Béla IV of Hungary

Béla IV
Béla IV (Chronica Hungarorum).jpg
King of Hungary and Croatia
Reign21 September 1235 – 3 May 1270
14 October 1235
PredecessorAndrew II
SuccessorStephen V
Duke of Styria
PredecessorOttokar V
Died3 May 1270(1270-05-03) (aged 63–64)
Rabbits' Island (now Margaret Island, Budapest)
Minorites' Church, Esztergom
SpouseMaria Laskarina
Stephen V of Hungary
DynastyÁrpád dynasty
FatherAndrew II of Hungary
MotherGertrude of Merania
ReligionRoman Catholic

Béla IV (1206 – 3 May 1270) was King of Hungary and Croatia between 1235 and 1270, and Duke of Styria from 1254 to 1258. Being the oldest son of King Andrew II, he was crowned upon the initiative of a group of influential noblemen in his father's lifetime in 1214. His father, who strongly opposed Béla's coronation, refused to give him a province to rule until 1220. In this year, Béla was appointed Duke of Slavonia, also with jurisdiction in Croatia and Dalmatia. Around the same time, Béla married Maria, a daughter of Theodore I Laskaris, Emperor of Nicaea. From 1226, he governed Transylvania with the title Duke. He supported Christian missions among the pagan Cumans who dwelled in the plains to the east of his province. Some Cuman chieftains acknowledged his suzerainty and he adopted the title of King of Cumania in 1233. King Andrew died on 21 September 1235 and Béla succeeded him. He attempted to restore royal authority, which had diminished under his father. For this purpose, he revised his predecessors' land grants and reclaimed former royal estates, causing discontent among the noblemen and the prelates.

The Mongols invaded Hungary and annihilated Béla's army in the Battle of Mohi on 11 April 1241. He escaped from the battlefield, but a Mongol detachment chased him from town to town as far as Trogir on the coast of the Adriatic Sea. Although he survived the invasion, the Mongols devastated the country before their unexpected withdrawal in March 1242. Béla introduced radical reforms in order to prepare his kingdom for a second Mongol invasion. He allowed the barons and the prelates to erect stone fortresses and to set up their private armed forces. He promoted the development of fortified towns. During his reign, thousands of colonists arrived from the Holy Roman Empire, Poland and other neighboring regions to settle in the depopulated lands. Béla's efforts to rebuild his devastated country won him the epithet of "second founder of the state" (Hungarian: második honalapító).

He set up a defensive alliance against the Mongols, which included Daniil Romanovich, Prince of Halych, Boleslaw the Chaste, Duke of Cracow and other Ruthenian and Polish princes. His allies supported him in occupying the Duchy of Styria in 1254, but it was lost to King Ottokar II of Bohemia six years later. During Béla's reign, a wide buffer zone—which included Bosnia, Barancs (Braničevo, Serbia) and other newly conquered regions—was established along the southern frontier of Hungary in the 1250s.

Béla's relationship with his oldest son and heir, Stephen, became tense in the early 1260s, because the elderly king favored his daughter Anna and his youngest child, Béla, Duke of Slavonia. He was forced to cede the territories of the Kingdom of Hungary east of the river Danube to Stephen, which caused a civil war lasting until 1266. Nevertheless, Béla's family was famed for his piety: he died as a Franciscan tertiary, and the veneration of his three saintly daughters—Kunigunda, Yolanda, and Margaret—was confirmed by the Holy See.

Childhood (1206–20)

Béla's parents
Béla's parents—Gertrude of Merania and Andrew II of Hungary—depicted in the 13th-century Landgrafenpsalter from the Landgraviate of Thuringia

Béla was the oldest son of King Andrew II of Hungary by his first wife, Gertrude of Merania.[1][2] He was born in the second half of 1206.[1][3] Upon King Andrew's initiative, Pope Innocent III had already appealed to the Hungarian prelates and barons on 7 June to swear an oath of loyalty to the King's future son.[3][4]

Queen Gertrude showed blatant favoritism towards her German relatives and courtiers, causing widespread discontent among the native lords.[5][6] Taking advantage of her husband's campaign in the distant Principality of Halych, a group of aggrieved noblemen seized and murdered her in the forests of the Pilis Hills on 28 September 1213.[5][7] King Andrew only punished one of the conspirators, a certain Count Peter, after his return from Halych.[8] Although Béla was a child when his mother was assassinated, he never forgot her and declared his deep respect for her in many of his royal charters.[3] In his correspondence with his sister, the noted Franciscan saint, Elizabeth of Hungary, he was often counseled to restrain his anger at the nobles for the death of their mother.[citation needed]

Andrew II betrothed Béla to an unnamed daughter of Tzar Boril of Bulgaria in 1213 or 1214, but their engagement was broken.[9][10] In 1214, the King requested the Pope to excommunicate some unnamed lords who were planning to crown Béla king.[3][11] Even so, the eight-year-old Béla was crowned in the same year, but his father did not grant him a province to rule.[12] Furthermore, when leaving for a Crusade to the Holy Land in August 1217, King Andrew appointed John, Archbishop of Esztergom, to represent him during his absence.[13][14] During this period, Béla stayed with his maternal uncle Berthold of Merania in Steyr in the Holy Roman Empire.[13] Andrew II returned from the Holy Land in late 1218.[15] He had arranged the engagement of Béla and Maria, a daughter of Theodore I Laskaris, Emperor of Nicaea.[13] She accompanied King Andrew to Hungary and Béla married her in 1220.[1]