1702 – Origins of Rákóczi Uprising in Hungary

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Hierarchical Path: War of the Spanish Succession (Main Page) >> Campaigns >> 1702 – Origins of Rákóczi Uprising in Hungary

The campaign lasted from June to December 1702

General Context

The Hungarian nobility has always been very proud and difficult to manage by its kings. After the disastrous defeat at Mohács in 1526, the Kingdom of Hungary was practically divided into three parts: the south under direct administration of the Ottoman Empire, the Principality of Transylvania ( Èrdély in Hungarian) under the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire and the so called “Upper Hungary” (present-day Slovakia) which was still – more or less – under control of the Habsburgs.

The Ottomans as well as the Habsburg tried over the years to incorporate Transylvania into their own domains. The princes of Transylvania took advantage from this rivalry and concluded treaties, initially with the Turks and later with the Habsburg monarchy.

Meanwhile, the nobility of “Upper Hungary” tried to retain its privilege against the gradual centralization of all power into the hands of the Habsburg kings. This antagonism led to several uprisings of the Hungarian nobility.

During the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648), Stephan Bocskay and Gabriel Bethlen, princes of Transylvania fought against the Holy Roman Empire. During the following decades, princes of Transylvania were often fomented uprisings: in 1644 and 1645, Georg I Rákoczy; from 1648 to 1660, Georg II Rákoczy; in 1676, Ferenc I Ràkoczy (father of Ferenc II, beheaded in 1676 as conspirator); and from 1678 to 1688, Imre Thököly.

After his victory against the Turks at Vienna in 1683, Emperor Leopold I imposed his suzerainty to Transylvania who lost its independence and had to accept the Emperor as King of Hungary and Transylvania.

In 1694, after the Thököly Uprising (also called “Kuruz-Uprising”), his stepson Ferenc II Rákoczy (born 1676, died 1735) and his mother Helena Zrínsky were allowed to return to Upper Hungary after a short detention in Vienna. Most of the properties of his family had been confiscated by the Emperor. Ferenc was then separated from his mother and placed under the close supervision of Cardinal Kollonits who confided him to the Jesuits for further education. Ferenc was destined for an ecclesiastical career but the young man had different views. Through intercession of Ferdinand Count Gobert Aspremont-Reckheim Ferenc was allowed to travel abroad. He married Amalia, the daughter of Karl Count von Hessen-Rheinfels, re-obtained some properties in Transylvania and was appointed “Reichsfürst” (Imperial Prince).

In 1699, by the Treaty of Karlowitz, the Ottomans recognized the suzerainty of the Habsburgs over Transylvania. Ferenc was then kept in Vienna under Emperor's supervision. During his sojourn in Vienna, Ferenc II Rákoczy met the French ambassador, Claude Louis Hector Comte de Villars who tried to convince him to align with King Louis XIV and against Habsburg. Villars promised to help Rákoczy to get back the title of Fürst (prince) of Transylvania. At first, Rákoczy refused these proposals.

After his return to Hungary, Rákoczy was informed by the commander of Kaschau (present-day Košice/SK), Count Nigrelli, that he should be again imprisoned. Rákoczy immediately returned to Vienna where he received similar information. At that time, he still had the confidence of Emperor Leopold I.

Ferenc II Rákoczy chose the Castle of Sáros (present-day Šariš/SK) as his residence. During his sojourn at the Castle of Sáros, several dissatisfied Hungarian aristocrats (Niclas Bercsényi, Paul Okolicsányi, Adam and Michale Vaj and his friend Captain Longueval) contacted him and persuaded him to take advantage of the dissatisfaction of most of the Hungarian aristocracy with the Habsburg to put, with the assistance of the French King Louis XIV, his own plans in execution. Longueval convinced Rákoczy to write a letter to Louis XIV which would be personally transmitted by Longueval. But this “friend” handed this letter over to Court Counsellor Wolfgang von Öttingen in Vienna, revealing him the intentions of the dissatisfied aristocrats.

In the night of 18 April 1701, Ferenc II Rákoczy was captured by Count Solari who transported him to Wiener Neustadt and imprisoned him there, in the same room in which his grandfather, Peter Zrinyi, had been previously detained. The Austrians also captured Adam and Michel Vaj, Paul Okolicsányi and Stephan Szirmay. However, Niclas Bercsényi managed to escape to Poland. Franz Szluha, Paul Orbán and Stephan Sárosy who had come to Vienna to intervene in favour of Rákoczy were imprisoned too.

Thanks to the intercession of King Frederick I of Prussia, of King William III of Great Britain and of the Elector of Mainz; Ferenc II Rákoczy was allowed a trial. The main witness for the prosecution would be Longueval. Rákoczy's friends did not trust in the fairness of the Court of Vienna and organized his escape. On 7 November 1701, with the help of Captain Lehmann (in some sources designated as Gottfried von Lehnsfeld) of his guards, who had had been bribed, Rákoczy managed to escape to Poland where he joined his friend Bercsényi. Lehmann was later sentenced to death but Stephan Szirmay was freed. The mother of Ferenc II Rákoczy gave 30,000 fl. to Lehmann's family. Vienna vainly made representation in Poland to extradite Rákoczy. In his absence at his trial in Vienna, Rákoczy was sentenced to death and lost of all his estates.

The same year (1701), the War of the Spanish Succession had broken out and Austria needed more and more soldiers for the Campaign in Northern Italy. The authorities in Vienna decided to raise some 12,000 men in Hungary and to send them to Italy under the command of Johann Count Pálffy. These measures increased the dissatisfaction of Hungarian aristocrats.

In 1702, the following Imperial regular troops were stationed in the region:


Abtheilung für Kriegsgeschichte des k. k. Kriegs-Archives: Feldzüge des Prinzen Eugen von Savoyen, Series 1, Vol. 4, Vienna 1877, p. 632

Fessler, Dr. I. A.: Die Geschichte der Ungern, part IX. File 19. Leipzig 1825

Wikipedia German Edition – Franz II. Rákoczi


Harald Skala for the initial version of this article