Meet the Frankopans

From Dujam to Fran Krsto, from the island of Krk to Wiener Neustadt, from 1118 to 1671… More than five and a half centuries of Croatian history is unthinkable without the Frankopans. There were no social and political duties and roles, which they did not perform; they were counts, bans, viceroys and warriors, supporters of the arts and poets, but at the end also political revolutionaries in search of a better world. Behind them they left codices, statutes and other important civil documents, recorded in the Croatian language and Glagolitic script. In their family line there are 114 Frankopans and 17 generations. Here is just a snippet of their story, to continue set off down The Routes of the Frankopans and visit us in the Nova Kraljevica Castle.

Dujam I


Everything began with him. He knows the secret of how the head of the Gradec-Rovoznik castle near Vrbnik became the founder of one of the oldest and most powerful Croatian noble families. In his not so long life he expressed the traits of a skilled soldier, leader, as well as a politician who knew how to take advantage of favourable circumstances. As the Venetians were ruling Krk at the time, it was in their interest that a count was there, but however paradoxical it may have sounded, they actually placed a local man. The reason being that Venice wanted Krk, as a stop-off point at the beginning of the navigational route from the West to the East, to be more convenient and peaceful for the collection of taxes and economic exploitation. Dujam also built excellent relations with another lever of power - the Church. He strengthened spiritual discipline and interests by giving Benedictine followers properties, however at the same preserving the native Croatian Glagolitic tradition. Dujam was succeeded by two sons from his first marriage Vid I and Bartol I. A son from his second marriage, Bartol II, left the island for the mainland and there he entered the service of the Croatian-Hungarian King Bela III (1172–1196). Just before the end of the 12th century, Bela III gave him the County of Modruš to administer for his good service.


Law Codex of Vinodol


A legal monument of Europe Amongst the fortress servants and the new masters - of the Krk, Modruš and Vinodol counts - there arose conflict and dissension. In order to determine, in written form, the rights and duties of the conflicting parties, a commission of 42 members gathered at a meeting on 6th January 1288. They were representatives of the nine Vinodol municipalities - Novi Grad (today Novi Vinodolski), Ledenica, Bribir, Grižane, Drivenik, Hreljin, Bakar, Trsat and Grobnik. This is how the Law Codex of Vinodol came to be. Written at the time of the reign of the Croatian-Hungarian King Andrew II (1205−1235), the Law Codex of Vinodol has been preserved as a transcript from the 16th century, and it was written in the Glagolitic script. The fact that the original and detailed document from the 13th century was composed in the vernacular classifies it amongst important Croatian cultural monuments. The first edition of the Law Codex of Vinodol was published by Antun Mažuranić in 1843. In a legal sense the Law Codex of Vinodol was not only a reflection of the old customary laws, but it was adopted to the needs of the then social order. In it the criminal law is extensively elaborated with a system of penalties, levies, appearance of the court and the mutual rights and obligations of the villagers and the counts. In individual articles the legal provisions about the rights of women, about their personal and moral protection were also established.


Elizabeta Frankopan


It would be difficult to find a better example of the marriage practice of this time than the story of the marriage of Elizabeta, the daughter of Katarina Carrara and Stjepan I Frankopan. She was engaged as a two-year old girl to Count Fridrik II of Celje who at the time of the engagement was 24 years old! The choosing of a member of the Celje family as a husband for their child was in fact a political-business enterprise, one could even say an investment. The Counts of Celje belonged among the most influential aristocrats of the Hungarian and Croatian crown, as well as in neighbouring Styria and the German Empire. Elizabeta’s uncle Nikola IV Frankopan promised the Counts of Celje Trsat, Bakar, Bribir and half of the island of Krk in the name of the dowry. It is not known where or when the wedding took place, but it is known that the scenes from Elizabeta’s married life were not happy. Pope Pius II described her husband, most likely for political reasons, as a harsh, merciless man adding that he was “a nonbeliever, deceitful, a materialist, as well as sullen and introverted". In 1405, in Krško, at 19 years old Elizabeta gave birth to a son, Ulrik II, and from 1414 to 1422 she lived separately from her husband. An attempt at reconciliation in Krapina for Elizabeta was fatal. The following morning she was found dead stabbed in the chest with a hunting knife. Fridrik fled to Buda. The possible cause of the murder is connected to the beautiful girl Veronika of Desinić, of a noble lineage although from a poor Kočevje family. Fridrik married her in 1425. After Elizabeta’s murder the Frankopans, with the troubles, took away all the estates from the Celjski family which they had pledged them as a dowry.


Under the protection of the star and lions


During history the Frankopans used two coats of arms. Until 1430 they used the old six-pointed star on a red background, and from that year they took the coat of arms of the Roman patrician family de Frangepanibus with two lions that are breaking bread. The oldest coats of arms of the Counts of Krk are recorded in stone form and they are not dated. The first testimony was noted in a travelogue by an anonymous Spanish friar who found himself in Senj in 1330, which at that time was under the administration of the Krk nobles. In the description of the flag of the town he indicates two fields, in the upper red one there was a six-pointed golden star, whilst the lower silver field was empty. The same colour combination and sign of a star is also found in the join of the ribs of the monastery church in Košljun, which the Frankopans obtained from the pope for the Franciscans. The change appears in 1430 when Nikola IV after a visit to the pope in Rome he received permission to use the coat of arms of the de Frangepanibus family. As a sign the supposed Roman relatives used two lions that are sharing bread, which in heraldry is also called a “talking” coat of arms, because the signs explain the meaning of the name of the genus: the sharers of bread. The new coat of arms did not supersede the old six-pointed star immediately, it began to be used gradually, often appearing in combination with the old one. On the coats of arms of Nikola’s sons the old coat of arms appeared in the right corner, whilst the Frankopan’s one was in the left corner: in a blue field two upright lions share three pieces of golden bread. Over time the old coat of arms was phased out, and the new Frankopan coat of arms lasted until the end of the family in 1671.


Barbara Frankopan


The daughter of Jelena of an unknown family and Sigismund Frankopan, the lord of Otočac, she was married to Vuk Branković, the titular Despot of Serbian. Unlike Elizabeta, Barbara did have luck in love although Vuk due to his audacity in battles with the Turks they called him “the Fiery Dragon”. Barbara had no children with Vuk, nevertheless he particularly cared about her and expressed “great tenderness and love” towards her. In the case that she outlived him, he wanted her to be materially secure. Therefore, with the king’s prior permission, he gave her the fort of Bijela Stijena (White Rocks) on the slopes of the mountain of Psunj with a region where there were more than one hundred villages. “Barbara the Despot”, as they called her for the life of her husband, did outlive her spouse. After his death, she continued to live at the court in Bijela Stijena, which was supposedly luxuriously furnished. Later she married the Ban of Jajce Franjo Berislavić Grabarski. There is little information about their marriage, only that Barbara Frankopan gave birth to a son, Ivan, during her marriage to Berislavić. Barbara’s marriages clearly indicate the matrimonial strategies and essential interests of the contemporaneous Frankopans as one of the most distinguished of the Croatian and Slavonian aristocratic families. They linked themselves by marriage, not by accident, with the leading protagonists of anti-Ottoman resistance on the southern borders of the Hungarian-Croatian kingdom.


Franjo I Frankopan of Slunj


Most of his estates were in the direct neighbourhood of the Bosnian sanjak and so permanently exposed to the Ottoman threat. He spent all of his income from the estates on the fortification of his towns and guards. Together with Janko Drašković he was the Croatian ban. He was the last of the Slunj branch of Frankopans. The son of Juraj II of Slunj and Ana Blagajski he spent the whole of his, not so long, life in battles with the Ottomans. Thanks only to his bravery and military skills the Ottoman conquerors did not achieve greater success during his life. This great warrior, who was exposed to danger almost every day of his life, died due to an insignificant or incompetent “medical” procedure in Varaždin. His death happened in Moravia on the way to the wedding party with his fiancée Julija, the daughter of Ladislav Kereczenyi, the former Szigetvár captain and one of the richest feudal lords in Hungary and Croatia. The death of the ban, who they called “the sword and shield of the remnant of Illyria”, echoed through the entire state. He was buried in Zagreb cathedral, where his sister Ana placed a plaque on which is written that Franjo is the Count of Senj, Krk and Modruš. His goods and valuables were taken by the royal treasury. Immediately after Franjo’s death the Ottoman governor Ferhat Pasha targeted his attacks on his properties.


Ana Katarina Frankopan


Her father was Vuk II Krsto Frankopan (1589-1652), commander of the Karlovac Generalate. She was his daughter from a second marriage. At 16 she married Petar Zrinski (1621−1671), with whom she was a collaborator in economic and political affairs, especially at the time of the conspiracy. In mid-September 1664, Ana Katarina took part in a secret diplomatic mission: Petar sent her to Venice to commence negotiations with the French ambassador, in order that the Zrinski family was placed under the patronage of the most powerful of European rulers Louis XIV. The negotiations were not successful, which didn’t deter Ana Katarina - she stayed with her husband until the end, suffering all the consequences of political collapse. Just a day after her husband’s and brother’s departure for Vienna (1670), the army robbed Čakovec. In this destitution she fell ill with gout. After the execution of her husband and brother she was moved to a monastery of Dominican sisters in Graz. Here in a depressed state she died, and was buried in the crypt of the monastery’s church. During her life Katarina dabbled in the field of literature, in the specific type of writing, that of spiritual text, a travel breviary or as it was called in that time – “tovaruš”. In 1661 her ‘Punti tovaruš’ (travel breviary) was printed in Venice in pocket format. In the foreword Ana Katarina, besides spiritual reasons, also explained an additional reason for the writing and printing of the book – because “…of nearly all the world languages printed, books in Croatian are the least to be found…”


Fran Krsto Frankopan


Amongst the people Fran Krsto was remembered primarily as a participant in the Zrinski-Frankopan Conspiracy for which in his 28th year he was punished with the death sentence and executed in 1671 in Wiener Neustadt. The son of Vuk II Krsto and Uršula Inhofer, Fran Krsto as Ogulin captain also wanted to be the captain of Senj, which was prevented by the Austrian military administration. Impelled by that and otherwise unsatisfied with the politics of the Viennese Court, especially after the Peace of Vasvár, in 1669 he decided to join the anti-Austrian conspiracy of the Croatian and Hungarian nobility at the head of which stood Petar Zrinski. Not waiting for the promised Ottoman help and underestimating the frontier forces, they raised a rebellion of only 300 horsemen. Realising quickly that he was alone and that the Turks had betrayed them, Fran Krsto sheltered in Čakovec from where he travelled with Zrinski to Vienna in order to beg the emperor for forgiveness. In Vienna they were both arrested, detained separately and put under investigation. Both of them were moved to a prison in Wiener Neustadt and accused of high treason. In April 1671 they were sentenced to death by beheading, and all their estates were confiscated. In April 1670 his wife Julija Ana took shelter in Italy, where as a nun she died in the Roman convent of St Theresa.


He who dies honourably, lives forever


Resistance to Vienna unfolded via two conspiracies. In the first conspiracy the malcontents were led by Ban Nikola Zrinski in Croatia, and Palatine Ferenc Wesselényi in Hungary. The second, the Zrinski-Frankopan Conspiracy, was led by Petar Zrinski and Fran Krsto Frankopan. The latter, although greatly mystified and mythologised in Croatian tradition, was doomed to failure and completely unrealistic, particularly when the conspirators turned to the Ottomans. In the first conspiracy, the conspirators had to find help from outside the country: in France, Poland, and even within the Ottoman Empire as well. However, despite the promises, the traditional opponents of Austria did not help them. The conspiracy ended with the suspicious death of Nikola Zrinski whilst hunting wild boars. It is mystified in a conspiracy theory in which the Viennese Court was suspected of causing Nikola’s death. The second conspiracy was led by Nikola’s brother Petar Zrinski who together with his brother-in-law Fran Krsto Frankopan continued the fight and links with the head Hungarian leaders. Soon the Croatian-Hungarian alliance fell apart, and negotiations about the support for the conspirators with France were transferred to the Ottoman Empire. The clumsily prepared conspiracy was discovered right at the time when Fran Krsto Frankopan had begun to prepare an armed uprising, not knowing that the Ottomans would not support him. They were sentenced for insulting the king and betraying the country and sentenced to death by the chopping off of their right hands and heads. They were executed on 30th April 1671. As a special grace, they were pardoned the sentence of having their hands chopped off. Before the execution of the two aristocrats, they and their families were stripped of their nobility, and all of their estates were confiscated by the state. The executions caused outrage in Croatia, Hungary and Europe. The ban’s chair remained empty until 1680, when Nikola Erdödy, a Croatian aristocrat of Hungarian origin, an exponent of the court and long-time enemy of the Zrinskis, took the position. Resistance to the court’s absolutism and centralisation of the administration in Croatia no longer existed. On the grave of Fran Krsto Frankopan and Petar Zrinski in Zagreb’s cathedral as an epitaph is written the verse from Fran Krsto Frankopan “Navik on živi ki zgine pošteno” (“He who dies honourably, lives forever”).


An Irishman, the spiritual successor to the Frankopans!


Fascination with the Frankopans was great, and one of those for whom the spiritual legacy of the Croatian aristocrats especially affected was Laval Nugent (1777−1862) a count, field marshal, a knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece, commander of the Order of Maria Theresa and Roman prince. This story is fascinating because Nugent was not from Croatian regions. He was born in Ballynacor in Ireland. As a member of the Austrian army in the Napoleonic Wars he arrived in Rijeka in 1813. In Naples Laval married Giovanna Riario-Sforza and this entry to the ancient family of Sforza, which had distant links with the Frankopans, marked Nugent’s multiple passion for archaeology, history and the arts. The link with the Frankopans, perhaps only as a part of the family legend, was decisive when he bought the old Frankopan town of Bosiljevo and the Frankopan castle at Trsat, on the hill above Rijeka. Here he ordered the building of a chapel and tomb for members of his family, as well as an ambitious museum of a rich collection, which today constitutes the holdings of large Croatian museums in Zagreb and Rijeka.