Palatine Pálffy János (1664-1751)

Pálffy János was a Palatine of Hungary and Bán (Duke) of Croatia, he rose to become one of the most influential statesmen of the Habsburg Empire during the Ottoman Wars and the struggle for the Spanish succession. Pálffy was not only a general but also a diplomat and mediator who effectively represented the interests of Austria – and his own country – during the Rákóczi War of Independence, the adoption of the Pragmatica Sanctio and the War of the Austrian Succession.
Pálffy János
Count Pálffy János was born in 1664, he was the son of one of the noblest Hungarian aristocratic families. Five of them were brothers (2 girls, 3 boys). János, the younger brother of Miklós and brother of Colonel Ferenc, was born in the castle of Vöröskő (Cerveny Kamen) above Cseszte in present-day Slovakia. His mother was Mária Eleonóra von Harrach zu Rohrau (1634–1699), who came from a high aristocratic Austrian family.
Vöröskő castle Photo: Civertan
Vöröskő castle Photo: Civertan
His father, Pálffy Miklós, a crown guard, had his son educated first in Hungary, then in Vienna (1677–1679), and Parma (1679–1681). After finishing his schooling he, like his brothers, entered the military. Pálffy volunteered for service in Germany in 1681. He served first as a volunteer in the German infantry regiment in Neuburg, then in Isenburg, and later as an ensign in the regiment of Pálffy János Károly (1645–1694), his cousin’s cuirassier regiment, which took part in the unsuccessful siege of Érsekújvár (Nové Zamky) and the liberation of Vienna during the Habsburg-Ottoman War of 1683. He most probably met Prince Eugene of Savoy in Vienna.
The siege of Érsekújvár, 1685
The young man fought in almost all the major battles in the following years: he was present at the victory of Párkány, the triumphs of Esztergom, Vác, and Visegrád, the unsuccessful siege of Buda in 1684, and the successful one in 1686, he fought for the liberation of Pécs and the Battle of Nagyharsány in August 1687. He fought under the command of Charles of Lorraine and Maximilian Emánuel, Elector of Bavaria, and under the command of Major-General Louis of Baden. Here is a video about the reconquest wars of Hungary:
On 4 October 1687, he married Czobor Terézia (1669-1733), the daughter of General Czobor Ádám and Erdődy Borbála, who was four years younger than him. They had eight children. Afterward, he continued his military career as lieutenant colonel of one of the two Hussar regiments set up by his father-in-law with the permission of Emperor Habsburg Leopold I (r. 1657-1705). Czobor entrusted the command of one of them to the 24-year-old Colonel Pálffy. After his father-in-law in 1688, he became the regimental commander in 1691.
It was not only because of his family connections but also due to his valor, and the count quickly rose through the ranks. A soldier with a reputation for being a hothead, he played a key role in the capture of Belgrade and Nis in the following years, and distinguished himself in the battle of Szalánkemén, being promoted to major-general by 1693. Here is more about the Battle of Szalánkemén:
The Battle of Szalánkemén (Slankamen)
Pálffy’s fierce temperament was shown not only by the fact that he was wounded countless times during the Turkish wars but also by the duel he fought against Prince John Frederick of Württemberg in the autumn of 1693. It happened that two hussars of Pálffy’s regiment stole fruit from a garden, and the young prince, in the spirit of the strict laws of the army, shot the thieving soldiers. In response, Pálffy János challenged Frederick to a duel, which ended in the young man’s death.
A Hussar of the Pálffy regiment
Despite the duel, Pálffy remained in the service of Charles of Lotharingia, and from 1698, on the orders of his superiors, he served along the Rhine. In the early years of the War of the Spanish Succession, he fought in the Italian theatre of operations and at the siege of Landau. After the outbreak of the Rákóczi War of Independence, Pálffy János returned to Hungary and was promoted to the rank of general and Croatian Ban (Duke) in 1704 by the elderly Emperor Leopold I.
Pálffy János
The count, who came from a traditionally pro-Habsburg family, sided with the so-called “labanc” forces (people who supported the Habsburgs) in the years of the Kuruc (“kuruc” stands for anti-Habsburg people) uprising, and played a lion’s share in the imperial victory at Trencsén (Trenčín) in 1708, among several other minor battles. As the struggle dragged on, Emperor Joseph I (r. 1705-1711) became more and more inclined to compromise, and as a result, Pálffy rose to a higher and higher position.
In 1710, he became commander-in-chief of the Habsburg forces in Hungary and was given full authority in negotiations with the Kuruc leadership. The Ban tried in vain to persuade Prince Rákóczi to make peace at the meeting in Vaja in January 1711, but in the person of Károlyi Sándor, he found a negotiating partner who was willing to cooperate.
The Kuruc forces laid down the arms at Nagymajtény in 1711

The Peace of Szatmár, the end of the War of Independence

On 30 April 1711, according to the Treaty of Szatmár (Satu Mare), the final text of which was adopted on 29 April after lengthy negotiations between the Kuruc commander-in-chief Károlyi Sándor and the Imperial General Pálffy, the Kuruc army laid down its flags before the imperial army on the plain of Nagymajtény on 1 May, and, keeping its weapons, was sent home. Károlyi and Pálffy concluded the peace treaty in Szatmár, ending the Rákóczi War of Independence.
Károlyi Sándor (1668-1743)

King Joseph I of Hungary was inclined to compromise with the Hungarians based on his experience of the War of the Spanish Succession. In 1710, the president of the Court Military Council, the hero of the Turkish wars, Prince Eugen von Sacoy, appointed a Pálffy, a major-general, to head the imperial forces in Hungary, who initiated negotiations in a letter to Károlyi Sándor on 14 November 1710. Rákóczi allowed Károlyi to contact Pálffy to stall for time. This resulted in an eight-day truce between the two armies on 13 January 1711, which was extended several times.

Prince Eugen von Savoy

On 31 January, Prince Rákóczi himself received Pálffy at the castle in Vaja, and on 21 February 1711, he traveled to Poland to negotiate with the Tsar. In his absence, he authorized his commander-in-chief, Sándor Károlyi, to continue the negotiations just to gain time. However, a broader agreement was reached between Károlyi and Pálffy, and the Kuruc commander-in-chief committed himself to the peace treaty on 14 March, secretly swearing an oath of allegiance to the Emperor.

Károlyi had to restrain the officers from surrendering individually to negotiate favorable terms. But Rákóczi and the remnants of the Valiant Order (the warriors of the Borderland), confident of external help, wanted to continue the struggle. Károlyi called a meeting in Szatmárnémeti, where they decided in favor of peace.

Szatmár castle in 1662

On April 26, 1711, the guard of Kassa (Kaschau, Košice), obeying Károlyi’s persuasion, surrendered to the troops of Baron Ebergényi László, the Imperial Lieutenant General, without firing a single shot. The Kuruc general finally laid down his arms on the Majtény plain without the prince’s consent, and on 1 May 1711, he concluded the Peace of Szatmár (Satu Mare), the text of which still bears the “handprint” of Pálffy. The Peace of Szatmár promised impunity for the Kuruc troops. According to the military historian Mészáros Kálmán, Károlyi made good peace against Rákóczi.

Szatmár in 1688

In the Peace of Szatmár, the Emperor granted a public pardon, and the Kuruc soldiers were allowed to return home, keeping their weapons. The King guaranteed the liberties of Hungary and Transylvania. He promised to restore the constitution, to allow the free exercise of religion, and to convene a Diet. Foreign institutions and dignities that had offended the orders were abolished. Pálffy had the unquestionable merit that Emperor Joseph I and his successor Charles III (r. 1711-1740) offered the Kuruc forces extremely lenient terms compared to the existing military situation, thus making the treaty lasting and beneficial to both parties.

Pálffy János
Thanks to his effective policy, the outcome of the peace treaty of Szatmár became a compromise between the nobility and enlightened absolutism, which ensured the separation of Hungary from the Habsburg Empire until 1848. Without Rákóczi’s War of Independence and Pálffy’s efforts, the Kingdom of Hungary could have become a mere colony of the Habsburg monarchs after the Ottoman wars.
Kuruc troops vs. Imperials
The Habsburgs rewarded Pálffy’s military and diplomatic services with the title of chief comes of the Sáros County and numerous estates, while he was given a special mediating role between the Viennese court and the Hungarian noble estates. The general’s restless spirit drove him to the battlefield in the Turkish war that broke out in 1716, and even the Emperor could not dissuade the then-aged general from returning to the camp during the conflict of 1736-39.
During the reign of Charles III, Pálffy became one of the most influential court advisers: he played a major role in securing the acceptance of the Pragmatica Sanctio, which guaranteed the succession of Maria Theresa (r. 1740-1780), by both the Croatian and Hungarian noble estates.
A French map of Hungary in 1750
Charles III awarded him the titles of governor, magistrate, and then chief comes of Pozsony (Pressburg, Bratislava) for his services. His position of trust is perfectly demonstrated by the fact that the dying Emperor-King asked for his help in securing his daughter’s power and maintaining the unity of the empire.
The events of 1740 showed that Charles’s fears were not unfounded, for soon after his death, the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-48) broke out, with Prussia and then Bavaria declaring war, and at the beginning, it seemed that the Habsburg Empire would soon disappear from the map of Europe.
The COA of Pálffy János (Photo: Szegedi L.)
Pálffy also played a major role in the new turn of events, since thanks to his mediation, the Hungarian noble estates offered their “life and blood” to Maria Theresa at the famous 1741 Diet of Pozsony. (According to the gossip, they added: “But not our money”.) The count, who was approaching his 80th birthday at the time, was awarded the Order of the Golden Fleece by the Queen as a token of her gratitude, and in the summer of 1741, she appointed him a Palatine.
The Golden Fleece
The aging general remained in the service of the Viennese court for another 10 years, and his exceptional position and respect are best illustrated by the fact that Empress Maria Theresa addressed his Hungarian deputy in her letters as ‘Mein Vater Pálffy’, or Father Pálffy. Pálffy János, one of the most important Hungarian politicians of the early modern era, but now undeservedly forgotten, died on 24 March 1751 at the age of 86.
The Hungarian estates offered their “life and blood” to Empress Maria Theresa
(Source: Rubicon)

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