pdfVolume 8 Issue 1 CONTENTS

Migration and Urbanization in Industrializing Bulgaria 1910–1946

Penka Peykovska
Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Institute for Historical Studies
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Urbanization is among the most important demographic phenomena of the modern age. Today, half of the world’s population lives in cities, and by 2050 this share is expected to reach 70 percent. Urbanization theorists see this as a consequence of three mutually impacting processes: natural growth (population growth as a result of birth rates exceeding mortality rates), migration (mainly from the villages to cities), and reclassification (the administrative mechanism for giving urban status to former villages or urban settlements) – whose relative contribution to the urbanization process varies depending on the environment.

The processes of urbanization and internal migration in Bulgaria in 1910–1946 have not often been made the subject of rigorous study, perhaps because the scale of urbanization at the time was small and the pace slow compared to the period after World War II. At the same time, however, the first half of this period was characterized by intensive waves of refugees and immigrants (Bulgarians, Russians, and Armenians). Having in mind the lack of attention which this question has been given in the secondary literature, in this paper I examine the urbanization processes in Bulgaria at the time and the role of migration to and within the country in these processes. In particular, I monitor the significance of gender, nationality/“nationalité ethnique” in urbanization in Bulgaria and the roles of smaller and larger cities and the capital, Sofia. I rely heavily on the five censuses carried out between 1910 and 1946, which drew a distinction between local-born and non-indigenous populations, including people who had been born abroad. In other words, the data contain information on native-born people (i.e. born in the locality where they were enumerated or, as one might say “locals”), people who were enumerated in a locality different from their birthplace within the country (i.e. internal migrants, in-migrants), and people who were foreign-born (i.e. external migrants, immigrants).

Concerning the role of migration to and within the country in the urbanization process in Bulgaria, my quantitative analysis shows that urbanization in Bulgaria was influenced by migration (mainly internal migration), partly by the waves of refugees and immigrants during the war and in the interwar period, which accelerated the growth of cities. At the same time, the urbanization of small towns was due primarily to immigration. The trend towards urbanization (albeit at a slow pace) in Bulgaria was a result of the migration of the predominantly ethnic Bulgarian population from villages to cities, but the contribution of Armenian and Russian refugees was also notable.



Keywords: internal and external migration, immigration, in-migration, Bulgaria, urbanization, towns, cities, ethnicity, sex, 1910–1946

Urbanization is among the most important demographic phenomena underway today, when half of the world’s population lives in cities1 and the rapid growth of urban agglomerations which are already huge is being blamed for a number of negative phenomena (high levels of unemployment, infrastructural tensions, and environmental degradation, for instance).2 The study of urbanization as a historical process is increasingly pressing, since this process has implications for the present day, given the need to find successful mechanisms with which to address its negative effects.

Urbanization theorists see urbanization as a consequence of migration together and in interaction with natural population growth (which occurs as a result of birth rates exceeding mortality rates) and a process of reclassification (the administrative mechanism for giving urban status to former villages or surrounding settlements), the relative contribution to urbanization of which depends on the economic and social background.3 Migration within the country from rural to urban areas directly contributes to urbanization by causing a decline in rural populations and growth in urban ones. Furthermore, some cities attract significant numbers of immigrants from abroad, which also leads to an increase in the urban population.4 A transition to urban lifestyles and settlement patterns is also a consequence of economic modernization, industrialization, and changes in the demographic makeup of the population.

In the period under examination here, Bulgaria experienced relatively rapid demographic growth in spite of the Balkan Wars, First World War, and the accompanying loss of life. This growth was due not simply to a common trend in postwar population growth, but also to the immense inflow of refugees and immigrants5 generated by armed conflicts beginning in the second decade of the twentieth century, namely the Balkan Wars and World War I, not to mention the 1917 revolution and civil war in Russia, the Aster Revolution in Hungary, the Greek-Turkish war of 1919–1922, and subsequent events. By 1925, some 200,000 people had come into Bulgaria as immigrants. Most were of Bulgarian ethnic origin, but there were also 20,000 Russians and 15,000 Armenians among them. The population increased also because of higher birth rates in Bulgaria following the first demographic transition.6 The country was rural, and four fifths of its population were peasants. The majority of landowners had relatively small holdings. Bulgaria had an agriculture-centered development strategy, which, however, did not exclude industrialization. Economic modernization happened in agriculture and livestock breeding, which accounted for half of the GDP. The country crossed the threshold of industrialization in the late 1930s.7 Between 1926 and 1934, there were 97 rural towns (most of which were small) with populations under 10,000 (Table 2). Sofia saw the highest growth rate. Other rapidly-developing cities included Plovdiv, Varna, Burgas, and Ruse. The proportion of the urban population rose by 5.6 percent between 1910 and 1946. So, concerning the interrelated processes of internal migration, urbanization, and industrialization, there was some development, but it was rather slow, which explains why this development has been seen by some researchers more as stagnation than as any kind of progress.

In this essay, I examine the role of migration in Bulgaria’s urbanization during the period preceding accelerated industrialization. At that time, the importance of internal migration and immigration in the numerical growth of urban populations in Bulgaria increased – although immigration including refugees was significantly smaller than in-migration, and it continued more intensively only until 1926 (Table 3). (Here we would like to give a terminological clarification: unlike in our era when the “refugee” and the “immigrant” are separate categories,8 in the examined period refugees were usually considered immigrants.) There was a total of 217,328 in-migrants within the country in 1910 and 354,187 in 1926 (figures which greatly exceeded the number of immigrants into the country). So, there were 59,706 immigrants in 1910 and 166,761 in 1926 (their relative share in towns/cities was larger than in the villages). More than one third of the in-migrants and about half of the immigrants were predominantly directed to the big towns and cities, i.e. settlements with populations over 10,000. According to the data, in 1910, 89 percent of the immigrants (53,067 people) and 77 percent of the in-migrants (167,437 people) were encouraged to go to urban settlements, and in 1926, their figures were 80 percent (129,214 people) of immigrants and 77.5 percent (282,079 people) of in-migrants. Until 1926, the general trend was towards increases in the number of immigrants and in-migrants targeting the towns/cities.


Table 1. Number of towns/cities in Bulgaria according to the classification used in the population censuses, 1910–1946

Towns/cities with population






Up to 10,000 people






Above 10,000 people






Above 20,000 people






Above 50,000 people






Above 100,000 people












Earlier Findings, Data Sources, and Methods

Scholars have shown little interest in urbanization in Bulgaria and its interaction with (internal and external) migration processes during the period under examination. This may be the case in part because, at this initial stage (which started with the founding of the Third Bulgarian State in 1878 and ended in the late 1940s), the relative share of the urban population was growing slowly and the urban way of life was spreading slowly.9 Faster-paced, dynamic urbanization took place in the second half of the twentieth century. It accelerated under centrally planned economic development, as a result of which urban populations grew sharply. At the end of the 1960s, urban settlements accounted for more than fifty percent of the population, which was increasingly concentrated in the administrative centers.10

Some researchers on migratory and urbanization processes in Bulgaria have claimed that after 1880 (up to 1934, for example) there was a “progressive urbanization trend.” They have tended to support their theses with indicators such as the steadily increasing number and the growing relative share of the urban population.11 Other authors have contended that migration growth (i.e. the difference between the in-migrants and out-migrants, calculated on the basis of population censuses, which are, however, rather “rough” measurements) should be understood as an indicator of urbanization processes in Bulgaria.12 They have found that migration growth is always to the benefit of towns and cities. It leads to rises in the urban population and drops in rural populations.13 In the case of Bulgaria, the phenomenon was reflected by the 1905 census, after the Ilinden-Preobrazhenie Uprising (1903) and, then, in the first half of the 1920s.


Table 2. Migration growth of urban population in Bulgaria, in ‰14


For the urban

For the rural






















Some scholars have supposed that the urbanization process was “decreasing” in the interwar period, and they explain this with the impact of territorial changes resulting from the Balkan Wars and World War I on the settlement system and the urban-rural population ratio.15 According to the Treaty of Bucharest and the Treaty of Neuilly-sur-Seine, eight towns16 were separated from Bulgaria (from Southern Dobrudja and the Western Outskirts) and transferred to Romania and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes and another 1717 were added to the country through the newly acquired lands. However, urbanization was declining, because among the latter mentioned settlements, most were less economically developed towns, and their minority Turkish and Muslim populations were prone to emigration.18

Since the development of urbanization in Bulgaria between 1910 and 1946 has only rarely been made the subject of study and at the same time this period (and especially its first half) was characterized by intensive refugee and immigrant inflows of Bulgarians, Russians, and Armenians and the emigration of the local Greeks and Turks (under the bilateral agreements with Greece and Turkey for population exchange), I have devoted this inquiry to the role of migration in the urbanization process. The quantitative analysis, on the basis of which I have examined the interaction between migration and urbanization phenomena and processes, is itself based on data concerning the urban (and rural) populations in the Bulgarian censuses done in 1910, 1920, 1926, 1934, and 1946. We have turned to this type of source because of the lack of other statistics for the period in question. At that time, only a few countries were collecting statistics which provide an adequate basis for a thorough assessment of urbanization. For this reason indirect methods have commonly been used to calculate the components of the increase in the pace of urbanization based on census data.19 Often such studies are based on data concerning birthplace, and they apply different research approaches.

In our particular case, we have used the statistical data for the urban (and rural) populations recorded in correlation with the birthplace of the native-born (born in Bulgaria) population (for those born in a settlement other than the place of enumeration, i.e. for the in-migrants) and the foreign-born population (i.e. immigrants). Data for in-migrants provide information about origins within the country (i.e. another district within a given county, another county, or another locality in the country), and data for immigrants reflect origins by countries. This means that the statistical information “covers” the number of in-migrants at a given time point, not counting mortality, and refers only to the first generation of in-migrants (as opposed to the US censuses, for instance, which also collected information concerning geographical family origins for subsequent generations of families). In the case of statistical information concerning people who had been born outside of the country, this information did not in any way address the ways in which immigrants to Bulgaria moved (migrated) within the country after having entered the country. Most immigrants to Bulgaria, however, were very mobile for a time after having entered the country and did not immediately settle down. When trying to establish the contribution of internal migration to urbanization, the most important direction of this migration is from village to town/city. However, from the point of view of the migration and concerning the de facto population, in principle the Bulgarian censuses of 1910, 1920 and 1926 contain information on migration to towns/cities without reference to the settlements of departure (i.e. whether the settlement from which a migrant to a town/city came was a village or another town/city). Thus, this kind of database includes data on inter-town/city migrations too. In this specific case, there were significant patterns of migration from small urban centers to big urban centers. In the Bulgarian censuses there is evidence of population movement from villages to towns/cities only concerning the economically active population and not the total population. Only the 1934 census provides statistical information on migration in the direction of village–town/city. In the 1946 census, a very different methodology was used, which is why this census is practically incomparable with the previous censuses, at least from the perspective of the data they contain concerning the directions of migration.

We have tracked some of the processes for different subperiods (and not for the entire period under examination). This is because we do not have the relevant data due to the different methodologies according to statistical information was aggregated in 1934 and 1946.

We have based our quantitative analysis on some of the more important theoretical frameworks in today’s understanding of urbanization. Our choices of specific indicators were determined by these theoretical frameworks. Nowadays, demographers define urbanization as the growth in the proportion of the population living in urban areas.20 It is worth noting that this is not only a question of proportional growth, because urbanization does not simply mean growth in urban populations. It also comprises growth in the relative share of the urban population. In other words, if urban and rural populations grow at the same pace, this should not be understood as urbanization. Urban population growth is considered to be entirely the result of urbanization if the total population does not change but the relative share of urban population is increasing; then, the degree of urbanization (the degree of population growth in urban areas) is equal to the growth rate of the urban population.21 However, in most urbanizing countries, including Bulgaria, during the period in question, the total population was growing, and it is possible to distinguish the proportion of urban population growth resulting from urbanization from the proportion resulting from overall population growth (the latter is roughly equal to the degree of urbanization plus the rate of total population growth).

Using these definitions, in measuring processes and phenomena, we have proceeded from the standpoint that urbanization is present when the urban population growth rate exceeds the rural population growth, and we have used this indicator as the main one, measured as the percentage of the total urban or rural population, for the population of the small and big towns/cities,22 for the capital, and for the separate ethnic groups in Bulgaria. Our intention was to determine the contribution of the small and big towns/cities and the capital to urbanization in Bulgaria and also to consider differences in the makeup of urbanizing populations from the perspectives of sex and ethnicity. The final part of the text is devoted to the interrelationships among migration, urbanization, and industrialization and to some of the changes in the urban space. In order better to corroborate the trends we have identified, we have also monitored other indicators, such as the volume of migration and the number of in-migrants and immigrants-refugees per 1,000 locals. Of course, we are aware of the general nature of quantitative parameters and the presence of certain micro-processes and background processes which cannot be numerically measured, because urbanization is indeed primarily a result of migration, and it is reasonable to treat it as such. However, urbanization is not just a consequence of migration from village to city, especially if this migration is perceived as long-term or permanent resettlement. Firstly, urbanization is the net result of complex migratory movements between rural and urban areas, including circular migration back and forth. Actually, migration from village to town/city may be a result of people delaying their return or not returning to rural areas as they decide to remain in the city in which they have settled. Secondly, urbanization involves both the net movement of people to and within urban areas, the progressive expansion of urban boundaries, and the creation of new urban centers. As already mentioned, in principle, urbanization can also be accelerated by higher natural population growth in urban areas and particularly high еmigration from rural areas, although these factors are not considered very substantial.

Before undertaking the quantitative analysis, we would like to note that during the period in question, there were no legislative restrictions on population crowding in the cities. Administrative measures to limit migration were first introduced for the capital city of Sofia in 1943.

The Contributions of Migration to Urbanization

We start examining the growth of Bulgaria’s urban population as a percentage compared to the growth of the rural population, which is influenced by migration (mechanical growth) and natural growth (and perhaps reclassification of settlements).23 In the period from 1910 to 1946, the population of the country grew from 4 million to 7 million. Both urban and rural populations grew, but the share of the urban population increased from 19.1 percent in 1910 to 24.7 percent in 1946. This was due both to natural growth and to mechanical movement. The change in the proportions of the urban and rural populations was not as sharp as it was in the second half of the twentieth century, but it was smooth. Over the course of 36 years, the urban population more than doubled (+111.4 percent), while the rural population increased only by about half (+58.6 percent), so although the rural population grew in absolute terms, its relative share declined from 80.9 percent in 1910 to 75.3 percent in 194624 (and this growth in the relative share of the urban population was much greater than that in the years preceding World War I25). The greatest increase in the urban population as a proportion of the total population took place in 1911–1926 (+36 percent), then in 1927–1934 it was +15 percent and in 1935–1946 it was +33 percent.

For the period between 1910 and 1926, statistics indicate a significant difference in population growth in small and big towns/cities, i.e. in the towns/cities with populations up to 10,000 inhabitants on the one hand and over 10,000 inhabitants on the other. Table 3 shows that population growth in the big towns/cities outstripped growth in the small ones, but the determining factor in this process was the enormous growth of the capital city. If Sofia is excluded, population growth in small towns surpassed (albeit not by much) population growth in big towns, and the proportional growth of the urban population in Bulgaria up to 1926 was mainly due to the increase in the population of the capital, which more than doubled.


Table 3. Growth of the population in absolute terms in small and big towns, Sofia, and villages, 1910–192626


Growth in


Growth in

Population in








Small towns








Big towns/cities, including Sofia








Big towns/cities, without Sofia
























We seek in our inquiry to determine the extent to which urbanization was influenced by migration in general (meaning both within the country and across its borders) and, within this, the extent to which it was influenced by in-migration on the one hand and immigration and emigration on the other. We establish the relative share of the increase in the number of in-migrants and immigrants in the towns/cities in relation to the increase in the urban population (for the territory of the country in the respective census year) based on the abovementioned birthplace data. Here, in the context of what has already been said about the specifics of this kind of statistical information on migration to towns/cities, we would like to point out again that migration to urban areas includes not only migrants coming from villages but also migrants coming from other towns/cities.27 Inter-town/city migration, and in particular migration from small towns/cities to big towns/cities, was not terribly large and did not affect major trends. In 1911–1926, total urban increase as a share of migration was 81 percent, and in 1927–1934 it was 61 percent. Generally speaking, during the period in question, urbanization in Bulgaria was mainly due to migration, and mainly to internal migration, representing 56 percent of the total migration growth in 1911–1926, despite the intense refugee inflows of Bulgarians, Russians, and Armenians as a consequence of the wars, and almost entirely to internal migration in 1927–1934, when external migration was declining (Table 2).

The 1934 census data, which took into account migration from villages to towns/cities, confirms this conclusion. We have analyzed a variety of data concerning in-migrants who moved from villages to towns/cities and concerning immigrants and refugees who came from foreign countries and settled in towns/cities in Bulgaria, because the mobility of immigrants within Bulgaria is not quantitatively known. There were almost twice as many in-migrants who moved from villages to towns/cities as there were immigrants to Bulgaria who settled in towns/cities. They constituted 64 percent of the people who settled in towns/cities (Table 1).

The rise in the number of in-migrants to towns/cities and the rise in the number of refugees and immigrants to towns/cities (per 1000 local people28) correspond to the abovementioned trends. In 1911–1934, the number of in-migrants who moved from villages to towns/cities was steadily growing, more than doubling and reaching almost half a million. Their number per 1,000 locals was gradually increasing too, in the first half of the 1920s much more significantly (reaching 402 in-migrants per 1,000 locals in 1934). This proportional increase was particularly significant in the first half of the 1920s. By 1934, in-migrants constituted almost one-third of the local population in the towns/cities of Bulgaria.29 The number of refugees and immigrants was one third or one fourth that of in-migrants to urban communities. The number of immigrants was twice to three times smaller than that of the internal migrants, and it was growing to the mid-1920s as a result of refugee flows. These refugee flows stopped, however, and in 1934 the proportion of foreigners from the population became lower (233 foreign-born per 1,000 locals) (Table 5).


Table 4. Number of in-migrants and immigrants/refugees among urban and rural de facto population, 1910–193430




Local population*



population of Bulgaria


















































* Population born in the locality where it was enumerated during the census.


Table 5. Intensity of in-migrants and immigrants/refugees to the locals* among urban and rural de facto population, in ‰, 1910–193431






























* Population born in the locality where it was enumerated during the census.

The Contributions of Sexes

During the period in question, a common gender characteristic of migration to towns/cities was that the majority of migrants were men,32 as opposed to the period after World War II, when predominantly women set off for urban areas.33 However, if one examines the data concerning numerical growth of migrants to towns/cities in 1911–1934, it becomes evident that this phenomenon concerned both sexes, but it was higher for women: +91 percent for male in-migrants and +138 percent for female ones, and +131 percent for male immigrants and +228 percent for female ones, bearing in mind that at the same time the number of in-migrants was twice or three times the number of immigrants. In this case, the historical and cultural background played an important role in determining the extent to which women had opportunities to migrate independently of men. The Bulgarian model of economic development at the time, however, also influenced the sex composition of the in-migration flow. Preferring to employ men, the urban occupation structures seem to be the main factor in setting limits for female migration to towns/cities. As we shall see, later the large number of (unmarried) women migrating towards the towns/cities was linked to employment opportunities, especially in the sector of “domestic service.”

The final result was a numerical preponderance of men in the cities in the mid-1920s, where, unlike in the villages, there was the usual demographic phenomenon of women outnumbering men because of longer life expectancies. (Here, however, I would like to note that before the wars, compared to the other countries, Bulgaria was distinguished by predominantly male populations in both cities and villages, and by the mid-1930s, the two sexes had gradually come to constitute roughly half of the population each, Table 6). In order to identify the source of male preponderance in towns/cities, we have used as an indicator the number of females per 1,000 males in the variations of the native-born and foreign-born urban populations. Within the native-born populations, we see the usual situation: women outnumbered men. But in the case of migrants, we find precisely the opposite. At first glance, the related data show a preponderance of men, and men were particularly numerous among refugees and immigrants having in mind that among Bulgarians there was more balance, because they lived predominantly as families. This was also true for the third-largest but still a dozen times smaller refugee stream of Armenians. The Russians, second in number but also dozens of times fewer, (being soldiers) were distinguished as a male refugee and immigrant flow. But this contribution of external migrants to urbanization is only seeming, since they were in principle half as many as in-migrants. So, in this case, the men who predominated in the in-migration flow to the cities were the determinants (Table 6).


Table 6. Number of females per 1000 males among urban and rural population in Bulgaria, 1910–193434






Refugees and immigrants


From the refugees and immigrants
































* Population born in the locality where it was counted during the census.

The Contributions of the Ethnicities

The migration towards towns/cities among the native-born population of Bulgarian ethnicity was decisive for the process of urbanization, although the relative share of the urban population within its variation was very low, because being numerically dominant, it had an ascending trend (Table 7). However, we were curious to consider the contributions to urbanization of other ethnic groups recorded in the statistics. In understanding the analysis that follows, it should be taken into consideration that behind the high rates of growth there was a small number of migrants.

By volume, the resettlements in towns/cities prevailed among the indigenous, comparatively small ethnic groups, such as Armenians and Jews, with a tendency to increase between 1910 and 1926. However, they had come into being and existed as urban diasporas. In 1910, 96 percent of local Jews and 88 percent of local Armenians lived in towns/cities. This phenomenon is related to their occupations. Over half (54 percent) of the economically active Armenians were employed in industry (mostly in clothing and footwear production), and over half (52 percent) of the economically active Jews were traders (dealing with sales of clothing and footwear, food and beverages, foreign exchange, commissions and exports). Another 36 percent of the latter worked in industry (in the production of either clothing and footwear or beverage). Among the Armenians and Jews, the main direction of in-migration was from small to big towns/cities. They were concentrated in the big towns and cities, where their resettlements (compared to the local Jewish and Armenian population) were distinguished by their high number per 1000 locals, and therefore this movement did not contribute to urbanization understood as the movement of in-migrants from villages to towns/cities. In 1911–1926, among Armenians, quantitatively small in-migration can be observed in the opposite, town/city-to-village direction. The very high number of resettled people per 1000 locals within the Armenian rural population shows that their rural diaspora was at that time a relatively new phenomenon. A similar process can also be observed among the Jews in 1926. Hence, although among the local Armenians and Jews the relative share of resettlements to the towns/cities increased (among the Jews +46 percent and among the Armenians +41 percent) compared to their migration to villages, not they, but the Armenian refugee wave from the first half of the 1920s constituted the most significant contribution to urbanization in Bulgaria with their urban resettlements’ impressive growth of +246 percent.

Table 8 shows that among the different ethnic groups it was the rural population that predominated within the set of native-born people, except for the Jews, Armenians and Greeks. According to the 1926 census data for the foreign-born (i.e. the new refugees and immigrants), the Armenians, Bulgarians, Jews, and Russians were mainly targeting towns/cities with an upward trend. The Greek diaspora showed an interesting demographic trend for the period 1911–1926. Among the native-born Greeks, the urban population increased by more than 20 percent, and among the foreign-born Greeks, it decreased by five percent (although it was predominant there) (Table 7); the reason for this was their nearly total exodus35 as a result of the Greek-Bulgarian Convention on Voluntary Population Exchange of 27 November 1919. In 1910, about 91 percent of the total urban Greek diaspora lived in the towns of Kavakli (Topolovgrad), Stanimaka (Asenovgrad), Varna, Sozopol, Burgas, Anhialo (Pomorie), Mesemvria (Nesebar), and Plovdiv. It is obvious that after the wars, the local Greek population was increasingly concentrated in the towns/cities, and the displacements themselves took place first among immigrants. In their place, Bulgarian refugees were resettled. The native-born ethnic Turks were distinguished by a small urban diaspora, whereas foreign-born Turks concentrated in cities; in both variations there was a downward trend in migration of ethnic Turks to towns/cities; the drop was perceptibly lower among immigrants. Displacements which intensified during the wars and continued afterwards contributed to this, but they were not the only factor. The Turkish population started leaving towns/cities and resettling in villages, as evidenced by the rise in their numbers as a percentage of the populations in villages (Table 7 and 8). In the case of the Romanians and Tartars, there was a decrease in the urban population (in terms of number and relative share) compared to 1910 for both the native-born and foreign-born, but this was largely due to the cessation of Southern Dobrudja to Romania. Among the minority diasporas in Bulgaria, only the Russians turned from a rural community into urban one. This took place because of the tendency among new Russian refugees and immigrants to settle almost exclusively in the towns/cities. This caused an extraordinary increase in their urban population of +2009 percent (Table 7). Hoping to return to their home country soon, they did not accept Bulgarian citizenship, and so by law they had no right to receive agricultural land (this explains their low share in rural areas), unlike refugees of Bulgarian ethnic origin.


Table 7. Relative share of the urban population in Bulgaria among the different ethnic groups in correlation with native- and foreign-born (i.e. for the old and the new diasporas), de facto population, 1910, 192636

“nationality/natoinalité ethnique”




















































Table 8. Increase/decrease in the number of in-migrants and immigrants/refugees among the urban and rural population of different ethnic groups in Bulgaria 1910–1926, in %37

“nationality/natoinalité ethnique”










































– 90












The Contribution of the Small and Big Towns/Cities

Before considering the question referred to in the subtitle, we will try to explain the changes in the data concerning the native-born population, which may seem obvious at first glance. These changes are important because they influenced the formation of the indicator of migrants’ number per 1,000 locals, and since the analysis of the origin of these changes is a sign of whether it is a source of out-migration or emigration, and because of the dynamics of the urbanization itself. In the period from 1910 to 1926, the number of native-born population in Bulgaria decreased sharply in both small and big towns/cities (excluding Sofia). In small towns/cities, it decreased almost twice as much as it did in big ones (it doubled only in Sofia). It is interesting to see how much this phenomenon was due to migrations. We have tracked it at the settlement level and we have found out that in 1926 in 18 of the 26 big towns and cities the native-born population grew, and in some cases it grew considerably (in Burgas it doubled and in Plovdiv it grew by one third). In the remaining 8 big towns,38 it decreased from several hundred to not more than 1,500. In the case of big towns/cities, three-quarters of the reduction was a result of the secession of the three major towns in Southern Dobrudja after the Balkan wars (Silistra, Tutrakan, and Dobrich). The remaining loss was mainly due to the displacement of the Greeks from Burgas, Varna, Plovdiv, and Stanimaka and to a very small extent, due to mortality and other displacements. In the case of small towns, the decline of the native-born population by half was due to the secession of the five cities with the Treaty of Neuilly (Balchik, Kavarna, Bosilegrad, Tsaribrod, and Strumitsa). It also partly diminished because of the expulsion of the Greeks.39 This loss was not compensated by the 17 towns in the newly acquired territories and the reclassification (i.e. new settlements which were declared towns), probably owing to the in-migration and out-migration from the small to big towns/cities.

The loss of local urban population as a result of the secession of cities (both small and large) and as a result of the territorial losses from the wars was not only simply compensated in the period between 1926 and 1934 by still high birth rates due to intense external and internal migration (the latter of which was significantly larger), but as early as 1934 the pre-war number of the native-born population had been exceeded. That is why we can conclude that the secession of the towns/cities as a result of the wars lost by Bulgaria really had a negative impact on the urbanization of the country, and if that had not happened, the urbanization process would have been much stronger. However, it can not be denied that it was intense and intensifying and quantitatively managed to overcome the loss of the native-born urban population in less than ten years. In this sense, we cannot speak about its stagnation or lagging behind. It simply evolved in the context of changed territorial conditions.

The census statistics make it possible to identify the urbanization centers in Bulgaria, which coincide with the destination points of migration flows. Towns/cities differ in their socio-economic characteristics, so they have different attractive opportunities. In order to estimate them, we consider the cities in the two groups according to the number of their inhabitants (small and big). We have separated the capital of Sofia, which was (and still is) the administrative and cultural center of the country, from the group of other towns/cities, as its growth was unprecedented and incomparable with that of other cities. The data on settlements by groups of towns/cities show that the big towns/cities (except the capital of Sofia) had the greatest influx of in-migrants, refugees and immigrants by absolute number and by the indicator showing total number of in-migrants and immigrants-refugees per 1000 locals. This value in 1910 was twice as high as in the case of the small towns. Despite that between 1910 and 1926 the small towns had a much larger growth of migratory influx (both in number and percentage) than the big ones (a tendency which reversed between 1926 and 1934), but they were far behind in terms of migratory flows to the capital. (Таble 9) The latter surpassed the influx to both small and big towns/cities not only in their absolute numbers but in their intensity as well: in 1910, in the big towns/cities (except Sofia) the total number of migrants and (in-migrants and immigrants) per 1000 locals was twice as high. Sofia marked the greatest growth. There, the number of migrants was almost twice as much as that of the locals. In 1926, the local population declined in both small and big towns on account of a sharp rise in the number of migrants (almost six times within the external ones and 1.5 times within the internal ones) (Таble 9). Small towns strengthened their position of attractiveness, and they caught up with their lagging behind and the number of migrants per 1000 local people almost reached the level of big towns, although the volume of migration to them was smaller. The capital was once again distinct in scale from the other major cities. Migrants in the direction of Sofia were twice as numerous as local residents.

To quantify the role of immigration and in-migration in the urbanization of small and big towns/cities and the capital, we use an indicator that expresses the relative share of the increase in the number of immigrants/refugees and in-migrants in small and big towns/cities and Sofia compared to population growth in them. For the small towns, +44.5% belong to immigrants and +32% to in-migrants; for the big towns/cities +33% and +50% respectively, and for Sofia +21% and +51%. Or, in general, until 1926 Sofia and the big towns were growing predominantly by in-migrants, while small towns were increasing in size because of immigrants (Table 3 and 10).

Now we are going to track the most significant role of migration in the urbanization of separate towns/cities. In 1910, among the cities in Bulgaria, the biggest attraction centers for migration (internal and external), apart from the capital of Sofia, was the administrative center of the Burgas County, to which Bulgarian refugees were directed. (At that time, it was the largest such center in the county, with a population density below the average, and there were quite large reserves of state and municipal land funds.) So, in these two cities (Sofia and Burgas), 63 percent of the population consisted of in-migrants and immigrants/refugees. This figure was followed by Varna with 49 percent, Ruse with 45 percent, Plovdiv with 42 percent, and Shumen 30 percent. In 1926 the main centers of attraction for migration were the same cities but in a different sequence, and after the large refugee waves of Bulgarians from Thrace, Macedonia, Dobrudja and the Western Outskirts as well as Russians and Armenians, the number and the relative share of the settlers grew. Sofia gave its first place to Burgas, where the majority of the population was migrant (refugees, immigrants, in-migrants from other parts of the country) 87 percent, and ranked second with 68 percent, followed by Plovdiv 56 percent, Varna 55 percent, Ruse 52 percent, Haskovo 47 percent, Sliven 28 percent, Shumen 26 percent. Subsequently, in the second half of the 1920s, the immigration flow decreased considerably, stopping the refugee waves; so, Burgas (65 percent) relinquished to Sofia (68.5 percent) the leading position in the attraction of migrants. The abovementioned towns/cities (not taking into consideration the capital) were traditional industrial and commercial centers, with Ruse, Varna, and Burgas having the greatest ports on the Danube River and the Black Sea, respectively, and Plovdiv enjoying investment of German, French, and Belgian capital and a prospering food industry, Sliven being a center for the textile industry, and Haskovo developing tobacco production and trade; yet a few of them lost population through the expulsion of local Greeks (Burgas, Varna, Plovdiv), which was compensated by in-migrants and immigrants/refugees of Bulgarian ethnicity.

If we distinguish the urban attractiveness centers in relation to the extent of their attraction for the internal and external migration flows, we find that Sofia attracted an increasing percentage of the in-migration flow to towns/cities and the whole immigration flow (1926: 29 percent and 10 percent, respectively, in 1934: 33 percent and 13 percent, respectively). The capital city was followed by Plovdiv, which similarly showed an increase in its relative share in the internal migration to cities (1926: 8 percent and 3 percent, respectively, in 1934: 10 percent and 2 percent, respectively). Then, by a relative share of five to ten per cent compared to the in-migration to towns/cities, come Varna and Ruse in 1910 and 1934 and Shumen and Varna in 1926. Another several towns/cities developed as centers of attraction for refugees and immigrats (based on the indicator of immigrants’ relative share in the given city compared to all immigrants in the towns/cities in Bulgaria), with values clearly distinguishable from those of other towns/cities; they were Sofia (1926: 25 percent, 1934: 27.5 percent), followed by Plovdiv (1926: 12 percent, 1934: 19 percent), Varna (1934: 11 percent); refugees accepted into Svilengrad (1926: 6 percent), Burgas (1926: 5.4 percent, 1934: 5 percent), Haskovo (1926: 4 percent); but in the following years, the number of immigrants there was decreasing significantly due to displacement within the country.

In fact, the data shows that the main attraction center for migration was the capital, and the other four major Bulgarian cities of Plovdiv, Varna, Ruse, and Burgas lagged behind it, and only very seldom did migratory flows stand out in the urbanization of small towns. This is understandable considering that the aforementioned cities best suited the standard of living in Bulgaria at the time. Sofia was the most developed city in Bulgaria. It had electricity and good supplies of water. In the 1920s, the Rila water main was built, the construction of sewerage was started, and after the wars, the capital transformed from a predominantly consumer center and a city of clerks and officers into a commercial and industrial center with a large working class. The lack of settlements with truly urban profiles and with high standards of living, including better incomes and living facilities, contributed to Sofia’s becoming the most dynamically developing city in Bulgaria. In the second half of the 1930s, the Batova-Varna water pipeline was built, which supplied water to the sea capital. The new ports of Varna and Burgas, put into operation in the very beginning of the twentieth century, contributed to their urban revival.


Table 9. Total number of migrants (in-migrants and immigrants/refuges) and locals* and the number of migrants per 1,000 locals in small and big towns/cities, and in Sofia, 1910–193440


Towns with up to 10.000 inhabitants

Towns/cities with and above 10.000 inhabitants,

without Sofia































+/– in numbers










+/– %




















+/– in numbers










+/– %










* Population born in the locality where it was enumerated in the census.

Table 10. Number of immigrants and in-migrants together in the small and big towns/cities, and in Sofia, de facto population, 1910–192641


Immigrants in


Towns with up to 10.000 inhabitants

Towns/cities with and above 10.000 inhabitants, without Sofia


Towns with up to 10.000 inhabitants

Towns/cities with and above 10.000 inhabitants, without Sofia
















+ / – in figures







To What Extent Was Urbanization Through Migration Related to the Modernization of Towns/Cities and to Industrialization?

Unfortunately, the Bulgarian censuses do not contain information about the inter-professional in-migrants’ mobility to towns/cities. In order to answer this question, we have used the data that we have on the sectoral structure of the economically active population within in-migrants coming from villages to towns/cities, but only for the population of Bulgarian ethnic origin. This type of statistics on refugees and immigrants of Bulgarian (Table 11) and other ethnic origin (Tables 12, 13) was not published in correlation with villages and towns/cities, and that is why the data are incomparable. We have only used them as a guideline.

The coefficient of economic activity among the in-migrants of Bulgarian ethnic origin (who predetermine the whole structure) in the village-to-town/city direction was higher (1920: 61.7 percent, 1926: 60.2 percent) than the average for the country (54 percent), which indicates that most of them were labor migrants moving in search of a livelihood. The coefficient of economic activity among foreign-born refugees and immigrants was even higher (63.8 percent for 1926). In the professional structure of economically active women who had moved from village to town (Table 12) the sector of “domestic servants” dominated (over 40 percent). The urbanization process means not only village–to–town migration, but also perception of the urban way of life as well. Part of the urban lifestyle of the upper stratum in this period included the hiring of domestic servants. Even a regular servant exchange was organized in Sofia. Girls from all over the country, led by parents and dragomans, came to Sveti Kral Square (St. Kral), today’s St. Nedelja Square (St. Holy Sunday) every St. George’s Day and St. Dimitar’s Day in order to seek employment. It is noteworthy that former maidservants were preferred by bachelors as wives, especially among the peasantry, because they were literate and well-informed.42 The data in Table 11 show that women hardly left home and farm work, and they very slowly entered the professional work. Female laborers were more likely to be employed in professional work. 18 percent of them were occupied in industry, and only 4 percent in public services and the liberal professions. Those occupied in industry (38 percent) predominated among the male village-to-town in-migrants; again, among them in second place was the sector of “public services and the liberal professions” (31 percent).

However, based on the available data, it can be summarized that in the first half of the 1920s, among in-migrants (both men and women), the number and relative share of those occupied in the industrial sector was growing markedly; in addition, the number of workers in the industrial sector was growing much more rapidly than the number of workers in the agricultural sector. The male in-migrants of Bulgarian ethnicity went predominantly into industry, as did male refugees and immigrants of non-Bulgarian ethnicity, as indirectly can be assumed on the basis of Tables 12 and 13.


Table 12. Professional structure of the economically active village-to-town in-migrants of Bulgarian ethnicity, de facto population, by sex, in figures and %, 1920–192643

















In figures


In figures

Agriculture and live stockbreeding, hunting and fishing













Industry incl. mining, crafts and communications


























Public services and liberal professions













Domestic servants








































Table 13. Professional structure of the economically active urban immigrants and refugees of non-Bulgarian ethnicity, de facto population, by sex, in figures and %, 192644









In figures

Agriculture and live stockbreeding, hunting and fishing







Industry incl. mining, crafts and communications














Public services and liberal professions







Domestic servants






















Table 14. Professional structure of the economically active refugees and immigrants of Bulgarian ethnicity, de facto population, by sex, in figures and %, 192645









In figures

Agriculture and live stockbreeding, hunting and fishing







Industry incl. mining, crafts and communications














Public services and liberal professions







Domestic servants





















Urbanization is also reflected in the creation of new structures in the organization of urban space. In fact, its main sign was the change in the economic structures of the urban space. By the Mid-twentieth century, a general characteristic of the Bulgarian towns/cities, including the big ones and the capital, was their rural appearance, resulting from the presence of large sectors with a high agricultural character. In order to establish the changes, we have compared the occupational structure of the economically active population of Bulgarian ethnicity in the towns/cities (locals and inter-town/city migrants, according to the correlation of “born in towns/cities and counted as residents in the census” of Bulgarian ethnicity) with the occupational structure of the village-to-town/city in-migrants of Bulgarian ethnicity (Table 10) during the first half of the twentieth century. In the occupational structure of the economically active Bulgarian-born population which was counted as urban residents in 1920 and 1926, a slight decrease from 30.7 percent to 29.8 percent is visible in the relative share of those employed in agriculture as well as a rise from 35.4 percent to 36.2 percent among those employed in industry. Economically active in-migrants of Bulgarian ethnicity headed from the villages to the towns/cities to work mainly in the industry, where their share increased considerably (from 24.7 percent to 32.8 percent) in the first half of the 1920s. (Table 12) Among them, for this relatively short period, the relative share of the people occupied in agriculture and livestock breeding decreased from 19.5 percent to 18.6 percent. Thus, by comparing the changes in the professional structure of the two variations of the predominant economically active population of Bulgarian ethnicity, we have found that the decline in the importance of the agricultural sector was minimal and had the same values (–0.9 percent) for both variations. Within the structure of the village-to-town in-migrants, the share of industrial sector increased by 8 percent. This means that the locals and the new residents were giving up just as little of their agricultural occupations in order to engage in some kind of urban one. And the “strengthening” of industrial production in the urban economy was definitely due to in-migration and was the result of a shift among the new citizens to industrial activities.


We can summarize the results of the quantitative analysis of the birthplaces of Bulgaria’s population from the perspective of the role of internal and external migration (i.e. in-migration and immigration) in the processes of urbanization as follows:

Urbanization in Bulgaria in the period in question was mainly due to migration and in particular to in-migration, although it was undoubtedly closely related to the refugee wave and immigration during the war and in the interwar period, which strengthened the expansion of the towns and cities. The drying-up of the refugee inflow did not lead to a decline in the urbanization process. On the contrary, there was intensified internal migration towards the towns and cities and specifically in the direction from village to town/city. This was a characteristic phenomenon for other countries as well. Similar phenomena were observed in the United States in the first decades of the twentieth century, but in relation to the strengthening of restrictions on immigration.

In the first half of the 1920s, many people (predominantly men) left the villages and began to engage in non-agricultural activities in the towns and cities. But an initial process of feminization of in-migration towards the towns/cities as well as of the industrial labor force was evident too.

There was a relationship between emigration, on the one hand, and internal migration and immigration on the other, which is well illustrated by the replacement of the displaced Greek population with Bulgarian refugees and in-migrants.

The decisive role of in-migration in the urbanization process in Bulgaria was determined by in-migration to the big towns and cities (including Sofia). This was because the urbanization of big towns/cities (understood as urban population growth) quantitatively exceeded the urbanization of small ones, and it was largely determined by inter-urban migration from small to big towns.

At the same time, the urbanization of small Bulgarian towns was primarily driven by immigration.

The trend of ascending development (albeit at a slow pace) of the urbanization process in Bulgaria was mainly due to in-migration from village to town/city of the predominantly Bulgarian ethnic population, but the contribution of Armenian and Russian refugees was also quantitatively visible.

The main destinations for immigrants, with values clearly distinguishable from those of other towns/cities, was Sofia. It attracted an increasing percentage of the in-migrant flow towards the towns and of the whole set of internal migrants. Sofia was followed by the second largest city in Bulgaria, Plovdiv, but the numbers in the case of Plovdiv were much smaller.

The urbanization of the capital Sofia, which was growing to the size of a super city (certainly with regard to the living and working conditions in Bulgaria), stood out from the perspective of its scale, even against the background of the so-called big towns and cities.



Printed sources

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Общи резултати от преброяването на населението в Царство България на 31.12.1920 г. Кн. ІІІ. Статистика на професиите. София, 1926.

Общи резултати от преброяването на населението в Царство България на 31.12.1920 г. Кн. І. План и организация на преброяването. София, 1927.

Общи резултати от преброяването на населението в Царство България на 31.12.1926 г. Кн. І. План и организация на преброяването. София, 1931.

Общи резултати от преброяването на населението в Царство България на 31.12.1926 г. Кн. ІІІ. Статистика на професиите. София, 1932.

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1 According to data for 2011. See: UN, 2014b. Accessed on March 2, 2018. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/psp.2036/full

2 Bencivenga and Smith, “Unemployment, Migration and Growth,” 582–608; Bilsborrow, “Migration, Population Change and the Rural Environment,” 69–94; Kavzoglu, “Determination of Environmental Degradation,” 429–438.

3 White, International Handbook, 474–75.

4 Найденова, 3–15.

5 In this essay, I use the term “immigrant” to refer to people who came, as immigrants, to the country from abroad. Similarly, the term “emigrant” refers to people who left the country. I use the term “in-migrant” to refer to people who migrated from one settlement to another within the country.

6 Груев, Демографски тенденции, 369–70.

7 Kopsidis, “Was Gerschenkron wright?” 9, 17; Lampe and Jackson, Balkan Economic History, 576–77; Ivanov, The Gross Domestic Product of Bulgaria, 105, 107; Teichova, “Industry,” 239.

8 For details see: The 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. See also: Long, “When refugees stopped being migrantsm”, 4–26.

9 Младенов и Димитров, “Урбанизацията в България,” 13; Минков, Миграция на населението, 85; Стефанов, Демография на България, 258–59.

10 Василева, Миграционни процеси в България, 94; Марчева, “Социални измерения на урбанизацията” 127; Марчева, Политиката за стопанска модернизация, 396–97.

11 In 1880 the urban population in the Bulgarian Principality constituted 16.7 percent of the total population of the newly created state; in 1920 – 19.9 percent, and in 1934 – 21.4 percent. See: Василева, Миграционни процеси в България, 110; Георгиев, Освобождението и етнокултурното, 24; Попов, Стопанска България, 13.

12 Тотев, “Населението на България”, 26–32; Стефанов, Демография на България, 218; Даскалов, Българското общество, 143.

13 Стефанов, Демография на България, 218.

14 Тотев, Населението на България, 26–32; Стефанов, Демография на България, 218.

15 Везенков, “Урбанизацията в България,” 56–69.

16 From South Dobrudja – Silistra, Tutrakan, Dobrich, Balchik, Kavarna, and from the Western Outskirts – Bosilegrad, Strumitsa, Tsaribrod (Dimitrovdrad).

17 Ahtopol, Bansko, Gorna Dzhumaja (Blagoevgrad), Nevrokop (Gotse Delchev), Dyovlen (Devin), Daradere (Zlatograd), Ortakyoi (Ivalovgrad), Koshukavak (Krumovgrad), Kardzhali, Malko Tarnovo, Melnik, Mastanli (Momchilgrad), Petrich, Razlog, Mustafa pasha (Svilengrad), Pashmakli (Smolyan) and Vasiliko (Tsarevo).

18 Везенков, “Урбанизацията в България,” 60; Данаилов, Изследвания върху, 164–68.

19 The Components of Urban Growth in Developing Countries. Population Division. Department of Economic and Social Affairs. United Nations Secretariat. ESA/P/WP.169. Sept. 21. United Nations, 2001, 58. Accessed on June 26, 2018. https://population.un.org/wup/Archive/Files/studies/United%20Nations%20(2001)%20-%20The%20Components%20of%20Urban%20Growth%20in%20Developing%20Countries.pdf

20 Poston and Bouvier, Population and Society, 307–11.

21 Tacoli, C. et al., World Migration Report 2015.

22 Until 1926, the censuses used 10,000 inhabitants as the threshold for the distinction between small towns/cities and big towns/cities.

23 This indicator was used by the ethnographer G. Georgiev, in his study of the internal migration and urbanization processes in the years after the formation of the Third Bulgarian State. See: Георгиев, Освобождението и етнокултурното, 23.

24 Тотев, “Населението на България”, 177–79; Цеков, “Селската селищна,” 78.

25 In 1880–1900 for instance (i.e. for a period of 20 years), the urban population in Bulgaria increased by 36.6 percent and the rural one by 31.6 percent. See: Георгиев, Освобождението и етнокултурното, 23.

26 Sources: Общи резултати 1923, 14–17; Общи резултати 1927, 16–23; Общи резултати 1931, 16–23.

27 Clearly, in-migration from one city to another does not affect the national rate of urbanization.

28 Population born in the locality where it was enumerated during the census.

29 At the same time, the proportion of in-migrants among the rural population remained unchangeable until 1920 and only increased afterwards.

30 Sources: Общи резултати 1923, 14–17; Общи резултати 1927, 6–23; Общи резултати 1931, 16–23; Преброяване на населението, 3.

31 Sources: Общи резултати 1923, 14–17; Общи резултати 1927, 16–23; Общи резултати 1931, 16–23; Преброяване на населението 3.

32 Women mainly headed for villages.

33 Василева, Миграционни процеси в България, 110.

34 Sources: Общи резултати 1923, 14–17; Общи резултати 1931, 16–19; Преброяване на населението, 3.

35 Forty thousand were displaced and only ten thousand remained in Bulgaria.

36 Sources: Общи резултати 1923, 14; Общи резултати 1931, 18.

37 Sources: Общи резултати 1923; Общи резултати 1931.

38 Vratsa, Stanimaka (Assenovgrad), Samokov, Kazanlak, Chirpan, Svishtov, Shumen and Turnovo.

39 Among the Greek population in Bulgaria, until the Balkan wars there was relatively low mortality. See Щерионов, “Демографският преход,” 256.

40 Sources: Общи резултати 1923, 14–17; Общи резултати 1927, 16–23; Общи резултати 1931, 16–23; Преброяване на населението 3.

41 Sources: Общи резултати 1923, 14–17; Общи резултати 1927, 16–23; Общи резултати 1931, 16–23.

42 Даскалов, Българското общество, 153–54.

43 Sources: Общи резултати 1926, 4–5; Общи резултати 1932, 4–7.

44 Ibid.

45 Source: Общи резултати 1932, 4–7.



pdfVolume 7 Issue 4 CONTENTS

The Participation of the Medieval Transylvanian Counties in Tax Collection

András W. Kovács
Research Institute of theTransylvanian Museum Society
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In Transylvania the county authorities had to assist in collecting royal (state) taxes owed by the serfs of noble estates (like in other parts of Hungary). In 1324 the king exempted the Transylvanians from paying the tax called collecta that they previously had to submit to the voivode. (Based on analogies, it can be suggested that this tax was collected either because of the cancellation of the yearly renewal of money or the refusal of the compulsory exchange of older money.) From 1336 the yearly renewal of money and with this the compulsory exchange of the former money ceased to exist. In order to compensate this profit of the treasury (the chamber), King Charles I (1301–1342) assessed a new tax, which similarly to the previous one was called the chamber’s profit (lucrum camerae), but the “gate” (household or porta) became the taxation unit. This tax, according to the lease contract of the Transylvanian chamber from 1336, was also collected in Transylvania, but in 1366 King Louis I (1342–1382) exempted the Transylvanians from paying it. In 1467 the king tried to have the tax called tributum fisci regalis (that substituted the chamber’s profit) collected also in Transylvania, whereon an uprising broke out. This latter tax and the more and more frequently collected extraordinary tax (subsidium, contributio, taxa) usually made up one florin per household. For the upkeep of their delegations sent to the king, the Transylvanian counties collected an occasional tax, the so-called courting money (pecunias udvarnicales), from their serfs. There is data of its collection from the fifteenth century on. These taxes, normally collected from estates located in territory of the counties, were exempt from payment because of royal privilege or because they belonged to the town of Szeben (Sibiu/Hermannstadt), the Seven Seats (‘Sieben Stühle’), but estates of the towns of Kolozsvár (Cluj-Napoca/Klausenburg), Brassó (Braşov/Kronstadt), Beszterce (Bistriţa/Nösen, Bistritz), and Medgyes (Mediaş/Mediasch) were also exempt. These settlements’ exemption from paying the taxes had to be confirmed by recurrent voivodal (or sometimes royal) mandates sent to the vicevoivodes of Transylvania, the county authorities, the tax assessors, and tax collectors.

Keywords: Middle Ages, Transylvania, tax collection, counties, pecunia udvarnicalis, taxa, contributio, subsidium


This study investigates the royal (state) taxes collected in Transylvania, the eastern province of Hungary, from the serfs who lived on noble estates, and the role county authorities1 played in the process until 1526. The taxation of these counties (Belső-Szolnok, Doboka, Kolozs, Torda, Hunyad, Fehér, Küküllő), because of a local tax and the exemption from paying the chamber’s profit (lucrum camerae), differed from the taxation of other parts of the country, and was fundamentally dissimilar from the taxes paid by the privileged Transylvanian Székely and Saxon areas.

Fourteenth-Century Taxes

The most important bodies of the financial administration were the chambers; the Transylvanian chamber probably existed already by the end of the Árpádian period.2 In 1324 King Charles I exempted the Transylvanian nobility and their serfs from paying the lodging and upkeep tax (the descensus and the victualia) as well as the tax named collecta, which until then had to be submitted to the voivode of Transylvania (vayvoda Transsilvanus), the officeholder appointed by the king to lead the province.3 From 1336 the chamber’s profit (lucrum camerae) became the direct tax of the serfs, which bears its name from the previous practice in which the treasury (chamber) earned profit through the yearly renewal of the money and the compulsory exchange of old coins. The taxation unit from that time on was the porta (household).4 According to the lease contract of the Transylvanian chamber from 1336, the levying of the household tax in the counties belonged to the jurisdiction of the chamber count, and the tax had to be collected by the officers of the chamber count (per comitum camere nostre vel suos officiales) in the presence of a delegate of the archbishop (of Esztergom), of the master of the treasury (in presentia hominum domini archyepiscopi et magistri tawarnicorum nostrorum), and the county authority. The count (comes provincialis; ispán) and the judges of the nobles (iudices nobilium; szolgabíró) received one-third of the fine that was inflicted on those who refused to pay the tax.5 In 1366 King Louis I exempted the Transylvanian nobles and their estates from paying the chamber’s profit (and the upkeep tax).6 Although later royal confirmations of the privilege charter are not known, the serfs of the Transylvanian nobles enjoyed this exemption for a long time (until 1467). Outside of Transylvania the chamber counts with their administration, the tax assessors and tax collectors (dicatores, exactores) assisted by county authorities, were in charge of collecting the tax.7

Extraordinary and local taxes however were sometimes also levied in Transylvania. According to a charter from 1368, the officialis at Szentimre (Sântimbru) of Péter Járai, vicevoivode of Transylvania (1344–1350, 1359–1368), with the help of the judges of nobles of Doboka and Kolozs Counties, had to collect a tax, four denars for each plot (mansio), awarded to the vicevoivode by the nobles of the country.8 There is no later reference to this tax.

Courting Money

The nobility of the Transylvanian counties collected the courting money (1448, 1456, 1477, 1488, 1499: pecunias udvarnicales)9 or courting denars (1466: denarios udvarnicales)10 from their serfs for the upkeep of their delegations11 sent to the king. The contemporary name of the tax according to data from 1491—if it is not a misspelling—may have been udvarlópénz,12 which, if one can connect with later mentions (1619, 1710), also attests to the meaning of the adjective ‘courtier’ (udvarló) as a ‘person who does service at the court.’13 There is no data on the collection of the courting tax elsewhere than in Transylvania.

The (deputy) counts (comites and vicecomites) and the judges of the nobles in Transylvania took part in the collection of this local (and extraordinary) tax directly. In 1448 the Transylvanian vicevoivodes ordered the barons, nobles, and people of all origin and rank in Szolnok County to collect the courting money from their serfs because the Transylvanian nobles decided to send a delegation, including Miklós Kémeri and János son of Gyerő of Gyerővásárhely, to the prelates, barons, and honorable persons of the country in Buda; but many people disregarded paying the money. So they again ordered the collection of money by the first day of the next court period of Szolnok County, and if nobles would again deny fulfilling it, the task shall be remitted to the vicecounts and the judges of the nobles to have it collected from every single estate under the fine of three marks.14

In 1456, at the assembly called by the vicevoivodes to Torda (Turda/Thorenburg) of Transylvanian nobles, Székelys, and Saxons, the deputies of the universitas of the nobility reported that they elected Tamás Lökös (Wass) of Cege (Ţaga) to join the delegation to the king, and he was given 32 gold florins of courting money (pecunias udvarnicales) for garments and horses. Afterward, the heirs of Tamás Lökös gave testimony that the deceased did in fact spend the money on clothes and horses.15 According to this account, the courting money was paid only by the nobility of the counties and not by the Székelys and Saxons. The exemption of the Saxons is also confirmed by the fact that royal, voivodal, and vicevoivodal mandates disallowed the Transylvanian nobility and the counties from collecting courting money from the estates that were lying in county territories but were attached to the Seven Seats (‘Sieben Stühle,’ its center was Szeben; 1488; 1491; 1492; 1501; 1505).16

In 1477 upon the request of Erzsébet, widow of János Dengelegi Pongrác, voivode of Transylvania (1475–1476, 1467–1472, 1475–1476), King Matthias (1458–1490) exempted her serfs from paying the courting money and sent a mandate to the voivode of Transylvania, the vicevoivode, and the county authorities stating such.17 Although it was the king who forgave its collection, the courting tax was not a tax collected for the ruler; in 1499 and 1501 voivode Péter Szentgyörgyi (1498–1510) referred to the royal taxes (contributio regie maiestatis; taxa regalis) and the courting money (pecunia udvarnicalis) as separate types of taxes.18

In 1492, when upon the request of the abbot of Kolozsmonostor (Cluj-Mănăştur), King Vladislas II (1490–1516) exempted the serfs of the abbey from paying the courting money, the abbot himself also called this tax in Transylvania an occasional one, but which the people of the abbey had not paid in living memory.19

In 1496, Vladislas II ordered that the tax the Transylvanians called courting money should be collected from all serf-holding nobles proportionately to their estates, with the exception of those nobles only who already live in the royal court.20

So the courting money was an occasional tax that the nobles of the Transylvanian parts would levy for no other reason than to cover the expenses of the delegates sent to the court. This is the reason why Székelys and Saxons did not pay it: as privileged peoples they appealed their issues on their own, and, what is more, the nobility of the counties was not entitled to offer any tax in their name.

Extraordinary Taxes

From the coronation of Matthias onwards, there is a markedly large quantity of data on the collection of extraordinary—including war—taxes,21 but the data on their collection originates mostly from the archives of Saxon towns.22 The war taxes however had been collected earlier as well, and in Transylvania too.23 The taxes passed by the Hungarian diet also applied to Transylvania, but the Transylvanian nobility in itself had no right to vote on the tax.24

In 1467 King Matthias eradicated the chamber’s profit (lucrum camerae) when the taxes of the treasury (tributum fisci regalis) were substituted for it;25 this was also to be introduced in Transylvania. However, after the Transylvanian uprising of 1467, the previous tax system was reintroduced (and even if more families lived behind one “gate,” they still had to pay only after one household). From the 1470s onwards, when Matthias had the extraordinary tax (subsidium, i.e., benefit, or contributio, i.e. tax) collected, he included the chamber’s profit in it, meaning that the lucrum camerae (or portal tax) was not collected separately; the two taxes added up to one florin per porta.26 The normally passed tax to be paid by tenant peasant households was collected yearly.27

The so-called royal account book of treasurer Zsigmond Ernuszt from 1494–1495 preserved the name of the royal tax collectors (exactores et dicatores) who were sent to Transylvania (in both years they were István Istvánfi and Miklós Kápolnai), their salaries (300/331 florins), as well as the sum of the tax levied on the seven Transylvanian counties. In every county, the tax collectors were accompanied by the counts and the judges of the nobles, who also received salary from the treasury (168/148 florins). In 1495 during the period of tax levying, the treasury either granted an honorarium to ten better-off Transylvanian nobles (potioribus nobilibus regni Transsilvanensis) or exempted their estates from the tax payment (probably because they mediated for the undisturbed collection of the tax).28

The levying (of the serfs) of nobles—one of the contributions (contributio) of the three privileged “nations”—was not amongst the largest Transylvanian incomes of the king. The instructions and reports29 written during the reign of King Ferdinand I (1526–1564) in Transylvania (1552–1556), of which the ones by royal deputies György Werner and Pál Bornemissza are likely the most important, testify to this.30 Thanks to the sophisticated literacy of the Habsburg administration, previously unknown data of major significance is available for this short period that also mirrors the medieval situation. According to the treasurer Péter Haller, the deficiencies of the collection of Transylvanian contribution can be attributed to the negligence of the counts; it was not possible, not even with voivodal powers, to force them to have the taxes collected, which was confirmed by the collectors of the contributio as well (1553).31 According to a 1554 letter of László Gyalui Vas, Transylvanian financial director (supremus proventuum Regie Maiestatis in Transsilvania administrator) of Ferdinand I, sent to an unknown recipient, it was almost impossible to collect the remainder of the contributio of the Transylvanian counties even with the power of the voivodes.32

There are no surviving tax accounts from the territory of the Transylvanian counties from before 1526.33 The participation of the counties in collecting the taxes for the king at this point is verified by the following charter evidences.

On December 4, 1464, King Matthias ordered his tax collectors (dicatoribus), Antal Patai Dezső and Mihály Zsuki, to present him their tax accounts.34 There is no information concerning the representatives of the county authority who were ordered to accompany them (previously Antal Dezső was count of Kolozs and Doboka Counties in 1460). From 1470 there is data pertaining to a royal tax collector of Fehér and Küküllő Counties called Miklós Piri (de Piry).35 A damaged charter of Matthias from 1472 urged the authority of one of the—probably Transylvanian—counties to collect the contributio from the estates of the nobles.36

On February 4, 1499, Péter Szentgyörgyi, the voivode in a mandate to Doboka County—to the comites or the vicecomites and judges of the nobility—and the universitas of its nobility urged them to collect the royal tax (contributio regie maiestatis) from the serfs of the county according to the register of the tax assessors, as the deadline set by the tax collectors, Tamás Harinai Farkas and János Somkeréki Erdélyi, had passed.37

In 1513 the voivode János Szapolyai (1510–1526) forbade Kolozs County from collecting the 47 florins of royal tax (subsidia maiestatis regie) owed by István Zsuki based on his wealth totaling 53 portas. He addressed the order to the authority of Kolozs County and to the tax collectors (exactoribus presentis subsidii);38 in 1518 it was also Szapolyai who sent a mandate to the authority of Hunyad County to gather and hand over to the tax collectors the 60-denar tax offered to the king (subsidium sue maiestatis) by the Transylvanian nobles;39 while in 1526 he ordered Fehér County to pay the royal tax (subsidia maiestatis regie) to the delegate of the treasurer.40

It was possible to compensate for the unpaid taxes directly from the estates of the nobles who denied payment, but this had to be brought into effect by the counties. In 1523 the vicevoivode István Tomori (1523–1526) informed Torda County that there was no longer any need to avenge the estates of Tamás Háportoni Forró as he did in fact pay the taxes (subsidium regie maiestatis).41

In Transylvania tax collection was supervised by the voivode,42 and the related lawsuits also belonged to the jurisdiction of his court, not that of the counties. In 1499, the voivode Péter Szentgyörgyi instructed every Transylvanian county that the lawsuits concerning the contributio due to the king and the courting money should be heard in front of the voivode and not at county courts.43 The example of the lawsuit below does not contradict this principle: in 1483 the voivode, István Báthory (1479–1493), ordered the steward (provisor curie) of Csicsó (Ciceu) castle to bring those servants and serfs of Mihály Szerdahelyi from Retteg (Reteag) who set themselves up for tax collectors and taxed the serfs of István Erdélyi at Virágosberek (Floreşti), Németi (Mintiu), and Csépán (Cepari/Tschepan) to the coming court period of Belső-Szolnok County. So the lawsuit was not about taxation,44 but about the related fraud, and by his authority, the voivode gave the order to the provisor.


In villages owned by and legally “attached” to the Saxon towns and seats but lying in county territory, the taxes paid by the serfs of the county nobility were not collected.45 The “separation” from the county primarily meant the exemption from its authority, but it went hand in hand with the exemption from the taxes collected in the counties as well as the exemption from mandatory soldiering. This of course did not mean that their tax-paying and soldiering duties ended, but that these duties had to be fulfilled according to their new environment. This paper does not aim to list every area that was exempted from county taxation and soldiering (e.g., the whole of the Székely Lands and Saxon Lands, for a while the Fogaras District, which was outside of the county organization, as well as towns that paid taxes in a different way, their lands, and also some market towns). In the following pages we will only discuss those cases that have data on the prohibiting of county tax collectors or on exemptions typically in the case of settlements that previously belonged to the authority of the counties but later were attached to one of the privileged towns, seats, or districts. The orders issued on these matters preserve important, elsewhere irretrievable data mostly on county taxation, as they specify what kind of tax should not be collected there.

The abbey of Kolozsmonostor

As noted above, according to the privilege charter of August 27, 1492 issued by King Vladislas II, the estates of the monastery of Kolozsmonostor were exempted from paying the courting money.46 Based on this it can be assumed that the serfs of other ecclesiastical institutions were also exempted from paying this tax, but as of now no further data confirms this.

The estates of the Saxon Seven Seats and the town Szeben

The inhabitants of the settlements lying in the territories of the counties but owning Saxon privileges were taxed differently than other serfs of the counties. From the fifteenth century numerous royal, voivodal, and vicevoivodal mandates survive which forbade the assessment and collection of the county taxes at the privileged settlements. As the majority of these estates lay in Fehér and Küküllő Counties, the addressees in most cases were the authorities of these two counties or the tax collectors being sent there, and in the case of the royal charters usually the voivodes and the vicevoivodes. For instance, the addressees of the mandate of Matthias dated to June 9, 1475 were the collectors of the one-florin tax of the Transylvanian parts, but primarily those of Fehér and Küküllő Counties, and the grantees were the Saxons of the Seven Seats and Two Seats (‘Zwei Stühle’), the Barcaság (districtul Bârsei, Burzenland, terra), Brassó and Beszterce (both civitates), furthermore the abbeys of Kerc (Cârţa/Kerz) and Egres, and the estates of the provostry of Szeben attached to the Saxons. The reason for this exemption was the obligation of the Saxons to pay a total of 10,000 gold florins, taking care of the division of this burden themselves.47 The methods of taxation applicable to the estates attached to the Saxon seats became established relatively late. In 1473 the envoy of Beszterce to Szeben was informed that the county tax would be collected also from the (county) territories attached to the Seven Seats.48

The exemption of the settlements from taxation had to be provided with recurrent voivodal (sometimes royal) mandates addressed to the vicevoivode, counties, tax assessors, and tax collectors.49

The abbey of Egres, the provostry of Szeben, the lands confiscated from Miklós Salgói, and the estates of the abbey of Kerc

In 1416 King Sigismund (1387–1437) sent a mandate to Miklós Csáki, voivode of Transylvania (1402–1403, 1415–1426), to further allow the hospites living on the estates of the abbey of Egres called Monora, Csanád, Apátfalva (Holdvilág), and Sorostély (all in Fehér County) to join the ‘banderial’ army of the seven Saxon seats and to prevent the Transylvanian nobles from forcing them under their own banderia.50 In 1416 the king, on the request of Imre, his special chaplain and abbot of the Cistercian abbey of Egres, forbade anyone from the occupation or collection of the incomes, the census, and the collecta of the same estates of the abbey after the abbot’s death as he put these lands under the protection of the Seven Seats.51

In 1424 King Sigismund donated the Saint Ladislas provostry to the town of Szeben, including its three estates (Nagyekemező, Kisekemező, Rüsz), and from the estates of Bolkács and Zsidve in Küküllő County, the sections that were confiscated from Miklós Salgói.52

The abbey of Kerc and its estates enjoyed the privileges of the Seven Seats in terms of jurisdiction, taxation, and soldiering already in the thirteenth century,53 but in 1474 King Matthias once again donated the estates to the Holy Virgin Church54 of Szeben.

Péterfalva (Petiş/Petersdorf) and Rovás

In 1486, King Matthias issued a mandate to the Transylvanian voivode and Fehér County in which he ordered that no tax (taxa, collecta) paid by the (serfs of the) nobility of the county shall be collected from the inhabitants of the Péterfalva and Rovás estates, as he attached these territories to the Saxon seats and exempted them from the authority of the Transylvanian voivode and the comes of Fehér County, as well as from soldiering (the two estates were earlier bequeathed by the widow of Péter Veresmarti to the Virgin Mary Church of Szeben).55 In 1488, referring to a royal privilege (exemptionalis), vicevoivode István Telegdi forbade Fehér County from collecting the royal taxes or the courting money from the inhabitants of Rovás as the estate belongs to the Virgin Mary Church of Szeben.56 However, even later on, there were noble holdings to be found at Rovás, where noble and voivodal jurisdiction remained.57

Talmács (Tălmaciu/Talmesch)

The king had the right to remove a settlement from the jurisdiction of the county. In 1453 King Ladislas V (1440–1457)—actually János Hunyadi (1452–1455), who wielded power with the title of chief-captain (supremus capitaneus regie maiestatis)—detached from Fehér County the castles of Talmács and Latorvár (Lotrioara/Lauter), as well as Vöröstorony (Turnu Roşu/Rothenturm) and its related estate and donated these to the Seven Seats. He also extended the Seven Seats’ right to the donated estates,58 the donation being confirmed by Matthias in 1468.59 Later this estate formed the basis of the Saxon sub-seat (Filialstuhl) of Talmács.

Rukkor (Rucăr/Ruckersdorf)

In 1453 King Ladislas V donated half of Rukkor, along with the estate of Talmács, to the Seven Seats,60 but its fate was different than that of other estates because its other half was obtained by the Saxons only in 1486.61 In 1488 Matthias banned the Transylvanian counties and the tax collectors there from assessing taxes on Rukkor, the tax of which had to be added to the census of the Saxons.62

Fogaras and Omlás (Amnaş/Hamlesch)

The district (districtus) of Fogaras and the estate of Omlás came into the possession of the Seven Seats as a royal donation in 1469,63 which then was confirmed by Matthias in 1472 and again in 1483.64 In 1486 Fogaras came back into the hands of its previous owners, the Vingárti Gerébs.65 The villages of the estate of Omlás later formed the Saxon sub-seat of Szelistye (Sălişte/Grossdorf). In 1485 the tax collectors of Fehér and Küküllő Counties had to be forbidden from collecting taxes from Omlás and Talmács (and other Saxon estates).66

Felek (Feleacu) (estate of Kolozsvár)

In 1377 King Louis I gave the ‘sheep fiftieth’ (quinquagesima ovium; this was a tax due to the king) of the Romanian serfs of Felek village to its owner, the town of Kolozsvár, and further forbade the tax collectors from the collection this tax.67 In 1415 King Sigismund also guaranteed the town that the Romanian inhabitants of Felek shall not be obligated to turn in the sheep fiftieth and foodstuffs (prandium),68 and in 1478 King Matthias issued a mandate to the Transylvanian tax collectors forbidding them to oblige the peasants of the two estates of Kolozsvár, Felek, and Fejérd (Feiurdeni; this latter was also donated to the town by him) to pay the taxes collected in the province, as their taxes should be tallied with that of Kolozsvár.69 In 1509 the palatine (1504–1519) and regie maiestati locumtenens Imre Perényi (1509–1510, 1510–1511, 1515) ordered the collectors of the taxa and the contributio of Transylvania not to count the serfs of Felek amongst those of the county, nor to collect their taxes.70

The estates of Brassó

The estates of Brassó that lay in Fehér County were also exempted from the taxation of the county. In January 1496 King Vladislas II—in response to the complaints of the town of Brassó—ordered the tax assessors and tax collectors of Fehér County not to demand provisionment (victualia) from the estates of Tohán (Tohanu/Tohan), Zernyest (Zărneşti), Újfalu (Barcaújfalu; Satu Nou/Neudorf), Sárkány (Şercaia/Schirkanyen), and Páró (Părău/Mikesdorf). This was because he donated them to the Corpus Christi altar of the parish church of Brassó for his salvation and in terms of taxation attached them to the town; therefore its inhabitants shall not pay taxes in the manner of the serfs of noble estates.71

Brassó received Törcsvár (Bran/Törzburg) and its estate from King Vladislas II in 1498 as a pledge.72 On July 24, 1500,73 in terms of paying the contributio and taxa, and soldiering, King Vladislas classified the serfs and other inhabitants living on the estates of Brassó as Saxons, mandating that voivode Péter Szentgyörgyi, treasurer János Bornemissza (1500–1504), and the tax assessors shall tax them accordingly. From the estates mentioned in the privilege—Pürkerec (Purcăreni), Zajzon (Zizin), Tatrang (Tărlungeni), Szentmihály (Cernatu), Türkös (Turcheş/Türkesdorf), Bácsfalu (Baciu/Batschendorf), Krizba (Crizbav/Krebsbach), Apáca (Apaţa/Geist; estate complex of Törcsvár), Sárkány, Mikefalva (= Páró),74 Újfalu (holdings of the town), Zernyest, and Tohán (the latter two belonging to the Virgin Mary parish of Brassó)75—some were in Fehér County and accordingly were exempted from county taxation. On June 24, 1501 in response to the complaints of the magistrates of Brassó and the Barcaság district, King Vladislas II gave a mandate not only to the county authorities but also the universitas of the nobility of the Transylvanian parts that they shall not assess taxes on the town of Brassó and its estates in the Barcaság and the tax collectors should not demand the taxa and the census, because they would then be taxed twice; in the meantime he also ordered the voivode Péter Szentgyörgyi to protect the grantees.76 In 1533, voivode István Báthory (1530–1534) explained in his answer sent to the authorities of the town Brassó that he had received their letter expounding on the privileges and exemptions of the town (namely, that Törcsvár and its parts belonged to the church of Brassó and since the “holy kings” these had been exempted from the contributio, that is from the taxa regia and the exercituatio, or had been paying those together with the Saxons) and that he also received knowledge of the fact that not long before, when the Saxons paid two florins per capita as subsidium, Brassó refused to pay the tax, and as a result the inhabitants of Törcsvár and its parts did not pay the tax at all, be it as Saxons or as nobles.77

The district of Radna (Rodna) (estate of the town of Beszterce)

Not long after the decision of the diet of 1467, which declared that the castle estates of Radna, Omlás, and Fogaras cannot be given away, in the autumn of 1469 Matthias gave the district of Radna (districtus Radna) to the town of Beszterce. The Saxon lands also counted amongst the royal domains, so this did not mean the contempt of the 1467 decision, in the background of which the king’s wishes can be supposed anyway. In 1472 King Matthias—in answer to the complaints of the town of Beszterce—ordered the tax assessors and tax collectors not to tax the Romanians (Vallachos) living in the district of the valley of Radna (in districtu Rodna Velgje).78

Volkány (estate of Segesvár)

Volkány was bestowed to Segesvár from Fehér County by King Matthias in 1487.79 King Vladislas II confirmed it again in 1491,80 and so did King John I (1526–1540) in 1531. In 1501, Péter Szentgyörgyi, the voivode of Transylvania—with reference to the royal donation that the mayor of Segesvár, Anthon Polnar, presented—ordered the incumbent counts, vicecounts, and tax collectors not to collect the royal taxa and the courting money in Volkány, the estate of the St. Nicholas Church of Segesvár; and also forbade the county to fine the people of Volkány, as had happened a couple of times in the past.81 In 1521, when Louis II (1516­–1526) confirmed the belonging of Volkány to Segesvár, he mandated the Fehér County authority and the universitas of its nobility to respect the extension of the rights of Segesvár.82 In 1527 it was Péter Perényi, voivode of Transylvania (1526–1529), who ordered the Transylvanian county authorities and the tax collectors not to force the inhabitants of Volkány to pay in any way the taxes levied on the county, as that would constitute double taxation of the village.83

Pócstelke (Păucea/Puschendorf; estate of Medgyes)

In 1508 Vladislas II exempted the serfs who lived at the part of Pócstelke that belonged to the St. Margaret Church of Medgyes from paying any ordinary or extraordinary royal tax (the estate of Pócstelke was bought for the church by the town),84 and in 1514 he ordered Küküllő County not to collect any tax at all (taxa, contributio and subsidium) in the estate part of Medgyes at Pócstelke.85

The above-listed exemptions (with the exception of Kolozsmonostor, and the its privileges later acquiring Pócstelke) are all recorded in the section of the 1494/1495 royal account book registering the exempted county territories (although it does not give details about the estates of Szeben). According to this source, amongst others, no tax was collected from Fogaras (the king forgave that to its previous landlord, Péter Geréb), from Radnavölgye, from the estates of Szeben, from “Csanád” (this meaning the Csanád, Monora, Apátfalva, and Sorostély estates of the abbey of Egres), and neither from the village of Felek, which belonged to Kolozsvár.86


The direct state tax of the serfs, the chamber’s profit (the lucrum camerae), was collected from 1336 onwards also in Transylvania with other local taxes; however, King Louis I exempted the Transylvanians from paying these in 1366. So far we only have fifteenth-century data on the collection of the so-called courting money in the Transylvanian counties for the upkeep of the delegates sent by the Transylvanian nobles to the royal court. When in 1467 instead of the lucrum camerae King Matthias introduced the tributum fisci regalis and wanted to collect it in Transylvania, an uprising broke out. After its fast repression only the one-florin tax was collected with growing intensity. The collection of the taxes of the counties was supervised by the leading officeholder, the voivode (and his deputy, the vicevoivode). The settlements which belonged to any of the privileged towns (Kolozsvár, Beszterce, Brassó) or to the Saxon Seven Seats, or which received a privilege themselves, were exempted from the jurisdiction of the counties, did not pay the taxes collected by the counties, and did not take part in the banderial army of the counties.

The sources do not suggest whether the counties were divided into smaller units, such as districts, and if so what role these played in taxation.

Archival Sources

Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára, Budapest [Hungarian National Archives, State Archive] (MNL OL)

Diplomatikai Fényképgyűjtemény [Collection of Diplomatic Photographies] (DF)

Diplomatikai Levéltár [Collection of Diplomatics] (DL)

Archiv der Evangelischen Kirchengemeinde Mediasch


Arhivele Naţionale ale României. Serviciul Judeţean Sibiu al Arhivelor Naţionale [Sibiu County Branch of the Romanian National Archives], Sibiu (SJAN-SB)

Magistratul oraşului şi scaunului Sibiu. Colecţia de documente medievale (Urkunden). [The magistrate of the town and seat of Sibiu. Collection of medieval documents (Urkunden)]

Arhivele Naţionale ale României. Serviciul Judeţean Braşov al Arhivelor Naţionale [Braşov County Branch of the Romanian National Archives], Braşov (SJAN-BV)

Arhiva oraşului Braşov, Colecţia Schnell [Archive of city Brassó, Collection Schnell]


Printed sources

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Decreta Regni Hungariae 1301–1457 = Decreta regni Hungariae: Gesetze und Verordnungen Ungarns. Collected by Franciscus Döry, edited by Georgius Bónis, and Vera Bácskai. Publicationes Archivi Nationalis Hungarici 2: Fontes, 11. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1976.

DRMH = Decreta Regni Mediaevalis Hungariae: The Laws of the Medieval Kingdom of Hungary. 5 vols. From the manuscript of Ferenc Döry, edited and translated by János M. Bak et al. Idyllwild: Schlacks; Bakersfield, Lake City, Los Angeles: Charles Schlacks Jr; Budapest: Central European University, 1989–2012. The Laws of Hungary. Series I: 1000–1526. Volume 1–4: 1000–1526.

Hurmuzaki = Documente privitóre la Istoria Românilor culese de Eudoxiu de Hurmuzaki [Documents regarding the history of Romanians collected by Eudoxiu de Hurmuzaki]. 21 vols. Bucuresti: Academia Română, 1876–1942.

KárolyiOkl = Codex diplomaticus comitum Károlyi de Nagy-Károly: A nagykárolyi gróf Károlyi család oklevéltára, edited by Kálmán Géresi. 5 vols. Budapest: Kocsi Sándor and Franklin, 1882–1897.

KmJkv = Jakó, Zsigmond, ed. A kolozsmonostori konvent jegyzőkönyvei (1289–1556). 2 vols [Protocols of the convent of Kolozsmonostor]. Publicationes Archivi Nationalis Hungarici 2: Fontes, 17. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1990.

KvOkl = Jakab, Elek. Oklevéltár Kolozsvár története első kötetéhez [Documents for the first volume of the history of Kolozsvár]. Buda: Magyar Királyi Egyetemi Könyvnyomda, 1870.

SzapolyaiOkl = A Szapolyai család oklevéltára: Documenta Szapolyaiana. Vol. 1, Levelek és oklevelek. Epistulae et litterae (1458–1526). Monumenta Hungariae Historica: Diplomataria. Collected and edited by Tibor Neumann. Budapest: Magyar Tudományos Akadémia, Bölcsészettudományi Kutatóközpont, Történettudományi Intézet, 2012.

SzT = Erdélyi Magyar Szótörténeti Tár [Transylvanian Hungarian etimological dictionary]. Collected and compiled by Attila Szabó T. 14 vols. Bucharest: Kriterion, Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, Kolozsvár: Erdélyi Múzeum-Egyesület, 1975–2014.

TelOkl = Samu Barabás, ed. Codex diplomaticus Sacri Romani Imperii comitum familiae Teleki de Szék: A római szent birodalmi gróf széki Teleki család oklevéltára. 2 vols. Budapest: Magyar Történelmi Társulat, 1895.

Ub = Franz Zimmermann, Carl Werner, Georg Müller, Gustav Gündisch, Herta Gündisch, Konrad G. Gündisch, and Gernot Nussbächer, eds. Urkundenbuch zur Geschichte der Deutschen in Siebenbürgen. 7 vols. Hermannstadt: Verein für Siebenbürgische Landeskunde and Bucureşti: Editura Academiei Române, 1892–1991. – Additions and continuation (online): Urkundenbuch zur Geschichte der Deutschen in Siebenbürgen (Online-Fassung), ed. Martin Armgart, Adinel Dincă, Thomas Şindilariu, Attila Verók, Sarah May, Johannes Gerstner, Gernot Nussbächer. Universität Trier, 2012. Accessed on December 2, 2018. http://siebenbuergenurkundenbuch.uni-trier.de

WassLt = Antal Valentiny, and András W. Kovács, eds. A Wass család cegei levéltára [Cartulary of the Wass family of Cege]. Erdélyi Nemzeti Múzeum Levéltára 3. Kolozsvár: Erdélyi Múzeum-Egyesület, 2006.

ZsOkl = Elemér Mályusz, Iván Borsa, Norbert C. Tóth, Tibor Neumann, Bálint Lakatos, and Gábor Mikó, eds. Zsigmondkori oklevéltár. 14 vols [Sigismundian cartulary]. Publicationes Archivi Nationalis Hungarici 2: Fontes, 1, 3–4, 22, 25, 27, 32, 37, 39, 41, 43, 49, 52, 55. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó–MNL OL, 1951–2017.


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1 On the functioning of counties, see Tringli, “Le contee in Ungheria;” and Tringli, “Megyék.”

2 Weisz, “Kamaraispánok az Árpád-korban,” 85, 87.

3 CDTrans, 2: no. 510. Cf. Weisz, “A kamara haszna okán szedett collecta,” 556 (the collecta had to be paid for the rejection of the mandatory exchange of money or, in case the new money was not issued, it was collected as chamber’s profit); Weisz, “Royal Revenues in the Árpádian Age,” 258.

4 Engel, Kamarahaszna-összeírások, 3.

5 Decreta Regni Hungariae 1301–1457, 90–94. Cf. Hóman, A magyar királyság pénzügyei, 236.

6 CDTrans, 4: no. 492.

7 Gábor, A megyei intézmény, 114–18; Engel, Kamarahaszna-összeírások, 6.

8 TelOkl, 1:92. (with erroneous dating to ca. 1350). The more probable dating of the charter is 9 August [1368]. (CDTrans, 4: no. 710). In 1366 the collector of the royal castle estates revenues (iura regalia, collecta) that belonged to the honor of the voivode was Pál, provost of Szeben, beside whom Péter [Járai] vicevoivode delegated an other person (CDTrans, 4: no. 544).

9 1448: DL 44524; 1456: WassLt, no. 454; 1477: DL 45675; 1488: DF 245105; 1499: DF 261080.

10 1466: DL 31170.

11 Transylvanian delegates in the royal court for instance in 1369: CDTrans, 4, no. 736; 1496: DF 245425, etc.

12 pecunias wlgariter wdwarlopenz [!] (DF 245385, charter preserved in a contemporary copy).

13 SzT 13:707.

14 DL 44524.

15 WassLt, no. 454.

16 The royal and voivodal mandates forbade the collection of the courting money from the following estates: Rovás (Răvăşel/Rosch), which belonged to the Virgin Mary Church of Szeben (1488: DF 245105); Monora (Mănărade/Donnersmarkt), Csanád (Cenade/Scholten), Sorostély (Soroştin/Schoresten), and Holdvilág (Ţapu/Abstdorf), which belonged to the abbey of Egres ([Igriş], 1491: DF 245385); Csanád, Monora, Sorostély, Holdvilág, Bolkács (Bălcaciu/Bulkesch), Zsidve (Jidvei/Seiden), Nagyekemező and Kisekemező (Târnava/Grossprobstdorf and Târnăvioara/Kleinprobstdorf), which belonged to the Seven Seats (1492: DF 245158); Volkány (Vulcan/Wolkendorf), which was the possession of the Saint Nicholas parish church of Segesvár ([Sighişoara/Schässburg], 1501: DF 278466); Nagyekemező, Kisekemező, Rüsz (Ruşi/Reussen), Bolkács, Zsidve (belonged to the parish church of Szeben, 1505: DF 245623). Sometimes the courting money was also referred to as taxa (1488) or collecta (1492).

17 DL 45675.

18 DF 261080 and DF 278466.

19 DL 32511. The charter is quoted in Jakó, “A kolozsmonostori apátság,” 64, fn. 286. See also Szabó, “A kolozsmonostori apátság gazdálkodása,” 56 fn 159.

20 DF 245425 (19th-century copy: DF 253810).

21 The contributio (contributio generalis pro defensione regni ... Hungarie: DL 30207) was also collected in 1464 in Transylvania; in 1468 King Matthias exempted the Székelys of Aranyos and Maros Seats from paying the taxes of the treasury (tributum fisci regalis) that were to be generally assessed (KmJkv, 1: no. 1793).

22 Kubinyi, “A Mátyás-kori államszervezet,” 106–11.

23 E.g. in the protocols of the convent of Kolozsmonostor—in connection with an estate transfer—in an undated entry, dated by its editor to 1454, the war tax (exercitualis contributio: KmJkv 1: no. 1161) was already referred to.

24 Mályusz, Az erdélyi magyar társadalom, 59; Kubinyi, “Erdély,” 69.

25 Thallóczy, A kamara haszna, 95; Nógrády, “A lázadás ára,” 137.

26 Gyöngyössy, “A kamara haszna,” 146–47; E. Kovács, “Mátyás és az erdélyi lázadás,” 19. There are two examples of the payment of the one-florin tax in Transylvania: in 1470 in the Fogaras (Făgăraş/Fogarasch) district (in sede Fogaras) a one-florin tax for each household was collected (Ub, 6:469); in 1478 Matthias exempted the salt extractors of Vizakna (Ocna Sibiului/Salzburg) from paying the that tax (Ub, 7:179). In 1473 the serfs of the counties paid a one-florin tax (Ub, 6:545–46; quoted in Kubinyi, “A Mátyás-kori államszervezet,” 106).

27 Solymosi, “Az Ernuszt-féle számadáskönyv,” 414.

28 Kubinyi, “Erdély,” 69, 72–73. The source quoted here: Engel, Geschichte, 1, 38–39, 47, 149–50, 160. The sum assessed to the counties (1494/1495): Kolozs: 5643/5583, Fehér: 6788/6688, (Belső-)Szolnok: 2806/2756, Doboka: 31021½/3100, Hunyad 5654½/5604½, Küküllő: 3377/3307, Torda: 4071½/4051½, all together: 31442½/31090 florins. From this sum however only 17057½/19615½ came actually in.

29 Oborni, Erdély pénzügyei, 173, 180 (mandate of King Ferdinand I to Péter Haller, treasurer in 1553).

30 Engel, Geschichte, 3, 10–12 (the chapter entitled: De contributione subsidiorum in Transylvania).

31 Oborni, Erdély pénzügyei, 253–54, 259.

32 Ibid., 268–70.

33 C. Tóth, “Lehetőségek és feladatok a középkori járások kutatásában,” 402–3; Solymosi, “Az Ernuszt-féle számadáskönyv,” 414. The part with relevance to Transylvania of the account of the treasurer Osvát Szentlászlói (Túz) is from the beginning of the 1490s: Neumann, “A királyi városok adóztatása,” 105.

34 DF 255167.

35 Ub, 6:469. The tax collector in his letter written to Szeben asks for sending its delegates as the households (porta) could only be conscribed in their presence.

36 DF 257817. The addressee may have been one of the Transylvanian counties as the charter was preserved in the Malomfalva (Moreşti) archive of the Kemény family.

37 KárolyiOkl, 3:32–33.

38 SzapolyaiOkl, 390–91.

39 SzapolyaiOkl, 413–14.

40 SzapolyaiOkl, 513–14 (DL 63046.) Cf. DRMH, 4:258.

41 Szabó, Országgyűlések II. Lajos korában, 195 (DL 47526).

42 Neumann, “Dózsa legyőzője,” 96.

43 DF 261080.

44 TelOkl, 2, 157–58 (DL 74219).

45 On the estates of the Saxons in the counties, see Müller, Stühle und Distrikte, 306–9. The tenant villages in the counties received by the Saxon as donations were listed only partly in the conscription of the household heads of the Seven Seats in 1488. See Draskóczy, “Az erdélyi Szászföld,” 4–6.

46 1492: DL 32511, quoted in Jakó, “A kolozsmonostori apátság,” 64 fn 286.

47 Ub, 7:53 (DF 244998).

48 Hegyi, “Radna,” 51. The document quoted here: “certe possessiones ipsis septem sedium Saxonibus annexas de novo et per regiam maiestatem donatas, que alias ad comitatus nobilium connumerare fuissent, dicari deberent et dicati sunt de facto” (Ub, 6:546). Cf. Ub, 7:135–36.

49 1434: Ub, 4:528 (DF 244749); 1469: Ub, 6: 394–95 (DF 245176); 1476: Ub, 7:104–5 (DF 245012); 1485: Ub, 7:399–400 (DF 245886); 1488: DF 245101–245102; 1491: DF 245385; 1492: DF 245153, cf. Neumann, “Királyi hatalom,” 51–52; 1492: DF 245158; 1493: DL 36614; 1495: DF 245215 and 245217; 1495: DF 245417 (cf. DF 245418, quoted in Draskóczy, “Az erdélyi Szászföld,” 5 fn 23); 1499: DF 245280 (privilege charter); 1504: DF 245617; 1508: DF 245663; 1509: DF 245679; 1511: DF 245708; 1513: DF 245722 and SJAN-SB, Urkunden, 5, no. 1235 (SB-F-00001-1-U5-1235); 1514: DF 245739 and 245741; 1515: SzapolyaiOkl, 360–61; 1543: SJAN-SB, Urkunden, 4, no. 416 (SB-F-00001-1-U4-416).

50 ZsOkl, 5: no. 1896. = Ub, 4:17–18. These four estates of the abbey of Egres had already been placed under the protection of the Saxons of Szeben by King Charles I in 1315 (CDTrans, 2: no. 228). The German and Hungarian names of Apátfalva refer to its ownership by the abbey of Egres. The later name of Apátfalva is Holdvilág (see e. g. 1491: DF 245385).

51 ZsOkl, 6: no. 969. = Ub, 4:53–56. From the confirmation of the charter dating to 1494 (DF 245208).

52 Temesváry, Erdély püspökei, 325–26; Müller, Stühle und Distrikte, 305. The donation charter: Ub, 4:217–220. = ZsOkl, 11: no. 972 (DF 244687).

53 In 1264 Duke Stephen exempted the abbey of Kerc and its estates from the descensus demanded by the voivode of Transylvania and the barons, and made possible for them to pay the taxes together with the Saxons of Szeben and conforming to the privileges of those (CDTrans, 1: no. 250). This privilege was confirmed by the forthcoming kings as well (CDTrans, 1: no. 316 and 577; 2: no. 49) and was even further extended in 1322 by King Charles I, who attached the abbey of Kerc and its estates to Szeben (CDTrans, 2: no. 420). See as well 1469: Ub, 6:394–95 (DF 245176).

54 Ub, 7:5–6, 7:138–39. For the estates—(Szász)apátfalva (Apoş/Abstdorf), Földvár (Feldioara/Marien­burg), Glimboka (Glâmboaca/Hühnerbach), Kercisóra (Oláhkerc/Cârţişoara), Kisdisznód (Cisnădioara/Michelsberg), Kolun (Colun/Kellen), Mese (Meşendorf/Meschendorf), Miklóstelke (Cloaşterf/Klosdorf), (Szász)keresztúr (Criş/Deutsch-Kreuz) —see CDTrans, 2: no. 420; ZsOkl, 6: no. 1712. = Ub, 4:68; ZsOkl, 6: no. 1736. = Ub, 4:71; Müller, Stühle und Distrikte, 305; Hegyi Géza, Erdély és a Szilágyság birtokviszonyai 1341-ben [The estate structure of Transylvania and Szilágy region in 1341] (map, appendix to CDTrans, vol. 4).

55 Ub, 7:411–12 (DF 245073). In 1460, the two estates got into the possession of Péter Veresmarti, royal judge (iudex regalis) of Szeben as pledges (Ub, 6:75–76).

56 DF 245105.

57 DF 245090–245092.

58 Ub, 5:374–76, 5:384–85. Talmács, Latorvár, Vöröstorony, Kistalmács (Tălmăcel/Klein-Talmesch), Bojca (Boiţa), Plopy, Porcsesd (Porceşti), predium Crevczerfelth, Oltalsósebes (Sebeşu de Jos/Unter-Schewisch), Oltfelsősebes (Sebeşu de Sus/Ober-Schewisch) (utraque Sebes).

59 Ub, 6:358.

60 Ub, 5:375.

61 Ub, 7:468–69.

62 DF 245103.

63 Ub, 6:436–37.

64 Ub, 6:532–33, 7:343.

65 Ub 6:195; DL 65135., Quoted, along with other data on the ownership of Fogaras, in Balogh, Az erdélyi renaissance, 227–28.

66 Ub, 7:399–400 (DF 245886), cf. Nussbächer, “Posesiunile oraşului Braşov,” 327.

67 DF 280997.

68 Ub, 3:642. = ZsOkl, 5: no. 58.

69 Ub, 7:197. King Matthias donated half of the village Fejérd and the market-town (oppidum) Kolozs to Kolozsvár in 1470 (KvOkl 234–35).

70 DF 281010. = Pop et al., Feleacul, 78.

71 DF 247078. For the history of Sárkány and Páró, which were considered to be parts of Fogaras district, see Nussbächer, “Posesiunile oraşului Braşov,” 326–33.

72 DF 247080. = Trauschenfels, Zur Rechtslage, 3–4, no. III. For the pledging of the estate of Törcsvár to Brassó and its later history, see Nussbächer, “Contribuţii,” 30–31.

73 DF 247090 = Trauschenfels, Zur Rechtslage, 6–7, no. V.

74 Mikefalwa is the other name of Páró (Nussbächer, “Posesiunile oraşului Braşov,” 326).

75 For the acquisition of Zernyest and Tohán, see Müller, Stühle und Distrikte, 306.

76 DF 247093.

77 SJAN-BV, Collection Schnell, 2, 102 (BV-F-00001-03-2-102).

78 Hegyi, “Radna,” 50–51. Cf. Ub, 6:535.

79 DF 278460 = Hurmuzaki, II/2:300. = Müller, “Die Schäßburger Bergkirche,” 342. Cf. DF 278462 and DL 13225.

80 DF 278462. = Müller, “Die Schäßburger Bergkirche,” 344–45.

81 DF 278466 (for its copy: DL 13225). = Müller, “Die Schäßburger Bergkirche,” 347–48.

82 DF 278467. = Müller, “Die Schäßburger Bergkirche,” 354–55.

83 Müller, “Die Schäßburger Bergkirche,” 355–56.

84 DL 29926, quoted in Csánki, Magyarország történelmi földrajza, 5:890–91.

85 The mandate of Vladislas II from December 19, 1514 to Küküllő County (transcribed in the charter of Ferdinand I dated to November 13, 1552), Archiv der Evangelischen Kirchengemeinde Mediasch, no. 120. I thank Adinel Dincă for drawing my attention to the charter.

86 Engel, Geschichte, 1:39, 1:149. The account book does not mention Hunyad/Bánffyhunyad (Huedin) although—according to a document which was preserved only in a simple copy—in 1503 King Vladislas II gave mandate to the treasurer János Bornemissza, the royal tax collectors, and the authority of Kolozs County that no royal tax (taxa or contributio) shall be collected from the town of because of its role in the trade of Transylvania. DL 36850. This data should be considered as of doubtful authenticity until the emergence of the original charter.

* The research has been implemented with the support provided from the National Research, Development and Innovation Fund of Hungary, financed under the K 119 430 funding scheme, and the Hungarian Academy of Science Domus Hungarica Program. I am thankful for the comments of Géza Hegyi and Boglárka Weisz on this article.


(Map drawn by Béla Nagy)

pdfVolume 7 Issue 4 CONTENTS

Did Romanians Living on Church Estates in Medieval Transylvania Pay the Tithe?

Géza Hegyi
Research Institute of the Transylvanian Museum Society
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The Romanians of Transylvania, who were followers predominantly of the Orthodox rite, did not pay tithe to the Western Church in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. However, again according to the secondary literature, beginning in the fifteenth century, two groups of Transylvanian Romanians were obliged to pay this tax: those living on church properties and those who had moved to settlements formerly inhabited by Catholics (referred to as “terrae Christianorum”). This study deals with the issue of the first group, analyzing the only source that would support the thesis in question, namely a letter of King Sigismund of Luxembourg (which in some editions was dated to 1398 and in others to 1425 or 1426). Although the facts described in the document would correspond to realities from 1426, the contradictory dates, the confusing language, and the absence of the original (the earliest manuscript copies of the text are from the eighteenth century) arouse suspicions. Even if we accept it as authentic, the phrase “decima Volahorum,” which is used in the letter, cannot be interpreted as an ordinary tithe, but only as a royal tax. Neither the late medieval registers of revenues of the Alba Iulia chapter nor the urbaria of the estates of the Transylvanian bishopric offer any evidence in support the thesis according to which Romanians who lived on church properties paid the tithe.

Keywords: Transylvania, tithe, Romanians, church property, source criticism


One of the most significant differences between Western (Catholic) and Eastern (Orthodox) Christianity in the Middle Ages was the paying of the tithe. While Catholics had to pay one tenth of their most important agricultural produce to the Church (or its value in currency), members of the Orthodox Church had no such obligation.1 Given this difference, the study of the collection of the tithe in a region in which members of the two Churches lived side by side but in which the Catholic Church was nonetheless the religion of the state (and therefore also the more dominant religious institution) is of particular interest. The following question arises: how did this asymmetrical intercultural relationship affect the original exemption from paying the tithe among Orthodox communities?

In the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries, the Western Church was compelled to confront this issue when relatively large groups of people who followed the Eastern rite came under its authority, first in southern Italy and then, as a consequence of the Crusades, in the Holy Land and Greece.2 In these areas, which were denominationally mixed, the new landlords preferred to put Orthodox serfs on their estates (which sometimes earlier had been worked by Catholic serfs), from whom they could demand higher seigneurial taxes, since Orthodox serfs did not have to pay the tithe. Since this clearly led to reductions in the incomes of the Western Church, at the Fourth Council of the Lateran in 1215 the Church stipulated, in the 53rd canon, that estate owners collect the tithe from all tenants regardless of whether the serfs followed the Western or Eastern rite.3 We know very little about how this measure was actually put into practice, but with the fall of the Latin states at the end of the thirteenth century, it became irrelevant anyway.

The History of the Research on the Subject

The other region in which communities belonging to the two Churches (the Catholic and the Orthodox) lived intermixed was East Central Europe, or more precisely, Bosnia, Galicia, and Eastern Hungary (including Transylvania), where Catholic Hungarians, Székelys, and Saxons lived alongside comparatively large Orthodox Romanian, Serb, and Ruthenian communities under the jurisdiction and rule of the Hungarian kingdom, which was fundamentally Western in its cultural and religious orientation.

Hungarian and Romanian scholars and historians have studied the question of the relationship between the Romanian communities of this region and the paying of the tithe for a long time. Transylvanian historian József Kemény (1795–1855) did some of the fundamental groundwork on the subject,4 drawing on the source work of József Benkő (1740–1814), Ignác Batthyány (1741–1798), and Antal Szeredai (1740–1798), among others.5 Greek Catholic historian Zenovie Pâclişanu (1886–1957)6 and Orthodox theologian Ştefan Lupşa (1905–1964)7 made Kemény’s findings part of the Romanian historiography, often adding their own interpretations of the sources. In his monumental work on the burdens placed on the serfs of Transylvania in the sixteenth century, David Prodan (1902–1992) offers a relatively short but all the more thorough discussion of this question.8 Historians Andor Csizmadia (1910–1985),9 Ernst Wagner (1921–1996),10 Adrian Andrei Rusu (1951–),11 and Ioan-Aurel Pop (1955–)12 only touch on the question of the “tithe paid by Romanians.” Viorel Achim (1961–), in contrast, has added considerably to our understanding of this question with numerous essays on the issue as it arose in Banat13 and with the publication of several new sources.14 Thus, today he is considered the expert on the subject.

The historians and writers named above are in almost complete consensus on the view that, in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, Orthodox Romanians did not pay the tithe.15 If from time to time one finds references to Orthodox Romanians alongside the word “decima” in the sources, either this was a reference to a tithe paid to the Archbishop of Esztergom by the king from his incomes (including the fiftieth paid by Romanian-speaking subjects)16 or the Romanian community in question had converted to Catholicism17 (although the Hungarian kings, in an effort to further religious conversion, strove to prevail on the pope to exempt these converts from paying the tithe).18

The situation began to change under King Sigismund, but the changes affected only some of the Romanian communities.19 In Hungary more narrowly understood (i.e. not including Transylvania), with the exception of the efforts of a few prelates (in 1415 and 1469), Romanians remained exempt from the tithe.20 In Transylvania, however, according to the consensus in the secondary literature, first Romanians living on the estates of the bishop and of the chapter were compelled to pay the tithe, followed by the Romanians who had settled on “Christian lands,” i.e. villages or plots which earlier had been inhabited by Catholics.21

An Analysis of the Charter of 1426

In this article, I examine the first of these two cases, i.e. the case of Romanians who were living on estates owned by the Church and the question of whether or not they were obliged to pay the tithe. On the basis of the sources, I throw into question the consensus mentioned above in the secondary literature.

Some historians have dated the start of this practice to 1398,22 while others have dated it to 1425 or 1426.23 When one examines the secondary literature more closely, however, one notes that in each case these conclusions are based on the same source, specifically a letter in which King Sigismund informed the Transylvanian nobility that, the request made by their delegates (Miklós Apafi of Almakerék [Malâncrav/Malmkrog] and László Gyerőfi of Szamosfalva [Someşeni]) notwithstanding, for the moment he would not oblige the Romanians living on the estates of bishops and other Church estates to pay the tithe (“decimam Volahorum episcopalium et ecclesiasticorum exigere distulimus”), since in order to maintain the bishops’ banderia24 and in order for the chapter and other figures of the Church to be able to fulfill their obligations to the military, they would have to tax the Romanians on their estates (“episcopus banderium proprium, capitulum autem et alii viri ecclesiastici certas summas pecuniarum ratione exercitus solvere et propter illas expediendas eorum Volahos exactionari habent”). He did promise, however, to come to Transylvania once the military campaign that was underway at the time had come to an end and to reach a decision on this issue, after thorough negotiations, that would satisfy both parties. In a separate postscript he even exempted the noblemen without lords (“nobiles dominos ... non habentes,” i.e. a nobleman who was unwilling to serve as the familiaris25 of another, wealthier lord) from military conscription (“ab ingressu presentis nostre exercitualis expeditionis duximus supportandos”).26

The different datings by different historians are explained by the fact that, in the clause of the document, at the date formula, the year according to the Christian Era is not indicated next to the place (Visegrád) and the day of the year (“vigilia festi Visitationis Virginis gloriose,” i.e. July 1). True, one should be able to determine the year in which the letter was written on the basis of the three regnal years of King Sigismund specified in the same place (“regnorum nostrorum anno Hungariae XImo, Romanorum vero IIdo, Bohemiae VIto”), but these three dates contradict one another. His eleventh annus regni as King of Hungary refers to 139727 (and not 1398, as it was considered by some of the editors!), while his second regnal year as “Roman” (i.e. German) King refers to 1412, and his sixth annus regni as King of Bohemia to 1426.28 It is possible that individual numbers were distorted when the text was copied or issued, and we could even presume how this distortion took place if we could assume that the Czech annus regni is accurate,29 in other words that the letter was written on July 1, 1426.30 In this case, the original text must have read “regnorum nostrorum anno Hungarie XLmo, Romanorum vero sedecimo,” and the Latin numerals could easily have been miscopied as “XI” and “secundo.”31

The simplest way of verifying the abovementioned emendation, clearly, would be simply to consider the original of the charter. We do not, however, have any such charter, and indeed to my knowledge there are no reliable transcriptions either, neither from the Middle Ages nor from the Early Modern Era. Most of the editions (more precisely, those dated to 1398) are based on József Benkő’s edition, but Benkő did not indicate the source he used. The editions dated to 1426 follow quite faithfully (servilely) one of the copies made by József Kemény sometime around 1840,32 which refers to Count Ádám Székely’s (†1789) collection of manuscripts, which at the time was held in the library of the Calvinist college in Kolozsvár (Cluj-Napoca/Klausenburg).33 The collection is currently held by the Cluj County Directorship of the Romanian National Archive, and one of the two volumes containing the text was indeed found in it, but the volume contained no reference to the source on which the text was based, so it offered no further clues.34 Given the similarities in the ways in which the text was apparently miscopied, however, one can assume that this version and the Benkő edition are closely related and indeed were perhaps themselves based on the same flawed copy.

The text is found three more times in Kemény’s collection of manuscript copies.35 One of these versions is less interesting than the other two because it simply reproduces Benkő’s version.36 In the second, however, the regnal years which were reconstructed by me figured, and, according to this, it was dated to 1426, but Kemény later “corrected” the numbers, prompted by the works of Benkő and Kósa, and changed the year to 1398.37 Thus, it is possible that Kemény was using the original document or, more probably, a better quality copy, a hypothesis which seems plausible in part because some of the names are written using forms that were historically accurate (e.g. Gerew and Wissegrad for Gyerő and Visegrád). The third version of the text, which has not yet been published, is even more interesting. It is found in the copy of the November 1, 1426 transcription made by the convent of Kolozsmonostor (Cluj-Mănăştur), a copy which includes a plethora of explanatory notes.38 The original version of this transcription has not survived either, and again, Kemény has failed to indicate the source, but the use of medieval spellings for names and the almost correct date formula39 suggest that this version is in all likelihood a relatively close variant of the original.

A summary of the letter, dated to 1425, was published by György Fejér, who refers to the Codex Széchényianus held in the Manuscript Collection of the National Széchényi Library as the source, though in all likelihood he never actually set eyes on this codex, since he repeats word for word the corresponding passages from the first catalogue of the collection, which offers ample summaries of the contents of the individual holdings.40 Regrettably, the Codex Széchényianus, which once consisted of eleven tomes, cannot actually be identified among the holdings of the Széchényi Library at the moment, but I did manage, using the old catalogue, to find a version of the text in question dated to 1425 in a volume of copies made in 1792–1793.41 A reference in this work led me to the valuable collection of Dániel Cornides,42 but since this collection also failed to indicate the sources on which it was based, I again failed to find any version of the text dating back earlier than the second half of the eighteenth century, and thus also failed to come any closer to the hypothetical original.

It was necessary to go into detail concerning these texts and the issues surrounding them because the absence of the original and the decisive role played by Benkő and Kemény in bringing the charter into “circulation” casts a shadow of doubt on the source in question.43 However, the manner in which the text has been passed on (down several branches, see Fig. 1) makes it seem highly unlikely that the charter is merely a fabrication cobbled together by erudite eighteenth-century source collectors (even if, given the confusion concerning the date of its composition, it is not free of all doubts). Of course, this alone hardly suffices to confirm its authenticity, and thus further study is necessary, more specifically, an examination of its contents.


Figure 1. The textual filiation of the July 1, 1426 charter issued by King Sigismund. I used bold to indicate what was allegedly the medieval original and its transcriptions, italics to indicate manuscript copies made in the Modern Era, and parentheses to indicate textual “witnesses” which today are either lost or inaccessible.

The fact that the source seems to correspond, from the perspective of its genre, to the age in which (one assumes for the moment) it was composed can be cited as evidence of its authenticity. The first examples of comparable “closed letters” (litterae clausae) date to the 1420s, i.e. documents in which only the address written on the exterior indicates the person to whom the letter is addressed, and in the text of the letter only “fideles dilecti” is used as a form of address, but in the line in which the dates are written various years of reign are given (often without the date for the Christian era).44 The various details mentioned in the text seem to correspond to the facts as we know them on the basis of other sources. For instance, there is mention of Miklós Apafi between 1399 and 1446 in the sources and of László Gyerőfi between 1411 and 1430.45 Sigismund was indeed in Visegrád in July of 1426, and he did indeed spend an extended period of time in Transylvania between November of 1426 and July of 1427, as he had promised to do.46 The announcement of the coming war was also accurate, since on June 12, 1426 the king wrote a letter to Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester, in which he indicated that he wanted to send three armies to the fields, in part to fight against the Hussites and in part to fight, under his leadership, against the Turks, who Dan II of Wallachia (1422–1431) had driven from his land at the end of May.47 The military campaign was indeed launched in the summer or autumn of that year in accordance with these plans, with only the slight alteration that the royal army was led not by the king himself, but by Pippo Spano, Count of Temes (Timiş).48

The written materials which have survived from the period in question draw a distinction, too, between members of the petty nobility who served as “familiaris” and those without lords (“dominos non habentes”). According to King Sigismund’s decree of 1435 (his so-called fifth decree), the former had to join the army at their lords’ expense as part of their lords’ banderia, while the latter had to do so at their own expense, under the leadership of the count of the county (“eorum comes parochianus”).49 It is quite clear that for the people who belonged to this second group, which was of little value on the battlefield anyway, the exemption in 1426 from having to participate in the military, which was a significant financial burden, came as a relief.

The language and tone of the source, however, are both problematic. While most of the words which seemed to me at first a bit unusual and more part of the Latin used in the Modern Era (for instance, words like conspectum, facunde, gratitudo, subsistens, and involutus) can actually be found in the charters of the time, the same cannot be said of the rare phrases built out of them (for instance “ingratius apparere non debet,” “exigere distulimus,” and “causis rationabilibus subsistentibus”).50 In some places, the sentences are so complex that they are almost incomprehensible, and the text is heavy with interpositions and stylistic frill. This baroque phrasing, furthermore, is coupled with a remarkably restrained and diplomatic tone. The king almost seems to be making excuses for himself to the Transylvanian nobility (which would be odd indeed) for his refusal to compel Romanians living on Church properties to pay the tithe. If one compares this with the clear and simple phrasing and style of similar orders,51 the difference is striking. Thus, while there are strong arguments in favor of considering the text authentic, given the absence of the original and the unusual stylistic features we would be wise to use the charter only with some qualifications and reservations.52

The question of authenticity, however, ultimately is of only secondary importance, since in my assessment we would not be able to use the document as a source in a discussion of the question of the Romanian-speaking communities and the Church tithe even if its authenticity were beyond any doubt. If we interpret the phrase “decima Volahorum episcopalium” as a reference to the tithe as it is generally understood, then why would the document present the notion of the ruler not collecting this “tithe” for a time as some kind of unusual favor or kindness, and why would the nobility of the province complain of releasing it (to the Church!)? Collecting the tithe, after all, was hardly possible without the assistance of the secular authorities (“brachium seculare”) and in particular the support of the king and the participation of the county authorities.53 Nonetheless, in the Middle Ages it did not become an official state tax, since at least in principle the justification for the collection of the tithe was the notion that it was “Christ’s inheritance.”54 In other words, it was the rightful property of the Church and the Church alone. Similarly, although the nobility often came into conflict with the higher clergy over the issue of the tithe, these conflicts never broke out over questions of principle, but rather over the practical matters concerning the tithing on the estates of the noblemen or over personal differences. In the question of how the bishop taxed his own serfs (with a tax, furthermore, that he was entitled, as a “religious right,” to collect from every member of the Catholic Church), laymen quite certainly had no say whatsoever.

One might propose as a solution to this dilemma the changing relationship between the state and the tithe, which was shifting because of the growing threat posed by the Ottoman Empire. Following defeat in the Battle of Nicopolis, at diet held in Temesvár (Timişoara/Temeschwar) in October 1397, Sigismund decreed, at the prompting of the barons and noblemen, that as long as the war with the “pagans” was still underway, every figure of the Church was obliged to surrender half of his income55 for the defense of the border. Furthermore, according to Sigismund’s decree, estate owners were to turn over half of the tithe collected from their serfs directly to the individuals designated by the assembly.56 This measure was still in effect in 1439 (since the threat posed by the Ottoman Empire had hardly vanished,)57 and according to some of the scolars this may well explain the king’s and the nobility’s interest in the question of the tithe in 1426.

An essay was recently published on the implementation of paragraph 63 of the 1397 law, and the conclusions reached in this essay make it easier to verify the above hypothesis.58 Two of the findings are important from the perspective of the question at hand here. One of them is the observation that, when paying this wartime tax, the figures of the Church always turned over precisely the same sum59 to the representatives of the king60 or his treasurer (a sum which varied only depending on the individual institution in question). The exact amount was determined by those compelled to pay it in the course of negotiations with the king,61 and it was not changed at the councils which were later held and announced every year (where the only question was whether or not someone would be given an exemption for the year in question).62 Thus, this wartime tax can be considered a sort of “flat fee,” and it did not in fact depend on the actual income for a given year (the stipulation of the 1397 law notwithstanding).63 Indeed, the state made no effort to determine the actual annual revenues of the churchmen or to seize its precise share of them.

Furthermore, as was determined in the aforementioned article, the misleading phrasing of some of the charters notwithstanding, the tax in question in fact was only paid by the members of the middle layer of the Church, i.e. the provosts and their chapters, the archdeacons, and some of the monastic orders (the Benedictines and the Premonstratensians), not the bishops. The bishops contributed to the defense of the country by keeping their banderia ready and armed (as indeed is indicated in the document allegedly from 1426 under examination here).64 They were only able to do this, of course, by using their incomes as prelates, the vast majority of which came from the tithes collected from the serfs on their estates.65 Thus, it would hardly have been in the interests of the state to have attempted to put these incomes under its direct administration (furthermore, it would have been a violation of canon law). This could only be done when a seat was left empty. When a bishop died, Sigismund often left his diocese under the control of a secular “governor,” and the tithes that were collected from the estates were used to strengthen defenses in the southern borders.66 This practice, however, cannot have been the solution adopted in the case of the situation described in the July 1, 1426 document, since Balázs Csanádi (1424–1427) was serving as Bishop of Transylvania at the time.67

Thus, in my view, the phrase “decima Volahorum,” if indeed existed at all, did not mean the “normal” Church tithe. Rather, it must have been some kind of royal tax which Romanians, specifically, were obliged to pay to the royal treasury. One could mention, as a comparable example, the charter of 1293, in which King Andrew III of Hungary exempted the 60 Romanian families who were going to be settled on the estates of Fülesd (Feneş) and Enyed (Aiud) of the Transylvanian chapter from payment of the so-called fiftieth (“quinquagesima ovium”)68 and the tithe (“decima”). The text is very precise in this case and specifies that this latter is a royal tax too, not a Church tithe.69 Prodan interprets the mention of a tax in both the 1293 document and the 1426 document as a synonym for the fiftieth.70 This interpretation is interesting in part because sources indicate that Sigismund collected the fiftieth from the Romanians of the Transylvanian chapter, neglecting its aforementioned exemption. This happened because the king allegedly bore a grudge against the Transylvanian elite, perhaps because of its mass participation in the uprising of 1403. The chapter only regained its right to keep the “quinquagesima” from Regent János Hunyadi in 1446.71 In this context, it is easier to understand why the nobility of the province protested in 1426 against the favors granted to the Church landlords regarding the collection of the “Romanian tithe” (i.e. the fiftieth). The goal of the king, however, is quite clear from the text: with the exemption, he sought to strengthen military potential of the Church.

Evidence Found in Economic Documents from the Late Middle Ages

Thus, the letter from 1426 does not suffice to prove that the Romanians living on Church estates in Transylvania were compelled to pay the (Church) tithe. Apart from this document, there are no other sources which one could cite in support of this contention. The lists and registries which were drawn up in the Late Middle Ages, furthermore, clearly reveal this notion to be false. In the records concerning the incomes of the Transylvanian chapter in 1477, 1496, and 1504, villages which paid their taxes in sheep (i.e. the villages with Romanian populations) are clearly distinguished from the settlements which paid the Church tithe, i.e. paid the tithe in grain and wine.72 Even if it were possible, in principle, that some of the latter settlements had Romanian populations (too),73 it is still clearly obvious that the vast majority of Romanian villages were not obliged to pay the tithe. The urbarium which was drawn up sometime around 1552 for the estates of the Transylvania bishopric does not indicate which settlements were obliged to pay the tithe and which were not, but the villages which are identified as Romanian (“Walacalis”) or under the stewardship of a so-called “kenezeus” (head of a local Romanian community)74 do not figure in the 1587–1589 tithe-lease registry listing the settlements of the seven Transylvanian counties which paid the tithe.75


As this discussion has shown, there is no real evidence in the sources in support of the contention according to which the Romanians living on Church estates in Transylvania were in a disadvantageous position, from the perspective of an obligation to pay the tithe, in comparison with the serfs living on royal or noble estates (through this contention which has gained widespread acceptance in the secondary literature and is often repeated as something of a cliché).76 In fact, the same principle applied to all of them in the Late Middle Ages: they could only be compelled to pay the tithe if they had settled on so-called “Christian lands” (i.e. in settlements which earlier had been inhabited by Catholics). At most one could suggest that in their implementation of this principle the bishop and the chapter were more consistent when dealing with their own estates than when dealing with the estate of others. This question, however, will have to await further study.

Archival sources

Arhivele Naţionale ale României, Serviciul Judeţean Cluj al Arhivelor Naţionale, [Cluj County Branch of the Romanian National Archives], Cluj-Napoca (SJAN-CJ)

Colecţia colegiului reformat Cluj [Collection of the Calvinist college in
Kolozsvár] (Fond 890)

Biblioteca Academiei Române [Romanian Academy Library], Filiala Cluj [Cluj-Napoca Branch], Cluj-Napoca (BAR-CJ)

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Diplomatikai Levéltár [Diplomatic Archive] (DL)

Magyar Tudományos Akadémia Könyvtár és Információs Központ [Library and Information Centre of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences], Budapest (MTAKt), Kézirattár és Régi Könyvek Gyűjteménye [Departement of Manuscripts and Rare Books]

Ms. TörtOkl 2o15–26 és 4o31, Daniel Cornides, Diplomatarium, 13 vols.

Országos Széchényi Könyvtár [National Széchényi Library], Budapest (OSzK), Kézirattár [Manuscripts Collection]

Fol. Lat. 1119., Chartae Transsylvanicae diversi argumenti ex documentis fide dignis descriptae.


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DocRomHist C = Sabin Belu, Ioan Dani, Aurel Răduţiu, Viorica Pervain, Konrad G. Gündisch, Marionela Wolf, Adrian Rusu, Susana Andea, Lidia Gross, Adinel Dincă, eds. Documenta Romaniae Historica: C. Transilvania. 7 vols. Bucureşti: Editura Academiei, 1977–2014.

DocRomHist D = Ştefan Pascu, Constantin Cihodaru, Konrad G. Gündisch, Damaschin Mioc, Viorica Pervain, eds. Documenta Romaniae Historica: D. Relaţii între ţările române [Documenta Romaniae Historica: On Relations Among the Romanian Lands]. Bucureşti: Editura Academiei, 1977.

DocVal = Antonius Fekete-Nagy and Ladislaus Makkai, eds. Documenta historiam Valachorum in Hungaria illustrantia usque ad annum 1400 p. Christum. Vol. 29. of Études sur l’Europe Centre-Orientale. Ostmitteleuropäische Bibliothek. Budapest, 1941.

KmJkv = Jakó, Zsigmond, ed. A kolozsmonostori konvent jegyzőkönyvei (1289–1556) [Record Books of the Kolozsmonostor Convent (1289–1556)]. 2 vols. Vol. 17 of Publicationes Archivi Hungariae Nationales 2: Fontes. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1990.

Hurmuzaki = Eudoxiu Hurmuzaki, Nicolae Densuşianu, eds. Documente privitoare la istoria românilor [Documents on Romanian History]. 7 vols. Bucuresci, 1887–1897.

RI = Wilhelm Altmann, ed. Die Urkunden Kaiser Sigmunds 1410–1437. 2 vols. Vol. 11/1–2 of Regesta Imperii. Innsbruck, 1896–1900.

Ub = Franz Zimmermann, Carl Werner, Georg Müller, Gustav Gündisch, Herta Gündisch, Konrad G. Gündisch and Gernot Nussbächer, eds. Urkundenbuch zur Geschichte der Deutschen in Siebenbürgen. 7 vols. Hermannstadt–Bucureşti: Verein für Siebenbürgische Landeskunde, 1892–1991.

ZsOkl = Elemér Mályusz, Iván Borsa, Norbert C. Tóth, Tibor Neumann, Bálint Lakatos, Gábor Mikó, eds. Zsigmondkori oklevéltár [Document Archive from the Era of King Sigismund]. 14 vols. Vol. 1, 3–4, 22, 25, 27, 32, 37, 39, 41, 43, 49, 52, 55 of Publicationes Archivi Hungariae Nationales 2: Fontes. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó–MNL OL, 1951–2013.


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1* The research has been implemented with the support provided from the National Research, Development and Innovation Fund of Hungary, financed under the K 119 430 funding scheme, and the Hungarian Academy of Science Domus Hungarica Program.

Schmid, “Byzantinisches Zehntwesen.” See also: Zimmermann, “Zehnt,” 496.

2 Richard, “The Establishment,” 45–46.

3 COD, 235. See Schabel and Tsougarakis, “Pope Innocent III.”

4 Kemény, “Bruchstück.”

5 [1398]: Benkő, Milkovia, 2: 321–23, see 320 (Kemény dates it [“Bruchstück,” 385] to 1425 or 1426); 1468: Szeredai, Notitia, 103–4; Batthyány, Leges, 3: 529–30; 1498: ibid., 609; 1500: Szeredai, Notitia, 120 (fragment).

6 Pâclişanu, “Dişmele.”

7 Lupşa, Catolicismul şi românii, 46–52.

8 Prodan, Iobăgia, 1: 53–57.

9 Csizmadia, “A tized Erdélyben,” 44–45.

10 Wagner, “Register des Zehnten,” 203, 219.

11 Rusu, “Sinodul de la Florenţa,” 97–98, 111.

12 Pop, De manibus Vallacorum, 398, 401–5.

13 A geographical and historical region most of which today lies in southwestern Romania and northeastern Serbia.

14 Achim, “Les Roumains;” idem, “Disputa din episcopia de Cenad;” idem, “Consideraţii;” idem, “Disputa din Caransebeş.”

15 Kemény, “Bruchstück,” 382–85 (see also 390–92); Pâclişanu, “Dişmele,” 456–57; Prodan, Iobăgia, 1: 53–54; Achim, “Les Roumains,” 11–13; idem, “Disputa din episcopia de Cenad,” 169–70, 172–73; idem, “Consideraţii,” 73–76; idem, “Disputa din Caransebeş,” 189–92. Only Lupşa, who approaches the question from the perspective of grievances, contends that even as early as the fourteenth century several attempts were made to compel the Romanians to pay the tithe (Lupşa, Catolicismul şi românii, 47–50), but in support of this contention he either refers to sources which are falsifications or offers arbitrary interpretations of the documents on which he draws.

16 1262(?): CDTrans, 1: no. 235 (see no. 221); 1293: ibid., no. 519.

17 1358: CDTrans, 3: no. 985 (Szád [today Marosberkes/Birchiş] and its surroundings, in Arad County); 1377: DocRomHist C, 15: 281–93, 296–302 (Aranyosmeggyes [Medieşul Aurit] and its attached estates). See Pall, “Românii din părţile sătmărene,” 14–18, 24–26, 29–30. There is consensus in the Hungarian and Romanian secondary literature that Catholic proselytism met with only limited success among the Romanians. Only some of the Romanian elites of Karánsebes (Caransebeş) and Hátszeg (Haţeg) and their surroundings permanently converted to Catholicism. See Juhász, “Nyugati misszió,” 263–78; Rusu, “Sinodul de la Florenţa,” 117–27; Achim, “La féodalité roumaine;” idem, “Convertirea,” 85, 88–92, 93; idem, “Disputa din Caransebeş,” 187, 193, 198–200.

18 CDTrans, 2: no. 619; 3: no. 609–10.

19 Kemény, “Bruchstück,” 385; Pâclişanu, “Dişmele,” 457–58; Achim, “Les Roumains,” 15, 16–17; idem, “Disputa din episcopia de Cenad,” 169–70; idem, “Consideraţii,” 77. According to another interpretation which is less persuasively grounded in the sources (Csizmadia, “A tized Erdélyben,” 44; Rusu, “Sinodul de la Florenţa,” 98), the obligation to pay the tithe only began to be placed on the Romanians of Transylvania in 1468 (permanently or temporarily), but it was placed on all Romanians, with no exceptions (see also Lupşa, Catolicismul şi românii, 50–52).

20 Pâclişanu, “Dişmele,” 457–58; Achim, “Les Roumains,” 5–8, 12–17; idem, “Disputa din episcopia de Cenad,” 170–73, 176–78; idem, “Disputa din Caransebeş,” 189–92.

21 Kemény, “Bruchstück,” 385–92; Pâclişanu, “Dişmele,” 458, 460–61; Achim, “Les Roumains,” 11–12, 15, 16; idem, “Disputa din episcopia de Cenad,” 172–73, 175; idem, “Disputa din Caransebeş,” 189. Prodan disagrees. He contends that the decrees were never actually put into practice, and thus at the end of the Middle Ages the Romanians of Transylvania, like the Romanians of Hungary, did not pay the tithe (Prodan, Iobăgia, 1: 54–57).

22 Pâclişanu, “Dişmele,” 457–58; Lupşa, Catolicismul şi românii, 49.

23 Kemény, “Bruchstück,” 385; Achim, “Les Roumains,” 12.

24 Military units in medieval Hungary which were identified by the banner of the nobleman or high-ranking member of the clergy under which they fought.

25 The term refers to a relationship unique to the feudal society of medieval Hungary: the “familiaris” performed services for the lord usually for payment in cash or in kind, not for estates, and unlike in Western Europe, where the relationship between vassal and liege was usually life long, the “familiaris” could sever ties to his lord if it was in his perceived interests. See Engel, Realm of St Stephen, 126–28.

26 The various editions: with a date of 1398: Benkő, Milkovia, 2: 321–23; Kósa, De publica, 50–51; CDHung, 10/3: 213–14; Kemény, “Erdélynek,” 30–32; Moldovanu, “Contribuţiuni,” 172; Hurmuzaki, 1/2: 400; DocVal 504–5 (summary). With a date of 1426: Moldovanu, “Contribuţiuni,” 234; Hurmuzaki, 1/2: 538–39. Summaries of content with a date of 1425: CDHung, 10/8: 606; Hurmuzaki, 1/2: 533.

27 In some editions (Moldovanu, “Contribuţiuni,” 234; Hurmuzaki, 1/2: 539) the tenth Hungarian (1396) and fifteenth Roman (1425) regnal year figures in the clause (as an alternative), but clearly these dates do not agree either.

28 Sigismund was crowned King of Hungary on March 31, 1387, and King of Bohemia on July 28, 1420. He, however, considered his reign as King of Germany to have begun not with his coronation in Aachen on November 8, 1414, but rather with his election on September 20, 1410, although at the time only two of the electors voted for him, giving him a total of three votes, including his own, and so the election which was (re)held on July 21, 1411 should be considered valid (Hoensch, Kaiser Sigismund, 63, 148–57, 186–89, 293). For most of the period of his reign (1387–1401, 1409–1437), in contrast with standard practice in the Angevin period, dates were recorded using not the calendar year, but rather simply beginning from the day on which he had taken the throne (Engel, Archontológia, 1: 528–29, respectively 549–64, passim).

29 On the basis of the three royal titles and the date given for the day, it is quite clear that the letter should be dated to sometime between 1421 and 1432, since following his coronation as Holy Roman Emperor on May 31, 1433, Sigismund marked his title as emperor and the year of his rule in these kinds of decrees (see also CDHung, 10/8: 648, 649).

30 See ZsOkl, 1: 594 (between no. 5386 and 5387).

31 On the shifting use of Roman numerals and numbers written using letters in the same date formula see Házi, Sopron, 1/2: 220, 261, 269, 307; CDHung, 10/8: 648, 649, stb.

32 BAR-CJ, Ms. KJ 288/C, 3: 91–92.

33 For a short history of the collection, see Jakó, “Forschung der Quellen,” 71–72.

34 SJAN-CJ, Collection of the Calvinist college in Kolozsvár (Fond 890), no. 46, 235–36 (dated to 1426). The other copy, which is mentioned by Kemény (ibid., no. 43, 93), is inaccessible at the moment. Since for the most part the Székely collection contains the text of charters dealing with the Apafi and Bethlen families (including the abovementioned source), it seems possible to me that these texts were copied from materials held today in the Erdélyi Fiscalis Levéltár Apafiana (i.e. the materials on the Apafi family in the Transylvanian Fiscalis Archive), which are part of the National Archives of Hungary. See also Trócsányi, Erdélyi kormányhatósági, 545, 559–60.

35 Kemény, a famous collector of source materials, intended to publish a comprehensive corpus relating to the history of Transylvania. On his work see Jakó, “Forschung der Quellen,” 74–76.

36 BAR-CJ, Ms. KJ 288/D, 4: no. 124.

37 “regnorum nostrorum annorum Hungariae quadragesimo <videlicet XI>, Romanorum XVI <vero II> et Bohemiae sexto” (BAR-CJ, Ms. KJ 288/C, 2: 307–9).

38 BAR-CJ, Ms. KJ 288/D, 5: no. 26.

39 “regnorum nostrorum anno Hungariae XXXIX, Romanorum vero XVI, Bohemiae VI” (ibid).

40 Miller, Catalogus, 1: 504. See CDHung, 10/8: 606.

41 OSzK, Fol. Lat. 1119, ff. 188r-v. Most of the volume was copied from Cornides’ collection, along with shorter sections from the works of Fejérvári, Pray, and Hevenesi.

42 MTAKt, Ms. TörtOkl 2o16: 288–89. (I was able to obtain a photographic copy of the text thanks to Sándor Előd Ősz and Klára Láng. I offer them my grateful thanks for their assistance.) Here, the dating of the charter is the following: “regnorum nostrorum annorum Hungariae Xmo, Romanorum XVIo et Bohemiae sexto.” For a brief summary of the work and pursuits of Cornides and an assessment of his collection, see Jakó, “Forschung der Quellen,” 72–73.

43 Each of the two esteemed source collectors has been tied in the secondary literature to falsifications. On Benkő, see CDTrans, 1: no. 7, 148. On Kemény, see Mályusz, “Kemény József;” Rady, “Forgeries.”

44 1422: DF 239437 = ZsOkl, 9: no. 120; Házi, Sopron, 1/2: 220, CDHung, 10/6: 480–81 = 555–56 (the latter was mistakenly dated to 1423); 1424: Házi, Sopron, 1/2: 261; 1425: ibid., 269–70 (and the postscript); 1426: ibid., 306–7; 1435: CDHung, 10/8: 648, 648–49. These were all sent to cities (Pozsony [Bratislava/Pressburg], Sopron [Ödenburg], Bártfa [Bardejov/Bartfeld]), which is why they have survived.

45 Engel, Genealógia, Becsegergely nem 2. tábla: Apafi [Becsegergely kindred, second chart: family tree of the Apafi family], and also ibid., Mikola rokonsága 2. tábla: Gyerőfi (szamosfalvi) [Mikola kindred, second chart: the family tree of the Gyerőfi of Szamosfalva family].

46 Engel and C. Tóth, Itineraria, 120–22.

47 Iorga, Acte şi fragmente, 3: 80–81. Its regesta: RI, 11/2: no. 6667. See Pervain, “Lupta antiotomană,” 103–4; Cîmpeanu, “Dan al II-lea,” 62–63. I would like to thank András W. Kovács for the assistance he provided searching for and locating important works in the Romanian secondary literature.

48 The postponements of trials from early June to October 6 (DL 80042v, 89876, 80056, 80057) because one of the two parties entered the military campaign contain information on the destination, the enemy, the commander, and individual participants. The royal army was still in arms on September 5 and October 8, so the trials that had already been delayed were again postponed from October 6 to January 13, 1427 (DF 268668 = DocRomHist D, 1: 240–41, and DF 286463). Pippo Spano (Filippo Buondelmonti degli Scolari by his full name) was in Orsova/Orşova on September 8 (DL 87996), though we do not know whether he was still on his way to his destination or already returning. The timing of the military campaign can thus be interpreted in two different ways. Most scholars put it sometime in July and/or August (Pervain, “Lupta antiotomană,” 104–6; Engel, “Ozorai Pipo,” 266, 293 [note 133]), but others come to the conclusion that it took place in September and October (Cîmpeanu, “Dan al II-lea,” 63–64). The success of the campaign was short-lived, since by the end of the year the Turks had again managed to drive the prince, who supported the Hungarians, from the land (see also DocRomHist D, 1: 242–43, 247–48). Dan II’s place on the throne was only secured after two more interventions by King Sigismund (in March and April and then again in July of 1427). See also Pervain, “Lupta antiotomană,” 107–14; Engel and C. Tóth, Itineraria, 121–22. Cîmpeanu, “Dan al II-lea,” 65–70 only makes mention of the incursion which took place in the spring.

49 Decreta 1301–1457, 279–80 (paragraph 2).

50 I used the search software of the digital library on medieval Hungary (www.mol.arcanum.hu/medieval).

51 See footnote 44.

52 Norbert C. Tóth, who has a thorough knowledge of all of the charters issued in Hungary in 1426 as the editor of the relevant volume of the corpus related to the Sigismund era, has unequivocally pronounced both Sigismund’s letter and the November 1, 1426 transcription falsifications (ZsOkl, 13: no. 804, 1270).

53 See for instance 1397: Decreta 1301–1457, 173 (paragraph 66); 1411: ibid., 233–34 (paragraph 6); 1538: Szeredai, Notitia, 159; 1553: ibid., 174.

54 “decime viris ecclesiasticis debeant provenire” (1357: DocRomHist C, 11: 86); “patrimonium crucifixi” (1403: DF 287051; 1432: Ub, 4: 458, 492; 1435: ibid., 563; 1486: DF 292085); “patrimonium Christi” (1468: DF 277565; 1498: DF 277631; 1500: DF 277657, 277662); “patrimonium ecclesie Christi” (1500: DF 277658); “patrimonium crucis Christi“ (1500: DF 277653); “patrimonium episcopi” (1504: DF 277684).

55 Sometimes the papacy considered requiring the Transylvanian parish priests to pay half their incomes as an extraordinary contribution or tax, but Sigismund always blocked this. See also 1393: Ub, 3: 50–51; 1412: ibid., 515–17, 547–49. This tax should not be confused with the annates, which clericals who had received an ecclesiastical benefice had to pay to the papal treasury. It also consisted, eventually, of half of the first year’s income of a benefice.

56 Decreta 1301–1457, 172 (paragraph 63).

57 Deér, “Zsigmond király,” 189; Engel, Realm of St Stephen, 227.

58 C. Tóth et al., Pozsonyi viszály, 179–99, 412–16.

59 Ibid., 185–87 (table 8).

60 On these individuals see ibid., 195–96.

61 Ibid., 193. See 1397: ZsOkl, 1: no. 5098, 5122; 1398: ibid., no. 5559, 5617; 1399: ibid., no. 5899.

62 C. Tóth et al., Pozsonyi viszály, 191–93, 414–15.

63 Ibid., 188, 193, 414.

64 Ibid., 197–98, 415–16. Towards the end of the period of King Sigismund’s reign, the Transylvanian bishops had to keep 150 so-called “lances fournies” (between 450 and 600 armed men) at the ready. The banderia were used first and foremost in the troop movements towards Wallachia (1415/1417: Decreta 1301–1457, 398; 1432/1433: ibid., 420).

65 1436: “Georgius episcopus dicte ecclesie Transsilvane ... pro defensione et conservatione partium nostrarum Transsilvanarum banderium suum sive gentes suas exercituales in proximo contra rabidos insultus perfidorum Turcorum easdem partes nostras et ipsarum confinia devastantium levare et transmittere debet atque tenetur, proptereaque omnes reditus et proventus sui episcopatus ante tempus limitatum sibi necessario debet administrari” (Ub, 4: 600–1). In time, a view gained widespread acceptance according to which the bishops had the right to collect the tithe because of their obligation to defend the homeland: 1500: [decime] “pro defensione regni ordinati sunt” (DF 277658, 277653); 1504: [Nicolaus de Bochka episcopus ecclesie Transsilvanensis] “gentes suas, quas pro patrie illius defensione continue alere tenetur, ex proventibus huiusmodi decimalibus servare ... habet” (DF 277684).

66 Engel, Realm of St Stephen, 227; C. Tóth, “A főpapi székek betöltése,” 112–14.

67 Engel, Archontológia, 1: 70.

68 This term refers to a tax which was levied in Serbia, Hungary, and Transylvania in the thirteenth–sixteenth centuries on pastoral Romanians who had to give a sheep or a lamb for every fifty sheep or goats.

69 “ab omnique exactione seu collecta regali scilicet quinquagesima, decima vel quacumque alia iidem Olaci extorres habeantur, penitus et immunes”; “nullus collector seu executor regalis decime seu quinquagesime vel collectarum quemlibet pro tempore constitutus Olacos ipsius capituli ... audeat molestare, nec quinquagesimam, decimam seu exactionem aliam quamlibet exigere presumat ab eisdem” (Ub, 1: 195–196). See also CDTrans, 1: no. 342, 519–20.

70 In 1374, the Romanian serfs of the Várad [Oradea/Grosswardein] chapter also paid one-tenth of their sheep as a “fiftieth” tax (DocRomHist C, 14: 700). See also Prodan, Iobăgia, 1: 53, 54–55. Prodan (ibid.,

53) also considers it possible that the 1293 “decima” refers to a swine or bee tithe, which in the Late Middle Ages were among the feudal taxes that were paid by Romanians (i.e. among the taxes which were not specific to religious belonging). Ibid., 67.

71 On the exemptions enjoyed by the estates owned by the chapter: 1293: Ub, 1: 195–96, see 1331: CDTrans, 2: no. 708. On the measures taken by Sigismund which trampled these privileges underfoot and on the restoration which took place under János Hunyadi: 1446: DL 31142 (see also 1446: DL 277507; 1453: DF 277531; 1458: DF 277538–277539). The sources contain no similar data concerning the estates of the Transylvanian bishops, but they may have obtained exemptions, since they are not mentioned in the 1461 registry of the fiftieth (DL 25989. Pâclişanu, “Un registru”).

72 The serfs of the following settlements paid the fiftieth: Fülesd, Zalatna (Zlatna), Ompolyica (Ampoiţa), Metesd (Meteş), Bokorháza (Presaca Ampoiului), Muzsnaháza (Măgina), Nagyorbó (Gârbova de Sus), Kisorbó (Gârboviţa), Oláhbocsárd (Bucerdea Română), Diómál (Geomal), Banya (unidentified), Pád (Spini), Répás (Râpaş) (1496: Barabás, “Tizedlajstromok,” 436). Alongside explicit data (CDTrans, 1: no. 519; 3: no. 335, 498; DF 275267), the designation “Olah-/Wolah” (DF 277596, 275410, 277694, DL 36354) indicates that these communities were Romanian, as does the mention of the local ruler called “kenezius” (CDTrans, 2: no. 550, DL 30962) and the tax “sheep fiftieth” (Pâclişanu, “Un registru,” 597), both of them being characteristic exclusively of Romanian communities. Grain and wine tithes were paid by the serfs living on the chapter estates of the following settlements: Kutyfalva (Cuci), Felenyed (Aiudu de Sus), Nagyenyed (Aiud/Engeten), Magyarorbó (Gârbova de Jos), Bocsárd (Bucerdea Vinoasă), Vajasd (Oiejdea), Borbánd (Bărăbanţ), Kisfalud (Miceşti), Gyulafehérvár (Alba Iulia/Weissenburg), Poklospatak (Pâclişa), Sóspatak (Şeuşa), Dálya (Daia Română/Dallendorf), Magyarcserged (Cergău Mare), Bolgárcserged (Cergău Mic/Kleinschergied), Kereztyenfalwa (today Székásgyepü [Presaca], see Ub, 4: 450–51), Buzd (Boz/Bussd) (1477: Barabás, “Tizedlajstromok,” 417; 1496: ibid., 421–22, 428–29; 1504: DF 277689, ff. 2v–3r, 7v–8r). The presence of a Catholic priest (CDTrans, 2: no. 549, 1041, 1059, 1075–1079; 3: no. 217–18; Ub, 3: 338, 369; KmJkv, 1: no. 112–13, 1099, 1403, 1514.; DF 277525; DL 31026, etc.) and the designations “Magyar” or “Zaz” (DF 277596, 277694, DL 28865, 36354) indicate that these settlements had Hungarian or Saxon populations. See also Map 1.

73 Kereztyenfalwa is mentioned in the fiftieth registry for 1461 too (Pâclişanu, “Un registru,” 600). By the end of the Middle Ages, people with Romanian names lived in Sóspatak, Dálya, and Poklospataka (cca 1470: DL 36312, pag. 3; 1496: Barabás, “Tizedlajstromok,” 430–32).

74 The urbarium includes six Romanian villages without names, in the area around Krakkó (Cricău/Krakau), Igen (Ighiu/Krapundorf), and Sárd (Şard), which were part of the estate of Gyulafehérvár. In addition to these settlements, Őregyház (Straja), Herepe (Hăpria), Rákos (Rachiş), Oláhlapád (Lopadea Veche), and Apahida (Păgida) can also be considered Romanian settlements, as could Tótfalu (Tăuţi), Sztolna (Stolna), Hidegszamos (Someşu Rece), Hévszamos (Someşu Cald), Egerbegy (Agârbiciu), Sólyomtelke (Corneşti), Köblös (Cubleşu), and Csinkó (a settlement which has since disappeared), which were part of the estate of Gyalu (Gilău). They all paid the fiftieth (Jakó, “Az erdélyi püspökség,” 108–11, 114–15). See also Map 1–2.

75 Jakó, Adatok, 20–75. 20–25, 52–61.

76 This is inconceivable if for no other reason than simply because this additional burden would have constituted clear disadvantages for the owners of Church estates and would have prompted their Romanian serfs to leave én masse. One notices that the historians who have espoused this notion limit it Transylvania proper. Achim, for instance, contends that Romanians living on the estates of the bishopric and chapter of Várad, which lies outside the historical region of Transylvania, did not pay the tithe (Achim, “Convertirea din zona Beiuşului,” 90).


(Map drawn by Béla Nagy)


(Map drawn by Béla Nagy)

pdfVolume 7 Issue 4 CONTENTS

The Organization of the Central Court of Justice in Transylvania in the Second Half of the Sixteenth Century

Zsolt Bogdándi
Research Institute of the Transylvanian Museum Society
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This study analyzes the organization of the independent Transylvanian central court of law, the so-called Royal/Voivodal/Princely Table (Tabula) and its court of appeal, the court of personal presence (personalis presentia), in light of the modest secondary literature, the dietary decisions, and archival sources. We offer a sketch of the organization of the Hungarian royal and Transylvanian voivodal court of law in order to present the model on which the central court system was established in the period of the Principality. We also present the characteristics of the functioning of the central court that can be attributed to the special features of Transylvanian society and the newly emerging state.

Keywords: Principality of Transylvania, Age of Principality, umpirage, courts of law, Princely Table


It is probably a commonplace by now that the political history of the new state that emerged in the eastern part of the Kingdom of Hungary, which was splitting up in the aftermath of the battle of Mohács (1526), is much better known than the economic, social, cultural, or legal history of this region. Uncommon topics, such as the organization and the functioning of the central judicial system of Early Modern Transylvania, have basically escaped the attention of historians, and thus the secondary literature on them is relatively poor.1 This is surprising, given that many of the sources (and in the case of family archives the clear majority) were produced in the course of court cases and thus primarily are documents which concern and reflect the functioning of the judicial branch.

This study presents the structure of the Transylvanian princely high court and its court of appeal, the court of personal presence, in the second half of the sixteenth century. We chose this period as the focus of our investigation as these were the decades during which the basic offices of the independent Transylvanian state, such as the autonomous courts of law, came into existence. These offices functioned according essentially to the same principles for the next ca. 150 years. We do address the so-called Princely Table in order to avoid confusion, as during the reigns of king elect János II Szapolyai (1556–1571) (also known as János Zsigmond) in Transylvania and in the counties of the Hungarian Kingdom that were attached to it (called the Partium2) royal high court and under the reign of the Báthorys (1571–1602), which lasted almost until the end of the period investigated here, a voivodal high court was functioning, though with a structure and jurisdiction that was somewhat different from the medieval royal and voivodal seat.

It is important to clarify the names that were used to denote the central court of the political entity in the given period. In the diplomatic sources, i.e. the summonses (evocationes) and the reports (relationes), the “court” (curia) is the most frequent term used. This term clearly referred to the Princely Table.3 From the plentiful examples that illustrate the identical meaning of the two terms, let us just refer to a few: in his mandate dated November 3, 1585, Zsigmond Báthory (voivode/prince of Transylvania with interruptions between 1585–1602), ordered nobles to send István Keresztúri to the high court (“coram nobis in curia nostra”) for the eighth day (octava) to stand trial for the acts of might of which he was accused.4 In the report of the bailiffs of the voivode, which is dated two days later and written in Hungarian, they referred to the court of law in the native Hungarian form: the suspects are called to appear at his Table (“táblájára”) and his court (“udvarába”) to give an explanation of their deed.5 Curia/Court/Table consequently were all used to denote the high court of the ruler. Most of the mandates of judges were issued in the name of the ruler. Cases in which the prosecutors referred to a mandate of the institutionalized high court, such as when in 1572 court scribes Dániel Vadai and Gábor Bősházi summoned someone on the mandate of the court of the ruler (“ex commissione sedis judiciariae spectabilis magnificentiae vestrae”), were rare.6

For those interested in the judicial system of Early Modern Transylvania, the scope of the sources on which one can touch when analyzing the characteristics of a certain period is limited. The decrees of the Transylvanian and Hungarian diets contain many measures on the central jurisdiction, but these measures formed only a framework, and sometimes it is rather unclear how the different acts, which in many cases simply reasserted previous regulations, were implemented. In order to understand the functioning of the so-called high (curial) courts, it is therefore necessary to study the documents they issued and the formulary books they composed. This is particularly true, given that the archive of the high court did not survive. In the period studied, of course, one cannot talk about an institutionalized archive of the Princely Table. The relevant documents were kept in the lodgments of the protonotaries (protonotarii), and after their deaths, these documents were inherited by their successors.7 It is possible that fragments of the “archives” of the protonotaries survived the upheavals of the age of the Principality and were incorporated into the Archive of the Transylvanian Royal Table (Tabula regia iudiciaria Transylvaniae), which was established at the beginning of the eighteenth century, and were only destroyed during the siege of Budapest in 1945. It is also not clear whether in the sixteenth century some kind of minutes (registrum) were kept during the functioning of the high court8 or the follow-up of a lawsuit was limited to the notes made by the protonotaries at the back of the mandates (mandatum) and sentences (litterae iudiciariae). Nor has any register survived of the distribution of letters of fines (litterae iudiciales) or the order of taking up (levata) and adjudicating the cases.

Antecedents: The Royal Curia and the Court of Law of the Voivode of Transylvania9

The structure of the medieval royal courts of law is well known, and their close association with the king’s court is well reflected by its name, “curia.” Since the legislative reform of King Matthias (1458–1490), three “major judges” were in position: the judge royal, (iudex curiae regiae), the count palatine, and the royal personal presence (personalis presentia regia).10 The royal court of law in Buda consisted of these chairs, the leading chair of which usually was the judge (személynök). By issuing summons with short deadlines (fifteen and thirty-two days), the royal court transformed itself into a permanent court of law.11 This permanence, however, is relative, as towards the end of the Middle Ages more and more cases to be continuously heard were postponed to a certain court period.12 These periods were more or less regularly held on the octava of the main feast days, such as on that of the octava of St. George, the octava of St. Michael, Epiphany, and the octava of St. Jacob.13 After the establishment of the Table, the court of the personal presence of the king did not cease to exist. In certain cases (in matters of knightly honor, major acts of might, and guardianships), the King acted as propria in persona. In matters of perfidy, the person was summoned to appear in front of the king, but the judgments were declared by the whole diet and the letters of sentence were issued in the name of the prelates, barons present, and the whole nobility. In the royal high court, a special chair was kept for the king, who sometimes occupied it. Apart from him, the members of this court were the ordinary judges, their deputies and protonotaries, the assessors, and a scribe for each protonotary. In preparing and deciding on the cases, as well as in general throughout the whole lawsuit, in most cases the protonotaries, who were the representatives with legal expertise, were the most important persons. With the establishment of the Royal Table the jurisdiction of the royal council also did not cease to exist. The king and the members of his council (prelates and barons) held court if one of the parties was not satisfied with the decision made at the high court and held the case in the personal presence of the king.14 On these occasions, the major judges, the protonotaries, and the assessors had the right to attend but were entitled neither to speak nor to vote. The case under appeal was presented by the judge under whose presidency the former decision had been made, and this decision was then either approved or changed.

In Transylvania, the voivodal court, following the pattern of the royal high court, was usually held in fixed locations connected to the Church feasts.15 The court periods were usually held first in Szentimre (Sântimbru) and Torda (Turda/Thorenburg) and later in Székelyvásárhely (Marosvásárhely, Târgu Mureş/Neumarkt), and from the end of the fifteenth century onwards more or less consistently in Kolozsvár (Cluj-Napoca/Klausenburg). In the early period, the dates of the courts changed frequently. From the fifteenth century onwards, usually four octavas were held, the octava after Epiphany, the octava of St. George, the birth of St. John the Baptist, and the octava of St. Michael. The holding of the sessions was later regulated with some minor modifications by the 1486 decree of King Matthias and in a decree of Wladislas II (1490–1516).16

The Foundation of the Princely Table

From the perspective of its foundations, the political entity that gradually came into existence in the eastern part of the Kingdom of Hungary following the fall of Buda (1541) could build on the juridical system sketched above. After the period between 1541 and 1556, which can be considered more as a period of orientation, the formation of the independent state of Transylvania took place after the end of 1556, during the period of Queen Isabella (1541–1559) and after the return of King elect János II Szapolyai. The decisions made in Kolozsvár at this time reflected the preparations for independent statehood. They ordered the election of judges, protonotaries, assessors, and a legal director (director causarum) on the condition that they could not claim a share of the income of the court of law, but they would be paid by the queen and her son based on an individual agreement.17 Despite the early statutes, the central juridical system did not come into existence immediately, and in the early stages its functioning was not undisturbed. The initial disorder is reflected in the archival sources, and it is also indicated by the lack of charters. There are no surviving documents from the first two court sessions, which decided on the “de iure” foundation of the high court at the end of 1556, even if theoretically they should have been exceptionally long. One year later, Queen Isabella, in a charter she issued in the market town of Torda on July 2, 1557, mentioned a court session to which the diet, which was also held in Torda beginning on June 1, postponed every lawsuit of all the three Transylvanian nations.18 The document, in reference to the decrees of the 1556 diet of Kolozsvár, approved almost verbatim the previous judgment of the voivodes of King Ferdinand, István Dobó and Ferenc Kendi (1553–1556).19 It is clear from a later source that the court session began on June 24 (“pro festo Nativitatis beati Joannis baptistae”), and here, unlike later, following the example of the medieval voivodal court of law, the cases of the three nations of Transylvania were heard together. The decree of the diet held in June 1557 probably referred to the same court session, when the lawsuits related to the acts of might committed since the incursion of Péter Petrovics20 were postponed to the octava of the feast of the Holy Trinity.21 Then the octava of Michaelmas day was also mentioned, to which the “bigger” lawsuits were postponed, but there is no surviving evidence relating to that court session, nor is there any similar source on the session of March 1557, to which a letter of sentence refers.22 The decree of the diet of June 1557 relating to the judicial system was limited to a stipulation according to which eight assessors should partake in the work of the court of law. This stipulation probably goes back to medieval origins. In a mandate issued in 1561, nine assessors were listed. Thus, when each seat of the assessors was filled, the Princely Table consisted of twelve legists, including the two protonotaries and the legal director (director causarum).23 It is worth noting that the Transylvanian legal director took part in the work of the Table, because there is no information indicating the involvement of the director causarum of the Partium area in the work of the high court. The jurisdiction accessible to him was probably limited to the counties in Partium.

It is clear from the above that the activity of the Princely Table was not permanent or continuous, but rather was connected to different sessions, so-called termini for all the nations of the estates (Transylvanian nobles, nobles from the Partium, Székelys) as well as to the Transylvanian diets. After the reorganization of the high court, the aim was to have two court sessions a year for each nation, but the dates varied frequently and sometimes sessions were cancelled. As far as one can tell on the basis of the decrees, the six legislative sessions were reinstalled during the reign of István Báthory (1571–1586) at the end of 1571, with some adjustments of the previously indicated dates. The two court sessions of the Transylvanians were held beginning on the Monday after Reminiscere Sunday and the octava of St. Luke, that of the Székelys’ beginning on the octava of Epiphany and June 1 and for the Hungarian nobles from Partium beginning on the octava of St. George and December 1. Not counting Sundays, for the latter the two sessions were ordered to last for twenty-five days and the sessions for the first two nations were to last thirty days.24 This structure was formalized in the Approbatae.25

The Princely Table also had jurisdiction in the cases appealed from the court of the Saxons, the Universitas,26 the seat of which was in Szeben (Sibiu/Hermannstadt), but without a separate court session for them their cases usually were discussed during the diets.27 There was no need for a separate Saxon court session, as the cases of Saxons were only rarely appealed to the princely high court, and they only could have been summoned at their own court.28

The diet held in March 1557 decided, on the question of the location of the courts (both in the case of the lawsuits of the Hungarian nobles of Partium and the Transylvanians), that they were to be held where the royal majesties were actually residing, but for the periods to follow separate sessions were to be held for the Transylvanian nobility, the Székelys, and the nobles of Partium.29 In the Middle Ages, if the king was presiding at the high court, the court held its meetings in one of the council chambers of his palace. In other cases, however, it met in the house of the Primate of the country (the Archbishop of Esztergom) in Buda, probably at the same place where the “official room and archive” of the smaller chancery was kept.30 It seems likely that, based on medieval model, when the ruler was in Gyulafehérvár (Alba Iulia/Weissenburg) and took part in the work of the princely high court, the location of the sessions was one of the rooms of the princely palace, while on other occasions the previously mentioned domus iudiciaria, i.e. the lodge of the protonotary (and in the meantime certainly of the smaller chancery), could have served as the site of the trials. This was true, of course, only when the court session was held in Gyulafehérvár. Because of the features of the new state, in order to meet the needs of the nations that formed the state, the princely court of law was itinerant. Thus, one cannot speak of a permanent seat for the Princely Table. In Kolozsvár, Vásárhely, or Torda the domus iudicaria was a rented lodge that suited the needs of the court.31

At the abovementioned 1557 diet, a decree was issued which according to Zsolt Trócsányi “disposes a separate high court for the Partium region… (let Bálint Földváry be the protonotary, let the separate Hungarian high court be established).”32 However, in my assessment, in light of the legal evidence this decision did not undo the unity of the princely high court. In the text of the decree there is no reference to a high court of Partium. The decree mentions only an expert protonotarius designated to judge on the cases brought by Hungarian nobles from the Partium region, similarly to his fellow who was working in Transylvania. This was also when the question of the number of assessors was raised (“assessoribus pluribus iuris peritis sedem iudiciariam ornare dignentur”), with members who were probably more familiar with the customary law of the Hungarian nobility from the Partium. Accordingly, in 1559, the Table adjudicated during the St. Luke’s day court session of the Hungarian nobility from Partium held in Gyulafehérvár as a unified body, and as had become customary in Hungarian documentary practice by the mid-fifteenth century, the protonotaries indicated on a letter of sentence who the person was who would revise and issue the document (“Lecta et extradata per me magistrum Valentinum de Fewldwar serenissimae regiae majestatis prothonotarium”), and in addition, the document was also indorsed by László Mekcsei (“Coram me Ladislao de Mekche eiusdem serenissime regie majestatis prothonotarium”).33 The jurisdiction of the two protonotaries had not yet been clearly defined, so there was no person who was assigned exclusively to the cases of the Hungarian nobles of Partium, the Székelys, or the Transylvanian nobles. This is probably why, during the court session held for the Hungarian nobility from Partium after St. Luke’s day, the order of their signatures on a letter of sentence that was issued in a case concerning a major act of might was just the opposite.34 The joint jurisdiction of the two protonotaries was also expressed in a decree issued in June 1558, according to which justice was to be served in the presence of both persons and both persons should agree on the incomes and the usage of the seal.35 This was probably done in order to avoid the related controversies which would have arisen if a person who was expert in Hungarian law were to be chosen to act as president of the high court, to be present at the hearings, to handle the income of the court, and to pay the assessors from this income and turn over the rest to the treasury.36 This position, however, referred to as super intendens, most probably remained vacant, as there are no references to the activities of this figure in the legal evidence or the later decrees; a person with the similar task of presiding over the high court was only invested in 1589. It is more important that at the same time, on the basis of a medieval model,37 a court of appeal to the high court was founded. This made it clear that the cases judged by the protonotaries could be brought to the personal presence of the queen and her son, who judged with their councilors.

The Court of Personal Presence (personalis presentia)

In the late medieval period, the king held a court of appeal with the prelates and barons in cases in which a person was discontent with the decision reached by the major royal courts and their protonotaries at a trial held at the high court and appealed to the personal presence of the king.38 In these cases, the judges ordinary, the protonotaries, and the assessors had the right to attend but were not entitled to take the floor;39 the case appealed was presented by the judge ordinary in front of whom the case previously had been presented, and then the decision of the first instance was either approved or changed. Precisely this procedure was employed in Transylvania in the second half of the sixteenth century: the case was presented by the protonotary in front of whom the case originally had been presented; then the decision was either changed or approved at the personalis presentia, and the letter of sentence was issued (similarly to that of the Princely Table) in the name of the ruler (elected king, voivode, prince), with the judicial seal and the lecta of the protonotary.

The court of appeal of the high court usually appears in the sources as “solius majestatis nostrae presentiam” or in Hungarian as “felséged tulajdon személye” (“the personal presence of your majesty”). It is not clear how much this indeed meant the personal presence of the ruler, but for instance on May 27, 1570 in Torda the letter of sentence issued emphasized the actual presence of János II.40 Of course, this suggests that the ruler was not always physically present. From the period of János II, there were instances, if only rarely, when some persons of the court of the personal presence were mentioned by name; Mihály Csáki, who served as chancellor and councilor (1549–1551, 1556–1571), appears twice, and Jakab Pókai, master of ceremonies (magister curiae), is mentioned once among the assessors.41 In most cases, however, the identity of the councilors who formed the court remains unknown. While the Princely Table’s personal composition was determined by the decrees, the sources suggest that the members of the court of the personalis presentia were chosen by the ruler and depended on the circumstances. While the court of the personal presence of István Báthory, voivode of Transylvania during the diet of Torda on May 30, 1573, was formed by some magnates, councilors, Transylvanian nobles, and legal experts,42 the sources from September 1582 mention only councilors, protonotaries, and legal experts,43 while in March 1592 councilors, legal experts, the president of the high court, protonotaries, and assessors adjudicated.44 In the period of the Triple Council (1583–1585) designated to govern Transylvania by István Báthory, who had earlier been elected king of Poland, the praesides who represented the prince took part in the court of appeal, and for the court session on the octava of St. Luke’s day in 1583 they even took the young prince with them to Kolozsvár.45 They did so primarily because they (and probably expert legal officers) were entitled to revise the appealed cases “in persona Principis,” which role was later taken over by János Ghiczy (1585–1588) when he became governor.46 We have a concrete example when, at the court of personal presence, the governor was adjudging: in a lawsuit concerning the ownership of the Kund (Cund/Reussdorf) estate the first instance was held at the high court of Kristóf Báthory (1576–1581), but after the death of the voivode, the case was appealed to the court of personalis presentia, where the decision was made by the governor with councilors and legal experts.47

It is relatively easy to determine when and where the courts of personal presence were held. The personalis presentia was presiding in the same periods as the high court of law, i.e. during the high court sessions and the diets, and also at the same locations. We have data from the beginning of the period discussed here when the personalis presentia gathered on the fourth day of the octava of the Epiphany session in 1559 held in Gyulafehérvár.48 A decision was made on a case which originally had been heard at the high court in the session that began on June 24, 1557 (members of the court were “nonnullis dominis et nobilibus, sedis nostre judiciarie juratis assessoribus magistroque prothonotario nostro,” as at the time Mekcsei was the sole protonotary). The claimant, however, was not satisfied with the decision, so he appealed to the personal presence of the queen and her son. László Mekcsei, the protonotary, approved this appeal, but because of the obligations of the rulers (“nobis itaque diversis quidem arduis nostris et regni nostri negociis occupatis existentis”), the case was postponed to the Epiphany session of 1559, where “unacum nonnullis dominis proceribus ac aliis nobilibus prestantibusque viris consiliariis regni nostri prothonotariisque nostris pro tribunali sedentibus prenominatus protonotarius noster seriem dicte appellacionis nobis requirentibus refferre curavit.” After this, the privilege presented was read out, those present were consulted on the case (magnates, nobles, councilors, protonotaries), and the decision of the high court was approved.49 Interestingly, the protonotaries were mentioned as members of the court of personalis presentia, i.e. the same people who had made the decision at the first instance. In medieval legal practice, however, they had the right to attend the court hearing but did not have a say. However, in this case, alongside the councilors, they also seem to have been able to adjudge (again). Later, however, this practice was not typical. In the court of the personalis presentia, with only a few exceptions, the councilors decided with the assistance of legal experts. There was a telling example of a case in March 1577 which sheds some light on the functioning of the personalis presentia during the court sessions and the strict division of the courts according to nations. On March 25 (i.e. at the session after Reminiscere Sunday for the Transylvanian nobility), in Gyulafehérvár a letter of sentence was issued in the name of Kristóf Báthory which tells of a lawsuit which had begun one year earlier at the session held on St. Luke’s day in Kolozsvár between István Lázár of Szárhegy (Lăzarea) and Boldizsár Bánffy of Losonc (Lučenec) concerning a piece of land by the Tapolca River in the Székely seat of Gyergyó. A common inquest had been ordered, but the respondent had not been satisfied with the decision, so he had appealed “in solius nostri presentiam.” There, on March 23, 1577 (a Saturday), in the presence of the voivode, his councilors, and legal experts, the respondent’s lawyer presented his argument according to which the claimant could not summon him to the court of the voivode, but rather only to the Székely seat and the session held for the Székelys. He therefore requested that the case be sent back to the court of first instance and the appeal be terminated.50 The objection of the respondent was accepted at the court of personal presence, as the claimant had no right to summon the respondent to the session held for the Transylvanian nobility, but only to the Székely seat and their session. They nonetheless stipulated that the claimant had the right to summon the respondent to appear at the next Székely court session (“proclamari facere possit”).

Regarding the jurisdiction of the court of personal presence, one can only sum up by saying that the decrees do not include any related regulation, so appeals to the personalis presentia depended only on the financial resources of the contestants.

The Foundation of the Presidency of the Princely Table

The diet held in Medgyes (Mediaş/Mediasch) in December 1588 ordered a “chief legal expert” to lead the process (processus) of the Princely Table.51 Earlier, I thought that this office had been created in 1558 with the establishment of the office of super intendens. However, there is no sign of its actual functioning.52 Trócsányi emphasizes the dubious effectiveness of this act,53 and as we could not find data on the bearer of this office in the sources, it seems more and more likely that this 1558 decree remained on paper only. Accordingly, the praesidens was only appointed during the diet of Medgyes (or as a consequence of this diet, at the beginning of the next year). Why was there a need for this office, and why was the president installed in his office precisely when he was? It is known that at the diet of December 1588 Zsigmond Báthory was bestowed with his princely rights. In return, the estates managed to expel the Jesuits and to remedy their smaller legal complaints.54 The establishment of the office of praesidens may indicate strengthening of the estates, or one may think that the magnates who possessed power tried to take control over jurisdiction and prevent the young prince from strengthening his hold on power. As we have seen in discussion of the personal presence, the method was given, as previously, the Triple Council designated by István Báthory and then János Ghiczy, the governor, oversaw the activities of the court of law in persona principis (as later the president did). The text of the decision of Medgyes does not mention the name of the designated praesidens, but we have data on the president of the high court from the court session that began on February 23 of the following year.55 Previously, I thought that the anonymous praesidens in the letters of sentence could be identified as a literatus, Gergely Szentegyedi Somlyai. The only pitfall of this identification is that he appears in the sources as director causarum of Transylvania in 1591,56 and he appears as the president of the princely high court only in September 1592. Consequently, he assumed this office two years earlier than suggested by Zsolt Trócsányi, and he remained in this position up until his death at the scaffold erected on the main square of Kolozsvár.57 But who was the first praesidens of the high court, who was in office between 1589 and 1592?

The identification of the magnate praesidens appointed at the diet of Medgyes was not made possible by study of the letters of sentences but rather by a note in the royal book (liber regius) of Zsigmond Báthory. On March 7, 1589, Zsigmond Báthory gave councilor, president of the high court, and count of Torda County Boldizsár Bánffy and his wife the market town of Marosszereda (today Nyárádszereda/Miercurea Nirajului) and the part of the estate of Nagyadorján (Adrianu Mare) in return for one fourth of the castle of Bethlen (Beclean).58 This means that Bánffy was presiding at the first court session after the diet of Medgyes. Probably, there was some hope that the prestige enjoyed by the magnate and count of Torda County would help maintain the undisturbed functioning of the high court. There is no data on the legal erudition of the first praesidens. This may explain that his – lacking in sources difficultly definable – tasks were taken over by “egregius” Gergely Szentegyedi Somlyai in 1592, who was advancing as a practicing legal expert to this office. We do not know the circumstances of the dismissal or rather voluntary demission (as he was able to keep all his other offices) of Bánffy, but it clearly shows the caliber and the high ambition of the literatus Gergely Somlyai that as a praesidens he followed an “in persona principis” councilor.59

There is increasing uncertainty concerning the fate of the office of the president of the high court after the violent marginalization of the group of magnates who raised objections to the break with the Porte. Given the limited number of letters of sentences, it is increasingly certain that the usual court sessions were cancelled after February 23, 1592 (Reminiscere Sunday) and the high courts were only functioning during sittings of the diet. This could be explained by the confused internal political situation, the participation in the war, and the perpetual state of crisis, but in fact we do not know the precise reason for this transformation.60 A letter of sentence dated to the period of the diet held in Gyulafehérvár beginning on April 25, 1593 mentions some councilors, legal experts, the president, the protonotaries, and the assessors as members of the princely high court.61 At the same time, the sentenciae issued the following year had different wording. The letter of sentence dated May 10, 159762 was issued during the diet in Gyulafehérvár that began on April 27 and to which the guardianship cases, further acts of might cases appealed from the county courts, and other short procedures usually heard at the personal presence of the prince (“coram propria nostrae serenitatis presentia”) were postponed. The hearing of these cases during the diets was decided because of the cancellation of the court sessions, which was decreed in Act 9 of this very diet: “until the Lord God shows the dates when the sessions should be hold.”63 Compared to the previous period, the composition of the high courts that gathered during the diets also changed. Along with the protonotaries and the assessors, the “presence” of Zsigmond Báthory was represented (“in persona nostrae serenitatis”) by Pongrác Sennyei, master of ceremonies (1593–1598), according to what was noted above in May 1597 but also in January and March 1598,64 with the important difference that the title of praesidens was no longer part of his title. We know that, in 1598, the influential councilor Pongrác Sennyei performed the tasks of a chancellor, such as opening the report of an interrogation.65 His tasks may have been associated with his jurisdictional duties, but as the sources do not mention him as the president of the high court, his title remains unclear.

According to Trócsányi, the “Transylvanian national high court was single-leveled and the diet also was unicameral.”66 The part of his statement regarding the jurisdiction is true only to a certain degree. It is clear from the documentary evidence that until the 1590s the court of the personalis praesentia functioned as the court of appeal of the high court. The curial judicial system, thus, was two-leveled. Further investigations will also determine whether in the seventeenth century, after the end of the period of war, the court of appeal of the high court functioned again or not.


For the Principality of Transylvania, which came into existence after 1556, the constitutional setup of the medieval Kingdom of Hungary was the model. With regards to the formation of the central court of law, usually referred to as the Princely Table, the medieval models were tailored to local circumstances. This explains the characteristics of the judicial system: the originally separate protonotaries for Transylvania and for the Partium region, which were originally separate (but not with separable jurisdiction); the separate director for Transylvania and Partium (the scope of whose activity cannot be precisely defined); the separate court sessions for each nation (later, with the frequent contraction of the sessions held for the nobility of Partium and Transylvania); the holding of these events in different locations; and the voluntary and partial absence of the Saxons from this system (the civil suits of the Saxons were only rarely brought to the high court, and these suits, for which there was no separate court session, were usually discussed at the diets). The medieval models were also followed by ordering the court of personal presence as the court of appeal to the high court, where the chair was supplemented by councilors and which occasionally was attended by the ruler himself. The establishment of the office of praesidens is also related to the question of the structure of the high court. Although there was an earlier attempt to appoint a superintendens, the establishment of the presidency of the Princely Table took place only after the diet of Medgyes in 1588, probably at the initiative of the powerful estates and probably based on the model of the medieval personalis praesentiae regiae in judiciis locumtenens.

Archival Sources

Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára [National Archives of Hungary], Budapest (MNL OL)

Erdélyi vonatkozású iratok [Documents on Transylvanian matters] (R 298)

Gyulafehérvári Káptalan Országos Levéltára (GyKOLt) [Archives of the Chapter of Gyulafehérvár], Cista comitatuum (F 4)

Kolozsmonostori Konvent Országos Levéltára (KmKOLt) [Archives of the Convent of Kolozsmonostor (Cluj-Mănăştur)], Cista comitatuum (F 17), Protocolla, libri regii et stylionaria (F 15)

Wesselényi család levéltára [Archive of the Wesselényi family] (P 702)

Arhivele Naţionale ale României, Serviciul Judeţean Cluj al Arhivelor Naţionale [Cluj County Branch of the Romanian National Archives], Cluj-Napoca (SJAN-CJ)

Fond familial Bánffy (Fond 320) [Archive of the Bánffy family, in the Archives of the Transylvanian National Museum, in custody of the SJAN-CJ]

Fond familial Bethlen de Ictar (Fond 329) [Archive of the Bethlen family of Iktár, in the Archives of the Transylvanian National Museum, in custody of the SJAN-CJ]

Fond familial Kornis (Fond 378) [Archive of the Kornis family, in the Archives of the Transylvanian National Museum, in custody of the SJAN-CJ]

Fond familial Thoroczkay (Fond 444) [Archive of the Thoroczkay family, in the Archives of the Transylvanian National Museum, in custody of the SJAN-CJ]

Fond familial Teleki din Luna (Fond 438) [The Kendilóna/Luna Archive of the Teleki family, in the Archives of the Transylvanian National Museum, in custody of the SJAN-CJ]

Primăria oraşului Dej (Fond 24) [Archive of the town of Dej/Dés]

Biblioteca Centrală Universitară “Lucian Blaga” Cluj-Napoca (BCU), Colecţii speciale [“Lucian Blaga” Central University Library of Cluj-Napoca, Special Collections]

Ms. 309, Ms. 1271 (Formerly in the Manuscript Collection of the Library of the Transylvanian National Museum, now in custody of the BCU)


Printed sources

Banyó, Péter, and Martyn Rady, eds. With the assistance of János M. Bak. The Laws of the medieval kingdom of Hungary. Volume 4. 1490–1526. Decreta regni mediaevalis Hungariae. Idyllwild: Charles Schlacks, Jr./Budapest: Department of Medieval Studies, CEU, 2012.

Barabás, Samu ed. Székely Oklevéltár VIII. 1219–1776 [Székely Diplomatary]. Budapest: Magyar Tudományos Akadémia, 1934.

Bogdándi, Zsolt, and Emőke Gálfi, eds. Az erdélyi káptalan jegyzőkönyvei 1222–1599 [The protocols of the chapter of Transylvania]. Kolozsvár: Erdélyi Múzeum-Egyesület, 2006.

Fejér, Tamás, Etelka Rácz, and Anikó Szász, eds. Az erdélyi fejedelmek királyi könyvei I. 1569–1602. Báthory Zsigmond királyi könyvei 1582–1602 [Royal books of Transylvanian princes I. The royal books of Zsigmond Báthory]. Kolozsvár: Erdélyi Múzeum-Egyesület, 2005.

Jakó, Zsigmond, ed. A kolozsmonostori konvent jegyzőkönyvei (1289–1556) I–II [Protocols of the Convent of Kolozsmonostor]. Budapest: Akadémiai kiadó, 1990.

Kolosvári, Sándor, and Kelemen, Óvári, eds. Magyar Törvénytár: 1540–1848. évi erdélyi törvények [Hungarian Legal Code: Transylvanian Laws in 1540–1848]. Budapest: Franklin-társulat, 1900.

Szilágyi, Sándor ed. Erdélyi Országgyűlési Emlékek: Monumenta comitialia regni Transsylvaniae. I–XXI. Budapest: Magyar Tudományos Akadémia, 1876–1898.

Veress, Endre, ed. Báthory István király levélváltása az erdélyi kormánnyal (1581–1585) [The Exchange of Letters Between King István Báthory and the Government of Transylvania]. Budapest: Magyar Tudományos Akadémia, 1948.


Secondary literature

Béli, Gábor. Magyar jogtörténet: Az államalapítástól 1848-ig [Hungarian Legal History: From the Foundation of the State to 1848]. Pécs: Janus Pannonius Tudományegyetem, 1996.

Bogdándi, Zsolt. “A fejedelemség kori törvénykezési szakaszokról (1556–1600)” [On the Court Sessions of the Age of the Principality]. Erdélyi Múzeum 77, no. 1 (2015): 64–83.

Bogdándi, Zsolt. “Az erdélyi központi bíráskodás kialakulása és főbb jellegzetességei (1541–1571).” [Main Features of the Central Jurisdiction of Transylvania]. In A magyar jog fejlődésének fél évezrede: Werbőczy és a Hármaskönyv 500 esztendő múltán [The Development of Hungarian Law in Half a Millennium: Werbőczy and the Tripartitum after 500 Years], edited by Gábor Máthé. 117–39. Budapest: Nemzeti Közszolgálati Egyetem, 2014.

Bogdándi, Zsolt. “Szentegyedi Somlyai Gergely deákról” [On literatus Gergely Szentegyedi Somlyai]. In A magyar arisztokrácia társadalmi sokszínűsége, változó értékek és életviszonyok [The Social Diversity of the Hungarian Aristocracy, Changing Values and Living Standards], edited by Klára Papp, and Levente Püski, 37–46. Debrecen: Debreceni Egyetem Történelmi Intézete, 2013.

Bogdándi, Zsolt. “Az erdélyi és a partiumi jogügyigazgatók a 16. század második felében” [Legal Directors in Transylvania and the Partium in the Second Half of the Sixteenth Century]. In Hivatalnok értelmiség a kora újkori Erdélyben [Clerk Intelligentsia in Early Modern Transylvania], edited by Zsolt Bogdándi, and Tamás Fejér. 9–24. Kolozsvár: Erdélyi Múzeum-Egyesület, 2017.

Bogdándi, Zsolt. “Az erdélyi ítélőmesterek hiteleshelyi jellegű tevékenysége a 16. század végén” [Place of Authentication-like Activities of Transylvanian Protonotaries at the End of the Sixteenth Century]. In “...Éltünk mi sokáig két hazában.....” Tanulmányok a 90 éves Kiss András tiszteletére [Studies in Honor of the 90th Birthday of András Kiss], edited by Veronka Dáné, Teréz Oborni, Gábor Sipos. 135–46. Debrecen: Debreceni Egyetemi Kiadó, 2012.

Bónis, György. A jogtudó értelmiség a Mohács előtti Magyarországon [The Legal Intelligentsia in Hungary Before the Battle of Mohács]. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1971.

Bónis, György. Magyar jogtörténet II [Hungarian Legal History]. Kolozsvár: Méhkas Diákszövetkezet, 1943.

Dáné, Veronka. “Minden birodalmak ... törvénnyel is oltalmaztatnak.” Az Erdélyi Fejedelemség törvénykezése [“Every Empire… is Protected by Law.” The Legislation of the Principality of Transylvania]. Korunk 24, no. 3 (2013): 50–56.

Dáné, Veronka. “Az Őnagysága széki így deliberála:” Torda vármegye fejedelemségkori bírósági gyakorlata [The Court of His Majesty Ordered as Such: The Jurisdiction of Torda County in the Age of the Principality]. Debrecen–Kolozsvár: Debreceni Egyetem Történelmi Intézete–Erdélyi Múzeum-Egyesület, 2006.

Dósa, Elek. Erdélyhoni jogtudomány: Első könyv: erdélyhoni közjogtan [Legal Studies in Transylvania: I. Common law in Transylvania]. Kolozsvár, 1861.

Eckhart, Ferenc. Magyar alkotmány- és jogtörténet [Hungarian Constitutional and Legal History]. Budapest: Osiris, 2000.

Fejér, Tamás. “Kancelláriai jegyzetek az erdélyi fejedelmi kancellária okleveles gyakorlatában a Báthoryak korában (1571–1602)” [Extra Sigillum Notes in the Documentary Practice of the Transylvanian Princely Chancellery]. Turul 88, no. 3 (2015): 81–96.

Hajnik, Imre. A király bírósági személyes jelenléte és ennek helytartója a vegyesházakbeli királyok korszakában [The Personal Presence of the King and his Locumtenens in the Period of the Kings of Different Houses]. Budapest: Magyar Tudományos Akadémia, 1892.

Hajnik, Imre. A magyar bírósági szervezet és perjog az Árpád- és a vegyes-házi királyok alatt [On the History of Hungarian Legal Organization and Procedural Law During the Árpád Dynasty and the Kings of Different Houses]. Budapest: Magyar Tudományos Akadémia, 1899.

Jakab, Elek. A Ghyczyek Erdély történetében különös tekintettel a kormányzói intézményre [The Ghyczy Family in the History of Transylvania, with Special Regard to the Institution of the Governor]. Budapest: Az M. T. Akadémia Könyvkiadó-Hivatala, 1875.

Janits, Iván. Az erdélyi vajdák igazságszolgáltató és oklevéladó működése 1526-ig [The Jurisdiction and Charter Issuing Activity of the Transylvanian Voivodes until 1526]. Budapest: Királyi Magyar Egyetemi Nyomda, 1940.

Kubinyi, András. “A királyi udvar a késő középkori Magyarországon” [The Royal Court in Late Medieval Hungary]. In Idővel paloták... Magyar udvari kultúra a 16–17. században [Palaces in Time… Hungarian Courtly Culture in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries], edited by Nóra G. Etényi, and Ildikó Horn. 13–32. Budapest: Balassi kiadó, 2005.

Oborni, Teréz. “Zoltay János Supplementum Tripartiti (1583 körül?) című kézirata” [The Manuscript of János Zoltay, the Supplementum Tripartiti (ca. 1583?)]. In A magyar jog fejlődésének fél évezrede: Werbőczy és a Hármaskönyv 500 esztendő múltán [The Development of Hungarian Law in Half a Millennium: Werbőczy and the Tripartitum after 500 Years], edited by Gábor Máthé. 141–62. Budapest: Nemzeti Közszolgálati Egyetem, 2014.

Rady, Martin. Customary Law in Hungary: Courts, Texts and the Tripartitum. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.

Szabó T., Attila (compiled by), Ferenc Kósa, Emese Fazakas, János Zsemlyei, Zselyke András, Ágnes Daly, Piroska B. Gergely, Miklós Kürti, György Szabó, Csilla Szabó T., Magdolna K. Tichy, Borbála Zsemlyei, eds. Erdélyi Magyar Szótörténeti Tár [Hungarian Transylvanian Etymological Dictionary]. XII. Budapest–Kolozsvár: Akadémiai Kiadó–Erdélyi Múzeum-Egyesület, 2005.

Szabó, Béla. “Az erdélyi szászok bíráskodási szervezete a korai újkorig” [Jurisdiction of the Transylvanian Saxons Until Early Modern Times]. Jogtörténeti Szemle, no. 1–2 (2017): 31–40.

Trócsányi, Zsolt. Az Erdélyi Fejedelemség korának országgyűlései: Adalék az erdélyi rendiség történetéhez [Diets of the Age of the Principality of Transylvania: Addition to the History of the States of Transylvania]. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1976.

Trócsányi, Zsolt. Erdély központi kormányzata 1540–1690 [The Central Government of Transylvania 1540–1690]. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1980.

Trócsányi, Zsolt. Törvényalkotás az Erdélyi Fejedelemségben [Legislation in the Principality of Transylvania]. Budapest: Gondolat Kiadó, 2005.

1 Oborni, “Zoltay János,” 141–62; Bogdándi, “Az erdélyi központi bíráskodás,” 117–39; Dáné, “Minden birodalmak,” 50–56; Trócsányi, Törvényalkotás, 237–68.

2 This term refers to the eastern territories of the Hungarian Kingdom that joined the estates of Transylvania and formed the Principality under Ottoman suzerainty.

3 On the close association between the curia as a court of law and the royal court, see: Kubinyi, “A királyi udvar,” 16–17.

4 MNL OL, GyKOLt, Cista comit. (F4), Cista Dobocensis, fasc. 4., no. 48.

5 Ibid., for further Hungarian-language examples of the usage of the term tábla, see: Szabó T. et al., Erdélyi Magyar Szótörténeti Tár, 12: 781–82.

6 SJAN-CJ, Arch. Bánffy (Fond 320), no. 59.

7 Bogdándi, “Az erdélyi ítélőmesterek,” 144.

8 The first reference to a list of the lawsuits that were heard at the court is from February 1676. It was made in the course of a court session which was held in Segesvár (Sighişoara/Schässburg): In nomine domini. Series causarum levatarum in anno 1676 in civitate Segesvar pro dominis regnicolis, magistro S. [?] ac domino Stephano Sarpataki existente celebratarum. Copy in the volume Promptuarium stylorum patvaristicorum, compiled in 1703. BCU, Ms. 309., f. 12–23.

9 From the secondary literature on the royal courts, we build on the following works: Hajnik, Bírósági szervezet, 31–58; Bónis, Magyar jogtörténet, 72–75; Bónis, A jogtudó értelmiség, 245–65; Eckhart, Magyar alkotmány- és jogtörténet, 140–46; From the recent international literature of the topic, see: Rady, Customary Law in Hungary.

10 This was the main royal court of justice, which issued sentences under the king’s judicial seal. Its ruler was the locumtenens personalis presentiae or later, simply personalis (“személynök”).

11 Bónis, Magyar jogtörténet, 73–74; Béli, Magyar jogtörténet, 94–96.

12 Hajnik, Bírósági szervezet, 212–13.

13 Ibid., 210–11; Béli, Magyar jogtörténet, 94.

14 On the court of the royal personal presence, see: Hajnik, A király bírósági személyes jelenléte; Bónis, A jogtudó értelmiség, 134–48, 245–65, 333–54.

15 Janits, Az erdélyi vajdák, 32–35.

16 Ibid., 34.

17 Szilágyi, Erdélyi Országgyűlési Emlékek, 2: 58.

18 The case in question was heard on June 25: “... instante scilicet termino brevium et continuorum judiciorum, ad quem videlicet terminum universae causae fidelium nostrorum regnicolarum trium nationum partium regni nostri Transilvanensis, juxta publicam constitutionem eorundem hic Thordae ad primum diem Junii ex edicto maiestatis nostrae congregatorum, videlicet factum honoris, novorumque actum potentiariorum, transmissionumque tangentes et concernentes et aliae in articulis in ipso conventu editis denotatae adiudicari debentes, per maiestatem nostram generaliter fuerant prorogatae ...” The members of the court were nobles, sworn assessors, and the protonotary (here they refer to only one, and the document was endorsed solely by László Mekcsei). MNL OL, GyKOLt, Cista comit. (F4), Comitatus Albensis, Cista 2, fasc. 3., no. 5. The three feudal “nations” (natio) of Transylvania were the largely Hungarian nobility, the Saxon patricians, and the free Székelys.

19 According to the text of the document: “... cum autem juxta publicam constitutionem fidelium nostrorum ordinum et statuum regni pro festo beatae Catherinae virginis et martiris proxime preterito in civitate Koloswar ex edicto maiestatis nostrae congregatorum factam et per nos confirmatam, universae causae tempore imperii prefati regis Romanorum in hoc regno... suis processibus in suis vigoribus relictae sint.” Cf. Szilágyi, Erdélyi Országgyűlési Emlékek, 2: 64.

20 Péter Petrovics was a pro-Ottoman magnate, ban of Lugos (Lugoj) and Karánsebes (Caransebeş), and a fervent supporter of King János I Szapolyai (1526–1540) and his son.

21 “Maiores causae differantur in octavum diem festi sancti Michaelis discuciendae, alie vero causae videlicet factum honoris decimarumque uniuersae concernentes, noui actus potenciarij ab ingressu domini Petrowyth comitis spectabilis et magnifici patrati vel patrandj, transmissiones item comitatuum Saxonum et Siculicalium sedium ac literae transmissionis quae in curiam regis Romanorum per appellacionem deducendae erant, causae eciam dotum, rerum parafernalium, jurium impignoraticiorum et diuisionum inter fratres carnales patrueles, matrueles fientium sine intermissione discuciantur; discussionis autem dies sit die octauo post festum sancte trinitatis.” Szilágyi, Erdélyi Országgyűlési Emlékek, 2: 80.

22 “... litteras nostras adiudicatorias sententionales Albe Julie decimo sexto die diei sabbati proximi post dominicam Oculi in anno 1557, in termino celebrationis judiciorum profesti beati Gregorii papae ...” See: SJAN-CJ, Arch. of Dés (Dej) (Fond 24), no. 172; In February 1557, the court period was set as St. George’s day, but it was postponed, probably due to the harvest and other problems. See: Szilágyi, Erdélyi Országgyűlési Emlékek, 2: 80.

23 Bogdándi, “Az erdélyi és partiumi,” 14.

24 Szilágyi, Erdélyi Országgyűlési Emlékek, 2: 496–97. On the court periods, see: Bogdándi, “A fejedelemség kori törvénykezési szakaszokról,” 64–83.

25 Kolosvári and Óvári, Erdélyi törvények, 168–69. The Constitutiones Approbatae is a collection of decrees and legal practices which were codified in the seventeenth century and published in 1653.

26 The Universitas Saxonum was an administrative and legal entity of the Transylvanian Saxons, headed by the comes Saxonum, who resided in Szeben.

27 Szilágyi, Erdélyi Országgyűlési Emlékek, 2: 530. On the separate courts of law of the Saxons, see: Szabó, “Az erdélyi szászok bíráskodási szervezete,” 31–40.

28 Dósa, Erdélyhoni jogtudomány, 104–5.

29 Szilágyi, Erdélyi Országgyűlési Emlékek, 2: 89.

30 Hajnik, Bírósági szervezet, 232. See also Kubinyi, “A királyi udvar,” 16–17.

31 There is concrete data on this from the court session of St. Luke’s day in 1590. Dániel Pápai and Mihály Kolozsvári, who were notaries at the court, reported that they disembarked on November 3 “hic in praedicto civitate Coloswar, apud domum circumspecti Joannis Hozzu, domum videlicet judiciariam celsitudinis vestrae.” There, they summoned János Gyerőfi to appear at the curia on the sixth day. See: SJAN-CJ, Arch. Kornis (Fond 378), no. 231.

32 Trócsányi, Törvényalkotás, 238. At the diet of June 1557, the possibility of sending one special judge to Várad (Oradea) for the nobility of Partium (Szilágyi, Erdélyi Országgyűlési Emlékek, 2: 81) came up, but probably because of the perpetual state of war this could not have been accomplished.

33 SJAN-CJ, Arch. Bethlen of Iktár, (Fond 329), chronologically organized documents. Cf. MNL OL, Arch. Wesselényi (P 702), 1. item, chronologically organized documents.

34 16 May 1560: “Proclamata, publicata presentata, lecta et extradata per me Ladislaum de Mekche serenissime electe regie majestatis Hungariae protonotarium. Coram me magistro Valentino de Fewldwar serenissimae regie majestatis prothonotario.” MNL OL, GyKOLt, Cista comit. (F4), Comitatus Bihar, Cista Bihar, fasc. 1., no. 21.

35 Szilágyi, Erdélyi Országgyűlési Emlékek, 2: 99. According to Trócsányi, this is when Mekcsei was designated as protonotary of Transylvania, but he had been appointed to this office earlier, in 1554. See: Trócsányi, Törvényalkotás, 238. Cf. Jakó, A kolozsmonostori konvent, no. 5316.

36 Szilágyi, Erdélyi Országgyűlési Emlékek, 2: 97.

37 Hajnik, Bírósági szervezet, 57–58; Hajnik, A király bírósági személyes jelenléte, 24–25.

38 Hajnik, Bírósági szervezet, 57–58.

39 Banyó and Rady, Laws of medieval Hungary, 142.

40 The respondents who were dissatisfied with the decision brought the case “... pro maturiori discussione in solius majestatis nostrae presentiam ...” where the king adjudged with councilors and legal experts on the cases appealed from the high court to the personal presence of the king (“de sede nostra judiciaria in solius majestatis nostrae presentiam apellatarum personaliter in judicio pro tribunali consedissemus”). MNL OL, KmKOLt, Cista comit. (F 17), Comitatus Doboka, N, no. 12.

41 János II addresses his letter to one of the market towns. He informs the town that when on the last day of the court period over which he presided with councilor and chancellor Mihály Csáki, master of ceremonies Jakab Pókai, and other legal experts (“pro causarum de sede nostra judiciaria in solius majestatis nostrae presentiam appellatarum revisione et adiudicatione pro tribunali consedissemus”), protonotary Miklós [Wesselényi] explained that the claimant was not satisfied with the result and so he had appealed the case to the court of personalis presentia, where the previous decision of the high court was approved. See the formulary book of János Báchy, BCU, Ms. 1271., f. 196v–197v.

42 SJAN-CJ, Arch. Bánffy (Fond 320), no. 63.

43 MNL OL, KmKOLt, Cista comit. (F 17), Comitatus Doboka, K, no. 54.

44 MNL OL, KmKOLt, Protocolla (F15), no. 12. p. 108–11.

45 Veress, Báthory István király levélváltása, 107–8.

46 Jakab, A Ghyczyek Erdély történetében, 58.

47 SJAN-CJ, Arch. Thoroczkay (Fond 444), no. 98.

48 MNL OL, Documents on Transylvanian matters (R 298), 8. box (Documents concerning the Vitéz family).

49 “Nos igitur preinsertis litteris privilegialibus dicti capituli in specie produci ac perlegi facientes quesitoque superinde prefatorum dominorum procerum ac nobilium prestantiumque virorum consiliariorum, prothonotariorumque nostrorum nobiscum in discussione et examine presentis cause constitutorum et existentium consilio prematuro, habito superinde cum eisdem diligenti tractatu, de eorundem itaque consilio et sana deliberatione judicium prefatae sedis nostrae judiciariae tanquam rite et legitime factum in omnibus punctis, clausulis et articulis tanquam rite et legittime factum laudandum et approbandum et ratificandum judicialiter decrevimus et commisimus.” See ibid.

50 “... in curiam nostram citari et evocari facere nequaquam potuisset sed suis modis in sede Siculicalia et sic tandem in termino celebrationis judiciorum pro dominis Siculis regnicolis Transilvanensis celebrandorum proclamari facere debuisset, sicque causam intentare et prosequi potuisset.” MNL OL, GyKOLt, Cista comit. (F4), Cista Gömöriensis, no. 6.

51 Szilágyi, Erdélyi Országgyűlési Emlékek, 3: 242.

52 Bogdándi, “Szentegyedi Somlyai Gergely,” 43–44.

53 Trócsányi, Törvényalkotás, 238.

54 Trócsányi, Az Erdélyi Fejedelemség korának országgyűlései, 188.

55 “... instante scilicet termino celebrationis judiciorum diei dominicae Reminiscere, ad quem utputa terminum universae causae dominorum nobilium Transylvaniensium ab obitu [...] Ludovici regis Hungariae [...] ex publica eorum constitutione adiudicari solitae per nos generaliter fuerant prorogatae, una cum domino praesidente, magistrisque nostris prothonotariis et juratis assessoribus sedis nostrae judiciariae ...” MNL OL, GyKOLt, Cista comit. (F4), Comitatus Albensis, Cista 3, fasc. 3., no. 13.

56 Bogdándi and Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 816; Fejér, Rácz and Szász, Báthory Zsigmond, no. 1614.

57 Bogdándi, “Szentegyedi Somlyai Gergely,” 43–44.

58 Fejér, Rácz and Szász, Báthory Zsigmond, no. 946.

59 Of the presidents of the high court, only Gergely literatus is not referred to as councilor in the sources. See: Trócsányi, Központi kormányzat, 356. On his career, which ended tragically, see: Bogdándi, “Szentegyedi Somlyai Gergely,” 37–46.

60 It is not by chance that this is the court session when the jurisdiction of the county courts was broadened and achieved its final state. See: Dáné, “Az Őnagysága széki így deliberála, 27.

61 SJAN-CJ, Arch. Kornis (Fond 378), 5. box “... una cum nonnullis dominis consiliariis nostris aliisque prestantibus et jurisperitis viris, necnon praesidente, magistrisque nostris prothonotariis et juratis sedis nostrae judiciariae assessoribus.”

62 For a summary of the letter see Bogdándi and Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 955. It was published with partially erroneous identification of the dates in Barabás, Székely Oklevéltár, 8: 324–37.

63 “addig, míg az Úristen az terminusok szolgáltatásának idejít mutatja,” Szilágyi, Erdélyi Országgyűlési Emlékek, 4: 118–19.

64 In a letter of sentence issued on January 15, 1598, the court is explained in the following terms: “[...] instante scilicet termino brevium judiciorum sub comitiis generalibus dominorum regnicolarum Transsilvaniensium, nec non etiam partium regni Hungariae ditioni nostre subiacentium, in civitate nostra Alba Julia ad festum Epiphaniarum domini novissime praeteritum indictis celebratorum, ad quem videlicet terminum causae tutelarum, nec non etiam factum transmissionum super novis actibus potentiariorum in sedibus comitatuum confectarum et similium negotiorum brevi processu juridico terminari solitorum tangentes et concernentes, coram propria persona nostrae serenitatis ex publica eorundem regnicolarum nostrorum constitutione adiudicari solitae per nos generaliter fuerant prorogatae, una cum fidelibus nostris magnifico domino Pancratio Senniei consiliario et magistro curiae nostrae, magistrisque nostris protonotariis et juratis sedis nostrae judiciariae assessoribus.” A homicide case appealed from the County Court of Zaránd was heard at the high court. See: SJAN-CJ, Arch. Teleki from Luna (Fond 438), no. 88; Cf. SJAN-CJ, Arch. Bánffy (Fond 320), fasc. IVa, no. 27.

65 On this, see: Fejér, “Kancelláriai jegyzetek az erdélyi fejedelmi kancellária okleveles gyakorlatában,” 91.

66 Trócsányi, Központi kormányzat, 355.

pdfVolume 7 Issue 4 CONTENTS

Formularies of the Chancellery of the Transylvanian Principality in the Second Half of the Sixteenth Century

Tamás Fejér
Research Institute of the Transylvanian Museum Society
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In this essay, I examine the formularies that were used in the chancellery of the Transylvanian Principality which took form at the end of 1556 during the first 50 years of its existence. I offer brief descriptions of four of these formularies in which I indicate their length and present the most important aspects concerning the nature of the information they contain. I also offer a detailed presentation of one of them in order to call attention to the importance of the rigorous study of every detail of these sources. Historians cannot afford to ignore these sources, which contain over 1,100 formulas, as they are vital to the study of the history of law and the history of the chancellery itself. They offer glimpses into the work of the chancellery, the ways in which charters were produced, and the processes according to which the texts of the charters were transformed into formulas, processes over the course of which, for the most part, the compilers “cleaned” the documents of their specific details (i.e. proper names, place names, and dates), keeping only the essential elements on the basis of which they would be able to compose the texts of new charters.

Keywords: formulary, formula, chancellery, documentary practice, Early Modern Era, Transylvanian Principality


The publication and study of formularies1 looks back on a significant history in Hungarian historical scholarship. The origins of this history are tied to the work of legal historian Márton György Kovachich (1744–1821).2 Among the historians who built on his work, I would mention here only György Bónis (1914–1985), who studied primarily medieval formularies3 but at the same time left an indelible mark on the scholarship on the formularies of early modern Transylvania by publishing and presenting in an exemplary manner the collection of formulas compiled by János Jacobinus who served at the turn of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as princely secretary (1598–1601).4 His thorough edition could serve as a model for the study of all of the Transylvanian formularies of the Early Modern Era, though (one should add) the Jacobinus formulary, which is only ten pages long and contains only 22 formulas, made possible an examination that was rigorous in its attention to every detail, which would hardly have been possible in the case of a formulary consisting of several hundred pages and containing several hundred formulas. I share Bónis’ view that “the Transylvanian formularies should be published individually at least as regestas and excerpts, and the conclusions which can be reached on the basis of them should be drawn.”5 In my opinion, however, it would suffice if we had a thorough exposition and description of each of the formularies from the era of the Transylvanian Principality and the short titles at the beginning of the individual formulas (which for the most part offer a good impression of the essential aspects of the text) were to be published. This would enable scholars to inform themselves relatively easily about the content of a given manuscript, and they would then be able to examine the original texts which are of interest to them (depending on whether their interests lie in legal history, institutional history, diplomatics etc.). However, formulas which contain specific data (such as proper names, place names, and dates) or which are of interest for some other reason could be published as regestas, which are useful, if perhaps with some caution, from other perspectives as well, and not simply as formulas.6

In the first half-century of its existence, several formularies were used in the Transylvanian chancellery7 which took form at the end of 1556. In 1938, Anna Pécsi familiarized the community of Hungarian historians with the János Bácsi formulary,8 and a few years later, György Bónis and Antal Valentiny published the aforementioned János Jacobinus formulary. After these promising initial efforts, however, interest in formularies waned. Only recently have there been signs of some change. A substantially more rigorous examination of the János Bácsi formulary has been undertaken,9 and I myself recently published an article on another formulary from the late sixteenth century.10 In addition to these formularies, we know of one formulary and a fragment of another formulary which were also used in the chancellery in the second half of the sixteenth century. In this article, I offer a brief description of these formularies, including a detailed presentation of one. Ideally, a thorough study of all the formularies from the same perspectives would be necessary in order to provide a broader picture of everyday administration in the chancellery (for instance) or even the composition of the formulas themselves.11 The formularies, after all, are interesting not only from the perspective of legal history, but also as sources on institutional history, more broadly, or diplomatics, more narrowly.


1. The formulary of János Bácsi.12 This formulary, which as far as we know is the earliest one to have been used in the chancellery of the Transylvanian Principality, is named after Ioannes Bachy, whose name is found on the binding. This Bácsi served at the end of the 1560s and the first years of the 1570s as a scribe in the chancellery. The voluminous formulary consists of 341 numbered pages which contain 466 formulas and the epitaph for King Mátyás (1458–1490), thus a total of 467 Latin texts. At the beginning of the manuscript, one finds a detailed alphabetical index of the titles of the individual formulas and the page numbers on which they are found.13 According to the index, the formulary consists of three “books,” though there are no references to these “books” in the formulary itself. The index, however, indicates that the first book is found on pages 1–130, the second on pages 131–228, and the third on pages 229–311. Most of the manuscript seems to be the work of a single scribe. Only towards the end does one find formulas and one or two short entries which could be attributed to other hands, and the last formula (from December 15, 1641) is the work of an entirely new scribe. This last formula, however, suggests that the formulary was in use for a long time, including into the reign of Prince György I Rákóczi (1630–1648). For 340 of the formula, the issuer is not indicated. This information, however, would not have been necessary from the perspective of the charters for which the formula would be used. The other 126 formula were issued by the following issuers: four by Lajos II (1516–1526), 70 by Ferdinand I (1526–1564), 28 by János Szapolyai (1526–1540) and Prince János Zsigmond (1556–1571),14 12 by György Fráter, who served as Bishop of Várad (Oradea/Grosswardein), treasurer, regent and chief justice (1542–1551), four by Pál Várday, Archbishop of Esztergom and royal deputy (1542–1549), two by László Mikola, the queen’s vice regent and Transylvanian deputy chief justice (1542–1551), and one each by palatinal deputy Ferenc Révay (1542–1553), judge royal Tamás Nádasdy (1543–1554), royal counselor István Cserényi and protonotary Pál Szigeti (1567–1571). Thus, a substantial proportion of the material does not have any specific bearing on Transylvania or is from the period before the chancellery began to function. A significant number of the formulas were “cleaned” by János Bácsi (to whom the compilation of the formulary is attributed) of their specific details (such as proper names, place names, and dates). Only ten formula have dates ranging from 1531 to 1569. The place of composition is given slightly more often.15 With only a few exceptions, the formulary contained the templates for the documents which were under the sphere of authority of the cancellaria minor (which itself was headed by the protonotary). Thus, clearly it was in use by the cancellaria minor and it clearly constitutes an important source on the functioning of the principality’s chancellery and, within this, the smaller chancellery. It is a source that still awaits proper rigorous study.

2. A surviving fragment of a formulary with a total of only seven pages16 with 22 formulas in Latin and one truncated text. Of these, 17 were issued by János Zsigmond and five by Kristóf Báthory (1576–1581). Only a few of the texts contain proper names and place names. Five of the formulas indicate the place of composition (Gyulafehérvár), and one even contains the date (May 30, 1568). The texts seem to have been written by two different hands. Most of the formula were composed on the basis of de gratia documents, which were under the authority of the great chancellery.17

3. Stylionarium cancellariae Sigismundi Báthory.18 This manuscript, which comes to 276 pages and is the work of many hands, contains 224 formulas in Latin. Most of them, as indicated in the formulary, were issued by Prince Zsigmond Báthory (1581–1597, 1598–1599, 1601–1602), while János Zsigmond issued six, István Báthory (1571–1576) one, Kristóf Báthory seven, and the place of authentication from Kolozsmonostor (Cluj-Mănăştur, today a district of the city of Cluj) two. For 15 formula, the issuer is not provided. For 37, the date is given, most often including the day, month, and year, but sometimes only the year. The earliest date of composition is November 20, 1572 (pag. 84–90). The latest, not including the six formula which were copied onto pages 224–29 (which had been left empty) in the first half of the seventeenth century, was composed on January 2, 1595 (pag. 275–76; the latter formula is also the last entry to be made in the manuscript). 22 of them date to the first half of the 1590s and thirteen to the 1580s, i.e. to the reign of Zsigmond Báthory.19 The name of director causarum fiscalium (kincstári jogügyigazgató) János Királyfalvi appears in the formula entitled “Procuratoria constitutio coram prothonotario facta” (which is found on the first page of the formulary). János Királyfalvi rose to this office sometime between November 16, 1591 and February 14, 1592.20 Thus, work began on compiling the manuscript after he had won this post, and it came to an end sometime after the date of the aforementioned last formula (January 2, 1595). The formulary was in use for decades, or at least one can come to this conclusion on the basis of the formulas which were copied into it in the first half of the seventeenth century, the latest of which was issued by Prince György I Rákóczi (pag. 227–28).

With regards to the contents of the formulary, it contains primarily models for documents belonging to the authority of the cancellaria minor. It also contains formulas for de gratia charters, but not many. Thus, the formulary was used first and foremost by the clerks of the smaller chancellery. For a significant share of the documents, the proper names and place names remained, but the dates rarely survived.

4. The formulary of János Jacobinus.21 The formulary attributed to János Jacobinus, who served as secretary of the chancellery (1598–1601), was never actually completed. It is only ten pages long and contains 22 formulas in Latin, of which 15 were issued, according to the formulary, by Zsigmond Báthory, one by his wife, Maria Christierna of Habsburg,22 and five by Mihai Viteazul, Voivode of Wallachia (1593–1600) and for a short time (November 1599–September 1600) imperial governor of Transylvania for Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II. (In the case of one of the formulas, the issuer is not indicated.) Six of the formulas are dated, and the dates all fall between September 1, 1597 and May 15, 1601. Most of the documents contain proper names and places names. Almost without exception, the formulary contains formulas which were composed on the basis of charters drawn up in the great chancellery, so it clearly was used here too.

5. A formulary from the era of Zsigmond Báthory.23 As far as we know, the historian and archivist Lajos Kelemen (1877–1963) was the first person to offer a short description of this formulary in his work on the Manuscript Collection of the Cluj University Library. According to Kelemen, at the time, the manuscript collection contained more than 20 formularies dating from the sixteenth–nineteenth centuries. One of them, he noted, was the János Bácsi formulary. “The other, more interesting formulary,” he writes, “is a copy by the chancellery scribes of the charters which were drawn up in the chancellery of Zsigmond Báthory.”24 The formulary was used by the art historians Jolán Balogh (1900–1988)25 and András Kovács26 and also by the historian Adrian Andrei Rusu.27 The manuscript and the wealth of material it contains, nonetheless, remained essentially unknown to (or has not met with interest among) scholars until only recently.28

The 30 × 19.4 cm manuscript is 161 pages long29 and contains 399 individual texts. Some of these texts, however, have not survived in their entirety, and some of them were not drawn up by the chancellery (for instance, wedding invitations). The formulary does not have an original title, and the writings were penned by several different hands. The formulas, naturally, were written in Latin. One finds only three Hungarian-language texts, one of which was added to formula 193 as a transcript and the other two of which are wedding invitations (formulas 249 and 251).

The manuscript, which contains some 400 individual texts, clearly demonstrates that, given the variety and complexity of the administrative tasks it faced, the chancellery needed formularies as complete as possible, for the necessary charters and documents. Considering the essentially established charter-formulas and the wide diversity of the types of documents, it seems likely that even clerks familiar with the composition of charters needed the formulary, and scribes with less experience in all certainty made considerable use of it. Thus, the clerks who compiled the formulary copied the charters which were drawn up in the chancellery (or at least some of them) into the manuscript, with larger or smaller omissions. They were guided by the practical goal of recording these texts so that they could be used later as models in the composition of documents of a similar nature. Thus, as I will demonstrate later in this article with examples, the formulas contained varying amounts of information in comparison with the original charters. Rarely was every element of the original preserved. Usually, only sections which might later be useful or necessary in the composition of a new document were kept, while specific details, such as proper names, place names, and dates were omitted. Many of the formulas, however, fall somewhere between these two “types.” The intitulatio and the inscriptio were shortened, dates of composition were recorded only partially or omitted entirely, and some of the proper names and place names—which in general, as was typical of formularies, were simply replaced with the letter T (talis) or “T de T,” or, less frequently, the letter N (nomen)—were removed.30 The titles at the beginning of the formulas informed the reader of the type of document and the essence of the text. In a few rare cases, they also referred to the specific content of a formula, for instance “Nobilitatio pro Ioanne Fiotta cum armis” (formula 70) and “Donatio duorum pratorum foenilium egregio domino Benedicto Mindzenthy” (formula 266).

Some of the formulas are of a de iustitia nature, i.e. they concern matters of the administration of justice and would be used as templates for documents such as letters of summons (litterae evocatoriae), letters of inquest (litterae inquisitoriae), letters of postponement (litterae prorogatoriae), and letters of sentence (litterae sententionales) etc., while some are of a de gratia nature, for instance coat of arms letters (litterae armales), grants of market rights, estates, and tithe, comes (ispán), and bishopric appointments, exemptions, princely approval letters (litterae consensuales), etc. The former, naturally, reflect the work of the smaller chancellery, the latter of the great chancellery. Thus, we are dealing with a “mixed” formulary which was used in both branches of the chancellery of the principality and which reflects almost all of the areas of the extensive documentary practice of the chancellery. Many of the formulas were products of the work of the chancellery as a place of authentication. In the course of this work, charters were issued for the different parties concerning the declarations (fassiones) which were made in front of the protonotary or, less frequently, the chancellor on matters such as pledges, the exchange of estates, wills, and letters of attorney (litterae procuratoriae). There are also some formulas which were not based on charters issued by the chancellery (for example, various letters of report or litterae relatoriae which were drawn up at the command of the prince and sent to the chancellery by places of authentication or bailiffs, i.e. homines vaivodales,31 wedding invitations, or other charters drawn up by issuers which will be mentioned below). One notices the efforts of the compilers to group the various formulas by type of document. For instance, the formulas found on pages 87–98 and 355–72 are summons, the formulas on pages 115–26 are letters of attorney, those on pages 166–72 are letters of nobility (nobilitatio), those on pages 8–11 and 343–54 are admonitions (litterae admonitoriae), etc. In some cases, however, formulas that were similar from the perspective of their subjects were copied alongside one another. For instance, formulas 295–298 deal with Church matters, and within this group, formulas 297 and 298 concern the Transylvanian Romanian Orthodox Church. Formula 299 also concerns the Romanians of Transylvania, recording the bestowal of the office of voivode (vaivodatus) of a village. Thus, these three formulas form a new unit from the perspective of their content. Formulas 306–310 all address matters concerning the Saxon communities. In some cases, these two organizational principles are mixed, i.e. the compilers have grouped the formulas according to type of document and subject matter. Formulas 144–149, for instance, are all mandates (broadly understood) concerning the division of landed property (divisio). Within this, formulas 144, 146, and 148 are letters of admonition and summons, formulas 145 and 147 are princely orders regarding the execution of such divisio, and formula 149 is a litterae certificatoriae. Thus, one finds clear signs of deliberate efforts to arrange the formulas in groups, but there is no single principle or system according to which the entire manuscript can be said to have been organized. The large number of formulas and the amount of time that was devoted to compiling the manuscript (more on this soon) indicate that for years the compilers collected the texts of charters that were being issued with the aim of creating a resource in which clerks would find a model or template that could be applied to almost every new case that might arise.

Zsigmond Báthory is indicated as the issuer of the vast majority of the formulas. Chronologically, the following formula were issued by the following individuals: formula 49 by Voivode István Majláth (1534–1541); formulas 322, 334, 355, and 358 by János Zsigmond;32 formula 270 by István Báthory; nine formulas by Kristóf Báthory;33 formulas 365 and 366 by Hungarian King Rudolf (1576–1608); formula 282 by the aforementioned Kolozsmonostor place of authentication; and formulas 179, 185, and 186 by the Gyulafehérvár place of authentication.34 In addition, Chancellor Farkas Kovacsóczy (1578–1594) is given as the issuer of formula 141, castellan of Eger Bálint Prépostváry of formula 103, castellans and iudex nobilium substitutus (helyettes szolgabíró) of the district of Karánsebes (Caransebeş) of formulas 187 and 213, and János Gerendi of formula 286. One also comes across formulas for which the issuer is not given, but in all likelihood most can be attributed to Zsigmond Báthory. It is not entirely clear why formulas based on charters that were not issued by the chancellery were included. As examples, one could mention the litterae manumissionales of János Gerendi or the charters issued by the aforementioned officers of Karánsebes. It is quite clear, however, that the given clerk considered the documents important (even if perhaps not from the perspective of the documentary practice of the chancellery) and for this reason included them in the manuscript.

The formulary gives the date for 43 of the formulas.35 The earliest among them is April 19, 1538, the latest May 20, 1595. For 15 of the formulas, the charters on which they were based give the date, and for another two the date is found in their copies in the aforementioned Stylionarium cancellariae Sigismundi Báthory (hereafter StylionariumSB). These seventeen formulas are from the period between September 5, 1583 and January 2, 1595. Thus, we know the dates of 60 formulas in total. 58 were issued between 1583 and 1595, during the reign of Zsigmond Báthory. Most of them (51) were issued in the period between 1590 and 1595. There are also formulas for which only the year is given (for instance formulas 105 and 162) and others for which only the day and month are given (for instance formulas 182, 195, and 221). For some of the formulas, only the place of composition is given.36 With varying precision, one could date most of the formulas for which no date is given on the basis of the information and concrete references they contain, but that is not my aim here.

With regards to the place and time of the compilation of the formulary, one can come to the following conclusions on the basis of the discussion above. Since the formulary contains almost exclusively models of charters produced by the chancellery, it was in all certainty composed in the chancellery. However, the compilers of this “official” formulary, which was compiled for use by the chancellery, have not yet been identified by name. A comparison of the letter of reports sent to the chancellery by the various chancellery scribes and the handwritings found in the formulary might yield conclusions concerning this question. Watermarks37 helped me determine the date of composition of the manuscript. The earliest Brassó (Braşov/Kronstadt) watermark in the formulary was already in use in 1589,38 so one might cautiously suppose that 1588 was the terminus post quem. Thus, sometime after 1588 the compilers may have begun to copy the texts of the charters into the manuscript. As already mentioned, most of the dated formulas were drawn up in the early 1590s, and this offers further support for the conclusion above. (In the best-case scenario, the dates of the formulas indicate the date when the original charters which served as models were drawn up, but at the same time they can serve as a terminus post quem for the date when the given charters were transformed into formulas.) The latest dated items in the formulary date from May 20, 1595, but after this, another 80 formulas were copied into the manuscript. Thus, in all likelihood, the work of compiling the formulary came to an end in late 1595 or the beginning of 1596, if the manuscript at the time was not significantly longer than the version which has survived to the present day (which as noted earlier, consists of 161 pages).

Copies of the texts of several charters which served as models survived in the so-called libri regii registers,39 which were maintained by the chancellery. At the same time, two of the original charters, on which formulas were based, have survived, and variations of the texts of some formulas are found in the StylionariumSB as well. These various texts offer insights into the processes according to which the individual formulas were composed. Here, I offer a detailed presentation of differences between only the following versions. Zsigmond Báthory’s 1590–1591 liber regius contains a copy of the charter which served as the model for formula 169.40 It was copied in an abridged form, so the formula contains a considerably more complete text, though the names of the neighbors of the exempted house were omitted. At the same time, the dates differ. In the case of the liber regius registry, the date is October 8, 1590, whereas in the case of the formula, the (quite definitely incorrect) date is December 16, 1591.41 This also indicates that one must treat the dates in the registries of the formularies with caution, since the compilers obviously did not trouble themselves much over the precise dates when copying the texts (in this specific case, the date may indicate the day on which the text was copied into the formulary). Formula 108 also consists of a more complete version of the text, since the charter of June 3, 1591 (which was used as a template) was also entered into the liber regius in an abridged form.42 In this case, however, the formula contains all the individual data, with the exception of the date. A copy of the original charter on which formula 221 was based was similarly entered into the liber regius of Zsigmond Báthory.43 Because the clerk sought to compose a model for a charter of confirmation, in the formulary he shortened the ten-page privilege to a page and a half, since he mentions only the issuers of the three charters to be transcribed. Their names are followed, after the remark “Descriptis litteris omnibus usque ad finem conclusio hoc modo sequitur,” by the usual confirmation clause. It should be noted that the month and day given for the formula are February 20, whereas the date for the copy found in the liber regius is January 26 (1591), and instead of the actual issuers of one of the transcribed charters, one finds a fictive name: Gergely Petroczky. The names of the estates, which according to the formula were in Szörény (Severin) County, were also omitted. The copy of the charter, however, concerns properties in Máramaros (Maramureş) County, i.e. in an entirely different county.44 Compared to the text copied into the liber regius,45 almost half of formula 223 is missing (the section beginning with the pertinentia charter-formula and ending with the date). Also, some of the family names are imprecise (for instance the name Georgius Bako is given instead of Georgius Domonkos), and several proper names have been omitted. The date of composition of formula 110 was removed, as were two words, but otherwise the text corresponds entirely to the version copied into the liber regius.46

The original which served as the basis for the formula 266 has survived, as has the liber regius copy.47 As a comparison of the texts reveals, there are very few differences between the formula and the original. The absence of the date, however, constitutes a serious obstacle to efforts to use the formula as a historical source. At most, one could base conjectures concerning the date of the formula on the mention of Benedek Mindszenti in the offices of cubicularius (kamarás) and arendator decimarum (tizedarendator). The entry in the liber regius, however, contains all the essential information (even if it was written in abridged form). This suggests that the quite numerous abridged entries in the libri regii contained all the essential information in the original charters, if perhaps in different wordings.

Thus, on the basis of the discussion above one can conclude that the texts of the charters which served as models were transformed into formulas with the omission of shorter or longer passages and usually the partial or complete removal of specific details. The resulting texts contain all the elements that would later be necessary to draft charters of full value and force. In the case of formulas which contained either some or (in very rare instances) all of the proper names and place names and the date, a comparison with the versions found in the libri regii reveals that the compilers of the formulary did not always concern themselves much with the precise transcription of specific information (and one should note, this was not their goal). Rather, in some cases they simply gave fictive dates and fictive proper names instead. Thus, formulas which contain specific information, though valuable and worthy of study as examples of this genre of document, should be used as historical sources preferably only if other sources are available against which this information can be verified.

With regards to the texts found in both formularies, the following details merit mention. Formula 86 contained some of the proper names, but they were omitted from the version copied onto pages 14 and 15 of the StylionariumSB. According to the secondary literature, the more specific details one finds in such a text, the more likely it is that the text in question was copied directly from the original.48 Thus, it is possible that the version from which more of this information is missing was made on the basis of the text found in the formulary under discussion, and in the course of the process of copying the text, specific details which seemed superfluous were omitted. Though they share the same title, formula 362 and the version found on pages 37 and 38 of the StylionariumSB vividly illustrate that the clerks who drafted the formulary were concerned not so much with fidelity to the original texts as they were with the task and practical goal of creating useful formulas. Kristóf Báthory is mentioned as the issuer of one, Zsigmond Báthory of the other (as we are dealing with formulas, the fact that the date 1590 appears in the Kristóf Báthory text did not cause the compiler any particular difficulty). They are both “genuine” formulas, and thus both are lacking in specific information. Only one longer passage reveals that they are versions of the same text. In this case as in the aforementioned one, the text found in the formulary is more complete, which again suggests that the less detailed version was based on it. The same is true of formula 364 and the formula copied onto pages 42 and 43 of the StylionariumSB. The text of the first is more complete and contains individual elements. It is important to mention that in one of the texts the person lodging a complaint is a man, while in the other, she is a woman. Thus, the compilers of the formulas clearly were willing to modify the original details at any time, since these details had no practical significance whatsoever anyway. At the same time, there is a case in which, although the version found in the formulary is more complete (formula 363), the other version (StylionariumSB, page 42) contains passages of text which are not in the former. Concerning formula 391 and the text on page 52 of the StylionariumSB, the latter is slightly more complete and includes the date of composition, so formula 391 may have been based on it. Thus, all signs suggest that in some cases the compilers “borrowed” texts from the formularies to make their own collections as complete as possible. I would also mention formula 279 and the text on page 259 of the StylionariumSB, which are identical in every way and which contain all the individual information. It seems likely that both texts were copied directly from the same charter.

One very frequently comes across various “instructions” in the texts, most of which are in Latin, though a few are in Hungarian. These instructions are intended as guidance in the composition and editing of charters (they also spare the compilers of the manuscript the task of copying passages which seem superfluous or which can already be found in the formulary), but they also clearly show that the compilers knew the contents of the formulary well. Furthermore, they offer glimpses into the everyday work of the chancellery and the process of drawing up the charters. In other words, they call attention to concrete aspects of the “minor details” of work at the chancellery, aspects about which we otherwise would have no other sources on which to draw. In the interests of providing a clear overview, I have divided these instructions into three groups. The first group consists of instructions concerning which formula to use for substitution of the passages of text omitted from a given formula, for instance “Caetera ut in attestatoriis simplicibus” (formula 7); “Caetera ut in formula praemissa” (formula 14); “[...] (prout in litteris salvi conductus) usque ubivis in ditione nostra constitutis et commorantibus [...]” (formula 57); “Initium sit prout in litteris passus: Universis et singulis spectabilibus etc.” (formula 68); “[…] etc. caetera ut in donationis formula usque limitibus existentibus” (formula 137); “[...] etc. caetera prout in aliis formulis” (formula 280); “[...] etc. vide nro 285 usque earum veritas suffragatur” (formula 305); and “[...] etc. prout in aliis ad finem usque” (formula 383). Since in some cases the formulas used for charters of transcription or confirmation do not contain the charters to be transcribed, the compilers note that they must be copied into the charters which will be issued: for instance “Interserantur statutoriae de verbo ad verbum. Subiiciatur: [...]” (formula 46); “Hic integre et totum debebit describi mandatum quo perfecto sic ad caetera progrediendum” (formula 216); “Hic tota requisitoria est describenda qua descripta sic exordiendum” (formula 276); formula 267 for certain princely approval letter mention only the issuers of the charter to be transcribed and then add that it must be “usque ad finem videlicet nonagesimo tertio”, in other words copied in its entirety. “Az uthan mindgiarast ird ezt [then immediately write this]: Et paulo inferius subscriptum erat [...] Ez uthan esmet [then again] scribe hoc: [...].” Similarly, according to the instruction in formula 285, the charter should be copied “[...] usque ad finem. Absolutis litteris subiiciatur post numerum anni: Et in ultima earundem margine subscripta erant [...] Tandem sequitur: [...]”. One also comes across notes offering assistance in the phrasing of the charter or the composition of a similar kind of document: for instance, formula 6, regarding the situation of a person unable to appear before the chancellery or the place of authentication, says the following: “[...] qui cum ob loci distantiam (vel alio impedimento quocunque fuerit).” It then notes that the time and place of the execution should be indicated: “Qumodo ipse (tempus) in et ad (locum seu curiam nobilitarem) [...] accessisset.” In the text of a mandate of institution (litterae introductoriae) issued to the letter searchers (requisitores/levélkeresők), after the inscriptio and salutatio, one finds the following: “(Tandem donatio de verbo ad verbum sine ulla immutatione scribatur. Initium autem inde fiat: Quod nos cum ad nonnulorum etc. Sed pro Quod nos scribatur Cum nos ad etc. in eam formam.) Cum nos dignum et honorificum habentes respectum […] etc. usque haeredibus et posteritatibus utriusque sexus universis. Tandem sequitur: vigore aliarum litterarum nostrarum donationalium […].” At the very end of the formula, there is also a reference indicating that “Praesentibus [i.e. the “Praesentibus perlectis exhibenti restitutis” clause] omittatur in statutoria ad requisitores etc.” (formula 247); at the end of formula 231, which concerns granting the fourth part of the tithe (quarta decimarum) without paying the arenda49 the compiler offers the information necessary for another variation: “Quando vero pro arenda datur, tunc sic scribitur: a loco decimari solitarum pro solita arenda quadraginta florenos, uti perhibetur, constituenda plebano eius loci annuatim et consuetis temporibus de reditibus arendae decimarum huius regni dependenda vita eiusdem T. durante. Et commissio debet dirigi etiam ad plebanum.” After the formula 294 for the invitation to the Diet, the compiler notes the following: “Brassoviam et Bistricium50 scribatur: una cum iudice vestro. Ahol penig polgarmester ninchien [where there is no mayor], sic: una cum regio sedisque iudicibus vestris.”

In addition to including these instructions, the compilers often abbreviated some charter-formulas. One could mention the abbreviation “S. P. D.” for “Secus non facturi. Praesentibus perlectis exhibenti restitutis. Datum etc.” (for instance formulas 77 and 224–225). In some cases, a compiler has changed the word order (for instance formulas 69, 89, and 110), interchanged shorter passages (formulas 146, 200, and 202), made corrections (formulas 13, 58, and 131), given other possible versions in the margins (formulas 76, 113, 237), or inserted words which were omitted (formulas 76, 11, 173). Finally, I would mention a special case when the first two thirds of a formula were copied on folio 51v and 52r and the last third was copied on folio 62v, though this was then indicated at the end of the former with the note “Caetera vide numero 194 inferius.”51 In this case, the compilers simply wanted to add a new coat of arms letter to those already listed but there was not enough space for the introduction of the lengthy document. On the basis of this, however, one could conclude that in the course of compiling the manuscript the clerks kept a certain number of pages for specific types of documents and then later used them. This happened only rarely, however. Otherwise the system would have been more effective in the classification of the documents on the basis of type.

I will not delve into an investigation of the rich and complex content of the manuscript,52 but I will call attention to the foreigners who came from various parts of Europe and who were active in Zsigmond Báthory’s entourage and in the territory of the principality.


In summary, the almost 1,300 pages of the formularies discussed above contain more than 1,100 formulas which provide, if not an exhaustive, then at least a detailed and thorough overview of the kinds of charters and documents issued by the chancellery of the Transylvanian Principality in the second half of the sixteenth century, including documents the originals of which did not survive. They also offer glimpses into the work of the chancellery, revealing aspects of its functioning on which there are few or no other sources. Thus, they are important sources if only from these perspectives, but considering the serious loss of early modern source materials in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries on Transylvania, including the large-scale destruction of the princely archives, they are even more significant. And while it is important, as noted in the discussion above, to treat the formulas with caution when using them as historical sources, at the same time one can hardly ignore the relevance of the information they contain, given that most of them were composed on the basis of charters which were in fact issued and delivered and which in many cases have not to our knowledge survived. Thus, anything we know of their content is based on the formulas. In other words historical scholarship has a great deal to gain from more focused study of the Transylvanian formularies, which for the past six or seven decades have been largely pushed to the margins of scientific inquiry.

Archival Sources

Biblioteca Centrală Universitară “Lucian Blaga” Cluj-Napoca (BCU), Colecţii speciale [“Lucian Blaga” Central University Library of Cluj-Napoca, Special Collections]

Ms. 999, Ms. 1271 (Formerly in the Manuscript Collection of the Library of the Transylvanian National Museum, now in custody of the BCU)

Muzeul Secuiesc al Ciucului, Colecţia de documente [Szekler Museum of Ciuc, Archival Collections], Miercurea Ciuc (MSC ColDoc)

Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára [National Archives of Hungary], Budapest (MNL OL)

Gyulafehérvári Káptalan Országos Levéltára (GyKOLt) [Archives of the Chapter of Gyulafehérvár], Libri regii (F 1)

Kolozsmonostori Konvent Országos Levéltára (KmKOLt) [Archives of the Convent of Kolozsmonostor], Protocolla, libri regii et stylionaria (F 15)

Arhivele Naţionale ale României, Serviciul Judeţean Cluj al Arhivelor Naţionale [Cluj County Branch of the Romanian National Archives], Cluj-Napoca (SJAN-CJ)

Colecţia bresle [Collection of Guild Documents, in the Archives of the Transylvanian National Museum, in custody of the SJAN-CJ] (Fond 544), Breasla lăcătuşilor din Cluj [The Locksmiths’ Guild of Cluj]

Fond familial Wesselényi din Jibou (Fond 250) [The Zsibó/Jibou Archive of the Wesselényi Family, in the Archives of the Transylvanian National Museum, in custody of the SJAN-CJ]


Printed sources

Bónis, György, and Antal Valentiny. Jacobinus János erdélyi kancellár formuláskönyve (1602) [The Formulary of Transylvanian Chancellor János Jacobinus]. Kolozsvár: Minerva, 1947.

Fejér, Tamás, Etelka Rácz, and Anikó Szász, eds. Báthory Zsigmond királyi könyvei 1582–1602 [The Libri Regii of Zsigmond Báthory, 1582–1602]. Vol. I/3 of Az erdélyi fejedelmek királyi könyvei I. 1569–1602 [The Libri Regii of the Transylvanian Princes I. 1569–1602]. Kolozsvár: Erdélyi Múzeum-Egyesület, 2005.

Iványi, Béla. “Egy 1526. előtti ismeretlen kéziratos formulás könyv” [An Unknown Manuscript Formulary from before 1526]. Történelmi Tár (Új Folyam) 5 (1904): 481–538; 6 (1905): 33–41.

Jakó, Zsigmond, ed. A kolozsmonostori konvent jegyzőkönyvei (1289–1556) [The Protocols of the Kolozsmonostor Convent (1289–1556)]. 2 vols. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1990.

Kovachich, Martinus Georgius, ed. Formulae solennes styli in cancellaria curiaque regum, foris minoribus ac locis credibilibus autenthicisque regni Hungariae olim usitati. Budae, 1799.


Secondary literature

Andea, Avram. “Formulary and chancery practice in Transylvania during Michael the Braveʼs reign (1599–1600).” Anuarul Institutului de Istorie G. Bariţiu. Series Historica [Yearbook of the History Institute G. Bariţiu. Series Historica]. Supplement no. 1 (2015): 263–80.

Balogh, Jolán. Kolozsvári kőfaragó műhelyek: XVI. század [Kolozsvár Stone Mason Workshops: Sixteenth Century]. Budapest, 1985.

Bogdándi, Zsolt. “Az erdélyi ítélőmesterek hiteleshelyi jellegű tevékenysége a 16. század végén” [The Work of Transylvanian Protonotaries as Place of Authentication at the End of the Sixteenth Century]. In “... éltünk mi sokáig ʻkét hazábanʼ...” Tanulmányok a 90 éves Kiss András tiszteletére [“… for a long time we lived in ‘two homes’…” Essays in Honor of the 90-year-old András Kiss], edited by Veronka Dáné, Teréz Oborni, and Gábor Sipos, 135–46. Debrecen: Debreceni Egyetemi Kiadó, 2012.

Bogdándi, Zsolt. “Fráter György bírói működésének emlékei Bácsi János formuláskönyvében” [Signs of the Work of György Fráter as a Magistrate in the Formulary of János Bácsi]. Történelmi Szemle 56, no. 4 (2014): 621–38.

Bónis, György. “A Somogyvári formuláskönyv” [The Somogyvári Formulary]. In Emlékkönyv Kelemen Lajos születésének nyolcvanadik évfordulójára [Commemorative Volume on the 80th Birthday of Lajos Kelemen], edited by András Bodor, Béla Cselényi, Elemér Jancsó, Zsigmond Jakó, and Attila Szabó T., 117–33. Bukarest: Tudományos Könyvikadó, 1957.

Bónis, György. “Az Ars Notaria mint retorikai és jogi tankönyv” [The Ars Notaria as a Textbook on Rhetoric and Law]. Filológiai Közlöny 9, no. 3–4 (1963): 373–88.

Bónis, György. “Magyi János formuláskönyve és a gyakorlati jogtanítás” [János Magyi’s Formulary and Practical Instruction in Law]. In A pécsi egyetem történetéből [On the History of the University of Pécs], edited by Andor Csizmadia, 225–60. Pécs: A Pécsi Tudományegyetem Állam- és Jogtudományi Karának Tudományos Bizottsága, 1967.

Bónis, György. “Uzsai János Ars Notariája” [János Uzsai’s Ars Notaria]. Filológiai Közlöny 7, no. 3–4 (1961): 229–60.

Bresslau, Harry. Handbuch der Urkundenlehre für Deutschland und Italien. Vol. 1. Leipzig: Veit & Comp., 1889.

Dreska, Gábor. “Das Formelbuch des Notars Johann Magyi aus dem 15. Jahrhundert.” In Les formulaires, edited by Olivier Guyotjeannin, Laurent Morelle, and Silio P. Scalfati. Paris: L’école des Chartes, 2016. Accessed March 12, 2018. http://elec.enc.sorbonne.fr/cid2012/part11.

Fejér, Tamás, and Anikó Szász. “The so-called Libri Regii Protocols of the Transylvanian Princes.” Colloquia. Journal of Central European History 13, no. 1–2 (2006): 272–89.

Fejér, Tamás. “Az erdélyi fejedelmi kancellária regisztrumvezetési gyakorlata a 16. században” [The Transylvanian Chancellery’s Practice of Keeping Registers in the Sixteenth Century]. Levéltári Közlemények 85 (2014): 3–32.

Fejér, Tamás. “Kancelláriai formuláskönyv a 16. század végéről” [A Chancellery Formulary from the End of the Sixteenth Century]. Erdélyi Múzeum 77, no. 1 (2015): 84–112.

Fejér, Tamás. “Királyfalvi János (†1603) ítélőmester hivatali pályája” [The Career of protonotary János Királyfalvi (†1603)]. In Hivatalnok értelmiség a kora újkori Erdélyben [The Bureaucratic Intelligentsia in Transylvania in the Early Modern Era], edited by Zsolt Bogdándi, and Tamás Fejér, 63–79. Kolozsvár: Erdélyi Múzeum-Egyesület, 2017.

Jakó, Zsigmond. “Filigrane transilvănene din secolul al XVI-lea” [Transylvanian Watermarks from the Sixteenth Century]. Studia Universitatis Babeş-Bolyai. Series Historia 13, no. 1 (1968): 3–19.

Kelemen, Lajos. Kézirattári értékeink [Our Valuable Items in Manuscript Collection]. Edited by Margit B. Nagy. Kolozsvár: Erdélyi Múzeum-Egyesület, 2010.

Kovács, András. “ʻFarkas az én nevem ...ʼ A gyulafehérvári fejedelmi fegyvertár és ágyúöntés kezdeteinek történetéhez” [“Farkas is My Name…” On the History of the Origins of the Principality’s Armory in Gyulafehérvár and Cannon Casting]. Dolgozatok az Erdélyi Múzeum Érem-és Régiségtárából. Új Sorozat 2 (2007): 157–72.

Köpeczi, Béla, gen. ed. History of Transylvania. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1994.

Mareş, Alexandru. Filigranele hîrtiei întrebuinţate în Ţările Române în secolul al XVI-lea [Watermarks of Paper Used in the Romanian Lands in the Sixteenth Century]. Bucureşti: Editura Academiei R.S.R., 1987.

Pécsi, Anna. “Az erdélyi fejedelmi kancellária első formulariumos kézirata” [The First Formulary Manuscript of the Chancellery of the Transylvanian Principality]. In Emlékkönyv Szentpétery Imre születése hatvanadik évfordulójanak ünnepére [Commemorative Volume on the 60th Birthday of Imre Szentpétery], 385–95. Budapest, 1938.

Pécsi, Anna. Az erdélyi fejedelmi kancellária kialakulása és okleveles gyakorlata 1571-ig [The Formation of the Chancellery of the Transylvanian Principality and its Charter-Issuing Practice up to 1571]. Budapest, 1938.

Rio, Alice. Legal Practice and the Written Word in the Early Middle Ages: Frankish Formulae, c. 500–1000. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Rusu, Adrian Andrei. “Raporturi ale curţii principelui Sigismund Báthory cu ierarhia românilor din Transilvania la începutul ultimului deceniu al secolului al XVI-lea” [Relations of the Court of Prince Zsigmond Báthory with the Romanian Hierarchy of Transylvania at the Beginning of the Last Decade of the Sixteenth Century]. Acta Musei Porolissensis 12 (1988): 311–15.

Szentpétery, Imre. Magyar oklevéltan [Hungarian Diplomatics]. Budapest: Magyar Történelmi Társulat, 1930.

Szovák, Kornél. “Funktion und Formen der Formelbüche im mittelalterlichen Ungarn.” In Les formulaires, edited by Olivier Guyotjeannin, Laurent Morelle, and Silio P. Scalfati. Paris: L’école des Chartes, 2016. Accessed March 12, 2018. http://elec.enc.sorbonne.fr/cid2012/part20.

Trócsányi, Zsolt. Erdély központi kormányzata 1540–1690 [The Central Government of Transylvania, 1540–1690]. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1980.

1 The secondary literature on the subject (both Hungarian and international) clarified the role and importance of formularies in the medieval documentary practice a long time ago, so I will not bother rehearsing the general ascertainments here. See for instance Bresslau, Urkundenlehre, 1: 608–45; Szentpétery, Magyar oklevéltan, 91–92, 129–30, 177–78. Among recent studies, I would mention Rio’s Legal Practice and the Written Word, which suggests new approaches to the use of the formularies of the period in question as historical sources. I would also note that formularies have again caught the interest of scholars and researchers. One could mention first and foremost the conference organized by the Commission internationale de diplomatique and entitled Les formulaires. Compilation et circulation des modèles d’actes dans l’Europe médiévale et modern, which was held in 2012. Some two dozen presenters examined the problem areas of formularies, in accordance with the focus and themes of the conference. Two Hungarian medievalists were among the presenters: Kornél Szovák (see Szovák, “Funktion und Formen”) and Gábor Dreska (see Dreska, “Das Formelbuch”). Their research and participation in the conference demonstrates that Hungarian medieval studies also consider this question important.

2 Kovachich, Formulae solennes.

3 Bónis, “Somogyvári formuláskönyv,” 117–33; Bónis, “Uzsai János,” 229–60; Bónis, “Ars Notaria,” 373–88; Bónis, “Magyi János,” 225–60. For an overview of the Hungarian formularies of the Middle Ages, see Szovák, “Funktion und Formen.”

4 Bónis and Valentiny, Jacobinus.

5 Ibid., 5.

6 For instance, alongside the titles found at the beginning of the formulas, Béla Iványi also published in extenso the “formulas which were actually delivered” and the “most interesting and most valuable” formulas. See Iványi, “Kéziratos formuláskönyv,” 481–538 (part 1); 33–41 (part 2).

7 On the formation and functioning of the chancellery until 1571, see Pécsi, Erdélyi fejedelmi kancellária. On the chancellery in greater detail see Trócsányi, Erdély központi kormányzata, 181–250, 365–75. On the era in general see Köpeczi, History of Transylvania, 247–97.

8 Pécsi, “Az erdélyi fejedelmi kancellária első formulariumos kézirata,” 385–93.

9 Bogdándi, “Fráter György,” 621–38.

10 Fejér, “Kancelláriai formuláskönyv,” 84–112.

11 The chancellery was divided into two sections, each of which had its own staff: the great chancellery (cancellaria maior), which dealt with issues concerning internal administration and foreign affairs (and which issued the charters pertaining to these matters), and the smaller chancellery (cancellaria minor), which dealt with the production of documents pertaining to the administration of law.

12 BCU, Ms. 1271. For more on the formulary, see Pécsi, “Az erdélyi fejedelmi kancellária első formulariumos kézirata,” 385–93; Bogdándi, “Fráter György,” 621–38; Kelemen, Kézirattári értékeink, 47–48.

13 For instance, at the letter D (fol. 6r) there is a reference to the following titles: “Divisionalis cum excisione iuris quartalicii fol. 146;” “Divisio rerum mobilium inter filiam et novercam fol. 150;” “Donatio per notam fol. 157;” “Divisionalis pannonica fol. eodem;” “Divisionalis alia in eadem forma fol. eodem;” “Donatio per notam infidelitatis fol. 162;” “Divisionalis ex iudiciaria deliberatione fol. 169;” “Divisionalis ex iudiciaria deliberatione fol. 189;” “Divisionalis similiter ex iudiciaria deliberatione fol. 196.

14 In the case of János Szapolyai and János Zsigmond, since with only three exceptions there are only references to the name Ioannes, the person who issued the given formula must be determined on an individual basis, when possible. Most of them, however, can in almost all certainty be attributed to János Zsigmond.

15 Pozsony (Bratislava/Pressburg), Buda, and Várad occur the most frequently, though Gyulafehérvár (Alba Iulia/Weissenburg), Kolozsvár (Cluj-Napoca/Klausenburg), Torda (Turda/Thorenburg), Enyed (Aiud/Engeten), and Szamosfalva (Someşeni) are also found.

16 MNL OL, KmKOLt, Protocolla (F 15), no. 64. This fragment is mentioned by Jakó, Kolozsmonostori konvent, 1: 159.

17 Further research would be necessary to determine whether or not this fragment (or rather the formulary of which it presumably is a surviving excerpt) was used by the chancellery, keeping in mind that, according to note added to the formula entitled “Dilatio causae,” the text in question was written down in Kolozsvár by a scribe named Johannes R.

18 MNL OL, KmKOLt, Protocolla (F 15), no. 12. According to the pagination, at the moment 15 pages are missing from the manuscript. Scholars have only recently begun to devote attention to the formulary, and some of the formulas have been published (see Fejér, “Az erdélyi fejedelmi kancellária,” 26; Bogdándi, Erdélyi ítélőmesterek,” 144–46). The manuscript itself, however, has not been made the subject of rigorous study. According to Bogdándi, the formulary was compiled by a scribe of protonotary Márton Radvánczy (1582–1596). See Bogdándi, “Erdélyi ítélőmesterek,” 138–39.

19 The only exception is the formula (pag. 34–35) the date of which is indicated as 1580, but even in the case of this formula, Zsigmond Báthory is given as the issuer.

20 Fejér, “Királyfalvi János,” 66.

21 SJAN-CJ, Coll. of Guild Documents (Fond 544), The Locksmiths’ Guild of Cluj, no. 3. The formulary was published by Bónis and Valentiny, Jacobinus, 25–56. Pages 5 and 6, which at the time had survived, are now missing from the manuscript. The formulas which give Voivode and Imperial Governor Mihai Viteazul as the issuer were again published by Andea, “Formulary and chancery practice,” 276–80.

22 After Zsigmond Báthory’s second abdication from the throne of the principality, on behalf of the emperor Rudolf II Maria Christierna governed Transylvania from April until August 1598.

23 BCU, Ms. 999. I note here that both in the main body of this article and in the footnotes, I refer to the sequential number of the formulas.

24 Kelemen, Kézirattári értékeink, 48.

25 Balogh, Kolozsvári kőfaragó műhelyek, 230, 280–81, 297–98.

26 Kovács, “Farkas az én nevem...,” 163–64.

27 Rusu, “Raporturi,” 311–15. Rusu also offers a brief presentation of the formulary.

28 Fejér, “Kancelláriai formuláskönyv,” 84–112.

29 The sequential numbers of the formulas also indicate, however, that several pages are missing from the manuscript.

30 There is a case (formula 258) in which, instead of the frequently occurring letter T as a reference to the proper name, one finds an abbreviation: “mag[nifi]ci d[omini] I[oannis] G[alfy], magistri curiae et consiliarii nostri.” Thus, on the basis of the offices he held, we can identify this figure (in all certainty) as princely counselor and master of the court János Gálfi.

31 Some of these documents were in all likelihood the work of chancellery scribes and thus belong quite naturally among the formulas.

32 We can also attribute the texts for which only Ioannes is given as the issuer to János Zsigmond.

33 Formulas 48, 172, 328, 338, 362, 369, 370, 371, 372.

34 On the issuer of formula 186, see Fejér, Rácz and Szász, Báthory Zsigmond, no. 1529.

35 From these, the date given for formula 169 is incorrect (see footnote 40). At the same time, we included here the charters transcribed in formulas 193 (fol. 62r) and 268 (fol. 90r–v), which also give the date.

36 For instance, formulas 36, 53, and 58. Regarding the date, one comes across variations like “Datum in Alba Iulia, die etc. anno Domini etc.” (formula 59) and “Datum in civitate nostra N die N mensis N anno N.” (formula 78). There are also cases in which dates are mentioned in the text of a formula, for instance formulas 27, 87, and 216. This information is sometimes very useful in efforts to determine the date of composition of the charter.

37 Based on the watermarks in the manuscript one could identify the papermills in the following cities as the places of origin of the paper used: Brassó (for instance fol. 21, 23, and 25), Szeben (Sibiu/Hermannstadt) (for instance fol. 37, 38, and 40), Memmingen (for instance fol. 4, 5, and 6), Kempten (fol. 71, 74, 76, 77), and Lengfelden (fol. 10). The works used in the identification of the watermarks: Mareş, Filigranele; Jakó, “Filigrane transilvănene,” 8–19.

38 Fol. 36, see Jakó, “Filigrane transilvănene,” 12 (watermark no. 36); Mareş, Filigranele, 17 (watermark 126).

39 For more on the libri regii kept by the chancellery, see Fejér and Szász, “Libri Regii,” 272–89; Fejér, “Az erdélyi fejedelmi kancellária,” 3–32.

40 MNL OL, KmKOLt, Protocolla (F 15), no. 11. fol. 30r. See also Fejér, Rácz and Szász, Báthory Zsigmond, no. 1269.

41 One comes across similar cases in János Jacobinus’ formulary as well. For instance, the date of composition of formula 10 is March 9, 1599 (see Bónis and Valentiny, Jacobinus, 39–41), whereas in the case of the original charter the date is March 8, 1598. (MSC ColDoc, no. 754.)

42 MNL OL, KmKOLt, Protocolla (F 15), no. 11. fol. 260v. See also Fejér, Rácz and Szász, Báthory Zsigmond, no. 1579.

43 MNL OL, KmKOLt, Protocolla (F 15), no. 11. fol. 152v–157v. See also Fejér, Rácz and Szász, Báthory Zsigmond, no. 1393.

44 A comparison of formula 158 and the original on which it was based, which was drawn up on May 18, 1588 (SJAN-CJ, Arch. Wesselényi [Fond 250], no. 150d), reveals much the same thing: both of the charters which were to be transcribed were omitted from the formula made for a charter of transcription and the original charter, which was lengthy, has been shortened to a half-page. The text of the formula also contains omissions, but the proper names in it and the specification of the type of charters to be copied made it possible to identify the original charter. See formula 181 and MNL OL, KmKOLt, Protocolla (F 15), no. 11. fol. 44r (see also Fejér, Rácz and Szász, Báthory Zsigmond, no. 1287), in which, along other significant differences, András Szatmári is referred to as nobilis, while in the liber regius copy he is referred to as circumspectus and a resident of Nagybánya (Baia Mare/Frauenbach).

45 MNL OL, KmKOLt, Protocolla (F 15), no. 11. fol. 134v–135r. See also Fejér, Rácz and Szász, Báthory Zsigmond, no. 1663. See formula 309 and MNL OL, GyKOLt, Libri regii (F 1), no. 3. fol. 106v–107r. (See also Fejér, Rácz and Szász, Báthory Zsigmond, no. 337.) In this case, the formula contains all the specific information except the date. Only the more general charter-formulas have been omitted. A comparison of formula 59 and the liber regius registry reveals much the same thing (MNL OL, KmKOLt, Protocolla [F 15], no. 11. fol. 45r. See also Fejér, Rácz and Szász, Báthory Zsigmond, 1298): alongside certain charter-formulas, the date is also missing, and the compiler has given an incomplete form of the name of the beneficiary (“Nicolai T. Albensis”).

46 MNL OL, KmKOLt, Protocolla (F 15), no. 11. fol. 313v–314r. See also Fejér, Rácz and Szász, Báthory Zsigmond, no. 1626.

47 On the publication of these texts, see Fejér, “Kancelláriai formuláskönyv,” 99–100.

48 Bónis, “Magyi János,” 230.

49 Following the secularization of Church properties in 1556, the tithe was tied to the incomes of the princely treasury. Often, the landowners rented the tithe from the treasury for a set price (arenda), but the princes could yield their claim for instance to the fourth of the tithe or the entire tithe for specific individuals without payment of the aforementioned fee.

50 Beszterce (Bistriţa/Nösen).

51 Formulas 172, 194.

52 See Fejér, “Kancelláriai formuláskönyv,” 94–99.

pdfVolume 7 Issue 4 CONTENTS

The Society of the Residence of the Transylvanian Princes in the Second Half of the Sixteenth Century

Emőke Gálfi
Research Institute of the Transylvanian Museum Society
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The aim of this study is to present the society of the town of Gyulafehérvár (Alba Iulia/Weissenburg) in the fifty years following the secularization of the holdings of the Church. The transformation of the episcopal estate into a princely domain brought a number of changes in the life of the settlement, such as the reorganization of its government and the acquisition of legal and economical privileges. In the period of the Báthory princes (1571–1602), the town was again transformed to meet newly arisen needs.

Keywords: princely estate, society of market towns, secularization, urban government, Gyulafehérvár (Alba Iulia/Weissenburg)

The central place of Gyulafehérvár1 in the history of Transylvania is well known, and there is a great deal of secondary literature based on primary historical sources which emphasizes its importance.2 The truth, however, is much more depressing: in part because of its importance, the city, which was home to the prince, perished several times in the modern era, meaning not only that its population dropped to an insignificant number and its buildings were destroyed or left in ruins, but even its archive, which reflects the history of the town, was destroyed.3

The landlord of the market town (with the exception of the area belonging to the Transylvanian Chapter) at the end of the Middle Ages was the bishop of Transylvania. Of the two types of towns in Hungary that historians have identified in the period in question based on their ground plans,4 Gyulafehérvár belongs to the group of settlements with castles in the center and outlying districts.5 The cathedral, the bishop’s palace, the houses of the canons and the altarists, the Dominican and Augustinian friaries, the hospital, and probably the chapter school were all located within the walls of the castle. The market square was located in front of the western gate6 in the area outside the castle. The townspeople of the market town lived in the western area, and the houses inhabited by the tenant peasants of the chapter and the provost were located in the southeastern area called the “Major.”7 The society of the bishop’s residence consisted of geographically distinct quarters inhabited by heterogeneous groups of clerics and laymen; the two were tied together by more or less close connections and lived under the jurisdiction of their landlords, the bishops of Transylvania.

The first basic change in the life of the settlement was the transformation of the bishop’s seat to a princely residence in 1542. After the death of János Statileo (1542), the last medieval Transylvanian bishop, the bishop’s seat remained vacant, and the bishopric’s estates and the bishop’s market town itself was given to the recently arrived Queen Isabella Jagiellon (1539–1559, the widow of King János I Szapolyai) for the upkeep of her court.8 At that time, the chapter town, which was about the same size as the market town of the bishop, had not yet been handed over to the queen. In 1551, as the queen was leaving, under the rule of the Habsburg House the city of Gyulafehérvár was again put under the authority of the bishop, but in 1556, with the return of the queen and her son and the secularization9 of the Church estates in the country,10 the town began to undergo radical changes.

The First Phase of the Urban Development after the Secularization of Church Estates Goods

The history of Gyulafehérvár as the residence of the prince of Transylvania began in 1556, although some parts of the city had already been in the hands of the rulers before the secularization of Church estates. The rise of the city as the residence of the prince is tied to the person and the second rule of Queen Isabella (1556–1559), because her overall reforms to urban policy also included changes which determined the development of Gyulafehérvár. The most important change was that as part of the process of secularization, from that time on, the entire settlement became the estate of the queen and, later, of the ruling prince of Transylvania. Because the entire settlement was brought under the rule of one landlord, the separate quarters of the city were unified under the same chief judge of the town (iudex primarius). The bishop’s market town, which previously had been under its own judge, and the chapter town11 (“Major”), which was probably led by a so-called kenéz12 before 1556, came under the authority of the town judge, although on a lower level of administration the “Major” still remained under the authority of the kenéz.13

The change in the town’s leadership and in the number of people who served as members of the inner and outer councils can also be dated to this period. In the Middle Ages, the town magistracy was led by a judge, four jurors (iurati), and an unknown number of external councilors.14 After 1556, the membership of the magistracy rose to six jurors and 20 councilors (consules),15 who were led by a judge.16 Although the surviving sources only contain data concerning the full composition of the magistrate beginning in 157117 they do at the very least indicate that before 1571 the magistrate consisted of one judge and six jurors.18 In all likelihood, the judges were elected in January,19 and immediately after fulfilling their mandates, they could not be reelected. However, there were cases when members of the magistracy who had dealt successfully with the problems which had arisen in the administration of the town were reelected after several years.20 The sources also indicate that judges in many cases were elected from members of the jurors,21 and after having served for one year as judges, they became members of the external town council, together with the so-called consules.22 On the model of the former bishop’s market town, the Gyulafehérvár court judge (provisor) became the court of appeal for the townspeople of the market town. 23

A change took place which was a decisive event in the life of the town in the mid-sixteenth century, the first sign of which is evident from the composition of the town’s government: alongside the chief judge, a judge of the townspeople of Lippa (Lipova) and of Temesvár (Timişoara/Temeschwar) appears among the members. The judge of the townspeople of Lippa also became one of the nine assessors of the court of law of the court judge, along with the chief judge and two jurors of the town, which became the court of appeal for the townspeople.24 The two judges were the heads of the quarter called Lippa, a name which appears in the sources in the second half of the sixteenth century. The name of the quarter can only be explained by the fall of the towns of Lippa and Temesvár to the Ottomans in the summer of 1552. Following this event, many refugees fled to Transylvania, and many of them settled in Gyulafehérvár and its surroundings.25 The fact that the townspeople of Lippa and Temesvár had a separate street and quarter in Gyulafehérvár suggests an organized settling process which can probably be associated with the Rascian magnate Miklós Cserepvith26 and perhaps Gianbattista Castaldo, governor of Transylvania (1551–1553).27

The sources do not indicate clearly when the inhabitants of the Lippa quarter acquired the right to elect their own representatives and when were they included in the government of the town. However, based on the reorganization of the magistracy after 1556 and the relationship of Queen Isabella and King János I Szapolyai (1526–1540) to the town of Lippa, it is reasonable to suppose that the leaders of the Lippa quarter became members of the town’s government after 1556. According to the diploma of the leaders of the quarter from 1567, the townspeople of Lippa and Temesvár functioned under the leadership of two judges and six jurors as a common municipal council.28 It is probable that the judges and jurors were elected from the former townspeople of the two towns equally (3-3). The council confirmed their diplomas with its seal.29

The return of Queen Isabella in 1556 meant the legal unification of the quarters, the reorganization of the urban government, the bestowal of economic privileges. One of the economic privileges of Gyulafehérvár was the right to have an annual fair. The “letter on the annual fair” was mentioned in the Town Book of Gyulafehérvár in 1597 and 159830 as a treasure that the judge in office takes over from his predecessor, along with the town’s archive. The letter and the archive were destroyed in 1600.31 Like the urban statutes, the privilege could have originated from Queen Isabella, and it must have specified the dates of the annual fairs. As far as we know, the town had two annual fairs in the Middle Ages.32 The annual fairs held in the second half of the sixteenth century are known from a calendar produced in the printing workshop of Gáspár Heltai.33 As the calendar was printed in 1572, it seems likely that it reflects the situation of the period of the reign of king elect János II Szapolyai (or Prince János Zsigmond; 1540–1571) or probably an earlier period. In Gyulafehérvár, three annual fairs were held in that period: the first on the day of the appearance of Saint Michael or Saint Stanislaus (May 8),34 the second on Michaelmas (September 29), and the third on Maundy Thursday.

In comparison, among the market towns in the territory of the estate of Gyulafehérvár35 Enyed (Aiud/Engeten) also had three fairs, but otherwise annual fairs were held only in Krakkó and Tövis (Teiuş/Dreikirchen), in the former twice a year and in the latter once a year.36 For further comparison with the other towns in Transylvania and Partium,37 Kolozsvár (Cluj-Napoca/Klausenburg) and Várad (Oradea) both had three fairs, but with its six annual fairs, the market town of Debrecen had by far the most.38 In 1558, four annual fairs were held in Kolozsvár39 and 12 annual fairs were held in the medieval city of Várad,40 so some settlements may have had more fairs than the settlements mentioned above, but based on the comparison of medieval and early modern fairs, it is clear that the data in the calendar are accurate,41 even if the calendar does not include every single fair.

With regards to the land and estate management of the town, it is clear that before 1556, apart from the forests and meadows, properties were also used as commons in the boundary of Gyulafehérvár; there is data of a mill being donated to the town by János I.42 After the secularization of the Church estates, the town was able to acquire the former chapter school and the Holy Spirit hospital (founded by Bishop István Upori), which at the beginning of the sixteenth century also included a bath house and a slaughter house.43 The last will and testament of János Zsigmond informs us about their fate, in which he left 1,500 florins for the construction of the school of Gyulafehérvár and the needs of its students and 500 florins for the hospital.44 Both sums were handed over to the town’s leader by the executors of his last will on June 22, 1571.45

With regard to the ecclesiastical privileges of the town, as we have emphasized a number of times, until 1556 Gyulafehérvár did not have the right to elect its own priest.46 Although a number of signs suggest that the townspeople and the members of the chapter were open to the ideas of Protestantism,47 it is unlikely that the townspeople received this basic privilege, neither from Queen Isabella nor later from her son. Given that the milieu in which the prince moved was saturated with religious polemics fueled in part by Giorgio Blandrata,48 who was open to the religious reforms, it seems likely that the townspeople followed the faith of the prince. This is reflected by their strong opposition when, according to the account given by Giovanandrea Gromo, in 1565 the Protestants expelled the Catholic priests from the cathedral and smashed the altars, statues, and images they found there.49

The secularization of the castle district merits separate discussion. At the end of the Middle Ages, the ecclesiastical society of the town was concentrated in this district. Part of the castle was in the hands of the bishop, while part was owned by the chapter. In the case of this quarter, the process of secularization took years. Queen Isabella and later János II left the formerly Catholic clerics, who swore their loyalty to them for the rest of their lives, in their possessions. The possessions of the canons and the lower clergy who had to flee Transylvania, however, were immediately confiscated by the treasury and were donated to the queen’s and her son’s supporters. Among the canons who left the country, one finds Máté Báthai, canon and archdeacon of Torda (Turda/Thorenburg), and Ferenc Szengyeli, canon and archdeacon of Küküllő and Transylvanian vicar, on whom there is no information whatsoever in any of the surviving sources from after September 1556.50 The same is true of the altarists of the altars dedicated to Saint Matthew and Saint Lawrence, whose houses, which according to the sources were empty, were therefore later given away.51

The abovementioned Ferenc Szengyeli must have committed an unforgivable crime, along with György Fráter52 (1482–1551), by assisting in the exhumation and removal53 of the body of Orbán Batthyány54 (?–1547). Szengyeli’s deed is telling regarding the spread of Protestantism, as he probably aimed to set an example with this extraordinary act, and this is not our sole indicate in the sources of his anti-Protestantism.55 After the return of Queen Isabella, Szengyeli was forced to leave the town. His house, which was the residence of the archdeaconry of Küküllő, was later given to Ambrus Szabadkai Kis, the court judge of János Zsigmond, and his family.56 The date of the donation is unknown. We know only that Ambrus Kis,57 who belonged to the lesser nobility, first served Bálint Török58 (1502–1550). After Török was taken captive, Kis then served Katalin Pemmflinger, after whose death he settled in Transylvania. In 1555, he was in the service of Pál Bornemissza,59 bishop of Transylvania, in 1556 he probably swore loyalty to Queen Isabella, and in 1568 he died in Transylvania as a court judge in Gyulafehérvár.60

As a result of the royal donations, by 1556 the castle district’s population, which previously had consisted mostly of clerics, was made up primarily of high-ranking representatives of the courtly nobility. During the reign of Queen Isabella, however, very few secularized Church possessions were given away, or at least the sources indicate only a few. It hardly seems coincidental that during the last period of her reign (1556–1559), in one year’s time no more than 62 pages of diplomas were entered into the royal book (Liber Regius).61 There is no information concerning any of the estates in Gyulafehérvár having been given away by Isabella. There is only an indirect reference to this in a diploma of János Zsigmond from 1561, which mentions similar donations made by his mother. The elected king then gave his doctor for life a stone house which had belonged to the Saint Matthew altar of the cathedral, but with the specification that the doctor was only entitled to belongings in the house which had not already been given away by János II himself or his mother.62

Even at the beginning of the reign of János II, the donations (of which the example cited above seems typical), were cautious and were meant only for the lifetime of the individual to whom they were given, but not his heirs. This is also true of the Gyulafehérvár house of Ambrus Mosdósi, former dean and archdeacon of Ózd, and altarist (rector) of the Holy Cross altar. It is not clear whether he got the donation from the queen or his son, and the donation only legitimized his continuous possession of the property, but it is clear that he held the building until his death, as in 1570 it ended up in the hands of Kristóf Hagymási, captain of Huszt (Xyct).

The belongings of the Saint Magdalene altar of the cathedral also remained in the hands of its rector,63 Lőrinc Szentmihályi,64 who is mentioned in a later source as requisitor of the place of authentication and court judge in Gyulafehérvár. In 1568, the prince gave him the house that had belonged to the altar and two vineyards on the edge of the town, a mill with two wheels in Felenyed (Aiudul de Sus), and one-third of a mill in Lámkerék (Langendorf/Lancrăm), on the Sebes River, which all had belonged to the Saint Magdalene altar.65 These estates were in the hands of Szentmihályi as altarist already. As in the case of Mosdósi, the donation only legitimized his holdings. The houses in the castle district that belonged to the canons and the altarists and to which manor houses, gardens, mills, tenant peasants, and vineyards in the surrounding vine slopes belonged were usually donated by the rulers with all their belongings,66 as happened in the case of the Saint Magdalene altar, but in many cases (and especially with the passing of time) only some of these belongings were given to the beneficiary.

In Gyulafehérvár, during the reigns of Queen Isabella and János II, the princely court took possession of the lodges that had belonged to the clergy until the process of secularization, but the prince did not envision keeping the center of his court as prince there for the long term. As the secondary literature has already shown, János II planned the development of a new seat at the nearby Szászsebes (Mühlbach/Sebeş), but due to his death at a young age this plan was never realized.67

The Residence of the Báthory Princes

In light János II’s plans regarding Szászsebes, it is beyond dispute that, with the death of the elected king, Gyulafehérvár remained the residence of the rulers because of the decision of the prince, István Báthory. Báthory was taking into consideration, when making this decision, that the town and the extensive lands around it were princely property.

Certainly thanks to István Báthory68 and perhaps because of the growing population of the princely center, the urban magistracy was extended to a degree that was visible in the town’s government. Accordingly, in the last third of the sixteenth century, the town’s government was represented by a judge, 12 jurors, and 40 external councilors.69 The latter appear in the sources not as consul but senator.70 The “forty men” were probably chosen from among the townsmen of the five parts of the city (fertály or quarters): the Vár (“Castle”), Tégla, Bódog, Lippa, and Tövis, as is indicated in the early-seventeenth-century entries of the Town Book.71 After 1571, Lippa quarter probably lost its right to elect its own judge and probably was only able to elect senators, like the other quarters. The chapter’s outskirts, called “Major” and geographically separate from the quarters that formed the previous market town of the bishopric, were inhabited by Romanians72 and were still governed by the kenéz, who was subordinated to the town judge and the town’s magistrate.73

Judging by their names, the 12 jurors were craftsmen (Szabó, Borbély, Nyírő, and Mészáros74) and merchants, but it is likely that most of the members of this leading elite were literate and were well aware of the town’s legal customs and the taxes and duties that were due to the prince. The jurors were probably chosen from among the senators, but the sources contain no data concerning this in the case of Gyulafehérvár.75 In the case of the judges, it was established practice that they first served as members of the body from which the jurors were chosen, and during this time they learned the ins and outs of governance. Between 1581 and 1600, of the 12 people who were elected to serve as judges76 (there were 12 individuals elected to serve as judges in this period because some of them were reelected), seven of them had served as jurors and on an average it had taken 7.7 years for them to be elected as judges. After the end of their year in office, the town judges again became jurors, and one also finds them among the town senators, a position which some of them held several times.77 The town’s notary, who kept the Town Book and the minutes of legislative protocols, had an important role in managing the town’s issues, but he was also the person to put down in writing the different court cases that were brought to the town judge, as well as the last wills.78

The judge of the town was normally elected at the beginning of the year, probably around Epiphany, and the rule according to which the same person could not serve as a judge for two consecutive years was enforced, but someone who had performed well could be reelected after a year had passed.79 In January, a judge who was leaving the position usually gave an account of the work he had done over the course of the year, and he then handed over the town’s archive and the symbol of town magistracy’s power—two swords—to his successor.80 The chest for the archive of the town contained a book bound in parchment dyed red, which András Kovács identifies as the Town Book of Gyulafehérvár,81 an “old black decorated book,” which may have included the urban statutes, a Decretum (that is, the Tripartitum82 of István Werbőczy), important privileges (such as those concerning the town’s annual fairs), the privileges concerning the ploughlands, and “some protocols,” which probably meant the legislative protocols.83

The site of deliberations concerning legislation in the second half of the sixteenth century must have been the town hall, which was by the outer market square of the town.84 In contrast with views which have gained prominence in the secondary literature,85 we believe that, based on the model of Szeben (Sibiu/Hermannstadt), Brassó (Braşov/Kronstadt), and Kolozsvár86 (the communities of which created or purchased a place for the town’s government in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries), Gyulafehérvár also must have had a similar house by at least the second half of the sixteenth century, if not earlier. The “house of the town” (város háza) referred to in the diploma cited above, therefore, must have been the town hall, not the house of a townsman which became the property of the town after his death without legal heirs (the text could also be interpreted to suggest this), because had that been the case the house would have been inherited by the landlord (the prince) and not the community of the market town. The fact that the significantly smaller market town of Sárd in the neighborhood of Gyulafehérvár also had a town hall in 158387 which was on the main square of the settlement also supports this conclusion.88

The magistracy described above only had jurisdiction over the townspeople, who were only one segment of the society of the princely market town. The most precise description of the different layers of the society was given by the magistrate itself in 1604. According to a text entered into the Town Book, the contemporaries clearly drew distinctions between “noble, urban, and military estates,”89 i.e. the nobility, the townspeople, and military men in the service of the court. And within the “urban estate” they drew a distinction between the inhabitants of the quarters listed above and the Romanians in the “Major.” 90

In the territory of the town, representatives of the three layers lived side by side,91 and although in the castle district the nobility was the clear majority, townsmen and military officers also had holdings within the walls.92 Gyulafehérvár had two main squares, one within the town walls, the other in front of the western gate (Saint Michael’s Gate). The latter also functioned as the market square of the town. The outer main square was home to various shops, which were either run by the townspeople themselves or rented by them for the periods of the annual fairs or for a year.93 The three annual fairs of the town were held here, as were the weekly markets. There we find also the cemetery and the parish church of the town (which before the secularization of Church belongings was dedicated to the Virgin Mary),94 and, as noted above, the town hall. This outer, rather long main square was not only the center of the town in an institutional sense, but was also a true reflection of the town’s social structure. While the character of the main square in the walled town was determined by the nicely reconstructed residences of magnates, which were renovated versions of houses which had belonged to the canons and altar deans,95 on the outer main square it was the court nobility, the garrisons of the court, and the richest burgesses who tried to acquire houses. There was a significant overlap among the members of the last group and members of the magistrate. The names of the judges of Gyulafehérvár are known from 1563 onwards, with some shorter and longer gaps. These are supplemented occasionally by information on the jurors and senators. The names of altogether 17 judges who served between 1563 and 1600 are known, of which nine had houses in the outer main square96 and one on the main square of the walled town.97 We know of another three who owned two plots either on the outer main square or in its immediate vicinity.98

The noble society of the princely residence, to which the rich members of the townsmen described above were trying to find their way, were identical with the nobles who were present at the princely court. The identity of the high-ranking representatives of these nobles and the locations of their houses in the castle district are familiar from the secondary literature,99 so it would be superfluous to touch on this layer here. However, the same is not true of the third group of this urban society, the military population.

Foreign travelers who described Gyulafehérvár recurrently mentioned that there were many garrisons and comparatively few townspeople in the city.100 At the end of the Middle Ages, the military command of the castle of Gyulafehérvár was under the authority of its castellan.101 The function existed during the reigns of Queen Isabella and János Zsigmond, and sources indicate that in 1562 (i.e. during János Zsigmond’s reign), the garrison of the princely court consisted of approximately 1,500 men, of which 500 were footmen and 1,000 were cavalrymen. Between 1564 and 1567, 200 footmen and 100 cavalrymen served under the Italian mercenary leader Gromo.102 As the difference between the numbers is big (1,000 cavalrymen vs. 100), it is likely that the cavalry consisting of 1,000 men was not permanently present at the court, and according to medieval customs, the closest members of the noble retainer of the king also had to have cavalrymen, though we do not know who served as their leader.103 Sources indicate that the castellan of Gyulafehérvár existed as a function until the death of János II,104 the castellan may have been in command of the 500 footmen. Sources also mention castellanus from the period after the death of János II,105 but by then the castellanus was in charge of the watch of the two town gates and was not the military leader of the town and castle.106 Between 1556 and 1571, the castellan not only had military duties but also was involved in the administration of justice, as he had a seat among the assessors of the court judge.107

After the death of János II, the courtly military and its leadership was reorganized to meet newly arisen needs, and two chief captains were appointed to lead the courtly military. One led the cavalrymen, the other led the riflemen, known as the pedites pixidarii or by their other name, the presidiaries (praetoriani) or blue guardsmen, who formed part of the footmen. From then on, the title of castellan ceased to exist, but probably the former function of the castellans survived in the title of the two castellans of the town gates, who were probably the closest subordinates of the head of the blue guardsmen. There is no other explanation for the statement made by Farkas Bethlen,108 according to which 600 men were in charge of protecting the gates of Gyulafehérvár, as the number of the blue guardsmen was 600 altogether.109 The sources also contain information concerning the subordinates of the castellans of the town gates, such as the corporal, Tamás Dévai, who served at the Saint Michael’s Gate in 1591.110

After the death of János II, György Bánffy became the first chief captain of the cavalry. The sources give indications of his role in this position as of 1572.111 The function sometimes is also referred to by the sources as the captain of the noble retainers,112 which clearly shows that the leading officers of the princely court had to hire cavalrymen themselves,113 who were led by the abovementioned chief commander of the cavalry. There are also data concerning the deputy of the commander of the cavalry; in 1583, László Brinyi, courtly vice-captain, served in this position.114 According to the account of Pierre Lescalopier from 1574, the cavalry numbered 600 men, two companies of which were formed by Polish pike-bearers.115 The size of the cavalry remained the same in later times; in 1585, István Báthory, when organizing the new government in Transylvania, ordered János Ghiczy116 to have 600 cavalrymen paid on a monthly basis kept at the princely court.117 Two expense lists from 1586 somewhat contradict these numbers, as according to the first 670 cavalrymen had to be hired and according to the second 255, but the contradiction can be explained if the first included all the cavalrymen, while the second included only the cavalrymen who resided at the princely court.118

In the town books, contemporaries write about the layer of courtly footmen as the third constituent of the society of the town.119 Their chief captain from the reign of István Báthory until his death in early 1585120 was certainly János Sasa.121 The abovementioned castellans and their captains, corporals,122 and billeters123 served under the chief captain of the courtly riflemen. Not all of the cavalrymen and riflemen who served at the court owned a residence at the princely seat. The billeters had to arrange their lodges, which meant numerous impositions. In 1589, the widow of Mátyás Szinyei Szabó, the late preacher of Gyulafehérvár, sold her house in the walled town at Szentegyház Street partly because of her poverty and debts and partly because, as she emphasizes, she could not bear the rowdiness of the people to whom she provided lodging.124

The members of the military who owned houses were not concentrated in a separate quarter or street of the town. Sometimes they lived in adjacent houses,125 but this was not a general trend. However, real estate owned by the representatives of this social stratum changed hands among members of this stratum, which can be partly explained by their personal ties (e.g. Albert Király, the chief captain of the cavalrymen was the legal guardian of the orphans of the late István Károlyi, chief captain of the riflemen126) but also by the fact that the house of a military man was expanded with annexed buildings, which fitted their lifestyles. Accordingly, in 1585, as ordered by his last will and testament, the widow of the aforementioned János Sasa, chief captain of the riflemen, sold her house on the outer main square for 320 Hungarian florins to rifle captain Bálint Rácz.127 Two years later, Bálint Rácz sold the house again to a military man, István Károlyi, chief captain of the riflemen, this time for 425 Hungarian florins,128 and in 1591 the house was purchased by Benedek Mindszenti, who served as captain of the castle of Udvarhely (Odorheiu Secuiesc) at the time and who paid 500 florins for it.129

The chief captains of the courtly military also belonged to the nobility or gained nobility in recognition of their heroic deeds. A diploma on the outer main square stone house of István Károlyi specifically mentions that the owner came into possession of the building through his heroic deeds.130 Using their wages, the corporals and the captains who belonged to the mid-layer of the riflemen tried to get by either in the territory of the town or in its surroundings.131 In many cases, they may have married women from among the townswomen, as did literatus Péter Sólyomkői, for instance, who served as riflemen second lieutenant and then captain, and who married132 the daughter of Ferenc Pontyos, judge of the refugees from Lippa.133 He received a noble manor house for his service at Borosbocsárd (Bucerdea Vinoasă), when he sued Mihály Pontyos for the house of his father-in-law, Ferenc Pontyos. The house stood on the outer main square, and Mihály Pontyos sold it without asking him.134 Sólyomkői may have sold his house in Borosbocsárd in 1591 in order to cover his expenses connected to the protracted lawsuit.135

The sources contain little information concerning the lower ranking riflemen of the court. We know only which parts of the princely center one of them owned a house or a plot in.136 They also got some share of the lands on the edge of the town, which were assigned to the military population, as sources from 1604 mention that the three urban estates divided the lands on the boundary of the town among themselves.137 This is probably why the town council decreed in 1596 that the land called Csigás should be divided up among the townspeople so that if one of them were to die and his widow were to remarry a military man they would not have the right to hold the land in question, rather it would come back into the possession of the town, which then would redistribute it among the townspeople.138

The non-noble riflemen, like the inhabitants of the other settlements of the domain, had to pay seigniorial dues and the tithe as a tax on their houses, so like other segments of the population of the market town, they complemented their incomes with agricultural work. Interestingly, however, the sources offer no indication of any riflemen owning vineyards on the boundary of the town. These vineyards, it seems, belonged to the townsmen and the nobility. We do not know whether there was some kind of related regulation in the urban statutes,139 but it is clear that viticulture required more work and care than other agricultural activities, and this may explain why the group that was mostly involved in soldering did not have similar holdings.

The princes took care of their merited soldiers themselves, as was common practice at the time. The Polish king István Báthory wrote to the Triple Council (hármas tanács) of Transylvania in 1583, noting that he had “ordered a place” for his guardsman, Péter Szerémi, in Saint George’s Gate, so they should give him a salary. The guardsman had to be given a place because, in the words of the king, “he already was gnawed by the wounds he suffered in our army.”140 The order was executed, as in 1586 Péter Szerémi took part in an interrogation as a townsman of Gyulafehérvár; he was approximately 35 years old at the time.141

Instead of a conclusion, we have tried to determine the approximate number of people who lived at the princely seat. Many of the factors concerning the population are highly uncertain, so we use only the data which seem precise. At the end of the fifteenth century, the town, including its ecclesiastical lower and middle classes, was home to approximately 1,000 people.142 Due to a mid-sixteenth-century wave of refugees and the presence of the princely court the population of the market town certainly rose. We estimate the population to have numbered at least 1,500 people. The minimum of the military population may have been 755 and its maximum 1270, and it is worth noting that we did not count the family members of the cavalrymen and the foot soldiers, because we do not even have an approximate number for them. As at the end of the Middle Ages the ecclesiastical society in the territory of the castle numbered at least 100 people (and this number may have doubled with the retinue of the bishop and later the queen), and since we also have to assume that there were at least as many inhabitants in the castle in the second half of the sixteenth century, there must have been a total of approximately 200 people living within the walls of the castle. If one adds these three numbers together, the population of Gyulafehérvár came to at least 2,500 to 3,000 people.


The transformation of the bishop’s seat into a princely residence brought a number of changes. This process can be divided into two development phases. We have put emphasis on the description of how this transformation influenced the development of the society of the princely center in the two periods of the town. Drawing on this data, we tried to estimate the population of the town.

Archival Sources

Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára [National Archives of Hungary], Budapest (MNL OL)

Gyulafehérvári Káptalan Országos Levéltára (GyKOLt) [Archives of the Chapter of Gyulafehérvár] Cista Comitatuum (F 4)

Gyulafehérvári Káptalan Országos Levéltára (GyKOLt) [Archives of the Chapter of Gyulafehérvár] Centuriae (F 3)

Kolozsmonostori Konvent Országos Levéltára (KmKOLt), [Archives of the Convent of Kolozsmonostor (Cluj-Mănăştur)] Cista comitatuum (F 17)

Österreichisches Staatsarchiv, Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv, Wien (HHStA) Hungarica

Arhivele Naţionale ale României. Serviciul Judeţean Hunedoara al Arhivelor Naţionale, [Hunedoara County Branch of the Romanian National Archives], Deva (SJAN-HN)

Colecţia de documente [Collection of diplomatics]

Arhivele Naţionale ale României. Serviciul Judeţean Cluj al Arhivelor Naţionale, [Cluj County Branch of the Romanian National Archives], Cluj-Napoca (SJAN-CJ)

Fond familial Bánffy (Fond 320) [Archive of the Bánffy family in the Archives of the Transylvanian National Museum, in custody of the SJAN-CJ]

Fond familial Béldi (Fond 324) [Archive of the Béldi family in the Archives of the Transylvanian National Museum, in custody of the SJAN-CJ]

Fond familial Gyulay-Kuun (Fond 351) [Archive of the Gyulay and Kuun family in the Archives of the Transylvanian National Museum, in custody of the SJAN-CJ]

Colecţia generală de documente (Fond 546) [General collection, in the Archives of the Transylvanian National Museum, in custody of the SJAN-CJ]

Colecţia de documente cu peceţi atârnate (Fond 560) [Documents with hanging seals]

Primăria oraşului Bistriţa (Fond 44) [Archive of the town of Bistriţa (Beszterce/Bistritz)]

Arhivele Naţionale ale României. Serviciul Judeţean Sibiu al Arhivelor Naţionale, [Sibiu County Branch of the Romanian National Archives], Sibiu (SJAN-SB)

Magistratul oraşului si scaunului Sibiu. Colecţia de documente medievale (Urkunden). [The magistrate of the town and seat of Sibiu. Collection of medieval documents (Urkunden)]

Biblioteca Naţională a României, Biblioteca Batthyaneum, Alba Iulia [Romanian National Library Batthyáneum Library, Alba Iulia] (Batthyaneum)

Arhiva Capitlului din Transilvania [Private archive of the chapter of Transylvania]


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Bogdándi, Zsolt, and Emőke Gálfi, eds. Az erdélyi káptalan jegyzőkönyvei 1222–1599 [The protocols of the chapter of Transylvania]. Kolozsvár: Erdélyi Múzeum-Egyesület, 2006.

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Fejér, Tamás, Etelka Rácz, and Anikó Szász, eds. Az erdélyi fejedelmek királyi könyvei I. 1569–1570: János Zsigmond Királyi Könyve [Royal books of Transylvanian princes I: The royal books of János Zsigmond]. Kolozsvár: Erdélyi Múzeum-Egyesület, 2003.

Fejér, Tamás, Etelka Rácz, and Anikó Szász, eds. Az erdélyi fejedelmek királyi könyvei I. 1569–1602: Báthory Zsigmond királyi könyvei 1582–1602 [Royal books of Transylvanian princes I: The royal books of Zsigmond Báthory]. Kolozsvár: Erdélyi Múzeum-Egyesület, 2005.

Gálfi, Emőke, ed. Az erdélyi káptalan jegyzőkönyvei 1600–1613 [The protocols of the chapter of Transylvania]. Kolozsvár: Erdélyi Múzeum-Egyesület, 2016,

Gyulai, Éva, ed. Erdélyi királyi könyvek DVD-ROM [Transylvanian royal books]. Budapest: 2005.

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1 The literature on European princely residences and courts includes (and this list is hardly exhaustive): Elias, Die höfische Gesellschaft; Idem: The Court Society; Ritter von Žolger, Der Hofstaat; Asch–Birke, Princes, Patronage and the Nobility; Starkey, The English Court.

2 Some of the important works on the history of the town include Entz, Székesegyház; Kovács, “Középkori székhely,” 191–201; Kovács, “Az építkező Bethlen Gábor,” 276–94; Kovács, “Fejedelmi udvar,” 235–58; Kovács, “Fejedelmi nyomda,” 178–88; Kovács, “Gyulafehérvári séta,” 418–23; Lakatos, “Hivatali írásbeliség;” Lakatos, “Önkormányzati testületek,” 495–530; Erdősi, “Udvar a városi térben,” 185–203; Kovács, Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei.

3 The privileges of the town perished due to the destruction wreaked by the Heyducks in 1600 at Tótfalud (Tăuţi), close to Gyulafehérvár, to where the chief justice of the town had the documents taken for safe refuge after he had gotten news of the loss at the battle of Sellenberk (Şelimbăr/Schellenberg; October 28, 1599). Kovács, Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei, 38–39.

4 Erik Fügedi distinguishes two basic ground plan types: castles with outlying areas (e.g. Gyulafehérvár, Győr) and sprawling settlements that grew together [e.g. Várad (Oradea)]. Fügedi, “Városok kialakulása,” 319.

5 The town and the castle can be identified on the early eighteenth-century map of Giovanni Morando Visconti. Kovács, “Fejedelmi udvar,” Picture nr. VII.

6 Saint Michael’s Gate, the western gate, was under the authority of the bishop, while the eastern gate, Saint George’s Gate, was in the hands of the chapter. Kovács, “Fejedelmi udvar,” 236–37.

7 Kovács, “Fejedelmi udvar,” 240, 246, 250.

8 Szilágyi, Erdélyi Országgyűlési Emlékek, 1:189.

9 I. e. the confiscation for the princely treasury.

10 Szilágyi, Erdélyi Országgyűlési Emlékek, 2: 64–65.

11 On the identity of the kenéz the first data comes from later, only from 1585: Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 426.

12 In this case, the name kenéz refers to the leader, the judge of the Romanian quarter.

13 Bogdándi and Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 875.

14 Lakatos, Hivatali írásbeliség, 62.

15 MNL OL, GyKOLt, Cista Comit. (F 4), Comit. Alb., Cista 4. Fasc. 5, no. 61.

16 Kovács, Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei, 250.

17 MNL OL, GyKOLt, Cista Comit. (F 4), Comit. Alb., Cista 4. Fasc. 5, no. 61.

18 For 1568: SJAN-CJ, Arch. Béldi (Fond 324), no. 89–128. no. 101; SJAN-CJ, General collection (Fond 546), no. 57. For 1569: MNL OL, GyKOLt, Centuriae (F 3), D. 29; Fejér, Rácz, and Szász, János Zsigmond, no. 96, 222.

19 The town judge, Gergely Igeni, appears as the leader of the town on January 14, 1571. MNL OL, GyKOLt, Centuriae (F 3), D. 26.

20 April 5, 1575. MNL OL, GyKOLt, Centuriae (F 3), H. 79; November 27, 1568. SJAN-CJ, General collection (Fond 546), no. 57.

21 August 24, 1568. SJAN-CJ, Arch. Béldi (Fond 324), no. 101; April 3, 1570. SJAN-CJ, Arch. Gyulay and Kuun (Fond 351), no. 216; MNL OL, GyKOLt, Centuriae (F 3), D. 9. There is not enough data to suggest that judges were only elected from the jurors.

22 MNL OL, GyKOLt, Cista Comit. (F 4), Comit. Alb. Cista 4. Fasc. 5, no. 61.

23 Kovács, Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei, 7.

24 SJAN-CJ, General collection (Fond 546), no. 57.

25 Gálfi, “A Lippa-fertály,” 143–49.

26 Councilor (1556–1558), ban of Karánsebes (Caransebeş) (1559) and Lugos (Lugoj) (1558). Trócsányi, Központi kormányzat, 26; Fejér, Rácz, and Szász, Báthory Zsigmond, no. 50

27 July 9, 1552. Letter of Castaldo to archduke Maximilian: “Nicolaus Cheprevith mihi scribat circa duo Rascianorum millia cum uxoribus et familiis servasse et versus Lippam duxisse, ubi munitionem arcis non parum adiuvant, pro quibus petit aliquem locum in regno isto ubi habitare possunt”. HHStA. Hungarica. Fasc. 66. Konvolut A. f. 5. r. I thank Klára P. Kovács for sharing this data with me.

28 Pál Szabó, János Zilay, Demeter Nyerges, Ádám Mészáros, Ferenc Pontyos, Pál Tollkötő, Gál Somogy and Bálint Harany. SJAN-SB, ColDocMed, U IV. no. 1123.

29 “…according to our oath, we have it sent to you under our seal” (kegyelmednek hitünk szerint pecsét alatt küldettük). SJAN-SB, ColDocMed, U IV. no. 1123.

30 “vásárról való levél” Kovács, Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei, 26–27.

31 Kovács, Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei, 38–39.

32 Weisz, Vásárok, 143.

33 Calendar for 1573 from Szaniszló Iacobeus. RMNy I. no. 315. and RMK 1. no. 93. http://dspace.bcucluj.ro/handle/123456789/26168 (accessed: December 11, 2018), its edition: Binder, “Régi kalendáriumok,” 111–24.

34 Binder, “Régi kalendáriumok,” 113–14.

35 Gyulafehérvár, Enyed, Abrudbánya (Abrud), Zalatna (Zlatna), Krakkó (Cricău), Igen (Ighiu), Sárd (Şardu), Tövis.

36 Binder, “Régi kalendáriumok,” 113–14.

37 Partium is the part of the country that once belonged to the Kingdom of Hungary, hence its name (Partes/Partium Regni Hungariae). Unlike other parts of Hungary which belonged partly to the Habsburgs and partly the Ottomans, this region was part of the Principality of Transylvania.

38 Binder, “Régi kalendáriumok,” 113–14.

39 Jakab, Oklevéltár. 2: 34–35.

40 Lakatos, “Hivatali írásbeliség,” 252.

41 For the survival of medieval fairs, see the fairs of Várad held on Epiphany (January 6), Pentecost, and on Saint Francis’ day (October 4), the fair of Zilah (Zalău) on Saint Margaret’s day (July 13) and that of Kolozsvár on Iudica Sunday and Saint Emeric’s day (November 5). Weisz, “Vásárok,” 139–40, 148, 164. Binder, “Régi kalendáriumok,” 113–14.

42 Gyulai, Erdélyi királyi könyvek, 10: 68–69.

43 Batthyaneum, IV, no. 3.

44 Heckenast, “Végrendelet,” 324–25.

45 MNL OL, GyKOLt, Cista Comit. (F 4), Comit. Alb. Cista 4. Fasc. 5, no. 61.

46 Gálfi, “Gyulafehérvár a középkor végén,” 35; Gálfi, “A Lippa fertály,” 149.

47 Several canon are known to have had a positive attitude towards Protestantism, such as Mihály Csáki, the future chancellor, and Márton Kálmáncsehi Sánta, but Ambrus Mosdósi, the former canon and archdeacon of Ózd also belongs to this group. Horn, Tündérország útvesztői, 23–32; Gálfi, Levélkeresők, 48–52.

48 Jakó, “A Hoffhalterek,” 241–60.

49 Entz, Székesegyház, 131–32, 205.

50 Máté Báthai appears as canon and archdeacon of Torda for the last time on September 25, 1556 in a diploma of Ferenc Szengyeli. Jakó, Adatok a dézsma, 12.

51 MNL OL, KmKOLt, Cista Comit. (F 17), Comit. Alb. K. 18.; F 3. D. 32.

52 Or György Martinuzzi, bishop of Várad, cardinal, royal governor, great supporter of János I, who, after the fall of Buda (1541), had an important role in the formation of the Transylvanian state. For the most recent monograph on his career, see Oborni: Az ördöngös barát.

53 According to a letter by Anna Nádasdy, György Fráter had the body of Orbán Batthyány, who had been buried in the “monastery” in Gyulafehérvár, exhumed and had his body re-buried in manure. Bunyitai, Rapaics, and Karácsonyi, Egyháztörténelmi emlékek, 5: 1; Mihalik, “A kanonok két leánya,” 154; Entz: Székesegyház 192–93.

54 Member of the court of János I, later confident of Queen Isabella and supporter of Protestantism. He had a role in the murder of Imre Czibak, bishop of Várad (1534).

55 Because of their stubbornness, Ferenc Szengyeli excommunicated János and György Macskási of Rápolt. Bunyitai, Rapaics, and Karácsonyi, Egyháztörténelmi emlékek, 5: 289. (no. 211)

56 Kovács, “Fejedelmi udvar,” 251. (Note 111.)

57 Bessenyei, Enyingi Török Bálint, XXX, no. 30, 279, 281, 283, 289, 313.

58 A magnate who later became a member of the barons of the country and courtier to the queen. After the death of Louis II (1526) he was first a supporter of János I and then of Ferdinand I, and finally again János I until his death. After the fall of Buda in 1541, he was captured by the sultan. He died in Istanbul.

59 MNL OL, GyKOLt, Cista Comit. (F 4), Comit. Alb. Cista 2. Fasc. 3. no. 38.

60 SJAN-CJ, General Collection (Fond 546), no. 57.

61 Fejér, “Regisztrumvezetési gyakorlat,” 5, 19.

62 MNL OL, KmKOLt, Cista Comit (F 17), Comit. Alb. K. 18.

63 A diploma in 1563 mentions him as the dean of the Saint Magdalene altar. MNL OL, GyKOLt, Centuriae (F 3), L. 20.

64 Gálfi, Levélkeresők, 55.

65 Fejér, Rácz, and Szász, János Zsigmond, no. 57–58.

66 SJAN-CJ, Arch. Béldi (Fond 324), no. 101.

67 Jakó K., Az első kolozsvári egyetemi könyvtár, 6.

68 We do not know exactly when the magistrate of the town was transformed but it is certain that for 1585 more than six jurors were identified in the sources. Determining the date is difficult, because the diplomas on urban legal matters list the judge and only one to three jurors, who in many cases were the same people. MNL OL, GyKOLt, Cista Comit. (F 4), Comit. Alb. Cista 5. Fasc. 1, no. 18, and GyKOLt, Centuriae (F 3). D. 7; Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 426; Batthyaneum, VI, no. 81, 82.

69 Kovács, Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei, 7.

70 The earliest data is from July 12, 1581. Bogdándi and Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 286.

71 Kovács, Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei, 30–31.

72 “in suburbio Valachali eiusdem civitatis Albensis Maior vocato” Bogdándi and Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 717.

73 Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 426.

74 I. e. Tailor, Barber, Snipper, Butcher.

75 This was the practice in the case of Torda (Thorenburg/Turda): “iuratus civis e numero quinquaginta electorum patrum.” Bogdándi, A kolozsmonostori konvent, no. 669.

76 Péter Gyógyi, Márton Mészáros/Németi, Ferenc Vajda, István Nyírő, Ferenc Csányi, László Betlen/Szabó, Gergely Mészáros, Bertalan Mészáros, János Kovács, János Lippai Szűcs/Siska, János Nyírő, István Baranyai Szabó. SJAN-CJ, Archive of the town of Beszterce (Fond 44), no. 5435; Batthyaneum, VI, no. 42; MNL OL, GyKOLt, Centuriae (F 3), C. 36, D. 7, D. 9, H. 79; MNL OL, GyKOLt, Cista Comit., (F 4), Comit. Alb. Cista 4. Fasc. 5, no. 61; Cista 5. Fasc. 1, no. 61. and Cista 4. Fasc. 5, no. 63.; Fejér, Rácz and Szász, Báthory Zsigmond, 7/3, no. 192; Bogdándi and Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 268, 441, 451, 676, 743; Kovács, Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei, 18–19, 22–24, 26–27; Szamosközy, Erdély története, 293.

77 E.g. András Bányai was judge in 1578 and senator in 1581. SJAN-CJ, Arch. Bánffy (Fond 320), Fasc. 61, no. 2; Bogdándi and Gálfi: Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 286. János Nyírő/Szabó was judge in 1598, and juror in 1600, Kovács, Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei, 27.

78 Kovács, Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei, 4, 10–11.

79 Ibid., 22, 26–27.

80 Ibid., 27.

81 “öreg bogláros fekete könyv” Kovács, Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei, 3–5.

82 Assembly of Hungarian customary law, edited in 1514 by István Werbőczy.

83 “valami prothocolumokat” Kovács, Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei, 26–27.

84 November 8, 1590. “domus huius civitatis nostrae” Fejér, Rácz, and Szász, Báthory Zsigmond, no. 1298.

85 Kovács, Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei, 8; Petrovics, “A város története,” 188.

86 Sigerus, Nagyszeben krónikája, 16; Nusbächer: Rathaus. 1–26; Kovács: “Kolozsvár városképe,” 47; Flóra, “The Town Hall of Kolozsvár,” 5–6.

87 “domus publica eiusdem oppidi” SJAN-CJ, Collection of Hanging Seals (Fond 560), no. 130., Fejér, Rácz and Szász, Báthory Zsigmond, no. 389.

88 “in theatro oppidi” SJAN-CJ, Collection of Hanging Seals (Fond 560), no. 130.

89nemes és városi és darabont rend” Kovács, Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei, 32.

90 Ibid., 32.

91 Erdősi, “Udvar a városi térben,” 192–95.

92 Fejér, Rácz and Szász, Báthory Zsigmond, no. 1356; MNL OL, GyKOLt, Cista Comit. (F 4), Comit. Alb. Cista 4. Fasc. 5, no. 46; SJAN-CJ, Archive of the town of Beszterce (Fond 44), no. 5435.

93 Kovács, Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei, 28.

94 Gálfi, “Gyulafehérvár a középkor végén,” 34–35.

95 Kovács, “Fejedelmi nyomda,” 178–88; Kovács, “Gyulafehérvári séta,” 418–23.

96 István Sipos, Gergely Igeni, Ferenc Pontyos, Ferenc Csányi, István Szabó/Nyírő, László Bethlen/Szabó, István Baranyai Szabó, János Szilágyi Nyírő, Gergely Mészáros. Kovács, Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei, 18–19, 22, 29–30, 180; Bogdándi and Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 594, 866, 936; Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 39. MNL OL, GyKOLt, Cista Comit. (F 4), Comit. Alb. Cista 5. Fasc. 1, no. 52, 61.

97 János Lippai Szőcs/Siska. ErdKáptJkv, 8/2, no. 117.

98 Ferenc Csányi, István Szabó/Nyírő, László Bethlen/Szabó. Bogdándi and Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 384, 866, 936; Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 39; Fejér, Rácz and Szász, Báthory Zsigmond, no. 877, 1488.

99 Horn, Tündérország útvesztői, 9–144; Kovács, “Fejedelmi nyomda,” 178–188; Kovács, “Gyulafehérvári séta,” 418–23; Erdősi, “Udvar a városi térben,” 193, 195–97.

100 Erdősi, “Udvar a városi térben,” 194.

101 Batthyaneum, V. no. 26.

102 Sunkó, “Udvari hadak,” 101.

103 Kubinyi, “A királyi udvar,” 309–37; Sunkó, “Udvari hadak,” 111.

104 The last bit of data on a castellan of Gyulafehérvár comes from January 1571. MNL OL, GyKOLt, Centuriae (F 3), D. 26.

105 Bogdándi and Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 860; MNL OL, GyKOLt, Cista Comit. (F 4), Comit. Alb, Cista 4, Fasc. 5, no. 29, 30.

106 Kovács, “Fejedelmi udvar,” 237.

107 SJAN-CJ, General collection (Fond 546), no. 57.

108 Transylvanian chronicler (1639–1679) and chancellor of Transylvania (1678–1679).

109 Bethlen, Historia, 241–42.

110 Bogdándi and Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 835.

111 SJAN-HN, ColDoc, IX. no. 9.

112 Bogdándi and Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 740; Fejér, Rácz, and Szász, Báthory Zsigmond, no. 1227.

113 Sunkó, “Udvari hadak,”110.

114 Fejér, Rácz, and Szász, Báthory Zsigmond, no. 403.

115 Lescalopier, 91.

116 Governor of Transylvania (1585–1588).

117 Szilágyi, Erdélyi Országgyűlési Emlékek, 3: 64–65; Bogdándi and Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 406.

118 Sunkó, “Udvari hadak,” 107.

119 Kovács, Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei, 32.

120 Fejér, Rácz and Szász, Báthory Zsigmond, no. 604; Bogdándi and Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 390.

121 Sunkó, “Udvari hadak,” 101.

122 Fejér, Rácz and Szász, Báthory Zsigmond, no. 1440.

123 Ibid., no. 901.

124 MNL OL, GyKOLt, Cista Comit., (F 4), Comit. Alb. Cista 5, Fasc. 1, no. 41.

125 Fejér, Rácz, and Szász, Báthory Zsigmond, no. 1440.

126 Ibid., no. 1487.

127 Bogdándi and Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 390.

128 October, 4 1587. Bogdándi and Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 520.

129 Fejér, Rácz and Szász, Báthory Zsigmond, no. 1487.

130 Ibid., no. 1487.

131 Bogdándi and Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 834; MNL OL, GyKOLt, Cista Comit. (F 4), Comit. Alb, Cista 3, Fasc 4, no. 7.

132 Bogdándi and Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 834.

133 SJAN-CJ, General Collection (Fond 546), no. 57.

134 Kovács, Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei, 18–20, 22–24.

135 Bogdándi and Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 834.

136 MNL OL, GyKOLt, Centuriae (F 3), D. 7, 52; MNL OL, GyKOLt, Cista Comit. (F 4), Comit. Alb. Cista 4, Fasc. 5, no. 63; Comit. Alb. Cista 4, Fasc. 5, no. 70. Bogdándi and Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 520.

137 Kovács, Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei, 32.

138 Ibid., 25.

139 According to the statutes of the market town of Tasnád (Tăşnad), from 1591 “there is no way to dispossess a vineyard from a townsman who has planted one unless he commits a capital crime.” As Tasnád, like Gyulafehérvár was the bishop’s market town in the Middle Ages, it is reasonable to suggest that the town of the bishop’s seat also had a similar privilege. Fejér, Rácz, and Szász, Báthory Zsigmond, no. 1413.

140 “hadainkban talált sebek miatt immár megnehezedett” Batthyaneum, VI. no. 52.

141 Bogdándi and Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 472.

142 Gálfi, “Gyulafehérvár a középkor végén,” 33.


Map 1. Giovanni Morando Visconti: the ground plan of the town of Gyulafehérvár at the beginning of the eighteenth century

A. Cathedral which at the time belonged to the Calvinist Church B. Jesuit church C. The palace of the prince M. Saint George’s gate N. Saint Michel’s gate O. Saint Michael’s Church (during the time of Visconti), the parish church of the Blessed Virgin and the surrounding churchyard before the secularization of the Church belongings. The outer city square, marked as Borgho on the map


pdfVolume 7 Issue 4 CONTENTS

From Courtship till the Morning After: The Role of Family, Kin and Friends in the Marriages of László Székely*

Andrea Fehér
Babeş-Bolyai University
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

This study presents the different stages of the eighteenth-century Transylvanian marriage rituals, from betrothal, wedding ceremony, and bedding until the morning after. It also examines the roles played in this process by the “kinship-family.” The study draws on a wide range of published and unpublished biographical works from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Among these diaries, autobiographies, and memoirs written by members of the political elite, the unpublished autobiography of Count László Székely stands out, as it provides a considerable amount of data regarding some customs and traditions related to Transylvanian marriages and marriage rituals. Building on the count’s very personal and emotional narratives, we offer a sketch of the ways in which Transylvanians entered into marriage. We consider marriage a long process rather than a single act, in which family, friends, and kin played a significant role.

Keywords: kinship-family, marriage, betrothal, nuptials, László Székely, eighteenth-century Transylvania

Introductory Considerations

Over the course of the past half-century, research regarding family history, either from demographic or emotional perspectives, has become very popular, and as time has passed, studies on the subject flooded both sides of the so-called Hajnal line with contradictory results. Arguments which seem to have been shaped largely by the source types suggested either that the history of emotional ties in families should be understood as a long and ever changing process determined by social norms or just the opposite, that it should be seen as a process marked largely by continuity.1 In the debates concerning the Early Modern and Modern family, the supporters of the continuity interpretation came out victorious. However, more recent research has suggested that there is good reason to be more skeptical of the notion of motherly, fatherly, and marital love that lasts through the ages (or at least through an adult lifetime).2 Therefore, regarding the nature of our sources and the available analogies, the most promising approach would probably be to consider the subject from the perspective of emotions, but we will refer to the emotional communities in which the marriages came into being only to a very limited extent. In this study, the primary focus will not be on the question of whether marriages between people belonging to the nobility in eighteenth-century Transylvania were based on love, the will of parents, or personal sympathy, but rather on how the marriages came into being (from the first encounter to the wedding ceremony), who were the people involved, and what roles these people played in the conventional stages according to which courtship was structured and what functions they performed during the wedding ceremonies. By analyzing the autobiography of László Székely (1716–1772),3 the study offers insights into the customs involved among Transylvanians who were choosing a marriage partner and the nuptial regulations. It sketches the stages of the long process during which a marriage came into being. We also reflect on the marriage customs in Transylvania by presenting the earlier marriages in the Székely family, in part simply because we have an abundance of data concerning the three individuals who fulfilled the family’s marriage goals (László Székely the Elder [1644–1692], Ádám Székely the Elder [1679–1730], and László Székely the Younger). Our paper is based entirely on retrospective personal narratives, such as memoirs, autobiographies, and histories, as it was in these sources that we found many relevant analogies.4

Székelys Seeking Marriage Partners

Transylvanian narrative sources repeatedly emphasize the importance of the harmonic coexistence of husband and wife, and the sources suggest that the authors themselves also sought successful marriages. Reading the literary works of the period, one might think that with the exception of Péter Apor (1676–1752),5 everyone lived in a happy marriage6 and got married according to his or her wishes, as in the century we study (at least according to the literature), the marriages were loving.7 Of course, reality is much more nuanced. Memoirs also tell of tragedies, divorces, and spouses chosen by kin. Memoir writers, however, also looked at arranged marriages with disapproval,8 and so did the Church, which tried to emphasize the role of free will in the nuptial ceremonies.9

The sources, however, suggest that numerous factors influenced the expectations of kin, and this is how László Székely the Elder managed to gain the hand of Sára Bulcsesdi (ca.1656–1708), who was a member of a prominent family, against a number of aspirants who were better off and were from families with more distinguished lineages. The autobiography of Miklós Bethlen (1642–1716)10 contains information concerning the antecedents to the marriage, as Sára Bulcsesdi had originally been promised to Bethlen’s younger brother, Pál Bethlen (1648–1686). To the astonishment of Transylvanian society, however, the engagement was broken off because of the stepmother of the Bethlen sons, Klára Fekete. After this, Miklós Bethlen visited Sára Bulcsesdi once more to propose a match. This time, he tried to win her hand for Boldizsár Macskási (ca. 1650–ca. 1700). His reasoning followed the traditional view of the Transylvanian nobility: “I found the opportunity of saying, among other things, to István Jósika, her stepfather that I would rather give my daughter to a true-blue nobleman of ancient lineage than to a postmaster.”11 The courter, however, did not succeed. One might think that László Székely the Elder’s promising political career and the significant wealth he had accumulated in a short period of time overwritten the social rigidity and seclusion of his contemporaries.12 This is not so obvious, however. Transylvanian society still regarded the homines novi with a certain disdain, and therefore it is no surprise that almost every personal narrative from this century mentions the fortunate marriage of László Székely the Elder.

According to historical studies of the modern marriage market, the first-generation marriages were the most important ones, as they laid the foundation for the future of family members who have not had a grant of arms before and they paved the way to better and better marriages (from the perspective of social prestige and security).13 In the case of the Székely family, this can be best seen in the case of the son Ádám, who announced his desire to marry into one of the most influential Transylvanian families with his freshly granted countship (1700). However, his marriage to Anna Bánffy (1686–1704), the daughter of governor György Bánffy (ca.1660–1708), was soon brought to an end by Anna’s death. Ádám Székely then proposed to Sára Naláczy (ca. 1670–1760), whom she later divorced. This was followed by his marriage to Katalin Rhédey (1700–1729), from which the autobiographer was born. Ádám Székely developed a very good kinship network, friendships, and ties which would be important to the course of his life even years later. For instance, he had good relationships with the family of his first wife, as indicated by the fact that at his second wedding ceremony his former brothers in law stood by him in the roles usually filled by close kin.14 István Wesselényi (1673–1734)15 was groomsman and Dénes Bánffy (1688–1709) was bridesman.

The situation is entirely different in the case of László Székely, who thanks to the estate acquisitions of his grandfather accumulated significant financial capital and thanks to the marriages of his father gained important social capital. He did not have to demonstrate anything with his marriages, since by the time he chose a partner he had been orphaned and therefore was left to decide for himself.16 However, he also strove to create new ties, to some extent with the same families. This is why, as had been true in the case of his father, his first choice fell on a member of the Bánffy family, the niece of the first wife of his father, Kata Bánffy (1724–1745), who by then had also been orphaned.

Kata Bánffy (who as the dates given above indicate died quite young) embodied the ideal wife, so it is no surprise her place proved extremely difficult to fill. According to his own testimony, László Székely was averse to the idea of remarrying. As he wrote in his autobiography, “nuptiae secundae raro secundae,” or second marriages are rarely lucky.17 However, as his brother Ádám Székely the Younger (1724–1789) did not want to wed, the 32 year-old László had to ensure the survival of the family. Trusting himself to the grace of God, he started to seek a wife who could fill traditional female roles and embody traditional female virtues, i.e. chastity, religiosity, and good housekeeping. When writing on his second marriage, Székely also discusses the question of rearing girls. More precisely, he disapproved of the fact that the abovementioned traditional roles and virtues had come to be seen as dated by the middle of the eighteenth century.18 By then, balls, card games, and salons had become fashionable. In a word, noble women became more worldly. Young women were not very fond of reading, perhaps with the exception of romantic novels. Ecclesiastical literature was perceived as boring, and such reading was considered useless for a qualified lady. The long moralizing part of the autobiography regarding the ideal wife almost seems humorous if one thinks of the life Zsuzsánna Toroczkay (1733–1788), László Székely’s second wife, led in Szeben (Sibiu/Hermannstadt). She entered into the memoir-literature because of her lifestyle, which shocked many.19

The Visit

The first step to take to enter into marriage was the visit. According to the autobiography of László Székely, this was not preceded by any great preparations on the part of the bride’s family, nor did it involve a large entourage, as Péter Apor’s20 nostalgic description of the customs of Transylvania, Metamorphosis Transylvaniae, indicates. Rather, the arrangements were made mostly with the help of young bachelors and friends,21 as is confirmed by earlier Transylvanian memoirs.22 It is clear from the memoirs that the choice, even if it required the consultation of kin, was made first and foremost by the prospective bride and groom, as were the arrangements concerning the visit paid on the girl and the assistance in courting her, since courtship was a collaborative enterprise. László Székely got to know his first wife, the orphan Kata Bánffy, with the assistance of the sons of her foster parents, Ádám (1719–1772) and Gábor Bethlen (1712–1768). However, the first visit did not go perfectly, as Székely, who had no intention to marry, got confused by the responsibility he had to overtake. The Hungarian term used for the official bride-visit is watching or seeing. If the autobiography is reliable on this point, watching or seeing did not even mean what the words imply, as the two young people, raised to be chaste, did not even look at each other, but rather chatted with other members of the household. The tradition required that the visiting bachelor be induced to stay for dinner, where the prospective pair sat facing each other so that they could indeed observe each other.23

The situation was obviously different in the case of a second marriage. The people who advised the girl were again friends. During a hunt, Farkas Kun praised the Toroczkay daughters (who had come of age), especially the personality and beauty of the younger, Zsuzsánna Toroczkay. The visit was organized by the ex-brother-in-law Dénes Bánffy (1723–1780) in Szeben, where he invited the Toroczkay family, who were at that time residing in town, to his garden for dinner, where after some time László Székely also showed up. Székely, who by this time was somewhat more courageous and in the third year of his widowhood, was no longer a chaste observer, and the event did not remain in the control of the girl’s house, because a third party organized it. Both visits were followed by a conversation. In the case of his first marriage, Székely was interrogated about the girl by the two Bethlen boys, and with regard to his view of the Toroczkay girl, it was Dénes Bánffy who asked his opinion on the match and also offered his services to his former brother-in-law.

From Proposal until Answer

After the visit, Székely first went to see his otherwise not terribly beloved guardian, Dániel Jósika, as the tradition required that under the circumstances the most powerful member of the kinship network negotiate the marriage.24 Székely had put aside his childhood prejudices when he visited Jósika again, who proposed to Kata Bánffy for him. The answer, however, was delayed by four months. Finally, it was Farkas Bánffy (1701–1761) a relative of the fiancée, who urged things forward at the girl’s house and appeared for the engagement gifts (a ring and 200 gold coins) on January 2, 1741.

The second marriage faced challenges from the outset. The reason was simple: the mediator, Dénes Bánffy, in his thoughts already preparing for widowhood, had begun to like the younger Toroczkay girl himself, so he did not try to initiate negotiations with the girl’s parents on the subject of the marriage intentions of his ex-brother-in-law.25 László Székely finally got unexpected help from his former college mate, András Barabás, who at the time was in the service of the Toroczkay family, and in the end it was Barabás who brought the good news to Székely. The exchange of the engagement gifts again took place without the presence of the prospective bride and groom. The Toroczkays in this matter were represented by the fiancée’s sister, Klára Toroczkay (died 1753), wife of Ádám Teleki. The exchange of gifts in the case of both parties was done with the help of an intermediary.26

The autobiography does not present the sequence of proposals exclusively from the point of view of the bachelor. László Székely also discusses in detail instances in which his friends could approach a girl’s house with his help and mediation. He proposed to Klára Bánffy, the sister of his first wife, on behalf of Sámuel Szentkereszti, and he had to win the hand of Kata Toroczkay (†1788), the sister of his second wife, for István Radák (†1773). Each of these cases involved undesired complications, as Szentkereszti changed his mind twice after the proposal, while Radák’s proposal was overshadowed by the romantic feelings of Kata Toroczkay for Miklós Kemény (1723–1775). In the end, commonsense prevailed. In the first case, both the Szentkereszti and the Bethlen families (the guardians of the Bánffy daughters) tried to put pressure on the irresponsible bachelor. In order to save the reputation of the two families, the two young people were married in the end. The Toroczkay family chose security over uncertainty, as Kemény never took any concrete steps towards Kata Toroczkay.27

The cases discussed above show that in numerous instances the people who influenced a marriage were not necessarily members of the biological family, but rather of the extended kinship-family, or they were friends, mostly because in the contemporary society the “fictive kinship network,” i.e. a network based on sentimental relationships and economic or intellectual attachments, played a more significant role in everyday life.28

Proposals, however, did not always work out the way they were planned. As we have seen, in a number of cases, sending a bachelor or a widower (or a person who was about to be widowed) to a girl’s house might actually pose a threat to the envisioned union, and the reputation of the negotiators was also exposed to dangers because of irresponsible young people. The rather long waiting times after the proposals were meant both to provide time for the consideration of the social, financial, and moral background of the bachelors and to resolve these uncertainties. At first, the proposal of the bachelor was considered by the head of the kinship network, certainly the more powerful men, but as is also clear from the autobiography, the opinions of the women were also taken into consideration. How much parents or foster parents could influence their (foster)children (especially their daughters) in their choice of partners still remains an open question among historians who are dealing with families.29 It is clear that in case of members of the nobility or within the royal elite the influence of the parents was much more decisive.30 Still, with only a few exceptions, the final decision was made by the prospective bride and groom, at least based on the information found in the memoir-literature.31

Betrothal, Vows

The visit and the proposal—if met with a yes—were followed by the exchange of engagement gifts.32 This in many cases meant the exchange of the rings themselves, but in Calvinist communities this lacked liturgical functions, since the ring had only a symbolic value and was considered rather a gift. This was followed by the vows. László Székely, as already noted, held to the Transylvanian traditions. He admired families which raised their daughters in this spirit, though he disapproved of the rigidity of the moral strictures according to which the wife of Ádám Bethlen (1691–1748), Klára Bánffy (1693–1767), raised her foster daughter.33 For instance, following the exchange of gifts, according to Hungarian customs, Székely could neither see nor talk to his bride for three months, and subsequent meetings, at least at the beginning, were kept under strict supervision. Even the first conversation took place only after a couple of months, and at least according to the account in the memoir, with considerable difficulty. The vow was delayed until May 12, 1741, almost six months after the proposal had been accepted. The event took place in the fiancée’s family home in the presence of the near kin.34 The exchange of vows was preceded by a church service, and this is where a sort of exchange-of-vows carpet, recurrently mentioned in the Metamorphosis, was used. So the betrothal was the symbol of the commitment to marry, which like every event of extraordinary importance was followed by a lunch or a dinner in the presence of the near kin.35 Székely departed on the third day under very strict instructions, as the family insisted that he would not ask the wedding being held for another year.36 So the process dragged on, as the wedding had to wait until August 7, 1742. His second betrothal was somewhat faster, as after clearing up the complications caused by Dénes Bánffy, the exchange of the rings and gifts took place in July and the exchange of vows was again held in the presence of the near kin in October.

The autobiography highlights a number of significant details, for instance, that the wows and even the mere promise carried huge importance.37 The exchange of vows had legal weight, and not just in Transylvania, and even after the exchange of the gifts it was improper (and quite complicated) to break off an engagement.38 For the latter, the Church’s consent was necessary.39 There are, however, a few examples of instances when the people involved did not adhere strictly to tradition or expectation, for instance, the broken off betrothal of Székely’s grandmother, Sára Bulcsesdi.

The Church attempted to make the exchange of vows a ceremony held within a physical church itself, but László Székely and his father Ádám made their vows at their fiancées houses with the involvement of the priest, mostly in the morning (in part to ensure that the people taking part in the ceremony would remain sober).40 Székely did not have conversations with either of his wives between the exchange of gifts and vows. The prospective bride and groom said only had a couple of words during the lunch which followed.41 So with the exchange of rings or gifts, which was not the same as the exchange of vows, the period of betrothal began.42 We know numerous of examples when the members of the Transylvanian or Hungarian aristocracy waited one or even two years before the wedding was held in the case of a first marriage. This period may have been somewhat shorter in the case of a second marriage. Neither Ádám Székely, László Székely’s father, nor his son waited a full year (his son organized his wedding after only six months had passed since the proposal).

On a Memorable Wedding

The preparations for László Székely’s first wedding can be compared to his father’s wedding, which thanks to Péter Apor probably is one of the best-known weddings to have taken place in Early Modern Transylvania. László looked on it with a sense of nostalgia, and he thought that no other weddings had been organized similar to the one in Bonchida (Bonţida), as by then the Transylvanian nobility held their wedding ceremonies according to German tradition, namely in towns.43

This part of the autobiography begins with a description of local customs, i.e. a description of wreath running. Several versions of this nuptial game are mentioned in Apor’s Metamorphosis, and the ring running ritual is also one of these customs, as was fir climbing, mentioned in the context of Ádám Székely’s wedding ceremony.44

As the bachelor’s house was in Zsuk (Jucu) and the girl’s was in Bonchida (two settlements which were relatively close to each other), in order to have a bigger parade the wedding guests took a detour through Válaszút (Răscruci) to get to the site of the wedding ceremony. Only the bearer of the good news, Sámuel Szentkereszti (1721–1772) and Pál Rhédey (1716–1764), who were friends of László’s, went directly to Bonchida.45 The detour to Válaszút also had to be thrown in because of the wreath running ceremony. The highly spectacular competition was followed attentively by both groups of wedding guests. The running had a master of ceremony, in this case Imre Bethlen (1698–1765), who summoned the 24 mounted bachelors, 12 from the side of the groom and 12 from the side of the bride. The prize (an embroidered handkerchief, a ring, and money) was held by a horseman in the middle, at an equal distance from the two groups of wedding guests. The competition, to the great chagrin of the bride’s household, ended with victory by one of the groom’s men, Mihály Vásárhelyi. The competition seems to have been taken seriously by both houses.46 In the weeks preceding the wedding, the newly acquired horses were given a try on the spot. They were foddered, and they competed against each other. The seriousness of the competition is also reflected by the watchers placed on haystacks erected at the meadow next to Bonchida. If the horsemen of the bride had won the competition, the groom would have been mocked by goats dressed up in comic attire. After the competition, both cohorts set out for Bonchida separately. The bachelor’s procession was led by the horseman who had won the bridal wreath.

The seriousness of the ritual is also indicated by the fact that the bride’s family, upset at having lost the bridal wreath, forgot about the groom’s wedding guests, and to the amusement of the village, numerous horsemen and chariots were impatiently waiting in the streets of Bonchida. Because of the unpreparedness of the master in charge of the lodgings, there was no time left for changing clothes. Only a few of the women changed attire, and most of the guests attended the wedding in more comfortable but less elegant garb.

The description of the wedding procession and its reception is mostly identical to the descriptions in the Metamorphosis, so there is no need to go into it in detail. The request for the bride at her family home caused a bit of confusion, as the head of the house, according to old Hungarian customs, should have delayed the ceremony of delivering the bride with jokes and other tricks. However, to the indignation of the members of the bride’s household, László Bánffy (1671–after 1755), who by then was rather old, turned the bride over without any test or game.47 Following this, the lady of honor led the bride to the groom’s table.

Of the old customs, the only thing missing was the ritual washing of hands. The food was brought in by 12 men belonging to Székely’s entourage, but it was Farkas Kun (the captain of Székely’s men) who placed the platters on the table. The couple was dressed in white and the bride’s hair was let down and was bejeweled with pearls. In accordance with the old traditions, the bride did not eat.48 After the groom had drained three cups behind the bride’s foster parents, the wedding tables were packed up and the room was emptied and under the lead of the dance-master the guests started to dance. The bride was an exception. As had been the case during the feast, she also did not take part in the dance. The dance was started by the groomsman, the lady of honor, the bridesman, and the maid of honor. The order of the dances never changed. They were performed in the same order at the wedding of Ádám Székely as they were at the wedding of his son the Polish switching dance in Hungarian style, followed by the hat dance, and, finally, the scapular dance, which if one can believe István Wesselényi caused the dancers back pain even days after.49 Musicians took care of the music; separate musicians were hired by the bride’s and the groom’s household. Along with Saxon musicians, Gypsy musicians were also present, even at weddings held according to German customs, since the former did not know the Hungarian melodies.50

The ritual of stealing the bride was also held during the dances. The bridesman and the maid of honor would lead the ride to the groom’s bedroom. After the bride had been stolen, it was the duty of one of the men from the bride’s household to accompany the groom to the bedroom. In Székely’s case, there were complications, as it seems that everyone was at his or her proper place except for the groom. On the side of the bride, the ceremony masters were chosen from the Bánffy family, except for János Toroczkay (died in 1745), whose task would have been to lead the groom to the bedroom. However, as he had feelings of antipathy for László Székely, he did not take him to the room, thus the groom was late for the significant ritual. The problem was finally solved by Zsigmond Bánffy. The bride was led to the bedchamber by the maid of honor, who took the bridal wreath from her head, undressed her, and finally blessed her. Instead of the wreath decorated with pearl, a wreath with flowers was given to the bridesman, Ádám Székely, the younger brother of the groom. After sticking it on his sword, Ádám presented it to the wedding guests and then danced with the maid of honor.51

This is the moment where the narratives usually end. Although the sources usually mention the “theft” of the bride, they contain nothing concerning the consummation of the marriages.52 Székely, however, takes the reader into the bedroom. In the room appointed for the consummation of the marriage, two beds were placed. One was an ordinary bed, the other was lavishly decorated with pillows and fine cloths. The two beds were made up so that the young couple would not have to sleep together, but the groom did not want to postpone the consummation.53 Klára Bánffy, the foster mother of the bride, tried to hinder the actual consummation of the marriage. She even ensured that the bride would have a guardian, but the handmaid whom she sent was thrown out of the room by the groom, and then his men chased her from the doorstep, where they told her to remain to guard the door. So from the perspective of its furnishings, the room was reminiscent of the formal traditions surrounding the consummation of a marriage, but the furnishings also reflected Székely’s reasoning, according to which this act had fallen out of fashion. Consummation, that being symbolic or actual in all circumstances had to take place at the nuptials.54

The next morning, the room was crowded with women, who under the guidance of the lady of honor dressed Kata Bánffy up in the clothes she had received from László Székely as gifts.55 The groom also dressed up in new clothes which had been made for him by the family of the bride.

The next day of the wedding was spent with dancing and feasting. The two groups of guests had breakfast separately and then continued dancing together. This was followed by the lunch and the symbolical pie-breaking ceremony, which was considered the highlight of the day. This could pose major difficulties for an inexperienced bridesman, as, according to the autobiography, Ádám Székely was. In order to avoid humiliating his brother, Székely spent some money on the game, trying to bribe the baker to give some sign indicating which pie he had baked the cloths, wires, and horseshoes in.56 Apart from the dancing of the wreath, this was the main duty of the bridesmen. The secondary literature contains the persistent claim that when a widower wedded, there was no need for a groomsman or bridesman.57 The Székely marriages, however, contradict the account given in Miklós Bethlen’s autobiography, as there was both a groomsman and a bridesman at the wedding of Ádám Székely and Sára Naláczy, while at the second wedding of László Székely there was only a groomsman and not a bridesman, as there was no plan to steal the bride. Thus, the bridesman, apart from but connected to the wreath-dancing and the pie-breaking ceremonies, had an actual role in the stealing of the bride.

In the presence of witnesses, the dowry of the bride was also transferred at the end of the second day. In the description of his first marriage, Székely referred to the third day as the bun-combing day, although in the description of his second marriage he placed it on the second day, as other sources indicate. The bride certainly said goodbye to her foster parents on the third day and went to the house of the groom, where the celebration continued.

This time, they approached Zsuk not via the detour, but by the shortest possible route. The related literature frequently indicates that the ceremony masters of the bride and the groom had to be from different kinship networks. That this was indeed the tradition is confirmed by the griping of the bride’s family, who resented the fact that a number of masters from Bonchida who played the same roles were present in Zsuk. Although a representative of the emperor did not make it to the wedding at Zsuk (unlike in the case of the wedding of Ádám Székely, which was attended by a representative of the emperor), the gubernator did. Of course, he spent the night in the most beautifully carpeted room and took a place at the table laid with silverware.58 As at the bride’s house, the celebration lasted three days at the groom’s house, and members of his kinship network extended the celebrations by a week.

The description of the second wedding is rather succinct; indeed, one could say that it is fully in accordance with the expectations one would have regarding Transylvanian memoirs, as it is restricted to a short list of the guests, kin with more important tasks, and friends. The consummation here is only a blurred biographical experience, as the author chastely remains silent about the bedroom, bringing up only the connected child births. The laconic narration of the second marriage can be understood structurally as well. While the description of the first marriage follows the so-to-say usual scheme of framed narratives, in which the different biographical moments are given their own titles as chapters, the second marriage unfolds as an ongoing experience which unfolds day by day.

Instead of Conclusions

In this study, we presented the stages of the long process during the course of which a marriage came into being. In this process, alongside the close kin, a significant role was played by more distant kin and friends, who with their advice and arrangements helped the prospective bride and groom.

The investigation also addressed the clearly identifiable moments which preceded the wedding, such as the visit paid on the girl, the proposal, and the exchange of vows. Based on the text we investigated, the proposal, the exchange of gifts, and the exchange of vows were the three defining moments that set the stage for the wedding. Of these, the last was of primary significance, because of the church ceremony and because it could happen years before the wedding ceremony, which involved the consummation. The betrothal was the symbol of commitment to marriage, which like every event of extraordinary importance, was followed by a lunch or dinner with the close kin. Weddings which required major pomp and preparations and which lasted days, however, took place with major publicity. Different representational elements and regional traditions had their roles and served to ensure the participants would be entertained. They also clearly reflected the rivalry between the two households whether in ceremonies like the wreath-running or through the gifts that were exchanged, the fine dresses, and the variety of food.

In choosing his mate, László Székely, who had often suffered disdain because of his origins, tried to catch up with the old Transylvanian families. He aimed to adapt to the related values in the decisions he made concerning his private life and to pass on these values to subsequent generations in his autobiographical work. This explains the elaborateness of the description of his first marriage and the related ceremonies. In this nostalgic remembrance, he seems to have been motivated by the same thoughts as Péter Apor. They both tried to contribute, by recording their own life experiences, to the reconstruction of a world that was about to fade.

Archival Sources

Országos Széchényi Könyvtár Kézirattára [Széchényi National Library Manuscript Collection] (OSZK)

Quart. Hung. 4312.


Printed sources

Apor, Péter. Metamorphosis Transylvaniae. Translated by Bernard Adams. London: Kegan Paul, 2010.

Bethlen, Miklós. The Autobiography of Miklós Bethlen. Translated by Bernard Adams. London: Kegan Paul, 2004.

Cserei, Farkas. A magyar és székely asszonyok törvénye [The Statute of Hungarian and Székely Women]. Kolozsvár, 1800.

Rettegi, György. Emlékezetre méltó dolgok [Things Worthy of Remembrance]. Edited by Zsigmond Jakó. Bukarest: Kriterion, 1970.

Wesselényi, István. Sanyarú világ: Napló 1703–1708 [Wretched World. Diary: 1703–1708]. Edited by András Magyari. Bukarest: Kriterion, 1983.


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Olsen, Kristin. Daily Life in 18th-Century England. London: Greenwood Press, 1999.

Ozment, Steven. Ancestors: The Loving Family in Old Europe. Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2001.

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Pollock, Linda. Forgotten Children: Parent-Child Relations from 1500–1900. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

Radvánszky, Béla. “Lakodalmak a XVI–XVII. században” [Weddings in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries]. Századok 17, no. 3 (1883): 223–42.

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Shorter, Edward. The Making of the Modern Family. New York: Basic Books, 1975.

Stone, Lawrence. The Family, Sex and Marriage in England, 1500–1800. New York, Harper&Row, 1977.

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Tadmor, Naomi. Family and Friends in Eighteenth-Century England: Household, Kinship and Patronage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Trumbach, Randolph. The Rise of the Egalitarian Family: Aristocratic Kinship and Domestic Relations in Eighteenth-Century England. New York: Academic Press, 1978.

1* This paper was supported by the MTA BTK Lendület Családtörténeti Kutatócsoport [Lendület Integrating Families Research Group] and is in part a revised version of an earlier publication: Fehér, “Lakodalmak.”

Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage; Badinter, The Myth of Motherhood; Shorter, The Making of the Modern Family; and those who argue for the continuity of emotional attachments, see Laslett, The World We Have Lost; Macfarlane, The Family Life of Raph Josselin; Cressy, Birth, Marriage and Death; Pollock, Forgotten Children; Ozment, Ancestors; Tadmor, Family and Friends.

2 Dekker, Egodocuments and History.

3 László Székely was an educated Transylvanian aristocrat, book collector, translator, and memoir writer. The family’s countship, which it had only recently acquired a few years before he was born, and in particular the disdain of Transylvanian society for the “homines novi” exerted a decisive influence on his life. With the early death of his parents, his opportunities narrowed, thus he never received important functions and only observed the transformation of Transylvanian society from the outside. At the age of 47, still without an heir, he decided to edit his previously written and continuously amended notes. This circa 1,000-page memoir is the primary source for this study. Székely László élete azaz eredetének, eleinek, születtetésének, neveltetésének, ifjúságának, megélemedett idejének s ez idők alatt lött világi viszontagságainak leírása [László Székely’s description of his life, origins, birth, upbringing, youth, and the vicissitudes he faced during this time] OSZK. Quart. Hung. 4312.

4 On this question in detail, see Fehér, Sensibilitate şi identitate, 163–201; Fehér, “Lakodalmak,” 118–29. A comprehensive overviews of the problem by Margit S. Sárdi is also based on the memoir-literature. Sárdi offers a discussion of discussing circa 75 marriages: Sárdi, “Leánykérés, házasság, szerelem.” For more on Early Modern Hungarian marriage customs, see: Szabó, “Betrothal.”

5 Péter Apor was a baron from Háromszék, comes, royal judge, and prolific memoir writer. Of his Hungarian vernacular, Latin, verse, and prose works, the most valuable from the point of view of literary and intellectual history is a nostalgic work in which he describes Transylvanian customs. In English, see: Metamorphosis Transylvaniae.

6 Fehér, Sensibilitate şi identitate, 165–66.

7 Even otherwise skeptical historians (who argue that this history was marked by discontinuities of affections and attachments) such as Lawrence Stone admits that by the eighteenth century marital relationships were shaped more by emotion, and grandchildren loved in totally different ways than their grandfathers had. Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage, 658.

8 Fehér, Sensibilitate şi identitate, 165–72. In addition to memoir-literature, legal and ecclesiastic sources also condemned bad and violent marriages. Péter, Házasság, 123–38.

9 Bárth, Esküvő, keresztelő, avatás, 68.

10 Miklós Bethlen, chancellor of Transylvania, was the most erudite Transylvanian dignitary of the time. He pursued studies at Heidelberg, Utrecht, and Leiden, during which time he visited a number of Western European countries and saw a number of European noble courts. His travel experiences had an impact on his tastes and played a crucial role in his political ideas. He was a confidante of both János Kemény and Mihály Apafi, princes of Transylvania, and he actively participated in the preparation of the Diploma Leopoldinum. After having earned the displeasure of Leopold I, however, he spent last 12 years of his life in custody. The autobiography he wrote in exile in Vienna is one of the best pieces of Transylvanian memoir-literature, and it has been translated into a number of languages. In English, see: Bethlen, The Autobiography.

11 Ibid., 283–84.

12 This also seems to have been a common practice in eighteenth-century France, where there was a clear intention to complement the nobility, which by then had minimal financial assets, with a bureaucracy or bourgeoisie which would had a more stable financial background. Chaussinand-Nogaret, The French Nobility, 123–25.

13 Ibid., 122.

14 Radvánszky, “Lakodalmak,” 229.

15 Baron István Wesselényi de Hadad was a politician who supported the Habsburg House, comes of Közép-Szolnok and Kolozs Counties, and president of the Deputatio. His diary from the years he spent in Szeben during Ferenc II Rákóczi’s war of independence is the most detailed account of events in Transylvania during the so-called Kuruc period, i.e. the period between 1671 and 1711, when armed anti-Habsburg rebels called “Kurucok” fought against Habsburg rule. Wesselényi, Sanyarú világ, vol. 1–2.

16 In European and especially Western societies in which people married at later ages frequently the people getting married had lost either one parent or both parents, hence the importance of kin and friends. Dülmen, Kultur und Alltag, 136; Cressy, Birth, Marriage and Death, 244.

17 Székely László élete, 653.

18 Ibid., 654. International secondary literature keeps emphasizing how difficult it was for women in the eighteenth century, as they mostly had contradictory advice on how to find a balance between traditional values and modern expectations. Olsen, Daily Life, 38.

19 Rettegi, Emlékezetre méltó dolgok, 163–64, 269–70, 377.

20 Apor, Metamorphosis Transylvaniae, 55.

21 The intervention of friends and kin in these private matters was not only possible but was required “because of the conventional stages that structured courtship.” O’Hara, Courtship and Constraint, 30–31.

22 Sárdi, “Leánykérés, házasság, szerelem,” 51.

23 Apor, Metamorphosis Transylvaniae, 55; Radvánszky, “Lakodalmak,” 219.

24 Radvánszky, “Lakodalmak,” 221. The Western European nobility followed similar steps, if in a somewhat more complex form. Chaussinand-Nogaret, The French Nobility, 119–20.

25 Székely László élete, 657–59.

26 Promises were always made through intermediaries and then were repeated face to face. Cressy, Birth, Marriage and Death, 238.

27 Székely László élete, 641–52, 693–94.

28 Tadmor, Family and Friends, 167, 171, 212–14.

29 Western scholarship emphasizes that female members of aristocratic families were subject to the will of the family and that the “less property was at stake the greater the freedom of choice.” Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage, 304–19, 321; Dülmen, Kultur und Alltag, 139. This is true in large part because with marriage, a woman acquired the status of her husband. Trumbach, The Rise of the Egalitarian Family, 97–98. The Hungarian secondary literature, in contrast, emphasizes data which indicates a shift of power over choices in marriage from parents to children. Sárdi, “Leánykérés, házasság, szerelem,” 54. Béla Mihalik’s study adds further valuable data to the problem. Mihalik, “...nemcsak anya, hanem atyai gondjukat is viselvén.”

30 Dekker, “Sexuality, Elites, and Court Life,” 95.

31 This is also suggested by the legal collection of Farkas Cserei, according to which girls do not have to follow the orders of their parents in every matter and parents should keep in mind the wishes of their children. Cserei, A magyar és székely asszonyok törvénye, 44. Anglo-Saxon scholarly literature also seems to reinforce the notion that at least by the eighteenth century, the absolute control of the parents was weakening, and except for people who belonged to the highest layers of society, the choice was made by the prospective bride and groom, who may have consulted their parents, but who did not base their decisions entirely on their parents’ suggestions. Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage, 270–71.

32 Bárth, Esküvő, keresztelő, avatás, 127–30. The gifts given during the courting and the betrothal were very important because they were evidence of matrimonial intent. Cressy, Birth, Marriage and Death, 263–64; Dülmen, Kultur und Alltag, 141–43.

33 Constant control by parents was a part of the cultural life of every social group; sources indicate that households with daughters were under continuous supervision. These moral communities may have differed from region to region, but they equally put pressure on the families in their spheres of interest. O’Hara, Courtship and constraint, 31; Dülmen, Kultur und Alltag, 136.

34 Trumbach also came to similar conclusions when studying the noble wedding customs. He contends that the stages involving church ceremonies were also held mostly at one of the private properties of the family. Trumbach, The Rise of the Egalitarian Family, 115.

35 Radvánszky, “Lakodalmak,” 221.

36 Long betrothals were difficult for young people all over Europe: Cressy, Birth, Marriage and Death, 243.

37 Sárdi, “Leánykérés, házasság, szerelem,” 56.

38 Under special circumstances, an engagement could be broken, e.g. if either the potential bride or groom remained abroad for a longer period of time, lied about his or her origins, had a venereal disease, or was discovered to have stolen something. Cserei, A magyar és székely asszonyok törvénye, 46.

39 Kiss, “Matrimoniális causák,” 46. Sometimes fines were connected with the breaking off of a betrothal. Cserei, A magyar és székely asszonyok törvénye, 46.

40 Bárth, Esküvő, keresztelő, avatás, 45–47, 53.

41 The data collected by Réka Kiss from ecclesiastic records suggest that in Transylvanian society, after the exchange of vows, the bride and groom slept or lived together in a number of cases. Kiss, “Matrimoniális causák,” 47.

42 Bárth, Esküvő, keresztelő, avatás, 128–29.

43 Székely László élete, 221.

44 The ring-running was a version of wreath running: “Then, when they approached the village where the wedding-feast was, the chief steward sent out the ring, or sometimes two or three gold pieces instead; they stopped with it at a certain point and a number of horses were specially lined up on behalf of the bridegroom; likewise horses were brought out from the bride’s house and set in line when the word was given as to where they had stopped with the ring they raced thither, for they had stopped with the ring at a good distance, and he whose horse reached the ring first, the rider of that horse won the ring, and it was to honor and renown.”The fir-climbing had the same purpose as the ring- or wreath-running, namely that of entertaining the guests. Unlike the later, this game took place in the second feasting day of the wedding: “And when breakfast was being prepared a pine-trunk (which had been cut down in readiness) was set up outside the hall (sometimes two were fastened end to end), and at the top of it a hole was made, and in that hole a piece of wood was fixed so that any that could climb to it could rest up there; but the pine-trunk was heavily greased with tallow and grease, and at the top were two, three or four gold coins and four or five ells of cloth and a flask of wine; many would try to climb it, ant the gentry were amused as they made the attempt, but of the many one would be found that could climb up, cling there to the above mentioned cross-bar, drink the wine from the flask and took possession of the gold and the cloth.” Apor, Metamorphosis Transylvaniae, 58–9, 66.

45 These people were called “harbingers” by Apor, and they became bearers of the good news only after visiting the bride’s home. By the eighteenth century, the meaning of the two names merged into one. Ibid., 58.

46 Székely bought horses for the running, including the one which then won the competition, which was from a stud owned by István Mikes. Székely purchased it for 70 florins. Székely László élete, 227.

47 Ibid., 233. When giving away the bride, it was considered fitting to joke, to bring out another girl, or to ask tricky questions. Wesselényi, Sanyarú világ, vol. 1., 411; Radvánszky, “Lakodalmak,” 236.

48 Bethlen, The Autobiography, 352.

49 Polish dances were part of Hungarian dance culture for centuries. Of these dances, the polonicai was the most popular. This is the dance to which Péter Apor refers as the Polish switching dance. The main feature of the dance was the switching of partners. First the men and then the women switched partners and turned around with the new partner three times and then on their own three times. In the hat dance, the person dancing who held the cap in his hand summoned his partner for a dancing contest. The goal was to get the cap. Apor, Metamorphosis Transylvaniae, 18; The scapular was a tag dance. The dancers formed a circle; the pair in the middle was the one who got caught, while outside the circle a man or woman was trying to catch each other with a scapula (a helved wooden tool with a flat head). The dance continued until one of the two was hit. The person hit then continued dancing with one of the people who were in the middle of the circle. Wesselényi, Sanyarú világ, vol. 2., 652.

50 Ibid., vol. 2., 651.

51 Apor’s description is more detailed here. He explains the symbolism of the wreath, and he also interweaves the laws concerning adultery into the description of the quartering of the wreath. It is indeed true that with the removal of the wreath, the bride stopped being a maiden. Apor, Metamorphosis Transylvaniae, 65.

52 The secondary literature also mentions the noisy and frequently vulgar behavior of those who waited outside the room. Olsen, Daily Life, 40. Trumbach, The Rise of the Egalitarian Family, 113; Dülmen, Kultur und Alltag; 155. Cressy, Birth, Marriage and Death, 374–76.

53 Székely László élete, 242.

54 In the period of Ottoman incursions, there were nuptials and consummations that required special solutions. Sárdi, “Leánykérés, házasság, szerelem,” 56. But the situation was not better in the eighteenth century either. Wesselényi notes that in the overcrowded city of Szeben, László Szentkirályi had to consummate his marriage in a small cottage. Wesselényi, Sanyarú világ, vol. 1., 412.

55 Farkas Cserei understands the wedding dress as a gift offered in exchange for the consummation of the marriage, i.e. in exchange for the bride’s virginity. Thus, a widow or divorced woman could not expect this kind of gift. Cserei, A magyar és székely asszonyok törvénye, 54.

56 Székely gave several handmaids as gifts during the three days he spent at the houses of the bride, the baker, the bed-maker, the musicians, the master of the kitchen, the cup-bearer, and the coffee maker. Székely László élete, 247.

57 Bethlen, The Autobiography, 352; Radvánszky, “Lakodalmak,” 229; Sárdi, “Leánykérés, házasság, szerelem,” 58–59.

58 It was not simply a matter of prestige, in the case of the weddings of members of the Székely family, to have members of the elite attending; this was widespread practice, independent of social strata and time period. Dülmen, Kultur und Alltag, 150.



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