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18: Rise of Transylvania

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THIS persecution raged most fiercely towards the end of what is generally called "The Long War," which began in 1593, and lasted till 1606. It was a confused four-cornered struggle between the emperor and the Turks, the Turks and Transylvania, Michael of Moldavia and Transylvania, and Transylvania and the emperor, desultory and languishing as regards the Turks (the one notable battle being Sigismund Báthory's brilliant victory over the grand vizier in Walachia in 1595, when the Magyar army penetrated as far as Giurgevo), but very bitter as between the emperor and Transylvania, the principality being finally subdued by the imperial general, George Basta, in August 1604. A reign of terror ensued, during which the unfortunate principality was well-nigh ruined. Basta was authorized to Germanize and Catholicize without delay, and he began by dividing the property of most of the nobles among his officers, appropriating the lion's share himself. In royal Hungary the same object was aimed at by innumerable indictments against the richer landowners, indictments supported by false title-deeds and carried through by forged or purchased judgments of the courts. At last the estates of even the most devoted adherents of the Habsburgs were not safe, and some of them, like the wealthy István Illésházy (1540-1609), had to fly abroad to save their heads. Fortunately a peculiarly shameless attempt to blackmail Stephen Bocskay, a rich and powerful Transylvanian nobleman, converted a long-suffering friend of the emperor into a national deliverer. Bocskay, a quiet but resolute man, having once made up his mind to rebel, never paused till he had established satisfactory relations between the Austrian court and the Hungarians. The two great achievements of his brief reign (he was elected prince of Transylvania on the 5th of April 1605, and died on the 29th of December 1606) were the peace of Vienna, (June 23, 1606) and the truce of Zsitvatörök (November 1606). By the peace of Vienna Bocskay obtained religious liberty and political autonomy, the restoration of all confiscated estates, the repeal of all unrighteous judgments and a complete retrospective amnesty for all the Magyars in royal Hungary, besides his own recognition as independent sovereign prince of an enlarged¹ Transylvania. This treaty is remarkable as being the first constitutional compact between the ruling dynasty and the Hungarian nation. Almost equally important was the twenty years' truce of Zsitvatörök, negotiated by Bocskay between the emperor and the sultan, which established for the first time a working equilibrium between the three parts of Hungary, with a distinct political preponderance in favour of Transylvania. Of the 5163 sq. m. of Hungarian territory, Transylvania now possessed 2082, Turkish Hungary 1859, and royal Hungary only 1222. The emperor, on the other hand, was freed from the humiliating annual tribute to the Porte on payment of a war indemnity of £409,000. The position of royal Hungary was still further improved when the popular and patriotic Archduke Matthias was elected king of Hungary on the 16th of November 1608. He had previously confirmed the treaty of Vienna, and the day after his election he appointed Illésházy, now reinstated in all his possessions and dignities, palatine of Hungary.² In Transylvania, meantime, Gabriel Báthory had been elected (Nov. 11, 1608) in place of the decrepit Sigismund Rákóczy, Bocskay's immediate successor.

¹ The counties of Szatmár, Ugocsa and Bereg and the fortress of Tokaj were formally ceded to him.

² He was the first Protestant palatine.

For more than fifty years after the peace of Vienna the principality of Transylvania continued to be the bulwark of the liberties of the Magyars. It owed its ascendancy in the first place to the abilities of the two princes who ruled it from 1613 to 1648. The first and most famous of these rulers was Gabriel Bethlen, who reigned from 1613 to 1629, perpetually thwarted all the efforts of the emperor to oppress or circumvent his Hungarian subjects, and won some reputation abroad by adroitly pretending to champion the Protestant cause. Three times he waged war on the emperor, twice he was proclaimed king of Hungary, and by the peace of Nikolsburg (Dec. 31, 1621) he obtained for the Protestants a confirmation of the treaty of Vienna and for himself seven additional counties in northern Hungary besides other substantial advantages. Bethlen's successor, George Rákóczy I., was equally successful. His principal achievement was the peace of Linz (Sept. 16, 1645), the last political triumph of Hungarian Protestantism, whereby the emperor was forced to confirm once more the oft-broken articles of the peace of Vienna, to restore nearly a hundred churches to the sects and to acknowledge the sway of Rákóczy over the north Hungarian counties. Gabriel Bethlen and George Rákóczy I. also did much for education and civilization generally, and their era has justly been called the golden era of Transylvania. They lavished money on the embellishment of their capital, Gyulafehérvár, which became a sort of Protestant Mecca, whither scholars and divines of every anti-Roman denomination flocked to bask in the favour of princes who were as liberal as they were pious. Yet both Bethlen and Rákóczy owed far more to favourable circumstances than to their own cunning. Their reigns synchronized with the Thirty Years' War, during which the emperors were never in a position seriously to withstand the attacks of the malcontent Magyars, the vast majority of whom were still Protestants, who naturally looked upon the Transylvanian princes as their protectors and joined them in thousands whenever they raided Moravia or Lower Austria, or threatened to advance upon Vienna. In all these risings no battle of importance was fought. Generally speaking, the Transylvanians had only to appear, to have their demands promptly complied with; for these marauders had to be bought off because the emperor had more pressing business elsewhere. Yet their military efficiency must have been small, for their allies the Swedes invariably allude to them as wild and ragged semi-barbarians.

Another fortunate accident which favoured the hegemony of Transylvania was the temporary collapse of Hungary's most formidable adversary, the Turk. From the peace of Zsitvatörök (1606) to the ninth year of the reign of George Rákóczy II., who succeeded his father in 1648, the Turkish empire, misruled by a series of incompetent sultans and distracted by internal dissensions, was unable to intervene in Hungarian politics. But in the autumn of 1656 a great statesman, Mahommed Kuprili, obtained the supreme control of affairs at Constantinople, and all Europe instantly felt the pressure of the Turk once more. It was George Rákóczy II. who gave the new grand vizier a pretext for interference. Against the advice of all his counsellors, and without the knowledge of the estates, Rákóczy, in 1657, plunged into the troubled sea of Polish politics, in the hope of winning the Polish throne, and not only failed miserably but overwhelmed Transylvania in his own ruin. Kuprili, who had forbidden the Polish enterprise, at once occupied Transylvania, and, in the course of the next five years, no fewer than four princes, three of whom died violent deaths, were forced to accept the kaftan and kalpag of investiture in the camp of the grand vizier. When, at the end of 1661, a more stable administration was set up with Michael Apaffy (1661-1690) as prince, Transylvania had descended to the rank of a feudatory of the Turkish empire. On the death of Mahommed Kuprili (Oct. 11, 1661) his son Fazil Ahmed succeeded him as grand vizier, and pursued his father's policy with equal genius and determination. In 1663 he invaded royal Hungary with the intention of uniting all the Magyars against the emperor, but, the Magyars steadily refusing to attend any diet summoned under Turkish influence, his plan fell through, and his only notable military success was the capture of the fortress of Érsekújvár (Neuhausel). In the following year, thanks to the generalship and heroism of Miklós Zrínyi the younger, Kuprili was still less successful. Zrínyi captured fortress after fortress, and interrupted the Turkish communications by destroying the famous bridge of Eszék (Esseg), while Montecuculi defeated the grand vizier at the battle of St Gothard (Aug. 1, 1664). Yet, despite these reverses Kuprili's superior diplomacy enabled him, at the peace of Vasvár (Aug. 10, 1664) to obtain terms which should only have been conceded to a conqueror. The fortress of Érsekújvár and surrounding territory were now ceded to the Turks, with the result that royal Hungary was not only still further diminished, but its northern practically separated from its southern portion. On the other hand the treaty of Vasvár gave Hungary a respite from regular Turkish invasions for twenty years, though the border raiding continued uninterruptedly.

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