pdfVolume 2 Issue 4 CONTENTS

Ildikó Horn

The Princely Council in the Age of Gábor Bethlen*

The princely council of Transylvania was an advisory body of twelve members with no authority to decide. After the accession of Gábor Bethlen (1613–1629) with Ottoman support, the Transylvanian estates tried to limit his authority by enlarging the powers enjoyed by the council: in matters of great political and diplomatic importance, of appointment to the chief offices, and the granting of major estates the prince could only decide in cooperation with the council. The first part of the present study analyzes the methods by which the prince gradually altered the council in accordance with his own interests, mainly by increasing and changing its personnel. The second part examines the characteristics of the council in terms of the origins, social position, religion, age, qualifications and functions of its members. The Transylvanian political elite was fairly open throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and especially so during the reign of Bethlen, mainly because of the loss in human lives caused by the wars and internal conflicts between 1598 and 1612. Thanks to the princely religious policies pursued in the past forty years, the council was confessionally mixed, with a Catholic dominance and a strong Unitarian presence.

Keywords: Gábor Bethlen, Principality of Transylvania, Partium, seventeenth century, princely council, elites, catholic emigration, homines novi, catholic aristocrats, confessional diversification


Very few information is available about one of the most important government organs of the Principality of Transylvania, the princely council, due in part to the limited number of sources.1 The little continuity in the council’s functioning, as well as that body’s differing profile and political weight during the reigns of each subsequent ruler, all present a particular challenge.

The forerunner of the institution in any event must be sought in the royal council of János Szapolyai (1526–1540). The sixteenth-century royal council, carrying forward medieval traditions, was a large body in which the ecclesiastical and secular dignities (praelati et barones), common or lesser nobles delegated by the diet, as well as the confidants of the ruler all received seats by virtue of their offices. The changed circumstances after Szapolyai’s death placed the development of the council on a new path. The composition of the body had to conform to the unique social structure of Transylvania, which formed the core of the emerging state. Accordingly, in March 1542 alongside the regent a twenty-five-member council was set up, in which the three nations were represented by seven members each; they were joined by the vicar of the Bishopric of Gyulafehérvár (Alba Iulia, Romania) or one of the canons of the cathedral chapter.2

The year 1548 is an important one in the evolution of the princely council: this is the date when it broke with its medieval antecedents. It was at this time that the membership began to decrease, and ecclesiastical figures could no longer take part on the council by right of their ecclesiastical office. This deviated not only from medieval traditions but also from the practice in contemporary Royal Hungary as well. The Diet of 1559 is once again a significant milestone: the estates conferred the right to choose councilors on Isabella and John Sigismund.3 From this time on the council can no longer be regarded as the representative organ of the estates. Its composition depended on the ruler, and it was primarily to him that the council lords were accountable. The ruler could convene the council at his pleasure, and the opinion of the councilors was not binding. The body functioned in two basic ways: the members expounded their views in person at the council meeting, or the prince could request an opinion in writing (censura, votum) from those not present.

Despite the fact that the council’s opinion was not binding, the body did not become unimportant. In the consensus between the reigning prince and the estates the role of the council was always fixed, and the country’s most important leading officials received seats on that body at all times: the supreme commander of the army, the president of the diet, the chancellor, the treasurer and other regional leaders. So great was the council’s social prestige that the members of the Transylvanian political elite regarded gaining a seat on that body as their most important aim.

Gábor Bethlen’s accession to the throne (October 23, 1613) brought about changes in both the competence and the practical working of the princely council.4 Because Bethlen had gained the princely title with Ottoman backing, the estates attempted to confine his power within limits by making his election dependent on accepting tougher conditions than before. They sought to reduce the prince’s authority and establish control over Bethlen’s policy through the council, and thus, in order to protect the body and its members, the estates had the rights and duties of the council incorporated into the conditions of the election and the princely oath.5 The estates strove to ensure their right of libera vox: no councilor could suffer any kind of disadvantage merely for having formed an opinion contrary to the ruler’s on a given question. In addition to this, it was established that when there was a change of ruler a councilor could retain his office or resign from it as he wished. Henceforth the ruler could not dismiss a councilor of his own will, and only with compelling reasons, via legal means and with the cooperation of the diet could he remove them from the body. The prince also had to pledge to choose his councilors from among the “true native patriots” and maintain the council at full strength.

Under these circumstances, the kind of council Gábor Bethlen would be able to form became extremely important, as did the extent to which that body would be able to constrain the prince’s will.

The Restructuring of the Princely Council

In light of changes in personnel and its political role, the functioning of the council can be divided into three periods. The first lasted from Bethlen’s election as prince in October 1613 until 1616; the second falls between the years 1616 and 1622; and the last seven of his reign form the third period. The greatest number of changes in the size and composition of the body occurred during the first two phases. In Bethlen’s initial years behind every replacement there was a conscious political decision, whereas in the second and third periods (apart from one instance, the removal of Chancellor Simon Péchi) the changes resulted from external circumstances, namely the death of the councilors.

From the point of view of the council’s formation, therefore, the most intriguing period is the first three years of Bethlen’s reign. In contrast to previous custom, two points in Bethlen’s conditions of election dealt with the council’s authority. According to this, all three political nations (Hungarians, Szeklers and Saxons) were to receive seats on the body, though without stipulating the ratios. The new prince was obligated not to act in matters concerning domestic political decisions of great import, diplomatic measures, larger grants of land or the appointment of chief officials without the council’s knowledge. The councilors were guaranteed the right to speak freely with impunity, but at the same time the prince was also authorized to impose, after an appropriate investigation, the severest punishment on those of his councilors who endangered and deliberately harmed the country.6

On the basis of the conditions Gábor Bethlen set about reforming the council without delay. At the same diet which elected him as prince, a law was passed regarding the punishment of the “evil and false” councilors of the previous ruler, Gábor Báthory, because of whose harmful advice the principality had fallen “into this terrible peril.”7 This was a victory for Bethlen because he thus received an opportunity to set aside councilors undesirable to him under a strictly controlled legal framework. By the fall of 1613 there remained only seven of the councilors inherited from Gábor Báthory who survived the events and were not stripped of their office: Ferenc Rhédey, the Kamuthy brothers, Farkas and Balázs, István Erdélyi, Farkas Alia, Pál Keresztessy and István Wesselényi.

Yet their presence by no means represented an unacceptable compromise to Bethlen. Ferenc Rhédey was Bethlen’s brother-in-law, and although he remained faithful to Gábor Báthory until the end, he continued to belong to the most intimate circle of kin and confidants. Farkas Kamuthy was considered a relative of the prince, albeit not a particularly close one, and moreover, after the death of Mózes Székely (1603) they had endured the years of Turkish exile together. But nor did the five politicians who entered the council in 1612, that is, after Gábor Bethlen’s emigration, have to seriously worry either. Farkas Alia and Pál Keresztessy had attained their political positions by virtue of their accomplishments in the military sphere, and at numerous points their careers had progressed together with Bethlen’s; nor had their activity as councilors compromised them either. Balázs Kamuthy likewise had previously belonged to Bethlen’s circle.8 The situation of the remaining two councilors, István Erdélyi and István Wesselényi, was unique because it was unequivocally the economic and social clout of their families, and not their political role, that had landed them on the council. István Erdélyi had not been a figure of note during Gábor Báthory’s final months. As for Wesselényi, deliberately remaining absent from the Transylvanian infighting, after 1612 he resided for the most part on his estates in Hungary (having divided the family fortune with his younger brother, after 1614 he moved to estates in Hungary and Poland for good).9

Since no conflict emerged between Bethlen and the remaining councilors, the resolution on the councilors’ responsibility was detailed at the next diet. The examination was not to apply generally and extend to every councilor but only to persons to be named by the prince or the estates. The modification was also made possible by the fact that Gábor Báthory had been murdered in the meantime and the interpretation of the events between 1610 and 1612 thus changed, with the weight of responsibility shifted from the councilors to the slain prince. Accordingly, Bethlen used this law only two years later, then applying it not to the inherited councilors but rather to the lords who had been removed from the council back in 1610, from amongst whom his opposition had begun to take shape by 1615.

The conditions of election also prescribed that the council was to be maintained at its full strength. The practice of twelve permanent members had begun to consolidate by the late sixteenth century, though this was not established by law. Thus, nothing tied Bethlen’s hands on this issue, and thus in the fall of 1613 the sources mention a 15-member council. Because the estates wanted a strong council as a counterweight to the prince, a potentially larger membership seemingly favored them. We know from the diary of one of the Saxon envoys that the council still had only 12 members at the diet assembled to elect the prince.10 On the basis of the names and titles contained in Gábor Bethlen’s deeds of gift and diplomatic documents dating from November and December 1613, it is possible to indentify the council lords: 1. Ferenc Rhédey;11 2. István Kákonyi;12 3. Farkas Bethlen Búni;13 4. János Gyerőffy;14 5. István Kassai;15 6. Ferenc Balássy;16 7. Boldizsár Kemény;17 8. Zsigmond Sarmasághy;18 9. Farkas Kamuthy; 10. Balázs Kamuthy; 11. Pál Keresztessy; and 12. Johannes Benkner.19

However, missing from this body were three of the councilors inherited from Gábor Báthory (Alia, Erdélyi and Wesselényi). Because it was not yet possible to know at this time whether they had stayed away simply due to other engagements or out of caution, or whether their absence stemmed from explicitly political antagonisms, their seats were filled immediately. This was needed by the prince and the estates alike. Bethlen wanted to demonstrate his legitimacy, and the estates their independence, to the Turks. However, as the bypassed former councilors also assured Bethlen of their loyalty not long afterward, their appointment remained in effect; with them the council now increased to 15 members. Bethlen thus kept all 15 councilors in their office while bestowing on them grants of land and even expanded the council with additional new members.

It was thus that Simon Péchi, who in April 1614 already bore the title of inner councilor and chancellor,20 entered the council and, after the diet of February 1614, Farkas Cserényi, István Kendy, Zsigmond Kornis and Boldizsár Szilvássy, against whom the condemnatory sentences passed in 1610 and 1612, declaring their banishment, were nullified at this time.21 In early 1615 Bethlen appointed two additional council members, János Mikola and the Saxon Koloman Gotzmeister. With this the size of the council by 1615 rose to twenty-two members, or rather in reality only twenty-one, because by this time István Wesselényi had resigned from his posts and had moved out to his estates located in the Kingdom of Hungary.22

Within the council we find two clearly distinguishable groups. One of these, completely homogenous with respect to their religious and political views, was formed by the Catholic lords (István Kendy, Zsigmond Sarmasághy, Boldizsár Szilvássy23 and Zsigmond Kornis).24 Representatives of the young Catholic nobility educated by Zsigmond Báthory, they were characterized by a strong religious commitment that was rather intolerant of the other denominations, and by an unshakable pro-Habsburg sentiment. They had earlier formed the opposition to István Bocskai but had been forced out of the country at that time. Under the terms of the Peace of Vienna they received pardons and attained key positions around 1607–1608. However, their political commitment did not change, and thus in 1610 they became the first to turn against Gábor Báthory’s policies. Not only had Gábor Bethlen played a leading role in their removal at that time, but he had also acquired a significant share of their estates. Despite this it was Bethlen who, guided by well-considered political interests, helped his former opponents back into power.

In the fall of 1613 Bethlen urgently needed the support of the Catholic aristocrats who had fled to Hungary, since among the Transylvanian politicians they alone enjoyed the confidence of the Habsburg court. Matthias II greeted the Turkish-backed Bethlen’s princely aspirations with hostility; indeed, the idea of an armed intervention was raised once again. Bethlen recognized that if he wished to have himself accepted by the Habsburg court, it would be practical for him to win over the émigré Catholic aristocrats, who, though financially supported by the Viennese court, were living in Hungary under quite unworthy and impoverished circumstances compared to their previous living standards. Bethlen had established contact with them already before his election, and he was the one who made the offer of complete political rehabilitation. The compact was soon reached: Bethlen would grant the exiles complete amnesty, create for them the opportunity to repossess and reacquire their confiscated estates and movable assets, and compensate them for their other losses as well. In return, they would help Bethlen gain acceptance at the Habsburg court and in the public opinion in the kingdom.25 Between October 1613 and February 1614 Zsigmond Kornis, Zsigmond Sarmasághy and Sándor Sennyey (taking over for his father, Pongrác Sennyey, who had since died) conducted truly enormous propaganda work on Bethlen’s behalf.26 The two sides therefore reached a political compromise that in the longer term could have equally culminated in lasting cooperation or further confrontation.

For Bethlen, it was vitally important to prevent the advisory body, strengthened with the arrival of the Catholic émigrés, from checking his ambitions. It was for this reason that he formed within the council a group representing the counterweight. It was possible to join this through kinship with Bethlen or by having shared a common past with him. A common past meant common activity on the side of Mózes Székely in the pro-Turkish policy emerging after 1602: the Battle of Brassó (Braşov, Romania) (July 17, 1602), followed by Turkish emigration, and finally the shared experience of István Bocskai’s movement. To this circle of confidants belonged his brother-in-law, Ferenc Rhédey, the Kamuthy brothers, the husbands of two of his second cousins: Ferenc Balássy and Simon Péchi, János Mikola, Pál Keresztessy and the three Farkas: Bethlen, Cserényi and Alia.

Thus, it can clearly be seen that within Gábor Bethlen’s council those two political currents were once again straining against one another, whose bloody antagonism had defined political life in Transylvania since 1603, and neither István Bocskai, nor Zsigmond Rákóczi nor Gábor Báthory had been able to steer them into a common channel. Into the gap between the two groups Bethlen placed either figures of great prestige but neutral allegiance (János Gyerőffy, István Erdélyi, István Wesselényi), or persons of modest background striving upward explicitly through their expertise (István Kassai, István Kákonyi); to the latter the prince made it absolutely clear that they could rise to truly high positions only through loyalty and service to him.

Significantly increased in size by 1615, the composition of the princely council thus now favored Bethlen in the prospective political battles and decisions. In fact, this was the same method that Bethlen used in connection with the diets also, where he succeeded in pushing through his will likewise by creating his own majority. Once again he operated by increasing the number of members; thus, in addition to the members of the diet who had to attend and had to be invited, Bethlen invited so many regalists by princely invitation letter (in this no law of any kind restricted him) that he managed to create simple numerical majorities in the diets, thus allowing his will to prevail.27 Between 1613 and 1616 this same thing also occurred through the swelling of the princely council. Through skillful political tactics Bethlen sidestepped established customs, without, however, violating written law. The estates, meanwhile, had no other grounds to protest, since with the conditions of election it was they who had increased the council’s authority with the intention of controlling and constraining the new prince.

A Special Factor in the Makeup of the Council: the Role of the Partium

Mastering the balance of power within the council was of vital importance to Bethlen, because the outrage and discontent over the circumstances of his election had strengthened the internal opposition, substantial in any case, while he had to confront the unresolved Saxon question and also had to settle diplomatic relations with the Kingdom of Hungary.28 Still other factors influenced his personal policy, among which the most important were the political situation that evolved in the Partes adnexae or Partium, and the unfavorable distribution of landed property. After Gábor Báthory’s death, Matthias II regarded the Treaty of Pozsony concluded in April 1613 invalid and tried to exploit the situation, once again uncertain because of the change on the Transylvanian throne, to reannex the Partium to the Kingdom of Hungary. As a first step, the garrisons manning the Transylvanian border castles were successfully made to swear their loyalty to the king, and the struggle for political influence over Nagyvárad (Oradea, Romania) as well as the four counties of the Partium (Máramaros, Közép-Szolnok, Kraszna and Bihar) commenced.

Regarding the control of the counties, Bihar was in the safest hands, where the captain general of várad, Ferenc Rhédey performed the duties of lord-lieutenant (Hungarian: főispán; Latin: comes). Máramaros was headed by the largely unknown József Bornemissza of Ungvár, whose loyalty Bethlen sought to ensure at all costs: he appointed him captain general of Huszt (Хуст, Ukraine), granted him substantial properties, ordered one hundred housholds of tenants for his wife as well, and mortgaged to him the town of Técső (Тячів, Ukraine).29 Of the two other imperiled counties, Kraszna was headed by Zsigmond Prépostváry, who had reverted to loyalty to Matthias II, while the office of lord-lieutenant of Közép-Szolnok County was held by the very same István Wesselényi who had then been residing for an extended period of time on his estates in the territory of the kingdom.30

An even more worrisome situation developed for Bethlen with respect to the distribution of estates in the Partium, as the attached map shows. In the north the fate of the Kővár (Chioar, Romania) district became dubious since, after they had reacquired it from Bálint Drugeth of Homonna, the estates had placed it in Gábor Báthory’s possession at the diet of Kolozsvár (Cluj-Napoca, Romania) in September 1608, with the right of inheritance within the family or by will, under the condition that it could not be alienated from the country.31 Under the terms of this, after the prince’s death Kővár and its environs would have passed to his half-brother, András Báthory, as well as his female relatives; yet Bethlen and the Transylvanian estates would have liked to transform it once again into a crown land, while Matthias II for his part attempted to annex it to the kingdom. Complicating the situation was the fact that Báthory had utilized the estates belonging to Kővár to retain his dwindling number of adherents and had thus given away or mortgaged several of them.

In Máramaros the estate of Huszt was held by the niece of the murdered prince, Kata Török of Enying. Besides this, in the county we find one more large block of lands, which, however, was in the possession of János Imreffy’s widow, Kata Iffjú, who was also Gábor Báthory’s aunt.32 Two families, completely blended and almost inseparable because of multiple marriages, shared much of Kraszna County: the Báthorys and the Bánffys of Losoncz. In the fall of 1613 this meant first and foremost the brother of Gábor Báthory, András Báthory the younger, and his sister, Anna Báthory, the widow of Dénes Bánffy.33

Nor was the situation in Közép-Szolnok any more favorable from Bethlen’s point of view. Of the county’s two vitally important estates, Hadad (Hodod, Romania) was held by István Wesselényi and Csehi (Ceheiu, Romania) by Sámuel Gyulaffy; the latter, still a minor, was the stepson and ward of the previously mentioned lord-lieutenant of Kraszna County who had abandoned Bethlen, Zsigmond Prépostváry. For Bethlen, all this meant no small risk as the year 1613 turned into 1614. The absence of István Wesselényi was likewise an element of uncertainty. In addition to these, there were two other substantial blocks of landed estates in the county: Zsigmond Sarmasághy’s estate in Kövesd (Chiesd, Romania), and the twelve villages owned by Kata Török of Enying.34 Although Sarmasághy, as a participant in the political bargain described earlier, had left on an embassy to Vienna and Linz on Bethlen’s behalf, the prince even then still did not trust the eminent Catholic aristocrat.

The most tangled property relations evolved in Bihar County, a consequence of the scattering of the enormous Bocskai inheritance. In addition to the lord-lieutenant, Ferenc Rhédey, the two largest landowners were the two aforementioned widows, Anna Báthory, wife of Dénes Bánffy, and Kata Iffjú, wife of János Imreffy. Lawsuits were pursued over the ownership rights to the rest of the properties, primarily by Zsigmond Kornis, returned from exile, the previously mentioned Zsigmond Prépostváry and Miklós Bocskai, in an attempt to assert their previous or perceived ownership rights. In addition to the abovementioned


Figure 1. Distribution of Landed Estates in the Partium in the Fall of 161335

four counties, in the other parts of the Partium and the principality’s southwestern areas also there were large estates, the possession of which could in the future strongly influence the territory’s geographical and political orientation.36

Already during the reign of John Sigismund, at the time of the northeastern castle wars it became manifest that the defection of the owners of contiguous large blocks of estates might bring in its wake a redrawing of the borders as well. Gábor Bethlen was also precisely aware of all this, and already beginning in November 1613 he was quite visibly working on changing the power and property relations in the Partium in his own favor. He attempted to place the government of the counties in the hands of his own most trusted men. After the death of József Bornemissza in the spring of 1614, he gave the office of lord-lieutenant of Máramaros (as a perpetual lord-lieutenancy) to his younger brother, István Bethlen, who already from the fall of 1613 had been the lord-lieutenant of Hunyad (Hunedoara, Romania), representing one of the important rear defenses of the Partium.37 In Bihar County he confirmed the rule of his brother-in-law, Ferenc Rhédey, even appointing him once again as captain general of the castle of várad in November 1613.38 In Közép-Szolnok County, meanwhile, he replaced István Wesselényi as lord-lieutenant with the latter’s younger brother Pál. Kraszna, on the other hand, slipped from his grasp; there he succeeded in appointing Pál Rhédey, another of his relatives, to replace Prépostváry as lord-lieutenant only in 1616. At the head of Szörény County, gradually diminishing because of the incessant Ottoman expansion, he placed his nephew, Péter Bethlen, while in Zaránd County he confirmed the lord-lieutenancy of his adherent, István Petneházy.39 Between November 1613 and May 1614 Bethlen managed to stabilize the situation: at the heads of the imperiled Partium territories he placed his own relatives and trusted confidants. Following a similar principle, the prince set about without delay rearranging the distribution of landed estates in the Partium as well, allocating lands to his new officials and closer relations, either through marriages initiated by him or land grants.40

In the four counties exposed to the most intense attacks, Bethlen wanted to get his hands on primarily the properties belonging to the Báthory inheritance. This was not merely a question of acquiring the territory and its revenues. The real danger lay in the fact that the majority of the estates were concentrated in the hands of widowed ladies, and the prince recognized the political danger the remarriage of the Báthory female relatives might pose to him. His concern soon became a real threat, and even a serious risk factor, when in early 1614 one of Sarmasághy’s stepsons, Zsigmond Jósika, took Anna Báthory as his wife. At the same time, Gábor Báthory’s widow, Anna Horváth Palocsai, was engaged to István Kendy.

Bethlen assumed a great, albeit necessary, risk in allowing his political opponents of many decades back into the country, and moreover, explicitly into positions of power. Accordingly he monitored their every move with suspicion and was immediately spurred to action when he saw that Kendy’s faction was using the Báthory female relatives in an attempt partly to align Gábor Báthory’s still sizable following with themselves, and partly to acquire key territories in the Partium. In immediate response Ferenc Rhédey seized Anna Báthory’s manor in Nagykereki, disguising his punitive action as a simple trespass.41

The true elegance of the struggle between Bethlen and the former Catholic émigrés was that it was fought on several “battlegrounds,” partially in secret and partially disguised as something completely different. Neither side could afford to show its cards. For it was at this time that the compromise negotiations were proceeding between the prince and King Matthias II, to which Bethlen recruited both Kendy and Sarmasághy as envoys to influence the Viennese court. Thus, the prince could not touch his opponents, though he did attempt to narrow their room to maneuver. The Báthory women, who could have served as dangerous chess pieces in the game, fell victim to this aspiration. The prince sought to prevent them from remarrying as Anna Báthory had. But provided a marriage did not violate the law (i.e., it was not contracted between close relatives), legally there were no grounds for interfering in the question of who married whom. Bethlen was thus left with no other option but to make the widows’ lives impossible. In the name of his trusted adherents he had them attacked with property lawsuits, deploying accusations especially effective against women: infidelity, the dubious legitimacy of their children and witchcraft. Kata Török Dengeleghy and Kata Ifjjú Imreffy, as the alleged lovers of Gábor Báthory, were thus brought to trial on charges of witchcraft and adultery; the latter was even convicted.42

The prince therefore managed to find the means of keeping his adversaries away from the Báthory inheritance. Because he was also able to link the trials to the person of his predecessor, Bethlen not only succeeded in humiliating Báthory’s female kin and depriving them of their political value but also attacked Gábor Báthory’s still living popularity as well. As early as the spring of 1614 he distributed most of the confiscated estates among his adherents and the relatives of those sentenced, fearful and therefore cooperating with Bethlen.43 In the meantime, of course, Kendy and his allies were not idle either: as the prince’s representatives they protected his interests at official negotiations, arguing and debating, while in intimate circles they made plans in secret chambers to topple Bethlen. For this they also recruited the Transylvanian opposition, certain Saxon politicians, the Wallachian voivode Radu Şerban and one of the prominent lords of the kingdom, György Drugeth of Homonna, who was always ready to strike.44

The first half of the game brought success for Gábor Bethlen, since in May 1615 the Treaty of Nagyszombat was ratified.45 Because this represented for both sides above all a compromise serving to gain time and gather strength, the struggle soon continued with the attack in 1616 by György Drugeth of Homonna, which brought about the ultimate fall of those members of the former Catholic emigration who joined it (Kendy, Sarmasághy and Szilvássy), and who, needless to say, dropped out of the princely council as well. But it was even more important in the long term that the prince won the game in the Partium as well. It was in the Partium that the strength and hinterland of István Bocskai and Gábor Báthory—through their estates and their enormous circle of relatives embedded there—had lain. Thus it was precisely this territory that became a vulnerable point for Bethlen. Through several years of systematic work, however, he managed to make the Partes adnexae not a burden to be defended but rather a resource and reserve for himself. By 1618, by granting lands to his family members and adherents also drawn into his circle of kinship, he succeeded in forming a strong power base here that his successor György I Rákóczi would have to dismantle and smash a decade and a half later at the cost of similarly bitter struggles.

Personnel Changes on the Council

At the Diet of Segesvár (Sighişoara, Romania) in late October 1616, proceedings were launched against six councilors (Johannes Benkner, Farkas Kamuthy, Boldizsár Szilvássy, Zsigmond Kornis, along with István Kendy and Zsigmond Sarmasághy, then residing in the kingdom), which examined their role and culpability in the conspiracy against the prince. The investigation ended in a complete acquittal only for Farkas Kamuthy and Zsigmond Kornis, with the return of their previously stripped offices and seized estates. The others, though they were ultimately pardoned, lost a substantial part of their fortunes, their ranks and their posts, and were excluded from not only the princely council but also Transylvanian political life.46 By forcing the Habsburg orientation to the background, the prince succeeded in eliminating the duality with which his predecessors had struggled since the beginning of the century and which had forced Transylvanian domestic politics up till then to run aground time and again.

By late 1616, with the removal of Benkner, Szilvássy, Kendy and Sarmasághy, 17 of the previous 21 members on the princely council remained and this situation would not change for two years. The purge of the council altered the composition of that body in Gábor Bethlen’s favor, and thus there was no longer any sense in maintaining the previously inflated size by appointing new councilors. Between 1618 and 1621, however, no fewer than six council lords died, and one resigned from his post.47 To the list of losses we must also add Chancellor Simon Péchi, whom Gábor Bethlen removed from the council and against whom he initiated proceedings, officially because of his Sabbatarian religion, but in reality because of his secret political connections.

All this meant that by early 1622 the size of the princely council had shrunk to a mere nine members. The large wave of mortality had natural causes and did not occur during epidemics or Bethlen’s military campaigns. That the deaths of so many principal figures were thus concentrated into a few years may be explained by the councilors’ relatively advanced ages and the series of traumas that affected the entire generation. Although the exact age of the deceased councilors is not known in every case, it is a typical piece of data that the doyen of the councilors, Ferenc Balássy, was 80 or 81 years of age at the time of his death. However, it speaks volumes that, as the key figure in diplomacy with the Porte, he remained active up until the last moment, and death also overtook him in Istanbul while carrying out his functions as ambassador.48 Based on indirect information we may put the age at death of the other great deceased personality on the council, János Gyerőffy, between 75 and 80 years. Farkas Alia and Ferenc Rhédey, both in their seventies, were barely a couple of years younger than him. Thus, the departure of the four of them can by no means be regarded as either surprising or unexpected. The exact age at death of the other four councilors we cannot give for lack of data. What is certain is that all of them had already passed the age of 58, though they could not have been older than 65. In light of the fact that the estimated average life expectancy in the first third of the seventeenth century was much lower than this, their deaths are also acceptable and by no means may be called premature.

The devastation caused by the bloody events of the turn of the century is clearly reflected in the change in the councilors’ average age. Under normal circumstances, given a normal age pyramid, either stagnation or the slow senescence of the body can be observed over time. By contrast, in the year of Gábor Bethlen’s death, 1629, the council was much younger than the body shaped by him in 1613. The age of the councilors ranged between 38 and 53 years, with an average age of 46, 12 years younger than the average age of the council in 1613.

The prince died at the age of 49, thus his councilors came for the most part from his age group. At the same time, this is not necessarily evidence of the prince’s good relationship with his own generation, but rather stemmed largely from necessity. The generation above Bethlen practically disappeared, some of them dying during the period of hostilities between 1599 and 1606, and the others dropping out during epidemics or through natural death. Thus, after 1622 even if he had wanted to, Gábor Bethlen could not have assembled his council selectively from old, experienced, and at the same time well-suited, councilors. Even his own age cohort as well as the fifty-year-olds offered only a poor selection. The prince therefore could draw only from a quite narrow basis, and it was much rather this, and not his own personal decisions, that led to the council’s juvescence.

For Bethlen, the deaths of the aforementioned half dozen councilors represented a serious bloodletting, and not only in terms of the extent of the loss. As noted above, several among the deceased were his close relatives. The change in power relations is shown by the fact that the majority of new members on the princely council no longer came from Bethlen’s kin. In place of the three kinsmen only one arrived, in the person of his cousin, Ferenc Mikó.49 The rest of the newly inducted council members were not directly related to the prince by blood, though all were indebted to Bethlen, or as the prince put it, were his “creatures.” Closely tied to Gábor Bethlen, for example, was István Kovacsóczy, who was the son of Chancellor Farkas Kovacsóczy, executed in 1594. The orphaned youth was supported by Bethlen, among others, and beginning in 1608 it was the prince alone who guided his career. It is therefore unsurprising that following Simon Péchi’s dismissal Kovacsóczy was appointed chancellor and given a seat on the council, for which he was perfectly qualified having spent the better part of his career in the Transylvanian chancellery. In 1625 Bethlen appointed him captain general of Háromszék and lord-lieutenant of Torda County as well.50 The third newly selected councilor was András Kapy; about his life we know little, but every known moment of this common noble’s Transylvanian career, who began as the son of the deputy lord-lieutenant (Hungarian: alispán; Latin: vicecomes) of Sáros County, is likewise linked to Gábor Bethlen. In the summer of 1612 it was allegedly he who had spirited Bethlen out of the princely palace, for which Gábor Báthory had him arrested, and the diet of Kolozsvár later sentenced him to loss of property.51 He achieved his successes in the financial and diplomatic fields, and the two highpoints of his career were his induction into the princely council, then two years later, in 1624, his elevation to the rank of magnificus, by which he entered into the Transylvanian aristocracy.52 Because the prince no longer chose other councilors to replace the deceased members, by 1622 the customary order in the principality was restored, that is, the council once again had 12 members and would remain that way throughout the remaining years of Bethlen’s rule. In the final period the two personnel changes that occurred due to deaths, however, did not bring about any change in the political direction of the council.

The Social, Ethnic and Religious Structure of the Council

Already beginning in 1541 the Transylvanian elite was characterized by a high degree of openness, a strongly heterogeneous composition and continuous change and renewal. Because a strong local aristocracy did not emerge in the Middle Ages, some of the nobles fleeing there from the Turks were able to make a rapid career. Many succeeded in joining and climbing the ladder, but only few families managed to remain in the elite for the long term. There were a great many one-, maximum two-generation careers. Even in the case of families which did gain a foothold in the elite, the continuity in power and influence was often broken: one poor political decision or the premature, violent death of the head of the family could drop them out of the narrow policy-shaping leading stratum for one or even two generations.

In the Principality of Transylvania, where neither a strict system of true barones regni (országbárók) nor the practice of creating barons evolved, the categories of natural and titled barons could naturally not emerge, though István Báthory, as king of Poland, attempted to do this in the second half of the sixteenth century.53 Instead, the bestowal of the title magnificus existed. This is comparable in essence and importance to the baronial title, but the rank applied only to a specific person and was not inheritable.54

Only the ruler’s closest relatives could possess the title automatically. In other cases it was the prince who decided to promote some of his politicians and elevate them to the rank of magnificus. However, they availed themselves of this opportunity relatively rarely, and so the system of making someone a magnificus was not devalued and became a quite important means of creating an elite in the hands of the rulers. Thus, at the apex of the elite stood the group of magnifici, who possessed great social prestige; they were followed by those holding the rank of generosus. The lowest stratum was formed by those bearing the title egregius; they, however, were members of the elite only temporarily, thanks to their given function.

At the head of the princely council stood the leader, called the first or chief councilor, and the body itself was divided into two sections: the members of the inner circle, referred to in the era as consiliarius intimus or inner councilor; and the group of councilors.55 Appointment as a councilor did not in itself involve the dignity of magnificus, and so those bearing the titles magnificus and generosus are found equally in both categories, though in the inner council the ratio always tilted in favor of the magnificus category.

After this introduction, let us observe how Gábor Bethlen’s princely council was divided according to ancestry and social prestige. Following the above definitions, in the following classification the magnificus and generosus groups form the “Transylvanian high nobility.” By “Transylvanian nobles” I mean those politicians, classified mostly as egregius, whose ancestors also had lived in the Voivodate of Transylvania at the time of the unitary (late medieval) Kingdom of Hungary and belonged to the nobility. I have labeled as “second-generation” those whose parents had settled in Transylvania; they represented the second generation of their families in the elite as well. I have named “new beginners” those whose family or possibly they themselves had already possessed the title magnificus, or the rank of councilor, but in the course of political changes, wars or internal struggles had lost both their social status and their fortunes in their entirety and so had to rebuild their careers. The “settlers” are logically those who changed country as adults and established their new positions in the principality.

image002 fmt

Figure 2. Distribution of council members according to ancestry

Summarizing the data from the above diagram, we can establish that in Bethlen’s council alongside the 14 Transylvanian-born politicians there were four second-generation councilors, five “new beginners” and nine homines novi. The presence of the second generation, as well as the homo novus politicians, unequivocally indicates that the elite, and specifically the council, was still very much open in Bethlen’s era. The five new beginners on the other hand clearly reflect the constantly changing, unsettled, internecine political conditions of the decade and a half between 1598 and 1613. The high number of settlers, which previously had been typical of the early phase in the formation of the Transylvanian state as well as of the years between 1568 and 1573, during Gábor Bethlen’s reign stands out once again and may be traced back to the devastation of the Fifteen Years’ War, and specifically to the losses of life that particularly affected the elite guard of politicians. In the case of those resettling from the Kingdom of Hungary, it was not merely princely policy and the campaigns in Hungary but rather the favorable opportunities offered by the resultant vacuum that allowed them to make fine careers. However, as in every similar such situation, the majority of them could thank to some special expertise, primarily legal and financial skills or else their military talent, their integration and rise.

Bethlen’s conditions of election stipulated that he was to choose the councilors from all three nations.56 The ethnic composition of the membership nevertheless displays the already customary disproportion to the detriment of the Saxons and Szeklers. Four of the thirty-two councilors belonged to the Szekler nation and two to the Saxon.57 Broken down by period, we can see that the council never had more than two Szekler members at the same time, while among the Saxons, apart from an overlap of 15 months, only one person at a time entered the body. Johannes Benkner and Koloman Gotzmeister’s brief time together as councilors is nevertheless important, because it indicates that originally Bethlen probably conceived of the Szekler and Saxon representation on the council on a similar scale. Benkner, however, defected, and became the prime mover of the anti-Bethlen conspiracy on the Transylvanian front, leading to his arrest on the charge of treason in May 1616.58 Although he was granted pardon half a year later, he was stripped of all his offices, and in the end the prince did not appoint a new Saxon councilor in his place.59 Even so, Bethlen was the only ruler who at least formally ensured the continual presence of the Saxons in the political leadership of the principality. Before him, in the period beginning in 1556 Saxons had entered that body only sporadically, and nor was there a permanent Saxon representation during the longer reigns of his successors, the two György Rákóczis and Mihály Apafi, either.

In the case of the Szekler nation, the picture is somewhat more complicated. Theoretically we could speak of up to seven Szekler councilors, since Farkas Kamuthy, István Kovacsóczy and Farkas Alia also held leading Szekler offices, though in reality none of them belonged to the Szekler nation. Their appointments continued the earlier princely policy of trying to obtain and ensure influence among the Szeklers by installing his own confidants in at least some Szekler posts.60 The four councilors who could actually be regarded as Szeklers were Ferenc Balássy and Simon Péchi, followed by Ferenc Mikó and Kelemen Béldi.

Among them Péchi was the only one who was not a born Szekler, but after András Eőssy adopted him and he managed to marry into the Kornis clan he became completely embedded in the Szekler community, with respect to his estates, circle of kin and network of ties, as well as his methods of self-enrichment. He also differed from his fellow councilors in that he held no Szekler post, though until his conviction in 1621 he had been active as chancellor. Before him only János Petki had managed to rise to such heights, becoming the first among the Szeklers to enter the princely council in 1605, and then Zsigmond Rákóczi’s chancellor two years later. Petki, however, although he was allowed to retain his title as councilor until 1612, gradually withdrew to the background or was shunted there after the accession of Gábor Báthory to the throne.61 In addition to Péchi, the others did not sit on the council merely as the formal representatives of the Szekler nation either: Balássy and Mikó turned themselves into the key figures of diplomacy with the Porte, and Mikó was moreover lord steward, while Balássy and Béldi became supreme generals of the Szeklers.

Thus, compared to his predecessors, Bethlen’s reign brought a new level and opened a new avenue in princely policy towards the Szeklers, because it was actually at this time that the native-born Szeklers entered the country’s politics, whether on the council or in the other critical areas of political life. An explanation for this change of direction could be that, as mentioned earlier, kindred ties and the common memories of Turkish exile closely bound Bethlen to the Szekler politicians that he preferentially employed. The presence of the Szekler councilors thus to a large extent deviated from that of the Saxons: they had not been placed in virtual sinecures by the pressure of expectation; rather, they represented political capital and a source of loyalty to be boldly and continuously exploited.

The overwhelming majority of Bethlen’s councilors, 26, belonged to the Hungarian nation. Nonetheless, we cannot speak of political homogeneity, because the “Hungarian” politicians also displayed a quite colorful picture. A total of 18 of them held the title of lord-lieutenant as well, 12 headed counties in Transylvania proper and six in the Partium. At the same time, this figure in itself does not allow us to draw any conclusions, since deaths played a large role in the changes. Yet if we look at the two territories’ representation on the council broken down by the three demarcated periods, the picture becomes more realistic, as the following table illustrates.


Member of the Hungarian nation

Title of Lord-Lieutenant

Head of a County in Transylvania

Head of a County in the Partium





















Figure 3. Titles and nations of council members

The greater weight of the Transylvanian lord-lieutenants within the council can be demonstrated in other periods as well, if only because there were seven counties in Transylvania and only five outside of it.62 Yet we can find no example of such a shift in proportions under the previous princes, which shows that Bethlen saw his true political base in Transylvania proper. Accordingly, only those heads of the Partium counties belonging to the trusted inner circle, who at the same time administered the most important territories, Bihar and Máramaros, were admitted to the council: Bethlen’s brother-in-law (Ferenc Rhédey) and younger brother (István Bethlen), as well as Zsigmond Kornis, who likewise can be included in the prince’s wider kin. Although he numbered among the Catholic émigrés granted pardon in early 1614, of this circle he alone, after a difficult start, having proven his loyalty several times in the end managed to preserve his place on the council. He received his appointment as lord-lieutenant, on the other hand, only quite late, eight years after his appointment to the council (true, at that time he was immediately placed at the head of the crucial Bihar County).63

Because the title of councilor did not in every case entail a lord-lieutenancy or Szekler office, we must therefore also examine what other competences and activities Bethlen weighed when selecting someone for the council. Based on the councilors’ activity and merits, in addition to the local governmental functions we can distinguish an additional three categories. Two of these were tied to a special expertise: first, in all of Bethlen’s periods we find those active purely or at least mostly in bureaucratic careers; second, those fulfilling exclusively military duties. Among the bureaucrats we may list the financial expert István Kákonyi, the jurists István Kassai and István Fráter, as well as the two chancellors, Simon Péchi and István Kovacsóczy. Although the latter was leader of a Szekler seat from 1625 on, and lord-lieutenant from 1627 on, by that time he had been working on the council for years as chancellor, which he attained by gradually ascending within the chancellery’s hierarchy. In the military sphere, in Bethlen’s campaigns several stood out, such as Rhédey, Petneházy, Kornis, Alia or the Kamuthy brothers, but there were only two councilors who did not fill duties other than military ones: János Bornemisza, general of the field troops, and Pál Keresztessy, who had been forced to part with his previous title of lord-lieutenant of Szörény just as Bethlen succeeded to the throne, becoming instead captain of Lippa.

In addition to those possessing a certain expertise, we may list in a separate (third) category those councilors who, to use János Kemény’s words, were invited onto the council “not for their minds.”64 Belonging to this category were the Catholic aristocrats returning from emigration in Hungary through the political bargain, already mentioned several times: István Kendy, Zsigmond Kornis, Boldizsár Szilvássy and Zsigmond Sarmasághy. Based on their abilities they might have gained seats on the council in any event, just as they (apart from Kornis) had previously. Rightly suspicious of them because of their previous political life Bethlen did not expect advice and support from them but instead assigned them, as previously mentioned, merely the task of assisting him in settling the relationship with the Kingdom of Hungary. Accordingly, with the exception of Kornis they were unable to retain their positions and were soon dropped from both the council and Transylvanian political life.65

image003 fmt

Figure 4. Distribution of councilors by representation and duties

It can clearly be seen that, compared to the country’s confessional ratios, Roman Catholic politicians are quite strongly over-represented. This is understandable in the first period, since this was when Bethlen was forced to welcome back the émigré Catholics. In the following period their number accordingly fell by almost half. The decrease, however, was caused not by deaths but by the removal of the aristocrats who turned against Bethlen and therefore were tried and convicted. Only a single Catholic, István Kovacsóczy, arrived in their stead. What may be surprising instead was that, by the last period, the number of Catholic councilors once again increased, thanks to István Haller and Kelemen Béldi. Yet they, like Kovacsóczy, acceded to that body not along denominational notions, but rather based on their family prestige, abilities and previous careers, completely deservedly.

The very high number of Catholic politicians was a result of the peaceful re-Catholicization that commenced under István Báthory and later of the more violent campaign characteristic of Zsigmond Báthory’s reign, which targeted above all the young members of the high nobility. It was precisely by this period that those converts who survived the years between 1599 and 1610 matured and reached the summit of their careers. Because this was from the start a carefully chosen and cultivated group that had partaken in high-level outstanding training, Bethlen and later György I Rákóczi could not afford either to exclude for religious reasons able politicians from an elite which had already contracted because of the casualties. Gábor Bethlen therefore was not exaggerating when he wrote to Pázmány that “I have so many papist servants that I do not even know the number, but [they are] not the fewest, because hitherto I have not despised anyone because of his religion.”66 Apart from the first couple of years, Bethlen did not assume too great a risk by placing so many Catholics in the front rank, because he could hold them firmly in his hands. He made it clear that their religion and good connections in the kingdom could be turned against them at any time. Thanks to this the political attitude of the Catholic lords also changed thoroughly; they became much more easily handled and cautious, which of course did not prevent them from striving to increase their room to maneuver if they saw an opportunity to do so, as they did after Bethlen’s death for example. But we may boldly state that from the mid-1620s on the concepts of Catholicism and Habsburg orientation could no longer be automatically linked in Transylvania.




































Figure 5. The distribution of councilors by religion

In addition to them, however, as the above diagram also shows, we see a few other councilors who held the title of lord-lieutenant but were not able to gain admittance to the body through their personal abilities or previous career, but explicitly on account of their family’s social prestige. Such were, for example, István Wesselényi and István Erdélyi, inherited from Gábor Báthory, as well as János Gyerőffy, already in his seventies but who was invited onto the council by Bethlen. Of the latter, previously neglected in comparison to his age and social rank, the prince expected nothing more than loyalty and an increase in his prestige, and in this he would not be disappointed. Among the councilors it was likewise probably mostly social prestige and family tradition that delegated István Haller, the youngest but only relatively young to the princely council; he, however, amply proved his aptitude, particularly during the reign of György I Rákóczi.67 The lack of homogeneity within the council showed up in other areas as well. The most striking is the religious split and the heavy distortion of denominational ratios; this, however, did not characterize Bethlen’s religious policy but is rather a phenomenon traceable from the beginning of the century until the death of György I Rákóczi (1648). Fig. 5 depicts the situation in Gábor Bethlen’s era.

The presence of the Calvinists in the council shows a balanced picture, and in every period six members belonged to this denomination. To sum up, of Bethlen’s thirty-two councilors nine were Calvinist, which means that they did not attain even a one-third ratio. In addition, of the nine Calvinist councilors six were also homines novi, numbering among those recently settling in Transylvania, and thus actually cannot be regarded as representatives of the Transylvanian Calvinists. This is interesting particularly considering the fact that, beginning with Bocskai, Gábor Bethlen was the fourth Calvinist prince leading Transylvania and wanting to do something for his religion. The impact of this, however, would be seen only later. In the first third of the century a great religious reshuffling within the high nobility was underway, during which to a lesser extent Catholic and to a larger extent Unitarian nobles (especially minors living in mixed-denominational families who had lost their fathers or had been completely orphaned) converted to the Calvinist faith. This phenomenon can be detected in the council as well: of the three Transylvanian-born Calvinist politicians, it is known that István Bethlen and Boldizsár Kemény left the Unitarian Church while still young, though already as adults.

This slow but certain decline appeared in the number of Unitarian councilors as well. They suffered their first great losses during the Counter-Reformation of the Báthory era, then the slow but uninterrupted wave of desertions that began in the early seventeenth century built on these, which soon led to their political marginalization. That six of them could join the ranks of the councilors they owed not least to their kinship with the prince and the cohesive force of the years of Turkish emigration they weathered together. All of them belonged to the radical wing of the church, and even if they did not identify themselves with the teachings of the lone Sabbatarian councilor, Simon Péchi, they did not fight against him either. Finally, turning to the council’s Lutherans, here we find no surprises. In addition to the two Saxon politicians, András Kapy, resettling from the middle nobility of Upper Hungary, represented this denomination.


From the above it can clearly be seen that Gábor Bethlen reshaped in a very brief time the council according to his own notions through considered, tactical moves. The members of the body who remained after 1616 and the newly entering figures could not, but nor did they want to, enforce the estates’ original restrictive intention. In fact, they explicitly formed the most reliable core of Bethlen’s political base. Regardless of this, throughout his reign Bethlen made certain that apart from him no one person would be capable of completely understanding the political events and plans in Transylvania. He did not ignore any member of the council; in fact, he thoroughly burdened each of them with partial tasks and ambassadorial commissions. He developed the working method of designating one or two of his councilors for certain areas (e.g., relations with the Porte, military affairs, educational questions). After immersing themselves in the problems of the given subject, the latter were able to assist the prince with truly expert and reliable suggestions, though they remained unfamiliar with the other areas of government and did not actually take part in the decision-making process. The most active, most ambitious councilors Bethlen frequently entrusted with diplomatic tasks that were rather symbolic embassies or demonstrative events. By doing this, several times he removed them from domestic political life for long months, preventing their continual presence, potential dissension and conspiring. At the same time, those involved saw in their assignments not caution and exclusion but their own importance and the prince’s confidence. All this made it possible for Bethlen to pursue his political agenda freely and calmly for most of his reign.



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Dáné, Veronka. “Die Bocskais in Siebenbürgen − Ungesetzliche Liber Barone?” In “Einigkeit und Frieden sollen auf seiten jeder Partei sein”. Die Friedensschlüsse von Wien (23. 06. 1606) und Zsitvatorok (15. 11. 1606), ed. János Barta and Zsigmond Jakó, 95–103. Debrecen: DE Történelmi Intézet, 2006.

Deák, Farkas. A Wesselényi család őseiről [On the Ancestors of the Wesselényi Family]. Értekezések a történettudományok köréből 8. Budapest: MTA, 1878.

Ember, Győző. Az újkori magyar közigazgatás története Mohácstól a török kiűzéséig [The History of the Hungarian Administration in the Modern Era from Mohács to the Expulsion of the Turks]. Budapest: Magyar Országos Levéltár, 1946.

Hajnik, Imre. “Az örökös főispánság a magyar alkotmánytörténetben” [The Perpetual Lord-Lieutenancy in Hungarian Constitutional History]. Értekezések a történelmi tudományok köréből n.s. 10. Budapest: MTA, 1888.

Harai, Dénes. “Gabriel Bethlen, prince de Transylvanie et roi élu de Hongrie, (1580–1629).” Paris: L’Harmattan, 2013.

Horn, Ildikó. “A fejedelmi tanács Bethlen Gábor korában.” Századok 144, no. 4 (2011): 997–1029.

Kiss, András, ed. “Boszorkányok, kuruzslók, szalmakoszorús paráznák” [Witches, Quacks and Sraw-Wreathed Adulteresses]. Bukarest–Kolozsvár: Kriterion, 1998.

Lovas, Rezső. “A szász kérdés Bethlen Gábor korában” [The Saxon Question in the Age of Gábor Bethlen]. Századok 78 (1944): 419–62.

Lukinich, Imre. “Erdély területi változásai a török hódítás korában 1541–1711” [The Territorial Changes of Transylvania in the Age of the Turkish Conquest, 1541–1711]. Budapest: MTA, 1918.

Mikó, Gyula. “‘Mivel én is csak ember voltam.’ Az Exequiae Principales és az Exequiarum Coeremonialium libri gyászbeszédei” [Funeral Orations in Exequiae Principales and in Exequiarum Coeremonialium libri]. PhD diss., Debreceni Egyetem, 2007. Accessed June 2, 2013. http://ganymedes.lib.unideb.hu:8080/dea/bitstream/2437/5580/6/MikoGyulaErtekezes.pdf.

Nagy, János. “Hidvégi Mikó Ferenc életrajza” [The Biography of Ferenc Mikó of Hidvég]. Keresztény Magvető 15 (1875): 1–44.

Nagy, László. “Erdélyi boszorkányperek” [Witch Trials in Transylvania]. Budapest: Kossuth, 1988.

Oborni, Teréz. “Bethlen Gábor és a nagyszombati szerződés (1615)” [Gábor Bethlen and the Treaty of Nagyszombat (1615)]. Századok 144, no. 4 (2011): 877–914.

Oborni, Teréz. “Erdély fejedelmei” [Transylvania’s Princes]. Budapest: Pannonica, 2002.

Orgona T., Angelika. “A göncruszkai Kornisok. Két generáció túlélési stratégiái az erdélyi elitben” [The Kornis of Göncruszka. The Survival Strategies of Two Generations in the Transylvanian Elite]. Budapest: L’Harmattan–TETE, 2013.

Pálffy, Géza. The Kingdom of Hungary and the Habsburg Monarchy in the Sixteenth Century. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009.

Papp, Sándor. “Bethlen Gábor, a Magyar Királyság és a Porta (1619–1629)” [Gábor Bethlen, the Kingdom of Hungary and the Porte (1619–1629)]. Századok 144, no. 4 (2011): 915–74.

Petri, Mór. “Szilágy vármegye monographiája” [Monograph on Szilágy County]. Vol. 1. Zilah: Szilágy vármegye, 1901.

Stoy, Manfred. “Radu Şerban, Fürst der Walachei 1602–1611, und die Habsburger. Eine Fallstudie,” Südost-Forschungen 54 (1995): 49–103.

Szabó, András Péter. “A magyar Hallerek nemzetségkönyve – egy különleges forrás társadalomtörténeti háttere” [The Genealogy Book of the Hungarian Hallers – the Sociohistorical Background of a Unique Source]. Századok 142, no. 4 (2008): 897–942.

Szilágyi, Sándor, ed. Bethlen Gábor fejedelem kiadatlan politikai levelei [The Unpublished Political Letters of Prince Gábor Bethlen]. Budapest: MTA, 1879.

Trócsányi, Zsolt. “Erdély központi kormányzata 1540–1690” [Transylvania’s Central Government, 1540–1690]. Budapest: Akadémiai, 1980.

Trócsányi, Zsolt. “Az Erdélyi Fejedelemség korának országgyűlései. (Adalék az erdélyi rendiség történetéhez)” [The Diets of the Age of the Principality of Transylvania (A Contribution to the History of the Transylvanian Estates System)]. Értekezések a történeti tudományok köréből, n.s. 76. Budapest: Akadémiai, 1976.


Translated by Matthew Caples

1* The study was prepared with the support of research proposal No. OTKA NK 81948. It originally appeared in Hungarian as: A fejedelmi tanács Bethlen Gábor korában. Századok 144, no. 4 (2011): 997–1029.

Zsolt Trócsányi, Erdély központi kormányzata 1540–1690 (Budapest: Akadémiai, 1980), 19–99; Győző Ember, Az újkori magyar közigazgatás története Mohácstól a török kiűzéséig (Budapest: Magyar Országos Levéltár, 1946), 441–46; Vencel Bíró, Az erdélyi fejedelmi hatalom fejlődése. 1542–1690 (Kolozsvár: Stief, 1917), 56, 83–89.

2 Sándor Szilágyi, ed., Erdélyi Országgyűlési Emlékek, vol. 1 (Budapest: MTA, 1875), 84–86 (hereafter cited as EOE), and Ember, Az újkori magyar közigazgatás, 392, 393.

3 EOE, vol 2, 8, 111, and Ember, Az újkori magyar közigazgatás, 408.

4 On the circumstances of his accession to the throne, see Teréz Oborni, Erdély fejedelmei (Budapest: Pannonica, 2002), 92–105; Dénes Harai, Gabriel Bethlen, prince de Transylvanie et roi élu de Hongrie (1580–1629) (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2013), 48–57.

5 Sándor Kolosvári and Kelemen Óvári, trans. and ed., Approbatae Constitutiones, Pars II, Titulus I, Articulus III, Magyar Törvénytár 1540–1848. évi erdélyi törvények, with notes by Dezső Márkus (Budapest: Franklin, 1900), pt. 2, 29–30.

6 Approbatae Constitutiones, 29–30.

7 Article 18 of the diet held at Kolozsvár between October 21 and 29, 1613, in EOE, vol. 6, 362.

8 For information on their careers and the lives and activities of every subsequent councilor, see Ildikó Horn, “A fejedelmi tanácsosok adattára,” in Erdélyi méltóságviselők Bethlen Gábor korában, vol. 1, Fejedelmi tanácsosok, főispánok, székely főtisztek, ed. Judit Balogh and Ildikó Horn (Budapest: L’Harmattan–TETE, 2013), forthcoming.

9 Farkas Deák, A Wesselényi család őseiről, Értekezések a történettudományok köréből 7 (Budapest: MTA, 1878), 33–42.

10 Andreas Hegyes noted in his diary that during the election ceremony Iskender Pasha bestowed kaftans on twelve councilors. He, however, did not name anyone apart from the Saxon Johannes Benkner; Andreas Hegyes, “Diarium des Andreas Hegyes, in Quellen zur Geschichte der Stadt Kronstadt, vol 5, Chroniken und Tagebücher, vol. 2 (Braşov: Zeidner, 1909), 479.

11 Ferenc Rhédey, councilor, knight of the Golden Spur, lord-lieutenant of Bihar County, and captain general of Nagyvárad, December 14, 1613: Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára, Budapest, F 1, Gyulafehérvári Káptalan Országos Levéltára, Libri regii, vol. 10, 49–50 (National Archives of Hungary, National Archive of the Chapter of Gyulafehérvár, hereafter cited as MNL OL F 1 LR).

12 István Kákonyi’s name is followed only the title of inner councilor at the first known mention of him, December 6, 1613; MNL OL F 1 LR, vol. 10, 21.

13 Councilor Farkas Bethlen is first mentioned with the titles captain general of the court army and lord-lieutenant of Küküllő on December 2, 1613; MNL OL F 1 LR, vol. 10, 80–81.

14 János Gyerőffy first appears as councilor and lord-lieutenant of Kolozs County on December 1, 1613; MNL OL F 1 LR, vol. 10, 16–17.

15 In addition to his post as fiscalis director, István Kassai received the rank of councilor; the first known mention of him is dated November 12, 1613; MNL OL F 1 LR, vol. 10, 34.

16 Zsolt Trócsányi dated Ferenc Balássy’s first mention as councilor to October 29, 1613 on the basis of a letter seen in the Bethlen family archive in Keresd, lacking a precise citation; Trócsányi, Erdély központi kormányzata, 100, n. 27.

17 Boldizsár Kemény, November 1610; ibid., 105, n. 247.

18 Likewise addressed as councilor on November 11, 1613 Zsigmond Sarmasághy was a member of the delegation sent to the Hungarian king Matthias II in Vienna. What makes this intriguing is that officially he was still exiled from Transylvania at this time, since the verdicts of treason brought against him in 1610 and 1612 were only lifted by the diet of February 1614. EOE, vol. 6, 381.

19 An excellent treatment of Johannes Benkner’s career as councilor is in Zsuzsanna Cziráki, Autonóm közösség és központi hatalom. Udvar, fejedelem és város viszonya a Bethlen-kori Brassóban (Budapest: ELTE–TETE, 2011).

20 Simon Péchi as inner councilor, chancellor and princely commissioner on April 8, 1614; MNL OL F 1 LR, vol. 10, 225–28.

21 EOE, vol. 6, 416–18.

22 The appointment of his brother, Pál Wesselényi, as lord-lieutenant of Közép-Szolnok County in his stead occurred on May 14, 1614: MNL OL F 1 LR, vol. 10, 185. For the distribution of the estates: MNL OL Magyar Kamara Archívuma, E 148 Neoregestrata acta, fasc. 754, nr. 28.

23 For information on their careers, see Horn, “A fejedelmi tanácsosok adattára.”

24 Zsigmond Kornis’s situation was special in that he was not yet a major protagonist in the events of 1610, but he inherited the place and role of his older brothers (the executed Boldizsár and György, shot dead during the assassination attempt in Szék). Angelika T. Orgona, A göncruszkai Kornisok. Két generáció túlélési stratégiái az erdélyi elitben (Budapest: L’Harmattan–TETE, 2013), 143–48.

25 On the compact, see Pongrác Sennyey to András Dóczy. Szatmár, January 4, 1613, Magyar Tudományos Akadémia Könyvtárának Kézirattára, Budapest [hereafter cited as MTAKK]; Veress Endre-gyűjtemény, Sennyey család levéltára, ms 426, fols. 500–1; Gábor Bethlen to Zsigmond Kornis, Kolozsvár, October 17, 1613: MTAKK Kornis család levéltára, ms 425/2, fols. 901–3.

26 Zsigmond Kornis to András Dóczy, Nagyszeben, December 14, 1613: MTAKK Kornis lvt, ms 425/2, fols. 913–15.

27 Zsolt Trócsányi, Az Erdélyi Fejedelemség korának országgyűlései. (Adalék az erdélyi rendiség történetéhez) Értekezések a történeti tudományok köréből, n.s. 76 (Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1976), 24–27.

28 For details on all this see Zsuzsanna Cziráki, “Brassó és az erdélyi szászok szerepe Bethlen Gábor fejedelem trónfoglalásában (1611–1613),” Századok 144, no. 4 (2011): 847–75; and Teréz Oborni, “Bethlen Gábor és a nagyszombati szerződés (1615),” Századok 144, no. 4 (2011): 877–914, and see the article of Teréz Oborni in this issue, The Hungarian Historical Review 2, no. 4 (2013).

29 Diploma of Gábor Bethlen bestowing title and office, Nagyszeben, November 4, 1613; MNL OL F 1 LR, vol. 10, 20–21.

30 For details on the lives and careers of the lord-lieutenants, see Ildikó Horn, “Főispánok adattára,” in Erdélyi méltóságviselők.

31 EOE, vol. 6, 13 (Article 12), and Imre Lukinich, Erdély területi változásai a török hódítás korában 1541–1711 (Budapest: MTA, 1918), 350.

32 MNL OL F 1 LR, vol. 7, 215–16.

33 Mór Petri, Szilágy vármegye monographiája (Zilah: Szilágy vármegye, 1901), pt. 2, 193–223.

34 Lukinich, Erdély területi változásai, 348–49.

35 Only the larger, contiguous estates have been marked. The map was prepared by István János Varga, whose help I hereby gratefully acknowledge.

36 Ibid., 355–56, 363.

37 MNL OL F 1 LR, vol. 10, 188–90; cf. also Imre Hajnik, Az örökös főispánság a magyar alkotmánytörténetben, Értekezések a történelmi tudományok köréből 10 (Budapest: MTA, 1888), 64.

38 The diploma of appointment was dated Nagyszeben (Sibiu, Romania), December 14, 1613; MNL OL F 1 LR, vol. 10, 49–50.

39 The first mention of him with this title is from 1608, followed by several subsequent mentions (1615, 1619, 1624, 1627); MNL OL F 1 LR, vol. 8, 113; vol 11, 108; vol. 12, 127; vol. 13, 41; vol. 15, 105–6.

40 Lukinich, Erdély területi változásai, 361–63.

41 Jósika fled to the kingdom together with his wife; István Kendy to Radu Şerban, Homonna, July 5, 1614, in EOE, vol. 6, 539–40.

42 László Nagy, Erdélyi boszorkányperek (Budapest: Kossuth, 1988); András Kiss, ed., Boszorkányok, kuruzslók, szalmakoszorús paráznák (Bucharest–Kolozsvár: Kriterion, 1998), 35–43.

43 The most important land grants: Mihály Imreffy received a share of Kata Iffjú’s estates; apart from him András Kapy, who later joined the council as well, received a part of the domain in Sólyomkő (Şoimeni, Romania). MNL OL F 1 LR, vol. 10, 223–24. Zilah became Ferenc Rhédey’s property; MNL OL F 1 LR, vol. 10, 100–1; most of the estates in Bihar went to István Bethlen. MNL OL F 1 LR, vol. 10, 162–64.

44 Cziráki, Autonóm közösség, 88–103, 134–43; Manfred Stoy, “Radu Şerban, Fürst der Walachei 1602–1611, und die Habsburger. Eine Fallstudie,” Südost-Forschungen 54 (1995): 49–103.

45 Oborni, “Bethlen Gábor és a nagyszombati szerződés,” 877–914, and see Oborni’s article in this issue.

46 EOE, vol. 7, 62–63.

47 Farkas Bethlen passed away on April 13, 1618, János Gyerőffy in early 1619, Ferenc Balássy on January 4, 1621, Ferenc Rhédey that April, Farkas Alia likewise in that same year, and István Kákonyi in late 1622. István Fráter, whom the prince made councilor just prior to the negotiations at Nikolsburg, stepped down after the conclusion of the peace treaty, probably because of his serious, though ultimately non-fatal illness.

48 Gábor Bethlen also recalled him in his letter of February 6, 1621: “Our father Balássi has died, he drinks sherbet no more.” Szilágyi Sándor, Bethlen Gábor fejedelem kiadatlan politikai levelei (Budapest: MTA, 1879), 94. On Balássy’s (Balássi’s) activity at the Porte in detail, see Sándor Papp, “Bethlen Gábor, a Magyar Királyság és a Porta (1619–1629),” Századok 144, no. 4 (2011): 915–74.

49 The primary source for Ferenc Mikó’s life is his own diary: Gábor Kazinczy, ed., Gr. Illésházy István nádor feljegyzései 1592–1603. és Hídvégi Mikó Ferencz históriája 1595–1613. Bíró Sámuel folytatásával, Monumenta Hungariae Historica 2, Scriptores 7 (Pest: MTA, 1863), 133–304; the most detailed biography is János Nagy, “Hidvégi Mikó Ferenc életrajza,” Keresztény Magvető 15 (1875): 1–44.

50 The erroneous dates prevalent in the specialist literature have been corrected by Veronka Dáné, “Az ő nagysága széki így deliberála” Torda vármegye fejedelemségkori bírósági gyakorlata, Erdélyi Tudományos Füzetek 259 (Debrecen–Kolozsvár: EME, 2006), 45.

51 “Régi följegyzések,” pub. Károly Szabó, Történelmi Tár (1880): 793–94; MNL OL F 1, vol. 10, 31–32.

52 September 5, 1624; MNL OL F 1 LR, vol. 15, 5.

53 On April 3, 1582 István Báthory elevated Ferenc Wesselényi to the rank of baron and Márton Berzeviczy on January 17, 1583. A magyar arisztokrácia családi kapcsolatrendszere a 16–17. században, database, accessed September 2, 2013, http://archivum.piar.hu/arisztokrata/12rangemelesek.htm#B191.

54 Géza Pálffy, The Kingdom of Hungary and the Habsburg Monarchy in the Sixteenth Century (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009), 17–23; Veronka Dáné, “Die Bocskais in Siebenbürgen − Ungesetzliche Liber Barone?,” in “Einigkeit und Frieden sollen auf seiten jeder Partei sein”. Die Friedensschlüsse von Wien (23. 06. 1606) und Zsitvatorok (15. 11. 1606), ed. János Barta et al. Debrecen: DE Történelmi Intézet, 2006, 95–103.

55 EOE, vol. 9, 74–75.

56 Approbatae Constitutiones, 29.

57 For data relating to their careers, see Erdélyi méltóságviselők.

58 Cziráki, Autonóm közösség, 134–43.

59 Rezső Lovas, “A szász kérdés Bethlen Gábor korában,” Századok 78 (1944): 419–62.

60 Judit Balogh, ”Der Szekleradel im Fürstentum Siebenbürgen,” in Die Szekler in Siebenbürgen. Von der privilegierten Sondergemeinschaft zur ethnischen Gruppe, ed. Harald Roth (Cologne, Weimar and Vienna: Böhlau Verlag, 2009), 172–94.

61 Róbert Dán, Az erdélyi szombatosok és Péchi Simon (Budapest: Akadémiai, 1987), 120–40; Judit Balogh, “Karrieremöglichkeiten der Szekler Adligen in der Zeit von István Bocskai,” in Einigkeit und Frieden, 103–11; Idem, “A székely társadalom Báthory Gábor korában,” in Báthory Gábor és kora, ed. Klára Papp et al. (Debrecen: DE Történelmi Intézete, 2009), 164.

62 The diet catalog prepared around 1607–08, the Regestrum Regni Transylvaniae, also lists twelve counties. “Regestrum Regni Transylvaniae,” pub. Károly Hodor, Történelmi Tár 2 (1879): 393–94. Precisely for this reason I did not include in the examination the lord-lieutenants of Szörény County who were appointed during the time of Gábor Báthory and Bethlen because the remaining territory was actually placed under the administration of the region’s military commander, the ban of Karánsebes. No lord-lieutenant was appointed to head Arad County, and the diet of May 1626 would ultimately attach the remnants of the county to Zaránd. EOE, vol. 8, 325, and Lukinich, Erdély területi változásai, 357.

63 Orgona, A göncruszkai Kornisok, 160.

64 Kemény said these infamous words to a relative seeking his advice, Dávid Zólyomi, whose opponents tried to weaken by seeking to install him on the council instead of the post of captain of the rural and court armies. Éva V. Windisch, ed., Kemény János önéletírása (Budapest: Szépirodalmi, 1959), 201.

65 Released from prison, Sarmasághy was still allotted a role in public: he was permitted to deliver the Latin oration at Zsuzsanna Károlyi’s funeral, but this counted as his swan song, he received no more political assignments, and soon died; Gyula Mikó, “‘Mivel én is csak ember voltam.’ Az Exequiae Principales és az Exequiarum Coeremonialium libri gyászbeszédei” (PhD diss., Debreceni Egyetem, 2007), 139, 150, accessed June 2, 2013, http://ganymedes.lib.unideb.hu:8080/dea/bitstream/2437/5580/6/MikoGyulaErtekezes.pdf.

66 Gábor Bethlen to Péter Pázmány, Vásárhely (Târgu Mureş, Romania), July 14, 1625, Vilmos Frankl, ed., Pázmány Péter levelezése (Budapest: Eggenberger, 1873), 445; József Barcza, Bethlen Gábor, a református fejedelem (Budapest: Magyarországi Református Egyház Sajtó Osztálya, 1980), 193.

67 András Péter Szabó, “A magyar Hallerek nemzetségkönyve – egy különleges forrás társadalomtörténeti háttere,” Századok 142, no. 4 (2008): 897–942.

pdfVolume 2 Issue 4 CONTENTS

Péter Erdősi

The Theme of Youth and Court Life in Historical Literature Regarding Gábor Bethlen and Zsigmond Báthory

This study explores the causes of the sharp disparity that emerged in assessments of two rulers of the early modern Transylvanian state, Zsigmond Báthory and Gábor Bethlen, in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Hungarian historiography. The author compares two aspects of the images of the princes—their childhood and youth and their courts. Bethlen, born in 1580, grew up in Báthory’s princely court and stood in his service between the years 1593 and 1602. The life paths of the princes of Transylvania were thus interconnected, though biographical constructions originating over subsequent generations symbolically separated them. These constructions highlighted the malleable character and weakness of the disdained Báthory in connection with his youth and court. The fiction-laced development history of the venerated Bethlen, contrarily, depicts the antecedents of exemplary rule, while illustrations of his princely court also serve to emphasize the prince’s virtues. The examined contrasts in the established images of Báthory and Bethlen are a product of a polarizing approach to history by which the tarnishing of Báthory has enhanced the brilliance of Bethlen.

Keywords: princely image, courtly culture, biographical construction, national historiography


There hardly exist two rulers whose appraisal in the historical memory of the early modern Transylvanian state contrast to the same degree as those of Princes of Transylvania Gábor Bethlen (1580–1629) and Zsigmond Báthory (1572–1613)—the former widely considered to be the greatest ruler of the semi-independent principality, while the latter is known primarily for his failures.1 The personalities of these princes can be seen and judged with particular clarity when compared to one another. Such comparison of the contrasting personal attributes of Gábor Bethlen and Zsigmond Báthory likewise presents the opportunity to gain a greater understanding of the logic underpinning historical memory and historiography regarding the two Princes of Transylvania.

This essay will not present a detailed account of the long process involved in the formation of the images of princes Zsigmond Báthory and Gábor Bethlen from the time of their rule to modern academic historiography.2 Instead, it will emphasize some of the main thematic elements lying at the foundation of comparisons between the two princes of Transylvania. This essay will examine two clearly definable themes within this complex issue: childhood and youth; and depictions of the princely court of Transylvania beginning with Bethlen’s first appearance at the court in 1593 and ending with Báthory’s abdication and emigration in 1602.

Opposing Images: Báthory and Bethlen

The attempt to compare Gábor Bethlen with Zsigmond Báthory may at first appear to be a peculiar undertaking, since comparisons between Bethlen and his immediate predecessor, Gábor Báthory, are both more obvious and customary. The struggle between Gábor Bethlen and Gábor Báthory (Prince of Transylvania 1608–1613) and the formation on the part of the former and his followers of the latter assassinated prince’s image3 offer a clear explanation for the broad disparities existing between representations of the victorious Bethlen and the defeated Báthory.4 Interpretations of the conflict between them become richer in the broader context of representations of the two historical personalities, Zsigmond Báthory and István Bocskai (Prince of Transylvania 1605–1606). Narratives of their lives and rule submit themselves to contrast- and analogy-based patterns. On the negative pole stand the two Báthorys, while Bocskai and Bethlen stand at the positive pole. Bethlen is depicted as Bocskai’s successor, the heir to his objectives, and as such having turned against Gábor Báthory, just as István Bocskai drew away from Zsigmond Báthory. These narratives inform the reader of the reasons for which the paths of the initially allied historical actors deviate: the successes gained following their divergence become more spectacular and convincing if the narrator disparages the unsuccessful predecessor or opponent. This essay attempts to portray the most important themes that impel the dynamic illustrating Zsigmond Báthory and Gábor Bethlen within the context of the paradigm described above. Its analysis and conclusions are thus based on conjecture and opinion regarding the princes just as much as they are on document-supported fact.

Aside from the success with which they performed the functions of Prince of Transylvania, the fact that posterity has remembered Zsigmond Báthory with disdain and Gábor Bethlen with admiration is due undoubtedly to the success with which they were able to establish cogent and convincing images of themselves and whether long-lasting negative opinions were formed about them. Among the historiographers active during the life of Zsigmond Báthory, the harshly critical narratives of István Szamosközy (1570–1612) and Ambrus Somogyi (1564–1637) foreshadow the generally negative appraisal of the prince formed in the course of history. These historiographers cited circumstances surrounding Báthory’s birth, childhood and youth, his upbringing and the courtly environment to support their portrayals of his unsteady character and capriciousness. The positive assessment of Báthory contained in the works of János Baranyai Decsi and Giorgio Tomasi’s apologia La Battorea published in 1609 did not exercise a major impact on the historical image of the prince.5

Szamosközy’s contention that the volatile political career of Zsigmond Báthory could be explained by his impulsive lack of consistency remained influential into the nineteenth century, when critical scholarship began to examine his rule for the first time. The image formed of Gábor Bethlen during and immediately after his life also endured until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but contrary to the negative opinion that took root with regard to Báthory, was almost universally positive. Bethlen himself contributed to the foundation of this favorable image, establishing a group of reverent followers, including János Keserűi Dajka, Pál Háportoni Forró, Gáspár Bojthi Veres and János Kemény among others, who wrote historical works, letters and memoirs praising the ruler. These laudatory voices overwhelmed expressions of criticism toward Gábor Bethlen, such as those of Cardinal Péter Pázmány, and served as the foundation of scientific research regarding Bethlen beginning in the nineteenth century.6

The extremes contained in the ex post facto assessments of Zsigmond Báthory and Gábor Bethlen and the genuine differences and interconnections in their lives warrant comparison of youth and the court—two aspects of biography and political environment. While Zsigmond Báthory was raised to be prince as a member of Transylvania’s ruling family, Gábor Bethlen emerged from a much more modest background and the possibility of his becoming prince was not even considered for many years. The religious affiliation of the historians writing about the Catholic Báthory and the Protestant Bethlen obviously influenced their narrations of the princes, just as it did their view of relations between the House of Habsburg and Transylvania. The period in which the lives of Zsigmond Báthory and Gábor Bethlen intersected also serves to justify comparison of the two Princes of Transylvania: the nine-year interval between 1593 and 1602 during which Bethlen was part of Prince Báthory’s court. Gábor Bethlen became Prince of Transylvania in 1613, the year that Zsigmond Báthory, just eight years his senior, died in Prague just six months following the assassination of his nephew, Gábor Báthory. Gábor Bethlen’s rule as prince of Transylvania thus began the same year that both Zsigmond Báthory and Gábor Báthory died.7

Assessment of the Youthful Bethlen

Along with the large number of academic sources published in the final third of the nineteenth century with regard to Bethlen’s reign, the desire arose among historians to understand where this Prince of Transylvania had come from and what factors had exercised an influence on him during his youth. Endre Veress supplemented the existing fragmentary knowledge, some of which was of dubious accuracy,8 surrounding Bethlen’s youth in an independent study published on this topic in the Kolozsvár-based periodical Erdélyi Múzeum in 1914. In this study, Veress published the letters Bethlen had written in the period between his rise to the princely court in 1593 and his accession to the position of Prince of Transylvania in 1613.9 Veress, who as a specialist on the entire Báthory era also plays a key role among historians dealing with Bethlen’s youth, summarized the results of academic research on this topic in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries:

Historical research over the past decades has uncovered details regarding his reign with singular success and has collected hundreds of letters regarding his life. However, just a few of these letters originate from the period of his youth and thus the few occasions on which data emerged from the time before Bethlen rose to the throne counted as true events.10

Veress’s statement on the lack of information regarding this period of Bethlen’s youth between 1593 and 1602 remains valid one-hundred years later. We know from a letter written from Gyulafehérvár (Alba Iulia, Romania) in 1593 that Zsigmond Báthory more than one year previously had “at the word of many coaxing people” seized property and “upon the exertion of a few primary kinsmen” offered restitution or other lands in return. The letter reveals that the orphaned thirteen-year-old Bethlen traveled to the princely court in Gyulafehérvár to acquire such recompense and that he was confident in the success of this endeavor and counted on the intervention of influential people. The letter states that Bethlen had been occupied with studies until that year and was seeking to engage his services with a lord, perhaps even Prince Báthory himself.11 This was followed by almost a decade of silence during which Bethlen’s relations with Prince Zsigmond Báthory are shrouded in almost total obscurity. The Jesuits who wrote regular, well-informed reports on the affairs of the court do not mention Bethlen. Known charters from the period do not yield sufficient information regarding the youthful future prince to provide contemporary historians with a detailed description of his life path from 1592 to 1602. Not even the presumed support of his influential relatives, notably Bocskai, manifested itself in the form of any duty, function or office that merited citation in charters or private letters originating from this period. Historical literature does not indicate whether Gábor Bethlen was continually in the service of Prince Zsigmond Báthory during these nine years or whether he even lived in Gyulafehérvár during this entire interval. One cannot thus make positive assertions on either account.

In 1600 Gábor Bethlen concluded an agreement with his brother István regarding the division of their lands. The agreement shows that Gábor received the family estates in Marosillye and also reveals the uncertainty of the times, referring to the gloomy possibility of “either pagan or some godless prince or the governor of the country” seizing these lands from him. Following Giorgio Basta’s occupation of Gyulafehérvár, Mózes Székely’s invasion,12 the defeat of Michael the Brave at Miriszló (Mirăslău in Romania) and, particularly, the banishment of Bocskai and the confiscation of his territories at the Transylvanian Diet held in that year provided the brothers with ample cause to attend to the fate of their family estates.13 Zsigmond Báthory’s June 1602 deed of gift, which describes Bethlen as generosus, though it does not reveal his position or office, indicates only that the prince had rewarded his service during the final stages of the struggle for power in Transylvania with an endowment of land.14 Bethlen demonstrably remained loyal to Báthory as he struggled with Ottoman support to retain control over Transylvania even after István Bocskai had taken exile in Prague. Thus the deed’s customary expression mentioning the intercession of councilors in its justification for the gift of land could not have pertained to Bocskai, but rather to those who continued to support Báthory.15 Twelve days following the publication of the deed Bethlen participated on Báthory’s side in the engagement against General Basta and his forces at the Battle of Tövis, just as he presumably did in the course of the prince’s previous campaigns, seeking refuge following the defeat in the Ottoman-controlled city of Temesvár and offering his support to Mózes Székely. We encounter Bethlen again in the pages of Szamosközy’s history, which portrays him as one of the leaders of Mózes Székely’s forces during the 1603 siege of Gyulafehérvár. Bethlen himself later read and annotated this work.16

That described above is essentially all the credible information that is known about Gábor Bethlen from the period of his life between the ages of thirteen and twenty-one years old. Those historians who wanted to say more about Bethlen’s youth—his reflections, his development, his investigations—relied on data contained in later memoirs, accounts and other sources that can scarcely reveal more about the intentions underlying the formation of the future prince’s past than the aforementioned sources, though may appear to be valuable because they originate from “Bethlen himself” or people who knew him directly.

The source attributes described above naturally present historians with a dilemma. The quality and conclusions of their narratives regarding Bethlen’s youth vary depending on the degree, if any, to which they accept sources belonging to the latter category. The decision of historians on this account determines the feasibility of writing a history of Bethlen’s life between 1593 and 1602 that can be of fundamental importance to any analysis of his personal development. Those who reject sources that do not stand up to the test of historical criticism can hardly conclude that there is sufficient credible information available to write a coherent history of Bethlen’s youth.

Numerous historians have nonetheless taken the pains to piece together these ex post facto sources in order to compile a narrative of Bethlen’s youthful development while he was a member of Zsigmond Báthory’s court, some of them drawing heavily upon their imaginations in order to compensate for inadequate information. These historians describe Bethlen in the role of a court page, though they can only make assumptions with regard to his actual duties due to the lack of sources. They typically depict Bethlen lounging about in the court’s antechamber, serving as court messenger and caring for the prince’s hunting dogs in addition to his more significant and valorous participation in military campaigns. These historians tend to associate Bethlen with his “relative” and “supporter”, the distinguished military leader Bocskai, in order to strengthen the historical analogy between the two. The concept of Báthory’s court as the site where the future prince formed his political and diplomatic consciousness, a process that culminated in his participation in a diplomatic mission to Prague, is indeed an enticing one.17

The dispute that arose between Gyula Szekfű and István Rugonfalvi Kiss surrounding the 300th anniversary of Gábor Bethlen’s death in 1629 illustrates the dilemma concerning historical representation as outlined above. In his 1929 biographical synthesis, Szekfű contents himself with Veress’s collection and processing of data regarding Bethlen’s youthful years as a part of Báthory’s court and does not impart any additional information. Szekfű states in the work that the letters published in Veress’s book provide a satisfactory depiction of the “external image” of Bethlen’s early political development, though furnish “precious little” data concerning his “internal development.” The pages of Szekfű’s work dealing with Bethlen’s early years are interesting due to the aforementioned attitude of skepticism, particularly from a methodological standpoint, which the author suggest is the result of the factors that limit the scope of knowledge surrounding figures from the early modern history of Hungary. Szekfű’s observations are not limited to Bethlen, but apply to Hungarian historical personalities from the period in general, suggesting that images of their lives and actions are based almost exclusively on external perceptions, while personal (that is, not public) images are rare and those that exist are conventional and stereotypical.18 Might the reservations that Szekfű maintained toward the romanticized historical images have impelled this practitioner of Geistesgeschichte to reject the notion of certainty surrounding the formation of historical knowledge? Or was he, who otherwise so enthusiastically discussed issues related to the soul or spiritual constitution, simply avoiding the prospect of doing research that would have entailed the exposure of the hidden aspects of the personality and their behavioral manifestations?

Szekfű’s version of Bethlen’s youth is correspondingly short and reserved. In his response, István Rugonfalvi Kiss attributed Szekfű’s methodological scruples to negative bias toward Bethlen. Rugonfalvi Kiss states in his response, which is imbued with boundless respect for Bethlen, that the main mission of historians is to explore the inner world of the historical heroes under consideration—the key to which is an examination of childhood and youth. Rugonfalvi Kiss charges that Szekfű’s theses regarding Bethlen amount to sacrilege, castigating his peer’s decision to, as Veress, reject the historical credibility of information regarding the future prince’s youthful merits and deeds contained in the works of laudatory court literati such as Gáspár Bojthi Veres and János Keserűi Dajka or the accounts of Bethlen himself.19 Disparities in the various narratives of Bethlen’s youth indeed stem from the authors’ decision regarding the validity of the image of the future prince formed by Bethlen and his propagandists. Szekfű long remained among the minority of historians who rejected the historical objectivity of this image. Szekfű’s reservations, that is, his defensive and unaccepting attitude, did not prevent his peers from writing true developmental histories of Bethlen’s early years.

Sources dealing with the childhood and youth of Zsigmond Báthory, who was raised to be prince, were much richer than those dealing with this period in the life of Gábor Bethlen, though the majority of these sources appeared only in the first half of the twentieth century and for a long time did not correct the image based on information contained in the works of Szamosközy and other contemporary historiographers. Sources collected and published by Endre Veress served as the foundation for knowledge regarding the childhood and youth of Báthory in the first half of the twentieth century, providing historians with much more information than those dealing with the same period in Bethlen’s life. However historians did not make significant use of Veress’s documentation and subsequent sources on the same theme appearing in Jesuit publications edited by László Lukács as the basis for works examining the childhood and youth of Zsigmond Báthory until the 1980s.20

Thus whereas the processes of uncovering and utilizing historical sources regarding Bethlen took place in direct correlation to one another, there was a conspicuous interval between the two in the case of Zsigmond Báthory. For a long period of time, it was not possible to find out any more information regarding Báthory’s childhood and youth or subsequent reign than that contained in the negative assessment of him that had imbued the collective historical consciousness. At the same time, researchers devoted attention to the childhood and youth of Bethlen, but it resulted in a rather meager body of historically reliable sources regarding this early period of his life that biographies attempted to enhance through repetition of inadequately supported stories portraying the future prince of Transylvania in a positive light. The contours tracing Bethlen’s early years were formed in accordance to the general knowledge surrounding Zsigmond Báthory’s rule and inferences projecting the known characteristics of the adult Bethlen onto his youthful self. Scientific, though not always critical, historiography did not depart from the dominant opinions formed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries regarding either Báthory or Bethlen. This essay will depict over the subsequent pages concrete examples portraying the themes and interpretations of historical works regarding the youthful and courtly lives of the two princes of Transylvania.

Possibilities for Comparison

There exists the inherent possibility to make comparisons with regard to such themes as the formability of character, upbringing, education and the use thereof in the course of ruling. Accounts of the lives of Bethlen and Báthory are inclined to seek the origin of both the positive and negative characteristics of the adult princes in their early years and to identify traits in the princes that are either receptive or resistant to the harmful influence of the court environment—in Báthory’s case primarily the Jesuits and the Italian courtiers. Historiographers expressed a significant degree of the customary Bible-based skepticism toward child rulers and impetuous youth with regard to Zsigmond Báthory, doubt from which Bethlen was exempt since he became Prince of Transylvania well after the age of 30. Many historiographers indeed highlight the great breadth of experience that Bethlen had accumulated by the time he became ruler.21

With regard to the differences in the early lives of Báthory and Bethlen, historiographers criticize the former for squandering his talents, while they extol the latter as a man who rose to power through his own resolve and strength of character. They portray Báthory as restless and erratic, while Bethlen was calm and reliable, his pleasures and diversions a function of his “noble passions.”22 The occasionally exaggerated emphasis placed on Báthory’s “Renaissance” education serve to temper the portrayed malleability of his character, though the lesson to be drawn from this emphasis is clear: education is found wanting on the balance of power. The internal division of the character can be highlighted through references to education in terms of the contrast of a high degree of culture with minimal political aptitude. Biographical narratives regarding Bethlen generally suggest that the wisdom he gained from his life experiences, his even temper and sound judgment, his military prowess and his support for culture and intellectual life—a factor connected to the theme of his court building—counterbalanced the prince’s lack of formal education.

Divergent directions opened with regard to the themes of political simulation and foreign political orientation as well. The deceptions of Zsigmond Báthory aimed at misleading both foreigners and his own subjects are considered reprehensible, while in Gábor Bethlen’s case such duplicity is portrayed as legitimate response to the same in others. Báthory’s use of force is usually described as a product of the prince’s arbitrary character, though is occasionally depicted in the context of a certain political-theoretical acumen, namely familiarity with the teachings of Machiavelli. In 1879, Sándor Szilágyi attempted to dispel or mitigate charges among Bethlen’s contemporaries portraying him as a duplicitous despot: “for centuries and decades on end, stories of Bethlen’s deceit were passed on by word of mouth, engraving themselves so deeply in the consciousness of people that the only reason that did not refer to Machiavellianism as ‘Bethlenism’ is that the former word existed before he did.” Szilágyi contended that Bethlen’s detractors were personally biased and excessive in their criticism, portraying changes of allegiance as an established custom when people switched religions and claiming that the Holy Roman Emperor was, himself, simply feigning allegiance with the Turks.23

Zsigmond Báthory’s alliance with the Prague court was depicted as disregard for the “Turkish party – peace party” reality, though when he became disillusioned with this coalition and turned to the Porte, this was portrayed as evidence of his indecision. Gábor Bethlen’s decision to maintain his alliance with the Turks was, contrarily, deemed to be necessary in order to serve the best interests of the country. 24 Historians cited Báthory’s policies toward the feudal estates as the product of the dangerous, stifling despotic régime he had created, while they gladly appraised Bethlen’s exercise of power in terms of so-called national absolutism.

One must unquestionably separate the young Gábor Bethlen from Zsigmond Báthory’s pro-Habsburg policies, which bearing in mind the former’s subsequent pro-Turkish orientation is not a difficult task. Bethlen’s alleged visit to Prague as a member of Báthory’s—or Bocskai’s—delegation corresponds to this objective. However, the Imperial Court “failed to dazzle him, because life had provided him with clear insight from a young age. He noticed the shadows lying behind the splendor, the true lack of power behind the displays of power and, most importantly: the squeezing of the interests of Hungary and Transylvania into the background.”25 Mention of Bethlen’s inadequately documented visit provides the historian with a good opportunity to foreshadow the anti-Habsburgism that constituted the cornerstone of his policies.

It is difficult for those writing developmental histories of Gábor Bethlen to avoid examining the degree to which the experiences of the future prince as part of Zsigmond Báthory’s court influenced his character and later policies. The lack of concrete information regarding this issue opens room for conjecture. Historians are inclined to associate the period that the young Bethlen spent in the princely court in Gyulafehérvár with the broadening of his personal horizons, though refrain from identifying him with harmful influences of this environment that would serve to impair their positive assessment of him. Among the arguments serving to distance Gábor Bethlen from Zsigmond Báthory, images founded upon notions of innate character traits and even “healthy instincts” represent a suitable means of defending the former from the “following the dangerous example, the bloodthirsty and wanton tyrant.”26

Narratives on the life of Bethlen portray the environment of the Gyulafehérvár court not only as the site of his childhood and youthful upbringing, but the scene of princely creation and performance, support for the arts and sciences and various forms of political action and conduct and sometimes as the location at which the politically influential relationship between ruler and consort was formed.27

With regard to the characteristics and assessment of court life in Gyulafehérvár, historians conspicuously praise Bethlen for supporting intellectual education and material culture, while at the same time condemn Báthory for encouraging dissolute pleasures. The material culture at the Gyulafehérvár court is more evident in Bethlen’s case as a result of purchase records that have fortunately survived and were published at an early date.28 These records provide much more information than that available from the list of items that Báthory destroyed, at least according to Szamosközy, the inventory of the plundered Gyulafehérvár palace at the calamitous end of the prince’s reign and other bits of sundry data. Narratives regarding Gábor Bethlen based on available documentation pertaining to material culture conclude that court expenditures were warranted under his rule and that he put its financial affairs in order, whereas the situation under Zsigmond Báthory was just the opposite.

Authors writing about Báthory highlighted his conflict with the intellectual élite composed of humanists who studied at the University of Padua, though failed to mention his foundation of the Jesuit college in Gyulafehérvár with the aim of transforming Transylvania’s capital city into a center of education on the scale of that existing in Kolozsvár (Cluj-Napoca, Romania).29 Contrary to the university college that Bethlen founded, Báthory’s Jesuit college ceased to exist as a result of the war, the caution of the Jesuits and the prince’s impending abdication and is thus unmemorable. The achievements that Zsigmond Báthory attained in the field of court culture are either separated from his political deeds or they are portrayed as factors moderating his policies in a forgiving concession of political history to cultural history. Contrarily, there is complete harmony between political policy and court culture in histories of Bethlen.

Szamosközy criticized Báthory’s Italian courtiers as useless from the perspective of the common good, a criticism that became deeply entrenched in historical narratives of the prince, while similar disapproval is absent vis-á-vis Bethlen’s Spanish dance master, Don Diego de Estrada. The use of King Matthias Corvinus as a model appeared to be an appropriate means of analyzing the rule of the princes and their courts. Szamosközy condemned relations between Zsigmond Báthory and his Italian courtiers as an inversion of the praise that Bonfini expressed for the patronage of Matthias Corvinus.30 Szamosközy portrays Báthory as an anti-Corvinus of sorts, while Bethlen is depicted as the reincarnation of the king, such as can be seen in the memoirs of János Kemény.

Descriptions of the court’s moral condition rarely pass up the opportunity to invoke the subject of deviation from sexual norms. In comparison to the amorous failures and adventures of his predecessors—Zsigmond Báthory’s inability to consummate his marriage and Gábor Báthory’s seduction of even the wives of the lords—Gábor Bethlen’s sexuality is either portrayed as conventional or is not highlighted. Narratives regarding Bethlen depict his consort, the German-born Catherine of Brandenburg, within the context of stereotypical intricacies of women of the court.31 Catherine is thus remembered less favorably than Zsigmond Báthory’s consort, Archduchess Maria Christina of Austria, who is regarded primarily as a victim of the latter prince’s erratic nature.

The contrasting viewpoints surrounding the personalities of Zsigmond Báthory and Gábor Bethlen tend to dissipate when the princes are examined from a greater perspective in which their individual actions and personal characteristics are interpreted as functions of the process of assimilating European culture in Transylvania and not as mere factors governing their political practices. József Bíró, for example, described Zsigmond Báthory as an outmoded “baroque character” with “his rambling imagination and extravagance” amid the burgeoning Renaissance culture of his age, whereas he depicts Gábor Bethlen as “the greatest Transylvanian patron of Renaissance art” whose “cultural policy, radiant court and entire lifestyle” attempted to “transplant the European spirit in Transylvania.”32

Gyula Szekfű examines the courts of Báthory and Bethlen from the perspective of Transylvania’s distance from Europe, foreignness, national character and the successful adaptation to the western model. Szekfű wrote that “the court of the Prince of Transylvania . . . existed in the distant East, where hardly any foreigners ventured and if they did marveled primarily at the unexpected foreign, Italian elements: musicians, dancers in the court of Zsigmond Báthory.” With regard to Bethlen, Szekfű asserted that “he is the first to keep a truly Hungarian princely court,” which westerners consider to be barbarian from afar, though are convinced of the opposite after first-hand experience shows them its true ambiance of courtesy and culture.33 István Rugonfalvi Kiss suggests that Gábor Bethlen carried on the courtly precedents of Zsigmond Báthory, writing in connection to the former prince of Transylvania that “This is how he came to know Zsigmond’s brilliant court, which he later imitated.” However, Rugonfalvi Kiss was referring only to the culture of the court, supplementing the latter sentence with the following statement regarding Bethlen: “Zsigmond Báthory’s volatility soon devastated his peaceful, harmonious development and with it the happiness of Transylvania.”34

Thus knowledge surrounding the youth and courts of Zsigmond Báthory and Gábor Bethlen are based on assessments of their personalities, lives and entire character of their rules. Observations or omissions in narratives about the prince demonstrate the sensitivity of the question regarding the reality that the early influences on the idealized Bethlen, his political experiences and the antecedents to the building of his court, could be sought in the person of the scorned Báthory. Reservation and inhibition concerning this issue is, of course, largely related to the labels placed on the two princes, though stems also from the fact that the study of princely courts was long a dependent subcategory of political history. The theme of the court of Transylvania hardly appeared in historiographies and was long connected to an excessive degree on the life histories of the princes and depictions of their political actions and personal characteristics. In this way, evaluations of the princes projected themselves on interpretations of the court.

How might the increasingly independent discipline of court research emerge from this condition? The first task would be to remove the aforementioned labels. Court researchers can break free of the biographical constraints that have circumscribed this discipline without calling the importance of biographical and political-historical correlations into question. However, the most far-reaching necessity would be to analyze the long-term processes extending beyond the rule of individual princes in the same spirit with which Zsolt Trócsányi transcended the boundaries of political-historical periodization in his examination of central government. One of the main questions stemming from the issue currently under consideration is: what was lost from sixteenth-century court life as a result of the Long War and what survived to reemerge in the seventeenth century. Those who sought Transylvanian models for the regeneration of the court in the latter century often found such paradigms primarily in the period of Zsigmond Báthory’s rule. At the same time, forcing this image of reproduction would lead toward the opposite extreme in which foreign influences and the role of renewal are neglected and models known to Bethlen and his contemporaries confined to those found in the sixteenth-century Gyulafehérvár court.

Reducing the weight of political-historical narrative and the focus on personal acts and character makes the court appear to be less a creation of individual princes than a collective product of a society or culture to which the ruler makes a personal contribution. This shift in approach can serve to heighten the perception of continuity and discontinuity between the eras of Zsigmond Báthory and Gábor Bethlen. Viewed within the context of the broad research problem undertaken from the former perspective, the manner in which Gábor Bethlen regarded his personal memories of Zsigmond Báthory’s rule in the course of building his own court and the magnitude to which the precedents of the final decades of the sixteenth century served as patterns in this endeavor represents an issue of only modest importance.

With regard to Bethlen’s personal experience and memory, the existing knowledge surrounding the early period in the future prince’s life can contribute little to the elaboration of the similarities and differences between the two courts until the emergence of new dependable sources. An examination of Bethlen’s life before he came to power suggests that the military experiences he gained between 1593 and 1602 were of crucial importance to his later performance as ruler of Transylvania and placed him on a similar military-political course as his frequently cited analogue, Bocskai.35 At a personal level, Bethlen did not represent continuity in terms of central government, diplomacy or court culture, gaining the knowledge and experience required to conduct affairs in these areas only during a later period of his life.


To summarize, the demonstrably corresponding aspects of the political practices and court culture of Báthory and Bethlen are nevertheless subject to contrasting interpretation within the context of disparate assessments of their life histories. The religious affiliation of those who wrote about Báthory and Bethlen provides one possible reason for the sharp disparity in interpretation surrounding the princes, the former a pro-Habsburg Catholic and the latter an anti-Habsburg Protestant. However the religious bias that so deeply divided nineteenth- and twentieth-century historiography is not enough in itself to explain the entrenchment of radically contrasting evaluations of Báthory and Bethlen. One must also take into account the impact of assessments of the princes based on the degree to which the personal and dynastic interests of the princes coincided with those of the political community. Another factor that contributes to the contrasting appraisals of the princes is the perpetuation of the premodern phenomenon according to which the court, the state and the ruler are regarded as associated and mutually representative entities forming a symbolic unity.

The contrasting images of Gábor Bethlen and Zsigmond Báthory are highlighted prominently in the writing of the history of the Hungarian nation: whereas the former is portrayed as an indispensable, exemplary, continuingly relevant, power-projecting hero figure, the latter is deemed unsuited to fill this role. It is simply not significant enough—laudatory attention is not directed toward his losing, prodigal-son personality and his court. The cult-building approach to history based on making sharp contrasts rather than nuanced comparisons serves to further strengthen the image of Bethlen’s greatness. Such glorification implicitly entails the degrading of others. The historical images of Zsigmond Báthory and Gábor Báthory thus grew increasingly dark as a means of casting an even more brilliant light upon Bocskai and Bethlen.


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Translated by Sean Lambert

1 Zsigmond Báthory, the nephew of Prince of Transylvania and King of Poland István Báthory, served as the Prince of Transylvania on four separate occasions between 1588 and 1602.

2 Though it is important to highlight the qualitative difference in myth-laden early modern historical narrative and critical, scientific historiography beginning in the nineteenth century, rigorous separation of the two might serve to obscure the fact that the results of modern academic research on Báthory and Bethlen are not exempt from the influence of the myth contained in the early image formation of the princes.

3 The Transylvanian Diet elected the Ottoman-supported Gábor Bethlen to serve as Prince of Transylvania in place of Gábor Báthory on October 23, 1613. Hajduks assassinated Báthory four days later.

4 For information regarding the trials involving Gábor Báthory’s female relatives see: László Nagy, “Sok dolgot próbála Bethlen Gábor. . .” Erdélyi boszorkányperek (Budapest: Magvető, 1981). For information regarding Bethlen’s inquiry into the failed 1610 assassination attempt against Gábor Báthory and attempts to tarnish the latter’s reputation through exposing his amorous affairs see: Ildikó Horn, “Őnagysága merénylői (Gondolatok egy politikai összeesküvésről),” in idem, Tündérország útvesztői. Tanulmányok Erdély történelméhez (Budapest: ELTE BTK, 2005), 171, 178–79.

5 See the following influential works regarding Zsigmond Báthory’s character and court: Sándor Szilágyi, ed., Szamosközy István történeti maradványai (1566–1603), Monumenta Hungariae Historica, Scriptores 28 (Budapest: MTA, 1876), 10–16; István Szamosközy, Erdély története (1598–1599, 1603), trans. István Borzsák (Budapest: Magyar Helikon, 1977), 56–62, and Sándor Szilágyi, ed., Szamosközy István történeti maradványai (1566–1603), Monumenta Hungariae Historica, Scriptores 30 (Budapest: MTA, 1880), passim. The following works played a significant role in the reassessment of Zsigmond Báthory: Tibor Klaniczay, “Udvar és társadalom szembenállása Közép-Európában (Az erdélyi udvar a XVI. század végén),” in idem, Pallas magyar ivadékai (Budapest: Szépirodalmi Könyvkiadó, 1985), 104–23; László Nagy, A rossz hírű Báthoryak (Budapest: Kossuth, 1984), 77–148. Over recent years, the historical conception of Zsigmond Báthory has been formed in the works of Ildikó Horn, Tamás Kruppa, Gábor Várkonyi and the author of this essay, among others.

6 See the following work for the accusation repeated in pamphlets at the time regarding Bethlen’s “secret Turkishness” and duplicity: Sándor Szilágyi, ed., Bethlen Gábor fejedelem kiadatlan politikai levelei (Budapest: MTA Történelmi Bizottsága, 1879), 1; and Dávid Angyal, “Adalékok Bethlen Gábor történetéhez. Harmadik közlemény,” Századok 64, no. 4–6 (1929–1930), 585–91. Endre Veress notes that “three members of the court wrote about his household during his life, of which two embellished and distorted with regard to the Bethlens, particularly about Gábor Bethlen’s youthful deeds. And this continues to persevere in our literature to the present day.” Endre Veress, “Bethlen Gábor fejedelem ifjúsága,” Erdélyi Múzeum 9, no. 6 (1914): 287. The noted interwar Hungarian historian Gyula Szekfű examined the literature idealizing Bethlen as well as the dissenting opinions in the following work: Bethlen Gábor (Budapest: Magyar Szemle Társaság, 1929), 281–82; also see: László Nagy, “Bethlen Gábor a magyar históriában,” in Bethlen Gábor állama és kora, ed. Kálmán Kovács (Budapest: ELTE, 1980), 3–18; and Mihály László Hernádi, “Bethlen Gábor bibliográfia 1613–1980,” in ibid., 73–164.

7 For information regarding the final years and political plans of the abdicated prince see: Ildikó Horn, “Báthory Zsigmond prágai fogsága (1610–1611),” in idem, Tündérország útvesztői, 145–65.

8 Dávid Angyal: “Hibás adatok Bethlen Gábor ifjúságáról,” Századok 33, no. 6, (1899): 547–51.

9 Only the 1593 letter cited above documents Bethlen’s life during the reign of Zsigmond Báthory. The next letter was written in 1603, one year after Zsigmond’s final abdication as Prince of Transylvania.

10 Veress, “Bethlen Gábor fejedelem ifjúsága,” 21.

11 The letter written in 1593, though originally misdated 1596, is contained in the following works: Miklós Kubinyi, Jr., “Bethlen Gábor levele Justh Andráshoz,” Századok 23, no. 3 (1889): 239–40; Angyal, “Hibás adatok Bethlen Gábor ifjúságáról,” 547–48; Endre Veress, “Bethlen ifjúkori levelei,” Erdélyi Múzeum, New series, 9, no. 6 (1914): 313; Gábor Bethlen: Levelek, ed. Mihály Sebestyén (Bukarest: Kriterion, 1980), 27–28. The land and property in question (“our main property,” castle and 400 houses with serfs) is associated with Bethlen’s home village of Marosillye in academic literature, which places 1599 as the year of its reacquisition. See Elek Csetri, Bethlen Gábor életútja (Bukarest: Kriterion, 1992), 22.

12 Giorgio Basta (1550–1607) commanded the armies of the Holy Roman Empire during the reign of Rudolf II. The general of Albanian origin served as the military governor of Transylvania beginning in 1598, occupying the principality at the head of his armies following Báthory’s final abdication in 1602. During his two-year rule over Transylvania, General Basta suspended the principality’s constitution, ruled via decree and imposed heavy taxes, while his soldiers plundered the land. Basta led the military coalition that defeated the Ottoman-supported forces of Mózes Székely in 1603.

13 Barabás Samu, ed., “Bethlen Gábor és István osztozása,” Történelmi Tár 13, no. 3 (1890): 560–62.

14 Zsigmond Báthory donated princely lands in Arad County to Gábor and István Bethlen while in Déva on June 20, 1602. See: Tamás Fejér, Etelka Rácz, and Anikó Szász, eds., Az erdélyi fejedelmek Királyi Könyvei. I 1569–1602. Báthory Zsigmond Királyi Könyvei (1582–1602), vols. 1–3 of Erdélyi Történelmi Adatok, 7 vols. (Kolozsvár: Erdélyi Múzeum-Egyesület, 2005), 517 (no. 2,022). For a digital copy of the document see: Éva Gyulai, ed., Az erdélyi fejedelmek oklevelei (1560–1689) Erdélyi Királyi Könyvek. DVD-ROM (Miskolc–Budapest: Miskolci Egyetem BTK–Arcanum Adatbázis Kft., 2005).

15 For information regarding Bocskai’s exile in Prague see: Nóra G. Etényi, Ildikó Horn, and Péter Szabó, Koronás fejedelem. Bocskai István és kora (Budapest: General Press, 2006), 149, 155–57.

16 Szamosközy, Erdély története, 467, note no. 233. For a summary of the military events that took place in Gyulafehérvár in 1603 see: András Kovács, “Bevezetés,” in Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei, ed. idem (Kolozsvár: Erdélyi Múzeum-Egyesület, 1998), 5–6. I know of no other work that so thoroughly recounts the history of the two sieges, including Bethlen’s participation in the first siege. Biographies of Bethlen do not generally explore the connection between the burning of Gyulafehérvár and Bethlen’s leading role in the siege. This connection is indeed indirect—imperial defenders in fact caused the fire—and does not warrant avoiding the theme. László Kőváry openly examined this matter in the 1860s on the basis of information from Farkas Bethlen based on that originating from Szamosközy: László Kőváry, Erdély történelme, vol. 4 (Pest: Ráth Mór, 1863), 139–40. Historians never did attempt to conceal the fact that Bethlen took part in the siege—his participation could be regarded as a glorious anti-German act—though they refrained from linking the future prince to the fire that swept through the city of Gyulafehérvár. (Elek Csetri’s description in an account of the reconstruction of the Gyulafehérvár palace of “a building destroyed in the age of Basta before the eyes of Bethlen” represents a cautious, though still relatively direct statement in comparison to other works touching upon the siege of the city. Csetri, Bethlen Gábor életútja, 142.) The burning of Gyulafehérvár during the siege was not the only catastrophe to weigh upon the material culture of the city during the Long War, although it indisputably contributed greatly to the destruction of such culture stemming from the Báthory era. Though who would have dared suggest that Bethlen rebuilt that which he had indirectly helped to destroy? The hero cannot at once be both destroyer and builder.

17 Sándor Szilágyi, Bethlen Gábor életrajza (Pozsony–Budapest: Stampfel, 1885), 4–6; Dávid Angyal, Bethlen Gábor életrajza (Budapest: Lampel, n.d. [1899]), 5–6; Antal Gindely and Ignác Acsády, Bethlen Gábor és udvara, Magyar történeti életrajzok (Budapest: Magyar Történelmi Társulat, 1890), 7; Veress, “Bethlen Gábor fejedelem ifjúsága,” 291–92; István Rugonfalvi Kiss, Iktári Bethlen Gábor erdélyi fejedelem (Budapest: Bethlen Gábor Irodalmi és Nyomdai Rt., 1923), 9–12; Szekfű, Bethlen Gábor, 28–29; Dávid Angyal, “Adalékok Bethlen Gábor történetéhez. Második közlemény,” Századok 64, no. 1–3 (1929–1930): 473–74; Tibor Wittman, Bethlen Gábor (n.p. [Budapest]: Művelt Nép, 1952), 8–10; László Nagy, Bethlen Gábor a független Magyarországért (Budapest: Akadémiai, 1969), 13–14; Nagy, “Sok dolgot próbála Bethlen Gábor. . .”, 46–48; Lajos Demény, Bethlen Gábor és kora (Bucharest: Politikai Könyvkiadó, 1982), 10–16; József Barcza, Bethlen Gábor, a református fejedelem (Budapest: Magyarországi Református Egyház, 1980), 17–18; Csetri, Bethlen Gábor életútja, 19–23. For assertions regarding Bethlen’s “high-ranking positions for his age and situation” see: László Makkai, “Bevezetés,” in A fejedelem, Erdély öröksége, vol. 4, ed. László Cs. Szabó and László Makkai (Budapest: Franklin-Társulat, n.d. [1941]), vi. Makkai’s source for these claims is almost certainly Pál Háportoni Forró, who stated that Bethlen was able to hold his own with “great and honorable offices as well as council dignities, court captain-general’s and general’s services and all of this in performing the greatly laborious duties of emissary to both of the emperors.” See “Háportoni Forró Pál ajánlólevele Quintus Curtius fordításához,” in Bethlen Gábor emlékezete, ed. László Makkai (n.p. [Budapest]: Magyar Helikon, 1980), 280–81. For Háportoni’s assertions see Veress, “Bethlen Gábor fejedelem ifjúsága,” 292 (note 24). Veress accepts these claims and states that they can be supplemented by diplomat Paul Strassburg’s account of his meeting with Bethlen. These descriptions of the offices that Bethlen performed in the court of Prince Zsigmond Báthory are obviously exaggerated inferences derived from the subsequent progression of his career. For a description based on reliable sources of the offices that Bethlen filled during this period see Zsolt Trócsányi, Erdély központi kormányzata 1540–1690 (Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1980), 25, 102 (note 111), 339, 353 (note 372). In addition to Háportoni Forró, Strassburg alleges in the account of his meeting with Bethlen cited above that the future prince stated with regard to his stay in Prague “adolescentiam cum Sigismundo Bathoreo in Rudolphi caesaris aliorumque principum aulis, juventutem ac virile robur armis exercuit.” See Sándor Szilágyi, “Oklevelek Bethlen Gábor és Gusztáv Adolf összeköttetéseinek történetéhez,” Történelmi Tár 5, no. 2 (1882): 277. The figures of Zsigmond Báthory and Bocskai were subsequently switched in certain narratives. Veress, “Bethlen Gábor fejedelem ifjúsága,” 291 and notes 22–23. Bethlen himself laid the foundation for the frequent conception of István Bocskai as his relative and supporter in the noted statements he made in an 1628 letter to the chief Ottoman kaymakam (lieutenant-governor) highlighting the success of his services to the Sublime Porte in support of Bocskai’s principality in an effort to defend himself. In this letter, Bethlen wrote that Bocskai “was our kin, it was he who raised us and placed great credence in us.” It was in Bethlen’s interest at this time to emphasize his connection to Bocskai. See Szilády, Áron and Sándor Szilágyi, eds., Török–magyarkori állam-okmánytár. (Pest: Eggenberger, 1868.), vol. 2, 31. The reference to the familial relationship between Bethlen and Bocskai subsequently gained importance as a result of their cooperation in the year 1604 and the analogy made between their historical roles. (Even the skeptical Szekfű accepted the connection between Bethlen and Bocskai as a fact. See Szekfű, Bethlen Gábor, 28–29.) The figure of Zsigmond Báthory occupies an ambivalent role within the life story of Gábor Bethlen, portrayed as both the appropriator of the orphaned Bethlen’s family estates in the village of Marosillye and as the commander of anti-Ottoman campaigns that provided Bethlen with the opportunity to gain the military experience necessary for his development as a leader. According to the narratives, Bethlen profited from the diplomatic and other lessons he gained from his involvement in the everyday life and dangerous intrigues within Báthory’s court.

18 Szekfű, Bethlen Gábor, 27–28, 285 (note no. 12).

19 István Rugonfalvi Kiss, Az átértékelt Bethlen Gábor. Válaszul Szekfű Gyulának (Debrecen: the author’s edition, 1929), 13–18. Sándor Makkai’s work dealing with Bethlen’s “inner face” examines the theme of youthful development to a much greater degree than other biographies of the Prince of Transylvania. Makkai’s interpretation of Bethlen’s youthful character and development can be summarized in the following quotes from the aforementioned work: “Three concomitants arise with Gábor when he appears on the historical scene with his first letter written at the age of thirteen: orphanhood, ignorance, insignificance” (italics in original); and “His amazing vitality emerged in the midst of the childhood impediments of orphanhood, ignorance and insignificance, impediments that became existence-determining factors for him and dictated the course of his adult and princely life.” Makkai thus suggests that surmounted difficulties form the character of the man, manifesting themselves in the strength needed to rise to the top. Egyedül. Bethlen Gábor lelki arca (Kolozsvár: Erdélyi Szépmíves Céh, 1929), 9–34, esp. 15, 19.

20 Ladislaus Lukács S.I., ed., Monumenta Antiquae Hungariae, vols. 2–4 (Rome: Institutum Historicum Societatis Iesu, 1976–1987); István Bartók, “A gyulafehérvári fejedelmi udvar és az ifjú Báthory Zsigmond,” in Magyar reneszánsz udvari kultúra, ed. Ágnes R. Várkonyi (Budapest: Gondolat, 1987), 148–54.

21 Makkai states that Bethlen’s “entire being showed more” than his true age: László Makkai, “A magyar Machiavelli,” in Magyarország története 1526–1686, ed. Ágnes R. Várkonyi (Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1987), 802. Szekfű asserts that “it was likely the bitter experiences acquired in his youth” and his personal flexibility that served to moderate in Bethlen the formation of characteristics typical of the temperament of the Hungarian high nobility—lack of restraint, emotional “outbursts” and “the consideration of facts from the perspective of enthusiasm.” Gyula Szekfű, A tizenhetedik század, vol. 5 of Magyar Történet (Budapest: Egyetemi Nyomda, n.d. [1929]), 282–83.

22 Szekfű, Bethlen Gábor, 173, 205.

23 For the allegedly “Machiavellian” character of Bethlen’s rule see the following works: Nagy, A rossz hírű Báthoryak, 105–06; Sándor Szilágyi, ed., Bethlen Gábor fejedelem kiadatlan politikai levelei (Budapest: Magyar Tud. Akadémia, 1879), 1–2; in contrast to Szekfű’s interpretation: Bethlen’s “approach and moral principles are very distant from the tenets of Machiavelli.” Rugonfalvi Kiss, Az átértékelt Bethlen Gábor, 30; László Nagy depicts Bethlen’s Machiavellianism as a necessary means of acquiring and maintaining his power as Prince of Transylvania: Nagy, “Sok dolgot próbála Bethlen Gábor. . .”, 164–66. Tibor Wittman, by contrast, claims that Szekfű’s portrayal of Bethlen as a “Machiavellian prince” served to “deprive our people of one of its greatest national heroes”: “Bethlen Gábor mint hadszervező,” Századok 85, no. 3–4 (1951): 357. László Makkai approaches this theme from the perspective of cultural history: “The analogy of ‘Hungarian Machiavelli’ could sooner be applied to him than to Bocskai. . . . He was a conscious Machiavellian, though not in the negative sense used by everybody (and himself) at the time to mean ‘unscrupulous,’ but from the Renaissance perspective of man and society.” Makkai, “A magyar Machiavelli,” 802.

24 János Keserűi Dajka gives classic expression to this viewpoint in the following work: “Bethlen Gábor nemzetsége, jelleme és tettei,” in Bethlen Gábor krónikásai. Krónikák, emlékiratok, naplók a nagy fejedelemről, ed. László Makkai (Budapest: Gondolat, 1980), 17.

25 Nagy, Bethlen Gábor a független Magyarországért, 13.

26 Csetri, Bethlen Gábor életútja, 21. The court of the ruler is a reflection of himself: this is a powerful image, though it does not always guide the pen of historians. In his biography of Gábor Báthory, Sándor Szilágyi recognizes on the one hand the connection of the young prince’s amorous adventures to the court, while on the other hand suggests that he was not solely responsible for these indiscretions and that the court could be characterized primarily as the scene of jovial, temperate merrymaking. Sándor Szilágyi, Báthory Gábor fejedelem története (Pest: Ráth Mór, 1867), 45, 64–71.

27 For a depiction of court life in connection to Bethlen see: Kőváry, Erdély történelme, vol. 4, 249; Szilágyi, Bethlen Gábor életrajza, 5; Dávid Angyal, Magyarország története II. Mátyástól III. Ferdinánd haláláig, vol. 5 of A magyar nemzet története (Budapest: Athenaeum, 1898), 417–19; Angyal, Bethlen Gábor életrajza, 67–73; Gindely and Acsády, Bethlen Gábor és udvara, 231–60 (the portion of this book dealing with Gábor Bethlen is the work of Ignác Acsády); Rugonfalvi Kiss, Iktári Bethlen Gábor erdélyi fejedelem, 100–1 (“In the keeping of his court he follows Zsigmond Báthory”); Szekfű, Bethlen Gábor, 202–6; Rugonfalvi Kiss, Az átértékelt Bethlen Gábor, 103; Wittman, Bethlen Gábor, 126–37; Márton Tarnóc, Erdély művelődése Bethlen Gábor és a két Rákóczi György korában (Budapest: Gondolat, 1978), 13–30; Márton Tarnóc, “Irodalom és művelődés Bethlen Gábor államában,” in Bethlen Gábor állama és kora, ed. Kovács, 29–35; Demény, Bethlen Gábor és kora, 179–95; Barcza, Bethlen Gábor, a református fejedelem, 127–29; and Csetri, Bethlen Gábor életútja, 141–55.

28 Béla Radvánszky, ed., Bethlen Gábor fejedelem udvartartása, , vol. 1 of Házi történelmünk emlékei, I. osztály, Udvartartás és számadáskönyvek (Budapest: Athenaeum, 1888).

29 Ladislaus Lukács S.I., ed., Monumenta Antiquae Hungariae, vol. 4 (1593–1600) (Rome: Institutum Historicum Societatis Iesu, 1987), 182–83, 195 and 237–40.

30 Péter Erdősi, “Uralkodók, sajtmesterek és történetírók. Egy Szamosközy-hely előzménye,” in Portré és imázs. Politikai propaganda és reprezentáció a kora újkorban, ed. Nóra G. Etényi and Ildikó Horn (Budapest: L’Harmattan–Transylvania Emlékeiért Tudományos Egyesület, 2008), 173–85.

31 Ignác Acsády describes the changes that took place within Bethlen’s court following the arrival of Catherine as if he were holding before him Bonfini’s description of the transformation of the court of King Matthias Corvinus following his marriage to Beatrice of Naples. See Gindely and Acsády, Bethlen Gábor és udvara, 240–41.

32 József Bíró, Erdély művészete (Budapest: Singer–Wolfner, n.d. [1941]), 112.

33 Szekfű, Bethlen Gábor, 171–72.

34 Rugonfalvi Kiss, Iktári Bethlen Gábor erdélyi fejedelem, 11.

35 Bocskai served as chief general [főgenerális] of Transylvania and the lord-lieutenant [főispán] of Bihar County, while Bethlen served as chief general/chief captain [főkapitány] of the princely armies and the chief captain of Csík-Gyergyó-Kászonszék as well as the lord-lieutenant of Hunyad County; both held the position of council lord [tanácsúr]. See Trócsányi, 1980, 26, 337 regarding Bocskai, notes 25, 102 (note 111) and 339, 353 (note 372) regarding Bethlen; and Miklós Lázár, “Erdély főispánjai,” Századok 23, no. 1 (1889): 33.

pdfVolume 2 Issue 4 CONTENTS

András Kovács

Gábor Bethlen and the Construction of the New Seat of the Transylvanian Princedom

The development of the town of Gyulafehérvár into a town of central importance in the middle of the sixteenth century took place at the same time as the formation of the Transylvanian principality. The town became increasingly important as the princes of Transylvania consolidated power, first in the time of the rule of the Báthory family and then under the rule of the Bethlen and Rákóczi families. This essay presents the measures that were implemented by Gábor Bethlen, his predecessors, and his successors in the interests of developing and fortifying the town and transforming it into a fitting site for the court of the prince.

Keywords: Seat of Transylvanian Princedom, Princely Court in Gyulafehérvár (Alba Iulia), Gábor Bethlen, Collegium Academicum


After the fall of Buda in 1541, the royal court, which had fled with queen Izabella to Transylvania, occupied the palace and demesne of Bishop János Statileo in the interlude following his death in 1542. In 1556, with the spread of the Reformation they took possession of church estates and the town became as a matter of fact the center of the prince’s lands and the seat of the Transylvanian principality.

In his study of the venues for the Transylvanian General Assemblies, Zsolt Trócsányi has noted the growth in the significance of the town of Gyulafehérvár (Karlsburg in German, today Alba Iulia in Romania) parallel to the rise in the power of the prince, first under the rule of the Báthory family and later in the era of the Bethlen and Rákóczi families.1 In both periods of consolidation one can clearly discern efforts to make the former seat of the Bishopric a town suited to its new role. The available seventeenth-century sources make the study and analysis of these efforts considerably simpler than research on endeavors in the sixteenth century, so in this article I offer an overview of the most important measures taken under the rule of Prince Gábor Bethlen with the aim of transforming Gyulafehérvár into the effective seat of the princedom.

The Place of Gyulafehérvár among the Cities of Transylvania

Gyulafehérvár was hardly an ideal capital. Formerly the seat of a bishopric and its chapter, its economic and legal framework, adapted primarily to satisfying the needs of its lords, could not compete with the towns of Szászsebes (Mühlbach in German, today Sebeş in Romania) or Szászváros (Broos in German, today Orăştie in Romania), for instance, both of which were in the same market district, nor could it rival Nagyenyed (Straßburg am Mieresch in German, today Aiud in Romania), another market (agricultural) town (oppidum). The new lords of the town occupied the houses of the canons and prebendaries, which had been left empty, and divided the tenants of the bishopric and chapter amongst themselves. In the second half of the sixteenth century they began to transform the town to meet their demands. Contemporaries must have perceived more clearly than we do that the medieval castle, originally developed from a Roman castrum, with its obsolete fortifications and lack of a supply of fresh water, could offer little protection in the event of a well-prepared siege.2 In the middle of the sixteenth century it was fortified at the initiative of Giambattista Castaldo with the addition of four defensive trenches, four bastions, and four artillery platforms. According to Giovanandrea Gromo, “it would have been able to withstand any large-scale attack for a time.”3

In the last three decades of the sixteenth century the first water-supply network was constructed in Gyulafehérvár, a canon foundry was created, work on the palace and churches, symbols of princely representation, was resumed, and the first residences of the municipalities appeared. It is nonetheless striking that, at least as far as we know now, little was done in these decades to strengthen the castle’s defenses.4

The most striking record of the vulnerability of the castle is perhaps the description written by István Szamosközy (Stephanus Zamosius) about the two sieges of the town in 1603. Szamosközy may have clad his narrative in a classical mantle, but hardly exaggerated the horrors he had witnessed. The state of affairs after the sieges is apparent from the attempt—doomed to failure from the outset—by Gábor Báthory to move his seat to the middle of the Saxon Lands of Transylvania, the well-fortified town of Szeben (Hermannstadt in German, today Sibiu in Romania). Immediately after assuming the throne, prince Gábor Bethlen had to promise to leave the town of Nagyszeben, not the least in order to consolidate his own situation, and the very fact that he managed to obtain a few months’ reprieve indicates that the seat of the principality was for all practical purposes uninhabitable, and even the Saxons, who were impatiently pressing for the reassertion of their privileges, had to recognize this.5

The Building Operations of Gábor Bethlen

As early as the spring of 1614 the prince made a proposal at the General Assembly in the town of Medgyes (Mediasch in German, today Mediaş in Romania) on the construction of the castle of Gyulafehérvár.6 The positive response of the estates, who offered one florin and one day-labourer per gate and one wagon with four oxen for every five gates for the building of the princely seat,7 may have been prompted by the response that the Saxon community gave to the proposal: “as regards the construction of Gyulafehérvár, we wish to shoulder a third of it, though we have suffered great losses, but only if the two nations undertake the construction work.”8

Only some of the resolutions were implemented, and when the question of the public work came up again at the assembly in Gyulafehérvár in the spring of 1615, the sixth article of the new decrees indicated that it was precisely the Saxons who had not honored the commitment they had made a year earlier. The estates decided that they should make up for the missing public work, while, on account of political situation, they postponed the affair to the autumn,9 and in October at the assembly in Kolozsvár (Klausenburg in German, today Cluj in Romania) they did adopt the resolution regarding new support for the construction.10 The work was further delayed the following spring because of the complications involving the transfer of the castle of Lippa (today Lipova in Romania). In accordance with the resolutions of the two General Assemblies held in 1616, the public work first of Zaránd county and later of all the counties, which originally had been intended for use in the construction work in Gyulafehérvár, were redirected to reinforce Borosjenő (today Ineu in Romania), which had assumed the defensive role of the castle in Lippa .11 Thus as was the case in Nagyvárad (Großwardein in German, today Oradea in Romania), the prince was only able to begin work on the construction project in the spring of 1618, still relying on the resolution of 1616, as mandates addressed to the councils of Kolozsvár and Beszterce (Bistritz in German, today Bistriţa in Romania) indicate.12 At the General Assembly held in the autumn of 1618 in Kolozsvár a resolution was again passed regarding the “construction in Gyulafehérvár” and a pledge was made to begin work by the spring of 1619.13 Data from 1619 suggest that the work had progressed significantly, if perhaps with some delays.14 The lines of a panegyric composed in December 1619 by Pál Háportoni Forró describe the prevailing circumstances before the first military campaign into Northern Hungary: “Over the past summer in the princes’ residence, Gyulafehérvár, something wondrous, having started building reinforcements for two large bastions, with these large defensive bastions in many places at the same time and all simultaneously they built with such diligence that it seemed to grow not by the work of hands, but on its own.”15

The construction work in the town lost considerable momentum at the time of the military campaign into Northern Hungary (1619–1621). At the General Assembly in Gyulafehérvár in 1620 the issue of the bastions was again on the agenda and the estates decided at the time to continue the construction work, “that we not be seen as having left our work half-completed in the case of such a grand and good, praiseworthy issue.”16 As is made clear by decisions reached in May 1622 regarding the completion of the communal work and its yearly accomplishments, construction continued the following year, in spite of the fact that the National Assembly requested a temporary suspension of the work on account of the increased tax to be paid to the Porte.17 This decision settled the question of the construction work until the end of the prince’s reign.18 Records that can be dated to 1623 indicate that the Chapel of Saint Nicholas, which was not far from the southwest corner of the castle, was demolished by then, as was part of the old castle wall.19 The Chronicon Fuchsio–Lupino–Oltardinum, a source written in Saxon that is sprinkled with numerous details (which given the contemporary nature of the source are in all likelihood authentic), reports on the construction of the two bastions.20 Under the year 1627 a passage that was written not long after 1629 summarizing the virtues of the prince gives an account of the events in Gyulafehérvár. This section contains lifelike descriptions that could not be familiar either to the nineteenth-century editor Joseph Trausch or to the authors of the texts on which he drew. They make it possible for us to understand the essence of the 1614 decision of the Diet, namely that the prince assumed responsibility for the task of building the southwest corner bastion (which contained his palace) and the Saxons undertook to build the southeast bastion, known as Kendervár, which surrounded the foundry where canons would be cast. The construction of the two northern bastions of the castle was made the task of the counties and the seats of the Székely Land.

The prince did a “laudable” job discharging his responsibility, as did the Saxons, who in 1627 left a monument to the task they had performed, a composition consisting of an inscription and a suit of coats of arms on the Kendervár bastion. The authenticity of the records is confirmed by the description of the shields in the coats of arms and by the names: Valentinus Laurentii alias Pfaff (a senator from Szeben and the foreman who oversaw the construction of the bastion), Michael Lutsch (the royal judge of Nagyszeben), and Colomann Gotzmeister (the Saxon count). The coats of arms allude to a seal21 used at the Saxon University as early as 1372 and even after 1659, with the significant difference that according to the description, quite possibly at the whim or even involuntary reflex of the nineteenth-century editor, the eagle, which looked to the right and thus was a symbol of Louis I of the House of Anjou (king of Hungary from 1342 to 1382) as king of Poland (from 1370 to 1382), was modified to form an Aquila Biceps, the two-headed eagle who looks both left and right. Also the crown above the composition was omitted, probably from the original as well. After 1714 these adornments were demolished and therefore were no longer available for view.

Also underpinning the authenticy of our source is the anecdote cited, whose explicitly Saxon point of view, the keen censure of the county nobility, and the emphasis on the financial burdens shouldered by the Saxon community all seem to stem from a contemporary experience. The anecdote also sheds light on the resolutions of the General Assembly regarding the project: the prince and the three nations had agreed to made additions and fortifications to the castle, but the resolutions had not addressed the construction of palace at the expense of the prince or the reconstruction of the towers of the cathedral, which was also launched at the initiative of Gábor Bethlen. The coats of arms on the bastion built by the Saxon nation and the content of the inscription demonstrate that this was indeed a shared undertaking. The skilled workers (masons, brick-makers, people who worked the lime-kilns and carpenters) were paid out of the financial contributions and the wains and unskilled workers worked under their oversight.22

As skilled craftsmen could usually only be found in the towns where the guilds were located, their participation in the construction project hit the communities in which they lived hard. The loss of time that came with travel and poor organization, and the limited payment in the 1620s, hardly made the work attractive to them, although it was included as an obligation in their charters of incorporation and was considered one of their obligations to the prince. This explains the desertions and the “ruses” mentioned in letters by the prince and Simon Pécsi. The prince was able to build his own bastion, as was the Saxon nation, but there was hardly any workforce with which to construct the bastions of the counties and the Székely seats. Much of the edifices, which resemble the bastions in Várad, still stand today. They were incorporated into the eighteenth-century ring of fortifications, thus allowing us to draw approximate conclusions regarding the extent of the construction efforts. The face of the western (“prince’s”) bastion, which is between the two bastions that were added to the southern corners of the 340×340 meter square of the former Roman castle, is 119.5 meters high. It is joined to the castle wall by a 21 meter gorge with casemate. A 76 meter long part of the face of the partially destroyed Saxon bastion on the eastern corner is still standing today.

At the same time, the distance between the two southern bastions, roughly 435 meters, indicates that on the southern side a third of the curtain wall was covered by the bastions, so the firepower of the castle grew dramatically. The mantle of the bastions, which were edged with ashlar, were built of brick, except for a strip in the middle third of the prince’s bastion, which was built of blocks of unhewn stone. The beveled base of the bastions were separated from the upper band of the wall face by a semicircular string-course built of brick. The bastions were only later filled with pebbles and dirt, probably during the reign of György Rákóczi (who ruled from 1630 to 1648). The princess Zsuzsanna Lorántffy’s hanging garden was made at that time in the southwest bastion.23 The flora and structure changed with the fashions in gardening, but to this day it still retains something of its spirit of a bygone age, with its winding paths and their Roman inscriptions and its quiet nooks, which invite one to meditate and reflect.

Kovács András cikkhez  fmt

Figure 1. The Fortifications of the Castle of Gyulafehérvár. 1687. Sketch by an Italian Military Engineer.
Magyar Nemzeti Múzeum, Magyar Történelmi Képcsarnok. T. 8913.

The next step in the project, however, the complete construction of the defensive ring, was not continued under Gábor Bethlen, and one finds no reference to it in later sources either.24 In spite of the fact that in other places György I. Rákóczi sedulously continued the work of building castles begun by his predecessor, no further fortifications were made to the town of Gyulafehérvár. We can do little more than venture tentative hypotheses as to the underlying reasons. The aforementioned difficulty of procuring the necessary skilled craftsmen might well have been one significant factor, but one might also consider the possibility that in the meantime the builders themselves had noticed, perhaps with some astonishment, the indefensibility of the castle, the inadequacy of its corner fortifications, and the vulnerability of the walls—which were surrounded by little more than dry ditches—to mines, and their observations would have been all the more keen given the growth in the role of artillery at the time.25

This explanation for the dwindling interest in the fortifications of Gyulafehérvár is also supported by indirect observations. The resolutions of the General Assemblies make clear that the estates made financial contributions in order to meet their obligations with regards to support for the construction instead of actually contributing to the workforce.26 In all certainty György Rákóczi did not use these sums to compensate for the work left undone by sending the tenants from his estates, thus one can conclude that the construction of the castle was simply not resumed. Instead of continuing work on the Gyulafehérvár castle, the prince had to search for other solutions in the event of an attack against him and his court.27 The castle of the town of Fogaras (in German Fugreschmarkt, today Făgăraş in Romania), which belonged to the princess, seemed the perfect place to take refuge. It had wide moats and as of the end of the late sixteenth century an external ring of defensive fortifications with four bastions, three of which had been built between 1619 and 1626 and perfected during the reign of György I Rákóczi. What is more, in 1638 in a profession of allegiance to György I. Rákóczi the people of Szeben pledged to allow the prince and his escort entry into the well-fortified town “in a time of need.”28 This pledge constituted a recognition of the fact that, considering the prevailing circumstances in Transylvania in the middle of the seventeenth century, Gyulafehérvár could not be effectively defended from potential threats. It is therefore hardly surprising that a “Lusthaus” was built to fill the southwest bastion and the castle walls that formed the southern front of the prince’s palace contain a row of Renaissance windows, indicating that by the late years of the reign of Gábor Bethlen, who had initiated the transformation of the structure, any thought of preparing the castle to endure a serious siege had been abandoned. Parallel to the fortification of the castle of Gyulafehérvár, work also began on projects to beautify the seat of the principality. Under his rule, which lasted barely fifteen years, a two-storied block consisting of three courtyards began to take form in the southwest corner of the castle the floor plan of which was 195×69 meters. It was intended to fulfill a symbolic function as a representation of the ruling house and an example for all of the construction work taking place across Transylvania of new technical and ornamental innovations. In the early years of the prince’s rule, parallel to work done on the palace in order to make it a livable dwelling place, the cathedral, which had been badly damaged in the upheavals of the turn of the century, was restored and later continuously embellished and beautified.

The revivification of the town as the seat of the principality constituted a more difficult task. The sieges, the abuses of the military administration, the flight that took place in 1603, the absence of the prince’s court (which was the foundation of the economy of the town) for a prolonged period of time doomed the people of the town to a state of stagnation or prompted them to leave and seek their fortunes elsewhere. In January 1614 the prince saw to it that Gyulafehérvár regain its privileges (which it had lost in the course of the wars), and he granted the people of the town exemption from taxation.29 The letter of privilege that was issued in 1625 helped populate and revive the town. With this letter, Gábor Bethlen exempted his subjects in Gyulafehérvár from taxation and service, with the exception of the construction of Kendervár, the cultivation of the prince’s garden, and maintenance of the Gálffy house (which was used to receive foreign emissaries) and the water-supply network, which was still under construction. The letter of privilege also enabled new arrivals to the town, regardless of their origins, to purchase any vacant lot at the appraisal value if they undertook to build on it.30 The new water-supply network, the construction of which had begun in the 1620s, also helped further the reconstruction of the castle and the town. By the end of the prince’s rule the network reached the wells in front of his palace,31 and in the following decade the water that came from the springs in the western vineyard, which flowed into the town through underground tile pipes four kilometers long, was fed into the palace, the hanging garden in the southwest bastion, and the prince’s garden along the southern side of the castle.32

In the last years of Gábor Bethlen’s rule the area around the palace (which in the meantime had grown) and the town behind the castle walls were also renovated and restored. Ever since the era of the Báthory family it had been customary for the counties, towns, and county seats within the borders of the principality to procure housing in the town for the representatives they sent to Gyulafehérvár. According to the earliest relevant sources, the towns of Szeben,33 Brassó34 (Kronstadt in German, today Braşov in Romania), and Kolozsvár35 all had houses in Gyulafehérvár.36 Later sources dating from the end of the seventeenth century indicate that in practice every municipality had a house in the seat of the principality. These buildings varied significantly. Alongside the prestigious houses found within the castle walls there were more modest houses in the outskirts that were used solely as lodgings for emissaries to the General Assemblies, who came to address questions that had arisen at the court. In the last years of the prince’s rule the owners of these houses and their households were obligated by a decree of the General Assembly to rebuild their homes and to replace the wood tiles of the roofs with earthenware tiles in order to prevent the spread of fire.37

The work began, as we can conclude on the basis of information pertaining to the Kolozsvár house,38 though in all likelihood not all of the buildings were completed by the new target date, the autumn of 1629.39 The prince had another, more ambitious plan for the town as well, though one finds only one modest (but all the more valuable) reference to it in the sources. In the middle of September 1627 György Sükösd, the builder of the manor house in Alsórákos (Ratsch in German, today Racoş in Romania) sent a letter to the magistrate and council of Beszterce regarding the town’s house in Gyulafehérvár. The letter indicates that in the early fall the prince himself had attempted to transform the town according to his own visions.40 He had designated sites where each of the counties, towns, and “other posts” would build houses for their emissaries to the town, without, however, giving any consideration to the question of who owned the houses that already existed. According to the letter he also ordered the servants of his court to purchase the houses in the street in which the house for the town of Beszterce was found at appraisal value, regardless of their location or distinctive features or the demands of the market, i.e. for much less than the actual value of the buildings and the plots of land. The author of the letter asked the council to allow him to purchase the house that was in the possession of the town of Beszterce.

What is surprising about the letter is not that Sükösd wanted to obtain permission to purchase the Beszterce house, but rather that the prince hoped to take advantage of a decades-old tradition of purchasing homes in order to transform the town of Gyulafehérvár, and he sought to do so in the spirit of the early representatives of Renaissance attitudes to architecture and the visions of Utopian thinkers regarding social engineering by separating topographically, within the town, the political representatives of the estates, counties and towns. There is no trace in the letter of any kind of solidarity among the estates. The author seeks simply to obtain more comfortable lodgings in the town by presenting himself as a supporter of the prince’s will.

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Figure 2. The castle of Gyulafehérvár and its surroundings in 1711. On the basis of a detail from the survey by Giovanni Morando Visconti.

1. Saint George’s Gate. 2. Saint Michael’s Gate. 3. Prince’s palace. 3.a Deanery, later the stables of the prince’s palace. 5. Jesuit church and cloister (small college). 7. The Collegium Academicum. 9. Kendervár–Armamentarium. 11. The Gálffy House (?). 13. The Gyulaffy House. 14. Saint Michael’s Cathedral. 15. Marketplace. 16. Church of the Blessed Virgin (in 1711 it was still the Church of Saint Michael. 16.b Saint Nicholas Street.

The prince’s vision for the town was an impossible Utopia. Not surprisingly, the owners protested against his plans to dispossess them and turn over buildings they had owned and maintained for years as representative edifices, in particular the towns that stood to lose their houses. Nonetheless the plan itself clearly fits into the series of measures described above, measures that were undertaken by the prince with the intention of transforming Gyulafehérvár into a genuine capital. It offers a sense of the bustle and haste that were characteristic of the last years of his rule. One discerns no trace whatsoever of his attempt in the 1711 drawing by Visconti, which essentially depicts the town much as it stood in 1658, after the changes that had been made under the rule of Gábor Bethlen. Szász street (which was also known as Szeben street), where the town of Beszterce purchased a house in 1624 for 110 florins (the very house György Sükösd had hoped to acquire), was probably the street that ran between the college and the eastern castle wall, continuing from there along the northern wall of the castle, the street in which the house purchased by the town of Beszterce in 1624 was found, in a prestigious neighborhood, near the home of scribe András Tordai and the houses owned by Segesvár (Schäßburg in German, today Sighişoara in Romanian), Medgyes, Brassó, and Szeben.41

The plan for the edifice of the “upright” college also fits, both chronologically and from the perspective of its ambitiousness, into the prince’s plans to transform the town. This plan began to take form at the same time as the abovementioned initiatives, i.e. 1627–1628. In the spring of 1622 the General Assembly decided on the construction of the college. The site was to be the buildings—which lay in ruins—of the Franciscan and later Jesuit cloister in Farkas street in Kolozsvár. However, this resolution notwithstanding, the college began to function that year in Gyulafehérvár in the former Jesuit cloister and school42 that had been used decades earlier, in all likelihood as a gift of Gábor Báthory, by the Calvinist school, which had been given the title of college by the Jesuit priest István Szini. In response to the changes that took place after 1622 (primarily in 1623) following the departure of Martin Opitz and his adherents, in the fall of 1624 István Szini may have told his superiors that Gábor Bethlen was building something in Gyulafehérvár similar to what had been destroyed by Tilly in 1622: “Heidelbergensem Academiam hic erigere conatur, accersitis undique professoribus, inter quos est Molnar et Gallus quidam Rupensis professor.”43 The prince’s plans, however, were realized only very slowly. This is indicated, for instance, by the failure of the plans to invite Albert Szenczi Molnár, which corroborates Szini’s contentions.44 The turn came in 1627–1628, when at the command of the prince the construction of the new college began. According to the Saxon source cited earlier, while the craftsmen and artisans were at work on the construction project, the prince sent Gáspár Bojthi Veres to Germany to bring professors to the college. He returned from this “fact finding” trip, from the German village of Herborn, in December 1628 and recommended Alstedt, Bisterfeld and Piscator to the prince. In May 1629 he traveled back to Germany with letters of invitation from the prince, and the younger and more mobile Bisterfeld returned with him to Transylvania in August.

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Figure 3. The Collegium Academicum

1. A sketch of the Jesuit Church, the façade of the “upright” college, and the Saint George’s Gate in 1711 in the survey by Giovanni Morando Visconti. 2. The floor plan of the Jesuit church, the cloister, the “upright” college and Saint George’s Gate in 1711. 3. The Jesuit Church, the college, and the remains of the barbican in front of Saint George’s Gate (which was turned into a gunpowder mill) in 1736 in the survey by Conrad von Weiss.

In the meantime work on the college had progressed, and according to our source by the time of the death of the prince roughly a third of it had been completed.45 As is the case with the previous citation, this contention is retrospective, and in later rewritings and variants the history of the college included events of the eighteenth century as well, but the source offers a precise account of the information that is relevant here, namely the travels of Gáspár Bojthi Veres, as is evident if one compares it with other sources.46 The return of the court historian to Segesvár with “certain Calvinist books” again appears to be based on personal experience, so the information regarding the dimensions and unfinished state of the construction seems credible, and it is confirmed by József Benkő’s Transylvania specialis, written entirely independently of the source mentioned here.47

Two texts that were only recently discovered and have not yet been consulted with regards to the history of the college offer further significant information. Both of them date from 1716 and both are the work of András Zilahi, a professor at the college who was writing on the history of the school, the legal status of the disputed properties of the Church in Gyulafehérvár, and the status of the Calvinist Church in general.48 Writing on the college,49 he contends that the Jesuit college, which had been in the possession of the Calvinist Church until 1702 and had provided lodgings for “private” students from Gyulafehérvár whose board was paid for out of tax revenues, might have been given to the school by Gábor Báthory. The college, he claims, was built by the prince himself on his own hereditary noble plot.50 Work was begun on the unfinished wing of the building in the middle of the courtyard on the model of the German academies to serve as an auditorium, hostel, classroom, and a library. The other source reveals that there were some thirty rooms in the eastern and southern wings of the eastern courtyard (including the rooms on the upper floor, of which the author of the letter makes no specific mention). One can discern these rooms, with their more antiquated vaulting, in the floor plan of the ground floor today, thus the division of the space has not changed much with the passage of time. The cross-wing (the base of which can be seen in the floor plans dating from 1711), which divides the two irregular courtyards, was not destroyed in the catastrophe of 1658–1661. On the contrary it had not even been built. It was intended to house the building’s lecture rooms and library, which in the end were built on the ground floor of the southern wing.

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Figure 4. The floor plan of the building of the former college in the 1960s.

A later change, as a consequence of the transformation of the building of the college into barracks, the four almost symmetrically arranged gateways and the 1711 outlines of the courtyard were filled in with the wings that were built or rebuilt before 1736. The arcaded loggia of the western courtyard was cemented to the wall face later, presumably in the second half of the eighteenth century, because its ceiling covers the keystone of the baroque stone frame of the barracks gate. The rows of rooms on the northern side also were built in the course of later transformations, as was the present-day main front, which after the demolition of the Saint George’s Gate looks out on the west side onto a new little street. The question of the locations of the two bakeries mentioned in the text still awaits further research, as does the question of the number and location of the cellars, which from the perspective of preliminary architectural structures is of decisive importance. It is quite certain, however, that the outlines of the floor plans of the ensemble of buildings are in concurrence with the outlines on the survey of 1711. Thus the survey offers a credible image of the Collegium Academicum, visions of which Gábor Bethlen and his advisors based on the Heidelberg University destroyed by Tilly.51

Some of the primary sources on the construction have not yet been found. One could perhaps draw conclusions on the basis of references to the gratuitus labor in the resolutions of the 1629 General Assembly, since some of the information available regarding the construction of the college later, under the rule of György I. Rákóczi, includes mention of construction work done as part of a communal project52 that was interrupted (and brought to an end) in 1638–1639, when, again in the wake of a decision of the General Assembly, the reconstruction of the Kolozsvár church and school in Farkas street began.

Archival Sources

Arhivele Naţionale ale României, Direcţia Judeţeană Cluj

Archives of the Town of Beszterce

Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára, Erdélyi Kormányhatósági Levéltárak, [National Archives of Hungary, Archives of the National Governmental Authorities of Transylvania]

Budapest F 49 Archivum Gubernii Transilvanici (in Politicis)

Erdélyi Református Egyházkerület Központi Gyűjtőlevéltára [Central Archives of the Transylvanian Calvinist Diocese], Az Erdélyi Református Főkonzisztórium Levéltára [Archives of the Transylvanian Calvinist Consistory] Cluj-Napoca

Akadémiai Könyvtár [Library of the Academy] Erdélyi Nemzeti Múzeum Levéltára [Archives of the Transylvanian National Museum] Cluj-Napoca

Collection of Sámuel Kemény: Chartophylatium Transsilvanicum, Mss. 3/X. (Religiosa)


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Benkő, Josephus. Pars posterior sive specialis Magni Principatus Transylvaniae cognition. Vol. 1. Egyetemi Könyvtár [University Library] (Cluj-Napoca), Erdélyi Múzeum-Egyesület Könyvtára [Library of the Transylvanian Museum Society, Manuscripts], Mss 217.

Documente privind istoria Romîniei. Introducere. Vol. 2. Bukarest: Editura Academiei, 1956.

Herepei, János. “Adatok Szenczi Molnár Albert életéhez. Az 1624. esztendei útról” [Data on the Life of Albert Szenczi Molnár. On the Voyage of 1624]. In Adattár XVII. századi szellemi mozgalmaink történetéhez [Reference Book on the History of the Intellectual Movements of the Seventeenth Century], vol. 1, edited by Bálint Keserű, 14–17. Budapest–Szeged: Szegedi József Attila Tudományegyetem Magyar Irodalomtörténeti Intézet, 1965.

Herepei, János. “Adatok Szenczi Molnár Albert életéhez. Az 1624. esztendei útról.” In Adattár XVII. századi szellemi mozgalmaink történetéhez, vol. 1, edited by Bálint Keserű, 11–13. Budapest–Szeged: Szegedi József Attila Tudományegyetem Magyar Irodalomtörténeti Intézet, 1965.

Ötvös, Ágoston, ed. “Közlemények a gyulafehérvári városi tanács Vörös Könyvéből” [Publications from the Red Book of the Town Council of Gyulafehérvár]. Delejtű 2 (1859): 270. Nos. XI, XIII.

Szalárdi, János Siralmas magyar krónikája [The Piteous Hungarian Chronicle]. Prepared for publication by Ferenc Szakály. Budapest: Magyar Helikon, 1980.

Szamosközy, István. Analecta Lapidum. 1593. Inscriptiones romanae. 1598. Edited by Bálint Keserű. Szeged: Scriptum, 1992.

Szamosközy, István. Történeti maradványai [Historical Remnants]. Vol. 3. Published by Sándor Szilágyi. Budapest: MTA, 1877.

EOE = Szilágyi, Sándor, ed. Erdélyi Országgyűlési Emlékek [Documents of Transylvanian Assemblies]. 21 vols. (1540–1699). Budapest: Magyar Tudományos Akadémia, 1875–1898.

Szilágyi, Sándor. A két Rákóczi György fejedelem családi levelezése [The Family Correspondence of the Two György Rákóczi Princes]. Budapest: MTA, 1875.

Trausch, Josephus. Chronicon Fuchsio–Lupino–Oltardinum sive annales hungarici et transilvanici. Vol. 1. Coronae: Gött, 1847.

Veress, Andrei. Documente privitoare la istoria Ardealului, Moldovei şi Ţării Româneşti [Documents Concerning the History of Transylvania, Moldova, and Romanian Lands]. Vol. 2. Bukarest: Cartea Romaneasca, 1930.


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Balogh, Jolán. Kolozsvári kőfaragó műhelyek. XVI. század [Stone-Cutters Workshops of Kolozsvár. Seventeenth Century]. Budapest: Hungarian Academy of Science, Research Group for Art History, 1986.

Cserni, Béla. “A Bethlen Gábor-féle vízvezeték Gyulafehérvárt” [The Gábor Bethlen Water-Supply Network of Gyulafehérvár]. Az Alsófehérmegyei Történelmi, Régészeti és Természettudományi Társulat Évkönyve [Yearbook of the Historical, Archeological, and Natural Sciences Society of Alsófehér County] 11 (1908): 53–61.

Jakó, Sigismund. “Sigilografia cu referire la Transilvania (Pînă la sfîrşitul secolului al XV-lea).” In Documente privind istoria Romîniei. Introducere, vol. 2, 561–619. Bukarest: Editura Academiei, 1956.

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Kovács, András. “Humanista epigráfusok adalékai Gyulafehérvár közép- és koraújkori helyrajzához” [Additional Data on the Humanist Epigraphists and the Medieval and Early Modern Topography of Gyulafehérvár]. In Szamosközy, István. Analecta Lapidum. 1593. Inscriptiones romanae. 1598, edited by Bálint Keserű, 25–36. Szeged: Scriptum, 1992.

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Translated by Thomas Cooper

1 Zsolt Trócsányi, Az erdélyi fejedelemség korának országgyűlései (Adalék az erdélyi rendiség történetéhez) (Budapest: Akadémiai, 1976), 20–22.

2 On the defensibility of medieval castles, see András Kovács, “Gyulafehérvár, az erdélyi püspökök középkori székhelye,” in Márton Áron-emlékkönyv születésének 100. évfordulóján, ed. József Marton (Kolozsvár: Gloria, 1996), 191–201.

3 According to a letter written by Giovanandrea Gromo around 1567 “...il Castaldo l’haveva posta in sicura difesa, havendolo aiutata di quattro bravi fianchi Reali et quattro piattaforme di terra in modo che havendo le necessarie provisioni dentro puó difendersi un tempo da ogni grosso sforzo.” See Jolán Balogh, Kolozsvári kőfaragó műhelyek. XVI. század (Budapest: Hungarian Academy of Science Research Group for Art History, 1986), 278. A later source: István Szamosközy, Történeti maradványai, vol. 3, published by Sándor Szilágyi (Budapest: MTA, 1877), 51–52. In general makes mention of “bastions” with separate mention of a kind of bastion-like structure at the southwest corner, adding that fortifications from the time of Emperor Ferdinand were ruined by the inattentiveness of the leaders. See Balogh, Kolozsvári kőfaragó műhelyek, 268.

4 Marianna H. Takács, Magyarországi udvarházak és kastélyok (Budapest: Akadémiai, 1970), 194, and Balogh, Kolozsvári kőfaragó műhelyek, 279.

5 Sándor Szilágyi, ed., Erdélyi országgyűlési emlékek (henceforth EOE), vol. 6/21 (Budapest: MTA, 1875–1898), 389–91, January 9–13, 1614. (Nagyszeben).

6 Gate = a unit for the collection of taxes, the aggregate of the serf families living on a plot of land behind one gate. EOE, vol. 7, 406, art. 6: “Feirvár lévén ennek utána az fejedelemnek lakóhelye és metropolisa, annak épétésére és megerősítésére valóban egy értelemből viselnénk gondot…” [“Gyulafehérvár being after this the residence and town of the prince, we understandably will see to its construction and fortification.”]

7 Ibid., 414–15, art. 7.

8 Ibid., 410.

9 Ibid., 249.

10 Ibid., 277, art. 4.

11 Ibid., 325, 386. April 17 – May 7, 1616. National Assembly, Gyulafehérvár, art. 13, and October 9 – November 7, 1616. National Assembly, Segesvár, art. 4.

12 Archives of the Town of Beszterce in Arhivele Naţionale ale României, Direcţia Judeţeană Cluj (henceforth: AB), 49. May 21, 1618, Várad. The postscript from Gábor Bethlen’s letter to the magistrate of Beszterce; Arhivele Naţionale ale României, Direcţia Judeţeană Cluj (henceforth ANRC), accounts k. 14b, fasc. XXI, 91, May 21, 1618 – June 18, 1618; ibid., fasc. XVIII, 137, July 13, 1618.

13 EOE, vol. 7, 490, art. 6.

14 ANRC, Fasc. III, 227, August 5, 1619. Gyulafehérvár. Gábor Bethlen to Imre Gellyén, chief magistrate of Kolozsvár; ANRC, Accounts k. 15a, fasc. XI, 187, August 6, 1619; ANRC, Fasc. III, 245, august 12, 1619. Gyulafehérvár. Simon Pécsi, on the instructions of Bethlen Gábor, to the Kolozsvár council.

15 “Debrecenben, Karácson havának 18. napján, 1619. esztendőben,” Pál Háportoni Forró’s recommendatory letter to the translation of Quintus Curtius, in Bethlen Gábor emlékezete, ed. László Makkai (Budapest: Magyar Helikon, 1980), 587.

16 EOE, vol. 7, 541, art. 6.

17 Ibid., 555. April 24–29, 1621, (Gyulafehérvár): art. 1.

18 EOE, vol. 8, 96, art. 5.

19 András Kovács, “Humanista epigráfusok adalékai Gyulafehérvár közép- és koraújkori helyrajzához,” in István Szamosközy, Analecta Lapidum. 1593. Inscriptiones romanae. 1598, ed. Bálint Keserű (Szeged: Scriptum, 1992), 31.

20 Josephus Trausch, Chronicon Fuchsio–Lupino–Oltardinum sive annales hungarici et transilvanici, vol. 1 (Coronae: Gött, 1847), 309–10.

21 Sigismund Jakó, “Sigilografia cu referire la Transilvania (Pînă la sfîrşitul secolului al XV-lea),” in

Documente privind istoria Romîniei. Introducere, vol. 2 ([Bukarest]: Editura Academiei, 1956), 606–7.

22 The equal division of the work of the construction in Gyulafehérvár between the nations of Transylvania resembles—almost hauntingly—a plan that to this day has not been given the praise it deserves. The plan began to take form towards the end of the reign of János Zsigmond at the National Assembly in January 1571. It was left unfinished because of the prince’s death. The “enclosure” around Szászsebes, which needed to be modernized, was divided into four parts between the estates and the prince. See EOE, vol. 2, 375–77. The construction in Gyulafehérvár mentioned in the third footnote may have been a kind of precursor to the construction in the seventeenth century. If this were to prove to be the case, it would illustrate the continuity of the same attempts to address similar tasks and the deep roots of these efforts, which may have stretched back to the Middle Ages.

23 Szalárdi János Siralmas magyar krónikája, prepared for publication by Ferenc Szakály (Budapest: Magyar Helikon, 1980), 300–1.

24 Ibid., 96.

25 It is worth noting that even one-hundred years later the newly built complex ring of fortifications would only have been considered defensible from the south if it had also been possible to fortify the nearby Akasztófa (Gallows) Hill with a crown of ramparts. The plan remained unfinished because the castle lost its strategic importance. One notes in the case of the construction projects of György I. Rákóczi along the Görgény River and in the settlement of Déva that the increasing effectiveness of canons made it necessary to extend the defensive belt. See Szalárdi, Siralmas magyar krónikája, 295.

26 EOE, vol. 9, 138: 1638; 218–19, 219–20: 1639; 278: 1640; 311–12: 1641; 327: 1642; 365–66: 1643.

27 At the time of the attack of István Bethlen in 1636 the prince sent his family to the border fortress of Nagyvárad, which seemed like a safe place of refuge. True, the unflagging loyalty of Mihály Ibrányi, the commander of Nagyvárad, also played a role in his decision, as did the proximity of Sárospatak, the center of his estates.

28 EOE, vol. 9, 150, art. 4: May 7, 1638.

29 In January 1614 the prince renewed and strengthened the privileges that the town had lost during the time of wars. He also took measures concerning the use of arable land, the mill, and the market duties. See Ágoston Ötvös, “Közlemények a gyulafehérvári városi tanács Vörös Könyvéből,” Delejtű 2 (1859): 270, XI and XIII.

30 August 19, 1625. Károly Veszely, “Képek Gyulafehérvár múltjából,” Az Alsófehérmegyei Történelmi, Régészeti és Természettudományi Társulat Évkönyve 6 (1894): 40–41.

31 Szalárdi, Siralmas magyar krónikája, 96.

32 Cserni Béla, “A Bethlen Gábor-féle vízvezeték Gyulafehérvárt,” Az Alsófehérmegyei Történelmi, Régészeti és Természettudományi Társulat Évkönyve 11 (1908): 53–61; Gheorghe Anghel, “Date noi în legătură cu apeductele medievale de la Alba Iulia,” Sargetia 5 (1968): 155–63. The water-supply network was linked to the palace between 1636 and 1639 with the assistance of János Csorgós from Hungary: ANRC, Accounts, k. 21a, fasc. II, 487: January 2, 1636. and AB, 87: May 14, 1639. In 1640 one spout worked in the princess’ quarters. See Sándor Szilágyi, A két Rákóczi György fejedelem családi levelezése (Budapest: MTA, 1875), 62. Giovanni Fontanici of Venice supposedly built fountains in Gyulafehérvár sometime before 1655. See Andrei Kovács and Mircea Ţoca, “Arhitecţi italieni în Transilvania în cursul secolelor al XVI-lea şi al XVII-lea,” Studia Universitatis “Babeş–Bolyai,” Series Historica 18 (1973): 32–33.

33 Andrei Veress, Documente privitoare la istoria Ardealului, Moldovei şi Ţării Româneşti, vol. 2 (Bukarest: Cartea Romaneasca, 1930), 246–47; Balogh, Kolozsvári kőfaragó műhelyek, 292, 379.

34 Gernot Nussbächer, “Contribuţii documentare privind dezvoltarea arhitectonică a oraşului Alba Iulia în secolul al XVII-lea,” Apulum 20 (1982): 185–92.

35 The contract was drawn up on September 18, 1591: ANRC, fasc. IV, 101–2. They received their letters patent from Zsigmond Rákóczi on May 12, 1607.

36 The assessment of taxes that was prepared on October 26, 1698 following the fall of the princedom only lists buildings that were inhabited by taxpayers. Within the castle walls, the houses belonging to the cities of Kolozsvár, Nagyszeben, Brassó, Medgyes and Szászsebes were listed. The houses that were listed but fell outside the town walls include: in Saint Mihály street the house owned by Nagyenyed, in Tövis street the house owned by Csíkszék, in Kis Lippa street the house owned by Marosszék and Csíkszék, in Nagy Lippa street the house owned by the “Lugosi gentlemen,” in Boldog Asszony street the house owned by Udvarhelyszék, in Sárdi street the house owned by Doboka county, in Temető street the house owned by Újegyházszék, in Vinci street the house owned by Aranyosszék, Kézdivásárhely and Szászváros, in Nagy Tégla street the house owned by Debrecen. Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára, Erdélyi Kormányhatósági Levéltárak [National Archives of Hungary, Archives of the National Governmental Authorities of Transylvania], F 49 Archivum Gubernii Transilvanici (in Politicis) no. 577/1698.

37 EOE, vol. 8, 369. The National Assembly held in Gyulafehérvár on April 4–10, 1627, art. 3.

38 EOE, vol. 8, 375: March 3, 1629: ANRC Accounts k. 18a, fasc. II, 568; March 9, 1629: ibid., 570; November 10, 1629: ibid., 647; February 24, 1630: ibid., fac. VII, 307; February 8, 1630: ibid., 269; February 9, 1630: ibid., 271.

39 EOE, vol. 8, 494. The National Assembly held on April 8–24, 1629, art. 2.

40 AB 141, September 15, 1627. György Sükösd’s letter to the chief magistrate of Beszterce.

41 AB 14, February 17, 1624.

42 I will dispense with listing the rich secondary literature on the beginnings of the Collegium Academicum of Gyulafehérvár. On my ideas regarding the materials of the building and the sources on which these ideas are based see András Kovács, “Colegiul Academic de la Alba Iulia,” Ars Transsilvaniae 4 (1994): 35–47.

43 The reports of István Szini: Erdélyi és hódoltsági jezsuita missziók, vol. 1/2, 1617–1625, ed. Mihály Balázs et. al (Szeged: József Attila Tudományegyetem, 1990), no. 163, 267; no. 189, 307–8; no. 314, 433. On the possible gift of Gábor Báthory see footnote 49.

44 János Herepei, “Adatok Szenczi Molnár Albert életéhez. Az 1624. esztendei útról,” in Adattár XVII. századi szellemi mozgalmaink történetéhez, vol. 1, ed. Bálint Keserű (Budapest–Szeged: Szegedi József Attila Tudományegyetem Magyar Irodalomtörténeti Intézet, 1965), 11–13.

45 Trausch, Chronicon, 310–11.

46 Kovács, Colegiul. See footnote 13.

47 Josephus Benkő, Pars posterior sive specialis Magni Principatus Transylvaniae cognitio, vol. 1, 69–70. Egyetemi Könyvtár [University Library] (Cluj-Napoca), Erdélyi Múzeum-Egyesület Könyvtára [Library of the Transylvanian Museum Society], Mss 217. See Kovács, Colegiul, footnote 44/25.

48 Akadémiai Könyvtár [Library of the Academy] (Kolozsvár), Erdélyi Nemzeti Múzeum Levéltára [Archives of the Transylvanian National Museum], Collection of Sámuel Kemény: Chartophylatium Transsilvanicum, Mss 3/X. (Religiosa), a composition of professor András Zilahi from before February 28, 1716: Declaratio collegii et templi Albensis; Erdélyi Református Egyházkerület Központi Gyűjtőlevéltára [Central Archives of the Transylvanian Calvinist Diocese], Az Erdélyi Református Főkonzisztórium Levéltára [Archives of the Transylvanian Calvinist Consistory] 5/1716, February 28, 1716. Letter of András Zilahi to András Szentkereszti. Professor Zsigmond Jakó called my attention to the first and archivist Gábor Sipos to the latter.

49 Letter of András Zilahi, ibid.

50 In 1596 one of the neighbors of the house of Mihály and Gábor Lenchés built by Brassó mentioned “domus orphanorum magnifici quondam Volfgangi Bethlen de Iktár” in Szász street. See Nussbächer, Contribuţii documentare, 185.

51 Letter of András Zilahi, see footnote 49.

52 Kovács, Colegiul, 42–44.


pdfVolume 2 Issue 4 CONTENTS

Zsuzsanna Cziráki

Prince Gábor Bethlen’s Visits to Brassó as Reflected in the Town Account Books*

This study deals with one of the most remarkable periods in the history of the Principality of Transylvania, the reign of Gábor Bethlen. At the center of the study is an occurrence during Bethlen’s reign that might be described as ordinary: the reception of the Transylvanian prince in Brassó, one of the most important towns of his land and of the territorially autonomous Saxon Universitas (Saxon Land). As an organic part of the princely services encumbering the Saxon towns, hosting the prince was a basic component of the relationship between the Saxon communities and the prince. Accordingly, a more thorough understanding of these events also sheds light on the prevailing relationship between princely power and the Saxon communities. The basis for the analysis is provided by a distinctive group of sources, the account books of the chief economic official of Brassó, the Stadthann (also villicus, quaestor). The entries and comments contained in the account books help to familiarize us with the ceremonial framework for the distinguished guest’s stay in Brassó, the organizational tasks performed by the town as well as the mechanisms of town administration behind them. At the same time, they also offer a glimpse into the eating habits of contemporary Brassó and the lifestyle of the locals, thereby bringing into proximity the everyday life of a seventeenth-century East Central European urban community.

Keywords: Brassó (Kronstadt, Braşov), Gábor Bethlen, Saxon Land, Court of the Princes of the Principality of Transylvania

Sources and Aims

Examining the rich documentary materials of the state and ecclesiastical archives in Brassó (Kronstadt, Braşov), we are assured time and again of the great treasures hidden in the town’s collections (not to mention those of the other Saxon towns in Transylvania), which span almost eight centuries. Stepping beyond the bounds of local historiography, and touching upon numerous scholarly areas relating to the history of Transylvania and the entire region, we can increase our knowledge here, whether dealing with diplomatic history or even the history of everyday life. The following study focuses attention on the era of the principality and on one of its clearly delimited, and in many aspects remarkable, slices: the reign of Gábor Bethlen. Exceptionally, however, at the center of the investigation are not questions of event, military or diplomatic history but merely an event from the era of the Transylvanian princes that could be labeled ordinary: the hosting of the prince, Gábor Bethlen, by one of his country’s major towns, Brassó. As an organic part of the services owed by the Saxon towns,1 the prince’s reception was one of the fundamental components of his relationship with the Saxon communities; accordingly, a more thorough understanding of the event sheds light on the prevailing relationship between the princely regime and the Saxon communities as well. Moreover, on numerous points it complements our knowledge about the event-history of the era, its economic situation, the workings of Saxon autonomy, and even the structure of the town and the princely court.

A distinctive group of sources forms the basis of the research: the collection of the account books of Brassó,2 covering the period of Gábor Bethlen’s reign between the years 1613–1617 and 1620–1629. Even despite the interrupted sequence of events, they are extremely well-suited for familiarizing us with conditions in Brassó, the Barcaság region3 and, from a number of aspects, Transylvania. The inherent possibilities were already discovered in the nineteenth century by Saxon archivists and historians, who even set about publishing the various town account reports as part of the series Quellen zur Geschichte der Stadt Kronstadt.4 However, this project only took the analysis of this immense quantity of materials up to the end of the sixteenth century, and thus the account books of the seventeenth century remained unmapped, occasionally cropping up only as supplementary sources in one study or another. They have yet to be systematically explored, nor have the possibilities inherent in the collection yet been completely exploited. In the course of my research I have supplemented the richly detailed information of the account books with additional data from extant chronicles and archival materials.

The Transylvanian Princes in the Saxon Towns

Receiving and hosting the prince, that is, the ruler’s right to descensus, had been included among the obligations of the Saxon urban communities from the very beginning; at most only the extent of obligation changed.5 The princely visits of the early seventeenth century are interesting from a number of angles. On the one hand, in the Principality of Transylvania, too, we can observe the phenomenon, medieval in origin, of the “itinerant household,” in other words, in spite of Gyulafehérvár turning gradually into a princely capital, the household frequently visited one or another of the country’s major towns. Most of the time these occasions were prompted by some reason of national importance (a partial or full diet, diplomatic negotiations, the administration of justice), with the chosen urban community bearing the brunt of the financial burdens.6 On the other hand, it should not be overlooked either that the burden of hosting the guests and the associated expenses, which could amount to several thousand forints, fell upon the wealthier towns that were amply protected by privileges: the tax-paying towns (those paying the annual tax to the princely treasury in one lump sum) and those of the Saxon Land. In Transylvania the urban communities equipped for receiving the sovereign—particularly the Saxons, who formed the country’s third estate—possessed a wide-ranging autonomy. In many cases they construed the obligation to receive the court as a violation of their privileges and as a rude and unlawful intrusion into the life of the community—not always without reason. Thus, accommodating the ruler represented a constant topic of debate, in everyday life and in the diets. It was the Saxons in particular who led the way in disputing the ruler’s right to descensus, since the overwhelming majority of the major towns were located in the autonomous Saxon Land. 7

Hosting the prince, therefore, met with great resistance on the part of the selected party. Even according to modest estimates the expenses amounted to several hundred, and not infrequently several thousand, forints, which is by no means surprising if we take into account how many servitors belonged to the court of the prince and his wife. Based on the instructions sent by Gábor Bethlen to his seneschal (hopmester), Gáspár Csúti, the persons belonging to the prince’s court consisted of the following groups: those engaged in the preparation and serving of food and drink (master cooks, stewards, dapifers, cup-bearers, wine-pourers, attending servants and other kitchen servants without specific descriptions); the guards of the rooms used by the prince; the retainers of the prince and his wife and other courtiers, who according to the custom of the aristocratic courts were chosen from among the young members of noble families; and the princely guardsmen overseeing the task of maintaining order.8 To them we must add further the councilors and “principal men of the court”9 participating in the prince’s daily activity, who themselves were most often present with their families and personal households and who, depending on their affairs of state, stayed by the prince’s side during his journey as well. The representatives of the court’s religious life, scholarship and entertainment (preachers, doctors, scholars, students, musicians) as well as the armed members of the princely bodyguard also belonged to the entourage. We have no certain data at our disposal about the number of “courtiers,” nor do we know how many of them the prince took with him during his journeys. Allowing for all of this, however, it may be taken for certain that the size of a given company could reach sizes as large as several hundred people. This is supported by a request made by the Saxons in 1613, in which they attempted to cap the size of the prince’s party at 400 persons.10

It is generally known that in 1613 the accession of Gábor Bethlen for the first time in many years brought to the throne of Transylvania a ruler who sought to remedy the tension between the princely authority and the Saxon nation through negotiation.11 It is also evident that the Saxons had played no small role in Bethlen’s election.12 Despite this, the Saxons were unable to impose their will on the new prince, and on numerous points (including with regard to hosting the prince) they were forced to compromise. During Bethlen’s reign the customs regulating the reception of the ruler in the Saxon Land and all of Transylvania, medieval in origin but nonetheless evolving to completion over the course of the early modern era, became fixed. The question of accommodating the ruler also sheds light on Bethlen’s ambition to break the Saxon estate resistance in the interests of strengthening the central authority. But how was all this realized in practice?

The Prince and His Retinue in Brassó

When preparing for a princely visit to Brassó,13 Gábor Bethlen used the ancient southern Transylvanian road connecting Gyulafehérvár with the Barcaság, the successor of which remains to the present day one of the busiest routes of the Transylvanian railway and road network. This is no wonder, since the road arrives from the direction of the Hungarian Great Plain, passing by important economic centers and ensuring numerous points of contact to territories of both commercial and strategic importance, Wallachia, Moldavia and, via these, the Ottoman Empire and Poland. Located along the route is one of the most significant princely estates, Fogaras, which often served as Bethlen’s place of residence and, as we shall see below, was of especial importance in connection with his journeys to Brassó as well.

In addition to the route, the direction of travel may also be called typical. Gábor Bethlen’s visits to Brassó were regularly preceded by stays of varying length in Fogaras. He would enter the Barcaság region with his entourage from the Fogarasföld area, along the course of the river Olt, most often at Feketehalom.14 Following a brief stay in Brassó—leaving the Barcaság at Prázsmár15—he set out for the Szeklerland (Székelyföld). He deviated from this custom only a few times (1616, 1619, 1628 and 1629), when he approached the town from the direction of the Szeklerland and departed in the direction of Fogaras.16 The reason for the change is to be found in the handling of affairs, as a rule military ones, connected to the Szeklerland, as well as in the fact that the prince, suffering from serious complaints stemming from his advanced illness at the end of his reign, would have himself treated at the medicinal baths17 located at the border of the Szeklerland and the Barcaság prior to his stay in Brassó. Theoretically, the prince could request entry into any town of the land on an unlimited number of occasions. Because he went to war in person as well, Bethlen naturally was frequently on the road, though in peacetime, too, he often exited the walls of the princely seat of Gyulafehérvár. His visit to Brassó nevertheless did not mean more than once a year, with only the year 1627 forming an exception to this, when he with his court visited out the town twice, in April and August. The duration of his stay was not long if we take into consideration that elsewhere (Fogaras, the Szeklerland) he might spend even weeks: the number of days spent in Brassó in general lasted four to five days,18 deviating from this in 1616 (six days), 1622 (eleven) and 1628 (eight).

In every case the princely visit took place according to the same timetable. Gábor Bethlen in a letter or through his quartermaster informed the magistrates of Brassó of his intended arrival as well as the expected date of entry. We have already mentioned that he and his household as a rule stayed in Fogaras before leaving for the Barcaság. Based on the chroniclers of Brassó and the Stadthann’s account books it appears that a lively traffic between the prince and the town leadership already existed before Bethlen set foot in the Barcaság: the princely and town post flowed back and forth between Brassó and Fogaras, and the town’s magistrates also often paid their respects at the court in Fogaras in wagons loaded with gifts. A high-ranking official of Brassó awaited the prince at Feketehalom and escorted him into the town with all solemnity.19 It is perhaps not an exaggeration to interpret all this as the diplomatic maneuvering between the town and the princely regime having already begun outside the town walls: the ruler’s personal and not infrequently oppressive presence (between 1613 and 1616, for example, the people of Brassó, secretly in league with the Habsburgs, strove to overthrow Gábor Bethlen’s rule20) included the possibility of settling the town’s affairs directly before the highest forum of power, the prince. In March 1614 councilor Michael Forgatsch hastened to Fogaras to present the prince the overdue Saxon tax.21 Two other councilors also spent ten days there: Johannes Benkner, who had previously acted as Bethlen’s legate in Vienna, and the universally respected elderly Andreas Hegyes. The hasty delivery of the tax arrears was incidentally a recurring element of the princely visits: on February 13, 1616 councilors Christianus Hirscher and Stephan Filstich traveled to meet Bethlen for the same reason.22

Also aiming to win the prince’s goodwill were those gifts with which the people of Brassó paid their respects to the prince already prior to his arrival in the town. Especially eye-catching is the zeal with which the people of Brassó attempted to actively seek out their prince when the price limitations were decreed in Transylvania. Brassó in fact regularly exceeded the centrally imposed limitations on goods production and trade, and it tried to mitigate the consequences stemming from this with circumspect courting.23 The gifts typically were food items considered delicacies: choice salted and fresh fish, eastern luxury items (lemons, lemon juice, oranges, figs, pomegranates, sherbet, raisins), as well as local fruits appropriate to the season (apples, pears, plums, cherries and walnuts). Because of the varying quantity and composition of the goods presented, although it is difficult to generalize, it still can be established that total value hovered somewhere around ten forints—a trifling item in the budget for the princely party that came to several hundred or several thousand forints.24 In addition to the gifts of respect, providing room and board for several days and the per diem of the magistrates attending to town business and the personnel assigned to them (cook, doorward or manservant, and additionally one or more town messengers and carters) represented an additional expense. For not only was the prince entitled to first-rank hospitality, as the data of the account books reveal, but also the lords of Brassó assigned to him. Tenderloin, eye of round, fowl, bacon, vinegar, bread and rolls, parsley, spices, salted fish, fruit, wine and candles were included in the package provided as provisions for their onward journey, the value of which ranged from 1.11 to 4.5 forints depending on the number of travelers and days spent away—generally 3-5 days. To this was added the travelers’ per diem, recorded under trinkgeld (literally “drinking money”), which in the period under examination did not change, amounting to 25 denars a day in the case of magistrates, and 4 denars for their staff.25

Gábor Bethlen’s visit counted as a relatively rare event in the town of Brassó, albeit one demanding great efforts. In propitious cases it also offered the opportunity to further influence “His Excellency” in Brassó’s favor, and thus it is no wonder that the reception of the prince’s court was accompanied by feverish preparations in the town. The prince’s arrival, which in addition often coincided with the stay of foreign envoys in Brassó and the sendoff of Transylvanian envoys, demanded the precise organization needed for housing, feeding and moving a large-sized group, and this could be carried out only through careful preparations. It appears the coordination of the work was concentrated in the hands of the Stadthann, the town official who was also responsible for handling the town’s monetary resources. It was he who controlled and coordinated the work of those entrusted26 with partial tasks, and paid the costs of the purchased products or service against receipts.

Needless to say, the most important question was the lodging and feeding of the guests. We know that the town had its own inn, which is mentioned in the sources by the name Stadthoff. The earliest mention of it dates from the early sixteenth century, at this time still referred to one of the buildings on Saint John’s Street (Szent János utca).27 The inn must soon have proven too cramped, for according to the testimony of the town account books in 1573 the Brassó council purchased two other buildings for a similar purpose, one on Kolostor utca28 for 975 forints, and one on the Rose Market Square (Rózsapiac)29 for 100 forints. An additional costly remodeling, amounting to 568.77 forints, was carried out in order to make the buildings better suited for the purpose. Lacking other data, we may assume that it was here that the town’s official guests were housed in the period under examination.30 For Gábor Bethlen and those around him, however, these two buildings must not have offered satisfactory accommodations, in terms of either the number of rooms or their quality.31 In examining the demands we may rely on the prince’s very own words as well, since—in connection with his anticipated stay in Segesvár in early 1614—he himself articulated to his quartermaster32 the kinds of rooms he needed: a dining hall, a stately reception room, a council chamber, along with numerous rooms for himself and his wife. He requested a large wooden structure for the kitchen, while he had his household placed in separate lodgings befitting their rank and office.33

The Brassó sources make only scattered mention of the assignment of quarters. What can be concluded, however, is that the townspeople could satisfy the demands relating to the various functions of the princely household only if they divided the venues among themselves, i.e. the wealthier citizens who were capable of accommodating guests. It was the town patricians, most frequently the town judge himself, who assumed the responsibility for receiving the prince and his closest companions. The court dignitaries accompanying the prince and their retinue (chancellor, governor, members of the princely council) were accorded lodgings appropriate to their social standing likewise in the homes of the rich citizens, while the court figures of lower status were lodged with the town homeowners in groups. Because the town, ringed with massive walls and bastions, had a limited capacity to receive guests, the field outside the town walls and the outer farms of the wealthy citizens offered the possibility of accommodating larger groups—even in tents.34

To ensure the princely court was served without incident, beyond the advance assignment of lodgings numerous other everyday demands had to be taken care of well in advance. The complicated process of replenishing stocks encompassed numerous products, and for this reason only items used in major quantities will be examined here. The firewood necessary for cooking and, in cold seasons, heating, was purchased from the locals or was brought from the forests under the Brassó town management; in the latter case a separate woodcutting team was employed to cut and process them.35 The town also had to make certain that an adequate quantity of wood was available at every lodging place, since in the event of a shortage the lodgers used up the host’s own supply. If abuse of this kind happened to occur, the town reimbursed them for the damage done by the guests.36 Care of the horses arriving with the guest party also presented the townsfolk with a challenge, since a great quantity of hay, straw and oats needed to be obtained. The account books, which reveal the preparations for the princely visit in all their details, record dozens of those suppliers from whom the aforementioned articles were purchased in bulk.37 Over and above this, a considerable quantity of hay was brought into town from the town’s own hayfields and mowed by day laborers recruited from among the local commoner lads, girls, Romanians and Gypsies. Similar procedures were followed when it came to harvesting the town’s oat supply.38 If even this proved insufficient, those citizens possessing the more substantial supplies hastened to the town’s aid. This is what happened during the prince’s visit in 1627, when the town judge made up for the needed quantity out of his own inventory.39 The prince and his retinue used lighting devices in likewise substantial quantities: lanterns, torches, and the most important article, candles, which were produced locally from tallow and wax.40 Preparations for the princely company extended to the prior acquisition and processing of kitchen spices as well. As a rule, spices arrived at the town warehouse from the tollhouses, and the missing quantity was obtained from the citizens of Brassó with the more substantial stocks.41 In similar fashion to candle-dipping, town women were employed to process them, and the necessary means of storage, chests and spice sacks were also seen to.42 Treated in the same category as spices were refined sugar (received either measured or in the form of a sugar-loaf) and rock salt, which was crushed by wage-workers prior to use.43 To the extent that the storage possibilities of perishable foodstuffs made it possible,44 attempts were made to secure meat in advance as well. Prior to the prince’s arrival live poultry (hens, chickens, ducks and geese) was obtained by the hundreds, while red meat was purchased from the local butchers. Fish, either prepared fresh or preserved salted in barrels, was consumed in proportions equal to that of meat. The fish was obtained from the Barcaság (which had a substantially richer hydrography in the seventeenth century than today—Brassó itself was interwoven by streams, while extensive fish ponds were located outside the town walls) and Wallachia. The town was supplied with fish typically by Romanians, who fished in the town’s own waters either on their own initiative or directly commissioned by the town. In the latter case Brassó paid them for their time even if they did not happen to catch anything.45

Following the prince’s arrival the most important tasks connected to food supplies were overseen by a central kitchen. In Brassó the equivalent of the wooden kitchen structure mentioned in the prince’s letter quoted above was a building referred to in the sources as Kochhaus, or “cookhouse,”46 which was erected in the middle of the town on the market square47 for the duration of the prince’s stay in Brassó. The meals were prepared in this kitchen, well equipped with a hearth and devices needed for cooking and preparing foods, and distributed according to Herbergen, that is, the host lodgings. The production of bread and braided challah bread occurred independently of this in the bakehouses of Brassó. Although it is not the purpose of this article to discuss in detail the food consumption of the princely court in Brassó, by a simple enumeration I would nonetheless like to allude to the level of provisioning while at the same time allowing a glimpse into the eating habits of the age.

In accordance with seventeenth-century customs, bread, meat, possibly fish, and vegetables formed the basis of the lavish meals, and in Brassó, too, it was these that were consumed in the largest quantity. Among baked goods, white and brown bread, rolls and braided bread were consumed. Meats included great quantities of fowl, beef and veal, mutton, goat meat, and pork, as well as old and new bacon, and also wild duck, venison, deer and rabbit meat. For fish we find sturgeon, carp, pike, trout, and crayfish on the lists of victuals.48 Among dairy products, in addition to raw milk, products such as the distinctive Transylvanian cheeses and butter, and occasionally cream, represented the major articles. Consumed in significant quantities were vinegar, lard and oil (linseed oil, more rarely olive oil), honey and eggs. Vegetables and fruits appearing on the tables included fresh or pickled cabbage, peas, onions, garlic, mushrooms, apples, pears, plums, gooseberries, cherries, walnuts and hazelnuts. Besides the locally grown parsley and dill, the spices in use were pepper, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and mace flower, ginger and saffron imported from the east. Being illustrious guests, they consumed ample amounts of the eastern luxury foods always available in Brassó: raisins, citrus fruits, figs, almonds and even rice, which based on its origin was included here. The list of delicacies was rounded out by the marzipan placed on the prince’s Sunday table.49

The varying accounting practices of each town and community leave plenty of questions open if we strive for a full depiction of events. Thus, for example, based on the rich, though often undifferentiated, system of enumeration of the Brassó account books, we cannot reconstruct to the letter precisely what the hosts served to the lords gathered for a shared meal in the town. At the same time, the entries made by Kolozsvár’s citizen administrators, who preserved the precise details of the princely meals for posterity, may serve as a point of comparison. To single out just one example, let us cast a glance at what could be called an average dinner that Gábor Bethlen spent in the company of the lords of Kolozsvár on November 26, 1613! The food was brought in for those gathered on several large platters, which contained the following: on the first platter pike in its own juices, with pepper, saffron, ginger, parsley and onions; on the second, “cow meat” with red cabbage; on the third, lemon hen with pepper, saffron and ginger; and on the fourth platter roasts of hen and of pork, sausage, with pickles and bread on the side. The meal was rounded out with fruit, cheese, walnuts and pretzels, and the delicious morsels were washed down with 28 Achtels50 of wine.51

The data contained in the account books make it possible to reconstruct the process of how the goods were obtained, particularly interesting from the point of view of urban history. Brassó, where the grandiose display of hospitality was a constant phenomenon, maintained its own inventory of the basic articles used while entertaining guests. This supply, however, was always in need of supplementation if a large and distinguished embassy or the prince himself was expected in the town. The town leadership had several means of making up for the missing quantity at its disposal. First they could directly take it out of Brassó’s customs revenues delivered in the form of goods; this applied first and foremost to commercial goods, especially spices. As far as local products were concerned, these could be obtained from the townsfolk, or possibly from the inhabitants of the surrounding villages and market towns, either through direct purchase or the so-called “receipt-slip method” widespread all across Transylvania. The essence of the latter was that the town official charged with procurement issued a numbered receipt—Zettel or slip—for the product delivered by the suppliers, who could ask for reimbursement in cash afterwards from the Stadthann. The significance of the collected receipt-slips may be discerned also in the fact that it was on the basis of these that the town notary compiled the annual accounts. The system was not perfect, since even Brassó, considered one of the country’s wealthiest towns, frequently struggled with a shortage of money, which incidentally was generally typical in seventeenth-century Transylvania. The solution was to schedule payments,52 though deducting the cost of the product from the supplier’s tax could also be considered.53 It happened also that the necessary quantity of the given product could not be secured even through purchase. In such cases the town itself initiated the importation of the item or—as in the case of candle-making—its production. It was also a frequent phenomenon for the wealthy townsfolk to advance various products to the town out of their own stocks. This was not bad as an investment either, since the town afterwards reimbursed assistance arriving at just the right moment at steep prices.

The situation was similar in the case of drinks, which formed a separate category among the foodstuffs. In Brassó wine was consumed in the greatest quantity (typically local new and vintage wines, Wallachian wines, and for the most distinguished guests’ table, Malvasia), though plenty of beer, and in smaller quantities mead54 and spirits,55 was also consumed. The details of the wine delivery for a princely visit in 1616 have been preserved in the town account books and clearly demonstrate Brassó’s procurement system outlined above in practice. According to the entries for February, in preparation for the prince’s expected visit and with the approval of the Hundred Elders (Hundred Men),56 1,793 Achtels (“eighths”)57 of the town’s own wine, in barrels authenticated by the Weinherrs58 and valued at 107.58 forints were deposited in the town’s cellar. Because this still proved too little, an additional 112 Achtels59 of wine was subsequently brought in from the town’s external cellars valued at 15 forints. However, this was still not enough, and therefore, in order to ensure the uninterrupted supply to the princely court, the Stadthann assisted the town on several occasions, having Wallachian wine from his own cellar delivered to the guests’ lodgings, a total of 157 Achtels60 valued at 94.26 forints. The judge, the notary and one additional town councilor, Lucas Greissing, took similar action. All this was supplemented by the wine deliveries of those citizens61 who used this to pay off their remaining debt62 from the previous year’s wine tax.63

Receiving the prince’s court also presented the town with the enormous task of securing the necessary labor force. For the improvements and construction carried out during the preparations, and later the dismantling of the temporary buildings, beyond the costs of the basic materials, carpenters, stone masons and day laborers had to be paid. As far as meals were concerned, we know that, although the prince had the food prepared by his own cooks64 and served by his own court stewards, serving a party of several hundred guests demanded the employment of numerous local helpers in the kitchen.65 During a princely visit the duties of the town guardsmen, doorwards and toll house attendants in the town’s regular employ also expanded. According to ancient custom, when a distinguished guest was hosted the town’s leading officials stood guard in front of his house, though they were entrusted with less exalted tasks as well: essentially they could be deployed wherever physical strength was needed, from hauling away earth to processing poultry.66 In addition to the bakers and butchers, the most impacted on account of the great quantity of goods they had to deliver, Brassó’s other artisans were also allotted numerous tasks. The residency of the princely court in Brassó directly impacted the blacksmiths, harness-makers, rope-layers, and coopers, since it went without saying that the town would serve the needs related to shoeing the horses of the prince and his retinue and repairing their wagons, coach and sledges. In fact, in 1628 the prince even had one of his valuable horses kept in Brassó for weeks, with the town providing for its feeding and care.67 The prince also had his personal effects that were damaged during the visit repaired by the locals.68 It was also necessary to fulfill occasional demands by the prince as well, the appropriate handling and packaging of which was also seen to locally.69

Based on the available sources we can form a clear picture of the composition of the princely retinue arriving in Brassó as well; the number of guests, however, remains obscure. It has already been mentioned that the visiting party in Brassó was recorded according to place of lodging, which were distinguished from one another by the name of the principal figure housed there. This also included the persons belonging to the latter’s own household, from immediate relatives to the simple maid. Accordingly, the number of those served at the various lodgings could range from the four- to six-member entourage of lower-ranking court figures, to the small households of higher dignitaries numbering several dozen people.70 Added to all this also were the courtiers referred to by the people of Brassó simply by the name Gesindel, whose number was not given in precise figures but rather characterized merely as “many” or “a great many.”

Gábor Bethlen’s stay in Brassó was often connected to a diplomatic event of countrywide importance. For this reason, beyond the prevailing size of the princely household we must reckon with a substantial contingent of guests. It happened often that Bethlen sent his prominent guests to Brassó in advance, who were then forced to wait idly for a few days before the prince himself reached the town. This was how Mehmet Aga and his thirty-nine-member entourage arrived in the town on April 1, 1614—two days before the prince—in the company of Benedek Suky, István Szalánczy, and György Székely, who had been assigned to them; they left Brassó only days after the prince’s departure (April 7). The situation was similar in August 1622, when a few days before Gábor Bethlen’s entry on the fourth, the town began putting up the Turkish embassy coming from the prince: Mustafa Aga, Mehmet Chiaus and Yusuf Chiaus, escorted by the scribe János; a few servants of the pasha of Buda; and the members of the embassy to the Porte formed around Pál Keresztesi. Moreover, only rarely did the entertaining come to an end with Gábor Bethlen’s departure. There are ample instances when, for one reason or another (most often because of illness or a personal matter), the departing prince left one or more of his courtiers behind in Brassó.

The account books also reveal that those arriving in Bethlen’s retinue “wandered daily in and out”71 of the town. Under such circumstances it is understandable that, learning of the prince’s prospective arrival, the Brassó town leadership’s primary ambition was to keep the size and expenses of the guest party down. Fierce debates between the prince and the townspeople over the number of guests were typical particularly of the first years of Gábor Bethlen’s rule. As has already been mentioned, the Saxons believed Bethlen’s reign as prince hung in the balance between 1613 and 1616 and considered his time in power a brief transitional period; the memory of the town-occupier, Gábor Báthory, however, lived all the more vividly in every Saxon subject.72 During the first princely visit in April 1614 Brassó allowed two hundred people into the town,73 and on the next occasion, in 1616, three hundred.74 These numbers are even stricter than the demands contained in the Saxon ultimatum of December 1613,75 issued regarding the return of Szeben—four hundred people at most. If we add to all this the fact that in 1614 even the gun salute due the arriving prince was not even fired,76 we can clearly picture the outward manifestations of the frosty atmosphere between the prince and the people of Brassó. From the point of view of the prince’s reception, too, the year 1616 counted as exceptional, when the people of Brassó once again tried to restrict the size of Gábor Bethlen’s retinue. According to the reports of the contemporary chroniclers of Brassó, the prince took offense to this and in fact postponed his stay in Brassó, thereby causing no small amount of turmoil in the town.77

Since the town’s obligations as host included the presentation of gifts to the visiting officials befitting their rank, the Stadthann prepared a precise balance sheet of the gifts and the recipients in connection with the costs of the visit. The gift lists in fact record a concise image of the Transylvanian state dignitaries and the princely court, since in addition to the prince and his wife they feature numerous important and less important court personages, from the governor to the court attendant.78 The importance of a given office or rank gained expression in the value of the gifts presented as well. Whereas the princely couple received silver Nuremberg chalices, and wash basins and kettles valued at 100–200 forints, the highest-ranking (the chancellor and prince’s brother, István Bethlen, regardless of his current position, and Dávid Zólyomi, commensurate to the office he occupied in the given period) received one or two Persian rugs valued at 25–60 forints, and those on the lower rungs of the ladder (court captains, retainers) were presented gifts of Brassó broadcloth, furs or boots. Among the servitors of minor importance in the princely retinue (in the source lumpen gesindel, that is, “good-for-nothing rabble”) cash was distributed, amounting to a total value of between 40–50 forints.79 Thus, during each princely visit, depending on the number of those present, the costs of gifts alone represented an amount on the order of 1,000 forints.80 Despite this, there were also instances where the prince found the valuables he received to be wanting. This is what happened during the memorable visit of 1616, when, apart from the dispute over the size of the prince’s company, the paltry number of gifts also contributed to a further deterioration of the mood, which was in any case not uncloudy.81

At Gábor Bethlen’s court the master representatives of the arts and sciences enjoyed particular attention. Along with the other narrative sources of the era, the Saxon chroniclers also report on this. Particularly interesting are the notes of Georg Kraus, the notary of Segesvár, concerning those musicians employed at the princely court who married into the Saxon elite and settled in Beszterce, Nagyszeben, and Brassó.82 Apart from them we know of numerous other court musicians from the fields of instrumental music and singing; in addition to the German territories, they arrived in Transylvania from Poland, Bohemia, France and Italy.83

Just how the abovementioned artists and scholars fit into the court hierarchy constitutes a question which research on court history had yet to resolve. The Brassó sources may help to decide the question, since we may conclude from them that the persons in question made up a completely separate group among the courtiers. The account books make particular mention of the prince’s doctors, students and various musicians, and quite precisely about the exceptional treatment the locals afforded them by order of the prince. It is a revealing piece of data that the gift lists do not mention them, and nor do we witness that they were housed with a separate small household, like the leading dignitaries of the princely court. The account books nevertheless allow us to conclude that the prince took particular care of them, since by his orders they were treated in way that clearly distinguished from the other figures of the court. The considerate treatment accorded to them by the grace of the prince distinguishes them sharply from the mass of court servants—Gesindel. It is indisputable, however, that artists and scholars, even despite their honored position at court, stood apart from the men of the Transylvanian court. The reason for their striking outsider status, besides a social status differing from that of the “aristocratic entourage,” is perhaps also to be sought in their foreign origin—the linguistic and cultural obstacles in the majority of cases proved to be so unbridgeable that many of them did not even remain in Transylvania after their princely commission expired. Those native German-speaking masters who found a home among their Saxon “relations” happened to form an exception to this. Also indicative of the special status of artists and retainers is the fact that Gábor Bethlen also kept with him two young lute-players, Konrad and Dietrich, who presumably had arrived in the country with Catherine of Brandenburg and were, in addition to their musical profession, also retainers of the consort’s household.84 Unfortunately the Brassó sources remain silent about the number of musicians belonging to Bethlen’s court. We know of similar information only from the reign of Gábor Báthory, whose entourage may have included approximately 17 persons in such a capacity,85 and we can probably find a similar number of master musicians by his successor’s side as well.

Gábor Bethlen’s patronage of the sciences and the arts is a well-known fact. The educating and sponsoring of talented youth appear from the very beginning in the prince’s cultural policy. At the start of his rule Bethlen had two students educated at foreign academies each year; by the end of his reign this number had multiplied.86 Occasionally they, too, represented guests Brassó had to feed. In connection with Bethlen’s reign, the town account books first record the “king’s students” in Brassó in 1621, when they were provided a meagre amount of food on August 4. On September 7 they make mention of two additional foreign students rescued from the captivity of plundering soldiers. Unfortunately, the Stadthann only rarely considered it worthwhile to record their names, and his attention usually extended only to the services fulfilled on the ruler’s orders and their costs.87

Scholars, musicians and students were recurring guests at the prince’s side. In July 1623 Brassó housed a part of the prince’s court staying in Fogaras, including his court physician and musicians, Tamás Kobzos and the four persons under his direction.88 A similar situation prevailed in March 1625, when, in addition to his physician, the prince also lodged his trumpeters in Brassó, while in September a recommendation letter from the prince assured provisions and transport in Brassó for a few students.89 In April 1626 students traveling to meet the prince, then residing in the Szeklerland, were given provisions, as was his Jewish doctor traveling back in May.90 Beginning in 1627 we encounter throughout Hungarian and German musicians as well as physicians on the guest list during the prince’s visits to Brassó;91 in June 1629 we even find an instance of the prince having his aged, ailing musician treated in Brassó.92 The newly employed Italian physician who stayed in Brassó between March 12 and 15, 1629 on the prince’s authority represents a historiographical curiosity. The doctor must have been held in high esteem, since he arrived on the prince’s own coach, and concerning him the prince commanded that he be “treated respectfully in the town.”93 Perhaps this person corresponds to Doctor Jacobus Carlo, who spent time in Brassó on the prince’s authority in June. At this date the prince’s bath attendant and musicians were also put up there, once again connected to Gábor Bethlen’s stay in Fogaras.94

Comparing the data, we arrive at the surprising conclusion that, similar to the per diem of the town officials, the provisioning of the students was also tied to a certain scale. In general 20-25, at most 26 denars of wine and bread were spent on each of them, which essentially corresponded to the allowance of a common servitor (footman or doorward). The musicians were treated on a similar scale; with respect to the physicians, however, the town was substantially more generous: a sum of around one and a half to two forints was spent on them daily, demonstrating thereby also the weight of that position in the princely court.

For the sake of completeness, it should be noted that the obligations connected to the prince’s visit did not come to an end when Gábor Bethlen exited the walls of Brassó. There is no year in the period under examination when some subsequent assignment of the prince did not have to be fulfilled. Aside from entertaining the court figures left behind, the town had to attend mainly to the transportation and escorting of the prince and his retinue as needed.95 Depending on the standards of the local supplies, the prince often ordered food, personal items or even master craftsmen (goldsmiths, blacksmiths and tailors) for himself.96 A similar situation also arose when, though the prince did not stay overnight in Brassó, he resided in the vicinity (in the Szeklerland or Fogaras). This could take place up to several times a year, depending on what part of Transylvania his duties called him to. In such cases—even if at reduced expense—in addition to putting up the prince’s innermost circle, the services expected of Brassó involved the same duties. Even at this time the prince was in constant contact with Brassó through the town leaders assigned to him, and his own men also made frequent appearances in the town, if only to communicate the prince’s demands. During his stays in Fogaras or the Szeklerland Gábor Bethlen also ordered food and personal articles in large quantities and often availed himself of the work of the tradesmen of Brassó. In certain instances he even demanded that the town put up the lords and servants belonging to his retinue. The types of services and their quality did not differ substantially from that of those the prince made use of during his visits to Brassó. Their costs appear in the town account books sporadically, and their value ranged along an extremely wide scale, from a few barrels of pears to silver collars prepared for the greyhounds of Catherine of Brandenburg to large quantities of food conveyed to the princely retinue on kitchen wagons. All these circumstances make a complete and systematic depiction of the services provided to the prince while he resided in the area of Brassó almost impossible. Thus, when it comes to the serving of Gábor Bethlen himself and his court, the data directly linked to the prince’s personal presence in Brassó is of primary importance on account of its completeness.

All of the above raises the question of how much the town spent during each of Gábor Bethlen’s visits. Because of the sporadic recording of the expenses, we can only estimate the magnitude of the total cost incurred: including the gifts of respect, Brassó spent approximately 1000–1600 forints on provisioning the prince and his court per occasion.97 We may also observe that towards the end of the period examined here this sum showed a tendency to increase, the explanation for which may lie in the improving economic situation, the stabilization of Brassó’s position, and the maximal exploitation of its resources; this last circumstance was due not least to the bargains struck with Gábor Bethlen.98 At the same time, for lack of sources it remains an open question whether the prince reimbursed the town for the incurred expenses, and if so, to what extent. Based on the characteristics of Bethlen’s reign the reimbursements must have been minimal, although it must be taken into account that the Saxons could avail themselves of the opportunity to have their incurred expenses deducted from their annual tax. Whether this happened, and which items, if any, the prince’s agents accepted, we do not know. The likelihood of reimbursement is in any case lessened by the fact that, starting from the Middle Ages, hosting the ruler was interpreted as an obligation of high importance in the Saxon Land, since the Saxon communities, Brassó included, enjoyed significant privileges that offset other similar burdens. It would be superfluous to emphasize just how significant this system, resting on this dual pillar, was in the life of the Saxon Land, which clung to its medieval autonomy tooth and nail.


During the reign of Gábor Bethlen significant changes can be observed in the relations between the ruler and the privileged Saxon community. The prince frequently stayed in the Saxon towns, generally at the time of diets, for the purposes of receiving envoys or rendering justice. Bethlen and his court retinue expected the town to provide lodging, supplies and gifts, which the local government attempted to keep within still feasible bounds. Each instance of hosting the prince in Brassó provides a particularly good illustration of how the central authority attempted to tear apart the obsolete framework of the Saxon feudal privileges, or at least fill it with new content while maintaining external appearances, in early modern Transylvania.

The prince’s stays in Brassó also direct our attention to the fact that through rational compromises and measured decisions Gábor Bethlen successfully breached the feudal bastions of the Saxon nation, and although in this area he was perhaps less successful publicly (recall the failure of negotiations aimed at a union of the three feudal nations99), behind the scenes he was able to impose his will against even the most determined Saxon communities. Finally, it should not be forgotten either that, beyond an understanding of the relationship between the princely regime and Brassó, a member of the Saxon Universitas, the chronicle of princely visits provides useful knowledge about the life of this distinctive Transylvanian community. The realities of the seventeenth-century characters, urban life, consumption, and weekdays and holidays, which come to life on the pages of the account books and can captivate people even today, all contribute to an ever fuller understanding of this unique era.

Archival Sources

Arhivele Naţionale ale României Filială Braşov [Romanian National Archives, Brassó Branch Archive]

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Microfilm Collection. Kolozsvár város levéltára. Roll No: 28962. Kolozsvár város számadáskönyvei (Fond primăria municipiului Cluj-Napoca socotelile orasului Cluj-Napoca).


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Király, Péter. “Külföldi zenészek a XVII. századi fejedelmi udvarban és hatásuk” [Foreign Musicians in the Princely Court of the Seventeenth Century and Their Impact]. Erdélyi Múzeum 56, no. 12 (1994): 1–16. Accessed September 10, 2009. http://erdelyimuzeumfolyoirat.adatbank.transindex.ro.

Klein, Karl Kurt. Geysanum und Andreanum. Fragmentarische Betrachtungen zur Frühgeschichte der Deutschen in Siebenbürgen.” In Zur Rechts- und Siedlungsgeschichte der Siebenbürger Sachsen. Siebenbürgisches Archiv. Archiv des Vereins für Siebenbürgische Landeskunde. Dritte Folge 8, edited by Friedrich Müller, 54–62. Cologne: Böhlau Verlag, 1971.

Kraus, Georg. Erdélyi krónika 1608–1665 [Transylvanian Chronicle, 1608–1665]. Translated by Sándor Vogel. Budapest: Ómagyar Baráti Társaság Kiadói Részlege, 1994.

Makkai, László, ed. Bethlen Gábor emlékezete [In Memoriam Gábor Bethlen]. Budapest: Magyar Helikon, 1980.

Oborni, Teréz. “Bethlen Gábor és a nagyszombati szerződés (1615)” [Gábor Bethlen and the Treaty of Nagyszombat (1615)]. Századok 144, no. 4. (2011): 877–914.

Philippi, Maja. Kronstadt. Braşov-Kronstadt: Aldus Verlag, 2006.

Roth, Harald. Hermannstadt. Kleine Geschichte einer Stadt in Siebenbürgen. Cologne–Weimar–Vienna: Böhlau Verlag, 2006.

Szabó, Péter. A kihelyezett udvarok az Erdélyi Fejedelemség hatalmi harcaiban” [The Transient Courts in the Power Struggles of the Principality of Transylvania]. In Idővel paloták… Magyar udvari kultúra a 1617. században [Over Time, PalacesHungarian Court Culture in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries], edited by Nóra G. Etényi and Ildikó Horn, 31430. Budapest: Balassi, 2005.

Teutsch, Georg Daniel. Die Geschichte der Siebenbürger Sachsen für das sächsische Volk. Vol. 1. Hermannstadt: Druck und Verlag von W. Krafft, 1899.

Zimmermann, Franz and Carl Werner, eds. Urkundenbuch zur Geschichte der Deutschen in Siebenbürgen. Vol. 1. Hermannstadt: Krafft und Drotleff, 1892.

Translated by Matthew Caples

1 The Transylvanian Saxons arrived in Transylvania in the second half of the twelfth century at the invitation of the Hungarian king Géza II. Their hospes settlements, formed by decree of the ruler, enjoyed numerous privileges, receiving, among other things, tax concessions, rights of self-determination, and commercial privileges, and in return they owed the ruler specific services. For more details see Karl Kurt Klein, Geysanum und Andreanum. Fragmentarische Betrachtungen zur Frühgeschichte der Deutschen in Siebenbürgen,” in Zur Rechts- und Siedlungsgeschichte der Siebenbürger Sachsen, Siebenbürgisches Archiv. Archiv des Vereins für Siebenbürgische Landeskunde. Dritte Folge 8 (Cologne: Böhlau, 1971), 54–62; Konrad Gündisch, Siebenbürgen und die Siebenbürger Sachsen, Studienbuchreihe der Stiftung Ostdeutscher Kulturrat, Band 8 (Munich: Langen Müller, 1998), 28–43; Georg Daniel Teutsch, Die Geschichte der Siebenbürger Sachsen für das sächsische Volk, vol. 1 (Hermannstadt: Druck und Verlag von W. Krafft, 1899), 140.

2 Arhivele Naţionale ale României Filială Braşov [Romanian National Archives, Braşov Branch Archive] (ANR FB). Fondul Primăria Braşov. Seria socoteli alodiale – socoteli vilicale – Stadthannenrechnungen, vols. 19–23. In Brassó the account book contains the itemized list of the annual expenses and revenues of the town official administering the town’s financial matters (Stadthann or villicus) in German, which, as taken down by the notary and in bound form, were read aloud at the town leadership’s accounting meeting at the end of the administrative yearthe day after Christmas. Characteristic of the book-keeping of the Brassó Saxons is the extreme thoroughness of the entries: every expense was recorded down to the last denar, while the items were as a rule provided with explanations.

3 Possessing substantial economic resources and through its influential merchants and patricians, Brassó was considered one of the key communities of the Saxon Universitas (Universitas Saxonum). Its prestige was increased by the fact that by the end of the sixteenth century it had expanded its leading role among the settlements of the Barcaság region into almost unlimited influence. Based on these criteria Saxon historians have an inclination to compare the crown of the Barcaság, Brassó, to a Swiss canton of the era; cf. Maja Philippi, Kronstadt (Braşov-Kronstadt: Aldus Verlag, 2006).

4 Quellen zur Geschichte der Stadt Kronstadt in Siebenbürgen. Rechnungen aus dem Archiv der Stadt Kronstadt, vols. 13 (Kronstadt: Commission bei H. Zeidner, 1886–1896).

5 For the text of the medieval collection of regulations applying to the Transylvanian Saxonscommonly known as the Andreanum—see Franz Zimmermann and Carl Werner, eds., Urkundenbuch zur Geschichte der Deutschen in Siebenbürgen, vol. 1 (Hermannstadt: Krafft und Drotleff, 1892), 34–35.

6 Iván Bertényi, Gyula Benda, and János Pótó, eds., Magyar udvari rendtartás. Utasítások és rendeletek 16171708, Millenniumi Magyar Történelem. Források (Budapest: Osiris, 2001), 9; Péter Szabó, “A kihelyezett udvarok az Erdélyi Fejedelemség hatalmi harcaiban, in Idővel paloták… Magyar udvari kultúra a 1617. században, ed. Nóra G. Etényi and Ildikó Horn (Budapest: Balassi, 2005), 314–15.

7A szász universitas feltételei Bethlen Gábor szebeni telelése tárgyában. 1613. december 17,in Erdélyi országgyűlési emlékek, vol. 6, ed. Sándor Szilágyi (Budapest: Magyar Tudományos Akadémia–Athenaeum Ny., 1880), 383; “Az 1613. októberi országgyűlés törvényei, in ibid., 361; “A gyulafehérvári országgyűlés határozatai. 1625. május 129. Propositiones,” in ibid., vol 8., 254–57; Magyar Törvénytár. 15401848. évi erdélyi törvények. Approbata Constitutiones, III. R. LXXXI/I. art, 153.

8 Transylvanian Prince Gábor Bethlen’s Instructions to His Seneschal, Gáspár Csúti. Kolozsvár, 1622/23, in Magyar udvari rendtartás, 69–77.

9 Ibid.

10 A szász universitas feltételei Bethlen Gábor szebeni telelése tárgyában. 1613. december 17,in Erdélyi országgyűlési emlékek, vol. 6, 383.

11 For the antecedents and the significance of Szeben, the Saxon town occupied by Gábor Báthory in December 1610, cf. Harald Roth, Hermannstadt. Kleine Geschichte einer Stadt in Siebenbürgen (Cologne–Weimar–Vienna: Böhlau Verlag, 2006); on the occupation of the town, see Georg Kraus, Erdélyi krónika 16081665, trans. Sándor Vogel (Budapest: Ómagyar Baráti Társaság Kiadói Részlege, 1994), 70; Teutsch, Die Geschichte der Siebenbürger Sachsen, 32762.

12 For more on the beginnings of relations between Brassó and Gábor Bethlen see Zsuzsanna Cziráki, “Brassó és az erdélyi szászok szerepe Bethlen Gábor fejedelem trónfoglalásában (1611–1613),” Századok 145, no. 4 (2011): 847–76.

13 Gábor Bethlen’s visits to Brassó: April 3–7, 1614; March 5–8, 1616; June 29–July 3, 1619; August 4–11, 1622; September 12–19, 1624; April 11–16, 1626; February 27–March 7 (?), 1627; August 2(?)–13, 1627; February 6–13, 1628; February 6–11, 1629.

14 Ger. Zeiden, Rom. Codlea.

15 Ger. Tartlau, Rom. Prejmer.

16 Ger. Fogrisch, Rom. Făgăraş.

17 Most likely these must have been the springs rising in the vicinity of the villages of Zajzon, Tatrang, Pürkerec, located on the border of the Szeklerland and the Barcaság, as well as Száldobos in the Erdővidék region. Their mineral-rich waters have been used since the Middle Ages for medicinal purposes. The prince’s bath cure at Száldobos in 1629 is recounted in greater detail by Don Diego de Estrada in his memoirs: László Makkai, ed., Bethlen Gábor emlékezete (Budapest: Magyar Helikon, 1980), 252. See also ANR FB Stadthannenrechnungen, vol. 19, 547.

18 Bethlen Gábor Rhédey Ferencnek. Prázsmár, 1619. június 28,in Bethlen Gábor fejedelem kiadatlan politikai levelei, ed. Sándor Szilágyi (Budapest: Magyar Tudományos Akadémia, 1879), 117.

19 The notables of Brassó delegated to Fogaras or Feketehalom at the prince’s invitation in the period under examination: in 1614 Michael Forgatsch, Johannes Benkner, and András Hegyes (ANR FB Stadthannenrechnungen, vol. 20, 35556); in 1616 Christianus Hirscher, Stephen Filstich, the town notary, Christoph Greissing and András Hegyes (Ibid., 610, 61213); from 1618 and 1619 there is no data; in 1622 the judge, Christianus Hirscher (Ibid., vol. 22, 99); in 1624 Michael Schmidt, and later Andreas Hegyes and Paul Bánfy (Ibid., 599, 603); in 1626 Georg Draudt (Ibid., vol. 23, 72); in February and July 1627 Georg Nadescher (Ibid., vol. 21, 309, 416); in 1628 Michael Draudt and Stadthann Andreas Gorgias traveled to meet the prince, who was arriving from the Szeklerland, and later Paul Bánfy and Michael Schmidt (Ibid., 529, 568); in 1629 town Stadthann Andreas Gorgias and Michael Schmidt, and later Georg Nadescher and Michael Goldschmidt (Ibid., vol. 19, 430, 460).

20 For more detail, see Teréz Oborni, “Bethlen Gábor és a nagyszombati szerződés (1615),” Századok 144, no. 4 (2011): 877–914; Zsuzsanna Cziráki, “Megjegyzések Erich Lassota zu Steblau 1614. évi titkos erdélyi megbízatásához,” Fons – Forráskutatás és Történeti Segédtudományok 19, no. 3 (2012): 321–61.

21 It is also part of the story that Michael was attacked by robbers en route and was forced to turn back with the money; ANR FB Stadthannenrechnungen, vol. 20, 355.

22 Ibid., 610.

23 In 1628, in the two months prior to the prince’s February visit, lively negotiations were already underway between Brassó and the prince, as part of which the prince was provided with gifts of respect, as was András Kapi, entrusted with handling matters concerning the price limitations of the townspeople of Brassó; ANR FB Stadthannenrechnungen, vol. 21, 529. This procedure was repeated almost to the letter in 1629; Ibid., vol. 19, 438.

24 The list of invitation gifts sent to the prince on the occasion of his 1629 visit may be labeled typical: sturgeon for five forints, 36 lemons for 3.60 forints and five lovely pomegranates for 1.25 forints, a total of 9.85 forints; Ibid., 430.

25 Ibid., vol. 20, 612.

26 We know barely a handful of them by name from the period examined here. In 1614 two Brassó agents, Andreß Graser and Merten Kloscher, saw to the fodder needed for the horses arriving with the princely household. In 1624 Magistrate Martin Heltner along with Johannes Klein and Andreas Altstetter were charged with obtaining the basic kitchen supplies. ANR FB Stadthannenrechnungen, vol. 22, 611.

27 Johannisgasse, Stradă Sfîntul Ioan.

28 Klostergasse, Stradă Mureşenilor.

29 Rosenanger, Prundul Rozelor; more recently Piaţă George Enescu.

30 Erich Jekelius, ed., Das Burzenland. I. Kronstadt (Kronstadt: Verlag Burzenländer Sächs. Museum, 1928): 68.

31 Nevertheless, in the event of a visit by the prince the town could not leave a single bed, including the inn, unused. This is indicated by occasional data in the account books about the cleaning and maintenance performed at the guest house prior to the visit: on February 3, 1628 “Zahlt 6 Blochen, welche auffm Stadthoff fegetten.” ANR FB Stadthannenrechnungen, vol. 21, 558.

32 The person employed to organize the housing of the princely court, the quartermaster, regularly visited the town well before his lord’s arrival, and cooperating with the local officials appointed to this task, he set about assigning quarters and inspecting the infrastructure ensuring the visit took place without incident. However, there were also instances of him arriving in town merely a day or barely hours before the arrival of the prince. Ibid., vol. 20, 358.

33 Bethlen Gábor – Levelek. Selected, with an introduction and notes, by Mihály Sebestyén (Bucharest: Kriterion, 1980), 61; Áron Szilády and Sándor Szilágyi, Török–magyarkori állam-okmánytár, vol 1 (Budapest: Eggenberger, 1868): 119; similar demands were articulated in Gábor Bethlen’s court protocol as well. Cf. Transylvanian Prince Gábor Bethlen’s Instructions to His Seneschal, Gáspár Csúti. Kolozsvár, 1622/23, in Magyar udvari rendtartás, 7172.

34 Concordant data can be found in the recollections of Magistrate Andreas Hegyes; cf. “Diarium des Andreas Hegyes,” in Quellen zur Geschichte der Stadt Kronstadt, vol. 5, Chroniken und Tagebücher, vol. 2 (Brassó: Commission bei H. Zeidner, 1909): 465–67.

35 ANR FB Stadthannenrechnungen, vol. 20, 357; V/21, 311; V/22, 113.

36 This is what happened on August 4, 1622, when Mrs. Fiota was reimbursed for the twenty denars’ worth of firewood wrongfully burned in her garden. Ibid., vol. 22, 110.

37 Ibid., vol. 20, 363.

38 Ibid., vol. 22, 603, 607; V/21, 427; V/21, 561, 567.

39 Ibid., vol. 21, 325.

40 The quantity of candles used is revealed by data noted during Gábor Bethlen’s visit in August 1622, according to which three women poured candles for three days in a row. As a result of their work Brassó produced 2,300 tallow candles and eight pounds of wax candles for the princely court, with a value, including wages, of 17.36 forints. Ibid., vol. 22, 109.

41 Among the spice suppliers the wealthiest (those with profitable commercial ties) families in Brassó were represented: Benkner, Draudt, Fronius, Bánfy, Forgács, etc. Ibid., vol. 20, 624.

42 Ibid., vol. 22, 1045; V/21, 311, 432; V/22, 121, 605–6.

43 Ibid., 604.

44 The town had its own cold-storage area, the Eysgruben, which with the approach of spring was filled with broken ice.

45 Ibid., vol. 21, 311.

46 Ibid., vol. 20, 359.

47 Marktplatz, Piaţă Sfătului. Similar to other commercial towns, Brassó in addition to the central market had various markets specializing in categories of goods, indicating the region’s commercial relations. This was how the place names still in use today evolved, such as horse market, fish market, wheat row. The cookhouse incidentally was a typical attendant element of the princely visits in early modern Transylvania. Cf. Annamária Jeney-Tóth, Báthory Gábor udvara 1612-ben Kolozsvárott,” in A Báthoriak kora. (A Báthoriak és Európa), ed. László Dám. A Báthori István Múzeum füzetei, Új sorozat, 3 (Nyírbátor: Báthori István Múzeum és Baráti Köre, 2008), 148.

48 The considerable consumption of fish may be assessed as a local characteristic, for when comparing the food lists for Brassó and Kolozsvár, it is striking that—perhaps as a result of the differing geographical and trade conditions—in Kolozsvár fish is hardly ever encountered on the prince’s menu.

49 ANR FB Stadthannenrechnungen, vol. 20, 625.

50 38 liter. Cf. István Bogdán, Magyarországi űr-, térfogat-, súly- és darabmértékek 1874-ig (Budapest: Akadémiai, 1991): 236–37.

51 Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára (National Archives of Hungary; MNL OL) Microfilm collection. Kolozsvár város levéltára. Roll: 28962. Kolozsvár város számadáskönyvei (Fond primăria municipiului Cluj-Napoca socotelile orasului Cluj-Napoca). 1613. XIV. 191. Regarding the eating customs of the era see Borbála Benda, Étkezési szokások a magyar főúri udvarokban,in Idővel paloták, 491507.

52 The Stadthann paid for products used at that time even months following the princely visit.

53 The tax deduction functioned on the town and regional (Barcaság) levels also, since the value of the products and services requisitioned from the Barcaság settlements were often compensated by a proportionate reduction of the annual tax.

54 Based on the date of the account books, mead was the preferred beverage of the Turkish guests.

55 Characteristically, the heavy consumption of brandy took place during the reception of Tatar guests.

56 The forum of the guildsmen and commoner citizens in Brassó was the Hundertmannschaft, or the community of one hundred elders, to which each of the town’s four precincts delegated twenty-five members. That body was dwarfed in importance by the council, chosen from the exclusive circle of the town’s patricians, though in lesser matters of local significance—as the above example also shows—it could make its voice heard.

57 Ejtel, also kupa (Achtel), a volume measure of medieval origin, 1 ejtel = approx. 1.36 liters. Thus, this was approximately 2,438 liters. Cf. Bogdán, Magyarországi űr-, térfogat-, súly- és darabmértékek, 236–37.

58 The officials responsible for matters pertaining to wine.

59 Approx. 152 liters.

60 Approx. 207 liters.

61 Among the persons in question (Hans Hirscher, Daniel Schespurger, Paul Lang, Thomas Schlösser, Hans Valthütter) we see wealthy citizens. The question arises whether their “debtcould truly be attributed to their insolvency or rather to business speculation on town purchases.

62 ANR FB Stadthannenrechnungen, vol. 20, 62324.

63 Weinlosung, Weinlösung: a type of town tax paid on wine conveyed into and out of the town, deriving from Brassó’s wine-selling privilege (educillatio).

64 Based on the account books we know the prince’s cooks from the period under examination, Tamás and János. ANR FB Stadthannenrechnungen, vol. 22, 372.

65 The most basic task was to ensure a constant supply of water in the kitchen building, for which Romanians were employed for a daily wage. Ibid., 110.

66 Ibid., vol. 21, 437; vol. 19, 476.

67 Ibid., 568.

68 Typical was having tin and glass vessels patched by the local guildsmen. Ibid., vol. 21, 56768.

69 There is no way of presenting the prince’s extremely varied demands in their entirety. The following examples, however, clearly demonstrate the variety that the princely commissions represented in the town. In 1622 silver vessels were packed (Ibid., vol. 22, 110), and laundresses were employed at the specific request of the prince (Ibid., 606). In February 1627 four cases were prepared for the prince’s pistols (Ibid., vol. 21, 313), as well as—during almost every princely visit—chests and vessels (Ibid., 314). The town must have needed to supplement the personnel demanded as well, since the leadership was forced to borrow servant girls from the school master’s wife (Ibid., 316). Gábor Bethlen particularly availed himself of the services of the tailors of Brassó, since they sewed several suits of clothing for the princely court (Ibid., 341, 443). In addition, Romanian, Saxon and Gypsy day laborers had to be temporarily employed for the most varied jobs, from sewing sacks to hauling earth (Ibid., 430, 438, 567, 584), carters to convey the court dignitaries (Ibid., 44445, 57274). In 1629 the prince requested gold and white saddles, gold leaf, tents and bathtubs, and had his chest covered with leather in Brassó.

70 The account books provide countless examples of this phenomenon. To single out take just one, we may cite Zsigmond Kornis, the prince’s quartermaster, who during a memorable visit in 1616 visited Brassó together with his family. He himself had arrived on February 18 with an escort of seven to order accommodations for Gábor Bethlen, while on the next day he was joined by another 30 persons. It appears that his wife and other kin also resided at the Kornis lodgings, since the data from the account books reveal that although Kornis traveled to Prázsmár to meet the prince on February 21, his household waited for him in Brassó, until he returned on the 29th with another army of guests (“mit ein hauffen gesindl”). They remained in Brassó after the end of the princely visit, until March 2, as did Farkas Kamuthy, who also arrived with his wife. ANR FB Stadthannenrechnungen, vol. 20, 61215, 618.

71 Ibid., vol. 19, 616.

72 In December 1610 Gábor Báthory had occupied the Saxons’ most important town, Szeben by ruse, and rescinded Transylvanian Saxon autonomy, which had existed since 1224.

73 Diarium des Andreas Hegyes,” in Quellen zur Geschichte der Stadt Kronstadt, vol. 5, 494.

74 Tagebuch des Petrus Banfy,” in Quellen zur Geschichte der Stadt Kronstadt, vol. 5, 431.

75 A szász universitas gyűlésének feltételei Bethlen Gábor szebeni telelése tárgyában,” in Szilágyi, Erdélyi országgyűlési emlékek, vol. 6, 383–89.

76 Diarium des Andreas Hegyes,” in Quellen zur Geschichte der Stadt Kronstadt, vol. 5, 493.

77 The incident is recounted in detail in the diaries of Petrus Bánfy and András Hegyes; see ibid., 431, 542–43.

78 Based on the extant gift lists, besides the prince and his wife the list of those presented with gifts included: in 1614 István Bethlen; Chief Chamberlain Pál Rhédey; Chancellor Simon Péchy; the prince’s secretary, Gáspár Bölöni; the prince’s overseers, quartermaster, master cook and doorwards; and the Turkish and Hungarian lords departing for the Porte (ANR FB Stadthannenrechnungen, vol. 20, 664). In 1616: once again the chancellor; István Tököly; Voivode Marco; Farkas Bethlen; a certain Master Kelemen whose function is unknown; the prince’s overseers, doorwards, master cook, quartermaster, footmen and infantry commanders; as well as Kozma Deli and a certain Anschina (?) (Ibid., vol. 20, 626). In February 1627: the chancellor; Ferenc Mikó; János Balling, captain of Fogaras; István Béldi; Seneschal Mihály Dániel; Ferenc Macskássy; Ferenc Balássi; Cup-Bearer Várkonyi; the consort’s seneschal and prefect; the “Kusch Graff” i.e., István Bethlen the younger; Mihály Bíró (in charge of the prince’s courtiers); Court Captain Pál Nagy; and retainers” Simon Bojár and János Kemény (Ibid., vol. 21, 324–25). The visit of August 1627 formed an exception, and the list of payments to the Old Town residents transporting the court reveals the identity of the guests: István Bethlen the younger; Petneházy; Zsigmond Kornis; Bélaváry; the chancellor; Dávid Zólyomi; Mikes; and Mikó (Ibid., 444–45). In 1628: the chancellor; Dávid Zólyomi; Ferenc Balássi; the “der Bethlenische Hundt,” Mihály Dániel; Macskássy; Chief Seneschal Zsigmond Kékedy; and Pál Nagy (Ibid., 571). In 1629: Mikó; the chancellor; István Bethlen; Zsigmond Kornis; Dávid Zólyomi; Zsigmond Kékedi; Péter Bethlen; Ferenc Macskássy; Mihály Dániel; Ferenc Balássi; Pál Nagy; János Török; the prince’s stewards, attendants and quartermaster; and Benedek Nagy (Ibid., vol. 19, 477–79).

79 It appears that the value of the presented gifts may be called extraordinary not only in Brassó but also in the major Saxon towns with similar aspirations. It speaks volumes that the prince’s capital in Hungary, Kassa, “honored” Gábor Bethlen to a much more modest extent: according to the testimony of Kassa’s town protocols, the prince alone received a valuable chalice during the visit, while those belonging to his entourage were bestowed with gifts of food representing a value befitting their position (calves, oxen and lambs for slaughter, wine, fodder for the horses, etc.). Cf. György Kerekes, Bethlen Gábor fejedelem Kassán. 16191629 (Kassa: Wiko, 1943): 29–32.

80 The amount had increased spectacularly by the end of Bethlen’s reign: 360.87 forints in 1614; 159.1 forints in 1616 (though the value of the prince’s Nuremberg chalice, which must have doubled the sum, was not indicated); 927.02 forints in 1627; 643.32 forints in 1628; and 807.31 forints in 1629.

81 Tagebuch des Petrus Banfy,” in Quellen zur Geschichte der Stadt Kronstadt, vol. 5, 431.

82 The organist Johannes Preussinger settled in Beszterce, the Viennese chorus-singer Johannes Thosselius in Szeben, and the organist Michael Hermann in Brassó. It was precisely after the princely visit of 1626 that the last came to the town, where he later rose to the position of town judge; Kraus, Erdélyi krónika 16081665, 104. One of Bethlen’s favored musicians, the German-born György Virginás, also settled in Nagyszeben. Bethlen Gábor – Levelek, 64; Sándor Szilágyi, Bethlen Gábor fejedelem levelezése (Budapest: Magyar Tudományos Akadémia, 1887), 33.

83 Péter Király, “Külföldi zenészek a XVII. századi fejedelmi udvarban és hatásuk,” Erdélyi Múzeum 56, no. 12 (1994): 2–5, accessed Sept. 10, 2009, http://erdelyimuzeumfolyoirat.adatbank.transindex.ro.

84 Ibid.

85 Jeney-Tóth, Báthory Gábor udvara,” 147.

86 “For as long as we live, now we too want to send two youths per annum to Academies out there for the purpose of study. We hope thereby the number of learned youth will increase.” Gábor Bethlen to Péter Alvinczi. Gyulafehérvár, August 14, 1615, in Bethlen Gábor – Levelek, 66; Sándor Szilágyi, Bethlen Gábor és a kassai pap, Magyar Protestáns Egyháztörténelmi Monográfiák XIII (Budapest: Magyarországi Protestansegylet, 1880): 35.

87 ANR FB Stadthannenrehcnungen, vol. 22, 1051, 1066.

88 Ibid., 339.

89 Ibid., 752, 914.

90 Ibid., vol. 23, 77, 86.

91 Ibid., vol. 21, 415, 742.

92 Ibid., vol. 19, 562.

93 Ibid., 507.

94 Ibid., vol. 19, 564.

95 Ibid., vol. 20, 366; vol. 21, 572–74.

96 Ibid., vol. 21, 341, 517, 628; vol. 22, 609. Among the prince’s orders at times we find quite surprising ones as well: in 1629, for instance, he ordered carpentry work from Brassó artisans in Fogaras, which included the framing of 18 paintings. Ibid., vol. 19, 590.

97 By comparison, it is worth noting that the data of the account books show the cost of military obligations burdening the town (providing soldiers, supply deliveries) to have ranged around 13001500 forints for a military campaign led by the prince.

98 To single out just two major examples: a significant portion of Brassó’s revenues was affected by the recurring question of the lease of the toll of Törcsvár, which the town, following lengthy negotiations with the prince (and the opening up of ample financial resources)—managed to retain. Also worthy of mention is the violation in the town of the limitations that affected equally Brassó’s guildsmen and merchants, which was likewise successfully glossed over by winning the prince’s goodwill. Each of these illustrates merely one slice of the relationship, built on rational deals and compromises, that linked the ruler and one of his country’s wealthiest towns to each other.

99 Bethlen’s ambition to draw the union of the three feudal nations of Transylvania (the Hungarian nobility of the counties, Saxons, Szeklers) closer and place it in the service of the central authority foundered on the resistance of the estates, and particularly the Saxons, who feared the loss of their autonomy.

* The research was carried out with the support of the European Union and Hungary, with the co-financing of the European Social Fund (under the enhanced project “Nemzeti Kiválóság Program – Hazai hallgatói, illetve kutatói személyi támogatást biztosító rendszer kidolgozása és működtetése konvergencia program”, project number TÁMOP 4.2.4.A/2-11-1-2012-0001).

pdfVolume 3 Issue 1 CONTENTS

András Péter Szabó

Betrothal and Wedding, Church Wedding and Nuptials: Reflections on the System of Marriages in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century Hungary


The aim of the present study is to sketch briefly the relationship between the ecclesiastical and secular elements of the marriage customs in the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Kingdom of Hungary and Principality of Transylvania with the help of the sixteenth-century nuptial invitations preserved in the town archives of Beszterce (German: Bistritz; today Bistriţa, Romania), the specialist literature and ethnographic analogies. The common Hungarian and Latin designation for the betrothal and the church marriage (kézfogás/desponsatio) indicates that the two concepts had not separated completely. The terminological uncertainty can be explained by the slow implementation of canonical requirements: in practice the betrothal, adopted in the twelfth century, originating in Roman law, only gradually earned its place. The Reformation gave further impetus to doctrines proclaiming the binding force of betrothal, perhaps also connected with this is the fact that a binding form of betrothal also existed alongside that corresponding to today’s version for a very long time in both Transylvania and Hungary. Betrothal accompanied by church ceremony in this case was followed as a second phase by a purely secular wedding feast. Only after the wedding subsequently became permanently embedded in the wedding feast did the church ceremony become the central element in the series of events.


Keywords: marriage rites, church law, ethnography of nuptials, wedding invitations


The Starting Point for Research

The examination of marriage in the medieval and early modern eras has been one of the most preferred topics of European and American social history in recent decades. Research into legal history has extended attention not only to the family as an institution but also to the legal regulation of marriages.1 Among the sources of both trends the protocols and documents of the various ecclesiastical courts, which are truly the best and most eloquent sources for the practice of concluding marriages and domestic cohabitation, have occupied a prominent place despite the fact they first and foremost attest to deviations from the norm.2 With a certain lapse of time, indirect evidence has also been included, and thus have, for example, literary texts come under the magnifying glass as well.3 In the present study our guiding thread will be a set of sources that until now has mostly escaped the attention of research: the formal letters of invitation to the great weddings of the early modern era.4

A source publication I collaborated on, which appeared in 2005, forms the starting point for the examination. In it were published the sixteenth-century nuptial invitations sent to Beszterce (today: Bistriţa, Romania), more specifically those invitations that the German-populated town received from the Hungarian nobles of the surrounding territories and preserved in its exceptionally rich archives.5 The 123 invitation letters and the 111 nuptials included in them are a quantity that cannot be statistically evaluated, and in terms of quantity do not even approach the documentary material of the activity of any medieval English ecclesiastical court; yet on the eastern frontiers of Western Christianity, where even from the early modern era the types of serial source known from Western Europe have survived only sporadically, this does represent a sizeable quantity. In our opinion, the multilingual region, which after the Reformation became confessionally variegated as well, as a unique laboratory may also assist us in gaining a better understanding of pan-European developments.

It was while preparing the abstracts of the invitations that we realized just how much the marriage practice of the sixteenth century diverged from that of the modern era. In our study, starting from the invitations of Beszterce, but extending our research to the entire sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as well as all of historical Hungary, we will attempt to chart the most important differences. At the center of our interest there are two questions of key importance: the relationship between the betrothal and the wedding ceremony, as well as that between the ecclesiastical and secular episodes of the marriage (simply put, the wedding ceremony and the wedding feast). In order to obtain a fuller picture, we have extended our research to the full range of source types based on the specialist literature and published sources. The archaism of nineteenth-century folk culture, unknown in the West European region, made it possible for us to rely also on the results of ethnography in interpreting medieval and early modern rituals.6

From the outset a few basic concepts must be clarified, however. By the modern practice of marriage we mean that system in which the betrothal, a legally non-binding promise relating to marriage in the future, creating a freely dissoluble betrothed relationship, represents the first step, and the legal transaction establishing the marriage, the exchange of vows in church or, beginning with the introduction of secular marriages, the civil marriage, represents the second step. Occurring on the same day as the latter is the wedding feast, with a purely social integration function, which can even be omitted altogether. The custom of the traditional folk culture differs from this in two respects: first, the betrothal is more serious and accordingly more difficult to dissolve; and second, the wedding feast as a framework completely encompasses the ecclesiastical (and later the secular) marriage ceremony (thus the celebration commences already before the “wedding”) and cannot be regarded simply as eating and drinking intended to announce the new position in society and strengthen familial ties, but possesses legal significance as well. In other words, the wedding feast is a rich storehouse of legal folk customs, and according to popular perception some of these make up the secular ceremony necessary for contracting the marriage.7 Yet in reality the church could not have considered the wedding feast to be a simple entertainment either, since it included as a crucial factor the consummation of the marriage as well, which had significance in canon law and Protestant church law. Despite its crucial significance, however, we cannot regard canon law/church law as the sole possible framework for interpreting medieval and early modern marriage.


The Nuptial Invitations

At first the invitations serving as the guiding thread for our examination were written in Latin, in both of the Christian successor states of the medieval kingdom of Hungary, in the kingdom forming part of the Habsburg Monarchy, and in the Ottoman vassal state, the Principality of Transylvania. In Transylvania it is only from the 1580s on that letters of invitation composed in Hungarian or German completely assume their role. In the Holy Roman Empire, by contrast, invitations in the vernacular were typical in the fifteenth century as well.8 Here it was only Humanists who favored the use of Latin. The structure of the wedding invitations, however, almost independently of the language of the letter, show a uniform image throughout the late medieval and early modern eras, allowing us to conclude that they were written according to a widely used model.

In Hungary the first Latin-language letter we know, already displaying numerous obligatory elements of the genre, is from the early fifteenth century. The Hungarian-language invitations appearing in the mid-sixteenth century are free translations of the Latin versions.

The text of the invitations, regardless of whether they were sent to a noble, a town or some other body, in almost every case is divided into the following units. 1. Address, greeting. Generally in Latin, the corresponding Hungarian- and German-language formulae came into use only beginning in the late sixteenth century. 2. Arenga, or introductory flourish, which calls attention to the fact that man must live in matrimony as ordained by God. In the more verbose formulations, it is the story of Eve’s creation that crops up: “It is not good for man to be alone” (Non est bonum homini esse solum, Genesis 2:18). The story of the first human couple is incidentally the leading topic of Catholic and Protestant wedding sermons. Often only the expression “as ordained by God” (divina ordinatione/Isten rendelése szerint/durch Gottes Ordnung und Fürschung) remains of the obligatory theological justification. Sometimes this is supplemented also by a comment referring to the fact that the decision has occurred “by the approval” of the relatives. 3. Announcement of the approaching nuptials and the antecedent act contracting the marriage, with the names of the marrying parties, their fathers or, in the case of a widow bride, the previous husband. 4. The place and date of the wedding. 5. The actual invitation. 6. The justification for the invitation, which is always that the presence of the addressee will elevate the splendor of the festivities. 7. In return for the favor, the addressee’s presence, the sender of the invitation pledges his future services. 8. The closing good wishes, date and signature customary in such missives. The various component elements of the invitation text at times slide together, winding up in the same sentence, though this does not alter the essence of the structure. From the point of view of the present study it is the third point of the invitations that will be of fundamental importance.


The Unknown Menyegző (Nuptials)

At first it perhaps seems curious to ask what kind of event is in fact specified by the early modern wedding invitations. An answer to the question is rendered exceedingly difficult by the fact that the words we currently use for marriage and the modern rituals behind them latently influence all attempts at an interpretation. Therefore, it is worth first examining the meaning of the words, and thereby we may perhaps come one step closer to the old system of marriage.


The Meaning of the Words

The Hungarian-language invitation letters of the sixteenth century generally refer to the event specified in the invitation with the word menyegző. The expression menyegző appears in the fourteenth century and is a noun formed from the medieval Hungarian verb menyez (nubo). In contrast to the Latin equivalent, it contains not the word “veil” but “bride” (meny). At the same time, the first printed Latin–Hungarian dictionary (1604) and the bilingual sources give the word menyegző as the precise translation of the Latin word nuptiae.9 We may regard the German Hochzeit, which replaced the earlier expression Brautlauf in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and originally meant simply a large celebration, as having semantic spheres completely identical to these two terms.10 According to the most plausible view, in the early modern era all three words referred to a feast in the modern sense as the secular part of the marriage; however, in many cases they implied the marriage ceremony blessed by the church as well, and thus in their latter meaning they are actually the equivalents of “wedding” (a complex matrimonial event: wedding + feast) in today’s broader sense. While the German Hochzeit is the primary noun for marriage even today, the word menyegző began from the late sixteenth century on to be supplanted in a large part of the Hungarian language area by the expression lakodalom.11

We can show the use of the word lakodalom beginning in the early sixteenth century. Contained in it is the verb lakik (to regale oneself) referring to eating. Originally the term lakodalom was used for all large celebratory feasts. The role played by the festive meal in the menyegző may explain how the word lakodalom could so easily assume the earlier meaning of the word menyegző: first perhaps the narrower, and then in the seventeenth century the broader one encompassing the entire marriage. The explanation of the expression menyegzői lakodalom, typical of this same century, confronts us with a more difficult task. Based on our sources it appears unequivocal that it is the Hungarian equivalent of the Latin expression nuptiarum sollemnitas. In the Transylvanian and Hungarian invitations of the seventeenth century, the event specified in the invitation is quite frequently called menyegzői lakodalom. Does the phrase menyegzői lakodalom possess the broader meaning of menyegző as the word lakodalom does? The signs indicate that generally not in the usage of the majority, but rather that it was used only for the secular celebration, somewhat like the structurally similar modern English wedding party or the German Hochzeitsfeier expressions.

In place of both menyegző and lakodalom the invitations very often employ those words which originally referred to a single episode of the event, though one that held crucial importance, the handing over of the bride from her parents’ home, and her being led over to the groom’s house, but later on they covered the whole secular part of the marriage. In Hungarian these expressions are the megadás and hazaadás (on the part of the bride’s family), as well as the elhozás and hazavitel (on the part of the groom’s family), while the equivalent Latin technical term, which underwent a similar expansion of meaning, is unequivocally elocatio.

The name for the church part of the marriage represents a problem of comparable weight to the above, since some of the equivalent words may equally designate a betrothal in today’s sense also. Such polysemous words are the Hungarian kézfogás/kézfogó (“handfasting”) and the Latin desponsatio or sponsalia. However, there also exist words that beyond any doubt designate only the church ceremony.12 Both the sixteenth-century hitlés/hitelő, and the esketés/esküvő and its variants in use beginning in the seventeenth century refer to the vow by which the parties affirmed their mutually declared intention to marry (consensus) during the ceremony. Our seventeenth-century sources also reveal that a pars pro toto referring to a completely different element of the marriage was regarded as the Latin equivalent of the two word clusters: the word copulatio, which in a narrower sense is that element of the wedding ceremony when the priest (for Catholics before the parties take their vows, and for Protestants following this) declares the marriage established. It is very important to make clear that only in the rarest of cases do the terms for the church part of the marriage occur in the nuptial invitations of the sixteenth- and seventeenth century.

For the sake of better comprehensibility, the results of our conceptual analysis are summarized in a table as well (Table 1).


Modern name

16th-century Hungarian

17th-century Hungarian

16th–17th-century German

16th–17th-century Latin



(The entire series of events taken together, or the secular part of the marriage, “nuptials”)




Örömem napja

Tisztességem napja



Örömem napja/

Menyegzői lakodalom




Hochzeitliche Freude/ ~r Freudentag



Nuptiarum sollemnitas/



(pars pro toto terms, not including the church part)







(often preceded by tisztességes “respectable”)


Übergabe (modern form)

ausgeben (verb)




Elocationis sollemnitas


(the ecclesiastical part of the marriage, the church ceremony)





Hitlés (rare)




Derék házasság










(the preliminary promise of marriage, i.e., “betrothal”)


Vettem/ választottam magamnak házastársul


eljegyez (verb)


Zu einen zukünftigen Ehgemal vermählen

Zu Ehgemal vertrauen (jemandem)





elego in coniugem


Table 1.


The polysemy of the nouns meaning marriage in and of itself would not cause much trouble if in the invitations the verb clearly defined the act preceding the invitation. Unfortunately this is not the case. While most Latin-language letters as a rule make use of the phrase desponsavi/desponsaverim in coniugem/uxorem (thus, the inviting party literally speaks of betrothal), in the Hungarian-language letters we generally read vettem magamnak feleségül (“I have taken for myself as a wife”). But if the father or guardian of the bride writes the letter, in the majority of cases he uses the expression adtam feleségül (“I have given as a wife”) and its Latin equivalent (elocavi/elocaverim in coniugem/uxorem). Yet according to our modern linguistic intuition these formulations would mean not the betrothal but rather the marriage.13 The seventeenth-century invitations introduce the announcement of the wedding much rather with the phrases jegyzette(m) el (“I have betrothed”) or, in the case of the bride’s father, ígértem házastársul (“I have pledged as a spouse”). The enigmatic form vettem (“I have taken”) known from the letters crops up in the earliest Hungarian-language marriage vow (from the turn of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries), as well as in numerous Protestant ritual books of the sixteenth century.14

One means of resolving the contradiction would be if we took the expression feleségül venni (“I have taken as wife”) to be equivalent to the phrase választottam feleségül (“I have chosen as wife;” in Latin: elegerim (et petiverim) in coniugem) employed in some of the sixteenth-century invitations, thus we could apply it to a simple betrothal. According to another proposed solution, the odd past-tense expression allows us to conclude the occurrence of a “handfasting” (kézfogó) prior to the invitation and reinforced by a vow (a firmer betrothal than that of today). 15

Even more surprising than the above was that some of the sixteenth-century Latin-language invitations from Beszterce feature iungo or copulo, which are unequivocally the verbs of the church marriage, instead of desponso. All this would mean that the marriage ceremony occurred well before the wedding feast (lakodalom), indeed, before the letters were sent out. Moreover, the verb desponso is also frequently accompanied by a phrase difficult to interpret, namely, iure/ritu matrimonii (or possibly in the form ritu sanctae catholicae ecclesiae), that is, in accordance with the law/rite of marriage of the Universal Church (in a longer version: iuxta ritum et (antiquam) consuetudinem sanctae catholicae ecclesiae/matris ecclesiae, that is “according to the ancient rite and custom of the Holy Mother Church”).

Our analysis of the early modern vocabulary of marriage has perhaps succeeded in conveying the difficulties with which our sources confront us at almost every turn. It is also clear that the old Hungarian system of marriage cannot be decoded solely with the help of the invitations and ritual books—only with the help of reference points outside the text can we free ourselves from the influence of our own era. We must move beyond and examine the ecclesiastical law background and conceptual network that defined the content and interrelationship of the above expressions.


The Evolution of Christian Marriage Law in a Nutshell

At first Christianity prescribed no formal marriage ceremony for its adherents; from the mid-fourth century on, however, the practice of the priest blessing marriages after the fact spread. Although the blessing was by no means necessary for the validity of the marriage, later nevertheless it was around it that a nuptial mass gradually crystalized, and as the last stage of the process the marriage ceremony of the church. In this evolution, the twelfth century, when marriage—primarily based on the teachings of Saint Augustine—finally earned its placed among the sacraments, was of crucial importance. The consequence in this life of the acceptance of the sacramental nature was the veritable “reformation” of marriage law and, through it, of society.16 The church thereafter increasingly lay claim to the oversight of marriages, and demanded for itself the right to adjudicate them as well, while it regarded marriage as indissoluble. A new ideal equal in rank to celibacy was born,17 the institutional regulation of which was formed with the incorporation of important elements of Roman law. The most important borrowing undoubtedly was the basic principle that only a free act of agreement between two persons (consensus) with no external coercion could establish a marriage, which was a radical departure from the view emphasizing the exclusive right of the extended family of Germanic law to decide.18

Two great twelfth-century canonical schools were allotted a crucial role in shaping the details of the reform: the Parisian school, representing the Gallic church, and the Bolognese school, closely linked to the Italian church (ecclesia cisalpina). The Parisians, led by Peter Lombard [Petrus Lombardus] (†1164) and the Bolognese, associated with the name of Gratian [Gratianus], agreed on the primacy of consensus and the indissolubility of marriage, though their opinions differed over which act contained the sacrament that ultimately sealed the marital relationship.19 According to Gratian, this element was the consummation of the marriage (copula carnalis), therefore an unconsummated marriage (conjugium initiatum) could be dissolved, and of two declarations of consensus it was always the consummated one (conjugium ratum) that was the valid one, regardless of chronological order. The Parisian school, however, believed to have discovered the sacrament in the declaration of the will to marry itself and sought to achieve the consolidation of the institution of marriage by introducing an additional concept of Roman law, betrothal in today’s sense. It is in the canonical works of Ivo of Chartres (†1116) that the view first appears, which distinguishes the betrothal (sponsalia de futuro), containing a pledge in the future and dissoluble, from the marriage (sponsalia de praesenti), articulating a present-tense promise and regarded as completely indissoluble. By adopting this distinction, the Parisian school—at least on a theoretical plane—created the system of Christian marriages known today. In their view, if a person entered into two “betrothals” (sponsalia), the one in which the intention to marry is expressed by the exchange of words of present consent (de praesenti) was the valid one, and the issue of which was consummated was not crucial. While Gratian carried forward the traditional notion of a processual marriage (placing, it is true, unusually great emphasis on consummation), the Parisian school tied the establishment of the marriage to a single act, the sponsalia de praesenti.20

It was Pope Alexander III (1159–1181), recognized as a canon lawyer as well, who settled the debate between the two schools, in essence more inclined to agree with the Parisian school. Gratian’s views regarding the significant legal role played by consummation prevailed in merely two particulars: in the event of an unconsummated marriage the church permitted the spouses to enter a religious order; and it recognized that consummation transformed the intention to marry expressed by words of future consent into a valid marriage (sponsalia de futuro carnali copula subsecuta).21

Although these changes were meant to increase ecclesiastical influence over marriage, as a result of the exclusive emphasis of consensus, in a given situation they provided an opportunity to evade ecclesiastical and societal rules. For the church, because of its own principles of canon law, was also forced to recognize the validity of those marriages concluded out of the public eye and without formal ceremonies, or even without seeking the parents’ consent (matrimonium clandestinum).22 Thus it is understandable that the fight against clandestine marriages became one of the engines for the development of marriage law. In the eyes of the church marriage remained a sacrament that the parties bestowed to one other, but for this there was an increasing demand for public scrutiny and the authenticating role of the priest.23 Accordingly, the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) prescribed the priestly blessing of marriages, and in addition considered the reading of the banns three times in advance and the presence of witnesses to be necessary. It is true, however, that this regulation did not call the validity of clandestine marriages into question either.24

Yet the late medieval evolution ultimately brought about the slow but continuous strengthening of the church’s role. In many places the church ceremony confined itself to a blessing of the contracted marriage after the fact, but elsewhere it now became linked to some act of the traditionally multiphase marriage, for example, the rite of handing over the bride (traditio/Trauung). Here the priest was promoted from prominent witness to master of ceremonies: instead of the bride’s relative or an entrusted third person it was now he who placed the girl into the groom’s hand, while the ceremony moved from private homes and public spaces to the churches. At first it appeared that the Reformation was creating a new marriage law radically departing from the medieval one. Luther after a brief vacillation rejected the sacramental nature of marriage. Accordingly, he no longer regarded it as indissoluble either, calling it in fact a secular matter, by this he meant that it belonged among the institutions of the world that came into existence after the fall from grace, and subject to secular regulation.25 One practical consequence of the line of thought was that the possibility of divorce appeared, while among the impediments to marriage “spiritual kinship” (coming about during baptism) disappeared.26 Although the Reformation removed marriage from among the ranks of the sacraments, it increased its significance vis-à-vis celibacy, held to be harmful, and in the long term this laid the foundations of the superior ecclesiastical notion of marriage almost reminiscent of that of the sacraments.

At first Luther considered the distinction between the two kinds of betrothal (sponsalia de praesenti/de futuro) also to be contrived, a word game, and recognized only one, legally binding betrothal.27 He questioned the constituting power of betrothal only in those cases where its validity was tied to some specific condition. In his view, therefore, it was the betrothal that created the marriage, while within the church ceremony only the public affirmation of the already contracted marriage took place. His opinion is strongly reminiscent of the teachings of the master of the Bolognese school, Gratian, though he does differ from the latter in that he considers parental consent as necessary for the marriage and, unlike Melanchthon or Théodore de Béze, does not attribute primary legal significance to consummation. Luther’s view about the “secular” character of marriage was shared by the great figures of the Swiss Reformation as well, though the renewal of the faith ultimately failed to bring about a revolutionary change in the area of marriage law.28 It is the medieval legacy of the new denominations that makes it comprehensible why in the end, despite Luther’s fierce outbursts against canon lawyers, Protestant ecclesiastical law was established on foundations of medieval canon law and failed to break completely with the distinction between the two kinds of betrothal: the views regarding the question were visibly sharply divided. It may be stated in any case that, like Luther, a significant number of Lutherans saw the public betrothal as the beginning of legal marital relations and regarded the church ceremony that followed it as only a kind of affirmation. It is the medieval roots that explain also why right up until the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the Protestant churches did not necessarily link the validity of the marriage to the church ceremony. However, in their case, too, the ambition to control marriages became increasingly strong, which was reflected in the marital arbitration as well.

The new Catholic Church born in the debates of the Council of Trent, on the other hand, already quite early on resolved itself to a comprehensive regulation of marriage law, first and foremost in order to eliminate clandestine marriages. With the Council of Trent’s so-called decree Tametsi issued in 1563 a new era commenced in the area of marriage. Here those requirements already articulated in the Middle Ages but not consistently enforced were incorporated into a general system: marriages were to be concluded in a church, before the competent parish priest or priest entrusted by him, in the presence of two or three witnesses, and it was necessary to read the banns three times before the wedding because of any potential obstacles to marriage.29 All marriages not satisfying these criteria were deemed invalid. The Catholic Church therefore stepping over the previous theological and canonical reservations broke with the monopoly of consensus, and proclaimed its own collaboration to be indispensable. (It was from this time on that there appeared the widely held view, naturally erroneous in the canon-law sense, that the act establishing the marriage was the joining of the couple by the priest.)

The reorganization exerted a significant influence also on the Protestant denominations, which were trying to introduce similar rules at this same time. As the final result of a lengthy process, by the eighteenth century, with the adoption of the Roman law notion, they too arrived at a result similar to the Catholic regulation, prescribing the church ceremony for the validity of marriages.


An Old Debate and Its Hungarian Offshoot

Naturally, the evolution of Christian marriage outlined above is the topic of numerous debates even today, with regard to both the form of the acts and their legal content. From the point of view of our present inquiry (the relationship of the ecclesiastical and secular elements of marriage) a nineteenth-century German legal history debate that hardly crops up in the modern English-language specialist literature, and its completely unknown continuation in Hungary will be the most important for us. It was at the time of the Bismarckian Kulturkampf in Germany that the debate between two extraordinarily well-prepared Lutheran legal historians, the national liberal supporter of the chancellor, Emil Friedberg (1837–1910), and the conservative Rudolph Sohm (1841–1917) about the history of marriage would take place.30 Their positions held quite strong topicality as well, for it was precisely during the debate (in 1875) that compulsory civil marriages were introduced in the German Empire. The debate occurred mostly around the content and origin of the various legal acts: they tried to uncover the role and interrelationship of Germanic, canon and Roman law in the historical formation of West European marriage.

Sohm claimed no less than that the Germanic marriage law had lived on latently, in the guise of scholasticism, in medieval canon law, and from there the basic structure passed over intact into Lutheran ecclesiastical law as well. Of the two phases of the marriage throughout it was the first that remains binding. In the most widespread form of Germanic marriage (Muntehe) this first phase was the betrothal (Verlobung), which the two extended families concluded with one another in the form of an oral contract (later the groom was also allotted an active role), while the second phase is the ceremonial handing over of the bride and the guardianship exercised over her to the groom (Trauung). The marriage, according to Sohm’s theory, was established by the Verlobung, though to purely negative effect, determining that they could not enter into a similar relationship with another person, then during the Trauung as an act of fulfillment the positive impact appeared: namely the marital union. The Gratian-type conjugium initiatum of canon law was nothing less than the Germanic Verlobung, while the conjugium perfectum essentially corresponded to the Germanic Trauung.31 The sole difference was that in canon law the legal function of the Trauung was assumed by consummation (matrimonii consummatio). Sohm also claimed resolutely that the Parisian school’s distinction, elevated to an official position in the twelfth century, had remained a dead letter: the sponsalia de futuro (the betrothal corresponding to today’s notion) originating in Roman law had not taken hold in practice, and throughout the Middle Ages only a single marriage-forming betrothal had existed.32 This was attested also by those words in numerous Germanic and Romance languages that could designate equally spouse and betrothed, as well as betrothal and marriage. (We could note this fact earlier in relation to the Hungarian language as well.) The church ceremony coming into use after the great reform of the twelfth century as a complementary element in his view was connected to the second phase, counting as an act of fulfillment, and not to the betrothal actually establishing the marriage, since it was on the day of the Trauung that the secular celebration of the marriage was held, i.e., the wedding feast in its narrower sense (Hochzeitsfeier), and it appeared logical that the church celebration should also be connected to this.33 With the linking of the element of fulfillment and the church ceremony, however, it was precisely the act forming marriage, the legally crucial betrothal, that had remained unregulated, and this had resulted in the complete irrelevance of the church. The Catholic Church had drawn the lesson at the Council of Trent: it had carried out the first substantive modification of canon law marriage. Recognizing the marriage-constituting force of betrothal, they had changed the church ceremony into a ceremony in the nature of a betrothal, the second phase, the Trauung in fact had ceased to exist, and its remnants came to be linked to the binding betrothal as wedding formulas. However, it was not these words of copulatio that formed the essence of the new church ceremony, but rather the consensus solemnly declared in the presence of the priest as witness. It was now that the distinction formed in the twelfth century became reality: before the sponsalia de praesenti as marriage solemnized by the church’s involvement, the genuine, modern betrothal that originated in Roman law and could no longer be changed into a marriage through consummation, appeared in the Catholic matrimonial ritual.

The Lutherans, according to Sohm, had tread a different path. Luther had by no means opposed the essence of canonical teachings when he deemed the entirely theoretical distinction between the sponsalia de futuro and sponsalia de praesenti to be word play but rather had simply registered the previously widespread perception.34 As Sohm saw it, Lutheran church law in the sixteenth century had completely preserved the marriage system of medieval canon law, with the betrothal that created a legal relationship, and the fulfillment of the contract, consummation. Over the course of the seventeenth century this had been altered in that it was the church ceremony emerging around the handover transaction of Germanic law (Trauung), at first in addition to consummation, and later completely assuming its role, that represented the second, contract-fulfilling act. And this would have restored the original Germanic marriage system, which only the reception of Roman marriage law in the eighteenth century effaced.35

Friedberg’s views, expounded with similar erudition, were diametrically opposed to the above ideas. For him, already in the era of Germanic law it was the second phase, the Trauung, that established the marriage, and in his view this remained so in canon law as well. Friedberg believed that the Verlobung of Germanic law over the course of the Middle Ages had fused into the Trauung, forming a single act of marriage, and it was as preparation for this that the betrothal originating in Roman law (sponsalia de futuro) appeared in the twelfth century. The sponsalia de praesenti establishing the marriage, likewise adopted from Roman law, in turn appears as one of the elements of the new complex Trauung. It was precisely in this that the canon lawyer believed to have discovered the proof that it was the Trauung that had been the start of marriage in earlier times, too.

Thus, according to Freidberg the distinction of the Parisian school had indeed taken root, and in fact had become generally accepted in canon law. He calls into question the significance of Gratian’s teachings.36 In his opinion, the significance of the Tridentine reform lies not in the fact that it joins the church ceremony to the act establishing the marriage, since it had been connected to it up until then, but rather in that with the complete fading of the legal significance of the Trauung the last elements of Germanic law also disappeared from the marriage rite formed on the basis of Roman law in the twelfth century.

Friedberg naturally thought differently about Luther as well. In his assessment, the reformer had adopted the binding betrothal not from the hated medieval canon law but from the church fathers. Although the Luther-type “sponsalia theory” had won acceptance in Lutheran church law (and betrothals, in contrast to Sohm’s view, were regarded as marriages possessing full legal force), in practice because of the resistance of society and the secular authorities it had penetrated but little.37 Critical voices among Lutheran church lawyers appear already in the seventeenth century, then in the eighteenth century the influence of natural law displaced the archaic notion introduced by Luther, which was completely at variance with medieval practice as well.38

From the above it is perhaps clear that both theories contain numerous speculative elements, and it is their strength that is also their weakness: they seek to provide a unitary, comprehensive explanation for the development of marriage in Western Europe. The seeds of the debate in Germany a decade later sprouted in Hungary. This is no coincidence, for in the decades prior to the introduction of compulsory civil marriage (1894) in Hungary, too, interest in the history of marriage customs increased greatly. Gyula Kováts’s (1849–1935) work A házasságkötés Magyarországon egyházi és polgári jog szerint [Marriage in Hungary according to Ecclesiastical and Civil Law] appeared in 1883, followed in 1887 by Baron Ervin Roszner’s (1852–1928) strongly polemical monograph.39 A heated scholarly debate erupted between the two canon lawyers, followed with lively attention by educated public opinion as well. The Protestant Kováts emerged as a follower of Sohm, while the Catholic Roszner championed Friedberg’s teachings.

Although more than one renowned legal historian of the era paid tribute to Roszner’s accomplishment, nevertheless in hindsight it is evident that in a few important questions we must side with the much better trained Kováts, who adapted his German master’s theses independently. For us, the most interesting element of the dispute is the same question that earlier had caused the greatest commotion in Germany too: the presumed marriage-forming nature of betrothal. In the course of the debate Roszner succeeded in proving that the distinction between sponsalia de praesenti and de futuro in the thirteenth century cropped up in legal documents in Hungary (later, sporadically, in diplomas as well), and on the basis of this he presumed that the modern ritual had appeared in Hungary already in the Middle Ages, with the betrothal that created the engaged relationship, and the subsequent marriage.40 Kováts by contrast argued that although the distinction had been known in theory, in practice for a very long time only one marriage-forming betrothal, called desponsatio or desponsatio per verba de praesenti in Latin, had existed, followed after a certain interval by a secular act of fulfillment incorporating consummation as an essential moment: the wedding feast.41 (In the Hungarian canon lawyer’s theory this occupied the place of Sohm’s Trauung, originating in Germanic law, becoming over time part of the church ceremony.) From his writings it is strongly apparent that he himself could not decide with absolute certainty: to which phase of the marriage the church ceremony, at this time still insignificant in a legal sense, was typically linked—the first: marriage-binding betrothal, the second: the wedding feast (lakodalom), or perhaps occurring as a third element in time between the betrothal and the wedding feast (lakodalom). As far as can be discerned from his obscure formulations, he considers perhaps the first version to be the most widespread, though he does not reflect at all on how strongly he diverges from Sohm’s thinking in this regard. Kováts believed that this custom―at times with the temporal separation of the betrothal (kézfogó) serving as marriage and the church wedding (összeadás)―had predominated, for Catholics until the reception of the Council of Trent while for Protestants right up until the mid-eighteenth century.42 The great strength of his argument, compared not only to Roszner’s thinking but Sohm’s as well, was that his attention also extended to the role played by the wedding feast in the marriage. (For Sohm the wedding feast was merely a secular celebration accompanying the Trauung always held on the same day as the latter, to which he attributes no great significance despite the fact that it serves as the framework for consummation—essentially he considers it a sort of appendage to the second phase.) Although Kováts’s assertions, formulated partly following Sohm and partly on the basis of his own research, are highly generalizing, and debatable with regard to the legal content of certain acts, his theory as an attempt at description nevertheless can offer a strong basis for analysis.

Marriage Practice in Medieval and Early Modern Hungary

One of the Hungarian canon lawyer’s most important guiding threads in the issue of betrothal was Transylvanian memoir literature. It was Gyula Kováts who first read with a truly keen eye the description of marriages given by Baron Péter Apor (1676–1752) in his nostalgic Hungarian-language work about the everyday life of the Transylvanian nobility in the seventeenth century. The text, apart from the blessing of the nuptial table, mentions only one church ceremony, specifically in connection with the “handfasting.” According to the author of the Metamorphosis Transylvaniae, among the Transylvanian nobility the custom was that immediately after the exchange of rings:


... the young man sent again his two relatives and called on the girl to pledge herself. Then the father and mother and their relatives once more brought out the girl and the ceremony took place. There was a decent cloth on the table, and another was spread on the ground in front of it, and the priest stood in front with his back to the table facing the assembled company; the young man came forth and stood on the cloth, a female relative led the girl forth, and the priest administered the vows. When the ceremony was concluded the girl was led inside once more (translation by Bernard Adams).43


The authenticity of Apor’s description is buttressed by the autobiography of Miklós Bethlen (1642–1716) as well. Reading his account of the two marriages carefully, it is unequivocal that on both occasions the wedding (church ceremony) took place only within the framework of the betrothal, while the feast following the rather large-scale event was merely a feast and nothing more.44

Kováts also uses the bible of traditional Hungarian noble customary law, István Werbőczi’s Tripartitum (1514) as support for his theory. The legal scholar in the first part of his work writes that sons are freed from paternal authority through division of the estate and daughters by the desponsatio and the nuptiarum sollemnitas.45 Because a Roman-law type de futuro betrothal could not have involved such a legal consequence, it is therefore unequivocal in his opinion that the former expression must be translated as a binding betrothal, and the latter as wedding feast. The identification of the nuptiarum sollemnitas in addition is aided by the fact that Werbőczi equates it with consummation by inserting the Latin conjunction sive (“that is”).

Although Kováts unfortunately ignores the ritual books (and his work suffered from this), nonetheless he does list one Calvinist ecclesiastical source rejecting the distinction between the betrothal and the marriage among the main proofs for his theory. This is a work of ecclesiastical law appearing in 1690 and written by Márton Szilágyi, from the Tiszántúl (region east of the Tisza River): the Triga divortialis, which in its outlook truly stands quite close to the old teachings of Gratian.46 Kováts’s observations about the form of the marriage can be supported, apart from the already quoted wedding invitations, primarily with narrative sources: for example, noble diaries, which are excellent records of the schedule of customs. In these it frequently occurs that the church ceremony (handfasting, vow-taking) is joined not to the wedding feast, but to the betrothal. However, in general the two elements are clearly distinguished from one another.47

Among the sources of the church administration, too, we find ones attesting to the fact that the church ceremony did not, or more precisely did not always occur within the framework of the wedding feast (lakodalom). The church visitation register of István Csulyak Miskolci, the Calvinist dean of Zemplén County (1629–1645), contains the following requirement, reflecting the multiplicity of practice: that “those who do not wed at the time of their betrothal (kézfogáskor) should wed in the morning, and in the church.”48 The 1649 ecclesiastical law book of the Transylvanian Calvinist bishop István Geleji Katona prescribes that not much time should pass between the joining of the couple (copulatio) and the wedding feast (nuptiae), lest the couple become intimate ahead of time or, on the contrary, quarrel.49

In examining the relationship of the ecclesiastical and secular elements of marriage ethnographic research also comes to our aid. It was the best known Hungarian researcher of folk legal customs, Ernő Tárkány Szűcs, who observed that in a few conservative Calvinist villages in southern Hungary the handfasting (kézfogó) likewise used to be held in the church, before a priest.50 Among the Hungarians of Slavonia, this ceremony assured the groom the right also to sleep with his fiancée. The author himself thought that the phenomenon was the remnant of an archaic set of customs, in which the contracting of a marriage consisted of merely two elements: the betrothal performed in the presence of the church and the consummation. More recently, researching the ecclesiastical administration of justice, Réka Kiss pointed out that in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Hungary and Transylvania the church wedding ceremony (esküvő) was often linked to the betrothal and in such instances preceded the completely secular wedding feast.51

However, we also possess ample sources that prove the existence in the medieval and early modern eras of the custom known today: the church ceremony integrated into the wedding feast, and the betrothal preceding it. For example, it is unequivocally in connection with the menyegző that the 1538 special statute of Beszterce, citing the provisions of the Hochzeitsordnungen (wedding ordinances) of Germany, stipulates that only as many bridesmaids (nyoszolyólány) escort the bride to the church as can be seated at one table.52

Elsewhere we likewise encounter wedding feast linked with wedding ceremony (and with the betrothal, or exchange of rings, presumably preceding it, functionally corresponding to that of today). One such is the menyegző combined with kézfogó (i.e., wedding) of György Thurzó’s daughter Judit in 1607.53 Nor must we forget that a significant number of the early modern Protestant ritual books not consulted by Gyula Kováts record the custom known today. Finally, we must mention also that in a few of our sixteenth-century invitations from Beszterce the impending event is called hitelés rather than the customary menyegző, which almost certainly indicates that the church ceremony was held within the framework of the wedding feast.

Apart from the two basic form of marriage presented, additional variants crop up in early modern Hungary: it is very likely that the separation and joining together of the different elements of the church marriage (copulatio, vows, exchange of rings, nuptial blessing), as well as their varying connection to the wedding feast, brought about numerous variations.54 Instructive is the case of a seventeenth-century Lutheran noble, Mihály Libercsey, whose first marriage in 1638 occurred entirely according to the modern custom: he became engaged to the girl with an exchange of rings, then the wedding feast was celebrated on the same day as the kézfogás (= wedding).55 After becoming widowed he remarried, but this time following a completely different schedule. On April 3, 1667 he became engaged to the widow of György Zmeskál, Anna Aranyadi, in Lestina [Leštiny, Slovakia], the next day he “takes her as a wife,” while they hold their wedding feast on May 1, 1667 in the castle of Gács [Halič, Slovakia].56 The betrothal and the handfasting presumably incorporating the church ceremony as well here almost coincide (though they are clearly distinct), while the wedding feast became detached in time and space.



Based on the above, a unitary, pure picture of the forms of marriages like that which the German and Hungarian legal historians of the nineteenth century believed to see, can certainly not be drawn. All signs indicate that in medieval and early modern Hungary and Transylvania several forms of marriage existed. The Tridentine reform of marriage and the similar resolutions of the Protestant synods later on gradually made the modern betrothal and the wedding ceremony (esküvő) integrated into the wedding feast (lakodalom) a general practice. However, the invitations from Beszterce and other sources reveal that, prior to the reception of the Decree Tametsi and the complete consolidation of Protestant marriage law, a betrothal closely linked to the church ceremony and a purely secular wedding feast formed one of the basic types, which we may by no means consider a rare exception.

It may also be rightly assumed that among commoners despite prohibitions in numerous cases the church’s collaboration was lacking.57 Some of the European parallels likewise show the long survival of clandestine marriages and diversity.58 The Protestant and Catholic ritual books of the seventeenth century reveal that the church did not insist firmly in every case on the church building as the venue for administering the vows. The uniform timetable and form of marriage in Hungary emerged as the result of a very long process, through the gradual encroachment of ecclesiastical supervision. We as yet cannot see clearly the existing territorial, confessional and societal differences in regard to marriage, nor the date when the unification occurred in the various areas of the country. We suspect that in many areas this transpired only in the eighteenth century. Indeed, even in an early ethnographic description of customs, György Nemesnépi Zakál’s 1818 work on the ethnography of the Őrség region, the wedding feast figures as an event separate from the church wedding in time. (True, the church ceremony is preceded by a “modern” betrothal.)59

It is not by chance that we spoke about the form of marriage above. At the forefront of Rudolph Sohm’s and Gyula Kováts’s inquiry—being legal historians—is not this, but rather the legal content of the marriage acts. Kováts considered betrothal as constituting marriages not only in those cases when they were paired with the administration of wedding vows, but rather he regarded every betrothal as establishing marriage, regardless of the form it took. This was specifically because he denied the validity of the canonical distinction that appeared in the twelfth century separating the betrothal from the marriage. (Regarding the characteristic form, he in fact diametrically opposes Sohm: according to the German canon lawyer, the church act, for a long time insignificant, was always connected to the second stage of the marriage.) In Kováts’s works the questions of legal content and form become blurred in a very misleading way. The historical sources from Hungary that he cites to demonstrate the marriage-binding betrothal in reality prove only the temporal separation of the wedding feast and the wedding, as well as the frequent coincidence of the betrothal and the church ceremony, that is, the physical sequence of the events. Today scholars view the marriage of Germanic law, which served as Sohm’s standard, differently as well: in addition to Verlobung and Trauung, they interpret the “taking home of the bride” (Heimführung), as well as the ritual placing of the couple into the nuptial bed (Beilager), very important from the point of view of property law, as an independent, temporally separate, third phase introducing marital life.60 Through the change in outlook it was the acts of the wedding feast in fact that assumed independent legal meaning. Moreover similar developments in research obviously dismantle the perfect symmetry of nineteenth-century theoretical systems. Must we completely reject the views of the German canon lawyer and his Hungarian follower concerning the binding betrothal? We think not, because in addition to the opinion victorious in the great debate of the twelfth century, the Gratian-type position, which did not accept the betrothal of Roman law (de futuro), reappeared time and again with varying intensity. It is our strong suspicion that ultimately it is to this legal outlook, gaining strength once again after the Reformation, that the past tense forms appearing in Hungarian wedding vows and banns, as well as the wedding invitations of the sixteenth century, can be traced back, and not to the fact that in terms of form the betrothal happened to occur in combination with the administration of the vows. A further argument in favor of the existence of the notion of marriage-forming betrothal, and against the general and fully clear distinction between betrothal and marriage is the prominent fact that in the early modern era both the Latin and Hungarian languages each had a very widespread term which, as we saw, was equally applied to both acts (desponsatio/kézfogás). And this allows us to conclude that the undifferentiated betrothal of medieval marriages only slowly disappeared from both spoken usage and practice.61

Therefore, the simplest and most concrete results of our examination are the following. From the point of view of the historical sciences, one of the serious lessons is that we must proceed very cautiously in analyzing our medieval and early modern sources: the Latin nuptiae, the Hungarian words menyegző and later lakodalom may designate both a purely secular celebration as well as an occasion that incorporates the church ceremony. The Latin desponsatio and its verbal forms may denote not only a simple betrothal (sponsalia de futuro) but also a betrothal contracting marriage, i.e., “wedding” (sponsalia de praesenti).62

For ethnographic research, in turn, it may be very interesting that in the event of a binding form of betrothal (betrothal + administering of vows) followed by a separate feast (lakodalom) all those liminal rites63 that in a wedding integrated into the feast (known from twentieth-century popular culture) immediately precede the church ceremony, here occur later: do prepare the taking home of the bride or the consummation; moreover, they occur within the framework of a secular feast. The emphasis fall completely elsewhere, it is not the church wedding ceremony that is the great turning-point of the ritual. In addition to making the Trident conditions compulsory this may be one of the crucial moment when the church exercised decisive influence on folk culture. That the integration of the wedding ceremony into the lakodalom fundamentally altered the secular rites of marriage is clearly shown by nineteenth-century ethnographic collections as well. From all parts of the Hungarian language territory we have data from this time that after the wedding ceremony the couple and the two wedding parties withdrew from the church separately and went to separate houses to have lunch as if nothing had happened.64 Only in the afternoon, after the meal had been consumed, did the groom’s wedding party set out for the bridal house, so that the final requesting the bride (kikérés) and solemn handing over of the bride (from an ecclesiastical point of view already wife) to happen in dramatic form, which is followed by the sad farewell of the bride from her kinfolk and her companions and her being led over to the groom’s house. (The above liminal rites clearly indicate that in the given system the leading of the bride to the groom’s house [átvezetés/hazavitel = leading over, taking home] is the most important secular element of the marriage.) This peculiar sequence of nuptial events, widespread in Hungary but not occurring in the West European descriptions of customs known to us, the requesting after the church wedding in our opinion mirrors the fact that the rigid structure of the feast, in its basic form purely secular, only gradually adapted to the insertion of the church ceremony, only after some delay. If we regard the late rise of ethnographic collecting, we now see that the abovementioned liminal rites as the indicators of the crucial event shifted to an earlier time, that is, they immediately precede the church wedding ceremony.

With the help of the sixteenth-century wedding invitations sent to the Transylvanian town of Beszterce we have perhaps succeeded in showing that, in addition to the much-interrogated protocol records and documents of ecclesiastical courts, other sources may also take us closer to the labyrinthine system of medieval and early modern marriages. Their serious advantage over the litigation material is that they are witnesses not of deviations from the norm but rather of everyday practice. The invitations, the narrative and legal sources called upon to assist in their analysis, as well as the ethnographic data all point in the direction that not even in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries can we speak of the full realization of twelfth- and thirteenth-century ecclesiastical regulation in the Kingdom of Hungary and the Principality of Transylvania. Perhaps the denominational variety of the territory also played a role in this, but a comprehensive explanation can hardly be the task of our brief study.


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Sohm, Rudolf. Das Recht der Eheschließung aus dem deutschen und canonischen Recht geschichtlich entwickelt: Eine Antwort auf die Frage nach dem Verhältnis der kirchlichen Trauung zur Civilehe. Weimar: Böhlau, 1875.

Sohm, Rudolf. Trauung und Verlobung: Eine Entgegnung auf Friedberg: Verlobung und Trauung. Weimar: Böhlau, 1876.

Steinhausen, Georg, ed. Deutsche Privatbriefe des Mittelalters. Vol 1., Fürsten und Magnaten, Edle und Ritter. Berlin: Heyfelder, 1899.

Stone, Lawrence. Road to Divorce: England 1530–1987. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Szabó, András Péter. “Menyegzőtől menyegzőig: Gondolatok a házasságkötési szokásrend magyarországi fejlődéséről” [Reflections on the Development of Traditional Marriage Ritual in Hungary]. Századok 144 (2010): 1027–83.

Szenci Molnár, Albert. Dictionarium Latinoungaricum. Nürnberg: Elias Hutter, 1604.

Szily, Kálmán, ed. “Farkas Pál és Farkas Ádám följegyzései 1638-tól 1694-ig” [The Notes of Pál Farkas and Ádám Farkas from 1638 to 1694]. Történelmi Tár (1884): 86–101.

Tárkány Szűcs, Ernő. Magyar jogi népszokások [Practices of Hungarian Folk Law]. Budapest: Gondolat, 1981.

Weichhart, Gabriella. Keresztelő, házasság és temetés Magyarországon 1600–1630 [Baptism, Marriage and Funeral in Hungary 1600–1630]. Budapest: Stephaneum, 1911.

Wettlaufer, Jörg. “Beilager und Bettleite im Ostseeraum (13–19. Jahrhundert): Eine vergleichende Studie zum Wandel von Recht und Brauchtum der Eheschließung.” In Tisch und Bett: Die Hochzeit im Ostseeraum seit dem 13. Jahrhundert, edited by Thomas Riis, 81–128. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1998.

Witte, John, Jr. Law and Protestantism: The Legal Teachings of the Lutheran Reformation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Zoványi, Jenő, ed. “Miskolci Csulyak István zempléni református esperes (1629–1645) egyházlátogatási jegyzőkönyvei” [The Canonical Visitations Registers of the Calvinist Dean of Zemplén County, István Miskolci Csulyak (1629–1645)]. Történelmi Tár (1906): 48–102, 266–313, 368–407.

Translated by Matthew Caples

1 A set of important books: Jack Goody, The Development of the Family and Marriage in Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983); Steven E. Ozment, When Fathers Ruled: Family Life in Reformation Europe (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983); John R. Gillis, For Better, for Worse: British Marriages, 1600 to the Present (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985); Christiane Klapisch-Zuber, Woman, Family and Ritual in Renaissance Italy (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1987); and Joel Francis Harrington, Reordering Marriage and Society in Reformation Germany (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995). Regarding the marriage law, see Hartwig Dieterich, Das protestantische Eherecht in Deutschland bis zur Mitte des 17. Jahrhunderts (Munich: Claudius Verlag, 1970); John Witte, Jr., Law and Protestantism: The Legal Teachings of the Lutheran Reformation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 199–256; and Philipp L. Reynolds, “Marrying and Its Documentation in Pre-Modern Europe: Consent, Celebration and Property,” in To Have and to Hold: Marrying and Its Documentation in Western Christendom 400–1600, ed. Philipp L. Reynolds and John Witte, Jr. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 1–42.

2 The probably best-known book based on records of medieval ecclesiastical courts is Charles Donahue, Jr., Law, Marriage, and Society in the Later Middle Ages: Arguments About Marriage in Five Courts (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007). About the Hungarian applicants of the late Middle Ages at a central church court (Sacra Poenitentiaria Apostolica) in Rome, see Gabriella Erdélyi, “‘Szerettem egyszer egy nőt’: Házasságkötés és házasságtörés 1500 körül,” Történelmi Szemle 49, no. 2 (2007): 165–78.

3 To cite one example: Conor McCarthy, Marriage in Medieval England: Law, Literature and Practice (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2004).

4 About the concept of early modern “big wedding,” see Gillis, For Better, 55–83, and Hans Deltmer, Die Figur des Hochzeitsbitters: Untersuchungen zum hochzeitlichen Einladungsvorgang und zu den Erscheinungsformen. Geschichte und Verbreitung einer Brauchgestalt (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1976), 16–42.

5 Ildikó Horn, Andrea Kreutzer, and András Péter Szabó, ed., Politika és házasság: Menyegzőre hívogató levelek a 16. századi Erdélyből (Budapest: ELTE BTK, 2005). For my detailed interdisciplinary analysis of the published wedding invitations in Hungarian (including, among other things, a presentation of the social background of the invitations and an analysis of marriage seasonality), see András Péter Szabó, “Menyegzőtől menyegzőig: Gondolatok a házasságkötési szokásrend magyarországi fejlődéséről,” Századok 144 (2010): 1027–83.

6 Important publications of Hungarian ethnography on marriage rites include: Ferenc Bakó, Palócföldi lakodalom (Budapest: Gondolat, 1987); and Lajos Balázs, Az én első tisztességes napom: Párválasztás és lakodalom Csíkszentdomokoson (Bucharest: Kriterion, 1994).

7 Bakó, Palócföldi lakodalom, 135–36.

8 An early example (from 1446): Georg Steinhausen, ed., Deutsche Privatbriefe des Mittelalters, vol. 1, Fürsten und Magnaten, Edle und Ritter (Berlin: Heyfelder, 1899), 44–45, no. 58.

9 Albert Szenci Molnár, Dictionarium Latinoungaricum (Nürnberg: Elias Hutter, 1604), without page numbering, word “nuptiae”.

10 Bernward Deneke, Hochzeit (Munich: Prestel, 1971), 7. Christian Rubi, Hochzeit im Bernerland (Wabern: Büchler-Verlag, 1971), 42–43.

11 The Latin–Hungarian dictionary of Ferenc Pápai Páriz (first published in 1708) reflects this changing usage, although in some cases listing also the older term “menyegző;” Ferenc Pápai Páriz, Dictionarium Latino–Hungaricum (Bratislava: Johann Michael Landerer, 1801), 418.

12 E.g., the handfasting of Judit Thurzó on November 25, 1607 was definitely a church wedding and not a betrothal. Documents published in Béla Radvánszky, Magyar családélet és háztartás a XVI. és XVII. században, vol. 3 (Budapest: Helikon, 1986), 6–8, no. 12.

13 One interesting comparison: in English “I take thee as wife/husband” was a typical verbal formulation of present consent and not designed to be used at betrothals; Donahue, Law, Marriage, 17.

14 Dániel Bárth, Esküvő, keresztelő, avatás: Egyház és népi kultúra a kora újkori Magyarországon (Budapest: MTA–ELTE, 2005), 105.

15 Bárth, Esküvő, keresztelő, 106–7.

16 Harrington, Reordering Marriage, 134–42.

17 Franz Falk, Die Ehe am Ausgang des Mittelalters: Eine kirchen- und kulturhistorische Studie (Freiburg: Herder, 1908).

18 McCarthy, Marriage, 13–14.

19 Ozment, When Fathers, 26–27.

20 Reynolds, “Marrying,” 8–11.

21 Donahue, Law, Marriage, 16–17.

22 Gillis, For Better, 20.

23 Ozment, When Fathers, 25–26; Reynolds, “Marrying,” 12–13.

24 Harrington, Reordering Marriage, 57; Donahue, Law, Marriage, 32.

25 Dieterich, Das protestantische, 24–74; Witte, Law and Protestantism, 5–9, 201. Calvin, too, acknowledged the basically secular nature of marriage; Goody, The Development, 167.

26 On the medieval diriment or impedient impediments of marriage, see: Goody, The Development, 110–45; Donahue, Law, Marriage, 18–31.

27 Witte, Law and Marriage, 233–37.

28 John Witte dates the turning point of Lutheran approach (i.e., the first comeback of canon law) to the 1530s (Witte, Law and Protestantism, 199–256); Harrington, Reordering Marriage, 16–17, 273–78.

29 Reynolds, “Marrying,” 17.

30 Emil Friedberg, Das Recht der Eheschließung in seiner geschichtlichen Entwicklung (Leipzig: Verlag von Bernhard Tauchnitz, 1865); Rudolph Sohm, Das Recht der Eheschließung aus dem deutschen und canonischen Recht geschichtlich entwickelt: Eine Antwort auf die Frage nach dem Verhältnis der kirchlichen Trauung zur Civilehe (Weimar: Böhlau, 1875); Emil Friedberg: Verlobung und Trauung. Zugleich als Kritik von Sohm das Recht der Eheschliessung (Leipzig: Verlag von Bernhard Tauchnitz, 1876); Rudolf Sohm, Trauung und Verlobung: Eine Entgegnung auf Friedberg: Verlobung und Trauung (Weimar: Böhlau, 1876). For a brief reference to the debate: Harrington, Reordering Marriage, 4. About the historical context: Stefan Ruppert, Kirchenrecht und Kulturkampf: Historische Legitimation, politische Mitwirkung und wissenschaftliche Begleitung durch die Schule Emil Ludwig Richters (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2002), 118–20.

31 Sohm, Trauung und Verlobung, 61–62.

32 Sohm, Trauung und Verlobung, 74–108.

33 Sohm, Das Recht, 187.

34 Sohm, Trauung und Verlobung, 110–23.

35 A recent application of Sohm’s theory: Richard von Dülmen, Kultur und Alltag in der frühen Neuzeit, vol. 1, Das Haus und seine Menschen (Munich: C. H. Beck, 1990), 144–48.

36 Friedberg, Verlobung und Trauung, 32–34.

37 Friedberg, Das Recht, 153–75 and 203–10.

38 Friedberg, Verlobung und Trauung, 70–78.

39 Gyula Kováts, A házasságkötés Magyarországon egyházi és polgári jog szerint (Budapest: Hoffmann és Molnár, 1883); Ervin Roszner, Régi magyar házassági jog (Budapest: Franklin-Társulat, 1887).

40 Roszner, Régi magyar, 70–78.

41 For the most detailed explanation of Kováts’s views, see Gyula Kováts, Szilágyi Márton tanítása az eljegyzésről 1690 (Budapest: Magyar Tudományos Akadémia, 1885).

42 Kováts, Szilágyi Márton, 61–68.

43 Baron Péter Apor of Altorja, Metamorphosis Transylvaniae, trans. Bernard Adams (London: Kegan Paul, 2003), 56.

44 Miklós Bethlen, The Autobiography of Miklós Bethlen, trans. Bernard Adams (London: Kegan Paul, 2004), 241, 351–52.

45 János Bak, Péter Banyó, and Martyn Rady, ed. and trans., The Customary Law of the Renowned Kingdom of Hungary: a Work in Three Parts Rendered by Stephen Werbőczy: The “Tripartitum” (Los Angeles: Charles Schlacks, 2005), 118–19.

46 Kováts, Szilágyi Márton, 19–38.

47 E.g., Kálmán Szily, ed., “Farkas Pál és Farkas Ádám följegyzései 1638-tól 1694-ig,” Történelmi Tár (1884): 91.

48 Jenő Zoványi, ed., “Miskolci Csulyak István zempléni református esperes (1629–1645) egyházlátogatási jegyzőkönyvei,” Történelmi Tár (1906): 64.

49 István Geleji Katona, Canones ecclesiastici: Ex veteribus quam Hungariensibus, quam Transilvaniensibus in unum collecti, plerisque tamen aliis etiam pro temporis ratione aucti, ac in paulo meliorem ordinem redacti (Gyulafehérvár/Alba Julia: n.p., 1649), 33–34.

50 Ernő Tárkány Szűcs, Magyar jogi népszokások (Budapest: Gondolat, 1981), 336–38.

51 Réka Kiss, Egyház és közösség a kora újkorban: A Küküllői Református Egyházmegye 17–18. századi iratainak tükrében (Budapest: Akadémiai, 2011), 106–9.

52 Arhivele Naţionale Direcţia Judeteană Cluj, Primăria oraşului Bistriţa [III, a, 2, Magistratsprotokoll 1525–1541], 46–47.

53 Gabriella Weichhart, Keresztelő, házasság és temetés Magyarországon 1600–1630 (Budapest: Stephaneum, 1911), 11–13.

54 About the church rites of marriage and ritual books in early modern Hungary, see Bárth, Esküvő, keresztelő, 39–142.

55 9. October 1638. Wedding invitation of Mihály Libercsey. Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Nógrád Megyei Levéltára XIV, 3. Nagy Iván akadémikus-történész iratai D/1, fol. 1810.

56 The data comes from the diary of the Libercsey Family: Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára P 481. Madách család levéltára, fasc. IV, no. 14, fols. 13–38.

57 Bakó, Palóc lakodalom, 31; Kiss, Egyház és közösség, 115–18.

58 Lawrence Stone, Road to Divorce: England 1530–1987 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 51–66; Klapisch-Zuber, Woman, Family, 181–212.

59 György Nemesnépi Zakál, “Őrségnek leírása,” in Magyar tájak néprajzi felfedezői, ed. Attila Paládi-Kovács (Budapest: Gondolat, 1985), 45.

60 Jörg Wettlaufer, “Beilager und Bettleite im Ostseeraum (13–19. Jahrhundert): Eine vergleichende Studie zum Wandel von Recht und Brauchtum der Eheschließung,” in Tisch und Bett: Die Hochzeit im Ostseeraum seit dem 13. Jahrhundert, ed. Thomas Riis (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1998), 81–128.

61 About the marriage contracting betrothal of the early Middle Ages, see Reynolds, “Marrying,” 4–7.

62 Reynolds, “Marrying,” 11.

63 Arnold van Gennep, The Rites of Passage (London: Routledge, 2004), 1–14, 116–45.

64 Bakó, Palócföldi lakodalom, 57–60.

pdfVolume 3 Issue 1 CONTENTS

György Kövér

“A Satisfactory Combination in Every Respect…”

The Spouse Selection Dilemmas of a Young Man of the Christian Middle Class at the Turn of the Century

This case study looks at how a late nineteenth-century diarist from Hungary approached the problem of finding a wife. His system was to make lists of the ladies he met in various social circles, and appraise their potential benefits and drawbacks. In later life, he also left memoirs of his youth, although these make few references to the dilemmas he faced in choosing a wife. The literature on spouse selection focuses on the relative weights of socio-economic motives and “emotional-affective” conditions in courtship. How much did parents and relatives have a say in the choice, and how much did the decision rest on the young people’s individual will, or feelings of love? How much were the norms and the actual relationships differentiated by social class and gender? What was the balance between interests and emotions in the final outcome? Alajos Paikert (1866–1948), taken as a representative of the non-gentry middle class, did attempt to meet family expectations, but did not leave the choice to his parents. He wanted to find his future partner himself. The diary is a document of internal struggle, but is less concerned with feelings than with desires, possibilities and calculations. By bringing in other sources, however, the historian can try to work out what lay behind the words.

Keywords: gender relations, spouse selection, courtship, marriage

Max Weber’s primary operationalized index of “ständische Lage” (which in American sociology became simply “status”) was connubium, or who marries whom.1 Weber here was not thinking of status in its historical-legal sense, but of “behavioral-sociological” status. If we relate this concept to nineteenth-century Hungarian history, then in the pre-1848 (Vormärz) period, this might mean marriage of noble and bourgeois young people within their own groups, and in the second half of the nineteenth century, when “the society of Estates” was breaking down, it manifested itself much more as an expression of the endogamy of occupational or socio-cultural groups.

Historiography oriented to modernization, or more broadly, to evolution, has also come up with a model of the long-term development of spouse-selection strategies. This sees a dominance in traditional societies of socio-economic interests rather than “emotional-affective” relations.2 In the transition to modern society—which Lawrence Stone sees as having taken place in England and New England in the second half of the seventeenth and in the eighteenth century—the spread of individualism resulted in a radical shift of emphasis. Young people increasingly took the decisions themselves, of course leaving their parents the power of veto over socially or economically unacceptable candidates.3 The general picture naturally has some social differentiation, in that wealth strongly influenced the possibility and justification for intervention by parents and relatives, and there must have been numerous types and variants within each group.4

A decade later, although maintaining his views on the direction and phasing of the process, Stone put his argument much more subtly:

At all levels of society, there was a complex admixture of emotion and interest, affection and calculation, and a complex interaction between the wishes of the individuals and those of their ‘friends.’ The higher the social level, the more parents and friends dominated the situation and controlled the outcome; the lower in the social and economic scale the families were, the more free were the individuals to make their own choices, although that choice was itself not infrequently based as much on economic calculations as emotional commitment. Only in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries did patriarchal ideas of parental power, even at the highest levels of society, begin to give way to a new ideal of affective individualism, so that the companionate marriage emerged first to compete with, and finally to take full priority over, calculations of interest and economic advantage.5

Pressure for a more sophisticated evaluation of the process came from leading historical anthropologist authors for whom the above argument was never fully convincing.6 The somewhat limited set of sources—diaries from various social groups—did not support the chronological linearity of the thesis either in the early stage or the stage of transition.7 And the customs of transferring wealth and the regulated institutions of courtship for a long time permitted the parents to control their offspring.8

In addition, if we look beyond the early modern and Western European transition and take a comparative perspective on nineteenth century changes in continental Europe, we find much more differentiated views in recent literature. For example, Josef Ehmer, writing about nineteenth-century “bourgeois” marriages, asserted:

Of course, in many individual cases, there were conflicts between family strategies, parental plans, and the feelings of young people. The novels of the nineteenth century are full of such plots. Historical research, however, has shown that marriage alliances and individual love did not necessarily have to come into conflict. Since these young people moved within a particular social milieu and communication network, their individual contacts were concentrated within a narrow circle of marriage candidates who fitted into their own family strategies.9

David Sabean, looking at European systems of relations over a much longer timespan (and of course always drawing on the enormous Neckarhausen microhistory base) goes further, in declaring about the formation of various networks:

The education of both men and women to open and fluid systems where couples had to cooperate in tasks of social representation required protracted drill in taste, morality, sentiment, and style. Love and sentiment and emotional response or their expected development were built into the very nature of familial circuitry. They were the software necessary to direct the course of all the hard-wired connectors. There were, of course, different ways of falling in love. Some people first chose a suitable family by visiting, dining, walking, and playing cards together in the evening, and others did it by correspondence. Some looked for a friendly face among relatives, while others latched onto families where their careers were directed. Some followed the wishes and advice of their parents and siblings, and some bravely struck off for themselves. But love always determined the flow of capital, access to office, the course of a career.10

Here, the financial and mental motifs are not static preconditions, but interactive products of everyday social organization and the subtle and sensitive network of relationships.

When we examine marriage strategy in general, we attempt to answer the question of “who marries whom” using registers of births, marriages and deaths, and genealogies. So we determine from a kind of ex post viewpoint what the ex ante motives of spouse selection might have been. From the “what it became” we try to find out “what it evolved out of”. Without going into the argument of how this is methodologically possible, we address the question using a source which allows us to take a definitely ex ante approach. This case study looks at how a late nineteenth-century diarist from Hungary approached the problem of finding a wife. His system was to make lists of the ladies he met in various social circles, and appraise their potential benefits and drawbacks. Of course it is difficult to determine the extent to which “marriage market” is based on rational choices, because the emotional motive of decisions, however unpredictable it might seem, is somewhat self-evident. In our case, however, as we shall see, the presence and extent of rational assessment is quite striking. In addition, the man in question left later memoirs, so that we do not lose the ex post viewpoint either. If we have to rely on memoirs alone, we deprive ourselves of the sight of the rival candidates and are forced to look at the whole process of spouse selection purely through the actual marriage.

Youthful diaries permit a genetic study of marriage strategies even for the pre-1848 period. A well-known diary in the Hungarian literature is that of Etelka Slachta. While she was tending her sick mother in Balatonfüred in the summer of 1841, she was also choosing among suitors. At the same time, she wrote the following to her cousin and friend:

There are two serious candidates among these 14 suitors, but that must remain between us. If I do not take their hand, I do not want to enquire about what they have to offer. One is as handsome as Adonis, with fine manners, a majestic upbringing, very noble, elegant exterior. His father was only a grain factor, but he is very rich. He came here with four horses, but fancy, I didn’t say yes! I am this young man’s first true love. He is from Komárom. I thought for a moment, but I know little about this handsome, intelligent youth. The other is from Pest, not so handsome as pleasant, intelligent, jolly, witty and so dreadfully in love, declaring that only now he sees what true love is. He is so rich he keeps an equipage in the city. I think he should also be considered. I am not in love with either of them; I would go to them only out of reason. And where the mind and not heart decides, we always choose more slowly.11

In her diary, she goes well beyond wealth and noble origin to consider many other aspects and tricks of hunting for a husband. Here it is worth having a look at the subtle differentiation of social life in Balatonfüred in the circumstances of society of estates, where a distinction was made between “société” and aristocratic “haute volée”. Etelka, although her mother was a baroness, was not at home in the latter.12 Etelka Slachta’s freedom of choice was afforded to a great extent to her remaining alone after the death of her mother, allowing her to give free rein to her feelings towards the man of the Reformed faith who kept an “equipage”.

Even the diaries do not simply record established customs. That would hardly be worth writing down on a daily basis. As Alan Macfarlane wrote about the diary he published, kept by a seventeenth-century pastor, “the very fact that he kept a diary suggests that he was slightly exceptional.”13 Contemporary diaries certainly do not contain all the important information. There are things that are kept quiet deliberately, and others for which the author has no worlds. There are facts that cannot be uttered.

This is when we can find some assistance in the memoirs of advanced age, which show more insight by virtue of life experience and wisdom, not to mention the distance from the emotional storms of the time. Júlia M. Hrabovszky, aunt of Sándor Márai, put to paper at the age of eighty her memories of struggles to find a spouse in the late 1870s. She too had lost her father at an early age, and the family of landed gentry became impoverished. When still a girl, she earned her bread as a governess while seeking possible spouses in various spa towns (Herkulesfürdő, Buziás). She also had several suitors, and according to the narrative of her memoirs, she too made her own choice. One suitor inquired after her financial position, causing her deep offence. Another, for similar reasons, did not want to marry her but invited her as a girlfriend on a trip around the world, thus putting an end to that connection. One she rejected because he was old, and another was unacceptable on account of his employment as a farm bailiff; she did not want to live with him in a village. The latter, according to gossip, was of Jewish origin, although “nobody could prove it” (why take the trouble if a rumour did the job!). Then she met the nephew of the Prince of Serbia, but ruled him out because he had neither wealth nor employment. Finally, a noble judge of Romanian origin and a Romanian architect from Bucharest came on to the scene almost simultaneously, and clearly coincidentally. Somewhat less accidental was Júlia Hrabovszky’s choice of the latter. In Georges Muntureanu she found everything in one. As she looked back, the former bride wrote in the narrative present: “now that the matter is settled. I am marrying a handsome, elegant witty, well-placed man whom I like.” Later she added, “although I found perfect satisfaction in marriage, and the happiness I wanted, I would still say that unless one is moved by great love or great advantage, a girl should marry in her own country and not wish for a foreign place.”14 But it is not only abroad that sentiment and interest (“advantage”), can harmoniously complement each other.

Alajos Paikert’s Diary Entries and Gender Lists

Alajos Paikert (1866–1948) was much more of a public figure than Etelka Slachta or Júlia Hrabovszky, indeed the biographical dictionaries tell us he was one of the founders of Magyar Gazdaságtörténelmi Szemle (Hungarian Economic History Review) and a founder of the agricultural museums in Budapest and Cairo and of the Turán Society. It is his diaries, however, rather then any public capacity, which make him interesting here. These, written in several volumes of various sizes, and now held in the Manuscript Department of the National Széchényi Library, cover the years between 1887 and 1943.15 He also wrote several versions of his autobiography, now held in the Personal Memory Collection of the Budapest Museum of Agriculture, and from which a member of the Museum staff has published an extensive selection.16 Although he clearly did not keep his diary continuously, we have documentation of a volume that permits analysis to some depth. As might be expected from a male diary, the main subject is the author’s career and his activities in public life. Nonetheless, his private life does feature quite strongly in the diaries of his youth, particularly on the subject of seeking and courting potential spouses. The young man tried to fulfil family expectations, but did not leave the choice to his parents. He wanted to find his future wife himself. His diary is the documentation of this internal struggle. First of all, in order to understand the parental norms, we must first introduce the family.

His parents traced themselves, according to the author of the diary, to Sudeten German ancestors. His father and his maternal grandfather were both high-ranking military doctors: the father, also Alajos, was staff doctor in the army and at the peak of his career was chief medical officer of the Budapest corps. His mother’s father, Dr Vince Walter of Waltenau was also a staff doctor, the chief medical officer of the Kassa corps. Alajos senior (Jeleny, 1831–Budapest, 1914) was raised to the nobility in 1909 with the noble predicate “of Seprős”, which extended to his two surviving sons. Henrik (1865–1949) and Alajos were born in Nagyszombat (now Trnava, Slovakia) and went to school in Pozsony. Henrik chose a military career, enrolling in the military academy of Wiener Neustadt and advancing to the rank of lieutenant of hussars. After his marriage, however, he exchanged life as a hussar officer for that of a farming landowner.17 Alajos first graduated from the agricultural college in Magyaróvár and then matriculated in the Faculty of Law in the University of Pest. For both sons, the somewhat autocratic father played a decisive part in their choice of career. In his memoirs, the son largely blamed his father’s strictness for the loss of his hitherto swelling fortune in 1873. To at least partly recover it was thenceforth his father’s overriding ambition. He did not succeed.18 Young Alajos for a long time swithered between an agricultural or a legal career, and even toyed with the idea of painting (robustly opposed by his father) or becoming an inventor. For a short time, he served as a junior lecturer in the anthropological department in the humanities faculty. Finally, in 1891, he became assistant secretary of the organization representing large estates and the agricultural profession in Hungary, the National Hungarian Agricultural Association (OMGE), later rising to secretary. In that capacity, he made extended visits to England and North America, was involved in organizing the international agrarian movement, edited the agricultural historical journal Magyar Gazdaságtörténelmi Szemle, and founded the Museum of Agriculture. He resigned his office in OMGE in 1896 (again earning his father’s disapproval), and as he rebuilt his career, his thoughts increasingly turned to marriage.

On 21 April 1897, he noted in his diary:

I should: get married, have myself appointed director, I should write articles for newspapers and journals, I should go to meetings, take part in moderate movements, correspond with various personages, make some appearances in society, I should travel, I should take photographs, paint, sculpt, invent, write poetry, do scientific research, etc. etc. This is all feasible!19 (Underlining in the original)

Ultimately, he was not appointed director of the agricultural museum he had founded. Nonetheless, he moved into his office there and worked as a curator (custos) while he planned his future.

His distinctively thorough approach to the subject of marriage was not a new line of thought for him. He also received clear prompts in this direction from home. As he wrote in the unfinished memoirs he intended for his family, after his elder brother married, his mother urged the issue: “...often holding agreeable tea parties to which she invited mothers of girls whom she considered worthy of my considering as a bride; of course the mothers were to bring their daughters.”20 Most often, however, the young man did not even attend these. He wanted to take his affairs into his own hands. Living in the same house as his parents, this was not easy to do.

Over several days in 1894, he drew up a list of his acquaintances among members of parliament, the aristocracy, academia, finance, literature, the arts and public administration. His review of this network of contacts ended with a list of ladies and girls.21 Of course, not all of the seventeen spinsters in the list could have been regarded as candidate brides, but they all had a reason for being there. We cannot identify every name on the list (one even lacks a Christian name), but some are marked with the letter “t”. Since this also appears in the other lists, we have inferred from the names that it denotes a level of social connection. On the page before the young-lady acquaintances, for example, it appears in the list of lady acquaintances against the names Baroness Ida Kollmann, Mrs Ferenc Kintzig and Mrs Béla Kintzig.22

gf. [countess] Mária Kornis

Erzsébet Concha

Hedvig Concha

Melanie Koller

Margit Tyroch

Margit Baross

Laura Whilen [?]

Elsie Whilen [?]

Iza Dömötör

Irén Dömötör

t Ida Kollmann


Natalia Kormann

Margit Gombár

t Margit Kintzig

t Erzsébet Hasz

t Sarolta Hasz

The girls marked “t” are mostly placed towards the end of the list, and the last three were probably relatives: his brother Henrik had married Lujza Kintzig in 1891, and Sarolta and Erzsébet Hasz’s brother Antal was also married to a Kintzig girl.

Alajos Paikert’s diary includes several lists of marriageable girls. When planning the period ahead of him a year later, in October 1895, he envisaged getting engaged before the end of the year and marrying during the next. The engagement and marriage had career overtones. The engagement was connected with a post of “ministerial secretary” which carried a salary of 2–3000 forints and required further actions to attain (“an article, a plan, a drawing, a poem, a speech, a deed”), while marriage by 1896, counting on the higher income, was linked with the keywords “travel, son, district, abroad”. The word district (kerület) undoubtedly alluded to an election constituency, and thus to political ambitions. After the action plan came a reduced list of names marked only with initials (although at least half of the names can be deduced from the first list).

Winifred W.

Marie D.

Mária K. [Countess Mária Kornis]

Erzsébet C. [Erzsébet Concha]

Hedvig C. [Hedvig Concha]

Anita G.

Melanie H.

Natalia K. [Natalia Kormann]23

The other names, as our present knowledge stands, remain undecipherable. Even such an intimate journal, it seems, does not lift the veil on every secret. We are restricted to discussing the girls who feature on subsequent pages of the diary.

Countess Mária Kornis (1878–1955), who we may recognize from the top of the first list, was the daughter of Count Károly Kornis (1841–1893). Her brother, also Károly Kornis (1869–1918) appears on Alajos Paikert’s diary as one of his friends.24 Károly, the child count, who was some years younger than Alajos, went to school in Pozsony. Indeed, the strict Paikert father allowed him—at the request of the Batthyány counts—to live in their house as part of the family. Through this friendship, Károly Kornis the elder invited Alajos Paikert several times during his school years to his estate in Szerep, Bihar county, where the hunts and the wetlands of Sárrét aroused pleasant recollections when he wrote his memoirs several decades later.25 We know only from the diary, however, that when he met his friend again in 1896, somewhat different experiences came to the mind of the still-young man:

In Váci utca, I met with Count Károly Kornis, my best friend. I was most pleased to meet him again, and he was too. We walked and talked for half an hour, while he told me of his plans (to sell land for 300 florins per lesser hold [1 lesser hold=0.36 hectares]) and I told him mine (museum and attaché). If Károly divests himself of his estate, he will get about 2 million for it. He will be there in winter, and he will visit me. Marie is now 18 years old. If she loves me as she did then, I will immediately ask her hand […]26

The feelings of a young girl are of course no basis for marriage, as the young Paikert clearly well knew, but Mária’s fate was still on his mind in spring 1897: “I take umbrance at Károly Kornis visiting me so rarely. He has no office, he’s got the time. Will Mária be happy?”27

It was during his years at school in Pozsony that Alajos first developed strong inclinations towards the aristocracy (and the gentry), and some illusions in that regard.28 The feeling of “amalgamation” may have been aroused by musical evenings in certain houses, although the partitions between the “first” and “second” societies clearly remained in place and were apparent on some occasions.29 This occasionality may be compared to that moment after the aeroplane takes off, when the stewardess discreetly draws the curtain between the business and economy classes so as not to show off the difference in service between the classes (but to indicate that this dividing line exists). His time in the OMGE only stoked the awe Paikert felt towards the aristocracy.30 We know from the original manuscript of his memoirs that, after he moved to Budapest, he often went on excursions to the Buda hills. The lady members of the party may have been the inspiration behind his lists of women.31 It was clearly after one of these occasions that Paikert put to himself a kind of “why not?” question: “Why should I not marry Count Béla Széchenyi’s daughter?”32 An interesting point about the retrospective lists of excursion-goers and the contemporary lists in the diary is that Cécile Tormay, who later became a writer, appears only among the excursion company. Considering the system of social connections, this seems plausible, because her father, Béla Tormay, who had graduated in veterinary science and agriculture and gained employment on the Derekegyház estate, rose step by step to membership of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (in 1899).33 It may be a subtle sign that Edina Pallavicini (1877–1964), whose divorce case put the matter of Cecil Tormay’s lesbianism on spectacular public display in the 1920s, may be found in both the contemporary and retrospective lists.34 The name at the head of the list of the excursion company was Helén Bartha, daughter of military staff doctor János Bartha, who belonged to the same professional circle as the Paikert family and was made a noble in 1909. She, however, does not appear in any of the lists of potential brides. In addition, at the turn of the century, the Barthas lived nearby in Döbrentei utca 4, and were very likely to have attended the tea parties arranged by Paikert’s mother.35 The name Margit Tyroch does not appear in the retrospective list of excursioners, but recurs in several other lists. She also belonged to the father’s old professional-collegial circle and the Pozsony company: “Last night I was at the Tyrochs, perhaps the first time for a year. Margit indeed takes my fancy, a bright, kind, natural girl, just right for me. I felt very good in her company.”36

The diary for autumn 1895 makes several mentions of the Concha girls, daughters of Professor Győző Concha. Prof. Concha, from Kolozsvár (now Cluj-Napoca, Romania), was one of the pioneers of political science and history of ideas in Hungary. He had been widowed upon the birth of his fourth daughter in 1883, in the eighth year of marriage. He had multiple connections to the Paikerts’ company, and his mixture of occupational and kin relationships extended to the Baross, Forster and Dömötör families.37 We know only from the memoirs that Alajos wrote for the family that the Dömötör girls’ brother László, another leading light among the young members of OMGE, was also a great admirer of Erzsébet Concha, although this did not damage the friendship between the two men.38 The four marriageable girls must have been a factor in the young Paikert’s interest in the family, even if Győző Concha headed the list of academics for 1894. “I would very much like Erzsike as my wife, but I do not have enough money to satisfy her ambitions. Marriage: must think about it very hard…”39 Perhaps his attitude to the girl would have been more positive had he still been aiming for an academic career, although there may have been something else in the background: upon meeting her father a year later, he noted: “Concha came with kindness. – Concha was as charming as ever, it seems he would like me to forget the past and marry Erzsébet.”40 The Concha girls never completely disappeared from the list of choices. Hardly six months later, new motives appeared: “On the way to Köztelek I met the Conchas. Oh Erzsi why are you not my wife. On the way back, I saw Erzsi again on her father’s arm. It is only because of my parents I do not ask her. And yet what a splendid wife she would make…”41 Alajos, whose abilities also extended to art, actually painted Erzsébet in 1898. The picture shows not a social type but one of the female ideals: she is painted with a bonnet, a combination of innocent little girl and nun.42

A high-ranking name on the early lists was Melanie Koller. Although it has not been possible to identify a Koller named Melanie, the diary frequently mentions the pretty Edith Koller, daughter of Koller Lajos of Grantzow, trade counsellor, who died in 1891 at the age of 51. They also lived not far from the Paikerts in Buda, on Várkert rakpart.43 Beauty and brightness of eyes clearly complicated the choices:

When I was on the underground in the afternoon, Mrs László Arany came on to the train with the pretty Edith Koller at the Opera. She is a decidedly beautiful girl, with good taste. I was somewhat clumsy and did not greet the handsome lady, but Edith threw me a secretive glance with her black eyes – and set me alight. It is difficult to choose.44

So powerful was the experience that next day he put her on the list of his top favourites: “I must get married. Margit Lukács, Erzsébet Concha, Edith Koller, all three grazia are beautiful and good and intelligent.”45 This shows how uncertain was the rationally-selected place in the hierarchy when exposed to the caprices of the market.

For all his thoroughness, the lists he produced were far from perfect. The detailed diary entries reveal that in autumn 1896, young Alajos was making his most fervent advances towards Margit Lukács, whose name is absent from the first lists. Although not listed until early November, she was not a new acquaintance and came from a family with several marriageable girls. Antal Lukács, Director of the Magyar Földhitelintézet (Hungarian Agricultural Land Credit Institute), had seven daughters and one son. Margit (1875–1952) was the fourth daughter.46

I am utterly happy. This evening I was at the Lukácses. I went up in some trepidation that they might receive me somewhat coolly owing to my long absence, but they received me warmly indeed!they were just having tea, and I went with them to the opera and we had a fine time together. I am completely reassured. – I find Margit most attractive, she will be just right for me! It will be splendid, why can’t we have the wedding tomorrow!47

He was clearly finding his self-confidence, as if marriage was of more concern to him than progress in other areas of life:

But my marriage is even more important. At the moment, Margit Lukács is the favourite. I would be glad if she married me, and I think she would be glad to be my wife. I will truly love her and I can make her happy, and that is approximately what I will say to her.48

Then he seemed to waver, while feeling a stronger drive than ever:

My lady, my fine upright lady, loving wife. I forget the past, live for the future, my family’s future. Margit Lukács was a proper and in every respect satisfactory combination, and that it did not become a reality was down to me alone. She was taken hand in hand before me in her finest dress, with the sincere good wishes of both parental families. One word, one misunderstanding, drew us apart. And yet how good it would have been for both sides! There is so much in common between the two families, and it would have been a truly harmonious and healthy accord.49

There seems to have been an understanding between the families, and the failure of the match was obviously because of the young people. In the light of what happened later, it is hard to believe Alajos:

I sigh deeply, thinking that in January I could have taken here my bride, Margit Lukács. How splendid it would have been. What joy I would have caused the good parents!50

Nonetheless, the fateful year of 1898 still seemed to revolve around Margit:

Margit. You have wounded me. I am not like the others. Love me, or do not love me and let us go our separate ways. I will not run after you. I found everything in you that I sought – I want to be your everything, and if I am not, that is the end of everything.

In the meantime, more about the background comes to light:

Margit. She would still have been best for me. She is homely, good-hearted, healthy, nice, good family, thrifty, pretty, etc. etc. – But I have done everything, she knows I am not a courmacher (“Romeo”), why does she demand that from me? I will not humiliate myself.51

What the girl actually felt is sadly unknown to us. Some signs, however, do emerge from the background. These suggest more than “one word” or “a misunderstanding”. There must have been more subtle “behavioural sociological” barriers to the marriage if the error was in the courtship. Could it be that Margit Lukács put him to the test, or in fact wanted to rebuff a young man who she did not really like?

This was just as he was producing his final list, consisting mostly of familiar names (or at least Christian names), but ending with a completely new one. “Girls: Erzsébet – Margit – Adrienne – Hedvig – Irma – T. Margit – Mila – H. Marie – Winifred – Deli.”52

Erzsébet and Hedvig are clearly the Concha girls. The Margit without a surname is Margit Lukács, and T. Margit is Margit Tyroch. The name Adrienne appears only on this list, and may be the Adrienne Fischel from the retrospective list of excursioners, or possibly the lady to whom he wrote a poem in 1895 (Paikert wrote poetry throughout his life), the eldest daughter of Károly Andrényi of Györök, trade counsellor of Arad, who died in 1893 at the age of 55. Whoever it was, she still ruffled the conscience of Alajos Paikert as he sought a mate in 1897: “I am so miserable! – I have alienated the angelic Adrienne from me. How long will this last? It will end in madness.”53 This was clearly the period of ultimate desperation and final effort, but one in which a new ray of hope appeared.

The Decision: Deli

In summer 1898, several of his relatives were still encouraging him to make up his mind and finally marry Margit Lukács: “…I must embark upon the siege of Margit, God grant me that I will succeed and M. will love me, I know we will be a very good couple.54 In early September, however, he was back to the cultural and methodological problems of courtship, considerations unlikely to win him the battle.

Why cannot I say to Margit: I love you, love me, do you love me? – Yes or no. – No, nowadays I have to swerve around the question ten times in all kinds of attitude and costume, and she has to play the most hostile faces, before we get anywhere. What’s the use? Ah – the choice of a wife is certainly the most important when one is married for life. A one-year marriage with a six-month break, that is much more practical.55

His outrage against middle-class courtship norms was stronger than his resolution.

Then the diary seemed to find a new protagonist. At the end of May, for the sake of Deli, the last on the list, he seemed to put all of his cards on the table.

Deli – Do you understand me, will you love me? Oh God give my heart peace! From your beautiful gentle eyes, so much goodness radiates towards me, will you keep what you promise me?56

Then he gives himself a stern command: “It must be decided, a man cannot love more than one! – Let there be an end.”57 This sentence is misleading at first sight. It looks as though Alajos had been simultaneously in love with all of the women he had listed and courted. His diary is not, however, the outpouring of an adolescent girl’s secrets. In fact, he betrays no signs of romantic love, and as for feelings, he wrote much more about what he perceived—or hoped for—in others, than about what he felt himself. We cannot say he was devoid of feelings, but he was certainly either incapable of expressing them or considered it unmanly to write them down.

The diary fails to reveal what caused the sudden urgency surrounding marriage two years into his thirties, or what led to Deli Rónay’s appearance at the end of the final list. More helpful are the memoirs he wrote for his family. From there, we find that he had seen her as a little girl on a photograph when she was eight years old and immediately declared, “she will be my wife.” His first real-life acquaintance with the Rónay family was a wedding, where he was a groomsman and asked Deli to accompany him as bridesmaid.58

Who were they? Károly Rónay (1849–1935) was a prosperous attorney and later royal notary. His wife Izabella Sztipán gave him three daughters and a son, the first, in 1880, being Deli Franciska Izabella.59 The father (and his family) were raised to the nobility in 1912 with the noble predicate “of Osgyán”, thus following a similar path of elevation to that of the elder Alajos Paikert (although neither of them could have known this in 1898).60 Károly Rónay’s wife on her mother’s side was a descendent of the “Fluk family of Rággamb” and brought with her “a substantial fortune”. This important aspect only comes to light in the memoirs, as does the fact that the Rónay parents were “highly cultured, learned, well-travelled and spoke fluent English, French and German, and provided their children with a first-class education.”61

The memoirs give an accelerated account of the courtship, at first leaving the year of engagement blank. The somewhat slower progress of events in reality is evident from the diary. “On 3 October I talked to Dr Rónay. Deli, my gentle little Deli, my youthful dream will come true. Love me, love me, and heaven will be ours!”62 Since the girl was still a minor, it was natural that he spoke with the father. But this did not settle the matter. The uncertainty partly arose from external causes: the father did not want to act in haste:

I do not understand Rónay’s advice not to be in undue haste. I can find no other explanation than that Deli cannot yet decide. It has made me very sad. Or… or. This vacillation cannot go on. As soon as possible! Oh, how I would like a nice little wife.63

On the other hand, the young man himself was in a state of some confusion. We almost see the great dilemma of classical dramas in microcosm: reason or passion? Failing (or not wanting) to realize this himself, he directly ascribed the curious situation to nature (he resembles his mother) or upbringing (father’s hard drilling) or even some kind of disease.

My mind is utterly confused. I am mixing up everything, I cannot make a good judgement, I ascribe importance to matters of no substance and miss what is important, I busy myself with trivialities, ignoring questions of life itself. – Paralysis progressiva. My speech is slovenly, and I write the same way, leaving out words, letters and sentences. I mix up everything. It is all the consequence of an unnatural way of life. I must get married.64

And although falling somewhat short in logic, this sequence of thoughts ends with a fairly definite conclusion. Since the goal seemed to be coming no closer, dissatisfaction and rumination escalated:

Deli’s irresolution is extremely irritating. Or is it hostility? (5 Dec)

Tomorrow, after a long enforced pause, I go again to Deli, or to the Rónays. Why must they draw this out so? – I very much like the girl and would be happy with her, but I do not want to force my love on anyone.65 (6 Dec)

Finally, however, his perseverance bore fruit, and the engagement took place before Christmas. The diary does not confine itself to the romantic moment of the avowal, and records for posterity the family ritual of the engagement day:

Today I engaged myself [sic!] to Deli Rónay. Heaven grant us that we will find mutual happiness. The avowal took place in the Museum of Applied Arts, in the English exhibition in front of a drawing of a yacht. Yes, oh Deli, how happy you have made me.

We went home by coach. Kinga, Alice. Then I went home to give the happy news. Mama was very moved, Papa had been to Count Endre Csekonics and came home in full dress. They came to the Rónays, introductions, festive mood, friendship made. After lunch, at 4 o’clock, the Rónays, the parents and Deli came to us. It was so congenial. Papa and Mama were very cordial, sincere, showing all kinds of things. […] Farewell, tea, whist party, and then to the Rónays, photographs, signatures, […], Papa, dinner, champagne, toasts, Kinga, joyful mood, Dalma, drafting the engagement card.66

The wedding took place on 4 April 1899. The groom’s witness was his youthful friend Count Károly Kornis, effectively representing the historic aristocracy, and raising the tone of the occasion.67 In his sketch book, we find only a portrait taken after the wedding, with the title Deli my lovely wife.68 She was hardly more than a girl, her hair done up in a bun. Not long after the wedding they left for North America, which solved Paikert’s employment problems for a while. The Minister of Agriculture, Ignác Darányi, appointed him as agricultural counsel to Washington (as Paikert had written “attaché” in his earlier plans). The ageing Paikert joined up the themes of career and marriage in his memoirs thus:

My dear wife Deli immediately declared me ready for travel over the ocean, there to share with me for at least three years the vicissitudes of unaccustomed climate and social conditions. This showed her intelligence, astuteness and wifely devotion. Few Hungarian genteel brides would have done the same.69

Thus even in reminiscence, Alajos Paikert felt that he had taken a long time but chosen well. He did not regret missing his mother’s tea parties with girls.

I did the right thing, because that way I could choose as my wife the one who was and is best suited to me, and who has devoted her entire life to me and our children, and if I have achieved anything in life, it is mainly thanks to her… she gave me the gift of three splendid children, brought them up admirably, and now shares with me everything that fate has dealt.70

This frank statement of the male-centred family model may be regarded as a social fact, even if the reminiscence obviously idealizes the image of the past. The marriage hardly features in subsequent volumes of the diary, and we do not even know whether his wife left any source on this subject. Our evaluation is therefore unfortunately but unavoidably asymmetric.


The characteristics of Paikert’s marriage strategy may be viewed according to Weber’s criteria of “behavioural sociological status”, and the young man’s dilemmas—at least in the “end game”—can be placed in the context of the “marriage market” model. We will not, however, attempt to interpret events in the spirit of the “stable matching algorithm” of the Nobel prize-winning theory.71 Our sources, however informative and intimate they may be, unfortunately do not provide a sufficiently comparative perspective. We do not know the preference of the other side, the ladies, or the potential rivals.72 Secondly, the original model makes the implicit assumption that there is “no payment (dowry) between the actors,” which in our case would clearly not be realistic. One conclusion of the theory was considered self-evident in the male-dominated society of the turn of the century: the stable matching algorithm leads to a boy-optimum result.73 For the candidate brides who stayed in the “competition” longest, however, we would have to assess which parameters the self-appointed groom took into account.

Two empirical observations should be stated at the outset:

1. There was a substantial oversupply of females in the Concha, Lukács and Rónay families. We cannot say that this was the general demographic male/female ratio (although there was actually a female surplus in the 15–45 cohort at the turn of the century), but it was clearly the situation in the middle-class circles where Alajos Paikert made his selection in the “end game” (the Conchas with four girls, the Lukácses with seven girls and one boy, and the Rónays with three girls and one boy). And as well as playing a part in the number of potential heirs, it indicates a buyer’s market in the wider sense.

2. This is why Alajos Paikert stresses in his memoirs how “the market came to him”, how much in demand he was (which he of course tended to ascribe to his own qualities): “I could have chosen a daughter from any of several very fine families, because I was a young, educated, healthy, well brought-up, well turned-out, modern young man, I excelled in nearly all the manly sports, and I had a good general knowledge and a promising future.”74

Let us now look at Alajos Paikert’s “ranking matrix” in 1896–98:


Candidate bride


Noble birth


Erzsébet Concha
(1st of 4 girls)


noble (mother’s side)


Margit Lukács
(4th of 7 girls)

bank director

noble (father’s and mother’s side)

paternal and maternal inheritance*

Deli Rónay
(1st of 3 girls)

notary public

noble (mother’s side)

paternal and maternal inheritance**

* According to the 1892 national register, Lukács Antal, virilis [major taxpayer] of Bihar county (address: Bp. V., Bálvány u. 7.) paid direct taxes of 2547 forints. In 1895, Lukács’ estate in Újpalota (Bihar county) extended to 2149 cadastral holds (1 hold = 0.57 hectare), but he also owned land in Csömör (Pest-Pilis-Solt-Kiskun county) and in several places in Csanád (his wife also owned land in one of these).75

** Károly Rónay, then still an “attorney” (address: Bp. II., Apor u. 3.) in 1892 was a virilis of Pest, paying tax of 604 forints. He was also part-owner, in 1895, of a farm of 1380 cadastral holds in Osgyán (Gömör and Kishont county), from where later he took his noble predicate.76

Had Alajos chosen a university career (he did reach the status of junior lecturer), Professor Győző Concha’s family would clearly have appreciated in value, even though the father was not of noble birth and the four girls’ dowry could not have been large (this was probably what caused the Paikert parents to oppose the match). To marry her, Paikert would have needed more money of his own (“I do not have enough money to satisfy her ambitions”).

The choice of Margit Lukács (“harmonious and healthy accord”) was expressly supported by the parents (and other relatives). A bank-director father-in-law would have opened up good prospects on the economic front, and he was of noble rank and had a substantial fortune. Here, however, the girl was choosy, demanding that her suitor be a courmacher, which must have meant more than the usual middle-class norms if Paikert regarded the idea of fulfilling her wishes as “humiliation”. He was clearly put off by a female character who placed strong demands, but it is also possible that Margit Lukács was employing a courting-game gambit to express distance, and difference in rank, from her suitor.77

It seems that Paikert, just as he was embarking on a government-service career, was most impressed by a man who was freshly—in 1898—elevated from attorney to notary public in the 1st District (!) of Budapest. Rónay had authority, learning and knowledge of languages (which must have been particularly important for the future American “attaché”), and had inherited wealth and rank through both the paternal and maternal lines. It cannot have been accidental that the Rónay daughters all made marriages befitting their rank. The memoirs particularly mention the excellent upbringing, which in these circles was almost natural. And since Deli was hardly 18 years old, she could be further “educated” as an obedient wife. Although the young man had not found the answer among the military officer–medical-profession circles managed by his mother, he did make a decision that his parents could support. This also contributed to the establishment of a stable marriage. The family dynamics of the choice was only confirmed by the raising of the two heads of the family to noble rank. The match proved to be a “harmonious accord” for more than just that moment, and persisted in the long term. The young couple could make their own lives, but within the bounds of social norms and parental expectations. For which, of course, they had complete freedom in America. Paikert must surely have looked through his old diary entries as he was writing his memoirs in old age. The diary’s serial account of protracted indecision may not have made for pleasant reading. The gallery of rival ladies did not find its way into the catalogue listing of the memoirs. He did, however, leave everything for the archives, so that someone in a later age, with time and inclination, could reconstruct his youthful decision-making mechanism.


Archival Sources

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Mezőgazdasági Múzeum Adattár, Személyi emlékanyag-gyűjtemény (MgM) [Archives of the Museum of Hungarian Agriculture, Personal Memory Collection].

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2012.8.1. Paikert, Alajos. Kis napló [Small diary] 1946.

2012.9.1. Paikert, Alajos. Kis napló [Small diary] 1947. jan. 1. – dec. 30.

2012.19.1. Paikert, Alajos. Vázlatkönyv [Sketch book].

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Macfarlane, Alan, ed. The Family Life of Ralf Josselin a Seventeenth-Century Clergyman. An Essay in Historical Antropology. New York: The Norton Library, 1977.

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Translated by Alan Campbell

1 Max Weber, Economy and Society. An Outline of Interpretive Sociology, ed. Guenther Roth and Claus Wittich (Berkeley–Los Angeles–London: University of California Press, 1978), 305–6.

2 Reinhard Sieder, “Ehe, Fortpflanzung und Sexualität,” in Vom Patriarchat zur Partnerschaft. Zum Strukturwandel der Familie, ed. Michael Mitterauer and Reinhard Sieder (Munich: Beck C. H., 1984), 143.

3 Lawrence Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage In England 1500–1800 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1977), 270–73.

4 Stone, The Family, 390–95.

5 Lawrence Stone, “Love,” in Stone, The Past and the Present Revisited (London–New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1987), 334–35. It is interesting that at the end of the quotation, the author refers to chapter IV of his own 1977 book, making no further comment.

6 Alan Macfarlane’s highly critical review of Stone’s book: History and Theory 18, no. 1 (Feb. 1979): 103–26. See also Alan Macfarlane, The Origins of English Individualism. The Family, Property and Social Transition (Oxford: Blackwell, 1978); Jack Goody, The European Family. An Historico-Anthropological Essay (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000).

7 Leonore Davidoff and Cathrine Hall, Family Fortunes. Man and Women of the English Middle Class, 1780–1850 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987). Good examples are the negotiations concerning finance and religious creed preceding the marriage of Rebecca Solly and Samuel Shaen. Ibid., 326.

8 Michael Anderson, Approaches to the History of the Western Family 1500–1914 (London–Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1980), 51.

9 Josef Ehmer, “Marriage,” in The History of the European Family, ed. David I. Kertzer and Marzio Barbagli, vol. 2 of Family Life in the Long Nineteenth Century 1789–1913 (New Haven–London: Yale University Press, 2002), 315.

10 David Warren Sabean, “Kinship and Class Dynamics in Nineteenth-Century Europe” in Kinship in Europe. Approaches to Long-Term Development (1300–1900), ed. Sabean et al. (New York–Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2007), 309–10.

11 To Baroness Mária Baumgarten, 3 August 1841. Katona Csaba, “Azért én önnek sem igent, sem nemet nem mondtam.” Válogatás Slachta Etelka és Szekrényessy József leveleiből, vol. 5 (Győr: Mediawave, 2008), 41–43. The diary reveals that the first candidate was called Mihály Csetke and the second József Szekrényessy. The latter became her husband. In the eyes of the Catholic baroness mother, the latter’s greatest defect was that he was of the Reformed faith. Descriptions in the diary: Csaba Katona (ed.), “…kacérkodni fogok vele.” Slachta Etelka soproni úrileány naplója 1840. december – 1841. augusztus, vol. 3 (Győr: Mediawave, 2006), 133–36.

12 Katona, ed., “…kacérkodni fogok vele.” 139, 159–60, 165, 179.

13 Alan Macfarlane, ed., The Family Life of Ralf Josselin a Seventeenth-Century Clergyman. An Essay in Historical Anthropology (New York: The Norton Library, 1977), 11; Macfarlane, The Origins, 65.

14 Júlia M. Hrabovszky, Ami elmúlt. Visszaemlékezések életemből, ed. Ágota Steinert (Budapest: Helikon, 2001), 33–95. Quotations: 88; 93–94.

15 OSZK Kt. Quart. Hung. 3264. Paikert Alajos naplói (1887–1943), vols. 1–11. The extensive bequest contains other volumes: Quart. Hung. 3265. Paikert Alajos vegyes feljegyzései és rajzai (1889–1894), vols. 1–4; Quart. Hung. 3509. Paikert Alajos: Naplórajzok (1889); Quart. Hung. 3605. Paikert Alajos naplói és egyéb feljegyzései. (1886–1895), vols. 1–4; Oct. Hung. 1299. Paikert Alajos naplója és egyéb feljegyzései (1909), vols. 1–2; Oct. Hung. 1445. Paikert Alajos évről évre szóló kis naplója (1911–1916), vols. 1–2; Fol. Hung. 2549. Paikert Alajos: Napló (1890. március–október). The Personal Memory Collection of the Museum of Agriculture (MgM) also holds some diary-like notes: 2012.3.1. Paikert Alajos, Régi feljegyzés 2 May – 18 December 1898, and notes marked “24. napló” 3 May 1944 – 8 May 1945; 2012.9.1. Paikert Alajos, Kis napló, 1 January – 30 December 1947, 2012.8.1. Paikert Alajos, Kis napló 1946.

16 Alajos Paikert, “Életem és korom (Egy emlékirat a múzeum Adattárának őrizetében),” pub. Rózsa Takáts, in A Magyar Mezőgazdasági Múzeum Közleményei, 1998–2000 (Budapest: 2001), 159–218. The original manuscript and its typed versions: MgM 1338. Paikert, Életem; 1339–45.

17 Paikert, “Életem és korom,” 167. In the substantial apparatus to the diaries, Rózsa Takáts notes: “He married a daughter of the publicly respected and very wealthy Kintzig family… At his wife’s behest, he entered the reserves and farmed as a tenant at Seprős (Arad county). It became a model farm, he had a fine stud farm, ten thousand apple trees… he lost the estate, husband and wife live apart…” Ibid., 208.

18 Paikert, “Életem és korom,” 164. Shortly before his death, his father declared in his will that he had no substantial fortune (capital, property, jewellery, etc.). Only household furniture, clothes, etc. BFL VII,6 e, 1914.-V(I)-105. Alajos Paikert, Testament, Buda, Mai 1913.

19 OSZK Kt Quart. Hung. 3264/5, Paikert, Napló 1896. szept. 29 – 1898. márc. 11, 32v, 21 April 1897.

20 MgM 2012.20.1. Paikert Alajos önéletrajza 1940. Életem és működésem, 25.

21 OSZK Kt Quart. Hung. 3265/3, Paikert, 45–53, 12–14 November 1894.

22 Baroness Kollmann, née Ida Zinn (1839–1913), for example, may have been one of his acquaintances from Nagyszombat. Certainly, her husband, Colonel Antal Kollmann, died in Nagyszombat in 1875. János József Gudenus, A magyarországi főnemesség XX. századi genealógiája, vol. 4 (Budapest: Heraldika, 1998), 383. Mrs. Ferenc Kintzig née Ilona Kintzig and Béla Kintzig were siblings of Henrik Paikert’s wife Lujza Kintzig. These markings may even indicate guests of the tea parties arranged by his mother. Except where I indicate another source, I have used the death notices collection of the National Széchényi Library to identify the families. Accessed December 26, 2013. http://www.rakovszky.net/E1_LSG_ObitsIndex/GYJ-NevIndex.shtml.

23 OSZK Kt Quart. Hung. 3264/4, Paikert, Vegyes, 1894–1895. Kis Napló, 41, 7 October 1895. This was not the only list of females in autumn 1895. Shortly afterwards, in early November, in the same book, we find lists of “handsome ladies” and “girls”. Here there are again only different names: “Girls: Kornis, Pallavicini, Szechenyi, Concha, Hegedüs, Kormann, Haller, Tyroch, Lukács, Koller, Czigler, Fábián, Károlyi” OSZK Kt Quart. Hung. 3264/4. Paikert, Vegyes. 1894–1895. Kis Napló, 51, 1 November 1895. Besides the standard women’s names, there seems to be a strong presence of girls from aristocratic families.

24 Gudenus, A magyarországi főnemesség, vol. 2, 105–6.

25 Paikert, “Életem és korom,” 166.

26 OSZK Kt Quart. Hung. 3264/5, Paikert, Napló 1896. szept. 29 – 1898. márc. 11, 11, 16 December 1896.

27 OSZK Kt Quart. Hung. 3264/5, Paikert, Napló 1896. szept. 29 – 1898. márc. 11, 24, 13 April 1897. The remark was clearly prompted by Mária’s marriage to Baron Géza Gudenus on 26 May 1897. Gudenus, A magyarországi főnemesség, vol. 2, 106.

28 He recorded in his memoirs: “Pozsony was a very aristocratic city at that time, exuding the nimbus of the old coronation city and the direct proximity of the imperial court in Vienna. In my youth I had invitations from the following aristocratic families in Pozsony and environs: the Frigyes archducal (his wife was Princess Izabella Croy-Dülmen), the Rohan, Pálffy and Odescalchi princely, the Esterházy, Batthyány, Pálffy, Zichy, Hunyady, Erdődy, Apponyi, Waldstein, Henckel-Donnersmarck, etc. county, the Vay, Prónay, Podmaniczky, Feilitzsch, Lederer, Hengersen, etc. baronial and many fine Hungarian gentry families. For most of them, my father was their doctor. The magnate families were by their nature of a courtly bent, owing to their family bonds, somewhat international outlook, marriages and extensive travels.” Paikert, “Életem és korom,” 164.

29 “In Pozsony, we lived first in Szél utca (Windgasse) near the county hall and the Crusaders’ Church, and later on the first floor of the enormous Wittmann House in Ventur utca. In the second-floor flat of the insignificant building in the former side-street, my parents, who were both great music lovers (my father played the violin well and my mother sang in a fine alto voice), held intimate musical evenings attended by the finest intelligentsia in Pozsony. Only classical music, Haydn, Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Boccherini, was played. Most frequent were quartets, on which István Dávid played first violin, Gessler viola, Frigyes Dohnányi cello, and Baroness Lederer Mathild played the piano part. There were several excellent musical evening families in Pozsony at that time, such as the Baron Lederer family, Princess Odescalchi née Countess Valerie Erdődy, and several others.” Paikert, “Életem és korom,” 165–66.

30 OSZK Kt Quart. Hung. 3264/5. Paikert, Napló 1896. szept. 29 – 1898. márc. 11, 43, 23 April 1897. “Aristokratia. This is my world. Oh, democracy is such a fine word. Today we see such climbers in every field, base, villainous climbers … out in the open or into the arms of the aristocracy! Károlyis, Dessewffys, Széchenyis, Andrássys, Pálffys, Esterházys etc. etc. That is my world.”

31 MgM 1338, Paikert, Életem. The participants in the excursions, according to a later list, were: “Helén Bartha, Adrienne Fischel, the Nagy sisters, Miczi Kormann, Alice Széchenyi, Czilli Szalay, Edith Koller, Edina Pallavicini, Erzsi Concha, Cecil Tormay, Mária Herzog [Margit], Elza Pethes, Ilona Dömötör, Margit and Ella Lukács [?]”. 71. The Christian names faded in his memory. The Herzogs had a daughter called Margit (*1871) and not Mária, and she got married in 1893. Gudenus, A magyarországi főnemesség, vol. 1, 542. And Antal Lukács had—to our knowledge—seven daughters, none of which were called Ella.

32 OSZK Kt Quart. Hung. 3605/4. Paikert, Vegyes, 1894, 95, 6v, before December 1894. Alice Széchényi (1871–1945), eldest daughter of Béla Széchényi, married Count Tibor Teleki in summer 1895. Gudenus, A magyarországi főnemesség, vol. 4, 52.

33 The literature on Cecile Tormay classes her without qualification as a child of the gentry, even though her father only gained a title with the noble predicate “of Nádudvar” in 1896. Before then, following her mother (Hermin Barkassy) she could have been at most considered as ‘agilis’ (matrilineal nobility). Béla Pettkó and Ede Reiszig, eds., Magyar Nemzetségi Zsebkönyv, part 2, Nemes családok, vol. 1 (Budapest: Franklin, 1905), 43.

34 Zoltán Ónagy, Tormay Cécile (2009), accessed December 26, 2013. http://www.irodalmijelen.hu/05242013-0953/tormay-cecile. After Count Rafael Zichy’s divorce in 1925, he claimed in public that his former wife Countess Edina Pallavicini had a lesbian affair with the celebrated conservative writer of the age, Cecile Tormay. The two women took the matter to court; the ex-husband lost, and was even imprisoned.

35 BFL Budapesti cím és lakjegyzék, 1900. Accessed December 26, 2013, http://bfl.archivportal.hu/cgi-bin/lakas/lakas.pl. Helén Bartha (d. 1947) married a military officer, Frigyes Quandt and was soon widowed (in 1907).

36 OSZK Kt Quart. Hung. 3264/5. Paikert, Napló 1896. szept. 29 – 1898. márc. 11, 2v, 29 September 1896. Dr József Tiroch [sic!] was a staff medical officer. He died in Pozsony in 1899 at the age of 62. Only one of his daughters survived to adulthood.

37 First of all, Concha himself came from an agricultural family. His father was bailiff of the Marcaltő estate, and died in 1865. Additionally, his wife Emilia Forster, who died in childbirth, was the daughter of János Forster (1810–1891), primatical steward and brother of Gyula and Kálmán Forster, pioneers of the agrarian movement. Through the Forsters, the Concha family were in-laws to the Baross family of Bellus and also related to the Dömötör girls, who also featured on the list, because Izabella Dömötör’s elder sister Emmy was married to Gyula and Kálmán Forster’s brother Géza. On the Forster family, see József Szinnyei, Magyar írók élete és munkái, vol. 3 (Budapest: Hornyánszky, 1894), 656–58, András Vári: Urak és gazdászok. Arisztokrácia, agrárértelmiség és agrárius mozgalom Magyarországon 1821–1898 (Budapest: Argumentum, 2009), 419. Pál Baross’ wife was called Anna Forster. Their son was Károly Baross, a key figure in the management of the OMGE and elder brother of Margit, born in 1870, who featured on the first list. See Béla Pettkó and Ede Reiszig, eds., Magyar Nemzetségi Zsebkönyv, part 2, vol. 1, 44; Béla Kempelen, Magyar nemes családok, vol. 1 (Budapest: Grill Károly Könyvkiadó, 1911), 431–36. Emmy, daughter of the retired bailiff of Tordas, who died in 1893, buried her husband, Géza Forster, retired director of the OMGE, 1907. He was also mourned by his brothers Gyula and Kálmán, and his brothers-in-law Pál Baross and Győző Concha.

38 MgM 2012.20.1. Paikert, Életem és működésem, 16.

39 OSZK Kt Quart. Hung. 3264/4. Paikert, Vegyes. 1894–1895. Kis Napló, 47, 27 October 1895.

40 Ibid., 12v, 20 December 1896.

41 Ibid., 52v, 25 April 1897.

42 MgM 2012.19.1. Paikert, Vázlatkönyv. 35. Erzsébet Concha, 4 February 1898. Two of the four Concha girls—Erzsébet and Emília—did not get married. Paikert also notes in his memoirs that Erzsébet retreated to a convent for a while, and most significantly, the rival friend László Dömötör never married either. MgM 2012.20.1. Paikert, Életem és működésem, 16.

43 The Paikerts lived in Buda, at Jégverem u. 2. Paikert, “Életem és korom,” 169. (Note by Rózsa Takáts, ibid., 194).

44 OSZK Kt Quart. Hung. 3264/5. Paikert, Napló 1896. szept. 29 – 1898. márc. 11, 27, 14 April 1897. Edith Koller of Granzow (1878–1958) married the later minister of finance, Baron Frigyes Korányi of Tolcsva, in 1901. Gudenus, A magyarországi főnemesség, vol. 2, 97.

45 OSZK Kt Quart. Hung. 3264/5. Paikert, Napló 1896. szept. 29 – 1898. márc. 11, 28v, 15 April 1897.

46 Tamás László Rozsos: Az erdélyi örmény eredetű nemes Lukács család genealógiája (Budapest: 2012), 16.

47 OSZK Kt Quart. Hung. 3264/5. Paikert, Napló 1896. szept. 29 – 1898. márc. 11, 8v–9.

48 Ibid., 11v, 18 December 1896.

49 Ibid., 20, 12 April 1897.

50 Ibid., 54–54v, 26 April 1897. On his 31st birthday at the end of May 1897, he was fantasizing about getting engaged in Csömör (where the Lukácses lived), ibid., 61, 31 May 1897.

51 MgM 2012.3.1. Paikert, Régi feljegyzés, Személyes, 1898. máj. 2 – dec. 18, 1, 2 May 1898; 3, 5 May.

52 Ibid., 3. 4 May 1898.

53 OSZK Kt Quart. Hung. 3264/5. Paikert, Napló 1896. szept. 29 – 1898. márc. 11, 72, 11 March 1898. The nexus did indeed fit into the above web of relationships, especially after she married Ferenc Baross of Bellus and her younger sister Elvira married Lajos Baross.

54 MgM 2012.3.1. Paikert, Régi feljegyzés, Személyes, 1898. máj. 2 – dec. 18, 4, 28 June 1898. He even came out with a slogan: “Csömör – courtship, siege, capture!” Ibid., 4 August. Theodore Zeldin has aptly described the traditional masculine model of courtship to be a combination of commercial techniques and military means. Theodore Zeldin, An Intimate History of Humanity (London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1994), 116.

55 MgM 2012.3.1. Paikert, Régi feljegyzés, Személyes, 1898. máj. 2 – dec. 18, 5, 4 September 1898.

56 Ibid., 7, 24 September 1898.

57 Ibid., 7, 2 October 1898.

58 MgM 2012.20.1. Paikert, Életem és működésem, 35–36.

59 Register of Birth and Death, accessed June 16, 2013. https://familysearch.org/search/record/results#count, All four were registered in the Lower Víziváros Roman Catholic register, not far from the Paikerts’ home.

60 József Gerő, ed., A királyi könyvek (Budapest: Gerő József, 1940), 176.

61 MgM 2012.20.1. Paikert, Életem és működésem, 36. The Fluk family were raised to the nobility in 1792. Kempelen, Magyar nemes családok, vol. 4, 145.

62 MgM 2012.20.1. Paikert, Életem és működésem, 7, 13 October 1898.

63 Ibid., 9–10, 28 Nov 1898.

64 Ibid., 8, 24 Nov 1898. There is no sign in the diary of omitted words or letters.

65 Ibid., 11, 5–6 December 1898.

66 Ibid., 12, 18 December 1898. Sunday. On the “English exhibition” see Radisics Jenő, “Az orsz. iparművészeti museum,” Magyar Iparművészet 8 (1898): 368. Kinga and Dalma were younger sisters of Deli.

67 Register of Birth and Death, accessed June 16, 2013. https://familysearch.org/search/record/results#count.

68 MgM 2012.19.1. Paikert, Vázlatkönyv, 47, 13 November 1899.

69 Paikert, “Életem és korom,” 179. Here the “genteel” (úri) was a reference to bearing and not just origins. (GyK’s italics in the quotation.)

70 MgM 2012.20.1. Paikert, Életem és működésem, 35.

71 The game theory model goes back to a 1962 paper by D. Gale and L. S. Shapley. D. Gale and L. S. Shapley, “College Admission and the Stability of Marriage,” American Mathematical Monthly 69, no. 1 (1962): 9–15. The 2012 Nobel Prize went to the surviving Lloyd S. Shapley and to Alvin E. Roth, who developed its application further. The subject has been covered in Hungarian by Péter Biró in “Stabil párosítási modellek és ezeken alapuló központi párosító programok,” Szigma 37, 3–4 (2006): 153–75. I would like to thank Aladár Madarász for bringing the model to my attention.

72 We could take as a basis for comparison the reminiscences of other social ladies, although we do not know of the treatment of any diaries. With reference to the introduction, however, we do not consider this to be methodologically sound. A revealing attempt at confronting interests with feelings has been made by Gábor Gyáni, who examined individual cases of “patriarchal” and “partnership” marriages through three 1914 marriage contracts. Gábor Gyáni, Hétköznapi Budapest, (Budapest: Városháza, 1995), 14–20. On the same, in a wider context, see Gábor Gyáni, “Middle-Class Kinship in Nineteenth-Century Hungary,” in Kinship in Europe, 293–94. These cases were from the year the First World War broke out and I would not hazard to extrapolate them back to the turn of the century.

73 See Biró, “Stabil párosítási modellek,” 153, 155. There have been many attempts to develop the model by building in payment and dynamics (i.e. the effect of new market entrants).

74 MgM 2012.20.1. Paikert, Életem és működésem, 38. It should be noted that according to the 1895 “gazdacímtár” [Farm Directory], the Paikert family did not have land greater than 100 holds. Only the first-born son Henrik farmed, as a tenant, a 330-hold estate in Seprős (Arad county), which was owned by his father-in-law. KSH, ed., A magyar korona országainak gazdaczímtára (Budapest: M. kir. Statisztikai Hivatal, 1897), 418–19. That was the origin of the family’s predicate upon their ennoblement.

75 J. Lajos Máté ed., Magyar Almanach. A Főrendiházi tagok, Országgyűlési képviselők- és az Országos Virilisták Czímkönyve az 1892. évre (Budapest: Fischer J. D. 1892), 85; KSH, ed., A magyar korona országainak gazdaczímtára (Budapest: M. kir. Statisztikai Hivatal, 1897), 244–45; 340–41; 422–25.

76 Máté, Magyar Almanach, 40; A magyar korona országainak gazdaczímtára, 566. It should be noted that in 1917—calculating double—he was a Pest virilis with direct tax of 11,704 crowns (1 forint = 2 crowns). Budapest Székesfőváros legtöbb állami adót fizető – 1200 választó – 1917. évi névjegyzéke (Budapest: Székesfőváros házinyomdája, 1918), 7.

77 Margit Lukács got married in 1900, two years following the siege recorded in the diary. Her husband was also of the nobility, an assistant secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Dr Jakab Tahy of Tahvár and Tarkeő. Rozsos, Az erdélyi örmény, 16. (The noble predicate were written out in full in the marriage register!)


pdfVolume 3 Issue 1 CONTENTS

Mikołaj Szołtysek, Siegfried Gruber

Living Arrangements of the Elderly in Two Eastern European Joint-Family Societies: Poland–Lithuania around 1800 and Albania in 1918


This paper re-addresses the nature of joint-family systems in historic Eastern Europe. It identifies two “hotspot” areas of family complexity and uses census microdata to shed light on attributes of household organization and living arrangements of the elderly in a comparative perspective. A detailed examination of various demographic components of the joint-family systems under discussion reveals important inter-societal differences and suggests that “de-essentialization” of the notion of the “joint-family system” might be necessary when discussing the geography of family patterns in this part of the continent.


Keywords: historical demography, household structure, living arrangements, co-residence, joint-family, Eastern Europe

Clarifying the Question

The joint family has long been seen as one of the most peculiar living arrangements in historic Europe. While a preference for residential independence in adulthood (i.e. for residing in small, conjugal groups),1 has long been viewed as the norm in Europe, the underlying principles of joint-family coresidence centered on extensive family solidarity, a high degree of parental control over adolescent children, and the subordination of some groups of individuals to others within the domestic space. It therefore comes as no surprise that historians have commonly assumed that the appearance of joint families in a given area, society, or culture must have resulted from economic, demographic, and cultural constraints which prevented people from indulging in the (allegedly) universal preference for small and simple households. In their explanations of the economics of joint-family arrangements, historians assert that the landholding patterns typical of sharecroppers and some serfs and the demands of the pastoral economy in mountainous settings fostered the formation of big, laterally extended multiple-family residence groups.2 When seeking to explain the cultural factors underlying these family arrangements, scholars argue that patrilinealism, closely linked with corporate (joint) ownership structures that negate individual property rights, probably created mental structures that favored family solidarity, cohabitation, and obedience.3 It was generally assumed that in the absence of these two constraining forces, the “aversion” to joint-family living arrangements4 would find expression and the “instinctive wishes” of the population could be realized.

Despite a lack of clarity about the exact meaning of the term,5 “joint family” (or extended family) has often been used to describe laterally extended multiple-family domestic groups in societies widely dispersed across historic Eurasia.6 Early scholars of historical family patterns argued that joint families could be found in many different societies of Eurasia, from the nomadic tribes of the Middle East to the Slavic serf agriculturalists and the ancient civilizations of the Far East.7 Indeed, more recent research has revealed that legal and residential arrangements that followed joint-family rules existed in many parts of historic Europe, including in early medieval Germanic societies,8 fifteenth-century Tuscany, early modern France,9 nineteenth-century northern Italy,10 Finland,11 Russia,12 and parts of the Balkans.13 Until quite recently, the joint-household system was the most prevalent family arrangement in the world’s most populous agricultural societies, China and India. Referring to such diverse cultural areas, Berkner and Shaffer14 argue that anyone reading ethnographic descriptions of joint-family living “cannot help but be struck by the broad similarities.” These common features include the following: the coresidence of two or more nuclear families; the patrilineal succession of family titles and property; a tendency to keep the sons on the patrimony and virilocal household formation; a tendency to unify the joint domestic group around some common economic project; a tendency toward fission at some point in the developmental cycle; a marginal position of female siblings; and a tendency to recruit workers from among kin rather than from among wage laborers.15

Demographers have been fond of making such essentialist claims and have often used the concept of the extended family to explain worldwide demographic differentials. Accordingly, demographers have contrasted stylized versions of the joint-family system with nuclear or stem-family systems in order to establish a theoretical foundation on the basis of which to link different family types to various demographic outcomes. Since the work of Lorimer,16 Davis,17 and Davis and Blake18 there has been broad acceptance among scholars of the assumption that extended or joint families encourage high fertility.19 Hajnal pushed the analysis toward a specification of the rules of household formation and distinguished two main family forms. He also emphasized an East–West divide, contrasting the “joint-household (formation) system” of the major Eurasian societies with the Northwestern European system.20 To exemplify the characteristics of the joint-family pattern, Hajnal cited data from various historical periods from a wide range of countries with very different conditions, including India, Nepal, China, Italy, Croatia, Russia, and Hungary.21 More recently, Das Gupta drew “a stylized contrast between the stem-family systems of Northern Europe and the joint family of North India” in order to highlight their essential features as determinants of divergent health behaviors and health outcomes.22

While the stereotypical belief that in past centuries the elderly lived out their twilight years nestled in the bosom of their families has generally been refuted over the course of the last two decades,23 the perception that complex family societies performed welfare functions better than Western nuclear family based societies has been particularly resistant to change. Reflecting views that have been prevalent since the nineteenth-century writings of Le Play,24 family historians and demographers have continued to assert that nuclear-, stem-, and joint-family societies performed certain welfare functions for their members and coped with economic hardships in particular ways.25 The residential patterns of the elderly in joint-family societies were seen as representing a combined effect of the authority structure (with elderly males at the apex) and the associated family and kin-based approach to welfare provision.26 Regardless of when and where they lived, most joint families were portrayed as private institutions that encouraged solidarity and support for the elderly and other vulnerable individuals.27 Culture-specific values supported that system, especially those stressing family solidarity and a greater sense of obligation towards members of the kinship group.28

It is in this context that the concept of patriarchy has often been evoked, becoming a convenient shorthand for the presumed distinguishing trait of joint-family relations. The term has often included many different elements, such as the dominance of patrilineal descent, patrilocal or patrivirilocal residence after marriage, power relations that favour the dominance of men over women and the older generation over the younger generation, customary laws that sanctioned these patterns, the absence of an interfering state that could mitigate their influence, and an inert traditional society that emanated from these conditions.29 Combinations of these elements have been used to explain the peculiarity of the joint-family residence patterns in the East and Southeast of Europe relative to the West.30

Although many of these claims are no doubt accurate, the assumption that all joint-family societies are basically the same is, in our view, a gross oversimplification. Why would we think that societies that differ in terms of their cultural metrics, environmental characteristics, and place-specific historical trajectories adhere to the same rules of joint-family living, or that these rules would apply to the same extent in the everyday lives of their members? Without denying that it is possible to identify some essential and generally accepted features of extended families, this paper re-addresses the nature of joint-family systems in Europe by looking at the differences between two exemplary joint-family societies. Instead of treating them as inherently similar, we argue that a detailed examination of various demographic components of the joint-family systems under discussion may uncover important differences and hence suggest the extent to which a “de-essentialization” of the notion of the joint family might be necessary.31

Methodological Issues

This paper identifies two “hot spot” areas of family complexity in historical Eastern Europe and uses census and census-like microdata to describe the residential situations of the elderly in two populations governed by a joint-household formation regime. To compare the living arrangements of the elderly, we used measures commonly applied in demographic and family history studies of aging populations.32 However, we also proposed several indicators which have, to our knowledge, never or only rarely been used in the literature. As our focus is on the comparative morphology of residence patterns in joint-family systems, issues related to the origins of the joint family in the regions under examination or to the factors that contributed to the system’s persistence are not discussed.33

However, because our investigation of the situation of the elderly was based solely on the observation of their residential units registered in the listings, our analysis has certain limitations. The coresident family members may have represented only a small fraction of the kin to whom an elderly individual could turn for economic, physical, or emotional support, and coresidence as such may have been an imperfect proxy for the actual sharing of resources within domestic groups.34 In most developed countries, as well as in some historical societies, the coresidence of the elderly with their kin is just one of many transfer flows involving the aged. The other sources of support are generally in the form of social transfers (pensions, health payments, home care, etc.).35 While we do not wish to ignore these problems, some reservations regarding their implications for our study should be stated. In joint-family societies, household membership strategies were conventionally oriented toward an extensive recruitment of kin, which meant that many (if not most) domestic groups retained their complex structure through a continuous sequence of generations.36 Although it is unlikely that even highly complex domestic groups would encompass all of the kin available to an average “ego,” the accretion of relatives was normally substantial enough in such an environment that we can be certain that, in most cases, coresident kin would have been the most significant “others” from the perspective of an individual. Moreover, in joint-family societies in which domestic units act as property and labor cooperatives, the sharing of physical space was highly related to having the right to the use and ownership of a concrete part of the communal property. Although coresidence may not have always indicated the flow of support from the younger to the older generations, the economic and physical assistance derived from relatives who coresided was likely to have been more beneficial to the aged than the assistance provided by kin who lived close by.37 The coresidence of the elderly with kin had an even greater social and economic significance for pre-industrial rural populations, among which institutionalized social transfers were precarious and investments in human capital were low.

Our analysis relies on two additional operational assumptions. First, we assume there was a hierarchy of caring contexts within domestic groups, with different categories of relatives providing different types of support.38 Second, we assume that the more dense the environment of coresident kin surrounding the elderly—i.e. the larger the group of coresident immediate kin—the greater the potential benefits that could flow to the aged.

In this paper, we only deal with the population living in family (“private”) households. Unlike in historic western Poland, institutional households (often misleadingly called “hospitals”) were largely nonexistent in the eastern part of the country in the eighteenth century. Institutional households were equally scarce in Albania, and the few that existed were omitted from the analysis that follows.

Societies and Data39

To investigate the residential situations of the aged in the two exemplary joint-family societies, we used historical census microdata from two different regions of Eastern Europe: the eastern borderlands of the Polish–-Lithuanian Commonwealth at the end of the eighteenth century and Albania in 1918. The Albanian population census of 1918 and the Polish–Lithuanian database are currently the only existing databases that are large enough to allow us to investigate the demographic conditions and household composition in historical Eastern and Southeastern Europe.





No. of parishes (estates)

No. of settlements

Eastern Poland–-Lithuania, 1791–95





Albania 1918





Albania 1918 (weighted)






Table 1. Basic data distribution. Source: Karl Kaser, Siegfried Gruber, Gentiana Kera, Enriketa Pandelejmoni (2011) 1918 census of Albania, Version 0.1 [SPSS file]. Graz.; Mikołaj Szołtysek, CEURFAMFORM database, Version 0.1 [SPSS file]. Rostock, 2011.


On the Polish side, the present study makes use of data for 13,885 peasant households from the eastern territories of historical Poland–Lithuania (Table 1).40 These data were derived from two types of population listings enumerating individuals by residential units.41 The first group of listings (37 percent) comes from the surviving remnants of the censuses carried out by the Polish Diet (Sejm) between 1790 and 1791. The second group of census microdata for the Commonwealth came from the so-called 5th Russian “soul revision.” Designed as periodic tax censuses to be used by the central government to assess the poll tax (which all male peasants in Russia were liable to pay), the “revision” was taken in the Belarusian heartland of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania after the third partition of Poland in 1795. Despite being ordered by an alien administration for the Polish territories, the 1795 revision in Poland–Lithuania followed the traditional Polish concepts of census-taking, rather than the official Russian principles of taxation.

map1 fmt
Map 1. Spatial distribution of Polish–Lithuanian data. Map design: J. Suproniuk for CEURFAMFORM Database.
The area enumerated in the listings are clustered into four territorial groupings located on either side of the historical Polish–Lithuanian border of the Commonwealth (Map 1). To the north of this border, there are two regions that stretch over the central and southern parts of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (regions 1 and 2). The second of these, region 2, constitutes one of the largest European swamplands, known as Poles’ya. To the southwest, region 3 covers a portion of the historic territory of Red Ruthenia, which today is at the intersection of Belarus, Ukraine, and Poland. Region 4 consists of the Żytomierski district in the former Kiev Voivodship on the southeastern fringes of the Commonwealth, now in Ukraine. However, for the purposes of this study, the four regions are treated jointly for socioeconomic, demographic, cultural reasons. All of the listings discussed here precede the abolition of serfdom in the territories in question. The serf population under consideration was essentially non-Polish and non-Catholic, and was mainly comprised of Uniates (Greek Catholics). Ethnically, the population was mainly Ruthenian (which meant they spoke various dialects typical of “proto-Ukrainians” and “proto-Belarusians”).42 All of the regions also had lower population densities and less stringent forms of the manorial economy based on the forced labor of the peasantry than the western and southernmost territories of Poland.

From January 1916 onward, northern and central Albania was occupied by the Austro–Hungarian army, and a population census was taken on March 1, 1918. The checking and the processing of the data had to be stopped due to the planned withdrawal of the army in October. The order to destroy all of the census material was ignored except in some areas in the south of the occupied territory. The surviving material, which covers the major part of the country, therefore includes people who lived in roughly 1,800 villages, towns, and cities in the territory administered by Austria–Hungary during World War I (see Table 1 and Map 2). The census director published basic tables in 1922 with funds provided by the Albanian government.

Albanien 1918 und jetzt fmt

Map 2. Territory of Albania covered by the 1918 census.


The population in the Albanian census was predominantly Muslim (78.2 percent), with a Catholic minority in the north (18.6 percent) and an Orthodox minority in the south (3.1 percent). The ethnicity of the population was almost exclusively Albanian. The economy was dominated by agriculture and the urban population made up only 13.2 percent of the total. Very few Albanian adults who lived outside of the cities were literate.

The majority of individuals in our collection were listed by domestic groups comprising all of the people occupying separate residential units, consisting not only of the core family of the head of the household, but also his immediate and more distant relatives, as well as coresident servants and inmates or lodgers.

We recognize, of course, that a comparison of a phenomenon in Albania in 1918 with phenomena in Poland–Lithuania in the course of the eighteenth century may raise some questions. Sklar has noted that marriage behaviors among the populations of the Czech, Baltic, and Polish regions differed markedly from those of people in the Balkans during the demographic transition.43 However, while our country-specific data span long periods of time, from a demographic perspective both of these populations are pre-transitional. While the Belarusian population exhibited the highest fertility levels in Eastern Europe well into the 1920s, Albania was the last country in Europe to enter the demographic transition (i.e. after the World War II).44 The age-standardized marital fertility ratios of both the Polish eastern borderlands at the end of eighteenth century and early twentieth-century Albania were very similar (60–61).45 Female nuptiality patterns were also very similar (female SMAM of 18.4–18.6), although there were significant differences between the male nuptiality patterns in the two locations (the male SMAM was 27.2 in Albania and 22 in eastern Poland). Apart from the age gaps between spouses, the major difference between the two populations appears to have been the share of elderly people aged 60 and older, which was higher in Albania than in Poland (nine percent in comparison with six percent).46

The populations covered by our listings were joint-family societies per se, with a large share of individuals living in joint-family constellations at some point in their lives. Data from the Polish borderlands and Albania displayed some of the highest indicators of joint-family coresidence out of more than one-hundred census populations from around the globe.47 Further proof of the prevalence of joint-family coresidence in the areas under examination is found in ethnographic accounts and historic-anthropological research. According to Kaser, Albania historically belonged to the area of the Balkans where patrilocal household cycle complexity was prevalent.48 The area covered by Albania was characterized by a distinctive patriarchal cultural background that has been called the Balkan patriarchy.49 The basic elements of this cultural pattern were strong blood ties, ancestor worship, patrilocality, patrilineal kinship structures, the levying of a bride price, and the waging of blood feuds.50

The eastern lands of historical Poland were also characterized by the longevity of archaic forms of communal social organization based on male ancestral kinship. These familial-ancestral communes were believed to resemble closely the well-known South Slavic institution of zadruga.51 The patriarchal model of intra-familial relations prevailed, with full economic power being held by the commune’s head, usually the oldest male. When a head died, the position was passed on to the next-oldest male in the group.52 In the period under investigation, large agnatic descent groups were already at different stages of disintegration, mainly due to frequent efforts by landlords to split up large groups and create individual families.53 Nevertheless, archaic extended family patterns were still going strong in the Polish eastern borderlands, although the patriarchal family group at the time was confined primarily to individuals who jointly inhabited one domestic group (“dym”). Despite increasing tendencies toward household division, even in the second half of the nineteenth century large, multigenerational families had not yet disappeared from the Polish eastern territories.54



Rural Albania, 1918

Poland–Lithuania, 1791–95











No family





Simple family household





Extended family household





Stem family household





Joint family household










Total households






Table 2. Household structure in Albania and Poland–Lithuania. Source: Kaser, Gruber, Kera, Pandelejmoni, 1918 census of Albania; Szołtysek, “CEURFAMFORM database”. Hammel–Laslett scheme slightly modified. All lineally extended multiple-family households with more than two conjugal family units are treated as “joint families’.”


To further illustrate the widespread character of joint-family coresidence in the societies under examination, three measures of joint-family coresidence were applied to our data and presented in tabulated or graphical form.55 The first measure applies a slightly modified Hammel–Laslett scheme to the populations under investigation, while the other two move away from a sole concentration on the household and focus instead on the distribution of individuals and CFUs among different types of domestic groups.56

In Table 2 a canonical Hammel–Laslett scheme was used to present a distribution of households by type in Albania and Poland–Lithuania. The scheme was modified in order to give a better representation of the domestic group structures that fall into the category of joint families. All of the households that belong to Laslett category 5 were divided into two groups (stem versus joint).57 Both datasets show a high prevalence of non-nuclear residence groups. Extended, stem, and joint domestic groups account for more than half of all of the units in both Albania and Poland–Lithuania. While the overall share of multiple-family units was larger in the Polish borderlands than in Albania (38 percent and 35 percent, respectively), the number of domestic groups displaying joint structure according to our definition was slightly higher in the Balkans. The proportions of joint-family households in both datasets were very high compared to other sites in historic Europe, although they are smaller than in the Russian paradigmatic case of the joint family studied by Czap.58 Among Tuscan households in 1427—which have long been regarded as exemplifying joint-family structures in late medieval Europe—only 15 percent were multiple-family households, and only eight percent of those were composed either of two married brothers or three or more couples. Among the Indian rural households in the mid-twentieth century, no more than 12 to 13 percent would have been classified as joint families according to our definition.59 Before Mishino’s data were published in the early 1980s, the highest overall incidence of joint families in historic Europe was found for an estate in eighteenth-century Kurland, where the incidence was about 17 percent.60



Figure 1a. Household structure by age of household head (male heads only) Poland–Lithuania 1791–1795. Source: Szołtysek, “CEURFAMFORM database”.


Figure 1b. Household structure by age of household head (male heads only) Albania 1918. Source: Kaser, Gruber, Kera, Pandelejmoni, 1918 census of Albania.

It is generally understood that the distribution of households by structure can obscure the actual fluctuation over the developmental cycles of domestic groups.61 A number of scholars have asserted that these Eastern European domestic groups underwent no cyclical changes from one household form to another, but rather maintained the multiple-family form over the entire life-cycle of the group.62 However, neither the Albanian nor the Polish–Lithuanian data confirm this assumption. When all of the households are ordered by the age of the male household head (Figures 1a and 1b), then a clear upward-trend in the propensity to form joint domestic groups over the family lifecycle becomes visible, with much higher proportions of joint families found among older heads. Some differences between Albania and Poland–Lithuania are also discernable. The accretion of additional family units in Albania occurred earlier in the lifecycle of domestic groups than in the Polish borderlands. Among Polish–Lithuanians, a factor that also contributed to a sharp decline in the share of simple families among middle-aged heads was the increasing tendency to form households composed of only two conjugal-family units, some of which then obviously turned into joint-family households. It appears, however, that the number of joint families in both societies was significant enough that we can conclude that joint-household formation rules were well-integrated into the social norms regarding domestic group recruitment and membership.


Figure 2b. Population by household type membership (sexes combined), Albania 1918. Source: Kaser, Gruber, Kera, Pandelejmoni, 1918 census of Albania”.


Figure 2a. Population by household type membership (sexes combined), Poland–Lithuania 1791–95. Source: Szołtysek, “CEURFAMFORM database”. Notes: Categories ‘No family’ and ‘Solitaries’ omitted (below 0.5 percent across all age groups).

While a substantial fraction of the population spent most of their lives in joint-family environments in both societies (Figures 2a–2b and 3a–3b), the percentage of people in this category was consistently higher in Albania than in eighteenth-century Eastern Poland, where the share tended to fluctuate. But in order to understand better the differences between these two joint-family societies, we need to look at the distribution of conjugal-family units (CFUs) among the different types of domestic group structures based on the age of the family unit head.63 The proportion of CFUs living in joint-family households in Albania generally held steady at around 40 to 50 percent, with only very negligible changes occurring as the CFU head grew older (Figure 3b). Household divisions were obviously occurring less frequently in this society. By contrast, a clear lifecycle pattern of joint-family coresidence can be seen in Poland–Lithuania (Figure 3a). There, the proportion of CFUs residing in joint groups decreased substantially as the head progressed from early adulthood to his mid-fifties.64 While a reverse pattern could be observed after that age, joint coresidence was never as common among units with older heads as it was among family groups with younger heads. Household divisions must have occurred at a very rapid pace among adult Polish–Lithuanians, with a large number of conjugal units gaining residential independence before their heads had reached their late forties. Then, after the head reached the age of 55, the living arrangements of a CFU often shifted again, with many of these groups moving from residing in simple units to living in stem or joint families. These differences in lifecycle developments in Albania and historic Poland may have had important implications for the living arrangements of the elderly in these two societies. It is likely that the delayed division of households in Albania resulted in a considerably higher number and wider range of relatives living in domestic groups that included older people than in Poland.


Figure 3a. Conjugal family units (CFUs) by household type membership, Poland–Lithuania 1791–95. Source: Szołtysek, “CEURFAMFORM database”. Notes: Categories ‘No family’ and ‘Solitaries’ omitted (below 0.3 percent across all age groups).


Figure 3b. Conjugal family units (CFUs) by household type membership, Albania 1918. Source: Kaser, Gruber, Kera, Pandelejmoni, 1918 census of Albania.

Living Arrangements of the Aged

Demographers and family historians have devoted considerable attention to measures of living arrangements among the elderly.65 The most common approaches take into account household headship rates among the elderly, the relationship of the older person to the household head, the older person’s coresidence with married or unmarried children, and/or whether the household in which the elderly person lives has a simple or an extended structure.66 In the analysis that follows, we merge these approaches67 and propose a wider palette of quantified indicators for investigating the position of the elderly. After discussing the results we obtained using these standard measures, we consider some additional tools that may provide us with more insights into the morphology of the residence patterns of the elderly in truly complex family systems like the ones we are dealing with here.

When we look at the living arrangements of the elderly, kin availability plays an important role. The patterns of kin availability are determined by age- and sex-specific mortality, fertility, marriage and remarriage rates, and the age differences between spouses.68 To capture the demographic effects of the availability of kin on the residence patterns of the aged in the populations under examination we use a very simple measure that can be calculated on the basis of the age structures of our populations. The so-called “availability ratio” (AR)69 is the ratio of members of the population aged 15–59 to members of the population aged 60 and over. The former population represents the pool of available individuals with whom the elderly could co-reside. The AR was 10.1 for Poland–Lithuania, but it was only 5.8 for Albania. Assuming this finding is not entirely an artifact caused by the under-registration of certain groups of individuals or a consequence of the age heaping and age exaggeration in the Albanian population, it appears that in Albania there were fewer younger people available for potential coresidence with the elderly.

We begin our analysis by classifying elderly individuals by their relationship to the household head (Table 3). The advantage of this approach is that it allows us to look at the percentage of older people who head a household in conjunction with other features of the living arrangements of the elderly.

The headship rates were uniformly high for men in both locations, but they were much lower for women. In addition, in both datasets far more women lived as parents (or as parents-in-law) in the households of children or children-in-law than men. At this point, however, the similarities between the patterns in historic Poland and in Albania come to an end. While one-sixth of the older women in Poland–Lithuania still held a headship, the corresponding share was drastically smaller in Albania. This seems to indicate that due to a “patriarchal bias,” women in Albania had fewer chances of heading a household as widows. The fewer household divisions also explain why elderly Albanian men were found more frequently in the other household membership categories—particularly those of other relatives and siblings of the head or the head’s spouse—than elderly eighteenth-century Ruthenian men. Moreover, relative to their counterparts in Albania, both elderly men and women in Poland–Lithuania were more likely to reside in a household headed by a non-relative, even though this arrangement was still rare.


Relationship to household head

Poland–Lithuania 1791–95

Albania 1918















Parent or parent-in-law





Sibling or sibling-in-law





Other relative










Lives alone






100 (N=2639)

100 (N=1853)

100 (N=16391)

100 (N=17913)


Table 3. Elderly (60+) relationship to head of household by sex. Source: Kaser, Gruber, Kera, Pandelejmoni, 1918 census of Albania; Szołtysek, “CEURFAMFORM database”. Note: Albania: weighted population.


The major patterns shown in Table 3 allow an initial, tentative hypothesis regarding gender-based differences in the well-being of the elderly in the populations under examination. Assuming the domestic groups in the societies in question were structured hierarchically—and that the household head was the key decision-maker regarding access to resources and used his or her power to ensure that other household members acted in accordance with his or her wishes—it appears that old age was much more advantageous for men than for women in both societies. As only a minority of women were entitled to head households at older ages, relatively few of them were able to exert direct control over decision-making in their domestic group, and this happened much more often in Poland–Lithuania than in Albania. Thus, the well-being of women was dependent on the nature of their membership in a household; i.e., on their placement in the overall web of intra-household relationships.

Before we attempt to deepen our understanding of this issue, we should categorize the elderly householders by sex and the structure of their domestic group (Table 4). Our goal is to determine whether female-headed households were structurally different from male-headed households and whether these structural differences translated into potential vulnerability for older women.



Poland–Lithuania 1791–95

Albania 1918

Household category

Male heads (%)

Female heads (%)

Male heads (%)

Female heads (%)






No family





Simple family





Extended family





Stem family





Joint family











100 (N=2340)

100 N=300)

100 (N=13211)

100 (N=555)


Table 4. Household structure of elderly heads (60+) by sex of householder. Source: Kaser, Gruber, Kera, Pandelejmoni, 1918 census of Albania; Szołtysek, “CEURFAMFORM database”.


The figures in Table 4 show significant differences between male- and female-headed households in both datasets; however, these differences are manifested in a very specific way. In Poland–Lithuania, female householders were much more likely than male ones to head extended domestic groups and were less likely to head stem families. The first gap is largely attributable to the combined effects of higher rates of remarriage among men and the excess male mortality at older ages, but it points to the relatively strong position of widowed women in the joint-family societies of historic Poland–Lithuania. It is particularly striking that, in Poland, the relative shares of heads living in solitary and joint-family households were similar among men and women. Again, the rather high number of female heads of extended and joint-family units in eastern Poland–Lithuania suggests that the widowed “matriarch” occupied a relatively strong position in the joint-family societies of historic Poland.

The Albanian patterns were quite different. Male-headed households in Albania were far more likely than female-headed households to have been extended and multiple-family arrangements. However, the most striking gender difference in terms of household structure is that women headed almost all of the solitary and “no-family” domestic groups (which represented three-quarters of all of the units headed by women). Thus, unlike in Poland–Lithuania, most of the elderly female heads in Albania were not co-residing with relatives, and they might have been detached from wider kin groups in several important respects.70 However, before we attempt to explain this phenomenon, we should point out an interesting interplay between the figures presented in Tables 3 and 4. Whereas women in Poland–Lithuania were much more prone to head independent households than women in the Balkans, women in Albania—a strictly patriarchal society at the time—were much more likely to have lived alone than their Polish counterparts.71 This issue definitely requires further investigation, but the most obvious explanation is that women were only able to act as household head in Albania in cases in which no male person was available in the household, and such households were rather negligible in number.

While they are easy to calculate and are potentially informative, the research approaches that focus on the household position of the elderly (based on the relationship to the head) and on the composition of older people’s households are obviously insufficient for a description of the entire spectrum of intra-household relationships among elderly people. Although the connection to the household head is definitely the most important principle structuring relationships within domestic groups, it is not the only one in which the coresidents were involved. To explore these issues more fully, we need a classification scheme that takes into account relationships that were not tied to the head and allows us to consider the relationships between older individuals and other members of the domestic group in which they live,72 at least in a dyadic form. For this purpose, we have used a classification scheme that allocates individuals according to whether they were members of a core-family group, which may include unmarried children living with at least one parent, married couples, and lone parents. People who were not members of families are classified in three ways, according to whether they lived with relatives, with non-relatives only, or alone. It should be emphasized that, in this classification, the category of relative is not defined by a specific relationship to the household head, but by the existence of a relationship between the elderly person and members of the household other than his or her children or spouse. The focus is therefore on the individual and not on the household, and relatives are identified not by their relationship to the head of the household, but by their relationship to any household member in the absence of closer family ties.73 The comparison of Polish–Lithuanian and Albanian populations is presented in Table 5.



Poland–Lithuania 1791–95

Albania 1918

Type of relationship (“lives as”)















Lone parent





Other kin





Other non-kin





Lives alone






100 (N=2639)

100 (N=1853)

100 (N=16,391)

100 (N=17,913)


Table 5. Dyadic relationships in the households by sex and region. Source: Kaser, Gruber, Kera, Pandelejmoni, 1918 census of Albania; Szołtysek, “CEURFAMFORM database”.


The allocation patterns of older persons to different categories represented in Table 5 are generally very similar in both societies, with more elderly men living with spouses and more women being classified as “lone parents.” However, the differences in the numeric intensity of these patterns are probably more important. First, it should be noted that in Albania, over 80 percent of older women were living without a spouse (potentially the most important source of support, at least in old age), compared with 63 percent in Poland–Lithuania; which again represents a clear effect of the age gap between spouses in Albania. Both men and women in Albania were more likely to live without coresident children than their counterparts in Poland–Lithuania, although the trend was stronger among women than men (14.4 percent of women versus 6.9 percent of men).



Poland–Lithuania 1791–95

Females living with/as

N (=100%)

% living with adult child (16+)

% living with married child

% living with unmarried or widowed child






Lone parent





Albania 1918

Females living with/as

N (=100%)

% living with adult child (16+)

% living with married child

% living with unmarried or widowed child






Lone parent






Table 6. Selected dyadic relationships by category of coresident offspring (female population only). Source: Kaser, Gruber, Kera, Pandelejmoni, 1918 census of Albania; Szołtysek, “CEURFAMFORM database”.


To better assess the potential vulnerability of older Albanian and Polish–Lithuanian women, it is useful to distinguish between the different types of children coresiding with elderly females in the two settings. For the calculations presented in Table 6, two categories of women who could have lived with children in the same premises (“spouses” and “lone parents” in Table 5) were further subdivided into those who lived with adult children, at least one married child, and unmarried and widowed children (as these categories partly overlap, the given percentages do not sum up to 100). It thus appears that, relative to their counterparts in Albania, women in Poland–Lithuania were more likely to have been living with a husband and were more likely to have been coresiding with adult and married children. The difference between these two sites is equally revealing when coresidence with adult and married children is examined for women classified as lone parents. In Poland–Lithuania, women in this category co-resided with adult and married offspring 10 to 15 percent more often than in Albania.


Lives as

Relationship to the household head

N (=100%)



Parent or parent-in-law

Sibling or sibling-in-law

Other relative


Lives alone


Poland–Lithuania 1791–95



















Lone parent









Other kin


















Lives alone










Albania 1918



















Lone parent









Other kin


















Lives alone










Table 7. Dyadic relationships of elderly women by individual household position. Source: Szołtysek, “CEURFAMFORM database”; Kaser, Gruber, Kera, Pandelejmoni, 1918 census of Albania.


We can perform an even more detailed accounting of the living arrangements of the elderly if we combine the information provided above in Table 5 with the pattern of relationships to the head of household. This approach is based on the assumption that dyadic relationships between individuals within domestic groups can also be structured hierarchically. In other words, it might be assumed that lone parenting, for example, may be framed differently in terms of the flow of resources and support depending on whether a lone parent is a household head, a head’s relative, or a stranger.

Again, the cross-classifications of the various relationships of older people in the two societies are generally similar, particularly among men. However, among women, some interesting differences can be observed (Table 7). The share of women who were lone parents in Poland–Lithuania was highly concentrated among two household statuses: the head and the parental generation (including the parents-in-law). At the same time, the share of female lone parents who headed a household was almost six times lower in the Balkans, and lone mothers in Albania were predominantly clustered around the head’s parents. One possible interpretation of these findings is that Polish lone mothers were receiving more resources from the younger generation; i.e., they were receiving intra-household support. It is important to note, however, that in the Balkans, the authority of the female spouse of the head normally increased only with the age of the woman, and often culminated in the woman achieving the position of the respected mother of the new “patriarch.” This does not fit in with the image of the subordinated, vulnerable, and fully dependent elderly woman.74 Nevertheless, even if we accept that the underrepresentation of Albanian widowed mothers among household heads was counterbalanced by their equally strong position after stepping down from co-headship, we still have to explain the finding that some 10 to 15 percent of lone parents among Albanian women were not mothers or even siblings of the heads, but were more distant relatives of the head couple. It is not entirely unrealistic to argue that a widow’s relationship with her children and the flow of resources between her and her children would have been framed by the status of their respective family units with respect to the core family of the head and his close relatives. Inequality and mistreatment may have arisen in such contexts, especially given that Albanian women often were not surrounded by their adult offspring.

We have already noted that divergences in the life-cycle patterns of domestic groups in Albania and Poland–Lithuania probably had an effect on the number of coresident kin to the elderly. Unless excess mortality took a toll, older Albanians should have had a considerably higher number and a wider range of relatives present in their households. Is it possible to find hard evidence that confirms this assumption?

For the purpose of exploring this issue, the unweighted average of the distribution of households by size commonly labeled “mean household size” needs to be distinguished from another related measure, the “size of household of the average member of the population” (“mean experienced household size”) (Table 8).75





No. Of adults








Poland–Lithuania 1791–95





















Albania 1918






















Table 8. Elderly population by sex, mean experienced household size, and mean number of adult coresident relatives (16+). Source: Kaser, Gruber, Kera, Pandelejmoni, 1918 census of Albania; Szołtysek, “CEURFAMFORM database”.


The figures in Table 8 show that the experienced household size was higher in Albania for both males and females, although for older men the difference was substantially larger. Interestingly, unlike in Albania, the size of the household of the average elderly woman in Poland–Lithuania was very close to that of the average man. Once again, this provides some additional evidence that elderly women in historic Poland had a better standing than women in Albania. In both societies, most adults who co-resided with an elderly person were the person’s relatives by blood or marriage. Far more elderly men than elderly women were living with a spouse. However, whereas men in Poland were less likely to have been living with a spouse than men in Albania, the pattern for women was reversed. These results are attributable to the higher remarriage rates of men relative to women in both societies, and to the large age gap at marriage in Albania.76 Older people in Poland–Lithuania generally had more adult children in their household, though we do not yet have enough information to determine whether this was simply an outcome of less favorable demographic conditions in Albania.77 Overall, however, we can see that in Albania, the proportion of elderly people who lived with relatives other than spouses and children was higher than in Poland–Lithuania (figures for men only). In both datasets, the mean number of adult, coresiding grandchildren was negligible.


Although it is still not fully acknowledged in the historical and sociological literature, a significant degree of variation has been shown to have existed within Northwestern Europe with regards to household organization. Richard Wall was among the first to tackle the problem of inter-regional differences in familial organization within areas traditionally subsumed under the label of simple (and neolocal) household systems.78 Referring to the substantial range of variation between individual settlements in England, he warned that it would be incorrect “to see English households as variations on one basic type.”79 Meanwhile, the considerable degree of variation in household structures Wall found within the confines of Northern and Central Europe led him to point out rather boldly that “so great is the degree of variation that it must be doubtful whether Hajnal’s generalization captures much of the reality of family and household patterns of Northwest European societies in the past.”80

Following this thread, in this paper, we have attempted to demonstrate that, even though eastern Poland–Lithuania and Albania both followed joint-household formation rules (i.e., the pattern antithetical to the neolocal one according to Hajnal) and can both be seen as examples of societies with long traditions of the ownership of joint property rights, the family systems in the two settings were not entirely the same. Throughout this exercise, Wall’s argument that family and household systems should not be defined solely on the basis of variations in the proportions of extended and multiple-family households81 has proven particularly valuable, and we have taken a large number of factors into consideration to demonstrate the validity of our approach.

The paper demonstrates several differences between the two Eastern European regions, however, the most convincing findings are related to the distinctly different role of females in households of Poland–Lithuania and Albania. It is in this regard that the patterns detected in the regions of eastern Poland–Lithuania deviate most significantly from many of the tendencies found in Albania. The distinctiveness of female position in the two societies, in turn, suggests that their patriarchal underpinnings may not have been the same. This disparity stemmed from the interplay of various socioeconomic, institutional, and ecological factors that are too complex to be fully discussed here.82 Here, it must suffice to say that manorialism, demesne lordship83 and the associated interventions by landlords in the lives of peasants created a political-economic framework within which historical tendencies to form corporate family groups in eastern Poland–Lithuania were to some extent constrained and the power of lineage groups was partly mitigated.84 In Albania, on the other hand, rather extreme environmental conditions in alpine or highland areas far from communication and trade routes appear to have facilitated the continuity of patriarchal cultures barely subject to state surveillance or socio-cultural currents of the Early Modern and Modern Eras.85

The different interactions among the microprocesses of elderly household membership recruitment discussed in this paper—all within a broad geographical area traditionally associated with family complexity—not only raise the question of how, ultimately, the area as a whole should be characterized, i.e. as pertaining to the operation of different household systems, or, alternatively, variations of one basic system. They also point to the more substantial question of the extent to which the term “joint family” should be used to describe a distinct family system. Further research along the lines proposed here, but extended over other areas of traditional Europe, could help us resolve this problem.86 In fact, the most recent studies suggest that the residential patterns of the elderly are but one element of a much wider “package” of dissimilarities between Polish–Lithuanian joint families and their counterparts in the Black Earth region in nineteenth-century Russia and Albania.87 One solution to the problem could be to abandon the idea that one country or region belongs to one rigid “pattern” and another country to another “pattern,” and instead to use a set of different variables to compare countries, regions, or subpopulations within them. Such a set of variables can be used to analyse similarities and differences between two or more populations and see which ones are closer to or more distant from each other; thus, to approach the Eastern European joint families as various “scalar types.”


The authors wish to thank two anonymous reviewers for their comments on an earlier version of this paper.



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Wall, Richard. “Regional and Temporal Variations in English Household Structure from 1650.” In Regional Demographic Development, edited by John Hobcraft and Philip Rees, 89–113. London: Croom Helm, 1979.

Wall, Richard. “European family and household systems.” In Historiens et populations. Liber Amicorum Etienne Helin, 617–36. Louvain-la-Neuve: Academia, 1991.

Wall, Richard. “Relationships between the Generations in British Families Past and Present.” In Families and Households: Division and Change, edited by Cathie Marsh and Sara Arber, 63–85. London: Macmillan, 1992.

Wall, Richard. “Historical Development of the Household in Europe.” In Household Demography and Household Modeling, edited by Evert van Imhoff, Anton C. Kuijsten, Pieter Hooimeijer, and Leo J. C. van Wissen, 19–52. New York: Plenum Press, 1995.

Wall, Richard. “Characteristics of European Family and Household Systems.” Historical Social Research 23, no. 1–2 (1998): 44–66.

Wall, Richard. “Transformation of the European Family across the Centuries.” In Family history revisited. Comparative perspectives, edited by Richard Wall, Tamara K. Hareven, Josef Ehmer, and Markus Cerman, 217–41. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2001.

Waris, Elina. “Komplexe Familienformen. Neue Forschungen zu Familie und Arbeitsorganisation im finnischen Karelien und in Estland.” Historische Anthropologie 10, no. 1 (2002): 31–51.

Wheaton, Robert. “Family and Kinship in Western Europe: The Problem of the Joint Family Household.” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 5, no. 4 (1975): 601–28.

Wolf, Douglas A. “The Elderly and Their Kin: Patterns of Availability and Access.” In The Demography of Aging, edited by Linda Martin and Samuel Preston, 146–94. Washington D.C.: National Academy Press, 1994.

1 For the argument see: Daniel S. Smith, “The Curious History of Theorizing about the History of the Western Nuclear Family,” Social Science History 17 (1993): 325–53; Michel Verdon, “Rethinking Complex Households: the Case of the Western Pyrenean »Houses«”, Continuity and Change 11, no. 2 (1996): 191–215; Mary S. Hartman, The Household and the Making of History. A Subversive View of the Western Past (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

2 Lutz K. Berkner and John W. Shaffer, “The Joint Family in the Nivernais,” Journal of Family History 3 (1978): 150–62; David I. Kertzer, “The Joint Family Revisited: Demographic Constraints and Complex Family Households in the European Past,” Journal of Family History 14 (1989): 1–15; Ulf Brunnbauer, Gebirgsgesellschaften auf dem Balkan. Wirtschaft und Familienstrukturen im Rhodopengebirge (19./20. Jahrhundert) (Vienna–Cologne–Weimar: Böhlau, 2004); Pier Paolo Viazzo, “Pastoral and peasant family systems in mountain environment,” in Pratiques familiales et sociétés de montagne, XVIe – XXe siècle, ed. Bernard Derouet, Luigi Lorenzetti, and Jon Mathieu (Basel: Schwabe, 2010), 245–64.

3 Mark O. Kosven, Semeinaia obshchina i patronimiia (Moscow: Izd-vo Akademii Nauk SSSR, 1963); Karl Kaser, Familie und Verwandtschaft auf dem Balkan. Analyse einer untergehenden Kultur (Vienna: Böhlau, 1995); Michael Mitterauer, “A Patriarchal Culture? Functions and Forms of Family in the Balkans,” Beiträge zur historischen Sozialkunde. Special Issue 1999: The Balkans: Traditional Patterns of Life (1999): 4–20.

4 Steven Ruggles, “Stem Families and Joint Families in Comparative Historical Perspective,” Population and Development Review 36, no. 3 (2010): 563–77.

5 Triloki N. Madan, “The Joint Family: A Terminological Clarification,” International Journal of Comparative Sociology 3 (1962): 7–10.

6 For the sake of convenience, throughout this paper the terms “domestic groups,” households, or “housefuls” are used interchangeably, despite some clear qualitative distinctions between them.

7 Frédéric Le Play, “Le Réforme Sociale,” in Frederic Le Play on Family, Work, and Social Change, ed. C. Bodard Silver (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1982), 259; Frédéric Le Play, L’organisation de la famille selon le vrai modèle signalé par l’histoire de toutes les races et de tous les temps, 3rd edition (Tours: Alfred Mame et fils, 1871), § 12, 94; Charles S. Devas, Studies of Family Life: A Contribution to Social Science (London: Burns and Oates, 1886); M. F. Nimkoff and Russell Middleton, “Types of Family and Types of Economy,” American Journal of Sociology 66, no. 3 (1960): 215–25.

8 Milovan Gavazzi, “Die Mehrfamilien der Europäischen Völker, Ethnologia Europaea 11 (1980): 167–68.

9 Berkner and Shaffer, “Joint Family.”

10 Kertzer, “Joint Family.”

11 Elina Waris, “Komplexe Familienformen. Neue Forschungen zu Familie und Arbeitsorganisation im finnischen Karelien und in Estland,” Historische Anthropologie 10, no. 1 (2002): 31–51.

12 Peter Czap, “The Perennial Multiple Family Household, Mishino, Russia, 1782–1858,” Journal of Family History 7 (1982): 5–26.

13 Karl Kaser, “Introduction: Household and Family Contexts in the Balkans,” The History of the Family 1, no. 4 (1996): 375–86; Robert Wheaton, “Family and Kinship in Western Europe: The Problem of the Joint Family Household,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 5, no. 4 (1975): 601–28; Gavazzi, “Mehrfamilien”; Milovan Gavazzi, “The Extended Family in Southeastern Europe,” Journal of Family History 7, no. 1 (1982): 89–102; Michael. Mitterauer, “Komplexe Familienformen in sozialhistorischer Sicht,” Ethnologia Europaea 12 (1981): 213–71.

14 Berkner and Shaffer, “Joint Family,” 150.

15 Wheaton, “Family.”

16 Frank Lorimer, Culture and Human Fertility (Paris: UNESCO, 1954).

17 Kingsley Davis, “Institutional Patterns Favouring High Fertility in Underdeveloped Areas,” Eugenics Quarterly 2 (1955): 33–9.

18 Kingsley Davis and Judith Blake, “Social Structure and Fertility: an Analytic Framework,” Economic Development and Cultural Change 4 (1956): 211–35.

19 John C. Caldwell, “A Theory of Fertility: From High Plateau to Destabilization,” Population and Development Review (1978): 553–77; Thomas K. Burch and Murray Gendell, “Extended Family Structure and Fertility: Some Conceptual and Methodological Issues,” Journal of Marriage and Family 32, no. 2 (1970): 227–36 for counterarguments; also the discussion in Monica Das Gupta, “Lifeboat Versus Corporate Ethic: Social and Demographic Implications of Stem and Joint Families,” Social Science and Medicine 49, no. 2 (1999): 181–82.

20 John Hajnal, “Two Kinds of Preindustrial Household Formation System,” Population and Development Review 8 (1982): 449–94.

21 Hajnal, “Two kinds,” 455.

22 Das Gupta, “Lifeboat”; also George W. Skinner, “Family Systems and Demographic Processes,” in Anthropological Demography: Toward A New Synthesis, ed. David I. Kertzer and Tom Fricke (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), 53–95.

23 Richard Wall, “Relationships between the generations in British families past and present,” in Families and households: division and change, ed. Cathie Marsh and Sara Arber (London: Macmillan, 1992), 63–85; Peregrine Horden and Richard M. Smith, eds., The Locus of Care: Families, Communities, Institutions and the Provision of Welfare since Antiquity (London: Routledge, 1998).

24 Le Play, “Réforme.”

25 Peter Laslett, “Introduction,” in Household and Family in Past Time, ed. Peter Laslett and Richard Wall (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972), 1–89; Peter Laslett, “Family, Kinship and Collectivity as Systems of Support in Preindustrial Europe: a Consideration of the »Nuclear-hardship« Hypothesis,” Continuity and Change 3, no. 2 (1988): 152–75; Mead Cain, “Welfare Institutions in Comparative Perspective: The Fate of the Elderly in Contemporary South Asia and Pre-Industrial Western Europe,” in Life, Death, and the Elderly: Historical Perspectives, ed. Margareth Pelling and Richard M. Smith (London: Routledge, 1991), 222–43; Das Gupta, “Lifeboat”; Skinner, “Family systems.”

26 Cain, “Welfare Institutions,” 241.

27 Laslett, “Family.”

28 Laslett, “Family”; Roger Schofield, “Family Structure, Demographic Behaviour and Economic Growth,” in Famine, Disease and the Social Order in Early Modern Society, ed. John Walter and Roger Schofield (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 282–95; Cain, “Welfare Institutions”; Hartman, “Household”; critically Sandra Cavallo, “Family Obligations and Inequalities in Access to Care in Northern Italy seventeenth to eighteenth centuries,” in The Locus of Care: Families, Communities, Institutions and the Provision of Welfare since Antiquity, ed. Peregrine Horden and Richard M. Smith (London: Routledge, 1998), 90–110; Peregrine Horden, “Household Care and Informal Networks: Comparisons and Continuities from Antiquity to the Present,” in The Locus of Care: Families, Communities, Institutions and the Provision of Welfare since Antiquity, ed. Peregrine Horden and Richard M. Smith (London: Routledge, 1998).

29 Vera St. Erlich, Family in Transition: A Study of 300 Yugoslav Villages (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966): 32; Joel M. Halpern, Karl Kaser, and Richard A. Wagner, “Patriarchy in the Balkans: Temporal and Cross-Cultural Approaches,” The History of the Family 1, no. 4 (1996): 425–42; Karl Kaser, Hirten, Kämpfer, Stammeshelden. Ursprünge und Gegenwart des balkanischen Patriarchats (Vienna–Cologne–Weimar: Böhlau, 1992); Kaser, “Introduction”; Mitterauer, “Patriarchal Culture.”

30 Siegfried Gruber and Mikołaj Szołtysek, Quantifying Patriarchy: an Explorative Comparison of Two Joint Family Societies, MPIDR Working Paper WP-2012-017 (Rostock: Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, 2012).

31 Strangely enough, the existence of intra-regional differences within the specific types of family household systems has been endorsed only recently in the family history literature. Richard Wall, in particular, argued that many distinctive patterns could be identified within an area in which Hajnal’s Northwest European household system was allegedly dominant (see Richard Wall, “European family and household systems,” in Historiens et populations. Liber Amicorum Etienne Helin (Louvain-la-Neuve: Academia, 1991), 617–36; Richard Wall, “Historical Development of the Household in Europe,” in Household Demography and Household Modeling, ed. Evert van Imhoff et al. (New York: Plenum Press, 1995), 19–52; Richard Wall, “Transformation of the European family across the centuries,” in Family History Revisited. Comparative Perspectives, ed. Richard Wall et al. (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2001), 217–41; see also discussion in Mikołaj Szołtysek, “Spatial Construction of European Family and Household Systems: Promising Path or Blind Alley? An Eastern European perspective,” Continuity and Change 27, no. 1 (2012): 11–52. However, Wall’s claims remain largely unheard or unacknowledged, cf. Alter’s recent statement about the pervasiveness of the Northwest European family model: George C. Alter, “Generation to Generation: Life Course, Family, and Community,” Social Science History 37, no. 1 (2013): 1–26.

32 See Susan De Vos and Karen Holden, “Measures Comparing the Living Arrangements of the Elderly,” Population and Development Review 14, no. 4 (1988): 688–704; Eugene Hammel and Peter Laslett, “Comparing Household Structure Over Time and Between Cultures,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 16 (1974): 73–109; Steven Ruggles, “Availability of Kin and the Demography of Historical Family Structure,” Historical Methods 19 (1986): 94; Steven Ruggles, “Family Demography and Family History: Problems and Prospects,” Historical Methods 23 (1990): 22–30; Miriam King and Samuel H. Preston, “Who Lives with Whom? Individual versus Household Measures,” Journal of Family History 15, no. 2 (1990): 117–32; also Lutz K. Berkner, “Household Arithmetic: a Note,” Journal of Family History 2, no. 2 (1977): 159–63.

33 See, however Karl Kaser, “The Balkan Joint Family Household: Seeking Its Origins,” Continuity and Change 9 (1994): 45–68; Mikołaj Szołtysek, “The Genealogy of Eastern European Difference: An Insider’s View,” Journal of Comparative Family Studies 43, no. 3 (2012): 335–71.

34 Ruggles, “Availability”; also Douglas A. Wolf, “The Elderly and Their Kin: Patterns of Availability and Access,” in The Demography of Aging, ed. Linda Martin and Samuel Preston (Washington D.C.: National Academy Press, 1994), 146–94; Wall, “Relationships,” 70–76.

35 Alberto Palloni, “Living Arrangements of Older Persons,” Population Bulletin of the United Nations, Special Issue 42/43 (2001): 64ff; Smith, “Structured Dependence.”

36 Czap, “Perennial Multiple Family Household.”

37 Wall, “Relationships,” 63.

38 Sara Arber and Jay Ginn, “In Sickness and in Health: Care Giving, Gender and the Independence of Elderly People,” in Families and Households: Divisions and Change, ed. Catherine Marsh and Sara Arber (London: Macmillan, 1992), 92–93.

39 For the purposes of this exposition, the discussion of data-related issues was reduced to a minimum. See more in Siegfried Gruber and Mikołaj Szołtysek, “Stem Families, Joint Families and the ‘European Pattern’: How Much of Reconsideration Do We Need?” Journal of Family History 37, no. 1 (2012): 105–25.

40 Various parts of this data collection have already been analyzed: e.g., Mikołaj Szołtysek, “Three Kinds of Preindustrial Household Formation System in Historical Eastern Europe: A Challenge to Spatial Patterns of the European Family,” The History of the Family 13, no. 3 (2008): 223–57; Mikołaj Szołtysek, “Rethinking Eastern Europe: Household Formation Patterns in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and European Family Systems,” Continuity and Change 23 (2008): 389–427; Mikołaj Szołtysek and Barbara Zuber Goldstein, “Historical Family Systems and the Great European Divide: the Invention of the Slavic East,” Demográfia: English Edition 52, no. 5 (2009): 5–47.

41 The database development was supported by the Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship project (FP6-2002-Mobility-5, Proposal No. 515065) at the Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure, Cambridge, UK, 2006–2008. More details in Szołtysek, “Three kinds,” “Rethinking.”

42 Not to be confused with Carpatho-Russians or Rusnaks from the Subcarpathian areas in Eastern Central Europe.

43 June L. Sklar, “The role of marriage behaviour in the demographic transition: the case of Eastern Europe around 1900,” Population Studies 28, no. 2 (1974): 231–47; cf. also Kaser, “Balkan joint family household,” 45–46, who contended that “the Balkan joint family came into being independently from other East European joint-family-household organizations.” However, there is an abundant nineteenth- and early twentieth-century literature that claims that the “Balkan zadruga” was a relic of ancient all-Slavic forms of ancestral organisation which can be traced back to the era of first settlement (see below; also reviewed in Szołtysek, “Spatial,” 26–28). Although asynchronic comparisons of the elderly population in eastern Poland–Lithuania and Albania yield important lessons for specific areas of family history research, these lessons are hardly applicable to the broader social history of these regions, because the social, economic, and institutional environment have diverged in the meantime.

44 Samuel Fogelson, “Z badań nad demografią Polesia i Wołynia,” Prace Wydziału Populacyjno-Migracyjnego 6 (Warsaw, Instytut badań Spraw Narodowościowych, 1938).

45 Age-standardized number of own children under age five per 100 married women aged 15–49. Total fertility rate (the average number of children a woman is expected to bear if she survives through the end of her reproductive life span and experiences a particular set of age-specific fertility rates at each age), among the inhabitants of Poland’s eastern borderlands was estimated to have ranged between 5.1 and 5.6 at the end of the eighteenth century. Mikołaj Szołtysek, Rethinking East-Central Europe: Family Systems and Co-residence in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth (Bern: Peter Lang, forthcoming). 150 years later in Albania, TFR averaged more than six births per woman: Jane Falkingham and Arjan Gjonça, “Fertility Transition in Communist Albania, 1950–90,” Population Studies 55 (2001): 309–18.

46 See also Gruber Szołtysek, “Stem Families.” Unfortunately there is no reliable data about life expectancy at birth available for Albania prior to 1950 (at which time it was 51 years for males and 61 years for females), so we cannot be sure whether that feature is an effect of enhanced survival chances or partly an outcome of exaggerated ages later in life. On the other hand, it is rather unlikely that life expectancy at birth on Belarussian and Ukrainian territories of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth at the end of the eighteenth century was much higher than 27 years for a man and 30 years for a woman (Szołtysek, Rethinking East-Central Europe).

47 Gruber and Szołtysek, “Stem Families.”

48 Kaser, “Introduction,” 383; Siegfried Gruber, “Household Composition and Marriage Patterns in Albania around 1900,” Balkanistic Forum 1 (2012): 101–22.

49 Kaser, “Familie,” 61–165.

50 Karl Kaser, Patriarchy after Patriarchy: Gender Relations in Turkey and in the Balkans, 1500–2000 (Vienna: Lit-Verlag, 2008).

51 Maxime Kovalevskii, “Obscinnoe zemlevladenie v Malorossii v XVIII veke,” Juridiceskij vestnik 1 (1885): 36–37, 54–55; Fedor I. Leontovich, “Krestianskij dvor v litovsko-russkom gosudarstve,” Zhurnal Ministerstva Narodnago Prosvescenija (1896): 341–82; Aleksandra Efimenko, “Dvoriščnoe zemlevladenie v južnoj Rusi” Russkaja Mysl 5–6 (1892): 370–412; Kosven, “Semeinaia obshchina,” 168–69; Marija Gimbutas, The Slavs (New York: Praeger, 1971), 133; Ivan V. Lutchitsky, “Zur Geschichte der Grundeigentumsformen in Kleinrussland,” Schmoller’s Jahrbuch für Gesetzgebung, Verwaltung und Volkswirtschaft im Deutschen Reich 20 (1896): 165–96; also Oswald Balzer, “O zadrudze słowiańskiej. Uwagi i polemika,” Kwartalnik Historyczny 13, no. 2 (1899): 183–256; Henryk Łowmiański, Z dziejów Słowian w I tysiącleciu n.e. (Warsaw: PWN, 1967), 344–72.

52 Mitrofan Dovnar-Zapolsky, “Očerki semejnogo obyčnogo prava krest’jan Minskoj gub,” in Issledovanija i stat’i. T. 1. Ètnografija i sociologija, obyčnoe pravo, statistika, belorusskaja pis’mennost’, ed. Mitrofan Dovnar-Zapolsky (Kiev: A. P. Sapunov, 1909), 9–12.

53 Szołtysek, “Three Kinds.”

54 Dovnar-Zapolsky, “Očerki.”

55 Yet another feature bridging the two regional societies was a pastoral or agro-pastoral mode of agrarian production that has dominated both. The cultivation of land in Albania was decisively constrained by the mountainous environment due to the climatic effects of altitude and the scarcity of productive land, hence the emergence of mountain pastoralism or the combination of animal husbandry and the cultivation of small plots of land (see Kaser, Patriarchy, 236–69). In eastern Poland–Lithuania, on the other hand, the generally low soil quality (and extensive swamp areas in southern Belarus) and the extensive chessboard of arable plots often implied a tendency to switch to non-farming activities (such as cattle breeding) (see Szołtysek, Rethinking East-Central Europe). On the long tradition of postulating links between pastoral economies and a prevalence of extended family forms, see Viazzo, “Pastoral and peasant family systems”.

56 Berkner, “Household Arithmetic”; Steven Ruggles, “Reconsidering the Northwest European Family System: Living Arrangements of the Aged in Comparative Historical Perspective,” Population and Development Review 35, no. 2 (2009): 249–73.

57 Ruggles, “Stem Families”; On the sometimes fluid distinctions between stem- and joint-family systems, see Osamu Saito, “Two Kinds of Stem Family System? Traditional Japan and Europe Compared,” Continuity and Change 13, no. 1 (1998): 167–86.

58 Peter Czap, “A Large Family: the Peasant’s Greatest Wealth: Serf Households in Mishino, Russia, 1814–1858,” in Family Forms in Historic Europe, ed. Richard Wall, Jean Robin, and Peter Laslett (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 128–29.

59 John Hajnal, “Two Kinds of Preindustrial Household Formation System,” in Family Forms in Historic Europe, ed. Richard Wall, Jean Robin, and Peter Laslett (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 88.

60 Wheaton, “Family,” 615–16; Andrejs Plakans, “Seigneurial Authority and Peasant Family Life: The Baltic Area in the Eighteenth Century,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 5, no. 4 (1975): 629–54.

61 Lutz K. Berkner, The Stem Family and the Developmental Cycle of the Peasant Household: an Eighteenth-century Austrian Example,” The American Historical Review 77, no. 2 (1972): 398–418.

62 Czap, “Perennial Multiple Family Household,” 18; Czap, “Large Family,” 143–44.

63 The “head” of a CFU was considered to be the oldest person within it.

64 These are, of course, hypothetical life-courses constructed from synthetic cohorts based on cross-sectional data.

65 For a review see: De Vos and Holden, “Measures”; Susan De Vos, “Revisiting the Classification of Household Composition Among Elderly People,” Journal of Cross-Cultural Gerontology 19, no. 2 (2004): 135–52; also United Nations, Population Division, Living Arrangements of Older Persons. Special issue of Population Bulletin of the United Nations 42/43 (New York: United Nations Reproduction Section, 2001); Wall, “Historical Development”; Steven Ruggles, “Living Arrangements and Well-Being of Older Persons in the Past,” Population Bulletin of the United Nations 42/43 (2001): 111–61.

66 De Vos and Holden, “Measures”; De Vos, “Revisiting.”

67 Cf. Steven Ruggles, Prolonged Connections: The Rise of the Extended Family in Nineteenth-Century England and America (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1987); Wall, “Relationships”; Richard Wall, “Characteristics of European Family and Household Systems,” Historical Social Research 23, no. 1–2 (1998): 44–66.

68 Wolf, “Elderly”; also Ruggles, “Availability”; Palloni, “Living Arrangements,” 88–91.

69 Palloni, “Living Arrangements.”

70 As remarked above, in reality the exact kinship network or the network of supporting family members is not known in this type of analysis; it can be independent of co-residence. For arguments about a close correspondence between the structure of the co-resident kin group and the overall importance of kinship in Polish–Lithuanian reality, see Szołtysek, Rethinking East-Central Europe, ch. 10.

71 In economic demography, living in single-person households in old age is sometimes taken as a manifestation of the desire for privacy and autonomy, which is most likely to be realized when the income of the population increases (see the discussion in Fred C. Pampel “Changes in the Propensity to Live Alone: Evidence from Consecutive Cross- Sectional Surveys, 1960–1976,” Demography 20, no. 4 (1983): 433–47. Another perspective stresses the negative consequences of living alone; namely, the limited potential for assistance from family members, indicated by the presence of others in the same household.

72 De Vos and Holden, “Measures,” 694.

73 Wall, “Characteristics.”

74 This holds true even though in general women are structurally less advantaged in the patrilineal joint-family system than in nuclear- or stem-family societies. According to Das Gupta, “Liveboat,” 178, 180: “This is because the primary unit is the corporate group which consists of male patrikin. Women are at the bottom of two hierarchies: the gender hierarchy as well as the age hierarchy. A young bride enters her husband’s family as a marginal person with little autonomy (…). The powerlessness of women in the patrilineal joint family system (…) is at its peak during the early phases of a woman’s marriage, which are the peak childbearing years (…). In the joint family system, old people are likely to obtain greater emotional and physical support, and also perhaps greater access to financial support in an emergency than might have been forthcoming for retired parents in the stem family system.”

75 See Joel M. Halpern, “Town and countryside in Serbia in the nineteenth-century, social and household structure as reflected in the census of 1863,” in Household and Family in Past Time, ed. Peter Laslett and Richard Wall (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972), 401–27; Thomas K. Burch, “Household and Family Demography: A Bibliographic Essay,” Population Index 45, no. 2 (1979): 173–95.

76 Larger age gaps between spouses in Albania may have resulted in better chances of remarrying for widows, as they were younger. However, differing household structure, as well as the differing household position of the women could counterbalance that advantage, as the presence of married adult sons could diminish the probability of remarriage.

77 A similar number of children-in-law should be present in these households (most of these adult children were married), although we have not yet been able to calculate their exact numbers. It is worth pointing out that early twentieth-century observers of demographic conditions in southern Belarus were equally struck by the extremely high fertility of the local population and the surprisingly low mortality (Fogelson, “Z badań”).

78 Wall, “Household systems”; Wall, “Transformation.”

79 Richard Wall, “Regional and Temporal Variations in English Household Structure from 1650,” in Regional Demographic Development, ed. John Hobcraft and Philip Rees (London: Croom Helm, 1979), 109.

80 Wall, “Household Systems,” 625.

81 Wall, “Household Systems”; Wall, “Transformation.”

82 See, however, Mikołaj Szołtysek, Residence Patterns and the Human-ecological Setting in Historical Eastern Europe: a Challenge of Compositional (Re)analysis,” in Population in the Human Sciences: Concepts, Models, Evidence, ed. Philip Kreager (Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming).

83 See Markus Cerman, Villagers and Lords in Eastern Europe, 1300–1800 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).

84 Cf. also Michael Mitterauer, Ostkolonisation und Familienverfassung. Zur Diskussion um die Hajnal-Linie,” In Vilfanov zbornik. Pravo-zgodovina-narod. In memoriam Sergij Vilfan, ed. Vincenc Rajšp and Ernst Bruckmüller (Ljubljana: ZRC, 1999), 203–21.

85 Cf. Mitterauer, “Komplexe Familienformen,” 67–68; Pier Paolo Viazzo, Upland Communities: Environment, Population and Social Structure in the Alps since the Sixteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989); Ulf Brunnbauer, “The Mountains and the Households. Household Structures in the Rhodopi Mountains in a Comparative Perspective.” Paper presented at the 2010 SSHA Convention, Chicago, Ill., October 17–21, 2010.

86 See the agenda for the research and data collection project recently launched by MPIDR, called Mosaic at www.censusmosaic.org.

87 Szołtysek, Rethinking East-Central Europe; and Gruber and Szołtysek, “Quantifying Patriarchy.”