Sigismund, aged approximately 50, in a painting traditionally attributed to Pisanello
King Sigismund of Hungary during the battle of Nicopolis in 1396. Painting by Ferenc Lohr. Main hall of the Castle of Vaja
King of Hungary (1387–1437), Germany (1410–1437), and Bohemia (1420–1437) and Holy Roman Emperor (1433– 1437), Sigismund of Luxembourg was the leader of the Nikopolis Crusade (1396) against the Ottoman Turks and organizer of crusades against the Hussites in Bohemia (1420–1433).
Sigismund was the son of Charles IV of Luxembourg, Holy Roman Emperor and king of Bohemia, and Elisabeth of Pomerania. He acquired the Hungarian crown by marriage to the kingdom’s last Angevin queen, Mary, daughter of King Louis I. After his wife’s death, he survived a long political crisis (1397–1403) to rule the kingdom efficiently with unparalleled self-confidence until his death. Hungary, which he accepted as his adopted country, offered a solid base for his far-reaching ambitions. He resided at Buda (mod. Budapest, Hungary) and Bratislava, although his court remained basically international.
Sigismund’s outstanding executive ability and ambitious character became evident during his preparations for the Nikopolis Crusade (1396), the last large, pan-European crusade against the Turks, which he led personally. Although the campaign ended in spectacular defeat at the battle of Nikopolis (25 September 1396; according to some scholars 28 September) and a breath-taking escape for him, he never gave up his ambitions; within a few years he gained other important crowns: he was elected king of Germany (king of the Romans) on the death of Rupert of the Palatinate (1410) and of Bohemia on the death of his elder brother Wenceslas IV. Sigismund was the last Holy Roman Emperor (crowned 1433) who believed himself to be the lord of all Christian Europe both on a representative level and in reality, and behaved so. One of the most traveled rulers of his time, he tried to intervene personally in all parts of Europe in order to solve political problems with his admired charm, intellect, and talent for languages. He was interested in the technical and military novelties of his time, such as paper mills and the textile industry, and issued military manuals for the Holy Roman Empire and Hungary. His crusades against the Ottoman Empire and the Hussites were, like his commercial embargo against Venice, means intended to achieve his universal political goals.
Sigismund had several major political successes. He brought the Great Schism of the papacy to an end at the Council of Konstanz (1417); he ended the Hussite wars by diplomacy and compromise after sustaining a series of humiliating defeats; and he negotiated a peace between the Teutonic Order and the kingdom of Poland. He realized correctly that successful management of the Turkish problem was a necessary condition to his rule in Hungary, and from the beginning of his reign he led campaigns (many of them in person) to the frontier areas against the Turks and their local allies, sometimes spending lengthy periods there (e.g., 1426–1428). After a victory over Bosnia, he established the secular Order of the Dragon (1408), in order to bind the rulers of Serbia, Wallachia, and Bosnia into an anti-Ottoman coalition. His most enduring achievement was the establishment of a fortress system, centered on Belgrade, to defend the southern frontiers of Hungary; it proved effective until the capture of Belgrade by the Ottomans in 1521. Even at the age of sixty he went to war to recapture the castle of Golubac (1428), although he was defeated again. His diplomatic horizon extended to the Middle East, where he established relations and collaborated with the khanate of the Golden Horde against the Ottoman Turks.
Bibliography Hoensch, Jorg K., Kaiser Sigismund: Herrscher an der Schwelle der Neuzeit, 1368.1437 (Munchen: Beck, 1996). Itinerar Konig und Kaiser Sigismunds von Luxemburg, 1368.1437, ed. Jorg K. Hoensch (Warendorf: Fahlbusch, 1995). Malyusz, Elemer, Kaiser Sigismund in Ungarn, 1387.1437 (Budapest: Akademiai, 1990). Sigismund von Luxemburg: Kaiser und Konig in Mitteleuropa 1387.1437, ed. Josef Macek, Ernƒ¢ Marosi, and Ferdinand Seibt (Warendorf: Fahlbusch, 1994). Das Zeitalter Konig Sigismunds in Ungarn und im Deutschen Reich, ed. Tilmann Schmidt and Peter Gunst (Debrecen: Debrecen University Press, 2000).