The Year ”..21” in Hungarian History

Erika Papp Faber 

Now that we’re into 2021, let’s go back and see how the various ”..21”s (or years thereabouts) provide a bird’s eye view of the history of the nation.

1021 – According to legend, this was the year the Venetian Benedictine monk Gilbert (Gellért in Hungarian) arrived in Hungary, although most sources give the year as 1015.  His destination had been the Holy Land, but his ship was blown off course, and he landed on the Island of St. Andrew in the Mediterranean.  There he met the Abbot Gaudentius of the recently founded Benedictine abbey of Pannonhalma.  Gaudentius  prevailed on him to take his route through Hungary. Introduced to Stephen, the first King of Hungary, Stephen engaged him as tutor to his 8-year old son Imre, a position Gellért held for 8 years.

King Stephen named Gellért Bishop of Csanád, where he worked at converting the people to Christianity. He lived an ascetic life, and in addition to organizing his diocese, also wrote a meditation, on 166 folios,  on the hymn of the Three Young Men of the Old Testament.  This document is the longest literary source we have from the 11th century Árpád dynasty’s era.

Although King St. Stephen is credited with the conversion of the Hungarian people to Christianity, some pagan holdouts still remained.  Following his death, a group of them revolted, and hurled Gellért down the hill that today bears his name, into the Danube. 

1121 – Hungarian Empress of Byzantium, Piroska, daughter of King St. László, was building the Pantokrator Monastery in Constantinople, the chief Byzantine monastery at the time.  Part of the complex was a hospital renowned for its treatment of eye diseases!  (Known as Irene,  she was eventually canonized by the Orthodox Church.)

The following year,  her husband, the Emperor John Komnenos, defeated the besenyős (Pechenegs) in Thracia (the area known today as the southeastern Balkan region).  Some of the defeated escaped to Hungary, where they entered the  service of King István II. 

1221 – Dominican Paulus Hungarus returned from his Italian studies to organize the Hungarian Dominican province.  He sent missionaries to Szörénység (at the time considered borderlands near the Iron Gates on the Danube), and later to the Cumanians (kunok). .

1321 – Nándorfehérvár had been given as an engagement present for the wedding of Hungarian royal princess Katalin to Dragutin István IV, King of Serbia, in 1284. After the death of Dragutin, three years before 1321, it was retaken from the Serbs by King Károly I.   

1421 – Turkish invaders into Transylvania ransacked the city of Brassó and the area of Barcaság.

1521 – Five years before the Turkish armies started out from Istanbul to conquer Hungary, Turkish troops captured the fortresses of Szabács, Zimony and Nándorfehérvár.

1621 – End of the first war against the Habsburgs, led by Bethlen Gábor,  Prince of Transylvania. At this time, Hungary was divided into three areas – with Habsburg rule in the West and North, Turkish rule in the main part of Hungary, and Transylvania still independent. Bethlen, a Calvinist, strongly opposed the Habsburg persecution of Protestants, and their alliances with the Ottomans.  He therefore invaded Habsburg-controlled Hungary , and took Pozsony, the  seat of government at the time, where the Palatine ceded him the Hungarian crown.  He was elected King of Hungary at the Diet of Besztercebánya in September 1620. But he was much more shrewd politically than to accept this honor.  He fully realized that allowing himself to be crowned would bring him into conflict not only with the Austrian Emperor, but also with the Turkish Sultan - more than his troops coud handle successfully. 

The  Peace of Nikolsburg was signed on December 31st, 1621.  Bethlen Gábor officially renounced the title of king, and handed over the crown to the Habsburgs.  However, this did not end Bethlen’s opposition, and he led two more campaigns against the Habsburgs, with further peace treaties in 1624 and 1626.

1721 – Publication began of the second regularly published newspaper in Hungary, by the name of Novo Posoniensa.  It was published in Latin, by Bél Mátyás (1684 – 1749), a Lutheran minister, historian and geographer. He spoke Slovak (his native tongue), Hungarian and German equally well, but wrote his works in Latin.

He received a scholarship from the Besztercebánya Reformed congregation to study in Halle, Germany, where he spent three years taking courses in Theology, Medicine and Zoology. Returning to Hungary, he taught at the gimnázium at Besztercebánya, eventually becoming its Rector (the University of that city is now named after him).  In 1714, he was invited to become Director of the famed Lutheran líceum at Pozsony. In addition to emphasizing the importance of history and geography, he also raised the instructional level of modern languages, and oversaw the work of the teachers.  His house became a cultural center; he fostered good relations with the Court, and often interceded in matters of religion.  He was invited to become the first minister of the Pozsony Lutheran church, a position he held for 30 years. He married Herrmann Zsuzsanna in 1710, and they had 8 children. 

The most important work of Bél Mátyás was the ”Introduction to the History and Geography of Modern Hungary”, for which he received the financial backing of King Károly III, who also raised him to the ranks of the nobility.  Four volumes of the ”Introduction” were published before he had a stroke, the rest (some 10,000 pages!) remained in manuscript form until 2011, when editing  and publication of these pages was begun. 

In 1713, he wrote an outline of Hungarian linguistic and literary history, then wrote a German grammar for Hungarian-speakers, and a Hungarian grammar for German-speakers. He also wrote a Latin grammar, published in Lőcse and in Nürnberg. He was the first to study Székely-Hungarian rovás script on a scientific level, and wrote the first printed book about it.

1821 – The first Hungarian opera, of which both music and libretto are still in existence, premiered in Kolozsvár in the following year.  Titled Béla futása (Béla’s Escape), it was written by Ruzitska József (1775-1823). The one-act opera was set in 1241, when the Mongolian invasion prompted King Béla IV and his pregant wife to flee to Dalmatia. The Mongols brought such extreme devastation to the country that he had to bring in foreign settlers to repopulate the country.

The plot was the following:  After Béla IV’s coming to the throne, the son of Hungarian noble Kálmán is imprisoned for conspiring against the king. Kálmán appeals to Béla to punish the boy if he is truly guilty, but first to examine the case.   But the king turns his back on his faithful follower, who soon thereafter is informed of his son’s death.  The father, totally crushed, harbors revenge against Béla, and goes into hiding in the woods of Dalmatia. 

The king had been wounded in the Battle of Muhi, and not recognizing Kálmán, has taken refuge in his castle.  But Kálmán postpones his vengeance, not taking advantage of the situation, but honoring the guest’s right to hospitality.  The queen and her two children are also being pursued by the Mongolians, and rescued by Kálmán and his men, are brought to Kálmán’s castle as well.

Kálmán is torn between duty and revenge.  Then Béla enters, to thank Kálmán for giving him refuge, and to reveal his identity.  Kálmán pours out his bitterness over the murder of his son. Béla, abashed, recognizes Kálmán, and explains he was ready to listen to his plea, but the boy had committed suicide in prison. 

An envoy arrives from the Mongolian khan, stating they have heard Kálmán is harboring the king, and unless he hands him over immediately, they will attack the castle.  Kálmán  is unwilling to betray the king, and so the delegate threatens to kill the queen and her children whom they have captured.  Kálmán refutes the lie by bringing in the queen and the children.  As a gesture of gratitude, the king entrusts his children to Kálmán’s care to be his support and console him for the loss of his son. 

It is alleged that this opera inspired Erkel Ferenc (1810-1893) to compose historical operas.

1921 – Following the end of World War I and the dictated ”Treaty” of Trianon by which Hungary was deprived of 71.5% of its territory,  Habsburg King Charles IV attempted a coup in March, to which the Entente powers strongly objected, so that he left a couple of days later.

Hungarian officers, held hostage by the Russians and Ukrainians, were returned in exchange for the convicted Communist leaders, at the end of July.

During the summer, there was an armed uprising in western Hungary in opposition to the Austrian occupation of that area.

At the end of August, the United States, which did not sign the dictated  ”Treaty” of Trianon, signed a separate peace treaty with Hungary.

On October 23rd, Charles IV made his second coup attempt.  At the Battle of Budaörs, 60 were killed and many wounded.

On November 6th, the Habsburgs were dethroned, for the fourth time!  But Charles never abdicated!

On December 16th, a plebiscite (the only one held in all of the territories given away by the so-called ”Treaty” of Trianon) was held in Sopron and its vicinity. That city and  a few other settlements opted for staying with Hungary. 

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That was quite a ride, wasn’t it?