Hungary's Magna Carta

Golden Bull, "Hungary's Magna Charta"
Author: E.O.S.

Golden Bull, "Hungary's Magna Charta"


During the century preceding the reign of Andrew II, King of Hungary,
which began in 1205, that country had been engaged in frequent Wars with
Venice over the possession of Dalmatia, but no event of recent years had given
much importance to Hungarian history. The reign of Andrew began in a time of
great confusion in state and church, when the crusading spirit was still a
power which both religious and secular rulers found it convenient to turn to
the advancement of their own designs.

When Andrew deserted the cause of the crusaders in Palestine, after an
unsuccessful attack upon a tower on Mount Tabor, he was doubtless piqued at
the failure of the King of Jerusalem to render him any support in ordering his
affairs at home, where, under his viceroy, the virtual absolutism of the
government had become endangered. Out of the conditions which confronted him
on his arrival in Hungary came the memorable event - forming one of the great
chapters in his country's annals - faithfully and succinctly recounted in the
following pages.

The reign of Andrew II, in Hungary, forms one of the most important
epochs in the history of the country over which he reigned, since from him the
nobles obtained their Golden Bull (Bulla Aurea), equivalent to the Magna
Charta of England. The people of Hungary had, indeed, by their own
determination and spirit of independence, and by the wisdom and virtue of the
first kings of the race of Arpad, secured in their constitution the foundation
of their liberties; but the power of the sovereign had in the mean time
increased, so as to surpass those limits within which alone the office can be
conducive to the happiness and welfare of the community. The ceremony of
coronation was considered, indeed, a necessary condition for the exercise of
the royal authority; but though this in some measure acted as a check upon his
inordinate power, still all offices and dignities were in the gift of the
King, few, if any, being hereditary, and even the magnates could not prevent
the monarch giving away any part of his dominions.

Wars with Russia and Poland occupied the first years after the accession
of Andrew, and much discontent was occasioned in the country by the imperious
character of Gertrude his Queen, who ruled over her husband, and caused her
relatives and friends to be raised to the highest places in the State. The
marriage of the young princess Elizabeth to Louis, son of the Landgrave of
Thuringia, was solemnized with great pomp at Presburg, in 1212. The period of
prosperity to Hungary which had followed the birth of this child made the
people look upon her as one favored by heaven, and her singular virtues helped
to confirm the superstition; her life has formed the groundwork of one of the
most beautiful of saintly legends, and after her death she was canonized as
St. Elizabeth of Hungary.

At her nuptials, Queen Gertrude, assuming the authority of her husband,
not only presented the ambassadors of the Landgrave with rich presents of
gold, silver, and jewels, but bid them tell their lord that if a long life
were granted to her she would send them still greater wealth. The following
year Andrew accompanied his son Coloman into Poland, to celebrate his marriage
with a daughter of the duke, and intrusted the regency during his absence to
Gertrude and her relations. Time and opportunity favored a conspiracy against
the imperious Queen, and the first attack was made on her brother, the
Archbishop of Colocza. He, however, escaped with his life, and in revenge he
induced the Pope (Honorius) to lay Hungary under an interdict.

The people, however, showed small regard for the denunciations of a
distant pontiff, and, irritated by fresh offences, committed by brothers of
the Queen, in which Gertrude herself appears to have participated, they
murdered her in her own palace, and her children only escaped by the care and
fidelity of their tutor. Their uncles fled from the country, carrying with
them a large amount of treasure collected by Andrew, who bitterly complained
of their ingratitude in a letter to the holy see.

The King shortly afterward married the daughter of Peter of Courtenay,
Count of Auxerre, and made a vow to raise another crusade. The Latin Emperor
of Constantinople dying about this time, the choice of a successor lay between
the Hungarian King and his new father-in-law. It fell upon Andrew, and he was
invited to take possession of the imperial crown, but was dissuaded from
accepting the honor by Pope Honorius, who had already crowned Peter emperor of
the East. Peter was opposed by Theodore Comnenus, by whom he was arrested and
thrown into a dungeon. The Pope appealed for assistance to Andrew, then on
his way to the Holy Land. Andrew accordingly proceeded to Acre, which he
reached after a long voyage, but his expedition partook more of a pilgrimage
than of a crusade. He was absent from Hungary four years, and returned to
find the whole kingdom in disorder, the treasury emptied, and greedy prelates
and magnates devouring the substance of the people.

To replenish his treasury, Andrew appropriated the gold and jewels left
by the empress Constantia, whose death, which took place about this time,
prevented her establishing her claim. He further supplied his own
extravagance, by farming the taxes of Jews, deteriorating the coin, mortgaging
the domains belonging to the fortified castles, and selling the crown lands to
wealthy magnates.

His eldest son Bela had already gained the respect and affection of the
people by the firmness of his character and his love of justice; and Andrew,
jealous of his popularity, obliged him to fly the kingdom and seek protection
from Leopold, Duke of Austria. The King was, however, at last persuaded to
invite him to return, and, in order to secure his throne, he established him
at a distance from himself, in the government of Croatia and Dalmatia. Two
years later his younger son Coloman took the place of Bela, who was intrusted
with the government of Transylvania and of all the country between the Theiss
and Aluta. With a weak monarch and an exhausted treasury, the land had become
the prey of barbarous invaders, and the disorders of the kingdom had reached
such a climax that the magnates resolved to appeal to the mediation of the

Honorius commanded Andrew to restore the lands which he had parted with
in direct violation of his coronation oath, by which he had sworn to preserve
the integrity of the kingdom and the honor of the crown. Bela now assembled
the nobles and franklins of Hungary, and, supported by them, demanded the
restoration of the ancient constitution. The ecclesiastics of Hungary,
instigated by the Pope, offered to mediate a peace between the King, who was
supported by the great magnates, and his son, who had the voice of the people.
The condition of this peace was the Golden Bull of Hungary, which was granted
in the year 1222. It was here enacted that, "As the liberties of the
nobility, and of certain other natives of these realms, founded by King
Stephen the Saint, have suffered great detriment and curtailment by the
violence of sundry kings impelled by their own evil propensities, by the
cravings of their insatiable cupidity and by the advice of certain malicious
persons, and as the 'nobiles' of the country had preferred frequent petitions
for the confirmation of the constitution of these realms; so that, in utter
contempt of the royal authority, violent discussions and accusations had
arisen, . . . the King declares he is now willing to confirm and maintain, for
all times to come, the nobility and freemen of the country in all their
rights, privileges, and immunities, as provided by the statutes of St.

1. "That the 'nobiles' and their possessions shall not, for the future,
be subject to taxes and impositions.

2. "That no man shall be either accused or arrested, sentenced or
punished for a crime, unless he receive a legal summons, and until a judicial
inquiry into his case shall have taken place.

3. "That though the 'nobiles' and franklins shall be bound to do military
service at their own expense, it shall not be legal to force them to cross the
frontier of their country. In a foreign war, the king shall be bound to pay
the knights and the troops of the counties.

4. "The king has no right to entail whole counties and the high offices
of the kingdom.

5. "The king is not allowed to farm to Jews and Ishmaelites his domains,
the taxes, the coinage, or the salt mines."

The Golden Bull comprised thrity-one chapters, and seven copies were made
and delivered into the keeping of the Knights of St. John, the Knights
Templars of Hungary and Slavonia, the King, the Palatine, the archbishops of
Gran and Colocza, and the Pope. The thirty-first clause gave every Hungarian
noble a right of veto upon the acts of the king if unconstitutional. This
clause was, however, supposed to give an undue power to the people, and was
revoked in 1687.

Those magnates who, by the Golden Bull, were compelled to return the land
unjustly alienated by King Andrew, formed a conspiracy to overthrow the
monarchy, abolish the constitution, and divide the land among themselves. The
conspiracy was discovered in time to prevent its execution, but Andrew lost
courage and did not venture to insist on his refractory nobles fulfilling
their part in the conditions of the Great Charter. He was, however, compelled
to ratify it in a diet held in Beregher Forest, in 1231, where the Golden Bull
was signed and sealed with all solemnity in the city of Gran.

Andrew married for a third time in his old age, Beatrice, daughter of the
Marquis d'Este, and died in 1234. During his reign the court was first held
at a fixed place of residence; it was not only composed of prelates and
magnates, but was frequented by learned men, educated at the schools of Paris
and Bologna, as well as within the kingdom. The cities acquired importance
about this period, and the condition of the serfs underwent some amelioration.

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