Béla IV, King (?, November 1206 - 3 May 1270). – Hungarian king of the House of Árpád (1235-1270), first son of King András II (Endre, Andrew) and Princess Gertrud of Meran. As a child he witnessed the murder of his mother by disgruntled nobles, led by Bánk bán. Before his succession to the throne he bore the title “junior king” (ifjabb király) with jurisdiction over Slavonia and Transylvania.He married the daughter of Emperor Theodore Laskaris of Nikea, which caused him to fall out of his father’s favor.
In 1222, his father King András II (Endre, Andrew) was forced to issue an edict known as the Golden Bull (Aranybulla) that, among others, curtailed the powers of the king and church. This shocked the clergy and displeased the Pope. In fact, the Pope excommunicated András for the latter’s use of Moslems and Jewish moneylenders and for restricting the Church’s salt monopoly. The king was compelled to conclude a truce with the Pope by surrendering to the demands of the Church. Thus, the Hungarian clergy, under the protection of the papacy, managed to retain their power – for the time being.
When Béla IV succeeded to the throne in 1235, he faced grave difficulties and saw no other solution than the restoration of the former economic basis of royal power. He set up a commission charged with the task of revising grants of land and recovering alienated castles and crown lands. This attempt met with universal resistance. He also dismissed and imprisoned some of his father’s counselors. The estates of those who participated in the murder of his mother were confiscated. This poisoned relations between the king and the majority of the Hungarian ruling class with grave consequences that became evident during the subsequent Mongol-Tartar invasion in 1241.
A few years earlier, a Hungarian Dominican friar named Julianus traveled east to find Hungarians who had stayed behind in Bashkiria (Magna Hungaria) by the River Volga. There he learned that the Mongol hordes were advancing toward the West. Soon the news of the fall of Kiev reached Hungary. A Mongol invasion of Hungary looked imminent.
In 1237 the Mongols attacked the Cumanian tribes inhabiting an area between the rivers Dnieper and Dniester. Some of the Cumanians, led by their king, Kötöny, fled westward and asked permission to setztle in Hungary. Béla IV designated a district in the region between the Rivers Danube and Tisza for them in the hope that the Cumanian warriors would be loyal to him in his struggle with the barons. However, the Cumanian herdsmen soon clashed with the neighbouring farmers. The resulting animosity provided food for agitation and the barons were quick to turn it to their own advantage. They clamored for the expulsion of the Cumanians. The King however was reluctant to let the Cumanians be expelled as he received fresh news of the approach of the Mongol hordes.
At the last moment Béla lost the Cumanians. A mob incited by the barons murdered King Kötöny and the Cumanians left Hungary for the Balkans. A large number of barons looked on indifferently, even with hostility at the King’s efforts to rally resitance when the Mongol hordes reached the frontiers of Hungary. Apart from the prelates only few barons led their soldiers to the king’s standard.
The Mongols entered Hungary from three directions in 1241. From Poland in the north, Transylvania in the east, while the main body of the Mongol forces led by Batu Khan entered from the northeast through the Verecke Pass in the Carpathians. It was only after Batu Khan defeated the army of Palatine Dénes (Denis) Tomaj that he was able to muster sufficient forces to march toward Pest with all his armies united. The Battle of Mohi on the banks of the River Sajó resulted in a decisive defeat of the badly organized Hungarian army. With just a handful of troops the King fled to Prince Frederick of Austria. Frederick, instead of giving him assistance, took him prisoner. He released him for a large ransom and occupied three western Hungarian counties. From the Pope the King received no assistance other than words of encouragement. In the meantime the enemy plundered and destroyed the country. When the Mongol-Tartars crossed the frozen Danube River the king fled to Spalato (now Split) on the Dalmatian coast, and later to the Island of Trau. Only after the Mongol hordes had left the ruined country in 1242 did the king’s skills as statesman emerge: together with the nobility he started to rebuild his devastated realm.He modified his political stance toward the noblemen and through large donations of land to the counselors, began the reconstruction of the cities and built stonewalled forts in anticipation of the returning enemy. He struck a peace with the Cumanians and used family alliances towards strengthening the country’s defenses. In 1245 he married off his son István (Stephen) V “the younger king” to Elizabeth, daughter of the princely Cumanian family. His daughter Anna became the wife of Prince Rotislav of Csernigov. His daughter Ilona (Blessed Jolanta) became the wife of the ruler of Halics, while his other daughter Kinga (Kunigunda) married Boleslav, the Polish Prince of Krakow. Pope John Paul II beatified Kinga on 16 June 1999.
Béla later defeated the Austrian Prince Frederick and installed his son István as ruler of Styria. In the latter part of his life there was a conflict with his son István. Jointly with his two sons an important edict was declared whereby they installed as nobles those who were in the ‘servant’ role attending to the king. He spent his last days with his daughter Margit (St. Margaret – Szent Margit of Hungary) in a monastery on the Island of the Hares (today’s Margaret Island – Margit Sziget) of Budapest) andwas buried by the Franciscans of Eger. – B: 0883, 1133, T: 3312.→Árpád, House of; András II, King; Golden Bull; Julianus, Friar; Mongol-Tartar Invasion.