Bishops of Eger in the Court of Vienna in the 16–17th Century

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István Fazekas

The Battle of Mohács (1526) meant a turning-point in the history of Hungary for many reasons. One of the most significant consequences concerning the future of Hungary was that it became a part of a complex state consisting of many countries and provinces, which has been referred to as the Habsburg Empire; however, nowadays it is mainly mentioned as the Habsburg Monarchy. In the operation of the Habsburg rule in Hungary the important roles were occupied by the central administration as well as by the central government authority of the Kingdom of Hungary. The bureaucratic apparatus enabled the expansion of the monarchic territory and the supply of the army required for territorial occupations (Staatsbilderungskriege, Finanzstaat, fiscal-military state). At the beginning of the process, the members of the apparatus were from the ranks of the clergy, and there were officials that lived on church benefices and were obliged to take holy orders in the end. Due to the Ottoman’s expansion and the spread of Protestantism in the middle of the 16th century, the number of the clerics spectacularly decreased and consequently, their participation in the apparatus was reduced as well.

In Hungary, the prelacy played an important role in the higher administration for a long time that had many reasons. The Habsburg monarchs had a better rapport with the prelates than with the self-conscious Hungarian secular nobility. The governmental expenses were relieved by the employment of the prelates, since they covered their expenditures based on their church benefices. The three truly important offices, the governor’s, the head of the Hungarian Chamber’s and the Hungarian Chancellor’s were mainly occupied by prelates in the 16th century. However, in the 17th century, the prelates could keep only the position of the chancellor, while the secular elite seized the other two important offices in Hungary. Among the prelates holding the three offices, there are many who were the bishops of Eger. There were three governors from Eger: Tamás Szalaházy (1531–1532, bishop of Eger 1527–1535), Ferenc Ujlaky (1550–1554, bishop of Eger 1553–1555) and István Radéczy (1573–1586, bishop of Eger 1572–1586). There were two chairmen of the Chamber: István Radéczy (1568–1586, bishop of Eger 1572–1586) and István Szuhay (1596–1608, bishop of Eger 1598–1607). There were three chancellors: Tamás Szalaházy (1527–1535, bishop of Eger 1527–1535), Miklós Oláh (1543–1568, bishop of Eger 1548–1553) and György Lippay (1635–1642, bishop of Eger 1637–1642).

The lecture illustrates the position of the diocese of Eger in the Hungarian Catholic hierarchy in the early modern period based on the introduction of the six prelates’ official career. All six bishops of Eger were important characters among their contemporaries; they usually had long official and church careers. Tamás Szalaházy and Miklós Oláh stood out from them – the latter also became the archbishop of Esztergom – and undeniably both had key-roles in the administration of Ferdinand I. György Lippay, the later archbishop of Esztergom, was the third outstanding character, who was a significant Hungarian politician and prelate during the reign of Ferdinand III. The situation of the diocese was influenced by the Ottoman expansion and by Reformation, in the course of which a part of its territory fell under foreign rule; besides, a great deal of its congregation joined one of the Protestant communities. The debate over residency – evolved during the bishopric of György Lippay (1637–1642) meant a significant change. Rome obliged the bishop to resign from his position in the Chancellery and move to his diocese in accordance with the regulation of Trient. Lippay reached his exemption by the help of the court of Vienna; however, after this, the diocese situated far from Vienna was not considered as the diocese of a possible official-bishop. In the following decades there were two bishops of Eger, who resigned from their diocese after being appointed as a chancellor (Tamás Pálffy 1669, Péter Korompay 1686). While among the 22 bishops of Eger during 1527–1699 there were only six who were given chief offices, in the other two important Hungarian benefices, that of Győr and Nyitra, this proportion was 17/9 and 19/12. Nyitra and Győr, which were easily run from Vienna, gained unambiguous superiority over Eger, which had been one of the most significant church benefices in the Middle Ages.