Sigismund Rákóczi

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Sigismund Rakoczi

Sigismund Rákóczi was born into the noble Hungarian Rákóczi family. He briefly reigned as Prince of Transylvania from 1607 to 1608.

Rákóczi was born into the lower nobility but, by various means - including a profitable marriage - managed to rise into the ranks of the aristocracy.

When Stephen Bocskay, who had rebelled against the Habsburgs, was elected Prince of Transylvania in 1605, he appointed Rákóczi to the post of governor of Transylvania. Rákóczi, seeing the prospects of his new position, relocated with his family from Felsővadász in Royal Hungary to Transylvania and immediately set to work rebuilding the princely possessions, reviving trade with Wallachia and Moldavia and balancing the Transylvanian budget.

Bocskay was recognized as Prince by the Habsburg in the Treaty of Vienna of 1606, but died in the same year. His death propelled Rákóczi to the first rank of Transylvanian politics, as the estates looked for a fitting successor: the first candidate was Bálint Homonnai Drugeth, a young man of noble birth and military ability whom Bocskay had named as his successor. The second contender was Gabriel Báthory, who had proved himself an able soldier while fighting with Bocskay and as a member of the former princely family of Transylvania was a natural candidate for the succession. The Transylvanian estates however, claiming the right to freely chose the Prince, disapproved of both candidates, as electing Drugeth would have meant yielding to the late Bocskay (who had named Homonnai) and to the Ottomans (who had already accepted this designation), while electing Báthory would have meant accepting his dynastic claims and a return to hereditary rule. While the two candidates rallied their supporter outside of the country, the estates looked to the able governor Sigismund Rákóczi, since he was a man both of administrative ability and without support outside of the estates.

The estates had planned to await Bocskay's burial before they would proceed with the election, but a letter by the Archduke Matthias sped up events: Matthias told them to wait until King Rudolf had instituted the necessary requirements according to the Treaty of Vienna. As the treaty did not contain any such requirements, the estates hurried and on 9 February 1607 elected Sigismund Rákóczi.

Though this unilateral act enraged both Habsburgs and Ottomans, neither power was prepared to engage in military action: The Sultan's Turkish messenger had already been waiting at the border, ready to formally invest Drugeth as Prince, but returned to Constantinople, reportedly bribed by Rákóczi. The new Prince tried to win the recognition of the Ottoman government by offering the Vizier Murad Pasha two castles recently conquered from the Turks, but the Vizier declined and replied that Rákóczi was free to act as long as he didn't start a new war. The Habsburg government of Hungary, which had supported first Drugeth and then Báthory, shied away from military conflict too, but instead it tried to negotiate with Rákóczi about his voluntary resignation.

Rákóczi and the majority of Transylvanian politicians at first rejected any such attempts, but then were forced into entering into negotiations by the rising pressure of an imminent rebellion of the Hajduks who had fought with Bocskay and demanded their pay. Hajduk commanders met with the Turkish Pasha at Pest, insisting that there could be no peace as long they had not been paid. They even considered electing Drugeth as King, but the former candidate refused to meet with them.

This volatile situation was exploited by Gabriel Báthory, who under the pretense of negotiating the defense of the country, on 5 February 1608 signed a pact with the Hajduks: their commanders pledged to fight with him to whatever end, while he promised to promote Calvinism, make their general his minister and their preacher a councillor, and to provide the Hajduks with lands in the region of Oradea, Ecsed and Kállo. The Transylvanian government did not dare to oppose the Hadjuk force and Rákóczi, seeing that a fight would only bring defeat to him and ruin to his country, resigned in favour of Báthory on 7 March.

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Sigismund Rákóczi
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Stephen Bocskay
Prince of Transylvania
1607–1608
Succeeded by
Gabriel Báthory
Notes and references
1. Regnal Chronologies