Somogy Tales: The Szechenyi family and Gadany: Part 3 After Istvan

Istvan Szechenyi’s sons

Bela Szechenyi as presented in the Vasárnapi Újság (Sunday Papers) Issue 1900/50. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

The loss of Istvan as father could be said to have driven Bela toward his eventual road as a world traveler. Istvan was a great fan of travel, and its opportunities to learn the technology of other nations, and instilled this value in his sons while he was alive. Both could be said to have been dutiful in following his advice after his death. Between terms in an in intermittently held parliament, Bela went first to Western Europe, then North America, and then took four lion-hunting safaris in Africa before finally leaving parliamentary politics in 1870 to marry 24-year-old Johanna Erdody de Monyorokerek et Monoszlo on the day after Midsummer. He was still only just 33, though, and after maybe half-dozen years at home, he accepted an opportunity to explore Asia in a Hungarian scientific expedition, setting off in 1877. Bela would write about this expedition in 1893, describing the Far East, western Mongolia, and his attempts to cross the Tibetan frontier in tales written in German. As a result, he would always be known as the traveler of the Szechenyi family, even while serving as privy councilor in Budapest.

Bela’s children, who were born before his big trip into Asia, never felt nor acted upon any such desire to see the world. Instead, they stayed closer to home. The eldest daughter, Alice, remained in Hungary for just about her entire life. Alice’s younger sister Johanna would eventually end up in Austria after the dual monarchy was broken apart.

From a commemorative plaque on the main entrance to Budapest’s main fire station dedicated to Count Ödön Széchenyi (1839-1922) founder of the Hungarian fire service. Artwork by László Szlávics, Jr.Photo by Fekist via Wikimedia Commons.

Meanwhile, Odon had likewise started to travel a bit himself after their father’s death and visited the World’s Fair in London in 1862. There, he was impressed with the volunteer firefighter concept (certain to have been on his mind was that the family estate at Nagycenk had lost eight buildings in a fire the same year that Istvan had committed suicide), which he brought back to Budapest to start up a brigade the following year. Meanwhile, he had fallen in love with a woman four years his senior, and on Jan. 10, 1864, while his older brother was still very much single and planning out his first lion-hunting expedition, Odon married Budapest-born Irma Almay in ancient Esztergom.

Married or not, though, European technology of the late 1800s continued to fascinate Odon. He built a steamship with which to travel to the 1867 Paris World Exhibition, christening it the “Mermaid” before the voyage that earned him a great amount of attention from no less than Emperor Napoleon III. Upon his return to Budapest, the idea struck him of building a funicular on the clay slopes of the hill holding Buda Castle. On March 2, 1870, his “cogwheel railroad” opened to great acclaim (one of the first five such machines built in the entire world).

The funicular on Buda Castle Hill is the second oldest funicular in Europe (Lyon in France holds the oldest). Photo by misibacsi via Wikimedia Commons.

The couple might have remained always living in Budapest if not for the great fires that struck Constantinople in early 1870. Having served as president of the firefighter’s association of the Hungarian capital, Odon was regarded as something of an expert in organizing fire brigades, and was asked to do this for the capital of the Ottoman Empire. This turned out to be not an easy task, but as a result of his determination, Constantinople eventually built a fire team based on his Budapest model.

His children with Irma, Andor and Wanda, would develop a taste for travel in this experience: Andor eventually relocated to Russia, while Wanda eventually ended in the Persian capital of Teheran. When Irma died in 1891, Odon, then age 51, returned to Constantinople and married Eulalia Christopulos, 15 years his junior. Living a happy marriage, they would have four children together while staying in the capital of the Ottoman Empire. For his role in building the first Turkish fire brigade, the Sultan would bestow upon Odon the title of Pasha (an honor nearly unique in Ottoman history, given that he was foreign-born) before the Empire disintegrated.

Meanwhile, all four of his children with Eulalia, would return to central Europe by the middle part of the 20th century.

Bela and Odon’s mother, meanwhile, Crescentia von Seilern-Aspang, stayed around only long enough to see the first part of both her sons’ achievements. She died in Kiscenk (within present Nagycenk) on July 30, 1875, at age 76.

The final Szechenyi owners of Gadany

Caroline Meade, daughter of Richard Meade, second Earl Clanwilliam of the Irish Meade (anglicized from Meagh) family, and Maria Karolina von Thun-Hohenstein of Vienna. First wife of Pál Szechenyi, and reportedly one-time lover of Istvan Szechenyi. Art from the collection of Bartfay Szabo Laszlo via Csorba Laszlo’s book “Istvan Szechenyi”

Through the middle and late 1700s, Gadany was held, and improved upon, by the Niczky family. However, by 1806, as Napoleon Bonaparte brought war across the entire continent of Europe, the Szechenyi family again held possession of the little forest-surrounded farm community, apparently under the ownership of Pal, Istvan’s older brother.

The family continued to be based southeast of Sopron at the estate of Nagycenk. At the time that Gadany returned to the family holdings, Lajos and Franciska Karolina were the two siblings that had been married: Lajos to Alojzia von Clam-Gallas (a family born after the extinction of the Gallas family – the “double-barreled” name was conferred by agreement upon Christian Philipp Freiherr von Clam, nephew of the last Gallas, Philip Joseph, in 1757) in Prague in 1801, and Franciska to Miklos Batthyany de Nemetujvar in Kophaza in 1802. A year after Pál obtained Gadany, Zsofia was married on the family estate in Nagycenk in September 1807. In the intervening time, Lajos and Alojzia had produced four children: Janos in 1802, Maria Julia in 1804, Alojzia in 1807, and Julia in 1809.

It would not be until 1811 that Pál would take on a wife, an Irish daughter of the 2nd Earl of Clanwilliam who had been staying with Princess Lichnowsky, his family’s friend in Vienna, Caroline Meade. Renowned for her beauty and her coquettish character, Caroline was considered to be quite a catch when he married her on June 10 of that year.

Emese Lenart, among other researchers, suggested that Caroline was not altogether loyal as a wife to Pal. Indeed, she and others noted diary entries of Istvan’s and letters of hers that suggested that there might have been some sort of affair that took place about five years after the marriage. If true, this would have been about two years before he met Crescentia for the first time, and lost her to a much older man. Lenart’s research also suggested a failed courtship with Caroline’s sister, Selina (whose name, according to noted Szechenyi researcher Zoltan Kenyeres, was tattooed on his arm through his military service), possibly the result of the scorned elder sister’s intervention with guardian Princess Lichnowsky.

With regards to Gadany, Caroline was never likely at the estate. She spent a large amount of her time living the social life of Vienna, despite the gossip that apparently went on about her after her dalliance with her brother-in-law. She would eventually prove to be unfit for country life. After giving birth to a son and a daughter (the son dying in 1841 while away in Bayreuth, the daughter dying in infancy in 1813), Caroline suffered pulmonary complications from tuberculosis while riding a horse, and died on Aug. 29, 1820, in Urmenis (present Mojmírovce, Slovakia).

(Her brother Richard would become 3rd Earl of Clanwilliam, diplomat to Berlin a couple years after her death, and her sister Selina, would become the Countess Clam-Martinic, a survivor of the 1848 revolutions in Austria and Poland).

Pál Szechenyi. Art via the Hungarian Electronic Library.

The loss of his Caroline, which was quickly followed by the loss of his father, Ferenc, on Dec. 13 (he was 66), took a few years for Pál to recover. However, he finally did meet, court, and marry Emilia Zichy-Ferraris de Zich et Vasonkeo in Vienna on Dec. 15, 1823. His mother, who retired to Vienna after the death of her husband, had been alive long enough to witness this wedding. A month later, she too passed away on Jan 20, 1824, and was buried next to her spouse in the family tomb in Nagycenk.

Pál and Emilia shuttled between Sopron (likely Nagycenk) and Vienna in the coming years, managing their estates (including Gadany) from there. Their first child was born on Feb. 10, 1825, a girl named Maria. A second daughter, Erzsebet, was born in Sopron on Mar. 17, 1827, while their first son, Gabor, was born Mar. 1, 1828, also in Sopron. By late 1829, Emilia was back in Vienna, as she gave birth to Gyula there on Nov. 11.

The following two births in Vienna were not so happy, as both of the resulting sons died in childhood: Geza was born Dec. 5, 1830, and died two years later; Kalman was born on Apr. 3, 1833, and he died six years later. However, the four sons and youngest daughter that followed would reach adulthood: Ferenc was born on Mar. 4, 1835; Jeno was born on Feb. 7, 1836; Tivadar was born on Mar 12, 1837; Pal Kelemen Ferenc de Paula Maria was born on Nov. 6, 1838; and Dorottya Franciska Julia Maria was born Nov. 29, 1841. Pál was born in Sopron, while the other four were born in Vienna.

Antal Szechenyi and his children (the girls, left to right: Antoinette, Ilona, and Antalne; the boys, left to right: Karoly and Ferenc). Photo via the Hungarian Electronic Library.

As noted in the previous article about Gadany’s history, the decade after emancipation of the Hungarian serfs was chaotic. Pál eventually secured a large portion of the lands they held at least in Marcali, which eventually grew into a much more important town than Gadany during the years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Likely, neither Pál nor Emilia spent much time in this area of Somogy after settling what properties the family would continue to own. He died nearly five years after his wife on Mar. 30, 1871, in Sopron. He was 81.

After Pál, the name Szechenyi in the area revolved around two cousins (a generation removed from each other): Andor Pál, born in 1864, and Antal, born in 1867. They continued to manage lands in the area in the later days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (as with Nagycenk near Sopron, the Szechenyi family lost all of their Somogy holdings after World War II). Some of their descendants remain in the area, but none really have much to do with Gadany. Near the village live still the Hunyady family, members of which run a bed and breakfast from their old estate between Gadany and Keleviz. Their lands were to the east of Gadany, closer to Highway 68. (Sadly, there wasn’t a chance to review their property and history before leaving.)

I wanted to post my appreciation to Agathe Szechenyi for her corrections to this article, namely noting the Bohemian origin of the Clam-Gallas family (I originally speculated it to be of British origin – my only excuse here is the limited Internet access I had while staying in Gadany), the correct relationship between Andor Pál and Anton Szechenyi (cousins once removed, I originally had them as brothers), and the extent of losses to the family in Somogy following World War II (apparently a complete loss, rather than just most of the holdings). I am given to understand that she is quite the authority on the Szechenyi family history, and can only hope that she takes up writing herself, as their family story is one that I personally admire.

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One Response to Somogy Tales: The Szechenyi family and Gadany: Part 3 After Istvan

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