Saturday, 29 March 2014

Prikkel Family Coat of Arms

A very smart 19th century rendition of the Prikkel coat of arms. The armed lion was the symbol of the medieval nobles of Reca, descended from the castle knights of the early Arpad times. This armed lion has survived as the heraldic emblem of a few Reca noble families, though almost every noble family who owned land, lived and married in Reca for a significant period of time was in some way or other related to this medieval origin.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Urbanovics of Sárfő and Réthe

The seal of Franciscus Urbanovics of Sárfő, showing the characteristic raven coat of arms (image taken from a publication on Blatne by Stanislav Fekete, kindly provided to me by Jan Urbanovic)

The Urbanovics (Urbanovits) were an ancient family of Bratislava county, whose nobility was confirmed in 1591 by Emperor Rudolf in Prague. Miklos Urbanovics, the addressee of the confirmation, was probably in Prague as part of the retinue of Prince Stephen Bocskay of Transylvania and Royal Hungary.The Urbanovics coat of arms is interesting for its motif of a raven with a ring in its beak, very similar to that of the Hunyadi family, whose most famous member Matthias Corvinus (The Raven) was King of Hungary.

The family became the most notable family in Sárfő, today's Blatne, north of Senec in Bratislava County. Andreas Urbanovics was one of the county judges for many years in the 17th century. In the 18th century, Paul Urbanovics was a prosperous nobleman, who became postmaster of Sarfo, was confirmed in his nobility in 1765 again by Empress Maria Therese, and who left a large sum to the church to create a foundation for masses.

In the 19th century, many members of this family became officers with both the infantry and the cavalry in the Austro-Hungarian armies. One of the most prominent was Aloysius von Urbanovits, Captain of the Royal Hungarian Lifeguards, the most elite personal guard of the Emperor. Being a captain in this unit carried the same honours as being a colonel in the regular army.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Elefanthy and Klebercz Family Coats of Arms

 Above is an image of the Elefanthy family coats of arms, redrawn and published in Peter Kerestes' recent scholarly volume on the ancient nobility of Nitra County (2010). The image is based on two wax seals, one pressed by Emericus Elefanthy (around 1580 - 1593), the other by Valentinus Elefanthy in 1634. Older literature interpreted the crest as a palm tree, while it is currently thought to be a crossbow. The shape of the crest was retained in the stork crest of the Klebercz family, most probably descendants of the Upper Lefantovce branch of the family (this branch was thought to have been extinct by Fugedi by 1472, but Kerestes in his publication corrects this and states that this, the other main branch of the Elefanthy, in reality survived until the 17th century).

The stork crest  is probably a later interpretation of the original Elefanthy crest, to distinguish different branches and still keep the familiar shape, because a stork with outstretched wings is very rare in Hungarian heraldry.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Vitál de Al-Szász et Magyarbél

This ancient family, often written as Vitalis, or Vitalyos, has its roots in the 13th century, as cadets of the lords of Szász. Szasz was a village in the Csallokoz in Bratislava County, and is now part of the small town of Lehnice (itself called Légh in the original Hungarian).

Nicolaus of Szasz, the direct ancestor of the Vitals, even received a grant of arms in 1416, from Emperor Sigismund of Luxembourg, King of Hungary. This makes the family as one of the first in Hungary to have received a grant of arms.

In the 15th and 16th centuries, the Vital family was rich and powerful. In the mid-16th century, Janos Vital married Prisca Leghy de Legh, this uniting itself with the wealthy medieval lords of Legh. Their son was Andras I. Vital, who was a King's Man (hominus regis). He managed to enter the high aristocracy by marrying Margit Nyary of Bedegh, whose family were amongst the very first hereditary barons (or magnates) of Hungary.

In the 17th century, the Vitals owned the early Renaissance castle of Laskar (picture below). The castle, rebuilt several times during the centuries, was finally demolished in the 20th century.

After the 17th century, the family never regained the position they attained previously, and they "sunk" into local landowning nobility of Bratislava County, who did not tend to own castles but only smaller and medium-sized manor houses.

In recent times, of note was Gabor Vital of Magyar Bel, who was a honved during the 1848 revolutions.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

The Estates of the Hungarian Nobility (Doka Family Archive)

The relationship between land and nobility in Hungary developed in a unique way. In Western Europe, feudalism demarcated a very specific autonomy of land; lands and domains were parcelled out, to various vassals. In time, the particular domains (or estates) assumed a symbolic significance and their owners were often seen as merely representatives of the estates. This is one of the origins, for instance, of the fact that in the United Kingdom only one individual can hold a particular noble title.

Hungary never had authentic feudalism: all nobles were legally the same distance away from the king. More  importantly, it seems that the ancient nomadic ways of the Magyar nobles made land relatively unimportant to them. Only with the early Arpads did the dividing of the kingdom begin. However, the Hungarian laws of inheritance (which again seems a relic of the nomadic way of life) insisted on dividing a man’s possessions equally amongst all his children. A Hungarian noble, then, upon death, had his estate fragmented.

Indeed, the earliest documents we have of noble families, from the 13th and 14th centuries,  for the most part describe conflicts and family feuds over inheritance. The breaking-up of Hungary, then, begun as early as the 13th century. The process continued largely unabated until the 20th century, ruining the nobility with the weight of bureaucracy and administration.

Many of the families discussed in this blog came from a small number of villages – but the misconception seems that these families only owned property in those villages (or the places which formed a part of their noble predicate). Families chose to live near each other in communities – but their properties (of land) were scattered throughout the region. This scattering of small estates (one should say plots of land) is due to the centuries-old process of the fragmentation of estates; inheritance, gift, mortgage, purchases and sales.

The Doka of Reca was good example of this. It is lucky that the Bratislava archives hold the Doka family archive, as one of the very few noble archives there. It contains a wealth of materials, mostly concerned with running their scattered estates over the whole of Bratislava county, though they lived chiefly in Reca.

The Doka’s are slightly exceptional because they appeared to have managed to become rather wealthy. And though they could never pretend to be of the upper nobility (or ‘aristocracy’, reserved for the few barons and counts raised by the Habsburgs), they were an example of that wealthy and powerful noble family which formed the backbone of the Hungarian countryside.

The basis of the Doka’s landholdings was the village of Tomasikovo, in the Galanta district near Trnava. This was the possession of Stephen Doka in the 17th century. With his marriage to Anna Foldes he gained the domain of Kosse (a now lost locality in the region). The family conducted many feuds over this land with the locally dominant Esterhazy family.

The man who really changed the family’s fortunes was Michael Doka, living at the end of the 18th and first half of the 19th centuries. His two marriages, lucrative county posts and intelligent purchases of property he added to the family landholdings portions of Reca, Csataj, Opoj, Dudvah, Bustelek, Horne Janiky, Puste Ulany (Puszta Fodemes), Jelka (Joka), as well as the domains of Borsaiz and Csandal. This became the very respectable estates from which all the subsequent generations of the Doka profited.

Michael’s son, Ladislaus (Laszlo), managed to increase the size of the Reca estates by adding to it those of the extinct (and ancient) Bornemisza lands.

When he in turn died, his son (also Ladislaus), added his wife’s inherited landholding portions of Cierny Brod (Vizkeleth) and Sasa, as well as a house and lands in Trnava (Nagyszombat).

After the collapse of Austria-Hungary and the creation of Czechoslovakia, the state confiscated the Doka’s Reca estate, because in terms of size it qualified as a ‘velkostatok’  - that is, a large estate usually owned by the aristocracy. This was in large part due to the fact that the Doka's actually leased much of their Reca lands from the compossesors - that is, the other noble landowners. In theory the Dokas were 'tenant farmers', though in effect they were noble landowners. However, the estate was returned in 1925, only to be confiscated once and for all after World War II.

The archive introduction states that the Doka family became extinct in the 1960’s – with the archive passing into state hands.

The Doka archives are rich in detail – many archies of gentry families were so, simply because of the need for land deeds and evidences of legal processes relating to property. But this post is to show just how complicated and twisted property in Hungary became, even for noble families which were very well off. Perhaps to cut the Gordian knot was a right thing. On the other hand, Slovaks have learnt nothing – their inheritance laws are still stubbornly based on Hungarian noble common law (as probably the only aspect of their ‘civil code’): forced inheritance.

Source: Bratislava State Archive: the Archive of the Doka of Reca (1351 – 1967)

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

The Zamolyi Family

The Zamolyis of Zamoly were one of the ancient feudal families. In the middle ages they were lords of Zamoly in Bratislava County. This locality is not to be confused with the modern village of Zamoly in Hungary, made famous today by the gypsies emanating from it to various parts of the EU. The Bratislava Zamoly was an extensive region spanning the area of three villages today, that of Jablonec, Bahony and Blatne. Zamoly as a name eventually vanished in the late middle ages to form these other settlements.

In 1416, Ladislaus of Zamoly was documented as a hominus regi, a king's man - effectively one of the king's deputies in the county. His daughter, Ilona of Zamoly, married Urban Csoka of Reca: the Hedervary family archive suggests this happened in 1479, but this is incorrect because a document exists in the Counts Karolyi archive from 1467 which states that they were already married then.

In any case, it appears that the children of Urban Csoka adopted the Zamolyi name, because it remained a name of one of the noble families of Reca, while the Csoka name disappeared soon after. The Zamolyi name was doubly adopted in history, suggesting that it was a name of some age and prestige; in the beginning of the 20th century Joseph (Jozsef) Pomichal of Reca, who in 1908 married Zsofia Zamolyi and inherited a considerable landholding, altered his name to include Zamolyi through a Royal Hungarian patent to carry on the extinguishing aristocratic name.

Below I reproduce the 1467 document from the archive of the Counts Karolyi de Nagy-Karoly. This document is fascinating because it highlights a common problem which already by then began to afflict the Hungarian nobility - the partial inheritance of land from various ancestors in various villages, leading to petty squabbles, compromises and economic stagnation. It also mentions the ancestors of some noble families I discuss here - the lords of Magyar Bel, the Fodors, and the Hollosis.

Nos capitulum ecclesie Posoniensis memorie commendamus, quod nobilis domina Elena vocata filia condam Ladislai de Zamol consors Vrbani Czoka de Rethe pro se personaliter et pro Petro filio eiusdem Ladislai fratre videlicet suo uterino ab una, partibus vero ab altera Nicolaus filius Michaelis Butya de Magiarbel similiter pro se personaliter et pro Jacobo fratre suo germano, ex utraque parte onera et gravamina eorumdem ac aliorum omnium fratrum et consangvineorum suorum in infrascriptis super se assumendo, coram nobis constituti viva voce sponte et libere confessi sunt per hunc modum, quod quia ipse Nicolaus Butya simul cum dicto fratre suo Jacobo per eandem dominam in causam attractus, sibi scilicet domine et dicto fratri suo Petro dotes et res parafernales condam domine Elizabeth filie dicti Ladislai, sororis scilicet ipsorum carnalis, consortis condam Johannis Butya de dicta Bel eidem domine Elizabeth de porcionibus possessionarus ipsius domini et mariti sui in Magiarbel Rethe et Kethweles provenire debentes ob penuriam et defectum pecuniarum solvere non potuissset, et ideo idem Nicolaus Butya sua dicti fratris sui in personis nobiles dominas Annam relictam condam Nicolai Fodor de Kethweles et filiam eius Dorotheam consortem Pauli de Fewdemes et filium eiusdem domine Dorothee Andream Hollos vocatum et alium filium eiusdem Valentinum ac filias eiusdem domine Hedvigem consortem Johannis literati de Saswar et virginem Anastasiam amicabili prece petivisset, ut pro ipso Nicolao et dicto fratre suo Jacobo prefatas dotes et res parafernales puta decem florenos auri puri hungaricales, per eundem Nicolaum ab ipsis uti dixit ad summam et (racionem) priorum et plurium debitorum suorum in impignoracione quarumdam porcionum possessionariarum in dicta Kerthweles mediantibus alys literis impignoraticys habitarum computando et accumulando plene perceptos, cum effectu prefate domine Elene et fratri eius Petro expedivissent et persolvissent, quapropter de dictis dotibus supranominata domina Elena nominibus quibus supra prelibatos Nicolaum et Jacobum Butya, deinde iamdictos dominas Annam et Dorotheam et Andream ac Valentinum simul et Hedvigem atque Anastasiam heredesque et posteros eorum utriusque sexus universos quitos et expeditos commisissent et per omnia satisfactos; insuper partes supradicte puta domina Elena et Nicolaus Butya similiter nominibus quibus supra de et super litibus controversys dampnis nocumentis fatigys et expensis quibuslibet inter se qualitercunque motis emergentibus illatis atque factis, literis eciam superinde quibuscunque et qualitercunque emanatis et extractis cassatis similiter quitos et absolutos dimisissent atque satisfactos, atque dimiserunt coram nobis, testimonio presencium mediante. Datum in festo beati Thome apostoli, anno domini Millesimo quadringentesimo sexagesimo septimo.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Church Records

an example of an 1856 baptismal church record from Reca (Boldog), noting some local noble families mentioned in this blog (Egyhazy, Molnar, Fadgyas, Zamolyi, Pomichal)

I receive a number of requests from individuals researching into their family history in Hungary, sometimes on the basis of similar or identical names that appear on my blog, and sometimes on the basis of the places I mention. Researching into family history is very difficult, and doubly so for those who do not happen to live in the country of their ancestors; and really the only reliable way to trace your ancestry (unless your family happens to be in the latest edition of the Gotha, which, on second thoughts, is not that reliable after all) is to go through archival records.

Happily, many of these records are to be found online, on The best way is to go on through to individual localities and villages, and browse through the individual church records as in a book. A name search is possible, but it is not accurate or reliable and in any case does not present the rich picture of changing generations as browsing does.

It is thrilling news that these records have gone online. The only shadow is cast by the fact that this was done with the resources, energy and capabilities of a U.S. religious faith-group - a source of shame for those countries, such as Slovakia, which does not honour its own history enough to attempt to do it themselves. Not to mention the positively medieval state of the archival system here. For any overseas individuals interested in your ancestry - think twice before flying over to decrepit Mitteleuropa, and browse through the internet archives first.