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.

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.