Monday, December 24, 2007

John Hunyadi (Medieval Latin: Ioannes Corvinus, German: Johann Hunyadi; Hungarian: Hunyadi János, Romanian: Iancu or Ioan de Hunedoara; Serbian: Сибињанин Јанко) (c. 1387August 11, 1456), nicknamed the White Knight, was a Voivode of Transylvania (from 1441), captain-general (1444–1446) and regent (1446–1453) of the Kingdom of Hungary, with a distinguished military career. He was the father of Matthias, one of the most renowned kings of Hungary.

Names in other languages
John was born into a noble family in 1387 (or 1400 according to some sources) as the son of Vojk (alternatively spelled as Voyk or Vajk in English, Voicu in Romanian, Vajk in Hungarian), a boyar from Wallachia whose faithful soldier his father was for two decades. This tale helped him secure more legitimacy for his descendants to the throne of the Kingdom, to which John, despite all his services, could not accede – having neither royal, nor Hungarian origin. Widely respected in Europe, he still gathered rivals throughout his lifetime, and was the object of the Ottoman Empire's hatred.
Hunyadi has sometimes been confused with an elder brother or cousin John, himself a Severin Ban (the elder John died about 1440).


While still a youth, the younger John Hunyadi entered the retinue of Sigismund, who appreciated his qualities. (He also was the King's creditor on several occasions.) He accompanied the monarch to Frankfurt, in Sigismund's quest for the Imperial crown in 1410, took part in the Hussite Wars in 1420, and in 1437 drove the Ottomans from Semendria. For these services he received numerous estates and a seat in the royal council. In 1438 King Albert II made Hunyadi Ban of Severin. Lying south of the defensible southern frontiers of Hungary, the Carpathians and the Drava/Sava/Danube complex, the province was subject to constant harassment by Ottoman forces. Upon the sudden death of Albert in 1439, Hunyadi, arguably feeling Hungary needed a warrior king, lent his support to the candidature of young King of Poland Władysław III of (1440), and thus came into collision with the powerful Ulrich II of Celje, the chief supporter of Albert's widow Elizabeth and her infant son, Ladislaus V. He took a prominent part in the ensuing civil war and was rewarded by Władysław with the captaincy of the fortress of Belgrade and the governorship of Transylvania. He shared the latter dignity with Mihály Újlaki.

With Sigismund and in the disputed elections
The burden of the Ottoman War now rested with him. In 1441 he delivered Serbia by the victory of Semendria. In 1442, not far from Sibiu, on which he had been forced to retire, he annihilated an immense Ottoman presence, and recovered for Hungary the suzerainty of Wallachia. In February 1450, he signed an alliance treaty with Bogdan II of Moldavia.
In July, he vanquished a third Turkish army near the Iron Gates. These victories made Hunyadi a prominent enemy of the Ottomans and renowned throughout Christendom, and stimulated him in 1443 to undertake, along with King Władysław, the famous expedition known as the "long campaign". Hunyadi, at the head of the vanguard, crossed the Balkans through the Gate of Trajan, captured Niš, defeated three Turkish pashas, and, after taking Sofia, united with the royal army and defeated Sultan Murad II at Snaim. The impatience of the king and the severity of the winter then compelled him (February 1444) to return home, but not before he had utterly broken the Sultan's power in Bosnia, Herzegovina, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Albania.
No sooner had he regained Hungary than he received tempting offers from Pope Eugene IV, represented by the Legate Julian Cesarini, from Đurađ Branković, despot of Serbia, and Gjergj Kastrioti, prince of Albania, to resume the war and realize his ideal of driving the Ottomans from Europe. All the preparations had been made when Murad's envoys arrived in the royal camp at Szeged and offered a ten years' truce on advantageous terms. Branković bribed Hunyadi -he gave him his vast estates in Hungary- to support the acceptance of the peace. Cardinal Julian Cesarini found a traitorous solution. The king swore that he would never give up the crusade, so all future peace and oath was automatically invalid. After this Hungary accepted the Sultan's offer and Hunyadi in Władysław's name swore on the Gospels to observe them.

First battles of the Balkans
Two days later Cesarini received tidings that a fleet of Venetian galleys had set off for the Bosporus to prevent Murad (who, crushed by his recent disasters, had retired to Anatolia) from recrossing into Europe, and the cardinal reminded the King that he had sworn to cooperate by land if the western powers attacked the Ottomans by sea. In July the Hungarian army recrossed the frontier and advanced towards the Black Sea coast in order to march to Constantinople escorted by the galleys.
Branković, however, fearful of the sultan's vengeance in case of disaster, privately informed Murad of the advance of the Christian host, and prevented Kastrioti from joining it. On reaching Varna, the Hungarians found that the Venetian galleys had failed to prevent the transit of the Sultan, who now confronted them with four times their forces, and on November 10, 1444 they were utterly routed in the Battle of Varna, Władysław falling on the field and Hunyadi narrowly escaping.

John HunyadiJohn Hunyadi Battle of Varna

Brief personal rule
Meanwhile, the Ottoman issue had again become acute, and, after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, it seemed natural that Sultan Mehmed II was rallying his resources in order to subjugate Hungary. His immediate objective was Belgrade. Hunyadi arrived at the siege of Belgrade at the end of 1455, after settling differences with his domestic enemies. At his own expense, he restocked the supplies and arms of the fortress, leaving in it a strong garrison under the command of his brother-in-law Mihály Szilágyi and his own eldest son László. He proceeded to form a relief army, and assembled a fleet of two hundred ships. His main ally was the Franciscan friar, Giovanni da Capistrano, whose fiery oratory drew a large crusade made up mostly of peasants. Although relatively ill-armed (most were armed with farm equipment, such as scythes and pitchforks) they flocked to Hunyadi and his small corps of seasoned mercenaries and cavalry.
On July 14, 1456 the flotilla of corvettes assembled by Hunyadi destroyed the Ottoman fleet. On July 21, Szilágyi's forces in the fortress repulsed a fierce assault by the Rumelian army, and Hunyadi pursued the retreating forces into their camp, taking advantage of the Turkish army's confused flight from the city. After fierce but brief fighting, the camp was captured, and Mehmet raised the siege and returned to Istanbul. With his flight began a 70 year period of relative peace on Hungary's southeastern border. However, plague broke out in Hunyadi's camp three weeks after the lifting of the siege, and he died August 11. He was buried inside the (Roman Catholic) Cathedral of Alba Iulia (Gyulafehérvár), next to his elder brother John.