A Professor as Diplomat: Johann Heinrich Bisterfeld and the Foreign Policy of the Principality of Transylvania, 1638–1643

Gábor Kármán
Research Centre for the Humanities
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 12 Issue 2  (2023):3–36 DOI 10.38145/2023.2.248

The paper addresses a unique phenomenon, the prominent role played by Johann Heinrich Bistefeld, a German professor at the academy of Gyulafehérvár Alba Iulia/Weissenburg in the foreign policy of György Rákóczi I, prince of Transylvania during the 1630s and 1640s. Having accepted a mission to Western European courts in 1638–1639, where Bisterfeld’s academic activities served as an excellent camouflage for the professor’s secret diplomatic negotiations, the professor maintained a leading role in keeping contact with the representatives of the Swedish and French Crowns also in the period after his return to the principality. As an “alternative correspondent” to the prince, he proved very useful in creating the treaties of Gyulafehérvár (1643) and Munkács (1645), and he played an outstanding role also in keeping the spirits of the prince high not to give up his plans to join the anti-Habsburg side of the Thirty Years’ War. Building upon the ideas Bisterfeld inherited from his tutor and father-in-law, Johann Heinrich Alsted, the German professor treated his pansophistic ideas and faith in the continuing Reformation as well as his political activities as different parts of the same endeavor as long as Calvinist believers were facing political repression in the Holy Roman Empire.

Keywords: diplomacy, Transylvania, international Calvinism, Gyulafehérvár academy, pansophia

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