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 which 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 in 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 good short-barrelled rifle and with a hunting sword, a formidable weapon designed for killing beasts like boar.

After the accident, gossip immediately began to spread that the „boar spoke German” but most Hungarian historians say it is just a conspiratory theory. However, Archbishop Lippay György of Esztergom wrote a letter to the Italian envoy in which he remarked that the “death of Zrínyi had been arranged”. 

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 gotten wounded. Zrínyi set out after him, alone. He was followed by an Italian guest, 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.

We know the tragic story from Bethlen’s book that he created 44 years after the incident in Vienna where he was in captivity. Behold, it was 15 years after the beheading of Zrínyi Péter (Petar Zrinski, the brother of Miklós), and the Zrínyi name had a dangerous reputation in the Habsburg court. 

As it turned out, it was only Póka (Bethlen wrote “Paka” which means “hell” in the Croatian language) 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 to Transylvania and Hungary as well as to 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:

– 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 devil’s 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:

https://www.hungarianottomanwars.com/dramatized-historical-writings/interview-with-count-zrinyi-miklos/

Krusanec forest…
The death of Zrínyi Miklós, according to the contemporary report of Mark Forstall, the historian who served the Zrínyi family:
„Fortuna is holding back her favorite sons for an extraordinary cruel death but the great heroes make us amazed both because of their lives and their deaths as we can see in the chronicles of all the nations.
The number of boars had increased in the Sziget (Island of the Mura River) of Zrínyi so he set out to hunt for them. When his servants and hunting companions got away from him or left him intentionally alone, he hid in a dense thicket where he found a good hiding place to wait for the boar.
Suddenly, three shots were heard; his men ran there and found the hero on the ground, lots of his blood had flown by that time.
Yet, he stood up without any help and said: there is no peril.
When the people around him warned him, he began to pray, banging his chest and saying “mea culpa”, and offered his soul to God and to Virgin Mary, then his strength was leaving him very quickly, and his soul left him after a quarter of an hour. Nobody said that they could ever see the fight with the boar or whatever had happened. Observing his wounds, one could assume that he had bent over his body and turned his eyes and face toward the source of barking dogs. The boar may have jumped on him from behind, pushing him to the ground, and tearing his neck off. Yet, the people who were there and knew a few things about wounds got suspicious, saying that the wound on his face could have been caused by a stray bullet that had been aimed at the boar but hit an unintended target instead. If it was what happened, it must have happened accidentally, not for sinful purposes, though there were men of different nationality present on the hunt.
His body was closed in a metal coffin on 21 December and buried in a Monastery in the crypt of his forefathers, decorated by the countless military flags he had gained.”
A boar (Bethlen never mentioned seeing it)
Forstall gave a quite detailed account of his injuries, too:
“the wound on his face was deep but it didn’t deform it…the doctors thought that he must have been injured by a rifle; either because of a hidden betrayal or by accident; the bullet found him because his servants may have wanted to defend their lord and he was not killed by the tusk of the boar…”

The following text can be read on this rifle that was allegedly made in the mid-18th century, many years later of the lethal accident:

“Ego sum illa Flintea, ex qua Comes Nicol: a Zrin in Sylva Ottok Insula Muraköz in Venatione ab Apro Persecutus a Venatorum Supremo N. Stephano Poka Ao 1664. die 18. 9bris trajectus est a Nepote Gabriele Poka P. ac G. D. Paulo Benyovszky Dominium idem conscribenti dono data Anno1755to in Perennem rei gestae memorial.”

It means:

“I am the rifle with which Count Zrínyi Miklós, who was chased by a boar while hunting, was shot by noble chief hunter Póka István in the forest of Ottok, on the island of Muraköz, on November 18, 1664. It was given to the famous and noble Benyovszky Pál as a gift in 1755 by Póka István’s grandson, Póka Gábor.” 

No wonder, that there are savage debates about the death of Zrínyi Miklós in Hungary.

(Sources: partly from Szibler Gábor and Szerecz Miklós)

the young Zrínyi Miklós (painting by Balló Ede)

You can read here more about the relations between the Zrínyi family and the Habsburg monarchs:

https://www.hungarianottomanwars.com/essays/the-zrinyi-family-and-the-habsburgs/

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the Zrínyi / Zrínski family’s COA

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