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György Rácz: The Congress of Visegrád



The scenic little town of Visegrád is located in the largest bend of the Danube River. The historical sources unanimously testify that here, in the autumn of 1335, the leaders of Central European kingdoms held an international conference, a so-called meeting of the kings, in order to resolve international disputes. The meeting was held in the court of Hungarian King Charles I of Anjou, the actual initiator of the meeting. The upper castle on the hilltop was built during the reign of King Béla IV to provide a line of defence in the event of a new invasion. The strategic significance of this location led to the extension of the upper castle with a massive keep by the Danube, as well as the construction of a fortified wall that connected the upper and lower castles, turning the hillside into a formidable system of fortification.
 
Interestingly enough, the Slavic origin of the name Visegrád (meaning "high castle") does not refer to what is now the upper castle but to an older one built on a hill farther north. What was once a Roman fort later became a count's (ispán's) castle, which the local Slavs called "high castle," a name retained by the Hungarians even after the building's dilapidation. Populated by German settlers, the village at the foot of the hill had rapidly become a town in the second half of the 13th century, shortly after Hungarian King Charles I of Anjou had relocated his seat from Temesvár to Visegrád in 1323 and defeated his oligarchic opposition. It was here that the central court and the administration were established. The harmony of landscape and architecture that evolved at the foot of the hill inspired Charles of Anjou to envision what would become one of Central Europe's most significant royal seats in the 14th century. The excavation of the buildings of the royal court destroyed under Turkish rule has been under way since 1934. Archaeologists have uncovered the foundations of the palace built by the Anjous, where an assassination attemt of Charles I took place in 1330. By 1335 the castle and the town were to be capable of accommodating Bohemian King John of Luxembourg, his son and heir Charles, Count of Moravia, Casimir III (the Great), Prince Rudolph of Saxony and Boleslaw III Duke of Silesia, representatives of the Order of Teutonic Knights and their entourage for over an entire month.
 
In order to understand the reasons that led to the royal meeting one needs to study the circumstances of the respective countries at the beginning of the 14th century. Although the spread of the black plague and other epidemics in this time period marked the closure of the Middle Ages in Western Europe, the culture of chivalry was at that time still in full force. The 14th century history of the three Central European kingdoms, Bohemia, Poland, and Hungary, features a time of progress and development reflected in similar ways in each country. At the beginning of the century all three neighbouring kingdoms had been experiencing frictions and social unrest. By the second half of the century the three leaders had managed to resolve their inner conflicts and build up strong countries. In Bohemia and Hungary the old dynasties had died out almost simultaneously at the beginning of the 1300s, while in Poland, Lokietek—who was one of the branches of the Piast dynasty—ascended to the throne. The demanding tasks that all three countries were about to face informed their relationship to one another. Wladislaw I Lokietek, Principal of Cracow (1306–1320), succeeded in unifying the fractured Polish territories and made himself king upon the approval of the Pope in 1320, thus re-making the Kingdom of Poland (ruled: 1320–1333). In Hungary, once the lineage of the Árpád dynasty ended in 1301, Charles of Anjou (1301–1342) came to the throne and, like Lokietek, commenced his reign with dedication and the gift of leadership. The Polish and the Hungarian rulers had been supporting each other in their battles against the oligarchs in their own territories, and this alliance would become a foundational pillar of Central European politics throughout the 14th century.
 
With the end of the Bohemian Premyslid dynasty in 1306, the adversary of the Anjous, John of Luxembourg (1310–1346), ascended to the throne of Bohemia, which brought stability in Bohemian-Hungarian relations as well. One indication of this is that Charles of Anjou, having suffered the untimely loss of his first two wives, married Beatrix of Luxembourg, sister of the Bohemian king, in 1317. The death of Beatrix in 1319, however, put an early end to this marriage. Because John did not have any more sisters, Charles resorted to asking his other neighbour, the Polish king, for a fiancée. His marriage to Elizabeth, daughter of the newly crowned Wladislaw I Lokietek, in 1320 forged a strong alliance between Hungary and Poland. At the same time, King John provided further support to Charles's campaign against Matthew Chak, his major adversary—a favour Charles did not let go unreturned. With the subsequent corruption of Hungarian-Austrian relations, the ties between the two kings strengthened, owing to the long-standing acrimony between the Luxembourgs and the Habsburgs.
 
Charles's good relations with both countries were eclipsed, however, by the animo­sity between the Bohemians and the Poles. One of the causes of this conflict lies in the Luxembourgs' claim to the Polish throne on the grounds of the same claim of the earlier Premyslid kings. According to the rules of contemporary international relations such a claim was legally justifiable and entailed the whole heritage of Wenceslaus III (1305–1306). The realization of this goal, however, was hindered by the unsuccessful campaign of the Bohemian king on the one hand, and the diplomatic policies of the Anjous, supportive of Lokietek, on the other. As a result, John of Luxembourg reduced his claim to Greater Poland and yielded Pomerania to the Teutonic Order. The Piasts had intended to lay claim to Silesia, a one-time Polish territory, but by the beginning of the 14th century the majority of the Silesian rulers were already under the over-lordship of the Luxembourgs.
 
After the death of Wladislaw I Lokietek in 1333 his son Casimir III ascended to the throne, which created a new dynamic in the relations of the three countries. Once in power, Casimir launched himself into the task of sorting out matters left to him by his father. Poland was not only burdened by the feud with the Luxembourgs but by territorial disputes with the Teutonic Order as well. With the new king on the Polish throne, John of Luxembourg also took an interest in ameliorating Bohemian-Polish relations, for he was in search of an ally against his long-time enemies, the Austrians and Holy Roman Emperor Ludwig of Bavaria, with whom he had disputes over the heritage of Henry, Duke of Carinthia. In 1334, to settle the dispute over Polish territories, the parties involved chose arbiters: the Polish king appointed Charles of Anjou, while the Teutonic Order appointed John of Luxembourg. This move served as a platform for the subsequent peace process. The Hungarian king—who, after the death of Lokietek, became ruler of the region—accepted the task with great zeal and mediated between the old Bohemian king and the young Polish ruler. Chief among his motives was his long-term goal to lay claim to the Polish throne for the Anjou dynasty. With Hungary as mediator, the conference at Visegrád thus marked the closure of a two-year process of diplomatic negotiations between Bohemia and Poland on the one hand, and Poland and the Teutonic Order on the other. The mechanism of diplomatic preparations seems to have been engineered in Visegrád, which meant the constant coming and going of envoys to maintain contact and secure the flow of information.
 
As a first step, Casimir signed a one-year ceasefire with Charles, Moravian Margrave and son of Bohemian King John at Sandomir, on May 28, 1335. In the treaty he included Hungarian King Charles along with two Polish dukes as bail to seal the peace treaty with their charters. Afterwards, on August 24, John's and Casimir's envoys met in the territory of the Hungarian kingdom, in the town of Trenčín (Slovakia). Casimir authorized his envoys to follow the advice of the representatives of the Hungarian king throughout the peace process. The envoys also had the right to take financial responsibility on behalf of the king at up to 30,000 silver Marks. The Polish politicians were well aware that reimbursement of the financially unstable Bohemian king would be the key to the solution. After all, with the exception of the financial aspect, the points of the peace treaty, which constituted the Bohemian king's claims on the Kingdom of Poland, had already been clarified. Consequently, King John, along with his son, waived his rights concerning Poland, while the Polish king gave up the feudal tenures of Bohemian-governed Silesia and Masovia (Plock). The agreement was documented in a charter issued by the representatives of Casimir and sealed by their own seals upon the promissory note that the Polish king would confirm it as well. With that, the Bohemian delegation went to the Hungarian royal court in Visegrád, where the Bohemian-Hungarian agreement was soon signed. The copy, dated September 3, issued and sealed by the Hungarian king, has survived in the royal Czech archives. (3 September 1335 charter in this book.)
 
Now the time was ripe for the commencement of the negotiations between the arbiters and for the meeting of the three kings. At the beginning of November 1335, the 47-year-old Hungarian King Charles of Anjou I invited and hosted his brother-in-law and ally, the 25-year-old Polish King Casimir III, the 39 year-old Bohemian King John of Luxembourg, along with his 19-year-old son Charles, Margrave of Moravia (later to be Emperor Charles IV), and the many Polish, Silesian and German principals as part of their delegations, as well as the rep­­resentatives of the Teutonic Order, for over three to four weeks. Contemporary chroniclers soon realized the significance of this event and reported on it in several documents in all the countries involved. These documents typically highlight one aspect of the event while leaving others in the background. Charles of Luxembourg, Margrave of Moravia and later to be Emperor, offers an account of the congress in his autobiographies, which constitutes a contemporary report on the event, given that he attended it in person. No wonder he does not go into detail about the formalities of hospitality, nor does he give insight into the dynamics of the talks; it comes rather as a surprise that he emphasizes the Bohemian-Polish-Hungarian alliance only, without discussing the arbitration process. In his work he mentions that his father was already in Visegrád when he arrived; he then goes on to explicate the above-mentioned familiar relationships among the rulers, and finally describes the roots of the Bohemian-Polish dispute. Luckily, the 15th century Polish chronicler Jan Dlugosz highlights this other aspect of the congress in his account: the actual reason why the kings gathered together in Visegrád was to settle the dispute over those Polish territories seized by the Teutonic Knights. Not only did Dlugosz capture the essence of the event, he also provided the text of the charter for peace as well.
 
The text of a 14th century chronicle has survived in the work of the 15th century Hungarian chronicler János Thuróczy, which gives a presumably contemporary account of the formal details of the meeting of 1335. Unlike Dlugosz's account, this document focuses primarily on formalities, but such a description is just as valuable for us as political data. Let it be quoted here word for word: "In the year of our Lord 1335, around the festivities of Saint Martin, Bohemian King John, his son Charles, and the king of the Poles came to the castle of Visegrád, to the court of King Charles, to seal their alliance with a peace treaty for all time. And so it happened. Out of the generosity of the Hungarian king 2,500 loaves of bread were provided for the lunch of the Bohemian king, as well as a good share of the royal meals, all in abundance, while the horses' day share of fodder was 25 ›mérő‹. For the lunch of the Polish king 1,500 loaves of bread and other foods, as well as 180 barrels of wine were provided. The king of Hungary presented the Bohemian king with various sorts of jewellery: 50 silver jars, two quivers, two belts, a magnificent chess board, two invaluable saddles, a knife with a belt that are worth 200 silver Marks and an elaborate pearl-oyster. Because the king of Poland was to pay homage to the king of Bohemia, and because Charles, King of Hungary, made the sister of the Polish king his wife, Charles, King of Hungary, gave him 500 Marks of the finest gold so as to save him from paying taxes to the Bohemian king. It has also been resolved that in the event of an enemy attack on any one of these countries, the others will help the one in trouble. And this has been sealed by an oath among one another."
 
The official documents released in Visegrád in the autumn of 1335 do little to nuance the descriptions of the chroniclers. Although the chronicles do have a kernel of truth, the event that they describe often took place in a different place, at a different time, in a different manner. In the above example the chronicler falsely asserts that Poland, as a feudal subject, had paying commitments to Bohemia and that Charles offered the required amount to "ransom" his brother-in-law. On the basis of the documents pertinent to the conference per se it is possible to draw a more realistic picture. We have seen that at the meeting in Trenčín the "ransom" to be paid to the Bohemian king had not yet been specified. At the Visegrád meeting in November, however, Casimir, experiencing financial difficulties at the time, had no choice but to haggle over the amount to be paid. He finally agreed to pay 20,000 threescore Prague groschen (20,000 Bohemian silver Marks) to the Bohemian king in exchange for the latter renouncing his title of Polish king (22 November 1335 charter in this book). King John, in turn, issued a charter of abdication deposited with the Hungarian king. Should Casimir fail to produce the amount missing, the Hungarian king had the choice of giving the deposited charter back to the king of Bohemia or supplying the missing 6,000 Marks himself. As 6,000 silver Marks make 500 golden Marks, the above-quoted chronicle pertains to this aspect of the event; thus the chronicler mistakenly identifies the Hungarian king's collateral statement with the payment itself. As for the quantity of the meals and drinks, I tend to give credit to the chronicler; however, it would be interesting to trace whether the presents mentioned in the document occur in Czech sources later on.
 
The actual celebration of the treaty of alliance took place on November 19, name-day of Elizabeth Piast, wife of the host king. Many charters were dated that day, as was the Bohemian-Polish peace treaty (19 November 1335 charter in this book), one of the most important documents of the meeting. Another charter of the same date provided for the security of the road leading from Poland to Wroclaw and the demolition of the castle of Boleslauitz (Bolesławiec). Yet another was a marriage contract among the allied dynasties (a usual protocol on such occasions) aimed at protecting the newly forged Bohemian-Polish alliance. Due to the lack of younger sisters to marry, Casimir offered his baby daughter Elizabeth to the 6-year-old grandson of the Bohemian king, the only child of Henry, Duke of Bavaria and Duchess Margaret of Luxembourg (John's daughter). Due to the untimely death of the boy in 1340 the marriage was not realized.
 
The signing of the peace treaty took place on the same day as the verbal declaration of the arbitration. A thorough study of the historical sources demonstrates that this was the underlying reason for the meeting of the kings. The adversaries had been conscientiously preparing for the decisive event of the arbitration proceedings. On September 21, 1335, the Teutonic Order had the charters that vindicated their rights copied in the archives of the Great Master of the Order at Marienburg (Malbork), while the Polish king had already submitted a lawsuit against the Teutonic Knights to the pontifical court of law in the summer of 1335. In Visegrád the arbitration process had already commenced in November with the investigation into the plenipotentiary powers of the representatives of the Teutonic Order. This procedure was inevitable because the Great Master of the Order was absent from the meeting. Once the authorization documents were approved the presentation of the statements and charters of the two sides followed. We have no information on the charters presented by the Polish envoys, but the Teutonic Knights certainly had those from the archives at Marienburg in their hands, as well as a complete draft for the peace treaty which they had designed early on. The arbitration was first declared orally, definitely before November 21, which is the date of the charter addressed by Wladislaw, Duke of Leczyca and Dobrzyn, to John of Luxembourg. Wladislaw cites the decree of the court of arbitration which disposes of the territories of Dobrzyn, hitherto under the rule of the Teutonic Order, to revert to Casimir the Great. He reasserts that he had ruled over these territories until the Teutonic Knights and John of Luxembourg seized the area following the war waged against Lokietek.
 
After days of negotiations between the arbiters and the barons the arbitration was drafted in a charter dated November 26. It posits that Casimir ruled over Kujawy and Dobrzyn, while the Teutonic Order received Pomerania (26 November 1335 charter in this book). In his letter dated December 3 the King of Bohemia informed the Master of the Teutonic Knights of the dispositions drawn up during the meeting and of the subsequent duties at hand (3 December 1335 charter in this book). Although there is no indication as to where the letter was written, it is quite certain that it was not written in Visegrád. According to the dates mentioned in the charters, the kings convened around All Saints' Day, which designates November 1 as the starting date of the conference. In his letter dated December 3 King John talks about a 3-week-long meeting but the peace treaty between the Teutonic Order and Poland which took place on November 26 in the presence of all invitees indicates that the meeting lasted a bit longer. Casimir drafted another charter, addressed to the Teutonic Order and dated May 26, 1336, declaring acceptance of the arbitration.
 
In addition to the two main points of the meeting's agenda (the peace treaties between Bohemia and Poland, and between Poland and the Teutonic Order) we also have information on the follow-up discussions between the three kings that took place after the arbitration process. The lack of written documents on these discussions does not mean that questions unrelated to the arbitration were unaddressed. For instance, the alliance forged on September 3 between Hungary and Bohemia was clearly designed against the Austrian dukes. It seems certain that the idea of a prospective campaign against them was also conceived in Visegrád. The military events of the following year, presumably also orchestrated from Visegrád, show evidence of prior arrangements, although they had not been documented. Therefore some historians regard the Visegrád meeting as a cradle of war rather than peace.
 
Although the meeting received a lot of attention from all sides, each party tends to highlight its own points of interest. As the event represented a turning point in 14th century Polish international relations, it is not surprising that Polish historio­graphy has addressed it in the most detail, primarily focusing on Polish-Teutonic and Polish-Bohemian relations. Such aspects remained in the background in the writings of Hungarian chroniclers and, instead, the Visegrád meeting was widely understood as a crucible of economic alliances. This assumption was based on a decree issued by Charles I, in Visegrád, on January 6, 1336, which regulates routes of commerce and the customs tariff between Hungary and Bohemia (6 January 1336 charter in this book). The text of the decree suggests that Charles and King John had thoroughly discussed the issue beforehand—most certainly in November, in Visegrád. This move was most probably an attempt to evade Vienna's stable right and redirect trade between Germany and Hungary towards Brno. Also, the cities in the territory of present-day Slovakia might have played a role in initiating this trade agreement. The meeting in Visegrád therefore did have an economic aspect; but this should not be generalized as the main focus of the conference.
 
The scope of this study does not allow for a survey of the effects of the decrees passed at the meeting. Suffice it to say that the treaty forged with the Teutonic Order created a precedent and would later serve as a cornerstone of peace. The arbitration concerning Pomerania proved that the parties were willing to settle international conflicts through diplomatic means. The alliance between the three Central European countries lasted for over half a century and provided each country with the right of autonomous conduct of their international relations (with the Balkans, the eastern regions, Germany, and Italy). Visegrád would also play an important role in the maintenance and renewal of the alliance in the upcoming years as well. It was here that Charles I renewed the 1335 treaty with Charles, Margrave of Moravia, heir to the throne of Bohemia. The margrave promised that he would support the Hungarian king's claim to the Polish throne and, in turn, the Hungarian king would relinquish his claims on Silesia if he or his sons ascended to the Polish throne. Casimir and his royal delegation visited Visegrád again in 1339 with the intention of bequeathing Poland to his sister's son Louis. This agreement ensured that Louis was elected king of Poland in 1370. These events illustrate that throughout the Middle Ages Visegrád functioned as a place for conflict resolution and rightly became an emblem for Central European cooperation over the centuries to come.
 
Finally, mention should be made of the criteria according to which the charters were selected for this volume. Over the course of many years of diplomatic procedures that involved a number of countries a great many official documents have been produced and usually exchanged—temporarily or permanently—by the negotiating parties. The charters testify that Charles of Anjou, acting as mediator and bail, preserved each of the documents until the requirements of their dispositions were fulfilled. However, only a part of the original written sources has survived. For instance, the copies in Hungarian possession vanished completely during the destruction of the royal archives under Turkish rule. Many charters have been preserved by the royal Czech archives, while others can be found in Wroclaw—owing to its involvement in the process. The rest of the charters survived in the archives of the Order of Teutonic Knights in Königsberg, later to be transported first to the Staatliches Archivlagerbe in Göttingen and then to the Preussicher Kulturbesitz collection of the Geheimes Staatsarchiv in Berlin. The selection of the charters in this volume is based on the Hungarian Studies research conducted over the past decades in the Hungarian National Archives. As we proceeded with our research, the task at hand proved to be a highly intriguing and diverse one, given that the charters safeguarded in many different places have not yet been systematically studied. The aim of this selection is to provide further inspiration for cooperative investigation into this topic with the involvement of all Visegrad countries. These charters attest to a historical continuity: a long process of diplomatic negotiations and the painstaking efforts invested in forging treaties that would pave the way for future cooperation. Now let the charters speak for themselves and yield further details.
 
Rácz, György: "The Congress of Visegrád". In: Visegrád 1335. Bratislava, 2009, pp. 19–29.
 

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