On 6 November 1725 Count Bercsényi Miklós, a loyal friend and confidant of Prince Rákóczi Ferenc II, the second leader of the Kuruc War of Independence (1703-11), died in exile. Bercsényi, who at the beginning of his career became famous for the anti-Turkish struggles on the side of the Habsburgs, turned into one of the main intellectual authors of the revolt against the dynasty, disillusioned with the policies of Emperor Leopold I (r. 1657-1705), and after the fall of the Habsburgs he remained at the side of his best friend, Prince Rákóczi Ferenc II, even in exile.
Bercsényi was born in 1665 into a family of landowners in Temetvény (Tematin), Trencsén County. His father was Bercsényi Miklós Count of Székes, vice-captain of the Danube-Inland region and later a general. He was related to the Lugossy family. The young man studied briefly at the University of Nagyszombat, but at the beginning of the war of Liberation Wars against the Turks, he left school and joined the army of Palatine Esterházy Pál.
Bercsényi Miklós distinguished himself several times during the Holy League battles, and it was no coincidence that he was promoted to captain of Vágsellye Castle (1685) and to colonel after the recapture of Buda (1686). The young nobleman’s courage was rewarded with the captaincy of the recaptured city of Szeged in 1686, and the following year Bercsényi was awarded the title of Count and became the knight of the Golden Spur Order by the courtesy of Emperor Leopold I. Here is more about this knightly order:
The young man continued to rise through the ranks over the next few years, becoming Chief Comes of Ung County (1691) and later Vice-General. In 1696-98 he was chief captain of the newly organized military commissariat of Upper Hungary.
As time went by, he became more and more determined to oppose the Habsburgs and liberate the country from their rule. The turning point in the Count’s life came in 1696-97, when he made friends with the new chief Comes of Sáros County, Rákóczi Ferenc II; Bercsényi had already shared his plans with the future “kuruc” prince, but the following year he was of great help in suppressing the uprising in Hegyalja with the help of the nobility of the county who had gone to war.
In the 1690s, at a time of growing discontent among the nobility, he gradually turned against the absolutism and repressive policies of Emperor Leopold I. His political ideas succeeded in winning over the young Rákóczi, and he began to organize a conspiracy of nobles to overthrow Habsburg rule in Hungary with the help of the French.
At the turn of the century, the Bercsényi family took action, but the conspiracy to seek the patronage of King Louis XIV of France (r. 1643-1715) failed during the preparations, as the letters sent to Paris fell into the hands of Emperor Leopold I. Rákóczi was captured by Count and Imperial General Solari on 29 April 1701. When Rákóczi was captured by the count and imperial general Solari in the castle of Sáros on 29 May 1701, Bercsényi fled to Poland, where he prepared the uprising.
Rákóczi, who had been lucky enough to escape from Vienna, joined him after half a year. The two good friends enjoyed the hospitality of the Poles for a year and a half, and Bercsényi contributed greatly to the development of Swedish-French diplomatic relations. First alone, then with Rákóczi, he tried to persuade King Louis XIV of France and King Charles XII of Sweden to support the Hungarian uprising.
In the spring of 1703, after Esze Tamás, who had previously visited Brezán, had unfurled the flag of the Kuruc uprising in the Tiszahát region, the count returned to Hungary with considerable Polish support and at the head of mercenaries recruited from Moldavia. Due to his good knowledge of Slavic languages, he repeatedly recruited Polish and Ruthenian mercenaries from Poland into the Kuruc army during the War of Independence.
As a general of the Confederate Estates at the beginning of the War of Independence (after the first battle on the Tiszabecs-Tiszaújlak border, Rákóczi appointed him general), he was the commander of the victorious 1703 campaign in Upper Hungary.
Throughout the eight years of struggle, Bercsényi remained a loyal supporter of Rákóczi and one of the most important commanders and politicians of the War of Independence. At the Diet of Szécsény in 1705, he played a leading role in the organization of the Confederation, essentially the Kuruc state. It was at his suggestion that the Confederation of Estates, a union of discontented estates, was formed and Rákóczi was elected its leading prince (dux). At the same time, Bercsényi was elected the first secular senator, and although his title of general-in-chief was not explicitly mentioned in any law, it was mentioned in the decrees of the Diet, and it was in this capacity that he signed the letter of alliance of 20 September, immediately after the prince.
Thaly Kálmán wrote about Bercsényi: “As proud and commanding to others, as gentle and indulgent to Rákóczi, who is not only his most faithful advisor but also his most devoted follower and subject. His soul is deeply religious, zealous in the faith of his ancestors. He is a true orator in Hungarian as well as in Latin; he is a burning firebrand, charming, sparkling in his ideas, sometimes mocking; apt in his quotations and parables, convincing in his arguments; and, when necessary, he can touch the heart. No one since Pázmány and Zrínyi has wielded the power of the pen in the artistic treatment of Hungarian prose like he has.”
As the first senator, he also played an important role in the decision of the Ónod Diet in 1707 to dethrone the king. “A dog is a master of a dog! Emperor Joseph is not our king” (Meaning: “I am not the servant of anybody, so nobody will order me anything”, these were the famous words of Bercsényi at the dethronement of the Habsburgs).
As commander-in-chief of the Kuruc forces, Bercsényi was almost always in camp, but he was the prince’s most trusted confidant in negotiations with the Habsburgs – the count led the negotiations at Nagyszombat in 1706, for example – and was also involved in Kuruc diplomacy with Sweden, France, and Russia. Bercsényi also tried to establish Rákóczi’s Polish kingdom, but his efforts were unsuccessful.
His political views differed greatly from those of Rákóczi. He tried to limit the influence of the Protestant nobility in the state administration, and he also got into military-political and diplomatic disputes with the ruling prince. However, he always remained faithful to his oath to the Confederation.
In 1707, he became a princely proconsul and was the head of the delegation that made a secret alliance with the Russian Tsar Peter I in Warsaw, planning the Polish Kingdom of Rákóczi. At that time and later, he was an ardent supporter of the Russian orientation, in contrast to the prince, who was more inclined towards the Swedes and the French.
After the unfortunate battle of Trencsén, he gathered the shattered cavalry of the Kuruc armies at Szécsény and fought bravely in the following campaigns. In 1710 he tried to get Russian help but was unsuccessful. In 1710 Count Bercsényi Miklós left Hungary, hoping to gain the support of the Russian Tsar Peter the Great (r. 1682-1725), and set out for Poland.
The fall of the War of Independence meant that he had no further opportunity to return. Between 1711 and 1716 he lived at Bržan Castle in Poland. Like Rákóczy, the Kuruc general refused the amnesty offered by the Peace of Szatmár, but after his years in Poland he did not follow the prince to Paris – his son László did, and later became captain of the guard of King Louis XV (r. 1715-1774) and later marshal of France – but sought refuge at the Porte.
It was at this time, in 1716, that Sultan Ahmed III (r. 1703-1730) declared war on the Habsburgs, and Bercsényi, at the invitation of the Sultan, entered the service of the Sultan, and during the war, at the head of some 20,000 Turkish fighters, he once invaded Hungarian territory at Orsova. He advanced from Mehadia to Facset but was forced to retreat and was unable to provoke another uprising against the Habsburgs. The battle ended in Ottoman defeat, and although Ahmed refused to extradite the count – and Rákóczi, who had meanwhile arrived in Turkey – during negotiations with Vienna, the Hungarian exiles’ room for maneuver was greatly reduced after the conclusion of the Peace of Pozsarevac.
Another attack in Transylvania, known in history as the last Tatar invasion, ended in the same failure: the Crimean Tatars invaded, joined by the Kuruc troops, and tried to start another Kuruc war of independence, also under the name of Rákóczi, but the cruel destruction made by the Crimean Tatar allies made the plan fail. After this campaign, when Emperor Charles VI signed a peace treaty with the Turks in 1718, the imperial commissioners demanded the extradition of Rákóczi and Bercsényi, but Sultan Ahmed III refused. More about the events in 1717:
Bercsényi and the prince’s large entourage were interned in Rodostó, on the shores of the Sea of Marmara, where the elderly count later married for the third time: in 1723 he married Kőszeghy Zsuzsanna, the love of Mikes Kelemen. A remark about Mikes:
Mikes Kelemen (1690-1761) was a Transylvanian-born Hungarian political figure and essayist, known for his rebellious activities against the Habsburg monarchy. Mikes has been called the “Hungarian Goethe”, made famous by his Letters from Turkey. Mikes laid the foundations of Hungarian literary prose and is considered one of the first Hungarian prose writers.
However, the young woman was soon widowed as her husband, Rákóczi’s helper and loyal friend, died on 6 November 1725. Bercsényi Miklós was buried by the exiles in Rodostó and in 1906 his ashes, together with the remains of the prince, were brought back to Hungary and reburied in the cathedral of Kassa (Kosice, Kaschau).
“My friend, whom I loved dearly, who knew all my secrets and was my faithful companion in exile and misfortune” – Rákóczi Ferenc wrote on Bercsényi Miklós.
/Source: Rubicon Magazine and the Hungarian Wikipedia/
I can make this content available only through small donations. If you like my writings, please feel free to support me with a coffee here:
This article contains Amazon ads. By purchasing through these links, you can help my work at no added cost to you. Thank you