Why a Raven with a Ring?

viola vonfi

Central to King Mátyás’ crest, the crest of the Hunyadi family, is a raven holding a golden ring in its beak. What might be the story behind that?

Well, when you go back some 700 years, it’s difficult to untangle legend from history. The story of the raven and the ring was taken from the writings of Antonio Bonfini, who had been King Mátyás’ court historian.  The story was then recorded (embellished?) by Heltai Gáspár, a 16th century Protestant minister, writer and printer.  This is his version of the story:

King Zsigmond (reigned as king of Hungary 1387 to 1437) was well known to have been a womanizer. On one of his forays into Transylvania,  he was introduced to Morzsinai Erzsébet, a great beauty.  When the king showed an interest in her, she asked him point blank for some security in case she became pregnant.  He then, so the story goes, gave her a ring, which would give her admission to his court any time, and even reassured her in writing.

Erzsébet did give birth to a boy, János.  When he was little, she gave him the ring to play with.  One day, however, as he was playing in the yard, a raven swooped down and picked up the ring in its beak.  She panicked, and convinced her brother to shoot the bird quickly, since their whole fortune depended on it.  Her brother was a good shot with a bow and arrow, and the ring was recovered.

She then took the boy, the ring and the slip of paper and went to see King Zsigmond in Buda.  He kept his promise, and provided Erzsébet with much gold and a carriage, and gifted the boy with the town of Hunyad and the surrounding property.  He also gave János a crest, showing a raven with a gold ring in its beak. It thus became the Hunyadi family’s crest – including that of János’ son, King Mátyás.

Now you know.  

viola vonfi is our correspondent from Stamford, CT.  She finds it amusing that one of her ancestors was knighted by Wallenstein during the Thirty Years’ War.