Pálffy ab Erdöd, Johann Bernhard, Count

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Hierarchical Path: War of the Spanish Succession (Main Page) >> Personalities >> Pálffy ab Erdöd, Johann Bernhard, Count

Castle of Bibersburg – Source: Harald Skala

Pálffy ab Erdöd, Johann Bernhard, Count

Imperialist General-Feldwachtmeister (1693-1700), Feldmarschall-Lieutenant (1700-1704), General of cavalry (1704-1709), Field-Marshal (1709-1751)

Palatin of Hungary (1741-1751), Knight of the Golden Fleece (1740-1751)

born 20 August 1664, Castle of Bibersburg (present-day Červený Kameň/SK), Royal Hungary, Habsburg Domain

died 24 March 1751, Pressburg, Royal Hungary, Habsburg Domain


Portrait of Johann Bernhard Count Pálffy ab Erdöd – Copyright: Harald Skala, reproduced with the kind authorisation of the owner of the Castle of Bibersburg (Červený Kameň/SK)

The Pálffy family appeared relatively late among the Hungarian magnates. The advancement of the family began with Nikolaus Pálffy (1532–1600) who married Maria Magdalena Fugger, daughter of the rich merchant from Augsburg in Germany. For several centuries, the Pálffys were trustees to the House of Habsburg.

Johann Bernhard Count Pálffy was born on 20 August 1664 at the Castle of Bibersburg (present-day Červený Kameň/SK). His father was Nikolaus Count Pálffy, the hero of the Turkish War; his mother was Eleonora Countess Harrach.

After a careful education within his family, Johann studied at Vienna in Austria and Parma in Italy.

In 1681, at the age of 17, Johann Bernhard joined the Imperial army as an unpaid trainee in the Neuberg Infantry Regiment. The same year, he transferred to the cuirassier regiment of his cousin Johann Carl Count Pálffy (raised in 1672, disbanded as “Sapieha” in 1700) where he obtained the rank of cornet.

In 1683, Johann Bernhard took part in the relief of Vienna with this regiment. From 7 to 9 October, he fought in the Battle of Parkány. According to some sources, Johann Bernhard was captured by the Turks during this battle but managed to escape.

In 1684, Johann Bernhard was promoted to Rittmeister (captain) and participated in the storming of Pest and in the unsuccessful siege of Ofen.

In 1685, Johann Bernhard was with Capraras at the storming of Neuhäusel (present-day Nové Zámky/SK).

On 12 August 1687, Johann Bernhard distinguished himself in the Battle of Harsány and was appointed general-adjutant of Karl von Lothringen. Two important event happened the same year which had a great influence on his future: in August his elder brother Franz, lieutenant-colonel, was killed during an attack on a bridge near Eszék; then on 4 October, Johann Bernhard Count Pálffy married the 18 years old Countess Theresia Czobor, daughter of the well known General of Hussar Adam Czobor.

In 1688. General Czobor raised two new hussar regiments of 1,000 men each. As proprietor of one of these regiments (later designated as H11), Count Czobor appointed his son-in-law, Johann Bernhard Count Pálffy. After a few months, Pálffy was promoted to colonel and commander of this regiment. It was an unusual career: he was only 24 years old and already proprietor and commander of a regiment!

During the next 12 years, Count Pálffy fought in all battles against the Turks.

On 31 March 1693, Pálffy was promoted to General-Feldwachtmeister (GFWM). The same year, an interesting event occurred which was quite revealing about his character: in September, while encamped in Hungary, Prince Johann Friedrich von Württemberg saw a hussar belonging to Pálffy's Hussars stealing apples in a farm. It was strictly forbidden to steal in friendly country. Prince Württemberg shot the hussar with his pistol. Pálffy then challenged the Prince to a duel where Württemberg was mortally wounded. Pálffy was afterwards brought to trial but was set free by the military court. It was not his last duel!

In 1695, during a skirmish with French troops near Mainz, Pálffy was wounded.

In 1696, Pálffy's Hussars campaigned on the Rhine and distinguished themselves at Philippsburg where they lured a French detachment into an ambush and destroyed it.

In August 1697, Pálffy's Hussars were detached with Hannover Cuirassiers, Montecuccoli Cuirassiers and Savoyen Dragoons to the brigade of FML Prince von Hannover. It skirmished with the French between Mainz and Alzey. After the signature of the Treaty of Ryswick, Pálffy's Hussars returned to Hungary.

In 1699, Pálffy's Hussars fought along two other hussar regiments against the Turks in Hungary. The regiment fell into an trap near Becskerek and was threatened with total annihilation. Deák Hussars managed to rescue them at the last moment but Pálffy's Hussars suffered heavy losses.

On 26 January 1700, Pálffy was promoted to Feldmarschall-Lieutenant (FML). The same year, the “Hofkriegsrat” (Austrian War Council) planned to disband all three hussar regiments. However, Johann Count Pálffy was promised another cavalry regiment. He finally received the vacant cuirassier regiment “Gondola” who then became known as Pálffy Cuirassiers. Finally, the “Hofkriegsrat” changed its plans and the three hussar regiments were not disbanded. Pálffy's former hussar regiment was transferred to Baron Ebergényi. Still the same year, Pálffy was appointed Stuhlrichter (highest Hungarian judge).

In 1704, Pálffy was appointed Banus of Croatia and, on 5 May, promoted to General of Cavalry (G.d.C.). During the Uprising of Ferenc II Rákóczi, not only did Pálffy distinguish himself as military commander but also as diplomat. On 12 May, Pálffy received command of all the Imperial cavalry stationed in Hungary. On 26 December, the victory of the Imperial army at Tyrnau (present-day Trnava/SK) was mainly due to his merit.

On 3 August 1708, Pálffy plaid an important role in the decisive victory of the Imperialists at the Battle of Trencsén (present-day Trenčín/SK).

In 1709, Pálffy was appointed governor of the Komitat of Sáros (a function that he retained until 1720) and, on 24 April, promoted to Field-Marshal (FM).

In 1711, due to his good relations with the Hungarian aristocracy, Pálffy was able to negotiate an armistice with the rebels and, finally, the capitulation of the rebels at Majtény on 1 May. He also obtained from Emperor Charles VI a general pardon for the rebels, to the exception of Rákóczi and Bercsényi themselves.

In recognition for his services, the emperor gave to Johann Count Pálffy the estates of Makovica (present-day Makovica/SK) and Gross-Sáros (present-day Velký Šariš/SK) which had been confiscated to Ferenc Rákoczy.

In 1716, Pálffy fought under the command of Prince Eugène de Savoie against the Turks. On 5 August, during the Battle of Peterwardein, Pálffy commanded of a corps of 1,400 hussars and some heavy cavalry. He made a reconnaissance in the direction of Karlovac. He engaged a party of Turks, during this engagement Wenzel Siegfried Count Breuner was captured (and afterwards tortured and killed). In October, Pálffy was at the conquest of Temesvár.

In 1717, Pálffy took part in the siege of Belgrade where he was wounded during the battle against the Turkish relief army.

In 1720, Pálffy sold his estates of Makovica and Gross-Sáros, which had been mortgaged, to Thomas Count Szirmay.

During the last years of the reign of Emperor Charles VI, Pálffy obtained the ratification of the “Pragmatic Sanction” by the Croatian Estates. In 1722, Hungary also accepted the terms of the “Pragmatic Sanction”.

In 1724, Charles VI appointed Count Pálffy governor of Hungary.

In 1731, Charles VI appointed Count Pálffy hereditary governor of the Komitat of Pressburg (present-day Bratislava/SK.

In 1733, Pálffy's wife Theresia died. She had given him three sons and five daughters.

In 1736, during the Russo-Turkish War (1735–1739), Pálffy was appointed commander of a 30,000 men strong army but saw no action.

Between 1734 and 1751, there were two cuirassier regiments named “Pálffy” in the Austrian Army: the eldest belonged to Johann Bernhard Count Pálffy and the youngest to his son, Karl Paul Count Pálffy (C 8, disbanded as “Rotschütz” in 1775).

Prior to his death on 20 October 1740, Emperor Charles VI called Count Pálffy to his bed and implored him to take care of his daughter Maria Theresia. The same year, Pálffy received the highest distinction of the Habsburg Monarchy: the Goldene Vlies (Golden Fleece).

During the War of the Austrian Succession, Pálffy supported the young Empress Maria Theresia as promised. He was one of her best adviser, mainly in Hungarian matters. In the very dangerous situation, after the occupation of Silesia by the Prussian King Frederick II, Pálffy organized, as the highest ranking Hungarian aristocrat, the contribution of the Kingdom of Hungarian to the war effort. Already on 26 January 1741, Pálffy ordered the partial Insurrektion (levy) in 14 Komitates. Count Pálffy was appointed Palatin and organized the coronation of Maria Theresia as Queen of Hungary at Pressburg on 25 June 1741. A few days after her coronation, on 28 August, Count Pálffy, now 77 years old, married his second wife, Maria Juliane von Stubenberg, widow of Count Zichy. In September at the remarkable meeting of the Hungarian Estates, Palatin Pálffy persuaded the Hungarian aristocrats to support the Queen with some 40,000 soldiers, hussars and infantry. The aristocrats of these Komitates raised their sabres and shouted: “Vitam nostrum et sanguinem pro Rege nostro consecramu”. Some of the aristocrats raised regiments at their own expenses, in addition to the so-called “Auctions Kompanien” who were integrated into regular cavalry regiments during wartime. Some historians believe that the Hungarians saved the monarchy during these critical years.

Count Pálffy, who was still commander of the Army in Hungary, wanted to take overall command of the army (he was 78 years old!) but the Queen did not accept his offer. She sent him a very expensive riding horse and a sabre decorated with diamonds along with a letter in which she called him “..my father Pálffy..”. The command over the Hungarian Insurrektion Army was given to FM Paul Prince Esterházy.

In 1746, during a hunting near Kittsee in Austria, Maria Theresia met her old supporter Count Pálffy one last time.

In 1750, Count Johann Pálffy's health declined and he died in Pressburg on 24 March 1751. He was buried in the cathedral of Pressburg (present-day Bratislava).

Pálffy's eldest son Johann (1696–1717) became colonel in the cuirassier regiment of his father and died on 16 August 1717 in the Battle of Belgrade. His second son Paul Karl (1697–1774) was proprietor of a cuirassier regiment and reached the rank of field-marshal. His youngest son, Nikolaus (1699–1734) became colonel of Althan Dragoons and died in the Battle of Parma on 29 June 1734 (three Pálffys fought in this battle: Paul Karl, proprietor of a cuirassier regiment; his brother Nikolaus, colonel of Althan Dragoons; and Franz Lorenz Count Pálffy, proprietor of the latter IR No. 51, from an other family line. He was mortally wounded during the battle and died in 1735. Only Paul Karl survived the battle).

After the death of Johann Pálffy's brother Nikolaus, Johann became the only male successor in the family. He was owner of Bojnice, Pajštún-Stupava, Plaveč-Malacky, Bratislava and part of Červený Kameň (all in Slovakia) and one of the richest Hungarian aristocrats.


Geschichte des K.u.K. Husarenregimentes Graf Nádasdy Nr.9, Sopron, 1903

Sokolovsky, L.: Súčasne poznatky o erbe Pálfiovcov, Symposium, Bojnice/SK, 2000

Tapié Victor -L.: Marie Terezie a Evropa, Prague 1997

Siebmachers Wappenbuch, faksimile, Neustadt a. d. Aisch, 1982

Portraits: Collection of SNM Červený Kameň/SK

Wurzbach, C. v.: Biograpisches lexicon des Kaiserthum Österreich, Vol. 31, Vienna 1872


Harald Skala for the initial version of this article