Palatine of Hungary

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The Palatine (German: Landespalatin,[1] Hungarian: nádorispán or nádor,[2][3][4][5] Latin: palatinus comes or palatinus,[5] and Slovak: nádvorný špán)[6] was the highest-ranking official in the Kingdom of Hungary from the beginning of the 11th century to 1848. Initially, Palatines were representatives of the monarchs, later (from 1723) the vice-regent (viceroy).[dubious ] In the early centuries of the kingdom, they were appointed by the king, and later (from 1608) were elected by the Diet of the Kingdom of Hungary.


The Hungarian name of the office, nádorispán which was first recorded around 1405 originated from *nadъ-dvorjь-županъ, a reconstructed (not attested) Slavic word for the "head of the royal court".[3] The first record on a comes palatii is from the reign of King Stephen I of Hungary.[5] The king's brother-in-law, Samuel Aba was the first known holder of the office.[7] Initially, the administration of the royal court was the Palatines' main duty.[6] Thus they were also the superior of the udvarniks, the unfree servants living in the royal estates.[8] Accordingly, they frequently traveled throughout the realm and presided in court cases.[9]


Middle Ages[edit]

The Hungarians settled in the Carpathian Basin around 896.[10]

Initially the palatine was the leader (administrator, manager) of the curia regis (Court of the king, in terms of persons and institutions); he was responsible for the functioning of the Court, for its economy and internal order. From 1002 onwards, leading members of the supreme nobility (the oligarchs) held the function. He was responsible for the royal properties ("courts", Hungarian: udvarok, Slovak: dvorce) scattered in the country with their "court" peasants (Hungarian: udvarnokok, Slovak: dvorníci; people specialised in various skills who provided services, food and products for "courts" of the king or courts of oligarchs).

From the 12th century onwards, the palatine was also a representative of the king in judicial affairs. He was the judge of all "free" persons (oligarchs, servientes regis, hospites and other land owners), especially the judge of the nobles outside the capital, but in 1222 nobles were exempt from his jurisdiction. He was also the judge of the Jászok (Alans), of the Cumanians and of the Jews. Title of Palatine is abolished in 1848.

From 1200, he was also the comes of several counties, thus being entitled to one third of the county taxes. From the 13th century, his deputy (vicepalatinus) was based in Pest (around 1300 temporarily in Old Buda), where he was simultaneously the county leader of the Pest county and judge of the middle nobility.

The Diet of the Kingdom of Hungary of 1455 and 1456 issued the decree "de officio Palatinus", which guaranteed the palatine's position as the representative of the king.

15th – 20th century[edit]

From around 1400 he was the vicegerent of the king, a function which however only became important after 1526. He was allowed to command the royal army and to preside over the Diet of the Kingdom of Hungary instead of the king. When the king was not of age or if there was an interregnum, he also could convene the Diet. From around 1450 he had the right to grant royal property — like the king himself but with certain restrictions. An act of 1485 explicitly stipulated that the palatine shall be the vicegerent in the king's absence.

After 1526, when the Habsburgs became rulers of the kingdom and the Turks seized large parts of the kingdom, the palatine, as the vice-regent (viceroy), had his seat outside Royal Hungary in Prague and later in Vienna. In 1526, the palatine became a life function. In 1527, the palatine István Báthory created the Hungarian Vice-regency Council (a kind of government, seat in Pozsony (German: Pressburg, now Bratislava) since 1531) comprising also other noble representatives, which became a permanent institution headed by the palatine in 1549. In 1608, the functions of vice-regent and palatine were separated. The Vice-regency council was abolished in 1673, but renewed in 1723, when the palatine became the official president of the council.

After 1848, the palatine was only a symbolic function, but it was only in 1918 — with the end of Habsburgs in the Kingdom of Hungary (the kingdom continued formally until 1945) — that the function ceased officially.

Important palatines[edit]

For more details on this topic, see List of palatines of Hungary.

Important families that provided several palatines were: in the 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th century were the Aba (family), Lackfi, in the 15th century the Garay, afterwards the Báthory and the Zápolya, Esterházy, Pálffy, and ultimately the Joseph branch of the Habsburg.

Prominent palatines have been: in the early 17th century, István Illésházy of Trencsén, then up to 1616, György Thurzó and János Zakmárdi. Thurzó is the palatine who arrested Elizabeth Báthory, the countess accused for killing numerous girls and young women. The position was occupied in the remaining 17th century by members of the families Esterházy, Pálffy, Francis Wesselényi, Rhedey and others. The last palatines at the end of the 18th and the first half of the 19th century were the Habsburgs Archdukes Alexander Leopold, Joseph and his son Stephen, who resigned in 1848. Following Stephen's death in 1867 without issue, his half-brother Archduke Joseph August of Austria inherited the title, though the post by that time was symbolic only.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Fallenbüchl 1988, p. 69.
  2. ^ Engel 1996, p. 1.
  3. ^ a b Jankovicsné 2006, p. 559.
  4. ^ Petrovics 1994, p. 473.
  5. ^ a b c Zsoldos 2011, p. 15.
  6. ^ a b Segeš 2002, p. 282.
  7. ^ Engel 2001, p. 40.
  8. ^ Rady 2000, p. 20.
  9. ^ Rady 2000, p. 21.
  10. ^


  • Engel, Pál (2001). The Realm of St Stephen: A History of Medieval Hungary, 895-1526. I.B. Tauris Publishers. London and New York. ISBN 1-86064-061-3.
  • Rady, Martyn (2000). Nobility, Land and Service in Medieval Hungary. Palgrave (in association with School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London). New York. ISBN 0-333-80085-0.
  • Segeš, Vladimír (2002). Entry Palatine in: Škvarna, Dušan; Bartl, Július; Čičaj, Viliam; Kohútová, Mária; Letz, Róbert; Segeš, Vladimír; Slovak History: Chronology & Lexicon; Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers. Wauconda (Illinois); ISBN 0-86516-444-4.
  • (Hungarian) Engel, Pál (1996). Magyarország világi archontológiája, 1301–1457, I. ("Secular Archontology of Hungary, 1301–1457, Volume I"). História, MTA Történettudományi Intézete. Budapest. ISBN 963-8312-44-0.
  • (Hungarian) Fallenbüchl, Zoltán (1988). Magyarország főméltóságai ("High Dignitaries in Hungary"). Maecenas Könyvkiadó. Budapest. ISBN 963-02-5536-7.
  • (Hungarian) Jankovicsné Tálas, Anikó (2006). Entry nádor in: Zaicz, Gábor; Etimológiai Szótár: Magyar szavak és toldalékok eredete ("Etymological Dictionary: Origin of Hungarian Words and Affixes"); TINTA Könyvkiadó; Budapest; ISBN 963-7094-01-6.
  • (Hungarian) Petrovics, István (1994). Entry nádor in: Korai Magyar Történeti Lexikon (9–14. század), pp. 312-313. ("Encyclopedia of Early Hungarian History, 9th–14th centuries"); Akadémiai Kiadó; Budapest; ISBN 963-05-6722-9.
  • (Hungarian) Zsoldos, Attila (2011). Magyarország világi archontológiája, 1000–1301 ("Secular Archontology of Hungary, 1000–1301"). História, MTA Történettudományi Intézete. Budapest. ISBN 978-963-9627-38-3.