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Mátyás király, Hungary’s Beloved King – Part I: Kolozsvár and Vajdahunyad
Mátyás király, Hungary’s Beloved King –  Part I: Kolozsvár and Vajdahunyad

Top: Birthplace of Mátyás király in Kolozsvár; Vajdahunyad Castle. Center:Neo-Gothic elements added in the 19th century; Mace Tower (Buzogánytorony) with remnants of medieval design; entrance to Knights` Hall; National Assembly Hall.  Bottom: Steindl Loggia named after 19th century architect who "restored" it;Mátyás Loggia


The question arises immediately:  Why was Hunyadi Mátyás, the later Mátyás király, not born in the family’s castle at Vajdahunyad?  The answer is simple:  Mátyás’ father, Hunyadi János, had recently become a member of the aristocracy, having been named Vajda (voivode – a semi-independent military leader and governor) of Transylvania, and so had started large-scale construction and renovation of the castle.  To provide peace and quiet for his pregnant wife, he sent her to stay at the house of the well-to-do vineyard owner Méhffi Jakab in Kolozsvár, a city that had good relations with him.  

The birthplace of Mátyás király is the oldest two-story building in Kolozsvár.  After he became king, Mátyás granted the owners and their descendents exemption from all taxes, a privilege confirmed by II. Rákóczi György in 1649.  To put an end to the continued controversy this brought about, the city of Kolozsvár  finally bought the building.  It was used as a military hospital and later as an ethnographic museum.  Today, it houses the University of Art and Design.


Foundations of Vajdahunyad Castle have been traced to Roman times.  By the 11th century, Hunyadvár, as it was then called, was part of Hungary’s  southern line of defense.

Vojk, whose family had come from Wallachia (the medieval name of the part of Romania south of the Southern Carpathians, from which the word ”oláh” is derived), received the property in recognition of his services to King Zsigmond in 1409, and consequently changed his name to Hunyadi.  He is regarded as the founder of the Gothic-style castle which became the Hunyadi family home.  In the following years, it was further  fortified with gate towers and bastions.  

Vojk married Morzsinai Erzsébet, who bore a son, Hunyadi János. (Stephen Sisa, in his history entitled The Spirit of Hungary, says: ”According to contemporary gossip ... his birth was the fruit of an illicit love affair between King Sigismund, a notorious womanizer of his time, and  Vojk’s wife...” - see "Why a Raven With a Ring?" elsewhere in this issue).

Hunyadi János had a meteoric rise to fame through his military exploits, fighting the Turks who were gradually encroaching on the Balkans. The king recognized his outstanding services to the country by appointing him Vajda of Transylvania (1441). His castle then began to be called Vajda Hunyadja (Vajda’s Hunyad), hence the name by which it is known today.

Between 1446 and 1453, Hunyadi János was also Regent of Hungary until the Habsburg King V. László (Ladislaus V) came of age. 

Meanwhile, the Turks continued their assaults.  Although help had been promised from abroad, it never arrived, and in the summer of 1456, Hunyadi had only a ragtag band of poorly equipped peasants and students to face the overwhelming Turkish force at Nándorfehérvár (today’s Belgrade).  Actually, his troops were outnumbered seven to one.  Despite the poor outlook, Hunyadi, abetted by the zeal of Franciscan friar John Capistrano, defeated the Turks, a victory commemorated to this day around the world by the ringing of the church bells at noon.

However, Hunyadi could not long enjoy his great victory.  He died soon afterwards of the plague that broke out on account of the forty thousand  unburied Turkish corpses.  But it was only 70 years later that the Turks returned in such force again.

Of Hunyadi János’ two sons, the elder, László was born at Vajdahunyad. The younger, Mátyás, was born in Kolozsvár (see above), but spent his childhood and his early youth at Vajdahunyad Castle.  A loggia, added by his mother, Szilágyi Erzsébet, after his father’s death, is named for him. 

Mátyás was educated under the direction of his father’s most erudite friend, Vitéz Mihály, Bishop of Várad.  In addition to military training, he was schooled in the humanist studies popular at the time, and became fluent in Latin, Czech and German. Mátyás acquired an unusually broad scope of knowledge, including familiarity with civil and Church law and the arts.  Even at an early age, he was at his father’s side as Hunyadi János dealt with matters of state, and he acted as his father’s interpreter at important discussions.

In accordance with the custom of the time, and by his father’s arrangement with the powerful Count Cillei Ulrik, Mátyás – not yet 12 years old – was engaged to the Count’s 10-year old daughter Erzsébet.  But nothing came of those plans since Erzsébet died three months later.

(to be continued)


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