Prince Rákóczi Zsigmond (1555-08/12/1608)
The founder of the great Rákóczi dynasty was born into a noble family in Felsővadász in Zemplén County around 1555. He appears in the sources for the first time around 1570, when he was a soldier in Szendrő, but in 1586 he was already the captain of the castle. He traded wine from his estates, especially to Poland, with which he amassed a considerable fortune. He also lent money to the Chief Captain of Kassa (Kosice, Kaschau), the Szepesi (Zipt) Chamber, through which he acquired Szerencs castle as a pledge.
Through his first wife, he acquired additional properties, thus becoming a large landowner. From 1588 he was the Chief Captain of Eger castle, and in this position, he participated in the victorious battle of Szikszó in the fall of that year. He also played a big role in achieving victory. In 1591, he left Eger and farmed and traded on his estates and acquired more important estates (Tarcal, Ónod, Szádvár, Sáros, Makovica). Here is my dramatized historical story about the Battle of Szikszó, it is in my book “33 Castles, Battles, Legends” but you can also read it here:
Around 1595, he was included in the royal council, thereby becoming one of the mightiest barons of the Kingdom of Hungary. However, he barely took part in the Fifteen Years’ War, and as a result of the Treasury lawsuit initiated against him by the Viennese court, he withdrew even more from public life. He returned to politics only at the Bocskai uprising. He joined Bocskai István at the end of 1604, and in September 1605 he was elected Governor of Transylvania during Bocskai’s absence.
He proved to be a very determined, strong-handed leader who was capable of making compromises at the same time. He was reliable, strong, and even combative when needed, respected others, and therefore quickly made many friends. However, Bocskai’s death at the end of 1606 created a new situation. There were three candidates for the throne of Transylvania, Bocskai’s designated successor was Homonnai Drugeth Bálint, the former son-in-law of Rákóczi was the first. The second was Báthory Gábor, the son of the great princely dynasty, and the third was the Governor, Rákóczi Zsigmond.
The Transylvanian Estates, who had the decision in their hands, decided to vote freely and cast their vote for Rákóczi, who was currently in Transylvania and had gained a good reputation. It took place on February 12, 1607, on the Diet in Kolozsvár (Klausenburg, Cluj). The success required the slowness of the other two candidates, as well as the decisive action of Rákóczi, who, while his rivals delayed, convened the assembly, where he was first confirmed in the position of Governor, and then elevated to the rank of prince.
Although the Sublime Porte issued the name of the appointee as Homonnai, his name was simply scratched out from the sultan’s document, and Rákóczi’s was written in. Of course, the Estates saw a good opportunity to strengthen their own power through the prince they chose. Laws were passed that curtailed the prince’s power, and theirs was significantly increased. During this time, Rákóczi tried to increase the number of his followers. He tried to make the Hungarian Székely border guards loyal by donating titles and promoting the Hajdú soldiers by settling them, but he also gave donations to others. You can read the details of the short reign of Báthory Gábor on my page:
Although there was no internal opposition, Homonnai and Báthory continued to strive for the throne. In May, Rákóczi and his former son-in-law met, and following their discussion, the nobleman from Upper Hungary (Homonnai) withdrew from the principality. However, Báthory did not rest. He recruited followers both in the kingdom and in Transylvania, while Rákóczi was still not supported by the Sublime Porte.
Báthory, on the other hand, with the Hajdús on his side, with a significant mass base behind him, called on Rákóczi to retreat. On March 5, 1608, the prince actually resigned and left Transylvania. He didn’t live long, he died in his estate on December 8. He rests in peace in the Reformed church in Szerencs. However, his son György regained power a few decades later.
Sources: Szibler Gábor (Oborni Teréz: Erdély fejedelmei. Pannonica, Bp., 2002. 77-85. Hangay Zoltán: Erdély választott fejedelme Rákóczi Zsigmond. Zrínyi, Bp., 1987.)
Perhaps you might like to read more about the interesting history of Felsővadász, the birthplace of Rákóczi Zsigmond:
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