Mar 152016


The Hungarian revolution against the Habsburg monarchy and the Austrian empire began on this date in 1848.The date is now a major national holiday in Hungary. The Hungarian Revolution of 1848 was one of the many European Revolutions of 1848, and closely linked to other revolutions of the time against Habsburg rulers. The revolution in the kingdom of Hungary grew into a war for independence from the Austrian Empire which was ruled by the Habsburg dynasty.

The kingdom of Hungary had always maintained a separate parliament, the Diet of Hungary, even after the Austrian Empire was created in 1804. The administration and government of the kingdom of Hungary (until 1848) remained largely untouched by the government structure of the overarching Austrian Empire. Hungary’s central government structures remained well separated from the imperial government. The country was governed by the Council of Lieutenancy of Hungary (the Gubernium), located first in Pressburg and later in Pest (now a constituent part of Budapest), and by the Hungarian Royal Court Chancellery in Vienna.


By the 1820s the Diet of Hungary had not convened since 1811. The frequent diets held in the early years were occupied with war subsidies and little else. After 1811 they ceased to be summoned. In the latter years of Francis I, Metternich’s iron policy of “stability” was paramount in Hungary, and the forces of reactionary absolutism were completely dominant. But beneath the surface, a strong popular current was beginning to run in a contrary direction. Hungarian society, affected by western Liberalism, but without any direct help from abroad, was gearing up for emancipation. Writers, poets, artists, noble and plebeian, layman and cleric, without any previous connexion, were working towards that ideal of political liberty which was to unite all the Magyars (ethnic majority). Mihály Vörösmarty, Ferenc Kölcsey, Ferencz Kazinczy, and many others were, consciously or unconsciously, as the representatives of the renascent national literature, accomplishing a political mission with the pen, where their ancestors had used the sword. The pen was a supremely effective weapon.

In 1825, Emperor Francis II convened the Diet in response to growing concerns amongst the Hungarian nobility about taxes and the diminishing economy, after the Napoleonic wars. This – and the reaction to the reforms of Joseph II – started what is known as the Reform Period (reformkor). But the Nobles still retained their privileges of paying no taxes and not giving the vote to the masses. Hungarian politician Count István Széchenyi recognized the need to bring the country in line with the more developed West European countries, such as Britain – where political reform and industrialism were beginning to crank up.

There had begun in Hungary a movement which, according to István Széchenyi, “startled the nation out of its sickly drowsiness”. In 1823, when the reactionary powers were considering joint action to suppress revolution in Spain, the government, without consulting the diet, imposed a war-tax and called out the recruits. The county assemblies instantly protested against this illegal act, and Francis I was obliged, at the diet of 1823, to repudiate the action of his ministers. But the estates felt that the maintenance of their liberties demanded more substantial guarantees than the largely obsolete ancient laws still in force. Széchenyi, who had lived abroad and studied Western institutions, was the recognized leader of all those who wished to create a new Hungary out of the old. For years he and his friends educated public opinion by issuing innumerable pamphlets in which the new Liberalism was eloquently expounded. In particular Széchenyi insisted that the people must not look exclusively to the government, or even to the diet, for the necessary reforms. Society itself must take the initiative by breaking down the barriers of class exclusiveness and reviving a healthy public spirit. The effect of this teaching was manifest at the diet of 1832, when the Liberals in the Lower Chamber had a large majority, prominent among whom were Ferenc Deák and Ödön Beothy. In the Upper House, however, the magnates united with the government to form a conservative party obstinately opposed to any project of reform, which frustrated all the efforts of the Liberals.



The alarm of the government at the power and popularity of the Liberal party induced it, soon after the accession of the new king, the emperor Ferdinand I (1835–1848), to attempt to crush the reform movement by arresting and imprisoning the most active agitators among them, Louis Kossuth and Miklos Wesselenyi. But the nation was no longer to be cowed. The diet of 1839 refused to proceed to business until the political prisoners had been released, and, while in the Lower Chamber the reforming majority was larger than ever, a Liberal party was now also formed in the Upper House under the leadership of Count Louis Batthyány and Baron Joseph Eotvos. From 1000 to 1844, Latin was the official language of administration, legislation and schooling in Hungary. Two progressive measures of the highest importance were passed by this diet, one making Magyar the official language of Hungary, the other freeing the peasants’ holdings from all feudal obligations.

The results of the diet of 1839 did not satisfy the advanced Liberals, while the opposition of the government and of the Upper House still further fueled the general discontent. The chief exponent of this temper was Pesti Hirlap, Hungary’s first political newspaper, founded in 1841 by Kossuth, whose articles, advocating armed reprisals if necessary, inflamed the extremists but alienated Széchenyi, who openly attacked Kossuth’s opinions. The polemic on both sides was violent,and on the assembling of the diet of 1843 Kossuth was more popular than ever, while the influence of Széchenyi had declined. The tone of this diet was passionate, and the government was fiercely attacked for interfering with the elections. Fresh triumphs were won by the Liberals. Magyar was now declared to be the language of the schools and the law-courts as well as of the legislature; mixed marriages were legalized; and official positions were thrown open to non-nobles.


The interval between the diet of 1843 and that of 1847 saw a complete disintegration and transformation of the various political parties. Széchenyi openly joined the government, while the moderate Liberals separated from the extremists and formed a new party, the Centralists. Immediately before the elections, however, Deák succeeded in reuniting all the Liberals on the common platform of “The Ten Points”.

  1. Responsible ministries,
  2. Freedom of the Press
  3. Popular representation (by parliamentary elections),
  4. The reincorporation of Transylvania,
  5. Right of public meeting, (Freedom of assembly and freedom of association)
  6. Absolute religious liberty, the abolition of the (Catholic) State Religion,
  7. Universal equality before the law,
  8. Universal and equal taxation, (abolition of the tax exemption of the aristocracy)
  9. The abolition of the Aviticum, an obsolete and anomalous land-tenure,
  10. The abolition of serfdom and bond service, with state financed compensation to the landlords.

The ensuing parliamentary elections resulted in a complete victory of the Progressives. All efforts to bring about an understanding between the government and the opposition were fruitless. Kossuth demanded not merely the redress of actual grievances, but a liberal reform which would make such grievances impossible in the future. In the highest circles a dissolution of the diet now seemed to be the sole remedy. But, before it could be carried out, news of the February revolution in Paris reached Pressburg on the 1st of March, and on the 3rd of March Kossuth’s motion for the appointment of an independent, responsible ministry was accepted by the Lower House. The moderates, alarmed not so much by the motion itself as by its tone, again tried to intervene. But on the 13th of March the Vienna revolution broke out, and the Emperor, yielding to pressure or panic, appointed Count Louis Batthyány premier of the first Hungarian responsible ministry, which included Kossuth, Széchenyi and Deák.


The Hungarian revolution started in the Pilvax coffee palace at Pest, which was a favorite meeting point of the young extra-parliamentary radical liberal intellectuals in the 1840s. On the morning of March 15, 1848, revolutionaries marched around the city of Pest, reading Sándor Petőfi’s Nemzeti dal (National Song) and the 12 points (expansion of the 10 points) to the crowd (which swelled to thousands). Declaring an end to all forms of censorship, they visited the printing presses of Landerer and Heckenast and printed Petőfi’s poem together with the demands. A mass demonstration was held in front of the newly built National Museum, after which the group left for the Buda Chancellery (the Office of the Governor-General) on the other bank of the Danube. The bloodless mass demonstrations in Pest and Buda forced the Imperial governor to accept the people’s demands. Thus the war for independence began.


I suggest the dish fatányéros to celebrate. It is a classic Hungarian festive dish originally from Transylvania. When I was last in Budapest with friends, two of them ordered fatányéros at a restaurant for lunch. It looked innocent enough – “Transylvanian meat platter for 2.” When it came we all fell on the floor laughing. It was gigantic – enough meat for 6, at least. The selection of meats for a fatányéros can vary tremendously according to tastes, wallet, and season. Best simple translation is “mixed grill.” It should be served on a wooden platter, and is most festive and communal if the meats are whole with a large ornamented knife stuck in the biggest piece.

A good platter will include grilled veal, beefsteak, and pork cutlets, with a goose liver and some bacon. It is normal to add fried potatoes, thickly sliced, to the platter, and either a mixed salad on the side or a garnish of lettuce and tomatoes.