Zrínyi Ilona (in Croatian: Jelena Zrinska) was the daughter of Zrínyi Péter aka Petar Zrinski who was executed in 1671 because of his part of the Wesselényi Conspiration. Her mother was Anna Katalin from the Frangepán family. Ilona was the wife of Prince Rákóczi I Ferenc of Transylvania, then the wife of Prince Thököly Imre. She was the mother of Prince Rákóczi II Ferenc, famous for his War of Independence. Here is a short summary of the Croatian Zrínyi / Zrinski family which intermarried with Hungarian aristocrats:
Her father, Zrínyi Péter (Petar Zrinski) was the younger brother of Zrínyi Miklós (Nikola Zrinski), the poet and statesman, and general. As for her mother, Frangepán Katalin, we have to mention that she was also a supporter of Croatian literature. Although she did not speak the Hungarian language, she thought it important to teach her daughter Hungarian as well. She detested the Habsburgs which was the reason why she chose Rákóczi Ferenc as a husband for her daughter, Ilona.
Hard times were coming: Zrínyi Miklós was killed by a wild boar in 1664 near Csáktornya and his younger brother, Petar moved to Csáktornya (Cakovec) with his wife, Katalin where he held the court of the Croatian Ban (Duke). Unfortunately, there was a bitter conflict between Katalin and the widow of Zrínyi Miklós, Löbl Mária Zsófia. Finally, Zrínyi Ilona’s hand was given to Rákóczi Ferenc, their wedding took place on 1 March 1666. The marriage was not a happy one but they had two children: Julianna was born in 1672, and Rákóczi Ferenc (later prince) was born in 1676. Ferenc was born in Borsi, you can read about it here:
We know that her uncle, Frangepán Kristóf was also executed in 1671, and his husband, Rákóczi Ferenc died in 1676. In fact, it was Rákóczi Ferenc who was the only member of the conspirators who actually had a military clash with the Habsburgs. You can read more details about the conspiracy and the role of Rákóczi I Ferenc in it on my page:
Ilona became a widow when she was just 23 years old. She, in spite of the fact that she was a Roman Catholic, also hated the Habsburgs. Her mother-in-law was Báthory Zsófia who had saved her son’s life by paying 400,000 Ducats to the Habsburgs but a conflict stood between Ilona and her: Lady Bathory was a very strict Roman Catholic and when Ilona suggested her not to be so harsh with the Protestant peasants, they had a debate. Finally, Ilona had to leave the castle of Munkács because of this.
It was how Ilona was bringing up her children in Regéc castle. You might be interested in the castle’s regulations, issued by Ilona in 1679, she ordered that “no shitty whores” were allowed to enter Regéc castle…You can read more about this on my page, too:
When her mother-in-law died in 1680, Ilona was able to take over control of the huge domains of the Rákóczi family. She was doing a good job, and she was also able to gain the right to remain the “caretaker” of her children. Thus, she had the right to take action on behalf of her son, too. She began to exchange letters in 1679 with Count Thököly Imre of Késmárk who was younger than her. Thököly, the “kuruc (rebel) king” met Ilona in public in the first part of 1680 for the first time. Ilona was a very beautiful woman according to contemporary sources.
However, they had to get the consent of the Habsburg Viennese Court as well as the approval of the Sultan’s Subline Porte so their wedding took place only at the beginning of 1682. Their wedding was described in the poem of Gyöngyösi István and a French romantic novel was also written about their romantic relationship. It was verily a love marriage, although Thököly was 14 years younger than she. Ilona took part in the organizing of the Kuruc uprising against the Habsburgs, she supported it with her own money as well.
After the lands of Upper Hungary were taken by Thököly, the Habsburgs finally gave in and were willing to negotiate. Unfortunately, Thököly’s alliance with the Turks ended in a disaster, and he was arrested by them in 1685. He was taken to Nándorfehérvár, and he was released only later. In the meantime, the Habsburgs besieged Munkács castle where Ilona was in charge. The siege lasted for three years and the castle fell only in 1688. You can read more about this siege on my page:
Ilona was taken to Vienna and she was closed into a nunnery, her children were taken away from her. Fortunately, Thököly was also winning: he captured General Heissler and the Habsburgs had to release Ilona in exchange for the general in 1691. After this, Ilona shared the life of an outcast with his husband. She died in Nikodemia in Turkey on 18 February 1703. Her death took place not much before his son, Rákóczi Ferenc launched his War of Independence. The remains of Ilona and his son were brought home to Hungary in 1906, and they rest in the crypt of the Saint Erzsébet Cathedral of Kassa (Kosice). Although Rákóczi Ferenc hated his step-father, Thököly, he admitted that Ilona loved him very much. Yet, he regarded Thököly as a pretender.
Zrínyi Ilona is perhaps one of the most famous ladies in Hungarian history. She became famous not only for her bravery, intelligence, and steadiness but also for her deeds. Her life was famous in contemporary Western Europe.