Some may call her the Hungarian Mata Hari, the White Lady of Lőcse was a tragic figure of 18th century Hungarian history, caught in the cross-fire of the Habsburgs and the Rákóczi revolutionaries.
Even before her trial and execution, Julianna Korponay was viewed with a great deal of suspicion from both sides. The Habsburg side thought that she might have some loyalty to her father, who was among the revolutionaries, while the kuruc side openly used her in their propaganda to lay blame on her completely for the fall of Lőcse. Essentially both sides thought she was a spy for the other.
Despite that, after the Treaty of Szatmár – which ended the War for Independence – in 1712 she received some letters from a kuruc leader (the side she had supposedly betrayed at the siege of Lőcse), that contained proof of the renewal of the War for Indepence, full of incriminating evidence, and names of those actually involved in the treaty. The letters talked about a secret meeting at the Géczy mansion, on Julianna’s family’s land.
Julianna did not really know what to do with them, she definitely didn’t want to betray her family, or drag her father’s name through the mud, so in the end, she did the absolute worst.
It is possible that she wanted to prove her loyalty to the emperor, and wanted to use the letters as a bargaining chip to convince the monarch to let her son have the lands that would have been confiscated if her father’s treachery had been proved.
She told the Habsburgs about the letters, but she never handed them over, saying she destroyed them. We will never know, if she named anyone from the letters or not, but since her account was full of inconsistencies, she was deemed a double agent and was arrested.
Upon hearing this, her father fled the country, so he could not be arrested, even he was implicated in the plot.
Julianna was tortured brutally for one whole year, and beheaded in the marketplace of Győr in 1714.
The most famous, highly romanticized version of the story, The White Lady of Lőcse by famous Hungarian author Mór Jókai says, she was visited by a Lutheran priest, whom she recognised as a hunted kuruc, and the priest handed her a bible, opened at the prayer for a child’s soul. From this, Julianna knew, that her son was already dead, and she had nothing left to live for. She asked the priest to tell her husband that she was sorry for all the grief she had caused, all she wanted now was to be reunited with her son.
She mounted the steps of the scaffold accompanied by the priest and holding a bible to her bosom, resigned to her fate. Before her execution, the judge begged her to ask for God’s forgiveness, but she just said “Hurry up, my son is waiting!”
Then she lay her head on the block where they chopped off the fine strands from her neck that she missed when she put her hair up. Her last words were “My dear boy! I am coming!”
A moving scene this might have been, her contemporaries did everything they could to bind her poor soul to this earth, to never see her loved ones again. She was depicted in the act of treachery, never to be far from people’s thoughts, as an eternal reminder of her sins and a cautionary tale for everyone: this is the fate of a traitor, to forever haunt the walls of the castle she betrayed.
We will never know what became of her remains, her body or her grave was never found, although there were speculations over the years about the place of her burial.
In 2017, for the 300th anniversary of Julianna Korponay’s death, the city of Lőcse sought to remedy the wrongs that were done to her. They issued a revocation of her 1714 verdict, and gave it to her descendant, Zoltán Korponay.
We can certainly see why the story of the White Lady of Lőcse inspired so many, Jókai among them, to write about her; love, adultery, loyalty, espionage, scheming and betrayal, supernatural haunting or not, her story has it all.
Today, Lőcse (Levoča) is recognized as one of the most beautiful cities in the historical region of the Spiš and it is on the UNESCO World Heritage List, along with the Szepes (Spiš) Castle next to it – one of the biggest castles in Europe -, that fell just a few months after Lőcse, in 1710.