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The beginnings of royal pledging in the Kingdom of Hungary

Introduction

Then, it is known to all what great and frequent dangers attended and arose in the affairs of the royal majesty and the whole country by the pledging and temporary alienation of the real and just revenues of the Holy Crown of the kingdom to diverse persons, as was done hitherto.

(Decreta regni, pp. 177-9)

With these words, the first article of the royal decree promulgated at the diet of 1514 begins. Its prominent place assigned in the decree shows clearly how pressing the issue of pledged and alienated royal revenues and possession became for the crown of Hungary in the early 16th century. In accordance with this as well, the measures prescribed by the decree reflect the severity of the problem. It was decided at the diet that half of pledged and alienated royal possessions and revenues had to be returned to the king after his remaining debts had been cleared away. Four years later, even more drastic measures were taken at another diet, as a new decree ordered that not only half of pledged and leased royal rights and revenues had to be returned to the king, as had been formerly decided, but all of it (CIH, p. 756).

While similar regulations concerning the recovery of pledged royal possessions emerged in other parts of Central Europe in this period, the problem gained special importance in Hungary because of the looming Ottoman threat and because of how great a financial challenge this posed to the kingdom (Ludwig 1984, pp. 113-17, 121; Matuszewski 1997, pp. 52-3; Isenmann 1999, pp. 253, 265). On the one hand, the royal revenues had dwindled during the Jagiellonians’ rule in comparison to the earlier period. This was partly because the number of taxable tenants dropped in the southern regions of the kingdom, but also because not all royal revenues were collected for the treasury owing to various military and fiscal reforms of the late 15th century. Finally, the continuous putting in pledge and alienation of the royal domains and revenues had also greatly contributed to theemergence of this situation (Neumann et al. 2019, pp. 57-9; Fogel 1913, pp. 14-15. Palosfalvi 2018, p. 455). On the other hand, not only were the revenues lower, but expenses became so high that it was not always possible to meet them, sometimes not even the treasury’s basic expenditures. For fending off the Ottoman danger, a chain of castles and forts were erected alongside the southern border already in the first part of the 15th century and later extended with new ones. This defence system could fulfil its purpose entirely only if armed troops were stationed in the castles. To this end, a permanent army was established in the kingdom which was, at that time, one of the earliest on the continent, but its costs represented an enormous financial burden for the kingdom. The most severe financial troubles came forward when, besides paying the castles’ garrisons, troops were raised for planned military campaigns and their wages had to be covered as well. The case of the year 1522 is known from closer research and it shows a gloomy picture. That year, the royal revenues most likely remained short of the expenditures by a small margin despite the extraordinary tax levied for recruiting mercenaries (C. Toth 2016, pp. 124, 126-7, Palosfalvi 2018, pp. 4, 455). Considering all this, it is understandable that the recovery of pledges became such a cardinal issue for a treasury that was striving to complement its revenues by almost all possible means. Despite the ordinances of the diets their stipulations were not completely fulfilled, partly because some of the royal possessions were pledged exactly for military service (Kubinyi 2006, p. 306; Palosfalvi 2018, p. 460).

This is how crucial the issue of the pledged royal lands became in late medieval Hungary before the Ottoman conquest. The aim of the present study is to trace back the roots of this process and to present the emergence of pledging in the royal finances, and to highlight under what circumstances it could become an important element of these finances.

 
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