The county authorities of Hunedoara County in the Middle Ages
Autor: Kovács András
The study presents the county authorities of Hunedoara (Hungarian: Hunyad) county from the beginning of the 14th century until 1526. In each of the seven counties of the medieval Transylvania county authorities were composed of the comes (comes comitatus) and two noble magistrates (iudex nobilium). The comes was appointed by the voivode of Transylvania, who was a high dignitary of the Hungarian Kingdom selected by the king to be ruler of Transylvania, while the two noble magistrates were elected by the county nobility. In several cases the comes was not a local nobleman. All of the voivodes came from outside of Transylvania, and occasionally, they brought with them their familiares from Hungary. The voivode appointed from among these latter or from among Transylvanian noblemen the comes, who was mentioned as vicecomes in the charters (the voivode was regarded by the contemporaries as the „Supreme” comes of all seven Transylvanian counties). However, the comes sometimes appointed an assistant, who was also called vicecomes. The comites of Hunedoara county were in the 14th century (from their first mention in 1333) and until the middle of the 15th century castellans of Deva (Hung.: Déva), a royal castle administered by the voivode. In the 15th century the comites of Hunedoara county were sometimes also castellans of two other royal castles in that same county: of Haţeg (Hung.: Hátszeg) and of Hunedoara (Hung.: Vajdahunyad). Somewhen before 1444, the castle of Hunedoara was donated by the king of Hungary to Ioan de Hunedoara (Hunyadi János), voivode of Transylvania (1441–1446), and from that time on the owner of this castle also became its castellan and the comes of Hunedoara county. The owner of the castle had the right to appoint an assistant instead of himself, who thus became comes of the county and castellan of Hunedoara castle.
The noble magistrates of Hunedoara county were the representatives of the county nobility, and most probably were elected by them annually. They were without exception local noblemen with smaller landed properties in Hunedoara county.
County authorities performed mainly juridical tasks. The most important scene of their actions was the county court, the sedes iudiciaria, which was convoked probably at fortnightly intervals; between 1333–1390 on Wednesdays, and between 1395–1524 on Tuesdays. In Hunedoara county the county courts took place in Deva, Bârcea (Hung.: Barcsa) and later on in Băcia (Hung.: Bácsi). The county court had jurisdiction over noblemen only in matters of smaller interest (thievery, movable properties and tolls). Lawsuits for the division of landed properties could be initiated there, although the county court could not judge in the matter as such cases belonged to the noble assemblies (congregatio generalis) led by the voivode. On the other hand, it was exactly this voivodal court which served as the appeal instance for the county court. Commissioned by the voivode or the vicevoivode, the county often participated in matters of interrogation of witnesses regarding landed properties and violent trespasses.
Besides their jurisdictional functions, the county authorities operated as places of authentication (loca credibilia): they were authorized to draw up allegations known as „confessions” (fassio) about matters of smaller interest, like the procuratory (procuratoria), testamentary arrangements, the exchanging or the mortgaging of landed properties, settlement of smaller debts, agreements and objections.
Only a few more than 60 documents issued by the county authorities have been preserved from the period preceding 1526. These documents were usually confirmed with the seal of the comes and of the two noble magistrates, although in 1490 an own seal of the county was produced, which is most probably the first county seal in the medieval Hungarian Kingdom.
An appendix attached to the study lists the name of the comites, vicecomites and noble magistrates from the above mentioned period, as well as the time limits of their office holding.