Szarvaskő (at Döbrönte)
The village of Döbrönte is a small village of 280 inhabitants near the city of Pápa. It is situated on the gentle slopes of the Northern part of the Bakony Mountains of Hungary. The place is famous for the ruins of its scenic castle: nobody would say that it used to be the nest of robber knights in the 15th century who were terrorizing the countryside. Later, during the Hungarian-Ottoman wars, it served as a castle in the second line of the Military Frontier. Note, we should not confuse this castle with another Szarvaskői castle that is in Heves County, near Eger.
The name Döbrönte derives from the Slavic word Dobrete which was a name of an individual. The settlement with this name was born most likely in the 11th century but there are archeological findings from the Roman age as well. It was first mentioned in a document in 1240, and in 1330, it was called Debrenthe.
The area of Döbrönte village used to belong to the powerful Csák Clan, and the settlement was controlled by the Castle of Ugod.
However, the powerful Csák family was not on good terms with King Károly Róbert. Gradually, the king forced the Csák Clan to sell or barter their lands. Móricz, the last member of the Csák family of the Ugod branch became a monk and sold his property to Tördemici Fehér Pál before 1320.
The Himfy family of the Szalók Clan purchased the lands from him in 1330. These upstarts became one of the most successful families in Veszprém County. Their rise began during the reign of King Károly Róbert, due to their military skills. The sons of Nemfi / Hymfi gained lands in Temes and Krassó Counties, then they got hold of Döbrönte, too. (Please, note that I use the Oriental name order for Hungarians where family names come first.)
It was Himfy Benedek, the Comes of Pozsony who distinguished himself in the wars of King Louis the Great and he was awarded the village of Jákótelek near Döbrönte. Benedek was appointed as Duke of Bulgaria so he didn’t spend much time at home. The king gave a permit to him to build a stone castle in 1367 at Döbrönte and the first fortification was ready before 1374. The castle was first mentioned in King Louis’ document as „Zarwaskw” (Szarvaskő = Deer-stone) but this name was not often used. The name may have derived from the COA of the Himfy family where we can see a deer.
Eventually, the career of the Himfy family declined by the first part of the 15th century. They were not able to defend their domains properly from the violent neighbors who took lots of land from them. In 1401, the Rátóti Gyulaffy family and their men-at-arms attacked and looted even the castle. As their income was decreasing, the members of the Himffy family also became robber knights like many small lords of that age. Led by Debrentei Tamás and his brothers, they attacked and looted the Monastery of Pannonhalma in 1464. It was a crime and King Matthias had to punish them. He took away their lands and gave their castle, Szarvaskő, along with all of their domains to Baron László of Kanizsa.
As it turned out, somehow the Himfy family got the castle back after a few years. Now, their family members were fighting against each other to decide the ownership of the place. Finally, they agreed in 1467 and pledged the castle to Szentgróti János and Hagymássy Miklós in exchange for 1,100 pieces of gold. However, the new owners could not get into the castle without trouble because one Himfy family member denied signing the business, and took himself into the castle. As it happened, the castle guards of Lőrinc of Himffy were forced out of Szarvaskő in 1469. Lord Lőrinc was furious and took revenge by destroying their village, Döbrönte.
The property rights may not have been settled fully because the castle has been pledged three times during the 1480s.
Szarvaskő must have been owned by Himfy Imre in 1490 because he was improving the castle. Sadly, the newly built buildings were damaged in a fire in 1496. As the owner’s person was not clear, it had to be officially settled. Finally, King Ulászló II was persuaded in 1496 to give the castle and its lands to Himfy Imre and his daughter, Orsolya. She gave her hand to Essegvári Ferenc, the lord of the neighboring Bánd castle in 1499. Himfy Imre was the last male member of the family so he pledged the castle to his son-in-law before he died in 1502.
After the defeat of Mohács in 1526, the castle was reinforced because of the Turkish threat. In addition to it, the Diet of Pozsony (Pressburg, Bratislava) in 1547 voted to pay five more Hussars in its garrison.
When the strong Veszprém castle fell to the Turks in 1552, the small castle of Szarvaskő’s military role has been increased. It was the reason why a round bastion was built where cannons could be deployed. A new entrance was also constructed. Here you can read more about the Military Borderland:
Szarvaskő became a second-line Borderland castle, and it was helping the defense system of the Chief Captaincy of Győr castle, supervised by Palatine Nádasdy Tamás. We do not know about any significant military activity taking place near Szarvaskő, though. There were altogether no more than 10-15 infantrymen and 5-6 Hussars in the keep.
It was a small fort in the chain of Frontier castles but these small forts kept the country – and Europe – intact. The castle was still standing in 1555, according to the inventory made by Palatine Nádasdy Tamás who was trying to assess his Trans-Danubian castles.
The Essegvári family was discontinued in 1586 and the previous function of Szarvaskő ceased to exist. It was no longer a headquarter of a noble family, no documents or treasures were stored there anymore.
During the 15-Year-War, Pápa and Győr castles fell into the Ottomans’ hands for a short time. The guards of Szarvaskő must have abandoned their post in this period, assumedly between 1594 and 1598. Its destruction may have been brought about by a Turkish raid soon afterward. After the Ottoman rule, the area was devastated and the castle was an abandoned ruin in the middle of the 18th century.
The new landlord, Somogyi Miklós invited German settlers in 1761 who built their houses from the stones of Szarvaskő. In 1782, 261 inhabitants in the village lived in 142 houses. There lived 485 German people in the settlement in 1941 and most of them were deported to Germany after WWII. Some last-minute renovation work took place in 1990 and 2001 but the renewal of the entire castle remains to be seen. However, the inhabitants of the village take good care of the castle’s environment.
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Here are a few more pictures of Szarvaskő castle: