Stephen Báthory (1533–1586; ruled 1576–1586)

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STEPHEN BÁTHORY (15331586; ruled 15761586)

STEPHEN BÁTHORY (15331586; ruled 15761586), king of Poland and prince of Transylvania (from 1571). Báthory was brought up at the imperial court in Vienna, was well educated, and knew several languages. In 1559 he was appointed commander of the Wardar fortress, took part in John Sigismund Szapolyai's struggles against the Habsburgs, participated in peace negotiations with the emperor in Vienna, and was interned there for several years. As prince of Transylvania he had to acknowledge his subordination to both Turkey and the emperor; he organized a mercenary army, reformed education, and upheld the principles of religious tolerance.

After Henry of Valois's flight from Poland (1574), Báthory submitted his candidacy for the Polish throne and expressed his intention to marry Princess Anna Jagiellonka. Despite the fact that the primate, Jacob Uchański, proclaimed the emperor Maximilian II king of Poland (12 December 1575), many magnates (including Jan Zamoyski), clergymen, and a majority of the nobility supported Báthory, who was proclaimed king on 15 December 1575. On 1 May 1576 Báthory married Anna and was crowned in Cracow. The former followers of the Habsburg candidate gradually came over to his side. Báthory launched a campaign against Gdańsk, which had supported the emperor, and after a lengthy blockade and siege, a compromise agreement was reached (12 December 1577), in which Gdańsk recognized Báthory's election, agreed to pay a high contribution to the royal coffers, and preserved its extensive autonomy.

In his internal policy Báthory, backed by Chancellor Zamoyski's advice, sought to strengthen royal power and did not shrink from overcoming the opposition of magnates and noblemen by force (for instance, in the execution of Samuel Zborowski in 1584). However, when Livonia was threatened by Russia, the king, wishing to start war preparations, made some concessions to the nobility, as its consent to additional taxes was indispensable in order to pay the army. He gave up some of the royal judicial prerogatives and set up supreme courts of appeal in Poland (1578) and Lithuania (1581). He pursued a policy of religious toleration, observing the provisions of the Compact of Warsaw (1573), which guaranteed freedom of religion and equal rights to Catholics and dissidents. In 1578 he transformed the Jesuit college in Vilnius into a higher school, the Vilnius Academy.

Báthory's military reforms were of great significance: he organized (1578) an infantry composed of peasants from the crown estates (the so-called selected infantry), furnished the cavalry with lighter protective equipment and firearms, strengthened the artillery, introduced pontoon bridges, and brought over specialists in the construction of fortifications. Having assembled a nearly 30,000-strong army, he attacked Russia. In three victorious campaigns (15791581) he defeated the forces of Ivan IV the Terrible, took Polotsk and Velikiye Luki, and laid siege to Pskov. In the armistice concluded at Iam Zapol'skii (15 January 1582) Ivan gave up Polotsk and land and castles in Livonia, while the Poles returned Velikiye Luki to Russia. Báthory's ambitious plans to conquer Russia and launch an expedition against Turkey (supported by papal subsidies) were interrupted by his death. Báthory was one of Poland's most prominent rulers and an excellent military commander. Despite his attachment to Hungary, he was motivated in his work by Poland's raison d'état but he never learned Polish. He was buried in the cathedral on Wawel Hill in Cracow.

See also Livonian War (15581583) ; Poland-Lithuania, Commonwealth of, 15691795 .


Besala, Jerzy. Stefan Batory. Warsaw, 1992.

Olejnik, Karol. Stefan Batory, 15331586. Warsaw, 1988.

Marcin Kamler

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