pdfVolume 8 Issue 4 CONTENTS

Dynasty as a Patchwork House, or the (Evil) Stepmother: The Example of Zofia Jagiellonka

Almut Bues
German Historical Institute Warsaw
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The significant age difference between Princess Zofia Jagiellonka and her husband had as one advantage for the princess that she had no competitors within her age group (e.g. a stepmother). Moreover, her stepdaughters were approximately the same age and, after her husband’s death, she found herself in similar circumstances to the as a widow. Zofia Jagiellonka eventually resolved the long-standing relationship between her husband and his mistress, knowing in this regard how to defend her social position. She consciously took up the role of mediator among the relatives, and she had a mitigating effect on the tensions between father and son. Her social consciousness included providing for the welfare of the new family by meeting the expectations placed on her with regards to her stepchildren. Her life was not that of the stereotypical “evil stepmother.” Rather, she was someone from whom her stepchildren and others repeatedly sought counsel. Through her royal birth, she was (with regard to her social status) superior to her Guelph relatives, and she had the king—her brother—as her protector. In terms of her relationship to her stepchildren, it was perhaps a great advantage that she herself bore no children, and thus there was no competitive milieu at the court in Wolfenbüttel.

Keywords: aristocratic stepfamily, stepmother, stepchildren, widowhood, court in Wolfen­büttel

Already in Virgil’s his third eclogue we find mention of iniusta noverca.1 In fairy tales such as Snow White, Cinderella, or Little Sister and Little Brother, the evil stepmother appears in a central role, albeit predominantly since the nineteenth century. Today, words conjoined with “step” carry a pejorative connotation, and not just in German; for example, Polish and Italian both talk of dealing with someone/something in a “stepmotherly” way (traktować kogoś/coś po macoszemu, trattare qualcosa/qualcuno da matrigna). This shows that the middle-class family—comprised of father, mother, and children—was seen as the norm. And whereas an aunt or a sister-in-law could serve as a “second mother” for the care and rearing of children, a stepmother was always perceived as a stranger.2

Blended families, as it turns out, were quite common in the early modern period, a simple result of the fact that people did not live long lives and women were not legally competent to act on their own, that is why the widows soon got married again.3 While an untold number of men fell in battle, for women the rigours of childbirth were critical moments in life, moments which many did not survive. One can observe the famiglia as a dynamic process in which different constellations of individuals, bringing their respective circles with them, came together and then once again dispersed.4 With this, the relative ages of the members fluctuated and generations could overlap, making that the nuclear family was the exception. This was also true in the case of dynasties: the continued existence of the ruling house was dependent on a rightful heir, whose appearance or non-appearance led to either the idealization or diminution of the wife/mother. It was at this point that economic and political factors came into play: marriage was subject to strict regulations and prohibitions, both secular and religious.

The Jagiellonians, originally from Lithuania, began their rule in Poland toward the end of the fourteenth century.5 Władysław II Jagiełło’s first marriage ended suddenly due to the childbirth-related death of his wife Jadwiga, who was heiress to the throne. His second wife Anna left behind a daughter, also named Jadwiga (1408–1431). His third spouse, Elżbieta, whom he married in 1417 and became the stepmother of Jadwiga, brought with her children and stepchildren from her previous marriages;6 she soon became ill and bore no further children. The royal stepfather took care to arrange marriages for the two youngest stepdaughters. Finally, Jagiełło’s fourth marriage—at around seventy years of age—produced three sons. The stepmother, Zofia, was said to have poisoned the sole remaining biological child from the previous marriages of her husband, the daughter Jadwiga.7 So, the dynasty of the Jagiellonians in Poland-Lithuania began with a truly “patchwork family”; as for what its daily life was like, however, we know very little. The next generation of monarchs in Poland would ultimately prove quite healthy and the familial situation was uncluttered: Kazimierz Jagiellończyk had thirteen children with his Habsburg wife, with only two of the girls dying at a young age.8

In this paper I will follow the fate of a Jagiellonian princess of the following generation who married an elderly Duke of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel. I will examine how she matched the challenges in the new family and how she got along with her stepchildren, especially how she reacted to the illegitimate “step-family” and how she acted as mediator in the conflict between her husband and the hereditary prince.

The Royal Family in Poland

In the sixteenth century, things became more complicated. Zygmunt I, as prince, had a steady relationship with a mistress, who bore him three children. Prior to his marrying at the proper social level for a royal, his mistress Katarzyna Telniczanka was married off to the Grand Treasurer of the Crown Andrzej Kościelecki, thereby staying within the royal orbit. Zygmunt’s illegitimate son Jan (1499–1538), vested with a papal dispensation for having been born outside of wedlock and raised to a noble rank, was later made Bishop of Vilnius and Posen and involved himself in political matters. Their first daughter Regina’s birth (1500/01–1526) was never legitimized; on October 20, 1518, she married the royal secretary Hieronim Szafraniec, with whom she had earlier attended the royal wedding in April that year. Finally, their second daughter Katarzyna (1503–1548) grew up at the royal court in Buda; in 1515 she attended the Jagiellonian Double Wedding in Vienna and in 1522 she became Countess Montfort.9 Rumours suggest that the fourth child of the now-officially married Katarzyna Telniczanka was also begotten by King Zygmunt, but in any case the girl, Beata Kościelecka, grew up at the court of Queen Bona Sforza.10 The illegitimate children were not in competition with the legitimate offspring and they were never kept away from court. Suitable partners were sought for the girls, and for the boys a career in the church was possible. One might even suppose that this committed relationship to his mistress protected the king from the fate of his brothers, who died young of venereal disease.

The relationship of a stepmother to the children from the first marriage could be more difficult, since here there might well be competition among them. When Zygmunt I married for the second time in 1518, the daughters from his first marriage, Jadwiga (1513–1573) and Anna (1515–1520), were present at the wedding celebration, as noted by the chroniclers. After the early death of their mother, Barbara Szapolyai, in 1515, Jadwiga—for whom a husband was sought forthwith, but without success until 1535—and her sister were put under the charge of the Head of the Household, Mikołaj Piotrowski, and the female family members of the Great Chancellor of the Crown, Krzysztof Szydłowiecki. They lived in the princess house at the Wawel.11

Bona Sforza did not have much contact with her underage stepdaughters, but she developed an especially close relationship with her first-born daughter Izabela (1519–1559).12 After the heir to the throne, Zygmunt August (1520–1572) was born, he was followed by three sisters: Zofia (1522–1575), Anna (1523–1596), and Katarzyna (1526–1583). Queen Bona ensured that her daughters would have a good humanistic education. The princesses profited from the animated intellectual climate both at the court and in Cracow; they were living in the heyday of the Polish renaissance. In a period of religious tensions, the children were raised with an emphasis on tolerance, and all three inherited from their mother an enthusiasm for the arts. It was not easy for the three youngest daughters (who remained unmarried during their father’s lifetime) to live for so long with such a domineering mother, initially at the Wawel and then in the Ujazdów castle near Warsaw. Princesses at their home court had no tasks other than to perform official duties, making marriage proved to be a good option.

A man twice the age of the thirty-three-year-old Zofia, Duke Heinrich II von Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel, sought her hand;13 after some brief negotiations the marriage by proxy took place in Warsaw at the end of January 1556, marking the last family gathering of the Jagiellonians. Duke Heinrich had been widowed fifteen years earlier and had not contemplated marrying again. In total, twenty-one children—of whom eleven were legitimate—had seemed to secure the continuation of the dynasty. However, the duke had lived for decades with his concubine Eva von Trott zu Solz (1506–1567), even during his first marriage.14 In 1532, after his paramour’s third pregnancy, the affair could no longer be kept secret. The duke sought to resolve the problem with a ruse: the sham burial of his lover as a plague victim.15 Even after that, an additional seven children were born in secret at the Stauffenburg and Liebenburg.

But the hereditary configuration changed dramatically in 1553 for the Wolfenbüttel branch of the Guelph dynasty: by then, four of the boys from the legitimate relationship had died at a young age, and in the battle of Sievershausen both the hereditary prince and his brother died. The continuation of the dynasty now hung solely on a single prince, Julius, who was eligible to inherit the crown, but with whom Heinrich absolutely did not get along. Heinrich’s sole purpose for entering into the marriage with the Jagiellonian princess in 1556 was perfectly clear: the birth of a son.

The New Relatives

After marriage, an educated and cosmopolitan princess could, at least superficially, find her way relatively quickly within the early modern class structure of her new court. Of course, there were often local idiosyncrasies to accommodate and language barriers or religious differences to overcome. How quickly she achieved a position of respect within the new court structure depended on her flexibility and perseverance. Support from her husband, her mother-in-law or other female relatives by marriage could help. What also proved useful was strong backing from her family of origin. Corresponding with cognate relatives, advisors, scholars, and artists allowed the princess to take part in public affairs, and being well-informed helped her to make the right decisions. This network of correspondents could turn out to be a sort of “life insurance.”

On February 22, 1556, after travelling for three weeks, Zofia Jagiellonka reached Wolfenbüttel, one of the many small towns in the Holy Roman Empire that hosted a ducal residence. Imposingly decorated as it was, her entrance into the town made quite an impression. Her spouse embraced the old knighthood and the Catholic faith and was one of the last princes of this kind in the north of the empire. Princess Zofia was superior to him not only in social rank, but also intellectually. However, in Wolfenbüttel she was not surrounded by a flowering renaissance; the duchy had recently been ravaged by war and was devastated.16 Zofia was also in a difficult situation at court: her stepchildren were older than her, or only slightly younger; she had to tolerate the duke’s well-known affair with a lady-in-waiting at the court, and consequently, his frequent absences; she sought as well to mediate the persistent and fierce confrontations between the duke and his only son. In addition, the hoped-for offspring (the sole reason for the marriage) never came to be.

The Wolfenbüttel branch of the Guelph dynasty was in fact quarrelling with other branches of the house, as well as with surrounding cities. Yet, her husband’s age did bring advantages: the woman who would have been her mother-in-law had been dead for thirty years, and all of his siblings in the clerical state would live only a few more years.17 The brother-in-law, Christoph (1487–1558), archbishop of Bremen and bishop of Verden, not only had to do battle with the Lutherans, but also with his brother, who claimed the dioceses for his son.18 The next brother-in-law, Georg (1494–1566), after his nephew resigned as hereditary prince, became bishop of Minden in 1554, then in 1558 his brother’s successor in Bremen and Verden, and led a cultured life while holding several sinecures. Her brother-in-law Wilhelm (1514–1557), who had been held prisoner by Duke Heinrich for years, was able (thanks to Mecklenburg’s protection) to live out his life as a commander in Mirow.19 Sister-in-law Elisabeth was the abbess of Steterburg from approximately 1515 until 1560/63.20 Duke Heinrich was involved in a lengthy dispute with his nephew, Franz I of Sachsen-Lauenburg, over the dowry of his sister Katharina, the widowed duchess of Sachsen-Lauenburg.21

The Illegitimate “Step-family”

All the problems in the highly complex social structure of the court quite quickly became apparent to Zofia Jagiellonka: namely, her husband’s mistress and the contact with the stepchildren. At that time the unmarried Hereditary Prince Julius and the youngest stepdaughter Clara lived in Wolfenbüttel, and the illegitimate Eitel Heinrich served at court. Naturally, Heinrich of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel did not immediately end the relationship with his long-time lover.22 In April 1556, Hereditary Prince Julius complained to his maternal relatives about rides “to the whorehouse” to Eva von Trott at Löwenburg.23 During hunting trips, the duke would stay for a while with her; in the beginning, his new wife could not take any pleasure in such hunting outings. Evidently something changed later, for in 1563 we hear that Heinrich went on a hunt with his wife.24 Whether the two women ever had direct contact with one another is not clear. The ducal court provided for the maintenance of a lavish court for the concubine and her daughters; the Wolfenbüttel court accounts show that they were afforded valuable fabrics and furs, silver objects and pearls, as well as history books.25

Of the ennobled children (von Kirchberg), five of them would survive Eva von Trott and Zofia Jagiellonka.26 The girls were well looked after by their father and given in marriage to distinguished officials at court. The widowed daughter, Bransifora, entered a second marriage on March 9, 1556, two weeks after the wedding of her father.27 Sidonia von Kirchberg was married in 1560 to a councillor and captain from Schöningen, Christof von Weferling, and upon his death she received as dowager the Watzum estate.28 The educated Eva von Kirchberg remained unmarried; in the 1590s she is mentioned as a companion to the widowed Duchess Hedwig (1540–1602), daughter-in-law of Duke Heinrich.29 The Kirchberg inheritance fell in 1606 to Eva’s five nieces.30

The two oldest sons, to the delight of their father, showed some military talent. Heinrich Theuerdanck (1524–1592) had been raised together with his half-brother who was of the same age. After Duke Heinrich’s return to his duchy—he had been held prisoner in Hesse from 1542 until 1547—he put his house in order and on February 27, 1547, he enfeoffed the oldest son and his brothers with the fiefdom of Kirchberg, which they held for the rest of their lives and whose name they bore.31 In 1549 and again in 1570 (after the death of their father) the sons received writs of protection issued by the emperor.32 Even in the Guelph family, Heinrich made sure that his oldest sons would guarantee the perquisites for the illegitimate siblings.33 Eight days after the battle of Sievershausen in 1553 and the deaths of the two sons, Hereditary Prince Julius had to commit himself to the following: upon his father’s death, he would neither reduce nor suspend for Heinrich Theuerdank von Kirchberg, his mother, and his siblings the bequests assigned to them from the income and holdings of the Stauffenburg. These consisted of 12,000 gold gulden for him and his brothers and 4,000 Joachimsthalers for the sisters Sidonia and Eva. Furthermore, he had to leave unchanged, as well as protect, the rights of all those named.34

Eitel Heinrich von Kirchberg (1537/40–1597), who lived in a house in Wolfenbüttel, served as master of the stables and councillor at the ducal court;35 his twelve horses were kept at the court and his servants were fed from the court kitchen. He fought as a colonel in the 1570s in the Netherlands, shortly after which he was given diplomatic missions. In 1585 he supported Hereditary Prince Heinrich Julius (who lodged with him) in welcoming his bride.36 Duke Heinrich had intended to legitimize his quite capable illegitimate son to be his successor, but the young man had declined the honour. Nevertheless the duke insisted that his legitimate son should have good relations with his half-brother.37

As the youngest, Heinrich Karl von Kirchberg (ca. 1548–1591) was destined for the clerical state; in 1558 the priories of St. Crucis and St. Mauritius in Hildesheim were vested to him. He lived a princely life, to such an extent that complaints were frequently lodged that he did not carry out his duties as provost of the collegiate church,38 and these complaints even made their way to the Imperial Chamber Court (Reichskammergericht).39 Duke Julius protected his younger half-brother more than once and also paid his debts.40 He died following a fall in the residence of his paternal nephew, Julius Heinrich, in Gröningen.

How eminently the von Kirchberg brothers were viewed in the duchy is shown by their positions in the funeral procession for Duke Julius in 1589. Eitel Heinrich led the seventh and final horse, right before the funeral horse that preceded the funeral carriage. “The whole Braunschweig coat of arms, carved and adorned with colours and gold,” was carried by Heinrich Karl following the carriage, and Heinrich Theuerdank carried a helmet “covered with black velvet and a band.”41 One can assume that the brothers had also been included in the funeral procession of their father; Duchess Zofia must have met them even if there is nothing to be found in the archival sources. The younger generation met among themselves, and while not as equals, their relations were nevertheless gracious. There was remarkably little potential for conflict in these relationships.42

The Year of Transition: 1558

Zofia Jagiellonka was clever enough to accept her fate without complaint. As quickly as possible, she took advantage of the limited possibilities to cautiously effect what changes she could. Initially twenty-seven Polish men and women were in her household; three of her ladies-in-waiting married Wolfenbüttel court officials, remaining in Zofia’s service until her death.43 However, most of those who came with her left to return to their homeland within six to twenty-four months, so from an early stage her court household would have included German staff as part of it. In short order, the duchess learned German so as to communicate with her husband and staff. 44 She did not have her own office; in addition to her husband’s correspondence, she fostered contact with the family members in an effort to preserve the dynasty.

Zofia Jagiellonka learned in the first two years how to make her way within the realm of Wolfenbüttel court relationships. The year 1558 brought many innovations, and she had a considerable part in this: one can even talk about this year being a caesura at the Wolfenbüttel court. Two years after the wedding, the dowry had been paid in full by Poland-Lithuania. From a family law perspective, the marriage was now a completed transaction, and Zofia was no longer a member of the Jagiellonian family: at her wedding she had renounced her rights to any inheritance.45 At that point, the duchess had finally “arrived” in her new home. Fourteen days later, Zofia composed her will, in which she designated her husband as sole inheritor.46 She made bequests to her unmarried sisters and stepdaughters, as well as to the women in her entourage. Also in 1558, Duke Heinrich surveyed Zofia’s widow’s seat, as that year’s inventory of the manor house in Schöningen shows.47 There was always a need for money in Wolfenbüttel, so in 1558 a battle began that lasted for many years regarding Zofia’s maternal inheritance in Naples. Bona Sforza had bequeathed 50,000 ducats to each of her daughters.48

There must have been some earnest discussions between Zofia and her husband. Settling the estates of his brothers Wilhelm and Christoph, as well as a protracted severe cold, reminded the sixty-nine-year-old duke of the fragility of life.49 In this same year, Duke Heinrich dealt with his relationship to Eva von Trott; he had a house built for her in Hildesheim, where she would live until her death in 1567. How Zofia Jagiellonka achieved this, and whether the royal relatives exerted any pressure, remains unclear.50 We only know that Duke Heinrich spent almost all of August 1558 at Liebenburg. A letter he wrote from there to Duchess Zofia stated that the construction had been completely finished, the Bishop of Minden had not yet visited, but he wanted to take care of what she had requested.51 This can only relate to the planned transfer of his mistress to Hildesheim, because in the spring Heinrich had asked his brother—the provost from St. Crucis in Hildesheim—to ensure that Eva von Trott would be allowed to live in the associated court for the rest of her life,52 while the priory was promised to her son, Karl Heinrich.

A peculiarity in the marital contract of Duchess Zofia from November 30, 1555, lays out the ius succedendi for the expected sons of this union; after the wedding ceremony, on February 25, 1556, Duke Heinrich issued a cautio de successione in Wolfenbüttel.53 However, things did not work out as he intended. After a couple of years, the ducal pair gave up hope of producing any children. The question of succession consequently remained acute: without a solution, the duchy would revert to the widely-branched Guelph dynasty. Therefore, the relationship to the legitimate hereditary prince, Julius, from Duke Heinrich’s first marriage (and with whom he was estranged) somehow had to be resolved.54

The Conflict between Husband and Son

Since Zofia quickly gained a position of respect, one can infer that it was not only family members who repeatedly pleaded with her to intercede with Duke Heinrich. The duke’s fourth son from his first marriage, Julius (1528–1589), was not suitable for military service because of an injured foot, and so was put on the path of an ecclesiastical career. He pursued his studies, and as a young man spent two years in France.55 His father was not at all pleased when, after the death of his two older brothers in 1553, Julius became hereditary prince: this provided the motivating factor for Heinrich to wed the Jagiellonian princess. The tensions between father and son led to repeated conflicts. Immediately after his father’s marriage in June 1556, Julius contacted King Zygmunt August, his “step-uncle.”56 In 1557, the hereditary prince was arrested, at which point his maternal relatives in Württemberg and his brother-in-law Margrave Johann von Brandenburg-Küstrin attempted to mediate in the row. The situation at the Wolfenbüttel court was also discussed at the Frankfurt meeting of the Prince-Electors in March 1558. The newly elected emperor, Ferdinand, in fact asked the father to permit Prince Julius to join the imperial court for a time.57 In the spring of 1558, a new fierce quarrel resulted in Julius fleeing to the court of his married sister in Küstrin.58

Hereditary Prince Julius now turned in confidence to Zofia Jagiellonka who understood the character of her husband and who believed in the innocence of her stepson. “God willing that matters may proceed as we hope, so that such conflict and such discord not last long,” she wrote; she promised “to do what we can to turn matters to the best outcome, and we are always benevolently disposed toward you.”59 That autumn she sought to encourage him: she and Julius’ sisters had expressed support for him to Duke Heinrich and they were confident that reconciliation would be possible. In December 1558 she promised “to help so that all conflict and all discord may reach a peaceful conclusion and unity”; he just needed to be patient, since given her husband’s poor health, she could not upset him.60

Zofia proceeded quite diplomatically. She discretely explored different possibilities and skilfully used her dynastic connections not only in Saxony, Brandenburg, Pomerania, and in the region of Bohemia, but also those of her husband in Württemberg and Hesse. With relatives in neighbouring Brandenburg, where her half-sister Jadwiga had been electress since 1535, she arranged for a marriage between her stepson Julius and her niece Hedwig, and in the autumn of 1559 they worked on the marriage contract. At the end of that year, Duke Christoph von Württemberg approved an advance of 4,000 thalers for the upcoming wedding.61 The knights in the duchy of Wolfenbüttel mentioned in correspondence that twelve or thirteen princes had died in recent years and no others had been born for almost thirty years, so they gladly approved of the planned marriage.62 In the end, Duke Heinrich also gave his approval, and in the course of this a successful reconciliation between both the Guelphs was worked out.

Hereditary Prince Julius confirms Duchess Zofia’s active role:


And so our kindly beloved mother responded to his proposal not just with encouragement and assistance, but also sought ways and means for how it might be had from our kindly beloved father, so that we may hope, with the help of the Almighty, His Highness will allow himself to be moved, and kindly and paternally approve of such a marriage.63

On February 25, 1560, the wedding took place in Cöln on the Spree, however Zofia Jagiellonka could not participate in it since her husband did not attend.64 Margrave Johann von Brandenburg-Küstrin reminded Duchess Zofia that the marriage did not yet resolve the question of succession. He stressed the importance “that His Highness not forget to insert his son, Duke Julius, in his testament as the legitimate heir, for without that, one might fear that otherwise such a testament might justifiably be overturned.”65 She must have been successful in this. In the summer, the young couple returned home to Wolfenbüttel with the dowry and presents, at which time Hereditary Prince Julius showed his Württemberg relatives the splendid wedding gifts from his stepmother.66

The close proximity and tight living space in the small residence town did not lend themselves to harmonious family life; in the spring of 1561 there was persistent argument between father and son, both of whom had wildly different temperaments. The situation worsened during the course of the year. Duchess Zofia had plenty to do, seeking to have a balancing influence on both sides. Her astuteness was confirmed by her spouse: “because we however judge that to us Your Highness is much too erudite, we do not want to engage in any further disputation with her.67 The solution to the father-son conflict came in the autumn of 1562 with the young couple setting up their own court in Hessen–in the meantime a daughter (and Zofia’s godchild), Sophie Hedwig, had been born.68 The birth of an heir to the throne, Julius Heinrich, in 1564 was what ultimately led to a true reconciliation between the now proud grandfather and his own son. Duchess Zofia’s exemplary behaviour during these years was also highlighted as one of her virtues in the sermon at her funeral in 1575: “And since indignation and strife occurred between His Grace, the Prince, and His father of praiseworthy memory, Her Princely Grace of holy memory was the unifying peacemaker, helping to avert much damage that could have been consequent to such discord.”69

Duke Julius and his wife called Duchess Zofia simply “mother”; she had assured him that “we do not want to be a stepmother to both.”70 She had been able to nurture a good relationship with her stepson: first of all, because she had no children of her own; secondly, because the wife she thought of for her stepson, her daughter-in-law was a close relative; and thirdly, because the personality types of her stepson and herself were similar. Julius appreciated her cosmopolitan attitude and tolerance, her subtlety and good taste, her numerous artistic interests and her good management of the household. He adopted her as his model in many things, but being only six years older than him Duchess Zofia never played a mother role for him.71 The renovations and enlargement of the palace at Wolfenbüttel came, for the most part, from Zofia Jagiellonka’s ideas: the remodelling of the interior, and the laying out of the pleasure garden, along with spice and herb gardens, where in 1563 one found, for example, cypresses and rosemary bushes.72 The duchess also refined daily life; the inventories at the time of Duke Heinrich’s death distinguish between the old and new silver cutlery.73 Zofia, accustomed to the artistic sense of her homeland, had a central role in all the projects, through which she sought to create a well-functioning court that was in keeping with their social position. It was now once again worthwhile to stop for a visit in Wolfenbüttel.

Contact with the Stepdaughters

Upon her marriage, Duchess Zofia immediately came into contact with ladies of the Guelph dynasty; two unmarried stepdaughters still lived in Wolfenbüttel, even though efforts had been made (unsuccessfully) between 1549 and 1555 to find partners for them.74 The extent to which Zofia involved herself in seeking marriages for these stepdaughters is not known. In her testament written in 1558, she remembered both Guelph stepdaughters (at the time still unmarried) with a valuable piece of jewellery ad beneplacitum ipsius coniugis nostri.75 The youngest, Clara (1532–1595), who had initially been intended as abbess of Gandersheim, married her cousin Philipp II von Braunschweig-Grubenhagen (1533–1596) in Wolfenbüttel in the summer of 1560,76 subsequently living with him at the Katlenburg, which was expanded into a renaissance palace. A year later, the oldest stepdaughter, Margarete (1516–1580), was married to Duke Johann von Münsterberg-Oels, a marriage that was troubled from the very beginning.77 In addition, there was as well Katharina (1518–1574), who since 1537 had been married to Margrave Johann von Brandenburg-Küstrin, and through that marriage was a brother-in-law’s wife of Zofia’s half-sister Jadwiga in Cöln on the Spree. Zofia corresponded now and then with her and her spouse, who was meant to support her in the event of the death of Duke Heinrich.

By 1561 (that is five years after her own marriage), all the children now had a spouse. But that was not the end of the stepchildren’s role in her life. There were discussions of economic matters, they exchanged pleasantries and family news, or they stopped by to visit. As long as Duke Heinrich was alive, his daughter Margarete was surely the source of the greatest concern. While Margarete initially only corresponded with her father, in the autumn of 1562 she began to exchange letters with her stepmother Zofia as well; there were not just money worries, but also significant marital problems.78 All the relatives and Duchess Zofia were called upon to try and influence Duke Heinrich: “I beseech Your Grace by the will of God, that Your Grace would seek the best for me and to intercede for me kindly to my Lord and Father to consider how one might help poor me.”79 While in 1563 it ostensibly came to an official settlement, even the death of Duke Johann at the beginning of 1565 did not resolve all the problems. Duchess Margarete (and her relatives) struggled with her stepson, Karl Christoph, over her jointure. After the latter’s death in 1569, she left the duchy of Münsterberg and lived until her death at Stauffenburg, which her brother had granted her.80

In the new family Duchess Zofia took the place expected of a motherly figure. She always had an open ear for the personal needs and problems of her stepchildren; she advised them in all circumstances and intervened with her husband for them. In summary, she led the household skilfully and effectively.

The Period of Widowhood

Seldom did this turning point in the life of a princess proceed without problems. The widow had to fight for the promised jointure, which had often been granted to her years earlier. Her finances then determined her other possibilities, presuming she ran the household well. Now she had only herself to rely on as she held her ground in both a totally new living environment in what were mostly rural areas, and where she now had to be the ruler in a new smaller-scale setting. Key to adapting well were good social contacts with both the female members of the family that she had married into, and the nobility living in the area, which were fostered through mutual visits to one another. What likewise showed itself to be advantageous was when the princess had earlier developed an extensive circle of people with whom she corresponded, and who now supported her with both counsel and active help.81

On June 11, 1568, after the death of Duke Heinrich II, Zofia Jagiellonka entered this new phase of her life at the age of forty-six. By the end of July she was already corresponding from Schöningen with her stepson, Duke Julius, about her jointure.82 As for her inner emotional state, we know very little. Those who corresponded with her wished her luck and offered support.83 The widowed duchess tussled with her stepson for more than three years over her jointure: the correspondence from this period is marked by mutual mistrust. The conflict also involved her brother, the Polish king, and Emperor Maximilian II. In the end, her settlement and various inheritances left her financially so well off that she could maintain a larger court than she had been able to afford earlier in Wolfenbüttel.84 After the issue of her jointure was clarified, Zofia’s relationship with her stepson improved, as they found that they shared common interests. Duke Julius, an admirer of art, oriented himself according to her good tastes, and in many ways took her as his role model.

As duchess, Zofia retained her elegant and confident tastes from her home life in Cracow. She was taken to be (in a modern sense) a style icon among the Guelph family.85 It was not just in questions of etiquette that Zofia’s advice was so appreciated.86 Her fashionable headdresses amazed; her niece Elisabeth Magdalena inquired about the beautiful style of her bonnet,87 and Julius asked his stepmother for drawings of it since he wanted to have one made for his wife on the occasion of his accession at Braunschweig.88 He also requested to have copies made of the tapestry series “The Nine Heroes.” After the resolution of the jointure in 1573, Zofia generously bequeathed this series to her stepson, which from then on would decorate the Knights’ Hall in the Wolfenbüttel palace.89

Whenever Duke Julius wanted to impress his guests at official receptions, he borrowed Duchess Zofia’s silver tableware that she had brought with her from Poland.90 Duke Julius also had sketches made of the two large silver candlesticks (from her dowry) that were in her court chapel, as he wanted similar pieces for the Wolfenbüttel palace chapel.91 In the sixteenth-century Lutheran church, altar candles were not essential liturgical elements, yet this zealous proponent of the reformation gladly adopted the decorations of his Catholic relatives for religious services.

Immediately after the death of Duke Heinrich in the summer of 1568, Duke Julius introduced Lutheranism into the duchy.92 In these early years of her widowhood, Duchess Zofia had contact with Jakob Andreae and other theologians.93 Zofia, who was responsible for church governance in her jurisdictions of Schöningen and Jerxheim, soon converted to Lutheranism; however, for political reasons this was not made public.94 On the ideas of the reformation, she was in accord with her stepson, and she likewise supported his plans to found a university in Helmstedt. The two had shared interests that reached beyond merely economic matters. Both had come to appreciate one another, and Zofia was a most welcome guest in Wolfenbüttel, especially for a merry St. Martin’s Eve, Shrove Tuesday events, or the baptism of a child. Social contact with the ruling family, however, primarily ran through Duchess Hedwig.

Her daughter-in-law and niece, Hedwig, advised Zofia after the death of her husband “that grieving would not assuage the loss, but instead only weigh down the heart,” and she sought to console her mother-in-law by sending her artichokes, wild cherries, fresh salmon, and other delicacies.95 For spiritual reflection, she sent her a newly published Corpus Doctrinae and later a Church Ordinance (Kirchenordnung).96 Duchess Zofia kept in close contact with her daughter-in-law/niece and grandchildren, writing and visiting them, as well as sending presents. Zofia was godmother to the firstborn daughter, Sophie Hedwig (1561–1631), and donated a valuable family Bible from Poland to her grandson and heir to the throne, Heinrich Julius (1564 –1613). Hedwig’s sister Elisabeth Magdalena (1537–1595), dowager duchess from Braunschweig-Celle, regularly came to Schöningen.97 Despite being a widow, it was not insignificant that Zofia was totally financially independent, something of which all the relatives were aware: as one remarked, “I was recently informed that Your Highness has brought together a handsome sum of money.98

Widowhood also strengthened her connection with her stepdaughters. The Dowager Duchess Margarete, six years older than her step-mother, immediately after the death of her father, established contact with the Dowager Duchess Zofia.99 A similar common destiny–widowhood–intensified the relationship. In 1569 Margarete returned to the duchy and lived at Stauffenburg, so it was easy for her to see and visit Zofia, exchange news with her and seek her advice.100 As 1569 turned to 1570, Zofia, together with her stepdaughters Margarete and Clara, went on a journey to Berlin.101 Her stepdaughter Katharina had not only invited them to a bear hunt, but also to attend the wedding festivities of her step-granddaughter Katharina with step-grandson Joachim Friedrich (of the Electress Jadwiga von Brandenburg), a major family event.102 As part of Zofia’s ensuing journey to Bad Ems the following spring, a visit with Margarete at Stauffenburg lay on the way, and when returning, the dowager duchess took the opportunity to pass through Katlenburg to visit Duchess Clara.103 The journey to the court in Kassel in 1574 led Duchess Zofia once again via Stauffenburg, at which point she simply took her depressed stepdaughter with her to Kassel and then back to Wolfenbüttel and Schöningen as well.104 This shows the good relationship between Zofia Jagiellonka and her stepdaughter, who was five years older than her.

The relationship with her stepdaughter Clara (who was ten years younger than her) and her husband was not quite as close. Zofia did correspond with the ducal couple of Braunschweig-Grubenhagen, exchanging inquiries about their health, recommendations for physicians, complaints about staff, and also sending small gifts.105 When returning from another treatment to Bad Ems in 1571, the Dowager Duchess Zofia again stopped by to visit her stepdaughter.106

Two family members who had a special relationship with Zofia Jagiellonka were her stepdaughter Katharina and husband Margrave Johann von Brandenburg-Küstrin (the latter’s sister-in-law being Electress Jadwiga von Brandenburg, who was Zofia’s half-sister, producing a double family connection). Duchess Zofia was the contact point for letters from their residence,107 and she also sent her staff to Poland by way of Küstrin.108 Together they had both been engaged in the family’s father-son conflict and were involved in the wedding of Julius and Hedwig. The relatives would have been pleased to see the Wolfenbüttel ducal couple at that wedding, but it was not to be.109 Once widowed, Zofia was able to attend Katharina’s wedding in Küstrin a year later, and then on the same trip visit her half-sister in the Margraviate,110 returning to Brandenburg in the spring of 1571.111 After the death of the margrave at the beginning of 1571, contact between the two women became even closer; Dowager Duchess Zofia lent money to Katharina.112 They sent each other prescriptions for medicines and ordered foodstuffs, especially fish.113 In November 1572, Katharina visited Zofia in Schöningen, at which time they planned a springtime journey together to Karlsbad / Karlovy Vary.114 Katharina died in 1574, prior to Duchess Zofia.

Her good relationships with the family of her husband also included his extended family. Dowager Duchess Zofia corresponded with her husband’s niece, Dowager Duchess Clara von Sachsen-Lauenburg (1518–1576); they exchanged letters about family matters (widowhood and remarriage of her daughter, also named Clara), invitations, gifts as well as some discussions of business matters and an exchange of doctors.115

Similarly, Zofia Jagiellonka supported Duchess Sidonia (1518–1575), a sister of August, Elector of Saxony, in her difficult living situation. The marriage between Sidonia and Duke Erich II von Braunschweig-Calenberg (ten years her junior) had been tumultuous for a long time: childlessness, separation and mistresses, debts, house arrest, confessional differences, and accusations of poisoning all demonstrate how dysfunctional this marriage was. During the witch trials, Sidonia repeatedly visited Duchess Zofia and asked for her advice.116 In a coordinated effort, Zofia, stepdaughter Margarete, and daughter-in-law Hedwig wrote a letter petitioning Duke Erich II to release Sidonia’s lady-in-waiting Katharina Dux, (née von Dassel), wife of the head bailiff in Wolfenbüttel, against whom a trial was underway in which she was charged with participating in a conspiracy to poison Duke Erich.117 Ultimately Sidonia fled by way of Schöningen, where she stayed from July 20 to August 7, 1572, after which she reached her home territory, Saxony, where she died at the beginning of 1575. Upon news of her death, Duke Julius and Duke Wilhelm von Braunschweig-Lüneburg immediately consulted with Zofia Jagiellonka on how best to proceed.118 Her foresight and her levelheaded judgments were both welcomed and sought-after. Here too, then, one sees Zofia Jagiellonka’s remarkable position within the web of relatives in the Guelph dynasty.


In summary, one can conclude that Zofia Jagiellonka got her bearings with remarkable skill and ingenuity at her new court, reacting with prudence and intelligence. The significant age difference between herself and her husband brought an advantage with it, namely, that she had no competitors within her age group. Moreover, her stepdaughters were approximately the same age and, after her husband’s death, in similar circumstances to her as widows, and they gladly socialized with her. Zofia eventually resolved the long-standing relationship between her husband and his mistress, knowing in this regard how to defend her social position and not to be content with merely providing him an “alibi.” She consciously took up the role of mediator among the relatives, and had a mitigating effect on the tensions between father and son. She was always active in traditional princess’ pursuits: namely, finding appropriate marriage partners for the next generation. Her social consciousness included providing for the welfare of the new family in fulfilling the motherly responsibilities for her stepchildren. She tried to strengthen the connectedness of the family members corresponding with all of them and giving her appreciated advice. One does not see in her a “stepmother’s life”; rather Zofia’s counsel was repeatedly sought. It was to this Jagiellonian’s benefit that she had grown up in a tolerant, humanistically-oriented and multiethnic kingdom. Through her royal birth she was (with regard to her social status) superior to her Guelph relatives and she had the king—her brother—in reserve, as her protector. In terms of her relationship to the stepchildren it has been a great advantage that she herself bore no children, ensuring there would be no competitive milieu at the court in Wolfenbüttel. Zofia Jagiellonka, highly educated, and good at languages, had many different interests, letting many people gladly engage her in correspondence and discussions. From her mother Bona Sforza she had inherited the talent to run a good household, and through several inheritances she was financially independent even as a widow which strengthened her position and acceptance within the family.

Archival Sources

Archiwum Główne Akt Dawnych, Warsaw (AGAD): perg. 5480; perg. 5482; perg. 5487

Österreichisches Staatsarchiv, Abteilung Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv, Vienna (HHStA):

RHR Judicialia APA 6–34; RHR Schutzbriefe 8–2–31; StAbt Polen I 8 1556

Landesarchiv Baden-Württemberg, Stuttgart (HStAS): A 71 Bü 404; A 71 Bü 412; A 71 Bü 415; A 71 Bü 416; A 71 Bü 423; A 71 Bü 1565

Niedersächsisches Landesarchiv, Hannover (NLA HA): Cal. Br. 21 no. 501; Cal. Br. 21 no. 935; Cal. Or. 3 no. 105; Celle Br. 44 no. 1539; Hann. 27 Hildesheim 97; Hann. 27 Hildesheim 939; Hann. 27 Hildesheim 2143

Niedersächsisches Landesarchiv, Wolfenbüttel (NLA WO): 1 Alt no. 8; 1 Alt no. 6; 1 Alt no. 10; 1 Alt no. 22; 1 Alt no. 23; 1 Alt no. 24; 1 Alt no. 26; 1 Alt no. 27; 2 Urk 1


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1 “P. Vergili Maronis Ecloga Tertia,” last accessed October 3, 2019, http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/vergil/ec3.shtml. For help with the English version I would like to thank Philip Jacobs.

2 Lanzinger, Verwaltete Verwandtschaft, 261.

3 Warner, Stepfamilies in Europe.

4 Hareven, “The Family as Process,” 322–29.

5 Bues, Die Jagiellonen.

6 The oldest Otton died in 1420, so Jan (d. 1476) inherited Pilica and Łańcut, and was voivode of Cracow (1459–1472). In 1404 Jadwiga married Jan Rupelny, the heir of Tochołów. Elżbieta (d. 1452) wed to Bołko V, Duke of Opole, in 1418 and in 1423 Eufemia (d. 1424) married to Jan z Jičina. Niemczyk, “Kilka uwag,” 138–51.

7 Wdowiszewski, Genealogia Jagiellonów, 48; Czwojdrak, Zofia Holszańska.

8 Interestingly, it seems as if the intention was simply to replace the child who had died, given that the next-born daughter received the same name. Consequently, there were three Elizabeths (one after the other).

9 So, Katarzyna attended (along with her cousin Anna of Bohemia and Hungary) the meeting in Vienna in 1515. For the wedding, see Burmeister, “Graf Georg III. von Montfort-Bregenz-Pfannberg,” 16–19.

10 Pawiński, Młode lata Zygmunta Starego, 56–61.

11 Fischinger and Fabiański, The Renaissance Wawel, 189f.

12 Izabela spent her childhood with her parents and was always taken along on trips; she remained closely tied to her mother throughout her life.

13 Duke Heinrich’s mother, Katharina von Pommern, was a sister-in-law of Zofia Jagiellonka’s aunt, Duchess Anna von Pommern.

14 Kwan, “Gefangene der Liebe,” 23–35.

15 Having a mistress in the sixteenth century was not unusual, nor morally reprehensible. Rather what incensed Duke Heinrich’s contemporaries was the phony burial. His mistress was afterwards kept in castles (not unlike a prisoner), where the Duke could visit her undisturbed.

16 From 1542 until 1547, the Duke himself had been held captive outside of his duchy. Bepler, Kleine Wolfenbütteler, 61–66, 74–77.

17 “Die Muetter soll der Tochter gesagt haben, den alten man zu nehmen nit scheuhn, dan sy hette Iren Vater auch altn genomen,” so was reported by Sigismund von Herberstein to King Ferdinand, Wien 10 I 1556: HHStA, StAbt Polen I 8 1556, fol. 1.

18 Reimann, “Christoph, Herzog von Braunschweig-Lüneburg-Wolfenbüttel,” 100–3.

19 Wilhelm von Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel submitted a complaint against his brother; for example, in 1549 to the Reichshofrat: HHStA RHR Judicialia APA 6–34; Lisch, “Neuere Geschichte der Johanniter-Comthurei Mirow,” 97–110.

20 Ruhlender, Die Damen vom Stift Steterburg.

21 NLA WO 1 Alt 24 no. 3.

22 Röhrig, Mätressen und Favoriten, 412f; Watanabe-O‘Kelly, “Consort and mistress,” 90–99.

23 “So dann sei er, hertzog Julius, hiebevor offtermals mit dem vatter zu der Lowenburg zu der Trottin geritten, und aber alls er uff die letst solches nit mer tun wollen, sonder gesagt, dieweile er ime sonst niendert gebrauchen thete, so wollte er auch nit in das huren haus reitten…” Report of the Württemberg envoys to Wolfenbüttel, s.l. [20] IV 1566. HStAS, A 71 Bü 404.

24 Duke Heinrich to Prince Julius, Wolfenbüttel 9 VIII 1563: NLA WO 1 Alt 22 no. 23, fol. 11.

25 NLA WO 1 Alt 22 no. 56. See Sack, “Weitere Aufschlüsse über Eva von Trott,” 97–107.

26 Strombeck, “Eva von Trott,” 11–57.

27 Her husband, Christian von Janitz, a captain from Liebenburg, also fell in the battle of Sievershausen. She then married Georg von Beugetin, a captain from Schöningen, who later became the director of mines in Zillerfeld before his death in 1564. For the wedding, he had received an extensive fief; the court continued to pay for maintenance as well as any debts. See NLA WO 1 Alt 26 no. 208/ 77.

28 Duke Heinrich, Wolfenbüttel 10 IX 1565: NLA WO 1 Alt 27 no. 1082. Printed in Kratz, “Documentarische Nachrichten,” 79–327, suppl. no. 6, 316f., and Duke Heinrich, Wolfenbüttel 23 V 1566: ibid. no. 7, 318. She died around 1599.

29 The testament of Eva von Kirchberg from 1598: Stadtarchiv Hildesheim Best. 100–160 no. 291a.

30 NLA WO 1 Alt 23 no. 164.

31 Kratz, “Nachrichten,” suppl. no. 1, 304–8.

32 Wien 21 I 1549 and 27 IX 1570: HHStA RHR Schutzbriefe 8-2-31; NLA WO 71 Urk no. 30.

33 Prince Karl Viktor and Prince Philipp Magnus, Wolfenbüttel, 26 IX 1551: NLA WO 2 Urk 1 no. 86a.

34 Prince Julius, Wolfenbüttel 17 VII 1553: NLA WO 2 Urk 1 no. 90a.

35 NLA WO 4 Alt 19 no. 962. Samse, Die Zentralverwaltung, 192.

36 NLA WO 1 Alt 6 no. 9; NLA WO 1 Alt 23 no. 141.

37 “Volgentz wolle der vatter, das er der Tröttin son, dem bastard, als einem bruder zuspreche…” Report of the Württemberg envoys to Wolfenbüttel, s.l. [20] IV 1566. HStAS A 71 Bü 404.

38 NLA WO 2 Alt no. 2227.

39 For example, see NLA HA, Hann. 27 Hildesheim no. 97, no. 939, and no. 2143.

40 NLA WO 1 Alt 10 no. 45.

41 “Das ganze Braunschweigische Wapen, geschnitzet und mit Farben und Golde staffirt … mit schwarzem Sammit und einer Binden überzogen.” NLA HA Celle Br. 44 no. 1539; Bünting and Letzner, Braunschweig-Lüneburgische Chronica, 1077f.

42 See Schulz, Von Bastarden und natürlichen Kindern, 98–111.

43 Urszula Czarnecka married the councillor Heinrich Grote, Zofia Czermińska wed Wolf von Marwitz, and the secretery Agnieszka married Georg von der Lippe.

44 “Hetten nit geglaupt, das E[wer] L[iebden] so gar guett hochteutsch mit Latteinischen buchstaben schreiben konnen.” Duke Heinrich to Duchess Zofia, Greve 2 XI 1561: NLA WO 1 Alt 23 no. 4, fol. 34.

45 Receipt for the reception of the third and final installment of the dowry, Wolfenbüttel 13 V 1558: AGAD perg. 5487, and Duchess Zofia’s renunciation of the inheritance, Wolfenbüttel 23 II 1556: AGAD perg. 5480. Printed in Bues, Zofia Jagiellonka, no. I 6d, 91f., and no. I 5b, 71–73.

46 NLA WO 3 Urk 1 no. 9. Printed in Bues, Zofia Jagiellonka, no. II 1, 98–101.

47 NLA WO 8 Alt Schön no. 488.

48 In particular, NLA WO 1 Alt 23 no. 40, no. 41, and no. 42.

49 The letters at that time make frequent mention of Duke Heinrich’s poor health: for example, “zubesorgen ist, ir f[ürstliche] g[naden] werde es nicht lange treiben.” Prince Julius to Duke Christoph von Württemberg, Küstrin 10 IX 1558: HStAS A 71 Bü 412.

50 The royal relatives had been in correspondence with the Guelphs since the summer of 1556, with much of their communication between the mother Bona and the sisters Izabela, Anna, and Katarzyna, albeit limited to fixed pleasantries. See NLA WO 1 Alt 23 no. 2, fols. 51–68.

51 Duke Heinrich to Duchess Zofia, Holzen 16 VIII 1558: NLA WO 1 Alt 23 no. 4, fol. 3, fol. 14.

52 Duke Heinrich to Duke Georg, Wolfenbüttel 28 III 1558: Kratz, “Nachrichten,” suppl. no. 4, 312–14.

53 AGAD perg. 5476; NLA WO 3 Urk 1 no. 5, and AGAD perg. 5482. Printed in Bues, Zofia Jagiellonka, no. I 3, 50–59, and no. I 5c, 73f.

54 Duchess Zofia to Prince Julius, Wolfenbüttel 1558: NLA WO 1 Alt 22 no. 23, fol. 64. Mohrmann, “Vater-Sohn-Konflikt und Staatsnotwendigkeit,” 63–100.

55 Wagnitz, “Der Lebensweg von Herzog Julius von Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel,” 77–105.

56 “Was wihr auch derselben landen und leutten zum besten mit unserm vermugen dienen und wilfaren konnen, ihn dem solt uns E[wer] K[onigliche] W[irden] zw yederzeytt gewilliget und geneygt spuren und befinden.” Prince Julius to King Zygmunt August, Wolfenbüttel 11 VI 1556: HStAS A 71 Bü 404.

57 “Sollte bey unns allerlay sehen und lernen, deß deiner l[iebden] als dem vatter und auch ime selbst zu allen ehern und gutten gelangen möchte.” Emperor Ferdinand to Duke Heinrich, Wien 25 V 1558: HStAS A 71 Bü 415.

58 “…und [hat] sein l[iebd] dermassen bedreuet, das der gutte junge herr aus furcht allerlej vermutlichen unglugs entwuscht und unsers abwesens in unserm hoflager zu Custrin ankommen.” Margrave Johann von Brandenburg-Küstrin to Duke Christoph von Württemberg, Warmbrunn/Cieplice 1 V 1558: HStAS A 71 Bü 416. NLA WO 1 Alt 22 no. 22.

59 “Wolt got, das es nach unserm wonschen mochte gen, so wolde solcher zwiespalt und uneinicheit nicht lange weren … was wir zu der sachen kunnen zum besten wenden, seint wir alzeitt gutwillich.” Duchess Zofia to Prince Julius, Wolfenbüttel 28 VIII 1558: NLA WO 1 Alt 22 no. 23, fol. 68.

60 “Dar zu vorhelffen, das alle zweispalt und undeinigkeit muchte zu frieden und einigkeit gereichen.” Duchess Zofia to Prince Julius, Wolfenbüttel 4 XII 1558: NLA WO 1 Alt 22 no. 23, fol. 64.

61 The marriage contract, Wolfenbüttel 11 X 1559: NLA WO 1 Alt 23 no. 126, fols. 160–69; Treasurer to Duke Christoph von Württemberg, Stuttgart 6 XII 1559: HStAS A 71 Bü 1565.

62 The knighthood to Duchess Zofia, s. l. 11 IX 1559: 1 Alt 23 no. 126, fols. 197–200.

63 “So tut in anregung desselben unser freuntliche geliebte fraw mutter nicht allein herinnen furschub forderungk, sondern sucht mittl und wege wie es bey unserm freundlichen geliebten hern und vater zuerhalten sein möge. Das wir nun höffen mitt hulf des Almechtigen ire liebden werden sich bewegen lassen und uns solche verheiratung freuntlich und vatterlich gestatten.” Prince Julius to Margrave Johann Georg von Brandenburg-Küstrin, Wolfenbüttel X [1559]: NLA WO 1 Alt 23 no. 126, fols. 116f.

64 Duchess Zofia to Margravine Hedwig von Brandenburg, Wolfenbüttel [XI 1559]: NLA WO 1 Alt 23 no. 126, fol. 150.

65 “Das seine liebden derselben shon herzog iulius in irem thestamendt sein legitima zuvorordenen nicht vorgessen mochte, dan one das zu besorgen, das sonsten solch thestamendt zurecht mochte umbgestossen werden.” Margrave Johann von Brandenburg-Küstrin to Duchess Zofia, Küstrin 2 II 1560: NLA WO 1 Alt 23 no. 126, fols. 104f.

66 “So ist auch von der hochgebornen fürstin, unserer gnedigen und freuntlichen lieben frawen mutter, frawen Sophien … hiezu mher mutterliche gaben und beilage verehret worden dann von unserm freuntlichen lieben hern und vatern selbst.” Prince Julius to Duke Christoph von Württemberg, Küstrin 16 IV 1560: HStAS A 71 Bü 423. “Vortzeichnus Frawen Hedwigs geborner Marggrafin zu Brandenburg Herzogin zu Braunschweig und Lüneburg etc. abfertigung,” Cöln/Spree 24 VI 1560: NLA WO 1 Alt 23 no. 126, fols. 3–16.

67 “Weyll wir aber darinnen befinden, das uns euer liebden viel zu gelert ist, wollen wir uns mit derselben ferner in keine disputierung einlassen.” Duke Heinrich to Duchess Zofia, Holzminden 13 XI 1561: NLA WO 1 Alt 23 no. 4, fol. 38.

68 NLA WO 1 Alt 22 no. 26.

69 “Und do unwillen und zwietracht zwischen seiner fürstlichen gnaden her vater loblicher gedechtnis furgefallen, ist ihre fürstliche gnaden seliger gedechtnis die einige friedmacherin gewesen, die … viel unraht, der aus solchem unfried hette erfolgen können, verhindert.” Lazarus Arnoldi, “Eine kurz Vermanung aus dem fünzigsten Capitel des Ersten buchs Mosis gethan zu Wulfenbüttel in der Schloscapell fur den Altar als die fürstliche Leich von Schöningen abgeholet undt mit Christlichen Ceremonien in die fürstliche Schloscapel ist gebracht worden den 25 Junii [1575]”: NLA WO 1 Alt 23 no. 64, fols. 65–92, here 78v.

70 “Das wir nicht wollen der beiden also ein stifffrawe mutter [sein].” Duchess Zofia to Prince Julius, Wolfenbüttel, 4 XII 1558: NLA WO 1 Alt 22 no. 23, fol. 64.

71 Prince Julius’ mother Maria had died when he was twelve.

72 Duke Heinrich to Prince Julius, Wolfenbüttel 28 V 1563: NLA WO 1 Alt 22 no. 22, fol. 38.

73 Silverware inventory, Wolfenbüttel [16 VII 1568]: NLA HA Cal. Br. 21 no. 501, fols. 2f.

74 See NLA WO 1 Alt 8 no. 246. For a general overview of the web of relationships among the relatives, see Nolte, Familie, Hof und Herrschaft, 67–72.

75 Wolfenbüttel 28 V 1558: NLA WO 3 Urk 1 no. 9. Printed in Bues, Zofia Jagiellonka, no. II 1, 98–101, here 99.

76 NLA WO 1 Alt 24 no. 8.

77 NLA WO 1 Alt 24 no. 14, and no. 15.

78 Duchess Zofia to Duchess Margarete and Duke Johann, Wolfenbüttel 7 XII 1562: NLA WO 1 Alt 24 no. 16, fols. 56–59.

79 “Ich bitte Euer Gnaden durch Gottes willen Euer Gnaden will zu meinem besten sein und meiner kegen meinen heren und vatter zum besten gedencken und … aus dencken, wie mich armen menschen doch mocht geholfen werden.” Duchess Margarete to Duchess Zofia, Oels 7 IX 1563: NLA WO 1 Alt 24 no. 18, fol. 15. The stepdaughter Katharina also informed Zofia how bad things were for her sister, that she had ein ganz boses wesen and she asked Zofia to express vigorous support to her father: ibid., fol. 25.

80 NLA WO 1 Alt 24 no. 21.

81 For a general overview see Schattkowsky, Witwenschaft in der Frühen Neuzeit.

82 Duchess Zofia to Duke Julius, Schöningen 21 VII 1568: NLA WO 1 Alt 23 no. 31, fol. 2.

83 Electress Jadwiga von Brandenburg to Duchess Zofia, Cöln/Spree 21 IX 1569: NLA WO 1 Alt 23 no. 20, fols. 20f.; Electress Anna von Sachsen to Duchess Zofia, Nassau 16 VIII 1568: NLA WO 1 Alt 23 no. 24, fols. 24f.

84 Bues, “Frictions in the life of Polish princesses and queens consort,” 108–12.

85 Bues, “Art Collections as Dynastic Tool,” 21–26.

86 Duchess Zofia to Duke Julius, Schöningen 9 IX 1574: NLA WO 1 Alt 23 no. 16, fol. 93.

87 Duchess Elisabeth Magdalena to Duchess Zofia, Cöln/Spree 13 XI 1570: NLA HA Cal.Br. 21 no. 935, fol. 3.

88 Duke Julius to Duchess Zofia, Wolfenbüttel 11 VIII 1569: NLA WO 1 Alt 23 no. 7, fol. 62.

89 Duke Julius’s receipt of the “Tapezereien,” Wolfenbüttel 1573: NLA WO 1 Alt 23 no. 15, fols. 6–13.

90 For the child’s baptism in 1574. “Vorzeichnus des uberschickten Silbergeschiers,” s. l. VI 1574: NLA WO 1 Alt 23 no. 16, fol. 60. The dowager duchess often had to urge the return of the borrowed silver. For example, Duchess Zofia to Duke Julius, Schöningen 19 XII 1569: NLA WO 1 Alt 23 no. 8, fol. 54.

91 Duke Julius to Duchess Zofia, Wolfenbüttel 8 I 1573: NLA WO 1 Alt 23 no. 48, fols. 50–55.

92 In general, Graefe, Staatsklugheit und Frömmigkeit.

93 Z. B. Jakob Andreae to Duchess Zofia, Stuttgart 22 II 1569: NLA WO 1 Alt 23 no. 6, fols. 42–43.

94 Pirożyński, “Das Verhältnis der Herzogin Sophie von Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel,” 263–98.

95 “Dass durch trauren kein milterung des anligens geschepft sondern vil mehr das hertz beschwert.” Duchess Hedwig to Duchess Zofia, Hessen VII 1568: NLA WO 1 Alt 23 no. 127, fol. 2.

96 Duchess Hedwig to Duchess Zofia, Wolfenbüttel 12 XII 1568: ibid., fol. 13.

97 So, in November 1569 or July 1573: NLA WO 1 Alt 23 no. 8, fol. 36; NLA WO 1 Alt 23 no. 14, fol. 64.

98 “Nun bin ich unlengst berichtet, das Euer Liebden eine statliche Summa gelts beieinander haben.” Countess Margarete von Mansfeld to Duchess Zofia, Eisleben 31 X 1569: NLA WO 1 Alt 23 no. 27, fols. 51–52.

99 Duchess Margarete to Duchess Zofia, Oels 29 VI 1568: NLA WO 1 Alt 24 no. 41, fol. 92.

100 She shared that she had nach Euer Gnaden rath gedan and had written to the margrave. Duchess Margarete to Duchess Zofia, Staufenburg 21 IV 1575: NLA WO 1 Alt 24 no. 41, fol. 111.

101 Duchess Zofia to Duke Julius, Berlin 4 I 1570: NLA WO 1 Alt 23 no. 9, fol. 2–3.

102 Margrave Johann von Brandenburg-Küstrin to Duchess Zofia, Küstrin 24 XI 1569: NLA WO 1 Alt 23 no. 22, fols. 69–71; Duchess Zofia to Duke Julius, Berlin 4 I 1570: NLA WO 1 Alt 23 no. 9, fols. 1–2.

103 Duchess Zofia to Duke Julius, Schöningen 6 IV 1570: NLA WO 1 Alt 23 no. 9, fol. 16; Duchess Zofia to Duke Julius, Katlenburg 29 VI 1570: ibid, fol. 38.

104 Duchess Zofia to Duke Julius, Fürstenberg 11 VIII 1574 and Stauffenburg 28 VIII 1574: NLA WO 1 Alt 23 no. 16, fols. 69–77.

105 NLA WO 1 Alt 24 no. 9 until no. 11.

106 Duchess Clara to Duchess Zofia, Katlenburg 7 VII 1571: NLA WO 1 Alt 24 no. 10, fol. 22.

107 She promised her stepson that she would forward the correspondence from Küstrin to his travelling court in Gandersheim. Duchess Zofia to Duke Julius, Schöningen 3 II 1571: NLA WO 1 Alt 23 no. 10, fol. 30.

108 Margravine Katharina to Duchess Zofia, Küstrin 11 IX 1573: NLA WO 1 Alt 23 no. 22, fol. 44.

109 “Bitten wir Euer Liebden schwesterlichen und freuntlichen, Euer Liebden wollen bei hochgedachtem derselben gemhall helffen anhalten und befordern, das Euer Liebden beide nicht aussenbleiben.” Princess Hedwig to Duchess Zofia, Cöln/Spree 13 XI 1559: NLA WO 1 Alt 23 no. 123, fols. 148–149.

110 Duchess Zofia to Duke Julius, Schöningen 19 XII 1569: NLA WO 1 Alt 23 no. 8, fol. 52.

111 Duchess Zofia to her knights, Schöningen 1 III 1571: NLA WO 1 Alt 23 no. 35, fol. 151.

112 Margravine Katharina to Duchess Zofia, Küstrin 12 X 1570: NLA WO 1 Alt 23 no. 21, fol. 71.

113 Margravine Katharina to Duchess Zofia, Küstrin 28 VII 1570 and 1 X 1571: NLA WO 1 Alt 23 no. 21, fol. 64, and fol. 95.

114 Duchess Zofia to Margravine Katharina, Schöningen 1 II 1572: NLA WO 1 Alt 23 no. 22, fols. 32–33.

115 NLA WO 1 Alt 23 no. 119.

116 Repeated thanks were expressed for her good will with regard to the disputes involving Sidonia. Electress Anna von Sachsen to Duchess Zofia, Nassau 16 VIII 1568: NLA WO 1 Alt 23 no. 24, fols. 24–25; and Elector August von Sachsen to Duchess Zofia, Dresden 29 V 1572: ibid., fols. 14–15.

117 Merkel, “Die Irrungen zwischen Herzog Erich II,” 41; das Protokoll des Verfahrens, Neustadt 21 IV 1572: NLA HA Cal. Or. 3 no. 105.

118 “Das von uns nicht zuvil noch zu wenig geschehe und wir den glimpf zu allen seiten behalten…” Duke Julius to Duchess Zofia, Wolfenbüttel 17 I 1575: NLA WO 1 Alt 23 no. 17, fol. 2, and Duchess Zofia to Duke Julius, Schöningen 23 I 1575: ibid., fol. 6.

Catullus on a Coat-of-Arms: A Pictorial Paraphrase of Catull. 11 from Late Medieval Hungary*

Attila Tuhári
Doctoral School of Linguistics, Pázmány Péter Catholic University
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The paper discusses the coat-of-arms of Mathias of Szente (or of Sáró) granted by Ladislaus V in 1456, the depiction of which includes–in my opinion–a pictorial paraphrase of a Catullian metaphor. This could offer a more satisfactory, but unusual answer to the emerging problems regarding the interpretation of the composition. The study attempts to reveal how Catullus’ poem could reach Mathias of Szente, as well as the possible connotations it might have awaken on a broader range of the society.

Keywords: coat-of-arms, Mathias of Szente, Catullus

 On January 31, 1456 in the town of Győr, Ladislaus the Posthumous (Ladislaus V as King of Hungary and Croatia) granted arms of nobility to the literatus Mathias of Szente, also appearing as of Sáró, and other members of his line.1 The letters patent contains only a heraldic miniature, and no written description is presented for it. The heraldic achievement could be blazoned as follows: Azure, a Base Sable, over it a Plough Argent facing sinister with Handles Or, at its point a Tree raguly standing palewise with three Roses Gules slipped Vert issuant from its top.2 The same tree with the roses appears as a crest on the tilting helmet mantled Gules doubled Argent.3

This unique heraldry of the Szentei4 family caught the attention of historians a long time ago. Because this particularly early depiction of a heavy plough on this coat-of-arms is worth examining from the perspective of historical research on everyday life, as well as on heraldry, scholars have placed considerable emphasis on these topics.5 They have been unable, however, to determine what could have inspired the creator or the receiver of this coat-of-arms in its making.6 Toronyi goes the farthest in addressing this question with her claim that in the subsequent centuries these depictions usually referred to the family’s scope of activities, but she does not venture any guess as to how the Szentei family related to the item depicted, because the available sources do not touch on this.

In the following, we present our hypothesis concerning this coat-of-arms’ importance in literary history, as well as supporting the idea, that the heraldic symbols are connected–with a minor twist–to the family’s scope of activities. Finally, we also offer an explanation as to why this instrument appeared so early on a piece of heraldry.

Our discussion begins with the fact that during the process of submitting a petition for a coat-of-arms, the would-be bearer of this heraldry could present a draft of his design or one already in use by him to the chancellery.7 This is a well-documented custom from the Sigismund era of Hungary, because the letters patent inform us of petitioners providing drafts for the monarch.8 Unfortunately the letters from the years of Ladislaus V and the later ones skip this formula, and they only refer to the act of the supplication. We cannot presume the absence of this custom, however, because we know from later texts that it was common practice in the sixteenth century.9

Individual concepts unquestionably played an important part in the creation of the coat-of-arms for Mathias of Szente. This is confirmed indirectly by the document too, because it reveals that the petitioner requested a granting of a coat-of-arms from the king by his supporters.10 The seemingly marginal information, namely that in the letters patent Mathias of Szente is referred to as a literatus, becomes decisively important in this case. In our assessment, his literacy was not simply a condition of his selection, but also an explanation for it.

What is depicted on this coat-of-arms? Its most significant attribute is the unity of the composition. A plough and a rose on a single shield are depicted on a Bavarian coat-of-arms from a much later period, but in this case they are separated on two different fields.11 The connection of these motifs in this manner is unique. The creator of this illustration evidently wanted to capture an idea: the moment when the share cuts into the roots of the rose. Why else would the tree’s stem be so clearly positioned behind the plough’s share, and why would it otherwise need a base connecting the two elements into a united composition?12 Last but not least, why is there a rose tree—or any plant—in the middle of a depiction of ploughing, when this act is the turning of soil which has already been cleared of plants?

Our questions seem instantly answered when we consider them from a different angle. This composition obviously corresponds to one of the most beautiful metaphors of classical Latin literature, the metaphor with which Catullus, deceived by the unfaithful Lesbia, captures the state in which he finds himself and depicts it in his farewell message to the girl who cannot even understand her misdeed and the extent of the loss and the value of the thing squandered:13

 nec meum respectet, ut ante, amorem,

qui illius culpa cecidit velut prati

ultimi flos, praetereunte postquam

tactus aratro est.14

(Catull. 11. 21–24)

 Looking at this obvious parallel, we might well ask how this man of the lower nobility from Nógrád County was familiar with the abovementioned poem by Catullus?15 Because we do not know of a manuscript or florilegium from this period from which he could have learned of this poet’s work, which had been rediscovered one and a half centuries earlier.16 At first glance, we might conjecture that he must have studied abroad. Indeed, this was the case. The lists of the peregrini who studied in Vienna include a certain Mathias de Saro from 1443 who was probably our nobleman from Upper Hungary.17 Unfortunately, Mathias seems, on the basis of the sources at least, to have ventured no further. There is no indication of him having studied in Italy or Prague.18 However, in Vienna, students studied the scholastic curriculum.19 New trends only began to develop in the 1450’s.20

Based on all these, one can hypothesize a certain degree of indirect influence, which narrows the possibilities. We do not contend that Mathias of Szente necessarily knew of Catullus’s work, nor are we arguing that he had read the 11th carmen in its original form. We can only be certain of this metaphor from Catullus having reached him through some medium, perhaps without him having been aware of its origin. This doesn’t lessen the importance of the metaphor: the works of Catullus seemed to have been enjoying some influence in Hungary somewhat earlier than has been thought.

But where and how did Mathias find this metaphor? Aside from the abovementioned letters patent, we have no other sources concerning his life, thus we can only rely on assumptions. The most probable place would have been the country’s capital, Buda. The schools of Pest and Buda offered outstandingly high practical knowledge of Latin in the region before King Mathias I, and this knowledge was a precondition of admittance to any institution of higher education.21 Moreover, Buda was the place where Pier Paolo Vergerio (1370–1444)22 resided, one of the initiating figures of Humanism in Hungary, who served at the late king Sigismund’s chancellery but retired in 1426 and unquestionably knew of the neoteric poet’s work. Thus, Mathias may have come across this metaphor in some form in a fortunate coincidence before having even begun his studies in Vienna, one precondition of which was the completion of studies he most likely pursued in Buda, since his family owned land in the area.23 Vergerio’s Humanist erudition without doubt made a mark on intellectuals in Hungary after his death too.

Though the university in Vienna offered students no opportunity to familiarize themselves with the work of Catullus, this does not mean that Mathias did not come across the writings of Catullus in some other context in the city. It suffices to note that Enea Silvio Piccolomini served in the chancellery of Frederick III between 1442 and 1455,24 during which time Mathias of Szente was a student (1443–1444).

If we place the time of at which Mathias coming across this motif right before the granting of arms, we come to another possible connection, this time with Janus Pannonius,25 who visited his home twice during his student years in Italy (in 1450–1451 and for a longer period in the end of 1454 and the first months of 1455) and resided in Prague since the beginning of October 1454,26 followed by a short stay in Várad and Buda in January 1455 and a visit to the imperial assembly in Wiener Neustadt27 (where he met with Enea Silvio Piccolomini in person too) before returning to Italy. If we consider Mathias’ loyal services to Ladislaus V mentioned in the letters patent, in theory he could have been part of the king’s or his chancellor’s entourage and thus may have met Janus Pannonius on the latter’s arrival in Prague on October 2, 1454 or during his stay later in Wiener Neustadt.28 If he was a member of the chancellery, they could have met in Buda too.

In our research, we had to exclude the possibility of the painter being responsible for the composition. The art historian Dénes Radocsay found, among the preserved pictures of arms, one from three years earlier (Leővey grant of arms, May 3, 1453) and one from barely twenty days later (Bethlenfalvy Szepesy grant of arms, February 19, 1456) which bear affinities with the Szentei grant and thus may have been works by the same painter. This relationship, however, is only stylistic and has nothing to do with the content of the compositions. Neither of the two grants mentioned above is a complex composition depicting an action in motion. The earlier one is connected through the ornament style used in the square background of the miniature and the later one through its flat drawing. The attributes of the depiction examined thus far cannot be explained by the (in Radocsy’s judgement mediocre) painter’s artistic perception and style.29

It is worth mentioning one of the picture’s motifs, the three red roses. Aside from some other appearances,30 these are the ancient symbols of the Szente-Mágócs line and as such are the symbols of prestigious families who likewise got their name after their land-holdings, which is almost identical with the one part of the petitioner’s names. We cannot ignore the fact that the connection is only between these motifs. Thus, this offers further evidence in support of the view that the petitioner was a man of erudition, as he probably sought to connect his family with a line possessing a coat-of-arms from ancient times.

Finally, I would like to add a comment. If the supposed allusion was not clear (or could not have been clear) for the contemporary beholder, then the hint of the grant’s beneficiary being a literatus is also presented on a simpler level. Formal use of the participium perfectum of the verb exaro (litterae exaratae) was frequently used as a synonym of scribo in the Late Medieval and Early Modern period.31 Thus, a viewer versed in the language used by that administration could also easily recognize a simpler layer of this reference hidden in the depiction.32

If the abovementioned parallel is accepted, this suggests two conclusions. First, it provides further support for the notion, according to which the depiction of this unique coat-of-arms can be interpreted as a reflection of the petitioners scope of activities indirectly, because its core is a text by a classical author.33 Second, and this is of greater importance, this pictorial paraphrase is the first sign of Catullus’s reception in Hungary, as far as we know. It thus proves that Catullus was not entirely unfamiliar (if also not widely familiar) in Hungary before Janus Pannonius’ return in his home country.


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R. Kiss, István. “Természetes ábrázolás az 1526. év előtti Magyar czimerekben” [Naturalistic depictions on Hungarian coats-of-arms before 1526]. Turul 24 (1903): 49–56, 119–25, 162–71.

Radocsay, Dénes. “Gótikus magyar címereslevelek” [Gothic letters patent of coats-of-arms in Hungary]. Művészettörténeti Értesítő 1, no. 4 (1957): 271–94.

Ritoókné Szalay, Ágnes. “Janus Pannonius és Várad” [Janus Pannonius and Várad]. In Convivium Pajorin Klára 70. születésnapjára, edited by Enikő Békés, and Imre Tegyey, 171–81. Debrecen–Budapest: Debreceni Egyetem, 2012.

Seyler, Gustav A. Abgestorbener Bayerischer Adel. Vol 2. J. Siebmacher’s grosses und allgemeines Wappenbuch. 6. Bandes 1. Abteilung. Nürnberg: Verlag von Bauer und Raspe, 1906.

Seyler, Gustav A. Bisthümer und Klöster: J. Siebmacher’s grosses und allgemeines Wappenbuch. 1. Bandes 5. Abteilung. 1. Reihe. Nürnberg: Verlag von Bauer und Raspe, sine dato.

Szilágyi, Loránd. “Írásbeli supplicatiók a középkori magyar administratióban” [Written supplications in medieval Hungarian administration]. Levéltári Közlemények 10 (1932): 157–76.

Szilágyi, Emőke Rita. “Vitéz János mecenatúrája: Johannes Tröster és az 1450-es évek” [The patronage of János Vitéz: Johannes Tröster and 50s of the 15th century]. PhD diss., ELTE, 2013.

Thesaurus Linguae Latinae. Vol. 10. P–PORRVS. Berlin, New York, 1982–2010.

Thesaurus Linguae Latinae. Vol. 5. E. Leipzig: Teubner, 1931–1953.

Török, László. “Catullus-hatások Janus Pannonius költészetében” [Catullian influence on Janus Pannonius’ poetry]. In Török, László. Janus-arcok: Összegyűjtött tanulmányok, recenziók, fordítások és kommentárok, edited by Gyula Mayer, 15–36. Budapest: Typotex, 2008.

Toronyi, Alexandra. “Sárói (Szentei)-címereslevél, 1456” [The letters patent of the Sárói (Szentei) Coat-of-Arms, 1456]. In Középkori magyar címereslevelek I. (1439–1503), edited by Tamás Körmendi, 29–31. Budapest: ELTE Eötvös József Collegium, 2013.

Tüskés, Anna. Magyarországi diákok a bécsi egyetemen 1365 és 1526 között. Students from Hungary at the University of Vienna between 1365 and 1526. Budapest: Az Eötvös Loránd Tudományegyetem Levéltára, 2008.

Veress, Endre. Matricula et acta Hungarorum in universitatibus Italiae studentium 1221–1864. Monumenta Hungariae Italica 3. Olasz egyetemeken járt magyarországi tanulók anyakönyve és iratai 1221–1864. Olaszországi magyar emlékek 3. Budapest: Magyar Tudományos Akadémia, 1941.

Wiseman, T. P. Catullus & His World: A Reappraisal. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.


Catullus Online. An online repertory of conjectures on Catullus.



1* I owe many thanks to Anton Avar (National Archives of Hungary) for giving advice in heraldic matters, especially on heraldic descriptions, to Dániel Kiss (Eötvös Loránd University) for resolving my sometimes misleading uncertainties in the stemmatics of the manuscripts, and to László Takács (Pázmány Péter Catholic University) for sharing his views and insights on this question.

The document is held by the National Archives of Hungary under the following reference code: MNL OL – Diplomatikai Levéltár [Archives of Diplomatics] 50530 (hereafter DL). The donation’s text in a critical form with a brief analysis (and monochrome reproduction) was published by Toronyi, Sárói (Szentei)-címereslevél, 29–31. The image itself, along with a brief description, was presented by Bertényi, Magyar címertan, 41. (48. image); with a somewhat more detailed description by Nyulásziné Straub, Öt évszázad címerei, 36. (XX. table), 121; on a monochrome image it is presented too by Balassa, Az eke és a szántás, 299; et al. Toronyi has published a blazon, still, in this study we give a more refined version.

2 The discovery of the existence of a base in this coat-of-arms was made by Anton Avar. In the existing blazons, this element was usually referred to as a realistic (i. e. “proper”) depiction of the ground or earth, and I thought of it this way too, despite the fact that I had an opportunity to examine the original miniature.

3 The color of the field in this coat-of-arms could not be defined using the various digital copies. Nyulásziné Straub considered it green in her brief description. As a matter of fact, it is more between blue and green. The plough’s body could be described as spotted pale grey (which is actually the base color of the painting in its flawed state), a color which could also be the product of the oxidation of silver paint. The plough’s share and the rose tree’s bark are gold mixed with brown. The inner side of the mantling has no distinctive color, aside from the one resembling that of butter, which was used as a base for the whole, and a blackish discoloration similar to the one on the plough’s body. Thus, in contrast to Toronyi’s description of the colors as red and golden they are more likely red and silver.

4 This is the common Hungarian adjective form used as their family name given after the village where they owned properties.

5 Because a depiction of an instrument used in everyday life from such an early period is very rare (Nyulásziné Straub, Öt évszázad címerei, 121.) and, furthermore, the turning plough depicted here is similar to the much later ones used at the beginning of the nineteenth century, meaning that it hasn’t changed much during the centuries. Balassa, Az eke és a szántás, 300–1, quoted by Bertényi, Magyar címertan, 121. n. 32.

6 In addition to the aforementioned: Kálmán, Középkori magyar armálisok, 147–48, 155–56.

7 R. Kiss, Természetes ábrázolás, 50, 170. We do not have a supplication of this kind from the Middle Ages. For more information on the method of submitting other petitions: Szilágyi, Írásbeli supplicatiók.

8 A better known example with the words of the Cook, Franciscus of Eresztvény’s grant of arms from September 16, 1414: arma seu nobilitatis insignia in praesentium litterarum nostrarum capite depicta maiestati nostre exhibendo, ab eadem maiestatis nostre celsitudine eadem arma seu nobilitatis insignia sibi […] heredibusque et posteritatibus universis ipsorum, ex liberalitate nostra dari et conferri humiliter et devote supplicavit. Fejérpataky, Magyar czimeres emlékek I., 35. This is also present with other wording a year later in Michael Bor’s grant of arms, who was Vice-master of the Horse: Proinde ad universorum tam praesentium quam futurorum, notitiam harum serie volumus pervenire, quod coram celsitudine nostre maiestatis personaliter constituto nobili famoso ac egregio Michaele dicto Bor [...] pro eo et eius nomine ac in personis nobilium virorum [...] exhibuit nobis quandam cartam, arma seu nobilitatis insignia [lacuna] clarius continentem [...]. Supplicavitque ob hoc celsitudini nostre maiestatis predictus Michael dictus Bor, [...] vicemagister agazonum regalium nostrorum, [...] humiliter atque devote, ut predicta arma seu nobilitatis insignia sibi [...] ex plenitudine potestatis nostrae regie maiestatis atque liberalitate regia dare et concedere dignaremur. Fejérpataky, Magyar czimeres emlékek II, 14.

9 One of the best examples is the petition submitted by Sebastianus of Tinód (MNL OL - R 64 - 1. - No. 14/b) and his grant of arms published in Vienna on August 25, 1553 (MNL OL - R 64 - 1. - No. 14/a). His coat-of-arms is painted on his supplication, though it wasn’t painted on the grant itself, probably because of a lack of money or other reasons, but its blazon is found in the text. I would like to thank Mihály Kurecskó (National Archives of Hungary) for bringing this example to my attention.

10 Ad nonnullorum fidelium nostrorum humilime supplicationis instantiam [...] ipsa arma seu nobilitatis insignia [...] dedimus et contulimus, ymmo ex habundantiori plenitudine nostre specialis gratie concedimus et presentibus elargimur, […] Toronyi, Sárói (Szentei)-címereslevél, 29.

11 The Oeder line (1784): a plough and a rose, Seyler, Bayerischer Adel, 165. (Taf. 102.); Julius Pflug (the last bishop of Naumburg 1547–1564): a share and a stem, Seyler, Bisthümer und Klöster, 38. (Taf. 66.); Pflug von Rabenstein: a plough and a stem, Graf Meraviglia-Crivelli, Der Böhmische Adel, 247–48. (Taf. 112.)

12 This realistic depiction on arms paintings and correlating with this the depictions of acts in motion are identified by R. Kiss as specifically Hungarian elements. For this reason, the notion that the base appears as a supporter is acceptable in our assessment: this idea does not interfere with the crucial parts of our hypothesis.

13 Mayer, Catullus’ divorce, 297–98; Wiseman, Catullus & His World, 144–46.

14 [L]et her not look for my love as before, she whose crime destroyed it, like the last flower of the field, touched once by the passing plough. Kline, Catullus. The Poems, 27.

15 On the Renaissance reception of Catullus in general see: Haig Gaisser, Catullus in the Renaissance; Haig Gaisser, Catullus and His Readers.

16 Works of Catullus can be found among the preserved Corvinas of King Mathias I, which is the first known Catullus text from Hungary. Today it is held in the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek (ÖNB Cod. 224.).

17 Tüskés, Diákok a bécsi egyetemen, 162. 2924th line (1443. 10. 15.).

18 Veress, Matricula et acta Hungarorum. Haraszti, Kelényi, and Szögi, Magyarországi diákok.

19 Not a single one of the Catullus texts held in Vienna today was created there, and even the earliest one of the three is from around 1460. Dániel Kiss brought to my attention the fact that the view has been disproved according to which the anthology piece held in the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek’s collection, contained in its unabridged form also the 11th carmen’s text beside the 62th and which anthology could be traced back to the same source as the Codex Thuaneus, which contains the oldest Catullus manuscript (the one held in Vienna in its current state does not contain either one of the texts). This false belief was based on a faulty source recognition of a scholion by Isaac Vossius on the 11th carmen, according to which Vossius read a variant of the text (fractus instead of tactus) in the Codex Thuaneus (Kiss, Isaac Vossius, 344.). On disproving this thesis: Kiss, Editions and Commentaries. Nevertheless, this was either not available in Vienna during the period in question. Lowe, Codices Latini, n. 1474. On the place and time of writing these manuscripts see the online conjecture-repertorium created by Dániel Kiss. http://www.catullusonline.org/CatullusOnline/?dir=edited_pages&pageID=11.

20 Aschbach, Geschichte der Wiener Universität, 353–54.

21 Kubinyi, Polgári értelmiség, 606–8.

22 Huszti, Pier Paolo Vergerio; Kiss, A magyarországi humanizmus kezdeteiről, 121.

23 The distance between Buda and Szente is 55 kilometers. The distance between Buda and Sáró is less than 75 kilometers.

24 Szilágyi, Vitéz János mecenatúrája, 26–27.

25 Although László Török proved that Janus Pannonius knew the neoteric poet thoroughly, we find notraces of this in his poetical language among the Catullian syntagms and the tools of depiction in poetry unveiled by Török. Török, Catullus-hatások.

26 Kiss, A magyarországi humanizmus kezdeteiről, 127. n. 31.

27 Ritoókné Szalay, Janus Pannonius és Várad, 173. Ritoókné Szalay explained his return home as a mandatory visit to Várad to report on his studies every three years in order to obtain financial aid from the capitulum.

28 Ladislaus V was in Prague between October 2 and November 19, 1454 according to his seals and with the lack of an archontology by his letters patent published: September 30 (MNL OL – Diplomatikai Fényképgyűjtemény [Photograph Collection of Diplomatics] 237481, DF in the following), October 4 (DF 263383), October 9 (DL 29081), October 11 (DF 246958), October 12 (DF 245878), October 26 (DF 210022 [the seal was lost or isn’t visible]), November 10 (DL 39295), November 14 (DL 44750, 81185, 81186, 81187, DF 244803), November 15 (DL 72492), November 17 (DL 81188), November 19 (DL 14856). On December 18, he was already in Wrocław (DL 14892). The letters we looked into did not provide any information on his whereabouts in the time between. All this is compatible with Ebendorfer’s account on his arrival in Vienna (Wiener Neustadt) February 16, 1455 (Lhotsky, Ebendorfer, 424.8–425.15.) which is confirmed by a letter published by Ladislaus V on February 17 (DL 14971). I would like to thank Iván Kis for the source.

29 Radocsay, Gótikus magyar címereslevelek, 281a.

30 Csoma, Magyar nemzetségi czímerek, 158–59.

31 Thesaurus Linguae Latinae. Vol. 5. (E) Lipsiae, 1931–1953. s. v. exaro I. B. 1. In the Latin used in medieval Hungary its meaning was confined to this only. A magyarországi középkori latinság szótára. III. köt. S. v. exaro, -are [Déri].

32 Szilvia Somogyi brought to my attention the verb peraro, which is similar in meaning to exaro and also expresses the act of writing primarily, along with the phrases in which it was used (TLL Vol. X. (P–PORRVS) s. v. peraro, 1. a, b [Werner]), for which I am thankful.

33 We consider it possible that the grant of arms for the literatus Ambrus Mernyei of Nezde by Vladislaus II on December 8, 1498 (DL 50538), which features a green parrot with a white ribbon issuing from its beak with the word AVE repeated three times on it, was inspired by a text by another classical author and Macrobius nonetheless (Macrob. sat. 2. 4. 29–30). However, the uncertainties surrounding this hypothesis are too great to discuss.


The coat-of-arms of Szentei (or Sárói) family, 1456.

Parchment, 98 × 122 mm.

National Archives of Hungary, State Archive.

Archives of Diplomatics, 50530.

(MNL OL - DL 50530.)


Volume 8 Issue 2 CONTENTS

pdfDebates Concerning the Regulation of Border Rivers in the Late Middle Ages: The Case of the Mura River*

Bence Péterfi
Research Centre for the Humanities, Hungarian Academy of Sciences

It has been well known for ages that atypical elements of a border line, such as ditches, large trees etc., may have served as points for orientation. Literate societies, however, have had the privilege of conserving the knowledge not only by oral tradition but also by various kinds of written word. In the following, I present an especially well-documented conflict between Styrian and Hungarian families regarding the riverbed of the River Mura, which was the border of the two polities for some 20 kilometers. The debate emerged in the beginning of the sixteenth century and lasted until 1546. The Mura-question was one of the most permanent ones in the political discourse of the first third of the sixteenth century. Although we can grasp hardly any of it, the conflict involved a fear on the part of the estates of both countries that they might lose lands. First, my goal is to show the dynamics of such phenomena as an archetype of border conflicts in a nutshell. Second, I seek to identify the main reason why the conflict was so protracted and explain how eventually the issue was addressed in order to put an end to the conflict in 1546.

Keywords: Austria, Styria, Hungary, River Mur(a), river regulation, border disputes

In March 1573, the Styrian estates informed Archduke Charles II of Austria (1564–1590) that the Hungarians again had diverted the Mura River and, in doing so, had wronged the German lands. This happened despite the fact that, until then, regulation was prohibited by a strict agreement (“bis letzlich ein starkher vertrag aufgericht, dardurch die Hungarn von sollichn ihrem fürnemen abstehen müesten”).1 Within a short period of time, the Styrian estates informed the Lower Austrian Chamber of the archival research they had carried out at the request of the estates, and, though they had found some of the documents concerning the problem, they had not found the 1546 treaty.2 Some months later, Emperor Maximilian II of the Holy Roman Empire (1564–1576) himself (in part at the request of his brother, Archduke Charles II) ordered the Lower Austrian Chamber, then half a month later – this time as king of Hungary – the Hungarian Chamber, to retrieve the agreement concluded between the Kingdom of Hungary and the Duchy of Styria from their registry books.3 The archduke also contacted the Lower Austrian Chamber, from which he eventually got a copy of the treaty.4 The copy that today is held in the archive of the Styrian estates may have been produced from this version.5

What importance does this treaty have, and what was the investigation for? According to the sources, it put an end to a border conflict of different intensity which lasted a good forty years, and it had an impact which proved unusually strong, even if not put in print,6 as its strength and memory only started to fade about a generation after its conclusion. This, in the circumstances of the period, was an extraordinarily long period of time. In this article, I will sketch out in short the stages that led to the conclusion of the treaty. During the negotiations, which lasted almost two decades, the Styrian and Hungarian estates followed different and, with respect to the issue to be discussed here, in many ways contradictory legal traditions, but one may ask whether this was of any real relevance, as the success may have depended on something else. How could the parties approximate their stands to a point which generated peace for such a long time?

Permeability and Malleability of Borders

While unlike in the case of the Early Middle Ages7 there can be no doubt that each geographical/political entity had well defined borders, it would still not be appropriate to project our present ideas and preconceptions onto the Late Middle Ages. In the context of the late medieval period, one can hardly speak of state power in the modern sense, so Peter Moraw’s statement that border and border could significantly differ and the abilities of the landlords to enforce their interests could carry weight can be confirmed.8 This in many cases could hold for state borders, as these borders were also estate borders, and their keeping count – that being land or riverine border – could not differ.9 “The border of the Kingdom of Hungary is well known both for Germans and Hungarians,” wrote nobleman Ferenc Batthányi (or Batthyány) around 1529.10 On the other hand, for a given polity, conflicts that crossed borders, were obvious matters of prestige. However, because of the immature form of concluding a case, enforcing one’s interest went uneasily, therefore again, recalling Moraw’s statement cited above, much could depend on the aptitude and influence of the claimant and the other side when it came to putting an end to a dispute or conflict. The number of similar conflicts in the sources is countless, as well as the attempts to resolve them, the diversity of which starts to become clear beginning in the 1530s in the Hungarian source material.11

“Previously, people had walked straight across the boundary; aristocrats, men of letters and merchants crossed it quite naturally. The frontière only existed for soldiers and princes, and only then in time of war,” as Lucien Febvre writes in one of his essays.12 The apropos of the petition of Ferenc Battyányi, quoted above, comes from the nature of crossing the (state) borders on a daily basis: a conflict and then a lawsuit arose with the Polheim family, landowners with holdings on the other side of the River Lafnitz,13 which was the border between the Kingdom of Hungary and Styria. The Polheims therefore counted as inhabitants of the Empire. The stake was how and how much seigniorial duty the subjects of the Polheims should pay after their possessions in the estate of Battyányi which was settled by an agreement between the two families in 1546. The conflict unfolded despite the fact that in the previous century the same problem has been regulated a number of times (1429, 1440, 1452). Apart from extorting better conditions, two things can be seen behind the questioning of lordship: first, the tithe of Hungarian plots of the Styrian peasants was collected by their Styrian lords who paid it to the bishop of Győr. Second, one cannot contest that the Styrian tenants had cultivated the lands on the other side of the Lafnitz collectively since before anyone could remember, and because of the routine, these lands on the Hungarian side had been counted as part of the lands on the Styrian side of the border.14 The case in itself is extraordinary, but the problem is not, as the Austrian–Styrian burghers had vineyards in Western Hungary for centuries.15 Moreover, the mostly German speaking people who lived in the border area were in had close ties to one another, so one cannot be surprised by the appearance of some legal customs of the Empire, such as the legally binding private charters in Western Hungary.16

Some of the estate complexes in Western Hungary that got into the hands (a smaller part as pledge, the majority by arms) of Emperor Frederick III (1440–1493) or his younger brother, Archduke Albert VI of Austria (1458–1463) during the years of the civil war and weak royal power in the 1440s and 1450s in Hungary further increased the degree of interlocking and “disturbed” the perception of the border. Most of these areas remained under the authority of the Habsburgs until 1647. In some cases, they were considered part of the Archduchy of Austria, and not without any reason, since beginning in the 1530s, they were under the financial control of the Lower Austrian Chamber. Despite this, in most cases they still were considered parts of the Kingdom of Hungary. The way they were acquired, however, has been rewritten in collective memory, according to which the peace treaty of Bratislava in 1491, which put an end to the war between the Habsburgs and the Jagiellonians (who finally took the Hungarian throne in the autumn of 1490), had an important role. This treaty handled the estates that ended up under Habsburg control in all manner of ways the same way. In fact, only two of them were achieved by pledging, most of them were taken by arms unlike how the well-known narrative in the Austrian, and Hungarian scholarship goes about the 1463 contract between Emperor Frederick III and Matthias Corvinus (pledging Western Hungary for Holy Crown of Hungary held by the Emperor that time).17

Based on what has been said so far, the case of Sinnersdorf on the Styrian–Hungarian border becomes clearer. The village originally belonged to the estate complex of Bernstein in Western Hungary, which the Habsburgs acquired in the 1440s. Sinnersdorf was donated in 1499 by King Maximilian I (1493–1519) to his influential Styrian councilor, Georg von Rottal. It was then attached it to his Styrian estate complex, Thalberg. While by the mid-seventeenth century in lay matters, the settlement, otherwise in almost every direction bordered by the Hungarian Pinkafeld, became an organic part of Styria (for instance, it paid taxes to Styria), in ecclesiastic matters it still belonged under the jurisdiction of the parish of Pinkafeld, which means it was part of the bishopric of Győr. Similar problems occurred in the case of Zillingdorf and Lichtenwörth along the River Lajta, as well as in the case of four villages of the estate of Scharfeneck (Mannersdorf, Sommerein, Au, and Hof). While in the middle of the fifteenth century, the six settlements practically were torn from the Hungarian crown, in an ecclesiastic sense they still belonged to the authority of the bishop of Győr. This is how the peculiar situation arose in which the villages of the bishop of Wiener Neustadt, Zillingdorf, and Lichtenwörth, which the bishopric owned as a landlord, continued to pay the tithe to the bishop of Győr.18 This also indicates that the borders of dioceses could be more permanent than state borders.

Finally, two examples of permeability are worth mention: Hornstein, which until the mid-seventeenth century as one of the aforementioned estates in Western Hungary was under Habsburg authority, was joined to Seiberdorf on the Austrian side of the River Lajta during the fifteenth century by Ulrich von Grafeneck, and the latter became the center of the dual estate complex. The reason for this may have been the little income of the small estate complex of Hornstein and the ruined state of the castle of Hornstein.19 The Counts of Montfort administered the estate complex of Rohrau together with their Rohrau estate in the Archduchy of Austria and other lands in Hungary,20 even if their acquisition in Hungary (1419, 1435) took place only many years after their acquisition in Austria (1404). The Hungarian parts were also acknowledged by the representatives of the vendor, Count George III of Monfort, and the buyer, Leonhard von Harrach, in front of the chapter of Bratislava when, in December 1524 (i.e. significantly later), for the sake of safety, had transcribed with the chancellery of King Louis II of Hungary.21 In both cases, practical reasons and more effective farming were in the background of joining the parts of different origin, yet the border remained unchanged.

“Variations on a Theme”

Being a neighbor went with the presence of conflicts, which the parties first tried to negotiate between themselves. However, when they were unsuccessful, the parties may have had trust in the royal-imperial court(s) so that the ruler(s) would appoint some kind of committee to evaluate the causes of the disagreement. Of most border disputes one can only have a fragmented view, as in the majority of cases neither the first nor the last step in the course of the events can be known, and moreover, what is generally missing is the different opinions of the two parties. From the 1510s on the sources become more abundant. Nevertheless, the complaints of the Austrian party are much better known than those of the Hungarians because of the ways in which the sources were preserved and stored. Most of the similar documents can be found in the Österreichisches Staatsarchiv and the Austrian provincial archives (Graz, Sankt Pölten).22

The Styrian–Hungarian border was fixed along rivers in a number of its sections: for forty kilometers it ran along the abovementioned Lafnitz, for a few kilometers the Feistritz Stream, one of the tributaries of the Lafnitz, formed the border, and then, further to the south, the Mura River was the border for ca. 22–23 kilometers, followed by the River Dráva for approximately the same length, and then almost at its full length, for 90 kilometers, a tributary of the River Sava, the Sutla. Moreover, the Dráva and the Mura in the border sections are old rivers; they have numerous branches, and they are scattered with islands. This means that major floods that could change the flood plain even more than once a year always remained a source of conflicts for the people who lived by the river and worked to harness it.23

Moreover, at least in theory, in such cases, the legal stance of the two parties, here the Austrian or Styrian and the Hungarian, may have been different. According to the Roman legal tradition, which by the Late Middle Ages was used throughout the Holy Roman Empire, as a supplement in a case of riverbed changes, borders did not change. Hungarian practice, however, was the opposite (the borders moved with the river beds), although in the customary law collection of István Verbőci (or Werbőczy) compiled in 1514 a different opinion based on the Roman tradition also appeared. In the sixteenth century, however, this view was still not accepted generally.24

The abovementioned short section of the Mura was split between Vas and Zala Counties, and the county border reached the river somewhere opposite the Styrian Veržej (Wernsee). The Mura River was referred to as a border river between the “German” territories (i.e. Styria) and Hungary in 1331 for the first time,25 however it probably is not an overstatement to suggest that the border, if it did not along the Mura, was not far from it from the thirteenth century onwards,26 as a source from 1249 tells of the Germans earlier (sometime in the 1230s) having dammed up the Mura River, which flooded the lands of many villages.27 In the Late Middle Ages, the estate complex of Grad (Vas County) and that of Lendava (Zala County) ran along the bank of the Mura River. Both gave names to important aristocratic families, the Szécsi (or Széchy) family of Grad (Felsőlendva) and the Bánfi (or Bánffy) family of Lendava (Alsólendva), respectively. In the border conflicts along the Mura in the Late Middle Ages, these two families played the most important role, especially the count of Vas County, Tamás Szécsi (1501–1526),28 his son, István, and to some extent Antal, Jakab, and Zsigmond Bánfi, as well as their tenants and noble retinue, who sometimes were ready to act without the knowledge of their lords. On the Styrian side of River Mura we could find the Pernegg family with a seat in Negova (Negau) as well as the Schweinpecks with a residence in Ljutomer (Luttenberg).29

An agreement survived from 1504 concluded with the mediation of imperial councilor Georg von Weißenegg and Kaspar von Khuenburg, Styrian provincial lieutenant (Verweser), between Bartolomäus von Pernegg of Styria, and Tamás Szécsi of Hungary. The complaints connected to the agreement had already been appealed to the provincial administration.30 Both parties were aggrieved and felt they had been caused damage, as becomes clear from the text of the agreement. According to the Styrian nobleman, the subjects of Szécsi, who owned vineyards in the slopes next to his village called Turjanci (Siebeneichen), kept him out of grape juice, in answer to which he took the harvest of the past eight years and brought it to the castle of Negova. As Szécsi did not bring up any arguments in defense of his tenants, they agreed that the confiscated goods would remain with Pernegg, but in the near future, the vineyard owners would present their documents, and all the affairs connected to the sale and purchase could only happen with the consent of the Styrian nobleman. Finally, the tenants of Szécsi in the coming three years (probably as a reduction of the confiscation) did not have to pay seigniorial dues. The other case is probably difficult to dissociate from what happened at the vineyards, but one cannot be certain which one was first (or whether it was just part of the daily back-and-forth squabbles). The Hungarian aristocrat did not deny anything: he had the course of the Mura River diverted by a dam, as a consequence of which part of Turjanci owned by Pernegg was destroyed. While the Styrian nobleman argued that the diverted river should be returned to its original bed, this either would have been very costly or not possible at all. For this, and because Szécsi had a good relationship with the brother of Bartolomäus, Stefan, he offered personal assistance for the son of Stefan, and as a redemption, keeping in mind the suggestions of the uncle and his friends, he offered to cover the costs of the education of his nephew and legal guardian until his adulthood as if he were his own son. This, as Szécsi cynically argued, would have been more useful for the youngster than a village with 50 tenants (ihm sein hilff und freündschafft lieber und nutzer sein soll, dann ain dorff, darinnen fuefzig bauren haußlich sitzen).31

Be that as it may, we learn from the distance of two decades that in 1511, at the call of the steward of the Styrian provincial estates (Vizedom), a building master set out with laborers to modify the course of the Mura River to the benefit of the Styrian side. However, the building master was arrested by Szécsi and was kept in custody until his death. Szécsi had the existing dam strengthened and three ditches cut, allegedly in order to detach a major piece of land from the territory of Styria. As a result of the work, three villages were flooded by the river.32

But not only can the blackmailing potential be seen in the attempts to divert the river: the earlier riverbed modifications probably had to be repeated from time to time, since the Mura River could not be kept in the its bed and in its current course without securing the banks.33 As the most important viewpoint was the protection of their own lands, the Hungarians obviously erected the dams and deepened the ditches so that the water would spare the left bank, i.e. their bank. This, of course, went with the right (Styrian) bank being increasingly endangered by the destruction of the water, to which the locals and landowners gave voice. In addition to protecting the settlements themselves, the flood plains may also have been used for fishing or animal herding, and they may have provided favorable places for watermills. All of these factors may have been important to local communities. Thus, modification of water systems could even be done for such purposes (maintenance, improvement etc.).34

The changes in the course of the Mura River may have been closely tied with the different endeavors of the neighbors, too. Most of them are complaint letters which one has to read with some precaution, as they usually only represent the viewpoint of one of the parties, in this case usually that of the Styrians.35 Beginning in the 1520s, the names of Tamás Szécsi and his neighbor Jakab Bánfi occur again and again in the documents, probably for different reasons, but they both took aim at the same settlement along the Mura; in 1520 they raided Veržej.36 The Styrian party appears as a perpetrator only exceptionally because of the nature of the source material. For instance, in 1519 one of the men of Jakab Bánfi was murdered at the fair of Radkersburg,37 or when, in December 1522, the retinue of the Hungarian nobleman raided Styria, because allegedly one of their tenants was being kept in custody.38 A letter written by a Styrian nobleman named Hans von Schweinpeck from December 1522 tells of his continuous conflicts with the Szécsis (Zetschy krieg): eighty of his cattle were said to have been drawn away by the servants of the Hungarian aristocrat. Schweinpeck answered violence with violence, and he also had captives taken.39 In another undated letter which certainly was written at the time, Schweinpeck notes similarly unfortunate circumstances, telling of his relation with the Bánfis in a number of cases and reiterating the claims he had made in his previous letter.40 The conflict with the Szécsis was still an issue in 1523.41

Negotiation Attempts in the 1520s and 1530s

There is no clear answer as to why it was possible not only to bring the two parties to a table to negotiate, but also to spur them to come to an agreement in 1504. It is similarly unclear why there was no similar thing after the above conflicts. Moreover, in the course of 1523–1524, the Austrian–Hungarian commission members met at least once in Sopron, although the issues there strictly concerned the regional conflicts that crossed the border of the Austrian Archduchy and the Kingdom of Hungary.42 This regional division of border conflicts was not be new, as a similar system existed already in the fourteenth century.43

The Styrian party apparently turned to King Louis II of Hungary through Archduke Ferdinand of Austria in vain. The royal orders sent to Tamás Szécsi and/or Zsigmond Bánfi in roughly the same period in (1524–1525) to destroy the newly built dams were proven to be pointless,44 just as when the provincial procurator (Verweser) sent them in response to pressure from the Styrian estates to, for instance, Szécsi.45 (Allegedly, in 1524, the Szécsis made the members of the committee who were sent to the bank of the Mura leave at the point of the sword.46) One of the complaints of the Styrian estates from 1533 directly addressed the fact that when Tamás Szécsi had diverted the Mura River, he had gone against the treaty concluded between Emperor Frederick III and King Vladislas II of Hungary (the treaty of Bratislava of 1491), as his acts were in sharp contradiction with the peace reached in the treaty.47 Probably in the middle of March 1528 or in May 152948 at a commission meeting on the border conflicts held in Sopron, Wilhelm von Pernegg sent an envoy who claimed that the promises Szécsi made in the agreement of 1504, namely on his education, had not been kept.49

Even though, Tamás Szécsi died probably in late spring or early summer in 1526,50 this did not change anything with regard to the conflicts concerning the Mura River. Instead of his name, the name of his son, István Szécsi, appears in the legal documents, and in the late 1520s and 1530, documents again testify to the dam building activities of the Szécsis and the Bánfis. (Although it is not always clear from the complaints whether these were renewals of older dams or entirely new dams.) After 1526, the Hungarian estates did not invest major energy into solving this. In the shadow of the threat of the Ottoman Empire and the conflict between King Ferdinand I and his rival, John Szapolyai (who was also elected as king of Hungary) that quickly escalated into a civil war this problem did not seem so significant. This was further complicated in the Hungarian Chamber by a lack of financial and personal assets for the above reasons. It was not unique that the councilors ordered to the different negotiations did not receive any money or only received money with difficulties.51 In the summer of 1531, news spread that the supporters of the John Szapolyai again diverted the Mura, as they wanted to extend the Hungarian authority towards Styria and in the meantime guard the bank of the river with firearms. It was to be feared that the conflict would end in violence.52 Meanwhile (at the end of July 1531), the Styrian estates brought in a person who had great respect among the Hungarian elite. This is how their choice fell on one of the key figures in the war against the Ottomans, Hans Katzianer, whose presence they hoped would lead to changes to their advantage in the Styrian issues.53 For King Ferdinand I, the utilization54 of joint commissions was in focus, which had been written down in the 1491 treaty of Bratislava.55 However, this must have been rather a theoretical consideration. Finally, Katzianer is unlikely to have attended the commission’s meeting called for on August 24, 1531 at Radkersburg. He was not the only person who missed the meeting. To the surprise of the Styrian estates, so did the Hungarians, and Hans Ungnad complained to King Ferdinand I that the Hungarians gave no explanation for not having attended, even after four days.56 One of the most influential Hungarian noblemen in the court of King Ferdinand I, Elek Thurzó, reasoned for the overburdening of the Hungarian councilors in a letter dated to the beginning of September 1531, in which he also asked for the postponement of the commission meeting. 57 But similar queries had also been shared with the king by the Hungarian councilors six weeks earlier, as by then he must have known that the diet was set for September 8 to Bratislava.58

What was discussed there may not have had a major impact on the conflicts, as two years later, on July 25, 1533, a joint commission meeting was held, again at Radkersburg. Three long complaints were written against the late Tamás Szécsi and his son István, and one concerned the abuses of the retinue of Antal Bánfi,59 but they did not have any visible impact. Only the Styrian appointees traveled to the Styrian town, and similarly to what had happened two years before, no one from the Hungarians appeared.60 After the death of István Szécsi in spring 1535,61 the abovementioned Elek Thurzó,62 the new landlord63 of estate complex of Grad, the foster father of István Szécsi and second husband of Magdolna Székely of Kövend/Ormož (Friedau) (i.e. widow of Tamás Szécsi), was named liable for the abuses in the past and the present. In July 1537, he made a complaint fairly similar to those the Styrian estates had written before, as they did not attend the joint commission meeting called for March 11, 1537. The Styrians, protected by armed men, were said to have diverted the water of the Mura River into a ditch by which his plow lands and forests were detached from the estate complex. After that, the men of Thurzó entrenched the ditch, and the Styrians destroyed it.64 The results of the joint commission meeting held good half a year later (called first for September 1537, then for mid-October, and finally for the end of November, for the last time probably to Radkersburg65) are unknown, and neither do the sources give any details concerning the allegedly futile meeting held at the end of March 1538 at Murska Sobota (Muraszombat).66 As for the negotiations held at Petanjci by the Mura River in October 1539, it is the one and only occasion when we are aware of the dynamics of the discussion between the parties. The arguments were not based on classical legal principles but solely on highly technical aspects of water management as well as damages caused by the Mura River. In the end, the parties managed to settle all the points, but for some reason their decisions were never implemented.67 A letter sent by King Ferdinand I from January 1540 makes it clear that Thurzó was somewhat resentful of the newly initiated “armistice” (though actually we do not know how many times it was initiated), as he definitely wanted to have his dam on the Mura River, which was under construction at the time, completed.68 For this, a new meeting was set to February 25, 1540,69 and even if, of course, there were complaints in the first half of the 1540s (in the majority of the cases about Hungarians, most importantly the Bánfis70), the number of complaints dropped significantly. It is also telling that there is no further information on joint commission meetings. The death of Elek Thurzó on January 25, 1543, who as noted above stood in for the male line of the Szécsi family, probably had a major role in this.71

The Agreement of 1546

A private diary of the Hungarian diet of 1546 gives a good summary of the basic problem in this case, as well as the general functioning of the border commissions: all the involved parties tried to favor themselves.72 Therefore, the king decided to take the questions to a special committee consisting of Czechs and Moravians,73 which the Hungarians also acknowledged. (The tasks of the delegated judges included not only the Mura case, but also possibly other litigations, e.g. on the Dráva River.)74 The decision concerning the course of the Mura River was made two days before the arrival of the king to the Hungarian diet in Bratislava,75 on February 4 in Vienna.

What conclusion did the Czech and Moravian appointees arrive at? The narrative elements, which with some exaggeration were repeated for decades, were presented: the Styrians complained that the Hungarian nobles had modified the course of the Mura River by building ditches and/or dams, which had caused damages to the landlords on the right bank, and moreover relocated animals and people of the Styrians. The Hungarian Bánfis either denied these accusations or reasoned that their actions had been a counterstrike to compensate for damages they had suffered. The appointees decided that, as the three dams built by the Bánfis were rather new and they indeed had caused damages to the Styrian neighbors, they had to be eliminated, including the piles put down four weeks before the agreement. Regarding the future, they also advised the “opposite neighbors” along the river to negotiate and determine where the banks should be strengthened. And if that had been done, dams should be built on both sides out of earth and not sand in a width of four Viennese fathoms (7.584 meters76). However, the regulation of the smaller branches of the river (in the form of dams or ditches) would have been everyone’s individual task. The appointees declared that the riverbed should be kept in its present form, and the parties should cease causing losses to each other.77

The claims against the Szécsis were more complicated than those against the Bánfis, as Tamás Szécsi has been dead for twenty years and his son István had been dead for eleven years. After the death of the second husband, Elek Thurzó, Magdolna Székely (who was marrying for a third time) and her daughter, Margit Szécsi, would have been the people to have to face consequences because of the acts of the late male members of the family. It was enlightening to read, after the long lists of complaints, that the biggest abuse of the Styrian party was caused by Tamás Szécsi back then when he had caused damages to the village of Turjanci with a newly built dam. The husband of Margit Szécsi, Niklas Graf zu Salm (the Younger), however, successfully persuaded the commissioners that the living members of the family could not be punished for the crimes of their forefathers, so all related claims were disregarded. The regulations on the main and the smaller branches of the river were the same as in the case of the agreement of the Bánfis and the Styrian estates. The violator of the agreement had to pay 50 marks within three months.78 It seems that the agreement paid off even in the short term, and in 1549, the Styrians actually wrote that by then they did not have any border disputes with the Hungarians, except for the complaint concerning the Zrinski/Zrínyi family and the Styrian town of Ljutomer.79


King Ferdinand I probably wanted to accelerate the decision so that he could show progress for the Hungarian estates in at least some questions at the 1546 diet of Bratislava, which the estates took with satisfaction. From the point of view of the estates, who took all the measures to guard over the border of the country, especially in the period of the Ottoman conquests, the ruler made an apt decision. He could say, that with a simple technique, choosing members for a committee who were entirely independent and came from another country ruled by him, he managed to do away with conflicts which had lasted for at least two and a half decades. The seemingly moderate committee decisions managed to address the complaints raised in the letters, and even if the Styrian and Hungarian territories followed different legal principles, the decisions of the committee in the present situation can be considered a generous resolution. This may have had major significance for the parties, who were probably fed up with the lasting conflicts.

It is also clear, if one can believe the complaints made in the letters of the Styrian estates and other rather sporadic evidence, that strong men like Tamás Szécsi could even deny royal orders. Elek Thurzó, who was even more important and influential, may have also used his political connections to settle his own issues, though there are fewer concrete signs of this in the sources.

Obviously, even before the sixteenth century, a frequently changing geographical boundary such as the Mura River was inevitably a source of sharp conflicts. However, these conflicts usually broke out because of changes in private landownership rather than changes in state borders This is well reflected in the 1504 and 1546 treaties as well as in the files of the failed negotiations of 1539 held at Petanjci. It may have been totally clear to people at the time that the course of the Mura River could not be preserved without human intervention, neither on the short term nor on the long term. Even if from time to time one could find a solution either because of the death of someone involved or, in a more lucky case, with some kind of compromise concerning the problem of the changing flow of either the Mura or other rivers, the damages going back to the different, not necessarily ill-intentioned water management systems were hard to address simply. The Mura River along the Hungarian–Styrian border splits into numerous branches, and the riverbed changed constantly. Year by year, the dam and ditch system had to be modified. It was precisely this border situation that increasingly triggered the people to take action. This is why in the eighteenth century on a number of occasions (1717–1718, 1753–1755, and 1793) bilateral commissions were set up to negotiate not only the riverine but also the land borders. The sources on the abovementioned conflicts were partly preserved thanks to these negotiations, as the historical documents had an important role in defining the new borders. The parallel running of the border and the crooked course of the Mura were separated during the long negotiations in the 1750s, which is how the almost straight running Linea Theresiana80 came into existence in 1755 as the new Styrian–Hungarian borderline. From then on, the changing of the bed of the Mura River was merely a hydrological issue.


Archival sources

Arhiv Republike Slovenije, Ljubljana, Slovenia [The Archives of the Republic of Slovenia]

Arhivske zbirke [Archival Collections]

Zbirka listin [Collection of Papers] (SI AS 1064)

Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár [The National Archives of Hungary] (MNL)

Országos Levéltár, Budapest, Hungary [The State Archive] (OL)

Regnicolaris levéltár [The Archive of the Kingdom of Hungary] (N)

Archivum regni

Országhatár rendezésére vonatkozó iratok [Documents on
Border Negotiations]

Ladula LL: Limitanea Hungarico-Styriaca (N 80)

Magánlevéltárak [Private Archives] (P)

A herceg Batthyány család levéltára [The Princely Batthyány Family

Törzslevéltár [The Main Archival Collections] (P1313)


Károlyi család nemzetségi levéltára [The Archive of the Károlyi family]

Acta publica (P 396)

Mohács előtti gyűjtemény [Collection of Documents from the Period before
the Battle of Mohács (1526)]

Diplomatikai levéltár [The Archive of Diplomatics] (DL)

Fényképgyűjtemény [The Photographic Collection]

Mohács előtti fényképgyűjtemény [The Photographic Collection of Documents from the Period before the Battle of Mohács (1526)] (DF)

Österreichisches Staatsarchiv, Vienna, Austria (ÖStA)

Allgemeines Verwaltungsarchiv (AVA)

Familienarchiv Harrach, Urkundenreihe (FA Harrach U)

Finanz- und Hofkammerarchiv (FHKA)

Alte Hofkammer (AHK)

Niederösterreichische Herrschaftsakten (NÖHA)

Hoffinanz Österreich, Geschäftsbücher (HFÖ)

Hoffinanz Ungarn, Akten (HFU)

Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv (HHStA)

Reichsarchiv, Reichskanzlei, Maximiliana

Länderabteilungen, Ungarische Akten, Allgemeine Akten (UA AA)

Steiermärkisches Landesarchiv, Graz, Austria (StLA)


Landständisch-autonome Verwaltung (Landschaftliches Archiv) (Laa. A.)


I (Umfang, Statistik und Geschichte des Landes)

XIII (Wirtschaft)

Staatliche Hoheitsverwaltung

Sonderbestände, Meiller-Akten


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Megyék [Counties]. Vol. 2 of Magyarországi világi archontológiája, 1458–1526 [Lay archontology of Hungary, 1458–1526], edited by Norbert C. Tóth, Richárd Horváth, Tibor Neumann, Tamás Pálosfalvi, and András W. Kovács. Budapest: MTA BTK, 2017.

Mohl, Adolf: “Szarvkő és urai [Hornstein and its lords].” Századok 37 (1903): 612–33, 713–30.

Moraw, Peter. Von offener Verfassung zur gestalten Verdichtung: Das Reich im späten Mittelalter 1250 bis 1490. Propyläen Geschichte Deutschlands 3. Berlin: Propyläen Verlag, 1985.

Paulinyi, Oszkár. “Az első magyar országgyűlési napló: Feller Miklós naplója az 1546. évi pozsonyi országgyűlésről [The first private diary of a Hungarian diet: The diary of Nikolaus Feller on the Pressburg Diet of the year 1546].” A Gróf Klebelsberg Kuno Magyar Történetkutató Intézet Évkönyve 4 (1934): 204–30.

Péterfi, Bence. “ ‘… nach vermugen des tractats zu Pressburg’: Der Pressburger Vertrag (1491) als ein widerspruchsvolles Element.” In Das Wiener Fürstentreffen von 1515: Beiträge zur Geschichte der habsburgisch–jagiellonischen Doppelvermählung, edited by Bogusław Dybaś, and István Tringli, 189–212. Budapest: Humanwissenschaftliches Forschungszentrum der UAW, 2019.

Pirchegger, Hans. Die Stubenberger, ihre Zweige, ihr Besitz und ihre bedeutendsten Dienstmannen. Vol. 2 of Landesfürst und Adel in Steiermark während des Mittelalters. Graz: Selbstverlag der Historischen Landeskommission, 1955.

Pirchegger, Hans. Die Untersteiermark in der Geschichte ihrer Herrschaften und Gülten, Städte und Märkte. Munich: Verlag R. Oldenbourg, 1962.

Posch, Fritz. “Siedlungsgeschichte der Oststeiermark.” Mitteilungen des österreichischen Geschichtsforschung: Ergänzungs-Band 13, no. 4 (1941): 385–679.

Prickler, Harald. “Adalékok a szőlőművelés történetéhez Moson megyében [On the history of winegrowing in Moson County].” In Tanulmányok Mosonmagyaróvár és vidéke történetéhez [Studies on the history of Mosonmagyaróvár and its region], edited by Lajos Gecsényi. 21–51. Győr: Győr–Sopron Megyei Levéltár, 1979.

Prickler, Harald. “Typen und Probleme von Grenzen, dargestellt am Beispiel des burgenländisch-westungarischen Raumes.” Burgenländische Heimatblätter 51 (1989): 1–19.

Prickler, Harald. “Weingartenbesitz der Stifte Vorau und Pöllau im burgenländisch-westungarischen Raum.” Blätter für Heimatkunde 78 (2004): 135–44.

Prickler, Harald. “Zur Geschichte des burgenländisch-westungarischen Weinhandels in die Oberländer Böhmen, Mähren, Schlesien und Polen.” Zeitschrift für Ostforschung 14 (1965): 294–320, 495–529, 731–54.

Prickler, Harald. “Zwei mittelalterliche Grenzverträge (Herrschaft Güssing).” In Ezredforduló – századforduló – évforduló: Ünnepi tanulmányok Zimányi Vera tiszteletére [Millenium, centenary, anniversary: Studies in honour of Vera Zimányi], edited by Zsuzsanna J. Újváry, 28598. Piliscsaba: Pázmány Péter Katolikus Egyetem, Bölcsészettudományi Kar, 2001.

Reiszig, Ede. “A Felsőlendvai Széchy-család: Második közlemény [The family Széchy of Grad/Felsőlendva: Part two].” Turul 56 (1942): 63–73.

Rutz, Andreas. Die Beschreibung des Raums: Territoriale Grenzziehungen im Heiligen Römischen Reich. Cologne–Weimar–Vienna: Böhlau, 2018.

Sallai, János. “A magyar–osztrák határ történetéről a XVIII. századtól napjainkig [On the history of the Hungarian–Austrian border from the eighteenth century to the present day].” Soproni Szemle 50 (1996): 289–301.

Steinwenter, Arthur. “Materialien zur Geschichte der östlichen Steiermark unter der Landeshauptmannschaft Hans Ungnad’s Freiherrn v. Sonneck in den Jahren 1530–1544.” Beiträge zur Kunden steiermärkischer Geschichtsquellen 19 (1883): 92–136.

Tringli, István. “A magyar szokásjog a malomépítésről [Hungarian customary law on building mills].” In Analecta mediaevalia: Tanulmányok a középkorról [Analecta mediaevalia: Studies on the Middle Ages], vol. 1, edited by Tibor Neumann. 251–68. [Budapest]: Argumentum – [Piliscsaba]: PPKE, 2001.

Urkundenbuch des Burgenlandes und der angrenzenden Gebiete der Komitate Wieselburg, Ödenburg und Eisenburg. Vol 1. Die Urkunden von 808 bis 1270, edited by Hans Wagner in association with W. Goldinger, E. Zöllner, and R. Neck. Graz–Cologne: Böhlau, 1955.

Der Verwaltungsbezirk Eisenstadt und die Freistädte Eisenstadt und Rust. Vol. 2/1–2 of Allgemeine Landestopographie des Burgenlandes. Eisenstadt: Selbstverlag des Amtes der Burgenländischen Landesregierung, Abt. XII-2, 1963.

Viczián, István, and Csilla Zatykó. “Geomorphology and Environmental History in the Drava Valley, near Berzence.” Hungarian Geographical Bulletin 60 no. 4 (2011): 357–77.

Wertner, Mór. “A stájer Treun család magyar vonatkozásai [The family Treun of Styria and its contacts to Hungary].” Századok 37 (1903): 789–96.

Wesener, Gunter. Einflüsse und Geltung des römisch-gemeinen Rechts in den altösterreichischen Ländern in der Neuzeit (16. bis 18. Jahrhundert). Vienna–Köln: Böhlau, 1989.

Zelko, Ivan. Zgodovina Prekmurja [A history of Prekmurje/Muraköz], edited by Vilko Novak. Murska Sobota: Premurska založba, 1996.

Ziegerhofer-Prettenthaler, Anita. Ferdinand I. und die steirischen Stände: Dargestellt anhand der Landtage von 1542 bis 1556. Graz: dbv Verlag, 1996.

1* This study was prepared with the support of the NKFIH PD 124903 grant. I am indebted to Renáta Skorka and Szabolcs Varga for their useful comments on the preliminary version of my article. The author is a member of the Research Centre for the Humanities, Hungarian Academy of Sciences “Lendület” Medieval Hungarian Economic History Research Group (LP2015-4/2015) as well as of the project “Commercial Sources in the Service of Hungarian Medieval Economy” (NKFIH KH 130473).

March 9, 1573, Graz, the Styrian Estates to Archduke Charles II. StLA Laa. A, Antiquum I, Karton 7, Heft 30, [no pagination].

2 March 12, 1573, Graz, the Styrian Estates to the Lower Austrian Chamber. StLA Laa. A., Antiquum I, Karton 7, Heft 30, [no pagination].

3 October 19, 1573, Vienna, Emperor Maximilian II to the Lower Austrian Chamber, November 5, 1573, Vienna, King Maximilian I to the Hungarian Chamber, ÖStA AVA FHKA AHK HFU, rote Nummer 25, Konv. Oktober 1573, fol. 66r–67v. Cf. ÖStA AVA FHKA AHK HFÖ Geschäftsbücher 306 (Protokoll Registratur, 1573), fol. 414v, 439v.

4 ÖStA AVA FHKA AHK HFÖ Geschäftsbücher 304 (Protokoll Expedit, 1573), fol. 499r.

5 February 4, 1546, Vienna, StLA Laa. A., Antiquum XIII, Schachtel 236, [no pagination].

6 For (international) agreements and the impact of their printed versions, see e.g. Péterfi, “… nach vermungen,” 193–99, especially 199, note 33.

7 Rutz, Die Beschreibung, 75–104.

8 “Das Problem der Grenze wird noch dadurch kompliziert, daß man gerade im späten Mittelalter häufig nicht von einer einheitlichen »staatlichen« Gewalt sprechen kann, daß vielmehr einzelne Anteile von verschiedenen Herren wahrgenommen wurden. So konnte es Grenzlinien unterschiedlichen Verlaufs und unterschiedlichen Gewichts geben.” Moraw, Von offener Verfassung, 43.

9 Cf. Auer, “Die Jagdgebiete,” 188–89. On the relationship of estate complexes and polities in the Middle Ages: Rutz, Die Beschreibung, 58–75. Rutz, Die Beschreibung, 105–82 gives a general overview of the ways to define borders and their concrete forms of demarcation.

10 “Mÿnd nemethnek s mÿnd magyarnak nÿlwan wagÿon az Magiarorzagh hattara…” MNL OL P 1313, Senioratus, Lad. 4/1, no. 8/b/1.

11 For the conditions before the fourteenth century, see Krones, Landesfürst, 62–74; Wertner, “A stájer Treun;” Kos, “K postanku;” Kring, “A magyar államhatár;” Posch, “Siedlungsgeschichte;” Gruszeczki, “Die Stubenberger,” 116–17; Pirchegger, Landesfürst, 215–16. For the fourteenth century, see Groß, “Zur Geschichte,” and the study of Renáta Skorka in the present issue of the journal. For the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, see Házi, “Határszéli;” Legler, “Grenzlandstreitigkeiten.”

12 Febvre, “Frontière,” 214. For a general overview on the topic of borders, see also Constable, “Frontiers.”

13 Ca. 1529: “Flavius (!) enim nomine Lapunch utriusque partis terminos tam regni Hungarię quam etiam Germanis (!) dirimit…” MNL OL P 1313, Senioratus, Lad. 4/1, no. 6/b. See also the study of Renáta Skorka in the present issue of the journal.

14 Prickler, “Typen und Problemen,” 2–6; Prickler, “Zwei mittelalterliche Grenzverträge.”

15 Prickler, “Zur Geschichte;” Prickler, “Adalékok;” Prickler, “Typen und Problemen,” 17–19; Prickler, “Weingartenbesitz.”

16 Cf. Lakatos, “Kismarton város,” 287, and legally binding private charter is preserved from 1434, also with the seal of the town of Eisenstadt. (I acknowledge the information provided by Bálint Lakatos.)

17 Csermelyi, “A határon innen.” For the pledged estate complexes, see Bariska, A Szent Koronáért.

18 Prickler, “Typen und Problemen,” 10–12.

19 Mohl, “Szarvkő,” 629–30; Der Verwaltungsbezirk Eisenstadt, vol. 2/1, 72; Haller-Reiffenstein, “Ulrich von Grafeneck,” 149.

20 “Slos unnd herschafft Roraw im lannd Osterreich unnder Prugkh an der Leytta gelegen sambt allen unnd yeden sein zuegehorungen und gerechtigkhaiten in bemeltenn lannd Osterreich unnd in Hungern dartzue gehorig…” ÖStA AVA FA Harrach U 1524 IX 30. “Totale castrum suum Roraw appellatum intra terminos ducatus Austrie prope civitatem Prwkh vocatum adiacens simulcum cunctis oppidis, villis, possessionibus portionibusque et quibuslibet iuribus possessionariis ad ipsum castrum Roraw spectantibus, illis etiam bonis et iuribus possessionariis incerta sui parte intra limites predicti regni nostri Hungariae adiacentibus…” ÖStA AVA FA Harrach U 1525 IX 7.

21 ÖStA AVA FA Harrach U 1524 XII 15 (copy from the eighteenth century: MNL OL DL 24 024, pp. 6–9), 1525 IX 7. Cf. Burmeister, “Graf Georg,” 14.

22 Cf. Házi, “Határszéli;” Legler, “Grenzlandstreitigkeiten.”

23 On another section of the River Dráva with the same patterns, see Viczián, and Zatykó, “Geomorphology.”

24 Degré, Magyar halászati jog, 137–40. Recently with the same opinion: Tringli, “A magyar szokásjog,” 262. Cf. Wesener, Einflüsse. See also the article by András Vadas in the present issue.

25 Anjou-kori oklevéltár, 15. 118 no. 208. (I am indebted to Renáta Skorka for the data.)

26 The southern border of Petanjci terra in 1234 was the River Mura, which the author of the document, unlike in the case of its western section, did not mention as a border: “A meridie eciam participat metam cum Mura et ab occidente tenet metas cum Theutonicis.” Urkundenbuch des Burgenlandes, 161, no. 215.

27 Urkundenbuch des Burgenlandes, 224, no. 322. (I am indebted to Renáta Skorka for the data.)

28 Megyék, 331–32. In 1516, for certain reasons Tamás Szécsi was decorated with a barony by Emperor Maximilian I. December 9, 1516, Haguenau (Hagenau), MNL OL DL 101 816.

29 For the historical topography of Lower Styria/Untersteiermark (i.e. the lands situated south of the River Dráva, nowadays belonging mainly to Slovenia), see Pirchegger, Die Untersteiermark.

30 Cf. sine dato [between 1502–1504, according to Roland Schäffer’s dating], sine loco, ÖStA HHStA Maximiliana, Karton 38, Konv. “s. d. I/1–4,” I/2, fol. 33v.

31 December 10, 1504, sine loco, MNL OL DL 104 143. Further copies: StLA Laa. A., Antiquum I, Karton 7, Heft 30, [no pagination], MNL OL P 396, Lad. Scs, Fasc. B, no. 3.

32 Steinwenter, “Materialien,” 108–9, no. XXVI.

33 Cf. sine loco, sine dato [1539]: “Mura fluvius sine munitione riparum in alveo et cursu suo conservari non potest.” MNL OL N 80, Lad. RR, Fasc. U, no. 6, fol. 92r.

34 For the River Danube, see Andrásfalvy, A Duna mente; Andrásfalvy, “Die traditionelle Bewirtschaftung.” More recently Ferenczi, “Water Management.”

35 Most of these in forms of excerpts were published in: Steinwentner, “Materialien,” in which he also provides a short summary of the problem (ibid., 92–99). On the same problem, based on the documents of Styrian provincial diets (in this term, similarly to Steinwentner): Burkert, “Ferdinand I,” 112–18.

36 Damage list: MNL OL DF 276 047 (originally as ÖStA HHStA UA AA, Fasc. 1, Konv. D, fol. 30r–42v).

37 May 6, 1519, Innsbruck, MNL OL DF 290 345, p. 181.

38 MNL OL DF 276 016–018. (originally as ÖStA HHStA UA AA, Fasc. 1, Konv. C, fol. 12r–15v). Cf. StLA Meiller-Akten, X-a (Landeshauptmannschaft, 1523–1526), no. 1–4, no. 6.

39 MNL OL DF 276 016. Cf. MNL OL DF 276017.

40 MNL OL DF 276 089 (originally as ÖStA HHStA UA AA, Fasc. 1, Konv. D, fol. 158r–159v).

41 MNL OL DF 276 037 (originally as ÖStA HHStA UA AA, Fasc. 1, Konv. D, fol. 18r–19v).

42 Házi, “Határszéli viszályaink,” 63–70; Gruszecki, “Cuspinian,” 75–78; Legler, “Grenzlandstreitigkeiten,” 74–85.

43 See the article of Renáta Skorka in the recent volume.

44 August 9, 1524, Buda, MNL OL DL 39 346 (originally as SI AS 1063, 1227), December 6, 1525, Buda, StLA Meiller-Akten XIII-nn, no. 3 (fol. 55r–56v, German version), no. 13 (fol. 87r–v, Latin version). For a full edition and Slovenian translation of the royal mandate of 1524: Zelko, Zgodovina, 65–66.

45 July 9, 1524, Graz, StLA Meiller-Akten XIII-nn, no. 3 (fol. 54r–v, German version), no. 13 (fol. 86r–v, Latin version).

46 Steinwenter, “Materialien,” 109, no. XXVI.

47 Ibid., 108, no. XXVI.

48 The date of the Sopron meeting of 1528 and 1529 (Oculi Sunday and Jubilate Sunday respectively) is preserved by MNL OL P 1313, Senioratus, Lad. 4/1, no. 3/b. Cf. Házi, “Határszéli viszályaink,” 71; Gruszecki, “Cuspinian,” 79. See also two undated invitations to the Sopron summit of 1528: StLA Laa. A., Antiquum I, Karton 5, Heft 20, [no pagination].

49 StLA Meiller-Akten XIII-nn, no. 12.

50 Reiszig, “A Felsőlendvai,” 71.

51 E.g. Steinwenter, “Materialien,” 99, no. I.

52 Steinwenter, “Materialien,” 100, no. III; I. Ferdinánd, 240, no. LIV. Cf. Steinwenter, “Materialien,” 99–100, no. II.

53 Steinwenter, “Materialien,” 101, no. V.

54 Cf. Ausgewählte Urkunden, 427–28 (§6), 435–36 (§29, §31), 438 (§38).

55 Steinwenter, “Materialien,” 100, no. III; I. Ferdinánd, 247, no. 21.

56 Steinwenter, “Materialien,” 102–3, no. VIII. On Hungarians being absent from the meeting, see: ibid., 103–4, no. X.

57 Steinwenter, “Materialien,” 102, no. VII; I. Ferdinánd, 265–68, no. 73.

58 Ibid., 101, no. IV; I. Ferdinánd, 262, no. 72.

59 Ibid., 108–12, no. XXV–XXVIII.

60 Ibid., 112, no. XXX.

61 He must have died some time before May 14, 1535: Reiszig, “A Felsőlendvai,” 72.

62 Steinwenter, “Materialien,” 115–16, no. XXXV.

63 Cf. 28 April, 1535, Vienna, ÖStA HHStA UA AA, Fasc. 26, Konv. D, fol. 26r–v.

64 Steinwenter, “Materialien,” 116–17, no. XXXVI. Cf. ibid., 117–18, no. XXXVII–XXXIX.

65 Steinwenter, “Materialien,” 118–20, no. XL–XLVII.

66 Hrvatski saborski spisi, 192, no. 116. (I am indebted to Szabolcs Varga for drawing my attention to this document.) Steinwenter, “Materialien,” 122, no. LI–LIII, 127, no. LXIV.

67 MNL OL N 80, Lad. RR, Fasc. U, no. 6–7. Copies from the 18th century: ibid., no. 5. StLA Laa. A., Antiquum I, Karton 7, Heft 30, [no pagination]. Cf. Steinwenter, “Materialien,” 127–31, no. LXIV–LXIX.

68 Steinwenter, “Materialien,” 130, no. LXXI.

69 Ibid., 131–32, no. LXII–LXXIV.

70 Ibid., 132–35, no. LXXV–LXXX. Cf. October 6, 1545, Český Brod, ÖStA HHStA UA AA, Fasc. 54, Konv. B, fol. 74r–v.

71 Ludiková, Mikó, and Pálffy, “A lőcsei Szent Jakab-templom,” 345.

72 “Quod quamdiu rex Hungariae esset, semper variae dissensiones inter eos fuissent et saepius commissarios constituisset, sed semper Hungari commissarii favebant Hungaris, Germani vero Germanis.” Paulinyi, “Az első magyar,” 228.

73 Their earliest mention in the documents of the Styrian provincial estates: Steinwenter, “Materialien,” no. LXXXI. They have yet to be identified. The diary of the 1546 diet mentioned only one person by name (Paulinyi, “Az első magyar,” 228): “castellanum videlicet supremum Pragensem marschalkum Wolfgangem Schlyk,” but this may be (partially) wrong information, as Wolfgang Kraiger von Kraigk the Elder (Krajíř z Krajku in its Czech form) stood at the head of the castellany of Prague. At this point, neither Schlick, nor Kraiger can be associated with the 1546 royal commission that was meant to settle the Styrian–Hungarian border dispute.

74 Sine dato, sine loco, ÖStA HHStA UA AA, Fasc. 54, Konv. A, fol. 99r–104v.

75 Magyar országgyűlési emlékek, 4.

76 Bogdán, Magyarországi hossz- és földmértékek, 87.

77 StLA Laa. A., Antiquum XIII, Schachtel 236, [no pagination].

78 StLA Laa. A., Antiquum XIII, Schachtel 236, [no pagination].

79 Steinwentner, “Materialien,” 99, 136, no. LXXXIII as well as Ziegerhofer-Prettenthaler, “Ferdinand I.,” 136. Cf. May 25, 1549, Prague, ÖStA HHStA UA AA, Fasc. 55, Konv. B, fol. 69r–v.

80 Bidermann, “Die Grenze,” 95–96. Cf. Sallai, “A magyar–osztrák határ,” 290–92.




Volume 8 Issue 2 CONTENTS

pdfBorder by the River – But Where is the River? Hydrological Changes and Borders in Medieval Hungary*

András Vadas
Eötvös Loránd University / Central European University

Medieval estate borders were mostly formed by natural borders, such as hills, ditches, forests, meadows, etc. Of course, in many cases trees were marked in some form, or small mounds were built to clarify the running of estate borders. Almost none of these would seem at a first sight as firm as a border along rivers and streams. However, a closer look at law codes, customary law collections, and legal disputes that arose in connection with estate borders makes clear that, as borders of estates, bodies of water could be a basis for conflict. In this essay, I discuss sources from the medieval Kingdom of Hungary from the thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries that concern the problem of the change of land ownership as a consequence of changes in riverbeds.
In the late medieval compilation of the customary law of Hungary by Stephen Werbőczy, the Tripartitum, a surprisingly long section is dedicated to this problem. He clearly suggests that landownership does not change if a piece of land is attached to another person’s land by changes in the course of a river. Historians have drawn attention to this section of the Tripartitum and have suggested that this is one of the few parts in which Werbőczy does not apply Hungarian customary law, but rather uses Roman law. In my paper, which is based on a collection of similar lawsuits, I aim to demonstrate that there are a number of examples of cases in which Roman law prevailed before Werbőczy’s work, and, thus, the land in question was left in the hands of the previous owners as well as decisions according to which the shifting riverbed went with a change in ownership.

Keywords: Legal history, water history, customary law, rivers, boundaries


This river [the Tiber] moreover circles that splendid mountain on which the city of Perugia is situated and while flowing a great distance through its district, the river itself is bordered by plains, hills and similar places (…) when I was resting from my lecturing and in order to relax, was travelling towards a certain vacation house situated near Perugia above the Tiber, I began to contemplate the bends of the Tiber, its alluvion, the islands arising in the river, the changes of the river-bed as well as a host of unanswered questions which I had come across in practice. (…) I began to consider in various ways what the legal position was, not believing that I would take it any further (…) while I slept that night, I had a vision near dawn that a certain man, whose countenance I found gentle, came to me and he said the following: ‘Write down what you have begun to think about and since there is a need for illustration, provide mathematical diagrams[.]’1

The quotation above is from the prologue of a treatise by Bartolus de Saxoferrato (Sassoferrato), one of the most celebrated jurists of the fourteenth century. Bartolus, who was probably one of the most influential and, by 1355 (when this text was written), busy professors at the University of Perugia, decided to take some time off during the year. As is mentioned in the text, he headed to a villa (the location of which has not been identified by historians) overlooking the valley series of the Tiber. There, he began considering the question of who the islands emerging in the river belonged to and what happens with the ownership of a certain piece of land when the river which constitutes its border starts to meander along a different path, eroding parts of one person’s property and adding them to the far bank.

As suggested by the prologue, which is not lacking in topoi, Bartolus first thought it was an eccentric idea to discuss an issue like this in a treatise until a mysterious man, who occurred in his dream, urged him to do so. The anecdotal story behind the inspiration of the treatise known as Tractatus de fluminibus seu Tyberiadis (or sometimes referred to in an abbreviated form simply as Tyberiadis) may not have had much connections to what actually happened, and it is difficult to believe that the whole treatise could have been completed in just a few weeks’ time, as Bartolus suggests. Existing scholarship on the treatise attributed major importance to the circumstances of the formation of the work, especially the possible vacation and the location of the villa mentioned.2 These questions are important, of course, from the point of view of Bartolus himself, but they are probably less crucial with respect to the present essay. What is more interesting in the context of this discussion is simply that a major authority on Roman law at the time engaged in writing a work dedicated to the topic. It is worth noting that it seems from the above quote that he did not consider the question worthy of similar treatment.3 The prologue is somewhat controversial, as Bartolus also states that he encountered similar problems during his legal practice.

Bartolus’ work consists of three parts and focuses on two questions: who owns the land if an island emerges from a river and, when the river changes course, how should the borders of the connected estates be demarcated? One of the most important features of the treatise is that, in its argumentation, it combines legal reasoning and geometry. Bartolus drew numerous geometric figures with which he meticulously described how newly emerging islands or newly emerging lands connected to the existing lands should be divided. There are several variants of these drawings (because of the manuscript tradition), but an autograph fragment of the Tyberiadis preserved many figures which can be associated with Bartolus himself.4

Although as noted above, historians have tended to focus on the circumstances of the creation of the work and have dealt less with the text itself, the problem touched upon by it does come up in a number of law codes, customary law collections, and different documents related to lawsuits. And as mentioned, the very fact that Bartolus engaged in writing such a work suggests that the problem was not as rare as it may seem at a first glance. To what extent were the questions he was raising important as matters of theory? To what extent did he mean to offer an example, with this text, of the potentials of combining geometry and law instead of simply addressing a legal problem? Does the Hungarian source material offer insights into similar problems? How were such cases resolved in medieval Europe and in Hungary? In this essay, I discuss these problems on the basis of legal evidence, more specifically, the example of legal codes, customary law collections, and, most importantly, diplomas that settled similar, land-related disputes.

Despite the fact that Bartolus’ work discusses in detail what happens if a piece of land emerges on the bank of a river because of alluvial activity, he partly disregards a problem which, in light of the Hungarian source material, appears to have been a recurring issue.5 He never considers what exactly happens if the piece of land in question used to be the property of the landlord of the other bank of the river, i.e. it did not emerge from the river, but was detached from one person’s property and attached by the river to a property belonging to someone else. In the cases Bartolus discusses, the principles of geometry can be applied using geometrical diagrams. The general principle he suggests is quite easy to explain in the sense that it aligns the ownership of the islands on a bank to the parallel landownership. In Bartolus’ treatise, the same applies to lands which emerge from the alluvium in consequence of years of accumulation. This phenomenon in Roman law is usually referred to as accretion, and it was adjudicated in the ancient legal tradition in the same manner as used by Bartolus.6 This was not only important in cases of meandering rivers, but also in the case of lands emerging along seashores.7 Of course, in the medieval Kingdom of Hungary and probably with a few exceptions, everywhere in Europe, the formation of new lands was a consequence of shifts in the flow of rivers rather than the movement of seawaters. This process in legal tradition is usually referred to as avulsion. It can be considered a special form of accretion. As noted, Bartolus did not suggest a definitive solution to this question. It is not clear why was the question partly omitted by Bartolus. It can be connected to the fact that the most important motivation for the work was to demonstrate the possibilities of integrating geometry and law. This works well in the classical cases of accretion, but in the case of avulsion, the legal principle is the main question, and there is little space for geometry. Even if Bartolus disregarded this particular problem, it nonetheless was clearly a recurrent issue in historical times going back to the period before the birth of pragmatic literacy.

As a consequence of this, historians have devoted some attention to the problem for quite some time now. It has been discussed in at least three quite distinct fields of research: property rights in general, history, and geography/geomorphology. Historians were the first to study the problem. In most cases, they analyzed emblematic events on a local scale and considered how the processes in question impacted societies and economic and political structures. The most important example was a major hydrological change in the valley of the River Po. The event, usually referred to as Rotta della Cucca (Cucca breach), first attracted the attention of Italian historians in the eighteenth century. Ludovico Antonio Muratori, one of the pioneers of the study of medieval Italy, was the first historian to discuss the Cucca breach.8 The basis for the assessment of the event is a chapter in Paul the Deacon’s History of the Lombards, in which Paul describes the floods of 589. As he notes, in this year, several floods occurred along different rivers in Italy of which the most dangerous was that of the River Adige.9 Scholarship, building a great deal on the work of Muratori, saw the event as the main force in the transformation of the riverine landscapes and the course of the Po and Adige Rivers. It created extensive marshlands in the surroundings of the mouth of the two rivers and transformed the borders of properties in Veneto. In recent decades, historians have criticized this oversimplifying view of the landscape changes in the region and have tended to see it as a long process during which the channel system maintained by the Roman administration and taken over by the Lombards was intentionally abandoned. The marshes that came into being as a consequence of the end of the maintenance works proved to useful as a form of protection for the northern Italian territories against the Exarchate of Ravenna.10

In the explanation of the processes involved, the change in the landholdings was only a marginal issue, but it nonetheless drew the attention of scholars to the fact that riverine landscapes were not nearly as fixed in the Early (or High or Late) Middle Ages as they became in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, by which time most of the rivers in the densely inhabited areas of Europe has gone through long regulation processes. This probably is the most thoroughly studied medieval landscape change brought about by shifts in riverbeds, but at least one further area is worth emphasizing. Going back to the nineteenth century, research on the changing waterscapes of the Low Countries also generated interest among Dutch and Flemish historians. As was true in the Italian case, the most important element of the geographical processes which caught the attention of historians was not primarily the change in individual estate borders, but rather the major transformation of long stretches of the seashores. Documentary and cartographic documents were the first sources used by historians in the Low Countries, but as is true in the case of Italy, in the last half century, research done by geographers and geomorphologists has significantly widened the opportunities to study the hydrological processes of the Holocene, or in this case, the Late Holocene. Geographers in most cases working together with historians, have shown the potential of research on the avulsion histories of particular rivers in the Low Countries,11 southern France,12 and other parts of Europe.13

The use of written, cartographic evidence combined with geomorphology not only lead to studies on changes in riverine landscapes and, accompanying this, the connected land holding structure in Western Europe, but also produced studies addressing the problem in Central Europe and in Hungary in particular. A number of works were dedicated to the changes in the waterscape around Vienna in the late medieval period and the Early Modern times, changes which resulted in a series of lawsuits between the landowners by the Danube.14 Research also demonstrated significant changes in the riverine landscapes in the Carpathian Basin in historical times, including the Danube River,15 the Rába river,16 the Tisza River,17 and the Dráva River18 valleys.19 Most of the above mentioned studies, however, addressed the riverbed changes and the alluvial development of major rivers in Europe. Much less attention has been dedicated to minor rivers and streams, despite their potential relevance. There is ample and adequate source material in part because, like the major rivers, in many cases minor rivers were also boundaries of estates, as is evident on the basis of hundreds of perambulation documents, boundary markers, and cartographic data. The Hungarian source material, especially up to the late fourteenth century, is somewhat exceptional in this sense, as perambulations make up probably as much as seven to eight percent of the whole of the medieval legal source material.20 In case of legal disputes concerning the riverbed changes, this group of sources will be of crucial importance to this discussion, as perambulations in most cases were done as stages of legal disputes, and one of the most important kinds of disputes (if not the most frequent) involved changes in riverbeds. These legal disputes concerned not only natural changes in the hydrogeography, but also artificial riverbed modifications for mill races, fish ponds, irrigation, etc. which in some cases went with changes to the borders of estates. Along with historians and specialists in geomorphology, as mentioned earlier, legal writers also devoted attention to the legal problems created by the changing riverbeds in sections where the rivers were boundaries themselves. They mostly contributed to the problem by analyzing the collections of Roman law and considering the contemporary implications of avulsion.21

All of the approaches listed above are important with respect to the present paper, as in many cases they contribute to the contextualization of the results based on the Hungarian source material. In the next subchapters, drawing on the source material from the medieval Kingdom of Hungary, I will argue that the problem raised by Bartolus is not entirely theoretical, and there was a more or less stabilized customary law concerning how to resolve the similar disputes, even if it was not based on the principles he argued for.

The Border between Ľubotín and Orlov – What can a Single Case Reveal?

In 1349, one of the landlords in Sáros County, Rikalf son of Rikalf, supplicated to King Louis I according to which the Poprad River had detached a tract from his land called Ľubotín (Lubotény). While the river had demarcated his land from the village of the king called Orlov (Orló), when its course changed, it flowed through his estate, Ľubotín.22 The question of the ownership of the lands of Ľubotín may have not been simple, as only a quarter of a century earlier, the family had had to appeal to King Charles I as Phillip Druget, the influential Italian nobleman and member of the king’s entourage, had attempted to obtain some of the lands that belonged to Ľubotín.23 The endeavor of the Drugets may not have come as a surprise, as this was the period in which the family rapidly extended its power in the region, but the Poprad River’s changing riverbed may not have been among the potential threats with which Rikalf had calculated.24 In answer to the appeal, King Louis ordered Sáros County to investigate the case. The investigation was led by a noble magistrate (iudex nobilium or szolgabíró in Hungarian) of the county named Tivadar and a bailiff (homo provincie), a certain Jacob son of Sükösd.25 In the course of the investigation, they interrogated the local nobility and tenant peasants, especially those of two nearby settlements, Plaveč (Palocsa) and Gerlavágása (a lost settlers’ village somewhere close to three previously mentioned settlements). The investigation came to the conclusion that the supplicant was right and the Poprad River indeed had detached pieces of lands from Rikalf’s property.26 According to the documents related to the case, the change in the riverbed happened without human intervention. It was probably caused by floods which changed the hydrography of the area, although this was never explicitly stated in the sources.27

Despite the verification of Rikalf’s claim, the case was probably not settled, as ten years later, in 1359, the question was again brought to the court by Rikalf’s family. Based on the documents issued in 1359, it is safe to assume that the lands in question during the ten years between the cases were used by the kings’ tenant peasants, and the territories in question were never returned to Rikalf and his family. This is interesting in light of the fact that obviously the intention of Rikalf in 1349 was to get back the lands in question, and the investigation concluded with the acknowledgement that lands originally had been in his possession. This suggests that in these cases, land was thought to belong to the original owners, in this case Rikalf. But apparently it took ten years to gain back these pieces of land in response to the complaint of Rikalf and Peter son of Ladislaus, from the same family. In the end, the lands were reassigned not (or not only) because they originally belonged to Rikalf’s family, but because of the merits of the family in service of King Louis I.28 This time, the document clearly referred to the reason for the change in the riverbed. As was already probable from the documents from 1349, the river’s main flow was not modified artificially, but was identified as a consequence of the rapid current of the river. This time, the case was settled with a reinstitution of the previous owners to the lands in question in the presence of a deputy of the chapter of Szepes (Spišská Kapitula) and a homo regius. As usually done in these cases, a new perambulation of the land in question was carried out in which a section is described as the former bed of the Poprad River.

Even if, in 1359, the land in question seems to have been clearly reassigned to Rikalf and his family, the case was not settled for the rest of the Middle Ages. Almost fifty years after this episode, in 1405 at the noble assembly of Abaúj and Sáros Counties held in Košice, the noble judges and vice-counts (vicecomites) of the latter county testified that the same lands that had been disputed in 1349 and 1359 originally belonged to Ľubotín and thus rightfully belonged to the successors of Rikalf.29

The set of documents relating to the case of the lands by the Poprad River between Ľubotín and Orlov reveals a number of important issues. In 1349, according to the surviving sources Rikalf attempted to prove that the Poprad River had changed its bed because proving this would have allowed him to keep using the lands despite the fact that by then they were on the other bank of the Poprad River. This suggests that even if the change in the riverbed of the Poprad River took place as part of a natural process, this still would not have changed the landownership. However, the picture is less clear in the case of 1359, when the lands in question were (re)instituted to the Rikalf sons in return for their service and not because they had belonged to the family. Nonetheless, the fact that the same lands were reinstituted to the Rikalf family suggests that the question was also connected in some way to the notion of previous ownership. In light of the seemingly contradictory documents, it is certainly worth considering whether there was a customary law in medieval Hungary which would have applied to similar cases.


Riverbed Changes and Estate Borders – Was There a Medieval Customary Law in Hungary?

In an article cited above a number of times, István Tringli not only discussed mill construction but also devoted some attention to the problem I am addressing here. He suggested that the changes of estate borders in consequence of riverbed changes may have been a problem of minor importance in medieval Hungary, and these issues were certainly minor compared to the lawsuits concerning water mills. Simply the number of lawsuits related to the two problems shows that milling rights were more frequently occurring problems than lawsuits related simply to riverbed changes. By the thirteenth and especially by the fourteenth century, the number of mills in Hungary was high enough that the buildings had become obstacles to one another. As was shown, this gave ground to the formation of a relatively well-defined customary law related to the use of waters and the construction of water mills.30 However, the lasting struggle for the ownership of the lands between Ľubotín and Orlov suggests that with regard to riverbed changes, the norm either was anything but clear or the tenants of Orlov, who belonged to the land of the king, attempted to use their favorable position against Ľubotín. The picture is not clear based on this one case study, but it becomes somewhat clearer if one looks at a number of cases. But before doing so, I turn to the seemingly most self-evident source one can touch upon when discussing whether there was a customary law on a specific question, namely the Tripartitum by Stephen Werbőczy, compiled in the 1510s. Webőczy discusses the question in a surprisingly extensive manner compared to its seemingly minor importance:


Then, as the boundaries and borders of many free cities, villages, estates and many towns and deserted lands are set and defined by rivers and streams; and by the flood and force of these waters often large pieces of land, meadows and woods are separated, carried away and attached to the area of another neighboring city, town or estate; since the river, driven by vehement flood often strays and spills from its usual course, flow and bed into a new bed; so some people think and believe that the lands, meadows and woods that were annexed and attached to the area of another neighboring free city, town or village due to a change in the flow, course or bed of the river ought to belong to and come into the possession of that free city, town or village; arguing and stating that their boundaries are set by the flow, course and bed of the river. But this opinion is not correct.

[1] For, this way many frauds could be committed, and the waters and rivers—with hidden canals, and sometimes by making shallow dikes, or raising dams or filling up the bed—could be driven into a new course and bed in any direction, according to will; thus someone could easily usurp another’s lands, woods and meadows.

[2] Therefore the opposite opinion shall be accepted as correct (…)31

These points of Werbőczy’s work were discussed first in the nineteenth century. In his discussion of this part of the Tripartitum, Rezső Dell’Adami suggests that, unlike in the overwhelming majority of the work, in this case, Werbőczy applied the principles of Roman law and not Hungarian customary law.32 In the 1930s, Alajos Degré came back to the question and also drew attention to the fact that Hungarian customary law was different from what Werbőczy actually applied. Unlike Dell’Adami, Degré gathered a number of documents which support this contention.33 Following in the footsteps of Degré, Tringli also accepted that the origin of this part of Werbőczy’s work is in Roman law. Roman law and the Digest itself is not as unambiguous on this question as Werbőczy’s text or what has been suggested by the later scholarship.34 The Saxon Mirror (Sachsenspiegel) compiled in the early thirteenth century offers a similar resolution to the problems as the solution proposed in the Tripartitum, but in the case of the Saxon customary law compilation, the influence of the Digest is more clear-cut according to research.35 When addressing changes to the waterscape, all three law sources start from the principle that in the case of a rapid shift in the course of a river, the detachment of a piece of land from someone’s property and its attachment to someone else’s property would not result in a change of landownership. However, while the two customary law collections from the Middle Ages did not include any exception to this principle, the Digest did include a very important one, namely if this shift in the flow of the river proves lasting.36

From the point of view of this paper, the most important question is whether the points made by Werbőczy represented practice by the late medieval period or not. The picture that unfolds on the basis of an analysis of court cases from the period up to the early sixteenth century is not straightforward. Based on the above example from the Poprad River valley, one may suggest that Werbőczy summarized the existing customs, but in the following pages, I discuss a number of cases on the basis of which I conclude that, in many respects, Werbőczy applied a different principle than what was prevailing in his time.

In this, the most important step was to gather at least a statistically relevant number of cases. The existing secondary literature refers only to a few examples, but based on an investigation of the most important regesta collections and cartularies, I identified almost sixty relevant cases as part of my research. There would be no point in discussing each case one by one, mostly because, for the most part, little information is provided on the background of the legal case. I chose rather to analyze either cases which for some reason seemed important to an understanding of the different legal norms or cases which showed shifts in practices.

The earliest lawsuit which may illustrate the application of customary law dates from 1338. As indicated by the document, a certain Ivánka son of János Turóci submitted a complaint to the ispán (comes) of Zólyom County, Master Doncs. According to Ivánka, his interests were harmed by a land transaction that had taken place on Galovany, an estate neighboring his own. Provost Pál son of Gele and Gál son of Jakab son of Albert agreed to exchange certain pieces of land. According Ivánka’s complaint, Pál came into possession of the piece of land that neighbored his. While Ivánka was engaged in growing crops, Pál was herding animals, and according to Ivánka, Pál’s animals caused losses to his ploughlands and meadows. Pál, however, claimed that Ivánka had erected boundary markers on fields which he (Pál) had received from the ispán himself, Doncs. Ivánka insisted that it was Pál who had erected these boundary markers. Doncs called Pál and fifty witnesses to appear at the convent of Turóc (Kláštor pod Znievom) and testify that it was Ivánka who had erected the boundary markers. The case was further complicated by the fact that Pál was the notary of Doncs. It turned out that it was Pál himself who penned the charter and that it was Ivánka who erected the markers. This element of the case became somewhat obsolete, as the boundaries later changed when the stream called Porouathka found a new riverbed and detached a piece of land from Ivánka’s estate and attached it to that of Pál.37 This strongly suggests that, according to both parties, independent of the boundary markers, the boundary between the two properties changed with the change of the stream’s bed.

Another case from the following year suggests that similar cases were not always considered in the same way in the Angevin period. In 1339, a case unfolded on the running of the border between two estates, Čoltovo and Lekeňa (part of present day Bohúňovo) in Gömör County, not very far from the area involved in the previous case. The boundary between the two estates at one of its sections was the stream called Hablucapataka until the point where it reaches the Sajó River. The litigants were Pál son of Gallus, who owned Čoltovo, and the sons of Miklós Forgách, András and Miklós, who owned Lekeňa. Both parties contended that the other side had taken possession of lands which belonged to them. According to András, Pál artificially let the stream into a new riverbed. The witnesses, however, testified that the change in the course of the river had been caused, rather, by floods. The alluvium carried by the floods, according to the witnesses, filled up the former bed of the stream, and thus the water changed course. The importance in proving that the change in the riverbed was artificial or natural shows that the two cases were assessed differently. Of course, it was the change in the natural riverbed that meant a boundary shift in the period and not the artificial modification of the riverbed. Despite the fact that in this case the riverbed change would have resulted in a change in the ownership of this piece of land, this did not take place. It turned out, during the trial that the whole area in question indeed fell in the land of András Forgách. Thus, the land in question remained in his hands.38

From the very same decade, however, there is a case which suggests that for the parties involved not even natural changes to the course of a river implied a change in landownership. For instance, this was the case in 1340 when the boundary between two pieces of lands, Szentmárton and Kóród in Transylvania (today both within the borders of Coroisânmărtin), was demarcated, a section of which was formed by the Holt-Küküllő River (a branch or backwater of the Târnava Mică River). Probably because of the less clearly defined riverbed, the two parties decided they would erect boundary markers in the dry section of the bed together. They did so in order to fix the boundary between the lands in case floods washed away the riverbed.39 This indicates that even natural changes to the boundaries were not associated with a change in ownership or at least that sometimes parties could come to an agreement that went against custom. Probably the show of caution in this case was in the interests of both parties, as it may not have been evident which path the river would choose in if the old riverbed were filled, so none of the landlords would have known if they would have won or lost territories. It is difficult to identify the exact reason for this kind of agreement, as by the time of the First Military Survey (1782–1785), therefore the first precise mapping of the area, this branch of the Kis-Küküllő (Târnava Mică River) had disappeared entirely.

Even clearer proof of the not fully crystallized customary law regarding these cases is provided by a boundary dispute from 1347. The two parties involved were the bishopric of Eger and István son of Pál of Ónod. One section of the boundary between Ónod and Hídvég (present day Sajóhídvég) was the bed of the Sajó River. However, as time passed, the hydrography of the area changed, and two islands emerged with lands (duabus angulationibus vulgo zygeth vocatis), as well as a place for fishing (loca piscaturarum), on the Ónod side of the river. As part of this hydromorphological change, the main course of the Sajó River started to run within the borders of Hídvég. The sheet of the First Military Survey did not allow the identification of a former bed of the Sajó River between Hídvég, but a detailed mid-nineteenth century manuscript map of the area does.40 The bishopric of Eger tried to take possession of the abovementioned land, which was worth 13 marks, but István raised an objection against the bishopric’s claim. Pál Nagymartoni, the chief justice of Hungary, obliged István and thirteen other nobles to swear an oath that the land in question had belonged to him. As István took the oath along with the noble witnesses required, the lands in question were returned to him. Furthermore, because he had made a false claim, Miklós Dörögdi, the bishop of Eger, had to pay 13 marks as a fine.41 This suggests that, according to the chief justice, the case was clear, and ownership of the land was not changed simply by the fact that it had been shifted from one bank of the river to the other. The fact that the bishop had to pay a fine suggests that Nagymartoni considered this the norm at the time. In light of the few cases discussed above, this is not as clear as is suggested by the chief justice’s decision. Rather, this case may have been part of an attempt to create a custom in evaluating similar cases.

Analyses of every single case in which similar issues were involved would be superfluous, as very few considerations would arise which have not been raised by the disputes discussed above. While based on the above discussed examples it is not entirely clear how similar cases were handled in legal norms from the late fourteenth century on, there were only a few cases in which the change in the riverbed did not result in a change in the ownership of lands in questions.42 Of course, this does not mean that similar riverbed changes did not prompt lawsuits. With the systematic study of similar cases, probably a few hundred such cases could be uncovered. In all likelihood, they would point to the same process identified here, of course, providing a more solid foundation for the conclusions I am suggesting here.

Some of the examples discussed above, apart from the fact that they point to different practices than the late medieval cases, are exceptional from another perspective as well. Among the almost sixty cases discovered, there are only about a dozen that point to natural riverbed changes. In the majority (about three fourths) of the cases, at least some human intervention contributed to the formation of the new riverbeds. Most of the related disputes were centered on the nature of the riverbed modifications. In some cases, this was not as evident as it may seem. Probably due to the less regulated flow of the rivers in the Carpathian Basin, as well as elsewhere throughout Europe, the rivers changed their beds much more frequently than they did in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, when major regulation works began in the Carpathian Basin. This is not only true for the smaller river branches but also in the case of the major rivers. Of course, in the case of smaller rivers and streams, shifts in the riverbeds were probably almost an everyday process, especially in the lowlands and the hilly areas of the Carpathian Basin. The question in many cases was not the change itself, but whether the river would find its way back to its old bed and would continue to flow in it or not. This is probably why Domitius Ulpianus’ Edict, which was included in Justinian’s Digest, forbade any intervention that would change the flow of a “public river” (as he and Roman authors usually refer to permanent waters) after a flood or under any other circumstance. This goes back to the assumption that rivers the course of which had shifted would eventually return to their original beds, presumably at the lowest water-level, which was generally reached in the summertime.43 This is why the Digest had different principles on the basis of which short-term and long-term modifications of riverbeds that also constituted estate borders were adjudicated.

Nonetheless, in many cases riverbeds were modified after earthworks which caused rivers to find a new bed. Sometimes these works were probably difficult to identify, as indicated by the legal evidence from a number of cases from medieval Hungary.44 In some cases, pieces of lands considerable in size were attached to other land in this way.45 In these cases, because of the major income that was foreseen from the lands in question, the river walls were torn down and channels were dug to divert the waters. Since many of the lawsuits were centered around the way in which a river’s flow had been modified, it is more or less obvious that the two were treated differently in the legal practice of the late medieval period. While the change of a river’s flow as a consequence of natural hydromorphological processes without direct human intervention went with a change in the ownership, in case the opposite–direct human intervention to a river’s flow–was demonstrated during court cases, it did not touch the ownership of the lands in question.

One further note should be made at this point. These alterations to the flow of rivers were probably not always intended as a way of gaining possession of someone else’s land. A case from the early fifteenth century indicates the extent to which some of the interventions to a river had unexpected and, more importantly, unwanted consequences, even for those who actually committed the intervention. In 1405, two sons of Pető of Gerse, János and Tamás, submitted a complaint regarding the construction of a new channel by the Sárvíz Stream between their Gerse and Sármelléke estates (now both part of Gersekarát) and the estates of the nobles of Telekes. The Pető sons had made the new channel, which was meant to provide water for a new mill they had built. The stream most probably had a small discharge, so the whole of its flow was diverted into this artificial channel. It is reasonable to assume that the stream was small, since the valley in question today lacks a permanent water flow and only fills with water after rainfall. The construction of mills by similar (similarly small) streams was not unique to pre-modern times. Later, these mills were often referred to in Hungarian as pokolidő (meaning “storm time”) or felhőt kiáltó (“sky squalling”) mills, as they only could function when the runoff of stream they were built on grew as a consequence of rainfalls.46 Because of the diversion of the water, the old riverbed, which from that time on probably received no water for most of the year, started to silt up. The nobles of Telekes used this change to their advantage. They started to consider the channel as the new riverbed and border between Telekes and the estates of the Petős, and they started to use the meadows between the two branches of the river as their own. Even if the new riverbed was meant to serve the interests of the Pető family, it resulted in the detachment of their estate and the occupation of these areas by the nobles of Telekes.47

Conclusions and Outlook

This paper was intended to provide an overview of the Hungarian legal customs under a special legal circumstance in the Middle Ages. Before any further conclusions it is worth noting that the problem raised by Bartolus in his treatise quoted in the introduction, marginal as it may seem at a first sight, probably had some actual practical relevance. Although the almost sixty cases identified by me in the course of my research and presented here are anything but comprehensive, they provide a sample which nonetheless allows us to identify different practices and customs. A systematic study of a more significant proportion of the available source material probably would have yielded similar results, although the formation of the legal customs in similar cases may be seen in a more nuanced manner. The sources discussed above nonetheless suggest that from the Angevin period on, the changes in riverbeds caused recurrent property disputes. While the cases from the fourteenth century do not show a clear pattern, from the fifteenth century on, in an overwhelming majority of the similar cases, the change of the riverbed went hand in hand with a change in the ownership of the connected piece of land. This suggests that by the fifteenth and early sixteenth century, there was a more or less settled customary law on the basis of which similar cases were adjudicated. In the meantime, the sources also point to the fact that most of these riverbed changes were not or not solely outcomes of natural hydromorphological processes, but rather were results of intended interventions in the flow of the rivers. Of course, in these cases the legal customs mentioned immediately above did not apply.

In many cases, however, it was not easy to identify these human interventions, especially because, as shown above, sometimes these processes were partly artificial and partly natural, and sometimes these changes were not intended by the persons who ordered earthwork or construction work by a river. Although none of the above mentioned cases suggest this per se, in many cases probably the change in the riverbed may have been caused indirectly by interventions at entirely different sections of the same water flow. The rather ambiguous nature of these changes was identified already in the Middle Ages, which is probably why Werbőczy attempted to change the existing legal customs in his Tripartitum. As noted, to some extent, he applied Roman law by building on some of the points of Justinian’s Digest. In contrast to what has been suggested in the earlier secondary literature, however, he did not fully accept the Roman legal tradition, but modified it to clarify similar situations as much as possible. By stabilizing the borders of estates even in cases involving changes to the bed of the border river, he probably thought he had put an end to similar disputes.

Although the focus of this paper is not the Early Modern period, it is certainly worth considering the relevance of the conclusions I have drawn to similar legal procedures in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. However, the collection in this case could hardly be considered comprehensive, unlike in the case of the Middle Ages, so it would be foolhardy to generalize. However, at least one thing is clear from the few sources on which the existing literature rests. First, in the period of roughly 100 years following the compilation of the Tripartitum and the fall of the medieval Kingdom of Hungary to the Ottoman Turks, the legal principles put down in writing by Werbőczy were not systematically applied. Rather, the consuetudo was in effect.48 Nonetheless, almost 150 years after the completion of Werbőczy’s Tripartitum, his principles were accepted as law. In 1655, Act 81 took the relevant passages of the Tripartitum: “With regard to lands which by [flash] floods or floods that happened or happen slowly were carried away from a land and were attached to another, Book 1 Title 87 of the Tripartitum has to be applied.”49 Although by this time many points of the Tripartitum had become standard points of reference and many of them were also accepted as laws of the Kingdom of Hungary, the practice in the problem discussed above still was not consistently applied. There is a source from the year in which Act 81 was accepted by King Ferdinand III which points to an unresolved problem. In December 1655, the provisor of one of the most influential noble families in Transdanubia, the Batthyány family, was involved in a lawsuit in Dobersdorf (part of present day Rudersdorf) which concerned pieces of land by the Lafnitz River. In the letter, it was Magdolna, the sister of Ádám Batthyány (1610–1659), the landlord of the estate complex of the family informed him of this property dispute. According to the letter, the family insisted that, even if the river changed its bed, the lands would not change hands.50 The opposing party, however, took a different position. This may be due to the fact that the Lafnitz River in this section was the border between the Kingdom of Hungary and the Habsburg duchies,51 so the legal practice was different. In such cases, there was no reason to give a priority to the Hungarian legal system. Nonetheless, it was probably in this period that similar lawsuits almost entirely disappeared from Hungarian court cases.


Archival sources

Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár [The National Archives of Hungary] (MNL)

Országos Levéltár, Budapest, Hungary [The State Archive] (OL)

Magánlevéltárak [Private Archives] (P)

A herceg Batthyány család levéltára [The Princely Batthyány Family

Missiles (P 1314)

Mohács előtti gyűjtemény [Collection of Documents from the Period before
the Battle of Mohács (1526)] (Q)

Diplomatikai levéltár [The Archive of Diplomatics] (DL)

Térképtár [Map collection] (S)

Új szerzeményű térképek [Newly acquired maps] (73)

Fényképgyűjtemény [The Photographic Collection] (U)

Mohács előtti fényképgyűjtemény [The Photographic Collection of Documents from the Period before the Battle of Mohács (1526)] (DF)


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1 du Plessis, An Annotated Translation, 35. (I consulted the translation, but corrected it at certain places.) For the best edition of the prologue, see Cavallar, “River of law,” 84–116. For the printed editions of the work, see Bartolus Tractatus [1576] and Bartolus, Tractatus [1960] (with the reprint of the 1576 edition of the text).

2 For the political context of the writing, see Walther, “Wasser in Stadt und Contado,” 889–90. See also: Cavallar, “River of law.”

3 “Et circa multa dubia que de facto ocurrerant et alia ego ipse ex aspectu fluminis excibatam, quid iuris esset, cepi aliqualiter intueri, non tamen credens ultra procedere, ne recerationem propter quam accesseram inpedirem” Cavallar, “River of Law,” 84 (Appendix).

4 Cf. Cavallar, “River of law.”

5 Although the problem of emerging islands also appear in Hungarian legal documents. E.g. Anjoukori okmánytár, vol. 1. 94– 95 no. 87; ibid., vol. 4. 10–12 no. 10. See also the case referred to in note 40.

6 Sax, “The Accretion/Avulsion Puzzle,” 305–67.

7 Augustyn, “Evolution of the dune ecosystem,” and Augustyn, “De evolutie van het duinecosysteem.”

8 For Muratori’s reading of the 589 floods, see idem, Annali d’Italia, 339. On this, see Squatriti, “The Floods of 589,” 801.

9 “Eo tempore fuit aquae diluvium in finibus Veneciarum et Liguriae seu ceteris regionibu Italiae, quale post Noe tempore creditur non fuisse. Factae sunt lavinae possessionum seu villarum hominumque pariter et animantium magnus interitus. Destructa sunt itinera, dissipatae viae, tantum tuncque Atesis fluvius excrevit, ut circa basilicam Beati Zenonis martyris, quae extra Veronensis urbis muros sita est, usque ad superiores fenestras aqua pertingeret [...] Urbis quoque eiusdem Veronensis muri ex parte aliqua eadem sunt inundatione subruti.” Paulus Diaconus, Historia Langobardorum, III. 23. For its edition, see Paulus, Historia Langobardorum, 127–28.

10 Until now the most detailed treatise of the problem is: Squatriti, “The Floods of 589,” 799–826. With a thorough criticism of the earlier secondary literature.

11 Kleinhans, Weerts, and Cohen, “Avulsion in action.” See also: Törnqvist, “Middle and late Holocene avulsion,” 711–14, Soens, “The origins of the Western Scheldt,” and Trusen, “Insula in flumine nata.”

12 Provansal, Pichard, and Anthony, “Geomorphic Changes in the Rhône Delta,” and Carozza et al., “Lower Mediterranean plain accelerated.”

13 Thoen et al., Landscapes or seascapes.

14 Sonnlechner, Hohensinner, and Haidvogl, “Floods, fights and a fluid river,” and Hohensinner et al. “Changes in water and land.” See also: Hohensinner et al., “Two steps back, one step forward: reconstructing the dynamic Danube.”

15 E.g. Pišút, “Príspevok historických,” 167–81; Pišút and Timár, “A csallóközi (Žitný ostrov) Duna-szakasz,” 59–74 or Székely, “Rediscovering the old treasures of cartography.”

16 Vadas, Körmend és a vizek, 22 and 67.

17 E.g. Timár, Sümegi, and Horváth, “Quaternary Dynamics of the Tisza River.”

18 Kovács and Zatykó, “Per sylvam et per lacus nimios,” esp. the contribution by István Viczián, “Geomorphological research in and around Berzence.”

19 See more recently the contributions of Bence Péterfi and Renáta Skorka to the present issue of the Hungarian Historical Review.

20 On the source type, see Szabó, “Sources for the Historian of Medieval Woodland,” 268–71. On the proportion of perambulation documents in the surviving documentary evidence, see: Szabó, “Medieval Trees and Modern Ecology,” 12–17.

21 E.g. Sax, “The Accretion.”

22 MNL OL DL 68 894 (September 14, 1349) and 68 895 (July 5, 1349 and October 5, 1349).

23 MNL OL DL 68 795 (April 10, 1324). Cf. Zsoldos, “Hűséges oligarchák,” 347.

24 On the Drugets, see Zsoldos, A Druget-tartomány.

25 On the noble judges of Sáros County, see Kádas, “Sárosi ‘reform’Miklós fia Miklós ispánsága idején,” 127–44. For Tivadar ibid., 135.

26 MNL OL DL 68 895. (For a summary, see Anjou-kori oklevéltár, vol. 33. 255 no. 505), MNL OL DL 68 894. (For a summary, see Anjou-kori oklevéltár, vol. 33. 335–36 no. 684), and MNL OL DL 68 895 (for a summary, see: Anjou-kori oklevéltár, vol. 33. 364 no. 745).

27 On similar cases, and the role of floods in that, see Kiss, Floods and Long-Term Water-Level Changes.

28 MNL OL DL 68 916 and MNL OL DL 68 917.

29 MNL OL DL 68 950 (for a summary, see Zsigmondkori oklevéltár, vol. 2/1. 641 no. 5091).

30 Tringli, “A magyar szokásjog a malomépítésről,” and Vadas, “Terminológiai és tartalmi kérdések.” The latter in a shortened English version is available in Vadas, “Some Remarks.”

31 Werbőczy, The Customary Law, I/87 (168–70).

32 Dell’Adami, Az anyagi magyar magánjog.

33 Degré, Magyar halászati jog a középkorban, and Tringli, “A magyar szokásjog a malomépítésről.”

34 See e.g. Engels, “Der verklagte,” 204, and Sax, “The Accretion/Avulsion Puzzle.”

35 “Svat so dat water afschevet deme lande, dat hevet die verloren des dat lant is. Brict it aver enen nien agang, dar mede ne verlüset he sines landes nicht. § 3. Svelk werder sik ok irhevet binnen enem vliete, svelkeme stade he nar is, to dem stade hort die werder; is he vormiddes, he hort to beiden staden. Dat selve dat die agang, of he verdroget.” Sachsenspiegel Landrecht II. 56.

36 Dig.

37 MNL OL DF 249 510. (For a summary, see Anjou-kori oklevéltár, vol. 22. 12–13 no. 5.)

38 MNL OL DL 102 905. (September 4, 1339) For the edition of an incomplete version of the document (MNL OL DL 58 505): Anjoukori okmánytár, vol. 3. 597–98 no. 394. For a summary, see Anjou-kori oklevéltár, vol. 23. 250–51 no. 529. See on this case in the context of floods Kiss, Floods and Long-Term Water-Level Changes, 245–46.

39 MNL OL DL 11 742. (January 2, 1340). For a summary, see Anjou-kori oklevéltár, vol. 24. 9 no. 2.

40 MNL OL S 73. no. 102. (Pál Szattmári, Borsod megyebeli Ónod m. város és határának szabályozás előtti térképe, 1852 [The map of the town of Ónod and its borders before the water regulations, 1852]). Accessed on December 14, 2018: https://maps.hungaricana.hu/hu/MOLTerkeptar/11395/

41 “Autem dominum Nicolaum episcopum Agriensem pro indebita earumdem particularum terrarum litigiosarum requisicione in emenda estimacionis earumdem, scilicet in predictis tredecim marcis contra eundem Stephanum filium Pauli commisimus sentencialiter aggravari.” MNL OL DL 3932. (September 14, 1347), Edited (with parts left out): Anjoukori okmánytár, vol. 5. 118–20 no. 55; for a summary, see Anjou-kori oklevéltár, vol. 31. 445–47 no. 862. See on the document, Kiss, Floods and Long-Term Water-Level Changes, 259–60.

42 MNL OL DL 98 381. (For a summary, see Zsigmondkori oklevéltár, vol. 8. 251–52 no. 859). See Kiss, Floods and Long-Term Water-Level Changes, 293.

43 Dig. 43. 12, 13. 1–13, 15. For an English translation, see The Digest of Justinian.

44 E.g. MNL OL DL 52 420, 91 893 (For a summary, see Zsigmondkori oklevéltár, vol. 2. 186 no. 61), DF 207 457. (For a summary, see Zsigmondkori oklevéltár, vol. 1. 15 no. 138; edited in: Dreska, “A pannonhalmi konvent hiteleshelyének,” 13), DL 53 871 (For a summary, see Zsigmondkori oklevéltár, vol. 5. 191 no. 571, edited: Ortvay and Pesty, Oklevelek Temesvármegye és Temesvárváros történetéhez, 511–12), 53 984. (For a summary, see Zsigmondkori oklevéltár, vol. 6. 380 no. 1377, edited: Ortvay and Pesty, Oklevelek Temesvármegye és Temesvárváros történetéhez, 543), DL 53 990 (Zsigmondkori oklevéltár, vol. 6. 405 no. 1499), 66 938, 16 498, 39 456 (for a summary, see Fekete Nagy, “A Petróczy levéltár középkori oklevelei,” 261–62 no. 202), 36 393 (here: p. 87–88 no. 2. For a summary, see Jakó, A kolozsmonostori konvent, vol. 1. 717–18 no. 2022), 17 372. (Olexik, “Középkori levéltártörténeti adatok,” 270–71 no. 9), 65 632, 83 932, 95 726, 106 744 (K. Németh, “Vizek és vízgazdálkodás, I,” 7 and idem, “Vizek és vízgazdálkodás, II,” 9. (erroneously dating the document to 1505), 29 981, and 63 037.

45 E.g. MNL OL DL 30 554.

46 Anon., “Vízimalmok,” 169–87. Available online: http://mek.niif.hu/02100/02152/html/03/23.html (accessed on: May 16, 2019) and Takáts, Művelődéstörténeti tanulmányok, 177, 350.

47 MNL OL DL 92 239 (for a summary, see Zsigmondkori oklevéltár, vol. 2/1. 446 no. 3726).

48 For legal practice that was not in accordance with the Tripartitum, see e.g. Szádeczky, Székely oklevéltár, 5. 61–63 no. 935 and 63–65 no. 936 (Cf. Degré, Magyar halászati jog, 138 and Tringli, “A magyar szokásjog,” 262 [1547]). See also Tóth, Vas vármegye közgyűlési, 243 no. 719 (November 23, 1600)

49 “In facto territoriorum, per exundationem; vel sensim factam aut fiendam alluviem aquarum, ab uno territorio avulsorum, et alteri adjectorum; observetur tit. 87. partis 1. §.” 1608–1657. évi törvényczikkek, 632.

50 “S egiebirantis az dobrai főldeket az ide valo hatarhoz szakasztotta az Raba visza, de attal ugian nem idegenithetik el Dobrától” (“The Rába did attach the lands in the borders of Dobra to our borders but it does not mean that they could be alienated from Dobra”) The letter of Magdolna Batthyány to Ádám Batthyány, MNL OL P 1314 no. 5104. (December 30, 1655).

51 See the contributions of Bence Péterfi and Renáta Skorka in the present issue. See also: Vörös, “Ein Grenzkonflikt zwischen Steiermark und Ungarn.”

* This paper was supported by the Bolyai János Research Scholarship of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. I am thankful for the suggestions of Bence Péterfi, Katalin Szende and István Tringli made at an earlier version of the present paper.

Volume 8 Issue 2 CONTENTS

pdfColluding with the Infidel: The Alliance between Ladislaus of Naples and the Turks*

Emir O. Filipović
University of Sarajevo

In October 1392, King Ladislaus of Naples (1386–1414) sent letters and an embassy to the court of the Ottoman Sultan Bayezid (1389–1402) offering to establish a pact against their common enemy, King Sigismund of Luxembourg (1387–1437). According to the “indecent proposal,” this “unholy alliance” was supposed to be sealed and strengthened by a marriage between King Ladislaus and an unnamed daughter of the sultan. Though the wedding never took place, messengers were exchanged and a tactical pact did materialize. It was manifested through military cooperation between Ladislaus’ Balkan supporters and the Ottoman marcher lords, who undertook joint attacks against the subjects of King Sigismund and their territories. Although mentioned briefly in passing, this incredible episode and the resulting alliance have never before been analyzed in depth by historians. Attempting to shed some light on the topic in general, this article proposes to examine the available narrative and diplomatic sources, assess the marriage policy of the Ottoman sultans as a diplomatic tool in the achievement of their strategic goals, and the perceived outrage that news of the potential marriage caused among the adversaries of King Ladislaus. In addition to studying the language of the letters, which extended beyond subtle courtesy, the essay will also explore the practical effects and consequences of the collusion between Ladislaus and the Turks for the overall political situation in the Balkans during the last decade of the fourteenth century and first decade of the fifteenth.

Keywords: King Ladislaus of Naples, King Sigismund of Luxembourg, Sultan Bayezid, Stephen Lackfi, John Horváti, Hrvoje Vukčić, Kingdom of Hungary, Kingdom of Naples, Ottoman Empire, Kingdom of Bosnia


The online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines collusion as a “secret agreement or cooperation especially for an illegal or deceitful purpose” and offers the following example of the word being used in a sentence: “acting in collusion with the enemy.” Basically, collusion can be interpreted as an understanding between two or more parties who come together secretly in order to achieve a common objective, usually to the detriment of a third side. Its synonyms include conspiracy, collaboration, and intrigue, while the term itself comes from the Latin colludere (col- together, -ludere to play), meaning to have a secret agreement. This paper will treat one such instance of blatant collusion between King Ladislaus of Naples and the Ottoman Turks, who were at the time perceived as infidels and enemies of Christendom. The “impious alliance” itself was directed against their mutual enemy, King Sigismund of Luxembourg, and it was supposed to bring long-term benefits to both sides.1

Historians have known that this “unlikely” pact existed, and they have written about it, but the whole episode has been treated almost as a curious footnote in the busy reign of the somewhat controversial and ruthless Italian king. Born in 1377, Ladislaus was only properly King of Naples, a keen candidate for the crowns of Jerusalem and Sicily, and rather more notoriously for those of Hungary, Dalmatia, and Croatia. He inherited these titles and claims from his father, Charles of Durazzo, King of Naples and Hungary, who died as a consequence of a brutal assassination in Buda in February of 1386. After his death, the nine-year old Ladislaus ruled in Italy under the regency of his mother Margaret, while the Kingdom of Hungary became embroiled in a deep and intense succession crisis that eventually polarized the whole country into two mutually conflicted camps.2 Confined to his Italian possessions and unable to achieve effective control of Naples, as the city was held at the time by his opponent and distant cousin King Louis II (1389–1399), the underage Ladislaus could not play any part in the struggle for the Hungarian throne, which came to be held by King Sigismund of Luxembourg.3 It was only after he was officially recognized as King of Naples in 1390 by Pope Boniface IX, and after the death of Bosnian King Tvrtko (1353–1391) in March of the following year, that Ladislaus was able to pursue a more aggressive stance towards the Balkans and stake a more forceful claim for the Holy Crown of St. Stephen. Therefore, in October 1392, he took concrete diplomatic steps to create an overseas network which could help him achieve his goals, and these initiatives ultimately resulted in contacts with the Ottoman court.

As Ladislaus was the last male of the senior Angevin line (which became extinct with his death in 1414) and also quite an active political figure, a lot has been written about him and the various aspects of his rule, including the projections he had for an alliance with the Ottoman Sultan Bayezid. His principal biographers, including Gyula Schönherr,4 István Miskolczy,5 and Alessandro Cutolo,6 have always incorporated this story in their works. Also, authors who wrote about the Angevins of Naples in general, such as Bálint Hóman and Émile Léonard, have likewise not failed to indicate that Ladislaus proposed a treaty with the Ottoman Sultan.7 Furthermore, this fact was introduced to Croatian historiography via the early works of Franjo Rački, Vjekoslav Klaić, and Ferdo Šišić,8 although apart from merely mentioning it, none of the named authors paid too much attention to this cooperation or to its deeper implications. On the other hand, the whole issue is conspicuously absent from the books and papers written by historians of the Ottoman Empire, who primarily dealt with the contemporary reign of Sultan Bayezid or the more wide-ranging topic of relations between the Ottomans and Europe, such as, for instance, Colin Imber and Rhoads Murphey, to name just two of the more prominent authors.9 Apart from Halil İnalcık and Elizabeth Zachariadou, who only comment upon this incident in passing,10 they all omit to mention the existence of any interactions between the courts of Ladislaus and Bayezid, probably not deeming any such interactions too significant in the overall eventful reign of the dynamic Ottoman ruler.

By the last decade of the fourteenth century, the Ottomans had established relatively close relations with several Italian princes and states, most notably with Gian Galeazzo Visconti of Milan and the Republic of Genoa.11 Nevertheless, even though it has been underrepresented in historical works, the alliance with Ladislaus of Naples still constitutes a prime example of early cooperation between the Ottomans and the Catholic rulers of the West. Therefore, this study proposes to investigate the reasons why Ladislaus colluded with the Ottomans, how his decision to do so impacted the development of political and military events in Southeast Europe at the time, whether the idea of an alliance with the Turks came from Ladislaus himself or from his Balkan allies, and, last but not least, what was the ultimate outcome of this political adventure.

Sigismund’s Accusations

Most of the historians who touched upon the interactions between Ladislaus and Bayezid did so on the basis of accounts given by two famous fifteenth-century historians of Hungary who described the Angevin–Ottoman conspiracy in some detail: János Thuróczy († 1489) and Antonio Bonfini († 1503). In recounting the fate of Voivode Stephen Lackfi, one of the major insurgents against King Sigismund, Thuróczy notes how, after the disaster at Nicopolis in 1396, while Sigismund was still sailing home, this Stephen committed a particularly devious crime (in addition to the other appalling villainies he had treacherously performed). Namely, according to this report, he had clandestinely dispatched messengers to Bayezid, ruler of the Turks, and had given his word to arrange a marriage between Bayezid’s daughter and King Ladislaus on condition that the sultan supplied him with military assistance against King Sigismund. And so it came to pass that he introduced large hordes of Turks into the regions of Hungary between the Sava and Drava Rivers, where they pillaged and plundered. Thuróczy then writes that this occasion was the first hostile encroachment of Turks into Hungary, and he says that the Turks caused considerable destruction in the towns of Syrmia, which were even in his time (almost a century later) still bereft of their buildings, testifying to the extent of the damage.12

Bonfini says almost exactly the same thing,13 and the fact that these two fragments are so similar is not surprising, since Bonfini relied heavily on Thuróczy’s chronicle, and comparisons between their respective works have been extensively analyzed in historiography.14 Both authors were court historians who had access to the royal archives, so the information they provide seems to have been based on real events and was probably not completely invented. Fortunately, it is not too difficult to identify the source of their accounts in the contemporary diplomatic documents issued by the chancery of King Sigismund.

One such charter, dated to March 1397, confirms King Sigismund’s decision to grant the Kanizsai the estates that had previously belonged to the heirs of Lack, also known as Lackfi (or Lackovići in Croatian), because certain disgraced members of this family, such as Voivode Stephen of Csáktornya and his nephews, Stephen of Simontornya and Andrew of Döbrököz, had conspired against Sigismund in the interest of Ladislaus. In the document, the king refers to them as “our notorious infidels,” who plotted against him as “cunning and deceitful serpents,” wanting to eliminate, exclude and exterminate him and his subjects from their kingdoms. Sigismund then says that both Stephens, descendants of the aforementioned Lack, obtained and procured letters from Ladislaus, the “perfidious” King of Apulia, confirming them both as his general deputies in these parts. And to please him as well as to subdue more easily Sigismund’s subjects, they had messengers sent in his name to Bayezid, Emperor of the Turks, with the aim of arranging a matrimonial bond between Ladislaus and the sultan’s daughter so that, thus joined, they could immediately be crowned with the sacred crown of the Kingdom. Furthermore, Sigismund’s charter declares that in order to achieve this, they brought cohorts of Turks who attacked the kingdom between the Drava and Sava Rivers, causing great disruption, killings, and abductions and enslaving many individuals of both sexes.15

Word by word, almost the same text is reproduced in a charter issued in Buda in December 1398, when King Sigismund confiscated the estate of Szentbertalan from Stephen called Ördög, or Vrag, meaning Devil, who was a well-known rebel against Sigismund’s authority and an accomplice in the treachery conducted by the Lackfi. The seized land was then given to the loyal members of the Kanizsai family.16

An identical narrative appears once again in a document issued in Trnava in January 1401, confirming that King Sigismund confiscated the castle of Rezi in the county of Zala, which had belonged to the Lackfi and had given it to Eberhard, the Bishop of Zagreb, and his kin.17 And finally, the same account is also described in a charter issued in May 1408, when Sigismund gave Stephen Ördög’s former assets and properties to Emeric Perényi.18

The literal expression used in the text to describe the coming together of the two potential newlyweds was matrimoniali foedere copulare, meaning to join in matrimonial alliance. The term bore the obvious implication that this union would ultimately lead to an unthinkable scenario whereby the grandchild of Sultan Bayezid could sometime in the future wear the Holy Crown of St. Stephen. One can only imagine the consternation that news of such a union would have caused among Sigismund’s followers and god-fearing Catholics. In one document from 1404, Sigismund described Bayezid as “the abominable enemy and persecutor of the Christ’s Cross and the whole Orthodox faith,” presenting the sultan as the “principal rival” of his royal majesty.19 Certainly, at the time, cooperation with the Turks was equivalent to high treason, which meant that it would be punished with the harshest penalties, and it is therefore easy to consider that these one-sided charges might have constituted unjustified allegations or possibly biased claims with the intention of discrediting Sigismund’s adversaries.

Nevertheless, upon closer inspection, almost all the accusations against Voivode Stephen Lackfi of Csáktornya, a.k.a. Čakovec, appear to be true. Namely, the text of the charters clearly alleges that he conspired against Sigismund in favor of Ladislaus of Naples, and Stephen was actually one of the most prominent supporters of the Angevin cause on the east coast of the Adriatic. As a member of a very powerful noble family which had estates all over the kingdom, in various periods of his political career he was ban of Croatia and Dalmatia, palatine of Hungary, voivode of Transylvania, and count of Zadar, to name just some of the most important offices he held.20 Sigismund also claimed that Stephen maintained a correspondence with Ladislaus, who delegated him as one of his representatives in the Kingdom of Hungary, and in October 1392, Ladislaus really did send a series of letters to his Balkan allies, including one addressed to “Stefano de Luczlris [!],” palatine of the Kingdom of Hungary.21 So the allegation that Stephen obtained letters from Ladislaus are also true. The serious accusation of plotting to achieve a marital alliance with the sultan was likewise quite possibly genuine, since Ladislaus was eligible for marriage at the time. He had been briefly married in 1389 to the twelve-year-old Costanza, the daughter of Sicilian nobleman Manfredi Chiaramonte, Count of Modica and Malta, ruler of Palermo. But the bride’s father died in 1391, and after her brother Andrea was executed by hostile Aragonese forces in Sicily the following year, the marriage became politically inconvenient and unprofitable for Ladislaus. He managed to obtain an annulment by decree of pope Boniface IX, and in July 1392, the Bishop of Gaeta and Cardinal Acciaiuoli announced the dissolution of the marriage in church. The supposed reason for the termination was the age of the couple, who were both twelve at the time of the nuptials.22

The only problem with the sources presented here is that both Bonfini and Thuróczy, as well as Sigismund’s charters, say that the alliance and Ladislaus’ proposal to marry the sultan’s daughter occurred during Sigismund’s military campaign against the “savage and ferocious Turks and other pagans” in the Kingdom of Bulgaria, and at a time when Sigismund was suffering with his allies during a stormy voyage across the Mediterranean, dating it to the year 1396. However, other available documents shed a somewhat different light on the chronology of the whole matter and suggest that the establishment of an Angevin-Ottoman alliance was expected several years before the battle of Nicopolis.

Ladislaus’ Letters

On October 18, 1392, just a few days after he dispatched the aforementioned messages to his allies across the Adriatic, three other letters were devised in Ladislaus’ chancery in Gaeta, addressed to Sultan Bayezid and two of his senior officials in the Balkans. Regrettably, the original documents were part of the Angevin registers, which were completely destroyed by fire during World War II.23 However, before they were destroyed, the letters were published and made available in 1876 by Gusztáv Wenzel in the collection Hungarian diplomatic monuments from the Anjou age, also known as the third volume of Monumenta Hungariae Historica’s Acta Extera.24

The first of the three letters was addressed to the “most Serene Ruler, Lord Bayezid, Emperor of the Turks” – maiori fratri nostro – who was greeted with “brotherly and sincere affection.” In the message, Ladislaus regretfully conceded that the physical distance between the two of them made it impossible for them to meet personally, and he thus found it useful and necessary to write to him and to send an orator who could faithfully deliver the message and commendably complement it. He then says that he wanted to discuss some issues with the sultan which, due to the distance, he could not explain in words, so he entrusted the matter to a messenger whose name was, curiously, not stated, but Ladislaus nevertheless referred to him as a noble, a familiaris, and a loyal subject. Therefore, the letter continues, relying on the sincere benevolence and brotherly love of the sultan’s imperial majesty, the king recommended the messenger and requested that he be trusted with confidence in all things he said about Ladislaus’ agenda. And finally, the king revealed his desire to hear about Bayezid’s prosperity, since he was impelled by fraternal zeal to be joined to him by bonds of consanguinity, and thus asked to be informed in writing, along with his mother Margaret and sister Johanna, about the sultan’s opinion on this matter. The document itself was sealed with Ladislaus’ great pendent seal.25

On the very same day, two other letters, identical in content, were composed, one to “illustri Amortas” and the other to “illustri Aguphasa,” both of whom were referred to as “amico nostro carissimo.” Amortas was evidently Kara Timurtaş Pasha, while Agupasha was probably a Latinized corrupted version of the name Yakub Pasha.26 These two high-ranking dignitaries were especially active in spreading Ottoman authority throughout southeast Europe during the last decade of the fourteenth century, and they even appeared together as Ταμονρτάσης and Γιαγονπασάς in a Byzantine Short chronicle for the year 1397, when they besieged and conquered Venetian held Argos in the Peloponnese.27 The letters informed them that Ladislaus had sent a messenger to Bayezid in order to negotiate certain issues concerning his honor and position, and that the same messenger will be visiting them as well. Among the other diplomatic and courteous phrases, the king then stated that he was particularly grateful for their friendship, and he placed himself at their disposal.28

To the uninformed observer, the contents of these letters might appear quite shocking and improbable, but the conclusion of a pragmatic alliance with the Ottomans, along the lines of the maxim the enemy of my enemy is my friend, represented a logical step in Ladislaus’ policy towards the Balkans. At that time, he had absolutely nothing to lose, and the envisaged “Gaeta–Edirne axis” was supposed to orchestrate a two-pronged attack against King Sigismund, helping both Ladislaus and Bayezid achieve their interests. But what does look strange in these letters is the proposal to seal and strengthen the alliance through a wedding, since it was highly unlikely that a sultan of the Ottoman Empire would allow his Muslim daughter to be married to a Catholic monarch, regardless of any potential strategic or diplomatic benefit he might have gained. Throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, Ottoman rulers practiced royal intermarriage by marrying members of ruling dynasties from neighboring countries, even if they were Christians. An early example is Emir Orhan, who in 1346 married the daughter of Emperor John VI,29 and even Bayezid himself married Olivera, the daughter of Knez Lazar.30 But Muslim law is quite strict regarding these mixed marriages, and it states that a Muslim man may, under special circumstances, marry a non-Muslim woman, yet a Muslim woman was unequivocally and strictly forbidden from marrying a non-Muslim man.31 Therefore, it is far more likely that the Ottomans opted to use these marriage negotiations as a simple diplomatic device intended to sustain interest in the alliance for as long as possible, without any serious consideration of actually accepting the wedding proposal.

One can also attempt to wave Ladislaus’ proposition off as something that was, perhaps, planned but never realized, since we cannot know for sure whether the letters and the emissary were indeed ever sent to the sultan’s court. However, less than a year after the messages were formulated, the Venetian Senate deliberated about a rather peculiar incident. On September 11, 1393, the Senators decided that they would respond to Francesco Bembo, their captain of the Adriatic Gulf, saying that they had understood the letters that he had sent them from Split on 28 August, in which, among other things, he mentioned that a certain Nicholas from Trogir had told him that he had been ordered by his lord to transfer with his brigantine to Apulia a Turk who was an ambassador of lord Basait. According to the letter, the Turk was apparently heading to King Ladislaus in order to complete nuptials which were agreed upon between him and the daughter of the said Basait.32 In the response, captain Bembo was ordered specifically to check and be sure that the Turkish envoy was not planning to work towards a certain “dishonest cause” which could damage the interests of the Venetian Republic. In that case, and if he were ever to get his hands on the ambassador, he was instructed to let him be and protect the said brigantine from injury or violence. In fact, the captain was told that the messenger should be honored with appropriate words and conduct so that he would have reason to praise their government and the captain himself.33

This letter is more or less a corpus delicti. It confirms that Ladislaus and the Ottomans had indeed attempted to exchange embassies and that a potential marriage alliance had been in the cards since the early 1390s.34 Of course, such activities could not have gone unnoticed and would certainly have sparked revolt among the devout and pious Christians. Nevertheless, the document itself does not give us sufficient cause to conclude with certainty that Bayezid’s ambassador ever reached Gaeta, since indisputable confirmation of his presence there is yet to be found. In this regard, there is one interesting though unsubstantiated claim from an important early modern historian, Scipione Ammirato († 1601), who published a biography of King Ladislaus in 1583. In this text he says that Ladislaus planned to establish relations with Bayezid, the ruler of the Turks, and to do so he traveled to Rome, where he requested papal dispensation from Pope Boniface IX while Bayezid’s ambassadors remained by his side. In the end, Ammirato states that nothing came of the whole scheme, mostly because it was difficult for Ladislaus to ensure the security of the agreement more than anything else.35

The anticipated marriage clearly never materialized, and many historians thought that this implied a breakdown in the negotiations and a premature end of the Angevin-Ottoman alliance. It is true that contemporary documents do not provide any more indication of the reasons why the wedding was abandoned, but the course of events after 1393 leave little doubt that the two sides maintained further contacts and continued to undermine the reign of King Sigismund in Hungary.

The Alliance in Practice

This is perhaps best demonstrated by the political and military developments in Bosnia, Croatia, and Dalmatia where Ladislaus had numerous supporters who could implement the Angevin-Ottoman cooperation in practice. In this respect, one letter particularly stands out among other available sources, as it unambiguously explains what went on during a dense period of defining incidents which occurred throughout 1393 and 1394, further complicating the already convoluted political landscape of the Balkans. The message was sent from Venice in July 1394 by Florentine merchant and diplomat Gherardo Davizi. It was addressed to Donato Acciaiuoli, the older brother of Neri Acciaiuoli, the Duke of Athens. In it, Davizi described how he had recently seen a letter from the Bosnian King Dabiša (1391–1395), who informed the Venetians about a recent Bosnian victory over the Turks. According to the king’s report, the outcome of the battle caused a rift among his subjects, whereby his former allies, the Horváti brothers, Bishop Paul and Ban John, had abandoned him and had traveled to the court of Sultan Bayezid who, at their initiative, proclaimed a different man as the new King of Bosnia and gave them a large army in order to help them install this new king in his newly acquired royal position. As he was unable to deal with this threat alone, Dabiša came to an agreement with Sigismund in Đakovo, relinquishing his claims on Croatia and Dalmatia and declaring Sigismund his designated successor on the Bosnian throne in exchange for military assistance in defeating the insurgents.36 Seeing as the Horváti brothers were the principal advocates of the Angevin cause in the Balkans (especially Ban John, who was named by Ladislaus as his general deputy in the Kingdom of Hungary),37 the contents of this letter clearly imply that the supporters of King Ladislaus and his main representatives on the eastern coast of the Adriatic maintained concrete and substantial connections with the Ottoman court of Sultan Bayezid, using his military support to influence regional politics in their favor.

Although their attempts to replace the Bosnian King with a person who would be loyal to King Ladislaus initially proved unsuccessful,38 as the combined forces of the Bosnian and Hungarian armies defeated the rebels at the castle of Dobor in northern Bosnia, members of the Angevin faction were prepared to bide their time. After Dabiša passed away in September 1395,39 Sigismund could not fulfill the provisions of the Đakovo pact and crown himself with the Bosnian crown, since in the same year his pregnant wife also died as he was busy fighting the Ottomans on the Lower Danube.40 Obliged by the agreement of the two monarchs, the Bosnian nobility arrived at a solution by proclaiming Dabiša’s widow Helen as queen (1395–1398), which meant that she would simply extend the reign of her dead husband until Sigismund finally became free and available to crown himself King of Bosnia.41 The Bosnians maintained this arrangement even after Sigismund suffered defeat at the Battle of Nicopolis in 1396, as he did not present a tangible threat for them, but as soon as he regained any semblance of control in the kingdom, they got rid of Helen and elected King Ostoja (1398–1404; 1409–1418) in her place.42 This was a calculated step which was supposed to reflect the stance of the Bosnian nobility and their wish to guide the kingdom towards an openly pro-Angevin political course. On the issue of Hungarian succession, the new monarch sided with King Ladislaus of Naples, and this position also came to be reflected in his relationship with the Ottoman Turks. It is even assumed that his path to the throne could have been paved by an Ottoman military campaign carried out during the previous winter with the aim of destabilizing Bosnia.43

Numerous contemporary sources confirm this profound political change and illuminate how the Angevin–Ottoman alliance was practically implemented with the assistance of the Bosnian king and his nobles. For instance, already in March 1399, representatives of the merchant commune of Ragusa were informed that King Ostoja intended to travel to the southern parts of his realm in order to meet with a Turkish ambassador.44 Furthermore, in June 1399, an intriguing inscription in the minutes of the Ragusan Senate states that the “Bosnians are in concordance with the Turks.”45 At the very same time, King Ostoja and the other Bosnian nobles were engaged in an armed struggle against King Sigismund, and they still supported King Ladislaus in his attempts to gain the Hungarian throne, so it seems that despite all the turbulent events of the early 1390s, the Bosnians, Angevins, and Ottomans still managed to end the decade on the same political wavelength.46

There is other evidence to support this claim. For instance, in August 1399, an Ottoman embassy traveled through Ragusa in order to get to the other side of the Adriatic. Similarly, in 1400 new Ottoman envoys arrived to the market town of Drijeva, which was then a part of the Bosnian kingdom, but mostly populated by Ragusan merchants, and they wanted to resume their journey to Apulia. Unlike the delegation from the previous year, this party was obstructed by the Ragusans and prevented from going any further. This act provoked Voivode Hrvoje Vukčić, a prominent supporter of King Ladislaus, who was described by King Sigismund in June of 1398 as “a perfidious follower of treachery” and accused of joining the Turks, “the monstrous infidels of Christ’s Cross.”47 Hrvoje wrote a protest note to the Ragusan government stating that “the Lord King Ostoja is complaining” since their men stopped “the Turkish envoys and prohibited them from going across the sea.” In their defense, the Ragusans devised a diplomatic response, justifying themselves by claiming that this had happened without their prior knowledge, since they do not come “between the King of Bosnia, the King of Hungary, and the Turks,” and they promised that they would find and punish the guilty individuals.48 As an additional pledge of their innocence, the Ragusans reminded King Ostoja of the case from August 1399, when they had allowed the Ottoman envoys “to pass across the sea” despite the protests of Dmitar, the son of Serbian King Vukašin, who advised them not to do so.49 This document proves that cordial contacts and interactions between Ladislaus and Bayezid continued well after 1393, regardless of the failed attempt to create a union through marriage, and that they were facilitated by representatives of the pro-Angevin faction within the Bosnian Kingdom. These exchanges steadily became a genuine feature of political affairs at the time, and they clearly had repercussions for the whole of the Balkans and for Bosnia in particular.

The alliance between the Angevins and Ottomans was upheld even after the calamitous collapse of Sultan Bayezid’s reign at the battle of Ankara in 1402 and Ladislaus’ coronation in Zadar the following year. This is confirmed in a letter sent from Rome on August 28, 1406 by Peter von Wormditt († 1419), Procurator General of the Teutonic Knights and their representative at the Holy See, to Konrad von Jungingen († 1407), Grand Master of the Order. Wormditt informed his superior about the imperial and territorial ambitions of King Ladislaus, who aimed to surround Rome both by land and by sea. He then reported how he was told by a reliable source that one of the sultan’s sons; the one who escaped Tamerlane, evidently Prince Suleyman, had his messengers at the court of King Ladislaus, where they offered him an alliance and friendship. Apparently, Suleyman was ready to employ all his might in helping Ladislaus become King of Hungary. The letter continues to say that the messengers were still in Italy at the time of writing and that it was not known whether an agreement would be reached. Moreover, Wormditt ended his communication by stating that on June 24 of the same year, while King Sigismund was engaged in peace negotiations with Austrian Herzog Wilhelm of Habsburg, Prince Suleyman arrived with a great army to the land of Bosnia, “which belongs to Hungary,” where he caused great damage, dislodging more than 14,000 Christians in the process, and where he still remained with a considerable force.50

This means that by 1406, after a relatively short period of respite from Ottoman involvement in their internal affairs, the Bosnians once again began to rely on the Turks in their conflict with Sigismund.51 In that sense, the King of Hungary was faced with a double threat, and there are numerous documents which indicate this cooperation by conflating and fusing the Bosnians and the Turks as one common enemy. The broader historical context and the sheer number of such examples show that this was not merely accusatory discourse or pejorative rhetoric which dishonestly labeled Bosnians as Turks, but that the two sides actually collaborated and assisted each other in their efforts to reach a common goal.52 There are numerous instances in the preserved sources that mention this cooperation. For example, the “perfidious Turks” and “schismatic Bosnians” were grouped together, along with other enemies of and rebels against Sigismund, in two charters from April and October 1406,53 and then on a few occasions in 1407,54 at least a couple of times in 1408,55 and throughout Sigismund’s reign, for instance in 1417, 1418, 1425, and 1437.56 Regardless of whether Sigismund was referring to battles from the first decade of the fifteenth century or speaking in general, the idea that Bosnians and Turks worked together stuck in his mind long after these conflicts had passed.

The implications of King Ladislaus’ collusion with the Turks left an indelible mark on Bosnia, extending even beyond his own interest in the region. After Sigismund’s decisive victory over his enemies in 1408, which forced Hrvoje Vukčić to switch sides and submit himself to his authority, Ladislaus sold his possessions and royal rights over Dalmatia to Venice for 100,000 ducats, basically abandoning his trans-Adriatic ambitions.57 However, irrespective of this inglorious outcome of the decades-long struggle to support Angevin aspirations for the throne of the Hungarian Kingdom, some Bosnians refused to come to terms with the political reality of the time. They continued to maintain close connections to Ladislaus, and through him with the Ottomans. A case in point is Bosnian Voivode Sandalj Hranić. In 1409, he sent a messenger to Ragusa to explain that King Ladislaus was still his “friend” and that he would be willing to perform any honorable service for him, stating that he could rely on military aid both from Apulians and from the Turks.58 And his Ottoman ties did not end there. On one occasion in 1411 when Sigismund complained to the Pope against the Venetians who had purchased the Dalmatian fortress of Ostrovica from Voivode Sandalj, the Venetians defended their position by declaring that they had bought the castle in the interest of the whole of Christendom, because Sandalj had many Turks and could have just as well have given Ostrovica to them.59 In the same year, the Venetians sent a letter to the commune of Kotor telling them that Sandalj had with him, “as it is said,” 7,000 Turks.60 By that time, however, the situation for Sandalj became untenable, and he soon joined the camp of King Sigismund.

Concluding Remarks

Although the envisaged wedding never took place, there is no question that messengers were exchanged between the courts of Gaeta and Edirne, resulting in a real and tangible Angevin-Ottoman alliance that was executed through concrete military cooperation between Ladislaus’ representatives in the Balkans and their Ottoman counterparts in the form of combined attacks against King Sigismund and his subjects. Viewed in the appropriate historical context, the accusations that King Sigismund directed against Ladislaus and his Balkan allies blaming them for cooperating with the Turks, which were previously waved off as possibly biased or unfounded allegations, turn out to have been grounded in reality and based on actual events.

Possibly the key problem in the whole issue is whether the idea of an alliance with the Turks came from Ladislaus himself or from his followers in Dalmatia, Croatia, and Bosnia. More research will have to be done in order to answer this question properly, but in the geopolitical context of the time, an alliance with the Turks was a natural and rational step for both Ladislaus and his Balkan supporters. This was, in fact, a classic case of political opportunism, in which Ladislaus expected that the sultan’s military help would be a useful tool in achieving full control of what he believed rightfully belonged to him. The language of his letters to the sultan extended beyond mere diplomatic courtesy and showed his readiness to achieve an alliance at almost any cost. It was an unscrupulous Machiavellian move, a century before Machiavelli, in which the end justified the means. In that sense, the Holy Crown of St. Stephen was deemed a prize worthy enough to vindicate even “collusion with infidels.”

The local nobility in the Balkans was aware that the sultan disposed of seemingly endless resources and had already by that time began directing his armies north across the Danube, through Bulgaria and Serbia. If they could not beat the Ottomans, they could join them and try to achieve their own goals by launching joint attacks against Hungary from Bosnia and Croatia. On the other hand, the Ottoman Turks sought to impose themselves on the Christian lords by pursuing a policy of divide et impera, supporting conflicts among them and not leaving them much choice other than to call upon Ottoman assistance in their internecine struggles. As Ladislaus and his court in Italy were almost completely reliant on local political factors in the Balkans, it seems far more likely that plans for this military and diplomatic collaboration with the Turks were devised among Ladislaus’ overseas advisors. If it can indeed be proved that the idea originated from Croat or Bosnian nobles, particularly from the Horváti or Hrvatinić brothers, who might have initially suggested it to Ladislaus, then this would just highlight the depth of the chasm between Sigismund and his rebels, who evidently preferred working with the aggressive Sultan Bayezid over being ruled by the “Czech swine,” as they affectionately referred to the King of Hungary.

Regardless of whether the idea came from his Balkan or Italian counsellors, Ladislaus’ decision to reach out to Sultan Bayezid had practical effects and far reaching consequences, and it greatly impacted overall political events in Southeast Europe at the end of the fourteenth century and the beginning of the fifteenth. This was especially the case in Bosnia, where supporting Ladislaus eventually came to mean sustaining an open and public alliance with the Turks, as well as potentially forever being tainted with the stain of collaboration and ultimately alienating those from whom help was needed most when Bosnia struggled against the very same Turks at a later stage. It proved to be a naive, narrow-minded policy which involved the sacrifice of long-term goals for short-term benefit, as this outlandish political adventure ended in 1408 in spectacular failure for Ladislaus, when he was forced to retreat definitively from his ambitions of ruling over Hungary. By doing so, he had abandoned his Bosnian supporters, whose land had already become a base for advanced Ottoman conquests towards the west and north. Irrespective of its failed final outcome, this strategic three-way alliance left a profound impression on the history of the region. Further exposing the mechanisms by which it functioned would help us understand the actions and conduct of all those who were involved in the struggle for political supremacy at the time and would hopefully allow us to arrive at a clearer image of the events which decisively shaped the political landscape of the Balkans for decades and even centuries to come


Archival sources

Archivio di Stato di Venezia (ASV)

Deliberazioni Misti del Senato, reg. 42.

Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana (BML)

Carteggio Acciaiuoli II, no. 212.

Državni arhiv u Dubrovniku [Dubrovnik State Archives] (DAD)

Diversa Cancellariae, vol. 32

Lettere di Levante, vol. 1

Reformationes, vol. 31

Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár [The National Archives of Hungary] (MNL)

Országos Levéltár, Budapest, Hungary [The State Archive] (OL)

Mohács előtti gyűjtemény [Collection of Documents from the Period before the Battle of Mohács (1526)] (Q)

Diplomatikai levéltár [The Archive of Diplomatics] (DL)

Fényképgyűjtemény [The Photographic Collection] (U)

Mohács előtti fényképgyűjtemény [The Photographic Collection of Documents from the Period before the Battle of Mohács (1526)] (DF)


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1 The expression “impious alliance” to describe Christian collaboration with the Ottomans was used first by Pope Gregory XI in 1374. Having heard that Emperor John V (1341–1391) was paying tribute to Sultan Murad (1362–1389), he interpreted this arrangement as an “impious alliance” between Greeks and Turks directed against the believers of Christ: “inter Grecos et Turcos quedam impia colligatio adversus fideles Christi.” Halecki, Un Empereur de Byzance à Rome, 301 n. 3; Dennis, The Reign of Manuel II Palaeologus, 35; Ostrogorski, “Byzance, Etat tributaire de L’empire Turc,” 49−58. The same phrase was used later to label the agreement signed between King Francis I of France (1515–1547) and Sultan Suleyman (1520–1566) in 1536. See Isom-Verhaaren, Allies with the Infidel, passim; Devereux, “‘The ruin and slaughter of … fellow Christians’,” 115.

2 A good general overview of the main events and topics concerning the Hungarian succession crisis are found in: Engel, The Realm of St Stephen, 169–70, 195–202; and Süttő, “Der Dynastiewechsel Anjou-Luxemburg in Ungarn,” 79–87; cf. the older but still useful work of Huber, “Die Gefangennehmung der Königinnen Elisabeth und Maria von Ungarn,” 509–48.

3 On Sigismund’s early years as King of Hungary, see Mályusz, Kaiser Sigismund in Ungarn, 7–59; Hoensch, Kaiser Sigismund, 64–92.

4 Schönherr, “Nápolyi László trónkövetelésének külföldi vonatkozásai,” 237–66.

5 Miskolczy, “Nápolyi László (I. közlemény),” 330–50, 499–523.

6 Cutolo, Re Ladislao d’Angiò-Durazzo.

7 Hóman, Gli Angioini di Napoli in Ungheria, 492; Léonard, Gli Angioini di Napoli, 626. Cf. Pór and Schönherr, Az Anjou ház és Örökösei, 415.

8 Rački, “Pokret na slavenskom jugu koncem XIV i početkom XV stoljeća,” vol. 3. 149, vol. 4. 16–17; Klaić, Povjest Hrvata, vol. 2. 281; Šišić, Vojvoda Hrvoje Vukčić Hrvatinić, 83–84. Cf. Lovrenović, Na klizištu povijesti, 69.

9 Imber, The Ottoman Empire, 37–54; Murphey, “Bayezid I’s Foreign Policy Plans and Priorities,” 177–215.

10 İnalcık, “The Ottoman Turks and the Crusade, 1329–1451,” 248; Zachariadou, “Marginalia on the History of Epirus and Albania (1380–1418),” 205.

11 For Visconti’s ties with the Ottomans, see Atiya, The Crusade of Nicopolis, 13; and for Genoa: Fleet, “The Treaty of 1387 between Murād I and the Genoese,” 13–33; Fleet, European and Islamic Trade in the Early Ottoman State, 4–12. See also: Fleet, “Turkish–Latin Diplomatic Relations in the Fourteenth Century,” 605–11; Fleet, “Turkish–Latin Relations at the End of the Fourteenth Century,” 131–37.

12 “Hunc Stephanum wayuodam preter cetera infanda sua facinora in lesam regie dignitatis maiestatem perpetrata eadem tempestate, cum rex Sigismundus post cladem sub Nicapoli receptam marittimis demorabatur in partibus, tale scelus commisisse accusabant. Etenim illum ad cesarem Thurcorum Pasaiithem nuncios misisse filiamque illius regi Ladislao, quem inducere conabatur, ea conditione, ut illi contra regem Sigismundum adiumento fieret, iugo matrimoniali ducere spopondisse et in huius documentum ingentia Thurcorum agmina Hungaricas in partes inter flumina Zawe et Drawe situatas induxisse gravesque ibidem per eosdem depopulationes edidisse dicebant. Ante hec Thurci nondum Hungaricas lustraverant terras. Iste fuit ingressus Thurcorum in Hungariam primus, eo tunc illi ingentes, quas cernimus in civitatibus Sirimiensibus, edidere vastitates, quas civitates etiam nunc loca illarum suis orbata edificiis non parvas fuisse testantur.” Thurocz, Chronica Hungarorum, vol. 1. 220; Thuróczy, Chronicle of the Hungarians, 69. For the earliest Ottoman attacks on Hungary, see Engel, “A török–magyar háborúk első évei 1389–1392,” 561–77; Engel, “Ungarn und die Türkengefahr zur Zeit Sigimunds (1387–1437),” 55–71; Rázsó, “A Zsigmond kori Magyarország és a török veszély, 1393–1437,” 403–41; Szakály, “Phases of Turco–Hungarian Warfare before the Battle of Mohács (1365–1526),” 65–111.

13 “Stephanum vaivodam preter alia gravissima scelera, que patrarat, id potissimum ausum fuisse memorant. Post Nicopolitanam cladem, cum in maritimis oris Sigismundus moram traheret, hunc ad Pasaythem Turcorum regem tabellarios misisse ferunt clamque cum eo de filie nuptiis cum Ladislao rege egisse et ea quidem condicione, ut generum ad eiicendum Pannonie regno Sigismundum copiis auxiliaribus et opibus adiuvaret; rem per internuncios eo adduxisse, ut sub hac spe affinitatis oblate, quam tantopere profanus barbarus appetebat, nonnullas Turcorum legiones ad labefactandas Sigismundi vites inter Savum Dravumque induxerit, unde magna Ungarie appendicibus calamitas vastatioque illata; hunc igitur primum Turcorum ingressum in inferiorem Pannoniam fuisse perhibent. Quare tunc Syrmiensis ager, qui tot urbibus oppidisque florebat, ita populatus et eversus est, ut vix nunc tot civitatum perpauca vestigia supersint.” Bonfinis, Rerum Ungaricarum Decades, vol. 3. 43.

14 Juhász, Thuróczy és Bonfini krónikájának összehasonlítása Zsigmondtól Mátyásig, 5–6, 24–27.

15 “[…] interim praetaxati viri perfidi, vterque Stephanus, vna cum Andrea, filio quondam Nicolai Vajuode, filii dicti Stephani, filii Laczk, praedicti de Debregesth fratre et fautoribus suis, ex cordiali prisco et mero doloso desiderio, cunctis nisu et nixu suis, anhelantes nos cum nostris fidelibus subditis antefatis, more et astutia subdoli serpentis, de dictis regnis nostris eliminare et excludere, obtentis a Ladislao, rege Apuliae, nato scilicet quondam Caroli Regis, huiusmodi litteris, vt iidem viri perfidi, vterque Stephanus, successores ipsius Laczk, in antefatis regnis nostris vicarii ipsius Ladislai regis essent generales et praecipue communiterque in dictis regnis et cum regnicolis nostris praefati vterque Stephanus, in persona et auctoritate ipsius Ladislai regis disponerent, ordinarent et donarent, ac sponderent, cuncta illa idem Ladislaus Rex acceptaret, ratificaret et perenniter extremo roboraret. Et vt celerius ac facilius annotati Stephanus Vajuoda, et alter Stephanus de Simonytornya, vna cum dicto Andrea, filio Nicolai Vajuodae, fratre eorum, ipsos regnicolas nostros ad eiusdem Ladislai regis beneplacitum et obedientiae commoda explenda potuissent subdere, et inclinati, nunciis suis ad Payzath, Turcorum Imperatorem, super eo, vt ipsius Payzath filiam dicto Ladislao regi matrimoniali foedere molirentur copulare et copulatos similiter litteris ipsius Payzath, imperatoris Turcorum, exinde prius obtentis, sacro regio diademate ipsius regni nostri coronare, indilate destinatis, validum et saeuissimum dictorum Turcorum coetum et faleratam cohortem ad territoria regni nostri, inter fluuios Drauae et Sauae existentia, hostiliter introducere et per eosdem incendia valida et homicidia, ac spolia grandia et detentiones, abductiones Nobilium et Ignobilium vtriusque sexus immensae pluritatis hominum perpetrari facere, nequiter veriti non fuerunt.” MNL OL DL 87 647. March 4, 1397; Codex diplomaticus Hungariae, vol. 10/2. 416–17; Zsigmondkori oklevéltár, vol. 1. no. 4656.

16 “[…] interim praetaxatis viris perfidis, vtrisque Stephano et Andrea, fratre ipsorum, idem Stephanus, dictus Vrdung, adherens cunctis ipsorum nisu et nixu, nos cum praefatis nostris fidelibus, nostro lateri adhaerentibus, ad instar subdoli serpentis, de dictis regnis nostris eliminare, excludere et exterminare moliebantur. Nam iidem vterque Stephanus, quibus idem Steph. Vrdung adhaeserat, nobis, vt prefertur, in naufragio procelloso laborantibus, huiusmodi litteras a Ladislao, rege Apuliae, nato scilicet quondam Caroli regis, procurantes obtinuerunt, vt iidem viri perfidi, vterque Stephanus, successores ipsius Laachk, in antefatis regnis nostris, vicarii ipsius Ladislai regis essent generales, et praecipue quidquid in dictis regnis cum regnicolis nostris ipse vterque Stephanus in persona et authoritate ipsius Ladislai regis disponerent, ordinarent et sponderent, cuncta illa idem Ladislaus rex acceptaret, ratificaret et perenniter ex nouo roboraret; et vt celerius et facilius annotati Stephanus, quondam Waywoda, et alter Stephanus de Simontornya, vna cum Andrea fratre ipsorum; nec non praefato Stephano, dicto Vrdung, ipsos regnicolas nostros ad ipsius Ladislai regis beneplacita et obedientiae commoda explenda potuissent flectere et inclinare, nunciis et syndicis suis ad Bajzath, Dominum Turcorum super eo, vt ipsius Bayzat filiam eidem Ladislao regi matrimoniali foedere copulare et post copulationem sacro regio diademate ipsius regni nostri immediate voluissent coronare, solicite destinatis; validum et saeuissimum dictorum Turcorum coetum et falleratam cohortem ad territoria regni nostri, inter fluuios Drauae et Zauae existentia, hostiliter introducere et per eosdem incendia, valida et homicidia ac spolia grandia et detentiones, abductionesque nobilium et ignobilium vtriusque sexus immensae pluralitatis hominum fidelium nostrorum, in regno et territorio nostris antefatis; prout haec cuncta ipsorum facinora fideles nostri dolorosis eorum gemitibus, nostro in conspectu reuera reprobarunt, nequiter perpetrari facere veriti non fuerunt.” MNL OL DL 8376. December 1, 1398; Codex diplomaticus Hungariae, vol. 10/2. 558–59; Zsigmondkori oklevéltár, vol. 1. no. 5603.

17 “[…] interim pretaxati viri perfidi uterque Stephanus unacum dicto Andrea, filio condam Nicolai voivode, filii dicti Stephani, filii predicti Lachk de Debregezth fratre et fautoribus suis, ex cordiali presto et mero doloroso desiderio cunctis nisu et nixu suis anhelantes, nos cum nostris fidelibus subditis antefatis more et adinstar subdoli serpentis, de dictis regnis nostris eliminare, excludere et exterminare, optentis a Ladislao rege Apulie, nato scilicet condam Karuli regis, huiusmodi literis, ut iidem viri perfidi uterque Stephanus, successores ipsius Lachk, in antefatis regnis nostris vicarii ipsius Ladislai essent generales et precipue quitquam in dictis regnis nostris cum regnicolis nostris prefati uterque Stephanus in persona et auctoritate ipsius Ladislai regis disponerent, ordinarent ac donarent et sponderent, cuncta illa idem Ladislaus rex ex novo roboraret, et ut celerius ac facilius annotati Stephanus vaivoda et alter Stephanus de Simontornya unacum dicto Andrea filio Nicolai vaivode fratre ipsorum eosdem regnicolas nostros ad eiusdem regis Ladislai beneplacita et obediencie comoda explenda potuissent subdere, flectere et inclinare, nunciis subditis ad Bayzat dominum Turcorum super eo, ut ipsius Bayzat filiam dicto Ladislao regi matrimoniali federe molirentur copulare et copulatos sacro regio dyademate ipsius regni nostri immediate valuissent coronare, indilate destinatis, validum et sevissimum dictorum Turcorum cetum et falleratam cohortem ad territoria regni nostri inter fluvios Drawe et Zawe existencia hostiliter introducere et per eosdem incendia valida et homicidia ac spolia grandia et detenciones abduccionesque nobilium et ignobilium utriusque sexus immense pluralitatis hominum fidelium nostrorum in regno et territoriis nostris antefatis, prout hec cuncta facinora fideles nostri dolorosis eorum gemitibus nostre in conspectu approbaverunt maiestatis, perpetrari facere nequiter veriti non fuerunt nec expavescere maluerunt.” MNL OL DL 92 259. January 6, 1401; Šišić, “Nekoliko isprava,” 131; Zsigmondkori oklevéltár, vol. 2/1. no. 802.

18 “[…] interim pretaxatis viris perfidis, vtrisque Stephano et Andrea fratribus ipsorum, idem Stephanus Vrdugh adherens nos cum prefatis nostris fidelibus, nostro lateri adherentibus, ad instar subdoli serpentis de dictis regnis nostris excludere, et exterminare machinabantur. Nam idem vterque Stephanus, quibus idem Stephanus Vrdugh toto posse, vt prefertur, nobis in naufragio periculoso laborantibus, huiusmodi litteras ab Ladislao rege Napulie, nato scilicet, quondam Karuli regis obtinuerant, vt ydem viri perfidi vterque Stephanus, successores ipsius Lachk, in antefatis regnis nostris vicary ipsius Ladislai regis essent generales, et precipue quidquid in dictis regnis cum regni incolis nostris ipsi vtrique Stephanus, in persona et auctoritate ipsius Ladislai regis disponerent, ordinarent, et sponderent, cuncta illa idem Ladislaus Rex acceptaret, ratificaret, et perhenniter ex nouo roboraret; et vt celerius et facilius annotati Stephanus Woyuoda et alter Stephanus de Simonytornya, vna cum Andrea fratre ipsorum, nec non prefato Stephano dicto Vrdurgh ipsos regnicolas nostros ad ipsius Ladizlai regis beneplacita et obediencie commoda complenda potuissent subdere, flectere, et inclinare, nunciis – – suis ad Bayzath Dominum Turcorum super eo, vt ipsius Bayzath filiam eidem Ladislao regi matrimoniali foedere copulare, et copulatam sacro diademate ipsius regni nostri immediate voluissent coronare, solicite destinatis validum et seuissimum Turcorum cetum et faleratam cohortem, ad territoria regni nostri inter fluuios Draue et Saue existentia hostiliter introducere, et per eosdem valida incendia, et homicidia, ac spolia grandia et detenciones abduccionesque nobilium et ignobilium, vtriusque sexus hominum, fidelium nostrorum in regno et territorio nostris antefatis, prout hec cuncta eorum facinora fideles nostri dolorosis eorum gemitibus nostri in conspectu reuerea comprobarunt, perpetrare facere veriti non fuerunt nequiter.” MNL OL DL 9404. May 4, 1408; Codex diplomaticus Hungariae, vol. 10/8. 485–86; Zsigmondkori oklevéltár, vol. 2/2 no. 6078.

19 “[…] nefandissimus Crucis Christi, immo totius Orthodoxae fidei, hostis et persecutor, Bajzath, Dominus Turcorum, capitalis nostrae Maiestatis aemulus […]” Codex diplomaticus Hungariae, vol. 10/4. 295–96. April 4, 1404.

20 Karbić, “Lackovići (Lackfi) iz plemićkog roda Hermán,” 21–29. See also: Majláth, “A Laczk nemzetség,” 21–29; Lázár, “A két Laczk család eredete,” 110–12; Karácsonyi, “A kerekegyházi Laczkfyak családfája,” 166–73. Cf. Hóman, Gli Angioini di Napoli in Ungheria, 460–62, 480–82, 505–9.

21 Probably a misreading of “de Laczhis.” Barone, “Notizie raccolte dai registri di cancelleria del re Ladislao di Durazzo,” 728. Cf. Wenzel, Magyar diplomacziai emlékek az Anjou-korból, vol. 3. 720. October 15, 1392.

22 Valente, “Margherita di Durazzo, vicaria di Carlo III e tutrice di re Ladislao,” vol. 43:184–85.

23 Borghese, “Les registres de la chancellerie angevine de Naples,” 171–82; Jamison, “Documents from the Angevin Registers of Naples,” 87–173; Capasso, Inventario cronologico-sistematico dei Registri Angioni, 384; Filangieri, L’Archivio di Stato di Napoli durante la seconda guerra mondiale; Palmieri, Degli archivi napolitani, 249–52.

24 Wenzel, Magyar diplomacziai emlékek az Anjou-korból, vol. 3. 720–22. October 18, 1392.

25 “Serenissimo Principi domino Pazait Imperatori Turcorum, maiori fratri nostro Ladislaus Dei gratia Rex etc. salutem et fraterne et sincere dilectionis affectum. Quod plerumque perfici atque refferri personaliter locorum distantia prohibet, inuentus, immo utilis et necessarius scribendi modus, ac Oratorum persepe fides exequitur laudabiliter atque supplet. Habentes itaque cum Serenitate Vestra certa conferre que — — — — distantes a nobis eidem Vestre Serenitate uerbo non possumus explicare; nec minus de viro nobili ... familiari et fideli nostro dilecto ab experto confisi, ea sibi sub credencie fide commisimus; qui de iussu et parte nostris illa Vestre Serenitati, ad eius se conferens presentiam veniet, est relaturus. Ideoque Imperialem Serenitatem Vestram sincere beniuolentie et fraterne dilectionis affectu precamur, quatenus ... predicti relatibus, quem in agendis nostris et alijs sibi expedientibus fiducialiter Vestre Serenitati reconmictimus, velit eadem Vestra Serenitas fidem tamquam nobis adhibere credentie, Nosque de statu vestro, quem impellente nos fraterno zelo et consanguinitatis nexu quo inuicem iungimur, prosperum audire et esse cupimus, vestris litteris ad nostri recreationem animj, cum habilitas modusque patuerint, informare, statum nostrum, ac Serenissime Domine domine Margarite eadem gratia dictorum Regnorum Regine reuerende genitricis, et illustris Johanne sororis nostrarum fore gratie omnium Conditoris incolumem, ipsi Vestre Serenitatj serie presentium intimantes. Has autem nostras litteras exinde fierj et magni nostri pendentis sigilli jussimus appensione munirj. Data Gayete in absentia Logothete et Prothonotarj Regni nostri Sicilie eiusque Locumtenentis per virum nobilem Donatum de Aretio Legum Doctorem etc. anno Dominj MCCCLXXXXII. die decimo octauo mensis Octubris prime indictionis, Regnorum nostrorum anno sexto.” Wenzel, Magyar diplomacziai emlékek az Anjou-korból, vol. 3. 720–21. October 18, 1392.

26 On Timurtaş, see İslâm Ansiklopedisi, s.v. “Timurtaş,” vol. 11. 372–74 (M.C. Şehabeddin Tekindağ). Unfortunately, there is no equivalent approach to the biography of Yakub Pasha.

27 Schreiner, Die Byzantinischen Kleinchroniken, vol. 1. 245. On the campaign, see Loenertz, “Pour l’histoire du Péloponèse au XIVe siècle (1382–1404),” 187.

28 “Ladizlaus Rex etc. illustri Amortas amico nostro carissimo salutem et sincere dilectionis affectum. Pro aliquibus agendis nostris honorem et statum nostrum concernentibus virum nobilem ... familiarem et fidelem nostrum dilectum ad presentiam Serenissimi Principis domini Pazait Imperatoris Turcorum maioris fratris nostri, ut quedam Eius Serenitatj nostri parte referat, presentialiter mictimus; cuj similiter certa, fidutialiter commisimus per eum vobis eadem nostri parte verbotenus referenda. Quapropter Illustrem Vestram Amicitiam presentium tenore precamur, quatenus eiusdem ... relatibus fidem tamquam nobis adhibere credentie, et ipsum tam in agendis nostris quam in alijs sibi expedientibus recommissum suscipere nostrj amore et contemplatione velitis. Vt ipsi Vestre Illustri Amicitie, ad cuius placida nos offerimus, propterea specialiter teneamur. Has autem nostras licteras exinde fierj et magni nostri pendentis sigilli jussimus appensione munirj. Data, Gaiete in absentia, Logothete et Prothonotarij Regni nostri Sicilie et eius Locumtenentis, per virum nobilem Donatum de Aretio etc. anno Dominj millesimo trecentesimo nonagesimo secundo die XVIII. mensis Octobris prime indictionis, Regnorum nostrorum anno sexto.” Wenzel, Magyar diplomacziai emlékek az Anjou-korból, vol. 3. 721–22. October 18, 1392.

29 Bryer, “Greek Historians on the Turks: the case of the first Byzantine–Ottoman marriage,” 471–93. Cf. Zachariadou, “Notes on the Wives of the Emirs in Fourteenth-Century Anatolia,” 61–68. See also: Werner, “Johannes Kantakuzenos, Umur Paša und Orhan,” 255–76; Gill, “John VI Cantacuzenus and the Turks,” 55–76.

30 Purković, Kćeri kneza Lazara, 107–12.

31 Qur’an, 2:221.

32 “Anno MCCCLXXXXIII. indictione II. die XI. Septembris. Capta: Quod scribatur ser Francisco Bembo Vicecapitaneo Culphi in hac forma: Intelleximus litteras vestras, quas misistis, nobis, datas supra Spalatum XXVIII. mensis Augusti, in quibus inter alia fit mentio, qualiter ille Nicolaus de Tragurio vobis dixit, quod habet in mandatis a Domino suo de faciendo poni cum uno brigentino unum Turchum in Apuleam, qui est Ambaxator domini Basaiti, et vadit ad dominum Regem Vencislaum pro complemento nuptiarum tractatarum inter ipsum dominum Regem et filiam dicti Basaiti...” ASV, Deliberazioni Misti del Senato, reg. 42, fol. 129r. September 11, 1393; Wenzel, Magyar diplomacziai emlékek az Anjou-korból, vol. 3. 742–43.

33 “[...] et quod vos estis dispositus ire ad apostandum eum in aquis Manfredonie, quia habetis, quod debeat illuc capitare; et si casus dabit, quod veniat in manus vestras, reddere sibi meritum pro suis bonis operibus. Unde consideratis omnibus, que consideranda sunt super ipsa intentione vestra, et maxime quod dictus Turchus Ambaxator non vadit in cursum, nec pro aliqua alia, quantum ad nos, causa inhonesta; fidelitati vestre cum nostris Consiliis scribimus et mandamus, quod in casu quod veniret in manus vestras eundo vel redeundo, vos non debeatis ei, nec suis in personis vel rebus, nec dicto brigentino aliquam iniuriam vel violentiam facere, sed debeatis ipsum honorare cum illis verbis et per illum modum, qui vestre sapientie videbitur, ita quod habeat causum laudandi nos, Dominium nostrum et vos; agendo vos taliter in executione istius nostri mandati, quod possitis apud nos de bona observantia commendari.” Ibid. On relations between Venice and Ladislaus of Naples, see Szalay, “Nápolyi László trónkövetelése és Velencze,” 557–64, 643–55, 751–59, 836–44.

34 Elizabeth A. Zachariadou believed that the proposed marriage alliance was not supposed to be concluded between Ladislaus and the daughter of Sultan Bayezid but rather between Ladislaus and the daughter of the famous marcher lord of Skopje, Pasha Yiğit. Zachariadou, “Marginalia on the History of Epirus and Albania (1380–1418),” 205. This confusion apparently emanated from the similarity between their names and the way that they were transcribed into Latin. Zachariadou, “Manuel II Palaeologos on the Strife between Bāyezīd I and K.ād.ī Burhān al-Dīn Ah.mad,” 479–80. Regardless of this opinion, other documents leave no doubt that King Ladislaus intended to marry into the Ottoman ruling family in order to further cement his alliance with the Sultan.

35 “Ma in questo mezzo egli non perdea tempo precioche volendo in ogni modo cacciar il nimico di casa, hauea tenuto pratiche d’imparentarsi con Baiazet principe de Turchi, quello che preso poi da Tamburlano, fini miseramente la vita sua in gabbia. Andò per ottener dal Pontefice dispensa di questo parentado in Roma; essendo tuttauia ambasciadori di Baiazet appo il Re. Ma come che la cosa non hauesse hauuto effetto più per la difficoltà ritrouata nella sicurtà del capitolare che per altro…” Ammirato, Gli opuscoli, 114–15.

36 “Secondo posso sentire, questo jorno venonno lettere alla Signoria, dallo Re di Bossina, il quale scrive della rotta diè alli Turchi, de’ quali furono morti più di Turchi VM, con alchuno preso. Apresso scrive di messer Gianbano, il quale andò allo gran Turcho a farsi suo huomo, e a fare il Turcho facesse uno altro re di Bossina; e così dice à fatto uno altro re, uno paesano. E questo re novello e messer Gianbano, e llo suo frate, con aiuto e gente ebbono dallo Turcho, sono venuti nelli paesi di Bossina per mettere in possesione questo re novello, e dice sono circha XLM, e alchuno paesano è co’ lloro. Scrive, secondo per l’altra v’avisai, come i’ Re d’Ungheria venne nelle contrade di Bossina, e come furono a parlare insieme, e ànno fatto buono acordo e legha insieme, e come questo re, fatto per lo Turcho e messer Gianbano, con tutta loro gente, si sono rinchiusi in certi boschi in luogho forte, nello quale luogho essi gli ànno asediati e stretti assai, per modo sperano coll’aiuto di Dio avranno victoria d’essi. Anchora come questo re e messer Gianbano ànno mandato uno fratello di messer Giabano e uno suo figliuolo allo Turcho per soccorso e per aiuto. Pensasi per tutti che per certo i due re andranno adosso allo Turcho, questo è; però lo Re scrive anchora come insino a mo’ ànno più di persone XLM, dove sono forestieri assai.” Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Carteggio Acciaiuoli II, no. 212. July 30, 1394. For more on this: Filipović, “Bosna i Turci za vrijeme kralja Stjepana Dabiše,” 273–301. Cf. Ćirković, “O Đakovačkom ugovoru,” 3–10.

37 “Johanni bano Machoviensi in regnis predictis nostro vicario generali […]” Rački, “Izvadci iz kralj. osrednjeg arkiva u Napulju,” 36. October 8, 1391. On the Horvat brothers and their rebellion, see Wilczek, “A Horváthy család lázadása, és a magyar tengervidék elszakadása,” 617–33, 705–15, 804–22.

38 The identity of this candidate for the royal throne of Bosnia is not directly revealed in the sources, however, it is highly likely that this was Ikach, son of Iktor de Oryaua. Filipović, “Bosna i Turci za vrijeme kralja Stjepana Dabiše,” 292–94. See also: Klaić, “Tko je to ‘rex Ikach’,” 12–15; Ćirković, Istorija srednjovekovne bosanske države, 176, 370, n. 4; Mályusz, “Ikach rex Bosnensis,” 259–67.

39 Truhelka, “Kroničke bilješke u ‘Liber Reformationum’ dubrovačke arkive,” 268.

40 Thallóczy, “Mantovai követjárás Budán 1395,” 283–92; Muresan, “Avant Nicopolis: la campagne de 1395 pour le contrôle du Bas-Danube,” 115–32; Salamon, “On the Credibility of an Item in Jan Długosz’s Chronicle,” 164–70.

41 On the reign of Queen Helen in Bosnia, see Fostikov, “Jelena Gruba, bosanska kraljica,” 29–50.

42 “Prima pars est de eundo ad maius conscilium pro elligendo ambassiatam nostrorum nobilium ad Regem Hostoyam nouiter creatus regem Bossine.” DAD, Reformationes, vol. 31, fol. 116v. June 19, 1398.

43 Filipović, “The Ottoman-Serbian Attack on Bosnia in 1398,” 119–25.

44 “Algune nouele de nouo non auemo de schriuer, saluo che chredemo, che miser lo Re desendera in tera de Chulmo, chome aueua spato li annbasatori de Turchi.” DAD, Diversa Cancellariae, vol. 32, ad fol. 234. March 12, 1399.

45 “Prima pars de dicendo consilio maiori quia castellanus Almixe nobis scripsit et quia Pasayt nobis misit dictum quod nos sumus una cum Bossignanis qui sunt concordati cum Turchis, essere bonum quod nostri ambaxiatori reperirent se apud nostrum dominum nostro.” DAD, Reformationes, vol. 31, fol. 134v. June 31, 1399.

46 Kranzieritz, “Változások a Délvidéken Nikápoly után,” 97–108.

47 “[…] quod Hervoya vayvoda, veluti perfidus alumnus proditionis, ductus malignitate, nostrorum immensorum regalium beneficiorum immemor, se ipsum in cetum infidelium crucis Christi, Turcorum videlicet, connumerare et coadunare […]” Smičiklas, Codex diplomaticus regni Croatiae, Dalmatiae et Slavoniae, vol. 18. 345. June 2, 1398. For the biography of Voivode Hrvoje, see Šišić, Vojvoda Hrvoje Vukčić Hrvatinić.

48 DAD, Lettere di Levante, vol. 1, fol. 23v; Stojanović, Stare srpske povelje i pisma, vol. 1. 448. April 8, 1400.

49 Ibid. Cf. Ćirković, “Poklad kralja Vukašina,” 153 n. 1; Fostikov, “O Dmitru Kraljeviću,” 56–57.

50 “Der koning von Napels steet gancz dornoch, das her keißer moge werden, und her hup am grosten an. Her meynte, her welde Rome czum ersten haben und den bobst, so hette hers als. Nu im das nicht mochte geen, nu hat her einen frede alhie gemacht, und wirt im der kirchen sodener czu czihen. Und gewynnet her Pyse in, so steet im Lucke czu gebot itczunt mit aller herschaft. So hat her noch von der kirchen wegen ynne Campania und Maritima. So mag her denne lichte Senas und Perus gewynnen und dornoch Viterbie. So hat her Rome alumb beyde czu wasser und czu lande, das her denne also, gan ims got, des ich nicht enhoffe, synen willen an aller dank behalden mag. Mir hat gesagt ein erbar apt us dem konigrich, der nu mit den sendeboten wider kegen Rome quam, das des Turken son, der dem Czemmerlan entging, als her dem alden öberlag, syne boten habe by dem konige von Napels und hat im gelobt: welle her einen bunt und fruntschaft mit im machen, her welle im helfen [mit] all synem vermogen, das her konig czu Ungern sulle werden. Und die boten syn noch im lande. Was her mit in wirt schaffen, des weys man noch nicht. Man sagt ouch alhie vor wor, das derselbe Turke an sand Johans tage, als der konig von Ungern mit herczoge Wilhelm von Osterich, dem got gnade, vorricht würde, mit einem grossen heere in das lant czu Bosna, das kegen Ungern gehort, were gekomen und hette aldo großen schaden gethon und hette (von dannen) me denn 14 000 cristen von dannen lassen tryben, und lege noch aldo mit großer macht.” Koeppen, Die Berichte der Generalprokuratoren des Deutschen Ordens an der Kurie, vol. 2. 79–80. August 28, 1406. For the activities and reign of Prince Suleyman in the Balkans, see Dennis, “The Byzantine–Turkish Treaty of 1403,” 72–88; Zachariadou, “Süleyman çelebi in Rumili and the Ottoman chronicles,” 268–96; Kastritsis, The Sons of Bayezid, passim.

51 The wars between Bosnia and Hungary in the first decade of the fifteenth century are described by Lovrenović, Na klizištu povijesti, 119–68.

52 See the contrasting interpretation presented in: Lovrenović, “Modelle ideologischer Ausgrenzung,” 18–55.

53 “[…] per huiusmodi nostros infideles ceterosque nonnullos rebelles et inimicos nostros videlicet Horwoyam, Wlkchith ac Bosnenses […] adducta quasi innumerabili pluralitate perfidorum turcorum et Bosnensium scismaticorum ad dominum et possessiones ipsorum fidelium nostrorum, qui commissis ibidem predis, spoliis, rapinis, adulteriis, stupris, hominum interemptionibus, tandemque totale dominium et possessiones in favillam redactis abscesserunt […]” Thallóczy and Barabás, Codex diplomaticus comitum de Blagay, 220. April 22, 1406. “Quia nonnulli Turcy, Boznenses et alii nostri emuli et rebelles coadunati regnum nostrum latesscentes et devastantes iam hostiliter subintrarunt […]” Zsigmondkori oklevéltár, vol. 2/1 no. 5036. October 4, 1406.

54 “[…] vtputa Turcorum et aliarum perfidarum nacionum, nec non Paterinorum Boznensium a parte Regni Bozne […]” Wenzel, “Okmánytár Ozorai Pipo történetéhez,” 25. December 7, 1407. “[…] nonnullorum Infidelium Crucis Christi nostrorum, vt puta et regni nostri aemulorum, signanterque Turcorum, et Boznensium […]” Codex diplomaticus Hungariae, vol. 10/4. 609. December 9, 1407.

55 “[…] contra nonnullos nostros et regni nostri emulos, videlicet Boznenses et turcos […]” Barabás, Codex diplomaticus Teleki de Szék, vol. 1. 339–40. May 26, 1408. “[…] dictorum nostrorum emulorum Turcorum videlicet et Boznensium tirannicam rebellionem […]” Šišić, “Nekoliko isprava,” 319. December 29, 1408.

56 “[…] demum vero pridem in exercitu nostro regali contra nonnullos nostros et ipsius regni aemulos, vtputa Turcas Bosnenses et alias nationes barbaricas pro tunc instaurato […]”Codex diplomaticus Hungariae, vol. 10/5. 810. September 29, 1417. “[…] primum contra et adversus perfidissimos Turcom, crucis Christi inimicos, et alias nationes barbaricas et scismaticas, versus partes inferiores Themesienses, demum vero contra Boznenses, puta tunc nostros infideles et rebelles […]” Fejérpataky, Magyar czimeres emlékek, vol. 1. 49. March 29, 1418. “[…] contra sevissimos Turcos, crucis christiani persecutores, presertim vero adversus Bosnenses, nostros eotunc et regni nostri notorios emulos et rebelles […]” Thallóczy, Studien zur Geschichte Bosniens und Serbiens im Mittelalter, 354. September 5, 1425. “[…] quod dum alias quondam Zandal wayuoda de Bozna paterinae iniquitatis alumpnus, non paucis Boznensibus necnon Turcis, crucis Christi et totius orthodoxae fidei persecutoribus, nostris videlicet et regnorum nostroroum aemulis caterva falerata congregatis […]” Thallóczy and Áldásy, A Magyarország és Szerbia közti összeköttetések oklevéltára, 112. September 27, 1437. Cf. Lovrenović, “Modelle ideologischer Ausgrenzung,” 18–55.

57 Setton, The Papacy and the Levant, 1204–1571, vol. 1. 403.

58 Stojanović, Stare srpske povelje i pisma, vol. 1. 276–77. August 5, 1409. Cf. Kurtović, Veliki vojvoda bosanski Sandalj Hranić Kosača, 195.

59 “[…] quod dictum castrum Ostroviz non accepimus in displicentiam dicti domini regis, sed habentes et cognoscentes, illud esse in manibus cuiusdam domini Sandalis capitanei Bosinensis, qui habet multos Turcos secum, et cuius Sandalis dictum castrum ex patrimonio erat, ne capitaret ad manus aliorum et potissime Teucrorum, pro bono universe christianitatis et pro bono nostri dominii illud emimus […]” Ljubić, Listine, vol. 6. 139–40. February 10, 1411. Cf. Šunjić, Bosna i Venecija, 131; Kurtović, Veliki vojvoda bosanski Sandalj Hranić Kosača, 195.

60 “[…] et precipue nunc, quum Sandali habet secum, ut dicitur, VII mille Turchorum […]” Ljubić, Listine, vol. 6. 139–40. May 25, 1411. Cf. Kurtović, Veliki vojvoda bosanski Sandalj Hranić Kosača, 196.

* This work has benefited from the support of the Canton Sarajevo Ministry for Education, Science and Youth (Project: Bosnian–Ottoman relations at the end of the fourteenth and beginning of the fifteenth century).

Volume 8 Issue 2 CONTENTS


Militarization of the Serbian State under Ottoman Pressure*

Miloš Ivanović
Institute of History Belgrade

After the Battle of Kosovo in 1389, Serbian territories were under strong Ottoman pressure. Turkish vassals soon became their rulers. Under these circumstances, they endeavored to fulfill their obligations to the Sultan and to strengthen the defense of their states. For these purposes, the ruling families, the Lazarevićs and Brankovićs, introduced new taxes during the last decade of the fourteenth century. Also, Despot Stefan Lazarević (1389–1427) established a different type of military service, placing emphasis on the defense of the country’s borders. Based on archaeological material and written sources, one can conclude that Serbian rulers paid great attention to the construction and restoration of fortresses. In the first decade of the fifteenth century, Despot Stefan began to reform the local government system. The new administrative units were organized according to the model of former marches (krajišta), which were headed by voivodes. Finally, the fresco painting of Serbian monasteries also offers evidence of the militarization of Serbian society during the period of the Ottoman threat.

Keywords: Militarization, Serbia, Ottomans, Hungary, taxes, warriors, fortresses, marches

The Battle of Kosovo in June 1389 was an important milestone for Serbian territories. Prince Lazar, the most powerful Serbian local ruler,1 was killed in the Battle.2 His successors were in a difficult position. In addition to the Ottoman pressure, their territory was threatened by the Hungarian King Sigismund in the north, who wanted to secure the border of his state from the Turks.3 These factors may well have prompted Lazar’s successors to accept supreme Ottoman authority before the middle of 1390.4 On the other hand, Vuk Branković,5 the son-in-law of Prince Lazar, resisted attacks of the Turks until the autumn of 1392, when he also submitted himself to Sultan Bayezid I (1389–1402).6 He tried to become the supreme ruler of the Serbs between 1389 and 1391. 7

The Ottoman vassals had two main obligations. First, they had to send auxiliary troops for the Sultan’s campaigns. Second, they had to pay the annual tribute, known as the harаç. Also, they had to treat the Sultan’s allies and enemies as their allies and enemies.8 The failure to perform these duties was regarded as a form of defiance of the Ottoman ruler.9 The charters which have survived indicate that Lazarević family and Vuk Branković introduced a new tax to finance payment of the tribute. Vuk Branković noted in his charter to the monastery of Chilandar from November 1392 that he determined how much every estate would pay to cover the Turkish tax.10 The payment of this tax in the Lazarević’ state was mentioned only in their charter to the Great Lavra monastery of Saint Athanasius from 1394/1395. It was referred to as “service to the great master” (rabota velikom gospodaru).11 Nevertheless, it is certain that this tax also existed later, when Stefan Lazarević was brought under the rule of the Ottoman Sultans. The obligation of tax payment was noted in two charters of the Branković family, one from 1410 and one from 1419.12 The term harаç also appears in a later manuscript edition of Dušan’s Code.13 However, Serbian sources do not contain information about the amount of this tax. Despot Đurađ Branković (1427–1456) paid 50,000 ducats in the name of harаç.14 At some point during his reign, the amount of this tribute rose to 60,000 ducats.15 His heir, Despot Lazar Branković (1456–1458), had to pay 40,000 ducats, since he ruled the diminished territory.16

Furthermore, at this time, the Lazarević family established another new tax known as the “unče.” This fee was also mentioned for the first time in the Lazarević family’s charter to the Great Lavra monastery of Saint Athanasius in 1394/1395.17 The term “unče” originated from the name of the monetary unit, which was worth twenty dinars.18 The acts from the first decades of the fifteenth century point out that there were winter and summer “unče.”19 Consequently, historians have concluded that this fee amounted to 40 dinars, or almost one Venetian ducat, per year.20 In the same documents, Serbian rulers used the terms “vojnica” and “danak gospodstva mi” for the summer and winter unče.21 One of these acts reveals the purpose of the new tax. Đurađ Branković (1427–1456), the heir to Despot Stefan, emphasized in the charter for the monastery of Saint Panteleimon (issued between 1427 and 1429) that the summer “unče” (“vojštatik”) was collected by his treasury for the purpose of equipping the army.22 The documents indicate that the monastery’s properties were not automatically exempted from this fee. Around 1415, Despot Stefan Lazarević (1389–1427) exempted new estates of the monastery of Mileševa from the winter “unče” for two years and the summer “unče” (“vojnica”) for five years.23 A few months before his death, he freed new estates of the monastery of Great Lavra from all obligations, except the summer “unče.”24 All of these obligations fell upon dependent peasants.25

It should be noted that many Serbian noblemen were killed in the Battle of Kosovo. This particularly applies to the army of Prince Lazar Hrebeljanović.26 That is the main reason why his successors, widow Princess Milica and son Prince Stefan, tried quickly to restore the military power of their state. The fact that Prince Stefan and his troops played a significant role in the battles led by Sultan Bayezid I indicates that he achieved this goal to a certain extent. It is well known that Prince Stefan made a crucial contribution to the Ottoman victory in the Battle of Nicopolis.27 Stefan’s troops also played a significant role in the Battle of Angora.28 Certainly, thanks to these efforts, he had a significant influence on the outcome of the conflict among Bayezid’s sons after the Battle of Ankara in 1402.29 Hungarian King Sigismund (1387–1437) also respected his military power. Despot Stefan became the vassal of the Hungarian ruler at the end of 1403 or the beginning of 1404.30 In return, he received from the Hungarian king the town of Belgrade, part of the Banate of Mačva, situated to the south of the Sava River, and a major complex of lands in northwestern Serbia called terra Dettosfelde.31 Their ties strengthened in the following period, as indicated by the fact that Despot Stefan was the first among the baron members of the Order of the Dragon in its foundation charter from December 1408.32

On the other hand, Vuk Branković remained the Sultan’s vassal until 1394.33 Ottoman forces captured his territories in 1396.34 The major part of his estates belonged to Prince Stefan, who was a faithful vassal of the Turks.35 However, the sons of Vuk Branković managed to redeem their father’s state from the Sultan in 1402 before the Battle of Ankara.36 They were in conflict with the Despot from 1402 to 1411 or 1412, when Đurađ Branković made an agreement with his uncle Stefan Lazarević.37 From that time on, they worked together, and Đurađ became the despot’s heir, since Stefan did not have children. This was formalized at the State council in 1425 or 1426.38 It should be underlined that the tax system on the Branković family’s territory was similar to that of Despot’s state. Indeed, the region under the control of the Branković dynasty retained its specificity until the fall of Ottoman rule.39

The charters which have survived indicate that the estates of monasteries were not completely exempted from some of the new obligations even after the end of the Ottoman civil war in 1413. In connection with this, it is worth noting that Despot Stefan and his nephew Đurađ Branković reestablished vassal relations with new Ottoman Sultan Mehmed I.40 In 1419, Đurađ Branković and his wife Irene freed two villages of the Athonite monastery of Saint Paul from all obligations and taxes except for a tribute to the Turks.41 Since the Serbian Despotate entered the war with Ottomans in 1425,42 it is not surprising that in 1427 Stefan Lazarević did not exempt the new estate of the monastery of Great Lavra from the summer “unče.”43 In addition, it should be borne in mind that Despot Stefan provided military assistance to the Hungarian king. Despot’s troops participated in Sigismund’s campaigns against Hussites in 1421 and 1422.44 Also, from 1421 to 1423, Stefan Lazarević led a war against Venice with the aim of reigning over the coastal towns of Zeta (today Montenegro).45

The complex political circumstances also influenced the organization of military service in the Serbian lands. The charter of Despot Stefan to the monastery of Vatopedi from July 1417 gives information on various types of military obligations in the Lazarević state. The monastery’s new possession, the village of Koprivnica (near the town of Novo Brdo), was exempted from the obligation of performing military service except for sending auxiliary troops to the Turks and participating in warfare on the march (krajište) of Novo Brdo.46 Ten years later, Despot Stefan stipulated three exceptions for the villages which were bestowed to the monastery of Great Lavra on Mount Athos. First, these settlements had to send troops if the ruler personally led the army. Second, the villages had the obligation to participate in actions against brigands and in warfare on the march when the local voivode summoned the army.47 There are no reliable data indicating how many soldiers were sent to the Ottomans by Serbian rulers. Byzantine writer Doukas noted that Prince Stefan had a detachment of 5,000 lancers in the Battle of Angora,48 while Chalkokondyles stated that at least 10,000 Serbian warriors participated in the battle.49 Allegedly, the Serbian detachment which participated in the siege of Constantinople in 1453 numbered 1,500 horsemen according to Konstantin Mihailović, who was a member of the unit.50 It may be that the number was not fixed, but depended on circumstances. Considering that the estates of the monastery had to take part in equipping these armies, it is clear how difficult this duty was.

The military campaigns which were led by the ruler were probably considered the most important. Consequently, no one was excluded from these operations. One later charter from 1458 confirms that were no exceptions to military service when the ruler organized a campaign.51 After the collapse of the Serbian state, the Ottomans took over a similar system of military organization. The Turkish legal provision for the Sancak of Smederevo from 1536 determined that the Vlachs had to send one horseman for every five houses in the case of Sultan’s campaign or service at the borders.52 Vlachs were a pastoral population with specific military obligations in medieval Serbia and the Ottoman Empire,53 but it can be assumed that other people sometimes had similar duties. This kind of recruitment system was not unknown at the time. In October 1397, the Diet of Hungary in Timisoara ordered all landowners to equip one horse-archer for every 20 peasants for war.54 This proportion changed several times over the course of the fifteenth century. According to the decision of the Diet in 1435, every nobleman had to lead three mounted archers to the war for every peasant tenant. This kind of army is known in the secondary literature as a militia portalis.55

Both charters point out the obligation of to participate in warfare in the border areas that were called krajište in medieval Serbia. It is worth noting that Dušan’s Code emphasizes the responsibility of noblemen from border areas to defend the country. They had to make up for all the damages inflicted by the enemy army which entered and came passed through their border areas.56 The importance of these regions increased as a result of the Ottoman threat. Turks used the akinji57 detachments, which often disturbed border zones.58 The aforementioned Ottoman regulation stipulated that every house of Vlachs give one cavalryman or infantryman in the case of urgent tasks in the border areas. This kind of recruitment was called zamanica, which was a Serbian term indicating the origin of this institution.59 The aforementioned charter from 1458 points out that no one was exempted from the obligation of zamanica.60 Furthermore, it is assumed that the army was gathered in a similar way in the regions krajište in the Serbian Despotate.61 It is certain that this kind of system of mobilization was applied in actions against brigands.62 The question is how effective the armies recruited in these ways were, because probably most of the peasants did not have adequate equipment or weapons for war. When it comes to Hungary, historians have concluded that the detachments were made up of peasants and had a secondary role, while the backbone of the army was still heavy cavalry. That is the reason why Hungarian kings spent a lot of money on hiring mercenaries in the fifteenth century.63 The situation was to a certain extent different in the Serbian state due to the presence of the Vlach population. However, it seems that Vlachs and peasants could be effective against akinji or bandits, but it is hard to imagine that they made a significant contribution to the conflicts against organized Ottoman armies. Various sources testify that Serbian Despots hired foreign mercenaries.64 King Sigismund once pointed out that Despot Stefan paid them more than one golden florin per campaign. Namely, he stipulated a salary of one florin for mercenaries in 1432/1433.65 He certainly used revenue from new taxes for this purpose.

The Ottoman threat was the reason for the expansion of the institution of pronoia in Serbian areas.66 As was the case in Byzantium, Serbian rulers from the Nemanjić dynasty granted nobles this kind of estate in exchange for military service. Under this condition, pronoia differed from patrimony (baština), even when it could be passed on to an heir.67 The pronoia retained these main characteristics during the time of the Lazarević and Branković dynasties.68 This was the crucial reason why Serbian Despots gave pronoiai rather than patrimonies.69 Thus, the prominent noble Logthete (chancellor) Stefan Ratković had more than 20 villages as pronoia before 1458. He did not have a patrimony.70 For the sake of comparison, it should be noted that roughly 30 years earlier, the most powerful nobleman Čelnik (comes palatinus) Radič possessed a patrimony that consisted of around 60 villages.71 The system of pronoia also expanded in Byzantium after 1371.72

It is impossible to estimate accurately the military potential of the Serbian state in the first half of the fifteenth century. The draft of the defense plan of King Sigismund from 1433 foresaw that the Serbian Despot would be obliged to equip 8,000 cavalrymen. Primarily, this calculation concerned his estates in Hungary.73 According to one estimate, Despot Đurađ participated in the “Long campaign” with 8,000 warriors.74 Allegedly, the despot’s voivode Altoman led 12,000 soldiers during the campaign in Zeta in 1452. The members of this detachment also included Turks.75

To improve the defense of the state, Despot Stefan introduced significant changes to the local government system in the first decade of the fifteenth century. It should be underlined that this reform was not carried out simultaneously on the whole territory of the Lazarević family.76 The new administrative units were organized according to the model of the former marches (krajišta) headed by voivodes.77 The regions under their authority were called “vlasti.” The head offices of these administrative units were usually in fortified towns.78 The voivode was mentioned for the first time in a town in 1411.79 Indeed, there was an important difference between the former administrators of marches and voivodes. The first were the most powerful noblemen in their marches, while the voivodes were appointed directly by the ruler, who could change them at any time.80 These nobles lost the title of voivode after they left or were removed from office.81 The military duties of new commanders were certainly primary. Unfortunately, the surviving sources do not provide much information about how they performed these obligations. The charter of Despot Stefan for the monastery of Great Lavra from 1427 confirms that the voivode led the army in his march.82 In major towns such as Belgrade and Novo Brdo, they had assistants in military affairs who carried the title the voivode of the tower (kulski vojvoda).83 Quite certainly they had similar responsibilities to defend the country as commanders of marches. In addition to military duties, the voivodes also had a range of civilian competencies. On the basis of the Novo Brdo Legal Code from 1412, one can conclude that the voivode decided in cases of criminal offenses concerning murder, robbery, banditry, burning, and kidnapping.84 Together with authorities from other towns, he judged in civil litigations.85 The regulations of the same code enumerate different revenues of the voivode from customs and court fines. Thus, the voivode received the entire amount of the fines for criminal offenses. He shared other revenues with comes (knez) and the councils of burghers.86 He also received many products made by craftsman free of charge.87 It is most probable that other voivodes supported themselves in a similar way. Based on documents, one can conclude that the voivodes of Zeta (a coastal province of the Serbian Despotate) had special authorities which made them a kind of ruler’s governors.88 However, the new administrative organization was not introduced in the whole state. In the case of the Mačva area (the northwestern part of the Despotate), the reason may lie in the fact that Hungary claimed supreme authority over this area.89 Furthermore, this region was less threatened by the Turks compared to other areas of the Serbian state. Also, the “vlasti” were not organized in the region of the Brankovićs because of its special status with regards to the Ottomans.90 The institution of kephale remained until this area fell under the Turkish rule in 1455.91 Some data indicate that this region also had a governor with similar authorities as the voivode of Zeta.92 The main goal of such local government organization was to strengthen the defense of the country.93

The Serbian ruler paid great attention to the construction, restoration, and defense of the fortresses from the last decades of the fourteenth century. The dependent population in medieval Serbia had the obligation to build, renew, and defend fortifications.94 Prince Lazar built Kruševac as his capital in the 1370s.95 The construction of his foundation Ravanica together with the fortress was completed by the beginning of the following decade.96 His nobleman Nenada constructed Koprijan south of Niš in 1371/1372.97 The town of Stalać, northeast of Kruševac, was also built during his reign.98 Furthermore, in 1387, Prince Lazar and Vuk Branković decreed that Ragusans, who had real estate in their towns, should have the obligation to build and defend fortresses.99 The same regulations also applied at the time of their successors.100 After the Battle of Kosovo in 1389, fortresses were even more important, because the Serbian army was not big enough against the Turks in the open field. Despot Stefan Lazarević made great efforts to building a Belgrade fort. His court was located in the Belgrade Upper Town.101 Constantine the Philosopher, his biographer, wrote that the despot’s capital was surrounded by rivers on three sides and that the town had two ports.102 Belgrade was the last refuge of the despot when his brother Vuk attacked him, together with Turkish forces, in 1409.103 The aforementioned charter of Stefan Lazarević for the monastery of Great Lavra from January 1427 indicates that the Despot was concerned about fortifying Belgrade until his death. This document envisaged that people from new estates of the monastery had to take part in the construction of his capital.104 The villages that had this obligation were more than 150 kilometers away from Belgrade.105 This example shows how this obligation could be difficult for the dependent population. One should not exclude the possibility that this obligation was transformed into a cash fee. From 1406/1407 to 1418, Despot Stefan built the monastery of Resava, his main foundation.106 The monastery was inside the fort, which had eleven high and powerful towers.107 We know less about the activities of the Branković family in this field during the same period. It is certain that they constructed the fortress of Vučitrn, where their court was located.108

According to the Treaty of Tata, Đurađ Branković had to hand over Belgrade to Hungarian King Sigismund at the end of September or beginning of October 1427, after the death of Despot Stefan Lazarević.109 That is why he decided to build the new capital city of Smederevo. The founder’s inscription on one town tower suggests that the construction of the fortress was completed in 1429/1430.110 Historians assume that by that time the Small Town with six towers had been built.111 The court of Đurađ Branković was there.112 The Great Town with nineteen massive towers was erected by 1439.113 The fortress had a triangle shape and was surrounded by the two rivers. The walls toward the land were over four meters thick, while the others were around two meters thick. The towers were over twenty meters high and more than eleven meters wide.114 Smederevo was the largest Serbian medieval fortress according to the area it encompassed.115 The construction of the fort left a negative trace in the folk tradition, which blamed Đurađ’s spouse Irene for the great effort of the population during the works.116 The strength of the fort was demonstrated during the Ottoman siege of 1439. The defenders handed over Smederevo to Turks after three months due to exhaustion and hunger.117

Finally, frescoes in Serbian monasteries also offer evidence of the militarization of Serbian society during the period of the Ottoman threat. Depictions of “holy warriors” were given a significant place on the walls of prominent monasteries. Sixteen holy warriors were painted in Ravanica, the foundation of Prince Lazar. Their number was particularly large compared to the total number of saint figures in the lower zone of the naos.118 The protective aid of the holy warriors was also emphasized on the walls of other monasteries at the time which were built by monks or by Lazar’s noblemen. The main foundation of Despot Stefan, the monastery of Resava, contains a depiction of fourteen holy warriors. On the basis of the selection of the figures, one can conclude that the despot regarded his father’s monastery as a model. The unknown painters followed the Byzantine iconographic canon. As a result, the Resava holy warriors resemble Roman centurions more than they do Serbian soldiers of Despot Stefan. Nevertheless, some of the weapons, such as the triangular shield, the mace, the saber, and the bow quiver, can be tentatively used to reconstruct the military equipment of Serbian warriors from that time.119 Contemporary medieval armor is present in the images of the holy warriors from the Kalenić monastery.120 Nun Jefimija in her literary work urged the Holy Prince to ask the holy warriors to help his sons Stefan and Vuk.121

Finally, the first half of the fifteenth century bore witness to a strengthening of chivalric culture in the Serbian state. Constantine the Philosopher, biographer of Stefan Lazarević, noted that one despot’s knight won at a tournament at “the council of all princes.”122 It is assumed that this tournament was held in 1412 at the Hungarian royal court in Buda.123 He also pointed out that the despot had the right to pronounce royal knights. According to him, these Hungarian noblemen were proud because Stefan gave them the marks of chivalry.124 Also, Serbian versions of chivalrous narratives, such as The Romance of Alexander the Great and The Romance of Troy, were very popular in this period.125

The militarization measures failed to prevent the Serbian medieval state from falling under Ottoman rule in 1459.126 However, the efforts of Serbian rulers had long-term consequences. As already mentioned, Turks took over some forms of Serbian military organization. The population of Vlachs had a significant military role in Ottoman border areas in the Balkans.127 On the other hand, in 1463/1464, Hungarian King Matthias Corvinus (1458–1490) began to attract Serbian nobles to his territory and granted them estates.128 In this way, the Hungarian ruler got warriors who knew the terrain under Turkish rule well.129 Therefore it can be said that Serbs were a significant factor in the Ottoman-Hungarian wars.



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1* This article is based on work done within the framework of the research project “Medieval Serbian Lands (13–14th century): Political, Economic, Social and Legal processes” (no. 177029), funded by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development of the Government of the Republic of Serbia.

The territory of Prince Lazar encompassed the valleys of three Morava Rivers. See Mihaljčić, Lazar Hrebeljanović, 110.

2 See Mihaljčić, The Battle of Kosovo, 43–51; Ćirković, “The Field of Kosovo,” 81–90.

3 Zsigmondkori oklevéltár, vol. 1. nos. 1190–1193, 1197, 1203–1204, 1265, 1275, and 1280; Trpković, “Tursko-ugarski sukobi,” 96–102; Szakály, “Phases of Turco-Hungarian Warfare,” 74; Rokai, “Kralj Žigmund,” 145–46, 149; Engel, “A török–magyar háborúk első évei,” 562–65.

4 Trpković, “Tursko-ugarski sukobi,” 102; Istorija srpskog naroda, 48.

5 Vuk Branković held territories from the region of Upper Lim to the Upper Vardar. See Dinić, “Oblast Brankovića,” 148–59.

6 Vuk’s decision was the result of the Turkish conquest of his town of Skopje. Bojanin, “Povelja Vuka Brankovića,” 149–51, 153–54, 158; Šuica, Vuk Branković, 139–48.

7 Šuica, Vuk Branković, 119–35.

8 Encyclopedia of Islam, vol. 4, s.v. “Kharādj,” 1053, 1055; Leksikon srpskog srednjeg veka, s.v. “Harač,” 773; Inaldžik, Osmansko carstvo, 17, 164; Imber, The Structure of Power, 13, 93 180; Spremić, “Turski tributari,” 275–76.

9 Inaldžik, Osmansko carstvo, 17–18; Imber, The Structure of Power, 93; Šuica, “Vuk Branković i sastanak u Seru,” 259, 263, 265.

10 Bojanin, “Povelja Vuka Brankovića,” 153–54.

11 Mladenović, Povelje i pisma, 223.

12 Stojanović, “Stari srpski hrisovulji,” 32–33.

13 Bubalo, Dušanov zakonik, 118, 223.

14 Broquière, Voyage d’Outrmere, 206; Spremić, “Turski tributari,” 290.

15 Makušev, Istorijski spomenici, 90–91; Spremić, “Turski tributari,” 292.

16 Makušev, Istorijski spomenici, 215; Spremić, “Turski tributari,” 292–93.

17 Mladenović, Povelje i pisma, 223.

18 Istorija srpskog naroda, 122; Leksikon srpskog srednjeg veka, s.v. “Unča” 762; Veselinović, Država srpskih despota, 166, 171–72.

19 Novaković, Zakonski spomenici, 528; Božić, Dohodak carski, 56; Veselinović, Država srpskih despota, 166–67, 223.

20 Božić, Dohodak carski, 58–59; Veselinović, Država srpskih despota, 171–72; Istorija srpskog naroda, 122.

21 Mladenović, Povelje i pisma, 193; Božić, Dohodak carski, 56.

22 Novaković, Zakonski spomenici, 528.

23 Veselinović, “Povelja despota,” 198.

24 Mladenović, Povelje i pisma, 260.

25 Božić, Dohodak carski, 54–55; Veselinović, Država srpskih despota, 221.

26 Šuica, “Vlastela kneza Stefana,” 10.

27 Atiya, The Crusade of Nicopolis, 82, 87, 93–94; Pálosfalvi, From Nicopolis to Mohács, 60–64; Šuica, “Bitka kod Nikopolja,” 113–18; Hoensch, Kiaser Sigismund, 84.

28 Alexandrescu-Dersca, La campagne de Timur, 73–78; Nikolić, Vizantijski pisci o Srbiji, 38–46; Imber, The Ottoman Empire, 54; Kastritsis, The Sons of Bayezid, 43–44.

29 Kastritsis, Тhe Sons of Bayezid, 57, 59, 61, 124–26, 137–38, 143–44, 150–53, 159–60, 168–70, 180–93.

30 Dinić, “Pismo ugarskog kralja,” 93–97; Wenzel, Okmánytár 1, 22; Istorija srpskog naroda, 70–71; Engel, The Realm of St. Stephen, 232.

31 Konastantin Filozof, “Život Stefana Lazarevića,” 284; Purković, Knez i despot Stefan, 73–75; Kalić, Beograd u srednjem veku, 83–84; Engel, The Realm of St. Stephen, 232–33; Istorija srpskog naroda, 70–71.

32 Codex diplomaticus Hungariae, vol. 10/4, 682–94; Antonović, “Despot Stefan,” 15–22; Engel, The Realm of St. Stephen, 210, 213, 232, 234.

33 Šuica, “Vuk Branković,” 155, 157–58.

34 Dinić, “Oblast Brankovića,” 160–61; Šuica, “Vuk Branković,” 162–65.

35 Orbin, Kraljevstvo Slovena, 102; Dinić, “Oblast Brankovića,” 161; Šuica, “Vuk Branković,” 166–67.

36 Stojanović, Stare srpske povelje i pisma, 143–46; Orbin, Kraljevstvo Slovena, 103; Dinić, “Oblast Brankovića,” 165–66; Spremić, Despot Đurađ Branković, 50.

37 Spremić, Despot Đurađ Branković, 61; Istorija srpskog naroda, 116–17; Veselinović, Država srpskih despota, 118; Nikolić, Vizantijski pisci o Srbiji, 72.

38 Konastantin Filozof, “Život Stefana Lazarevića,” 316; Spremić, Despot Đurađ Branković, 70; Veselinović, Država srpskih despota, 237.

39 For more information, see: Dinić, “Oblast Brankovića,” 168–69, 173–76; Spremić, Despot Đurađ Branković, 66.

40 Istorija srpskog naroda, 90; Nikolić, Vizantijski pisci o Srbiji, 76–77; Spremić, Despot Đurađ Branković, 62–63.

41 Stojanović, “Stari srpski hrisovulji,” 32–33.

42 The cause of this war may well have been Stefan’s close relationship with Hungary: Istorija srpskog naroda, 212–14; Purković, Knez i despot Stefan, 130–31.

43 Mladenović, Povelje i pisma despota Stefana, 260.

44 Konastantin Filozof, “Život Stefana Lazarevića,” 314; Istorija srpskog naroda, 209.

45 Istorija Crne Gore, 135–46; Stanojević, Borba o nasledstvo Baošino, 16–63.

46 Lascaris, “Actes serbes de Vatopedi,” 172; Veselinović, Država srpskih despota, 165–66, 192–93.

47 Mladenović, Povelje i pisma despota Stefana, 260; Veselinović, Država srpskih despota, 165, 193.

48 Doukas, Decline and Fall of Byzantium, 93.

49 Chalkokondyles, Histories, 242–43; Nikolić, Vizantijski pisci o Srbiji, 39.

50 Mihailović, Memoirs of a Janissary, 90–91.

51 Rački, “Prilozi za sbirku,” 158.

52 Bojanić, Turski zakoni, 47; Bojanić-Lukač, “Ko je učestvovao u zamičnoj vojsci,” 242; Isailović, “Legislation Concerning the Vlachs,” 38; Veselinović, Država srpskih despota, 168.

53 Bojanić, Turski zakoni, 47; Isailović, “Legislation Concerning the Vlachs,” 30–31, 36–40.

54 Bak, Engel and Sweeney, Laws of the Medieval Kingdom of Hungary, vol. 2, 22; Borosy, “The Militia Portalis,” 63; Held, “Military Reform,” 131–32; Held, “Peasants in Arms,” 81; Rady, Nobility, Land and Service, 149–51; Pálosfalvi, From Nicopolis to Mohács, 21–22.

55 Bak, Engel and Sweeney, Laws of the Medieval Kingdom of Hungary, vol. 2, 78; Borosy, “The Militia Portalis,” 64; Held, “Military Reform,” 133; Held, “Peasants in Arms, ” 82; Rady, Nobility, Land and Service, 150; Pálosfalvi, From Nicopolis to Mohács, 23.

56 Bubalo, Dušanov zakonik, 85, 166.

57 Akinji troops were irregular cavalry during the first centuries of the Ottoman Empire: Encyclopedia of Islam, vol. 1, s.v. “Akindji,” 340.

58 Imber, The Structure of Power, 190, 252, 254, 256, 260–65, 353.

59 Bojanić, Turski zakoni, 47; Bojanić-Lukač, “Ko je učestvovao u zamičkoj vojsci,” 242; Veselinović, Država srpskih despota, 190–91.

60 Rački, “Prilozi za sbirku,“ 158; Veselinović, Država srpskih despota, 190.

61 Veselinović, Država srpskih despota, 190–92.

62 Ibid, 165, 193.

63 Rady, Nobility, Land and Service, 151–56; Held, “Military Reform,” 135–36.

64 Doukas, Decline and Fall of Byzantium, 183; Konastantin Filozof, “Život Stefana Lazarevića,” 313, 319–20; Ćirković, “Cena najamnika,” 16, 18; Veselinović, Država srpskih despota, 184–85.

65 Döry, Bónis and Bácskai, Decreta Regni Hungariae, 411; Ćirković, “Cena najamnika,” 18.

66 Ostrogorski, Pronija, 149.

67 Ostrogorski, Pronija, 135–36; Bartusis, “Serbian pronoia,” 191, 210.

68 Ivanović, “Pronija u državi srpskih despota,” 326–32.

69 Ibid, 337.

70 Rački, “Prilozi za sbirku,” 156–58.

71 Stojanović, “Stari srpski hrisovulji,” 3–5; Ivanović, “Pronija u državi srpskih despota,” 337.

72 Bartusis, Land and Priviledge, 551–58; Ostrogorski, Pronija, 109–11.

73 Held, “Military Reform,” 136; Ćirković, “Cena najamnika,” 18.

74 Iorga, Notes et extraits III, 109.

75 Spremić, Despot Đurađ Branković, 380–81.

76 Ivanović, “Jedan pogled,” 170–71.

77 Blagojević, “Krajišta srednjovekovne Srbije,” 40, 42.

78 Stojanović, “Stari srpski hrisovulji,” 3–6; Lascaris, “Actes serbes de Vatopedi,” 184; Rački, “Prilozi za sbirku,” 157–58; Dinić, “Vlasti za vreme Despotovine,” 237–39, 242; Blagojević, “Krajišta srednjovekovne Srbije,” 40; Blagojević, Državna uprava, 294; Veselinović, Država srpskih despota, 255.

79 Ćirković, Ćuk, and Veselinović, “Srbija u dubrovačkim testamentima,” 39; Dinić, Iz duborvačkog arhiva, 28; Dinić, Za istoriju rudarstva, 72.

80 Blagojević, “Krajišta srednjovekovne Srbije,” 40–42,

81 Ivanović, “Jedan pogled,” 171; Božić, “Zetske vojvode,” 187–88.

82 Mladenović, Povelje i pisma despota Stefana, 260; Veselinović, Država srpskih despota, 165, 193.

83 Radojčić, Zakon o rudnicima, 51; Veselinović, “Vladarsko i komunalno” 134.

84 Radojčić, Zakon o rudnicima, 51; Ivanović, “Jedan pogled,” 172–73.

85 Radojčić, Zakon o rudnicima, 52.

86 Ibid., 51–53, 55.

87 Radojčić, Zakon o rudnicima, 54; Veselinović, “Vladarsko i komunalno,” 135.

88 Božić, “Zetske vojvode,” 178–80; Spremić, Despot Đurađ Branković, 144.

89 Rački, “Prilozi za sbirku,” 156–57; Mišić, “Posedi velikog logoteta,” 12–13; Ivanović, “Jedan pogled,” 176.

90 Dinić, “Vlasti za vreme Despotovine,” 242–43.

91 Ibid., 243; Blagojević, Državna uprava, 274–77.

92 Ivanović, “Jedan pogled,” 176–77; Spremić, Despot Đurađ Branković, 328, 354.

93 Dinić, “Vlasti za vreme Despotovine,” 238; Blagojević, Državna uprava, 293; Ivanović, “Jedan pogled,” 171, 177.

94 Leksikon srpskog srednjeg veka, s.v. “Gradozidanije,”; “Gradobljudenije,” 125–26.

95 Spremić, “Kruševac u XIV i XV veku,” 108–9; Leksikon gradova i trgova, “Kruševac,” 152.

96 Istorija srpskog naroda, 168.

97 Tomović, Gordana, Morfologija ćiriličkih natpisa, 78–79; Leksikon gradova i trgova, “Koprijan,” 140.

98 Minić, and Vukadin, Srednjovekovni Stalać, 7–11. 163.

99 Mladenović, Povelje kneza Lazara, 193; Šuica, and Golubović, “Povelja Vuka Brankovića,” 101.

100 Veselinović, “Povelja despota Stefana Lazarevića,” 157; Stojanović, Stare srpske povelje i pisma, 16.

101 Popović, The Fortress of Belgrade, 29–37; Popović, “Dvor vladara i vlastele,” 44–45.

102 Konastantin Filozof, “Život Stefana Lazarevića,” 286–87.

103 Ibid, 291–92; Purković, Miodrag, Knez i despot Stefan Lazarević, 88–91.

104 Mladenović, Povelje kneza Lazara, 260.

105 About the geographical location of these villages, see Blagojević, “Manastirski posedi kruševačkog kraja,” 45.

106 Konastantin Filozof, “Život Stefana Lazarevića,” 288–90; Stojanović, Stari srpski rodoslovi i letopisi, 224; Stanojević, Mirković and Bošković, Manastir Manasija, 2.

107 Stanojević, Mirković, and Bošković, Manastir Manasija, 11–20.

108 Leksikon srpskog srednjeg veka, s.v. “Вучитрн,” 79.

109 Krstić, “Kralj Žigmund u Borči,” 115, 118–26.

110 Tomović, Morfologija ćiriličkih natpisa, 110; Popović, Smederevo Fortress, 24–26; Spremić, Despot Đurađ Branković, 130

111 Popović, Smederevo Fortress, 22–32; Spremić, Despot Đurađ Branković, 126, 130.

112 Popović, Smederevo Fortress, 6, 8, 27, 30–31, 45, 50, 53, 55–56, 60, 62–64.

113 Popović, Smederevo Fortress, 57, 64; Spremić, Despot Đurađ Branković, 126, 130.

114 Popović, Smederevo Fortress, 22–29, 34–42; Spremić, Despot Đurađ Branković, 125–26.

115 Istorija srpskog naroda, 225.

116 Karadžić, Srpske narodne pjesme, 1–2; Spremić, Despot Đurađ Branković, 131.

117 Doukas, Decline and Fall of Byzantium, 177; Orbin, Kraljevstvo Slovena, 111; Stojanović, Stari srpski rodoslovi i letopisi, 232; Spremić, Despot Đurađ Branković, 241–15; Nikolić, Vizantijski pisci o Srbiji, 105–6, 110–12.

118 Marković, “Sveti ratnici iz Resave,” 192–93, 195.

119 Ibid, 197–216.

120 Škrivanić, Oružje u srednjovekovnojи, 51, 61, 71, 89. 103–4, 116, 125, 128, 133, 143, 149.

121 Monahinja Jefimija, Književni radovi, 47–48.

122 Konastantin Filozof, “Život Stefana Lazarevića,” 312.

123 Filipović, ”Viteške svečanosti u Budimu,” 285–304; Bojanin, Zabave i svetkovine, 356–57; Purković, Miodrag. Knez i despot Stefan Lazarević, 101–2; Istorija srpskog naroda, 87.

124 Konastantin Filozof, “Život Stefana Lazarevića,” 312.

125 Pavlović, “Roman u staroj srpskoj,” 12–13; Marinković, “Roman kao književni rod,” 21–35; Istorija srpskog naroda, 340–41.

126 Spremić, Despot Đurađ Branković, 544–45.

127 Miljković-Bojanić, Smederevski sandžak, 227–41; Miljković, and Krstić, Braničevo, 62–64; Isailović, “Legislation Concerning the Vlachs,” 35–40.

128 Istorija srpskog naroda, 376–78, 431; Krstić, “Which Realm Will You Opt For,” 145–46, 149.

129 Istorija srpskog naroda, 379.


Volume 8 Issue 2 CONTENTS

Notevole larghezza, notizie così gravi e gelose and un uomo che amava spacciarsi: Human Resources of Diplomatic Exchange of King Alfonso V of Aragon in the Balkans (1442–1458)*

Nada Zečević
Royal Holloway, University of London

During his reign in Naples, between 1442 and 1458, King Alfonso V of Aragon exchanged a series of diplomatic communications with the Christian East, namely with Byzantine Emperors John VIII (1425–1448) and Constantine XI Dragases (1449–1453) and their close kin, but also with the most prominent feudal lords of the Balkan peninsula (Herzeg Stjepan Vukčić Kosača, George Castrioti Skanderbey, etc.). The basic historical details of these missions are largely known to modern scholarship, which usually regards them as part of the king’s attempt to secure individual allies in his planned anti-Ottoman crusade and expansion towards the imperial throne in Constantinople. Scholarship, however, is limited on the details of these relations, partly due to the fragmentary nature of the sources and partly because of the missions’ secret character. In this paper, I am attempting to learn more about King Alfonso’s attention to the Balkans by observing the human resources which sustained not just his missions, but also other forms of the kingdom’s exchange across the Adriatic. The inquiry, which is based on the study of the available prosopographic data concerning individuals who appear to have been prominent in this, indicates that the basic circle which sustained this process consisted of Catalan bankers and highly ranked notaries, all resident in Naples since Alfonso’s access to the throne of the kingdom in 1442, but this circle also received several local commoners loyal to the king, with Simone Caccetta as their leading figure. His networks show that the king’s diplomatic exchange with the Balkans was largely characterized by a specific form of corruption, by which the bankers who invested their money in the king’s diplomatic activities in the Balkans received lucrative positions in the royal customs and local administration of Puglia, which they further used to enhance their access to the kingdom’s economic exchange with the Balkans and, consequently, to augment their wealth. This process was heavily scrutinized by Simone Caccetta, who involved in it an entire circle of small traders and soldiers directly loyal to him, thus affirming their positions but also his own position in the Aragon service and Aragon courtly society.

Keywords: Alfonso V of Aragon, Aragon Naples, diplomacy, Medieval Balkans, feudal lords in the medieval Balkans, prosopography

The interest taken by King Alfonso V Aragon (1442–1458) in the eastern Mediterranean, a topic familiar to modern historiography, is most commonly perceived as an important element of his “imperialism.”1 Centrally focused on his plans to defend and restore Constantinople from the Ottomans and to maintain commercial ties with the Fatimids of Egypt and other Ottoman rivals in the East (see Map 1),2 Alfonso’s political ambitions, however, can be debated for their meager results.3 This is particularly the case with the Balkan peninsula, where he made various attempts to tie the local lords of the region to the Kingdom in Naples, even though he was facing diverse political challenges from Florence, the Kingdom of Hungary, and the Republic of Venice, all of which were aspiring to assert control and influence over the region (see Map 2). Alfonso’s ambitions in the Balkan peninsula can also be debated from the perspective of the primary evidence, since the sources attesting to his interest in this region give only the basic details of its chronology and prosopography, largely hiding the details of its content behind claims of diplomatic confidentiality.4 To find out more about how the king’s diplomacy towards the Balkans was modeled, in this paper, I focus on the structures that sustained his diplomatic activities in this region. What were the human resources with which the king attempted to assert his interests in the Balkans, and how did their use reflect his ambitions in this region?

The Diplomacy of Alfonso V of Aragon in the Balkans (1442–1458): A Prosopographic Approach to its Structure and Dynamics

In focusing on the prominent figures of Aragon diplomacy and how they contributed to the king’s political presence in the Balkans, it is important to note that the primary evidence on this issue is greatly limited due to the destruction of the Neapolitan State archives (Archivio di Stato di Napoli) in 1943. Hence, a more detailed approach can be made by studying some particular figures involved in Alfonso’s diplomacy. This approach focuses on the recorded micro-details of these people’s lives and career agencies, which might, at first sight, give the impression of a patchy descriptive narrative concerning some outstanding individuals. However, when these people’s daily routines and connections mentioned in the remaining sources are put together and compared to other materials concerning Aragon rule in Naples, they offer a more detailed picture of the resources on which the king’s diplomacy replied in the Balkan peninsula.

Another important assumption for the analysis of the Aragon diplomacy in the Balkans is that it had a varying dynamics. Its key stages were largely influenced by the Ottoman advancement in the region and the attempts of Christian Europe to prevent these advances, but it was also shaped in part by the king’s relations with the major Christian powers of the time, namely the Papacy, the Republic of Venice, Florence, and Milan. Certainly, more intensive stages of these relations were the periods around the Varna “Crusade” (1444), its aftermath, and the second Kosovo Polje battle (1447–1448), the final Ottoman offensive against Constantinople (1451–1453) and its aftermath, when Popes Nicholas V and Calixtus III (1455–1458) called for the restoration of the Byzantine Empire. Each of these stages, however, reflected different political aims of the participating Christian forces, so the king’s diplomatic efforts in the Balkans varied accordingly in their structures and agendas. The prosopography of his missions shows that his focus in 1443–1444 was on the Byzantine Palaiologoi in Constantinople and on the Peloponnese, from where he received Greek diplomats who were asking for help and support (the “incoming” diplomatic activities for the Aragon administration),5 while in the 1450s, it was the Aragon representatives who were more frequent visiting individual lords of the Adriatic and its hinterland in the Balkans (“outgoing diplomacy”), attempting to attract them more formally to the Aragon throne.

The Diplomacy of Alfonso V of Aragon in the Balkans (1442–1458): Emissaries and Visitors

Certainly, the most visible structure of the Aragon apparatus that dealt with the Balkans was the king’s diplomats.6 The ambassadors from Aragon Naples to the region came with particular frequency in 1451–1453, when they sought to establish firm alliances with individual lords in order to ensure background loyalty and support for the “rescue” of Constantinople from the Ottomans.7 These embassies were highly confidential, so it is of no wonder that the Aragon diplomats sent to the region in this period were figures who had the king’s greatest confidence and who had been chosen from his closest entourage. Most of them were Catalans by origin, some even still linked with Barcelona or other parts of the Aragon dominion in the western Mediterranean. For their diplomatic missions, they were prepared and surveyed by the royal council,8 which checked various conditions according to which individual lords could become the formal vassals of the Aragon Kingdom in Naples.9 The most notable figure among these envoys was Alfonso’s protonotary, Arnaldo Fonoleda (Arnau Fenolleda), renown as the king’s treaty-maker for his detailed follow-up of the kingdom’s political and foreign affairs. Originating from a Catalan notary family of Barcelona and initially educated by the king’s main secretary Johannes Olzina (Joan Olzina) (who largely focused his attention on Sicily), Fonoleda accompanied Alfonso on his Italian travels, acting on some occasions as his creditor, too.10 Between 1444 and 1455, Fonoleda surveyed or wrote the majority of Alfonso’s communications with the Balkan lords, and in some situations, he even appeared there as the king’s envoy.11 Another distinguished Catalan in Alfonso’s notary service who participated in the king’s diplomatic missions relating to the Balkans was Francesco Mortorell (Francesc Martorell). His family also had origins in Catalonia, namely the juridical district Sant Feliu de Llobregat near Barcelona, from where it further expanded to Morella (today’s region of Castillón) and other parts of the Kingdom of Valencia and the Baleares. In the mid-1440s, Mortorell recorded Alfonso’s diplomatic activities with Herzeg Stjepan Vukčić Kosača (1435–1466). He then advanced to the administration of the kingdom’s customs, where he became a portulan master (before 1456/7), and, in this year, the “baiulus of the Jews.”12 Other, less elevated notaries of the Catalan origin involved in Alfonso’s diplomacy dealing with the Balkans were Arnaldo di Castello (1447) and Giovanni Felin (1451).13

Local commoners from the Italian towns were also deployed in some of these missions. Among them, a notable figure was Filipo Pantella of Piacenca, the king’s envoy, mentioned in Albania in June 1451.14 His recruitment seems to have greatly relied on his social connections and familial links across the Adriatic. Pantella’s brother traded in Ragusa with acorns, while several of his relatives resided in Ragusa’s immediate neighborhood, on the island of Curzola, in the town of Cattaro, and at marketplaces at Narenta and Gabella, all ensuring regular trade exchange between the two sides of the Adriatic and focusing in particular on the shores of the Aragon kingdom in Puglia and the ports of Bari and Barletta.15 Filipo Pantella was a frequent traveler of the era, and he maintained close links even with Florentine traders whom Alfonso had expelled from the kingdom between 1447 and 1453 during his conflict with the Florence’s then ally, the Republic of Venice. Such connections with “adversaries” furnished Pantella with various news and intelligence which the king certainly needed in order to plan his activities in the region.16

To accomplish his diplomatic agenda, the king occasionally also relied on incoming ambassadors and envoys sent by his counterparts to negotiate with him. Some of these envoys were destined to visit other European courts too (Milan, Burgundy, Habsburgs), and with such mandates, they represented a rich source of intrinsic diplomatic information collected from multiple parts of the Christian West. On several occasions, the collaboration of these envoys with Alfonso seems to have been arranged by his effective bribes,17 while some of these informants may also have been motivated to collaborate because of personal loyalties and familial connections they had with the Aragon realm. One such case was that of the envoy of the Byzantine Emperor, a certain Pietro Rocco (Ritzo, Rotzo) of Salerno (October 12, 1443), whose close family originated from the Aragon-governed Italian South,18 like that of Giovanni Spagnolus, diplomatic representative of Constantine Palaiologos in early 1452, whose family was scattered around the Aragon domain between Catalonia and Italy.19 Other informants of the king from the Byzantine East were Greeks or Italians who served various Latin lords in Greece, as well as the Palaiologoi in the Peloponnese.20 Among these figures, a remarkable one was Athanasius Laskaris, the offspring of a high aristocratic Byzantine family who resided on the Ionian islands at the time, which were governed by Latin lord Leonardo III Tocco (1448/9–1479).21 Laskaris was recorded in Naples in 1451 while representing Despot Demetrios Palaiologos (1449–1460), on which occasion he promised loyalty to the Aragon king in the capacity of a subject of Leonardo III Tocco.22 The case of Ioannes Torsellus was similar. Torsellus was an envoy of the Byzantine Emperor originating from a Venetian family which exported wine from the Greek islands to the European West. Alfonso’s officials designated Torsellus as a man ready to show off and plot, hinting at his openness to share information about the situation in Byzantium, but also strategic information he exchanged with Western Christian rulers he met on his travels, such as the Duke of Burgundy, Philip the Good (1419–1467).23 Between 1455 and 1458, Alfonso’s diplomats made wide use of the Greek Humanist Nicolaus Secundinos (Sagundinus) (1402?–1464), then subject to Venetian dominion in Crete, who visited Naples in the entourage of Matthew Palaiologos Asen, governor of Corinth at the time (1454–1458). In Naples, where his translation of Plutarch had already been highly appreciated, Secundinos’ practical knowledge of the Ottomans and their military resources was inserted into Panormita’s translation of Onosander’s Strategikos, while Secundinos’ glorifications of the king’s model of “power pedagogy” influenced the education of future Christian rulers.24

The Diplomacy of Alfonso V of Aragon in the Balkans (1442–1458): Building up Human Resources

To support his emissaries to the Balkans and to reward his informants from the Balkans, King Alfonso had to expand his material resources significantly. This is why, in the early 1450s, he started reinforcing ship-building in Naples’ marina, developing from 1452 another new ship-building facility in Trani, where galleys and caravels were built for traffic across the Adriatic. The funds for this endeavor were provided by the Aragon Escribano de ración, a royal office surveying the king’s expenditures (including those in the Balkans), tightly controlled by the king’s loyal Catalans.25 Similarly to a model previously set by Angevin rulers Charles II (1285–1309) and Robert the Wise (1309–1343), who, at the beginning of the fourteenth century used Florentine banking finances (largely those of Niccolo Acciauoli, their renown Florentine banker-ally) when planning their “Crusading” attempts on Sicily and in the Byzantine East, to finance his activities in the Balkans, the Aragon king turned to the banking institutions of Naples. Since 1442, these institutions had largely been held by his Catalan compatriots, who, in exchange for the money, received important privileges and posts in the royal administration, thus infiltrating the kingdom’s bureaucracy. There, they further privatized their new positions, using them to augment their private cash flows. Particularly influential figures in this circle were several bankers who maintained close familial and business connections with Barcelona and some other parts of the Aragon dominion (e.g. Sicily), while leading their businesses in Naples. One of them was Piero Cimart (Piro Cimert, Pere Cimert), whose wealth had originally relied upon his trading links with the knights of St. John, and a bank he had established in Naples around the time when Alfonso Aragon came to power (1442).26 Cimart was exceptionally loyal to Alfonso, and he financed the king’s takeover of the throne in Naples from the Balzo Orsini rival fraction. Thus, it is not surprising that, in 1447, after the king expelled the Florentine merchants who had previously credited the throne (1447–1452) from Naples, Cimart took on the supply of the king’s larger credits.27 Specifically in Alfonso’s Balkan affairs, in 1451, Cimart financed the royal gifts to Andreas, Bishop of Albania, assigning, on one occasion, 72 ducats to cover the purchase of luxurious garments for the Bishop and 25 ducats for his salvus conductus to Albania.28 In the same year, Cimart also provided 500 ducats in cash to bribe Athanasius Lascaris, the aforementioned Tocco subject from the Ionian islands, then in the service of Despot Demetrios Palaiologos.29

Yet the key figure to assume control of the royal finances and the king’s policy in the Balkans was an Italian from the local neighborhood of Trani, Simone Caccetta (Caczetta, Cazzetta). He started his career in the early 1420s30 as an ambitious commoner on a temporary juridical post in the small provincial center of Trani.31 Caccetta’s swift ascent certainly coincided with the beginning of Alfonso’s rule in the Italian South (1442), when he, like Cimart, supported the king against Giovanni Antonio Balzo Orsini (1393?–1463).32 Demonstrating exceptional skills in stirring urban uprisings and creating civil unrest against his master’s rivals,33 Caccetta gained lavish profits from his loyalty (Figs. 1–3), first with the position as Trani’s notary,34 then with a royal donation of an important hereditary income of 1/3 of taxes to iron and steel circulated through this town. By the end of the 1440s, Caccetta can be seen as financing the king with 3,000 ducats, for which he received the influential position of the magistro portolano e secreto per la Puglia e Capitanata.35 From this position, he was able to control royal diplomatic communication with the Balkan lords directly,36 supplying, for instance in 1452, a “rescue” operation for Herzeg Stjepan Vukčić Kosača, when Kosača claimed his town of Novi was isolated and called for help to reinforce its defenses.37 In April 1453, Caccetta’s finances backed his personal participation in Alfonso’s diplomatic negotiations with Manuel Angellos, envoy of Despot Thomas Palaiologos (1428–1460) of the Peloponnese, when he was also in charge of providing the despot additional supplies.38

The diplomacy of Alfonso V of Aragon in the Balkans (1442–1458):
The Uses of Human Resources

The Aragon conflict with the Venetians in the early 1450s allowed Caccetta to enhance his personal status by developing some important private networks.39 The first such network was his connection with the kingdom’s most powerful administrators and nobility of the Neapolitan residential quarter (seggio) of Nido (1451–1452),40 resulting in his knightly title of miles. This title eventually allowed him to attain the high post of a regius consiliarius and become part of the king’s closest entourage, which, consequently, prompted further familial attachments to the core aristocracy of Naples’ Nido quarter, such as the families Zurlo, Pignatelli, and Barille. Caccetta’s other network was of a business character, stemming from his position as the master of the ports. Through this network, Caccetta kept under direct control all custom officers dealing with the commercial circulation and supplies going to and coming from the Balkans. He also controlled local traders of agricultural goods (cereals, salt, cheese) from the region’s large farms (massarie) and those who handled the exchange of the strategic natural resources (metals such as steel and iron), all streaming through the kingdom’s southern Italian ports to the Balkan lords,41 thus turning his private strategic connections into a full-scale “customs’ diplomacy.”42 Caccetta softly racketeered with many of the traders involved in this circulation by taking them under his “protection” while using their money to finance the supplies he organized for the Balkans, giving his protégées, in return, access to the lower positions in the customs’ office.43 One of his favorites was Catalan merchant Dalmatino Fenoles (Dalmau Fenoses),44 who, in November 1453, Caccetta ordered be supplied with luxurious materials by Ragusan diplomat Junius Gradić, then in the service of the Serbian “Kralis” (Despot George Branković, 1427–1456).45 Following a number of several other similar favors, Fenoles was granted a post in the local royal administration, ultimately ending up at the high position of the kingdom’s treasurer.46 The ascent of Michael Freperios and Michael Caretefa was similar. They were both required by Caccetta in 1451–1452 to supply ten galleys of the Neapolitan royal admiral, Bernardo Villamarin (Bernat Villamari), which went out on a “privateering campaign” against the Venetians and the Ottomans in the Adriatic and the Aegean.47 One other merchant, a Gaspare Fabricius, likewise, dispatched two ships with grain to Constantinople in May 1450, to be later awarded, at Caccetta’s intervention, with control of the kingdom’s office of rationum.48

Following the fall of Constantinople on May 29, 1453 and Alfonso’s plans to lead a crusading retaliation against the Ottomans, the circle of Alfonso’s homines novi centred around Simone Caccetta was enlarged by some new members. Their background was in the military or the royal navy, and they had personal experience in challenging the Ottomans on the battlefield. For these services, like Caccetta’s protégées, these men were granted privileges which allowed them to enter the royal administration. One of them, Johannes de Nava, a skilled ship patron, ended up as the supervisor of the royal chamber (camerlench); another, Comes of Molise Campobassa, regularly patrolled the waters around the Peloponnese in 1456, prompting Alfonso’s idea of the “Ottoman antemurale,” functioning in the Byzantine east to defend the Italian shores.49 Another prominent favorite of the Aragon king was Alfonso’s familiaris and creditor, Bernal Vaquer, who in May 1451 led an Aragon mission designed to install the Neapolitan troops in the Albanian capital Krujë.50 Following this mission, he was granted the post of portolano for Puglia (subordinate to the magister portulanus), and he was put in charge and given immediate control of the ships circulating around the coast of the kingdom.51 Vaquer originated from a military family which recruited its members for the Aragon missions in the east. Many of them were substantially rewarded for their services. One of them was Vaquer’s brother Balthazar, captain of Molfetta, who commanded a galleon which patrolled the waters and remained ready to confront the Ottomans. He later received a post which controlled the customs’ in Giovinazzo, which, following the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, became one of the key entry posts for the Balkan refugees and news streaming to the realm from the East. In 1456, Vaquer’s relative Angelo took over this post, and he later left it as part of his inheritance to his son Nardò, thus challenging the traditional practice according to which the control of these incomes belonged to the king. The positions of these Vaquers enabled them to establish direct links with the Greeks of the Aegean, and it is through these links that, following Alfonso’s death in 1458 and the family’s rebellion against the king’s successor Ferrante, they arranged a refuge on Paphos for several of their kinsmen.

The participation of Alfonso’s men in arms in the local customs and offices of rationals was closely surveyed by Caccetta. His control extended to officers of a lesser rank, whom the king also directed to the East to perform confidential military observations and preparations. Among them was Nunyo Mexia, a soldier sent in winter 1455 to observe and estimate the defense resources of the Peloponnese and Albania.52 Another one, Rinaldo del Duca, had to train and incite Albanians to launch an uprising in January 1456, for which task Caccetta provided him with 300 ducats from the royal treasury. Caccetta also surveyed the engagement of condottieri, foreign mercenaries who entered the royal army from all over Europe. The sources reveal among them an Italian named Giovanni de Giotto, German head of the ballisters Gisert Rasfon, and an Englishman, John of Newport. In August 1455, two of them, Leonardo Besutoso of Naples and Jean Calala, found themselves in Albania as the king’s deputies, waiting to receive supplies from the kingdom. The supplies consisted of food and weapons, and they were delivered through Trani, as had already become usual practice. A galleon which reached these soldiers was fully loaded with fish, vegetables, water, and candles, all amounting to 830 ducats worth of cargo, thus marking the beginning of Alfonso’s “crusade” on the sea. As usual, the supplies for the kingdom’s forces on this occasion were arranged and closely monitored by Simone Caccetta, this time with finances coming from a new type of a rising favorite, Calabrian merchant Sirilo Gallinaro—not the Catalan, but, like him, originating from the local milieu.53


What do these prosopographic details tell us about the human resources which managed and sustained the king’s relations with the Balkan lords? Most importantly, they show that the king’s diplomacy did not rely on emissaries who were occasionally sent or received. Among the people on whom he depended, his secretaries and members of the nobility and clergy were the most apparent, as it a characteristic element of medieval diplomatic practice. The king’s diplomatic apparatus, instead, involved a far wider and more elaborate local network operating within the kingdom (most apparently in Puglia, which had immediate trading and navigation connections across the Adriatic), a group consisting primarily of his personal favorites, who traded wealth for political power—skillful banking Catalan entrepreneurs, but also some loyal commoners originating from southern Italy. By winning the favor of the king or his closest entourage through the funds they invested in his relations with the Balkan lords, these entrepreneuring homines novi basically entered the royal bureaucracy through a special form of corruption which converted their investments of capital to direct control of the kingdom’s provincial resources, taxes, and customs, all directly used in the king’s diplomatic activities and the related trade across the Adriatic. Coordinated and structured in detail by Simone Caccetta, the king’s most prominent official involved in his Balkan affairs, this group also operated as a parallel structure which nominally controlled diplomatic exchange across the Adriatic for the king, directly augmenting Caccetta’s interests and private funds, as well as the resources of other involved bankers, lower-ranked local traders, and military involved in this group through Caccetta, who thus used the king’s aspirations in the Balkans for their own positioning in the royal administration of Puglia and the courtly society of Aragon Naples.


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1 Among numerous interpretations, I am referring to the ones that reflect the most common positions found in the modern historiography: based upon the documents of the Archivo de la Corona de Aragón/ Arxiu de la Corona d’Aragó in Barcelona, Cerone, “La politica,” XXVII: 2 (1902), 380–XXVII: 3 (1902), 555–634 and XXVIII: 1 (1903), 154–212; Spremić, “Vazali,” 455–46; Ryder, “The Eastern Policy, 7–26; Ryder, Alfonso the Magnanimous; Marinescu, La politique orientale, 95–99, 119–24; Bisson, The Medieval Crown, 144–46; Spremić, “Alfonso il Magnanimo, 741–53; Navarro Sorni, Calixto III Borja; Spremić, “Balkanski vazali,” 355–58; Ryder, The Wreck of Catalonia, 28, 44; Abulafia, The Western Mediterranean Kingdoms, 204–6, 211; Sabaté i Curull, “The ports of the medieval Adriatic, 11–23; Aloisio, “Alfonso V and the anti-Turkish crusade, 64–74. Cf. Cuadrada Majó, “Política italiana de Alfonso V de Aragón (1420–1442),” 269–309. For Alfonso’s relations with other parts of the East, including Ethiopia, which his documents identified as the mythical kingdom of Prester John, see Cerone, “La politica,” vol. 27: 1, 20–88; Garretson, “A Note on the Relations,” 37–44; Salvadore, The African Prester John and the Birth of Ethiopean-European Relations, 36–53; Figliuolo, “La Terrasanta nel quadro della politica orientale di Alfonso V,” 484–515.

2 Alfonso’s turn to the East as the part of his plans for the restoration of Constantinople was mentioned in his letter to Francesco I Sforza, Duke of Milan from February 14, 1458. Cf. Cerone, “La politica,” vol.

328, 159–60, also referring to his earlier letter to Duke of Genoa on August 5, 1455, in which he proposed first to sort his Italian affairs before turning against the Ottomans; also, cf. letter to Pope Nicholas dated September 8, 1453 advocating a Christian coalition and its anti-Ottoman agenda. More on this, Marinesco, “Le Pape Calixte III,” 77–97; Ryder, Alfonso, 45; 294 and n. 110; 295–97; 304–12; Mattingly, Renaissance Diplomacy, 67; Lazzarini, Communication and Conflict, 4; 19.

Ryder, The Eastern Policy, 7–25; Setton, Papacy and the Levant, vol. 2, 170–71.

4 For his documents, see Cerone, “La politica,” vol. 27 and 28. For a wider interpretation, see Pastor, History of the Popes, vol. 2, 283–84; Gegaj, L’Albanie et l’invasion turque, 83, proposing to focus on the political impediments which the King faced from the rulers of Italy and the Christian West.

5 On major embassies from the Palaiologoi in this period, Cerone, “La politica,” XXVII: 1, 431 (November 27, 1444); 436 (May 26, 1447); 442 (August 30, 1448); 449 (August 22, 1448). For visits of Demetrios’ man and Fonoleda’s interaction with him, Cerone, “La politica,” XXVII: 3 568, n. 1 (January 18, 1451), etc. These men were followed by envoys of the local feudal lords, particularly active among whom were those sent by Herzeg Stjepan Vukčić Kosača, Albanian leader George C. Scanderbeg, and “Latin” rulers of Greece, King of Cyprus John II of Lusignan, John Assanes Zaccharia of Achaia, and Leonardo III Tocco of the Ionian islands. Some of these visits have been well-researched, cf. the relations with Scanderbeg, Muhaj, “La política oriental de Alfonso V de Aragao,” 237–48, but need to be more substantially compared with the pontifical policies in the region, cf. Gill, “Pope Calixtus III and Scanderbeg,”, 534–62. In the same period, Alfonso kept close contacts with Ragusa and Croatian Frangipanes, cf. Thallóczy and Barabás, A Frangepán család oklevéltára, vol. 2, XXXIX–XL; Thallóczy, Studien (August 5, 1453), 393–94; Spremić, “Ragusa tra gli Aragonesi di Napoli e i Turchi,” 187–97.

6 Dover, “Royal Diplomacy in Renaissance Italy,” 57, notes the comparative “backwardness” of Naples’ diplomacy in comparison with the glory of other centers in Renaissance Italy, explaining it with a “lack of the narrative of the emergence of ‘new diplomacy.’”

7 As pointed out by Ryder, Alfonso, 300, Alfonso’s claims to Hungary deriving from his takeover of the Angevin throne in Naples were evoked in 1447 by János Hunyadi, who attempted to create an anti-Ottoman coalition, but failed largely because of Alfonso’s dissensions with Florence and Venice.

8 On their embassies in the Balkans, as based upon the evidence of the Archivio della Corona de Aragon, see Thallóczy, Studien, nos. XXVII–XXIX (February 15–19, 1444), 356–63; no. XXXV (October 16, 1446), 370; LII (September 11, 1450), 384–85; LVIII (November 10, 1452), 389–91, LXIII (June 1, 1454), 394–400; LXXVII (August 3, 1457), 414–15. Ćirković, Herceg Stjepan Vukčić Kosača, 213.

9 In 1451 and 1452, Fonoleda took part in several treaties concluded between Alfonso and the lords of the Balkans: with Herzeg Stjepan Vukčić Kosača, with the ambassadors of Scanderbeg (March 26, 1451), and with Latin lords in Greece, Leonardo III Tocco (Zečević, “Confirmation grant of King Alfonso V of Aragon,” 9–21) and Michael Assanes Zaccharia. A similar arrangement was made with Demetrios Palaiologos in the Peloponnese, whom Alfonso, though, did not condition with vassalage, but rather promised his help in exchange for the presence of his navy in the waters of the Peloponnese and Ionian Sea. See, Cerone, “La politica,” XXVII: 3, 623; Ćirković, Herceg, 74–75; Ryder, Alfonso, 303–5.

10 His family originated from Barcelona’s urban officials, and his father Francesco was also a notary. Arnaldo’s career seems to have started around 1436, when he began to follow the king on his royal itinerary and diplomatic travel, thus becoming the king’s most confident diplomatic secretary (cf. his use of formula “Rex mihi mandavit”), leaving his master Olzina to control the regular procedures of grant-issuing in Naples. Ryder, The Kingdom, 230–32 notes that he held several other offices, and he was mentioned in Sicily in 1448 as the general bailiff of Catalonia. The names of the king’s favorites and institutions active in his diplomacy towards the Balkans will be mentioned in this paper in their original forms, as quoted by the primary sources; the italicized forms indicate either specific forms mentioned in the sources or their Catalan versions, also documented in the primary materials. The names of the most notable rulers and highest royal dignitaries will be used in their English forms.

11 An example of his direct participation in Alfonso’s secret diplomatic affairs comes from Cerone, “La politica,” 27: 3 (May 24, 1453), 621, when Fonoleda was mentioned as just about to come in person to Constantinople and deliver the king’s letter to Constantine Palaiologos. This never happened, since only five days later Constantinople was already in Ottoman hands.

12 Thallóczy, Studien, XXVII, XXVIII, XXIX (all on February 15–19, 1444), 356–63; The Jews in Sicily, vol. 18, 12030.

13 Under his authority, in 1446 we find one other notary in charge of fixing the king’s correspondence with Herzeg Kosača, an Arnaldo di Castello, Thallóczy, Studien, no. XLV (July 24, 1447), 378.

14 On his diplomatic travel, see Cerone, “La politica,” vol. XXVII: 3, 585 (October 17, 1451) and ibid. (December 10, 1451); Pantella’s fixing of the arrangement with Golem Arianiti took place on June 7, 1451, Cerone, “La politica,” XXVIII: 1, 176–77. This document was signed by Pantella and sealed with the Arianiti seal.

15 While the Pantellas originated from Piacenza, his kinsmen Pietro (perhaps his nephew, as suggested by Hrabak, “Trgovinske veze Pezara i Dubrovnika,” 26) traded grain and other food with Ragusa, as is known from the correspondence of Giuliano Marcovaldi of Ragusa. Pietro was a tintore in Ragusa, interested to commercialize his products, with factories which colored and sold textiles in Trani, San Severo, San Giovanni Rotondo, Manfredonia and Fortore, and also to Florentines Girolamo di Giovanni Marchionni e Cristofano di Giovanni, see more in Il Carteggio Marcovaldi. Other Pantella’s relatives operating in the East Adriatic cf. Dinić, Iz dubrovačkog arhiva, vol. III. On Peter Pantella and his connections, see Dinić Knežević, Petar Pantela.

16 Among other confident envoys of Alfonso, we also find Marquise of Gerace, dispatched to visit his own grandson Leonardo III Tocco and his neighbor, Assanes Zaccharia (September 4, 1454 and April, 5, 1455), Cerone, “La politica,” XXVII: 3, 624. This communication was done orally, and we know that the king received the news with the utmost joy and pleasure.

17 Cerone, “La politica,” XXVII: 3, 596, quoting Angelo di Constanzo, who noted Alfonso’s exceptional preference for spending money on spies, “more than any other ruler.” In some cases, it seems that the exquisite gifts Alfonso gave to some incoming envoys were also part of these bribes. Cf. Cerone, “La politica,” XXVII: 4 (January 29, 1454), 817, according to which the king prepared 20 falcons which his envoy Johannes Claver was to deliver to Giorgio Donna of Candia, while on August 14, 1454 (Cerone, 27: 4, 825–6), he ordered vestments and boots for a Demetrios Caleba, the “camerlench of the Greek Emperor.” As pointed out by Ryder, Alfonso, 294, by October 1453, this help had already been exhausted, to the point that Alfonso foresaw needing three years of taxes to restore his finances and prepare his military for another potential conflict.

18 Del Treppo, I mercanti Catalani, 491. Cf. Heyd, Histoire du commerce du Levant, 291–92. A possibility to connect this figure with a family from Salento was hinted at by from Prosopographisches Lexikon, vol. 10. no. 24305, 122 (Ρίτζος), referring to a Peter Rizzo of Salento from the same period, as from de Capmany y Montpalau, Memorias históricas, t. II, 218, 231, 266, 273: append. 61, 66, showing the presence of the Catalan consuls in Constantinople in 1428, 1434, 1437, 1445, 1448 and 1453.

19 Spagnolus was mentioned in several relations of the court in Naples between mid-1452, for instance in Cerone, “La politica,” XXVII: 3 (August 30, 1452), until August 30, 1452. The family’s Spanish origins are documented by ASNA, Regia Camera della sommaria, Processi, Pandetta generale o seconda, sec. XVI–1808, busta 386, fasc. 9432 (Spanuolo Giovanni Glorio, commune di Barca). In 1506, a Giovanni Spagnuolo was mentioned with several other Aragon officials in Abbruzzo, while resisting Ottoman attacks on these shores in 1506, as from ASNA, Regia Camera della Sommaria, Processi, Pandetta generale o seconda sec. XVI–1808; busta 509, fasc. 15305. Some Spaniards were mentioned in the early 1440s in Andrubitsa in the Peloponnese, as from Prosopographisches Lexikon, vol. 4, 132, no. 8315 (a Niccola ΄Ισπανὸς in 1440). For Frapperio’s presence, see Cerone, “La politica,” XXVII: 3 (March 30, 1453), 611.

20 On February 25, 1448, a Manuel Disipatus was mentioned as the Byzantine imperial envoy in Naples; some time earlier, in 1435, he seems to have been one of the attendees of the Council of Basel, cf. Landon, Manual of Councils of the Holy Catholic Church, 85. His noble title was stressed in his diplomatic credentials and Alfonso’s reports on this (nobilem militem Manuelem disipatum ad vestram claritudinom legatura, mittimus […]). More on his diplomatic activity in Prosopographisches Lexikon, vol. 3, nos. 5540, 54 Δισύπατος: 1437–1448; in 1437 meeting Emperor Sigismund in Eger; 1438 he was in Venice, and in 1449 in Naples, cf. V. Laurent, Les Memoires de Sylvestre Syropoulo, 180; 182; 274–78; 300.

21 This is, apparently, a branch of the renown Byzantine ruling family (Laskaris/Tzamantouros). See more in ODB, vol. 2, 1180–1181; Trapp, “Downfall and Survival of the Laskaris Family,”, 45–49. The family’s connections with the Venetians and Naples through the Peloponnese has been noted in Prosopographisches Lexikon, vol. 6, no. 14521, p. 145: Kaballarios in Morea, 1450, 1451; Archon; οἰκεῖος of Demetrios Palaiologos, while the activities of Athanasius were recorded in 1450–1451 also in Venice, Florence and Ferrara. On Athanasius’ letter to the Florentines, see Spremić, “Vazali,” 462–64. In 1672, a Lascaris Giovanni Battissta, was mentioned as a Fisico Regio, as from ASNA, Regia Camera della Sommaria, Processi, Pandetta generale o seconda, XVI–1808, unità 860.

22 On his mission, see Cerone, “La politica,” XXVII: XXX, 572 and 573 (January 18, 1451). Apart from him and Manuel Disipatos, other envoys coming from the Palaiologoi were Andronikos Leander, and John Apokaukes. Among the Latin emissaries from the East, in April 1447, we find Filip Celano, ambassador of the King of Cyprus and Michael Assanes (September 4, 1454 and April 5, 1455), a liege of Demetrios Palaiologos (1455), and Assanes’ man, Francesco d’Ariano, as noted in Cerone, “La politica,” XXVII: 4 (April 5, 1455), 835; this person was Δαριάνω Φραγγίσκος = Francesco d’Ariano, μισύρ Captain of the Tocco stronghold on Zakynthos in 1461, MM, AD, vol. 5, 69; cf. for a Jacob Ariano under Carlo I Tocco (b. c. 1375–d. c. 1429), Zečević, “The Italian Kin of the Tocco Despot”, 243–55. For a Todoros, captain of Krujë, also registered as an envoy in Naples. See Prosopographisches Lexikon, addenda zu fascikel 1–12 (1995), no. 93405, p. 36.

23 Cerone, “La politica,” XXVII: 3 (May 26, 1447), 439–40. Torsellus, calling himself a “chevalier, serviceman and chamberlain of Emperor in Constantinople,” acted as the Byzantine envoy among the Ottomans allegedly for twelve years. For his advice to the Duke of Burgundy on how the West should confront the Ottomans, see Curiosa lettera di Giovanni Torzelo a Filippo di Borgogna, 263–68. The Aragon reception of him was far more negative, as he was noted as a man who liked to show off, ready to provide intelligence but also do many other actions which enabled secret double diplomacy. While in Naples, Torsellus was seen as a mirror of Alfonso’s main diplomat involved in the affairs on the Apennines, Luiz des Puig. A person of the same name was mentioned in Τορτζέλος, Prosopographisches Lexikon, vol. 12. no. 29144. p. 22. Torcello?; Turtzelos, as selling wine in Venice in 1470; Schreiner, Texte zur spat-byzantinischen Finanz-und Wirtsschaftsgeschitche, 4/2, 41, 44, 53.

24 Ad serenissimum principem et invictissimum regem Alphonsum Nicolai Sagundini oratio. This model of Alfonso is particularly apparent in the depiction of the Archduke of Austria in his Elegiarum de rebus gestis archiducum Austriae libri duo. On Alfonso’s propaganda that followed his policy, see Delle Donne, Alfonso il Magnanimo e l’invenzione dell’Umanesimo monarchicho.

25 Ryder, The Kingdom of Naples, 295.

26 Cerone, “La politica,” 27: 3, 566–68, about his property and citizenship status in Barcelona, as well as his connections with the Order of St. John. His wife was Sibilla, and they had a daughter named Eulalia, married to a Bartomeu Simo. His property in Barcelona consisted of a corridor de canvi of three houses in the street of Sant Cugat alcarred d’en Ombau (today’s carrer de Gombau); he also had some land in parish of Cencen de Sarria, near the Monastery of Santa Maria de Jesus, and a corridor d’orella in the parish of Santa Maria de Sants al Iloc which was called Los Pins d’en Llull and was governed by the Hospitallers. This may explain his immediate connection with them. In 1451, Cimart was active in financing the king’s relations with the Balkan lords, most notably Albanian envoys, but also a Guido Storjone, a man of the Despot of Arta (Leonardo III Tocco) who was recorded in Naples, Athnasio Laskaris (lasqujrj), Cerone, “La politica,” XXVII: 3, 566. His banking activities were aligned with Alfonso’s main banking liaison, the institution held by Giovanni Miraballo, through which his main courtiers were paid. Navarro Espinach, “Las elites financieras de la monarquía aragonesa 23, n. 41.

27 On October 17, 1451, Cimart negotiated with a Florentine merchant named Damianus Lotteri (who seems to have originated from Piedmont), even though the Florentines had already been banned from Naples. As noted in Cerone, “La politica,” XXVII: 1, 71 and 75, Cimart also financed diplomats communicating between Egypt and Ethiopia. In this, he cooperated with another Catalan, Andreas Ferrer, who carried diplomatic gifts to Africa.

28 This kind of financing was applied to a number of traders whose contributions were always requested when the king had to regulate the debt to his creditors, cf. Cerone “La politica,” XXVII: 3 (October 17, 1451), 572.

29 Cerone, “La politica,” XXVII: 3 (January 18 and 28, 1451), 573, and ibid. (October 17, 1451), 586.

30 His origins in Trani cannot be traced back long in time, hence some assume that he may have possibly come from Calabria, cf. Pilato, “Simone Caccetta.”

31 Ryder, Alfonso the Magnanimous, 273–90.

32 Latanzio, and Varanini, I centri minori italiani nel tardo medioevo, 383.

33 Il Libro Rosso della città di Trani, 25.

34 “Frammenti di Cedole della Tesoreria di Alfonso I,” 108 (December 21, 1449).

35 Frammento del Registro Curie Summariae,” 143–44. For his activities during the early 1450s, see Il Registro della Cancellaria di Alfonso d’Aragona, 111–12; 238–39; 302–4; 311–12; 330; 336–37.

36 In 1452, he was mentioned as collecting the toll on silver and iron in Trani, cf. Ryder, Alfonso, 259, n. 4. Ryder, The Kingdom of Naples, 345 n. 143, discussing his first mention in this capacity on June 9, 1449.

37 Thallóczy, Studien (November 10, 1452), 389–91; Ćirković, Herceg, 154–218.

38 Simone Caccetta was mentioned in documents for the first time on September 13, 1423, when he acted as a giudice upon a contract, replacing his colleague who had just died. On December 27, 1437 he received a hereditary 1/3 customs on taxed iron and steel in Trani, which seems to coincide with his participation in a local uprising (December 5) organized by the local noble Palagano, who favored Alfonso. In 1449, Caccetta was nominated maestro portolano e secreto per la Puglia e Capitanata, to receive the title of miles and regius consiliaris by 1450. His advancement is well-reflected in a palace and several houses he built in Trani and Molfetta, as well as in his daughters’ marriages: Restituta to Palamede Pignatelli, Pascarella to Ettore Zurlo (later to Giovanello Caracciolo), and Angelella in 1452 to Giacomuccio Barille. In 1456, he took a feudum in Vieste in exchange for 10,000 ducats with Neapolitan banker Petro Lomaro, and he also received fiscal income from Trani. He helped the advancement of his brother Baldassare, who was the captain of Molfetta and custom officer in Giovinazzo. Balthazar was violent, and his office met with many complaints, which he seems to have evaded based of the fact that he financed the armament of one galleon dispatched to attack the Ottomans (Guerra da corsa). Caccetta had another brother, Angelo, whom he also employed in customs until 1456. Following Alfonso’s death, he rebelled against King Ferrante, for which he was imprisoned. Eventually, he sought the protection of Giovanni Antonio Orsini, together with his son Nardò, and he was stationed in Bisceglia, where he organized partisan groups against Ferrante. By July 9, 1459, he was mentioned as dead. The still visible material assets of Caccetta’s power are his palace (1456) in Trani’s Via Ognisanti 5, facing the palace of the local knight Giovanello Sifola, and the town’s piazza St. Marco. For more on him and the town’s events in this period, see Giovanni Beltrani, Cesare Lambertini e la società famigliare in Puglia durante i secoli XV e XVI, vol. 1 (documenti) (Napoli, etc.: Vecchi, 1884); Vito Vitale, Trani dagli Angioini agli Spagnoli: contributo alla storia civile e commerciale di Puglia nei secoli XV e XVI (Bari: Vecchi, 1912), 109; 152; 175; 202–7; 601; 671–92; Gentile, “Lo Stato napoletano sotto Alfonso I d’Aragona,” 36.

39 Other people from this network included the castellanus of Trani, Pietro Palagno (in 1436 maintaining 100 lances and 100 infantry troops in support of Alfonso) and Angelo Rocca, also from Trani, well-linked to various mercenary troops. See Vilia Speranza. “Edizione e studio di fonti per la storia della Puglia nel periodo di Alfonso Magnanimo.” Ph.D. dissertation, Barcelona University, 2014, 221, cap. IX, 2,

40 Compared to all Aragon possessions, their importance did not exceed the measures of the bordering provinces to the south of the Apennines, yet for Alfonso’s relations with the Balkan lords, he was certainly one of the crucial figures of the so called “doganal economy” and Alfonso’s diplomacy.

41 The Custom house of Foggia was founded in 1447, largely coinciding with Alfonso’s initiative to enforce diplomatic communications and exchange with the Balkans. Portulan masters were active also for the ports of Foggia, Trani, Manfredonia, Barletta, and Bari, all oriented around the traffic with the eastern side of the Adriatic. Sources for this period of the Dogana have not survived, hence these prosopographic data are highly important in the reconstruction of the first stages of the office. On the economy of the kingdom and modes of exchange, see Marino, Pastoral Economics in the Kingdom of Naples, and Sakellariou, Southern Italy in the Late Middle Ages.

42 This involved him in the control of the contributions for the ports and import-export taxes. See Fonti Aragonesi, vol. 1, 91–98, about traders who paid loans controlled by the creditors.

43 Ciuffreda, “Massari e mercanti di piazza,” 175–79.

44 As can be seen from Alfonso’s letters to Constantine Palaiologos dated March 17, March 21, and April 2, 1453. Dalmau Fenoses was also recorded earlier (November 5, 1450) and just prior to the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans, for instance in Cerone, “La politica,” XXVII: 3 (May 25, 1453), 573, for delivering grain supplies to the East. Usually, he seems to have operated with Gabriele Fabriquez and Gaspar Fabricius, who later became officers in charge with officio racionis domus nostre (“La politica,” XXVII: 3, 616). Del Treppo, I mercanti catalani. For Dalmau Fenoses, see La calamità ambientali, 371, n. 161. Fenoses’ son Esteve seems to have remained on the Iberian Peninsula, taking care of the family’s property there. Fenoses was mentioned by the Venetians as also trading in slaves from the East (Rhodes), Duran I Duelt, “De l’autonomia a la integració,” 80, n. 49

45 On November 16, 1453, Alfonso was recorded as exchanging gifts with Junius Gradić, envoy of the Serbian Kralis (Despot George Branković, 1427–1456). Fenoles appeared in the position of treasurer since 1449, acting as an intermediary between tax collectors and the treasury, cf. Ryder, The Kingdom of Naples, 178, n. 149; on his visit to Flanders at the end of 1450 as the official of the treasury, carrying some secret correspondence with him, see Marinesco, “Les affaires commerciales en Flandre d’Alphonse V d’Aragon,” 33–48.

46 In 1453, May 24, p. 621, Fenoses and his companions, Gaspare Fabriquez were designaged as nobles.

47 Ryder, The Kingdom of Naples, 305–7; 311. Villamarin was mentioned as the captain of the galleys as early as 1444. In campaigns like this one, the king was entitled to one fifth of the booty, ibid. 307, n. 96. In 1450, Villamarin established Aragon control over a small island of Castelorizo near Rhodes, from where the Aragon troops could raid the Syrian coast, watching, at the same time, the situation on Rhodes. In March 1453, Villamarin appeared again in the waters of the Ionian Sea, where he also had a diplomatic mission to accomplish and could contact Leonardo III Tocco, Zečević, Tocco, 114; 120, n. 154 For his service, he was later granted large farms (massa’rie) in southern Italy.

48 Cerone, “La politica,” XXVII: 3, 621. Similar activities were noted in Ciufreda, “Massari e mercanti,” 171, for consul Dario di Florio, who indeed took part in the export of grain.

49 In 1455, de Nava was ordered to do a similar thing as from Ryder, The Kingdom of Naples, 58, n. 17, to be entitled with the honorary title of a warrior-chamberlain.

50 Cerone, “La politica,” XXVIII, 179–80 (May 31, 1450). The Vaquers, although ancestrally linked to the Iberian Peninsula, were in fact, from Cagliari.

51 Ryder, The Kingdom of Naples, 189.

52 Cerone, “La politica,” XVIII: 1, 185.

53 Cerone, “La politica,” XXVIII: 1, 181–82 (September 25, 1455), mentioning gifts which mesire xerìllo gaìlinaro had to carry with him and two other envoys to Albania (John Claver and Miguel de Bellprato). Cerone, “La politica,” XVIII: 1, 206–206 (June–July 1456), also mentions him as working with leonart bezutzo and Sullo battifulla, also sometimes involving a Thomas Atani, a Florentine trader, while paying taxes to Jean Calala. As noted in Cerone, “La politica,” XVIII: 1, 200–201, and n. 1, since 1455, Gallinaro supplied Nava and Campobasso with arms (December 12, 1455–February 3, 1456), and he was also involved in supporting one other Albanian mission which appeared in Naples (April 23, 1457) asking for help. The Gallinaros were tied to Calabria; at the end of the eighteenth century, they were mentioned there as the supporters of the Sanfedisti movement against the Parthenopaean Republic.

* This paper is part of my research project MIGWEB: A Comparative Diachronic Analysis of Post-Byzantine Networks in Early Modern Europe (15th–18th c.), funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under the Marie Skłodowska Curie grant agreement No. 747 857.


Map 1. Europe in the 1440s (Map drawn by Béla Nagy)

Figure 2. Palazzo Cacceta, Trani, Italy – 15th c. (detail), as from downloaded from https://mapio.net/pic/p-15052658/ (©Davide Salieva)


Figure 3. Palazzo Cacceta, Trani, Italy – 15th c., as from https://www.salentoacolory.it/trani-viaggio-nel-medioevo/ by Salentoacolory