CHAPTER I
TRANSYLVANIA AND ITS PEOPLE

In the two previous divisions of this history we have considered the rise and development of the religious movement with which we are concerned, from its diverse origins widely scattered in various countries of western Europe, through its formal organization and mature state as one of the recognized confessions of Protestantism, to its decline and gradual dissolution and absorption into other families of European Christianity. Its corporate existence in Poland may be dated from the meeting of its first synod in 1565 to the dissolution of its last two exile churches, at Kolozsvár in 1793 and at Andreaswalde in 1811.

We have now to follow the less known but extremely interesting history of another branch of this same movement, which took organized form at almost the same time with that in Poland, yet independently of it, ran its own course parallel with that of Socinianism, though largely separate from it, as long as the latter survived, and since then has bravely outlived it to the present day; although well-nigh two centuries and a half passed before its members became aware that there were in England vigorous and expanding groups of churches holding their faith and bearing their very name of Unitarian, while these in turn became conscious of having brethren in a remote and all but unknown land.

The seat of this movement was in Transylvania,1 a country comprising the eastern quarter of the old Kingdom of Hungary, and in extent about a half larger than Switzerland, or two thirds the size of the State of Maine. It is mountain-girt on all sides, on the north and east by the rugged Carpathians, on the south by the lofty Transylvanian Alps, and on the west by a lower range overlooking the Great Plain of Hungary. It is well watered by several rivers that break through the mountain boundaries on their way to join the Tisza (Theiss) or the Danube. The climate is temperate, the mountains abound in mineral wealth of great variety, including the richest gold mines in Europe, which have been worked since Roman times, and the forests yield abundant timber. The surface of the land is predominantly hilly, being diversified by many small valleys; and while the enthusiasm of travelers who have called, this the Switzerland of Hungary, whose scenery is all beauty, unique and incomparable, may be thought extravagant, yet it is all in all a fair and pleasing land, which displays much wild beauty and not a few scenes of mountain grandeur.

Transylvania was well known to the later Roman Empire as the province of Dacia Mediterranea; and lying on the main route from western Europe to the near and the far East, it was much traversed by traders and their caravans, as well as later by the Crusaders and their armies. But after the Turks had taken Constantinople and were pressing their conquest of Europe in the sixteenth century, this old road to Persia and India was found too dangerous, and Transylvania became almost a forgotten land. So little known was it abroad that at the end of the seventeenth century a native writer complained2 that there were not four persons to be found even in France who knew that there was in Europe such a place as Transylvania. Inhabited by a people whose language it is extremely difficult for a western European to master, remote from the European centres of commerce or culture, and without railroad connections until well after the middle of the nineteenth century, Transylvania was, save to an occasional venturesome traveler or huntsman, still a little known country until less than a hundred years ago.3 It is in this country that the Unitarian religion has, in the face of cruel and almost perpetual oppressions and persecutions, maintained an unbroken and heroic existence during well-nigh four centuries.

Transylvania appears above the horizon of authentic history in the first century after Christ. Old placenames surviving through the centuries indicate that its primitive inhabitants, known to the Romans as Dacians, were of Slavic stock. Soon after the middle of the first century their various tribes were united under their King Decebalus, whose armies the Emperor Domitian was unable to hold in check; but early in the second century Trajan defeated them, connected their country with the Roman Empire by a splendid military road, the Via Trajana bridging the Danube, organized the administration of the new province, garrisoned its colonies with Roman soldiers, and returning to Rome commemorated his conquest in the noble Trajan’s Column, whose sculptures give us a contemporary pictorial record of the inhabitants. The Romans continued to exploit the gold and other treasures of the country until 274, when a rising of the Dacians and the pressure of Gothic hordes just beginning their invasions compelled them to abandon the country. Their army and most of their colonists withdrew south of the Danube into Moesia, leaving many monuments of their occupation which survive to this day. The barbarian invasions of the third and fourth centuries effectually destroyed Roman culture in these parts, for after the Goths, who occupied the land for a century, came in succession hordes of Huns in the fourth century, of Gepidae in the fifth, of Avars and Lombards in the sixth, and Magyars in the eighth and ninth; to be succeeded by the frightful raids of Tatar hosts at frequent intervals, sometimes almost annually, for more than four cen­turies, and by the conquering armies of the Turks for two centuries more. These repeated incursions of cruel enemies, to which Transylvania was peculiarly subject, as lying on the borderline between the settled civilization of western Europe and the restless barbarism of the Asiatic frontier, were all characterized by devastation with fire and sword, outrage, murder and slavery, and were repeatedly followed by famine and pestilence. If Transylvania long lagged behind western Europe in some of the features of civilization, while at the same time its people developed striking qualities of sturdy resistance and exalted heroism, the reason is not hard to discover.

Of all these barbarian invasions there are two, those of the Huns and the Magyars, that especially concern us here, since they left a permanent mark upon the country and its population. The Huns were a nomadic race, dwelling near the Caspian sea, who in the first third of the fifth century invaded the Roman province of Pannonia (western Hungary), led by their chief Attila, who became known to history as ‘the scourge of God,’ sent by Heaven to chastise unworthy Christians for their sins. Crowned King of the Huns in 428, he pushed his conquests far in western Europe until he was checked at Chalons in 451. After his death in 454 his followers did not long hold together, but returned whence they had come, leaving behind them only a frightful memory and their name, which was later attached to the Hungary that they had ravaged.

Immemorial tradition preserves the belief that when after their defeat they were gradually driven back out of Pannonia some thousands of them became separated from the main body and found themselves stranded against the mountains of eastern Transylvania where they formed permanent settlements; and that it is their descendants that still populate that district and bear the name of Szeklers (Hung., Székely; Latin, Siculi),4 still speaking the Hungarian tongue, and ob­serving many of their ancient customs, a brave, sturdy, honest, intel­ligent, independent race of yeomen, prizing their freedom above all things else. They occupy with their farms the four eastern counties of the country, whose metropolis of Maros-Vásárhely is their only considerable city. Traditionally they are all ‘nobles,’5 since in return for their services as guardians of the eastern frontier against invasion they were for centuries exempted from taxation and were allowed other special privileges. Though they still cling fondly to the tradition of their noble status, the old distinctions of class and privilege now no longer obtain, and in rank and civil obligations they are on a level with other free citizens. Ever since the last quarter of the sixteenth century a good proportion of them have been Unitarian in religion, and thus form the oldest Unitarian churches in the world.

Four centuries after the Huns the Magyars came from southeastern Russia, a kindred people speaking the same language with them, but of mixed origin, apparently related to both the Finns and the Turks. About 895 nearly a million of them swarmed over the northern Carpa­thians under the leadership of Arpád, swept over all Hungary reducing the inhabitants to virtual slavery, and pushing their conquests further ravaged Europe for two generations until decisive defeats by the German Emperors Henry I and Otho I (930 and 955) drove them back across the Danube and forced them to adopt a settled life. At length converted to Christianity, they were formally received into the Empire under King Stephen. Besides Hungary proper, the Magyars spread over into Transylvania, of which they occupy eight northern and west­ern counties. Considerably more influenced by western customs and culture than are the more rustic Szeklers, they have much in common with them in the racial traits of self-reliance, proud spirit and love of liberty; while their national temperament and institutions are said to resemble those of England and America much more closely than do those of any of the other continental nations.6

A third national group came into the land more peaceably. About the middle of the twelfth century King Géza II of Hungary, finding his country much wasted by war and famine, and the southern part of Transylvania almost uninhabited, invited colonists from Germany to come and settle in his dominions, in the enjoyment of special privileges, in order that they might repopulate the waste places and introduce the trades in which they were skilled. From various districts in what was then known as Saxony, from the middle and lower banks of the Rhine and from Flanders, came large numbers of the common people who had been oppressed by the nobles, or overwhelmed by great inundations of the sea. They formed compact settlements in northern and north­eastern Hungary, and especially in the counties in the southern part of Transylvania, and came presently to be known as Saxons. They are an industrious, thrifty and educated but somewhat clannish people, upon whom the Magyars have traditionally looked with a rather un­friendly eye as intruders in their land. They have never become assimilated to their Hungarian neighbors, nor have they much intermarried with them, but still stand aloof, preserving little changed the German dialect, the customs, costumes and institutions that they brought with them; so that if a traveler or scholar of today would see a vivid picture of life as it was in lower Germany eight hundred years ago, he could not do better than pay a visit to the ‘Saxon’ communities of Transylvania.7 The Saxons have remained stedfastly Lutheran since the early Reformation.

These three racial groups, the Magyars, the Szeklers and the Saxons, comprise what were known as the three united ‘nations,’ each with its individual territory, laws and administration, which agreed upon special political rights and privileges, and composed the government of Transylvania under a union entered into at the Diet of Torda in 1545 when Transylvania had separated from Hungary, and repeatedly confirmed thereafter.8 Besides these three privileged ‘nations,’ there were other important elements in the population. First of all the Wallacks, as they were then called.9 These were the submerged half, the lowest stratum of the population, widely scattered among the other ‘nations’ as hewers of wood and drawers of water, the people of the soil, ignorant,10 degraded in manners and morals, highly prolific, little better than serfs, and bitterly persecuted. Before the twelfth century there is no mention in any trustworthy source of their existence in Transylvania, hence it seems probable that they were immigrants from the Balkans, whence about the thirteenth century they came in large numbers into Transylvania, rapidly spreading over all the country as its shepherds and common laborers. In religion they all adhered solidly to one or another branch of the Orthodox Greek Church.11 In small numbers there were also the Gypsies, whose origin is still in dispute, and who mysteriously appeared from the East about 1523, some of them to form settled communities and some to lead wandering lives; and also scattered groups of Armenians, Jews and a half-dozen other peoples that together make up the so-called ‘tolerated nations,’ who were allowed to dwell in the country, but had no political rights as citizens and might not hold public office.12 All these national elements dwelt peaceably side by side in Transylvania, yet as individual units, little mingling and seldom intermarrying, and usually dwelling in separate village communities in the country districts, or in separate quarters in the towns; for Transylvania was no racial melting-pot, but rather a singularly interesting and variegated patchwork of distinct races and cultures. It should be kept in mind, however, that what has thus far been said of the racial groups in Transylvania, while it is true of the greater part of the history we are about to consider, does not hold good to nearly so great an extent of the period since the Hungarian revolution at the middle of the nineteenth century; an important result of which was that the different races were placed on an equal footing, that equal taxation of all classes was introduced, and that the old antagonisms of race and religion were softened or obliterated, as all devoted themselves unitedly to the common cause of a free Hungary. Enough has now been said to furnish a clear and distinct racial and political background against which the religious history may be viewed.

After long centuries of obscurity the Kingdom of Hungary emerged clearly upon the surface of history with the advent of its great King Stephen I who was crowned in the year 1000, and it enjoyed national independence for nearly 700 years, until it became associated with Austria under a single King. Transylvania was one of the divisions of this kingdom, locally governed by its own Hungarian Vaivode until 1556, when it asserted its independence and maintained it with more or less success until it became incorporated in the Empire near the end of the seventeenth century.13 The period of Hungarian history with which we are here to be immediately concerned may be dated from the battle of Mohács, 1526. Ever since the Turks had captured Constantinople in 1453 their rulers had been steadily pushing their conquests north and west, with the apparent design of mastering all Europe. In 1526 Solyman (Suleiman) the Magnificent, last of the great conquering Sultans, who had become Sultan six years before, and who first and last launched seven campaigns against Hungary, inflicted a crushing defeat upon the Hungarians at Mohács, on the Danube 150 miles south of BudaPest. The Hungarians were outnumbered three to one, and the battle lasted but an hour and a half. Only a few hundred or thousand escaped by flight, King Louis II himself was drowned as he fled, a great part of the nobility and leaders of the kingdom fell, and altogether 200,000 are said to have been either slain or taken captive.14 Solyman pushed on to the capital at Buda which he found deserted, and having plundered it returned with his spoils to Constantinople.

Two candidates now arose to compete for the vacant throne. The Hungarian national element had long been jealous of the gradual encroachment of western influences in the government of their country, and favored a rule quite independent of foreign influence. The opposite element sought alliance with the House of Hapsburg and closer relations with the German Empire. The former were the first to act. As soon as he learned that the Sultan had withdrawn from the country, John Zápolya (Lat., Johannes Scepusius), Count of Zips, the most wealthy and powerful of the Hungarian nobility, and Vaivode of Transylvania, hastened to the capital at Buda. He had from his youth been so highly esteemed by the nobility that all eyes turned toward him as successor to the throne in case it should fall vacant. Such of the leaders therefore as had survived the carnage at Mohács or had come with John from Transylvania, realizing the great danger in delay, took counsel and summoned a meeting of the Diet at Székesfehérvár (Stuhlweissenburg). Here he was elected without opposition, and was duly crowned by the Archbishop of Esztergom (Gran) three days after the funeral of the late King.15

Meantime the German party, who believed that the safety of Hungary in its present weakened state lay rather in alliance with the Hapsburgs under the shelter of the Empire than in a consolidated Hungarian State, after taking counsel with the widowed Queen Maria (who rejected John’s proposal of marriage), summoned an electoral Diet which met at Pozsony (Pressburg) the month after John’s coronation. Only a few of the barons appeared, for the greater part of the country had declared for John; but these few pronounced his election invalid,16 and unanimously elected the Arch-Duke Ferdinand of Austria, who had also lately been chosen King of Bohemia,17 and moreover was brother of the Emperor Charles V, who promised his aid against the Turk.18 Ferdinand was immediately occupied with his affairs in Bohemia, but the next summer he declared war against John, soon took the capital at Buda, and invading Hungary won so much ground that John fled to Poland; and then returning to Buda was proclaimed King, and was crowned at Székesfehérvár with the same crown and by the same Archbishop as in the case of John nearly a year before.19 King Sigismund I of Poland, whose first Queen Barbara Zápolya had been sister of John, tried in vain to bring about peace between the rival Kings; and when nothing else availed John appealed to the Sultan for aid. Welcoming such an opportunity for further conquests, he invaded Hungary with a great army, again took Buda and came near to taking Vienna, restored the whole land, Buda and the crown to John, and withdrew, for the Emperor had disappointed the hopes that he would drive the Turks from the land. Intermittent warfare between the two Kings now continued for ten years until Ferdinand, seeing that he was making no progress, made peace at Nagyvárad (Grosswardein) in 1538. The treaty provided that John should retain his title of King of Hungary, and keep the rule of Transylvania and of the territory in Hungary that he then possessed, leaving the rest to Ferdinand as also King of Hungary; that if John should die without male issue the whole country should fall to Ferdinand; but that if he left a son he should keep only his father’s hereditary possessions, and should bear only the title of Duke of Zips. John renounced his treaty with the Sultan, and both Kings signed the present treaty, though for fear of offending the Sultan it was never published nor confirmed.20

A few months later John, now secure in his royal title, was able to marry Princess Isabella, daughter of King Sigismund I and Queen Bona of Poland, whose acquaintance we have made in the previous division of this history. The royal wedding and the following coronation took place at Székesfehérvár, and the King and Queen took up their resi­dence at Buda. Their happiness was of short duration. In the following year King John, after subduing a local rebellion in Transylvania, fell seriously ill of a fever. While thus ill he received news that Isabella had borne him a son at Buda (July 7, 1540). Two weeks later John died at Szász-Szebes (Mühlbach). Immediately after the royal funeral at Székesfehérvár a great crowd of the leading men and of all the nobility present elected the infant Prince, John Sigismund,21 King of Hungary, and crowned him forthwith, August 15, 1540.22

Under the terms of the treaty made in 1538 Ferdinand now demanded the scepter and rule of all Hungary; but John on his death-bed, covet­ing the crown for his son and disregarding his promise in the treaty, had appointed two crafty counselors23 guardians of his young son, expressly charging them not to let Hungary be ruled by one who was not his offspring; and he had also recommended Isabella to the interest of the Sultan. The young Queen had undoubted native ability and keen practical judgment, and had been trained in statecraft by her astute but unprincipled mother. Moreover, she was ambitious, and determined to be Queen.24 Martinuzzi encouraged her to keep the kingdom. She therefore convened the Diet, and asked their view as to the validity of the unpublished treaty. There was opposition, but the majority took her side and elected the young Prince King of Hungary, and the Queen and his two guardians as regents.

Ferdinand strove to move her to fulfil the treaty, but in vain. He therefore laid siege to Buda where Isabella was staying with her infant son; but before he was able to reduce it the Sultan in the nick of time appeared with a large army, drove the Germans away and occupied the capital which, along with much of lower Hungary, remained henceforth for nearly a century and a half in Turkish possession. The Sultan treated Isabella with great consideration, but he advised her to leave Buda, since she could not hope to hold it against the superior German forces. However, he assured her Transylvania and Hungary east of the Tisza (Theiss) at once, and promised to restore Buda to her son when he should be grown. She therefore withdrew to her own territory, and having been, at the instance of Martinuzzi, invited by the Diet at Torda in June 1542, she took up her residence in the lately deceased Bishop’s vacant palace at Gyulafehévár,25 which remained the residence of the Prince so long as there was one in Transylvania.

Transylvania declared itself independent in 1543, claiming the right to choose its own rulers, which it exercised until its union with the Empire in 1691. While acknowledging the suzerainty and guardianship of Turkey by paying annual tribute, it now formally recognized Isabella as Queen, and John Sigismund in 1544 as King. Meantime the executive functions were shared by a triumvirate of which Martinuzzi, by virtue of his ability and experience and his control of the treasury, soon became the leading member, and practically dictator. Though Isabella held indeed the title of Queen, she had little else. The people were not united in support of her, while Martinuzzi, conscious of his power and ambitious for more, began to disregard her and to rule arbitrarily, treating her and her son almost as his inferior subjects, furnishing them but a niggardly allowance for their support, enrolling soldiers and incurring expense, while seeking in various ways to win favor with the multitude. Some of the leading men noting all this warned the Queen, and she therefore called on Martinuzzi to render account of his administration of the treasury, to which he insolently replied that the treasury was his responsibility, of which he would render account to no one but the King when he had grown up. The Queen then complained to the Sultan, who gave Martinuzzi warning.

Meantime Ferdinand, increasingly concerned over the continued presence of the Turks in Buda and their dominance over Transylvania, and also aware of the strained relations between Martinuzzi and the Queen, brought about a conference with the former. The ultimate result of this, after protracted manoeuvres on both sides, was that after Isabella had been besieged in her capital by Martinuzzi, and an imposing military force had suddenly appeared from Hungary to demand fulfilment of John’s treaty with Ferdinand, and had overawed the Diet then in session, the Queen was forced to yield. It was formally agreed (1551) that she should renounce all claim to Transylvania and to certain parts of Hungary, including the important city of Kassa (Kaschau); that she should surrender to Ferdinand her crown and the other insignia of royalty; that Ferdinand in turn should bestow upon John Sigismund the Duchies of Oppeln and Ratibor in Silesia (which belonged to the Empire) and should restore to him his father’s rich patrimony of forty castles in northern Hungary; that he should pay the Queen 100,000 gold ducats; and should betroth his youngest daughter Joanna to John. It had been incidentally agreed with Martinuzzi that for his offices in thus betraying his rulers and their country he should be made Archbishop of Gran, and should later receive a Cardinal’s hat.26  A meeting of the Diet was then called at Kolozsvár to confirm the treaty. The Queen and her son, with suitable escort, took their sorrowful way toward Kassa on their way home to Poland. Martinuzzi accompanied them to the border, and as they separated he shed crocodile tears.

It is of interest to remark in passing that one of the exiled Queen’s little retinue as she left Transylvania, who remained with her until she was safe in Poland, was Dr. Giorgio Biandrata, whose subsequent career of five years from 1558 to 1563 in promoting Antitrinitarianism in Poland has already been related in the preceding division, and who after a dozen years more was also to play a leading part in the beginnings of Unitarianism in Transylvania. Having won a distinguished reputation for his skill in treating diseases of women, he was called from Italy to be court physician to Queen Bona at Krak6w, and he came thence to a similar post under Queen Isabella at Gyulafehérvár, where he stayed for eight years, 1544–51. A contemporary letter speaks of him as ‘a man of the greatest kindness, and one born for friendship . . . highly esteemed in Venice for his knowledge and skill, whose name was spoken in Italy not only with honor but even with pride.’ The same source speaks of Isabella as ‘a Queen of rare virtue and integrity and liberality.’27 In the year 1552–53, at the investigation into the murder of Martinuzzi, Biandrata (who had in the meantime accompanied Queen Bona on her return to Italy in 1551) testified that during his eight years at Isabella’s court he saw what was going on, and how constantly she was afflicted, persecuted and deceived by Martinuzzi.28 He was at this time still a Roman Catholic; but in the course of the seven years next ensuing he left the Catholic faith, and in Italy and Switzerland reached a position cautiously antitrinitarian, returning to Poland in 1558 as we have seen in the previous division. The mention of Biandrata leads us directly into the religious field with which we are especially concerned; and now that the complex national and political background has been set forth, we must next follow the dramatic development of religion in Transylvania.

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