Archive for March 2014

All Fools – Origins, 450 years ago this year!   5 comments


The first of April, some do say,

 Is set apart for All Fools’ Day;

 But why the people call it so,

 Nor I, nor they themselves do know.

 Poor Robin’s Almanack, 1760

All Fools’ or April Fools’ Day celebrates its 450th Anniversary this year, since it began in France in 1564. The name, given to the first of April, refers to the custom of playing tricks on other people or sending them off on ‘fools’ errands’. It appears to owe its origins to the ‘vernal equinox’ or beginning of Spring, since April 1st used to be New Year’s Day until 1564 in France. Then King Charles IX decided to change this to 1 January. However, the change in the calendar wasn’t followed until the seventeenth century in Britain, and there used to be some confusion among historians about events that happened before it was adopted, like the execution of Charles I in 1648, or was that 1649?!  Then the cards and gifts that used to be given out on the day were transferred to January 1st. However, not everybody went along with this change, and continued to celebrate in April, as they still do in some countries, including Afghanistan.

It then continued as a joke in England, with mock gifts and cards being sent, becoming customary in the eighteenth century. Since, as New Year’s Day, it had been an unofficial half-day holiday, with workers expected to report for work at mid-day, this was also the time when all the fooling around had to stop. Hence the need to play the trick or make the joke before 12. In Scotland the fooling is sometimes referred to as ‘hunting the gowk’ or cuckoo, and April Fools were known as ‘April Gowks’.

The ‘silly season’ lasts from midnight to midday on 1st, and the object is to make the victim feel a little uncomfortable and sometimes to send him or her on a fool’s errand. Children might be sent to buy pots of striped paint, for example! Some people play little jokes on their friends and family; perhaps they change the clocks (though this won’t work in 2014, since the clocks are changing anyway at midnight!), or they put salt in the sugar bowl so someone’s tea tastes terrible. With the advent of radio, TV and now social media, some try to play tricks on thousands or even millions of people on this day.  More ambitious, contrived errands have been recorded, such as in 1860 when a large number of people received invitations to a reception at the Tower of London – ‘To admit bearer and friend to view the annual ceremony of washing the white lions’. Many people attended, apparently! Today, some people play little jokes on their friends and family

One of the great hoaxes of all time which involved millions of TV viewers was Richard Dimbleby‘s BBC report about the spaghetti harvest in Italy in 1957.  Dimbleby was taken very seriously as a broadcaster, having commentated on the end of the War in Europe and the Coronation among many other national and international events. In 1957, not many people ate spaghetti in Britain, and very few people knew much about it. The film showed long strips of spaghetti being collected by farm workers from the trees and put in the sun to dry. Dimbleby reported that the following autumn’s crop was threatened by a rare fungal disease! Many thousands phoned in offering to donate to a famine fund.

In 1998 a ‘new hamburger’ was launched on the US market by Burger King. This was a left-handed hamburger! Thousands of extra people went to Burger King to get one, and many more insisted on having the traditional right-handed one! In 2005 another British TV programme informed people about ‘fruitshakes’, a new milk drink straight from the cow. The cows were given fruit to eat and they then produced milk which tasted of fruit! Every year there are new jokes – on TV, in the newspapers, and on the radio. Every year millions of people ‘fall for’ these jokes and tricks.

However, it’s important to remember that, at twelve noon, all is over, and any trick played after that falls back on the head of the jester. In these circumstances, the proposed victim uses the age-old formula:

April Fools’ Day’s past and gone,

You’re the Fool and I am none.

Fools are not always figures of fun, however, especially when you consider those in Shakespeare’s plays.  Touchstone in As You Like It  is no fool with his ‘great heap of knowledge’. The Fool is always a victim, only funny up to a point. Religious fools run right through the literary tradition in English, from the medieval Everyman’s  ‘Five Wits’ through to Jesus and his disciples in Stephen Schwartz’s Godspell, in which even Judas is portrayed as a clown, perhaps the saddest of all. Even pop songs refer to ‘the Tears of a Clown‘.

Mothering/ Refreshment Sunday (fourth in Lent, 6 March, 2016)   Leave a comment

Simnel cake

Simnel cake (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ll to thee a Simnel bring,

‘Gainst thou go a-Mothering,

So that when she blesseth thee

Half the blessing thou’ll give me.

ROBERT HERRICK (1591-1674)

Living in Hungary, I’m often asked why we celebrate Mother’s Day in Britain on a different date from most of Europe. I answer that we don’t celebrate ‘Mother’s Day’, we celebrate ‘Mothering Sunday‘, in which human motherhood is just one aspect.

With Lent half gone, the Church allows a break from fasting, a ‘breakfast’ or ‘refreshment’. The Gospel for the day tells the story of the feeding of the five thousand and so, appropriately, the day became known as Refreshment Sunday. In the early Church, there was a special ordinance requiring the priest and people to visit the ‘Mother church‘ of the district on this day, and this custom became associated with pleasant gatherings of families and reunions of children with mothers. Hence the popular name, ‘Mothering Sunday’.

DSC06206By the 17th Century it became common practice for serving maids and apprentices to be given a holiday on this day so they might visit their mothers. In those days, they left their homes at the age of nine or ten, then living in accommodation provided by their masters. Mothering Sunday would be the only day in the year on which they would see their families and keep up their links with home. They took gifts of flowers or special cakes made for the occasion.

These cakes were spicy and made with a fine flour which had a Latin name, ‘simila’, hence the cakes were known as Simnel cakes. These are sometimes decorated with little fruits, artificial flowers with eggs and nests – looking forward to the great festival of Easter.

The picture on the right above, shows our Oliver presenting his mum with Spring flowers in church, a tradition which is repeated in many parish churches and chapels throughout the UK. So we celebrate motherhood in the form of our human mother, the mother church and the ‘motherhood’ of God which, unlike our human mothers, but like ‘agape’, ‘has no end’.

So, all this has little to do with Mother’s Day, which is a North American institution. On 9 May 1906, Anna Jarvis of Philadelphia lost her mother and succeeded in persuading the state governors to proclaim the second Sunday in May to be Mother’s Day.

In Pennsylvania it became a state holiday, and other states followed suit until in 1913 the US Senate and House of Representatives dedicated the day to mothers. It is therefore, by definition, not a religious festival, and never has been. When the ‘Yanks’ came to Britain at the end of the Second World War, they brought these traditions with them, hence the reason that ‘Mothering Sunday’ has turned into a secular ‘Mother’s Day’ for many in Britain.

Magyar-British Relations in the Era of the Two World Wars, 1914-44: Chapters One and Two – The Great War, Trianon and the Twenties.   1 comment

Chapter One: The Great War, Diplomacy and Poetry

In Hungary, as in Britain, the outbreak of war was greeted with an outburst of patriotic enthusiasm, though Austro-Hungary’s declaration of war on Serbia was the first declaration to be made on 28 July, 1914, and the escalation of a regional war into a world war came almost a two weeks later with the fall of Belgium and Britain’s subsequent entry into the war, together with the British Empire. The Hungarians could not have known, or even predicted, the events on the western front as they marched on Belgrade. The opposition parties in the Hungarian Parliament, including the Social Democrats, supported the war effort, hoping to win democratic concessions in return. The only one among the leading politicians to foresee the dangers of an early entry into war was István Tisza, then serving as Prime Minister for a second time, but even he, despite his vision and determination to uphold the interests of the Hungarian nation, just as he had reforged the monarchy, was only able to delay the declaration for two weeks. The leaders of the national minorities also fell into line, issuing declarations of loyalty. A few emigrated, possibly to Britain, but contacts between Hungarians and the British, either friendly or hostile, were otherwise few and far between throughout the next four years, especially since the respective armies were fighting on different fronts.


As the war progressed, so too did the confidence of the young British diplomat, Harold Nicolson. He was the grandson of an admiral in the Crimean War who had been axed from the Navy for a colossal ‘error of judgement’. The ‘crusty old sea dog’ lived in a gloomy, neglected house in Knightsbridge with ‘a tart’ who was addicted to the bottle, and dined on partridges and champagne at his London club. His father, Arthur, who had been neglected and even ignored by his father and step-mothers, had lacked confidence at Rugby school, which he left as ‘a complete failure’, and did no better at Brasenose College, where his tutors found him ‘indolent, undisciplined and untidy’. He left Oxford without taking his degree. Eventually, Arthur found refuge from the adversities at home in the relative calm of the Foreign Office.  He proved to be ‘a late starter’, and applying himself to his studies, became fluent in German and French and passed out first in the Foreign Office examinations with 772 marks out of a possible 930. He entered the Foreign Office in 1870, spent thirty-five years abroad, returned in 1910 to head the Office, and retired six years later. He was effective as a diplomat ‘in the field’, but ‘too easy-going’ to run an office. Harold had the greatest respect for his father, despite his flaws, and, when he came to write a filial biography of Sir Arthur Nicolson, he described him as ‘an old-style diplomat’ who was neither imaginative nor intellectual: he was merely intelligent, honest, sensible, high-minded and fair. Arthur had succeeded to the title of baronet on the death of his father in 1899, but the ancient Scottish-Norwegian family had never risen above the level of provincial dignitaries. So it was that Harold was born to Mary Catherine Rowan Hamilton, who had far greater aristocratic connections, in 1886, during his father’s first three-year posting  to the British legation in Tehran. He was the third of three brothers, both born in the early eighties, and his sister was born a decade later. After his spell in Tehran, Arthur, ‘Katy’ and family moved to Hungary, to a flat in Andrássy Utca (Street). Arthur Nicolson had been made Consul-General there. One of his brothers  must have been at boarding school in Britain by this time, but Harold found the small flat very cramped. Children of the British aristocracy customarily regarded their parents from afar. Although Harold later wrote that ‘we were always strangers to our parents’, he was very close to his mother, who hovered constantly in the background even when his German nurse was in charge of him. Every evening he said his prayers in German as well as English. The cramped conditions of the cramped accommodation in Andrássy Street robbed it ‘of stately ease’ as in his young mind he graded the various apartments he lived in according to the magnificence of their dining rooms. Arthur was next posted to Constantinople as Secretary of the Embassy there, working with Sir Richard Burton, who terrified the young Harold by thrusting his dark, bearded face into the little boy’s face, barking ‘Hello, little Tehran!’ Despite this incident, which Harold remembered for the rest of his days, he preferred the grander apartment they moved into in Constantinople, where napkins in rows like bishop’s mitres… and the soft Bosphorus sunset slid across the white dinner table in slatted shafts of orange and blue. After that Arthur was posted to Sofia, Tangier and Madrid, and Harold continued to accompany them, although not to St Petersburg, where Arthur was British Ambassador. By the time he encountered the palatial splendour of the embassy there, he was himself a junior clerk at the Foreign Office.

Harold must have lived in the Andrássy Street apartment until he was five or six.  Then, after being educated by a governess for some years, Harold went to the Grange, a preparatory school near Folkestone, from the age of nine to thirteen. Bullying was rife in the school, from the Headmaster down, and Harold was seen as something of an ‘oddball’, especially for defending Dreyfus from abuse and taking up the cause of the Boers, defying the jingoism of the time. From the Grange, Harold went on to Wellington College in Berkshire, where he arrived in January 1900.  Although an enthusiastic and successful Classical scholar, he was not sorry to leave. The school happened to be ‘a stone’s throw’ from Broadmoor, a top security prison for the criminally insane. Nicolson was probably thinking of this connection when he said that leaving Wellington College would be like leaving prison. He was, by this time, very much an individual young man with a mind of his own, and Wellington was an institution steeped in the military code of ‘esprit de corps’ above all else. From Wellington he went ‘up’ to Oxford for Michaelmas 1904, where he read Classics at Balliol College. Given his father’s service, it was taken for granted that Harold would seek a diplomatic career. His vacations were spent visiting his parents, in Madrid, where his father was ambassador. He also developed his linguistic skills by travelling across Europe and staying with French, Italian and German families. In August 1906 he visited his parents at the Embassy in St Petersburg, just at the time of the attempted revolution and the first attack on Stolypin. Nicolson saw the barbaric and bloody aftermath of the attack on the house, and from this retained impressions of Russia which stayed with him for the remainder of his life. Unlike his father, ‘who loved the Russians and their fickle ways’, Nicolson regarded them as barely European. The Slav character, earthy, emotional, gloomy, confused him.

In October 1909, after a further series of examinations, Harold Nicolson, aged twenty-three, received a note instructing him to take up his duties at the Foreign Office.   When he joined the Diplomatic Service a Liberal government had been in power for three years. In foreign policy there was a striking degree of continuity with the previous conservative administration. The so-called New Course in British policy was by now firmly rooted, with the Anglo-French and Anglo-Russian Ententes at its core. In June 1910 Harold was transferred to the Eastern (Europe) Department at the Foreign Office, then sent to Madrid in February 1911. However, he fell ill and was recalled to London where, by the end of 1911 he passed an examination in international law. In 1910 he had met Victoria (‘Vita’) Sackville-West, and in October 1913 they were married in the chapel of Knole House in Kent, The Sackville-Wests’ family seat.

Much of allied war-time diplomacy centred on the future of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires: how to control the emergence of new national entities in central Europe; how to reconcile conflicting national claims among the Balkan territories; how to avoid or approve the break-up of Turkey itself; and how to resolve the clash of rival allied demands with local nationalist movements in the Arab East. There was also the problem of the disintegrating Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Czechs, riding high on a wave of national fervour, were claiming German-speaking Bohemia, for strategic and economic reasons, and Slovakia, on ethnic grounds.  Leo Amery, Political Secretary to the War Cabinet, had suggested that, at the end of the war, the Entente powers should try to create a large non-national superstate… a federated Austria-Hungary in federation with Germany. Lord Robert Cecil, Balfour’s deputy as Assistant Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs showed considerable sympathy for Amery’s plan for avoiding the Balkanisation of Central Europe. He added, somewhat prophetically, that unless we can induce the smaller states to move along these lines, the last state of Europe may well be worse than the first. He called upon the skilled technical assistance of the Political Intelligence of the Foreign Office to examine  Amery’s sheme. Lewis Namier, a member of this PID, and an expert on the national question in central and eastern Europe, assisted by Harold Nicolson, put the scheme under the microscope and concluded that nothing could be done to arrest the drive for Yugoslav or Romanian unity into sovereign states. Yugoslavia would replace Serbia and Transylvania would form part of a Greater Romania. Neither would constitute a new problem for the future. Added to which, the Germans would dominate the Federation, which would then merely increase the difficulties in relation to Russia’s collapse. Both Namier and Nicolson held firmly that the Old Empire was doomed. To reverse what was taking place on the ground would be to allow Germany to absorb the whole of German Bohemia and to help the Magyars in maintaining their oppressive domination of the Slovaks. In both Hungary and Bohemia the situation was so confused that Nicolson felt that it would be wiser for us to form no settled policy, or even opinion, as regards the future status of these countries. However, they did recognise that the incorporation of the German-speaking Sudetenland into a new Czecho-Slovak state would be a weakness in the future. They were proved right twenty years later when the Munich Agreement to hand the former Austrian territory to Germany brought the whole pack of cards crashing down, and with it, as they had rightly predicted, the entire strategy of creating states on the basis of national or pan-Slavic self-determination.

When the Emperor Franz Josef died in November 1916, his successor, his grand-nephew, Karl put out feelers for a separate peace between the crumbling Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Allies. Harold, apparently a lone voice in the Office, was in favour.  I suggested peace with Austria against everybody’s views, he told Vita. However, Balfour completely misread the situation and, although the first stage of negotiations dragged on until late August 1917, but eventually broke down due to the Italians insisting that the Treaty of London (1915) be upheld, including its demands for Trieste, a claim the Austro-Hungarians were unwilling to concede. Later, as the Empire continued to collapse, Harold proposed that the United States should handle the negotiations, since it was not committed to any agreements with Italy and could tempt Vienna with financial aid. Added to these factors, there was also the personal one of Wilson’s immense prestige, resting on a more solid and more spiritual base than that of the other belligerents. The Foreign Office view moved towards Harold’s, favouring concessions to Austria-Hungary in exchange for the weakening of her role in the Triple Alliance. Nicolson also spoke of an ‘Austrian solution’ in Poland, of the recovery of non-Polish Silesia. However, none of this came to fruition, as in September 1919, at St Germain near Paris, a treaty of extreme severity was imposed upon Austria, reducing it to a rump state, dependent for its survival on massive allied aid. Hungary’s turn came next.

The most striking similarity occurs in the parallel experiences of the soldiers in trench warfare on both fronts, and in the way it produced some of the finest poetry ever written, both in English, by Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen and Edward Thomas, and in Hungarian, by Endre Ady, abstractly and from a distance (rather like Kipling, especially since Ady was already feted as the greatest poet of the pre-war generation in Hungary), and Géza Gyóni, from up-close in the trenches. Artists like Baron László Mednyánszky also painted (see his painting of a battlefield scene below) in order that those not suffering at the fronts would wake up to the brutality of this war of total attrition, with its futile battles. The purpose of these artists and poets, on both sides, was to reveal, as Owen stated, the pity of war…the poetry is in the pity.



Capter Two: Left, Right – Revolution, Revenge and Revisionism 1918-28


ImageBy any reckoning Harold Nicolson had served the Foreign Office with great distinction during the war. Balfour and Lloyd George were alerted to his gifts. Three days before the Armistice, he was told that he would be going to Paris, as a member of the British Delegation to the peace conference. He was only thirty-two, still only a third secretary, but with a brilliant diplomatic career ahead of him. Three weeks later Harold left for Paris. The Conference opened officially on 18 January 1919 at the Quai d’Orsay, where Raymond Poincaré, the French President, greeted the delegates, but Georges Clemenceau soon took command, in typical high-handed fashion.

At first, Nicolson was absorbed with the minutiae of  the territorial commission’s deliberations. However, other matters soon seized his attention, explaining to Balfour why the Italians should not be awarded Fiume, a judgement upheld by Wilson and Lloyd George. He was impressed by Benes, the Czech Foreign Minister, whom he described as altogether an intelligent, young, plausible, little man with broad views, who based his case not so much on securing national rights as on sustaining the stability of central Europe. Harold, brimming with confidence and easily charmed it seems, by the younger statesmen, therefore reported to the Supreme Council as follows:

Bohemia and Moravia, historical frontier justified, in spite of the fact that many Germans would be included.  Teschen, Silesia, Oderburg justified… Hungarian Ruthenes justified and desirable.

Of course, none of these ‘inclusions’ were justified by subsequent events and Benes was understandable flexible, as Nicolson had hoped, on the question of national self-determination. Although Czechoslovakia did provide much needed political stability and economic progress at the heart of Europe, its fundamental creation as a multi-national state was thereby fundamentally flawed. Nicolson was too optimistic on this issue.




Meanwhile, the streets in the Hungarian capital belonged to the political left. The new heroes of the disaffected masses were the Communists, organised as a party on 24 November, 1918. by Béla Kun, a former journalist and trade union activist, recently returned from captivity in Russia. Within a few weeks, effective propaganda promising equality and an end to to exploitation through the nationalisation of property, earned the Communist Party a membership forty thousand strong, with several times this number ready to launch a revolution. By January 1919, a wave of strikes had swept across Hungary, in which factories and communication installations were occupied. In addition, there were land seizure and attempts to collectivise agriculture. These in turn led to the demand for the eradication of all forms of feudalism and a call for a Hungarian Soviet Republic. with a foreign policy seeking friendship with Soviet Russia rather than the Entente powers. The main government party were the Social Democrats, who now gravitated towards the communists. The Károlyi government attempted, belatedly, to counter the forces threatening the regime from both sides. After a Communist-organised demonstration culminated in shooting, thirty-two prominent Communists including Kun were arrested on 21 February. At the same time, Károlyi decided to exert more vigorous policies to save what could still be saved of the country’s territory. Hungarian diplomats established contacts with those of the western Allies at Vienna and Bern and tried to convince them that an acceptable settlement of the border question was vital if a communist takeover was to be avoided. At home, Károlyi assured the public that he would not sign a peace treaty dismembering the country. However, he did not have the chance to see the peace terms. On 20 March, the government received a memorandum which communicated the decision of 26 February made by the peace conference, authorising the Romanian troops to advance further and to establish a neutral zone to include major Hungarian cities like Debrecen and Szeged. Károlyi suspected that this territorial incursion would form the basis of the final settlement and therefore rejected it. He planned to proclaim national resistance, and appealed to the Social Democrats to assume sole government responsibility. On 21 March they accepted this call, and formed a new government , the Revolutionary Governing Council, presided over by a Social Democrat but in effect led by Béla Kun, with the declared aim of establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat.

On April Fools’ Day,  Harold Nicolson left Paris on a special mission headed by General Jan Smuts, the South African member of the Imperial War Cabinet. They were bound for Budapest where their assignment was to investigate the ramifications of the Communist takeover for the  Peace Conference. For the world’s leaders gathered in Paris, the spectre of Boshevism was truly haunting Europe: it threatened widespread starvation, social chaos, economic ruin , anarchy and a shocking end to the old order. Harold wrote to Vita that the Germans will go Bolshevist the moment they feel it is impossible to get good terms. This was one of the main t019hemes of Lloyd George’s cogently argued Fontainebleau Memorandum. It was therefore understandable that Béla Kun’s short-lived revolution triggered many anxious moments for the Supreme Council.

Smut’s specially prepared train stopped over in Vienna to warn Kun of their imminent arrival and to ensure safe passage. Harold was sent to the Hungarian Bolshevik’s HQ there to make an initial contact. The commissar-in-charge, a Chicago-educated Galician Jew agreed to accompany them to translate, as Kun spoke only Magyar and, having left Budapest at the age of four or five, Nicolson would have forgotten most of the words he might have picked up. The next morning, 2 April, he woke up in the vaguely familiar surroundings of the Keleti (Eastern) Station in Budapest, but with the unfamiliar sight of Red Guards with fixed bayonets and scarlet brassards. Smuts insisted on conducting the negotiations from the wagon, as to have done otherwise would have implied recognition of the new regime. Harold went to meet Kun, a little man about thirty: puffy white face and loose wet lips: shaven head. impression of red hair: shifty, suspicious eyes: he has the face of an uncertain criminal.

It rained continuously, pattering on the roof and glistening on the carriage window panes in the light of the candles.  There was also an energy crisis, with supplies of gas and electricity at a premium. The negotiations centred on whether or not the Bolsheviks would accept the Allies’ armistice proposals, lines that would compel them to accept considerable territorial losses, particularly to the Romanians. They hesitated all day. In the interval Harold decided to explore Budapest, a city he had lived in as a young child, in Andrássy Street, and had last visited in 1912.  He found the whole place wretched, sad, unkempt. He took tea in the Hungaria Hotel. Although ‘communised’, it flew a huge Union Flag and Tricolour, a gesture of goodwill. Red Guards with bayonets patrolled the hall, but in the foyer what remained of Budapest society huddled sadly together with anxious eyes and in complete, ghastly silence, … while the band played. 

Later that evening, Béla Kun returned to the train’s dining-car, accompanied by his senior ministers, and handed Smuts his answer. Smuts read it twice, then handed it to Harold who studied it and shook his head. Smuts responded: No, Gentlemen, this is a note I cannot accept: There must be no reservations. Although prepared to offer minor concessions, Smuts’ terms of reference were uncompromising.  Béla Kun had first to agree to the occupation by allied forces of a neutral zone separating the Bolshevik forces from the Romanian army; if he complied, the Allies would be prepared to raise their blockade strangling his regime. Bela Kun desperately needed allied recognition of his government, but he inserted a clause to Smuts’ draft agreement that the Romanian forces should withdraw to a line east of the neutral zone, in effect to evacuate Transylvania. Smuts would not countenance such a deal. He made a final appeal to reason. But the Bolsheviks remained ‘silent and sullen’. Smuts, his patience exhausted, but still behaving with ‘exquisite courtesy’, brought the pointless exchanges to an end, having already concluded that Béla Kun is just an incident and not worth taking seriously. ‘Well, gentlemen,’ he said, ‘I must bid you goodbye.’ However, the translator had problems with his over-polite British colonial speech, apparently, and Kun did not understand that he intended to depart immediately:

with whistles already blowing… our special glided out into the night, leaving Béla Kun and company bewildered. Stranded on the platform, they looked up at the departing train in blank astonishment.

019 (2)


Smuts’ impression that Béla Kun was just ‘an incident’ proved to be only too true, of course. On 10 April, a day after Harold wrote his account to Vita, a provisional government was established in Budapest that reflected the old ruling Hungarian cliques: Count Gyula Karolyi, Count István Bethlen and Admiral Miklós Horthy de Nagybanya. On 1 August, Kun fled the capital in the face of invading Romanian armies. Some months later, in February 1920, after the Romanians had retreated, taking everything they could carry with them, Horthy was appointed Regent, head of state. Béla Kun ended his days in Russia, where he died in 1936, probably a victim of one of Stalin’s purges.

The Hungarian Soviet Republic survived for four months, and scored some temporary successes on the national issue. It collapsed , not because of internal counter-revolution, but when its military position against the allies of the Entente in the region became untenable. The communist take-over brought to the surface the disagreements between the western powers at Paris: the Americans and the British interpreted it as the outcome of a situation created by the violation of Hungarian interests, resulting from the extravagant claims of the French on behalf of its protégés in the region. Kun had requested negotiations, hence the visit by Jan Smuts and Harold Nicolson to Budapest, mainly to acquire reliable information about the situation there. Despite his low opinion of Kun himself, Smuts seemed inclined to reduce the neutral zone in eastern Hungary, and in the report he submitted in Paris he even supported the Hungarian counter-proposal for a meeting of all those concerned, including the losing countries, to discuss border issues. However, he also concluded that the Hungarian government was of a truly Bolshevik character, which gave weight to Clemenceau’s already mooted idea of suppressing German revanchist designs as well as the spread of the Russian disease into Western Europe by a cordon sanitaire, to be established through the new states of central Europe. The Social democratic government which took power on 1 August was forced to resign less than a week later, as the Romanian Army supported a counter-revolutionary coup which brought to power a government which persecuted the intellectual élite of the country, including Bartok and Kodály.

001The Hungarian delegation finally arrived  in Paris on 6 January, 1920, led by Count Albert Apponyi. They had produced and now presented a great variety of historical, ethnographic, economic and strategic arguments against the terms that had been worked out the previous spring, following the visit of Smuts and Nicolson to Budapest. The Hungarian delegates demanded the alteration of some of the borders suggested,and proposed plebiscites in disputed areas. The earlier differences between the great powers were reawakened. The Americans and the British had initially intended to leave most of the overwhelmingly Hungarian-inhabited pale immediately across the border in Hungarian hands, and Lloyd George again warned that peace would be precarious in Central Europe with one-third of all ethnic Hungarians surrendered to the neighbouring states. Finally, however, the British PM was sidelined and the arbiters left the treaty unaltered, refusing only the most extreme demands, such as the Czechoslovak claim to the Miskolc industrial region and the Romanian claim to the Debrecen area. Harold Nicolson remained in Paris until the end of 1919, putting the final touches to the  treaty with Hungary, among others.

By the time that Apponyi’s delegation arrived in Paris, President Wilson had left. Therefore, the Hungarian response to the terms, which was summarised in a long speech by Apponyi on 16th January, mainly in French, but with some passages in English and Italian, was heard by Clemenceau and Lloyd George. The latter now showed an inconsistency in his attitude, perhaps to justify the already favourable terms granted to the Austrians, which had even rewarded them with the Hungarian-speaking Burgenland. He claimed that Hungary was more to blame for the outbreak of the war than the Austrians, which was a complete and deliberate reversal of the truth. He now seemed anti-Hungarian in attitude.

He may have been partly prejudiced by the aristocratic appearance of Apponyi and other members of the Hungarian delegation, which nevertheless contained more progressive thinkers, like Pál Teleki, the great geographer. However, Teleki was not yet Prime Minister, nor leader of the delegation. A more modern-looking and sounding delegation, showing greater flexibility on the question of national self-determination,  may have helped to mitigate the loss of territory which even then came as a shock to the delegates, but it is doubtful if the overall outcome would have been greatly different. The problem with the stance taken by the delegation, wholly prepared in Budapest, was that it was inflexibly based on the restoration of Hungary’s so-called pre-1914 borders (in fact, these had never existed independently from the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Dual Monarchy). This would have returned ten million non-Hungarians to as yet unstable rule from Budapest, something the allies were not likely to accept. To them, it seemed that the domination of forty million Slavs in the successor states would provide a better guarantee of stability in Central Europe.  However, there was some hope that Hungary might get fairer treatment when their case was referred to the meeting of the great powers in London in early March. Both Lloyd George and Francesco Nitti, the new Italian PM were more sympathetic and free from the dominating presence of Clemenceau, who had been replaced by Millerand as French PM.  Both Lloyd George and Nitti agreed that the terms of the treaty were nonsensical and the British PM added the caveat that the Treaty would need to be ‘supervised’. However, Nitti’s view was overturned by his ambassadors, who saw Romania as their traditional ally in the East, and Lloyd George was reminded by Carson, a leading Foreign Office diplomat, that he had already signed his name to these terms less than a year previously.  When Arthur Balfour took over the premiership in 1922. he was able to express an unequivocal view before Parliament that the terms of the treaty were unfair to Hungary. For the time being, the Foreign Office remained divided on the issue, so nothing was done to amend the Treaty. With great reluctance, the whole Hungarian government accepted that the Treaty had to be signed, but made it clear that this was being done under duress by choosing representatives who were seeking to retire from public service as doers of the despicable deed.

So it was that the Treaty of Trianon, signed on the 4 June 1920, deprived Hungary of two-thirds of its former territory, not including Croatia, and nearly sixty per cent of its population, including thirty per cent of all ethnic Hungarians. The outcome of the Paris Peace Conference for Hungary shocked even those who had been the sharpest critics of the pre-1914 political regime in Hungary and the policy towards the nationalities. It was all the more shocking for them because they came from the progressive camp of Hungarian politics, who were well disposed towards the western liberal democracies, but whose future on the political scene was destroyed by the terms of the Trianon Treaty. The true tragedy of  Trianon consisted in the fact that it contributed to the survival of those political tendencies which had steered the country into the war and its consequences, in the first place. Hungarian national consciousness was resigned to the reality of a medium-sized state of twenty million inhabitants in which Magyar primacy would be based not on the vulgar principles of majority rule and racial superiority but on historical and political achievement; it was bewildered by being forced into the small confines of a country with a population of eight million. The flaws in the settlement lent justification to the general spirit of outrage and revenge, compressed in the slogan, ‘No, no, never!’ (above), and no political force entertaining hopes of success in Hungary could afford to ignore or neglect the issue of revision in the inter-war period.

003The deposed Emperor and King of Hungary, Charles (Károly) IV, who had fled to Switzerland at the end of the war, twice entered Hungary at the invitation of  the monarchists to claim the throne which Horthy had reinstituted. His second attempt is noteworthy because it was the first hijacking of a plane in the world! Loyal supporters, former pilots, stole a plane and took him to Hungarian soil from Switzerland. At the head of an army joining him from Transdanubia,  Charles IV reached the city limits of Budapest, where Horthy stopped him with a small army consisting mainly of hastily armed university students. The Entente powers backed him and an English war vessel steaming up the Danube took him aboard and into exile on the island of Madeira, where he died soon after, leaving Otto Hapsburg as his heir.

During the first half of the twenties, when the scope for Hungarian Foreign Policy was very limited, the Hungarian government pinned its hopes on obtaining better terms from the victors. As France threw all its in favour of the Little Entente countries, Britain was the only potential ally for them in this modest venture. However, by the middle of the decade the British government had lost most of the interest it formerly had in the affairs of Central Europe. Nevertheless, they could not be entirely ignored, as Hungary was admitted to the League of Nations in 1922, and applied for a loan which was backed by the United States and Great Britain in 1924.

The Hungarian cause did find one influential and steadfast British supporter in the person of the press magnate Harold Sidney Harmsworth, Lord Rothermere, who, partly under the charms of a Hungarian aristocratic lady, published an article entitled Hungary’s Place under the Sun in The Daily Mail in June 1927.  Rothermere’s proposal was that  both in the interests of peace in Central Europe and the more effective containment of Bolshevism, the predominantly Hungarian inhabited borderland areas of other successor states should be restored to Hungary itself. On the one hand, the initiative to awaken the conscience of the world which was being pursued far less effectively by Hungarian propaganda, was hailed, and inspired the foundation of the Hungarian Revisionist League of several hundred economic and social organisations and corporate bodies. On the other hand, an ethnically based revision of the Treaty of Trianon seemed less than satisfactory for many in official circles and was fully acceptable only for the social democratic and liberal opposition. The publication of Rothermere’s article coincided with two developments:  growing and well-founded disillusionment with schemes for peaceful revision, and the recovery of some of Hungary’s scope for independent action through the departure of both the foreign financial and military commissioners by early 1927. During 1927 and 1928, instead of the self-denial required by the circumstances, Bethlen was able to emphasise the need for new borders with increasing frequency.

A Postscript: Hungarian Exiles in the United Kingdom between the wars

These political upheavals and the repression of the Hungarian Jews, about which I have written at length elsewhere, led to successive waves of refugees and emigrants. The nature of each upheaval dictated the composition of each emigrant groups: capitalists, small business people and intellectuals fleeing from the 1919 Republic; left-wingers escaping from the regency, along with Jews, rich and poor, from the early pogroms after the first war to the flight from the pro-Fascist Hungarian governments of 1936 to 1944; Jewish survivors of the concentration camps, élite army officers, landowners and capitalists fleeing from future persecution from either communists or fascists, or both, as the Soviets occupied most of eastern Hungary including Pest by the end of 1944.

Due to the lack of reliable quantitative sources the UK, we do not know how many Hungarians emigrated to Britain, exactly when they arrived in the host country, or where they settled. There are references to Hungarians to Hungarians in London and Manchester in the 1930s, but whether these were Jews or Christians, landless peasants, unskilled workers, craftsmen, professionals or entrepreneurs, we do not know. We can speculate that ‘religious’ Jewish immigrants might have settled in Manchester, where there were already well-established communities worshipping in synagogues with large congregations, partly due to traditional Jewish involvement in the textile and tailoring trades, which had also been expanding in Hungary before the first war. However, this is speculation based on vague traces in qualitative source material, which do not inform us of whether they arrived on their own, or with families. Nor, in the context of a re-enlarged Hungary from 1938 to 1944, can we be sure that they were mother-tongue Magyar, or members of persecuted ethnic minorities. There is more data available for the second half of the twentieth century, both quantitative and qualitative, which will be dealt with in later postings.


Norman Rose (2005), Harold Nicolson. London: Jonathan Cape.

László Kontler (2009), A History of Hungary. Budapest: Atlantisz.

Marika Sherwood, (1991), The Hungarian speech community in Safder Alladina & Viv Edwards, Multilingualism in the British Isles. Harlow: Longman.

Balázs Ablonczy, Margaret MacMillan, et. al. (2006), A Trianon Szindróma (The Trianon Syndrome). Budapest: Mokép Pannonia DVD (mostly in Hungarian with English subtitles).




Posted March 26, 2014 by AngloMagyarMedia in Uncategorized

Magyar-British Relations from the War of Independence to the Great War, 1849-1914.   1 comment

Recovery and Compromise, 1849-1867

G I Whyte-Melville (1821-78) passed through Hungary on his way to the Crimea to join the British Army as a volunteer. He described social conditions in Hungary in his Interpreter (1858). He was not the first English novelist to study Hungarian life and cultural character.  George Borrow had published Lavengro in 1851 and Romany Rye in 1857, and was much impressed by the romantic history of Hungary as well as the conditions prevailing in this period. Whyte- Melville’s Interpreter contains a characteristic and , at times, strikingly realistic picture of life after the War of Independence. He saw the despair as well as the hatred of the Austrian government that followed the war. The peasants hated their Austrian master. At the mention of his name, the peasants’ voices shook with fury, their faces convulsed with rage… If ever they do get the upper hand, woe to the oppressor! Two soldiers just returned from Italy refused to accept the gifts offered them by Haynau. With a wild curse and malediction they dashed his money to the ground.

Stein, the secret agent of the Austrian Government, was treated with due contempt by Melville, whose British instincts for justice and fair play alienated him from so hateful a character. By contrast, he expresses his deep sympathy with Colonel Türr and the martyrs of Arad, and for their patriotic fervour of the grieving Hungarian nation. Writing of their horror at the flogging of a Hungarian noblewoman, both Melville and Borrow (in his appendix to Romany Rye) express their utter contempt for the ‘marshal’ who carried this out against a lady for no other crime than devotion to her country and its tall and heroic sons (Borrow). In his Travels in European Turkey, published in two volumes in 1851, Edmund Spencer expressed, in energetic terms, his support for the Hungarian cause and his contempt for the tyrannical foe. In his writings, he complained about the Austrian system of espionage, to which he himself nearly fell victim. He wrote with admiration of the valiant six millions, defending their liberty against two emperors and at the same time against nationalities. He pointed out that the Hungarians were not revolutionaries, much less socialists, but noble patriots defending their lives and properties from the attacks of those let loose on them from every Slavic country under the control of Austrian and Ottoman Empires. He claimed that these were provoked by paid agents of the Austrian government in its attempt to subvert the constitution and liberties of the Hungarian peoples. He was revolted by the horrible scenes that took place in Hungary… perfidy and cruelty marked every movement of the Austrian cabinet. Austria and Russia were allowed to arrest the march of civilisation.

Spencer attacked both the British and French Cabinets for their neglect of Hungary. He ridicules the uselessness of debates held at Peace Congresses, wishing that the British government would exert all the influence in keeping out of the market all foreign loans required by any aggressive Powers. Finally, he wrote of Austrian bureaucracy, martial law, multiplied taxes, and all the harassing chicanery of a host of needy German policemen. He praised the Hungarian women, who even outvie the men in their patriotic enthusiasm. Another visitor to Hungary in the aftermath of the War of Independence was D. T. Ansted seems to have felt a peculiar fascination for Hungary, and its superb scenery. He too had a warm feeling for the Hungarian people, struggling to retain an honorable position among more powerful nations pressing them in on all sides. He wrote indignantly about Haynau, the infamous tyrant who was afterwards reminded in the streets of London of the estimation in which he was held by a free people…


Here Ansted was referring to an incident when the Austrian general arrived in the London dockyards some years after the War and his forced retirement from Imperial service, apparently travelling incognito, dressed as an ordinary sailor. However, he was recognised by some of the East End dockers and had to be rescued from a severe beating.

Despite the rapturous reception to Kossuth given by the people of Birmingham, following his speeches on arrival in Southampton and at the Guildhall, the British government was far more reticent in the respect it showed to the exiled Protector of the first, short-lived Hungarian Republic. In the prevailing international

situation, relations between Britain and Russia were strained in the period leading to the outbreak of the Crimean War in 1853, and Britain needed the support of Austria in its anti-Russian policy. The Viennese Court asserted that the Hungarian Revolution had been a rebellion in a ‘province’ of the Austrian Empire, and induced the British government to follow its natural inclination to reserve, restraint and even rejection in its dealings with the eloquent leader of the late insurrection against a legitimately ordained monarch. Among the members of the aristocratic and reactionary Cabinet, Lord Palmerston, its Foreign Minister, was the only minister to  show any sympathy for Kossuth and his cause.  This helped to provoke a serious crisis in Lord Russell’s cabinet and for the next two years Kossuth sought refuge and support in the United States, where he was given more official support, though not unequivocal, as well as with revolutionary élan in the ‘land of the free and the home of the brave’.

After his triumphal tour of America, when Kossuth returned to England in July 1852, he could not help but feel the growth of reactionary attitudes and a change in public opinion. In a letter to the Times, Greville wrote:

We are great hero-worshippers and there is something romantic and impressive in the Hungarian war, but as with many similar things, the fever soon abates, and Kossuth will be forgotten in a week after his departure…


This prophecy only partially came true, however, for Kossuth, together with the other Hungarian exiles, avoided all publicity during what became a long stay in Britain and shunned all attempts to recreate the cult status he had enjoyed on his first visit. Certainly, he had many close friends and admirers in Britain who made his years of exile easier for him and his associates, and no Hungarian was as well-known in Britain as Kossuth for a further century. In addition, the cause of freedom in Hungary continued to have many friends among liberals in Britain as the century progressed. However, no matter how sympathetic public opinion remained, he was unable to breach the wall of indifference thrown up by the British establishment in response to the Hapsburg demands for their government to shun all approaches from the exiled champion of liberty. In the higher echelons of British society and the English Court, little had changed since the days of Queen Anne, who had not dared to face a storm of Austrian protest  by receiving Ferenc Rákóczi II. The Americans were able to act more independently, and sometimes did so, but, even then, only in very limited diplomatic areas (see my other blogs on US-Hungarian relations). Whatever its sympathies, the British government could not afford to sacrifice its foreign policy over Russia by offending Vienna. This paid off for London when the Emperor Franz Joseph rewarded the Tsar for his help in crushing the Hungarian Army in 1849, by choosing to remain neutral in the Crimean War of 1854, thus enabling Turkey to defeat Russia, with the aid of Britain and France. This, in turn, helped the French and Italians (Piedmont) to defeat the Austrians in 1859, with the Hungarian National Directory formed as a government-in-exile under Kossuth poised to lead another bid for Hungarian Independence. This came to nothing, since Napoleon III was concerned that the decisive victory in the bloodiest battle of the century at Solferino would lead quickly to the formation of a powerful, united Italy. Nevertheless, the crushing of the Imperial Army and Austria’s humiliation in the war was what led to its Compromise with Hungary in 1867.


Scottish Connections: Wallace and the Chain Bridge

In the Wallace Tower of the romantic town of Stirling there is a letter written by Kossuth, from his exile in Italy, in memory of the great Scottish national hero. The letter is found among a collection from men of world/wide fame, actors in the great National Movements which have engaged the attention of the world during the present generation. Kossuth!s letter is placed between those of Garibaldi and Mazzini, and was written from Turin on 12 May 1868. It expresses Kossuth’s sincere admiration for the valiant struggles of the Scottish commoner turned warrior. The most interesting passage from the point of Magyar-British relations is that in which Kossuth alludes to his own fate:

Doomed myself to the long agony of a sorrowful exile for a cause similar to that for which Wallace laid down his life; akin to him, not in merit, but in purpose, motive and determination, I feel honoured by being allowed to have my modest share in the tribute of veneration to the memory of the bravest champion of the independence of that Scotland which, with untiring generosity, has cast such rays of consolation on the dreary path of my desolated life as made me love and honour her, to my dying hour, like a second home’.


Few Hungarians will have had the opportunity of reading these lines, and few Scots who have will have realised their full significance. However, most Hungarians and many Scots will have heard of the best-known British resident of Budapest during the period between the War of Independence and the Compromise of 1867. He was Adam Clark, the Edinburgh engineer (born August 14, 1811), who supervised the building of the Szechényi Chain Bridge connecting Buda with Pest across the Danube, the first of the several bridges which span the river today, connecting the two banks of the capital. He died in Buda on July 23, 1866. He also designed the Buda Tunnel at the Buda bridgehead, opened in 1857. The square between the bridge and the tunnel is named after him and is the official point of origin of the country’s road network, with a sculptured “zero kilometre stone” in the centre. Adam Clark Square, which is actually a roundabout, also the first of its kind in Hungary, is probably the best-known landmark in the country. The bridge was opened at the beginning of the Hungarian Uprising and the Army of the newly declared Republic were among the first to use it en route to Vienna. Clark also twice saved the Chain Bridge from destruction, in person: first, from the Austrian general who, during the War of Independence of 1849, wanted to blow up the bridge and, second, from the commander of the Hungarian army, who gave orders to destroy it as his troops retreated from Vienna. Following the completion of the Buda Tunnel in 1857, Clark worked on several smaller commissions.


There is also a legendary story about Adam Clark opening the bridge in 1848 with the promise that if anyone could spot any imperfection in the bridge, he would throw himself into the Danube from the bridge. When a little boy, attending with his father, had been looking up at the lions marking the entrance to the bridge from Pest, he had noticed that the sculptor had omitted to sculpt tongues for them. Clark had not inspected inside the lion’s mouths, and, surprised and shamed (!) by this revelation, proceeded to remove his top hat, tie and tails. He kept his promise, diving into the cold waters below, where he was picked up by a fishing boat, which just happened to be passing! Whether his action was entirely spontaneous, we can never know, but it made a magnificent publicity stunt which is remembered to this day!

After the War of Independence, there followed a period of political emigration, during which individual connections became very frequent. Apart from the temporary or permanent migrations of refugees there were continuing exchanges and connections between British people and Hungarians of the nature already described above. The Hungary of István Szechényi’s time had endeavoured to get to know Britain through wide open windows, but after the restoration of relationships between Budapest and Vienna following the Compromise of 1867 with Austria, those windows were partially closed. Britain’s economic and intellectual life became somewhat blurred once again in the focus of Hungarian public consciousness, which continued to gaze over to the other side of the Atlantic, if indeed it was drawn to anything beyond the confines of central Europe itself. As a consequence, Hungary also became less well-known again in Britain and more merged in public consciousness with the Austro-Hungarian Empire and its policy of expansion into the Balkans with the decline of the Ottoman Empire, Disraeli’s ‘sick man of Europe’.

Gothic Constructions and German Culture, 1867-1914


However, there were a considerable number of English books published which dealt with Hungary following the 1867 Compromise and the rise of Ferenc Deák (below right), especially travelogues by those captivated by the rhapsodies which they found in Hungarian life. Some of these visitors continued to settle in Hungary and created lasting relationships between the two countries. Arthur Patterson came to Hungary during this period and later became Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Budapest. As such, he spread English literary knowledge systematically among his students. However, as the Hungarians became more integrated into the Germanic culture of the Empire, the times were not yet ripe for the widespread extension of English language and culture, which only came with the partial recovery from the dissolution of that Empire following the First World War and the Treaty of Trianon. It was then that the teaching of English was first introduced into secondary schools in Hungary.  In the meantime, the Hungarian Parliament Building, built between 1885 and 1904 may have owed much in design to the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, but Imre Steindl modelled it just as much on the Gothic architecture of Cologne Cathedral. One respect in which Budapest followed London more specifically, both in time and fashion, was in the building of an underground railway, opened in 1896, the first of its type on the continent (pictured below, together with another British custom which became established at that time- driving on the left!).



When, after the suppression of the Hungarian War of Independence, Lajos Kossuth displayed his brilliant eloquence in English in front of British audiences, Hungary became for a large number of Britons, for a time at least, more than simply a geographical expression on a map. Kossuth’s words, depicting his country’s troubled past and present struggles, were received by the British public with understanding, sympathy and even enthusiastic ardour, the same as displayed by Blackwell, the British diplomat in Hungary (1843-51) who called the Britons ‘Magyars of the West’ and the Hungarians ‘Britons of the East’. This serves as proof in part of the extent of the exchanges of Anglophilia and Magyarmania which affected relations in and between the two countries in the mid-nineteenth century. The resonance of these contacts were still strong enough to influence the development of a counter-culture of resistance to a new authoritarianism in  the highest circles of Hungarian government and society in the period between the Treaty of Trianon and the tragic death of the Transylvanian Count, Anglophile academic and Prime Minister, Pál Teleki (below), in 1941.


The Hungarian Independence Movement which Teleki founded as a formal organisation in 1936, consciously drew its identity from the Revolution and War of Independence of 1848-9, as a reminder of how the ideal of Hungarian sovereignty could, in times of crisis, bridge huge differences and activate tremendous popular energies. In doing so, it also attempted to balance the growing domination of Germanophile sentiments in Hungary with Hungary’s established links with liberal Anglo-Saxon cultures.

In a recent article which appeared in The Hungarian Review (2013), James C Bennett and Michael J Lotus have also pointed out that, even before the First World War, there was a strong streak of liberalism in Hungarian society, as the Dual Monarchy worked its way towards a liberal solution to the ethno-religious problems which became so apparent in 1848-9. The civilization of the Dual Monarchy was one of the twin poles of progress in Western civilization, with important advances 002in art, music, theatre, science and technology radiating out from Budapest and Prague as well as from Vienna. That pole of progress was tragically fractured and truncated  by the Great War and the emergence of dictatorial governments in central Europe, but its continuity was not entirely lost. Hungarians were, at that time, and still are, fond of finding symbolic parallels between the constitutional development of Hungary and that of Britain, or in this case England, going all the way back to 1215 and Magna Carta, which preceded Andrew II’s Golden Bull by only seven years. This had been a popularly held linking myth since the end of the eighteenth century. However, as the Hungarian historian László Kontler has recently written, if Hungary’s constitutional liberty resembled that of Britain during the premiership of Kálmán Tisza (right) from 1875 to 1890, it mainly resembled the ‘whig oligarchy’ of Robert Walpole’s Hanoverian premiership a century and a half earlier. However, since the Hungarian parliament was largely independent in its dealings with the crown, Hungary’s constitution was at least ‘more free’ than any east of the Rhine. Nevertheless, within the country, political power after the Compromise remained in the hands of the traditional land-owning elite, with roughly eighty per cent of MPs permanently dawn from the ranks of the aristocracy and the gentry classes. The franchise still only extended to six per cent of the population, by the turn of the century grossly anachronistic by comparison with any European country. At all levels, the system continued to operate o the basis of patronage, at a time when Britain had, by the second Reform Act, extended its franchise to the majority of the male population, albeit still with a property qualification. If this was Hungarian liberalism in action, it was still decades behind both Britain and Germany at the end of the century, and Kontler argues convincingly that the constitution produced by the Compromise was essentially conservative, checking whatever emancipationist momentum the revolutionary Hungarian liberalism of the 1840s still had. This may not have been Deák’s view at the time, but it was certainly close to that held by Kossuth and his ‘party’ in Hungary, and even Deák admitted that he didn’t know which ‘party’ had the upper hand in the new Parliament, his or that of the exiled leader, who eventually died in Turin in 1894.

In the years leading up to the First World War, Hungary was rapidly becoming an industrial country as well as an agricultural one. Whereas Hungarian industry consisted of a few hundred joint-stock companies and private firms employing less than a hundred thousand workers at the time of the Compromise, by 1914 there were about five and a half thousand industrial plants or factories, employing a labour force of well over half a million. The power of the machinery they operated increased from nine thousand horsepower to nine hundred thousand, a hundredfold increase. The Hungarian textile industry was the main vehicle of industrialisation, following the model provided by the British Isles. Nonetheless, it remained quite insignificant in scale compared with its Austrian and Czech counterparts.



Sándor Fest (2000), Skóciai Szent Margittól A Walesi Bárdokig: Anglo-Hungarian Historical and Literary Contacts. Budapest: Universitas Kiadó.

László Kontler (2009), A History of Hungary. Budapest: Atlantisz.

Gyula Kodolányi (ed.), The Hungarian Review, November 2013, Vol IV, No. 6. Budapest: Granásztói 

Posted March 22, 2014 by AngloMagyarMedia in Uncategorized

1914: Remembering World War One   Leave a comment

Nick Baines's Blog

One of the reasons I wanted to read Christopher Clark’s epic book The Sleepwalkers: How Europe went to war in 1914 was its rampant popularity in Germany. Why, when Germany is keeping the 2014 centenary fairly low key, is a detailed history book such as this so popular there?

Well, one reason is that the book explains the complexity of events, relationships, myths, commitments and errors that led to the bloodbath, and makes it clear what Germany’s role actually was. To put it really simply: how did Austria’s need for revenge against Serbia for the assassination in Sarajevo of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife turn into a wider conflict that killed millions and ended up with the blame being pinned solely on Germany. This is Clark’s question, too. The Treaty of Versailles reads differently in the light of this treatment. Clark says:

We need to distinguish between the objective factors…

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Posted March 22, 2014 by AngloMagyarMedia in Uncategorized

St Patrick’s Breastplate; Celtic Christianity   4 comments

Slemish, mountain in County Antrim where St Pa...

Slemish, mountain in County Antrim where St Patrick is reputed to have shepherded as a slave (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Saint Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland.  He lived in ‘the dark ages’ of the fourth century, so there are conflicting accounts of his life and a great number of legends about him. It is claimed that he wrote two documents, The Confession and The Letter to Coroticus. The first gives an account of his life, and the other tells us something of his style, personality and methods in urging Christian subjects to stand up against pagan leaders. In today’s increasingly secular society, the latter takes on fresh meaning.

He was born about 389 A.D., the son of a small landowner from Banwen in post-Roman Glamorgan (Morgannwg in Welsh), who brought him up as a Christian. When he was sixteen he was captured by ‘pirates’, who took him to Ireland as a slave. He was a shepherd on the estate of a chieftain in County Antrim, in the north of Ireland. During the six years of his captivity he resolved to give his life to the service of the gospel. He escaped to Wicklow, to the south of Dublin, and boarded a ship engaged in the trade of wolf-dogs. He was put off on the coast of Gaul and became a monk in the monastery at Lerins. In those days, the western sea routes around Britain and France were the chief means of transport around the various Celtic territiories, since the overland routes were slow, difficult and treacherous, even where the Romans had left roads.

After returning to his home in Britain, he conceived the idea of a Christian mission to Ireland, describing how, in a dream he saw a man named ‘Victorious’ holding letters from Ireland, one of which he gave to Patrick to read. The words in the letter began with ‘The Voice of the Irish’ which called upon him ‘to come again and walk among us as before’. He first returned to Gaul, where he was ordained by Bishop Amator, and for fourteen years he prepared for his vocation as a missionary.


wicklow mountains
wicklow mountains (Photo credit: lalui)

He returned to Ireland in 432 and probably landed again in Wicklow and began his mission in the kingdom of Ulidea in East Ulster. He needed the protection of the tribal kings and clan chieftains and succeeded in converting one of them, Dichu, who gave him a site on which to establish a place of worship, a wooden barn, or ‘saball’ in Irish, which became known as ‘Saul’. The most powerful chief, the High King of Tara, had ruled that every fire in Ireland must be put out at Easter and relighted from a fire in his castle, those disobeying being put to death. When Patrick was brought before the King for deliberately lighting his own fire on a hill opposite the castle, he said that he had done so as a sign that Christ, who had risen from the dead, was the Light of the World. He was set free, which reveals not just the strength of his faith, but also the growing strength of the faithful Christians. He then travelled throughout the country, founding communities, including the church and monastery at Armagh. He died in A.D. 461, supposedly on March 17th,  and was probably buried at Saul.



Probably the most famous legend about him is his use of the shamrock to illustrate the doctrine of the Trinity, the mystery of the three-in-one. The shamrock thus became one of the national emblems of the Irish, the other being the harp (see the picture above). Perhaps the most significant legend, however, is that connecting Patrick with Joseph of Arimathea, which tells of Joseph visiting western Britain following the death of Jesus, bringing with him the Sangreal, or dish used at the Last Supper. This gave rise to the Arthurian legends of the Holy Grail. Joseph was said to have built a little chapel at Glastonbury, which was replaced by the Abbey, the ruins of which are a place of pilgrimage to this day. Patrick is said to have founded the monastic community there, at a time when the Tor would still have been part of the island of Afalon, easily reachable by ship from the western coasts of Britain and the eastern coasts of Ireland.

There is also a story from Glyn Rhosyn in Pembrokeshire that Patrick settled there, but was told by an angel, in a dream, to move on, since the place was being reserved for St David, who became the patron saint of ‘Y Cymru ‘, the Welsh. Another legend places him in the Celtic Kingdom of Strathclyde, at Dumbarton.


St Patrick Northern Ireland Flag
St Patrick Northern Ireland Flag (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The flag of St Patrick, a diagonal red cross on a white background, became part of the Union Flag when Ireland became part of the United Kingdom in 1801, joining the cross of St Andrew, for Scotland, and St George, for England. It remains on the flag to this day, although only Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom. St Patrick’s Day is celebrated North and South of the border, and is a public holiday in both the Republic and ‘the Province’, which is appropriate, since there was no border in Patrick’s day and much of his ministry was conducted in the north of the island. The flag of St David is not (yet) part of the UK flag, nor, of course, is the Red Dragon (Y Ddraig Goch), the national emblem of ‘the Principality’. Patrick also has a hymn named after him:

Saint Patrick’s Breastplate

I bind unto myself today

The Power of God to hold and lead,

His eye to watch, His might to stay,

His ear to hearken to my need,

The wisdom of my God to teach,

His hand to guide, His shield to ward,

The word of God to give me speech,

His heavenly host to be my guard.


Statue of St. Patrick in Aughagower, County Mayo
Statue of St. Patrick in Aughagower, County Mayo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The hymn is traditionally attributed to Patrick himself, and it certainly shows very clearly the blending of pagan mythology with Christian teaching in the early Celtic Church. It combines the functions of incantation, war-song and redal statement. The whole poem is given a tremendous force and unity by the notion of binding, so characteristic in Celtic art with its intricate knots and never-ending interlacing patterns, such as in the Book of Kells (see the picture above). The original Gaelic poem is known as ‘St Patrick’s Lorica’ . A ‘lorica’ was a spiritual coat or breastplate which not only charmed away disease or danger, but also secured a place in heaven for those who wore it day and night. The word became applied to spiritual poems which characteristically had three distinct parts: the invocation of the Trinity and the angels; the enumeration of various parts of the body to be protected; and a list of dangers from which immunity was being sought. The second of these elements is there in verse 8, where Christ’s presence in every part of the body is carefully invoked.

Legend has it that Patrick composed his lorica shortly after landing in Ireland on his mission, in 432, and to have used it in his defence before the pagan high king at Tara. Whether or not Patrick himself wrote the lorica, it is a supreme expression of the holiness and wholeness that marks Celtic Christianity, and which is summed up in another statement attributed to him:

Our God is the God of Heaven and Earth, of sea and river, sun and moon and stars, of the lofty mountain and lowly valley’

These words, and the words of the hymn itself, take on a new relevance for us, in our return to the ecological consciousness which Patrick himself epitomised in his ministry and teaching. The translation of Patrick’s lorica into the hymn was done by Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-95), the author of All Things Bright and Beautiful, Once in Royal David’s City and many other hymns, many especially written for children. It was written for St Patrick’s Day, 1889, set to the traditional Irish medley, St Patrick, by Stanford (1852-1924), with the eighth verse ‘Christ be with me’ sung to one of three other Irish melodies. It is also considered an appropriate hymn to be sung on Easter Eve, or Holy Saturday, associated in the early church with baptism, so it helps to direct our thoughts on this St Patrick’s Day towards the coming of Holy Week.

Magyar-British Relations in the Age of Romanticism, Reform and Revolution,1795 -1849: Paget, Széchenyi and Kossuth.   1 comment

Reform or Revolution?

In the last decades of the eighteenth century, a certain British influence could be detected in  both the political and economic life of Hungary; at the same time, Hungarian intellectual life, poetry and literature received a stimulating impulse from English authors whose works were read and became popular on the Continent. The Hungarians were, at first, interested in the English authors and poets known in Vienna, as these works were the most easily accessible. The works of Shakespeare, Milton, Pope and Young, the moral meditations of the Spectator, Richardson’s sentimental novels, and Sterne’s capricious ramblings all became well-known. English literary influence could first be felt among the Transdanubian poets and it was from there that the new spirit spread further.

By contrast, the Jacobin movement in Hungary was never able to win over the masses. It was led by Ignác Martinovics, a Franciscan friar, who was the leader of a secret society faithful to the principles of the French Enlightenment. The philosopher was, in reality, an agent provocateur, a secret agent of the Viennese Court, whose task was to exert pressure on the conservative aristocracy to take the wind out of the sails of radicalism, made all the more dangerous because it was uncontrollable, composed of recruits from a middle class longing for bourgeois liberty. The son of Leopold II, Francis I (1792-1836) was a reactionary ruler who ended all ambiguity about the Hungarian Jacobin movement. He put its participants on trial and beheaded its leaders, including Martinovics. The death sentences were carried out on Buda’s Vérmező (shown below).


British Sojourners in Hungary in the Age of Reform

006The Hungarian nobility, meanwhile, continued to look towards the other side of the channel for its inspiration. At the end of the Napoleonic Wars, Count Joseph Teleki, who later became President of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, made the journey to England in 1815. However, it was not only aristocrats who, at the turn of the century, travelled to what they still saw as the land of freedom to add to their store of knowledge. The economic well-being and intellectual development of the island kingdom continued to penetrate the consciousness of a growing Hungarian bourgeois culture more effectively than the French revolutionary élan.

At the same time, English travellers continued to find their way to Hungary, particularly to the northern region, the mineral wealth of which was of particular interest. They also noted various episodes of Hungarian life, and all the contemporary Hungarian critics agreed that Dr Robert Townson was the first traveller who, at the end of the eighteenth century, made Hungary if not fully, yet better known to Europe. Townson’s book was still widely read in Hungary when, in 1818, Richard Bright published his descriptive book in 1818. Unlike Townson, Bright was not primarily interested in Hungary’s natural resources and mining towns, nor particularly in the great Hungarian plain richly covered with golden corn. Instead he tried to ‘paint’ a complete picture of Hungarian life, including the intellectual life of the newly developing nation, about which he intended to write exhaustively. He was unable to realise this plan, however, and only one chapter of his book dealt with language and literature. Nevertheless, his was the first English literary work which attempted to deal with Hungarian intellectual life.

In 1814, Gábor Döbrentei had declared, in an introductory article to the first number of Erdélyi Múzeum, that one of the aims of his literary enterprise was an ampler exposition of the Literature of the English. A few years later he wrote in the same journal that it was desirable that many of our young people should devote themselves to learning the English language and should show the nation by translating the works of that lofty and so original literature what affinity the English mind can kindle in the slumbering Hungarian soul… In 1828 John Browning requested certain Hungarian scholars, including Gábor Döbrentei and Ferenc Toldy, to give him an outline of the most outstanding pieces of Hungarian poetry. His translations of these poems were published in an 1830 volume entitled Poetry of the Magyars. In the previous year Catherine Gore published her three volumes of Hungarian Tales, which she prefaced with the remark that there was hardly a country in Europe where ‘anglomania’ was so great as in Hungary.

   The intellectual legacy of this age was subsequently taken over from the minor authors by greater personalities. From the Age of  Romanticism the stimulating effect of Byron and Scott is well-known, and the British writers roused a vivid echo in the minds of Arany and Petöfi. Scott’s novels were exceptionally popular in Hungary; they were widely read, known and quoted. From the point of view of literary history their greatest importance lies in the fact that under the influence of the great Scottish story-teller the Hungarian historical novel was born. Baron Nicholas Jósika was called the Hungarian Walter Scott by his contemporaries. The effect of the cult of Byron was felt by Hungary’s lyric and epic poems for decades, since there were many enthusiasts for his work in Hungary at the time. As can be detected from contemporary newspapers and periodicals, Hungarians showed interest not only in his public works, but also in his lifestyle, his wanderings, caprices and eccentricities. Even in the fashion of the day signs of the imitation of Byron may be found. Nevertheless, Shakespeare remained the foremost English literary figure and obligatory reading for the Hungarian poets and the reading public. According to Vörösmarty, the translation of Shakespeare was worth a half of any nation’s literature, and Petöfi went so far as to declare that Shakespeare was a half of the creation by himself. The great Hungarian bards joined forces in translating the dramas of the Bard of Avon into a Hungarian worthy of him.

The Hungarian cult of Shakespeare did not stop at translation and imitation. There were also eminent Shakespearean actors and the National Theatre, then only just founded, made some excellent productions and its actors gave first-rate performances.In his Letters from Budapest (1847), John Palgrave Simpson commented that Shakespeare is, on the Hungarian stage, the sun of dramatic art, in the rays of which author and actor seek to bask. He saw several plays at the National Theatre and commented that the production of Romeo and Juliet might have given Shakespeare’s own native land a lesson.  

This extraordinary interest in all things British naturally met with reciprocation from other British writers who did not go as far as to settle permanently in Hungary. Besides John Bowring’s translations of Hungarian poems, Julia Pardoe, who had become famous in Britain for her description of her journey across Hungary, wrote an essay in the Foreign Quarterly Review about Hungarian literature. A British student also undertook to write the history of Hungary. Edward Wakefield began this with great enthusiasm, but, although working on it for years, he never finished it, perhaps because he mistook the scale of the project. In the literature of the Age of Reform (1825-1848) we meet most frequently with the names of Scott and Byron, but other British poets and authors were also well known, most notably Bulwer-Lytton and Thomas Moore. In addition, the first success of Dickens was reflected in Hungary, since Hungarian periodicals published ‘English Stories’ of the adventurous, romantic kind, in translation. British intellectual and literary life exerted their influence over receptive authors and poets. Besides poets and novelists, the traveller Edmund Spencer was not only able to compare Austria and Hungary and their relations within the Hapsburg Empire, but was also able to compare life in Hungary at significant points in the Age, in 1830, 1847 and 1850. However, his two volumes of  Travels in European Turkey was not published until 1851, so although his third visit had the intention of studying the difference of political and social conditions that had arisen since his second visit in 1847, it is obviously retrospective in its recollections of life before the revolution and War of Independence, and therefore needs to be dealt with in the context of other reflections on Hungary after these cataclysmic events.

An Englishman’s Transylvanian Rhapsody

In the two decades before the War of Independence, when commercial and political considerations focused the attentions of the Hungarian leadership on British links, there was also a strong and growing desire among this élite to become better acquainted with English language and literature. We have no knowledge of how many people actually began learning English at this time, but we do know that there were opportunities to do so not only in the capital but also in the larger provincial towns. A variety of sources provide this qualitative evidence. For instance, Pál (Paul) Csató was in lively dispute with József Bajza over the pronunciation of certain English words, and called upon the expert opinions of the English teachers not only of Pozsony (Bratislava) and Pest, but also those of Debrecen, Patak, Kolozsvár, Enyed, Pápa, Kecskemét, Losonc and Nagykőrös, in order to prove his case. According to R. T. Claridge, a contemporary British tourist, the Hungarian capital at this time was quite justly called the Hungarian London. This he explained by referring to the way in which:

The English style of building and the desire everywhere manifested to imitate the manner and customs, and even adopt the language of our own metropolis, make Pest an object of peculiar interest to the English traveller, who is, moreover, sure to be treated with the greatest kindness and hospitality.

Hungarians were well-versed in English intellectual life at that time. John Paget, who married a Transylvanian noblewoman, the Baroness Polyxena Wesselényi, and settled in Transylvania, commented on how well British political, social and cultural matters were understood in Hungary; it could almost be said that the Magyars were enchanted by them, and this feeling was certainly mutual in Paget’s case. He first visited the ‘magical’ lands of the Magyars in Hungary and Transylvania in 1835, settling in Transylvania after his marriage on the estate belonging to his wife. The purpose of his first visit was to familiarise himself with the life of the Hungarian people. Rather than simply travelling extensively, he learnt to read Hungarian and for eighteen months he studied public life, investigating both present and past.  His two-volume work, Hungary and Transylvania, published in London in 1839, was greeted by the Hungarian writer and critic, Ferenc Toldi in the following glowing terms:

The eminent author is undoubtedly the first foreigner who, apart from being more or less well-informed about the conditions of Hungary, has arrived at an independent attitude respecting our country.

006He travelled all over Hungary, visiting all the better known towns and regions alike in the lowlands which were so rich in romance, as well as the mountainous province of Transylvania and the territory of Transdanubia.  His interest in Hungary had been first aroused in Italy, where he first met Baroness Polzxena Wesselényi, whom he married after his first travels. He became an enthusiastic farmer, in addition to playing an active role in public life. He was warmly attached to his adopted country and rapturously espoused the cause of the Hungarian nation. In 1848 he served both as a soldier and a writer, keeping the English press constantly informed of events in Hungary, but after the surrender of the Hungarian army to the Russians at nearby Világos (pictured on the right in a painting from 1851), he was forced to leave the country. He went back to Britain, not returning until 1855, when he found his estate in a very poor state. Even his library had been scattered to the winds by the Romanians. All his life he took an exceptional interest in the Unitarians of Transylvania, acting as a connecting link for them with their coreligionists in Britain, who made an endowment to the Unitarian Church of Hungary. Later, his son Oliver served with other Hungarian volunteers in Garibaldi’s army. John Paget eventually died at the age of eighty-four in 1892.

His work dealing with Hungary and Transylvania gives a detailed cross-section of Hungarian social and political life. Before crossing the frontier from Austria, he was told many tales in Vienna of the wild Hungarians and the dangers of the journey. One of the first remarks he made, therefore, was that travel in Hungary was just as safe as it was in Britain. He enthusiastically espoused the Hungarian cause and almost his first feeling on arriving there being one of gratitude at being once again in a country where liberty was still valued. He contradicted the popular Viennese view of the Hungarians as rebels, simply because they spoke more loudly about matters which their more cautious neighbours did not even dare to talk in whispers about. He was entranced by the warmth and openness of Hungarian life, and was also moved by listening to the great men of the country. He heard Ferenc Deák speak at the Pozsony Diet. Not a sound was to be heard as Deák spoke in his deep and passionate voice in the matter of Wesselényi Trial. Deák was followed by Kossuth, whom Paget described as a young orator of great promise. However, what he saw and heard at the Diet were not the only aspects of Hungarian public life that impressed Paget. Despite the censorship, political isolation and other obstacles which the absolutist Hapsburg emperors had placed in the way of Hungarian discourse and intercourse with the West, the Hungarians had developed sounder perspectives on a variety of issues, especially in their County administrations, than many other European nations which, supposedly, possessed a higher civilisation. In conclusion he declared that the Hungarians had no need of a revolution, because the spirit and form of their constitution provided for every desirable liberty.

Paget refuted the daring, yet absurd, generalisations of others of his fellow countrymen who had only spent a few days, or even just a few hours, in the country, but saw fit to publish their rushed judgements nonetheles. He was able to write of Hungary with such understanding and cordial sympathy partly because he was given a hearty and heartfelt reception everywhere he went. At Lőcse a young girl presented him with a bouquet in the name of the ladies of Hungary. They honoured him as the compatriot of Shakespeare, Byron, Scott and Bulwer Lytton, and he met many people who had read the English classics either in the original, or in translation. There were few educated women in Transylvania who could not hold a conversation about these writers of classics. Paget even met in the valley of the Vág an old Jewish man who pulled from his pocket a German translation of Ivanhoe and asked him whether Walter Scott was still alive. He frequently met Hungarians who spoke English fluently and the ‘anglomania’ of the country which had originated with the aristocrats had found its way into other ranks of society. English customs were everywhere being introduced into Hungary and English sport was making headway. Paget himself helped to spread British cultural ideas in Transylvania. In Szolnok, the Deputy Sheriff, on hearing of the English strangers passing through the town, had their carriage filled with choice fruit and Szolnok loaves, which he declared to be the best bread in Hungary. Writing of this incident, Paget commented:

It is true, all this might be nothing but the effect of good-nature: and yet, reader, had you seen the real kindness with which it was done, the interest the good man took in our journey, the sentiments he expressed in favour of our native land; had you received all this attention from an individual you never saw before, and whom… you would never see again; and had you felt that it was your country rather than to yourself you owed it, – you must be differently constructed from me if you did not find yourself a happier man than when you entered Szolnok.

The second part of Paget’s book deals chiefly with Transylvania, and Paget takes his readers everywhere, from wretched Romanian cottages to the splendid life-styles of the aristocracy in their mansions at Kolozsvár. Paget was also interested in the lower classes, in the Székler and Romanian lower classes in particular. Both were poor, but the Székler reminded Paget of the Scots in their enterprise, endeavour, and endurance. They were literate and well-educated, their schools being of a surprisingly high standard. The Romanians, by contrast, were, according to Paget, lazy, and drank too much. When harvest was at its height, he observed the Romanian workers taking pleasure in sleeping in the sun. He added:

His corn is always the last cut, and is very often left to shell on the ground for want of timely gathering; yet scarcely a winter passes that he is not starving with hunger. If he has a wagon to drive, he is generally found asleep at the bottom of it; if he has a message to carry, ten to one but he gets drunk on the way, and sleeps over the time in which it should be executed.

His treatment of the Romanian question was in the light of the opinion then prevailing. He felt certain misgivings when he reflected that the Romanians owed their allegiance, through their religion, to the Russian Tsar and the Archbishop of Moscow. To Paget the Romanian priests were also merely agents and spies of the Russian Court. This Russian threat, which the British were beginning to sense on the borders of their Empire, especially near to the ‘Jewel in the Crown’ of that Empire, India, was perceived to extend all the way to the Viennese Court. In Paget’s own words, the Austrian Cabinet had shamelessly thrown itself into the luring arms of the Russian camarilla.

From Transylvania, Paget travelled via Nagyvárad to Pest and then on to Transdanubia. He gave a few cameos of life in the lowlands, of the Pest Carnival, of the romance of Bakony, of the highwayman Joe Sobri and his fellow outlaws. The last pleasant episode of this journey through Hungary was his short sojourn at Nagykanizsa, a visit made memorable by a splendid dinner. The fellow Englishman who was accompanying him spoke with rapture of the Hungarian cooking. He would defy anyone who presumed to declare that Hungary was not at an exceptionally high level of civilisation:

I should be glad to know where else such a dinner as this, and a good bottle of wine to it, could be had for twenty pence, – I am sure not in England!

In the closing chapter of his book, Paget was at pains to point out (by 1839) how there had been few commercial connections between Britain and the lands of the Magyars worth speaking about, despite the exceptional wealth of the country’s resources. The fertility of the lowlands and the rich mines and forests of Upper Hungary and Transylvania could supply Britain with much of what she needed to import. A reciprocal trade between the two countries would be to the benefit of both. The anglophile atmosphere in Hungary at that time made it the ideal point to establish such economic connections, since the conditions were very receptive to British commerce.

The Economic Links of István Széchenyi

British culture reached its zenith in its influence on the development of Hungarian national culture in the twenty-five years preceding the Hungarian War of Independence, for throughout the period Count István Széchenyi continually drew the attention of the nation towards Britain, as a land from which much could be learnt, particularly in economic and industrial respects. Despite the mass of literature about him, however, it is difficult to obtain a clear picture of the intellectual imports resulting from his travels in Britain. We know that Széchenyi learnt a great deal from Adam Smith and Jeremy Bentham, who was elected a member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. We also know that in matters of horse-racing, steamship and bridge design, he always had an English example to follow; but we know little of the influence of the cultural conditions which he observed in Britain on his great Hungarian personality.

Count Ferenc Széchenyi, István’s father, had founded the Hungarian National Museum. In the early part of the century, British machines had occasionally been imported into Hungary, but it was István Széchenyi who first drew Hungarian public attention to the progress in economic life being made in Britain, and the possibilities for applying that science to Hungary. He first proposed to follow the example of the British Isles in encouraging horse-breeding and arranging horse-racing. He then acquired British plans for the technical innovations which he wanted to introduce into Hungary, engaging British engineers and experts to carry those plans into execution. In the history of the Danube navigation we often come into contact with British names; the Budapest ‘Chain’ Bridge was planned and built by Scottish engineers, while the diving bell used during the improvement of the lower reaches of the river was tested by an Englishman. Széchenyi’s guiding spirit was to be sen everywhere.

Every chapter of his work entitled Lovakrul (Of Horses, 1828) betrays the practical sense of the British. He always has British examples in mind and constantly refers to them. The horse-races in Hungary were arranged on the British model; while from 1827 a Gyepkönyv (Turf Book) was issued along the lines of the Racing Calendar and the Stud Book.  The British racing regulations were translated by Anthony Tasner in 1836. British horses were also imported and British trainers and jockeys with them. Baron Nicholas Wesselényi sold his stud because he proposed to breed only horses of English origin and race, an example which was followed by others.  Fox hunting and stag hunting also became popular in Hungary at this time. Hunts of the ‘British’ kind were arranged from 1823 by large landowners in the County of Szolnok, as well as in Nyitra and Fóth, and later in Trans-Tisza and the Banat (South Hungary). István Széchenyi, Mihály Esterházy, János Hunyadi and Lajos  Károlyi were the first to introduce fox-hunting. Hunters and beagles were introduced from Britain and the pack was trained by a British huntsman, William Baldogh. In both Hungary and Transylvania, where hunting with hounds was introduced by John Paget, so that British usages were copied faithfully. The slavish addiction to the imitation of the British aristocracy at play became the subject of mockery and satire, especially of the great hunts at Csákó and Körösladány:

In mud and rain it is no joke

To run with the stag.

Maybe ‘ twould be better

To roof in the ditches

Than to ape  Albion..

Széchenyi’s interest and enthusiasm also met with a response in Britain as well as in Hungary. There was a marked increase in the number of British visitors touring Hungary and recording their impressions and experiences. There were many who went to Hungary at the personal invitation of Széchenyi, but there were also people in whose estimation Hungary’s significance had risen considerably as a result of the improved means of transport and communication, in particular with the opening up of steamship navigation on the Danube. The author of an article published in the journal Századunk, wrote that the English had discovered Hungary only recently… they use it as a open house facing East, in which they look around ‘en passant’. The more frequent English-speaking sojourners met with much recognition and praise for their written observations on Hungary, and although they approached the Hungarian border with the prejudices whispered in their ears in Vienna  still fresh in their minds , they returned to Britain pleasantly surprised by what they had found and experienced. Critical opinion considered the writings of John Paget and Julia Pardoe to be the most thorough and trustworthy, though not without their flaws. By the 1830s, however, there were also a growing number of ‘fashion-travellers’ who travelled rapidly down the Danube from country to country on board the steamships. At least one Hungarian writer who observed this early development of mass ‘guide book’ tourism was unimpressed by the quality of the guests arriving at the jetties:

Now…our poor country, hapless Hunnia, is next, where steamships begin to gather the sons of proud Britannia; is not that a natural consequence?

What Charles Nagy was making fun of in 1837 was the consequence of the association of Steamship-navigation on the Danube with British companies, and throughout the 1830s and 1840s there were several ventures to establish economic relations between Hungary and Britain. As a further consequence, there arose a whole literature connected with boat voyages on the Danube. A British man named Andrews, who was resident in Vienna, was the first to run a steamer on the Danube, together with his compatriot Pritchard, in 1829. For the first three years, he was hardly able to cover his expenses, since there was often not even a single passenger on the boat. Nobody would believe that the enterprise could be successful, not even Széchenyi. However, Andrews and Pritchard struck lucky when they were asked to ferry three hundred curious passengers from Pest to the fair at Zimony. From that time on Széchenyi followed the enterprise with the keenest attention, and steamship-navigation became his ‘hobby’, to quote one of his British acquaintances. Navigation in general became more than a hobby to him, as he correctly discerned its economic potential on the Danube in particular, the river which connected the Occident with the Orient. Constantinople came nearer to Pest, and nearer to London too. In London, Széchenyi’s efforts to make the Danube navigable attracted great attention, and it was with British backing that he achieved his plan. The Birmingham factories of Matthew Boulton and James Watt made the engines for the boats, and in much later years, the engines of the steamers plying their trade on the Tisza, which Széchenyi straightened for their use, and on Lake Balaton were still mostly manufactured in Britain.

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Above: The experimental railroad at Kőbánya – an engraving by János Hofbauer & Eduard Gurk, 1829. As we look into this picture and admire the viaduct and the elevated rail section, we begin to understand how it was possible for Hungary, by the end of the nineteenth century, to carve out a leading place for itself in its machine industry and electrification.

Right: A lithograph by V Katzler, showing, in a circle of pictures the achievements of István Széchenyi (1791-1860). Oddly, his chief project is omitted, and the one to which he sacrificed most of his wealth: The Hungarian Academy of Sciences, which stands at the Pest end of the Chain Bridge, as an institution and a great public building. Adopting the methods of the Scottish engineer, MacAdam, Széchenyi also constructed a network of stone streets in Pest. Moving in the most exclusive circles of the British aristocracy and the court, he was almost arrested for smuggling a gas engine across the Channel. He had a relationship with Caroline Meade, an English woman who was married to his brother’s wife, whom he eventually married after his brother’s death. However, the marriage failed.


The construction of the Suspension Bridge connecting Pest with Buda attracted many British engineers to Hungary. Originally Count Maurice Sándor had consulted the great engineer, Isambard K Brunel of London in the matter of constructing a bridge to connect Pest and Buda. That scheme was never realised; but it was a letter of Sándor’s that gave the impulse to Széchenyi’s most eminent technical achievement. The greatest Hungarian never abandoned the idea and when he visited Britain in the company of Count György Andrássy in 1832, they met engineers and well-known bridge-builders, including William T Clark, as well as Thomas Telford, Harley, Ogden and the American, Wright. They also wanted to study American bridge-building, but their Parliamentary duties prevented this. Their visit to Britain convinced them, despite all opinion to the contrary, that the perfect type of bridge was the suspension bridge. In 1837 William Tierney Clark (1783-1852) came to Hungary accompanied by several other engineers. After a very short sojourn and having completed his investigations, Clark returned to Britain and drafted plans for the suspension bridge. For some time, however, it was uncertain whether he would return to Buda/Pest  or accept another invitation to work in St Petersburg. Széchenyi was very annoyed by this prevarication, and for some time the question of who would build the suspension bridge remained unanswered. Nevertheless, in 1839 Clark chose to return to Hungary, and began the construction work. On 24 August, 1842, in the presence of the Archduke Joseph the foundation stone was laid (pictured right in the watercolour by Miklós Barabás from 1842). The national newspaper, Pesti Hiírlap (28 August) published an interesting description of the ceremony. Clark entrusted the personal supervision of the construction work to his nephew, Adam Clark.  The Scottish engineer was an enthusiastic admirer of Széchenyi, and the work was carried out mostly by Scottish workmen. Their number must certainly have been quite considerable, for when the Revs. Duncan and Wingate, ministers of the Scottish mission, began their ministry, they were appointed as chaplains, to take care of the spiritual needs of the Scottish workmen working on the bridge. Fantastic rumours were in circulation concerning the proportion of the work started and other plans. According to the periodical Életképek, 26,000 British workers hoped to settle in Hungary to develop factories. Another periodical, Pesti Divatlapwrote in 1845, in a sarcastic tone, that our famed national unity would be strengthened by another race.

Meanwhile, British officials began to give serious attention to the improvement of the Danube route and thus Hungary’s political and economic conditions. Sir Robert Gordon, British Ambassador at Vienna from 1841 to 1846, followed Széchenyi’s activity with keen attention, accompanying Széchenyi on a visit of inspection to the bridge and to the shipyards in Óbuda, while British bankers vied with one another in offering as cheap loans as possible for the construction of the Fiume Railway. Metternich was accompanied by Lord Banville on the occasion of the opening of the Budapest-Szolnok Railway Line. David Urquhart, legational secretary at Constantinople discussed the international importance of the Danubian waterway at great length in his book on Turkey. While Hungarian matters were being discussed in London, in Hungary itself the question raised was how to gain a market in London for Hungarian goods, as a result of which an ‘Anglo-Hungarian Institute’ was organised for the sale of Hungarian wool, corn and other agricultural produce. Paul Almási Balogh strove to establish viable commercial relations with Britain, with the declared aim of lifting our country from obscurity by encouraging Hungarian producers to create national industry. Henry Kirk, the agent of a London firm, accompanied by a son of Israel named Abrahamsohn and brandishing a letter of recommendation from Prince Paul Esterházy, the Austrian ambassador in London, came to Pest to arrange for a storehouse for Hungarian products. However, Kirk fell out with Balogh, and the Hungarian producers sustained losses because of this. He returned to London after a short time and was succeeded by John Gifford and later by Cunliffe Pickersgill as the Head of the Anglo-Hungarian Institute. Lajos (Louis) Kossuth, principal spokesman for the Hungarian movement, who was appointed Finance Minister by the Emperor Ferdinand V in the early spring of 1848, wrote in the newspaper Pesti Hírlap that:

There is nothing left but to congratulate ourselves that through the action of Mr Gifford the first links of international trade with the English nation are welded together.

However, the links were not as strong as they appeared to Kossuth. The cause of Reform in Hungary had a good friend in the person of J. A. Blackwell, who was the political agent of the English government in Hungary from 1843 to 1851. He was also very interested in the British-Hungarian commercial connections which were beginning to be forged. At the same time, he viewed the expansion of Russia with thinly disguised anxiety, repeating with almost naive conviction the political proposition that the more Hungary’s power spreads, the more will England’s power grow and that of Russia diminish. His favourite idea was a Danube Confederation, with Hungary as the leading state. Such a Hungary would fully deserve the British government’s moral support. Blackwell also wrote a tragedy in verse, Rudolf of Varosnay, published in London in 1841, dealing with the tragic story of Count Samuel Beleznay.

1848-9: The Defeated Heroes in Britain

011It would be interesting to discover, through further detailed research, the extent to which it was these anglophone and anglophile links which helped to create the climate in which Hungary made its courageous bid for independence. It is always assumed that Paris was the birthplace of the ideas of the 1848 Revolutions throughout Europe, but given the ease with which the Hungarian Jacobins were defeated in 1795, and these ongoing, organic links with Britain and the wider English-speaking world beyond, including post-revolutionary America, it is perhaps questionable as to whether the 1848 Hungarian Revolution would have been, initially, quite so successful without the determined support of its increasingly anglophile and progressive nobility and gentry classes. Intellectuals may give voice to revolutionary ideals, but they don’t sustain the revolutionary impulse among its people.


The defeat of the Hungarians in the War of Independence which followed their successful Revolution certainly made a deep impression in Britain. The indignation of the British people was heightened when the news of the execution of the thirteen generals at Arad on 6 November, 1849, (pictured above in a contemporary painting by János Thorma) reached London. The Reformer Richard Cobden, who later espoused the cause of Kossuth and the Hungarian refugees, addressed an open letter to the Austrian Minister, Bach, in which he gave expression to the widespread indignation in British public opinion. In the name of humanity, he asked the Minister of the Interior to put an end to the butchery, for civilisation had, he said, advanced much further than to tolerate on its stage such ‘heroes’ as Alba and Haynau. In the same year, eighty-three members of the United Kingdom Parliament  addressed a memorandum to the government in the interest of Hungary. With the exception of ultra-conservative circles, sympathy for the Hungarian cause was general, and the emigrants met with the greatest admiration everywhere. Lajos Kossuth was greeted with great enthusiasm when he arrived for his first stay in Britain.  Before he arrived in the country, his friend and secretary Francis Pulszky had reported to him that his arrival would not be welcomed by the government, but that the people would give him a reception surpassing that given to crowned heads. This statement was well-founded as Kossuth made his triumphal entrance to Britain. The sober, cool-headed British public, perhaps fuelled by their own Chartist movement, was swept away by his appearance and oratorical power, a testimony to his abilities in English by this time.

This Hungarian had never been to Britain before, neither had he yet been to the United States. However, he won great admiration for his ability to play with the rhetorical beauties of the language of his mass audiences. In his first speech, delivered on his arrival in Southampton, made an extraordinary impression on them. After his Guildhall speech, it was resolved to post a printed copy of his oration on the wall of the auditorium of the Guildhall as a memorial. In Birmingham he was received amid the ringing of bells, the buildings bedecked with tricolor flags; he was carried in a coach and four, Hungarian-style, and cheered as no other foreigner was ever cheered in that century at least, except perhaps Garibaldi twenty years later, whose eventually victory for national liberty he helped to make possible.


Tony Benn’s letter to Khrushchev, ‘Pravda’, January 1957.   Leave a comment

Tony Benn's letter to Krushchev, 'Pravda', January 1957

In 1956, at the time of the Hungarian Uprising, Tony Benn was about thirty-one, and had only been an MP for about six years. With Eden’s government in power and the Suez Crisis in full flow, little was done to aid Hungary, as Soviet troops swept into Budapest in far greater numbers than they had done at the end of the Second World War just twelve years earlier. The Western powers made ineffective protests at the United Nations, but not even the USA, not involved in Suez, with its Eisenhower ‘doctrine’ of supporting those interested in ‘rolling back’ the frontiers of communism, came to the aid of the ‘freedom-fighters’ they had actively encouraged. In France, where the Communists remained strong, and to some extent in Britain, the Left reacted slowly and weakly, still somewhat starry-eyed about post-Stalinist Russia. Five MPs, including Antony Wedgwood Benn MP, signed this letter to the Editor of Pravda, the Russian Government newspaper, Politely worded as a series of questions, it was published in January 1957, though probably written, translated and sent in November.

We now know, from the US Department of State archives, that the US was indeed promising support before and during what was, however, a largely spontaneous, popular uprising, beginning on 23 October. However, no mention was ever made of arms supplies or military aid, even in ‘unofficial’ documents, as far as we know.

This letter remains one of the few documents concerning the Uprising to have penetrated the wall of diplomatic silence between West and East. Tony Benn’s involvement in it (from the incisive, well-informed and careful style it seems like he may well have penned it himself) bears testimony to the length of his support for the causes of freedom-fighters everywhere.

Posted March 14, 2014 by AngloMagyarMedia in Uncategorized

Magyar-British relations from the Downfall of Transylvania to the Viennese Enlightenment, 1711-1800   Leave a comment

001After the Peace of Szatmár of 1711, the Hungarian connections with Britain gradually loosened. Transylvania, which had been foremost in fostering the traditional links of both politics and intellectual life, ceased to exist as an independent principality. The number of Protestant theologians visiting England declined steadily, owing to the decrees issued by Maria Theresa (1740-80), which made their journeys more difficult. Most of them made for Germany. It proved impossible, however, to put a complete stop to these visits of these spirited youths to English universities: Robert Townson, for instance, met four or five men from Debrecen alone who had studied in England (Travels in Hungary, 1793). At the same time he heard of the custom for the Calvinistic theologians to go to Holland or Switzerland to complete their studies. The few who went to England from Debrecen included Nicholas Sinai, Samuel Szilágyi and Isaiah Budai; those from Sárospatak included József Rozgonyi, the friend of the poet Csokonai, of whom Kazinczy, the eminent literary figure wrote that he imbibed the air and true liberty of England. 

These common religious interests created a very strong bond between the Protestant Churches of England and Hungary. Reformed theologians were the initiators of an uninterrupted connection which became a tradition during the seventeenth century. At first the connection remained isolated in character, confined to church matters, but the later political contacts, particularly with Transylvania, deepened and strengthened it. In the eighteenth century, these contacts came under the influence of a broader English intellectual life, of English science and literature. However, the eighteenth century as a whole did not prove favourable to Anglo-Hungarian relations. Hungary, exhausted by century-long wars, had first to redevelop a depopulated country, and the time for spiritual reconstruction had not yet arrived. Every now and then some distinguished English traveller arrived in Hungary, bearing poignant testimony to the continuing devastations which the country had endured for centuries. In 1717, Lady Mary Montague wrote in one of her letters that the country between Győr and Buda had the most fertile soil in the world. However, for the most part it was, at that time;

desert and uncultivated, laid waste by the long war occasioned between the Turk and Emperor and the most cruel civil war, occasioned by the Emperor Leopold (I, 1657-1705)… Indeed nothing can be more melancholy than travelling through Hungary, reflecting on the former flourishing state of that Kingdom, and seeing such a noble spot of earth almost uninhabited.

002Her friend, Alexander Pope, urged her in a letter not to expose herself to the danger of passing through Hungary when following her husband to Constantinople. Lady Mary was, apparently, greatly amused by her friend’s anxiety. The condition of the country improved much when Richard Pococke, afterwards Bishop of Meath, travelled through it in 1736. He described devastation everywhere, uninhabited regions, uncultivated land, and large forests. Public safety was, however, much better, and the memories of wars had begun to fade. Pococke and his cousin, Jeremiah Miles, travelled in Transdanubia and were interested mainly in Roman antiquities. In the reign of Maria Theresa, Hungary sank to the level of an Austrian province in English public opinion. The policy of centralisation then followed by the Viennese Court isolated Hungary more than ever. Those parts of the country recovered from the Turks were annexed to the Hapsburg monarchy and Transylvania soon suffered  the same fate. The Hapsburgs took control of the whole Carpathian Basin, whether or not they had any right to the territories they conquered. The emperor-kings claimed their legitimacy not only from their ancestors, but from God, and the Counter-reformation sanctified them in this. Although religious pluralism could not be abolished, its effects could be diluted by the resettlement of Catholic Saxons, Schwabians, Romanians and Croatians, among many other migrating ethnic and religious groups from Slavic countries further east. Many of these groups did not assimilate, but lived in compact ethnic blocs, preserving their linguistic and cultural independence. In some parts of the countryside, these blocs cut off the Hungarian populations from the national heartland, presaging the dismemberment of the country by the Treaty of Trianon in 1920.

Given these social and political tendencies, the reawakening of interest in Hungary in British intellectual life in the last decade and a half of the eighteenth century was quite remarkable. This may have been partly due to the natural interest shown by the Hanoverian monarchs in central-eastern Europe. A considerable sum of money was offered by the British King for the rebuilding of the Protestant church in Sepsiszentgyörgy, which had been destroyed by fire. Also, when the College of Nagyenyed was experiencing financial difficulties, a deputation was sent to England to ask for help from their fellow-believers there. From the money collected and deposited in a London bank, the College was still receiving funds in the following century of as much as one thousand pounds annually. John Paget wrote of the lasting gratitude expressed to him by the Protestants of Transylvania in 1839:

It is wonderful what a feeling of friendship, what a sentiment of brotherhood with England this gift, though now completely forgotten among us, still maintains among the Transylvanian Protestants. 



However, the renewed interest shown by Hungarians in Britain was both sacred and secular in motivation, quickly ripening into an exuberant anglomania. After the Peace of Paris of 1763, Great Britain’s influence on the continent increased markedly. This was partly due to the success of British Foreign policy of forging an alliance with Austria against France, which had a striking effect on Vienna’s political, economic and  intellectual circles. After the conclusion of the peace of Versailles in 1783 the object of the English ambassadors at Vienna and particularly of Lord Harris became more and more evident. Events in France greatly accelerated the loosening of Austro-French friendship ties, and in Vienna the gradual growth of English influence in the 1770s and 1780s, which gained further force as a result of the French Revolution and the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. This again mutated into an increased interest in the juridical and constitutional instutions in Britain, as well as in English language and literature. The Hungarian aristocracy, accustomed by this time to spending much of its time in Vienna, became acquainted with the new trend in British civilisation. It was mainly the Transdanubian aristocracy which took up this cause. The Protestant Teleki family, as well as the theologians, revived the traditional visit to England. It was largely through the generosity of this family that the visits to England from Transylvania, Debrecen and Sárospatak continued regularly until Maria Theresa took measures to prevent them. Thus, largely-Catholic Transdanubia and partly-Protestant Transylvania were dawn together in their common interest in, and enthusiasm for, British culture and institutions. It was no longer just the religious life of the Oxford and Cambridge Colleges which attracted the Hungarian traveller, but her constitution, economic and intellectual life, science and literature.

The Viennese Hungarian nobles became interested in Britain!s rapid industrialisation and flourishing commerce. Frederick Taube was the first to refer to these new economic conditions in print, and his widow organised an ‘English literary club’ in Vienna for promoting knowledge of English language and literature. Almost simultaneously a ‘Vienna Club’ was formed in London,  This club saw an important ‘turning point’ in these inter-cultural relations, at least from our modern-day perspective, with its reception of Count Ferenc Széchényi on his visit to England in 1787. He believed that the influence of British culture on the continent was widespread and on the increase, extending to everything, including fashion. His enthusiasm for what he saw was inherited by his son István, the greatest Hungarian.

003Hungarian aristocrats who lived in Vienna gained encouragement to redirect these cultural currents to their homelands. The ground there had already been prepared by the new spirit o learning spread bz Protestant intellectuals who had lived in Britain. Joseph II (1780-1790) set about establishing religious freedom and an equitable civil code, introducing educational and economic reform and proclaiming German as the sole language of administration throughout the Empire. The emerging Hungarian bourgeoisie may not have liked this last imposition from an Emperor who made relentless efforts to impose his vision of ‘the common good’ upon the Magyars, but they were freer under his rule to obtain direct knowledge of the ‘happy island’ and its capital, London, ‘the wonder of the world’ as the poet Csokonai called it. This collective memory of the sojourns in ‘Albion’ of  Hungarian travellers is preserved in a number of interesting descriptions, diaries and letters. It was the new economic and political conditions in the British Isles which stood foremost in the interest of these sojourners. Its scientific and literary developments were, at this stage, of secondary significance.

When Count Ferenc (Francis) Széchényi started on his memorable voyage in 1787, a significant number of Hungarians were already well-known in London. Charles Reviczky, who had been Austrian Ambassador there since 1786, was an orientalist of high esteemamong English scholars. Baron Nicholas Vay was also well-known in the scientific worl of London; he was elected a member of the Royal Society at the session attended by Ferenc Széchényi. He was  particularly interested in agricultural questions, but his attracted also to British bridge-construction. It was he who first conceived of connecting Pest with Buda by means of a permanent bridge. A few months before the visit of Ferenc Széchényi, a Hungarian political economist, Gergély Berzeviczy, visited England. In his letters to his mother he wrote of his experiences with the greatest enthusiasm. He was received at Court with distinguished honours. He stayed in England for four months, during which time the happy and prosperous condition of the English people made an indelible impression on his noble and philanthropic heart. On returning to Hungary, he was determined to develop Hungarian commerce and to improve the condition of the peasantry. Berzeviczy was the first Hungarian economist to advocate a ‘Smithian’ policy, following the ideas of Adam Smith, the Scottish economist, whose ideas were well read in Vienna, German translations of his work being widely available.

006Berzeviczy’s diary of his travels bears witness to his interests in agriculture and industry. Like Nicholas Vay, he brought several machines home to Hungary, intending to apply his British discoveries at home. These were also the issues which interested Széchényi. In Edinburgh he called on Adam Smith and was happy to have been able to talk for at least a few minutes with that great man. In London he was introduced to Sir John Banks, President of the Royal Society. He also purchased many books, visited the grave of David Hume, called on the historian William Robertson and, while in Sheffield, attended a performance of Shakespeare’s Othello. His voyage to Britain made a deep and lating on him. With the wide knowledge he obtained, he was the most competent promoter of the British cult in Hungary at the close of the eighteenth century

In the same year that Ferenc Széchényi made his study of British economic conditions, Count László Teleki took a trip from Göttingen to London with his younger brother István. He frequently visited the learned societies of London and had a very high opinion of English scientific life. In his book A magyar nyelv előmozditásáról buzgó esdeklési (An Earnest Entreaty for the Advancement of the Hungarian Language), he wrote:

That nation, virtually forming a world of its own, is in the sciences ahead of all nations, or at least not behind any.


One of Teleki’s younger brothers, Joseph, went to see the land of freedom at the turn of the century, thirteen years later, calling in at the society of scholars which met at Banks’ apartments and also paying two visits to Parliament. where he listened to Pitt’s keenly sonorous speech.  To the Hungarian noble who heard Pitt speak in Parliament, or tried to learn from Banks, Lansdowne and Smith the secret of Britain’s economic greatness, a new and wider horizon had opened by the end of the eighteenth century. An instinctive contrasting of these conditions with those at home made everyone who had visited Britain, as well as those who had heard or read of their visits, yearn for progress and reform in Hungary. That fight for freedom from political and economic enslavement is the subject of my next chapter in this narrative.


Posted March 12, 2014 by AngloMagyarMedia in Uncategorized

Magyar-British Relations in the time of the Protestant Princes of Transylvania, 1613-1711   2 comments


At the beginning of the seventeenth century Hungarian theology students had begun to arrive in England for brief sojourns, crossing over from Holland. At the same time, in 1618/19, Martin Csombor de Szepesi travelled all over Western Europe. What he wrote about life in London shows that he possessed a sense of keen observation and sound judgement. Such sojourns had become fashionable, and these visits later became a general rule. In 1632 Gabriel Haller, a Hungarian magnate, spent a few weeks in London. Paul Medgyesi and John Tolnai Dali were the founders of the Puritan movement in Hungary; they had become acquainted with the movement in England. On 9 February 1638, Tolnai, together with nine other Hungarians, signed a formal agreement in London for the propagation of Puritan ideals. Tolnai had spent several years in England, and returned home deeply imbued with the puritan spirit. He did much to make these Calvinist ideas popular in Hungary, With stubborn perseverance and exceptional fortitude, he propagated the new doctrines in both Transylvania and Hungary, despite being opposed everywhere by both the ecclesiastical and civil authorities. George I Rákoczi, the Prince of Transylvania, had sent the daring reformer there and Tolnai was appointed to the famous school there, while the generous gift of the Princess enabled theologians of the Reformed Church to visit England. It was in Sárospatak that Puritanism first took root, and for some time its college remained at the centre of Anglo-Hungarian relations. However, Tolnai could not remain there long. His teachings were regarded as dangerous, and he was persecuted in the terms of the resolutions issued by several synods. He fled back to Transylvania, where he found patrons in the persons of Medgyesi, Bisterfeld and András, who had been invited there by the Prince, György I Rákóczi.  The Szatmárnémeti Synod, convened in 1646 by István Katona de Gelej, the powerful Bishop of Transylvania, put Tolnai’s reforms under a ban, and unfrocked the reformer himself, thus depriving him of his office; The Prince was well aware of the role of the puritan movement in England and Scotland in bringing about the British Civil War. In any case, those in power in Transylvania were still somewhat afraid of the new teachings. It was easy for the conservatives to persuade György Rákóczi II, who succeeded his father as the new Prince of Transylvania, of the danger of Puritan doctrines. especially after the execution of Charles I, which had horrified him.

However, the puritans found an ardent supporter in Zszuzsanna Lorántffy, George I Rákóczi’s widow, who sponsored their cause at Sárospatak. Medgyesi, her captain-in-ordinary, fought by word and in writing for the Presbyterian and puritan causes. He translated several English theological works into Hungarian, and was powerful enough to defend the movement when others were out to crush it. He won over the Dowager Princess’s younger son, Sigismund, to the cause. Tolnai was able to return to resume teaching at Sárospatak College and Zsuzsanna’s endowments continued to enable Calvinist theologians to travel to England to study.


Her younger son, Sigismund, married Charles I’s niece, Henriette Marie (right), the twenty-five year-old daughter of Elizabeth Stuart and Frederick, Elector Palatine, the ‘winter’ King and Queen of Bohemia. They were married in Sárospatak in 1651, but both died five months later and were buried in Gyulafehérvár. However, by their brief marriage, the ruling house of Transylvania became related, however briefly, to the royal family of England, and the marriage symbolised the broader Protestant alliance, just as the  marriage of Henriette’s mother to Frederick, Prince Elector of the Rhineland-Palatinate had done in 1614. At the time of the Protectorate Oliver Cromwell watched the politics of György Rákóczi II with some interest and attention. When Rákóczi’s envoy was in London, Cromwell declared that no prince’s envoy was more welcome. The great alliance of Protestant states was not accomplished, but a sense of community of interests was perceptible in the domains of politics, religion and culture. The new spirit of Calvinism also made headway in the trans-Tisza region, where in 1654, a work by Amesius on English puritanism, Angliai Puritanismus, was translated into Hungarian by Telkibányia. In 1662 George Csipkés de Komárom, a minister in Debrecen, translated the work into English. Then Debrecen began to adopt these teachings and Debrecen theologians followed the example of those from Sárospatak in visiting the English universities. Hungarian students from Sárospatak, Debrecen and Transylvania travelled to London, and sojourned at Oxford and Cambridge. They were given scholarships to do so, and George Csipkés of Komárom even wrote an English Grammar for his students at Debrecen in 1664. The English Church repeatedly assisted the sister church of Hungary. Puritanism brought the two churches into close contact. John Milton, Cromwell’s Latin Secretary, poet and pamphleteer, wrote in his Aeropagitica:

Nor is it for nothing that Serious-minded and frugal Transylvania sends out, yearly from as far as the mountainous borders of Russia, and beyond the Hercynian wilderness, not her youths, but her staid men, to learn our language and our theological arts.

Hungarian theologians felt quite at home in English universities, at the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge, and later in Scotland. In 1667 Francis Otrokocsi Fóris, with seven companions, travelled to England to organise the raising of funds there, with the permission of King Charles II. We know the names of 135 Protestant students who studied in England; some of these names have also been recorded in contemporary English documents. John Adami, who wrote a poem in Latin about London, later translated into English, was one of them; another was John Hunyadi, who settled in London as a Professor of Gresham College; Paul Jászberényi founded a school in London in which the King of England showed interest; much later, a Hungarian orientalist, John Uri, was known to have worked for fifteen years at the Bodleian Library in Oxford.    This intercourse was due largely to the policy of toleration established by Gábor Bethlen. Nicholas Bethlen visited London in 1663, in the company of his younger brother and tutor.

003005 The Recapture of Buda from the Turks in 1686, painting by the Flemish artist Frans Geffels (right)

  009 (3)

009 (2)Many traces of the Protestant connections are to be found in the theological literature of the Reformed Church, which was enriched by works translated from English into Hungarian; visibletraces are the numerous theological and philosophical books which Hungarian students bought from their savings and presented later to the libraries of the Reformed Colleges. In the Debrecen College Library alone there are up to fifteen works which were brought there from England. There is also a description of the first journey to England written by a Hungarian, dating from 1620. What Martin Csombor de Szepsi told about his experiences in England makes interesting reading even today. John Adami’s Latin poem about London in 1675, translated into English, is also interesting, as it was written just a few years after the Great Fire of 1666. Prince Mihály Apafi also sought the friendship of King Charles II. In 1664, he asked him to help Transylvania since the country was unable to bear the exceedingly heavy taxes imposed by the Turks. He also asked for protection against territorial mutilation. However, Charles II showed far less interest in the fate of Transylvanian Protestantism than Cromwell did, and the situation was not improved when Charles died without a legitimate heir and his brother, the Catholic James II ascended to the throne. Professor Kolosvári, the Transylvanian envoy to the English Court, was unable to gain much interest or support. With the change of political conditions in England the Protestant connection therefore became less intense, but it was maintained, and revived after the Glorious Revolution which brought William (III) of Orange and Mary II to the throne, thus securing the Protestant Succession. Prince Michael Apafi II, reported that William stood exceedingly high in the esteem of the Transylvanians, and according to a Hungarian Protestant delegation, there was hardly a dwelling in Transylvania, the wall of which would not be adorned by a portrait of His Majesty, the King of England. Prince Imre Thököly, who had led a successful rebellion against the Emperor Leopold I, in alliance with the Turks, also tried to gain support from William III through the English envoy in Transylvania. However, the envoy regarded Thököly with some suspicion, as he also kept up a dialogue with the French, England’s enemies. His name was so well known in England that the Whig party was nicknamed Tekelites by its opponents. The expression also appears in a poem by Dryden. He was also the subject of a three-act melodrama written in the nineteenth century.Whereas Thököly’s cause was all but lost in 1690, following the invasion of Transylvania by the Tartars in 1690. By contrast, the powerful movement led by Ferenc Rákóczi II attracted the interest of the English government from its beginning. An anecdote from Michael Cserei reveals how ready the English government was to support the Transylvanian Protestants:

In the same year (1702) there came back from Constantinople the English orator Vilhelmus Baron Paget, who after seven years of untiring labour between the German and Turkish Emperors had at Karlowitz made peace; who on his journey through the Turkish provinces and through Transylvania, through Hungary and in Vienna and throughout the whole Empire until he reached England, was everywhere received with great pomp and with salutes of cannon. On reaching Transylvania, clever man as he was, he studied the Papist persecution of Protestants and having put all his experiences in writing presented the matter to the Emperor in Vienna, saying openly: ‘Unless Your Majesty redress these matters or if You continue to allow the Papists to persecute the Protestants of Transylvania, I can assure You that England will never fight again on Your Majesty’s side against the French’. The Emperor promised to do everything in his power…

When he arrived at Fejérvár, the orator sent his younger brother to the Governer to arrange a meeting. The Governer begged him to stay to dinner, at which he was introduced to other guests, including Nicholas Bethlen, Stephen Apor, and the ‘cameralis commissio’, Count Sceau. The latter toasted the Queen of England (Queen Anne) and then Stephen Apor, who then began to toast his patron, Cardinal Kollonich. However, Count Sceau stopped him, suggesting that it was not appropriate to drink to the health of the Queen of England and the Roman Cardinal in the same breath and in front of an English nobleman. Stephen Apor was alarmed and, calling for another glass, drank both glasses to the health of Queen Anne. Lord Paget then went on to meet several Protestant theologians who had been to England.

At that time George Stepney was the English Ambassador in Vienna. In 1703 he reported that Rákóczi’s insurrection was of much greater importance than any of the previous insurrections. Together with the Dutch envoy he used every effort for years to bring about peace between Vienna and the Hungarian insurgents. Stepney went to Selmecbánya to further these objectives. On his return to Vienna he defended at court Rákóczi’s conduct there. The English government went than its ambassador, raising the question of a reconciliation to be brought about by Vienna yielding Transylvania to Hungary. It was due to the inflexibility of the court of Vienna that the efforts at conciliation were of no avail. Stepney saw the cause of Hungarian freedom and Protestantism endangered, blaming the court of Vienna for the failure. He commented indignantly that at the court the principle of the philosopher Hobbes held sway, that the only foundation of Right is Might. Stepney left Vienna in 1706, at the request of the Duke of Marlborough. The Duke was of the considered opinion that a proposed resolution, subsequently passed at the Diet of Ónód (1707), dethroning the Hapsburgs, was not calculated to promote reconciliation. The English government took up the question several times, and the Hungarian delegation was cordially received in London. The letter addressed by Rákóczi to Queen Anne made an impression, and recommendations were repeatedly sent to Vienna urging that concessions be made to the Hungarian insurgents. However, Vienna reacted otherwise, and Rákóczi fled through England to France. He landed at Hull and stayed there for a while. However, when he was told that Lord Oxford had promised the Imperial ambassador in London that the English government would pay no further attention to Rákóczi’s cause, the last Prince of Transylvania left England in 1711 for eventual exile in Turkey, where he died. This turn of events was the last phase of Transylvania’s official contacts with the English court, to which so many Hungarian hopes were attached. London had bowed before the demands of Vienna.

Posted March 12, 2014 by AngloMagyarMedia in Uncategorized

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