Selection from the book :
“Franken und Schwaben in Ungarn”
By HEINRICH KERI
Henry A. Fischer
When Pal Meszlenyi inherited and took over his father’s estate in 1736 he continued with the terms contracted by his father with the colonists in Gyorkony. But on March 11, 1741 he presented the community with new terms of reference in their contract. Until that time, the colonists had not been required to provide any free labour (known as the Robot) and in its place the village paid the noble 100 Gulden annually, which the landlord now rescinded. In the past, in place of the usual one ninth of their crops and annual produce most Hungarian peasants paid, they were assessed 120 Pressburg “pecks” (3.44 liters) of their harvested crops, Meszlenyi insisted on the one ninth proportion. His subjects in Gyorkony declined the new contract on the basis of the new terms he offered claiming that they were unbearable and on that basis took their case to the County of Tolna. But instead of allowing the eight representatives of the villagers to speak on their behalf, they were all arrested and jailed. The community engaged an advocate (lawyer) to state their case, but in spite of his many depositions and his judicial arguments it did nothing in the face of the unwillingness of the County authorities to comply with the peasant’s requests.
Their first deposition was sent to the State Chancellor in Pressburg, along with a copy of their contracts for the years 1722 and 1723, as well as a Memorial (a petition stating their case) of the demands made of them by their new landlord.
These items included:
– All of the rates of the individual householders was increased
– One ninth of all crops, produce, livestock and fowl was to be given and delivered to the landlord at his place of residence
– Twenty days of free labour for all who owned a team of horses or oxen and their use, plus twelve days of “hand labour”. Those without a team would provide thirty two days of “foot and hand labour” annually
– The noble would retain all of the profits from the blacksmith forge and the butcher shop
– A stated quantity of fish (I cannot figure out the measurement used) and two calves plus fowl whenever the noble landlord asked for them
– Every household provided one half tub of lard annually
– The landlord demanded a larger share of the proceeds from the Schank (pub), the liquor and beer outlet in the village owned, run and operated by the village through employing a Wirt (Hessians called him the Vat)
In their accompanying letter they addressed individual points beginning with the fact that through these new demands they would become destitute and would lead to great hardships. It was impossible to provide the Robot labour with their teams of livestock because the landlord had no local fields of his own in their community, but only small plots, all of which were mortgaged. The provision to provide one ninth of their produce and crops was unquestionably an immense burden. They themselves had built and operated the “pub” and the butcher shop with their former landlord’s permission to do so. The unilateral changes in the contract after serving both parties for 19 years was contrary to the laws of the land. Contracts were equally binding on the landlord as on his tenants. Through the proposed changes the community was placed at a disadvantage and they would be treated as those subjects without a contract and the landlord could forbid the right and freedom of movement and migration elsewhere off of his estates. The village of Gyorkony lay on the major road and was surrounded by a fertile area, where there was enough pasture and meadows for livestock as well as reeds and brush. But in actuality they were forced to buy reeds to cover the roofs of their dwellings and stables and brush for the making of brooms in Paks for cash.
The situation which they faced left them with few alternatives and the Robot demanded of them and the use of their teams were not an option for them and they would have to consider on a move elsewhere—a threat that they had raised in 1722 with Meszlenyi’s father if he imposed the hated Robot labour upon them and which had led to some of the families leaving at that time. It was this declaration that they had sent to the County through their eight representatives, which had led to their imprisonment there in the County dungeons in Simontornya. The community humbly requested that the State Chancellor arrange for the release of the imprisoned villagers, for they could hardly provide their landlord with Robot service while in jail! They also requested that the men who brought their deposition to the State Chancellor on their behalf would not be imprisoned by the County following their return home.
In their letter to the County on April 7, 1741, the State Chancellor summarized the argument of the peasant farmers and ordered an investigation into the quarrel, the holding of hearings with both parties and the release of all those in prison, if there was no further reason for them to be held in jail.
The County hesitated with making a reply until a second debate of the issue was completed. And of course, the County again sided with the nobleman. They pointed out that the regulations in the new contract were much better than what the colonists in Gyorkony claimed. The old contract dealt with the early settlement when the village was situated on an undeveloped prairie. The present day village was much improved and much more economically viable, and because of that the noble had a right to benefit and share in their good fortune and prosperity as they continued to develop their land holdings and his estate. His new contract was placed in the keeping of the Archives of the County.
At the beginning of 1742 the village sent another inquiry to the State Chancellor and the Empress Maria Theresia, which was much the same as the previous deposition. Pal Meszlenyi’s new contract had been presented to the Empress prior to this. It was perhaps the first occasion when the young Empress was confronted by the Urbarium issue as it was called, relating to the landholding nobles raising the demands they placed upon their peasant subjects at will, holding them back from economic betterment of themselves and as a result lowering the tax base for the Crown. The nobles in Hungary were free from paying all taxes. Only peasants paid taxes. Poor peasants were simply unable to support the crown adequately from the Empress’ perspective. This was the beginning of the twenty five year long struggle in which she engaged with the nobles of Hungary and the County Administrations, in which she finally succeeded in her Urbarium Regulation of 1767 that protected the peasants from further demands from their landlords. But for now, Gyorkony was not offered such protection by her. Her silence with regard to the issue was considered consent to the noble’s new contract demands that was also supported by the County. It would remain in force in Gyorkony until 1767…
At a General Assembly of the County, a further communique from the State Chancellor of November 14, 1741 was dealt with. The County was charged with seeing to it that the inhabitants of Gyorkony were allowed back into their houses and that the situation should revert back to the status quo when they served their former landlord without interference on the part of his son Pal Meszlenyi their current landlord. The contents of this deposition were not shared with the inhabitants of the village, but in the Minutes of the sitting of the Assembly, it was noted that if there were no restrictions on the free movement of the peasant population in the County, a catastrophe could be in the making because of the large numbers of German colonists already residing there.
The inhabitants of Gyorkony were still opposed to any form of Robot labour for the landlord. Contacting the State Chancellor they offered to pay 400 Gulden annually instead, as long as they would not be faced with any additional obligations. But before there was a response, Pal Meszlengyi found another solution.
In December of 1741 he moved into the village with sixty soldiers. He was a captain in the Military. He quartered for to five men in each of the houses he chose and ordered all of the colonists to assemble, and then, one by one, the men were stood between two cavalry officers armed with flogging canes, and in the presence of the County Judge each was asked if he was prepared to accept the new contract. They of course signed it, each in turn, but in their deposition to the State Chancellor they indicated they had only done so under pressure and duress and sought protection with the State Chancellor against the ongoing quartering of troops in their homes and appealed to the authorities to rescind the power of the County to force them to provide the Robot labour. The County dismissed the allegation that force had been used, they had simply assisted Meszlenyi assert his rights and the County Judge had only done his job, informing the peasants of their duties and obligations.
The community, however, continued in its opposition. A new deposition went to the State Chancellory and the County on May 25, 1742 along with a copy of a letter they had sent to Meszlenyi. In it, they asked for release from Robot labour and other obligations and would pay an annual Arende of 500 Gulden, otherwise, they declared they would rather move away then to provide Robot labour, but on leaving they would take their possessions and livestock with them, but were prepared to sell their houses and vineyards to those who would replace them. They would not undertake ploughing until Her Majesty responded to their proposal.
Unfortunately, this letter was already out of date. On the order of the Governor of the County, in mid December 1741, the Supreme Court Justice of the County accompanied by soldiers from the County arrived in the village and declared to the village Richter (like a local mayor but with no authority) that the military would be stationed in the village until the inhabitants performed Robot labour for their landlord, otherwise he would have to carry out his other orders. The inhabitants of Gyorkony would be forced to leave the village and new colonists from Raab County would be given their houses, fields and vineyards because they had agreed to provide forty days of Robot labour annually.
Because all of the villagers refused to comply with the threat, family by family were driven out of their homes with what they could carry, on the evening of December 16th and spent the night in stables, haylofts or under the open sky, and then the next day they sought refuge in the neighboring villages of: Dorog, Paks, Pataj, Tengelic, while most of them headed for Bikacs.
Only a few people remained in the village, who hid and saved whatever they could. According to the Tax Conscription List of 1742, there were twelve persons in the village at the time, but they had smuggled their possessions to other villages. In Bikacs there were twenty-five refugee families, in Paks there were eight and two were in Tengelic. According to figures assembled by the County there had been forty-two peasant farmers, and 23 cottagers there previous to their expulsion. When the military left on May 1, 1742 most of the families returned to the village.
In a letter of June 12th to the County from the State Chancellor they were told to convince Meszlenyi to accept the offered 500 Gulden annually for release from all dues, and if he refused to comply the old contract of 1722/1723 would be in effect and the County was charged to hinder all and any persecution of the population of the village.
The inhabitants of Gyorkony attempted to reach the State Chancellor to declare the new contract to be null and void and sought redress, that they as “free peasants” were imprisoned and forced to do Robot labour. If they were forced to give up their homes to maintain their freedom, they looked to the Chancellor officials to grant them permission to do so.
The State Chancellor decreed that if colonists left an estate for another they would be compensated for what they left behind. The Empress agreed with the steps the Chancellory had taken and wrote to that effect on August 14, 1742.
On November 14, 1742 the villagers sent another letter of complaint to the State Chancellory and the County. Listed as charges were the following:
The Military serving Meszlenyi had taken away the cut wood from their properties, and took what they wanted from their gardens and when they were confronted for their theft by Thomas Falb an elderly and honored man they beat him.
The landlord wants to settle new colonists in our village even though we have not left. Most of these colonists returned to their former homes when they saw we were not yet prepared to leave.
The landlord had forbidden the villagers to plough or mow the meadows. They would only do so if and when the landlord meets the requirements of their contract.
The State Chancellor still believed that the question could be resolved by a further decree or action by the Empress. And finally, on November 11th the County was informed to urge Meszlenyi to deal with his subjects on the basis of their old contract for the time being. The County held a hearing involving both parties. The issue was the right of the German colonists to leave and migrate elsewhere. It would sabotage the colonization plans and have economic consequences.
On January 4, 1743 the community sent a moving letter to the State Chancellory. They re-iterated their old complaints, but now included some new ones. The landlord had taken a ninth of their wheat and a double rate of wine, and four of the colonists sat in prison again. The letter ends this way:
“We plead to your esteemed beneficent officials of the
State Chancellory for mercy, for the sake of the wounds
of our Redeemer, to bring our terrible time of testing to
an end, and to notify the County of Tolna and our noble
landlord to release our comrades who were arrested and
imprisoned on December 13th and have the excess wheat
and wine returned that went beyond the terms of our
contract. On this hangs the matter of whether we will
remain here or move elsewhere.”
It was signed: the scattered, displaced and exiled colonists of Gyorkony.
The State Chancellor again wrote to the County that the village had fulfilled all of the regulations of their original contract. It was now a matter of returning the excess wheat and wine and the release of their imprisoned neighbours. This letter from the State Chancellory, written on January 4th was answered by the County on April 4th, that according to the wishes of the Chancellory all of the parties: the County, Meszlenyi and the villagers were informed of the Chancellory’s concerns and decision. The imprisoned peasants were released, but the “rabble rousers” who had moved away would probably continue to cause unrest in the future.
But even with the Urbarium Regulation of 1767 the lot of the German settlers in Gyorkony improved very little.
(Henry’s note: I have used Canadian spelling throughout the translation. I am going to contact the author of the original piece and try to find out the names of the “rabble rousers” who I assume must have moved on to Bikacs. The Hessians who settled in the village had come to Hungary as “free peasants”, unlike the Magyars and Heidebauern who were still “serfs”. Whether the Hessians played a leading role in the revolt or not is hard to tell. Personally it sounds like both groups were involved.)