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A Short History

The Remainder

Let it begin with a family name, or rather with several names of the same family. The progenitor of the Szapolyai or Zápolya was a certain Ladislas, who under the name of Vajdafi, left the service of János Hunyadi and became, among other things, ispán of the salt monopoly. One of his two sons, Imre, added to the family fortunes by making large loans to King Mathias for very large returns. His younger brother, István, acquired undying fame -- and titles and estates, by convincing the nobles, vacillating after Mathias's death, to elect the otherwise eligible Wladislas II (1490-1516). Imre did not consider himself to be eligible, but since the election of a Hungarian king may become a reality, he did raise his son as a person eligible for the kingship. He did much to accomplish this, even though he does not do much else. All these matters were more or less related to Transylvania.

After Mathias's death and the end of the Hunyadi era, the two most important dates are 1514 and 1526, the dates of two related tragedies. But first there was 1506. Wladislas II, to celebrate the birth of the crown prince wished to collect an old tax from the Székelys, which they refused with the justification that as nobles, they were no longer subject to taxation. The Székely rebellion was defeated, with Szeben Saxon participation, under the leadership of Pál Tomori, who at this time was "just" a soldier, but later became archbishop of Kalocsa and perished at the battle of Mohács. When the Székelys sent a detachment to take revenge on the Saxons, it was led by a Gyõrgy Dózsa de Makfalva. He may be, but probably is not, the peasant leader Gyõrgy Dózsa.

The campaign of 1514 started out as a crusade. The army, which could be joined by the "ordinary people", should have marched against the Turks. The nationwide, serious dissatisfaction -- not so much of the poorest strata, but of the landed serfs who participated in the production of goods and had thus something to loose -- turned the crusaders against the nobility. It appeared almost as the first breath of the Reformation. At the head of this destructive movement, later known as the Dózsa Peasant Revolt, marched and fought a number of Franciscan friars. Some of them -- who survived long enough -- were among the first Protestant preachers.

Although the movement was led militarily by Gyõrgy Dózsa, who was clearly considered a Transylvanian, it concentrated primarily on the Great Plains. In Transylvania, it did not touch the Székely regions, and touched only a few of the Hungarian areas. These included some important, and justly unhappy, salt and mining cities such as Dés, Torda, Abrudbánya, Zalatna and Torockó.

At this time, since 1510, the twenty-year-old Szapolyai (Zápolya), the future king, was voivode of Transylvania. His first military triumph was the destruction of the Dózsa army approaching from the Great Plain. The battle of Temesvár put an end to the largest peasant revolt in Hungarian history. Three years later, in 1517, he was again the executioner of another, smaller revolt, this time in Transylvania. At this time the enterprising voivode confiscated the property of the participants for the Crown. This was contrary to Székely tradition. It had always been one of the privileges of the Székelys that in case of disloyalty, the property of the guilty person went to his relatives. There was no collective punishment for individual crime.

Between the time of these two campaigns of Szapolyai, Wladislas II died and was succeeded by his ten-year-old son, Louis II (1561-1526). It was decreed that the voivode of Transylvania was responsible for the defense of Transylvania alone, while the governor of Temes was responsible for the Temeskõz. In return, they had to fight in any other part of the country only if the entire country was in deadly peril. This decree formally codified a regionalization which had been a practical reality for some time. King. Louis II was already married. At the age of 10, in 1515, he married the nine-year-old Maria Habsburg, the daughter of Philip le Bel and Johanna the Insane. At the same time, his brother-in-law, Ferdinand Habsburg, married Louis's sister, Anna Jagello. Thus, a two-fold marriage united the Czech-Hungarian House of Jagello with the Austrian House of Habsburg. This was to have enormous consequences in the near future.

In 1520, when the Jagello boy and the Habsburg girl may have already consummated their marriage in Buda, Suleiman II, known to history as the Great, and as the Conqueror, assumed the throne in Stambul, which he will hold for 46 years. This took place on September 22, which was too late in the year for a Turkish style campaign. In June 1521, however, the Turkish armies appeared before Nándorfehérvár, followed very soon by the Padishah. After a siege of a month and a half, the city was taken and the armies returned to Stambul, so that Suleiman the Great may celebrate the first anniversary of his rule at home. This, both symbolically and in reality, brought to an end the breathing space that János Hunyadi gained in 1436, when he was triumphant at this very same place. Now the Ottoman advance seemed irresistible.

A series of frontier bastions wereconquered. The Hungarian line of defense was gradually pushed back toward the northwest. This continued until 1526, when Suleiman, advancing along his usual route slowly and almost leisurely, crossed the Száva on a newly built bridge and approached Mohács with an enormous army. The king hesitated. Should he again mobilize the lower orders? On the news of the Turkish preparations, he mobilized only 20% of the serfs in March, and only 50% in July. Finally, at the beginning of August, on his way toward Mohács, he ordered the mobilization of all forces. He also sent János Szapolyai, voivode of Transylvania, contradictory instructions. First, he asked him to bring his army to the probable field of battle, then he told him to stay away. In spite of this, the rumors were rife afterward, accusing the voivode of having started out toward Mohács, but then intentionally delaying his arrival on the plains of battle. His army of ten thousand men remained untouched, while the king's and Tomori's army of 25,000 -- nota bene, mostly foreign mercenaries -- was essentially annihilated on August 29, 1526 on the field of Mohács. Both the prelate-commander-in-chief and the king perished. The latter drowned in the flooded river Csele, although there was a widespread belief that he was killed by his own men.

Szapolyai remained at Szeged, the Queen Maria took a boat up the Danube and the armies of Suleiman -- burning and looting -- sauntered into the unprotected Buda. North of Buda, at Pilismarót, the refugees formed a camp, but the country lost more people here from illness and hunger than it did at Mohács. Since this campaign was more in the nature of a final warning for Vienna, the Turks evacuated Hungary, leaving only a line of defended fortresses in the Szerémség. Thus, the terrible defeat did not affect Transylvania directly. Indirectly, however, the effects were momentous. Szapolyai, who probably stayed away from Mohács intentionally, was acclaimed king on two separate occasions in the newly "liberated" country, once in October at Tokaj and again in November in Székesfehérvár. In the latter place he actually had the crown placed on his head in the presence of the nobles assembled there. He immediately appointed the enormously wealthy Peter Perényi voivode of Transylvania, who then betrayed him within the year. János (Szapolyai) I (1526-1540) did not stay king alone for very long. In December, in Pozsony, the nobles assembled there acclaimed Ferdinand I (1526-1546), the Habsburg brother-in-law of the late Louis II, King of Hungary. Ferdinand was already King of Bohemia and will shortly gain supreme power as the Holy Roman Emperor.

There was thus an internal fight for the throne and a state of civil war, with the Turks just beyond the garden wall. Allegiances were shifting back and forth, the situation was totally confused, and at times everybody seemed to be against everybody else. Initially, János I was not doing well. His primary base of operations was Transylvania, that he knew well and that was far removed from Vienna and Prague, but here Ferdinand's men turned the Saxons against him. For a while he had to flee to Poland. He returned home with Turkish help or, perhaps, on Turkish orders, and took possession of the Hungarian crown. This demeaning alliance was barely sufficient for him to continue the civil war. The best he could achieve was to divide the country with Ferdinand along a line of demarcation. Even this had to be done in secret, in order not to offend the Sultan. Then, Ferdinand -- underhandedly -- leaked this information to Stambul, hoping to thus get rid of his Hungarian opponents. In Stambul, however, the Hungarians, having paid handsomely for this, stood higher than the Emperor. The Sultan was furious, but more with Ferdinand than with János. He forgave Szapolyai, but at a price.

What kind of a love affair was this between the national King of Hungary and Suleiman, who was a major threat to the freedom and independence of his country. It was not a love affair. John was quite conscious of the fact that his kingdom was at best a buffer zone. He was also convinced that the Habsburgs, being otherwise occupied, were not going to defend this peripheral area against gradual erosion by the Turks. Thus, the limited sovereignty offered by the Turks was the lesser of two evils. The price was an apparent -- but nevertheless binding -- loyalty to Stambul and the payment of a large cash tribute. Lesser evil, greater evil? A little of both... The decision that János had to make at this time on behalf of himself and of his country became a fundamental issue for Transylvania for many long years to come.

In the meantime, the multinational House of Fugger, utilizing all its pre-capitalism industry, tried to obtain the metal mining rights in northern Hungary, first from János and then from Ferdinand. They had been invited to do so, and then they had been forbidden the country. Most recently János granted them the rights to organize and exploit the mining and trading of salt in Transylvania. We know about this because one of their agents, a certain Hans Dernschwam who today would probably be described as their foreign manager, prepared a detailed travel and business report. On the 16th of August, 1528 he reported from Torda as follows: "In Torda we need draught horses, bridles, traces, steel, suet, heavy ropes, oats, hay, lumber, coal, hides, etc. All these things are unavailable but we can not function without them and must be aware of this. Thus, we have to pay double for everything and on the spot, since whoever goes to the market without much cash gets nothing. Everything should be bought in its own time, but since there are now no ready offers, we must buy everything at the worst possible moment. Everything needed for our work, food and all other necessities, must be obtained on a daily basis."

However, as he pointed out, to make money you need salt, but to get salt, you first need money. And so he continued: "I can't tell you precisely which road to use for bringing in money. The Abrudbánya road where you had such bad luck, is obviously not without danger. The Wallachians who did the robbery have become even more daring, since they have not been punished. If you want to use this road, you should do it only if you have armed mounted guards and if the carts have iron-shod wheels. The road toward Nagyvárad may be more open, but has not been used for a long time and may be a problem due to the Wallachians who live there. The people can be called to arms very quickly and they will then overrun the road. Without sufficient capital, the losses are going to increase. It would be best to bring it in along the Abrudbánya road. For protection, use some court officers, well supplied with letters of authority from the commanders and lords. Yet, if you think that it may be better, come directly here from Buda with a cart and a few horses. This would cause less commotion. The problems were actually initiated by the lords of the fortresses. One of the Wallachians admitted -- before impalement -- that he had acted on orders from Losonczy . The confession is with the judges at Brassó and Abrudbánya..."

Who the Losonczy may be who was behind the Wallachian's crime was not given in the letter. Everybody looked only after their own affairs, the two kings and the Turks in their peculiar triangle. Dernschwam tried to make all arrangements so that the country should have salt and -- more importantly -- that the Fuggers should make a profit from the salt. The lords fished in each others turbid waters, and the people engaged in robbery, by order or by individual initiative. All this, however, paled in comparison with the ongoing destruction caused by the various armies.

In the meantime, János Szapolyai acquired a wise friend and good counselor in the former soldier and current monk, the Croatian friar George Martinuzzi. Finally, he also got a wife, from Poland. Both of these facts will become more important after Szapolyai is gone. The "young" husband learned in July of 1540 that he had a son, and he wrote a testament accordingly. He died on July 17 or 21. On September 13, the ten-week-old infant was proclaimed king by the few nobles assembled at Rákos. He will use the name János II, but will never really be János II. Or will he?

It is now the summer of 1541. The young widow acted as regent in Buda, in the company of her son and his guardians. Buda was under siege and even many in Transylvania, not only the Saxons, are loyal to Ferdinand. The country resembled a multicolored mosaic, loyalties shifted back and forth and even Isabella was tempted to look toward Vienna for help against the Turk. Martinuzzi's primary purpose was to keep the Hungarians corralled under one flag. When he said anything else, he was playing political games.

It was the practice of the Turks to go campaigning every summer. In 1541, Suleiman again took the road toward Hungary. He easily chased off the Germans besieging Buda and then theatrically and quasi paternally received the hopeful infant and his entourage in front of his ceremonial tent. The verbal promises of support were followed by an opulent feast. While the feast was in progress, the Sultan's janissaries wandered through the fortress of Buda like friendly, familiar tourists . They liked it so much that they decided to stay. In the evening, the Muezzin called them to prayer from the tower, and the Turkish emblem of victory, the horse tail flags, flew from the battlements. -- Just as it was supposed to be.

"In exchange", Suleiman, at the foot of the Castle Hill, graciously bestowed Transylvania, the area beyond the Tisza and the Temeskõz, on Isabella and on the guardians of the infant. There was a very modest annual tribute, but there were stringent political conditions attached to the bequest. The first of these was that Bálint Tõrõk, one of the three guardians of the infant, and whom for reasons unknown the Sultan did not trust, be delivered to him. Tõrõk was taken as a captive to Stambul, and after decades in the prison of the Castle of the Seven Towers, died in captivity.

What began with the promenade of the janissaries and with eastern effrontery, gives Stambul control of the Carpathian Basin. There will be fights, diplomatic chicanery, and more eastern tricks, but the Sultan assumed the overlordship of the country in 1541. Buda was not recaptured until 1686, almost a century and a half later. The reconquest was not accomplished by a ruse, but by a prodigious shedding of the blood of the united European armies.

The country, which consisted of two parts since 1526, is now divided into three. A large central triangle which extends well north of Buda and which includes the fertile Great Plains and the eastern half of Transdanubia, as well as the north-central mountains and the southern part of Transylvania became an increasingly integral part of the Ottoman Empire. The narrow western and northern area still belonged to the dynamic, but elsewhere occupied and fighting Habsburg Empire. The Austrian Hereditary Provinces formed a buffer zone against Turkish attacks toward Vienna, and a possible bridgehead for some future expansion toward the East.

What about the East? Friar George, who in the meantime received the scarlet hat of a cardinal, engaged in intermittent fights with the talented but very willful Isabella and desperately tried to maintain Transylvania on the shifting sands of international politics. He smoothed the path for Habsburg rule, since help from the west could come only from them, but he also had to stay on the right side of Stambul. Finally, with his assistance, Isabella and her son departed for Silesia, being compensated there with a minor principality. Martinuzzi seemed to reap his award. While he was effectively governing already, he now ruled in the name of Ferdinand, who himself played a dual game. He gave complete control over the eastern regions to the Cardinal. Yet he cautioned his generals against him and secretly gave them full freedom of activity.

These are infernal times. Yet when did Transylvania have any other? The justifiably suspicious Sultan, partly for practice and partly to intimidate, repeatedly sent marauding parties into Transylvania, consisting of Turkish troops and Tatar, Serbian, Wallachian and other mercenaries. Learning about the removal of Isabella, he readied a general assault. Martinuzzi, who did not feel that his own Transylvanian forces, even combined with the troops of Ferdinand, were sufficiently strong, resorted to his usual tactical ploys, negotiated with individual Pashas and tried to gain time. Considering this to be treason, he was killed in his castle by Ferdinand's commanders at the end of 1551. This proved to be worse than a sin. It was a mistake.

It was thus and here that the Transylvanian Principality was born from the blood of the friar. But not right away. The frontier fortresses fell, one by one and the slow but persistent advance of the Turks was irresistible. Suleiman demanded the return of Isabella, which did occur in the fall of 1556. János II became king on the death of his mother in 1559, but really just in name. Weighed down by his inheritance, he makes a deal with Ferdinand's successor, the Emperor Maximilian (1564-1576), agrees to marry the emperor's daughter and cedes the inheritance to him in case the marriage did not produce a son.

Transylvania and Upper Hungary were riddled by betrayals and controversies. In 1562 there was a major Székely uprising and in the summer of 1566, John II had to go to pay homage to Suleiman in Zimony. The Sultan was on his way to Szigetvár, where he came to the end of his life. The death of Suleiman the Great and the ensuing interregnum gave a break to the Hungarian regions, but not to John. In 1671, the 31-year-old John Sigismund died. He had no children; in fact, he never married. How come? The reason was that he was so fond of his officer, councilor and friend, a certain Gáspár Békés, that he usually insisted that he spend the night with him, actually in the royal bedchamber...

These were infernal times. A contemporary song, quoted to me by a Transylvanian friend goes: "Prince John Sigismund / God, send us the Turks / Took my cow / To punish them / As tribute to the Emperor / Spare not their tribe Beggaring me / kill them where you can."

Who was here the emperor? In the final analysis, he was the one whose taxes were so mercilessly collected by John Sigismund's agents. No matter. Don't look at the precise words of the song, but at the split in personality, born of desperation. A people, in this case one of the Transylvanian nationalities, the Székelys called on the Turks, whom they know and dread, to take vengeance on their own masters. This was only one aspect of the period of John Sigismund, justly disliked by the Székelys. There was an other aspect, but first we must take a step back in time.

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A Short History