History of Hungary

Partition of Hungary

The partition of Hungary between the Ottoman and Habsburg empires lasted more than 150 years. Habsburg Austria controlled Royal Hungary, which consisted of counties along the Austrian border and some of northwestern Croatia. The Ottomans annexed central and southern Hungary. Transylvania became an Ottoman vassal state, where native princes, who paid the Turks tribute, ruled with considerable autonomy. After the Hungarian defeat at Mohacs, the Protestant Reformation took hold in Hungary. Initially, German burghers in Transylvania and Royal Hungary adopted Lutheranism; later, John Calvin's works converted many Magyars in Transylvania and central Hungary. The Reformation spread quickly, and by the early seventeenth century hardly any noble families remained Catholic. Archbishop Peter Pazmany reorganized Royal Hungary's Roman Catholic Church and led a Counter-Reformation that reversed the Protestants' gains in Royal Hungary, using persuasion rather than intimidation. Transylvania, however, remained a Protestant stronghold. The Reformation caused rifts between Catholic Magyars, who often sided with the Habsburgs, and Protestant Magyars, who developed a strong national identity and became rebels in Austrian eyes. Chasms also developed between Royal Hungary and Transylvania and between the mostly Catholic magnates and the mainly Protestant lesser nobles.

Royal Hungary

Royal Hungary became a small part of the Habsburg Empire and enjoyed little influence in Vienna. The Habsburg king directly controlled Royal Hungary's financial, military, and foreign affairs, and imperial troops guarded its borders. The Habsburgs avoided filling the office of palatine to prevent the holder's amassing too much power. In addition, the so-called Turkish question divided the Habsburgs and the Hungarians: Vienna wanted to maintain peace with the Turks; the Hungarians wanted the Ottomans ousted. As the Hungarians recognized the weakness of their position, many became anti-Habsburg. They complained about foreign rule, the behavior of foreign garrisons, and the Habsburgs' recognition of Turkish sovereignty in Transylvania. Protestants, who were persecuted in Royal Hungary, considered the Counter-Reformation a greater menace than the Turks, however.

Ottoman Hungary

Central Hungary became a province of the Ottoman Empire ruled by pashas living in Buda. The Turks' only interest was to secure their hold on the territory. The Sublime Porte (a term used to designate the Ottoman rulers) became the sole landowner and managed about 20 percent of the land for its own benefit, apportioning the rest among soldiers and civil servants. The new landlords were interested mainly in squeezing as much wealth from the land as quickly as possible. Wars, slave-taking, and the emigration of nobles who lost their land depopulated much of the countryside. However, the Turks practiced religious tolerance and allowed the Hungarians living within the empire significant autonomy in internal affairs. Towns maintained some selfgovernment , and a prosperous middle class developed through artisanry and trade.


Transylvania, an Ottoman vassal state, functioned for many years as an independent country. In 1542 Martinuzzi revived the 1437 Union of Three Nations to govern the land, and the Transylvanian nobles regularly met in their own Diet. In 1572 the Diet created freedom of worship and equal political rights for members of Transylvania's four "established" religions: Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Unitarian, and Calvinist. The Eastern Orthodox Romanian serfs were permitted to worship, but the Orthodox Church was not recognized as an "established" religion, and the Romanians did not share political equality.

In 1591 the Habsburgs invaded Transylvania under George Basta, who persecuted Protestants and expropriated estates illegally until Istvan Bocskay, a former Habsburg supporter, mustered an army that expelled Basta's forces in 1604-05. In 1606 Bocskay concluded the Peace of Vienna with the Habsburgs and the Peace of Zsitvatorok with the Turks. The treaties secured his position as prince of Transylvania, guaranteed rights for Royal Hungary's Protestants, broadened Transylvania's independence, and freed the emperor of his obligation to pay tribute to the Ottomans. After Bocskay's death, the Ottomans compelled the Transylvanians to accept Gabor Bethlen as prince. Transylvania prospered under Bethlen's enlightened despotism. He stimulated agriculture, trade, and industry; sank new mines; sent students to Protestant universities abroad; and prohibited landlords from barring children of serfs from an education. Unfortunately, when Bethlen died in 1629, the Transylvanian Diet abolished most of his reforms. After a short succession struggle, Gyorgy Rakoczi I (1648-60) became prince. Under Rakoczi, Transylvania fought with the Protestants in the Thirty Years' War (1618-48) and was mentioned as a sovereign state in the Peace of Westphalia. Transylvania's golden age ended after Gyorgy Rakoczi II (1648-60) launched an attack on Poland without the prior approval of the Ottomans or Transylvania's Diet. The campaign was a disaster, and the Turks used the opportunity to rout Rakoczi's army and take control of Transylvania.

End of the Partition

The Ottoman Empire gradually weakened after Suleyman's death in 1559. Soon, the Ottoman occupation of Hungary continued not so much because of the Turk strength but because of the West's disunity and lack of resolve. Hungarian nobles grew impatient with the Habsburgs' persecution of Protestants and reluctance to take steps to drive out the Turks. Their discontent exploded after the Habsburg imperial army routed a Turkish force at St. Gotthard in 1664. Instead of pressing for concessions, Emperor Leopold I (1657-1705) concluded the Treaty of Vasvar in which he conceded to the Turks more Hungarian territory than they had ever possessed. After Vasvar, even many Catholic magnates turned against the Habsburgs.

After a failed Hungarian plot to throw off Habsburg rule, Leopold suppressed the Hungarian constitution, subjected Royal Hungary to direct absolute rule from Vienna, and harshly repressed Hungarian Protestants, handing over Protestant ministers who refused to deny their faith to work as galley slaves. Hungarian discontent deepened. In 1681 Imre Thokoly, a Transylvanian nobleman, led a rebellion against the Habsburgs and forced Leopold I to convoke the Diet and restore Hungary's constitution and the office of palatine. Sensing weakness, the Turks made their strike against Austria, but Polish forces routed them near Vienna in 1683. A Western campaign then gradually drove the Turks from Hungary, and the sultan surrendered almost all of his Hungarian and Croatian possessions in the Peace of Karlowitz in 1699.

Hungary History Contents

SOURCE: Area Handbook of the US Library of Congress