SOLYMAN THE GREAT, the conqueror, the magnificent, the most famous of the Sultans, was marching at the head of a numerous army. His life was to be for nearly half a century a series of battles and of victories. Five years before this time the Turks had taken Belgrade and bathed their feet in the Danube. The illustrious follower of Mohammed intended to do more. He purposed to invade Hungary, Austria, Italy, and Spain. The cross should be trodden under foot, and the crescent should wave triumphantly above it. Europe was to become Mussulman. On the 23rd of April, 1526, Solyman, who was preparing to leave Constantinople, visited the tombs of his ancestors and of the martyrs of Islam. Then, glorious in his youth and strength, — he was now thirty-two years of age, — endowed with the energy of his creed, inflamed with that passion for conquest which had distinguished his forefathers, the prince set out from Constantinople at the head of an army which was continually receiving reinforcements. Ibrahim Pacha, who set out before him, was already besieging Peterwaradin. He took this town; and at the moment of the Sultan’s entering upon the soil of Hungary, at the head of three hundred thousand soldiers, Ibrahim laid at his feet, as a token of welcome, fifty Hungarian heads. ‘Forward! To Pesth!’ was the cry raised in the camp of the son of Selim. This great army set out on its march along the Danube.
In Hungary nothing was ready. All the land was seized with alarm. The most enlightened men did not deceive themselves. In the assembly at Tolna it had been asserted that every kingdom is in need of two things for its defense, armies and laws; now our Hungary has neither of these.’ f530 Division among the grandees and the pretensions of the clergy had weakened the country. Places were bestowed only as matter of personal favor; soldiers were parading and showing themselves off in the streets of the capital, while the frontiers were left without defenders. The young queen strove in vain to establish order in the state, for the grandees opposed it. At their head was the powerful Zapolya, who proudly relied on his seventy-two castles. This high and sovereign lord, of whom a prediction had been uttered that the crown would one day be placed on his head, asked for nothing better than to see the discomfiture of his native land, for he hoped that it would thus become easier for him to get himself proclaimed king. Louis was entreated to exercise his authority and to reform abuses; but things remained in that mournful state of confusion which precedes the ruin of a nation.
Solyman had called upon the king, by a message of the 20th February, to pay him tribute, threatening at the same time that if he refused to do so he would annihilate the Christian faith, and bring both his princes and his people into subjection to himself. The king, young and thoughtless, had paid little attention to the summons. But when he learnt that the Sultan had left Constantinople, he was excited and perplexed; and he understood that it was necessary to put Hungary in a state of defense. But it was now too late. He wished to levy taxes, but money did not come in. He endeavored to form an army, but recruits did not make their appearance; he appealed to the rich, but these chose rather to employ their wealth in decorating churches. He issued the most stringent orders; all Hungary was to rise, even the students, priests, and monks; in the country one priest only was to remain for the service of two parishes. But hardly a man moved. At last, when the enemy was drawing near, when it was known that he was marching on Pesth, the necessity was felt of occupying the passes on which it might be possible to check his advance. But the prince had only an army of three thousand men, and only fifty thousand florins to cover the expenses of the war. This sum had been lent him by the banker Fugger on solid securities. Young, inexperienced, and unenergetic, he was not at all inclined to go to meet Solyman. But the magnates refused to march without the king. Louis then formed a bold resolution. ‘I see well,’ he said sorrowfully, ‘that my head must answer for theirs, and I am going to take it to the enemy.’ He took leave of his young wife in the island of Csepel, near Buda. Although they were not much in agreement, they loved each other. Their hearts were torn; Digne epouse, recois mes eternels adieux.
On the 24th of July the king set out with his small force. The Christians numbered but one against a hundred of their enemies.’ f532 Meanwhile, though marching against the successor of Mohammed, Louis had not withdrawn his decrees against the disciples of Jesus Christ. Were the reformers who did not set out to the war, the women, the old men, the children, and those who were already prisoners for the Gospel’s sake, to be cruelly put to death? The noble Pempflinger was greatly distressed. He had from the first looked on the persecuting edicts as unjust, and he now felt the necessity of declaring to the king that to send the disciples of the Lord to the stake would be to call down the judgment of God on Hungary.
Nor could he endure the thought that every other parish should be left without a pastor. He resolved therefore to go to Louis. If every minister of religion remained in his parish to take care of the afflicted, if the sentence of death which had gone forth against the evangelicals were revoked, and if they were allowed to go out to defend their country on the field of battle, the divine wrath might perhaps be appeased and Hungary and the Gospel might be saved. The monks already, taking advantage of the edict of persecution and of the general excitement, were striving to stir up the people and to obtain by violent means the death of the evangelicals. In their view these were the sacrifices likely to avert calamities which were ready to fall upon the land. The count set out with all speed; but ere long his progress was arrested by terrible tidings. f533 The young king, while marching at the head of his three thousand men, had been joined by the Hungarian magnates and the Polish companies. By the time he reached Tolna, he had from ten to twelve thousand men. The troops from Bohemia, Moravia, Croatia, and Transylvania were not yet under his banner. He received, however, some additional forces, and reached Mohacz on the Danube, a point about half-way between his capital and the Turkish frontier, at the head of about twenty-seven thousand men. Hardly any of these had ever been under fire. In the middle ages the command of armies had frequently been given to ecclesiastics.
Louis followed this strange custom, and entrusted his troops to Jomory, archbishop of Cologne, an ex-Franciscan, who had previously served one or two campaigns, and had won distinction. The king thought that an energetic monk would be better, in spite of his frock, than a cowardly general. But this nomination showed plainly into what hands the king had fallen.
Solyman had, unopposed, thrown a convenient bridge across the river, and his immense army had for the last five days been defiling over it. He was acquainted with the art of war and with the scientific maneuvers which had already been practiced by Gondola of Cordova and other great captains.
He had a prayerful artillery, and his Janissaries were excellent marksmen.
Louis, who was aware of the superiority of his enemy, might have retired on Buda and Pesth, and have taken up a strong position there while occupied in collecting additional bodies of troops. But he was, like his subjects, blind to the feebleness of his resources, and filled with hopes of the most delusive kind. The two armies were separated by intervening hills. On August 29th the Turks began to appear upon the heights, and to descend into the plain. Louis, pale as death, had himself invested with his armor. The monk commanding in chief and the most intelligent of the leaders foresaw the disaster. Many nobles and ecclesiastics shared their opinion. ‘Twenty-six thousand Hungarians,’ said Bishop Perenyi, ‘are on their way, led by the Franciscan Jomory, to die martyrs of the faith and to enter into the kingdom of heaven.’ The prelate added by way of consolation, ‘Let us hope that the chancellor will be spared in order to obtain their canonization of the pope.’ The Hungarians, seeing the Mussulmans come down the hill and approach, throw themselves on them. The Turks disperse and retire, and the Hungarians, joyful at a flight so unexpected, reach the top of the hill. There they discover the countless host of the Osmanlis, but, deceived by the retreat of the vanguard, they believe that victory is already theirs, and rush upon the enemy. Solyman had had recourse to a common artifice in war. His soldiers had made a feigned flight only for the purpose of drawing the enemy after them. At the back of the hill he had planted three hundred guns, and the moment Louis and his men came in sight a terrible fire received them. At the same time the cavalry of the Spahis fell on the two wings of the small Christian army, disorder began, the bravest fell, the weakest fled. The young king, who saw his army destroyed, made his escape like the rest. A Silesian ran before him to guide him in his flight. When he reached the plain he came to a piece of black stagnant water, which he was obliged to cross. He pushed on his horse to reach the opposite bank, which was very high; but in climbing the animal slipped and fell with the prince, who was buried in the marshy waters. Melancholy burial-place! Louis had not even the honor of dying arms in hand. All was lost! The crescent triumphed. The king, twenty-eight magnates, five hundred nobles, seven bishops, and twenty thousand armed men left their corpses on the field of battle. Terror spread far and wide. The keys of the capital were brought to the Sultan.
He pillaged Buda, set fire to the town, reduced the library to ashes, ravaged Hungary as far as the Theiss, and caused two hundred thousand Hungarians to perish by the hands of his Mussulmans.
This victory, which appeared to ensure the predominance of Islamism, filled Germany and all Europe with sorrow and alarm. There were some small compensations. Pempflinger, having no longer to fear either the priests or the king, saved the evangelical Christians who were threatened by the fury of the monks. But this deliverance of a few did not lessen the horror of the public disaster. At the sight of their smoking towns, their devastated fields, their slaughtered countrymen, and the crescent taking the place of the cross, the Hungarians wept over the ruin of their country. The unfortunate Mary, a widow still so young, lost at the same time her husband and her crown, and saw with distress of heart the Hungary which she loved ravaged by the Turks.
This terrible blow was felt at Wittenberg, where the Hungarian students had excited a warm interest in their native land. Luther on hearing of the affliction of the queen was moved with lively pity, and wrote to her a letter full of consolation: ‘Most gracious queen, knowing the affection of your Majesty, and learning that the Turk has smitten the noble young prince, your husband, I desire in this great and sudden calamity to comfort you so far as God may enable me, and I send you for this purpose four psalms (with reflections), which will teach your Majesty to trust solely in the true Father who is in heaven, and to seek all your consolation in Jesus Christ, the true spouse, who is also our brother, having become our flesh and our blood. These psalms will reveal to you in all its riches the love of the Father and the Son.’ ‘Dear daughter,’ said Luther further to the queen, ‘let the wicked oppress thee and thy cause; let them, wrapped in clouds, cause the rain and the hail to fall upon thy head and bury thee in darkness.
Commend thy cause to God alone. Wait upon Him. Then shall He bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday.
God permits indeed the righteous to fall into the hands of the wicked, but He does not leave them there. ‘The pope and his agents condemned John Hus, but that was of no avail.
Condemnation, outcries, hypocritical tears, rage, tempest, bulls, lead, seal, ex-communication, all was useless. Hus has still lived on gloriously, and neither bishops, nor universities, nor princes, nor kings, have been able to do anything against him. This man alone, this dead man, this innocent Abel has struck a Cain full of life, the pope and all his party; and in consequence of his powerful words they have been acknowledged as heretics, apostates, murderers, and blasphemers, — they could not but burst with rage at it.’ It is difficult for Luther to utter a word of consolation without adding a word of energy and of reprobation. He sometimes adds a violent word. He could be a lamb, but he was also a lion.
The trial and these consolations helped the young queen onward in the path of piety. It was with pain that Charles the Fifth observed her evangelical sentiments; and he and his ministers frequently made her sensible of it. They would fain have taken from her her Gospel. But the emperor loved her, and always finished by bearing with her. She gave expression in a beautiful hymn to the consolations which she found in communion with God. ‘If I cannot escape misfortune,’ she says in her hymn, ‘I must endure dishonor for my faith; I know at least, and this is my strength, that the world cannot take away from me the favor and the grace of God. God is not far off; if He hide His face, it is for a little while, and ere long He will destroy those who take from me His word. ‘All trials last but for a moment. Lord Jesus Christ! Thou wilt be with me, and when they fight against me, Thou wilt look upon my grief as if it were Thine own. f537 ‘Must I enter upon this path ... to which they urge me ... well, world, as thou wilt! God is my shield, and He will assuredly be with me everywhere.’
This path, this vocation of which she speaks, could not but alarm her.
Charles the Fifth, knowing the great abilities of his sister, named her, in 1531, Governess of the Netherlands. She re-entered the palace of Brussels in which she was born. She had an evangelical chaplain; but while endeavoring to soften the persecuting orders of the emperor, she was often compelled to submit to their execution and to attend the Catholic ceremonies in the court chapel. She was doubtless afraid that if she offered any resistance to the inflexible will of her dreaded brother she would be cast into prison for life, like her mother Joanna, called the Mad.
If Mary was consoled by the words of Luther, the friends of the Gospel in Hungary saw danger increasing around them. The king being dead, the ambitious Zapolya at length attained the object of his desire. He was crowned king on the 26th of November, 1526, in the ancient palace of Alba-Royal, which had been for five centuries the abode of the kings. He was not the only claimant of the scepter of Hungary. The archduke Ferdinand of Austria, relying upon the arrangement entered into with King Ladislaus and supported by the partisans of his sister, the Queen Mary, had himself crowned at Presburg. These two kings, each aspiring to the support of Rome and of her clergy, had only one point in common, — their Opposition to the Reformation, — and in cruelty they were to be rivals of the terrible Turk.
Zapolya published, January 25, 1527, an edict against the Lutherans, and the priests immediately made use of it. The Gospel had gained adherents in all parts of the country, and particularly on the mountains and in the pleasant valleys of the Karpathians, rich in mines of silver and gold.
Libethen, a town of miners, had a flourishing church, all the members of which lived in the most charming brotherhood. A rising of the laborers in the mines was the pretext of which the priests availed themselves to stir up persecution. They accused these men of peace of having instigated the revolt. The pastor succeeded in hiding himself in a deep hollow in the mines; but the rector of the school and six councilors were seized and taken to the town of Neusol. ‘Abjure your heresies,’ said the judge, ‘and disclose to us the hiding-place of your pastor, or you will be burnt alive.’
The councilors, alternately threatened and flattered, gave way. Constables (sbirri ) descended into the mines and seized the minister. The rector was burnt at Altsol, August 22; but the pastor was taken to a greater distance, near the Castle of Dobrony. His keepers having halted near this building, in the midst of grand and solemn scenery, the priests called upon their prisoner to forswear his faith. Nicolai — this was the name of the Hungarian martyr — remaining unmoved, was killed with a saber-stroke and his body was thrown into the flames. f538 While these things were taking place under the scepter of Zapolya, his rival Ferdinand issued at Buda, August 20, 1527, an edict of persecution. Imprisonment, banishment, confiscation, death by drowning, sword, or fire, were decreed against heretics, and any town which did not execute this royal ordinance was to be deprived of all its privileges. f540 A sky loaded with clouds foreboded to Hungary days of suffering, of blood, and of mourning.