Let us learn more about the case of Zách Felicián’s attempt who tried to kill Károly Róbert, the Hungarian king on 17 April 1330.

King Károly Róbert (in Képes Krónika)

On 17 April 1330, Zách Felicián made his famous assassination attempt, which is said to have been a sword attack on the royal family preparing to dine, wounding Queen Elizabeth of Lokietek herself. Károly Róbert (r. 1308-1342) later took terrible revenge for the attack: he had Felician’s son and one of his daughters beheaded, his grandchildren given to the Johannites of Rhodes, and his other daughter Klára mutilated and dragged through the country as a deterrent.

The assassin was a member of the Zách – or Záh – clan, whose lands were mostly in Nógrád, Heves, and Gömör counties. The first record of Felicián dates back to 1275, when, according to a charter, the Zách brothers shared an estate with their uncle, Jób Zách, Bishop of Pécs.

Hungarian oligarchs before the rule of Károly Róbert

The young nobleman later entered the service of Csák Máté, the mighty oligarch of the Hungarian Highland (northern part of the kingdom). By the time of the reign of Károly Róbert, he had already risen to a high position, as in 1308 he took part in the meeting of the Highland oligarch and the papal legate Gentilis in Kékes, and later took a lion’s share in the plundering of the estates of the Archbishop of Esztergom and the Bishop of Veszprém.

The painting of Madarász Viktor(1830 -1917): “Zách Felicián” (1858)

In 1315, Károly Róbert tried to win the nobleman’s support, but Zách Felicián refused, and he lost all his estates. Three years later, he changed his mind and renounced Csák Máté, and was granted new estates, and in 1326 he was granted the position of castellan of Sempte and was allowed free access to the king’s palace in Visegrád.

Visegrád (Photo: Kocsis Kadosa)

However, at the end of the 1320s, after the successful unification of the kingdom, Zách Felicián’s star unexpectedly began to decline, as Károly Róbert, after the defeat of the oligarchs, could safely get rid of those he trusted less.

Understandably, Zách Felicián, who had defected from Máté Csák, belonged to this group, and two years after the donation the king took back Sempte and, as the Chronicon Pictum also refers to, deprived the old nobleman of many titles. This is important to stress because disgrace could have been a motive for the assassination.

King Károly Róbert (Thuróczy Chronicle)

According to the Chronicon Pictum (Képes Krónika cc1360), on 17 April 1330, Zách Felicián unexpectedly appeared at the palace of Visegrád, where the monarch was preparing to dine, and attacked the royal family with a sword.

The assassin first inflicted a light wound on Károly Róbert’s hand, then attacked Queen Elizabeth of Lokietek, cutting off four fingers of the woman who was protecting her children. Fortunately for the monarch, the princes’ guardians came to the family’s defense, but both were reportedly fatally wounded in the head by the ferocious Feliciano, who was eventually rendered harmless by Elizabeth’s table servants.

The assassination attempt in the Chronicon Pictum

The assassin was hacked to pieces by the soldiers who rushed into the room, but Károly Róbert was not content with the horrific death of Zách Felicián.

The king soon set up a court of the most influential lords of the land, such as the Viceroy of Transylvania, the Slavonic Bán (Duke), and the treasurer, which was established in 1330.

The painting of Orlai Petrics Soma(1822-1880): – “Zách Felicián”, 1859. (Janus Pannonius Múzeum, Pécs)

On 15 May 1330, the nobleman’s son and his servant were tied to horses’ tails and gored to death, Zách’s eldest daughter was beheaded, her husband Kopaj was taken prisoner, and their children were handed over to the knights of Rhodes.

Zách Felicián’s other daughter, Klára, who had been serving as a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth, was mutilated in the face and hands and dragged around the country on horseback as a deterrent.

Körösfői-Kriesch Aladár: Zách Klára (1911)

Thanks also to Arany János’ beautiful ballad, we have a lot of knowledge about the course of the assassination and the terrible fate of Felicián Zách and his family, which tends to make us forget a serious shortcoming: we are not sure what was the motive behind the nobleman’s mad act.

According to a poem based on later accounts from Italy and Poland, Felician, the grey-haired father, took up the sword to avenge the dishonor of his younger daughter Klára, who was supposedly dishonored by Queen Elizabeth’s brother, the Polish Prince Casimir, later Casimir III (r. 1333-1370).

King Casimir III of Poland

According to these accounts, the man would have chosen suicide in despair and the destruction of his family – for it was clear that the assassination would result – but the sudden attack is refuted by the accounts themselves, which state that Felician learned of the violence on New Year’s Day.

The credibility of this story is also weakened by the fact that Klára was allowed to remain among the courtiers for months – until the assassination – which could not have happened in reality. But what could have been the motive? The suspicion of a conspiracy could be raised, but the assailant carried out the assassination far too clumsily for his skill as a weapon and inflicted light wounds on the royal family.

Körösfői-Kriesch Aladár: The history of Zách Klára (1911)

Moreover, if we were to talk of conspiracy, we would also have to answer the question of who sent Felician to the royal palace and for what purpose. There may be a third explanation for the events, but conspiracy theorists will certainly be wary of it: it is possible that Zách Felicián carried out the assassination alone.

His motive could have been without dishonoring his daughter since he had fallen spectacularly out of favor with Károly Róbert; it cannot even be ruled out that he was involved in an anti-King conspiracy, but, certainly, its masterminds did not intend to kill the ruling family as clumsily as Felician attempted to do on 17 April 1330.

A 3-edged dagger

It is, therefore, most likely that on that day, the nobleman, possibly intoxicated by alcohol, took up arms against Károly Róbert, in a mere coincidence of chance, and in a fit of temper, for which he and his family later paid a bitter price.

/Source: Rubicon, Author: Tarján M. Tamás/

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