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Matthias Corvinus
Matthias Corvinus.jpg
King of Hungary and Croatia
Reign 1458–1490
Coronation 29 April 1464
Predecessor Ladislaus V
Successor Vladislaus II
Regent Michael Szilágyi (1458)
King of Bohemia
contested by George and Vladislaus II
Reign 1469–1490
Predecessor George
Successor Vladislaus II
Duke of Austria
contested by Frederick V
Reign 1487–1490
Predecessor Frederick V
Successor Frederick V
Born 23 February 1443
Kolozsvár, Hungary (now Cluj-Napoca, Romania)
Died 6 April 1490(1490-04-06) (aged 47)
Vienna, Austria
Burial Royal Basilica, Székesfehérvár
Spouse Elizabeth of Celje
Catherine of Poděbrady
Beatrice of Naples
Issue John Corvinus
House Hunyadi
Father John Hunyadi
Mother Elizabeth Szilágyi
Religion Roman Catholic
Signature Matthias Corvinus's signature

Matthew Corvinus (see other names) (23 February 1443 – 6 April 1490), also called the Just in folk tales, was King of Hungary (as Matthias I) and Croatia from 1458, at the age of 14 until his death. After conducting several military campaigns he became also King of Bohemia (1469–1490), and Duke of Austria (1486–1490). With his patronage Hungary became the first European country which adopted the Renaissance from Italy. As a Renaissance ruler, he established education institutions, patronized art and science, and introduced a new legal system in the Kingdom of Hungary. In the era of his kingship, Matthias strongly endeavored to follow the model and ideas of the philosopher-king as described in Plato’s Republic.

Names in other languages

Medieval Latin: Mattias Corvinus, Romanian: Matia/Matei/Mateiaş Corvin/Corvinul, Croatian: Matija/Matijaš Korvin, Czech: Matyáš Korvín, German: Matthias Corvinus, Polish: Maciej Korwin, Rusyn:Матяш Корвiн/Matiash Corvin, Serbian: Матија Корвин/Matija Korvin, Slovak: Matej Korvín,(Hungarian: Hunyadi Mátyás or very rarely Corvin Mátyás)Slovene: Matija Korvin, Russian: Матьяш Корвин/Matyash Korvin.

Early life

The Hunyad Castle, where Matthias grew up, is located in Transylvania, in present-day Romania.
Signature and the royal stamp
Coa Hungary Country History Mathias Corvinus (1458-1490) big
Coat of arms
Mátyás Király arcmása
Matthias as young monarch. Contemporary miniature from the Corviniana collection of the British Museum.

Matthias was born in Kolozsvár (Kingdom of Hungary, now Cluj-Napoca, Romania) in a house now known as the Matthias Corvinus House. He was second son of John Hunyadi, a successful general of the Kingdom of Hungary, and had risen through the ranks of the nobility to become regent of Hungary. Matthias' mother was Erzsébet Szilágyi, from a Hungarian noble family.

His tutors were the learned János Vitéz, bishop of Nagyvárad (now: Oradea), whom he subsequently raised to the primacy, and the Polish humanist Gregory of Sanok. Besides the learned languages, he was acquainted with most of the living tongues of Europe of the time. His military training proceeded under the eye of his father, whom he began to follow on his campaigns when only twelve years of age. In 1453 he was created count of Bistriţa, and was knighted at the Siege of Belgrade in 1456.


Early rule

Forints of Matthias
Matei Corvin Johannes de Thurocz f137
Matthias Corvinus as depicted in Chronica Hungarorum by Johannes de Thurocz

This was the first time in the medieval Hungarian kingdom that a member of the nobility, without dynastic ancestry and relationship, mounted the royal throne. Such an election upset the usual course of dynastic succession in the age. In the Bohemian and Hungarian states they heralded a new judiciary era in Europe, characterized by the absolute supremacy of the Parliament, (dietal system) and a tendency to centralization. During his reign, Matthias reduced the power of the feudal lords, and ruled instead with a cadre of talented and highly educated individuals, chosen for their abilities rather than their social status. That deed made many aristocrats hostile towards Matthias' new type of central government.

Matthias was 15 when he was elected King of Hungary: at this time the realm was environed by perils. The Ottomans and the Venetians threatened it from the south, the emperor Frederick III from the west, and Casimir IV of Poland from the north, both Frederick and Casimir claiming the throne. The Czech mercenaries under Giszkra held the northern counties and from thence plundered those in the centre. Meanwhile Matthias's friends had only pacified the hostile dignitaries by engaging to marry the daughter of the palatine Garai to their nominee, whereas Matthias refused to marry into the family of one of his brother's murderers, and on 9 February confirmed his previous nuptial contract with the daughter of Poděbrady, who shortly afterwards was elected King of Bohemia (2 March 1458).

Throughout 1458 the struggle between the young king and the magnates, reinforced by Matthias's own uncle and guardian Szilágyi, was acute. But Matthias, who began by deposing Garai and dismissing Szilágyi, and then proceeded to levy a tax, without the consent of the Diet, in order to hire mercenaries, easily prevailed. He recovered the Golubac Fortress from the Ottomans, successfully invading Serbia, and reasserting the suzerainty of the Hungarian crown over Bosnia. In the following year there was a fresh rebellion, when the emperor Frederick was actually crowned king by the malcontents at Vienna-Neustadt (4 March 1459); Matthias however drove him out, and Pope Pius II intervened so as to leave Matthias free to engage in a projected crusade against the Ottomans, which subsequent political complications, however, rendered impossible. On 1 May 1461, the marriage between Matthias and Poděbrady's daughter took place.

From 1461 to 1465 the career of Matthias was a perpetual struggle punctuated by truces. Having come to an understanding with his father-in-law Poděbrady, he was able to turn his arms against the emperor Frederick. In April 1462 the latter restored the holy crown for 60,000 ducats and was allowed to retain certain Hungarian counties with the title of king; in return for which concessions, extorted from Matthias by the necessity of coping with a simultaneous rebellion of the Magyar noble in league with Poděbrady's son Victorinus, the emperor recognized Matthias as the actual sovereign of Hungary. Only now was Matthias able to turn against the Ottomans, who were again threatening the southern provinces. He began by defeating the Ottoman general Ali Pasha, and then penetrated into Bosnia, capturing the newly built fortress of Jajce after a long and obstinate defence (December 1463). On returning home he was crowned with the Holy Crown on 29 March 1464. Twenty-one days after, on 8 March, the 15-years-old Queen Catherine died in childbirth. The child, a son, was stillborn.

After driving the Czechs out of his northern counties, he turned southwards again, this time recovering all the parts of Bosnia which still remained in Ottoman hands.

Wars in central Europe

The wars of Matthias Corvinus of Hungary (1458-1490)
Western conquests of Matthias Corvinus.
Philostratus kódex Corvin János
John Corvinus (His illegitime son) triumphed in Vienna in 1485, See: Siege of Vienna (1485)
Matthias contemporary Sculpture
The roughly 50 years old Matthias (contemporary sculpture from Buda Castle)

Matthias gained independence of and power over the barons by dividing them, and by raising a large royal army, fekete sereg (the King's Black Army of mercenaries), whose main force included the remnants of the Hussites from Bohemia. At this time Hungary reached its greatest territorial extent of the epoch (present-day southeastern Germany to the west, Dalmatia to the south, Eastern Carpathians to the east, and southwestern Poland to the north).

Soon after his coronation, Matthias turned his attention upon Bohemia, where the Hussite leader George of Poděbrady had gained the throne. The election took place on a field, in the presence of about 10,000 electors. In order to obtain as many votes as necessary he made various businesses with the key-persons, but he did not have expected that much electors, so he needed more money. Two of the most significant persons were Gašpar Ernušt Hampo de Csaktornya, who was a rich wholesaler of copper and who borrowed money to him to be able to make the businesses there at the election before the coronation and Simon Keglević, who became the commander of Matthias Corvinus. In 1465 Pope Paul II excommunicated the Hussite King and ordered all the neighbouring princes to depose him. On 31 May 1468, Matthias invaded Bohemia; however, as early as 27 February 1469, he anticipated an alliance between George and Frederick by himself concluding an armistice with the former. On 3 May the Bohemian Catholics elected Matthias king of Bohemia, but this was contrary to the wishes of both pope and emperor, who preferred to partition Bohemia. George however anticipated all his enemies by suddenly excluding his own son from the throne in favour of Ladislaus, the eldest son of Casimir IV, thus skillfully enlisting Poland on his side. The sudden death of Poděbrady in March 1471 led to fresh complications. At the very moment when Matthias was about to profit by the disappearance of his most capable rival, another dangerous rebellion, headed by the primate and the chief dignitaries of the state, with the object of placing Casimir, son of Casimir IV, on the throne, paralysed Matthias's foreign policy during the critical years 1470–1471. He suppressed this domestic rebellion indeed, but in the meantime the Poles had invaded the Bohemian domains with 60,000 men, and when in 1474 Matthias was at last able to take the field against them in order to raise the siege of Breslau, he was obliged to fortify himself in an entrenched camp, whence he so skillfully harried the enemy that the Poles, impatient to return to their own country, made peace at Breslau (February 1475) on an uti possidetis basis, a peace subsequently confirmed by the congress of Olomouc (July 1479).

During the interval between these peaces, Matthias, in self-defence, again made war on the emperor, reducing Frederick to such extremities that he was glad to accept peace on any terms. By the final arrangement made between the contending princes, Matthias recognized Ladislaus as king of Bohemia proper in return for the surrender of Moravia, Silesia and Upper and Lower Lusatia, hitherto component parts of the Bohemian monarchy, till he should have redeemed them for 400,000 florins. The emperor promised to pay Matthias a huge war indemnity, and recognized him as the legitimate king of Hungary on the understanding that he should succeed him if he died without male issue, a contingency at this time somewhat improbable, as Matthias, only three years previously (15 December 1476), had married his third wife, Beatrice, daughter of Ferdinand I of Naples.

The emperor's failure to follow through on these promises induced Matthias to declare war against him for the third time in 1481. The Hungarian king conquered all of the fortresses in Frederick's hereditary domains. Finally, on 1 June 1485, at the head of 8,000 veterans, he made his triumphal entry into Vienna, which he henceforth made his capital. Styria, Carinthia and Carniola were next subdued; Trieste was only saved by the intervention of the Venetians. Matthias consolidated his position by alliances with the dukes of Saxony and Bavaria, with the Swiss Confederation and the archbishop of Salzburg, establishing henceforth the greatest potentate in central Europe.

Wars against the Ottoman Empire

Medieval Coat of Arms of Matthias Corvinus, guarded by Black Army heavy infantry men. Matthias Church, Budapest. The damaged art relic was renovated in 1893.

In 1471 Matthias renewed the Serbian Despotate in south Hungary under Vuk Grgurević for the protection of the borders against the Ottomans. In 1479 a huge Ottoman army, on its return home from ravaging Transylvania, was annihilated at Orăştie/ Szászváros, 13 October 1479) in the so-called Battle of Breadfield. The following year Matthias recaptured Jajce, drove the Ottomans from northern Serbia and instituted two new military banats, Jajce and Srebernik, out from reconquered Bosnian territory.

In 1480, when an Ottoman fleet seized Otranto in the Kingdom of Naples, at the earnest solicitation of the pope Matthias sent the Hungarian general, Balázs Magyar, to recover the fortress, which surrendered to him on 10 May 1481. Again in 1488, Matthias took Ancona under his protection for a while, occupying it with a Hungarian garrison.

On the death of sultan Mehmet II in 1481, a unique opportunity for the intervention of Europe in Ottoman affairs presented itself. A civil war ensued in Ottoman Empire between his sons Bayezid and Cem; the latter, being worsted, fled to the knights of Rhodes, by whom he was kept in custody in France. Matthias, as the next-door neighbour of the Ottomans, claimed the custody of so valuable a hostage, and would have used him as a means of extorting concessions from Bayezid. But neither the pope nor the Venetians would accept such a transfer, and the negotiations on this subject greatly embittered Matthias against the Papal court. The last days of Matthias were occupied in endeavouring to secure the succession to the throne for his illegitimate son John; Queen Beatrice, though childless, fiercely and openly opposed the idea and the matter was still pending when Matthias, who had long been crippled by gout, expired very suddenly on 6 April 1490, just before Easter.

Policies in Wallachia and Moldavia

At times Matthias had Vlad III the Impaler (his second degree cousin, known to Romanians as Vlad Țepeș), Prince of Wallachia, as his ally. Although Vlad had great success against the Ottoman armies, the two Christian rulers disagreed in 1462, leading to Matthias 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. Vlad was eventually freed and married Matthias' cousin, Ilona Szilagyi. As the Ottoman Empire appeared to be increasingly threatening as Vlad Țepeș 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 assassinated that same year.

In 1467, a conflict erupted between Matthias and the Moldavian Prince Stephen III (Romanian: Ștefan cel Mare), 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 Alexăndrel (and, possibly, the ruler referred to as Ciubăr Vodă), 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).


Mátyás budai vára
The left side of the "Fresh Palace". It was the largest palace of the three royal residences in Buda (1480s)
Visegrad 1480 korul
The renaissance palaces of the summer residence at Visegrád, contemporary engraving from 1480s

Matthias was educated in Italian, and his fascination with the achievements of the Italian Renaissance led to the promotion of Italian 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 institutions and a new legal system under Matthias' rule. In 1465, he founded a university in Bratislava, the Universitas Istropolitana which was the third university in medieval Hungary. His 1476 marriage to Beatrice, the daughter of the King of Naples, only intensified the influence of the Renaissance.

During the long reign of emperor Sigismund of Luxemburg, the so-called Fresh Palace of the Royal residence of Buda became probably the largest Gothic palace of the late Middle Ages. Matthias rebuilt the palace in early Renaissance style and further expanded it. His other favourite residence was the summer palace of Visegrád.

Italian city-states and Western Europe were present in large numbers at his court. The most important humanists living in Matthias' court were Antonio Bonfini, Galeotto Marzio, Pietro Ranzano, Marsilio Ficino, Aurelio Lippo Brandolini and the Hungarian poet Janus Pannonius. Famous Italian artists served the king: Filippino Lippi, Verrocchio, Giovanni Dalmata, and Cristoforo Foppa. The young Leonardo da Vinci met with Matthias in the spring of 1485, where Leonardo painted a Madonna painting in the Visegrád Palace for the king. In his „Treaty on the Painting“ Leonardo da Vinci describes his conversation with king Matthias on the King’s birthday, when the King received his fiancée’s portrait. Leonardo’s description is almost a report showing his first hand knowledge of the King’s love for painting, his Platonic philosophy and the customs of his court. Verochio painted many portraits of famous historical persons for king Matthias. As Galeotto Marzio tells us, Hungarian 'heroic sagas', and love songs were often sung on special occasions in the king's court alongside the international, 'modern' Burgundian-Flandrian music. The famous renaissance cartographer Francesco Rosselli lived at the court of Matthias (1476-1484) where he made many detailed maps of the known world for the king Astronomer Johannes Regiomontanus built astrolabes for Matthias Corvinus of Hungary. There he calculated extensive astronomical tables and built astronomical instruments for the king. Like many of his acculturated contemporaries, he trusted in astrology and other semi-scientific beliefs; however, he also supported true scientists and engaged frequently in discussions with philosophers and scholars. Republics and Kingdoms and other governmental forms compared features a three-day discussion between the Florentine merchant Domenico Giugni and the Hungarian monarch Matthias Corvinus cleverly assembled by the humanist scholar Aurelio Lippo Brandolini. This was the frst and only political debate where Republics and Kingdoms and other governmental forms were systematically compared in the renaissance era.

Royal library

Matthias Corvinus's library, the Bibliotheca Corviniana, was Europe's greatest collections of secular books: historical chronicles, philosophic and scientific works in the fifteenth century. His library was second in size only to the Vatican Library. In 1489, Bartolomeo della Fonte of Florence wrote that Lorenzo de' Medici founded his own Greek-Latin library encouraged by the example of the Hungarian king. Frequently, half his nights were spent in reading, after the labour of his most strenuous days.


In the course of his expansion, Matthias strengthened his state's diplomacy. Apart from his regular network of relations with his neighbours, as well as the Pope and Kingdom of Naples, he established regular contacts with France, Burgundy, Switzerland, Florence, most German states, Russia and, occasionally, with Persia and Egypt.

Matthias's empire collapsed after his death, since he had no children except for an illegitimate son, John Corvinus, whom the noblemen of the country did not accept as their king. Matthias' rival as King of Bohemia, Ladislaus II of the Jagiellon line, followed him.

High taxes, mostly falling on peasants, to sustain Matthias' 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 was not 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 refer to him as Matthias the Just (Mátyás, az igazságos in Hungarian), a ruler of justice and great wisdom, and he is arguably the most popular hero of Hungarian folklore. There is a Hungarian proverb still used today saying Matthias has died, justice is gone (Meghalt Mátyás, oda az igazság). He is also one of the sleeping kings, particularly as King Matjaž in Slovenia.

This popularity is partially mirrored in modern Romania: 19th century Romantic nationalism invested in Matthias and his father's Vlach roots, their Christian warrior stances, and their cultural achievements.


His titles in the 1486 laws: King of Hungary, Bohemia, Dalmatia, Croatia, Rama, Serbia, Lodomeria, Cumania and Bulgaria, Prince of Silesia and Luxembourg, Margrave of Moravia and Lusatia


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Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Matías Corvino para niños

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