Catherine of Brandenburg, wife of Prince Bethlen

Catherine of Brandenburg

Here you can see the dresses of Cathrine of Brandenburg, wife of Prince Bethlen Gábor of Transylvania:

The princely wedding with Catherine of Brandenburg took place in Kassa (Kaschau, Kosice), on 2 March 1626, but only under the condition of the bride that Bethlen should make a compensation for the Jesuit martyrs a few years ago executed in the very same city. Catherine was 21 and Bethlen was 45, the latter spoke neither German nor French so they must have had language barriers for the first time.

Catherine and Prince Bethlen

After arriving in Transylvania, Catherine wasn’t warmly accepted by the local nobility because she was too fond of grandeur and festivals – besides, she was German. Soon a gossip got started about a handsome young count, called Csáky István. (Please, note that I use the Oriental name order for Hungarians where family names come first.) On top of that, Bethlen seemingly has fallen in love with her, giving her luxurious presents and nominating her as his heir to the throne, just a few months after the wedding.

Catherine’s musical instrument 

The influence of the young Count Csáky had also been growing and became more and more obvious. Yet, after Bethlen’s death on 15 November 1629, the nobility raised no obstacles and allowed her to take the throne, following Bethlen’s will. Bethlen had assigned his younger brother, Bethlen István (Stephen), to act as a governor, thus assisting in Catherine’s reign. As a result of this, the Queen’s power was quite limited.

Transylvania in 1664 (to the right side)

The Protestant Bethlen István developed a strong dislike towards the Princess because the young Catholic Count Csáky’s influence got even stronger. Csáky was a leading figure of the few Roman Catholic noblemen in Transylvania, the Queen welcomed these Catholic gentlemen into her court. Soon, the young nobleman in 1630 got hold of 7 royal counties, and his friends were awarded lands, too. According to gossip, he even convinced the spiritually unbalanced Catherine to convert to Catholicism in secret. Moreover, he tried to make her negotiate with the Habsburgs.

Although it was obvious that the Princess had done no wrong during her 10-month reign but her suggestibility forecast a frightening prospect for the future and nobody wanted to take the risk. Late Prince Bethlen used to be a too strong-handed leader to the liking of the noblemen, so they had to do something. They held six Diets in a year where they managed to cut back the rights of Transylvania’s ruler, withdrawing many Acts of Bethlen. From then on, the right to manage the prince’s income was given to the Treasurer. This way, Catherine had no access to that money anymore. They went a step further when the Council restricted the right of Csáky István to meet the Princess in person. Csáky could see her only with the permission of the council, and he was allowed to enter Transylvania only with the approval of the Council. No wonder Catherine hated Bethlen István so much.

Bethlen István (1582-1648)

Finally, Bethlen István and the Transylvanian noblemen played the inexperienced Princess off against the laws and took her power and wealth away. But Csáky was not giving in so easily: he was calling an army together to attack Transylvania. It was the time when Rákóczi György (George) appeared on the scene: Bethlen István asked him to stop Csáky. Rákóczi was the most powerful aristocrat in North Hungary, and in exchange for his help, Bethlen István offered him the throne of Transylvania. Amid these events, Princess Catherine resigned on 28 September 1630, and Rákóczi launched his troops against Csáky.

Prince Rákóczi György I (1593-1648)

Rákóczi’s army was near Várad castle when he was informed that the Diet elected Bethlen István as Prince of Transylvania. Soon, a fierce political fight developed between Bethlen István and Rákóczi György for the throne of Transylvania. The time has come for the humiliated Catherine of Brandenburg: she could take her revenge over the detested Bethlen István by voting against him in favor of Rákóczi György. As it was, the Ottomans didn’t care about the person who would sit on the throne so they issued two documents: one of them nominated Bethlen István while the other one had Rákóczi György’s name on it.

the signature of Catherine

The Diet of Transylvania was held in Segesvár on 1 December 1630, and the Catholic lords got frightened of the troops of Rákóczi. It was Catherine who chose between Rákóczi and her detested brother-in-law. She was the first who voted first, and the noblemen followed her direction. Her intervention decided the faith of Transylvania: she was able to obtain the Ottoman Sultan’s athame (document of approval) for Rákóczi that officially put him in power. She read it up in the Council with utter pleasure.

Transylvanian Ducat of Catherine of Brandenburg 1630 Source: Classical Numismatic Group, Inc

The details of events concerning Catherine between 1630-33 would take a whole new article to write. Later, Csáky succeeded in getting even more money from her, and she had to sue him to retrieve her gold. Soon, she had a conflict with Prince Rákóczi, too. She left Transylvania and never returned there. In Vienna, she married Francis, Prince of Saxonia and Lauenburg in 1639 and they lived happily ever after until she died in Pomerania in 1649.

Bethlen Gábor’s wedding gift to Catherine
As for Bethlen István, he was insistent on regaining the throne of the Principality. He obtained Ottoman auxiliary troops and attacked Transylvania but he was defeated by the army of Rákóczi György at Nagyszalonta on 6 October 1636. Thus, the Sultan had to realize that the new prince was strong enough to beat the Turks so his reign was not interfered with anymore by the Ottomans.

You can read more about Prince Rákóczi György II, the son of Prince Rákóczi György I here:

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This image of Catherine was painted in 1702