Prince Bethlen’s gift to King Gustav Adolphus 

Prince Bethlen Gábor of Transylvania 

Bethlen Gábor (Gabriel) (1580 – 1629) was a Protestant uncrowned  King of Hungary (1620–21) and a Prince of Transylvania (1613–29) and a Duke of Opole (1622–25) who led an insurrection against the House of Habsburg in Royal Hungary. He was the one who turned Transylvania into the famous „Fairy Garden” as it was called at that time. Now, let us talk about his Swedish connections as Bethlen was an important factor in the 30-Year-War. (Please note, I use the Oriental name order for Hungarians where family names come first.)

The wars of Bethlen (1619-1626)

Bethlen Gábor was 33 years old when he became the prince of Transylvania. He has joined the 30-Year-War three times because he thought that the political unity of Hungary can be achieved through the efforts of the Transylvanian Principality. It was why he sided with the Protestant powers against the Catholic Habsburgs. The story of Swedish-Hungarian diplomatic relations began with negotiations, of course. There was some room for making a coalition with Bethlen in Gustavus Adolphus’ plans both in 1620 and 1623. We know that Bethlen wrote the first letter to him in 1621.

King Gustavus Adolphus (1611-1632)

In 1623 – 1624 and 1626, Bethlen, allied with the anti-Habsburg Protestants, made war again with Ferdinand in Upper Hungary. The first campaign ended with the Peace of Vienna in 1624, the second by the Peace of Pozsony (Pressburg) in 1626. After the second campaign, Bethlen offered the court of Vienna an alliance against the Ottomans and offered his marriage to Renata Cecilia, the Archduchess of Austria, but Habsburg Ferdinand rejected it. These are some of the Eastern treasures that Prince Bethlen sent to Gustav Adolph:

The items were on display in Budapest in 2004

In answer to this, on his return from Vienna, Bethlen wed the young and beautiful Catherine of Brandenburg, the daughter of John Sigismund, Elector of Brandenburg. His brother-in-law became Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden so this was how they got related to each other. Catherine’s sister was the wife of Christian IV of Denmark, who had just attacked  Ferdinand. This marriage helped Bethlen to be regarded as an honored member of the Protestant League of Westminster in 1626.

Catherine of Brandenburg
You can read more about her life here:

A few words of diplomatic gifts

During his seventeen-year reign from 1613 to 1629, the Prince of Transylvania, Bethlen, received numerous diplomatic gifts. These artworks, such as these highly valuable ornamental weapons, came mostly from Istanbul and were delivered by ambassadors from the Sultan’s court. Some of these works later played an important role in the grooming and strengthening of Bethlen’s diplomatic connections. Frequently the prince would present objects he had stored for several years in his treasury in Gyulafehervar (today Alba Iulia, Romania) to various European rulers (usually Protestant ones). Here are two similar Ottoman daggers that somehow remained in Bethlen’s possession:

The other side of the previous dagger

The ambassadorial trips abroad were organized and prepared by Count Thurzó Imre (1598-1621), a strong supporter of the prince and the energetic head of his foreign policy. Thurzó died unexpectedly in 1621, however, and several diplomatic gifts were never delivered to their intended recipient. Instead, they remained in Thurzo’s castle in Upper Hungary (Árva castle, Oravsky Hrad, Slovakia) and were eventually inherited by Thurzó Erzsébet (1621-1642). The daggers may have met this same fate. Lady Erzsebet was barely seventeen when she was married to Esterhazy István (1616-1641), son of the Hungarian Palatine, Esterhazy Miklós. These two splendid works of Turkish weapon makers and jewelers were deposited at this time in the treasury of the Esterhazys’ castle in Fraknó castle (today Forchtenstein, Austria), after a brief detour in Transylvania and northern Hungary.

The second Ottoman dagger

Here is another Ottoman dagger from the 16th century to compare:

The Swedish connection

The Transylvanian delegates couldn’t contact the Swedish king in 1624 but King Gustav Adolph’s envoy, Filip Sadler, arrived in Transylvania in 1626 – he wanted to persuade Bethlen to attack Poland. Bethlen sidestepped and offered to meet Gustav Adolph’s troops rather in Silesia. Filip Sadler returned to Sweden with Bethlen’s delegate called Dreyling who carried Bethlen’s priceless present to the Swedish king. This remarkable gift is exhibited now in the Swedish Armoury in Stockholm and it is said to be its most valuable treasure: a full harness with weapons, created in artistical Eastern style.

In diplomatic life, there were strict rules applied for all kinds of gifts which were taken very seriously. This gift really represented a very high appreciation of the Lion of the North, for it was noble, extremely expensive, and royal: a saddle and its blanket and breastband, a harness with stirrups, the bridle – and the weapons included a saber, a dagger, and a mace. It was a typical Ottoman horse set from the early 17th century, made in Istambul. Presumably, the whole set was accompanied by a splendid Hungarian steed. The treasure later was put into Queen Christina’s care.

Queen Kristine, the daughter of Gustav Adolph

As Transylvania was nominally the vassal state of the Ottoman Empire, it explains the origin of many pieces of the items. However, some pieces were made in Transylvania. The dagger was adorned with 40 rubins and 54 turquoise pieces while there were 70 rubins and 31 turquoises on the hilt of the saber. The six sides of the mace were adorned with 42-42 rubins. We have no information about what kind of items Bethlen may have received in exchange for his gift

The Swedish-Transylvanian negotiations went on in Gyulafehérvár, Bethlen’s capital. They were discussing how to aid each other mutually against the Emperor and the Swedish attempted to gain a joint monopoly over red copper mines. It is predictable that Bethlen wanted the Polish throne for himself and may have thought of Gustav Adolph as his rival. There were two more negotiations before Bethlen died in 1629 but they couldn’t conclude anything.

 When General Wallenstein came to know his adversary’s death he was cursing and loudly exclaimed that „it was due time that he has croaked finally”.

Gábor Bethlen left behind a stable and independent country, a true „Fairy Garden”. More information about Swedish-Transylvanian connections (in the Hungarian language) can be read in the study of Kármán Gábor:

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