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Stephen VI
Mátyás Király arcmása.jpg
Stephen VI Zápolya
King of Hungary
Reign 1st July, 1568 - 1st August, 1579
Predecessor Henry
Successor John IV Jagiellon
Born 23rd December, 1517
Szigetvár, Hungary
Died 12th May, 1592
Dresden, Electorial Saxony
Spouse Elizabeth Hunyadi
Issue Sophia Zápolya

Mihály Zápolya
Matthias Zápolya
Elizabeth Zápolya

House Zápolya
Father George Zápolya
Mother Katharina of Wartenberg

Stephen VI Zápolya was King of Hungary for a decade in the mid 16th century. His rule, though ultimately a failure, would mark a decisive change to Hungary's political and diplomatic situation in Europe.

Since 1301 Hungary had been ruled as part, perhaps the most important part, of the Luxembourg realm. As the Luxembourg family expanded its reach and power Hungary's pivotal role lessened, and its own ambitions; mostly restoring a union over Naples and dominating the Adriatic, slowly became subservient to Luxembourg ambitions in Germany and the Low Countries.

The last Luxembourg king of Hungary, Henry (VIII) had initially been popular amongst the Hungarian nobles and since 1558 had been involved, at a distance, in campaigns to secure Naples. Much of Naples was in the hands of the Della Rovere family who, backed by Hungary's fearsome and battle-hardened Black Legion, was charged with repeling French, Papal and Aragonese attacks, and anyone else who threatened Luxembourg authority, until such time Henry could muster a proper invasion force. Indeed by 1566 he was planning such a campaign, mainly to take France out of the running for the Neopolitan throne but also to secure a grand coronation in Naples. However Henry converted to Lutheranism in April 1568 immediately losing the trust of the Hungarian Diet which was firmly Catholic and had suppressed Protestant thought in bloody fashion in the 1540s and 1550s.

Dissaffected and outraged the Diet gathered in Székesfehérvár in June 1568 to denounce Henry, the heretical Dutch, and strip him of the crown in absentia. This break from the Luxembourgs gave the nobles a chance to increase their power and they took many ideas from the new Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth to the North. The Székesfehérvár Pact essentially set out an elective monarchy with a Diet in permanent sitting. Rights to legally rebel were enshrined just as in the Commonwealth but they baulked at copying the veto rights which they quite rightly thought would paralyse government. Finally they vowed that Hungary would never again be ruled from a foreign capital which seemed to suggest it would only ever elect Hungarian nobility to the highest office.

Stephen Zápolya was perhaps the obvious choice for king to the assembled nobles. As Ban of Slavonia and Dalmatia he was rich, well-connected and had been one of the first to support the break from Antwerp. Swearing to uphold the pact which he had helped draft he was elected king at the end of the session on and then immediately began planning the war against Luxembourg which everyone assumed would be coming.

The war did not come; Luxembourg was in no financial or diplomatic position to start a punishing war, so Stephen turned to try and subdue Naples instead. Urged by the papacy Della Rovere had renounced Luxembourg allegience and accepted French protection instead, which of course put it squarely against Hungary. The Black Legion duly seized castles and towns on the Adriatic coast for the Hungarian crown. Except, by losing the Luxembourg connection Hungary ceased to have any real claim to the Neopolitan throne. With the papacy firmly behind France and much of Naples now hostile the Black Legion faltered. It could have once relied on a steady stream of men and funds from the Low Countries but this too was now closed. Attempts by Stephen to raise taxes to send regular troops led to a 'legal rebellion' in northern Hungary. A huge defeat in 1574 at the hands of the Manx Company (employed at vast cost by France to soften up the land before Louis XIII personally intervened) convinced Stephen the effort to hold Naples was not worth it, or even possible in current circumstances. When Louis XIII did actually arrive in Naples in 1575 at the head of a large army he had little trouble dislodging the Black Legion from their coastal forts.

Stephen already had other matters to urgently attend anyway. Wallachia had revolted against Byzantine rule in 1572, Voivode Ieremia Patrascu 'the Brave' scoring an impressive series of victories over the Byzantines before being poisoned. His successor Mihnea cel Rau called on Hungary to assist. Stephen saw the liberation of Wallachia as just the beginning of the Byzantine Balkans unravelling with numerous other semi-autonomous statelets to 'liberate' and mine for tribute. The Diet agreed, granted a tax and then several prominent nobles rebelled when it came to collect it. As Stephen spent precious time and energy pacifying and reconciling his nobility the Byzantine army firmly quashed the Wallachian revolt and then promptly invaded Transylvania. The Hungarian army, coupled with Transylvania's fortresses, could hold off the Byzantine advances but counter-attacks were blunted by chronic in-fighting within the Hungarian noblity. Eventually emmissaries agreed to the Treaty of Svoge which confirmed Byzantine control of Wallachia and a six-year truce. Though even this was heavily debated and criticised in the Diet.

By the summer of 1579 Stephen was clearly exhausted with trying to cajole the Diet into agreeing anything at all. After one of the nobles tied up the Diet's business for a day supposedly complaining about the lack of deer in his own private forest, Stephen promptly abdicated, throwing the Diet into an introspective gloom. Making tweaks to the Székesfehérvár Pact concerning their own powers the Diet collectively realised perhaps Stephen had had too much power to begin with and this made him an unbiddable king. What they looked for now was someone with talent but without much clout. János, or John, Jagellion was a perfect candidate.

His successor chosen, Stephen would quietly go into exile in Saxony with a generous pension, and lived another 13 years. His descendants include Katarina Zápolya, first wife of King Louis III (thereby making all subsequent kings of Hungary his descendants). The main branch(s) of the Zápolya family still own an impressive array of land in Slavonia and Transylvania.

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