Selected Passages from Hungarian-Ottoman Wars

The Long War, Part 24/ Troubles in Transylvania, 1596-1599

Prince Báthory Zsigmond

I personally dislike Prince Báthory Zsigmond of Transylvania and so do most of the Hungarian Székelys. His unstable and tyrannic rule brought about lots of miseries and destructions in the Principality of Transylvania. Let us not forget, that the Transylvanian princes enjoyed greater and more concentrated power above their subjects than any contemporary Habsburg rulers. If you would like to find out whether the Principality was just a mere vassal state of the Ottomans, read my article here:

King Báthory István of Poland, Prince of Transylvania (1533-1586)

Alas, it was a wrong choice made by King Báthory István (Stefan) of Poland (lived 1533-1586) that he placed his nephew, Báthory Zsigmond (1572-1613) on the Transylvanian throne. Now, let us read the research of Szibler Gábor about the 15-Year-War and see whether I was right or not. Please, note that I am using the Oriental name order for Hungarians where family names come first.

The signature of Báthory Zsigmond

While the Habsburgs-ruled Kingdom of Hungary was fighting the Ottoman Empire continuously, the world changed profoundly in Transylvania. Prince Báthory Zsigmond didn’t think the outcome of the war was so bright due to its length and failures. Besides, he had some family troubles because he was unable to „sleep the marriage” with Maria Krisztiera, a Habsburg Archduchess. His depressive mood has often overcome him and he decided to resign from his throne. The lost battle of Mezőkeresztes in 1596 didn’t make his mood any better. He had all the reasons to expect the revenge of the Ottoman Empire because nominally, he was supposed to be the ally of the Sultan. Here is more about this unlucky battle:

Erzherzogin Maria Christina (1574-1621)

He was having lengthy negotiations about ceding the throne of Transylvania with Emperor Rudolf. He asked for the Silesian Principalities of Oppeln and Ratibor with the rank of an Imperial Prince, in addition to this, he wanted to be a member of the Order of the Golden Fleece. Still, he hasn`t stopped the war against the Ottoman Empire. His Captain Borbély György of Lippa castle took the forts of Csanád and Arad during the autumn of 1597 but his Chancellor Jósika István could not take Temesvár (Timisoara) castle. Here is more about the strategically so important Lippa castle, one of the “entrances” of Transylvania:

The Ottoman Turks also wanted to make peace with him, promising him that he could keep his throne if he accepted the authority of the Sublime Port but Báthory has not agreed. Clearly, Transylvania was not like Wallachia or Moldova where the Sultan was able to control the situation easily, assigning voivodes to his liking. As for the political relationship between the Transylvanian princes and the Sultan, read the story of how Báthory’s uncle, István had been appointed as the prince in 1575:

Báthory and his diplomat, Father Carillo had been discussing the issue in Prague for a year before they could come to terms with Habsburg Rudolf. Zsigmond has finally got the Golden Fleece and the two principalities, plus 50,000 pieces of gold annually. The Emperor made a promise to get the rank of a Cardinal for him by asking the Pope for it. After this, Báthory announced to the Estates of Transylvania in the spring of 1598 that he would resign. He left Transylvania in April 1598.
Royal commissioners were supposed to lead the country in his stead (the name of Nádasdy Ferenc had come up here), namely they were the following persons: Bishop Szuhay István of Vác, Istvánffy Miklós, and Bartholomäus Pezzen. Before their arrival, Bocskai István and Maria Christina, the wife of Zsigmond had been in charge of the power.

Bocskai István, Báthory’s general

My remark: as Bocskai was so full-heartedly supporting Zsigmond with his military skills, I have mixed feelings about Bocskai István, later Prince of Transylvania. Here you can read more about the Uprising of Bocskai István and the result of his reign: some historians in Hungary tend to think that the 15-Year-War was discontinued against the Ottomans because of him:

After Báthory left his country, Archduke Habsburg Miksa (Maximilian) sent his army to Transylvania at the beginning of August but they never arrived there because Báthory Zsigmond came home unexpectedly in mid-August and has taken over the power again. The army of the Sublime Port had already been getting closer to Transylvania and Serdar Szaturdzsi Mehmed has taken Csanád, Arad, and Solymos then began the siege of Várad Castle.

Várad castle (Oradea)

The new reign of Zsigmond hasn`t lasted for long. Now, the Sultan was his enemy and the Habsburg emperor was angry with him because of the changing of his mind. He had to find a solution. Finally, the envoys of Zsigmond made a new agreement with Rudolf and they have come to terms by the spring of 1599 regarding the resignation of Báthory. This time, the new ruler of Transylvania would have been Archduke Maximilian (Miksa) but Báthory has crossed his plans again. This time, he called his cousin, Cardinal Báthory András home from Poland and handed his rank of a prince over to him. Báthory András was the brother of Báthory Boldizsár who had been so nastily executed by Zsigmond in 1594. Zsigmond summoned a Diet to Medgyes on 29 March and his first thing was to rehabilitate Boldizsár, then he resigned from the power. The next day, András made his oath and became Prince of Transylvania. Soon, Zsigmond left for the Principalities of Oppeln and Ratibor, leaving behind confusion and the shadow of a coming war. Maria Krisztiera has returned to Graz. (Stay tuned in, he will come back home again after the death of András to make more havoc.)

Báthory András (1563-1599) Ruled between 29 March-31 October 1599

This way, Zsigmond thought that Transylvania would remain in the Báthory family’s hands, and he knew that András was supported by Poland. He thought that András could settle the problems with the Ottomans as well. Of course, Emperor Rudolf has had enough of the ceaseless bargaining and he got angry because Báthory had ceded his power to his cousin without asking for Rudolf`s permission. Cardinal András tried to come to terms with him and with the Turks in vain. There was an issue with the Sultan: he wanted to get back the important castles of Lippa and Jenő but Prince András refused to return them.

Prince Báthory András

Prince András was a ruler only for half a year, and he was desperately trying to remain on good terms both with Poland and the Habsburgs. He was trying to maintain good relations with the Moldavian and the Wallachian principalities, the Crimean Khaganate, and the Sublime Port, too. However, balancing the power was getting too dangerous. Unfortunately, he was not loved by either the German Saxons of Transylvania or the Hungarian Székely border guards. Only his general, Székely Mózes was firmly supporting him. The negotiations with the Habsburgs were going slowly but he was able to make peace with the Wallachian and the Moldavian voivodes. Voivode Michael Vitez II accepted him as his liege-lord during the summer, though his loyalty lasted for a rather short time.

The second phase of the Long War (grey=destroyed areas; blue=areas that changed owners)

 Soon, Emperor Rudolf decided to send his armies to Transylvania. His army was led by the Chief Captain of Kassa (Kosice / Kaschau), Giorgio Basta. Basta instigated Voivode Michael Vitez of Wallachia to attack Transylvania and take the power over on behalf of the king of Hungary (who was no one else than Rudolf). This way, two armies were marching against Prince András. 

Voivode Michael Vitez II (1558-1601)

The Voivode didn’t like Báthory for he thought him a threat against his throne of Wallachia and naturally, he was glad in case he could get the power of Transylvania. As Basta`s army was late, Cardinal Báthory András had to face „only” the army of Voivode Michael. Emperor Rudolf sent 100,000 pieces of gold to buy the support of the Hungarian Székelys who joined the army of Voivode Michael.

The Székely Ördög Balázs Mihály who killed Prince András (drawing: Mathe László)

The Battle of Sellenberk, 28 October 1599

The two sides met at Sellenberk, near Szeben (Sibiu / Hermanstadt). The Voivode had many more soldiers than the Prince because he was supported by the Székelys and the Saxons. He had Cossacks and Polish riders in his army, too. On the other hand, Prince András could not rise a proper army. Yet, the Transylvanian army bravely charged the enemy, again and again. They were finally overpowered, and the leader of the army, Kornis Gáspár was captured. It was the point when Prince András abandoned the fight and fled. However, many soldiers remained fighting, like Barcsai András, the Bán (Duke) of Lugos, and the troops of Huszár Péter and Székely Mózes. (My note: Huszár Péter was one of the most famous Hussar warriors of Hungary: you can read about his heroic life here:)

Berenhidai Huszár Péter

In spite of fleeing after their prince, they launched a counter-attack. They managed to take the Voivode’s cannons and repelled the Polish-Cossack assault, too. As it was, they managed to change the battle and the attackers could not gain ground. Yet, the next day, the Transylvanian army left the battlefield, and their baggage and military equipment were taken by the enemy. Voivode Michael proclaimed himself the winner, though the fight was rather a draw. He led his army to Gyulafehérvár (Alba Iulia, Erdel Belgradi)

The head of Prince András was sent to the voivode but he never paid the prize

 The Prince and his 150 men were trying to get away from the lost battle but he was ambushed by 800 men of Ördög Balázs Mihály near Csíkszentdomokos. The fleeing prince was beaten to death on 31 October by the Hungarian Székely soldiers who rebelled against him. We know that Voivode Michael offered a large prize for the head of Prince András but it was not the main reason for his terrible death. Ördög (meaning “devil”) Balázs Mihály had risen the Székely folks to catch the running prince because he said the Báthories were the cause for all of their miseries. He said the Báthories were born only to devour luxurious food and waste money, they were tyrants, no good for fighting the enemy or for building the country in peace. Báthory’s head was sent to Michael who had the body of the prince and his head buried with great respect on 24 November. Gossip said he just wanted to show that he had really died. As the outcome of the above-mentioned calamities, Voivode Michael began his short reign, and Transylvania was made to be loyal to King Habsburg Rudolf for the time being. 

Source: Szibler Gábor

The Principality of Transylvania (1570-1711)
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