Hungarian Peasant Rebellion
Georghe Doja (1470 – 1514) was a Transylvanian nobleman and soldier of fortune who led a rebellion in 1514 – a fierce but eventually unsuccessful uprising of downtrodden Hungarian peasants against their rapacious overlords. After the peasant revolt was put down, Doja went down in history as both a notorious criminal and as a Christian martyr.
After making a name for himself in wars against the Ottoman Turks, Doja was appointed by Pope Leo X to lead a Crusade. About 40,000 volunteers gathered beneath his banner, comprised in the main of peasants, friars, and parish priests – medieval society’s lowest rungs. The Hungarian nobility however neither supplied the Crusaders nor offered military leadership – which was unseemly, since military leadership was the main justification for the aristocracy’s elevated status. Before long, the gathered throng started voicing its collective grievances against the overbearing nobles, and at harvest time, the peasants refused to return and reap their lords’ fields.
The nobles tried to seize the peasants by force and compel them to toil, but that did not sit well with Doja. Siding with the serfs against his own class, he led the Hungarian peasants in a violent rebellion that morphed into a war of extermination against the landlords. Hundreds of castles and aristocratic manors were put to the torch, while thousands of the gentry were killed, often tortured to death or executed in a variety of gruesome ways, such as crucifixion or impalement.
The rebellion was finally crushed, and the peasantry were crushed with it, as they were subjected to a reign of terror and a wave of retaliatory vengeance by the nobles. Over 70,000 were tortured to death, and the peasants as a class were condemned to perpetual servitude, permanently bound to the soil, fined heavily, had their taxes sharply hiked, and the number of days they had to work for their landlords was increased.
Doja was himself captured and condemned to a fiendishly cruel death. Accused among other things of having sought to become king, he was sentenced to sit on a hot iron throne, while a heated iron crown was affixed to his head. Next, bloody hunks were torn out of his body, and nine of his chief lieutenants, starved beforehand, were forced to eat his flesh.
The aristocratic backlash backfired, however, and twelve years later the Ottoman Turks invaded Hungary and had a relatively easy time conquering what was still a bitterly divided country. As to Doja, the revolutionary aspects of his life were drawn upon heavily during the communist era in Romania, his land of birth. Likewise in Hungary, where Doja is the most popular street name in villages, and a main avenue and metro station in Budapest bear his name.