John Hunyadi (1385?-1456) was regent of Hungary, 1446-1452, and commander of the Hungarian army, 1452-1456. A national hero, he led the struggle against the Ottoman Turks.
John Hunyadi spent his youth at the court of the emperor Sigismund, and he distinguished himself in arms from an early age. The last years of Sigismund and the short reign of his son-in-law Albert (1437-1439) witnessed increasing Turkish pressure in southern Hungary. Under both kings John Hunyadi held military commands: he was made ban of Szörény in 1439 and voivode of Transylvania and captain of Belgrade in 1440. From 1441 on Hunyadi was constantly in the field. He inflicted severe defeats upon the Turks in 1442-1443. By 1444 Hunyadi, with the aid of Cardinal Caesarini and the Serbian George Branković, forced the sultan Murad II to a truce. For the first time since their invasions in the late 14th century, the Turks had been fought to a standstill by a Hungarian army. King Ú lászló, however, was persuaded by Caesarini to violate the truce and in 1444 led a Hungarian army to the slaughter at the battle of Varna, where he died; Hunyadi barely escaped with his life.
The death of Ú lászló again plunged Hungary into a domestic crisis. The new king, Ladislas Posthumus, was a minor, and Hunyadi was appointed regent of Hungary in 1446. Hunyadi's skill as a general was equaled by his skill as a statesman. In the face of disruptive activities of bands of Czech soldiers in the north and jealous rivals from the higher aristocracy, Hunyadi maintained political order by balancing the interests of the lesser nobility against those of the great magnates and by shaping the Hungarian army into an effective fighting force.
After the Turkish capture of Constantinople in 1453, Hungary once again became the target of the Turkish armies. In a final heroic effort Hunyadi shattered the army of Sultan Mohammed II at Belgrade in 1456. Three weeks after his victory, however, John Hunyadi died of the plague, which had broken out in the army. After King Ladislas died in 1457, the Hungarians elected John Hunyadi's second son, Matthias Corvinus, king of Hungary; under his rule Hungary flourished.
John Hunyadi is known to history as törökverö, conqueror of the Turks. His role in the history of Hungary is that of a protector at a time when Hungary's nominal protectors—its kings—were ineffective and when Hungary's enemies—the Turks and internal factionalism—were strong.
There is no biography of Hunyadi in English. The Cambridge Medieval History, vol. 8 (1936), contains a good account of Hunyadi's career by the greatest modern Hungarian historian, Bálint Hóman. Other accounts may he found in Denis Sinor, A History of Hungary (1959), and C. A. Macartney, Hungary: A Short History (1962).