Gabriel Bethlen

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Gábor Bethlen, engraving from Theatrum Europaeum , 1662Signature Gabriel Bethlen.PNG

Gabriel Bethlen ( von Iktár ), Hungarian  : Bethlen Gábor , Slovak  : Gabriel Betlén (* around 1580 in Elienmarkt , Principality of Transylvania ; † November 15, 1629 in Weissenburg ), was Prince of Transylvania from 1613 to 1629 and leader of from 1619 to 1626 anti-Habsburg uprisings in the Kingdom of Hungary in what is now Slovakia . His campaigns took place as part of the Thirty Years War .

Transylvania and Bethlen's Scroll 1605–1620

Origin and seizure of power

The area of ​​the small former principality of Transylvania today forms the geographical center and north-west of Romania and borders in the north-west on today's eastern border of Hungary. At that time, the Principality of Transylvania was officially part of the Kingdom of Hungary . The princes of Transylvania were vassals of the Crown of Hungary, but they were de facto independent and politically wavered between the Ottomans and the Habsburgs .

Gabriel Bethlen was the son of a Hungarian aristocrat, wealthy in Transylvania, who had made himself indispensable as an excellent equestrian general in the army of the Prince of Transylvania. In 1605 Gabriel Bethlen acquired the Hunedoara Castle and twice proved to be a "kingmaker" when he procured the Crown of Prince of Transylvania in 1605 Stephan Bocskai and in 1608 Gabriel Báthory . The rapprochement between Báthory and the Habsburgs forced Bethlen - already at that time a declared opponent of the Austrian ruling family - to flee to the Turks . In October 1613 came Bethlen with a Turkish army back, defeated Báthory and settled by the state legislature to Cluj choose the Prince of Transylvania. His road to power had been full of intrigue and, as his enemies said, had been achieved with murders. Bethlen was able to assert himself successfully because he led his subjects into wars every year and made looting possible for them. As a capable soldier and skilled diplomat, he kept changing his alliances. Bethlen made his first incursion into Habsburg territories as early as 1616.

Start of war in Austria until 1620

After the beginning of the Thirty Years' War , Bethlen, who was a Calvinist , negotiated with Protestant military leaders, with Poland, France, Sweden and the Habsburgs, but also with the Ottomans. As a Calvinist he had also followed the development of the class uprising in Bohemia and the processes surrounding the formation of the Bohemian Confederation and wanted to intervene on the part of the Protestants in Bohemia as part of his annual summer campaign in 1619.

For his first campaign against the Habsburgs , he and an army invaded semi-Protestant Hungary in August 1619 at the time when the electors of the empire had gathered in Frankfurt to elect the new emperor. The conquest of the city of Košice (German Kaschau , Hungarian Kassa ) in August 1619 marked the beginning of his campaign. As a result, he was able to conquer almost all of today's Slovakia (including the mountains Cserehát and Zemplényi hegység in today's Hungary) including Pressburg , i.e. H. the main area of ​​the then Kingdom of Hungary . In Hungary many citizens joined the army of Bethlen as mercenaries and on August 20 he was able to conclude an alliance agreement with Heinrich Matthias von Thurn , the military leader of the Protestant uprising in Bohemia.

On August 26, 1619, Elector Friedrich von der Pfalz was elected as the new King of Bohemia by 100 votes to 46 in Prague . Two days later the King of Bohemia, who had been voted out in Prague, was elected Emperor Ferdinand II in Frankfurt . At the same time Protestant uprisings broke out in southern Austria in Styria. In the north of Austria, Gabriel Bethlen conquered Pressburg on October 14th, drove unpaid imperial mercenaries across the Danube and devastated the land on Vienna, where famine and plague raged. The newly elected Emperor Ferdinand II had signed a military support contract with Duke Maximilian I (Bavaria) in Munich on October 8, and arrived back in Vienna at the end of October 1619. Gabriel Bethlen's army was already standing at the gates of the city, but had to break off the siege. Imperial troops under Karl Bonaventura Count von Buquoy had marched into Upper Hungary (today's eastern Slovakia ) and had to be fought by Bethlen. Bethlen was able to defend the area and even conquered the area around the city of Sopron in western Hungary (today's Burgenland ) for a short time .

After a brief armistice, Bethlen was elected King of Hungary on August 25, 1620 with the consent of the Turks in his Landtag of Neusohl (Slovak Banská Bystrica , Hungarian Besztercebánya ).

Portrait of Gabriel Bethlen

The Battle of Bohemia Nov 1620

It had taken a year until Gabor Bethlen and his army overran Hungary again with the aim of advancing to Bohemia to help the Protestants there in the vicinity of Prague. The alleged aid was mostly connected with the looting of the villages. At the same time, the army of the Catholic League with its commander Tilly moved northwards, devastating the Protestant Upper Palatinate, and crossed the Bohemian border on September 26, 1620. Occasionally the mercenaries of the Tilly Army also had contact with mercenaries of the Bethlen Army on the way to Prague. The deployment of the Bohemian Army for the upcoming battle on the White Mountain took place partly in the firelight of the houses set on fire by undisciplined troops of the Bethlen Army, observed by the hostile Imperial Bavarian troops, who were therefore informed about the location and surroundings of the Bohemian positions. Positions were also assigned to the Bethlen troops, but it remains unclear whether these positions were taken and whether the Bethlen troops took part in the battle.


After the Habsburg victory in the Battle of the White Mountain in Bohemia, Habsburg troops also achieved successes against Bethlen and recaptured what is now western and central Slovakia (see also Battle of Tyrnau ). As a result, Bethlen had to conclude the peace of Nikolsburg (Czech: Mikulov ) with the Habsburgs on December 31, 1621 , in which he renounced the conquered territories in royal Hungary and the Hungarian crown. To compensate for this, however, seven Upper Hungarian counties (in today's Slovakia, Karpato-Ukraine and Northeast Hungary) as well as the principalities of Opole and Ratibor in Silesia were attached to Transylvania until his death.

Since Bethlen was dissatisfied with the peace of Nikolsburg, he undertook a second campaign (1623-1624). With the aim of joining the Moravian estates, he conquered all of today's Slovakia again, but had to confirm the peace of Nikolsburg on May 8, 1624 in the Peace of Vienna and give up the Silesian principalities again.

Bethlen continued to be an important figure on the general staff of political Calvinism . However, as a general he could not achieve any really great victories, since he could not dare a field battle against an army armed with cannons with his cavalry troop aimed at a surprising attack and rapid retreat.

Bethlen began his last campaign in 1626, this time with the aim of joining Ernst von Mansfeld's coalition troops in Silesia as part of the Thirty Years War . In part, his marriage in 1626 to Katharina , the sister of the Elector of Brandenburg , who was also a Calvinist, moved him to take part in this campaign , because the emperor had refused to solicit his daughter's hand. After Bethlen had conquered all of today's Slovakia again, however, he was quickly forced by the imperial general Albrecht von Wallenstein to retreat to the southern areas of today's central Slovakia. Wallenstein conquered Tyrnau (Slov. Trnava , Hungarian Nagyszombat ), Neutra (Slov. Nitra , Hungarian Nyitra ) and Neuhäusel (Hungarian Érsekújvár , Slov. Nové Zámky ). At the beginning of October 1626, Wallenstein's and Bethlen's troops met at Drégely-Palánk (Slov. Drégeľská Pálanka ) on the Eipel River (Hungarian Ipoly , Slov. Ipeľ ), but both armies then withdrew. Since Bethlen could no longer connect with the coalition troops, he asked the Habsburgs (Emperor Ferdinand II ) to end the armed forces . On December 20, 1626, Bethlen had to sign the Peace of Pressburg (1626) , which more or less confirmed the previous two peace agreements.

Gábor Bethlen (Hungarian banknote, 2000 Forints, 1998)


In the time after that, Bethlen remained calm, cared for the welfare of his country and promoted the arts, sciences and commerce.

He was married to Katharina von Brandenburg since March 1, 1626 (* May 28, 1602, † August 27, 1644) and died childless.

Bethlen founded the Weißenburg Academy and appointed foreign scholars, artists and craftsmen.

In 1979 a 200 forint commemorative coin (silver-640 fine) appeared in Hungary on the 350th anniversary of death.

Historians paint a different picture of Bethlen. Hungarian historians see in him more of an enlightened absolutist ruler who promoted the national economy, while German and Slovak historians see him more as a cruel and greedy looter.


Web links

Commons : Gábor Bethlen  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. CV Wedgewood: The 30 Years War . Cormoran Verlag, Munich 1999, ISBN 3-517-09017-4 , pp. 85-88 - 92-97.
  2. ^ Gábor Barta, Gerhard Seewann : Brief history of Transylvania . Ed .: Béla Köpeczi . Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest 1989, ISBN 963-05-5667-7 , Part VI The heyday of the Principality (1606-1660) , Chapter 3. Transylvania and the Thirty Years War ( excerpt from Part VI Chapter 3 [accessed August 8, 2020] Hungarian : Erdély rövid története . Translated by Harriett Ferenczi).
  3. CV Wedgewood: The 30 Years War . Cormoran Verlag, Munich 1999, ISBN 3-517-09017-4 , p. 110f.
predecessor Office successor
Gabriel Báthory Prince of Transylvania
Stephan Bethlen