The history and descent of the Körmendys - for which the writer may have served 24 years in prison

Körmendy, István László, Hungarian jurist (1700-1804?). Status iurium, et totalis modernae constitutionis familiae Körmendianae à Martino Literato de Körmend in suis ramis ab anno 1550 condescendentis et propagatae, in haereditate sua Egbell, in comitatu Nitriensi sita et habita.

[Gbely?, ca. 1740, with additions to 1762].

Folio (235 x 360 mm). (248) pp., 53 blank ff. (35) pp., 13 blank ff. Latin, German and Hungarian ink manuscript on paper, with a double-page illustration of a family tree. Contemporary full calf, spine elaborately gilt with two red spine labels "Status Familiae Kormendianae, Cum Deductione Universali" and "Opera Spectabilis Dni. Stepha Ladislai De Körmend"; covers in two shades of brown leather with two giltstamped borders and elaborate ornamentation. Leading edges gilt; marbled endpapers. Edges goffered and gilt with red marbled middle sections.


A vast, hitherto untapped collection of document copies spanning some two centuries of the history of the Körmendy family, edited by a descendant as a keepsake and portable archive for his heirs. Important not only for the history of this branch of the Körmendys, but also as evidence of the proliferation of nobility in early modern Europe, especially in Hungary, and of the legal ramifications within the realms of public law (governing the acquisition of noble status and the family's position within the state), civil law (lawsuits fought among noble families), and house law (the self-posited internal rules governing the family's dynastic succession and inheritance).

The manuscript begins with an autobiographical account of the writer, Stephan Ladislaus de Körmend, born on the 25th of July 1700 in Egbell in the Hungarian county of Neutra (today, Gbely in the Trnava Region of Slovakia), to parents Franciscus de Körmend and Zuzanna Zaffiry. It goes on to include an extensive array of copied documents which demonstrate the family's descent and legally tangled history from the mid-16th century onwards, when Martinus "Literatus" de Körmend was granted a title of nobility by King Ferdinand I for gallant military service under Peter Bakics (cf. Siebmacher 33.2, p. 135). A fine, double-page spread illustration shows the family tree growing from Martin Literatus at the bottom. At the end of the volume, a separate section in German provides communications from Imperial commanders in the Austro-Turkish War of 1737-39 that illustrate military operations of the year 1738, in which the writer appears to have been involved in a legal capacity.

Körmendy served as head notary of Bács-Bodrog County near the Serbian border from 1734 to 1739, but the upheavals of the war seem to have necessitated his return to his native northern Hungary. Other than that, he was previously known to Hungarian historians only as a diarist: a journal he kept in 1736 is mentioned in Gyula Dudás's work on the noble families of Bács (cf. below), and Péter László's Encyclopedia of Hungarian Literature published in 1994 records his professional work in Bács-Bodrog as well as his diary.

Hungarian genealogy knows of numerous families named Körmendy, and it is not clear whether or how they are related to each other: Béla Kempelen's dictionary of Hungarian noble families lists no fewer than ten (the present branch being the first), while that of Nagy has a nearly page-long entry on the various families, specifically citing one hailing from Trencsén county (now Trencín in Slovakia, neighbouring Trnava). Indeed, not every family named Körmendy was necessarily a noble one: the name is derived from the city of Körmend in Vas county, and the -y (or -i) at the end of the name (rendered in Latin as the preposition "de") primarily denotes origin and need not be an indication of nobility. It is important to note that the socially highly differentiated Hungarian nobility comprised close to five percent of the total population - some 75,000 families in 1787, compared to a mere 26,000 in France in 1789 - and thus was one of the largest noble classes in Europe both by percentage and in absolute numbers (cf. B. Király, Hungary in the Late 18th Century [1969], p. 38). While many members of the lesser gentry lived in conditions bordering on destitution, they were nonetheless fiercely proud of their aristocratic birth (which in 18th century Hungary still entailed exemption from taxation) and resisted as an intolerable break with tradition every Habsburgian effort to modernize the country.

A different, more sensational perspective on this painstaking collection of documents, possibly not reliable in all respects, is presented by the Viennese-born political journalist Anton Gross-Hoffinger (1808-73): in his popular account of Hungary, "Ungarn, das Reich, Land, und Volk wie es ist" (published under his pseudonym "Hanns Normann" in 1833), he states that Körmendy was an 18th-century Hungarian lawyer who exploited his country's proliferation of nobility and the chaotic legal situation surrounding it by forging not only his own family's title, but also those of many other ambitious, well-to-do individuals. According to Gross-Hoffinger (p. 141-143), he was finally taken to court when sixty years of age and, having managed to draw out the investigation for two decades, was sentenced to life imprisonment at the age of eighty (for no death penalty was pronounced on octogenarians), ultimately dying incarcerated at the age of 104.

Several stamps of the Körmendy family archive, Budapest ("A Körmendy nemzet seg családi levéltára Budapest") in green ink. Some annotations and markings in pencil or red crayon by later hands. A mended tear to the title page, and slight worming to the upper cover near the top edge, otherwise a very well preserved manuscript, elaborately bound as an heirloom.


Cf. Péter László, Magyar irodalmi lexikon II, 314. Gyula Dudás, A bácskai nemes családok : adalékul Bács-Bodrogh vármegye történetéhez (Zombor 1893). Siebmacher 33 (Die Wappen des Adels in Ungarn: Bd. IV, 15. Abt., 2. Teil), p. 135 with plate 98. Béla Kempelen, Magyar nemes családok VI (Bp. 1913), p. 246. Iván Nagy, Magyarország családai czimerekkel és nemzékrendi táblákkal VI (Pest 1860), p. 448f.