The people presented a solid phalanx against Joseph’s attack upon their nationality and language, which to them were objects dearer than everything else.
Continuing Joseph II Attempts Reform In Hungary,
our selection from Story of Hungary by Arminius Vambery published in 1887. The selection is presented in four easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in Joseph II Attempts Reform In Hungary.
The old political organization was eminently an outgrowth of the Hungarian nationality, and all classes of the people, including the very peasantry to whom the ancient constitution meant only oppression, clung to it with devoted fervor. The people were as anxious for reforms as Joseph himself, but they wanted them by lawful methods, and with the cooperation of the nation and their Diet. Joseph might have become the regenerator and benefactor of Hungary if he had availed himself, for the realization of his grand objects, of the national and lawful channels which lay ready to his hand. But he unfortunately preferred attempting to achieve his purpose out of the plenitude of his own power, by imperial edicts and arbitrary measures, thus conjuring up a storm against himself which wellnigh shook his throne, and plunging the nation into a wild ferment of passion bordering on revolution.
The people presented a solid phalanx against Joseph’s attack upon their nationality and language, which to them were objects dearer than everything else. They little cared for the Emperor’s well-intentioned endeavors to make them prosperous and happy as long as he asked, in exchange, for the relinquishment of their nationality. And this, above all, was his most ardent wish. He wanted Hungary to be Hungarian no more, and wished its people to cast off the distinctive marks of their individuality, and to adopt the German language, instead of their own, in the schools, the public administration, and in judicial proceedings. In a word, he made German the official language of the country, and was bent on forcing it upon the people.
Henceforth every reform coming from Joseph became hateful to the people. The oppressed classes themselves spurned relief which involved the sacrifice of their sweet mother-tongue. By proclaiming equal rights and equal subjection to the burdens of the state, he arrayed the privileged classes against his person. The Protestants and the peasantry, who had hailed him in the beginning as their new messiah, and fondly saw in his innovations the dawn of brighter days, also turned from him as soon as he attacked them in what they prized even more than liberty and justice. It was not long before the whole country, without distinction of class, social standing, or creed, combined to set at naught the Germanizing efforts of Joseph. The hard-fought struggle roused the people, hitherto divided by antagonisms of class and creed, to a sense of national solidarity. It was during the critical days of these constitutional conflicts that the foundations of the modern homogeneousness of the Hungarian nation and society were laid down.
The privileged classes looked upon Joseph, on his advent to the throne, with distrust. They foresaw that he would not allow himself to be crowned, in order to avoid taking the oath of fidelity to the Constitution of Hungary. The first measures of his reign concerned the organization of the various churches of the country. He extended the religious freedom of the Protestant Church. By virtue of the apostolic rights of the Hungarian kings, he introduced signal reforms into the Catholic Church, especially regarding the education of the clergy, which proved, in part, exceedingly salutary.
He abolished numerous religious orders, especially those which were not engaged either in teaching or in nursing the sick. One hundred forty monasteries and nunneries were closed by him in Hungary. The ample property of these convents he employed for ecclesiastical and public purposes and for the advancement of instruction. He exerted himself strenuously and successfully in the establishment of public schools and in the interest of popular education. He removed the only university of which the country could then boast from Buda to Pesth, a city which was rapidly increasing, and added a theological department to that seat of learning. All these innovations met with the approval of the enlightened elements of the nation, while the privileged classes and the clergy opposed them with sullen discontent. The opposition was all the more successful, as the Emperor had contrived to insult the moral susceptibilities of the common people by some of his measures.
Thus, with a view to economizing the boards required for coffins, he ordered the dead to be sewed up in sacks and to be buried in this apparel. This uncalled-for meddling with the prejudices of the lower classes had the effect of creating a great indignation among them and of driving them into the camp of the opposition. Trifling and thoughtless measures of a similar nature impaired the credit of the most salutary innovations. The people looked with suspicion at every change, and, heedless of the lofty endeavors of the Emperor, everybody, including the officials themselves, rejected the entire governmental system of Joseph.
The Emperor also wounded the national feeling of piety by his action concerning the crown he had spurned. According to ancient custom and law the sacred crown was kept in safety in Presburg, in a building provided for that purpose. In 1784 the Emperor ordered the crown to be removed to Vienna, in order to be placed there in the royal treasury side by side with the crowns of his other lands. The nation revolted at this profanation of their hallowed relic, and the highest official authorities throughout the land protested against a measure which, while it created such widespread ill-feeling, was not justified by any necessity. A dreadful storm, accompanied by thunder and lightning, was raging when the crown was removed to Vienna, and the people saw in this a sign that Nature herself rebelled against the sacrilege committed by the Emperor. The counties continued to urge the return of the crown, in addresses which were sometimes humbly suppliant in their tone and sometimes threatening, but Joseph did not yield either to supplications or menaces.
When the edict which made German the official language of the country was published, the minds of men all over the country were greatly disturbed. It is true that hitherto the Latin, and not the Hungarian, language had been the medium of communication employed by the state. But the national spirit and the native tongue, which during the first seventy years of the eighteenth century had sadly degenerated, were awakening to new life during Joseph’s reign. The literature of the country began to be assiduously cultivated in different spheres. Royal body-guards belonging to distinguished families, gentlemen of refinement, clergymen of modest position, and other sons of the native soil labored with equal zeal and enthusiasm to foster their cherished mother-tongue.
We want to take this site to the next level but we need money to do that. Please contribute directly by signing up at https://www.patreon.com/history
* Picture from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_II,_Holy_Roman_Emperor#/media/File:Joseph_Hickel_(attr)_Joseph_II_als_Mitregent_seiner_Mutter.jpg