Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Transylvania Histories I

Gabriel Bethlen, Prince of Transylvania (1580–1629). This Hungarian Protestant was the most successful ruler of independent Transylvania during its 150-year history. (Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis)

Transylvania attained the height of its wealth and independence under Gabriel Bethlen and the two Rákóczi princes, George I (1630–1648) and George II (1648– 1657).They strengthened princely power by increasing the amount of land under their own control but also favored urban crafts, economic development, and education. The Transylvanian coinage of the seventeenth century, silver talers and gold ducats minted for the payment of Ottoman tribute and foreign mercenaries, featured striking portraits of the ruling princes. The Protestant character of the principality became more pronounced, the Roman Catholic Hungarian bishop being banished from Transylvania and efforts made through the translation of religious literature into Romanian to convert the Romanians to the Reformed religion. The Orthodox metropolitans resisted these efforts with the help of churchmen on the other side of the mountains. Transylvania participated intermittently on the Protestant side in the Thirty Years’ War, gaining territory in northern Hungary from the Habsburgs and recognition, at the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, of Transylvanian independence.

Moldavia under Vasile Lupu and Wallachia under Matei Basarab (1632–1654) experienced their most peaceful and prosperous period of the century. The entry of Greek merchants into the principalities and their acquisition of land and ecclesiastical and political office were facilitated by the Porte, prompting the resistance of native boiars. Basarab came to power as the result of an anti-Greek movement of the boiars. Like Michael the Brave before him, Matei increased the dependence and fiscal obligations of the peasantry. Lupu, an ambitious politician of Albanian origin and Greek education, also came to power as the result of an anti-Greek action of the boiars. He fought several short wars against his Wallachian counterpart but in other respects followed similar internal policies.

The Romanian language, still written in the Cyrillic alphabet, became the standard in the princely chanceries first, then later in the Orthodox liturgy and religious publications. The princes and several boiars were patrons of ecclesiastic and civic architecture, publishing, and schools. The seventeenth century saw the evolution of Romanian historiography from simple chronicle literature to more sophisticated historical accounts. The outstanding innovators were Moldavians who profited from that land’s traditional ties to Poland to study in Polish schools and familiarize themselves with the Polish constitution and humanistic scholarship.

The wars of the 1650s brought an end to this period of stability and progress. Vasile Lupu joined a Polish alliance against the Turks but was punished by Tatar and Cossack raids, forced to abdicate by Transylvanian and Wallachian forces and take refuge in Constantinople. The second Rákóczi invaded Poland in a rash attempt to mount the Polish throne; not only was he repulsed but he was then punished by an invasion of Transylvania by the Porte’s Tatar vassals and the replacement of Rákóczi by a more subservient leader. Transylvania was also hemmed in by the Turkish annexation of Oradea (Hungarian: Nagyvárad) and the creation of a new pashalic in 1660. Only the more prudent Matei Basarab died while still on the throne, being succeeded in Wallachia by his illegitimate son.

The succeeding decades were a period of aggressive Ottoman military activity on the Polish frontier north of Moldavia and in Hungary to the west. Troops of Transylvania, Wallachia, and Moldavia joined as Ottoman vassals in the siege of Vienna in 1683.The repulse of the siege led to the formation of a new Holy League and an assault on several fronts that achieved notable successes. The liberation of Buda in 1686 led to the establishment of Habsburg rule in central Hungary and an allied advance into Transylvania, where the diet recognized Habsburg rule already in 1687. After changing military fortunes in southern Hungary for several years, by the Peace of Karlowitz in 1699 the Turks were forced to recognize Habsburg control of Hungary and Transylvania.

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