Selected Passages from Hungarian-Ottoman Wars

18 November 1664: the death of Zrínyi Miklós aka Nikola Zrínski

Zrínyi destroyed the Suleiman bridge at Eszék (Osiek) in 1664

Today we commemorate the death of the great Hungarian-Croatian poet and military leader, Zrínyi Miklós / Nikola Zrínski.

It was just 10 days after the victorious Battle of Szentgotthárd that the Habsburgs signed the shameful Truce of Vasvár with the Ottomans on 10 August 1664. When it was made known, there was a great scandal about it in West Europe and caused unrest in Hungary.

Zrínyi, one of the most educated and most intelligent aristocrats of the Habsburg-ruled Kingdom of Hungary and Croatia, has realized that Emperor Leopold had undermined his efforts to drive the Ottomans out with German-French help. He saw that the Habsburgs did not feel strong enough politically, economically, and militarily to make a long war against the Ottomans.

We can recall how Zrínyi’s enemy, General Montecuccoli was promoted instead of Zrínyi and can remember how Zrínyi was dismissed. Zrínyi was all the more upset because he was entirely omitted from the making of the truce. He withdrew into his castle of Csáktornya (Cakovec) and was thinking about what to do next. Nevertheless, he still had good connections with the French King Louis.

Montecuccoli was glad that the Turks took Zrínyiújvár in 1664

Gossip says, that even the Ottomans took advantage of Zrínyi’s disappointment and offered him the crown of Hungary and Croatia: accepting it, he would have enjoyed bigger independence than the Transylvanian Principality. Remember, 20 years later Thököly Imre jumped at this kind of offer.

As Zrínyi was the second wealthiest man of the Kingdom of Hungary and Croatia, the Emperor invited him to a council in his letter that arrived at him on 13 November. Historians could not prove that Zrínyi was planning a conspiracy against the monarch in those days. But he died on a hunting a week later in the forest of Kursanec, near his home. A boar killed this seasoned warrior in an accident. Let’s remark, Zrínyi was armed with a hunting sword, a formidable weapon designed for killing beasts like a boar. Gossip immediately began to spread that the „boar spoke German” but most Hungarian historians say it is just a conspiratory theory.

Zrínyi Miklós, the warrior (by Jacob Sandrart)

How was it? They were about to go home when a hunter called Póka reported to him that a boar had got wounded. Zrínyi set out after him, alone. He was followed by an Italian guest, and the younger brother of Captain Guzics, and a page called Angelo. The bad news was brought by the younger brother of Guzics to the rest of the noblemen who stayed at the coach. These noblemen were: Captain Guzics, Vitnyédi István (the lawyer of Zrínyi), Zichy Pál and a Transylvanian young nobleman, Bethlen Miklós.

As it turned out, it was only Póka who saw the accident: he climbed up to a tree in fear. Even the young Bethlen wondered why Zrínyi had not tried to use his sword.

Bethlen recorded what Zrínyi had told them before the boar appeared. He was telling a Hungarian folk tale in the coach about the devils and a poor man: when the listeners asked him to explain the meaning of the tale, he answered that the story can be applied for Transylvania and Hungary as well as for the Germans and the Turks. Here is the tale, try to find out its meaning:

“Once upon a time, there was a man who was being carried by the devils. The man happened to meet a friend of his along the road. His friend asked him:

– Where are you going, buddy?

– I am not going anywhere but I am being carried.

– By who and where to?

The man answered:

– The devils are taking me to hell.

The other says:

– Woe to you, you poor soul, your plight is a bad one and you couldn’t have any worse plight than that.

The answer is coming to this:

– Badly enough, alas, but I could be in an even worse plight than this.

His friend was amazed by hearing this so he enquired on:

– How could you be in an even worse plight since the hell is worse than anything else?

The reply comes:

– Yes, it is the worst place. Yet, now I am the one who is being carried on the devils’ shoulders and back so I can rest until we get there. What if the devils saddled me and made me carry them all the way to the same hell? I would have a lot worse plight than now.”

If you ask me, I would say that in this tale, Zrínyi hinted that getting allied with the Turks would be not much worse than the Habsburgs.

You can read more about Zrínyi on my page:

Krusanec forest…

(Sources: partly from Szibler Gábor)

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