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King Louis I’s finances

The name that initially pops up concerning royal pledging in the Kingdom of Hungary is Sigismund of Luxembourg (1387-1437) and this is not by coincidence. During his half-century-long reign in the country, he had managed to conclude several hundreds of transactions of pledge, in which a high number of royal castles were involved. Even one of medieval Hungary’s most infamous transactions of pledge is related to him. In 1412, he put in pledge a region to the king of Poland in such way that it could be recovered only 360 years later (Incze 2016, p. 266). Nonetheless, despite pledging becoming somewhat inseparable from his name, it was certainly not Sigismund who established this form of raising extraordinary revenues in the country. This is proven by one of his many transactions by which he contracted a loan based on his predecessor King Louis I’ (1342-1382) pledging of Stenicnjak

(Sztenicsnyak) castle (DL 34052, Frangepan I, pp. 131-2). Characteristic of Sigismund, he demanded a loan greater than the original sum for which the castle was given in pledge by Louis. His demand for credit was backed up by threatening the widow of the original pledge holder that he would grant the castle to someone else if his request was not met (Frangepan I, p. 140; Engel 1977, p. 158). The most interesting aspect emerging from this case perhaps was not how Sigismund dealt with the whole situation, but the fact that it reveals that his predecessor had to tackle financial problems and that he similarly tried to overcome them by pledging. The initial transaction concluded in 1380 leaves no doubt that Louis pledged the castle for a loan -a sum as high as 10,000 Hungarian golden florins. This might be somewhat unexpected in light of the literature’s frequent statements according to which Louis treasury seemed inexhaustible, or the prevailing notion that due to his prosperous financial situation he never had to resort to melting down or pawning his treasures (Engel 2003b, p. 315; Engel 2001, p. 157; Csukovits 2019, p. 108). The renowned Hungarian medievalist, Pal Engel, also noted this discrepancy and suggested that it was characteristic only of Louis’ last years of his reign when probably the outputs of gold production had dropped off, causing such financial difficulties for the treasury that they could never be overcome (Engel 2001, p. 187). Though admittedly, the transaction from 1380 belonged to Louis’ later ones, he had been pledging from much earlier in his reign - at least from the first part of the 1360s. Furthermore, specialists date the beginning of the gold production decline to somewhat later that his reign, the beginning of the 15th century (Batizi 2018, p. 176; Paulinyi 2005, p. 185). This entire discussion reflects precisely how much uncertainty surrounds the topic of royal finances during King Louis’ rule. It is telling in regard to the whole situation that the source material is so scarce that it only allows estimates for the revenues Sigismund had, whereas in the case of Louis not even such estimations are possible (Engel 2003a, p. 426; Kubinyi 2006, p. 23).

What seems unequivocally accepted is that the salt and the precious metal monopoly, the tax of the royal towns and of the hospes settlements, the extraordinary levy, and the revenues related to the royal estates were among Louis’ most important sources of income. Out of these, he could expect the highest yields from the precious metal mining, particularly from gold production (Engel 2003b, p. 315; Bertenyi 1987, p. 219). The Kingdom of Hungary possessed vast mineral and metal wealth and, already in the second part of the 13th century, a boom was registered in the silver mining industry, while gold appeared only as a by-product of it. This first ‘golden age’ of the country’s precious metal mining was stopped by the fights for the throne that broke out after the extinction of the Arpad dynasty’s male line in 1301. After Louis’s father, Charles I (1301-1342), had risen to power and managed to stabilize his rule around 1320, new mines with large resources have been discovered and a new prosperous era began in the precious metal miningactivity. At this time, especially the gold mining started to flourish, and despite the fluctuation in the output caused by the discovery of new mines and the closing of older, inundated ones, a highly significant amount of gold in the continent was produced by Hungary in the 14th century. On the top of that, silver mining was also thriving to such extent that only Bohemia produced more of it during this period. Calculations in scholarship estimate the yearly output of gold to 2-2.5 tons, and around 10 tons of silver (Batizi 2018, pp. 172-6; Stefanik 2012, pp. 224-5; Paulinyi 2005, pp. 184-5).

The journey of the queen mother, Elisabeth, to Italy in 1343 is commonly seen by the historiography as proof of this substantial wealth. That year, Robert of Anjou (1309-1343), the king of Naples died, and his testament named Joana, his granddaughter, to be his successor. King Louis’ brother and Joana’s husband, Andrew, lived in Naples since 1333 and was also a candidate to the throne. After Robert’s death, Queen Elisabeth set out on a journey to Italy to facilitate her son Andrew’s rise to power in Naples. If we can accept the information of a contemporary chronicler, Elisabeth carried with her more than six tons of silver and more than five tons of gold on the diplomatic journey. Nonetheless, even this great fortune proved not to be enough for her expenses so Louis sent another large amount of gold to her (Csukovits 2019, pp. 30-2; Engel 2001, pp. 156, 159-60). In line with this as well, one of Louis’ letters from 1366 is often mentioned, in which he wrote to one of his barons that if the money sent for paying soldiers is not enough, then he should send word of how much was needed, and it would be sent. Finally, Louis and his mother visited a number of pilgrimage sites abroad and lavished them with sumptuous gifts which shows precisely what financial possibilities the dynasty possessed at the time (Csukovits 2019, pp. 107-13; Engel 2001, p. 186).

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