Interview with Count Zrínyi Miklós 

Zrínyi miklós aka Nicholas Zrinski (Portrait by Jan Thomas)

Count Nicholas Zrínyi is a strongly built, broad-shouldered nobleman in his early forties, with a long black mustache hanging down under his characteristic eagle-shaped nose. He, the Europe-wide celebrated hero who has just been awarded the Golden Fleece from the King of Spain, as a sign of honor for his victories over the Turks, fixed his two brilliant black eyes on our Interviewer of Time & Travel Media Company, with a sparkling intelligence in them.

While his wine master filled two cups, he nodded and our colleague pushed the record button on the device, laying on the Count’s delicately curved renaissance writing table.

Interviewer: Thank you for giving your precious time and agreeing on this discussion, Mylord. Let me get started and be as straight as you had previously allowed me. A quick question, at first: why did you choose this proverb from Machiavelli: “La forze caga alle raggione adosso”?

Count: “The power puts shit on all smart speculations” (smile) My friend, I wrote it in my work, the “Antidote against the Turkish poison” just three years ago, in 1661. This saying reminds us that we ourselves must be strong because nobody will help us without self-interest.

 Interviewer: Not even the Holy Roman Emperor, out of pure Christian solidarity?

 Count: Do not be silly nor a pretender. (suddenly with darkened face) In that pamphlet, I had listed all the European nations and proved they would not aid us.

 Interviewer: What about the Germans and what of your sworn ruler?

 Count: Where are these questions leading to? You seem to have read my work well…

 Interviewer: My lord, this is how you wrote about the Germans’ possible help against the Turks:

(Quoting from a booklet) „Germany is our next neighbor. Are we sure that the German nation would change their home peace and happiness to their peril? Are we in the knowledge that they would be so greatly indebted to Hungarians so as to risk their own safety with such a monstrous beast like the Turks are? Have they really forgotten the raids and pillaging of their lands made by the ancient Huns of Attila and the other Hungarians? Would they wish to aid the Hungarians so as to fear them afterward? I could barely believe it.”

Do you really think, My lord, that Germans still consider Hungarians barbarous nomads who are softening the raw meat under their saddle?

 Count: You have said it yourself well. The first great Hunnish king, Attila, was poisoned by the German Ildiko, his wife. Later, when the tribes of the Magyars arrived to take over the country again, led by Chief Arpad, how many raids did the Germans have to suffer? Then, remember the Battle of Pozsony in 907 Anno Domini. The mightiest German army had set out to vanish the new country from the surface of the earth but they were crushed shamefully. See, the Germans were the first to attack us from the west when the Mongols invaded our country in 1241. And it was going on like this until King Matthias stopped them by taking Vienna in 1485. Wasn’t a German hand involved when he was poisoned a few years later?

 Interviewer: I know, that you, My lord, have valued studying history as high as reading the teachings in the Bible. Why did you dedicate a full book to King Matthew?

 Count: The human mind never gets so much help for the valiant soldiering or for any other thing as from learning and reading history. In my book about King Matthew, I wanted to show that only a strong national king has a good heart for his subjects. A foreign monarch will always use our country as a toy in his wars.

 Interviewer: Just like the Hungarians had used the Croatians in their wars against the Turks?

 Count: Do not anger me by comparing the poor Croatian and Hungarian nations who had lived shoulder to shoulder in the throat of the wolf to the German mercenaries who made greater looting and damage against these nations of our land than against the Ottomans.

 Interviewer: Presently, your monarch, Emperor Habsburg Leopold, is not a national king of neither Croatia nor Hungary. How did your king feel when he had read your book about king Matthew?

 Count: He was said to have been a little annoyed.

 Interviewer: Didn’t your Emperor and King give you the sign of the highest respect by allowing you to mint your own silver coins?

 Count: Yes, so as to pay his soldiers from my own money.

 Interviewer: Didn’t he let you carry the Flag of the Country in his Coronation Procession when you were not even 14 years old? Didn’t he mercifully take the responsibility of fostering you after your father’s early death?

 Count: Carrying the Flag of the Kingdom and signing all important documents of the State had been my hereditary rights. As for the fosterage: it was General Wallenstein, His Majesty’s man, who had my noble father poisoned in 1624, after all. Forget not: fostering fathers are authorized to handle the orphans’ lands and castles. Hadn’t Archbishop Pázmány taken over my and my younger brother’s education, the State, and His Majesty’s men would have stolen our eyes.

 Interviewer: You, My lord, are the wealthiest aristocrat in the country between Vienna and Belgrade, owning the largest lands. So what do you think of the Habsburgs now?

 Count: The Habsburgs? (sips from the cup and smiles) The first thought occurring me is, that the Hungarian King István made them rise high. Our good king helped them in 1257 to win the battle of Morvamezö, introducing them into high politics.

 Interviewer: Why had you hinted that the Habsburgs would not help you defending Christendom? Are they not the enemy of the Muslims?

 Count: You know nothing about politics. This fight is not between religions, it is rather about power and money. It is not a war between Christians and Muslims, as it is widely believed. I can hardly believe that it would either be kind before God or acceptable for men to attack all of our neighbors or any Christian princes only under the excuse of religion. There are other reasons that force us to fight against the Turks or against other enemies who either share our faith or not; there are more noble reasons than religion. Attacking someone under the name of the religion is not right, it is against God’s mercy; also, it is a great sin and wrong to break our agreement with our enemy, under the cover of religion.

 Interviewer: But your ruler is a Roman Catholic like yourself. Are you a friend of the Muslims or the Protestants?

 Count: Once I addressed the Hungarian Lutheran noblemen of Transylvania with these words, telling them: “I am of a different faith, but your lordships’ freedom is my freedom, if you are hurt, I am hurt, too. I wish the prince had a hundred-thousand good papist, a hundred-thousand Calvinist, and the same Lutheran warriors, they could save this homeland.” My friend, I hold a confiding Lutheran in higher esteem than an evil-hearted Catholic. As for Muslims, if we have to keep our oaths even to infidels, how much more we should keep our words to our Christian brothers.

 Interviewer: My lord, allow me to ask you some personal questions about your family. You wrote a long poetic epoch in the Hungarian language about the deeds of your Great-Grandfather who was also named Nicholas Zrinyi. Why didn’t you write it in the Croatian language?

Count: You must know that my noble mother was a Hungarian. My Croatian blood enriches me but I am equally attached to my Hungarian heritage.

 Interviewer: So you are not loyal anymore to your ancestor’s Croatian identity? Have you decided to become a Hungarian nationalist?

Count: What weird speculation! Whatever a “nationalist” maybe, it is a silly assumption that one should be loyal to a mere language. Instead, we are loyal to the land which is under the Holy Crown where several languages and nations live in peace, regardless of their tongues. I might write my next work either in German or Italian which I speak as fluently as the Latin or the Turkish languages.

Interviewer: Is that true that your Great – Grandfather, the hero of Szigetvár castle, had thirty of his Turkish prisoners impaled when he learned that the Turks had had one of his trusted and loved soldiers impaled?

Count: No, it is not correct. He had all of his sixty Turkish captives impaled in answer to that crime. He loved and protected his soldiers beyond measure. He didn’t abandon them even in the greatest peril and died with them on the battlefield when he saved Vienna by delaying Suleiman’s army in 1566.

Interviewer: Would you also die for the Emperor, fighting the Ottomans, as he did?

Count: Since the age of fourteen, since I was strong enough to lift the saber, I have been personally leading my men into the melee. The God Almighty has so far deprived me of the honor of falling under the horseshoes of the enemy but I would anytime shed my blood for the Holy Crown of Hungary.

Interviewer: Hearsay has it that the Ottomans’ secret envoy had just offered you this very crown. What is behind such gossip?

Count: You certainly know about my winter campaign when I burnt the six-mile-long bridge of Eszék some half a year ago. I had done it so as to disable the Ottomans’ reinforcement for a longer period. At least for as long time as I could have retaken the strategic fort of Kanizsa as a first step in the liberation of Hungary.

Interviewer: Would you have been able to liberate the whole country after taking Kanizsa?

 Count: With God’s help, I could have delivered a final blow to them from that stronghold, supported by the imperial field army.

 Interviewer: But the Emperor sent you no help to take Kanizsa and the Turks rebuilt the famous bridge. His Highness seemingly doesn’t want to give the liberation of Hungary into your hands.

Count: You try to make a hint that my loyalty may have got forsaken because of this and this is the reason why the Turks might want to offer me the crown.

Interviewer: The Ottomans needed Vienna, the Golden Apple, and your task would only be to open a corridor to them. In exchange for that, you could gain royal power over Hungary. Similarly to the free and rich Transylvania which is only a vassal state of the Turks in mere name.

Count: The Emperor never trusted his Hungarian and Croatian subjects whose only crime was that they had tried to remind His Highness that wearing our Holy  Crown meant that he should rule according to the ancient Hungarian Constitution.

Interviewer: Why is this Constitution so special?

Count: In short: it stops the Emperor to reduce Hungary to the level of one of his provinces. Besides, article 31 of this document empowers the noble estates to remove any rulers who do not keep the Constitution.

Interviewer: So it seems that the future of Hungary has been placed into your hands if you took the Ottomans’ offer. Not to mention the future of the German lands if you decided to provide them passage to Vienna.

Count: God forbid, I would never call myself anointed king of Hungary.

Interviewer: By no means, at least not without possessing the Holy Crown, I would presume.

Count: (smiling) But this is just idle talk. Remember, Prince Bocskai had also refused the royal title from the Sultan. He remained content being addressed as Prince of Hungary and Transylvania, back in 1606.

Interviewer: …and his chancellor, Mihály Káthay, poisoned him the same year, from German or Popist money…

Count: That is why it is not a wasted time to study Machiavelli, my friend. But these are just speculations and nothing has been decided. Not yet. Further negotiations are to be done, I do hope the Emperor still wants me to give the honor of fighting for him, not against him.

Interviewer: My lord, how do you try to pass time until you are waiting for your answers?

Count: Here, in Csáktornya, are plenty of excellent hunting places. I have a new Italian guest here who doesn’t believe that we have the biggest boars here in Europe. I want to prove him wrong so first thing tomorrow morning, we will merrily set out to hunt, just to kill time.

Interviewer: My lord, we have started our interview with a proverb from Machiavelli. As a final thought, is there a proverb or a fable that you would find worthy of sharing with posterity?

Count: There is a very timely short Hungarian tale, published by Gáspár Heltay. I find it applicable to my present dilemma concerning my decision on who I should trust with my sword. Let me amuse you with this tale of simple Székelys, then.

Once upon a time, there was a man who was being carried by the devils. The man happened to meet a friend of his along the road. His friend asked him:

– Where are you going, buddy?

– I am not going anywhere but I am being carried.

– By who and where to?

The man answered:

– The devils are taking me to hell.

The other says:

– Woe to you, you poor soul, your plight is a bad one and you couldn’t have any worse plight than that.

The answer is coming to this:

– Badly enough, alas, but I could be in an even worse plight than this.

His friend was amazed by hearing this so he enquired on:

– How could you be in an even worse plight since the hell is worse than anything else?

The reply comes:

– Yes, it is the worst place. Yet, now I am the one who is being carried on the devils’ shoulders and back so I can rest until we get there. What if the devils saddled me and made me carry them all the way to the same hell? I would have a lot worse plight than now.

Interviewer: What is the meaning of this story? Which enemy do you find worse, the German or the Turkish one? Are you going to accept the Turkis offer, after all?

Count: (with a broad smile) Apply the two men in the fable for Hungary and Transylvania, then, apply the devils for the Turks and the Germans.

The death of Zrínyi Miklós on 18 November 1664, right after the interview. Or was it an assassination?

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