Emperor Charles IV, the product of the royal family of Luxembourg (John of Luxembourg) and the last surviving member of the Přemyslid dynasty (Elizabeth of Bohemia) was a ruler for the ages. With four wives, and far more than that number of children, he created a dynasty of his own. However, his sons would not be noted for being particularly popular, or effective, rulers.
Sigismund was born on Valentine’s Day, 1368, the son of Charles IV and Elizabeth of Pomerania, who was his fourth (and last) wife. When Sigismund was still a child, his father decided upon a suitable bride for him; thus, the six-year-old boy was betrothed to three-year-old Mary of Hungary in 1374. In 1378, his father died, and the boy was sent to Hungary, where he learned the language and customs of the country.
Three years later, Sigismund’s older half-brother, King Wenceslas IV, sent him to Kraków so that he could learn the language and customs of that country. The following year, 1382, his fiancé became Queen of Hungary upon her father’s death. Sigismund and Mary were married in 1385. Sigismund’s plans to become King of Hungary experienced a significant obstacle when Mary and her mother were seized by Hungarian rebels of the House of Horvat in 1387. Mary was eventually freed, but her mother, Elizabeth of Bosnia, was strangled.
Sigismund was crowned King of Hungary on March 31, 1387. He spent the next nine years attempting to keep control over the throne. He formed an alliance with the Czillei-Garai League, which supported him in exchange for Sigismund transferring a significant amount of royal property to them. Hungary’s southern provinces, however, had decided to choose their own king: Charles of Hungary’s son, Ladislaus of Naples.
Another obstacle occurred in 1395. Mary was pregnant for the first time when, on May 17, she set out on a hunt – alone. Her horse tripped, fell, and landed on Mary, who went into labor. Her premature son died, and Mary succumbed to her injuries. Sigismund, despite his years in Hungary and command of the language, was not Hungarian, and the death of Mary made the throne more difficult to retain. The Hungarian nobles imprisoned him several times, but Sigismund – with help – was freed each time.
Hungarian infighting led to the Turks invading the area, reaching as far as the Danube River. All of Europe enthusiastically supported a crusade against the Turks, under the encouragement of Pope Boniface IX. Sigismund led the combined armies of several countries (most notably, France), which consisted of some 90,000 men. Traveling south, he captured Vidin (in modern-day Bulgaria), then continued to Nicopolis. The Battle of Nicopolis started September 25 and ended September 28; it was a resounding defeat for the combined armies of Europe.
The defeat led to further discontent among the Hungarian lords, further threatening Sigismund’s tenuous hold on the throne. Sigismund, finally recognizing that he was wasting his time in Hungary, now focused on the kingdoms of Bohemia and Germany. His half-brother, Wenceslas IV, was King of Bohemia, but had no children, and, thus, no heir. Wenceslas supported Sigismund, who became Vicar-General of the Holy Roman Empire. However, Wenceslas’s days as king were coming to an end, and he was deposed in 1400. Sigismund lost the German throne to Rupert of Germany.
To be continued…