1 Month, 1 Object, 1 Archaeologist - June 2019


Seal replica with an image of a lion, belonging to Benigna Magyar, the widow of Pál Kinizsi
Chosen by historian and archaeologist Borbála Kelényi

Inv. nr. BTM 65.1741 (Kumorovitz seal replica collection) 
Size: 1.3 × 1 cm Material: plaster (the seal-impression on the original diploma was pressed into green wax)
Date: 1519
Original: Hungarian National Archives, Archives of Diplomas and Charters, 24 371



Description: A rampant lion turned to the (heraldic) right in a round-based shield, holding a spherical object in its forelegs. There may have been an inscription above the shield (perhaps the woman’s monogram); however, it is not visible anymore. This is the coat of arms of Benigna’s father, Balázs Magyar, which can also be found on the second page of the prayer book made for her, next to the coat of arms of her husband, Pál Kinizsi, the latter one depicting a rampant lion turned to the (heraldic) left on a gold background.



Benigna Magyar was quite a renowned personality in her own time. Her father, Balázs Magyar of Adony was the commander of the famous Black Army of King Matthias, as well as the captain of the Upper (1462) and Lower (1470) Parts of Hungary, the ban of Croatia, Dalmatia and Slavonia (1470–1472, 1473–1474, 1482–1483), and the Voivode of Transylvania (1473–1475). Benigna married none other than the legendary Pál Kinizsi, a former lieutenant of her father. Described by contemporaries as ‘a man of Herculean size’, Kinizsi had his own collection of noble titles: he was the ispán (count) of Temes County (1479) and the chief captain of the Lower Parts of Hungary (1481) as well as chief justice of the kingdom (1494). Both Magyar and Kinizsi have gained their riches due to their military accomplishments. In 1472, they signed a mutual succession agreement.


Benigna was deeply religious – the ornate prayer book, known today as the Festetics Codex, made for her in the Pauline monastery of Nagyvázsony is a beautiful proof of her faith. The marriage of Benigna and Pál must have been a happy arrangement for both parties since the prayer book contains several prayers beseeching the health of Kinizsi. Unfortunately, all prayers proved futile: after almost fifteen years of marriage, Pál died of a stroke in 1494. As a caring husband, he made some arrangements to ensure the prosperity of his beloved wife: in his will, he left his fortress in Nagyvázsony and the estates around it to her. After the death of her husband, Benigna went on a pilgrimage to the shrine of Báta, which houses a reliquary of the Holy Blood. She donated a red velvet chasuble decorated with a golden cross and rich gold embroidery (whose value was estimated at 50 forints in 1526) to the shrine.


When the official mourning period of a year passed, Benigna remarried. Her second husband was Marko Mišljenović of Kamičac, a royal courtier who also became the ban of Croatia, Dalmatia and Slavonia in 1507. Unfortunately, around 1507-1508, he broke his neck in a horse-riding accident in Zagreb. Benigna buried both her husbands in the monastery of Nagyvázsony, and the remains of their tombs have survived to this day. She did not wear the widow's veil for a long time: she married the considerably younger Gergely Kereki of Vázsony, a man of much lower social standing than her previous husbands. Benigna continued to be committed to God. In 1511, since she had no children, she donated lands to the Pauline monastery of Nagyvázsony in exchange for her own and her deceased husbands’ salvation. The beloved Pauline brothers have made another prayer book for her in 1513 (known today as the Czech Codex). Both this and the previous prayer book show that Benigna was literate in Hungarian. She also went to Rome in 1518 with her husband, mother-in-law and other noblewomen from the neighbouring estates. Her third marriage had a rather dramatic end: she had her lousy, violent, fortune-hunting husband thrown out of the window of the Nagyvázsony fortress in 1519. She was sentenced to death and forfeiture of her possessions; however, with respect to the merits of his father and Pál Kinizsi, and with the help of his second husband’s relatives, she escaped the death sentence, and in 1520, King Louis II granted a full pardon to her.


Benigna appears in sources for the last time in 1525. Her fate, following the defeat at Mohács on 26 August 1526, is completely unknown to us. We know that János Szapolyai declared her unfaithful in 1527 due to the murder of her husband, and that he had donated her possessions, which were returned to the crown, to his faithful subjects as such. Since it is likely that Benigna's two prayer books later became the property of the nunnery on the Island of Rabbits (today Margit Island), the possibility arises that she has entered the monastery – perhaps in hope of dissolution.


Borbála Kelényi
historian and archaeologist




Fig. 1   Seal replica (BTM 65.1741)

Fig. 2   Original seal (Hungarian National Archives, Archives of Diplomas and Charters, 24 371 

Fig. 3   The second page of the Festetics Codex (National Széchényi Library, Hungarian Language Relics 73, available here: http://nyelvemlekek.oszk.hu/adatlap/festeticskodex)



Mini interview


How did you become an archaeologist? 

Although I do have a degree in archaeology, in the museum I work as a historian. I chose both paths because of my desire to know more about the past, especially the Middle Ages. Already as a high school student, I was very interested in this period; I was fortunate enough to participate in an excavation for the first time back then. It became clear during my university years that my primary field of interest is the medieval history of Hungary.


Which period is your specialty and why? 

My favourite period is the late Middle Ages (the 15th century and the first half of the 16th century). Since there is a number of unknown or barely known sources ‘lying around’ in Hungarian and foreign archives, researching it is quite a challenge from a historian’s perspective. While I do not question the importance of political history and event history, I find those sources especially fascinating, which shed some light on people’s everyday lives, since they are usually packed with so much new information.


What is the best part of your job? 

Discovering a new piece of data can fuel a researcher’s excitement for weeks – we examine and analyse it thoroughly, and try to find additional sources to support the finding. Our job is actually kind of similar to an investigator’s work in those CSI series – we put together a whole story from tiny fragments.


What is the greatest difficulty in your job? 

The hardest is probably making people realize that learning about our past is actually useful and necessary, however hard it is to reflect our work in simple numbers. Naturally, in order for this to work, we need to present our latest discoveries to the widest possible audience.   


What was the greatest surprise at an excavation for you?

The greatest surprises of my career actually did not happen at excavations, rather during my archival researches, e.g. when I could put together the whole life story of a certain person from data spread around in different sources. Recently, I was able to recover the life events of a man who lived in Eperjes (Prešov) in the 16th century: after his university studies, he held various religious positions, then fled from Dózsa’s armies at the time of the 1514 uprising. Later he reached the rank of auxiliary bishop, and finally, after the battle of Mohács, we find him as an avid supporter of the Reformation. The surprise was that one or two of these events were already known by historians, but they never connected them, and considered them as referring to different individuals. I believe that piecing together these individual stories can bring both researchers and lay people closer to a certain period.


Why did you choose this particular object?            

Although there are more ornate or unique pieces in the Budapest History Museum’s seal collection, established by Bernát L. Kumorovitz, I have chosen this one exactly for the reasons I have stated above. In my opinion, the original owner of this seal, Benigna Magyar, the wife of renowned military commander Pál Kinizsi has lived quite an exciting life. I wanted to show that interesting stories might lie behind even the simplest of objects. 



About the series


The Castle Museum of the Budapest History Museum has started a series entitled 1 Month - 1 Object - 1 Archaeologist in October 2017. Since August 2018, parts of the series are also available in English.  


All of the archaeological excavations in Budapest are carried out by the employees of the Budapest History Museum – the archaeologists of the Castle Museum are responsible for the ones connected to the Middle Ages. The objects unearthed during these digs become part of the Castle Museum’s collections.   


The aim of the series is to showcase the beauty and the importance of archaeology through personal stories by the employees of the Museum. There is always an interesting or exciting story connected to the object they one of them chooses in a respective month which not only tells you more about history but also about the relationship of the archaeologist to the item in question.


The series 1 Month - 1 Object - 1 Archaeologist is about showing the people behind the exhibitions – the ones who investigate, search, dig and look for connections between the past and the present; the ones whose choice hopefully provides something exciting to the visitors, joining together personal stories with historical knowledge strictly based on facts.   


The object chosen for a certain month is exhibited in the Királypince (King’s Cellar) which was originally a part of the medieval gardens.  


Parts of the series: