Nobility in the Kingdom of Hungary

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The front page of the Tripartitum, the law-book summarizing the privileges of the nobility in the kingdom

A group of privileged laymen who owned inheritable landed property formed the nobility in the Kingdom of Hungary throughout the existence of this realm. Some noble families traced their origins back to tribal chiefs who had primarily been military leaders before the establishement of the Kingdom of Hungary around 1000, but their claims can rarely be proven based on documentary evidence. Late 12th-century charters referred to the highest dignitaries of the royal court and the heads, or ispáns, of the counties as noblemen. The origin of the Hungarian aristocracy (with regard to rank but not different in function from the minor nobility) derives from "men distinguished by birth and dignity" (maiores natu et dignitate) mentioned in the charters of the first kings. They descended partly from the leaders of the Magyar tribes and clans and including immigrant (mainly German, Italian and French) knights (by invitation from the kings of Hungary) who settled in the kingdom in the course of the 10-12th centuries. Local Slavic leaders were also recognized as nobles during the centuries. By the 13th century, the royal servants (servientes regis), who mainly descended from the wealthier freemen (liberi), managed to ensure their liberties and their privileges were confirmed in the Golden Bull issued by King Andrew II of Hungary in 1222. Several families of the "castle warriors" (iobagiones castri) could also strengthen their liberties and they received the status of the "true nobles of the realm" (veri nobiles regni) by the end of the 13th century, although most of them lost their liberties and became subordinate to private castle-holders. Many leaders of the mainly Slavic, German and Romanian colonists who immigrated to the kingdom during the 11th-15th centuries also merged into the nobility. Kings had the authority to reward commoners with nobility and thenceforward, they enjoyed all the liberties of other nobles.

From the 14th century, the idea of "one and the same liberty" (una eademque libertas) appeared in the public law of the kingdom; the idea suggested that all the nobles enjoyed the same privileges independently of their offices, birth or wealth. In reality, even the legislation made a distinction partly between the members of the upper nobility (i.e., the nobles who held the highest offices in the Royal Households and in the royal administration or, from the 15th century, who used distinctive noble titles granted by the kings) and other nobles, and partly between nobles possessing lands and those without land possession. Moreover, public law also recognized the existence of some groups of the "conditional nobles" (conditionarius) whose privileges were limited; e.g., the "nobles of the Church" (nobilis ecclesiæ) were burdened with defined services to be provided to certain prelates. In some cases, not individuals but a group of people was granted a legal status similar to that of the nobility; e.g., the Hajdú people enjoyed the privileges of the nobility not as individuals but as a community.

Beginning in the 14th century, Hungarian nobility was based on a Patent of Nobility with a coat of arms issued by the monarch and constituted a legal and social class. Privileges of nobility—e.g. no taxation but obligatory military service at war at own cost—were abolished 1848, titles of nobility were abolished in 1947, and the abolishment of titles of nobility were again confirmed in 1990.

Similarly to other countries in Central Europe, the proportion of the nobility in the population of the Kingdom of Hungary was significantly higher than in the Western countries: by the 18th century, about 5% of its population qualified a member of the nobility.

The "cardinal liberties" of the nobility were clearly summarized in the Tripartitum (a law book collecting the body of common laws of the Kingdom of Hungary) in 1514. According to the Tripartitum, the nobles enjoyed personal freedom, they were submitted exclusively to the authority of the king and they were exempted of taxation but were required to serve in war at own cost; until 1681, they were also entitled to resist any actions of the monarchs that would jeopardize their liberties.

The core privileges of the nobility were abolished or expanded to other citizens by the "April laws" in 1848, but the members of the upper nobility could reserve their special political rights (they were hereditary members of the Upper House of the Parliament) and the usage of names of the nobles also distinguished them from the commoners. All the distinctive features of nobility, including titles, were abolished in 1947 following the declaration of the Republic of Hungary. The abolition of titles of nobility was confirmed by parliamentary legislation in 1990.

The Latin term Natio Hungarica ("Hungarian nation") during the medieval period covered those groups with the right to representation in the Hungarian Diet: the nobility, the Roman Catholic clergy, and a few enfranchised burghers.[1][2][3] Natio Hungarica thus came in the eighteenth century to refer to just the privileged group which had corporate political rights of parliamentary representation, the prelates, the magnates, and the nobles.

Origins (before c. 1000)[edit]

The Magyars, or Hungarians, dwelled in the Pontic steppes when the first records were made of them in the middle of the 9th century.[4] A group of rebellious subjects of the Khazar Khaganate, known as Kabars, joined them in this period.[5][6] Regino of Prüm, the Byzantine Emperor Leo the Wise and other 9th and 10th-century authors portrayed the Magyars as nomadic warriors who "ride their horses all the time"[7] and "do not last long on foot".[8][9] The Magyars crossed the Carpathian Mountains in search for a new homeland after the neighboring Pechenegs invaded their lands in 894 or 895.[10] In the next years, they defeated the Bavarians, annihilated Moravia and settled in the lowlands of the Carpathian Basin.[11][12]

The Hungarians were organized into seven "genea"[13] (tribes or clans) and each had its own chief in the middle of the 10th century, according to the contemporaneous Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus.[14][15] He added that the Kabars formed three genea, but they were under the command of one chief.[citation needed] Porphyrogenitus also wrote that the Hungarians "do not obey their own particular princes, but have a joint agreement to fight together with all earnestness and zeal",[16]suggesting that the tribal chiefs were military commanders without political powers.[15] According to historian Pál Engel, tribal chiefs bore the title úr, as it is suggested by Hungarian terms – ország ("realm") and uralkodik ("to rule") – which derived from this word.[14] There is no evidence that the úrs lived in fortified abodes: none of the unearthed earth-and-wood forts can certainly be dated to the 10th century.[6]

The bős were also military leaders, but they were subjected to the tribal chiefs.[17] Their title derived from the Turkic bey.[18] Archaeological finds – burials yielding sabres and other weapons, silver sabretaches, jewels and remains of horses – show that a numerous class of mounted warriors existed in the first half of the 10th century.[19] They were buried either in small cemeteries with 25-30 graves, or in large cemeteries where hundreds of graves without weaponry surrounded the warriors' burial places.[20]

Many noble families in the late 12th and early 13th centuries – including, the Aba, Bár-Kalán, Csák and Szemere clans[21] – asserted a descent from 9th and 10th-century chiefs, but there is little evidence to substantiate their claim.[22] Historian László Makkai writes that noblemen who traced their family back to tribal chiefs bore lions on their coat-of-arms.[18] 10th-century decorative motifs which can be regarded as the totems of tribes (the griffin, wolf and hind) were rarely used in Hungarian heraldry in the following centuries.[22] According to historian Martyn Rady, both the Hungarians' defeats during their raids in Europe from the 930s and the centralizing attempts of the grand princes from the Árpád dynasty caused the destruction of the tribal chiefs' families.[23]

The Medieval Kingdom[edit]

The "patrimonial" kingdom (c. 1000 – c. 1193)[edit]

A piece of land surrounded by earthwork covered by trees
The remains of the 11th-century earth-and-wood royal fort at Szabolcs

Stephen I, the first king of Hungary, was crowned on Christmas 1000 or 1 January 1001.[24] His main achievement was the systematic establishment of a Christian monarchy.[25][26] He defeated the rebellious tribal chiefs; he set up bishoprics and monasteries and prescribed the adoption of Christianity to his subjects; he erected forts and established administrative units (known as counties) around them.[27] In the first centuries after the establishment of the kingdom, the monarchs and the royal family held more than two-thirds of all lands in the kingdom, although uninhabited territories and forests made up the greater part of royal demesne.[28][29]

The earliest Hungarian laws shows that Hungarian society was divided into two major categories.[29][30] Freemen (liber) enjoyed "golden liberty" (aurea libertas) and could freely choose their lord and residence; in contrast with them, serfs (servus) were bound to their masters.[29][31] Among the serfs, the castle warriors (iobagiones castri) enjoyed a privileged status: they had hereditary estates and were exempt of taxation, but were obliged to serve in the army of the head, or ispán, of the castle.[32] Castle warriors jealously guarded their status, litigating other serfs (such as the castle folk and the royal serving people, or udvornici) who attempted to seize their estates or exemptions.[33] From the 13th century, castle warriors even claimed that the holy first king had granted their liberties to them, referring to themselves as "the freemen of the Holy King" (liberi or iobagiones sancti regis).[34][35] Only the monarchs had the power to grant "golden liberty" to serfs.[36] The first documented case is that of one Gab and his son, Botus: King Géza II transferred Gab from a prelate's household to the royal court and granted him landed property; after Gab's death, the king confirmed Botus's right to inherit his father and declared him a freeman who is only obliged to serve the monarch.[36]

Freemen were divided into at least three major groups in the 11th century, as it is demonstrated by the amounts of the compensation payable by those who committed certain crimes according to the earliest laws.[37] For instance, an ispán, or count, who abducted a girl were to give 50 steers, but a warrior, or "rich", gave 10 steers and a commoner (vulgaris) only five.[38] The counts were royal officials whom the monarch could appoint and dismis at will, in contrast with Western Europe where this office had become hereditary.[39][40] They received one third of the royal revenues assessed in the counties.[39] Each ispán had a seat in the royal council.[41] With Rady's words, the "royal household was the greatest provider of largesse in the kingdom" for centuries.[42] The most powerful individuals in the realm – known as maiores, optimates, proceres or magnates in the 11th and 12th centuries – were those who held court offices, the number of which increased till the 13th century.[43]

Initially, the expression "nobleman" (nobilis) had no well-specified meaning: according to the late 11th-century laws of Ladislaus I of Hungary, it could refer to a courtier, a landowner with judicial powers or even a warrior.[44] A century later, only the aristocrats – the high officials of the royal court and the counts – were mentioned as noblemen.[44] Simon of Kéza, who completed his Gesta Hunnorum et Hungarorum around 1285, wrote that there were 108 noble kindreds, all descending from counts of the previous centuries, in the kingdom.[44][21] The members of a kindred (genus or generatio) were the patrilineal descendants of a common ancestor.[45] They held their inherited domains in common through generationes,[45] but the division of the common property became widespread in the early 13th century, which contributed to the reduction in size of the noblemen's estates.[46][47] The members of a kindred had common patronage rights over one or two monasteries which had been established by their common ancestor.[45][46]

An armored standing man who bears a coat-of-arms and a flag, both depicting heads of dogs
Hunt, an ancestor of the Hont-Pázmány kindred, depicted in the Chronicon Pictum; in medieval chronicles, he is mentioned as a Swabian knight

King Coloman the Learned made a clear distinction between royal land grants made by King Saint Stephen and by the holy king's successors in the early 12th century.[48][49] Family lands traceable back to the first king's grant, could be inherited by the deceased owner's cousins and other relatives descending from the first grantee.[48][49] Other property could only pass from father to son, or from brother to brother, but otherwise the property escheated to the Crown.[50] From around 1156, the monarchs started granting immunities to landowners, exempting their estates of the jurisdiction of the ispáns and ceding them all royal revenues which had been collected in their lands.[51]

Members of the noble kindreds started distinguishing themselves by adopting a name which referred to their ancestors with the words de genere ("from the kindred") in around 1208.[46] According to the Gesta Hungarorum, which was written by an unidentified author around the same time, the ancestors of many noble lineages lived at the time of the Hungarian conquest of the Carpathian Basin, but most kindreds can only be traced back to individuals who lived in the 11th and 12th centuries.[52][53] The Gesta Hungarorum also stated that the kindreds descending from tribal chiefs "should never at all excluded from the counsel of the prince and the honor of the realm",[54] emphasizing their hereditary right to participate in the government of the realm. [47]

Kindreds descending from foreign knights who settled in the kingdom in the 11th and 12th centuries – including the Gutkeled, and Győr families – were labelled as "newcomers" (advena) for centuries.[55][56] However, intermarriages between families descending from "newcomers" and "native" lords were not rare, which ensured their integration in the Hungarian nobility.[57] The immigration of foreign warriors commenced during the reign of Stephen I's father, Géza.[56] They were well-equipped, mostly young, knights who had been trained in the art of war in Western Europe, enabling the Hungarian monarchs to set up an army of heavy cavalry.[46][58] Most knights arrived from the Holy Roman Empire, but the chronicles also refer to Aragonian, Czech, French and Italian warriors who settled in the kingdom.[59][60] The monarchs granted landed estates to the newcomers "with royal liberality", as it is emphasized in a royal charter of 1156, which established their families' position in the kingdom.[61] In Slovakian historiography, certain kindreds are described as Slavic noble families which had survived the fall of Moravia in the early 10th century.[62] For instance, Ján Lukačka writes that the Hont-Pázmány kindred, whose ancestors are mentioned as Swabian knights in Simon of Kéza's chronicle, was actually descended from noblemen from the Principality of Nitra who had yielded to the Hungarian monarchs in the 10th century.[63]

The arrival of foreign knights contributed to the spread of elements of chivalric culture, including tournaments, and the use of coat-of-arms.[55] Finally, families descending from the same kindred adopted similar coat-of-arms when the latter's use was adopted in the early 13th century.[55] For instance, families of the Aba kindred had an eagle in their coat-of-arms, those of the Becse-Gergely kindred a snake.[64] From the late 12th century, noblemen often named their children after Alexander, Lancelot, Tristan and other heroes of popular chivalric romances.[55][65]

Towards the Golden Bull of 1222 (c. 1193 – 1222)[edit]

A page from an old codex presenting a large green P initial decorated with tendrils
The first page of the Gesta Hungarorum, a chronicle emphasizing the hereditary right of the noble kindreds who were allegedly descended from Magyar tribal chiefs

The predominance of royal power featured the Kingdom of Hungary until the end of the reing of Béla III who died in 1196.[66] However, Béla III was also the first monarch who donated a whole county to a nobleman, granting Modrus County to Bartholomew of Krk from the Frankopan family.[67] In return, the king obliged to sent well-equiped warriors to the royal army.[68] He also started giving away large parts of the royal demesne in the last years of his reign.[69] The alienation of royal estates endangered the position of the castle warriors and other privileged elements, including freemen, living there, because the new landowners wanted to subject them to their authority.[70] In an attempt to protect their liberties and to strengthen their personal bonds to the monarchs, many of them started demanding royal confirmation of their status as "royal servants" (serrvientes regis).[71] Béla III was the first monarch to grant this status to a castle warrior named Ceka in the last decades of the 13th century.[72]

Béla III's younger son, Andrew II, who mounted the throne in 1205, decided to "alter the conditions" of his realm, starting to "distribute castles, counties, lands and other revenues" to his officials, according to his charter of 1217.[73] The estates were given away as allodia, as a reward for the grantee's previous acts, not as fiefs obliging the new owner to render services to the monarchs in the future.[74] The giving away of royal estates to such a large scale accelerated the development of a wealthy group of landowners, most descending from noble kindreds, who also monopolized the more than 20 highest offices in the realm.[75][76] In this period, the great officers of state – the Palatine, the Judge royal, the Voivode of Transylvania, the Ban of Croatia, and the court dignitaries, including the Master of the horse and the Master of the cupbearers – were already mentioned under a new title as "barons of the realm" (barones regni).[75]

Age of Golden Bulls (1222 – 1267)[edit]

The Golden Bull

The barons' emerging power endangered the royal servants' freedom.[77] For they lived on their estates far away from the royal court, they were always subjected to their wealthy neighbors' tyrannical acts.[78] Incited by a group of dismissed barons, a movement of the royal servants compelled Andrew II to issue his royal charter known as Golden Bull in 1222.[79][80] The Golden Bull, which is "the East European document most resembling the Magna Carta", according to László Makkai,[81] confirmed the the liberties of the royal servants.[82] First of all, the Bull declared that all royal servants were exempt from taxes payable to the king or the Church.[82] It also stated that they were only obliged to fight in the royal army in case of an invasion against the realm.[83] The Golden Bull confirmed the royal servants' right to freely will their estates in absence of male heirs, with the exception of one-quarter of their possessions (the "daughters' quarter", or quarta filialis)[84] which was to be inherited by their daughters.[82] Royal servants were also exempted of the jurisdiction of others than the monarch and the Palatine and prohibited their arrest without a verdict.[85] The last clause of the Golden Bull authorized the prelates and the magnates to resist the monarchs who failed to respect its provisions.[81] Although most decrees of the Golden Bull were ignored in the next period, it would be considered as one of the fundamental laws of the realm from the second half of the 14th century.[81][85]

The Golden Bull also confirmed the castle warrior's liberties.[86] However, castle warriors and warriors living in the prelates' domains remained subjected to the jurisdiction of their lords and were obliged to render military services to their lords even after the Golden Bull.[87] Accordingly, their liberties enacted in the Golden Bull distinguished the royal servants from all other subjects of the kings of Hungary.[87] They were often mentioned as noblemen in charter issued after around 1250.[88]

A deed issued, in 1232, by the "royal servants" living in Zala county indicated a new step towards the formation of institutes of their self-government: in the deed, they passed a judgment in a case, which proved that the "counties", that had been the basic units of the royal administration, commenced to turn into an administrative unit governed by the developing nobility.[89]

King Béla IV the "Second Founder of our Country" (1235-1270)

From the 1230s, the terminology used in the royal charters when they referred to "royal servants" began to change and finally, the Decree of 1267 issued by King Béla IV (1235–1270) identified them with the nobles.[90] Thenceforward, the former "royal servants" could enjoy all the privileges of the nobles and if the kings wanted to advance commoners they rewarded them with noble status in a charter issued for this specific purpose.[91]

In the second half of the 13th century, the kings ennobled several castle warriors and thus they got rid of the burden to provide services to the castle holders.[92] Castle warriors whose estate was not charged by specific services to be provided to the castle-holders could reach the status of nobility even without royal grant, provided that the nobles of the "county" where their estates were situated received them into their community.[93]

The ruins of Csejte Castle (today Čachtice in Slovakia) - a fortress built in the middle of the 13th century

Following the Mongol invasion of the kingdom in 1241-42, King Béla IV endeavoured the landowners to build strongholds in their domains and therefore, he often granted lands to his partisans with the obligation that they should build a fortress there.[94]

The wealthier members of the landed nobility endeavored to strengthen their position and they often rebelled against the kings.[95] They began to employ the members of the lesser nobility in their households and thus the latter (mentioned as familiaris in the deeds) became subordinate to them.[96] On the other hand, a familiaris kept the ownership of his former estates and in this regard, he still reserved his liberties and fell under the jurisdiction of the royal courts of justice.[97]

The last member of the Árpád dynasty, King Andrew III (1290–1301) tried to restore the royal power and thus he strengthened the position of the lesser nobility against the "barons of the realm": he prescribed the involvement of "noble judges" (Hungarian: szolgabíró, Latin: iudex nobilium) in judicial proceedings in assize courts (Hungarian: vármegyei törvényszék, Latin: sedes iudiciaria) and he also encouraged the nobles to take part in the law-making process by convoking assemblies for this purpose.[98]

(...) the heads of the counties shall not dare to decide the verdict or pass a judgement without the four elected nobles." (...) once in each year, all the barons and nobles of our kingdom shall come to the assembly in Székesfehérvár in order to discuss the state of affairs in the kingdom and examine the barons' actions (...)

—Articles 5 and 25 of the Decree of 1291

King Andrew III, however, could not hinder the strengthening of the most powerful barons who commenced to govern their domains de facto independently of the monarch and they usurped the royal prerogatives on their territories.[99] Following the king's death, the largest part of the kingdom became subject to the de facto rule of oligarchs like Matthew III Csák, Amade Aba and Ladislaus Kán.[100]

The age of chivalry - 14th century[edit]

At the time when the House of Árpád became extinct, a regional symbolism,[101] Natio Hungarica was developing during the late medieval centuries,[102] which originated its own historical legitimacy from the Hungarian warrior tribes that allegedly founded the Kingdom.[103] This expression referred only to the nobility, hence Nobilis Hungarus was a member of the aristocracy.[104] Natio Nobillium became synonymous to Natio Hungarica in the 16th century.[105]

Changes in the administration and in the Royal Households[edit]

King Charles I Robert (1308-1342)

King Charles I Robert (1308–1342), who was a matrilineal descendant of the Árpád dynasty, could strengthen his position on the throne only following a long period of internal struggles (1301–1323) against his opponents and the most powerful oligarchs.[106] Based on the estates he had acquired by force from the rebellious oligarchs, the king introduced a new system in the royal administration: when he appointed his followers to an office, he also granted them the possession of one or more royal castles and the royal domains attached to them, but he reserved the ownership of the castle and its belongings for himself and thus his dignitaries could only enjoy the revenues of their possessions while they held the office.[107]

King Charles I endeavoured the implementation of the ideas of chivalry; in 1318, he established the Order of Saint George.[108] He also set up the body of "knights-at-the-court" (Hungarian: udvari lovag, Latin: aule regiæ miles) who acted as his personal delegates on an ad hoc basis.[109] King Charles I was the first king of Hungary who granted crests to his followers.[110]

In 1324, in order to reward the nobles of Transylvania for their aid in suppressing the Saxons' rebellion, King Charles abolished the tax they had been obliged to pay, which contributed to the unification of the nobility of the whole realm.[111] On the other hand, during his reign, the holders of the 20 highest offices in the public administration and the Royal Households obtained the honorific magnificus vir that distinguished them from other nobles.[112]

In 1332, King Charles I declared in one of his charters issued to Margaret de genere Nádasd, whose male relatives had been murdered in 1316 during the internal struggles, that she was entitled to inherit her father's possessions.[113] Although this privilege contradicted the customs of the kingdom that prescribed that daughters can only inherit one-fourth of their father's estates, it set a precedent for future cases and thenceforward "putting her into a son's place" (Hungarian: fiusítás, Latin: præfectio) became a royal prerogative and both King Charles I and his successors exercised it occasionally in spite of the sharp opposition of the nobility.[114]

The Act of 1351[edit]

King Louis I the Great (1342-1382)

Following the unsuccessful campaigns against the Kingdom of Naples (1347–1350) and the ravages of the Black Death (1347–1349) in the kingdom, King Louis I (1342–1382) convoked the assembly of the "barons, notabilities and nobles" in 1351 and at their request, he reissued the Golden Bull of 1222 with one modification.[115] The Act also declared the principle of "one and the same liberty" of the nobility when prescribed that

(...) all the true nobles who live within the borders of our realm, even including those who live in the duke's provinces within the borders of our realm, shall enjoy the same liberties.

—Article 11 of the Act of 1351

The modification of the Golden Bull introduced the entail system (Hungarian: ősiség, Latin: aviticitas) when regulating the inheritance of the nobles' estates; according to the new system, the nobles' real property could not be devised by will, but it passed by operation of law to the owner's heirs upon his death.[116] The Act of 1351 introduced a new tax called "ninth" (Hungarian: kilenced, Latin: nona) that was payable by all the villeins to their lords; and the Act also prescribed, in order to prevent the wealthier land-owners from enticing the villeins working on the smaller nobles' estate, that all the land-owners were obliged to assess the nex tax otherwise it was payable to the king.[117] On the other hand, King Louis I abolished the taxes the nobles living in Slavonia had been obliged to pay thus ensuring that thenceforward they enjoyed all the liberties of the nobility of the kingdom.[116]

Groups of "conditional nobles"[edit]

Although the Act of 1351 declared the principle of a uniform nobility, but in reality, the legal status of some other groups of people in the kingdom was close to that of the "real nobles of the realm", but they were burdened with defined services linked to their estates and thus their liberties were limited.[118]

  • The "nobles of the Church" (Hungarian: egyházi nemesek, prediális nemesek; Latin: nobilis ecclesiæ, prædiales) possessed estates on some wealthier prelates' domains and served as horsemen in their lord's retinue.[119][120] In contrast to the "real nobles of the realm", they fell under the jurisdiction of the prelates, but they also set up their own organization of self-government called "seat" (Hungarian: szék; Latin: sedes).[121][122] The special legal status of the "nobles of the Church" disappeared only in 1853.[123]
  • The "Ten-lanced nobles" (Hungarian: tízlándzsások; Latin: nobiles sub decem lanceis constituti) lived in Szepes county (today Spiš in Slovakia).[124] They were exempted from the jurisdiction of the head of the county and they were organized into an autonomous "seat".[93][125] At the beginning, each of them were liable to military service, but from 1243, they had to arm only ten lance-bearers for the kings' army.[126] The "nobles with ten lances" could reserve their autonomy until 1804 when their "seat" was merged into Szepes county.[127]
  • The "noble cnezes and voivodes" (Hungarian: nemes kenéz, nemes vajda; Latin: nobilis kenezius, nobilis voivoda) were the leaders of the Romanians and Ruthenians who immigrated into the kingdom and settled down there in the course of the 13-15th centuries.[128][129][130] The kings rewarded some voivodes and cnezes for their military service with noble status, but, initially, that status was circumscribed: they remained obligated to pay taxes in kind for their estates, and to provide precisely-defined military services.[130] In the 14th century, judicial affairs in the Hátszeg (today Haţeg in Romania) district were dealt by the cnez "seats", chaired by the Hátszeg castellan.[129] The bishops of Várad (today Oradea in Romania) and Transylvania rewarded Romanian voivodes who served in their military escorts with the "nobility of the Church".[130] The bishops' semi-noble voivodes remained in this state of dependence until the early modern period, when the Reformation did away with church estates. In contrast, the crown's semi-noble voivodes and cnezes soon rose to the ranks of "true nobles of the realm".[130] After the cnezes were ennobled, their "seat" in the Hátszeg district merged with the nobiliary court of Hunyad (today Hunedoara in Romania) county.[129]

The rule of the barons' leagues[edit]

King Sigismund (1387-1437)

Following the death of King Louis I, his daughter Queen Mary I (1382–1385, 1386–1395) acceded to the throne, but the majority of the nobles opposed her rule.[116] In 1385, the young queen had to abdicate in favor of his distant cousin, King Charles II (1385–1386), but her partisans murdered the new king soon and thus she could ascend the throne again.[131] However, the followers of her murdered opponent's son, King Ladislaus of Naples rose up in open rebellion and captured her; thus the realm stayed without a monarch.[132]

In 1386, when the young Queen Mary I (1382–1385, 1386–1395) had been captured by rebellious nobles, the prelates and the "barons of the realm" set up a council and they commenced to issue decrees in the name of the "prelates, barons, notabilities and all nobles of the realm".[133] Shortly afterwards, the members of the council entered into a contract with Queen Mary's fiancé and elected him king; in the contract, King Sigismund (1387–1437) accepted that his

counsillors shall be the prelates, the barons, their offsprings and heirs, of those who used to be the counsillors of the kings of Hungary[134]

The contract also recorded that the king and his counsillors would form a league and the king could not dismiss his counsillors without the consent of the other members of the Royal Council.[135] In 1401, King Sigismund who had been imprisoned by the discontent members of the Royal Council, concluded a new agreement with some members of the upper nobility who set him free.[116]

The public law of the kingdom also started to differentiate the descendants of the "barons of the realm", even if they did not held any higher offices, from other nobles: the Act of 1397 referred to them as the "barons' sons" (Hungarian: bárófi, Latin: filii baronum) while later documents called them "magnates" (Hungarian: mágnás, Latin: magnates).

The emerging power of the Estates - 15-16th centuries[edit]

King Sigismund's rule[edit]

Reconstruction of the insignia of the Order of the Dragon

During his reign, King Sigismund granted several royal castles and the royal domains attached to them to the members of the barons' leagues.[136] The king, however, wanted to strengthen his position and for this purpose, in 1408, he founded the Order of the Dragon.[137] In contrast to the promises he had made, King Sigismund involved foreigners and members of the lesser nobility in the royal administration who were mentioned as his "special counsillors" (Hungarian: különös tanácsos, Latin: consiliarius specialis) in his documents.[138]

The king expanded the jurisdiction of the assize courts when abolished the exemptions he or his predecessors had granted to several bodies corporate and individuals.[139] He tried to exempt the poorest nobles from the obligation to serve personally in his armies, but the Estates of the realm refused his proposal, probably because exactly those who were concerned thought that this releaf could lead to the abolishment of their personal tax-exemption.[116]

And the other nobles who do not have villains (with the exception of those whose exemption seems reasonable because of being advanced in age, widowed or orphaned or being in a similar state of helplessness) shall join the armies themselves alone; namely, those who have a lord and fight under his name and at his expense, shall join together with their lord; while those without a lord, shall join together with the head of their county at their own expense (financed from their estate or house), but also properly armed and supplied in accordance with their capacity.

—Article 3 of the Act I of 1435

Groups within the nobility[edit]

Following the death of King Louis I (1382), the distribution of landed property underwent a significant change in the kingdom: in parallel with a radical decrease of the size of the royal domains, the importance of private estates increased considerably.[140] In 1382, less than 50% of the territory of the country was owned by nobles, but by 1437, about 65% of its territory had already been owned by them.[116]

The unequal distribution of the landed property enabled the formation of several major groups within the nobility.

The Castle of Vajdahunyad (today Castelul Huniazilor in Romania) - built in the 15th century and became the centre of the Hunyadi domains
  • The size of the domains of the "magnates" (about 40 families) exceeded the 60,000 hectares (600 km2), but some of them owned landed properties whose territory exceeded even the 300,000 hectares (3,000 km2).[116] Their lands were cultivated by about 1,000-3,500 villeins and they organized their domains into smaller units centered around their castles.[116] The "magnates" employed "lesser nobles" in their households; thus their seats turned into social and political centers in the countryside.[141]
  • The "wealthier nobles" (about 200-300 families) employed 200-1,000 families of landed villeins on their estates whose size ranged from 5,000 to 60,000 hectares (from 50 to 600 km2).[116] Most of them descended from the members of the wealthier clans of the 13th century who did not hold higher offices.[142] They were rich enough not to enter into the service of the magnates; therefore, they preferred to retire to their manors.[116]
  • The "nobles of the counties" (about 3,000-5,000 families) owned about 20-200 villein's parcels; the size of their estates ranged from 500 to 5,000 hectares (from 5 to 50 km2 respectively)[116] They were employed by the "magnates" and held the highest offices in their households.[116] Several of them held offices in the "counties'" administration and thus became the leaders of the local "lesser nobility".[116] It is important to note that the boundary between this group and the "nobles with one parcel" was constantly in flux, which created the particular dynamic of Hungarian lesser nobility.
  • The "nobles with one parcel" (about 12,000-16,000 families) formed the most numerous group within the nobility; the size of their estate typically did not exceed the 3 hectares (0,3 km2) and their parcels were often cultivated by themselves without the assistance of villeins.[116] They were often employed as mercenaries but they also preferred the legal career; however, plenty of them worked as tailor, blacksmith, butcher or carried out similar profession.[143] In fact, they were peasants or craftsmen who enjoyed all the liberties of the nobility.[144] The majority of the "nobles with one parcel" lived in separate "noble villages", although some of them lived together with villeins in the same settlements.[116] According to the customary law, brothers each were entitled to an equal share in their father's inheritance; therefore, the number of the "nobles with one parcel" were increasing during the period because even larger estates may have been divided among their owner's descendants from generation to generation.[116]

The "nobles' in-laws" (Hungarian: agilis, nőnemes; Latin: agilis) formed also a specific group within the nobility; they were commoners who married a noble woman or descended from the marriage of a noble woman and a commoner.[145] According to the customary law, the daughters of nobles inherited one-quarter of their father's estates but their inheritance was to be delivered in cash; however, a noble's daughter was entitled to receive her inheritance in-kind, if she married to a commoner.[146] In this case, she and her husband became the owners of one or more noble estates and under the customary law, her husband and their children were regarded nobles.[147] From the 16th century, a noble woman's commoner husband was not counted among the nobles and only their children could reach the status of nobility provided that they inherited landed property from their mother.[116]

The triumph of the Estates[edit]

When King Albert I (1437–1439) was proclaimed king, he had to take a solemn oath that he would exercise his prerogative powers only with the consent of the Royal Council.[148] The Diet convoked in 1439 enacted that even the nobles who did not have villeins be exempted from the payment of the tithe.

(...) as their ancient liberties have required, nobles do not have to pay tithe whether they have villeins or not.

—Article 28 of the Act of 1439

Following King Albert's death, a civil war broke out between the followers of his posthumous son, King Ladislaus V (1440–1457) and the partisans of his opponent, King Vladislaus I (1440–1444).[149] Although the infant king was crowned by the Holy Crown, but the assembly of the Estates declared his coronation void[150] and the Diet formulated the principle that

(...) the monarchs' coronation always depends on the will of the people of the realm, and the efficacy and the powers of the crown originate from their consent.[151]

John Hunyadi (?-1456)

Between 1440 and 1458, the Diet was convoked in each year (with the exception of 1443 and 1449), and its functions changed radically: previously, the assemblies of the Estates functioned mainly as a consultative body and the monarch passed his decrees in the Royal Council, but thenceforward, the Diet was involved in the legislative process of law-making and the bills were to be passed by the Diet before receiving the Royal Assent.[152] The monarch (or the regent) sent a personal invitation to the prelates, "barons of the realm" and "magnates" when he convoked a Diet and they attended in person at the assembly; other nobles were represented by their deputies elected at their assemblies held in each county.[116] Occasionally (e.g., in 1441, 1446, 1456), all the nobles were invited to attend in person at the Diet.[153] The constitution of the Diets ensured the predominance of the nobility, because the "magnates" and the "counties'" deputies had an overwhelming majority over the prelates and the towns' representatives.[154]

In 1446, the assembly of the Estates proclaimed John Hunyadi to Regent and he was to govern the realm in cooperation with the Estates until 1453 when King Ladislaus V returned to the kingdom.[155] John Hunyadi was the first "magnate" who received a hereditary title from a king of Hungary.[156]

King Matthias I the Just (1458-1490)

King Matthias I (1443–1490) rewarded his partisans with hereditary titles and appointed them[a] hereditary heads of "counties" and he also entitled them to use the red sealing wax.[158][159] During his reign, all the members of the wealthier families descending from the "barons of the realm" received the honorific magnificus which was a next step towards their separation from other nobles.[160]

In 1487, a new expression appeared in a deed of armistice signed by King Matthias: 18 families were mentioned as "natural barons of Hungary" (Hungarian: Magyarország természetes bárói, Latin: barones natureles in Hungaria) in contrast to the "barons of the realm" who were still the holders of the highest offices in the public administration and the Royal Households.[161]

King Vladislaus II the "Dobže" (1490-1516)

During the reign of King Vladislaus II (1490–1516), the Diet unambiguosly expressed[162] that certain noble families were in a distinguished position and mentioned them as barons irrespectively of the office they held which prove that by that time, public law had acknowledged their special legal status and their privilege to use distinctive titles.[116]

Early Modern Period[edit]

Conflicts within the nobility and the Great Peasants' War of 1514[edit]

The period following the death of King Matthias (1490) was characterized by conflicts among the several "parties" of the nobility, although the independence of the kingdom became more and more jeopardized by the emerging power of the Ottoman Empire.[163]

One of the two major political groupings (the "national party") was led by duke John Corvin (the illegitimate son of King Matthias I) and later, by count John Szapolyai and it was followed by the majority of the "lesser nobles"; they wanted to establish a "national kingdom", i.e., they wanted to proclaim one of the barons to king.[164] The "court party" was composed mainly of the barons and their familiaris and it preferred a close alliance with the Habsburgs.[116] On the other hand, the conflict between the "upper nobility" (the "magnates") and the "lesser nobility" also existed, because the former endeavoured to develop their special privileges, while the latter wanted to reserve the ideology of "one and the same liberty".[116]

In 1514, the great rebellion of the peasants led by György Dózsa broke out, and their troops occupied and burgled several manors, murdered many landowners and raped noble women.[165] The peasants' troops were defeated by the combined forces of the nobility led by count John Szapolyai.[116]

The acts of revenge against the peasants were enacted by the legislation of 1514: according to the new legal provisions, thenceforward, villeins had to work one day of each week on their lords' demesne without remuneration[166] and their right to free movement became abolished.[167][168]

The "cardinal liberties" of the nobility - The Tripartitum[edit]

The first Hungarian translation of the Tripartitum (printed in 1565)

At the Diet of 1514, István Werbőczy, who had been a member of the Royal Court, presented his work collecting the costumary law of the realm to the Estates.[116] Although the Diet passed a decision confirming Werbőczy's work and his work also received the Royal Assent, but it was never promulgated, probably because it was obviously biased towards the intresests of the "lesser nobility".[116]

Nevertheless, István Werbőczy published his work under the title The customary law of the renowned Kingdom of Hungary: a work in three parts (Hungarian: Tekintetes Magyarország szokásjogának hármaskönyve, Latin: Tripartitum opus iuris consuetudinarii Inclyti Regni Hungariæ) and his book would be followed by the courts of justice in the Kingdom of Hungary during the next centuries.[169] The Tripartitum, in contrast to the development of the public law during the 15th century, declared the principle of "one and the same liberty" of the nobility, although it also referred to some distinctive privileges of the barons (e.g., the size of their weregeld was higher).[116]

The Tripartitum's Primæ Nonus (i.e., the Ninth Title of its First Part) summarized the "cardinal liberties" of the nobility:

  • a noble could not be arrested without having been summonsed to appear before a court of justize and judged guilty;
  • a noble was subordinate only to the power of the monarch legally crowned;
  • a noble was exempt from any taxes and obligatory services with the exemption of military service in case of an attack on the realm;
  • nobles were entitled to resist any act of the monarchs that could jeopardize their liberties.[170]

The Ottoman conquest[edit]

The Battle of Mohács (August 29, 1526)

On 29 August 1526, the military forces of the Kingdom of Hungary led by King Louis II (1516–1526) suffered a catastrophic defeat from the Ottoman armies led by the Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (1520–1566) at the Battle of Mohács.[171] When the young king left the battlefield, he was thrown from his horse in a river and died, weighed down by his armor.[172] Following their victory, the Ottoman troops entered Buda and pillaged the castle and the surroundings, but they retreated soon afterwards.[173]

The "national party" of the nobility proclaimed its leader to king, but his opponents did not accept his rule, and shortly afterwards, they elected the Habsburg claimant to king; thus a civil war broke out among the followers of King John I (1526–1540) and King Ferdinand I (1526–1564).[116] When King John I died, his followers proclaimed his infant son to king, but in 1541, the Sultan Suleiman invaded the kingdom and occupied its central parts. However, by the Sultan's grace, the infant King John II Sigismund (1540–1570) could reserve the government in the eastern parts of the kingdom which led to the formation of a semi-independent polity on those territories.[174]

Thenceforward, the medieval Kingdom of Hungary became divided into three parts:

New groups within the nobility[edit]

The Ottoman conquest of the central territories of the kingdom enforced several nobles to leave their estates and they had to move to the territories that had not become subject to the Ottoman rule.[176] Several of them received a parcel on the domains of the "magnates", but their parcels did not turn into noble estates and therefore, they had to pay remuneration for the use of their parcels which loosened the principle of the personal tax-exemption of the nobility.[116]

The lack of landed property that the kings could have granted led to the practise that the monarchs commenced to ennoble communers without granting them estates; consequently, the "nobles with only letters patent" (Hungarian: armális nemesek, armalisták; Latin: nobiles armales, armalistæ) could not serve personally in the kings' army in the lack of proper revenues.[177] Similarly to them, the "nobles with one parcel" neither could finance the expenses of their personal military service.[178]

The siege of Komárom (today Komárno in Slovakia) in 1594

However, the permanent state of war on the borders of the Royal Hungary required the maintenance of permanent military forces; therefore, the Estates accepted the idea that the nobles who did not owne estates cultivated by villeins (who were obliged to pay taxes) should contribute to the expenses of the wars and in 1595, they ordered[179] that the "nobles with only letters patent" and the "nobles with one parcel" should pay a military contribution.[116] Shortly afterwards, the same nobles became subject to the tax payable for the "counties".[116] Thenceforward, the nobles who became subject to taxation were referred to as "nobles paying tax" (Hungarian: taksás nemesek).[116]

The Reformation in the Kingdom of Hungary[edit]

Martin Luther's first adherents in the Kingdom of Hungary appeared around 1521 among the (mainly) German-speaking citizens of the towns of Transdanubia, Upper Hungary (today Slovakia) and (from the 1530s) Transylvania (today in Romania).[180] Moreover, some members of German origin of the court of Mary of Austria, the queen of King Louis II also became the follower of the church reformer's ideas.[116] The nobility, however, endeavoured to hinder the spreading of the ideas of the Reformation during the first half of the 16th century and the Diets of 1523, 1524 and 1525 enacted specific provisions[181] against its followers.[116][182]

The Lutheran position changed when King Ferdinand I entrusted the defence of the royal fortresses to mercenaries whose majority had become the adherent of Martin Luther and they were followed by Lutheran preachers.[183] From the 1530s, more and more "magnates" converted to the Lutheran ideas and the members of the lesser nobility also followed their example.[184]

The Modern Age[edit]

After the obscure kuruc age and the relative quiet of Maria Theresa's era, Joseph II (1780–90) brought important alterations for the Hungarian nobles. He was a dynamic leader who was influenced by the Enlightenment. He decreed that German replaces Latin as the empire's official language and granted peasants the freedom to leave their holdings, to marry, and to place their children in trades. Hungary, Slavonia, Croatia, the Military Frontier and Transylvania became a single imperial territory under one administration, called the Kingdom of Hungary or "Lands of the Crown of St. Stephen" (before Royal Hungary form was used). When the Hungarian nobles again refused to waive their exemption from taxation, Joseph banned imports of Hungarian manufactured goods into Austria and began a survey to prepare for imposition of a general land tax. Joseph II.'s reforms outraged nobles and clergy of Hungary. Hungarians perceived Joseph's language reform as German cultural hegemony, and they reacted by insisting on the right to use their own tongue. As a result, Hungarian lesser nobles sparked a renaissance of the Hungarian language and culture, and a cult of national dance and costume flourished. The lesser nobles questioned the loyalty of the magnates, of whom less than half were ethnic Hungarians, and even those had become French- and German-speaking courtiers. The Hungarian national reawakening subsequently triggered national revivals among the Slovak, Romanian, Serbian, and Croatian minorities within Hungary and Transylvania, who felt threatened by both German and Hungarian cultural hegemony.

Natio Hungarica came to refer to the privileged group that had corporate political rights of parliamentary representation, i.e. the prelates, the magnates and the nobles. This conception was accepted in Szatmar Treaty of 1711 and in the Pragmatic Sanction of 1722; it remained valid until 1848.

Abolition of nobility and development of ethnic nationalism[edit]

The old concept of Natio Hungarica came to play a role in the development of early nationalism based on the French model.[clarification needed][not in citation given][185] Ľudovít Štúr indirectly demanded that all people (including peasants) living in the Kingdom of Hungary have their own representatives in the Diet. He indicated the‘new constitutional subject’ that is all the peoples in the Kingdom of Hungary should become the Natio Hungarica. This involved the amendment of the meaning of the traditional class concept Natio Hungarica and the extension of its frame to all the peoples in the Hungarian Kingdom. His attempt at the transformation of all the peoples in kingdom into Natio Hungarica constituted an attempt at the transformation of all ethnic groups in Hungarian Kingdom into Natio Hungarica. Š Only with the abolition of nobility and the development of Hungarian nationalism did natio Hungarica begin to develop an ethnic sense. Lajos Kossuth identified the historical-political rights of king and corporations in the Kingdom of Hungary with the national rights of the Magyars.[186]


  1. ^ John Vitovec (1463: Zagorje county); Emeric Szapolyai (1465: Szepes county); Nicholas Csupor de Monoszló (1467: Verőce county); John Ernuszt (1467: Turóc county); Nicholas Bánffy de Alsólendva (1485); Peter and Matthias Geréb (1487)[157]


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  186. ^ Nakazawa 2007.


Primary sources[edit]

  • Anonymus, Notary of King Béla: The Deeds of the Hungarians (Edited, Translated and Annotated by Martyn Rady and László Veszprémy) (2010). In: Rady, Martyn; Veszprémy, László; Bak, János M. (2010); Anonymus and Master Roger; CEU Press; ISBN 978-963-9776-95-1.
  • Constantine Porphyrogenitus: De Administrando Imperio (Greek text edited by Gyula Moravcsik, English translation by Romillyi J. H. Jenkins) (1967). Dumbarton Oaks Center for Byzantine Studies. ISBN 0-88402-021-5.
  • The Chronicle of Regino of Prüm (2009). In: History and Politics in Late Carolingian and Ottonian Europe: The Chronicle of Regino of Prüm and Adalbert of Magdeburg (Translated and annotated by Simon MacLean); Manchester University Press; ISBN 978-0-7190-7135-5.
  • The Taktika of Leo VI (Text, translation, and commentary by George T. Dennis) (2010). Dumbarton Oaks. ISBN 978-0-88402-359-3.

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  • Bán, Péter, ed. (1989b). Magyar történelmi fogalomtár - II. kötet (L-Zs) [Dictionary of the Terminology of the Hungarian History - Volume II /L-Zs/]. Budapest: Gondolat. ISBN 963-282-204-8. 
  • Benda, Kálmán, ed. (1981). Magyarország történeti kronológiája I /A kezdetektől 1526-ig/ [The Chronology of the History of Hungary - From the beginnings until 1526]. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó. ISBN 963-05-2661-1. 
  • Benda, Kálmán, ed. (1982). Magyarország történeti kronológiája II /1526-1848/ [The Chronology of the History of Hungary - 1526-1848]. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó. ISBN 963-05-2662-X. 
  • Berend, Nora; Urbańczyk, Przemysław; Wiszewski, Przemysław (2013). Central Europe in the High Middle Ages: Bohemia, Hungary and Poland, c. 900-c. 1300. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-78156-5. 
  • Bóna, István (2000). A magyarok és Európa a 9-10. században [The Magyars and Europe during the 9-10th centuries]. Budapest: História - MTA Történettudományi Intézete. ISBN 963-8312-67-X. 
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  • Cartledge, Bryan (2011). The Will to Survive: A History of Hungary. C. Hurst & Co. ISBN 978-1-84904-112-6. 
  • Engel, Pál; Kristó, Gyula; Kubinyi, András (1998). Magyarország története - 1301-1526 [The History of Hungary - 1301-1526]. Budapest: Osiris Kiadó. ISBN 963-379-171-5. 
  • Engel, Pál (2001). The Realm of St Stephen: A History of Medieval Hungary, 895–1526. I.B. Tauris Publishers. ISBN 1-86064-061-3. 
  • Fügedi, Erik (1986). Ispánok, bárók, kiskirályok [Counts, Barons and Petty Kings]. Budapest: Magvető Könyvkiadó. ISBN 963-14-0582-6. 
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  • Fügedi, Erik; Bak, János M. (2012). "Foreign knights and clerks in Early Medieval Hungary". In Berend, Nora. The Expansion of Central Europe in the Middle Ages. Ashgate. pp. 319–331. ISBN 978-1-4094-2245-7. 
  • Karácsony, János (1985). Magyarország egyháztörténete főbb vonásaiban 970-től 1900-ig [The Major Features of the Church History of Hungary from 970 until 1900]. Budapest: Könyvértékesítő Vállalat. ISBN 963-02-3434-3. 
  • Klein, George; Reban, Milan Jan (1981). The Politics of ethnicity in Eastern Europe. East European Monographs. ISBN 978-0-914710-87-5. 
  • Kontler, László (1999). Millennium in Central Europe: A History of Hungary. Atlantisz Publishing House. ISBN 963-9165-37-9. 
  • Kristó, Gyula, ed. (1994). Korai Magyar Történeti Lexikon - 9-14. század [Encyclopedia of the Early Hungarian History - 9-14th centuries]. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó. ISBN 963-05-6722-9. 
  • Kristó, Gyula (1998). Magyarország története, 895-1301 [The History of Hungary, 895-1301] (in Hungarian). Osiris Kiadó. ISBN 963-379-442-0. 
  • Makkai, László (1994). "The Hungarians' prehistory, their conquest of Hungary, and their raids to the West to 955; The foundation of the Hungarian Christian state, 950–1196; Transformation into a Western-type state, 1196–1301". In Sugar, Peter F.; Hanák, Péter; Frank, Tibor. A History of Hungary. Indiana University Press. pp. 8–33. ISBN 963-7081-01-1. 
  • Lukačka, Ján (2011). "The beginnings of the nobility in Slovakia". In Teich, Mikuláš; Kováč, Dušan; Brown, Martin D. Slovakia in History. Cambridge University Press. pp. 30–37. ISBN 978-0-521-80253-6. 
  • Rady, Martyn (2000). Nobility, Land and Service in Medieval Hungary. Palgrave. ISBN 0-333-80085-0. 
  • Tägil, Sven; Gerner, Kristian (1999). Regions in Central Europe: the legacy of history. Purdue University Press. 
  • Nakazawa, Tatsuya (2007). "Slovak Nation as a Corporate Body: The Process of the Conceptual Transformation of a Nation without History into a Constitutional Subject during the Revolutions of 1848/49". In Hayashi, Tadayuki; Fukuda, Hiroshi. Regions in Central and Eastern Europe: Past and Present. Slavic Research Center, Hokkaido University. pp. 155–181. ISBN 978-4-938637-43-9. 

Further reading[edit]