The relationship between Hungary and the Empire had soured over the last years of the long reign of King (Saint) Stephen (997-1038) of Hungary. Claims for the duchy of Bavaria and a harsh policy towards Venice increased tensions. Under pressure of emperor Konrad II (1024-1039) the Venetian Doge Otto Orseolo had to flee to his brother-in-law, the king of Hungary.
In 1028 Bavarian incursions escalated into all-out war that the Hungarians did quite well at. Fighting was suspended after a peace agreement in 1031. Things calmed down after the death of Saint Stephen’s son Imre (Emmerich).
Saint Stephen was unwilling to name his closest relative Vazul as his heir due to the latter’s pagan leanings. The unexpected result was that he named his nephew, Peter Orseolo, the son of the Doge of Venice as his successor. Vazul was understandably unhappy. According to legend he was silenced by having molten lead pored into his ears – a sort of discount version of the execution of Crassus (or Viserys Targaryan).
Peter resented the Salian family including the new emperor Henry III (1039-1056) since they had driven his father into exile. As soon as Peter had taken over, he seized any opportunity to attack the empire. At the same time he tried to consolidate his power at home which got him deposed. Peter fled …amazingly…to the imperial court of Henry III.
Peter’s successor was another nephew of Stephen, Samuel Aba. Samuel Aba who had no particular beef with the empire was trying to agree some sort of lasting peace. However, negotiations failed, probably because Henry III insisted on full submission to his suzerainty and return of the lands Hungary had seized in 1031.
War was now inevitable. Samuel Aba attacked Bavaria and Austria in 1042. The army sent against Austria was destroyed by Margrave Adalbert whilst the army sent against Bavaria caused much damage. It took Henry until the autumn to raise troops and push the Hungarians back. Henry, or more likely his Margrave Adalbert sacked Bratislava, then a Hungarian fortress and took most of what is now Slovakia.
The two sides agreed a peace treaty in 1043 whereby Samuel Aba returned the lands seized in 1031.
But by 1044 the king of Hungary was back at it. Henry III mustered a comparatively small army and invaded. Samuel Aba whose army was much larger let Henry progress fairly deep into Hungarian territory, presumably hoping to cut Henry off from supplies and capture the king himself.
However, Henry mounted a surprise attack by his armoured riders having shipped his army across the river Raab. The large Hungarian army turned to flight or surrendered right there and then. King Peter was reinstated as king and Samuel Aba was captured and killed shortly afterwards.
With this battle of Ménfő Henry III had achieved a clean sweep of the eastern frontier. The rulers of Poland, Bohemia and Hungary are now all vassals of the empire. This completes his father’s policy that started with breaking the empire of Bolelsav the Brave.
Savour the moment, because only 2 years later king Peter is deposed again and presumably killed. His successor, Andrew, a son of Vazul who had been so cruelly killed by the saintly King Stephen will take over.
He and his successors will no longer make the mistake of letting an imperial army loose inside their kingdom. Despite all their internal squabbles the Hungarians will strengthen and man their border defences making all subsequent attempts to invade futile.
The story continues next Thursday with Episode 27 of the History of the Germans Podcast. I hope you are going to tune in, either on my website historyofthegermans.com or on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or any other provider of fine audio entertainment.