Báthory Gábor was born on 15 August 1589 in Várad (Nagyvárd / Oradea), he belonged to the Solymai branch of the Báthory family, not to the Ecsedi line. His father was Báthory István, the cousin of Prince Báthory Zsigmond (the brother of Báthory Boldizsár and Bishop Báthory András of Warmia). His mother was Bebek Zsuzsanna of Pelsőc. Báthory István was the Captain of Várad castle when Gábor, his son began his life. Várad castle, the medieval city of Saint King László of Hungary has always been considered one of the most important castles, it was the gate of Transylvania. Whoever held it, was among the highest-ranked aristocrats.
When Prince Báthory Zsigmond had his cousin Boldizsár murdered in 1594, Báthory István fled to Poland. Only two of his children, Gábor and Anna could grow up but they were orphaned soon because István died in 1601. It was their relative, Country Judge Báthory István (another István, from the Ecsedi line of the family) took them in. Although Gábor was born into a Roman Catholic family, he was brought up according to the Reformed faith.
The young man joined the rebelling troops of Bocskai István in the winter of 1604-1605. Gábor’s stepfather died in 1606 and Anna and Gábor inherited huge wealth. Gábor was told to be a handsome-looking and very strong man. In 1607, he made a political marriage with Lady Horváth Anna, their relationship lacked all kinds of emotions. (Please, note that I use the Oriental name order for Hungarians where family names come first.)
His name was on the list of those who were regarded as heirs of Prince Bocskai István, and he was supported by Bethlen Gábor, Káthay Mihály, the secretary of Bocskai, and several aristocrats. However, Bocskai wrote Homonnai Drugeth Bálint’s name into his Last Will. As it turned out, after the death of Bocskai, neither Homonnai nor Báthory Gábor could gain the upper hand. It was Rákóczi Zsigmond, the Governor of Transylvania who was able to gain the Transylvanian throne – at last for a time being. Unluckily, neither the Habsburgs nor the Ottomans liked him. Both of them would have seen young Báthory on the throne.
Then, the Hungarian Hajdú soldiers rebelled, and Báthory Gábor promised to give them land and privileges if they supported him. Finally, they could make old Rákóczi Zsigmond resign and young Báthory Gábor became the Prince of Transylvania on 7 March 1608, and the Ottoman Turks accepted him as well. He was ruling in chaos and in five years he managed to anger everybody around him, including the Turks. However, he kept his word and established new Hajdú settlements around his domains near Ecsed, and he settled more Hajdú warriors in Bihar County than Prince Bocskai had done so. These settlements became the “small Hajdú towns”. Read more about the Hajdú towns here:
Báthory Gábor was very ambitious and managed to force his will on the two Romanian (Wallachian and Moldavian) voivodes, Konstantin and Radu Serban had to swear fealty to him. As for the Kingdom of Hungary, he was not so successful, and he could not establish good relations. The Habsburgs regarded Transylvania as the natural part of the Kingdom of Hungary, and from their point of view, they were right. Their claim was supported by a few Transylvanian Catholic aristocrats such as the Kornis, the Kendy families, and Sennyey Pongrác. After the reign of Emperor Rudolf was over, King Habsburg Matthias II became the king of Hungary, and the new king had hostile feelings toward Báthory. His Palatine, Thurzó György who was appointed in 1609, also detested Báthory.
The rest of the Transylvanian noblemen thought that Transylvania could keep its semi-independence and economic development by serving the Ottomans. Prince Báthory Gábor was balancing power between the two sides, granting lands to each party, and he was just making the tensions tighter between them. In the meantime, he alienated the Saxon burghers because he disregarded their privileges and moved into their towns with his court where he and his retinue lived up the food of the Saxons. Not to mention that his behavior made the burghers upset because he was holding luxurious feasts and often sought the company of harlots.
Finally, a group of Catholic aristocrats conspired against him but their plot was revealed on 20 March 1610. They were disappointed in Báthory because before his coming to the power, Báthory had promised them to support the Catholic church but he went back on his word. As their plot was in vain, some of the noblemen fled to Hungary but Kornis Boldizsár, the Captain of the Székely Borderguards was captured and executed. In the meantime, the Wallachian and the Moldavian voivodes also ceased to be loyal to him. Báthory began to recruit soldiers.
At the end of 1610, Báthory took the Saxons’ capital, Szeben (Sibiu, Hermannstadt), and turned it into the new capital of Transylvania. It was an affront against the traditional privileges of the German Saxons of Transylvania. Then, he attacked Wallachia and declared himself Prince of Wallachia. The Sublime Porte could not tolerate it any further so the Ottomans sent a punishing campaign against Báthory, led by Voivode IX. Radu Șerban. Șerban got allied with the Transylvanian Saxons and attacked Báthory. He broke into Transylvania with Wallachian and Cossack troops in 1611 and joined forces with the Hungarian and Polish troops of Kendi István.
The Battle of Brassó on 8 July 1611
It was the fight when Voivode Radu Serban defeated Prince Báthory at Brassó Castle (Brasov, Kronstadt). As we can recall, at the beginning of 1611 the young and ambitious Prince Báthory led his troops into Wallachia and chased away Voivode Serban Radu from the throne. It was helpful to him that Radu fell out of the Sultan’s favor. The Wallachian Voivode fled to the Habsburgs. Báthory wanted to take Wallachia and even declared himself as its ruler. However, he could not get it from the Sublime Porte as the Turks were afraid of the sudden increase of the Transylvanian prince’s power.
In the meantime, the leaders of Royal Hungary tried to take advantage of the situation and when spring came, with their military aid, Voivode Radu was able to return to Transylvania where he was warmly welcomed by his allies, the Transylvanian Saxons. Radu had recruited an army that included Wallachian and Cossack soldiers alike but he was also supported by the Polish King Zsigmond and Voivode Konstantin of Moldavia, not to mention Vienna. Soon, Radu took his throne back, then led his army against Báthory.
Prince Báthory sent Captain Nagy András and his Hajdú soldiers against them: Nagy was assigned to take Brassó, the center of the Saxons. As it turned out, the Chief Judge of Brassó bribed him and the captain went home with his army. Thus, Báthory lost his toughest soldiers and he had to wait for the arrival of Radu. He was outside of the hostile Brassó’s closed gates with his remaining army. A side-note about Nagy András: he made a plot to assassinate Báthory but his plan was revealed, and he was caught and executed.
It was time for the weapons again. Radu was a more experienced military commander and led his troops behind Báthory’s army, using hidden routes. The battle began at 3 P.M. on 8 July. The Hungarians attacked at first and they gained some initial success, and Radu was pushed back to the center of Brassó city. Then, the hidden reinforcement of the Voivode attacked from behind and it turned the battle.
The Hungarian Székelys were fighting on the left wing of Báthory’s army and they were the first to flee. They were followed by the rest of the troops. The enemy gave a chase and inflicted heavy losses on the runners. Sources talk about 10,000 dead men but their number was more likely about 5,000 which was a great number, too. Báthory was saved only by his bodyguards but the commander of his army, Chancellor Imreffi János lost his life. The commander of the left-wing, Rácz György died, too.
The cause of the defeat was the greater military experience of Radu and the escape of Bedő and Bethlen. Later, the Prince had the leader of the runners, a Székely commander called Bedő István executed. At the same time, he forgave Bethlen Gábor who had led the right wing. Had he executed Bethlen, he would have had fewer enemies in the Sublime Porte in the days to come.
Yet, Voivode Radu could not take advantage of his victory. Prince Báthory got into Szeben (Sibiu) Castle with his bodyguards and asked for the help of the Ottomans. In the meantime, Radu was joined by the army of Chief Captain Forgách Zsigmond of Upper Hungary, and they were joined by more Hungarian Hajdú captains as well. They besieged Szeben but its siege had to be lifted when the Ottoman army was coming: the besiegers had to leave and Báthory could keep his throne for the time being.
The decline of Báthory Gábor’s reign
The Hungarian and Imperial soldiers of Forgách took Gyulafehérvár (Alba Iulia, Karlsburg) and Kolozsvár (Cluj, Klausenburg) but Báthory could manage to force them out of the country with the help of his Hajdú mercenaries and Ottoman auxiliary troops. The Ottomans also relieved Brassó but they did not support him anymore.
At this time, Báthory’s popularity had declined in Transylvania because of the unrestrained festivities, the Prince’s seduction of wives, the lawless executions, and political murders. Báthory made the mistake of trying to seduce the wife of Bethlen Gábor, and they became enemies. It was how he lost Bethlen, his most faithful supporter in 1612. As we will see, Bethlen fled and sent reports to Istanbul about his former ruler which could undermine him effectively. Eventually, the Saxons and the Hungarian noble Estates of Transylvania got allied and swore to chase Báthory away. On the other hand, the Turks supported another candidate, András Ghyczy (Géczi) András who offered Lippa and Jenő Castles to them in exchange for the throne.
Initially, Ghyczy used to be Báthory’s envoy in Istanbul but he became a usurper. He told the Sultan that Bathory had come to terms with the Habsburgs. He was not very much mistaken because Báthory did agree with Emperor Matthias II, they had signed a secret treaty about helping each other. When Ghyczy appeared on the scene, Bethlen developed a heated argument with Báthory, and soon he had enough and fled to the Ottoman Occupied Land of Hungary. Báthory wanted to have his head and declared him a traitor, and demanded him from the Ottomans. But the Turks did not give Bethlen out because they knew the details of the secret treaty between Báthory and the Habsburgs.
Yet, Báthory still had enough power to fight back in 1612 and defeated Ghyczy’s Turks and Hungarians as well as the army of the Saxon rebels. Then, the Prince allied himself with the Habsburgs in 1613 and it was the last straw for the Turks. As a result of this, the first open hostility between Transylvania and the Ottoman Empire broke out. This war took place between 1612 and 1613.
Huge Ottoman and Crimean Tatar / Wallachian armies entered Transylvania in September 1613 and Báthory asked for help from the Austrians in vain. Bethlen was the new candidate for the Sultan. Kolozsvár City opened its gate before the troops of the Serdar and the Diet got assembled there: this is how Bethlen Gábor was elected, because of the order of Sultan Achmed I. (Note: he also offered Lippa and Jenő castles to the enemy in exchange for his throne.) Read more about Prince Bethlen here:
However, Prince Báthory was still around, he was stuck in Várad castle. He wanted to bargain with the Turks and would have ceded even Várad castle to them in exchange for their support. The assassination of Báthory took place on 27 October 1613 but the assassins, Apafy Miklós and Géczi András wanted to kill him on 26 October. They visited him in his palace in Várad castle and began to praise the saber they saw on the table. Báthory even handed the saber to them for further examination but at the same moment he took out a long sword called “estoch” (Hungarian: “hegyestőr”). Báthory possessed great physical strength and the two would-be assassins were afraid to challenge him. Instead, they gave the saber back to him and left.
As it was, Apafy used to be the commander of the Hungarian auxiliary forces from the Upper Land of Royal Hungary. Thus, he could persuade Báthory to take a trip to the city on the following afternoon. Apafy told Báthory that there was gossip among the Hajdú soldiers that the prince was not in the castle, and the troops wanted to leave for home. Báthory traveled in a light coach with glass windows, Géczi sat next to him, and two pages, Lónyay Farkas and Komáromy András. Báthory’s favorite dog, Tacskó was there, too.
After taking a look at the soldiers, they were going back to Várad castle but a small cavalry unit surrounded them and forced the coach into a garden. Géczi jumped out, and the riders fired a volley, first into the air, then at the coach. A bullet hit Báthory but he got out of the coach, too. He put his back to a willow tree and defended himself against his attackers. His pages fought on his side but finally, all of them were overpowered, however good swordsman Báthory had been. Their dead bodies were stripped naked and thrown into a creek. Sadly, there were several Hajdú soldiers among the attackers who had been promoted by Báthory before: they were the Hajdú captains called Ladányi Gergely, Szilassy János, or Zámbó Balázs. They slew their benefactor mercilessly.
Only Tacskó, the faithful dog remained with the dishonored corpses, according to the chronicle of Szepsi Laczkó Máté. When the news reached Báthory’s courtly troops, they were shocked and felt sorry for the fate of their lord. Their leader, Nagy Balázs took Báthory’s body on a wagon to Nyírbátor, the eagle nest of the Báthory clan. Báthory was taken to the crypt but his corpse remained unburied there for 15 long years. Then, Prince Bethlen Gábor gave permission for the burial to express his reconciliation.
Source: Szibler Gábor
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