By Martyn Rady
Central Europe, Vol.3:1 (2005)
Introduction: Whereas in western Europe, the fifteenth century compares badly with the sixteenth, in Central Europe the reverse is the case. During the sixteenth century, the region suffered on its eastern and southern flanks from the advances of Muscovy, the Crimean Tatars and the Turks and, on its western, from the dynastic ambitions of the Habsburgs. Caught between Turks and Habsburgs, the medieval kingdom of Hungary collapsed. Along with the Bohemian crownlands, the western part of Hungary was after 1526 incorporated in the newlyemerging Habsburg Empire: its other portions were either occupied by the Turks or by degrees transformed into what was to become the principality of Transylvania. In both Bohemia and Royal (Habsburg) Hungary, the liberties of the estates were soon challenged by the new rulers.
In Poland, however, the decree Nihil Novi of 1505 introduced a period of unprecedented noble liberty under a powerful but divided parliament. These developments stand in marked contrast to those of the later fifteenth century: a period of consolidation, of ‘national’ or even ‘Renaissance’ monarchy, of successful wars and territorial enlargement (at least for Hungary and Poland), of economic advance and diversification, and, in the case of Bohemia, of de facto recognition of a national confession.