23 April 1670 The Battle of Gombás and the Wesselényi Conspiration
3 April 1670 The Battle of Gombás and the Wesselényi Conspiration
Let us talk about the weird conspiracy that almost united Hungary which was divided into three parts, and let us take a look at the only military clash during its seven years…
The Battle of Gombás was the only military conflict of the Wesselényi Conspiration against the Habsburgs but it is a great occasion to talk about the events that radically changed the history of Hungary and Croatia. Even though the rebels defeated the Imperials at Gombás on 23 April 1670, this victory amounted to nothing. Let us take a look into the situation. We have to go back in time and cannot avoid mentioning the famous Winter Campaign of Count Zrínyi Miklós aka Nikola Zrinski in 1664, you can read more about it here:
Zrínyi wanted to liberate Hungary and Croatia with the help of the Germans and the French and it was against the Habsburg interests. Unfortunately, the Habsburgs sabotaged the liberation of Kanizsa castle and the reconquest wars of Hungary had to be delayed by 30 years. His enemies gossiped that he might want to be the king of Hungary. Anyway, he was killed in a “hunting accident”, which was quite handy to the Habsburgs whether they assassinated him or not. You can read more about this here:
The Habsburgs could not focus on their Eastern interests: as a result of a new attempt by France under King Louis XIV (r. 1643-1715) to reach the ‘natural frontiers’ – the Rhine and Alpine mountain ranges – and to gain continental hegemony, the Habsburgs were forced to concentrate ever greater power in the west in the second half of the 17th century. Vienna wanted to avoid a war on two fronts, so it sought peaceful relations with the Porte, which led to the Ottoman Empire, which was enjoying a renaissance under their rule, making new conquests in Hungary. To avoid conflict, Emperor Leopold I’s generals stood idly by while Várad fell in 1660, but the balance of the 1663-64 war was also scandalous, with Érsekújvár another important fortress falling from the system of fortifications, and the peace of Vasvár, concluded after the triumph of Szentgotthárd, imposed unduly lenient conditions on the Turkish side.
After the victorious Battle of Szentgotthárd, the Hungarian and Croatian noblemen were outraged by the Peace Treaty of Vasvár the Habsburgs made with the Ottomans. The high lords began to consider how they could liberate Hungary without the Habsburgs, or even against Vienna. The most significant members of the so-far loyal Hungarian elite aristocracy have become utterly disappointed in their ruler and decided to turn against him. Tensions were growing and Zrínyi Péter (Petar Zrinski), the younger brother of Zrínyi Miklós was particularly angry with the Habsburgs. However, the Conspiration against them was created by Prince Rákóczi Ferenc I of Transylvania, and he was the leader of the plotters in East Hungary.
In general terms, the aristocratic alliance, which lasted for some seven years, chased dreams far more daring than it was ever capable of realizing. The initial lack of seriousness of the conspirators, led by the noblemen Wesselényi, Zrínyi Péter, the Croatian Ban, and Nádasdy Ferenc, is shown by the fact that in 1665, at Murány Castle, they wanted to restore the unity and sovereignty of Hungary by plotting to assassinate the pro-Hapsburg Polish marshal Lubomirski or kidnap and blackmail Emperor Leopold, with plans that were worthy of adventure novels.
From the very beginning, the Wesselényi family tried to gain the support of Leopold I’s main opponent, Louis XIV, but received only promises from him; French diplomacy was only interested in the Hungarian overlords’ cause to create uncertainty in the Emperor’s hinterland, so after the end of the Devolution War – in 1668 – Louis made peace with the Habsburgs and turned away from the conspirators.
The conspiracy was named after Palatine Wesselényi Ferenc, though. As for Rákóczi, he was brought up as a Reformed protestant man but after the unlucky Polish war of his father, Prince Rákóczi György II, he could not inherit his throne at once. He became a Roman Catholic because of his mother, Lady Báthory Zsófia. (Please, note that I use the Oriental name order for Hungarians where family names come first.) Rákóczi Ferenc married Ilona, the daughter of Zrínyi Péter on 1 March, 1666. It was Zrínyi Péter, his father-in-law who involved him in the conspiracy.
They had been in contact with France and Venice as well. Palatine Wesselényi was upset because he felt he had been set aside by the Habsburgs. The alliance between Palatine Wesselényi Ferenc, Chief Judge of the Country Nádasdy Ferenc, and Duke (Bán) of Croatia Zrínyi Péter (Petar Zrinski) was signed on 19 December 1666: the so-called Wesselényi Conspiracy has begun. However, they could not keep the treaty in secret for long, though. When it came to light, huge unrest and dissatisfaction spread among all the noble and common classes of Hungarian society. Partly, because the Treaty had accepted all the recently achieved Ottoman conquest, partly because the Hungarian Estates had been omitted from the document.
Péter met Wesselényi in the Upper Lands of Hungary in Stubnyafördő in April and they signed a further agreement in which they offered their mutual help to each other whereas the countries of Hungary, Croatia, Dalmatia, and Slavonia would „never abandon each other in their plight”. Although Chief Judge of the Country Nádasdy Ferenc disliked both Wesselényi and Zrínyi, he joined them in July, perhaps in the hope of getting the rank of the Palatine. He sent his letter by an envoy to Wesselényi who put aside their conflict and answered him in a very warm letter.
The alliance between the three high lords has been ready by December 1667. Weirdly enough, the three plotters met personally at the wedding of Emperor Leopold in Vienna. While Wesselényi was thinking about establishing contacts with the Turks, Zrínyi didn`t really like this. He was rather thinking of getting help from France. Yet, they signed their secret Treaty on 19 December:
„We, Count Wesselényi Ferenc of Hadad, Palatine of Hungary, along with Count Nádasdy Ferenc of Fogarasföld, Chief Judge of the Country, and Count Zrínyi Péter, Bán (Duke) of Croatia, have seen how Hungary and the Hungarian Nation had been thrown into a perilous situation by both the obvious enemy and the pseudo-friend who was supposed to provide shelter. Nevertheless, we, three of us have obliged ourselves to save this small remaining nation and Christianity in this plightful situation. We will do anything we can think of with our minds in order to preserve and advance all the cases of Hungary and our nation even if we have to plead for others` help. We will do nothing without informing each other. We oblige ourselves by faith and swear that all these things must be kept secret. This was why we have all given our signatures and seals onto this letter.”
In fact, Rákóczi was not very popular in the Protestant Eastern counties of Royal Hungary. He could count on their support only by granting them privileges and liberties. He signed a treaty with the Calvinist noblemen in April 1669 and promised them to return those incomes, churches, and the high school at Sárospatak that his Catholic mother had taken away from them. the Protestant noblemen were upset because of the forced re-Catholization politics of the Habsburgs so they elected Rákóczi as their leader.
However, the Diet of Eperjes (Presov) in May was not so peaceful because the previously dominant Catholic and Reformed noblemen were confronted by the estates of Transylvania who were mostly of the Evangelic faith and they did not support the uprising against the Habsburgs so much. On the other hand, the coronation of the new Polish king was beneficial to the Habsburgs as well. On the whole, the outbreak of the open conflict with the Habsburgs should have been delayed. But Petar Zrinski / Zrínyi Péter had dreams about becoming King of Croatia, and he was not famous for being a very patient person.
It was the time when the Sublime Porte successfully completed its Venetian war that had lasted for decades. Taking advantage of this, Zrínyi sent his envoy to the sultan, asking for the Ottomans’ support for his uprising against the Habsburgs. His diplomat quite misunderstood the ambiguous reply of the Grand Vizier, and upon his return, he wrongly assured Duke (Bán) Zrínyi that the Turks would be on his side. (My note: if Péter had accepted the Ottomans’ help against the Habsburgs, in the hope of getting the Croatian crown, would his brother Miklós have not accepted their help in the hope of the Hungarian crown?)
Having received the promise of the sultan, Zrínyi and his brother-in-law, Frangepán Ferenc (Fran Krsto Frankopan) summoned the Croatian noble estates to rebel against the Habsburgs in March 1670. At the same time, Prince Rákóczi was also mobilizing the Hajdú soldiers and was raising his army. The Hungarian estates assembled in Kassa (Kaschau, Kosice), and they elected Chief Comes Bocskay István of Zemplén County as their military commander.
The Court made a last attempt to make peace and the king summoned the estates to Besztercebánya (Banská Bistrica) on 16 March to negotiate but the noblemen were not willing to accept the king’s terms. Zrínyi has not even gone to this conference. Instead, he called the estates to rise against the king, and as a result of this, the rebellion broke out in Upper Hungary on 9 April. It was the day when Rákóczi arrested Captain Ernst Rüdiger von Starhemberg of Tokaj castle who was visiting him at Sárospatak. (This soldier is the one who later became the commander of the defense of Vienna in 1683.)
The rebels blocked the roads, the bridges, and the fords, cutting Kassa City from Vienna. also, they besieged Tokaj and Szatmár castles. Additionally, they were joined by the warriors of the Borderland castles and the Hajdú soldiers from the Hajdú towns. They were planning to take the wealthy Mining Town District of Upper Hungary, then the next step would have been to occupy the whole of Lower Hungary. However, there was only a single battle with the Imperials, it took place at Gombás, near Szatmár castle on 23 April 1670. Gyulaffy László and his 1,500 rebels scattered 300 Imperial dragoons who lost 120 men in the clash. You can read more about dragoons on the Hungarian battlefields here:
As we have told it, this small victory changed nothing. As it turned out, the Croatians had failed to side with him, and the Imperial soldiers were rapidly approaching the castle of Csáktornya (Cakovec). Zrínyi did not want to get caught by the mercenaries of Spankau and he fled to Vienna with his brother-in-law on the night of 12 April. By the time of the Battle of Gombás, Zrínyi had been already in Vienna, pleading for the pardon of Emperor Leopold. As far as I know, he was granted safe conduct but in spite of this, he was soon arrested.
When the estates of Upper Hungary heard about it, they had a meeting at Tállya on 1 May where they decided to lay down arms. The Imperial army arrived there in the first part of June but they met only loyal and obedient noblemen. Only a man called Bónis Ferenc was resisting but soon he was sentenced to death. Rákóczi was saved only by his mother who paid a huge ransom of 400,000 gold Forints for his life. He had to let the German soldiers occupy his castles and plead for mercy from the monarch. All in all, the entire conspiracy had not been not properly repaired, and it was politically isolated in Europe, not to mention the inner conflicts of the rebels. The Battle of Gombás was just useless bloodshed in the history of this event.
The failure of this conspiracy paved the way for the expansion of Habsburg absolutism. After the deaths of the lords, a brief absolutist experiment began, in which Emperor Leopold I (r. 1657-1705), invoking the theory of the rights becoming invalid, tried to incorporate Hungary into the Habsburg provinces. In fact, the new way of centralizing the state was not a particularly “evil Habsburg” measure against the Hungarians but it was a kind of government that was considered a very developed and effective instrument of power, based on French ideas. As we know, it was against the interest of the noble estates. Soon, the Habsburgs reduced the number of Hungarian warriors in the Borderland castles between 1671 and 1672. The unemployed soldiers just increased the number of the rebel “kuruc” people of Upper Hungary.
We can see, that Rákóczi escaped the execution, unlike Zrínyi, Frangepán, and Nádasdy, in spite of the fact that he was the only one who launched an armed uprising in earnest. As for the Croatian estates, they drew their own conclusion from the unsuccessful conspiration, namely that it would be futile to fight against the Viennese Court. Rather, they tried to cooperate with the Habsburgs in order to achieve their goals. Among other things, it was one of the reasons why they did not join the uprising of Prince Rákóczi Ferenc II between 1703 and 1711. Rákóczi made several attempts to turn them on his side but they decided to stay loyal to the Habsburgs.
Note, we have not even told a word about Prince Thököly Imre and his uprising…
My conclusion is, that all of this can be directly connected to the 1664 campaign of General Zrínyi Miklós which was sabotaged by his very ruler. Let us not forget how disappointed Zrínyi Miklós had been and how suddenly he died. One may say that the Wesselényi-conspiration was the beginning of the so-called Kuruc-age in Hungary when the countries of the „Hungaries” fell into an even more confusing situation than in the period of the Dual Kingship after the Battle of Mohács, more than a hundred years before this.
The afterthoughts about the conspiracy by Kiss Csaba…
Unfortunately, this whole ‘conspiracy’ was a very amateurish, malicious, self-interested, truly ‘Hungarian’ conspiracy. After the death of Wesselényi Ferenc in March 1667, Nádasdy Ferenc, the country’s judge, revealed the whole movement to Prince Hannibal Gonzaga, the president of the Court Military Council, and later that year to the Emperor through his confidant.
In 1668, Wesselényi’s widow, Széchy Mária, reported the conspiracy to Johann Anton Freiherr von Rottal, the Hungarian chief adviser, and in the same year, through her confidant, Lessenyei Nagy Ferenc, she sent the court the documents, papers, documents, lists of names, etc., which were at her disposal.
In the summer of 1669, Petar Zrínyi also revealed the conspiracy to Baron von Rottal, trying to blame it all on Nádasdy. At the same time, Zrínyi played a double game, because at the end of November 1669, he sent his family friend, Captain Franjo Bukovacki (Bukováczky Ferenc), a Croatian nobleman from Turopolje, to the Porte as an envoy, where he offered the Hungarians and Croats as Ottoman vassals, with noble simplicity, if the Porte would support their planned uprising with military force.
Sultan Mehmed IV supported the offer, but Grand Vizier Köprülü Fazil Ahmed refused and reported it to Vienna. At the same time, Bukovacki returned to his master under the delusion that he had succeeded, as confirmed by a letter from the Bosnian Pasha Ibrahim. Zrínyi and his brother-in-law Fran Krsto Frankopán (Frangepán) began to prepare for the uprising and gathered troops, but the Croatian nobility refused to fight the ruler with the help, let alone the alliance, of the arch-enemy Ottomans.
At the same time, Zrínyi sent a letter to his fellow monks in Upper Hungary encouraging them to revolt, but at the same time, he also sent envoys to Vienna – including his late brother’s secretary and confidant, the Irish monk Mark Forstall of the Augustinian order – to somehow get out… Verily, only Prince Rákóczi I Ferenc had sparked a minor revolt and won a minor victory in Upper Hungary as we could read about it.
Zrínyi’s behavior in particular seems very duplicitous: he betrays the conspiracy and then subsequently commits open treason by offering the country to the arch-enemy Ottomans. He is also said to have claimed the Hungarian and Croatian thrones for himself and his family, but this has not been proven. At the same time, his envoys in Vienna continued to try to rescue their lord from the emperor…
His letter, full of obvious lies, is analyzed by the literary historian Jankovics József. It seems to be a real ‘Hungarian’ ploy: the conspirators obviously did not mean their movement seriously, but only intended to exert pressure on the court for their own interests. The court tolerated the ‘conspiracy’ for years – between 1667 and 1670 – and knew everything about it through the constantly reporting participants. They were given clear evidence – through Grand Vizier Köprülü Fazil Ahmed – of open treason and treason, i.e. that Zrínyi had offered the lands to the Ottomans, while at the same time claiming loyalty to the court and blackening the names of his fellow soldiers…
Source: partly by Rubicon, Szibler Gábor and Kiss Csaba
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