Both Laval Nugent and his uncle, Oliver Nugent, belonged to the so called Irish ‘Wild Geese’ – soldiers-of-fortune who for family or political circumstances offered their services to various continental armies.
Laval’s father died when he was only four years old. At the age of 12, he was sent to Austria as a ward of his uncle, Oliver, a Colonel in the Austrian Army, who had married Josepha Rath and was to die in 1791 without issue. There young Laval enrolled at the Theresianum Academy, founded by Maria Theresa at Wieden, a suburb of Vienna, to study engineering. He finished his studies in 1794 becoming a lieutenant in the Austrian Army’s Engineering Corps just as the Napoleonic Wars were about to erupt.
Laval Nugent’s military career was at the heart of the tumultuous political and military upheavals across central Europe. By 1807 he had become a Colonel and two years later he became Chief of Staff to the Austrian commander-in-chief, Archduke John of Austria (1782-1859), while fighting the French.Pope Pius VII. Britain appointed Laval Nugent a Knight Commander of the Bath while Austria promoted him Field Marshall for his role in the defeat of Napoleon. It is not clear whether he inherited the title of Count of the Holy Roman Empire or whether it was bestowed on him for his services.
Much of Laval Nugent’s post-Napoleonic career was spent either beating back insurgencies against the Austrian empire or commanding their border forces, while his Croatian popularity stems from this period as well as liberating Croatia, Istria and the Po Valley from Napoleon’s forces.
In 1817, Laval Nugent entered the service of Ferdinand I, King of the Two Sicilies, a short-lived geographical and political amalgamation of the southern half of Italy, including Sicily. Three years later he returned to the Austrian army. In 1848 he led an Army Corps under Joseph Radetz (immortalised in the Radetzky March) in what became known as the First Italian War of Independence. He also played a role in opposing the Hungarian Revolution.
Laval Nugent married Giovanna Riario Sforza (1797-1855) on 26 November, 1815 in Naples, Italy, and they had six children. He died on 21 August 1862 at Bosilijevo castle near Karlovac, one of several that he owned. Bosilijevo lies between Zagreb and Rijeka in Croatia.
As he rose in the ranks of the Austrian army, Laval Nugent started to acquire homes and castles. By the time of his death he owned six: Trsat, Stelnik, Kostel, Dubovac, Bosiljevo, and Susica – though he only ever lived at the last two.
Trsat Castle was extensively restored by Laval and remained in the Nugent family for three generations until the line died out with the death of Laval’s great-granddaughter, Ana Nugent, aged 82, during the Second World War. Now the castle is a tourist attraction and concert venue with an impressive view over islands in the Kvarner Gulf of the Adriatic Sea. Allegedly there is a secret passage from the castle dungeon to the nearby river Rjecina. The castle’s Haven for Heroes (‘Mir Junaka’) serves as a Nugent family mausoleum.
Bosilijevo Castle was owned for many generations by a Krk-Frankopan knez (prince). The first preserved written document linking the Frankopans and Bosiljevo dates from 1461, the family had ruled the area for several centuries beforehand, having extended their possessions from the island of Krk to other parts of Croatia. In 1853 Vuk Frankopan founded a Dominican monastery in Bosilijevo, also establishing a large vineyard in nearby Vukova Gorica as well as fighting against the Turks who never captured Bosiljevo.
Black Lamb and Grey Falcon
Dame Rebecca West drew attention to what she said was a West Indian practice of burying family members in mausoleums at their homes in her famous book about the Balkans, ‘Black Lamb and Grey Falcon’, first published in the 1930s. She suggests they were buried upright (see quote). The Nugent family has a long association with the West Indies, especially the island of Antigua, but I have not come across any instance there of a family member being buried at a family home, whether horizontally or vertically! On the contrary, there are many Nugent graves to be found in church graveyards. But then it is also not the case that the Nugents never saw Ireland till the time of Queen Elizabeth 1, as this website makes clear.
Croatian Herosculptures (he financed the excavation himself). What remains of his collection is in the archaeological museum in Zagreb – 30 old manuscripts, an antique coin collection, lots of expensive furniture, a collection of graphics and paintings of prominent Nugents and related individuals, over 200 paintings he inherited from the d’Este and Foscari families. Count Laval’s real estate included at least six castles and two old towns. Laval had an obsession with buying old castles and refurbishing them to lavish standards. Most of his wealth was sold by his family after his death. Still today Laval Nugent (pronounced the French way) is talked about as one of the most romantic persons of 19th century Croatian history.
(Sources: Several people have contributed to this biography of Laval Nugent including Jasper Humphreys, who researched the military side, Lara Zmukic Nugent, who interpreted material from Croatia, Anne and Nicholas Nugent, my cousins, who first drew my attention to this curious Nugent story from the Balkans and to the reference in Rebecca West’s ‘Black Lamb and Grey Falcon’. Thanks also to Jackie Smith for the Bath tombstone and Rijeka Tourist Information Centre for guiding myself and my son Ben Nugent around Trsat Castle. Photos are by me, Anne and Nicholas Nugent or – Ballynacor, Bosilijevo Castle – taken from the web. Nicholas Nugent )