Volume 4 Issue 1 CONTENTS

pdfTibor Takács

Them and Us: Narratives of Agents from the Kádár Era1

Today a good deal of scholarly work has been published the authors of which use, as their primary sources, the documents that were created by the state security services of the communist dictatorships of East Central Europe. These documents reveal a great deal concerning the primary characteristics of the mechanisms of state security and, more specifically, the network of agents. Most of the inquiries that have been published so far have been of a moralizing nature, in that they seem to have been motivated at least in part by the desire to pass judgment on those who cooperated in an organized way with the state security services of the dictatorial states or, in some cases, to find justifications for the conduct of the people involved by offering explanations according to which they were compelled to collaborate. I have set a very different goal in this article. I examine how the people in the network interpreted their cooperation with the state. I draw on recollections that were written not after the fall of the Kádár regime, but rather in its early stages. These texts offer different perspectives on the identity of the agent and shed some light on how the collaborator him or herself understood his or her acts of collaboration with the dictatorship.

 

Keywords: collaboration, recollections, state security, agent network, Kádár era, communist regime, Hungary

 

A few years ago, in his reflections on the moralizing narrative mode of the assertions that have been made in Hungary regarding the network of the state security services of the fallen regime, Balázs Berkovits raised the essential question: “Can one speak of agents in any other tone than that of moral outrage, victimhood, and forgiveness? Can one escape the moral defining terms that infer one another, the vicious cycle of sin—confession—forgiveness? How can we avoid the ethical and psychological/sociological conjectures and aims that already determine, before we have begun our examination, where we will end up?”2

The moralizing that seems to prevail in discussions of the topic seems to be tied to the tendency in public opinion to identify the people who were in the network as “denouncers,” i.e. people whose endeavors are almost always deleterious, whatever the culture or society in question, and even more so in the case of a dictatorship. The foundation of this discourse is the assumption according to which the simple citizen (as the agent seems to be) owes his loyalties first and foremost to his own community, in other words to the society that has been subjugated by the dictatorial power. Thus, if someone cooperates with power, for instance by providing information concerning his fellow sufferers, he or she merits the label traitor.3 This “transgression” seems more damnable in retrospect than it did at the time because at the time of the dictatorial regime it was “invisible,” as it was committed in secret and only came to light after the fall of the regime. As Hungarian historian Gábor Gyáni has observed, however, with this disappearance of the world of the dictatorship, “denouncing lost any ethical justification and its ‘usefulness’ also frayed.” Consequently, “this form of cooperation with the oppressive power of yore is simply stamped as immorality or futility.”4

The moralizing approach is also dominant in the scholarly research on the network of agents who worked together with the state security services. Practically, this means that the historian cannot completely avoid or ignore entirely the influence of the interpretive models that prevail in public opinion and thus is inevitably compelled to orient him or herself to this narrative mode. The practice of historical scholarship involves a series of ethical and moral choices, from the selection of a subject of focus to the manner in which findings are put in writing, and even if a historian is cautious to avoid making explicit judgments, his or her use of language nevertheless bears certain (inherent) values.5 This problem lies more in the fact that (as the citation from Berkovits’ work suggests) the moralizing approach results in methodological and thematic narrowing in the research on the network of agents used by the state security, essentially as if the only genuine goal of an inquiry into this history were to “name” the “guilty” with the intention, whether admitted or not, of denouncing and pillorying them.

The foundation of moralizing in the case of scholarly inquiries is the use of the top-down model based on a sharp distinction between “power” and “society.”6 Accordingly, historians tend (retrospectively) to present the period between 1945 and 1990 as a struggle between the “good” and the “bad,” the “oppressed” and the “oppressors.” The picture, however, is hardly this black-and-white. For instance, even research on “informants” (both people who only occasionally provided reports and those who regularly worked as part of the established system) shows that this distinction does not hold up under scrutiny. There were innumerable links and relationships between the system and Hungarian society. Indeed, this is logical. In order to ensure that their subjects remain submissive, disciplined, and “normal,” first and foremost modern states must be able to keep the citizenry under observation and keep records of its acts. In addition to the various techniques and institutions that are used to enforce discipline, power cannot do without the cooperation its citizens, whether we are speaking of casual informers of those who violate its rules, deviants or non-conformists, or members of the more or less structured informers’ network of the (political) police.7 It is quite clear that in authoritarian systems, which wish to exercise more than usual supervision over society, there is an even greater desire for this kind of participation on the part of the citizenry in the maintenance of power. This is true in part simply because, since any potentially critical organ of the press has essentially been silenced and the freedom of speech denied, the people in power have more difficulty obtaining reliable information about those “underneath” them.8 From the perspective of the regime, this means that the much-feared Stasi, for instance, would not have been nearly as effective without the active participation of tens of thousands of citizens.9 From the perspective of society, this means essentially that people were coopted and made part of the mechanisms of their own surveillance.10 As Corey Ross noted with regards to the GDR, “the state did not so much rule over society as through it.”11

If we wish to further a more nuanced understanding of the phenomenon at hand (rather than pass judgment on the people involved), we would definitely do better to regard the network of agents as a tool of the everyday exercise of power and a medium of communication. There are innumerable ways of studying the acts of agents, from examination of contemporary documents produced about and by the agents to interviews with agents themselves. Naturally, active informants did not reflect in their reports on their endeavors. In general, functionaries of the state security offices assessed and interpreted the work of the people who were members of the network. The interviews gave the former agents a chance to speak about how they remembered their activities, though of course one must keep in mind that whatever statements they made were products of memory acts, retrospective constructions that were to a large extent determined by the circumstances under which they were recollected, the attitude of the person retelling his or her memories at the time, and so on. Furthermore, in this case the gap12 between the narrating subject and the narrated subject in the memoires or autobiographies is inevitably much more emphatic, since the former agent (who is, in other words, no longer an agent) is the person conjuring the figure of the agent from the past.

In this essay I examine recollections that active members of the agent network wrote at the request or order of the state security (auxiliary materials that the operational officers used in training). Among the documents of the secret police of the period of state socialism in Hungary there are four such texts: two reports found in a dossier entitled “A network man’s recollections of his own secret work,” one dated May 27, 1958, the other dated May 28, 1958;13 a text entitled “Dear Friend! The recollections of an agent,” which bears the initials T. M. and was written sometime around 1960;14 and a recollection entitled “How I saw it. Anonymous notes from an abandoned apartment,” written in 1969–70 by an agent who went by the code-name “Koroknai.”15

Us and Them

The texts in question here constitute only one possible world16 of the network of the state security, though this is perhaps their principal merit: they shed light on the functioning of this world from a perspective that one does not find in other documents. They contain the remarks of agents who had been working in the service of the state for a long time and who reflect explicitly on their work as agents. Thus, the narrators provide narratives only they could provide, narratives that are, given the circumstances of the narrators, genuine and are not found, or are found only in an implicit and highly embedded form, in the reports they and other agents submitted. These narratives can offer some understanding of the stresses and demands involved in the execution by the agents of the tasks they were assigned, tasks that were considered simple by the case officers (“tartótiszt”, the state security officers who were responsible for the reports of an informant) who assigned them, whether we are speaking of obtaining a manuscript, coming to a meeting, or authoring a report. In addition to providing insights into the everyday workings of the network and the ways in which agents themselves experienced life as part of this network (i.e. the construction of the aforementioned “possible world”), the recollections also help further our understanding of collaboration with the secret police and in general the dictatorial system. In this article I examine the documents in question primarily from the latter perspective. 17

For T. M., the author of “Dear Friend,” his recruitment must have been a decisive experience, since the description of it comprises almost half of the text of his recollections. This description sheds light on how the “candidate” experienced his apprehension by the authorities, the interrogation (which was like a prelude to his recruitment), and, finally, his recruitment. For some time, he did not actually know what was happening to him, and when he finally did begin to understand what they were asking of him, he was not particularly opposed. Indeed, on the contrary he was eager to bring the whole process to an end. (The fact that he was in a hurry to meet with the ambulance in order to be able to take his sick children to the hospital played a role in this.) Later, however, he recounts the “troubled and unpleasant months” following his recruitment, when for a long time he felt like an “ethical corpse.”

There are signs in the other recollections that initially having accepted the role of denouncer left the agents with a feeling of moral trepidation and they were troubled by doubts concerning the ethics of their work as “snoops.” As one reads in the report of May 28, 1958, “when a beginner starts to work, he is full of inhibitions, fears, and ethical scruples. He thinks that what he is doing in his work is the most scandalous act one could commit. He does not trust his contact, and he ponders how to free himself from the ‘burden’ that ‘weighs him down.’” The most effective means of doing this was “de-conspiring,” i.e. the person who had been enlisted would inform the people around him that he had been enlisted. “There is a decisive moment at the beginning of the position: the first inner impulse of someone who becomes a secret employee is the thought that he can only free himself from ‘ethical slavery’ if everyone discovers his secret—he drives away anyone who is burdened with sin in order to avoid causing him harm. This is a kind of obsession with the protection of one’s integrity, and it is coupled with a compulsion to speak, which the beginner hopes will liberate him from his inhibitions.” The case officer who maintained ties with the author of the report, however, made him understand “that every word spoken, every bit of chatter would destroy me ethically, for no matter where I went to complain, they would cast me out with the greatest disgust.”

As a means of assuaging their ethical anxieties and mollifying their inner fears, the agents could create new identities for themselves, separate from their former selves, a kind of informer “I,” who in their minds would not entirely displace their former, ethical selves. This was made a bit easier by the use of a code-name, which would allow an informer to perform his or her tasks as a member of the network of the security services almost as if in secret from him or herself. From this perspective, the fact that, as of the 1950s, agents were not designated with numbers or letters, but rather with actual code-names was of tremendous significance. We cannot know whether this was one of the purposes of this change, but it unquestionably made it easier for the people involved to accept roles as informers and regard their informing selves as separate identities. We also cannot know whether it was thanks to this psychological strategy or not, but whatever the explanation, in time the agents managed to get over their initial concerns and at least by the time they were recording their recollections the conflict between the person referred to by the code-name and the citizen designated by his or her actual name did not seem to cause any problem. The doubts and ethical concerns they initially had had were distant memories, which they could recall, but which, by the time they were writing them down, clearly no longer bothered them too terribly. Instead, they felt that their “normal” lives came into conflict with the roles they played when they went by their actual names, which they did in the interests of being able to perform tasks as part of the state security services. In other words, the principal problem for the agents was not the activities in which they had engaged as denouncers, but rather the fact that—in order to perform these activities—they had had to appear to be enemies of the system.

The author of the report dated May 28, 1958 complained that he had to show two faces to the world: “One was the face presented to the bosses at the offices, whose complete trust I had to have in order to be able to do my work properly. They regard me as an individual with a progressive spirit. But there is another layer at the establishment whose ‘favor’ I cannot lose, because they will spread the rumor that one must be suspicious of me, because I am a communist who has gone wild. This fraternization, however, must be superficial. I must make them think that because of my position I fear and avoid committing any and all unguarded statements or acts. Then I can count on their well-intentioned sympathies.” This duplicity caused problems in the informers’ private lives as well: “My wife was very perturbed when an enemy element came to the apartment and, right in front of her, alas, what a flavorful reactionary speech I held, how fiery my ‘counter-revolutionary’ mood was! And then, again among colleagues, on another occasion I resembled a good, honest, conscientious worker.” T. M. complained at length to his “dear friend” of how, because of his work as an agent, he again had to become part of a social life that had already dispersed: “I had to learn about the interests of many people and understand the spirit of their thoughts, which at times were obsessive, so that we would be able to converse coherently and in a manner that was interesting to me.” Similarly, “Koroknai” only met, whether regularly or sporadically, with former associates from the Independent Smallholders’ Party and people with whom they shared a similar mentality when it was in the interests of the work he did in the defense of the state. After 1956, the only change that took place was that he was able to represent the politics of the Communist Party openly and was not compelled to dissemble (“I found myself in a political stance in which there was no chance of misunderstanding between my official work and my tasks in the defense of the state,” as he wrote).

Complaints about tedious socializing or having to play the part of an enemy of the system can be also understood as tools with which the people in question freed themselves of moral reservations. The authors of these narratives seem to have striven to distance the target individuals from them: clearly it was much easier for them to perform their tasks if they observed not normal, honest people (as they fancied themselves), but rather the enemy. This stance was necessary if they were not going to regard the work they were performing for the state as snooping or denunciation, in short as betrayal. After all, one can only betray people with whom one shares an allegiance, people with whom one forms an “us,” but as far as the agents were concerned, the people they had observed or informed against were not part of this “us,” but rather were members of a “them.” This attitude was common among agents, as indeed the case of László Borsányi also shows. One of Borsányi’s principal tasks as an agent who later became a successful ethnographer and anthropologist was to keep the participants in the “Indian camps” under observation (it is ironic that later, as a scholar, Borsányi dealt with the culture of North American Indians). Although he himself was a regular participant in the camps, in his reports he does not refer to himself as one of the camp members, but rather recreates himself as a university student of ethnography, thereby creating a kind of textual world (at least) in which he was not betraying his “own.” In his case, the agent and the camp member should not be conflated, while “the position of the agent and the role of the scholar can be reconciled—at least according to the logic of power [at the time]—and indeed the role of Indian, free of contradictions, emerges as the only possible variation to the parallel life of the scholar and the agent.”18

One could reformulate this more explicitly by saying that the authors of the recollections did not regard themselves as snoops or denouncers, but rather as spies. What is the difference? According to Karol Sauerland, the denouncer is someone who passes on information about someone to an institution of power and in doing so may well bring grief to the person on whom he or she informs. The denouncer may act out of personal motives or in response to an assignment. Among the latter one finds those who worked as part of the network employed by the state security (for whom a number of colloquial terms were invented, such as snoop or brick). The reports they submitted, of course, were only cases of “denunciation” if they caused injury or harm to others. In contrast, the spy arrives as an outsider among people who represent the enemy in order to gather information that is important to the people with whom he shares an allegiance. In order to infiltrate this group, he must wear a figural mask. He must pretend to be one of “them,” and this requires considerable preparation and involves significant risk. While the terms denouncer and snoop bear negative connotations, in general the spy is presented and regarded a figure worthy of admiration, even a genuine hero. According to Sauerland, the person who was member of the network of the state security can hardly be considered a spy, for even if he did wear a guise, he did not arrive from the outside, but, on the contrary, moved from the inside towards the outside, and however much he may identify with those who give him his tasks, he will never become a stranger who was accepted from the outside.19 Of course, from the perspective of the agents who were looking back on their careers, this last contention is irrelevant, since the question of how outsiders regarded the work of the people who had been part of the network was not the issue. The question, rather, was how the agents looked back on the work they had performed. It is not hard to understand that they preferred to regard themselves as spies who had been exposed to manifold dangers among the enemy instead of snoops who had skulked around in the wake of their friends and acquaintances in search of secrets.

There are innumerable signs in the recollections indicating which “side” the narrators put themselves on and the perspective from which they interpreted their lives as informers. For instance, in the report of May 27, 1958 one finds the following remark: “I regard the current tasks as good. Accomplishable, the details can also be thoroughly elucidated, because the active enemy stands opposite us.” The author of the report dated May 28 made a list of people who spoke in a striking manner of “denouncers” and “snoops,” noting, “I found that in almost 100 percent of the cases anyone who spoke like this was one of our agents!” T. M. wrote the following to the addressee of his letter: “I trust you to decide how much you make use of it, how much you use in the interests of attaining our common goals.” Elsewhere, he wrote, “I am not a genius, but perhaps I can determine whether someone whom I have known for more than ten years and an essay that I heard and read are useful to us or not.” While in the previous citations, the emphasis is mine, in this case the agent himself felt that it was important to underline the word “nekünk” (to us), thereby drawing emphasis to his perception that he was one of the people who worked in the defense of the state. “Koroknai” referred to the example set by two journalists in order to demonstrate that the motivations for the people who worked as part of the network were at times very different. For one of them, secret collaboration was just a tool, the price he had to pay, as it were, in order to be able to travel abroad and work as a reporter in the West. The other, in contrast, genuinely devoted himself to the defense of the state (and the system in general). The first “works for us,” “Koroknai” wrote, while the second “is our man.”

Thus, the people who worked as part of the network saw themselves as devoted followers of the socialist system who had become close to the communist party independently of their recruitment. This is perhaps the most striking in the case of “Koroknai.” For him, recruitment was only a stage on his path to the Communist Party, a path he had set out on of his own free will. Though he had been one of the local leaders of the Smallholders’ Party, he had approached the secretary of the Hungarian Workers’ Party in Debrecen at his own initiative, informed him that he wanted to work together with the party, and sought his assistance. It was not important to him how or where he would serve. If, for instance, he were asked to work as an informer, in the service of the secret police, then so be it. He did not even go into detail concerning the process of recruitment. His description suggests that it was little more than a simple conversation with the political police, who had asked him whether he wanted to work for them, and he had replied yes. Whether this description is accurate or not we cannot know. We can only be certain that after having worked as member of the network for some ten or twenty years, “Koroknai” and his associates saw themselves, the work they had performed, and the people on whom they had informed according to the outlines sketched above. When we conjure our past, we do so in a manner that ensures that it will be consistent with our knowledge, sentiments, attitudes, etc. at the moment of recollection, and this helps sooth and even extinguish the sense of discomfort (what is referred to as cognitive dissonance) that we may feel because of the conflict or tension between thoughts or ideas we may once have had and thoughts or ideas we have now. In simple terms, we have a tendency, when looking back on the past, to think of ourselves as having always had ideas and views similar to the ideas and views we have at the retrospective moment. This is not necessarily a deliberate form of dishonesty so much as it is a mental effort that helps us interpret our lives as a coherent whole.20

In the texts under discussion, in any case, one finds many indications that existence as an informer helped the narrators deepen and strengthen their commitment to the system. The author of the report dated May 27, 1958 writes expressly of his development in the ten years that he spent working for the state security, in the course of which, “coming from the borderlands of a worldview with a different direction,” he came so close to “the socialist ideology” that he was willing to put the needs of the party before the interests of family. (In 1954, for instance, because of his work as agent he left his family for three months. As he noted, he would not have been willing to do this in 1949.) One does not find the same kind of continuity in T. M.’s narrative, but according to the methodological introduction added as an afterthought, the narrative provided a good “mirror of the thoughts and feelings that arise in someone in the wake of our work. It is also proof of how, in the maintenance of the network, proper guidance can bring the agent—mistakes he has committed notwithstanding—closer politically, and in the end the agent becomes one of the enduring supporters of our people’s democratic system.”

This comment calls our attention to an essential fact, namely that the network was not merely a tool with which information was gathered, it was also a tool with which people were indoctrinated, since the conversion, as it were, in the course of his work as an informer (or even as a consequence of this work) of someone who was regarded as an enemy of the system into someone who supported the system was a significant achievement. According to the internal affairs commands regarding the network, the case officer was supposed to indoctrinate the agent.21 The officer was charged not simply with the tasks of training and guiding the agent, but also with his or her political indoctrination. According to one study written for state security officers in the case of an agent who hailed from enemy circles and against whom compromising or incriminating evidence had been used in order to leave him or her little choice but to enlist, “the ultimate goal was to change their worldview and make them understand and accept Marxist-Leninist ideology.” This of course was the most ambitious goal, but the officer at the very least had to manage to make the informer grasp that “the people’s democracy is the only system and the dictatorship of the proletariat the only just form of social life that ensures the welfare of the majority. One must nurture love of the socialist homeland in him, which is the most elevated and most righteous form of patriotism.”22

Me and Us

As is apparent, for the people who were recalling their lives as agents, the fact that they had had to inform on people was not a source of displeasure. Rather, it was the fact that their bosses had not regarded them as people who were on their side and therefore had not trusted them. The author of the report dated May 27, 1958 was very upset when at a meeting his case officer’s superior said the following about the information he had provided: “This is something. Get information like this, then we’ll be alright. But if you don’t get information like this, then you can lie down at our feet and swear that you are our man, but we won’t believe you.” “Koroknai” also complained a great deal about how for a long time the case officers treated him as an enemy, “like someone who had been accused, though the accusation remained unspoken.” This explains in part why he was also displeased by the warning he was given by the member of the secret police who recruited him: “do not let anyone learn of your conspiring, for it would bring great shame on you if people were to know of our relationship.” The agent envisioned the development of a “principled” relationship, since he regarded himself as someone who stood on the side of the defense of the state, while the officer saw him as an enemy who had been compelled to serve as an informer. Yet, as he put it, “by the time the counter-revolution broke out I looked on the authorities like Endre Ady looked on God: my concern is your concern…”23 He regarded his private life and the work he did in the service of the state security as a unified whole: “The nature of my work so closely resembled the nature of my secret tasks, they intersected at so many points that I was able to understand the whole thing as a single unified progression. I likened myself to streams part of which flows underground, as some subterranean streams do.”

The signs suggest that this was a general problem, and in time the internal affairs leadership noticed this too. According to a 1968 summary on the agent network of the state security services, “in general it can be stated that we do not know well enough the people who are among the first whom we expect to uncover and bring an end to enemy activities. In practice, this means, for instance, that often we entertain doubts in our assessments of the reliability and trustworthiness of the agents who maintain direct relationships with the enemy.”24 We do not know how much the situation changed after this.

The use of terminology by the narrators also clearly indicates that they saw themselves as soldiers who served in defense of the system, since they referred to themselves not as “members of the network” or “agents,” but rather as secret (in some cases external) employee. As of 1972, the term “secret employee” („titkos munkatárs”) served as a designation for one of the categories of people who were active as part of the network, though all of the texts in question here were written well before this, thus clearly the authors were not using the term in this sense. Towards the end of the 1960s, the suggestion was made to use the term secret colleague instead of network member, since the relationship of the agents to the state security services “was decisively founded on patriotic conviction.”25 It is perhaps not coincidental that in 1968 (i.e. at roughly the same time) the state security of the German Democratic Republic also changed the official term that was used for informers from “Geheimer Informator” (secret informer) and “Geheimer Mitarbeiter” (secret colleague) to “Inoffizieller Mitarbeiter,” or unofficial colleague. This change was motivated by the realization that people did not like to identify themselves as denouncers, but they were able to interpret cooperation in the defense of the state and the social order as responsible and respectable work. Also, the term “colleague” implied that the officers and the informers worked together as (almost) equal partners.26 Clearly, the members of the state security services in Hungary also would have like to have thought this.

The narrators of the retrospectives regularly referred to the state security employees designated in the official phraseology as case officers as their (higher) associates, or contacts. Presumably, the operatives did not use the expression case officer in front of the agents, since the term in Hungarian (“tartótiszt” ) would have been associated with keeping animals, and the agents would have found this less than flattering. (One can imagine how unflattering they would have found it had they learned that the officers often used the term “gopher” to refer to them.)27

Essentially, the agents regarded the state security officers as colleagues (T. M. referred to them as colleagues many times in his letter). The only difference between them, according to the agents, was that the officers openly served the state, while the agents did so undercover. This, however, did not mean that the relationship between them was always harmonious. Almost all of the agents complained that the case officers did not obey the basic rules of conspiratorial work. Clearly the agents were more sensitive to this because they were the ones at risk. The principal source of potential danger was the arrangement of meetings, especially if a meeting was held in a public place and not a private apartment. In the case of the latter, if the superior did not arrive in time this could be a source of trouble. “Many times I waited for hours, and it was particularly difficult not to draw attention to myself and watch and wait for the possible arrival of my contact,” writes the author of the report dated May 28, 1958. He added, “I had to take the stairs around our apartments many times before the contact arrived. In particular, before October 23, 1956 almost every apartment was on the fourth or fifth floor.” Reading the agents’ dossiers, one realizes how little one appreciates the trials and tribulations endured by the informers…

In the case of T. M., it is particularly clear that he regarded himself as significantly more important and more intelligent than the people who had engineered his recruitment and his later contacts. (Even the person to whom he addressed his letter was not an exception.) This occasionally gave rise to comic contradictions in his recollections. For instance, before 1953 he had still been angered by the fact that he had to deal with insignificant trivialities, but after 1953 he was angry because the case officers had warned him not to insist on grappling with so many things at once. Before 1953, he was grieved by the fact that he had to write reports on the public mood, whereas in 1956 it bothered him that his superiors did not heed his reports on the general mood. But T. M. was not the only agent who from many perspectives was more Catholic than the pope (or more communist than Lenin, as it were). All of the retrospective narratives contain episodes in which the agents allegedly knew better than their superiors what they should do and how they should do it. In the report dated May 28, 1958, for instance, one finds the following contention: “sometimes, in unusual cases I had to work according to a preplanned method. If something didn’t go according to the plan, my contact was always angry at me. When I told him that if he was going to get so angry when things didn’t go according to plan it would be more expedient to familiarize the enemy with the plan and hold a rehearsal, well, he delivered such a strident philippic that for some time I could hardly stand on my own two feet. And I lost my critical ‘bravery.’”

The agents drew a distinction between themselves and their contacts on the basis of how they had held their ground during the 1956 Revolution, as well. As T. M. wrote when reflecting on how he had seen the man who had recruited him on a bus during the tumultuous days of the uprising, “outside all kinds of kids armed with pistols were taking the law into their own hands, but I still had to be at my post, indeed then more so than ever, but there were no tanks protecting me, nor did I have the sense of security created by knowing you have the possibility of retreat.” In other words, he was superior to the members of the secret police, who fled and left him on his own with no instructions or guidance. As he noted, “after 23 October no one with whom I could have spoken rationally or answered my telephone calls […] in 1952 it was easy to give orders, but in the fall of 1956 at least they should have given some information regarding the circumstances. They didn’t.” The members of the secret police took flight, while he had to stay, the difficult circumstances notwithstanding, to save what could be salvaged. It is quite clear who he was thinking of when he asked the question, “and 1956. Who stood their ground better?”

“Koroknai’s” narrative also reveals that even in the most trying times he continued to submit reports, though for him this represented the community of fate and common stance he shared with the officers. According to his account, though he did not know exactly where they were, he maintained continuous contact with his connections, speaking with them three times a day on the phone. “I also knew that the leaders had fled. I knew that they too were afraid, though we never spoke of this.” In other words, even surrounded by danger, the agents knew their duties and saw to their tasks, which made their leaders look even worse for having fled. The differences between the two narratives notwithstanding, “Koroknai” and T. M.’s accounts of 1956 were based on a similar model: in both narratives, “we” (in the case of “Koroknai,” the secret agents and their contacts, in the case of T. M., only the agents) referred to the people who had stood their ground, and the significance of this act was augmented by the fact that “they” (the leaders of the state security services, or in the case of T. M.’s recollections the officers of the secret police in general) had not braved the dangers, but rather had fled.

The authors of the recollections preferred to perceive the relationship between agent and case officer as something more than a simple official relationship.28 The author of the May 27, 1958 report envisioned the ideal contact as someone who would be like a stern but understanding father, who would insist on the proper execution of the tasks and methodically indoctrinate the agent, but who at the same time who takes an interest in the agent’s family life, for instance. (This father figure soon gave the agent—who was struggling with serious financial problems—a significant amount of money, he was able to get a ticket to the Hungarian-English soccer match, or he took the agent to visit his mother in a car owned by the office.) One finds traces of this in the report of May 28. The case officers were not always just or consistent (in comparison with one another), but they loved their “children,” i.e. the agents who could have learned from them: “One was never on time, the other always nervous, a third was angry because I had gone to the meeting in spite of the fact that I was sick, while another did not accept my illness as an excuse. There was one who urged me to get the person under observation to drink so that I could learn more from him, and another who thought it was disrespectful of me if I was tipsy after having completed a task. I was also disparaged for going to the bathroom on the occasion of a meeting. Nonetheless, I learned a great deal from each contact, and I sense that they were fond of me. I also think back on all of them with a warm heart ” (my emphasis).

“Koroknai” sensed the solicitude behind the scolding: “looking back on the criticisms [made by the contacts], I think that I badly needed them, especially because neither the people around me nor my superiors have regularly shown value for my work or my conduct.” In other words, it was important to him to have someone pay attention to what he was doing, and the assessments helped him become a better person. However, he preferred to see the case officer not as a father-figure, but as a friend. On one occasion he wrote the following: “a long time ago, sixteen years ago, a political officer came looking for me in my apartment. I was not at home. When I returned home, my wife used the following phrasing to ensure that our little boy would not understand: a friend of yours was here. At the time, this was a code-word. Over the course of the years it acquired meaning and no longer had to be used in quotations marks.”

On the basis of his narrative, in order for this to happen it was necessary for the state security officers to become uncertain as a consequence of 1953, the dissolution of the independent secret police, and the political changes that took place following Stalin’s death. The agent could only sense that the contacts were no longer working according to prefabricated schemes, but rather were brooding, which altered the nature of the meetings as well. No longer did they resemble interrogations in which the agent had to provide an official account, rather they were more as if “two people were conversing in a room.” This changed the agent’s relationship to the case officer: “I felt as if I were working not only in the service of a political view, but was also personally helping the people who maintained a relationship with me in their work. And I used all my abilities to help them. I remember, once I had a contact who was old and too slow in the head to understand what was going on around us at the time. I have never been as attentive in preparing my reports as I was with him. I wanted him to be able to hold his ground as well as he possibly could in front of his superiors. I think of him with respect and fondness to this day.” T. M. had similar sentiments. At the beginning of his letter he makes the following impassioned complaint: “During those ten years—oh, how many times did I speak about this to deaf ears—I missed friendship more than anything else. I worked together with antipathetic colleagues, indifferent colleagues, and congenial colleagues, but I was always missing a friend.” This is why he was so joyful and satisfied to be able to refer to his contact at the time, the addressee of his letter, as his friend.

This all draws attention to one very important factor. It is quite clear that the authors of the retrospective narratives did not regard themselves merely as parts of a network, but rather considered themselves colleagues—external, working in secret—of the state security services. However, apart from the declarations they made when they were recruited (the legal weight of which was debatable), the only thing that tied them to the machinery of the state security (which for them was obscure and vague in its outlines) was the case officer. The relationship between them and their case officers decisively shaped the attitude of the informer towards his work and his commitment to the system. One notices a similar phenomenon in the case of the unofficial collaborators with the Stasi. As far as they were concerned, the contact officer essentially embodied the institution, indeed to such a degree that they referred to their contact officers as “my Stasi.”29 This suggests that collaboration should not be understood as some abstract relationship between an individual and “the” power. This relationship had a personal side as well: from the perspectives of the collaborators, cooperating with the system or an institution of the system meant working together with someone, i.e. with another person.

One of the episodes recounted in “Koroknai’s” recollections shows that from the perspective of collaboration with the Soviet occupation forces and the communists the importance of personal relationships extended beyond the network of agents. As the editor of the journal Debreczen, a periodical of the Smallholders’ Party, he came into official contact with an employee of the Soviet embassy (which had its headquarters in Debrecen, which served as the temporary capital of the country) who worked as a censor. (Presumably this was Bela Ianovich Grygoriev, i.e. Béla Geiger, who had moved to the Soviet Union with his parents as an emigrant. This seems likely given that, according to the description, the conversation between them was held in Hungarian, without an interpreter.) In time, their relationship became personal and even amicable. In the course of their talks, “Koroknai” came to know a man who was cultured, wise, and always unperturbed, and he claimed that it was because of this acquaintance that as a politician and newspaper writer of the Smallholders’ Party he never made an anti-Soviet speech and never wrote an anti-Soviet article. He portrays the Soviet censor as a man of unimpeachable integrity, who he also later was able to regard as a stable point, drawing strength from his example, which strengthened his commitment to the system.

Me and Them

The recollections of the agents share many affinities, perhaps the most significant of which are the authors’ perceptions of their relationships to the state security and their attitudes towards the work they performed as agents. These similar perceptions stem fundamentally from the fact that the agents in question found themselves essentially in the same situation at the moment when they were writing their recollections. Each of them had performed tasks as part of a secret network for years, presumably to the satisfaction of their superiors, as is indicated by the fact that they were asked to write about the experiences they had gained in the course of their work. This similarity in the circumstances in which they found themselves when looking back on their careers led them to adopt similar perspectives in their recollections and offer similar portrayals of the state security network. It is not clear, however, whether or not the stances that emerge in these writings can be considered average, typical, or prevalent. Of course, this can perhaps never be determined with any degree of precision. In my view, however, the value of these recollections lies not in their statistical relevance. They are interesting and valuable as texts, thus the “scope” of the conclusions one can draw on the basis of them could perhaps best be determined by comparing them with the recollections written at the same time (in the Kádár era) by agents who found themselves in different positions. No such “control group” exists, however, as it is difficult to imagine that the authorities would have had someone write down his experiences who only reluctantly had agreed to serve as an informer, had quickly shunned the work because of moral scruples or for some other reason, or for whatever cause had proven useless as an agent. In the end, one cannot entirely exclude the possibility that the experiences of a reluctant or ineffective agent would have been useful to the state security services, but it seems unlikely that someone who was not eager to cultivate the best relationship with the political police would have accepted this task. Whatever the case, however useful they would be as additional methodological sources, to my knowledge no other recollections of former agents similar to those discussed above survived.

The situation, however, is not entirely hopeless. The narratives can be compared with a text that was written under the injunction of the political police, if perhaps under entirely different circumstances. The document in question is a confession written on March 22, 1957 by J. P., a man who was put on trial after 1956.30 Proceedings were brought against the man primarily because of acts he had committed in the course of the events of the uprising, but he was also accused of having revealed his ties to the state security to others. The circumstances under which the document was written demonstrate that at the moment of composition J. P. was in an entirely different relationship with the organs of state security than the other four agents. He was not a respected agent who was considered useful, but rather a suspect accused of treason. (Given the nature of the text, it was not anonymous, but I will not include the name of the author here, since it would not contribute in any meaningful way to its significance in this context.)

The story begins with a description of his recruitment. In this description, the soon-to-be agent plays no role whatsoever as initiator. On the basis of the account, he agreed to cooperate only under pressure from the officers of the secret police: “I was very afraid […] that my family ties could cause me grief. So in order to prove that I thought differently, I agreed to follow their instructions.” (The principal goal of recruiting J. P. was to establish contact with his cousin, who had been sentenced to eight years in prison for having participated in underground organizational efforts in 1952, but who had escaped from a coal mine, where he had been serving time, in June 1955 and fled to the West. The agent was supposed to lure his cousin back to Hungary.)

In spite of the fact that the documents were written under very different circumstances, the confession bears many similarities to the recollections of the less reluctant agents. After having been recruited, J. P. was also troubled by moral misgivings for having accepted the role of an denouncer. His contacts attempted to dispel these anxieties by insisting that he was not serving as an denouncer, but rather was only providing characterizations. It is not clear, on the basis of the text, whether this explanation provided him with any solace or not. It is revealing, however, that he almost compulsively emphasized that by submitting “characterizations,” he did not wish to malign anyone. He strove to say good things about the people he was asked to inform on. But he also emphasized that he did not intend to mislead the secret police either. His remarks suggest uncertainty, which stems from the fact that he sought to meet a variety of divergent expectations at once, but he did not know how to present himself in the best colors to the people to whom his confession was addressed. This tension is palpable in his relationship to the primary target, his cousin who had escaped to the West. On the one hand, he was not willing to attempt to persuade his cousin to return to Hungary and thereby betray him, while on the other he held his cousin responsible for the position in which he found himself.

J. P. also emphasized that he established and maintained relationships with the people he kept under observation only because he had been ordered to do so by the secret police. He was noticeably pleased if his superiors praised him or expressed satisfaction with his work, and he was also bothered when the case officers did not follow the most basic rules of conspiratorial work. Clearly as an agent, he did not know specifically what these rules were, but a bit of commonsense was enough for him to realize that if he received telephone calls from the police station and the meetings were being held at his place of work, those around him might well realize that he was in the service of the state security. As he said in connection with the letter that he was supposed to send to his cousin (which was dictated to him by one of the officers), such steps were not productive, since the addressee would be suspicious. And indeed he was probably correct, his cousin probably was suspicious, for he never replied to the letter and never wrote to J. P. again.

In J. P.’s account, 1956 understandably could not be portrayed as a period of committed moral integrity in the face of armed opposition (as it had been described by T. M.), if for no other reason than simply because he had been arrested specifically for the acts he had committed during the revolution, but also because it was at this time that what the agent had feared the most had come to pass: more and more people had informed him that they knew about his ties to the state security. From a certain perspective, however, his situation nonetheless bore affinities with the situation of the other four agents. First, even after the revolution had broken out, he continued to “work,” though in his case this meant little more than routine execution of his responsibilities for a time (on October 24 he discussed a letter that he was supposed to send with his case officer). Second, and this is considerably more significant, he had a chance to experience abandonment: the county secret police fled the country and left him behind. Thus, he had to face the emerging threats and the possibility of being exposed on his own. His solution to the situation was to expose himself as someone who had worked for the secret police and try to win the goodwill of the revolutionaries.

J. P. did not use the expressions agent or case officer either, though he also did not refer to himself as a colleague of the officers, nor did he call the officers contacts. The position in which he found himself at the time of retrospection did not make it possible for him to regard the officers of the state security services as colleagues. In my view, this was not because in the eyes of his “colleagues” (or more precisely their colleagues) he was a man suspected of having committed counter-revolutionary acts. According to all signs, he did not even see a link between the state security that had been dissolved in 1956 and the people who were interrogating him, for even after his arrest, he was convinced that he had been detained because he had worked for the discredited secret police. The explanation, in my view, lies rather in the fact that J. P. conjured his memories under circumstances and at a time that did not make it possible for him to make his agent self an integral part of his identity. He could not proudly admit to having worked in the service of the state security, nor could he interpret the deeds he had committed as acts of spying on the enemy. Unlike the other four agents, the circumstances did not enable him to regard himself as anything other than a denouncer. While for the other four narrators the tension between their dual roles did not lead to a split in their psychological lives (at least not a lasting split), for J. P., who found himself in far less auspicious circumstances, his work as an agent clearly caused serious inner crisis and suffering.

Conclusions

The retrospective narratives under discussion here offer illuminating illustrations of the fact that the state security network was the shared product of “power” and “society”: in its organization, the secret police took the initiative, but in order for it to come into being they needed the cooperation of members of the citizenry who had been selected as candidates for recruitment. Research on ideological dictatorships has shown that among the motivations of these informers one finds notions of patriotism or ideological commitment, but most of the people involved were influenced by personal interest.31 The informers and their superiors thus used one another, and also depended on one another. From the perspective of power, this meant that the informers contributed to the maintenance and functioning of the system and also that the need for the information they provided made the system dependent to some extent on them. This realization may have played a role, for instance, in the fact that—unlike the Gestapo—the Stasi strove to rely on the organized network of informers.32 The institutionalization of informing, however, did not mean that personal, material or other considerations were not among the motivations of the unofficial coworkers of the East German secret police.33

The texts under discussion here paint a picture according to which the authors accepted the role of informer out of loyalty to the system and commitment to ideology. (Clearly, the authors did not consider it tactful to mention personal motives in narratives intended for their superiors.) This is the most apparent in “Koroknai’s” recollections. He had already offered his services to the Communist Party when he was recruited. However, this gesture could suggest another kind of motive. Perhaps as he bore witness to the creation of the one-party system, the Smallholder politician realized that if he wanted to remain politically active he would have to find new opportunities and new spaces for action. The dictatorship offered him the role of informer, and he accepted it. His case suggests that, for the people who were part of it, the network of informers could serve as a tool for political participation in regimes in which there were few other such opportunities.34 (In the Soviet Union under Stalin, for instance, letters in which people were denounced served as a tool with which control was exercised, nominally at least by common members of the citizenry, over people in power, a practice the roots of which went back to the time of the czars.)35

In my view, we may be better able to break from the moralizing narrative mode if we regard the acts of agents or “denouncers” as “a kind of citizen activity in their own right, one of the few powerful forms of agency available to them.”36 Thus the network used by the state security services can be regarded as one of the tools of dialogue between power and society, of course a tool that power offered certain members of society, who either rejected this “opportunity” or made use of it, out of fear, compulsion, possible advantages in the future, etc. Whatever the case, we can examine the work performed by the informers as a social practice, as one of the forms of collaboration with the dictatorship (using the term collaborator to refer not only to people who cooperated with the forces of Soviet occupation, but more generally with the dictatorial system). Indeed, we can study it as an unusual form of collaboration, in part because an agent could be regarded as a collaborator in a legal sense, since his or her recruitment was an act of (admittedly precarious) legal weight, and in part because, given the essential nature of this form of collaboration, it had to remain a secret and thus obliged the agent to lead a double-life, at least for a time. Of course, this approach does not entirely exclude the possibility of passing ethical judgment, but it creates an appropriate foundation for a nuanced study of the state security network of the Bolshevik dictatorships.37

Nonetheless—and this is essential—the agents never referred to or thought of themselves as collaborators. They did not contextualize the services they had provided in the complex relationship between power and society. Indeed, they draw no such clear distinction between the two in their narratives. They characterize their work and in general the work of the secret police as having been entirely in harmony with the society around them, or at least the society of honest workers, and something that was done in the interests of this society. In addition, they regarded the circles of the employees of the state security, whether people who worked openly for the state (the officers) or people who worked in secret (the agents), and the work they performed as a unified whole. One could say that they effaced entirely the border between “power” and “society,” and in doing so also effaced the border between officer and agent.

With the exception of the numerically small group of people who actively opposed the regime, everyone was compelled to cooperate with the communist system to some extent or to flee the country. Everyday life was shaped by various ways of relating to the regime. Perhaps, instead of speaking of collaboration, which implies a sharp dichotomy, it would be more productive to speak of various (and possibly diverging) degrees and forms of cooperation with the system.

Archival Sources

Állambiztonsági Szolgálatok Történeti Levéltára [Historical Archives of the Hungarian State Security], Budapest.

ÁBTL 1.5. 2-3/6/1955. A belügyminiszter 6. sz. parancsa az államvédelmi szervek ügynöki munkájának alapelvei című instrukció kiadásáról, 1955. február 9. [Order number 6 of the Minister of Internal Affairs on the issuing of the instructions entitled Basic Principles of the Agent Work of the Organs of State Security. February 9, 1955].

ÁBTL 1.5. 2-10/94/1956. A belügyminiszter 94. sz. parancsa az államvédelmi szervek ügynöki munkájának alapelvei című okmány kiadásáról, 1956. október 8. [Order number 94 of the Minister of Internal Affairs on the issuing of the certificate entitled Basic Principles of the Agent Work of the Organs of State Security. October 8, 1956].

ÁBTL 1.11.10. A Belügyminisztérium III. Főcsoportfőnöksége ügynöki hálózata, a hálózati munka fejlődése és feladatai, 1968. december 11. (II. sorozat, 60. doboz.) [The agent network of the III. Chief Directorate of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the development of the network and its tasks, December 11, 1968 (Series II, box 60)].

ÁBTL 1.11.10. Jelentés. A BM állambiztonsági szervek hálózata, a hálózati munka feladatai, 1968. július 12. (II. sorozat, 60. doboz.) [The network of the organs of state security of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the tasks of the network, July 12, 1968. (Series II, box 60)].

ÁBTL 3.1.9. V-145842. 33–37. P. J. önvallomása, 1957. március 22. [Confession of J. P., March 22, 1957].

ÁBTL 4.1. A-2103. Így láttam. Névtelen jegyzetek egy elhagyott lakásból. 1970. [How I saw it. Anonymous notes from an abandoned apartment. 1970].

ÁBTL 4.1. A-3087. Muzslai József and Szélpál Ottó: Az ügynökség vezetésének és nevelésének alapelvei és módszerei. Budapest: BM Tanulmányi és Módszertani Osztály, 1957. [Fundamental principles and methods of the leadership and indoctrination of the agency. Budapest: Research and Methodological Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, 1957].

ÁBTL 4.1. A-3253. Hálózati személy visszaemlékezése saját titkos munkájára. Jelentés, 1958. május 27., Jelentés, 1958. május 28. [A network man’s recollections of his own secret work, May 27, 1958. Report, May 28, 1958].

ÁBTL 4.1. A-3783. Kedves Barátom! Egy ügynök visszaemlékezései. Segédanyag a Politikai Nyomozó Tanszék részére. [Budapest:] BM Tanulmányi és Módszertani Osztály, é. n. [Dear Friend! The recollections of an agent. Auxiliary material for the Department of Political Inquiry. [Budapest:] Research and Methodological Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, n.d.].

ÁBTL 4.2. 10-21/33/1958. A belügyminiszter 33. sz. parancsa az államvédelmi szervek ügynöki munkájának alapelvei című okmány kiadásáról, 1958. december 5. [Order number 33 of the Minister of Internal Affairs on the issuing of the certificate entitled Basic Principles of the Agent Work of the Organs of State Security, December 5, 1958].

ÁBTL 4.2. 10-21/5/1972. A belügyminiszter 005. sz. parancsa az állambiztonsági szervek hálózati munkájának alapelveit tartalmazó szabályzat kiadásáról, 1972. április 5. [Order number 005 of the Minister of Internal Affairs on the issuing of the regulations containing the basic principles of the Agent Work of the Organs of State Security, April 5, 1972].

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1 This article was written with the support of program number K-104408 of the Hungarian Scientific Research Fund (OTKA).

2 Balázs Berkovits, “Erkölcstelen besúgók, tehetséges áldozatok, áldozatos erkölcsbírók”, anBlokk 3. (2009): 13.

3 Cf. Sheila Fitzpatrick and Robert Gellately, “Introduction to the Practices of Denunciation in Modern European History,” The Journal of Modern History, 68 (1996): 765–66.

4 Gábor Gyáni, “Kollaboráció és a hatalom titka,” in Az ügynök arcai. Mindennapi kollaboráció és ügynökkérdés, ed. Sándor Horváth (Budapest: Libri, 2014), 43–44.

5 Richard T. Vann, “Historians and Moral Evaluations,” History and Theory, Theme Issue 43 (2004): 3–30.

6 This is by no means true exclusively for conditions in Hungary. Jens Gieseke, „Staatssicherheit und Gesellschaft – Plädoyer für einen Brückenschlag,” in Staatssicherheit und Gesellschaft Studien zum Herrschaftsalltag in der DDR, ed. idem (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011), 7–22.

7 Fitzpatrick and Gellately, “Introduction”, 759–63.

8 Robert Gellately, “Denunciation in Twentieth-Century Germany: Aspects of Self-Policing in the Third Reich and the German Democratic Republic,” The Journal of Modern History, 68 (1996): 931–33, 966–67.

9 Paul Betts, Within Walls: Private Life in the German Democratic Republic (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 23, 49.

10 Robert Gellately, “Denunciation as a Subject of Historical Research,” Historical Social Research 26, no. 2 (2001): 20.

11 Corey Ross, The East German Dictatorship: Problems and Perspectives in the Interpretation of the GDR (London: Arnold, 2012), 63.

12 István Dobos, Autobiographical Reading. Spectrum Hungarologicum, vol. 3 (Jyväskylä–Pécs: University of Jyväskylä, 2010), 9.

13 Állambiztonsági Szolgálatok Történeti Levéltára (hereafter: ÁBTL) 4.1. A-3253.

14 ÁBTL 4.1. A-3783.

15 ÁBTL 4.1. A-2103.

16 Jerome Bruner, Actual minds, possible worlds (Cambridge–London: Harvard University Press, 1986).

17 I have analyzed these texts in greater detail elsewhere: Tibor Takács, Besúgók a besúgásról. Ügynök-visszaemlékezések a Kádár-korszakból (Budapest: L’Harmattan, 2013).

18 Kata Horváth, “A Borsányi név. A politikai és a tudományos megfigyelés határai,” anBlokk 3 (2009): 37.

19 Karol Sauerland, Harminc ezüst: Besúgások és árulások, trans. Péter Várnai (Budapest: Helikon, 2001), 249–58.

20 Daniel L. Schacter, The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers (Boston–New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2002), 138–49.

21 ÁBTL 1.11.5. 2-3/6/1955. A belügyminiszter 6. sz. parancsa az államvédelmi szervek ügynöki munkájának alapelvei című instrukció kiadásáról, February 9, 1955; ÁBTL 1.5. 2-10/94/1956. A belügyminiszter 94. sz. parancsa az államvédelmi szervek ügynöki munkájának alapelvei című okmány kiadásáról, October 8, 1956; ÁBTL 4.2. 10-21/33/1958. A belügyminiszter 33. sz. parancsa az államvédelmi szervek ügynöki munkájának alapelvei című okmány kiadásáról, December 5, 1958; ÁBTL 4.2. 10-21/5/1972. A belügyminiszter 005. sz. parancsa az állambiztonsági szervek hálózati munkájának alapelveit tartalmazó szabályzat kiadásáról, April 5, 1972.

22 ÁBTL 4.1. A-3087. József Muzslai and Ottó Szélpál, Az ügynökség vezetésének és nevelésének alapelvei és módszerei (Budapest: BM Tanulmányi és Módszertani Osztály, 1957), 37.

23 The citation is from the last stanza of a poem by twentieth-century Hungarian poet Endre Ady entitled A kimérák Istenéhez, or “To the God of Chimeras”: “My concern is your conern / For if you do not keep your faithful / no one will believe in you in time: / God, Secret, draw your sword!” Ady Endre összes versei (Budapest: Szépirodalmi, 1967), 375.

24 ÁBTL 1.11.10. A Belügyminisztérium III. Főcsoportfőnöksége ügynöki hálózata, a hálózati munka fejlődése és feladatai, December 11, 1968 (II. sorozat, 60. doboz).

25 ÁBTL 1.11.10. Jelentés. A BM állambiztonsági szervek hálózata, a hálózati munka feladatai, July 12, 1968 (II. sorozat, 60. doboz).

26 David Childs and Richard Popplewell, The Stasi: The East German Intelligence and Security Service, (Basingstoke–London: Macmillan, 1996), 83. Jens Gieseke, The History of the Stasi: East Germany’s Secret Police, 1945–1990 (New York–Oxford: Berghahn, 2014), 79–80.

27 ÁBTL 1.11.10. Jelentés. A BM állambiztonsági szervek hálózata, a hálózati munka feladatai, July 12, 1968 (II. sorozat, 60. doboz).

28 This was true of the informers for the Stasi as well: Betts, Within Walls, 46–47.

29 Barbara Miller, Narratives of Guilt and Compliance in Unified Germany: Stasi Informers and their Impact on Society (London–New York: Routledge, 1999), 64.

30 ÁBTL 3.1.9. V-145842. 33–37. P. J. önvallomása, March 22, 1957.

31 Fitzpatrick and Gellately, “Introduction”, 751; Gellately, “Denunciation as a Subject,” 23–24.

32 Idem, “Denunciation in Twentieth-Century Germany,” 956–59; Betts, Within Walls, 44–45.

33 Alon Confino demonstrates this in an excellent case study: “The Travels of Bettina Humpel: One Stasi File and Narratives of State and Self in East Germany,” in Socialist Modern: East German Everyday Culture and Politics, ed. Katherine Pence and Paul Betts (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2008), 133–54. Also see Betts, Within Walls, 46–47.

34 Fitzpatrick and Gellately, “Introduction”, 752; Gellately, “Denunciation as a Subject,” 25.

35 Sheila Fitzpatrick, “Signals from Below: Soviet Letters of Denunciation of the 1930s,” The Journal of Modern History 68 (1996): 845–49; Vladimir A. Kozlov, “Denunciation and Its Functions in Soviet Governance: A Study of Denunciations and Their Bureaucratic Handling from Soviet Police Archives, 1944–1953,” The Journal of Modern History 68 (1996): 867–98.

36 Betts, Within Walls, 49.

37 See Sándor Horváth, “»Apa nem volt komcsi« – a mindennapi kollaboráció és az ügynökkérdés határai”, in Az ügynök arcai. Mindennapi kollaboráció és ügynökkérdés, ed. Sándor Horváth (Budapest: Libri, 2014), 7–37.

Volume 4 Issue 1 CONTENTS

pdfCaterina Preda

Forms of Collaboration of Visual Artists in Communist Romania of the 1970s–1980s

Little attention has been given in political science analyses of communist-era Romania to the relationships between visual artists and the secret police. In this article, I attempt to address this lacuna in our understanding of the interactions between the state and artists by presenting two forms of collaboration of visual artists during the last two decades of Romanian communism: the artists’ involvement in the ideological project of the communist party and their “collaboration” with the secret police. In addition, I also examine the ways in which artists have contributed a posteriori to our understandings of the communist experience with their artworks. I offer detailed examinations of the cases of three visual artists. The approach I have adopted includes analyses of interviews with two artists who represent two opposing cases and examinations of the files that were kept on them by state surveillance organs, so as to provide a new, multifaceted perspective on the relationships between artists and the communist regime. I contend that the study of artistic artifacts can supplement traditional sources for political science analyses of the communist past and provide a more nuanced perspective on the period. The article shows that imposing artistic dogmas is not simply a top-down process, but one resulting from complex interactions between different institutional and individual actors. 

 

Keywords: visual artists, secret police (Securitate), Romania, communism, collaboration.

 

Introduction

In this article, I introduce two understandings of collaboration among artists with the communist regime in Romania: collaboration as part of an artistic project of the regime and the cooperation of individual artists with the secret police. I also examine a posteriori contributions of artists to our understandings of the communist regime as another perspective on the ways in which life under the dictatorship is remembered. The collaboration of artists with the communist regime is a topic that remains highly divisive in Romanian society given the political uses to which the archives of the former regime, which were only recently made accessible to the public, have been put to.

Before 1989, artists had to pursue their creative activity in conformity with the ideological principles of the state. Thus, they were compelled to collaborate in the consolidation of the myth of communist society, or the “multi-laterally developed,” society as it came to be called towards the end of the regime. At the same time, most artists developed “another art,” alongside their work in compliance with official requests to depict the mandatory ideology. Some of these artistic productions can help us construct a history that differs from the officially sanctioned one and remains distinct from the narrative of the so-called “democratic opposition,” which emphasized victimhood and repression, which are not necessarily part of a shared memory for all citizens. In this sense, artistic artifacts can supplement traditional sources for political science analyses of the communist past. This different point of view on this history is in accordance with Jacques Rancière’s concept of dissensus. Both politics and art provoke a dissensus and impose operations of reconfiguration of the sensible; thus art can help us see what was unseen or see differently what was regarded from a unique perspective.1 The artist is also a collector of signs. He or she is an archivist, and thus what artists register may convey meanings in everyday objects, such as a banal photograph or a mundane event, that at first escape our glance.2

In this article, I discuss the experiences of three Romanian visual artists, Sabin Bălaşa, Ion Grigorescu and Rudolf Bone, and their interaction with the Securitate,3 as well as their perceptions of these experiences. Although my discussion does not offer a comprehensive overview of these interactions or the relationships on which they were based, the experiences of these artists are evocative of the control exerted by the secret police on the artistic world. I also attempted to learn more about the point of view of the former Securitate on this topic and requested any files archived by the Council for the Study of the Securitate Archives (CNSAS). For Ion Grigorescu, I found no surveillance or collaboration files; the artist is briefly mentioned in surveillance files that were kept on other artists. In the case of Rudolf Bone, there was a surveillance file that I use in order to compare the contents of the file with the information given by the artist in the interview. There is a microfilm file on Bălaşa that documents his collaboration with the Securitate. The three artists represent distinct and opposing cases. While Bălaşa is considered to have been one of the “painters of Ceauşescu” (i.e. he painted several famous paintings of the couple), Grigorescu was marginal during the communist era and Bone was a dissenter. Two other informal interviews with Romanian art critics (Pavel Şuşară and Aurelia Mocanu) accompany the secondary sources used for this investigation. The artistic examples include Ion Grigorescu’s depiction of the “spontaneous organization” by the secret police of a manifestation of support for the communist leaders, Rudolf Bone’s description of his inability to act, and Ion Dumitriu’s documentation of the lives of the people who were and still are excluded from official portrayals of life under communism.

This investigation covers the last two decades of the communist regime in Romania, the 1970s and the 1980s, starting with the recalibration of the Romanian cultural sphere after the so-called “1971 July theses” by Nicolae Ceauşescu, in which the dictator demanded that artists deal more often with socialist topics.4 The focus of this research is on visual artists (or artists in the plastic arts, as they were called by the communist regime), including painting, sculpture, ceramics, etc.,5 as well as their forms of representation, such as the Union of Plastic Artists (UAP).

Little attention has been given in political science analyses of communist-era Romania to the relationships between visual artists and the secret police. Some information is provided in studies that analyze the relationships between artists and the Securitate in the volumes of collected documents edited by Dan Cătănuş, such as Intelectuali români în arhivele comunismului [Romanian Intellectuals in Communist Archives] (2006), which includes several references to artists who were arrested, etc. One could also mention the volumes edited by Silviu Moldovan, Arhivele Securităţii vols I & II (2006), which contain files from the Securitate archives that have references to artists. A further useful reference is the analyses of the Romanian cultural sphere during communism. In addition to my doctoral dissertation, in which I compared the Romanian experience to the Chilean one,6 works by other authors have delved into this topic. In two volumes, Literatura şi artele în România comunistă 1948–1953 [Literature and the Arts in Communist Romania, 1948–1953] (2010) and Politicile culturale comuniste în timpul regimului Gheorghiu-Dej [The Communist Cultural Policies during the regime of Gheorghiu-Dej] (2011), Cristian Vasile concentrates on a description of the structures of the communist regime and the decisions made by these institutions that affected artists and artworks. Additional information is provided by Magda Cârneci’s analysis of the visual arts during the communist regime in Artele plastice în România 1945–1989 [Fine Arts in Romania 1945–1989] (2000), in which Magda Cârneci identifies several periods within the long period of communist rule and examines artistic trends and specific artists. Diaries kept by those involved in the artistic sphere, either as art critics or as employees of a museum department (Petre Oprea) or a Union of Plastic Arts’ department (Samuil Rosei), represent another important kind of source that offers insights into the Romanian artistic world during the communist period. I use each of these sources as complements to the interviews mentioned above.

My article deals with the collaboration of Romanian visual artists with the Securitate, although there were other forms of collaboration that could be investigated, such as the relationships they established within the UAP. I chose not to focus on this, however, as it has been already discussed in the studies of Alice Mocănescu, for example, much as the question of collaboration between artists and organizations of the PCR (Partidul Comunist Român [Romanian Communist Party]) has been touched on in the studies of Cristian Vasile. A focus on their relationship with the Securitate offers another perspective from which to consider the complexity of the links between artists and the communist regime, as well the different meanings of adhering to the official line or contradicting it and the types of artistic freedoms artists had.

In what follows, after a presentation of the Securitate and its relationships with the artists of Romania, I offer an analysis of the collaboration of Romanian artists with the ideological project imposed by the communist regime (with a focus on the last two decades). I then discuss specific forms of collaboration by visual artists and their relationships with the secret police in Romania. Finally, I present examples of works of art that contribute to our current understanding of the communist past.

The Securitate Surveillance: Perception And Reality

The communist regime was based on ideological control and the establishment of the illusion of perfect surveillance. More often than not, people censored themselves on their own, without any outside stimuli (i.e. real secret police surveillance). This fear of the other was gradually internalized by Romanian citizens during the communist regime and became the norm in the 1980s. For example, this awareness of being followed was evoked by the art critic, Samuil Rosei who wrote the following in his diary in 1971: “I don’t know if that day I observed I was followed. The ‘guys’ were on my trail for almost a year. I saw them in the morning in the window of the attic across the street, happy that finally I was leaving home and giving them a chance to take a walk. I counted around 16 or 17 of them, the people who chased me ‘from the shadow’.”7

The actual number of secret police keeping members of the population under observation was not as high as the people in question believed, but the extent of the surveillance network remains impressive. The number of informers at the outbreak of the December 1989 Revolution was “450,000, of whom some 130,000 were active.”8 Other figures are more striking. According to Anisescu, “approximately 7,000,000 people, or one-third of the adult population appeared in the registers of the Securitate in 1965. Writers and artists were chosen generally as subjects for surveillance files.9 Along with the people who were collaborating with the secret police, we should also mention those who were working for the Securitate. The Securitate employed only 3,973 people in 1948, but by 1969 this number had risen to 5,966, and10 by 1989 it had ballooned to more than 20,000 (39,000 according to Verdery).11

Compliance was guaranteed through different techniques: blackmail, menace, surveillance or inducements, as well as surveillance that included “the use of informers, visual surveillance, and wire-tapping.”12

There were several types of collaboration with the Securitate, and several synonyms have been used in the literature on this topic. Thus, we could include here the terms collaborator, informer, popularly turnător (literally someone that spills it all), or source (official name). According to Deletant, “the informer network was described as being composed of informers, support personnel, residents and occupants of safe houses,” and “the informer was defined as a person who had access to information and sufficient personal attributes, someone who, under the constant guidance of a Securitate officer, actively seeks and gathers information about the people and the deeds that form the object of an investigation.”13 Moreover, an informer was a person who “provided information in an organized manner (preferably in writing), assumed a false name, and usually signed a “contract” called an Angajament [commitment].”14 There would be a further difference between “collaborator (unqualified informer), and informer (qualified, source—the name given by the Securitate),” but also with respect to the “‘informers with no traces,’ support persons in contact with an officer.”15

Specific techniques of surveillance and repression were used by the communist regime for the artistic sphere. At the beginning of the communist regime, “soft” repressive techniques were used, such as “interference in the creative process by the imposition of themes, the censuring of work, and obstacles to publication,” along with harsher approaches, such as “limiting access to education, exercising self-criticism in front of the group, public exposure, exclusion from the party, being compelled to work at a low income job,” and even “being deprived of personal liberty by being sent to work colonies, assigned a fixed residence, imprisoned, and, finally, recruited inside the prison to serve as an informer.”16 According to Clara Mareş, the Securitate had several means of exerting influence on artists and especially writers by using “neutralizing measures,” such as positive influence or alerting the party organization, and if this did not work, the artists would be compromised, isolated or warned.17 Then, artists would be kept under surveillance, just like other citizens. Their mail was read, their houses and studios were searched, and the secret police installed listening devices. Even their friends and families were used to recruit informers.18

Having examined the files on fifteen artists and art critics held in the CNSAS, I have identified details concerning the specific ways in which visual artists were kept under surveillance. First, there was an important difference between the motives for keeping an artist under observation in the 1950s and 1960s and the motives for keeping artists under surveillance in the last two decades of communist rule, i.e. the 1970s and 1980s. In the first period of the communist regime, the main motives concerned “hostile” declarations, i.e. anti-communist sentiments and pro-American statements, while later the reasons either involved artworks (works included in an exhibition that were regarded as going against the established canon) or were connected to the artists leaving the country, as well as to their contacts with foreigners inside the country. In the latter case, artists were coopted into collaboration and pressured to inform on the employees of consulates and embassies. Once abroad, they had to contact certain persons, discuss specific topics and inform the officer upon their return of the details of their stay. I was not able to establish with certainty if going abroad automatically meant being contacted by an officer so as to be coerced into collaboration, but whether this was the case or not, it was certainly the general perception of those who recall the period.

Establishing contact with an artist in order to compel him or her to collaborate was part of the preparatory work done by the Securitate. Prior to the initial contact by the officer, other informers (through “letters of recommendation”) and members of the UAP (usually the chair) would have to characterize the person in question as a potential candidate for collaboration. A very detailed report was provided by the UAP, including information about the artist’s education, his or her character, and the quality of her or his work as exemplified in the number of exhibitions in which he or she had participated. The file established by the officer in charge included information about the artist’s contacts with foreigners in Romania or Romanians who had emigrated (Bone). Before the officer arranged a meeting to determine whether or not an artist who had been identified by the Securitate as a possible collaborator would agree to collaborate, the artist would be followed and thoroughly evaluated. Thus, most files include a “plan of measures for surveillance,” such as the examination of his or her mail, eavesdropping on telephone conversations, and the installation of different instruments used in surveillance inside his or her house or studio.

Most of the artists I investigated agreed to collaborate, and some, such as Bălaşa, were rewarded, while others were not. Some of the artists who collaborated were able to travel with less difficulty afterword, as is clear from their files; they received letters of recommendation from the UAP and the militia in support of their demands. Some of the artists had several names as collaborators because they were surveyed in different periods and given a new name for each new surveillance or/and collaboration file. The files are very chaotic, since, as Verdery notes, they were organized on the basis of the activities in question and not chronologically,19 but they sometimes provide information that goes well beyond the mere question of whether or not the person collaborated with the Securitate. An important detail mentioned by Verdery is also noticeable in some of the cases I investigated. As she notes, “files can make ‘informers’ out of people who staunchly deny that they ever held this role.”20 Thus, the files archived by the CNSAS should be compared with other sources, as I try to do in this article by including the viewpoints and remarks of the artists who create their own narratives through the answers they give to my questions or, in the case of Bălaşa, to questions raised by others.

Artistic Ideological Collaboration with Communist Myth Construction

An important part of the establishment and the consolidation of the communist regime in Romania was the control exerted on the cultural sphere. Some artists and intellectuals were coerced into complying with the new official dogma, others conformed voluntarily, and some opposed the regime and were punished accordingly. The punishments included imprisonment, execution, or the loss of the right to create as mandatory official creative unions were established. Those who collaborated with the regime were offered important benefits if they chose to participate in the ideological project and conform in their creative work to the new aesthetic. The regime rewarded those who agreed to collaborate by granting them prizes in the form of monetary incentives, but also recognition, privileged access to creative institutions throughout the country, and domestic and international travel.21

Rather quickly, at the end of the 1940s, the Romanian government acquired a monopoly on art production and distribution through the nationalization of cinematographs, printing facilities, museums, etc. and the centralization of educational institutions. Moreover, artists became ideological workers in the service of the party. Their endeavors were organized by the state-structured artistic creative unions (which included writers, visual artists, architects, musicians, and, later, people involved in theater and cinema). For Magda Cârneci, the Union for Plastic Artists (UAP), the party (with its different structures), and the artists formed a kind of totalitarian triangle. I would add to this triangle another type of collaboration by artists with the regime, which involved the influence exerted by artists on their colleagues or acquaintances through their cooperation with the Securitate.

A unique style was imposed on creators: Socialist Realism imported from the Soviet Union, where it had become the norm in the mid-1930s. Relaxed after 1956 in the Soviet Union and other East European countries, it remained the norm in Romania, and it even gathered strength in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1971, Nicolae Ceauşescu issued his infamous “July Theses,” which reinvigorated the socialist orientation of artistic endeavors through a 17-point program to be followed by artists. Thus, “through different forms and varied styles of expression, art must serve the people, the fatherland, the socialist society,” and art had to illustrate socialist realities, understood as the life of the working people.22 This translated into the promotion of what Magda Cârneci has called “state kitsch,” which was centered first and foremost on the image of Ceauşescu himself, but also on his close family, his wife Elena and his sons and daughter. Then, having decided that in his view artists had not followed the official guidelines, in 1983 Ceauşescu reiterated his call for artists to produce socialist inspired art through what is known as the “Mangalia Theses.”23 Art was considered merely an ideological tool that served political purposes and had no autonomy of subject or method. This official art was demanded from artists for regional, municipal, and local exhibitions, which were organized throughout the year, as well as for the rest of the celebrations, which became ever more numerous in the last years of the Ceauşescu regime.

At the same time, the communist panorama of artistic creation is much more complicated and diversified or stratified. As Ion Grigorescu stated, “there were many ways to collaborate, in the sense of working together.”24 The types of collaboration with power included being a member of the Communist Party, being a member of the union (which was mandatory for any artist), working for the different intermediate or local party agencies that acted as patrons of the arts in the free world and ordered artworks (for instance, the Union of Communist Youth, UTC, etc.), having connections with the “Gospodăria de Partid” (a section of the Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party in charge of administrative internal affairs) or the BTT (Bureau of Youth Travel), or, finally, working for the Ministry of Internal Affairs (for these individuals artistic creation was a luxury).25

For Ion Grigorescu, who in recent years has been characterized as one of the representatives of the Romanian neo-vanguard for his artworks in which he mixes photography, video, performance art, etc., his choices were also more complex, as he recounts in the interview.26 His evolution as an artist was molded during the communist regime and his options were imprinted with the different realities that obliged artists to create:

I.G.: I began to exhibit visual art in 1969. I found the following [written] in my diary entry from March 11, 1976, “during the night, passing next to the steam from the cement-crushing mill (Balta Albă): if these people are building socialism, so should I.”

(…) My childhood coincided with the evolution of the socialist society, I benefited from the permanent actualization of the social and political problematic. I felt it was a new world that was being built on the basis of equality, of the honor of being a revolutionary fighter, of the principle that life was an honor. These ideas shaped me in the sense of the continuous fight for them, of the personal example. As my family, my neighbors were having a difficult time in the first years of the 1950s, we all believed we were equally poor, in the work full of perspectives. I was very fond of the newspaper Scânteia [the official newspaper], of its graphics and its information, and I had this representation of an ‘us,’ a block of people of the same social will, the bad coming always from outside. I found out in time that the social structure was much more complicated. I depart from the hardest work for which I have a deep love and respect. I like to listen to people of all sectors of life, the image of their lives is formed out of words; I’d like to try to follow a worker with my camera for twenty-four hours. Of paintings, I don’t make ethical debates, I don’t want to give ratings, in fact I don’t have such a rigid position anymore, I suggest they be analyzed, I give way to discussions, to reactions in many mediums. I would like to make inquiries.27

I have painted several paintings, such as “The reconstitution of the furnace in the studio,” “Uncamarades,” “Accomplishing the plan resides in the power of the collective,” “Rapid Club.” I made the photographic collage of the TVR broadcast entitled “The great manifestation of August 23, 1974” (with Scânteia texts) and two portraits of president Ceauşescu. …I wasn’t a party member, and I preserved my position of presenting reality without commentary as long as I could.

On the basis of my experiences, the [ideological] principles kept evolving, and sometimes they contradicted themselves and were even criticized in time, and artists followed them sometime without knowing what they really meant.28

The artist and art critic Magda Cârneci divides artists of the 1970s and 1980s into three groups according to their relationship to power: “conformists, fake non-conformists (or fake conformists) and non-conformists,” a groups which, she says, would equal Sorin Alexandrescu’s classification into “mercenaries, merchants and monks (…) or committed, neutral and opponents”.29 Conformists still created according to the official aesthetic, while fake conformists/fake non-conformists or neutrals mediated between the two categories, “paying their tribute to power” by engaging in the creation of the kinds of artworks demanded by the regime and in parallel creating “an autonomous art”; finally, non-conformists detached themselves completely from the social advantages enjoyed by those in the previous category. For Cârneci, the difference between them was essentially an existential one.30

According to art critic Pavel Şuşară, there were three categories of artists who collaborated with the regime: those who were part of the system and participated in the Cântarea României Festival; those who were neutral, neither good or bad, “they minded their own business”; and the vanguard artists, who were further subdivided into two types, those who used vanguard means and instruments (Andrei Cădere, Ion Grigorescu, etc.) and those who were subversive ideologically, in the spiritual, religious sense (for example the Prologue Group). For Şuşară, the latter had “liberty inside the birdcage.”31 Art critics were also collaborators, as the most rudimentary among them gave a “good to exhibit” kind of stamp, which were subtle guarantees and had maximum credibility. Some artists collaborated voluntarily; some—victims themselves—made others victims, while others were forced into collaboration. Şuşară himself was called upon at the Securitate after any artists’ meeting had taken place, and often because he was denounced for listening to Radio Free Europe. Along with this suspicion, those that had contacts with the secret police inside an artistic branch were well known by artists and art critics, but all accusation remains under the register of rumors, suspicions, in the absence of a documented proof (for instance, the general public only has access to someone’s Securitate files if the person in question was appointed to a public position32). If some people were well-known for their roles, others were suspected of serving as high-ranking, well-placed officers or more because of their ability to travel and return without punishment (this was also possible for artists who had important family ties with party members or Securitate officials).

Sabin Bălaşa is a very good example of a fake conformist, a painter who paid tribute to power while continuing to create art that did not follow the official aesthetic. Bălaşa even bragged that he was paid a large sum of money for his paintings depicting the Ceauşescu couple, which he represented according to his own style, not in accordance with the official aesthetic:

 

I don’t refuse an order. When I needed the money, and I did, because I have two children, and they came and ordered me to paint a work depicting Ceauşescu from me, I accepted gladly. But only with the condition that I do it my way! (…) I liked commissions that were made during the Ceauşescu regime. But I painted him as I wished (…) Since great artists always followed orders, only amateurs do what they like. (…) The orders did not come from the Ceauşescu family, I received them from completely different people. I know, I heard that they liked my painting, but this was not special, everyone likes my painting. I’ve only met them once, very late, in a strictly official setting. The orders came from people who to this day are very rich, people whom I again thank for giving them to me. (...) I didn’t do politics and nobody told me what to do. Because I did not do politics and did not create any fuss, the Securitate did not treat me badly. Why complain? I stayed away from dissidence, from complaining, because dissidence is a sort of complaining.33

 

Bălaşa characterizes himself, much as well as the critics of the period did,34 as an opportunist, an artist who did not care for ideological principles or art for that matter, but rather only for his own career. In fact, after 1990 the painter continued to create works of art for the wealthy people of the day and to construct his image as an artist of genius, an opinion that was not shared by his colleagues. Bălaşa was, as we shall see in what follows, a collaborator with the Securitate who was paid for his services.35

The Relationship of Romanian Artists to the Securitate:
between Surveillance and Collaboration

In order to investigate how the relationship to the Securitate was established, I used three contrasting cases: those of artists Sabin Bălaşa, Ion Grigorescu, and Rudolf Bone. Grigorescu had no problems with the Securitate and even affirms the contradictions that have arisen since the fall of communism with regards to his work; although nowadays he is included in exhibitions that show his disrespectful artistic gestures toward the communist regime, he underlines how much more complex his artistic endeavors were, since he knew when to show respect for the official canon and when simply to “keep quiet.” As he says,

 

In two films, I used the image of the President (sic), if I would have called many people to show [the films] to them, they would have taken them from me as propaganda against the establishment and I would have been in a bad position. In my notebooks I had the texts of the movies and other commentaries on the political education. They remained in the drawer. If I would have willfully tried to exhibit abroad or to have contacts there, I would have probably been followed.36

 

Bone, on the other hand, was openly against the communists and was followed by the Securitate as a consequence of his artistic gestures.

Why was an artist followed by the Securitate? Reasons having to do with style (for instance, shows of disrespect for the official norm) were significant, and factors that made someone prone to blackmail were exploited, such as sexual orientation (homosexuality was forbidden and punished during communism).37 Artists themselves viewed their relationships with the Securitate differently, as can be seen from the answers they gave to my questions. As Ion Grigorescu recounts:

 

Preda: What was your relationship with the Securitate before 1989?

Grigorescu: I would say I had no relationship [with the Securitate]. In 1977, after the earthquake, I was able to leave for Paris and Zurich, during the spring holiday, as I was a professor. (…)

C.P.: Do you have any information about a colleague or friend who was contacted by the Securitate? What was his relationship with them?

I.G.: No. In 1974, I met Paul Goma in the studio a colleague of mine with whom I exhibited that year, Ion Condiescu. I have no ‘information,’ the world was full of rumors and reticence.

C.P.: What were artists reproached for by the Securitate? [and a broader question: What kind of political control was exercised over an exhibition or a commission?]

I.G.: I don’t know what artists were reproached for by the Securitate. I assisted with a small number of censorships of exhibitions because usually the censor avoided the artist so as not to be obliged to give unpleasant explanations. In 1972, they removed a painting of mine with a depiction of a girl who had been hanged. In 1974, a painting by Matei Lăzărescu with a depiction of a freezer including meat and money was removed. The censor asked, “what does it want to say? That it is expensive?” Around 1980, I was given a commission to paint a portrait of president Ceauşescu (sic.). The head of the service for exhibitions of the UAP told me to erase two of the three characters, which I did, then they told me it’s too realistic, that the character had a swollen, soft hand. The censor did not tell the truth when he rejected a work because he [the censor] was either afraid to say the truth, which would have meant to partake, or he didn’t want to become involved.38

 

Since the main preoccupation of artists (and the majority of Romanians) was how to escape, how to get away, how to leave the country, getting a passport was quite important. Thus, one of the issues that concerned possible interaction between Romanian artists and the secret police was that of obtaining the right to travel abroad. Romanians did not have passports; a Romanian citizen could only obtain a passport submitting an explicit request and providing adequate explanation. Deletant quotes an official document of the Securitate that made “the issue of a passport conditional on collaboration with the organ of state security,” and as he notes, “the award of a passport to a Romanian citizen was a privilege not a right, and was in the case of ‘service’ (i.e. issued for travel or official business) opposed to ‘tourist’ passports often conditional upon the bearer fulfilling an extra task for an organ of the Securitate.”39 At the same time, Deletant recognizes that it was not possible that all the people who traveled abroad had actually collaborated with the Securitate: “all those who were granted passports were adjudged to have made concessions to the Securitate, either in the form of accepting a misiune in the form of reporting on the activities of Romanian relatives and friends abroad or of informing on them at home, for which the favor of a passport was the reward. This is certainly the case with many Romanians who were allowed to travel in the communist era but it is unlikely to be true of all. The Securitate and the DIE were selective in their interest in Romanians wanting to travel abroad and it is doubtful whether they had the resources to charge every traveler with a mission.”40

Ion Grigorescu recounts the story of his travels abroad during the communist era:

 

I.G.: How did I obtain my passport? The summer before [the spring of 1977 when he travelled to Paris and Zurich] I had asked for one on the basis of an invitation to the international engraving exhibition. The exhibition passed with no reply. After almost a year, I found out that the man who issued passports, colonel Budecă, had left a telephone number at the UAP for artists who had contacts with foreigners. I called him, he replied that he did not deal with passports, but a week later I was contacted by post to pick up my passport. I left, I came back and filled the file with information regarding where I had been and the people with whom I had spoken, together with the chief of personnel of the UAP, the stoker Turlacu, the one who gave me and immediately took my passport. The same happened after I returned from Macedonia in 1979.41

If for Ion Grigorescu there is no surveillance file in spite of the fact that he traveled abroad on several occasions,42 for his brother, the painter Octav Grigorescu, there is a surveillance file that was kept following his trips to Italy and his expression of his desire to remain in Italy. Ion Grigorescu is not mentioned at all in any of these files.43

For Rudolf Bone, the experience he had with the Securitate was more direct, as he noted in the interview. He was under surveillance by the Securitate, and this directly affected him.

 

C. Preda: What was your relationship with the Securitate before 1989?

Rudolf Bone: As far as what concerns me, my relationship with the Securitate was that of someone being followed, intercepted [my phone was tapped], and listened to. I suspected this at the time, and it was later confirmed [that] I had a file as someone who was being followed. It is not a big file, because I was followed only as of 1988. I think they followed me because, following the summoning of all sculptors from Oradea to a meeting of the county party cabinet, and although I was not a member of p.c.r. (sic.) they were trying to convince us to accept to work on the building site of the House of the People, I was the only person who openly refused, and I immediately left the meeting room in spite of the threats that were being made by the person who was leading the meeting. In consequence, I was discharged as a teacher at the primary school where I was teaching and was transferred to the Artisans’ cooperative, which was supposed to assign me to the building site of the House of the People, where I was supposed to carve decorative motifs into marble. And the worst thing was that I was the only sculptor from Oradea in this situation! I managed to avoid the trap with the help of medical certificates provided by some doctor friends of mine.

C.P.: Were you ever contacted by an agent?

R.B.: For the first time around 1978–89, when a young lady visited me at the high school where I was teaching; I met her in the high school, and all I knew about her was that she had graduated from the Economics Institute of Cluj. I didn’t know she was working for the Ministry of Interior. I found out from her she was sub-lieutenant and that she was responsible for the artistic sphere, the art collections, the museum. Back then, all art collectors had something to do with the regime. My father had in his collection works of local artists, but also some compositions from the Baia Mare School. You couldn’t sell or buy anything without THEM (sic!) knowing. My father sold without letting anybody know. The young lady tried a little blackmail, letting me know she knew something. I think they only suspected, otherwise they wouldn’t have been so discreet. She proposed that I collaborate with her for the expertise of some paintings of the Baia Mare School. I refused politely saying I was no painter and so I wasn’t qualified to help her. She stopped looking for me, she even avoids me today. We don’t say hello. The second time was in September 1989, one day before I left for Bucharest for the exhibition I was about to do with [Dan] Perjovschi at the Orizont Gallery on Victoria Boulevard. Obviously they knew and thought I would soften. On the phone, a comrade major Marian or something like that tried to call me at the Securitate headquarters, which was close to my home. I told him rudely that I was not going anywhere because I had an exhibition in Bucharest and I had to pack my works. He replied that he knew about my business and that they were coming to my place. In seven minutes the lieutenant major arrived, fortunately alone. After some stupid questions, such as ‘comrade Bone, why are you doing such pessimistic work?’ and after having let me know that they had a video of my artistic actions in Sibiu in April 1989, when I had had some rather firm and nonconformist ideological attitudes, he asked me how I had ever come to exhibit a bronze sculpture in Ravenna in 1983. I replied that the answer was simple, I had sent it through the UAP, and a commissar of the union had traveled with the works selected by the Ravenna jury on the basis of some photos. Then he asked me the trick question, namely, would I want, from now on, to take my works abroad myself? Me, who couldn’t even travel to the socialist neighbor and friendly country of Hungary because they refused my passport demands! I replied that they should send sculptor K., who left any time he wanted to, traveling to Italy and anywhere in the West with no obstacles. As a close to our talk, he told me in a slightly threatening manner to be careful what I exhibit in Bucharest, and he put a white piece of paper in front me on which I was to write that I wouldn’t tell anybody about our talk, and then I was supposed to sign it. I refused, saying that they found out everything anyway, so there would be no point in me signing. He insisted and I said clearly that I wouldn’t sign any paper. In my mind, I was thinking that I wouldn’t sign any agreement with Satan, no matter what they did to me! He left by saying, ‘we’ll meet again!’ We only met after the events of 1989, passing on the street, when I confronted him without telling him anything.44

 

At the CNSAS, I discovered that the Securitate followed Rudolf Bone, assigning him the code name “Rudi” in a surveillance file (I 329979) in 1987–1989. His file includes five documents. The first one is a “Note for tasks to be accomplished” concerning Bone, who was known for having contacts with foreign countries through the mail and who intended to participate in the VII Venice Biennial (1988). The officer asked for approval for surveillance “in order to prevent crimes from taking place” and so as to discover the artist’s connections with foreigners by studying his mail and eavesdropping on his telephone conversations. The second document is a report in which Bone is characterized as a serious person with no vices, and as someone who had many contacts in foreign countries. The third document is a report about Bone’s desire to participate with a work of art in an exhibition organized in Italy. According to this report, the artist was to be contacted after he had asked for a passport in order to establish his position and his contacts. The fourth document is a report that suggests that Bone should be followed in order to be contacted and that he should be enlisted to collaborate, depending on his attitude. Finally, the last document in Bone’s file is a report regarding the contacts that were established with him by the secret agent in November 1989. According to the report, the artist discussed his participation in the exhibition in Sibiu, the possibility of sending artworks to foreign exhibitions without ever traveling abroad, and his former colleagues who had immigrated to West Germany; at the same time, the agent notes that Bone was instructed how to speak with foreigners and that he agreed to respect these norms.

The Sibiu event at which the Securitate was called on to interrupt an artistic action also included Bone, who presented his intervention, entitled Ritual (1989). It depicted the artist “sacrificing” a papier-mâché figure that he had made, and all this to a soundtrack of “blah-blah” recorded by his fellow artists participating in the action.45 “‘The Ritual’ was consumed practically without an audience, although those looking gathered at the windows of the gallery, recalling the atmosphere that dominated the year 1989 of generalized fear of the other (that the artist mocks), as well as eluding censorship that would have had to give its approval for such an action.”46 Chestnut self-portrait (1983), the work by Bone of which I have included a digital reproduction below, is a depiction of his incapacity to speak freely at the time. The face and head of the artist are perforated with small colored pieces of wood, while the artist stares at us, as if wishing to communicate something important (Pintilie).

 

Rudolf Bone, Chestnut Self-portrait, 1983, reproduced with the consent of the artist.

 

Being given permission to travel abroad was considered one of the clearest indicators of collaboration with the Securitate. The study of the visual artists’ files shows that in many cases artists were followed when abroad by secret agents who had infiltrated the exiled community, and some were invited to a “discussion” with an officer upon their return, in the course of which they had to recount whom they had met, what they had discussed, whether or not they had been contacted by people active inside exile communities, who might have tried to convince them to stay abroad.

Finally, the case of Sabin Bălaşa (1931–2008) is interesting for the sake of contrast, because the painter had a collaboration file with the Securitate.47 He was also followed by the secret police, but as his file is missing most of its pages, we do not have access to the documents. The file of Bălaşa is only available on microfilm and is incomplete. It includes a report for a proposal of recruitment (1967), a report on how recruitment went, a signed “commitment” to collaborate (1971), a background report on his wife Alexandra from the UAP, a background report from the UAP from the head of personnel and signed by the president Ion Pacea that confirms that Bălaşa was not a member of the Romanian Communist Party, two reports from two sources, and two receipts for money and a bottle of whiskey (1986).48 Although Bălaşa’s signed agreement to collaborate dates from 1971, his file states that he collaborated with the officers as of 1967.

Bălaşa’s signed commitment states:

 

Conscious that defending the country, the security of the state, constitutes a sacred debt of any citizen of this country, a patriotic obligation of the whole people and also an important contribution I am called upon to make as a citizen of RSR, I pledge to support secretively, actively and in an organized manner the organs of security in the activity they accomplish to prevent, discover, and liquidate the crimes committed against the security of the state. I commit to fight with consistency, to respect the law, to act with promptitude so as to prevent the imminent dangers to the security of the state. To manifest vigilance toward the enemy of the fatherland, to be honest with the security organs and not disclose to anyone my connection to them. I commit to respect this commitment, conscious that disrespecting it can bring damage to the security of the state. September 9, 1971 (sic!).

 

In the plan to recruit Bălaşa, which dates back to 1967, the officer states that he had been contacted because of his connections abroad, especially in Italy, and in order to provide information concerning Romanians who had emigrated, as well as Italians active in the emigration circles of Romanians. In one of his recommendations, he is shown appreciation because when he was sent abroad he did not stay in any of the countries visited and thus showed his patriotism. His collaborator name was “Sorin Olteanu,” and the people who compiled his file appreciated his efforts, which helped solve several ”problems.”

Artistic Contributions to a New Understanding of the Past:
the Art of Memorialization

I suggest adding to the perspectives on the communist past and its aftermath by including artistic points of view in which symbolic languages are used or direct citations of the period figure. Thus, I acknowledge the distinct perspective of a privileged category of citizens, visual artists.

Another perspective from which to consider the question of the relationship between the artist and the regime involves depictions of those who surveyed. The best example of this is Ion Grigorescu’s image reproduced below. Part of his series of photographs entitled Electoral meeting of 1975, this image presents a Securitate officer supervising the organization of a “spontaneous” manifestation of support for the official leader, Nicolae Ceauşescu, and the Romanian Communist Party. The other 28 photographs show people being taken to the event, but the images also reveal the people’s boredom and disinterest. They are holding smiling portraits of Ceauşescu and enthusiastic slogans, but they don’t seem at all animated. Officially, such events were not organized, but rather took place spontaneously, thus Grigorescu demystifies the perspective of the communist regime with material proof. The series of photographs offers a point of view that differs strikingly from the official one. Moreover, Grigorescu manages to safeguard this telling image of a secret police officer holding his walkie-talkie, preoccupied by the need to surveil the participants continuously. The person doing the surveilling was also being watched. This image contains nothing important. Nothing extraordinary is happening, but its mere trace is important today for our comprehension of the ways in which the communist regime functioned.

Ion Grigorescu, Electoral meeting, 1975, reproduced with the consent of the artist.

 

Moreover, Ion Grigorescu’s images of the desolate communist daily landscape contradict the official depictions of an idealized reality as it was supposed to be presented by artists through the ideological lenses. For example, in his photographs Queue for meat (1975), Waiting for Propane tanks and Getting on the bus from 1984, we see real everyday life under the Ceauşescu regime, time spent waiting to acquire products that were scarce, trying to find one’s way to work by using the overcrowded public transportation system. Many other artists indulged in this chronicling of the daily routines as a manifestation of their ordeals, which were denied or at least hidden by the regime. These unimportant details of everyday life can help us reconstruct today the reality of communism in Romania as it was experienced by large parts of society. In his videos entitled Beloved Bucharest (1977) and Balta Albă (1979), Grigorescu was also able to record the periphery of the socialist urban dream life as testimony “to the failure of socialism: the poverty, the dreary living conditions, the new construction projects, which gave rise to alienating and low-quality living environments.”49 The artist reminds us that his fellow citizens shared his point of view:

 

I think everybody was aware of that [social reality]. Everybody knew that the propaganda was hiding a distinct and unpleasant reality in working conditions: people were working, but could take no pleasure in their work whatsoever. At least this is my conclusion. But when I exhibited such works, the only thing they could say was: ‘We won’t accept this, since it is ugly.’ They couldn’t just condemn the work directly, unless they were prepared to recognize the truth.”50

Equally interesting in this sense are Ion Dumitriu’s series of slides, Groapa de gunoi [Landfill site] (1975), which document the activities of people on the outskirts of Bucharest, showing a side of the communist reality that officially was not supposed to exist and much less be recorded or immortalized in art. The artist concentrates not on the successes of the socialist program, but rather focuses on those that failed to “be integrated” and that lived their lives on the margins of the official narrative of the glories of socialism.

Conclusions

This concise investigation into the relationships between artists and the communist regime in Romania used three types of possible interconnections between the two to discuss the complexities of living under a dictatorial regime. Artists collaborated with the communist regime ideologically by creating art that conformed to the official aesthetic. As Romanian art critics remind us, things were not so simple at the time, and thus many artists had a double art, one that fit the public mandatory aesthetic and one that was true to their own aesthetic values. Finally, some opposed the regime completely and sometimes suffered the consequences, as in the case of Bone. Interaction with the Securitate was motivated either by a desire to travel outside of the country, which meant artists were contacted by representatives of the secret police before and after their travels in order to receive a passport and to recount their journey and provide information regarding the people with whom they met, etc. Artists were also observed and contacted by the Securitate because, in the view of the authorities, they had shown disrespect for socialist creative principles, as both Grigorescu (who says he did not go beyond the limits he knew) and Bone (contacted by an agent at the end of the communist regime) acknowledge.

Because of the specific character of the visual arts, which address a smaller public (when not using the propaganda of Socialist Realism), the work of visual artists, after self-censorship, was observed in order to ensure that it did not violate the limits by the UAP and the other departments of party or state institutions before coming under the scrutiny of the Securitate. The three cases discussed above allow us to conclude that, contrary to popular belief, traveling abroad did not automatically entail a proposal for collaboration, nor did it necessarily prompt the authorities (the Securitate) to open a surveillance file on the person in question. The study of supplementary artists’ files shows, nonetheless, that this happened in other cases, and that the reasons varied across the decades of Romanian communism: from the need to survey those in the exiled communities to the government’s desire to examine prior links with foreigners inside Romania.

In keeping with Rancière’s perspective on the artistic gesture that can provide a new understanding or a novel point of view, the Romanian examples discussed above show how these artistic endeavors help bring forth a new perspective on life during communism, far from the official line. We saw how the artistic gesture of registering reality captures another side of this reality that helps our a posteriori conceptualizations of dictatorships with the addition of a perspective that otherwise is not available. Artists register not only the secret police, as Grigorescu does in Romania, they also register details of the daily misery that don’t exist in the official propaganda and that today can balance this official perspective on reality. Moreover, artists also capture feelings, and they symbolically give expression to the sentiments of the majority of Romanian citizens in the last years of the Ceauşescu regime: trapped, incapable of moving or talking, desperate.

 

Archival Sources

Consiliul Naţional pentru Studierea Arhivelor Securităţii (CNSAS) [National Council for the Study of Securitate Archives] files:

Bălaşa Sabin – M.R. Buc. 142480/roll. 1469.

Bone Sigismund Rudolf – I 329979.

Grigorescu Octav – SIE 4045; I 454430/ 2 vols.

 

Bibliography

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1 Jacques Rancière, Le spectateur emancipé (Paris: La Fabrique, 2008), 70, 72.

2 Jacques Rancière, The Future of the Image (London–New York: Verso, 2006), 26.

3 “Securitate,” the name by which the secret police in communist Romania has come to be known, is in fact a kind of shorthand. The actual name of the institution was General Direction for State Security (D.G.S.P) in 1948. In 1968, it became the Council for State Security.

4 As Verdery recalls, 1971 was also an important year because it bore witness to a change in the approach of the Securitate. It was the year in which a “new Law on the Defense of the State secret made the entire society responsible for protecting secrets.” Katherine Verdery, Secrets And Truths: Ethnography in the Archive of Romania’s Secret Police (Budapest: CEU Press, 2014), 130.

5 The people involved in the cases in question are painters, but because they used other media (film, photographs, body art) I use the term visual artists. My research here does not include filmmaking.

6 Caterina Preda, “Dictators and Dictatorships:Artistic Expressions of the Political in Romania and Chile (1970s–1989) No paso nada...? ” (PhD diss., University of Bucharest, 2009).

7 Samuil Rosei worked for the exhibition department of the Union of Plastic Artists (UAP). See his two-volume diary, which recounts his daily routines and the life of artists at the time. The note quoted is from February 18, 1971, Samuil Rosei, Jurnal întârziat, 2 volumes (Bucharest: Ed. Anastasia, 2011), 75.

8 Denis Deletant, “Romania,” in A Handbook of the Communist Security Apparatus in East Central Europe 1944–1989, ed. Krzysztof Persak and Lukasz Kaminski (Warsaw: Institute of Naftional Remembrance, 2005), 314. Katherine Verdery gives a different number: “486,000 informers assisting 39,000 full-time employees,” the numbers being those given by the Romanian Service of Information (SRI) after 1990. Katherine Verdery, Secrets and Truths: Ethnography in the Archive of Romania’s Secret Police (Budapest: CEU Press, 2014), 207.

9 Cristina Anisescu, “Evidenţele şi arhivele Securităţii,” in “Partiturile” Securităţii: Directive, ordine, instrucţiuni (1941–1981), ed. idem et al. (Bucharest: Nemira, 2007), 52 quoted by Cristina Vătulescu, Police Aesthetics Literature, Film & Secret Police in Soviet Times (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010), 6.

10 Deletant, “Romania,” 302.

11 According to Virgil Măgureanu, head of the institution that inherited the organization after 1990, the Romanian Intelligence Service, quoted by Marius Oprea, “Securitatea şi moştenirea sa,” in Comunism şi represiune în România, ed. Ruxandra Cesereanu (Iaşi: Polirom, 2006), 25.

12 Deletant, “Romania,” 303.

13 Ibid., 315.

14 Germina Nagâţ, “Informatorul de lângă noi,” in Viaţa cotidiană în comunism, ed. Adrian Nedelcu (Iaşi: Polirom, 2004), 132.

15 Germina Nagâţ, “Informatorul de lângă noi,” 132. Marius Oprea quotes an internal document of 1951 (The Directive for working with agents). Marius Oprea, “O privire în interiorul aparatului de Securitate,” in De ce trebuie condamnat Comunismul? Anuarul Institutului de Investigare a Crimelor Comunismului în România, vol. I (Iaşi: Polirom, 2006), 103.

16 Ana Maria Cătănuş, “Capitolul IV. Represiunea împotriva intelectualilor: forme şi manifestări,” in Intelectuali români în Arhivele Comunismului, ed. Dan Cătănuş (Bucharest: Nemira, 2006), 168.

17 Clara Mareş, “Represiunea Securităţii împotriva scriitorilor în anii 1986–1988,” in De ce trebuie condamnat Comunismul? Anuarul Institutului de Investigare a Crimelor Comunismului în România, vol. I (Iaşi: Polirom, 2006), 203–04.

18 Ana Maria Cătănuş, “Capitolul IV,” 170.

19 Katherine Verdery, Secrets and Truths: Ethnography in the Archive of Romania’s Secret Police (Budapest: CEU Press, 2014), 52.

20 Ibid., 66.

21 Alexandru Murad-Mironov, “Capitolul V. Beneficii, privilegii şi recompense sau preţul intelectualităţii din RPR,” in Intelectuali români în Arhivele Comunismului, ed. Dan Cătănuş (Bucharest: Nemira, 2006), 457–73.

22 Nicolae Ceauşescu, “Proposals of measures for the improvement of the political-ideological, Marxist–Leninist education of Party members, of all working people,” July 6, 1971.

23 Idem, ”Speech by Nicolae Ceauşescu at the Working Meeting on Organizational and Political-Educational Activities of Labor” (Mangalia, August 4, 1983).

24 Email interview with Ion Grigorescu, September 15, 2013. My translation from Romanian.

25 Ibid.

26 Ibid.

27 In the interview, the artist quotes a text he had published in the magazine Arta 6, no 12 (1973) about the “Realist artist.”

28 Email interview with Ion Grigorescu, September 15, 2013. All subsequent quotes are from the same source.

29 Magda Cârneci, Artele plastic în România 1945–1989 (Bucharest: Meridiane, 2001), 107–08.

30 Ibid., 108–09.

31 Informal interview with Pavel Şuşară, August 23, 2013. All the following quotes of Şuşară have the same source.

32 See the website of the CNSAS, accessed April 7, 2015, http://www.cnsas.ro/index.html.

33 Alice Năstase Buciuta, ”Sabin Bălaşa: am avut şi simţul creaţiei şi al procreaţiei,” Marea Dragoste/Tango, July 8, 2012. My translation from Romanian of Bălaşa’s answers to an interview published in a women’s magazine. Because Bălaşa died in 2008, I could not use his answers to my questions.

34 See for example the television show “Mysteries and Conspiracies” by Florin Iaru on Romanian Television, TVR2 with three art critics, Tudor Octavian, Pavel Şuşară and Ruxandra Garofeanu “About Sabin Bălaşa.” Available at (accessed April 7, 2015) http://tvr2.tvr.ro/despre-sabin-balasa-sambata-la-mistere-si-conspiratii_8675.html (November 8, 2014). In this show, the art critics estimate that Bălaşa received 200,000 lei for his paintings depicting Ceauşescu.

35 File of the CNSAS: M.R. Buc. 142480/roll 1469.

36 Email interview with Ion Grigorescu, September 15, 2013.

37 See for example the study by Sînziana Cârstocea, “La Roumanie - du placard à la liberation. Eléments pour une histoire socio-politique des revendications homosexuelles dans une société postcommuniste” (PhD Diss., Faculté des sciences sociales, politiques et économiques Departement de Science politique, Université Libre de Bruxelles, 2010).

38 Email interview with Ion Grigorescu, September 15, 2013.

39 Denis Deletant, “Romania,” 285, 297.

40 Ibid., 313.

41 Email interview with Ion Grigorescu, September 15, 2013.

42 He traveled to Budapest, Zurich, Basel, Paris and Karlsruhe in 1977, to Macedonia in 1979 and to the USSR in 1981.

43 Files of Grigorescu Octav at the CNSAS: SIE 4045; I 454430/ 2 vols.

44 Email interview with the artist Rudolf Bone, August 28, 2013.

45 Ileana Pintilie, Acţionismul în România în timpul comunismului (Cluj: Idea, 2000), 68.

46 Ibid., 68–69.

47 Bălaşa’s file at the CNSAS: M.R. Buc. 142480, roll 1469.

48 The receipt for the bottle of whiskey dates from 1986 and is for the collaborator BRUNO, although his collaborator name was different in 1967. I assume another file was opened at a later date and what was kept on microfilm (selected information) was only preserved in order to prove, if necessary, that he had indeed served as a collaborator. Bălaşa’s file at the CNSAS: M.R. Buc. 142480, roll 1469.

49 Magda Radu, Catalogue of the exhibition Geta Brătescu şi Ion Grigorescu. Resources. Works from the collection of MNAC Bucharest (Bucharest: MNAC, 2007), 17.

50 “Ion Grigorescu in discussion with Magda Radu,” in Romanian Cultural Resolution, ed. Alexandru Niculescu and Adrian Bojenoiu (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2011), 221.

 
Ion Dumitriu, Groapa de Gunoi, Diapozitive, 1975–1978, reproduced with the consent of the Foundation Ion Dumitriu.

 

Volume 4 Issue 2 CONTENTS

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Anastasija Ropa

Imagining the 1456 Siege of Belgrade in Capystranus

 

The poem Capystranus, devoted to the 1456 Siege of Belgrade by the Ottoman Turks, was printed three times between 1515 and 1530 by Wynkyn de Worde. It survives in a fragmentary form, testifying to its popularity with the audience. Studies of the poem have tended to concentrate on its literary qualities, discrediting its historical value as an account of the siege. In this essay, I build on the work of scholars who view the narrative of Capystranus as a work of fiction, informed by the conventions of crusading romance, rather than as an eyewitness account. However, I reassess the value of Capystranus for the study of war history: I argue that, in its description of the siege, the author pictures accurately the spirit of contemporary warfare. The present essay explores, for the first time, the experiences, images and memories of war as represented in Capystranus, comparing the depiction of warfare to contemporary discourses on the law and ethics of war.

Keywords: Capystranus; Middle English romance; Siege of Belgrade, 1456; fifteenth-century warfare; later crusades

 

Capystranus is a Middle English verse romance devoted to the Siege of Belgrade by the Ottoman Turks in July 1456. The poem was printed three times between 1515 and 1530 by Wynkyn de Worde, and it survives in a fragmentary form, which could, perhaps, testify to its popularity with the audience.1 The poem is anonymous, and it is uncertain whether it was written directly for print or was in circulation for some time before printing. There are chronicle sources, including English ones, that describe the siege, but the poem is based on a variety of sources, which makes it a fascinating source for studying contemporary and early responses to the siege. The present essay will, first, outline the earlier tendencies in English criticism of the poem and suggest new perspectives that highlight the romance’s historical, cultural and literary significance for studying the ways in which the Siege of Belgrade was remembered and imagined in Europe. Second, the essay will trace changes in military practice and ideology that informed the poem and the context in which it was read by early audiences. Finally, I will conduct a series of close readings of the accounts of two sieges described in the poem within its historical context. Comparing the text to other accounts of the 1456 siege and to existing models of crusading romance will help me to assess the role of memory and imagination in the poem.

Introduction

In 1453, the Christian world was shaken by the news that Constantinople had been captured by the Turks. Three years later, in 1456, the successful defense of a less prominent city, Belgrade, revived the hopes of delivering the capital of Eastern Christianity, though these dreams of a new crusade proved ephemeral: Belgrade itself was lost to the enemy in 1521. Meanwhile, the Hungarian victory was of singular importance for fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Europeans. Norman Housley remarks that “the victory was repeatedly cited in the decades to come as proof that the Ottomans were not invincible.”2 The Middle English poem Capystranus is an important witness to the impression the battle made on Europe, including the inhabitants of England, who were physically distant from the events in East Central Europe.

In what sense does Capystranus engage with memories of the Constantinople and the Belgrade sieges? Study of the processes by which memory works and on the interactions between memory and history by both cognitive psychologists and historians emphasizes the dynamic nature of memory. In many instances, recorded memory is communal rather than personal, a tendency explored in Pierre Nora’s lieux de mémoire (sites of memory).3 While twentieth-century war memories are in many cases national, medieval memory was often determined through religious affiliation, particularly in the case of “holy wars.” The importance of realms of memory for medieval and post-medieval audiences has been emphasized by Sharon Kinoshita, who discusses Chanson de Roland as a lieu de mémoire.4

J. M. Winter highlights the unstable nature of memory, stating that “the act of recalling the past is a dynamic, shifting process, dependent on notions of future as much as on images of the past.”5 Moreover, contemporary historians draw our attention to the interaction between history and memory: history not only draws on individual and collective memories but also shapes them. Thus, one’s memories of past events are influenced by accounts of the same or similar experiences; this is the case not only in modern times, but also in the Middle Ages. According to Joanna Bourke, “History and memory are not detached narrative structures; at no time in the past was memory ‘spontaneous’ or ‘organic’; at no time has history been able to repudiate its debt to memory and its function in moulding that memory.”6 In this essay, I will consider the interaction between memory and imagination in shaping images of war in Capystranus as a twofold process: while the text may be based on the past accounts, it also influenced future memories and representations of crusading warfare.

Intriguingly, Éva Róna argues that the poem is based on eyewitness accounts; Róna’s hypothesis presents some problems, given that, according to Róna, the poem was composed directly for the press, while the first known edition of the poem is dated to 1515. Róna indicates that contemporary English chronicles refer to the Siege of Belgrade.7 On the other hand, Stephen Shepherd believes that the poem was in circulation prior to its printing. Shepherd points to certain corrupt rhymes and missing lines in the 1515 edition, which could have occurred if the text had existed in manuscript form before it was set for printing by de Worde in 1515.8 Shepherd’s suggestion about the dating of the romance is accepted by Rhiannon Purdie.9 Meanwhile, Bonnie Millar-Heggie is skeptical about Shepherd’s dating, and believes that the poem was written closer to 1515; Millar-Heggie’s dating thus makes the influence of eyewitness accounts on the representation of events more problematic.10 In fact, comparing the representation of the siege in Capystranus and other contemporary and later sources can be helpful in testing both Róna’s suggestion about the incorporation of eyewitness accounts and Shepherd’s early dating of the poem.

After its initial publication in 1515, the poem was reprinted by de Worde in 1527 and in 1530.11 Remarkably, de Worde’s editions are decorated with woodcuts, providing clues to the publisher’s ideas about the attraction of the poem, its target audience and de Worde’s marketing practices. Although de Worde may be simply re-using woodcuts already ordered for his other prints, decorating a text in this way raises the costs of production at the same time as increasing the book’s attractiveness. Leth Seder stresses de Worde’s carefulness in the “selection and placement of illustrative woodcuts” for the anonymous romances he printed.12 Thus, the surviving fragment of de Worde’s 1530 edition is introduced with a woodcut depicting the storming of a town, which, according to J. O. Halliwell, is “exactly similar to one in W. de Worde’s edition of Richard Coeur de Lion, 1528.”13 The woodcut introduces the first of the two sieges described in some detail in Capystranus—the 1453 Siege of Constantinople.

Woodcuts contribute to making Capystranus a popular romance in more than one sense. The romance plays on the current anxieties about the Ottoman threat, and it was commercially successful, judging by the fact that it was reprinted. The survival of only three fragmentary copies may suggest that, like Malory’s Morte Darthur, printed by de Worde’s predecessor William Caxton and later by de Worde himself, the text was, to use A. S. G. Edwards’s expression, “literally read to destruction.”14 However, the rate and condition of survival also indicates the readers’ attitude towards the printed book, an object that was cheaper and less valued than, for instance, the more elaborate illuminated manuscripts. It would be interesting to see how the English audience reacted to the second and third editions of Capystranus after Belgrade fell into Ottoman hands in 1521. Meanwhile, romances dealing with the Siege of Jerusalem remained popular long after the city itself was taken and its delivery became a fantasy.15 Indeed, Anthony Leopold shows that crusading proposals, originally composed for the “leading rulers of Europe as practical plans for the recovery of Jerusalem,” continued to be copied for “enthusiastic nobles” well into the sixteenth century.16 Likewise, Capystranus could have exercised a special, sad or nostalgic attraction after the loss of Jerusalem to the infidels.

Capystranus as Crusading Romance

Studies of the poem have tended to concentrate on its literary qualities, discrediting its historical value as an account of the siege. Millar-Heggie considers the poem to be an “intriguing work that reflects fifteenth-century ideology and fears” and provides an “exhortation to a new crusade.”17 Recently, Lee Manion highlighted the place of Capystranus within the tradition of crusading romance, while acknowledging its originality in focusing on a recent event, which makes the author alter certain romance conventions. According to Manion, “Capystranus recognizably draws on the medieval literary tradition, but the poem’s revisions to that tradition and treatment of a more recent historical event reveal how subsequent early modern texts could discuss crusading subjects critically while modifying the form of the crusading romance.”18 Manion’s discussion of Capystranus, including its use of Biblical tropes and allusions to Charlemagne’s wars, builds on the work of several illustrious scholars of romance. Indeed, Philippa Hardman, Malcolm Hebron, and Diane Vincent consider Capystranus alongside other “siege poems”: they point out that these poems draw on the chanson de geste tradition, alluding to Charlemagne and his exploits against the Turks.19

In his monograph The Medieval Siege, Malcolm Hebron examines a particular group of romances, “siege poems,” that center on a siege as the locus for the confrontation between the “Saracens” and the Christians.20 Grouping together poems that deal with the sieges of Troy, Thebes, Jerusalem, Rhodes and many other cities may obscure the particular context in which each text was produced and the signification of each siege for the audience. However, such an approach highlights the importance of siege in medieval warfare and imagination. The Sege of Melayne, to which Capystranus is usually compared by scholars, depicts an event belonging to the heroic past, the beginning of Charlemagne’s reign.21 Indeed, Hebron claims that, drawing on the tradition of heroic poetry, the Capystranus poet introduces historically inaccurate descriptions of armor and weapons.22 Hebron’s opinion is contested by Millar-Heggie, who points out that “the Christian forces were in fact poorly equipped and outnumbered.”23 Later in this essay, I consider late medieval siege practices and the depiction of the siege in Capystranus, showing that the poet introduces a number of realistic details that would be familiar to his contemporaries. Meanwhile, he also uses motifs that are common in crusading romances, including the enemies’ unnatural cruelty, their exotic appearance and Christian steadfastness.

One of the most prominent features of Capystranus is its hybridity. The poem embraces crusading, hagiographic and historiographical narratives, transforming them through a combination of memory and imagination. In fact, the poem seems to draw on a number of sources, among them oral and written accounts of the Siege of Belgrade, reimagined within the framework of the earlier crusading romance. Vincent comments on the generic fluidity of Capystranus, which stands between romance and chronicle account:

The convergence of the genres of romance and historiography allows Capystranus to imply that Friar Johan Capistranus and Janos Hunyadi, by lifting the Turkish siege of Belgrade, were replaying the opening strains of the same theme of divinely aided Christian triumph over a rival faith and rival civilization.24

Highlighting the symbolic importance of the Siege of Belgrade, the Capystranus author presents the victory as a lieu de mémoire, a conceptual site that may be put to different uses, including political ones.25 Indeed, Vincent emphasizes the Capystranus author’s political awareness and his “exploitation of contemporary religious and political issues.”26 However, in her analysis of the political and religious uses of medieval romance, Vincent seems to underestimate the component of faith, which is particularly important in crusading romances.

In fact, fifteenth- and sixteenth-century authors not only use or, in Vincent’s terms, “exploit” the romance genre to present contemporary political, social and religious challenges in a certain light, but also explore or probe these issues through a kind of “thought experiment.” Raluca Radulescu points out that “romances fulfill the expectations they would tackle the issue of social identity, even though they are not designed to respond to real-life crises but rather provide arenas of discussion where delicate issues may be assessed and debated.”27 Thus, Capystranus engages with several identity issues that were topical in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries: Christian identity, warrior identity, including the blurring borderlines between combatants and civilians, and the intersection between Christian, territorial and professional identities.

Identifying the Participants

Embracing Hebron’s category of the “siege poem,” Suzanne Conklin Akbari argues that Capystranus provides one of the last examples of this sub-genre, marking the beginning of a new cultural period in which nascent national identity ousts pan-European Christendom: “the enemy is no longer described in religious terms, as the ‘Saracen,’ but in national terms, as ‘the Turke’”.28 In fact, the enemy is called “Sarasyns” only twice in the text (ll. 140, 158) and is usually designated by the word “Turke(s).” According to Akbari, Capystranus “marks an end point in siege poetry in the crusading tradition,” so that “collective identity” is formulated “in terms of national identity instead of religious affiliation.”29 Meanwhile, it is noteworthy that the enemy is often described in religious terms, such as “hethen houndes” (l. 46), while the author makes no national distinction between “Crysten men” (l. 76), even between the Eastern and the Western Christians. Indeed, the defenders of Constantinople are called “Our Crysten” on more than one occasion (ll. 122, 134, 147, 156). The union between Eastern and Western Churches, proclaimed in 1439 in the Florence cathedral by Cardinal Giuliano Cesarini and Archbishop Bessarion of Nicaea, met with little enthusiasm in Byzantium, yet it may have been symbolically important for the Western Christendom, including the English audience of Capystranus.30

As to the relieving army of Belgrade, Capystranus’s recruits are “Men of diverse countré” (l. 341). Shepherd comments that “Capistrano’s followers consisted mainly of local peasants,” but other historical accounts mention the presence of men from across Europe, who could be mercenaries employed by Hunyadi.31 While, the presence of soldiers from all over Europe during the siege is thus conditioned by the circumstances of mid-fifteenth century warfare, the poet uses their participation for a specific purpose. He evokes the ideal of a united Christendom and highlights Capystranus’s charisma as well as the attraction of his banner with the crucifix:32

 

The Frere with grete devocyon

Bore the baner of Crystes Passyon

Amonge the people all

Dysplayed aborde, grete joye to se,

Men of diverse countré

Fast to hym gan fall. (ll. 337–42)

 

Housley lists among the members of the relieving army of crusaders “Austrians, Germans, Poles, Dalmatians and Bosnians.”33 Meanwhile, modern historians take a bleaker view of Europe’s involvement in the battle than does the Capystranus author. Thus, Pál Fodor states that “At Nándorfehérvár [Belgrade] in 1456 the only help the country’s forces received came from the papal legates and a contingent of about 600 Viennese university students.”34 Indeed, the Capystranus author mentions among the first recruits of the “Frere” students from a university called “Gottauntas” (l. 330), apparently situated in Hungary (there was no such university in Hungary, but the author may be referring to Krakow, which Capistrano visited in 1452).35 Certain contemporary accounts, such as Venetian reports, are skeptical about the quality of Capistrano’s recruits, referring to them condescendingly as “brigna.”36

In the poem, the crusaders’ national identity is specified in the case of two knights who join Capystranus’s army, “Rycharde Morpath, a knight of Englonde, And Syr Johan Blacke […] That was a Turke before” (ll. 354–56). Shepherd notes that the English knight’s identity cannot be verified, adding that “English mercenaries are not known to have participated in the campaign.”37 However, for the English author and his audience the fact that an English knight participated in the famous battle was probably of singular importance. One can imagine the audience rejoicing to hear that

 

Morpath and Blacke Johan

That daye kylled Turkes many one,

Certayne, withouten lette;

There was none so good armoure

That theyr dyntes might endure,

Helme nor bright basynet. (ll. 405–10)

 

At the same time, the readers would sympathize with the plight of the crusaders, who, after a hard and heroic battle, retreat to the city, overcome by the sheer mass of the enemies:

 

Morpath and Blacke Johan

Had woundes many one

That blody were and wyde;

To the towne they flede on fote –

They sawe it was no better bote;

Theyr stedes were slayne that tyde. (ll. 447–52)

 

Remarkably, the author evokes the English knight and the convert “Blacke Johan” together, suggesting perhaps that religious affiliation overcomes national distinctions and contrasting appearances. Shepherd suggests that “Blacke Johan” could have been “a native of Walachia,” a region to the southeast of Hungary under Turkish rule since 1417. Thus, Johan, though a convert, would not have been of a darker complexion than other Hungarian crusaders, and might well have had some Christian background. The poet, however, found it necessary to stress that, although Johan “was a Turke before” (l. 351), “now he is a curteys knight, […] and a wyght, And stedfast in our lore” (ll. 352–54). Miraculously, religious conversion not only bestows chivalric virtue on the former Turk but also ensures his physical strength. While the Capystranus author takes for granted the English Sir Morpath’s valour and piety, he makes an effort to introduce the convert knight as a deserving and steadfast companion. Interestingly, although Sir Morpath and “Blacke Johan” form a pair in the poem, the exploits of “the good Erle Obedyanus” (l. 344) are mentioned separately; apparently, Christian faith and the fact of taking the cross can overcome territorial and cultural divides, but not social boundaries.

In a sense, Christians were warriors by definition, but this warfare was spiritual more often than physical. According to Contamine, “Christianity and war, the church and the military, far from being antithetical, on the whole got on well together.”38 Contamine further explains:

 

If the analogy or comparison between spiritualia and militaria became habitual, it was not simply because the omnipresence of war in medieval life allowed churchmen to be easily understood by their listeners and readers, it was also more profoundly because spiritual life was, for a very long time, compared to a merciless struggle without respite, between the heavenly cohorts and the legions of the devil.39

 

In Capystranus, distinctions between spiritual and physical warfare are partially obscured. Capystranus himself is simultaneously a saint and a soldier. The author declares: “I dare say he was Goddes knight; An holy man was he” (ll. 231–32). Likewise, in other contemporary sources, Hunyadi appears as a hero, heir to the legendary Trojans and almost a saint. The Capystranus author, however, focuses on the former figure, stressing Hunyadi’s obedience (proper to a Christian prince) to the spiritual authority.

Emphasis on Capystranus’s figure and the secondary role accorded to Obedyanus may seem surprising, particularly in view of the fact that, as Thomas Crofts and Robert Allen Rouse maintain, the agenda of the sixteenth-century printed romances is “neither national nor religious but chivalric.”40 However, I would argue that the chivalric ideal these romances promote is simultaneously determined by Christian morality and transformed by changing military ideologies, ethics and practices. Indeed, contemporary chroniclers praise Hunyadi not only for his military exploits but also for his spiritual and, to an extent, feudal, virtues, including loyalty. Antonio Bonfini, in Rerum Ungaricarum Decades, emphasizes that Hunyadi was appointed the captain of Szörényvár (Severin, Romania) and Temesvár (Timişoara, Romania) as a “reward for his loyalty and virtue” and not only for his “heroic deeds.”41

To capture the spirit of the Siege of Belgrade, the Capystranus author draws not only on the conventions of crusading romance, but also on the lived experience of fifteenth-century warfare. The battle scenes would have found particularly strong resonance with the English audience, many of whom would have heard narratives of war told by eyewitnesses or described in romances and chronicles written in the second half of the fifteenth century. As a result, the importance of Capystranus as a narrative of war goes beyond establishing the details of the 1456 Siege of Belgrade. In contrast to previous studies, I stress that the poem is representative of the experience of war in late medieval East Central Europe, where increasing use of new weapons and strategies of warfare led to a shift in attitudes toward warfare and the level of permissible violence. This new experience, and the response it generated, may be at the root of the poem’s popularity on English soil.

Fifteenth-Century Military Ideologies: Contemplating a War

Ideologies of warfare change over time and culture; however, analyzing the notion of war in late medieval French and English written sources, Contamine concludes that there is no break between medieval and modern military ideologies.42 While stressing continuity in the evolution of ideas, institutions, legal frameworks and technologies, Contamine points to certain shifts that took place in people’s opinions and practices related to “proper” ways of conducting a war. Contamine singles out three fundamental ideas about war that emerged in the early and high medieval periods and that continued to be popular in military discourses at the end of the Middle Ages and in the early modern period: war as ordeal, the peace and truce of God and the classification of war into the categories of holy, just and unjust.43

The notion that war was a form of divine ordeal, judicium belli, in which God granted victory to the righteous or simply those who were right in the quarrel, was an attractive idea in medieval chivalric discourse. Meanwhile, the notion of judicium belli had many implications and was not universally accepted throughout the later medieval period. Medieval critics of the judicium belli ideology noted that, by entering this ordeal, the participants challenged God and that victory could be with the stronger and not with the righteous.44 Thus, a leader who sought battle with a superior enemy could lose even if the weaker army was fighting for a good cause. In Capystranus, the Christians defending Constantinople are overcome even though they are led by a pious commander, the Emperor, while the Turks are obviously “untrue.” In fact, section 2 of the poem,45 which in 1527 print is preceded by a woodcut, begins with the words: “Mahamyte,46 that Turke untrue To our Lorde Cryst Jhesu, and to His lawe also” (ll. 58–60).

Moreover, by rashly engaging in battle with a stronger enemy without real necessity, the commander endangered his and his followers’ lives. Such rashness could arise from pride and cause divine chastisement. Alternatively, facing a dreaded enemy against all odds could be interpreted as utter reliance on divine mercy: trusting in God, Capystranus is determined to fight an invincible, uncountable Turkish army. Moreover, in some cases, fighting against a superior enemy is unavoidable: at Constantinople and Belgrade, the Christians have no choice other than defending the city or surrendering it to the infidels.

Military defeat of the side which has a “just” cause can be construed as divine punishment for sins, such as luxuria and pride. In fact, there is no need for a particular sin to be apparent, as God can inflict suffering in order to lead the faithful to salvation. Contamine notes that the notion of war as ordeal did not disappear entirely from people’s consciousness in the late medieval and early modern periods: “Dieu n’entendait pas récompenser les vainqueurs, reconnaître publiquement leur bon droit, mais punir les vaincus pour leurs moeurs, leur conduit, leurs péchés. Ainsi expliquait-on l’échec des croisades.”47 Victory was a sign of divine election, but defeat could also be a form of God’s favour, in as much as it brought about moral reform and spiritual conversion. In this respect, Capystranus represents an ideal turn of events: the Christians are defeated and martyred at Constantinople, but they emulate Christ, who suffered on the Cross in order to redeem mankind and rose to heaven, as the poet reminds the audience at the beginning of the romance. This purgation is effected by pagans, who appear as idolatrous, savage and almost demonic creatures. In response, Christendom rallies, and God’s knight, Johan Capystranus, blessed by the Pope, leads his followers (priests and schoolmasters), Prince Obedyanus, an English knight and a Turkish convert to triumph.

The role of Obedyanus is, as his name indicates, to comply with Capystranus’s orders, albeit the author of the poem depicts the prince as an exceptionally brave leader. Indeed, Obedience is one of the virtues required of a soldier for the success of a military campaign. Strictly speaking, Obedyanus is subordinated, not to Capystranus, but to Christ himself, because Capystranus chooses as the commander of his army, his “capytayne” (l. 289), “A baner of Crystes Passyon” (l. 283) together with the papal “bull of leed” (l. 291). Interestingly, writing about an event that took place exactly sixty years before the battle of Belgrade, the Turkish victory at Nicopolis, Philippe de Mézières states that “in all military plans and directions since the beginning of wars in this world, four moral virtues have been necessary […] that is Rule, Knightly Discipline, Obedience and Justice.”48 Thus, Obedyanus incarnates the key soldierly virtues that were important both in the late Middle Ages and early modern period; his mastery of one virtue, obedience, implies the presence of rule, discipline and justice as well.49 The true hero of the romance, however, is Capystranus, whose achievement is also presented as re-enacting, albeit on a smaller scale, Christ’s victory over death. Indeed, the poem includes one episode, discussed further in the essay, where the dead literally rise up in response to Capystranus’s audacious prayer.

However, in order to confirm his legitimacy as a crusade preacher, Capystranus needs a papal bull. While crusading was a legitimate form of warfare by definition, the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the early modern period witnessed renewed debate on the distinction between “just” and “unjust” war. It seems that, from the fifteenth century onwards, a “just” war was to be conducted in a “just” fashion, while the “guerre guerroyable” designated merciless, at times unprincipled, warfare. These considerations would have influenced the Capystranus author, who stresses the contrast between Christian and Saracen ways of conducting war. Naturally, the description of Turkish atrocities builds on the long-standing tradition of chanson de geste. Moreover, Constantinople was actually subjected to severe marauding by the Ottoman army, a fact that must have been known across Europe. Less well known, and certainly less popular among the western Christians, was the fact that Sultan Mehmed was bound by the Islamic law to allow his soldiers to do their will and that looting was promptly stopped. The Capystranus poet, indeed, leaves the impression that the Turks continued to murder Christians and commit all possible acts of violence long after the defeat. His description has much in common with scenes from European wars as depicted in chronicles, including both the Hundred Years War and the War of Roses, when the armies showed few scruples about burning and despoiling churches, towns and villages.

The Ottoman violence in Capystranus serves another important function: it brings to the fore the contrast between Christians and the infidels, rendering the latter almost inhumane and animalistic, if not downright demonic, figures. Indeed, scholars of crusading romances and chanson de geste have argued that animal imagery, often associated with violence and predatory behavior, could be viewed as both harmful and beneficial, associated with the devil and God. Thus, the Saracens are clearly devil’s servants and subjects, and they go directly to hell, as the Capystranus author does not fail to remind the audience. The pagans are akin to dogs, even producing canine noises, such as howling and barking. At the same time, Jacques Voisenet persuasively demonstrates that subjection to animal attacks often appears as corollary to salvation not only in devotional and homiletic literature but also in romances.50 Indeed, the Christians murdered by the Saracens at Constantinople and Belgrade are destined to heaven: they are participants in “holy” and “just” warfare, who defend their native soil in a legitimate, chivalric and “just” manner, which is a necessary condition of legitimate war in the eyes of late medieval and early modern philosophers.

Changes in ideological attitudes towards war went in hand with the evolution of military technologies and political institutions. Increasing use of gunpowder, professionalization of armies and centralization of the state apparatus contributed to the evolution of ideas about war. As all of the population became, at least theoretically, involved in war, not only through joining the army, but also through contributing to the military effort by paying taxes and supplying provisions, distinctions between combatants and non-combatants began to blur. In Capystranus, the participation of priests and schoolmasters in the Siege of Belgrade reflects their active role as “God’s knights” as well as the fact that they were no longer immune to military violence. Not only do they celebrate mass, as was customary before battle, but, not content to stay “behind the lines,” they engage in hand-to-hand fighting. There is a disquieting contrast between the language and ritual of Christian service, including the words and gestures associated with peace (pax or the kiss of peace) and the priests’ hardy offensive:

 

Many a .m. of preestes there was;

The Turkes herde never suche a masse

As they harde that daye!

Our preestes Te Deum songe;

The hethen fast downe they donge –

Then pax was put awaye! (ll. 417–22)

 

Again, the image of fighting priests may relate the audience back to certain chansons de geste in the Charlemagne tradition, but it also brings to mind actual situations in which clerics had to resist the attacks of marauders or, increasingly, of the Church reformers.

Thus, while retaining notions about war that originated in the Early and High Middle Ages (including war as ordeal, peace and truce of God, holy, just and unjust war), late medieval people reinterpreted war in relation to the new political, economic and social realities. Not all of these changes are equally applicable to the Siege of Belgrade in 1456 and the narrative of this event in Capystranus, yet it is worthwhile to bear them in mind while analyzing the Siege of Belgrade as remembered and imagined in Capystranus.

Experiencing a Siege

Douglas Gray, in considering the Morte Darthur, which was written some years after the fall of Constantinople and the Siege of Belgrade, comments on the growing importance of siege warfare in the late Middle Ages.51 Likewise, Contamine indicates that, while “siege mentality” was characteristic of the entire medieval military culture, the introduction of artillery at the beginning of the fifteenth century marks a turning point in both the technology of war and contemporary mentalities.52 Changes in siege warfare at the end of the Middle Ages found reflection in both chivalric romances and in military treatises.53 Thus, authors of the latter treatises often copied and even modernised the texts of classical authors, such as Vegetius, in the sections that deal with sieges. The advice of classical authors, in fact, was already dated in this period, when the spread of firearms in besieging fortified towns and castles led to the development of new types of fortification and the introduction of firearms as part of the regular town defense accoutrements. In both Constantinople and Belgrade, the Ottomans deployed considerable gunpowder resources, but the defenders, too, had some firearms, which in the case of Constantinople proved highly inadequate.

A number of historians, both medieval and modern, attribute the fall of Constantinople to the superiority of the Ottoman artillery. On the basis of the “western and the Turkish sources,” Halil İnalcik concludes that “the eventual success of the Ottomans came chiefly as the result of two events: the breaching of the walls by the Ottoman artillery bombardment, and the disputes which arose between the Byzantines and the Latins defending the city.”54 Summarising the outcome of the siege, the Capystranus author observes: “Thus is Constantyne the noble cyté wonne, Beten donne with many a gonne, And Crysten people slayne” (ll. 207–10). Unsurprisingly, Capystranus is silent on the supposed discord of the Christian defenders, who seem to present unified resistance to the enemy. In fact, the author begins the account of the siege when the Turks are already inside the city, avoiding the delicate issues of crusader identity and co-operation before and during the siege. As the Turks enter the city, allegedly taking no prisoners, desecrating churches, slaying women, children and priests at mass, the Christians, seeing nothing but death before them, fight heroically:

 

The Crysten saw that they sholde dye,

And on theyr maystres layde hande quycly

And faught a wele good spede:

Every prysoner then on lyve

Kylled of the Turkes foure or five;

To helle theyr soules yede.

Or our prysoners after were take;

Many a Turke they made blake. (ll. 108–15)

This description is followed by a series of three episodes, where “Macamyte” cries to his “god” (“Mahounde”), to rally his wavering ranks. The Christians combat the Turks valiantly, even killing five thousand Turks at a time (l. 126) and subsequently felling eighty thousand enemies (l. 141). However, the defenders are too few, the Turks are continuously entering the city and the Christians are eventually defeated.

The above brief summary of the siege reveals that, although the description of the fall of Constantinople in Capystranus draws on the existing literary tradition, recycling common tropes of crusading romances and chanson de geste, it is neither entirely fantastic nor deprived of literary force. The series of battles in which the Christians kill an increasing number of the Turks and are finally overridden and dispersed describe, with certain realism, skirmishes that would have taken place on the streets. According to Inalcik, “The Ottoman army entered the city through a large breach made by bombardment in the wall. Emperor Constantine was killed in hand-to-hand combat.”55 Battles within the city walls, with the Christians crying to God and the Ottomans to the prophet render the atmosphere of the event in a way that would have been easily grasped by the fifteenth-century audience.

At the same time, the episodes in which the Turkish leader appeals to Mahomet and meets Christian response are symbolic. There are three such episodes, and after the last in the series the Christians are physically overcome, but seem to score a spiritual victory:

 

He [Macamyte] cryed on Mahounde as he wolde braste,

Our Crysten on Jhesu cryed faste,

That all the worlde wrought. (ll.146–48)

 

Although the Christians subsequently flee and most of them are killed, it happens because of God’s will and not through the supposed superiority of the Turks. Indeed, the Christians’ invocation of Christ, the creator of the world, is steadfast and almost serene, in contrast to the Turkish wild cry to their false “god.” The author speaks of the Turkish victory with resignation, apparently humbling himself before divine will:

 

 

Alas, saufe Crysten wyll of heven,

Our Crysten were made uneven

With a false company –

For of the Turkes and Sarasyns kene,

An .c. were, withouten wene,

Agaynst one of our meny! (ll. 155–60)

 

There is certainly no shame in losing a battle if the Turks number a thousand to one Christian. Indeed, the defenders of Constantinople were heavily outnumbered (though not so fantastically) and exhausted by the siege. The Christians lose their earthly holy city, yet they gain the heavenly Jerusalem. However, the Capystranus author appears to imply that, had it been God’s will, the Christians would have won even against great odds, preparing the audience for the miraculous delivery of Belgrade.

The description of the Siege of Belgrade, given in sections IV and V (ll. 360–579) of the poem as it survives, is far more detailed than that of Constantinople. There are structural and narrative similarities as well as differences in the description of the sieges. First, while the Siege of Constantinople begins in medias res, following a prologue that evokes Christ’s sacrifice and Charlemagne’s exploits, most of sections III and IV describe the Christian preparations for the crusade. The author may have relied on the audience having at least some notion of the events that led to the siege of Constantinople, in much the same way as he expected them to be familiar with Charlemagne’s “crusades.” It is possible that the English audience knew less about the Siege of Belgrade, and the romance’s author certainly wanted to highlight the role of his hero, Capystranus, in securing the Pope’s blessing for the holy war and assembling an army. In fact, Shepherd notes that Capystranus’s negotiations with the Pope are conflated with the dealings of Cardinal Juan Carvajal, who resided in Buda in 1455 and was delegated by Pope Calixtus III to prepare a crusade in Hungary, Poland and Germany. The historical St. John of Capistrano preached a holy war in Hungary under Carvajal’s supervision.56

However, Carvajal is not mentioned in the poem. Indeed, the Pope’s words “Thou prechest Goddes words wyde In the countree, on every syde, In many a diverse lande” (ll. 268–70) are equally applicable to Capistrano, whose efforts at preaching a crusade were not limited to Hungary, but extended across Europe. According to certain sources, Capistrano managed to rally 60,000 crusaders, though Shepherd explains that “many fewer probably showed up than had agreed to.”57 The poem’s author gives a more modest figure: at the beginning of the crusade, Capystranus recruits “Syxe and twenty .m.” [26,000] (l. 332) from the mysterious university of “Gottauntas” (l. 329). All recruits are clerics, and most of them are ordained priests. Later, Capystranus and Obedyanus arrive at Belgrade with “.xx. thousande” (l. 360): apparently, 6,000 of crusaders never made it to the city. Meanwhile, the remaining 20,000 have evolved from a motley crowd of students and priests Capystranus must have picked at the university into a splendid army, “In helme and hauberc bryght” (l. 363).

The number 20,000 in relation to the Christian army is cited four times in the poem. At the height of battle, the Turks kill as many at the bridge that leads to the citadel, naturally an important target for both attackers and defenders: “Twenty thousande of our men Were borne downe at the brydge ende, The Turkes were so thro” (ll. 438–40). The author’s emotional involvement is evident: the defenders are not only “our Crysten,” as they are in the description of the Constantinople siege, they are “our men.” The Turks are finally recognized as deserving adversaries, who win not only because there are more of them but also because they are “so thro.” A narrow bridge is just the place where numerical superiority of the attackers can be offset by the defenders’ courage and professionalism, so the Capystranus author explains the Christian losses and withdrawal as a result of the Turks’ ferocity and their exotic appearance. Fresh reinforcements riding on camels overrun both horses and riders: “Dromydaryes over them ranne And kylled downe bothe horse and man” (ll. 441–42). Finally, following Capystranus’s prayer, “Twenty .m.” (ll. 516 and 528) arise from the dead and attack the Turks, driving them out of the city.

The army led by Obedyanus and Capystranus would have been reinforced by the city garrison, but the 20,000 repeatedly given by the Capystranus author provides the poem with narrative unity and makes the details unusually specific for a genre that is notoriously hostile to “realism.”58 While the number of Christians is settled and finite, the Turks attacking Belgrade present an amorphous, shapeless mass, with reinforcement continuously flowing in. Thus, Capystranus announces to the Pope the news that the “Turke,” whose aim is to conquer Hungary, departed for Belgrade “With two hundred .m. [200,000] this same day” (l. 253).59 The Christians are thus outnumbered 1:10, which is an entirely manageable ratio within the universe of chivalric romance. Accordingly, during the Siege of Constantinople, the Christians slay five thousand infidels in no time, albeit the Christian losses are not mentioned: “Anone, within a lytell throwe, Five .m. Turkes on a rowe In the stretes lay slayne” (ll. 125–27). Using much the same words, the poet tells how, at Belgrade, the first encounter between the armies resulted in five thousand dead, presumably Turkish: “Anone they togyder mette: Five .m. deed withouten lette, In helme and hauberk bryght” (ll. 390–93). Moreover, Obedyanus kills every enemy he meets, while Morpath and Blacke Johan likewise “kylled Turkes many one” (l. 406). Had it not been for the new division, counting “A .c. thousande and mo” (l. 431), in bright new armor and mounted on fearful dromedaries, one has the feeling the poem would have been much shorter and devoid of its high point, Capystranus’s prayer and the subsequent miracle.

In fact, the impression of historiographical precision and veracity in referring to numbers of the armies, artillery pieces, kinds of armor worn by the fighters and the animals they ride results in offsetting the disconcerting miracle resulting from Capystranus’s prayer. On the other hand, accounts of miracles worked by saints filed for the purposes of canonization had to be very detailed and verifiable. Although St. John of Capistrano was officially canonized only in 1727, he was regarded as a saint by his contemporaries.60 Thus, the poem’s author may be drawing on the formal requirements for miracle and hagiographic narratives in providing the level of detail for the romance.

As I have mentioned before, the structures of the two siege narratives in Capystranus display both similarities and differences. Both siege accounts are structured as series of battles, either within or outside the city walls. In both cases, the Christians kill many enemies, but must finally withdraw before a larger and fresher army. The battle episodes in the Constantinople siege are punctuated by the Sultan’s outcries to his “god,” the last of which is apparently answered. The Christians flee, though the audience would know that the Christians are defeated through God’s will and enjoy the better part of becoming martyrs, their souls going straight to heaven, while the Turks are hell-bound. No individual Christians are mentioned in the first account, and the Emperor’s name appears only in the narrative of his martyrdom. Clearly, there were no charismatic or at least able leaders at Constantinople, and here the Capystranus author and modern historians are of one mind.

By contrast, “Macamyte” does not appear at any point after the siege of Constantinople. The enemy is referred to collectively, “the Turke,” while the Christian army includes several prominent individuals (Capystranus, Obedyanus, Morpath and Blacke Johan) as well as being socially stratified: there are knights, clerics, further divided into priests and schoolmasters, and, apparently, regular soldiers. The author even distinguishes between the ways in which priests and schoolmasters fight: the former enter the battle singing Te Deum, and the latter deal severe punishment to those who “wolde not lere theyr laye” (l. 425). At the end, Capystranus proves himself a true “God’s knight” and a good leader of his men.

Like Macamyte during the Siege of Constantinople, Capystranus turns to God at the critical moment. In contrast to the Turk’s animalistic, savage yells to his “god,” the saint’s prayers are long and elaborate, addressing his spiritual “overlord” in feudal terms. Interestingly, Capystranus’s prayer offers parallels not only to Macamyte’s yells but also to Emperor’s words in response to the Turks’ requirements of abandoning God. The Emperor answers with a praise to God, urging the Turks themselves to convert; he prefers to be tortured and put to death rather than commit apostasy. 61 Surprisingly, Capystranus actually threatens Christ and Mary that he will abandon them unless the Christians are granted victory. In historical accounts of the siege, Capistrano’s prayer is mentioned, but then he beseeches God’s mercy rather than demands a miracle. Philippa Hardman notes the parallel between this episode and Turpin’s outburst in the Sege of Melayne, stating that both can be related to the “popular story cycles of the ‘miracles of the Virgin,’” “where a devotee of the Virgin rebukes her for failing to prevent some catastrophe, after which Mary miraculously reverses the disaster”62 Unlike Turpin, however, Capystranus addresses both God and the Virgin. His prayer also parallels and contrasts with the response of the Emperor of Constantinople to the Turks earlier in the poem, when the Emperor celebrates the power of Christ and Mary.

At the same time, Capystranus’s prayer is far from incongruous within a chivalric romance. The author prepares the audience for the prayer already from the beginning, when he calls Capystranus “Goddes knyght” (l. 230). A knight has to obey his lord, but can demand, in return, the lord’s protection. In feudal terms, a knight has obligations to those under his charge as well, and, being ultimately answerable to the overlord for his subjects’ well-being, a knight can in turn require the lord’s provisions and defense for the knight’s retinue. Feudal obligations are mutual, not unilateral. Although by the end of the Middle Ages feudal obligations as constructed in chivalric romance were already obliterated, if ever they existed in practice in exactly this way, the ideology of chivalry persisted well into the sixteenth century. In full knowledge that he has performed his obligations well, that he fights for a just cause, as proved by the papal bull, and that he follows the only true commander, Christ, who is depicted on the banner, Capystranus utters what may seem to a modern reader a surprising, if not downright blasphemous, prayer.

The miracle is granted: as far as Capystranus’s voice is heard, the dead rise up. Shepherd comments that Capystranus’s reputation as healer and his enthusiastic encouragement of the troops throughout the battle would have contributed to the account. As twenty-first century readers, we need rationalizations to make sense of a miracle in a “realistic” poem, complete with numbers, descriptions of artillery pieces and arms and names of participants, many of them identifiable historical figures. However, medieval and early modern audiences lived in a culture where miracles were “commonplace,” not only as part of romances and saints’ lives, but also in everyday life and, particularly, in accounts of crusades.63

Is the story of the miracle wrought by Capystranus an instance of memory, transferred through oral accounts, or imagination? If it is the latter, then whose imagination – the Capystranus author’s, his eyewitnesses’ or even the collective imagination of the battle participants? In late-fifteenth-century and early sixteenth-century culture, where religion and war were closely intertwined, the account of a miracle becomes part of collective memory. This collective memory persists into modern culture: the bells ringing on the day of St. John of Capistrano to commemorate a victoria mirabilis is an example of a lieu de mémoire, to which the Middle English poem Capystranus is an early witness.

Conclusion

Nora writes that “memory has never known more than two forms of legitimacy: historical and literary.”64 In the case of memory realms, historical and literary linearities converge, and, like certain other medieval texts, Capystranus marks a point of their convergence. I believe that the poem was popular in the sixteenth century, occasioning de Worde’s three printings, because it combined memory and imagination in the account of a recent landmark in crusading warfare. It would be reductive to read the poem only as an example of political propaganda, because memory realms emerge only when there is “a will to remember.”65 The Capystranus author draws skillfully on contemporary anxieties about the advance of the representatives of hostile culture and faith into Europe, a theme topical even in modern popular culture. He also uses familiar tropes and stereotypes from crusading romance—the Saracens’ cruelty and animalism, the Christians’ unity and steadfastness—though he presents these so as to evoke familiar experiences of war. In this essay, I have shown how the commonplaces of crusading romance were not only relevant in the context of fifteenth-century crusading warfare, but also in the context of “domestic” European warfare. New ideologies and technologies of war are related to the old ones in Capystranus: reading a poem, the audience would have the impression of a double déjà vu—that of reading old romances and that of remembering recent wars, in England and elsewhere in Europe.

Scholars of medieval and early modern English literature tend to consider Capystranus as a “siege poem” or alongside other crusading romances focusing on a siege (Shepherd, Hebron, Hardman and others). Such an approach is fruitful, yet it underestimates the poem’s involvement with two recent historical events, the sieges of Constantinople and Belgrade. Complementing the former approach, another critical tendency is to view the poem functioning as political propaganda, highlighting contemporary threats in the Mediterranean and East Central Europe and consequently shifting the audience’s attention from domestic tensions to international affairs. Elements of crusading romance, chronicle and political propaganda in the poem can be best understood if the poem is discussed within the framework of lieux de mémoire, commemorating miraculous delivery of Belgrade through the offices of Johan Capystranus.

Material, functional and symbolic elements of a memory site are all reflected in the poem. The material element is brought to the fore through references to a concrete place, up-to-date military technology (guns and mortars), ideologies and practices (war as ordeal of purgation, involvement of non-combatants and emphasis on the “right,” Christian way of warfare). Functionally, the poem is designed to promote more active involvement in wars against the Turks in East Central Europe and boost Christian morals. Symbolically, the poem’s author relates the Siege of Belgrade to events of Biblical and mythical history (the exodus, crucifixion, Charlemagne’s wars). Memory and imagination are intertwined in the poem: based on chronicles, oral narratives and eyewitness accounts, the poem is shaped by earlier narratives about similar events, influencing, in turn, future memories.

 

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1 The poem is available in three modern editions. For the present article, I used Stephen A. Shepherd’s “Capystranus,” in Middle English Romances (New York: Norton, 1995), 388–408. Shepherd edited the text from de Worde’s 1515 edition. There are also two earlier editions: Douglas Gray’s in The Oxford Book of Late Medieval Verse and Prose (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985), 199–203, which reproduces lines 360–521 of the 1515 print, and W. A. Ringler’s in New Hungarian Quarterly 27 (1986): 131–40.

2 Norman Housley, The Later Crusades, 1274–1580: From Lyons to Alcazar (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 104.

3 Pierre Nora, “Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire,” Representations 26 (1989): 7–24.

4 Sharon Kinoshita, Medieval Boundaries: Rethinking Difference in Old French Literature (Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013). See also Julian Weiss, “Remembering Spain in the Medieval European Epic: A Prospect,” in Locating the Middle Ages: The Spaces and Places of Medieval Culture, ed. Julian Weiss and Sarah Salih (London: King’s College London Medieval Studies, 2012), 67–82.

5 J. M. Winter, Remembering War: The Great War Between Memory and History in the Twentieth Century (Yale: Yale University Press, 2006), 4–5.

6 Joanna Bourke, “Introduction: Remembering War,” Journal of Contemporary History 39, no. 4 (2004): 485.

7 Éva Róna, “Hungary in a Medieval Poem, ‘Capystranus,’ a Metrical Romance,” in Studies in Language and Literature in Honour of Margaret Schlauch, ed. Mieczyslaw Brahmer, Stanislaw Helsztynski, and Julian Krzyzanowski (Warsaw: PWN Polish Scientific Publishers, 1966), 350–51.

8 Shepherd, “Capystranus,” 391.

9 Rhiannon Purdie, Anglicising Romance: Tail-rhyme and Genre in Medieval English Literature (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2008), 171.

10 Bonnie Millar-Heggie, “Sanctity, Savagery and Saracens in Capystranus: Fifteenth Century Christian-Ottoman Relations,” Al-Masaq: Journal of the Medieval Mediterranean 14, no. 2 (2002): 131.

11 Fragments survive from all three editions: a 10-leaf fragment from the 1515 edition is in London, British Library, 14649; two leaves from the 1527 are BL, 14649.5; and four leaves from the 1530 print are in Oxford, Bodleian Library, 14650. The ending of the poem is missing. See Purdie, Anglicising Romance, 171–72.

12 Seth Leder, “The Wiles of a Woodcut: Wynkyn de Worde and the Early Tudor Reader,” Huntington Library Quarterly 59, no. 4 (1996): 381.

13 J. O. Halliwell, A Hand-List of the Early English Literature Preserved in the Douce Collection in the Bodleian Library, Selected from the Printed Catalogue of that Collection (London: Adlard, 1860), 23. István Petrovics comments on the possible size of the printed booklets and their decoration (“Capystranus. Egy 1515-ben Londonban kinyomtatott névtelen angol elbeszélő költemény,” in Peregrin Kálmán and László Veszprémy, Európa védelmében. Kapisztrán Szent János és a nándorfehérvári diadal emlékezete (Budapest: HM Hadtörténeti Intézet és Múzeum–Line Design, 2013), 127).

14 A. S. G. Edwards, “The Reception of Malory’s Morte d’Arthur,” in A Companion to Malory, ed. Elizabeth Archibald and Anthony S. G. Edwards (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1996), 243.

15 Graindor de Douai’s Chanson de Jérusalem describes the siege of 1187, purporting to present an eyewitness account. For the representation of the infidels in the text, which bears similarity to the portrayal of the Turks in Capystranus, see Huguette Legros, “Réalités et imaginaires du péril sarrasin,” in La chrétienté au péril sarrasin: actes du colloque de la Section Française de la Société Internationale Rencesvals (Aix-en-Provence: University of Provence, 2000), 125–46.

16 Anthony Leopold, “Crusading Proposals in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Century,” in The Holy Land, Holy Lands, and Christian History: Papers Read at the 1998 Summer Meeting and the 1999 Winter Meeting of the Ecclesiastical History Society, ed. R. N. Swanson (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2000), 227.

17 Millar-Heggie, “Sanctity,” 113.

18 Lee Manion, Narrating the Crusades: Loss and Recovery in Medieval and Early Modern Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 161.

19 Thomas H. Crofts and Robert Allen Rouse maintain that, while Capystranus itself is not a Charlemagne romance, it “shares many otherwise uncommon elements with Sege [of Melayne]”. “Middle English Popular Romance and National Identity,” in A Companion to Medieval Popular Romance, ed. Raluca L. Radulescu and Cory James Rushton (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2009), 89.

20 Malcolm Hebron, The Medieval Siege: Theme and Image in Middle English Romance (Oxford: Clarendon Press).

21 See, for instance, Shepherd, “ ‘This Grete Journee’: The Sege of Melayne,” in Romance in Medieval England, ed. Maldwyn Mills, Jennifer Fellows, and Carol M. Meale (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 113–31.

22 Hebron, Siege, 86–87.

23 Millar-Heggie, “Sanctity,” 118.

24 Diane Vincent, “Reading a Christian-Saracen Debate in Fifteenth-Century Middle English Charlemagne Romance: The Case of Turpines Story,” in The Exploitations of Medieval Romance, ed. Laura Ashe, Ivana Djordjevic, and Judith Weiss (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2010), 91.

25 Nora classifies lieux de mémoire on the basis of their material, functional and symbolic elements (“Between Memory and History,” 22–23).

26 Vincent, Exploitation, 91.

27 Raluca L. Radulescu, “Genealogy in Insular Romance,” in Broken Lines: Genealogical Literature in Medieval England and France, ed. Radulescu and E. D. Kennedy (Turnhout: Brepols, 2008), 12.

28 Suzanne Conklin Akbari, “Erasing the Body: History and Memory in Medieval Siege Poetry,” in Remembering the Crusades: Myth, Image, and Identity, ed. Nicholas Paul and Suzanne Yeager (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012), 167.

29 Akbari, “Erasing the Body,” 167.

30 On reactions to the Church union, see, for instance, Aziz S. Atiya, The Crusade in the Later Middle Ages (London: Methuen, 1938), 268–78.

31 Shepherd, “Capystranus,” 402.

32 Images of the cross on military banners were common in the Middle Ages, particularly towards the end of the period; see Contamine, War, 298 and Contamine, Guerre, État et société à la fin du Moyen Âge. Études sur les armées des rois de France (1337–1494) (Paris: Mouton, 1972), 668–70.

33 Housley, Crusades, 103.

34 Pál Fodor, “The Ottoman Empire, Byzantium and Western Christianity: The Implications of the Siege of Belgrade, 1456,” Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae, 61, no. 1 (2008): 48.

35 See Petrovics and György E. Szőnyi, “Capystranus: A Late Medieval English Romance on the 1456 Siege of Belgrade,” New Hungarian Quarterly 27 (1986): 141–46.

36 Quoted in Alexandru Simon, “Lasting Falls and Wishful Recoveries: Crusading in the Black Sea,” Imago Temporis, Medium Aevum 6 (2012): 303–04.

37 Shepherd, “Capystranus,” 401.

38 Contamine, War, 296.

39 Ibid., War, 297.

40 Crofts and Rouse, “Romance,” 88.

41 Antonius de Bonfinis, Rerum Ungaricarum Decades IV et dimidia, ed. Josephus Fógel, Béla Iványi, and Ladislaus Juhász (Budapest: Bibliotheca Scriptorium Medii Recentisque Aevorum, 1936–1941). Quoted and translated in Petrovics, “John Hunyadi, Defender of the Southern Borders of the Medieval Kingdom of Hungary,” Banatica (Resita) 20 (2010): 65.

42 Contamine, “L’idée de guerre à la fin du Moyen Âge: aspects juridiques et éthiques,” Comptes rendues des séances de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres 123 (1979): 70–86.

43 For more information regarding the concepts of holy, just and unjust war in romance, see Helen Cooper’s introduction to Christianity and Romance in Medieval England, ed. Rosalind Field, Phillipa Hardman, and Michelle Sweeney (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2010), xvii–xviii.

44 Contamine summarises the Church’s objections to using battles as a form of legal judgment: “1) parce que l’on pouvait perdre même en ayant le droit pour soi; 2) parce que le recours à de tels procédés amenait à tenter Dieu; 3) parce que le justice devenait alors inutile” (Contamine, “L’idée,” 73).

45 The division of the poem in Shepherd’s edition follows the indications provided by “woodcuts and/or large capitals” (Shepherd, “Capystranus,” 391).

46 Mehmed II, sultan from 1451 to 1481, commanded the sieges of both Constantinople and Belgrade; he is named only in the part of the poem devoted to the former siege.

47 Contamine, “L’idée,” 74.

48 Philippe de Mézières, “Epistre lamentable et consolatoire sur le fait de la desconfiture du noble et vaillant roy de Honguerie par les Turcs devant la ville de Nicopoli en l’Empire de Boulguerie,” in Chroniques de France, d’Angleterre, d’Espaigne, de Bretaigne, de Gascogne, de Flandres et lieux circonvoisins by Jean Froissart, Œuvres, ed. Joseph M. B. C. Kervyn de Lettenhove, vol. 16 (Brussels: n.p., 1872), 444–523, cited in Contamine, War, 156. For a more recent edition, see Philippe de Mézières, Une epistre lamentable et consolatoire adressée en 1397 à Philippe le Hardi, duc de Bourgogne, sur la défaite de Nicopolis (1396), ed. Contamine and Jacques Paviot (Paris: n.p., 2008), 53–64.

49 For a discussion of contradictory accounts about the roles of Capistrano, Carvajal and Hunyadi in contemporary historical sources, see Kenneth M. Setton, The Papacy and the Levant (1204–1571), vol. 2 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1978), 179–82.

50 Jacques Voisenet, “Violence des bêtes et violences des hommes,” in La violence dans le monde médiéval (Aix-en-Provence: Presses universitaires de Provence, 1994), 561–70. See also Voisenet, Bestiaire chrétien. L’imagerie animale des auteurs du Haut Moyen Age (Ve-XIe siècle) (Toulouse: Presses universitaires du Mirail, 1994).

51 Douglas Gray, “Fayttes of Armes and of Chyvalrye,” Selim 7 (2000): 6–7.

52 Contamine, War, 200.

53 Malory’s description of Mordred besieging Guinevere in the Tower of London is indebted to Malory’s own experience of sieges: P. J. C. Field notes that the “fictional siege of the Tower in the Morte d’Arthur contains what seems to be a reminiscence of the real siege in his substitution of guns for the older siege-artillery of his sources.” The Life and Times of Sir Thomas Malory (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1993), 142.

54 Halil Inalcik, “The Ottoman Turks and the Crusades, 1451-–1522,” in A History of the Crusades, vol. 6, ed. Harry W. Hazard and Norman P. Zacour (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989), 314. See also J. R. Melville, The Siege of Constantinople by the Turks: Seven Contemporary Accounts (Amsterdam: n.p., 1977).

55 İnalcik, “Ottoman Turks,” 314.

56 Shepherd, “Capystranus,” 398. The latest study of the saint in English is by Stanko Andrić, The Miracles of St. John Capistran (Budapest and New York: Central European University Press, 2000). In this book, Andrić analyses the accounts of the miracles performed by the saints. See also Iulian Mihai Damian, Ioan de Capestrano şi Cruciada Târzie (Cluj-Napoca: Editura Academia Română, 2011).

57 Shepherd, “Capystranus,” 398.

58 On the absence of “realism” in medieval romance, see Douglas Gray. Discussing the portrayal of the Ottoman Turks in early modern English literature, Anders Ingram dismisses Capystranus as a valuable source for the study of Christian involvement with Ottoman culture, commenting that “The details and language of the description of the fall of Constantinople [in Capystranus] could just as easily describe the fall of Acre in 1291.” Anders Ingram, (2009) “English Literature on the Ottoman Turks in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries” (Unpublished PhD thesis presented at Durham University, 2009), accessed January 26, 2015, http://etheses.dur.ac.uk/1974/, 51.

59 The estimates of modern historians regarding the size of the Turkish army differ. Interestingly, Carvajal wrote to Francesco Sforza of 200,000 Turks advancing on land in addition to those carried on two hundred large galleys and smaller boats (quoted in Setton, Papacy, 175).

60 See Andrić, The Miracles, 155–56. Damian contends that Capistrano provides “a new model of Franciscan sanctity” (Ioan de Capestrano, 289–300).

61 The Capystranus author gives an imaginative account of the Emperor’s martyrdom, in which the Emperor wins a spiritual battle over his enemies, refusing to forsake Christ and the Virgin Mary. The Emperor is tortured and executed with cruelty, sawn to death with a wooden saw, ll. 181–95.

62 Philippa Hardman, “The Sege of Melayne: a Fifteenth-Century Reading,” in Tradition and Transformation in Medieval Romance, ed. Rosalind Field (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1999), 81.

63 The Siege of Rhodes, also printed by de Worde, provides an account of another miracle: Christ and the Virgin appear on the city walls, and the Turks immediately flee. Some Turks even convert to Christianity.

64 Nora, “Between Memory and History,” 24.

65 Ibid., 19.

Volume 4 Issue 2 CONTENTS

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Suzana Miljan and Hrvoje Kekez

The Memory of the Battle of Krbava (1493) and the Collective Identity of the Croats

The article deals with the construction of the narrative of the battle of Krbava Field, where many Croatian noblemen perished in 1493. The accounts of the battle began to spread immediately after the fighting had come to an end, giving rise to various versions of the events. The second part of the article is devoted to the rhetoric of the various retellings with which the memory of the calamity was preserved from the sixteenth century to the eighteenth century. The article then examines the circumstances leading to the increase in the political and social importance of the narrative in the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century. The final part of the article focuses on the history of the narrative of the battle within the framework of the various Croatian state formations of the twentieth century.

Keywords: Kingdom of Hungary and Croatia, Battle of Krbava, Ottoman expansion, social memory, collective identity of Croats

Introduction

On September 9, 1493, the military contingent led by Ban Emeric Derencsényi of Croatia suffered a decisive defeat at the hands of the Ottoman army on Krbava Field in present-day central Croatia. The long-lasting defensive war waged by the Kingdoms of Hungary and Croatia against the Ottomans became one of the formative factors of the collective identity of Croats in the early modern period, as well as in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. More than 300 years of continuous armed conflicts with the Ottomans provoked the interest of both contemporaries and modern historians. Therefore, in this article we will examine how narratives of the battle of Krbava were created, tracing writings ranging from fifteenth-century accounts to works of modern scholarship. The main questions will concern how the story was transferred, where, and why, with special emphasis on the issue of when the narratives were created and used in the construction of a collective Croatian identity.

The Battle of KrbavaA Historical Overview

Although there were some sporadic Ottoman raids on Croatia and Slavonia before the middle of the fifteenth century, Croatian lands did not become a main target of Ottoman military and political strategy until the fall of the medieval Kingdom of Bosnia in 1463. The events that preceded the battle of Krbava include the conquering of most of the Bosnian towns and castles (including the royal city of Jajce), the death of King Stephen Tomašević of Bosnia, and the foundation of the Jajce and Srebrenica Banats, followed by the Senj Captaincy in 1469 under the rule of the King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary.1

In subsequent decades, the Ottoman raids continued, and in the early spring of 1493 Hadum Jakub-pasha gathered his army in order to raid Croatian and Austrian lands once again.2 In the very beginning of his campaign, Jakub-pasha besieged Jajce in central Bosnia, but he very quickly abandoned this attempt and continued his raids in central Slavonia and Styria. At the same time, dissatisfied with the royal politics of King Wladislas II Jagiellon of Hungary, Count Hans (Anž) Frankapan of Brinje and Count Charles Kurjaković of Krbava rose up against the king. The Frankapani wanted to recover their castles in the County of Vinodol and the city of Senj, a very important port on the northern Adriatic. These cities and estates had earlier been confiscated by King Matthias. Similarly, Count Charles Kurjaković wanted to regain Obrovac, one of the most important emporia on the Zrmanja River.

Very soon after he received news that rebels had besieged the royal city of Senj, king Wladislas sent Bans Emeric Derencsényi and John Both of Bajna at the head of an army to crush the rebellion. The bans decided to direct their campaign towards the estates of Count Hans Frankapan, so they besieged Hans’ castle of Brinje. Meanwhile, they received news that Jakub-pasha has plundered the areas around the Modruš castle and that he had burned outlying settlements to the ground. Without hesitation, Ban Emeric Derencsényi invited rebels to join him in the ensuing battle against the Ottomans and granted them royal pardon. The majority of the Croatian noblemen who had participated in the uprising decided to accept this proposal, with the exceptions of Hans Frankapan and Charles Kurjaković, who very soon died, most probably because of wounds that were inflicted during the battle around the Brinje castle. The accusation that Count Hans Frankapan invited Ottomans to help him in his campaign against Ban Emeric Derencsényi cannot be dismissed beyond any doubt, and that may be why he did not join the Christian army.

Nevertheless, Ban Emeric Derencsényi and Croatian noblemen slowly gathered their army on Krbava Field below the Udbina castle. According to the surviving written testimonies, Jakub-pasha initiated negotiations for free passage to his strongholds in Bosnia. The ban rejected this proposal, most probably because he wanted to demonstrate the power of the Ban’s army (i.e. the royal army) in a battle with the Ottomans on the open field. The goal of this decision was also to prevent any future collaboration between Croatian noblemen and the Ottomans or the Venetians. Although the Croatian army outnumbered Jakub-pasha’s army, the Ottomans had more cavalry and their army was composed of experienced soldiers. Knowing this, and having experience in conflicts with the Ottomans, Count John Frankapan of Cetin encouraged the ban to trap the Ottomans in one of the numerous passes in the area, but the ban rejected this suggestion and arranged his army on the open field below the Udbina castle.

The battle began with an Ottoman decoy and did not last long. Jakub-pasha had sent some of his troops to surround the Croatian army and attack them from behind. The decoy was very successful, and the left wing of the Croatian army, consisting primarily of the infantry led by Count Bernardin Frankapan, was annihilated. Very soon, the rest of the Croatian army was destroyed. Although the Ottoman victory was complete, Jakub-pasha hastened his army to leave the area and went back to Bosnia. The Ottomans took only the most important noblemen as prisoners to be ransomed, while the rest were slaughtered.

Although the Croatian defeat at the battle of Krbava Field in 1493 was devastating, it should be noted that the Ottomans did not occupy the county of Krbava, because it is situated far from the Bosnian border, and it was conquered only some 30 years later, in 1527.3 The explanation for this may lie in the political and military strategy of the Ottoman Empire, which at the time was concerned more with the Pannonian basin, i.e. Hungary, than Croatia.4 Nevertheless, the battle had two important consequences. First, the defeat at Krbava Field accelerated the emigration of the inhabitants of Krbava and neighboring areas into safer regions.5 Second, the great loss of members of the leading Croatian noble families in the battle of Krbava Field was a severe blow to contemporary society. The noblemen were missed not only by their own families, but also as organizers of the defense of the Croatian lands against the Ottoman threat. This loss of an important element of the Croatian defense forces was clearly a factor in the subsequent events of the wars against the Ottomans and in the everyday life of the kingdom.

The Spread of News Immediately after the Battle

Immediately after the battle, news of the disastrous defeat at Krbava Field spread not only in the neighboring areas within the Kingdom of Hungary, but also beyond its borders. Accounts of the dramatic events of the conflict were presented in the most important political centers of contemporary Europe by various political emissaries and figures, such as the Counts of the Frankapani or Kurjakovići families. News also spread quickly among the lower strata of society in medieval Croatia and its neighboring lands.

An anonymous short record of the battle composed in September 1493 (that is, immediately after the battle) survives.6 In all likelihood it was written by Count Hans Frankapan of Brinje personally, who, unlike his kinsmen, decided not to participate in the battle. It was originally written in Latin, but it is extant in a mid-sixteenth-century German translation, and it was probably sent to Emperor Maximilian I Habsburg in order to inform him of the events on Krbava Field. The author of the record knew the exact date of the battle, described the leaders of the army, gave the almost exact numbers of the participants, and, finally, underlined the severity of the defeat.

Pope Alexander VI also received information concerning the battle very soon after the event. Only four days after the battle, Antonio Fabregues, a papal envoy who permanently lived in Senj and whose permanent mission was to collect information about the Ottomans in Croatia, sent his rather long report to the Roman Curia.7 He described the battle in detail on the basis of an account of a cavalryman who managed to escape. Another, substantially more vivid and upsetting account of the battle was sent to Pope Alexander VI by Bishop George Divnić of Nin.8 After he had personally visited Krbava Field, Divnić wrote the pope an extensive letter, typical for contemporary diplomacy, dated September 27, 1493. In his letter the bishop emphasized the danger of the Ottoman threat and stressed that they had easy access to Italy because of the destruction of the nobility in parts of Croatia, Slavonia, Dalmatia and Pannonia (meaning Hungary).

Certainly, news of the capture of Ban Emeric Derencsényi and the great defeat of the Croatian army soon reached the royal court in Buda. The writings of Antonio Bonfini, the official chronicler of King Matthias and his successor, King Wladislas II Jagiellon, indicate that the royal court was well informed of the calamity. In his book Rerum Hungaricum decades, Bonfini provides an even more detailed account of the Krbava Field battle.9 Bonfini described the movements of both armies, before and during the battle, but his writing is rather partial because of his personal and royal agenda. King Wladislas II was angry at Count Bernardin Frankapan because the rebellion that had preceded the battle.10 Nevertheless, Bonfini’s writing was often used as a source for subsequent royal and other chronicles in their presentations of the battle.

News of the Krbava battle spread rapidly within the Holy Roman Empire in large part because of the circulation of a leaflet published by Johann Winterburger in Vienna in the autumn of 1493.11 Therefore, it is not surprising that it was one of the topics at the summit held after the funeral of the Emperor Frederick III in Vienna in December 1493.12

Other political centers of contemporary Europe were mostly informed about the battle of Krbava Field by papal diplomacy. Several letters were sent by Pope Alexander VI to various European royal courts,13 including the one to King Henry VII Tudor of England, who in his response (January 12, 1494) emphasized his concern for Croatia, which was suffering the Ottoman raids, and also underlining the danger for neighboring countries, especially Italy.14

News of the disastrous defeat at Krbava Field spread rather quickly among the people in Croatia. A few days after the battle, accounts of the events were very well-known among the residents of the coastal city of Senj. As noted above, the news was apparently spread by a cavalryman, hence news of the battle had reached Senj just a couple of days after the event.

News of the battle reached the city of Zadar, the most important seaport on the eastern Adriatic coast, very quickly. Two accounts recorded by two pilgrims traveling with a larger group to the Holy Land make mention of the Krbava battle. Due to the significant differences between the two, one could argue that they used different sources, although they traveled with the same group of pilgrims.15 Jan Hasišteinsky, the pilgrim from Bohemia, wrote in his travelogue Putování k Svatému hrobu [The Pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulchre] about how he had heard the story about the battle from a nobleman from the county of Lika. That anonymous lesser nobleman had underlined the misfortunes of the local inhabitants and had emphasized that he had lost several of his kinsmen in the battle.16 Heinrich von Zedlitz, a knight from Silesia, did not name his source, but he emphasized the atmosphere of mourning in Zadar because of the devastating defeat on Krbava Field, a place only one day on horseback from the city.17 Other pilgrims described a similar atmosphere of fear of new Ottoman raids in subsequent years, for instance Konrad von Parsberg in 149418 and Hans Schürpfen in 1497.19 Yet, it is best recorded in the account of Martinac, the parish priest of Grobnik, written in 1494.20 Priest Martinac had compared that fear with the atmosphere that existed during the time of the raids of Mongols, Huns and Goths.21 He was emotional about the event, because he was a member of the Lapčani kindred and his kinsmen have participated in the battle, from whom he most likely gained the information.

Rumors of the catastrophic defeat at Krbava Field spread rather fast among contemporaries, becoming familiar to people across vast areas of land. It is therefore not surprising that an anonymous chronicler of the orthodox monastery in Cetinje, Montenegro, briefly recorded the event of the Krbava battle in the monastery’s annals: Pljeni Jagu-paša Harvate i bana Derenžula živa uhvati na Krbave.22 A similar record in German is found in the annals of the Franciscan monastery in Thann in Alsace in the Holy Roman Empire: 9. Septemb. wurde unser christliche Armée in Orient, auf den libernicensischen Feldern, von den Türckhen geschlagen und seind bey 5000 Mann tod geblieben.23

The Narratives of the Battle of Krbava in Folk Poetry and High Literature

The news of the battle of Krbava spread rapidly in areas inhabited by the Croats in the late fifteenth century. The story of how the noble Christian knights and the leaders of the Croatian army had fallen in the battle against the infidels and how they had been slaughtered while fighting in the defense of Christendom had a significant impact on the common people and on members of the educated classes. Various stories and poems were presumably composed soon after the calamity in which the battle of Krbava was presented as one of the cornerstones in the long defensive war of the Croats against the Ottomans. These stories and poems most probably circulated among the common people for centuries before being written down in the nineteenth and twentieth century.

One of the first recorded folk poems about the Krbava battle is “Ban Derenčin boja bije” [Ban Derencsényi Fighting the Fight], which was put in writing by Paul Ritter Vitezović, a famous Croatian polyhistor, in 1682.24 In the poem, Krbava is presented as a mythical place where the voices and traces of fallen Croatian noblemen could be still found. The poem also vividly shows how even centuries later the names of the noblemen where still known to the population of the region. However, it should be noted that the title of the poem is a clear allusion to the Bible, since it paraphrases the words of St. Paul: “I have fought a good fight, ... I have kept my faith” (2 Tim 4, 7).

Another folk poem on the Krbava battle was recorded in the middle of the eighteenth century in the Dubrovnik area. It was the poem entitled “Kako je Hodžulo, ban skradinski, poginuo sa ostalim Skradinjanima” [How Hodžulo, the ban of Skradin, perished together with his Skradinians]. It was first published in printed form by Baltazar Bogišić in 1878.25 However, he did not realize that it deals with the Krbava battle. After conducting a detailed linguistic and onomastic analysis, in the 1930s Ante Šimičik argued persuasively that the poem actually concerns the battle of Krbava Field.26 The poem vividly shows how the narratives of the battle had a very important place in the anti-Ottoman narrative and how, after a couple of centuries of circulation of the narratives among the people, many details had been lost, but the importance of the battle remained.

Friar Andrija Kačić Miošić, the guardian of the Franciscan convent in Zastrog near Makarska, played a significant role in preserving a narrative of the Krbava battle. He composed a narrative entitled “Razgovor ugodni naroda Slovinskoga: pismarica starca Milovana” [A Leisurely Conversation of the Slavic Folk: A Song Book of the Old Man Milovan] in the manner of traditional folk poetry in 1756. Kačić wanted to present Croatian and South Slavic history (mostly in the period of wars against the Ottomans), so he wrote 136 poems in the typical folk rhyme (deseterac) in order to ensure that his work would be as accessible as possible to the wider public. It is therefore not surprising that his poems were generally well-known (sung at the folk meetings called sijelo)27 and that it was not until the middle of the nineteenth century that “Razgovor” was identified as his work. Kačić’s writing had a significant influence on the compilation of narratives of the anti-Ottoman wars. It is therefore not surprising that in one of his songs Kačić mentioned the battle of Krbava Field. It is worth noting that Kačić has erroneously described the Krbava battle as a victory for the Croatian army.28

Several folk poems on the Krbava battle were recorded in the late nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, when these songs were still sung. The first one, “Prevareni ban Derenčin” [Misguided Ban Derencsényi], was recorded in Novi Vinodolski in 1889 by Antun Mažuranić. With the exception of the main character, the poem has nothing to do with the battle.29 Nevertheless, it is interesting that one of the leading participants in the battle, Ban Emeric Derencsényi, remained a popular character in folk poetry, especially as a tragic figure.

In contrast to that poem, the poem “Smrt bana Derenčina” [The Death of Ban Derencsényi], recorded by Luka Bervaldi Lucić on the island of Vis in 1890, has the battle of Krbava as its essential theme.30 It underlines the disastrous outcome of the battle as the beginning of the fall of the Kingdom of Croatia. It is interesting how the anonymous folk poet presented the reason for Derencsényi’s death as a result of ill fortune: his beautiful blue hair had fallen on his eyes and blinded him, causing his death.31

The second version of the same poem was recorded by Ante Petravić, a priest in Komiža on the island of Vis, in 1909. With the exception of having a modified title – “Pisma o Derenčinu banu” [The Song of Ban Derencsényi] – and a slightly different introduction, the poem is the same as the poem recorded by Bervaldi Lucić in 1890.32 Perhaps more interesting is the fact that the poem survived there until the middle of the twentieth century, only to be recorded again by poet Olinko Delorko in 1962.33

As these examples make clear, the Krbava battle was a theme of Croatian folk poetry for many centuries after the event. The narratives were shaped in various manners according to the historical moments in which they were composed, but they always underlined the sufferings of the wars against the Ottomans and always presented the battle of Krbava as the first and the most disastrous defeat of the Croats, a defeat that shaped future events. Furthermore, the principal actors of the battle, in particular Ban Emeric Derencsényi, were very popular characters in many folk poems, even if some of the poems did not deal specifically with the battle. It should be emphasized that the narratives of the Krbava battle were part of the folk culture of the people of the hinterland, who passed them on to the wider area of the Adriatic coast and the islands. From there, the narratives “traveled” with the migration of people in the period between the fifteenth and the seventeenth centuries beyond the borders of the medieval Kingdom of Croatia to central Italy. It is therefore not surprising that the anti-Ottoman narratives were part of the culture of the Croats of Molise centuries after they had decided to flee the Ottoman threat and abandon their homeland.34

On the other hand, very soon after the disastrous defeat, the Krbava battle became a popular topic of high literature. Mavro Vetranović (1482/1483–1576), an early sixteenth-century Renaissance poet from Dubrovnik, first recorded a narrative of the Krbava battle in one of his poems. Vetranović, in his poem “Tužba grada Budima” [The Lament of the City of Buda], stressed the loss of Croatian glory at the battle of Krbava Field and compared the Krbava battle with the battle of Kosovo field in 1448.35 Although Vetranović’s poetry was extant only in a seventeenth-century manuscript and was published for the first time only in the late nineteenth century, the author was very popular in his lifetime and his poetry was disseminated within the elite circles of his city.36 His writing therefore contributed to the presence of the narrative of the Krbava battle there.

After Vetranović, Hanibal Lucić from Hvar popularized a narrative of the Krbava battle by making Ban Derencsényi the main male protagonist of his play “Robinja” [The Slave Girl]. Although Lucić did not mention the battle of Krbava Field itself, he glorified the role of the ban in facing the Ottoman threat.37 Moreover, his composition represented the first play that spread anti-Ottoman sentiment among wider audiences. The play was performed for the first time most probably before 1530, but was only published for the first time in Venice not much before 1638. Lučić’s “Robinja” was the most popular of his plays, and during his lifetime it was preformed not only in Hvar, but also in Split and Dubrovnik. It is also interesting to note that one version of Lučić’s “Robinja” continued to be performed in a folk version on the island of Pag in the northern part of the east Adriatic up to the beginning of the twentieth century.38

Thus narratives of the Krbava battle were familiar to the common people and were also part of high literature, even in the coastal area of present-day Croatia, which were rather distant from the Krbava region, as early as the beginning of the sixteenth century. Despite the distance between the site of the battle and the area where the narratives were recorded, one can argue that the accounts were very informative and preserved the general idea of the importance of the retellings of the battle as part of the Croatian national corpus, especially considering the fact that they were written in vernacular Croatian (Čakavian dialect) and thus were understandable to the widest possible audience.

The Development of the Narratives in Chronicles and Historical Works from the Sixteenth to the Eighteenth Century

Over the course of the sixteenth century, narratives of the battle were incorporated in chronicles and historical works. Two sixteenth-century German chronicles dating from more or less the same period merit mention. Jacob Unrest, a priest in a parish near Wörtersee in the Duchy of Carinthia, wrote his work Die Österreichische Chronik in the period between 1500 and 1509. His account of the Krbava battle is very brief, and the names of the participants and toponyms are misspelled. He was interested in the events, because the raids of the Ottomans advanced all the way to Carniola and Carinthia.39 Another old-German chronicle played a more important role in the dissemination of an account of the battle of Krbava Field to the West. Knight Florian Waldauf von Waldenstein, a protonotary of Emperor Maximilian I Habsburg, was also one of the envoys to the court of King Wladislas II of Hungary in Buda, charged with the task of reaching a truce with the Ottomans.40 His chronicle remained in manuscript form, kept at the court in Innsbruck until the early twentieth century, and it does not explicitly mention the battle. However, it is important to stress that evidently a narrative of the battle of Krbava was known at the court because the struggle had been depicted on a relief on the cenotaph of Emperor Maximilian in the Hofkirche in Innsbruck (Tyrol).41 It is not surprising that accounts of the events of the battle were known because the aforementioned envoy Waldenstein was in the service of the emperor. In addition, since the battle was depicted in a relief in a church that was a center of a famous pilgrimage site, clearly accounts of the events spread in virtually innumerable directions from here.

Another major European force was also interested in the development of warfare against the Ottomans, namely the Republic of Venice. The Historia Turchesca, which was written between 1509 and 1514 by Donado da Lezze, represented one step in that direction.42 The author was a Venetian patrician and an amateur chronicler, whose main purpose was to write a chronology of the Ottoman Empire, since he was, while he was writing this work, the Venetian Count Provisor on the Greek island of Zante, and he had just spent some time in Cyprus. Donado da Lezze provided a very picturesque and detailed account of the battle, but he made many mistakes in the names, toponyms and chronology of the events. Historians have hypothesized that he may have been using an unknown (and no longer extant) report, or that he may have drawn on various different accounts. His retelling was widely received since it had been written in Italian. It was read not only in Italy, but also in other areas of Western Europe. Consequently even today two copies are extant (both of them kept in Paris). It should be noted that, in general, when dealing with other matters in the work, the author incorporated accounts of his contemporaries, so it is possible that he was doing the same thing when writing about the battle of Krbava. Historians have also conjectured that, when describing the events of the Krbava battle, da Lezze most probably used a report that was circulating in Croatia at the time, thus his work should be regarded as more indicative of the reception of this unknown (and thus hypothetical) record, yet one should also keep in mind that his work was used later by Italian and Croatian chroniclers. We do not know what sources he used, but one fact is significant: da Lezze was connected by marriage to the counts of Krbava. Katherine, sister of Ban John Karlović, was married to Bernardo da Lezze, so Donado might have heard the story from her, but this is merely a hypothesis for which the source materials offer no corroboration.43

Paolo Giovio, a member of the Roman Curia and a university professor in Rome, also used an unknown Croatian report that was circulating in the mid-sixteenth century. His account of the Krbava battle is short and many of the alleged facts he mentions are wrong. His work, entitled Commentario delle Cose di Turchi, certainly was widely read, as it was published in 1532 in Basel in Italian (and some sources indicate that one edition was published in Venice a year before) and a Latin translation was published in Strasbourg in 1537.44 Furthermore, it was published in different publishing centers of Christian Europe, and, finally, it was used later by many chroniclers.

Other versions of the events which are told from the perspective of the Ottomans began to emerge in the sixteenth century. The oldest work, known as “the Ottoman Anonym,” was written at the beginning of the sixteenth century, but the earliest surviving manuscript is the one kept in Sarajevo from the end of the sixteenth century or perhaps the beginning of the seventeenth century.45 The author is unknown, but it may have been written by one of the Ottoman courtiers. The main purpose of the text is to give a chronology of the history of the Ottoman Empire from 1295 to 1519, but the principal value is the fact that the author has put to paper what he had heard at the court. The reception of the text was relatively limited because it spread only in the inner circles of the Ottoman court. The work entitled the Crown chronicle by Sa’d-ud-din Mehmed ben Hasan hafiz Jemal ud-din, a high court official and teacher of Prince Murat, was more widely read. The author wrote a chronology of the Ottoman Empire using older Ottoman sources, which were available to him at the Sultan’s court.46 The account is written in a very typical Ottoman style for chronicles, with many references to the Qur’an and emphasis on the idea that the Christians suffered defeats because they were infidels, but it provides a good and accurate account of the battle and the events that preceded it. The main value of the work for Croatian scholarship was that many manuscripts were copied from the end of the sixteenth century onwards. Also, it was used by the court officials and members of the aristocracy, and a lithography was published in Istanbul in 1863. Both of these Ottoman sources are important because they depict Ottoman versions of the events, according to Ottoman traditions, thus they enable one to examine the development of the narrative from the other side. But they did not influence the construction of the narrative on the Croatian side until the late nineteenth century, when they were published by Šišić.

Ottoman sources were used by Rabbi Joseph ben Jehosea ben Meir ha Cohen ha Sefardi, a pharmacist who lived in Genoa and Voltaggio and who wrote a chronicle of the French kings and Ottoman emperors in Hebrew.47 His work, in contrast to the Ottoman accounts, was published in Venice as early as 1554. Almost two centuries later, a second edition was published in Amsterdam. Since he was using Ottoman sources with different orthography, he got the names of the Christian leaders wrong. His work was written in Hebrew and was part of Jewish historiography, which put emphasis on the conflicts between the Muslims (Arabs and Ottomans) and the Christian world from the time of the first Crusade up to the mid-sixteenth century. It was not widely read outside of the Jewish communities, even though it was published in Venice. Therefore, it became part of Croatian historiography only after it had been translated into Hungarian in the late nineteenth century. The Ottoman and Jewish accounts have entered into Croatian historiography due to the source collection of Ferdo Šišić, on which we touch in a moment.

Another source was written on the basis of the Ottoman sources, yet this time of German provenience. Johannes Löwenklau, a courtier in Savoy and teacher of Greek in Heidelberg, published a work entitled Historiae Musulmanae Turcorum de monumentis ipsorum in Frankfurt in 1591.48 The author traveled through the Kingdom of Hungary and the Ottoman Empire because of his personal interest in the history of Ottoman Empire. Löwenklau’s work is important because it describes the events before and after the battle. Also, his chronology is more precise, though it was written according to the Muslim calendar. The work was more widely read since it was published in German and the book circulated among members of the educated classes.

 

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Of the chronicles originating in the Croatian historical lands, three sixteenth-century ones merit mention. The first, entitled Commentarii de temporibus suis, was written in 1522 by Louis Crijević Tubero, a well-educated Benedictine monk from Dubrovnik.49 When Tubero has traveled to Hungary, he stayed in the bishop’s palace in Bács as a guest of Archbishop Gregory Frankapan of Kalocsa, brother of the late Count George Frankapan, one of the Croatian magnates who perished in the battle of Krbava Field.50 Although Tubero gave only a brief account with incorrectly spelled names, he was the first author to explain the failure of the Christian army as a result of the misguided tactics of Ban Emeric Derencsényi. His account was well received among the nobility of Dubrovnik, and it was later incorporated in other writings. Tubero had heard the story in the north and then transferred it to the south of Dalmatia. The work was published in Frankfurt in 1603, and it was read by members of the educated classes in Dubrovnik. It is presumed that another chronicler, Friar John Tomašić, was also well connected with the Frankapan family. His work, Chronicon breve regni Croatiae, was written around 1561.51 The book was written in Latin, but with inserted dialogues in Croatian. Tomašić continued the work of an anonymous predecessor, using the documents from the Frankapan archives and their oral family history. Historians have also hypothesized that Tomašić may have been using a Croatian source from the beginning of the sixteenth century that today is unknown, in addition to the aforementioned work of Paolo Giovio. Tomašić’s work was preserved in the archive of the Counts Auersperg in Logensteinleiten in Upper Austria. The story was known in Austria at that time in part because it was the period of the most aggressive Ottoman raids in the country, and so people took a greater interest in the events that had taken place in Croatia. However, in Croatia, Tomašić’s work was not widely known until it was published in 1868 by Ivan Kukuljević.52 In regard to its content, it is similar to Tubero’s account, since Tomašić also contended that the defeat was a consequence of the bad tactics of Ban Emeric Derencsényi.

At more or less the same time, the narrative of the battle of Krbava had only limited echoes in northern Croatia. Antun Vramec, a canon of the Chapter of Zagreb and a parish priest in Zagreb and later in Varaždin, wrote a short chronology in order to incorporate the history of the South Slavs into a general history entitled Kronika vezda znovich zpravliena Kratka Szlouenzkim iezikom [A Short Chronicle Newly Prepared in the Slavonic Language], which was published in 1578.53 In his work, Vramec completely omitted information regarding the battle of Krbava, though he mentioned the battle of the Vrpile pass of 1491, which, in contrast to the Krbava battle, was a huge victory for Christian forces led by Ban Ladislas Egervári. It was widely read in the Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia at the time, in part because it was published in vernacular Croatian (the Kajkavian dialect) and, possibly, because it was distributed in many parishes of the region.54 Later, his work was used by Paul Ritter Vitezović, a point to which we shall return.

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One of the most influential seventeenth-century historical works, the influence of which was massive in the early-modern world, was the Regni Hungarici historia libris XXXIV exacte descripta by Nicholas Istvánffy, the royal chancellor and vice-palatine of the Kingdom of Hungary.55 Istvánffy’s primary intention was to write in chronological order the history of the kingdom from the death of King Matthias Corvinus in 1490 up to 1605, the year in which it was written. He wrote in the manner of the historians of the antiquity. His style is learned and picturesque and rather objective. His primary source is Bonfini’s work. In his writings, he gives many details concerning the events preceding the battle (i.e. a description of the conflict between the Frankapani and Ban Emeric Derencsényi). Thus, his writings, like Bonfini’s, were anti-Frankapan. The work was published in Cologne in 1622 by Peter Pázmány, the archbishop of Esztergom, and was widely circulated among members of the educated classes of the Kingdom. Later, Istvánffy had an influence on Rattkay, Vitezović, and Krčelić.

The first historian who was influenced by Istvánffy was Francis Rattkay, a canon of the Chapter of Zagreb, who wrote his work Memoria Regum et Banorum Regnorum Dalmatiae, Croatiae et Sclavoniae (published in 1652).56 Rattkay was writing the history of the Kingdom of Croatia, Dalmatia and Slavonia in order to present its political peculiarity to the Habsburg court with the purpose of propagating a war against the Ottomans and bringing about the liberation of the occupied parts of the kingdom. Hence, Rattkay provides a detailed description of the events (the siege of the Brinje castle, the course of the battle itself, and, finally, although he emphasized the role of Ban Emeric Derencsényi, he stated that only Count Bernardin Frankapan bore responsibility for the defeat). Because of some of his ideas Rattkay was accused of being anti-protestant, so his work was not welcomed in Germany (some exemplars of it were even burned). Nevertheless, in Croatia it was widely read by members of the educated classes.57

The last seventeenth-century work that is going to be discussed here is the chronicle of Paul Ritter Vitezović, published in 1696 in Zagreb. Vitezović wanted to compile a short history of the world in which he incorporated the history of the Croats.58 With regards to 1493, he simply noted that Ban Emeric Derencsényi, Charles of Corbavia and Bernardin Frankapan fought a battle against the Ottomans. He emphasized the enormity of the losses and the death of many noblemen in the battle. Written in Croatian, Vitezović’s work was intended to be read by a large audience. It was published in Zagreb (as were his other works) as a political project by decision of Croatian Diet, and accordingly it was distributed among the intelligentsia in Croatia.59 For these purposes he founded a printing office in Zagreb with the financial help of Bishop Alexander Ignatius Mikulić of Zagreb. However, an account of the battle of Krbava as short as his could hardly do much to spread knowledge of the narrative among the Croatian people (his work focused primarily on other topics).

 

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In the eighteenth century, the narrative of the battle of Krbava Field was limited to the work of Balthazar Adam Krčelić. In 1754, his work, entitled Povijest stolne zagrebačke crkve [The history of the Zagreb Cathedral], was published, but it was soon censored and only a few copies were distributed. Because of this, the reception of the work was relatively narrow, and it also contained many quotes and statements that do not correspond with the accounts found in other sources. It was republished only in 1770.60 Krčelić used the work of Bonfini to articulate his account of the Ottoman threat, but he made only passing mention of the calamities and pointed out that further information on the events could be found in Istvánffy’s work.

The Narratives in the Long Nineteenth Century

The mid-nineteenth century and the second half of the century were a period in which the processes of the national integration and unification of the historical Croatian lands came to its culmination. The same development was visible among other Central European nations as well, thus it is not surprising that their histories were also used for the purpose of forging national identity.

The first modern Croatian historical narrative with a synthetic nature was Hrvati na izmaku srednjega vijeka [Croats at the End of the Middle Ages] by Matija Mesić, who was, together with Franjo Rački, Šime Ljubić and Ivan Kukuljević Sakcinski, one of the leading figures in the formation of modern historical scholarship.61 His work was published in the mid-nineteenth century in Croatian in the journal Književnik [The Man of Letters], one of the two major journals that were publishing historical articles. His view on the events before and after the battle is based on the sixteenth-century and seventeenth-century historical works, such as those of Bonfini, Tubero, Istvánffy, Krčelić, and so on. His main goal was to provide an overview of the Croatian-Ottoman wars, focusing on the reaction of the royal court of king Wladislas II after the battle. Matija Mesić was a professional historian and the first rector of the newly founded university of Zagreb. He wanted to present the history of the Croats at the end of the fifteenth century and the beginning of the sixteenth century. Possible reception of his work was limited, of course, to the circle of the nineteenth-century intellectuals and the educated public, at a time when history was used for the purpose of strengthening national identity and politics. The work of Tadija Smičiklas, also one of the central figures of late nineteenth-century scholarship, should also be interpreted from the perspective of the formation of national identity, especially his narrative entitled Poviest hrvatska [Croatian History].62 It should be noted that his work was published by the Matica hrvatska in a large number of copies, as it was the first modern comprehensive survey of Croatian history. Smičiklas’ work underlined the role of Bishop Divnić and his mission at the Roman curia, thus exploiting his account of the massive defeat of the Christian army and the annihilation of the population in the area around the site of the battle.

The opus of Vjekoslav Klaić had an even greater impact on the diffusion of the narrative of the battle of Krbava.63 The general idea of his work was to produce an expansive history of the Croats from the Middle Ages up to his time, the end of the nineteenth century. As a professor of general history at the University of Zagreb, he was one of the leading figures of positivist historiography, and his account of the Krbava battle was intended to explain the role the battle had in the history of the fifteenth-century Kingdom. Klaić gave his opinion about the accuracy and reliability of his sources. Thus, he classified Bonfini’s and Tubero’s work as not reliable, yet in his assessment a letter of bishop Divnić was reliable. It is important to stress that Klaić emphasized that the battle was the beginning of the disintegration of the Kingdom of Croatia by using the words of Divnić: “this is the first destruction of Croatia, where all the Croatian nobility has perished (Hec est prima destructio regni Corvatie ibique tota nobilitas corruit Corvatie).” One of the distinctive features of this publication was that it contained a large number of visual sources, such as a woodcut by Hans Burgkmair, which was originally done for the “Weisskunig,” a poetical allegory for Emperor Maximillian I of Habsburg.64 The strong impact of the woodcut is noticeable in the fact that it depicts the Ottomans in the classical topoi of the barbarians who have been so violent to the enemy that they have cut off the noses of the Christian knights at Krbava Field. The work of Klaić almost immediately sold out, and it acquired a cult status among both scholars and the wider population. It is therefore not surprising that a new edition was issued in the 1980s, although the first edition had been published more than eighty years earlier.

A special place within the historiography of the battle of Krbava goes to Ferdo Šišić, a historian who was active at the turn of the century. Šišić’s first work on the battle of Krbava was written with the purpose of commemorating the four-hundredth anniversary of the battle. It was published by the Yugoslav Academy of Sciences and Arts.65 Šišić wrote a historical discussion in which for the first time he compared the battle of Krbava with the battle of Kosovo of 1389.66 In the appendix, he included the first translation of the account of the aforementioned Ottoman historian Sa’d-ud-din, in all likelihood based on the Hungarian translation, since it was published by the Hungarian Academy under the title Turkish History some time earlier. In doing so, he began to publish source material connected with the battle of Krbava. The final result was that he published a critical edition of all available sources on the battle in 1937.67 Šišić’s work and source publication has served as the basis for all subsequent scholarship.

Twentieth-Century Narratives

In the period of the First Yugoslavia (1918–41), especially after the establishment of the dictatorship of King Alexander I Karađorđević on January 6, 1929, the political climate encouraged the unity of the artificially created Yugoslav nation, that is, the particularities of the South Slavic nations of Croats, Slovenians, Serbs and others were downplayed or denied. The narrative of the Krbava battle once again became rather important in maintaining the national identity of the Croats. Hence, in the first year of the daily newspaper Hrvatska straža [Croatian Guard], Petar Grgec, one of the key figures and ideologists of the Croatian Catholic movement, published a work entitled Žrtve Krbavskog polja. Što o tome kaže povijest [The Casualties of Krbava Field. What History Tells Us About Them].68 Several years later, the same author wrote a popular account of the history of Ban John Karlović of Krbava entitled Hrvatski Job šesnaestoga vijeka [Croatian Job of the Sixteenth Century] as a special edition of the series established by the Literary Society of St. Jerome, the main purpose of which was to publish in a popular manner booklets of romanticized histories from the “old Croatian history” for the wider public (at first, for the peasantry). Although the account is based on the life of John Karlović, who was later ban of Croatia, Grgec interprets the legacy of his family as a symbol of the Croatian struggle in the defense of Christianity against the Ottomans. In the booklet, Ban Karlović is compared with the biblical character of Job, because he was referred to by this name on his grave inscription in Remete near Zagreb. Grgec also uses fictional characters to present the story and as a personification of the Croatian people in the form of the young noblewoman Dorothy, the fiancé of a certain Count Perazović (also fictional). The bride-to-be falls down dead when she hears of the defeat at Krbava Field: “Then, when this had heard young Dorothy, her heart was rent with sadness, she fell on the dirty soil of sorrow.”69 The price of the book was very low and very acceptable and accessible for a general reader. It should also be stressed that publishing during the period of the dictatorship of King Alexander was very unfriendly to publications of the Croatian opposition, thus giving Grgec greater importance.

Accounts of the battle have also figured in encyclopedias since the period of the First Yugoslavia, with differences in interpretation according to the prevailing state formation, though essentially consistent from the perspective of their content. Hence, in the Narodna enciklopedija srpsko-hrvatsko-slovenačka [National Encyclopadia of Serbians, Croatians and Slovenians] the battle of Krbava is presented in connection with the official political view, which proclaimed the unity of South Slavic peoples against “others.”70 A parallel is drawn between the battle of Krbava Field (1493) and the battle that took place in Kosovo (1389), which were both great defeats of Christian armies against the Ottomans. The author, Josip Modestin, makes the inaccurate contention that in the early sixteenth century the aforementioned Renaissance poet Mavro Vetranović had connected both battles, as this contention harmonized with and buttressed the political idea of Yugoslav unity.

In the period of World War II, another political system existed in the Independent State of Croatia, a puppet state of the Third Reich, and in this period another encyclopedia was published, or to be precise, a couple of volumes of another encyclopedia were published.71 Although the volumes were mostly published in that period, the project itself had started earlier and the articles were not directly influenced by fascist ideology. However, the war slowed down the enterprise, and the edition did not reach the letter K (in fact, only five volumes were published, up to the letter E). Yet, there is mention of the battle of Krbava under the entry on Ban Emeric Derencsényi, which gives an account of the contemporary or semi-contemporary sources. In the end, it was not widely read, because after the war the project came to an abrupt halt, as it was designated as a pro-Nazi enterprise by the new communist regime.

In the period of the second, socialist Yugoslavia, Enciklopedija Jugoslavije [Encyclopedia of Yugoslavia], which was published in 1963, brought a new element into the narrative of the battle of Krbava, since it began from the reference point of the classical Marxist concept of clashes of social classes and struggles of the lower layers of society.72 Thus, the author, Lieutenant Colonel Dragoljub Joksimović, interprets the battle of Krbava as an event in which the “peasants fought with axes and hayforks,” and makes only short mention of the detail that numerous prominent members of the Croatian nobility perished as well. In the present-day encyclopedia, Hrvatska enciklopedija [Croatian Encyclopedia],73 which was published after the disintegration of Yugoslavia, the entry on the Krbava battle is short and offers only a hasty summary of the course of the events and their aftermath, without any political pretensions.74

Historiography in the twentieth century has dealt with the battle of Krbava in comprehensive surveys of the history of the historical Croatian lands, usually with interpretations that are adapted to the prevailing political system, whatever it happened to be. In 1916, shortly before the disintegration of the Habsburg Monarchy, the aforementioned Croatian historian Ferdo Šišić, in addition to his book and source collection on the battle, noted that a survey of Croatian history “is demanded not only by Croatian intelligentsia, but also by Croatian youth, in order to use it as a handbook for studying Croatian history in higher grades of mid-education.” He himself responded to this demand.75 The edition was so widely read that it went through two subsequent editions, one in 1920 and one in 1962. Although Šišić gives only a brief account of the battle, it is interesting that he notes that, because of the events that took place during the battle, people in Krbava Field refer to it as “Krvavo polje” [Bloody field]. Meanwhile, in 1953 the first official history of the constitutive countries of the Second Yugoslavia was published as a two-volume edition entitled Historija naroda Jugoslavije [The History of the Peoples of Yugoslavia]. It contains a narrative of the battle of Krbava that adhered to contemporaneous movements within both the historiography and the prevailing political situation.76 It is also worth noting that it conveys the principles of class struggle and stresses the unity of South Slavic “brotherly nations.”

During the war of Croatian independence (1991–95) following the disintegration of Yugoslavia, there again emerged the need for a revived national narrative and thus the battle of Krbava was employed to strengthen the sense of the collective identity of the Croats.77 Once again, the anniversary of the battle of Krbava in 1993, this time the five-hundredth, was used to push to the foreground of people’s sense of communal identity the events that took place at Krbava Field. A conference was held in Novi Vinodolski, because Udbina, at Krbava Field, was under Serbian occupation at the time. In 1997, the conference proceedings were published in a collective volume, which contains 15 articles on the battle of Krbava from various perspectives, including history, archaeology, the social sciences and, finally, collective memory.78

Narratives of the battle of Krbava are also found in surveys of Croatian history by two regular members of the Croatian Academy, both educated in the manner of the school of French Annales, Tomislav Raukar79 and Franjo Šanjek.80 In both of these monographs, since the emphasis is put more on the social aspects of Croatian history, the authors refer only briefly to the battle of Krbava, depicting it without any political connotations.81

In 2002, when a new bishopric was established in the area of Lika and Krbava (under the joint title of Gospić and Senj), an idea was inspired by a speech and the endeavors of the bishop, Monsignor Mile Bogović, by profession also a historian. The idea was to build a new church in Udbina at Krbava Field consecrated to the “Croatian martyrs.”82 Udbina was chosen as a lieu de mémoire of the defeat and massacre of the Croatian nobility and the destruction of the medieval Kingdom of Croatia. The initiative was elevated to the national level, since in 2003 the Croatian parliament gave its support to the project. In the end, the church was consecrated in 2011, exactly on the 518th anniversary of the battle of Krbava. Following the parliamentary decision of 2003, a survey of the history of the battle of Krbava by Anđelko Mijatović was published in 2005.83 The book was written in both a scholarly and a more widely accessible manner. It was well-illustrated with depictions of the events and was widely distributed, thus making the narrative of the battle of Krbava Field once again very much present in the public mind.

Conclusions

The battle of the Krbava had a devastating effect on the ability of the Christian army to resist Ottoman incursions and expansion. Numerous Croatian noblemen lost their lives, and the calamity sparked the flight of the population from the surrounding area. Narratives of the battle of Krbava spread immediately after the event. One can trace two versions, an “official” royal version and an “anti-royal” version, which most probably was promoted by the noble family of the Frankapani. The first emphasized the role of the Frankapani and their alleged betrayal, while the second put the blame for the defeat on the military strategy of a royal officer, Ban Emeric Derencsényi of Croatia. The second version was spread by papal envoys, who took the story to the area of the Holy Roman Empire, which is not surprising since the area of the Frankapani was directly threatened and thus required the assistance of the Pope. For this reason, in the period beginning in the sixteenth century and ending in the eighteenth one finds sporadic and not very detailed reports conveyed by foreign and Croatian chronicles, except those connected predominately with the cultural circle of the noble Frankapani family. It is important to emphasize that while the loss of life was great and certainly made a deep impression on people at the time, the battle was hardly regarded as a total catastrophe. Thus, writings from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries do not mention the battle at all, and when they do, they offer only a vague account or short mention of the fact that it happened.

The spread of the narrative among the people can be traced directly from the writings of pilgrims and travelers after the battle, who emphasized that they had heard accounts of the battle from people who had witnessed it personally. Folktales in which the battle is the main focus were recorded primarily in the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, but since their language has not been sufficiently analyzed by the linguists, it is not possible to claim that they were spread much before they were recorded, though this cannot be disregarded as a possibility either. However, they were recorded and popularized at a moment when the topos of the battle of Krbava became one of the important elements in the formation of the Croatian national identity. At the turn of the century, professional historians, in connection with placing the focus of their research on the battle of Krbava, started to publish all the source material for further research. Within the framework of various Croatian state formations of the twentieth century, narratives of the battle of the Krbava conveyed the prevailing political climate, and scholarship emphasized various factors that were regarded as important at the given moment. The second revival of the narrative appeared during the war of Croatian independence in the 1990s, when once again historical events were used to strengthen national identity of the Croats. Scholarship and conferences were influenced by this, with the climax in the construction of a Church in Udbina at Krbava Field consecrated to the “Croatian martyrs.”

 

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1 On the Ottoman occupation of Bosnia in 1463 and Corvinus’ counterattack and establishment of military zones on the borders with the Ottoman Empire, see for example: Borislav Grgin, Počeci rasapa: Kralj Matijaš Korvin i srednjovjekovna Hrvatska (Zagreb: Zavod za hrvatsku povijest, 2002), 31–33, 171–89. See also: Borislav Grgin, “Južne granice Ugarsko–Hrvatskog Kraljevstva u vrijeme Stjepana Tomaševića,” in Stjepan Tomašević (1461.–1463.) – slom srednjovjekovnoga Bosanskog Kraljevstva, ed. Ante Birin (Zagreb–Sarajevo: Hrvatski institut za povijest–Katolički bogoslovni fakultet u Sarajevu, 2013), 69–78; Tamás Pálosfalvi, “The Political Background in Hungary of the Campaign of Jajce in 1463,” in idem, 79–88; Richárd Horváth, “The Castle of Jajce in the Organization of the Hungarian Border Defense System under Matthias Corvinus,” in idem, 89–98.

2 So far, Croatian historiography has produced several scholarly papers and books on the battle of Krbava Field. For this short overview, we used the following papers and books: Ferdo Šišić, Bitka na Krbavskom polju (11. rujna 1493.). U spomen četristagodišnjice toga događaja. Istorijska rasprava (Zagreb: Knjižara Dioničke tiskare, 1893); Milan Kruhek, “Sraz kršćanstva i islama na Krbavskom polju 9. rujna 1493,” Riječki teološki časopis 1/2 (1993): 243–48; Anđelko Mijatović, Bitka na Krbavskom polju 1493. godine (Zagreb: Školska knjiga, 2005); Hrvoje Kekez, “Bernardin Frankapan i Krbavska bitka: Je li spasio sebe i malobrojne ili je pobjegao iz boja?,” Modruški zbornik 3 (2009): 65–101; Krešimir Kužić, “Bitka Hrvata – bitka na Krbavskom polju 1493. – strategija, taktika, psihologija,” Historijski zbornik 67, no. 1 (2014): 11–63.

3 Ivo Goldstein, “Značaj Krbavske bitke 1493. godine u hrvatskoj povijesti,” in Krbavska bitka i njezine posljedice, ed. Dragutin Pavličević (Zagreb: Hrvatska matica iseljenika, 1997), 22–24.

4 Kruhek, “Sraz kršćanstva i islama,” 267; Kekez, “Bernardin Frankapan,” 67.

5 Ivan Jurković emphasized that in the period from 1463 to 1593 Croatian lands suffered the loss of approximately 60 percent of their inhabitants. Ivan Jurković, “Osmanska ugroza, plemeniti raseljenici i hrvatski identitet,” Povijesni prilozi 25 (2006): 39.

6 Ferdo Šišić, “Rukovet spomenika o hercegu Ivanišu Korvinu i o borbama Hrvata s Turcima (1473–1496) s ‘dodatkom’ (1491–1498),” Starine 38 (1937): 121–22.

7 Ibid., 35–36.

8 Juraj Divnić, “Pismo papi Aleksandru VI,” ed. Vedran Gligo (Split: Splitski književni krug, 1983), 313–20.

9 Šišić, “Rukovet spomenika,” 125–29.

10 Kekez, “Bernardin Frankapan,” 89.

11 Walther Dolch, “Trient – Wien – Schrattenthal I. Band, 1. Heft,” in Bibliographie der österreichischen Drucke des XV. und XVI. Jahrhunderts, ed. Eduard Langer (Vienna: Herausgegeben Eduard Langer, 1913), 35; Neven Jovanović, “Antonio Fabregues o Krbavskoj bici,” Povijesni prilozi 41 (2012): 176.

12 Jakob Unrest, “Österreichische Chronik,” Monumenta Germaniae historica – Scriptores rerum Germanicarum, new series 11 (1957): 220–28; Kužić, “Bitka Hrvata,” 5.

13 Šišić, “Rukovet spomenika,” 43–46, 56–57.

14 Rawdon L. Brown, ed., Calendar of State Papers and Manuscripts Relating to English Affairs in the Archives of Venice, Volume 1: 1202–1509 (London: Longman, Roberts & Green, 1864), 219; Kužić, “Bitka Hrvata,” 4.

15 Kužić, “Bitka Hrvata,” 4. The group of pilgrims stayed in Zadar for a very short period of time, from September 23 to September 25, 1493.

16 Šišić, “Rukovet spomenika,” 123–25.

17 Kužić, “Bitka Hrvata,” App. 1, 54–55; Originally published as Reinhold Röhricht, “Die Jerusalemfahrt des Heinrich von Zedlitz (1493),” Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palaestina-Vereins 17 (1894): 98–114.

18 Kužić, “Bitka Hrvata,” App. 5, 59.

19 Ibid., App. 6, 59; Originally published as Jost V. Ostertag, “Hans Schürpfen des Raths zu Lucern, Pilgerfahrt nach Jerusalem 1497,” Der Geschichtsfreund, Mittheilungen des historischen Vereins der fünf Orte Lucern, Uri, Schwyz, Unterwalden und Zug 8 (1852): 190.

20 Šišić, “Rukovet spomenika,” 119.

21 ... I tьgda načeše cviliti rodivšie i vdovi mnoge i proči ini. I bis(tь) skr’bь veliê n’ v’sihь živućihь v strahь sihь, êka že nestь bila ot vr(ê)m(e)ne Tatarovь i Gotovь i Atelê nečist’vihь ... [... And then started mourning those who were born and widowed and many others. And, there was great concern and fear among all the living, as there had not been since the times of the impure Tatars, Goths and Attila ...]. Šišić, “Rukovet spomenika,” 119. See also: Kekez, “Bernardin Frankapan,” 66.

22 Ljubomir Stojanović, “Stari srpski rodoslovi i letopisi,” Zbornik za istoriju, jezik i književnost srpskog naroda 16 (1927): 258; Kužić, “Bitka Hrvata,” 15.

23 Malachia Tschamser, Annales oder Jahrs-Geschichten der Baarfüseren oder Minderen Brüdern (Colmar: Buchdruckerrei von R. M. Hoffmann, 1864), 680; Kužić, “Bitka Hrvata,” 15.

24 “Ban Derenčin boja bije,” in Bugaršćice: starinske hrvatske narodne pjesme, ed. Josip Kekez (Split: Čakavski sabor, 1978), 104–05.

25 “Kako je Hodžulo, ban skradinski, poginuo sa ostalim Skradinjanima,” in Narodne pjesme iz starijih najviše primorskih zapisa, ed. Valtazar Bogišić (Belgrade: Odeljenje Srpskog učenog društva, 1878), 218–20.

26 Ante Šimičik, “Dubrovačka bugarštica o Krbavskom Razboju,” Zbornik za narodni život i običaje južnih Slavena 28 (1932): 2, 45–63.

27 Similar to the Welsh Eisteddfod.

28 Andrija Kačić Miošić, Razgovor ugodni naroda slovinskoga: pismarica starca Milovana, ed. Stipe Botica and Josip Vončina (Zagreb: Školska knjiga, 2006), 560–61.

29 Anđelko Mijatović, “Krbavska bitka u hrvatskoj usmenoj književnosti,” in Krbavska bitka i njezine posljedice, ed. Dragutin Pavličević (Zagreb: Zavod za hrvatsku povijest Filozofskog fakulteta Sveučilišta u Zagrebu, 1997), 183.

30 Ibid.

31 Dragutin Pavličević, “Uz hrvatsku narodnu pjesmu ‘Smrt bana Derenčina,’” in Krbavska bitka i njezine posljedice, 186–87.

32 Mijatović, “Krbavska bitka u hrvatskoj usmenoj,” 184.

33 Ibid., 184.

34 Although the narrative of the Krbava battle itself was not recorded among the Croats of Molise, the songs about John Torquatus (Karlović) Kurjaković, the ban of Croatia and a zealous fighter against the Ottomans from the beginning of the sixteenth century, were recorded by Milan Rešetar at the beginning of the twentieth century. See: Milan Rešetar, Die Serbokroatischen Kolonien Süditaliens (Vienna: Kaiserliche Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1911), 282–83, 320. One can easily assume that narratives of the Krbava battle were known earlier by members of the Croatian diaspora, especially those who originated from Lika and Krbava.

35 Mavro Vetranić Čavčić, Tužba grada Budima [The Lament of the City of Buda], Pjesme Mavra Vetranića Čavčića, in Stari pisci hrvatski, vol. 3, ed. V. Jagić and I. A. Kaznačić (Zagreb: JAZU, 1871), verse 80–84; 131–38, pp. 54–56. Later scholarship has wrongly noted that Vetranović compared the battle of Krbava Field with the 1389 battle of Kosovo. Since he mentions János Hunyadi in the folk poem referred to as Janko Sibinjanin, it is clear that Vetranović is actually refering to the other battle of Kosovo, the one of 1448 (verse 155, p. 56).

36 “Mavro Vetranović – biografija,” in Pet stoljeća hrvatske književnosti: Zbronik stihova XV. i XVI. stoljeća, vol. 5, ed. Ivo Frangeš (Zagreb: Zora and Matica hrvatska, 1968), 173–76.

37 Hanibal Lucić, Robinja s posvetom Fr. Paladiniću, Pjesme Petra Hektorovića i Hanibala Lucića, in Stari pisci hrvatski, vol. 6, ed. Š. Ljubić and F. Rački (Zagreb: JAZU, 1874), 223–65.

38 “Lucić, Hanibal” in Hrvatska enciklopedija, vol. 5 (Zagreb: Leksikografski zavod Miroslav Krleža, 2004), 667.

39 Šišić, “Rukovet spomenika,” 130–32.

40 Ibid., 133–35.

41 Cf. Appendix 1.

42 Šišić, “Rukovet spomenika,” 135–39.

43 Petar Grgec, Hrvatski Job šesnaestoga vijeka. Ban Ivan Karlović (Zagreb: Hrvatsko književno društvo sv. Jeronima, 1932), 25.

44 Šišić, “Rukovet spomenika,” 144–46.

45 Ibid., 157–58.

46 Ibid., 163–74.

47 Ibid., 160–61.

48 Ibid., 161–63.

49 Ludovik Crijević Tuberon, Comentarii de temporibus suis, ed. Vlado Rezar (Zagreb: Hrvatski institut za povijest, 2001) 98–102; Šišić, “Rukovet spomenika,” 140–42.

50 Ibid., 143.

51 Ibid., 147–49.

52 See more: ibid., 149.

53 Antun Vramec, Kronika vezda znovich zpravliena Kratka Szlouenzkim iezikom, ed. Alojz Jembrih (Varaždin–Zagreb: Hrvatska akademija znanosti i umjetnosti–Kršćanska sadašnjost, 1992).

54 The area where one would expect the most direct influence of Vramec’s works in the Middle Ages was an integral part of medieval Slavonia. However, in Vramec’s period the process of the political integration of Croatia and Slavonia was mostly finished, hence the first joint diet of Croatia and Slavonia was held in 1558. For more details, see Géza Pálffy, “Jedan od temeljnih izvora hrvatske povijesti: pozivnica zajedničkog Hrvatsko-Slavonskog Sabora iz 1558. godine,” Zbornik Odsjeka za povijesne znanosti Zavoda za povijesne i društvene znanosti Hrvatske akademije znanosti i umjetnosti 23 (2005): 47–61.

55 Šišić, “Rukovet spomenika,” 150–55.

56 Franjo Rattkay, Memoria regum et banorum regnorum Dalmatiae, Croatiae & Sclavoniae. Spomen na kraljeve i banove Kraljevstva Dalmacije, Hrvatske i Slavonije, trans. Zrinka Blažević, 2 vols. (Zagreb: Hrvatski institut za povijest, 2001).

57 Sandor Bene, “Ideološke koncepcije o staleškoj državi zagrebačkoga kanonika,” in Juraj Rattkay, Spomen na kraljeve i banove kraljevstava Dalmacije, Hrvatske i Slavonije, ed. Mirko Valentić (Zagreb: Hrvatski institut za povijest, 2001), 4–103.

58 Pavao Ritter Vitezović, Kronika aliti szpomen vsega szvieta vikov u dva dela razredyen, koterih prvi dershi od pocsetka szvieta do Kristusevoga porojenja, druggi od Kristusevoga porojenja do izpunyenja letta 1690 (Zagreb: n.p., 1696).

59 Zrinka Blažević, Vitezovićeva Hrvatska između stvarnosti i utopije. Ideološka koncepcija u djelima postkarlovačkog ciklusa Pavla Rittera Vitezovića (1652.–1713.) (Zagreb: Barbat, 2002), 177.

60 Baltazar Adam Krčelić, Historiarum cathedralis ecclesiae Zagrabiensis. Povijest stolne zagrebačke crkve, 2 vols. (Zagreb: Hrvatski institut za povijest, 1994).

61 Matija Mesić, Hrvati na izmaku srednjega vijeka: izabrane rasprave (Slavonski Brod: Hrvatski institut za povijest, Odjel za povijest Slavonije, Srijema i Baranje, 1996), 407–09.

62 Tadija Smičiklas, Poviest hrvatska, vol. 1 (Zagreb: Matica hrvatska, 1879), 674–77.

63 Vjekoslav Klaić, Povjest Hrvata od najstarijih vremena do svršetka XIX. stoljeća, vol 3 (Zagreb: L. Hartman, 1899–1904), 189–94.

64 Klaić, Povjest Hrvata, 191.

65 Šišić, Bitka na Krbavskom polju, pass.

66 Ibid., 5.

67 Šišić, “Rukovet spomenika,” pass.

68 Petar Grgec, “Žrtve Krbavskog polja. Što o tome kaže povijest,” Hrvatska straža 1 (1929): 1.

69 Grgec, Hrvatski Job, 16.

70 Josip Modestin, “Krbava,” in vol. 2 of Narodna enciklopedija srpsko-hrvatsko-slovenačka (Zagreb: Bibliografski zavod, 1928), 502.

71 Stjepan Antoljak, “Ban Derenčin,” in vol. 4 of Hrvatska enciklopedija (Zagreb: Hrvatski izdavalački bibliografski zavod, 1942), 662–63.

72 Dragoljub Joksimović, “Krbavka bitka 9. rujna 1493,” in vol 5 of Enciklopedija Jugoslavije (Zagreb: Leksikografski zavod FNRJ, 1962), 387–88.

73 N.N., “Krbavska bitka,” in vol. 6 of Hrvatska enciklopedija (Zagreb: Leksikografski zavod “Miroslav Krleža,” 2004), 238–39.

74 The Croatian encyclopedia is not the first encyclopedic volume to make mention of the battle of Krbava, since the “Hrvatski biografski leksikon” [Croatian Biographical Lexicon], an ongoing project of the Miroslav Krleža Lexicography Institute which was begun approximately ten years before the disintegration of Yugoslavia, i.e., in the early 1980s, briefly describes the course of the events of the battle under the entry on Ban Emeric Derencsényi, without any political implications.

75 Ferdo Šišić, Pregled povijesti hrvatskoga naroda (Zagreb: n.p. 1916).

76 Historija naroda Jugoslavije (Zagreb: Školska knjiga, 1953), 757–59.

77 At the gathering of Gazimestan in Kosovo in 1989, Slobodan Milošević used the narrative and anniversary of the battle of Kosovo of 1389 while trying to promote an assertive version of Serbian national and collective identity, with emphasis on the unity of the nation against the “others.” Even though the causes and consequences of both battles are not comparable, it is interesting to see how in the 1990s historical events were used to strengthen modern national identities. There are, of course, many other examples.

78 Krbavska bitka i njezine posljedice, passim.

79 Tomislav Raukar, Hrvatsko srednjovjekovlje. Prostor, ljudi, ideje (Zagreb: Školska knjiga, Zavod za hrvatsku povijest Filozofskog fakulteta u Zagrebu, 1977), 97–99; 479–84.

80 Povijest Hrvata. Prva knjiga. Srednji vijek, ed. Franjo Šanjek (Zagreb: Školska knjiga, 2003), 359–61.

81 The question of the use of narratives of the Krbava battle in school textbooks has already been addressed by Srećko Lipovčan, so we do not discuss it here. Lipovčan’s conclusion was that the prevailing ideology influenced the accounts found in school textbooks: “U udžbeničkim su tekstovima vidljive ideologijske intervencije u tumačenju prošlosti, pri čemu je odlučnu ulogu imala i činjenica da li se radilo o školskim knjigama koje su pisane u jugoslavenskim ili hrvatskim državnim okvirima, što je posebno karakteristično za razdoblje nakon 1945. godine” [In the texts published in textbooks ideological interventions in the interpretations of the past are noticeable. In this, the question of whether the school books were written within the Yugoslav or Croatian state formations and framework had a significant role, and this is exceptionally characteristic for the period after 1945]. See more in: Srećko Lipovčan, “Razlozi i posljedice katastrofe 1493. godine: Prikaz Krbavskog boja u srednjoškolskim udžbenicima u Hrvatskoj nakon 1918.” , in vol. 1 of Identitet Like: Korijeni i razvitak, ed. Željko Holjevac (Zagreb–Gospić: Institut društvenih znanosti Ivo Pilar, 2009), 297–322.

82 Accessed July 26, 2013, http://www.hrvatski-mucenici.net/2012-09-07-01-34-38/martirologij/1207-medunarodni-znanstveni-skup-o-zrtvama-komunisticke-vladavine.html.

83 Mijatović, Bitka na Krbavskom polju, pass.

Kekez.jpg

Appendix 1. The Fight Against the Turks in Croatia – cenotaph of Maximilian I in Hofkirche in Innsbruck (Tyrol), by Alexander Colyn, tabl. 9 (detail)*

 

* Accessed March 23, 2015, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Reliefs_on_the_Sarcophagus_of_Maximilian#/media/File: Innsbruck_1_339.jpg.

Volume 4 Issue 2 CONTENTS

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Gabriella Erdélyi

Turning Turk as Rational Decision in the Hungarian–Ottoman Frontier Zone 

 

This essay will attempt to offer a glimpse into the situations and considerations that played a role in the decisions of Christians, primarily women, who voluntarily stood among the Turks in the Hungarian–Ottoman contact zone. This insight will highlight marriages that spanned the Christian–Muslim borders. On the one hand because the letters of papal pardon which abandoned Christian spouses submitted to the Apostolic Penitentiary in order to gain permission to remarry serve as the basis for analysis; and on the other hand because marriage typically served as the gateway through which people entered the opposite culture. This essay places emphasis on those individual and group experiences that made voluntary movement between cultures possible and the situative character of individual and religious identity at the time.

Keywords: voluntary conversions to Islam, conversion for marriage, female agency, Christian–Muslim frontier regions. 

 

Introduction

In this essay I deal with the consequences of war on the agency of ordinary women and men.1 The stress is on female social practices, which are more illuminating in comparison to the male experience. The war in question is not a single battle, but the long struggle between the medieval Kingdom of Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. The political-military consequences of the conflict are common knowledge: the middle regions of the Hungary came under Ottoman rule until the end of the seventeenth century. 

Hungarian Ottomanists reconstructed the military and economic administration of Ottoman Turks in subjected Hungary as well as on its border zone. As a byproduct of this immense work with serial sources produced by Ottoman and Hungarian authorities in their effort to more profitably exert their power over their subjects, we also have occasional glimpses into the experiences of the population at large: danger and fear, mass killings, deserted and depopulated areas, refugees, captivity and enslavement of huge masses or, at best, paying taxes to both Ottoman and Hungarian authorities.2 

Here I direct the reader’s attention to another face of “contact zones,” the spaces of cross-cultural encounters in which historically separated peoples come into contact and establish ongoing relations, involving coercion, unequal power relations and conflict.3 The protagonists of this essay are the less familiar figures of Ottoman Hungary who voluntarily crossed the Christian–Muslim border. Standing at the center are stories of a woman and of a man, both of whom opted to go from Christian regions to lands occupied by the Turks, leaving a Christian spouse for the sake of an Islamic one. The liberty of their decision thus cannot be compared to those renegades who subjected themselves to the Ottomans, either voluntarily or by force, while living under their authority. The present study aims to better understand the rationality underlying their exceptional choices.

The stories told about them must be read with circumspection, since they were constructed by their abandoned spouses to serve their prevailing objectives. Sin is a central concept of these stories, their genre being the supplication to the pope asking for his pardon.4 Although their narratives were clearly influenced both by the procedure of issuing a pardon, which involved the transcription of a petition by a professional proctor who followed a prescribed protocol, and also by the legal demands to which they had to conform, petitioners were the unquestionable authors of their own narratives.5 The way they presented the story of their first marriages was a tactic in the process of negotiating the validity of their second marriages with local and central authorities. A prerequisite of this was to have their first marriage declared void. Petitioners used the “apostasy” of their spouses—with a broad interpretation of canonical regulations—as an argument to this end.6 Yet, we need not suspect gross lies. To have the marriage annulled, it usually sufficed to present a plausible story of being abandoned, waiting in vain for the return or failed recalls of the stubborn spouse. Petitions had to be both efficacious and credible so as not to lose their convincing potency. In other words, women and men turning Turk in the Christian–Muslim contact zone of Hungary were authentic figures for both the authors and the readers of these stories. Moreover, their content was checked during the official procedure of papal pardoning and had to be ratified by witnesses. Unsurprisingly enough, domination and agency were both inherent in the complex scenario of pardoning, just as the dialectic of the same two processes shaped the intercultural social practices—most importantly Christian women freely marrying Turks—discussed here. This documentation of the late medieval papal regulation of Christian–Muslim relations is exceptionally illuminating, since it opens a window unto an early phase (otherwise underrepresented in the local source material) of Christian–Muslim interactions in Hungary. 

Historians have recently found interest in women leaving a Christian marriage for the world of Islam, since in these stories women exceptionally appear as active agents capable of shaping their own lives. Additionally, their voluntary marriages with Muslim men seem to question the subordination of women to men in the Islamic world. It is crucially the figure of litigating women appearing in court documents that dominate the corpulent scholarly literature, which portrays women as having spheres of autonomous action (economic transactions, pious endowments, divorce suits) in contrast to the traditional image of their subordination and passivity.7 Women negotiating their familial and social relations before the kadis provided the historical lesson that it was possible for capable women to subvert patriarchal relations. Christian women converting to Islam at court also questioned traditionally imagined husband–wife relations.8 The vivid historical narratives of distinguished Venetian women remarrying in Istanbul highlighted the strategic use of converting to Islam: a way for young people to escape from arranged marriages or get rid of unpleasant spouses.9  

In the present study I attempt to portray from their own perspective the situation of women who chose to marry Ottoman men in the Hungarian–Ottoman frontier zone and in Ottoman Hungary (the middle parts of the medieval kingdom), which will make it possible to contribute to the scholarly discourse on the independence of early modern women. Writing recently about litigant female serfs who possessed their own property and played the role of head of family, Katalin Péter stated that the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries represented a particularly advantageous period in terms of the exercise of independence for such women in Hungary.10 However, the Christian woman choosing a Muslim husband is, to the contrary, an unknown or obscure figure that occasionally emerges only incidentally as a minor character in both contemporary and modern historical narratives. Symbolic of such figures is the person of Zsuzsanna Goda from the market town of Gyöngyös in Ottoman Hungary: Goda married a Turk from Vác named Fáti in the 1660s, thus rendering her a Turk, which entailed impalement, the punishment due to criminals, argues Ferenc Szakály, one of the leading experts on Ottoman Hungary.11 We hear, exceptionally, of Zsuzsanna because the chief magistrate purchased from her a vineyard, which the kadi had awarded to her in a lawsuit against a Christian, and—in the eyes of the noble comitatus, the refugee Hungarian authority that laid the exclusive claim to the administration of property affairs in Ottoman Hungary—he had thus committed the offense of “Turkism” (turcismus) as a result of doing business with “the Turk [in other words Zsuzsanna]” for which he was condemned to execution by impalement.12 Hungarian authorities did not harass Zsuzsanna Goda and the motives for her choice have not yet raised the interest of researchers of Ottoman Hungary. According to Klára Hegyi, who may know the most about the society of Ottoman Hungary,13 women who chose Turkish husbands, alongside the socially diverse cross section of men who entered Turkish military service, represented one of the territory’s small groups of voluntary renegades perceptible in Ottoman sources.14 Marriage contracts concluded before kadis, for example, in some instances suggest that the wife had previously been a Christian (that is, a Hungarian or an Orthodox Christian South Slav).15 This observation is compatible with the 1550s description of the school rector from Tolna, a wealthy market town in Ottoman Hungary. For Pál Thuri Farkas, Christian women who married Muslims represented the sole group of voluntary renegades: unmarried women who had given birth to the children of Turkish men, ladies who had fled from their well-to-do husbands on the council to Turks and, typically, widows. The moralizing justification for their act is not surprising when considering the constraints of the genre of the humanist letter. The degree to which general stereotypes affected stories regarding women who left violent Christian husbands for Turks and the silence of their humiliated spouses and the extent to which these stories were based on the personal observation and experiences of the author is open to question.16 

The woman and the man in our story became renegades in the first years of Ottoman rule in central Hungary and some decades before the first law against renegades was encoded. In other words, at the very beginning of the legal process of constructing criminals of renegades, in contemporary words people who were de societate Turcica suspectus, as the first such law sanctioning the selling of Christian children to the Turks and the spying for the Turks in 1567 put it.17 The estates gathered at the national assembly held in Pozsony (Bratislava, Slovakia) in 1574 attempted, in cooperation with county officers, to inhibit the custom, spreading among both serfs and nobles living in border zones, of voluntarily (sponte) subjugating themselves to the Turks—that is, voluntarily paying taxes to them.18

In addition to the inhabitants of border zones who ensured their survival through the payment of taxes to Ottoman authorities, but did not change their religious identity, the fate in Ottoman Hungary which has long engaged historians is that of captives and slaves.19 In the writings of Sándor Takáts, who in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century was the sole historian to deal with the lives of everyday people in Ottoman Hungary, voluntary renegades—spies, guides, henchmen, scribes performing in the service of the Turks—appear as characteristic, unexceptional figures.20 Takáts’s prism originated partially from his research of Viennese Hofkammer documents in which reports of submissive renegade “malefactors” and attendance to matters related to them were commonplace. Hofkammer officials regarded the “malefactors” of Ottoman Hungary who “hobnob with the Turks” with antipathy similar to that of the Pozsony estates. The antipathy of Takáts toward imperial policy and the Viennese lords turned the prism: the historian formed a romantic image of the chivalrous Turks and those women and men who in the hope of attaining material benefit and career and social advancement became Muslims, either in order to avoid conflict with authorities or out of true love. Only in the writings of Takáts do we discover that several pashas and beys had taken Hungarian women as wives or that the Hungarian spouse of the Turkish commander of the castle in Veszprém also spied for the Hungarians.21 

The voluntary renegades, among them women who left their Christian husbands for Muslim men and chose to live under Ottoman rule—be they exceptional or characteristic figures of the age—do not conform to the notion that religious identity formed the foundation of personal identity in the age of Ottoman Hungary and was one that could be changed only under compulsion.22 The question thus emerges: do texts from this period suggest that religion can be interpreted as a situative identity?23 The recent analyses of religious conversions, setting a broader social and cultural context in place of the traditional Christian narrative of conversion entailing the total transformation of the self,24 interpret it as a social practice and a tactic used by people in the context of their everyday encounters with a dominant system.25

Therefore if we want to better understand the actions of the Christian inhabitants of Ottoman Hungary, it would be worthwhile for us to examine the situations that prompted them to convert to the religion of the “mortal foe of Christianity.” In other words, when the religious difference was neutral for them and they followed a different rationale?26 Did they, for example, consider the world in which they found security or social advancement to be stronger? And what kinds of previous experiences and capabilities helped them to adapt to another culture? Who was able to turn the constraints and opportunities lying within the new system at the intersection of Christianity and Islam to their own advantage, how were they able to do so and under what circumstances? If we approach the issue of voluntary conversion from below and regard it as a rational act aimed at taking control of one’s own destiny amid external constraints, then Christian–Muslim conversion does not appear to be abnormal and deviant, but a mode of operating in everyday life, thus making the issue of representativity irrelevant. At this juncture we can refer to Peter Burke, who argues that exceptional cases are suggestive since they show moments when social mechanisms fail to work.27 Is it possible that the social integration of those who went over to the Turks ended up in failure? 

A Runaway Christian Wife Marries a Turk in Buda

Ferenc Csiszár, who lived in the diocesan town of Várad (Oradea, Romania), was abandoned by his wife for the sake of a Turkish man living in Buda. The events were subsequently narrated by the abandoned husband in his supplication addressed to the pope: his wife, who was the mother of his child, “instigated by diabolic inspiration, during the time he stayed away from his homeland, sold all their goods and ran away. She went to the city of Buda, in the regions of infidels, where she married a Turk.” He was unable to divert her from this intention, although “he sent many of his men after her, calling her back, some of whom were killed by the Turk, which put him to huge expenses.”28 We have no reason to doubt his words. It is uncharacteristic of men to take pride in being cuckolded (which was rather an issue raised by slanderers). Moreover, Ferenc appears as a man of strict morals. Contrary to others, in 1548 he turned to the pope not in order to obtain permission to remarry, but for permission to take the sacraments despite his disordered marital affairs. Obviously there must have been many people who got into similar situations, but never wanted or needed to restore their legal and spiritual status. 

These briefly described events suggest that a dramatic conflict of interest and emotion lay in the background. Csiszár seems to have been not only a stern and disappointed man, but a stingy one as well, as if he valued the goods his wife was taking more than his wife herself. Material losses could play an important role in the conflict between husband and wife, as it did in similar cases for example in early modern England.29 It seems likely that the hapless messengers that Csiszár sent to Buda also demanded a return of the “stolen property,” which his wife obviously believed was rightfully hers. The emotional and material aspects of this episode are palpable in the story presented to the pope. Unfortunately we do not find out from the account if their child remained with the husband in Várad or moved with the wife to Buda. 

What might have prompted Mrs. Csiszár to abandon her husband? She appears to have planned and prepared her daring move in advance, utilizing the temporary absence of her husband to make her escape. Mrs. Csiszár does not appear to have been a woman who ignorantly set out into the bigger world. What enticed her to leave Várad for Buda, the foreign-occupied former capital of the Kingdom of Hungary where the muezzin’s call to prayer could be heard in place of the ring of church bells? At the same time, Várad, due to its sacral character deriving from the cult of Saint Ladislaus, King of Hungary as well as its important role in long-distance trade and military government, continued to flourish and was considered at the time the potential capital of the divided kingdom.30 Was she seduced by the higher social standing, power and prestige of her new husband, whose resolute, aggressive conduct suggests that he was more likely a member of the Buda garrison or a member of the new civil service rather than a trader? Based on his name, her first husband may have been a gunsmith, likely a respected member of the local blacksmith or spurrier and bladesmith guild.31 How might she have met her new husband? Had she already been to Buda or the “Turk” in Várad? Or had she heard from elderly residents of Várad that the Turks had already devastated the city (in 1474) and decided that she would not risk their return to burn her home and carry away her family? She may have obtained first-hand information about the horrors of slavery from people like Bertalan Georgievics, who precisely in 1547 travelled to Várad, where he engaged in a public religious debate at a Franciscan cloister with a dervish who was in the city to hold talks with the bishop.32 That is, Magdolna was searching primarily for security, fleeing from the hostile sword as a survival strategy into the bed of the enemy?

One cannot exclude the possibility that love inspired the woman from Várad to leave her Christian husband, thus placing her in the company of renowned female figures, notably Othello’s Desdemona, who enthralled the readers of Renaissance literature of both high and low quality. We do not therefore know if she made a planned escape from a failed marriage in search for a new husband or if she was captivated by unexpected love. However, regardless of whether emotion, necessity or cold calculation served as the primary motive for her flight, the question emerges: what made it possible for the woman of Várad to adapt to another culture with such apparent ease? 

The Practice of Local Re-Marriages and The Making of Christian Bigamy

According to Jesuits who engaged in missionary activity in Ottoman Hungary, the flight of both women and men from ruined marriages frequently led them across the Christian–Muslim frontier.33 King Matthias Hunyadi (1458–90) drew the attention of the Roman Curia to the impact of the Ottoman–Hungarian wars on marriages in the Kingdom of Hungary: 

 

There are several inhabitants of the various parts of our country, whose spouse had been dragged away by the Turks. Husbands mourn their wives and wives lament over the unhappy fate of their husbands; they do not live in a marriage any more, but they are left in uncertainty concerning the life or death of their spouse, which makes them unwilling to remarry. […] Many, losing hope of ever being able to give birth to children, leave or ruin their inheritance and go to other regions, often to those held by the enemy, while others give rise to scandals.34 

 

In the opinion of the authorities, those who did not move elsewhere to remarry because they were attached to their old homes, villages and relatives caused the scandals.35 Thus the king requested that the pope should give license to remarry for those who lost their spouse and looked for him/her in vain among the infidels. According to the king’s diagnosis, some of those who lost spouses took the difficult step of leaving their homes for foreign lands, often those under Ottoman–Turkish dominion, in order to start new families. The wife of Illés Klokocsi apparently did this. Upon returning to his home in Zagreb following seven years of captivity in Turkey, Klokocsi did not find his wife, who must have had enough of waiting for him and decided to move away to find another spouse.36 In 1500 Klokocsi thus wrote a petition to the pope to legalize his second marriage.  

Seen within the context of everyday life in the Ottoman–Hungarian border zone, the actions of the woman from Várad were therefore not at all exceptional. It is conceivable that she went so far in order to escape an undesirable husband; though it is also possible that she believed that her “husband absent from the homeland” had been forever lost and she was aware that local Catholic authorities would not officially recognize her remarriage and could charge her with bigamy if her husband’s death could not be proven.37

Várad was the most important town in eastern Hungary at the beginning of the sixteenth century. Many women living in Várad under the lordship of either the bishop or the chapter, nevertheless decided to take the risk of remaining in the city to remarry, thus placing themselves in a very difficult position. The commissioned lawyer took care of another matter at the Roman Curia at the same time as that of Ferenc Csiszár: Anna Vadasi and Máté Agasi were reported at the court of the diocesan vicar because Anna had been betrothed to Máté when she was still married to her previous spouse.38 Her first husband may well have been the person who reported her to the vicar’s court. The decision of Anna and Máté to marry was rather heedless, entailing the foreseeable consequence of their forced separation and legal prohibition on living together again. However, their petition reveals that they nevertheless continued to reside under the same roof and even produced children. They were thus excommunicated from the Church on the grounds of bigamy and could not therefore attend mass or take sacraments. However, this did not bother the couple as much as the fact that their children were considered to be illegitimate. Thus when Anna’s first husband died, they requested papal absolution, the legitimation of their children and permission for their legal remarriage. The vicar of Várad, István Ilosvai,39 may have prompted Anna and Máté to address their petition to the pope, though it is also possible that they simply decided to bypass the local court that had already passed judgement against them and turned directly toward Rome. However, in the end they were not able to avoid the Várad court, since prior to their absolution the vicar had to conduct an examination to verify their allegations. That is, the court questioned local residents about the death of Anna’s first husband and the related circumstances. 

György Korláth’s daughter, Anna, belonged to an entirely different social group—the distinguished urban nobility. Anna thus found herself in a more difficult position when as an adult she balked at living in marriage with the man to whom she had been betrothed as a child—as she claimed at least.40 Several factors provide an indication of the family’s social standing. The guardian of the girl, who became an orphan at an early age, was the canon of the cathedral chapter and archdeacon of the diocese.41 He engaged the five-year-old Anna in marriage to Pál Szabó, whose name suggests that he was a master artisan, a member of the tailor’s guild. Following her engagement, Anna was placed under the tutelage of Poor Clare nuns at the Saint Anne monastery in the Venice district of Várad. According to Anna, the nuns persuaded her to formally confirm her engagement to Pál Szabó at the age of ten (which is more likely to have happened when she reached canonical adulthood at the age of twelve): which probably means that the betrothal and the marital vow took place.42 However, the betrothed couple was never united in matrimony, because either Anna or her canon guardian presumably reconsidered the betrothal a few years later, in view of a more favorable match.43 Likely at the instigation of the forsaken fiancé, this case was subsequently heard at the court of the vicar of Várad and, in the second instance, at that of the Archbishop of Esztergom and both Anna and her guardian were excommunicated. The noble origin of Anna Korláth is proven by the fact that this matter was also brought to the royal court of appeal (that is, to the Szapolyai court that spent much time in Várad), which decided that she must marry Pál Szabó. According to the customary law of the nobility, breaching the vow of marriage constituted infidelity and entailed the forfeiture of property.44 In a state of both Church and secular illegitimacy, Anna and her guardian looked to the Papal Court for support against local authorities in their effort to gain permission for her to marry a man other than Pál Szabó. 

Regardless of the outcome of the above cases, they clearly demonstrate that both Church and secular supervision over the local residents of Várad operated efficiently even during the civil war in the country. Those who maintained a significant degree of mobility caused the greatest amount of trouble for local authorities.45 The previously mentioned Mrs. Csiszár was quite aware of this situation and acted smartly: in order to live legitimately and free of official harassment with her chosen husband, she moved from Várad to the Islamic world in the neighboring state of Ottoman Hungary. It thus appears that under these circumstances, the difference in religion was of relatively little importance to Mrs. Csiszár, who would have qualified as a bigamist had she remained at home and therefore been subjected to excommunication from the Church for decades on end. 

What might have those Christians who voluntarily moved to Ottoman Hungary known about this world? Did Mrs. Csiszár fear the well-known subjugation of women in the Islamic world? Did she know anything about how Islamic law (sharia’h) regulated the conditions of women before running into the arms of a Turkish man, one might suppose, out of true love? To what degree did she perceive the religion and culture of Ottoman Hungary to be contrasting and foreign? 

 

The Experience of Religious and Ethnic Coexistence

The woman who placed herself under Ottoman authority in order to switch her Christian husband for a “Turk” was likely neither audacious nor enamored, but had simply made a rational appraisal of the benefits and drawbacks of doing so.46 As a resident of the Ottoman–Hungarian border zone, she may have possessed concrete knowledge and experience regarding the status of women in Islamic religion and law. She could have seen that the Turkish polygamy about which Christians who had returned from the interior of the Ottoman Empire had written so much, did not exercise an influence on everyday life on the periphery of the empire. Ottoman ordinary men and soldiers were happy if they could support even a single wife.47 Maybe she had heard that Ottoman men had the right to discard their wives at any time—a prerogative that a Dominican monk who had spent 20 years as a slave in the inner Ottoman Empire had not neglected to describe in detail.48 But even this prospect could not have been that daunting, since she may well have known Christian women whose husbands had simply sold them to others in order to settle a debt or simply get rid of them.49 And the possibility cannot be excluded that she met with Muslim women who had successfully petitioned the kadis for divorce on the grounds that their husbands were violent or had not provided for their subsistence.50 And she may have also been aware that Islamic law permitted women to remain Christians even after marrying Ottoman Turkish husbands.51 The latter right proceeded in paradoxical fashion precisely from the social differentiation between men and women in terms of religion and marriage: the Islamic state was not interested in the religion of wives, because the religion of children depended exclusively on that of their father.52 Moreover, a Christian woman living with a Muslim man theoretically maintained the same rights as a Muslim wife and could exercise her religion as well.53 Perhaps she had even seen women who due to the expectations of the community or her husband had converted to Islam, though had nevertheless baptized their children and travelled to Marian shrines at the time of the parish feast.54 The husband of the runaway woman was not unlikely a converted new Muslim, himself the offspring of Balkan peoples who continued to observe Christian customs and rites.55 New Muslims were not, however, more tolerant in terms of religion: in fact, as a result of the increasing interconnection between Ottoman identity and Islam, they were often more insistent upon the conversion of their wives.56 It may have also been the case that the family of “the Turk living in Buda” was religiously split, which was a common strategy among the Balkan peoples living under Ottoman authority.57

Of course Mrs. Csiszár may not have been able to make a clear distinction between Muslims and Eastern Orthodox, which assumption is supported not only by the mixed religion of new-Muslims from the Balkan, but also by the shifting perception of Eastern Ortodox people in Hungary. She had likely encountered people of the Eastern Orthodox faith during her life in the Partium region, where by the sixteenth century Hungarians, Romanians, Serbs and Bosnians had long lived together.58 The Western Church officially referred to Eastern Christians as schismatics (scismatici), though they were often called heretics and pagans at this time as well.59 A letter to the papal office of the Penitentiary in 1512 asking for the legalization of Tamás Tót’s second marriage stated, for example, that his first wife, Magdolna Rachaz, had “left Tamás and, guided by an evil spirit and forgetting about the salvation of her soul, run off to a pagan and schismatic with whom she united in marriage, which they consummated.”60

Who might Magdolna’s “pagan and schismatic” husband have been? An increasing number of Romanians, Eastern Orthodox South Slavs (Bulgarians, Serbs, and Bosnians) moving northbound from the Turks as well as Hussite “heretics” from the north and Patarenes and Bogomils from the south took refuge in the Csanád Diocese in which Magdolna and Tamás lived, particularly in the southern portion of the district.61 As a result of the Catholic missionary activity, the number of converted Catholics from among the new immigrants was considerable. “Turkish” soldiers who made incursions across the Hungarian–Ottoman border along the lower Danube were either Eastern Orthodox or converted Muslims. Magdolna Rachaz’s new “pagan and schismatic” husband may well have been a South Slav conqueror who had converted from Eastern Orthodoxy to Islam, though an Eastern Orthodox Romanian or South Slav seems a more likely possibility. The surname of Magdolna’s first husband, Tót, was used in Hungarian to refer to Slovaks, Slovenes and Croats, thus indicating that he might have also been a South Slav who had converted to Catholicism. Although her abandoned husband accused her of “apostasy,” Magdolna had consequently may have just returned to her original religion and ethnic community.

Mátyás, the son of Lőrinc Antusui, crossed the boundary separating religions and ethnicities not in flight from a bad marriage, but from an Observant Franciscan cloister in Transylvania: 

He went among the pagans, where passing himself off as a pagan he married Axpianna, a pagan woman of another religion. They consummated the marriage conducted according to the customs and rituals of his wife’s religion. However, the fear then overtook him that it might become known that he was, in fact, a Christian and they would therefore try to take his life. Though his conscience also inspired him to leave his pagan wife and come to Rome. 

 

In Rome, Mátyás asked the pope to annul both his monastic vow and his marriage because he wanted to marry a Christian woman.62 I believe that Mátyás probably did not flee to Ottoman lands, but moved to a Romanian-inhabited territory within Transylvania or, perhaps, to one of the adjacent Romanian principalities. In this case, the paganus that Mátyás had married was likely an Eastern Orthodox Romanian rather than a Muslim.

In Mátyás’s story, geographical mobility and the traversing of boundaries between cultures represented a conscious survival strategy and a means of taking cover. Dissimulation and the change of identity, achieved by disguising himself as a “pagan” and, subsequently, as a “Christian” were also part of this survival strategy. For others, conversion between Eastern and Latin Christianity served as a vehicle for social advancement. Margit, daughter of the late János Nadabor Hunyadi, travelled from Transylvania to Rome in 1517 in order to petition at the Office of the Apostolic Penitentiary for permission to marry Nan, the son of Dan Bérci Török (Naan filio Daan Thererk de Beercz). Nan was not only a distant cousin, but a “schismatic” who, based on his Christian name, was likely Romanian. Margit requested that the marriage be permitted despite their kinship because Nan would thus be won over to the Catholic faith and Jesus Christ (orthodoxe fidei et Domino nostro Jhesu Christo lucrifacto), that is, he would be baptized as a Latin Christian.63 Margit was taking the prescriptions of canon law into account when she promised that her schismatic fiancé would be rebaptized in the course of marriage. The Roman Church did not recognize the validity of marriages to non-Christians, a category to which Eastern Christians belonged.64

However, in addition to the Church, Hungarian secular authority also expected Margit’s fiancé to be rebaptized as a Catholic. King Sigismund issued a decree in 1428 that was intended to promote the conversion of Eastern Orthodox Romanians and South Slavs living in Transylvania and the “South Country” (Délvidék), who frequently allied themselves with the Turks, through the prohibition of baptisms conducted by Eastern Orthodox priests and the requirement that all Eastern Rite Christians be baptized pursuant to Catholic ritual upon marriage to a Latin Rite Christian.65 Matthias Corvinus enacted a similar measure in 1478, suggesting that marriages between people of different religions and ethnicities were still common at that time and served as a means of converting Romanians.66 The Nadaboris of Hunyad were distantly related Romanian kenez (cneaz in Romanian, meaning distinguished) families owning adjacent lands in Hunyad County.67 The fact that János Cseh, the husband of Margit’s sister, Anna, was a Hunyadi vice-castellan in 1515 and the familiaris of the owner of the estate, George the Brandenburg-Ansbach (1484–1543) provides an indication of the status of the Nadaboris, whose family name indicates that they were Catholic and had become Magyarized through marriage.68 The social ascent of the Nadabori family is also reflected in their land purchases. The kenez Török family also travelled along the path of enrichment from the neighboring village of Bérc.69 The marriage between the families and the conversion to Catholicism of the Eastern Orthodox spouse represented a customary strategy of ambitious Romanian noble families, one that also promoted their assimilation. István Vajda’s 1510 petition from the Várad Diocese records an instance in which Romanians living in the Partium were Catholicized in the course of marriage. Vajda, whose name suggests that he was a Romanian noble, married his “schismatic” lover following the death of his first wife.70 His new wife, Margaret of Wallachia (Margaretha Valache) was rebaptized a Catholic at the time of their marriage.71

The previous cases provide a clear reflection of instances in which the boundaries between the faiths and ethnicities of those living in the Partium, Transylvania and the South Country shifted as a result of intermarriage and religious conversion. The essential difference between the second husbands of the woman of Várad and Magdolna Rachaz lay not in their religions (new Muslim and Eastern Orthodox) and ethnic affiliations (presumably either Bosnian or Serb), but in the radical disparity in their social status. The fact that the second husband of the woman of Várad served as a representative of the Ottoman conquerors and new lords of the land indicates that she may have been the type of woman who was attracted to strong and influential men.72

The convergences and commonalities arising from religious and ethnic heterogeneity softened the differences between people living in the previously cited regions, thus making it possible for Christian women to consider marriage to a “Turkish” husband and conversion to another faith. Moreover, Mrs. Csiszár did not go abroad, but to Buda, which just a few years previously had been the capital of the Kingdom of Hungary. Perhaps she even had relatives and acquaintances living in the city. The connections between Buda and Várad manifested themselves in the large number of people who moved from the former to the latter in order to get away from the Turks.73 However, not everybody attempted to flee from the Turks when they took Buda in 1541. In 1546, the Turks registered 238 Christian (with the departure of the Germans, primarily Hungarian) families in Buda, thus making Latin Christianity the most common faith in the increasingly heterogeneous city ahead of Judaism, Islam and Eastern Orthodoxy.74 Many residents of Buda, both poor and rich, had therefore made the understandable decision to remain in the city even after it had come under Ottoman dominion. Christians living in the city were at this time still permitted to practice their faith communally, in public and with their own clergy at the Mária Magdolna Parish Church. The Turks had only prohibited the ringing of the church bells. That Mrs. Csiszár wound up in Buda is also unsurprising if one considers the fact that many of the several thousand Ottoman garrison soldiers and civil servants in the city were either single or had left their wives at home, thus increasing the local demand for women.75 Complications did, however, surface when the abandoned husband sent his men to Buda to recover property and, perhaps, even the unfaithful wife. In this event, wives who had not previously adopted the religion of their Muslim husbands could do so in order to invoke the Islamic law invalidating previous marriages in the event of conversion.76 Thus if the kadi “celebrating” marriage between a Christian woman and a Muslim man at the empires’s borderlands had not been interested in the woman’s past (her undissolved marriage) and was willing to conduct the secular rite of the Muslim wedding without her religious conversion (but in return for a fee), it was still worthwhile for her to adopt Islam.77

A Slavonian Nobleman Turning Turk

Just as the woman of Várad, István Velikei (Velika, Croatia) of Radovanc made a free and deliberate decision to stand among the Turks. At least this is what his abandoned wife, Fruzsina Kasztellánfi of Szentlélek (Sveti Duh, in Croatia) claimed. However, contrary to Ferenc Csiszár, Fruzsina, daughter of the nobleman János Kasztellánfi, turned to Catholic authorities in order to gain permission to remarry. 

Fruzsina presented two versions of her petition. The first, submitted to the Apostolic Penitentiary during the first half of 1541, was founded upon two pillars: first, that she had vowed to marry (sponsalia iuramento vallata) István Velikei of Radovanc as a minor, at the age of only nine or ten years old, though they never slept together due to her young age and she had not reconfirmed the betrothal when she had reached the age of majority; and second, that following their betrothal, her fiancé had “gone to the Turks, donned their clothing, and together with them attacked and plundered the settlements of the Christians and perhaps even delivered his own castle, Velike, into the hands of the Turks.”78 Fruzsina claimed in her first petition that she was not obliged to honor her betrothal vow because Velikei “committed adultery, keeping a Turkish woman as a concubine, who had borne him daughters”. She thus requested that, taking these circumstances into consideration, her vow of betrothal be annulled in order that she might marry another man. Fruzsina’s case was complicated by the fact that she initially submitted her petition to Bishop of Modena Johannes de Morono, who served as the papal nuncio in the royal court of King Ferdinand I of Hungary and Croatia.79 The nuncio decided that the betrothal of Fruzsina and István had, in fact, represented a valid marriage and that the remarriage of the former was therefore impermissible. The nuncio’s verdict suggests that Fruzsina, who was born around 1521,80 had been an adult at the time of her betrothal—that is, at least twelve years old. Fruzsina’s first petition therefore represented an appeal to Pope Paul III of the nuncio’s decision. 

Fruzsina submitted a second petition to the Apostolic Dataria, undoubtedly in order to increase her chances of gaining a positive decision. In light of the papal nuncio’s rejection of her first petition, this seems to have been a completely understandable and rational decision. People of Fruzsina’s social standing could afford to apply for the more expensive and authoritative Dataria permits issued with the pope’s personal seal. The Kasztellánfis, who were named after one of their two Körös County castles—either Szentléleki or Bikszádi (Bisag, Croatia)—were an old and locally distinguished family of medium-range land owners.81 Fruzsina, though she identified herself as a simple noble (nobilis) in her petition, in fact bore the title of egregius, or “well-to-do noble,” as the daughter of János Kasztellánfi of Szentlélek and Barbara Ősi.82 Her father—who by 1541 was no longer living—had stood in royal military service in addition to performing the family’s customary county-level offices and serving as the familiaris of an aristocrat.83

We know of Fruzsina’s second petition only through the apostolic response to it: in March 1542, the Pope Paul III instructed Bishop of Zagreb Simon Erdődy to invalidate the betrothal. This decision was exceptionally favorable for the petitioner because it did not call for further examination of the case as was customary. We do not know if somebody intervened personally at the papal court on behalf of Fruzsina or if the arguments contained in her petition had alone convinced the pope to order that her betrothal be annulled. Her story was framed in this second petition completely differently. It portrayed the marriage not as an affair between two individuals, Fruzsina and István, but in a more accurate reflection of actual events as a family matter. The head of the family, János Kasztellánfi, played the primary role in organizing the first marriage rather than Fruzsina, herself. The petition clearly reveals that Kasztellánfi gave his daughter to the neighboring noble from Pozsega (Požega, Croatia) before she had reached adulthood. The two families knew each other well, their estates were located close to one another and they were related by marriage via the most prominent family in the region, the Szencseis.84 The Velikeis held parts of Velike and Petnyevára castles, though evidence suggests that by this time these portions had begun to decrease since the daughters inherited them following the extinction of the male line and they had thus become very much in demand.85 The kinship between the Radovancis and the Velikeis of Pozsega also emerged as a result of such a marriage: at the end of the fifteenth century, the royal chancellery notary, László Radovánci, married Dorottya Velikei.86 This Kasztellánfi–Velikei marriage therefore may have served to strengthen the alliance between two families of relatively equal status.87

In the case of the prestigious noble family from Slavonia, parental compulsion was not an issue: according to the established custom, the father made the decision about the marriage of his young daughter. Fruzsina’s petition does not mention a single word about the fact that she had not yet reached the recognized age of adulthood and had not consummated their marriage upon betrothal (which were important arguments against the validity of their matrimony in her first petition). In the system of arranged marriages this was considered to be self-evident. And of course it was also the father who, according to the petition, had “wanted to defend the honor of his daughter and give her in marriage to another” following the apostasy and betrayal of the husband he had selected for her. It remains a question why he chose to request the papal nuncio rather than the locally competent Bishop of Zagreb, Simon Erdődy, who, as he, was a supporter of King Ferdinand I, that the marriage be officially annulled.. Anyway, it turned out to be an unwise decision. The father of Fruzsina died in the interval between the submission of the two petitions. However, Fruzsina remained a minor figure in the narrative of the second petition as well, playing a secondary role to her widowed mother. Fruzsina’s old widowed mother, as the petition that won papal approval stated, cannot herself take care of six young children and at the same time defend three castles— Szentlélek,88 Bikszád and Zelnyak (Sirač, Croatia)—under threat from the Turks, which if lost, would gravely undermine the security of the region. She therefore needed a forceful and energetic son-in-law to be the husband of her seventh child and eldest daughter, Fruzsina. Barbara Ősi, who oversaw the affairs of her large family with extraordinary skill, thus presented herself as a hapless widow in the request for the pope’s annulment of her daughter’s marriage. While playing the role of the “miserrima orphana,” she gained the backing of one of the most prestigious aristocratic families in the region, the Batthyánys, in the defense of her property and support of her children.89

As a result of the fiancé’s betrayal, the family context in the petition became interconnected with the issue of defending Christianity. The narrative supplemented with new details the story of the fiancé turning Turk: yielding to the temptation of the Turks, István abandoned not only the Catholic faith that he had received upon baptism, but when the Ottomans invaded the territory in which Pozsega was located in 1536, he delivered provisions to the attackers and even ceded to them his own, well-fortified Velike castle, in betrayal of the relatives with whom he held joint possession of the stronghold; moreover, István adopted a Turkish voivode as his brother and maintained friendly relations with many Turks.90 The pope’s annulment of Fruzsina’s marriage so that she could wed a Catholic man therefore served to not only to preserve her personal honor and that of family, but to promote the interests of Christianity in general. 

Fruzsina’s marital affair could presumably be depicted as an issue related to the overall state of the Christian faith because the fall of the capital of the medieval Kingdom of Hungary, Buda, on August 19, 1541, has awakened European public opinion and decision makers to the magnitude of the Turkish threat: in the spring of 1542, when Fruzsina’s case appeared before the pope in Rome, the German imperial estates in Speyer were discussing the issue of the Turkish aid (Türkenhilfe). This common trauma may well have guided the pen of both the author of the petition—likely Fruzsina’s widowed mother for the most part—as well as that of the adjudicator, Pope Paul III and his officials. Although Pozsega had long suffered the depredations of the Turks, it suffered its greatest losses in 1536 and 1537, when the Ottomans again ravaged the region, defeating the armies of King Ferdinand I near the River Gara early in the latter year and took Pozsegavár (Slavonska Požega, Croatia) located just 20 kilometers south of Velike.91 However, it was not until the fall of Buda in 1541 that the fate of the southern region of Pozsega became a matter of European importance and István Velikei, who had “removed his Christian clothing and dressed as a Turk” and maintained a Turkish concubine, was deemed unworthy of marriage to a Christian woman. 

There are several morals to this story. First, as the cases in Várad also demonstrated, official control of marriages functioned efficiently even amid the conditions of civil war. The calculation of the Kasztellánfis that the fiancé’s turning Turk would be an effective argument in favor of dissolving the marital bond in the first case proved mistaken. The papal nuncio in Vienna, acting in accordance with canon law, did not permit the disgraced girl to remarry. We thus see again the family and the girl who wanted to remarry locally in a difficult position. This story likewise clearly demonstrates how giving daughters in marriage was an important tool of forging family alliances of the landed nobility. It is furthermore clear that even if we do not know what truly happened, Velikei was portrayed as a trickster crossing Christian–Muslim boundaries with ease. Since the petitioners aspired to maintain their authenticity, people who transformed their personal identity, joining the Ottoman conquerors, converting to their religion and living with their women, must have been familiar figures of the time.

The description of the process of conversion conforms to that which is known about it, thus increasing the authenticity of the narrative. In this case as well, outsiders were able to discern religious conversion primarily in terms of external factors. In both of her petitions, Fruzsina mentions that Velikei “dressed as a Turk, abandoning his Christian clothing.” At other times they referred to the change of names in connection to the change of religions.92 It is a well-known fact that adoption of a Muslim name constituted part of the formal, though very simple, rite of switching religions: following the pronouncement of the one-sentence confession of faith, the assumption of a Muslim name symbolized a break with the past and the rebirth of the individual in question in the true religion. The newly converted then received gifts, among them, according to long-established custom, clothes.93 The perception of outsiders actually offers a clear reflection of the essence of the process of conversion, which in practice consisted solely of external forms and appearances. Contrary to the ideals and practices of Christian conversion, adoption of Islam did not require internal transformation: the Muslim community did not attempt to determine the motives or sincerity of those who converted to Islam, requiring only that converts followed their customs.94 Ottoman Muslims did everything under their power to integrate newcomers: not only did they provide them with clothing and monetary gifts, but also attempted to promote their integration through provision of a spouse and material livelihood.95 The complaints of the Kasztellánfis regarding the converted Velikei also reflect the receptive behavior of the Ottomans that facilitated conversion to Islam: “he adopted as his brother (in fratrem sibi iuravit) a voivoide, a leader of the Turks and to such an extent behaves on friendly terms with him and other Turks.”96

The integrative attitude of the Ottomans must have smoothed the conversion of István Velikei. But what prompted the Pozsega noble to leave his family and property behind in order to stand among the Turks? The story of the abandoned fiancée suggests that his decision was drive by the prospect of social and economic advancement. He obviously weighed his prospects in the Christian world at the frontier of the advancing Ottoman Empire and determined that he had better career opportunities as a Turk. Velikei had two choices: flee to territory that was better defended from the Ottomans, thus abandoning his lands in Pozsega; or remain in place.97 Unlike the majority of nobles, he chose the latter option. Family memory may have played a role in Velikei’s decision to cooperate with the conquerors rather than resist: two generations previously, one of his distant relatives, Katalin Velikei, was the wife of Prince Radivoj, the illegitimate brother of King Stephen Thomas of Bosnia and claimant to the throne.98 Following the seizure of Jajce in 1463, which brought the Kingdom of Bosnia to an end, the victors executed Radivoj. Though this is just speculation, relinquishing the castle of Velike, the ancient family base, to the Turks may have actually represented a means of reacquiring the castle within the context of a conflict between members of the family. Unfortunately, we do not know if István Velikei’s decision to join the Turks served to promote his interests in the Ottoman Sanjak of Pojega formed around the year 1538.99

Conclusion

Historians argue based on their knowledge of renegade life-histories in the Mediterranean region that women most often converted to Islam for family reasons, while men most often did so to gain greater socioeconomic opportunity.100 However, individual strategies were more complex than this. On the one hand, marriage was an important channel of upward social mobility. Was the wife of Ferenc Csiszár driven primarily by emotions or material prospects when she chose a more influential and wealthy Turkish husband in Buda?101 The nobleman of Pozsega, on the other hand, may have regarded conversion to Islam as a means of regaining possession of family property. I would therefore contend that traversing the Christian–Muslim boundary provided women with the possibility to achieve radical social advancement that would have been otherwise inconceivable. Both men and women who were willing to cooperate with the new proprietors of power were able to switch faiths in the interest of security and social improvement.102 For women, marriage represented the gateway to crossing the boundary in the course of transforming their identities.

The figure of the woman exchanging her Christian marriage for a Muslim one also helps us to take a more nuanced approach to the issue of female agency. Mrs. Csiszár acted autonomously and outside of social expectations when she escaped her husband. The fact that she immediately remarried, however, challenges the often underlying scholarly assumption that women, independent of time and place, strove to break loose from their subordination to men within the patriarchal family.103 Her empowered position to negotiate new social relations and change her life—similar to that of women converting before sharia courts in Istanbul in order to divorce104—was temporary. This enabled women to rid themselves of problematic husbands; however as the wife of a Muslim man in the Islamic world, it also brought them under an even greater degree of control. Although escape was an act of exerting their free will, it did not represent an attempt to gain independence: to the contrary, flight from a man whose violation of the norms of husband–wife relations assumed dangerous proportions provided women with protection and security alongside another man, even if his Muslim religion served to curtail her rights in comparison to those she had possessed in the Christian world.

The optimistic view of female agency becomes further “tamed” if one acknowledges that the meeting of cultures and religions offered greater room for maneuver to both men and women who were endowed with sufficient daring and the ability to orient themselves within the system of legal and institutional plurality, though this change was more conspicuous and surprising in the case of women due to the traditional notion of their greater passivity. We observed this situation when women attempted to escape an unwanted marriage. Some such women moved far away from their previous place of residence and remarried abroad, thus evading Christian marriage regulations; while others, those who faced different conditions, among them the wife of Ferenc Csiszár, relocated to the Ottoman world, where they could legally remarry. We also observed the factors that enabled these individuals to become boundary-crossers. The ethnic and religious diversity of the eastern and southern regions of the medieval Kingdom of Hungary, primarily the daily coexistence of Latin and Eastern Christians, as well as the receptive behavior of the Ottoman-Turks who appeared in these regions made it possible to cross the Christian–Muslim boundaries and to thereby transform personal identity.

Further research is necessary to explore the actions of rational and well-informed individuals who were able to exploit the differences in the Christian and Islamic systems of norms in order to increase the security and stability of their lives and improve their socioeconomic status by turning Turk. Also, it seems more fruitful to focus our attention on the mediating role of Christian women marrying Muslim men and to observe the ways in which such mixed marriages shaped the boundaries of divergences and similarities between cultures in clash.

 

Archival Sources

Archivio Poenitentiaria Apostolica (Roma), Registra Matrimonialium et Diversorum [APA].

Archivio Segreto Vaticano, Dataria Apostolica, Brevia Lateranensia  

 

Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára (MNL OL)

Mohács előtti Gyűjtemény (DLDF)

Libri Regii (A 57)

Batthyány család levéltára, Missiles  (P 1314)

 

 

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Thuri, Pál Farkas. “Idea Christianorum Hungarorum in et sub Turcismo [1556–57].” In Géza Kathona, Fejezetek a török hódoltsági reformáció történetéből [Chapters from the History of the Reformation in Ottoman Hungary], 61–69. Budapest: Akadémiai, 1974.

1 The present study and the edition of the present issue were prepared within the framework of a research project funded by the Hungarian National Research Fund (OTKA-81435).

2 See, for example, Pál Engel, “A török dúlások hatása a népességre: Valkó megye példája,” Századok 134 (2000): 267−321; Éva Sz. Simon, “Flight or Submission: Changing Identities in the Ottoman–Hungarian Borderlands. The County of Zala in the 1570s,” in Osmanischer Orient und Ostmitteleuropa, ed. Robert Born and Andreas Puth (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2014), 33−46; Géza Dávid, Pasák és bégek uralma alatt. Demográfiai és közigazgatás-történeti tanulmányok (Budapest: Akadémiai, 2005); Klára Hegyi, Egy birodalom végvidékén (Budapest: Gondolat, 1976); Pál Fodor and Géza Dávid, eds., Ransom Slavery along the Ottoman Borders (Leiden: Brill, 2007).

3 On the concept of “contact zone” see Mary Louise Pratt, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (New York: Routledge, 2008) first edition 1992, esp. 7−8.

4 The requests were handled by the officers of the Holy Apostolic Penitentiary, which in the fifteenth century dealt with violations of canon law ranging from irregular clerical ordinances and irregular marriages to such heinous crimes as murder, sodomy or sacrilege. See more recently Kirsi Salonen and Ludwig Schmugge, A sip from the “Well of Grace.” Medieval Texts from the Apostolic Penitentiary (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2009).

5 In this respect, the scenario of papal pardoning was very similar to the process of royal clemency in sixteenth-century France. Cf. Hélène Millet, ed., Suppliques et requêtes: Gouvernement par la grâce en Occident (XIIe–XVe siècle) (Rome: École Française de Rome, 2003).

6 From the standpoint of canon law, difference in religion did not represent an impendiment to marriage, though could serve as the basis for anullment of marriage (without the possibility for remarriage). Péter Erdő, Egyházjog a középkori Magyarországon (Budapest: Osiris, 2001), 292.

7 The classic work on this theme: Donald C. Jennings, “Women in the Early Seventeenth-Century Ottoman Judicial Records: The Sharia court of Anatolian Kayseri,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 18 (1975): 53−114.

8 See, for example, Fariba Zarinebaf-Shahr, “Women, Law and Imperial Justice in Ottoman Istanbul in the Late Seventeenth Century,” in Women, the Family and Divorce Laws in Islamic History, ed. Amira El Azhary Sonbol (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1996), 81−95; Leslie Peirce, Morality Tales: Law and Gender in the Ottoman Court of Aintab (Berkeley–Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2003).

9 See the following two case studies: Eric Dursteler, Renegade Women: Gender, Identity, and Boundaries in the Early Modern Mediterranean (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011).

10 Katalin Péter, “Nők önállósága, férfiak önállósága a társadalomban,” in idem, Magánélet a régi Magyarországon, 13−23, here 17; Idem, “Női családfők Sárospatakon a 16. és a 17. században,” Századok 123  (1989): 563−604.  

11 Ferenc Szakály, “A gyöngyösi ispotály-per 1667−1668-ban (A ‘törökösség’ fogalmának értelmezéséhez),” Archivum. A Heves Megyei Levéltár Közleményei 10 (1981): 5–26.

12 Ibid.

13 Her most important works include Klára Hegyi, A török hódoltság várai és várkatonasága, 2 vols. (Budapest: MTA, 2007).

14 Klára Hegyi, “Kereszténység és iszlám az Oszmán Birodalom balkáni és magyar tartományaiban,” Korunk 7 (1996): 32–42, here 38.

15 Records of the activity of the kadis in Ottoman Hungary are very fragmentary. According to Klára Hegyi, the Karánsebes-Lugos records suggest the conversion of a few wives of Hungarian origin. I would like to thank Klára Hegyi for reviewing these Turkish sources from this perspective for me. 

16 Pál Farkas Thuri, “Idea Christianorum Hungarorum in et sub Turcismo [1556–57],” printed first in 1613 and 1616. Edited in Latin and Hungarian by Géza Kathona, Fejezetek a török hódoltsági reformáció történetéből (Budapest: Akadémiai, 1974), 61–69.

17 Dezső Márkus, ed., Corpus Juris Hungarici. Magyar Törvénytár 1000−1526 (Budapest: Franklin Társulat, 1899), anno 1567, art. no. 30.

18 Ibid., anno 1574, art. no. 15. The law cites tributarios colonosról és nobiles unius sessionis—tax-paying nobles. This was reconfirmed in the following laws: 1575/10. tc., 1588/23. tc.

19 See studies in Fodor and Dávid, ed., Ransom Slavery.

20 See above all: Sándor Takáts, Rajzok a török világból, 2 vols. (Budapest: MTA, 1915–1917). For a bibliography of this author’s works see Sándor Takáts, Művelődéstörténeti tanulmányok a XVI–XVII. századból, ed. Kálmán Benda (Budapest: Gondolat, 1961), 377–408.

21 Takáts, Rajzok, vol. 1, 294, 328, 330.

22 Pál Fodor, “Török és oszmán: az oszmán rabszolga-elit azonosságtudatáról,” in idem, A Szultán és az aranyalma (Budapest: Osiris, 2001), 29.

23 For theories of identity see Stuart Hall, “A kulturális identitásról,” in Multikulturalizmus. Kultúra, identitás és politika új diskurzusa, ed. Mária Feischmidt (Budapest: n.p., 1997), 60−85.

24 Paula Fredriksen, “Paul and Augustine: Conversion Narratives, Orthodox Traditions, and the Retrospective Self,” Journal of Theological Studies, n.s. 37 (1986): 3−34.

25 On the concept of everyday “tactics” see Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984). I will quote below the most relevant literature on conversions from the perspective of cultural history or historical anthropology.

26 Klára Hegyi outlined the general reasons for which the majority of Hungarians did not embrace Islam: Hegyi, “Kereszténység és iszlám.” For the perspective of the Ottomans see Pál Fodor, “‘A kincstár számára a hitetlen a leghasznosabb’ Az oszmánok magyarországi valláspolitikájáról,” in idem, Szülejmán szultántól Jókai Mórig. Tanulmányok az oszmán-török hatalom szerkezetéről és a magyar–török érintkezésekről (Budapest: MTA BTK, 2014), 258–71.

27 Peter Burke, History and Social Theory (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992), 42.

28 Archivio Poenitentiaria Apostolica (Roma), Registra Matrimonialium et Diversorum [APA], vol. 121, fol. 64rv (January 1548).

29 Sara M. Butler, “Runaway Wives. Husband Desertion in Medieval England,” Journal of Social History 40 (2006): 337–59, here 342–43.

30 András Péter Szabó, “Várad. A három részre hullt ország virtuális fővárosa. Egy oklevél olvasatai,” in Tiszteletkör. Történeti tanulmányok Draskóczy István egyetemi tanár 60. születésnapjára, ed. Gábor Mikó, Bence Péterfi, and András Vadas (Budapest: ELTE Eötvös, 2012), 341–48.

31 On the guilds: András Kubinyi, Városfejlődés és városhálózat a középkori Alföldön és az Alföld szélén (Szeged: Csongrád megyei Levéltár), 92. Prior to 1565 we find among the smith guild masters a man named Oszvald Csiszár, who may have been a relative of Ferenc Csiszár. Jolán Balogh, Varadinum. Várad Vára, vol. 2 of 2 (Budapest: Akadémiai, 1982), 338.

32 Groszmann Zsigmond, Georgievics Bertalan XVI. századbeli magyar író élete és művei (Budapest: Wodianer F. és fiai, 1904), 9, 28–31.

33 Antal Molnár, “Jezsuiták a hódolt Pécsett (1612–1686),” in Pécs a törökkorban, ed. Ferenc Szakály (Pécs: Pécs Története Alapítvány, 1999), 236, 257. Fragmentary data can be found in the accounts and yearbooks of Jesuits beginning in the 1570s.

34 Letter of King Matthias, written in 1480, addressed to Cardinal John of Aragon, protector of Hungary at the Curia. Sándor V. Kovács, ed., Mátyás király levelei 1460–1490 (Budapest: Szépirodalmi Könyvkiadó, 1986), no. 61.

35 The dangers of local remarriage are apparent in the dramatic story of János Segnyey of Lápispatak, whose wife determined that he had died after an absence of seven years and married her second husband, a Czech officer, in northern Hungary on the very day of his return. The two men fought a duel to resolve the crisis. Takáts, Rajzok, 1, 195.

36 APA vol. 48, fol. 536r (Helias de Clokocz laicus habitator opidi Grecz Zagrabiensis diocesis). Another concrete example of moving abroad and remarrying: Banat noble Balázs Necpali, who for years strove unsuccessfully to find and redeem his wife and three children, to which end he mortgaged his southern estates and finally moved to his estates in North Hungary, where he remarried and had two daughters in the 1470s. Enikő Csukovits, “Miraculous Escapes from Ottoman Captivity,” in Fodor and Dávid, ed., Ransom Slavery, 7.

37 Several men from Slavonia requested that the Church regard their second marriages and resulting children to be legitimate after their first wives had fallen into Turkish captivity. These petitioners lived in their second marriages without being bothered for decades, which illuminates the general social acceptance of remarriage as well as the degree of official control. Petrus de Podagaris: APA vol. 48, fol. 485rv; Valentinus Piscete laic. de villa Toplice: ibid., vol. 48, fol. 490r.

38 In both cases the name of the lawyer was Aspra, who authorized them on January 15, 1548. APA vol. 121, fol. 63v−64r. There is little chance that petitioners from Várad can be identified, since in 1660 Janissaries destroyed the city’s medieval cathedral, chapter, and municipal archives. Zsigmond Jakó, “Váradi siralmas krónika. Könyvtár- és levéltárügy Nagyváradon a múltban és a jelenben, Magyar Egyháztörténeti Vázlatok,” Regnum, no. 1–2 (2004): 93–97.

39 Vince Bunyitay, A váradi püspökség története alapításától a jelenkorig, vol. 2 (Nagyvárad: n. p., 1883) 55–57.

40 APA vol. 93, fols 162rv (1536).

41 See the following work for information regarding the tailor’s guild in Várad: Jolán Balogh Varadinum. Várad Vára, vol. 2 of 2 (Budapest: Akadémiai, 1982), 55, 309.

42 “Dicta sponsalia manum eidem Paulo porrigendo confirmasset”; Cf. Dániel Bárth, Esküvő, keresztelő, avatás: Egyház és népi kultúra a kora újkori Magyarországon (Budapest: n.p., 2005), 106–07. 

43 Her petition reads: ad pubertatem deveniens dictis sponsalibus et confirmationi contradixit et dictum Paulum in virum suum habere nolle asserit.

44 See, for example, Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára (MNL OL), Diplomatikai Levéltár (DL) 99775. 

45 Synod decrees urging the lower clergy to retain pre-wedding announcements because many husbands were leaving their wives and remarry abroad serve to substantiate this. László Solymosi, ed., A veszprémi egyház 1515. évi zsinati határozatai (Budapest: Argumentum, 1997), 67; The Council of Trent took similar measures: Josepho Alberigo et al., ed., Conciliorum Oecumenicorum Decreta (Bologna: Istituto per le Scienze Religiose, 1973), 758. 

46 Such rational decision-making also characterized communal choices: according to recent research, the significant reduction in taxes played a great role in the mass Islamization of village communities in the Balkans. Nenad Moačanin, “Mass Islamization of Peasants in Bosnia: Demystifications,” in Melanges Prof. Machiel Kiel, ed. Abdeljelil Temini (Zaghouan: Fondation Temimi pour la Recherche Scientifique et l’Information, 1999.), 353–58. 

47 Cf. Klára Hegyi, “Etnikum, vallás, iszlamizáció. A budai vilájet várkatonaságának eredete és utánpótlása,” Történelmi Szemle 40 (1998): 229–56. 

48 See “Magyarországi György barát értekezése a törökök szokásairól, viszonyairól és gonoszságáról,” in Kimondhatatlan nyomorúság. Két emlékirat a 15–16. századi oszmán fogságról, ed. Erik Fügedi (Budapest: Európa: 1976), 59–60.

49 Sándor Takáts writes about the buying and selling of women in the border zone surrounding Ottoman Hungary: Rajzok, I. 289–94, 324–27.

50 Marc Baer, “Islamic Conversion Narratives of Women: Social Change and Gendered Religious Hierarchy in Early Modern Ottoman Istanbul,” Gender and History 16 (2004): 425–58, 426. 

51 Ibid., 428; According to Lajos Fekete, women were not forced to convert due to the common belief that they automatically became Muslim when they had contact with Muslim men. Lajos Fekete, Budapest a török korban (Budapest: Királyi Magyar Egyetemi Nyomda, 1944), 267.

52 Contrary to that, renegade men had to convert to Islam before marrying, since Muslim women were permitted to marry only Muslim men in order to ensure that their children would be of the Islamic faith. Baer, “Islamic Conversion,” 428, 431–32.

53 Krstic, Contested Conversions, 66.

54 For the exercise of crypto-Catholicism among women living in areas under Ottoman authority see: Antal Molnár, “La Schiavona. Egy bosnyák lány viszontagságai a 17. században,” Történelmi Szemle 49 (2007): 227–47, 245; Szabolcs Varga, “Gods in the Part of Hungary under Ottoman Rule. Popular Religiousness and Religious Syncretism in South Transdanubia and in the Southern Part of the Kingdom of Hungary in the 16th–17th Centuries,” in Cultus Deorum: Studia Religionum ad Historiam: in Memoriam István Tóth, ed. Ádám Szabó and Péter Vargyas (Pécs: Pécsi Tudományegyetem, 2008), 113–22. 

55 On the the South Slavic (coming from Hercegovina, Bosnia, northern Serbia, Sirmium and the regions of Posega and Vidin) ethnic origin of the military forces in the Vilayet of Buda see Hegyi, “Etnikum”. On the religious indifference and syncretism of new Muslims in the Balkans with further literature see Fodor, “A kincstár,” 260–61.

56 Bartolomé Bennassar and Lucile Bennassar, Les Chrétiens d’Allah. L’histoire extraordinaire des renégats (XVIe–XVIIe siècles) (Paris: Perrin, 1989), 290–91.

57 Molnár, “La Schiavona,” 245–47.

58 Jakó, Bihar megye, passim, for example 70, 75; Gyula Kristó, Nem magyar népek a középkori Magyarországon (Budapest: Lucidus, 2003), 81–120, 191–218. For a summary see: Klára Hegyi, Török berendezkedés Magyarországon (Budapest: MTA TTI, 1995), 190–202. 

59 The designation “pagan” clearly refers to the Eastern Orthodox: Elemér Mályusz and Iván Borsa, Zsigmondkori oklevéltár, vol. 5 (Budapest: Magyar Országos Levéltár, 1997), 65, no. 33. (1415–16); Pál Lukcsics, XV. századi pápák oklevelei, vol. 2 (Budapest: n.p., 1938), no. 833. 

60 APA vol. 57, fol. 697v.

61 For an overview of South Slav immigration in the period before 1526 see Ferenc Szakály, “Remargues sur l’armée de Jovan Tcherni,”Acta Historica (1978): 59–63; For the religions of people living in this region see Kálmán Juhász, A csanádi püspökség története 1434–1500 (Makó: n.p., 1947), 16–17.

62 APA vol. 55, fol. 196r (1510). 

63 Ibid., vol. 61, fol. 20r (1517).

64 Erdő, Egyházjog, 292; Szabolcs Anzelm Szuromi O. Praed., “Az egyházi házasságra vonatkozó kánoni szabályok történetének vázlata,” Iustum Aequum Salutare 4, no. 3 (2008): 39–48. 

65 Ignác Batthyány, ed., Leges Ecclesiasticae Regni Hungariae et Adjacentiarum Provinciarum, vol. 3 (Albae-Carolinae: Typis Episcopalibus , 1827), 405–08.

66 MNL OL DF 275475, 1478. július 26. See also Juhász, A csanádi püspökség, 130–31. For information regarding the Catholic Romanian nobility beginning in the fifteenth century see Antal Molnár, “Jezsuita misszió Karánsebesen (1625–1642),” Történelmi Szemle 47 (1999): 127–56.

67 I would like to thank Géza Hegyi for his help in charting the Nadabori family. Dezső Csánki, Magyarország történeti földrajza a Hunyadiak korában, vol. 5 (Budapest: Állami Könyvterjesztő Vállalat1985), 211–12, 241; Nadabor (Nădrap, Romania) belonged to the Vajdahunyad domain continually until the fifteenth-sixteenth centuries. Iosif Pataki, Domeniul Hunedoara la începutul secolului al XVI-lea (Bucureşti: Editura Academiei Republicii Socialiste România, 1973), 133, 142, 158, 215.

68 MNL OL DL 22696. 

69 Bérc also belonged to the Vajdahunyad domain (1482: DL 37653; Pataki, Domeniul, 133, 142, 158, 215), though the village no longer exists. A total of five kenez and 21 serfs lived in Bérc around the year 1512 (Ibid., 166). For the family’s land acquisitions see MNL OL DL 29655. 

70 Unless the name referred not to his residence, but to the Hungarian-serf-inhabited Bihar County village of Vajda. Jakó, Bihar megye, 377.

71 APA vol. 55, fol. 532v (1510).

72 Constructivists argue that the role of status in mate selection is culturally determined: men are attracted to beauty and women to social and economic status, while strong personality is a cross-cultural tendency. Ayala Malakh-Pines, Falling in Love: Why We Choose the Lovers We Choose (New York: Routledge, 2005), 83–104. 

73 Fekete, Budapest, 146–47.

74 Ibid., 149–50; Géza Dávid, Pasák és bégek uralma alatt (Budapest: Akadémiai, 2005), 79–84; Káldy-Nagy, Harács-szedők, 106ff.

75 Fekete, Budapest, 149–55; Káldy-Nagy, Harács-szedők, 112–13. 

76 See the story of Fatima Hatun, who remarried and converted to Islam in Istanbul in order to parry the demands of her first husband from Venice: Dursteler, Renegade Women, 1–33.

77 Hegyi, Egy birodalom végvidékén, 119–26, 145–57.

78 APA vol. 106, fol. 667v−68r (Zagreb, August 27, 1541). The date indicates that on which the office approved the petition, not on which it was submitted.

79 Johannes de Morono (Giovanni Morone), Bishop of Modena (1536−1542) and beginning in 1542 cardinal. Conradus Eubel, ed., Hierarchia Catholica Medii et Recentioris Aevii, vol. 3 (1503−1592) (Regensburg:  Monasterii Sumptibus et typis librariae Regensbergianae, 1913), 252. 

80 For the date of Fruzsina’s birth see Pavao Maček and Ivan Jurković, Rodoslov Plemića I Baruna Kaštelanovića od Svetog Huda (od 14. do 17. stoljeća) (Slavonski Brod: n.p., 2009), 180.

81 For the most recent version of the family history see Tamás Pálosfalvi, The Noble Elite of the County of Körös (Križevci), 1400–1526 (Budapest: MTA BTK TTI, 2014), 179–89. The latter book corrects the following in several respects: Maček and Jurković, Rodoslov, 152−61. They gained possession of Bikszád from the residents of the village via marriage around the year 1474. 

82 On the Ősi family see Pálosfalvi, The Noble Elite, 186, 189. (The Ősi and the Kasztellánfi families were bound by repeated marriages.)

83 Regarding his offices (court familiaris, royal tax collector, member of the light cavalry attached directly to the royal court) during the reign of King Louis II (1516–26) and King Ferdinand I (1526–64) see Pálosfalvi, The Noble Elite, 189; Emilij Laszowski, ed., Monumenta Habsburgica Regni Croatiae Dalmatiae Slavoniae, vol. 2 (1531−1540) (Zagreb: n.p., 1916), 36, 72, 80, 105−106, etc. On the institution of court hussars see Géza Pálffy, “Mi maradt az önálló magyar királyi udvarból Mohács után?,” in Idővel paloták Magyar udvari kultúra a 16−17. században, ed. Nóra G. Etényi and Ildikó Horn (Budapest: Balassi, 2005), 45−59, 50.

84 Pálosfalvi, The Noble Elite, 448, 466–67. 

85 The Szencseis and the Fáncses, who had previously married Velikei daughters, had their own castellans at both Velike and Petynevára castles in 1502. Pálosfalvi, The Noble Elite, 328. The Velikeis and the related Bekefis shared possession of Velike castle and market town in 1435. 

86 MNL OL DL 88511. I would like to thank Tibor Neumann for sharing his collection of data regarding the Velikeis with me. For the medieval family tree (the Velikeis of Zsadán clan) see Pál Engel, Magyar középkori adattár. Középkori magyar genealógia, CD-ROM (Budapest: Arcanum, 2001). 

87 Our István Velikei was the son of Benedek Velikei (deceased before 1519), who was the product of the marriage between Dorottya Velikei and László Radovánci, while his siblings were Ferenc and Katalin. MNL OL DL 74679 (1507, 1519). Following the death of his father, Péter Markos Kerekszállási, ispán (count) of Pozsega from 1524 to 1526, became his stepfather. After the Battle of Mohács in the latter year, Péter Markos Kerekszállási became a supporter of János Szapolyai as king of Hungary. Richárd Horváth, Tibor Neumann and Norbert C. Tóth, “Pontot az ‘i’-re. A Magyarország világi archontológiája című program múltja, jelene és közeli jövője,” Turul 86 (2013): 41–52, here 49. The fact that János Kasztellánfi’s mother, Helen of Corbavia, was the descendant of an aristocratic family and that the Velikeis were related to the Bosnian royal family may have served to elevate his rank. Pálosfalvi, The Noble Elite, 188.

88 If fact they had already been pushed out of Szentlélek by this time. Pálosfalvi, The Noble Elite, 188. King Ferdinand I donated Zelna castle in Zagreb County to János Kasztellánfi in 1537, though it is doubtful that the family ever actually gained possession of the stronghold. MNL OL Libri Regii, vol. 1, 324.

89 The success of Barbara Ősi in governing the affairs of her family is shown in the fact that in 1569 her then-eldest son, Péter, earned the baronial title for the family through his courtly and military services. MNL OL, A Batthyány család levéltára, Missiles, no. 24255–60: The letters of Barbara Ősi between 1542 and 1552 to Kristóf Battyhány and his wife, Erzsébet Svetkovics; Géza Pálffy, A Magyar Királyság és a Habsburg Monarchia a 16. században (Budapest: MTA BTK TTI, 2011), 170. According to Maček and Jurković, Ősi had eight children—five boys and three girls, the oldest of whom was, indeed, the 21-year-old Fruzsina. In her petition, she specifies seven children—four girls and three boys. Fruzsina presumably died soon thereafter, because she is not listed among her siblings designated as the beneficiaries of property endowments that the family received in the 1540s and 1550s. MNL OL, Libri Regii, for example vol. 2, 122–23 (1546) and vol. 3, 649 (1559).

90 Archivio Segreto Vaticano, Dataria Apostolica, Brevia Lateranensia, vol. 33, fol. 76r−77v, March 20, 1542.  

91 Ferenc Battyhány wrote the following regarding the Ottoman destruction of Slavonia, above all neighboring Kőrös County, in 1538: “regnum vero Sclavoniae iam fere totum est desolatum et depopulatum. Pálffy, A Magyar Királyság, 71.

92 With regard to Körmend noble Gergely Bakó: “his wife similarly dropped the name Erzsébet hoping that her husband would be promoted as a pasa.” Letter of vice-comes István Keserű to Ferenc Batthyány, September 11, 1605. MNL OL, Batthyány család levéltára, Missiles  (P 1314), no. 26397. For the switching of Gergely Bakó, who had unsuccessfully defended Körmend castle, to the side of Bocskai and the Turks see Péter Dominkovits, “Egy nemzetek lévén. . . A Nyugat-Dunántúl Bocskai István 1605. évi hadjárata idején (Budapest: Martin Opitz Kiadó, 2006), 76–77.

93 Anton Minkov, Conversion to Islam in the Balkans: Kisve Bahas ¸Petitions and Ottoman Social Life, 1670–1730 (Leiden: Brill, 2004), 152–53, 156–57.

94 Yasin Dutton, Conversion to Islam: The Qur’anic Paradigm in Religious Conversion: Contemporary Practices and Controversies, ed. Christopher Lamb and M. Darroll Bryant (London: Cassel, 1999), 151–65; Evgeni Radushev, “The Spread of Islam in the Ottoman Balkans: Revisiting Bulliet’s Method on Religious Conversion,” Oriental Archive 78 (2010): 363–84.

95 Richard W. Bulliet, Conversion to Islam in the Medieval Period: An Essay in Quantitative History (Cambridge, Mass.–London: Harvard University Press, 1979), 33–64.

96 On the custom of adopting Turkish–Hungarian brothers in Ottoman Hungary see Takáts, Rajzok, vol. 1, 315; see also Hegyi, “Kereszténység és iszlám,” 33–34.

97 On the movement of the Croatian nobility to territories protected from the Turks see Géza Pálffy, Miljenko Pandžić and Felix Tobler, Ausgewählte Dokumente zur Migration der Burgenländischen Kroaten im 16. Jahrhundert (Eisenstandt–željezno: HKDC, 1999). For such movement away from the Zala border zone see Simon, “Flight or Submission”; on fleeing in general: Szakály, Magyar adóztatás a török hódoltságban (Budapest: Akadémiai, 1981), 44–45.

98 Pálosfalvi, The Noble Elite, 220, 276.

99 Ferenc Pribék (alias Bey Huszein), who orchestrated the transfer of Fülek castle to the Turks in 1562 and in return was named the commander of the Ottoman castle in Szabadka, was also a voluntary renegade. In the 1570s, Pribék lived in the capital of Ottoman Hungary, Buda, as the influential head of the Turkish spy-network (Szakály, Mezőváros és reformáció, 271–72). For information regarding the career of the castellan Pál Márkházi (alias Bey Ibrahim), who delivered the castle of Ajnácskő (Gömör County, Hanačka, Slovakia) to the Turks in 1556, see Sándor Papp, “Die Verleihungs-, Bekräftigungs- und Vertragsurkunden der Osmanen für Ungarn und Siebenbürgen. Eine quellenkritische Untersuchung,” Schriften der Balkan-Kommission der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften 42 (2003): 91–107. Notwithstanding these and some more individual examples, very few among the Ottoman high dignitaries and the administrative and military leaders of Ottoman Hungary can be identified as Hungarians. Cf. Ferenc Szakály, “Magyar diplomaták, utazók, rabok és renegátok a 16. századi Isztambulban,” in id., Szigetvári Csöbör Balázs török miniatúrái (1570) (Budapest: Európa, 1983), 45–47.

100 Dursteler, Renegade Women, 13. See also the retrospective stories of women who later reconverted to Catholicism from Islam in Venice: Nathalie Rothman, Brokering Empire: Trans-Imperial Subjects between Venice and Istanbul (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2012).

101 The dilemma whether action and motivation is determined by interest or emotion becomes irrelevant if we consider both as socially constituted. Cf. Hans Medick–David Warren Sabean, ed., Interest and emotion. Essays on the study of family and kinship (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 3.

102 This is what Bulliet called “social conversion.” Bulliet, Conversion to Islam, 35–41.

103 For a criticism of this “feminist approach” see Saba Mahmood, “Anthropology, in

Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures, ed. Suad Joseph, vol. 1, Methodologies, Paradigms and Sources (Leiden: Brill, 2003), 307–14.

104 Baer, Islamic Conversion, 427.

Volume 4 Issue 2 CONTENTS

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Brian Sandberg

Going Off to the War in Hungary: French Nobles and Crusading Culture in the Sixteenth Century

 

Crusading culture played a significant role in the conceptions and practices of religious warfare in the Early Modern Period, as French authors and militant nobles redeployed Hungary as a crucial theater of crusading war. Examining crusading warfare in Hungary reveals new facets of warrior nobles’ military activities in early modern France and abroad, building on recent studies of French noble culture. The article concludes that French readers developed notions of crusading warfare in part through reports of the war in Hungary, contributing to a burgeoning literature on the production, diffusion, and reception of early modern news and information across Europe.

 

Keywords: crusading warfare, Early Modern Hungary, French nobles, noble culture.

 

Louis de Gonzague, duc de Nevers, lamented the disastrous defeat of the Hungarian army at the battle of Mohács (1526) in a treatise written during the French Wars of Religion (1562–1629), as Catholics and Calvinists engaged in intense sectarian fighting within France. 1 The duc de Nevers focused especially on the tragic death of Louis II Jagiellon, King of Hungary: “Louis was killed there with twenty thousand Christians, and so Hungary—which had served as a bulwark for Christianity against the Muslims for more than 150 years—was reduced nearly completely to obedience to the Turk.”2 Despite the ongoing religious conflict and civil war within France during the second half of the sixteenth century, nobles such as the duc de Nevers dreamed of Hungary. Many French nobles readily engaged in crusading warfare against the Ottomans, fighting in various campaigns in Hungary and in Southeastern Europe during the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.

The history of crusading after the Crusades has become an important subject of research, in large part due to Alphonse Dupront’s extraordinary influence on the field of religious studies and to the curious history of three unpublished theses. Dupront defended his doctoral thesis, “Le mythe de croisade. Étude de sociologie religieuse,” in 1956, at a time when religious history was relatively marginalized in a French academic landscape that was dominated by Marxist and structuralist approaches to the humanities. The thesis remained unpublished, while its author went on to direct research at the Écoles des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales and to found its Centre d’Anthropologie Religieuse Européenne in 1972. Dupront eventually published another work, Du Sacré: croisades et pèlerinages (1987), which drew fresh attention to his research.3 The thesis itself was finally published four decades after its defense, and in a heavily revised form, as Le mythe de croisade (1997).4 In this magisterial four-volume work, Dupront constructs an extremely unconventional history of the idea of crusading, examining the “creation of a collective spirit of crusade, and thus, in the corporeal and natural sense of the word, a myth. This myth where, as in life, the realities, and dreams, the unsatiated needs get mixed up together and confused.”5 For Dupront, the early modern period represented a significant period in the transformation of the “crusading myth” that is best understood through what he calls an “existential” approach to “convergences” in the history of ideas.6

Dupront’s elaboration of an anthropology of religion has become very influential, and his work on the “crusading myth” has spurred new research and debates on crusading warfare in early modern Europe and the Mediterranean.7 The remarkable doctoral theses of Péter Sahin-Tóth and Guy Le Thiec—which were both written and defended in the 1990s, but unfortunately remain unpublished—respond directly to Alphonse Dupront’s work. Le Thiec’s massive four-volume thesis, entitled “‘Et il n’y aura qu’un seul troupeau…’ L’imaginaire de la confrontation entre Turcs et Chrétiens dans l’art figuratif en France et en Italie de 1453 aux années 1620,” meticulously examines early modern visual and textual sources depicting the Ottomans.8 Le Thiec presents vital evidence of French and European images of the Turks, proposing a complicated and ambivalent history of the construction of the “Turkish peril” and of crusading warfare. In “La France et les français face à la ‘Longue Guerre’ de Hongrie (1591–1606),” Péter Sahin-Tóth offers a crucial case study of French noble volunteers who traveled to Hungary to fight against the Ottomans.9 Sahin-Tóth, working in the mid-1990s, consulted Dupront’s then still-unpublished dissertation at the Bibliothèque de la Sorbonne and then offered a substantial critique of its interpretive framework in his own thesis, which Sahin-Tóth defended in the same year that Dupront’s Le mythe de croisade was finally published in 1997. Sadly, Sahin-Tóth was unable to publish his thesis as a book prior to his tragic death in 2004.10

My analysis of French crusading culture draws on the work of Dupront, Le Thiec, and Sahin-Tóth, and also attempts to set them into dialogue with each other. Robert Sauzet, who co-directed Sahin-Tóth’s dissertation, has since published his own historicized exploration of seventeenth-century crusading warfare by placing it into the context of the growing Catholic Reformation in France in Au Grand Siècle des âmes (2007). Sauzet refers to the “nostalgies de croisade,” or crusading nostalgia, that became popular in early modern French political culture.11 This article approaches the problem of crusading warfare from another angle, questioning whether French crusading culture really developed exclusively within a mythic or nostalgic mode. Le Thiec and Sahin-Tóth’s studies signal the need for further analysis of French nobles’ military service in Hungary and of contemporary writings about crusading experiences.

Contemporary correspondence, memoirs, and other writings conserved at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the Archives Nationales, and various Archives départementales in France furnish evidence of French nobles’ experiences of crusading warfare in Hungary and Southeastern Europe. These sources demonstrate that French nobles were significant historical actors in shaping crusading culture and crafting images of their Ottoman enemies. French- and Italian-language sources from the Archivio di Stato di Firenze contain additional accounts of crusading warfare in Hungary during the Long War of 1593–1606. I analyze French crusading culture by juxtaposing manuscript sources from the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries with contemporary prints and pamphlets that provided French readers with news of distant crusading warfare against the Ottomans.

My interpretation of crusading warfare in Hungary also draws on more recent research in several distinct historical fields whose historiographies often remain isolated from one another. Recent research on early modern Hungary and Transylvania provides an expanded understanding of the broader political and military contexts for crusading warfare in Southeastern Europe.12 New studies of the Habsburg composite state and the Holy Roman Empire permit a deeper understanding of the crusading projects in Hungary.13 A growing historiography on the political and military organization of the early modern Ottoman Empire supplies alternative perspectives on warfare in Hungary.14 French portrayals of Hungary as a crusading space can now be considered in comparison with evidence of Ottoman conceptions of empire and territoriality.15 Finally, a rich and diverse historiography on conflict and coexistence in the early modern Mediterranean allows a more nuanced interpretation of Christian–Muslim warfare.16

I argue that crusading culture played a significant role in the conceptions and practices of religious warfare in the early modern period, as French authors and militant nobles redeployed Hungary as a crucial theater of crusading war. Examining crusading warfare in Hungary reveals new facets of warrior nobles’ military activities in early modern France and abroad, building on recent studies of French noble culture.17 Considering French nobles’ experiences of crusading war permits a reassessment of the position of crusading narratives and images within broader French political culture.18 The article concludes that French readers developed notions of crusading warfare in part through reports of the war in Hungary, contributing to a burgeoning literature on the production, diffusion, and reception of early modern news and information across Europe.19

French Crusading Imagination

Chivalric romances and chansons de geste had long shaped the ideals of French nobles, but changing historical circumstances and printed literary works expanded greatly the models for the perfect chevalier beginning in the fifteenth century.20 The rapid expansion of the Ottoman Empire in southeastern Europe and Sultan Mehmet II’s dramatic conquest of Constantinople in 1453 provided a new focus for French crusading culture. Some illuminations presented the siege through depictions of assaults on the vaunted walls of Constantinople, which had been considered among the most impressive fortifications in the fifteenth-century world. These scenes emphasized swords, polearms, crossbows, bows-and-arrows, and stones as the principal weapons employed in the fighting. Such scenes presented a mirror image of well-established tropes representing Christian crusader victories in the Holy Land—here depicting the Ottomans ascending ladders and overwhelming Christian defenders.21 One of the most iconic illuminated manuscripts instead presented a new form of siege warfare by focusing the Ottoman camps, galleys, siege lines, and bombards—offering French audiences an alternative vision of a novel form of warfare and a new enemy.22 Constantinople now represented a new site for crusading campaigns in the French and broader European imaginaries of holy war.

Visual representations and textual narratives of the siege of Constantinople proliferated in Europe in the decades after Mehmet’s conquest, even if the transition to Ottoman rule was probably less dramatic than these lamentations would lead readers to believe.23 These works established what I have referred to as a “religious drama of the siege,” which influenced European narratives of the conflicts between Christians and Muslims throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.24 Narrative and descriptive elements that appeared in the accounts of the epic siege of Constantinople became replicated in accounts of later attacks on cities such as Negroponte in 1470, which was “one of the first events in Renaissance history to be recorded in print more-or-less immediately after the fact,” according to Margaret Meserve.”25 News pamphlets and siege narratives played an important role in early print media. Andrew Pettegree argues that “these publications, though generally originating in Italy, achieved a remarkable geographic range. The crusading writings of Cardinal Bessarion were among the first books published in France.”26 A growing urban audience for printed news across Europe read accounts of the Ottoman attacks on Otranto and Rhodes in 1480. When the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem defended Rhodes against a besieging Ottomans army in 1522, Italian printers produced numerous pamphlets and maps relating the siege, which were then diffused in France.27 The battles and sieges fought between Christian and Ottoman forces were increasingly reported in short pamphlets, printed in octavo format, as printing presses experimented with inexpensive editions intended for broad readerships and gradually developed news publishing.28

In the aftermath of the Ottoman conquests of Constantinople and Rhodes, the Kingdom of Hungary became one of the principal lines of Christian defense against the Ottoman advance. Artists signified Hungary’s new position as a bulwark against the Ottomans through portrayals of Hungarians fighting against Turkish soldiers.29 Scenes of “Turkish cruelties” established lasting iconographic conventions depicting Ottomans soldiers as barbarous, monstrous infidels.30 Narrative tropes quickly emerged in textual sources to describe the combats between Christians and the Ottomans in Hungary. French nobles developed associations between Christian brotherhood and Christian defense that referred not to the Holy Land, but to battlefields in Southeastern Europe.

New pieces of crusading literature updated legendary chivalric figures for sixteenth-century audiences. A French prose translation of Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando furioso, which had originally been published in 1516, appeared in 1544.31 Herberay des Essarts adapted and translated Amadis de Gaule, a chivalric romance that had originally been published in Spanish in 1533, producing an eight-volume series printed from 1540 to 1548.32 Amadis de Gaule became such a major best-seller that other authors and translators extended the series throughout the second half the sixteenth century and into the early seventeenth century.33 These chivalric romances promoted visions of bellicose deeds, but other genres also contributed to French attitudes toward crusading war.

French crusading literature and artistic works drew on broader European tropes of the “terrible Turk” and the “Turkish peril.”34 French chronicles and histories established a long lineage of crusading warfare by setting the Ottomans into a continuous progression of Muslim “infidel” enemies. Guillaume Aubert’s L’histoire des guerres faictes par les chrestiens contre les turcs... (1559) provided a prehistory of the struggle against the Turks—beginning with the birth of Muhammad, continuing with the rise of the Saracens, and culminating with the Crusades.35 Chronicles and artworks celebrated the crusades of Louis IX, or Saint-Louis. One popular theme was the Byzantine Emperor’s gift of the Crown of Thorns to Saint-Louis and its installation in the Sainte-Chapelle on the île de la Cité in Paris.36 A sixteenth-century treatise on the rise and fall of states referred to the impressive power of the Ottomans: “Among all the things that we admire today, there is nothing so marvelous as the fortune of the Ottomans, with the progress of their greatness.”37

French crusading culture may have been “orientalist” is certain ways, but was much more varied, complicated, and political than Edward Said’s famous theory of Orientalism allows. Said insists that “from the end of the seventh century until the battle of Lepanto in 1571, Islam in either its Arab, Ottoman, or North African and Spanish form dominated or effectively threatened European Christianity. That Islam outstripped and outshone Rome cannot have been absent from the mind of any European past or present.”38 Guy Le Thiec effectively challenges Said’s interpretation by demonstrating the diversity and complexity of European images of the Turks. Although European authors and artists described Ottoman sultans as terrible, feroces, and cruel, they also presented this cruelty as linked to tyranny, suggesting that the Ottoman domination was both rational and ephemeral. Indeed, Le Thiec presents ample evidence that many Europeans envisioned a role in toppling Ottoman tyrannical rule: “the Turkish tyranny, which threatened to expand in Europe and to block the Catholic project of converting infidels, became a power to combat and convert.”39 Prophesies, prognostications, and theatrical performances promoted crusading efforts against the Ottomans, demonizing the Turks and offering assurances that the end of “infidel” rule was near.40

Crusading ideals were not simply confined to literary works, since French nobles were active producers and consumers of crusading culture. Many of the grands, or great nobles, responded to calls to fight the “infidel” by planning personal crusades or elaborate military ventures. French nobles were already accustomed to supporting religio-political causes by engaging their honor as nobles volontaires, or noble volunteers, and offering their military service. French nobles who served as volunteers were often simply referred to in sources as la noblesse, because they did not have stable military offices or charges.41 When French nobles traveled abroad to join crusading forces in Hungary, they often attached themselves to military commanders and their entourages or formed their own cavalry companies.42 Infantry and cavalry companies from France, Lorraine, Flanders, and other Francophone regions periodically joined Imperial armies fighting against the Ottomans.43

Many French nobles viewed crusading as a special obligation of the French king and his nobles. Members of the Valois royal family, and later the Bourbons, actively promoted crusading projects through military orders, artistic works, and printed publications. The Valois dynasty furthered crusading ideals through the activities of the Ordre de Saint-Michel, which had been created in 1469. Henri III created the Ordre du Saint-Esprit, or Order of the Holy Spirit, in 1578.44 According to Nicolas Le Roux, Henri III aimed to forge a common “religious and moral ideal” for Catholic nobles, but the military order simultaneously promoted a recharged Catholic militancy that would prove difficult to control.45 French kings also provided support for the crusading activities of Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, whose members became popularly known as the chevaliers de Malte, or Knights of Malta after their relocation from Rhodes following the 1522 siege.46 The Knights of Malta promoted a crusading spirit in their own ranks, but also encouraged Christian princes to support their efforts and engage their own forces in combat against Muslims.47

The expansion of the Ottoman empire, the growth of news reporting, and the spread of Protestantism all transformed the French notions of crusade significantly during the sixteenth century, as Hungary became fully incorporated into French crusading culture. French crusading activities became more narrowly associated with a specifically Catholic combat against the Ottomans, rather than a common defense by all Christians. As Reformation movements spread into France in the 1520s and 1530s, the growing threat of heresy brought comparisons between the “infidel” Turks with the Huguenot “heretics” within the kingdom. Such associations would flourish in crusading literature once religious warfare erupted in France in the mid-sixteenth century.48

The remainder of this article will focus on discussions of Hungary in French crusading culture at three distinct moments: the battle of Mohács of 1526, the Hungarian campaign of 1566, and the Habsburg–Ottoman War of 1593–1606. An analysis of these Hungarian cases will reveal shifting sixteenth-century French perceptions of Hungary as a crusading battleground, allowing us to re-examine contemporary notions of crusading warfare.

The Battle of Mohács, 1526

Sultan Süleyman I led a major Ottoman field army to invade Hungary in 1526, overwhelming a Hungarian army at Mohács and occupying much of the kingdom. King Louis II of Hungary drowned as he attempted to flee from the battlefield, leading to the collapse of the Jagiellon rule in Hungary. Géza Pálffy argues that “the battle meant more than just the end of the territorial integrity of the realm of St. Stephen. It was a major change in the history of central Europe just as the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 had meant a major change for all of eastern Europe.”49 Shocking news of the disastrous battle circulated throughout Europe through Italian and German pamphlets.50 If French printers produced pamphlets narrating the battle, none seem to have survived—perhaps because the French news publishing was still in its infancy or because of the political crisis in France following the capture of King François I at the battle of Pavia in 1525.51 Nonetheless, the memory of Mohács gradually entered into French narratives of crusading warfare.

Later sources progressively constructed a detailed narrative of the battle of Mohács as illustrating essential facets of a crusading tale. Martin Fumée’s historical account of Mohács, written in 1595, referred to the “piteous history of the loss and ruin of the kingdom of Hungary, and the wars that have occurred in our time between the Christians and the Turks.”52 Accounts of the battle provided tender descriptions of the slain king’s body.53 Fumée’s presentation of the battle of Mohács focused on the cruelty of the Ottoman soldiers, describing graphically the humiliating treatment of the head of one of the Hungarian nobles killed in battle: “The next day, his head having been separated from his body, was carried all around the enemy camp as a symbol of triumph, being stuck on a lance and reportedly planted in front of Süleyman ’s tent.”54 Fumée also described the beheading of Hungarian prisoners after the battle: “The day after the battle, 1500 Hungarians who had been captured, including many of the principal nobles … were all suddenly decapitated, their blood serving as a sacrifice for these infidels.”55 Such gory accounts of Turkish atrocities became integral parts of French crusading texts.

French authors recounting the battle of Mohács explained the fall of Hungary to a weakening valor of the Hungarian nobility in the face of successive Ottoman invasions. René de Lucinge argues that in the past, Hungary had displayed “the valor of its kings and of its peoples [who were] toughened, hardened, and able to endure the rigors of war.”56 He stresses the contrast between the heroic Hungarians of previous centuries and those of the sixteenth century, who had “abandoned this first valor and bastardized the exercise of arms.”57

In the aftermath of Mohács, the Ottomans occupied southern Hungary, but the remainder of the kingdom became divided in a succession dispute among Christian princes. Ferdinand von Habsburg, younger brother of the Emperor Charles V, claimed the throne of Hungary and attracted some of the Hungarian nobility, but János Szapolyai opposed his rule and eventually sought Ottoman support.58 Few pamphlets seem to have been published in France on the confusing struggle in Hungary, perhaps because the ongoing Habsburg–Valois wars made the subject controversial.59 French readers could nonetheless follow news of Ferdinand’s entry into Székesfehérvár and his coronation on 3 November 1527.60 Ferdinand succeeded in establishing Habsburg rule in Hungary, with strong ties to the Holy Roman Empire, but the realm was effectively divided into three regions.61

Despite the ambiguous status of the Kingdom of Hungary in the wake of Mohács, French pamphlets stressed the ongoing fighting against the Ottomans. When Süleyman I’s army encircled Vienna in 1529, letters and pamphlets circulated the news of the epic siege. One French language pamphlet called for a common defense of Christianity:

 

good princes and Christian lords, do not have hearts so hardened toward each other. Form an agreement together and make the Turkish dogs, enemies of our holy faith know that you are defenders of the faith of Jesus Christ. For, if you can demonstrate your power in the face of this mean Turk, all his power cannot resist you.62

 

After a series of massive assaults, the Ottoman army finally abandoned its siege of Vienna and withdrew. Criers reported the news of the Ottoman retreat in the streets of Paris, according to one contemporary journal, which presents the retreat as “a great victory” for “Don Ferdinand, King of Hungary, brother of the Emperor,” but also one delivered by Jesus Christ, who sent a hailstorm to ravage the Ottoman troops at a critical moment. The journal relates that religious processions were held throughout Paris to give thanks to God for the salvation of Vienna and the defeat of the Turks.63

A military frontier gradually formed in Hungary, as Habsburg, Ottoman, and Transylvanian forces constructed border fortresses and fortified cities in the contested borderlands.64 After Ottoman forces took Buda in 1541, Habsburg forces began to construct a new defensive system in Hungary that was composed of border fortresses, captain generalcies, regular garrisons, and irregular troops and financed by the Habsburg monarchy.65 Meanwhile, Ottoman military and administrative officials crafted a new military frontier system of their own in Hungary.66 French pamphlets discussed the ongoing fighting in the militarized borderlands, citing Christian victories in Hungary and Transylvania.67

Representations of the military frontier in Hungary proliferated through printed city views and maps. City views by Sebastian Münster included Buda as the capital of Hungary, while later engravings by Georg Braun and Frans Hogenberg prominently displayed the bastioned fortifications of cities throughout Habsburg territories and around the world.68 Printed maps and city views, including at least one siege view, depicted Hungarian communities and the military border for French audiences by the 1560s.69 One curious anthropomorphic map of Europe as a queen presents Hungary, Poland, and Lithuania as the ventre, or abdomen, of the body of Europe—suggesting its crucial position as a barrier to Ottoman expansion.70

French readers were probably unaware of the brutal realities of early modern raiding and siege warfare in Hungary, aside from stereotyped descriptions of the “cruelties” of the Turks.71 François de La Nouë deplores the “domination” of the Turks, alluding to the Christian lands conquered by the Ottomans, and insists that “against these peoples, one must draw the sword, not to convert them … but to punish them for their cruelty and tyranny.”72 French writers stressed the Austrian defense of Christianity, emphasizing that Hungary remained contested because of the efforts of the Habsburgs. René de Lucinge argues that “After the Turks came, they found the obstacle of the House of Austria, seconded by the forces of Germany, and supported by the power of the Catholic King [of Spain], who never learned to fear the Turk.”73 Lucinge laments “all these heresies” that produce divisions within Christendom, complaining especially about Calvinism’s notorious influence.74

French crusading ideals had to confront the problematic French relationship with the Ottomans, which stemmed from commercial and political negotiations beginning in 1533 and culminating in a Franco–Ottoman alliance against the Habsburgs. François I allied with sultan Süleyman I and invited the fleet of Hayreddin Barbarossa to harbor in the port of Marseille before launching joint military-naval operations to besiege Nice in 1543–44.75 Many French nobles were critical of Franco–Ottoman diplomatic relations, however. François de La Nouë, a prominent Calvinist nobleman, condemned the French alliance with the Ottomans: “if we make a comparison … of the utility of all this Turkish aide with the decrease in the renown of the French among all the nations of Europe, one would have to confess that the shame [of it] has much outweighed the profit.”76

The outbreak of the religious wars in France in 1562 created new complications for French crusading culture. The confessional fighting between Huguenots and Catholics in France reinforced associations between heretics and infidels. The French monarch’s duty as roi très chrétien to suppress heresy in the kingdom was increasingly connected with a global Catholic struggle, which encompassed the French people’s duty to fight against heresy and false belief. One source stressed:

“That as Christians we are obliged, especially since the first duty of a Christian is to maintain his religion and, according to the means that God has given him, not to put up with the practice of another contrary one. That our adversaries are in agreement with us [on this] and demonstrate that they will not put up with any other religion being practiced where they have power, as in Geneva and elsewhere. That as French people, we have a particular obligation, especially since among Christians, we call ourselves Most Christian.”77

The confessional struggle against heresy within France thus reinforced French notions of a Christian duty to uphold God’s honor and to battle against false religion. French crusading culture already presented Hungary as a sacred battleground in the war against the infidel, but French nobles and authors increasingly envisioned distant fighting against the Ottomans as closely linked to the bloody fighting against heretics within France.

The Hungarian Campaign in 1566

Pierre de Bourdeille, seigneur de Brantôme, noted that 1566 was “destined to make the French travel” as French nobles and soldiers set off to Malta, Madiera, Hungary, and other destinations to fight against the Ottomans.78 The same year, René Benoist published a pamphlet, Exhortation Chrestienne aux fideles et eslevz de Dieu, de batailler par tous moyens possiblees pour le grand Seigneur contre l’Antechrist, encouraging French nobles to engage in the great crusade against the “idolaters and infidels.”79 Sultan Süleyman I led another Ottoman field army into Hungary in the summer of 1566, prompting a large imperial mobilization and attracting many noble volunteers, including Henri de Lorraine, duc de Guise.80

Printed pamphlets circulated war news from Hungary for a public of French urban readers and listeners. Jean de Malmidy’s Discours veritable de la grand guerre, qui est au païs de Hongrie…, had provided a narrative of the previous campaign between Imperialists and Transylvanians in Hungary in 1565. The author dedicates this pamphlet to Antoine de Croy, prince de Porcian, and claims to provide an eyewitness account of the fighting.81 The focus of such pamphlets and other publications suggest tensions within crusading culture as printers increasingly specialized. There seems to have been a certain degree of competition between printers reporting on the theaters of war in Hungary and in the Mediterranean, as suggested by simultaneous reports on the fighting in Hungary and on the epic siege of Malta in 1565. After the successful Christian defense of Malta, Brantôme celebrated Jean de La Valette-Parisot, Grand Master of Malta, as one of the great captains of France, indicating that French people “are very happy and honored to have had in our nation such a great captain, who spilled the blood of the infidels and enemies of God and of our law and avenged that of Christians that was wickedly poured out by them over many years.”82 Accounts of the siege of Malta may have temporarily drawn some attention away from the Hungarian war theater, but they also stressed a common notion of Christian defense. The Ottoman invasion of Hungary in 1566 brought French readers’ focus back to Hungary as the bulwark against Turkish domination.

Süleyman’s field army advanced and besieged the fortified town of Szigetvár, which became the focal point of the fighting in Hungary in 1566.83 A pamphlet entitled, Advis de Vienne en Austriche, et de Hongrie…, presented an account of the fighting in Hungary, allegedly related by an eyewitness. The pamphlet author claims that “one of my friends has written me, that as for Hungary, that the Imperial army there is growing day by day, and that it will soon consist of 90,000 infantry, not counting the cavalry.” The pamphlet develops as a series of reports from the Imperial army in Hungary, which included troops sent by the Duke of Savoy, Duke of Ferrara, Granduke of Tuscany, and other allies of the Emperor, as well as the duc de Guise.84

French accounts of the 1566 campaign in Hungary presented the duc de Guise as a heroic crusader. A contemporary pamphlet recounted the duc de Guise’s travels to Vienna and his preparations to join the imperial army, concluding: “my lord and his troop are almost all mounted and armed, hoping to depart for the encampment in five or six days.”85 Brantôme later recorded that “this young valorous prince thus went [to the Hungarian front], well accompanied by many nobles … who could well have numbered a hundred, all valorous.”86 Curiously, some later pro-crusading texts minimized Guise’s participation in the 1566 campaign. For example, Martin Fumée’s late sixteenth-century history of the wars in Hungary merely recorded the French contingent alongside other “nations” that joined the Imperial army.87 Perhaps this source’s reticence to celebrate Guise’s warrior experience stemmed from its publication during the Catholic League wars of the 1590s, which were fueled by deep divisions between Catholic extremists, Catholic moderates, and Huguenots.88

At the time of the 1566 campaign, the duc de Guise’s voyage to the battlefields of Hungary allowed him to establish his crusading credentials and gain vital military experience. Agrippa d’Aubigné mentions the French contingent that joined the imperial army, noting several nobles in the duc de Guise’s entourage, including Philippe Strozzi, Guy de Saint-Gelais de Lansac, and Timoléon de Cossé-Brissac.89 Brantôme later described the French nobles who “went to Hungary with this valiant prince the duc de Guise, who was not yet 18 years old, who—following the example of his ancestors in holy war—wanted to confront the infidel army of the great sultan Süleyman, who was there himself in person.”90 Sahin-Tóth presents the duc de Guise’s participation in crusading war as linked with a specifically Lorraine crusading culture.91 However, the duc de Guise also seems to have helped popularize Hungary as one of the war zones—along with Malta and the Netherlands—associated with military education for young French noblemen. Hungary thus became an appropriate stop on a grand tour for French nobles seeking military adventure and a proper education.92

The Ottomans seemed poised to advance on Vienna after Szigetvár capitulated in early September 1566, but Ottoman forces abruptly abandoned their campaign and withdrew. Süleyman the Lawgiver had actually died at the encampment at Szigetvár, but his senior officers apparently managed to keep his death a secret for several months. Ottoman withdrawal signaled an early end of the campaigning season, which seems to have frustrated many French nobles who were preparing to travel to Hungary to join the fight against the Turks. Brantôme recalled that “I wanted to go off to the war in Hungary; but, in Venice, we heard of the death of the great Sultan Süleyman.”93 Many French nobles were apparently disappointed by the abrupt end of the crusading war in Hungary.

Nonetheless, French reading audiences had become increasingly interested in Eastern Europe following the 1566 campaign. French interest in the Hungarian theater of war is shown by the production of maps of Eastern Europe and the Ottoman Empire, as well as maps specifically on Hungary, such as Gérard de Jode’s Hungariae typus (1567).94 Despite the sustained transnational interest in the ongoing struggle against the Ottomans, news from the Mediterranean threatened to eclipse the Hungarian military frontier.

The great Christian victory at Lepanto in 1571 immediately became a monumental event in crusading culture, celebrated in pamphlets, books, poems, and paintings.95 Because King Charles IX did not officially join the great Holy League against the Ottomans in 1571, studies of Lepanto have often overlooked the significance of the battle for French crusading culture.96 However, many French nobles participated directly in the battle of Lepanto, serving in the Maltese galleys or fighting as volunteers in the Christian fleet. Couriers brought the first news of the victory, which apparently prompted spontaneous celebrations in many French cities. According to one pamphlet, “even in this city of Lyon you will have heard the great bells that give full and certain testimony (with the hymns and canticles that were sung to the God of armies in great devotion and joy) for such a victory.”97 News of the battle of Lepanto circulated widely in France through letters, celebrations, poems, pamphlets, and other publications.98 One pamphlet emphasized Christian unity in crusading combat against the Ottomans: “God wishes to crown entirely the Christians’ victory to punish the insolence and tyranny of the Barbarians.”99

The election of Henri de Valois, duc d’Anjou, as King of Poland in 1573 heightened French audience’s engagement with Eastern Europe in general.100 Henri’s reign as king of Poland was short, since Charles IX’s death in 1574 made him heir to the French throne and brought his return to France. Nonetheless, the French fascination with Polish culture remained, most famously evoked by Henri III’s extravagant fashion and earrings.101 Such styles supported the development of broader stereotypes about Hungarians and other Eastern European peoples in literary and non-literary texts.102 Brantôme told a curious tale of a Spanish officer who had fought in Hungary and who was “exhausted for arms.” The officer regretted having gone to Hungary, “having found in this country no courtesy, the people there being barbarous and rude.”103

French crusading projects became increasingly elaborate toward the end of the sixteenth century. The Calvinist noble François de La Nouë boasted that “if the Christian princes were firmly united, they could chase the Turks from Europe in four years.”104 Alphonse Dupront regards La Nouë as a “solitary crusader,” emphasizing his isolation and inability to realize such a sweeping vision of unified crusade. Dupront further suggests that the “crusading myth” was becoming secular during La Nouë’s lifetime, yet many other French nobles were also engaged in formulating crusading projects.105 Louis de Gonzague, duc de Nevers, developed various planning documents for crusading campaigns in the Mediterranean and Hungary.106 Despite this continued interest in grandiose crusading, warfare in Hungary gradually evolved into a protracted form of seasonal raids along the military frontiers in the 1580s.107 French nobles would have to wait almost a decade for another opportunity to develop their crusading projects in Hungary.

The Habsburg–Ottoman War, 1593–1606

Soon after a new Habsburg–Ottoman war broke out in Hungary in 1593, Nicolas Brulart de Sillery wrote that “I am horrified to hear what is written and published in various places” about the Catholic Leaguers, who refused to accept Henri de Bourbon’s conversion to Catholicism and who were vigorously opposing his accession to the French throne as Henri IV. Brulart believed that the Leaguers were ignoring “the danger of the Turk,” warning of the threat posed by Ottoman armies in Hungary. Brulart argued that: “it seems that God is inviting Christians to reunite and join together though the great success that He has given to the forces of the Emperor in Hungary.”108 Brulart went on to relate the latest news from the theater of war in Hungary and Transylvania, optimistically hoping that Pope would support the Holy Roman Emperor and launch a “ general and offensive war” in Hungary.109

Many French people indeed hoped for peace in France after years of brutal religious conflict within the kingdom, yet Nicolas Brulart de Sillery was not the only French observer to draw connections to Hungary. Guillaume Ancel, French ambassador at Prague, emphasized “the necessity for a peace in France, which cannot happen without the reception of the king.”110 The urgent need for peace within France, for this writer, was clearly coupled to the common Ottoman threat against all Christians: “nothing is more certain than that the continuation of our wars will serve to aid the progress of the enemies of Christianity to penetrate into the entrails of Germany.”111 Despite such hopes for peace, the religious wars would continue to rage in France, but French nobles increasingly became involved in crusading warfare in Croatia and Hungary in the 1590s.

The Habsburg–Ottoman War (1593–1606), also known as the Long Turkish War, produced sustained raiding and siege warfare, attracting crusading contingents from France and elsewhere. Géza Pálffy argues that “the Long Turkish War … was the first modern war in Hungarian history,” characterized by foreign troops, confessional conflict, and civil warfare.112 Péter Sahin-Tóth demonstrates that numerous French and Francophone nobles participated in crusading warfare in Hungary during the Long War. His detailed research in French and Austrian archives reveals a variety of motivations that led French, Wallon, and Loraine nobles to engage in crusading warfare alongside Imperial forces that were fighting against the Ottomans.113

By the time the Long Turkish War broke out, French news publishing had developed significantly, with a number of presses specializing in producing pamphlets relating war news. A number of French-language pamphlets narrated military campaigns, battles, and sieges in Hungary throughout the war. The tributary states of Transylvania, Moldavia, and Wallachia rebelled against Ottoman indirect rule in 1594, joining the crusading cause. French readers could follow the 1595 campaign through Jean de Malmidy’s Discours veritable de la grand’ guerre, qui est au païs de Hongrie, which described the Imperial forces’ capture of Esztergom.114 French authors were writing now histories, chronicles, and other works specifically focused on the wars in Hungary.

Martin Fumée’s Histoire generalle des troubles de Hongrie et Transilvanie (first published in 1595) provided a geographic description of Hungary in addition to a narrative history of the sixteenth-century wars in Hungary. Fumée pointedly dedicates his history “to you (the French people) and to no other.” After describing the brutality of warfare in Hungary, Fumée invites French readers to reflect upon the destructiveness of war. “When you see the ruins and great desolations of a beautiful and rich country, you see your own at present reduce to an identical state.”115 Fumée draws direct comparisons between the miseries of Hungary and France, which were both suffering from divine punishment. He concludes: “it seems that we are in a worse condition than Hungary is in.”116 Hungary then served as a reminder to French people of the shared miseries of religious disunity, political chaos, and civil warfare that continued to plague both kingdoms.

A series of French language pamphlets and narratives related the ongoing fighting in Hungary in the late 1590s. Another imperial army took Eger in 1596, but attrition led to less intense fighting in 1597.117 An account of the ongoing war in Hungary related the sieges of Győr/Raab, Tata/Tottis, and Temesvár (Timişoara, Romania), as well as the broader military campaigns and skirmishes.118 When Imperial armies launched a major new offensive to retake Buda, a number of French pamphlets reported on the action.119 A pamphlet entitled, L’admirable et heureuse prinse de la ville de Bude en Hongrie par l’armee Imperialle, sur les Turcs, offered a series of reports from the war zone in Hungary in the form of several short letters from an anonymous correspondent who was accompanying the Imperial army.120 The siege of Raab provided the subject for another pamphlet published the same year. The author of this pamphlet highlights military technology at the siege, focusing on the use of a pétard, an explosive device often used against city gates.121 The imperial siege of Buda in 1598 again failed to retake the city, however.

As informal French involvement in crusading war increased, so did tensions with the Ottoman Empire—especially concerning the status of French subjects under Ottoman rule. During the 1598 campaign, the French ambassador in Istanbul reported that Sultan Mehmet III was attempting to prevent forced conversions of French subjects within his empire.122 When Christian troops destroyed an Ottoman force near Buda in 1599, a French source celebrated: “God always gives an excellent victory to small forces of Christians facing a great multitude of Turks.”123

After the promulgation of the Edict of Nantes in May 1598, many determined Catholic Leaguers departed from the kingdom in disgust rather than accept Henri IV as a legitimate Catholic ruler.124 Some of these ex-Leaguers, or dévots, headed off to Hungary to serve in the crusading army organized by the Habsburgs against the Ottomans.125 Several members of the Guise family joined armies fighting against the Ottomans in Hungary in the early seventeenth century. Philippe-Emmanuel de Lorraine, duc de Mercœur, aimed to fight against the Ottomans and “to spill the last drop of my blood for the maintenance and protection of our religion against this great other sect of infidels that they say are in great number in Hungary.”126

The duc de Mercœur indeed went on crusade in 1600–1601, serving as lieutenant general for the Holy Roman Emperor in Hungary. A number of contemporary French sources portrayed the duc de Mercœur as an ideal crusader.127 Brantôme records that Mercœur “having acquired lots of money during his wars, employed them in the war in Hungary, where he went in person with his beautiful troops, [and] where he fought so well that he was the envy of the Germans, for he surpassed them all in the art of war.”128 An account of the war in Hungary stresses the duc de Mercœur’s courageous response to the Ottoman Grand Vezir: “That he will not hesitate at all to attack the largest number of infidels with less Christians, even if they have sly minds, being confident in God’s aid.”129 Péter Sahin-Tóth constructs a detailed analysis of the duc de Mercœur’s military leadership and crusading activities in Hungary.130

The Ottomans launched a major offensive in Hungary in the summer of 1600, targeting the fortified city of Nagykanizsa (referred to as Canisa by many contemporaries). In September 1600, an Ottoman army besieged Nagykanizsa, which the Ottoman Grand Vezir described in a letter: “we are going to besiege Canisa, the key to the Christian lands, and the principal gate of this unhappy country of Hungary.”131 The duc de Mercœur led a force to relieve the siege, but the Imperial garrison at Nagykanizsa capitulated in October.132 Several Ottoman writers, including Katib Çelebi, wrote celebratory accounts of the Ottoman siege of Nagykanizsa, incorporating fictional and historical elements.133

A major imperial army assembled under the command of Habsburg Archduke Ferdinand in 1601, aiming to retake Nagykanizsa. The imperial army was a multi-ethnic crusading force composed of Austrian, German, Swiss, Hungarian, Savoyard, Tuscan contingents, accompanied by noble volunteers from France and other territories. The army advanced into Hungary and besieged Nagykanizsa in September 1601.

The writings of a French noble who participated in the Nagykanizsa campaign (presumably Marin Malleville) offer valuable insights on the crusading experience in Hungary.134 Malleville accompanied the Tuscan military contingent to Hungary, having been “commanded by the Grand Duke, my master, to head to Nagykanizsa to join lord Don Giovanni his brother.”135 Malleville could thus offer a close narrative of the campaign in Hungary based on his service with the Tuscan troops and the multi-ethnic crusading army. Soon after the siege trenches opened, Marin Malleville wrote to a Tuscan secretary to describe the siege of Nagykanizsa. Malleville claims that he had suggested a surprise attack on Nagykanizsa and that Don Giovanni de’ Medici had proposed this plan to Archduke Ferdinand.136 Nagykanizsa was not surprised, however, and a formal siege soon developed. Simultaneously, another imperial force was besieging the Hungarian city of Székesfehérvár, which was held by a small Ottoman garrison. Székesfehérvár was taken in only ten days, but the trench fighting around Nagykanizsa wore on for three months. Malleville describes the heavy losses in the ranks of the imperial army and expresses his “pain” after hearing that two fellow officers had been captured and “they were enslaved.”137 The Imperial army eventually abandoned the siege in November 1601.

Soon afterward, Malleville wrote to Henri I de Montmorency, duc de Montmorency, to report the news of the siege of Nagykanizsa. Malleville provides a detailed and complex narrative, which begins by recounting that prior to his departure for Hungary he sent two falcons to Guitard de Ratte, bishop of Montpellier, to keep for the duc de Montmorency. Malleville expresses his surprise that he has not still received confirmation of the falcons’ arrival after his return to France following the campaign. 138

Marin Malleville’s account of the Nagykanizsa campaign is full of recriminations. “I could tell the story of the siege of Nagykanizsa,” Malleville wrote, “but we received so little honor there that I do not dare open my mouth to speak to Your Highness.”139 Malleville compares the geography of Hungary and the character of the fighting to the religious wars he had already experienced in France.140 Malleville offers a description of the fortifications of Nagykanizsa, specifying that “the fortress is composed of five bastions.”141 The siege was finally abandoned—a military failure that Malleville blamed on the German soldiers and the Imperial commanders.142

Malleville criticizes the abandonment of the siege and the withdrawal of the crusading army. He describes the “poor order and disorder” among the Imperial and allied troops toward the end of the siege, which resulted in “the loss of four pieces of artillery, which were abandoned.”143 Malleville records a poem or song that he had heard among the Italian troops, which mocked the German officers in the army:

 

Questa la crude anzi fera Canisa

Che fu lassata impreda in man di cani

Con vituperio infama di Hongueri Corbati est Allemani

E sol l’Italia ce remasta occisa.144

Not content merely to report this satirical verse, Malleville comments himself on the Imperial leaders, who allegedly followed the advice of the Archduke’s Jesuit confessor rather than military officers.145 Malleville was not the only contemporary to assess the Nagykanizsa campaign, but his privileged perspective as a military observer offers a fascinating glimpse of the tensions in the crusading army.

There were other reasons for the failure of the crusading campaign to retake Nagykanizsa, however. The famous case of a group of Francophone soldiers at Papa who mutinied against their commanders and became renegades in May 1600 suggests the strains of crusading war during this period.146 A Catholic noble named de Potrincourt, who had led an infantry regiment for the Catholic League, provides another example of the conflicting loyalties in the Hungarian wars. Potrincourt had raised a new regiment to serve in Hungary during the 1600–1601 campaigns, but allegedly became a renegade serving in Ottoman forces. Brantôme claims that “he revolted and became a renegade … taking with him many brave men of his.”147 Potrincourt apparently remained a renegade, and “he died serving as the pasha of Damascus with a strong reputation and greatly appreciated by his master.”148

The demobilization of the imperial army following the failed Nagykanizsa campaign discouraged some of crusading nobles. Marin Malleville returned to France and Giovanni de’ Medici decided to seek other opportunities for military command at various princely courts. Charles de Gonzague, duc de Nevers, nonetheless led a new group of French nobles on crusade in Hungary in 1602.149 These French nobles joined the Imperial army in the summer of 1602 for another attempt to retake Buda, which also failed.150 Blaise de Montluc-Montesquieu, seigneur de Pompignan, died of disease while serving in the entourage of the duc de Nevers.151 In the aftermath of the 1602 campaign, many more crusading nobles departed.

During the latter stages of the Long War, Hungary descended into an even more chaotic civil war. Lutheran towns resisted Catholic bishops’ efforts at recatholization in Hungary, especially after Habsburg troops occupied a Lutheran church in Kassa (Košice, Slovakia) in January 1604.152 Later in the year, a Calvinist Hungarian noble named István Bocskai led a major uprising against Habsburg rule, but failed to gain widespread support of the Lutheran Hungarians. According to Géza Pálffy, Bocskai instead “became the carefully manipulated vassal of the Ottomans, a ‘Turkish king of Hungary.’”153 Negotiations finally led to an Ottoman–Habsburg peace in 1606, which granted Bocskai the title of Prince of Transylvania, although he died later that year. The Transylvanian diet promptly elected another Calvinist noble, Zsigmond Rákóczi, as its new prince in early 1607.154

Many of the crusading nobles who had fought in the Long Turkish War seem to have been disillusioned by the experience. French Catholics were presumably shocked by the news of a peace sanctioning of a Calvinist prince of Transylvania, but most of them were probably back in France by the time the peace was signed. Indeed, many foreign nobles and soldiers had departed well before the end of the war. Don Giovanni de’ Medici, who had commanded Tuscan troops in Hungary in 1601–1602, traveled to Flanders and then to France, where he offered his services to King Henri IV.155 During his travels, Don Giovanni expressed his continued interest in the war in Hungary by thanking a Florentine official for a delivery of avvisi, manuscript news circulars: “the avvisi that you have send me and that your continually send, are always appreciated.” Don Giovanni noted, however, that “the avvisi from Germany and Hungary arrive here [in Sedan] much earlier by other means.”156 These news connections are perhaps an indication of the close personal and news networks that had been forged among the nobles who had waged crusading warfare in Hungary during the Long War.

Conclusion

By the early seventeenth century, Hungary had become a vital space of crusading experience, which held intimate meaning for many French nobles. Genealogies composed for French nobles in the first decades of the seventeenth century often celebrated family members’ military service in Hungary. A manuscript livre de raison of the seigneur de Châtillon recorded that one of his family members “had been killed in Hungary in 1605 toward the end of December.157 Other nobles carefully conserved their letters and commissions related to their crusading experiences to use as proofs for their induction into the Order of the Holy Spirit.158 These sources show that lived experiences of crusading in Hungary were deeply meaningful to many French nobles and their families. This article has approached such sources and the wider problem of crusading warfare from a new angle, revealing shifting understandings of French military service on Hungarian battlegrounds. French writings about the battle of Mohács, the 1566 campaign, and the Habsburg-Ottoman War demonstrate that French crusading culture did not operate exclusively through mythic and nostalgic modes of expression, but instead encompassed diverse narratives and associations.

Hungary had become an important case in French political theories and treatises, offering an important lesson on monarchy. Jean Bodin portrays Hungary as suffering under Ottoman domination even before the disaster at Mohács, stressing the pernicious effect of tributary payments and internal violence.159 Martin Fumée emphasized that “this kingdom of Hungary, once rich and powerful, [has] at present fallen into such poverty that it is truly desolated”—warning that France was threatened with the same fate if it did not re-establish religious unity and good government.160 French nobles and political writers continued to dream of Christian unity through crusading. The duc de Nevers wrote: “I beg you to consider that the growth of the Muslim empire came about only because of the divisions among the Christian princes, who fight among themselves, while the Great Turk usurped Christian cities and provinces.”161 Crusading was thus usually contemplated in conjunction with commentaries on the religious divisions within Christianity.

By the early seventeenth century, the enslavement of Hungarians became increasingly important in crusading culture. Guyon considered the treatment of slaves by Christians, Muslims, and Jews, claiming that none of them actually freed slaves who converted to the dominant religion. Muslims did not free Christian slaves, he claims, “which is the reason that the Hungarians, Transylvanians, Polish, Bohemians, Germans, Italians, Danish, and other people no longer free their slaves when they convert.” He contrasts France with these other realms, emphasizing that: “France holds this privilege that any slave who sets foot there is emancipated, as shown by an ancient arrêt of the court of [the parlement de Paris] which found against an ambassador.”162 French authors now contemplated Hungary and Southeastern Europe in the context of commentaries on Mediterranean slavery and the problem of “redemption.”163 Perhaps such discussions reflected a growing interest in empire, as the French colony of Québec was founded in 1608 and New France soon began to provide outlets for crusading conquests and missionary activities.164

Crusading culture continued to be influential in early seventeenth century France. Jean Héroard, royal physician for the dauphin Louis [the future Louis XIII], recorded that Louis boasted that “one day, I will lead a great army into Hungary against the Turk.”165 Religious leaders who were affiliated with the royal family, such as Père Joseph, actively preached on the virtues of crusading.166 As an adult, Louis XIII would continue to promote crusading culture through the Order of the Holy Spirit.167 French nobles in the Knights of Malta proposed elaborate crusading projects to Louis XIII in the 1610s, while other French nobles engaged in their own personal crusades.168 A new French translation of Torquato Tasso’s great crusading tale, Jerusalem Delivered, was published in 1610 with a dedication to the duchesse de Guise, who presumably sponsored the translation.169 Charles de Gonzague, duc de Nevers, developed detailed plans to create a Milice chrétienne and launch a new Catholic crusade to the Holy Land, with support from Maria de’ Medici.170

Nonetheless, French writers often expressed regret that the religious strife and civil warfare within France prevented France from committing more fully to crusading against Muslims. French perceptions of crusading were thus shaped by the ongoing religious conflict within France, since the Edict of Nantes had failed to resolve the religious tensions between the Catholics and the Huguenots in France. New localized conflicts broke out in the confessionally mixed regions of southern France during the 1600s and 1610s. Jacques-Auguste de Thou lamented: “How many years lost in civil wars? If [the Christian princes] had instead employed them against the common enemy of Christianity, [the Turks] would have easily been chased out of Hungary and Africa: which would have added to their glory and their worth.”171 The continuing religious conflicts in France escalated in the 1620s, allowing Louis XIII and many Catholic nobles to enact their crusading desires against Huguenot “rebels” in southern France.172

Hungary remained a crucial theater of crusading warfare, but depictions of the war torn kingdom seem to have been changing by the 1620s. Deepening Franco-Spanish rivalries and the Thirty Years War (1618–48) may have led to Hungary’s displacement in French crusading culture and imaginaries of warfare.173 An altered vision of Hungary would later reemerge in a French political culture during Louis XIV’s reign, but by this time perhaps crusading warfare had truly been replaced by crusading nostalgia.

 

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1 Research for this article was made possible by the generous funding of Institut d’Études Avancées de Paris, Northern Illinois University, and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and with the support of the Medici Archive Project. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities. All translations are the author’s unless otherwise noted.

2 Louis de Gonzague, duc de Nevers, “Traité des cauvses et des raisons de la prise des armes faite en janvier 1589. Et des moyens povr appaiser nos presentes Afflictions,” in Les Mémoires de Monsievr le duc de Nevers, prince de Mantouë, pair de France gouvernevr et lievtenant general pouvr les rois Charles IX. Henry III. et Henry IV. en diverses provinces de ce royavme. Enrichis de plvsievrs pieces dv temps (Paris: Thomas Jolly, 1665), 2, 5.

3 Alphonse Dupront, Du sacré: croisades et pèlerinages, images et langages (Paris: Gallimard, 1987).

4 Alphonse Dupront, Le mythe de croisade (Paris: Éditions Gallimard, 1997).

5 Ibid., 16.

6 Ibid., 17–18.

7 Martin Wrede, “Monarchie héroïque? Héritage chevaleresque et vocation militaire de la fonction royale en Europe, XVIe–XIXe siècles,” Histoire, économie et société 34 (2015): 86–103; Claude Michaud, Entre croisades et révolutions (Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, 2010); Géraud Poumarède, Pour en finir avec la Croisade. Mythes et réalités de la lutte contre les Turcs aux XVIe et XVIIe siècles (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2004); Denis Crouzet, “L’étrange génie du mythe de croisade,” Le Débat 99 (1998): 85–93.

8 Guy Le Thiec, “‘Et il n’y aura qu’un seul troupeau…’ L’imaginaire de la confrontation entre Turcs et Chrétiens dans l’art figuratif en France et en Italie de 1453 aux années 1620,” thèse de doctorat sous la direction d’Arlette Jouanna, 4 vols. (Montpellier: Université Paul Valéry-Montpellier III, 1994), 443–47.

9 Péter Sahin-Tóth, “La France et les Français face à la ‘longue guerre’ de Hongrie (1591–1606),” thèse de doctorat sous la direction de Éva H. Balázs et Robert Sauzet (Tours: Université de Tours, 1997).

10 Robert Sauzet, “In Memorium: Péter Sahin-Tóth (1965–2004),” Journal de la Renaissance 3 (2005): 9–12.

11 Robert Sauzet, Au Grand Siècle des âmes. Guerre sainte et paix chrétienne en France au XVIIe siècle (Paris: Perrin, 2007), 13–27, 45–80.

12 Géza Pálffy, The Kingdom of Hungary and the Habsburg Monarchy in the Sixteenth Century, trans. Thomas J. and Helen D. DeKornfled (Boulder, CO: Social Science Monographs, 2009); László Veszprémy and Béla K. Király, eds., A Millennium of Hungarian Military History, trans. Eleonóra Arató (Boulder, CO: Social Science Monographs, 2002).

13 Most recently, see: Robert John Weston Evans and Peter H. Wilson, The Holy Roman Empire, 1495–1806: A European Perspective (Leiden: Brill, 2012); Paula S. Fichtner, Terror and Toleration: The Habsburg Empire Confronts Islam, 1526–1850 (London: Reaktion Books, 2008).

14 See for example: Gábor Ágoston, “Firearms and Military Adaptation: The Ottomans and the European Military Revolution, 1450–1800,” Journal of World History 25, no. 3 (2014): 85–124; Virginia H. Aksan and Daniel Goffman, eds., The Early Modern Ottomans: Remapping the Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

15 Marie Madeleine de Cevins, “Noblesse, Aristocratie et défense de la foi en Hongrie du début du XVIe siècle au milieu du XVIe siècle,” in Le Salut par les armes. Noblesse et défense de l’orthodoxie, XIIIe–XVIIe siècle, ed. Ariane Boltanski and Franck Mercier (Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2011), 209–21; Palmira Brummett, “Imagining the Early Modern Ottoman Space, from World History to Piri Reis,” in The Early Modern Ottomans: Remapping the Empire, ed. Virginia H. Aksan and Daniel Goffman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 15–58.

16 From the growing literature, see: E. Natalie Rothman, Brokering Empire Trans-Imperial Subjects between Venice and Istanbul (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2012); Gillian Weiss, Captives and Corsairs: France and Slavery in the Early Modern Mediterranean (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011); Christine Isom-Verhaaren, Allies with the Infidel: The Ottoman and French Alliance in the Sixteenth Century (London: I.B. Tauris, 2011).

17 Brian Sandberg, Warrior Pursuits: Noble Culture and Civil Conflict in Early Modern France (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010); Stuart Carroll, Blood and Violence in Early Modern France (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006); Pascal Brioist, Hervé Drévillon, and Pierre Serna, Croisser le fer. Violence et culture de l’épée dans la France moderne (XVIe–XVIIIe siècle) (Seyssel: Champ Vallon, 2002); Nicholas Le Roux, La faveur du roi. Mignons et courtisans au temps des derniers Valois (vers 1547 – vers 1589) (Seyssel: Champ Vallon, 2000).

18 Hélène Duccini, Faire voir, faire croire. L’opinion pulbique sous Louis XIII (Seyssel: Champ Vallon, 2003), Luc Racaut, Hatred in Print: Catholic Propaganda and Protestant Identity During the French Wars of Religion (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002); Jeffrey K. Sawyer, Printed Poison: Pamphlet Propaganda, Faction Politics, and the Public Sphere in Early Seventeenth-Century France (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990).

19 Andrew Pettegree, The Invention of News: How the World Came to Know About Itself (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014); Brendan Dooley, ed., The Dissemination of News and the Emergence of Contemporaneity in Early Modern Europe (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2010); Brendan Maurice Dooley and Sabrina A. Baron, eds., The Politics of Information in Early Modern Europe (London: Routledge, 2001).

20 Richard W. Kaeuper, Chivalry and Violence in Medieval Europe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).

21 Maître du Froissart de Philippe de Commynes, Siège de Constantinople, illumination for “Chronique du règne de Charles VII,” Bibliothèque Nationale de France [hereafter BNF], Manuscrits français [hereafter Mss. fr.] 2691, f. 264v.

22 Jean Le Tavernier, Siège de Constantinople (1453), illumination in Bertrandon de la Broquière, “Voyage d’Outremer,” copied by Jean Miélot, c. 1458, BNF, Mss. fr. 9087, f˚ 207v.

23 Barthélémy de Salignac, Itinerarii Terre sancte inibique sacrorum locorum ac rerum clarissima descriptio omnibus Sacre Scripture tractatoribus utilissima, peramena auditoribus, per Bartholomeum a Saligniaco (Lyon: Gilbert de Villiers, 1525); Ian R. Manners, “Constructing the Image of a City: The Representation of Constantinopole in Christopher Buondelmonti’s Liber Insularum Archipelagi,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 87, no. 3 (1997): 72–102.

24 Brian Sandberg, “‘To Have the Pleasure of This Siege’: Envisioning Siege Warfare during the European Wars of Religion,” in Beholding Violence in Medieval and Early Modern Culture, ed. Erin Felicia Labbie and Allie Terry-Fritch (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2012), 143–62, here 149.

25 Margaret Meserve, “News from Negroponte: Politics, Popular Opinion, and Information Exchange in the First Decade of the Italian Press,” Renaissance Quarterly 59 (Summer 2006): 443. On the formation of the public memory of the Siege of Belgrade (1456) and the Battle of Krbva (1493) see two studies in the present issue.

26 Pettegree, The Invention of News, 62.

27 Il Lacrimoso Lamento che fa il gran maestro di Rodi (1523); La presa de Rhodi novamente stampata (1523); Jacques de Bourbon, La grande et merveilleuse et très cruelle Oppugnation de la noble cité de Rhodes, prinse naguières par Sultan Seliman, à présent grand Turcq, ennemy de la très saincte foy catholique, rédigée par escript par... frère Jacques bastard de Bourbon (Paris: Gilles de Gourmont, 1525); Le voyage de la saincte cite de Hierusalem auec la descriptiõ des lieux portz, villes, citez, et aultres passaiges fait lã mil.iiii.c.iiii.xx. estãt le siege du grãt turc a Rodes et regnnat en Frãce Loys unziesme de ce nõ imprime nouuellement a Paris (Paris, 1530). For analyses of the diffusion of images and news accounts of the siege of Rhodes, see: Guy Le Thiec, “‘Et il n’y aura qu’un seul troupeau,’” 443–47.

28 Pettegree, The Invention of News, 58–60.

29 Maître du Froissart de Philippe de Commynes, Bataille entre Hongrois et Turcs (1453), illumination in Jean Chartier, “Chronique du règne de Charles VII,” BNF, Mss. fr. 2691, f. 273.

30 Le Thiec, “‘Et il n’y aura qu’un seul troupeau’”; Keith P. F. Moxey, Peasants, Warriors, and Wives: Popular Imagery in the Reformation (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1989).

31 Roland Furieux. Composé premierement en ryme Thuscane par messire Loys Arioste, noble Ferraroys, et maintenant traduict en prose Françoyse: partie suyvant la phrase de l’Autheur, partie aussi le stile de ceste nostre langue (1544).

32 Herberay des Essarts, Le premier livre de Amadis de Gaule, qui traicte de maintes adventures d’Armes et d’Amours, qu’eurent plusieurs Chevaliers et Dames, tant du royaulme de la grand Bretaigne, que d’aultres pays (1540–1548).

33 Mireille Huchon, “Traduction, translation, exaltation et transmutation dans les Amadis,” Camenae 3, no. 11 (2007): 1–10; Les Amadis en France au XVIe siècle (Paris: Presses de l’École normale supérieure, 2000).

34 Guy le Thiec, “‘Et il n’y aura qu’un seul troupeau.’”

35 Guillaume Aubert, L’histoire des guerres faictes par les chrestiens contre les turcs, sous la conduicte de Godefroy de Buillon, Duc de Lorraine, pour le recouvrement de la terre saincte (Paris: Vincent Sertenas, 1559).

36 Maître du Cardinal de Bourbon, L’empereur de Constantinople donne à Saint Louis la couronne d’épines, qui est deposée a la Sainte-Chapelle avec un fragment de croix, le fer de lance et l’éponge de la Passion, illumination in “Vie et miracles de monseigneur Saint Louis,” c. 1482, BNF, Mss. fr. 2829, f. 17.

37 “Parmy toutes les choses qu’on admire auiourd’huy, il n’y a rien, de si esmerueillable, que la fortune des Ottomãs, auec le progrez de leur grandeur. René de Lucinge, De la Naissance, durée et cheute des Estats, où sont traittées plusieurs notables questions sur l’establissement des empires et monarchies (Paris: Marcy Orry, 1588), ii.

38 Edward Said, Orientalism (New York, NY: Vintage, 1978), 74.

39 Le Thiec, “‘Et il n’y aura qu’un seul troupeau,’” 241.

40 Daniel J. Vitkus, Turning Turk: English Theater and the Multicultural Mediterranean, 1570–1630 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003); Nabil Matar, Turks, Moors, and Englishmen in the Age of Discovery (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999).

41 Sandberg, Warrior Pursuits, 7, 15–16.

42 David Potter, Renaissance France at War: Armies, Culture and Society, c. 1480–1560 (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2008).

43 Péter Sahin-Tóth, “La France et les Français face à la ‘longue guerre’ de Hongrie (1591–1606),” 187–225.

44 For the statutes of the Ordre du Saint-Esprit, see: BNF, Mss. fr. 3386, 43–46; BNF, Mss. fr. 4805, 324–55. On the ceremonies of the Ordre du Saint-Esprit, see: “Rellation des ceremonies qui ont esté obseruees a l’ordre des cheuallliers du St Esprit lors de linstitution qui en fut faicte par le roy Henri 3e au couuent des Augusti[ns]. 1578,” BNF, Mss. fr. 4044, f. 27–35.

45 Nicolas Le Roux, Le roi, la cour, l’état. De la Renaissance à l’absolutisme (Seyssel: Champ Vallon, 2013), 74–75.

46 On the Knights of Malta, see: Emanuel Buttigieg, Nobility, Faith and Masculinity The Hospitaller Knights of Malta, c. 1580–c. 1700 (London: Continuum, 2011).

47 “Proposition en forme de remonstrance faicte par le grand maistre, seigneurs, et cheualliers maltois, au roy treschrestien de France et de Nauarre… ,” BNF Mss. fr. 4044, f˚ 107–128. On the close relationship between Malta and France, see: Emanuel Buttigieg, “‘The Pope Wants to be the Ruin of this Religion’ — The Papacy, France, and the Order of St John in the Seventeenth Century,” Symposia Melitensia 5 (2008): 73–84.

48 Racaut, Hatred in Print.

49 Pálffy, The Kingdom of Hungary, 36.

50 Leslie S. Domonkos, “The Battle of Mohács as a Cultural Watershed,” in From Hunyadi to Rákóczi: War and Society in Late Medieval and Early Modern Hungary, ed. János M. Bak and Béla K. Király (Brooklyn: Brooklyn College Press, 1982), 203–24.

51 A French language pamphlet, entited Les faits du chien insatiable du sang chrétien, was published in Geneva in 1526.

52 Martin Fumée, Histoire generalle des trovbles de Hongrie et Transilvanie (Paris: Robert Foüet, 1608), 1.

53 Ibid., 28.

54 Ibid.

55 Ibid.

56 René de Lucinge, De la Naissance, durée et cheute des Estats, où sont traittées plusieurs notables questions sur l’establissement des empires et monarchies (Paris: Marcy Orry, 1588), 1: 75–77.

57 Ibid.

58 For a detailed study of the partition of Hungary, see: Pálffy, The Kingdom of Hungary, 35–52.

59 Paula S. Fichtner, Ferdinand I of Austria: The Politics of Dynasticism in the Age of the Reformation (New York, 1982).

60 La triumphante entrée et couronnement de Fernant / de sa royale maieste de Honguerie / et de Boheme / faicte a Stoel Wittenburch le dernier iour doctobre. Anno domini mil cinq cens vingt sept (n.p., 1527); Hans H.A. Hötte, Atlas of Southeast Europe: Geopolitics and History. Volume One: 1521–1699, ed. Colin Heywood (Leiden: Brill, 2015), 7–8.

61 Géza Pálffy, “An ‘Old Empire’ on the periphery of the Old Empire: The Kingdom of Hungary and the Holy Roman Empire in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries,” in The Holy Roman Empire, 1495–1806: A European Perspective, ed. R.J.W. Evans and Peter H. Wilson (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 259–79.

62 Le siege et champ mys nagueres devant la triumphante ville de Vienne en Austriche, du plus grand tyrant et destruyseur de la chrestienté lempereur de Turquie, au moys de septembre Lan mil. D. XXIX (Geneva: Wygand Lioln, 1529).

63 Journal d’un Bourgeois de Paris sous le regne de François Ier, 1515–1536, ed. Ludovic Lalanne (Paris: Société de l’Histoire de France, 1854), 397–400.

64 Balazs A. Szelenyi, “The Dynamics of Urban Development: Towns in Sixteenth and Seventeenth-Century Hungary,” American Historical Review 109 (April 2004): 360–86; Peter Schimert, “The Hungarian Nobility in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries,” in The European Nobilities in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. II: Northern, Central and Eastern Europe, ed. H.M. Scott (London: Longman, 1995), 144–82.

65 Pálffy, The Kingdom of Hungary, 89–118.

66 Gábor Ágoston, “Ottoman Conquest and the Ottoman Military Frontier in Hungary,” in A Millennium of Hungarian Military History, ed. László Veszprémy and Béla K. Király, trans. Eleonóra Arató (Boulder, CO: Social Science Monographs, 2002), 85–110.

67 La deconfiture que a faicte Sophye sur le Grant Turc … (n.p., 1531); La Grand victoire du Tresillvstre Roy de Poloine … (Paris: L’Escu de Basle, 1631).

68 Martha D. Pollak, Cities at War in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).

69 Disegno de Seget venuto novamente di Ongaria… (1566), BNF.

70 Simon Girault, Globe du Monde contenant un bref traité du ciel & de la terre (Lengres: J. des Preyz, 1592), 70–71.

71 László Veszprémy, “The State and Military Affairs in East-Central Europe, 1380–c. 1520s,” in European Warfare, 1350–1750, ed. Frank Tallett and D. J. B. Trim (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 96–109; Moxey, Peasants, Warriors, and Wives.

72 François de La Nouë, Discovrs politiqves et militaire du seigneur de la Nouë. Novvellement recueillis & mis en lumiere (Basel: François Forest, 1587), 378–79.

73 Lucinge, De la Naissance, durée et cheute des Estats, vol. 1, 75–77.

74 Ibid.

75 Isom-Verhaaren, Allies with the Infidel, 114–40.

76 La Nouë, Discovrs politiqves et militaire, 375.

77 Mémoire, BNF, Mss. fr. 3336, f˚ 53–54.

78 Pierre de Bourdeille, seigneur de Brantôme, Oeuvres complètes de Pierre de Bourdeille seigneur de Brantôme, vol. 5, ed. Ludovic Lalanne (Paris: Société de l’Histoire de France, 1868), 405.

79 René Benoist, Exhortation Chrestienne aux fideles et eslevz de Dieu, de batailler par tous moyens possiblees pour le grand Seigneur contre l’Antechrist (Paris: Guillaume Chaudière, 1566).

80 James Tracy, “The Road to Szigetvár: Ferdinand I’s Defense of His Hungarian Border, 1548–1566,” Austrian History Yearbook 44 (2013): 17–36; Ágoston, Guns for the Sultan, 80.

81 Jean de Malmidy, Discovrs veritable de la grand gverre, qvi est au païs de Hongrie… (Paris: Denys du Val, 1565).

82 Bourdeille, seigneur de Brantôme, Oeuvres complètes de Pierre de Bourdeille seigneur de Brantôme, vol. 5, 215–38.

83 Lajos Rúzsás, “The Siege of Szigetvár of 1566: Its Significance in Hungarian Social Development,” in From Hunyadi to Rákóczi: War and Society in Late Medieval and Early Modern Hungary, ed. János M. Bak and Béla K. Király (Brooklyn: Brooklyn College Press, 1982), 251–59.

84 Aduis de Vienne en Avstriche, & de Hongrie… (Lyon: Benoist Rigaud, 1566).

85 Discours de ce qui est survenu au voyage de Monsieur le duc de Guise, depuis la derniere despesche faicte à Auguste (Paris: Jean Dallier, 1566).

86 Bourdeille, seigneur de Brantôme, Oeuvres complètes de Pierre de Bourdeille seigneur de Brantôme, vol. 5, 405.

87 Fumée’s history was originally printed in 1595. Fumée, Histoire generalle des trovbles de Hongrie et Transilvanie, 270.

88 Jonathan Spangler, The Society of Princes: The Lorraine-Guise and the Conservation of Power and Wealth in Seventeenth-Century France (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2009); Stuart Carroll, Noble Power During the French Wars of Religion The Guise Affinity and the Catholic Cause in Normandy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

89 Agrippa d’Aubigné, Histoire Universelle, vol. 4, ed. André Thierry (Geneva: Droz, 1982), 18, 312–13.

90 Bourdeille, seigneur de Brantôme, Oeuvres complètes de Pierre de Bourdeille seigneur de Brantôme, vol.. 5, 405.

91 Sahin-Tóth, “La France et les Français face à la ‘longue guerre’ de Hongrie (1591–1606),” 82–93.

92 Jonathan Dewald, Aristocratic Experience and the Origins of Modern Culture: France, 1570–1715 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993); Mark Edward Motley, Becoming a French Aristocrat: The Education of the Court Nobility, 1580–1715 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990).

93 Bourdeille, seigneur de Brantôme, Oeuvres complètes de Pierre de Bourdeille seigneur de Brantôme, vol. 9, 374.

94 Gérard de Jode, Hungariae typus (1567).

95 Pettegree, The Invention of News, 140–45.

96 The Battle of Lepanto, ed. and trans. Elizabeth R. Wright, Sarah Spence, and Andrew Lemons, Villa I Tatti Library 61 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014).

97 Le tres excellent et somptveux triomphe, faict en la ville de Venise, en la publication de la Ligue… (Lyon: Benoist Rigavc, 1571), 2.

98 Advis de la glorievse victoire obtenve par l’armée Chrestienne cõtre l’armée Turquesque au golphe de Lepantho le septiesme iour d’Octobre, 1571 (Paris: Jehan Dallier, 1571); Avtre veritable discovrs de la victoire des Chrestiens contre les Turcs en la bataille Nauale pres Lepantho, aduenue le septiesme iour d’Octobre, l’an 1571… (Paris: Jean Dallier, 1571); Vray discovrs de la bataille des armees chrestienne & Turquesque, & de la triomphante victoire contre le Turc… (Paris: Jean Dallier, 1571); Lettre de Venize du xix.d’octobre 1571. Touchant la tres-heureuse victoire des Chrestiens à l’encontre de l’armee du grand Turc (Lyon: Michel Jove, 1571).

99 Avtre veritable discovrs de la victoire des Chrestiens contre les Turcs en la bataille Nauale pres Lepantho, aduenue le septiesme iour d’Octobre, l’an 1571… (Paris: Jean Dallier, 1571).

100 Jean Herburt de Fulstin, Histoire des roys et princes de Poloigne (Paris: Olivier de Pierre l’Huillier, 1573).

101 Michael Wintroub, “Words, Deeds, and a Womanly King,” French Historical Studies 28, no. 4 (2005): 387–413.

102 Gábor Almási, Szymon Brzeziński, Ildikó Horn, Kees Teszelszky, and Áron Zarnóczki, eds., A Divided Hungary in Europe: Exchanges, Networks and Representations, 1541–1699. Volume 3: The making and uses of the image of Hungary and Transylvania (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014).

103 Bourdeille, seigneur de Brantôme, Oeuvres complètes de Pierre de Bourdeille seigneur de Brantôme, vol. 7, 54–55.

104 François de La Nouë, quoted in James J. Supple, “François de La Nouë’s Plan for a Campaign against the Turks,” Bibliothèque d’Humanisme et Renaissance 41, no. 2 (1979): 273–91.

105 Dupront, Le mythe de croisade, 390–98.

106 Scattered manuscripts of the duc de Nevers discuss crusading plans in BNF, Mss fr. 4723–4727, and other volumes of the Mss. fr. collections at the BNF.

107 Gábor Ágoston, “Empires and Warfare in East-Central Europe, 1550–1750: The Ottoman–Habsburg Rivalry and Military Transformation,” in European Warfare, 1350–1750, ed. Frank Tallett and D. J. B. Trim (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 110–34; Murphey, Ottoman Warfare, 1500–1700.

108 Nicolas Brulart de Sillery to duc de Nevers, Soleure, 27 December 1593, BNF, Mss. fr. 3625, f˚ 119–20.

109 The original reads: “guerre generalle et offensive.” Nicolas Brûlart de Sillery to duc de Nevers, Soleure, 27 December 1593, BNF, Mss. fr. 3625, f˚ 119–20.

110 Guillaume Ancel to duc de Nevers, Prague, 30 December 1593, BNF, Mss. fr. 3625, f˚ 121.

111 Ibid.

112 Pálffy, The Kingdom of Hungary.

113 Sahin-Tóth, “La France et les Français face à la ‘longue guerre’ de Hongrie (1591–1606),” 187–225.

114 Jean de Malmidy, Discovrs veritable de la grand’ gverre, qvi est au païs de Hongrie… (Paris: Denys du Val, 1595).

115 Fumée, Histoire generalle des trovbles de Hongrie et Transilvanie, Preface, n.p.

116 Ibid., 3.

117 John Roger Paas, The German Political Broadsheet, 1600–1700 (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz Verlag, 1985), 49–50.

118 Sommaire description de la guerre de Hongrie, et de Transylvanie, de ce qui est advenu depuis l’autonne dernier de l’an passé 1597. iusques au printemps de l’an 98. entre les Turcs, ennemis hereditaires du Nom de Iesvs Christ, & des Chrestiens..., trans. Victor Cayet (Paris: Guillaume Chaudière, 1598).

119 Paas, The German Political Broadsheet, 1600–1700, 50–51.

120 Ladmirable et heureuse prinse de la ville de Bude en Hongrie par l’armee Imperialle, sur les Turcs. Ensemble le retablissement de Battori, Vaivod de Transilvanie (Lyon: Thibaud Ancelin and Buichard Jullieron, 1598).

121 Discovrs tres-veritable de l’admirable et hevrevse reprinse de la ville & forteresse de Raab, autrement Iauarin, en Hongrie, par les Chrestiens sur les Turcs… (Lyon: Jacques Roussin, 1598).

122 The sultan purportedly ordered “que les marchans francois ou autres estrangers qui trafiquent soubs leur banniere … ne puissent en façon aucune estre inquietez et molestez pour abondonner leur religion et espouzer la nostre. … Ilz ne puissent estre violemment circoncis ny soient acceptez pour mahomettans.” “Commandement du grand seigneur sultan Mahomet III pour empescher que les jeunes chrestiens ne fussent violentz a se faire Turcs et circoncir, obtenu par monsieur de Breues en octobre 1598 ete par luy translaté de turc en francois,” BNF, Mss. fr. 16171, f˚ 152–54.

123 Jean Richer, Chronologie septenaire de l’histoire de la paix entre les roys de France et d’Espagne (Paris: 1605), 103v.

124 Robert Descimon and José Javier Ruiz Ibanez, Les ligueurs de l’exil: le refuge catholique français après 1594 (Seyssel: Champ Vallon, 2005).

125 Péter Sahin-Tóth, “Expier sa faute en Hongrie. Réminiscences de croisade et pacification politique sous Henri IV,” in Foi, fidelité, amitié en Europe à la période moderne: mélanges offerts à Robert Sauzet, ed. Brigitte Maillard, 2 vols. (Tours: Publications de l’Université de Tours, 1995), 429–39.

126 Philippe-Emmanuel de Lorraine duc de Mercœur to Charles de Lorraine duc d’Aumale, 1599, quoted in Robert Sauzet, Au Grand Siècle des âmes. Guerre sainte et paix chrétienne en France au XVIIe siècle (Paris: Perrin, 2007), 49.

127 Edward Shannon Tenace, “Messianic Imperialism or Traditional Dynasticism? The Grand Strategy of Philip II and the Spanish Failure in the Wars of the 1590s,” in The Limits of Empire: European Imperial Formations in Early Modern World History. Essays in Honor of Geoffrey Parker, ed. Tonio Andrade and William Reger (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2012), 281–308.

128 Bourdeille, seigneur de Brantôme, Oeuvres complètes de Pierre de Bourdeille seigneur de Brantôme, vol. 5, 194.

129 Jean Richer, Chronologie septenaire de l’histoire de la paix entre les roys de France et d’Espagne (Paris: 1605), 201.

130 Sahin-Tóth, “La France et les Français face à la ‘longue guerre’ de Hongrie (1591–1606),” 287–436.

131 “Lettre d’vn grand vizir a Henry IV. traduitte du Turc par M. de la Croix, Interprete du Roy,” in Louis de Gonzague, duc de Nevers, Les Mémoires de Monsievr le duc de Nevers, vol. 2, 845–48.

132 Paas, The German Political Broadsheet, 1600–1700, 51.

133 Claire Norton, “Fiction or Non-fiction? Ottoman Accounts of the Siege of Nagykanizsa,” in Tropes for the Past: Hayden White and the History/Literature Debate, ed. Kuisma Korhonen (Rodopi, 2006), 119–32.

134 This noble correspondent, who signed his letters “Malleville,” was presumably Marin Malleville.

135 Malleville to Henri I de Montmorency duc de Montmorency, n.d. [1601–1602], Archivio di Stato di Firenze [hereafter, ASF], Mediceo del Principato [hereafter, MdP] 4759, n.f. [c. 159–60]. Note: some of the MdP documents utilized here been analyzed in the Medici Archive Project’s Bía Database, available online at http://www.medici.org.

136 Malleville to Belisario di Francesco Vinta, Nagycanizsa, 12 September 1601, ASF, MdP 4759, n.f. [c. 95–96].

137 The original reads: “il sont été fait esclave.” Malleville to Belisario di Francesco Vinta, Nagycanizsa, 12 September 1601, ASF, MdP 4759, n.f. [c. 95–96].

138 Malleville to Henri I de Montmorency duc de Montmorency, n.d. [1601–1602], ASF, MdP 4759, n.f. [c. 159–160].

139 Ibid.

140 Ibid.

141 Ibid.

142 Ibid.

143 Ibid.

144 Ibid.

145 Ibid.

146 Péter Sahin-Tóth, “Autour de la Guerre de Hongrie (1593–1606). De la croisade au service du sultan,” in Chrétiens et musulmans à la Reniassance. Actes du 37e colloque international du CESR (1994), ed. Bartolomé Bennassar and Robert Sauzet (Paris: Honoré Champion, 1998), 467–85; C. F. Finkel, “French Mercenaries in the Habsburg–Ottoman War of 1593–1606: The Desertion of the Papa Garrison to the Ottomans in 1600,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London 55 (1992): 451–71.

147 Bourdeille, seigneur de Brantôme, Oeuvres complètes de Pierre de Bourdeille seigneur de Brantôme, vol. 5, 389.

148 Ibid.

149 Sahin-Tóth, “La France et les Français face à la ‘longue guerre’ de Hongrie (1591–1606),” 457–78.

150 BNF, Mss. fr. 23197, f˚ 172.

151 Bourdeille, seigneur de Brantôme, Oeuvres complètes de Pierre de Bourdeille seigneur de Brantôme, vol. 5, 44–45.

152 Dénes Harai, “Les villes luthériennes de Kassa et de Sopron face au soulèvement anti-Habsbourgeois d’István Bocskai en Hongrie (1604–1606),” Revue historique 650 (2009): 321–43; Pálffy, The Kingdom of Hungary, 212.

153 Ibid., 221.

154 Graeme Murdock, “‘Freely Elected in Fear’: Princely Elections and Political Power in Early Modern Transylvania,” Journal of Early Modern History 7 (2003): 213–44.

155 Brendan Dooley, “Art and Information Brokerage in the Career of Don Giovanni de’ Medici,” in Your Humble Servant: Agents in Early Modern Europe, ed. Hans Cools, Marika Keblusek, and Badeloch Noldus (Hilversum: Uitgeverij Verloren, 2006), 81–95.

156 Giovanni di Cosimo I de’ Medici to Belisario di Francesco Vinta, Sedan, 6 April 1606, ASF, MdP 5157, f˚ 447.

157 BNF, Mss. fr. 23246.

158 BNF, Cabinet d’Hozier 18, f˚ 397.

159 Jean de Bodin, Les six livres de la republiqve de I. Bodin Angeuin (Paris: Jacques du Puys, 1576), 89, 724.

160 Fumée, Histoire generalle des trovbles de Hongrie et Transilvanie, 5–6.

161 Louis de Gonzague, duc de Nevers, “Advertissement aux bovrgeois de notre ville de Paris, et a tovs bons catholiqves,” in Louis de Gonzague, duc de Nevers, Les Mémoires de Monsievr le duc de Nevers, vol. 1, 933.

162 Louis Guyon, Les Diverses leçons de Loys Gvyon, sievr de la Nauche, conseiller du roy, & esleu au bas Lymosin: svivans celles de Pierre Messie, & du sieur de Vaupriuaz (Lyon: Claude Morillon, 1604), 49.

163 Gillian Weiss, Captives and Corsairs.

164 Michel de Waele and Martin Pâquet, Québec, Champlain, le monde (Québec: Presses de l’Université Laval, 2008).

165 Jean Héroard, cited in Sauzet, Au Grand Siècle des âmes, 23.

166 Père Joseph is one of Alphonse Dupront’s examples of a “solitary crusader.” Dupront, Le mythe de croisade, 399–413.

167 “Despesches de l’Ordre du St. Esprit du Regne du Roy Louis XIII,” BNF, Clairambault 1128, f˚ 6–8.

168 “Proposition en forme de remonstrance faicte par le grand maistre, seigneurs, et cheualliers maltois, au roy treschrestien de France et de Nauarre… ,” Mss. fr. 4044, f. 107–28.

169 Torquato Tasso, La Hierusalem du seigneur Torquato Tasso renduë françoise par Blaise de Vigenere bourbonnois, trans. Blaise de Vignère (Paris: Anthoine du Brueil, 1610).

170 BNF, NAF 1054, analyzed in Le Thiec, “‘Et il n’y aura qu’un seul troupeau,’” 3: 333–38. Additional documents on the Milice chrétienne include BNF, Mss fr. 4723–4727, which I have not yet been able to fully consult.

171 Jacques-Auguste de Thou, Mémoires de la vie de Jacques-Auguste de Thou, conseiller d’état, et président à mortier au parlement de Paris, ouvrage meslé de prose et de vers, avec la traduction de la Préface qui est au-devant de sa grande Histoire (Rotterdam: Renier Leers, 1711), n.p. [preface].

172 Sandberg, Warrior Pursuits.

173 Sahin-Tóth, “La France et les Français face à la ‘longue guerre’ de Hongrie (1591–1606),” 46–51.

Volume 4 Issue 2 CONTENTS

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Zoltán Péter Bagi

The Life of Soldiers during the Long Turkish War (1593–1606)

 

This study is concerned with the everyday lives, survival strategies, and social composition of the German armed forces who served in the border fortresses and field units of the Imperial and Royal Army during the wars against the Ottoman Empire that were fought on the territory of the Kingdom of Hungary in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This study shows that these troops enlisted to escape poverty and starvation, sometimes serving without weapons, and that their families often followed them onto Hungarian battlefields. As the rich source materials analyzed here demonstrate, however, their new positions confronted them with even greater challenges than they had faced previously, including the day-to-day threat of mortality, epidemics, the vicissitudes of the weather, and the constant deprivations caused by idle mercenaries. They strove to support themselves through fraud and deceit, as well as by forcefully plundering their surroundings; nonetheless, volunteering for military service did not provide them with a permanent solution to the problem of earning a living.

Keywords: Long Turkish War, German-speaking military in the Kingdom of Hungary, survival strategies, subsistence

Introduction

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a significant number of German-speaking soldiers served on the territory of the Kingdom of Hungary, some of them in the strategically important strongholds of the Hungarian border-fortress system that had been created along the Hungarian–Ottoman frontier starting in the late 1520s.1

Hungarian historians have recently discussed the military’s coexistence with civil society, primarily townsfolk and the nobility, and in the cases of Győr, Kassa (Kosice, Slovakia), Keszthely, and Murány (Muráň, Slovakia), such research has shed light on both the advantages and the disadvantages of this forcible cohabitation. In general, it is clear that military objectives far outweighed the interests of locals, whose freedoms and economic activity were restricted in numerous regions. For instance, the army sometimes established connections with local handicraft industries, thereby creating competition for local guilds. And at the same time, while the presence of the military created markets, foreign infantrymen in Kassa, for example, also developed relationships with the families of German citizens there.2 Another significant portion of the mercenaries from the Holy Roman Empire arrived in Hungary during one or another of the military campaigns of the sixteenth century: 1527, 1540, 1551–52, 1566. At the end of military operations, these hired forces tended to scatter and leave the country. However, when the continuous conflict between the Habsburg Monarchy and the Ottoman Empire escalated into all-out war again in 1593, it created a new situation. At the conclusion of certain military operations, a significant portion of these field troops did not disband, but rather found winter accommodations and remained in the Kingdom of Hungary. However, until recently, we have had little information about such soldiers. International historical scholarship, though, has long dealt with important issues like the social composition of the armed forces, everyday life in military camps, conflicts between soldiers and citizens, and the role of women in the military.3

With respect to the social composition of the armed forces and the everyday lives of soldiers, the Thirty Years’ War stands at the forefront of both traditional and more recent German historiography. From the second half of the twentieth century onward, military, social, cultural, legal, and technological historians have examined the development and position of the army in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, exploring its everyday life as if the military were its own society, or an anthropologist’s small community.4 On the basis of such research, they have offered up finely shaded portraits of the social composition of the armed forces—that is, of the economic, demographic, social, and climatic factors and changes which led a significant portion of the population to see military service as a fundamental means of survival. In addition to archival sources, German historians have recently turned toward soldiers’ diaries and memoirs, which are especially useful for historical examinations of the way war was experienced and remembered in the period. From the Long Turkish War, however, we know of only one short soldier’s diary.5 Thus in the course of my research, I have gathered together official documents issued by military leaders and also relied on the sporadic data to be found in the works of contemporary historians. On the basis of these materials, I have sought answers to questions like the following: Why—or better yet, instead of what—did these soldiers undertake such dangerous service? What sort of martial virtues did they embody? How did they support themselves and their families? And what were their lives like in the camps?

Beckoned by the Enlistment Drum

Prior to the present study, there has been no comprehensive research on this subject. Only Antonio Liepold’s 1998 monograph has dealt with the role played by the gentry of the Holy Roman Empire and the Austrian Hereditary Lands in the wars against the Ottomans in the sixteenth century.6 German historiography and my own research would suggest that, generally speaking, all social strata—from vagabonds to aristocrats—were represented among the ranks of the cavalry and infantry that served in the Hungarian theater of operations during the Long Turkish War. In the case of the mounted soldiers, medieval military traditions continued to be observed. According to Lazarus von Schwendi’s Cavalry Appointments (Reiterbestallung), the decrees of the Imperial Diet of 1570 in Speyer included a directive that only noblemen were to enlist in the cavalry.7 It was also common for hired horsemen to be selected from among the vassals of the recruiting colonel (Obrist).8

In addition to the recruiting “enterprisers” (Militärunternehmer) and captains (Hauptmänner), there were also large numbers of Southern German noblemen (from Bavaria, Tyrol, Württemberg, and Swabia), as well as wealthy urban patrician youths in the infantry. Their roles were not limited to offices on the staffs of colonels or in the prima plana that directed these units (Fahne); they also enlisted as Doppelsöldner, mercenaries who volunteered for frontline duty in exchange for double pay. A good example is the Doppelsöldner registry for Karl Ludwig Graf zu Sulz’s infantry regiment, dated July 16, 1602. According to this document, those equipped with a round shield (Rundschier) included even persons of baronial descent, like Ulrich and Hans Leonhard Freiherr zu Spauer.9 One year later, Georg Leschenbrandt reported that large numbers of men from the nobility and gentry (Herren- und Rittenstand) of Lower Austria had shown up to enlist in Georg Andreas von Hofkirchen’s infantry unit.10 In hopes of opportunities for advancement, many captains became Doppelsöldner during the reorganization and merging of regiments, as Emperor Rudolf II’s letter to Archduke Matthias mentions in relation to Hans Prenier zu Stöbing’s regiment.11 The majority of these men had originally held the rank of private first class (Gefreite), often given to soldiers of noble blood, either in the ’colonel’s unit or his deputy’s.12

What led these noblemen to enter the service of a military enterprisers? Like advantageous marriages, enlistment in the military had become an important means of improving one’s lot. The pay and the spoils of war could make it financially profitable, and it also served as a strategy for social advancement. And beyond these possible gains in income and prestige, the desire for adventure also played a part in the decisions of the counts, lords, and youthful members of the urban elite who signed up. In addition, the revival of the idea of a crusade against the Ottoman Empire was also a motivating factor for members of the nobility and the urban elite.13 Most of the noblemen who fought in the infantry were prevented by their poor financial situations from serving in mounted units.14

However, the vast majority who enlisted were ordinary men from villages and cities. In keeping with a medieval practice called Gleve, aristocratic horsemen maintained entourages (lange Reihe) of six to twelve persons who escorted them into battle.15 The main body of the infantry was also recruited from among the commoners. In the case of noblemen, financial necessity tended to mix with the desire for personal glory; commoners’ main reason for showing up to enlist was to make a living. The population explosion in sixteenth-century Europe created a surplus of labor and a price surge, which, together with the so-called little ice age and the resultingly poor crop production, had a severe effect on living conditions.16 The hope of monthly payment and the loot enterprisers promised attracted the impoverished, who were struggling to supply themselves and their families with more and more expensive food on smaller and smaller wages.17 These included the suburban poor (guild apprentices, day laborers, domestic servants),18 craftsmen in under-remunerated professions (bakers, weavers, fabric dyers, tailors),19 and agricultural workers who had lost their means of subsistence to population growth and the resulting fragmentation of property (peasants, servants, day laborers, and farmhands).20 Wandering beggars, drifters, criminals, clergymen, and students also enlisted in the military,21 and even women gave soldiering a try.22 Thus, the hierarchy within the army faithfully imitated the established structure of society. This is why Brage Bei der Wieden referred to the sixteenth-century German army as a “parallel society” (Nebengesellschaft).23

The 1570 edicts (Artikelbrief) decreed that pikemen and gunmen had to own both proper armaments and uniforms in order to be mustered.24 However, penniless recruits from the fringes of society possessed neither.25 Even in the second half of sixteenth century, military enterprisers had to buy weapons in bulk, thus enabling anyone to enlist for mercenary service. By the time of the Long Turkish War, this state of affairs had become permanent, as the following two accounts demonstrate. On June 1, 1595, the monarch ordered his comptroller’’s office (Buchhalterei) to send the financial accounts for Oberhauptmann Hans Geizkofler’s three units to Michael Zeller, the military cashier in Hungary. According to this document, equipping the 900-man unit required 5410 Gulden, 9 Kreutzer, and 2 Pfennig, while the soldiers’’ monthly wages amounted to 8565 Gulden.26 An account from January of 1601 is even more telling about the armament needs of the entire force. According to it, there were only 1430 handheld firearms in the Vienna armory at that time, while another 19,990 were to be obtained before the next campaign.27 The Cavalry Appointments directory regulated weaponry and uniforms for mounted soldiers. Enlisted noblemen were instructed to provide their entourages with proper apparel that would protect both the soldiers and their equipment from the elements. In addition, every sixth retainer was to be armed with a fine musket.28 Impoverished soldiers, recruited from the periphery of society, tended to arrive for enlistment without any weapons.29

The actual military value of Western mercenaries is subject to question; Géza Perjés considered them to be the scum of society.30 Whether evaluating their performance in the infantry or the cavalry, it is hard to give a precise answer. It is arguable that horsemen from high-born families would have had the requisite knowledge of techniques for fighting from the saddle. The documents show, however, that this was not always true of their entourages. On July 19, 1598, Johann Eustach von Westernach, in describing the enlistment of Georg Friedrich von Hohenlohe’s black riders, reported that counts and noblemen recruited many young boys and demanded that they receive the same payment as experienced soldiers.31 Apparently, this problem was a persistent one: Hermann Cristoph von Russworm, sent to investigate the rebellion of 600 Dutch mounted gunmen, advised Archduke Matthias that Philipp Graf zu Solms’ soldiers should be retained with monthly payments and renewals (reductio) because they were tried and tested soldiers who knew the enemy well, and were thus of more use to the emperor than an inexperienced band of recruits.32

The case was the same with the infantry: there are examples both of mercenaries’’ merit and of their incompetence as well. An undated and anonymous fragment, annotated by Gundaker von Liechtenstein, asserted that hired forces should be well-versed in wielding their weapons, which experience was at least partly dependent on their financial status.33 Our sources from the Long War suggest a wide variety of experience levels among the troops. In June of 1598, Westernach and Zacharias Geizkofler, in describing the muster of Johann Friedrich von Mörsburg’’s regiment, reported that among the Doppelsöldner, those wielding “short arms” and two-handed swords had been fighting in wars for periods ranging from 10 to 30 years, and that even the least experienced among them had served for 5 or 6 years—in Italy, Brabant, the Netherlands, France, Burgundy, or Hungary. The two commissioners lavished praise on the regiment’’s musketeers as well. Their report says that of a thousand such soldiers, there were perhaps 25 or fewer who had no previous combat experience. They reported that quite a few of the gunmen had served on French, Dutch, Piemontese, or Hungarian battlefields, and that the others were strong, if fairly old. The latter remark was not a random addition by Geizkofler and Westernach. The document also states that the military enterprisers had not found enough arquebusiers, and that there were too few musketeers to reassign any of them to the arquebusiers. Thus the two muster officers were forced to register many inexperienced youths.34 This is a single but not isolated example which clearly illustrates the range of experience in the infantry brigades of the Imperial and Royal Army. All in all, some of the soldiers, especially the Doppelsöldner and musketeers, were considered skilled warriors. Some weeks later, after inspecting Ludwig Graf zu Sulz’’s infantry regiment, Westernach reported that most of the enlisted were strong, healthy, battle-tested soldiers who could be truly useful to the emperor.35 In addition, there are many references suggesting that a large portion of the soldiers who were dismissed enlisted again in newly formed regiments, and that many commissioned muster inspectors had favorable opinions of these soldiers as well.36 In contrast, elements of the Bestallungen and professional reports indicate that there were rookies who had joined the ranks of the arquebusiers and were unskilled in the use of their weapons.37 In my opinion, however, this was not a significant problem. It was natural that inexperienced recruits from the fringes of society would begin their service among the arquebusiers. On the one hand, they could afford only the cheapest weapons, and on the other, much more practice would have been required to learn the weaponry techniques and battlefield formations of the Doppelsöldner. Unlike polearm-wielding soldiers, gunmen could learn the basic skills for handling their weapons in just a couple of days, and they could move more freely on the battlefield, even in the more closed tertios, or pike-and-shot formations. Their lack of experience did not necessarily put them at a tactical disadvantage either, as volley firing could do great damage to their Ottoman opponents.38 The only problem arose when an arquebusier, in hopes of greater payment, decided to enlist the following year as a musketeer or Doppelsöldner without having mastered the given weapon. According to Geizkofler’s 1603 report, this was common in the Imperial and Royal Army. It must also be noted that such efforts to earn promotions and the consequent higher wages were standard career strategies not limited to the arquebusiers.39

Based on the above observations, I would argue that neither opinion at either extreme is correct: I do not think that a completely unprepared mass of soldiers from the Holy Roman Empire was assigned to the Hungarian theater of operations. But it would also be a mistake to assume that a fully professional, well-trained infantry and cavalry entered the fray against the Ottoman army during this fifteen-year war. In reality, there are examples that illustrate both cases: we find unqualified greenhorns alongside mercenaries who had fought in numerous campaigns and knew their weapons well.

Regular Wages as the Basis of Subsistence?

Even though more volunteers usually showed up at musters than could be enrolled, and even though several units enlisted more recruits than the Bestallung called for,40 the total sum designated for payouts to mercenaries increased steadily over the course of the Long Turkish War. This phenomenon is apparently the result of three closely interrelated factors. The negotiated payments were dependent on (1) food prices, which were increasing due to the aforementioned little ice age, (2) the lobbying efforts of war contractors, and (3) the interests of recruited mercenaries.41 Sources describing the frequency and the amounts of the payments mercenaries actually received are fairly limited, thus we can only conjecture based on the written records to which we have access. In my opinion, however, it is logical to look at the various kinds of payments made to mercenaries, from their enlistment and muster until their disbandment.

The first sum of money to which an enlisted soldier was theoretically entitled was the Anritt- or Laufgeld, an advance payment that enabled an enrolled soldier to travel from the location of his recruitment to the site of his unit’’s muster inspection. Soldiers from distant provinces who enlisted in newly formed units were likely to receive this money. However, it was not always enough to cover all their expenses, as the distance between the towns where they were recruited and ultimately inspected could be several hundred kilometers; sometimes prospective soldiers simply spent this money on drinks at nearby taverns.42 In some cases, the recruit might get an advance on his first monthly payment, which was recorded on the muster registry. Troops who had already served on Hungarian battlefields could expect to receive this sort of advance again if they continued their service. In December 1597, for instance, Zacharias Geizkofler and Bartholomäus Pezzen negotiated with Seifried von Kollonich and Heinrich Matthias von Thurn, convincing them to remain in their regiment for an Anrittgeld of 4 Gulden and a monthly wage of 12 Gulden. However, these negotiations ultimately failed, and thus these advances were never disbursed.43

Soldiers did not always receive the per diem promised to those who were awaiting inspection. Payments to Tettau’s horsemen, for instance, began on the 10th day of the month, not on the date of their muster. In his July 16, 1598 report, the commissioned inspection officer explained this seeming bonus payment by noting that the horsemen had never received the Nachtgeld they had been promised.44 In most cases, however, the problem was not a failure to distribute the assigned sums, but rather that the amounts were too meager to keep up with ever-increasing food prices, which made it difficult for soldiers to provide for themselves, their relatives, or their horses.

Like the advances, the first monthly payments following a muster also seem to have been uncertain. In their report on the 1598 muster of the Mörsburg regiment, Westernach and Geizkofler noted that the soldiers were dissatisfied with their negotiated payments. Among other grievances, they complained that they had hardly received any of the money for their third month of service, and that their first month’’s payments had gone almost entirely toward their weapons expenses. In their opinion, the prices for the gear prescribed by the Capitulatio for Doppelsöldner, musketeers, and arquebusiers (11, 9, and 6 Gulden, respectively) were too high; they were also concerned that they would not receive the remaining two months’’ payment in full.45

In the period between the first month’s payment and the next muster, military enterprisers often received only an advance for the following months, out of which they had to distribute their underlings’’ wages. On November 2, 1604, Giorgio Basta summoned the colonels (Obristen) of his army and told them that their infantry and cavalry would receive their pay and uniforms only in Kassa. As a token, they handed out 2 Gulden to each soldier. However, the soliders would not receive another payment until January of 1605, and this was not a full month’s wages either, but merely another advance collected from the towns around Eperjes (Prešov, Slovakia). By June 19, 1605, this lack of wages had led to threats of mutiny. The infantrymen of the Puchheim regiment protested in front of the house of the judge in Eperjes, demanding full payment of the five month’s wages that had been denied them. The situation was resolved by the colonel’s deputy, Lazarus von Schwendi, who ordered that money and supplies be handed out to the soldiers.46

However, even these advances were not always paid. Having arrived at a muster of Walloon infantrymen, Geizkofler and Pezzen wrote in their December 3, 1597 report that though the officers had received the assigned funds, they did not disburse them to the sick.47 In January of 1598, commissioned inspector Jakob Püchler reported the following from a Walloon army muster at Érsekújvár: the officers of Alphonso Montecuccoli’s cavalry had requested that their advances not be deducted from their balances because their military enterpriser, though he had received the money, had never paid it to them.48 Russworm, Sulz, and Mörsburg described similar experiences in their 1604 reports.49 To this day, no documents confirming that the soldiers received their siege and battle payments have ever surfaced.

The army cashier sometimes issued extraordinary payments. As prescribed in the Bestallungbrief and in the Artikelbrief, troops who took part in a successful siege or battle were entitled to an extra month’s pay.50 On October 7, 1598, Westernach sent a fairly strange letter to the Emperor from the military camp in Buda. After the capture of Víziváros, the colonels and their troops, who had been hired with imperial funds, demanded their siege bonuses. However, the imperial army commissioner would only disburse this money if the Christian troops were to take the castle itself; otherwise, he argued, the already secured lower castle would be lost again.51 In December of 1601, Archduke Matthias informed the troop commanders who had taken part in the capture of Székesfehérvár and the consequent battle at Sárrét that the Emperor had denied their requests for siege and battle bonuses, along with their pleas to be compensated for the damage done to their regiments.52 The reason behind the Court Military Council’s decision may well have been a chronic lack of money, given that the regiments of those making these demands—Hofkirchen, Adolf von Althan, Preiner, and Hans Wendel von Pernhausen—had participated in both military operations.53

Whether soldiers resigned or continued their service, the commissioned muster officer would negotiate their pay with the military enterpriser who had enlisted them. In the former case, even if their agreements specified the payments to be made to the soldiers (or to their widows and orphans), such stipulations were not always honored. In some cases, not even this final payment—already diminished by deductions for advances and food expenses—would be fully paid in cash. Instead, soldiers were issued bills of credit, the so-called Restzettel, in the amount they were owed,54 which bills could be redeemed at the army cashier’s office.55 In many cases, colonels, other officers, or sometimes even civilians would purchase these bills of credit from the soldiers and demand compensation for them at a later date.56

The situation for soldiers who continued their service was hardly better. As one captain of a reenlisted Walloon infantry unit explained in a letter in February of 1596, the proposed inducement to re-up (a half-month’s pay plus food) was insufficient, especially considering that his soldiers had not received the first month’s pay promised by the Accordo. They thus demanded that they be dismissed and provided with documents of passage that would enable them to return home.57

It is not surprising, therefore, that military enterprisers in the Hungarian theater of operations had to offer their mercenaries “incentives”. On the one hand, mercenaries were motivated by these irregularly issued monthly payments; on the other, as Parker has demonstrated in the case of the Netherlands’ Spanish army,58 continually rising food prices also compelled them to enlist.

Alternative Means of Making a Living

As mercenaries had to provide for themselves and their families, they had to seek other sources of income in addition to—or instead of—their “normal” pay, which came only irregularly, or not at all for months. Petty fraud, the systematic looting of their environment, and family members’ incomes helped them mitigate the severity of their destitution.

Minor Circles of Deception

Even the Artikelbrief accepted at the Imperial Diet of 1570 in Speyer contains several paragraphs addressing soldiers’ various cons, swindles, and schemes. According to this document, the swapping of weapons and gear between mercenaries was prohibited. It also defined the length of the month to be served and the corresponding payment, and also recommended execution for those who deserted or took unauthorized leave after receiving their wages. It also made it a capital offence to enlist as a mercenary under two different captains or in two different places, which some did in hopes of doubling their money. To eliminate this possibility, recruits were supposed to fill out their muster documents with their given and family names, as well as their place of origin. Officers were obliged to ensure that everyone served in the campaign with their own weapons and armor. In addition, enterprisers had to make sure not to enlist anyone from another infantry unit or from the cavalry.59

Apart from the types of fraud referred to in the Artikelbrief, there are other instances of deception in the contemporary sources. An order issued by the Hofrat on April 12, 1600 prohibited enterprisers from enrolling vineyard laborers (Hauer) for military service. Their enlistment was discouraged as they sometimes deceived both the vineyard owners and the recruiting captains. They did not do their work in the wineries, nor did they show up at the musters, stealing and damaging crops as they migrated to and fro.60

It also happened that enterprisers and enlisted men were partners in such schemes, the unit commander secretly dismissing his soldiers and keeping their wages for himself. To keep his ruse from being discovered, the commander would hire day laborers at minimal cost to “stand in for the roll call” and then depart, as related by a patent issued on November 10, 1600.61

Pillaging as a Means of Survival

Plunder and pillage were everyday activities for the enlisted, from their muster and encampment until their disbandment, despite the fact that the Artikelbrief recommended the death penalty for anyone who engaged in such acts.62 Even so, it did little to discourage them. On the one hand, as Zacharias Geizkofler pointed out in his report dated January 11, 1597, the Dutch cavalry was accustomed to pillaging and marauding.63 The next year, Martin Crusius, a Greek professor at Tübingen University, noted in his journal that Georges Bayer de Boppard’s Walloon infantrymen had caused extensive damage at Pfuhl (near Ulm), going so far as to burn down 17 houses.64 On the other hand, the soldiers’ daily payments were insufficient to sustain them. In his May 15, 1598 letter to Rudolf II, Archduke Matthias reported that mercenaries from the Russworm infantry regiment, while waiting for their muster in Lower Austria, received four Kreutzer a day with which to provide for themselves and their families. However, as the author argued, this was so meager—not even enough to buy bread—that the soldiers simply stole whatever they needed to survive from poor local subjects. Thus, the Archduke proposed a doubling of the daily payment for those waiting to be mustered. In addition, he allowed taxes on the locals to be decreased or eliminated altogether.65

The most problematic form of tax increase levied on local subjects was the repeated postponement of the day of muster. According to a detailed note compiled by members of the Lower Austrian nobility in 1602, Hofkirchen’s 3000 infantrymen waited to be mustered at Krems for 36 days. Sulz’s regiment had to wait 42 days at Tull for the muster commissioners. Hans Ernst von Sprinzenstein’s unit had to stay idle for 73 days until their muster. In addition, the mounted arquebusiers hired by the Lower Austrian noblemen were given an extra 20,000 Rheingulden over and above their allotted wages in hopes of stopping their harassment of poor local subjects.66

The prolongation of marches also imposed significant burdens on local populations. According to the aforementioned note, 3000 Walloons spent 14 days on a march over land and water across Lower Austria; the infantry hired by the Upper Austrian nobility spent 10 days; the Salzburg army 16 days; and Philipp Otto Graf zu Salm, Wild- und Rheingraf’s 500 riders took 23 days. On such occasions, local inhabitants had to provide supplies not only for the troops, but for the commissioned inspectors as well, not to mention the constant abuses of power they had to endure.67

The armies that appeared at muster sites for disbandment also caused great damage. As the waiting time for the muster increased, so did the burdens on the local population. Note the following data from the compiler of the previously cited Lower Austrian registry: Kollonich’s 1000 horsemen, while waiting to be disbanded in the area of Marchfeld and Ebzersdorf, parasitized the population for 21 days, while the 2000 Austrian infantrymen at Hainburg did likewise for 21 days. One thousand soldiers from Salzburg did so for 5 days at the Schwadorf estate, while the infantry hired by the Upper Austrian noblemen spent 46 idle days in the vicinity of Fischamand.68 Geizkofler and Pezzen seem justified in suggesting in their December 3, 1597 report that the quickly and competently executed muster, reorganization, and disbandment of the Royal and Imperial troops stationed at Pozsony (Bratislava, Slovakia) saved the subject population approximately a hundred thousand Gulden.69

Those who remained in service were ordered into winter encampments by the Court’s Military Council. As this was enormously expensive, Rudolf II recommended in an October 1601 letter that wages for these months should be decreased, or that two month’s payment should simply be skipped.70

To spare Austria, Walloons were usually quartered in Hungarian territories, where nearby counties, towns, and villages were to provide for them. However, as they were underpaid, soldiers often “acquired” supplies from the vicinity of their accommodations.71 In the records of the patrician conclaves of Sopron, Vas, and Zala counties, there are recurrent entries complaining about instances of Walloon and French extortion in their villages, which led them to petition Archduke Matthias to have these soldiers transferred.72

The German military was quartered in Lower Austria, usually in Vienna, either in the towns and villages along the Hungarian border or in the territory of Habsburg Hungary.73 Their payments for extended service were, again, erratic or missing, which led them to take essentials like food and firewood from local subjects by force. The February 23 entry of the Court Military Council’s 1595 protocol relates that Andreas Medwe was sent to Helckendorf to investigate crimes committed by the mercenaries of Jakob Hannibal von Raitenau’s regiment, including the murder of a peasant.74 Some months later, in December of 1595, Raitenau’s German soldiers were again involved in a series of incidents. Because of the aforementioned huge amount of unpaid wages,75 the remaining army that was housed on the outskirts of Vienna began systematically robbing the population. Their transgressions ceased only when certain key figures were captured and executed on December 20.76

The army that was stationed in Upper Hungary also imposed a great burden on the population of the neighboring counties. This is why the local nobility petitioned the Emperor on April 30, 1603 with a detailed depiction of the soldiers’ plundering of the locals. According to their petition, they had complained several times about the damage done by soldiers of various nationalities, especially mounted gunmen wearing white, green, and blue coats, serving in Szatmár (Satu Mare, Romania). They divided the villages among themselves, confiscating wood, hay, and straw by force and without payment. Village judges and subjects were coerced into trading at prices that were set by the plunderers. Thus, one véka (an obsolete unit of measurement) of oats normally went for for one Gulden, but it also happened that soldiers would demand not one, but two, or even four véka in exchange for this fee. If there was no fodder in the village, the population would be forced to travel to the market in Kassa or elsewhere to purchase the required supplies. And while market prices fluctuated, soldiers would pay for their foodstuffs, wine, and fodder only according to a set list of prices, and thus villagers were sometimes forced to do this shopping at a loss.

In the winter, depending on the conditions, three or four of these mounted gunmen would chose a county and move into a village. Once there, they would demand food of the best available quality, also requisitioning free provisions for their wives or children or companions. First they would be given beer, and when it ran out, they would want the best wine. If there was no wine, they would send the locals away to find some, sometimes to sources miles away. All in all, they indulged themselves, keeping kitchens and cellars open all day and night. This caused the locals to complain, as they did not have so much that they could satisfy their guests, who forced the peasants to do their bidding by beating them or threatening them with weapons. They also looted houses, taking pillows, beds, geese, hens, and swine, and even this was not enough, as they often seized everything that had not been buried. As long as the soldiers were there, they would want a half véka of fodder—nearly equivalent to a Prague bushel—for each horse. And if that was not sufficient, peasants would be sent to the market to buy more.

The author of this document goes on to discuss the coming of spring. Villagers were afraid of further damage, suspecting that, beyond the usual seizures, the soldiers would confiscate lambs, pigs, geese, and other poultry. On top of all this, some of the mounted gunmen, unsatisfied with the aforementioned goods, came with wagons and took the wheat, barley, and oats that the serfs had grown and had it milled for their own use. These soldiers committed such plunder not once or twice or four times, but as often as they fancied. Thus—the noblemen’s complaint asserted—our villages had survived the Tatars (that is, the Ottoman Turks), only to be destroyed by our own mounted soldiers. Not only did the nobles worry that their tax-paying serfs were being plundered and impoverished, they were increasingly disturbed by the mercenaries’ failure to distinguish nobles from commoners. They ravaged estates and occupied empty houses, treating everyone equally.

The local nobility argued in this petition that the soldiers of Johann Baptista Pezzen’s regiment had done the greatest damage. They looted, plundered, and pillaged everywhere, in the courtyards and castles of noblemen, clergymen, and laymen alike. They butchered countless cattle, they abused virgins and women of good reputation, they committed murder and other despicable acts—it is a wonder that the earth did not open up and devour them.77 And thus the Court ordered the Szepes Chamber in Kassa to investigate the complaints of the Upper Hungarian nobility, which also included the assertions that Pezzen’s infantry regiment had taken three or four thousand (!) horses and that the plundered goods of a single captain had filled eight wagons.78

This pillage and plunder was naturally accompanied by violence and destruction, and military leaders struggled against such viciousness, both in their camp regulations and in the Artikelbrief. Thanks to these efforts, certain provisions of the two documents forbade the abuse or dishonoring of women in labor, the pregnant, virgins, the elderly, preachers, priests, and parish clerks. They likewise forbade the looting or destruction of churches, monasteries, hermitages, and schools. For all such transgressions, clauses 8 and 9 of the Artikelbrief held out the possibility of the death penalty.79 In article 53, Schwendi also forbade, under threat of execution, the destruction of crops, mills, and bakers’ ovens, by which provision he hoped to safeguard the army’s food sources. In addition, in article 54, the drafters of this document emphatically stressed that the aged and infirm, clerics, women, and small children—that is, the unarmed and those incapable of bearing arms—should never beaten or killed; anyone who committed such a crime was to pay for it with his life. Schwendi also used the threat of death to ward off another recurrent form of hooliganism—anyone who pilfered or set fire to a military camp without the express command of his colonel was to be executed. 80 Of course, these official prohibitions had little actual effect on everyday practice, as exemplified by the sacking of Beszterce (Bistrita, Romania) in February of 1602. However, neither in its death toll nor in the volume of plundered wealth did this incident measure up to the losses suffered by the rich city of Magdeburg, which was sacked in 1631 by the soldiers of the Catholic League, and where 20-30,000 citizens were slaughtered.81 Thus, the Long Turkish War was marked by pillaging, plundering, and ransacking, just like other European theaters of war. However, the volume of such depredations permanently circumscribed the growth of the cities of the Kingdom of Hungary and Transylvania, so that neither in population nor in economic terms did they ever reach the size or potential of similar cities in Western Europe.

Wives and Children

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the motley crews that accompanied the armed forces were made up primarily of women and children.82 In antiquity, it was not regarded as extraordinary for a mercenary to set off on a military campaign with his wife, or even his entire family. Even into the nineteenth century, their presence was generally described as a common military obligation.83 Based on communications from the Long Turkish War and the Thirty Years’ War, it is possible to come up with a rough estimate of the number of people who stayed in military camps but did not fight. In a patent dated April 28, 1601, Rudolf II informed the magistrates of Grundramsdorf, Neudorf, and Biedermasdorf that Captain Dietmayr Schiffer’s 200-man battalion, then in the service of the Pope, was to be dismissed if it were to come to any of these three villages. According to this document, these soldiers were accompanied by 19 women and children (Trossweib und Bubeln).84 At the end of February, 1632, after a short siege, the defenders of Buxtehude surrendered the stronghold entrusted to them to Swedish troops, who, in exchange, promised the Imperial Guard and their companions a safe withdrawal. A short time later, 501 soldiers, 335 women, and 367 children abandoned the city.85 In all probability, they belonged to a regiment of Albrecht von Wallenstein’s army, then stationed at Forchheim, near Bamberg, at the muster of which the enteprisers listed 2258 soldiers, 916 women, and 521 children.86 Johann Jakob von Wallhausen, on the other hand, in his 1615 work Kriegskunst zu Fuß (Warfare On Foot), reckoned that the recruitment of 3000 soldiers would mean the presence of 4000 women and children (!) in their camp.87 This number does not appear to be an exaggeration, given that in 1573 it was assumed that approximately 5000 various people (footmen, servants, wives, prostitutes, and children) and as many as a thousand horses would accompany a 3000-man Spanish regiment going off to war.88

Enterprisers were generally of the opinion that the wives and children in the camps were merely useless, hungry mouths89 who slowed the army down, contributed to rising food prices, and lowered morale. Accordingly, they renewed their efforts to restrict or even prohibit the hiring of married mercenaries.90 In spite of this, there were many of them in the Christian armies of the Long War and their contemporaries viewed their presence as common, even customary. As Ferenc Dersffy wrote in his August 13, 1597 letter to the lord lieutenant (supremus comes or főispán) of Árva county, György Thurzó of Bethlenfalva: “…with the Germans, as they cannot be without them, there are many women.”91 Four years later, Peter Casal wrote to Graz from the Christian encampment at Kanizsa that in the two regiments hired by Gianangelo Gaudanzi di Madruzzo, Baron d’Avy, he had seen more women than men.92

The women and children traveling with the army were not just useless idlers to be fed; they took part in the everyday life and work of the camp and tried to help their families earn a living. For example, they participated in the construction of siege ramps. Casal, who personally took part in the siege of Kanizsa in 1601, mentions several times in his letters that the women worked alongside the men and that several of them were even shot.93 They also took part in the cleaning of the camp lavatories and in nursing the sick and the wounded.94

In addition to carrying all the family’s belongings, women cared for the children and looked after the animals. They washed officers’ clothes for money, occasionally begged for alms, and sometimes hurried to the battlefield to loot corpses with their husbands.95 To sustain their families, they often risked their lives by looking for food outside the camps. According to Casal’s description, food was so scarce in the camp of the Christian army besieging Kanizsa that in early September of 1601 every able person left the camp armed with huge poles, walking as far as a mile to beat the fruit from the region’s apple and plum trees. In their hunger, many gorged themselves, devouring all the fruit in sight and subsequently falling ill.96

Enterprisers also seem to have taken advantage of the presence of family members in the camps, as it happened more than once that women and children dressed themselves in army garments before a muster and thus deceived the mustering officer. The military enterpriser could then pocket the payments meant for those who were serving only on paper, after honoring these supplementals” with a few coins. Such troublesome experiences can be inferred from the Bestallung issued in Preiner’s name on March 15, 1602. It emphasized that enterprisers were not to enlist young kids (Buben), but men skilled in warfare. In addition, Geizkofler’s report, dated January 18, 1603, in reinforcing the edicts of the 1603 Imperial Diet in Regensburg, suggested that it would be necessary to set up a permanent army because youngsters were enlisting at every recruitment drive, especially among the arquebusiers, and that they were useless and a waste of food.97

Whether in the Long Turkish War or the Thirty Years’ War, if her husband left her or was killed in battle, the situation of a mercenary’s wife could change quickly. If she could not support herself or find a new husband—that is, in many instances—she had no other option than to prostitute herself to survive. After a while, these women came to be regarded just like those who had joined the campaigning army as prostitutes in the first place.98

A Final, Desperate Move: Desertion, Insubordination, or Mutiny

Soldiers’ dissatisfaction was directly proportional to their unpaid wage bills and their hunger. The Christian army that besieged Kanizsa in 1601 included mercenaries from Central and Southern Italy who could not tolerate the Hungarian climate and often deserted the army in groups of twenty or thirty.99 In the spring of 1602, some privates and infantrymen from the Althan regiment, fed up with their unpaid wages, left their winter encampment and deserted to Vienna. The Emperor distributed a patent throughout the city and the entirety of Lower Austria, warning residents to keep their gates closed and to check every passage, ferry, and customs checkpoint if necessary. Upon capture, these deserters’ full names were to be reported and they were to be kept under strict surveillance.100 In that same year, the remaining soldiers of Johann Baptista Pezzen’s regiment left their appointed winter quarters and marched back to Austria.101

One year later, Russworm had to investigate the revolt of 600 Dutch mounted gunmen who had been hired by Solms in Upper Hungary. According to his report, the soldiers’ disaffection and their ransacking of the region had been caused by the failure to pay them, and he recommended that this be kept in mind in sentencing both the leaders and the participants in this mutiny.102

As described in a letter written to Rudolf II in May of 1604, another thousand soldiers, these from the Mörsburg infantry regiment, also revolted over delinquent payments. This group left their appointed winter quarters in the town of Szentgyörgy (Durdevac, Croatia), marched to Lower Austria, and occupied Schwechat. However, when Sulz and Bernhard Leo Gall’s infantry and cavalry arrived to confront them, they disavowed their mutiny and gave up their five chief leaders.103

There is no doubt that the largest mutiny of mercenaries during the Long Turkish War was the revolt at Pápa. By August or September of 1599, the French and Walloon infantry brigades in the military camp at Esztergom were on the verge of open revolt. By disbursing some money, Geizkofler, the Court Military Council, and the Court Chamber managed to resolve the precarious situation, but only temporarily. In June of 1600, the French army, still lingering at their winter quarters in Pápa, revolted over insufficient supplies and overdue wages. It took a proper siege to retake the stronghold from them, and some of them even defected to the Ottoman army.104 Considering all this, it is no surprise that Karl von Liechtenstein’s professional report argued that it was inadvisable to enlist additional French troops, given their unreliability. He also advised against hiring new Walloon mercenaries because their long marches to the battlefield greatly increased their cost, and their casualties could not be easily replaced. It must also be noted that Liechtenstein was of the opinion that the climatic conditions in the Hungarian lands made Italians unfit for imperial service there; he also considered Cossacks marauders rather than soldiers.105

Weather and the Troops

In addition to the constant hardships soldiers faced, like mortal danger and unpaid wages, we have to consider two more influences on their everyday lives: weather and epidemics. The so-called “little ice age” was the period of intensified glaciation between the fourteenth and the nineteenth centuries. One of its coldest periods took place at the turn of the seventeenth century. By the end of the sixteenth century, the hot, dry summers of the 1550s were turning colder and colder, with more and more precipitation. Alpine glaciers started to grow in the mid-1580s and kept advancing until the turn of the century, and as a result, the average annual temperature dropped by 1.2-1.4 degrees Celsius. Summers became cooler and rainier, while winters became colder and harsher, and this climate change also affected the Carpathian Basin. The cold period that started in the middle of the sixteenth century was at its worst between 1595 and 1602.106

In the 1570 Artikelbrief, Schwendi required both infantry and cavalry to wear good coats or cloaks in order to protect themselves and their firearms from the cold.107 Of course, this directive was not always obeyed. Westernach wrote in his October 7, 1598 report to the Court Military Council that due to the cold, many men were lying sick in their tents and in makeshift huts.108 One month later, muster inspector Kulner reported from the muster of the Preiner regiment that a large part of the infantry had fallen ill as a result of the cold weather and their poor garments.109 In a volume published in 1685, Tobias Kober wrote that bronchitis and the common cold were regular problems in Hungary, especially in the encampments. Most soldiers were affected, and often suffered from the resulting sore throats and pulmonary diseases. Afflicting the whole body, these ailments contributed to the so-called “Pannonian languor” (“languores Pannonicos”). Old soldiers protected themselves with aqua vitae (pálinka, or vino sublimate), often drinking it in the morning. Mörsburg prohibited his infantrymen from consuming spirits, but Kober convinced him that pálinka was indeed useful during cold season. However, the wise doctor also added that its consumption could be harmful in hot weather. Some aqua vitae could drive thickened mucus out of the throat, but it was thought to cause one’s bile to boil when the weather was hot. Thus he advised Mörsburg to consider the suitability of the weather and the season, particularly in the Hungarian encampments. Having served as field medic to the Imperial and Royal Army in 1596 and 1597, Kober thought that the various natural phenomena that scourged the Christian army during the siege of Buda in 1598 were actually the work of Turkish sorcerers and Satan himself.110

Christian and Ottoman sources both mention that the weather during the siege of Kanizsa in the autumn of 1601 was rather cold and wet. This greatly slowed the preparations for the siege, as the almost constant rainfall on the already sodden swamplands made digging siege ramps and filling the moat impossible. For example, their supposedly decisive assault was to start on October 28 because the Imperial and Royal forces had been able to start the digging for the ramps only nine days earlier. Then, a great snowfall rendered the continuation of the siege impossible. The incessant rain, followed by snow and freezing dawns, made the conditions almost unbearable for the starving soldiers. The Southern Italians, who had never known such dire weather, suffered the most. To provide material for the sandbags they used to fill the moat, soldiers were forced to cut up their tents, which meant sleeping in the trenches under the open sky. It was no wonder that they froze to death en masse, or deserted to escape these terrible conditions. On their march toward Kanizsa, Russworm’s armies suffered similar losses. Although they had brought tents, they were unable to pitch them, and thus 3000 men and women and 300 horses would perish along the way.111

However, disease resulted not just from the rain and the cold, but also from the heat. According to Ortelius, hot weather contributed to the illnesses and deaths of soldiers in the month of August in both 1596 and 1598. In both instances, dehydration led to fatigue and eventually to death.112

Hygiene in the camps was also a serious problem. Fronsberger’s work contains an undated set of regulations which established strict sanitary procedures for camp latrines and abattoirs in hopes of preventing epidemics.113 However, outbreaks of contagious diseases could not be avoided. As a result of haphazard burial practices and a lack of basic hygiene, an epidemic broke out during the siege of Esztergom in 1595; its casualties included deputy commander Karl von Mansfeld.114 Kober also reports that one year later, a physician who had arrived with the troops from Upper Austria also died during an epidemic at the siege of Hatvan. When the defenders’ artillery forced his camp into retreat and he was out tending to the wounded, Leonhard Rauwolff drank from the Zagyva river (“Hadwaniensisaquae”), at which point, according to Kober, the urine and feces in the water poisoned him. The old medic was ignored in the camp, was not treated adequately, and eventually died of constant diarrhea that September.115 Two years later, as the Christian army was retreating to the Szigetköz, the flooding Danube soaked their camp. The resulting epidemic afflicted Adolf von Schwarzenberg, Bernhard Leo Gall, and Geizkofler, but in the end, only a few of their cohort would die of it.116

Conclusion

The entirety of Austro-Hungarian and European society was represented in the Imperial and Royal Army at the end of the sixteenth century. We find soldiers who enlisted out of a sense of Christian duty, impoverished nobles, and citizens seeking honor and adventure. As in the Thirty Years’ War, however, it was the penniless who made up the great mass of the armed forces. Trying to escape poverty and starvation, these initially unarmed recruits and their families had to face everyday dangers in the Hungarian theater of war: mortal violence, destitution caused by unpaid wages, epidemics, and exposure to the elements. They strove to survive through fraud and deceit, as well as by looting and ransacking their environment. Already by the end of the fourteenth century, their rulers had been trying, through various decrees, to prohibit such “solutions”, but in vain—their everyday survival strategies simply did not comport with the norms set down for them by the authorities.117

Joining the military did not solve the long-term problem of subsistence. Even so, it happened more than once during the Long Turkish War that more people showed up at a muster of a regiment than could be accommodated. For many, there was no way to return to their former lives. They spent the time between their terms of service wandering about as vagrants (gartender Knecht), waiting to be mustered again.118

These roving, armed soldiers and their families, meanwhile, tried to support themselves by means of minor (or more serious) criminal acts, often imposing significant burdens on local populations. However, these methods allowed soldiers to secure a living for themselves and their families only in the short term. And because of they were under-housed and perpetually malnourished, their constitutions were even less capable of withstanding the climatic ordeals and accompanying illnesses that confronted them on the battlefields of Hungary.

It is important to reiterate that among the soldiers who arrived in the Kingdom of Hungary in this period, we find the unprepared and unqualified alongside mercenaries who had fought in numerous campaigns and knew their weapons well. Therefore, it is incorrect to assume that every recruit who reached the Hungarian theater of war would have been completely unprepared militarily; however, it would be equally irresponsible to assert that they were all trained professionals.

 

Archival Sources

Österreichisches Staatsarchiv

Kriegsarchiv

Hofkriegsratakten

Wien Expedit

Wien Registratur

Prag

Bestallungen

Alte Feldakten

Hofkammerarchiv

 

Niederösterreichische Gedenkbücher 1595–1596

 

Mandate, Patente und Passbriefe in Kriegssachen (MPP)

Kriegsakten

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1 Géza Pálffy, “A török elleni védelmi rendszer szervezetének története a kezdetektől a 18. század elejéig,” Történelmi Szemle 38, no. 2–3 (1996): 163–217.

2 Géza Pálffy, A császárváros védelmében. A győri főkapitányság története 1526–1598 (Győr: Győr-Moson-Sopron Megyei Győri Levéltára, 1999), 185–92; István H. Németh, Várospolitika és gazdaságpolitika a 16–17. századi Magyarországon, 2 vols. (Budapest: Gondolat–Magyar Országos Levéltár, 2004), 280–370; Ferenc Végh, Birodalmak határán – a Balaton partján: Keszthely végvárváros a XVI–XVII. században (Budapest: Históriaantik, 2007); Béla Sarusi Kiss, “Deutsche Soldaten in den ungarischen Grenzfestungen des 16. Jahrhunderts,” in Geteilt-Vereinigt. Beiträge zur Geschichte des Königreichs Ungarn in der Frühneuzeit (16–18. Jahrhundert), ed. Krisztián Csaplár-Degovics and István Fazekas (Berlin: Osteuropa-Zentrum Verlag, 2011), 157–80.

3 Fritz Redlich, De praeda militari. Looting and Booty 1500–1815 (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1956); Barton C. Hacker, “Women and Military Institutions in Early Modern Europe: A Reconnaissance,” Signs 6, no. 4 (1981): 643–71; John A. Lynn, Women, Armies, and Warfare in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2008); Olaf van Nimwegen, “The Transformation of Army Organisation in Early-Modern Western Europe, c. 1500–1789, in European Warfare, ed. Frank Tallett and D. J. B. Trim (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 159–80.

4 The most important are as follows: Lásd: Peter Burschel, Söldner im Nordwestdeutschland des 16. und 17. Jahrhunderts: Sozialgeschichtliche Studien (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1994); Bernhard R. Kroener, “Vom Landsknecht zum Soldaten. Anmerkungen zu Sozialprestige, Selbstverständnis und Leistungsfähigkeit von Soldaten in den Armeen des 16. Jahrhunderts,” in Von Crecy bis Mohács. Kriegswesen im späten Mittelalter, (Vienna: Heeresgeschichtliches Museum, 1997); Antonio Liepold, Wider den Erbfeind christlichen Glaubens. Die Rolle des niederen Adels in den Türkenkriegen des 16. Jahrhunderts: Europäische Hochschulschriften. Reihe III. Geschichte und ihre Hilfswissenschaften. Band 767 (Frankfurt am Main–Berlin–Bern–New York–Paris–Vienna: Peter Lang Verlag, 1998); Hans Medick and Benjamin Marschke, Experiencing the Thirty Years War. A Brief History with Documents (Boston–New York: Bedford and St. Martin’s, 2013).

5 “Tagebuch der Feldzüge des Regiments des Obristen Georg Freyherrn Ehrenreich. Besonders beim Gran und Eperies von 27. Julii 1604 bis 26. Octobris 1606 ausgeführet,” in Sammlung kleiner, noch ungedruckter Stücke, in welchen gleichzeitige Schriftsteller einzelne Abschnitte der ungarische Geschichte aufgezeichnet haben, vol. 1, ed. Martin Georg Kovachich (Ofen: n.p., 1805), 288–445.

6 Liepold 1998, passim.

7 Wilhelm Janko, Lazarus Freiherr von Schwendi oberster Feldhauptmann und Rath Kaiser Maximilian’’s II (Vienna: Wilhelm Braumüller Hof- und Universitätsbuchhändler, 1871), 173, 177–78, 193; Fritz Redlich, The German Military Enterpriser [Entrepreneur?] and his Work Force. A Study in European Economic and Social History (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1965), 43.

8 Brage Bei der Wieden, “Niederdeutsche Söldner vor dem Dreißigjährigen Krieg: Geistige und mentale Grenzen eines sozialen Raums,” in Krieg und Frieden. Militär und Gesellschaft in der Frühen Neuzeit, ed. Bernhard R. Kroener et al. (Paderborn–Munich–Vienna–Zürich: Schöningh Verlag, 1996), 98. The German military ranks mentioned in this article do not correspond cleanly to those of the Anglo-American hierarchy. Obrist is roughly analogous to Colonel, Gefreite to noncommissioned officer, and Hauptmann to captain.

9 Österreichisches Staatsarchiv (ÖStA) Kriegsarchiv (KA) Hofkriegsratakten (HKRA) Wien Expedit (Exp.) 1602. Juli No. 15); Reinhard Baumann, Das Söldnerwesen im 16. Jahrhundert im bayerischen und süddeutschen Beispiel. Eine gesellschaftsgeschichtliche Untersuchung, Miscellanea Bavarica Monacensia 79 (Munich: Wölfle Verlag, 1978), 66–68, 96; Wieden, “Niederdeutsche Söldner vor dem Dreißigjährigen Krieg,” 94; Kroener, “Vom Landsknecht zum Soldaten,” 82; Liepold, Wider den Erbfeind christlichen Glaubens, 133–35.

10 ÖStA HKRA Wien Exp. 1603 August. No. 99.

11 ÖStA KA HKRA Wien Registratur (Reg.) 1601. Oktober No. 136.

12 József Kelenik, “A kézi lőfegyverek jelentősége a hadügyi forradalom kibontakozásában. A császári-királyi hadsereg fegyverzetének jellege Magyarországon a tizenöt éves háború éveiben,” Hadtörténelmi Közlemények 104, no. 3 (1991): 118.

13 See the study by Brian Sandberg in the present issue. Jan Paul Niederkorn, Die europäischen Mächte und der Lange Turkenkrieg Kaiser Rudolfs II (1593–1606) (Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaft, 1993), 390–91; Wieden, “Niederdeutsche Söldner vor dem Dreißigjährigen Krieg,” 97–98; Liepold, Wider den Erbfeind christlichen Glaubens, 125–27; Péter Sahin-Tóth, “A francia katolikus ligától Kanizsáig. Henri de Lorraine-Chaligny életpályája (1570–1600),” in A középkor szeretete. Tanulmányok Sz. Jónás Ilona tiszteletére, ed. Gábor Klaniczay et al. (Budapest: ELTE BTK, 1999), 453–65.

14 Baumann, Das Söldnerwesen im 16. Jahrhundert, 69); Kroener, “Vom Landsknecht zum Soldaten,” 81–83.

15 Janko, Lazarus Freiherr von Schwendi, 173, 177–78, 193); Redlich, The German Military Enterpriser, 43); Liepold, Wider den Erbfeind christlichen Glaubens, 96, 125.

16 Kurt Klein, “Die Bevölkerung Österreichs vom Beginn des 16. bis zur Mitte des 18. Jahrhunderts (mit einem Abriß der Bevölkerungsentwicklung von 1754 bis 1869),” in Beiträge zur Bevölkerungs- und Sozialgeschichte Österreichs, ed. Heimold Helczmanovszki (Vienna: Im Auftrag des Österreichischen Statistischen Zentralamtes 1973), 47–111. Peter Burschel, Söldner im Nordwestdeutschland des 16. und 17. Jahrhunderts: Sozialgeschichtliche Studien (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1994), 85.

17 Redlich, The German Military Enterpriser, 127.

18 Reinhard Baumann, Georg von Frundsberg. Der Vater der Landsknechte und Feldhauptmann von Tirol (Munich: Süddeutscher Verlag, 1984), 46; Friedrich Edelmayer, Söldner und Pensionäre. Das Netzwerk Philipps II. im Heiligen Römischen Reich (Munich: Oldenbourg, 2002), 256.

19 Burschel, Söldner im Nordwestdeutschland, 58–70.

20 Baumann, Das Söldnerwesen im 16. Jahrhundert, 85; Burschel, Söldner im Nordwestdeutschland, 72–87.

21 Janko, Lazarus Freiherr von Schwendi, 173, 177–78, 193; Bernd Roeck, Außenseiter, Randgruppen, Minderheiten. Fremde im Deutschland der frühen Neuzeit (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1993), 76; Burschel, Söldner im Nordwestdeutschland, 88–96.

22 Tobias Coberus, Observationum medicarum castrensium Hungaricarum decades tres (Helmstadt: Fridericus Lüderwaldus, 1685), 44.

23 Wieden, “Niederdeutsche Söldner vor dem Dreißigjährigen Krieg,” 97–98.

24 Janko, Lazarus Freiherr von Schwendi, 199–200.

25 Friedrich Blau, Die deutschen Landsknechte (Kettwig: Phaidon Akademische Verlag-Gesellschaft, 1985), 25.

26 ÖStA Hofkammerarchiv (HKA), Niederösterreichische Gedenkbücher, 1595–1596. Bd. 157, fol. 127r–29v.

27 ÖStA KA Bestallungen (Best.) 1601/672); József Kelenik, “A kézi lőfegyverek jelentősége,” 49.

28 Janko, Lazarus Freiherr von Schwendi, 173, 177–78, 193); Redlich, The German Military Enterpriser, 43; Liepold, Wider den Erbfeind christlichen Glaubens, 96, 125.

29 Baumann, Das Söldnerwesen im 16. Jahrhundert, 66.

30 Géza Perjés, “Az Oszmán Birodalom európai háborúinak katonai kérdései (1356–1699),” Hadtörténelmi Közlemények 14 (1967), 339–70.

31 ÖStA KA HKRA Prag. No. 17.

32 ÖStA KA HKRA Wien Reg. 1603 Juli. No. 75.

33 Eugen Heischmann, Die Anfange des stehenden Heeres In Österreich (Vienna: Österreichischer Bundesverlag, 1925), 48.

34 ÖStA KA HKRA Prag 1598. No. 18.

35 Ibid., No. 17.

36 Ibid., No. 18; ÖStA HKRA Wien Exp. 1603 August. No. 99.

37 ÖStA KA Alte Feldakten (AFA) 1602/3/5; Heischmann, Die Anfange, 45–47.

38 Kelenik, “A kézi lőfegyverek jelentősége,” 87, 94.

39 Heischmann, Die Anfange, 45–48.

40 ÖStA KA Best. 464/1593; ÖStA KA AFA 1594/4/7; ÖStA KA AFA 1594/6/3; ÖStA KA Best. 580/1598; ÖStA KA Best. 653/1600; ÖStA KA Best. 695/1601ÖStA KA AFA 1605/12/1; Kelenik, “A kézi lőfegyverek jelentősége,” 99–100.

41 Zoltán Péter Bagi, A császári-királyi mezei hadsereg a tizenöt éves háborúban. Hadszervezet, érdekérvényesítés, reformkísérletek (Budapest: Históriaantik Könyvkiadó, 2011), 213–34.

42 Krüger, Kersten, “Kriegsfinanzen und Reichsrecht im 16. und 17. Jahrhundert,” in Krieg und Frieden. Militär und Gesellschaft in der Frühen Neuzeit, ed. Bernhard R. Kroener et al. (Paderborn–Munich–Vienna–Zürich: Schöningh Verlag, 1996), 49.

43 ÖStA KA HKRA Prag 1597. No. 9.

44 Ibid., 1598. No. 23.

45 Ibid. No. 18.

46 “Tagebuch der Feldzüge des Regiments des Obristen Georg Freyherrn Ehrenreich. Besonders beim Gran und Eperies von 27. Julii 1604 bis 26. Octobris 1606 ausgeführet,” in Sammlung kleiner, noch ungedruckter Stücke, 299, 308, 331.

47 ÖStA KA HKRA Prag 1597. No. 9.

48 Ibid., 1598. No. 26.

49 Ibid., Wien Exp. 1604 Mai. No. 89.

50 Janko, Lazarus Freiherr von Schwendi, 202.

51 ÖStA KA HKRA Prag 1598. No. 24.

52 ÖStA KA HKRA Wien Reg. 1601 Dezember. No. 37; ÖStA KA HKRA Wien Reg. 1601 Dezember No. 53.

53 HHStA Hungarica Allgemeine Akten Fasc. 140. Fol. 134r–137v; Gusztáv Gömöry, “Székesfehérvár visszavétele 1601-ben és újbóli elvesztése 1602-ben,” Hadtörténelmi Közlemények 5 (1892): 611–13.

54 Heischmann, Die Anfange, 193–95.

55 ÖStA KA AFA 1596/1/9 ½.

56 Heischmann, Die Anfange, 193–195.

57 ÖStA KA HKRA Wien Exp. 1596 Februar. No. 113.

58 Parker, The Army of Flanders and the Spanish Road 1567–1659, 162–64.

59 Janko, Lazarus Freiherr von Schwendi, 199–201, 206, 208; Hans-Michael Möller, Das Regiment der Landsknechte. Untersuchungen zu Verfassung, Recht und Selbstverständnis in deutschen Söldnerheeren des 16. Jahrhunderts. Frankfurter historische Abhandlungen 12 (Wiesbaden: Steiner Verlag, 1976), 29.

60 HHStA MEA Mandate, Patente und Passbriefe in Kriegssachen (MPP) Konv. 1. Fol. 116r.–17v.

61 Redlich, The German Military Enterpriser, 50–51.

62 Janko, Lazarus Freiherr von Schwendi, 202, 205.

63 Johennes Müller, “Der Anteil der schwäbischen Kreistruppen an dem Türkenkrieg Kaiser Rudolf II. von 1595 bis 1597,” Zeitschrift des Historischen Vereins für Schwaben und Neuburg. Achtundzwanzigister Jahrgang 28 (1901): 246–47.

64 Péter Sahin-Tóth, “Egy lotaringiai nemes a ’hosszú török háborúban’: Georges Bayer de Boppard,” in Változatok a történelemre. Tanulmányok Székely György tiszteletére, Monumenta Historica Budapestinensia XIV, ed. Gyöngyi Erdei et al. (Budapest: Budapest Történeti Múzeum, 2004), 303.

65 ÖStA KA Best. 621/1599.

66 HHStA Kriegsakten (Ka) Karton (Kt.) 31. Konv. 1590–1603. Fol. 100r-v.

67 HHStA Ka Kt. 31. Konv. 1590–1603. Fol. 100v.

68 Ibid., 100v–101r.

69 ÖStA KA HKRA Prag 1597. No. 9.

70 ÖStA KA HKRA Wien Reg. 1601. Oktober. No. 136.

71 ÖStA KA AFA 1599/8/12.

72 Irén Bilkei and Éva Turbuly, Zala vármegye közgyűlési jegyzőkönyveinek regesztái 1555–1711, I, Zalai Gyűjtemény 29 (Zalaegerszeg: Zala Megyei Levéltár, 1989), 632. c., 640. c., 656. c., 665. c; Éva Turbuly, Sopron vármegye közgyűlési jegyzőkönyveinek regesztái 1595–1608, II. rész (Sopron: Győr-Moson-Sopron Megye Soproni Levéltár, 2002), 231. c., 243. c., 244. c., 295. c; 410. c., 432. c.

73 ÖStA KA AFA 1595/12 /1 ¼; HHStA MEA MPP Konv. 2. Fol. 146r–47v; Heischmann, Die Anfange, 228–45.

74 ÖStA KA Hofkriegsrat-Wien Pr. Exp. Bd. 194. Fol. 196v. 1595. 23 Februar.

75 ÖStA KA AFA 1595/12/1 ¼.

76 Hyeronimus Augustinus Ortelius, Chronologia oder Historische Beschreibung aller Kriegsempörungen und Belagerungen in Ungarn auch in Siebenburgen von 1395 (Nürnberg: n.p., 1602 [Reprint: Győr: Pytheas Kiadó, 2002]), 101r-v.

77 ÖStA HKA Hoffinanz (HF) Hoffinanz Ungarn (HFU), rote Nummer (RN). 77. Fol. 699r-712v.

78 Ibid., 78. Fol. 336–38 rv.

79 Janko, Lazarus Freiherr von Schwendi, 200.

80 Ibid., 206–07; Fritz Redlich, De praeda militari. Looting and Booty 1500–1815 (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1956), 10–18.

81 Olaf van, Nimwegen, The transformation of army organisation in early-modern western Europe, c. 1500–1789, in European Warfare, ed. Frank Tallett and D. J. B. Trim (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 172.

82 Burschel, Söldner im Nordwestdeutschland, 241.

83 Christa Hämmerle, “Militärgeschichte als Geschlechtergeschichte. Von den Chancen einer Annäherung,” Österreichische Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaften 9 (1998): 125.

84 HHStA MEA MPP Konv. 2. 160rv.

85 Burschel, Söldner im Nordwestdeutschland, 241.

86 István Czigány, Reform vagy kudarc? Kísérletek a magyarországi katonaság beillesztésére a Habsburg Birodalom haderejébe. 1600–1700 (Budapest: Balassi Kiadó, 2004), 46–47.

87 Burschel, Söldner im Nordwestdeutschland, 227.

88 Parker, The Army of Flanders and the Spanish Road 1567–1659, 87; Barton C. Hacker, „Women and Military Institutions in Early Modern Europe: A Reconnaissance,” Signs 6, no. 4 (1981): 647–48.

89 ÖStA KA AFA 598/4/ad 2; ÖStA KA HKRA Prag 1598. No. 18; ÖStA KA HKRA Wien Reg. 1603 Juli. No. 140.

90 Geoffrey Parker, The Army of Flanders and the Spanish Road 1567–1659. The Logistics of Spanish Victory and Defeat in the Low Countries’’ Wars (Cambridge: University Press, 1972), 175; Czigány, Reform vagy kudarc?, 46.

91 Géza Pálffy, A pápai vár felszabadításának négyszáz éves emlékezete 1597–1997 (Pápa: Jókai Mór Városi Könyvtár, 1997), 149.

92 Albrecht Stauffer, “Die Belagerung von Kanizsa durch die christlichen Truppen im Jahre 1601,” Mitteilungen des Instituts für Österreichische Geschichtsforschung 7 (1886): 275.

93 Stauffer, “Die Belagerung von Kanizsa,” 285, 291, 294.

94 Coberus, Observationum medicarum castrensium Hungaricarum, 45.

96 Stauffer, “Die Belagerung von Kanizsa,” 285.

97 Heischmann, Die Anfange, 45–47.

98 Baumann, Landsknechte, 155–62; Burschel, Söldner im Nordwestdeutschland, 248–52.

99 Stauffer, “Die Belagerung von Kanizsa,” 301; Ortelius, Chronologia, 208r.

100 HHStA MEA MPP Konv. 2. Fol. 190r.

101 ÖStA KA HKRA Wien Exp. 1602. Mai. No. 13.

102 Ibid., Reg. 1603 Juli. No. 75.

103 Ibid., 1604 Mai. No. 118.

104 Caroline Finkel, “French Mercenaries in the Habsburg–Ottoman War of 1593–1606: the Desertion of the Papa Garrison to the Ottomans in 1600,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 55, no. 3 (1992): 451–71; Péter Sahin-Tóth, “Hitszegő hitetlenek. Francia-vallon katonák lázadása Pápa várának ostrománál (1600),” in Ad Astra. Sahin-Tóth Péter tanulmányai – Études de Péter Sahin-Tóth, ed. Teréz Oborni (Budapest: ELTE BTK, 2006), 299–363.

105 Heischmann, Die Anfange, 32.

106 Antal Réthly, ed., Időjárási események és elemi csapások Magyarországon 1700-ig (Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1962), 102–17; Lajos Rácz, Magyarország éghajlattörténete az újkor idején (Szeged: Juhász Gyula Felsőoktatási Kiadó, 2001), 56–62; Wolfgang Behringer, A klíma kultúrtörténete. A jégkorszaktól a globális felmelegedésig, trans. Judit Tarnói (Budapest: Corvina Kiadó, 2010), 117–39.

107 Janko, Lazarus Freiherr von Schwendi, 200.

108 ÖStA KA HKRA Prag 1598. No. 22.

109 Ibid. No. 25.

110 Coberus, Observationum medicarum castrensium Hungaricarum, 5–9.

111 Stauffer, “Die Belagerung von Kanizsa,” 265–313; Imre Karácson, trans., and Gyula Szekfű, ed., Török történetírók, vol. 3 (1566–1659) (Budapest: Magyar Tudományos Akadémia, 1916), 162–64, 306–307, 309–34, passim; Florio Banfi, “Gianfrancesco Aldobrandini magyarországi hadivállalatai,” Hadtörténelmi Közlemények 41 (1940): 150–54; Tóth, A mezőkeresztesi csata, 340–44, passim; Ortelius, Chronologia, 207r–12v, passim; Balázs Sudár, “Kanizsa 1601. évi ostroma török szemmel,” Hadtörténelmi Közlemények 118, no. 4 (2006): 1025–58, passim.

112 Ortelius, Chronologia, 112, 153.

113 Leonhard Fronsperger, Von Schanzen vnnd Befestigungen vmb die Feldtlager auffzuwerffen, (Frankfurt am Main, 1573), XXIIIv; László Takáts, Endre Szemkeö, and László Vámos, “Magyarországi tábori kórház szervezési és működési elve 1692-ben,” Orvostörténeti Közlemények/Communcationes de Historia Artis Medicine 10 (1977): 58.

114 Gábor Kazinczy, ed., Illésházy István nádor följegyzései 1592–1603 (Pest: Eggenberger Ferdinánd Magyar Akadémiai Könyvárus, 1863), 23; Istvánffy, Magyarok dolgairól, 207.

115 Coberus, Observationum medicarum castrensium Hungaricarum, 16–17.

116 Ortelius, Chronologia, 153.

117 Redlich, De praeda militari, 6–18.

118 Baumann, Landsknechte, 131–35; Roeck, Außenseiter, Randgruppen, Minderheiten, 76; Burschel, Söldner im Nordwestdeutschland, 273–91; Bagi, A császári-királyi mezei hadsereg, 332–34.