Sándor Petőfi, (1823–1849)

Posted: Friday, June 26, 2009

Hungarian lyric poet, generally regarded as the most authentic voice in native poetry and the foremost representative of the Romantic school in Hungarian literature

Of Slovak origin, his family name was Petrovich and his father, István, was a butcher and innkeeper. Petőfi called Kiskunfélegyháza his native town but his actual place of birth is still being debated. He attended schools in various locations, seldom staying longer in any one of them than a few months. It was while attending school in the town of Aszód that he began to write poetry; it was there too that he became interested in acting, an interest he never abandoned. While at still another school, he grew tired of his studies, at which point his father ceased to support him. He found temporary refuge at a distant relative’s home in a village, but when he began to write love letters to the daughter of an eminent citizen, he was forced to leave. In 1839 he enlisted in the army, fell ill while on the way to his company in the Balkans, and he was discharged. With nowhere to go, he returned to his by now impoverished parents. His father urged him to learn a trade, but he joined a group of stalking actors for a season.

In 1841, disillusioned with his rootless life, he resumed his academic studies in the town of Pápa. This was when his poems finally began to earn recognition, even acclaim. Unable to make a living, he resumed his wandering ways, but even in his footloose and always destitute condition he attracted the attention of important literary persons. It was not until 1844 that he was able to have a modest collection of his poems published. These represented a sharp departure from the formulaic, classicist style of poetry that the aristocracy, guardians of Hungarian literature, favored. Petőfi’s poems were written in the accents of plebeian democracy, with powerful native motifs, and they incurred the hostility of much of the nobility. He became the target of venomous press attacks, especially after he published his naive but deeply moving epic poem János Vitéz (Hero John). By now, 1845, wherever he went he was received with great affection by the common folk and fellow literati alike.

In an era of ever more assertive Hungarian nationalism, his interests became more political. He also began to read socialist authors, St. Simon in particular, and became convinced of the necessity of a revolution. In September 1846 he met a cultured young lady, Julia Szendrey, but it took a long and disheartening struggle for him to overcome her hesitations and her parents’ opposition. Love conquered and in the happy early months of his marriage he produced some of the great love poems in world literature.

When in March 1848, under the impact of the revolutions in Paris and then in VIENNA, BUDAPEST too rose in revolt, Petőfi was on the barricades. His Nemzeti Dal (Song of a nation), which on March 15 he read to a delirious reception from the steps of the National Museum, became the battle song of the revolution. But his politics were too radical, even to some of his admirers. He continued to write poems, pamphlets, and articles. In June 1848 he stood for election to parliament but was defeated. That same month he joined the rebel Hungarian army as a captain. His son, Zoltán, was born, on December 15 while he was stationed in the town of Debrecen. He asked for transfer to a battle unit and, in January 1849, he left his wife and newborn son and joined a revolutionary army corps under the command of Polish general Josef Bem, who was fighting with the Hungarian forces against the Habsburgs. He continued to move from place to place, had conflicts with the minister of war in the provisional capital of Debrecen, resigned his commission, and returned to Bem’s army corps as a private. After the new Habsburg emperor, FRANCIS JOSEPH appealed to Russian czar Nicholas I to help put down the Hungarian revolt, Petőfi moved his family to a safe place and, urging his nation to resist to the last, went to the front. On July 31, 1849, after a battle near the town of Segesvár, about six in the afternoon, he disappeared. What happened to him was never discovered. Legends arose and in later years many false Petőfis appeared, but the fate of the real Petőfi remains a mystery to this day.


Posted: Thursday, June 18, 2009

Hungarian revolutionary, politician, and statesman, who served most of his political career in the House of Habsburg, as prime minister and defense minister of Hungary and later as joint foreign minister

During the revolution of 1848–49 he was a member of KOSSUTH’s radical reform party. He was elected to the Hungarian Diet in 1847. As a batallion commander, he participated in the armed struggle against the Habsburgs in the War of Independence of 1849. After the defeat of the uprising, he fled abroad, was sentenced to death in absentia, and was in fact hung in effigy in VIENNA’s marketplace. During his exile he visited several west European countries and thoroughly familiarized himself with the intricacies of European politics and diplomacy. Amnestied in 1857, he returned to Hungary. Working hand-in-hand with FERENC DEÁK, he was instrumental in drafting the Hungarian terms of the compromise with the Habsburgs that by painful degrees emerged after Austria’s defeat at the hands of Prussia in the summer of 1866. He was later, together with Deák, one of the participants in Vienna in the discussions that led to the conclusion of the AUSGLEICH in February 1867. From that time on he was continually active in political life, in the service first of Hungary and then of the Dual Monarchy. After the Great Compromise he was named, at the recommendation of Deák, prime minister of Hungary. It was he who placed the crown of St. Stephen on the emperor’s head when the latter was crowned king of Hungary on June 8, 1867. As prime minister he relaxed the stringent censorship of the press that since the revolution had hampered free expression; he also mitigated the repressive legislation against the Jews.

Having been born in northern Hungary (in Kassa, in the largely Slovak-populated Uplands), he feared somewhat extravagantly that the Hungarian nation would become submerged in the Slavic sea; for that reason he strongly favored dualism—that is, close links to Austria— as well as alliance or alignment with Germany as a means of keeping Russia, protector of Slavs in the empire and in the Balkans, in check. When plans were developed in Vienna for giving Bohemia with its Czech population equal status with Hungary in the monarchy, he strenuously opposed such a measure.

In 1871, when Emperor Francis Joseph abandoned his plans for revanche against Germany and sought rapprochement, he dismissed the anti-German FRIEDRICH BEUST as joint foreign minister and, on November 14, 1871, appointed Andrássy in his stead. The brunt of Andrássy’s foreign policy was resistance to Russian expansion in the Balkans and curbing Serbian ambitions to become the center of a South Slav federation. When revolt broke out in BOSNIAHERCEGOVINA against Ottoman rule in 1875, he strongly advocated the absorption of those provinces into the Dual Monarchy, as well as that of the sanjak of Novibazar, which separated Serbia from Montenegro and which in Austrian hands could serve as an Ausfalltor (springboard) for the monarchy into the Balkans toward Saloniki. He achieved these goals at the CONGRESS OF BERLIN in the summer of 1878, following a war between Russia and Turkey.

Pleading ill health, but most likely because he was discomfited by criticisms of his Balkan policy, he resigned as foreign minister on October 8, 1879. First, however, he put his signature to an Austro-Hungarian alliance with Germany, directed chiefly against Russia. He remained a member of the Hungarian upper house to the end of his life.


Posted: Thursday, June 11, 2009

Rebellions broke out across Europe during 1848, inspired by the success of the French in abolishing their monarchy in February. The Habsburgs faced rebellions in Hungary and in the Italian cities of Milan and Venice, which were supported by Piedmont. Although the revolutions in Italy, Germany and Hungary were all defeated, the liberal constitutions, unification and independence they were seeking did eventually come about.


By 1848 many of the European countries were suffering from an economic crisis; the failure of the potato and grain crops in 1845-46 was reflected in the price of food. There was political discontent at different social levels: peasants demanded total abolition of the feudal system, industrial workers sought improvements in their working conditions, and middle-class professionals wanted increased political rights. In Italy and Germany there were growing movements for unification and independence. Revolutionary agitation began in Paris in February 1848, forcing the abdication of Louis Philippe and the establishment of the Second Republic. It then spread across central Europe. The Habsburg Empire, faced with demands for a separate Hungarian government, as well as demonstrations on the streets of Vienna, initially gave in to the demands of the Hungarian nationalists and granted them a separate constitution. This, however, was annulled some months later, leading to a declaration of independence by Hungary. The Austrian response was to quell the revolt in 1849 with the help of Russian forces. Discontent in Austria spilled over into the southern states of the German Confederation, and liberals in Berlin demanded a more constitutional government. As a result, the first National Parliament of the German Confederation was summoned in May 1848.


In June 1848 struggles between the moderate and the radical republicans culminated in three days of rioting on the streets of Paris. In crushing the rioters the more conservative factions gained control, a trend that was repeated in Prussia, where royal power was reaffirmed. The second half of 1848 was marked by waves of reaction that spread from one city to another. The restoration of Austrian control over Hungary was achieved partly by playing off against each other the different ethnic groups within the empire. However, despite the suppression of the 1848 revolutionaries, most of the reforms they had proposed were carried out in the second half of the century, and at least some of the nationalist movements were successful.

Count István Széchenyi

Posted: Monday, June 8, 2009

Hungarian politician and statesman, the chief reformer in the years preceding the revolution of 1848

Son of Count Ferenc Széchenyi, founder of the Hungarian National Museum. As a young soldier Széchenyi had participated in the campaigns against Napoleon I, fought in the Battle of Nations at Leipzig in 1813 and participated in the social whirl of the CONGRESS OF VIENNA in 1815. After the war he traveled widely and returned with the impression that his homeland was far behind west European states in culture and social development. He decided to devote himself to uplifting Hungary to a worthy place among European nations. He made his first public political appearance in 1825, when Emperor FRANCIS I reconvened the Hungarian Diet after an 11-year absence. The initiative for a cultural revival did not come from him; the noble estates of the Diet, in order to strengthen Hungarian national feeling and consciousness, urged the establishment of a scientific association, or, preferably, a national academy. The financial means for such an undertaking were not readily available and Széchenyi volunteered to donate a year’s income from his estates toward that end. Many others offered financial support and the academy became a reality. Széchenyi intended much more, however, than merely a cultural upswing. In a series of books (Credit, World, Stadium) he explored the reasons for Hungary’s backward state.

He sent several reform proposals to the imperial chancellor KLEMENS VON METTERNICH, but the latter, in the grip of postrevolutionary conservatism, had little interest in reformist ideas. Széchenyi then launched his own initiatives, usually on the English model; he organized horse races, wrote a popular book about horses, established in Budapest a casino in which nobles of a progressive bent congregated, and soon casinos sprang up in many provincial cities.

The 1830 revolution in Paris and the Polish uprising against Russian rule of the same year deeply affected Széchenyi and gave impetus to his hitherto tentative ideas for the necessity for reform. He became ever more outspoken in his criticism of the feudal system, but his chief interest remained the promotion of native culture. He recognized that a national revival made the development of the Hungarian language, which had been losing ground to the Latin and the German, imperative, and he became a champion of neology, the Magyarization of foreign terms, the Hungarian version of which either did not exist or had fallen into disuse.

It was in 1830 that he published his book Credit, which attracted immediate attention. In 1828, he had applied for a bank loan to modernize his estate but was refused because of a hostile reaction from many conservative nobles to whom any measure curtailing feudal privilege, a measure Széchenyi advocated, was anathema. In his book he analyzed the adverse effects of the lack of investable capital for lack of credit. More progressive-minded landowners welcomed Széchenyi’s ideas and some, especially the young Wesselényi, even proposed going beyond them, advocating, for instance, the involvement of peasants in the legislative process. Széchenyi, who above all wanted to avoid a confrontation with the government in VIENNA, turned his attention to politically less explosive activities. He planned, after sailing down the Danube as far as he could, to make Hungary the eastern end of a continuous waterway, connecting it to the west. It was at his legislative initiative that the first bridge between the cities of Buda and Pest, the Chain Bridge, was built and in the process he breached the nobility’s freedom from all taxation by providing that nobles as well as commoners pay tolls when crossing the bridge. The Vienna government, honoring Széchenyi’s moderate reforming activities, appointed him to various prestigious positions in the fields of transportation and communication. In the 1840s his political star began to sink as a much more radical reform movement, spearheaded largely by the gentry, began to gain ground and to attract to itself large numbers of the middle nobility.

The latter movement gained an exceptionally gifted and eloquent champion in the person of LOUIS KOSSUTH and for several years, until the outbreak of the revolution of 1848, the two men engaged in a spirited and not always friendly press debate over constitutional and other questions. One point of lively contention was that Széchenyi still trusted the high nobility to spearhead a gradual but persistent reform movement, whereas Kossuth regarded the aristocracy as hidebound and reactionary and put his faith in the lower nobility with whom the preservation of the old order never became an article of faith. Although it was Kossuth who dubbed Széchenyi “the greatest Hungarian,” he also took issue with the latter’s readiness to envision Hungary’s future in close alliance with and under the aegis of the Habsburg monarchy. Kossuth mapped a far more independent course, and his bold visions culminated in Hungary’s armed challenge to the Habsburgs in 1848 and 1849.

Széchenyi’s role in the tumultuous March days of 1848 was an ambiguous one; although he championed a never clearly defined national independence, he was also ready to work together with Vienna and his vision of Hungary’s future was within the imperial structure; had it not been for the presence of Kossuth and the radical elements around him, he may have had a salutary restraining influence on the headlong rush toward confrontation with the Habsburgs. In the short-lived Batthyány government of March 1848 Széchenyi was minister of finance. In September of that year he experienced an apparent mental collapse and was taken to the medical facilities at Döbling in Austria, where he remained for the next decade. In 1857 the interior minister ALEXANDER BACH, confident that imperial authority had been firmly reestablished, issued a pamphlet titled Rückblick auf die jüngste Entwicklungsperiode Ungarns (A retrospective glance at the most recent developmental phase of Hungary) Széchenyi responded to the pamphlet the next year with a pamphlet of his own, titled, Ein Blick auf den Anonymen Rückblick (A glance at the anonymous retrospective glance), assailing not only Bach but the person of the emperor as well. The writing was published in London. When it became known in Vienna, the government ordered a search of Széchenyi’s house and, in the process, a good part of his papers were impounded. This action produced a new crisis in his mental and emotional condition. On April 8, 1860, he ended his life with a pistol shot in the head. The requiem for his salvation was attended by 80,000 people and was an occasion for new demonstrations against Habsburg rule. In death Széchenyi became a symbol of national independence.


Posted: Friday, June 5, 2009

Artúr Görgey painted by Miklós Barabás

Görgey, Artur (1818–1916) Hungarian military officer, commanding general of the Hungarian Honvéd army during the revolution of 1848–49

Son of an impoverished noble, he began his military studies in the sapper school at age 14; at age 21 he was promoted to lieutenant in the bodyguard; in 1842 he became first lieutenant in the cavalry. After his discharge in 1845 he studied chemistry at Prague University. When revolutionary events in March 1848 took a sudden turn toward Hungarian independence from Habsburg rule, he offered his services to the new government. On June 13 he was promoted to captain, and a month later to major. In November the National Defense Committee of the Hungarian parliament, at the recommendation of LÁJOS KOSSUTH, promoted him to general. That winter he made his mark by employing quick maneuvers against the invading Habsburg army and with his skill he succeeded in demolishing the enemy line with concentrated artillery fire. Politically, however, he promoted compromise with the Habsburgs, a course that favored the interests of the middle nobility to which he belonged against the high aristocracy that owned immense estates and wielded dominant political influence. He defied Kossuth’s order to engage the enemy in open battle and, in a pronouncement at Vác in January 1849, announced his readiness for compromise. By doing so he isolated himself from the National Defense Committee and that winter he acted independently. By spring military realities compelled him to join up with an army on the Upper Tisza, which acted in concert with the Defense Committee. After spectacular military successes that spring, he made common cause with the peace party and placed himself in open opposition to Kossuth and the radicals who strove for a complete break with the Habsburgs. His position gained enough support for him to be named minister of defense from May 7 to July 14. He entered the field again after the Russian army, which the new emperor FRANCIS JOSEPH had invited to help put down the Hungarian rising, invaded the country. Realizing the overwhelming odds against his forces, on August 13, at the town of Világos, he unconditionally surrendered to the Russian army. During the heavy reprisals that followed, he was a prime candidate for being tried for treason but, at the intercession of Czar Nicholas I, he was spared and exiled to Klagenfurt in Austria.

LAJOS KOSSUTH, (1802–1894)


Hungarian politician, statesman, reformer, finance minister the head of government during Hungarian uprising against the Habsburgs in 1848–49

His father, László, of Slovakian stock, was Lutheran, a lawyer by profession, representing landowners in his county of Zemplén. His mother, Karolina Weber, was German. An older sister died in childhood. Lajos had four younger sisters. In 1841 he married Terezia Meszlényi who bore him three sons and a daughter. He attended the Protestant academy Sárospatak and also studied law there, but it was only in 1824 that he obtained his law degree from University of Budapest. Unable to find a government position, he began to work for one of his father’s clients, Etelka Andrássy, with whom he was reported to have had a close relationship. He first attracted public attention with a major speech he made in the summer of 1831 on behalf of the Poles, who were then fighting a heroic battle against the Russians for their independent nationhood. In 1832 Mme. Andrássy arranged for him to serve as a deputy delegate in the national Diet at Pozsony, an assignment that somewhat relieved his narrow, confining existence. In Pozsony he established contact with various reform-minded politicians. Noting that no minutes were kept of the proceedings of the Diet, he began to write informal reports, in colorful, arresting prose. Some of his colleagues copied his reports and distributed them. His political philosophy had no clear focus, but he was oppositionist in temperament and found much to oppose in the Habsburg Empire, whose policies were still directed by the heavy-handed and stubbornly conservative KLEMENS VON METTERNICH. Kossuth’s term of service in Pozsony ended in 1836; by then his reports had attracted so much attention that the Pest County Assembly invited him to cover its proceedings as well. He published these accounts under the title Törvényhatósági Tudositások (Municipal board reports), but whereas in Pozsony he had been protected by his parliamentary immunity, in Pest he was a freelancer, responsible for what he wrote, and in 1837, after a long investigative detainment, he was sentenced to four years in prison. His “crime” was to attack feudal privilege and to speak in favor of Hungary’s constitutional independence and in defense of civil liberties. For all his liberal posturing, he was an elitist, firmly believing that his contemplated reforms could be accomplished only under the leadership of the nobility.

Amnestied in 1840, he already had a wide following. But his views also provoked criticism from conservatives and he became involved in a sharp exchange with them in articles and pamphlets. The owner of a biweekly publication Pesti Hirlap (Budapest courier) hired him as an editor. He remained a controversial figure. Apart from antagonizing the landed magnates whose prosperity depended on serf labor, he also angered Croats and other subject nationalities by advertising and defending the superiority of the Hungarian nation over them. His most notable debate was with another reformer of much more conservative bent, ISTVÁN SZÉCHENYI, who attacked Kossuth in a book, Kelet Népe (People of the East) and in articles, accusing him of carrying his people to the grave with his immoderate demands, especially for a complete break with the Habsburgs, who were too powerful to be challenged in their imperial rights. Although, as publicists and historians noted, Széchenyi spoke to the mind and Kossuth to the heart, it was the latter who commanded wider support. But as his language became more fiery, he was dismissed from the Pesti Hirlap for inciting too much controversy. He had an offer from VIENNA to put his journalistic gifts in the service of the government but that offer he refused. He became briefly fascinated with the possibilities of industrial development and sought to promote them in Hungary, with little success.

It was the revolution of 1848 that catapulted him to national, and eventually international, recognition. Elected to the national Diet in 1847, he was a leading figure in the so-called national opposition that sponsored a number of reforms, all with the ultimate goal of securing Hungary’s independence from the Habsburg Empire. The program, seemingly stillborn when it was first introduced, gained impetus when the news of the revolution in Paris reached BUDAPEST early in March 1848. Kossuth then demanded that his reform program be enacted without delay. Not only did he succeed, but he was chosen as a member of the delegation that carried the set of demands passed by the Diet to Vienna, where a terrified court fearing for its very survival accepted them. When LAJOS BATTHYÁNY formed a cabinet in April 1848 with the reformist program, he made Kossuth his finance minister. Used to controversy and glorying in it, Kossuth soon antagonized many of his fellow ministers who were not inclined to go as far as he and wanted to avoid a complete break with Vienna. However, such a break could no longer be avoided. The imperial government, facing an armed uprising in its Italian provinces, readied a force to defeat it and proposed to include Hungarians in it as well. Kossuth countenanced such inclusion only on condition that promises were made for the recognition of a measure of Hungarian independence. When the royal court refused to make such a promise, he prevailed on the Diet to reject the request for troops and at the same time to raise a national Hungarian force, on the argument, not without foundation, that the subject nationality of Croats were making ready to invade Hungary. He had a measure passed to call up 200,000 recruits and to provide for a defense fund of 2 million forints. In September 1848 he ordered the issue of Hungarian bank notes (Kossuth bankók). He also called for a national defense commission to organize the country’s defense. In that same month, during a highly successful recruitment campaign, he called the people of the Great Plains to arms to protect the achievements of the revolution. After the resignation of the Batthyány government following a Croat invasion, Kossuth was named head of the national defense commission and became the virtual dictator of the country. From this time on he devoted all his energies to the solution of the complicated political, economic, and social problems that beset his nation. Firmly opposed to the “peace party” that sought conciliation with the Habsburgs, he succeeded in rendering them ineffectual. Imperial armies were invading Hungary and the government moved to the east-central city of Debrecen. There Kossuth’s volcanic energies and his unbridled temperament determined the course taken by his government. When on December 2, 1848, the emperor “Benevolent Ferdinand” (so called because he was weak-minded and could be cited only for his good intentions) was removed and replaced by his nephew FRANCIS JOSEPH, Kossuth prevailed on the Diet to reject both the removal and the replacement. When Vienna defied him, the Diet, now called National Assembly, on April 14, 1849, announced the removal of the Hungarian crown from the House of Hapsburg. At the same time Kossuth was nominated governor president of Hungary. However, the rapid deterioration of the military situation, Russian intervention on behalf of the beleaguered Habsburgs, and conflicts within his own leadership, forced Kossuth on August 11 to resign. He transferred his powers to the military commander, Artur Görgey. Knowing that defeat was unavoidable and that the Vienna court would be unforgiving of his treason, Kossuth fled to Turkey. Both the Austrians and the Russians asked for his extradition, but the sultan, under western pressure, refused. Kossuth first lived in Vidin and Sumen, in European Turkey, but he was later exiled to Asia Minor. The American government invited him to visit and he responded, in 1851, stopping on the way in Britain. He was accorded an enthusiastic reception in both countries. From 1852 on he lived in London. He judged the conflicts among the great powers as the best way to restore Hungary’s independence. In emigration he worked out several plans toward that end. In 1859, as war between France and Austria loomed, French Emperor Napoleon III approached him with the commission to organize a Hungarian national uprising against the Habsburgs. This commission Kossuth accepted, but the plan failed when Napoleon III made a premature peace with Austria and lost interest in the Hungarian cause. From 1861 Kossuth lived in Italy and in his so-called Cassandra letter he sharply criticized the AUSGLEICH of 1867. He lived out his remaining years in Torino, Italy, in poverty, abandoned by friends and onetime supporters. When he died in 1894, at age 92, his body was returned to Hungary and interred amid national mourning.


Posted: Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Equestrian portrait of Nicholas I by Alexander Petrovich Schwabe

In July 1848 the Hungarians, led by Lajos Kossuth, fought for liberation from Austria. However, upon the Austrians’ request in 1849, Tsar Nicholas I sent Russian troops to crush the rebellion. Nevertheless, Kossuth’s initiative paved the way for the compromise in March 1867 (known in German as the Ausgleich), which granted both the Austrian and Hungarian kingdoms separate parliaments with which to govern their respective internal affairs. It also established a dual monarchy, whereby a single emperor (Francis Joseph I) conducted the financial, foreign, and military affairs of the two kingdoms.

Nicholas I defined himself and his system as a militaristic one, and the first few years of his rule also witnessed his consolidation of power through force. He continued the wars in the Caucasus begun by Alexander I, and consolidated Russian power in Transcaucasia by defeating the Persians in 1828. Russia also fought the Ottoman Empire in 1828–1829 over the rights of Christian subjects in Turkey and disagreements over territories between the two empires. Although the fighting produced mixed results, Russia considered itself a victor and gained concessions. One year later, in 1830, a revolt broke out in Poland, an autonomous part of the Russian Empire. The revolt spread from Warsaw to the western provinces of Russia, and Nicholas sent in troops to crush it in 1831. With the rebellion over, Nicholas announced the Organic Statute of 1832, which increased Russian control over Polish affairs. The Polish revolt brought back memories of 1825 for Nicholas, who responded by pushing further Russification programs throughout his empire. Order reigned, but nationalist reactions in Poland, Ukraine, and elsewhere would ensure problems for future Russian rulers.

Nicholas also presided over increasingly oppressive measures directed at any forms of perceived opposition to his rule. Russian culture began to flourish in the decade between 1838 and 1848, as writers from Mikhail Lermontov to Nikolai Gogol and critics such as Vissarion Belinsky and Alexander Herzen burst onto the Russian cultural scene. Eventually, as their writings increasingly criticized the Nicholaevan system, the tsar cracked down, and his Third Section arrested numerous intellectuals. Nicholas’s reputation as the quintessential autocrat developed from these policies, which reached an apex in 1848. When revolutions broke out across Europe, Nicholas was convinced that they were a threat to the existence of his system. He sent Russian troops to crush rebellions in Moldavia and Wallachia in 1848 and to support Austrian rights in Lombardy and Hungary in 1849. At home, Nicholas oversaw further censorship and repressions of universities. By 1850, he had earned his reputation as the Gendarme of Europe.

At the end of 1848, after the successful suppression of a revolt in Vienna in October, a new Austrian government led by Schwarzenberg took office and the Emperor Ferdinand abdicated in favour of his young nephew, Francis Joseph. The Austrians were now able to turn their attention to the restoration of Habsburg rule in Hungary. In Prussia Frederick William IV, encouraged by the Austrian example, dissolved the Prussian constituent assembly and promulgated a new constitution. As 1848 drew to a close, it seemed as if order was being restored. However, in January 1849, the effects in Europe of Kossuth's decision to make use of the Poles in the Hungarian forces brought an unpleasant surprise in the shape of the victories of the Hungarian army in Transylvania led by General Bern. At the request of the local Austrian military commander and in the face of opposition from Schwarzenberg, Nicholas reluctantly agreed to a limited intervention by some of the Russian troops based in the Danubian Principalities in support of the Austrians. The intervention was not successful and by the end of March the Russian troops were forced to withdraw along with the defeated Austrian forces. Nicholas was dismayed and determined that any further military intervention he might be called upon to make would be on a suitably massive scale.

Bern's success in Transylvania was followed by further Hungarian victories elsewhere on Hungary under the leadership of General Görgey and by the middle of April the situation had become critical. The replacement of Windischgraetz by Weiden as Austrian Commander-in-Chief in Hungary brought no improvement. Despite Radetzky's victory against Piedmont at Novara on 23rd March, continuing Austrian difficulties in Italy made it impossible to transfer troops from there for use against Hungary.

As a result, a reluctant Schwarzenberg and Austrian Council of Ministers were compelled to yield to military necessity and appeal to Nicholas for Russian assistance in suppressing the revolt in Hungary. Austria's first request was for aid in restoring the situation in Transylvania which was rejected by Nicholas as being impractical. This was followed by an urgent personal appeal to Paskevich in Warsaw for the dispatch of Russian troops to assist the Austrians in dealing with the threat of a Hungarian attack on Vienna and renewed outbreak of revolution in the city. Much to Nicholas' displeasure Paskevich sent a composite Russian division by rail from Cracow to Moravia without seeking the Tsar's approval.

Nicholas had made it clear from the outset of the revolutions in Europe which began in 1848 that he would not intervene unless Russia's interests were directly threatened. He could hardly refuse a request from the Austrians for aid especially as he had given a solemn promise to the Emperor Francis before his death that he would come to the assistance of his "idiot son" or successor if misfortune should occur. Nicholas was not the man to break his promise and in any case, he was being asked to defend the cause of order in the struggle against revolution which had begun in France in 1789. Nevertheless, just as be had been reluctant to intervene in the Danubian Principalities the previous year, he wished to be certain that Russia's own interests were directly threatened.

The increasing involvement of the Poles in Hungarian affairs provided Nicholas with the answer to any doubts which he may have had. Bern's successes in Transylvania were followed by reports of a threatened invasion of Galicia, possibly led by General Dembinski, another of the Poles who had joined the Hungarian cause. A Polish general was active in the Sardinian army and Nicholas had not forgotten the part played by the Poles in causing disturbances in the Danubian Principalities. It seemed to him that Hungary was about to become the centre of a general conspiracy led by Russia's eternal enemies, the Poles, against all that was sacred. The Hungarian military successes were beginning to have a disturbing effect on the population of Russian Poland and accordingly Austria's request for aid must be granted for Russia's own safety. In early 1848 Nicholas had spoken to an Austrian diplomat of his concern about the threat from Galica to Russian Poland and he was to use the same phrase "une insurrection à mes portes" t o the French Ambassador who arrived in Warsaw as the campaign in Hungary was drawing to a close. In a conversation about the reasons for his intervention Nesselrode was to compare the role of the Russian intervention force to that of a fire brigade sent to prevent the spread of a fire which had broken out in a neighbour's house.

The Austrians were, of course, well aware of Nicholas' concern about the Poles and it seems quite probable that they deliberately played on his feelings by exaggerating the number of Poles who had enlisted in the Hungarian army. The official commentary which accompanied the Russian manifesto of 8th May 1849 announcing the intervention in Hungary referred to 20,000 Poles serving in the Hungarian army, whereas the true number was much less, possibly 3,000 or 4,000.

In short, Nicholas' reasons for intervening in Hungary were a combination of a commitment to the cause of absolutism and monarchical solidarity, combined with a desire to prevent the spread of Polish inspired subversion to Russian Poland and Western Russia. There seems little doubt that it was fear of the Poles which tipped the scales in favour of Austria's request. Indeed, when the news of Görgey's surrender to the Russians on 13th August reached Warsaw Nicholas fell on his knees and thanked God that he no longer had to sacrifice Russian blood for a cause which was not directly the cause of Russia. As Bismarck was to remark in his memoirs, Nicholas was an idealist with a chivalrous nature who never lost this characteristic throughout his reign. But Austria's refusal to come to Russia's aid during the Crimean War was to show Nicholas that there is no such thing as gratitude in politics and that he had been right to have doubts about the wisdom of intervention.


The Russian intervention in Hungary was one of the most significant events that took place during the revolutionary years of 1848 and 1849. Its success had an unfortunate effect on Nicholas who became even more convinced of his own omnipotence and even less willing to listen to argument. This judgement by one of the Tsar's closest adviers, A. S. Menshikov, the Minister of the Navy, is echoed by Lord Bloomfield, the British Ambassador to Russia, who had his first audience with Nicholas on 17th December 1849 after his return from leave in mid-October. (The delay was caused by the refugee crisis in Turkey.) In a private letter to Palmerston sent two days afterwards, the ambassador wrote that the "trial of 1849" had succeeded beyond the Tsar's expectations and that he now believed he could "dictate the law to a great portion of Europe." Nicholas seemed to be completely unaffected by the political changes which had taken place and appeared to be more convinced than ever of the "superiority of absolute government and the irresistibilty of his vast power". Despite these words, even Lord Bloomfield seemed over-awed by the sheer size of the Russian army and after receiving a report on it from his French colleague, General de La Moricière, wrote to Palmerston of its great efficiency. The Crimean War was to prove to be a greater test for the Russian army than the eight week campaign in Hungary.

Besides over-estimating his military power, Nicholas also over-estimated his political influence. It was Nicholas' misfortune that he became the ruler of Russia in an age of change, just as Philip II became ruler of Spain in an age of dissolving faith. Nicholas completely failed to understand that ideas could not be kept out of Russia in the age of the railway and the steamship. Nor could he comprehend the nature of a constitutional monarchy and that in the Europe which had emerged after the Napoleonic Wars relations between states could no longer be conducted on the basis of personal relationships between sovereigns, as had been possible in the previous century. The point was made to him by Queen Victoria in a reply she sent to one of the Tsar's personal appeals shortly before the outbreak of the Crimean War;

"Whatever the purity of the motives which direct the actions of a sovereign of even the most elevated character, Your Majesty knows that personal qualities are not sufficient in international transactions by which a state binds itself towards another in solemn engagements."

Thus it came about that four years after his intervention in Hungary Nicholas found himself, as Nesselrode had warned him, fighting a war against Great Britain, France, Turkey and Sardinia while his erstwhile allies Austria and Prussia remained neutral. Even more ironically he found himself wondering how he could best exploit any disturbances that might break out in Hungary in the course of the war in order to make Austria carry out his wishes. It was an outcome to his intervention in Hungary which must have seemed utterly remote on the evening of 21st April 1849, as he sat in his study on the first floor of the Grand Palace in the Kremlin, looking out on the river.