{1-606.} The Prelude to Transylvanian Statehood

The events of 1536–37 confirmed that neither of the contending factions in Hungary could prevail. King John crowned his successes in Transylvania at the beginning of 1536 (in Szeben and Szatmár) by occupying Kassa at the end of the year. Ferdinand launched a two-pronged offensive in 1537, but the results were close to catastrophic for him. After initial successes in Upper Hungary, Leonhard Vels' troops were halted at Tokaj. Meanwhile, on the Drava, an army of close to 40,000, led by Hans Katzianer, fought the biggest battle in Hungary since Mohács (and until that of Mezőkeresztes, in 1596); the victor was a comparatively small Turkish force under the bey of Bosnia and Szendrő.

After eleven years of promises, threats, and warfare, the Habsburg King's resolve began to flag. King John, for his part, had been toying for years with the option of a pact acknowledging the division of the country. The emperor sent delegates to the negotiations, which began at the end of 1537. At most of the meetings, Szapolyai was represented by György Fráter, who gave his sovereign the loyalty and support that John had vainly expected from Gritti. The Pauline friar was not only bishop of Várad but also the king's treasurer, and he soon put the royal finances in order. By taking responsibility for the necessary fiscal measures, as well as for the controversial negotiations on the country's division, he lightened the king's burden of unpopularity.

The peace treaty was signed on 24 February 1538, at Nagyvárad, by representatives of John I, Ferdinand I, and Charles V. According to its terms, the two monarchs recognized each other's sovereignty over the part of Hungary that they already controlled. Moreover, John agreed that, after his death, his realm would revert to the House of Habsburg, with the proviso that if he fathered an heir, Ferdinand would grant the latter a principality in the Szepesség and its vicinity.

{1-607.} Both parties considered that the merit of this treaty lay in the promise that the country would eventually be reunified. A few doubted John's sincerity, and questioned the value of an agreement in which one side surrendered a part of the country he did not control, while the other offered in return a non-existent principality.

Within a few months, the sceptics were vindicated. Suspecting that the sultan would disapprove, the contracting parties kept the treaty secret and counted on Charles V to rescue Hungary in case of need. However, the emperor, who had just concluded a peace — which proved to be short-lived — with the French, was disposed to confront the Ottomans only in the Mediterranean. When, in the autumn of 1538, the sultan launched an offensive in Europe, everyone believed that his target was Hungary. John called upon his new allies for help, but all that they provided, after some delay, was a few thousand mercenaries. Although the king's fears turned out to be premature — Suleiman was satisfied to expel Petru Rareş and extend suzerainty over Wallachia and Moldavia — he was forced to draw the appropriate conclusions. Whatever his expectations at Nagyvárad, John now adopted a policy that clearly contravened the treaty.

György Fráter boldly pursued his difficult task. In early 1539, Ferdinand demanded that the Nagyvárad compromise be made public. The bishop-treasurer categorically rejected the request. Moreover, although the treaty required that those privy to it swear to abide by the terms, the friar prevented John's followers from complying, provoking the ire of many aristocrats and of those lesser noblemen who were well-informed. The ever-optimistic chancellor, Werbőczy, firmly believed that the peace treaty would reunify his country; he protested in the royal council and sought contacts with the Viennese court.

John's supporters and opponents debated the merits of György Fráter's manoeuvres, but the king reproved the dissenters and proceeded to take a step that would have far-reaching consequences. {1-608.} He had been seeking a wife, and his choice fell on Isabella, the younger daughter of his former brother-in-law, the elderly Polish king Sigismund I.

Had he taken the Nagyvárad Treaty seriously, John would have seen that it was in his interest to stay unmarried. However, the ensuing events gave him reason to regard the agreement as little more than a provisional cease-fire, which he could exploit to gain time and rebuild his forces. He probably also believed — again, with some justification — that his realm needed the preservation of his Turcophile rule. Being over fifty years of age, he calculated that he should produce a son and heir, in whose name the treaty could be challenged.

The royal wedding was celebrated on 2 March 1539, at Székesfehérvár. Isabella, who was barely twenty, soon became pregnant. More and more people came to realize that the king and the bishop-treasurer were preparing to break the treaty.

At this point, Transylvania once again came to play a role in Hungary's affairs. Under the influence of the war-scare of 1538, local aristocrats began secretly to organize. Their activity was directed by the voivode István Maylád, who had been appointed in 1534; his deputy, Imre Balassa, took over the post in 1536 but remained more aloof. Little is known about the aims of the 'conspirators', but one thing is clear: they wanted to detach Transylvania from Hungary, and thus shelter the province from the growing risk of a Turkish offensive. Maylád, who allegedly was of Romanian extraction, was the first Transylvanian-born, aristocratic landowner since many years to hold the post of voivode. The initiative drew a positive response from the province's nobility, including prominent aristocrats such as Ferenc Kendi, King John's treasurer. Part of the province's ruling elite reached for autonomous power to defend their vested interests.

In pursuit of their goal, Maylád and his associates sought contact with both the Ottomans and the Germans. There are indications {1-609.} that they even held talks with the feudal lords of the Austrian and Bohemian provinces. Their efforts produced dismal results. The Ottomans would not deign to speak to them. Ferdinand was prepared to offer his support only if they became his agents. As for Szapolyai, when he got wind of the initiatives, he moved quickly to take forceful reprisals.

The centuries-old tradition of Hungary's ruling elite to draw together was difficult to challenge. Nor was it easy to foresee how an autonomous Transylvania would fare in the political chaos that prevailed in the Danubian region. In such circumstances, it is scarcely surprising that this uncertain enterprise collapsed as soon as King John's forces appeared on the scene. Most of the plotters begged for mercy and were pardoned, leaving Maylád to retrench himself in Fogaras. At the end of May, Bálint Török and András Báthori laid siege to Fogaras, but they lacked the time to complete the task.

John I was already ailing when he entered Transylvania, and his health continued to deteriorate. He lived long enough to receive the happy news on 10 July, at his encampment in Szászváros: Isabella had given birth to a healthy son three days earlier at Buda. The delighted king rode out among his troops, but he suffered a malaise that evening, and, after nearly two weeks of agony, expired.

György Fráter was left with the formidable challenge of forestalling, in the name of an infant crown-prince, the disintegration of Szapolyai's realm. He set to the task with his accustomed energy, rushing to Buda to have a hastily-convened diet elect Szapolyai's son, John Sigismund, king. The bishop could scarcely prevent aristocrats who insisted on respect for the Treaty of Nagyvárad from shifting their allegiance; they included, in Hungary, Ferenc Frangepán and Péter Perényi, and, in Transylvania, István Maylád and Imre Balassa. However, the Fráter — assisted by his fellow royal guardians, Bálint Török and Péter Petrovics — managed to stave off disaster by repelling an attack on Buda led by Ferdinand's {1-610.} trustworthy old general, Leonhard Vels. Central Hungary thus remained under the control of the bishop; he dispatched the chancellor, Werbőczy, to Istanbul with the request that the sultan afford recognition and succour to the infant king.

Suleiman did not hesitate to reassure his anxious supporters, and in October 1540, the elderly chancellor reported: 'I can inform your lordships that after we had refuted our opponents' arguments, and thanks to the Good Lord's help, the almighty sultan responded according to our desires to all our proposals.'[3]3. Vilmos Fraknói, Werbőczi István (Budapest, 1899), p. 323.

However, matters soon took a very different turn at the Sublime Porte, for no sooner had Werbőczy departed than Ferdinand I's envoy, Hieronym Łaski, arrived in Istanbul. In order to win the sultan's acquiescence to Habsburg rule in Hungary, he gave a detailed account of the Nagyvárad negotiations. The Habsburgs' diplomatic efforts were probably based on the double premise that the Hungarian ruling elite resented the country's division and that those who opposed Vienna could persist only because they enjoyed the support of the Ottomans. Therefore, if the sultan could be manoeuvred into breaking with his onetime supporters, Szapolyai's followers would have no choice but to offer their allegiance to Ferdinand. It was in the interest of the Austrian and Bohemian provinces that their dangerous neighbour, Turcophile Hungary, should cease to exist. The flaw in this stratagem was the assumption that the 'Hungarian problem' could be solved without the involvement of Turkish power, and without inviting Turkish retaliation.

In fact, the sultan became incensed not so much by the story of past betrayals as by the evident unreliability of his Hungarian allies. He had no intention of putting at risk the results of fifteen years of expansion, notably his gains in Hungary. Łaski was put under arrest, and when he was released a year later, he was terminally ill; meanwhile, the Ottomans made preparations for a new Danubian offensive.

{1-611.} In May 1541, Ferdinand's troops once again laid siege to Buda. By the time the Ottomans' advance guard drew near, General Roggendorff and Péter Perényi were already considering the option of withdrawal, for György Fráter and his companions had been defending the capital with steadfast heroism. They drowned in blood a conspiracy organized by burghers in Buda and supported by Queen Isabella, who was totally befuddled by the political chaos and only wished to escape.

At the end of July, the attacking army was decimated in a series of ill-advised rearguard actions, and the siege collapsed. By the time Suleiman arrived, the enemy had departed from Buda. The size of the Turkish relief force made György Fráter, Bálint Török, and Péter Petrovics apprehensive, but they could scarcely afford to offend the sultan, for Buda could not have withstood another siege. On 29 August, the fifteenth anniversary of the defeat at Mohács, the Hungarian leaders left for the sultan's camp to pay their respects; in their absence, Turkish janissaries arrived to do some 'sightseeing' and occupied Buda. The sultan had Bálint Török put in chains and advised György Fráter that in exchange for an annual tribute of 10,000 forints, he would allow King John's son to rule over Transylvania and the region east of the Tisza.

This painful turn in Hungary's history was one step on the way to the creation of a Transylvanian state. Buda having become the seat of a sanjak, Fráter escorted Isabella and the young John Sigismund to Lippa. Memories of this sad affair would haunt the Hungarian protagonists, and György Fráter was frequently overcome by remorse, but there was no time for lamentation.

The year 1541 brought new and ominous signs of the Ottomans' expansionism, and also of the Habsburgs' weakness and inability to engage in effective military action in Hungary. Thus the political vice that had gripped Hungary since 1529–32 stayed. The loss of Buda was distressing, although the Ottomans proposed that the earlier 'alliance' be renewed — on only slightly stricter terms — {1-612.} with respect to what remained of Szapolyai's realm. The more realistic Hungarians could draw some comfort from the fact that the autonomous remnant of their country was no longer caught between the Turkish and Habsburg spheres of interest.

On the way to Lippa, György Fráter had to endure the reproaches of a despairing Isabella and of Hungarian aristocrats, but he was already drawing up plans for the most urgent measures. His first priority was to secure the regions assigned to him by the Ottomans. He exercised authority over the region east of the Tisza, particularly over its central part, Bihar county, and over Szapolyai's Lippa-Solymos domain in the southern district. In Transylvania, the Ottomans themselves took measures to debilitate the opposition. Moldavian and Turkish forces drove István Maylád back to Fogaras castle, then, on 20 July — before the fall of Buda — they ensnared him into a trap. The restless aristocrat joined Bálint Török in lifelong captivity. Transylvania's 'three nations' had no choice but to accommodate themselves to the new circumstances. On 18 October 1541, Fráter convened a diet in Debrecen, the first conference to draw together the feudal leaders of the future Transylvanian Principality — representing the counties, the Székelys, and the Saxons — and the nobles of the region east of the Tisza. Predictably, the diet proclaimed its loyalty to the House of Szapolyai.

The harmony proved to be short-lived, for the participants were separated by geography, traditions, and the earlier administrative divisions, and they were not keen to meet again. Still, the diet provided a legal basis for Fráter's government. A Transylvanian national assembly, held on 20 January 1542 at Marosvásárhely, acknowledged him as the province's governor (helytartó). A second assembly, convened in late March at Torda, invited Queen Isabella and her son to establish residence in the province; it further decided to assign to the queen and the governor twenty-two councillors, representing the three nations.

{1-613.} György Fráter realized that, in the circumstances, Transylvania was best suited to serve as the political centre of the reduced realm. Giovanni Statileo, bishop of Transylvania and one of King John's leading diplomats, had died recently. That summer, Fráter and Isabella moved into the episcopal palace at Gyulafehérvár, and the governor took over the vast episcopal estates (including Gyulafehérvár, Diód, Almás, and Gyalu). They did not appoint a new Transylvanian bishop.

These state-building efforts did not proceed undisturbed. The loss of Buda caused great fright among the Austrian and Bohemian feudal estates, and this helped Ferdinand I to muster forces for a counter-attack. Since the German empire also offered assistance, expectations were rife that the offensive, planned for summer 1542, would expel the Ottomans. The scale of the preparations induced Fráter to caution. Not wanting to be on the wrong side in case the Habsburgs prevailed, he sought once again to parley with Ferdinand. On 29 December 1541, negotiators at Gyalu castle reached a tentative agreement that evoked the Nagyvárad Treaty: Hungary would be united under the Habsburgs' rule, and, in compensation, the Szapolyai family would receive Szepes castle and its dependencies.

The bishop-treasurer's caution proved to be well-founded. Although Ferdinand managed to throw into battle more than 50,000 men, the campaign of 1542 ended in disaster. After a few days of fighting around Pest, the Christian army effected a withdrawal, then virtually disintegrated.

The troubles did not end there. In July 1542, before Ferdinand's ill-fated campaign, Francis I, King of France, had once again declared war on Charles V, drawing away the empire's military forces. In 1543, the sultan sent his garrison in Hungary on the offensive, and even this modest threat was more than the isolated Ferdinand could handle; by the end of the year, Valpó, Siklós, Pécs, Esztergom, Tata, and Székesfehérvár had fallen to the Ottomans. In {1-614.} 1544, the Ottomans captured Visegrád, Nógrád, and Hatvan, creating a defensive ring around Buda.

At the end of 1544, Charles V secured yet another provisional truce with the French, but Ferdinand I decided to abandon his obviously hopeless quest. On 10 November 1545, at Adrianople, his envoys negotiated a cease-fire, leaving Hungary to her fate.

In these circumstances, the Szapolyai monarchy could hardly uphold the terms of the Gyalu agreement. The sultan took pains to impress on the Gyulafehérvár court which side was the stronger. In late 1542, Petru Rareş, who had regained his Moldavian throne, acted on Istanbul's instructions and raided Transylvania. Fráter managed to stop the Moldavians, but the defeat of the Habsburg army at Pest confirmed the validity of his reservations about the agreement, which in the meantime had been made public.

On 20 December 1542, the Transylvanian diet reconvened at Torda and passed several resolutions. It confirmed the union of the 'three nations'; overrode the Saxons' protests and abrogated the Gyalu agreement; acknowledged John Sigismund ('John II, Hungary's elected king') as the province's sovereign; advised Ferdinand I that if he was unable to protect them, he should at least let them take care of themselves; and, finally, agreed to pay the tribute demanded by the Ottomans. In early 1543, 10,000 forints, the first tribute ever paid by Transylvania, were delivered to the Sublime Porte. The battles that took place in 1543–44 confirmed the wisdom of Fráter's decision to persist in defending the interests of the House of Szapolyai.

The clarification of Hungary's foreign relations went hand in hand with the domestic consolidation of the new leadership. Beginning with the acquisition of the Gyulafehérvár episcopal estates, the number of fiscal domains in Transylvania grew steadily. Fráter retrieved Déva and Görgény from the onetime captain-general, Boldizsár Bornemissza; in reward for his services, the latter received Küküllő castle, recently the property of Petru Rareş. {1-615.} The Maylád family was momentarily allowed to retain Fogaras, but Katalin Nádasdy, the wife of István Maylád (captive in Istanbul) was obliged to submit in all matters to the authority of Isabella and the governor.

The central authority's power was enhanced by the Kővár estates, in north-eastern Transylvania and by a fortress, erected by György Fráter, close by in the Szamos valley. Only a few Transylvanian estates' domains remained in the hands of local aristocrats. János Török of Enying acquired Vajdahunyad, and the ambitious Kendi family took over Marosvécs. To forestall further incursions, Csicsó was returned to Petru Rareş, but only after the castle had been torn down.

The extension of state authority over the region east of the Tisza took longer, and brought different results. At this time, the eastern Hungarian Kingdom encompassed the counties of Máramaros, Szabolcs, Szatmár, Közép-Szolnok, Bihar, Outer-Szolnok, Békés, Csongrád, Arad, and Csanád, as well as the Temesköz. Várad and Lippa were important centres of state power, guaranteing predominance over the region's magnates. For all practical purposes, Péter Petrovics was the absolute ruler of the Temesköz, but shared political goals and his loyalty to the Szapolyai family led him to cooperate with György Fráter. There were other districts ruled as private fiefs: the area from Máramaros to Kraszna by the Drágffy-Perényi family and the Báthoris of Ecsed and Somlyó; Békés by the Patócsy; the Maros valley by the Jaksics family; and Debrecen by the Török family of Enying. In the undefined border zones of Zemplén, Borsod, and Abaúj counties, the Balassa, Losonci, Bebek families, and the Drugeths of Homonna ruled with considerable autonomy.

In these circumstances, it is scarcely surprising that the region would come to challenge Fráter's authority, particularly amidst the uncertainties of 1542. In a region where the authority and traditions of the Hungarian state had only a slight impact, the local lords felt {1-616.} freer to make overtures to the Habsburgs. Habsburg defeat at Pest dampened their enthusiasm; at the Derecske diet, convened in late 1542, they acceded to György Fráter's request that they share the burden of paying tribute to the Ottomans. The military campaigns of 1543–44 left only one secure road link to Habsburg Hungary, along the Vág valley, and this further reduced the ranks of Habsburg supporters. As a result, only András Báthori of Ecsed and Kristóf Hagymásy, the castellan of Huszt, managed to preserve a certain independence. In August 1544, delegates from counties along the Tisza and in the region east of the Tisza participated as equals in the Transylvanian diet at Torda. With the entrenchment of this practice, the Transylvanian diet became the legal successor of the Hungarian diets.

Over time, property relations changed to the benefit of the friar-governor. In the queen's name, he summarily appropriated Nagylak (the seat of the Jaksics family), Csanád (the episcopal see), and the Várday family's main estate, at Kisvárda. When Gáspár Drágffy died, the family's vast estates reverted to his only son, a minor; in his capacity as the boy's guardian, Fráter laid hands on Tasnád, Erdőd, and Valkó, all important assets.

The diet of Eastern Hungary reconvened on 24 April 1545 at Torda. News of the Habsburg-Ottoman peace talks had just reached Transylvania, and György Fráter considered the moment opportune to consolidate the political system. At his request, the diet abrogated the rights that had been left — at least nominally — to Ferdinand: the power to grant property and ultimate judicial authority. It recognized John Sigismund as King John II of Hungary and prohibited his subjects from pursuing contacts with foreign powers, including Pozsony (Bratislava) and Vienna.

Fráter did suffer one setback: the diet refused to name him governor. To encourage the feudal estates in this step, Queen Isabella had evoked the precedent of Gritti. This minor clash between the queen and the mighty regent owed partly to the deterioration {1-617.} in their relations during 1540–41, but it also reflected the imbalance inherent in the political system.

As a regent and royal treasurer, Fráter exercised total control over the state's finances and crown properties. To serve these ends, a new administrative structure had to be created. Until 1541, Transylvania had been administered by the central organs of the Hungarian Kingdom, but the chancellery and high court had vanished in the political chaos of 1540–41: the expert clerks, jurists, and notaries were scattered, most of them ending up in the service of Ferdinand. As for the local apparatus of Transylvania's voivode, it was wholly inadequate to the task of administering a state. Thus György Fráter had no choice but to form a new administrative structure staffed by people, trained in law, drawn from Transylvania and other places. This single, all-purpose chancellery played no role in policy-making; only the judicial administrators enjoyed a certain — highly restricted — latitude in their sphere. There was no question of appointing a chancellor: the regent exercised direct control over his administrators, isolating the latter from Isabella's influence. As noted, in early 1542, the Transylvanians took an initiative in favour of elected councillors, but György Fráter blocked all such attempts. The provision for elected councils was never put into practice.

The feudal estates lost much of their influence over the affairs of state. Unwilling to alter their pro-Habsburg sympathies, the Saxons adopted a passive stance. Péter Haller, the royal magistrate at Szeben, was just about the only Saxon with direct access to the court at Gyulafehérvár, where he continued to be regarded as a member of the opposition. The Székelys could occasionally defend their interests at meetings of the diet, but they had few advocates, if any, in the circles around the regent and the queen. This was all the more striking since the late King John's 'familiars' — mostly men of modest means who had no roots within the new confines of the country — and their relatives were found in great numbers {1-618.} amongst the senior officials and courtiers; they included Ferenc Kőrösy, Benedek Bajoni, Gábor Pesti, István Maticsnai, Antal Verancsics, János Glésán, and Orbán Batthyány.

The major landowning aristocrats continued to enjoy the highest degree of prestige. Only a few of them — Ferenc Kendi, Farkas Bethlen, László Mikola — were authentic Transylvanians; the most influential were Péter Petrovics, Ferenc Patócsy, Imre Balassa, Antal Losonci, Antal Homonnai, and János Török. These aristocrats not only shared in the governance of Szapolyai's realm but also continued to nurture intimate relations with their social equals — many of them close relatives — living in the 'other' Hungary. Most of Hungary's ruling class harboured the hope of reuniting the country, and György Fráter constantly felt the pressure of this wish and expectation.

As long as the friar-regent and the queen pursued identical political objectives, their latent differences and the discontent within the ruling class could be held in check. To be sure, relations were often strained between the royal widow and György Fráter. The Jagiello princess, brought up in the very different world of the royal court at Cracow, had difficulty adapting herself to the violent nature of Hungarian politics, to the regent's notoriously cold manner, and, above all, to the necessary economies. Their discord mostly took the form of a covert contest for power. György Fráter made forceful efforts — ostensibly in the name of the House of Szapolyai — to consolidate central authority. His advantage lay in the power of initiative, in his political experience, and in the economic resources at his command. Isabella, however, had law and traditional royal prerogative on her side, and she had no intention of surrendering her right to rule.

In the early years of this state, the queen, affected perhaps by inexperience or a sense of injury, would attempt to constrain the regent's growing power by demanding implementation of the Gyalu Treaty. The most determined champions of the House of {1-619.} Szapolyai, including Péter Petrovics, Ferenc Kendi, and Ferenc Patócsy, were naturally disposed to challenge the power of the friar, whom they despised and envied; but in the wake of the Turkish victories in 1543–44, they — and other potential dissenters — could not take the risk of showing their true colours. Thus the Gyalu issue disappeared from the agenda, and Isabella had to battle against György Fráter within the constraints of the existing political structure. In the event, the young woman — moody, impulsive, and a novice in politics — proved to be no match for the adamant and determined friar.