Author: Historian Seat Captain Vitez Attila Bánó de Tapolylucska et Kükemező
In 1928, in the preface to the large volume titled A magyar nemzet hadtörténelme (A military history of the Hungarian nation), Archduke and Field Marshal Vitez Joseph August of Habsburg-Lorraine wrote, “In most cases, the past is but a mirror of the future which gives a clear picture of how to avoid big troubles and how serve a better future. Let us learn from this work, and let us not be disheartened, because the strong Hungarian spirit is is still alive.”
When talking about “the strong Hungarian spirit”, the Field Marshal (a descendant of the Hungarian or Palatine branch of the House of Habsburg, who, after the death of Vitez Miklós Horthy of Nagybánya in 1957 became the second Captain General of the Order of Vitez) referred to the heroic spirit that determined Hungary’s entire military history. Unfortunately, World War I, which brought unprecedented destruction, offered many opportunities for the Hungarians to prove their bravery. Hungarian soldiers proved themselves in inhumane conditions, often lacking adequate equipment. It is no coincidence that after the war Governor Horthy, himself a war hero, felt obliged to recognise their deeds.
The idea of establishing the Order of Vitez was related to the fact that Hungarian kings had traditionally recognised heroic deeds with the award of nobility and land, but after 1918, given that Hungary had no king, the opportunity of awarding nobility no longer existed. Above all, the Order of Vitez was established (1920) to fill in this gap and, obviously, to preserve the spirituality which had enabled Hungarians to defend their homeland since ancient times.
The National Seat of Vitez, chaired by Governor Miklós Horthy, held its first meeting on 25 September 1920, in the Matthias Hall of the Royal Castle of Buda. On the same day, the governor signed the appointment of the members the Seat of Vitez. The document was countersigned by Prime Minister Count Pál Teleki. The governor’s “highest-level document” designated the officers of the Seat of Vitez and made references to their duties and obligations. Szilárd Tátrai, in his study A Vitézi Rend első évtizedének története (A history of the first decade of the Order of Vitez) published in Hadtörténelmi közlemények (Journal of Military History) (Vol. 110, No. 1, 1997) quoted the document as follows, “In response to the submission of the Hungarian Prime Minister, I hereby appoint Lieutenant General and Royal Minister of Defence István Sréter of Szanda, Lieutenant General Baron Pál Nagy, retired General of Army Staff Tihamér Siménfalvy of Semjénfalva, Lieutenant Colonel Kálmán Bánó of Tapolylucska and Kükemező, Major Márton Lipcsey of Bilke, off-duty Major of Army Staff Gyula Toókos of Sepsibaczon, Major of Guards Géza Igmándy Hegyessy and Captain First Aide-de-camp László Magasházy members of the Budapest-based Seat of Vitez.”
Afterwards, the Seat of Vitez as a body elaborated the guidelines and regulations needed for launching its operation. On October 7, the office organisation of the Headquarters of the Order was established.
As László Négyessy wrote in his study A Vitézi Rendről (On the Order of Vitez) (Attila József University, Faculty of Humanities, Szeged, 1974), “On 25 November 1920, [the Order] adopted a decision on the introduction of a badge of the Order of Vitez. On the same meeting, the governor solemnly proclaimed the Rules of the Order of Vitez. […] On the meeting of 11 December 1920, Lieutenant Colonel Gyula Toókos was commissioned with the elaboration of the investiture ceremony. On the same meeting, the participants decided that the National Seat of Vitez would publish a call for tenders for the design of the Vitez badge. On 16 December 1920, the general public was informed on the application for Vitez plots of land in the call published by the Seat of Vitez. […] ”
The first private investiture ceremony took place on 22 May 1921, in the Royal Castle Chapel of Buda. As Helga Angelovics says in her study Vitéz avatások a két világháború között 1921–1938 (Investitures of the Vitez between the two World Aars, 1921–1938) in Első Század (First century) (Vol. XIII, No. 1, Spring 2014), “Prior to the investiture ceremony, the governor gave an audience to the first twenty-four Vitez, holders of the gold badge who had been award a plot of land and participated in the private ceremony, but had not yet been instituted. […] To the right of the governor, a bodyguard stood with the flag of the national army. To his left, military chaplain János Gyarmathy read the oath. The Staff Captains [the eight members of the Seat of Vitez as listed above] lined up in front of the altar and, raising their hands in oath, repeated the oath. […] After that, the Deputy Staff Captain of the Vitez delivered a short speech, and pinned the badge of the Vitez to the chest of Vitez Miklós Horthy of Nagybánya.
Afterwards, the Staff Captains presented themselves, and the governor awarded them with the badge. […]”
Captain Generals of the Order of Vitez:
Vitez Miklós Horthy de Nagybánya, Governor (1920−1957)
Archduke Vitez Joseph August of Habsburg-Lorraine (1957−1962)
General Vitez Ferenc Farkas de Kisbarnak (1962−1977)
Archduke Vitez Joseph Árpád of Habsburg-Lorraine (1977−2017)
Archduke Vitez Joseph Karl of Habsburg-Lorraine (2017−)
Deputy Staff Captains:
General Vitez Antal Hellebronth (1927−1944)
Lieutenant General Vitez Géza Igmándy-Hegyessy (1944−1945)
General Vitez Hugó Sónyi (1956−1958)
Archduke Vitez Joseph Árpád of Habsburg-Lorraine (? −1977)
Vitez Dr. Ádám Berniczei-Roykó (2020−)
Executive Staff Captains:
In the Horthy era, three followed each other in this position:
Vitéz Kálmán Bánó de Tapolylucska et Kükemező
Vitéz Géza Igmándy-Hegyessy
Vitéz Pál Pongrácz de Szentmiklós et Óvár
After the change of regime in 1990:
Vitez Antal Radnóczy (1993−2003)
Vitez József Ajtós (2004−2007)
Vitez József Tassányi (2007−2018)
Vitez Csaba Horváth (2019−2020)
Vitez Dr. Ádám Berniczei-Roykó (2020−)
National Staff Captains:
Vitez István Tabódy (1993−1997)
Vitez Antal Radnóczy (1993−2003)
Vitez Ervin Sándor (2004−2007)
Vitez László Vad (2007−2008)
Vitez József Csizmadia (2008−2012)
Vitez Csaba Horváth (2012−2019)
Vitez Dr. Ádám Berniczei-Roykó (2019−)
By the 1940s, the number of officers and troops of the Order of Vitez (whose ratio was about one-third to two-thirds) had exceeded 15,000, and that of candidates 8,000. After World War II, in 1948, the communist regime terminated the operation of the Order of Vitez, but those who emigrated to the West made attempts to keep the Order alive. It was Hugó Sónyi, former General residing in West Germany, who initiated the reorganisation of the Order abroad.
In 1962, Archduke Vitez Joseph August, the second Captain General of the Order, obtained the recognition of the International Commission for Orders of Chivalry (I.C.O.C.) for the Order of Vitez. There has been an unfortunate episode in the recent history of the Order. In 2003, some leaders confronted Chief Captain Joseph Árpád and established two breakaway organizations, the associations of János Molnár-Gazsó and Vitez László Hunyadi. Both use the name “The Order of Vitez”.
As far as this event is concerned, it is to be mentioned that in the era of Captain General Miklós Horthy, it would have been inconceivable for the Order of Vitez to replace its chief leader. The replacement of the Captain General in 2003 caused a shock which could have been avoided, and, if it indeed had been avoided, the well-established organisation of the Order of Vitez would now form a single unit.
The ICOC recognises only the Order which is connected to Joseph Árpád (grandson of Joseph August) and which operates under General Captain Archduke Vitez Joseph Karl of Habsburg-Lorraine as the “Order of Vitez”. Due to the fact that different entities use the same name, many find orientation difficult. Yet the Order of Vitez is very much alive, evolving and, hopefully, has a great future.