Question: Provide an overview of the county system of Hungary in the early 20th century.
In endeavoring, with the aid of the church, to establish his kingship on the Western model Stephen had the immense advantage of building on unencumbered ground, the greater part of the soil of the country being at his absolute disposal. His authority, too, was absolute, being tempered only by the shadowy right of the Magyar nation to meet in general assembly; and this authority he was careful not to compromise by any slavish imitation of that feudal polity by which in the West the royal power was becoming obscured. Although he broke off the Magyar tribal system, encouraged the private ownership of land, and even made grants of land on condition of military service--in order to secure an armed force independent of the national levy--he based his new principle of government, not on feudalism, but on the organization of the Frankish empire, which he adapted to suit the peculiar exigencies of his realm. Of the institutions thus borrowed and adapted the most notable was the famous county system which still plays so conspicuous a part in Hungarian national life. Central and western Hungary were divided into forty-six counties. At the head of each county was placed a count, or lord-lieutenant, who nominated his subordinate officials: the castellan, chief captain and "hundredor." The lord-lieutenant was nominated by the king, whom he was bound to follow to battle at the first summons. Two-thirds of the revenue of the county went into the royal treasury, the remaining third the lord-lieutenant retained for administrative purposes. In the county system were included all the inhabitants of the country save two classes: the still numerous pagan clans, and those nobles who were attached to the king's person, from whom he selected his chief officers of state and the members of his council, of which we now hear for the first time.
It is significant for the whole future of Hungary that no effort was or could be made by Stephen to weld the heterogeneous races under his crown into a united nation. The body politic consisted, after as before, of the king and the whole mass of Magyar freemen or nobles, descendants of Árpád's warriors, theoretically all equal in spite of growing inequalities of wealth and power, who constituted the "populus"; privileges were granted by the king to foreign immigrants in the cities, and the rights of nobility were granted to non-Magyars for special services; but, in general, the non-Magyars were ruled by the royal governors as subject races, forming--in contradistinction to the "nobles"--the mass of the peasants, the "misera contribuens plebs" upon whom until 1848 nearly the whole burden of taxation fell. The right, not often exercised, of the Magyar nobles to meet in general assembly and the elective character of the crown Stephen also did not venture to touch. On the other hand, his example in manumitting most of his slaves, together with the precepts of the church, practically put an end to slavery in the course of the 13th century, the slaves becoming for the most part serfs, who differed from the free peasants only in the fact that they were attached to the soil.
At this time all the conditions of life in Hungary were simple and primitive. The court itself was perambulatory. In summer the king dispensed justice in the open air, under a large tree. Only in the short winter months did he dwell in the house built for him at Esztergom by his Italian architects. The most valuable part of his property still consisted of flocks and herds, or the products of the labors of his serfs, a large proportion of whom were bee-keepers, hunters and fishers employed in and around the interminable virgin-forests of the rough-hewn young monarchy.
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