20 December 1626: Prince Bethlen signed a truce with King Ferdinand II

The statue of Prince Bethlen Gábor in Enyed


Bethlen was often accused of being a loyal and obedient vassal of the Ottoman Empire. Let us quote some parts of Bethlen’s letter from Déva Castle to his brother-in-law, Captain Rhédei Ferenc of Várad Castle in 1611. How did he see the situation of the region? He wrote:

“…let us not, my Lord, lose the homeland, for if we lose it, it will be difficult or impossible for us to find another.” 

Bethlen’s saber

He added:

“…if so, my Lord, your Grace may judge what great and final ruin would come upon us, for the Turk will do all things, my Lord, I know this well, not for our sake, but for his own; for he (the Sultan) knows well that if Transylvania is torn from him, the two lands of Wallachia (i.e. Wallachia and Moldavia) will be torn from him, and from this cause the ruin of his empire will follow. And if my Lord, there is a war, they will not only come into Transylvania, but they will send the (Crimean) Tatars to burn and plunder the towns and villages of the Hajdú region; not only the Hajdú lands but all the country beyond the Tisza River (i.e., Eastern Hungary) will be destroyed. …”

As we can see, he was well aware of the Ottoman threat, but he had to deal with the other menace coming from the West: the Habsburgs…

The Kingdom of Hungary, the Principality of Transylvania, and the Ottoman lands in 1629

The events leading to the Treaty of 1626

We have to talk about the previous treaty signed on December 31st, 1621 between Prince Bethlen Gábor and King Ferdinand II in Nikolsburg. The village is now called Mikulov, it is in the Czech Republic. Bethlen Gábor, Prince of Transylvania, led the first campaign against King Ferdinand II between 1619 and 1621, together with the allied Bohemian Estates.

In the early years of the Thirty Years’ War, Bohemia and Transylvania proved insufficient to defeat the mighty Habsburg Empire, although they were at the gates of Vienna by the end of 1619. In November of the following year, however, Ferdinand’s forces defeated the Bohemian Estates at White Mountain, forcing Bethlen to fight on alone. Read more about Bethlen’s life here:


He found that the Estates and the people of the country were growing weary of war and that his ally, the Sublime Porte, was only waiting to increase the territory of its empire at the expense of Hungary, but he was relieved to find that the Imperial Court was inclined to peace. Ferdinand’s real enemies were not tiny Transylvania, but the principalities of the Protestant Union allied against him, supported by Denmark, Sweden, and France, which were ever jealous of the Habsburgs’ European power.

Transylvania in the 30 Years’ War

Ferdinand was therefore willing to make concessions to keep his eastern adversary at peace. The military setbacks also made Bethlen understand the need for an agreement, so from the summer of 1621 he sent his messages to Vienna more frequently and even released the Jesuit monks, including Káldi György, who had been imprisoned in Nagyszombat. Their mission was to promote peace.

Káldi translated the Bible into Hungarian in 1626

As a result, the peace delegation met in October. Bethlen sent Thurzó Imre, while the imperialists were represented by Esterházy Miklós, later Palatine, and Pázmány Péter, Archbishop of Esztergom. They were accompanied by Archbishop Dietrichstein, the owner of the castle of Nikolsburg. Thurzó was one of the main promoters of peace, but unfortunately, he died a few days later at a very young age. His place was taken by his relative, Thurzó Szaniszló.

The Hungarians’ Holy Crown (Photo: Ráfael Csaba)

In the course of the negotiations, Bethlen paid a high price. He had to give up his Hungarian royal title, which he had won by election in 1620, and the coronation jewels he owned. The positions were slowly reconciled, and the future of Bethlen’s part of the Kingdom of Hungary was in question, as the prince tried to keep as much of it as possible. Perhaps this was the reason why he did not push for the inclusion of an article guaranteeing the rights of the Protestants in the peace treaty.

He did, however, obtain the right to hire as many specialists from the Holy Roman Empire as he wished. In doing so, he allowed persecuted Anabaptist Christians, who were excellent craftsmen, to leave for Transylvania, where they could enjoy religious freedom. You can read more about them here:


A tile, made by the Anabaptist craftsmen

The peace secured Bethlen’s right to the Transylvanian principality, which had previously been disputed between Vienna and Pozsony (Pressburg, Bratislava). For the rest of his life, he was granted seven counties in Upper Hungary (Szatmár, Szabolcs, Bereg, Ugocsa, Zemplén, and Abaúj) together with the city of Kassa (Kosice, Kaschau).

In addition, he was raised to the rank of German imperial prince, his family was granted the dukedoms of Opole and Ratibor, and he received the castle of Munkács (Munkacevo) by hereditary right and Ecsed by pledge. He received 50,000 forints for the maintenance of the outlying castles in his territory.

Bethlen’s gold Forint, minted in 1625

Thus, Bethlen gained a lot from the peace: instead of the uncertain royal title, he received territories and dignities, he could strengthen his treasury and his army, and he made Transylvania a player in European power politics. The Peace of Nikolsburg was confirmed by the Peace of Vienna (1623) and the Peace of Pozsony (1626), which ended his two campaigns.

Pozsony in the 17th century

The Treaty of 1626 of Pozsony

As the Habsburgs grew stronger, Prince Bethlen launched his fourth campaign against them to reduce their power. He feared that the Catholic Habsburg troops would soon appear on the borders of Transylvania and that the efforts and results of his previous two campaigns (1619-21 and 1623) would diminish.
Prince Bethlen Gábor
At the same time, England, France, the Netherlands, and Denmark were trying to prevent the Habsburgs from gaining influence in the Holy Roman Empire. In addition, Bethlen married Catherine, the daughter of the Prince of Brandenburg, in 1625, so he had personal ties to the Protestant alliance. You can read more about her here:
Finally, in August 1626, he sent his armies with the main goal of joining General Mansfeld’s army, which was approaching Vienna from the direction of Silesia. However, the leader of the Catholic League, General Wallenstein, was on his heels. Mansfeld was unable to stop Wallenstein, so he approached Hungary.
General Wallenstein
As for Wallenstein, I must note that he considered Bethlen his enemy and in his letter to King Ferdinand II he recommended getting rid of Bethlen by poisoning him. It was not unusual for him as he had poisoned Miklós Zrínyi’s father before because of a quarrel.
Emperor Ferdinand II
Bethlen was allied with Pasha Murteza of Buda, and their combined Ottoman-Transylvanian army was waiting for Wallenstein’s 30,000-strong army at Drégelypalánk Castle in northern Hungary. Since Mansfeld’s infantrymen had not yet arrived, Bethlen did not dare to fight Wallenstein, so he retreated to Szécsény Castle on the night of September 30. The imperial general was also afraid of attacking Bethlen, so he withdrew his troops the next day and moved to the castle of Érsekújvár (Nové Zámky).
Archbishop Pázmány Péter
Emperor Ferdinand II sent Archbishop Pázmány Péter of Esztergom to Bethlen to offer a truce. Bethlen signed the armistice on December 20, 1626. The document confirmed the points of the previous Peace of Nikolsburg signed in 1621.
It was Bethlen’s last campaign in the 30-year war. It was the next ruler of Transylvania, Prince Rákóczi György, who started a new war against the Habsburgs.
The campaigns of Bethlen
(My remark: you can find the description of Szécsény, Érsekújvár, Pozsony, and Drégely castles on my page.)
(Sources: Szibler Gábor, and Szerecz Miklós)
The flag of Bethlen Gábor

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