Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Réthe and the Reformation

The local historian Ferenc Cseplo romantically called Réthe as a “bastion and a shelter”. This village, later called Réte in Hungarian and Reca in Slovak, was indeed something of a beacon for Protestants, Hussites, Brethren, Calvinists, and generally those who did not share the Catholicism of the absolute rulers of the House of Habsburg.

By the 17th century, most of the Hungarian nobility was Protestant; the individualism and particularism that reformed faith offered was compatible with Hungarian notions of freedom of conscience and personal will. A small number remained Catholic, and these few families later went on to reap the rewards and became the image of the wealthy magnate. In the 1680s, however, the absolutist Emperor Leopold banned all protestant churches in Hungary, with the exception of certain places. Réthe was chosen as one of only two of these ‘articular’ places in Bratislava County, no doubt a great triumph for the local nobility. From then on, the village became a kind of centre for Protestantism in the region.

An important part of Protestant history in Hungary was the uprising of Francis Rakoczi II, Prince of Transylvania and Hungary, in the early 18th century. Uniquely, the Réthe nobility formed a hussar unit in support of the uprising, led by their colonel Gyorgy Réthey. This last, and most famous, uprising naturally failed, and thus the Hungarian nobility sunk even further into obscurity.

Probably the most intriguing aspect of Réthe and its Protestant past was its sheltering of religious exiles from Bohemia and Moravia. After the Battle of the White Mountain in 1620, the old kingdom of the Bohemian crown soon became a Catholic absolutism. The original Czech nobility, mostly Protestant (either Lutheran, or Calvinist, or one of the ancient Czech sects), was forced to either convert or be sent into exile and completely expropriated. The majority chose exile and expropriation.

About 30 families of this origin settled in Réthe, and as all exiles they were miserably poor and wretched. Most were Moravian Brethren, who were descendants of the originally medieval Hussites.

One such immigrant family is however noteworthy since it, to some degree of success, blended into the local Hungarian nobility. The Pomichal family has its ancient origins in the German duchy of Pomerania. In the 14th century, the Order of the Teutonic Knights granted estates and land to the family of Hirsch von Pomeiske. They seem to have been a typical knightly family, keeping order in the pagan Prussian provinces – they had to provide two mounted knights to the Order. The family coat of arms was the ancient clan arms of Hirsch uber schach, a blazon worn in altered form by many of the oldest Pomeranian noble lines. Later on the family dropped the Hirsch, and one of its members, Nikolaus Alexander von Pomeiske, was a cavalry general under Frederick the Great in the 18th century.

However, in the late Middle Ages, a branch moved to the Bohemian crown lands; their predicate became garbled, and they became known as Hirsch von Pomischel or Pomyschel (which means to ‘blend’ or to ‘think’ in Czech and Polish, and eventually it ceased to be a predicate but a surname). Indeed, in 1616 the brothers Paul and Isaac Hirsch of Pomischel received a confirmation of their arms by the Emperor Rudolf in Prague. The Hirsch uber schach arms are carved into the 17th century tomb of a member of the Pomischel family in Markvartice, of which they were landowners.

One of the extant (out of the four) medieval manors of Markvartice. One of these belonged to Gottfried Leopold Hirsch von Pomischel auf Freudenberg (now urban part of Markvartice), which he inherited from the ancient Luttitz and Hofer von Lobenstein families.

In 1614, Elias Hirsch von Pomischel is recorded as being the captain of Reichstatt (today Zakupy), a large fortress and base of the powerful Protestant Czech magnates the Berka of Dube. During the 30 years war, in 1632, the fortress was lost to Catholics and the Berka were banished from the kingdom, presumably along with their retainers and captains. 

 It was presumably then that the family name warped into ‘Pomykal’ or ‘Pomikal’, as the modern commercial arms image shows. After some time in the region of Skalicza in Hungary, near the Czech border, a branch eventually turned up in Réthe. From the available family tree, it is clear that members relatively quickly became well-off: all three sons of Janos Pomikal, who lived in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, married into noble Hungarian families. More interestingly, during the first half of the 19th century the family eventually changed their surname to Pomichal; since ‘ch’ is unknown in the Hungarian language, the only explanation is that there was an attempt to revert to the earlier diction. A branch in Rethe inherited and adopted a coat of arms with the elephant (from the Klebercz family) and the lion.

Through marriage and land ownership, the Pomichals became Hungarian nobles in their own right – though probably without any confirmation of this from the Habsburg king, making their position permanently precarious.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Karatsony von Hodos Coat of Arms and Family Tree

 The greatest pleasure from this blog is to receive both questions and answers from people from all over the world. Questions are naturally more frequent, and so is my embarrassment when I find it very difficult to answer them. Less frequent are when a descendant of a family I have mentioned in my blog appears with some never-before-seen material. It has happened a couple of times before (to mention the Fadgyas grant of arms, for instance, or the Urbanovics seal).

I was particularly pleased to receive an email from a descendant of the Karatsony of Hodos family, now living in Romania (although the spelling of the name has been as usual very flexible over the centuries, I shall use the most common academic appellation throughout this article). At first it was an image of the Karatsony coat of arms, without any text: clearly a cheeky reference to my earlier post on the family (see here), in which I insisted that an ‘official’ coat of arms for the Karatsony of Hodos does not exist. Clearly I was wrong. The Karatsony coat of arms, as one can see, embodies the typical Hungarian noble attributes to its very extreme. Its lion (crowned, as a special mark of nobility), grasping a sabre, and its crest of an arm holding the same is quite enough to represent the heroic credentials of a Magyar warrior. The inclusion of not one, not two, but three severed Asiatic heads, however, appears gratuitous in the extreme. Very rarely does Hungarian heraldry indulge in quite such sadistic aesthetics, but it is certainly memorable. It must be added that members of the Karatsony family did use coats of arms with slightly different charges – hussars etc. It is the same family – it just shows the flexibility and imagination with which Hungarian noblemen approached their personal and family insignia. The family legend is that the lion in the shield is a Cuman lion, while the three severed heads represent the three men whom the Karatsony ancestor killed to defend the King of Hungary.

Even more interesting however is the complete family tree of the Karatsony: from its very beginnings  until the 20th century. Although genealogical literature considers Blaise Karatsony (Karachon Balas in the tree) as the founder of the dynasty, and was mentioned in 1279 in a manuscript by Ladislas IV of Hungary, the family historian has added several other early medieval individuals, including Blaise’s father and grandfather, as well as great-grandfather. I am not sure whether this is conjecture or is based on medieval documents. Whatever the case, a very interesting element is the attempt to equate unusual names with modern Latin of Hungarian ones. So Chepan, apparently the earliest known ancestor (roughly from 1200 to 1279), is translated as Istvan. Even more interestingly, the name of Karachun, which was a first name and only later did it give the family its surname, is equated with Gratian. The latter name did have some currency in that period, since Gratian’s Codex from the 12th century is the central collection of canon law used in the medieval period. It would, however, be surprising that the clerks writing the manuscripts, who were without exception educated in church establishments, and who had pretty adequate skills in writing medieval Latin, would scramble such a famed name into a form such as Karachun. 

The family tree shows two main branches which survived into modern times; they were set up by Miklos and Janos, the sons of Gyorgy, mentioned in 1380. The line of Janos stayed in Hodos, their original feudal seat. It is probable therefore that Janos was the senior line. However, this original Hodos line died out around 1650, as the tree shows. The other line, that of Miklos, married into a Rethe noble family: his probable son, Gyorgy, married Ilona Markus of Rethe in the 16th century. This marriage was the beginning of the Karatsony in Rethe, and in fact the origin of all subsequent members of the family.

From this important point the tree follows the fortunes of Karatsony family lines: some which stayed in Rethe; one line moved to Kecskemet in the 18th century, with Adam Karatsony, who was a reformed rector. His descendants, variously moved to Budapest, or even Kesmark (Kezmarok), and have been followed to the 20th century.

Another line, that of Istvan (born 1833, married to Urbanovics Rozsa), moved to Budapest and Levoca/Leutscha (Janos).

The second major line to have separated from the main Rethe family is that of Andras, who in the 17th century married Mariska Hegyi of Hegy, and moved with her to Puszta Fodemes (today Puste Ulany, a village in the Senec district). This branch became prolific and later moved into various counties. Their marriages became far more prestigious than the local county nobility from which they had sprung, and their spouses included the following families: the Podhradszky de Podhragy, a medieval family from Trencsen county; the Sandor de Slavnicza, a family of magnates who later achieved the very rare title of Prince; the Thurzo de Nositz, who included eminent scholars; the Burian de Rajecz, who provided a foreign minister for Austia-Hungary during World War I; and the Mocsary de Bocsar, an illustrious family who descends from the 13th century Count Bocsar – members were magnate landowners, took part in the Wesselenyi Magnate Conspiracy, the Rakoczi War of Independence, and Lajos Mocsary was one of the most important Hungarian politicians of the entire 19th century.

 hodosi Karacsony Sandor, 1898, Hosszufalu

The line of Sandor (born 1810 in Puszta Fodemes), survived to the present day and lives in Romania. Notable of this line is another Sandor (born 1865), who rose to become the Royal Chief Forestry Advisor of the Kingdom of Hungary. The descendant of this line, Eliana Tipurita, apart from very kindly allowing me to see the family tree, has also sent a photograph of Sandor Karacsony de Hodos, took in Hosszufalu (Glanzendorf) in the district of Brassov (Kronstadt) in Transylvania in 1898. The descendants of this line settled in Romania, where after the fall of the monarchy they became Romanian citizens.

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)