Selected Passages from Hungarian-Ottoman Wars

26 June 1644 The Battle of Somos: Hungarian Transylvanians vs. Hungarians of Royal Hungary

The historical situation

Kemény János, the general of Rákóczi

Prince Rákóczi György of Transylvania (1593-1648) could afford to have an independent foreign policy, neither the sultan nor the Habsburg emperor could interfere in his actions. For example, he had a hand in the interior affairs of the Wallachian and the Moldavian voivodes, he tried to make them loyal to him alone. Also, he actively took part in western political affairs. As for King Gustav Adolph, Rákóczi fell into Bethlen’s steps and has also sent a delegation to Sweden but it happened too late because the Swedish ruler died. As a result of this, Rákóczi couldn’t join that time the Swedes against the Habsburgs to take Hungary back from the “Austrian usurpers”.

Prince Rákóczi György I (1593-1648)

The reason for the delay of their coalition was that the Swedish king had wanted his military support against the Austrians quite unconditionally. But Rákóczi had his own terms: he wanted to keep his lands and the Transylvanian freedom of religion. The Habsburgs had done everything to hinder Rákoczi’s intervention in the 30 Year Wars: they had bribed the Ottoman Serasker (chief military leader under the sultan) who threatened Rákóczi to send Crimean Tatar and Turkish raiders to Transylvania if he tried to attack the Austrians. When this Serasker received his “silk string” from Sultan Murad, this obstacle was not there anymore.

General Lennart Torstensson

So it happened that a decade later Rákóczi was free to decide to take side with the Swedes when he learned that General Torstenson broke into Austria after 1642 at Olmütz. So in 1644, Rákóczi intervened in the 30-Year War, allying himself with the French and the Swedes. He declared war against the new Emperor, Habsburg Ferdinand III, but not with the intention of crushing him beyond measure. He was not in a hurry to ruin the Austrians, as a matter of fact. In this respect, his thinking was perhaps similar to King Báthory István’s who had been balancing the power as a Polish king between the Habsburgs and the Ottomans.

Europe in 1648

 Rákóczi’s Transylvanian army in 1644 February was on the march to join Torstenson, they were supposed to meet at Vienna. Rákóczi occupied the whole of Upper Hungary from the Habsburgs – similar to his fellow Transylvanian Princes like Bethlen and Bocskai the past had made a habit of it. The lands of Royal Hungary north of the Danube River were in his hands within a few weeks when he arrived at the Vág River. Yet, the majority of the Hungarian Estates of Royal Hungary did not support him.

Hungarian cavalryman, 17th century (Drawing: Somogyi Győző)

As we saw, regarding Royal Hungary, Rákóczi could not expect any help from General Torstenson by this time because the Swedish general had already left for Moravia. Thus, the Transylvanian prince was quite alone to face the Habsburgs’ counter-attack. The Habsburg forces were not tied down by Torstenson in Hungary so they could regroup their troops and soon they attacked Rákóczi’s newly conquered lands.

King Ferdinand III

The Battle of Somos, 24 June 1644  

The units of Palatine Esterházy Miklós (1582-1645), General Pucheim, and General Götz forced back the prince’s troops who were trying not to engage in a battle. Seeing this, Esterházy sent him a scornful letter. The Imperial troops took back the northern castles like Fülek, Szendrő, and even Szerencs, the eagle-nest of the Rákóczi family was occupied by Esterházy’s soldiers. The Imperials besieged the city of Kassa (Kaschau, Kosice) on 10 June. However, they were continuously harassed by the hit-and-run ambushes of the local Hungarians who rose up against them. The raiding units of Kemény János, Rákóczi’s general also made life difficult to the besiegers. 
Palatine Esterházy Miklós
After a few days, Esterházy and Götz had to quit the siege of Kassa and they withdrew toward Eperjes (Presov, Preschau) which is situated 33 kilometers north of Kassa. Yet, Kemény was right behind their tracks and he defeated the rear-guard of Esterházy at Somos on 26 June. Now, the Imperials were withdrawing their army and Kemény was able to take the rich towns of the Mining District back. It is possible that Rákóczi did not really want to fight a pitched battle against his fellow Hungarians so he outmaneuvered his enemy. The whole campaign was rather a cat-and-mouse play.
Lady Széchy Mária, the “Venus of Murány”
He had to withdraw again during the autumn because the troops of Csáky István and Homonnai György attacked him from Poland, though. Another reason for making this move was that Wesselényi Ferenc took Murány castle, cutting off his logistic lines. The famous legend of Murány castle tells the story of how a beautiful woman, Széchy Mária tricked everyone and gained the castle for her fiancée, Wesselényi Ferenc in secret. Wesselényi happened to be on King Habsburg Ferdinand’s side, so this was how the fort returned to the king in 1644 without him having to pay or fight for it. I wrote more about this legend in my book “33 Castles, Battles, Legends”, which is available in ebook and paperback on Amazon:

The outcome of Rákóczi’s campaign

There were secret negotiations between Ferdinand and Rákóczi, and it was not without the Austrians’ hands, either, that Rákóczi’s nominal overlord, the Ottoman sultan, ordered him to end the campaign. Not as if the sultan had enough power to force him to do so but it was a good excuse for Rákóczi to withdraw. Finally, in the Treaty of Linz (September 1645), Ferdinand recognized Rákóczi György’s rule over the seven counties of the Partium and reaffirmed the religious liberties of Transylvania. Also, the Habsburg ruler had to agree to the privileges enjoyed by the Protestants. Read more about Prince Rákóczi here:
Transylvanian soldiers, 17th century (Drawing: Somogyi Győző)
Drawing the conclusion of Rákóczi’s 1645/46 war: he was able to achieve his basic military goals (keeping his lands intact and defending the unique Transylvanian religious freedom) with an army that was outsmarting superior forces, without a major defeat. He didn’t really want to bring the Austrian Kingdom down before dealing properly with the Turks since the Habsburgs represented at least some kind of an opposing power against the Sultan. That’s why he didn’t hurry to help Torstenson. There came the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 and as part of the treaty, Rákóczi and Ferdinand made peace, too, at Linz. You can find the signature of the Transylvanian prince on the famous document that ended the 30-Year-War. 
The Treaty of Westphalia
Source: partly from Szibler Gábor

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Prince Rákóczi György I of Transylvania

 

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