The mutual history of Hungary and France

In my word of the day series, I’ve explored similarities between the French and Hungarian language. Most of these are loanwords from a Romance language into Hungarian. But how do two languages meet to influence each other?

In 1185, Béla III of the House of Árpád and Margaret, daughter to King Louis VII, created one of the most significant historical ties between Hungary and France—they got married.

This was a second marriage for both Béla and Margaret. Béla III’s first wife was Anne de Châtillon (also called Agnès d’Antioche), daughter of the Prince of Antioch. She lived with her sister in Constantinople after their father was taken prisoner by the Muslims (Reynaud was a key crusader). Béla was educated in Constantinople under a treaty his father signed with the Byzantine Emperor. He and Anne were married from 1170 to her death in 1184.

Margaret had originally been a child bride of Henry the Young King of England; in 1160, the year of their marriage agreement, she was 2 years old and he was 5. Henry sent her back to France in 1182 for failing to produce an heir. The later marriage between her and the Hungarian, with his ties to the Byzantine empire and crusading Knights Hospitaller, was advantageous to the interests of the French king. (Louis VII played a leading role in the Second Crusade.)

Béla’s ascent to the Hungarian crown was not easy. When his brother died, his mother and influential barons preferred his younger brother Géza over him to rule. Béla had to get help from his friends in Constantinople as well as from the Pope to proceed with the coronation. The Pope interceded on Béla’s behalf several more times during his reign, which further fortified ties to the Church.

Under Béla, “Hungary experienced an unprecedented flowering both in the political sphere, domestic and foreign, and in ecclesiastical and cultural life” (Paul Lendvai, translation by Ann Major). His court controlled more silver than did the contemporary English or French courts. He sent scholars and diplomats to study at Paris and ordered that politics in Hungary be conducted in writing. A university modeled after the Parisian school was established at Veszprém, a central Hungarian city. Hungary’s territory was expanded to include parts of Croatia and, briefly, Poland.

Meanwhile, in France, one of the greatest Capetian monarchs came to power: Philip II Augustus, last king of the Franks and first king of France, who was to expand the French territory and introduce a period of prosperity for the new nation. He also supported the Third Crusade, in which Béla’s younger brother also participated with an army of 2,000 men… a story I’ll save for another day.

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