The Family

The Barcsay Family | The Banffy Family

The Banffy Family

The Banffys are an ancient Hungarian family claiming descent from Tomaj, a Petcheneg chieftain allied with the Magyars in the late 9thcentury. Dennis (c.1190-1241) was the founder of the family's fortunes. Palatine of Hungary, Ban (viceroy) of Croatia and Vajda (governor) of Transylvania), he died fighting the Mongols at the battle of Muhi in 1241. Granted estates in Transylvania, his offspring subsequently adopted the name "Ban fi" (son of the ban). During the Middle Ages, the Banffys were the richest and most important family in Transylvania.

After 1541, their importance declined somewhat, though members of the family consistently held high office as diplomats, privy councillors and Lords Lieutenant of counties. Agnes Banffy, daughter of the privy councillor Sigismund Banffy, married Akos Barcsay, Prince of Transylvania in 1660.

Gyalu castle was acquired by Baron Dennis Banffy - of the Bonchida branch - in 1663. His son, Count George Banffy (+1709) became the first Habsburg governor of Transylvania in 1696. Governor Banffy's grandson, Count Dennis (1723-1780), was a controversial personality. Married to a wealthy heiress – Baroness Agnes Barcsay – he spent his own fortune, and hers, in rebuilding the chateau of Bonchida and living the high life at the imperial court in Vienna. His conversion to Catholicism and his insistence that his children do the same - not shrinking from the use of force to achieve this - scandalized his Protestant contemporaries. Hounded by creditors, he was obliged to accept the tutelage of his mother-in-law, who took over the management of his estates and paid his debts.

His son, Count George (1746-1822) supported the reforming ideas of Emperor Joseph II and was named Governor of Transylvania in 1787, a post he occupied until his death. He built the Banffy palace in Kolozsvar (Cluj) during the late 1770's in early neoclassical style. Both he and his wife, Countess Josepha Palm, were enlightened patrons of music aiding among others, the destitute Mozart in Vienna.

It was Governor Banffy's second son, Dennis (1777-1854), who decided to restore Gyalu castle in 1838. Also musical, he supported the young Transylvanian child prodigy, Carl Filtsch, who eventually became a pupil of Chopin in Paris. An Italian composer, Matteo Bevilacqua, dedicated a sonata to Banffy in 1807.

After the extinction of the older Bonchida line in 1858, Count Nicholas Banffy (1801-1894), of the younger line, acquired the chateau of Bonchida. His granddaughter, Countess Katherine Banffy (1871-1974) - daughter of Count George Banffy and Baroness Irma Banffy - obtained Gyalu castle as part of her dowry on marrying Thomas Barcsay de Nagybarcsa. Her brother, Count Nicholas Banffy (1873-1950), was a gifted novelist and playwright. As director of the Royal Hungarian Opera, he supported the staging of Bela Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle, despite fierce conservative opposition. Hungarian foreign minister in 1921, he was partly responsible for the plebiscite which kept Sopron in Hungary.