Maurice, Count de Benyovszky

Móric, Count de Benyovszky

Portrait of Benyovszky
Born (1746-09-20)September 20, 1746
Verbó, Kingdom of Hungary (today Vrbové, Slovakia)
Died May 23, 1786(1786-05-23) (aged 39)
Citizenship Hungarian, Polish, Austrian, French
Notable awards Order of the Golden Fleece
Order of Saint Stephen
Order of Saint Louis

Móric Ágost (Máté Móric Mihály Ferenc Szerafin Ágost) Count de Benyovszky (20 September 1746 – 23 May 1786) was a nobleman from the Kingdom of Hungary. He was an explorer,[1] writer, the self-declared King of Madagascar,[2] and a military officer in the French, Polish,[2] Austrian and American armies. He is considered a national hero in Hungary,[3] Slovakia[4][5][6] and Poland.

Benyovszky was born and raised in Verbó, Kingdom of Hungary (Currently Vrbové, Slovakia), to the noble House of Benyovszky. His parents - Sámuel Benyovszky and Baroness Rozália Révay - were of Hungarian nationality, with some Slovak and Polish ancestry. Surviving family documents and letters reveal that they wrote and talked with each other and in extended family only in Hungarian. His career began as an officer of the Habsburg army in the Seven Years' War during the reign of Empress Maria Theresia. In 1768 he joined the Confederation of Bar, a Polish national movement against Russian intervention. He was captured by the Russians, interned in Kazan, and later exiled in Kamchatka. Subsequently, he escaped and returned to Europe via Macau and Madagascar. In 1772 Benyovszky arrived in Paris where he met King Louis XVI of France and was offered the privilege to act on behalf of France to colonize Madagascar. After establishing the settlement of Louisburg, in 1776 Benyovszky was elected by a group of local tribal chiefs as their Ampanjakabe (ruler). In 1779 Benyovszky came to America, where he tried to obtain support for a proposal to use Madagascar as a base against the British in aid of the American War of Independence. He died in 1786 while fighting against the French on Madagascar.

Variations on his name


Benyovszky was a Hungarian[7][8][9][10][11] count[7] of Hungarian,[6][9][12][12] Slovak and Polish[12] background. His father, Count Samuel Benyovszky, was born in Turóc County of the Kingdom of Hungary (Trenčín, in present-day Slovakia) as heir of the House of Benyovszky and served as a general in the Hussars of the Austrian army. His mother, Rozália Révay,[7] was a baroness from the noble Hungarian[13] Révay family, she was the great granddaughter of Péter Révay, as well as being descended from the Nádasdy, Báthory, Esterházy and Serényi families through her father Count Balthazar Révay de Szklabina, and was the widow of a general when she married Benyovszky's father. In the 16th century, after the Battle of Mohács, in which Benyovszky's ancestors fought, the family moved from southern to northern Hungary, away from the territory invaded by the Ottomans.

The ancestors of the Benyovszky family emigrated from Kingdom of Hungary to Poland during the 14th century reign of King Charles I of Hungary due to their family ties to Felician Záh, who had fallen out of favor with the king for supporting opposition political figure Máté Csák III.

In 1396, the Barons de Benyó returned to Hungary and fought in the Battle of Nicopolis. Emperor Sigismund rewarded his service by giving him land in the Váh region and assigning him the status of 'count Benyovszky de Benyó.


Early years

Benyovszky was born and baptised as Máté Móric Mihály Ferenc Szerafin Ágost Benyovszky de Benyói-es-Urbanói et Liptóújvar on 9 September 1746 in Verbó (today Vrbové) near Trnava, Slovakia),[14] an area that formed part of the Kingdom of Hungary at the time, and which was in turn a part of the Habsburg Empire. He spent his childhood in the Benyovszky's mansion in Verbó and studied from 1759 to 1760 at the Piarist College in Szentgyörgy (now Svätý Jur), a suburb of Pressburg (now Bratislava).

Benyovszky's father, Sámuel Benyovszky de Benyo,[7] was a descendent of the noble House of Benyovszky. At the time of Móric's birth, Samuel was an Austrian colonel in the Hussars. Sámuel's ancestry was mixed, with origins in Slovakia, Hungary and Poland. His mother, Countess Rozália Révay de Szklabina (maiden name: Révay[7]), was a daughter of the Bishop of Szepes county (today Spiš, a region in north-eastern Slovakia, and a descendent in a line of Hungarian nobles from the region of Révay. After being widowed by her first husband, Rozália remarried to Benyovszky's father, Sámuel. The marriage between Sámuel and Rozália produced four children, including one daughter named Márta and three boys: Maurice, Ferenc (Francis) and Emanuel. His brother Francis served as a military officer in the Caribbean and was the adjutant of Major John J. Polerecky, head of the Blue Hussars of the French cavalry supervising the British surrender at Yorktown in America in 1781, before dying in America in 1789.

Soldier and militiaman

In 1760, when Maurice was 14 years old, his parents both died in the same year and the property was inherited by his stepsisters from his Mother's first marriage, forcing Benyovszky to take on the responsibility of providing for his brothers and sister. Two years later he entered the army where he served as a military officer during the Seven Years' War (1755–1763). After a short service he deserted his position to settle in Szepes. He was consequently accused of desertion in 1764 and called before a military tribunal, where he was also accused of apostasy for his rebellious attitudes toward the Catholic church.

In 1765 Benyovszky occupied his mother's property in Hrusó (today Hrušové) near Verbó, which had been legally inherited by one of his brothers-in-law. This action led his mother's family to file a criminal complaint against him, and he was recalled to a legal tribunal to stand trial in Nyitra (now Nitra). Before the conclusion of the trial could be finalized, Benyovszky fled to Poland on invitation from Casimir Pulaski to join Benyovszky's his great uncle, Jan Tibor Benyowski de Benyo, a polish nobleman. This violated a legal edict forbidding him to leave the country. Between 1767 and 1768, the young man moved between small towns in the Szepes region of Poland, eventually coming into contact in early 1768 with representatives of the Confederation of Bar (Konfederacja Barska), a movement in rebellion against Polish king Stanisław August Poniatowski, who had been installed by Russia. He was arrested in July 1768 in Szepesszombat (today Spišská Sobota), a suburb of Poprád (today Poprad) in the house of a German butcher named Hönsch for trying to organize a Confederation of Bar militia. Benyovszky would go on to marry the daughter of this butcher, Zuzana (1750–1815).

Shortly after his arrest, Benyovszky was briefly imprisoned in the nearby Stará Ľubovňa castle and was released shortly afterward, when he returned to Szepesszombat to be married. Between 1769 and 1770 he served as a member of the Polish Confederation at Bar to fight together with Kazimierz Pułaski for the independence of Poland from Russian rule in Ukraine. He was captured and imprisoned in a camp at Kazan. Taking advantage of local rebellions (which, according to some sources, were incited by Benyovszky), he fled to Saint Petersburg, where he tried to board a Dutch ship. The captain of the ship instead delivered him to the Russian police, who exiled him 8,000 km further east to the Kamchatka region of eastern Siberia.

Benyowsky's Adventure in Formosa

Benyovszky remained in exile from 1770 until May 1771 when he organized a revolt of mainly Polish prisoners. Under his leadership the rebels captured weapons, money and a Russian ship. Benyovszky commandeered the captured ship and set out on 23 May for the northern Pacific Ocean, passing the Aleutian Islands, Alaska, Japan and Formosa (modern-day Taiwan) en route. He landed on the east coast of Taiwan on August 27, 1771, at ″Kaleewan Bay″ (the current location is the mouth of Dongshan River of Yilan) for a 16-day expedition.[15] The ship of rebels arrived in Macau two months later.

Colonial efforts in Madagascar

While in Macau, Benyovszky made initial contacts with French diplomats. The Kamchatka rebels sold their original ship and sailed to France on another, stopping along the way at the island of Madagascar off the African coast. He and most of the rebels reached France in July 1772, where Benyovszky was joined by his wife. Through his diplomatic contacts, Benyovszky arranged an audience with King Louis XV and took advantage of the opportunity to propose establishing a French colony on Formosa or Madagascar. Finding the proposal of interest, the king declared him Governor of Madagascar, awarded him the title of count, and assigned him to lead a French military and trade mission to Madagascar to establish colonial authority over the island. In February 1774, Benyovszky landed his ship on the northeastern coast of Madagascar, near Maroantsetra at Antongil Bay, accompanied by his party of 21 officers and 237 volunteers. There the party established a fortified settlement called Louisbourg, drained several nearby swamps, built several roads and settlements in the surrounding area, and established a hospital and quarantine house on the nearby island of Nosy Mangabe.

Benyovszky's activities in eastern Madagascar attracted the attention of governors on the nearby French island colonies of Réunion and Mauritius. These established officials, who were superior to Benyovszky in rank, sent negative reports on his activities to Paris. As a result, the French Maritime Ministry sent a committee to Madagascar to investigate the settlement and deemed his performance to be deficient. The relationship between Benyovskzy and the local people in Antongil Bay was seemingly cooperative. On 1 October 1776, several local chiefs declared Benyovszky to be their Ampanjakabe (ruler). During this period, Benyovszky attempted to introduce a transcription of the Malagasy language using the Latin alphabet. His activities were curtailed, however, due to such reasons as the loss of settlers to disease and lack of support from Paris.

Benyovszky returned to France at the end of 1776 to request reimbursement for his investments in Madagascar and to present new proposals for the colonization of the island. He was promoted to the rank of general and was granted the military Order of Saint Louis and a life pension by Louis XVI. While in Paris in 1777, Benyovszky befriended Benjamin Franklin, the American envoy to France, as well as Kazimierz Pułaski. Franklin became like an uncle to Benyovszky's two daughters, and the two men regularly played chess, often joined by Count Pułaski. The same year, Pułaski presented Franklin's letter of recommendation to the Continental Congress in favor of Benyovszky's proposal to use Madagascar as a base in the American struggle against England. The project was not approved because the Continental Congress did not want to risk alienating France. Also in 1777, Benyovszky gained audience with Austrian empress Maria Theresa. He used this opportunity to offer his services and experience acquired abroad for the development of the commerce of his native country, and asked her pardon and permission to return home. As Benyovszky was then in service of France, whose queen was a member of the same Habsburg dynasty as that ruling in Vienna, the court changed its attitude toward him and he was granted amnesty on 17 October 1777.

In late 1777, Benyovszky returned to Hungary and wrote a letter to the French Maritime and Colonial Ministry from his castle in Beckókisfalu (now Beckovská Vieska, Slovakia), reiterating his proposals for new approaches to colonizing Madagascar. In return he was granted the title of brigadier by the French court in early 1778 with annual payments of 4,000 pounds, but his proposals were rejected by the French court. On 3 April 1778 he was promoted to the rank of count by the Austrian Empress, but his proposals to develop maritime trade from Hungary and establish a trade route from Komárno to Fiume (today Rijeka in Croatia) were likewise refused by the Austrian royal court. He then decided to join the Austrian army and fight in Prussia in the War of the Bavarian Succession.

Support to the American revolution

After two years of military service, Benyovszky decided to follow Pułaski to the American colonies in 1779 and offer his services in the American Revolution, both in person and in a letter to the Continental Congress. He was approved to report to General Pułaski at the siege of Savannah, where Pułaski died in Benyovszky's arms. Without Pułaski's support, Benyovszky returned to Europe. Upon his return to Austria in 1780, he presented another project to the royal court aiming at promoting the maritime trade, but this proposal was again rejected. Two years later, Benyovszky returned to the American colonies and visited Philadelphia with a letter to General Washington through General Baron Steuben to serve the American Revolution,[16] expressing his desire to become a citizen of the nascent United States of America. His offer was declined.[16]

A month later, through the French Minister to the United States, he submitted a plan to General Washington proposing to raise a body of German troops consisting of three legionary corps of cavalry, infantry, grenadiers, chasseurs and artillery, the whole amounting to 3,383 effective men; after their transport to America, he proposed that they would be subject to the order of the United States and take the oaths of fidelity and allegiance; the project was favorably evaluated. After further discussing the proposal with George and Mary Washington in the general's headquarters in Newborough, New York, Benyovszky made a number of revisions before presenting it to the Continental Congress on 6 May. The proposal was nonetheless rejected by Congress following a conciliatory change in British attitude under the new British cabinet.

Return to Madagascar and death

Following the failure of his efforts in the United States, Benyovszky departed for Europe, stopping en route in Saint Domingue (now Haiti) to visit his brother, Francis Benyovszky, who was stationed there with a French army unit. In 1783 Benyovszky returned to Hungary, where he visited his castle at Beckovská Vieska. During this time he received a privilege from the Emperor Joseph II, under which he was offered the special protection of the king and was authorized to found an Austrian colony on Madagascar, of which Benyovszky was to be the governor under the Austrian flag. However this project was never funded and so was never put into effect.

In 1783, Benyovszky approached the British government to request support for an expedition to Madagascar. He gave John Hyacinth de Magellan his memoirs, written in French, describing and exaggerating all his past journeys. That year Magellan had them translated into English under the title Memoirs and Travels and published the memoir in four volumes in 1790. These originals are now in the manuscript division of the British Library. The memoir was shortly afterwards published in German (Berlin, 1790; Vienna, 1816), French (Paris, 1791), Dutch (Haarlem, 1791), Swedish (Stockholm, 1791), Polish (Warsaw, 1797), Slovak (Pressburg, 1808), and Hungarian (1888).

In the same year, with Benjamin Franklin's and J. H. Magellan's assistance, Benyovszky entered into contact with the Baltimore businessmen Messonier and Zollikofer, who found an American-British company for trade with Madagascar. On 24 March 24, 1784, Benyovszky appointed J.H. Magellan Plenipotentiary for the State of Madagascar and authorized him to act as representative of all economic and political affairs of the island. He then left Baltimore for Madagascar on board the Intrepid provided by Messonier and Zollikofer. During the voyage the ship was blown off course and was delayed for repairs along the coast of Brazil.

Upon arriving in Madagascar in 1785, Benyovszky captured the French trade settlement Foulpointe. He began building the trade settlement Mauritania (named after himself — Maurice) as the capital of his intended kingdom at the easternmost point of the island, Cape East. In the contract with his Anglo-American associates, lots were guaranteed for all of them in the settlement. From Mauritania, he traded with Maryland and Baltimore, principally in slaves. The French Maritime Ministry, outraged by Benyovszky's cooperation with the United States and the capture of Foulpointe, sent an expedition in 1786 from the Pondicherry colony in India to stop Benyovszky. The expedition mounted a surprise attack on 23 May 1786. During the skirmish, Benovsky received a fatal bullet wound to his chest. He was buried at the village of Mauritania by his former lieutenant Jacques de Lassalle, together with two Russian fugitives who had accompanied him from Kamchatka.


In addition to authoring a late-18th-century bestseller, Benyovszky has inspired other established writers, poets, and composers. The opera Benyowsky and the exiles of Kamchatka, by François-Adrien Boïeldieu, was presented in Paris in 1800. The US premiere of the play Count Benyowsky — The Conspiracy of Kamchatka, a tragi-comedy in five acts by the German playwright August Friedrich von Kotzebue, took place in Baltimore, accompanied by with the first performance of the United States national anthem, the Star Spangled Banner, on 19 October 1814. The second of eight operas by the Austrian composer Albert Franz Doppler (1821–1883), later arranged for piano by the Hungarian composer Mihaly Mosonyi, is called Benyovszky. Beniowski is also the name of an epic poem by the Polish poet Juliusz Słowacki (1809–1849)[17] and of a historical novel by Polish writer Wacław Sieroszewski.[18] A Slovak novel entitled The Adventures of Móric Benyovszky by Jozef Nižňanský (1933)[19] and a 1975 Czechoslovak-Hungarian television series called Vivat Beňovský![20] likewise depict the story of Benyovszky.

Benyovszky's name has survived in Madagascar to the present day. The island opposite Cape East is called the Benyowsky Island on older maps, and on the way from Antalaha to Cape East there is a ford named Baron Passage, relating to Benyovszky's first stay on the island. A street in the capital of Madagascar at Antananarivo, Rue Benyovski, is named after him, as are streets in several other cities.


  1. "Introduction&timeline". Official website of the Benyovszky family. Retrieved 10 July 2008.
  2. 1 2 "Móricz Benyovszky: "King" of Madagascar". Hungarian–Madagascarian Friendship Association. 2007. Retrieved 8 July 2008.
  3. Benyovszky has a statue and a street named after him in Budapest, Antananarivo, and Vrbove. and several cultural events were organized in his honor in 2008, including the publication of his diary and a dance performance. See "Vivát Benyovszky Móric! (in Hungarian)". Retrieved 14 February 2009.
  4. In 1996 Slovak central bank minted commemorative silver coins worth 200 SKK on 250th anniversary of the birth of Móric Beňovský. Please see (in Slovak)|
  5. In the archives of the Gymnasium (Secondary Grammar School) of Svätý Jur he is registered as a "nobleman of Slovakian origin of Vrbové in County Nitra. Beňová, Jana: K Móricovi Beňovskému sa hlásia tri národy. SME, 24. August 2006 S. 33.
  6. 1 2 Szirmay Antal Hungaria in parabolis: sive, Commentarii in adagia et dicteria hungarorum (1804), (paragraph 112 )
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 "Benyovszky Móric". A Pallas Nagy Lexikona (in Hungarian). Retrieved 8 July 2008.
  8. Wells, David N. (2004). Russian Views of Japan, 1792-1913: An Anthology of Travel Writing. Routledge. ISBN 9780415297301.
  9. 1 2 March, G. Patrick (1996). Eastern Destiny: Russia in Asia and the North Pacific. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 9780275955663.
  10. Simon, Andrew L. (1998). Made in Hungary: Hungarian Contributions to Universal Culture. Simon Publications LLC. ISBN 9780966573428.
  11.;, Benyovszky: a 'citizen' of the world
  12. 1 2 3 "Maurice Benyowsky, Citizen of the World". Retrieved 24 May 2009.
  13. Hamish M, Scott (1995). "Scientific Migration from Eastern Europe". The European Nobilities in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries: Northern, Central and Eastern Europe. Longman. p. 336. ISBN 9780582080713.
  14. Benyowsky, Maurice Auguste (1790). Memoirs and Travels of Mauritius Augustus Count de Benyowsky: Consisting of His Military Operations in Poland, His Exile into Kamchatka, His Escape and Voyage from that Peninsula through the Northern Pacific Ocean, Touching at Japan and Formosa, to Canton in China, with an Account of the French Settlement He Was Appointed to Form upon the Island of Madagascar. Dublin: Wogan. OCLC 5996492.
  15. Benyowsky (1790), Chapter II.
  16. 1 2 Konnyu, Leslie (1967). Hungarians in the United States: An Immigration Study. p. 8. Retrieved 8 July 2008.
  17. Słowacki, Juliusz. "Beniowski";; original text in Polish
  18. Sieroszewski, Wacław (1957). Beniowski: powieść historyczna. Warszawa: Ludowa Spółdzielnia Wydawnicza. OCLC 16953196.
  19. sk:Jožo Nižnánsky

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