6 October 1636 Prince Rákóczi scatters the army of the Pasha of Temesvár at Nagyszalonta

The site of the Battle of Nagyszalonta

The political situation

The aging Bethlen István, the younger brother of the late Prince Bethlen Gábor, just couldn’t accept the loss of his throne that happened in 1630. Using his excellent Ottoman connections, he fled to Buda and began spreading the lie that Prince György Rákóczi wanted to cede Transylvania to the Habsburgs. You can learn more about Catherina Brandenburg’s role in this plotting because the young widow of Prince Bethlen Gábor also had a hand in it:


Catherine of Brandenburg

My remark: The Dutch agents in Istambul were also instigating the Sultan against the Transylvanians in the hope of war would eventually break out between the Habsburgs and the Ottomans, as a bonus of the Transylvanian conflict. Being knee-deep in the 30-year-war, they wanted to split the Habsburgs’ forces this way; and they didn’t really care that they were betraying their ally, the Calvinist Rákóczi by this. Let us make a short detour to see about this and let us read Cardinal Pázmány’s letter to King Ferdinand about the Dutch intentions.

Archbishop Pázmány Péter

The letter of Pázmény Péter to King Ferdinand

It was written in Latin, on 30 September 1636, in the city of Nagyszombat (Trnava, Tyrnau, then in Upper Hungary now in Slovakia). Cardinal Pázmány Péter, Archbishop of Esztergom wrote this letter to King Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor, Hungarian, Croatian and Bohemian king. (Note, I use the Oriental name order for Hungarians where family names come first.)
King Habsburg Ferdinand II
Why had the Pasha of Buda received an order from the Sublime Porte to set out against Prince Rákóczi I György of Transylvania? It was the plotting of the Protestant powers of Europe, mainly backed by the Dutch. What is it all about? The Habsburg Empire and the Transylvanian Principality (since the time of the reign of Prince Bethlen Gábor) had been fighting in the 30-year-war (1618-1648) against each other. Transylvania – with shorter or longer pauses – had traditionally fought on the side of the Protestant powers against the Habsburg Empire. Except for a pause in the 1630s.
Prince Rákóczi György I (1593-1648)
Yet, the Transylvanians’ devotion to the Protestant faith didn’t hinder the European Protestant powers – this time the Dutch were the loudest of them – to instigate against them at the Sublime Porte. The Dutch envoys and agents in Constantinapolis tried to convince the Sultan to launch a campaign against Transylvania. Their cause to make war against their ally was that there were internal troubles in Transylvania and they thought Rákóczi didn’t grip the power firmly yet. Also, they heard of the usurper Bethlen István who challenged Rákóczi for the throne. 
Transylvania and the Partium in 1570
They regarded Rákóczi as an unstable ruler, and the Dutch didn’t care that Rákóczi himself was a reformed Calvinist. It proved to be a secondary reason. Their idea was that in case of a Turk assault against Transylvania there might be a new Ottoman war between Vienna and the Ottoman Empire again. Thus, the Habsburgs would be forced to split their military power and significant numbers could be withdrawn from the western battlefields.
Hungary and Transylvania during the Ottoman wars
Here is Pázmány’s letter:
“Your Majesty, my Emperor, my merciful Lord!
Last night I received the envoy of Prince Rákóczi I and a nobleman who was sent to your Majesty. He reported to me that there were three reasons that had angered the Turks against the Prince. This made them launch their assault against their repeated promises.
First thing first, the Dutch and others have also diligently urged to get Prince Rákóczi György (of Transylvania) replaced by another prince because they had seen that they could not make Rákóczi instigate Royal Hungary against your Majesty.
Secondly, they made the Turks believe that Prince Rákóczi had made an alliance with your Majesty and he was preparing a war against the Turks.
Thirdly, somebody from the parts of Hungary reassured the Turks that they should not care about any obstacles from your Majesty’s country if the Turks wanted to move into Transylvania.
Finally, if time allows it, the Prince asks for the help of your Majesty.
As I had expected, the Prince would get himself into the fortified castle of Várad to wait for the Turks. If they come, it will mean war and I don’t really see who could assist us to keep your Majesty’s country out of it. Somebody should take care of the Upper Hungarian counties in this matter.
May God keep your Majesty in the greatest fortune.
30 September 1636 Nagyszombat
Cardinal Pázmány”
Cardinal Pázmány who re-converted almost the entire Kingdom of Hungary
In the end, the Dutch plotting failed though they could achieve that the Turks attacked Rákóczi who defeated them in the oncoming battle of Nagyszalonta, the battle that this post is all about. Thus, there was no new war between the Turks and the Habsburgs because of the victory…Rákóczi proved to be strong enough. But let us not go before the events.

Rákóczi turns against the Sultan 

As we can see, Cardinal Pázmány Péter also thought the Prince’s situation hopeless, despite he offered Rákóczi his support. Finally, Rákóczi had decided to fight against the Sultan, like the young Prince Báthory Gábor two decades before him. Rákóczi has done his best according to his circumstances. He didn’t have much chance for hiring mercenaries in the middle of the 30-year-war. Yet, he guessed that the Turks wouldn’t be able to send a more serious army against him because they were busy in Asia. He thought they would send troops only from the Occupied Lands of Hungary.

The wars of Prince Rákóczi I György Also: Rákóczi’s family lands (red) and the lands he has gained during his reign (blue)

The Prince’s ally was Matei Brancoveanu, Voivode of Wallachia, who was protecting his back. The Prince ordered Ibrányi Mihály, the vice-captain of Várad (Oradea) castle, to call the Hajdú soldiers to arms. Rákóczi had to know that he would need to be able to resist only until the day of Kaszim, the end of October, which has always marked the end of the Turks’ campaigns.

Hungarian Hajdú soldiers (by Somogyi Győző)

Meanwhile, the Sublime Porte was offering its support to him but he didn’t believe it at all. The Prince wrote this to the Ottoman kaymakam, “lieutenant-governor” the next:
“Everybody could learn from this, how one should trust the Turks, because if someone put his faith in them, indeed, would be disappointed like a dog.”

The military conflict

The usurper Bethlen István summoned the Hajdú soldiers to join him on 12 September at Rákos Field near Buda. He was accusing Rákóczi of having committed cruelty and lawlessness. We can learn from Prince Rákóczi’s letter, though, that the Hajdú soldiers had remained faithful to him. Rákóczi summoned his army to Torda and the Hajdú soldiers of Bihar had to gather at Szalonta (Nagyszalonta). Kornis Zsigmond, the chief captain of Transylvania, has brought the Székely army there, too. You can read more about the Hungarian Székely Border guards of Transylvania on my page:


Rákóczi was able to bring together the entire military power of Transylvania under his flags, altogether 18,000 men. The army of his enemy consisted of troops from all over the Ottoman Occupied Lands and couldn’t be more than 15,000 soldiers. Hussein, the Pasha of Buda, sent the Begler Bey of Temesvár castle against the Hajdú soldiers at (Nagy)Szalonta to cut them off from the rest of the Transylvanian army. 

Transylvanian soldiers (Drawing: Somogyi Győző)

The Hajdú soldiers of Ibrányi fled the battle and ran until Várad but there was a seasoned Hajdú warrior who approached the Turkish camp with a few men in secret in the evening of 6 October and ambushed them. Their fearsome battle cry “hujj, hujj, rá!” (hurray, hurray, at them!) sounded like the howl of wolves, causing fright in the Ottoman army. Panic broke out among the enemy who began to flee. Strange enough, both the Ottomans and the troops of Ibrányi thought themselves defeated. 

Ottoman troops (by Somogyi Győző)

During this time the army of the Pasha of Buda was staying in camp on the field near Gyula castle. He wrote a letter from here to Rákóczi in which he demanded the Prince’s surrender. The Prince has also disregarded this letter like he had done the same with the previous pherman of the Sublime Port in which the Sultan had dethroned him. The Pasha of Buda wanted to enter Transylvania along the River Maros but Rákóczi went before him to force a decisive battle at him at Borosjenő. He was so sure of his success that he had brought along his two sons, György and Zsigmond as well.

He was preparing himself for the battle when a chiaus (an Ottoman officer) was led to him who volunteered to act as a negotiator between the parties. Both the Pasha and the Prince took the offer happily because both of them wanted to back out from this unpleasant and senseless conflict, without losing face. To understand better the relations between the Ottomans and Transylvania, please read the summary I made, based on the lecture of Balla Péter:


The Stump-tower of Szalonta in the 19th century

Thus they reached an agreement on 6 October that we call the Truce of Borosjenő. The Truce reinforced the Prince in his title. Obviously, the Pasha had been very much surprised at the strong Transylvanian resistance and Rákóczi’s resoluteness. It contradicted the gossip spread by Bethlen István who had said that everybody hated Rákóczi and the Transylvanians were hardly waiting to get rid of him. Despite this, the reality was that the noble orders had lined up next to Rákóczi and the triumph at Nagyszalonta over the Turks also greatly contributed to reaching an agreement. After this, nobody threatened Rákóczi’s throne anymore and the Prince made peace with even Bethlen István, too.

A gold Ducat, minted by Prince Rákóczi György I, 1646

My conclusion: it can be clearly seen that Transylvania represented a considerable power during Prince Rákóczi I György’s reign and the Ottoman Turks could not have as much influence as before. You can read more about the deeds and the life of Rákóczi György here:


Sources: Szibler Gábor and Szerecz Miklós, the Latin translation was done by Téglásy Imre

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