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Hungary in the 18th and 19th Centuries

The Industrial revolution

In the 1700s in Great Britain people started using machines in the textile industry. Muscle power was replaced by water-power first, then steam power. Production was done in factories, not at home. More revolution were to come, they developed banking system and the Bank of England was established in 1694. For them, colonies provided cheap raw materials and labour force. There were new methods in the agriculture aswell. For example the crop rotation, where the farmer would plant fodder plants, which restored the soil. Also, they started sheltered livestock breeding. Cloth merchants realized that if they sped up the work of spinning and weaving, they could make more profit. John Kay invented the flying shuttle, Hargreaves’ Spinning Jenny made the spinning faster, Arkwrights’s water-frame used water to drive the spinning wheel and Crompton’s spinning mule combined those two. Finally, Cartwright’s power loom balanced spinning and weaving. More inventors, such as James Watt, perfected the steam engine in 1769 and George Stephenson built the first railway in 1825 between Stockton and Darlington.

Demographic and ethnic issues in Hungary in the 18th century

When the Turkish yoke left Hungary, huge unhibited areas were on the central territories. This problem was solved by 3 options: Hungarian peasants moved from the densely populated areas among with many Slovaks to the Great Plains. The Viennese Court initiated the settling of German Roman Catholics to balance the Reformation. And Romanians immigrated to the country too along with Serbians , who settled down as frontier guards. As a result, Hungarians became an ethnic minority by the 18th century.

Also, after the Rákóczi Freedom Fight, the Hungarian aristocracy became loyal to the Court and Vienna, along with the lower nobility. They also encouraged the inter-marriage of Austro-Hungarians. Although it was held in Roman Catholic Churches and their children were Roman Catholics as well. As a consequence, the Hungarians' number was going lower and despite the free religion practice, the Roman Catholic religion was the main goal for the Habsburgs.

The Hungarian peasants suffered the most: socage work, second serfdom, war tax, military service, etc. The Croatians however, had their own nobility, Serbian and Sekler peasants enjoyed privileges in return of guarding the southern and eastern borders. The Germans in Hungary had 2 groups: the Roman Catholic Swabian peasants and the Protestant Saxon burglers. Not the Slovaks, Ruthenians or Romanians had their own nobility, since mainly peasants came to the country.

Maria Theresa

Maria Theresa was followed by her father on the throne of the Habsburg Empire. In 1741, she was also crowned king of Hungary and some time later she asked the Hungarian nobles to help against Friderick II. The estates offered "our lives and blood for the Queen" and despite the defeat, Friderick II acknowledged the Pragmatic Sanction, which meant that he acknowledged the queen.

Maria Theresa introduced several important administrative, economic and social reforms, which were first supervised by Wilhelm Haugwitz, whose priorities were to bring centralization and economic reforms to the empire. Thus the Council of State was established and from 1765, the queen ruled by decree.

She introduced several reforms for example, the Tariff Regulation in 1754. It had a double aim: to protect the Austrian and Bohemian industries and to find an extra income, since the Hungarian nobles didn't pay taxes. Double borders were introduced, an outer border around the empire and an inner order to separate Austria and Hungary. As a consequence, Hungary continued to supply the Habsburg empire with cheap food and raw materials.

The main problem of the serfs was the 3-4 days of socage work, so in 1767, Maria Theresa issued the Urbarial Decree. This granted the serfs to move freely, the ninth and 1 golden Forint had to be given to the lord, war tax and local tax went to the state and the tithe was for the Church.

In 1777, she introduced Ratio Educationis, thus schools were taken under state control and compulsory education was introduced between the ages 6 and 12 and the language of the education was Hungarian. Teacher-teaching colleges were also founded along with technological institutions.

Joseph II


Joseph II or the King with the Hat became Holy Roman Emperor after his father’s death in 1765. He’s well-known for his reforms, which were based on his travels in the empire and Europe. As a ruler of enlightened absolutism, his motto was: Everything for the people, nothing by the people. He refused to be crowned king of Hungary to avoid swearing on the Coronation Oath.

His absolute dream was to unify the whole empire and abolish the Hungarian autonomy. According to that he divided the country into 10 new administrative units and the centre of each district was strictly chosen, it had to be the most German populated cities. He also ordered a national census and a land survey.

In 1781, he issued the Decree of Toleration. This provided limited guarantee of freedom of religion and opened higher positions for Protestant and Greek Orthodox people. He also introduced the censorship of all the printed materials, including papal bulls. He also restricted the Pope’s right to interfere in his church policy and domestic affairs. Later he dissolved the contemplative religious orders not involving in teaching or caring for the sick.

He issued the Language Decree in 1784, which made the German language the official language in the whole empire. The language of administration, jurisdiction and higher education was to be in German. This rose a strong national movement, which turned to traditional Hungarian folklore. Later he issued the Decree on Serfdom, which abolished perpetual serfdom and secured free movement of serfs.

His growing unpopularity made it difficult to carry out his reforms. Due to this, the Hungarian nobility openly organised a conspiracy against the emperor and it made Joseph II withdraw all his reforms except the decree of toleration and the decree on serfs.