Hungarian Catholic Mission

History of Hungary

No State in European history has a beginning as definable as Hungary. The Magyars, entered the basin of the middle Danube, in the year 895. Fierce horsemen from the East, penetrated German lands, and attacked Northern Italy and France. An ardent prayer of the time implores, “From the arrows of the Hungarians, O Lord, deliver us.” It was only when the Holy Roman Emperor defeated the Magyars in 955 AD that the nomadic tribe settled in what is present day Hungary.

Hungary’s first Christian King, István (Stephen) I, received his crown from the Pope on Christmas Day in 1000. In 1083, 46 years after his death, he was canonized. The first of eight saints of the House of Arpad, King István finished the work of converting Hungarians to Christianity and created a strong feudal state. The foundations, laid down by King István paved the way for 500 years of prosperity. Hungary established itself as a regional power in Central Europe and the Balkans. The Hungarian Kingdom was strong enough to defend its independence even from the contemporary superpowers. With the exception of the Tatar invasion in 1241-42, the Hungarian Kingdom was also strong enough to control smaller neighboring states. As a consequence, after the Mongols retreated, King Béla ordered the construction of hundreds of stone castles and fortifications, to defend against a possible second Mongol invasion. The Mongols returned to Hungary in 1286, but the Hungarian tactics and newly built stone-castle systems proved too much for the Mongel invasion. These new castles also were important defense against the Ottoman Empire.

After the destructive period of Interregnum (1301–1308), we saw the first Angevin King; Charles I of Hungary reigned from 1308–1342. He successfully restored royal power, and defeated any oligarch rivals. The second Hungarian King in the Angevin line, was Louis the Great who reigned from 1342–1382. King Louis extended his rule as far as the Adriatic Sea, and occupied the Kingdom of Naples several times. King Louis died without a male heir, and after years of anarchy, the country was stabilized by Prince Sigismund who reigned from 1387–1437. This prince from the Luxembourg line, succeeded to the throne by marrying the daughter of Louis the Great. After the death of Sigismund, his son in law, Albert II of Germany, was given the title, King of Hungary. Albert II, however, died in 1439, which is the same year when the first Hungarian Bible translation was completed.

From a small noble family in Transylvania, Janos Hunyadi grew to become one of the country's most powerful Lords. In 1446, the parliament elected the great general Janos Hunyadi Governor (1446–1453). He was a successful crusader against the Ottoman Turks. One of his greatest victories being the Siege of Nandorfehervar in 1456. Hunyadi defended the city against the onslaught from Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II. During the siege, Pope Callixtus III ordered the bells of every European church to be rung every day at noon, as a call for believers to pray for the defenders of the city.

The last strong Hungarian ruler was the Renaissance King, Matthias Corvinus who reigned from 1458 to 1490. Matthias was the son of Janos Hunyadi. This was the first time in the medieval Hungarian Kingdom that a member of the nobility, without dynastic ancestry became King. Matthias set out to build a great empire, expanding southward and northwest, while he also implemented internal reforms. In 1479, under the leadership of General Pál Kinizsi, the Hungarian army destroyed the Ottoman and Wallachian troops at the Battle of Breadfield. His mercenary standing army called the Black Army of Hungary was an unusually big army in its age. The King died without a legal successor. His library, the Bibliotheca Corviniana, was Europe's greatest collection of historical chronicles, philosophic and scientific works in the 15th century.

By the early 16th century, the Ottoman Empire became the second most populous state in the world, which opened the door to creation of the largest armies of the era. Turkish army crushed the Hungarians at the battlefield of Mohács in 1526. After Mohács, Hungary was torn into three parts. The central areas were under direct Turkish control. A strip in the north-west remained legally the kingdom of Hungary, but was controlled by the Habsburgs. Finally the eastern part became the more or less autonomous principality of Transylvania. It tried to maintain the illusion of Hungarian independence but was in reality under Turkish influence. Over the next 150 years, the region experience several wars between the Turkish and the Habsburg Empire. Hungary as a nation was devastated. Most towns had been destroyed and the population which used to be 4 million at the end of the 15th Century (in Matthias' time) decreased to only 3 million at the end of the 17th Century.

With the last major Turkish attack against Austria, a coalition of nations was formed that successfully repelled the Turks. Once again Hungary was liberated. The Habsburgs maintained control of Hungary and the relations between the Habsburgs and their Hungarian subjects were not harmonious. The Habsburgs often referred to the Hungarians as "rebellious." The Hungarian people rose up against the Habsburgs during the freedom war of 1703-11, which was led by Ferenc Rákóczi II, Prince of Transylvania. The insurrection failed and the leader went into exile where he died in Rodosto in 1735.

During the 18th century, we saw one of the most famous Hungarian Hussars, known as Michael Kovats. He created the modern US cavalry in the American Revolutionary War and is commemorated today with a statue in Charleston, North Carolina. Otherwise, the 18th was long and surprisingly peaceful.

The beginning of the 19th century brought the rise of nationalism throughout Europe. Hungarians found their country underdeveloped compared to its neighbor countries. Count István Széchenyi, the most prominent statesmen of the country, recognized the urgent need of modernization. The Hungarian Parliament was reconvened in 1825 to pass laws and generate revenue for the countries revitalization. A remarkable upswing started, as the nation concentrated on modernization.

On March 15, 1848, mass demonstrations in Pest and Buda enabled Hungarian reformists to push through a list of 12 demands on human rights and freedom of religion. Faced with revolution, both at home and in Vienna, Austrian Emperor Ferdinand I, accepted Hungarian demands. Unfortunately, after the Austrian revolution was suppressed, Franz Joseph refused all reforms. A year later, in April of 1849, the independent government of Hungary was established. The new independent government succeeded from the Austrian Empire. The Habsburg Empire officially became the Austrian-Hungarian monarchy; though Austria had the dominant position in the new dualist state.

The 50 years of relative prosperity for the Hungarian people begain in 1867. A very dynamic economic and cultural development started and by the end of the century Hungary was closer to Western-European standards. Unfortunately, the First World War put an end to this.

Franz-Josef I. the Kaiser of Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, thus starting World War I. In the First World War, Austria–Hungary aligned itself with Germany, Bulgaria and Turkey. By the end of the war the Monarchy disintegrated and the consequences for Hungary were great. In the post-war chaos, its neighbors easily occupied most of its territory. Hungary's signing of the Treaty of Trianon, on June 4, 1920 realigned the borders of Europe. The territorial provisions of the treaty required Hungary to surrender more than two-thirds of its pre-war lands. However, nearly one-third of the 10 million ethnic Hungarians found themselves outside the diminished homeland.

The years between the two great wars are generally considered as years of crisis. Although Hungary regained its independence after 400 years, this fact was overshadowed by the tragic consequences of the lost war. Its political system established a parliament but was authoritarian in rule. Hungary was also hit by the Great Recession of 1929-1933. Hungary’s foreign policy was seeking the revision of the Trianon Peace Treaty. This diplomatically insulated Hungary politically in the 1920’s and pushed it towards supporting Germany in the 1930’s. When Hitler finally awarded some territories to Hungary in 1939-41, the country became a German ally. On November 20, 1940, under pressure from Germany, Pál Teleki affiliated Hungary with the Tripartite Pact. In December 1940, he also signed an ephemeral "Treaty of Eternal Friendship" with Yugoslavia. A few months later, after a Yugoslavian coup threatened the success of the planned German invasion of the Soviet Union (Operation Barbarossa), Hitler asked the Hungarians to support his invasion of Yugoslavia. He promised to return some former Hungarian territories lost after World War I in exchange for cooperation. Hungary entered the war and on 1 July 1941 at the direction of the Germans, the Hungarian Karpat Group advanced far into southern Russia. During the Battle of Stalingrad, the Hungarian Second Army suffered terrible losses. Hitler ordered Nazi troops to launch Operation Margarethe and occupy Hungary in March 1944.

In September, Soviet forces crossed the Hungarian border. On October 15, 1944, Hungary signed an armistice with the Soviet Union which they initially ignored. The Red Army completed the encirclement of Budapest on December 29, 1944 and the Battle of Budapest continued into February 1945. On January 20, 1945; representatives of the Hungarian provisional government signed an armistice in Moscow. Szálasi's government fled the country and Soviet operations in Hungary ended on April 4, 1945 when the last German troops were expelled. About one million Hungarians died during the war. Soldiers on the front, Hungarian Jews in concentration camps and civilians during 1944-45, when the Red Army eventually drove out the German Wehrmacht. What was left of Hungary was dissemination. The years after World War II was very difficult. The Soviets pushed the Communists into power and a strict Stalinist dictatorship started.

The Soviet rule in Central Europe was not accepted by the Hungarian people. On October 23, 1956, a peaceful student demonstration in Budapest produced a list of 16 demands for reform and greater political freedom. As the students attempted to broadcast these demands, police made some arrests and tried to disperse the crowd with tear gas. When the students attempted to free those arrested, the police opened fire on the crowd, setting off a chain of events which led to the Hungarian Revolution. Within weeks the Soviet Army crushed the ill-fated revolution. Hungary would have to wait an additional 33 more years for freedom.

The long awaited end of the Soviet rule came in 1989. The Soviet Union’s deep economic trouble was a major factor in Hungary gaining independence. The Central-European nations suddenly found independence from occupation and freedom. Communists between 1988-1990 gradually and peacefully gave up power in Hungary. With free and democratic elections in 1990, Communism came to an end. Although the 20th Century was one of the most disastrous centuries in Hungarian history, its last decade seems to have given hope to the new nation. Hungary will continue its democratic programs and is now a member of the European Union and NATO. Revitalization of Hungary continues. Throughout all parts of Hungary you can see economic improvements as the country enjoys its freedom as a new Nation.

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