The Kingdom of Hungary is the name of a multiethnic kingdom that existed in Central Europe from 1000 to 1918. It arose in present-day western Hungary and subsequently spread to remaining present-day Hungary, to Transylvania (in present-day Romania), Slovakia, Carpatho-Ukraine, Croatia, and other smaller nearby territories. The term "Kingdom of Hungary" is often used to denote this long-lasting configuration of territories in order to draw a clear distinction with the modern Hungarian state, which is significantly smaller and more ethnically homogeneous. In the 19th century and earlier, the term Hungarian often referred any inhabitant of this state, regardless of his or her ethnicity as we would understand it today.
The state was ruled by the kings of Hungary, the bearers of the Holy Crown of St. Stephen. The first kings of the Kingdom were from the Arpad dynasty. In the early 14th century this dynasty was replaced by the Angevins, and later the Jagiellonians as well as several non-dynastic rulers, notably Matthias Corvinus.
At the Battle of Mohács in 1526, the Hungarian army was defeated by the forces of the Ottoman Empire, and King Lajos II of Hungary was killed. As the Ottomans undertook small attacks in the Kingdom of Hungary, central authority collapsed and a struggle for power broke out. Some Hungarian nobles proclaimed Ferdinand of Habsburg, who was ruler of neighboring Austria and tied to Lajos's family by marriage, as King of Hungary; there had been previous agreements that the Habsburgs would take the Hungarian throne if Lajos died without heirs, as he did. However, other nobles turned to the Hungarian nobleman John Zapolya. Zapolya received the support of the Ottoman Sultan but no recognition from other Christian powers.
A three-sided conflict ensued as Ferdinand moved to assert his rule over as much of the Hungarian kingdom as he could. By 1541, the former territory of the kingdom had been split into three parts:
- Present-day Slovakia, Burgenland, western Croatia, and adjacent territories were under Habsburg rule. This area was referred to as Royal Hungary, and though it in theory remained a separate state, it was administered more or less as an integral part of the Habsburg's Austrian holdings, to which it was immediately adjacent. This was the continuation of the Kingdom of Hungary.
- Most parts of present-day Hungary became part of the Ottoman Empire.
- The remaining territory became part of the newly independent principality of Transylvania, under Zapolya's family. Transylvania was a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire.
After a failed Ottoman invasion of Austria in 1683, the Habsburgs went on the offensive against the Turks; by around 1700, they had managed to conquer the remainder of the historical Kingdom of Hungary and the principality of Transylvania. At this point, the Royal Hungary terminology was dropped, and the area was once again referred to as the Kingdom of Hungary, although it was administered as a part of the Habsburg realm as before.
Map of Austria-Hungary with the Kingdom of Hungary shown in green shades
In 1867, the Austrian Empire became the so-called "dual monarchy" of Austria-Hungary. An area corresponding to the historic Kingdom of Hungary was granted considerable internal autonomy and a share in the operation of the Empire as a whole. This arrangement was to last until 1918, when on the one hand the non-Magyar territories of the Kingdom of Hungary joined new or neighbouring states (Czechoslovakia, Romania, the state of southern Slavs) and on the other Hungary declared a Hungarian republic (within the old boundaries of the kingdom) as the Central Powers went down in defeat in World War I. This is generally seen as the end of the state that is referred to as the Kingdom of Hungary.
Beset by a series of internal revolutions, Hungary accepted the radical reduction in the territorial extent of the previous kingdom (which reflected boundaries that were almost 800 years old) laid out by the Treaty of Trianon in 1920. However, it should be noted that Kingdom of Hungary was also the formal name of the Hungarian state that existed largely on the territory of present Hungary from 21 March 1920 till 21 December 1944. This state (which was also commonly referred to as the Hungarian Kingdom) was conceived of as a "kingdom without a king," since there was no consensus on either who should take the throne of Hungary, or what form of government should replace the monarchy. The kingdom was ruled in this period by Miklós Horthy, who had the title of regent.