HUNGARY (997-1526)
For later coins see - Hungary under the Habsburgs (1526-1918)

Hungary was established as a Christian kingdom under Stephen I of Hungary, who was crowned in December 1000 AD in the capital, Esztergom. He was the son of Géza and thus a descendant of Árpád. By 1006, Stephen had solidified his power, eliminating all rivals who either wanted to follow the old pagan traditions or wanted an alliance with the orthodox Christian Byzantine Empire. Then he started sweeping reforms to convert Hungary into a feudal state, complete with forced Christianisation. What emerged was a strong kingdom that withstood attacks from German kings and Emperors, passing armies of Crusaders, as well as later nomadic tribes following the Magyars from the East, integrating some of the latter into the population (along with Germans invited to Transylvania and present-day Slovakia, especially after 1242), but also subjugating smaller Slavic kingdoms to the South, among them Croatia, and Slavic territories like Great Moravia in present-day central and eastern Slovakia.

In 1241/1242, this kingdom received one major blow in the form of the Mongol invasion of Europe: after the defeat of the Hungarian army in the Battle of Muhi, King Béla IV fled, and one third of the population died (leading later to the invitation of settlers from neighbours in the West and South) in the ensuing destruction (Tatárjárás). Only strongly fortified cities and abbeys could withstand the assault. As a consequence, after the Mongols retreated, King Béla ordered the construction of a line of major border castles (végvár). These proved to be most important in the long struggle with the Ottoman Empire in the following centuries (from the late 14th century onwards), but their cost indebted the King to the major feudal landlords so much that the power of the king greatly decreased by the time the Aranybulla (lit: Golden Pact, parallel of the Magna Carta), was created. Árpád's descendants ruled the country until 1301. Under the kings following the house of Árpád, the Kingdom of Hungary reached its greatest size, yet the the major landlords increased greatly their influence – while the Ottoman Turks, confronted the country ever more often.

The second Hungarian king in the Angevin line of French origin, Louis I the Great (I. or Nagy Lajos, king 1342-1382) extended his rule over territories from the Black Sea to the Adriatic Sea, and temporarily occupied the Kingdom of Naples (after his brother was murdered there by his wife, who was also his cousin). From 1370, the death of Casimir III the Great, he was also king of Poland. The alliance between Casimir and Charles I of Hungary, the father of Louis, was the start of a still lasting Polish-Hungarian friendship. Sigismund, a prince from the Luxembourg line succeeded to the throne by marrying Louis's daughter, Queen Mary, in 1433 even became Sigismund, Holy Roman Emperor – but his rule was marked by territorial losses in the South, the 1396 defeat in a late crusade against the Ottoman Turks at Nicopolis, the open dissent of feudal landlords, the Hussite rebellion in the Czech kingdom (which was also under his rule) and partly in Slovakia, and a major peasant rebellion in Transylvania.

The last strong king was the renaissance king Matthias Corvinus. He was the son of the feudal landlord and warlord John Hunyadi, who led the Hungarian troops in the 1456 Siege of Nándorfehérvár. Building on his fathers' vision, the aim of taking on the Ottoman Empire with a strong enough background, Matthias set out to build a great empire, expanding southward and northwest, while he also implemented internal reforms. His army called the 'Fekete Sereg' (black army) accomplished a series of victories also capturing the city of Vienna in 1485. But after Matthias's death, the weak king Ladislaus II of the Polish/Lithuanian Jagiellon line nominally ruled the areas he conquered except Austria, but real power was in the hand of the nobles. In 1514, two years before Ladislaus' death, there was even a major peasant rebellion in the Pannonian lowlands and parts of Transylvania (called the Dózsa Insurrection [after its Transylvanian leader] or Hungarian Peasant's War), crushed barbarously by the nobles. As central rule degenerated, the stage was set for a defeat at the hands of the Ottoman Empire. In 1521, Nándorfehérvár (today Belgrade) fell, and in 1526, the Hungarian army was destroyed in the Battle of Mohács.

Stephan (997-1038)

This is Hungary's first coin as a kingdom (Huszar 1)

Bela III (1172-1196)

Béla III of Hungary was the son of King Géza II and Euphrosyne, the daughter of Grand Duke Mstislav I of Kiev. In 1164, the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Comnenus concluded a treaty with Béla's brother, Stephen III, by which Béla was given the Croatian and Dalmatian territories and sent to Constantinople to be educated at the Imperial court. Manuel, who had no legitimate sons, intended that Béla should marry his daughter, Maria Comnena, and eventually succeed him as Emperor. Béla received a Greek name, Alexius, and the title of despot. When Alexius II Comnenus was born as a son of Manuel and his second wife Maria of Antioch, Béla's engagement to Maria was cancelled. But Manuel helped negotiate another marriage for him, this time to Agnes of Antioch, daughter of Raynald of Chatillon. Agnes was the half-sister of Maria of Antioch.

Béla succeeded his brother King Stephen III and was crowned under the influence of Emperor Manuel. As the new king, Béla adopted Catholicism and selected his son Emeric as his successor. He was a powerful ruler, and his court was counted among the most brilliant in Europe. Béla was a warrior by nature and training, and the death of Emperor Manuel in 1180 left him free to expand Hungarian power in the Balkans. Hungarian troops invaded Byzantine territory at some time before 1183. Béla's attempt to recover Dalmatia led the Kingdom of Hungary into two wars against the Republic of Venice, but these finally achieved little. He also aided the Serbs against the Byzantine Empire. At the time of his death Béla was assisting Emperor Isaac II Angelus in a war against Bulgaria. He was succeeded by both of his sons in turn, Emeric and Andrew.

His remains were confidently identified by archeologists during late 19th century excavations at the ruined cathedral of Székesfehérvár where the Árpád monarchs had been crowned and buried. Béla's exceptional height, as documented by contemporary sources, rendered the identification certain. Based on the examination of his skeleton he must have been over two metres tall, a really outstanding height at that time. His remains were afterwards reinterred at the Mathias Church in Budapest, with those of his second wife Agnes. Through his son Andrew II, Béla is an ancestor of Edward III of England and therefore of the present British Royal Family.


Uncertain denomination name
These large copper coins show strong Byzantine and Islamic influence in design. Often these coins are mildly cup-shaped, the formal term for it being "scyphate".

Anonymous Denars & Coppers
These coins are difficult or impossible attribute to a specific reign but are assumed to be minted in the later 12th and early 13th centuries.

Bela IV (1235-1270)

Béla was the son of King András II and Gertrude of Merania. In 1213 his mother was murdered by Hungarian magnates. His father failed to avenge Queen Gertrude's murder so it was left to Béla to track down and punish them, a campaign he finally completed some thirty years after her death. In 1218 Béla was married to Maria Laskarina, a daughter of Emperor Theodore I Lascaris of Nicaea and Anna Angelina. They had two sons and seven daughters. Béla's reputation as monarch, compared to that of his father, is generally perceived to have been good. He was a good administrator and on his accession, sought to counter corruption and to recover lost territory which had been given over to the magnates by his father.

In 1238, Hungary was invaded by Cuman tribes fleeing the advancing Mongol hordes. Béla sought an alliance with the Cumans, and so he granted them asylum and betrothed his son and heir, Stephen, to the daughter of a Cuman khan named Kuthen. The Cumans (originally a pagan shamanist people) converted to Christianity and were baptised. Béla tried with little success to reestablish royal preeminence by reacquiring lost crown lands. His efforts, however, created a deep rift between the crown and the magnates just as the Mongols were sweeping westward across Russia toward Europe. Aware of the danger, Béla ordered the magnates and lesser nobles to mobilize. Few responded. Béla also sent messages to Pope Gregory IX and the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II but to no avail. The Mongols eventually routed Béla's army at the Battle of Mohi on April 11, 1241. His ally Kuthen had been killed by mistrustful Hungarian lords in Pest just prior to the invasion. Béla fled to Austria, where Duke Frederick of Babenberg held him for ransom, then to Trogir in Dalmatia. The Mongols reduced Hungary's towns and villages to ashes and slaughtered half the population before news arrived in 1242 that the Great Ögedei Khan had died in Karakorum. The Mongols withdrew, sparing Béla and what remained of his kingdom.

Upon his return to power, Béla began rebuilding his country, including a massive construction campaign which produced the system of castles as a defence against the threat of a Mongol return. This eventually happened in 1261 but this time Béla was successful in defeating them. He is greatly respected in Hungary and commonly known as "the second founder" of the kingdom. Béla was determined to regain the western part of Hungary which had been seized by Frederick II of Austria as his price for giving Béla assistance in the first war against the Mongols (help which never came). Béla finally defeated Frederick in battle in 1246, Frederick being trampled to death by his own cavalry. Béla also engaged in a long war with Otakar II of Bohemia to gain control of Austria and Styria, but he finally had to give up all claims after a defeat in the first battle of Marchfeld (or battle of Kroisenbrunn) in 1260. He was regularly engaged in protecting the outer extremities of his realm including Dalmatia, Bosnia and Serbia.

The final years of Béla's reign were marred by the rebellion of his son Stephen. Béla was eventually forced to divide his kingdom in two, with Stephen crowned to junior king of Hungary, setting up his own capital, and adopting foreign policies directly contrary to those of his father.


Charles I [Karl Robert] (1310-1342)

Known as Charles Robert prior to his enthronement as King of Hungary in 1309, Charles claimed the Hungarian crown as the great-grandson of King Stephen V of Hungary and under the banner of the Pope. Travelling in August 1300 from Naples to Dalmatia, he was crowned at Esztergom after the death in 1301 of the last Árpád king Andrew III of Hungary but was forced in the same year to surrender the crown to Wenceslaus II of Bohemia. His failure only made Pope Boniface VIII still more zealous on his behalf, and support from his Hungarian adherents was observed at the Diet of Bratislava in 1304. In the meantime Wenceslaus transferred his rights to Duke Otto III of Bavaria in 1305, who in his turn was taken prisoner by the Hungarian rebels. He was enthroned at Buda on June 15, 1309. His installation was not regarded as valid until he was crowned at Székesfehérvár on August 27, 1310 with the sacred crown, which was at last recovered from the rebellious barons. For the next three years Charles had to contend with rebellion after rebellion, and it was only after his great victory in the Battle of Rozhanovce on June 15, 1312 that he was the real master of his own land.

Charles restored order by absolute rule. The Diet was still summoned occasionally at very irregular intervals, but the real business of the state was transacted in the royal council. To impose limitations on the barons, the lesser gentry were protected against the tyranny of the magnates, encouraged to appear at court and taxed for military service by the royal treasury so as to draw them closer to the crown. The court was famous throughout Europe as a school of chivalry. Charles also carried out numerous important political and economical reforms. He established the so called honor system. Instead of large donations faithful servants of the king were given an office (in Latin honor in old Hungarian becsü). Powerful officials of the kingdom like the count palatine were appointed count (Lat. comes, Hung. ispán) to several counties. They became the keeper of royal property (including castles) in their counties and the representative of the king. The barons administered these possessions by their own men (familiares, roughly: vassals). Honor ensured real power. While most of the aristocrats had only 2 or 3 castles (even the exceptionally powerful Lackfi family had only 7 castles) the possession of a greater honor ensured power over 10 or 20 castles. These offices were not given for eternity. The king could deprive the baron of his honor any time. Most powerful honors often rotated among the members of aristocracy.

Charles successfully curbed inflation, introducing new coins with a constantly high purity of gold. Florins minted in a newly established mint in Kremnica became soon the popular international means of payment thorough Europe. The reform of the currency and of the whole fiscal system greatly contributed to enrich both the merchant class and the treasury. Towns grew and crime reduced owing to Charles's fiscal care. He encouraged trade and imposed taxes to support his army, which he used to expand his territory, making Hungary into a major European power. His achievements were continued by his son King Louis the Great.

Charles's foreign policy largely stemmed from dynastic alliances. His most successful achievement was the mutual defense union with Poland against the Habsburgs and Bohemians, accomplished by the convention of Trencín in 1335, confirmed the same year at the brilliant two-month congress of Visegrad. Not only did all the princes of central Europe compose their differences and enjoy splendid entertainment during the months of October and November: the immediate result of the congress was a combined attack by the Hungarians and Poles upon the Holy Roman Emperor Louis IV and his ally the Habsburg Duke Albert II of Austria, which resulted in favour of Charles in 1337. Charles's desire to unite the kingdoms of Hungary and Naples under his eldest son Louis was dashed by Venice and by the Pope, who both feared Hungary might become the dominant Adriatic power. Nevertheless he was more than compensated for this disappointment by his compact in 1339 with his ally and brother-in-law, Casimir III of Poland, whereby it was agreed that Louis should succeed to the Polish throne on the death of the childless Casimir. Finally his younger son, Andrew was promised the crown of Naples.



Louis I (1342-1382)

Louis I the Great (Hungarian: I. (Nagy) Lajos, Polish: Ludwik Wegierski, Croatian: Ludovik I., Slovak: Ludovít I. Velký) (5 March 1326, Visegrád — 10 September 1382, Trnava) was King of Hungary, Croatia, and Dalmatia etc. from 1342 and of Poland from 1370. Louis was the head of the senior branch of the Angevin dynasty. He was one of Hungary's most active and accomplished monarchs of the Late Middle Ages, extending her territory to the Adriatic and securing Dalmatia, with part of Bosnia and Bulgaria, within the Hungarian crown. He spent much of his reign in wars with the Republic of Venice and in competition for the throne of Naples, the former with some success and the latter with little lasting results. Louis, named for his uncle, Saint Louis of Toulouse, was the eldest son of the Charles Robert and Elisabeth, daughter of Ladislaus the Short and sister of Casimir the Great, the Piasts who reestablished kinship in Poland. He was designated heir of his father at birth. In due time, he became king of Hungary, at the death of his father in 1342. He was crowned only a few days later on 21 July. Louis led armies many times. Besides his best known campaigns, he fought in Bulgaria, Bosnia, Wallachia, and against the Golden Horde. The first Ottoman-Hungarian clash occurred during his reign.

Defeated by Venice in an early campaign against Zara (1346), Louis embarked on an expedition against Naples in revenge of the murder of his brother Andrew, Duke of Calabria, husband of Joan I of Naples. The circumstances of his death — in a palace conspiracy — suggested the involvement of the queen. Louis entered Italy on 3 November 1347 and, after obtaining the support of many local princes, he entered Benevento early in 1348, much to the applause of the Neapolitan baronage. On 15 January, Joan fled Naples by ship for Provence, soon to be followed by her second husband, Louis of Taranto. Having established himself in Naples with little difficulty, Louis was nevertheless forced to withdraw quickly by the arrival of the Black Death. In his rush to leave ravaged Italy, he appointed two Hungarian officials to hold the regency. They soon lost the support of the barons and opened the way for the return of Joan and her husband. Two years later, early in 1350, Louis landed at Manfredonia and, in next to no time at all, was menacing Naples. However, he soon called of the campaign at the insistence of his exhausted troops and renounced all claims on the Neapolitan crown. Before leaving Italy, he had the papal curia of Avignon begin an inquest into the murder of Andrew, but the papal court found Joan innocent, largely for political reasons, as Joan agreed to ceded her temporal rights over the city of Avignon to the papacy. The conflict with Naples finally settled in 1381, one year before Louis’ death. The pope stripped the royal title from Joan and authorized king Louis to execute his decision. He was too ill to go personally, but his nephew, Charles of Durazzo aided with Hungarian gold and men seized the throne and killed Joan. From 1357 to 1358, Louis waged a new war against Venice for the rule of Dalmatia. After successfully organising an anti-Venetian league, Louis put the cities of Dalmatia to fire and the sword, expelling all Venetians. By the Treaty of Zara (1358), all of Louis's demands over the Adriatic region were recognised. He immediately built up an Adriatic fleet. Constitutionally, Louis maintained much of the structure of Hungarian feudalism and monarchy, but introduced several cultural reforms. In 1351 he reissued the Golden Bull of 1222 in a modified form to ensure the rights of the nobility. His other laws introduced the entail system regulatin the inheritance of the land-owning class. He founded the first university in Hungary in the city of Pécs and made general efforts at Latinisation in the kingdom.

In 1370, the Piasts of Poland died out. The last dynast, Casimir the Great, left only female issue and a grandson. Since arrangements had been made for Louis's succession as early as 1355, he became King of Poland upon his grandfather's death in right of his mother, who held much of the practical power until her death in 1380. When Louis died in 1382, the Hungarian throne was inherited by his daughter Mary. In Poland, however, the lords of Lesser Poland did not want to continue the personal union with Hungary, nor to accept Mary's fiancé Sigismund as a regent. They therefore chose Mary's younger sister, Hedwige, as their new monarch. After two years of negotiations with Louis widow, Queen Elisabeth, who was regent of Hungary, and a civil war in Greater Poland (1383), Hedwige finally came to Kraków and was crowned "King" (not Queen) of Poland on 16 November 1384. The masculine gender in her title was intended to underline the fact that she was a monarch in her own right and not a queen consort.

These often crudely struck pieces are the well-known "Saracen head" denars. The meaning of the design is not certain, but some think the portrait might be an effort at a pun on the name of a royal court official. Mintmarks and issuance marks on these coins are shown as letters and asterisks on either side of the reverse cross, but also as the various dots (or lack thereof) on the tips of the cross' arms. One variety has a crown at the bottom of the cross (last two coins shown here).

Sigismund (1387-1437)

Born in Nuremberg, Sigismund was a son of the emperor Charles IV and Elizabeth of Pomerania, daughter of Boguslaw V of Pomerania. In 1374 was betrothed to Mary, eldest surviving daughter of king Louis I of Poland and Hungary, who intended Mary to succeed him in the hereditary kingdom of Poland with her future husband as was the custom of the time. Sigismund became margrave of Brandenburg on his father's death in 1378. Sent to the Hungarian court, Sigismund became thoroughly Magyarized and entirely devoted to his adopted country. In 1381, the then 13-year-old Sigismund was sent to Krakow by his eldest brother and guardian king Venceslaus IV of Bohemia, to learn Polish and to become acquainted with the land and its people. King Venceslaus also gave him Neumark to facilitate communication between Brandenburg and Poland. Because of his intrigues, Sigismund was expelled from Poland, which was then given to Mary's younger sister Jadwiga I of Poland, who married Jogaila of Lithuania. When an opposing candidate for the Árpád throne appeared, Sigismund fled, leaving his wife Mary and her mother, widow of King Louis, Elisabeth of Bosnia (Elizabeta Kotromanic) at the mercy of conspirators. Years of civil war followed.

At the death of her father in 1382, his beþroted Mary became Queen of Hungary, and Sigismund married her in 1385. She was however captured by the rebellious Horvathys in the following year (probably instigated by Sigismund himself), together with his mother-in-law, who was killed in January 1387. Mary was only rescued with the aid of the Venetians in June 1387. Mary never forgave him for the death of her beloved mother, and subsequently they lived separate lives and had separate households. She died in 1395 in a suspicious horse accident while heavily pregnant. In the meantime, Sigismund had arranged his own coronation as king of Hungary on 31 March 1387, and having raised money by pledging Brandenburg to his cousin Jobst, margrave of Moravia (1388), he was engaged for the next nine years in a ceaseless struggle for the possession of this unstable throne. The bulk of the nation headed by the great Garay family was with him; but in the southern provinces between the Save and the Drave, the Horvathys with the support of the Bosnian king Tvrtko I, Mary's maternal uncle, proclaimed as their king Ladislas, king of Naples, son of the murdered Hungarian king, Charles II. Not until 1395 did Miklos Garay succeed in suppressing them. On a number of occasions, Sigismund was imprisoned by nobles, but skilfully bribed his way out.

In 1396 Sigismund led the combined armies of Christendom against the Turks, who had taken advantage of the temporary helplessness of Hungary to extend their dominion to the banks of the Danube. This crusade, preached by Pope Boniface IX, was very popular in Hungary. The nobles flocked in thousands to the royal standard, and were reinforced by volunteers from nearly every part of Europe, the most important contingent being that of the French led by John, duke of Nevers, son of Philip II, duke of Burgundy. Sigismund set out with 90,000 men and a flotilla of 70 galleys. After capturing Widdin, he sat down before the fortress of Nicopolis, to retain which Sultan Bayezid I raised the siege of Constantinople and at the head of 140,000 men[citation needed] completely overthrew the Christian forces in a battle fought between 25 and 28 September 1396. Deprived of his authority in Hungary, Sigismund then turned his attention to securing the succession in Germany and Bohemia, and was recognized by his childless step-brother Wenceslaus IV as vicar-general of the whole empire. He was unable to support Wenceslaus when he was deposed in 1400 and Rupert III, elector Palatine of the Rhine, was elected German king in his stead. During these years he was also involved in domestic difficulties out of which sprang a second war with Ladislas of Naples; and on his return to Hungary in 1401 he was once imprisoned and twice deposed. This struggle in its turn led to a war with the Republic of Venice, as Ladislas before departing to his own land had sold the Dalmatian cities to the Venetians for 100,000 ducats. In 1401 Sigismund assisted a rising against Wenceslaus, during the course of which the German and Bohemian king was made a prisoner, and Sigismund ruled Bohemia for nineteen months. He released Wenceslas in 1403. In 1404 he introduced the placetum regium. According to this decree papal bulls couldn't be pronounced in Hungary without the consent of the king. In about 1406 he remarried Mary's cousin Barbara of Celje (Barbara Celjska, nicknamed the "Messalina of Germany"), daughter of Hermann II of Celje. Hermann's mother Katarina Kotromanic and Mary's mother Queen Elizabeta were sisters, or cousins who were adopted sisters. Tvrtko I was their first cousin and adopted brother, perhaps became even an heir apparent to Queen Mary. Tvrtko may have been murdered in 1391 on Sigismund's order. Sigismund personally lead an army of almost 50,000 "crusaders" against the Croats and Bosnians, which culminated in 1408 with the Battle of Dobor, and a massacre of about 200 noble families, many of them victors of numerous battles against the Ottomans. He founded the Order of the Dragon after this victory. Members of the order were mostly his political allies and supporters.

In 1419 the death of Wenceslaus IV left Sigismund titular king of Bohemia, but he had to wait for seventeen years before the Czechs would acknowledge him. But although the two dignities of king of the Romans and king of Bohemia added considerably to his importance, and indeed made him the nominal head of Christendom, they conferred no increase of power and financially embarrassed him. It was only as king of Hungary that he had succeeded in establishing his authority and in doing anything for the order and good government of the land. Entrusting the government of Bohemia to Sophia, the widow of Wenceslaus, he hastened into Hungary. The Bohemians, who distrusted him as the betrayer of Hus, were soon in arms; and the flame was fanned when Sigismund declared his intention of prosecuting the war against heretics. Three campaigns against the Hussites ended in disaster. The Turks were again attacking Hungary. The king, unable to obtain support from the German princes, was powerless in Bohemia. His attempts at the diet of Nuremberg in 1422 to raise a mercenary army were foiled by the resistance of the towns; and in 1424 the electors, among whom was Sigismund's former ally, Frederick I of Hohenzollern, sought to strengthen their own authority at the expense of the king. Although the scheme failed, the danger to Germany from the Hussites led to the Union of Bingen, which virtually deprived Sigismund of the leadership of the war and the headship of Germany. In 1428 he led another campaign agains the Turks, but again with few results. In 1431 he went to Milan where on 25 November he received the Iron crown; after which he remained for some time at Siena, negotiating for his coronation as emperor and for the recognition of the Council of Basel by Pope Eugenius IV. He was crowned emperor at Rome on 31 May 1433, and after obtaining his demands from the Pope returned to Bohemia, where he was recognized as king in 1436, though his power was little more than nominal. He died in December 1437 at Znaim, and was buried at Grosswardein. By his second wife, Barbara of Cilli, he left an only daughter, Elisabeth, who was married to Albert V, duke of Austria (later German king as Albert II) whom Sigismund named as his successor. As he left no sons the house of Luxembourg became extinct on his death.

Mintmarks and mintmaster's marks on these coins are shown as a small letter or symbol above the shield on the obverse, and the presence or absence of a small letter at the bottom of the cross and/or a small dot in the center of the cross on the reverse. Shown here are a large mix of mintmarks and indications.

The Parvus was equivalent to a half-denar (an obole) and was struck in large numbers during in Sigismund's reign. The word "parvus" apparently translates as "poor" and could be a nickname for the little coins rather than their true designation.

Equivalent to a quarter-denar, the quarting was a new denomination introduced by Sigismund and was a very crudely made and low valued coin. There are a bewildering variety of mintmarks and initials in between the arms of the cross as shown on the specimens below.

Matthias Corvinus (1458-1490)

Matthias was born in in Kolozsvár/Klausenburg (present-day Cluj-Napoca), Transylvania, the second son of John Hunyadi – a successful Vlach military leader, who had risen through the ranks of the nobility to become regent of Hungary –, and Erzsébet Szilágyi, from a Hungarian noble family. The later epithet Corvinus was coined by Matthias' biographer, the Italian Antonio Bonfini, who claimed that the Hunyadi family (whose coat of arms depicts a raven—corvus in Latin) descended from the ancient Roman gens of the Corvini. After the death of Matthias's father, there was a two-year struggle between Hungary's various barons and its Habsburg king, Ladislaus Posthumus (also king of Bohemia), with treachery from all sides; Matthias's older brother László Hunyadi was one party attempting to gain control. In 1457, László was captured with a trick and beheaded, while the king died (possibly of poisoning) in November that year. The gentry and the people of Pest came out in support of electing Matthias as king, while most barons, thinking the young scholar would be a weak ruler, also agreed to support his election.

Thus, on January 20, 1458, Matthias was elected king by the Diet. At this time Matthias was a hostage of the new Hussite king of Bohemia, George of Podebrady, who released him under the condition of marrying his daughter. The opposing party initially fought some battles against Matthias, but these came to a close in 1463, when the other contender, Emperor Frederick III, officially accepted Matthias as the rightful king of Hungary and gave back the Holy Crown. Matthias was finally crowned March 29, 1464. Matthias was 15 when he was elected King of Hungary. He was educated in Italian, and his fascination with the achievements of the Italian Renaissance led to the promotion of Mediterranean cultural influences in Hungary. Buda, Esztergom, Székesfehérvár and Visegrád were amongst the towns in Hungary that benefited from the establishment of public health and education and a new legal system under Matthias' rule. He also founded a university in Bratislava, the Universitas Istropolitana. His 1476 marriage to Beatrice, the daughter of the King of Naples, only intensified the influence of the Renaissance. He proved an extremely generous patron, as artists from the Italian city-states (such as Galeotto Marzio) and Western Europe were present in large numbers at his Court. His library, the Bibliotheca Corviniana, was Europe's greatest collection of historical chronicles and philosophic and scientific works in the 15th century, and second only in size to the Vatican Library. He spoke Hungarian, Romanian, Croatian, Latin, and later also German, Czech.

Matthias gained independence of and power over the barons by dividing them, and by raising a large royal army (fekete sereg or Black Army) of mercenaries, whose main force included the remnants of the Hussites in the Czech lands. At this time Hungary reached its greatest territorial extent of the epoch (present-day southeastern Germany in the west, Dalmatia in the south, Bulgaria in the east, and Poland in the north). He was victorious against the Ottoman Empire, both in beating back attacks and starting smaller campaigns of retaliation: 1463-64 in Bosnia, 1475 in Southern Hungary, 1479-83 in Transylvania, Wallachia, Serbia, and Bosnia; and in 1481 he sent a contingent to help in the retaking of the Tarentine port Otranto. Like his father, Matthias desired to strengthen the Kingdom of Hungary to the point where it became the foremost regional power and overlord, strong enough to push back the Ottomans; toward that end he deemed necessary the conquering of large parts of the Holy Roman Empire. Until his death in 1490, Matthias Corvinus gained control of Moravia, Silesia, Lusatia (these in 1468/1469/1479-1490), and half of present-day Austria (1477/1483-1491); he even ruled from Vienna after 1485.

At times Matthias had Vlad III Dracula, the Prince of Wallachia, as his vassal. Although Vlad had much success against the Ottoman armies, the two Christian rulers disagreed in 1462, leading to Matthias invading Wallachia and imprisoning Vlad in Buda. However, wide-ranging support from many Western leaders for Vlad III prompted Matthias to gradually grant privileged status to his controversial prisoner. As the Ottoman Empire appeared to be increasingly threatening as Dracula had warned, he was sent to reconquer Wallachia with Hungarian support in 1476. Despite the earlier disagreements between the two leaders, it was ultimately a major blow to Hungary's status in Wallachia when Vlad was killed in battle with the Ottomans that same year. Also in 1467, a conflict erupted between Matthias and the Moldavian Prince Stephen III, after the latter became weary of Hungarian policies in Wallachia and their presence at Kilia; added to this was the fact that Matthias had already taken sides in the Moldavian conflicts preceding Stephen's rule, as he had backed Alexandrel (and, possibly, the ruler referred to as Ciubar Voda), deposing Petru Aron. Stephen occupied Kilia, sparking Hungarian retaliation, that ended in Matthias' bitter defeat in the Battle of Baia in December (the King himself is said to have been wounded thrice).

Matthias's empire collapsed after his death, since he had no children except for an illegitimate son, John Corvin, whom the noblemen of the country did not accept as their king. The weak king of Bohemia, Ladislaus II of the Polish/Lithuanian Jagiellon line, followed him – Ladislaus nominally ruled the areas Matthias conquered except Austria – but real power was in the hand of the nobles. In 1514, two years before Ladislaus's death, the nobility crushed the peasant rebellion of György Dózsa with ruthless methods. As central rule degenerated, the stage was set for a defeat at the hands of the Ottoman Empire. In 1521, Belgrade fell, and, in 1526, the Hungarian army was destroyed in the Battle at Mohács. High taxes to sustain his lavish lifestyle and the Black Army (cumulated with the fact that the latter went on marauding across the Kingdom after being disbanded upon Matthias's death) could imply that he wasn't very popular with his contemporaries. But the fact that he was elected king in a small anti-Habsburg popular revolution, that he kept the barons in check, persistent rumours about him sounding public opinion by mingling among commoners incognito, and harsh period known witnessed by Hungary later ensured that Matthias' reign is considered one of the most glorious chapters of Hungarian history. Songs and tales converted him into Matthias the Just (Mátyás az igazságos in Hungarian), a ruler of justice and great wisdom, as arguably the most popular hero of Hungarian folklore. He is also one of the sleeping kings.

Notice the raven shield inescutcheon on the Hungarian arms.

Vladislav II Jagiellon (1490-1516)

Vladislav II of Bohemia and Hungary, also known as Ladislaus Jagiellon (Czech: Vladislav Jagellonský, Hungarian: II. Ulászló, Croatian: Vladislav II. Jagelovic, Polish: Wladyslaw II Jagiellonczyk), was King of Bohemia from 1471 and King of Hungary from 1490 until his death in 1516. Vladislav was born Wladyslaw on March 1, 1456, the son of King Casimir IV of Poland and Great Prince of Lithuania, the then head of the Polish ruling dynasty of Jagiellon, and of Elizabeth of Bohemia, daughter of Albert II of Germany. He was christened as the namesake of his maternal uncle King Ladislaus the Posthumous of Bohemia and his late paternal uncle Vladislav of Varna, an earlier king of Hungary.

He was proposed for the Bohemian throne by the widow of the previous king, George of Podebrady, and was crowned as the King of Bohemia (Vladislav) on August 22, 1471. He was crowned as King of Hungary on September 18, 1490, in succession to Matthias Corvinus, who had also claimed the Bohemian throne. No regnal number was used by Vladislav at the time, but works of reference retrospectively assigned him various ordinals for each of his kingdoms. The most usual number is II, though he was also the eighth Ladislas (VIII) on the Hungarian throne and the fifth Vladislav (V) on the Bohemian throne. The period after the death of George of Podebrady was a time of conflict for the Bohemian throne and Vladislav was unable to confront it. At the time of his arrival in Prague, he was only fifteen-years-old and practically dominated by his advisers. The succession conflict was settled in 1479 in the Peace of Olomouc, which allowed both Vladislav and Matthias Corvinus to use the title "King of Bohemia." Vladislav would reign in Bohemia proper, while Matthias gained Moravia, Silesia, and the two Lusatias. The deal also stipulated that in case of Matthias´ death, Vladislav would pay 400,000 gold (contemporary currency, not "gold") for the entirety of the Bohemian lands. However, this payment was not made once Vladislav became King of Hungary after the death of Matthias.

The "Kutnohorian deal" in 1485 practically eliminated Vladislav's power and granted it to the nobles. The deal in its original form would have been in effect for 31 years, but was extended in 1512 to "all times." He was married three times, first to Barbara, daughter of Albert III Achilles, Elector of Brandenburg, then to the widow of Matthias, Beatrice of Naples, daughter of Ferdinand I of Naples. His third wife was Anne de Foix, who finally gave birth to his only surviving legitimate children, Anna and Louis. Vladislav died on March 13, 1516, and was buried in Székesfehérvár. He was a cheerful man, nicknamed "Vladislav Bene" ("Wladyslaw Dobrze", "Dobzse László") because to almost any request he answered, "Bene" (Latin for "(It's) well"). His reign in Hungary was largely stable, although Hungary was under consistent border pressure from the Ottoman Empire and briefly suffered from the revolt of György Dózsa. Vladislavs' ten-year-old son Louis succeeded him on the thrones of both Bohemia and Hungary. His daughter Anna was married in 1515 to the future emperor Ferdinand of Austria, a grandson of Emperor Maximilian I Habsburg. Therefore, after the death of Louis at the Battle of Mohács, the succession devolved through Anna to the cadet line of eastern Habsburgs.

Vladislav's denars are among the first dated coins of Hungary, a 1499 guldiner is the earliest.

Louis II Jagiellon (1516-1526)

Louis was the son of Ladislaus V Jagiello and his fourth wife, Anne de Foix. His father died in 1516 and the minor Louis II ascended to the throne of Hungary and Bohemia upon his father's death. Louis had been adopted by Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I in 1515. When Maximilian I died in 1519, Louis was raised by his legal guardian Georg von Hohenzollern, margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach. Louis owed allegiance to the Imperial Habsburgs as a member of the Order of the Golden Fleece.

In 1522 Louis II was married to Mary of Habsburg, a Habsburg princess, granddaughter of Maximilian I, as stipulated by an Imperial congress at Vienna in 1515. His sister Anne was married to Archduke Ferdinand of Austria, then a governor on behalf of his brother Charles V, and later Emperor Ferdinand I. Louis died at the Battle of Mohács in 1526. Ferdinand and Anne succeeded him in his Kingdom of Bohemia, but Hungary, largely conquered by the Turks, was further put into succession dispute between John Zápolya on one hand and Ferdinand and Anne on the other.