3 April 1670 The Battle of Gombás and the Wesselényi Conspiration

Palatine Wesselényi Ferenc

Let us talk about the strange conspiracy that almost united Hungary, 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 Conspiracy against the Habsburgs, but it is a good opportunity to talk about the events that radically changed the history of Hungary and Croatia. Although the rebels defeated the imperial forces at Gombás on 23 April 1670, the victory was meaningless. Let us take a look at the situation. We have to go back in time and cannot avoid mentioning the famous winter campaign of Count Zrínyi Miklós alias Nikola Zrinski in 1664, you can read more about it here:


Zrínyi destroyed the Suleiman bridge at Eszék (Osiek) in 1664
Zrínyi wanted to liberate Hungary and Croatia with the help of the Germans and the French, which was against the interests of the Habsburgs. Unfortunately, the Habsburgs sabotaged the liberation of Kanizsa Castle, and the wars to reconquer Hungary were delayed by 30 years. Zrínyi’s enemies gossiped that he wanted to be king of Hungary. Anyway, he was killed in a ‘hunting accident’, which came in handy for the Habsburgs, whether they murdered him or not. You can read more about this here:


The death of Zrínyi Miklós, 1664

The Habsburgs could not concentrate on their eastern interests: as a result of a renewed attempt by France under King Louis XIV (r. 1643-1715) to reach the ‘natural frontiers’ – the Rhine and the Alpine ranges – and gain continental hegemony, the Habsburgs were forced to focus more and more of their power in the west in the second half of the 17th century. Vienna wanted to avoid war on two fronts, so it sought peaceful relations with the Porte, which led to the Ottoman Empire, which was enjoying a revival at that time, making new conquests in Hungary.

To avoid conflict, Emperor Leopold I’s generals stood by and watched Várad (Oradea) castle fall in 1660, but the outcome of the war of 1663-64 was also scandalous: Érsekújvár (Nové Zámky), another important fortress, fell from the fortress system, and the Peace of Vasvár, concluded after the triumph of Szentgotthárd, imposed excessively lenient conditions on the Turkish side.

King Louis XIV of France (in 1667)

After the victorious battle of Szentgotthárd, the Hungarian and Croatian nobility were outraged by the Habsburgs’ peace treaty of Vasvár with the Ottomans. The nobles began to consider how they could liberate Hungary without the Habsburgs, or even against Vienna. The most important members of the hitherto loyal Hungarian elite aristocracy became utterly disillusioned with their ruler and decided to turn against him.

Tensions grew, and Zrínyi Péter (Petar Zrinski), the younger brother of Zrínyi Miklós, was particularly angry with the Habsburgs. However, the conspiracy against them was started by Prince Rákóczi Ferenc I of Transylvania, who was the leader of the conspirators in Eastern Hungary.

The Battle of Saint Gotthard (Szentgotthárd) 1664

In general, the aristocratic alliance, which lasted for about seven years, chased dreams far more daring than it was ever able to realize. 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 to kidnap and blackmail Emperor Leopold, with plans worthy of adventure novels.

From the outset, the Wesselényi family tried to gain the support of Leopold’s main opponent, Louis XIV, but received only promises from him; French diplomacy was only interested in the Hungarian overlords’ cause of creating insecurity in the emperor’s hinterland, so that after the end of the War of Devolution – in 1668 – Louis made peace with the Habsburgs and turned away from the conspirators.

However, the conspiracy was named after Palatine Wesselényi Ferenc. As for Rákóczi, he was brought up as a Reformed Protestant, but after the unfortunate Polish War of his father, Prince Rákóczi György II, he could not inherit the throne immediately. He became a Roman Catholic through his mother, Lady Báthory Zsófia. (Please note that I am using the Oriental name order for Hungarians, where surnames 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.
Zrínyi Ilona

They were also in contact with France and Venice. Palatine Wesselényi was angry because he felt he had been sidelined by the Habsburgs. On 19 December 1666, the alliance was signed between Palatine Wesselényi Ferenc, Chief Magistrate Nádasdy Ferenc, and Duke (Bán) of Croatia Zrínyi Péter (Petar Zrinski): the so-called Wesselényi Conspiracy began. But they could not keep the treaty secret for long.

When it came to light, there was great unrest and dissatisfaction among all the aristocratic and common classes of Hungarian society. This was partly because the Treaty of Vasvár had accepted all the recent Ottoman conquests, and partly because the Hungarian Estates were not mentioned in the document.

Wesselényi Ferenc

Zrínyi Péter met Wesselényi Ferenc in April in Stubnyafördő in Upper Hungary, and they signed another agreement in which they offered each other mutual assistance, while the countries of Hungary, Croatia, Dalmatia, and Slavonia would ‘never abandon each other in their distress’. Although Nádasdy Ferenc, the Chief Judge of the country, disliked both Wesselényi and Zrínyi, he joined them in July, perhaps in the hope of obtaining the rank of Palatine. He sent his letter through an envoy to Wesselényi, who put aside their conflict and answered him in a very warm letter.

The treaty between Zrínyi and Wesselényi
The alliance between the three lords was complete by December 1667. Curiously, the three conspirators met in person at the wedding of Emperor Leopold in Vienna. While Wesselényi was thinking of making contact with the Turks, Zrínyi was not so keen. He preferred to seek help from France. Nevertheless, they signed their secret treaty on 19 December:
“We, Count Wesselényi Ferenc of Hadad, Palatine of Hungary, together with Count Nádasdy Ferenc of Fogarasföld, Supreme Judge of the country, and Count Zrínyi Péter, Bán (Duke) of Croatia, have seen how Hungary and the Hungarian nation have been placed in a dangerous situation by both the obvious enemy and the pseudo-friend who was supposed to shelter them. Nevertheless, we, the three of us, have committed ourselves to saving this small remaining nation and Christianity in this desperate situation. We will do everything in our power to preserve and promote the cause of Hungary and our nation, even if we have to ask for help from others. We will not do anything without informing each other. We pledge and swear that all these things must be kept secret. That is why we have all signed and sealed this letter.”
Nádasdy Ferenc
Rákóczi was not very popular in the Protestant eastern counties of Kingdom Hungary. He could only gain their support by granting them privileges and freedoms. In April 1669, he signed a treaty with the Calvinist nobles, promising to return to them the lands, churches, and grammar school at Sárospatak that his Catholic mother had taken away from them. The Protestant nobles, angered by the Habsburgs’ forced re-Catholicisation policy, elected Rákóczi as their leader.
Prince Rákóczi Ferenc I (1645-1676)
However, the Diet of Eperjes (Presov) in May was not so peaceful, as the previously dominant Catholic and Reformed nobles were confronted with the Transylvanian Estates, which were mostly of Evangelical faith and less supportive of the uprising against the Habsburgs. On the other hand, the coronation of the new Polish king also benefited the Habsburgs. All in all, the outbreak of open conflict with the Habsburgs should have been delayed. But Petar Zrinski / Zrínyi Péter had dreams of becoming king of Croatia, and he was not known to be a very patient person.
Zrínyi Péter (Petar Zrinski)
It was the time when the Sublime Porte was ending its decades-long war against the Venetians. Taking advantage of this, Zrínyi sent his envoy to the Sultan to ask for the Ottomans’ support in his revolt against the Habsburgs. His diplomat misunderstood the Grand Vizier’s ambiguous reply, and on his return, he falsely assured Duke (Bán) Zrínyi that the Turks were 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 not have accepted their help in the hope of getting the Hungarian crown?)
Frangepán Ferenc (Fran Krsto Frankopan)
After receiving the Sultan’s promise, Zrínyi and his brother-in-law Frangepán Ferenc (Fran Krsto Frankopan) called on the Croatian nobility to rebel against the Habsburgs in March 1670. At the same time, Prince Rákóczi mobilized the Hajdú soldiers and raised his army. The Hungarian Estates gathered in Kassa (Kaschau, Kosice) and elected the chief Comes of the Zemplén County, Bocskay István, as their military commander.
Kassa in 1617
The court made one last attempt to make peace and the king summoned the Estates to Besztercebánya (Banská Bistrica) on 16 March to negotiate, but the nobles were unwilling to accept the king’s terms. Zrínyi did not even go to this conference. Instead, he called on the Estates to rise up against the king, and as a result, the rebellion broke out in Upper Hungary on 9 April. On that day, Rákóczi arrested Captain Ernst Ruediger von Starhemberg of Tokaj Castle, who was visiting him in Sárospatak. (This is the soldier who later became the commander of the defense of Vienna in 1683).
Tokaj castle
The rebels blocked the roads, bridges, and fords, cut off the town of Kassa from Vienna, and besieged the castles of Tokaj and Szatmár (Satu Mare). They were joined by warriors from the Borderland castles and Hajdú soldiers from the Hajdú towns. They planned to take the wealthy Mining District of Upper Hungary and then move on to occupy the whole of Lower Hungary. However, there was only one battle with the Imperials, which 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 battle. You can read more about dragoons on the Hungarian battlefields here:
A Dragoon from 1686 (by Somogyi Győző)
As we have said, this small victory did not change anything. As it turned out, the Croats had not sided with him and the imperial soldiers were rapidly approaching the castle of Csáktornya. Not wanting to be captured by Spankau’s mercenaries, Zrínyi fled to Vienna with his brother-in-law on the night of 12 April. At the time of the battle of Gombás, Zrínyi was already in Vienna, where he begged Emperor Leopold to pardon him. I understand he was granted safe conduct, but was soon arrested.
Emperor Leopold I
When the Estates of Upper Hungary heard of this, they held a meeting at Tállya on 1 May, where they decided to lay down their arms. The imperial army arrived in the first half of June but found only loyal and obedient nobles. Only one man, Bónis Ferenc, resisted, but he was soon condemned 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 beg the monarch for mercy. All in all, the whole conspiracy had not been properly handled and it was politically isolated in Europe, not to mention the internal conflicts of the rebels. The Battle of Gombás was a useless bloodshed in the history of this event.
The “Hungaries” (Royal Hungary, the Ottoman Occupied Lands, and the Principality of Transylvania), a French map from 1664
The failure of this conspiracy paved the way for the expansion of Habsburg absolutism. After the death of the lords, a brief absolutist experiment began in which Emperor Leopold I (r. 1657-1705) attempted to incorporate Hungary into the Habsburg provinces, invoking the theory of the extinction of rights. The new way of centralizing the state was not a particularly “evil Habsburg” measure against the Hungarians, but a form of government that was considered a highly developed and effective instrument of power, based on French ideas. As we know, it was against the interests of the nobility. Soon, between 1671 and 1672, the Habsburgs reduced the number of Hungarian warriors in the Borderland castles. The unemployed soldiers only increased the number of rebellious “kuruc” fugitives in Upper Hungary.
Rebel “kuruc” soldiers
We can see that Rákóczi, unlike Zrínyi, Frangepán, and Nádasdy, escaped execution, although he was the only one who seriously launched an armed insurrection. As for the Croatian estates, they concluded the unsuccessful conspiracy that it would be futile to fight against the Viennese court. Instead, they tried to cooperate with the Habsburgs to achieve their goals. This was one of the reasons why they did not join the rebellion of Prince Rákóczi Ferenc II between 1703 and 1711. Rákóczi made several attempts to win them over, but they decided to remain loyal to the Habsburgs.
Note that we have not said a word about Prince Thököly Imre and his uprising…
Thököly Imre, the “Kuruc king”

The Consequences of the Conspiracy: Caspar Ampringen takes office

On February 27, 1673, King Leopold I of Hungary (r. 1657-1705) appointed Caspar Ampringen, Grand Master of the Teutonic Order, as absolute governor of the country. 

Caspar Ampringen

Ampringen’s appointment trampled on Hungarian law (the king should have appointed a Palatine with sovereign authority), while Emperor Leopold’s action was both retaliation for the exposed Wesselényi conspiracy and an attempt to incorporate the independent Hungarian state into the Habsburg Empire. The eight-year reign of Ampringen was a sad period in Hungarian history: the constitutional trials of the wealthiest aristocratic families continued and the persecution of Protestantism was renewed.

Caspar Ampringen is remembered as a dark adventurer, both for his cruelty and his allegedly luxurious lifestyle. As a result of his activities, the Kuruc movement led by Thököly was strengthened in the eastern part of Royal Hungary and enjoyed military success. The indignation caused by Ampringen’s government was so great that in 1681 Leopold I saw fit to replace him and called a Diet in Sopron, which elected a new Palatine, Esterházy Pál.  The Kingdom of Hungary prevented yet another attempt by the Habsburgs to turn it into a mere province.

Esterházy Pál

My conclusion is that all this can be directly linked to the campaign of General Zrínyi Miklós in 1664, which was sabotaged by his own ruler. Let us not forget how disappointed Zrínyi Miklós was and how suddenly he died. It can be said that the Wesselényi Conspiracy was the beginning of the so-called Kuruc era in Hungary, when the lands of the “Hungaries” fell into an even more confused situation than in the period of the Dual Kingship after the Battle of Mohács, more than a hundred years earlier.

The reconquest wars of Hungary

Some final notes: Kiss Csaba’s reflections on the conspiracy…

Unfortunately, this whole ‘conspiracy’ was a very amateurish, malicious, self-serving, truly ‘Hungarian’ conspiracy. After the death of Wesselényi Ferenc in March 1667, Nádasdy Ferenc, the Judge of the country, revealed the whole movement to Prince Hannibal Gonzaga, the president of the Military Council of the Court, and later that year to the Emperor through his confidant.

The Imperial War Council in Vienna (Hofkriegsrat) in 1775

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 to the court the documents, papers, documents, lists of names, etc. that she had at her disposal.

Lady Széchy Mária, the “Venus of Murány”

In the summer of 1669, Petar Zrínyi also revealed the conspiracy to Baron von Rottal and tried to pin the blame 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, as an envoy to the Porte, where he offered the Hungarians and Croats, with noble simplicity, to become Ottoman vassals if the Porte would support their planned uprising with military force.

Sultan Mehmed IV

Sultan Mehmed IV supported the offer, but the Grand Vizier, Köprülü Fazil Ahmed, rejected it and reported it to Vienna. At the same time, Bukovacki returned to his master under the illusion 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.

The execution of Frangepán and Zrínyi in 1671

At the same time, Zrínyi / Zrinski sent a letter to his fellow monks in Upper Hungary encouraging them to revolt, but he also sent envoys to Vienna – including his late brother’s secretary and confidant, the Irish Augustinian monk Mark Forstall – to find a way out… Indeed, only Prince Rákóczi I Ferenc had led a small revolt and won a small victory in Upper Hungary, as we could read.

Zrínyi Péter (Petar Zrinski)

Zrínyi’s behaviour in particular seems very duplicitous: he betrays the conspiracy and then 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 save their master from the Emperor…

Zrínyi and Frangepán before the execution (painting by Madarász Viktor)

His letter, full of obvious lies, is analyzed by the literary historian Jankovics József. It seems to be a real ‘Hungarian’ trick: the conspirators were not serious about their movement, but only wanted to put pressure on the court for their own interests. The court tolerated the ‘conspiracy’ for years – between 1667 and 1670 – and knew all about it through the participants who kept reporting each other. Through the Grand Vizier, Köprülü Fazil Ahmed, the court received clear evidence of open treason and betrayal: that Zrínyi had offered the lands to the Ottomans while claiming loyalty to the court and blackening the names of his comrades…

The executed conspirators…
Source: partly by Rubicon,  Szibler Gábor, and Kiss Csaba

Dear Readers, I can only make this content available through small donations or by selling my books or T-shirts:

Please  feel free to support me with a coffee here: You can check out my books on Amazon or Draft2Digital, they are available in hardcover, paperback, or ebook: https://www.amazon.com/dp/198020490X or at https://books2read.com/b/boYd81

“The Ring of Kékkő Castle” (Paperback)

 My work can also be followed and supported on Patreon: Become a Patron!http://Become a Patron!

Become a Patron!

My T-shirts are available: https://hungarianottomanwars.myspreadshop.com/all