John Hunyadi

John Hunyadi
Regent-Governor of the Kingdom of Hungary
Voivode of Transylvania
Hunyady János.jpg
17th-century painting
Bornc. 1406
Died11 August 1456
Kingdom of Hungary (now Zemun, Serbia)
SpouseErzsébet Szilágyi
IssueLadislaus Hunyadi
Matthias Corvinus
HouseHouse of Hunyadi
SignatureJohn Hunyadi's signature

John Hunyadi (Hungarian: Hunyadi János, Serbian: Sibinjanin Janko, Romanian: Ioan de Hunedoara; c. 1406 – 11 August 1456) was a leading Hungarian military and political figure in Central and Southeastern Europe during the 15th century. According to most contemporary sources, he was the son of a noble family of Romanian ancestry. He mastered his military skills on the southern borderlands of the Kingdom of Hungary that were exposed to Ottoman attacks. Appointed voivode of Transylvania and head of a number of southern counties, he assumed responsibility for the defense of the frontiers in 1441.

Hunyadi adopted the Hussite method of using wagons for military purposes. He employed professional soldiers, but also mobilized local peasantry against invaders. These innovations contributed to his earliest successes against the Ottoman troops who were plundering the southern marches in the early 1440s. Although defeated in the battle of Varna in 1444 and in the second battle of Kosovo in 1448, his successful "Long Campaign" across the Balkan Mountains in 1443–44 and defence of Belgrade/Nándorfehérvár in 1456, against troops led personally by the Sultan established his reputation as a great general. The pope ordered that European Churches ring their bells at noon to gather the faithful in prayer for those who were fighting. The bells of Christian churches are rung at noon to commemorate the Belgrade victory.

John Hunyadi was also an eminent statesman. He actively took part in the civil war between the partisans of Wladislas I and the minor Ladislaus V, two claimants to the throne of Hungary in the early 1440s, on behalf of the former. Popular among the lesser nobility, the Diet of Hungary appointed him, in 1445, as one of the seven "Captains in Chief" responsible for the administration of state affairs until Ladislaus V (by that time unanimously accepted as king) came of age. The next Diet went even further, electing Hunyadi as sole regent with the title of governor. When he resigned from this office in 1452, the sovereign awarded him with the first hereditary title (perpetual count of Beszterce/Bistrița) in the Kingdom of Hungary. He had by this time become one of the wealthiest landowners in the kingdom, and preserved his influence in the Diet up until his death.

This Athleta Christi (Christ's Champion), as Pope Pius II referred to him, died some three weeks after his triumph at Nándorfehérvár/Belgrade, falling to an epidemic that had broken out in the crusader camp. However, his victories over the Turks prevented them from invading the Kingdom of Hungary for more than 60 years. His fame was a decisive factor in the election of his son, Matthias Corvinus, as king by the Diet of 1457. Hunyadi is a popular historical figure among Hungarians, Romanians, Serbians, Bulgarians and other nations of the region.

Childhood (c. 1406–c. 1420)

King Sigismund's charter of grant of 1409
King Sigismund of Hungary's charter of the grant of Hunyad Castle (in present-day Hunedoara, Romania) to Voyk, Magos and Radol (the sons of Serbe), and their uncle or cousin, Radol, and Voyk's son, John
Sigismund of Luxemburg
Sigismund, King of Hungary

A royal charter of grant issued on 18 October 1409 contains the first reference to John Hunyadi.[1][2][3] In the document, King Sigismund of Hungary bestowed Hunyad Castle (in present-day Hunedoara, Romania) and the lands attached to it upon John's father, Voyk and Voyk's four kinsmen, including John himself.[4] According to the document, John's father served in the royal household as a "court knight" at that time, suggesting that he was descended from a respected family.[5][6] Two 15th-century chroniclers—Johannes de Thurocz and Antonio Bonfini—write that Voyk had moved from Wallachia to Hungary upon King Sigismund's initiative.[3][7] László Makkai, Malcolm Hebron, Pál Engel and other scholars accept the two chroniclers' report of the Wallachian origin of John Hunyadi's father.[5][8][9][10] In contrast with them, Ioan-Aurel Pop says that Voyk was a native of the wider region of Hunyad Castle.[11]

Antonio Bonfini was the first chronicler to have made a passing remark of an alternative story of John Hunyadi's parentage, soon stating that it was just a "tasteless tale" fabricated by Hunyadi's opponent, Ulrich II, Count of Celje.[12][13] According to this anecdote, John was actually not Voyk's child, but King Sigismund's illegitimate son.[12][14] The story became especially popular during the reign of John Hunyadi's son, Matthias Corvinus who erected a statue for King Sigismund in Buda.[15] The 16th-century chronicler Gáspár Heltai repeated and further developed the tale, but modern scholars—for instance, Cartledge, and Kubinyi—regard it as an unverifiable gossip.[14][13] Hunyadi's popularity among the peoples of the Balkan Peninsula give rise to further legends of his royal parentage.[16][2]

The identification of John Hunyadi's mother is even less certain.[13][15] In connection with King Sigismund's supposed parentage, both Bonfini and Heltai say that she was the daughter of a rich boyar, or nobleman, whose estates were located at Morzsina (present-day Margina, Romania).[13][15] Pop proposes that she was called Elisabeth.[11] According to historian László Makkai, John Hunyadi's mother was a member of the Muzsina (or Mușina) kenez family from Demsus (Densuș, Romania), but Pop refuses the identification of the Morzsina and Muzsina families.[11][17]

With regard of John Hunyadi's mother, Bonfini provides an alternative solution as well, stating that she was a distinguished Greek lady, but does not name her.[18] According to Kubinyi, her alleged Greek origin may simply refer to her Orthodox faith.[13] In a letter of 1489, Matthias Corvinus wrote that his grandmother's sister, whom the Ottoman Turks had captured and forced to join the harem of an unnamed Sultan, became the ancestor of Cem, the rebellious son of Sultan Mehmed II.[19] Based on this letter, historian Kubinyi says that the "Greek connection cannot be discounted entirely".[20] If Matthias Corvinus' report is valid, John Hunyadi—the hero of anti-Ottoman wars—and the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II were first cousins.[21] On the other hand, historian Péter E. Kovács writes that Matthias Corvinus's story about his family connection with the Ottoman Sultans was nothing but a pack of lies.[22]

Hunyadi's year of birth is uncertain.[23][24] Although Gáspár Heltai writes that Hunyadi was born in 1390, he must have actually been born between around 1405 and 1407, because his younger brother was only born after 1409, and a difference of almost two decades between the two brothers' age is not plausible.[9][11][24][23] The place of his birth is likewise unknown.[25] The 16th-century scholar, Antun Vrančić wrote that John Hunyadi had been "a native" of the Hátszeg region (now Țara Hațegului in Romania).[26] Hunyadi's father died before 12 February 1419.[13] A royal charter issued on this day mentions Hunyadi, Hunyadi's two brothers (John the younger and Voyk) and their uncle Radol, but does not refer to their father.[13]