There have been Roma or Gypsies in Hungary for over 650 years. Historical records indicate that they entered Hungary between 1416 and 1417 from Transylvania during the reign of King Sigismund (1387–1437), though linguistic evidence indicates that they had begun to settle there earlier. In 1423, Sigismund granted the Gypsy leader, Ladislas, and his followers, certain rights of transit, and they began to flock to Hungary. Most settled in the outskirts of villages or towns, and became prominent in some parts of the country as blacksmiths.
From the outset, the Gypsies were subjected to varying degrees of discrimination. In the 18th century, Empress Maria Theresa (1740–1780), after Pope Clement XIII granted her the right to become Apostolic ruler of Hungary, adopted policies designed to force the Roma to assimilate into Hungarian society. She outlawed use of the word Cigány and decreed that Gypsies in the future be called “new citizen,” “new peasant,” or “new Hungarian.” In 1780, the government placed 8,388 Roma children in schools where they became wards of the state, and another 9,463 in foster homes. Within a few years, all of them had run away from these institutions or the families. The Gypsies responded with some outbreaks of violence in certain areas, though in most instances they simply left Hungary for other parts of Europe.