The king and the Jewish community of Buda
King Matthias was a true and wise renaissance monarch of Hungary and his country was prospering. He took good use of the financial services of the Jewish community of Buda but in a controlled manner. The king established a high office for his Jews, the Jewish Prefecture. Its leader was Mendel who came from a great and wealthy Jewish family, he was also the president of the Jewish denomination. The Mendel family had come from Spain through Germany and they had been filling this office between 1470-1526. Also, in Buda, the Great Synagogue was built in 1461. It used to be one of the largest synagogues of Central Europe but it was destroyed by the Habsburgs in the siege of 1686. (You can see below a drawing of its interior and some of the remains of the building.)
King Matthias wed his queen, Beatrice, in 1476, and when their wedding procession reached the gate of Buda castle, the promenade’s lead was taken over by the Jewish Prefect. (See the picture.) Mendel and his son were riding with unsheathed swords in their hands. In their baskets, there were ten pounds of silver that they were throwing to the crowd. They were followed by twenty-four Jewish knights (!), all dressed in purple robes, with three ostrich feathers in their hats. The old Black (Schwartz) Mendel and his son Jakab, just like the other Jewish knights, were also bearing flags that were adorned with the David star on a shield. This was the first mention in Europe that associated the hexagram with the symbol of the Jews. This scene is without exception in contemporary Christendom where it was never-heard-of that Jews could be seen armed on horseback, in public. It was also a symbol: the monarch was raining silver coins to his subjects by the hands of his Jews.
The Jews had belonged to the highest Hungarian nobility and they even had the right to bear arms.
Unlike elsewhere in Europe, Jews were allowed to carry arms in Hungary just like later during the Ottoman rule. (In the Sultan’s Empire, only the Muslims were permitted to carry weapons, except in Istanbul where nobody was allowed to wear arms.)
We have two gold and silver decorated sabers from this age which had belonged to high-ranking Jewish owners. (I could find just one picture on the internet.) A Hebrew script can be read on their blades with kabbalist symbols. The inscriptions on them are parts from the Psalms and also prayers in which they ask for God’s help. These rare swords today are regarded as “the holy swords of the Hungarian Jews”. According to Jewish folk traditions of Hungary, the first sword’s owner had been Teka, the Count of the Mining Towns of Hungary between 1225-1244. Yet, experts say these swords are more likely from the 17th century, though it is possible that one of their blade’s iron is from the 15th century. Some say it may have belonged to Jakob Mendel in King Matthias’s time. The sword with the gold inscription was wrought for self-defense while another one with the silver text was probably a ceremonial sword. Both are proofs that Jews did use weapons in that period.
After King Matthias was poisoned in Vienna, presumably by the combined efforts of his Italian wife Beatrice and Baron Szapolyai and the Austrians, the first atrocities broke out and four Jews were burnt in Nagyszombat in 1494.
The relations between the Jewish community and the Court have been declining rapidly after the weakening of the central royal power. Sadly, by 1526 the financial power had slipped from the hand of Mendel and went to his rival, Imre Fortunatus.