THE HUNGARIAN NOBLES.
Nobility in Hungary a Privilege, not a Rank.—Bulla Aurea, similar to our Magna Charta.—Privileges of Nobles.—Tenure of Property not Feudal. — The Insurrection. — Non-payment of Taxes.—Classes of Nobility.—The Magnates.—Count Crachat. —The Gentry.—The "One-house" Nobles—their Hospitality. —The Constituency of Hungary compared to that of other constitutional Nations.—The Costume of the Nobles.
"Nemes ember vagyak !" (I am a nobleman!)
proudly answers the mustachioed Magyar when any
question of freedom of speech or action is raised ;
and, as he does so, he twirls the cherished ornament
of his upper lip, strikes together his long spurs, and
seems to increase in stature on the announcement
of his dignity. Whence flows this pride of rank?
Not from the social position conferred by it, for
I have seen a noble wear the livery of servitude ;
not from wealth, for many of them are as poor as
the peasantry ; not from high name or historical
recollections, for the reputation of the greater number never extended beyond their native villages,
and the ignorance of these at least is so great as
to preclude the indulgence of such associations.
No ! from none of these—the ordinary attendants
From the era of the conquest of the country the Hungarian nobles claim to date the origin of their rights and privileges ; but the legal act by which they were secured, and by the terms of which the present monarch at his coronation swore to maintain them, was executed in 1222.
This act, " Sacratissimi Regis Andrew Secundi Decretum," is commonly called the Magna Charta of Hungary, or Bulla A urea, and was obtained from the weakness of Andreas and his Barons by the great body of the inferior nobles in arms, under his son Bela.
So important a document may claim some notice even from the passing traveller. Its principal enactments are the following : -
1. Personal freedom was secured to every noble, by rendering it illegal to imprison him till cited and convicted before the ordinary tribunals.
2. In civil rights, the lesser nobles obtained freedom from taxation ; from the necessity of foreign
service, except at the king's expense ; defence
3. In ecclesiastical matters, the priesthood were confirmed in the same liberties and immunities as the nobles, and their right to tithes of corn and wine in kind established for ever.
4. Politically, the condition of the lesser nobles was bettered, by being placed more nearly on an equality with the higher nobles ; by the subjection of all to the court of the Palatine, except in cases of life and death, or confiscation, when the King alone could condemn ; by the reservation to themselves of the right of admitting foreigners to place and power ; but, most of all, by the thirty-first and last article,70 by which the right of resistance is fully acknowledged in case the king, or any of his successors, should not observe the terms of this charter.
70The Magna Charta has nearly the same provision. " And the said twenty-five Barons (appointed to watch over the observance of the charter), together with the commonalty of the whole land, may distrain and distress us all the ways possible, namely, by seizing our castles, lands, possessions, and in any other way they can, till the grievance is redressed according to their judgment; saving harmless our own person, and the person of our queen and children : and, when it is redressed, they shall obey us as before."
From that day to this, the Kings of Hungary have sworn, at their coronation, to observe the conditions of the Bulla Aurea; and it is on this foundation that the chief rights of the Hungarians repose.
Since the year 1687, the last article respecting the right of resistance has been omitted in the coronation oath ; not, as the royal decree says, « "from any objection to its true sense, but lest evil-disposed persons by a false interpretation should make a wrong use of it."
The English reader can scarcely fail to be struck by the singular coincidence of two countries, so far apart as England and Hungary, having obtained, within seven years of each other,—the English in 1215, the Hungarians in 1222,—through the weakness of their monarchs, the great charters of their liberties. Nor, if he looks a little further, will he be less surprised to find that at that time the Hungarians were equal, if not before us, in enlightened notions of personal freedom, of civil right, and of political privilege. It would be out of our province to investigate the causes which have produced the different results which we observe at the present moment; but I suspect a fair estimate of them would give us little cause for the indulgence of national vanity. The accident of geographical position has often worked mighty results in our favour and against the Hungarians.
The prerogatives of the Hungarian nobles, as they
1. The person of the noble is inviolable until tried and condemned, except in cases of high treason, or when taken in the fact. Of course, imprisonment for debt is unheard of. The court of the noble—that is, his house and a certain extent of land about it,—is a sort of sanctuary into which no legal officer can enter without permission. Such privileges, however unnecessary where the Habeas Corpus, the trial by jury, the right of bail, and the freedom of the press,—so many complicated barriers raised by human wit to protect the liberty of the subject against the undue exercise of power,—exist, are nevertheless of infinite value where such is not the case; and they, in fact, answer nearly the same purpose in a much simpler manner. Our only objection to them is, that they are confined to the few. They may sometimes let the guilty escape ; but that is so trifling a fault, compared with the oppression of the innocent, that it is scarcely worth mentioning.
2. The noble is subject to none but his legally crowned king.
3. A noble alone is capable of holding landed
property ; for which he is liable neither to tax,
tithe, nor toll. The legal tradition of tenure, if I
may so call it, supposes the Hungarian noble a
71 Female fiefs, or fiefs common, for, under these, both sons and daughters inherit in equal shares,—do exist ; but they are few in number, and generally small in extent. A striking exception to the latter restriction, however, occurs in the county of Arva, almost the whole of which is a female fief.
72 Notwithstanding this, estates are sold every day ; for a man can mortgage for perpetuity. Although the intention of the law is thus defeated, the title to the property is still insecure; for any member of the family obliged to sell, can at any time redeem the estate by paying the original purchase money, and the sums laid out in improvements. If, for instance, A. B. sold an estate for a thousand pounds to C. D. in the year 1800, any member of A. B.'s family, his nephew's or cousin's descendants, in 1900, may pay the 1000l. together with the "ameliorations," and receive back the estate. In order to provide against this contingency, the sum is commonly entered in the title-deeds as the double of that really given, and the purchaser runs up such a bill for improvements, and the law is so dilatory, that it is often ruinous to take an estate back again. Still thousands of these law-suits are commenced every year, to the benefit of the lawyers, if of nobody else.
It has been a matter of dispute whether this is a feudal holding, or whether, in fact, the feudal system ever prevailed in Hungary. The question depends entirely on the meaning attached to the term : if by feudal be meant merely the holding of land under the obligation of military service, it certainly did exist ; but I fancy this would be an incorrect interpretation, for, in every age and country, the holder of landed property has been liable to be called on to defend, either in person or by deputy, both his property and the country of which it forms a part : but if by feudal be understood that system by which the possessor of every estate was obliged to submit himself to some superior, to do homage to him on taking possession of his lands, and make himself liable to a variéty of obligations, in return for which he could demand protection and support, it is in total contradiction to the whole spirit
73The reason assigned for this provision is, that the younger son may be induced to remain in the father's house, a comfort to his aged parents, after all the rest have left to seek their fortunes in the world, and still have a shelter for his head when they die. He cannot, however, claim it till the death of both parents, the widow having a prior right.
The most important among the non-Cardinal prerogatives of the noble are, his exemption from having soldiers quartered upon him, and his exclusive right to sell certain articles within the boundaries of his own estates. We shall now consider how far some of these institutions are adapted to the spirit and wants of the present age.
Every Hungarian noble is born a soldier,—such
The insufficiency of the Insurrection, as it is
Another privilege of the Hungarian nobles, still
more cherished, is the freedom from taxation which
they enjoy. To pay a tax inHungary has so long
been the duty of the peasant only, that it has come
at last to be considered servile and degrading. It
is true that the Diet, at the coronation of the king
and queen, votes an honorarium, which is paid entirely by the nobles ; and in like manner, in time of
74Nor do I think that this is any modern innovation, for the very meaning of the word Húszár (hussar) is derived from him (twenty) ; because, by an act of the Diet in 1458, every twenty peasants throughout Hungary were obliged to furnish one horse-soldier properly equipped for service.
The monopoly of the sale of wine, bread, and meat, which every noble enjoys within his own villages, is more injurious to the country, and more vexatious to the other classes, than even the nonpayment of taxes; but we shall postpone the consideration of this subject till we come to speak of the municipal institutions, where its discussion will be more appropriate.
If the law has made no distinction in the constitutional rights of the nobles, custom has established in their social position as marked gradations as are to be found in the various classes of society of any other country. The Hungarians maintain, i believe, that the titled nobles date only from the accession of the House of Hapsburg to the throne, and that the magnates of former times were only so from their position as Barons and Counts of the kingdom, that is, great officers of the court, and governors of counties. Even the very titles themselves, Gróf and Baro, are borrowed from the German Graf and Baron.75
75It is well known that these titles are now regularly sold by the Austrian court. I believe the common price of a Count's title is 5000l.; that of a Baron, only 3000l. It will be recollected that Stulz—that prince of London tailors—was created a Baron in the list of Austrian nobles for the consideration of 10,000l. 1 The heraldic distinction of nobility is a coronet. That of a Count bears eleven balls ; of a Baron, seven ; and of a gentleman, two balls and three leaves, something like that of our Marquis. The homagium, or fine for murder, of a magnate, was fixed, at a very early period, at four hundred florins, cart. ; that of a gentleman, at two hundred; and that of a peasant, at forty. I need scarcely add, that, though this homagium still exists, it is not a composition for murder, as some German writers would fain have us believe, when they say an Hungarian noble pays forty florins for murdering his peasant. Murder, be the rank of the party what it may, is punished by death, the homagium being added, as a kind of deodand, to the capital punishment.
Be this as it may,—at present they are divided socially into three classes : the magnates, answering to our peers; the untitled nobles, a middle class, answering to our gentry; and the " one house nobles," men possessing the hereditary rights of nobility, but in every other respect—in property, education, and manners,—little above the peasant.
Among the magnates may be found the most
polished and refined manners, and the most elaborate education. Many of them, besides enjoying
the advantages of domestic tutors of different nations, spend some years in a foreign university and
in foreign travel. Their estates, for the most part
of immense extent, if yielding them less revenue
(rarely exceeding 10,000l) than many of our peers
possess, enable them, from the greater cheapness of
living, to enjoy full as many luxuries. The splendid
Yet it is from this class Hungary has the least to
hope for the advancement of her institutions, and
the maintenance of her nationality. To the proud
and wealthy, the attractions of a court, where their
magnificence may find worthy rivals and admirers,
are generally irresistible; but they are only dangerous when they remove them far from those with
whom their interests and duties ought naturally to
bring them into association. It is unfortunate that
such is the case in Hungary. Vienna is essentially
German : and although Pest may claim all the other
attractions of a capital, its palace has never tempted
the Emperor to hold his court there ; nor has policy
allowed his representative, the Palatine, to assume
a splendour which, by creating a personal popularity,
might render him obnoxious to the charge of ambition. The wealthier magnates, therefore, flock
to Vienna ; and absenteeism here, as elsewhere, has
not produced kindly feelings, either in the deserters
or the deserted. In the one, the repetition of sneers from those they would imitate, against turbulence and barbarism, has led to a disgraceful
neglect of political duties, and an affected contempt
for the less wealthy and polished of their fellow-
countrymen ; while in the other a bitter animosity
Nor is the absentee magnate always the gainer,
either in importance or respectability, by his expatriation. The rich Hungarian often renders himself a fair butt for the smart sallies of the Vienna
witlings. Who that has been at Vienna does not
know Count Crachat ? — a pompous peer, who,
on coming to his large fortune, was tempted to
Vienna by the smiles of the court ; whose wealth
made it desirable to retain him in the capital;
whose influence it was thought might be dangerous at home; and from whom an insignificant
employment, and the glittering bauble which hangs
on his breast, have bought forgetfulness of his native land. Aping the expensive follies of richer
men, for which he is only laughed at; ambitious
of the honours of office, and finding himself put
off with a mere nominal dignity; toiling for distinction in the fickle world of fashion, and being
dubbed " le dandy sauvage " for his pains,—poor
Crachat, half ruined and supremely ridiculous, still
thinks himself a very great man. He affects surprise how Hungarian gentlemen can speak the same
1 arbarous language as the peasantry ; wonders how
the people spend their time who live in the wilds
of Hungary ; considers the Liberals very noisy troublesome fellows who do not know what they want,
and the Diet itself a great bore. As for Pest, he
Among the magnates we must expect the most
striking exceptions from the ordinary standard,
whether of good or of evil; but it is to the second
class, the landed gentry, that the country must look
as her main stay and support. With less refinement of manners, and less of that easy address which
nothing but living in the world can give, with a less
extended education, especially in modern languages,
and with perhaps less freedom from national prejudices, the untitled nobility still possess a much
greater knowledge of their country, and a much
better will to maintain its rights and improve its
institutions, than the more brilliant magnates. In
the capital they cannot rival the elegance and
splendour of the great Counts and Barons; but
in the country, surrounded by all those objects
which render the life of the country gentleman
the happiest in the world, there are few characters
There is occasionally to be found among them,
too, a coarseness of manner, which was the more
annoying to us, because the elders believed it to
be of English origin, and attributed it to the spread
of Liberal notions ; indeed, I am not quite sure that
there was not some idea of sansculotism mixed up
with it. I have heard of some young Liberal
noblemen, a few years since, dressing like peasants,
living in their cottages, and associating with them
on terms of equality ; but I never saw anything of
the kind, and I always suspected a rustic amour or
Of the Egy hús y Nemes Ember (one house noble), or Fél-sarkantyús (Half-spurred) or Bocskoros (sandalled), as they are nicknamed, I know little, as they rarely speak German, and we had seldom occasion to meet with them. They are chiefly Protestants, and very strongly attached to their faith.76
Ignorance and poverty, united to the enjoyment of exclusive privileges, do not offer the most happy combination for the developement of the best parts of the human character; but yet (hey have by no means extinguished all its brighter qualities amongst these men. The Half-spurs, it is true, are generally a proud, unruly, hard-drinking set of fellows, with higher notions of privilege and power than of right and justice; but they are brave, patriotic, and hospitable in the highest degree. I remember once seeking shelter in the house of one of this class, when the snow and darkness had rendered our further progress impossible that night. Right gladly were we received. The mother, with her son and daughter-in-law and their children, occupied a cottage of only three rooms, besides the kitchen and out-houses. There were two neigh-
76The magnates are almost entirely Catholics, the gentry chiefly Protestants, and the lower nobles commonly of the same religion.
Of these three grades of nobility, making a population of half a million, is formed the real constituency of Hungary.77
It is difficult to calculate how many voters there
77 I have not included in this estimate the clergy, citizens, and inhabitants of the Haiduk towns,—all privileged classes, and sending members to the Diet ; because the right of vote of their members is disallowed, and I consider them as at present excluded. They do not amount to less than 800,000, and, if taken into the calculation, would far out-number in proportion the voters of almost every country in Europe.
It would be an unpardonable sin not to give a
particular description of the Hungarian uniform ;
for, after the language, it is one of the most cherished of the Magyar's nationalisms ; and is considered so essential to his rank, that I believe the
more ignorant scarcely believed us when we told
them, that, as English gentlemen, we had no uniform. It has undergone its changes, however, as
well as other things ; and its history is almost a type
of the people's. In early days it smacked strongly
of Turkish taste in the gaiety of its colours, and the
quantity of jewels with which it was loaded ; during
the reign of Joscea it received a most unnatural
and Frenchified cut, and the coat and its wearers
were very near losing their nationality together : it
has now again assumed its antique proportions and
original form ; and, while all its peculiar beauties
are preserved, its uncouth inelegancies have been
softened down by the simple and refined taste of
the present century. It now consists of the Attilla,
a frock-coat, reaching nearly to the knee, with a
military collar, and covered in front with gold lace ;
over this is generally worn, hanging loosely on one
shoulder, the Menle, a somewhat larger coat, lined
with fur, and with a fur cape. It is generally suspended by some massive jewelled chain. The tight
pantaloons and ankle-boots, with the never-failing
The sword-belt is frequently a heavy gold chain, such as our ancient knights wore over their armour. The colours, and in many respects the form, of the Hungarian uniform depend entirely on the taste of the individual, and vary from the simple blue dress of the hussar, with white cotton lace, to the rich stuffs covered with pearls and diamonds, of the Prince Eszterházy.
On the whole, I know of no dress so handsome,
so manly, and at the same time so convenient. It
is only on gala days that gay and embroidered dresses
are used ; on ordinary occasions, as sittings of the
Diet, county meetings, and others in which it is customary to wear uniform, dark colours with black silk
lace, like that formerly worn by our officers in undress,—and trousers, or Hessian-boots, are commonly
used. Many of the old school wear this dress constantly, while others follow the rest of the world
in imitating England ; nay, so much is Anglomania
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