John Zápolya

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This article is about John I of Hungary. For his son, see John Zápolya II.
John I
Szapolyai János fametszet.jpg
King of Hungary
Reign 1526–1540
Coronation 11 November 1526
Predecessor Louis II
Successor Ferdinand I
John II Sigismund Zápolya
Voivode of Transylvania
Reign 1510–1526
Successor John II Sigismund Zápolya
Born 1490 or 1491
Szepesváralja, Kingdom of Hungary (present-day Spišské Podhradie, Slovakia)
Died 22 July 1540(1540-07-22) (aged 49–50)
Szászsebes, Transylvania (today Sebeş, Romania)
Burial Székesfehérvár Basilica
Spouse Isabella Jagiellon
Issue John II Sigismund Zápolya
House House of Zápolya
Father Stephen Zápolya
Mother Hedwig of Cieszyn

John Zápolya, also John Szapolyai (Croatian: Ivan Zapolja, Hungarian: Szapolyai János or Zápolya János, Romanian: Ioan Zápolya, Slovak: Ján Zápoľský, Serbian: Jovan Zapolja/Јован Запоља; 1490 or 1491 – 22 July 1540) was King of Hungary (as John I) from 1526 to 1540. His rule was disputed by Archduke Ferdinand I, who also claimed the title King of Hungary.[1] He was Voivode of Transylvania before his coronation.


John was the oldest son of Count Stephen Zápolya, and his second wife, Hedwig of Cieszyn.[2][3] Stephen Zápolya was descended from a Slavonian noble family.[2] He became one of the wealthiest lords in the Kingdom of Hungary after inheriting the large domains of his brother, Emeric Zápolya, in 1487.[2][3] His marriage with the Silesian duchess, Hedwig, who was related to Emperor Maximilian I, increased the prestige of the Zápolya family.[4]

Stephen Zápolya had no sons when Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary, died on 6 April 1490, according to a contemporaneous report, but a charter issued in September 1491 already mentioned John, showing that John was born between the two dates.[5] He was born in Szepes Castle (now Spiš Castle in Slovakia) which was an important center of the Zápolyas' domains.[2][6] At the Diet of Hungary in 1497, Stephen Zápolya's opponents circulated rumours about his intention to have his son crowned king.[4] John and his younger brother, George, inherited their father's vast domains in 1499.[2][7] Their domains were primarily located in Upper Hungary (now Slovakia) where they held most landed estates in five counties.[7] Hedwig provided excellent education to John who could write letters in Latin.[5]

Early career[edit]

Party leader[edit]

Hedwig of Cieszyn wanted to persuade Vladislaus II, King of Hungary and Bohemia, to marry his only child, Anne, to John.[5][8] Stirred up by the Zápolyas', the Hungarian noblemen who were present at the Diet in Buda in February 1505, planned to pass a decree about the free election of Vladislaus II's successor, but the Diet was closed.[9] Vladislaus's brother, Sigismund Jagiellon, came to Hungary to mediate between the royal family and the Zápolyas in late June.[9]

The Diet passed a bill, prohibiting the election of a foreigner as king if Vladislaus's died without a male issue on 13 October 1505.[8][9][10] The bill was aimed at creating a legal basis for John's ascension to the throne after the death of Vladislaus, but the king refused to ratify it.[7][9] Emperor Maximilian had already in September declared war on Hungary, because he wanted to protect his claim (acknowledged in the 1491 Peace of Pressburg) to succeed Vladislaus.[9] The teenager John Zápolya was made one of the commanders of the Hungarian army.[5] During the war, the envoys of Vladislaus and Maximilian signed a secret treaty on 30 March 1506 about the marriage of Vladislaus's daughter, Anne, and Maximilian's grandson, Ferdinand.[11][12]

Vladislaus's wife, Anne of Foix-Candale, gave birth to a son, Louis, on 1 July, which put an end to the war with Maximilian.[13] John's conflicts with the royal court had meanwhile made him the leader of a "national party", consisting of the noblemen who were opposed to the pro-Habsburg orientation of Vladislaus.[14] Although the Diet initially refused to enact the right of the infant Louis to succeed Vladislaus to strengthen the Estates' influence on state administration, but Louis was finally crowned on Vladislaus's demand on 4 June 1508.[7]

Voivode of Transylvania[edit]

Vladislaus made John Zápolya Voivode of Transylvania and Count of the Székelys on 8 November 1510.[5] He moved to Transylvania and took up residence in Kolozsvár (now Cluj-Napoca in Romania) in March 1511.[15] He regularly held Diets for the representatives of the "Three Nations of Transylvania", and headed the judicial assemblies of the Székely people.[16] The king's brother, Sigismund, who had been crowned King of Poland, married John's sister, Barbara in early 1512.[17]

The Ottomans began invading the southern frontier of the Kingdom of Hungary in April 1511.[18][19] John made a raid in Ottoman Bulgaria in summer 1513.[20] After returning to Transylvania, he crushed a revolt in Hermanstadt (now Sibiu in Romania) and forced the townspeople to pay an extraordinary tax.[20] With the authorization of Pope Leo X, Tamás Bakócz, Archbishop of Esztergom, declared a crusade against the Ottomans on 9 April 1514.[21] John Zápolya again invaded Bulgaria in early May.[20]

He used extreme cruelty when he was tasked with defeating the peasant rebellion of 1514 led by György Dózsa, who was captured by his cousin Péter Petrovics.

The Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent returns the Holy Crown to John Zápolya.

In 1526, the Ottoman Empire crushed the Hungarian royal army in the Battle of Mohács, and killed King Louis II. Zápolya was en route to the battlefield with his sizable army but did not participate in the battle for unknown reasons. The Ottomans sacked the royal capital of Buda and occupied Syrmia, then withdrew from Hungary. The last three months of the year were marked by a power vacuum; political authority was in a state of collapse, yet the victors chose not to impose their rule.

Two candidates stepped into the breach. One was Zápolya, voivode of Transylvania and Hungary's most prominent aristocrat as well as commander of an intact army. The other was Archduke Ferdinand of Austria, the late king's brother-in-law and brother of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who claimed Hungary for the House of Habsburg.

The majority of Hungary's ruling elite backed Zápolya, who for fifteen years had been playing a leading role in Hungarian political life. Part of the aristocracy acknowledged his leadership, and he enjoyed the enthusiastic support — not always reciprocated — of the lesser nobility. Most of his opponents succumbed at Mohács: the Hungarian branch of the Jagiellon dynasty became defunct, and its pro-Habsburg following was decimated. A small minority of aristocrats sided with Ferdinand. The German dynasty's main argument — one that many historians would judge to be decisive — was that it could help Hungary fight the Ottomans. But in 1526, the promise rang empty. Hungary had been fighting the Ottomans for over a century, during which time the Empire and the Habsburgs had offered much encouragement but no tangible help. The likelihood of assistance was further reduced by the conflict of Ferdinand's older brother, Emperor Charles V, and King Francis I of France that once again flared into open war in the summer of 1526. This circumstance led the Voivode to discount the threat lurking behind the Habsburgs' candidacy: that Hungary would have to contend not only with the Ottomans, but also with an attack from the west.

Thus Zápolya took no notice of his rival's protests, nor of those voiced by the few Hungarians who rallied to Ferdinand. On 10 November 1526, Zápolya had himself proclaimed king by the Diet at Székesfehérvár, and he was duly crowned the next day under the name King John I of Hungary.

Profiting from nine months of relative calm, King John I strove to restore state authority. He drew on his vast private wealth, the unconditional support of the lesser nobility, and the assistance of some aristocrats to impose his policies in domestic affairs. However, in the crucial sphere of foreign relations, success eluded him. He sought an entente with the Habsburgs, proposing to form an alliance against the Ottomans, but Archduke Ferdinand, who had himself elected king by a rump diet in Pressburg in December 1526, rejected all attempts at reconciliation. Hungary's envoys fanned out across Europe in quest of support. Only in France did they find a positive response, but even that was ineffective since Francis I was intent not on reconciling Hungary and the Habsburgs, but on drawing Hungary into a war against Charles V and his family.

Europe's political balance underwent a major shift in the summer of 1527, when, in a somewhat unplanned operation, mercenary forces of the emperor occupied Rome and drove Pope Clement VII, one of France's principal allies, to capitulate. This development freed Ferdinand — who also acquired the Bohemian throne in late 1526 – from the burden of assisting his brother. By then, Ferdinand had developed a Hungarian policy that was fully in keeping with the interests of his realms. He judged that if Hungary, unable to resist the Ottoman Empire, took action independently of Austria and Bohemia, it might well enter into an alliance with the Ottomans against its western neighbors. It was therefore in the interest of Austria and Bohemia that the Habsburgs gain control of Hungary, by force if necessary.

In July 1527, Ferdinand sent an army of German mercenaries into Hungary. The moment was well chosen, for Zápolya's forces were tied up in the southern counties of Hungary, where Slavonic peasants, incited by Ferdinand, had rebelled; the revolt was led by the 'Black Man', Jovan Nenad. In one sweep, the invaders captured Buda. Zápolya hurriedly redeployed his army, but on 27 September in the Battle of Tarcal (near Tokaj), he suffered a bloody defeat.

In 1528 Zápolya fled Hungary for Poland, where he stayed with Prince Jan Amor Tarnowski.[22]

In 1529 Zápolya approached the Ottomans, and agreed to make Hungary a vassal state in return for recognition and support. Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent accepted, and sent Ottoman armies to invade Austria, a war which lasted till 1533. This allowed Zápolya to regain his position in Hungary in 1529, by the efforts of Frater George Martinuzzi, despite the association with the Ottomans which tainted him at the time. Martinuzzi became royal treasurer and Zápolya's most trusted minister.

In 1533, the Ottomans made peace and ceded western Hungary to Ferdinand. Ferdinand now began to press Zápolya for control of the rest. In 1538, by the Treaty of Nagyvárad, Zápolya designated Ferdinand to be his successor after his death, as he was childless.

However, in 1539, he married Princess Isabella Jagiełło of Poland, and in 1540 they had a son, John Sigismund. Zápolya died nine days later in Szászsebes (Sebeş).


See also[edit]


  1. ^ John (king of Hungary) Britannica Online Encyclopedia
  2. ^ a b c d e Oborni 2012, p. 152.
  3. ^ a b Markó 2006, p. 243.
  4. ^ a b Neumann 2014, p. 94.
  5. ^ a b c d e Neumann 2014, p. 95.
  6. ^ Markó 2006, p. 38.
  7. ^ a b c d Engel 2001, p. 361.
  8. ^ a b Engel, Kristó & Kubinyi 1998, p. 351.
  9. ^ a b c d e Szakály 1981, p. 328.
  10. ^ Cartledge 2011, p. 69.
  11. ^ Szakály 1981, p. 329.
  12. ^ Engel 2001, p. 360.
  13. ^ Engel, Kristó & Kubinyi 1998, p. 337, 352.
  14. ^ Kontler 1999, pp. 132-133.
  15. ^ Neumann 2014, pp. 95-96.
  16. ^ Neumann 2014, p. 98.
  17. ^ Neumann 2014, p. 96.
  18. ^ Engel, Kristó & Kubinyi 1998, p. 340.
  19. ^ Szakály 1981, p. 333.
  20. ^ a b c Szakály 1981, p. 334.
  21. ^ Engel 2001, p. 362.
  22. ^ Zdzisław Spieralski, Jan Tarnowski 1488-1561, Warszawa 1977, p. 124-125.


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János I Szapolyai
Born: 1487 2 February Died: 1540 22 July
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Péter Szentgyörgyi
Voivode of Transylvania
Succeeded by
Péter Perényi
Preceded by
Louis II
King of Hungary
contested by Ferdinand I

Succeeded by
John II Sigismund