5: The Eighteenth Century
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THE next period of Hungarian history, that covered by the remainder of Charles' reign
and by the reign of his daughter, Maria Theresa, is one on which Hungarian commentators of
later days have passed singularly various judgments. For some of them have seen it as an
age of sorely-needed rest and successful recuperation; others, as one of stagnation and
even of national decadence. In fact, it contained features which would support either
view, and these call for description in some detail; for short and uneventful, on, the
surface, as the period was, it yet produced the formation and alignment of the forces of
whose conflict, after it had closed, the modern Hungary was born.
The supreme blessing enjoyed by Hungary during this half-century was that of peace;
first and foremost, peace between the nation and its rulers. When, a few years after the
Peace of Szatmár, war broke out again between Austria and the Porte, Rákóczi, from his
Turkish exile, tried to raise again the old standard, but no one listened to him. For a
time, it is true, the peace was still uncordial and suspicious. When, in the last years of
his reign, Charles embarked on another Turkish war, and this proved both expensive and
inglorious in its ending, discontent was rife again; so much so that when Maria Theresa
had to meet the Diet after her father's death, there was a very real possibility that
pent-up discontents might find explosive outlet. At the best the malcontents might take
advantage of her difficulties to demand inordinate concessions; at the worst they might
ally themselves with the King of Prussia. As is well known, the scene, one of the most
famous in Hungarian history, passed differently. When the lovely young queen appeared
before the Diet, her babe on her arm, it voted by acclamation 'vitam et sanguinem pro
rege nostro, Maria Theresa', i.e., a substantial force of enlisted men beside the
noble levée itself. But it had been a narrow squeak. The famous shout had not been nearly
so spontaneous as was represented. Hard bargaining behind the scenes had preceded it, and
rumour whispered that the Diet had added under its collective breath: 'sed non avenam'.
But the crisis had been weathered, however narrowly, and it was followed by a period
during which the relationship was, up to a point, really cordial. Maria Theresa was
genuinely grateful to the Hungarians for their response, which, if it did not materialise
on quite the scale promised, yet undoubtedly saved the existence of the Habsburg monarchy
as a Great Power. She regarded them as 'fundamentally a good people, with whom one can do
anything if one takes them the right way', and set herself, not merely to keep them from
rebelling, as her father had done, but to awaken in them a positive loyalty towards her
throne. She admitted the magnates to posts at her court and in the central services,
diplomatic and military, of the monarchy, encouraged them to send their sons to the
Theresianum, the famous academy founded by her in Vienna for the sons of the aristocracy,
and not infrequently paid their all too prevalent debts, or at least advanced them money
to tide them over their crises. For the lesser nobles she founded the Royal Hungarian
Bodyguard, to which each county sent two youths of noble birth. She succeeded in fact in
generating, at least in the circles reached by her benevolence, a real attachment to the
dynasty, and in the country at large, a sincere acceptance of the indissoluble nature of
its link with the monarchy.
Charles' first Turkish war brought the recovery of the remaining corner of Hungary,
evacuated by the Turks in 1718. His second was fought in the Balkans, and Maria Theresa's
wars in the west. Thus Hungary saw no hostile armies during the period. She contributed
towards Maria Theresa's wars not inconsiderable forces, some of which earned much
distinction, but her sacrifices in blood were small, and in money, moderate. The contributio
(war-tax) was fixed in 1724 at just over 2,100,000 florins. This was raised to 2,500,000
in 1728, to 3,200,000 in 1751 and to 3,900,000 in 1765, plus certain further sums from
newly reincorporated areas.
This prolonged peace of course made possible a very real recovery in many directions.
The population increased very rapidly, large-scale immigration reinforcing the effects of
a high rate of natural increase. By Joseph II's reign it had risen to a total of about 9+
millions (just under 6 millions in Inner Hungary, nearly 1,500,000 in Transylvania,
650,000 in civilian Croatia and 700,000 in the Frontier). The growth was, of course,
especially fast in the areas which had been the chief sufferers under the previous
devastation: in the county of Bács-Bodrog, the population rose from 31,000 to 227,000; in
the Bánát, from 45,000 to 774,000. The increase was almost pure gain for the country,
which could absorb it easily; it was only in a few areas of the north, and in
Transylvania, that rural congestion began to show itself, and migration down to the plains
drained off most of these local surpluses. In spite of the growth of allodial farming, the
taxable area of the country, i.e., that contained in 'urbarial' peasant holdings,
multiplied fivefold. In many of the former devastated areas, especially where German
colonists were settled, the whole face of the countryside was changed. Swamps were
drained, forests cleared, land brought under the plough. Where no sign of human habitation
had broken the solitude, unless the hovel of a gypsy or a Vlach herdsman, neat villages
now stood amid fields of smiling corn. In the north and west, where foundations had
survived on which to build, there was evidence of prosperity and even of luxury. Some of
the great landlords here disposed of enormous rent-rolls and other resources. The annual
income of Prince Esterházy, the richest of them, was estimated at over 700,000 florins;
that of Count Batthyány at 450,000. Two other magnates had incomes of over 300,000
florins, four more at over 150,000, and there were many fortunes of 50-60,000 florins. The
wealth of the roman catholic church could vie with that of the lay magnates: the net
income of the Primate-Archbishop was put at 360,000 florins, that of the Bishop of Eger at
80,000 and of Nagyvárad at 70,000.
The chief outward and visible sign of this was constituted by the great mansions which
began to dot the countryside almost in profusion. That built by Prince Esterházy at
Esterháza (one of several owned by him) contained 200 rooms and stabling for 200 horses,
and cost 12 million gulden to erect. If this was the most magnificent of them all, those
of the Grassalkoviches, Batthyánys, Festetiches and not a few others could bear
comparison with those of the leading aristocracy of most European countries. Well over 200
great palaces were built in Maria Theresa's reign alone, with a large number of smaller
manor-houses, while the town residences of the magnates, comfortable homes of burgesses,
and many new churches and other public buildings, adorned Pozsony and Buda.
In the palaces of the magnates and the new churches, the baroque culture of the central
Europe of the day was at home, sometimes magnificently expressed. Prince Esterházy
supported a private theatre in which nightly performances were held, opera, German comedy
and Italian opéra bouffe alternating under the direction of Haydn. The ceilings
of the great palaces and churches were adorned with frescoes by fashionable painters. In
1723 the Crown had claimed the control of education, and Maria Theresa showed real
interest in this subject. She had the University
of Nagyszombat transferred to Buda-Pest, and patronised the foundation of many other
schools, both secondary and elementary. Under the Ratio Educationis, issued in
1777, the whole country was divided into nine districts, each of which was to be covered
by a network of educational establishments of all grades. The Hungarian clergy, too, spent
much of their revenues on educational purposes.
The shadows in the picture were, however, not inconsiderable. The malignant political
persecution had ceased, but its cessation had not given the country back its real
independence. Through her concurrence in the Pragmatic Sanction Hungary was now by her own
admission, and indeed more firmly than ever, relegated to the status of a component of a
larger complex with multiple extra-Hungarian interests. She had still no
means of influencing the international relations of that polity, for she was not
represented on the court chancellery, through which they were conducted, and when the new Hofrat
was established as the supreme advisory organ to the monarch on matters of general policy,
it, again, at first contained no Hungarian member; later, a Hungarian Referent
was appointed to it, but rather as an expert on Hungarian affairs than a representative of
Hungarian interests. The whole field of the nation's defence had slipped definitely out of
its hands with the institution of the standing army, which made the effective national
defence force (for the noble levée had now become & recognised last resort) a mere
component of a larger body, mainly non-Hungarian in composition and entirely so in respect
of control over it, for the promise that Hungary should be represented on the Hofkriegsrat
was never flilfilled. Indeed, the standing army developed into a permanent and powerful
instrument for the enforcement of the monarch's will in any case in which it conflicted
with that of the nation.
The Crown was almost equally free in the exercise its financial prerogatives, which
extended not only to the management and enjoyment of the revenues from the Crown estates,
but to the minting of money, and the levying of customs, excise and indirect taxation in
general. Even while recognising the 'independence' of the Hungarian camera,
Charles had announced that he would give it its orders 'through the Hofkammer'.
In practice, and after a time, officially, the camera again became a mere
department of the Hofkammer, and Hungary had no control either over its operations or over
the disposal of the money passing through its hands. Half its net revenues went to the
upkeep of the court in Vienna.
Still, foreign affairs, defence and cameral finance had always been royal prerogatives,
and the first two of these, at least, were bound to rank as central services of the Gesammtmonarchie.
All other fields of public life were interna, to which Charles' promise applied
that Hungary should be governed only through her own laws. But as the business of
government grew more complex, the Crown regularly claimed as falling within its own
competence every subject on which no earlier law specifically entitled the Diet to be
consulted; thus in succession it claimed education, 'colonisation', religious questions,
industrial legislation, and, finally, the regulation of the peasants' obligations, to
constitute politica, i.e. questions which the Crown had power to regulate by
rescript, without consultation with the Diets. It is true that it passed its orders in
these fields through the Hungarian court chancellery, and that that body remained
nominally independent of any authority except the monarch, but they were none the less
orders, and the Consilium, by which they were executed, was, again, responsible
to the chancellery, not the Diet. And Charles, again, left the office of Palatine vacant
when its holder, Miklós Pálfy, died in 1734, appointing instead another Viceroy.
The powers of the Diet were, in fact, practically confined to voting (or refusing)
extraordinary or increased supplies of money or recruits, and after he had got his way
over the succession, Charles convoked it only once more, in 1734, when he asked the nobles
to renounce their exemption from taxation. When they refused to do this, he did not again
consult them. Maria Theresa was no less autocratic. When Charles died in 1740 she had to
convoke the Diet for her coronation, and in her extremity she had to supplicate it for
help against her enemies. In return for this help, besides confirming 'for ever' the
nobles' liberties, she appointed a new Palatine and dismissed some of the previous
Viceroy's foreign advisers. But after this, she, too, convoked only two more Diets (in
1751 and 1765) and when the second body rejected her proposals to improve the peasants'
conditions, she dismissed it and enacted her reforms by rescript. She too, left the office
of Palatine unfilled after 1764.
All this means that except in a few respects, Hungary was being governed exactly like
any Austrian or Bohemian Land, and most of the differences were created only through the
non-extension to Hungary of the reforms introduced in Austria in 1748-9 and thereafter.
Then, indeed, the differences became important. The Hungarian court chancellery was not
merged in the new AustroBohemian Directorium. The new system of bureaucratic
control was not extended downward, as it was in Austria through the Kreisämter:
the counties retained their old autonomy and organisation. Finally, when the
nobles of Austria and Bohemia renounced their exemption from taxation, those of Hungary
retained theirs, and with it a bargaining power much greater than possessed by their
western colleagues after they had consented to the institution of decennial 'recesses'.
The Diet could not, indeed, in practice refuse the contributio once fixed, nor
get it reduced, but the Crown could not get it raised, nor call out the noble levée,
without the Diet's consent.
A particular grievance under which Hungary suffered was the continued dismemberment of
the country. When Michael Apafi II died in 1713, Charles simply took the title of Prince
of Transylvania. The only change introduced by Maria Theresa (except that she formally
admitted her title to derive from the Holy Crown) was to promote Transylvania to the rank
of a 'Grand Principality'. It had its separate court chancellery, Gubernium and Thesauriat.
When the last corner of Hungary was recovered from the Turks in 1718, the area,
baptised the Bánát Temesvár, was kept as a separate crownland, administered, like the
Military Frontier, from Vienna; it was only in 1779 that it was liquidated, its southern
fringe being attached to the frontier, while the remainder was organised in counties. The
civilian counties between the lower Save and Drave, now known as 'Slavonia', were placed
for administrative purposes under the Ban of Croatia, although still ranking as parts of
Hungary proper for purposes of taxation and sending representatives to both Diets.
The system of government in these areas was as autocratic as in Inner Hungary. The
Transylvanian Diet was, indeed, convoked regularly, but it was so packed with ex
officio members as to forfeit any claim to represent the people. The military
administration in the Bánát and the Military Frontier was purely authoritarian.
The economic progress which the country was making looked, as we have said, remarkable,
and was so in certain fields, but it was uneven, and in other fields even laggard. In the
latter part of the period it was not of Hungary's advance that men were speaking, but of
its backwardness. The whole economic picture was dominated by the appalling state of the
communications, especially in the Plains. Here the roads were mere tracks, impassable for
heavy traffic during much of the year; the rivers were often blocked by shoals or fallen
tree-trunks. It was only on estates belonging to enlightened landlords, and where the
geographical situations were exceptionally favourable, that arable farming for profit was
possible, and only on these, and in some of the newly-established German colonies, that
agricultural methods reached even the central European standards of the day. Even these
had not usually got beyond the threefold rotation of crops. In the Magyar parts of the
ex-Turkish areas, the twofold rotation of crop and fallow was still usual, while the Serbs
and Roumanians merely scratched each year a different patch of the expanses on which they
pastured their herds. Only vineyards were manured; otherwise, dung was used for fuel, to
make walls, or to fill in potholes in the roads. The fabulous harvests which had dazzled
early travellers had been the response to cultivation of soil which had lain virgin for
two centuries; they were already dwindling as these primitive methods exhausted the
stored-up fertility. Threshing was done by teams of horses or of oxen treading out the
corn, and crops were commonly stored in underground pits (a device originally adopted to
conceal them from marauders), where often they rotted. It was no uncommon thing for a year
of super-abundance, in which much of the harvest had not even been gathered, to be
followed by one of dearth, sometimes of actual famine.
Nearly all the farming was in fact for subsistence, for the modest needs of the local
market. Cattle, driven on the hoof into Austria, and wine were more important as
agricultural exports. But most of the Hungarian cattle were still kept in the open all the
year round, an existence which proved too hard for a high proportion of the calves. The
survivors were lean, stringy beasts, which the importers bought cheap before fattening
them for slaughter. Wine was still exported in large quantities up to the middle of the
century, but the best market for it, Silesia, was lost after Frederick the Great seized
that province, and the Austrian Government started a tariff war with Prussia.
Thus the rewards even of agriculture were meagre, at any rate from the point of view of
the national finances. And yet agriculture was the source from which fully 90 per cent of
the population still derived its living even at the end of the period. The census of 1787,
the first to enter into much detail, gave 18,487 priests (many of them monks) and only
5,001 professional civil servants and members of the free professions combined. To this
figure may be added some 10,000 lower grade civil servants, who were not listed
separately, and 5,000 or so teachers. Most of these were at least half farmers. There were
48 Royal free and 16 other boroughs in Inner Hungary, 9 in Transylvania and 8 in Croatia.
The largest of these, Debrecen, had a population of just under 30,000; of the rest, only
Pozsony, Buda, Pest and Szabadka topped the 20,000 mark; several had under 2,000. It is
true that there existed also some considerable agglomerations which did not possess urban
charters; these included Kecskemét, which in population ranked next below Pest. But these
memorials to khas life under the Turkish rule were really just enormous villages,
or collections of villages, counted administratively as one, and the same was true of some
of the titular towns, Szabadka, Szeged and Debrecen itself. Their inhabitants were simply
farmers, and the cottages which lined their streets were inhabited in the months when
field-work was possible only by the economically inactive members of each family; its
able-bodied members were camping out on their fields, perhaps many miles away.
The chief occupation of many other towns, Tokaj, Gyöngyös, Ruszt, even Buda, was
viticulture. In 1777 the towns contained only 30,921 persons listed as employed in
industry, nearly all of it on the smallest scale: there were 13,394 independent
master-craftsmen, 12,316 journeymen and 4,671 apprentices. Most of the peasants' simple
needs hardly required the services even of a craftsman: they were supplied by their own
The gold and silver mines were nearing exhaustion and the first coal-mines only just
Most internal trade was equally primitive.
And this backwardness was, in part, thrust upon Hungary from Vienna, of deliberate
policy. In part only, for the first cause lay in the devastation which the country had
suffered under the Turks and in the wars of liberation, and the slow pace of its recovery
up to the middle of the century had been due to its own inability to overcome this damnosa
hereditas. Among the handicaps there must indeed be counted that of the national
psychology. Centuries of history had rendered the Hungarian noble, great or small, quite
incapable of counting industry or trade as a career fit to rank with landowning or
soldiering. And the peasants were no more enterprising than their masters. They were not
easily persuaded to supplement their incomes by housework, even when the opportunity
offered. Travellers noted that 'the abundant blessings of nature made them dull and lazy.
If they had bread and bacon to last them the year, and a warm coat, their needs and their
monetary ambitions were satisfied.'
As a consequence, most of such trade and industry as existed was in non-Magyar hands.
The members of the guilds - who, however, had become as narrowly restrictive as
imagination could conceive - were still mostly Germans. The trading class and pioneers of
capitalist development in Hungary were Serbs, or the class collectively known as 'Greeks',
a term which included not only true Greeks, but Kutzovlachs and other Balkan elements.
These were not only the shopkeepers but the industrial entrepreneurs, who travelled round
the country and bought up the products of the peasant craftsmen.
The Austrian repressive policy developed out of what were quite reasonable initial
considerations. The planned economic development of the Monarchy was originally undertaken
on a serious scale to make good the loss of Silesia, and it was natural enough to site the
new factories in Bohemia and round Vienna, in proximity to the main markets and where the
populations had an old tradition of skill, assigning to Hungary, which in any case was
suffering from a shortage of labour even for agriculture, the role of producer of raw
materials. This division of functions was in any case only meant to last until conditions
in Hungary changed. Maria Theresa specifically forbade any discrimination against Hungary,
where she personally founded several factories (including the famous Herend porcelain
works, still in production today). But she herself agreed that the state should not found
or subsidise factories in Hungary which competed with Austrian enterprises, and the
Austrian and Bohemian magnates whose interests were bound up with the new developments
(and who dominated the economic council which was in charge of the new planning) found
ways of getting this ruling to apply to almost any state enterprise in Hungary. A
suggestion that private individuals should be prohibited from founding factories was not
adopted, but the economic council, through whose hands applications for privileges,
subsidies and other facilities passed, saw to it that these were never, or hardly ever,
granted to Hungarians. Where, nevertheless, such establishments came into being, their
products, and those of the guilds (which did not come under the authority of the council)
were handicapped by an internal tariff which allowed Austrian manufactures to enter
Hungary free, except for payment of a small fiscal duty, while Hungarian exports to
Austria were made prohibitively expensive by over-valuation of them on the frontier. The
internal market for Hungarian manufactures was further restricted by the facts that no
court (the chief consumer of luxury goods) resided there, and that all the requirements of
the army were produced in Austria except the food, which was supplied locally, often at
under the cost of production.
Hungary's industrial subjection to Austria was made almost complete by the institution
(first in 1754) of a high tariff wall, applying both to exports and imports, round the
whole Monarchy. Articles which Austria could not produce, and which were therefore allowed
to enter the Monarchy, had to be bought from Austrian middle-men.
Worst of all, the discrimination came to be extended to agriculture. In the early
stages, some government money was spent on agricultural improvements in Hungary, some of
them useful: the cultivation of the silkworm in the Bánát is an example. But if the
Austrian cereal harvest was poor, Hungary was sometimes forbidden to export hers elsewhere
than to Austria, while if the Austrian harvest was good, the Hungarian was excluded. Even
Hungarian wine could not be sent abroad unless accompanied by an equal quantity of
Austrian wine. The only export which was almost entirely unrestricted was that of cattle.
The discrimination was regularly justified by the argument that as the Hungarian nobles
had retained their freedom from taxation after the Austrian had renounced theirs, they
would, given equal treatment, undercut Austria; and further, that Hungary's contribution
to the common exchequer in direct taxation was unduly light. It is true that the 'war tax'
was not raised pari passu with the growth of the population, and thus came to be
much lighter than that paid per capita in Bohemia or the Netherlands; yet an Austrian
expert, Count Zinzendorf, calculated that if a complete balance-sheet had been drawn up,
including the Crown's revenues from the camera, the cost of maintaining the army,
etc., Hungary would have been found to be paying more than her quota. The weight of the
taxation was, moreover, greatly increased by the extreme shortage of currency among the
peasants, on whose shoulders the payment fell.
There was much that was unsatisfactory also in the cultural field. The fine flower of
the baroque culture was savoured chiefly by a small privileged circle. During most of the
period, catholic education was chiefly in the hands of the Jesuits, and was directed
primarily to the propagation of the faith, and as means to this end, to the training of
missionary priests. The weight of it was laid on theology and the humanities, and it was
essentially aristocratic in spirit. It produced elegant courtiers and learned and subtle
bishops, who were themselves often the scions of the highest families in the land, but it
did not penetrate to the masses. The intellectual level of the parish priests was low, as
their stipends, too, were meagre. The Piarists, who were the Jesuits' main rivals and
succeeded to their position when the Jesuit Order was dissolved in 1773, were much more
democratic and their curriculum less restricted, but they had much leeway to make up. In
the 1775 only 4,145 of Inner Hungary's 8,742 communes had schools at all (an average of
7.5 schools to every 10,000 of the population) and in 3,883 of these only one teacher was
registered; the exceptions were in areas of mixed population.
And all the facilities and favours in this field were for the catholics. The question
of the protestants' status, left in 1722 for agreement between the parties, was settled by
Charles in 1731, after the parties had reached deadlock, by the Carolina Resolutio.
This upheld the restrictions imposed by Leopold. Protestant services could be held only in
a few specially designated places, outside which only private worship was allowed.
Conversion to Protestantism was forbidden. Protestants had to observe catholic festivals
and their clergy were subject to the visitations of catholic prelates. A Catholic oath was
required from all persons entering the public services, which were thus practically closed
to Protestants. For a while, Protestant students were forbidden to attend foreign
In this respect Maria Theresa, being herself a devout Catholic, was less tolerant than
her father, who took his personal religion more lightly. Moreover, her name inspired
Catholic zealots to press the theory that Hungary was the 'regnum Marianum', a country
peculiarly dedicated to the service of the Mother of God. For the Protestants, on the
other hand, her reign was 'the Babylonian captivity'. They were subjected to many further
grievous restrictions. Their colleges actually declined in number and wealth. That they
survived at all, and even maintained a high level of learning, was a tribute to the
courage and solidarity of the population; it was achieved in the face of strong
governmental opposition, and at the cost of painful sacrifice.
An important improvement was brought about in the cultural standards of the Ruthenes
and some of the Roumanians by the introduction among them (against strong resistance which
limited its extension) of the Uniate church; but the level of the populations which
remained true to the Orthodox creed (the Serbs and over half the Roumanians) remained
The chief charge brought by the Hungary of the nineteenth century against that of the
eighteenth was of having allowed the national spirit to decay. It was certainly the case
that by the end of the century the magnate class was only half Hungarian. It was not,
indeed, an ethnically foreign class like that of Bohemia; for whereas the Germans,
Spaniards and Irishmen among whom the estates of the Czech rebels had been distributed
after the Battle of the White Mountain had found these habitable and profitable, and had
struck their roots in them, the foreign beneficiaries of the Neoacquistica had
often found the geographical and human conditions in their new homes too intractable, and
had sold them back to Hungarians or to Greek speculators, who in turn had sold them on.
Those who had survived, or had come in later - for even after the liquidation of the Neoacquistica
it had not been difficult for a foreigner to buy an estate and acquire Hungarian
'indigenate' - had Magyarised, and become indistinguishable from the old
But on the class as a whole, Maria Theresa's policy of the sugar-loaf had worked with
great effect. They spent much of their time and their rent-rolls in Vienna, intermarried
with the 'Imperial' German-Austrian and Bohemian aristocracy, looked for their culture,
not to Hungary (where, indeed, its products were thin enough on the ground) but to Vienna
or Paris, and forgot, or failed to learn, the Magyar language itself. If few of them were
100 per cent centralists - national pride and an appreciation of the material advantages
which went with a patent of Hungarian nobility forbade this - they were yet unquestioning
supporters of the Gesammtmonarchie and essentially alien from the rest of the nation.
This was enormously important politically, for few as they were - the families bearing
hereditary titles at the end of the eighteenth century numbered only 108 (two princely, 82
of counts and 24 baronial) - they owned between them about one third of the soil of
Hungary. They also, as we have seen, formed a separate 'Table' of the Diet and no
Resolution by the Lower Table was valid unless endorsed by the Upper. Their monopoly of
the high offices of state was almost complete.
In default of the magnates it was chiefly on the bene possessionati middle
nobles in their county strongholds that the leadership of the national cause devolved.
Many of them took their responsibilities seriously and conscientiously, and in so far as
Hungary emerged at the end of the period with its political institutions as nearly intact
as they were, its national life as vigorous, the merit must go to these men. Most of them
were national also in the narrower sense of the term. They felt themselves to be Magyars,
spoke the Magyar language, affected Magyar usages. It is true that this was the period at
which the Magyar language, regarded as a means of expression, was at its lowest ebb. The
nation had never renounced the tradition that its official documents were couched in
Latin, and since the sixteenth century the debates of the Diet and even the county
congregations, and the proceedings of the Courts, had come to be conducted in that
language. Partly for that reason - to fit budding administrators and jurists for their
careers - education above the primary level was given mainly in that language, and after
Latin, the Ratio Educationis gave the largest place (above the primary level) to
German(1). Thus Magyar in the eighteenth century was hardly
a literary language, but it was none the less a living one, spoken currently by an
educated class. Thus when the time came for the full political national revival, the
Magyar people, like the Polish, had to hand a class which was already fully national; it
did not, like the Slovenes or Ruthenes, have to create one.
The achievement of the Hungarian nobles had, however, its weaknesses, although these
were not all of their own making. Those critics who castigate them so severely for the
exclusive stubbornness with which they defended their own class privileges should in
fairness remember that this was the only major political question on which the Crown
commonly allowed them any voice at all: it usurped almost all constructive work as its own
prerogative. Nor is it by any means certain that the instinct was absurd which warned the
Hungarian nobles always to mistrust any proposal emanating from Vienna. If their outlook
was narrow, what else could be expected from these local squires whom the deplorable
communications cut off during much of the year from contact with all but their nearest
Yet the narrowness was there, and it was true that they were too easily satisfied,
looking no further so long as they possessed the wherewithall for abundant living and for
the limitless hospitality which was their pride. Also true that they too easily attributed
these blessings to the successful defence by their ancestors of their privileges, not
asking whether time had not changed the value of those privileges. It was especially
unfortunate that the most treasured among them, the exemption of their land from taxation,
entailed them in a direct conflict of interests with the peasants, so that their defence
of it did breed among them a great class-egotism.
This was particularly apparent in their attitude towards the peasants, where,
incidentally, they made no national distinction: a true noble should be Magyar, but the
converse, that a true Magyar should be noble, was not admitted. The Hungarian nobles of
the eighteenth century went right back to Werbczy and to Werbczy's own authorities in
their identffication of Hungary with themselves. The gulf had never been wider in the
national history, or at least not since the old days of slavery, between the populus and
the misera contribuens plebs, whose function in the state was still simply to
work for his betters. 'God himself has differentiated between us', wrote one contemporary,
'assigning to the peasant labour and need, to the lord, abundance and a merry life.'
For the first decades of the period the material condition of the peasants, too,
degenerated. The savage enactments of the Tripartitum had proved short-lived in practice;
as early as 1547 a Diet had repealed the adscriptionem glebae, seeing in the
misfortunes of the previous years Divine punishment for the oppression of the poor, 'whose
cry goes up incessantly before the Face of God'. In the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries the peasants suffered greatly from war and from the exactions of the foreign
garrisons and the Austrian treasury, but their legal position did not greatly deteriorate.
A very considerable proportion of them achieved free or partially free status, holding
their lands on 'contracts' which were often not unfavourable.
But the return of law and order, and the growth of commercial farming in an era of
labour shortage, coupled with the economic conditions which left land still almost the
only source of wealth, brought a renewal of the pressure. Old customary freedoms were
overridden, common lands enclosed, dues and services multiplied. To the landlords'
exactions were added those of the state, for besides the war-tax, which rested exclusively
on their shoulders, the peasants had now to supply food and transport for the local units
of the standing army, and might themselves be pressed into service in it (for the
'recruiting' normally took the form of shanghai-ing). Finally, the 'house-tax', levelled
by each county (again exclusively from the non-nobles) to meet the costs of local
administration, rose sharply. In Transylvania conditions were worse still: here the robot
was four days a week, and there was also much rural over-population, so that misery was
acute in the whole province, including the Szekel districts.
Charles did not willingly interfere in the relations between landlord and peasant, but
after serious disturbances had broken out in Slavonia, he worked out an urbarium
for that area, laying down the minimum legal size for a peasant sessio and the
maximum services which the landlord might exact. This, however, never became law. Maria
Theresa did not raise the question seriously at her Coronation Diet, at which she needed
the nobles' support, but asked the Diet of 1751 to raise the war-tax without increasing
the burden on the peasants. The Diet retorted that the way to alleviate the peasants'
position was to reduce the tax and to abolish the discriminatory tariff. In 1756 the queen
simply promulgated Charles' urbarium in Slavonia, and hoped to persuade the Diet
which she convoked in 1764 to adopt a similar system, and to accept the taxation of its
own land. Although the unrest was now widespread the Diet refused flatly. Maria Theresa
did not try to enforce the extension of the land-tax, which would have been contrary to
her own sworn word, but now had the rest of Hungary (Transylvania excluded) surveyed, and
in 1767 simply enacted an urbarium for it by rescript.(2)
The urbarium registered all land then worked as peasant-holdings, and thus
liable to tax. Further alienation of such land, except under permit, was forbidden. The
size of a sessio was fixed at an area ranging according to locality and the
quality of the land from 16 hold (3) arable plus 6
hold ley for the best land in Sopron and Pozsony to 38 plus 22 for poor-quality
land on the Tisza, plus, in every case, one hold for house, garden and
farm-buildings. The peasant's obligations to his landlord were fixed at one day's robot
(labour) weekly per full sessio if performed with draught animals and cart, or
twice as much hand-labour, plus the old 'ninth' payment introduced by Louis the Great, and
certain other dues and payments which varied according to locality. The obligations of a
peasant holding less than a full sessio were proportionately less. A peasant was
declared legally free to leave his holding if he had paid up all his dues. Royal
Commissions were appointed to supervise the work of the patrimonial Courts of Justice.
This enactment must have improved the peasants' conditions, which some observers now
described in very favourable terms. The robot was, at any rate, far lighter than
in Bohemia or Galicia, where it was 156 days a year per full sessio, while even
in Styria it was 104. On the other hand, the Hungarian peasant was worse off than the
Austrian in that he lacked the protection which the latter enjoyed through the Kreis officials;
the 'noble county,' with all its administrative and judicial apparatus, was and remained a
And the way in which the reform had been brought about deepened still further the cleft
between noble and peasant. Although humanitarian considerations had entered into it, the
primary motive behind it had been simply to secure for the Crown a larger fraction of the
peasants' production by limiting that of the landlord. Nevertheless, the Crown was now
able to figure as the protector of the peasants against the tyranny of the nobles, and was
widely so regarded by the peasants themselves.
The period also saw the consummation of what, in its long-term effects on the national
destinies, was the most serious of all its developments: the great transformation of the
ethnic character of the population.
The beginnings of the change reach back, of course, to far earlier periods. The Turkish
advance through the Balkans had already driven many Serbs, Vlachs and Bosnian Croats to
take refuge in Hungary. Then had come the Turkish invasion and occupation of Hungary
itself, the brunt of which had fallen on its most purely Magyar areas, while the national
homes of the Slovaks, Ruthenes and Roumanians in north Hungary and Transylvania had
escaped relatively lightly. It is true that many Magyars had escaped into these parts, but
those saving themselves by flight were outnumbered many times by those slaughtered or
carried off into slavery, and while the non-Magyars, too, had their losses, these were
much less heavy and were partially offset, in the case of some of them, by further
immigration: substantial numbers of Serbs and Vlachs followed the Turks into the Alföld,
other Roumanians slipped unobtrusively into Transylvania; and there was a big immigration
of Croats, not only into the old Slavonia, (now officially known as 'Croatia'), but
northward into the Muraköz, and more sporadically, all up the AustroHungarian frontier.
It has been calculated that when the wars of liberation began, some 50 per cent of the
total population was still Magyar; but the ravages of these wars, again, were heaviest in
the Magyar areas, and the end of them was accompanied by more waves of immigration. The
biggest of these, the organised immigration of the Serbs under their Patriarch, has
already been mentioned, and besides this great body, many smaller groups entered Hungary
both from the Balkans and from Wallachia. Serb and other South Slav elements occupied the
old Lower Slavonian counties, now known simply as 'Slavonia', and much of the south of
Hungary proper; the Vlach element multiplied in Transylvania and, driven by the pressure
of population and harsh social conditions, spilled out into the Partium.
This led on to the systematic operation known as the Impopulatio, viz., the
settlement by the Crown (and on a smaller scale, by some of the big landed proprietors) of
the vacant lands at their disposal. In some instances great landowners who owned estates
both in the north and the centre populated the latter by bringing down peasants from their
other properties: it was in this way, for example that the Slovak colony round
Békéscsaba, still in existence, came into being. Even a few Magyar peasants were moved
in this way. But the purpose of the operation was to mcrease the total population, which
could not be done by moving men from one part of the under-populated country to another;
and in fairness it must be recalled that the economic doctrines of the day held the
multiplication of population to be a desirable objective in itself. To this, however, were
undoubtedly added, in the Crown's mind, the political and economic considerations that the
Magyars were a politically unreliable element, which it was desirable to weaken, and a
backward one in its agricultural methods.
So another stream of non-Magyars was directed into the country: a few freak groups
brought from as far afield as France, Italy, Catalonia and South Russia, a few political,
religious or moral deportees from Austria, but the great majority recruits, enlisted by
agents, from the smaller states of south Germany, a fact which led to the application to
them all by the Hungarians of the generic name of 'Swabians'. The process began under
Charles, was at its fullest flood in the middle years of Maria Theresa's reign and was not
officially wound up until 1786.
The chief receiving areas were the Bánát (from which Magyars were excluded by
deliberate policy) and the other empty lands of South Hungary, Bács-Bodrog, Baranya and
Tolna, in which the Germans were settled in such numbers as to earn for the district the
popular name of 'Swabian Turkey'; but Germans were settled in considerable numbers also in
other parts of Hungary, including the western environs of Buda itself.
Meanwhile, the inconspicuous immigration of Roumanians had been going on, and there had
been other smaller but not inconsiderable movements: several thousand Armenians settled in
Transylvania; a steady trickle of artisans and other specialists, these chiefly from
Austria and the German districts of Bohemia-Moravia, entered the towns. The Jewish
population, too, although still small, was on the increase.
The Magyar element re-asserted itself not ineffectually in certain parts of the
country. When the central and northern parts of the Alföld were cleared of the Turks, not
only did the old landowning class,in so far as it had survived, flock back to re-occupy
its ancestral acres, but the same road was taken also by a large number of Magyar
peasants, lured by the larger holdings and easier social conditions. The surviving
non-Magyars of these areas Magyarised (it was in Maria Theresa's reign that the Cuman
language finally died out). These areas became almost solidly Magyar, and the same became
true of much of the Dunántúl, except its western fringe, its south-eastern corner, a few
smaller areas, and the towns. But this centripetal movement depleted the Magyar stock in
the peripheral areas, and as they moved down, the non-Magyars moved in after them.
It is calculated that by the end of the impopulatio, the Magyars numbered only
about 3,350,000, or some 3~ per cent of the total population. The Roumanians now numbered
about a million and a half, the Slovaks a million and a quarter, the Germans a million,
the Serbs and Croats about three quarters of a million each. The remainder was made up of
Ruthenes, gypsies, Jews and smaller nationalities.
An ethnic map of the country drawn at the end of Maria Theresa's reign which did not
take density of population into account and ignored small ethnic islets, would have looked
very much like one drawn in 1900. It would have shown the Magyars in a large, or clear,
majority only in the central parts of Hungary. In the west, the fringe was German. In the
north, the main ethnic line between the Magyars on the one hand and the Slovaks and
Ruthenes on the other followed approximately the line where the foothills of the
Carpathians melt into the plain. In Transylvania and the Partium, the Roumanians were
probably now in a small absolute majority. Croatia proper was almost solidly Croat, the
Slavonian counties chiefly Serb, and the rest of the south a hotch-potch of Southern Slav,
of various brands, German and Roumanian, with a relatively small admixture of Magyars.
The Serbs were always a thorn in the Hungarians' flesh. From the first, they regarded
themselves as the Emperor's men, whose flinction it was to fight any of his enemies,
including, or for preference, Hungarians. They certainly did not propose, if they could
help it, to exchange their accustomed life of herdsmen-soldiers for the arduous state of
peasant cultivators on some Hungarian nobleman's estate. They battled hard for continued
recognition of their 'national' status, if possible on a territory of their own, where
they would form a separate polity under the Emperor.
The Hungarians succeeded in getting this latter demand rejected, and the Serbs'
'national' privileges reduced to ecclesiastical autonomy. Through their church, however,
the Serbs kept alive their feeling of national cohesion, and, most of them, their
implacable hostility towards Hungary, and this was the easier because a high proportion of
them were settled in the Military Frontier, where the authorities welcomed and fostered
There were national stirrings during the period also among the Roumanians. Between the
Orthodox Roumanians and the Hungarians, again, the religious difference helped to
accentuate the contempt in which the latter held the former, as an unstable and altogether
inferior race, little superior to gypsies. The Roumanians in their turn endured with
sullen hatred their position of inferiority and the increasing social pressure which was
put on them as the Transylvanian nobles drove them into settled work under conditions
which were peculiarly burdensome. The conscious Roumanian national revival was, however,
initiated by the leaders of the Uniate church, who came forward with the theory that the
Roumanians of Transylvania were its true autochthonous population, the descendants of the
Roman colonists of Dacia. They used this theory as an argument to demand recognition of
the Roumanian nobles as a fourth 'nation' of Transylvania, and of the Orthodox faith as a
fifth 'recognised' religion.
The remaining non-Magyars had not yet become troublesome. The Croat nobles lived in
harmony with their Hungarian colleagues; the non-nobles here had nothing to say. There was
some friction between the Hungarians and the German peasant colonists, who also regarded
themselves as the subjects rather of the Empire than of Hungary, and the German burghers -
this last as much on social and economic as on strictly national grounds. This was not,
however, very serious, and in the case of the peasants, rather tended to diminish as they
settled in. Slovak and Ruthene nationalism was still dormant. The Hungarians, for their
part, did not see in the non-Magyar quality of the peasants (as distinct from the Serbs)
any particular danger. Yet the danger, although still latent, was there, and only a little
later it Was destined first to threaten and then to destroy the Hungarian state itself.
1. It is interesting that in the urban boys' schools there were
three 'foreign' pupils (presumably the sons of army officers) to every four 'Hungarian'.
2. It was not introduced in Croatia until 1780.
3. One hold = 0.576 hectare = 1.43 English acre.
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