Interview with Lord Báthory István

Báthory István

An Interview with Lord István Báthory, Voivode, later Prince of Transylvania, prospective King of Poland. Please, note that I use the Eastern name order for Hungarians where family names come first.

The ruins of Haller Mansion at Kerelőszentpál (Photo: CEllen)

We set the scene for 08 July 1575, Transylvania, on the evening after the Battle of Kerelőszentpál.
In the background, the small fortified palace of Kerelőszentpál is still burning, Székely soldiers are ushering the captured warriors of the enemy to the makeshift scaffolds to hang them. The captives are also Székely guardsmen, unfortunately taking the usurper Bekes Gáspár’s side.

Our colleague, the interviewer from Timetravel Media & Company, has found Lord Báthory in his hastily erected tent, right at the edge of the battlefield.
He, a strongly built 38-year-old knight, was being eased out of his field armor by the skilled fingers of his Saxon page.

Something fierce was sitting in Lord Báthory’s round eyes while he wordlessly motioned our interviewer to step inside. His dark, thick beard covered his features. However, one could sense the shadow of some hidden harshness.
Yet, his manners were spotless and he politely indicated a light camp-chair to our interviewer whom he took to be a lady traveling from far-away lands.
The language of the conversation was in Latin, the language of formality.

“Be my guest, my Ladyship, let you be the spy of Queen Elisabeth of England or the historian of the Danish Monarch. When I look into your green eyes I see no falseness and you found me in a lucky hour. I will spare some time to answer all of your questions.”
The Interviewer curtsied and took the proffered seat. She adjusted the expensive lace and silver snood on her head, playing with her red, curly hair, absent-mindedly.
“Thank you, Your Highness…Prince or Voivode of Transylvania..?”
“Lady Green, you may address me as Lord István, here and now. Yes, I have used the title of Voivode for the last four years on purpose” Báthory said with a smile, ” and the reason is two-fold. In the Kingdom of Hungary, the Voivode had been appointed by the Hungarian King to govern Transylvania on his behalf. Today, this very King is Rudolf, the son of Emperor Maximilian of Austria or as we call him, Miksa. Unlike Miksa’s father, Ferdinand von Habsburg, this Emperor seems to dislike his Hungarian subjects. And yet, I had written him a letter in which I accepted him as the rightful Monarch of Hungary and I used the lower rank of Voivode instead of the title of independent Prince. At the same time, the Sultan was happy to hear me use this title because he thought himself to be my overlord as well.”
“Lord István, the game with the title suggests that you are not taking very seriously either the size of the Holy Roman Empire, where the Sun never sets or the immense Empire of the Sultan, which spreads from Africa to Persia.”
“How could I do that, sitting on the throne of a mountainous principality which is as far from both empires so that even the poor storks get tired while flying here. Huge armies are slow to march here and small armies can be dealt with easily – as it has happened today, my Lady Green.”
“Pray tell me, why would Emperor Maximilian believe that you were his humble Voivode? Gossip says you hate him so much that you are not willing to use the German language in public because of him.”
A shadow moved across the face of Báthory.
“Lady Green. I admit I used to belong to the circle of those Transylvanian magnates who supported the idea of handing back Transylvania to the Habsburgs. I thought they would be strong enough to protect us against the embrace of the Padishah. Ten years ago, King János Zsigmond of Transylvania and Hungary, may God rest him in peace, sent me to Vienna as his envoy. The Emperor, the father of Miksa, had me arrested for no reason and I spent two years in the dungeons of Vienna without any decent trial.”
“Was that the turning point, Lord István, when you lost your trust in them? Anyone would understand, methinks.”
“Rightly said, Mylady. So then I began to build diplomatic connections with the Sublime Port of the Sultan. Telling the truth, I was disheartened when King János Zsigmond finally signed the Treaty of Speyer with Emperor Maximilian in 1570.”
He sighed and went on:
“This was the secret document wherein he resigned his Hungarian Kingship and ceded Transylvania to the Habsburgs in exchange for the hand of a Habsburg princess. Very few of the high Lords of Transylvania knew about the existence of this document. Do you wish to see a copy?”
“Lord István, how could you acquire it? It is like magic!” – and our pretty Interviewer gave out a surprised sound, covering her small red mouth with her hand.
“There is nothing magical about it, Mylady. Here, look at it. My Captain has just found the baggage of my enemy, the usurper Bekes Gáspár, who fled from this battle today in a big disgrace. He was the man of King Habsburg Rudolf of Hungary, the son of Emperor Miksa. After the death of King János Zsigmond in 1571, the first move of the Emperor was to make Rudolf King of Hungary in February 1572. Bekes Gáspár, this cunning Székely nobleman, had brought this document and army here to show the Estates of Transylvania what kind of a treaty the late King János Zsigmond had signed. Bekes would have been governing Transylvania on behalf of King Rudolf and Maximilian, you see, if I hadn’t scattered his Germans and Székelys.”
“Amazing plotting! Now as you mention this Bekes, it appears to me that he was the man of the Sultan, aspiring to the throne of Transylvania in 1571, wasn’t he?”
“You are very well-informed, indeed, Madame. Bekes had good connections with the Sultan, but when he began to exchange letters with the Habsburg ruler the Sultan ceased to trust him, although we didn’t know it at that time. When King János Zsigmond closed his eyes on 14 March 1570, the envoy of the Sultan was already in Gyula Castle in the Ottoman Occupied Lands of old Hungary. He was a cunning old Saxon renegade and only he knew who had been appointed as the new Prince of Transylvania by the Sultan. It was included in the sealed Adhnamé the Sultan sent to the Estates of Transylvania. Nobody knew the name except the envoy. Your Ladyship, the situation was far from being settled. The Transylvanian Diet was summoned to elect a new prince, but they were due to start their work only in May.
Ten years ago the Sultan had granted the Noblemen of Transylvania the right to elect their prince freely. Now, they had to practice their rights and elect someone before receiving the envoy of the Sultan with the Adhnamé. Everybody was in despair because they wondered what if the Adhnamé contained the name of Bekes Gáspár instead of the other candidate, which was my humble person.”
“These must have been hard times, Lord István. Did anybody help you from your family?”
“As you may know, my noble brother Kristóf was the Captain of Várad and he was in charge of the Transylvanian army in those days. Várad Castle, the City of Saint King László, is the gate to Transylvania and the Captain of Várad is always the second most powerful man in this land. Kristóf, my beloved brother, brought the army to the Capital, Gyulafehérvár, just to ensure the safety of the noble Estates during the election.”
“How mindful of him! But where was the envoy of the Sultan between March and May?”
“Oh, he was having a very good time. He was being escorted to Gyulafehérvár from Gyula Castle by my equally shrewd Székely guards who had organized for him a merry two-month-long sightseeing trip all around the most beautiful places of the Carpathian mountains.”
“Did this Saxon renegade not realize that he was literally being led?”
“Ah! He had lived in Transylvania for thirty years and he knew its geography like the back of his hand.”
Our Interviewer’s mouth was agape. Báthory seemed to have enjoyed the conversation and exclaimed the last sentences with sparkling eyes, triumphant, after a victorious battle and before a promising night.
“Your Ladyship, only this old Saxon knew whose name was written in the Adhnamé. The name of the future Prince of Transylvania, accepted by the Sultan of the Sublime Port in a contract.”
“Pray, don’t torment me, Lord István, tell me the name, please…was it yours?”
“No, Lady Green, definitely not! You see, there was no name at all! The Diet was trying hard to save face but I was elected as Prince of Transylvania on 25 May and the envoy arrived too late, unfortunately. At least it seemed. When we opened the Adhnamé, we saw that in the text there was a blank space left for us to fill in the name we wanted!”

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