Hungarian nobility

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The Hungarian nobility consisted of a privileged group of laypeople, most of whom owned landed property, in the Kingdom of Hungary. A diverse category of people were mentioned as noblemen before the late 12th century, but thereafter only the high-ranking royal officials were regarded nobles. Most aristocrats claimed a late-9th-century leader of a Magyar tribe or clan for their ancestor; others were descended from foreign knights, according to medieval chronicles. Less illustrious individuals, known as castle warriors, also held landed property and served in the royal army. Local Slavic chiefs were quickly integrated, especially in Upper Hungary (now mostly Slovakia) and Slavonia. The privileged warriors emphasized their direct contact to the monarchs and called themselves royal servants from the 1170s. The Golden Bull of 1222 enacted their privileges, especially their tax-examption and the limitation of their military obligations. The royal servants became associated with the nobility and the highest-ranking officials were known as barons of the realm from the 1220s.

Only those who owned allods – lands free of obligations towards the monarch or other lord – were regarded true noblemen, but other privileged groups of landowners, known as conditional nobles, also existed. The counties, with their general assemblies, developed into institutions of noble autonomy. The nobles' delegates attended the Diets (or parliaments) from the 1270s. The historian Simon of Kéza was the first to claim, in the 1280s, that the noblemen held real authority in the kingdom, but the stone castles that the wealthiest barons built after the first Mongol invasion of Hungary enabled them to take control of vast territories. They employed lesser nobles as their familiares in their households and armed retinues.

According to customary law, only males inherited noble estates, but the kings could "promote a daughter to a son", authorizing her to inherit her father's lands. Noblewomen who had married a commoner could also claim their inheritance – the daughters' quarter – in land. Louis I of Hungary introduced an entail system in 1351. He also enacted the principle of "one and the selfsame liberty" of all noblemen, but legal distinctions between true noblemen and conditional nobles prevailed for centuries. The monarchs started to grant hereditary titles from the 1450s and the poorest nobles lost their tax-exemption, but the Tripartitum – a frequently cited compilation of customary law – insisted on the notion of all noblemen's equality. The Tripartitum also confirmed that the privileged groups made up the Hungarian nation, independently of their ethnicity.

Medieval Hungary was divided into three parts – Royal Hungary, Principality of Transylvania and Ottoman Hungary – in the second half of the 16th century. The princes of Transylvania supported the noblemen's fight for their privileges against the Habsburg kings in Royal Hungary, but they did not allow the Transylvanian noblemen to challenge their authority. Ennoblement of whole groups – the Hajdús and Calvinist preachers – was not unusual in the 17th century. After the Diet was divided into two chambers in Royal Hungary in 1608, noblemen with a hereditary title had a seat in the Upper House, other nobles sent delegates to the Lower House. The three parts of medieval Hungary were integrated in the Habsburg Monarchy in the 1690s. The monarchs confirmed the nobles' privileges several times, but their attempts to strengthen royal authority regularly brought them into conflicts with the nobility, who made up about 4,6% of the society at the end of the 18th century. Reformist noblemen demanded the abolition of noble privileges from the 1790s, but their program was enacted only during Hungarian Revolution of 1848. Due to the emancipation of their serfs, most noblemen lost their estates by the end of the 19th century, but the aristocrats preserved their distinguished social status and lesser noblemen were regularly employed at state administration in Austria-Hungary. During the same period, prominent (mainly Jewish) bankers and industrialists were regularly awarded with nobility, but their social status remained inferior to traditional aristocrats. Noble titles were abolished only in 1947, months after Hungary was proclaimed a republic.


Seven warriors, one of them wearing a coat-of-arms which depicts a predatory bird
The legendary seven Hungarian chiefs depicted in the Illuminated Chronicle

The Magyars (or Hungarians) dwelled in the Pontic steppes when they first appeared in the written sources in the mid-9th century.[1] Muslim merchants described them as wealthy nomadic warriors, but they also noticed that the Magyars had extensive arable lands.[2][3] Masses of Magyars crossed the Carpathian Mountains after the Pechenegs invaded their lands in 894 or 895.[4] They settled in the lowlands along the Middle Danube, annihilated Moravia and defeated the Bavarians in the 900s.[5][6] Slovak historians say, at least three Hungarian noble kindreds[note 1] were descended from Moravian aristocrats.[7] Historians who say that the Vlachs (or Romanians) were already present in the Carpathian Basin in the late 9th century propose that the Vlach knezes (or chieftains) also survived the Hungarian Conquest.[8][9] Neither of the two continuity theories is universally accepted.[10][11]

Constantine Porphyrogenitus recorded around 950 that the Hungarians were organized into tribes and each had its own "prince".[12][13] The tribal leaders most probably bore the title úr, as it is suggested by Hungarian terms – ország (now "realm") and uralkodni ("to rule") – deriving from this noun.[14] Porphyrogenitus noted that the Magyars spoke both Hungarian and "the tongue of the Chazars",[15] showing that at least their leaders were bilingual.[16]

Archaeological research revealed that most settlements comprised small pit-houses and log cabins in the 10th century, but literary sources mentioned that tents were still in use in the 12th century.[17] A larger log cabin – measuring 5 m × 5 m (16 ft × 16 ft) – which was built on a foundation of stones in Borsod was tentatively identified as the local leader's abode.[18] No archeological finds evidence fortresses in the Carpathian Basin in the 10th century, but fortresses were also rare in Western Europe during the same period.[18][19]

More than a thousand graves yielding sabres and arrow-heads, and bones of horses show that mounted warriors formed a significant group in the 10th century.[20] The highest-ranking Hungarians were buried either in large cemeteries (where hundreds of graves of men buried without weapons surrounded their burial places), or in small cemeteries with 25–30 graves.[21] The wealthy warriors' burial sites, which were larger than the commoners' graves, yielded richly decorated horse harness, and sabretaches ornamented with precious metal plaques.[22] Rich women wore braid ornaments and rings made of silver or gold and decorated with precious stones.[22]

Defeats during the Hungarian invasions of Europe and clashes with the paramount rulers from the Árpád dynasty decimated the leading families by the end of the 10th century.[23] The contemporaneous Thietmar of Merseburg especially emphasized the cruelty of Géza, who became the head of the Hungarians in the 970s.[24][25] Although the Gesta Hungarorum, which was written around 1200, claimed that dozens of noble kindreds flourishing in the late 12th century[note 2] had been descended from tribal leaders, most modern scholars do not regard this list as a reliable source.[26][27] The most widespread decorative motifs which can be regarded as tribal totems – the griffin, wolf and hind – were rarely applied in Hungarian heraldry in the following centuries.[28]

Middle Ages[edit]


A piece of land surrounded by earthwork covered by trees
The remains of the 11th-century earthen fort at Szabolcs

Géza's son, Stephen, was crowned the first king of Hungary in 1000 or 1001.[29] He defeated the resisting tribal chieftains and incorporated their lands into his realm.[30] Earthen forts were built in the entire kingdom and most of them developed into centers of royal administration.[31] About 30 administrative units, known as counties, were established before 1040; more than 40 new counties were organized during the next centuries.[32][33][34] Each county was headed by a royal official, the ispán, whose office was not hereditary.[35] The royal court provided further career opportunities.[36] Actually, as Martyn Rady noted, the "royal household was the greatest provider of largesse in the kingdom" where the royal family owned more than two-thirds of all lands.[37] The palatine – the head of the royal household – was the highest-ranking royal official.[38]

The monarchs appointed their highest-ranking officials from among the members of about 110 aristocratic kindreds.[38][39] These aristocrats were descended either from native (that is, Magyar, Kabar, Pecheneg or Slavic) chiefs, or from foreign knights who had migrated to the country in the 11th and 12th centuries.[40][41] These foreign knights had been trained in the Western European art of war, which contributed to the development of heavy cavalry.[42][43] Their descendants were labelled as newcomers for centuries,[44] but intermarriages between natives and newcomers were not rare, which enabled their integration.[45]

The Hungarian monarchs pursued an expansionist policy from the late 11th century.[46] Ladislaus I seized Slavonia – the plains between the river Drava and the Dinaric Alps – in the 1090s.[47][48] His successor, Coloman, was crowned king of Croatia in 1102.[49] The kings appointed bans (or governors) to administer the two realms.[49] Both Slavonia and Croatia retained their own customs and Hungarian noblemen rarely received land grants in Croatia.[49] According to customary law, Croatian noblemen could not be obliged to crosse the river Drava to fight at their own expenses.[50]

An armored standing man who bears a coat-of-arms and a flag, both depicting heads of dogs
Hunt, an ancestor of the Hont-Pázmány kindred, depicted in the Chronicon Pictum

The aristocrats' private property was legally distinguished from the estates that they held as royal officials.[51][52] Although the earliest laws authorized a landowner to freely dispose of his private estates, customary law prescribed that inherited lands could only be alienated with the consent of the owner's kinsmen who could inherit them.[53][54] From the early 12th century, only family lands traceable back to a grant made by Stephen I could be inherited by the deceased owner's distant relatives; other estates could only pass from father to son, or from brother to brother, but otherwise they escheated to the Crown.[54][55] Aristocratic families held their inherited domains in common for generations before the 13th century.[42] Thereafter the division of inherited property became the standard practice.[42] Even families descending from wealthy kindreds could impoverish through the regular divisons of their estates.[56]

The basic unit of estate organization was mentioned as praedium or allodium in medieval documents.[57][58] A praedium was a piece of land (either a whole village, or only a part of it) with well-marked borders.[57][58] A part of the praedium was cultivated by unfree peasants, but other plots were hired out in return for in-kind taxes.[58] Small motte forts which were built on artificial mounds and protected by a ditch and a palisade appeared in the 12th century.[59] Wolf proposes that they were probably the centers of private estates.[59]

Due to the scarcity of documentary evidence, the size of the private estates cannot be determined.[60] The descendants of Otto Győr remained wealthy landowners even after he had donated 360 households to the newly established Zselicszentjakab Abbey in 1061.[61] Most wealthy landowners' domains consisted of scattered estates, which could be located in several villages.[62] The establishment of monasteries by wealthy individuals was common.[42] Such proprietary monasteries served as burial places for their founders and the founders' descendants, who were regarded the co-owners, or from the 13th century, co-patrons, of the monastery.[42]

The term "noble" was rarely used and poorly defined before the 13th century: it could refer to a courtier, a landowner with judicial powers, or even to a common warrior.[39] The existence of a diverse group of warriors, who were subjected to the monarch, the prelates or high-officials is well documented.[63] The castle warriors held hereditary landed property around the royal castles; light-armored horsemen, known as lövős (or archers), and armed castle folk, mentioned as őrs (or guards), defended the gyepűs (or borderlands).[64][65][66] The castle warriors were exempted of taxation and fought in the retinues of the ispáns.[67]

Golden Bulls[edit]

A fortress built on a cliff over a river
Árva Castle (now Oravský hrad in Slovakia), one of the royal fortresses built after the Mongol invasion of Hungary

Only the court dignitaries and ispáns were mentioned as noblemen in official documents from the end of the 12th century.[39] These aristocrats adopted most elements of chivalric culture.[68][69] They regularly named their children after Paris of Troy, Hector, Tristan, Lancelot and other heroes of Western European chivalric romances.[68] The first tournaments were held around the same time.[70]

The regular alienation of royal estates is well-documented from the 1170s.[71] The monarchs also granted immunities, exempting the grantee's estates of the jurisdiction of the ispáns, or even renouncing royal revenues that had been collected there.[71] Béla III was the first Hungarian monarch to give away a whole county to a nobleman: he granted Modrus in Croatia to Bartholomew of Krk in 1193, stipulating that Bartholomew was to equip warriors for the royal army.[72] Béla's son, Andrew II, decided to "alter the conditions" of his realm and to "distribute castles, counties, lands and other revenues" to his officials, as he narrated in a diploma in 1217.[73] Instead of granting the estates in fief, with an obligation to render future services, he gave them as allods, in reward for the grantee's previous acts.[74] The great officers and their kinsmen were the principal beneficiaries of his grants.[75][76] They were mentioned as barons of the realm from the late 1210s.[75]

Donations to such a large scale accelerated the development of a wealthy group of landowners, most descending from high-ranking kindreds.[75][76] Some wealthy landowners[note 3] could afford to build stone castles in the 1220s.[77] Closely related aristocrats were distinguished from other lineages through a reference to their (actual or presumed) common ancestor with the words de genere ("from the kindred").[78] The author of the Gesta Hungarorum fabricated geneologies for them and emphasized that they could never be excluded from "the honor of the realm",[79] that is from state administration.[56] Families descending from the same kindred adopted similar insignia.[note 4][80]

The new owners of the alienated royal estates wanted to subject the freemen, castle warriors and other privileged groups of people living in or around their domains.[81] The threatened groups wanted to strengthen their personal bonds to the monarchs and to achieve the confirmation of their status as royal servants, emphasizing that they were only to serve the king.[82][83] Béla III issued the first extant royal charter about the grant of this rank to a castle warrior.[84]

The royal servants' privileges were first enacted in Andrew II's Golden Bull of 1222.[85] It declared that all royal servants were exempt from taxation; they were to fight in the royal army without a proper compensation only if enemy forces invaded the kingdom; and their cases could only be judged by the monarch or the palatine and their arrest without a verdict was prohibited.[86][87][88] According to the Golden Bull, only royal servants who died without a son could freely will their estates, but even in this case, their daughters were entitled to the daughters' quarter (that is one-quarter of their possessions).[86][89] The final article of the Golden bull authorized the bishops, barons and other nobles to resist the monarch if he ignored its provisions.[90] Most provisions of te Golden Bull were first confirmed in 1231.[91]

The clear definition of the royal servants' liberties distinguished them from all other privileged groups whose military obligations remained theoretically unlimited.[85] From the 1220s, the royal servants were regularly called noblemen and started to develop their own corporate institutions at the counties' level.[92] In 1232, the royal servants of Zala County asked Andrew II to authorize them "to judge and do justice", stating that the county had slipped into anarchy.[93] The king granted their request and Bartholomew, Bishop of Veszprém, sued one Ban Oguz for properties before their community.[93] The "community of the royal servants of Zala" was regarded a juridical person with its own seal.[93]

Map depicting the borders of the Kingdom of Hungary and its provinces
Kingdom of Hungary in the second half of the 13th century

The first Mongol invasion of Hungary proved the importance of well-fortified places and heavy-armored cavalry in 1241 and 1242.[94][95] During the following decades, Béla IV of Hungary gave away large parcels of the royal demesne, expecting that the new owners would build stone castles there.[96][97] Béla's burdensome castle-building program was unpopular, but he achieved his aim: almost 70 castles were built or reconstructed during his reign.[98] More than half of the new or reconstructed castles was located in noblemen's domains.[99] Most new castles were erected on rocky peaks, mainly along the western and northern borderlands.[100] The spread of stone castles made profound changes in the structure of landholding, becuse they could not be held without proper income.[101] Lands and villages were legally attached to each castle and revenues collected in these appurtenances secured its maintenance.[102] Castles were thereafter always alienated and inherited along with the estates attached to them.[103]

The royal servants were legally identified as nobles in 1267.[104] In this year, "the nobles of all Hungary, called royal servants" persuaded Béla IV and his son, Stephen, to hold an assembly and confirm their collective privileges.[104] Other groups of land-holding warriors could also be called nobles, but they were always distinguished from the true noblemen who held their estates unconditionally.[105][106] The Vlach noble knezes who had landed property in the Banate of Severin were obliged to fight in the army of the ban (or royal governor).[107] Most warriors known as the noble sons of servants were descended from freemen or liberated serfs who received estates from Béla IV in Upper Hungary on the condition that they were to jointly equip a fixed number of knights.[105][108] The nobles of the Church formed the armed retinue of the wealthiest prelates.[106][109] The nobles of Turopolje in Slavonia were required to provide food and fooder to high-ranking royal officials.[110] The Székelys and Saxons firmly protected their communal liberties which prevented their leaders from exercise noble privileges in the Székely and Saxon territories in Transylvania.[111] Székelys and Saxons could only enjoy the liberties of noblemen if they held estates outside the lands of the two privileged communities.[111]

Most noble families failed to adopt a strategy to avoid the division of their inherited estates into dwarf-holdings through generations.[112] Daughters could only demand the cash equivalent of the quarter of their father's estates,[113] but younger sons rarely remained unmarried.[112] Impoverished noblemen had little chance to receive land grants from the kings, because they were unable to participate in the monarchs' military campaigns.[114] The kings regularly ennobled commoners who had bravely fought in his army and granted them landed property.[115]

Self-government and oligarchs[edit]

Ruins of a fortress with a small tower
Lánzsér Castle (now Burgruine Landsee in Austria), built before 1300

Historian Erik Fügedi noticed that "castle bred castle" in the second half of the 13th century: if a landowner erected a fortress, his neighbors were also to build one to defend their own estates.[116] Between 1271 and 1320, at least 155 new fortresses were built by noblemen or prelates, and only about a dozen castles were erected on royal domains.[117] Most castles consisted of a tower, surrounded by a fortified courtyard, but the tower could also be built into the walls.[118] Noblemen who could not erect fortresses were occasionally forced to abandon their inherited estates or seek the protection of more powerful lords, even through renouncing their liberties.[note 5][119]

The lords of the castles had to hire a professional staff for the defence of the castle and the management of its appurtenances.[120] They primarily employed nobles who held nearby estates, which gave rise to the development of a new institution, known as familiaritas.[121][122] A familiaris was a nobleman who entered into the service of a wealthier landowner in exchange for a fixed salary or a portion of revenue, or rarely for the ownership or usufruct of a piece of land.[122] Unlike a conditional noble, a familiaris remained in theory an independent landholder, only subjected to the monarch.[123][124]

The monarchs took an oath at their coronation, which included a promise to respect the noblemen's liberties from the 1270s.[125] The counties gradually transformed into an institution of the noblemen's local autonomy.[126] The sedria (or law courts of the counties) became important elements of the administration of justice.[93] They were headed by the ispáns or their deputies, but they consisted of four (in Slavonia and Transylvania, two) elected local noblemen, known as judges of the nobles.[93][104] Noblemen regularly discussed local matters at the general assemblies of the counties.[127][128]

Hungary fell into a state of anarchy because of the minority of Ladislaus IV in the early 1270s.[129] To restore public order, the prelates convoked the barons and the delegates of the noblemen and Cumans to a general assembly near Pest in 1277.[129] This first Diet (or parliament) declared the monarch to be of age.[129] In the early 1280s, Simon of Kéza associated the Hungarian nation with the nobility in his Deeds of the Hungarians, emphasizing that the community of noblemen held real authority.[125][130]

The barons took advantage of the weakening of royal authority and seized large contiguous territories.[131] The monarchs could not appoint and dismiss their officials at will any more.[131] The most powerful barons – known as oligarchs in modern historiography – appropriated royal prerogatives, combining private lordship with their administrative powers.[132] When Andrew III, the last male member of the Árpád dynasty, died in 1301, about a dozen lords[note 6] held sway over most parts of the kingdom.[133]

Age of the Angevins[edit]

A coat-of-arms depicting seven birds in two lines
Coat-of-arms of the Drugeth family

Ladislaus IV's great-nephew, Charles I, who was a scion of the Capetian House of Anjou, restored royal power in the 1310s and 1320s.[134] He captured the oligarchs' castles, which again secured the preponderance of the royal demesne.[135] He declared all noblemen had to fight in his army at their own expenses and refuted to confirm the Golden Bull in 1318.[136] In clear contradiction to local customs, he regularly "promoted a daughter to a son", granting her the right to inherit her father's estates.[137][138][139] He reorganized the royal household, appointing pages and knights to form his permanent retinue and to act as his private envoys.[140] He established the Order of Saint George, which was the first chivalric order in Europe.[135][70] He was the first Hungarian monarch to grant coats of arms (or rather crests) to his subjects.[141]

Charles I based royal administration on honors (or office fiefs), distributing most counties and royal castles among his highest-ranking officials.[134][135][142] These "baronies", as Matteo Villani recorded it around 1350, were "neither hereditary nor lifelong", because the king could dismiss his officials any time.[143][144] Charles rarely dismissed his most trusted barons who were distinguished from other noblemen with the honorific magnificus.[145] Each baron was required to hold his own banderium (or armed retinue), distinguished by his own banner,[146] but the ispáns could not use a distinctive banner from the 1330s.[147]

Charles's son and successor, Louis I, preferred the sons of his father's barons when appointing his highest-ranking officials.[148] They were styled magnificus even when they did not hold any higher office.[148] In 1351, Louis I confirmed all provisions of the Golden Bull, save the one that authorized childless noblemen to freely will their estates.[149][150] Instead, he introduced an entail system, prescribing that childless noblemen's landed property "should descend to their brothers, cousins and kinsmen".[151] The concept of aviticitas also protected the Crown's interests: only kins within the third degree could inherit a nobleman's property and noblemen who had only more distant relatives could not dispose of their property without the king's consent.[152]

A coat-of-arms depicting a two-barred cross
Insignia of the Order of Saint George

Louis I emphasized that all noblemen enjoyed "one and the selfsame liberty" in his realms,[149] securing all privileges that nobles owned in Hungary proper to their Slavonian and Transylvanian peers.[153] He rewarded dozens of Vlach knezes and voivodes with true nobility for military merits.[154] In Upper Hungary, the vast majority of the noble sons of servants achieved the status of true noblemen because the memory of their conditional landholding fell into oblivion.[155] Most of them preferred Slavic names even in the 14th century, showing that they spoke the local Slavic vernacular.[156] Other groups of conditional nobles remained distinguished from true noblemen.[157] They developed their own institutions of self-government, known as seats or districts.[158]

Louis I decreed that only Catholic noblemen and knezes could hold landed property in the district of Karánsebes (now Caransebeș in Romania) in 1366, but Orthodox landowners were not forced to convert to Catholicism in other territories of the kingdom.[159] Even the Catholic bishop of Várad (now Oradea in Romania) authorized the Vlach voivodes who held estates in the domains of the bishopric to employ Orthodox priests.[160] The king granted the district of Fogaras (around present-day Făgăraș in Romania) to Vladislav I of Wallachia in fief in 1366.[161] In his new duchy, Vladislaus I donated estates to Wallachian boyars; their legal status was similar to the position of the knezes in other regions of Hungary.[162]

Royal charters customarily identified noblemen and landowners from the second half of the 14th century.[163] A men who lived in his own house on his own estates was described as living "in the way of nobles", in contrast with those who did not own landed property and lived "in the way of peasants".[153] A verdict of 1346 declared that a noble woman who was given in marriage to a commoner should receive her inheritance "in the form of an estate in order to preserve the nobility of the descendants born of the ignoble marriage".[164] Her husband was also regarded noblemen – a noble by his wife – according to the local customs of certain counties.[165]

The peasants' legal position had been standardized in almost the entire kingdom by the 1350s.[166][150] The iobagiones (or free peasant tenants) were to pay seigneurial taxes, but were rarely obliged to perform labour service.[150] In 1351, the king ordered that the ninth – a tax payable to the landowners – was to be collected from all iobagiones, thus preventing landowners from offering lower taxes to persuade tenants to move from other lords' lands to their estates.[151] In 1328, all landowners were authorized to administer justice on their estates "in all cases except cases of theft, robbery, assault or arson".[167] The kings started to grant noblemen the right to execute or mutilate criminals who were captured in their estates.[168] The most influential noblemen's estates were also exempted of the jurisdiction of the sedria.[169]

Emerging Estates[edit]

A dragon forming a circle with its tail on its neck
Insignia of the Order of the Dragon

Royal power quickly declined after Louis I died in 1382.[170] His son-in-law, Sigismund of Luxembourg, entered into a formal league with the barons who had elected him king in early 1387.[171] He gave away more than the half of the 150 royal castles to his supporters during the following decade.[172] His grants made about 30 families[note 7] the owner of more than the half of all fortresses in the whole kingdom.[173] He strengthened his authority after he crushed a series of riots from 1397 to 1403.[174] He founded a new chivalric order, the Order of the Dragon, in 1408 to award his most loyal supporters.[175]

Sigismund's most favorites were foreigners.[note 8][176] His goodwill also enabled old noble families[note 9] to increase their landed wealth.[177] Sigismund also granted large estates to neighboring Orthodox rulers[note 10] to secure their alliance.[178] They established Basilite monasteries on their estates.[179]

The expansion of the Ottoman Empire reached the southern frontiers in the 1390s.[180] A large anti-Ottoman crusade ended with a catastrophic defeat near Nicopolis in 1396.[181] Next year, Sigismund held a Diet in Temesvár (now Timișoara in Romania) to take measures to strengthen the defence.[181][182] He confirmed the Golden Bull, but without the two provisions that limited the noblemen's military obligations and established their right to resist the monarchs.[181] The Diet obliged all landowners to equip one archer for 20 peasant plots on their domains to serve in the royal army.[183][184]

A castle with a large courtyard, a fortified entrance and two towers
The Újlakis' castle at Várpalota

The decrees of the Diet of Temesvár referred to the members of the wealthiest noble families as barons' sons.[145] Shortly thereafter, they were primarily known as magnates.[145] Sigismund regularly invited them to the royal council even if they did not hold higher offices.[145] They built comfortable castles in the countryside which became important centers of the local noblemen's social life.[185] These fortified manor houses always contained a hall for representative purposes and a chapel.[186]

Sigismund's son-in-law, Albert of Habsburg, was elected king in early 1438, but only after he promised to always make important decisions with the consent of the royal council.[187][188] After he died in 1439, a civil war broke out between the partisans of his son, Ladislaus the Posthumous, and the supporters of Vladislaus III of Poland.[189] Ladislaus the Posthumous was crowned with the Holy Crown of Hungary, but the Diet proclaimed the coronation invalid.[190] Vladislaus died fighting against the Ottomans during the Crusade of Varna in 1444 and the Diet elected seven captains in chief to administer the kingdom.[191] The talented military commander, John Hunyadi, was elected the sole regent in 1446.[191]

The Diet developed from a consultative body into an important institution of law making in the 1440s.[191] The magnates were always invited to attend it in person.[190] Lesser noblemen were also entitled to personally attend the Diet, but they were in most cases represented by delegates.[192] The noble delegates were almost always the familiares of the magnates, securing their dominance at the Diets.[192]

Birth of titled nobility and the Tripartitum[edit]

An armed knight standing on a lion, surrounded by four coat-of-arms
Gravestone of Duke Lawrence Újlaki in Újlak (now Ilok in Croatia)

John Hunyadi was the first noblemen to receive a hereditary title from a Hungarian monarch.[193] Ladislaus the Posthumous granted him the Saxon district of Bistritz (now Bistrița in Romania) with the title perpetual count in 1453.[194][193] Hunyadi's son, Matthias Corvinus, who was elected king in 1458, rewarded further noblemen with the same title.[195] The king's illegitimate son, John Corvinus, and Lawrence Újlaki, whose father had been the king of Bosnia, were mentioned as dukes from the 1470s.[196] According to Fügedi, 16 December 1487 was the "birthday of the estate of magnates in Hungary".[197][198] On this day, the representatives of Matthias Corvinus and Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor signed an armistice that mentioned 23 Hungarian noblemen as "natural barons", contrasting them with the high officers of state, who were mentioned as "barons of office".[197][145] Matthias's successor, Vladislaus II, and Vladislaus's son, Louis II, started to reward noblemen with the title of baron in the first decades of the 16th century.[199]

Differences of the noble families' wealth were increasing.[200] When Matthias Corvinus died in 1490, about 30 aristocratic families owned more than a quarter of the territory of the kingdom.[200] An average aristocratic family had about 50 villages, inhabited by more than 1000 peasant families.[200] A further tenth of all lands was in the possession of about 55 wealthy noble families.[200] The lesser nobility held almost one third of the lands, but this group included 12-13,000 peasant-nobles who owned a single plot or a part of a plot and had no tenants.[201] Peasant-nobles made up about two-thirds of the nobility.[201] The Diets regularly compelled them to pay tax on their plots, although at a reduced rate.[201] The impoverishment of noble families was in most cases the consequence of the division of a nobleman's landed property among his heirs.[note 11][202] Strategies that the noble families applied to avoid the divisions of their domains – family planning or celibacy – could cause their extinction.[note 12][203]

The Diet ordered the compilation of customary law in 1498.[204] A lesser nobleman, István Werbőczy, completed the task who presented his law-book – The Custormary Law of the Renowned Kingdom of Hungary in Three Parts (or Tripartitum) – at the Diet in 1514.[204][205] Stating that all noblemen "are members of the Holy Crown",[206] He claimed that Hungary was actually a republic of nobles headed by a monarch.[207] Although the Tripartitum was never enacted, it was regularly cited and consulted at the law courts for centuries.[208][209] The Primae Nonus – the ninth chapter of the first part of the Tripartitum – summarized the noblemen's fundamental privileges in four points.[207] These points emphasized that noblemen were only subject to the monarch's authority and could only be arrested in a due legal process, furthermore, they were exempted of all taxes and were entitled to resist the king if he attempted to interfere with their privileges.[210]

Quite anachronistically, Werbőczy emphasized the idea of equality of all noblemen.[149] He admitted that the high officers of the realm, whom he mentioned as "true barons", were legally distinguished from other noblemen, because both their weregild and their widows' dower was higher.[211] He also mentioned the existence of a distinct group, who were barons "in name only", but without specifying their position.[149] As a matter of fact, an edict passed at the Diet in 1498 had already listed 38 noblemen who were entitled to muster their own armies and lead it to war under their own banner.[212]

A small castle with decorated upper windows and a tower, surrounded by stone walls
The Lázárs' fortified manor at Szárhegy (now Lăzarea in Romania)

The Tripartitum regarded the kindred – consisting of all patrilineal descendants of a nobleman – as the basic unit of nobility.[213] The "betrayal of fraternal blood" – a kinsman's "deceitful, sly, and fraudulent deprivation or disiheritance"[214] of his rights – was a serious crime, which was punished by loss of honor and the confiscation of all property.[215] A noble father exercised almost autocratic authority over his sons: he could imprison them or could offer them as a hostage for himself.[216] His authority ended if he divided his estates with his sons, but the division could only exceptionally be enforced.[216] Although the Tripartitum did not explicitly mention it, a nobleman's wife was also subject to his authority.[217] She received her dower from her husband at the consumpiton of their marriage.[217] If her husband's died, she inherited his best coach-horses and clothes.[218]

Demand for foodstuffs rapidly grew in Western Europe in the 1490s.[219] The landowners wanted to take advantage of the growing prices.[220] They demanded labour service from their peasant tenants and started to collect the seigneurial taxes in kind.[221] The Diets passed decrees that restricted the peasants' right to free movement and increased their burdens.[219] The peasants' grievances unexpectedly culminated in a rebellion in May 1514.[219][222] The rebels accused the noblemen of sabotaging an anti-Ottoman crusade.[223] They captured noble manor houses and murdered dozens of noblemen, especially in the Great Hungarian Plain.[224] The voivode of Transylvania, John Zápolya, annihilated their main army at Temesvár on 15 July.[225] György Dózsa and other rebel leaders were tortured and executed, but most rebels received a pardon.[225] The Diet punished the peasantry as a group, condemning all peasants to perpetual servitude and depriving them of the right of free movement.[225][226] The Diet also enacted the serfs' obligation to provide one day's labour service for their lords each week.[226]

Early modern and modern times[edit]

Tripartite Hungary[edit]

Map depicting the medieval kingdom after the occupation of its central territories by the Ottomans
Hungary divided into three parts in 1572: Royal Hungary (and Croatia), Ottoman Hungary and the western territories of the Principality of Transylvania

The Ottomans annihilated the royal army in the Battle of Mohács; the young Louis II died fleeing from the battlefield.[227] Two claimants, John Zápolya and Ferdinand of Habsburg, were elected kings.[228] Zápolya acknowledged the suzerainty of the Ottoman Sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent, in 1529.[229] Ferdinand tried to reunite the kingdom after Zápolya died in 1540, but Suleiman intervened and captured Buda in 1541.[230] Suleiman allowed Zápolya's widow, Isabella Jagiellon, to keep the lands east of the river Tisza on behalf of her infant son, John Sigismund, in return for a yearly tribute.[231] His decision divided the kingdom into three parts.[231] The Ottomans occupied the central territories; John Sigismund's eastern Hungarian Kingdom developed into the autonomous Principality of Transylvania; and the Habsburg monarchs preserved the northern and western territories (or Royal Hungary).[232]

Most noblemen fled from the central regions to the unoccupied territories.[233] Peasants who lived along the borders paid taxes to both the Ottomans and their former lords.[234] For many noblemen perished during the fights, commoners were regularly recruited to serve in the royal army or the magnates' retinues.[235] The irregular hajdú foot-soldiers – mainly runaway serfs and dispossessed noblemen – became important elements of the defence forces.[235][236] Stephen Bocskai, Prince of Transylvania, settled 10,000 hajdús in 7 villages and exempted them of taxation in 1605.[237][238] This "largest collective ennoblement" in the history of Hungary secured their support against the Habsburg monarchs.[237]

The noblemen formed one of the three nations (or Estates of the realm) in the Principality of Transylvania.[239] They could rarely challenge the authority of the princes who were the wealthiest landowners in their realm,[239] but the princes supported the nobles' fight for their privileges in Royal Hungary.[240] The magnates were also vigorous protectors of the noble privileges in Royal Hungary, because royal officials could rarely excecise authority in their domains.[241] Their manors had been fortified in the "Hungarian manner" (with walls made of earth and timber) in the 1540s.[234]

The Habsburg monarchs did not hold a separate royal court in Hungary. The frequent intermarriages among Austrian, Czech and Hungarian aristocrats[note 13] gave rise to the development of a "supranational aristocracy".[242] Foreign aristocrats regularly received Hungarian citizenship, and Hungarian noblemen were often naturalized in the Habsburgs' other realms.[note 14][243] The monarchs continued to appoint noblemen to the highest Hungarian court dignitaries, but the dignitaries' actual role became symbolic.[244]

The magnates supported the spread of Reformation in the second half of the 16th century.[245] Most noblemen who lived in the western regions of Royal Hungary adhered to Lutheranism.[246] Calvinism became the dominant religion in other parts of Royal Hungary and in Transylvania.[246] John Sigismund even promoted anti-Trinitarian views,[247] but most Unitarian noblemen perished in battles in the early 1600s.[248] The Habsburgs remained staunch supporters of Counter-Reformation and the most prominent aristocratic families[note 15] converted to Catholicism in Royal Hungary in the 1630s.[249][250] The Calvinist princes of Transylvania supported their co-religionists.[249] Gabriel Bethlen granted nobility to all Calvinist pastors in Transylvania.[251]

The princes of Transylvania did not grant hereditary titles,[252] but the Habsburg kings regularly rewarded their supporters with such ranks from the 1530s.[199] Initially, they only created barons, but the title of count was also granted from the early 17th century.[253] Primarily successful military commanders received noble titles and thousands of common soldiers were rewarded with nobility.[235][254] Occasionally, people who had made a career in state administration or cummulated wealth were ennobled or rewarded with an aristocratic title.[251][255] Catholic prelates could also promote their relatives' rise to the titled nobility.[251]

Both the kings and the Transylvanian princes regularly enobled commoners without granting landed property to them.[256] Jurisprudence, however, maintained that only those who owned land which was cultivated by peasant tenants could be regarded fully-fledged noblemen.[257] Armalists – noblemen who hold a charter of ennoblement, but not a single plot of land – and peasant-nobles continued to pay taxes, for which they were collectively known as taxed nobility.[257] Nobility could be purchased from the kings, always in need of funds.[258] Landowners also benefitted from the enoblement of their sefs, because they could demand a fee for their consent.[258]

The Diet was officially divided into two chambers in Royal Hungary in 1608.[259][260] All adult male members of the titled noble families had a seat at the Upper House.[260] The lesser noblemen elected 2 or 3 delegates at the general assemblies of the counties to represent them in the Lower House.[259] The Croatian and Slavonian magnates also had a seat at the Upper House and the sabor (or Diet) of Croatia and Slavonia sent delegates to the Lower House.[259]

Liberation and war of independence[edit]

Relief forces from the Holy Roman Empire and the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth inflicted a crushing defeat on the Ottomans at Vienna in 1683.[261] Next year, Pope Innocent XI organised an anti-Ottoman coalition.[262] Buda was liberated in 1686 and Michael I Apafi, the prince of Transylvania, acknowledged the suzerainty of Emperor Leopold I, who was also king of Hungary, in 1687.[263] Grateful for the liberation of Buda, the Diet abolished the noblemen's right to resist the monarch for the defense of their liberties.[264][265] The Diploma Leopoldinum, which determined the status of Transylvania within the Habsburg Monarchy, confirmed the privileges of the Three Nations.[266][267] Leopold rewarded the most influential Transylvanian noblemen with hereditary titles.[252]

The Ottomans acknowledged the loss of most of their Hungarian territories in the Treaty of Karlowitz in 1699.[264] A special committee was set up to distribute the lands in the reconquered territories.[268] The descendants of the noblemen who had held estates there before the Ottomans conquered it were required to provide documentary evidence to substantiate their claims to their ancestral lands.[268] Even if they could present documents, they were to pay a fee – a tenth of the value of the claimed property – as a compensation for the costs of the liberation war.[268][265] Few noblemen could meet the criteria and more than the half of the recovered lands was distributed among foreign lords.[269] They were naturalized, but most of them never visited Hungary.[270]

The Habsburg administration doubled the amount of the taxes to be collected in Hungary and wanted to demand almost one third of the taxes (1,25 million florins) from the clergy and the nobility.[271] The palatine, Prince Paul Esterházy convinced the monarch to reduce the noblemen's tax-burden to 0,25 million florins, but the difference was to be payed by the peasantry.[271] Leopold did not trust the Hungarians, because discontented Hungarian noblemen had risen up against him in the 1670s.[264] Mercenaries replaced the Hungarian garrisons and they frequently plundered the countryside.[264][271] The monarch also supported Cardinal Leopold Karl von Kollonitsch's attempts to restrict the Protestants' rights.[265] Tens of thousands of Catholic Germans and Orthodox Serbs were settled in the reconquered territories.[265]

The outbreak of the War of the Spanish Succession gave opportunity for the discontented Hungarians to again rise up against Leopold.[271] They acknowledged one of the wealthiest aristocrats, Prince Francis II Rákóczi, their leader.[271] His war of independence lasted from 1703 to 1711.[264] The rebels were forced to yield, but the Treaty of Szatmár, negotiated by the counts János Pálffy and Sándor Károlyi, granted a general amnesty for them.[272] The new Habsburg monarch, Charles III, also pledged that he would "maintain and hold sacred and inviolate the rights, liberties and immunities of the kingdom of Hungary and Transylvania".[272]

Cooperation, absolutism and reforms[edit]

Charles III again confirmed the privileges of the Estates of the "Kingdom of Hungary, and the Parts, Kingdoms and Provinces thereto annexed" in 1723 in return for the enactment of the Pragmatic Sanction which established his daughters' right to succeede him.[273][274] Montesquieu who visited Hungary in 1728 regarded the relationship between the king and the Diet as a good example of the separation of powers.[275] The magnates almost monopolized the highest secular and ecclesiastic offices, but both the Hungarian Court Chancellery – the supreme body of royal administration – and the Lieutenancy Council – the most important administrative office – employed lesser noblemen.[276] Protestant noblemen were in practice excluded from public offices after a royal decree, the Carolina Resolutio, obliged all candidates to take an oath on the Virgin Mary.[277]

Areal view of a palace around a large courtyard
The Esterházy's palace at Fertőd

The Peace of Szatmár and the Pragmatic Sanction maintained that the Hungarian nation consisted of the privileged groups, independently of their ethnicity,[278] but the first debates along ethnic lines appeared in the early 18th century.[279] The jurist Mihály Bencsik claimed that the burghers of Trencsén (now Trenčín in Slovakia) should not send delegates to the Diet, because they were descended from the people subjected by the Magyars during the Hungarian Conquest.[280] A priest, Ján B. Magin, wrote a response, arguing that ethnic Slovaks and Hungarians enjoyed the same rights in the kingdom.[281] A bishop of the Romanian Greek Catholic Church, Baron Inocențiu Micu-Klein, demanded the recognition of the Romanians as the fourth "nation" in Transylvania.[282]

Charles's daughter, Maria Theresa, succeeded her father in 1740.[283] The noble delegates offered their "lives and blood" for their new "king" after the War of the Austrian Succession broke out.[273] The Diet proclaimed a general levy of the nobility which was crucial at the beginning of the war.[273] Grateful for the support, Maria Therese strengthened the links between the nobility and the monarch.[284][285] She established the Theresian Academy and the Royal Hungarian Bodyguard for young Hungarian noblemen.[286] Both institutions accelerated the spread of the ideas of the Age of Enlightenment.[note 16][287][288] Freemasonry was also popular especially among the magnates.[289]

Cultural differences between the magnates and lesser noblemen increased.[290] The magnates adopted the lifestyle of the imperial aristocracy, moving between their summer palaces in Vienna and their newly built splendid residences in Hungary.[290] Prince Miklós Esterházy employed Joseph Haydn; Count János Fekete, a fierce protector of noble privileges, bombarded Voltaire with letters and dilettante poems.[291] Most lesser noblemen insisted on their traditional way of life and lived in simple houses, made of timber or packed clay.[292] The nobles did not want to renounce their privileges.[293] Even those who took up a trade in a town wanted to keep their tax exemption.[294] Count Miklós Pálffy was the first to propose a tax on all noblemen to finance a standing army.[295]

Maria Therese did not hold Diets after 1764.[295] She regulated the relationship of landowners and their serfs in a royal decree in 1767.[296] Her son and successor, Joseph II, was never crowned, because he did not want to take the customary oath at his coronation (hence his sobriquet "the king in hat").[297] He introduced reforms which clearly contradicted local customs.[298] He replaced the counties with districts and appointed royal officials to administer them.[299] He abolished serfdom, securing all peasants' right to free movement after the revolt of Romanian peasants in Transylvania.[299]

Joseph II ordered the first census in Hungary in 1784.[300] The nobility made up about 4,5% of the male population.[note 17][301][302] Their proportion was significantly higher (6–16%) in the northeastern and eastern counties, and lesser (3%) in Croatia and Slavonia.[301] Records about former investigations of nobility show that more than half of the noble families received this rank after 1550.[258] The aristocracy consisted of about 150 native and almost 250 naturalized families.[303] There were 700–800 wealthy lesser noble families.[302] Poor noblemen, who were mocked as "nobles of the seven plum trees" or "sandal-wearing nobles", made up almost 90% of the nobility.[304]

The few reformist noblemen greeted the news of the French Revolution with enthusiasm.[305] József Hajnóczy translated the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen into Latin and János Laczkovics published its Hungarian translation.[305] To appease the Hungarian nobility, Joseph II revoked almost all his reforms on his deathbed in 1790.[306] His successor, Leopold II, convoked the Diet and confirmed the liberties of the Estates of the realm, emphasizing that Hungary was a "free and independent" realm, governed by its own laws.[299][307] News about the Jacobin terror in France strengthened royal power shortly after Francis succeeded Leopold II in 1792.[308] Hajnóczy and other radical (or "Jacobin") noblemen established secret societies which made plans about the transformation of Hungary into a noble republic, or even about the abolishment of noble privileges, but they were captured and executed or imprisoned in 1795.[309]

A middle-aged man

The Diets voted the taxes and the recruits that the monarch demanded against the French between 1792 and 1811.[310] The last general levy of the nobility was declared in 1809, but Napoleon easily defeated the noble troops near Győr.[310] Their defeat proved the anachronism of both the general levy and the noble privileges attached to it for reformist politicians of the early 19th century.[310] Agricultural bloom encouraged the landowners to borrow money and to buy new estates or to establish mills during the war, but most of them became bankrupt after peace was restored in 1814.[311] The concept of aviticitas prevented both the creditors from collecting their money and the debtors from selling their estates.[312] Most nobles insisted on their privileged position.[313] The poet Sándor Petőfi ridiculed them in his poem The Magyar Noble, contrasting their anachronistic pride and their idle way of life.[314]

Radical nobles played crucial role in the reform movements of the early 19th century.[315] Gergely Berzeviczy attributed the backwardness of the local economy to the existence of serfdom already around 1800.[316] Ferenc Kazinczy and János Batsányi initiated a language reform, because Romantic predictions about the inevitable disappearance of the Hungarian language had outraged them.[315] From the 1820s, a new generation of reformist noblemen dominated the political life.[317] Count István Széchenyi demanded the abolition of the serfs' labour service and the entail system, stating that "We, well-to-do landowners are the main obstacles to the progress and greater development of our fatherland".[318] To encourage the regular meetings of magnates, lesser noblemen and burghers, he established clubs in Pressburg and Pest and promoted horse racing.[319] Széchenyi's friend, Baron Miklós Wesselényi, demanded the creation of a consitutional monarchy and the protection of civil rights.[320] A lesser nobleman, Lajos Kossuth, became the leader of the most radical politicians in the 1840s.[319] He stated that only a wider social movement could secure the development of the country, because the Diets and the counties remained the institutions of the privileged groups.[321]

The official use of the Hungarian language spread from the late 18th century,[322] although ethnic Hungarians made up only about 38% of the population.[323] Kossuth declared that all who wanted to enjoy the liberties of the nation should learn the Hungarian language.[324] Count Janko Drašković recommended that Croatian should replace Latin as the official language in Croatia and Slavonia.[325] The Slovak Ľudovít Štúr stated that the Hungarian nation consisted of many nationalities and their loyalty could be strengthened by the official use of their languages.[326]

Revolution and neo-absolutism[edit]

News of the uprisings in Paris and Vienna reached Pest on 15 March 1848.[327] A group of young intellectuals adopted a radical program, known as the Twelve Points, demanding civil and religious equality and the abolition of feudal burdens.[328] The Diet quickly enacted most points and King Ferdinand V sanctioned them on 11 April.[327] The April Laws abolished serfdom and granted the peasant tenants the ownership of their plots, stipulating that the landowners were entitled to a compensation.[329] The noblemen's tax-exemption and the aviticitas were also abolished.[330]

The April Laws granted the right to vote at the parlamentary elections to citizens who owned more than 0,032 square kilometres (7,900 acres) arable lands or urban estates with a value of at least 300 florins.[329] On the other hand, the April Laws confirmed the noblemen's exclusive franchise in county elections, because the Diet wanted to prevent the ethnic minorities from dominating the assemblies in the counties where ethnic Hungarians were in minority.[329] After the general elections, the new parliament assembled on 5 July.[331] About 75% of the deputies were noblemen.[331]

Ferdinand V made the anti-Hungarian Baron Josip Jelačić ban of Croatia.[332] The Slovak delegates demanded autonomy for all ethnic minorities at their assembly in May.[333][334] Similar demands were adopted at the meeting of the Romanian delegates.[335][336] The revolution developed into a war of independence after Jelačić invaded Hungary proper in September.[337] Nicholas I of Russia intervened on behalf of Ferdinand V's successor, Franz Joseph, after the Hungarian parliament dethroned the Habsburg dynasty on 14 April 1849.[338] The supreme commander of the Hungarian army, Artúr Görgei, surrendered to the Russians on 13 August.[339]

Hungary, Croatia (and Slavonia) and Transylvania were incorporated as separate realms in the Austrian Empire.[340] The Lieutenancy Council was restored and Hungary proper was divided into five provinces.[341] Aristocrats and noblemen who had remained loyal to the Habsburgs were appointed to high offices,[note 18] but most new officials came from Austria, Bohemia or Galicia.[342][343] The majority of the conservative aristocrats[note 19] wanted to persuade the monarch to restore the traditional constitution of Hungary.[344] Most noblemen opted for a passive resistance: they refused to hold offices in state administration and tacitly obstructed the implementation of imperial decrees.[345][346] They regarded a lesser nobleman from Zala County, Ferenc Deák, their leader from around 1854.[344][346]

Two imperial decrees were issued in 1853 to implement the emancipation of serfs.[347] The peasants received the ownership of their plots, but the former landowners were entitled to a compensation which was payable by the treasury.[348] About 80% of the noble families was unable to maintain their former standard of living, because they lost free labour to cultivate their manorial lands and the payment of the compensation was delayed.[349] They tried to preserve an air of superiority, but most of them was assimilated to the local peasantry or petty bourgeoisie.[349] The magnates, who retained about 25% of all lands, could easily raise funds from the developing banking sector to modernize their estates.[349]


A middle-aged, bearded man, a younger woman and four children
The industrialist Manfréd Weiss and his family

Deák and his followers knew that the balance of powers could hardly be maintained in Europe without the Austrian Empire and the Hungarians could benefit from their integration in a great power.[350] Austria's defeat in the Austro-Prussian War accelerated the rapprochement between Franz Joseph and the Deák Party.[351] Hungary proper and Transylvania was united in February 1867.[352] The Hungarian parliament enacted the fundamental laws of the Austro-Hungarian Compromise on 29 May 1867.[351] The autonomy of Hungary was restored within the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary, but defense and foreign policy were declared common affairs.[353] Next year, the Croatian–Hungarian Settlement restored the union of Hungary proper and Croatia, but secured the competence of the sabor in internal affairs, ecucation and justice.[354]

The Compromise strengthened the position of the traditional political elite.[355] Only about 6% of the population could vote at the general elections and about 80% of the members of Lower House were landowners.[355] More than half of the prime ministers and one-third of the ministers was appointed from among the magnates from 1867 to 1918.[356] Half of the seats in municipal assemblies was preserved for the greatest taxpayers.[357] Noblemen also dominated state administration, because tens of thousands of impoverished nobles took a job at the ministries, or at the state-owned railways and post offices.[358][359] They were ardent supporters of Magyarization, denying to use the minority languages.[360]

To be prosperous, a nobleman must have held an estate of at least 1.15 square kilometres (280 acres).[359] The number of estates reaching that size quickly decreased.[note 20][359] The magnates took advantage of the lesser noblemen's bankruptcies and bought new estates during the same period.[361] The size of most aristocrats' estates exceeded 860 square kilometres (210,000 acres).[361] More than 60 magnate families had received a special royal grant which enabled them to preserve the entailment of their estates even after the abolition of aviticitas.[361] Aristocrats were regularly appointed to the board of directors of banks and companies.[note 21][362]

Jews were the prime movers of the development of the financing sector and industry in the second half of the 19th century.[363] Jewish businessmen owned more than half of the companies and more than four-fifth of the banks in 1910.[363] They also bought landed property and seized almost one-fifth of the estates of between 1.15–5.75 square kilometres (280–1,420 acres) by 1913.[363] The most prominent Jewish financiers and industrialists were awarded with nobility[note 22] and there were 26 aristocratic families and 320 noble families of Jewish origin in 1918.[364][365] Many of them converted to Christianity, but traditional nobles did not regard them as their peers.[314]

Revolutions and counter-revolution[edit]

The First World War brought about the disintegration of Austria-Hungary in 1918.[366] The Aster Revolution – a movement of left-liberal, social democrat and radical people – persuaded King Charles IV, to appoint the leader of the opposition, Count Mihály Károlyi, prime minister on 31 October.[367][368] After the Lower House dissolved itself, Hungary was proclaimed a republic on 16 November.[369] The Hungarian National Council adopted a land reform, determining the maximum size of the estates at 1.15 square kilometres (280 acres) and ordering the distribution of the exceeding part among the local peasantry.[370] Károlyi, whose inherited domains had been mortgaged to banks, was the first to implement the reform.[370]

The Allied Powers authorized Romania to occupy new territories and ordered the withdrawal of Hungarian troops almost as far as the Tisza on 26 February 1919.[371][372] Károlyi resigned and the Bolshevik Béla Kun announced the establishment of the Hungarian Soviet Republic on 21 March.[373] All estates of over 0.43 square kilometres (110 acres) and all private companies employing more than 20 workers were nationalized.[374]

Abolition of nobility[edit]

The Statute IV of 1947 regarding the abolition of certain titles and ranks,[375] a law still in force in the Republic of Hungary, declares the abolition of hereditary noble ranks and related styles and titles, also putting a ban on their use.

Unofficial nobility (after 1947)[edit]

After 1989[edit]

The Statute survived the political change after the fall of the single-party system and the ongoing deregulation processes during and after the 1990s (see for example Statute LXXXII of 2007,[376]) and it is still in force today. Multiple attempts have been made to have the Statute revoked, none of them succeeded.

In 2009 the Constitutional Court rejected a motion requesting the revocation of 3. § (1) - (4), the ban of using certain titles. Commenting on the rejection, the Constitutional Court felt it

On September 27, 2010 (nearing the finish of the campaign for the municipal elections) István Tarlós (at the time running for the seat of Mayor in Budapest, nominated by the governing party Fidesz) and Zsolt Semjén (Deputy Prime Minister of Hungary, Christian Democratic People's Party, also member of the government), among many other politicians, have been initiated into the Vitéz Order,[377] an act the Statute explicitly prohibits.

In December 2010 two members of the opposition party JOBBIK presented a motion to revoke parts of the Statute.[378] This motion has later been revoked.[379]

In March 2011, during the drafting process of a new constitution, the possibility of revoking all legislation between 1944 and 1990 was raised.[380]

List of titled noble families[edit]


  1. ^ They refer to the Hont-Pázmány, Miskolc and Bogát-Radvány clans.
  2. ^ The Bár-Kalán, Csák, Kán, Lád and Szemere kindreds regarded themselves as descendant of one the legendary 7 leaders of the Hungarian Conquest.
  3. ^ Andronicus Aba built a castle at Füzér, and the castle at Kabold (now Kobersdorf in Austria) was erected by Pousa Szák.
  4. ^ The families from the Aba clan had an eagle on their coat-of-arms, and the Csáks adopted the lion.
  5. ^ According to a 15th-century land-register, many ecclesiastic nobles in the Bishopric of Veszprém were descended from true noblemen who had sought the bishops' protection.
  6. ^ The most powerful oligarch, Matthew Csák, dominated more than a dozen counties in northwestern Hungary; Ladislaus Kán was the actual ruler of Translyvnia; and Paul Šubić ruled Croatia and Dalmatia.
  7. ^ Around 1396, the Lackfi held 10 castles, the Garai and the Kanizsai each had 7 castles.
  8. ^ The Styrian Hermann of Celje became the greatest landowner in Slavonia; the Pole Stibor of Stiboricz held 9 castles and 140 villages in northeastern Hungary.
  9. ^ The Báthory, Perényi and Rozgonyi families were among the native beneficiaries of Sigismund's grants.
  10. ^ Mircea I of Wallachia was awarded with Fogaras; Stefan Lazarević, Despot of Serbia, received more than a dozen of castles.
  11. ^ Stephen Bánffy of Losonc held 68 villages at his death in 1459, but the same villages were divided among his 14 descendants in 1526.
  12. ^ From among the 36 wealthiest families of the late 1430s, 27 families survived till 1490, and only 8 families till 1570.
  13. ^ The marriages of the children and grandchildren of Magdolna Székely by her three husbands established close family links between the Hungarian Széchy and Thurzó, the Croatian-Hungarian Zrinski, the Czech Kolowrat, Lobkowicz, Pernštejn, and Rožmberk, and the Austrian or German Arco, Salm and Ungnad families.
  14. ^ The Tyrolian Count Pyrcho von Arco (who married the Hungarian Margit Széchy) were naturalized in Hungary in 1559; the Hungarian Baron Simon Forgách (who married the Austrian Ursula Pemfflinger) received citizenship in Lower Austria in 1568 and in Moravia in 1581.
  15. ^ The Batthyány, Illésházy, Nádasdy and Thurzó families were the first converts.
  16. ^ The former bodyguard, György Bessenyei, wrote pamphlets about the importance of education and the cultivation of the Hungarian language in the 1770s.
  17. ^ 155,519 noblemen lived in Hungary proper and 42,098 noblemen in Transylvania, Croatia and Slavonia.
  18. ^ Count Ferenc Zichy had a seat in the Imperial Council, Count Ferenc Nádasdy was made the Imperial Minister of Justice.
  19. ^ Counts Emil Dessewffy, Antal Szécsen and György Apponyi were the leaders of the conservative aristocrats.
  20. ^ The number of estates of between 1.15–5.75 square kilometres (280–1,420 acres) decreased from 20,000 to 10,000 from 1867 to 1900.
  21. ^ In 1905, 88 counts and 66 barons had a seat in boards of directors.
  22. ^ Henrik Lévay, who established the first Hungarian insurance company, was ennobled in 1868 and received the title baron in 1897; Zsigmond Kornfeld, who was the "Hungarian financial and industrial giant of the age", was created baron.


  1. ^ Berend, Urbańczyk & Wiszewski 2013, pp. 71–73.
  2. ^ Engel 2001, pp. 8, 17.
  3. ^ Zimonyi 2016, pp. 160, 306–308, 359.
  4. ^ Berend, Urbańczyk & Wiszewski 2013, pp. 76–77.
  5. ^ Engel 2001, pp. 12–13.
  6. ^ Berend, Urbańczyk & Wiszewski 2013, pp. 76–78.
  7. ^ Lukačka 2011, pp. 31, 33–36.
  8. ^ Georgescu 1991, p. 40.
  9. ^ Pop 2013, p. 40.
  10. ^ Wolf 2003, p. 329.
  11. ^ Engel 2001, pp. 117–118.
  12. ^ Engel 2001, pp. 8, 20.
  13. ^ Berend, Urbańczyk & Wiszewski 2013, p. 105.
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Further reading[edit]