Parentage and posthumous birth (until 1440)
Ladislaus was the posthumous son of Albert of Habsburg and Elizabeth of Luxembourg. Albert was the hereditary Duke of Austria, while Elizabeth was the only child of the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund, who was also King of Bohemia and Hungary. Sigismund was also Duke of Luxemburg, but he had mortgaged Luxembourg to his niece, Elizabeth of Goerlitz. Sigismund wanted to secure his realms for both his daughter and her husband, but the Estates of Bohemia and Hungary did not acknowledge the couple's hereditary right to rule. After Sigismund died in December 1437, Albert was elected the sole king of Hungary. In Bohemia, Albert was unanimously elected king only after he defeated Casimir – the younger brother of Vladislaus III of Poland – who was supported by a group of Hussite lords and burghers.
Albert was planning to launch a military expedition against the Ottoman Turks, who had been making plundering raids in the southern regions of Hungary, but fell seriously ill during the preparations. The dying king, who knew that his wife was pregnant, willed Austria, Bohemia and Hungary to his posthumous child if his wife gave birth to a son. He also put his infant heir under the guardianship of his widow and his cousin, Frederick of Habsburg. Albert died on 27 October 1439.
Fearing a new Ottoman invasion of Hungary, the majority of the Hungarian lords and prelates refused to accept the deceased king's last will. They offered the crown to Vladislaus III of Poland and wanted to persuade the pregnant queen dowager to marry the new king. In Bohemia, the assembly of the Estates passed decrees in January 1440 to avoid having a new civil war break out between the Hussites and the Catholics before a new king was elected. The Estates of Moravia passed a similar decree.
Although the 31-year-old Elizabeth seemingly agreed to marry Vladislaus, who was only 16, she made preparations for the coronation of her son after her physicians predicted that she would give birth to a son. She ordered her chambermaid, Helene Kottanner, to steal the Holy Crown of Hungary from the castle of Visegrád. Before long, Helene Kottanner and her accomplice seized the crown. They handed it to the queen on the very day she went into labour, which was considered a miracle by both the queen and her courtiers. Elizabeth gave birth to Ladislaus in Komárom (now Komárno in Slovakia) on 21 February 1440, almost four months after his father's death. He was named for King St Ladislaus. Dénes Szécsi, Archbishop of Esztergom, baptised him.
Inheritance and civil war in Hungary (1440–1442)
The Estates of the Duchy of Austria acknowledged Ladislaus' right to rule and made Frederick of Habsburg, who had been elected King of the Romans, regent in accordance with the last will of Ladislaus' father. In Bohemia, only the Catholic lords, who were under the leadership of
Ulrich II of Rosenberg, were willing to accept Ladislaus' hereditary right to rule. Soon after the birth of her son, Queen Elizabeth sent envoys to Poland to persuade the delegates of the Hungarian Estates to break off their negotiations with Vladislaus III of Poland. However, the Hungarian lords refused and elected Vladislaus king on 8 March 1440. Before his election, Vladislaus had pledged that he would marry Queen Elizabeth and protect her infant son's interests in Austria and Bohemia.
The queen refused to give her consent to the project and decided to have her son crowned king before Vladislaus came to Hungary. She hastily took Ladislaus from Komárom to Székesfehérvár, which was the traditional place of the royal coronations in Hungary. After a young lord, Nicholas Újlaki, symbolically knighted the infant Ladislaus, Archbishop Dénes Szécsi anointed and crowned him king on 15 May. During the lengthy ceremonies, his mother's cousin, Ulrich II, Count of Celje, held the crown over the head of Ladislaus who burst into tears while the coronation oath was being read out on his behalf. Six days later Vladislaus III entered Buda. Queen Elizabeth fled first to Győr, and from there to Sopron, taking the infant king with her.
The most powerful lords – including Ladislaus Garai, Đurađ Branković, Frederick II and Ulrich II of Celje – and most towns remained faithful to the child-king, but most noblemen preferred Vladislaus' rule in the hope that he would be able to lead the defence of the kingdom against the Ottomans. A civil war broke out between the partisans of the two kings which would last for years. The Diet declared Ladislaus' coronation invalid on 29 June 1440, stating that "the crowning of kings is always dependent on the will of the kingdom's inhabitants, in whose consent both the effectiveness and the force of the crown reside". On 17 July, Archbishop Dénes Szécsi crowned Vladislaus king with a crown taken from the tomb of King Saint Stephen, the first king of Hungary.
In need of financial resources to continue the war against Vladislaus, Queen Elizabeth signed a treaty with Frederick III, King of the Romans, in Wiener Neustadt on 22 November. She not only mortgaged Sopron to Frederick III, but also appointed him as her son's guardian and gave the Holy Crown of Hungary to him. Thereafter Ladislaus lived in Frederick III's court, mainly in Wiener Neustatdt.
Queen Elizabeth hired a Czech condottiere, John Jiskra of Brandýs, who took control of Kassa (now Košice in Slovakia) and a dozen other towns in Upper Hungary during the next months. However, Vladislaus' two military commanders, Nicholas Újlaki and John Hunyadi, defeated the united army of the child Ladislaus's supporters from the central and southern parts of Hungary in the
Battle of Bátaszék in early 1441. During the next months, Vladislaus and his commanders took control of the western and eastern territories of Hungary, but Jiskra and Queen Elizabeth's other supporters continued to control Upper Hungary, along with Esztergom, Győr, Pressburg (now Bratislava in Slovakia) and other important towns. Negotiations began and Queen Elizabeth and Vladislaus signed a peace treaty in Győr on 13 December 1442. The queen recognized Vladislaus as king, but preserved her son's claim to the throne. Three or four days later the queen suddenly died and Ladislaus became an orphan before his third birthday.
Frederick III's ward (1442–1452)
After the death of Ladislaus' mother, his claim to rule in Hungary and Bohemia was primarily protected by Jan Jiskra and Ulrich of Rosenberg, respectively. Most parts of Hungary remained under the rule of Ladislaus's rival, Vladislaus. In Bohemia, the moderate Hussite lord, Hynce Ptáček of Pirkstein, administered the eastern territories, and the towns dominated by the radical Taborites were united in a league. The Hussite
Ctibor Tovačovský of Cimburk, who had assumed the title governor after Albert's death, continued to administer Moravia, closely cooperating with the towns and the Catholic Bishop of Olomouc. Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, whom Elizabeth of Goerlitz made her heir, invaded Luxemburg on her behalf in 1443. Frederick III authorized the Estates of Luxemburg to pay homage to Philip the Good, but he also stipulated that Ladislaus could buy back the duchy after Elizabeth of Goerlitz's death. During Ladislaus's lifetime, the Luxembourgeoise Estates did not recognize Philip the Good as their legitimate sovereign.
Ladislaus' rival, Vladislaus, died fighting against the Ottomans in the Battle of Varna on 10 November 1444. At the Diet of next year, the Hungarian Estates agreed that they would acknowledge the child Ladislaus as king if Vladislaus, whose fate was still uncertain, did not come back to Hungary before 1 June 1445. However, they stipulated that they would elect a new king if the child king's guardian, Frederick III, did not release both the king and the Holy Crown of Hungary. The Estates also elected seven "
Captains in Chief" – John Hunyadi, Nicholas Újlaki, George Rozgonyi,
Emeric Bebek, Michael Ország, Pancrace Szentmiklósi, and Jan Jiskra – to administer the kingdom. Frederick III stormed into Hungary, and captured a dozen fortresses along the western frontiers of Hungary, including Kőszeg, by the end of July. The Counts of Celje, who were related to Ladislaus through his mother, invaded Slavonia and took control of the province before the end of the year. As Frederick III refused to release Ladislaus, the Diet of Hungary elected John Hunyadi regent for the period of Ladislaus' minority on 6 June 1446. John Hunyadi, who adopted the title governor, ruled most part of Hungary, but could not expand his authority over the regions under the rule of Frederick III, Jan Jiskra and the Counts of Celje. The envoys of the Hungarian Estates and Frederick III signed a truce on 1 June 1446, which confirmed Frederick III's guardianship over Ladislaus.
In Bohemia, George of Poděbrady took up the leadership of the moderate Hussite lords after the death of Hynce Ptáček. He captured Prague on 3 September 1448 and imprisoned Meinhard of Neuhaus who had started negotiations of the moderate Hussites' union with the Catholic Church. Early the next year, Ulrich of Rosenberg and other Catholic lords entered into a formal league against Poděbrady.
Ladislaus had a good education in Frederick III's court. A Latin grammar was completed especially for him. Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini (the future Pope Pius II) summarized his advice on education in a letter that he addressed to the ten-year-old Ladislaus in 1450. Piccolomini suggested that Ladislaus should read both classical authors (including Archimedes, Cicero, Livy and Vergil) and the Bible. He also emphasized the importance of physical training, stating that "both mind and body ... must be developed side by side".
As regards a boy's physical training, we must bear in mind that we aim at implanting habits which will prove beneficial through life. So let him cultivate a certain hardness which rejects excess of sleep and idleness in all its forms. Habits of indulgence – such as the luxury of soft beds, or the wearing of silk instead of linen next the skin – tend to enervate both body and mind. ... Childish habits of playing with the lips and features should be early controlled. A boy should be taught to hold his head erect, to look straight and fearlessly before him and to bear himself with dignity whether walking, standing, or sitting. ... Every youth destined to exalted position should further be trained in military exercises. It will be your destiny to defend Christendom against the Turk. It will thus be an essential part of Your education that you be early taught the use of the bow, of the sling, and of the spear; that you drive, ride, leap and swine. These are honourable accomplishments in everyone, and therefore not unworthy of the educator's care. ... Games, too, should be encouraged for young children – the ball, the hoop – but these must not be rough and coarse, but have in them an element of skill. ... In respect of eating and drinking the rule of moderation consists in rejecting everything which needlessly taxes digestion and so impairs mental activity. At the same time fastidiousness must not be humoured. A boy, for instance, whose lot it may be to face life in the camp, or in the forest, should so discipline his appetite that he may eat even beef. The aim of eating is to strengthen the frame; so let vigorous health reject cakes or sweets, elaborate dishes of small birds or eels, which are for the delicate and the weakly. ... As regards the use of wine, remember that we drink to quench thirst, and that the limit of moderation is reached when the edge of the intellect is dulled. A boy should be brought up to avoid wine; for he possesses a store of natural moisture in the blood and so rarely experiences thirst.
John Hunyadi signed a peace treaty with Frederick III on 22 October 1450. They agreed that Ladislaus would remain under Frederick III's guardianship until his eighteenth birthday, and during Ladislaus' minority Hunyadi would administer Hungary. Their agreement stirred up discontent among the Austrian Estates, because the age of majority was twelve or sixteen, according to local customs. The Austrian lords tried to prevent Ladislaus from accompanying his guardian to Italy in late 1451. However, Frederick took Ladislaus with him to Rome where Frederick was crowned Holy Roman Emperor. After their return from Italy, Emperor Frederick again refused to renounce the guardianship of Ladislaus, provoking the Austrian Estates to rise up in open rebellion in early 1452. The representatives of the Austrian and Hungarian Estates, and the Bohemian Catholic lords, signed a treaty in Vienna on 5 March against Emperor Frederick, but he refused to hand over Ladislaus to them. On the other hand, the emperor assisted George of Poděbrady in gaining the newly established office of governor in Bohemia in April. The rebellious Austrian lords laid siege Wiener Neustadt, forcing Emperor Frederick III to hand over Ladislaus to Ulrich of Celje on 4 September.
Count Ulrich von Cilli accompanied Ladislaus to Vienna but only after "washing the Styrian filth off him" to symbolize the liberation of Ladislaus from the "Styrian" Frederick III's influence. Ladislaus Garai and Nicholas Újlaki visited Ladislaus in Vienna in October, and John Hunyadi also joined them before the end of the year. Hunyadi resigned from the governorship early the next year. Ladislaus made Hunyadi "captain general of the kingdom", authorizing him to retain all royal castles that were in his possession at the time of his resignation, and to continue administering royal revenues. Hunyadi was only to pay 24,000 gold florins to the sovereign in each year. During a debate between the representatives of the Austrian and Hungarian Estates about his future seat, Ladislaus declared that he was Hungarian and wanted to live in Hungary, according to Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini.
On 29 January 1453 in Pressburg, the Diet of Hungary acknowledged Ladislaus' position as the lawful king without a formal election or a new coronation. He declared an amnesty for those who had supported Vladislaus against him. Although all grants that Queen Elizabeth and King Vladislaus had made were annulled, Ladislaus issued new charters of grant for the grantees to confirm their proprietary rights. The greater chancellery and the secret chancellery (two important offices of central administration, which had not functioned for a decade) were restored under the direction of Archbishop Dénes Szécsi and John Vitéz, Bishop of Várad (now Oradea in Romania). The central courts of justice (the
Court of Royal Special Presence and the
Court of Personal Presence) also started functioning again.
Ladislaus returned to Vienna shortly after the Diet was closed. During the next months, Ulrich of Celje was Ladislaus' most influential advisor. Celje signed a treaty with George of Poděbrady on 16 April and persuaded Ladislaus to confirm Poděbrady's position as governor in Bohemia. Ulrich of Celje also signed a treaty with Archbishop Dénes Szécsi, Ladislaus Garai, Nicholas Újlaki, and other Hungarian lords on 13 September, who promised to support him against his opponents. Their league was implicitly formed against John Hunyadi and Ulrich Eytzinger, the head of the Estates in Austria, who had for long been hostile towards Ulrich of Celje. Fifteen days later, Ulrich Eytzinger persuaded Ladislaus to expel Ulrich of Celje from his court at an assembly of the Estates of Austria.
Ladislaus was crowned king of Bohemia in Prague on 28 October 1453, which put an end to the long interregnum. Ulrich Eytzinger, John Hunyadi, and George Poděbrady, who all were present at Ladislaus' coronation, signed a treaty. Ladislaus stayed in Prague during the next twelve months. George Poděbrady hindered him from consulting with his Austrian and Hungarian advisors, and even the royal seal was taken from Ladislaus. At the next Diet of Hungary, Bishop John Vitéz submitted a proposal on the king's behalf to the Estates, demanding the centralization of the administration of royal revenues, but the Diet refused the proposal, which would have limited John Hunyadi's authority. According to the document prepared by the bishop on this occasion, Ladislaus' cash revenues amounted to 216,000 florins. Historian János M. Bak writes that that amount would have only covered about 85% of the expenses of a military expedition against the Ottoman Turks, who had captured Constantinople and planned to invade Hungary.
Ladislaus left Prague in late November 1454. He visited Silesia and Moravia where the local Estates paid homage to him. After Ladislaus arrived in Moravia, Ctibor Tovačovský himself appointed Czech Catholic noblemen as royal officials, ensuring their loyalty towards him. Ladislaus returned to Vienna on 16 February 1455. Taking advantage of Ulrich Eytzinger's growing unpopularity among the Austrian noblemen, Ulrich of Celje persuaded Ladislaus to restore him in his court. Ladislaus visited Buda and persuaded Hunyadi to resign a part of the royal revenues and withdraw his garrisons from Buda, Diósgyőr and other royal castles. Ulrich of Celje also renewed his alliance with Ladislaus Garai and Nicholas Újlaki on 7 April.
The newly elected Pope Callixtus III declared a crusade against the Ottoman Turks, who had occupied the greater part of Serbia. News of Sultan Mehmed II's preparations for invasion reached Hungary in autumn 1455. Ladislaus came to Hungary in February 1456. He held a Diet in March that proclaimed general mobilization and consented to an extraordinary tax to cover the expenditures of the defense of the country. In April, Ladislaus borrowed 8,000 florins from Hunyadi, because the king had to pay off half of his former debt to Ulrich of Celje. Before the sultan's army reached the southern border of Hungary, Ladislaus left Hungary and returned to Vienna.
Sultan Mehmed II laid siege to Belgrade in early July 1456. With the assistance of thousands of commoners whom John of Capistrano, a Franciscan friar, had stirred up to join the crusade against the Ottomans, John Hunyadi prevented the besiegers from completing the blockade and relieved Belgrade on 22 July. Two weeks later, Hunyadi died of an epidemic that broke out in Belgrade.
On his deathbed, Ladislaus the Posthumous offers his thanks to George of Poděbrady
, painting by
Ladislaus returned to Hungary in September. Ulrich of Celje accompanied him at the head of an army of German crusaders who had assembled near Vienna. Ladislaus made Ulrich of Celje "captain general". They also decided to reclaim all royal castles and revenues that Hunyadi had held from his son, Ladislaus Hunyadi. The young Hunyadi seemingly yielded to the king at their meeting in Futak (now Futog in Serbia) and invited Ladislaus and Ulrich of Celje to Belgrade, but after the king and the Count of Celje entered the fortress, Hunyadi's soldiers attacked and murdered the count on 9 November. The royal army soon disbanded, and the king found himself captive. He accompanied Hunyadi to Temesvár (now Timișoara in Romania), which was an important center of the Hunyadi domains. Hunyadi only allowed the king to leave Temesvár after Ladislaus made him captain general and pledged that he would not take revenge for Ulrich of Celje's murder.
From Temesvár, Ladislaus went to Buda. He soon realized that the majority of the Hungarian barons were hostile towards Ladislaus Hunyadi. Upon the advice of Ladislaus Garai, the king convinced Ladislaus Hunyadi, who had also arrived in the capital, to persuade his younger brother, the fourteen-year-old Matthias, to join him in Buda. As soon as Matthias arrived on 14 March 1457, Ladislaus had the two Hunyadis imprisoned. Sitting in the royal council, the barons of the realm condemned the Hunyadi brothers to death for high treason, and Ladislaus Hunyadi was beheaded on 16 March. The Hunyadi brothers' mother, Elizabeth Szilágyi, and her brother, Michael Szilágyi, rebelled against the king, which caused a civil war between the lords loyal to the king and the supporters of the Hunyadi family. Ladislaus appointed John Jiskra to be the commander of the royal army and left Hungary for Vienna, dragging the captive Matthias Hunyadi with him in early June.
From Vienna, Ladislaus went to Prague where he unexpectedly died on 23 November 1457. Although his contemporaries suspected that the young king was poisoned, the examination of his skeleton suggests that he fell victim either to bubonic plague or to leukemia. He was buried in the St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague.