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.

Thursday 6 September 2012

Lajos Udvarnoky von Kis-Joka

 Portrait of Lajos Udvarnoky von Kis-Joka, from the Austrian National Library. His family, of ancient landowners in Jelka (Joka), furnished the Empire with a number of military officers.

Tuesday 14 August 2012

Fadgyas Grant of Arms

1597 grant of arms and nobility to the Fadgyas (Faggyas) family - image courtesy of a member of the von Fadgyas family
the surviving secret seal of Emperor Rudolph II, attached to the grant - image courtesy of a member of the von Fadgyas family

 Here is an image of the grant of nobility and arms of the Fadgyas (de Rethe) noble family, granted in 1597 by Emperor Rudolph II in Prague. The document is still owned privately by the Fadgyas family, which is itself a rarity.

More generally, this is a good opportunity to demonstrate the fact that a Hungarian grant of nobility (a new grant, officially), does not necessarily mean that the family in question was plebeian beforehand. The Fadgyas family, and as far as I am aware the same Fadgyas of Reca family, was newly ennobled no less than three times: in 1597, in 1634, and then in 1780. All these ennoblements were officially new ennoblements, grants, not confirmations (as far as the existing wording and documentation suggest).

Often, with many other families, repeated grants of nobility often carried new coats of arms, remarkably different from their previous insignia. This led to many historians believing that the family in question was not aware, or lost the knowledge of their previous nobility.

However, the Fadgyas grants and heraldry confirms that they were aware of their noble status, because all grants and coats of arms feature the same motif, the lily, albeit in different composition. The 1597 grant features a demi-griffon, issuing from three rocks, and holding a lily; the 1634 one features a lion rampant holding a lily. While the coats of arms of the 1780 grant again features a griffin, this time holding three lilies.

It demonstrates the fact that a grant of nobility is not proof of the origins of a noble family - another peculiarity of Hungarian heraldry and genealogy.

Saturday 31 March 2012

Count Istvan Bitto de Sarosfa et Nadasd

Count Istvan Bitto

It was usually the exception, rather than the rule, for members of the lower landowning nobility to rise up into important kingdom-wide positions of power. Their affairs and problems were of a local nature, and usually they felt satisfied with their economic and political positions in county administration. Furthermore, the upper stratas of power were jealously occuppied by the magnates, who did all they could to exclude other parts of society and to force the government of the kingdom on their (often hapless) children.

For Bratislava County nobility, the times of exceptional social climbing occurred during the 16th and 17th centuries; those turbulent times were witness to the Esterhazys, Nadasdys, Illeshazys, and Palffys rise from minor Bratislava nobility to unimaginable wealth and splendour.

In the 19th century, only a few members of Bratislava county nobility rose up high enough to join the ranks of the at most dozen most powerful men in the kingdom. One of these was Istvan Bitto of Sarosfa and Nadasd. He was born in 1822 in Sarosfa (now Blatna na Ostrove), a village the family owned since the middle ages, situated in the wealthy and fertile Rye Island (Csallokoz). His mother was Julianna Nagy, and his father, Benjamin Bitto, was viscount of Bratislava County.

As with so many members of the lower nobility, Bitto studied law and entered the legal civil service. He began his career in Moson County, adjacent to Bratislava County on its south side. Bitto was taken up in the events of 1848, and he joined the Hungarian revolutionaries. He was even made a member of parliament.

The joy did not last long. The revolution was brutally suppressed, and Bitto fled the country, returning only in 1851. He gained the trust of Istvan Deak, and thanks to him he became a member in the newly created Hungarian government, as member of the Liberal Party.

 After the compromise with Austria Bittó was the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives between 1869 and 1872. He served as justice minister in the government of Count Lonyay from 1871 to 1872. On 1 March 1874 he was appointed by King Francis Joseph prime minister. He held this office only until 2 From March 1875 when he was replaced by Baron Wenckheim. In the era of Coloman Tisza (1875–1890) he was one of the few former liberal oppositionists (he was the only Prime Minister who later joined to the opposition). From 1899 until his death Bittó was a member of the House of Magnates.

In 1875, Istvan Bitto and his wife were painted by the famous Hungarian portrait painter, Miklos Barabas.

Members of he Bitto family still live in the region of the old Bratislava County.

A few related websites

There are plenty of Hungarian genealogy websites on the internet. I thought however that I would post links to those websites which directly concern the nobility of Bratislava County.

Nemeth de Nyek Family

Csuthy de Csuth Family

Bogyay de Nagymad et Varbogya Family

Thursday 22 March 2012

Karatsony von Hodos

The name of this ancient noble family morphed many times during the centuries. The family was known as Karaczun, Karaczon, Karachon, Karachun, Karacsony, Karatsony, Karatsonyi, or Karacsonyi. The word Karacsony means "Christmas" in Hungarian, and so is a relatively common name. However, the Karacsony family of Hodos was one of the oldest in Bratislava County.

Hodos, now Vydrany, is a village in the Csallokoz in Bratislava County, and falls within the district of Dunajska Streda (Dunaszerdahely). It appears that in the earliest times it was property of the Castle of Bratislava - but as so often happened with these villages, the warriors who settled there changed into the hereditary landowing nobility. The Vermes and the Hodossy families are thought of as having descended from these original landowners, and so is the Karacsony family.

The Karacsony of Hodos had a fruitful history in the middle ages, as Ivan Nagy's Magyarorszag Csaladai testifies; plenty of names have been recorded in legal land disputes based around Hodos. Nagy Ivan records the archival mentions in 1295 of Nicolaus and Karachon, the sons of Bulchu. From then on, legal disputes around land ownership abound, involving such interesting and important characters as Nicholaus Esterhazy or the 15th century Hungarian Palatine Michael Orszagh of Guth.

Arms of the House of Orszagh, of the Genus Guth

The progression of this family from relative wealth and power to decline and loss of land ownership is a typical story of the ancient middle nobility of Hungary, which attempted to navigate the double dangers of inadequate inheritance laws and the expansive tendencies of the great magnates hungry for land.

The Karacsony family moved to Rethe (now Reca), a village near Szencz (now Senec) in Pozsony County, in the 17th century. However the family never forgot its place of origin and has kept 'de Hodos', 'von Hodos', but most frequently 'hodosi' as a predicate well into the 20th century.

Of more recent members of the family, Karoly Karatsonyi de Hodos was an infantry officer, who in 1859 received from Emperor Franz Josef a letter confirming his pensioned status, ending his career as Major in the 34th Austro-Hungarian infantry regiment the "Prince Regent of Prussia". In the 1920s and 1930s, hodosi Karacsony Sandor was Royal Chief Forestry Advisor of Hungary.

A certain element of celebrity has recently touched the family name, after Lena Meyer-Landruth won the Eurovision song contest for Germany in 2010. Her grandmother was Hanna Karatsony von Hodos, whose husband Andreas Meyer-Landruth was a distinguished Cold War diplomat. Though the gossip columns abound with mentiones of Lena Meyer-Landruth's Hungarian heritage, it may come as a surprise to some that this family is from a village in Slovakia.

As with many ancient Hungarian families, the Karacsony of Hodos never seemed to have received a patent of arms, and therefore they do not have an 'official' coat of arms. However, as all nobles, they used seals engraved with a coat of arms, almost certainly self-designed. The Karacsony seals contain typical noble attributes, such as arms holding swords, celestical bodies, or hussars.

Friday 3 February 2012

Hungarian National Dress

It is exceedingly rare these days to come across an original, high quality exemplar of a nobleman's dress from 19th century Hungary. However, one has come up at an estate sale in the U.S.: here is the link:

The jacket is of exquisite quality, in what appears like embroidered and crushed silk. Usually, national dress in the 19th century was invariably black and sober (unlike the extravagant multi-colour creations of the 18th century). The one distinguishing feature was the quality of the material - and this example is one of the finest.

Sunday 22 January 2012

Vizkelethy of Joka

The Vizkelethy de Ilka (Joka in more modern parlance) was a famous, now long-extinct family. Its origins lie in the village of Jelka, and they descend from the original medieval families which owned Jelka. However, in the middle ages the family moved to Vizkelet, a small village near Galanta, and so since then they have been known as the Vizkelethy of Jelka.

Already in the 16th century the family received no less than two confirmations of nobility. But this was only the start of their successes. The three Vizkelethy brothers in the 16th century, George, James, and Thomas, became very powerful individuals. George was the private secretary of the Prince of Transylvania, Stephen Dobo, the famous warlord. His brother James Vizkelethy became the vice-palatine of the Kingdom of Hungary in the late 16th century. The last brother Thomas (1544, died 1611 in Bratislava), was in important officer and later the representative of the Hungarian government. He also became Lord Chief Justice and vice-palatine of Hungary. His greatest achievement was that fact that in 1608 Rudolf II raised Thomas Vizkelethy and his family to the baronate. This made his family one of only a handful of hereditary Barons in Hungary in the 16th and early 17th centuries; the practice of raising Hungarian nobles to the baronate and counthood became relatively common only much later.

Thomas's son, Michael (1579, died 1648), was also vice-palatine of Hungary. With him died out the baronial line of the Vizkelethys.

Kerekes, P.: Lexikon Erbov Slachty na Slovensku IV, Nitrianska Stolica, 2010
Siebmacher: Adels von Ungarn etc.