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History Matters - Part 4

Previously on 'History Matters. Hungary's Ten, Seven, Five'

We're back with the fourth and last part of our series inspired by American author, Dr. Phil's Self Matters: Creating Your Life From The Inside Out. According to the concept introduced in the book, we are who we are because of the effect ten defining moments, seven critical choices and five pivotal people had on us throughout our lives. And as the title of our series indicates, we've been trying to identify the ten, seven, five that might have influenced Hungary and the Hungarian nation. In the previous parts we talked about the ten defining moments and seven critical choices we suggested in the first article, and here we talk about the five pivotal people who, in our opinion, wrote upon the slate of Hungariandom.

Five Pivotal People in Hungarian History

Millions and millions of Hungarians have lived and died during the centuries, and possibly hundreds of thousands have had an impact. But who would the five truly pivotal people be who have left indelible impressions on Hungarians' concept of self? Here are our choices. You be the judge (your list of ten, seven, five for Hungary).
  1. Attila, the Hun
  2. King Szent István
  3. Mátyás Hunyadi
  4. István Széchenyi
  5. Lajos Kossuth

1.    Attila, the Hun (Etele, Hun Emperor, 394?-453 AD)

Attila the Hun, The Scourge of God Also known as „The Scourge of God” (Flagellum Dei), Attila was one of the greatest of the barbarian warlords who assailed the Roman Empire and at one point invaded Gaul (451). His empire stretched from Central Europe to the Black Sea, and reached from the Danube to the Baltic Sea.

Although there are over 400 years between the time of Attila and the Conquest of the Carpathian Basin by Árpád's Magyar tribes (895-896 AD), Hungarian folklore, tradition, history and art clearly link the Hun and Magyar (the Hungarian word for Hungarian) nations together. See for example The Legend of the Wonder Deer, and
"Attila's Signature and the Hungarian Anthem.

Read more about Attila as legendary Etzel in 'The Song of the Nibelungs', as Atli in Norse sagas ('Volsunga' saga and 'Poetic Edda'), as "the scourge of Earth" in Dante Alighieri's 'The Divine Comedy' (12.134), and in books like Hungarian author Géza Gárdonyi's novel A láthatatlan ember (published in English as Slave of the Huns) or William Napier's ATTILA: The end of the world will come from the East (published in 2005).

2.    King Szent István ((Saint) Stephen I, 997?-1038 AD)

Saint Stephen of Hungary, bust statue, crown, silver, gold

Szent István király (King Stephen the Great or St. Stephen) was the first king of Hungary, founder of the Christian state of Hungary. István was chosen Monarch after his father, Géza's death in 997 AD. Through a victory over his pagan uncle, Koppány, he achieved supremacy over other Magyar nobles and became Sovereign of Magyars in Transdanubia, and successfully united virtually all Magyar clans by 1006.

According to Hungarian tradition, in 1000? AD, Pope Sylvester II sent a jeweled gold crown to István's coronation in Esztergom, officially recognizing István as the Christian king of Hungary. He proved to be worthy of that name, and during his reign he set up ten dioceses in Hungary, ordering every ten villages to erect one church and maintain a priest. He founded the cathedrals of Székesfehérvár and Esztergom, the Nunnery of Veszprém, the Benedictine Abbey of Pannonhalma, and the Monastery of Saint Peter and Paul in Óbuda. The schools he established inside the abbeys and monasteries became important centers of culture.

István slowly replaced pagan customs and strengthened Christianity with various laws. With one of his high-impact verdicts, he ended the use of the old Hungarian runic alphabet (Magyar róvásírás) and declared Latin the official language of the royal court.

King István died on August 15, 1038 AD and was buried in Székesfehévár.
He was canonized by Pope Gregory VII as Saint Stephen of Hungary in 1083. His feast day is observed on August 20, the day on which his sacred relics were transferred to the city of Buda. This day is the largest public holiday in Hungary.

Image courtesy of the Archiepiscopal Treasury, Kalocsa.

3.    Mátyás Hunyadi (Matthias I Hunyadi, Matthias Corvinus, 1458-1490)
Matthias Corvinus of Hungary, bust statue

Hungarian folklore's Igazságos Mátyás (Matthias the Just), Mátyás Hunyadi was King of Hungary from 1458 to 1490. In 1469 the Czech Catholics elected him King of Bohemia, and conquering all the fortresses in emperor Frederick's hereditary domains, in 1481 he triumphantly entered Vienna and made it his capital.  He strengthened his position by powerful alliances, and his far-reaching hand extended even to Italy.

Mátyás exercised absolute rule over Hungary, enlisting 30,000 foreign mercenaries in his standing army, the Fekete Sereg (Black Army). He himself was an acclaimed soldier and, although he did not pursue his father's aggressive anti-Turkish policy, he succeeded in making the Turks respect Hungarian territory.

Mátyás's court was a center of humanist culture. Hungary's first books were printed and its second university was established under his rule, and his famous library, the Corvina (Corvinák) numbered over 5,000 volumes. He was an avid reader, and he had an absorbing interest in all branches of knowledge and art.

4.    István Széchenyi (Count Stephen Széchenyi, 1791 - 1860)

Count Istvan Szechenyi, bust statue
István Széchenyi, “the Greatest Hungarian” („a legnagyobb magyar”) was born into a family with a remarkable history of serving their country. (His father, for example, was the founder of the Hungarian National Museum.) Though raised in Vienna, István Széchenyi remained deeply Hungarian, and he became a politician and a statesman who championed the modernization of Hungarian economic, social, and intellectual life. His political and economic essays stimulated the development of liberal thought in Hungary and, among other significant services to the country, he offered the annual interest of his estate to the foundation of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (Magyar Tudományos Akadémia).

During his extensive travels throughout Turkey, Eastern- and Western Europe, Count Széchenyi came to realize that a reform is necessary in Hungary, and he made it his personal responsibility to take action on the matter. He not only encouraged the development of the Hungarian language but urged political and economic reforms as well. He believed in employing the know-how of the most advanced nations to boost the Hungarian economy and strengthen the nation.

Count Széchenyi's initiatives left a tangible, indelible trace on the country, and his intellectual heritage is available in numerous writings, of which we only list a few. He published his first book in 1828, A Few Words on Horse-racing, a sport introduced from England by Széchenyi himself. (Hungarian horse breeding is also linked to his name.) His subsequent publications are some of the most valued treasures of Hungarian economics literature. In the trilogy The Capital, The World, and Stadium (1830, 1831, and 1833), he outlines the principles for bringing Hungary economically up alongside Europe, suggesting a series of indispensable reforms; and then in Hunnia (1834), he advocates the extension and beautifying of Budapest. A man, who truly deserves to be called, „the Greatest Hungarian”.

5.    Lajos Kossuth (Louis Kossuth, „Father of Hungarian Democracy” 1802 - 1894)

Lajos Kossuth, statue, Main Square, Kecskemet, Hungary
Regent-President of the Kingdom of Hungary in 1849, and a cardinal figure in 19th century politics, Lajos Kossuth was a lawyer, statesman, politician, and publicist. His name resonates not only in Hungarian hearts and minds, he was widely honored as a freedom fighter in the United Kingdom and the United States during his lifetime, and he is still remembered as a great orator to this day.

Member of the national Diet at Pozsony (Pressburg, Bratislava) in the 1830s, and later in 1847, Kossuth became the leader of the liberal opposition, and following the French Revolution, on March 3, 1848, in a speech delivered in the Diet, he demanded immediate implementation of the liberal program, and called for constitutionalism throughout the empire. On September 28, 1848, he assumed full control, becoming chairman of the newly founded Committee of National Defense and the life and soul of the 1848-1849 democratic, anti-Habsburg Hungarian revolution. Thanks to a Russian intervention, Austrian emperor Franz Joseph defeated the Hungarians in 1849 and reestablished Austrian control.

The Kossuth regime collapsed, and Kossuth fled to Turkey, and later moved to the United States, where he joined a group of Hungarian political refugees who had established the community of New Buda in Decatur County, Iowa. Over the next few years Kossuth also lived in England, and died in Torino, Italy.

Kossuth was a legendary figure in his lifetime, and he is still regarded as “Hungary's Moses” to this day.

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