Relations with the Romanian Voivodeships

At the time when György Rákóczi II took over the reins in Transylvania, the wave of unrest sparked by the Cossack rebellion was sweeping across eastern Europe. The revolt's historical impact was comparable to that of the Czech rising. The latter event was the catalyst of antagonisms and alliances in a changing Europe; the Cossack rising of 1648 had a similar effect on international relations in the east. Coinciding with the decline of the Polish state, the revolt opened up opportunities for a czarist Russia rising to the rank of great power; it served to confirm the recession of Ottoman power; it allowed for a communion of interest between Transylvania and the Romanian voivodeships; and, by prompting the intervention of Leopold I in Poland, it led to new political links between eastern and western Europe. These events, with their complex linkages, opened up broad new perspectives. The revolt in Ukraine affected a Poland that extended from the Eastern (Baltic) to the Black Sea, and thus had an indirect impact on another area of great power contestation in the new Europe, the Baltic.

The ataman Bohdan Khmelnytsky, leader of the Cossack revolt, showed a fine political touch in weaving a web of foreign linkages. These included Moscow's Czar Alexei as well as the khans of the Crimean Tartars, Sweden's state council, the voivodes Basarab and Lupu, and the Rákóczi family.

In fact, Transylvania was not drawn into the fray by its direct contacts with the Cossacks, for their common goal of putting Zsigmond on the Polish throne was thwarted in 1648. The Rákóczi camp in Poland was paralysed by news of the prince's death, and {2-134.} Zsigmond's name was not even in play when a new king was elected that fall. The Polish nobles chose Wladislaw IV's brother, Jan Casimir, mainly because of his weak and indecisive character. Although the intrigues around the Polish throne did not cease, the Rákóczis beat a temporary retreat.

Transylvania was now presented with an opportunity more immediate and more important than the quest for the Polish throne: the reconfiguration of relations with the two Romanian voivodeships. Having failed to properly assess the weight and importance of the Cossack revolt, both Basarab and Lupu pursued policies that were inimical to the movement, and found their countries imperilled.

Moldavia took the first blow when, in the fall of 1650, it was overrun by the Cossacks. Khmelnytsky's diplomatic pretext was that Lupu had refused to give his daughter Irene in marriage to the ataman's son Timus. In fact, the Cossacks were moved by the need to neutralize a strategically located and potentially hostile Moldavia. The invasion compelled Lupu to take up diplomatic relations with the Cossacks, but it had the further consequence of provoking popular unrest in Moldavia and the Szeret region. Exploiting this movement as well as his friendship with György Rákóczi II, a local potentate, Ştefan 'Gergicze boer', managed to seize power from Lupu; his coup was also abetted by Gheorghe Ştefan and the governor of Silistra, Pasha Siavus. Vasile Lupu fled; Timus Khmelnytsky, who had finally become his son-in-law, showed up with a relief force of Cossacks and was reportedly drunk when he received a fatal injury. In reward for his assistance, Rákóczi received 100,000 gold coins and 25,000 thalers from Lupu's treasury.

György Rákóczi II had become acquainted with Ştefan when the latter helped him to market oxen in Moldavia during the 1640s. Political collaboration between the two rulers did more than serve their mutual commercial interests. Transylvania and the voivodeships {2-135.} shared serious social problems that fed, like their commerce, on their differing degrees of economic underdevelopment. The trade pattern, in which the industrially more advanced towns of Transylvania marketed their goods in the voivodeship, favored the principality. On the other hand, the divergent social structures worked to Transylvania's disadvantage. The economically more backward voivodeship had a less rigid social structure and thus served as a haven for villeins fleeing Transylvania. In the voivodeships, state taxation was reasonably orderly, but landowners collected feudal dues in wholly arbitrary fashion, causing much uncertainty and discontent among the peasants. The latter would occasionally respond by abandoning their villages. Yet, viewed from afar, even this rather chaotic state of affairs could seem preferable to the predictable and heavy burden of feudal dues. Thus more and more Transylvanian peasants fled to seek a better life in Moldavia or Wallachia.

Not surprisingly, Transylvania's ruling classes developed an urgent interest in consolidating the social structure of Moldavia and Wallachia. However, the problem was peculiarly reciprocal, for at the same time, Romanians were fleeing from their own chaotic circumstances to Transylvania, where they had set off a peasant revolt as early as May 1619. Gabriel Bethlen recorded that 'raising the flag of rebellion, they sacked manors as well as buildings belonging to monastic orders, and even murdered some bailiffs'.[80]80. Documente privitoare la istoria românilor, p. 879. There were also pseudo-voivodes, analogous to the somewhat later, Russian peasant leaders who claimed to derive their authority from the czars. In Transylvania, the most notorious of these figures was a certain Illyés, who had had his nose cut off for rebelling, and who in 1643 tried to recruit troops to attack the voivode Lupu.

More than commercial interests, it was these peasant movements that drove the princes to make common cause with the voivodes. The pattern is particularly evident in Transylvania's relations with Wallachia, where the domestic troubles induced by the {2-136.} Cossack invasion prompted a plea for help at a time when trade between the two countries was flagging. The decline in trade could be traced back to the rule of Basarab, who tried to promote industrialization and economic self-sufficiency. His mercenary troops revolted in 1654, and he failed to pacify them before he died. His successor, Constantin Şerban, relied on this rebel movement to take over the voivodeship, then promptly turned on his soldier supporters. However, the mercenaries' movement progressed until, in 1655, it engendered a popular rising throughout Wallachia.

The initial response of György Rákóczi II was to dispatch some troops under the command of János Boros. In the early summer of 1655, when he got wind that the insurgents' rival voivode, Heriza by name, was laying claim to Transylvania, the prince himself set off for Wallachia. When his first attempts to put down the rebellion failed, Rákóczi called upon his ally Ştefan, the voivode of Moldavia, to join him, and the two of them finally managed to rout the enemy and capture Heriza. In mid-July, fearing that the latter's followers would try to free him, Boros hurriedly transferred the prisoner to Transylvania. But by that time, the Wallachian insurgency was petering out. At the end of July, Khmelnytsky wrote to Constantin: 'We noted the thieves' rising in Your Highness's country, and felt sorry; now we are truly pleased that God has helped Your Highness to suppress them'.[81]81. Szilágyi, Erdély és az észak-keleti háború I, p. 433. That outcome owed less to God than to Rákóczi, whose troops stayed behind — in rather dismal conditions — to prevent any recurrence.