The Holy Wars of King Wladislas and Sultan Murad. The Ottoman-Christian Conflict from 1438–1444

Paul W. Knoll
2013 The Polish Review  
The wars referred to in the title of this book culminated in the Crusade of Varna, in which the king of Poland and Hungary, Władysław III, was killed, along with thousands of Christian crusaders and even greater numbers of soldiers serving Sultan Murad II of the Ottoman Empire. The battle there, in November 1444, marked the reversal of a series of victories by Christian armies, which seemed to be turning the tide of Ottoman expansion in Europe and led, within a decade, to the conquest of
more » ... tinople by Sultan Mehmet II, the son and successor of Murad, bringing to an end the history of the Byzantine Empire. The events treated in this welcome study have been, since their occurrence, controversial. How Christian forces under Władysław's commanding general John Hunyadi could, near dusk, suffer crushing defeat from the Ottoman troops who had been seemingly routed and defeated earlier in the day is only one of these problematic matters. Equally contentious is the question of why Władysław, who in the summer of 1444 at Szeged apparently had negotiated, signed, and sworn to uphold a ten-year truce with Murad, should have undertaken the crusade in the first place. These are only some of the matters Jefferson addresses in this book, his revised 2011 PhD dissertation from Mainz University. Although the primary focus in the book is upon Hungarian, Ottoman, and general ecclesiastical issues, the study is highly relevant to readers of this journal, as it includes much relating to Poland: Władysław was the second Jagiellonian ruler of the Polish-Lithuanian state; Bishop Zbigniew Oleśnicki of Kraków had dominated the early rule of Władysław (b. 1424, succeeded to the Polish throne 1434), and arranged for him to become king of Hungary in 1440-though a bitter civil war there delayed his actual acquisition of rule; and Poland was vigorously engaged in the conciliar movement, against the background of which papal efforts to achieve Church union between Rome and Constantinople and to mount a crusade against the Ottomans took place. In addition, Polish historians have been some of the most important students of the Crusade of Varna. In the fifteenth century, Jan Długosz, Poland's greatest medieval historian was, as Jefferson notes, "the single best contemporary western narrative source for these events" (p. 8). Jefferson uses him fully, though not uncritically. In the twentieth century, Jan Dąbrowski, the doyen of Krakovian medievalists until his death in the 1960s and a noted authority on Polish-Hungarian
doi:10.5406/polishreview.58.4.0122 fatcat:4ezximirobcvxlhvbkxuzrpfs4