The principality's pro-Rákóczi estates were among the signatories of the Szatmár Peace in 1711, but that treaty did not represent a crucial landmark in the political history of Transylvania. It did not alter the constitutional foundations of Habsburg rule, which were laid when, in 1690, the Habsburgs gained possession of Transylvania by right of the Hungarian crown. Nor did it change the administrative system that had been solidly implanted in the 1690s. The political order created in 1690 was merely consolidated in the aftermath of the Szatmár accord.

At the beginning of this period, Transylvania's importance for the Habsburg empire was primarily of a military nature. The revenues that accrued to the imperial treasury — mainly from salt and precious metals — were relatively small. In the context of the empire, Transylvania was but a small and underdeveloped region that weighed little in the economic plans of the central government. From the military point of view, however, Transylvania served as the empire's eastern bastion against the Turks. To be sure, the weakened Ottoman empire suffered new military reverses in the 1710s, and — in a development that directly affected Transylvania — it had to cede Oltenia (the western part of Wallachia) to the Habsburgs, who held on to the region for some twenty years. But these gains had to be surrendered when the Turks returned to the offensive in the late 1730s, and Transylvania retained its strategic importance.

The empire's defence thus required the fullest consolidation of Habsburg rule in Transylvania. During Rákóczi's War of Independence, the Habsburgs had imposed tight military control over the country. Even in the 1710s, the energetic General Steinville would {2-518.} intervene in matters of high policy, and only in the following decade did such direct intervention become less common. To be sure, there was a long delay in appointing a governor, and in 1732–34 Transylvania was governed by the Habsburg military commander, who did not, however, formally assume a civil function; but raw military rule became a thing of the past.

By that time, the Habsburg government did not feel bound to the letter of the Diploma Leopoldinum that had been negotiated in 1690–91. A few weeks before the endorsement by Transylvania of the Pragmatica Sanctio, Emperor Charles III declared that since the Habsburgs had occupied Transylvania by force of arms on three successive occasions, the country was theirs by right of conquest. In 1742, when the empire was facing some severe difficulties, the Viennese cabinet urged reconfirmation not of the Diploma Leopoldinum, but of the decrees issued by Leopold I, Joseph I, and Charles III, and of subsequent imperial edicts. The Pragmatic Sanction was problematic in terms of constitutional law as well as foreign policy, and its imposition on Transylvania, in 1722, by Charles III had all the trappings of a political coup. Both the military commander, Count Hugo Virmont, and János Bornemissza, a Székely who had risen from the lowly post of salt administrator to become court chancellor, received explicit orders to obtain ratification of the statute concerning the House of Habsburg. Although barely half of the estates' representatives showed up for the diet, the Pragmatic Sanction was declared to be constitutionally valid.

Transylvania was part of the empire, and although it had its own government, the latter functioned in accordance with the Habsburgs' principles and practices of rule. The Gubernium had to be restored, and, in December 1712, the diet put forward nominations for the posts of governor and councillors; Charles III chose to ignore this advice and, in March 1713, appointed as governor Zsigmond Kornis, the former head of the court chancellery for Transylvania. Among the 'key offices' enumerated in the Diploma {2-519.} Leopoldinum, this was the only one to be filled. Transylvania was denied its own military commander and treasurer, for the central government wished to exclude these spheres from supervision by the estates; and Vienna saw no need for a Transylvanian chancellor. The pattern set with Kornis was repeated in 1734, when János Haller was appointed governor despite the fact that he had not been nominated by the diet. However, in this instance, neglect of the diet's advice turned out to be in the best interests of the estates, and indeed of the entire country.

Military and financial affairs remained outside the purview of Transylvania's estates. There was to be no Transylvanian general, and the country's finances were administered by experts from the hereditary provinces under the supervision of the court chamber (Hofkammer). The Gubernium was responsible for looking after Transylvania's judiciary and local administration, but it, too, was subordinated to central authority. The head of the court chancellery for Transylvania still carried the rank of vice-chancellor, but he did not play a major role in policy-making and served mainly to convey the sovereign's instructions to the Gubernium. The main decision-making body for policy concerning Transylvania was the imperial cabinet (Ministerialkonferenz in rebus Transylvanicis), which, from 1711 to 1736, was headed by Prince Eugene of Savoy. As a rule, the sovereign accepted the cabinet's recommendations, which encompassed the timing, site, and composition of diets; the annual tax levy; appointments to the principal offices of state; the disposition of legislative proposals; major policy issues, including those involving religion and the legal status of foreign merchants; and responses to petitions submitted to the sovereign by the diet.

This, then, was the constitutional and governmental system that came to prevail in Transylvania. The country had moved from a state of loose dependency to one of full integration: from a varying degree of subordination to the Turks in the 16th and 17th centuries to membership in a tightly administered empire. There was {2-520.} little chance of escaping this fate. It is conceivable that, with the aid of the Turks, Rákóczi's exiled followers might have prevailed over the Habsburgs in Transylvania, but that would have brought the restoration of Turkish suzerainty. There were two attempts in this direction.

The first came in summer 1717, when a band of exiles, reinforced by Turkish, Tartar, and Moldavian troops, and led by Antal Esterházy, made forays into northern Transylvania. They failed to make a politically significant impact. The Turks and Moldavians withdrew when they heard of the defeat suffered by the Ottoman forces at Belgrade. The Tartars rampaged through towns and villages from Beszterce to Szatmár and Kolozs counties; on their way back through the Máramaros, people rose up and relieved them of most of their captives and plunder. Earlier, at the beginning of 1717, the diet had acceded to strong pressure from Vienna to impose sanctions on Kelemen Mikes and some other Transylvanian nobles who remained true to Rákóczi's cause.

The second attempt was led by József Rákóczi, son of Ferenc Rákóczi II. The circumstances are unclear, but he left his Viennese home in spring 1734, spent some time in Italy, and ended up in Madrid. From there, he was invited to Constantinople by Ahmed Pasha, who was in fact Claude-Alexandre de Bonneval, a former lieutenant-general in the imperial army. In July 1737, the imperial commander-in-chief, Count Friedrich Seckendorff, launched a surprise attack on the Turks and registered some early successes. The situation seemed to favour József Rákóczi's plan to restore a Hungarian–Transylvanian principality. However, the athname given to him by the Porte resembled those received by Transylvania's princes in the 16th–17th centuries only in form, and not in substance. Moreover, the hope that the name Rákóczi would galvanize support proved to be ill-founded. There was no large-scale desertion among Hungarian troops, and although the King of Spain awarded the Golden Fleece to Rákóczi, the Habsburg government {2-521.} persuaded the Pope to excommunicate the pretender. In fall 1738, even the grand vizier withdrew his support from Rákóczi, and the latter was a politically spent force by the time he expired in November at Cernavoda.

There were a few other, pro-Rákóczi attempts; Saxon sources mention one in 1735, led by a Háromszék nobleman. However, the arrest in March 1738 of Bishop István Szigethi-Gyula and some Calvinist Transylvanian aristocrats was based on trumped-up charges. They had been inspired not by the Rákóczi movement but by the wish to institute military rule and, secondarily, to resist the Counter-Reformation. The international situation precluded a 'Rákóczian' alternative, in Hungary as well as in Transylvania.