The Habsburg Kingdom of Hungary (1526-1867)
Incorporation of the Kingdom of Hungary into the Habsburg Monarchy
In 1526 military forces from the Ottoman Empire under the leadership of Sultan Suleiman I annihilated the armies of the Kingdom of Hungary under King Louis II at the Battle of Mohács in modern-day southern Hungary. King Louis II drowned in a creek after falling off his horse wearing heavy armor during the retreat of what remained of his army following the battle.
King Louis II died without a legitimate son, thus initiating a struggle for the throne of the Kingdom of Hungary between Voivode of Transylvania János Szapolyai, the most powerful man in the realm following the Battle of Mohács, and Archduke of Austria Ferdinand of the House of Habsburg, the fallen king’s brother-in-law. Both Szapolyai and Ferdinand were crowned king of Hungary in the months following the Battle of Mohács. In 1526-1527 the military forces of Ferdinand defeated those of Szapolyai in two battles, thus forcing the latter to consolidate his power into the Ottoman vassal state of the Eastern Hungarian Kingdom (later the Principality of Transylvania), while the former incorporated the northern and western parts of the Kingdom of Hungary into the Habsburg Monarchy. Sultan Suleiman I gradually incorporated the middle wedge of the Kingdom of Hungary, including Buda, directly into the Ottoman Empire.
The accession of King Ferdinand I to the throne marked the beginning of a period of 341 years during which the House of Habsburg reigned over the Kingdom of Hungary from Vienna. The highest-ranking official inside the kingdom during the period of Habsburg rule was the royal governor who served under the title palatine (nádor in Hungarian).
The Hungarian Diet
The Hungarian Diet (parliament) met intermittently in the city of Pressburg (now Bratislava, Slovakia) from the beginning of Habsburg rule over the Kingdom of Hungary until the Hungarian Revolution of 1848—a period of over 320 years. This diet provided the kingdom with a moderate degree of self-determination during the period of Habsburg dominion. The Habsburg monarch convened the diets. On eight occasions in the 200-year period beginning in 1662, the monarch did not convene the Diet for periods of between ten and twenty years (source in Hungarian). The diet was divided into two chambers in 1608: the Upper House composed of the high-ranking nobility and Catholic clergy and the Lower House composed of representatives from the Royal Free Cities and Counties within the Kingdom of Hungary and Roman Catholic administrative officials. This bicameral arrangement existed until the end of the First World War.
Reformation and Counter-Reformation in the Kingdom of Hungary
The Protestant Reformation spread quickly within the Kingdom of Hungary following its incorporation into the Habsburg Monarchy less than a decade after Martin Luther issued his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517. By 1600, around three-quarters of the parishes in the kingdom were Protestant, most of them Calvinist (source: Graeme Murdock, Calvinism on the Frontier, 1600-1660). The Habsburg-supported Counter-Reformation stopped the spread of Protestantism and converted many subjects within the Kingdom of Hungary back to Roman Catholicism beginning in the early 1600s. Archbishop of Esztergom Péter Pázmány served as the primary agent of the Counter-Reformation in the Kingdom of Hungary, using every legal means at his disposal to impede Protestantism in the realm for a period of three decades beginning in 1607. Protestants faced varying degrees of repression under the rule of the Catholic Habsburg monarchs until King Joseph II issued the Patent of Toleration in 1781 granting religious freedom to Lutheran, Calvinist and Greek Orthodox inhabitants of the Habsburg Monarchy.
Reincorporation of Ottoman Hungary into the Kingdom of Hungary (1683-1699)
Military forces from the Habsburg Monarchy and other Christian states gradually drove the Ottoman Turks out of the Kingdom of Hungary during the sixteen-year Great Turkish War beginning in 1683. This war began with the victory of Christian forces over the Ottomans at the Siege of Vienna in the former year, continued with the expulsion of the Turks from Buda in 1686 and ended with the signing of the Treaty of Karlowitz in 1699. The Habsburg Monarchy gained control over the entire Kingdom of Hungary as a result of this treaty, which incorporated the directly occupied Ottoman provinces (eyalets) back into the kingdom, while preserving the Principality of Transylvania as a separate territory within the monarchy.
The First Great Anti-Habsburg Uprising: The Rákóczi Freedom Fight/Rebellion (1703-1711)
In 1703, Ferenc Rákóczi II led an uprising against the newly expanded Habsburg rule over the Kingdom of Hungary known as the Rákóczi Freedom Fight (Rákóczi-szabadságharc) in Hungarian and the Ferenc Rákóczi II Rebellion (Aufstand von Franz II. Rákóczi) in German. Rákóczi, who belonged to one of the most powerful Hungarian noble families in the kingdom, and his forces (known as Kuruc) gained control over most of the realm from the Habsburgs and their Hungarian allies (known as Labanc) for various periods of time between 1703 and 1711 (see Kuruc vs. Labanc). The pro-Habsburg forces gained the upper hand in the conflict beginning in 1709, compelling the Kuruc to sue for peace in 1711 and forcing Rákóczi to flee Hungary to spend to remaining 24 years of his life in exile, mostly in the Ottoman Empire.
The Pragmatic Sanction
In 1713 Archduke of Austria and King of Hungary Charles III issued the Pragmatic Sanction (an imperial edict) declaring the right of daughters to inherit the throne of the Habsburg Monarchy. The Transylvanian Diet approved the Pragmatic Sanction in 1722 and the Hungarian Diet approved the edict in 1723, thus formally recognizing the right of Habsburg monarchs, king or queen, to rule over the Grand Principality of Transylvania and the Kingdom of Hungary. The Pragmatic Sanction served as the legal foundation for the accession of Maria Theresa to the throne of the Kingdom of Hungary in 1740.
Nationalities in the Kingdom of Hungary
Subjects of Hungarian nationality composed 40 percent of the population of the Kingdom of Hungary in the late 1700s, while those of non-Hungarian nationality composed 60 percent of the population (source in Hungarian). Hungarians composed the majority of the population in the center of the Kingdom of Hungary, while Slovaks and Ruthenians (Ukrainians) composed the majority in the north, Romanians in the southeastern Great Hungarian Plain and much of the Principality of Transylvania, Serbs in the south and Croats in the affiliated Kingdom of Croatia, while Germans composed the majority of the population in the far west, in southwestern Transylvania and in smaller pockets throughout the rest of the kingdom. In 1850, Hungarians composed 40 percent of the combined population of the Kingdom of Hungary and the Principality of Transylvania, while Romanians composed 18 percent of the population, Slovaks 14 percent, Germans 11 percent, Serbs 6 percent, Croats 5 percent and others 6 percent (source in Hungarian).
The Reform Era (1825-1848)
The Reform Era was a period of rapid Hungarian national development following three-hundred years under the control of the Habsburg and Ottoman dynasties. The era began when King Francis convened the Hungarian Diet in Pressburg in 1825 following a thirteen-year hiatus despite the objections of State Chancellor Klemens von Metternich. The Diet adopted a series of laws and measures aimed at modernizing the society and economy of the Kingdom of Hungary. The two most important figures in the Hungarian Reform Era were Count István Széchenyi and Lajos Kossuth.
Count István Széchenyi was born in Vienna into one of the most prominent Catholic noble families in the Kingdom of Hungary. Széchenyi concluded following trips to England and France as a youth that the neo-feudal economic and social structure of the Kingdom of Hungary represented the main impediment to the development of the Hungarian nation. Széchenyi thus advocated that nobility renounce many of its prerogatives, arguing that the backwardness of the Hungarian nation stemming from neo-feudalism harmed the interests of the privileged classes just as much as it did any other. Count Széchenyi initiated the Reform Era at the 1825 Diet with his announcement that he would donate an entire year’s income toward the foundation of a “scientific association” (which became the Hungarian Academy of Sciences) in order to promote the “sacred objective of strengthening, expanding and refining the Hungarian Nation and language.” Széchenyi devoted much of his time and energy during the Reform Era to development of transportation infrastructure within the Kingdom of Hungary, supervising projects to improve the navigability of the two main rivers in the country, the Danube and the Tisza, promoting steamboat transportation on these rivers and Lake Balaton, overseeing the building of shipyards and initiating construction of railways. He is associated above all with his organization of the construction of what is now called the Széchenyi Chain Bridge in Budapest—the first permanent bridge spanning the Danube River in the Kingdom of Hungary. Count Széchenyi’s efforts during the Reform Era have earned him the still commonly used title “the Greatest Hungarian” (a legnagyobb magyar).
Lajos Kossuth was born in the Carpathian Mountain region of modern-day northern Slovakia into a landless Protestant family of the lower nobility. He gained prominence as a journalist, first as the editor of a report on the proceedings at the Reform Era Hungarian Diets that met in 1825-1827 and 1832-1836, and then as the editor of the Hungarian nationalist newspaper Pesti Hírlap launched in 1841. Habsburg authorities jailed Kossuth for treason between these assignments from 1837 to 1840. Like Széchenyi, Kossuth believed that the neo-feudal economic and social structure of the Kingdom of Hungary must be eliminated in order to modernize the Hungarian nation, calling for the emancipation of the serfs and gradual elimination of noble prerogatives. However, unlike Széchenyi, Kossuth believed that this objective could best be achieved within an independent Hungarian nation-state outside the Habsburg Monarchy. This disagreement stood at the foundation of the conflict that emerged between the more conservative Széchenyi and the more radical Kossuth during the Reform Era.
The Second Great Anti-Habsburg Uprising: The 1848 Hungarian Revolution
The Political Phase (March-September 1848)
A non-violent popular revolution aimed at increasing the independence of the Hungarian nation within the Habsburg Monarchy began in Budapest on March 15, 1848 with the publication of a list of 12 demands under the title “What the Hungarian Nation Wants” [Mit kiván a Magyar Nemzet]. These demands included freedom of the press, equality before the law, establishment of an autonomous government and national assembly in Buda-Pest, foundation of a national bank, introduction of a national army, taxation of the nobility, emancipation of the serfs, release of political prisoners and union between the Kingdom of Hungary and the Principality of Transylvania. The Hungarian Revolution of 1848 broke out within the context of a sequence of pro-reform Spring of Nations revolutions that began in Sicily in January of that year before moving on to France in February and the Habsburg Monarchy in March. With the implicit support of King Ferdinand V, Palatine Stephen on March 17 appointed Count Lajos Batthyány to serve as the prime minister of the first modern, independent Hungarian national government, which formed with István Széchenyi as minister of transport and Lajos Kossuth as minister of finance. This government formulated legislation subsequently adopted at the Diet in Pressburg called the April Laws that enacted most of the 12 points issued on March 15 into law. King Ferdinand V sanctioned these laws, which retained the status of the Kingdom of Hungary as a Crown Land within the Habsburg Monarchy.
The Military Phase (September 1848-June 1849)
The non-Hungarian nationalities that composed the majority of the population of the Kingdom of Hungary largely came to oppose the greater degree of Hungarian national sovereignty stemming from the April Laws because they feared direct Hungarian domination more than indirect Habsburg domination. Moreover, King Ferdinand V and the Habsburg administration also began to oppose the rise in Hungarian autonomy within the monarchy as the dynasty’s hold on power strengthened following the wave of spring revolutions. In the summer of 1848, the Habsburgs and some of the nationalities of the Kingdom of Hungary—Serbs, Croats, Romanians, Germans and Slovaks—joined forces to reinstate the pre-revolution status quo.
In September 1848, the Ban of the Kingdom of Croatia, Imperial and Royal Army Lieutenant General Josip Jelačić, led a Croatian army into the Kingdom of Hungary with the aim of overthrowing the Batthyány government and suppressing the Hungarian revolution. On September 29, General Jelačić’s army met forces of the newly established Hungarian Army in battle near the village of Pákozd in central Hungary, thus initiating the military phase of the 1848 Hungarian Revolution. The Hungarian Army under the command of Imperial and Royal Army Lieutenant General János Móga defeated the Croatian forces in a small-scale engagement, compelling Lieutenant General Jelačić to withdraw his troops to Vienna. After some indecision, Lieutenant General Móga led the Hungarian Army into the Archduchy of Austria, where it encountered Imperial and Royal forces under the command of General Alfred I, Prince of Windisch-Grätz on the outskirts of Vienna at the Battle of Schwechat on October 30, 1848. The strengthened Habsburg forces defeated the Hungarian Army, driving it back across the border and initiating a half year of military conflict in the Kingdom of Hungary and the reunited region of Transylvania during which neither side was able to gain definitive advantage.
On December 2, 1848, the incompetent and epileptic King Ferdinand V abdicated in favor of his nephew, Franz Joseph, whom was not officially crowned king of Hungary due to the military conflict. On April 14, 1849, the Hungarian National Assembly, which met in the city of Debrecen (modern-day eastern Hungary) during the war, formally deposed Franz Joseph and the House of Habsburg from the throne of the Kingdom of Hungary, appointing Lajos Kossuth to serve as head of state in his place.
Russian Intervention and Hungarian Surrender (July-August 1849)
In May 1849, Emperor Franz Joseph asked Czar Nicholas I of the Russian Empire, which had a common border with the Austrian Empire, to intervene militarily in Hungary “to prevent the Hungarian insurrection from developing into a European calamity” (source in English). The Czar, in order to inhibit the possible spread of revolution eastward into his own realm, agreed to the 18-year-old Austrian emperor’s request, dispatching troops under the command of General Theodor von Rüdiger to Hungary in July 1849. The Imperial Russian Army quickly broke the military stalemate, winning victories over the Hungarian Army in three battles in July and August. Realizing that further resistance was futile, Hungarian Army General Artúr Görgei surrendered unconditionally to Russian General Rüdiger near the village of Világos (modern-day western Romania) on August 13, 1849, signalling an end to the military and political events connected directly to the 1848 Hungarian Revolution and prompting revolutionary head of state Lajos Kossuth to flee Hungary to spend the remaining 45 years of his life in exile.
The Absolutist Period (1849-1867)
Following the Hungarian surrender at Világos, Emperor Franz Joseph introduced a period of absolutist rule and political repression in Hungary. Under the command of Imperial and Royal Army General Julius Haynau, the Austrians exacted reprisals upon Hungarian military and political leaders from the revolution, executing 13 Hungarian Army generals outside the city of Arad (modern-day western Romania) and revolutionary Prime Minister Lajos Batthyány in Budapest on October 6, 1849. Franz Joseph suspended the Hungarian Diet, rescinded the union between the Kingdom of Hungary and Transylvania, eliminated the customs border between Austria and Hungary and, acting through Interior Minister Baron Alexander von Bach, implemented many other policies aimed at centralizing the monarchy and eliminating all vestiges of Hungarian autonomy achieved since the beginning of the Reform Era.
Foundation of the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary (1867)
The weakening of the Austrian Empire as a result of its defeat in the Austro-Prussian War for German hegemony fought in the summer of 1866 prompted Emperor Franz Joseph to turn to the Hungarians for support in governing the languishing Habsburg realm less than 20 years after overseeing their defeat in the 1848 revolution. This resulted in the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, which established the new state of Austria-Hungary that officially came into being with the coronation of Franz Joseph as king of Hungary on June 8 of that year. This new state arrangement, also called the Dual Monarchy, established a real union between the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary under the Habsburg emperor-king with separate and parliaments in Vienna and Buda-Pest. Both Austria and Hungary maintained independent governments, though had common ministers of foreign affairs, defense and finance based in Vienna. The two states shared a common currency, but were otherwise financially sovereign. The Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867 reincorporated Transylvania directly into the Kingdom of Hungary, thus officially placing all of the lands that belonged to the Medieval realm of King Stephen I and his successors under Hungarian sovereignty for the first time since the Battle of Mohács 341 years previously.