The Elefánthy

The Elefanthy family crest

13th century moated castle

The remains of a 13th century moated castle built by the Elefanthy family were found under and around this renaissance manor house.

  • Horne Lefantovce manor, originally 13th-century moated castle, now Slovak Republic (photo Wikipedia)

The Hungarian Nobleman and his Kindred

Book about the Elefanthy family by historian Erik Fugedi (1916-1992).

  • The Elefánthy: The Hungarian Nobleman and his Kindred (

Edelsheim-Gyulai House

In 1353 amid a dispute over an estate Michael Elefanthy murdered his cousin, Stephen, but because he was a knight of the royal court, the king absolved him and he escaped punishment. Later in life he became penitent and in 1369 he gave away over half of his estates for the purpose of building a monastery, thereby nearly impoverishing the Elephanthy family. It was rebuilt and incorporated into a mansion by the Edelsheim-Gyulai family centuries later who kept the monastery church as a chapel and hall.

  • Edelsheim-Gyulai house in Horne Lefantovce, the original 14th-century monastic church is visible as the entrance-hall (Wikipedia)

King Coloman outlawed witchcraft trials

Note about King Coloman: He was an enlightened monarch - amazing considering it was still practically the dark ages. He enacted a law forbidding witch trials. He did not believe that witches and witchcraft were real. He said "since witchcraft isn't real, no one can be condemed as a witch under law." In the 16th and 17th centuries the persecution of witches reached a mass hysteria in the rest of Europe. In England, France, Italy, Scandinavia and Germany over 70,000 people were tried as witches and burnt at the stake. However in Hungary, Coloman's law stayed on the books so during those times there were no witch trials or burnings in Hungary.

  • Burning alive - 19th century illustration

Two Kings, an Elephant and an Ancestor

How the Elefanthy got their name and coat-of-arms. 

The story is that in the year 1097 an early ancestor of the family had been sent with a delegation on a diplomatic mission by King Coloman of Hungary to negotiate his marriage to the King of Sicily's daughter. However, instead of sending his daughter back with the delegation, the King of Sicily sent an elephant instead. 

Apparently, the King of Sicily, Roger I, was displeased with the presence of low-ranking nobility in the delegation. Perhaps he sent the elephant back as a way of reciprocating the perceived disrespect or maybe it was a gift meant to pacify King Coloman. At any rate the ancestor did as he was told and traveled back to Hungary with the elephant. Apparantly the king was so please with the elephant that he gave the ancestor an estate and ennobled him. So the ancestor took the name of Elefanthy and chose the elephant for the symbol on his family crest. Was King Coloman happier with the elephant than he would have been with the king of Sicily's daughter? Did the elephant stay with the king or did he give it to the Elefanthy ancenstor? If the ancestor took the elephant, where did he keep it? Unfortunately it is unlikely that these important questions will ever be answered. 

"The House of Elefanthy (also spelled Elefanty or Elefanti) were one of the oldest noble families in the Kingdom of Hungary. At their peak during the Middle Ages, the family rose to an influential and wealthy position." -Wikipedia

Records of the first estate of Elefanthy date from 1113 and in documents from 1236 "Andrew the Red" was referred to as the "lord of Elefanth." 

In 1316 Dezso Elefanthy fought for King Charles against Matthew Csak, one of the oligarchs who took over the kingdom after a period of anarchy in the late 1200s. In revenge, Csak imprisoned and killed Dezso's wife and sons. Other members of the kindred supported Csak, so when Charles consolidated control over Hungary, he gave thier estates to Dezso.

There were many feuds and lawsuits amongst members of the kindred over estates:

1330- Dezso was accused by his cousin Matthias of burning his crops and his stable.

1353- Dezso's son, Mihaly, royal knight in the court of King Lajos (Louis) murders his cousin over a land dispute.

1401- Luke Elefanthy's son, Stephen is kidnapped by Moravians. Luke has to mortgage his estate in order to pay the ransom of 103 gold florins.

1424-Matthias III accuses his nephew, Nicholas III, and his brothers of attacking his residence, wounding him with an arrow and stealing his horse. As punishment, Nicholas has to pay 40 florins and visit his uncle with twenty-four noblemenahd apologize with a show of great remorse. He also has to return the stolen horse and swear that he had not used his bow against his uncle.

1414: In another lawsuit Nicholas II in turn accuses his cousin, Caspar of attacking his estate, beating up his servants and stealing a hawk he intended to give as gift to the royal judge, Simon Rozgony (also our ancestor). The lawsuit was still going twelve years after Simon Rozgony's death. 

1426: Nicholas Elefanthy accuses Simon Elefanthy of beating up his miller.

  • Andrew Elefánthy (1170) - Eve Hars

Interesting Facts

The Lost Kingdom

Nowadays Hungary is a small country we don't hear too much about but throughout the Middle Ages it was the largest cohesive political entitity in Europe. The Kingdom of Hungary existed as an independent realm for over five hundred years from 1000 A.D. to 1526 during which time it was considered one of most powerful countries in western civilization. It included territories of what are now Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Romania, Transylvania, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, as well as parts of Austria, Poland and the Ukraine. Yet, history only seems to remember it in its relationship to Austria- first as part of the Habsburg Empire and later as half of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The families whose legends and I present on this site are part of the rich and unbelievably dramatic history the the Hungarian Kingdom that was driven externally by the threat of the Holy Roman and the Ottoman Empires and internally by a constant tension between the monarchs and the powerful barons. This caused a series of battles of succession that, I have to say, kind of make the War of the Roses look like a picnic in the park.

About the Nobility of Hungary

Like most kingdoms in medieval times, Hungary was divided into two main classes, nobles and commoners. But within these groups were further distinctions. The nobility was divided into the categories of "higher" and "lesser." The high nobility were the magnates, families that owned in the area of thirty or more estates that probably included a castle or several castles. They lesser were all the rest ranging from those those that owned twenty estates to those who owned only one impoverished estate to those who owned no estates at all but nevertheless had a coat-of-arms.

There were many noble who had less than well-off peasants.

Some had titles that translate as follows.

The head of the county: comes or ispan = count

Deputy head of county: alispan = viscount

Governor of a territory or sub-nation: ban, voivode = duke, earl, prince (e.g. Ban of Croatia, Voivode of Transylvania)

What made these titles different from their English counterparts was that generally until the 1500s they were NOT HEREDITARY. They only applied to the people during the time they held the office and the rank did not pass on to their children. The king could remove them from their positions and appoint someone else. There wasn't much job security. Patents of nobility and the accompanying coats of arms were hereditary. Nobility could pass on the father's side and the mother's side but property could only be inherited by sons, while the inheritance of daughters was the equivalent of 1/4 of the property's worth in currency.

Interestingly noble women kept their maiden names after they were married while their children took the husbands name.

Barons v. Barons of the Realm

Baron was an informal designation for wealthy lords who owned a large amout of property usually including a castle. All the lords with estates and villages attached by the charter to a particular castle were the baron's banderium, or bannermen. They pledge loyalty to the baron and were under obligation to respond to his call to arms with one "lance" (meaning heavily armored knight) or several archers for every 10- 20 serfs they had, depending on the ratio stipulated at the time.

Barons of the realm were those members of the nobility who held the highest offices in government and in the royal household were usually either descended from the original clans of the Hungarian tribes that settled in the Carpethian Basin in the late ninth century or from the foreign knights that came to the kingdom with their own small armies to provide military support to the Hungarian kings in the 11th and 12th centuries. Originally They were called barones regni, barons of the realm, a status originally only held by the office holder while he was in office but by the late 1300s it also to applied to the descendants of the high office holders. They became known as the magnates and were given the prefix of 'magificus' in documents.

The 19 Families

In the late 1400s, nineteen families were distinguished from the rest of the barons of the realm by King Matthias. They were now called the natural barons of the realm (barones regni natureles). The list included the Orszag, Rozgony, and Hedervary families.

Barons of the Realm

Holders of the highest offices in the Kingdom of Hungary:

  • Palatine
  • Royal Judge
  • Bans of Croatia, Severin & Slavonia
  • Voivode of Transylvania
  • Master of the Treasury
  • Master of the Horse
  • Master of the Cupbearers
  • Master of the Stewards
  • Master of the Doorkeepers
  • Ispan of the Counties Pozsony & Temes