The Gubernium and Habsburg Military Rule

The Warsaw Treaty was the first and last instance of diplomatic cooperation between the Transylvania's princely council and the Hungarian confederation. When the council received the terms of the 'proposed confederation with His Majesty the Czar of Muscovy and the Noble Polish Nation', it responded in laudatory terms: Rákóczi was 'following the glorious example' of István Báthori, and the alliance, in the form of a 'colligation', would be of benefit to both Hungary and Transylvania.[139]139. Message from the Transylvanian princely council to Rákóczi, n.d. [1707], OL, RSzlt, G 15. 11/2-a. At the same time, the council informed Rákóczi about serious domestic problems and recommended that the diet be reconvened at Kolozsvár.

A fierce struggle had emerged between the central authorities and the feudal estates. At its meetings in Segesvár and Kolozsvár, the Transylvanian council could not come up with ways to combat galloping inflation. Far from rejecting the demands of landowners for the release of villeins under arms, the council tended to endorse {2-427.} them. On the other hand, the government's supporters did not give full consideration to the privileges and interests of the landowners. The chief official at the Treasury, Albert Kismarjai, took steps to collect taxes, rebuild the Treasury's holdings, and, with the help of Rákóczi's special envoy, Krisztián Chilko, to conduct a comprehensive review of the management of Treasury estates. That last initiative was particularly troublesome for the aristocrats involved in the various branches of Treasury estates.

Meanwhile, Brigadier Tamás Esze rode roughshod over the landowners in carrying out Rákóczi's military orders. In his capacity as commander of the military camp at Medgyes, Esze discovered that Brigadier Imre Perényi: had been collecting wages for two posts and had misappropriated regimental funds by keeping the names of deceased soldiers on the roster. The commander-in-chief, Lőrinc Pekry, felt in any case that Rákóczi had excessively trimmed his authority; he now ordered Tamás Esze and the latter's regiments to participate, under his command, in the siege of Szeben. When, in early fall, Rabutin reached Transylvania's borders, Rákóczi gave urgent orders for defensive preparations. After some delay, Pekry dispatched Tamás Esze with two hajdú and one German regiment to secure the Kaján Pass. But Rabutin's 7,000 men had already entered the pass, and the hajdús made no attempt to hold them back.

Transylvania's new military commander, General Sándor Károly, was late in deploying his army and, instead of making a stand, withdrew to the northwest border, while General Mihály Mikes pulled back with his regiment to Moldavia. Some Székely units, along with the palace regiment from Hungary, were trapped in Görgény Castle. There they held out for five months, from 10 October 1707 to 10 March 1708, inflicting — by Rabutin's own account — heavy losses on the attackers. Their brilliant commander, János Ráthonyi, fell in battle, and when the reinforced imperial artillery turned the walls into rubble, the remaining defenders {2-428.} fought their way out and withdrew to Hungary. Resistance at Tasnád and in the Háromszék district was also crushed by imperial forces; the leaders were impaled or otherwise slaughtered to intimidate the inhabitants of the 'guilty' villages. Undeterred, the Székelys persisted in their efforts at resistance.

Rabutin put Enyed to the torch, broke the siege of Szeben, and entered Kolozsvár. Colonel Acton's group of 1,500 cavalry, 700 infantry, and Serb auxiliaries ravaged the region of the Érc Mountains, burning down mills, looting the mines, and exacting tribute from villages and towns. In November 1707, Governor György Bánffy disseminated copies of Emperor Joseph's offer of amnesty and announced that Transylvania would return to Habsburg rule.

Hungary and Transylvania threw their last remaining military reserves into a counter-offensive. At great effort, and under the direction of Jakab Grabarics, mining operations were restarted in the Érc Mountains, and the gold exchange was revived. Rákóczi ordered that the army be paid in silver currency. The government persevered in its efforts to collect taxes and investigate the management of Treasury properties. And the feudal estates continued to resist the measures taken by central authority. After Rákóczi rejected Károlyi's proposal for military government, the latter did more to hinder than to help the work of the principality's government; according to a report from Grabarics, Károlyi and a fellow general, Pál Orosz, imposed a customs duty on the gold shipped from Abrudbánya to the mint.

Another calamity came in summer 1708, when Kolozsvár and Gyergyó were stricken by the plague. In the fall, imperial troops once again ravaged mining areas in the Érc Mountains. Accompanied by the remnants, numbering in the thousands, of Transylvania's army, the princely council withdrew to Hungary; they continued to regard Rákóczi as the embodiment of the principality, and to fight on in the name of their lost country.

{2-429.} By early 1709, the imperial army had won control of Transylvania, but there remained the seemingly impossible task of bringing order to the exhausted country. After the departure of Rabutin, the title of commander-in-chief was assumed, first by General Cusani, then by General Kriechbaum; and, when the latter was felled by the plague, it was General Count Steinville who moved into the commander's residence at Szeben. The Gubernium, which was supposed to oversee civil administration in Transylvanian, waited out the war of independence in comfortable captivity in Szeben, where it gradually withered away as an institution. Rabutin had kept the chancellor, Miklós Bethlen, locked up in humiliating conditions in a tiny cell at Szeben, then, in spring 1708, transferred him to Vienna, where he remained in captivity. In the meantime, Treasurer István Apor, Vice-Chancellor Sámuel Kálnoki, and Governor György Bánffy all passed away.

Many of the aristocrats and nobles who had found refuge in crowded Szeben and Brassó fell victim to the plague and other diseases. Those who survived the difficult war years only longed for tranquillity. Some, like Mihály Cserei, blamed Rákóczi and his supporters for Transylvania's distress; others, including István Wesselényi, sought some way out of the crisis.

Emperor Joseph I counted on Transylvania's help in reestablishing his rule over Hungary, and he therefore courted the support of the country's various social strata. He proclaimed a general amnesty, then ordered the recruitment of Hungarian units in the Székelyföld, offering exemption from 'portion' taxes to those who took up arms. He gave instructions for the free election of royal magistrates, and invitations to the diet in Pozsony went out to all Transylvanian counties, towns, and feudal estates. However, the reconstituted Gubernium — consisting of Count István Haller as chairman, along with the royal magistrates of Szeben and Medgyes, Péter Weber and Sámuel Konrád — proved impotent, and the country remained in a state of near-anarchy.