End of Europe's Middle Ages
Champion of Hungary or Saviour of Europe?
Janos Hunyadi (c.1387-1456) entered the service of Sigismund of Hungary and, thanks to his military prowess and intelligence, quickly rose to posts of prominence and prestige. Sigismund came to rely heavily on his military advice and Hunyadi was named governor of Transylvania in 1439. After Sigismund's death, he worked to have the Polish king Wladyslaw III elected as king of Hungary. When Wladyslaw III was killed at the disastrous battle at Varna in 1444, Hunyadi was elected governor of Hungary and guardian of the infant-king Ladislav V in 1446.
Constantly pressured by the Ottoman expansion, Hunyadi recognised that Hungary guarded the door to western Europe and begged other rulers to aid in launching a Crusade. While the importance of protecting the Hungarian frontiers was appreciated by western leaders and the disaster at Varna prompted Pope Callixtus III to call for a European crusade, no assistance was provided. Hunyadi was forced to continue the fight alone. In 1458, with a motley army of peasants, he successfully fought off the Ottoman siege of Belgrade against oppressive odds. Hunyadi died later the same year from an illness contracted during the siege. Hunyadi's success against the Ottomans saved Hungary and preserved Europe.
The End of Europe's Middle Ages / Applied History Research Group / University of Calgary
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