The professional biography of an early modern lawyer:
János Szepsy (Zepsy)
Research into the Hungarian “legal intellectuals” of the sixteenth and seventeenth-centuries has been far behind the achievements of medieval studies. This essay gives an account of the career of a lawyer, János Szepsy (Zepsy), living in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth-centuries, and who was a tax-paying nobleman coming from Kisvölcsej, Sopron County. As a lawyer, Szepsy was in the familiar service of the Nádasdy family. His course of life was not typical of the lesser nobility. Being a lay notary, he did not serve at any places of authentication and he failed to exploit his familiar connections in order to occupy county offices. He commenced his career as a lawyer in Sopron County in 1596, then having earned some reputation, from 1602 he also worked in Vas County. In both counties, until 1620, he represented families of the higher nobility (Nádasdy, Zrínyi, Széchy of Rimaszécs), well-to-do landed noblemen (Viczay of Loos) as well as lesser noblemen in all kinds of legal transactions. During his career as a regional lawyer, he held positions in forums of various levels of justice. He represented parties in the law courts of Sopron and Vas Counties, in manorial courts and when administering justice in the market town magistrates of Szombathely. As well as intervening on behalf of the citizens of Sopron, he participated in administering justice in military cases of national and local significance.
In autumn 1619 Szepsy’s professional career as a lawyer changed into a political one. In November, same year, alongside Ferenc Szántóházy, town-clerk of Vas and Sopron Counties, protonotary of chief justice, Szepsy was elected parliamentary deputy of Sopron County. At the time Szepsy became a follower of Gábor Bethlen, prince of Transylvania and was among the prince’s confidants from Western Transdanubia. As the deputy of Sopron County, and supported by Bethlen, he attended the parliament of 1620 in Besztercebánya. In 1620–1622, in Western Transdanubia, Szepsy worked as the tax-collector of the prince, the manager of royal revenues as well as master of musters.
Western Transdanubia having reassumed loyalty to the Hapsburg emperor, Szepsy’s position became untenable in this region. His lord, Pál Nádasdy, lent him a helping hand. He had to manage the affairs of the Nádasdy family’s estates in Regéc, Abaúj County, as well as to represent their interests in Abaúj County. Thanks to his political and social connections, he rose into the ranks of the counsellors of Gábor Bethlen’s Chamber of Szepes in 1624 and continued to hold this position even as late as 1625. He managed to fit in the society of the nobility of Abaúj County: he was elected judge of the Court of Appeal in 1626–27. He died in 1627.
Through representing the course of life of Szepsy I intended to present a case study of social mobility in early modern Hungary.