Lesser nobility (Kingdom of Hungary)
||This article possibly contains original research. (August 2008)|
||This article is incomplete. (August 2008)|
The Slovak words Zeman (male) and zemianka (female), pronounced [ˈzeman, ˈzemianka] were the corresponding words for the lowest-ranking nobility (Latin nobilis, Hungarian nemes) at the northern parts of Kingdom of Hungary where Slavic minorities (Slovaks, Rusyns, Poles etc.) lived. In the hierarchy it was placed under the baron.
The Hungarian and Latin words (Latin was the kingdom's language of administration until the 19th century) could also be used in the more general sense of "a nobleman," but they had the specific meaning identifying a noble person of this particular rank in the kingdom. The Slovak version of the title stemmed from an old broader word related to "land" (zem) that they were given when the largest number of them were ennobled, which was in return for helping King Béla IV to defend the country during the Mongol invasions of 1241-1242. To serve in arms when called on became one of the zemans' few obligations towards the king.
For much of the kingdom's existence, the zemans answered only to the king, they were outside any other nobleman's power and did not fall under their county's judiciary. They did not pay taxes, were automatically members of the Diet, elected their county officials, could not be ordered to convert from Lutheranism (mostly Slovaks) and Calvinism (mostly Hungarians) to Catholicism during the Habsburgs' forceful Counter-Reformation, and enjoyed other privileges of people free of feudal oppression.
Inheritance of titles
Their title differed from the higher noblemen's titles in that it was inherited by all the zeman's children equally in each generation. Their ratio in society therefore did not decline as the population grew. A male zeman's children, sons as well as daughters, were all born zemans regardless of the status of their mother (when a female commoner married a zeman, her status was effectively raised). A female zemianka who married a commoner retained her noble status for the rest of her life, but it did not transfer to her husband and her children were born commoners.
Zemans and society
The zemans were somewhat more concentrated in the kingdom's northern counties (present-day Slovakia). It is estimated that about 4.6% households were zeman families in that region, although there were differences — some areas had fewer of them, some villages were inhabited predominantly by zemans. Some zemans eventually became farmers not necessarily wealthier than their neighbors, but their status of the king's free and privileged subjects contributed to the dynamics of the kingdom's societies and to the development of its cultures.
The practical implications of their privileged status began to disappear with the reforms of Joseph II that gradually gave more freedom to the rest of the population and curbed the nobility's privileges as the kingdom became more firmly integrated in the Habsburg monarchy. Among the Kingdom of Hungary's zemans with entries in Wikipedia were Anton Bernolák, Štefan Marko Daxner, Janko Jesenský, Adam František Kollár, Lajos Kossuth, Pavol Országh Hviezdoslav, and Jonáš Záborský.
- Piotr Stefan Wandycz, The Price of Freedom: A History of East Central Europe from the Middle Ages to the Present. 2001.
- Ján Hučko, Sociálne zloženie a pôvod slovenskej obrodenskej inteligencie. Bratislava, 1974.