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. The family spent many yearsin the region of Skalicza in Hungary, near the Czech border, apart from the royal towns also in the largest community of Czech exiles in Sobotiste. In the late 18th century, Janos Pomikal settled in Rethe. 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; one to the Cseh of Reca, and two sons to the Klebercz of Reca 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.