By Mike Markowitz for CoinWeek …..
When King Andrew III, last survivor of Hungary’s Árpád dynasty, died without an heir in 1301, succession to the throne was disputed by royal relatives. The subsequent history of Hungary often set foreign-born kings on a shaky throne.
Twelve-year-old Wenceslaus III of Bohemia, betrothed to Andrew’s daughter, was declared king by a faction of nobles. Failing to establish control over the country, he abandoned the claim in 1305 in favor of Otto III, Duke of Bavaria, whose mother Elizabeth was a daughter of Hungarian king Béla IV.
In 1307, Otto was taken prisoner by a powerful warlord, who also captured the Holy Crown of Hungary. Otto was eventually released, abdicating in 1308. Under Papal threat of ex-communication, the rogue warlord finally returned the crown in 1310.
Charles Robert of Anjou (Károly Róbert in Hungarian) was a grandson of King Charles II of Naples. His claim to the Hungarian throne derived from his grandmother, Maria (daughter of Hungarian king Stephen V).
Charles Robert arrived in Hungary in 1300 and was crowned (with a “provisional crown”) in 1301. Although Pope Boniface VIII recognized his claim in 1303, it took years before the Hungarian nobles accepted Charles. The first 15 years of his reign were spent in almost constant warfare against regional warlords.
“The introduction of gold coins and silver groats in Hungary was the work of Charles Robert (1308-1342) … His gold florin, first struck in 1325, is identical in weight, fineness, and type with that of Florence (Grierson, 170).”
Discovery of major gold deposits in what is now Slovakia around 1320 led to the production of the florin (forint in Hungarian). A mint, still in production after almost seven centuries, opened in 1328 at the town of Kremnica (Körmöcbánya in Hungarian). The coins are often cataloged under their German name Goldgulden (Aranyforint in Hungarian). The obverse features a stylized lily flower; the reverse bears the standing figure of St. John the Baptist.
Charles Robert also issued a substantial silver coin, modeled on the “Prague Groschen” of neighboring Bohemia, where the silver mines of Kutná Hora were the richest in medieval Europe. Weighing 3.5 – 3.7 grams, with a fineness of about 933/1000, the coin bears an enthroned image of the king on the obverse, with the inscription “Coin of Karl, King of Hungary” in Latin. The reverse bears the royal arms, surrounded by two rings of inscription: the outer one, HONOR REGIS IUDITIUM DILIGIT (“The King’s Honor Loves Justice”) from Psalm 99; the inner one, IUS DAT PACEM PAX SALUTEM (“Law Gives Peace, and Peace Security”).
Charles Robert’s portrait appeared on the 1997 Hungarian 200 forint banknote, replaced in 2009 by a coin.
The only Hungarian ruler to earn the epithet “Great” (Nagy Lajos in Hungarian), Louis was born in 1326 to Charles Robert and his wife, a Polish princess. He was crowned five days after his father’s death in July 1342.
Spared for two generations from serious invasion or civil war, the …country blossomed materially as never before. The population rose to three million and the country contained 49 royal free boroughs, more than 500 smaller towns and some 26,000 villages. The economy was still mainly rural but the crafts prospered, trade expanded, and the arts flourished…
The bubonic plague swept across the country in 1348 and ’49, but it was less devastating to Hungary than some other regions thanks to its relatively low population density.
Louis’s long reign saw many changes in coin design; the royal arms replaced the lily on the gold florin about 1353, and in 1360 the standing figure of King St. Ladislaus (ruled 1077 – 1095) replaced John the Baptist. The designs of the little silver denar, and the larger groschen were basically similar.
Born in 1371, daughter of Louis the Great, Maria reigned as child queen of Hungary and Croatia from 1382 to 1385 and again from 1387 to 1392 as the wife of Sigismund of Luxembourg.
The idea of a female monarch was unacceptable to many Hungarian nobles, who favored her cousin, Charles III of Naples, who made a brief bid for the throne before Maria’s powerful mother, the dowager queen, had him killed. Maria and her mother were briefly captured by rebels in 1387, who murdered the dowager queen.
Maria’s scarce gold florins are virtually identical to her father’s, except for the inscription: +MARIA DEI G R UNGARIAE (“Maria by the Grace of God, Queen of Hungary”). On silver denars, which bear a crown on one side and a double-barred cross on the other, her name is spelled MARIE.
Maria and her unborn son died in a hunting accident “under suspicious circumstances” in May 1395.
Sigismund (Zsigmond in Hungarian) was the son of Charles IV, King of Bohemia (1346 – 1378) and German emperor (1355 – 1378). Sigismund became the king of Hungary through his marriage to Maria, being crowned in 1387. He learned the Magyar language and became devoted to his adopted country. In 1396 he led a multinational army of Crusaders against the Ottoman Turks, narrowly escaping from a catastrophic defeat at Nicopolis on the banks of the Danube in Bulgaria.
At the Council of Constance (1414 – 1418) called to resolve a schism in the Roman Catholic Church, a cardinal ventured to correct Sigismund’s Latin. He famously replied: Ego sum rex Romanus et super grammaticam – “I am king of the Romans and above grammar.”
Sigismund’s gold florins fall into two groups: early issues (1387 – 1401) bear a royal coat of arms quartering the horizontal stripes of Hungary with the German eagle; later issues (1402 – 1437) quartering the stripes of Hungary with the lion of Bohemia.
Sigismund’s silver coinage can be divided into two periods. Before 1427, dinars had a fineness of silver of 580/1000 with an average weight of about 0.5g. After 1427 dinars had a fineness of silver of 540/1000 with an average weight of almost 0.8g (Frynas, 136).
In 1433, Sigismund was elected Holy Roman Emperor. He died in 1437, aged 69 years, leaving an only daughter, married to Albert, Duke of Austria, who was named as his successor.
Albert “the Magnanimous” was 40 years old when he was crowned king of Hungary, he lived only two more years. He was also king of Bohemia, but never established control over that country, which was torn by religious conflict. Elected to the honorary title “King of the Romans” in 1438, Albert was never crowned as Holy Roman Emperor. Described as “energetic and warlike”, he died of plague on campaign against the Turks (October 27, 1439), leaving a pregnant wife who bore his eventual successor, Ladislaus V “Posthumous”.
Gold florins of Albert’s brief reign are scarce. An exceptional silver denar, bearing a facing crowned portrait of the king, brought over $10,000 USD (€7,500) in a 2011 Hungarian auction.
Following the death of Albert, Hungary was briefly without a king. Some rare anonymous denars were issued during this period. Another “interregnum”, this one slightly longer, occurred from 1444 to 1446.
Vladislaus (Ulászló in Hungarian, Władysław in Polish) was the 16-year-old king of Poland when Hungarian nobles elected him in the hope that his army would help save the kingdom from Ottoman invasion. He won a brief civil war against supporters of the infant Ladislaus V “Posthumous.” He was killed in battle against the Turks at Varna in Bulgaria on November 10, 1444. His body was never found. He never married and left no heir.
On his scarce gold florins, the obverse quarters the royal arms of Hungary with the white eagle of Poland and the rider of Lithuania. On denars, debased to 25% silver or less, his name is generally spelled WLADISLAI.
Born about 1406 in what is now Romania, John Hunyadi (Hunyadi János in Hungarian) was a gifted military leader who rose rapidly in the service of kings Sigismund and Albert. He narrowly escaped with his life from the Battle of Varna where King Vladislaus was killed.
In 1446 Hunyadi was appointed regent for six-year-old Ladislaus V “Posthumous”, taking the title of Governor (GUBERNATOR in Latin, variously abbreviated as GV, GVB, or GVBER on coins issued in his name). The royal arms on his gold florins are quartered with his personal emblem, a raven holding a gold ring in its beak.
According to legend:
A princely ring was given to the new-born John Hunyadi in order to prove his royal descent at a later stage. A raven stole the ring … and the young John killed the raven with an arrow and recovered the precious artefact.
A rare denar circa 1453 depicts the raven alone on the obverse.
Western civilization owes an enormous debt to Janos Hunyadi; when Sultan Mohammed II sought to capitalize on his conquest of Constantinople by a campaign through the Balkans and into central Europe, Hunyadi stopped him cold at the Siege of Belgrade (1456)…
Shortly after this victory, Hunyadi died of the plague, and 16-year-old Ladislaus V took power.
Ladislaus V “Posthumous” (Utöszülött László) spent his early youth as a prisoner of his Austrian relative, who became Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III in 1452. Released in 1453, he spent much of his short reign in Prague where he was also king of Bohemia.
He died on November 23, 1457, before his marriage to the daughter of French king Charles VII could take place. Poison was suspected, but modern research has established the cause of death as leukemia. His scarce gold florins quarter the royal arms of Hungary, Austria, Bohemia and Moravia.
Born in 1443, the second son of John Hunyadi, Matthias Corvinus (Corvin Mátyás in Hungarian), is credited with introducing the Renaissance to central Europe. He became king at the age of 14 and rapidly consolidated power. A gifted scholar, he spoke Latin, Hungarian, Romanian, Serbo-Croatian, German, Czech, Polish, and Italian. He amassed one of the largest libraries in Europe, second only to the Vatican. A courageous warrior, he was wounded several times in battle leading his troops. His annual revenue, estimated at 250,000 gold florins, went largely to his “Black Army” (Fekete sereg in Hungarian), the first professional standing army equipped with a high proportion of firearms (gunpowder in the 15th century was very expensive).
In 1467, Matthias Corvinus reformed the coin system for easier accumulation of taxes and manageable disbursements and introduced an improved dinar that had a finer silver content (50%) and weighed half a gram. He also re-established its ratio, where one florin of gold equaled 100 dinars of silver, which was so stable that it remained in place until the mid-16th century.
In 1470, Matthias changed the design of the gold florin, replacing the shield of arms with an image of the Madonna and Child. The same image appeared on his silver groschen (struck between 1468 and 1481) surrounded by the legend PATRONA HUNGARIE (“Patroness of Hungary”).
A portrait of Matthias appears on the current Hungarian 1000-forint banknote.
After a reign of 42 years that saw the kingdom reach its greatest territorial extent, Matthias died unexpectedly in 1490 without a legitimate heir. Under his weak successor, Vladislaus II (ruled 1490 – 1516), Hungary began a long period of decline.
Collecting Medieval Hungary
Medieval Hungarian coins appear mainly in auctions of Hungarian and German dealers. Except for a few rarities, they are surprisingly affordable. The standard reference in English is Frynas (2015), but catalog references invariably cite Huszar (1979) in German or the monumental two-volume Corpus Nummorum Hungariae (1899-1907) by Laszlo Réthy in Hungarian.
A valuable resource for collectors interested in this period is the booklet Reading Medieval Coins (2009) by Ralph Walker. Shields of arms appear frequently on medieval coins, so a good book on heraldry such as Slater (2013) is helpful.
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 Not to be confused with St. Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia (ruled 921 – 935) celebrated in a popular English Christmas carol.
 Ira & Larry Goldberg Auction 41, 27 May 2007, Lot 4074. Realized $3,500 USD (estimate $3,000 – 3,500).
 Nudelman Numismatica Auction 14, 27 September 2014, Lot 74. Realized €260 (about $330 USD; estimate €200).
 Encyclopedia Britannica (15th edition, 1992) vol.20, page 702, “Hungary”.
 CNG Triton XXIII, 14 January 2020, Lot 1104. Realized $1,300 USD (estimate $750).
 Macho & Chlapovic, Auction 7, 14 November 2014, Lot 100. Realized €750 (about $936 USD; estimate €700).
 Heritage New York Sale, 14 January 2014, Lot 30159. Realized $8,000 USD (estimate $2,500 – 3,000).
 Künker Auction 130, 9 October 2007, Lot 2898. Realize €16 (about $23 USD; estimate €20).
 CNG Electronic Auction 465, 8 April 2020, Lot 643. Realized $750 USD (estimate $200).
 Künker Auction 144, 7 October 2008, Lot 4296. Realized €1,500 (about $2,046 USD; estimate €600).
 Nudelman Numismatica Auction 9, 11 June 2011, Lot 171. Realized €7,500 (about $10,768 USD; estimate €3,000).
 Künker Auction 130, 9 October 2007, Lot 2903. Realized €320 (about $451 USD; estimate €150).
 H.D. Rauch Auction, Tibor Racz Colllection, 2 October 2010, Lot 269, realized €3800 ($5223) estimate €2500.
 Pannonia Terra Numismatika Auction 46, 26 May 2018, Lot 307. Realized €55 (about $64 USD).
 Pannonia Terra Numismatika Auction 47, 17 November 2018, Lot 272. Realized €8,500 (about $9,686 USD; estimate €5,000).
 Pannonia Terra Numizmatika Auction 26, 26 September 2009, Lot 156. Realized €460 (about $676 USD; estimate €200).
 CNG Triton XXIII, 14 January 2020, Lot 1106. Realized $1,100 USD (estimate $750).
 CNG Triton XXIII, 14 January 2020, Lot 1107. Realized $1,000 USD (estimate $500).
 Macho & Chlapovic Auction 8, 7 June 2015, Lot 35. Realized €750 (about $833 USD; estimate €600).
Cantor, Norman F. (ed.) Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages. New York (1999)
Frynas, George. Medieval Coins of Bohemia, Hungary and Poland. London (2015)
Grierson, Philip. Coins of Medieval Europe. London (1991)
Huszar, Lajos. Munzkatalog Ungarn (Catalog of Hungarian Medieval Coins). Battenberg (1979)
Molnár, Miklós. A Concise History of Hungary. Cambridge (2001)
Réthy, Laszlo. Corpus Nummorum Hungariae (2 volumes). Budapest (1899, 1907)
Ruckser, David. The Coins and Kings of Hungary, to Leopold I.
Tompa, Peter K. “Money of the Magyars and their predecessors”, The Celator (October 1996)
Walker, Ralph S. Reading Medieval European Coins. Fairfield, CT (2009)