Chronica Hungarorum - The first book printed in Hungary RMK II 1; GW 6686 ; Buda, Hess, 1473. [67 fol.] 2°

The first printed book in Hungary came from András Hess's printer's shop in Buda in 1473. Only two decades after Gutenberg's 42-line Bible, such early appearance of printing in Hungary (even though it was not long-lived) is a remarkable achievement. Only prints in German-speaking lands, Italy, France and the low countries had preceded Hess's publication.

Hess must have arrived in Hungary in 1471 and probably started working on the book also known as the Buda Chronicle in the summer of 1472, an undertaking which took him ten months. He had brought his printing skills and cast letters from abroad, and it is likely that with the support of the primate János Vitéz, he managed to acquire paper from the area of the Republic of Venice. In installing the printing equipment, Hess must have relied on the help of local tradesmen while the typesetting must have been done by himself. It seems that he had no other printers to help him.

It must have been the Primate and Royal Chancellor János Vitéz who encouraged András Hess to come to Hungary. The request was handed over to the printer in Rome at the turn of 1470-71 by Vice-Chancellor László Kárai. János Vitéz, an outstanding Hungarian Humanist was a scholar and a great lover of books, who made every effort to correct the mistakes in the texts of codices. The emergence of the printed book was a huge development in comparison with hand-copied codices, therefore the Archbishop of Esztergom was probably delighted at the prospect of this new way of multiplying scripts. It is also possible that he intended to set up a printing house in Buda to assist the educational goals of Pozsony University (which did not operate for long). Owing to the conflict that developed between King Matthias and Vitéz, Hess was left without a permanent patron. Thus his activity proved to be short-lived in the rather small circle of Humanists, who had no demand for a permanent printing house yet. In the light of this fact, it is also easy to understand that the Chronicle is dedicated to Kárai, rather than to Vitéz, who had fallen out of favour and died in 1472.

The Chronica Hungarorum was created through merging several historical works. Its first part is a 14th century chronicle composition, which includes the Hun story and discusses Hungarian history from the original settlement to Charles Robert's rule, or more precisely, up to 1334. The text of this composition is extant in several related 14th and 15th century codices. Based on the printed book, this is called the Buda Chronicle family. (The more detailed version of the composition dating back to Louis the Great's reign is the Illuminated Chronicle family.) The second unit of the text in the Buda Chronicle contains the end of Charles Robert's rule, the events of the years 1335-1342 and a description of the king's funeral. The third unit gives the details of Louis the Great's story from his accession to the throne to his death (1342-1382). The fourth unit introduces data related to the monarchs and their family relations between 1382-1468 (the years between Louis the Great's death and Matthias Hunyadi's campaign in Moldova).

The chapter titles of Hess's book are separated by some space left between lines. Initial letters are left empty for subsequent illumination. The Chronicle was printed without the cover page, a widely applied practice in the case of early prints. The 70-page print was probably printed in 200-240 copies, without any numbering and using a single letter type.

Today, we know of ten copies of the print. In Hungary there are two: one in the National Széchényi Library, the other in the Budapest University Library. The other eight volumes are to be found in eight different collections. The value of the Chronicle is indicated by the fact that at a 1990 Munich auction, one copy fetched 420 thousand German marks, the highest price that any printed book had ever been sold for in Germany.

The copy in the National Széchényi Library was purchased for the collection in 1843 by Archduke Joseph, the Palatine of Hungary.