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Petru Mihalyi of Apșa (1838–1914)
In the summer of 1887, the Greek Catholic Bishop of Lugoj (Hu. Lugos), Victor Mihalyi of Apșa (1841–1918), received a letter addressed to him by his brother, Petru, in which the latter notified his sibling that he had been successful in his bid for a seat in Parliament. Moreover, Petru shared his plans for his sons’ educations, designed to ensure that the Mihalyi of Apșa family would endure as one of most influential families in the Maramureș (hu. Máramaros) county:
“I passed through the elections with less emotion than 3 years before. […] During these 5 years [acting as MP], if the good Lord should keep me, I will live to see two of my sons completing their academic studies, my young lady grown up, being entirely content with this success. Little Petru is a very talented boy, we would like to raise him at home until he reaches 10, and then, if he were to succeed me, I’d send him to some military institute.”
Petru Mihalyi of Apșa was the most longstanding Romanian Member of Parliament during the dualist period. According to his obituary, he was active in the Pest/Budapest Parliament over more than 40 years. He was born in 1838 in Ieud (hu. Jód), Maramureș (hu. Máramaros) county, in the house of his paternal grandfather, the Greek Catholic archpriest Ioan Mihalyi.
The Mihalyi family was one of the most influential families in the same county, having been granted a noble title in the 15th century by the Hungarian King Vladislav I (I. Ulászló). Petru’s father, Gavrilă Mihalyi (1807–1875), was also a MP and county commissioner of Maramureș. Petru’s mother, Iuliana, neé Man (1813–1881), was the sister of Iosif Man (1816–1876), who served as the Lord Lieutenant of the same county between 1865 and 1876. One of Petru’s brothers, who we noted above, was the clergyman Victor Mihalyi of Apșa, the Greek Catholic Bishop of Lugoj, who would go on to reach the highest ecclesiastical office in this Church and serve as Metropolitan of Alba Iulia and Făgăraș, residing in Blaj (Hu. Balázsfalva). A third brother, Ioan (1844–1914), while also occupying various offices in the administration of Maramureș county in the family tradition, would establish himself as a man of culture and become a corresponding member of the Romanian Academy. One of Petru’s cousins, Basil Jurca (?–1920), also followed in his footsteps and repeatedly served as a deputy in the Budapest Parliament.
Petru Mihalyi studied at the Oradea (Hu. Nagyvárad) and Košice (Hu. Kassa) gymnasiums, afterwards pursuing university studies in Vienna. It was in the imperial capital that he became knowledgeable in law and economics, two fields that would prove highly useful in his subsequent career in administration and politics. At the beginning of the 1860s, after completing his studies in law, he entered the civil service of the Maramureș county, where he served as high sheriff (Oberstuhlrichter/Főszolgabíró). He won his first mandate as parliamentary deputy in 1865, at the young age of 27, running in the constituency of Șugatag (hu. Sugatag), on the lists of the Deák Party (hu. Deák-párt). Thus, he began his vast parliamentary activity, which encompassed 12 parliamentary cycles between 1865 and 1910, interrupted only once between 1881 and 1884. During this lengthy time frame, he represented only two constituencies: that of Șugatag (1865-1869; 1887-1910) and Vișeu (Hu. Visó) (1869-1881; 1884-1887), both located in the Maramureș county.
Nevertheless, he did not prove himself to be as steadfast in his political options, vacillating between the opposition party and the government. He was initially part of the Deák Party, after which he joined the Liberal Party (Hu. Szabadelvű Párt), both of which were governing political parties. After 1879 he was past of the Moderate Opposition (Hu. Mérsékelt Ellenzék) and then the National Party (Hu. Nemzeti Párt), but at the 1896 elections he opted to re-enter the Liberal Party, of which he remained an adherent until its dissolution in 1906. During his final parliamentary cycle as acting deputy, he supported the policies of the Constitutional Party (Hu. Alkotmánypárt). He completed his political career in 1910, when he decided to renounce his candidature in favour of ‘little Petru’, who he mentioned in his letter to his brother. Petru Mihalyi Junior (1880–1951) won the 1910 elections as a representative of the electoral constituency of Șugatag, serving as a governmental deputy until the dissolution of the Dual Monarchy in 1918. He thus continued the political tradition of the Mihalyi family, as he was also active in the Parliament of Greater Romania during the interwar period. During this time, he also occupied the office of prefect of Maramureș.
As opposed to his forerunners, Petru Mihalyi also focused on extending his family’s sphere of influence beyond its regional boundaries, of the Maramureș county. Following in his family’s footsteps, he employed deft strategies as essential means of attaining this purpose. Petru Mihalyi was married to Luiza Simon (1842–1904), the daughter of Florent Simon (1803–1873), one of the most well-viewed lawyers in Budapest. His youngest son, Petru Junior, was married to Iréne Kovássy (1886–?), the daughter of the district court judge Géza Kovássy (1856–1910) from Rodna (hu. Óradna), Bistrița-Năsăud (hu. Beszterce-Naszód) county. It is doubtless that, from the perspective of marital ties, the greatest accomplishment was the marriage contracted by Florentin, his eldest son and a lawyer, who wedded Karola Hieronymi. Karola was the daughter of the Hungarian politician Károly Hieronymi (1836–1911), who had served as Minister of Internal Affairs during the government of Sándor Wekerle (1848–1821) and as Minister of Transports during the governments led by Károly Khuen-Héderváry (1849–1918) and István Tisza (1861–1918).
While the reach of his family’s influence as well as his excellent qualities as a politician were essential in obtaining such a high number of parliamentary mandates, an important role in his political success was, as Petru Mihalyi himself so aptly said, the fact that “I am very delicate when it comes to my political reputation, which I bear with great consequence [,] though with little material success, but with some dignity and moral gratitude.”