pdfVolume 7 Issue 4 CONTENTS

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

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

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


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

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

The History of the Research on the Subject

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

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

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

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

An Analysis of the Charter of 1426

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evidence Found in Economic Documents from the Late Middle Ages

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


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

Archival sources

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

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

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

Ms. KJ 288/C, Josephus Kemény, Diplomatarii Transilvanici Supplementum, 13 vols.

Ms. KJ 288/D, Josephus Kemény, Diplomatarii Transilvanici Appendix, 22 vols.

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

Diplomatikai Fényképgyűjtemény [Diplomatic Photograph Collection] (DF)

Diplomatikai Levéltár [Diplomatic Archive] (DL)

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

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

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

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


Printed sources

CDHung = Georgius Fejér, ed. Codex diplomaticus Hungariae ecclesiasticus ac civilis. 40 vols. Buda, 1829–1844.

CDTrans = Zsigmond Jakó, Géza Hegyi, András W. Kovács, eds. Codex diplomaticus Transsylvaniae: Diplomata, epistolae et alia instrumenta litteraria res Transsylvanas illustrantia Erdélyi okmánytár; Oklevelek, levelek és más írásos emlékek Erdély történetéhez. 4 vols. Vol. 26, 40, 47, 53. of Publicationes Archivi Hungariae Nationales 2: Fontes. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó–Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára–MTA BTK Történettudományi Intézet, 1997–2014.

COD = Josephus Alberigo, Perikles-P[etrus] Joannou, Claudius Leonardi, Paulus Prodi, eds. Conciliorum oecumenicorum decreta. Bologna: Centro di Documentazione Istituto per le Scienze Religiose, 1962.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Secondary literature

Achim, Viorel. “Consideraţii asupra politicii faţă de ortodocşi a regelui Ludovic I de Anjou, cu referire specială la chestiunea dijmelor” [Considerations Concerning the Politics of King Louis I of Anjou Towards the Orthodox, With Particular Reference to the Issue of Tithes]. In Ovidiu Cristea, Gheorghe Lazăr, eds., Vocaţia istoriei: Prinos profesorului Şerban Papacostea [The Vocation of History: Homage to Professor Şerban Papacostea], 69–79. Brăila: Muzeul Istros, 2008.

Achim, Viorel. “Convertirea la catolicism a românilor din zona Beiuşului în două documente din 1421” [Conversion to Catholicism Among Romanians in the Area Around Beiuş in Two Documents From 1421]. Mediaevalia Transilvanica 5–6 (2001–2002): 83–95.

Achim, Viorel. “Disputa în legătură cu dijmele bisericeşti din Caransebeş şi Căvăran (1500)” [Disputes in Connection with Church Tithes in Caransebeş and Căvăran (1500)]. In Dumitru Şeicu, Rudolf Gräf, eds., Itinerarii istoriografice: Studii în onoarea istoricului Costin Feneşan [Historiographical Itineraries: Essays in Honor of Historian Costin Feneşan], 179–205. Cluj-Napoca: Academia Română Centrul de Studii Transilvane, 2011.

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

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

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

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

4 Kemény, “Bruchstück.”

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

6 Pâclişanu, “Dişmele.”

7 Lupşa, Catolicismul şi românii, 46–52.

8 Prodan, Iobăgia, 1: 53–57.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

32 BAR-CJ, Ms. KJ 288/C, 3: 91–92.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

51 See footnote 44.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

59 Ibid., 185–87 (table 8).

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

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

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

63 Ibid., 188, 193, 414.

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

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

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

67 Engel, Archontológia, 1: 70.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

75 Jakó, Adatok, 20–75. 20–25, 52–61.

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


(Map drawn by Béla Nagy)


(Map drawn by Béla Nagy)

pdfVolume 7 Issue 4 CONTENTS

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Foundation of the Princely Table

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

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

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

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

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

The Court of Personal Presence (personalis presentia)

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

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

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

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

The Foundation of the Presidency of the Princely Table

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

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

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

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


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

Archival Sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Printed sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 Bogdándi, “Az erdélyi ítélőmesterek,” 144.

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

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

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

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

12 Hajnik, Bírósági szervezet, 212–13.

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

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

15 Janits, Az erdélyi vajdák, 32–35.

16 Ibid., 34.

17 Szilágyi, Erdélyi Országgyűlési Emlékek, 2: 58.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

28 Dósa, Erdélyhoni jogtudomány, 104–5.

29 Szilágyi, Erdélyi Országgyűlési Emlékek, 2: 89.

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

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

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

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

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

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

36 Szilágyi, Erdélyi Országgyűlési Emlékek, 2: 97.

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

38 Hajnik, Bírósági szervezet, 57–58.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

46 Jakab, A Ghyczyek Erdély történetében, 58.

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

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

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

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

51 Szilágyi, Erdélyi Országgyűlési Emlékek, 3: 242.

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

53 Trócsányi, Törvényalkotás, 238.

54 Trócsányi, Az Erdélyi Fejedelemség korának országgyűlései, 188.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

66 Trócsányi, Központi kormányzat, 355.

pdfVolume 7 Issue 4 CONTENTS

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Archival Sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Printed sources

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

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

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

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

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


Secondary literature

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 Kovachich, Formulae solennes.

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

4 Bónis and Valentiny, Jacobinus.

5 Ibid., 5.

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

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

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

9 Bogdándi, “Fráter György,” 621–38.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20 Fejér, “Királyfalvi János,” 66.

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

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

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

24 Kelemen, Kézirattári értékeink, 48.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

48 Bónis, “Magyi János,” 230.

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

50 Beszterce (Bistriţa/Nösen).

51 Formulas 172, 194.

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

pdfVolume 7 Issue 4 CONTENTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Residence of the Báthory Princes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Archival Sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colecţia de documente [Collection of diplomatics]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Bessenyei, József. Enyingi Török Bálint okmánytára [Cartulary of Bálint Enyingi Török]. Budapest: Magyar Történelmi Társulat, 1994.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 Szilágyi, Erdélyi Országgyűlési Emlékek, 1:189.

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

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

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

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

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

14 Lakatos, Hivatali írásbeliség, 62.

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

16 Kovács, Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei, 250.

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

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

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

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

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

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

23 Kovács, Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei, 7.

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

25 Gálfi, “A Lippa-fertály,” 143–49.

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

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

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

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

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

31 Kovács, Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei, 38–39.

32 Weisz, Vásárok, 143.

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

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

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

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

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

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

39 Jakab, Oklevéltár. 2: 34–35.

40 Lakatos, “Hivatali írásbeliség,” 252.

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

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

43 Batthyaneum, IV, no. 3.

44 Heckenast, “Végrendelet,” 324–25.

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

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

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

48 Jakó, “A Hoffhalterek,” 241–60.

49 Entz, Székesegyház, 131–32, 205.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

64 Gálfi, Levélkeresők, 55.

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

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

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

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

69 Kovács, Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei, 7.

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

71 Kovács, Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei, 30–31.

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

73 Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 426.

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

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

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

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

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

79 Ibid., 22, 26–27.

80 Ibid., 27.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

90 Ibid., 32.

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

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

93 Kovács, Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei, 28.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

101 Batthyaneum, V. no. 26.

102 Sunkó, “Udvari hadak,” 101.

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

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

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

106 Kovács, “Fejedelmi udvar,” 237.

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

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

109 Bethlen, Historia, 241–42.

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

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

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

113 Sunkó, “Udvari hadak,”110.

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

115 Lescalopier, 91.

116 Governor of Transylvania (1585–1588).

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

118 Sunkó, “Udvari hadak,” 107.

119 Kovács, Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei, 32.

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

121 Sunkó, “Udvari hadak,” 101.

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

123 Ibid., no. 901.

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

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

126 Ibid., no. 1487.

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

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

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

130 Ibid., no. 1487.

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

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

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

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

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

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

137 Kovács, Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei, 32.

138 Ibid., 25.

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

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

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

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


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

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


pdfVolume 7 Issue 4 CONTENTS

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

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

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

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

Introductory Considerations

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

Székelys Seeking Marriage Partners

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

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

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

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

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

The Visit

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

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

From Proposal until Answer

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

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

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

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

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

Betrothal, Vows

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

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

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

On a Memorable Wedding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instead of Conclusions

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

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

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

Archival Sources

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

Quart. Hung. 4312.


Printed sources

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

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

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

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

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


Secondary literature

Badinter, Élisabeth. The Myth of Motherhood: An Historical View of the Maternal Instinct. London: Souvenir Press, 1981.

Bárth, Dániel. Esküvő, keresztelő, avatás: Egyház és népi kultúra a kora újkori Magyarországon [Wedding, Baptism and Initiation: Church and Popular Culture in Early Modern Hungary]. Budapest: MTA and ELTE, 2005.

Chaussinand-Nogaret, Guy. The French Nobility in the Eighteenth Century: From Feudalism to Enlightment. Translated by William Doyle. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Cressy, David. Birth, Marriage and Death: Ritual, Religion and the Life-Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Dekker, M. Rudolf, ed. Egodocuments and History: Autobiographical Writing in Its Social Context Since the Middle Ages. Rotterdam: Uitgeverij, 2002.

Dekker, M. Rudolf. “Sexuality, Elites, and Court Life in the Late Seventeenth Century: The Diaries of Constantijn Huygens, jr.” Eighteenth-Century Life 23, no. 3 (1999): 94–109.

Dülmen, Richard, van. Kultur und Alltag in der Frühen Neuzeit. Vol. 1, Das Haus und seine Menschen 16.−18. Jahrhundert. Munich: C. H. Beck, 2005.

Fehér, Andrea. “Lakodalmak a Székely-családban: Adalékok a 18. századi erdélyi házassági szokásokról” [Weddings in the Székely Family: Contributions to the Eighteenth-Century Wedding Customs in Transylvania]. Erdélyi Múzeum 79, no. 1 (2017): 118–29.

Fehér, Andrea. Sensibilitate şi identitate în izvoarele narative maghiare din secolul al XVIII-lea [Sensitivity and Identity in Eighteenth-Century Transylvanian Narrative Sources]. Argonaut and Mega: Cluj-Napoca, 2012.

Kiss, Réka. “Matrimoniális causák a küküllői református egyházmegye jegyzőkönyveiben: Házasság, válás egy 17. századi erdélyi egyházmegyében” [Matrimonial Causes in the Protocols of the Protestant Church of Küküllő: Marriage and Divorce in a Seventeenth-Century Bishopric of Transylvania]. In Fiatal Egyháztörténészek Kollokviuma [The Colloquium of Young Church Historians]. Budapest: ELTE, 1999.

Laslett, Peter. The World We Have Lost. London: Methuen, 1965.

Macfarlane, Alain. The Family Life of Raph Josselin, a Seveteenth-Century Clergyman. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970.

Mihalik, Béla Vilmos. “...‘nemcsak anya, hanem atyai gondjukat is viselvén:’ Anyák és fiaik egy kora újkori erdélyi nemesi családban” [“...taking care of them not only mothers but also fathers:” Mothers and their Sons in an Early Modern Transylvanian Noble Family]. Sic Itur ad Astra 64 (2015): 95–115.

O’Hara, Diana. Courtship and Constraint: Rethinking the Making of Marriage in Tudor England. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000.

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

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

Péter, Katalin. Házasság a régi Magyarországon, 16–17. század [Marriage in Old Hungary, Sixteenth–Seventeenth Centuries]. Budapest: L’ Harmattan, 2008.

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

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

Sárdi, Margit. “Leánykérés, házasság, szerelem” [Proposal, Marriage, Love]. In Ámor, álom és mámor: A szerelem a régi magyar irodalomban és a szerelem ezredéves hazai kultúrtörténete [Cupid, Dream, and Lust: Love in Old Hungarian Literature and the Millennial Hungarian Cultural History of Love], edited by Géza Szentmártoni Szabó, 49–65. Budapest: Universitas, 2002.

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

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

Szabó, András Péter. “Betrothal and Wedding, Church Wedding and Nuptials: Reflections on the System of Marriages in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century Hungary.” Hungarian Historical Review 3, no. 1 (2014): 3–31.

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

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

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

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

2 Dekker, Egodocuments and History.

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

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

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

6 Fehér, Sensibilitate şi identitate, 165–66.

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

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

9 Bárth, Esküvő, keresztelő, avatás, 68.

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

11 Ibid., 283–84.

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

13 Ibid., 122.

14 Radvánszky, “Lakodalmak,” 229.

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

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

17 Székely László élete, 653.

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

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

20 Apor, Metamorphosis Transylvaniae, 55.

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

22 Sárdi, “Leánykérés, házasság, szerelem,” 51.

23 Apor, Metamorphosis Transylvaniae, 55; Radvánszky, “Lakodalmak,” 219.

24 Radvánszky, “Lakodalmak,” 221. The Western European nobility followed similar steps, if in a somewhat more complex form. Chaussinand-Nogaret, The French Nobility, 119–20.

25 Székely László élete, 657–59.

26 Promises were always made through intermediaries and then were repeated face to face. Cressy, Birth, Marriage and Death, 238.

27 Székely László élete, 641–52, 693–94.

28 Tadmor, Family and Friends, 167, 171, 212–14.

29 Western scholarship emphasizes that female members of aristocratic families were subject to the will of the family and that the “less property was at stake the greater the freedom of choice.” Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage, 304–19, 321; Dülmen, Kultur und Alltag, 139. This is true in large part because with marriage, a woman acquired the status of her husband. Trumbach, The Rise of the Egalitarian Family, 97–98. The Hungarian secondary literature, in contrast, emphasizes data which indicates a shift of power over choices in marriage from parents to children. Sárdi, “Leánykérés, házasság, szerelem,” 54. Béla Mihalik’s study adds further valuable data to the problem. Mihalik, “...nemcsak anya, hanem atyai gondjukat is viselvén.”

30 Dekker, “Sexuality, Elites, and Court Life,” 95.

31 This is also suggested by the legal collection of Farkas Cserei, according to which girls do not have to follow the orders of their parents in every matter and parents should keep in mind the wishes of their children. Cserei, A magyar és székely asszonyok törvénye, 44. Anglo-Saxon scholarly literature also seems to reinforce the notion that at least by the eighteenth century, the absolute control of the parents was weakening, and except for people who belonged to the highest layers of society, the choice was made by the prospective bride and groom, who may have consulted their parents, but who did not base their decisions entirely on their parents’ suggestions. Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage, 270–71.

32 Bárth, Esküvő, keresztelő, avatás, 127–30. The gifts given during the courting and the betrothal were very important because they were evidence of matrimonial intent. Cressy, Birth, Marriage and Death, 263–64; Dülmen, Kultur und Alltag, 141–43.

33 Constant control by parents was a part of the cultural life of every social group; sources indicate that households with daughters were under continuous supervision. These moral communities may have differed from region to region, but they equally put pressure on the families in their spheres of interest. O’Hara, Courtship and constraint, 31; Dülmen, Kultur und Alltag, 136.

34 Trumbach also came to similar conclusions when studying the noble wedding customs. He contends that the stages involving church ceremonies were also held mostly at one of the private properties of the family. Trumbach, The Rise of the Egalitarian Family, 115.

35 Radvánszky, “Lakodalmak,” 221.

36 Long betrothals were difficult for young people all over Europe: Cressy, Birth, Marriage and Death, 243.

37 Sárdi, “Leánykérés, házasság, szerelem,” 56.

38 Under special circumstances, an engagement could be broken, e.g. if either the potential bride or groom remained abroad for a longer period of time, lied about his or her origins, had a venereal disease, or was discovered to have stolen something. Cserei, A magyar és székely asszonyok törvénye, 46.

39 Kiss, “Matrimoniális causák,” 46. Sometimes fines were connected with the breaking off of a betrothal. Cserei, A magyar és székely asszonyok törvénye, 46.

40 Bárth, Esküvő, keresztelő, avatás, 45–47, 53.

41 The data collected by Réka Kiss from ecclesiastic records suggest that in Transylvanian society, after the exchange of vows, the bride and groom slept or lived together in a number of cases. Kiss, “Matrimoniális causák,” 47.

42 Bárth, Esküvő, keresztelő, avatás, 128–29.

43 Székely László élete, 221.

44 The ring-running was a version of wreath running: “Then, when they approached the village where the wedding-feast was, the chief steward sent out the ring, or sometimes two or three gold pieces instead; they stopped with it at a certain point and a number of horses were specially lined up on behalf of the bridegroom; likewise horses were brought out from the bride’s house and set in line when the word was given as to where they had stopped with the ring they raced thither, for they had stopped with the ring at a good distance, and he whose horse reached the ring first, the rider of that horse won the ring, and it was to honor and renown.”The fir-climbing had the same purpose as the ring- or wreath-running, namely that of entertaining the guests. Unlike the later, this game took place in the second feasting day of the wedding: “And when breakfast was being prepared a pine-trunk (which had been cut down in readiness) was set up outside the hall (sometimes two were fastened end to end), and at the top of it a hole was made, and in that hole a piece of wood was fixed so that any that could climb to it could rest up there; but the pine-trunk was heavily greased with tallow and grease, and at the top were two, three or four gold coins and four or five ells of cloth and a flask of wine; many would try to climb it, ant the gentry were amused as they made the attempt, but of the many one would be found that could climb up, cling there to the above mentioned cross-bar, drink the wine from the flask and took possession of the gold and the cloth.” Apor, Metamorphosis Transylvaniae, 58–9, 66.

45 These people were called “harbingers” by Apor, and they became bearers of the good news only after visiting the bride’s home. By the eighteenth century, the meaning of the two names merged into one. Ibid., 58.

46 Székely bought horses for the running, including the one which then won the competition, which was from a stud owned by István Mikes. Székely purchased it for 70 florins. Székely László élete, 227.

47 Ibid., 233. When giving away the bride, it was considered fitting to joke, to bring out another girl, or to ask tricky questions. Wesselényi, Sanyarú világ, vol. 1., 411; Radvánszky, “Lakodalmak,” 236.

48 Bethlen, The Autobiography, 352.

49 Polish dances were part of Hungarian dance culture for centuries. Of these dances, the polonicai was the most popular. This is the dance to which Péter Apor refers as the Polish switching dance. The main feature of the dance was the switching of partners. First the men and then the women switched partners and turned around with the new partner three times and then on their own three times. In the hat dance, the person dancing who held the cap in his hand summoned his partner for a dancing contest. The goal was to get the cap. Apor, Metamorphosis Transylvaniae, 18; The scapular was a tag dance. The dancers formed a circle; the pair in the middle was the one who got caught, while outside the circle a man or woman was trying to catch each other with a scapula (a helved wooden tool with a flat head). The dance continued until one of the two was hit. The person hit then continued dancing with one of the people who were in the middle of the circle. Wesselényi, Sanyarú világ, vol. 2., 652.

50 Ibid., vol. 2., 651.

51 Apor’s description is more detailed here. He explains the symbolism of the wreath, and he also interweaves the laws concerning adultery into the description of the quartering of the wreath. It is indeed true that with the removal of the wreath, the bride stopped being a maiden. Apor, Metamorphosis Transylvaniae, 65.

52 The secondary literature also mentions the noisy and frequently vulgar behavior of those who waited outside the room. Olsen, Daily Life, 40. Trumbach, The Rise of the Egalitarian Family, 113; Dülmen, Kultur und Alltag; 155. Cressy, Birth, Marriage and Death, 374–76.

53 Székely László élete, 242.

54 In the period of Ottoman incursions, there were nuptials and consummations that required special solutions. Sárdi, “Leánykérés, házasság, szerelem,” 56. But the situation was not better in the eighteenth century either. Wesselényi notes that in the overcrowded city of Szeben, László Szentkirályi had to consummate his marriage in a small cottage. Wesselényi, Sanyarú világ, vol. 1., 412.

55 Farkas Cserei understands the wedding dress as a gift offered in exchange for the consummation of the marriage, i.e. in exchange for the bride’s virginity. Thus, a widow or divorced woman could not expect this kind of gift. Cserei, A magyar és székely asszonyok törvénye, 54.

56 Székely gave several handmaids as gifts during the three days he spent at the houses of the bride, the baker, the bed-maker, the musicians, the master of the kitchen, the cup-bearer, and the coffee maker. Székely László élete, 247.

57 Bethlen, The Autobiography, 352; Radvánszky, “Lakodalmak,” 229; Sárdi, “Leánykérés, házasság, szerelem,” 58–59.

58 It was not simply a matter of prestige, in the case of the weddings of members of the Székely family, to have members of the elite attending; this was widespread practice, independent of social strata and time period. Dülmen, Kultur und Alltag, 150.

Volume 5 Issue 4 CONTENTS


1956 and the Collapse of Stalinist Politics of History: Forgetting and Remembering the 1942 Újvidék/Novi Sad Massacre and the 1944/45 Partisan Retaliations in Hungary and Yugoslavia (1950s–1960s)*

Árpád von Klimó

The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC


Two acts of mass violence that occurred during World War II have strained relations between Hungarians and Serbs for decades: the murder of several thousand civilians in Novi Sad (Újvidék) and the surrounding villages in January 1942, committed by the Hungarian army and gendarmerie, and Tito’s partisan army’s mass killings and incarceration of tens of thousands civilians, most of them Hungarians, at the end of the war. Remembering these atrocities has always been difficult and strongly politicized, but this was particularly the case when the Communist regimes in Hungary and Yugoslavia based the legitimation of their authority on anti-Fascist narratives and interpretations of the war. The conflict between Stalin and Tito, and the anti-Stalinist revolution of 1956 made it even more difficult to propagate the original Stalinist narrative about the war, which stood in ever starker contrast to everyday realities. When Kádár began to revise the political justification of his regime with a narrative that was both anti-Fascist and (moderately) critical of Stalinism in the 1960s, the remembrance of the 1942 massacre changed. In Yugoslavia, the weakening of the central government in the 1960s contributed to a local re-appropriation of the memory of 1942, while the 1944 killings remained a strict taboo until 1989.

Keywords: Stalinism, memory, Word War II, anti-Fascist narrative, war criminals, partisans, Tito, Kádár, 1956


Recently, representatives of the Hungarian and the Serbian states expressed their regret for atrocities committed against each other’s nation during World War II.1 The most notorious of these acts of mass violence was the infamous mass murder in the course of anti-partisan raids in the region of Bačka (Bácska) in January 1942, when the Hungarian army and gendarmerie killed about 3,300 civilians, mostly Serbs and Jews, between 900 and 1,300 of whom were killed in Novi Sad (Újvidék). Less than two years later, Yugoslav partisans drove out Hungarian and German troops. Over the course of the fall and winter of 1944/45, the partisans killed thousands of civilians (exact numbers are still not available), not exclusively of Hungarian and German background, but also real and alleged “collaborating” Serbs, Croats, and others. Some of the atrocities were “justified” as measures of retaliation for the massacres committed by the Hungarian authorities in 1942.2

While the Novi Sad massacre was discussed internationally and nationally roughly since the moment it was committed and then more intensively after World War II and again in the 1960s (and, most recently, in 2011, during the trial of Sándor Képíró, a gendarmerie officer involved in the massacre), the atrocities committed by the Yugoslav army in 1944/45 were an absolute taboo in Yugoslavia and Hungary until the end of Communism.3 The reasons for this discrepancy will become clearer in the course of this study.

In the Communist period, these acts of mass violence represented challenging events for the historical representation of World War II for both regimes. Their legitimacy rested on anti-Fascist narratives of the war and the heroic struggle of Communist resistance and national liberation, particularly in Tito’s Yugoslavia. In these narratives, anti-Semitic or interethnic motivations of mass violence played minor roles.4 The conflict between Stalin and Tito added further complexity to the official attempts to deal with the difficult chapters in the history of World War II. After the outbreak of the 1956 revolution and the temporary collapse of the Stalinist system, it finally became impossible to return to this master narrative of World War II. Once Kádár had taken complete control after the brutal suppression of the opposition in the late 1950s, a new, more flexible interpretation of World War II had to be provided.

In the following, I will first describe how the Hungarian and Yugoslav government tried to monitor the memories of the 1942 atrocities and the 1944/45 retaliations immediately after World War II. At the time, most of the commanding officers responsible for the 1942 massacre were put on trial and executed at a time when war criminals were being punished all over Europe. In this context, the atrocities that partisans had committed against Hungarians, Germans, and others at the end of the war in Yugoslavia in 1944/45 were given a completely different meaning and status than the massacre of 1942. In contrast to the Novi Sad massacre, which was broadly covered by the press during the trials and a constituted topic of publications in both countries, even the survivors and family members of the victims of the atrocities were not allowed to speak about them.

The next part of this article analyzes how the Stalinist regime in Hungary and Titoism in Yugoslavia dealt with the memories of the war atrocities between 1949 and 1953, in a period of open conflict between Stalin and Tito. It also briefly describes the erection of a monument dedicated to the victims of the 1942 massacre in Novi Sad in the context of the Yugoslav rift with Stalin at a time when the memory of the Holocaust in Hungary had become mostly the “private” affair of a small minority.

I then look into the changes related to representations of the 1942 massacre in the years immediately following the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, in an attempt to analyze how the dramatic events and the experiences of revolution and military intervention influenced the commemorations of World War II. Finally, I will briefly look into the changes in policies in both countries, which were results of de-Stalinization and international events, such as the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem or the crisis of the Yugoslavian federal system in the 1960s.

My intention is to shed light on the complex entanglement of world war memories in Hungary and Yugoslavia by focusing on two acts of mass violence, one in 1942 and one in 1944/45. The 1942 Novi Sad massacre was, to some extent, related to the Holocaust in Hungary and similar atrocities all over German-dominated Eastern Europe, especially the nearby Independent Croatian State, the German-occupied Yugoslavia, the Ukraine, the Baltic States, and other parts of the Soviet Union attacked by Germany and its allies. The retaliations of Tito’s partisans which occurred in 1944/45 against Hungarians, Germans, and others, on the other hand, were bloody reactions to war crimes committed by Hungarian and German troops after the collapse and occupation of Yugoslavia. In part, they were also motivated by the wish to create an ethnic South Slavic majority and thus a continuation of the inner-Yugoslav civil war. The fact that Hungary had lost the war while Yugoslavia was among the victorious allies also had a strong impact on the memory/forgetting of both events. As such, they have been treated completely separately from the 1942 massacre. But as I will argue here, these crimes were related to each other, and they are still related in the memories of Hungarians and Serbs today.

Another problem related to this topic is the fact that little study has been devoted to the memory of the atrocities. As of now, there are no studies on the memory of 1942 in Novi Sad, and there are very few on the memory of World War II and the Holocaust in Yugoslavia.5 While the memory of the Holocaust in Hungary has been studied more often, almost all studies complain that there is a lack of secondary literature on the topic.6

Trials and Executions. The Immediate Post-War Years 1945–49

At the end of 1946, the commanding officers of the 1942 raid, together with representatives of the local Hungarian elites, were executed in Novi Sad and nearby locations.7 After these executions, diplomats from both countries worked on improving relations between the two states. However, the Hungarian government’s hope that the demonstrative punishment of war criminals and the gesture of cooperation with Yugoslav authorities could result in more benign treatment of Hungary at the Paris peace negotiations turned out to be too optimistic. The Paris Peace Treaty of 1947 basically reestablished the borders of Trianon.

The war crimes trials related to the 1942 raids, which were held at the People’s Courts in Budapest and in Yugoslavia, made extensive use of the materials that had been collected by the Military Court at the Chief of Staff in the months after the massacre in 1942.8 At the time, these legal proceedings and the indictment against General Feketehalmy-Czeydner and 14 other officers had been a provocation for Hitler, who granted political asylum to the four main defendants shortly before the occupation of Hungary in March 1944.9 The people’s court trials were thus a continuation of these proceedings, in contrast to other post-war war crime trials.

The propaganda that accompanied the war crime trials demonized the suspects as “Fascist thugs,” “psychopathic,” “sadistic” “criminals,” and it highlighted a few facts and witness accounts.10 The massacre of 1942 was used in a number of war crime trials because a great deal was known about it on the basis of the thorough investigations that had occurred under Horthy in the spring of 1942. During the trials, the judges and the political representatives also used the characterization of the “psychopathic” war criminal in order to proclaim that the real victim of the war was the “Hungarian people.” In the trial against General Feketehalmy-Czeydner, the commander of the operation in Novi Sad in 1942, the political people’s prosecutor, György Marosán, a Social-democratic politician, interpreted the Novi Sad massacre as a “defeat of the Hungarian nation,” which had lost “more than a war; … its honor and reputation.”11 According to Marosán, the “true accused” were not Feketehalmy-Czeydner or Grassy, but the whole system and the elite of the Horthy regime, the “noble gang,” which had suppressed and betrayed the innocent Hungarian people.

In the context of the post-war trials, Tito had asked for the extradition of the officers responsible for the Novi Sad massacre. His request was granted by the Hungarian government. However, he also requested that Horthy himself be handed over. In this case, Stalin vetoed his demand.12 A public trial of Horthy in Yugoslavia would have strengthened Tito’s reputation as the leader of the most successful European partisan movement of World War II. Stalin was becoming increasingly suspicious of Tito’s political ambitions.

The 1945/46 war crimes trials therefore had different functions in Hungary and in Yugoslavia. The Hungarian government wanted to demonstrate that the country had become a democracy and that it wanted to break away from its Fascist past. In Yugoslavia, World War II had a different character. It had been not simply a heroic fight led by Tito’s partisans against the occupying powers under German leadership, but also a bloody civil and ethnic war between Croatian, Serbian, and other nationalists. Therefore, the war crimes trials were supposed to show the triumph of a unified, multi-ethnic partisan movement against foreign occupiers who had victimized the Yugoslav people and against inner enemies and traitors. The new Yugoslav regime, so the promise went, would overcome all ethnic tensions and conflicts. In this context, any talk of the atrocities committed by the partisans against Hungarian and other civilians in the aftermath of the collapse of the occupation had to be silenced.

“Fascists” on Both Sides of the Border: Stalinism and Politics of History and Memory in Hungary and Yugoslavia at the Height of the Stalin–Tito Conflict

While establishing one-party dictatorships in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the Hungarian and the Yugoslavian Communist leaderships established historical narratives of World War II which were supposed to stabilize and legitimize the new regimes and, at the same time, direct the focus of society towards the socialist future. The preamble of Hungary’s constitution of 1949 (its first written constitution) was based on an absolute dichotomy between the “reactionary past” and the “progressive socialist future,” and it declared that the future was only safeguarded by submission to the hegemony of the Soviet Union:


The armed forces of the great Soviet Union freed our country from the yoke of German fascism, crushed the infamous power of the landowners and wealthy capitalists, and forged the path of democratic progress for our working people. In hard battles with the masters of the old order and their defenders, the Hungarian working class came to power and rebuilt our war-torn country in alliance with the working peasants, and all with the selfless support of the Soviet Union.13

Instead of stability, the Stalinist years in Hungary were marked by a latent civil war, for the radical attempt to transform society along Soviet lines could only be implemented through the destruction of political, social, and cultural institutions, ideas and mentalities that had characterized the country before 1945. The Stalinist constitution of 1949 can thus be seen as a kind of utopian social blueprint that had to be forced through owing to social resistance. The Constitution of the Federative People’s Republic of Yugoslavia of 1946, radically amended in 1953 and replaced by a new constitution in 1963, was similarly based on Stalin’s constitution of 1936.14 Unlike the Hungarian constitution, it did not contain any reference to the war or the Soviet Union, in part because Tito and the partisans had won the war mostly independently and had enjoyed strong support from a large part of the population, in contrast to the Hungarian Communist Party. However, the 1946 Constitution declared that it was the “expression of the unanimous will of all the peoples of the Federative People’s Republic of Yugoslavia,” reflecting the principle of “brotherhood and unity” (bratstvo-jedinstvo) that Tito had proclaimed in order to solve or just cover up ethnic tensions and conflicts.15

In both cases, the memory of the war (the ritualized and rhetorical forms of this memory) was strongly oriented towards the future of the socialist state.16 The 1942 raid in Novi Sad and some of the surrounding villages and the 1944/45 retaliations in particular represented complicated, delicate topics. On the one hand, both regimes could refer to the 1942 massacre as an example of “Horthy Fascist” brutality, and both could relate the perpetrators to the broader context of Nazi (and capitalist) imperialism. Some of the Hungarians who had, in 1942, protested against the massacre together with the heroic Communist partisans were now celebrated as examples of the good, progressive forces of history.17 Thus, the most prominent anti-Fascist Hungarian hero in both countries became Endre Bajcsy-Zsilinszky of the Independent Smallholders Party, who had publicly protested against the 1942 massacre and had demanded that the commanders be punished.18 A few weeks after his protest, the Novi Sad massacre became widely known internationally.19 Bajcsy-Zsilinszky was arrested immediately after the German occupation of Hungary and later hanged by the Arrow Cross government.20

All of the Communist Parties in Europe (including Western Europe) propagated historical narratives of World War II, representing it as a struggle between the good popular forces of anti-Fascism against evil Fascism defined as the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic, and most imperialist elements of finance capital.”21 This ideological perspective on history made it difficult to discuss openly the role played by nationalism and racism during World War II. This partly explains why, beginning in 1949, the Holocaust slowly began to disappear from public discourse.22 Antisemitism was just a minor, if detestable, ideology of this brand of Fascism, but it was not really seen or cast as central. The Hungarian people, like the Communists, were victims of “Horthy-Fascism.”23 Furthermore, as Judit Pihurik has observed, for Hungary—in contrast with Yugoslavia—the fact that the country had participated in the war against the Soviet Union as “Hitler’s last ally” was the “original sin” of the Horthy era, and the Communists used this fact of history to fashion enemies.24

In this context, the White Terror of 1919–20 during the rise to power of the Horthy-regime was merged with the Holocaust and the atrocities of World War II in order to create a continuous “Fascist” period. In a book published in 1951, two leading communist historians emphasized this continuity:


Thus, in 1919 and 1920, it was not merely the seeds of fascism which appeared in Hungary, but rather fascism itself. In the Hungarian fascism of the twenties and forties, not only the fundamental idea but even the participants were the same. In 1919 in Orgovány and in 1942 at the massacre in Újvidék the same Horthy stood at the helm; … . The same people, the same crimes: from 1920 to 1944, our history has a direct road to the reign of terror of the Arrow Cross hordes.25

At the same time, the people’s courts, which had been officially established in order to put war criminals on trial, were closed. On April 1, 1950, the People’s Court in Szeged, the last functioning people’s court, ceased its activities, after 15 courts had already been terminated in 1948. Although the regime continued to initiate trials against less prominent war criminals, some of which were related to the Novi Sad massacre, these trials did not get much media attention, and in many cases took place in secret. These mostly secret legal proceedings were part of the routine of the Stalinist suppression, which during the period between 1949 and 1953 affected tens of thousands of Hungarians in various ways.

Also, some of the officers involved in the 1942 raids had escaped. Sándor Képíró, one of the patrol commanders during the 1942 raid, began a new life in Argentina.26 Gusztáv Korompay, who had admitted during the military trial of 1943/44 that he was involved in mass shootings of civilians for which he was not punished, escaped and probably went into hiding in West Germany.27 Less fortunate were those gendarmes who had been caught by the Red Army at the end of the war, or handed over to the Soviet Union by the US Army. They spent mostly between five and ten years in various Soviet labor camps, and, when they returned to Hungary after Stalin’s death, the Hungarian State Security Authority imprisoned them again in camps or put them in jail.28 While the regimes suppressed all kinds of real and imagined opposition, many war criminals were integrated into the Stalinist system. The murder of half a million Hungarian Jews and the suffering of other groups during the war were mostly silenced. The 1950s were marked in all countries—in Eastern and Western Europe, the United States, and elsewhere—by a new phase of forgetting the war and the Holocaust.29 Everywhere the rebuilding of society, the creating of families, and economic and social questions gained precedence. In this new phase, gendarmes and soldiers who were not put under observation by the State Security or arrested, as well as Jewish survivors and the large part of Hungarian society were seeking to integrate into society. In other words, they were seeking a new beginning.

Communist propaganda now targeted new types of enemies, which were also indiscriminately defamed as “Fascists.”30 After the wave of revenge and retaliation in the immediate post-war years, accompanied by the practice of the Communist party of integrating into its institutions of power a large number of “little” Arrow Cross Party members, some of whom became active in the secret police, new repression campaigns began in the late 1940s in a context of a hysterical war paranoia.

The split between Stalin and Tito, who had been close allies at least until 1947 and who shared ideological convictions, was provoked by Tito’s expansionist policies towards Albania and by his reluctance to accept Stalin’s idea of a close, centralized structure of the Communist camp in Eastern Europe, dominated by Moscow.31 A few months later, the US government decided to support Tito against Stalin.32 For Stalin’s followers in Eastern Europe, this was treason, and it could only mean that Tito had always been an enemy, a secret supporter of imperialism and even of fascism, who had hitherto only hidden his “true face.”

Instead of war criminals, it was now communist leaders who sat in the docks of courts. Even those who had worked tirelessly for the Stalinist cause, such as the former minister of the interior, László Rajk, who was responsible for the killing, torture, and imprisonment of thousands of enemies of the regime, was now an “enemy.” In order to “prove” the connection between Rajk, “Titoism” and “Horthy Fascism,” the State Security unit which organized the show trial arrested, among many others, a former gendarmerie officer who had been working against the Germans at the end of the war, accusing him of organizing the alleged coup d’état against the communist regime.33 The judge at the trial was the same person who had previously led the proceedings against officers and administrators charged with organizing the deportations of Jews, a fact that shows how radically the priorities of the Hungarian law enforcement authorities had changed in only two years’ time.34 Party leader and strongman Mátyás Rákosi clarified in Szabad Nép on June 8, 1949: “Today’s Yugoslavia is a typical police state in which the Trotskyite clique keeps its grip on power through Gestapo methods and with the help of their Gestapo agents. … At every turn we will unmask the Tito gang as traitors and agents of imperialism.” Just as Stalin was a symbol of the Eastern Bloc’s unity in the minds of the respective national party elites, Tito now embodied the enemy. He was cast as a man who consorted with “imperialists” and “fascist powers.”

The conflict between Stalin and Tito and Rákosi’s strong engagement in it created a difficult situation for the remaining Hungarian minority in Novi Sad and the Vojvodina, as well as for the South Slavic minority in Hungary. On November 29, 1949, a new Hungarian radio program was inaugurated, Újvidéki Rádio, broadcasting from Novi Sad.35 The new radio program got immediately involved in this ugly propaganda war, fighting against the “lies” of the Hungarian State Radio Kossuth, which had begun to attack Tito vigorously in the context of the show trial against László Rajk in the summer of 1949. Radio Kossuth had already introduced or extended programs in Slovenian, Croatian, and Serbian. While the Yugoslavian leadership was concerned about “Cominformists” among the Hungarian minority, which numbered roughly half a million people, the Hungarian authorities on the other side of the border were afraid of Yugoslavian agents, especially among the small South Slavic minorities.36 Because of these concerns, a group of Yugoslav Hungarian communists were arrested and put on trial in Novi Sad as spies in April 1949.37 Tensions between armed units rose at the border, and there were numerous incidents involving Hungarian and Yugoslav border guards.38

The mistrust and animosity between the two communist regimes had a strong influence on how they dealt with problems deriving from the past, and the past itself became a subject of dispute. In 1950, Moša Pijade (1890–1957),39 one of Tito’s closest collaborators and a leading figure in postwar Yugoslavia, tried to convince the Hungarian minority that the Yugoslav Communist Party had been benevolent from the outset:


I still remember our difficult situation at the end of the war and the beginning of our immediate final liberation. There were people then who thought that we should treat the Hungarian national minority harshly. However, my fellow Yugoslavians, we had from the first moment on the strong conviction that we have to fight against any symptom of nationalism. …. Therefore, my fellow Yugoslavians, when those who are under the command of Moscow outside our borders try to defame us by claiming that we suppress the national minorities and that we don’t give them rights, schools, nothing, it is the usual defamations of chauvinists who want to inflame chauvinism among the national minorities.40


However, those who had not forgotten the atrocities committed by the partisans may well have understood this statement to have meant something resembling the following: let us forget what happened at the end of the war and focus instead on the principles of our minority policies, because the Stalinists in Hungary only want to undermine the new beginning, which brought better minority rights for you. Consequently, the massacre of 1942 was also not mentioned in the publications of the Hungarian minority. The mass violence of the war could not be incorporated into the new narrative of Brotherhood and Unity.

The task of fostering and shaping the memory of the war lay in the hands of partisan and veterans’ organizations.41 Although they produced politically controlled narratives of the “people’s war of liberation” or of the “socialist revolution” which represented the main foundation for the legitimation of the regime, Heike Karge distinguishes these narratives from the “diverse social practices of communicating and performing the past of the war in society” on the local level.42 The Federation of Fighters of the war of the People’s Liberation in Yugoslavia (SUBNORJ), the official representative body of the partisans, was closely linked to the communist party. The organization concentrated on the erection of monuments and offered different forms of remembering: as mourning of deaths, mostly in local settings, but also as (tourism) business, artistic engagement, social commitment, or, rather dominantly, as pedagogical mission. The social practices of arranging memory excluded many surviving victims of the war from public support who could not be classified as “fighting partisans,” especially members of the Jewish population. Since the late 1950s, however, the category “participant in the people’s war of liberation” was extended to victims who were not “stained” by collaboration, still excluding the Hungarian victims, but including the shrinking Jewish community.43

The politics of remembering also mirrored the ideological clash with Stalin. In 1952, a new board was founded, responsible for the “identification and restoration of historical sites of the people’s war of liberation.” This led to the erection of the Tito monument at Titovo Užice.44 This could be understood, at least to some extent, as a reaction to the huge statue of Stalin built in Budapest on the occasion of Stalin’s 70th birthday in 1949. At the moment when the Communist leadership declared that the Soviet leader was “the greatest Hungarian” the Stalin cult reached its peak.45 As a consequence, the toppling of the huge statue became the most important act of symbolic liberation from the tyrant during the days of triumph of the Hungarian revolution in late October, 1956. The Yugoslav Communist party journal Borba mocked the elevation of Stalin into the pantheon of Hungarian history, and this was noticed by the temporary Hungarian chargé d’affaires in Belgrade, József Kovács.46 Reporting to the Foreign Ministry in Budapest, Kovács complained about “infamous attacks” in the Hungarian-language press against the Soviet Union and the people’s democracies, and he claimed to have seen the growing influence of US imperialism in the socialist country. Kovács went so far as to accuse the Titoist “Fascists” of continuing to commit atrocities against the Hungarian minority, referring to the murderous acts at the end of the war. In a report dated April 17, 1952, Kovács compared the situation at the time with the situation at the end of the war:


The Yugoslav Communist Party under Titoist control never fought to realize the Leninist idea of the nationalities policy, neither during the war nor after the war. Immediately after liberation, when the Soviet liberating troops continued to chase the Fascists, the invading Yugoslav partisans carried out huge ‘cleansing’ operations among the minority population in the entire Vojvodina. They were not at all driven by the class standpoint when, for example, they dragged off hundreds or thousands of Hungarians from their houses, drove them out of their businesses, locked them up in internment camps where many died, and even shot many before they had even arrived at the internment camps. [...] We can see all of this again today. […] The Hungarian minority schools suffer from a terrible lack of school books.47

The hysterical clash between the two communist propaganda machines reached a new climax in the summer of 1952, when Borba claimed in an article that the Hungarian authorities would carry out “genocide” against members of the South Slavic minorities in the border areas with Austria and Yugoslavia, hinting at atrocities committed during the occupation.48 The journal opined that:


Rákosi’s agents have, with regard to their anti-national crimes, already exceeded long ago the Horthy feudalists and the Szálasi Fascist gendarmes. The national Yugoslav minority in Hungary has become a defenseless target of Stalinist-type genocide. An example is the gradual and systematic resettlement and extermination of seven thousand Slovenes who live in the areas near the Austrian–Yugoslav–Hungarian border.

The quotations above demonstrate that terms like “Fascism” and “genocide” had become almost completely meaningless in the Stalinist language in both countries in the propaganda referring to the crimes committed during the war.

At the same time, in 1952, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the massacre, its public commemoration in Novi Sad entered a new stage with the erection of a monument in the Jewish cemetery, not far away from the center of the town. The cenotaph in Novi Sad was one of five new monuments built to commemorate the Jewish victims of World War II, initiated and organized by the Federation of Jewish Communities and supported by the federal government in Belgrade.49 All five monuments were situated inside Jewish cemeteries, not in public locations. The ceremonies in Novi Sad lasted for two full weeks, and they were attended by Yugoslav state and Party officials and Israeli and U. S. Jewish delegates. They were also fully covered by the Yugoslav mass media. A year later, Andreja Deak (1889–1980), a Yugoslav military doctor of Hungarian–Jewish background and a Communist since 1919 who had barely survived the 1942 massacre, published a short story about the raid.50

The ceremonies and the press coverage in Novi Sad marked a difference compared to the dwindling presence of any ritualized expressions of the memory of the Holocaust in Hungary at the time. Representatives of the Hungarian state tended to eschew those events.51 While in 1948 a representative of the president of the state, even if not a prominent one, was still present during the inauguration of the memorial to the martyrs in the Jewish part of the new central cemetery in Budapest, in 1954/55 not one state official showed up for the commemorations of the 10th anniversary of the German occupation and the deportations of the Hungarian Jewry. Such ceremonies had become “private” events.52

In Yugoslavia, the official support for the commemorations and the invitation of representatives from Israel and the United States were related to Tito’s attempt to establish a place for the country within a broader international context that included capitalist countries.53 At the same time, this act of commemoration of 1942 was only possible because the Jewish victims’ story had been included in the foundational myth of Titoist Yugoslavia, according to which all ethnic groups had turned into “martyrs of the war of liberation,” with no specific indication of the circumstances under which this had taken place or the people who had committed the killings. This was necessary in order to gloss over the fact that many of the victims of the war had been killed because of ethnic or political conflicts between the various Yugoslav factions. The fact that, in the meantime, the Jewish population of Novi Sad had shrunk stood in stark contrast to the public inauguration and the presence of international guests and the media during the erection of the monument. After hundreds had emigrated to Israel, there were only 372 Jews left in 1950, compared to more than 4,000 living in the town before 1941.54

After Revolution: A “Fascist Plot” or Rákosi’s Failure?

After the crushing of the 1956 revolution, the most immediate problem for the new Communist leadership under János Kádár was to gain acceptance as the legitimate government inside and outside the country. The fact that its power was based on invading Soviet troops weighed heavily on it. One way to reacquire credibility, at least from the perspective of the Hungarian Communist government, lay in the denunciation of the uprising as a “Fascist” plot, supported by imperialist powers in the West. This was, at least among some circles inside the country but also for some orthodox Communists outside its borders (who feared a return of the “most reactionary forces”), a plausible explanation and justification of the unrestricted use of force against any opposition. In this context, the labelling of the “enemy” as “Fascist” was supposed to justify the exclusion and, in many cases, the execution or incarceration of people identified as real or potential enemies, since these “elements” were regarded as a threat to human society that had to be destroyed. This changed only slowly, with the amnesties in the early 1960s, which were, in part, related to a compromise with the United States that was reached with the hope of bringing an end to the country’s diplomatic isolation.55

Before that, the Kádár regime staged a number of trials against members of the former gendarmerie and army officers based on the Stalinist construct of a continuity of “Fascist” crimes between 1919 and 1956.56 As of 1958, some 22,000 persons had been arrested, 229 of whom were condemned to death. About 200,000 people had left the country for the West. It was only in 1963, when a general amnesty was proclaimed, that the situation in the country finally settled down. By then, 367 persons had been executed.57 Especially in the trials against former gendarmes, the judges made an attempt to put an ugly “Fascist” face on the narrative of the “counterrevolution.” About 140 former officers were indicted and sentenced during this period.58 Among them, the former army officer János Nagy was put on a list of “Fascist Terrorists, Arrow-Cross Men, War Criminals, Robbers and Murderers Let Loose on the Country” in 1956.59 Nagy was identified as “a leading figure of the massacre which took place at Újvidék in 1942,” without any mention of the fact that a People’s Court had already sentenced him in 1948 for this act.60 When he was released in 1956, he had already served almost eight years in prison. Nothing was said about the specific crimes he had allegedly committed in 1956 except the fact that he had come out of prison. The connection between the “Fascists,” “War criminals,” and those who had been active during the revolution of 1956 was in most cases only suggested, not proven. However, in most cases it was very difficult to link the persons and deeds committed during the Horthy period or in World War II to activities related to the revolution of 1956.61 Until 1961, 33 former gendarmes were executed, 26 of whom had been convicted first and foremost for “crimes” allegedly committed in 1956.62 The Ministry of the Interior supported the judicial campaign by collecting a 17-volume-strong “documentation” that was supposed to prove that numerous “Fascist” groups had been active between 1945 and 1956.63 In this context, references to the 1942 Novi Sad massacre could be integrated into the narrative because the judges could make use of the substantial investigation files produced by the military court in the Horthy period.

Kádár and his supporters, however, did not just want to go back to the Stalinist regime. Rather, they attempted to create a new socialist dictatorship, which was distancing itself from both “Fascism” and Stalinism. Kádár himself had been a victim of Stalinism, it was claimed, because he had been arrested and sentenced in a show trial.64 The Kádár regime also applied this double-strategy to the question of war criminals by blaming Rákosi for having failed to punish them. In 1959, the Supreme Military Prosecutor announced in a “top secret” report that a series of proceedings would be initiated against former gendarmerie detectives, emphasizing that the “punishment policy and results of the years after the Liberation had been incorrect because numerous gendarmes and detectives who had committed serious war crimes had remained undetected and unpunished.”65 The Military Prosecutor also complained that some of the sentences issued by the People’s Courts had been revised and often mitigated.

Ervin Hollós, who had worked in the unit in the Ministry of the Interior responsible for the fight against the “inner reaction,” wrote that under Rákosi many “counterrevolutionaries, terrorists, and members of the suppressive Horthy organs with blood on their hands lived in Hungary and had managed to avoid being held responsible. … It was Rákosi’s immeasurable crime that he not only threw many excellent fighters of the labor movement into prison but also allowed a large segment of the bloody gendarmerie detectives to live free and undisturbed.”66

By combining the anti-Stalinist with the anti-Fascist narratives, Kádár managed to create the idea that the judicial campaign against real and alleged “Fascists” and “war criminals” which accompanied the suppression of the revolution was in reality a major effort to deal finally with the problem of Hungary’s Fascist past and its representatives, who had haunted the innocent Hungarian people from 1919 to 1956. Another target of Communist propaganda after 1956—and not only in Hungary—was West Germany, which was attacked by East Germany and other Eastern Bloc countries as a place where former Nazis had made careers and were even dominating the institutions of the Federal Republic.67 In the 1960s, this new double-strategy of the Kádár regime would allow it to modify the politics of remembering the events of 1942.

The 1956 revolution also put Tito in a difficult position.68 After Stalin’s death in 1953, both the Soviets and the Yugoslav leaders were keen to come to a rapprochement. In this situation, Hungary played a key role, because Rákosi had been at the forefront of the anti-Titoist campaign. Rákosi’s return to the head of the Hungarian Communist party in 1955 was therefore seen as a major obstacle for Yugoslav–Soviet reconciliation. Tito also demanded the full rehabilitation of László Rajk (since he had been accused of being the head of a “Titoist” conspiracy), improvements in the conditions of the South Slavic minorities in Hungary, and reparations. Since his first term as Prime Minister, Imre Nagy had had the support of Belgrade because the Yugoslav Communists hoped that a reform of the Stalinist system would lead to a socialist dictatorship not unlike the one Tito was trying to establish.

On the other hand, the Yugoslav leadership was also wary of a weakening of communism and a return of Hungarian nationalism and revisionism. Nikita Khrushchev even tried to spread rumors about the Hungarian minority in Vojvodina. Additionally, Tito must have feared a spread of revolutionary ideas in October 1956. Tito had sympathies for Nagy, but the Yugoslav leadership was shocked by the collapse of communism and feared a restoration of the Horthy regime if the revolution were to get completely out of control.69 This was the main reason why Tito regarded military intervention as “essential,” as he stated in a meeting with Khrushchev and Georgy Malenkov on the island of Brioni on November 2, 1956, just two days before the Soviet invasion.70 Later, Tito and Kádár would clash because of the execution of Nagy in 1958, a step that put the Yugoslav leader in a bad light because he had tried to protect Nagy. Both sides, and also the Soviets, had no interest in an intensification of the conflict. This explains why the mutual accusations of being “Fascist” from the Stalinist period did not surface again. Instead, the language in which both camps criticized each other was becoming remarkably moderate.71 In the United Nations, where the Hungarian government was chastised for the persecution of the opposition, the Yugoslavs defended Budapest.72

During the dramatic days in the fall of 1956, the Hungarian-language press in Yugoslavia reported from Hungary with a certain distance, highlighting the chaos and disruption of everyday life and emphasizing that the refugees from the conflict were treated well in Yugoslavia.73 During these moments of upheaval and uncertainty, the fraught memory of World War II was mostly absent from public discourse in Yugoslavia.

After Eichmann: New Trends in the Commemoration of the Massacre of 1942 in Hungary and Yugoslavia during the 1960s

There were at least two international events which contributed to a change in the way communists and Hungarian society discussed the 1942 incidents after 1961. The first was the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem, which revived the debate about the Holocaust, which had been essentially abandoned at the end of the 1940s. As Kata Bohus notes, this debate was revived against and in spite of Kádár’s intentions.74 Another event, which was not directly related to the topic of World War II and Holocaust remembrance, was the breakup of Hungarian international isolation at the end of 1962, when the United Nations decided to take 1956 off of the agenda.75

Even before the Eichmann-trial, in 1959, the Hungarian Communist Party had adopted a new concept that rejected Hungarian “bourgeois nationalism” and nationalist tendencies which had, according to some historians, influenced some of the Stalinist narratives of history based on the idea of a 400 year-long “national liberation struggle.”76 Hungarian historians now could, for the first time since 1949, smell Western air and read Western books.77 In this context, a few authors began to reevaluate World War II and the murder of the Hungarian Jews in 1944. Looking back, György Száraz wrote that he began to be involved in the process that “could be called historical self-examination or, preferably, taking possession of the whole of our history. It began in earnest in the early 1960s—in close connection with the broadening of the mass basis of the regime.”78 In 1963, János Buzásy, a young archivist who had just finished his studies at ELTE University in Budapest, wrote the first academic monograph on the 1942 massacres.79 A year later, Tibor Cseres published Hideg napok (“Cold Days”), a novel that would make the 1942 raid known again in Hungary and throughout the world.80 A movie by András Kovács based on Cseres’ novel was released in 1966 with the same title. It was a huge national success, with 600,000 viewers in the first three weeks.81 Outside of Hungary, the film was shown in various cities in Yugoslavia, as well as in Paris, New York, Moscow, and other places, but its biggest success was the Second Prize at the 1st International Film Festival of Karlovy Váry in Czechoslovakia. It also garnered some praise at the Venice Film Festival of 1966. Tibor Cseres and András Kovács, who were engaged in numerous discussions with the public about the film as part of a new effort to study the effects the film had had on “the masses,” regarded the film as a “progressive” message.82 Kovács also claimed that Fascism was not a Hungarian specialty and was not restricted to the past, because Vietnam showed that similar crimes were still happening. Instead, he suggested, the film should be understood as an educational tool which could help overcome the nationalist relics and the “exaggerations” of Stalinism and foster a truly “socialist patriotism.”83 What had mostly changed at this moment was the idea of the “enemy.” In the book and film, the Hungarian soldiers who participated in the Novi Sad raid, even those who evinced Fascist leanings, were characterized as complex human beings, not simple “Fascist thugs,” as they had been dubbed during the Stalinist period.

Others celebrated Cseres’ book as an example of the renewal of Hungarian socialist literature and as an example of Hungarian Vergangenheitsbewältigung.84 Georg Lukács contended that the film approached the reality and truth of history, presenting a “new, disillusioned national self-image.”85 In her memoirs, Ágnes Heller remembered that, after the movie, “Hungarians for the first time since the end of the war spoke about the Jews as victims. Before it, there had been only Fascists and Communists.”86

Either way, by the late 1960s the Cold Days of 1942 had become a Hungarian lieu de mémoire. This had also an effect on Yugoslavia. As point out above, at first the 1956 revolution did not result in a change in the conception of Yugoslav politics of memory. Rather, it made functionaries in Belgrade and in the states and provinces more alert about possible nationalism among different ethnic groups.

Beginning in the second half of the 1960s, as a result of the international trends in Holocaust remembrance and the debates initiated by the book and film “Cold Days” the city of Novi Sad began to publicly commemorate the 1942 massacre.87 The first official act of commemoration in the town that was not restricted to the Jewish community (as the one in 1952 had been), but rather encompassed the whole local community, was a ceremony on the Danube promenade near the city center in 1967. These commemorations in Novi Sad could also be understood in the wider political context of the deep constitutional crisis of Yugoslavia in the 1960s, which resulted in the weakening of the central government in Belgrade and a strengthening of the political forces on the periphery. Remembrance of the events that had taken place in and around Novi Sad in 1942 was related to the idea of Serbian victimhood in the war.


When the Stalinist system collapsed in Hungary in the aftermath of the revolution, the narrative of the war as a fight of the Hungarian people against its Fascist oppressors, supported by the glorious Soviet army, also faltered. The invading Soviet tanks and the brutal fighting in the streets of Budapest, followed by massive violence against any form of opposition, forced the restored Communist regime to modify its interpretation of World War II. Kádár’s attempt to portray his regime as both anti-Fascist and anti-Stalinist allowed reinterpretations after the amnesties of the early 1960s and the tentative opening of the country to Western ideas. The Hungarian people remained the main victim of the war, but Hungarian soldiers could now also be represented as complex personalities, not only as Fascist thugs. The character of the Horthy regime and a critique of nationalism and of the failure of Rákosi to deal with war criminals were also more openly discussed. The memory of the 1942 massacre in Novi Sad was one of the newly debated events of World War II, and these debates also had an impact on Yugoslavia. There, in the context of the political and constitutional crisis of Yugoslavism, local memory of the massacre, beginning in 1967 (on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the raid), opened a new chapter in the interpretation of the war, while the atrocities committed by partisans at the end of the war remained a taboo until the fall of the regime.



Unpublished Primary Sources

Budapest Főváros Levéltára (BFL) [Budapest City Archives] XXV. 4. f. – 0343 – 1953.

Hadtörténelmi Levéltár, Budapesti Katonai Törvényszék (HL, BTK) [Military History Archives, Military Court, Budapest] 2925/1951: Ügyiratok: Gerencséry Mihály, v. csendör föhadnagy. (Case M. Gerencséry, former gendarmerie ltd.)

Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára (MNL OL), Propaganda Osztály (Hungarian National Archives, Communist Party, Propaganda Dept.) 276/89/162, doc. 274.

US Holocaust Museum and Memorial (USHMM), RG 39.013, Reel 28, German report of the trials against József Grassy and Márton Zöldi.


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Horgas, Béla. “Hideg napok: Cseres Tibor regényéről” [Cold Days. About Tibor Cseres’s novel]. Kortárs 8, no. 7 (1964): 1149–51.

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Kovács, András. “Egy film drámája” [The drama of a film]. In Hideg napok. Kovács András filmje. [Cold Days. A film by András Kovács], 172–219. Budapest: Magvető, 1967.

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Talpassy, Tibor. “Bajcsy-Zsilinszky küzdelme az újvidéki pogrom megakadályozásáért és a bűnösök felelősségre vonása érdekében.” [Bajcsy-Zsilinszky’s fight against the pogrom of Novi Sad and in the interest of the punishment of those responsible] Kortársak Bajcsy-Zsilinszky Endréről [Contemporaries on Bajcsy-Zsilinszky]. Edited by Károly Vígh. Budapest: Magvető, 1984, 294–308.

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1* Thanks to Thomas Cooper for his meticulous proofreading of this article.

President János Áder spoke in the Serbian parliament a week after the assembly had adopted a declaration apologizing for the atrocities against Hungarian civilians at the end of World War II. See: „Hungary’s Ader apologises for WWII crimes in Vojvodina,” Visegrad-Group, May 26, 2013, accessed November 09, 2016, http://www.visegradgroup.eu/news/hungary-ader-apologises. See also: „Hungarians commemorate 1944–45 massacre in Vojvodina village,“ Daily News Hungary, October 25, 2013, Accessed May 13, 2016, http://dailynewshungary.com/hungarians-commemorate-1944-45-massacre-in-vojvodina-village/.

2 In Vojvodina alone, according to a commission of the Autonomous Province led by Professor Dragoljub Živković, around 110,000 people were killed between 1941 and 1948. Of these, about 56,000 were murdered by the occupying powers during the war, but around 54,000 were killed after the liberation. Cf. Branka Dragovic-Savic, “Seeking the truth in Vojvodina,” EUObserver, March 19, 2010. See also: Živković, ed., Imenik stradalih osoba ap Vojvodine.

3 Mák, “Szigorúan tiltották.”

4 Cf. also: Rév, Retroactive Justice, 230.

5 For war and Holocaust remembering in Yugoslavia, see: Kerenji, Jewish Citizens; Karge, Steinerne Erinnerung – versteinerte Erinnerung; Szerbhorváth, “A jugoszláviai holokauszt emlékezete.”

6 For an overview of Hungarian Holocaust memory see: Laczó and Zombory, “Between Transnational Embeddedness and Relative Isolation”; Bohus, “Not a Jewish Question? ”; Fritz, Nach Krieg und Judenmord. 

7 On October 26, 1946, the Hungarian-language newspaper Magyar Szó reported on “A bácskai razziák felelőseinek bűnpere“. See also: Jenő Györkei, “Nemzeti szeretetlenség” [National cold-heartedness], Magyar Nemzet Online, January 12, 2002.

8 Today, this material is lost. In April 1942, military court prosecutor Colonel Dr. József Babós, under orders by Chief-of-Staff Szombathelyi, began his meticulous investigation, which resulted in a report seven hundred pages long and concluding that a mass murder had taken place. During the German occupation, Babós went into hiding, and the Arrow Cross arrested some of his family members. In 1947, he gave testimony during the People’s court war crimes trial against General Jány, but on September 29, 1947, the court noted that “he was a fugitive.” The Communists had begun to investigate his activities against Communists under Horthy. Cf. Varga, “Forradalmi törvényesség.” In connection with the trials, see: Zinner and Róna, Szálasiék bilincsben, 1:48–73. For an overview and analysis of the people’s courts, cf. Karsai, “The People’s Courts.”

9 Braham, The Destruction, doc 64, 117–18.

10 Cf. Karsai, “The People’s Courts.”

11 Zinner, Róna, Szálasiék bilincsben, 1:283. György Marosán (1908–92) was a baker, who rose during the 1930s to the higher ranks of the trade unions of bakers. After 1945, he was a member of the Politbureau (1948–56), and he also served as the President of the Yugoslavian–Hungarian Friendship Society and had various other high positions during the Communist period. Cf. Új Magyar Életrajzi Lexikon (Budapest: Magyar Könyvklub, 2002), 4:527–28.

12 Stalin considered that Horthy had at least attempted to switch sides before the end of the war, that he had begun armistice negotiations in Moscow, and that he was, after all, “an old man.” Cf. Haraszti-Taylor, “Why Was Admiral Horthy not Considered a War Criminal?”; Sakmyser, “Miklos Horthy and the Allies, 1945–1946.”

13 Cf. 1956 Institute, accessed February 19, 2016, http://www.rev.hu/sulinet45/szerviz/dokument/1949.evi3.htm.

14 Cf. Ramet, The Three Yugoslavias, 169. The text of the 1946 constitution: accessed May 12, 2016, http://www.worldstatesmen.org/Yugoslavia_1946.txt.

15 On “brotherhood and unity,” cf. Godina, “The Outbreak of Nationalism.” 413–15.

16 For Yugoslavia, see: Karge, “Mediated Remembrance,” 51.

17 However, Zombory, the Police Chief of Novi Sad, and Fehrenbach, the High Sheriff (főispán) who had also protested, were executed in 1946 as representatives of the occupying administration. The fact that they had organized the deportation of the Jews from Novi Sad did not play a role in this.

18 For a short biography of Bajcsy-Zsilinszky, see: Vígh, “Endre Bajcsy-Zsilinszky.” His memorandum to Horthy is published in: Tilkovszky, “Ütött a cselekvés utolsó órája.”

19 “Hungarian Atrocities,” The Times, June 10, 1942, 5; “Hungarian–Serb Battle Cited,” New York Times, July 16, 1942, 7; Jewish Telegram Agency (JTA), Bulletin vol. 9, no. 104, May 8, 1942.

20 The cult around his martyrdom began as soon as his dead body was brought in a procession to Budapest. Cf. Fisli, “A ‘nemzet halottja’, 1945” See also: Lévai, Hősök hőse...!  Bajcsy-Zsilinszky Endre, a demokrácia vértanúja.

21 Dimitrov’s 1935 phrase is quoted in: Blinkhorn, Fascism and the Right, 142.

22 Cf. Fritz, Nach Krieg; for Yugoslavia: Kerenji, Jewish Citizens, Karge, Steinerne Erinnerung.

23 Quoted in Apor, Fabricating Authenticity, 111–12.

24 Pihurik, “A háborús múlt.”

25 Karsai; Pamlényi, Fehérterror, 71–72. Quoted in: Apor, Fabricating Authenticity, 101. My accentuation.

26 Cf. Zétényi, A Képíró-ügy, 184–214.

27 A Lutheran pastor who married a woman named Ilona Korompay in Budapest in 1943, asked his brother-in-law, Gusztáv Korompay, in Germany in 1945 to take care of his two small children, which he did until 1957. This could be just a coincidental similarity in names, but the same pastor was also taking care of the burial of Colonel General Gusztáv Jány, the commander of the 2nd Hungarian Army, who was executed in 1947 (exonerated by the Hungarian Supreme Court in 1993). Cf. “Balikó,” Evangélikus élet; Gárdos, Nemzetvesztők, 197.

28 The former First Lieutenant Gerencséry was sentenced by the Military Court in Budapest in August 1951, after he had also returned from a Soviet POW camp. Cf. HL, BTK 2925/1951. Two other former gendarmes were put on trial in August 1953 and received sentences of 15 years in prison for war crimes. Files of the trial in the Budapest Capital Archive were kept secret: BFL, XXV.4.f – 0343 – 1953.

29 Judt, “The Past Is Another Country.”

30 Examples in: Gyarmati, “Ellenségek és bűnbakok.”

31 Perović, “Tito–Stalin Split.”

32 Lees, Keeping Tito Afloat.

33 Cf. Hodos, Show Trials, 60.

34 Judge Péter Jankó (1907–55) committed suicide in 1955, when the rehabilitation of Rajk began. The background of the rehabilitation was, among other considerations, that Hungary could improve its relations with Yugoslavia, two years after Stalin’s death. Between 1950 and 1953, he had been the leading member of the Supreme Court in Budapest. “Jankó Péter.” Magyar Életrajzi Lexikon.

35 Révész, “Az ellenségkép-modellek.”

36 Banac, With Stalin against Tito, 216–17; Ludanyi, “Titoist Integration.”

37 Borba, April 4, 1949.

38 It is difficult to gauge how serious these incidents were, but they are documented in the pages of Magyar Szó during the early 1950s, the Hungarian-language newspaper of the Yugoslav Communist Party, published in Novi Sad.

39 Moša Pijade (1890–1957) was a painter and leading member of the Communist movement in Yugoslavia since 1919. In 1941, he joined Tito’s liberation movement, and as of 1942 he was a leader of the Anti-Fascist Council of the People’s Liberation of Yugoslavia (AVNOJ). After the war he was president of the federal parliament. See: Serbs Who Marked the 20th Century. Biographical Lexicon (Belgrade: n.p., 2006), 407.

40 Magyar Szó, March 24, 1950.

41 Karge, Steinerne Erinnerung, passim.

42 Ibid., 11.

43 Ibid.

44 Ibid., 110.

45 The Hungarian State Security launched investigations against people who had asked why a Hungarian was not celebrated instead of Stalin. MNL OL 276/89/162, doc. 274. For an excellent analysis of the statue dedicated to Stalin in Budapest see: Sinkó, “Rituals.“

46 MNL OL XIX-J-1-j-19f-00380-1952. Accessed February 16, 2016, http://adattar.vmmi.org/fejezetek/1000/10_1952.pdf.

47 MNL OL XIX-J-1-j-1a-00133-1952. Accessed February 16, 2016, http://adattar.vmmi.org/fejezetek/1000/10_1952.pdf.

48 Accessed February 19, 2016, http://adattar.vmmi.org/fejezetek/1000/10_1952.pdf.

49 Emil Kerenji, “Jewish Citizens of Socialist Yugoslavia: Politics of Jewish Identity in a Socialist State, 1944–74.” PhD diss., University of Michigan 2008, 117.

50 Andreja Deak (1889–1980) was born in Szigetvár, Hungary. In 1919, he became a member of the Hungarian Communist party. A year later he moved to Yugoslavia, where he worked as a doctor. He was interned by the Hungarian army but survived the war and became a high ranking officer in the military medical administration, until he was promoted to the position of General. His short stories were published in German as: Razzia in Novi Sad und andere Geschehnisse während des Zweiten Weltkrieges in Ungarn und Jugoslawien (Zürich: Werner Classen, 1967). The short stories first appeared in 1953 in Serbian under the title “Pod žutom trakom” (Under the Yellow Star).

51 Fritz, Nach Krieg und Judenmord, 235–36.

52 The neglect of the topic can also be demonstrated by the isolation of one of the few Holocaust scholars in Hungary at the time, Jenő Lévai. See: Laczó, “The Foundational Dilemmas of Jenő Lévai.”

53 Lampe, “Yugoslavia’s Foreign Policy in Balkan Perspective.”

54 Jewish Telegraph Agency, December 13, 1950.

55 Kastner, Ungarn 1956 vor der UNO.

56 Numerous examples in: The Counter-revolutionary Conspiracy of Imre Nagy. See also: Pihurik, “A háborús múlt.”

57 Kovács, “Csendőrsors Magyarországon 1945 után.“

58 Békés, “A Kovács-dosszié.”

59 The Counter-revolutionary Conspiracy of Imre Nagy, 62–63. This list was first used in the form of a leaflet published in late 1956. A photo of the leaflet can be found at: http://www.mek.oszk.hu/04000/04056/html/roplap/pdf/roplap1956_1109.pdf.

60 The Counter-revolutionary Conspiracy of Imre Nagy, 63.

61 Cf. Rév, Retroactive Justice, 222–30.

62 Békés, “A Kovács-dosszié.” Numbers according to: Kovács, “Csendőrsors,“ 131. See also: Szakolczai, “Háborús bűnösök,” 29–52.

63Beszélő évek – 1959”

64 Gough, 55.

65Beszélő évek – 1959.”

66 Quoted in: Ibid.

67 Bohus, “Reaction to the Eichmann trial,” 745–47.

68 For the following, see: Ripp, “Hungary’s Party,”; Granville, “The Soviet-Yugoslav Detente.”

69 Ripp, “Hungary’s Party,” 202.

70 Ibid., 203.

71 Ibid., 221.

72 Kastner, Ungarn 1956 vor der UNO.

73 See, for example: Magyar Szó in January 1957 had a few reports about the damage fighting between Hungarian resistance fighters and Soviet troops had done in Budapest. Another series of articles was dedicated to the refugees crossing the border into Yugoslavia.

74 The international repercussions of the Eichmann trial are studied in an edited volume: Cesarani, After Eichmann; Kata Bohus’ dissertation studied the Eichmann trial in the context of Kádár’s policies: Cf. Bohus, Jews, Israelites, Zionists, 77–94. On Hungarian witnesses, see: Golan, “Az Eichmann-per.”

75 Kastner, Ungarn 1956 vor der UNO.

76 A short mention of the debate can be found in: Pach and Ránki, “A Történettudományi Intézet 25 éve,” 466–67.

77 Berendt, A történelem, 160.

78 Száraz, “The Jewish Question in Hungary,” 27.

79 Buzásy, Az újvidéki “razzia.” Immediately after the war, the event was mentioned in: Lévai, Hősök hőse...!, 12. One of the first historiographical descriptions of the event and the historical context can be found in: Macartney, October Fifteenth, 65–79.

80 By 2014, the book had been edited 33 times in Hungarian since the publication of the first edition: Cseres, Hideg napok. It has been translated into and published in Serbian (1966), German (East Berlin: Volk und Welt, 1967), Polish (1968), French (1971), and English (Corvina, 2003). These are the results from Worldcat.org, and they are not exhaustive. The writer, Béla Horgas, among others, referred to the Eichmann trial in his review of Cseres’ novel: Horgas, “Hideg napok...” With regard to Kovács’ film, see: Labov, “Cold Days.”

81 The film Hideg Napok (1966) also showed the officers and soldiers involved in the massacre as (flawed) human beings, not as primitive Fascist thugs, as films had done during the Stalinist period. Before he made the movie, András Kovács had spent some time in France, studying the Cinéma Verité, which had a significant impact on the Nouvelle Vague. Cf. Haucke, Nouvelle Vague in Osteuropa, 479–82. The numbers of viewers are given in: Kovács, “Egy film drámája,” 183.

82 Ibid.

83 Ibid., 197, 200.

84 Cf. Horgas, “Hideg napok.”

85 Quoted in: Fenyő, “Egy igaz magyar film,” 1836–37; see also: “Interjú Lukács Györggyel”.

86 Heller, Affe auf dem Fahrrad, 285.

87 In 1966, Tibor Cseres’ novel was first translated into Serbian by Sava Babić with the title Hladni dani (Cold Days) (Subotica: Minerva 1966).

Volume 5 Issue 4 CONTENTS


Rokossowski Coming Home: The Making and Breaking of an (Inter-)national Hero in Stalinist Poland (1949–1956)

Jan C. Behrends

Centre for Contemporary History, Potsdam


At the beginning was the Great Terror of 1937/38. It meant both the arrest of a Soviet officer of Polish origin, Konstantin Rokossowski, and the destruction of interwar Polish communism.1 While Rokossowski was freed before the German invasion and survived to serve as a distinguished commander in World War II, Polish communism did not recover from Stalin’s onslaught. It had to be reinvented and rebuilt during the war, and it underwent nationalization, Stalinization, and de-Stalinization in the period between 1941 and 1956. This essay uses the tenure of Rokossowski as Polish Minister of Defense between 1949 and 1956 to shed light on the tension between nationalist rhetoric and Sovietization and the ways in which Polish society and popular opinion reacted to these processes.

Keywords: Stalinization, nationalism, internationalism, ethnicities, Polish–Soviet relations, Stalinist Slavism


The Communist Party of Poland (KPP) was a stronghold of internationalism during the interwar years, and it paid dearly for this position, which fed into its unpopularity at home and contributed to the downfall of the the Party in Moscow.2 The KPP presented the ethnic diversity of interwar Poland; minorities were overrepresented in its ranks. The party’s internationalism meant it promoted the establishment of a Polish Soviet Republic as well as a revision of the Western border in favor of Germany. Clearly, these were untenable positions that were not acceptable in Polish society. Polish–Soviet relations had been hostile from the beginning, and neither side had forgotten the war fought in 1920. Still, the 1930s saw a further deterioration of relations. Being associated with anything Polish, even Polish communism, could well be a death sentence in Stalin’s Russia. In 1938, the Comintern officially dissolved what was left of the Polish Communist Party. To the USSR, Poland had become an enemy nation in a much broader sense. Beginning in 1937, Soviet citizens with Polish ties or of Polish ethnicity were victims of “mass operations.”3 After the annexation of Eastern Poland, the kresy, in 1939, excessive anti-Polish policies continued; thousands of ethnic Poles and other people from the region were deported to Central Asia and Siberia.4 The Polish elites were the main targets of these repressive measures; the massacre of Katyń stands out as the apogee of these violent policies. Surprisingly, in the midst of this terror, Comintern chieftain Georgi Dimitrov reflected on the revival of Polish communism.

In May 1941, Stalin and Dimitrov proposed the reestablishment of a Polish party. After the German invasion, this matter gained additional urgency. In August 1941, Moscow determined the format of the new organization. It would be called a “worker’s party,” and its program would be similar to the programs of European labor parties.5 The new party was to abstain from internationalist rhetoric, hold a distance from the USSR, and avoid Marxist ideology. Still, the events of recent years and the traditional hostility between Poles and Russians would weigh heavy on any relaunch of Polish communism. However, with the support of Dimitrov’s apparatus and of a few committed Polish exiles who had survived the terror, the new party was founded. In accordance with Stalin’s ideas it was named Polska Partia Robotnicza (PPR). One of its Polish founders, veteran communist Alfred Lampe, expressed his doubts about the new mission. He understood that anti-Soviet consensus was the foundation of Polish politics, and he found it hard to imagine a Poland that was not anti-Soviet. The Polish raison d’état would have to change. He warned against violent Sovietization: “The way that Russia went in 1917 is not the way Poland should go in 1943.”6

The founding document of the PPR appealed to the national sentiments of the Polish population.7 It called for the establishment of a “national front” against the German occupation and advocated an alliance with the Soviet Union. Yet the PPR was officially in favor of Polish sovereignty; an expansion of the USSR was no longer advocated. Rather, the promise was made that a new Poland would be established with new borders, a nation-state that would be closely allied with the USSR. Thus, Stalin and Dimitrov created a new type of communist statehood: not a universal communist federation like the USSR that could potentially serve as the nucleus of a global communist order, but rather a communist nation-state, founded on and bound by ethnicity, not ideology.

Nation-State Building and Stalinist Slavism

The communist nation-state under Soviet patronage was founded in Lublin in July 1944. The Lublin manifesto reflected both the nationalism and the limited internationalism of the times: it combined the PPR’s national front rhetoric with the pan-Slavism that had been characteristic of the Soviet war effort.8 The history of the Warsaw Uprising, which began shortly after the proclamation of Lublin in order to prevent Sovietization, deepened the divide in Polish society: clearly the sacrifice of members of the AK (Armia Krajowa – Home Army) and Stalin’s unwillingness to support their struggle marked yet another point of contention.

The establishment of communist rule in Poland was violent and repressive.9 In contrast to neighboring Czechoslovakia and Tito’s Yugoslavia, there were neither pan-Slavic nor Russophile traditions on which the communist party could build.10 While the opposition and the remnants of the Polish Underground State were being suppressed with the help of the Soviet security apparatus, the PPR began to establish its propaganda machine.11 From 1944 to 1947, the party made an effort to convince primarily the Polish elites, the inteligencja, of the importance of an alliance with the USSR. Slavic committees and a society for friendship with the USSR were established in 1944 to spread the Slavic message.12 Stalin’s persona soon became a prominent figure in postwar Poland; the nation’s gratitude to him for the liberation of the country was emphasized.13 All of this took place within the discursive frame of a pan-Slavism that allowed for a limited internationalism from Warsaw to Prague and Belgrade, dominated by Moscow. Initially, the postwar Soviet empire rested on the foundation of shared enmity with Germany, gratitude to the Red Army for the liberation of Central Europe, and the promise of national sovereignty within the Soviet sphere of influence. The tension between nation and empire, between sovereignty and dependence, soon came to haunt Stalin’s postwar order.14 By embracing nationalist rhetoric and bringing local traditions back into the picture, Moscow thought it could combine Lenin-style control with Wilsonian rhetoric of self-determination. In the long run, this proved to be one of the fault-lines of the Yalta order.

In 1945, the party leadership understood the limits of its legitimacy. During a Central Committee plenum in April, the functionaries came to a mixed assessment of their strategy. Jakub Berman, the éminence grise, called the propaganda “weak.”15 In May 1945, Władysław Gomułka, the PPR’s general secretary, complained that the Polish people were not ready for the limited Slavic internationalism represented by the regime: “Many see in Russia just a continuation of the old Russia—and the legacy of the old Russia, war, centuries of repression undermine the psychology of the nation. The restructuring of these attitudes will take a long time.” Gomułka’s main point was the failure of the PPR to convince the populace of its national credentials. The PPR was still seen as a foreign agent, something its leader desperately tried to change: “The masses should see us as a Polish Party, they should attack us as Polish communists, not as an agent [of the USSR].”16 Gomułka almost certainly expressed the mood of broad segments of the population. His view corresponded with a popular joke of the times that offered an alternative reading of the acronym PPR: Płatne Pachołki Rosji – “paid servants of Russia.” The regime found it hard to gain legitimacy; even after the war was over, a sense of uncertainty remained.17 During these years, many continued to believe that the nationalist propaganda was merely a cover for the “internationalist” solution to come: the incorporation of Poland into the USSR as its “17th republic.” Both underground publications and reports in the party-state archive point in this direction.18

Clearly, Moscow’s idea of combining nationalism and communism had its limits. It could not—even if this was Moscow’s intention—break the chains of popular memory. The history of Polish–Russian relations, the history of communism after 1917, and the events of the Katyń massacre constantly undermined the official narrative. In Poznań in 1945, people could choose on the first anniversary of the regime whether they wanted to attend the official celebration or an open air mass with Cardinal Hlond, the Primate of Poland. While 3,000 people attended the official celebration, some 30,000 joined Hlond in prayer.19 Almost a year later, on May 3 1946 in Krakow, the regime’s supremacy in the public space was tested again. The city’s population, including many university students, intended to celebrate the anniversary of the Polish constitution of 1791, a date of long-standing national significance and a public holiday with an anti-Russian flavor. The regime, on the other hand, tried to establish May 1 as a new Soviet-style celebration throughout Poland. This competition led to a confrontation in Krakow after the regime banned the public celebration of constitution day. Police clashed with demonstrators and cleared the public arena by force.20 Traditional Polish nationalism was no longer tolerated, and instead of May 3, May 1 was introduced as an obligatory holiday.21 The regime was willing to fight for cultural supremacy on the streets.

Accelerated Sovietization: 1947

The onset of the Cold War and the firm hold on power of the party ended the more pragmatic approach that the regime had taken since 1944. It gave way to the utopian vision of a fully Sovietized Poland.22 As had been the case in Stalinist Russia, the Polish regime now tried to mobilize the entire body politic. The official culture was supposed to penetrate all layers of society.

An early example of the regime’s new offensive was the first national convention of the Polish–Soviet Friendship Society (TPPR), held on June 1–3, 1946 in Warsaw. Here, the official new blend of nationalism and internationalism was presented to the Polish public. 2,500 delegates from all over the country assembled in the capital to present the official doctrine of “friendship with the Soviet Union.” Henryk Świątkowski, the TPPR chairman, underlined that friendship with the USSR was not limited to Polish communists. Rather, it was the task and the desire of the entire nation. Friendship with Moscow was more than a mere slogan. It had to become a “movement” that united the entire Polish public behind this cause.23 Józef Cyrankiewicz, minister and PPS politician, declared friendship with the USSR to be part of Poland’s raison d’état. Clearly, this new urgency was partially due to the Cold War, which left its mark on internal Polish politics. The party-state needed to show its readiness to act and its firm ties to the Soviet camp.. But there is another way of looking at the changing face of repressive politics in postwar Poland. The mobilization campaigns that started in 1947 can also be interpreted as a sign of strength of the party-state. With the armed insurgency put down, the new borders more or less under control, and the legal opposition beheaded, the Polish regime could use its resources for an extensive propaganda campaign. In May 1947, the Central Committee decided to give the friendship propaganda even higher priority.24 This decision, however, was not implemented until October. As a consequence, every party member was supposed to become an agitator for friendship with the USSR.25 Even remote parts of Poland and hostile segments of the populace were now to be reached. Essentially, national mobilization for the internationalist cause was supposed to be unlimited. The next goal of the propaganda apparatus was the celebration of the October Revolution. The festivities were not merely political education. An internal document states that one of the purposes of the events was to deepen “the feeling of cordial friendship with the USSR and the understanding of Soviet cultural achievements, and [make clear] the lasting and decisive importance of the USSR for a sovereign life.”26 The Stalinist state aimed to establish strong emotional bonds with its eastern neighbor. Czesław Miłosz would write in 1951 that there was a certain point when the propaganda for Russia turned into worship of the Soviet Union.27 1947 was the point when a more pragmatic mode of Sovietization was abandoned for a more radical version with utopian undertones.

The first highlight of the Stalinist radicalization was the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the October Revolution in the autumn of 1947. The campaign strove to mobilize all of Polish society: on the anniversary of the revolution, there were to be lectures in all Polish cities and towns, down to the level of villages.28 The festivities were intended to teach Poles that the October revolution—not independence—had freed them from “hundreds of years of slavery.”29 At the end of 1947, TPPR chairman Henryk Światkowski emphasized his belief that most of the reeducation had already been accomplished.30 He expected that the remnants of distrust that dated back to the era of Czarism would be overcome in 1948. In the period of High Stalinism, the functionaries of the party-state were supposed to express their unlimited trust in their own propaganda. Światkowski serves as a good example; he set the utopian goal of turning the Polish population into a community of supporters of the USSR within before the end of the following year.

In 1948, the new Stalinist course targeted not only the population. PPR secretary Władysław Gomułka, who had spoken in favor of a “Polish road to socialism,” (which at the time was the official line of all parties), was purged in 1948. He was condemned for allegedly having shown “mistrust towards the USSR.”31 From then on, state and party needed to be represented by leaders who stood for the great friendship between the two states. Mieczysław Moczar expressed the new credo for all party members: “The Soviet Union is not only our ally, that is a slogan for the people. For us, comrades, the Soviet Union is our fatherland [nasza Ojczyzna], and I cannot define its borders, today they might be behind Berlin, tomorrow already at Gibraltar.”32 The Soviets, however, remained skeptical of the Polish efforts. The Sovinformburo criticized the Polish party for its tolerance of “nationalism” in the population. They felt that propaganda for the USSR should be intensified.33 In August 1949, the Kominform demanded a concerted effort in Poland against Anglo-American propaganda.34

Rokossowski’s Homecoming: The November Campaign of 1949

According to Boris Sokolov , Joseph Stalin chose to make Soviet Marshal Konstantin Rokossowski Polish Defense Minister in order to have trusted eyes and ears in Warsaw. Stalin invited Rokossowski, who had served as commander of Soviet Army group North in Poland since 1945, to his dacha and made him an offer he could not refuse.35 The decision was delivered to Warsaw on October 27.36 The conflict with Tito had reminded Stalin how fragile his power abroad could be. The appointment could be read as a sign of Stalin’s distrust towards the Polish party and its leadership, of course. But there were certainly more aspects to the decision: Moscow clearly craved control of the Polish Army. It wanted to ensure that the second largest army in the empire would be modernized, loyal, and battle-ready if the Cold War turned hot. The scenario in Asia, with the military victory of the Chinese communists and the Korean War, suggested that military conflict might flare up again in Europe. Rokossowski could exercise control over the Armed Forces and report to Stalin on the party. And through his public position, Rokossowski would serve as a constant reminder of the limited sovereignty of communist nation-states. The army, traditionally viewed as the core of independent Polish statehood, was put firmly under Soviet control. Yet, publicly, a different story was told: the tale of the Marshal’s homecoming.

Even before being appointed Minister of Defense, the Soviet Marshal was a well-known figure in the communist-controlled People’s Republic of Poland. He had liberated the northern part of the country during World War II, and he had remained in Poland to command Red Army troops who remained stationed in Silesia. As Supreme Soviet Commander in Poland, he had been turned into one of the symbols of Polish–Soviet friendship. Loyalty to the USSR manifested itself in carefully stage-managed gestures of the population towards him. During the winter of 1949, several Polish towns made him an honorary citizen.37 Polish delegations visited him to show their gratitude for the liberation.38 During the autumn of 1949, Stalinist Poland once again was dominated by the annual friendship campaign, the “month of Polish–Soviet friendship.” The population was encouraged to familiarize itself with and embrace Soviet culture. Literature, the arts, film, and political education sensu strictu played an important role during these weeks. It was to be a special year because the campaign would last even longer than it had in previous years: after the month of friendship, which officially ended on November 7, the celebrations of Stalin’s 70th birthday would begin.39 Thus, the autumn of 1949 would be one of constant mobilization around the USSR and its leader. Rokossowski’s appointment as Minister of Defense and Marshal of Poland was announced on the final day of the friendship campaign, right before the anniversary of the October Revolution.40 This was no coincidence. The scheduled date in the regime’s calendar signified the importance of the event. Furthermore, the news could be spread in the controlled setting of the October celebrations. The propaganda and the security apparatus would be on the alert, and this would reduce the risk of spontaneous protests or rioting. The official appointment was not made until November, giving the party-state a few weeks to prepare the event. The campaign around Rokossowski focused on reinventing his public persona and his vita and welcoming him home as a Polish Patriot. On the day of his inauguration into office three short biographies were distributed: one was issued by the state publishing house, one by the youth organization and one by the Ministry of Defense. The party’s publishing house Ksiazka i Wiedza even polonized his name on the cover: in accordance with Polish orthography they spelled his name Rokosowski instead of Rokossowski.41

All three officially released biographies constructed a contrast between his vita and the fate of the Polish nation. Rokossowski could be a communist patriot because he had not played any role in the ill-fated interwar Polish republic. Instead, he had chosen the Soviet side in 1917, defended Soviet power during the Civil War in Russia, and risen in the ranks of the Red Army. According to this leitmotif, he had had to abandon his nation because it had chosen the wrong path. A nation that had erred had lost its son, who had only been able to come home because the nation had returned to the right path of history. It was now the lost son’s duty to guide his country further along the right track. According to the official narrative, it was beneficial to have chosen the Soviet side as early as possible; it was also important to emphasize this because so many Poles had suffered under Soviet rule.

According to the official narrative, Rokossowski was born in Warsaw, the son of a railway worker.42 As a youth in Warsaw, he had become part of the Polish workers’ movement. During World War I, he was drafted into the Imperial Army, and he left his homeland during the retreat to the east. In Russia, he sided with the revolution, defending it in the civil war and, through determination and hard work, rising to the position of general. Rokossowski’s exemplary heroism during World War I resulted from his closeness to both Stalin and common soldiers on the frontline. Furthermore, he had decisively intervened in the battles of Moscow, Stalingrad, and Kursk. His participation in the liberation of Poland was emphasized, as was his urge to help the uprising in Warsaw, which was sabotaged by the leadership of the Armia Krajowa. His vita was constructed along similar lines in all three biographies.

The texts were also garnished with anecdotes which were supposed to convey his Polishness. Poles meet him during the war and they are drawn to him because they recognize him as a compatriot, even before he speaks and despite his Soviet uniform. One story has Rokossowski correct a translator, which prompts a Polish lady to shout: “How well he speaks our tongue [jak fajnie po naszemu gada],” while another one claims: “I am sure, yes, he is a Pole, one of our workers from Warsaw.”43 The inhabitants of eastern Poland were said to be proud that a Pole had led the armies that liberated them. On the way to Berlin, the friendship between the Polish people and their lost son strengthened. Because of his heroic deeds, the biographers insisted, Marshall Rokossowski represented the best traditions of Polish freedom fighters. He was portrayed as continuing the national struggle that had started centuries ago. He was the embodiment of the “most sacred traditions of the Polish struggle for freedom,” fought under the battle-cry “for our freedom and yours [za naszą i waszą wolność].” The Polish nation saw in him “the proud traditions of Tadeusz Kościuszkos, Henryk Dąbrowskis [...] Karol Świerczewski-Walter, and many other great Poles [...].”44

The biographies demanded a warm welcome for Rokossowski by the Polish public: “With pride, joy and trust, the Polish nation gives the leadership of the armed forces of our country into the hands of Marshal Konstanty Rokossowski, the great Pole, the glowing patriot and revolutionary, the faithful son of Warsaw’s working class, the servant and citizen of People’s Poland.”45 The Central Committee issued an instruction to agitators that informed them of the official line: The Polish nation and the working class were urged to welcome the appointment as a strengthening of Poland’s security and its borders.46 It was argued that Rokossowski would work to strengthen Polish sovereignty because he would ensure an even tougher defense against “German chauvinists.” It was the task of the agitators in the field to counter the smear campaign against Rokossowski advanced by Voice of America and radio stations in London, Madrid, Hamburg, and Belgrade. Rokossowski was a national leader carrying “the Polish eagle on his hat […] to the great joy of the Polish soldiers, who are proud of such a leader.” Rokossowski would make the “peace camp” even stronger, “from Peking to Berlin.”47 Thus, the national was intertwined with the international dimension of the event: the stronger defense of Communist Poland meant the strengthening of the whole Eurasian Soviet Empire.

In addition to the party and the TPPR, other mass-organizations were involved in the campaign. Związek Młodzieży Polskiej (ZMP), the party-state’s youth organization, told its members to attend local meetings, where Rokossowski’s biography would be studied. The result of these meetings was supposed to be a discussion which would lead to telegrams from all parts of the country in support of the Marshal.48 These instructions show how carefully the party-state intended to build up support for Rokossowski. The stage-management of public approval was part of the larger mobilization campaign to celebrate the October anniversary. It was part of an effort to form opinion, contain resistance and expressions of disapproval, and exhibit public enthusiasm.

Nationalism and Internationalism: Some Excerpts from Official Reports

The population in communist Poland was faced with a fait accompli. Moscow had decided to impose its will, and the Polish party-state used the means at its disposal to ensure popular support for the decision. It is, of course, tempting to try to look behind the façade of the stage-managed public sphere.49 Clearly, the great shows of harmony and enthusiasm which have been so carefully orchestrated and controlled by modern dictatorships convey little about the mood of their populations.50 Similarly, the mass-media offers little useful information in this regard. They were more part of the show than a reliable source.51 The sources that historians are left with are either ego-documents, such as letters and diaries in which individuals recorded their thoughts and the views of other citizens, or the internal reports from various sources of the party-state. Clearly, each of these two kinds of sources is problematic in many ways. Neither can be used as a substitute for modern opinion polling, which was introduced in the twentieth century in liberal democracies.

The internal reports of the communist party-state constitute a specific genre. The people who wrote them (whether party members, functionaries of the security apparatus, or members of the mass-organizations) were not free to express their opinions. On the contrary, conventionally, reports alleged overwhelming support for the policies of the party-state. Like the mass-media, internal reports praised the leadership for its wise decisions. Still, internal reports would usually also refer to problems that had arisen, “misunderstandings,” and rumors or the activities of enemies of the people.52 Usually, they would highlight that the critics held a minority position, and the reports portrayed critics as backwards or alien to society. The language of the reports is as stereotypical as that used in the media. Even internally, discursive rules applied. Despite these limitations, internal reports can be a useful source that furthers an understanding of popular reactions in certain situations. While we should not read them as scientific surveys of the public mood, we can use them to extract certain (more or less random) sound bites from society. This allows us to venture hypotheses concerning which parts of the propaganda narrative were picked up, criticized, or ridiculed, both in private and in such public spaces, such as the streets, the workplace, or public transportation.

The Poles were not the only people monitoring the situation in the autumn of 1949. Soviet agencies observed the mood of the populace carefully. They noted that the appointment of Rokossowski as Minister of Defense revived fears among many Poles that they would be annexed and incorporated into the USSR. These anxieties surfaced in the persistent idea that Poland would become the “17th republic” of the USSR.53 This subject was also raised in a report of the Cominform to the Soviet Central Committee.54 The report included impressions from across Poland: it claimed that in the voivodship of Poznań many people were afraid that the rise of Rokossowski would mark the beginning of renewed mass deportations to Siberia. Obviously, the repressions of 1939/40 were still remembered. Two students in Lublin spread the rumor that Rokossowski had been deployed to quell a “mutiny” [bunt] in the Polish Army. People in the town in eastern Poland were certain that in a short time “all power” in Poland would belong “to the Soviets.” Even party members saw the appointment as the complete and final loss of sovereignty. A communist from Warsaw noted: “The goal behind the appointment of Rokossowski is the Russification and Bolshevization of the Polish Armed Forces.” According to the report, such fears were also widespread in other state institutions. Postal workers were speculating that their offices would soon be placed under Soviet control. Other citizens interpreted Rokossowski’s rise as preparation for war. Many feared that the outbreak of hostilities was imminent. Despite these findings, the author lauded the PZPR for its effective propaganda, and he or she characteristically concluded that the majority of the Polish working class supported Rokossowski’s new role.

The reports in the Polish archives also indicate that Rokossowski’s appointment came as a shock for many. Although these reports also stereotypically attest that Rokossowski enjoyed great support among the population, much of their content hints at people’s anger, fear, and confusion. People instantly started to prepare for war and crisis. Throughout Warsaw and the surrounding districts, women were buying basic commodities and foodstuff from local stores. They wanted to be ready in case of war and annexation by the USSR.55 Other citizens of Warsaw discussed the question of whether the Marshal was a Soviet or a Polish citizen. A resident of Lublin (which before 1918 had been a city in the Russian Empire) interpreted Rokossowski’s nomination historically: “Our little father the Czar gave his Prince Konstantin, and Stalin sent us Konstantin Rokossowski” [Car batiuszka dał nam księcia Konstantego, a Stalin przysłał Konstantego Rokossowskiego]. Officers from the interwar era suspected a purge of the Polish Army. From Szczecin, the party reported that the workers had reacted positively to the news, but whether the Marshal was a Pole or a Russian was a topic of discussion. They also believed that Poland would soon become the “17th republic.” A Pomeranian worker called the appointment of a foreigner as Minister of Defense a “parody.” Another citizen quipped: “There seems to be no post that a Russian cannot hold. I cannot grasp how a foreign citizen can become Marshal of Poland.”56 The narrative about the “son of Warsaw’s working class” did not convince everybody.

On November 10, the party reported from Rzeszów that people there had started to buy basic goods to ensure that they would be ready in case of war. Citizens of Krakow were sure that a Soviet ambassador had taken over power in Warsaw. They compared the situation with Western Europe: “France is ruled by the Americans and we are ruled by the USSR.”57 The Polishness of Rokossowski, which was one of the main claims of the party-state, was questioned. A former party member asked: “What kind of Pole spent his whole life in the USSR?” At Warsaw University and the capital’s Polytechnic School oppositional graffiti could be found: “Down with the usurper, down with Rokossowski!”58 A report from Wrocław stated that, while most comrades were in favor of the decision, doubts remained.59

A party report from the beginning of December attempted to summarize popular sentiment in Silesia. People there believed “a) Poland will become the 17th republic, b) Poland will be sold.”60 According to the report, the agitators were trying to instill calm. People in the Silesian town of Ratibor were worried that they would be forced to move: “The rumor is spreading that the whole area will be occupied by Soviet forces and the population will have to leave their homes.”61 Finally, the party committee from Opole, Silesia remarked that, “in conjunction with the appointment of Marshal Rokossowski, those opposed to our system and to the alliance with the Soviet Union spread the propaganda according to which the USSR has forced a Marshal upon us whose heritage and biography have [deliberately] been obscured.”62

The internal party documents and the Soviet reports from Poland show that the official biographies written before the nomination of Rokossowski anticipated when the decisive point would come: given the effects of many years of nationalist propaganda and the attachment of the population to national sentiments dating back to the times of the partition, the notion of sovereignty in Poland was crucial. The appearance of a Soviet Marshal in the Polish government undermined the government’s claim of independence from the USSR. In November 1949, the regime tried to master the propaganda battle by claiming that the Marshal was both a Pole and a Soviet internationalist; this position, however, did not convince many skeptics. The internationalist friendship propaganda had always preached Poland’s alliance with the USSR as a guarantee of national sovereignty. Segments of the population were inclined to interpret Rokossowski’s rise to power as a return to the communist internationalism of the interwar period. Back then, the Polish Communist Party advocated the country’s inclusion in the Soviet Union. It seemed plausible that the party could return to the policies of the 1920s. Additionally, Poles had centuries of experience with Russian imperialism. To many Poles, Bolshevik internationalism had seemed like little more than another metamorphosis of the Russian empire.

The Polish Troika and the Downfall of the Soviet Marshal in 1956

From the end of 1949 until his downfall during the “Polish October” of 1956, Marshal Rokossowski held a prominent position in the public culture of Stalinist Poland. After Stalin’s 70th birthday in December 1949, the Stalinist leadership cult grew to almost Soviet proportions.63 But in Poland, the cult of the Soviet leader was supplemented with local cults. The propaganda placed the Polish party leader Bierut and Marshal Rokossowski to the right and left of “Poland’s unbending friend.” This troika came to represent Polish statehood during the years of High Stalinism. On many occasions, pictures of the troika would appear on public buildings or at meetings and conferences.64 The chant “Stalin-Bierut-Rokossowski” echoed through many conventions of Stalinist Poland. The regime cultivated the Soviet Marshal as a symbol of its power, and he certainly served as a marker of loyalty to the USSR.

The troika represented the hybridity of the Polish state during Stalinism. It was not a Soviet republic, but it was also not a sovereign nation-state. It existed between nationalist rhetoric and Soviet domination.65 The invented biography of Rokossowski was a Polish version of Stalinist internationalism. It was a narrative designed to ensure Soviet domination. The plausibility of the narrative suffered from the gap between nationalism and internationalism, which could never be bridged. It had to be accepted, because in Stalinist culture such contradictions could not be discussed.

Recent research has shown that the military man Rokossowski was a rather poor politician. He quickly managed to isolate himself within the Polish leadership.66 His strength lay, rather, in the reorganizing and purging the Polish forces.67 Apparently, he was one of the initiators of the campaign against communists with Jewish backgrounds in the Politburo. Yet, this did not prevent him from falling from grace together with them in the autumn of 1956. Post-Stalin national communism had no place for the hybridity that he represented between Soviet and Polish identity. When the Stalinist narratives were questioned following Khrushchev’s “secret speech,” Rokossowski found himself at the center of popular criticism. In the spring of 1956, Poles began to be able to voice their concerns in public.68 The anti-Soviet mood on Polish streets could clearly be heard. The Marshal was seen as a symbol of Soviet domination over Polish matters. The internationalist campaign of 1949 and the years of promoting the Soviet Marshal in Poland backfired. The end of the Stalin cult also threw into question the role of Rokossowski in Poland. The symbolic death of the leader’s persona also left a mark on those associated with him. Political turbulence soon led to political turmoil behind the scenes in the party-state.69 Rokossowski was clearly associated with the Moscovite (“Natolin”) faction in this struggle. Yet, perhaps as important as the internal showdown was the destruction of his image on the Polish streets in 1956.

The party-state tried in vain to limit public discussion to the “secret speech” and certain crimes of Stalin and his entourage. As the year progressed, it became obvious that this attempt to control public discourse was failing. The dynamics of the discussion proved impossible to control, and in the spring and early summer the legitimacy of the entire postwar order in Poland began to crumble. Many former Stalinists in the party and inteligencja changed sides and repositioned themselves as reform socialists or national communists.70 In March 1956, the party organs in the provinces reported “sharp discussions” to Warsaw.71 Neither the massacre at Katyń nor 1939 was considered a taboo anymore. Workers in Stalinogród, the former Katowice, were demanding the removal of Stalin portraits and declared “Stalin is an enemy of the people.”72 The official discourse was turned against those who had long represented absolute power. In April of 1956, internal discussion of the PZPR and in major enterprises centered on subjects such as the Warsaw uprising of 1944 and the possibility of comparing Stalin and Hitler.73 Soviet-style mass-organizations, like the communist youth ZMP and the TPPR, began to disintegrate.74

In June 1956, Poland was rocked by the violent uprising of workers in the western city of Poznań.75 Strikes and economic protests had quickly turned national and distinctly anti-Soviet. The local party headquarters was stormed by protesters, and Soviet insignia were destroyed and replaced by Polish symbols. The iconoclasm lasted through the morning and has been described as a “festival of liberation” by Paweł Machcewicz.76 The prison, the courts, and the local police came under attack, and the party-state began to lose control of the city. Demonstrators began to besiege the local representatives of the secret police as well. Policemen were denounced as “SS” or “Gestapo”; some were convinced they were “Russians in Polish uniforms.”77 From midday onwards, the party-state mobilized the Army in order to crush the insurgency with the use of violence. Clearly, as commander of the Army, Rokossowski bore responsibility for the use of force. The fighting, which lasted until the next morning, claimed more than 90 lives. 10,000 soldiers and several hundred tanks were needed to pacify the city. The escalation of the Poznań uprising shows how deeply unpopular the Soviet symbolism—the imperial discourse of Stalinist internationalism—was in postwar Poland. Poles were willing to risk their lives for the destruction of the symbols of Soviet domination.

The summer of 1956 remained turbulent in Poland. Regime change at the 8th plenum of the Central Committee in October brought Władysław Gomułka to power and marked the beginning of national communism in Poland. His rise was accompanied by mass rallies on the streets of Warsaw and the downfall of Marshall Rokossowski. While the masses chanted traditional patriotic songs and hailed the new general secretary, who profited from his anti-Soviet charisma, they demanded the immediate resignation of the Minister of Defense. The anti-Soviet mood of the public led to a new, unprecedented wave of iconoclasm. Portraits of Rokosswoski were among the symbols of power that were publicly burned. Among the slogans of the demonstrators were “Rokossowski go home,” “Rokossowski to the kolkhoz,” and “Rokossowski to Siberia.”78 All over the country Soviet symbols and TPPR propaganda were destroyed. The official universe of Polish Stalinism, carefully built between 1947 and 1949, was dismantled within a few days. The nationalist mood persisted through the winter and led to occasional attacks on Soviet barracks and other remaining symbols of the despised empire. Still, Gomułka decreed in the winter of 1956 that Polish–Soviet friendship was here to stay, but not in the Stalinist version and without its most prominent personification.79


The second attempt at national communism in Poland left neither room for Jewish communists in the party leadership nor for Polish–Soviet hybridity. The Polishness of the new leadership had to be beyond any doubt. In 1956, Communist nationalism swept away what was left of the notion of Stalinism’s friendship of the people in Poland. Gomułka returned to power riding a wave of national sentiment.

Decades later, during the reign of Leonid Brezhnev, Soviet officers were allowed to publish their memoirs. Given the cult of the “Great Patriotic War,” which was initiated by the party-state, these texts were, of course, strictly censored. Konstantin Rokossowski found a way to avoid mention of the ambivalent Polish episode of his life. In his official autobiography he did not raise the subject of the turmoil of postwar Stalinism; rather, he concentrated on his participation in the defeat of Nazi Germany.80 The Polish marshal with Soviet origins, his meteoric rise in 1949, and his downfall in the turbulent year 1956 were not to be remembered in Brezhnev’s USSR. Stalinism and its aftermath in Central Europe had become an embarrassment which should not contaminate the biography of a Soviet hero of the “Great Fatherland War.”



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1 On the life of Konstantin Rokossowski, see his popular biography: Sokolov, Rokossovskii. On his political standing in Communist Poland, see Noskova, “K. K. Rokossovskii v Pol’she,” 79ff. Since this essay focuses on his time in Poland I use the Polish spelling of his name.

2 Shore, Caviar and Ashes; Simocini, The Communist Party of Poland; Schatz, Generation.

3 Martin, “The Origins of Soviet Ethnic Cleansing,” 813–61.

4 Gross and Grudzińska-Gross, “W czterdziestym nas matko na Sybir zesłali...”

5 Banac, “27 August 1941,” 191–92.

6 “Notatki Alfreda Lampego [August 1943],” in Archivum Ruchu Robotniczego, 33. On the founding of the PPR, see: Gontarczyk, Polska Partia Robotnicza.

7 “Do Robotników,” in Polska Partia Robotnicza, 51–55. For an analysis of Communist nationalism in Poland, see: Zaremba, Komunizm.

8 “Manifest Polskiego Komitetu Wyzwolenia Narodowego,” in Wizja programowa Polski Ludowej. On Stalin’s pan-Slavism, see Behrends, “Stalin’s slavischer Volkskrieg,” 79–108.

9 See e.g. Sowa, Historia polityczna Polski, 17–192; Kersten, Establishment of Communist Rule in Poland; Kaluza, Der polnische Parteistaat.

10 For a comparative perspective, see Behrends, “Stalinist volonté générale,” 37–73.

11 Stalin himself was regularly informed of the state of affairs in Poland. Cf. Cariewskaja, Teczka Specjalna J. W. Stalina.

12 On the Polish–Soviet Friendship Society (TPPR), see: Behrends, “Agitation, Organisation, Mobilisation.” See also Chłopek, “Zdumiewający świat.”

13 See Kupiecki, “Natchnenie milionów.”

14 For an elaboration of this argument, see Behrends, “Nation and Empire,” 443–66.

15 “Protokół posiedzenia KC PPR z dnia 27 kwietnia 1945 r.,” in Protokoły posiedzeń sekretariatu KC PPR 1945–1946, 22.

16 Kochański, Protokół obrad KC PPR, 13–14.

17 See for an analysis of demoralized postwar Polish society, Zaremba, Wielka Trwoga.

18 See e.g. Chudzik, Marczak, and Olkuśnik, Biuletyny Informacyjne; see also the collection: Biblioteka Narodowa, Warsaw. Konspiracyjne druki ulotne.

19 “Pismo generala-majora Michaiła Burcewa,” in Polska-ZSRR, 136–38.

20 Mazowiecki, Pierwsze starcie.

21 On 1 May, see Sowiński, Komunistyczne święto.

22 Behrends, Die erfundene Freundschaft, 131–34.

23 “Kongres Tow. Przyjaźni Polsko-Radzieckiej,” Przyjaźń 1946, no. 5, 1; “Serdecznie witamy Kongres Towarzystwa Przyjaźni Polsko-Radziekiej – wielka manifestacja przyjaźni,” Wolność, June 1st, 1946.

24 Sprawozdanie Wydziału Propagandy i Prasy za m-c maj 1947 r., Archiwum Akt Nowych (AAN), KC PPR, 295/ X-3, 35–42.

25 Uchwała Sekretariatu KC PPR w sprawie propagandy Przyjaźni Polsko-Radzieckiej i działalności Towarzystwa Przyjaźni Polsko-Radzieckiej, [October 1947], Archiwum Państwowe w Krakowie (APK), KW PPR, 113–14. “Towarzystwo Przyjaźni Polsko-Radzieckiej rozgałęzioną organizacją masową,” Wolność, October 23, 1947.

26 Instrukcja Nr. 48 w sprawie akcji przygotowawczej do 30 rocznicy Rewolucji Październikowej, September 15, 1947, APK, KW PPR, Nr. 208, 46.

27 Miłosz, The Captive Mind.

28 Instrukcja Nr. 48 w sprawie akcji przygotowawczej do 30 rocznicy Rewolucji Październikowej, September 15, 1947, APK, KW PPR, Nr. 208, 46–49.

29 Świątkowski, “Cel i zadania miesiąca wymiany kulturalnej,” 3.

30 Podstawy działalności Towarzystwa Przyjaźni Polsko-Radzieckiej. Materiały i wytyczne dla działaczy i kół terenowych, Warsaw, not dated [1947], 3–10.

31 “W sprawie odchylenia prawicowego i nacjanalistycznego w kierownictwe partii,” in Protokoły posiedzeń Biura Politycznego KC PPR, 245–53. On the purge of 1948 see also Spałek, Komuniści przeciw komunistom.

32 “Oświadczenie Mieczysława Moczara skierowane do Biura Politycznego KC PPR,” in Posiedzenie Komitetu Centralnego Polskiej Partii Robotniczej, 398. On Mieczysław Moczar cf.: Lesiakowski, Mieczysław Moczar.

33 “Informacja Władysława Sokołowskiego,” in Polska-ZSRR, 241–50.

34 “Pis’mo sotrudnika kantseliarii sekretariata Informbiuro V. I. Ovcharova,” 161–62.

35 Sokolov, Rokossovskii, 470–71.

36 Noskova, “Rokossovskij v Pol’she.” According to Sokolov and Noskova, Rokoswski remained a political outsider in Poland. His main accomplishments were of military nature.

37 “Marszałek K. Rokossowski honorowym obywatelem m. Szczecina,” Wolność, February 27, 1949; “Marszałek K. Rokossowski honorowym obywateiographielem Gdyni i Gdańska. Uroczysta akademia w czartą rocznicę wyzwolenia Wybrzeża,” Wolność, April 4, 1949.

38 See e.g. “Robotnicy śląscy u Marszałka Rokossowskiego,” Przyjaźń 8 (1947): 24; “Pomorzanie u marszałka K. Rokossowskiego,” Wolność, May 9, 1949; “Z całego serca... Delgacja Gliwic w gościnie u marszałka K. Rokossowskiego,” Wolność, May 22, 1949; “Delegacja mas pracujących Wrocławia u marszałka K. Rokossowskiego,” Wolność, July 30, 1949.

39 The Stalin-cult had been introduced in 1944, but it gained more prominence in 1947, when cultic veneration of the Soviet leader became obligatory at official events. Cf. Behrends, “Exporting the Leader,” 161–78.

40 “Konstanty Rokossowski Marszałkiem Polski, Ministrem Obrony Narodowej R.P.,” Przegląd Wydarzeń 14 (1949).

41 Cf. Żołnierz wolności ludu wolności Polski; Marszałek Rokossowski; Konstanty Rokossowski. See also “Życiorys Marszałka Rokosowskiego,” Przygląd Wydarzeń 14 (1949).

42 The birthplace of Rokossowski is to this day the subject of dispute. In official documents he sometimes gave Warsaw, sometimes the Russian Velikie Luki near Pskov. See Sokolov, Rokossovskii.

43 Marszałek Rokossowski na czele Wojska Polskiego, 29.

44Konstanty Rokossowski – Marszałek Polski,” 29–30; cf. also “Życiorys Marszałka Rokosowskiego,” 23 and “Marszałek Rokossowski na czele Wojska Polskiego – to wzrost naszych sił obronnych – wzmocnienie bezpieczeństwa Polski,” Przegłąd Wydarzeń 15 (1949): 15.

45 “Marszałek Rokossowski na czele Wojska Polskiego,” 19–20. See also the official reporting in Trybuna Ludu, November 13, 1949.

46 “Naród Polski wita Marszałka Rokosowskiego,” Przegląd Wydarzeń 14 (1949).

47 “Marszałek Rokossowski na czele Wojska Polskiego – to wzrost naszych sił obronnych,” 16–17, 22, 24.

48 Do Przewodniczącego Zarządu Wojewódzkiego ZMP, November 8, 1949, AAN, ZMP, 451/ V-93, 72–73. On the ZMP cf. Kochanowicz, ZMP w terenie.

49 See e.g. Corner, Popular Opinion in Totalitarian Regimes; Merl, Politische Kommunikation in der DDR.

50 Still, we should not underestimate their influence at home and abroad and the role they played for the (self)representation of the elites. Cf. e.g. Reichel, Der schöne Schein des Dritten Reiches; Gentile, The Sacralization of Politics; Falasca-Zamponi, Fascist Spectacle; Brooks, Thank You, Comrade Stalin!; Rolf, Soviet Mass Festivals.

51 Behrends, “Repräsentation und Mobilisierung.”

52 For a collection of rumors from Stalinist Poland, see: Jarosz and Pasztor, W krzywym zwierciadle.

53 “Iz dnevnika zaveduiushchego otdelom,” in Sovetskii faktor v Vostochnoi Evrope, 2: 255–56.

54 The following examples are from: “Ze sprawozdania Wasylija Owczarowa,” in Polska w dokumentach z archiwów rosyjskich, 65–66. See also for secret police reports from the Polish IPN-archive Kamiński, Biuletyny dzienne, 432–40.

55 Po mianowaniu Marszałka Rokossowskiego Ministrem Obrony Narodowej, Meldunki z terenu Nr. 226, November 7, 1949, AAN, KC PZPR, Wyd. Org., 237/ VII-119, 135.

56 Ibid., Nr. 227, November 8, 1949, AAN, KC PZPR, Wyd. Org., 237/ VII-119, 138–43, quotations 141, 142.

57 Ibid., Nr. 229, November 10, 1949, AAN, KC PZPR, Wyd. Org., 237/ VII-119, 148–51.

58 Ibid., Nr. 230, November 11, 1949, AAN, KC PZPR, Wyd. Org., 237/ VII-119, Bl. 152–57, quotes Bl. 153.

59 Ibid., Nr. 232, November 14, 1949, AAN, KC PZPR, Wyd. Org., 237/ VII-119, 163–64.

60 Wydział Propagandy, Oświaty i Kultury Katowice. Z sprawozdań KP i KM dotyczące wrogiej działalności, December 2, 1949, AAN, KC PZPR, 237/ VII-343, 23–28, quote 23.

61 Ibid., 26.

62 Ibid., 28.

63 Behrends, “Exporting the Leader,” 176–97.

64 On the Bierut cult, see: Main, “President of Poland or ‘Stalin’s Most Faithful Pupil?’,” 179–93; Zaremba, “Drugi stopień drabiny.”

65 Another Polish–Soviet hybrid constructed by the propaganda state was Feliks Dzierżyński, the founder of the Cheka (Soviet state security organization). On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of his death in 1951, he was portrayed as another icon of the Polish–Soviet friendship with a hybrid identity. Cf. Daniszewski, Feliks Dzierżyński. In the center of Warsaw, Plac Bankowy was renamed Dzierżyński Square, and a monument to “Iron Felix” was erected. See also: AAN, KC PZPR, 237/ VIII- 183.

66 His lack of knowledge of Polish also played a role. See Noskova, “Rokossovskii v Pol’she” and Sokolov, Rokossovskii.

67 See Poksiski, Represje wobec oficerów Wojska Polskiego.

68 See Machcewicz, Rebellious Satellite; Behrends, Die erfundene Freundschaft, 341–48.

69 Machcewicz, “Der Umbruch 1956 in Polen.”

70 Rykowsk and Władyka, Polska próba, 131–64.

71 Meldunki z terenu Nr. 21/ 1574, Zapoznanie aktywu partyjnego z referatom tow. Chruczczowa, 28.3.1956, AAN, KC PZPR, 237/VIII-3858, 182–90.

72 Meldunki z terenu Nr. 23/ 1576, Zapoznanie aktywu partyjnego z referatom tow. Chruczczowa, 30.3.1956, AAN, KC PZPR, 237/VIII-3858, 198–207. For similar rhetoric in Wrocław, see Ciesielski, Wrocław 1956, 71–73.

73 Meldunki z terenu Nr. 23/ 1576, Organizacja partyjna, 4.4.1956, AAN, KC PZPR, 237/VIII-3859, 1–12.

74 Behrends, Die erfundene Freundschaft, 336–37.

75 See Makowski, Poznański czerwiec; Jankowiak and Rogulski, Poznański czerwiec; Białecki, Poznański czerwiec; Jankowiak, Poznański Czerwiec 1956.

76 Machcewicz, Rebellious Satellite, 87–124.

77 Makowski, Poznański czerwiec, 95–123.

78 All examples in Machcewicz, Rebellious Satellite, 158–213.

79 Behrends, Die erfundene Freundschaft, 347–65.

80 Rokossovskii, Soldatskii dolg.