In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Principality of Transylvania

  • Introduction
  • Primary Sources
  • Collections of Studies
  • Journals and Series
  • The Formation of the State and its Legal Status

Renaissance and Reformation The Principality of Transylvania
Teréz Oborni
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 May 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 November 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0139


The state called the Principality of Transylvania was formed in the eastern part of the medieval Kingdom of Hungary following its partition into three parts in 1541. The Principality, which remained an Ottoman vassal state throughout its existence, was created on the order of Sultan Suleyman, who had occupied the central part of Hungary. The new state was born in 1542, when constitutional national assemblies were set up in Transylvania. At these meetings, the Transylvanian estates took the former political and administrative system of the Kingdom of Hungary as the basis of the institutions and legal system of the new state. The Principality of Transylvania existed until 1690 when a military force led by the Habsburgs occupied Transylvania during the Great Turkish Wars; the Diploma Leopoldinum, signed by Leopold I in 1690, put an end to the Principality and its land became a Habsburg territory. The Habsburg Hungarian kings retained their legal claim on Transylvania during the 16th and 17th centuries on the grounds that Transylvania was a member (membrum) of the Hungarian Holy Crown, and thus, it should have been controlled by the Hungarian kings. Several ethnic groups had lived in Transylvania since the Middle Ages: Hungarians, Hungarian-speaking Székelys, Saxons, and Romanians. The Reformation achieved widespread popularity in the area as early as the middle of the 16th century. The local Saxons preferred Lutheranism, the Hungarians mainly followed Calvinism, and the Székelys remained Roman Catholics or converted to Calvinism, while the Romanians preserved their Orthodox religion. Interestingly, Unitarianism also attracted large numbers, as in Poland or Italy. The Renaissance—slightly differently from the European chronology—flourished in Transylvania in the 16th century, and the late Renaissance style determined its visual arts, architecture and literature even in the second half of the 17th century.

General Overviews

The first monographs on the history of Transylvania were written in the middle of the 19th century. However, their approach changed according to the current political situation. The Treaty of Trianon at the end of World War I gave Transylvania to Romania, which resulted in both countries in a deeper interest in the history of the area. The works written in the 19th century were dominated by positivism and were characterized by an emphasis on political history. Historians in the first half of the 20th century focused on social and ethnic history. Marxism was the dominant historical approach of the second half of the 20th century, and thus these works stressed economic and social history and mentioned only some basic data related to political history. The works cited in this bibliography should be used together with those listed in the separate Oxford Bibliographies article The Kingdom of Hungary.

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