Saint Ladislaus i
Childhood, early years in Bihar, the duchy of Bihar
„eduxit rex Bela in Pannoniam”
“King Béla brought you to Hungary”
(“Song on St Ladislaus” around 1470)
Preparing the future king for the responsibilities of a monarch was an ancient Hungarian tradition of pagan origin and starting from the 11th century, the duchy of Bihar served this purpose. Its territory encompassed almost one third of the kingdom and besides the Hungarians it was inhabited mainly by the Kabars, people of Turkish origin guarding the so-called gyepű line (frontier defence system). They formed the notorious Hungarian mounted vanguard of the steppes, who were under the command of the heir to the throne. The greatest alumnus of the duchy was (Saint) Ladislaus I, which explains his life-long relationship with Bihar and the unique role of the region in the emergence of his cult.
In Árpádian Hungary, two common laws of succession clashed with each other for centuries: seniority, which was of pagan origin and favoured the eldest member of the dynasty, and primogeniture, with its roots in Western Christianity, which favoured the monarch’s eldest son, who took precedence over his siblings. In the period preceding Saint Ladislaus’ ascension to the throne, the country was often shaken by disputes resulting from these conflicting laws. It was due to these asperities that Ladislaus, the grandson of Vazul, the claimant to the throne who was blinded by Stephen I, the founder of the Hungarian state, was not born on Hungarian territory but in Poland. He was born around 1040 to King Béla I of Hungary (1060-1063) and Richeza, the daughter of King Mieszko II of Poland, and the great-granddaughter of Otto II, Roman-German Emperor. Béla returned to Hungary with his family in 1048 when Peter Orseolo, the unworthy heir of Stephen I was deposed and replaced by Andrew I, Béla’s elder brother. After his death, Béla I (1060-1063) succeeded him to the throne, while his sons Géza (1074-1077) and Ladislaus (1077-1095), the young dukes of the duchy of Bihar became heirs to the crown ten years later.
”Thus like a new-born star among stars, the body and soul of the blessed King Ladislaus proclaimed the will of God already at birth and showed signs of a mighty ruler even as an infant. It was Divine Providence – the one who is said to be the most handsome of the sons of men and there is no limit to his understanding...” (Saint Ladislaus legend).
His childhood, the first 14 years spent in his father’s court in Bihar was a decisive period in his life. It was here that the young duke, bearing the signs of being chosen by God, mastered swordsmanship, and received religious education from her mother and tutors. The disputes between his father and uncle forced Ladislaus to leave to Poland again. However, following the crowning of Andrew I’s elder son, Solomon in 1063, Ladislaus could return to the fortress in Bihar, which served as his home until he became king in 1077. His mighty deeds in protection of his people and his victories cannot be numbered nor counted. His legendary fight in the Battle of Kerlés with the Cuman who abducted a girl, or the victory of the valiant knight protecting his brother in the Battle of Mogyoród led to him being portrayed as a noble hero already at a young age and predestined him to be king.
The landscape and fortress of Bihar served as a home for more than half of King Saint Ladislaus’ relatively short, fifty-year life. If one can speak of regional identity in the 11th– century Hungary, then King Saint Ladislaus was the first personality in the Hungarian history to truly originate from Bihar.