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Stefan Batory

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Stefan Batory

For other people of the same name, see Stephen Báthory (disambiguation).

For ships named after this king, see MS Batory or the later TSS Stefan Batory.
Stephen Báthory
King of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
Reign 1 May 1576 – 12 December 1586
14 December 1575
1 May 1576
Predecessor Anna Jagiellon
Successor Sigismund III Vasa
Spouse Anna Jagiellon
House Báthory
Father Stephen Báthory of Somlyó
Mother Catherine Telegdi
Born (1533-09-27)27 September 1533
Szilágysomlyó, Transylvania (now Şimleu Silvaniei, Romania)
Died 12 December 1586(1586-12-12) (aged 53)
Hrodna, Grand Duchy of Lithuania (now in Belarus)
Burial Wawel Cathedral, Saint Mary's Crypt (buried May 1588)
The native form of this personal name is Báthory István. This article uses the Western name order.

Stephen Báthory (Hungarian: Báthory István; Polish: Stefan Batory; Lithuanian: Steponas Batoras; Romanian: Ştefan Báthory; Belarusian: Стэфан Баторый; Ukrainian: Степан Батори; 27 September 1533 – 12 December 1586) was Voivode of Transylvania (1571–76), Prince of Transylvania (1576–86) and King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania (1576–86).

The son of Stephen VIII Báthory and a member of the Hungarian Báthory noble family, Báthory was a ruler of Transylvania in the 1570s, defeating another challenger for that title, Gáspár Bekes. In 1576 Báthory became the second elected king of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. He worked closely with chancellor Jan Zamoyski. The first years of his reign were focused on establishing power, defeating a fellow claimant to the throne, Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor, and quelling rebellions, most notably, the Danzig rebellion. He reigned only a decade, but is considered one of the most successful kings in Polish history, particularly in the realm of military history. His signal achievement was his victorious campaign in Livonia against Russia in the mid part of his reign, when he repulsed a Russian invasion of Commonwealth borderlands and secured a highly favorable treaty of peace (the Peace of Jam Zapolski).


Stephen Báthory was born on 27 September 1533 in the castle at Somlyó, also known as Szilágysomlyó (today's Şimleu Silvaniei).[1] He was the son of Stephen VIII Báthory (d. 1534) of the noble Hungarian Báthory family and his wife Catherine Telegdi.[1] He had at least five siblings: two brothers and three sisters.[1]

Little is known about his childhood. Around 1549-1550 he briefly visited Italy, and likely spend few months attending lectures at the Padua University.[1] Upon his return, he joined the army of Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor, and took part in his military struggle against the Turks.[1] Some time after 1553 he was captured by the Turks, and after Ferdinand I refused to pay his ransom, he joined the opposing side, supporting John II Sigismund Zápolya in his struggle for power in the Eastern Hungarian Kingdom.[1] As Zápolya's supporter, Báthory acted both as a feudal lord, military commander and a diplomat.[1][2] During one of his trips to Vienna he was put under house arrest for two years.[2] During this time Báthory fell out of favour at Zápolya's court, and his position was mostly replaced by another Hungarian noble, Gáspár Bekes.[2] Báthory would briefly retire from politics, but he still wielded considerable influence, and was seen as a possible successor to Zápolya.[2]

After Zápolya's death in 1571, the Transylvanian estates elected Báthory Voivode of Transylvania.[2] Bekes, supported by the Habsburgs, disputed his election but by 1573 Báthory emerged victorious in the resulting civil war, and drove Bekes out of Transylvania.[2] Subsequently in Transylvanian politics he attempted to play the Ottomans and the Holy Roman Empire against one another, in an attempt to strengthen the Transylvania position.[3]

Elected king

In 1572, the throne of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, at the time the largest and one of the most populous states in Europe, was vacated when King Sigismund II of Poland died without heirs.[3] The Sejm was given the power to elect a new king, and did so by choosing Henry of France; Henry soon ascended the French throne and forfeited the Polish one by returning to France.[3] Báthory decided to enter into the election; in the meantime he had to defeat another attempt by Bekes to challenge his authority in Transylvania, which he did by defeating him at the Battle of Sinpaul.[3]

On 12 December 1575, after an interregnum of roughly one and a half years, primate of Poland Jakub Uchański, representing a pro-Habsburg faction, declared Emperor Maximilian II as the new monarch.[3] However, chancellor Jan Zamoyski and others opponents of Hanbsburgs persuaded many of the lesser nobility to demand a Piast king, a Polish king.[3][4][5] After a heated discussion, it was decided that Anna should be elected King of Poland and marry Stephen Báthory.[6] In January 1576 Báthory passed the mantle of Voivode of Transylvania to his brother Christopher Báthory and departed for Poland.[6] On 1 May 1576 Báthory married Anna the Jagiellonian and was crowned King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania.[6] After ascending the Polish-Lithuanian throne, Báthory also begun using the title of the Prince of Transylvania.[2]

Establishing power

Báthory's position was at first extremely difficult, as there was still some opposition to Báthory's election. Emperor Maximilian, insisting on his earlier election, fostered internal opposition and prepared to enforce his claim by military action.[7] At first the representatives of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania refused to recognize him as Grand Duke, and demanded concessions - that he return the estates of his wife Anne to the Lithuanian treasury, hold Sejm conventions in both Lithuania and Poland, and reserve the highest governmental official offices in Lithuania for Lithuanians. He accepted the conditions.[8] In June Báthory was recognized as Grand Duke of Lithuania, Duke of Ruthenia and Samogitia.[6][7]

With Lithuania secure, the other major region refusing to recognize his election was Prussia.[7] Maximilian's sudden death improved Báthory's situation, but the city of Danzig (Gdańsk) still refused to recognize his election without significant concessions.[7] The Hanseatic League city, bolstered by its immense wealth, fortifications, and the secret support of Emperor Maximilian, had supported the latter's election and decided not to recognize Báthory as legitimate ruler. The resulting conflict was known as the Danzig rebellion. Most armed opposition collapsed when the prolonged Siege of Danzig by Batory's forces was lifted as an agreement was reached.[7][9] The Danzig army was utterly defeated in a field battle on 17 April 1577.[10] However, since Báthory's armies were unable to take the city by force, a compromise was reached.[10][11] In exchange for some of Danzig demands being favorably reviewed, the city recognised him as ruler of Poland and paid the sum of 200,000 zlotys in gold as compensation.[9][11] Tying up administration of the Commonwealth northern provinces, in February 1578 he acknowledged George Frederick as the ruler of Duchy of Prussia, receiving his feudal tribute.[9]


After securing control over Commonwealth Báthory a chance to devote himself to strengthening his authority, in which he was supported by his chancellor Jan Zamoyski, who would soon become one of the king most trusted advisers.[5][11] Báthory reorganised the judiciary by formation of legal tribunals (the Crown Tribunal in 1578 and the Lithuanian Tribunal in 1581).[12] While this somewhat weakened the royal position, it was of little concern to Báthory, as the loss of power was not significant in the short run, and he was more concerned with the hereditary Hungarian throne.[9][12] In exchange, the Sejm allowed him to raise taxes and push a number of reforms strengthening the military, including the establishment of the piechota wybraniecka, an infantry formation composed of peasants.[9] Many of his projects aimed to modernize the Commonwealth army, reforming it in a model of Hungarian troops of Transylvania.[13] He also founded the Academy of Vilna, the third university in the Commonwealth, transforming a prior Jesuit college into a major university.[14] He founded several other Jesuit colleges, and was active in propagating Catholicism, while at the same time respectful of the Commonwealth policy of religious tolerance, issuing a number of decrees offering protection to Polish Jews and denouncing any religious violence.[13]

In external relations, Báthory sought peace through strong alliances. Though Báthory remained distrustful of the Habsburgs, he maintained the tradition of good relations that the Commonwealth had with its Western neighbor, and confirmed past treaties between the Commonwealth and Holy Roman Empire with diplomatic missions received by Maximilian's successor, Rudolf II.[15] The troublesome south-eastern border with the Ottoman Empire was temporarily quelled by truces signed in July 1577 and April 1579.[15] The Sejm of January 1578 gathered in Warsaw was persuaded to grant Báthory subsidies for the inevitable war against Muscovy.[9]

A number of his trusted advisers were Hungarian, and he remained interested in the Hungarian politics.[13] He wished to recreate his native country into an independent, strong power, but unfavorable international situation did not allow him to significantly advance any of his plans in that area.[16] Beyond Hungarian, he was well versed in Latin, and spoke Italian and German; he never learned the Polish language.[13]

In his personal life he has been described as rather frugal in his personal expenditures, with favorite pastimes of hunting and reading.[13]

War with Muscovy

Before Báthory's election to the throne of the Commonwealth, Ivan the Terrible of Russia had begun encroaching on its sphere of interest in the northeast, eventually invading the Commonwealth borderlands in Livonia; the conflict would grow to involve a number of nearby powers (outside Russia and Poland-Lithuania, also Sweden, the Kingdom of Livonia and Denmark-Norway). Each of them was vying for control of Livonia, and the resulting conflict, lasting for several years, became known as the Livonian War.[17] By 1577 Ivan was in control of most of the disputed territory, but his conquest was short lived.[17] In 1578 Commonwealth forces scored a number of victories in Liviona and begun pushing Ivan's forces back; this marked the turning tides in the war.[15] Báthory, together with his chancellor Zamoyski, led the army of the Commonwealth in a series of decisive campaigns taking Polotsk in 1579 and Velikiye Luki in 1580.[15]

In 1581 Stephen penetrated once again into Russia and, on 22 August, laid siege to the city of Pskov. While the city held, on 13 December 1581 Ivan the Terrible begun negotiations concluded with the Peace of Jam Zapolski on 15 January 158.[18] The treaty was favorable to the Commonwealth, as Ivan ceded Polatsk, Veliz and most of the Duchy of Livonia in exchange for regaining Velikiye Luki and Nevel.[18]

Final years

In 1584 Báthory allowed Zamoyski to execute Samuel Zborowski, whose death sentence for treason and murder had been pending for roughly a decade; this political conflict with the Zborowski family, represented as the clash between the monarch and the nobility, would be a major recurring topic in internal Polish politics for many years.[12][19] In external politics, Báthory was considering another war with Russia, but his plans were delayed to the lack of support from the Sejm, which refused to pass requested tax raises.[19]

Báthory's health had been declining for several years.[19] He died on 12 December 1586; a 1934 autopsy concluded the cause of death was chronic kidney disease.[20] He had no legitimate children, though contemporary rumours suggested he might have had several illegitimate children - none of them have however been confirmed by modern historians.[20] His death was followed by an interregnum of one year. The Emperor's brother Archduke Maximilian, was elected king but was contested by the Swedish Sigismund III Vasa, who defeated Maximilian at the Byczyna and succeeded as ruler of the Commonwealth.[21]


Báthory played a role in establishing his own legend, sponsoring a number of works about his life and achievements, from historical treatises to poetry.[13] During his lifetime, he was often featured in the works of Jan Kochanowski, Mikołaj Sęp Starzyński and many others.[13] He became a recurring character in Polish poetry and literature, featured in works by Jakub Jasiński, Józef Ignacy Kraszewski, Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz, Henryk Rzewuski and others, with a number of poems, novels and dramas in which he and his life are a central figure.[22] He has been a subject of numerous paintings, both during his life and posthumous; among the painters who took him as a subject were Jan Matejko and Stanisław Wyspiański.[22][23]

Nonetheless immediately after his death he was not fondly remembered in the Commonwealth, where many nobles remembered him for the Zborowski's affair; this incident and some of his domestic policies were taken as signs that he was interested in reducing the nobility's Golden Freedoms, establishing an absolute monarchy.[20] His contemporaries were also not fond of his favoritism of Hungarians over nationals of the Commonwealth.[19] He was also remembered, more trivially, for a Hungarian-style cap and saber (szabla batorówka).[22] A statue of Báthory by Giovanni Ferrari was raised in 1789 in Padua, Italy, sponsored by the last king of the Commonwealth, Stanisław August Poniatowski.[23] Other monuments to him include one in the Łazienki Palace (1795 by Andrzej Le Brun), and one in Sniatyn (1904, destroyed in 1939).[23] He was a patron of the Vilnius University (then known as the Stefan Batory University) and several units in the Polish Army from 1919 to 1939.[23] His name was borne by two passanger ships of the Polish Merchant Navy ships in the 20th century: MS Batory and TSS Stefan Batory.[23] In modern Poland, he is a patron of the Batory Steelmill, a nongovernmental Stefan Batory Foundation, the 9th Amrored Cavalry Brigade, and of numerous Polish streets, schools and similar objects.[23] One of the districts of the town of Chorzów is named after him.[23]

His rising star in the Polish memory and historiography can be traced to the era of partitions of Poland in the 19th century, when the Polish state lost its independence.[22] He was remembered for his military triumphs and praised as an effective ruler by many, including and Jan Chrzciciel Albertrandi, Jerzy Samuel Bandtkie, Michał Bobrzyński, Józef Szujski and others.[22] Through some historians like Tadeusz Korzon, Joachim Lelewel and Jędrzej Moraczewski remained more reserved, in 1887 Wincenty Zakrzewski noted that Báthory is "the darling of both the Polish public opinion and Polish historians".[22] During the interwar period in the Second Polish Republic he was a cult figure, often compared - with the government's approval - to the contemporary dictator of Poland, Józef Piłsudski.[22] After the Second World War, in the communist People's Republic of Poland, he became more of a controversial figure, with historians more ready to question his internal politics and attachment to Hungary; nonetheless his good image remained roughly intact, reinforced by a positive take on his figure by a popular Polish historian of that period, Paweł Jasienica.[22]



See also



External links

  • (Polish) Stephen Báthory's szkofia in the National Museum in Kraków [1].
Stephen Báthory
House of Báthory
Born: 1533 27 September Died: 1586 12 December
Regnal titles
Title last held by
Stephen Dobó
Francis Kendi
Voivode of Transylvania
Succeeded by
Christopher Báthory
Preceded by
John Sigismund Zápolya
Prince of Transylvania
Succeeded by
Sigismund Báthory
Preceded by
as sole monarch
King of Poland
Grand Duke of Lithuania

with Anne
Succeeded by
Sigismund III
Notes and references
1. Regnal Chronologies

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