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John Zápolya

John I
King of Hungary
Reign 1526–1540
Coronation 11 November 1526
Predecessor Louis II
Successor Ferdinand I
John II Sigismund Zápolya
Voivode of Transylvania
Reign 1511–1540
Successor John II Sigismund Zápolya
Born 2 February 1487
Szepesváralja, Kingdom of Hungary (present-day Spišské Podhradie, Slovakia)
Died 22 July 1540(1540-07-22) (aged 53)
Szászsebes, Transylvania (today Sebeş, Romania)
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; 2 February 1487 – 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.


  • Biography 1
  • Ancestors 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


He was born in 1487 at his family's Szepes Castle in Upper Hungary (now known as Spiš Castle in Slovakia). The Zápolya family originated from Požega County in Croatia.[2] His father was the prominent nobleman Stephen Zápolya.

In 1490, King Vladislaus II of Bohemia, who was seeking election as King of Hungary, circulated a letter to the Hungarian nobility. He said that he had a letter from Beatrice of Naples, widow of King Matthias Corvinus, stating that Matthias and Beatrice had decided that Stephen Zápolya, should succeed Matthias as "Duke of Austria". (Matthias had taken Austria from the House of Habsburg in 1486.) This had no effect as the Habsburgs had regained Austria.

John began his public career in 1505 as a member of the Diet of Rákos. It was upon his motion that the Diet voted that no foreign prince would ever again be elected King of Hungary after Vladislaus II.[3] However, Vladislaus did not enforce the "Rákos resolution", but rather he invalidated it: he made a Habsburg-Jagiellon mutual succession treaty with Emperor Maximilian in 1506.[4] Later the Habsburg-Jagiellon mutual succession treaty was further confirmed by the First Congress of Vienna in 1515.

John Zápolya was appointed Voivode ("governor") of Transylvania in 1511. He took advantage of the turbulent times to enrich himself, and secured a power base in Transylvania. 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.[5]

In 1529 Zápolya approached the Ottomans, and agreed to make Hungary a vassal state in return for recognition and support. Sultan 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


  1. ^ John (king of Hungary) Britannica Online Encyclopedia
  2. ^ Pezenhoffer, Antal (1993) A magyar nemzet történelme (a mohácsi vésztől napjainkig): a katolikus egyház és a Habsburg-ház történelmi szerepe, ISBN 9789638263001, p. 133.
  3. ^ John (king of Hungary) Britannica Online Encyclopedia
  4. ^ PANNONIAN RENAISSANCE: THE HUNYADIS AND THE JAGELLO AGE (1437-1526) Encyclopaedia Humana Hungarica
  5. ^ Zdzisław Spieralski, Jan Tarnowski 1488-1561, Warszawa 1977, p. 124-125.

External links

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
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