Great Hungarian Kings, History
The Hero's Plaza Statues in Budapest, Hungary

Saint Stephen
1st King Szent Istvan

Heros Square
 Budapest Hero's Square and Statues of Kings

***Great Hungarians***

King Stephen (the Saint, 997-1038), the Hungarian prince who had converted the people to Christianity and, in accepting his crown from the Pope in 1001, had elevated Hungary to the status of kingdom and established it as a state in accord with contemporary European norms - is the first statue represented in the proscenium. He is followed by the statue of King Ladislas (the Saint, 1077-95). In the relief below the statue, a noble act is depicted, his slaying of a Cumanian abductor. The choice of the theme, in addition to depicting the scene itself, revealed the intention of expressing national character. The enemy attacking the country was so evil that he did not desist from abducting defenceless women, until the Hungarian king forcefully intervened, thus postulating the notion of lawful and valiant self-defence. In short, Hungary's increase of power became justified through its noble intentions and lawful self defence.

    In another relief, King Coloman the Beauclerc (1095-1116) is shown annexing Croatia and Dalmatia to Hungary, thus establishing the nation's territorial claim. The next scene again emphasizes Hungary's inseparability from Europe : the participation of King Andrew II in medieval Europe's largest collective enterprise, the Crusades, symbolizing the active defence of Christian faith and devotion. The next relief depicts the Mongol Invasion of 1241-42, which dealt a devastating blow to the country. King Béla IV (1235-70) is shown rebuilding the medieval Hungarian state from the ruins of the invasion, embodying the ideal of unceasing, heroic activity and the spirit of reconstruction.

   The subsequent statue-relief pair, one of the most unusual elements of the monu ment; represents Charles Robert (1308-42), descended from the Angevin House, who greatly contributed to organizing the economic-political structure of the state. In the face of internal dissention and incursions by powers such as the Habsburgs, Charles Robert successfully defended the nation. In contrast to the statue, the relief below depicts an unrelated scene-the Battle of Marchfeld on August 26, 1278 where the Hungarian king, Ladislas IV (the Cuman, 1270-90), hastened to the assistance of Rudolph Habsburg. The allies proceeded to defeat the Czech king, Ottocar, who had encroached upon their power (and subsequently died in battle). Rudolph had this victory to thank for the valuable acquisition of the Austrian princedom, later proving vital to the Habsburg dynasty. The content of the relief is striking not only because it is at variance with the statue above, but. since it was meant to convey a given political message. Charles Robert was of incomparably greater historical significance as a ruler than Ladislas IV, and his presence in the monument suggests he was included out of respect for his historical importance, while the relief below is meant to convey the fact that it was the Hungarian people whom the Habsburgs had to thank for their position of power in Austria. No less noteworthy is the fact that when the monument was constructed a Habsburg ruled the country which constituted one half of the Empire. The reference to the Battle of Marchfeld was also meant to show that acceptance of the common fate provided the sole guarantee of protection against the Slavs and other would-be conquerors. Interdependence, loyalty, and national pride and consciousness were the ideological factors which had figured prominently in the 1867 Compromise. Depiction of the Battle of Marchfeld - otherwise so incongruent with the rest of the monument - was an especially good choice for demonstrating the historical viability of Hungarian nationalism within the empire.

    Historically, Habsburg domination was still a long way off; the next three statues depict figures representing periods of national greatness preceding the Habsburg rule.

    The reign of Louis I the Great (1342-82) saw the greatest expansion of territory in the nation's history. The relief focuses on the event when the king marched into Naples in 1348, received by Johanna who ruled here. (Louis was later forced to relinquish possession of Naples, for which he was given some financial compensation.) The next statue represents the only non royal personage in the monument, János Hunyadi (b. 1407?-56), who although only acted as governor of Hungary, held the actual power. The event recorded on the relief is one of world-wide importance. In 1456 at Belgrade Hunyadi's forces forestalled the Turkish onslaught, ensuring the country's own defence as well as that of all Europe. The relief shows a scene in which a Turkish soldier, who had attempted to hoist the Turkish flag on top of the wall of the besieged fort, is seized by a Hungarian soldier, the two of them plummeting together to their death. Including the Battle of Belgrade as part of the monument was meant to demonstrate that Hungary had not simply defended its own territorial integrity, but had offered itself up in selfless defence of Europe and European civilization.

    The final figure represented in this series is the great Renaissance ruler of Hungary, Matthias Hunyadi (Corvinus, 1458-90), who took up the rule from his governing father. Renowned for his humanistic learning and enlightened court Matthias is depicted in the relief surrounded by his scholars. By emphasizing Matthias's role as a great patron of arts and sciences, the magnitude of the nation's cultural contribution was also exposed.

    The statue and relief of Matthias is followed by the representation of the Habsburg dynasty. The Habsburgs had held continuous power over Hungary since the reign of Ferdinand I (1526-64), although Ferdinand himself was unable to defend the country from the Turks and in fact divided forces in his struggle to secure power. Once again the relief below is at variance with the statue. The scene depicted is the valiant and victorious battle at Eger Castle in 1552, when the Hungarian soldiers successfully put down a Turkish siege. The battle is legendary for the role women played in the struggle, picking up weapons beside their male counterparts, and they are shown in the relief fighting alongside the men. The inclusion of the relief under the statue of a Habsburg ruler expresses no little ambivalence over the fact that Hungary had to resort to waging its own battles in the interest of self-preservation.

    The same contrast between the message in relief and statue is evidenced with respect to the statue of Charles III (1711-40). The relief beneath his statue depicts the decisive victory against Turkish forces under Eugene of Savoy at Zenta in 1697, marking the end of some 150 years of Turkish occupation. However, the ruler during this era was Leopold I (1657-1705), whom the Hungarians had rebelled against, first under Thököly's leadership and later under Ferenc Rákóczi II. To depict the very king who had flagrantly disregarded national rights and dealt with Hungary as though it were a mere subjugated province would have gone far to risk popular resentment. If Rákóczi, who had fought so hard for state independence, had himself been excluded from those represented in the monument, then no statue of Leopold would be included either. Represented in the monument instead was Charles III who, after the struggle for freedom led by Rákóczi, was able to implement the compromise which had brought fighting to an end. Charles III replaces Leopold as the ruler who had been responsible for seeing through the Austro-Hungarian agreement.

    The inclusion of the statue of Maria Theresa (1740-80) reflects the view that i f a ruler acted in accord with Hungarian law Hungary would be quick in rendering assistance. The relief below the queen's statue depicts the scene in which the Diet voted in 1741 in Pozsony to send her military support with the exclamation, "Vitam et sanguinem!" If Hungary had refused assistance to the ruler at that cr ucial point in history, the Habsburg Empire would certainly have been annihilated, since Maria Theresa's right to the throne was not recognized abroad and the Prussians and Bavarians had launched an attack against he country. Hungarian soldiers had halted their campaign, a fact which had not only made possible the reoccupation of Austria and Bohemia, but had also won diplomatic recognition of Maria Theresa's sovereignty. The relief refers to two historical events in which Hungary had proven itself to be a reliable buttress for the Monarchy : the aiding of the Habsburgs to power in the 13th century and the saving of the Empire from total collapse in the l8th century. It is therefore only befitting that they should receive help from a just ruler, in the event that their rights are violated; for this reason the statue of Leopold II is included among the others. Here again we have an example of a situation in which the artistic work is subordinated to political interests. Whereas Maria Theresa's prominence in history was indisputable, Leopold II had actually ruled for less than two years (1790-92). The sole and exclusive reason for his inclusion in the monument was that he at least recognized, if in name only, the Hungarian feudal constitution which had been ignored by his predecessor, the son of Maria Theresa, Joseph II (1780-90). To avoid having to give account of his acts as king to the Diet, Joseph II had not permitted himself to be crowned and had sent the Holy Crown to Vienna. Leopold II's reign saw the restoration of the crown to Buda. This is the scene depicted on the relief, reflecting the restoration of relations between the Habsburgs and Hungary, viz. provided that certain rules of the game are adhered to, the Hungarian-Habsburg relations would ensure the preservation of national interests. At the same time, the message of the relief indicated, that the nation, in defence of its legal integrity, was capable of evoking honourable and successful resistance to Joseph II, who had ignored its constitution.

    The last statue is that of Francis Joseph (1848-1916), the reigning monarch, shown in full military dress. Everything concerning the Habsburgs in the monument thus far had been presented in such a way as to depict his world as one of perfected harmony. The relief below it shows the crowning of Francis Joseph in 1867 by the Hungarian prime minister Gyula Andrássy and the head of the nation's Catholic church.

   The scene is also remarkable for its depiction of the graceful figure of Queen Elizabeth, much beloved by the Hungarian people, and the presence of Ferenc Deák, the leading figure behind the Austro-Hungarian Compromise. With the coronation of Francis Joseph the long-awaited peace between king and country had been established, and Hungary had at last settled into its role in the empire, a place it had duly accepted in the spirit of the Compromise which - as had been the firm belief of its framers - would ensure the territorial integrity of the state, promote the development of the Hungarian nation, and designate a political field for the play of national sentiment and aspiration. Only through allegiance to both Monarchy and country -contemporaries believed - would true unity emerge.


Back to Clips

Copyright © 1996-2014