Benedict Makrai

Benedict Makrai (Latin: Benedictus de Macra, Hungarian: Makrai Benedek, Polish: Benedykt Makrai; 1360s – after 1421) was a well-educated Hungarian noble and diplomat in the service of Sigismund of Luxemburg, King of Hungary and later Holy Roman Emperor. He is best known for his 1412–13 mission to PolandLithuania to mediate their territorial dispute with the Teutonic Knights over Samogitia and Masovia in the aftermath of the Battle of Grunwald (1410). His mission did not resolve the dispute and only heightened the tensions.

Benedict Makrai
Szatmár County (?), Kingdom of Hungary
Diedafter 1421
Noble familygens Szentemágócs

Early life and educationEdit

Makrai was probably born in the second half of the 1360s.[1] His birthplace is not known, but speculated to be in the Szatmár County now split between north-western Romania and north-eastern Hungary.[2] He came from the Gacsalkér branch of the Szentemágócs kindred as the son of Blaise.[3] His brothers were Sebastian, who served as ispán of the chamber of salt (Hungarian: sókamaraispán, mentioned in this capacity in 1397 and 1403), and Stephen, the vice-ispán of Baranya County under Nicholas Garai (around 1388).[3]

After receiving education in Hungary, he attended the Charles University in Prague where he earned master's degree in arts in 1387 and was an examiner in 1388.[1] He soon moved to the University of Vienna where he taught astronomy, one of the arts of the classical quadrivium curriculum, based on Arabic scholar Alchabitius until 1391.[4] He earned licentiate in canon law from the University of Paris by April 1398 and likely a doctorate soon after.[2] He continued his studies and earned the doctorate in civil law from the University of Padua in 1401.[2]

Rebellion against SigismundEdit

Upon his return to native Hungary, Makrai became a professor at the University of Óbuda, founded in 1395.[2] He also got involved in a succession conflict over the Kingdom of Hungary between Ladislaus of Naples and Sigismund of Luxemburg. Rebellious Hungarian nobles imprisoned Sigismund in April 1401 and crowned Ladislaus as King of Hungary in August 1403.[5] However, Ladislaus' army was defeated at Pápoc in September 1403[5] and Makrai, who had supported Ladislaus, was imprisoned at the end of 1403.[1] His university friends arranged his release in 1408 and, against the odds, he won the king's favor and become his trusted advisor.[6] German chronicler Eberhard Windeck [de] noted that Makrai was sent to diplomatic missions to Catalonia, France, England.[1]

Mission to Poland–LithuaniaEdit

Map of the Teutonic Order between 1260 and 1410: Samogitia separated the two crusader branches (Teutonic Order in Prussia and Livonian Order in Livonia)

From October 1412 to June 1413, he was sent to the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania as arbiter in their long territorial dispute with the Teutonic Order over Samogitia. Officially, his task was only to inspect and determine the southern and eastern borders of Samogitia which had never been defined.[7] Makrai first arrived to Marienburg, capital of the Teutonic Order, and received a cold welcome. He then traveled via Ragnit to Trakai where Grand Duke Vytautas organized a feast, knighted Makrai, and showered him with expensive gifts, including golden belt and spurs.[7]

The arbitration took place in January 1413 in Kaunas. The Order presented many documents, reaching as far back as donations by King Mindaugas in the 1250s and early 1260s, showing the numerous times that Samogitia was transferred to them (most recently by the Peace of Raciąż of 1404).[7] They also extracted from Vytautas and King Jogaila a confirmation that, as agreed by the Peace of Thorn (1411), Samogitia was ruled by Lithuania only temporarily, i.e. only for the lifetime of Vytautas and Jogaila.[7] However, two days later, this confirmation was protested by representatives of their heirs – Vytautas' married daughter Sophia and Jogaila's infant daughter Hedwig. They argued that Vytautas and Jogaila had no right to transfer Samogitia without the approval of their heirs.[7] The protest was joined by 14 Samogitian nobles who argued that the transfer was invalid without the approval of Samogitian nobility which enjoyed greater privileges and had the right to select their ruler.[7]

When direct negotiations failed, Makrai returned to his primary goal of determining the border. Both sides presented numerous documents, brought witnesses for testimonies, and swore under oath in support of their position.[7] Particular points of contention were Veliuona and Pieštvė, Lithuanian fortresses destroyed during the Lithuanian Crusade and rebuilt by Vytautas, and Memel, Teutonic castle since 1252.[7] Makrai departed Lithuania by the end of February and traveled to Poland to investigate various territorial claims in Mazovia. He was presented evidence that Pomerelia with Gdańsk was once Polish. He also collected proof that Teutonic Order was not following previous agreements, for example regarding release of prisoners, and sent a couple admonishing letters to Teutonic Grand Master Heinrich von Plauen.[7] On 3 May 1413, Makrai delivered his final decision and recognized that Samogitia took up the entire right bank of the Neman River, including Memel (Klaipėda), and thus should belong to Lithuania.[7] The Teutonic Order refused to recognize this ruling, accused Makrai of accepting bribes, and started a campaign to discredit both Makrai and Lithuanian dukes (they fabricated a story that Vytautas' grandfather Gediminas was a low-born hostler of Vytenis).[7] Makrai completed his mission in June 1413 leaving growing tensions behind that spilled into the short but devastating Hunger War in summer 1414.[7] The territorial dispute was settled only by the Treaty of Melno in 1422.

Later careerEdit

During the Council of Constance, Makrai was a member of a small group of special advisers to King Sigismund.[1] Makrai also accompanied the King on his western European trip in high hopes of uniting Christian Europe by ending the Western Schism and brokering peace in the resumed Hundred Years' War between France and England.[8] In a March 1421 letter King Sigismund addressed Makrai as the administrator of the Bishopric of Eger and in June 1421 Pope Martin V confirmed his honorary title of the Count of the Sacred Lateran Palace (comes sacri Lateranensis palatii).[8] That is the last information available on Makrai.[8]


  1. ^ a b c d e Sieradzan, Wiesław (2012). "Benedek (Benedict) Makrai as a Subarbiter in the Conflict between the Teutonic Order and its Neighbour Countries in 1412–1413". In Sieradzan, Wiesław (ed.). Arguments and Counter-Arguments: The Political Thought of the 14th-and 15th Centuries during the Polish-Teutonic Order Trials and Disputes. Wydawnictwo Naukowe Uniwersytetu Mikołaja Kopernika. pp. 159–160. ISBN 9788323129257.
  2. ^ a b c d Domonkos, Leslie S. (1967). "The History of the Sigismundean Foundation of the University of Óbuda". Texts and Studies in the History of Mediaeval Education. 11: 12. ISSN 0082-3732.
  3. ^ a b Haraszti Szabó, Péter (2015). "A prágai egyetem 14. századi hallgatói és a királyi udvar kapcsolatrendszere". Micae mediaevales. 4: 77–91. ISBN 978-963-284-597-5.
  4. ^ Shank, Michael H. (1996). "The Classical Scientific Tradition in Fifteenth-Century Vienna". In Ragep, F. Jamil; Ragep, Sally P.; Livesey, Steven John (eds.). Tradition, Transmission, Transformation: Proceedings of Two Conferences on Pre-Modern Science Held at the University of Oklahoma. BRILL. p. 121.
  5. ^ a b Yolland, Arthur Battishill (1917). Hungary. London: T.C. & E. C. Jack, Limited. pp. 107–108. OCLC 2156825.
  6. ^ Domonkos, Leslie S. (1967). "The history of the Sigismundean foundation of the University of Óbuda". Texts and Studies in the History of Mediaeval Education. 11: 17. ISSN 0082-3732.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Dundulis, Bronius (1960). Lietuvių kova dėl Žemaitijos ir Užnemunės XV amžiuje (in Lithuanian). Valstybinė politinės ir mokslinės literatūros leidykla. pp. 111–137. OCLC 17786819.
  8. ^ a b c Domonkos, Leslie S. (1967). "The history of the Sigismundean foundation of the University of Óbuda". Texts and Studies in the History of Mediaeval Education. 11: 19. ISSN 0082-3732.