After writing about the history of Gadany, it occurred to me that most of the people reading it would not fully gather the significance of the name Szechenyi. The power of buying into a farm that took perhaps a near peripheral role in the central history of 19th century Hungary as a holding of this important family would be lost without that little piece of knowledge. So permit me to present to you a history of the Szechenyi family, as told from the perspective of the village of Gadany.
Origins of the Szechenyi counts
Benedek Szechenyi-Szabo, the first of his family to appear in the service of the Hungarian throne, emerged in Hungarian history in 1503, during the reign of King Laszlo II. This was the period that the magnates took the reins of the empire, leaving behind a Hungary divided in the face of the growing Turkish threat. Five years after their invasion had begun, the Turks crushed the army of Laszlo II’s son, King Lajos II, in the decisive Battle of Mohacs in 1526. Meanwhile, Benedik was last positively heard from in 1542, the year before the fall of Székesfehérvár to the Ottoman Empire.
Benedek’s children were Tamas and Mihaly. Tamas was the first to be born, sometime before Mihaly’s birth date of 1530. This would be the chaotic period following the Battle of Mohacs, in which Janos Sapolyai and Ferdinand von Hapsburg fought for control of the rapidly diminishing Hungarian kingdom. He appears in records between 1565 and 1571, a quarter century after the fall of Buda Castle to the Turks, and his known son Istvan his descendants continued the use of the name Szechenyi-Szabo through much of Hungary’s eventual joint history with the Austrians.
However, it is Mihaly’s children that are of interest in this family history study. A military leader (recorded as the Captain of Veszprem, a city north of the eastern part of Lake Balaton in the Hapsburg-controlled area of Hungary), he lived all of 50 years, but had only one known son, Marton, who was born around 1560 in the small town of Szescenke. The family was known to be in Szescenke until sometime between 1610 (after both his sons, Gyorgy and Lorinc, were born) and 1629 (when Mihaly died in the larger city of Gyongyos, further east).
Gyorgy, the eldest son, achieved great fame in his career in the church, eventually rising to the role of the Archbishop of Esztergom, the most important prelate in the Hungarian Kingdom, in 1685, just before the Holy League began its campaign to retake Buda. As such, he had no known children, leaving the continuation of the family to his younger brother, Lorinc.
At age 20, Lorinc Szechenyi married 15-year-old Judit Gallen of the eastern city of Kecskemet in what was probably a marriage of some sort of alliance. After 1630, the couple lived in Gyongyos through the births of their first four children (Marton – who became a Jesuit -, daughter Ezsebet – who married into the Nagy family of Gyongyos -, Pal – who followed his uncle’s footsteps into a significant church career in the late 1600s – and daughter Kata – who married into the Vizkelety family), moving sometime between 1649 and 1652 (when daughter Judit was born in the city of Gyor, between Pressburg and Buda, or present Bratislava and Budapest).
Eventually, after the birth of the second youngest son Marton and after Lorinc settled his family in the holy city of Nagyszombat (present Tmava), the family’s youngest son Gyorgy was born in April 1656 (there would be one younger child, their sister named Ilona, born in 1659). Named for his uncle, the Bishop of Veszprem (and future Archbishop of Esztergom), he and Marton were the only two male members of their generation that married. However, Marton died early, at age38, in Raro, an island village near Gyor where his parents Lorinc and Judit died, while Gyorgy lived long enough to become the first Graf Szechenyi de Sarvar-Felsovidek on March 30, 1697.
The Szechenyi grafs who owned Gadany
Perhaps two decades before achieving his title, Gyorgy married Ilona Morocz de Beketfalva, and shortly after, the couple settled in Egervar in the far west of Hungary and had three children in rapid succession: daughters Julianna and Judit (born 1679 and 1680, respectively), and son Zsigmond (born 1681). Sometime after that, perhaps after Gyorgy’s title was created a couple decades later, the family settled in Szeplak, today a district in the Lake Balaton resort city of Siofok.
Gyorgy and Zsigmond are the two main connections of the family with the town of Gadany. In 1677, Gyorgy’s uncle, then the Archbishop of Kalocsa, received from King Lipot (or Leopold) I of Hungary the following settlements for the use of his archdiocese: Alsosegesd, Barcs, Bire, Erdőcsokonya, Homokszentgyörgy, Kalmáncsa, Köröshegy, Labod, Marcali, Pusztaszemes, Somogytarnocza, Somogyvar, Szulok, Taska, Totszentgyörgy, and Gadany. Sometime between that date and 1715, the administration of the little forest farming Gadany and its mostly Serbian and Croatian inhabitants fell to his nephew Gyorgy, youngest son of Lorinc, who along with wife Ilona and their children were located at Egervar. This was during a period of time when the Holy League was liberating large amounts of Hungary from Turkish occupation.
It should be noted that the manor was never a primary home for the Szechenyi family during the lifetimes of these first two Grafs Szechenyi de Sarvar-Felsovidek. Indeed, Gyorgy, by then an aging widower (59 years old), had given over the estate in the hills of Somogy to his 34-year-old son in 1715, an act confirmed by Emperor Leopold just after the anti-Hapsburg rebellion led by Ferenc Rakoczi was defeated.
Zsigmond, meanwhile, had married to Maria Terez, the Grafin Batthyany de Nemetujvar, in her home town five years earlier on a cold late January day. The couple had eight children throughout their 11 years of marriage before she died in mid-June 1721 in Sopron, on the Hungarian side of the Neusiedler See. It was during this period of widowhood in 1726 that Zsigmond decided to sell the Gadany estate to Gyorgy Niczky, who carried out needed improvements to the forest village (he was responsible for the construction of the school there in 1743, today the oldest building in the town, and the church, dedicated to St. John the Baptist, in 1766). Two years later, Zsigmond married 33-year-old Grafin Maria Barkoczy de Szala in what must have been a lavish ceremony on the Szeplak estate in February 1728. The second wife would provide three more children to the second Graf Szechenyi de Sarvar-Felsovidek before he died in October 1738.
The lineage of the “Greatest Hungarian,” Istvan Szechenyi
Returning to the first marriage of Zsigmond Sec henyi, with Maria Terez Batthyany, by 1711, the couple had settled down in Sopron (this was the year that Nagycenk was obtained by the family). The children were born like clockwork in the first years: Ferenc was born in 1711 (he died in 1714), Ignac was born in 1712 (he would marry into the family of the Graf Viczay de Loos et Hedervar), Laszlo was born in 1713 (he married into the family of the Graf Draskovich de Trakostyan) and Antal Ferenc Gyorgy Zsigmond Jozsef (or just Antal) was born in 1714 (he would also marry into the Barkoczy de Szala family, like his father, but only after his father’s death, in November 1738). Two daughters would follow in 1716 and 1717: Jozefa (later the wife of the Graf Shmidegg de Sarladany) and Katalan Anna Maria Erzsebet (the future wife of the Graf Zichy de Zich et Vasonkeo).
Maria Terez would have two more sons, one who died young in 1719, and her final boy, also named Zsigmond, on the first day of winter in 1720. The last birth probably took a lot out of her, as within six months, she was dead. The infant Zsigmond and his surviving siblings likely moved back to the Balaton lakeside estate of Szeplak after the death of their mother. The boy hardly turned seven when his father remarried. The son hadn’t reached the age of 18 when the father died.
After the death, the family was pretty much left in the hands of the older brothers, Ignac, Laszlo, and Anton. Ignac, the eldest surviving brother, however, produced no children. Laszlo produced one son, but he died before he could even turn 10; the two surviving daughters of the four born him married into noble families. Finally, Anton, whose marriage into his father’s second wife’s family no doubt created some scandal, produced only one daughter that survived to adulthood. This left the family name to the younger Zsigmond, who married shortly after Midsummer’s Day 1747 to Maria Cziraky de Czirak et Denesfalva.
The paternal grandparents of Istvan Szechenyi took about a year to get started on a family at the family home in Szeplak. Maria Terezia, no doubt named for the Empress, was born in September 1749 and would eventually marry Graf Johann von Kueffstein. Jozsef Janos Antal (or just Jozsef) was born in December 1751; he eventually married into the Festetics de Tolna family, but produced no heirs. A third generation Zsigmond was born in January 1752, but died a year later. Anna Borbala was born in February 1753, and eventually married into first the Forgach de Ghimes et Gacs family, which played a significant role in the development of Marcali, and then into the Desfours family when her first husband died three years into their marriage.
Ferenc Janos Jozsef, Istvan Szechenyi’s father, was the fifth-born of his generation. Maria gave birth to him in late April 1754 at Fertoszeplak, the second to last child she would bear for Zsigmond (her last was born in 1759, and named Anna Jozsefa). Ferenc’s father would die in the autumn after he turned 12, on Oct. 19, 1769. This left the family name to Ferenc’s older brother, Jozsef.
In September 1772, Jozsef dutifully married Julia Festetics de Tolna, a 19 year old girl from a noble family. The two probably planned a long and happy marriage together, but at the end of November 1774, Jozsef died in Sopron, leaving Julia a widow. Apparently, Jozsef was not the only Szechenyi taken with her, though. In the middle of August 1777, Ferenc decided he would not let her get away, and after getting permission from the Pope, he married her on the 17th in Kophaza. Whether or not she was accepted by her second-time mother-in-law is not really recorded, but she apparently became pregnant right away as their first child. Gyorgy, was born on May 26, 1778, in Horpacs, a small community north of present Budapest in the Borzsony hill country. Unfortunately, the little boy didn’t make it to even seven months of age.
Their second child, Lajos Maria Alajos Daniel Ignac, or just Lajos, fared a bit better. Born Nov. 6, 1781, he was the last child of the family born in Horpacs. By 1783, during the birth of Franciska Carolina, the family had removed to a new estate in Nagycenk, southeast of Sopron, and by October 1788, during the birth of Zsofia, the family was already in Vienna. It’s unclear as to when Ferenc, described as an “enlightened aristocrat” (he would later found the Hungarian National Museum, according to his son Istvan’s English Wikipedia page), became the Obergespan (Lord Lieutenant) of Somogy or the master of the Knights of the Golden Fleece, but it likely was after the family had moved to the capital of the Holy Roman Empire.
A little over a year after Zsofia was born, Pal entered the world in November 1789. The next child after Pal was of course Istvan, born on the first day of autumn 1791 in Vienna.