The Black Army of King Matthias Corvinus was a standing mercenary force that had its origins in the 1440s during the reign of Corvinus’ father, John Hunyadi. October 13 is the anniversary of the army’s notable victory when it vanquished the Ottomans at the Battle of Breadfield (Kenyérmezei) in 1479. This conflict was one of the most massive of the Hungarian-Turkish Wars fought on Transylvanian soil.
The Black Army’s traditional period of activity was from 1458 to 1494. Unlike the mercenary soldiers of other countries, those of the Black Army were full-time soldiers wholly dedicated to the skills of warfare. The army saw many battles and conquered portions of Austria and Moravia.
Its core initially was made up of 6000 to 8000 soldiers but subsequently expanded to a standard quantity of 30,000 mercenaries. During enemy invasions its size increased to 60,000 men. Originally the army consisted of soldiers from Bohemia, Germany, Serbia and Poland. By 1480 the force was mainly made up of Hungarians.
Gunpowder was expensive during the Middle Ages, so only one in five infantrymen carried a firearm. This was in the form of a harquebus, an early muzzle-loading smoothbore weapon that was a predecessor of the musket.
The Black Army troops consisted primarily of light and heavy cavalry, artillery and infantry. The heavy cavalry was assigned to defend the artillery and infantry, while the other corps concentrated on offensive actions.
Apart from the vanquishing of the Ottomans at the Battle of Breadfield, the army fought against the Czechs, the Holy Roman Empire, the Hussites, the Moldavians, the Papal States, the Kingdom of Poland, Saxony and Venice.
Historians disagree about the origins of the term “Black Army”. The name apparently wasn’t given during King Matthias’ lifetime but appears in accounts written immediately following his death.
Various theories aver that the soldiers dressed in black or displayed a black stripe on their shoulders while in mourning for King Matthias. Medieval Italian scholar Antonio Bonfini (1434-1503) used the term “Black Army” to signify the hardiness of the force’s veterans. Another theory is that the name comes from the black breastplate worn by Captain Frantisek Hag, or alternatively from the nickname of another Black Army officer, Captain “Black” John Haugwitz.
Eric Bryan is a freelance writer originally from Burlingame, California.