In Memory of Cletus, Bishop of Eger, on the 800th Anniversary of the Promulgation of the Golden Bull of Hungary.
Given by the hand of Cletus, chancellor of our court and provost of the church of Eger, in the year of the Incarnation of the Word one thousand two hundred twenty-two.
—Golden Bull of 1222
This year, Hungary celebrates the 800th anniversary of the promulgation of the Golden Bull of Hungary, sealed by King Andrew II of Jerusalem (1205–1235). The medieval apostolic Kingdom of Hungary, founded by King St. Stephen (1000– 1038), was one of the most powerful realms in Christendom, and the Bull served as the emblematic document of the Hungarian constitutional system until the revolution of 1848.
This charter of rights encapsulates the Hungarian theory of state, also known as the Theory of the Holy Crown. However, it is still unclear under what influence the document was written. At the end of the 19th century, historians and jurists rejected the theory that the English Magna Carta (1215) served as an example. As an alternative, some suggested that the Aragonese system (recorded in 1283 as the Privilegio General de Aragó) may have been the main influence. In the 1930s, historian Adorján Divéky presented the theory that all three of these charters (the Hungarian, the English, and the Aragonese) owe their existence to the the constitution of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
However, it is only by examining the author of the Golden Bull, the Royal Chancellor Cletus, that we can truly grasp the significance of this document. Cletus has long stayed under the radar of researchers who look into these charters. The present article tries to offer a vision of the importance of the person and the personality of the author of the Golden Bull of 1222.
Cletus: a patriotic bishop of Eger
As the Golden Bull itself says, it was “given by the hand of Cletus, chancellor of our court and provost of the church of Eger, in the year of the Incarnation of the Word one thousand two hundred twenty-two.” The bishopric of Eger, founded also by King St. Stephen in 1004, was the greatest and the second-richest ecclesiastical beneficium in Hungary, and the bishops of Eger were important figures in Hungary until the revolution of 1848. The city was one of the favourite places of King Emeric (1196–1204), the elder brother and predecessor of King Andrew II. He died in Eger as a guest of Bishop Katapán II.
It seems certain that Cletus was a member of the ancient clan Ug (also known as clan Bél/Beyl). His exact date of birth is unknown, but it was surely before the end of the 12th century, since in 1219 he was nominated as the royal chancellor by King Andrew II. Cletus was a jurist (doctor utriusque juris), and it seems likely that he was educated at the University of Paris, like many previous bishops of Eger, including Lucas Bánffy (1156–1158), Peter II (1181–1197), possibly Katapán II (1198–1217), and Thomas (1217–1224).
At that time, Hungary and France were allies. King Géza II of Hungary (1141–1162) and King Louis VII of France (1137–1180) became friends during the Second Crusade (1147–1150), which crossed through Hungary. The French monarch was the godfather of King Geza’s son, Stephen III (1162–1172); King Béla III of Hungary’s (1172–1196) first wife was Princess Agnes of Châtillon (†1184), daughter of Reynald of Châtillon Prince of Antioch, and his second was Margaret (†1197), sister of King Philip II of France (1180–1223). Knights Templar came to Hungary and were granted lands and privileges by the Hungarian monarchs, especially during the reign of Emeric and Andrew II.
So it seems very likely that Cletus, a high-ranking and promising young man, was sent to study in Paris with the support of a bishop of Eger (either Peter II or Katapán II). We know that Cletus returned to Hungary before 1217, since that year he convoked the cathedral chapter to elect a successor to Bishop Katapán II (†1217). The chapter elected Thomas (†1224) , provost of the church of Fehérvár and the royal chancellor, but a few weeks later he departed with the Fifth Crusade to the Holy Land, led by King Andrew II.
The papacy had been pressuring the rulers of Hungary to participate in a crusade for decades. Bishop Thomas may have joined Andrew II’s crusade because of Eger’s relationship with the Knights Templar. Near to Eger there was a Templar Friary—the Templar Cross and the Holy Grail symbols are still intact on the wall of the chancel—and likely the prior was the bishop of Eger. We know the Knights Templar of Hungary accompanied King Andrew II on the Fifth Crusade, so Bishop Thomas’ presence on the Crusade is no surprise.
The Fifth Crusade was the only crusade where the Christian (in this case, Hungarian) army did not take part in (m)any fights in the Holy Land. But the long journey itself became formative for Hungarian politics. Andrew II started to use the title King of Jerusalem and promised to finance the defence of crusader castles in the Holy Land like Akkon, Krak des Chevaliers, and Margat. Andrew’s second wife was Princess Yolanda of Courtenay, daughter of the emperor of the Latin Empire of Constantinople, and Andrew secured a betrothal for his son, Prince Béla, to the daughter of the Emperor of Nicaea.
King Andrew returned to Hungary in 1218, and Bishop Thomas just a year later. Through Bishop Thomas’ influence, King Andrew nominated Cletus as the royal chancellor in 1219. For a few months, Bishop Thomas served as the primate of Hungary, and Cletus was elected the bishop of Eger by the cathedral chapter, confirmed by both the monarch and the pope.
This election process began at the end of the 12th century and was an attempt to ensure harmony between the Hungarian monarchy and the Church. The practice was not entirely free from discord, but Hungary did not suffer the violent investiture controversies that plagued other European nations, like Germany. The right of patronage in Hungary belonged to the monarch, and, as the Council of Constance confirmed in 1417, “the pope retains no jurisdiction in the donation of ecclesiastical benefices in this kingdom other than his authority to confirm them.” In addition, the customary law protected the interests of the monarch in Hungary:
Since the granting of ecclesiastical benefices, together with that of the goods and property rights pertaining to the churches of God, is known to belong to our prince and king, all ecclesiastics of whatever order, grade, or rank who administer and own castles, fortified houses, strongholds, cities, towns, villages, estates, and deserted lands or any other property rights in this renowned kingdom of Hungary, are always accordingly obliged to swear an oath of fidelity to the lawfully crowned king and prince of this renowned kingdom of Hungary, just like any lay person of the realm, notwithstanding the special liberty of their dignity and exemption.
As the bishop of Eger, Cletus had enormous prestige. At one point, he was asked by Pope Honorius III to be the judge in a clerical dispute. Cletus even petitioned the pope for an exemption from the regulars of the Third (1179) and Fourth (1215) Lateran Councils to cede more income to the poor members of the cathedral chapter of Eger, although the petition was refused. He invited Franciscans from Italy to Eger and founded the first monastery in Hungary for them at the centre of the bishopric.
He restored the original function of the Hospital Saint Jacob in Eger: to look after the poor and ill of the region. After Cletus met the French Abbot General of the Cistercians at the Hungarian royal court, he decided to found a Cistercian monastery in Bélháromkút, the centre of the ancient domain of his clan. He was the key figure during negotiations at the renewal of the Golden Bull (1231), under pressure from the papacy, and again negotiated with the papal legate at the drafting of the Concordat of Bereg (1233) in which King Andrew II swore (again and again) that he would respect the privileges of the Church in Hungary.
A few years later, in 1241, Hungary suffered the Mongol invasion. Although King Béla IV (1235–1270) escaped from the catastrophic battle of Muhi, the majority of Hungarian political figures died. After the invasion, Hungary was in ruins. New research has revealed that nearly half of the inhabited areas in Hungary were destroyed by the invading hordes. Around 20–25% of the total population was killed, mostly in lowland areas; in the Great Hungarian Plain, the destruction was nearly total. This genocide, recorded in the chronicles of eyewitnesses Master Rogerius and Thomas of Split, was the Mongolian vengeance against the Hungarians for their massive resistance during the invasion.
The Mongols came through the Verecke Pass, and the northeastern part of the country, including the bishopric of Eger, suffered acutely; Eger itself was raided and destroyed before the Battle of Muhi.
News of the invasion (which affected Poland and Bohemia as well) spread throughout the continent, but neither the powerful Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II (1220–1250), nor other powers, like the papacy, France, or England, sent effective aid. In desperation, King Béla IV even surrendered more than 350 years of sovereignty and offered the Kingdom of Hungary as an imperial fief to the emperor, but it was useless. Besides the pagan hordes, no one came. “Hungaria plena populo sedet sola,” wrote Rogerius: Hungary was left alone.
King Béla escaped through the territory of the clan Beyl from the battle of Muhi. We know that Cletus survived the devastation—he might have been saved by Knights Templar from Eger—and accompanied the monarch to the Adriatic Sea, as recorded in the letter of privilege of the bishopric of Eger confirmed later by King Stephen V (1270–1272). After the Mongols had left Hungary in 1242, Cletus returned to Eger and began to rebuild the bishopric. He found, upon his return, that the clan had successfully defended the new monastery in Bélháromkút against the hordes. The last source (a papal bull) that mentions Cletus as bishop of Eger is dated in December 1245. The date of his death and place of his burial is unknown, but the monastery founded by him in Bélháromkút (today: Bélapátfalva) still stands, and will be totally renovated by 2024.
The author of the Golden Bull
As I mentioned before, we do not know exactly under what influence the Golden Bull of Hungary was written. But there are some theories. The wife of King Emeric of Hungary (†1204) was Constance of Aragon. Constance’s young son Ladislaus III succeeded his father in 1204, with Prince Andrew as regent. Soon, however, Andrew claimed all authority and Ladislaus and Constance were little more than prisoners. Constance escaped to Vienna with her son, where they found refuge; it seems probable that she also managed to steal the Holy Crown, the irreplaceable sign of Hungarian sovereignty, taking it with her to Austria.
To get it back, Prince Andrew prepared to lead a military campaign against his cousin Duke Leopold VI of Austria. But young Ladislaus died unexpectedly in Vienna in 1205. The Holy Crown was returned and Andrew was elected and crowned king of Hungary that same year. It seems that many supporters of the late King Emeric opposed King Andrew, and these opposing barons—Aragonese knights and prelates—might have influenced the drafting of the Golden Bull in 1222.
There is evidence of influence from England and Jerusalem as well. The majority of the Hungarian prelates participated at the Fourth Council of Lateran (1215) in Rome, where they met Stephen Langton, the archbishop of Canterbury. They may well have learned from Langton about the Magna Carta, recently issued by King John. In addition, two Hungarian prelates travelled to England in 1220 to participate at the reburial of Saint Thomas Becket of Canterbury in the 50th jubilee year of his death.
Finally, in 1217 Hungarian prelates and barons went to the Holy Land with the Fifth Crusade, where they met King Hugh I of Cyprus, titular king of Jerusalem. From him, Hungarian leaders might have gathered first-hand information about the constitution of Jerusalem.
From this we see that those most closely involved in the making of the Golden Bull of Hungary had direct contact with the English, the Aragonese, the French, and the knights and king of Jerusalem in the years leading up to the drafting of the famous edict.
Despite all these various influences, the text of the Golden Bull is profoundly and distinctively Hungarian. The words of the text do not pay homage to England, Aragon, or Jerusalem, but to Hungary: the ancient customs, the customary law, the laws of King Saint Stephen. The Bull was consistent with the constitutional system of Hungary.
Cletus, as the royal chancellor, likely read all or most of the documents of the state: the laws of King St. Stephen (†1038), King Andrew I (†1060), King St. Ladislaus (†1095), King Coloman the Bookish (†1116), and Gesta Hungarorum, or Chronicle of the Hungarians, written by his predecessor Péter II. The most emblematic provisions of the Golden Bull respond directly with the first source of the historical Hungarian constitution, the famous Blood Oath (884):
That as long as they live and their descendants live, their leader will always be from Álmos’s lineage. That all wealth acquired by them will be divided between them. That the nobles who have chosen Álmos as their leader by their own will, and their descendants, will always be included in the leader’s council and will bear the country’s offices. If someone of their descendants would ever be disloyal to the leader or would incite disagreement between the leader and his kin, then he should have his blood spilt, just as the leaders’ blood was let from their body when they swore their oath to Chieftain Álmos. If a descendant of Álmos or the other leaders would violate the terms of this agreement, he should be forever cursed.
Keeping in mind that Cletus would have been familiar with both the text of the Blood Oath and with the Hungarian political and legal codes that came from it, it is logical that the Golden Bull was totally consistent with the oath and the laws of King St. Stephen. This is especially clear where the text of the Golden Bull calls for the restoration of the “liberties established by St. Stephen the king.”
Although the Hungarian nobles put King Andrew II under pressure to sign the Bull, the document did not humiliate the realm; it was issued as a letter of privilege, as if the edict reflected the will of the monarch, rather than as a treaty between the monarch and the estates, like the Magna Carta. The document itself is a limitation to the power of the king—a limitation that was in line with the laws of King St. Stephen, which distinguished between the monarch and realm (rex et regnum). The Golden Bull also called for the participation of the nation in the most important political decisions, specifically through the council of the realm (consilio regni) and the annual assembly of Fehérvár (festo sancti regis).
Because the underlying concepts of the Bull derived from ancient theory and custom, the adjustments to the relationship between the king and the nation were smooth and lasting. The spirit of the Golden Bull served as a safeguard for constitutionalism in Hungary for centuries. By securing the (legal) unity of the nation, the Bull prevented the state and society from falling apart, as happened in Western feudal systems like France and Germany. The Golden Bull prevented the emergence of feudalism in Hungary because it prohibited the privatization of public offices or dignities (“we shall not bestow whole counties or any other dignities as estates or possessions in perpetuity”).
The granting of privileges and lands to barons and royal dignitaries had turned the system upside down, but the Bull restored the oldest elements, which dated back to the reign of King St. Stephen. Western feudal law did affect the legal system of the country later, mostly during the Habsburg period (1526–1848) with the appearance of hereditary noble titles (baron, count, duke) among the aristocracy. But it did not affect Hungarian public law much.
In 1687, the order of succession of the throne was accepted by the Diet of Pozsony under strict constitutional guarantees. So first of all, the articles of the Golden Bull sought to restore the ancient rights (liberties) of the nation, and secondly to stymie the encroaching influence of Western feudalism at the beginning of the 13th century.
The Bull sought to defend the interests of the Hungarian nation: “possessions shall not be granted outside of the realm; if some have been given or sold, they shall be returned to the inhabitants of the realm for a reimbursement.” It proscribed that, “if foreigners, indeed honorable men, come to the kingdom, they shall not be raised to dignities without the consent of the kingdom,” a norm which had important relevance during the Habsburg period. The document also mandated that the monarchy respect the privileges and rights of other communities of the realm:
castle-warriors shall be preserved in the liberties established by the holy king. Similarly foreign guests of whatever nationality shall be preserved in the liberties originally granted to them.
This second line led to the Diploma Andreanum in 1224, which was the first such document in Europe and secured the autonomy and the privileges of the Transylvanian Saxons in Hungary. These “guests,” as the documents call them, had been a part of Hungarian life since the reign of King St. Stephen.
The Golden Bull also declared the right to property, saying, “No one shall at any time be deprived of possessions acquired by honorable service.”
Alongside its main focus of upholding the rights and liberties of the nation, the Golden Bull underscored the responsibility that comes with those rights. For example, it says,
If any count does not honorably conduct himself according to the character of his comital office or brings ruin to those attached to his castle, and if this is proven, he shall make good the damage and be dishonorably deprived of his office in front of the whole kingdom.
Finally, the Bull gave the right of resistance to the whole nation, saying,
We have also decreed that if we or any of our successors at any time should seek to oppose the terms of this settlement, both the bishops and other baronial retainers as well as the nobles of the realm, singularly and in common, both present and future generations, shall by this authority have the right in perpetuity to resist and speak against us and our successors without the charge of high treason.
Although this famous right of resistance was abolished at the Diet of Pozsony (1687), the Golden Bull “which decree every Hungarian king is wont to swear on oath to observe before the Holy Crown is placed on his head,” remained the most symbolic and important document of the constitutional system of Hungary until the beginning of the 20th century.
It is possible that Chancellor Cletus acted under international influence in writing the Golden Bull, but the spirit of the Bull was totally consistent with the spirit of earlier Hungarian laws and customs. The fact that Cletus spent years in the chancellery must have been a key role in that process. The Golden Bull is a unique document in Europe; it proved to be not only the fundamental privilege of Hungary’s constitutional system , but a guarantee of the nation’s sovereignty. The text upholds principles such as constitutionalism, the rule of law, the inviolability of property, the limited royal power and the political and legal responsibility of public administration. On the occasion of the 800th anniversary of the promulgation, we should commemorate the well-educated and patriotic statesman, Cletus from the clan Beyl, royal chancellor and bishop of Eger, who gave Hungarians such a noble gift.