The restoration of the Transylvanian Hungarian aristocrats – I.


Unusually for a site with our profile, in the following weeks we are going to publish the better part of a scholarly article originally published in bi-monthly magazine Hungarian Review. Both the topic in question and the article warrant this approach. The author, writer and publicist Gergely Szilvay has a PhD in political theory. Translation: Steve Kane.


Transylvania and aristocracy – if these two words bring anything to mind beyond the long-gone centuries of the Principality of Transylvania, then it is perhaps The Transylvanian Trilogy by Miklós Bánffy, three volumes relating the history of the region, titled individually in English: They Were Counted; They Were Found Wanting; They Were Divided. It is symbolic, perhaps, that the trilogy, originally published by the Transylvanian Guild of Fine Arts (Erdélyi Szépmíves Céh) between 1934 and 1940, was reprinted in 2006 by Helikon Publishers as part of a series embracing the collected works of Bánffy. The trilogy also conquered the international community, with one reviewer of the English edition describing Bánffy as the Hungarian Tolstoy.

What makes the first and the new editions symbolic, however, is that just a few years after the first publication of the third part of the novel, the hunt was on against the aristocracy in the countries of the Carpathian Basin; the trilogy’s re- publication after the turn of the millennium, meanwhile, more or less coincided with the time when the erstwhile aristocratic families of Transylvania began to return to their homeland. Just two days after sitting his state exam on 27 June 2007, for example, Farkas Bánffy, a young member of the baronial branch of the Bánffy family, moved to the village near Nagyenyed (Aiud)1 named Fugad (Ciuguzel), where the recently restituted family manor stands. As he said in an interview to Mandiner, “I decided to go down to Fugad, settle the restitution process, and manage the family estate. Previously my father used to deal with the estate, but from Hungary this could not be done effectively. I defended my dissertation on 27 June 2007, and I moved on 29 June.”2 Apart from the Bánffy family, other noble houses who have returned to Transylvania – or who never went away, but have now “reawakened” – include the Kálnoky, Apor, Mikes, Haller, Dálnok, Bethlen, Teleki, Kemény, Csávossy and Barcsay families.

Before examining why the former aristocrats returned, how they were received, and what they are doing in Transylvania, it is worth dedicating a few words to the origins of the Hungarian – more specifically, the Transylvanian – aristocracy, and to what exactly we mean by the term “aristocracy”.

Title image: The Bánffy-castle in Bonchida (Romanian: Bonțida)

– To be continued –

Author: Gergely Szilvay