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HUNGARIAN HISTORY PART 5.- The rule of the Hapsburgs and the Reform Era in Hungary

One of the best ways to understand a country’s culture is through getting to know its history. Are Hungarians the descendants of Attila the Hun, whose portraits are on the Hungarian banknotes, how many and which wars Hungarians fought, what did Hungarians invent and give to the world? Instead of reading numerous books to answer these questions, through this series we aim to introduce you Hungarian history in a nutshell.

In the previous part we wrote about the 150 years of Ottoman occupation and the legacy Turks left behind such as the bath houses and coffee. In this part we will introduce you the era of the Habsburgs before the foundation of the Austro – Hungarian Empire in 1867.

During the 150-year Ottoman occupation, there were several attacks against the Turks, but Suleiman’s soldiers managed to keep the Ottoman power.  Finally Pope Innocent XI united Christian forces who forced out the Turkish and recaptured the Buda Castle in 1686. The Ottoman Empire was over, European royal houses welcomed the news with great enthusiasm.

Buda Castle

1014 Budapest, Szent György tér 2.

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Before the Ottoman occupation two crowned kings, Ferdinand I from the Habsburg House and John I both ruled Hungary, hence the Habsburgs treated Hungary as part of their empire and continued to rule the country. There were numerous attempts to remove them from the throne; one of the major attacks led by nobleman Francis II Rákóczi happened between 1703 and 1711, which is called the Rákóczi’s War of Independence. Although the troops of Rákóczi won battles on many fronts, at the end the revolution was crushed by the Habsburg forces. Rákóczi’s equestrian statue can be found on Kossuth square next to the Parliament.

Hungarian Parliament

1055 Budapest, Kossuth tér 1-3.

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After the peace there was a long period of freedom coupled with the development of the country. Francis I, the first Emperor of Austria was a conservative monarch who wanted Hungary to stay an agricultural nation and rely on its agricultural production. Several noblemen recognised the need of modernisation and forced Frances I to convene the Hungarian Diet in the 1820’s, which marked the start of a Reform Period.

Although progress was slow, two emblematic figures, Count István Széchenyi and leader of the lower gentry, Lajos Kossuth pushed forward economic reforms and changes in political and civil rights. Széchenyi was a prominent statements, who realised the gap between the modern Europe and Hungary. In 1825 he donated his full annual income from his estates and convinced three other noblemen to donate to establish the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Soon they gained Royal approval. In 1827 he established the National Casino, which became an important platform of political dialogue. Part of his program was the regulation of the lower Danube as it was dangerous for ships. He promoted the first steamboats on the Danube and Lake Balaton and he established the Óbuda Shipyard on the Hajógyári Sziget. Furthermore the first bridge between Buda and Pest, the Chain Bridge was one of his ideas as well.

Hungarian Academy of Sciences

1051 Széchenyi István tér 9.

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Széchenyi Chain Bridge

1051 Budapest, Széchenyi Lánchíd

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His political rival, Lajos Kossuth rejected the role of the aristocracy and questioned traditional settings of social status. While Széchenyi encouraged the elite to take on a leading role in modernising the country, Kossuth supported international liberal and progressive movements.

Kossuth developed the so called Twelve Demands, comprehensive legislative reforms to modernise Hungary, which was pushed through and signed by Austrian Emperor Ferdinand I thanks to the mass demonstration took place on 15 March 1848 in the downtown of Budapest, precisely the demands were read out loud on the stairs of the newly built Hungarian National Museum.

In 1849 the first Republic of Hungary was proclaimed, Lajos Kossuth was its president and Lajos Batthyány its first prime minister. Soon after a new emperor Franz Joseph replaced his uncle Ferdinand. Franz Joseph rejected the reforms and started to arm against Hungary. His troops together with the Russians crushed the Hungarian War of Independence and executed or imprisoned the rebels. Kossuth’s Memorial can be seen near the Hungarian Parliament on Kossuth Square.

Kossuth Square

1055 Kossuth Lajos tér

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We hope you enjoyed this brief introduction to the era of the Habsburg Monarchy and the Hungarian Reforms. In the sixth part of the series you can read about the era of the Austro – Hungarian Empire, the time of a great development and richness.

Photo: Wikipedia

Our previous articles about the Hungarian history:

HUNGARIAN HISTORY Part 4. - Ottoman Era

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HUNGARIAN HISTORY Part 3. - St. Margaret & King Matthias

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HUNGARIAN HISTORY Part 2. - The first kings of Hungary

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HUNGARIAN HISTORY Part 1. - The origins of the Hungarians

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