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Eastern and Central Europe: Russia, Poland, Hungary; Germany, Switzerland, Bohemia.

Medieval history. From end of western empire to the discovery of America (a.d. 476-1492). From the Crusade Period to the Discovery of America (a.d. 1270-1492).
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The origin of the name "Russia" is unknown. During the 10th, 11th and 12th centuries the country had a number of free democratic republics, with their centres at great trading towns such as Kieff (Kiev), the entrepot of commerce with Greece and Asia; Novgorod, dealing with Germany and Scandinavia; Smolensk, and Polotsk. Christianity was received, in the Greek Church form, from Constantinople, and the ecclesiastics aimed at introducing into Russian life the monarchical form of rule. There were numberless petty wars among the states, which had no other bonds of unity than those of language and religion. Territory was being won towards the east, and colonies settled on Finnish soil. A kind of feudal system arose under the boyars, men of wealth and power in town and country. In the 13th century, the land was overwhelmed by Mongol (Tartar) invaders from central Asia, united into a great confederacy by the famous Genghis Khan. They had already conquered vast territories in their native continent, and soon became masters of much of eastern Europe. The religion and landowners of Russia, and the authority of the princes, did not suffer much, but the rulers had to receive investiture from the Mongol Khan resident in Asia. The two centuries of Mongol supremacy retarded the development of civilisation, as the princes adopted Oriental ways.

In 1325 the town of Moscow received new importance in becoming the metropolitan city of the Church, and was a centre of authority and influence over neighbouring principalities. Towards the end of that century the place was taken and burnt by the ruler of one of the Mongol khanates which had been existing, during this period, alongside of the Russian principalities, but the city soon recovered from the blow, and the Moscow principality grew under the rule of Vassili I. and II. (1389-1462). We may note that the republic of Novgorod, in the north-west, had never been conquered by the Mongols, and the Russian saint, a perfectly historical character, Alexander Nevski ("of the Neva") derives his surname from his defeat, on that river, in 1240, of the Swedes who invaded his Novgorod territories. In 1462 Ivan III., son of Vassili or Basil II., became ruler at Moscow. He was an ambitious and able man, and set himself to the work of creating a strong independent state. He married a niece of Constantine Palaeologus, last of the Greek emperors, and she brought to his court a large retinue of Greeks whose political ideas were autocratic. Ivan then assumed the title of "Ruler of all Russia," and adopted the arms of the fallen Byzantine empire. In 1481, he took possession of Novgorod, put to death many boyars and wealthy merchants, and completed the ruin of the republic and its trade by the removal of inhabitants and the subsequent pillage of the marts. The Mongol power had long been declining, partly from divisions among the khanates, and the retreat of their forces, without attacking Ivan's host, when he had refused to pay further tribute, in 1480, may be regarded as the end of Mongol influence. Before his death in 1505 Ivan had won territory from the Poles and Lithuanians, and the foundation of a solid state had been laid.

The name "Poland" appears first in that of a tribe, the Poliani, of the western branch of the Slavonic race, dwelling between the Oder and the Vistula. In the 10th century the Poles received Christianity in the form of the Latin or Western Church, and were thus from the first antagonistic, in point of religion, to the Russians. The first Polish bishopric was founded at Posen, and under Boleslas I. (992-1025) the kingdom was extended beyond the Oder, the Dniester, and the Carpathians. Many new cities were built, trade grew, and monasteries and schools were established. Boleslas III. (1102-1139) was an energetic warrior-king, who annexed Pomerania. At this time, and for a long period, the country was only a duchy. In the 13th century there was much trouble with the conquering Teutonic Knights, and then with the Mongols. Poland was, at this time, largely colonised by Germans and Jews. About 1295 the country became again a kingdom, and under Ladislaus I. (1305-1333) the first Polish "diet" or parliament was summoned. His son Casimir the Great (1333-1370) did much for the country, in the increase of trade, laying the foundation of law, and annexing Galicia. The Jagellon dynasty, which endured for nearly two centuries, was started in 1386 by Jagello, last of the hereditary grand-dukes of Lithuania, who succeeded his father-in-law, king of Poland, and changed his name to Ladislaus II. Poland and Lithuania were thus united, and the kingdom became for nearly three centuries the chief power of eastern Europe. Under Casimir IV. (1447-1492) successful war was waged with the Teutonic Knights, and western Prussia, including Pomerania and the cities of Thorn and Danzig, was annexed. At this time the Polish nobility had a great increase of power, receiving the right of choosing deputies to attend the diet, when they could not be present in person. The power of the diet was also so much enhanced that the government became that of an oligarchy rather than a monarchy, and the Polish kings could control affairs only through personal influence.

It was under St. Stephen, the first king (997-1038), that the Hungarian nation began to pass from paganism to Christianity, and from barbarism to civilisation. This great and good man is still, to the Hungarians, for his patriotic wisdom, the "Alfred" of their history, and on August 20th, his anniversary, his embalmed right hand is carried in a splendid procession through the city of Buda, in sight of all the people. He endowed the Church with the utmost liberality, founding bishoprics and abbeys. He established royalty on a firm basis, with due regard to the ancient privileges of the nobles. The royal domains and privileged cities were alone directly ruled by the sovereign. The Church and the nobility had self-government, with appeal to the king. The royal towns chose their own judges and other officials. The bulk of the people, various classes of bondmen and servants, were under the authority of the landowners. Many of the existing institutions of the country, as the ecclesiastical system, and the municipal and county councils, and the original form of the Diet of the States, or Parliament, were founded by this first monarch of the realm. Under this Arpad dynasty, as it is called from an early ruler, which was in power for three centuries, there were troubles with attempts at a revival of paganism; contests with German emperors; a terrible Mongol invasion; and, in the last century of the period, anarchy from oligarchical excesses. In 1222, the document styled the "Golden Bull," a Magna Charta of Hungarian nobles, gave great privileges to that class, afterwards extended to the clergy and lower nobility. The diet was to be annually summoned, and the right of armed resistance to a sovereign's illegal acts was granted. In 1301 the house of Arpad became extinct, and in 1309 a good king was found in Charles Robert of Anjou. During his reign, lasting till 1342, he did much to advance civilisation, developing the rich mining-industry and other branches of trade, and creating an army by the introduction of the Western system of chivalry which proved attractive to the great lords.

Under Louis the Great (1342-1382) Hungary became the most powerful nation in central Europe. His arms were successful against the Mongols and the Servians. Venice was forced to cede Dalmatia and to pay tribute. A great Turkish army was routed on the banks of the Maritza, and in 1370 Louis became king of Poland. He was one of the greatest of Hungarian monarchs, always victorious in battle; a promoter of the arts of peace; a giver of enduring legislation; an improver of ecclesiastical and judicial institutions; a liberal patron of learning. After a period of disorder and decline, including defeat by the Turks and the Venetians in the days of the king Sigismund who was also emperor of Germany in the latter part of his life, a revival came under an insignificant monarch, through the exertions of a brave soldier, skilful general, and prudent and energetic statesman, John Hunyadi, the chancellor of the kingdom. He won his first renown in fight against the Turks, and became an object of admiration to Europe, as well as the idol of his country, in the same cause. His victories, gained against great odds, were of an astounding character, due to a combination of craft and of desperate courage rarely equalled. In 1444 Hunyadi was gaining another triumph over the Moslem foe near Varna, when defeat was due to the king's rashness in encountering the best troops of the enemy. He was quickly slain, and a panic arose among the Hungarians when his pale head, in his silver helmet, was suddenly displayed aloft on a pike. Under another sovereign, named Ladislaus, Hunyadi sustained one defeat from the Turks, through the treacherous conduct of a subordinate, but in 1456 he scattered a vast Turkish host under the walls of Belgrade, with the loss of 40,000 men slain and 300 cannon. At this most glorious moment, worn out by fatigue, Hunyadi suddenly died. A noble specimen of a knight and a Christian hero, this great Hungarian, modest and unselfish as a monk in his life, wealthy enough to be always able to raise and pay 10,000 warriors, and spending his whole income on armaments against the Turks, left a noble successor in the son who was raised by election to the throne for his father's sake.

Matthias Corvinus (1458-1490), perhaps the greatest of Hungarian kings, was an excellent commander, diplomatist, and statesman; he was great as a legislator and judge; a true lover of the people whom he ruled; a munificent encourager of art and science. In the field of war he was his father's worthy son - courageous in action, masterly in organisation, the first general of his time. His training had been such that, at 15 years of age, when he became possessed of regal power, he was well fitted to cope with the duties of his post. His spirit in childhood had been stirred by the hearing of the ballads and legends that dealt with the deeds of Alexander and Attila, Roland, and other heroes of war. His reckless courage in battle, as he emulated the achievements of his idols, made his soldiers tremble for the man whom they followed. Conspicuous above all his noble qualities was the love of justice and truth which made him delight in exposing hypocrisy, and bringing to shame the braggart and the bully. In person he was deep-chested, broad-shouldered, and strong-limbed, and this athletic frame was topped by a massive well-cut head, in which shone eyes with the vision of a hawk. His self-confidence, resolution, and endurance were unfailing, and no crisis, no unexpected event, shook for a moment his iron nerves, or brought him to the end of his resources. He waged war, with many victories, against his northern neighbours the Poles, and the Czechs of Bohemia and Moravia, and was scarcely ever at peace with the Turks, to the south. His inveterate foe was the German emperor, Frederick III., and in 1485 Matthias took his capital, Vienna, and drove him out in a destitute condition. The Hungarian army included a new corps d'elite, specially trained by the king on the best models - the old Roman discipline, and that furnished by the admirable Janissaries of the Turkish host. All the hardships of war were shared by the royal general with the troops who adored him in life, and cherished his memory with the tenderest affection.

Apart from warlike enterprises, Matthias gave the world a fine example of royal dignity, magnanimity, and splendour of life. His diplomacy extended to every European court, and his embassies were unrivalled for magnificent display. This model of a benevolent despot won his people's love by the careful and impartial hearing which he accorded to all petitioners, from the greatest lord to the humblest peasant, and this conduct, combined with the framing of excellent laws well enforced, gave him in his lifetime the title of "the Just," and enshrined his memory in the phrase still current in Hungary four centuries later - "King Matthias is dead, and justice is no more!" He vied with the Medici of Florence, and with the most sumptuous and tasteful princes of his time, in gathering round him and lavishly rewarding artists and scholars from every part of Europe. A magnificent library, the king's chief pride, was formed in the castle at Buda, the two large halls being sumptuously furnished, and the books written on white vellum, bound in coloured skins, adorned with rose-diamonds and other precious stones. The illuminations were the work of the best artists of the day, and above a score of transcribers and book-painters were in permanent employment at the court, while copyists and painters at Florence and Venice also regularly sent volumes to the Buda collection. Hungary had attained, under Matthias, the height of prosperity, fame, civilisation, and power, when his sudden death, by apoplexy, at Easter, 1490, left the glorious fabric which he had reared to vanish amid the struggles of rivals for power, a prey to the rapid decline which occurs when a ruler of the highest gifts, the creator of what he alone can maintain, has incompetent successors to his throne.

In Germany Rudolf of Hapsburg (1273-1291) was a brave and successful emperor, who restored the judicial system set up by Frederick II., rid the country of robbers, and strove to prevent the pernicious private warfare between princes and nobles. His chief opponent was Ottocar, king of Bohemia, by far the most powerful prince of the empire, ruling with great tyranny also in Austria, Styria, Carinthia, and Carniola. In 1278, he was defeated and slain in battle with Rudolf on the Marchfeld, near Vienna, and now began the territorial power of the Hapsburg house. Rudolf took possession of the duchy of Austria, with Styria, Carinthia, and Carniola, granting them as imperial fiefs to his two sons and his brother-in-law, count of Tyrol. His son Albert I. (1298-1308) was murdered by his nephew, and the empire passed to Henry VII., count of Luxemburg, who made a show of reviving the "Holy Roman Empire" by being crowned king of Italy at Pavia and emperor in Rome. His death by poison in 1313 was followed by a terrible and devastating war between two elected emperors, Ludwig IV., of Bavaria, supported by the towns, and Frederick of Austria, son of Albert, acknowledged by the nobles. In 1322, at the battle of Muhldorf, Frederick was defeated and made prisoner, and Ludwig, crowned emperor in Rome, ruled till his death in 1347. In his time a stand was made against Papal claims by a declaration of the electoral princes, in 1338, that every legally chosen German king was thereby "Roman emperor" without Papal coronation. The independence of the empire was thus established, to the general satisfaction of the German cities and princes.

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Pictures for Eastern and Central Europe: Russia, Poland, Hungary; Germany, Switzerland, Bohemia.

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