BECK index

Eastern Europe 1400-1517

by Sanderson Beck

Greece and Hungary 1400-53
Jan Hus
Bohemia’s Hussite Revolution
Chelcicky’s Nonviolence
Hungary and Bohemia 1453-1517
Poland and Lithuania 1400-1517
Russia 1400-1517

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Greece and Hungary 1400-53

Hungary 1250-1400

The Ottoman conquest of Constantinople was delayed because Timur and his Mongols defeated the Ottomans at Ankara in 1402. Bayezid I (r. 1389-1402) had put his Tatar cavalry in the front line, but they went over to the Mongols. Bayezid was captured, displayed in a cage, and died the next year. Timur’s Mongols went on to sack the Knights’ Anatolian town of Smyrna. The Knights had rebuilt Corinth’s defenses but agreed to leave when given 43,000 ducats they could use to rebuild Smyrna. A civil war over the Ottoman throne occupied the Muslims in Asia Minor, and in 1403 Suleiman made peace with the Byzantines, Serbian despot Stephen Lazarevich, Venice, and Genoa. Byzantium regained Thessalonica.

In 1411 Suleiman was defeated by his brother Musa, who then besieged Constantinople. However, Mehmed I (r. 1413-21) emerged as the new Ottoman Sultan in Asia Minor. His son Murad II (r. 1421-51) renewed the aggression in Europe. Byzantine Emperor Manuel (r. 1391-1425) regained Nesebar, Varna, and the Marmara coast from the Ottomans in 1403. His son John VIII was crowned Co-emperor in 1421 and tried to help Mustafa challenge Murad II, who turned his enmity against Constantinople with another siege the next year. The walls held, and Murad had to leave to secure his throne. In 1423 the Turks plundered Morea until the Byzantines promised to pay tribute the next year. Manuel’s son Andronicus tried to save Thessalonica by giving it to Venice, delaying the taking of the city by Murad until 1430.

Emperor John VIII (r. 1425-48) reigned over little besides Constantinople, though his brother Constantine took over the Latin principality of Achaea in 1432. Five years later John VIII went west for help. The humanist Gemistus Plethon explained the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle; he accompanied John VIII to Ferrara and urged Cosimo Medici to found the Platonic Academy in Florence. In 1439 the reunion of the two great Christian churches was proclaimed in Florence. Eastern patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem rejected this capitulation on behalf of the Orthodox Church, and Grand Duke Vasily II of Russia had Isidore, the new Metropolitan of Kiev, deposed and imprisoned in Moscow in 1441. John’s brother Demetrius took up the Orthodox cause and tried to use it to take over the throne with help from the Turks in 1442, but he was captured and kept under house arrest.

As part of the agreement on Church unity, Pope Eugenius IV called for a crusade against the Turks, who had conquered Serbia in 1439 and were raiding Bosnia. King Wladyslaw III (Ulaszlo) of Poland and Hungary led 25,000 men with Serbian despot George Brankovich and Wallachian knight Janos Hunyadi, who had driven Turks from their region. Hunyadi won a battle over Turks in Rumelia near Nish, but cold weather and the Ottomans defeated them early in 1444. The Albanian warrior Scanderbeg carried on the struggle, and Constantine fought in Greece, winning over the Turkish vassal Nerio II Acciajuoli. In June 1444 Sultan Murad II made a ten-year truce with the crusaders at Adrianople. Brankovich withdrew; but five months later the Christian army, trying to win back Bulgaria, was defeated by Murad’s Muslims at Varna, and Wladyslaw was killed. Two years later Murad invaded Greece, plundering and taking more than 60,000 captives; Constantine agreed to pay tribute. In 1448 Hunyadi surrendered at Kosovo, but he was released and fought against his rival Brankovich in Hungary and Serbia; Scanderbeg and the Albanians continued to fight in the mountains for twenty years.

When John VIII died childless in 1448, his brother Constantine XI Paleologus (r. 1448-53) became the last Byzantine Emperor. His brother Demetrius plotted with the Turks and fought over Morea against another brother Thomas. Murad II died in 1451 and was succeeded by his son Mehmed II (r. 1451-81). His siege of Constantinople began in April 1453 and broke through the walls using cannons by the end of May. Venetians stayed to help defend the capital; Genoese came to fight and defeated the Turkish fleet before the noble Giovanni Giustiniani died in the battle. Constantine was killed fighting as a soldier. The rich city was plundered for three days, and many people were murdered; valuable Greek books were removed, sold, or destroyed. The Muslims soon added to their empire the rest of the Greek, Latin, and Slav territories in the Balkans. The Turks captured Athens in 1456, occupied part of Albania in 1457, and took over Serbia in 1459, Morea the next year as Thomas fled, Trebizond in 1461, and Bosnia in 1463. Many Albanians fled or were captured in 1467, and Scanderbeg died in January 1468. Byzantine traditions were carried on in the north by the Russian empire as Moscow became the “third Rome.”

Sigismund had ruled Hungary since 1387, and in 1395 he founded a university at Obuda with Bishop Luke Szantoi as provost; but when Luke revolted in 1403, the university was closed. Sigismund restored the university in 1410 and invited foreign scholars to teach, but it failed again in 1419. Sigismund broke his promise to dismiss his foreign advisors, and many of his German and Czech followers were killed a few years later. On April 28, 1401 Archbishop Kanizsai and Palatine Detricus Bebek had the King imprisoned in his castle at Buda while they administered the realm. The barons could not agree on a new king; but Nicholas Garai got Sigismund released on August 31, and he mediated a compromise that restored Sigismund to the throne on October 29. The King granted the rebels amnesty, promised to remove his foreign followers, and agreed to marry Barbara of Celje (Cilli), sister of Garai and daughter of the powerful Count Hermann II of Celje in Slavonia and Dalmatia. Garai replaced Bebek as Palatine and held the position until 1433.

A revolt broke out when Ladislaus of Naples landed in Dalmatia and was crowned King on August 5, 1402 by Kanizsai. Ladislaus tried to claim the throne by gaining the support of Pope Boniface IX against Sigismund, who recognized the Avignon Pope Pedro de la Luna (Benedict XIII). However, the disaffected nobles who joined him were in a minority and were defeated. Sigismund’s authority was not restored in Dalmatia, but the rest of Hungary was pacified by the spring of 1404. Sigismund returned from Moravia to Visegrad, and Ladislaus went back to Naples. In 1404 Sigismund proclaimed the Hungarian Church independent by forbidding appeals to Rome. In 1408 he led an army of 50,000 crusaders against Croats and Bosnians that resulted in the slaughter of two hundred noble families, many who had fought the Turks. After his victory in the battle of Dobor, Sigismund founded the Order of the Dragon for his loyal barons. He decreed new laws on criminal jurisdiction, coinage, and trade, and he confirmed the right of tenants to change landlords. In 1412 Sigismund began campaigning against the Venetians, and in 1414 he appointed Garai and Kanizsai his lieutenants with power to pardon. When the Ottomans threatened Bosnia, a general levy was proclaimed. The Palatine’s brother John Garai led a large army deep into Bosnia in the summer of 1415; but most of the Hungarians were killed or captured, and Bosnia was lost for ten years.

Sigismund was influential at the Council of Constance which met from 1414 to 1418 and managed to reunify the divided papacy. As Sigismund became king of Germany (1410-37), he was often more involved in the affairs of Germany and Bohemia; so the barons governed in Hungary. In 1417 Sigismund invited Pietro Paolo Vergerio to Buda to be his secretary, and he taught there until his death in 1444. Serbia made a treaty with Hungary in May 1426. After Stephen died on June 16, 1427, Sigismund took Belgrade in October; but Sultan Murad’s forces drove Sigismund’s army back across the Danube in June 1428. Because of the Ottoman threat, Hungary maintained a large standing army. Venice regained territory in Dalmatia, and a truce was signed in 1433. Sigismund also gave up northern territory to Poland. In 1435 the Hungarian Diet met for the first time since 1397. In his last forty years Sigismund gained 62 castles through escheat or confiscation. He died on December 9, 1437 at Znaim in Moravia. His wife Barbara owned half of the 52 royal castles.

Hungary used its precious metals to increase its annual trade to about 200,000 gold florins; four-fifths of this was imports, mostly textiles. They exported cattle and wine. Evidence from late in Sigismund’s reign shows that half the royal revenue came from the salt monopoly and was about 100,000 florins. The next largest revenue came from the annual tax on the peasants. In 1402 the richer craft guilds overthrew the old Council of Twelve and elected a popular assembly from the guilds. As the Hungarians increased their skills, they came into conflict with the Germans; but after 1439 half the council was elected from the Hungarian burghers.

Hussite preachers prepared a Hungarian translation of the Bible, which was banned. In 1436 the papal inquisitor Giacomo di Marca arrived, and in less than two years he supervised the burning of thousands of heretics. The Hussites in Kamanc fled to Moravia. In 1437 Bishop Gyorgy Lépes demanded that tithes be paid in coin and for several years of arrears; petty noblemen and Romanian settlers, previously exempted, also had to pay. The movement of peasants to other landlords was restricted by these obligations. Sigismund approved of peasant mobility, but the landlords had limited labor and resisted. The poor nobleman Antal Budai Nagy led an armed revolt in the city of Kolozsvar, and they defeated the noble troops at Babolna on June 6, 1437. The peasant leaders negotiated with the bishop and landlords at the Kolozsmonostor monastery, and their right to transfer to other lords was guaranteed. The Hungarian nobles, Szekely guards, and privileged Saxon settlers reacted by uniting against the peasants in the Union of Torda that forced the peasants to accept a less favorable agreement that was arbitrated by Sigismund.

Albrecht of Hapsburg, the Duke of Austria, was married to Sigismund’s daughter Elizabeth. Albrecht was elected King of Hungary and was crowned on January 1, 1438. While he was away, Elizabeth and the Garai-Celje clan governed. The Diet of 1439 asserted the growing power of the assembled court nobility, and Albrecht gave away most of the castles that Sigismund had regained. When the Ottoman army attacked Serbia, the Hungarian levy was mobilized; but Serbia fell, and the despot Durad Brankovich fled to Hungary. Albrecht died of dysentery in the camp on October 27, 1439.

Elizabeth had her new-born posthumous son Ladislaus crowned Laszlo V on May 15, 1440, but the soldier barons wanted a king who could fight the Turks. They recruited King Wladyslaw III of Poland who was crowned Ulaszlo I on July 17. Most barons supported Ulaszlo, but a stalemate developed against the Hapsburg barons in the west. Janos Hunyadi had studied the art of war in Italy, and by fighting the Turks he became Hungary’s outstanding military leader. In 1441 he helped Ulaszlo win a victory at Bataszek. Hunyadi confiscated the estates of opposing barons and soon held about 25 castles, 30 towns, and more than a thousand villages. He led successful attacks against the Ottomans on the borders and restored Brankovich to part of his kingdom. In 1443 he led an army of 30,000 men that defeated Ottoman forces in Bosnia, Herzegovina, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Albania.

In June 1444 while Ulaszlo was preparing for war, envoys of the Serbian ruler Durad Brankovich negotiated the Peace of Szeged with Sultan Murad II, who withdrew from Serbia and promised to pay 100,000 florins to Ulaszlo and support him with 30,000 soldiers in case of war. Commander-in-chief Hunyadi insisted on accepting the peace; but Cardinal Cesarini persuaded Ulaszlo and the barons to swear in public they would invade anyway. King Ulaszlo swore an oath to keep the peace for ten years but broke it one month later by invading Bulgaria, hoping for support from the Venetian navy that did not come. Murad brought his army back from Anatolia and defeated the outnumbered Hungarian-Polish army at the battle of Varna on November 10, 1444. King Ulaszlo and Cesarini were killed, and Hunyadi barely escaped.

The Hungarian Diet of 1445 asked Friedrich III to return Laszlo and the territories occupied by the Hapsburgs. That year Hunyadi made Janos Vitéz bishop of Oradea, and he began educating Hunyadi’s son Matthias. In 1446 thousands of nobles gathered in the field of Rakos, and the Diet elected Janos Hunyadi regent of Hungary. He restored peace and made a truce with Ulrich II of Celje. In the northeast Jiskra resisted, but after several campaigns a truce was eventually signed in 1452. In October 1448 Hunyadi led an army against the Ottomans in the second battle of Kosovo, but Brankovich and the pretender Dan II of Wallachia prevented the Albanian reinforcements from arriving. Brankovich held Hunyadi in a dungeon at Smederevo until he was ransomed by the Hungarians. In revenge Hunyadi led a campaign against Brankovich and forced him to accept a harsh treaty. Another crusade led by Hunyadi failed at Kosovo Polje. In 1450 Hunyadi and Ujlaki joined a league with the Hapsburg party of Laszlo Garai and Friedrich III. Ulrich of Celje and others accused Hunyadi of trying to overthrow the King, and so he resigned his regency. In 1453 King Laszlo named Hunyadi count of Beszterce and captain general of Hungary.

Jan Hus

Jan Hus was born about 1370 at Husinec in southern Bohemia to poor Czech parents; but he managed to study at Charles University in Prague by working as a choir boy, and he began lecturing there in 1396. He studied and taught Wyclif’s realist philosophy, and in 1401 Jerome of Prague brought Wyclif’s Dialogus, Trialogus, and De eucharistia. Hus preached in Czech at the large Bethlehem chapel in Prague, and he introduced the singing of old hymns to the service and wrote new ones. In 1403 University authorities condemned 24 articles that had been banned by a London council in 1382, and then they forbade the teaching or preaching of 45 articles. Since 1385 Bohemians had been complaining about the appointment of foreigners to University offices. In January 1409 Wenceslaus reversed the students’ voting pattern by decreeing that the Bohemia nation would have three votes and the three foreign nations only one vote. This caused the German professors and about five thousand German students to leave Prague and go to Leipzig. The Slavs stayed and joined the Bohemian nation.

After several German professors left Prague in 1409, the remaining Czechs elected Hus rector of the University. That year a church council at Pisa deposed Pope Gregory XII and “anti-pope” Benedict XIII, and in electing Alexander V Europe now had three popes. When Alexander prohibited preaching in chapels and ordered Wyclif’s writings seized and burned, Hus and others appealed to his successor, Pope John XXIII (r. 1410-15); but the reformer’s books that included nontheological works were thrown into the flames. Two days later Pope John excommunicated Hus for continuing to preach and for declining a summons to Rome. On July 16, 1410 Prague’s Archbishop Zbynek Zajic had the writings of Wyclif burned publicly, but King Wenceslaus IV ordered the Archbishop to indemnify the owners of the destroyed manuscripts. When the Archbishop put Prague under an interdict, banning religious ceremonies, the King stopped his income and confiscated church treasures. Wenceslaus wrote to the Pope that Hus was not a heretic but that his German accusers stirred up trouble. Pope John suspended the legal proceedings against Hus, and Sigismund, while visiting his brother, persuaded the Archbishop to remove the interdict. Zbynek did not feel safe and left Prague to go to Hungary, but he became ill and died on September 28, 1411. The King’s physician Albik was chosen as archbishop of Prague.

In 1411 Pope John XXIII was driven out of Rome and declared a crusade against King Ladislaus of Naples for his supporting the deposed Gregory. Those who promised to take up the sword were promised remission of their sins, and Pope John also ordered the sale of indulgences to finance the military campaign. Hus denounced the war and condemned the Pope’s granting of indulgences. In Prague people protested the papal bulls with a mock burning. Wenceslaus IV forbade anyone in Prague to discuss papal decrees publicly under penalty of death, and he had three young men beheaded for opposing the sale of indulgences and for crying out in church that the papal bulls were lies, as Hus had proved.

Hus had pleaded that they not be punished because he was the cause of the opposition. They were mourned as martyrs. Hus preached that the Pope’s prerogatives were from the devil, and the Pope forbade religious services in any town where the excommunicated Hus preached. Hus withdrew from Prague and spent two years in exile, enabling him to write his most important treatise on the Church, De ecclesia. In this work he argued that the Roman bishop should be equal to other bishops but had usurped authority since Constantine. Alexander’s bull prohibiting preaching was against what Jesus told his apostles to do, and Hus denied that the Pope had a right to go to war or to appeal to secular force. Hus used many of the arguments he found in the writings of Wyclif. Hus also wrote Exposition of Belief, The Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer, On Simony, and Postilla.

Archbishop Albik resigned and was replaced by Konrad of Vechta. King Wenceslaus suggested he call a synod in 1413, but it did little good. Hungarian King Sigismund had been elected King of Germany in 1411, and three years later he invited Jan Hus to the Council at Constance, promising him safe conduct even if he should not submit to the Council. After a month the Bishop of Litomysl imprisoned Hus in the dungeon of a Dominican convent in December 1414. During the spring of 1415 the Archbishop of Constance held Hus in chains at the Gottlieben castle until he was moved to a Franciscan friary for his public hearings that began on June 5. Shouting did not allow Hus to be heard. When his statement that no heretic should be put to death was read, those attending shouted in mockery. To his argument that kings in mortal sin have no authority, King Sigismund replied that no one lives without sin. Hus declared that he would revoke any statement that could be proved untrue by the scriptures and good arguments; but this was not done, and he did not recant on any article. Finally thirty articles were pronounced heretical and seditious, and Hus was condemned for being a disciple of Wyclif. It was later reported that when Hus reminded the King of his guarantee of safe conduct, Sigismund turned red but said nothing. The Council unfrocked Hus and turned him over to Sigismund as a heretic. On July 6, 1415 he was burned at the stake while he sang a hymn.

In late 1414 in Prague the University master Jakoubek of Stribro began preaching that according to scripture laymen as well as priests should take communion with both bread and wine, and he and his friends began giving this communion in three of Prague’s churches. Hus approved of this, and the chalice became the symbol of the Utraquist movement, which was named after the Latin words utraque species, meaning “in both kinds.” All the priests in Prague who opposed the teaching of Hus were expelled. Bishop Jan Zelezny of Litomysl was the strongest adversary of Hus, and his estates were confiscated.

The nobles and knights of Bohemia and Moravia met in Prague on September 2, 1415. They wrote a protest of Hus’s execution, and it was signed by 452 nobles and knights and sent to the Council of Constance. They pledged the following: to defend the liberty of preaching, to submit to no orders from the Council, to obey the future Pope and bishops of Bohemia if their commands do not contradict the scriptures, and to recognize the University in Prague as the supreme authority on doctrine. They agreed to act in common for the six years of the covenant. King Wenceslaus was invited to be the head, but he declined. Jerome of Prague had a long trial and recanted in September 1415; but he was kept in prison and examined again. He demanded another hearing, and in May 1416 he championed the doctrines of Wyclif and Hus, declaring that his greatest sin was denying that good and holy man. Jerome was condemned and burned on May 30.

Bohemia’s Hussite Revolution

Bohemia 1250-1400

In 1417 Charles University in Prague declared that communion in both kinds was necessary, that Hus was a holy martyr, and that July 6 should be consecrated. Those calling themselves Taborites met in the town of Austi and were more radical in that they followed only the Holy Bible, not the traditions of the Church as the more moderate Praguers or Calixtines did. The Council of Constance deposed all three Popes and elected Pope Martin V before closing in 1418. Emperor Sigismund sent a letter to his brother Wenceslaus in Bohemia, warning him to extirpate all opinions contrary to the Pope’s. Wenceslaus ordered all the expelled priests to resume their functions. When Nicholas of Hus asked the King for more Utraquist churches, Wenceslaus ordered him to leave Prague. Nicholas went to Austi, where more than 42,000 people met on July 22, 1419. They spent the entire day praying, confessing, and in communion. In Prague on July 30 someone threw a rock from the town-hall at a procession of Calixtines led by Jan Zelivsky. The royal courtier Jan Zizka of Trocnov and others ran into the hall and threw several councilors out the windows to their deaths, those surviving the fall being killed by the crowd below.

Jan Zizka invented the tactic of using armored wagons as a fort, and he was also one of the first to employ fire-arms. One day at court King Wenceslaus had asked Zizka what could be done to right the execution of Jan Hus and urged him to do something. Zizka said he would. However, news of the burgomasters’ deaths caused Wenceslaus to have an apoplectic seizure. He invited his brother Sigismund to come to Prague to back up his authority, but another seizure ended his life on August 16, 1419. The nobles asked Sigismund to come but to give people permission to receive communion in both kinds. Sigismund made Queen Sofia regent, and Cenek of Vartemberk was her primary counselor. They both sympathized with the Hussites.

The Taborites planned to hold an assembly in Prague on November 10. As they were gathering, some Taborites led by Zizka and Nicholas of Hus attacked the royal troops and the Mala Strana quarter in Prague. Many buildings were burned down, but an armistice was reached on November 13. The Praguers gave up the castle of Vysehrad to Queen Sofia. Zizka disapproved of the compromise, and he led his followers to Plzen (Pilsen). Sofia resigned as regent, and Sigismund appointed Cenek to govern Bohemia. Barricades were removed from Prague, and many Germans and papists returned. Utraquists were attacked in several towns, and over the next few months the miners of Kutna Hora threw about 1,600 condemned Hussites into a deep pit.

Radical Taborites led by Jan Zelivsky were expecting the second coming of Christ in February 1420. Austi was attacked on February 21, and nearby the Taborites built the castle Hradiste in a town they named Tabor. When their hopes were disappointed, they rebelled and murdered Catholic magistrates. Zizka was besieged at Plzen and surrendered it on condition that receiving communion in both kinds would be allowed and that he and his followers could march to Tabor. Zizka had only four hundred warriors, and on March 25 they were attacked by two thousand knights on horses. Zizka’s men and women used their wagons and fought off the knights. Pope Martin had declared a crusade against Bohemia on March 1, and Zizka began training an army at Tabor.

Cenek of Vartemberk sided with the Praguers and warned all Bohemians and Moravians not to obey Sigismund, the enemy of Bohemia. Bohemians rose up and began plundering and burning churches and convents, killing many priests and monks. These cruelties alienated others, and Cenek secretly made a treaty with Sigismund. Cenek’s troops held Vysehrad castle for Sigismund against the attacks by Praguers. Citizens asked for peace, but Sigismund demanded complete surrender. Zizka marched his army of 9,000 from Tabor to Prague, and about a thousand Utraquist knights led by Bradaty and Obrovec also arrived to defend the capital. Sigismund gathered more than 100,000 crusaders from all over Europe, and they camped outside of Prague on June 30. Two weeks later his army attacked Prague, but Zizka’s warriors defended the Vitkov hill and drove off the Germans. Sigismund’s army included Utraquist Bohemians who resented the Germans for burning any Bohemian for heresy.

The Utraquist nobles mediated between the King and the citizens of Prague. Conservative Utraquists were led by Jan of Pribram. The Praguers and Taborites met and agreed on the following four principles: preaching the word of God without interference in Bohemia, communion in two kinds to all faithful Christians (allowing the laity the cup), confiscating secular possessions held by priests and monks, and punishing all mortal sins including simony and suppressing untruthful rumors. The Taborites’ leading theologian Jakoubek of Stribro argued that a war could be just and cited Wyclif for this belief. Sigismund abandoned the siege, dismissed his allies, had himself crowned king of Bohemia, and then left Prague on August 2, 1420.

The Praguers kept Vysehrad under siege, and Sigismund came back with an army of 20,000 who were mostly Hungarians. This stimulated more Bohemian lords to oppose him, and Hynek Krusina of Lichtenburg commanded those forces. On November 1, 1420 Sigismund attacked the entrenched men of Prague and was defeated, losing many Bohemians and Moravians he had placed in the front lines. After the battle the Vysehrad castle surrendered. Unlike many of the Taborites, Jan Zizka agreed with the Praguers, and they subdued western Bohemia, taking Kutna Hora in February 1421. The Hussite revolution had become a Bohemian national cause, and Prague’s Archbishop Konrad of Vechta announced his acceptance of the four articles of Prague. The Estates of Bohemia and Moravia met at Caslav in June 1421, and the leaders Zizka, Konrad, Cenek, Krusina, Victorin of Podebrady, and Ulrich of Rosenberg attended. The assembly chose twenty regents. The Hradcany Hill castle of Prague surrendered. The fanatical monk Jan Zelivsky caused trouble in the city, and Zizka had fifty men and women who denied the real presence of Christ in the sacrament burned. While besieging the Rabi castle, the one-eyed Zizka was wounded in his good eye by an arrow. Doctors in Prague saved his life, but he was blind.

Germans organized a second crusade, and 200,000 men invaded western Bohemia in September 1421 and besieged Zatec, which was bravely defended by 6,000 Bohemians. News of an approaching army from Prague and Sigismund’s failure to invade eastern Bohemia persuaded the Germans to retreat. Sigismund’s 23,000 soldiers invaded Moravia in October and were led by the Italian condottiere Pipa of Ozora. His victories won over some Bohemians to support Sigismund again because they were upset by fanatics such as Cenek. Zizka’s army resented the atrocities of the Hungarians and attacked Nebovid on January 6, 1422. Sigismund’s soldiers retreated, and nearly 12,000 were killed. Some tried to make a stand at Nemecky Brod, but Zizka’s army against his orders killed the defenders and pillaged and destroyed the town. Poland’s King Jogaila declined the Bohemian crown, but his brother Alexander Vytautas of Lithuania accepted the Bohemians’ offer. His nephew Zygmunt Korybutowicz led an army of 5,000 men to make good his claim. They invaded Moravia as Emperor Sigismund was leaving. Korybutowicz entered Prague on May 16, 1422 and began to govern the disordered country. He was supported by the Utraquist nobles and their aristocratic party who filled the municipal offices. They besieged the Karlstein castle and agreed to a one-year truce. Sigismund persuaded Prince Vytautas to recall his nephew, and on December 24 Korybutowicz reluctantly left Prague.

The aristocratic Utraquists came into conflict with the more democratic Taborites, and Zizka’s forces defeated Cenek’s men at Horic on April 27, 1423; but violence was sublimated into argument when the Calixtine and Taborite priests debated at Konopist castle. Meanwhile the Slavs of Poland refused to join another crusade against Bohemia. In July the Praguers aided the Utraquists in Moravia. Korybutowicz had appointed Borek of Miletinck to govern, and he led the Utraquists; but a democratic movement challenged his lordship and appealed to Zizka. Borek led the army of Praguers back to Bohemia against the Taborites, who defeated them in a bloody battle near Kralové Hradec. Zizka’s army then went to Moravia and invaded Hungary. The Praguers and Utraquist lords negotiated with the papists, and in 1424 Zizka returned and fought a civil war against them. Prince Korybutowicz mediated a truce between them, and they joined together to fight Albrecht’s army in Moravia. During the siege of the Pribislav castle Zizka died of the plague on October 11, 1424. His innovative military methods were imitated throughout Europe. Some of his Taborite followers called themselves Orphans in loyalty to Zizka, but together they fought against the Praguers and nobles in 1425. Taborite leaders were killed, and Prokop the Great emerged as the Taborite chief.

In 1426 a German army of 70,000 invaded Bohemia, and 25,000 Bohemians were led by Korybutowicz, Victorin of Podebrady, and Prokop the Great. On June 16 near Usti the Bohemians using guns killed more than 15,000 Germans with very few losses. Usti surrendered and was burned by the Bohemians. The Taborites drove Albrecht’s army out of Moravia, killing 9,000 at Zwettl on March 12, 1427. Korybutowicz was captured at Waldstein castle on April 17, and he was eventually allowed to return to Poland.

The Hussites regained their unity, and, led by Prokop the Great and Prokop the Lesser (Prokupek), they invaded Lusatia and Silesia. Pope Martin V made Henry Beaufort a cardinal and chose him to lead the fourth crusade against the Hussites. His army was estimated to have at least 80,000 cavalry as well as 80,000 infantry. They besieged the town of Stribro, which was defended by Pribik of Kelnau and a garrison of only 200 men. On August 27, 1427 when the crusaders learned that the Bohemian army was approaching, they panicked and fled. The Bohemians killed thousands of Germans. Prokop the Great led a Hussite army into Hungary in December and met little resistance. In Silesia the Bishop of Breslau led an attack against the Bohemians at Neisse on March 18, 1428, but 9,000 Germans were killed.

Jindrichuv Hradec tried to arrange a meeting between Prokop the Great and Emperor Sigismund, but the Diet at Prague on May 23, 1429 offered conditions that Sigismund would not accept. Pope Martin V persuaded Henry Beaufort to lead another crusade from England in July, but he was diverted to fight against Jeanne d'Arc in France. Prokop the Great led another invasion deep into Germany, and Friedrich of Hohenzollern agreed to a treaty at Kulmback on February 6, 1430. For a large sum of money the Bohemians promised to leave the country. News of so many Hussite victories persuaded many throughout Europe that God was on their side, and their ideas spread. However, the Bohemians were now relying on more mercenaries, who were after booty.

Hussite leaders suggested that a General Council include the Eastern Orthodox Church, but Pope Martin opposed subordinating his authority to a General Council. Instead another council at Basel in March 1431 appointed Cardinal Julian Cesarini to lead the fifth German crusade against the heretics. The Bohemians met at Kutna Hora and organized a provisional government with twelve regents. Prokop the Great led the army of 50,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry. Margrave Friedrich of Brandenburg led the crusaders into Bohemia on August 1 with 90,000 infantry and 40,000 horsemen. They met the Hussites by Dormazlice. Once again the Germans fled, and Cardinal Cesarini escaped disguised as a soldier. The Bohemian cavalry pursued them and inflicted heavy losses. Cesarini became an advocate for peace.

The Bohemians also repelled invasions by Silesian princes in the north and by Duke Albrecht of Austria in the east. The regents convened a Diet at Prague, and they sent envoys to Cheb. After two envoys returned safely from Basel, a larger embassy arrived on January 4, 1433, led by Prokop the Great, Jan Rokycana, and the English master Peter Payne. The Bohemians negotiated based on the four Articles of Prague, but Cardinal Cesarini put forth 28 points on Hussite beliefs. The negotiations moved to Prague, where the Estates met in June. The papal representatives left without agreeing. Only the town of Plzen still resisted Hussite communion, and Prokop the Great’s army besieged it in July. Jan Rokycana opposed optional communion because he considered it divisive. Taborite soldiers ravaged the area around Plzen. When Prokop the Great tried to restore discipline, he was attacked by soldiers and retired to Prague.

During the war Utraquist Hussites made compacts with the Catholics in 1433; but when the Taborites rejected the Four Articles, their socialist experiment was overthrown the next year. The nobles formed a league to restore peace. Prokop the Great and the priest Prokupek joined together and marched the troops from Plzen toward Prague. Borek of Miletinek led the nobles and their army of 25,000. On May 25, 1434 at Lipany they used a tactic that lured the Taborites out of their entrenchments and defeated them. The Taborites lost 13,000 in the battle including Prokop the Great and Prokupek, and hundreds of prisoners were burned in huts. Taborite warriors left the country to be mercenaries in Hungary and other places, and the peaceful Taborites retired into pious seclusion.

Sigismund was invited to return to Bohemia. In September 1435 the Diet at Prague elected Jan Rokycana archbishop. After Sigismund and the Roman Church accepted him as archbishop, the Bohemian deputies accepted the modified Compacts. The papal representatives rescinded the excommunication of Bohemians, and Sigismund confirmed the rights of Bohemia. The regent Ales of Riesenburg resigned. All the Estates recognized Sigismund as King of Bohemia, and he was welcomed back to Prague on August 23, 1436. Jan Rohac of Duba refused to submit, but after a siege he capitulated. He and his followers were executed at Prague, and this cruelty provoked more troubles.

After Sigismund died on December 9, 1437, Albrecht of Austria became King of Bohemia and was crowned on June 29, 1438. He died on October 27, 1439, and Queen Elizabeth gave birth to his son Ladislaus on February 22, 1440; but the child remained with Friedrich of Hapsburg, King of Germany. The moderate Utraquists made peace with the more zealous Hussites who were led by Hynek Ptacek of Pirkstein, and they governed the twelve counties of Bohemia. Ptacek organized four eastern counties, and they were joined by Boleslav, which was led by Victorin’s son George (Jiri) of Podebrady. He became the leader after Ptacek died in 1444. The Bohemian Estates were divided into the three chambers of lords, knights, and citizens.

Cardinal Carvajal came to Prague in May 1448 and made it clear that Pope Nicholas V did not accept Archbishop Jan Rokycana or the Hussite communion. After he left, George of Podebrady gathered an army of 9,000 and marched on Prague. The people chose new magistrates, and the conservative Menhard of Jindrichuv Hradec was imprisoned. His son Ulrich and Ulrich of Rozmberk (Rosenberg) refused to negotiate as the Austrian party opposed Podebrady. In October 1451 Friedrich assigned Podebrady to administer Bohemia, and the following spring the Diet at Prague made George of Podebrady regent for two years. George had some resisting priests imprisoned in his castles. In July 1452 he besieged Ulrich of Rozmberk in a castle, and he capitulated. Many Bohemians wanted to join the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Consistory of Prague sent a letter to Emperor Constantine Paleologus, the Patriarch, and the entire Greek Church; but the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453 ended this negotiation. The Bohemian Estates elected young Ladislaus king, and after meeting George of Podebrady at Vienna he accepted their terms. Finally on October 28, 1453 young Ladislaus was crowned King of Bohemia, and he extended George’s regency for six years.

Chelcicky’s Nonviolence

Peter Chelcicky was born about 1380 in southern Bohemia and was either a peasant or chose to live like one. He read the Bible in Czech. Chelcicky disagreed with Jakoubek and continued to renounce all violence, referring to the New Testament and complaining that Jakoubek had given up his conscience to shed blood. Like the Waldenses, Chelcicky cited the parable of the wheat and the weeds (Matthew 13:24-30), that both should be allowed to live until the harvest. Thus it is wrong to kill, even the sinful. Christians should refuse to perform military service and accept the consequences. If many refused, the lords would have no one to go to war with them. Chelcicky taught that those who think they can arm themselves with weapons to destroy the devil are deluded because when they use their war machines to smash the walls and destroy the evil people, the devil goes out from those walls and into them, dwelling in their cruel hearts. Thus no physical power can destroy evil. He wrote, “Whoever is not of God cannot truly enjoy or hold anything belonging to God, except as the man of violence unlawfully enjoys and holds what is not his own.”

Chelcicky left Prague in 1420 and resided for the rest of his life in his native village of Chelcic. In probably his first and most important work, On Spiritual Warfare, Chelcicky argued that the Taborites had been deceived by the devil into participating in violence through lust for the world’s glamorous rewards. He criticized the absurd prophecies of the chiliasts, who tried to terrify people into believing strange things. Chelcicky opposed all warfare, even that which claimed to be defensive, because he believed in the example of Jesus and the gospel of peace. Chelcicky noted that the Taborites abolished their common treasury and equal distribution of wealth after they adopted violence, and then they retracted their democratic methods and reimposed rents and dues on the peasants. Chelcicky criticized the obligations of debts and trade which gave some men power over others, castigating those who bind with rents and fees on those

for whom they show no mercy in their burdens,
but extort from them the most they can,
exacting by the day or the year
to earn their money by such rates,
never valuing their strength of life,
but only their increase in profits.1

Chelcicky complained that they no longer served their flock like a shepherd but used people to “serve their bellies and elevate their pride.” Chelcicky believed they had no Christian prerogative to either subject people or to tax them.

Chelcicky believed that Christians in following the law of love should be removed from the compulsion of state authority as had been the case with the early Church before Constantine. The way to convert people is by loving God and one’s neighbor, and conversion must come from free will and not from any compulsion. If persecution comes, Christians should suffer without retaliating. One may obey authorities only so long as that is not contrary to God’s law. Chelcicky was concerned about anarchy in which the wicked try to reign over the honest and take the fruits of others’ labor, but still he did not believe that a Christian should rule as a king. He wrote that God did not set up magistrates, and he argued that violent punishments are wrong and that no Christian could apply them; he was particularly critical of capital punishment and cruel mutilations. Chelcicky wrote, “The executioner who kills is as much a wrong-doer as the criminal who is killed.”2 He suggested that Christians could expel evil ones from their company.

The sixteen years of war he witnessed convinced Chelcicky that his views about violence being wrong were correct as he saw people robbed, imprisoned, and killed with want and fear on every side. Working people were stripped of everything as they were taxed by both sides, and their living was eaten up by armies. Jesus commanded his followers not to take life, and he did not even defend himself; but all people are to be brothers and sisters. Chelcicky complained that in war the nobles did not do the fighting themselves but sent the peasants to fight for them like sheep to the slaughter. When princes and prelates command such evil things, they should not be obeyed. He said that it is our Christian duty to help with love anyone in need, whether they be a Jew or a heathen or a heretic or an enemy. He objected to tithes which were based on robbery and violence. Chelcicky condemned their refined luxuries, sophisticated pride, loose morals, contempt for work, and oppression of workers. He advised people to avoid profit-making occupations so as not to harm their souls. He encouraged people to understand the Bible for themselves, and the first complete Bible in Czech was published.

In his book On the Triple Division of Society Chelcicky criticized the nobility, clergy, and the middle class, believing that only the poor were genuine Christians. He wrote that they consider themselves better members of the body of Christ than the common people whom they subject and ride as if they were beasts. Chelcicky wrote Net of the Faith in 1440. In this work he noted that the apostles treated each other and people as equals, and they considered Christ as the head. Chelcicky found that the teaching of the Christ does not coerce in any way nor does it recommend any kind of vengeance against the wicked; but they should be improved only through brotherly goodwill so that they can be led to penitence. Chelcicky aimed his diatribes at the religious orders of monks and friars, the priests, the nobility, the cliques of university professors, and the growing business class. He argued that these evils resulted from the two great whales that burst the net of faith, namely the Emperor and the Pope. He complained that to see the Church in a material way led to concepts of the priests as eyes, nobles as arms, and peasants as legs such that in this body the first is to pray, the second is to fight, and the third is to work, resulting in two insatiable gluttons riding around on the peasants living in debauchery from their sweat and misery. This he concluded was the Antichrist’s explanation of the body of Christ.

Chelcicky’s friends and disciples became the nucleus for the Unity of Brethren that eventually was formed into a church in 1467 by those who held to nonviolence and followed the teachings of Christ as interpreted by Chelcicky. As educated men from the University in Prague joined the new sect, those holding to the original ideas of Chelcicky came to be called the Old Brethren or the “Small” party compared to the “Great” party that reconciled itself to the world by abandoning some of the early principles to secure unity.

Hungary and Bohemia 1453-1517

After the Turks captured Constantinople in 1453, the Hungarian Diet called up more soldiers and approved extraordinary war taxes. Serbia fell to the Ottoman empire in 1455 as only Brankovich’s Smederevo held out against a siege. In July 1456 Mehmed II’s army of about 65,000 besieged Belgrade which was defended by the 7,000 men of General Hunyadi and Ujlaki. Hunyadi mobilized about 10,000 soldiers, and the Inquisitor Giovanni di Capestrano announced a crusade in Austria and Hungary. About 30,000 peasants from southern Hungary joined the crusade and marched toward Belgrade to relieve the castle. They helped Hunyadi cut the Ottoman supply lines and fight off a Turkish attack. The crusaders relieved the fortress on July 22, and the Ottoman army left that night. An epidemic broke out in the Hungarian camp, and Hunyadi died on August 11; Capestrano died in October.

Sixteen-year-old King Ladislaus (Laszlo) V appointed Ulrich Cillei chief captain, but on November 9, the men under Hunyadi’s oldest son Laszlo killed Cillei in Belgrade. At first the captivated King proclaimed amnesty for the Hunyadis; but his allies led by Ujlaki turned against them, and Ladislaus had the late Hunyadi’s sons, Laszlo and Matthias, arrested on March 14, 1457. Two days later after a quick trial 23-year-old Laszlo was beheaded. Hunyadi’s widow, Erzébet Szilagyi and her brother Mihaly and their supporters opposed the King, who fled to Prague with Matthias. Before his 18th birthday Ladislaus died on November 23, and rumor spread that George of Podébrady had him poisoned.

The Szilagyi family made an alliance with Laszlo Garai, and on January 24, 1458 the Hungarian nobles elected Matthias Hunyadi king; he was called Corvinus for the raven on his family crest. Matthias I Corvinus was only 18 years old and would rule Hungary until 1490. He suppressed elections for bishops and selected them himself. The Bohemian Diet met at Prague and on March 2 unanimously elected George of Podébrad King of Bohemia. Moravia and Silesia accepted George, though with some German opposition because of religion. George formed an alliance with Matthias, who sent the Bishop of Waitzen and Raab to Prague to crown George on May 7. The day before that George pledged to obey the Church and preserve its unity by extirpating heresy in Bohemia. Romanists believed he had renounced the special privileges of the Bohemian Church.

Brankovich had died in 1456, and the Ottomans took over Smederevo by 1459. Jan Jiskra led Czech mercenaries in upper Hungary, and Matthias began attacking them in April 1458 but could not pacify the counties until the end of 1461. That year  Count Vlad III the Impaler of Wallachia stopped paying tribute to Sultan Mehmed II and crossed the Danube to fight the Turks. In 1462 his forces defeated Mehmed, but Matthias did not respond to his requests for assistance. Vlad was probably named for having impaled Saxon settlers in 1459. After Mehmed invaded Bosnia in 1463, Matthias went to war and recaptured Jajce. He arrested Vlad and imprisoned him in Hungary for a dozen years. Matthias promoted a pamphlet that accused Vlad of mass murders and torture. In 1463 Janus Pannonius wrote the poem, The imprisonment of the Transalpine vojvode Dracula.

In 1459 the barons in the Garai party nominated Emperor Friedrich III to be king of Hungary, and in 1463 a compromise treaty allowed him to keep the title along with Matthias, whom he adopted as his son. Matthias married Catherine Podebrady in 1461. She died in childbirth, and Garai also died before Matthias was crowned on March 29, 1464. He reformed the finances of Hungary by canceling the exceptions and immunities to the regular tax. In 1476 the state took in 250,000 florins from the portal tax, 80,000 from the salt monopoly, 60,000 from coinage, 50,000 from the customs thirtieth that was called the duty of the Crown, and 47,000 from the towns. Heir of the Hunyadi family fortune, Matthias thus doubled the royal revenue to nearly a million gold florins per year by the end of his reign.

In February 1461 Bohemia’s King George invited German princes to meet at Cheb to organize a force to fight the Turks. His councilor Martin Mayer hoped that this would lead to George becoming emperor of Germany. However, Cardinal Piccolomini known as Aeneas Silvius had become Pope Pius II in 1458, and he opposed that. George persecuted the Bohemian Brethren, imprisoning Brother Gregory, who founded the Kunwald community, and even had him put on the rack. Pope Pius demanded that Bohemia return to the ritual of the Roman Church. However, King George declared he would remain true to communion in both kinds.

In 1462 King Matthias hired the last of the ex-Hussite Czechs in northern Hungary’s castles. He made Jan Vitovec the Count of Zagorje in 1463 and so consolidated Slavonia. In the summer of 1463 the Ottomans led by Mehmed captured and beheaded Bosnia’s King Stephen Tomasevich, but in the fall Matthias regained Jajce. In 1464 the Turks also made Hercegovina an Ottoman province.

Nobles of the Roman party disavowed the oath they had sworn to King George, and at Zelena Hora on November 28, 1465 they formed an alliance against the King, complaining especially about his taxes. George sent a letter to Rome that upset Pope Paul II so much that he excommunicated and deposed him on December 23, 1466, forbidding Catholics to obey him. In September 1467 Matthias put down a revolt by three barons in Transylvania, but on December 15 he was defeated near Baia in Moldavia. That month King George attacked Emperor Friedrich III in Lower Austria, and in early 1468 his son Victorin Podebrad, the Governor of Moravia, invaded Austria. On March 31 Matthias declared war on him. After his success in Austria he invaded Moravia and then Silesia. On May 3, 1469 Matthias was elected King of Bohemia. He captured Victorin in June and stabilized Moravia within a year. George made a treaty with Poland recognizing King Casimir’s son Vladislaus as his successor in Bohemia, and this was ratified by the Estates of Bohemia. In late 1470 George’s army drove the Hungarians out of most of Moravia.

By the 1470s Hungary had 20,000 mercenaries and thousands of banderial soldiers from Moldavia, Wallachia, and other vassal territories. Matthias wanted to expel the Ottoman Turks from Europe. He was also concerned about the Hussite King George in the south, and in 1468 he began a crusade supported by Catholic barons against heretical Bohemia. The war in the north and south bogged down, and in 1470 aristocratic rebellions broke out in Hungary and Transylvania.

King George suffered from edema and died on March 22, 1471. His will was followed, and on May 27 Casimir IV’s 15-year-old son Vladislaus was elected to succeed him as Vladislav Jagellonsky. He was welcomed at Prague in August. After being Bishop of Nagyvarad (Oradea) for twenty years, in 1465 Janos Vitéz was made archbishop of Esztergom. After attending the imperial Diet at Ratisbon he and his humanist nephew, Bishop Janus Pannonius of Pécs, led a conspiracy of barons who offered the Hungarian crown to Casimir IV’s son Casimir. The prince led an army into Hungary in October, but Matthias forced him to leave in December. Janus died while fleeing, and Vitéz submitted. Matthias contended for the Bohemian crown, but in February 1475 he and Bohemia’s King Vladislaus Jagellonsky made peace at Breslau. An agreement was finally ratified in July 1479, dividing the lands of Saint Wenceslas. Vladislaus retained Bohemia while Matthias claimed Moravia, Silesia, and Lusatia (Lausitz). Both were called “King of Bohemia.” Also in 1479 Hungary and Poland made peace.

Matthias managed to be at peace with the Ottoman empire most of the time and allowed their troops to pass through his lands on their way to Austria. Mehmed did not renew the peace at the end of 1473, and in early 1474 Bey Ali of Smederevo invaded Hungary and took away 16,000 prisoners. Matthias sent troops to Stephen of Moldavia, and in January 1475 the Christian army defeated the Beylerbey of Rumelia at Vaslui in Moldavia. Matthias captured the castle of Sabac on the lower Danube in February 1476. An Ottoman army raided Transylvania in 1479, but on October 13 Count Pal Kinizsi of Timis and Stephen Batori led forces that defeated them at Breadfield. In 1480 Turks returning from Styria ravaged Croatia. In retaliation Kinizsi attacked Serbia, and Matthias invaded Bosnia to Sarajevo in November. Sultan Mehmed died in 1481, and Bayezid II made peace with Hungary in 1483.

Matthias Corvinus patronized the arts and learning of the humanists. Chancellery clerk and Archbishop Vitéz also supported the new learning and taught Matthias. In 1476 Matthias married Beatrice, daughter of King Ferrante of Naples, and their court at Buda became a center for humanist scholars. Vitéz sent his nephew, Janus Pannonius, to study in Ferrara. He returned to fill a high position in Hungary’s government and became an envoy to Rome. Neither the university founded at Pressburg in 1467 nor the printing press started at Buda in 1472 lasted long, but Matthias did acquire a library larger than the Vatican’s 3,500 volumes.

In 1477 Archbishop John Beckensloer of Esztergom fled to Austria, and Friedrich declared Vladislav king of Bohemia in June. So Matthias attacked Austria and besieged Vienna. Friedrich recognized Matthias as king of Bohemia in December and agreed to pay 100,000 florins. The Hungarian armies occupied most of Styria in 1480. Beckensloer became the archbishop of Salzburg. In January 1482 Matthias besieged Hainburg on the border and declared war on Friedrich in April. They captured Vienna in June 1485, and in the next two years the Hungarians took over most of lower Austria and Styria. The Hungarian army had grown to 28,000 men and had 9,000 war wagons. During his reign Matthias became more autocratic. In 1484 he imprisoned his arch-chancellor, Archbishop Peter Varadi, and in 1487 he arrested and took away the estates of Count Nicholas Banfi of Pressburg. Matthias tried to establish uniform laws and personally went incognito among his subjects to discover corruption. In 1486 he sanctioned a long law-code that gave more power to comital courts. After his death in 1490 some began saying that justice had been lost.

Vladislaus supported the papal party, and religious conflict continued in Bohemia. Lord Jan Tovacovsky of Cimburg led the Utraquist nobles and knights who formed a confederacy. When magistrates in Prague threatened to punish some of them, people stormed three town halls and murdered several magistrates. In the disorder Germans and Jews were killed. The King did not dare punish anyone for the murders. In 1485 the Roman and Utraquist parties compromised at Kutna Hora and obtained a truce that was renewed in 1512 and lasted until 1516. Vladislaus developed Bohemian law in favor of aristocratic privileges that made the peasants dependent on their lords. The Diet of 1487 practically established bondage.

Matthias wanted his illegitimate son Janos Corvin to succeed him, but the powerful lords elected the Bohemian Vladislaus, who was crowned Vladislaus II (Ulaszlo II) on September 18, 1490. Corvin was given rich properties and titles but took up arms against the Diet and was defeated by Stephen Batori and Paul Kinizsi. Corvin was allowed to keep thirty castles in Hungary and his duchies in Silesia, and he was named Duke of Slavonia. Vladislaus married Queen Beatrice but later divorced her and took her lands. He was challenged by Maximilian of Hapsburg who regained the Austrian land conquered by Matthias and occupied western Hungary. The Hungarian army stopped him, and in November 1491 Maximilian and Vladislaus signed an inheritance treaty which eventually led to the Hapsburgs gaining the throne of Hungary in 1526. The monarchy was weakened in Bohemia during the reign of Vladislaus and his young successor, Louis, as the nobles increased their power. While Vladislaus was reigning in Hungary (1490-1516), the nobles governed Bohemia, especially Lord Zdenek Lev of Rozmittal.

The Jagiello King Vladislaus II accepted advice easily and was called “Good” for his usual response to petitions. The Royal Council made decisions, and the Hungarian Diet met 43 times from 1491 to 1526. The Diet had an upper house of prelates, barons, and notables, and a lower house of the county nobility. His royal income declined from an annual 500,000 florins to 200,000. Vladislaus resided at Buda and spent only two of his 26 years as Hungarian King in Bohemia. The mercenary army dispersed in robber bands, and Kinizsi destroyed them in 1492. The army was officially dissolved in January 1493. That year the Italian noble Nicholas Cola de Castro came to Prague and tried to mediate a religious reconciliation, but the declaration of the Bohemian Diet on December 20, 1494 insisted on the Compacts. Later Pope Alexander VI appointed a Dominican friar as censor of all books in Bohemia and Moravia with orders to burn all heretical books, and he was established at the Catholic stronghold of Olomone.

Garrisons on the Ottoman frontier were costing 170,000 florins a year, making the King poor. Mercenaries who could not be paid lived off plunder and the ransoming of prisoners. In 1492 Vladislaus made an alliance with Poland which was renewed in 1498. Their alliance included France in August 1500, and Vladislaus married Anne of Foix in 1502. On February 22, 1503 the Ottomans signed a peace treaty with Hungary that was renewed until Bayezid’s death in 1512. Sultan Selim was more aggressive, and the Ottomans took Srebrenik in October 1512.

Seigneurs in Hungary exploited the food of their serfs, controlled the marketplace, and collected local taxes. In 1492 the Diet prohibited peasants from transferring to another lord or from a village to a market town. In 1495 Duke Lawrence Ujlaki offended King Vladislaus and was defeated in a civil war. In 1500 a law was enacted that prevented a peasant from leaving his lord without mediation of a noble magistrate.

When Archbishop Bakocz came back from Rome in 1514 and was authorized to call for a crusade against the Ottomans, the Observant Franciscan friars were put in charge of the preaching. In April thousands of peasants gathered in Buda and were commanded by Gyorgy Székely (Dozsa). In May about 20,000 crusaders moved south while increasing their numbers. The peasants rebelled against the lords. On May 15 Bakocz ordered the friars to stop preaching, and on May 24 the King and he told the peasants to go home. However, the peasants refused to disperse and defeated a seigneurial force in late May. For two months they burned manors and looted castles. Others rebelled in the north as well. The peasants believed that the lords were unwilling to defend the realm and fight against the infidels and so turned on them. King Vladislaus sent for the Vajda Zapolyai of Transylvania, and his force subdued some of the rebels. Dozsa and his followers were captured and brutally executed on July 15. The Hungarian Diet met in October and passed laws to control the peasants that lasted more than three centuries.

Istvan Werboczy became the judge royal’s protonotary in 1502 and compiled customary Hungarian law by 1514 in the Tripartitum, which strengthened the privileges of the nobles and became the law of the land. He had it printed at Vienna in 1517, and it had fifty editions after 1545. Based on the Golden Bull, he summarized the aristocratic privileges in the following four points:

1. Nobles cannot be arrested by anyone without a formal summons and a lawful sentence.
2. Nobles are not subjected to anyone with the exception of the lawful ruler.
3. Nobles cannot be impeded in the free use of their rights and revenues that are found within the boundaries of their estate.
4. Nobles have the right to oppose the ruler without being guilty of infidelity if the ruler encroaches on their privileges.

Every nobleman was considered a part of the Holy Crown of Hungary. Many of the nobles could not read, but prelates and those involved in administration were literate. Lords collected a ninth of the crops as the seigneurial tax, and the Church received a tenth of the remainder. Werboczy was a magistrate in Buda, and in 1516 he was ordained the Personal. The truce between Buda and Istanbul was often renewed while the Turks continued annual pillaging and slave-taking expeditions.

On July 22, 1515 Hungary’s heir Louis married Emperor Maximilian’s granddaughter Mary. King Vladislaus II died on March 13, 1516, and he was succeeded by his ten-year-old son Louis in Bohemia and as Lajos II in Hungary.

Hungary and Transylvania 1517-88
Bohemia 1517-88

Poland and Lithuania 1400-1517

In 1400 Poland’s King Wladyslaw II Jagiello (r. 1386-1434) reorganized the Jagiellon University at Krakow based on the University of Paris using the fortune his Queen Jadwiga left for that purpose at her death in 1399. The Polish-Lithuanian alliance ended the need for crusades by the Teutonic Order of Knights into Lithuania, but conflicts rose between the alliance and the Order. The Grand-master took over the island of Gotland from pirates in 1398, Neumark of Brandenburg in 1402, and Samogitia in 1404. Grand Duke Witold instigated a rebellion in Samogitia in 1409, and Polish envoys told Grand-master Ulrich von Jungingen that Lithuania and Poland were united. So the Teutonic Knights invaded and occupied Dobrzyn again. The Order gained the Luxembourg kings Wenceslaus and Sigismund as allies, and so Wladyslaw II Jagiello had to defend the Hungarian frontier also. In the battle of Grunwald (Tannenberg) in Prussia on July 15, 1410 the alliance of 39,000 Poles, Czechs, Lithuanians, Samogitians, Ruthenians, Tatars, and Wallachians killed about 8,000 of the 27,000 Teutonic Knights including the Grand-master, and 14,000 prisoners were held for ransom. Marienberg was besieged, and the new Grand-master moved the headquarters to Konigsberg. The Polish army had to give up the siege, and the Treaty of Thorn signed on February 1, 1411 returned Samogitia to Lithuania and assured free trade on the Vistula River.

In the treaty signed at Horodlo in Volhynia on October 2, 1413 the szlachta and the Lithuanian boyars agreed to settle their differences in joint assemblies, and the szlachta adopted the Lithuanians as brothers in chivalry, giving them their own coats of arms. The Preamble of the Act of Horodlo stated:

Whoever is unsupported by the mystery of Love
shall not achieve the grace of salvation….
For by Love laws are made,
kingdoms governed, cities ordered,
and the state of the commonwealth
is brought to its proper goal.
Whoever shall cast Love aside, shall lose everything.3

Jagiello and Witold went from Horodlo to convert the pagans in conquered Samogitia. Archbishop Nicholas Traba of Gniezno led the Polish delegation at the Council of Constance. Andrew Laskarz had been elected Bishop of Poznan, and he favored the conciliar movement that put the Council above the Pope. In 1415 Krakow University’s Rector Paulus Vladmiri in his treatise De potestate papae et imperatoris respectu infidelium advocated tolerance rather than the forced conversion used by the Teutonic Knights. They presented Samogitians as witnesses to the Council, which then entrusted the conversion of Samogitia to the King and Church of Poland. In February 1418 the Orthodox Archbishop Gregory Camblak of Kiev came to Constance and advocated uniting the Greek and Roman Churches. In 1420 the arbitrator Sigismund confirmed the Thorn treaty that gave Samogitia back to the Teutonic Order after the deaths of Jagiello and Witold. In the spring of 1422 Jagiello’s nephew, Sigismund (Zygmunt) Korybutowicz, went to Prague to act as King in Witold’s name. On September 27 in the Treaty of Melno the Teutonic grand-masters ceded Samogitia to Lithuania, and Poland renounced Pomerelia and Culmerland.

Jagiello met Sigismund at Kassa, and on March 30, 1423 they renewed their alliance and planned a campaign against the Hussites. The Hussite revolution had spread into Silesia and Poland, but Jagiello’s Edict of Wielun condemned the Hussites in 1424. Poland’s provinces were developing representative assemblies that were often convoked by the kings. At the Diet of Brzesc in 1425 Jagiello claimed his oldest son’s right to the succession, but the estates demanded a new charter of liberty. The Neminem captivabimus nisi iure victum protected people from imprisonment without a trial.

Witold wanted to be crowned king of Lithuania; but before this could be arranged, he died on October 27, 1430. He was succeeded by Jagiello’s brother Svitrigaila, who resented Poland reclaiming Podolia and made an alliance with the Teutonic Order. In 1431 Poles went into Volhynia and besieged Luck, but an armistice was declared. When the Teutonic Knights invaded northern Poland, Svitrigaila renewed his alliance with the Order. The Poles supported a coup d’etat by his enemies on September 1, 1432, but Svitrigaila escaped. Witold’s brother Zygimantas Kestutaitis became Grand Duke at Vilnius, and at Grodno on October 15 he made a treaty with Poland settling the Podolia frontier dispute. Poland defeated the Prussian branch of the Teutonic Order in 1433.

Jagiello liked to listen to nightingales; doing so he caught a cold and died on June 1, 1434 at the age of 86. Poland’s first Cardinal Zbigniew Olesnicki managed to have the ten-year-old prince crowned as Wladyslaw III on July 25 under a regency council. The Livonian Order began aiding Svitrigaila, and their armies joined at Braslaw. Jakob Kobylanski led 15,000 horsemen who supported the Lithuanian army of Zygimantas. On September 1, 1435 the Lithuanian-Polish alliance won the battle, killing Master von Kerksdorff, Marshal von Nesselrode, and many German commanders and Russian princes. Sigismund Korybutowicz also fought on the losing side and died of his wounds. Cardinal Olesnicki negotiated a peace with the Grand-master at Brzesc Kuyavia in December. At Grodno in 1437 Zygimantas agreed to rule Volhynia until his death, when it would revert to Poland. When Hussites offered the Bohemian crown to Zygimantas’s brother Kazimierz, Polish public opinion and the Queen-mother supported the idea. When the Bohemian nobles chose Albrecht, Poland’s army invaded Silesia. The expedition failed, and Olesnicki had to negotiate peace with Hungary. Spytek of Melstztyn led a revolt in Poland, but he was killed in its defeat on May 4, 1439. Bishop Bninski of Poznan hunted down the Hussites, and their last Polish protector, Abraham of Zbaszyn, died in 1442.

Zygimantas wanted to become more independent and negotiated with Emperor Albrecht II, but supporters of Svitrigaila murdered Zygimantas on March 20, 1440. The Lithuanians invited Jagiello’s young son Wladyslaw III to rule Lithuania, but he sent his 13-year-old brother Casimir (Kazimierz), who was elected Grand Prince by the Lithuanians. Wladyslaw III was on his way to Hungary, where he was crowned King Ulaszlo. He led the Hungarians against the Ottomans and was killed in the battle of Varna in 1444. The oligarchs led by Cardinal Olesnicki were governing Poland. In 1445 Lithuania’s Grand Duke Casimir declined their conditions for ruling Poland; but in 1447 they accepted his terms, and he was crowned. In the Privilege of 1447 he granted the Lithuanian nobles the same rights as the Polish szlachta had. During his first six years Casimir IV removed Olesnicki’s group and replaced them with younger nobles. In August 1449 he made an alliance with Vasily (Basil) of Moscow, and he secured peace with Hungary by marrying Elizabeth, daughter of the Hapsburg Emperor Albrecht and sister of young King Ladislaus.

Smolensk became independent until the Lithuanians reconquered it in 1404. Lithuania’s Grand Duke Vytautas (r. 1392-1430) helped the Samogitians revolt against the Teutonic Knights in 1401, but three years later another treaty gave Samogitia back to the Teutonic Order. Vytautas fought his son-in-law Vasily I of Moscow from 1406 to 1408. Lithuania and Poland joined together to drive the Teutonic Knights out of Samogitia, and Vytautas himself led the army in the decisive battle of Grunwald (Tannenberg) in 1410. Samogitia was given to Vytautas in the Peace of Thorn in 1411. A dispute over the border led to another war in 1414. After more mediation and one more war in 1422 Samogitia became part of Lithuania for the next five centuries. In 1413 the Union of Horodlo gave the Lithuanian nobles, who were Catholics, the same rights as the Polish nobles. Vytautas presided over economic progress and centralized the state by appointing governors loyal to himself. In 1423 he led a campaign that included Muscovite and Tver detachments against the Germans, and the next year they helped him fight off a Tatar raid. In 1428 he marched on Novgorod and compelled them to pay a large tribute. Vytautas died on October 27, 1430 just days before a royal crown reached his castle.

Vytautas was succeeded by Jagiello’s troublesome brother Svitrigaila, who made an alliance with the Teutonic Order. He rejected Jagiello’s proposals, and the Poles supported a coup d’etat by his enemies on September 1, 1432 as Svitrigaila escaped. Witold’s brother Zygimantas Kestutaitis became Grand Duke at Vilnius, but Svitrigaila still controlled Ruthenia. At Grodno on October 15 Zygimantas made a treaty with Poland settling the Podolia frontier dispute; Lithuania’s alliance with the Teutonic Order was canceled; and Ruthenian princes were given the same privileges as Lithuanians without religious restrictions. Casimir (Kazimierz) IV Jagiellon became Grand Duke in 1440 and maintained his title to Lithuania when he became king of Poland in 1447.

Casimir IV (r. 1447-92) won over Chancellor Jan Koniecpolski and gave friends of the Queen-mother positions, especially in Little Poland. In 1454 Casimir granted the Privilege of Nieszawa requiring the approval of district diets before he could raise troops or taxes. In 1455 he ordered the Bible translated into Polish for his father’s last wife Sophia. In Pomerania the University of Greifswald was founded in 1456.

In 1454 the cities of Danzig (Gdansk), Torun, and Elblag (Elbing) in West Prussia revolted against the Order of Teutonic Knights and formed the Prussian League, and Casimir took Poland into the Thirteen Years’ War against the Knights. Denmark intervened on the side of the Order, but in 1456 Danzig’s fleet defeated a Danish-Livonian squadron near the island of Bornholm. Casimir found mercenaries more effective than conscripts and began requiring more taxes rather than service in order to hire professional soldiers. In 1462 General Peter Dunin relieved Danzig and defeated the Knights in Pomorze. The next year the Poles defeated a fleet off Elblag, and Dunin took Gniew. Bernard Szumborski led the Teutonic mercenaries and told Casimir he would be neutral. In 1464 Bishop Langendorff of Warmia renounced the Order, splitting Prussia. In 1466 Dunin captured Stargard and Chojnice, and the partitioned Order gave up its independence in the Peace of Torun on October 19. Poland got Danzig-Pomerania and part of West Prussia, and the Grand-master retained Konigsberg and eastern and southern Prussia but became a vassal of Poland. This treaty also removed the Order’s heavy duties on Polish grain, and exports greatly increased.

In 1459 Casimir used force to overcome a revolt at the Diet of Piotrkow. Adversaries were won over, and Little Poland became peaceful. When Pope Paul II excommunicated George as a Hussite, Casimir objected to an anointed king being dethroned and refused to join the crusade against him. In 1468 representatives of the districts assembled at Piotrkow as the national Diet (Seym). When the German Catholics in Bohemia persuaded Hungary’s Matthias to invade in 1469, Casimir allied with Emperor Friedrich and prepared for war. When George died in 1471, the Bohemian Diet elected Casimir’s oldest son Vladislaus as their king. He went to Prague with one Polish army while his brother Casimir invaded Hungary with another. The war against Matthias went on for eight years before the Peace of Olomouc was ratified in 1479. Historian Jan Dlugosz began writing his Annales seu Cronicae Incliti Regni Poloniae from primary sources in 1455, and he took the history all the way up to his death in 1480.

Krakow got a printing press in 1473, and two years later the first book printed in Polish came out at Wroclaw. In 1479 King Casimir went to stabilize Lithuania for four years. Attempts to form alliances failed when Moscow tried to take Kiev in 1481; but the conspiring princes were beheaded on August 30. However, one year later Ivan III’s Mongol ally Mengli-Girey pillaged and burned Kiev. Lithuanian forces were marshaled and fortified Kiev in 1483-84. The Jews at Warsaw in independent Mazovia were forced to move outside the town walls in 1483.

In 1485 the Poles drove Turks from Moldavia at Kolomea to protect Ruthenia, and Prince Stephen became Casimir’s vassal. However, in 1487 Prince Jan Olbracht’s expedition was diverted from Moldavia to fight invading Transvolgan Tatars in Podolia. He had to spend three years defending Ruthenia while King Casimir made a two-year truce with Sultan Bayezid II in 1489. This enabled the armies of Poland and Lithuania to defeat the Tatars at Zaslaw on January 25, 1491. Olbracht’s siege of Kosice (Kassa) the next month failed, but envoys managed to obtain Glogow and half of Silesia for Vladislaus. Olbracht then attacked the invading imperial forces of Maximilian in Upper Hungary, but the larger army of Zapolya defeated the Polish prince on January 1, 1492 near Presov. Olbracht was criticized and lost support for the succession. His brother Vladislaus made peace with Maximilian at Pressburg on November 7, 1491 but had to acknowledge the Hapsburgs as successors to the Jagiellons. During Casimir’s 45-year reign about 15,000 students passed through the Jagiellon University.

Casimir IV died at Grodno on June 7, 1492 while traveling to the Diet at Radom. His body was buried at Krakow. Though he never learned to read or write, he left behind well educated sons and two kingdoms administered by clergy. Casimir’s last will was that Jan Olbracht would be king of Poland and his brother Alexander grand duke of Lithuania. So Vladislaus, who was already king of Hungary and Bohemia, yielded. Jan Olbracht was crowned at Krakow on September 23, and he made a secret treaty with his brother Vladislaus on December 5. In January 1493 King Jan Olbracht attended a district Diet at Korczyn in Little Poland, and he accepted the demands of the nobles. In the constitution of Piotrkow on February 27 the rights of burghers and peasants were limited. The Diet divided into chambers with the Privy Council becoming the Senate of 81 bishops and dignitaries while the lower house of 54 deputies was called the House of Legates. The Diet increased taxes for defense and bought the principality of Zator from Prince Janusz for 80,000 ducats. The Jagiellon brothers met at Lewocza in Upper Hungary, and on May 5, 1494 they agreed on a secret treaty to protect Vladislaus in Hungary. In 1496 the Diet restricted the peasants’ freedom of movement by requiring them to pay off dues and sow the crops before leaving. Many Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 and Portugal in 1496 came to Poland.

In 1497 Poland mobilized an army of 80,000 men for a Turkish expedition to the Black Sea; but after Stephen of Moldavia withdrew and accused them of being “a Turkish subject and an enemy,” King Jan ordered Stephen arrested. Jan continued to march through Moldavia. On October 26 they were attacked in Bukovina and were defeated, and they agreed to a truce at Suczawa. In early 1498 the Turks attacked them twice in retaliation, and Jan had to give up Glogow. When Vladislaus married Anne of Foix on July 14, 1500, Jan married her sister Germaine. Jan Olbracht died on June 17, 1501. He had been taught and counseled by the humanist Filippo Buonaccorsi who used the pen-name Callimachus.

Grand Duke Alexander of Lithuania became King of Poland also. He had made peace with Moscow on February 5, 1494, and on July 15, 1495 he married Ivan III’s daughter Helena. Alexander favored western culture. On October 23, 1501 the gentry who elected Alexander issued a new act of union with a joint election of the Polish King and the Grand Duke of Lithuania. They increased the power of the magnates in the Senate where the King presided. Alexander was crowned in Krakow on December 12, and the Diet voted for taxes and a general levy. Alexander appointed Cardinal Frederick regent and gave viceregal powers to the Senate before leaving for Lithuania. In 1502 Ivan III attacked Smolensk; but von Plettenberg defeated the Muscovites there, and Grand Duke Vasily gave up the siege in October. Ivan agreed to a six-year truce on March 28, 1503 and returned six villages they had taken. In 1505 the Diet of Radom enacted the Nihil novi which required debate and approval by both chambers before the King could take any new action. Jan Laski published Poland’s Statutes in 1506. That year Mengli-Girey sent his sons and an army of 10,000 to invade Lithuania; but Alexander sent an army led by Michal Glinski that routed the Tatars. Alexander became ill and died on August 19, 1506.

Alexander’s brother Sigismund (Zygmunt) was born on January 1, 1467, and he became Duke of Glogow in 1499, Duke of Opawa in 1501, and Viceroy of Silesia and Lusatia in 1504. After Alexander’s death Sigismund was made Grand Duke of Lithuania on September 13, 1506 and then on December 8 the Diet of Piotrkow confirmed that and elected him King of Poland. During that fall delegates from the Crimea and Kazan at Vilnius had offered an alliance against Moscow. In March 1507 King Sigismund sent his ambassador to Moscow to demand the return of territories conquered by the late Ivan III. Sigismund went to Lithuania, and its armies resisted a Muscovite invasion. Poland made an alliance with Hungary at Buda on May 31 and recognized Hungarian sovereignty over Moldavia. Sigismund began negotiating with Moscow in December and returned to Poland. The Tatar Glinski, who had become a Catholic, led a revolt to regain his position at court. He complained that Jan Zabrzezinski had accused him of treason unjustly, and he had him murdered on February 2, 1508 near Grodno. Muscovites helped Glinski besiege Orsza; but on July 13 they retreated when the Polish army arrived. Sigismund ordered a punitive expedition. Moscow agreed to a perpetual peace treaty on October 8 and gave up Lubecz on the Dnieper in exchange for recognition of Ivan’s conquests.

Bogdan of Moldavia had taken Pokucie in 1506, and in June 1509 he invaded it again and defeated a garrison of Kamieniec, moving toward Lwow. Bogdan retreated, and on October 4, 1509 Kamieniecki led 4,000 territorial troops who destroyed the Moldavian army at the Dniester ford. Hungary mediated a peace on January 23, 1510 that gave Pokucie back to Poland and returned prisoners. In 1509 Sigismund extended the treaty with the Ottoman empire for five years, and in 1511 Swierczowski extended it five more years. The Teutonic Order’s Grand-master Friedrich died on December 14, 1510, and the Order elected Margrave Albrecht of Hohenzollern-Ansbach to succeed him over the objection of Sigismund; but Hungary’s Vladislaus persuaded Sigismund to accept him. At the Congress of Torun in 1511 the Primate Jan Laski’s plan to unite the office of the Grand-master with the King of Poland became the basis for negotiation.

In December 1512 Grand Duke Vasily (Basil) III of Moscow went to conquer Smolensk, but he had to retreat to Moscow. In revenge for the siege of Smolensk the Wojewoda of Kijow ravaged Seversk in June 1513 and destroyed a Muscovite army of 6,000 soldiers. Vasily reacted by invading Lithuania in September with all his forces and besieged Smolensk again. Ostrogski led an army that drove the Muscovites from Vitebsk and Polock before defeating 14,000 Muscovites at Orsza. During peace negotiations in early 1514 Emperor Maximilian offered to intervene against Poland and Lithuania, and in the spring Vasily sent another army to Smolensk, which surrendered. Finally on September 8 the Polish-Lithuanian army led by Ostrogski defeated the Muscovite army of 80,000 at Orsza, killing 30,000. Yet Ostrogski failed to take back Smolensk, which remained under Muscovite control until 1611.

In 1512 King Sigismund had married Barbara Zapolya and made a secret treaty with the Zapolya brothers in Krakow against the Hapsburgs. However, Sigismund negotiated with the Hapsburgs and signed a treaty on July 22, 1515 in Vienna. Archbishop Laski became a hereditary legate and rejected the Pope’s plans for war against the Turks. Muscovites could not take Vitebsk in 1516. On March 10, 1517 Teutonic Grand-master Albrecht made an alliance against Sigismund, and the Polish-Lithuanian army besieging Opoczka in Pskov was defeated in 1517.

Poland-Lithuania under Zygmunt I 1517-48

Russia 1400-1517

In 1400 Vasily I (r. 1389-1425) and the Muscovites devastated the land of the Volga Bulgars and captured their capital Great Bulgar. In 1401 Ryazan’s Feodor Olegovich (r. 1402-27) made a treaty with Vasily. Feodor was succeeded in Ryazan by his son Ivan Fyodorovich (r. 1427-56), who in 1447 made treaties with Vasily II and Lithuania. To punish Vasily I for having disobeyed, Khan Edigei and his White Horde ravaged the Muscovite principality, besieging Moscow for a month in 1408 and leaving with an indemnity of 3,000 rubles. Vasily had married Sofia, the daughter of Lithuania’s Grand Prince Vytautas (r. 1392-1430), who won some victories over the Russian Grand Prince. After Vytautas (Vitovt) seized Smolensk, Vasily invaded Lithuania.

In 1397 Vasily and Vytautas sent envoys to Novgorod demanding that they break off their relationship with the Germans, but the Novgorodians refused. In 1406 Vytautas counter-attacked and accepted a truce and in 1408 a treaty, which gave Moscow some western borderlands. Vasily did not have to visit the Mongol court, but his investiture was brought to him by ambassadors. In 1418 Stepanka led an uprising against the boyars in Novgorod, and the boyars increased the mayors (posadniki) to 24. In 1431 Novgorod made a treaty with Lithuania’s ruler Svidrigailo.

Moscow’s worst war of succession began in 1425 between Vasily’s ten-year-old son Vasily II and his uncle Prince Yuri. Vytautas was the guardian of Vasily II, and from 1426 to 1428 he intervened on his behalf in Novgorod and Pskov, enabling Tver and Ryazan to assert their independence. Archbishop Evfirmii II (1428-54) of Novgorod led the opposition to Moscow. Yuri went to the Mongol court in 1431. Disagreements about weddings insulted Yuri’s two sons, and in the fighting Vasily was taken prisoner. Yuri tried to reign in Moscow, but the Russian nobles (boyars) supported Vasily, who in June 1432 was given the yarlik as Grand Prince of Vladimir by Mongol Ulu Mehmet.

When Vasily refused to cede Dmitrov, a civil war began involving Yuri’s older sons. Yuri attacked Moscow, defeated Vasily II, and took his throne. Yuri pardoned Vasily and let him rule the town of Kolomna. When Yuri died in 1434, his son Vasily Kosoi (the Squint-eyed) took over the Kremlin in Moscow. Yuri’s son Dmitry Shemyaka quarreled with his brother and formed an alliance with Vasily II which enabled them to banish the ambitious Vasily Kosoi in 1435. Vasily II regained his position and Dmitrov and made an agreement with the two brothers. Vasily Kosoi attacked Galich, Ustiug, and Vologda, but he was captured in 1436, blinded, and sent to Kolomna, where he died in 1448. Vasily II led an attack on Novgorod in 1441. Novgorod also went to war against the Teutonic order and the Hanseatic League which imposed a trade embargo on Novgorod from 1443 to 1448.

In 1437 Ulu Mehmet was expelled by the Golden Horde, and he founded the independent principality of Kazan in 1445. That year his Tatars captured Vasily II, and his release for a ransom of 25,000 rubles and his returning with Tatar princes caused resentment. In 1446 Shemyaka seized Vasily in a Moscow church and blinded him, but the Metropolitan Ionas persuaded him to release Vasily and to give him the principality of Vologda. Boyars, princes, and Bishop Iona of Ryazan supported Vasily II, and in February 1447 the blind Grand Prince recaptured Moscow. That summer the rivals made a peace agreement; but when Vasily took over Galich in 1450, Shemyaka fled to Novgorod and renewed the war.

Vasily II also expanded Moscow’s domain. In 1452 he rewarded for his support against Dmitry Shemyaka the fleeing Mongol noble Kasim with the principality of Kasimov. Moscow developed its independence from the Mongols. In less than two centuries since Prince Daniel the Muscovite realm had expanded from five hundred square miles to fifteen thousand. In July 1453 the blind Vasily II had Dmitry Shemyaka poisoned and led a military expedition against Novgorod, which in the Treaty of Iazhelbitsi paid an indemnity and agreed to pay taxes, collect tribute from the Tatars, and submit its foreign policy to Moscow for approval.

In 1437 Byzantine Emperor John VIII appointed the Greek Isidore to be Metropolitan of Kiev and Moscow. Isidore attended the Council of Florence in 1439 and signed an agreement recognizing papal supremacy; but when he proclaimed this back in Moscow, the Grand Prince had him imprisoned in a monastery from which he escaped six months later. In 1443 the Council of Russian bishops condemned the agreement and deposed Isidore. In 1448 the Russian bishops became independent of the Patriarch of Constantinople by electing Archbishop Iona of Riazan the Metropolitan. When Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1453, the Patriarch of Moscow became the head of the Russian Orthodox church.

The blind Vasily II was assisted by his son Ivan until his death in 1462 when Ivan III became Grand Prince of Moscow and all Russia until 1505. Ivan sent gifts but refused to pay tribute to the Mongols who sent punitive expeditions across the borders in 1465 and 1472. In 1478 Khan Achmed sent ambassadors to Ivan with his image to collect tribute. Ivan stomped on the image and executed all the envoys but one whom he sent back with a message for the Horde. Finally in 1480 Ivan renounced all allegiance to the Golden Horde. Ivan’s first wife Maria of Tver died in 1467, and in 1472 he married Sofia (Zoe) Palaeologa, niece of the last Byzantine Emperor Constantine XI. Many Greeks, who had been in Italy, came with her, and she bore eight children. Also in 1472 Ivan’s older brother Yuri died childless, and he took his entire estate, angering his older brothers, Andrei and Boris. The next year Ivan made treaties with his brothers Boris and Andrei the Elder in which they acknowledged him and his son Ivan as “elder brothers.” In 1474 Ivan sent to Venice for architects. Fieravanti designed the Cathedral of the Assumption that was built from 1475 to 1479. The Cathedral of the Annunciation was finished in 1490, and Alevisio supervised the construction of a new Cathedral of the Archangel from 1505 to 1509.

In 1470 Novgorod independently declared Mikhail Olelkovich of Lithuania their prince. That year the Jewish Zechariah came to Novgorod and began spreading the Judaizer doctrine that accepted only the Old Testament and denounced the Church. In 1471 Ivan led a campaign against Novgorod and defeated them by the River Shelon. In 1475 he used diplomacy and responded to the complaints of the Novgorodians, but he seized the estates of six boyars who objected to his subordination of Novgorod. Then in 1477 Ivan had soldiers occupy Novgorod, ending its independence the following January by confiscating its veche bell which had been used to call people to the assembly (veche). The people of Novgorod had been allowed to hear their leaders’ discussions in the open-air market. In 1480 Moscow arrested Novgorod’s archbishop and years later replaced him with an unpopular prelate. During the summer of 1480 Boris and Andrei the Elder withdrew to Lithuania, but they were persuaded to come back and help defend Moscow. In 1481 Andrei the Younger died, and Ivan III inherited his property. Ivan sent Muscovite forces into Livonian territory to attack three towns. In 1487 fifty merchants from Novgorod were expelled to Vladimir and replaced by merchants from Moscow. The next year 7,000 of Novgorod’s gentry were removed to Moscow.

During Ivan’s reign Moscow’s domains expanded greatly by annexing Iaroslavl in 1471, Perm in 1472, Rostov in 1473, Tver in 1485, and Viatka in 1489. He ended their independence by preventing them from receiving the patent (iarlyk) from the Tatar khans. Uniting a loose confederation, Ivan III governed with a council like a European monarch. Muscovite mounted archers used a composite bow that was better than the cross-bow and the English longbow. By 1480 they were also using arquebuses with gunpowder against the invading Great Horde. In 1486 Ivan sent forces to intervene in Kazan’s succession struggle. He had to have the boyars present when he met with the Holy Roman Emperor’s ambassador Nicholaus Poppel in 1489. After his oldest son Ivan’s death in 1490 Ivan III had Andrei the Elder arrested in 1491 for misdemeanors and not supplying troops during an invasion by the Great Horde. When he died in prison two years later, Ivan took over his estates. The Metropolitan Simon imposed penance on the Grand Prince.

In 1487 Archbishop Gennadius of Novgorod began a campaign against heresy using an inquisition with torture. In 1490 the new Metropolitan Zosima convened a council that found nine Novgorodian Judaizers guilty of opposing icons, monasteries, and the trinity and of observing the Sabbath on Saturday. They were sent to Gennadius who humiliated them. Many Byzantines and Russians believed that the world might end after 7,000 years, which was in 1492. Negotiations between the Livonian Order, Pskov and Dorpat, and Novgorod led to a treaty in 1493. The next year Ivan arrested and seized the property of 49 merchants in Novgorod, which he closed to Hanseatic trade for the next twenty years. In 1495 Ivan formed an alliance with Denmark and invaded the Finnish territory occupied by Sweden, Denmark’s adversary.

In 1494 Lithuania ceded Viaz’ma to Moscow, and Ivan’s daughter Elena married Grand Duke Alexander the next year. In 1496 Muscovite merchants were allowed to travel into the Ottoman empire as far as Tokat, Bursa, and Istanbul. Moscow promulgated its first law code (sudebnik) for the wider region in 1497 based mainly on the Russian Justice and the Pskov Sudebnik. Peasants were only allowed to move in late November after the harvest and if they had paid all debts. Also in 1497 six courtiers were executed for conspiring to assassinate the King’s six-year-old grandson Dmitry, and the next February the boy was crowned co-ruler in an elaborate ceremony in the Cathedral of the Assumption. Yet Ivan’s son Vasily was restored to favor in 1499, and Dmitry was arrested in 1502 and died in 1509. From 1500 to 1503 Moscow fought a war against Lithuania which was supported by Livonian knights and the Great Horde while Muscovy was aided by the Crimean khanate. Ivan suffered a stroke that incapacitated him in 1503.

In 1503 a Church council approved the doctrine of the Possessors who supported Church rituals and authority while condemning the Non-possessors who believed that monks should be poor and “dead to the world.” Nil Sorskii was a spiritual leader of the Non-possessors who objected to ecclesiastical wealth. Ivan tolerated heretics until 1504 when Abbot Iosif (Joseph) of the prosperous Volotsk monastery he founded in 1479 persuaded him to have heretical leaders burned. Iosif taught that the power of the ruler came from the will of God; but if the king is unjust, all the servants around become bad. On June 24, 1505 Khan Muhammad Emin of Kazan arrested Muscovite merchants in Kazan. When he executed some and sold others into slavery, this provoked a war with Moscow. Ivan III died on October 27.

Ivan III’s oldest son Vasily III was Grand Prince of Moscow 1505-33. The Kazanian prince Kudai Kul had been in custody since 1487, but by the end of 1505 Vasily had converted him to Christianity as Peter Ibraimov. Then Peter married Vasily’s sister Evdokhiia and served as Vasily’s advisor until his death in 1523. Moscow fought Lithuania again 1507-08. Vasily annexed Pskov in 1510. That year the Abbot Filofei from Pskov sent a letter to Vasily in which he described Moscow as the successor to Constantinople and the “third Rome.” The Muscovite rulers did not endorse this view, though they did claim to be the successors of the Kiev princes. Vasily appointed Sheikh-Aliyar the Khan of Kasimov in 1512. Muscovites fought a long war against Lithuania 1512-22 during which they regained Smolensk in 1514. Moscow annexed the appanage of Volok in 1513.

Russia and Ivan IV 1517-60
Russia under Ivan IV and Boris 1560-88


1. Drobné spisy by Petr Chelcicky, tr. Eduard Petru 75/1690 quoted in Petr Chelcicky by Murray L. Wagner, p. 89.
2. Postilla I by Petr Chelcicky, p. 131-2 quoted in Political and Social Doctrines of the Unity of Czech Brethren by Peter Brock p. 55.
3. Quoted in God’s Playground: A History of Poland, Volume 1 by Norman Davies, p. 119.

Copyright © 2009-10 by Sanderson Beck

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EUROPE & Reform 1517-1588

Milan and Venice 1400-1517
Florence, the Medici and Machiavelli
Rome, Popes, and Naples 1400-1517
Italy and Humanism
Eastern Europe 1400-1517
German Empire 1400-1517
Scandinavia 1400-1517
Castile, Aragon, Granada, and Portugal 1400-1517
France’s Long War 1400-1453
France in the Renaissance 1453-1517
England of Henry IV, V, and VI 1399-1461
England 1461-1517
Scotland and Ireland 1400-1517
Erasmus and Spreading Humanism
Summary and Evaluation Europe 1400-1517

Chronology of Europe 1400-1588
World Chronology

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