FIGHTING IN HUNGARY
Smith being thus "refurnished," made the tour of Italy, satisfied himself with the rarities of Rome, where he saw Pope Clement the Eighth and many cardinals creep up the holy stairs, and with the fair city of Naples and the kingdom's nobility; and passing through the north he came into Styria, to the Court of Archduke Ferdinand; and, introduced by an Englishman and an Irish Jesuit to the notice of Baron Kisell, general of artillery, he obtained employment, and went to Vienna with Colonel Voldo, Earl of Meldritch, with whose regiment he was to serve.
He was now on the threshold of his long-desired campaign against the Turks. The arrival on the scene of this young man, who was scarcely out of his teens, was a shadow of disaster to the Turks. They had been carrying all before them. Rudolph II., Emperor of Germany, was a weak and irresolute character, and no match for the enterprising Sultan, Mahomet III., who was then conducting the invasion of Europe. The Emperor's brother, the Archduke Mathias, who was to succeed him, and Ferdinand, Duke of Styria, also to become Emperor of Germany, were much abler men, and maintained a good front against the Moslems in Lower Hungary, but the Turks all the time steadily advanced. They had long occupied Buda (Pesth), and had been in possession of the stronghold of Alba Regalis for some sixty years. Before Smith's advent they had captured the important city of Caniza, and just as he reached the ground they had besieged the town of Olumpagh, with two thousand men. But the addition to the armies of Germany, France, Styria, and Hungary of John Smith, "this English gentleman," as he styles himself, put a new face on the war, and proved the ruin of the Turkish cause. The Bashaw of Buda was soon to feel the effect of this re-enforcement.
Caniza is a town in Lower Hungary, north of the River Drave, and just west of the Platen Sea, or Lake Balatin, as it is also called. Due north of Caniza a few miles, on a bend of the little River Raab (which empties into the Danube), and south of the town of Kerment, lay Smith's town of Olumpagh, which we are able to identify on a map of the period as Olimacum or Oberlymback. In this strong town the Turks had shut up the garrison under command of Governor Ebersbraught so closely that it was without intelligence or hope of succor.
In this strait, the ingenious John Smith, who was present in the reconnoitering army in the regiment of the Earl of Meldritch, came to the aid of Baron Kisell, the general of artillery, with a plan of communication with the besieged garrison. Fortunately Smith had made the acquaintance of Lord Ebersbraught at Gratza, in Styria, and had (he says) communicated to him a system of signaling a message by the use of torches. Smith seems to have elaborated this method of signals, and providentially explained it to Lord Ebersbraught, as if he had a presentiment of the latter's use of it. He divided the alphabet into two parts, from A to L and from M to Z. Letters were indicated and words spelled by the means of torches: "The first part, from A to L, is signified by showing and holding one linke so oft as there is letters from A to that letter you name; the other part, from M to Z, is mentioned by two lights in like manner. The end of a word is signifien by showing of three lights."
General Kisell, inflamed by this strange invention, which Smith made plain to him, furnished him guides, who conducted him to a high mountain, seven miles distant from the town, where he flashed his torches and got a reply from the governor. Smith signaled that they would charge on the east of the town in the night, and at the alarum Ebersbraught was to sally forth. General Kisell doubted that he should be able to relieve the town by this means, as he had only ten thousand men; but Smith, whose fertile brain was now in full action, and who seems to have assumed charge of the campaign, hit upon a stratagem for the diversion and confusion of the Turks.
On the side of the town opposite the proposed point of attack lay the plain of Hysnaburg (Eisnaburg on Ortelius's map). Smith fastened two or three charred pieces of match to divers small lines of an hundred fathoms in length, armed with powder. Each line was tied to a stake at each end. After dusk these lines were set up on the plain, and being fired at the instant the alarm was given, they seemed to the Turks like so many rows of musketeers. While the Turks therefore prepared to repel a great army from that side, Kisell attacked with his ten thousand men, Ebersbraught sallied out and fell upon the Turks in the trenches, all the enemy on that side were slain or drowned, or put to flight. And while the Turks were busy routing Smith's sham musketeers, the Christians threw a couple of thousand troops into the town. Whereupon the Turks broke up the siege and retired to Caniza. For this exploit General Kisell received great honor at Kerment, and Smith was rewarded with the rank of captain, and the command of two hundred and fifty horsemen. From this time our hero must figure as Captain John Smith. The rank is not high, but he has made the title great, just as he has made the name of John Smith unique.
After this there were rumors of peace for these tormented countries; but the Turks, who did not yet appreciate the nature of this force, called John Smith, that had come into the world against them, did not intend peace, but went on levying soldiers and launching them into Hungary. To oppose these fresh invasions, Rudolph II., aided by the Christian princes, organized three armies: one led by the Archduke Mathias and his lieutenant, Duke Mercury, to defend Low Hungary; the second led by Ferdinand, the Archduke of Styria, and the Duke of Mantua, his lieutenant, to regain Caniza; the third by Gonzago, Governor of High Hungary, to join with Georgio Busca, to make an absolute conquest of Transylvania.
In pursuance of this plan, Duke Mercury, with an army of thirty thousand, whereof nearly ten thousand were French, besieged Stowell-Weisenberg, otherwise called Alba Regalis, a place so strong by art and nature that it was thought impregnable.
This stronghold, situated on the northeast of the Platen Sea, was, like Caniza and Oberlympack, one of the Turkish advanced posts, by means of which they pushed forward their operations from Buda on the Danube.
This noble friend of Smith, the Duke of Mercury, whom Haylyn styles Duke Mercurio, seems to have puzzled the biographers of Smith. In fact, the name of "Mercury" has given a mythological air to Smith's narration and aided to transfer it to the region of romance. He was, however, as we have seen, identical with a historical character of some importance, for the services he rendered to the Church of Rome, and a commander of some considerable skill. He is no other than Philip de Lorraine, Duc de Mercceur.'
[So far as I know, Dr. Edward Eggleston was the first to identify him. There is a sketch of him in the "Biographie Universelle," and a life with an account of his exploits in Hungary, entitled: Histoire de Duc Mercoeur, par Bruseles de Montplain Champs, Cologne, 1689-97]
At the siege of Alba Regalis, the Turks gained several successes by night sallies, and, as usual, it was not till Smith came to the front with one of his ingenious devices that the fortune of war changed. The Earl Meldritch, in whose regiment Smith served, having heard from some Christians who escaped from the town at what place there were the greatest assemblies and throngs of people in the city, caused Captain Smith to put in practice his "fiery dragons." These instruments of destruction are carefully described: "Having prepared fortie or fiftie round-bellied earthen pots, and filled them with hand Gunpowder, then covered them with Pitch, mingled with Brimstone and Turpentine, and quartering as many Musket-bullets, that hung together but only at the center of the division, stucke them round in the mixture about the pots, and covered them againe with the same mixture, over that a strong sear-cloth, then over all a goode thicknesse of Towze-match, well tempered with oyle of Linseed, Campheer, and powder of Brimstone, these he fitly placed in slings, graduated so neere as they could to the places of these assemblies."
These missiles of Smith's invention were flung at midnight, when the alarum was given, and "it was a perfect sight to see the short flaming course of their flight in the air, but presently after their fall, the lamentable noise of the miserable slaughtered Turkes was most wonderful to heare."
While Smith was amusing the Turks in this manner, the Earl Rosworme planned an attack on the opposite suburb, which was defended by a muddy lake, supposed to be impassable. Furnishing his men with bundles of sedge, which they threw before them as they advanced in the dark night, the lake was made passable, the suburb surprised, and the captured guns of the Turks were turned upon them in the city to which they had retreated. The army of the Bashaw was cut to pieces and he himself captured.
The Earl of Meldritch, having occupied the town, repaired the walls and the ruins of this famous city that had been in the possession of the Turks for some threescore years.
It is not our purpose to attempt to trace the meteoric course of Captain Smith in all his campaigns against the Turks, only to indicate the large part he took in these famous wars for the possession of Eastern Europe. The siege of Alba Regalis must have been about the year 1601 Smith never troubles himself with any dates and while it was undecided, Mahomet III. this was the prompt Sultan who made his position secure by putting to death nineteen of his brothers upon his accession raised sixty thousand troops for its relief or its recovery. The Duc de Mercoeur went out to meet this army, and encountered it in the plains of Girke. In the first skirmishes the Earl Meldritch was very nearly cut off, although he made "his valour shine more bright than his armour, which seemed then painted with Turkish blood." Smith himself was sore wounded and had his horse slain under him. The campaign, at first favorable to the Turks, was inconclusive, and towards winter the Bashaw retired to Buda. The Duc de Mercoeur then divided his army. The Earl of Rosworme was sent to assist the Archduke Ferdinand, who was besieging Caniza; the Earl of Meldritch, with six thousand men, was sent to assist Georgio Busca against the Transylvanians; and the Duc de Mercoeur set out for France to raise new forces. On his way he received great honor at Vienna, and staying overnight at Nuremberg, he was royally entertained by the Archdukes Mathias and Maximilian. The next morning after the feast how it chanced is not known he was found dead His brother-inlaw died two days afterwards, and the hearts of both, with much sorrow, were carried into France.
We now come to the most important event in the life of Smith before he became an adventurer in Virginia, an event which shows Smith's readiness to put in practice the chivalry which had in the old chronicles influenced his boyish imagination; and we approach it with the satisfaction of knowing that it loses nothing in Smith's narration.
It must be mentioned that Transylvania, which the Earl of Meldritch, accompanied by Captain Smith, set out to relieve, had long been in a disturbed condition, owing to internal dissensions, of which the Turks took advantage. Transylvania, in fact, was a Turkish dependence, and it gives us an idea of the far reach of the Moslem influence in Europe, that Stephen VI., vaivode of Transylvania, was, on the commendation of Sultan Armurath III., chosen King of Poland.
To go a little further back than the period of Smith's arrival, John II.of Transylvania was a champion of the Turk, and an enemy of Ferdinand and his successors. His successor, Stephen VI., surnamed Battori, or Bathor, was made vaivode by the Turks, and afterwards, as we have said, King of Poland. He was succeeded in 1575 by his brother Christopher Battori, who was the first to drop the title of vaivode and assume that of Prince of Transylvania. The son of Christopher, Sigismund Battori, shook off the Turkish bondage, defeated many of their armies, slew some of their pashas, and gained the title of the Scanderbeg of the times in which he lived. Not able to hold out, however, against so potent an adversary, he resigned his estate to the Emperor Rudolph II., and received in exchange the dukedoms of Oppelon and Ratibor in Silesia, with an annual pension of fifty thousand joachims. The pension not being well paid, Sigismund made another resignation of his principality to his cousin Andrew Battori, who had the ill luck to be slain within the year by the vaivode of Valentia. Thereupon Rudolph, Emperor and King of Hungary, was acknowledged Prince of Transylvania. But the Transylvania soldiers did not take kindly to a foreign prince, and behaved so unsoldierly that Sigismund was called back. But he was unable to settle himself in his dominions, and the second time he left his country in the power of Rudolph and retired to Prague, where, in 1615, he died unlamented.
It was during this last effort of Sigismund to regain his position that the Earl of Meldritch, accompanied by Smith, went to Transylvania, with the intention of assisting Georgio Busca, who was the commander of the Emperor's party. But finding Prince Sigismund in possession of the most territory and of the hearts of the people, the earl thought it best to assist the prince against the Turk, rather than Busca against the prince. Especially was he inclined to that side by the offer of free liberty of booty for his worn and unpaid troops, of what they could get possession of from the Turks.
This last consideration no doubt persuaded the troops that Sigismund had "so honest a cause." The earl was born in Transylvania, and the Turks were then in possession of his father's country. In this distracted state of the land, the frontiers had garrisons among the mountains, some of which held for the emperor, some for the prince, and some for the Turk. The earl asked leave of the prince to make an attempt to regain his paternal estate. The prince, glad of such an ally, made him camp-master of his army, and gave him leave to plunder the Turks. Accordingly the earl began to make incursions of the frontiers into what Smith calls the Land of Zarkam among rocky mountains, where were some Turks, some Tartars, but most Brandittoes, Renegadoes, and such like, which he forced into the Plains of Regall, where was a city of men and fortifications, strong in itself, and so environed with mountains that it had been impregnable in all these wars.
It must be confessed that the historians and the map-makers did not always attach the importance that Smith did to the battles in which he was conspicuous, and we do not find the Land of Zarkam or the city of Regall in the contemporary chronicles or atlases. But the region is sufficiently identified. On the River Maruch, or Morusus, was the town of Alba Julia, or Weisenberg, the residence of the vaivode or Prince of Transylvania. South of this capital was the town Millenberg, and southwest of this was a very strong fortress, commanding a narrow pass leading into Transylvania out of Hungary, probably where the River Maruct: broke through the mountains. We infer that it was this pass that the earl captured by a stratagem, and carrying his army through it, began the siege of Regall in the plain. "The earth no sooner put on her green habit," says our knight-errant, "than the earl overspread her with his troops." Regall occupied a strong fortress on a promontory and the Christians encamped on the plain before it.
In the conduct of this campaign, we pass at once into the age of chivalry, about which Smith had read so much. We cannot but recognize that this is his opportunity. His idle boyhood had been soaked in old romances, and he had set out in his youth to do what equally dreamy but less venturesome devourers of old chronicles were content to read about. Everything arranged itself as Smith would have had it. When the Christian army arrived, the Turks sallied out and gave it a lively welcome, which cost each side about fifteen hundred men. Meldritch had but eight thousand soldiers, but he was re-enforced by the arrival of nine thousand more, with six-and-twenty pieces of ordnance, under Lord Zachel Moyses, the general of the army, who took command of the whole.
After the first skirmish the Turks remained within their fortress, the guns of which commanded the plain, and the Christians spent a month in intrenching themselves and mounting their guns.
The Turks, who taught Europe the art of civilized war, behaved all this time in a courtly and chivalric manner, exchanging with the besiegers wordy compliments until such time as the latter were ready to begin. The Turks derided the slow progress of the works, inquired if their ordnance was in pawn, twitted them with growing fat for want of exercise, and expressed the fear that the Christians should depart without making an assault.
In order to make the time pass pleasantly, and exactly in accordance with the tales of chivalry which Smith had read, the Turkish Bashaw in the fortress sent out his challenge: "That to delight the ladies, who did long to see some courtlike pastime, the Lord Tubashaw did defy any captaine that had the command of a company, who durst combat with him for his head."
This handsome offer to swap heads was accepted; lots were cast for the honor of meeting the lord, and, fortunately for us, the choice fell upon an ardent fighter of twenty-three years, named Captain John Smith. Nothing was wanting to give dignity to the spectacle. Truce was made; the ramparts of this fortress-city in the mountains (which we cannot find on the map) were "all beset with faire Dames and men in Armes"; the Christians were drawn up in battle array; and upon the theatre thus prepared the Turkish Bashaw, armed and mounted, entered with a flourish of hautboys; on his shoulders were fixed a pair of great wings, compacted of eagles' feathers within a ridge of silver richly garnished with gold and precious stones; before him was a janissary bearing his lance, and a janissary walked at each side leading his steed.
This gorgeous being Smith did not keep long waiting. Riding into the field with a flourish of trumpets, and only a simple page to bear his lance, Smith favored the Bashaw with a courteous salute, took position, charged at the signal, and before the Bashaw could say "Jack Robinson," thrust his lance through the sight of his beaver, face, head and all, threw him dead to the ground, alighted, unbraced his helmet, and cut off his head. The whole affair was over so suddenly that as a pastime for ladies it must have been disappointing. The Turks came out and took the headless trunk, and Smith, according to the terms of the challenge, appropriated the head and presented it to General Moyses.
This ceremonious but still hasty procedure excited the rage of one Grualgo, the friend of the Bashaw, who sent a particular challenge to Smith to regain his friend's head or lose his own, together with his horse and armor. Our hero varied the combat this time. The two combatants shivered lances and then took to pistols; Smith received a mark upon the "placard," but so wounded the Turk in his left arm that he was unable to rule his horse. Smith then unhorsed him, cut off his head, took possession of head, horse, and armor, but returned the rich apparel and the body to his friends in the most gentlemanly manner.
Captain Smith was perhaps too serious a knight to see the humor of these encounters, but he does not lack humor in describing them, and he adopted easily the witty courtesies of the code he was illustrating. After he had gathered two heads, and the siege still dragged, he became in turn the challenger, in phrase as courteously and grimly facetious as was permissible, thus:
"To delude time, Smith, with so many incontradictible perswading reasons, obtained leave that the Ladies might know he was not so much enamored of their servants' heads, but if any Turke of their ranke would come to the place of combat to redeem them, should have also his, upon like conditions, if he could winne it."
This considerate invitation was accepted by a person whom Smith, with his usual contempt for names, calls "Bonny Mulgro." It seems difficult to immortalize such an appellation, and it is a pity that we have not the real one of the third Turk whom Smith honored by killing. But Bonny Mulgro, as we must call the worthiest foe that Smith's prowess encountered, appeared upon the field. Smith understands working up a narration, and makes this combat long and doubtful. The challenged party, who had the choice of weapons, had marked the destructiveness of his opponent's lance, and elected, therefore, to fight with pistols and battle-axes. The pistols proved harmless, and then the battle-axes came in play, whose piercing bills made sometime the one, sometime the other, to have scarce sense to keep their saddles. Smith received such a blow that he lost his battle-axe, whereat the Turks on the ramparts set up a great shout. "The Turk prosecuted his advantage to the utmost of his power; yet the other, what by the readiness of his horse, and his judgment and dexterity in such a business, beyond all men's expectations, by God's assistance, not only avoided the Turke's violence, but having drawn his Faulchion, pierced the Turke so under the Culets throrow backe and body, that although he alighted from his horse, he stood not long ere he lost his head, as the rest had done."
There is nothing better than this in all the tales of chivalry, and John Smith's depreciation of his inability to equal Caesar in describing his own exploits, in his dedicatory letter to the Duchess of Richmond, must be taken as an excess of modesty. We are prepared to hear that these beheadings gave such encouragement to the whole army that six thousand soldiers, with three led horses, each preceded by a soldier bearing a Turk's head on a lance, turned out as a guard to Smith and conducted him to the pavilion of the general, to whom he presented his trophies. General Moyses (occasionally Smith calls him Moses) took him in his arms and embraced him with much respect, and gave him a fair horse, richly furnished, a scimeter, and a belt worth three hundred ducats. And his colonel advanced him to the position of sergeant-major of his regiment. If any detail was wanting to round out and reward this knightly performance in strict accord with the old romances, it was supplied by the subsequent handsome conduct of Prince Sigismund.
When the Christians had mounted their guns and made a couple of breaches in the walls of Regall, General Moyses ordered an attack one dark night "by the light that proceeded from the murdering muskets and peace-making cannon." The enemy were thus awaited, "whilst their slothful governor lay in a castle on top of a high mountain, and like a valiant prince asketh what's the matter, when horrour and death stood amazed at each other, to see who should prevail to make him victorious." These descriptions show that Smith could handle the pen as well as the battleaxe, and distinguish him from the more vulgar fighters of his time. The assault succeeded, but at great cost of life. The Turks sent a flag of truce and desired a "composition," but the earl, remembering the death of his father, continued to batter the town and when he took it put all the men in arms to the sword, and then set their heads upon stakes along the walls, the Turks having ornamented the walls with Christian heads when they captured the fortress. Although the town afforded much pillage, the loss of so many troops so mixed the sour with the sweet that General Moyses could only allay his grief by sacking three other towns, Veratis, Solmos, and Kapronka. Taking from these a couple of thousand prisoners, mostly women and children, Earl Moyses marched north to Weisenberg (Alba Julia), and camped near the palace of Prince Sigismund.
When Sigismund Battori came out to view his army he was made acquainted with the signal services of Smith at "Olumpagh, Stowell-Weisenberg, and Regall," and rewarded him by conferring upon him, according to the law of arms, a shield of arms with "three Turks' heads." This was granted by a letter-patent, in Latin, which is dated at "Lipswick, in Misenland, December 9, 1603" It recites that Smith was taken captive by the Turks in Wallachia November 18, 1602; that he escaped and rejoined his fellow-soldiers. This patent, therefore, was not given at Alba Julia, nor until Prince Sigismund had finally left his country, and when the Emperor was, in fact, the Prince of Transylvania. Sigismund styles himself, by the grace of God, Duke of Transylvania, etc. Appended to this patent, as published in Smith's "True Travels," is a certificate by William Segar, knight of the garter and principal king of arms of England, that he had seen this patent and had recorded a copy of it in the office of the Herald of Armes. This certificate is dated August 19, 1625, the year after the publication of the General Historie.
Smith says that Prince Sigismund also gave him his picture in gold, and granted him an annual pension of three hundred ducats. This promise of a pension was perhaps the most unsubstantial portion of his reward, for Sigismund himself became a pensioner shortly after the events last narrated.
The last mention of Sigismund by Smith is after his escape from captivity in Tartaria, when this mirror of virtues had abdicated. Smith visited him at "Lipswicke in Misenland," and the Prince "gave him his Passe, intimating the service he had done, and the honors he had received, with fifteen hundred ducats of gold to repair his losses." The "Passe" was doubtless the "Patent" before introduced, and we hear no word of the annual pension.
Affairs in Transylvania did not mend even after the capture of Regall, and of the three Turks' heads, and the destruction of so many villages. This fruitful and strong country was the prey of faction, and became little better than a desert under the ravages of the contending armies. The Emperor Rudolph at last determined to conquer the country for himself, and sent Busca again with a large army. Sigismund finding himself poorly supported, treated again with the Emperor and agreed to retire to Silicia on a pension. But the Earl Moyses, seeing no prospect of regaining his patrimony, and determining not to be under subjection to the Germans, led his troops against Busca, was defeated, and fled to join the Turks. Upon this desertion the Prince delivered up all he had to Busca and retired to Prague. Smith himself continued with the imperial party, in the regiment of Earl Meldritch. About this time the Sultan sent one Jeremy to be vaivode of Wallachia, whose tyranny caused the people to rise against him, and he fled into Moldavia. Busca proclaimed Lord Rodoll vaivode in his stead. But Jeremy assembled an army of forty thousand Turks, Tartars, and Moldavians, and retired into Wallachia. Smith took active part in Rodoll's campaign to recover Wallachia, and narrates the savage war that ensued. When the armies were encamped near each other at Raza and Argish, Rodoll cut off the heads of parties he captured going to the Turkish camp, and threw them into the enemy's trenches. Jeremy retorted by skinning alive the Christian parties he captured, hung their skins upon poles, and their carcasses and heads on stakes by them. In the first battle Rodoll was successful and established himself in Wallachia, but Jeremy rallied and began ravaging the country. Earl Meldritch was sent against him, but the Turks' force was much superior, and the Christians were caught in a trap. In order to reach Rodoll, who was at Rottenton, Meldritch with his small army was obliged to cut his way through the solid body of the enemy. A device of Smith's assisted him. He covered two or three hundred trunks probably small branches of trees with wild-fire. These fixed upon the heads of lances and set on fire when the troops charged in the night, so terrified the horses of the Turks that they fled in dismay. Meldritch was for a moment victorious, but when within three leagues of Rottenton he was overpowered by forty thousand Turks, and the last desperate fight followed, in which nearly all the friends of the Prince were slain, and Smith himself was left for dead on the field.
On this bloody field over thirty thousand lay headless, armless, legless, all cut and mangled, who gave knowledge to the world how dear the Turk paid for his conquest of Transylvania and Wallachia a conquest that might have been averted if the three Christian armies had been joined against the "cruel devouring Turk." Among the slain were many Englishmen, adventurers like the valiant Captain whom Smith names, men who "left there their bodies in testimony of their minds." And there, "Smith among the slaughtered dead bodies, and many a gasping soule with toils and wounds lay groaning among the rest, till being found by the Pillagers he was able to live, and perceiving by his armor and habit, his ransome might be better than his death, they led him prisoner with many others." The captives were taken to Axopolis and all sold as slaves. Smith was bought by Bashaw Bogall, who forwarded him by way of Adrianople to Constantinople, to be a slave to his mistress. So chained by the necks in gangs of twenty they marched to the city of Constantine, where Smith was delivered over to the mistress of the Bashaw, the young Charatza Tragabigzanda.