The King Makers

Seal of Laszlo Podmaniczky 1484 (National Archive)

King Charles Robert

Charles Robert was descended from the House of Anjou of France who were the rulers of the Kingdom of Naples and from the Arpad monarchs of Hungary. How is that for complicated politics.

  • Charles Robert - Chronicon Pictum (wikipedia)

Oligarch domains 1301-1310

After the death of the last Arpad King there was a period of anarchy when all of Hungary was taken over by oligarchs, powerful barons who ruled huge territories independently.

  • Oligarch domains 1301-1310 (wikipedia)

King Louis the Great

King Louis the Great, son of Charles Robert granted a patent of nobility and a coat-of-arms to Hadrian and Miklos Podmaniczky in 1351.

  • King Louis I - Chronica Hungarorum (wikipedia)

The origin of the family

The origin of the family is debated among historians. Some believe they were Hungarians who moved to the northern region of the Kingdom of Hungary, today's Slovakia, others say they were slavic and many believe they were native Slovakians. At any rate, the first known ancestor of the Podmaniczky was a knight named Hadrian who lived in the early 1300s. He and his son, Miklos, fought on the side of the newly elected king, Charles Robert, to overpower the oligarchs who had wrenched power away from the previous Hungarian king and set up their own independent realms.  The first royal donation (estate) and patent of nobility with an official coat-of-arms the family received was granted in 1351 to Miklos Podmaniczky for his service to Charles' son, King Louis the Great. The crest featured an arm, bent at the elbow with a clenched fist holding an arrow.

  • Seal of Laszlo Podmaniczky 1484

The family continued to serve the kings

The family continued to serve the kings with distinction and was bequeathed more land as a result. But they were still lords of the middle nobility, i.e. knights pledged to the more powerful lords of Bystrica (Povazska Castle). Miklos had a son named Silvanis who was listed as a bannerman of the lord of Bystrica. Silvanis' son, Antol (Anthony), fought for King Sigismund who faced many rebellions at the beginning of his rule including that of Istvan Hedervary. The nobility in the northern parts of the kingdom supported Sigismund including Antol who was was given more estates for his efforts. The 15th century saw the meteoric rise of the Podmancizky family. Strangely enough the trajectory started with a murder.

Murder Most Foul

In the 1300s the family divided into two branches: the Podmaniczky and the Lucska and in 1428, during a feud over an estate between Bertalan Lucska and Antol Podmaniczky, Antol was murdered by Bertalan's sons, Barnabas and Lorinc.  Antol's widow, Anastazia,  prosecuted the case but the Lucska had also served the kingdom well as captains of the fortress of the Archdiocese of Nitra. They pleaded that the murder was unintentional so the only punishment King Sigismond imposed on them was the paying of a fine, i.e. blood money. Anastazia did not accept the outcome and refused the money. She went to King Sigismund (who was now Holy Roman Emperor as well as King of Hungary) with new charges against Lorinc and Barnabas Lucska. She accused them of having no remorse for their evil deed and what's more that they had taken to harassing her, parading up and down in front of her house on horseback, taunting her with rude remarks. On hearing this, King Sigismond revoked his former judgment and ordered a further investigation of the matter. The case dragged on for years and was still not resolved when the king died in 1537. However his successor, Albert Habsburg, husband of Sigismond's daughter, Elizabeth, gave Povazska Castle and the village of Bystrica as well as sixteen surrounding villages attached to the castle to the Podmaniczkys in1438 is recognition of Antol's support and as compensation for the judgment. Anastazia finally accepted this likely at the urging of her sons, Laszla and Balazs, who had by now grown up and become knights like their forefathers.

Brother Against Brother

However, they didn't have long to enjoy thier new castle before a civil war broke out following King Albert's death two years later.  Antol's sons, Laszlo and Balazs, found themselves on opposite sides of the conflict. There were two claimants to the throne. Balazs fought on the side of Sigismond's daughter, Elizabeth and her infant son, Ladislaus V. Laszlo supported Wladilas of Poland who was elected king by the nobility and also crowned king of Hungary. It is likely that the two brother's actually faced each other in battle during that time. The bulk of Elizabeth's forces consisted of Czech Hussites who were followers of the progressive theologian, Jan Hus. He was advocating reformation of the Catholic Church one hundred years before Martin Luther and after he was martyred in 1414 in Prague, the Hussite religion spread quickly through the Czech kingdom's of Moravia and Bohemia and into the northern Slovakian regions of the Hungarian Kingdom. The Podmaniczky brothers could very well have been exposed to the Hussite religion in their youth but it is certain that by the time of the civil war in 1438, Balazs had converted to it while Laszlo remained Catholic. Despite their diametrically opposed political and religious views it became evident later that a brotherly affection was never lost between them. 

The conflict set Laszlo on a course of advancement not just because his side won the war but because he was fighting along side a Romanian captain named Janos Hunyady, whose mother was an aristocrat but who's father was a commoner. Hunyady became an international hero for his victories against the Turks who were attacking outlying regions of the Kingdom of Hungary at the time (more about him and his famous son later). Support for Wladislas also delivered to the Laszlo Podmaniczky a spectacular vengeance against the murderers of his father: Barnabas and Lorinc Luscka had fought on the side of Elizabeth and as a result, when she was defeated, the Luscka were stripped of their estates by King Wladislas who immediately handed the properties over to Laszlo Podmaniczky.

Laszlo Podmaniczky was made a member of the King's Council

Laszlo Podmaniczky was made a member of the King's Council and became along with Stephen Zapolya, the king's most esteemed military commander. After fighting along side the young king to reclaim Moravia (now the eastern half of the Czech Republic) from the Hussites, Matthias made Laszlo the Commander of Moravia in 1468. In this capacity Laszlo was bequeathed Brumov Castle in the region. Brumov has undergone much restoration and now has a museum inside of it. 

The Legends of Balazs

He Refuses to Fight his Countrymen

Laszlo had continued fighting against his brother, Balazs, in Matthias's battles to reclaim territories lost to the Hussites in the northern parts of the kingdom. Eventually Laszlo was successful in convincing Balazs to come over to the side of Matthias. The dramatic way Balazs changed loyalties became part of medieval history.

The story is recounted in the history of the reign of King Matthias written by the Italian scholar and member of the royal court, Bonfini. According to Bonfini's narrative, when the Czech leader, Svehla, was planning on attacking the Hungarian town of Trnava, one of his captains, a Hungarian named Balázs Podmaniczky, declared that he would be willing to take up weapons against anyone for the Hussite cause but he would not fight his own countrymen. He obtained Svehl's permission to leave the army and went straight to Trnava to warn the people of the city about the planned attack. When Svehla arrived at the walls of Trnava with his troops, he told the townspeople to open the gate or else the city would be taken by force. But then Balazs Podmaniczky appeared on the wall, and warned Svehla that the city was well armed and there was no prospect of easy victory. The Czechs, seeing that Balazs would be commanding the defense of the city and knowing his strength and military prowess, decided to retreat and leave Trnava be. It's a fun story. The problem with it is that Balazs had already fought against his countrymen and even his own brother many times before. However we know that Balazs must have earned a great reputation in the battlefield because one of the reasons Matthias accepted his change of loyalty is because he wanted him fighting for him.

The Mayer's Daughter & the Hussite Captain

Another legend exists relating to the conversion of Balazs back to king and Catholicism. This one might qualify as a medieval screwball comedy. Balazs had already caused some controversy many years before when almost immediately after the death of his captain, he married the captain's wife giving rise to speculation that their had been an affair going on between them before the captain's demise. It is known as well that this first wife died and that Balazs, now a captain himself, remarried. It is the second marriage that sparked a legend that might be considered a kind of medieval screwball comedy.

The story is that about a Hussite captain who was stationed with his troops in the town of Zilina when an army of German crusaders besieged and took over the city. Most of the Hussites were killed but the captain had caught the eye of the daughter of the mayor of the city who ushered the him into her house. In one of the rooms was a coffin that had been brought in for her great aunt who had just died. The battle had interrupted the interment of the body so the casket was still empty. The mayor's daughter disguised the captain in a dress and a ladies hat and told him to lie in the casket. Then she closed the lid. 

Soon the German mercenaries forced their way into the house to search for any surviving Hussites. They asked her about the coffin and she told them it contained the body of her recently deceased aunt but they were being so thorough that they demanded the coffin be opened. But when they opened the lid and looked inside they thought they were looking at the deceased aunt and closed it up again. After searching the rest of the house they departed. The mayor's daughter and the young captain fell in love and were married. Then the captain and his wife went to the royal palace in Buda and begged King Matthias's wife, Queen Beatrix, to pardon him for having fought with the Hussites. Queen Beatrix asked how they had met and the mayor's daughter told the queen how she had saved her husband. Queen Beatrix was so taken with the tale that she promoted the captain and the mayor's daughter to a high rank in the nobility and the captain became a loyal supporter of her husband, King Matthias. The Hussite captain in the story was Balazs Podmaniczky.

In reality it was his brother Laszlo who convinced King Matthias to accept Balas's return to the fold and Balazs earned his promotions through his achievement in battles he fought for the king.  Matthias put the fighting and leadership skills of Balazs to good use and rewarded his victories with estates that included Hrico Castle some twenty miles north of Povazska Castle. As for Povazska, once it was liberated from the Cilli family, the king restored it to Laszlo with a new charter dated from 1458 along with Bystrica and sixteen more villages in the area around it. Between the two of them Balazs and Laszlo were now in control of vast amounts of territories. As if that wasn't enough after Laszlo's first wife died, he married the palatine's daughter who brought with her a great fortune as well. 

In addition to Povaska and Brumov castles, King Matthias awarded Lednice and Suca castles to Laszlo. King Matthias elevated the Podmaniczkys to the point where they no longer served as the bannermen to lords of the castle; they were now lords of several castles and had bannermen serving them.

My Three Sons

Laszlo was very shrewd when it came to the careers of his sons. He made sure there would be a Podmaniczky prominent in each of the three main spheres of power; the monarchy, the church and the military. 

Go to The Second Generation: Keepers of Kings

The Stolen Crown

The entire conflict turned out to be much ado about nothing because although Wladsilaus did ascend to the throne of Hungary, he was killed in battle by the Turks only three years later and Ladislaus V, a.k.a. “Ladislaus the Posthumous” became king anyway. However Elizabeth had taken refuge with her son at the court of Frederick III, the Habsburg archduke of Austria who had recently become the “King of Germany”, a fairly meaningless title because there was no Germany at the time. When Elizabeth fled from Hungary for Austria, she stole the sacred Crown of St. Stephen, thought to be the crown that that was used in the coronation of the first Hungarian king, Stephen, around the year 1000. This was significant because only this crown could fully legitimize the rule of a king. Elizabeth soon died, leaving Frederick III with both Hungary's heir to the crown and the crown itself- in other words, a lot of leverage with which he could cause havoc for the Kingdom of Hungary. Naturally he refused to give either one back without a price.

Since Ladislaus was too young to be king anyway, Seven Captains of the Kingdom (including our ancestor Mihaly Orszag) ruled in his place. They in turn elected hero/commander (and friend of Laszlo)  Janos Hunyady to be regent. He became more powerful than either of the two kings before him but most of the northern kingdom remained occupied by Jan Jiskra, the Hussite commander who had fought for Elizabeth. He refused to acknowledge any ruler other but Ladislaus. Balazs Podmaniczky remained loyal to the Hussite cause and defended the northern territories against Hunyady's forces- forces that his brother, Laszlo, was a part of.  The armies of Jiskra and Hunyady fought in the area of Bystrica. The Podmaniczky castle of Povaska was taken over by the Counts of Cilli who also opposed Hunyadi's rule. Finally in 1555 the Estates of Austria forced Frederick III to return Ladislaus to his homeland but he still kept the crown. 

Thus, fourteen years after the infant Ladislaus, was crowned king, he finally took the throne- hence his epithet “Ladislaus the Posthumous.” Jiskra, the Hussite leader, was now satisfied and pledged loyalty to Ladislaus and was able to keep most of the castles he'd captured. Balazs remained loyal to him. Hunyadi resigned as regent and was appointed Captain General of the Realm and Laszlo remained loyal to him.

The Beheading of the Hero's Son

Next came a stunning series of events that fictional tales would be hard pressed to match. Instead of showing gratitude to the family of John Hunyadyi (his wife, the wealthy aristocrat Elizabeth Szilagyi and his sons Laszlo and Matthias),  King Ladislaus, convinced by Count Ulrich Cilli that they were a threat, demanded the Hunyady's give up the territories and castles their father had been awarded. Ulrich then took over Hunyady's former position of Captain General of the Realm. The Hunyadys refused to give up their possessions. Young Laszlo Hunyady, decided on an understandable but fool-hearty course of action. He feigned reconciliation with the king and Count Cilli and invited them to the castle of Belgrade where he had remained after his father's death. However, instead of showing his illustrious guests proper hospitality, he had Count Ulrich murdered and he kidnapped the king. 

What is remarkable to consider is how young both Laszlo Hunyady and King Ladislaus were at the time, just 19 and 18 years old respectively. Imagine the fate of one of the most powerful nations in the world hinging on the outcome of a conversation between two teenagers. But so it was. Laszlo Hunyady released the king on the condition that he abstain from any act of punishment or vengeance for his killing of Count Ulrich Cilli.  Naturally Ladislaus agreed and then immediately turned the tables on Laszlo, inviting him to the royal castle of Buda and having him arrested along with his younger brother, Matthias. They should have listen their father who, knowing they had enemies, had told them before he died to never to be in the same place at the same time. Now it was Ladislaus turn to do a fool-hearty thing. He had the sons of the hero who was credited with having recently saved Hungary and all of Christendom, convicted of treason.  Laszlo Hunyady was beheaded in front of the palace for all Buda to see. King Ladislaus held Matthias captive and brought him to Prague.

Mama Don't Like That

However, the mother of the convicted boys, Erzsabet Zsilagyi was not going to sit idly by after one of her sons was executed and another exiled. She and her brother organized an open revolt leading to many months of battle between the supporters of the Hunyadys and supporters of  King Ladislaus. Again Laszlo Podmaniczky and his brother were on opposing armies. Laszlo took the side of the Hunyady while Balas fought for the king with Jan Jiskra. On November 23, 1557 however the point of battle became moot. King Ladislaus mysteriously died at the castle in Prague. hmmmm…can we say poison perhaps?

Whereas before there were too many legitimate claimants to the throne of Hungary, now there were none. The young king had died without an heir. The closest relation to him was Frederick III who had now been elevated to Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. This was again a title without too much consequence because there wasn't really an empire. Nobody wanted Frederick to be king of Hungary. But some powerful people wanted Matthias Hunyady to be king, among them Laszlo Podmaniczky and Mihaly Orszag who rallied many others to his cause even convincing the reluctant Palatine Garai and Archbishop Szecsi to go along with it. Moreover, Pope Pius II endorsed the crowning of Matthias as king under the assumption that Matthias would become a great crusading force against the Ottoman Empire as his father had been. The pope wrote a long letter to Frederick III giving him a sharp warning not to oppose the crowning of Matthias for fear of further destabilization Hungary which he said was “the shield of all Christendom under cover of which we have hitherto all been safe.”

Now imagine, 16 year old Matthias, held in captivity in Prague by the governor of Bohemia, expecting that any day he might be dragged back to Budapest for execution. A guard informs him that a delegation has arrived to take him away. A sinking feeling overcomes the boy- he will be dead soon perhaps, beheaded like his brother. But instead of coming to lead Matthias to his execution, the delegation has come to offer him the crown of the Kingdom of Hungary. 

The successful campaign to make their candidate king was an amazing feat considering this: Matthias was not of royal blood and his father was a commoner. Matthias would become perhaps Hungary's greatest monarch. He was enthroned as king in Buda in the Church of St. Mary on February 3 of 1558.  The only problem was, the crown was still missing so no actual coronation took place. 

The magnates- that is the most powerful lords of the realm like Palatine Garai and Archbishop Szecsi agreed to elect Matthias in part because they thought he, being of such a his young age, would be weak and could be easily manipulated. But they were very wrong. Matthias quickly took control and contained the ambitions of the nobility whose strategy was always the decentralizing of power in order to gain more for themselves. Matthias kept his father's friends close to him. He fired Garai and made Mihaly Orszag palatine. 

The Siege of Belgrade

The Church bells ring at noon by the order from the Roman Catholic Pope Callixtus III to forever commemorate the hard fought victory of Christians forces led by St. John Capistrano and Hungarian Noble Lord Janos Hunyadi, János over the Ottoman Turk attack led by Sultan Mehemed II at the Battle of Belgrade

The situation appeared to have been settled but before things could get too peaceful and dull, Sultan Mehmed II, ruler of the Ottoman Empire, decided to invade the Kingdom of Hungary. He had already taken Constantinople, bringing an end to the great Byzantine Empire and an end to centuries of Constantinople as the eastern stronghold of Christianity.  The ramifications of this were enormous to Europe. Islam was now right on their doorstep. One might think at this point action might be taken;  perhaps the countries warring against each other in Europe might be able to drop their petty squabbling to unite against a common enemy as the popes had been urging them to do- but no, they just went right on fighting each other instead. Thus the Kingdom of Hungary was left to stand alone against the Ottoman Empire- an empire four times the size and number of people, wealth and resources of any country in Europe. 

In 1556, the sultan assemble a huge army of 80,000 soldiers and marched through Serbia- then a part of the Hungarian kingdom, to besiege the fortress of Belgrade where Mihaly Orszag was captain. Hunyady, who had been sidelined by the new king was now called upon to defend Belgrade. He had only had a small army but while the kings and princes of Christendom ignored the calls of Pope Calixtus to aid in the defense against the Turks, the common people responded. With the help of a Gionvanni Capistrano, a Franciscan friar, Hunyady augmented his small army of knights with thousands of zealous peasants, tradesmen, and other commoners. On the day of the battle, the Pope ordered a day of fasting and prayer and for all the church bells be rung throughout Europe at noon for those defending Belgrade. And that is all the rest of Europe managed to do. The odds were certainly in the Sultan's favor, but amazingly not only was Hunyady, with his ragtag group of 25,000 soldiers and common people able to defend the castle, he organized a counter attack that completely routed the Turks and the Sultan retreated back to Constantinople. Neither he nor his successors would try to invade Hungary again for the next 65 years.  It was not an entirely happy ending though because in the days that followed, Hunyadi became ill and died. There's little doubt his most trusted and devoted knights were with him to the end including , Lazlo Podmaniczky and Mihaly Orszag.

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