Sep 272018

Today is a big day in Poland. It is the birthday (1533) of Stefan Batory (Hungarian: Báthory István), a Hungarian-born noble who was voivode (highest official) of Transylvania (1571–76), prince of Transylvania (1576–86), and from 1576 queen Anna Jagiellon’s husband and, thereby, jure uxoris king of Poland and grand duke of Lithuania (1576-1586). Batory is my main subject today, but look at all the Polish anniversaries. On this date in 1331, Poland fought the Teutonic Order at the Battle of Płowce, and on this date in 1422, after the brief Gollub War, the Teutonic Knights signed the Treaty of Melno with Poland and Lithuania. Today is also the birthday of Stanisław Kazimierczyk (1433), Polish canon regular and saint, and of Hieronymus Łaski (1496), Polish diplomat. In 2013 today was declared Polish Underground State’s Day, Dzień Podziemnego Państwa Polskiego, set on the anniversary of the formation of Service for Poland’s Victory. Służba Zwycięstwu Polski (Service for Poland’s Victory, or Polish Victory Service, abbreviated SZP) was the first Polish resistance movement in World War II. It was created by the order of general Juliusz Rómmel on 27th September 1939, when the siege of Warsaw, where Rómmel commanded Polish defence, was nearing its end (Warsaw capitulated the following day).

Stefan Batory was the son of Stephen VIII Báthory and a member of the Hungarian Báthory noble family. Batory while a ruler of Transylvania in the 1570s, defeated another challenger for that title, Gáspár Bekes. In 1576 Báthory became the third elected king of Poland. He worked closely with chancellor Jan Zamoyski. The first years of his reign were focused on establishing power, defeating a fellow claimant to the throne, Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor, and quelling rebellions, most notably, the Danzig rebellion. He reigned only a decade, but is considered one of the most successful kings in Polish history, particularly in the realm of military history. His signal achievement was his victorious campaign in Livonia against Russia in the middle part of his reign, in which he repulsed a Russian invasion of Commonwealth borderlands and secured a highly favorable treaty of peace (the Peace of Jam Zapolski).

Batory was born in the castle at Somlyó, also known as Szilágysomlyó (today’s Șimleu Silvaniei). Little is known about his childhood. Around 1549-1550, he briefly visited Italy and probably spent a few months attending lectures at Padua University. Upon his return, he joined the army of Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor, and took part in his military struggle against the Turks. Some time after 1553, Batory was captured by the Turks, and after Ferdinand I refused to pay his ransom, joined the opposing side, supporting John II Sigismund Zápolya in his struggle for power in the Eastern Hungarian Kingdom. As Zápolya’s supporter, Batory acted both as a feudal lord, military commander and a diplomat. During one of his trips to Vienna he was put under house arrest for two years. During this time he fell out of favor at Zápolya’s court, and his position was largely assumed by another Hungarian noble, Gáspár Bekes. Batory briefly retired from politics, but he still wielded considerable influence and was seen as a possible successor to Zápolya.

After Zápolya’s death in 1571, the Transylvanian estates elected Batory voivode of Transylvania. Bekes, supported by the Habsburgs, disputed his election, but by 1573, Batory emerged victorious in the resulting civil war and drove Bekes out of Transylvania. He subsequently attempted to play the Ottomans and the Holy Roman Empire against one another in an attempt to strengthen Transylvania’s position.

In 1572, the throne of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, at the time the largest and one of the most populous states in Europe, was vacated when King Sigismund II of Poland died without heirs. The Sejm (parliament) was given the power to elect a new king, and in the Polish–Lithuanian royal election, 1573 chose Henry of France. Henry soon ascended the French throne and forfeited the Polish one by returning to France. Batory decided to enter into the election; in the meantime he had to defeat another attempt by Bekes to challenge his authority in Transylvania, which he did by defeating Bekes at the Battle of Sinpaul.

On 12th December 1575, after an interregnum of roughly one and a half years, primate of Poland, Jakub Uchański, representing a pro-Habsburg faction, declared Emperor Maximilian II the new monarch. However, chancellor Jan Zamoyski and other opponents of Habsburgs persuaded many of the lesser nobility to demand a Piast king, a Polish king. After a heated discussion, it was decided that Anna Jagiellon, sister of the former King Sigismund II Augustus, should be elected monarch of Poland and marry Batory. In January 1576, Batory passed the mantle of voivode of Transylvania to his brother, Christopher, and departed for Poland. On 1 May 1576 Batory married Anna and was crowned king of Poland and grand duke of Lithuania. After being chosen as king in the Polish–Lithuanian royal election, 1576, Báthory also began using the title, prince of Transylvania.

Batory ‘s position was at first extremely difficult, as there was still some opposition to his election. Emperor Maximilian, insisting on his earlier election, fostered internal opposition and prepared to enforce his claim by military action. At first the representatives of Lithuania refused to recognize Batory as grand duke, and demanded concessions – that he return the estates of his wife Anne to the Lithuanian treasury, hold Sejm conventions in both Lithuania and Poland, and reserve the highest governmental official offices in Lithuania for Lithuanians. He accepted the conditions. In June Batory was recognized as grand duke of Lithuania, and duke of Ruthenia and Samogitia.

With Lithuania secure, the other major region refusing to recognize his election was Prussia. Maximilian’s sudden death improved Batory ‘s situation, but the city of Danzig (Gdańsk) still refused to recognize his election without significant concessions. The Hanseatic League city, bolstered by its immense wealth, fortifications, and the secret support of Maximilian, had supported the Emperor’s election and decided not to recognize Batory as legitimate ruler. The resulting conflict was known as the Danzig rebellion. Most armed opposition collapsed when the prolonged siege of Danzig by Batory’s forces was lifted as an agreement was reached. The Danzig army was utterly defeated in a field battle on 17th April 1577. However, since Batory’s armies were unable to take the city by force, a compromise was reached. In exchange for some of Danzig’s demands being favorably reviewed, the city recognized Batory as ruler of Poland and paid the sum of 200,000 zlotys in gold as compensation. Tying up administration of the Commonwealth’s northern provinces, in February 1578 he acknowledged George Frederick as the ruler of the Duchy of Prussia, receiving his feudal tribute.

After securing control over the Commonwealth, Batory had a chance to devote himself to strengthening his authority, in which he was supported by his chancellor Jan Zamoyski, who would soon become one of the king’s most trusted advisers. Báthory reorganised the judiciary by formation of legal tribunals (the Crown Tribunal in 1578 and the Lithuanian Tribunal in 1581). While this somewhat weakened the royal position, it was of little concern to Báthory, as the loss of power was not significant in the short term, and he was more concerned with the hereditary Hungarian throne. In exchange, the Sejm allowed him to raise taxes and push a number of reforms strengthening the military, including the establishment of the piechota wybraniecka, an infantry formation composed of peasants. Many of his projects aimed to modernize the Commonwealth army, reforming it in a model of Hungarian troops of Transylvania. He also founded the Academy of Vilnius, the third university in the Commonwealth, transforming what had been a Jesuit college into a major university. He founded several other Jesuit colleges, and was active in propagating Catholicism, while at the same time being respectful of the Commonwealth policy of religious tolerance, issuing a number of decrees offering protection to Polish Jews, and denouncing any religious violence.

In external relations, Batory sought peace through strong alliances. Though remaining distrustful of the Habsburgs, he maintained the tradition of good relations that the Commonwealth enjoyed with its Western neighbor and confirmed past treaties between the Commonwealth and Holy Roman Empire with diplomatic missions received by Maximilian’s successor, Rudolf II. The troublesome south-eastern border with the Ottoman Empire was temporarily quelled by truces signed in July 1577 and April 1579. The Sejm of January 1578 gathered in Warsaw was persuaded to grant Batory subsidies for the inevitable war against Muscovy. A number of his trusted advisers were Hungarian, and he remained interested in Hungarian politics. In addition to Hungarian, he was well versed in Latin, and spoke Italian and German; he never learned the Polish language, however.

Before Batory’s election to the throne of the Commonwealth, Ivan the Terrible of Russia had begun encroaching on its sphere of interest in the northeast, eventually invading the Commonwealth borderlands in Livonia. The conflict would grow to involve a number of nearby powers (outside Russia and Poland-Lithuania, also Sweden, the kingdom of Livonia and Denmark-Norway). Each of them was vying for control of Livonia, and the resulting conflict, lasting for several years, became known as the Livonian War. By 1577, Ivan was in control of most of the disputed territory, but his conquest was short-lived. In 1578, Commonwealth forces scored a number of victories in Liviona and begun pushing Ivan’s forces back; this marked the turning point in the war. Batory, together with his chancellor Zamoyski, led the army of the Commonwealth in a series of decisive campaigns taking Polotsk in 1579 and Velikiye Luki in 1580.

In 1581, Stephen penetrated once again into Russia and, on 22nd August, laid siege to the city of Pskov. While the city held, on 13th December 1581 Ivan the Terrible began negotiations that concluded with the Truce of Jam Zapolski on 15th January 1582. The treaty was favorable to the Commonwealth, as Ivan ceded Polatsk, Veliz and most of the duchy of Livonia in exchange for regaining Velikiye Luki and Nevel. Batory’s health declined through the early 1580s and he died on 12 December 1586.  He had no legitimate children, though contemporary rumors suggested he might have had several illegitimate children.

Batory is commemorated to this day in Poland in a number of ways. The most significant to me is the naming of the ocean liner TSS Stefan Batory, flagship of Polish Ocean Lines from 1969 to 1988, the ship I sailed on from London to Montreal when I migrated to North America in 1975. It was by no means as grand as the great Cunard and P&O liners I had sailed around the world on in my younger years, but it was the last sea voyage I took. (I did take a short cruise 10 years ago, but that was a vacation cruise, and, so, does not really count).

I have given recipes for classic Polish dishes in the past, such as, flaki and bigos, so now I want to look at foreign influences on Polish cuisine. When Bona Sforza (of the Milanese house of Sforza) married Sigismund I of Poland in 1518, she brought a number of Italian cooks with her who greatly influenced the ciusine. Although native vegetable foods were an ancient and intrinsic part of the cuisine, Bona’s reign began a period in which vegetables like lettuce, leeks, celeriac and cabbage were more widely used. Even today, some of those vegetables are referred to in Polish as włoszczyzna, a word derived from Włochy, the Polish name of Italy. Zupa pomidorowa, is Polish tomato soup with a long heritage, probably descended from Italian soup preparation, and undoubtedly popular in Batory’s day.

Zupa Pomidorowa


6 cups meat broth
1 lb “Italian” soup vegetables (celery, leek, celeriac, cabbage), washed and roughly chopped
5 medium carrots, scrubbed
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper
1 tbsp butter
4 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced
1 tbsp tomato concentrate (optional)
¾ cup/200 ml sour cream or tart yoghurt plus extra for garnish
2 cups cooked pasta or rice


Put the soup vegetables, carrots, bay leaf and broth into a large pot, bring to a boil, and simmer, covered for about 1 hour. At the end of the cooking process remove the vegetables from the broth, but leave the carrots. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a small saucepan, then add the diced tomatoes and cook over medium-low heat to a thick consistency. You can add 1 tablespoon of tomato paste at this stage, if you like. When the sauce is well cooked add it to the broth and mix well.

Pour the sour cream or tart yoghurt into a heatproof bowl. Gradually add small amounts of the soup, whisking vigorously at each addition. When you have the cream well combined with the soup pour it back into the soup pot and mix well. Add the pasta or rice and heat through gently.

Serve hot in bowls with an extra dollop of cream or yoghurt for garnish.


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