Magyar-British Relations from the War of Independence to the Great War, 1849-1914.   1 comment

Recovery and Compromise, 1849-1867

G I Whyte-Melville (1821-78) passed through Hungary on his way to the Crimea to join the British Army as a volunteer. He described social conditions in Hungary in his Interpreter (1858). He was not the first English novelist to study Hungarian life and cultural character.  George Borrow had published Lavengro in 1851 and Romany Rye in 1857, and was much impressed by the romantic history of Hungary as well as the conditions prevailing in this period. Whyte- Melville’s Interpreter contains a characteristic and , at times, strikingly realistic picture of life after the War of Independence. He saw the despair as well as the hatred of the Austrian government that followed the war. The peasants hated their Austrian master. At the mention of his name, the peasants’ voices shook with fury, their faces convulsed with rage… If ever they do get the upper hand, woe to the oppressor! Two soldiers just returned from Italy refused to accept the gifts offered them by Haynau. With a wild curse and malediction they dashed his money to the ground.

Stein, the secret agent of the Austrian Government, was treated with due contempt by Melville, whose British instincts for justice and fair play alienated him from so hateful a character. By contrast, he expresses his deep sympathy with Colonel Türr and the martyrs of Arad, and for their patriotic fervour of the grieving Hungarian nation. Writing of their horror at the flogging of a Hungarian noblewoman, both Melville and Borrow (in his appendix to Romany Rye) express their utter contempt for the ‘marshal’ who carried this out against a lady for no other crime than devotion to her country and its tall and heroic sons (Borrow). In his Travels in European Turkey, published in two volumes in 1851, Edmund Spencer expressed, in energetic terms, his support for the Hungarian cause and his contempt for the tyrannical foe. In his writings, he complained about the Austrian system of espionage, to which he himself nearly fell victim. He wrote with admiration of the valiant six millions, defending their liberty against two emperors and at the same time against nationalities. He pointed out that the Hungarians were not revolutionaries, much less socialists, but noble patriots defending their lives and properties from the attacks of those let loose on them from every Slavic country under the control of Austrian and Ottoman Empires. He claimed that these were provoked by paid agents of the Austrian government in its attempt to subvert the constitution and liberties of the Hungarian peoples. He was revolted by the horrible scenes that took place in Hungary… perfidy and cruelty marked every movement of the Austrian cabinet. Austria and Russia were allowed to arrest the march of civilisation.

Spencer attacked both the British and French Cabinets for their neglect of Hungary. He ridicules the uselessness of debates held at Peace Congresses, wishing that the British government would exert all the influence in keeping out of the market all foreign loans required by any aggressive Powers. Finally, he wrote of Austrian bureaucracy, martial law, multiplied taxes, and all the harassing chicanery of a host of needy German policemen. He praised the Hungarian women, who even outvie the men in their patriotic enthusiasm. Another visitor to Hungary in the aftermath of the War of Independence was D. T. Ansted seems to have felt a peculiar fascination for Hungary, and its superb scenery. He too had a warm feeling for the Hungarian people, struggling to retain an honorable position among more powerful nations pressing them in on all sides. He wrote indignantly about Haynau, the infamous tyrant who was afterwards reminded in the streets of London of the estimation in which he was held by a free people…


Here Ansted was referring to an incident when the Austrian general arrived in the London dockyards some years after the War and his forced retirement from Imperial service, apparently travelling incognito, dressed as an ordinary sailor. However, he was recognised by some of the East End dockers and had to be rescued from a severe beating.

Despite the rapturous reception to Kossuth given by the people of Birmingham, following his speeches on arrival in Southampton and at the Guildhall, the British government was far more reticent in the respect it showed to the exiled Protector of the first, short-lived Hungarian Republic. In the prevailing international

situation, relations between Britain and Russia were strained in the period leading to the outbreak of the Crimean War in 1853, and Britain needed the support of Austria in its anti-Russian policy. The Viennese Court asserted that the Hungarian Revolution had been a rebellion in a ‘province’ of the Austrian Empire, and induced the British government to follow its natural inclination to reserve, restraint and even rejection in its dealings with the eloquent leader of the late insurrection against a legitimately ordained monarch. Among the members of the aristocratic and reactionary Cabinet, Lord Palmerston, its Foreign Minister, was the only minister to  show any sympathy for Kossuth and his cause.  This helped to provoke a serious crisis in Lord Russell’s cabinet and for the next two years Kossuth sought refuge and support in the United States, where he was given more official support, though not unequivocal, as well as with revolutionary élan in the ‘land of the free and the home of the brave’.

After his triumphal tour of America, when Kossuth returned to England in July 1852, he could not help but feel the growth of reactionary attitudes and a change in public opinion. In a letter to the Times, Greville wrote:

We are great hero-worshippers and there is something romantic and impressive in the Hungarian war, but as with many similar things, the fever soon abates, and Kossuth will be forgotten in a week after his departure…


This prophecy only partially came true, however, for Kossuth, together with the other Hungarian exiles, avoided all publicity during what became a long stay in Britain and shunned all attempts to recreate the cult status he had enjoyed on his first visit. Certainly, he had many close friends and admirers in Britain who made his years of exile easier for him and his associates, and no Hungarian was as well-known in Britain as Kossuth for a further century. In addition, the cause of freedom in Hungary continued to have many friends among liberals in Britain as the century progressed. However, no matter how sympathetic public opinion remained, he was unable to breach the wall of indifference thrown up by the British establishment in response to the Hapsburg demands for their government to shun all approaches from the exiled champion of liberty. In the higher echelons of British society and the English Court, little had changed since the days of Queen Anne, who had not dared to face a storm of Austrian protest  by receiving Ferenc Rákóczi II. The Americans were able to act more independently, and sometimes did so, but, even then, only in very limited diplomatic areas (see my other blogs on US-Hungarian relations). Whatever its sympathies, the British government could not afford to sacrifice its foreign policy over Russia by offending Vienna. This paid off for London when the Emperor Franz Joseph rewarded the Tsar for his help in crushing the Hungarian Army in 1849, by choosing to remain neutral in the Crimean War of 1854, thus enabling Turkey to defeat Russia, with the aid of Britain and France. This, in turn, helped the French and Italians (Piedmont) to defeat the Austrians in 1859, with the Hungarian National Directory formed as a government-in-exile under Kossuth poised to lead another bid for Hungarian Independence. This came to nothing, since Napoleon III was concerned that the decisive victory in the bloodiest battle of the century at Solferino would lead quickly to the formation of a powerful, united Italy. Nevertheless, the crushing of the Imperial Army and Austria’s humiliation in the war was what led to its Compromise with Hungary in 1867.


Scottish Connections: Wallace and the Chain Bridge

In the Wallace Tower of the romantic town of Stirling there is a letter written by Kossuth, from his exile in Italy, in memory of the great Scottish national hero. The letter is found among a collection from men of world/wide fame, actors in the great National Movements which have engaged the attention of the world during the present generation. Kossuth!s letter is placed between those of Garibaldi and Mazzini, and was written from Turin on 12 May 1868. It expresses Kossuth’s sincere admiration for the valiant struggles of the Scottish commoner turned warrior. The most interesting passage from the point of Magyar-British relations is that in which Kossuth alludes to his own fate:

Doomed myself to the long agony of a sorrowful exile for a cause similar to that for which Wallace laid down his life; akin to him, not in merit, but in purpose, motive and determination, I feel honoured by being allowed to have my modest share in the tribute of veneration to the memory of the bravest champion of the independence of that Scotland which, with untiring generosity, has cast such rays of consolation on the dreary path of my desolated life as made me love and honour her, to my dying hour, like a second home’.


Few Hungarians will have had the opportunity of reading these lines, and few Scots who have will have realised their full significance. However, most Hungarians and many Scots will have heard of the best-known British resident of Budapest during the period between the War of Independence and the Compromise of 1867. He was Adam Clark, the Edinburgh engineer (born August 14, 1811), who supervised the building of the Szechényi Chain Bridge connecting Buda with Pest across the Danube, the first of the several bridges which span the river today, connecting the two banks of the capital. He died in Buda on July 23, 1866. He also designed the Buda Tunnel at the Buda bridgehead, opened in 1857. The square between the bridge and the tunnel is named after him and is the official point of origin of the country’s road network, with a sculptured “zero kilometre stone” in the centre. Adam Clark Square, which is actually a roundabout, also the first of its kind in Hungary, is probably the best-known landmark in the country. The bridge was opened at the beginning of the Hungarian Uprising and the Army of the newly declared Republic were among the first to use it en route to Vienna. Clark also twice saved the Chain Bridge from destruction, in person: first, from the Austrian general who, during the War of Independence of 1849, wanted to blow up the bridge and, second, from the commander of the Hungarian army, who gave orders to destroy it as his troops retreated from Vienna. Following the completion of the Buda Tunnel in 1857, Clark worked on several smaller commissions.


There is also a legendary story about Adam Clark opening the bridge in 1848 with the promise that if anyone could spot any imperfection in the bridge, he would throw himself into the Danube from the bridge. When a little boy, attending with his father, had been looking up at the lions marking the entrance to the bridge from Pest, he had noticed that the sculptor had omitted to sculpt tongues for them. Clark had not inspected inside the lion’s mouths, and, surprised and shamed (!) by this revelation, proceeded to remove his top hat, tie and tails. He kept his promise, diving into the cold waters below, where he was picked up by a fishing boat, which just happened to be passing! Whether his action was entirely spontaneous, we can never know, but it made a magnificent publicity stunt which is remembered to this day!

After the War of Independence, there followed a period of political emigration, during which individual connections became very frequent. Apart from the temporary or permanent migrations of refugees there were continuing exchanges and connections between British people and Hungarians of the nature already described above. The Hungary of István Szechényi’s time had endeavoured to get to know Britain through wide open windows, but after the restoration of relationships between Budapest and Vienna following the Compromise of 1867 with Austria, those windows were partially closed. Britain’s economic and intellectual life became somewhat blurred once again in the focus of Hungarian public consciousness, which continued to gaze over to the other side of the Atlantic, if indeed it was drawn to anything beyond the confines of central Europe itself. As a consequence, Hungary also became less well-known again in Britain and more merged in public consciousness with the Austro-Hungarian Empire and its policy of expansion into the Balkans with the decline of the Ottoman Empire, Disraeli’s ‘sick man of Europe’.

Gothic Constructions and German Culture, 1867-1914


However, there were a considerable number of English books published which dealt with Hungary following the 1867 Compromise and the rise of Ferenc Deák (below right), especially travelogues by those captivated by the rhapsodies which they found in Hungarian life. Some of these visitors continued to settle in Hungary and created lasting relationships between the two countries. Arthur Patterson came to Hungary during this period and later became Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Budapest. As such, he spread English literary knowledge systematically among his students. However, as the Hungarians became more integrated into the Germanic culture of the Empire, the times were not yet ripe for the widespread extension of English language and culture, which only came with the partial recovery from the dissolution of that Empire following the First World War and the Treaty of Trianon. It was then that the teaching of English was first introduced into secondary schools in Hungary.  In the meantime, the Hungarian Parliament Building, built between 1885 and 1904 may have owed much in design to the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, but Imre Steindl modelled it just as much on the Gothic architecture of Cologne Cathedral. One respect in which Budapest followed London more specifically, both in time and fashion, was in the building of an underground railway, opened in 1896, the first of its type on the continent (pictured below, together with another British custom which became established at that time- driving on the left!).



When, after the suppression of the Hungarian War of Independence, Lajos Kossuth displayed his brilliant eloquence in English in front of British audiences, Hungary became for a large number of Britons, for a time at least, more than simply a geographical expression on a map. Kossuth’s words, depicting his country’s troubled past and present struggles, were received by the British public with understanding, sympathy and even enthusiastic ardour, the same as displayed by Blackwell, the British diplomat in Hungary (1843-51) who called the Britons ‘Magyars of the West’ and the Hungarians ‘Britons of the East’. This serves as proof in part of the extent of the exchanges of Anglophilia and Magyarmania which affected relations in and between the two countries in the mid-nineteenth century. The resonance of these contacts were still strong enough to influence the development of a counter-culture of resistance to a new authoritarianism in  the highest circles of Hungarian government and society in the period between the Treaty of Trianon and the tragic death of the Transylvanian Count, Anglophile academic and Prime Minister, Pál Teleki (below), in 1941.


The Hungarian Independence Movement which Teleki founded as a formal organisation in 1936, consciously drew its identity from the Revolution and War of Independence of 1848-9, as a reminder of how the ideal of Hungarian sovereignty could, in times of crisis, bridge huge differences and activate tremendous popular energies. In doing so, it also attempted to balance the growing domination of Germanophile sentiments in Hungary with Hungary’s established links with liberal Anglo-Saxon cultures.

In a recent article which appeared in The Hungarian Review (2013), James C Bennett and Michael J Lotus have also pointed out that, even before the First World War, there was a strong streak of liberalism in Hungarian society, as the Dual Monarchy worked its way towards a liberal solution to the ethno-religious problems which became so apparent in 1848-9. The civilization of the Dual Monarchy was one of the twin poles of progress in Western civilization, with important advances 002in art, music, theatre, science and technology radiating out from Budapest and Prague as well as from Vienna. That pole of progress was tragically fractured and truncated  by the Great War and the emergence of dictatorial governments in central Europe, but its continuity was not entirely lost. Hungarians were, at that time, and still are, fond of finding symbolic parallels between the constitutional development of Hungary and that of Britain, or in this case England, going all the way back to 1215 and Magna Carta, which preceded Andrew II’s Golden Bull by only seven years. This had been a popularly held linking myth since the end of the eighteenth century. However, as the Hungarian historian László Kontler has recently written, if Hungary’s constitutional liberty resembled that of Britain during the premiership of Kálmán Tisza (right) from 1875 to 1890, it mainly resembled the ‘whig oligarchy’ of Robert Walpole’s Hanoverian premiership a century and a half earlier. However, since the Hungarian parliament was largely independent in its dealings with the crown, Hungary’s constitution was at least ‘more free’ than any east of the Rhine. Nevertheless, within the country, political power after the Compromise remained in the hands of the traditional land-owning elite, with roughly eighty per cent of MPs permanently dawn from the ranks of the aristocracy and the gentry classes. The franchise still only extended to six per cent of the population, by the turn of the century grossly anachronistic by comparison with any European country. At all levels, the system continued to operate o the basis of patronage, at a time when Britain had, by the second Reform Act, extended its franchise to the majority of the male population, albeit still with a property qualification. If this was Hungarian liberalism in action, it was still decades behind both Britain and Germany at the end of the century, and Kontler argues convincingly that the constitution produced by the Compromise was essentially conservative, checking whatever emancipationist momentum the revolutionary Hungarian liberalism of the 1840s still had. This may not have been Deák’s view at the time, but it was certainly close to that held by Kossuth and his ‘party’ in Hungary, and even Deák admitted that he didn’t know which ‘party’ had the upper hand in the new Parliament, his or that of the exiled leader, who eventually died in Turin in 1894.

In the years leading up to the First World War, Hungary was rapidly becoming an industrial country as well as an agricultural one. Whereas Hungarian industry consisted of a few hundred joint-stock companies and private firms employing less than a hundred thousand workers at the time of the Compromise, by 1914 there were about five and a half thousand industrial plants or factories, employing a labour force of well over half a million. The power of the machinery they operated increased from nine thousand horsepower to nine hundred thousand, a hundredfold increase. The Hungarian textile industry was the main vehicle of industrialisation, following the model provided by the British Isles. Nonetheless, it remained quite insignificant in scale compared with its Austrian and Czech counterparts.



Sándor Fest (2000), Skóciai Szent Margittól A Walesi Bárdokig: Anglo-Hungarian Historical and Literary Contacts. Budapest: Universitas Kiadó.

László Kontler (2009), A History of Hungary. Budapest: Atlantisz.

Gyula Kodolányi (ed.), The Hungarian Review, November 2013, Vol IV, No. 6. Budapest: Granásztói 

Posted March 22, 2014 by TeamBritanniaHu in Uncategorized

One response to “Magyar-British Relations from the War of Independence to the Great War, 1849-1914.

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  1. Austria-Hungary was a multinational state and one of the world’s great powers at the time. Austria-Hungary was geographically the second-largest country in Europe after the Russian Empire, at 621,538 km2 (239,977 sq mi),[5] and the third-most populous (after Russia and the German Empire). The Empire built up the fourth-largest machine building industry of the world, after the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.[6] Austria-Hungary also became the world’s third largest manufacturer and exporter of electric home appliances, electric industrial appliances and facilities for power plants, after the United States and the German Empire.[7][8]

    However since the turn of the twentieth century , the Austrian half of the Monarchy could preserve its dominance within the empire in the sectors of the first industrial revolution, but Hungary had a better position in the industries of the second industrial revolution, in these modern sectors of the second industrial revolution the Austrian competition could not become dominant.[46]

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