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Bela IV of Hungary

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Bela IV of Hungary

Béla IV
King of Hungary and Croatia
Reign 21 September 1235 – 3 May 1270
Coronation 14 October 1235 in Székesfehérvár
Predecessor Andrew II
Successor Stephen V
Spouse Maria Laskarina
Kinga of Poland
Margaret of Hungary
Catherine of Hungary
Anna of Hungary
Jolenta of Poland
Elizabeth of Hungary
Constance of Hungary
Stephen V of Hungary
Saint Margaret of Hungary
Dynasty Árpád dynasty
Father Andrew II of Hungary
Mother Gertrude of Merania
Born 29 November 1206
Died 3 May 1270 (1270-05-04) (aged 63)
Burial Székesfehérvár

Béla IV (/ˈbɛlə/; 1206–1270) was King of Hungary[1] (1235–70) and of Croatia (1235–70), duke of Styria (1254–58). He was one of the most famous kings of Hungary, he distinguished himself through his policy of strengthening of the royal power following the example of his grandfather Béla III, and by the rebuilding Hungary after the catastrophe of the Mongolian invasion in 1241. For this reason he is called by the Hungarians as "the second founder of our country".

Early life

Béla was the eldest son of King Andrew II of Hungary and his first wife, Gertrude of Merania. Upon Pope Innocent III's request, the ecclesiastic and temporal dignitaries of the Kingdom of Hungary took an oath before his birth that they would accept him as his father's successor.

The infant Béla was probably present when a group of conspirators murdered his mother on 28 September 1213. Following the murder, his father ordered only the execution of the conspirators' leader and forgave the other members of the group, which resulted in Béla's emerging antipathy against his father. Later in his life, when intending to take revenge on them, he was held back for a time only by the pleading of his sister, the famous St. Elizabeth of Hungary.

In the beginning of 1214, Béla was engaged to a daughter of Tsar Boril of Bulgaria. Shortly afterwards, he was crowned junior king. When his father left for a Crusade in August 1217, his maternal uncle, Berthold of Merania, at that time the Archbishop of Kalocsa, took Béla to the fortress of Steyr in Styria and he returned to Hungary one year later, following his father's return from the Holy Land.

Rex iunior

In 1220, Béla married Maria Laskarina, a daughter of the Emperor Theodore I Laskaris of Nicaea and his father entrusted him with the government of Slavonia. However, King Andrew II, who had arranged Béla's marriage during his return from the Crusade, persuaded Béla to separate from his wife in 1222. Pope Honorius III, however, denied to declare their marriage null and void; therefore Béla took back his wife and escaped to Austria fearing his father's anger. Finally, King Andrew II made an agreement with his son with the mediation of the Pope and Béla took over again the government of Slavonia, Dalmatia and Croatia.

As governor, Béla began, with the authorization of the Pope, to take back the royal domains that King Andrew II had granted to his partisans during the first half of his reign. He laid siege to Klis, the fortress of a turbulent Croatian baron who had to surrender.

In 1226, his father entrusted him with the government of Transylvania with the title of duke. Here Béla assisted the missionary work of the Blackfriars among the Cuman tribes who settled down in the territories west of the Dniester River. As a result of their missionary work, two chieftains of the Cumans, Bartz and Membrok were baptized and they acknowledged Béla's overlordship around 1228. In the meantime, Béla began to organise the Banat of Szörény, a march of the kingdom.

In 1228, he began to revise his father's "needless and fruitless" donations in the whole territory of the kingdom with the authorisation of his father. However, his military failure in Halych, when assisting his younger brother, Andrew, weakened his influence and King Andrew II put an end to the revision of his former donations. During the early 1230s, Béla took part in the military expeditions of his father against Halych and Austria.

His relation with his father became even worse when King Andrew II married, on 14 May 1234, Beatrice D'Este, who was thirty years his junior.

The first years of his reign

When his father died on 21 September 1235, Béla ascended the throne without any opposition and Archbishop Robert of Esztergom crowned him on 14 October in Székesfehérvár. Shortly afterwards, he accused his young stepmother and his father's main advisor, Denis, Apud's son of adultery and ordered their arrest.

Béla's main purpose was to restore the royal power that had weakened during his father's rule; e.g., he ordered the burning of his advisors' seats, because he wanted to force them to stand in the presence of the king. As he also wanted to strengthen the position of the towns, he confirmed the charter of Székesfehérvár and granted new privileges to several key towns in the kingdom (Pest, Nagyszombat (Trnava), Selmecbánya (Banská Štiavnica), Korpona (Krupina), Zólyom (Zvolen), Bars (Starý Tekov), and Esztergom).[2]

He sent Friar Julian to find the Magyar tribes who had remained in their eastern homeland. Friar Julian, after meeting with the eastern Magyars returned to Hungary in 1239 and informed Béla of the planned Mongol invasion of Europe. Béla wanted to take precautions against the Mongols; therefore he granted asylum, in Hungary, to the Cumans, some 40,000 who had fled from the Kipchak defeat in Russia,[3] in return for their military service.[4] However, the nomadic culture of the Cumans caused tensions between them and the Hungarians which became more and more acute.

Béla tried to reinforce the eastern borders of his kingdom, but the Mongol troops, led by Batu Khan, managed to break through the frontier defenses on 12 March 1241. Bela did not have good relations with his barons, who continued to refuse to mobilize without being granted more independent concessions. They demanded the expulsion of the Cumans, which Bela refused. On 14 March 1241 some of the barons broke into the house where Köten, the Khagan of the Cumans and other Cuman princes were being held as a concession to the barons by Bela of their good behaviour. Köten killed his wives and himself, while the rest of the princes were murdered. This infuriated the Cumans in their camp, who destroyed the forces of the Bishop of Czanad (which were marching to the assistance of Hungary), ravaged the countryside including sacking Szombateley, then retired to Bulgaria.[5]

The Mongol invasion of Hungary

After the Cumans' departure, Béla lost his most valuable allies, but led an army of 100,000 against the Mongols. The Hungarian army was virtually annihilated at the Battle of Mohi on 11 April 1241.[6] After his disastrous defeat, Béla fled to Pressburg (Bratislava) and then to Hainburg where Duke Frederick II of Austria seized his treasury and forced him to cede three western counties of his kingdom to Austria.

Béla fled from Hainburg to Zagreb and he sent his envoys to the Emperor Frederick II and Pope Gregory IX to seek their assistance against the Mongols. He even offered to accept the overlordship of the Holy Roman Emperor in case he sent troops to Hungary, but none of the Western powers provided him any assistance.

In the meantime, the Mongols were plundering the territories of the kingdom west of the Danube River – Pest was burned, Gran was taken with terrible atrocities, Buda was sacked.[7] Moreover, in January, they could cross the frozen Danube and Béla had to flee from the Mongol troops, the khan sent to capture him into Croatia. Tatars under the leadership of Kadan believed that the king was hiding in the Klis Fortress. This force sacked Zagreb, then marched down the Dalmatian coast; Bela was hiding on the island of Rab. This he abandoned by ship and travelled to Spolato – Split. Although heavily fortified, Bela was too terrified to remain there, and moved to the island of Trogir, from which he could flee to Italy by ship if needed. This proved unnecessary as Kadan only had been given one tumen (10,000 men nominal strength), and was too depleted and exhausted after a repulse by the Croatians at Rijeka to continue the chase. Kadan's army road past Spolato and continued down the coast before retiring to Mongol-held territory.[8]

The Mongols attacked the Dalmatian cities without major success, as the mountainous terrain and distance were not suitable for Mongol warfare. As the Mongols were invading Austria on the outskirts of Vienna, news arrived that the Grand Khan had died in Mongolia, and Batu Khan ceased operations to return to participate in the election of a new Grand Khan – central Europe was saved.[9]

The "Second Founder of our Country"

Following the Mongol invasion of Hungary, Béla broke with his former internal policy. Based on the experiences of the occupation, he began to grant estates to his partisans, but simultaneously he also obliged them to build up fortresses there, because only fortresses could resist the conquerors. He also encouraged the towns to protect themselves by erecting walls. He called back the Cumans to Hungary and granted them the deserted territories between the Rivers Danube and Tisza.

Because of his successful internal policy, he is greatly respected in Hungary and commonly known as "the second founder" of the kingdom.

External expansions

Already in 1242, he could lead his troops against Duke Frederick II of Austria. During his campaign, he managed to reoccupy Sopron and Kőszeg and he compelled the duke to renounce the three counties he had occupied during the Mongol invasion.

On 30 June 1244, Béla made a peace with the Republic of Venice and he surrendered his supremacy over Zadar (then called Zara) but he retained the 1/3 of the Dalmatian city's revenues of customs. In 1245, Béla provided military assistance to his son-in-law, Prince Rostislav against Prince Danylo of Halych, but the latter forced back the pretender's attacks.

Upon his request, Pope Gregory IX absolved Béla of his oath he had taken to the Holy Roman Emperor during the Mongol invasion on 21 August 1245. Shortly afterwards, Duke Frederick II of Austria, who did not give up his claims to the western counties of the Kingdom of Hungary, launched an attack against Hungary. Although, he could defeat the Hungarian troops in a battle by the Leitha River, but he died in the battle. With his death, the male line of the House of Babenberg became extinct, and a struggle commenced for the rule over Austria and Styria.

Béla granted the Banat of Szörény to the Knights Hospitaller in 1249, when a rumour was spreading that the Mongols were preparing a new campaign against Europe. In the same year, he assisted again his son-in-law against Halych, but Prince Danylo defeated his troops by the San River. Finally, Béla decided to make an agreement with the Prince of Halych and they had a meeting in Zólyom in 1250 where Béla promised that he would not assist his son-in-law against Prince Danylo.

Béla decided to intervene in the struggle for the inheritance of the House of Babenberg and arranged a marriage between Gertrude of Austria, the niece of the deceased Duke Frederick II of Austria, and Roman Danylovich, a son of Prince Danylo of Halych. In 1252, he led his armies against Austria and occupied the Vienna Basin. However, King Ottokar II of Bohemia, whose wife was Margaret, the sister of Duke Frederick II, also declared his claim to the two duchies. Béla made a campaign against Moravia but he could not occupy Olomouc; therefore he started negotiating with the King of Bohemia with the mediation of the Papal legates. Finally, Béla had a meeting with King Ottokar II in Pressburg and they concluded a peace. Based on the provision of the peace Wiener Neustadt and the Duchy of Styria came under Béla's rule.

Struggles with his son

Béla had had his eldest son, Stephen crowned junior king already in 1246, but he did not want to share the royal power with his son. However, Stephen recruited an army against his father and persuaded Béla to cede him the government of Transylvania in 1258.

In the same year, the Styrians, who would have preferred the rule of the King of Bohemia, rose against Béla's reign, but his troops suppressed their rebellion. After his victory, Béla appointed his son to Duke of Styria. Nevertheless, the Styrians rebelled against the rule of the King of Hungary again with the support of King Ottokar II. Béla and his son commenced a military campaign against King Ottokar II's lands, but their troops were defeated on 12 July 1260 in the Battle of Kressenbrunn. Following the battle, Béla renounced his claim to the Duchy of Styria on behalf of the King of Bohemia in the Peace of Pressburg.

Shortly after the peace, Stephen took over again the government of Transylvania. Béla and his son jointly led their armies against Bulgaria in 1261. Nevertheless, Béla favoured his younger son, Duke Béla and his daughter, Anna, the mother-in-law of the King of Bohemia; therefore his relationship with his elder son was getting tense. The two kings (father and son) began to harass the other's partisans, and their clash seemed inevitable. Finally, the Archbishops Philip of Esztergom and Smaragd of Kalocsa commenced to mediate between them and the two kings signed an agreement in the summer of 1262 in Pozsony. Based on the agreement, Stephen V took over the government of the parts of the Kingdom East of the Danube.

However, their reconciliation was only temporary, because their partisans were continuously inciting them against each other. In 1264, the junior king attached his mother's and sister's estates in his domains. Béla sent troops against his son, whose wife and son were soon captured, while Stephen had to retreat to the Castle of Feketehalom (Codlea). However, the young king managed to repel the siege of his father's troops and to commence a counter-attack. Stephen V won a strategic victory over Béla's troops in the Battle of Isaszeg in March 1265 and in the subsequent peace Béla was obliged to cede the government of the Eastern parts of his kingdom again to his son. On 23 March 1266, they confirmed personally the peace in the Convent of the Blessed Virgin on the Nyulak szigete ('Rabbits' Island').

In 1267, the "prelates and nobles" of the Kingdom of Hungary held a joint assembly in Esztergom, and their decisions were confirmed by both Béla and his son.

His last years

Béla lost his favourite son in the summer of 1269. Afterwards, his favourite daughter, Anna exercised more and more influence over him. In his last will, Béla entrusted his daughter and his followers to her son-in-law, King Otakar II of Bohemia, because he did not trust his son.

Marriage and children

1218: Maria Laskarina, a daughter of the Emperor Theodore I Lascaris of Nicaea and Anna Angelina, their children included:

  1. Saint Kunigunda (5 March 1224 – 24 July 1292), wife of Prince Bolesław V the Chaste of Poland
  2. Margaret (before †1242)
  3. Catherine (before †1242)
  4. Anna of Hungary, Baness of Slavonia, (1226/1227 – after 3 July 1271), wife of Prince Rostislav of Macsó
  5. Elisabeth of Hungary (d.1271), (1236 – 24 October 1271), wife of Henry XIII, Duke of Bavaria
  6. Konstantia of Hungary (c. 1236 – c. 1284), wife of King Lev I of Galicia
  7. Jolenta of Poland, (1235 – 16/17 June after 1303), wife of Bolesław the Pious Duke of Greater Poland
  8. King Stephen V of Hungary, (before 18 October 1239 – 6 August 1272)
  9. Saint Margaret of Hungary, (27 January 1242 – 18 January 1271)
  10. Duke Béla of Slavonia (c. 1245 – 1269)


His legacy

Because of the more and more chaotic internal situation after his death many thought him as the last ruler who brought peace to the realm. The epigram on his tomb refers this idea:

                               Aspice rem caram:
                               tres cingunt Virginis aram:
                               Rex, Dux, Regina,
                               quibus adsint Gaudia Trina
                               Dum licuit, tua dum viguit
                               rex Bela, potestas,
                               Fraus latuit, pax firma fuit,
                               regnavit honestas.


King of Hungary, Dalmatia, Slavonia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Cumania, Galicia and Lodomeria, Duke of Styria (1254–1258)




  • Kristó, Gyula – Makk, Ferenc: Az Árpád-ház uralkodói (IPC Könyvek, 1996)
  • Korai Magyar Történeti Lexikon (9–14. század), főszerkesztő: Kristó, Gyula, szerkesztők: Engel, Pál és Makk, Ferenc (Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, 1994)
  • Magyarország Történeti Kronológiája I. – A kezdetektől 1526-ig, főszerkesztő: Benda, Kálmán (Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, 1981)
  • Parsons, John Carmi. Medieval Queenship, 1997
Béla IV of Hungary
House of Árpád
Born: 29 November 1206 Died: 3 May 1270
Regnal titles
New creation Duke of Transylvania
1st creation

Title next held by
Preceded by
Andrew II
King of Hungary
Succeeded by
Stephen V
Preceded by
Andrew II
King of Croatia
Succeeded by
Stephen V
Preceded by
Duke of Styria
Succeeded by
Stephen I
Titles in pretence
Preceded by
Andrew II
King of Serbia
Succeeded by
Stephen V
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