middle Ages
We do not know exactly when he was born, but Historians say that it was around 1442 in Erdőd. His father was a wagoner or a wheelmaker and worked for the famous Erdődy family as a serf. He had four brothers, and by the time he reached school entry age, his older brother Bálint had already obtained the rich provostship of Titel. Therefore, he could help Tamás to learn in the most renowned schools of Szatmárnémeti, Wroclaw, Padua, Cracow, and Ferrara.
After he finished his studies, he returned home and worked for the Transylvanian bishop who
helped him to get into the court of King Matthias.
He attracted the king’s attention during a campaign in Silesia when he gave advice changing the odds in a critical situation. At first, he got only minor offices in the Chancellery as a notary and a drafter. But he was allowed to accompany Matthias on his foreign campaigns between 1475 and 1480 in Austria and the Balkans. In 1485, he became the bishop of Győr and a member of the Royal Council.
After the death of the great king, he chose to support Vladislaus II instead of Matthias’s illegitimate son, János Corvin. Thanks to his support, he became the chancellor of Hungary in 1490 and the bishop of the richest Hungarian episcopate, Eger. In 1497, he agreed with archbishop Hippolyt Estei and
bartered Eger for Esztergom and the archdiocese.
Rome chose Renaissance arts instead of war
He was the most powerful man in Hungary; according to the ambassador of Venice, he was called the country’s “second king”. However, his ambitions exceeded the borders of the country. With the help of Venice, he was elected a cardinal in 1500 and he became the Latin patriarch of Constantinople (the second most important position in the Roman-Catholic church) in 1510.
When Pope Julius II passed away in 1513 many thought that Tamás Bakócz will become the new bishop of Rome. He did everything he could to obtain the title: he did not spare his money to convince the other Cardinals who were mostly Italians. The question was settled by
the young Italian cardinals who chose the very popular Giovanni de’ Medici.
In short, they chose peaceful development symbolised by the future Leo X instead of war.
Bakócz was sent back to Hungary as a papal legate, bringing with him the bull of Leo X proclaiming a new crusade against the Ottoman Empire. However, the peasant-soldiers turned against their lords, which lead to one of the most significant peasant revolts in the Hungarian history lead by György Dózsa. This weakened his positions in the court. For example, the diet of 1514 accepted a bill forbidding a serf to become bishop or archbishop ever again in Hungary.
In 1519, he had a seizure and thus, he withdrew from politics. Bakócz died in 1521 and was buried in a separate chapel of the Esztergom Basilica built by him which is the most precious artwork of the Hungarian Renaissance.