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

Prince Báthory Zsigmond

I personally dislike Prince Báthory Zsigmond of Transylvania, as do most of the Hungarian Székelys. His unstable and tyrannical rule brought much misery and destruction to the Principality of Transylvania. Let us not forget that the Transylvanian princes enjoyed greater and more concentrated power over their subjects than any contemporary Habsburg rulers. If you want to know whether the Principality was just a vassal state of the Ottomans, read my article here:

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

Unfortunately, it was a wrong decision of King Báthory István (Stefan) of Poland (r. 1533-1586) to put his nephew Báthory Zsigmond (1572-1613) on the Transylvanian throne. Let us now read Szibler Gábor’s research on the 15 Years’ War and see if I was right or not. Please note that I am using the oriental name order for Hungarians, where the surname comes first.

The signature of Báthory Zsigmond

While the Habsburg-ruled Kingdom of Hungary was fighting the Ottoman Empire, the world was changing in Transylvania. Prince Báthory Zsigmond didn’t think much of the outcome of the war due to its length and failures. He also had family problems because he could not “sleep” on his marriage to Maria Krisztiera, a Habsburg archduchess. His depressive mood often overcame him and he decided to abdicate his throne. The lost battle of Mezőkeresztes in 1596 didn’t improve his mood. He had every reason to expect revenge from the Ottoman Empire, as he was nominally an ally of the Sultan. Here is more about this unlucky battle:

Erzherzogin Maria Christina (1574-1621)

He had lengthy negotiations with Emperor Rudolph about ceding the throne of Transylvania. He asked for the Silesian principalities of Oppeln and Ratibor with the rank of imperial prince, and he wanted to be a member of the Order of the Golden Fleece. However, he did not stop the war against the Ottoman Empire. His captain, Borbély György of Lippa Castle, took the fortresses of Csanád and Arad in the autumn of 1597, but his chancellor, Jósika István, could not take the castle of Temesvár (Timisoara). Read more about the strategic importance of Lippa Castle, one of the “entrances” to 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 Porte, but Báthory did not agree. Obviously, Transylvania was not like Wallachia or Moldova, where the Sultan could easily control the situation by appointing voivods according to his wishes. As for the political relationship between the Transylvanian princes and the Sultan, read the story of how Báthory’s uncle, István, was appointed prince in 1575:

Báthory and his diplomat, Father Carillo, had spent a year in Prague discussing the matter before agreeing with Rudolf of Habsburg. Zsigmond finally got the Golden Fleece and the two principalities, plus 50,000 pieces of gold a year. The emperor promised to make him a cardinal by asking the pope. As a result, Báthory announced his resignation to the Transylvanian Estates in the spring of 1598. He left Transylvania in April 1598.
In his place, royal commissioners (the name of Nádasdy Ferenc was mentioned) were to govern the country: Bishop Szuhay István of Vác, Istvánffy Miklós and Bartholomew Pezzen. Before their arrival, Bocskai István and Maria Christina, the wife of Zsigmond, had been in power.

Bocskai István, Báthory’s general

My comment: As Bocskai supported Báthory Zsigmond so wholeheartedly with his military skills, I have mixed feelings about Bocskai István, the later Prince of Transylvania. Here you can read more about Bocskai István’s rebellion and the result of his reign: some historians in Hungary tend to think that the 15 Years’ War against the Ottomans was stopped 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 unexpectedly returned home in mid-August and took power again. The army of the Sublime Port had already approached Transylvania and Serdar Szaturdzsi Mehmed took Csanád, Arad, and then Solymos and began the siege of Várad Castle.

Várad castle (Oradea)

The new reign of Zsigmond did not last long. Now the Sultan was his enemy and the Habsburg Emperor was angry with him for changing his mind. A solution had to be found. Finally, Zsigmond’s envoys made a new agreement with Rudolph, and in the spring of 1599, they agreed on Báthory’s resignation. This time, the new ruler of Transylvania would have been Archduke Maximilian (Miksa), but Báthory again changed his plans. This time he called his cousin, Cardinal Báthory András, home from Poland and gave him the rank of prince.

Báthory András was the brother of Báthory Boldizsár, who had been so cruelly executed by Zsigmond in 1594. Zsigmond convened a diet in Medgyes on 29 March, first rehabilitating Boldizsár and then resigning from power. The next day, András took his oath and became Prince of Transylvania. Soon after, Zsigmond left for the principalities of Opole and Ratibor, leaving behind confusion and the shadow of a coming war. Maria Krisztiera has returned to Graz. (Stay tuned, he will return home after the death of András to wreak more havoc).

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

In this way, Zsigmond thought that Transylvania would remain in the hands of the Báthory family, and he knew that András was supported by Poland. He thought that András could also solve the problems with the Ottomans. Of course, Emperor Rudolph was fed up with the constant haggling and was angry that Báthory had handed over his power to his cousin without asking Rudolph’s permission. Cardinal András tried in vain to come to terms with him and the Turks. There was a problem 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 had only been ruler for six months, and he was desperate to maintain good relations with both Poland and the Habsburgs. He also tried to maintain good relations with the Moldavian and Wallachian principalities, the Crimean Khaganate, and the Sublime Port. But the balance of power became too dangerous. Unfortunately, neither the German Saxons of Transylvania nor the Hungarian Székely border guards loved him. Only his general, Székely Mózes, firmly supported him. Negotiations with the Habsburgs were slow, but he was able to make peace with the Wallachian and Moldavian voivods. Voivode Michael Vitez II accepted him as his liege lord in the summer, but his loyalty was short-lived.

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

Soon Emperor Rudolph 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 seize power on behalf of the King of Hungary (who was none other than Rudolf). Thus two armies marched against Prince András.

Voivode Michael Vitez II (1558-1601)

The Voivode didn’t like Báthory because he saw him as a threat to his throne in Wallachia, and of course, he was happy if he could get the power of Transylvania. As Basta’s army was late, Cardinal Báthory András “only” had to face Voivode Michael’s army. Emperor Rudolf sent 100,000 gold pieces to buy the support of the Hungarian Székelys, who joined Voivode Michael’s army.

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). The voivode had many more soldiers than the prince because he was supported by the Székelys and the Saxons. He also had Cossacks and Polish horsemen in his army. On the other hand, Prince András could not raise a proper army. Nevertheless, the Transylvanian army bravely attacked the enemy again and again. Eventually, they were overpowered and the leader of the army, Kornis Gáspár, was captured. It was at this point that Prince András gave up 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

Despite fleeing after their prince, they launched a counterattack. They managed to capture the Voivode’s cannons and repelled the Polish-Cossack attack. They managed to turn the tide of the battle, and the attackers were unable to gain any ground. The next day, however, the Transylvanian army left the battlefield, their baggage and military equipment taken by the enemy. Voivode Michael proclaimed himself the victor, even though the battle was more of 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 tried to escape 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 price for the head of Prince András, but this was not the main reason for his terrible death. Ördög (meaning ‘devil’) Balázs Mihály had rallied the Székely people to catch the fugitive prince because he said the Báthorys were the cause of all their misery.

He said that the Báthorys were only born to eat luxurious food and waste money, they were tyrants, not good for fighting the enemy or building the country in peace. Báthory’s head was sent to Michael, who had the prince’s body and head buried with great respect on 24 November. The gossip was that he only wanted to show that he had really died. As a result of the above-mentioned disasters, Voivode Michael began his short reign and Transylvania was made loyal to King Rudolf of Habsburg for the time being.

Source: Szibler Gábor

The Principality of Transylvania (1570-1711)

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