Kerekes Katalin is hands down my favorite ancestor. Our lineage gets a little fuzzy in the 17th century so I’m not sure how many ‘greats’ apply. In the early 1600s Katalin was fighting by the side of her warrior husband, Édes Gergely, and his brothers. She received nobility in her own name because of her valor. This was no small accomplishment at a time when women were considered less than human. She was “a big strong armed woman who fought like an animal’ according to the patent of nobility. Her husband’s family was from Székelyföld. No word about her dad, but Katalin’s mother was a hajdú.
The hajdúk (plural for hajdú) had been peasant cattle drovers on the puszta, the eastern plains of Hungary. Driving herds of the big grey long-horned ‘Magyar szürkemarha‘ to market, they had to become fierce fighters to defend themselves on the vast treeless plains.
Hungary was carved into 3 parts after the 1526 Ottoman conquest at Mohács. This led to 150 years of Turkish occupation. The south was held by the Turks. The north (Royal Hungary) was controlled by the Hapsburgs’ Holy Roman Empire. Transylvania on the east became an autonomous principality. Although under the control of the Turks, the Transylvanian nobles elected their own prince. (The peasants, of course had no vote, only the obligation to pay taxes to support the nobles in the style to which they were accustomed.)
Politics were fractious in Hungary and alliances were constantly shifting. The Hungarians and Transylvanians wanted the occupiers out of their country and from time to time would mount attacks to achieve that end. But the odds were not in their favor. However when they won some major battles they managed to negotiate some concessions.
In 1605 the Transylvanian prince Bocskai István planned an insurrection against the Hapsburgs to stop their vicious persecution of the Protestants. A military governor of Upper Hungary got wind of the plan and led an operation to seize Bocskai. Among the imperial troops was a hajdú regiment, “men who were believed to fear neither God nor man and to be interested only in money and looting”. But they “were also Protestants, and the evidence of religious persecution turned them against the emperor”1. The hajdúk joined forces with Bocskai and were victorious.
For their support, Bocskai granted the hajdúk ’collective nobility’ and sites for seven villages in the area that is now Hajdú-Bihar County. Kerekes Katalin was born there in the village of Hajdúhadház.
Three decades after Bocskai’s victory, Katalin and the Édes brothers fought for a different Transylvanian Prince, Bethlen Gábor. Bethlen mounted an insurrection against the Hapsburgs to force them to respect the treaty signed with Bocskai that was supposed to guarantee religious freedom for the Protestants.
After Bethlen’s death, the Édes clan fell out of favor with Bethlen’s successor, Prince Rákóczy. They were forced to flee to Royal Hungary and change sides where they served the Empire and were granted nobility. Several years later, when Rákóczy led yet another insurrection against the Hapsburgs, Katalin and the Édes brothers met the hajdú troops fighting with Rákóczy. The hajdúk, likely relatives of Katalin, convinced the Édes clan to switch sides again and join forces with them.
From a distance of almost 4 centuries it may seem that all these fighters were opportunistic mercenaries. But understanding the context of the time they must have been pragmatic. They did what they had to do. At their core they were Hungarian and fought for their country, fragmented as it was, and for the best life for their families. There is no way we can know how they came to the decisions that they made. But I imagine that Katalin, holding her own in the company of the men, was forcefully encouraging the clan to join with the hajdúk on Rákóczy’s side. They were, after all, family.
1′Bocskai’s Insurrection and the Rebirth of the Transylvanian State‘, Hungarian Electronic Library
Pro Memoriam, Albert Édes 1855
Note: My genealogist friends may cringe at the “fuzzy lineage” statement. The sources available for this line included records back to my 5th great-grandfather born in 1699. He was confirmed as a noble descendant of Gergely and Katalin in 1728, but the documentation does not include his pedigree.