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WHO WAS FERENC II RÁKÓCZI?
ROOT OF DESCENT
He came of ancient and wealthy parentage descending from the outset of the Kingdom of Hungary, and he was kin to some other important Hungarian magnates. His ancestors abandoned their community anonymity at the times of the Stephen Bocskay Uprising and kept starring at the political upper regions of Transylvania and Upper Hungary for the whole of the 17th century. Virtually, at that time they all had some personal relations to Košice, the east of Slovakia, and Ruthenia. Rákóczi´s father, Ferenc I Rákóczi (1646-1676) got engaged in the Veselény conspiracy; he was put in the imperial jail then. Although he got finally redeemed, the consequences led to his death. Rákóczi´s mother, Helen Zrinski (born in 1643), came of an important Croatian family. After Ferenc I Rákóczi died she married Imre Tököly (1657-1705). She also took part in her husband´s resistance activities; she followed him into the exile in Turkey where she died in 1703 in Nikomedia. Rákóczi´s grandmother, well-known Princess Sophia Báthory (1629-1681), was the founder of the Jesuit church in Košice, the place where she and Rákóczi were buried.
CHILDHOOD AND YOUNG ADULTHOOD
Young Ferenc was born at the family manor in the East-Slovakian village of Borša on March 27, 1676. Throughout his childhood he lived mainly in the castle of Munkács, and he also experienced the heroic defence of that castle in 1686 – 1688. Then he was assigned an official guardian, the archbishop Kolnics, and was brought up by the Jesuits in Prague and Jindřichův Hradec. Rákóczi spent his young adulthood under the Emperor´s surveillance. It was the Emperor who also found him a good bride, Charlotte Amelia von Hessen – Rheinfells, who became Rákóczi´s wife in 1694 in Köln. The Prince moved in his East-Slovakian estates and led a rather boring life as a landlord in his castle of Veľký Šariš. There he met the Ungvár Count, Miklós Bercsényi, his future friend and comrade. He also met with the Vienna imperial practices, which had pacified and abused Hungary freed from Turks then. Rákóczi tried to establish contacts with the enemy power – France. His letter to Louis XIV got disclosed though. Rákóczi was arrested, taken to the New Town of Vienna, and imprisoned. In 1701 he managed to flee to Poland where he continued to live in exile at the nobleman Sieniawsky´s residence.
In spring 1703 the peasants of the Tisza region rose up in arms. The peasant representatives persuaded Rákóczi to become their leader. Their activities grew to become a nationwide struggle for liberty, which was joined in by all the common people and a great deal of nobility. The rebels (so-called the Kuruc) took the advantage of the War of the Spanish Succession, which Vienna had taken military participation in then. On that account the rebels managed in a short time to conquer a large part of Hungary and Transylvania of that time.
In 1704 in Belegrade the noble towns (municipium) of Transylvania elected Rákóczi the Prince, and then in 1706 in Sečany he was elected the head of the Confederation of Nobility in the Kingdom of Hungary. Some other of the uprising representatives turned to be some well-known persons, such as Simon Forgacs, Vavrinec Pekry, Anton Ocskay, Adam Vaj, and the second man of the uprising, Rákoczi´s right-hand man, Miklós Bercsényi, not to be omitted. The uprising continued to be successful, enjoying the military, financial and technical support of Louis XIV. Yet they failed to take up the areas surrounding Buda and Pest, the military border and the towns in the south of Transylvania.
The Austrian forces got consolidated in turn, the economic base of the uprising weakened, the first serious defeats occurred, and the political radicalism within the movement seemed to gain ground (see the Diet of Onod, 1707). The unexpected defeat of the Kuruc at Trenčín on August 3, 1708 seemed to be the turning point in their military campaign. Even the hard-core members started to fall away, and the Kuruc movement was about to fall apart. Rákóczi sought to maintain it as he continued to believe in their ultimate victory. The imperial forces though occupied in steps the individual parts of Hungary – the Danube region, the central part, the West and Central Slovakia. There was a series of military failures of the Kuruc to proceed. From the end of 1709 on, the country as well as the whole of Central Europe was tortured by smallpox epidemic. The disaster slowed down the rate of occupancy of the country, and the defeat of the uprising itself, too.
The Rákóczi uprising continued to be forced eastwards. Its definite ending was to befall soon. Louis XIV stopped his aid while the efforts to acquire some other with another foreign power failed. In spring 1711 the uprising was on its last legs. One of the Kuruc leaders, the General Count Alexander Károli, had already had peace negotiations with the Emperor. On May 1, 1711 the remnants of the Kuruc surrendered at the town of Satu Mare, and the Rákóczi uprising (the last of the anti-habsburg uprisings of the Hungarian nobility) came to its end. The peace conditions set for the Kuruc were, by all means, generous, and so Hungary could avoid having its own “Biela Hora“.
The Prince Rákóczi, the Count Bercsényi, and several of their comrades did not accept the pardon offered by the Emperor, and they left for exile before the very end of their uprising. Then they lived in Poland (until 1712) and believed that the military situation might have changed better for them. Then they lived in France for some time (until 1717), at Versailles, and Rákóczi himself in the Gros Bois monastery as well. The war against Austria had finished then. After Louis XIV died on September 1, 1715, and the regency took over the Hungarian exiles were not of any political interest any longer, so they had to accept the invitation of the Turkey sultan to move to Turkey. While residing in Turkey though the winning European powers took their intervention, and hounded them out of Constantinople and its vicinity. In 1720 they went on to live in the town of Rodosto at the Marmar Sea. Rákóczi and his comrades lived in oblivion being exiles encouraging no attention. There the Prince passed away on April 8, 1735. He was buried in the Christian ward of Constantinople, in St Benedict´s Church, next to his mother´s tomb.
For long tens of years was the memory of the Prince Rákozci tamed by head and shoulders. He himself was declared a traitor. The literature of that time misses any references to the Prince. The times changed then, and the Austro-Hungarian settlement finally gave way to talks on Ferenc II Rákóczi and the Kuruc. Enthusiasm accompanied the search for the forgotten past, which consequently launched in Hungary. It was the historian Koloman Thaly who needs to take credit for the discovery of Rákóczi´s tomb in Constantinople in 1889. The historians also examined the place of his exile residence in the town of Rodosto where he used to stay with some Hungarian nationals. The mortal remains of the Prince´s and his next of kin and fellow exiles´ were then disentombed and returned to their homeland to be reburied in worthy graves (1906). The specially reconditioned crypt embedded in the cathedral in Košice contains the remains of the following deceased people: Ferenc II Rákóczi, his mother, Helena Zrinski, and his son, Joseph Rákóczi, his comrade, the Count Miklós Bercényi, and his wife, the Countess Kristina Csáky, the General Count Anton Esterházi, and his court master, Mikuláš Šibrik.
By Jozef Duchoň, on February 14, 2006