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Summary Article: Sigismund
From The Columbia Encyclopedia

(sĭj'ĭsmӘnd, sĭg'–), 1368–1437, Holy Roman emperor (1433–37), German king (1410–37), king of Hungary (1387–1437) and of Bohemia (1419–37), elector of Brandenburg (1376–1415), son of Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV.

Accession to the Hungarian Throne

Through his marriage to Mary, who became queen of Hungary in 1382, Sigismund acceded to the Hungarian throne. However, dynastic conflicts there prevented his coronation until 1387. In the interim Mary was deposed, and Charles II (Charles III, king of Naples) became king (1385). Following Charles's death (1386) Mary was restored, and Sigismund came to power. During this period the Ottomans (Turks) were advancing in Europe, and in 1395 they invaded Hungary. Sigismund led a general European crusade against them but was crushingly defeated in 1396 by Sultan Beyazid I at Nikopol. Sigismund's absence and the death of Mary (1395) had weakened his hold on the Hungarian throne. In 1403 he put down a revolt in Hungary in support of Lancelot of Naples, the son of Charles II.

German King and Holy Roman Emperor

After the death of the German king and uncrowned Holy Roman Emperor Rupert in 1410, both Sigismund and his cousin, Jobst of Moravia, claimed victory in the imperial elections. Since Sigismund's half-brother Wenceslaus, who had been deposed from the German throne in 1400, had never waived his title, there were, for a time, three rulers of Germany. The death of Jobst (1411) and the withdrawal of Wenceslaus left Sigismund sole king and Holy Roman emperor-elect.

One of Sigismund's first tasks was to end the Great Schism in the church. He persuaded John XXIII (see Cossa, Baldassare), the strongest of the three schismatic popes, to summon a council at Konstanz (or Constance, see Constance, Council of). After three years of deliberation by the council, the schism was ended (1417). John Huss, the Czech religious reformer, had attended the council with Sigismund's guarantee of safe conduct, but, nevertheless, the council began heresy proceedings against him and condemned him to death. Sigismund signed his death sentence.

The burning of Huss hastened the Reformation in Bohemia and earned Sigismund the lasting hatred of the Czechs. When Sigismund succeeded to the Bohemian throne on his brother Wenceslaus's death (1419), he was bitterly opposed. To secure an army against the rebellious Bohemians, Sigismund convinced Pope Martin V to proclaim (Mar., 1420) a crusade against the Hussites. He had himself crowned king of Bohemia at Prague but was defeated by the Hussites under John Zizka and withdrew. In 1421 a Czech assembly declared him deposed, and shortly afterward the Hussites began their incursions into Germany (see Hussite Wars). Renewed attacks by the Turks occupied Sigismund in Hungary, while in Germany and Bohemia the Hussites continued to be victorious, defeating a new crusade (1431) against them.

Negotiations to heal the breach in the church were held at the Council of Basel (see Basel, Council of) and resulted in compromise with the drafting of the Compactata. The religious agreement opened the way to Sigismund's acceptance as king by the Bohemians in 1436. Shortly afterward, Sigismund died.


Sigismund was the last emperor of the Luxemburg dynasty. He arranged for the succession to his titles by his son-in-law, Albert of Austria (later King Albert II). Sigismund had earlier transferred Brandenburg to Frederick of Hohenzollern (Frederick I of Brandenburg) as a reward for his support in Sigismund's election as emperor.

The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2018

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