After a period of self-rule, Croatians agreed to the Pacta Conventa in 1091, submitting themselves to Hungarian authority. In Sigismund’s time, Croatia was severly tried by the wars with Venice, and those against the Turks, who invaded Croatian territory in 1414-15. From that until 1838, when the Turks were finally repulsed at Cetin, the struggle was continuous. The Bans Nicholas and John Frankopani and Matko Talovac were the first in the field against the Sultan Murad II. Sigismund was succeeded by his son-in-law Archduke Albert of Austria, who died in 1439 at a critical period. His wife, though civil war was raging, took control of the Government in 1439, and her son, Ladislaus Posthumus was nominal ruler until 1457. After the fall of Constantinople (1453) and the occupation of Bosnia ten years later by the Turks, the Turks were repulsed on the Croatian frontier and Western culture was saved to posterity.

The following centuries show bloody records of constant struggles against the Turks. Yakub, Pasha of Bosnia, eager to enslave Catholic Balkan, invaded Croatia in 1493. He was met by the Croatian forces under Ban Derenchin on the field of Krbava. The Croats were defeated and left the flower of their nobility on the field. In 1513, however, the Turkish army was defeated by the Ban Bishop Peter Berislavich, and Leo X, upon receiving the news of victory, sent the warrior-bishop a blessed saber. Bishop Berislavich’s appeal to Charles V was unheeded, and the former was killed in the battle of Korenica (1520). His death was a terrible blow to the Antemurale Christianitatis, as the pope and emperor styled the Croats in their letters. Then followed the conflicts of Jajce (1521, 1525), Kllis (1524), Mohacs (1526), and Vienna (1529) which Solyman II atempted to take. He was badly defeated, however, and returned to Constantinople with thousands of Christians, who became either slaves or soldiers (Janizaries). The pashas in Bosnia in retaliation for the defeat, pillaged the country and slew the Christians.


By the mid-1400s, concerns over Ottoman expansion led the Croatian Assembly to invite the Habsburgs, under Archduke Ferdinand, to assume control over Croatia. Habsburg rule proved successful in thwarting the Ottomans, and by the 18th century, much of Croatia was free of Turkish control.

In 1712 the Croatian Sabor accepted the Pragmatic Sanction, by which Charles VI secured the succession to his daughter Maria Theresa. In the Thirty Years War and the Seven years War between Maria Theresa and Frederick the Great the Croats took a prominent part. During the reign of Leopold I (1658-1705) hundreds of families of the Schismatic Greek Church had entered Croatia as refugees from Turkish rule. Jealousy existed between the Catholics of the country and the newcomers because the rulers did not favour any but the Catholic religion. In 1777 Maria Theresa secured the erection of a diocese for the Uniat Greeks, with the Eastern Rite and the Old Slavonic Liturgy. She hoped in this way to bring about union with Rome, but the breach was only widened. Education reached a high standard in the sixteenth century under the Hermits of St. Paul. Later on the Jesuits became their co-workers in the field. They established an excellent institution in Zagreb. The Croatian youth also attended the universities at Rome, Padua, and Bologna.

austro - ugarska

The absolutist, Joseph II (1780-90), who succeeded Maria Theresa, failed in his reforms, though he stopped at nothing in his attempts to carry them out. In Croatia he suppressed religious orders, confiscated monasteries and seminaries, and hampered the progress of education. To save the mother-tongue a reaction against Latin began in 1835, and the native speech was revived in church, university, and street. In 1809 Napoleon, having conquered Croatia, set up the Kingdom of Illyria, a union of all the Croatian provinces, under French control. In the first half of the nineteenth century, as an outgrowth of the revival of the language, a vigorous nationalizing movement began under Louis Gaj. Representatives of the people, 300 in number, demanded of the king the same rights for Croatia as those possessed by Hungary: independence under the king; the election of the ban by the people and his presentation for the king’s approval; the ban was to be ex-offficio president of Croatian cabinet and responsible to the Sabor, at its annual meeting; the Croatian army with its head was to take an oath of fidelity to the king; the military Frontier to be abolished; and Croatian made the official tongue. The only point gained was the appointment , as ban, of Joseph Jellachich. In 1848 the revolution broke out. Jellachich saved the throne for the Hapsburg family, but further enslaved his country in doing so. The Croatian Generals Davidovich and Vukasovich distinguished themselves in the war against Italy in 1866. In 1878 Generals Francis and Ivan Philoppovich occupied Bosnia with Croatian regiments.

In 1868, Croatia gained domestic autonomy while remaining under Hungarian authority.

Dreams of Yugoslavia

Disillusionment spread after 1848, and was amplified by the birth of the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy in 1867. The monarchy placed Croatia and Slavonia within the Hungarian administration, while Dalmatia remained within Austria. Whatever limited form of self-government the Croats enjoyed under the Habsburgs disappeared along with 55% of their revenues earmarked for the imperial treasury.

The river of discontent running through late-19th-century Croatia forked into two streams that dominated the political landscape for the next century. The old ‘Illyrian’ movement became the National Party, dominated by the brilliant Bishop Josif Juraf Strossmayer. Strossmayer believed that the differences between Serbs and Croats were magnified by the manipulations of the Habsburgs and the Hungarians, and that only through Jugoslavenstvo (south-Slavic unity) could the aspirations of both peoples be realised. Strossmayer supported the Serbian independence struggle in Serbia but favoured a Yugoslav entity within the Austro-Hungarian Empire rather than complete independence.

By contrast, the Party of Rights, led by the militantly anti-Serb Ante Starčević, envisioned an independent Croatia made up of Slavonia, Dalmatia, the Krajina, Slovenia, Istria, and part of Bosnia and Hercegovina. At the time, the Eastern Orthodox Church was encouraging the Serbs to form a national identity based upon their religion. Until the 19th century, Orthodox inhabitants of Croatia identified themselves as Vlachs, Morlachs, Serbs, Orthodox or even Greeks, but with the help of Starčević’s attacks, the sense of a separate Serbian Orthodox identity within Croatia developed.

Under the theory of ‘divide and rule’, the Hungarian-appointed ban (viceroy or governor) of Croatia blatantly favoured the Serbs and the Orthodox Church, but his strategy backfired. The first organised resistance formed in Dalmatia. Croat representatives in Rijeka and Serb representatives in Zadar joined together in 1905 to demand the unification of Dalmatia and Slavonia with a formal guarantee of Serbian equality as a nation. The spirit of unity mushroomed, and by 1906 Croat-Serb coalitions had taken over local government in Dalmatia and Slavonia, forming a serious threat to the Hungarian power structure.