István H. Németh
Venerable Senators or Municipal Bureaucrats? The Beginnings of the Transformation of the Estate of Burghers at the Turn of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries
This essay offers a socio-historical analysis of the urban elite of the city of Sopron in Western Hungary as a paradigmatic example of the changes that were implemented in municipal administration at the end of the seventeenth and beginning of the eighteenth centuries to meet the demands of the centralized state. It examines the process whereby the centralized state began to assert its influence in municipal affairs in the interests of reestablishing and strengthening the cities as sources of tax revenue and furthering the reinstatement of Catholicism. Alongside the confessional shifts that took place, the distinctive social characteristics of the leading urban elite also changed: because of the small number of educated Catholics among the burgesses, an increasing number of state officials and educated servants who earlier had been in the service of owners of large estates rose to prominent positions in municipal administration. Because of the expectations of the state regarding professional qualifications and the dependence on the central offices, the roles of the municipal officials were increasingly intertwined with the affairs of public administration. They came to be the precursors to the so-called “honorácior” stratum, a social class of intellectuals and civil servants who played a prominent role in the growth of a new bureaucracy in the nineteenth century.