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Saturday, 20 February 2010


On Friday 7th November 1851, my great great great uncle Charles Castle hurriedly composed a staunchly worded petition of support for exiled Hungarian revolutionary Lajos Kossuth. It was published the next day on posters throughout Bristol. By Wednesday 12th November the petition had attracted 5585 signatures which (wrote Castle’s fellow petitioner JF Gilbert) “I think is highly satisfactory.”
Kossuth in England
commemorative book published in 1851

It was an impressive total. But Kossuth wasn’t coming to Bristol. What do you do with a 5585-strong petititon? Time was short – Kossuth was about to set sail for America after his triumphant but whirlwind tour of English cities, and of course Charles Castle wanted him to know before he left just how much support he had from the citizens of Bristol.

First name on the petition was not Charles but Michael Castle’s – Michael, Charles’ brother, was a magistrate, and they agreed that his would be a more impressive headline signature pour encourager les autres. But the text, and the motivation, were principally Charles’. He was justifiably proud of the results, and determined to present the ornate scroll of names to Kossuth in person if possible.

He wrote on the 12th to Ferenc Pulsky, Kossuth’s aide and fellow exile to announce his imminent arrival in London with the petition. Kossuth’s secretary Mr Day hastily replied on the 13th that Kossuth was still out of town [speaking in Manchester and Birmingham as it happened], politely implying that Castle hadn’t given much notice to a busy man about to take his cause across the Atlantic to the American people.

I have all these letters, although frustratingly I’m missing the one in which the exchange was finally arranged! But it had been conveyed to Kossuth by Saturday 15th November, when the statesman wrote a long letter of thanks not to Charles but to Michael Castle as first-named petitioner, in terms which must have made their hearts swell. “Among the many generous addresses which I have had the honour to receive since my arrival … there has been none which shows a more just appreciation of the circumstances of my country … than this Address from the inhabitants of Bristol.” The letter, on paper with a Hungarian coat of arms, in an envelope with a red wax Hungarian seal, continues across three hand-written sides with an impassioned analysis of his country’s situation, and is signed with a flourish, Lewis Kossuth.
Kossuth's signature on his letter to Michael Castle

There seems to have been a delay in the post! Although earlier letters in the correspondence were delivered within a day, Kossuth’s thanks did not arrive until at least the 24th. The hold-up prompted one slighted signatory, Henry Prichard, to complain to Charles Castle about Kossuth’s seeming ingratitude. In truth, one can imagine Charles’ own disappointment at not having received any acknowledgement of his efforts, as the days rolled by and Kossuth had left the country, apparently without a word. But just imagine his spirits the day the letter came!
Lajos Kossuth
cover of centenary exhibition leaflet
Budapest, 1994

Lajos Kossuth died in exile in Turin in 1894. In 1994 we went to Budapest with copies of the letters, although I wasn’t aware of the man’s significance until we found that our hotel was in Kossuth Street, and saw his name and face on every 100 Forint banknote. We took the letters to the National Museum, which we found was running a centenary exhibition of Kossuth’s life. There was the desk he sat at; there was a picture of the house where he was born; there was his pen; his chess set; his sword. And there, in the last glass case, was the Bristol petition, headed by the names of Michael and Charles Castle. Just imagine our spirits when we spotted that!

The Bristol Petition
composed by Charles Castle,
displayed in the Hungarian National Museum,
Budapest, 1994


  1. Fascinating to have such a personal connection to events of the time!

    What did your forebear make of Franz Josef coming to the throne?

  2. Good question! I haven't found any references yet, but I am still deciphering his beautiful but illegible handwriting in well over 100 letters (most are about business matters).

    I know he travelled extensively in Europe at the time for his wine importing business, and I have his passport (very exciting because it has different French visas from 1847 and 1849 - one the royaume, one the republique!).

    Short answer is, I'll let you know!


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