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The Magnate conspiracy, also known as the Zrinski-Frankopan Conspiracy (Croatian: Zrinsko-frankopanska urota) in Croatia, and Wesselényi conspiracy (Hungarian: Wesselényi-összeesküvés) in Hungary, was a 17th-century attempt to throw off Habsburg and other foreign influences over Hungary and Croatia. The attempted coup was caused by the unpopular Peace of Vasvár, struck in 1664 between Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I and the Ottoman Empire. The poorly organized attempt at revolt gave the Habsburgs reason to clamp down on their opponents. It was named after Hungarian Count Ferenc Wesselényi, and by Croatian counts Nikola Zrinski, Petar Zrinski and Fran Krsto Frankopan.
The expansion of the Ottoman Empire into Europe began in the middle of the 14th century leading to confrontation with both Serbia and the Byzantine Empire and culminating in the defeat of both nations in, respectively, the Battle of Kosovo (1389) and the Fall of Constantinople (1453). This expansionist policy eventually brought them into conflict with the Habsburgs a number of times during the 16th and 17th centuries. After the 1526 Battle of Mohács, the middle part of the Kingdom of Hungary was conquered; by the end of the 16th century, it was split into what has become known as the Tripartite — the Habsburg-ruled Royal Hungary to the north, the Ottoman-ruled pashaluk to the south, and Transylvania to the east. A difficult balancing act played itself out as supporters of the Habsburgs battled supporters of the Ottomans in a series of civil wars and wars of independence.
By September 1656, the stalemate between the two great powers of Eastern Europe began to shift as the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed IV with the aid of his Grand Vizier Köprülü Mehmed Pasha set about reforming the Ottoman military and preparing it for larger conflict. These changes made it possible for the Sultan to invade and conquer the Transylvanian-held areas of Hungary in May 1660. The ensuing battles killed the Transylvanian ruler George II Rákóczi. Following a fairly easy victory there, the Ottomans directed their large army towards portions of Royal Hungary.
The invasion of the Transylvanian state and Habsburg territory upset the balance in the region. The Grandmaster of the Teutonic Knights, who have been expelled from Transylvania in 1225 and since then had been put under the sovereignty of the Pope in Rome and not anymore under the sovereignty of the Holy Crown of Hungary as before 1225, attempted since 1660 to get involved in the supreme command of the Military Frontier, but the organization of the Military Frontier was not as obvious as it seemed and was a protected secret.
These moves drew in Habsburg forces under Leopold I. Although initially reluctant to commit forces and cause an outright war between the Habsburgs and the Ottomans, by 1661 he had sent some 15,000 of his soldiers under his field marshal Raimondo Montecuccoli. Despite this intervention, the Ottoman invasion of Hungary had not slowed. In response, by 1662 Montecuccoli had been given another 15,000 soldiers and had taken up positions in Hungary. Adding to this force was an army of native Croats and Hungarians led by the Croatian noble Nikola Zrinski. Montecuccoli also had additional German support thanks to the diplomatic efforts of the Hungarian magnate Ferenc Wesselényi and this became very important, especially because it seemed that Hungary without Habsburg, perhaps with the help of France, had its own diplomacy in Rome. In 1662, the Order of the Golden Fleece showed as an ally of the Teutonic Knights and Wesselenyi as naive, because he became a member of the Golden Fleece order, although neither order was under the sovereignty of the Holy Crown of Hungary, and this started the Magnate conspiracy, because in Hungary and in Croatia were also knighthood-orders and also some foreign orders, e.g. the Order of the Golden Fleece, forbid non-royal members to be member in other knighthood orders, but this seemed very difficult especially during a war in Hungary or in Croatia.
By late 1663 and early 1664, this coalition had not only taken back Ottoman-conquered land, but had also cut off Ottoman supply lines and captured several Ottoman-held fortresses within Hungary. In the meantime, a large Ottoman army, led by the Grand Vizier Köprülü Fazıl Ahmed Pasha and numbering up to 100.000 men, was moving from Constantinople to the northwest. In June 1664 they attacked Novi Zrin Castle in Međimurje County (northern Croatia), and conquered it after one-month-long siege. However, on August 1, 1664, the combined Christian armies of Germany, France, Hungary and the Habsburgs won a decisive victory against the Ottomans in the Battle of Saint Gotthard.
Following this clash, many Hungarians assumed that the combined forces would continue their offensive to fully remove the Ottomans from Hungarian lands. However, Leopold was more concerned with events unfolding in Habsburg Spain, and the brewing conflict that would come to be known as the War of the Spanish Succession. Leopold saw no need to continue combat on his Eastern front when he could return the region to balance and concentrate on potential conflict with France over the rights to the Spanish throne. Moreover, the Ottomans would have been able to commit more troops within the year, and a prolonged struggle with the Ottomans was a risk for Leopold. In order to end the Ottoman issue quickly, he signed what has come to be known as the Peace of Vasvár.
Despite the common victory, the treaty was largely a gain for the Ottomans. Its text, which inflamed Hungary's nobles, stated that the Habsburgs would recognize the Ottoman-controlled Michael I Apafi as ruler of Transylvania, and that Leopold would pay 200,000 German florins to the Ottomans each year for the promise of a 20-year truce. While Vasvár did allow Leopold to concentrate on the issues in Spain, it kept the Hungarians split between two empires. Moreover, it left many Hungarian magnates feeling as if the Habsburgs had pushed them aside at their one opportunity for independence and security from Ottoman advances. In response, a number of nobles decided that they would physically remove foreign influence from Hungary.
One of the primary leaders of the conspiracy was Nikola Zrinski, the Croatian ban who had led the native forces alongside the Habsburg commander Montecuccoli. By then, Zrinski had begun to plan a Hungary free of outside influence and with a population protected by the state rather than used by it. He hoped to create a united army with Croatian and Transylvanian support to free Hungary. However, he died within months during a struggle with a wild boar on a hunting trip; this left the revolt in the hands of Nikola Zrinski's younger brother Petar as well as Ferenc Wesselényi.
The conspirators hoped to gain foreign aid in their attempts to not only free Hungary but also to overthrow the Habsburgs. The conspirators entered into secret negotiations with a number of nations — including France, Sweden, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Republic of Venice — in an attempt to gain support. Wesselényi and his fellow magnates even made overtures to the Ottomans offering all of Hungary in return for the semblance of self-rule after the Habsburgs had been removed; nevertheless, no state wanted to intervene. The Sultan, like Leopold, had no interest in renewed conflict — in fact, his court informed Leopold of the attempts being made by the conspirators in 1666.
While the warnings from the Sultan's court cemented the matter, Leopold already suspected the conspiracy — the Austrians had informants inside the group of nobles, and had heard from several sources of their wide-ranging and almost desperate attempts to gain foreign and domestic aid. However, no action was taken because the conspirators had made little traction and were bound by inaction. Leopold seems to have considered their actions as only half-hearted schemes that were never truly serious. The conspirators invented a number of plots that they never followed through with, including the November 1667 plot to kidnap Emperor Leopold that failed to materialize, and the most influential military person in Austria, who was familiary connected with Fran Krsto Frankopan, died shortly after in 1668. And if it was no accident, but unknown perpetrators, was perhaps made an intrigue against scapegoats Zrinski and Frangipani (Frankopan). For it was not in the interest of some, that German soldiers abroad were led to religious wars after the thirty years war 1618-1648. Katarina Zrinska traveled to Paris and talked with Louis XIV.
After yet another failed attempt for foreign aid from the pasha of Buda, Zrinski and several other conspirators turned themselves in. However, Leopold was content to grant them freedom to gain support from the Hungarian people. No action was taken until 1670 when the remaining conspirators began circulating pamphlets inciting violence against the Emperor and calling for invasion by the Ottoman Empire. They also called for an uprising of the Protestant minority within Royal Hungary. When the conspiracy's ideals began to gain some support within Hungary, the official reaction was swift. In March 1670 the leaders of the group, including Wesselényi, Petar Zrinski and Francesco Cristoforo Frangipani Fran Krsto Frankopan were arrested and executed; some 2,000 nobles were arrested as part of a mass crackdown (many of the lesser nobles had had no part in the events, but Leopold aimed to prevent similar revolts in the future).
Persecution was also inflicted on Hungarian and Croatian commoners, as Habsburg soldiers moved in and secured the region. Protestant churches were burned to the ground in a show of force against any uprisings. Leopold ordered all Hungarian organic laws suspended, in retaliation for the conspiracy: the gesture caused an end to the self-government which Royal Hungary had nominally been granted, a situation which remained unchanged for the following 10 years. In Croatia, where Petar Zrinski had been a ban (viceroy) during the conspiracy, there would not be any new bans of Croatian origin for next 60 years.
Petar Zrinski and Francesco Cristoforo Frangipani (Fran Krsto Frankopan) were ordered to the Emperor's Court. The note said that, as they had ceased their rebellion and had repented soon enough, they would be given mercy from the Emperor if they would plead for it. They were arrested the moment they arrived in Vienna and put on trial. They were held in Wiener Neustadt and beheaded on April 30, 1671. Nádasdy was executed on the same day, and Tattenbach was executed later on December 1, 1671.
In those ages, nobility enjoyed a few privileges that commoners did not. One of them was the right to be tried by a court assembled of peers. The conspirators were first tried by the Emperor's court assembly. After the verdict, they requested their rights as nobles. Another court was assembled of nobility from parts of the empire which were far away from Croatia or Hungary, and accepted the previous (death) verdict. Petar Zrinski's verdict read: "he committed the greatest sins than the others in aspiring to obtain the same station as his majesty, that is, to be an independent Croatian ruler and therefore he indeed deserves to be crowned not with a crown, but with a bloody sword".
During the trial and after the execution, the estates of the royal families were pillaged, and their families scattered. The destruction of these powerful feudal families ensured that no similar event took place until the bourgeois era. Petar's wife (Katarina Zrinska) and two of their daughters died in convents, and his son, Ivan, died mad after a terrible imprisonment and torture as did Katarina, the very symbol of Croatia's destiny. She published the last letter of her husband to her. It was a motivation to end the war with the Ottomans. It needed interesting short time until the Treaty of Karlowitz 1699.
Legacy in Hungary
In order to combat the perceived threat from Hungary's Protestants against the Roman Catholics in his lands, Leopold ordered some 60,000 forced conversions in the first two years of his reprisals for the conspiracy. In addition, 800 Protestant churches were closed down. By 1675, 41 Protestant pastors would be publicly executed after having been found guilty of inciting riots and revolts.
The bones of Zrinski and Frangipani (Frankopan) were to remain in Austria for 248 years, and it was only after the fall of the monarchy that their remains were moved to the crypt of the Zagreb Cathedral. Tom Keglević armed his subjects of his household and became the terror of Styria and German merchants who came to this region. Therefore, the Emperor invited him to a royal hearing in Laxenburg near Vienna. Tom Keglević came there with his gang of 200 heavily armed men, so the emperor himself became scared and did not rebuke him, but dismissed him with the words "become better". They caught the ducks from the lake in the park and ate them. The grand-master of the Teutonic knights Count Palatine Francis Louis of Neuburg led the reorganization of the order of the Teutonic knights and he fought against the Kingdom of Prussia. The order of the golden fleece was divided into a Spanish and an Austrian branch.
The crackdown caused a number of former soldiers and other Hungarian nationals to rise up against the state in a sort of guerilla warfare. These Kuruc ("Crusaders") began launching raids on the Habsburg army stationed within Hungary. For years after the crackdown, Kuruc rebels would gather en masse to combat the Habsburgs; their forces' numbers swelled to 15,000 by the summer of 1672.
These Kuruc forces were far more successful than the conspiracy, and remained active against the Habsburgs up until 1711; they were also more successful in convincing foreign governments of their ability to succeed. Foreign aid came first from Transylvania (which was under Ottoman suzerainty) and later by the Ottoman Empire. This foreign recognition would eventually lead to a large-scale invasion of Habsburg domains by the Ottoman Empire and the Battle of Vienna in 1683.
Legacy in Croatia
The Ottoman conquests reduced Croatia's territory to only 16,800 km2 by 1592. The Pope referred to the country as the "Remnants of the remnants of the Croatian kingdom" (Latin: Reliquiae reliquiarum regni Croatiae) and this description became a battle cry of the affected nobles. This loss was a death warrant for most Croatian noble families which only in 1526 voted that Habsburgs become kings of Croatia. Without any territory to control they have become only pages in history. Only the Zrinski and Frangipani Frankopan families stayed powerful because their possessions were in the unconquered, western part of Croatia. In the time of the conspiracy, they were controlling around 35% of civilian Croatia (1/3 of Croatian territory was under the emperor's direct control as the Military Frontier). After the conspiracy failed, these lands were confiscated by the emperor, who could grant them upon his discretion. Nothing better shows the situation in Croatia after the conspiracy than the fact that between 1527 - 1670 there were 13 bans (viceroys) of Croatia of Croatian origin. But between 1670 and the revolution of 1848, there would be only 2 bans of Croatian nationality. The period from 1670 to the Croatian cultural revival in the 19th century was Croatia's political dark age. Since the Zrinski-Frankopan conspiracy up to the French Revolutions Wars in 1797, no soldiers were recruited from Istria, where in the 17th century a total of 3,000 soldiers had been recruited.
Without influence in the Habsburg Court, Croats were not in a position to demand reconquest of lost territories in today's Bosnia and Herzegovina (example: Banja Luka, Bihać etc.) during the Habsburg-Ottoman wars in the 17th and 18th century, so this territory has remained outside Croatian control.
The leaders of the conspiracy were ban Nikola Zrinski (viceroy of Croatia) and Hungarian palatine Ferenc Wesselényi (viceroy of Hungary). The conspirators were soon joined by dissatisfied members of the noble families from Croatia and Hungary, like Fran Krsto Frankopan (Italian: Francesco Cristoforo Frangipani), Nikola's brother Petar, the prince of Transylvania Francis I Rákóczi, high justice of the Court of Hungary Ferenc Nádasdy, Esztergom archbishop György Lippay and Erazmo Tatenbach, a feudal lord from Steiermark. The conspiracy and rebellion was entirely led by nobility. Francis I Rákóczi was the only leading conspirator of the conspiracy whose life was spared, due to his mother Sophia Báthory's intervention and a ransom payment.
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