The Purest Speculation – The Death of King Matthias & A Lust for Someone’s Else Life

Királyrét, in the Borszony Hills of northern Hungary, is home to the “royal meadow.” This was a former hunting ground of the last truly great Hungarian King, Matthias Corvinus (1458-1490). The historical record states that he would come here with his wife Queen Beatrice of Naples to venture out on hunts into the surrounding forest. We do not know if King Matthias was keeping an eye on his back, while keeping an eye out for animals on these hunts.  Perhaps he should have been. Whether it is just legend or the truth many believe that Beatrice helped lead Matthias to his doom by having him poisoned in 1490. If such a thing did happen, it would be deeply ironic, since the two had made so much history together. Beatrice helped bring the Renaissance to Matthias who in turn brought it to Hungary. A little known and intriguing historical footnote, the royal couple made Hungary the first European country outside of Italy to welcome the Renaissance. Matthias and Beatrice were the ultimate power couple of high culture, enlightened patrons of the arts. They were also power hungry, their ambition knew no bounds, which certainly included marital ones.

 Forest at Királyrét - former royal hunting ground of King Matthias

Forest at Királyrét  – former royal hunting ground of King Matthias

Királyrét- The Hunter Hunted?
Like many legends the cause of Matthias death does have some basis in fact. Beatrice was certainly smitten with power. On occasion, she accompanied Matthias on his many military campaigns and was known to insert herself into policymaking. This may have been because she was trying to compensate for failing in one of a queen’s most important duties, providing her husband with an heir to the throne. She never bore him any children. In 1479, only the third year of their marriage, the relationship became strained as a result of Matthias naming his illegitimate son as heir to the throne.  An even greater insult ensued when Matthias invited the boy’s mother (his mistress!) to the royal court as well. If Beatrice needed a reason to plot against her husband, she now certainly had one. If she needed a place to attempt an assassination there was probably nowhere better than on a hunt. It could be the perfect setting for an “accident” to take place.

Matthias, like many a king, was fond of hunting. Here was a sport where he could exercise both his martial skill and considerable ego. The fact that he would be focused on the hunt and less on a possible assassination attempt would have been noted by would be conspirators. The problem was that Matthias was a formidable warrior who would have been a tough mark for any assassin. Whether there was ever even a whisper of a plot to murder him on the hunt is pure speculation. That makes it no less a tantalizing prospect, especially when juxtaposed against the beautiful region where such a plot may have been hatched. The peaceful serenity of Királyrét is much the same today, as it was then. It seems the least likely place for lurid court politics to intrude. It is hard to fathom malevolence in this landscape. The verdant forests, the wide and lush meadows, the clean and crisp air, breathtaking and calming, could a conspiracy really take place here. Sadly the answer is yes, whether it did or not is quite another matter. One thing is most certainly true: there is no escape from the lust for power.

Matthias & Beatrice as power wielding couple

Matthias & Beatrice as power wielding couple – (Credit: Epitoma rerum Hungaricarum by Petrus Ransanus)

A Passion For Power – Beatrice After Matthias
Beatrice certainly had a motive, to gain sole ownership of the lands and wealth that she felt should be under her rule. Anyone else in this situation would have probably felt the same. The wealth Matthias had acquired was definitely enough to give even the most humble individual cause for avarice. His financial resources were vast. It is believed that his annual income was almost a million gold florins, close to the same level as the King of France. The lands under his control outside of Hungary proper included Moravia, Silesia and all of Lower Austria. He died in Vienna, a city he had conquered only a few years before. Beatrice’s actions after Matthias death fuelled speculation as to her desires. She contrived to marry the next king, Vladislaus II. The marriage took place, but it was claimed that Vladislaus had failed to divorce his first wife.  Furthermore, Vladislaus later stated he had been forced to marry Beatrice. The upshot of all this, was that the pope declared the marriage illegal and Beatrice was sent back to Naples. She would never see Hungary again.

Queen Beatrice and King Matthias

Queen Beatrice and King Matthias – a passion for power

Perhaps this was why the legend arose that she had Matthias poisoned when he died in 1490. Medical experts have considered this claim dubious since Matthias showed no symptoms of poisoning. Instead, he most likely suffered a stroke. Some historians still will not rule out the possibility of a conspiracy. The myth of poisoning has survived for over five hundred years, even without historical evidence to support such a legend. Then again, conspiracy theorists have never let the hard facts of history get in the way of a good story. Speculation as to the cause of Matthias’ death will probably never end. Even deep in the Borszony Hills, at the royal meadow of Királyrét, a place serene and beautiful, there can be no escape from the lust and envy that accompanies power.

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