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From the Emperor’s Desk: Eastern European Royalty is a weak era for me. So I’ve been working on rectifying this problem. So today I offer the life of King Béla IV of Hungary and Croatia.

Béla IV (1206 – May 3, 1270) was King of Hungary and Croatia between 1235 and 1270, and Duke of Styria from 1254 to 1258.

Béla was the oldest son of King Andrew II of Hungary by his first wife, Gertrude of Merania. He was born in the second half of 1206, although the exact date is unknown. Upon King Andrew II’s initiative, Pope Innocent III had already appealed to the Hungarian prelates and barons on June 7 to swear an oath of loyalty to the King’s future son.

Andrew II betrothed Béla to an unnamed daughter of King Boril of Bulgaria in 1213 or 1214, but their engagement was broken. In 1214, the King requested Pope Innocent III to excommunicate some unnamed lords who were planning to crown Béla king.

Even so, the eight-year-old Béla was crowned in the same year, but his father did not grant him a province to rule. Furthermore, when leaving for a Crusade to the Holy Land in August 1217, King Andrew II appointed John, Archbishop of Esztergom, to represent him during his absence.

During this period, Béla stayed with his maternal uncle Berthold of Merania in Steyr in the Holy Roman Empire. Andrew II returned from the Holy Land in late 1218. He had arranged the engagement of Béla and Maria, a daughter of Theodore I Laskaris, Emperor of Nicaea. She accompanied King Andrew II to Hungary and Béla married her in 1220.

From 1226, Béla governed Transylvania as duke. He supported Christian missions among the pagan Cumans who dwelled in the plains to the east of his province. Some Cuman chieftains acknowledged his suzerainty and he adopted the title of King of Cumania in 1233.

King Andrew II died on September 21, 1235 and Béla succeeded him as King Béla IV of Hungary and Croatia. He attempted to restore royal authority, which had diminished under his father. For this purpose, he revised his predecessors’ land grants and reclaimed former royal estates, causing discontent among the noblemen and the prelates.

The Mongols invaded Hungary and annihilated Béla’s army in the Battle of Mohi on April 11, 1241. He escaped from the battlefield, but a Mongol detachment chased him from town to town as far as Trogir on the coast of the Adriatic Sea. Although he survived the invasion, the Mongols devastated the country before their unexpected withdrawal in March 1242.

King Béla IV introduced radical reforms in order to prepare his kingdom for a second Mongol invasion. He allowed the barons and the prelates to erect stone fortresses and to set up their private armed forces. He promoted the development of fortified towns.

During his reign, thousands of colonists arrived from the Holy Roman Empire, Poland and other neighboring regions to settle in the depopulated lands. Béla’s efforts to rebuild his devastated country won him the epithet of “second founder of the state”

King Béla IV set up a defensive alliance against the Mongols, which included Daniil Romanovich, Prince of Halych, Boleslaw the Chaste, Duke of Cracow and other Ruthenian and Polish princes. His allies supported him in occupying the Duchy of Styria in 1254, but it was lost to King Ottokar II of Bohemia six years later.

During Béla IV’s reign, a wide buffer zone—which included Bosnia, Barancs (Braničevo, Serbia) and other newly conquered regions—was established along the southern frontier of Hungary in the 1250s.

Béla’s relationship with his oldest son and heir, Stephen, became tense in the early 1260s, because the elderly king favored his daughter Anna and his youngest child, Béla, Duke of Slavonia.

He was forced to cede the territories of the Kingdom of Hungary east of the river Danube to Stephen, which caused a civil war lasting until 1266. Nevertheless, Béla’s family was famed for his piety.

King Béla IV died on May 3, 1270 as a Franciscan tertiary, and the veneration of his three saintly daughters—Kunigunda, Yolanda, and Margaret—was confirmed by the Holy See.

His eldest son succeeded him as King Stephen V of Hungary and Croatia.