Gábor Báthori Leads the Hajdús

In the spring of 1607, the hajdús were still restless, for no measures had been taken to secure their liberties and settlement, and it seemed as if these guarantees had followed Bocskai into the tomb. As a background to the unfolding Transylvanian crisis, the hajdús' discontent rumbled like the thunder of an approaching storm. Indeed, it is difficult to understand why the country, fearful as it was of a new war, could not find an effective way of appeasing them. Their dissatisfaction was plain to see, and it must have been equally obvious that they were momentarily in a position to dictate the terms of a settlement to the Hungarian crisis.

The commissioners who had been assigned to take control of the territories recovered from Bocskai repeatedly urged Vienna to pay the hajdús' outstanding wages; indeed, the whole country was actively concerned by the issue. Yet no solution was found either at home or at the archduke's court. The amount in question was modest: István Bocskai had promised the hajdús wages of 45,000 forints. But money was exceedingly scarce in the impoverished Hungary of 1607, and the little there was would not be allocated to the hajdús. The 27,000 forints left in the late prince's treasury went on his notably modest funeral, and it may be assumed that other funds were spent on less pressing needs.

The hajdú movement began to unfold in April 1607. Its scale was scarcely appreciated at the time, although Archduke Matthias would repeatedly warn Emperor Rudolph of the growing pressure. Several thousand hajdús rallied to Homonnai. The latter's aspirations — {2-10.} divulged to his brother in April 1607 — went beyond those of Bocskai's, though it is not clear whether he wrote in candor or whether he exaggerated the danger of the situation in Hungary in order to make Rudolph to abdicate. There must have been something in it, for the archduke even contacted Zsigmond Rákóczi and, in one letter, asked for his help against Homonnai and the hajdús while acknowledging him as Transylvania's governor. This initiative is clearly consistent with Matthias' scheme to nullify the effect of the Treaty of Vienna; if Rákóczi agreed to be the royally-appointed governor instead of prince, Transylvania would lose its independence from the crown. But this attempt, like the one before the election of the prince, failed. In autumn 1607, Archduke Matthias' manoeuvring came to a halt; it had become obvious that the hajdús could not be used as puppets, and that their movement could not serve as a mere pretext.

The hajdús' initiative originated with their general, András Nagy, whose envoys met with Pasha Ali in Buda around the middle of October. Upon their return, the hajdús 'gathered in groups in the fields, took an oath, and their number increased day by day.' Thus wrote János Rimay in mid-November 1607 about the incipient revolt to Illésházy.[6]6. K. Benda, ed., 'Magyar országgyűlési emlékek, 1607-1608' (MS, no page numbering). This time, the generally well-informed scholar-politician did not display his usual statesmanlike perspicacity. He fretted to his correspondent that no one can fathom what the hajdús are up to. Yet of all people, he, Bocskai's onetime confidant, should have known what drove the hajdús. Soon, the whole country knew: the rebellious hajdús issued a proclamation to the effect that they would not lay down their arms until the Treaty of Vienna was fully implemented.

The movement — which caused widespread panic — had an only indirect effect on Transylvania. The lands earmarked for hajdú settlement lay in counties that reverted to the crown after Bocskai's death; thus the principality could observe these developments free of any immediate concern for this soldiery. Yet the situation's complexity {2-11.} gave rise to numerous problems. To be sure, Transylvania could not be held responsible for the hajdús' discontent, and there was little it could do to pacify them. But there was no assurance that the revolt would not turn against Transylvania. The hajdús were like a loose weapon waiting to be seized.

Theoretically, even Zsigmond Rákóczi's camp could have exploited the hajdús' movement for application of the Vienna peace terms to defend the principality's independence. But the Transylvanians were not prepared to take any such initiative as they observed the hajdú rising on their borders. Their passivity would prove costly, for when the movement acquired strong leadership, it turned against Transylvania.

At first, there was some vague talk — focusing, as early as December 1607, on Bálint Homonnai — of electing a national king. Allegedly, he was approached by Turkish emissaries but, unwilling to negotiate, tried to avoid them; and he was terrified at the prospect of involving the hajdús. His attention shifted from chaotic Transylvania to the royal part of the country. There, many of Bocskai's followers rallied to Archduke Matthias, who was canvassing for support against Emperor Rudolph.

The other candidate who posed a threat for Transylvania, Gábor Báthori, stuck to his original intentions. When it became clear that the fear of war prevented both the Porte and the royal governor from offering him tangible support, Báthori reached for the only potent alternative and concluded an alliance with the hajdús.

How the young aristocrat forged a link with this rebellious soldiery remains a mystery. What is certain is that Báthori pursued his political objective with unbridled determination and in disregard of any moral considerations. Throughout 1607, he would speak of the hajdús with utter contempt, and in late November he even invited Zsigmond Rákóczi to assist in repressing the rebels. Yet, in February 1608, he signed a letter of alliance with the hajdús.

{2-12.} In this agreement, the hajdú captains András Nagy and János Elek committed themselves to support Gábor Báthori's bid to seize control of Transylvania. Their conditions were that Báthori support Calvinism and make András Nagy general of all the hajdús as well as his own second-in-command; that the preacher Máté Foktűi be appointed a councillor and be granted a livelihood; and, finally, that Báthori look after the settlement of the hajdús in the district around Várad, Ecsed, and Kálló, thus mainly beyond the confines of Transylvania.

Although Báthori's contemporaries were aware of his foolhardiness and of the qualities of his advisers, they were shocked by his initiative. It came as a surprise that the politically inexperienced young man would have the flexibility and ingenuity to pursue secret negotiations with the hajdús and suddenly drop the political bomb of an accord.

Events moved fast: the alliance with the hajdús was concluded on February 5, and by March 7 Gábor Báthori had been elected ruling prince of Transylvania. The feat was accomplished without a single gunshot. Since he was backed by the country's only significant armed force, Báthori could afford to negotiate. He had engaged in negotiations with Rákóczi even before the hajdú rebellion, and his emissaries now offered his rival the estates at Szádvár and Sárosvár. Thus he succeeded where others had failed, and persuaded Rákóczi to abdicate.

The events seemed to justify István Illésházy's criticism at the time of Rákóczi's election, that the new prince was merely 'seeking personal advantage.' Many observers suspected that the abdication was prompted by calculations of material gain; Rákóczi's properties lay east of the Tisza River, and he did not want to fall out of favour with the reigning dynasty. According to this interpretation, he withdrew from Transylvania in order to ensure that his family would retain its estates in royal Hungary. It was also rumored that he departed with cartloads of money and treasure.