John Hunyadi

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John Hunyadi
John Hunyadi

John Hunyadi (Ioannes Corvinus in Latin, Johann Hunyadi in German, Hunyadi/Hunyady Jnos in Hungarian, Iancu (or Ioan Corvin) de Hunedoara in Romanian, Jn Huňadi in Slovak, Sibinjanin Janko in Serbian) (c. 1387 - 1456) was a Transylvanian statesman and soldier.



John was born into a Vlach (Romanian) noble family in 1387 (or 1400 according to some sources). John was the son of Vojk (alternatively spelled as Voyk or Vajk in English, Voicu in Romanian, Vajk in Hungarian), who was the son of a Vlach Knyaz from banate of Oltenia (Szrny in Hungarian). Vojk took the family name of Hunyadi when he received the estate of Hunyad Castle (now Hunedoara in Romania, called Vajdahunyad in Hungarian) from Sigismund, King of Hungary, in 1409. John's Hungarian mother Elizabeth (Erzsbet in Hungarian) is thought to be from the Morzsinay family. The epithet Corvinus was first used by the biographer of his son Matthias Corvinus of Hungary, but is sometimes also applied to John Hunyadi.


John Hunyadi has sometimes been confused with an elder brother John, also Ban of Szrny (Oltenia). The elder John died fighting for Hungary about 1440, defending Hungarian suzerainty.

While still a youth, the younger John Hunyadi entered the service of King Sigismund, who appreciated his qualities and borrowed money from him; he accompanied that monarch to Frankfurt in his quest for the imperial crown in 1410; took part in the Hussite Wars in 1420, and in 1437 drove the Turks from Semendria. For these services he received numerous estates and a seat in the royal council. In 1438 King Albert II made Hunyadi Ban of Szrny (Oltenia). Lying south of the defensible southern frontiers of Hungary, the Carpathians and the Drava/Sava/Danube complex, the province was subject to constant harrassment by Ottoman forces.

On the sudden death of Albert in 1439, Hunyadi, feeling acutely that the situation demanded a warrior-king on the throne of St Stephen, lent the whole weight of his influence to the candidature of the young Polish King Wladislaus III (1440), and thus came into collision with the powerful Cilleis, the chief supporters of Albert's widow Elizabeth and her infant son, Ladislaus V. He took a prominent part in the ensuing civil war and was rewarded by Wladislaus III. with the captaincy of the fortress of Nndorfehrvr(Belgrade) and the governorship of Transylvania, which latter dignity, however, he shared with his rival Mihly jlaki.

The burden of the Turkish War now rested entirely on his shoulders. In 1441 he delivered Serbia by the victory of Semendria. In 1442, not far from Hermannstadt (Sibiu), on which he bad been forced to retire, he annihilated an immense Turkish host, and recovered for the Kingdom of Hungary the suzerainty of Wallachia and Moldavia; and in July he vanquished a third Turkish army near the Iron Gates. These victories made Hunyadi's name terrible to the Turks and renowned throughout Christendom, and stimulated him in 1443 to undertake, along with King Wladislaus, the famous expedition known as the "long campaign". Hunyadi, at the head of the vanguard, crossed the Balkans through the Gate of Trajan, captured Nish, defeated three Turkish pashas, and, after taking Sofia, united with the royal army and defeated Murad II at Snaim. The impatience of the king and the severity of the winter then compelled him (February 1444) to return home, but not before he had utterly broken the sultan's power in Bosnia, Herzegovina, Serbia, Bulgaria and Albania.

No sooner had he regained Hungary than he received tempting offers from the pope, represented by the legate Cardinal Cesarini, from George Branković, despot of Serbia, and Gjergj Kastrioti, prince of Albania, to resume the war and realize his favourite idea of driving the Turk from Europe. All the preparations had been made, when Murad's envoys arrived in the royal camp at Szeged and offered a ten years' truce on advantageous terms. Both Hunyadi and Branković counselled their acceptance, and Wladislaus swore on the Gospels to observe them.

Two days later Cesarini received the tidings that a fleet of galleys had set off for the Bosporus to prevent Murad (who, crushed by his recent disasters, had retired to Asia Minor) from recrossing into Europe, and the cardinal reminded the king that he had sworn to co-operate by land if the western powers attacked the Turks by sea. He then, by virtue of his legatine powers, absolved the king from his second oath, and in July the Hungarian army recrossed the frontier and advanced towards the Euxine coast in order to march to Constantinople escorted by the galleys.

Branković, however, fearful of the sultan's vengeance in case of disaster, privately informed Murad of the advance of the Christian host, and prevented Gjergj Kastrioti from joining it. On reaching Varna, the Hungarians found that the Venetian galleys had failed to prevent the transit of the sultan, who now confronted them with fourfold odds, and on the 10th of November 1444 they were utterly routed, Wladislaus falling on the field and Hunyadi narrowly escaping.

Regency of the Kingdom of Hungary

At the diet which met in February 1445 a provisional government, consisting of five captain-generals, was formed, Hunyadi receiving Transylvania and four counties bordering on the Theiss, called the Partium or Krsvidk to rule. As the anarchy resulting from the division became unmanageable, Hunyadi was elected Governor of Hungary on June 5, 1446 in the name of Ladislaus V, and given the powers of a regent. His first act as governor was to proceed against the German king Frederick III, who refused to deliver up the young king. After ravaging Styria, Carinthia and Carniola and threatening Vienna, Hunyadi's difficulties elsewhere compelled him to make a truce with Frederick for two years.

In 1448 he received a golden chain and the title of prince from Pope Nicholas V, and immediately afterwards resumed the war with the Turks. He lost the two days' battle of Kosovo (October 7 - 10) owing to the treachery of Dan, hospodar of Muntenia, and of his old enemy Branković, who imprisoned him for a time in the dungeons of the fortress of Semendria; but he was ransomed by his countrymen and, after resolving his differences with his powerful and numerous political enemies in Hungary, led a punitive expedition against the Serbian prince, who was compiled to accept most humiliating terms of peace.

In 1450 Hunyadi went to Pressburg (now Bratislava in Slovakia), the Hungarian capital, to negotiate with Frederick the terms of the surrender of Ladislaus V, but no agreement could be reached, whereupon several of Hunyadi's enemies, notably the Cilleis, accused him of conspiracy to overthrow the king. In order to defuse the increasingly volatile domestic situation, he relinquished his regency and the title Govenor. On his return to Hungary at the beginning of 1453, Ladislaus created him count of Beszterce (Bistriţa) and captain-general of the kingdom.

Meanwhile the Turkish question had again become acute, and it was plain, after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, that Mehmed II was rallying his resources in order to subjugate Hungary. His immediate objective was Nndorfehrvr (Belgrade). Hunyadi arrived at the end of 1455, after settling differences with his domestic enemies. At his own expense he restocked the supplies and arms of the fortress, leaving in it a strong garrison under the command of his brother-in-law Mihly Szilgyi and his own eldest son Lszl. He proceeded to form a relief army and assembled a fleet of two hundred corvettes. His main ally was the Franciscan friar, John of Capistrano, whose fiery oratory drew a large crusade made up mostly of peasants. Though relatively ill-armed (most were armed with farm equipment--scythes, pitchforks, and the like) they burned with enthusiasm and flocked to Hunyadi and his small corps of seasoned mercenaries and mounted knights.

On July 14, 1456 the flotilla of corvettes assembled by Hunyadi destroyed the Turkish fleet; on July 21 Szilgyi's forces in the Fortress repulsed a fierce assault by the Rumelian army, and Hunyadi pursued the retreating forces into their camp, taking advantage of the Turkish army's confused flight from the city. After fierce but brief fighting, the camp was captured, and Mehmet raised the siege and returned to Constantinople. With his flight began a seventy-year period of relative peace on Hungary's (and Europe's) southeastern border. Unfortunately, plague broke out in Hunyadi's camp three weeks after the lifting of the siege, and he died August 11. He was buried inside the (Roman Catholic) Cathedral of Gyulafehrvr (Alba Iulia) next to his elder brother John.

John Hunyadi has rightly been regarded as a hero by all of the local nationalities; each in its own way has claimed him as their own. It is commonly said that he fought with his head rather than his arm. Among his more progressive qualities, he was among the first to recognize the insufficiency and unreliability of the feudal levies, instead regularly employing large professional armies. His notable contribution to the development of the science of European warfare included the emphasis on tactics and strategy in place of over-reliance on bravery (or foolhardiness) in battle. Though he remained illiterate until late in life (something which was not as common in those times as one might think), his natural diplomatic, stragegic and tactical intelligence served him well and allowed him to serve his country well.


  • J Teleki, The Age of the Hunyadis in Hungary (Hung.), (Pesth, 1852-1857; supplementary volumns by D Cs~inki 1895)
  • Gyorgy Fejer, Genus, incunabula et virtus Joannis Corvini de Hunyad (Buda, 1844)
  • J de Chassin, Jean de Hunyad (Paris, 1859)
  • A Pcr, Life of Hunyadi (Hung.) (Budapest, 1873)
  • V Frakni, Cardinal Carjaval and his Missions to Hungary (Hung) (Budapest, 1889)
  • P Frankl, Der Friede von Szegedin und die Geschichte seines Bruches (Leipzig, 1904)
  • RN Bain, "The Siege of Belgrade, 1456" (Eng. Hist. Rev., 1892)
  • A Bonfini, Rerum ungaricarum libri xlv, editio septima (Leipzig, 1771).bg:Янош Хуняди

de:Johann Hunyadi he:יאנוש הוניאדי nl:Johannes Hunyadi ja:フニャディ・ヤーノシュ pl:Jan Hunyadi ro:Iancu de Hunedoara


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