The Medieval Review 10.06.19

Hunyadi, Zsolt. The Hospitallers in the Medieval Kingdom of Hungary, c. 1150-1387. METEM, 70; CEU Medievalia 13. Budapest: METEM, Department of Medieval Studies Central European University, 2010. Pp. xix, 354. . 65.00 ISBN 978-9-63966-2445.

Reviewed by:

James Brodman
University of Central Arkansas

This doctoral dissertation, defended at the Central European University in Budapest, studies with an introduction and eight chapters the implantation and development of the Hospitaller Order of St. John in Hungary and the northern Balkans--the Hungarian-Slavonian Priory--from the mid-twelfth century to the end of the Angevin dynasty in 1387. A brief preface by Anthony Luttrell provides a raison d'tre for the study of a province that is admittedly peripheral and which contributed little to the Hospital's efforts against Muslims in either Palestine or Rhodes. Its significance, Luttrell argues, is institutional. On the one hand, it is similar to other priories that also provided material support to the brethren of adjacent and more powerful regions and which depended upon royal patronage for their prosperity; on the other hand, its shift from one langue to another (from Germany to Italy) and its function as a center for the production of reliable documentation lends the province a unique character. Hunyadi's introduction laments the absence of any well-grounded studies of the Hospital in this region and sets forth his intent to construct such a history based upon a documentary database of some 1200 items culled from local collections as well as the Order's central archives on Malta. Chapter one is historiographical. The first section lists without much discussion the recent scholarship devoted to the Order in general; the second and larger half engages earlier works of Hungarian scholarship. His predecessors, Hunyadi believes, were hampered by their lack of access to documentation and their inability to distinguish accurately between properties belonging to the Hospitallers and to other military orders, such as that of St. Stephen. The publication of document collections since the 1920s, however, has now made possible the reconstruction of that history. Chapter two, written for the benefit of eastern European scholars unaware of recent trends in Hospitaller scholarship, is a brief summary of the Order's beginnings and early history in Europe and the Levant.

Chapter three outlines the Order's development in Hungary prior to the fourteenth century. Although a strictly chronological organization sometimes obscures the narrative, certain basic themes do emerge. First of all is the importance of royal over private patronage. The Hospital's entry was due to the generous impulses of Queen Euphrosyne (d. 1193) and her offspring in the decades prior to 1200. The Order's success in the thirteenth century waxed and waned with royal policy, best illustrated by King Béla IV, whose liberality toward the Order shifted with the turns of royal policy. Royal stinginess could not be offset by private grants since real property in Hungary was allodial and its alienation generally required the consent of the extended family. In general, Hunyadi identifies the first half of the thirteenth century as the period of greatest patrimonial expansion. Thereafter, benefaction decreases for several reasons: the unwillingness of the Hospitallers to take responsibility for the defense of the kingdom's southeastern frontier, the decline of the military orders' prestige after the fall of Acre, and a contraction in the power of the Hungarian monarchy itself. By 1300, the Order had assembled its patrimonies into eighteen preceptories whose resources contributed to the care of the poor and the brethren fighting in the East. The Hungarian priory itself, however, provided few recruits.

Chapter four covers the better documented fourteenth century. It begins with a disputed succession in Hungary, in which the Angevin king, Charles Robert I, emerged as ruler. While the king, despite no obvious signs of continued largesse, continued to influence the Hungarian priory, the brethren were also caught in a struggle for control that involved the papacy and the Order's own master as well. The latter increased his influence over the priory in the 1330s by sequestering its revenues through leaving the office of prior vacant for five years. Popes, such as Clement VI, pressured the brethren to take up arms against the Turks at a time when the Hungarian king's stance was more passive. The brethren had to thread a careful path between the monarchy's anti-Italian policies and their own institutional attachment to the Italian langue . Whatever territorial growth the Hospital experienced in this century resulted from its absorption of properties that had once belonged to the Temple. Fiscal stress resulting from that consolidation and losses of personnel from the plague led the Order to downsize administratively into some fifteen units. Later, the papal schism caused the Hungarian priory itself to divide as rival priors supported different obediences. In this struggle, one particularly ambitious brother, John of Palisna, became an important player in royal politics, but unfortunately on the losing side. There is some evidence to suggest that the priory was regarded by other Hospitallers as a distant place of exile for miscreant brothers.

The goal of chapter five is the production of an archontology of the priory, that is, an annotated list of those who held the priorate and other major offices. The office of prior (or procurator or master) before the fifteenth century was dominated by foreigners--mostly French save for a period in the early fourteenth century when Italians from the Gragnana family held sway. While little is known other than names for the incumbents before 1300, those of the fourteenth century were generally absentees who might visit the priory at most once a year. In the interim, power was exercised by one or more lieutenants and occasionally by the prior's chaplain. As with other religious orders in the fourteenth century, the right to appoint the prior became contested between the master general of the Order, the pope who claimed a right of reservation, and the king who asserted a ius patronatus . The situation became even more murky during the papal schism when rival priors emerged, each loyal to a different pope. Chapter six is devoted to the core unit of the Hospital's organization: the preceptory. This is a jurisdiction that could contain any combination of residence, cloister, church/chapel, hospice, castle, agrarian lands, forest, mills, etc. Despite its status as military order, the Hospital in the thirteenth century possessed only two castles, seemingly built just after the Mongol invasion; in the fourteenth, it acquired others, particularly that of Vrana, that had belonged to the Templars. Communities were small and the brethren often lived dispersed over the Order's properties, suggesting that their conventicle life was weak. Through most of the period, the majority of brothers were of foreign origin, particularly from Italy. Preceptors themselves were often non-resident and in the late fourteenth-century their turnover was rapid. The core of the chapter, however, is an annotated databank of forty-one properties known to have belonged to the Order; this lists the first and last known mention of the property, its character, and a roster of brothers known to have served it. The most complete picture exists for the preceptory of Székesfehérvár, established just after 1150. Archaeology confirms the existence there of a residence, church, hospice, and a center for documentation. Its leadership was German or Provençal but after 1350 Hungarians begin to appear. The section on finances (chapter seven) describes the types of revenues enjoyed by the Hospitallers, the sort of exemptions and immunities conferred by the king, the nature of peasant tenures, the leasing of lands, and the contribution of the Hungarian-Slavonian Priory to the overall Order. Hunyadi shows that in Hungary, as elsewhere, there was fierce competition between the religious orders and secular clergy over tithes and burial fees. Despite papal privileges and a degree of support from Rome, the Hospitallers were forced into a case by case negotiation with individual bishops and abbots over these revenues. It seems peculiar to this region that free tenants and leaseholders acquired the status of predial nobles, which carried with it a military obligation to defend the Order. In general, Hunyadi believes that this priory made only "an irregular and somewhat" symbolic contribution to the central Convent but also acknowledges his failure to derive from Hungary's share of the responsion tax any insight into the comparative wealth of this particular province of the Order.

The final chapter outlines the Hospital's function as locus credibilis , an institution unique to Hungary. Beginning in the last quarter of the twelfth century, various cathedrals, monasteries, and religious houses (seventy in all) began to perform notarial services on behalf of private individuals as well as the crown. To be recognized as valid and authentic, documents had to be sealed by an entity that was not a party to the transaction. Some nine Hospitaller preceptories provided such services, evidently at some financial profit to themselves. The chapter ends with an extended discussion of the types of seals used to authenticate the documents, which ran the gamut of property and inheritance law. The author cites as his primary accomplishment the development of an accurate database of authentic Hospitaller properties and their personnel. In addition to providing data that might assist others to illuminate the history of the Hospital in Hungary and elsewhere, the author also raises some interesting questions. What can be said of the Hospital in the medieval realm of Hungary? Here it did little to advance its signature works of charity toward the poor or military action in defense of Christian populations. Socially, with a membership that was overwhelmingly foreign until the later fourteenth century, it was not well-integrated into Hungarian society. So, what then justified its existence and its claim upon society's charity? For private individuals, the answer is, evidently, very little, until the Hungarian nobility itself became enamored of the knightly ethos at the end of the Middle Ages. As for the monarchy, which provided the bulk of the Order's patrimony, royal support for the wider crusade movement was the only evident justification. Was the Priory wealthy? Hunyadi can only observe that Italian and German Hospitallers believed it worth fighting over. For historians of the medieval religious orders, the monograph contains interesting comparative material that touches upon the topics of papal and royal centralism in the fourteenth century as well as upon the ongoing rivalry these orders had with the diocesan clergy.