23 April 1670 The Battle of Gombás and the Wesselényi Conspiration
3 April 1670 The Battle of Gombás and the Wesselényi Conspiration
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 cannot avoid mentioning the famous Winter Campaign of Count Zrínyi Miklós aka Nikola Zrinski in 1664, you can read more about it here:
Unfortunately, the Habsburgs sabotaged the liberation of Kanizsa castle and the reconquest wars of Hungary had to be delayed by 30 years. Zrínyi wanted to liberate Hungary and Croatia with the help of the Germans and the French and it was against the Habsburg interests. 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:
After the Battle of Szentgotthárd, the Hungarian and Croatian noblemen were outraged by the Treaty the Habsburgs made with the Ottomans. 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.
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 in 1666. It was Zrínyi Péter, his father-in-law who involved him in the conspiracy.
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 hope of getting the Croatian crown, would his brother Miklós have not accepted their help in 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. (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 the Habsburg absolutism. In fact, it was not a particularly “evil Habsburg” measure against the Hungarians but it was a way of government that was considered a very developed and effective instrument of the 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…
Source: Szibler Gábor and Kiss Csaba
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