Ancient carving of Fráter György's assassination; "All are mortal" - memorial plaque in Gyulafehérvár cathedral (photo EPF)
Fráter György, O.S.P.
(aka Juraj Utješenić and George Martinuzzi)
(6/18/1482 – 12/17/1551)
Charles Balintitt Jr.
Fráter György was born in Kamičak Castle near the Croatian town of Skradin about 10 miles from the Adriatic coast. His father was from a Croatian and Hungarian noble family and his mother was from a Venetian family. His birth name was Juraj Utješenić, but he was also known as George Martinuzzi, after his mother’s maiden name.
His father and older brothers died when he was a child, and the Ottomans took over the family estate. From the age of 8 he was taken in by Corvin János, the illegitimate son of King Matthias I, at his estate in Vajdahunyad, Transylvania (present day Hunedoara, Romania). Corvin Castle was one of the largest castles in Europe and the place where Vlad the Impaler had been held prisoner several years earlier. He had a difficult upbringing there, or in other words, extensive training and education to be a nobleman.
In 1503, he went on to Szepes Castle, which is in present-day Slovakia. He served as a page and then Guard of the Palace under Hedwig of Cieszyn, the widow of Count Zápolya István. A few years later, he decided against a military career and joined the Order of Saint Paul the First Hermit (see my article in the November 2020 issue) at the age of 24. He went on to further his studies at Jasna Góra Monastery in Częstochowa, Poland.
After the Hungarian defeat at the Battle of Mohács in 1526, and the death of young King Louis II, there was a struggle for control of Hungary between Zápolya János, son of Fráter György’s patroness, Hedwig, and Ferdinand I Habsburg. After losing the Battle of Szina (aka Abaújszina, present day Seňa, Slovakia) to Ferdinand, Zápolya fled to Poland. There he met up with Fráter György, who made three visits to Hungary on his behalf to unite his supporters behind him. After this, Suleiman the Magnificent recognized Zápolya as king and he was able to return to Hungary and take control of the central and eastern parts of the kingdom by 1529.
By 1534, Fráter György was made the Royal Treasurer and the king also appointed him Bishop of Várad (or Nagyvárad), which also made him the administrative head (főispán) of Bihar County in Transylvania. He began making enemies at this time, as he tried to consolidate the collection of state revenues and oversee the efforts of tax collectors.
After this he became a key figure in secret negotiations between the Hungarian King and Ferdinand I. The resulting Treaty of Várad, in February of 1538, accepted the division of Hungary between János and Ferdinand, but also stated that the Kingdom of Hungary should be reunited upon the death of either monarch. Although both kings signed the treaty, it remained secret. Shortly thereafter, when János recognized that Ferdinand could not give him aid against the Ottomans, he was no longer interested in following the terms of the treaty. Fráter György advised him that the treaty would not be valid until approved by the Diet. He also strongly proposed that János should marry Isabella Jagiellon, daughter of King Sigismund I of Poland. This took place in the beginning of the following year, and she was crowned queen on March 2, 1539.
In December of 1539, two voivodes (Vajda or royal governors) of Transylvania, Balassa Imre and Majláth István, along with a group of the top nobles in Transylvania met and signed a letter addressed to the king about their complaints against Fráter György in his collection and use of tax revenues. They wanted him punished, but instead the king backed György and as a result, Majláth had to flee to avoid a death sentence.
Zápolya Zsigmond, the son of King János and Queen Isabella, was born on July 7, 1540, just 15 days before the death of his father. Ironically, the king fell ill because of the excessive celebrations after the birth of his son. However, before his death he appointed Fráter György as the chief guardian of his son and urged his loyalists to accept his son as the next king, ignoring the secret treaty he had signed 2 ½ years earlier.
A group of leading Hungarians and enemies of Fráter György turned to Charles V and asked for his support against the Ottomans in return for their support of reuniting Hungary under the rule of his brother, Ferdinand I. In Transylvania, Balassa Imre and Majláth István, were again elected as voivodes of Transylvania, in opposition to Fráter György’s appointment of Bornemissza Boldizsár. György had left Transylvania for Buda with 2,000 troops. He called together the Diet in Pest in September of 1540, which confirmed Zápolya Zsigmond as king and appointed him and Queen Isabella as his guardians.
In 1541, both the Austrians and the Ottomans tried to seize Buda. The Austrians attacked because the secret Treaty of Várad was not followed, so György and Isabella went to the Ottoman Sultan for help, but then the Ottomans not only helped fight off the Austrians, but also laid siege to Buda, so he realized that he had to walk a fine line between the two powers. On December 29, 1541, the treaty of Gyalu was signed. This left Western Hungary under Ferdinand’s control and Eastern Hungary under Zápolya Zsigmond’s control through his regents, and as an Ottoman vassal state.
Fráter György managed to maintain the delicate balance between the Austrians and the Ottomans through the rest of the decade. However, he made additional enemies along the way, many of them because they felt that he had too much power. Among them was Queen Isabella. When, in 1550, she went to Suleiman to complain about him, the sultan took her side and turned against György. As a result of the Queen’s betrayal, György had her imprisoned. He also went against her Moldavian and Wallachian allies and drove them out of Transylvania. He also defeated the Turks at Déva, Transylvania (Deva, Romania).
In 1551, he was at the height of his power and prominence. He had been ordained Archbishop of Esztergom in August and was made a Cardinal by Pope Julius III on October 12th, while remaining Governor of Transylvania. However, his downfall also came at the end of that year. This resulted from that fine line he tried to walk between the Austrians and the Ottomans. The Ottomans had captured Csanád (Cenad, Romania) and he received aid from two generals in the service of Charles V, Giambattista Castaldo and Sforza Pallavicini. When he tried to meet privately to make a deal for the Hungarians with the Ottomans, Castaldo reported back to Ferdinand I, who agreed that this was treason and ordered him to have Fráter György killed. This was carried out on December 16, 1551 at Alvinc Castle (aka Martinuzzi Castle) in Transylvania, by his secretary, Marco Aurelio Ferrari, who initially stabbed him in the back while he was reading a letter. After a struggle, he was finished off by Pallavicini and a group of assassins.
Through his maneuverings, Frater György was able to maintain the relative independence of Transylvania from Habsburg and Ottoman control. He was born in Croatia, but appeared to hold a great love for Transylvania, which most of us do whose families originated from there and have had the pleasure of visiting this beautiful part of the planet.
Charles Bálintitt Jr. is a working Customs Broker in Lawrence, NY and a member of the Magyar News Online Editorial Board.