The Treaty of Vasvár: What Was Lost, and What Remained

In the Treaty of Vasvár, which was signed on 10 August 1664 but only made public in late September, Emperor Leopold agreed that Transylvania should remain under Turkish suzerainty and recognized Apafi's princely status. He undertook to withdraw his garrisons, and acknowledged that the fortresses of Várad, Lugos, Karánsebes, and Jenő — along with the Transylvanian districts that had submitted to the Turks since 1657 — to the Ottoman empire; he also ceded the fortress of Érsekújvár, in northwestern Hungary. The sultan, for his part, ceded Szabolcs and Szatmár counties, with all their fortresses, to the Habsburg king of Hungary and gave assurances that Transylvania would not serve as shelter for the emperor's foes. Finally, in reciprocal acknowledgment of their interests, the two monarchs agreed to raze the fortress at Székelyhíd and to withhold support from eventual pretenders to the princely throne as well as from each other's enemies.

The Vasvár treaty represented a severe setback for Apafi's government. By paralyzing the international coalition, the Turkish-Habsburg accord undermined Apafi's strategy for saving Transylvania. And it augured ill for Transylvania that, for the first time in many years, other powers ruled on its fate without consulting its prince and government. Apafi and his advisers had not been blindly optimistic about the outcome of the war, but they did count on a productive peace treaty. They envisaged various possibilities, ranging from the recovery of Várad to a reduction in the tribute and the return of Transylvanian districts that had been forced to submit to the sultan in the turbulent pre-war period; none of this came to pass. Transylvania's leaders felt that their country had been treated like an enemy by both Turks and Habsburgs. Perhaps this outcome {2-260.} was pre-ordained: the interests of the two great powers were compatible but conflicted with those of royal Hungary and Transylvania. In one masterful stroke of diplomacy, the Habsburgs — ignoring their coalition partners — made a deal with Constantinople and detached from the European anti-Ottoman alliance Transylvania as well as the Romanian principalities, which had momentarily made common purpose with royal Hungary's politicians.

The Romanian principalities lost all hope of being freed. 'We, and many other Christians, were ready to serve His Majesty against the pagans, but this peace will destroy us,' wrote the voivode Ghica.[32]32. Voivode Ghica's letter to János Rottal, Ex Castris Szuker (?), 1 November 1664. OL, Nlt, Fasc. 17. The depredations of the Turks served as a warning to Transylvania's politicians that the grand vizier felt free to punish them for having pursued an independent policy. 'The Turks are incensed at Transylvania's prince,' Wesselényi back in July; 'they threaten to strangle him, and I must confess a fear that he will end in martyrdom.'[33]33. Palatine Ferenc Wesselényi to György Lippay, archbishop of Esztergom, Kassa, 29 July 1664. OL, Wlt, Fasc. 9. In November, István Naláczi wrote to Teleki: 'Charges have been laid against our lord concerning his alliance with the voivode, and the grand vizier has written a tough letter.'[34]34. István Naláczi to Mihály Teleki, Ebesfalva, 24 November 1664. OL, Nlt, Fasc. 17. By autumn 1664, members of the former Kemény party were making plans to seek asylum in royal Hungary. Márton Boldvai, captain of Székelyhíd Castle — which was slated to be razed — believed that if the peace brought real benefits to the country, it would meet with no opposition: 'As long as Christianity is preserved, and as long as there is lasting assurance of meaningful security for my beloved homeland, I will suffer this humiliation and submit to the will of the two mighty monarchs; but [if they destroy Székelyhíd], I will have to go into exile.'[35]35. Márton Boldvai's letter to János Rottal, Székelyhid, 30 December 1664. OL, Nlt, Fasc. 17. Most people had little opportunity to air their views regarding the fateful decisions of the great powers, but they probably shared Boldvai's sentiments.

Rather than panic, Apafi and his government showed flexibility in adapting to the changed circumstances. Hoping that the terms for Transylvania could be eased before the treaties were ratified, they made approaches to both Emperor Leopold and the Porte. {2-261.} According to Dénes Bánffy, they counted on the European powers to reject the agreement: 'The peace treaty is the work of Prince Porcia and Cocoli alone, the Holy Roman Empire and the coalition partners will not accept it; indeed, the empire has sided with the French king and promised to provide a hundred thousand men for war against the Turks.'[36]36. Dénes Bánffy to János Rottal, Kolozsvár, 30 December 1664. OL, Nlt, Fasc. 15. That autumn, Apafi had received a letter from Louis XIV informing him that the king would satisfy his requests and instruct France's envoy in Constantinople to press for a reduced tribute as well as for modifications in the frontier line.

There was much diplomatic activity in Hungary and Transylvania in the autumn of 1664. Hardly had Miklós Bethlen arrived back from France that he changed from western to Hungarian clothes and headed off on another mission for Apafi. He called on Hungary's leading aristocrats, and reached their political movement's headquarters, Zrínyi's residence at Csáktornya, in mid-November. Those who were intent on continuing the struggle against the Turks — Sagredo, Venice's ambassador, as well as the French envoy and the Hungarians who were seeking new alternatives — still counted on Transylvania.

In mid-December, the palatine informed Apafi (by way of Rottal) that Zrínyi had passed away. Transylvania's prince was conscious of the political and historical impact of this loss: 'I am aggrieved by the news of that valiant man's accidental and [for some people] fortuitous death; it will sadden all intelligent and true Hungarians, and, considering the state of his country (which is in mortal danger), even the most hard-hearted must be moved to tears'.[37]37. Prince Mihály Apafi to János Rottal, Katolna, 19 December 1664. OL, Nlt, Fasc. 17.

After seven long years of warfare and dreadful suffering, a semblance of calm returned to Transylvania at the end of 1664. Although many hopes were dashed, Transylvania's circumscribed statehood had at least been preserved. The trying times had taught some useful lessons. Even while battle raged, initiatives had been taken to restore domestic order. The 'fateful' peace was also an {2-262.} opportunity for consolidation and a regeneration of the principality's energies.

The border changes increased the geographic isolation of Transylvania from royal Hungary. To be sure, the independent policy pursued by Hungary's politicians, and their cooperation with Transylvania in the war of 1663–64, pointed in the direction of an eventual reunification of the old kingdom's three parts. But the losses incurred by Transylvania considerably reduced her traditional political clout.