Hungary Converts to Christianity... [Back]

King Stephen I, the Saint, reigning from 1000-1038, founded the Christian Kingdom. Rather than joining the Holy Roman Empire, Stephen accepted the crown directly from the Pope, thereby ensuring Hungary's political independence.

Upon their conversion to Christianity, the Magyars began the process of adopting themselves to the Latin-speaking culture of feudal Europe. From that time, until the end of World War II, the country remained a kingdom. Its cultural life developed within the framework of Western Christian civilization. This profound change was carried out by the kings of the House of Árpád (circa 890-1301).

Mercy, Wisdom and Heartbreak

King Stephen showed mercy to defeated enemies, and provided a haven for refugees from other lands. Included amonth these were two exiled English princes, Edward and Edmund Ironside. Edward, the last descendant of Alfred the Great, returned to England with his family in 1057 as pretender to the throne. His wife, Agatha, was the daughter of Stephen and Edward's daughter, who would become St Margaret of Scotland, was the Hungarian king's granddaughter. Edward and Agatha were followed to England by a number of Hungarian nobles, who settled in Scotland. There are still some families among the Scottish nobility, like the Drummonds and Leslies, who trace their descent from the Hungarian nobles in Edward's entourage.

Saint Stephen's deeds were always governed by Christian ethics aimed at leading his people toward God. He outlined his principles in his "Admonitions" to his son, Prince Imre:

If you wish honor of kingship, be peace-loving. Rule over all without anger, pride, or hatred, but with love, tenderness and humanity. Remember always that each one of us has the same standing: nothing exalts a man but humility; nothing humiliates more than haughtiness and hatred... Peace loving monarchs rule, the rest only tyrannize. Be patient toward all--influential and destitute alike.

Organized into ten separate chapters, the "Admonitions" make most interesting reading and many parts are still relevant today. Their tone is benign and firm, suggesting Stephen's anxiety to prepare his son thoroughly for the throne. Then, like lightning from the blue, tragedy struck. While huntin in 1-31, the virtuout Prince Imre fell prey to a wild boar's attack.

A contemporary chronicler wrote of Imre's death: "The whole country mourned him, crying disconsolately." Two generations later, Imre was elevated to sainthood. He is still honored by Hungarian youth as a model of chastity and virtue. (It is a little known fact that the American continents bear St Emmeric's name. The Italian mapmaker, Amerigo Vespucci, from whose name the word "America" was derived, had been named after St Emeric in baptism.)

At the end of the Turkish conquest, more correctly in 1720, due to the continuous struggles with the Turks (Muslims) and their deportations of Hungarians to the Orient, the population had dwindled to 2.57 million. Hungarians became a minority in their own country.

Had they not stopped the onslaught of Islamic Turkey, the Turks would have overrun a Europe exhausted by religious wars. As English historian and secretary of war, Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) said: "The Koran would now be taught in Oxford."