Báthory István, King of Poland and Prince of Transylvania (1533-1586)
The Báthory family
Báthory (or Báthori) was born in 1533 from the Catholic line of the Báthory family of Somlya. He learned in Italian universities and acquired his Renaissance education there. He was the uncle of Lady Báthory Erzsébet (1560-1614) who was innocently accused of terrible crimes by her enemies. According to the latest research of acknowledged historians like Nagy László, she was a victim of a conceptional law-suit because of her wealth, religion, and political ties. As I am writing about her uncle, I take the opportunity here to make awareness of this misconception about her.
How Báthory learned to hate the Habsburgs
Having returned to Hungary, he took the side of King János Zsigmond (son of King Szapolyai János) and fought against the Imperials. Then, he was an envoy in the Court of Vienna. King Maximilian had kept him in captivity there for two years. Báthory got so angry with them that he refused to use the German language for the rest of his life.
King János Zsigmond died quite early, and after his death in 1571, the Estates of Transylvania elected Báthory as the ruler of Transylvania (giving him the „Voivode” title which had come from the old Hungarian Kingdom) so as to oppose the other candidate, Bekes Gáspár. (Note, in my articles I intentionally use the Eastern name order as far as Hungarian names are concerned.)
Later he had to fight against Bekes and he defeated him in a battle in 1575. After the fight, he mercilessly had all the noblemen executed who had sided with Bekes. Nevertheless, Báthory made a secret treaty with the Habsburg ruler Maximilian aka Miksa, swearing fealty to him in order to secure his small country which was located between two great empires.
Here, you can read my dramatized historical short story about how he became Prince of Transylvania:
Báthory, the Prince of the Transylvanian Principality
His goal was to liberate Hungary from the Ottomans and this was why he reached his hand for the Polish crown. However, some historians have recently doubted his intentions regarding the reunification of the Kingdom of Hungary.
After the Jagiellonian dynasty had ceased to exist in Poland, the Polish king was Henrik Valois (later King Henry III of France) for a short time but soon he fled to France.
Báthory, King of Poland
The Polish Estates had to elect a new ruler. They elected Báthory on 14 December 1575 as their king but only under the condition if he wed Anna, the sister of the last Jagiellonian ruler. She was told to be not very attractive and was 10 years older than Báthory.
Yet, Báthory has agreed to all conditions of the Estates. He left Transylvania and never returned there. He appointed his elder brother, Kristóf as the Prince of Transylvania. As it was, King Báthory has always been keeping an eye on Transylvania and used to deal with its affairs.
As a Polish king, he has obtained his own income, and this way he could make himself independent from the Estates. He kept a mercenary army and has achieved lots of military success, mostly against the Russians. Báthory is said to have brought the first „winged hussars” with him from Transylvania. He reorganized the Polish army and the previous cavalry’s role was gradually taken over by the Hussars whose lances became longer and their armor heavier.
Báthory fought against the Russian Czar Ivan IV (The Terrible), his Transylvanian, Székely, Lithuanian and Polish army took back Pskov and Novgorod. “If Báthory had lived 20 more years, there would be no Russia today,” said Nikolay Karamzin.
The Czar was made to cede Livonia, too. As a result of this, he became the Grand Duke of Lithuania. Báthory brought Hungarian infantry from Transylvania when he was besieging Danzig: after a hard struggle, Danzig has also accepted his rule and his military success has increased his fame and power.
He was thought to carry out the liberation of Hungary by the unification of Poland and Transylvania, he had a concept of a kind of „Christian United Europe”. In fact, each European ruler cherished such plans, of course, they envisioned it under their command…
Several Hungarian aristocrats from Royal Hungary had been in contact with him in the 1580s, like Batthyány Boldizsár, Zrínyi György, and Nádasdy Ferenc. Thus, they took the risk of getting charged by treason against their Habsburg ruler.
Báthory was a Roman Catholic and as he had received a Renaissance education, he founded a university in Transylvania in Kolozsvár (Cluj, Klausenburg), by inviting Jesuits there. Also, he established the University of Vilnius in 1579.
When his brother Kristóf died in 1581, he declared Zsigmond, the son of Kristóf as the Prince of Transylvania. He set up an advisory board that was to govern the principality until the young Zsigmond would reach maturity.
At last, Báthory has made peace with his enemy, Bekes, too. They became close friends. It was Báthory who helped the children of Bekes to receive their education.
As for Queen Anna, Báthory tried to avoid her, they had no children. He tried to divorce her but either the Vatican nor the Lithuanian-Polish Estates approved it. The Queen had a separate court but she loved her husband. Báthory died quite unexpectedly in Godnó, Poland on 13 December 1586.
He was a significant ruler of the Polish people who respect him even today.
We can see his tomb in the Wawel Cathedral of Krakow.
Here are some more items of weapons and armor, once worn by Báthory István (Stephan), Polish king, and Hungarian Prince of Transylvania.
In Poland, there are special sabers named after him, the “Batorowkas”, they were popular until the mid-1600s.
The description of his saber: Full length – 965 mm, blade length – 840 mm, width – 40mm, thickness – 8 mm, yalman – 215 mm. (Source: mainly from Szibler Gábor)
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