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This article is about the János Szapolyai. For his son, see John Zápolya II.
János Szapolyai
King of Hungary
Reign 1526 – 1540
Coronation 11 November 1526
Predecessor Louis II
Successor Ferdinand I
John II Sigismund Zápolya
Voivode of Transylvania
Reign 1511 – 1526
Successor Stephen Báthory
Spouse Isabella Jagiellon
Issue
John II Sigismund Zápolya
Father Stephen Szapolyai
Mother Hedwig of Cieszyn
Born 1487. 2 February
Szepesváralja, Kingdom of Hungary (present-day Spišské Podhradie, Slovakia)
Died 1540. 22 July
Szászsebes, Transylvania (present-day Sebeş, Romania)
János Szapolyai royal coat of arms.

János Szapolyai or János Zápolya (Croatian: Ivan Zapolja; Slovak: Ján Zápoľský) (2 February 1487 – 22 July 1540) was King of Hungary from 1526 to 1540. His rule was disputed by Archduke Ferdinand I, who also claimed the title King of Hungary between 1526 and 1540.[1] He was the voivode of Transylvania before his coronation.

Biography

He was born at Szepes Castle. Szapolyai used the turbulent times of his era to enrich himself and secured a power base in Transylvania, later he was tasked with defeating the peasant rebellion of 1514 led by György Dózsa which he did showing extreme cruelty. On 29 August 1526, the army of Sultan Suleiman of the Ottoman Empire inflicted a decisive defeat on the Hungarian forces at Mohács. Szapolyai was en route to the battlefield with his sizable army but did not participate in the battle for unknown reasons. The youthful King Louis II of Hungary and Bohemia fell in battle, as did many of his soldiers. The Ottomans proceeded to invest and ransack the royal capital of Buda and occupied Syrmia, then withdrew from Hungary. The last three months of the year were marked by a vacuum of power; political authority was in a state of collapse, yet the victors chose not to impose their rule.

Two candidates stepped into the breach. One was Szapolyai, Transylvania's voivode and Hungary's most prominent aristocrat also commander of an intact army; the other, Archduke Ferdinand of Austria, who was the late king's brother-in-law and the brother of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. Their contest for power would determine the course of Hungary's history, and that of Transylvania as well.

The majority of Hungary's ruling elite backed Szapolyai, who for fifteen years had been playing a leading role in Hungarian political life. Part of the aristocracy acknowledged his leadership, and he enjoyed the enthusiastic support — not always reciprocated — of the lesser nobility. Most of his opponents succumbed at Mohács: the Hungarian branch of the Jagiellon dynasty became defunct, and its pro-Habsburg following was decimated.

János Szapolyai 18th century depiction

A small minority of aristocrats sided with Ferdinand. The German dynasty's main argument — one that many historians would judge to be decisive — was that it could assist Hungary against the Ottoman Turks, although, in 1526, the promise rang empty. Hungary had been fighting the Ottomans for over a century, during which time the Holy Roman Empire and the House of Habsburg had offered much encouragement but no tangible help. The likelihood of assistance was further reduced by the conflict of Ferdinand's older brother, Emperor Charles V, and King Francis I of France that once again flared into open war in the summer of 1526. This circumstance led the voivode to discount the threat lurking behind the Habsburgs' candidacy: that Hungary would have to contend not only with the Ottomans, but also with an attack from the west.

Thus Szapolyai took no notice of his rival's protests, nor of those voiced by the few Hungarians who rallied to Ferdinand. On 10 November 1526, Szapolyai had himself proclaimed king by the diet at Székesfehérvár, and he was duly crowned the next day under the name King John I of Hungary.

Profiting from nine months of relative calm, King John I strove to restore state authority. He drew on his vast private wealth, the unconditional support of the lesser nobility, and the assistance of some aristocrats to impose his policies in domestic affairs. However, in the crucial sphere of foreign relations, success eluded him. He sought an entente with the Habsburgs, proposing to form an alliance against the Ottomans, but Archduke Ferdinand, who had himself elected king by a rump diet in Pozsony in December 1526, rejected all attempts at reconciliation. Hungary's envoys fanned out across Europe in quest of support. Only in France did they find a positive response, but even that was ineffective since Francis I was intent not on reconciling Hungary and the Habsburgs, but on drawing Hungary into a war against Charles V and his family.

Europe's political balance underwent a major shift in the summer of 1527, when, in a somewhat unplanned operation, mercenary forces of the emperor occupied Rome and drove Pope Clement VII, one of France's principal allies, to capitulate. This development freed Ferdinand — who also acquired the Bohemian throne in late 1526 — from the burden of assisting his brother. By then, Ferdinand had developed a Hungarian policy that was fully in keeping with the interests of his realms. He judged that if Hungary, unable to resist the Ottomans, took action independently of Austria and Bohemia, it might well enter into an alliance with the preponderant Ottoman Empire against its western neighbours. It was therefore in the interest of the Austrian hereditary provinces and of the Bohemian crown lands that the Habsburgs gain control of Hungary, by force if necessary.

Map of the 1514 campaign of Szapolyai against the peasant uprising.

In July 1527, an army of German mercenaries invaded Hungary. The moment was well chosen, for the forces of Szapolyai were tied up in the southern counties, where Slavonic peasants, incited by Ferdinand, had rebelled; the revolt was led by the 'Black Man', Jovan Nenad. In one sweep, the invaders captured Buda. Szapolyai hurriedly redeployed his army, but on 27 September, near Tokaj, at the Battle of Tarcal, it suffered a bloody defeat.

In 1528 he escaped Hungary and dwelled in castle in Tarnów in Poland, hosted by Jan Amor Tarnowski.[2] Szapolyai managed to get a sizable following as King of Hungary, despite the association with the Ottomans which tainted him at the time. In 1538, by the Treaty of Varad, Ferdinand was designated as Szapolyai's successor, after his death. After Szapolyai's death in Szászsebes (Sebeş), his son John II Sigismund Szapolyai succeeded him as King of Hungary and an Ottoman vassal. He is also well-known among the Turks, who considered him a loyal friend of Suleiman the Magnificent.

Suleiman receiving Isabella and her infant son Sigismund, circa 1540. Suleymanname, circa 1558.

Married to the Polish Princess Isabella Jagiełło he had a son John II Sigismund Szapolyai of Hungary. As Queen Consort she claimed the throne as electus rex after John's death, to keep it for their son. She kept fighting until she died in 1559. Their son John II counts as the king from his fathers death in 1540 and kept the crown till 1571.

  1. ^ Britannica
  2. ^ Zdzisław Spieralski, Jan Tarnowski 1488-1561, Warszawa 1977, p. 124-125.
János I Szapolyai
Born: 1487 2 February Died: 1540 22 July
Regnal titles
Preceded by
unknown
Voivode of Transylvania
1511–1526
Succeeded by
Stephen Báthory
Preceded by
Louis II
King of Hungary
contested by Ferdinand I

1526–1540
Succeeded by
John II Sigismund
contested by Ferdinand I
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