The Keepers of Kings

Seal of Janos Podmaniczky 1511 (Podmaniczky Archive)

New coat-of-arms featuring a spread eagle

By the time of his death the eldest son of Laszlo Podmaniczky owned eight castles and dozens of estates and towns. He was also elevated, along with his brothers, to the  highest rank in the kingdom, Lord Baron, a hereditary title held by only three other families. The title came with a new coat-of-arms featuring a spread eagle and the right to use red sealing wax!

  • Seal of Janos Podmaniczky 1511

Janos I (John I)

Castle Collector

Janos I was the eldest son of Laszlo Podamiczky, commander in the Black Army and member of the Royal Council under King Matthias Corvinus. Janos was the only son born of Laszlo's first marriage to Magdolina Galszechy. Of the three brothers he seems to be the most ambitious and politically astute. Unlike his father, he was not completely devoted and loyal to King Mathias. He may have even participated in a minor rebellion against the king and was probably pardoned in part due to his father's influence in the royal court. Laszlo died in 1489 as did King Matthias in 1490. It is clear from what happened afterwards that Janos was one of the many barons who resented the autocratic rule of Matthias because although Matthias exacted a pledge from the barons to crown his illigitimate  son, John Corvinus, as king after he died, Janos did not do so. Like many of the magnates he rallied behind and fought for Wladyslaw, the King of Bohemia to become King of Hungary. He was elected and crowned in 1490. However, Maximillian Habsburg King of the Germans  (soon to be Holy Roman Emperor) also claimed the throne and invaded Hungary.

Janos Podmaniczky assembled a personal army of 5000 soldiers to help defeat Maximilian, reclaiming Kasza Castle in 1491. For his service he was rewarded with a high place on the Royal Council. He became a close personal advisor to  the new king and his wife, Queen Anne. 

As a reward for his service, the king gave Janos many estates and town and the castles of Su'lov, Strecno, Lednica and Szuca. He bought Hrico Castle from his cousin, the son of Balazs Podmaniczky. He already owned the castles of Beszterce,(aka Povazska-Bystrica), Budatin, and Bytca.

  • The magfnificent ruin of Strečno Castle in present day Slovakia, donated by King Wladyslaw II to Janos Podmaniczky in a charter dated from 1508 (wikipedia)

Laszlo and Kelemen Rozson ravaged parts of the territory of the Podmaniczky

What initially sparked the controversy was unclear but the official records of it started in 1515. That year Laszlo and Kelemen Rozson and a band of their serfs ravaged parts of the territory of the Podmaniczky, destroying crops and driving away the livestock of the Podmaniczky's serfs. If there was some motive other than a vague desire to cause trouble, it remained a mystery but the result could be clearly assessed in monetary terms; it cost Mihaly Podmaniczky, the father of Janos and Rafael, 500 gold pieces in damages. A year after the incident, Mihaly was made captain of the King's Guard by the new king and the following year convinced the king to give him the royal donation of the estate of Boleso. This was not merely part of a strategy to accumulate more territory but was a means of getting revenge: the village and estates of Boleso had been pledged to the Rozsons by the previous king. The Rozson were so angry about losing Boleso that after Mihaly took possession of the manor house, they gathered together some of their soldiers and besieged it, driving Mihaly Podmaniczky and his men out. In retaliation Mihaly gathered an armed force of several hundreds of his loyal knights and serfs and attacked the Rozson manor houses and fortresses. The Podmaniczky army took all of the valuables they found, including furniture and what they didn't take, they smashed or burned. They even destroyed the Rozson's fortress tower with siege engines. Both parties went to the king and accused the other of violent, aggressive acts but the matter had never been officially resolved. Mihaly let the Rozson keep there much devalued property but neither family forgave the other.

Stone coat-of-arms

  • Carved stone found in Bystrica Caste, now Slovakia (photo:

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