3. The background
Kings reign over countries. Counts administer chiefly counties; that are regional political units. This is reflected in the English, in the French and other languages, in the relationship between the words “count” and “county”, respectively “comte” and “comté”. Don’t be surprised, in both languages (plus Spanish, Italian, etc.) the word does come from the Latin ‘counting’, an important act and capability that, paired with trustworthiness, led in old times to appointment for important political/administrative positions. Similarly, in German the corresponding title “Graf” and administrative unit “Grafschaft”, and the Hungarian “gróf” and “grófság” derive from a skill, namely the capability of making/keeping records (see for example ‘graphics’) and originate from the Greek word “grapho”, ‘to write’.
Not surprisingly a great number of our ancestors bore public responsibility: on one hand by administering given provinces and on the other hand defending them (and the country) as leading soldiers. That was the main political and social function of nobles in medieval and pre-modern times. This explains the basic status of the Zichy family: relatively important, hence wealthy administrators, politicians, churchmen and soldiers. (For information: in historic Hungary counties - of which counts were in charge - were of around 5.000 sqkm on average with a population of around half a million living on it, during the last two centuries.)
While the family calls itself these days “Zichy de zics et vásonkeö” (in many places written also as “vásonykeö”), - in Latin “Zichy de zich et vasonkeoe”, - in earlier times the zichys were reportedly called “zajki” after the village Zajk in family possession (close to the river Dráva, formerly in county Somogy, now in county Zala) and even earlier “járai” after a village up in the hills of Transsylvania, in the Torda region, now in Romania. Before that, in the 12th century, researchers find only historical fog as Hungarians had only few written records at that time. (For the ‘fog’ refer to the chapter below among the family stories!)
The family appears in written documents first from the 13th century on, because (latest) at that time it was elevated to provincial (=county) responsibilities. From there on the family continues to occupy public offices in Hungary through decades and centuries to come. Zics, - by the way, - the village from which the family takes its present name, is South of the Balaton lake. Its (modest) castle has been demolished by the communist power after the second world war; its church, however, built by the family, still stands on the hill, holding also the graves of its builders. “Vázsonykö” village, - as is written today, - is North of the lake Balaton.
The qualitative jump in fame and respect payed to the family followed in 1655 and in 1679, when István (= Steven) has been granted the title of ‘baron’ and successively ‘count’ (and corresponding possessions) respectively in recognition of his military successes against the Turks. Family members obtained Hungarian national and even Austro-Hungarian imperial responsibilities in the later 17th, 18th , 19th and early 20th century when family influence on national and even Central European politics has become considerable indeed.
In the aftermath of the first and the second World war and particularly the communist decades in Central Europe the family suffered severe losses of possession, status, even liberty and of potential for recovery. In fact, in the year 2000 the family finds itself in complete diaspora reflected well by the recent (2000) geographic distribution of its members: 17 in Australia, 16 in Latin America, 45 in North America, 54 in Western Europe and only 22 in Central Europe. Right now no one lives in Africa or Asia! And only one Zichy, - a big archipelago as a matter of fact ! - stands in the Arktis. More about this later on.
No illusions! - the Zichys were not the most famous and the richest aristocrats in the Austro –Hungarian empire. They were, however, one among the richest, among the most influential. They did and do outnumber all other Hungarian magnat families. Moreover, - as some outside observer remarked, - “ they always had …. the most attractive wives and daughters”.
It would be desirable indeed to keep some family identity for the future, some moral and traditional standards and some solidarity, - to what this manual intends to contribute.