Fancy to see a real Magyar hussar? Just a stone's throw away from Matthias Church in the Castle Hill stands a statue of a hussar sitting proudly on a fine horse in his captain’s uniform. It’s the memorial to the 3rd Hussar Regiment (1732-1918) named after its most famous general, András Hadik. Erected in 1937 the message was to revive the cult of the Hungarian hussar in line with the military zeal of the Horthy regime to acquire the lost territories of Hungary.
The hussars, these undaunted regiments of light cavalry date their origin back to King Matyas’s Black Army in the late 15th century. Though practically speaking they were mercenaries serving in several different armies of Europe in the 18th century, the figure of the Hussar is surrounded by a Romantic haze in Hungarian national consciousness. According to this the Magyar Hussar embodies the best military virtues: bravery, finesse, steadfastness and patriotism. András Hadik’s career embodies all these except the Romantic overtone.
He was born in 1710 as a son of an officer who got his nobility as a reward for fighting in the Habsburg imperial army against Rákóczi’s kuruc forces in the War of Independence ending in 1711. He studied at the Jesuits to become a monk but upon his ailing father’s wish he chose the second best career for someone from the lesser nobility at that time by joining one of the hussar regiments at the age of 22. Due to his intelligence and valor he rose steadily in the military hierarchy.
He wrote himself into history books by a memorable Hussar trick during the 7-year War between the Habsburgs and newly rising Prussia over the possession of Silesia, the richest province at stake. Making use of the strategic mistake of Frederick II to leave Berlin unprotected, Prince Charles of Lorraine, commander of the Austrian forces instructed Hadik to organize a raiding party with his light cavalry. Hadik turned out to be the ideal choice for such a mission since in only seven days he reached the Prussian capital with a force of seven thousand camouflaged as defense forces. Their appearance at the gates of Berlin on October 16, 1757, surprised the Elders of the city so much that they considered Hadik’s demand of a 200,000 dukats of ransom as a hoax and refused to pay. They changed their minds very soon after Hadik shelled the Silesian gate and penetrated the walls in no time, capturing the defense forces of Berlin. But by then Hadik raised the ransom to three-fold and the good burghers and the Jews of Berlin collected at least half of the sum in 24 hours. Having received the tribute and the 24 pairs of gloves with Maria Teresia’s initinals embroidered in at Hadik’s order, they left the city as unexpectedly as they arrived. By the time Frederick’s forces arrived eight hours later all they could collect was the ridicule of friends and foes. Frederick never forgave Hadik this humiliation, though had a high respect for him, which is echoed in his advice to his generals: “Watch out for Hadik.”
He learnt his lesson and organized more Hungarian hussar regiments. Most of the members of the Prussian Hussar contingent were actually defecting soldiers from Maria Teresia’s regiments in the hope for higher pay and better treatment. True, Frederick the Great held his Hungarian hussars in such a high respect that in 1759 he issued a royal order for the Prussian officers instructing them never to offend the self-esteem of the Magyar hussars with insults or abuses.
The gloves and the mockery of her main rival led Maria Teresia to secure Hadik a steady military and political career for the rest of his long life. Not only did she elevate him to the ranks of higher nobility but appointed him to high military positions like the High Commander of Transylvania, a sensitive post to represent the interests of the Viennese court.
Hadik’s name is also preserved in the name of Hadik Kávéház in Bartók Béla út, a literary café, where Frigyes Karinthy and the literary elite of the 1920s gathered daily. The café, named so to attract officers from the nearby Hadik Barracks was recently revitalized. As for the statue of Hadik: the 1st District Local Government had to issue a code of ethics concerning the protection of monuments recently. What prompted it was to stop tourists harass the Hadik statue by touching the by now shiny brass balls of the horse, a tradition originally applied by the students of the Technical University before exams.
Contributed by Miklós M. Molnár, founder of Fungarian, a company offering crash courses in Hungarian combined with interesting local tours for visitors to Budapest. You can read more of the series and learn more about Hungarian culture and language at the author’s website – www.fungarian.com in the FunBox Hungarian Histories section. First published in Time Out Budapest.