Littell's Living Age/Volume 133/Issue 1713/Turkish Invasions of Europe in 1670-83
From The Contemporary Review.
TURKISH INVASIONS OF EUROPE IN 1670-83.
SOBIESKl'S LETTERS TO HIS WIFE.
Now that the Turks have vindicated their right to "do what they like with their own," and declare the present state of the Ottoman empire to be quite satisfactory (in which opinion a certain part of English society seems to agree), it is interesting to turn to the record of a time when there seemed considerable danger that the greater part of Europe might have been subjected to the blessings of their rule, and to recall the terror and dismay with which their advance was regarded, and the desperate efforts made to avert what was then considered as the greatest misfortune that could happen to civilization and Christianity.
A small volume of letters from the hero John Sobieski to his wife, detailing his progress day by day to the relief of Vienna and in the battles following it, the success of which at that moment was almost tantamount to the salvation of Christendom, were translated from the Polish into French by Count Plater, and published in 1826. It is a scarce book and extremely interesting, showing as it does the noble, disinterested, simple character of the man, and the fearful imminence of the danger which would have reduced Austria, and indeed the whole centre of Europe, to the condition of Bulgaria, Bosnia, etc. It requires, however, to be supplemented and interpreted by contemporary accounts, gathered from Salvandy's and Von Hammer's histories of Poland and the Ottoman empire.
From the time of the taking of Constantinople in 1453, the Turks had been a standing menace to Europe. Mahomet II., Bajazet II., Selim I. and II., and Solyman the Magnificent, had all advanced at different times, and on different lines of attack. The fall of Rhodes, of Cyprus, of the islands of Greece belonging to Venice, and the strong places in the Peloponnesus, left them free to advance on the conquest of Dalmatia, thus threatening Italy, and on Moldavia, Bessarabia, Servia, Bosnia, Hungary. It was now their object to secure both banks of the Danube. "Les derniers venus d'entre les barbares, les Turcs étaient aussi les plus redonbtables" says Salvandy; "ils n'apportaient pas simplement la conquête, ils apportaient le brigandage, le rapt, l'apostasie, la mort." Their hordes had passed with fire and sword over Epirus and Greece to Transylvania on one side, and the provinces of the Adriatic on the other. Solyman had, it is true, been beaten back from the walls of Vienna with great loss in 1529, after having taken Belgrade; but the check was only for a time.
The fall of Cyprus in the wars of Selim II., who treated the defenders with great barbarity, was succeeded by an attack on Corfu; and although the united fleets of Spain and Venice obtained a great victory at Lepanto, yet Don John of Austria, who commanded, retired immediately. It was "a glorious victory," but produced little advantage, for the Turks dictated the hardest possible conditions to the Venetians, and the battle is generally remembered, as that in which Cervantes lost his arm as much as for any political consequences.
The advance of the Turks continued — four times in eleven years, between 1672 and 1683, irruptions of immense hordes of barbarians threatened the centre of Europe, and in each case they were repelled chiefly, if not entirely, by the genius for war of Sobieski, and the influence which his noble character obtained.
Peace with the Porte was never of any duration; it was only when weakened by dissensions among its disorderly heterogeneous subjects, revolts of the Janissaries, wars with Persia, or the accidental weakness of a sultan, that its onward course was stayed.
The fall of Crete in 1669, after a siege which lasted more or less for twenty-four years, and during which two hundred thousand men were said to have fallen on the two sides, was a cruel blow to Christendom, and the pope, Clement IX., was said to have died of grief at the news.
Flushed by success, Mahomet IV. and his grand vizier Achmet Kiuprili, who was of Greek origin, now entertained the most magnificent projects of conquest. The empire touched the Caspian Sea, the Adriatic, the Indian Ocean, and stretched south towards the upper waters of the Nile; it was now advancing on the Baltic, and would soon, they trusted, possess fleets on the north seas and the Indian Ocean alike, while the Archipelago and the Red Sea would have counted only as inland lakes in his dominion. "He hoped to reign over the Christian world." The present preparations were directed against Poland, which had always been the chief barrier to the subjugation of the north by the Turks. With the exception of a small subsidy from the pope, she was left to bear the brunt of the attack alone.
The preparations of the Porte were enormous: Tartars were arriving in hordes, Moldavia was full of battalions of strange men from the heart of Asia, the immense siege trains from Candia, consisting of between three and four hundred pieces of cannon, a number hitherto unheard of, were being carried up the Danube, and a numerous fleet was collecting in the Black Sea; seven hundred camels had arrived in Thrace with corn from Egypt; soldiers from Attica and the Peloponnesus, from east and west, filled a vast camp near Adrianople where Mahomet and his vizier held perpetual reviews. But their destination was still uncertain.
The Hungarians had long been making ineffectual attempts to defend their hereditary privileges against the tyranny of the emperor, who ruled over them by an elective right along. At length they rose in rebellion, headed by the chief nobles of the country. The revolt was put down with much cruelty, but the insurgents sought the assistance of the Porte, master already of two-thirds of the country, and were ready to join in any attack upon Austria if its arms were turned in that direction.
The Polish king refused to believe in any danger, and opposed Sobieski's exertions to collect the scattered troops. Thwarted at home and abroad by the jealousy of the emperor and of Louis XIV., he could only get together six or eight thousand men, young, ill-armed, undisciplined, and without provisions. There were soldiers enough in the country to trouble its peace, but not enough to make war with safety. After a short and brilliant campaign against the Cossacks, Tartars, and wild hordes under the khan, the allies and what might be called the advanced guard of the Turk, finding that no money and no help were to be had for the impending invasion, Sobieski fell dangerously ill with anxiety and fatigue, and the army, which for many years had received from him their only pay and rations, and had been led on to constant victory, indignant now at his treatment by the king, disbanded, and declared they would only serve under a chief of their own choice.
For a whole year the anarchy and confusion of Poland went on increasing, but when news arrived that the sultan had started on his march towards Poland, the soldiers returned to their quarters and swore to follow their old leader to death. The Turks by forced marches advanced on Kaminiek, a fortress situated on the frontier of Moldavia and the Ukraine. It was almost the only strong place possessed by the Poles, and Sobieski had in vain tried to persuade the Diet to keep up its defences. After a siege of less than a month the Turks carried a place concerning which it was said that "God alone could have built it, and He only could take it."
Even then the only help which the Polish king thought fit to give in the struggle was to accuse his protector, the "great hetman," of being "an impostor and a traitor." Sobieski, however, not heeding the insult, threw himself with his scanty forces on the weak points of the Turkish lines, pursued the Tartars who had invaded the kingdom and were carrying off immense booty, overtook them in the Carpathian defiles, and almost exterminated them, liberating nearly thirty thousand captives who were being carried off into slavery. He turned next on the advanced guard of the sultan's army, which had advanced on the Vistula with forty thousand men. Mahomet had arranged a camp for himself at Boudchaz among the mountains, where, accompanied by his seraglio, he amused himself with hunting. Sobieski, by a coup de main, crossed the river, rushed on the camp "intoxicated with pleasure and pillage," penetrated even to the imperial tents and the women's quarters, and "the young lord who ruled at Athens and Memphis, Jerusalem and Babylon," on this his first campaign was obliged to fly to save his life.
But the miserable Polish king suddenly gave up the struggle and threw himself on the mercy of the invaders, abandoning the Ukraine and Podolia to the Turk, and reducing his country to the condition of a vassal state by promising an annual tribute.
Sobieski retired to his estates disgusted and nearly broken-hearted. He had not long been there, when the "Terror of the Turks," as he was surnamed, was accused in the Diet of having sold his country to the infidel for a bribe of twelve million florins. Enraged at such an attack on his honor, he returned to Warsaw immediately, while his army, furious at such a libel on their beloved chief, swore to avenge the insult in blood. After calming them with much difficulty he proceeded to the Diet, where the very sight of him produced such an impression that when he claimed the punishment of his caluminator from the assembly, and excuses from all members who could for a moment have listened to such an accusation, his demands were accepted in a transport of enthusiasm. The Diet in a pressing message entreated his help against the Turks, and in the strangely hyperbolical language so often used in Poland, termed him "the hero of whom it might be believed, according to the system of Pythagoras, that all the souls of the great captains and good citizens lived again, as not one of their virtues was wanting in him."
The miserable informer confessed that he had been been bribed to make the accusation, and was condemned to death, but Sobieski would not allow the sentence to be carried out.
The Diet pursued its course until the end of the session with unaccustomed calm under his influence, and at its close the president declared in the same semi-Oriental style, that "the wisdom of a divinity, or, if Sobieski could be considered as a man, the excellence of a hero, had saved the liberty of his country by his virtues and its independence by his exploits. No such man had ever before been formed by nature, and probably never would be so in future!"
The Diet then decreed a levy of sixty thousand men, and committed full power over it to the "great hetman."
The summer was spent in preparations such as might be expected from Poland; "no men, no material of war, no money, were to be had."
For the time, however, disorders in Constantinople, and an insurrection in the Peloponnesus, had checked the projects of the vizier. In November, 1673, however, seven bridges were by his orders thrown across the Dniester, and eighty thousand veterans advanced under the command of the Seraskier Hussein Pasha.
A division of Sobieski's small army was sent forward to carry the Turkish outposts; but when they found that they were required to cross a river full of floating ice, to put such a barrier between themselves and their homes, that they were being led into a country without towns or villages, and surrounded by innumerable Turks, they broke out into open mutiny. Once before Sobieski had quelled a similar revolt; now with his imperious eloquence he called upon his man in the name of their duty and their country to follow him, and, as always was the case both with friends and foes, he gained the day. He led them to the battle of Kotzim, on the other side of the Dniester, where Hussein had established himself in a camp defended by strong fortifications, natural and artificial, and by rocks and marshes. To attack such a position with such troops as Sobieski could command, at such a time of year, without provisions and with weak artillery, seemed an impossible task in all eyes but his own. Fifty years before, however, the Poles, under his father, James Sobieski, had conquered at the same spot, and the good omen gave them courage. The weather was dreadful, and the snow was falling thickly, when he disposed his troops for the attack. All night long the preparations went on. "Comrades!" cried he, passing along the ranks, his dress, his arms, his thick moustache covered with hoarfrost, "you have suffered, but the Turks are worn out; these men from Asia are half conquered already by the cold. The last twenty-four hours have fought for us. We shall save the republic from shame and vassalage. Soldiers of Poland, fight for your country, and remember that Jesus Christ fights for you!" Sobieski himself had heard three masses since daybreak, the army had been blessed by a priest, and now getting off his horse, sabre in hand, he led his infantry across the trenches. The Turks, who had believed an attack impossible in such weather, alarmed at the triumphant shouts of the Poles, defended themselves but ill; charge after charge of the young Polish cavalry, in full armor, cut to pieces their best troops; they turned to fly, but the bridge of boats had been broken down by Sobieski's orders; twenty thousand men were believed to have fallen in attempting to cross the rapid, half-frozen river; "the water ran with blood and corpses for miles."
In the camp the carnage was frightful; under the axes, the lances and scimitars of their assailants lay thousands of dead bodies, half of them Janissaries and Spahis. The green standard of Hussein, given him by the sultan, was seized, sent to the pope, and still hangs in St. Peter's. The victory was complete; all the Turkish garrisons of the neighboring towns retired, leaving devastation and fire as monuments of their passage; and thanks were given in almost all the churches in Europe for the "most memorable battle gained against the infidel for three hundred years."
The Polish king died the night' before the fight, and, by an act of tardy death-bed repentance, named John Sobieski as one of his executors.
It was now necessary to elect another monarch — a difficult and dangerous operation in Poland, even in the calmest times. The Poles were the only people in Europe who still preserved the ancient usage of a national assembly where the deliberations were carried on by a whole nation in arms. The difficulty of feeding two hundred thousand citizens thus collected together had constantly obliged them to separate without having settled affairs, and on this occasion a Diet, composed of the senate and of members elected by the country, was directed to choose the new chief of the nation. All the princes in Europe who were tired of living on the steps of a throne became candidates. Every species of intrigue was brought to bear upon the electors; the ambassadors of the different powers had each their faction; they gave money; they made great promises; the meanest motives were appealed to, and the most undisguised corruption prevailed. Warsaw became one vast camp for six leagues round, where the whole equestrian order had established itself; an innumerable population of servants, often noble like their masters; almost all the army, Jews merchants, doctors, the creditors of the nobles, the lawyers, had all collected there; the different palatinates were nearly deserted except by the peasants.
The plain of Vola had been chosen for the electoral camp; a great wooden pavilion, the szopa, occupied the centre, where the senate and the great nobles sat, but the deliberations were held in the open air, that the equestrian order might have an eye upon its representatives.
The noise and excitement were tremendous; tournaments and jousts, with javelins and lances; regiments of soldiers, Wallachs, Cossacks, Tartars, crossing and recrossing; innumerable stands of arms; immense tables, round which each faction collected its clients; trains of noble ladies on horseback, the wives of the palatines and senators, distributing exhortations and presents; cavalcades of gentlemen, battle-axe in hand, galloping past; fiery encounters, begun in drunkenness and ending in blood; "scenes of tumult, pleasure, discussion, and war, a true image of Poland herself, filled the plain," observes Salvandy. A vast circle of white tents surrounded the whole space — those belonging to the nobles were built like sham fortresses, castles, towers, or long galleries, containing stables, bath-rooms, kitchens, council-chambers, formed of silk and rich stuffs, often booty taken from the Turk, with a profusion of golden crescents, balls, and ornaments, rivalling each other in expense and savage and inordinate luxury. The magnificence of the dresses was as great; almost all wore Eastern costumes; caftans and robes of brocade and fur, embroidered, or edged and lined with rare furs, and clasped with diamonds; splendid arms, jewelled belts, swords, daggers, and pistols ("many diamonds and little linen," was Madame de Motteville's observation on the Polish nobles a few years before); sixty or seventy thousand gentlemen were there, any one of whom might, by law, be chosen king the next day, and whose demeanor showed their pride in this vain and hurtful privilege. Sobieski himself was absent, but the tents taken from the vizier of Mahomet IV., bearing his shield, were there, and were the pride of the assembly.
The competitors for the throne bid high, many of them intending to repudiate their offers later. They were now reduced practically to two, one representing the emperor, the other Louis XIV. Charles of Lorraine proposed himself to pay the army for nine months, to raise five thousand fresh men for the war against the Turks, to take five hundred gentlemen as his guard of honor, to build two fortresses on the frontier, and open a military school for officers. The old Duke of Neubourg promised still more largely for his son Philip, aged fourteen.
Sobieski had hitherto confined himself to his duty of keeping order as chief marshal, while all present inquired anxiously what part he would take. As soon as he arrived, he was received almost in triumph; the shouts, the noise of arms, the flashing of javelins, lances, and scimitars, the flowers thrown in his way, made his entry almost a triumph. He then declared himself for the Great Condé. And the influence of the "great hetman" was such that there seemed for some time every chance that his counsels would be followed, but the Lithuanian party of the Paz would not hear of the French prince. The confusion became still greater; the szopa was like a citadel besieged by armies of men half drunk with pride and rage. For twenty-nine days the destinies of the nation only grew more and more perplexing, and the furious parties seemed on the point of a civil war, when to avert such a frightful peril the Bishop of Cracow gave the signal for the hymns and prayers to be begun, which showed that the debates were closed, and the palatinates separated for the vote.
The president, Jablonowski, a man of great courage and capacity, began his discourse; he entered on the qualities of the two chief candidates, and rejected both, as the nominees of France and Germany. He discussed the qualities of the Great Condé, and then declared that "a Pole ought to reign in Poland."
There is a man among us who has saved the republic time after time by his counsels and his victories, whose patriotism and genius would maintain our country in the rank the should hold in the universe. Nothing in such a choice would be left to chance; he will not make us a vassal of the infidels. If we have a country at all, if men of illustrious dynasties care to rule over us, remember to whom we owe it, and take John Sobieski as your king!
The speech was received with furious acclamations by the assembly. "The finger of God is here, it was on a Saturday as to-day that Kotzim was taken," cried the governor of Lemberg; "I vote for Sobieski." The tumult was tremendous; it was nine o'clock at night, but the long day of the north still gave sufficient light, and they would have proceeded immediately to the vote, but Sobieski would not suffer it. "I will not accept the crown," said he, "when no one has had the time to consider his vote, at the approach of night when opposition might be stifled or constrained. I will raise my veto against it if no one else will do so."
The next day the agitation became still greater. Austria did not yet consider herself beaten; every possible calumny was disseminated against Sobieski, while the jealousy of the great Polish ladies was excited against his wife, Marie Casimire, daughter of a French marquis, captain of the guard to the brother of Louis XIV. Would they consent that a foreigner should be queen when no Pole had ever attained to such honor? At all events if Sobieski were elected he should be required to marry the widow of the last king; but at such a price he absolutely refused the crown. His great qualities, however, carried the day. Cries of "Sobieski or death!" were heard in the camp; the assembly would hear of no delay. Again, however, he declared that if his election was not legal, and therefore unanimous, he would not accept the crown. Throughout the night the camp was illuminated with innumerable lanterns, while the firing of muskets, pistols, and arquebuses testified the excitement and the joy of the public at the thought of the election which they had resolved on making. The next day Sobieski, almost against his will, was proclaimed king at the Kolo or Assembly; the vote was now only a form, but it was gone through. Three times did the bishop regent, on horseback, demand if there were any opposition to the election. Three times did the nobles and the people repeat the cry proclaiming that John Sobieski should be their king.
All the standards of the palatinates and of the foreign contingents, the bells of the town, the salvoes of artillery, the shouts of the people, saluted their hero as king. Then at a sign from the bishop came a sudden silence, the banners were lowered, a sacred hymn was sung by the people, led by a choir of bishops, and the acclamations began again as Sobieski was led in triumph to the cathedral, where thanks were offered up to God for the choice which had been made. Poland, indeed, believed herself to be saved from anarchy and invasion alike. "The Cossacks will no longer ravage our fields, the infidel will no longer exact tribute," cried the women.
As soon as he was proclaimed, Sobieski made magnificent gifts to the nation, greater indeed than the foreign princes had promised, and which they were not likely to have performed: one hundred thousand florins went to the support of the Lithuanian part of the army, two hundred thousand for that of the Polish half, sixty thousand for the fortifications of Lemberg, three hundred thousand to buy back the jewels of the crown, pledged to the Jews of Vienna and Warsaw. All this was out of his private purse, and gives some measure of the resources of a great Polish noble at this time. Refusing a coronation on account of the expense and delay it would entail, Sobieski declared that his "mission was to make war on the Turks. I am placed on the throne to fight, not for representation. Festivals may come later."
High-minded, brave, pious, disinterested, caring much for the interests of his country, and little for his own grandeur, with a love of books which contrasted strangely with his military tastes and the life of incessant movement which fate had forced him to lead, Sobieski was indeed one of the rare instances where the highest qualities had led a man to great fortune.
His statesmanship as well as his great military qualities are insisted on in all the contemporary accounts; his love of science and of books, and his power of speaking German, Italian, French, English, and Turkish almost as well as his own language.
One of the handsomest men of his time [said the official French Gazette] his countenance is such that he inspires at the same time respect and affection. Enlightened, kind, he is so forgiving that it has been always said that he only revenged himself for the calumnies of his enemies by his great actions. [His picture, in armor, fully bears out this description.]
Achmet Kiuprili was not likely to leave the new sovereign time to settle himself firmly on the throne. He regarded Poland as a good position to take up between the Muscovites, whom he despised, and Austria, whose flank would thus have been turned. The ports of the Baltic tempted him onward, and Europe in this manner would have been cut in two, when the Turks might soon have dominated the whole continent.
In 1674, Mahomet himself again joined the army, which was once more to march on Kotzim. The enormous supplies of men which the Turks were able to draw from their provinces in Asia, Africa, and Europe, after the tremendous defeats which they had undergone and the waste of life, are surprising in our eyes, with whom the want of men to supply even the demands of an army in times of peace is sometimes found impossible to meet.
Sobieski, who had been called the Whirlwind, from the rapidity of his marches and the vigor of his onslaughts, was carrying all before him, when the intrigues of Leopold deprived him of half his army; the Lithuanian grand hetman Paz, who had opposed Sobieski's election, suddenly left the camp with his troops, and the winter was lost in vain attempts to restore order, for the disbanded soldiers spent their time in pillaging their own country instead of fighting the enemy.
Gradually Sobieski, by dint of patient courage, tact, and skill, collected an army again in the central position of Lemburg. He alone preserved his courage and confidence in the midst of the universal alarm. "He fears nothing who has foreseen all," said the Poles afterwards. He was at the same time attempting to form a political coalition to assist his military manoeuvres, in spite of the enmity of Leopold, who strove to keep Poland weak, calculating that it might thus occupy the Porte in the north and prevent any attack being made in his direction.
The Turks, under Ibrahim the Seraskier, began the siege of Zbaras; a number of Russian peasants had taken refuge in the town, and treacherously gave it up to the enemy, when Ibrahim cut to pieces the whole population except the women, who were reserved for the seraglios. The old, the children, perished in the flames or by the sword, and the Turks moved on to other sieges, where the same horrible cruelties were exercised. Von Hammer, after repeated descriptions of barbarities on such occasions which make one's blood run cold, and indeed are sometimes quite unreadable, at length seems to grow weary of such horrors, and merely writes, "The town was taken; the usual cruelties ensued;" or, "The city was sacked with the atrocities used by barbarian troops." The love of pillage was so great among them that the army was delayed, so that their advantage in numbers was lost, and the fine season passed away, while Sobieski destroyed their communications, seized their plunder, and cut to pieces the troops whom he encountered.
A second army was sent across the Dnieper, and the sultan put himself at the head of a third body which collected at Adrianople. The seraskier then determined on the course with which he should have begun — he left the fortresses alone, and advanced on Lemberg, the strongest place in Poland. If this was carried there would be an end to the republic, and Sobieski was resolved to defend it or die under the ruins.
The terror of his name counted for a host in itself against the Turks, while among the Poles, if some of the peasants cried, "All is lost," the answer was, "John Sobieski is there still, he will save us." A few days after great fires in all directions announced the arrival of the Mussulman host. The king had arranged his little army with consummate skill among the defiles near the town, the artillery on the low hills, while the hussars with their lances defended the vineyards and rough ground. The nobles fought with sabres and pistols. A storm of hail and snow, though it was only August, troubled the infidel. The king, the father of his country, having given his blessing to the army, rushed at the head of his troops with the cry, "Jesus!" three times repeated, to which came the threefold answer of "Allah!" The cavalry wavering for a moment, he brought them up himself again to the charge: "Remember," cried he, "that we must conquer or you will leave me here;" and he reminded them that he had brought his wife and children into the midst of the danger. The Turks, in spite of their enormous numerical preponderance, were driven back terrified, their divisions were broken, their ranks were confused. Sobieski fell like a thunderbolt upon the parts of the field where he was least expected. The victory of Lemberg was considered to have been a miracle, even considering the reputation of the king. "Five thousand Poles have beaten one hundred and fifty thousand Turks and Tartars!" cried the Gazette de France of September, 1674, with pardonable exaggeration. "That the king should have conquered such powerful enemies by his astonishing courage, reducing the infidels to make a precipitate retreat, … shows that heaven itself has defended this bulwark of Christendom."
An interval of quiet now ensued, and Sobieski employed his breathing-time in attempting to bring about a better state of things for Poland, and in reorganizing the army; but the people would endure no fresh taxes, and he made little progress. Revolts, however, at Memphis, at Babylon, and Damascus, the doubtful fidelity of the Tartars, and a superstitious dread in the Mussulman army at the thought of contending against "King John," had made the Porte desire an interval of quiet.
In September, 1676, however, just two hundred years ago, the untiring Turk poured again up the banks of the Dniester, and Poland had now to withstand one hundred and twenty thousand Tartars and twenty thousand Turks. The terror of Sobieski's name was, however, so great that there was difficulty in getting them forward, even under the command of a fierce pasha of Damascus, surnamed Shaitan (Satan). At length, after some preliminary combats, the two armies came face to face. Sobieski had entrenched himself with his small handful of men between the Dniester and the protection of some woods and marshes; the immense body of Ottomans almost encircled them. For twenty days they continued thus opposite each other, and the extremity of the danger was considered such in Poland that prayers for the dead were recited in all the churches. From time to time the Mussulman army came forth from their camp, sounded the charge, pushed forward their horsetails and camels, apparently to excite the Christians to fight or to deride their weakness. At length the Poles one day were tempted out in pursuit of some Tartars, the whole right was engaged, and the centre left uncovered; the Turks brought up their artillery and made fearful ravages among the ranks, which began to yield, when the king flung himself on the victorious Moslems, who were pursuing their success in some disorder, killed hundreds of men and horses, overthrew their first redoubts, took or spiked a number of guns, and brought back his men in safety. He lost, however, six hundred gentlemen in the charge, and his own horse was wounded under him; his exploits read like those of a hero in one of the old romances of chivalry.
Ibrahim, "the Devil," now brought up his siege artillery, mines and countermines were dug, and great galleries formed where battles were fought underground; but the Poles were not sufficiently numerous for such work, and the Turks believed themselves at the point of victory, when Sobieski in a most brilliant action again turned the day. The Spahis had thrown themselves between him and his camp, when the king, with his terrible hussars, rushed upon the lines, which were crowded by their very numbers and soon fell back. The seraskier sent next day to propose peace. He said that he knew to what a state of starvation the besieged were reduced, that the Sublime Porte would rather have such a king as their ally than their captive, and all they asked was the ratification of King Michel's treaty promising to pay tribute and an offensive alliance against Russia.
"Tell the aga," said Sobieski, "that if such propositions are again addressed to the king of Poland, he will hang the messenger." The bombardment now became terrible; neither by night nor day had the Poles any rest, and the entrenchments were continually attacked. The Christian camp had become a prison, the soldiers had hardly any food or ammunition, and discontent and even mutiny began to appear among them. Sobieski rode along the ranks. "I have brought you out of worse straits than this," said he; "do you think my head is weaker because you have placed a crown upon it?" A successful skirmish raised the spirits of the troops, the Turks fancied he must have received reinforcements, and, when at last he came out of the town with his whole army, they were seized with a panic terror, and declared that magic was being used against them. They all dreaded the approach of winter; Shaitan Pasha knew that a reverse would cost him his head, and he prudently offered an honorable peace. A part of the Ukraine and Kaminiek were given up; but the strength of the Ottoman empire was increasing, while Poland became weaker in men and money each year. To regain their fortresses, the prisoners, the frontier of the Dniester, and get rid of all pretensions to tribute, was better than a victory in such circumstances. One of the most pious of men, Sobieski stipulated that the custody of the tabernacle at Bethlehem and of the holy sepulchre should be restored to the monks who had held them before. As this favor had been long demanded in vain by Europe, the glory of Poland and her king was all the more greatly extolled.
Madame de Sévigné', a great admirer of his, writes, November, 1676, enthusiastically of his deeds: —
Peace is concluded in Poland, romantically. This hero, at the head of fifteen thousand men, surrounded by two hundred thousand, has forced them to sign a treaty, sword in hand. Since the days of the Calprenêde [in a novel of Mlle, de Scuderi] such a thing has never been heard of.
The Ottoman army, who were in desperate straits, made ready for departure, and defiled before the king, demanding to see the "invincible lion " with whom they had contended so often on the field of battle; at the same time giving into his hands fifteen thousand Russian prisoners destined to slavery.
For thirty years the Ottoman empire, at the height of its power, had been kept at bay by Poland: what might not have happened, if, masters of Buda and of the Adriatic, they had been able to turn their whole force upon Italy and Austria?
A general peace now ensued. Sobieski's grand object was to form an alliance against the Turk among the kingdoms most liable to be attacked. "Not to attempt to conquer or restrain the monster should be our object," said he, "but to fling it back to the deserts from whence it came; to exterminate it, and raise once more on its ruins a Byzantine empire. This is the only Christian, worthy, wise, and decisive course;" and for this he only required the concurrence of the four threatened powers. Innocent promised assistance "to the new Godfrey of Bouillon." But except from the pope, he could get no help from any one of them. The czar was playing a double game, as usual, and sent embassy after embassy to Warsaw, only to obtain better terms for himself at Constantinople. Leopold refused all alliance with or help to Poland; Venice would not even allow his envoy to cross her frontier; Louis XIV. ordered back a small body of French gentlemen who had been fighting for the mere love of war by Sobieski's side; Poland was again abandoned to herself to fight the battles of Christendom.
The next two years, however, there was a pause among the exhausted combatants again; and they were spent by Sobieski in trying to discipline his army, and restore order and law, which under his rule reigned in Poland to an extent unknown before.
Again in 1683, however, the indefatigable Porte prepared for another invasion, as a preliminary to which the sultan recognized Count Tekeli as prince of Hungary under his vassalage, while a confederation of Christian states, Transylvania, Wallachia, Hungary, and the Ukraine, under his protectorate, reached from the Danube to the Carpathian Mountains. The tide of war was evidently now to be turned on Austria.
The emperor took fright, but it was in vain that he sought help in his peril. France was his deadly enemy; the elector of Brandenburg rejoiced in his humiliation; a child, of nine years old, afterwards to be known as Peter the Great, reigned in Russia. Poland only remained; Leopold had treated Sobieski as a personal enemy; he had refused all help in the perils of Poland, but now he literally implored the king to come to his assistance, and the Austrian envoy positively flung himself at his feet in the fervency of his entreaties. It was difficult to say whether Leopold was meanest in adversity or prosperity. Sobieski now indeed commanded the position, and his alliance was sought on all sides. Louis XIV. offered his aid in securing the inheritance of Poland for his son, and promised to assist him in obtaining Hungary for himself. Leopold had recourse to the great argument of the house of Austria in all times, the hand of an archduchess for the young prince, his son; Mahomet solicited his friendship, and declared that the armaments he was preparing were not intended to be used against him.
Sobieski refused all offers for himself, and, after long considering what would be most advantageous to his country, threw in his lot with the empire. He did his best to persuade Leopold to treat the Hungarians with fairness, if only to detach them from the Porte, but with small success, Leopold could not do the right, even when it was his interest. At length it was announced that the sultan and his grand vizier, Kara Mustapha, were marching from Constantinople, where the standard of Mahomet had been unfurled, with great pomp at the Seraglio. The whole of Europe and Asia seemed to be in movement; Christianity and Islamism, civilization and barbarism, were preparing for a decisive battle. The first blow was to be struck on Austria, the second on Italy. "The vizier will never be satisfied till he has stabled the horses of the sultan in the Basilica of St. Peter," said one of the defenders of Candia.
The Turkish preparations had lasted nearly seven years, and were equally gigantic and minute. All the provinces had furnished their contingents of soldiers from the Euphrates and the Nile; whole Arab tribes, Kourds, Mamelukes, Greeks, Albanians, and Tartars, were marching under the same flag. The merchant vessel of all nations which came within reach were seized to bring munitions of war from Smyrna, Aleppo, and Alexandria; two thousand camels had been employed for years in the transport of corn, etc., from the Ægean Sea to the Danube; the river itself was covered with boats; ten thousand wagons were collected to convey stores through Hungary, which began to suffer under the burden of her ally as much as under that of her oppressor.
Sobieski would have made any efforts to detach Hungary from the Turks, and had an interview with Tekeli, but without success, as he could give no pledges for Leopold's good faith. He made an alliance with Sweden and the Ukraine, and attempted negotiations with the czar, with Persia, Venice, and Louis XIV. His cabinet was said to be the best served in Europe, the East was open to his spies, and he had friends even in the Divan; and he now warned the emperor that the Porte was marching on Vienna, and that the suburbs ought to be demolished lest they should afford shelter to the enemy; but Leopold judged his defender by himself, mistrusted him, and refused to follow his counsels. Between Belgrade and Buda the sultan stopped, and confided to Kara Mustapha with great pomp the double aigrette of heron's feathers, the golden robe and quiver of diamonds, signs of sovereign power, and the standard of Mahomet, an emblem that the contest was in the cause of Islam. He then returned to his beloved chase, where thousands of men were employed in driving game, on the slopes of the Balkan.
Louis XIV., utterly regardless of anything but his own fancied interest and pique against the empire, chose this opportunity of making an alliance with Tekeli, and sent his fleet to the Baltic to attack the allies of the emperor. Sobieski was therefore obliged to divide his troops, while Leopold could only collect thirty thousand men on the Danube, and even threw every obstruction in the way of his deliverer. But the cause was everything in Sobieski's eyes, and with a magnanimous disregard of all personal feelings he devoted himself to what he considered to be his duty
The last series of letters to his wife begins in August, 1683. Marie Casimire was a bad, ambitious, intriguing Frenchwoman, intent only on her own aggrandizement and her own pleasure, who used and abused her influence over her hero in the worst way and for the most selfish ends. In spite, however, of her continual provocations, he continued faithful to her until the end of his life. "Mon incomparable," he continually calls her in his letters, which all begin, "Seule joie de mon âme, charmante et bien aimée Marietta." They are often dated in the middle of the night; in spite of the fatigue and anxiety he was enduring, and of his sufferings from acute rheumatism, he never fails to sacrifice the rest so necessary to him, to sending off long and entertaining letters to his exacting and selfish wife, who complains of his not writing enough, and of what he writes, with singular cynicism. She forgets to give him important information which he asks her for, to convey his orders, even to date her letters, while she sends him all the injurious gossip she can pick up, intrigues with his enemies, and publishes letters he has desired to be kept secret.
You finish by telling me, dear heart, that you are very discontented with me. Yet I tell you everything in my letters. It is my fate. What consolation do I get in my troubles? I try and unravel something pleasant in your cyphers and to find some comfort from my heart, and get only the old and eternal complaints [he writes pitifully].
The difficulty we have had in crossing the Danube at three in the morning opposite the Turkish camp was immense; the bridges broke down under the weight of artillery and baggage wagons; we had to seek out fords, which we found luckily on the smaller branches of the river, but the current was too rapid in the main stream; there is no river which can compare with the Danube in violence. After this mportant passage we have had to cross a line of mountains, or, more strictly speaking, to climb them. A furious wind blew straight into our teeth; it seemed as if the "powers of the air" were unchained against us; the vizier is said to be a great magician! We had left our baggage behind us, and I have only with me two light carts; since Friday we have neither eaten nor slept — more than the horses. We can see from here the immense camp of the Turks and the town of Vienna in the distance, but we are separated from it by forests, precipices, and a very big mountain, of which no one had told us a word. The horses have nothing to eat but the leaves of the trees; we have neither food nor forage [which had been promised but never furnished by the emperor].
Humanly speaking, however, and putting all our trust in God, I must believe that the chief of an army who, like the grand vizier, has not thought of entrenching himself or collecting his scattered troops, but has encamped there as if he were a hundred miles off, is predestined to be beaten.
I have passed the night on the extreme right; we could see the whole Turkish camp, and the noise of the cannon prevented all sleep. This letter is my eighth; it has taken me till daylight.
At last the emperor discovered a remedy for the fearful state of his affairs: "it was forbidden, under pain of death to speak of 'present circumstances'! "as they were euphuistically called at Vienna. The march of Kara Mustapha had been a stroke of genius; in those days an army generally lost much time during a campaign by attempting to subdue the strong places, while he aimed straight at the heart of the country, threw his bridges of boats across the Danube, and appeared before Vienna in the shortest possible time. The fortifications of the town had been much neglected, and there were but few troops to man them. In twenty-four hours the emperor became aware of the approach of the Turks by harsher signs than words; he took flight immediately by night, with all his court and family, leaving his cousin, the Duke of Lorraine, to do his best in defending the kingdom — the same prince who had contested the throne of Poland with Sobieski, and now acted with great loyalty towards him. For four days the enormous crescent of the enemy was seen forming round the city, with an extraordinary noise of bells, trombones, and cymbals; tents, horsetails without number, troops of camels and mules, armies of bullocks and sheep going to drink at the Danube, the tent of executions, which, as usual, was placed in the most conspicuous position, could all be seen from the walls. At night the watch-fires and lanterns all over the camp lighted up the sky, the noise of artillery never ceased, and the cries of the muezzin summoning the Moslems to prayer made all sleep impossible.
But the vizier, instead of carrying the town, as he could have done, by a coup de main, was afraid of losing the valuable booty of Vienna by fire, and consumed the whole month of August striving to reduce the city by famine, and thus lost his prize. Surrounded by his harem, his one hundred and fifty valets, even his menagerie, he spent his time in his tents of silk and gold, which covered a larger extent than the town of Buda, and refused to believe in the advance of Sobieski.
Suddenly he heard that the king was upon him, when a panic terror took possession of the army — a bad preparation for the next day's work.
At eight in the morning the action began. Sobieski and his allies descended from the hills in five columns, like great torrents, and were met at first by the Spahis, who, being on horseback, became embarrassed in the broken ground, the narrow lanes, vineyards, and woods which surrounded Vienna, and gave way on all sides. The defenders of the city took courage and fired from the walls, while Kara Mustapha, still not believing in the imminence of his danger, attempted to continue the battle with the town before him, at the same time that he marched himself to the rear, to meet King John, now at the head of seventy thousand men, the finest army he had ever commanded, eighteen thousand of whom were Poles.
The heat was intense. The Christian army stopped for a moment to eat, without, however, putting down their muskets and lances; then in a great semicircle the allied force continued its march, Sobieski passing from column to column, encouraging the troops, and speaking to each in the language of their country.
The Turks had profited by this halt to form a new line on the glacis of the camp. The vizier commanded here in person, with all his best troops; the king was in front. It was nearly five o'clock, and the work before them seemed too great an undertaking for tired men; he determined therefore to sleep on the field, and put off the battle till the next day. The grand vizier, in his contempt for the Christians, and his indomitable pride, treated the whole matter so lightly that at this moment he retired to his crimson tent, to drink coffee with his sons.
At the sight, the king's choler rose; although his infantry had not yet marched up, he pointed two or three cannon upon the tent; and the ammunition having not yet arrived, a French officer stuffed into one gun his gloves, his wig, and a packet of Gazettes de France which he had with him. Sobieski, as soon as his troops appeared, ordered them to take a neighboring height. Kara Mustapha in defending himself left his flanks bare, the whole line was troubled. The king cried aloud that the enemy was lost, and surrounded by his squadrons, distinguished afar by his brilliant aigrette, his bow, his golden quiver, and the magnificent buckler carried before him, he rushed straight on the crimson tent, crying, "Non nobis, Domine exercituum, sed nomini tuo des gloriam." The Tartars and Spahis recognized him and drew back. The name of the king of Poland ran through the ranks. "By Allah, the king is with them," repeated they. An eclipse of the moon made the "crescent" grow pale in the sky, and appeared to the excited armies as an omen from on high. "Heaven is against us," cried the Turks.
The vizier, at last, after trying to rally his troops in vain, was obliged to take flight himself, weeping, it was said, bitterly. Sobieski's next letter is dated "from the tents of the vizier in the night."
God be praised; he has given our nation such a victory as has never been known in any former century.
All the artillery, the camp of the Mussulmans, infinite riches, have fallen into our hands. The victory has been so sudden and extraordinary that in the town as in the camp there have been constant alarms that the enemy was returning upon us. They have left powder and munitions to the value of a million of florins, but half of this was set fire to and the explosions were like the last judgment.
The vizier abandoned everything except his coat and his horse. I have constituted myself his heir. The private tents alone cover as much space as Warsaw. I have sent the great standard to the pope, but have hardly had time even to look at the multitude of rich tents, superb equipages, and a thousand beautiful and costly trifles, such as quivers mounted with rubies and sapphires, which are said to be worth thousands of ducats.
Night put an end to the pursuit, for the Turks defended themselves desperately. They made the finest possible retreat. The Janissaries were forgotten in the trenches, and were all cut to pieces. Such was their pride and presumption that one part of the army was assaulting the town while the other gave us battle, and their forces were enough for both. Without the Tartars I believe they amounted to three hundred thousand men. One hundred thousand tents were counted. In flying they left a number of captives, particularly women, after having massacred as many as they could. Many were killed, but also many were only wounded and may recover. I saw yesterday a charming little boy of three years old whose head one of these cowards had spljt open from the mouth. It is impossible to describe the refinements of luxury which the vizier had collected in his tents — baths, little gardens with fountains, even a rabbit-warren. … He had taken possession of a fine ostrich found in one of the emperor's country houses, but he cut off its head that it might not fall again into the hands of the Christians. … I have been in to see the town; it could not have held out five more days. The imperial palace is honey-combed with bullets, the bastions in a terrible state with great pieces of the walls about to fall over, like masses of rock. All the troops of the allies have done their duty well; they attribute the victory to God and to us. The greatest shock of the battle was just opposite where I was, in front of the vizier; and at the moment the enemy began to yield, the elector of Bavaria, the prince of Waldeck, and the other generals crowded round me embracing me, the soldiers and officers on foot and horseback crying, "Our brave king!" and kissing my feet. In the town they called me their "saviour." I went into two churches, where the people kissed my hands and feet and coat, crying, "Let us touch your victorious hands."
He does not mention the text of a sermon preached in Vienna on that day — "There was a man sent by God, and his name was John."
But the day is just beginning to break, and I must finish this letter. God is indeed great. Let us render glory and honor to him for it, now and forever. I cannot longer enjoy this pleasant tete-a-tete with you. We have lost a great number of men, but we shall march today to pursue the enemy into Hungary: the electors say they will accompany me. The heat is most oppressive.
The princes of Bavaria and Saxony will follow me to the end of the world, but we must get over the first two miles quickly, for the smell and infection from so large a number of corpses of men, horses, and camels, is insupportable.
The emperor is a mile and a half away. I perceive that he has no great wish to see me, so I shall make room for him, and am very, glad to escape all the ceremonies that are going to take place in Vienna.
To-day we are pushing on, but I feel sure that the Germans will not budge. I have sent the elector of Saxony, as a remembrance, two richly caparisoned horses, two Turkish standards, etc., etc. He is gone back with his army after having expressed his resentment against the emperor very vehemently.
Sept. 17. — I have had my interview with the emperor yesterday. He arrived at Vienna some hours after my departure. Not expecting to see him after so many delays, I sent him, as a compliment in memory of our victory, one of the standards of the vizier.
Leopold had taken every pains to show that he felt no gratitude to or interest in his deliverer, but finding that Sobieski had literally begun his march from Vienna, he sent an awkward message to him intimating that he did not know how etiquette would allow him to receive an elected king. When the dilemma was laid before Charles of Lorraine, he replied, "With open arms if he has saved the empire!" But Sobreski does not mention this little passage at arms.
I proposed that we should meet on horseback, I in front of my army, he before his and his capital. I need not describe him to you; his appearance is well known; he wore an embroidered surcoat and a hat with white and red plumes. I made my compliments in Latin in very few words. He replied in the same way. [Sobieski again does not give his answer to the emperor's cold and awkward address — "I am very glad, sire, to have rendered you this little service."] I presented my son; the emperor did not even put his hand to his cap. To avoid scandal I said a few words more to him, and then turned my horse; we saluted, and I went back to my camp. He then went on to look at our army with the palatine of Russia, but our people are extremely piqued, and complain openly that the emperor did not deign to thank them for all the privations and pains they have endured, even by saluting them.
Our sick have nothing but dung to lie on; the wounded, of whom there are a great number, cannot obtain boats to go down the river to Presburg, where I could have them nursed at my own cost. They refuse to allow our dead to be buried in the cemeteries of Vienna, even the superior officers. They pillage our baggage and carry away the horses following us. A German dragoon struck one of my pages on the face and brought blood, at four steps from me; another tore away my cloak from one of my people. Some of my bodyguard, left near the Turkish cannon we have taken, lost their cloaks, their clothes, and their horses. We have never been in such bad case, and if it had not been for the oats found in the Turkish camp we should have lost all the horses; the misery is so great everywhere that it is difficult to find a truss of hay or any fresh grass; bare fields are all that remain after the passage of these clouds of pagans.
Several of our men having pressed into the town to find some food, as we are dying of hunger in the country, the commandant gave orders to fire upon them. … After such a battle, where we have lost so many men, and officers of our highest families, we are to lose our horses and baggage, and to be left to perish of misery. We are treated as if we had the plague, while before the battle my tents, which, thank God, are spacious enough, could not contain the crowds. We are marching on a still greater famine, but I want to get away from this town of Vienna, where they fire on our people. But tell no one of these subjects of complaint — the old adage says, "Qui ne sait cacher son ennui apprête à rire à l'ennemi." We are like the Israelites by the waters of Babylon, we weep the loss of our horses, the ingratitude of those we have saved, and so many chances of success thrown away. Sept. 18th. — We are only three miles from Presburg. The roads are full of corpses; at one of the fords of the river the Turks lost nearly two thousand men, killed partly by our people, partly by the peasants. The Germans have not stirred from Vienna.
It has been hinted to me by the imperial equerry that I should do well to offer some fine saddle-horses to the emperor. This is a very pretty compliment when I have hardly any for myself, but I shall try and see whether any can be found in the army, as it is my fate to have to oblige everybody and to have nothing to expect except from God. … It is not the least extraordinary thing we have experienced that we do not know what is going to become of us. It would only have been right, I think, to ask me how I intend to go on with the war, but they have no communication with me. If they would at least declare frankly that they do not want us any more, I should be free to go where I please.
The Turks are marching day and night in a straight line on Belgrade, where is the sultan, abandoning their baggage at the defiles or river-fords.
The soldiers and officers are suffering from fever and dysentery, brought on by fatigue, the want of nourishment, and the excessive heat. The Duke of Lorraine comes often to see me; le pauvre diable has neither spoils from the enemy nor honors from the emperor.
Ingratitude was the order of the day at Vienna, and generals, feudatories, and allies were all treated with the same coldness.
Sept. 19. — We hope to cross the Danube to-morrow on a bridge which has still to be made, in order to enter the enemy's country, where we hope to find forage for the horses. The Turks have stopped nowhere, and leave stragglers behind in all directions, dying of hunger. I should wish to march directly on Buda, and so finish the war, but … These military details, however, will not have much interest for you, my love, for I often observe that when you hear them, you take no notice. … What a beautiful country this is, and how these pagans have maltreated it! … I have sent the emperor some fine horses, according to the hint which he sent me; I put on them harness mounted with diamonds, rubies and emeralds. He has replied by a tolerably handsome sword. I have given presents [to the officers who had fought by his side], and shall be reduced, most likely, to come home with nothing left but buffaloes and camels for my own share. People are coming to me every moment — I have not a moment of rest night nor day. You know, chere dame, how much I love reading; well, upon my honor, I have not ever had a book in my hands since Ratibor.
A week ago the greater part of the Turkish army disbanded, and neither halter nor cold steel could stop the men. The vizier has caused the pasha of Buda to be strangled in his presence because his soldiers refused to fight. He was a brave, honest old man, who had married a Pole, and had been wounded at the affair of Vienna. Many other executions have taken place, and more are to be carried out near Buda. All their treasures are taken by the vizier.
Presburg. — We have lost a number of men lately, some from wounds, many from dysentery. I have brought them down here, where the inhabitants are kind and hospitable, like our own Poles. … I have devoted my life to the glory of God and of his holy cause and I shall go on with it [he adds in answer to some of his wife's complaints]. I too care for my life, I care for it for the service of Christendom and my country, for you, dear heart, for my children, my family, and my friends, but honor must be dear to me also.
It is sad to hear the officers talk. They even regret that we came to the emperor's help, and wish we had left this proud race to perish, never to rise again; everybody is discouraged and out of heart. The intense heat brings with it fever and something like plague. [Leopold, indeed, seemed bent on showing by his consistent meanness and ingratitude how little worth saving he had been.]
I send a list of the munitions of war taken in the Turkish camp, which are to be divided; but there was much more — this was only taken after three days of pillage. I forbade anything to be touched after the battle till night, thinking the Turks might return; but many of the soldiers have become great lords, they have grown so rich with plunder. Belts set with diamonds have been seen among them. Watches with diamonds, rich poignards, and knives, and quivers, etc., are in the list; carpets, coverlids, furs, the most beautiful in the world.
I can't think what the Turks intended to do with them, as they do not wear such. Perhaps they were intended for the ladies of Vienna! I send you one of the vizier's coverlids in white satin, embroidered with gold flowers — nothing can be warmer or more delicate — and a cushion embroidered by the vizier's chief wife; also two purple carpets woven with gold. I beg you graciously to receive these bagatelles.
And now came the only reverse which Sobieski ever encountered in his life. In the hot pursuit of the Turks, the advanced guard, without the king's knowledge or orders, advanced to the Danube, and found that the Ottoman army had just crossed. The Poles had neither infantry nor cannon, and the Turk charged furiously upon them; they were not quite five thousand men, and the Duke of Lorraine had not come up as was expected.
The Turks charged them a second and a third time; our centre and left wing began to fly. I cried and ordered in vain, all abandoned me. I ordered Fanfan [his son] to go on with them, and not knowing what had become of him I thought I should have died of grief. I was very near losing my life; my hands, my thighs, all my body is as black as coal, bruised by the press of the flyers. The poor palatine of Pomerania was pushed off his horse and fell with many others near me. A cavalry soldier saved my life; two Turks were close upon me; he killed one and wounded the other. I had hoped to recompense the man largely, but he did not come alive out of the fight. Let particular mention be made of him in the service for the dead. I was supposed to be among the dead, and it is almost a miracle it was not so. Almost all my pages perished in the action, and I can hardly sit on my horse from the fatigue and grief I have endured. The body of the poor palatine has been found, but headless — these barbarians make no prisoners.
Two days after, however, he had his revenge: Kara Mustapha returned in great force from Buda, with troops, inspirited by the false news of the death of the king, and gave battle at Parkany, on the 10th October, with the usual results.
Oh, how good God is, my dear Mariette, to have given us in compensation for a little confusion, a victory greater than that of Vienna! In the name of your love for me do not cease thanking him, entreat him to continue his mercies to his faithful people. I am quite well, thank God, and feel twenty years younger since our victory — everything is repaired.
Kara Mustapha had been promised the aid of Tekeli and forty thousand Hungarians; the Ottoman army had recovered its vigor, and was posted so as to stretch from Parkany to the foot of the mountains, the right resting on the gorges by which the Hungarians were to arrive. By this time, however, King John had received his contingents and Cossacks. Before day he had arranged his army in three lines; he led the first himself, the Duke of Lorraine the second, and Jablonowski the third; the Turks charged this last furiously as usual, but were driven back in disorder. The king meantime advanced on the walls of the fort; the broken squadrons were alarmed; the two wings of the Christian army, forming a vast crescent, rested on the Danube; Sobieski came down on the disordered troops and drove them into the river. "It was a diverting spectacle(!)," said an eyewitness; "those who would not dare this dangerous passage were cut to pieces on the banks, and heaps of them, a fathom high, formed a sort of parapet on the edge." The bridge below broke, five pashas and a number of generals perished there, and the slaughter was tremendous.
The Hungarians arrived too late, purposely it was said, and that Tekeli grieved equally over the check to Sobieski, which left him at the mercy of the Turks, and at the destruction of the Turks, which left him at the mercy of the Austrians. The king attempted in vain to save him from the consequences of his own indecision. When Sobieski heard that Kara Mustapha had fled to Belgrade his joy was great. "Here is Hungary at last delivered from the infidel after three hundred years. Belgrade is not in Hungary but in Servia," he explains. "I know you are not strong in geography," he observes several times. "The Turks now have only five or six of the principal fortresses left, and it would only require fourteen days to deliver this great and beautiful kingdom entirely."
He had all along desired to attack Buda, but was persuaded by the Duke of Lorraine to besiege Gran. It was the first time that the Turks had had to defend places since the foundation of their empire, and a new art for them to learn; they had hitherto done nothing but attack, but now, after three hundred years, they were conquered and invaded in their turn. He writes from within the town, October 21st: —
Although pressed by the bad weather and the want of forage, I resolved to attack the fortress against the advice of every one. The town has yielded; the garrison, two pashas, and five thousand troops have marched out with arms but without baggage or artillery; it was the strongest place in Hungary. Mass has been celebrated for the first time these one hundred and fifty years in the church, which had been converted into a mosque. We have taken five mosques in this way from the pagans during the year. No one, however, speaks either of our present or our past. God and glory are our reward.
We see nothing but sickness, pillage, towns on fire, and ruined churches, ill this miserable country, where every sod of earth would yield blood, it seems, if it were pressed.
We are bivouacking in the open air, we cannot even use our tents, the ground is so frozen that it is impossible to drive in the tent-pegs.
Desertion, brigandage, and sickness were ravaging the ranks on both sides; but still Sobieski went on with his selfimposed task, and the Turks had such confidence in his honor that they would surrender to him at discretion, as at Schetzin, when they would trust no one else.
The rain had made the roads now impracticable; the snows which followed determined the end of the campaign for Ithe allies, although Sobieski yet desired to carry Buda, which would have driven the Turks out of Hungary, and thus concluded the war.
With a last effort to save Tekeli, and do something for Hungary, if possible, Sobieski wrote to the pope in their favor, after having vainly attempted to obtain terms for them with the emperor. Then, to the great delight of his army, he turned homewards, through mud and snow, and hardships of all kinds. On Christmas eve he reached Cracow, after only four months' absence, which had been one series of successes and triumphs. He was received with the acclamations of his people, who were half mad with pride and joy.
On the very day after, an aga of the Janissaries presented himself to Kara Mastapha at Belgrade, on the part of the sultan, to demand his head. It was said that Mahomet would have saved him, but that the exasperation of the army and the people was such that he was afraid for his own life; despots are often the greatest slaves. The disgraced vizier was sent for to Constantinople after attempting to save his treasures, by burying them and killing the Albanian workmen who had done the work. He saw from his windows the aga approaching with a numerous escort, received him calmly, kissed the hatti-scherif of death, made his prayer, washed his hands, face, and head, to "receive martyrdom pure in body and soul," and then, kneeling down, adjusted the cord round his own neck. His head a few days after decorated the gates of the Seraglio, "another trophy to John Sobieski."
The tide of conquest had turned; the Turks were driven back never again to trouble Europe by their invasions. We have forgotten the political and religious horror which followed the long series of triumphs that carried the standard of Mahomet from Mecca, Jerusalem, and Damascus, into the very heart of Europe. Sobieski was spoken of as a second Maccabeus who had saved Christianity itself, as well as the Holy Land. In three months he had recovered all that the Porte had conquered during two hundred years. The decline of the empire of the Mahomets and Solymans dates from the utter defeat of the Turks by King John at Vienna, and the battles which succeeded it. Since that time the Porte has never gained a foot of territory in Europe.
The extraordinary genius for war possessed by the Turkish race, the manner in which such bodies of men and masses of material of war were collected in those roadless days in such short periods of time, and from such distances, is almost inconceivable. Inspired by religious fanaticism, these were hurled on the foe with a force which for a time carried all before it. But although their powers of destruction were enormous, the utter absence of all capacity for ruling or amalgamating with their subject races is even more remarkable. The Turks have never been able to use their acquisitions, except to derive tribute from them. Their existence has always and everywhere been that of a garrison in a conquered country — aliens in faith, in race, and manners, they have continued apart to the present day. Literature they have none, trade they have left to the despised Giaour: they seem incapable of progress, in the European sense of the word. The fierce hordes which have overrun so large a portion of the world have apparently been urged on by the blind instinct that leads the locust or the soldier-crab afield, more than by any more human feeling. Von Hammer, at the end of one of his volumes, summing up the principal invasions of the thirty previous years, mentions six in Styria, six in Carinthia, nine in Carniola, without counting the great number of smaller attempts, twenty-seven in Carniola alone from 1460 to 1518.
The Turk has lost his savage energy of conquest since those days, but though the common people are said to be brave, sober, and trustworthy, the hopeless corruption of the ruling class in Constantinople and the provinces is as great or greater than ever, the social conditions are utterly rotten, and the general disorganization complete.
The problem of our dealings with the Porte is, however, of course complicated by the fact that it is only the advanced guard of the enormous Mussulman population scattered over the world, and that our queen rules over a greater number of Mahometans than does any other sovereign, even the sultan and the shah.
The history of Sobieski has a peculiar interest at the present moment, as helping to interpret that present which has its roots, as ever, in the past. The "Bulgarian atrocities," which have shocked the world, are seen to be merely "a survival" (as Mr. Tylor would call it) of the ordinary usages of the Turks in war and in the suppression of rebellion. The antagonism between the Porte and "Muscovy," the friendly feeling between Turkey and Hungary, which has helped to paralyze Austria at the present crisis, existed in the days of King John as now. If the jealousies of the European powers had not prevented the formation of that great confederation which he strove so earnestly to organize, and he had been able to carry on his victorious campaign after the relief of Vienna as he desired, the "Turkish difficulty" would not have been troubling Europe at the present moment. It is almost the only consolation in the conduct of the Conference that, though the Porte continues much as she was two hundred years ago, the great powers have certainly been acting a more Christian part. Such conduct as that of Louis XIV. and Leopold would at least be now impossible in the face of international public opinion; and we may therefore still entertain a faint hope that the honest efforts of the Christian nations combined may bring about a better result than has followed the campaigns of 1670-83, successful as they were. But the time for action is indeed short. F. P. Verney.
- There is a curious similarity between Sobieski's expressions and those of many much-reprobated speeches and writings at the present crisis.
- Among the multitude of petty meannesses to which the great Louis condescended was a letter which he wrote to Tekeli at this time. In describing the blessing which had been given to Hungary, he praised the entire liberty of religion which was enjoyed there. In the same official Gazette, appeared a declaration that the property of any Protestant who had escaped from the kingdom would be confiscated, and all contracts they had entered into annulled. The governor of Poitou, in the same paper, announced that he had made 39,849 conversions, adding an edict by which any of the "converts" found entering a Protestant church were condemned to the galleys.