Prince Barcsay Ákos of Transylvania (1610-1661)
Barcsay Ákos was born in Hunyad County in Transylvania, he came from a modest noble family. His family may have come from Croatia as one of his ancestors was a Bán (Duke) of Croatia in 1226. However, the family’s ancient nest was in Nagybarcsa, in Hunyad County, Transylvania. Barcsay Ákos was born there, he was a Calvinist. His father was Barcsay Sándor, his mother was Palatics Erzsébet. He grew up in the court of Prince Bethlen Gábor. (Please, note that I use the Oriental name order for Hungarians where family names come first.)
We know, that Prince Rákóczi György I. highly appreciated his talented and educated way of thinking. Once he told about him: “His mind is wonderous, one can never find out the way he is thinking.” Prince Rákóczi György I. often gave him diplomatic missions, and Barcsay carried them out spotlessly. The prince rewarded him for his services and his career was quickly raising. Finally, he became Chief-Comes of Hunyad County and Captain of Déva castle. The first wife of Barcsay Ákos was Szalánczy Erzsébet, and after her death, he wed Bánffy Izabella in 1660.
Prince Rákóczi György II also held him in high esteem. No wonder, because it was Barcsay’s diplomatic skill that helped his throne be confirmed by the Sultan in Istanbul. Before Rákóczi launched his infamous campaign to seize the Polish throne in 1657, he appointed Barcsay, Serédy, and Rhédey to govern Transylvania on his behalf. When Serédy died, Rhédey resigned and Barcsay remained in this office alone. It was the time when hostility began between him and Lady Báthory Zsófia, because of financial issues.
The Ottomans were angry with Rákóczi and demanded his removal from power. The Transylvanian estates had to elect a new prince but at first, they thought Barcsay was not so high-born, which was why they elected Rhédey Ferenc. However, Rhédey ceded the power to Barcsay in 1658. The punishing campaign of Pasha Köprülü soon reached Transylvania, and the estates of the country sent envoys to the Grand Vizier. (In the Turkish language, the high-ranking military leader was called “vezir-i-azam”). Barcsay was among the delegates, and upon receiving them in his camp, he appointed him as prince of Transylvania. Barcsay was not happy with the job but he had to accept it.
He had to promise to pay immense taxes if he wanted to get rid of the Ottoman troops. The amount of tax was 40,000 Thallers, and he had to promise 500 thousand Thallers as “military compensation”. Also, he had to cede the castles of Karánsebes and Lugos. For this, many contemporary people called him a traitor. Fortunately, the money decided the question and the Turks soon left Transylvania (for the time being).
The noble estates officially rose Barcsay on his throne on 11 October 1658. When Barcsay received news about the soldiers of Prince Rákóczi György II, namely that they were getting prepared to fight him, he left for Temesvár (Timisoara) castle. Temesvár was held by the Ottomans at that time, and Barcsay paid a visit to the Pasha of Temesvár because he wanted to prevent all kinds of bloodshed between his Hungarian followers and Rákóczi’s Hungarians. As it was, Transylvania has been destroyed for the second time by the Tatars; key forts fell or were ceded to the enemy, and the land was devastated. Although Rákóczi should have been blamed for it, many Transylvanians accused Barcsay of the devastating wars. He was rapidly losing his reputation among the Turks, too.
While he was away, Rákóczi broke into Transylvania, and the Diet of Marosvásárhely placed him back into power on 29 September 1659. As it turned out, Barcsay could not avoid bloodshed: the Turks eventually arrived to aid him, and they defeated the army of Rákóczi at Zajkány on 22 November. Then, Rákóczi fled from Transylvania but he returned soon. He kept on fighting for his throne, thus causing even more suffering to the inhabitants of the once so-wealthy “Fairy Garden” of Europe. It was the period when the Hungarian population was literally wiped out between the area of Gyulafehérvár (Alba Iulia) and Arad. You can read more about Rákóczi’s struggle in 1658 here:
Barcsay had to get himself into Szeben (Sibiu) castle. He was busily defending it against Rákóczi until the spring of 1600. Rákóczi’s besieging army only left Szeben’s walls when the Turks arrived there. Prince Rákóczi György II finished his life on the battlefield, he was killed in the Battle of Szászfenes in 1660. Here are the details of the battle:
After Rákóczi’s death, the Pasha of Buda took Barcsay into a home-custody, giving him all the respect and comfort, though. He could only get out from the friendly prison that he paid part of the high taxes that the Turks demanded. when he was out, Kemény János has returned from the Crimean captivity as well. Kemény usurped the Transylvanian throne, placing his hope in Habsburg’s military help. Also, Kemény regarded Barcsay as his personal enemy and began to exterminate his family members. You can read more about his actions and his death here:
Barcsay preferred peace overall and resigned from power on 31 December 1660. He wanted to avoid civil war, and he had never wanted power in the first place. However, Kemény did not want to see a potential competitor alive and had him killed in the first part of July 1661. According to Krausz, a contemporary Saxon chronicler, it was how Prince Barcsay Ákos, one of the most educated people of his age was executed:
When Barcsay was traveling in a wagon, he and his men were ambushed between the villages of Kosmann (Kozmatelek) and Répa. Barcsay was shot, his true friend and half-brother, Budai Zsigmond was beheaded, and his servant, Szövérdi János was slaughtered. The dead bodies were buried by the local peasants next to the pillory of the village. Krausz heard that Doboli István, another servant of Barcsay came to know about the crime and he hurried there to retrieve the body of the prince. He even carried a white lint from Gyulafehérvár for this reason. Upon finding the bodies, he had them reburied in the church of Kozmatelek. Later, Prince Kemény János had Doboli hanged in Fogaras castle as a penalty for this.
In the 20th century, a monument was to be built to commemorate the death of the prince. It was Spáda János who was the mason from Kolozsvár who constructed it in 1906. During the first phase of the work, they found two skeletons. In fact, they chose the location because there was a wooden cross in 1830 with an inscription on it written in the Romanian language: it said it was the burial place of Barcsay Ákos. It is thought that the locals have always remembered the resting place of the murdered people. The position of the skeletons suggested a hasty burial, one of them even had a shackle on him. If the body of the prince really is in the church, the shackled man must have been Budai Zsigmond because another contemporary source, Szalárdi János mentioned that Barcsai and Budai were shackled. One of the dead men had a severe neck injury, while the other had saber cuts on his skull. Below the bodies, they found the remains of the pillory, too. Barcsay’s tomb is said to be in the church of Kozmatelke but we do not know its exact location…
Sources: Fontes Historiae http://fonteshungariae.blogspot.com/2010/12/barcsai-akos.html
and Márk Éva https://korok.webnode.hu/products/barcsay-akos-es-kemeny-janos-fejedelmek/
and Wikipedia has an excellent article about Barcsay in the Hungarian language…
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