The Gubernium

Emperor Leopold's Diploma was proclaimed in early 1691 at the Fogaras diet. For the first time, a representative of the Habsburg government participated in a formal meeting of the feudal estates. The elected prince, Mihály Apafi II, had barely reached adolescence, and György Bánffy, the 28-year-old son of the executed Dénes Bánffy, was appointed to serve as governor-regent until the former reached adulthood. Miklós Bethlen, who failed by a margin of six votes to win the governorship, was elected chancellor. Gergely Bethlen was appointed commander-in-chief, and János Haller became treasurer.

Although the Diploma Leopoldinum did not recognize the prince as a sovereign ruler, it did acknowledge Transylvania's autonomy; opening up possibilities that, considering the circumstances in 1691, were far from negligible. The first laws enacted by the diet in the spirit of the Diploma showed clearly enough that the governor's freedom of action in domestic affairs was not constrained by the imperial commander, Veterani. A Comissariatus, composed of Hungarian lords from Transylvania, was charged with administering tax collection and supplying the armed forces. The {2-379.} Habsburg government would purchase 40,000 köböl of grain at a predetermined price to supply its troops. Three councillors were appointed to advise the young prince.

There is little personal information regarding Mihály Apafi II. Judging from his laconic diary, the prince-in-waiting was well-educated, not without talent, and clearly possessed of an English and Dutch orientation. On the morrow of the battle of Zernyest, he was induced by Miklós Bethlen to sign a statement naming the Prince of Brandenburg and William of Orange, King of England, as his guardians. The choice made sense, for, in the early 1690s, balance of power calculations had led England vigorously to endorse the cause of Transylvania's independent statehood.

The Turks' counter-offensive had proved so strong that the Habsburg government, despite a victory at Szalánkemén in 1691, continued to fear that other losses might follow that of Belgrade. Believing that the war had become a fruitless waste of effort, England and Holland called for an early peace settlement. In the war precipitated by France's attack on the Palatinate, these maritime powers were allied with the Habsburg emperor; in the Balkans, their economic interests dictated peace. King William advised the Habsburgs' ambassador that 'the best way to humiliate France would be for the Habsburg emperor to make peace with the Turks.'[110]110. D. Angyal, Anglia, p. 704. Transylvania figured prominently in the peace plans promoted by the English and Dutch Protestants and commercial interests.

In 1691, England and Holland began to mediate between the Holy League and the Porte, and their peace proposals included independence for Transylvania. In March, Emperor Leopold endorsed the terms that were conveyed to the Porte by England's envoy, Sir William Hussey. If the Turks ceded some areas of Hungary to the emperor, Transylvania would be restored to her former status; thus, with the backing of the Turks and the Habsburgs, Mihály Apafi II would govern the principality under supervision of {2-380.} international guarantors. Later, Lord William Paget would evoke Transylvania's historical traditions and political role in urging that the country's independence be guaranteed in an eventual Turkish-Habsburg settlement. The English and Dutch proposals were accepted by the grand vizier. As negotiations progressed, he reiterated in January 1698 the precondition that Transylvania regain its former status under the protection of the emperor and sultan.

Yet when the anti-Turk war finally came to an end, the Treaty of Karlóca, ratified in January 1699, only confirmed that Transylvania was part of the Habsburg empire. Several factors conspired to produce that outcome. Gubernium members had failed to take advantage of English and Dutch interest in Transylvania's future. The diplomatically more agile Thököly would not have missed this opportunity, and even in his much-reduced state, he tried to exploit his English and Dutch connections. But Thököly's volatile and contradictory personality did not help Transylvania's case in the peace process. The Habsburg government was already uneasy about the mediating role of the maritime powers, and the prospect that Thököly, supported by the English and the Dutch, might gain the Transylvanian throne induced a shift in its policy.

Although the recapture of Várad figured as a key strategic objective in the planning of the anti-Turk war, nothing had been done, for the War Council, elated with success, dreamed of conquering Constantinople. Only in 1691, after England had spoken up on behalf of Transylvania's independence, did the imperial forces lay siege to Várad. The struggle lasted close to a year, but the Turks finally surrendered in June 1692. The supremacy of Habsburg interests rested on superior power, as demonstrated in the decisive victory won by Eugene of Savoy at Zenta. Beginning in 1692, Vienna engaged in a deliberate effort to expand its power. The Battle of Karánsebes was followed, in 1695, by the second military occupation of the principality. On 29 April 1696, General Rabutin de Bussy was named military commander of Transylvania.

{2-381.} Cserei wrote that 'as soon as he arrived, [Rabutin] seized the drumsticks from our lords and made them dance to his tune'.[111]111. Cserei históriája, p. 269. But the Gubernium and other governing bodies played into the hands of the power-hungry Habsburg government, for Transylvania had been drawn into Vienna's orbit. Over the preceding decades, aristocrats and noblemen who had enriched themselves came to revel in the lustre of the imperial capital, from which they returned laden with memories of receptions at court, garden parties, theatre performances, with fashionable goods and modern agricultural implements, and with the occasional earldom. The governor proved incapable of giving leadership to the governing bodies. Chancellor and treasurer, military commander and councillors all vied to grab as large a share as possible of public revenues; they enriched themselves by acting as leaseholders of public property and services and as suppliers to the army. The treasurer, István Apor, became so wealthy that 'in Transylvanian experience, his last will could be compared only that of Prince Gabriel Bethlen'.[112]112. Apor Péter, Metamorphosis Transylvaniae, azaz Erdélynek változása, ed. by Gy. Tóth (Budapest, 1972), p. 12. In his time, no one else left behind such a huge fortune, most of which he had amassed by exploiting — like many others — the economic revival through commerce, lending money, and other methods common to the age.

The Gubernium clearly favoured the interests of the aristocracy. It confirmed the laws and grants of property dating from the era of the principality; promised that the emperor would transfer treasury properties to deserving subjects, and the right to collect tithes to the landowners; it also promised to maintain the nobility's rights and privileges in private commerce. In that critical decade, the three 'nations', the feudal estates, and the ruling elite of aristocrats all tried to exploit the Diploma in the interest of maximizing their privileges. They sent separate delegations to Vienna to plead their separate interests, and these interests coincided on only two issues. First, and above all, they pressed the emperor to confirm Prince Mihály Apafi II as early as possible, for they believed that the {2-382.} young prince would be a better guardian of Transylvania's qualified autonomy than Thököly. Second, the feudal estates insisted on having a chancellery located in Transylvania and distinct from that of the Hungarian kingdom; in contrast, the aristocrats at the Viennese court and in Hungary promoted the idea of a single chancellery for Hungary and Transylvania. When Chancellor Péter Alvinczi transmitted his government's wishes to Vienna, the emperor responded with minor concessions in what became known as the Alvincziana Resolutio; without exception, the concessions served vested interests.

Thus, in affairs of state, the interests of Vienna and the aristocracy predominated. The Habsburg government gave up on a joint Hungarian–Transylvanian chancellery but ruled that the Transylvanian chancellor's office must be located in Vienna. Since Miklós Bethlen was unwilling to move to the imperial capital, it was his Catholic deputy, Sámuel Kálnoki, who would represent the Transylvanian chancellery in that city. In the Alvincziana Resolutio, the emperor reaffirmed that Mihály Apafi II could not accede to the throne before reaching the age of majority. Meanwhile, a clique composed of Bánffy's relatives and supporters tried to win influence over the future prince by having him marry General Gergely Bethlen's fourth daughter, who was sister-in-law to the governor. In 1691, when Mihály Apafi II was approaching his twenty-first birthday, the Habsburg government used the clandestine marriage as an excuse to have him interned in Vienna for the duration of the anti-Turk war; in the event, the prince-in-waiting remained there until his death.

And so it came that when the Habsburg government made peace with the Turks, it ceded to them the province of Temes but insisted on keeping Transylvania. The reunification with Hungary after one and a half centuries of separate existence was illusory, for Transylvania became a centrally-administered province of the empire. Henceforth, the road from Kolozsvár or Gyulafehérvár to Hungary proper would lead through Vienna.

{2-383.} By the turn of the century, the Gubernium and the irregularly-convened diet had lost all autonomy and political significance. Effective power passed from the governor to the Habsburg general and from the chancellery to the vice-chancellor's office in Vienna, while the diet became a rubber stamp. In the Habsburg government, relevant decisions issued from a Transylvania Council, chaired by Bishop Kollonich.

The former principality was no longer in a position to adopt a policy attuned to the balance of power in Europe. It had no credible political elite, nor any effective governing institution of its own. In political terms, Transylvania fragmented into feudal, regional, religious, and village communities that pursued their separate interests. In a typically Transylvanian tactic of withdrawal and rationalization, they began to develop the defensive ideology that came to be known as Transylvanism.