Stephen Báthory was a Hungarian noble Prince of Transylvania (1571-1586), then King of Poland (1576-1586) and Grand Duke of Lithuania (1576-1586). He was a member of the Somlyo branch of the noble Hungarian Báthory family. He was one of Poland's most prominent rulers and an excellent military commander. Many historians consider him to be one of the greatest of the elected Kings of Poland.
Stephen Báthory was born on September 27, 1533 in Szilágysomlyó, Transylvania (now Șimleu Silvaniei, Romania) into the Hungarian Báthory noble family. He was the son of another István Báthory, the governor of Transylvania for the Habsburg king of Hungary and his wife Catherine Telegdi. His father was a partisan of John Zapolya, who claimed the crown of Hungary in opposition to the Habsburg claimant Ferdinand I, and had been appointed Voivode of Transylvania.
Báthory was brought up at the imperial court in Vienna, was well educated, and knew several languages. Around 1549-1550 he visited Italy and studied at the Padua University.
After his return from Italy, Stephen Báthory joined the army of Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor, and took part in his military struggle against the Turks. Around 1553, Báthory was captured by the Turks, and after Ferdinand I refused to pay his ransom, Báthory joined the opposing side. Stephen entered the service of John Sigismund Zápolya, prince of the newly independent Transylvania, in 1556, and eventually became army commander in chief. In 1559 Stephen Báthory was appointed commander of the Wardar fortress, took part in John Sigismund Szapolyai's struggles against the Habsburgs, participated in peace negotiations with the emperor in Vienna, and was interned there for several years. As prince of Transylvania he had to acknowledge his subordination to both Turkey and the emperor; he organized a mercenary army, reformed education, and upheld the principles of religious tolerance.
He became known as a skillful diplomat. His advocacy for the rights of Zapolya's son John Sigismund incurred the animosity of the Emperor Maximilian II, who kept him in prison for two years. The Habsburgs and Zapolya courts finally reached an agreement in 1570 and John Sigismund contented himself with Transylvania. After his death in 1571, the Transylvanian estates elected Stephen Báthory Voivod (prince ) of Transylvania — against the provisions of the late Prince, who had appointed Gáspár Bekes his successor. Supported by the Habsburgs, Bekesy insisted on his claims but in a civil war Báthory ultimately drove his rival out of the country.
In 1572, the throne of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, at the time the largest and one of the most populous states in Europe, was vacated when King Sigismund II of Poland died without heirs. In April 1573, his sister Anna, the sole heir to the crown, convinced the Sejm to elect the French prince Henry of Valois as ruler. A marriage with Henry was to further legitimize Henry's rule but less than a year after his coronation, Henry fled Poland to succeed his brother as King of France. After Henry of Valois's flight from Poland (1574), Báthory submitted his candidacy for the Polish throne and expressed his intention to marry Princess Anna Jagiellonka.
On December 12, 1575, after a interregnum of roughly one and a half years, the Sejm, persuaded by the Papal nuncio, elected the Emperor Maximilian as the new monarch. However, after three days the nobility threatened the senate with civil war and demanded a Piast king, a Polish King. After a heated discussion, it was decided that Anna should be elected King of Poland and marry Stephen Báthory (Stephen being the son-in-law of the late Sigismund I). Representatives of Lithuania left the Sejm and did not participate in this election. Among the strongest supporters of his candidacy were the Protestants and Socinians, who feared a Habsburg ruler could introduce Counter-Reformation in Poland, whereas Stephen's Transylvania was known for freedom of religion.
On December 13, 1575 Anna Jagiellon was elected in Warsaw King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania. Having secured the Transylvanian succession for his brother Christopher, Stephen hurried to Kraków and was crowned on May 1, 1576. This coronation almost made the Union of Lublin obsolete, as the representatives of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania who were not present at this election seriously considered to elect Emperor Maximilian. After some negotiations and assurance of Lithuania's full federal rights within the Commonwealth, Stephen Báthory was recognized as Grand Duke of Lithuania, Duke of Ruthenia and Samogitia. As a token of his recognition he established Almae Academia et Universitas Vilnensis Societatis Jesu.
The former followers of the Habsburg candidate gradually came over to his side. Báthory launched a campaign against Gdańsk, which had supported the emperor, and after a lengthy blockade and siege, a compromise agreement was reached (12 December 1577), in which Gdańsk recognized Báthory's election, agreed to pay a high contribution to the royal coffers, and preserved its extensive autonomy.
Stephen Báthory's position was at first extremely difficult. The country was badly damaged by the troubles of the interregnum. Emperor Maximilian, insisting on his earlier election, fostered internal opposition and in league with Tsardom of Russia prepared to enforce his claim by military action. However, Maximilian's sudden death completely reversed the situation.
All armed opposition collapsed when the prolonged Siege of Danzig (1577) by Batory's forces was lifted as an agreement was reached. The Hanseatic League city, bolstered by its immense wealth, fortifications, and the secret support of Denmark and Emperor Maximilian, had supported the latter's election and decided not to recognize Stephen. After a siege of six months, the Danzig army of 5,000 mercenaries was utterly defeated in a field battle on December 16, 1577. However, since Stephen's armies were unable to take the city by force, a compromise was reached: Stephen Báthory confirmed the city's special status and her Danzig law privileges granted by earlier Polish kings. The city recognised him as ruler of Poland and paid the enormous sum of 200,000 guldens in gold as payoff ("apology"). Danzig later remained loyal to the Kingdom during wars with Sweden and Tsardom of Russia, providing help when requested.
This victory gave Stephen a chance to devote himself to strengthening royal authority, in which he was supported by his chancellor Jan Zamoyski, who was just as skilled a politician. The two managed to win over several factions of the Lithuanian and Polish nobility, mostly by means of better taxation of crown lands and royal property leased to the nobility. Stephen completely reorganized the Polish Army. Among his genuine inventions was the piechota wybraniecka semi-professional infantry formation, composed of peasants trained in both infantry warfare and engineering. Stephen also reorganised the judiciary by formation of legal tribunals. He also founded the Academy of Vilna, the third university in the Commonwealth and a predecessor of the modern Vilnius University. Stephen also ordered the execution of Samuel Zborowski, whose death sentence for treason and murder had been pending for roughly a decade.
In external relations, Stephen sought peace through strong alliances. Though Stephen remained distrustful of the Habsburgs, he entered into a defensive alliance with Maximilian's successor, Rudolf II, fostered by the papal nuncio. The difficulties with the Ottoman Empire were temporarily adjusted by a truce signed on November 5, 1577. The Sejm gathered in Warsaw was persuaded to grant Stephen subsidies for the inevitable war against Muscovy. Two campaigns in which Báthory, although hampered by the Sejm, were successful. Báthory's diplomatic skills in the meantime ensured that there was no conflict with the Ottomans, nor with the emperor.
Stephen, together with his chancellor Zamoyski, led the army of the Commonwealth in a brilliant decisive campaign during the Livonian War (which formed part of the Muscovite wars between Poland-Lithuania and Muscovy). Ivan the Terrible had invaded Livonia and took Dorpat, Duchy of Courland, which a few years earlier had become a vassal of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth army routed the Russian force at Velikiye Luki. In 1581 Stephen penetrated to the very heart of Russia and, on August 22, laid siege to the city of Pskov, whose vast size and imposing fortifications filled the little Commonwealth army with dismay. But Báthory, despite the objections of some of his officers, and critique from the papal nuncio Possevino, send by the curia to mediate between the Muscovites and the Commonwealth, decided to keep up the siege. Finally, on the December 13, 1581, Ivan the Terrible, alarmed for the safety of the third city in his empire, concluded the Peace of Jam Zapolski (January 15, 1582), thereby ceding Polatsk and the whole of Livonia back to the Commonwealth.
With the eastern borders secure, Stephen planned a Christian alliance with Tsardom of Russia against the Ottoman Empire. However, Russia's lapse into the Time of Troubles left him without a Russian partner, while the proposal of a personal union with Muscovy was rendered moot by his own sudden death, on December 12, 1586 in the Old Grodno Castle. (His autopsy there was the first to take place in Eastern Europe; Báthory was originally interred also in Grodno.)
He was active in propagating Catholicism, while at the same time being respectful of the Commonwealth policy of religious tolerance, issuing a number of decrees offering protection to Polish Jews, and denouncing any religious violence.Though personally tolerant of differing religious views, Stephen encountered considerable resistance from his subjects in his attempts to promote the Counter-Reformation and to strengthen his royal power.
His goal was to unite Poland, Muscovy, and Transylvania under his rule. He therefore prepared to renew his war against Russia and was planning to launch a crusade against the Ottoman Empire when he died.
In his personal life, he was described as rather frugal in his personal expenditures. Báthory actively promoted his own legend, sponsoring a number of works about his life and achievements, from historical treatises to poetry. In addition to Hungarian, he was well versed in Latin, and spoke Italian and German; he never learned the Polish language.
On May 1, 1576 Stephen married Anna Jagiellon and was crowned King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania. He had no legitimate children, though contemporary rumours suggested he might have had several illegitimate children. None of these rumours have been confirmed by modern historians.
Bathory Istvan Lengyel Kiralylya Valasztasa, 1574-1576 (1887) (Hungarian Edition)
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Báthory István Lengyel Királylyá Választása: 1574-1576 (Hungarian Edition)
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