Gabriel Báthory

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Gabriel Báthory (Hungarian: Báthory Gábor) (15 August 1589 – 27 October 1613) was Prince of Transylvania from 1608 to his death in 1613.

Gabriel Báthory,
Prince of Transylvania.


Gabriel was born at Nagyvárad, in the Kingdom of Hungary (today Oradea, Romania) as the son of Stephen Báthory (1553–1601), from Somlyo branch of the Hungarian Báthory family, and his first wife Susanna Bebek of Pelsőcz (d. 1595). His uncles were Balthasar Báthory and Cardinal Andrew Báthory, who had both briefly reigned over Transylvania.

Early life[edit]

When Gabriel was born, his grand cousin Sigismund had just assumed the government of Transylvania. At the end of his turbulent reign, which saw him retire four times, Transylvania in 1601 came under direct Habsburg rule, represented by the cruel military governor Giorgio Basta.

When the military commander Stephen Bocskay raised the flag of rebellion against the Habsburgs, Gabriel sided with him. Bocskay drove Basta out of Transylvania and, in 1605, was elected Prince by a diet. Bocskay was recognized as Prince by the Habsburg in the Treaty of Vienna of 1606, but died in the same year.

Rise to power[edit]

Gabriel, a member of the former princely family and an able soldier, was a natural candidate for the succession, but Bocskay had named Bálint Homonnai Drugeth as his successor, a young man of noble birth and military ability. The Transylvanian estates, claiming the right to freely chose the Prince, rejected 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 Sigismund Rákóczi, who had served the late Prince as governor, as a third option, as he was a man of administrative ability but 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 willing to engage in military action. The Ottomans accepted the new Prince, while the Habsburgs by negotiation tried to persuade him to voluntary resign. 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.

This volatile situation was exploited by Gabriel Báthory. The Hajduks had considered electing Drugeth as King, but the former candidate refused to meet with them. Gabriel however, under the pretence of negotiating the defense of the country, on 5 February 1608 signed a pact with the Haiducs: their commanders pledged to fight with him to whatever end, while he promised to promote Calvinism, make their general Andre Nagy his minister and their preacher a counsellor, and to provide the Hajduks with lands in the region of Oradea, Ecsed and Kállo. The Transylvanian government did not dare to oppose the Hajduk force and on 7 March Rákóczi resigned in favour of Báthory.


The Romanian principalities[edit]

Having come to power, Gabriel immediately prepared war to extend his rule to the Romanian principalities, intending to use the spoils to easily pay off his Hajduk mercenaries. He conferred with the Kronstadt judge Michael Weiss, an expert on Romanian affairs, about ousting Radu Şerban from Wallachia. Then, he sent messengers to Elzbieta Csomortany de Losoncz, widow of Ieremia Movilă of Moldavia and regent for her young son Constantine, with the proposal to form an alliance against Wallachia. The princely council of Transylvania however opposed the Prince's policy, and in a meeting in May 1608 authorized only the signing of alliances with the Romanian principalities. The Voivodes of Wallachia and Moldavia pledged allegiance to Gabriel in May and July, respectively.


Without a war, Gabriel was hard pressed to fulfill his obligations to the Hajduks and now himself had to fear a rebellion. However, he found support in Archduke Matthias, who at that time had set out to wrest the government from his brother Emperor Rudolf. In regard to Transylvania, Matthias confirmed the privileges the Hajduks had obtained by Stephen Bocskay and absorbed 6,000 of them into his service, leaving only 3,000 to Gabriel. After Matthias had pressured Rudolf into resigning Hungary, Austria proper and Moravia to him, he entered into negotiations with Gabriel about the Hajduks as well as the status of Transylvania. On 20 August 1608 the two reached and agreement:

  • The Hajduks should be free subjects in the service of Hungary and Transylvania, similar to the Székely
  • The Habsburgs accepted Gabriel as Prince of Transylvania.
  • Gabriel promised not to cede Transylvania from the Kingdom of Hungary

At the same time, Gabriel also obtained the Ottomans' recognition of his rule through the mediation of Gabriel Bethlen, one of the leaders of the pro-Turkish party.

Nature of Gabriel's rule[edit]

As Prince, Gabriel Báthory surrounded himself with a heterogeneous circle of advisers, which partly came from the old noble families of Transylvania, partly from those who had risen under the rule of his family and those who had joined the fight of Stephen Bocskay. During the Long War, some had been partisans of the Ottomans, others had fought for the Habsburgs and still others had sided with Michael of Wallachia. Most of his advisors shared the Prince's Reformed religion, but some nobles were Catholics. The Prince did not nothing to mediate these differences, but actually heightened them.

Gabriel alienated many followers by his capriciously granting of gifts that were of unclear relation to merits of the receivers, thereby creating more enmity than loyalty. At the same time, his reputation as a drunkard and a womanizer and rumours about his lovers brought the wives of his advisors and favourites into disrepute.

He also alienated the burghers. Instead of supporting their interests in commerce and trade and later reap the revenue through taxes, he burdened the cities with his costly banquets.

Assassination attempt[edit]

In 1609 Gabriel again began with preparations for a campaign against Wallachia, disregarding the opposition in the diet. The war was postponed by a conspiracy led by Chancellor István Kendi and the captain general of the Székely, Boldizsár Kornis. Though contemporary rumours had it that the conflict between Gabriel and Kornis arose when the Prince lusted for his captain's wife, the reasons for the following events were in fact political.

In March 1610, when Gabriel travelled through the country, the conspirators decided to kill the Prince, as he was staying in Kendi's house. However, the assassin, who had already entered Gabriel's chamber, repented at the last moment and revealed the entire plot. Gabriel immediately arrested Kornis, while Kendi managed to flee. As the circle of conspirators was only small, Gabriel did not contemplate whether his rule could have caused resentment and was content with deterring any opponents by the public execution of Kornis. Gabriel did not try to purge of the sympathizers of Kornis, many of whom actually rose in the ranks.

Gabriel appointed János Imreffy, an old favourite of his, as the new chancellor and gave the command over the Székely to Gabriel Bethlen.

Invasion of Wallachia[edit]

After the failed plot, Gabriel resumed his military preparations. At that time he provoked the outrage of the Transylvanian Saxons and indeed the entire country by relocating his court to Hermannstadt. Gabriel argued that Alba Iulia was in ruins and thus unsuitable as a residence, but his move violated the privileges of the Saxons, which were freed from having to lodge the Prince.

Despite the outrage about Hermannstadt and despite widespread opposition against the war, Gabriel began invaded Wallachia on 26 December 1610. Voivod Radu Şerban had been warned and fled the country and Gabriel unopposed marched on Tirgoviste, where he was proclaimed Voivod of Wallachia. He then sent a delegation to Constantinople - which he had not consulted before - and justified his invasion as an attempt to save Wallachia for the Ottoman Empire. He also outlined a grand plan that we would to conquer Poland, the patrimony of his royal great-uncle, and would rule it as the loyal vassal of the Sultan.

Gabriel's hope that such prospects would render the Ottomans accepting to his move were disappointed, when the Ottoman government ordered him to return to Transylvania and appointed Radu Mihnea as Voivod of Wallachia. Gabriel had no choice but to retreat after two months. To keep up appearance, he left Gabriel Bethlen with a small troop behind, ordering him to welcome the new Voivod to Tirgoviste and sign a formal agreement with him that would legitimize the transfer of power. After having done so, Bethlen returned to Transylvania in April.

Internal warfare[edit]

The Ottomans not only reinforced their supremacy over Moldavia - where the Movileşti fled into exile - and Wallachia but also set their sights on Transylvania again.

During Gabriel's campaign, two Pashas stationed in Hungary had invaded Transylvania and overrun the settlements of the Hajduks, causing them to rush back from Wallachia. They flooded Transylvania and the neighbouring districts of Royal Hungary, thus destroying the labour of their settlement. Gabriel, unable to pay them, send them to Kronstadt, as he planned to occupy this rich Saxon city. After an attempt by Andrew Nagy to take the city failed - possibly because he was bribed into retreating, Gabriel in June himself marched to Kronstadt. He requested admission, but the city refused and threatened to drive him away by force.

The city conspired with Radu X Şerban, who had reestablished himself in Wallachia and now marched into Transylvania to support Kronstadt. In early July, Gabriel met Radu in battle and lost many men, but he himself could escape to Hermannstadt. There he was besieged by Sigismund Forgách, captain of Kaschau and other magnates from Upper Hungary. The besieged Prince called for Turkish help and in September the Pashas again invaded Transylvania, forcing Forgach and Şerban to retreat, clearly establishing their claim to Transylvania.

Gabriel sent András Ghiczy as a messenger to Constantinople to thank the Sultan for the support, but on the way Ghiczy joined the Prince's opposition at Kronstadt and travelled on as a messenger of the Three Nations to ask the Sultan to depose the despotic Prince. Though decisions were hard to obtain in Constantinople after the recent death of the Vizier Murad Pasha, the Ottomans promised military aid to the opposition and decided to appoint Ghiczy instead of Gabriel, for which he pledged to restore the castles of Lippa and Jenő to the Turks and to play outstanding taxes, leaving his brother as a surety. He returned in June 1612, emboldening the opposition.

At the same time, Gabriel assembled the diet and proposed to switch allegiance from the Ottomans to Royal Hungary. The estates rejected this seesaw policy, especially since the new Vizier Nassuh Pasha was a sworn enemy of peace with Hungary. However, on 15 October Gabriel defeated the opposition in open battle and strengthened by this victory, again assembled the diet in November and now succeeded with his proposals: the diets authorized negotiations with both Habsburgs and Ottomans by choosing delegates and banished the leaders of the opposition.

Negotiations in Vienna and Preßburg were concluded in April 1613 by an agreement according to which Gabriel rejected any notion of an Ottoman supremacy over Transylvania, while negotiations in Constantinople did not even begin, thanks to Gabriel Bethlen.

Bethlen's flight and accession[edit]

Gabriel Bethlen was among the opponents banished by the November diet. Ever since he had obtained the Sultan's confirmation of Báthory's rule, he had risen in the Prince's favour. However, his popularity also caused suspicion and when Báthory broke with the Turks, the pro-Turkish Bethlen had become expendable. The Prince falsely accused him of conspiring with the Saxons and reportedly tried to kill him. In September 1612, Bethlen with fifty followers left Transylvania, not only to protect himself but also to forestall the accession of Ghiczy, whom he thought unqualified. After conferring with the Turkish commanders in Hungary and Belgrade, Bethlen met the Sultan and the new Vizier in Adrianople and in April obtained the designation as Prince of Transylvania.

In August, Bethlen and an army commanded by Skender Pasha started out from Constantinople. Joined by Radu Mihnea of Wallachia, Crimean Tatars, and another army from Hungary, they reached Transylvania in October. Skender Pasha assembled the diet and gave the estates five days to elect Bethlen as the new Prince. No one dared to refuse his commands and on 23 October 1613 Gabriel Bethlen was elected. The diet also sent a carefully worded letter to Gabriel Báthory, in which they listed their grievances, including his fleeing before the Turks and his intention to pit Transylvania against the Ottoman's superior military force.

It is unclear whether Gabriel received this letter before he was assassinated on 27 October at Oradea by two Hajduks, who reportedly had been bribed by Ghiczy.

After this, the Ottoman armies retreated, not without pillaging the country and taking captives.

Personal life[edit]

Some time before 1608, he married Anna Horváth of Palocsa, who bore him no children.

External links[edit]

Gabriel Báthory
Died: 1613 27 October
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Sigismund Rákóczi
Prince of Transylvania
Succeeded by
Gabriel Bethlen
Preceded by
Radu Şerban
Voivode of Wallachia
Succeeded by
Radu Mihnea
Notes and references
1. Regnal Chronologies