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8: Hey, Thököly and Rákóczi

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By this time the Turks had been the masters in Buda for a century and a half. What was the situation elsewhere in the 1680s? In England, a bloodless revolution took place against James II of the Catholic faction, and William of Orange was summoned from Holland to succeed him. In France, it was the golden age of the reign of Louis XIV, the Sun King. On the Iberian Peninsula, Portugal had recently regained its independence; the disarray around the Spanish throne quickly swept across all Europe in the bloody War of the Spanish Succession. Italy and Scandinavia were forced into the roles of supernumeraries. The Dutch were the newest beneficiaries of world commerce. On German soil, there was no trace of centralized power; Prussia admitted masses of French Huguenots. In Russia, the czarevitch, later Peter (the Great) I, the "western" reformer czar, marched toward power with youthful zeal; Cossack "pioneers" reached the River Amur in Eastern Siberia, where they clashed with the Chinese advancing to the west.

At the beginning of the 1680s, Hungary was no longer divided into three parts but into four. The fourth part was Imre Thököly's principality. Two forces were instrumental in the establishment of the latter: one was a peculiar power constellation, the complex and manifold collision between Viennese, Turkish, and Transylvanian aims and actions in the Carpathian Basin, and the other a capable individual who was successful both as a person and a soldier, though, in the end, his fate dragged him more than once as a victim to the wrong side.

In 1683, things "worked out" exceptionally well for the Turks: they had already reached Vienna in mid-July. The two Hungarian princes, Mihály Apafi of Transylvania and Thököly of Upper Hungary (his soldiers called themselves kuruc, after Dózsa's rebels who fought under the Sign of the Cross in 1514, although the word might be of Turkish origin), were both present -they had to be- in the camp of the besiegers, the Turks. However, by this time, the situation of the Ottoman Empire was shaky. Europe joined forces, and the united Polish, Bavarian, Saxon, and Austrian armies under the leadership of John Sobieski, the Polish king, raised the siege of Vienna and crushed the sultan's army.

During succeeding years, which were filled with chaotic wars in the Carpathian Basin, the Christian coalition continually gained the upper hand. The Turks, who three years before were besieging Vienna, were in 1686 unable to hold Buda against the regular army of liberation, reinforced by volunteers. The commander of the fortress, Abdurrahman Pasha, fell in a dogged battle. Of the 65 thousand soldiers of the victorious Prince Charles of Lorraine, every fourth one was Hungarian.

When in 1986, on the three hundredth anniversary of the successful siege of Buda Castle, the participants in an international conference of historians in Budapest debated the military events of 1686 and their background, the general opinion was that though the Christian forces had waged the military operations that forced the Ottoman Empire back to the Balkans not out of devotion to the Hungarians but in the obvious interest of all Europe, the recapture of Buda during their campaign was decisive and far-reaching in its effect: after all, from this time on, the Turks were increasingly on the defensive. This military victory made it possible for Hungary to be a part of Europe again after a century and a half, and the clogged arteries of development again opened for the nation.

Yes, but how did it come about? Hungarian military forces were present in the ranks of the liberators, but another, greater share served as Turkish vassals. Their existence threatened, the two small national principalities became the anemic satellites of the Ottoman crescent. Thököly's principality quickly crumbled, and though Transylvania's independence survived formally, it did not amount to much either under the waning Turkish crescent or between the claws of the two-headed eagle, the ambitious Habsburg predatory bird.

The complete liberation of the country would still require many more years, but the fate of the Turkish occupation of Hungary was already sealed. However, a decision about Hungary was also made -in Vienna. The Hungary cleared of Turkish rear guards became part of the Austrian Empire by right of armed conquest. It was a two-faced development.... Vienna quickly prepared its plans. Within their compass, certain measures should have denoted progress: reducing the rights of the nobility, increasing those of the cities, and modernizing the executive administration and the control of trade. But they all bore the marks of royal absolutism.

From this point on, Hungarian efforts to achieve national independence became entangled with retrograde elements for about two centuries. Modernization measures that curtailed the nation's rights were often begun or would have been begun, and for this reason they were strenuously opposed. At this time, of course, the nation's body politic, conforming to prevailing conception of rights, included only the privileged classes: the nobility and the groups not formally of the nobility but possessing similar legal status.

Meanwhile, the government and the large landowners invited foreigners to settle in the regions depopulated by frequent military operations: Germans, Southern Slavs, and Northern Slavs. Even today, the rows of villages established by the state administration are easily identifiable through the symmetrical networks of streets that were laid out by military engineers. The spontaneous migration of people was also large. Slovakians, Ruthenians (Carpatho-Ukrainians), and Rumanian forest dwellers and shepherds moved down mainly from the impoverished valleys of the Carpathians into the interior of the basin. A large segment of the inhabitants in the growing cities were also foreigners: Germans, Serbians, Bohemians, Moravians, and others. In Pest, now liberated from the Turks, the Hungarian language was seldom heard during the first decades. Although Jewish communities were, to this point, mostly small and with their population and fate variable, they later gained strength and thrived. A good portion of the Sephardic Jews fled or perished with the Turks (after all, they had arrived with them), later waves of Ashkenazis followed each other from Moravia, Vienna, and then, in growing numbers from, the Ukraine, the border region of Ukraine-Poland-Lithuania, and Galicia through Carpathian passes to become the beneficiaries and leading promoters of modernization, chiefly of commercial and financial enterprises. Thus modernization activities serving the self- interest of Austria's absolute monarchy, but not always against Hungarian interests, set not only Vienna against the miserly nobility but also Hungarians against the nationalities in the Carpathian Basin and the strata entering the middle class, whom they looked upon as "foreigners".

It was at this time that the Baroque aspect of Hungary was established, which the cores of our cities and the majority of the baronial manor houses and the nobility's country seats display even today. Though the builders of Protestant churches could not shake off the influence of this style either, the chief inspirer and patron of the triumphant Baroque was the Counter-Reformation, whose vigorous development started after the division of the country into three parts and whose Austrian pontifical advocates found among the Hungarians such a zealous and educated promoter as Peter Pázmány, the Archbishop of Esztergom, a passionate and pungent preacher who reconverted to Catholicism in his student years.

Only today do we find out how many town houses and village churches turn out to be from the Romanesque or Gothic period under the plaster knocked off the main walls during renovation, though only the interiors of these churches could be converted into the Baroque style. And when we now uncover one Romanesque or Gothic feature after the other, we can measure the enormous magnitude of the reconstruction and remodeling that occurred after the Turkish period as well as in the nineteenth century.

But we have run a bit ahead in time. We must return to the kuruc movement, to the turn of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. After the recapture of Buda, Imre Thököly lost his principality and became a tragic figure: a pitiful tool, a Balkan pillager in the service of the Turks. At the end of his life, he lived in peaceful exile in Asia Minor. In Hungary, meanwhile, the youngest offspring of the Rákóczi family, Ferenc, became the prisoner of his own destiny.

Though he was to become the fifth prince of Transylvania in his family, the star of the young Rákóczi indicated, at first, something different. His father, Ferenc Rákóczi I, despite gaining the title of prince, could never exercise his supremacy; he died young. His widow bound her fate to Imre Thököly, and Ferenc accompanied his stepfather on military expeditions while a mere boy. He was also present when his mother, Ilona Zrinyi, withstood the siege of the castle at Munkács by the Austrian Imperial forces for three years (1685-1688). Finally surrendering the castle -it is enough to refer to the dates to understand why- the courageous woman wound up in an Austrian cloister, from where her husband ransomed her for a captured Imperial general.

The boy's Jesuit tutors wanted him to become a monk -his million hectares of land would serve the Order well- but he, though deeply religious, freed himself from Austrian-Jesuit guardianship as soon as he reached maturity. Marrying quickly, he returned to Upper Hungary in 1694 and promptly became the hope of the Hungarian national resistance; he, however, fled from every political commitment. In 1697, he was called upon to become the leader of a peasant uprising that experienced initial success in the Hegyalja region. He was so terrified by the appeal that he rushed straight to Vienna. Still, the terrible state of the country just liberated from the Turks and the brutal reprisals against the recurring popular upheavals so upset him that he gradually altered his attitude.

The ancestry of one branch of his family tree consisted of the princes of Transylvania, which was extolled as the citadel of Protestantism, though he himself was a child of the Counter-Reformation (his father became a Catholic); on his mother's side, his great grandfather was the hero of Szigetvár, his uncle the poet Miklós Zrinyi; his grandfather, Peter Zrinyi, was called to Vienna with false promises and ended up under an executioner's axe. In 1701, when the War of the Spanish Succession, which had just broken out, made the circumstances propitious, he sent out feelers toward Paris. By that time he was ready for a leadership role. The ever suspicious Vienna pounced on him triumphantly. He was carried off, a death penalty threatened him, and he was able to escape from prison only through a romantic ruse and at the sacrifice of his rescuer's life. He prepared to return to his native land from Poland with mercenary troops, but the leaders of a popular rebellion that had flared up again came for him. The country was soon aflame from east to west. The light cavalry of the kuruc captains, now flying Rákóczi's flag and proclaiming his call for recruits, raced as far as Vienna, striking blow after blow at the scattered Imperial forces (whose labanc appellation may have its roots in the word "lance").

Ferenc Rákóczi II was one of the most flawless and far-sighted figures in our history. But was he really the prisoner of his own destiny? He was its master instead. He was the pampered scion of the aristocracy; he was zealous in his religion; he was well-read and a keenly inquisitive "intellectual", or if this term is anachronistic, then he was its prototype. He was a superb organizer. But it was also characteristic of him that even at the peak of the independence movement, he devoted only one or two days a week to the affairs of state and to the operational leadership of the war. He spent the remaining days at prayer, at increasing his erudition, at the hunt, or -the hunt serving as a pretext- with his paramour; but let it be said in his justification that his wife and two little sons were Austrian hostages and he was unable to free them.

The prince, whom, on the basis of the early military successes of the kuruc movement, first the Transylvanian and then the Hungarian Estates chose to be ruler, described the Hungary of his times with astonishing maturity. His writings, rich with Christian meditations, provide a profound and astute analysis of class relations and the obstacles in the way of his struggle posed by social backwardness and the country's inadequate development. By combining the incomes of the state and his own estates, he created an effective war economy. Its monetary system could function on a small margin, but, of course, only so long as it had the backing of gold reserves produced by victorious battles.

Mention should be made of the declining income from Hungarian mines. The huge quantity of gold and silver pouring in from overseas transformed the market in precious metals. The richest lodes near the surface were exhausted in Upper Hungary; treasure had to be dug from ever deeper down. Breakthroughs in mining technology could not offset this fact, something that could be observed, for example, in Selmecbánya (Banská Stiavnica); it was here that the first mining academy in the world was founded in 1721.

The new "gold standard" of the economy in the Rákóczi period was Tokay wine. It became famous during the Turkish occupation, mainly through the increased production of the distinctive aszú. However, "the king of wines, the wine of kings"-according to tradition, it was Rákóczi's ally, Louis XIV, who gave this flattering name to Tokay wine -had only begun its triumphal march. The prince himself gave Tokay wine made from his own grapes mainly as gifts, providing his diplomats with a supply so that they would "oil" their negotiating partners. He laid the foundation for its future successful export; the czar's court and wealthy Russian boyars soon joined the traditional purchasers, Polish and Baltic barons; for himself, however, he obtained only temporary and moral profit.

Rákóczi was incapable of overcoming two difficulties. He established good connections with two opposite poles in Europe, Louis XIV and Peter the Great, but, as soon as the international situation took a turn, neither French nor Russian interest was linked to having a Hungarian princeling "annoy" Vienna. On the other hand, the rebellious poor, the barefooted infantry armed with scythes and axes, the Haiduks, and the serf soldiers fighting for their liberation gave the kuruc army its real strength. Rákóczi recognized this fact -and he tried to secure its acceptance. But he also needed the support of lords and nobles -he was, after all, their prince- though their interests dictated something else. And the time had not yet come when the common people could prevail.

A war of varying success went on from 1703 to 1711. In part, Hungarians opposed Hungarians: among the labanc, the number of Hungarians attracted or forced to the side of Vienna was not small. And for the kuruc, they spent the last couple of years in hounded flight. Treachery disrupted their ranks, plagues decimated them, and the serfs were absent from and needed at the nobles' estates.

Rákóczi was forced into exile. He did not accept the amnesty offered -and German ducal rank. He went to Poland; he also met with Czar Peter the Great; then he lived in France, sometimes like an exotic and romantic figure at the Sun King's court, sometimes like a monk in the seclusion of the cloister.

The peace negotiations which led to the kuruc laying down their arms were conducted by the commander-in-chief, Baron Sándor Károlyi, whom the emperor then rewarded with enormous estates (taken from Rákóczi's) and the rank of count. For this, a curse burdened his name -Hungarian public opinion considered him unequivocally a traitor for nearly three hundred years. However, according to more recent research findings and historical perceptions, Károlyi -with Rákóczi's knowledge to boot -reached an optimal agreement: in large part, the peace agreement provided what the rebels could not achieve on the battlefield. Of course, this was not more than the restoration of that legal state of Hungary and Transylvania that Vienna had revoked by martial law after 1686. The effort to gain national independence -again and not for the last time- proved illusory. However, in addition to the essentially complete amnesty -moral and material- the freedom of religion in Hungary was restored, and the Haiduks retained their privileges; and though it was mainly the nobility that enjoyed the benefits of the Szatmár peace treaty, which partially conserved their privileges, this peace was, paradoxically, again an act that, in the given historical moment, helped the nation to become a part of Europe; however it did not eliminate its situation as a border nation.

In 1717, Rákóczi went to Turkey, hoping to gain the sultan's support. But the international situation did not turn to his advantage at this time either. A little town on the shore of the Sea of Marmora, Rodosto, was designated as his abode (its Turkish name is Tekirdag). He lived there until his death, with a few remaining supporters, on a small pension from the sultan. One of his sons joined him for a couple of years; his wife looked him up once but only stayed for a short time- they had long been estranged. He studied theology and wrote treatises; he hunted and, for diversion, he passed his time with cabinetwork.

In 1906, the Hungarian nation solemnly brought his remains and those of his mother home to Kassa (Kosice); the remains of Imre Thököly were taken to Késmárk (Kezmarok) at the same time. Rákóczi's house in Rodosto -a memorial museum today- is, like his grave in Kassa, a place of pilgrimage for Hungarians, whose admiration for him continues undiminished to the present day.

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