Ottoman Rule in Hungary

The victory of the Ottoman troops of Suleiman I (1520–66) over the army of Louis II (1516–26) in the Battle of Mohács on August 29, 1526, was a decisive turning point in the history of the medieval Hungarian state, but also in the history of Central Europe. The territory of the former Hungarian middle power was soon divided into three parts (the Habsburg-ruled Kingdom of Hungary, Ottoman Hungary, and the new Principality of Transylvania), and its capital (Buda) came under Ottoman occupation in 1541, which lasted almost a century and a half. Meanwhile, its territory became the battlefield of the Ottoman Empire and the Habsburg Monarchy for two centuries. The constant warfare caused immeasurable damage to its settlement network and cultural values, fundamentally redrawing the ethnic map of the Carpathian Basin. As a result, Hungarians became a minority, decisively influencing the development of their economy and society. The depleted kingdom became part of the Habsburg Monarchy with limited sovereignty, a situation that lasted until 1918.

Although the 16th and 17th century were one of the most difficult periods in Hungarian history, besides the negative changes, there were several positive phenomena, too. This holds true for politics, economy, religion, linguistics, as well as culture. Through humanism, the Renaissance, and the Reformation, both Hungary and Transylvania played a key role in the intellectual history of the “old continent.” In fact, the late 16th century became one of the golden ages of Hungarian culture. This was the first flourishing of the Hungarian language and the birth of the first gems of Hungarian prose literature and poetry.

Battle of Buda (1686). Painting by Frans Geffels. Photo: Hungarian National Museum
Battle of Buda (1686). Painting by Frans Geffels. Photo: Hungarian National Museum

However, this situation was changed first by the Long Turkish War (1591–1606) at the end of the century, and then by the civil and religious wars so common from the first third of the 17th century, all of which were accompanied by a severe deterioration of society, economy, and culture. These were finally concluded by the liberation of Hungary (1683–99) through European diplomatic, military, and financial cooperation, and then by the first independence movement in Hungarian history, Rákóczi’s War of Independence (1703–1711). After two centuries of warfare, the birth of modern Hungary could then commence.

Habsburg Rule in Hungary in the Eighteenth Century

As a result of the 1699 Treaty of Karlowitz, the territories of the former Kingdom of Hungary and Croatia, with the exception of the Timisoara region, were liberated from Turkish occupation. In the first decade of the 18th century, Rákóczi’s War of Independence ran concurrently with the War of the Spanish Succession and the Great Northern War, which, in addition to the fight of the estates opposed to the Habsburg dynasty, became an important secondary scene in the rivalry between the European powers. Thanks to the 1711 Treaty of Szatmár, the dualistic government (common court and estates) established in Hungary was able to survive in the 18th century, and the unity of the social system of estates was restored.

Portrait of Prince Ferenc Rákóczi II by Ádám Mányoki Photo: Hungarian National Museum
Portrait of Prince Ferenc Rákóczi II by Ádám Mányoki Photo: Hungarian National Museum

During the Ottoman-Habsburg War of 1716-18, the imperial armies, led by Prince Eugene of Savoy, not only recaptured the entire territory of the Kingdom of Hungary, but the imperials also penetrated deep into the territory of Serbia and Montenegro. Subsequently, the country’s reconstruction could begin in Hungary, within the framework of the Central European Habsburg Monarchy, but as its most independent and one of its strongest members, followed by decades of peaceful development.

During the reign of Charles VI and Maria Theresa, as a result of centrally managed colonization and developments, the population and economic strength of the country began to develop significantly. As a result of the enlightened reforms, the modernization of the country continued, as indicated by the introduction of important administrative, ecclesiastical, military, and cultural reforms.

The end of consensus politics with the Hungarian estates came with the reign of Joseph II, who tried to pursue his policies of enlightened absolutism by far more radical means, which met with strong opposition from the estates. As a result of the unsuccessful Austro-Turkish War (1787-91) and the French Revolution, the ruler withdrew almost all of his reforms before his death.

During the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1792-1815), the Hungarian estates, with a few exceptions, continued to support the Habsburg dynasty, but modern ideas also reinforced Hungarian national ambitions. The failure of the last noble uprising in 1809 highlighted the lack of modernization and social reforms that became the most pressing domestic policy issues of the following decades.

The Age of National Awakening and the Austro-Hungarian Compromise

The goals of the reform era that started in 1825 laid the foundations for a bourgeois Hungary. The political effort to create a modern state based on equality of rights was represented by a generation of politicians such as Lajos Batthyány, Lajos Kossuth, István Széchenyi, Ferenc Deák, and József Eötvös.

In the age of national awakening, national assemblies have been slowly undermining the framework of feudal estates, but the process accelerated in 1848. The wave of European revolutions also affected Hungary; the revolution in Pest on March 15 was victorious, and the first Hungarian government with Lajos Batthyány at its helm was formed. However, the country was forced to defend the rights it won by arms, and the revolution turned into a war of independence. This was suppressed by military force, followed by bloody retaliation.

Nonetheless, the measures the victorious Austria took between 1850 and 1867 were by no means reactionary. The customs union agreement, the liberation of serfs, the abolition of the nobility, the modernization of schooling, and the introduction of the Civil Code were all positive developments. But public tensions continued unabated. The new ruler, Franz Joseph, wanted to meld the country into his Empire based on the rights forfeiture theory. As part of this, it was carved up into five military districts, local governments were dissolved, Croatia and Transylvania became crownlands in their own right, and the parliament no longer assembled.

Members of the Batthyány government,” the first Hungarian responsible government”
Members of the Batthyány government,” the first Hungarian responsible government”

Following the work of the opposition led by Ferenc Deák and the Viennese politicians supporting the compromise, the Diet of Hungary met again in 1861 and then in 1865, and the 1867 compromise established a modern Hungary within the framework of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. It was led by the government of Gyula Andrássy, which was responsible to the Hungarian Diet. The Monarchy was an ambitious modernization attempt, unfolding within the imperial framework, at a capitalist, civil, liberal state based on equality of rights, which abolished the privileges of the estates and elevated the role of government above all others.

Hungary’s feudal era came to an end, concluding a process – marred by tensions but tending in one direction – that began during the Reformation, seemed to culminate in 1848–49, then diminished after the failure of the war of independence, yet continued within the framework of the absolutist system, and was ultimately completed in 1867. The longest constitutional political system in Hungary was thus established. The civic developments, economic successes, and achievements of the “happy peacetimes” cannot be called into question.


  • Ottoman Rule in Hungary
    Géza Pálffy
  • Habsburg Rule in Hungary in the Eighteenth Century
    Ferenc Tóth
  • The Age of National Awakening and the Austro-Hungarian Compromise
    Csaba Katona

Other Resources

Hungarian American Coalition
Bethlen Gábor Alap