Stephen Báthory: the courageous Hungarian king of Poland

Stephen Báthory (Hungarian: Báthory István; Polish: Stefan Batory) is considered one of the most important figures of Central and Eastern Europe at the end of the 16th century. The ten years spent on the Polish throne were enough for this Hungarian from Transylvania to make the Republic of the Two Nations (Poland-Lithuania) a military power feared by all its neighbours.


Bátho ry was born on September 27, 1533 in the town of Szilágysomlyó, located in Transylvania. Today it is a small town in Romania with a population of just over 16,000. He was the son of the Voivode of Transylvania and a representative of the old family of Hungarian magnates well known in Poland.

He had an excellent command of Latin, German and Italian, and from his letters it can be concluded that he had excellent handwriting, so in his youth he must have been under the wings of good teachers, thanks to which he belonged to the group of educated people. He spent several months studying at the University of Padua, an old Italian university famous for its international environment – mainly Germans, Hungarians and Poles studied there. 

Stephen Báthory became an orphan quite early, so in order to be able to keep his hereditary assets, he directed his political sympathy towards the Habsburg family. However, when Hungary was threatened by a Turkish invasion, he tied his political career to the national camp which supported the Zápoly family.

After his marriage to Anna Jagiellon, Stephen Báthory, as King of Poland, had to find a way to oppose him, who still did not recognize his royal title and remained loyal to the Habsburgs, just like Royal Prussia and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. As a great strategist, he made an armed demonstration for this purpose, conquering the castle of Lanckorona, which was to be a point of support for the pro-Habsburg forces. After this event, Stefan Báthory royal title was recognized by Prussia and Lithuania, and the Prussian prince, Albrecht Frederick Hohenzollern, even took an oath of allegiance to him.

The city refused to admit  Báthory and recognize him as ruler. So, on September 20, 1576, an armed conflict broke out between the Republic of Poland and the city of Gdańsk. Báthory redirected the entire flow of grain to the port of Elbląg, thus causing a total economic blockade of Gdańsk. In 1577, Stephen Báthory troops defeated the residents of Gdańsk in the Battle of Lubiszewo. Eventually, after the death of Maximilian II, Gdańsk recognized the new ruler and agreed to provide grants. On December 16, 1577, Stefan  solemnly crossed the border of Gdańsk, and the city council pledged allegiance to him.

In 1579, Stephen Báthory started a war with Russia, the goal of which was to regain Livonia and Połack land. The monarch led three successful offensive campaigns. The war with Russia ended in January 1582. A truce was signed, following which the Commonwealth regained almost all of Livonia and Połack.

Stephen Báthory’s activities in the field of development, education, religion and culture improved the tax system in Poland intensified typing activity opened the Crown Mint in Olkusz, Poznań and Malbork he promoted the construction of tolerance in religious matters cared for the church, appreciating its contribution in the field of education established the Crown Tribunal, which was to uphold justice and fulfill the function of the Supreme Court ounded a second university in Poland, elevating the Jesuit College in Vilnius to the rank of Vilnius Academy introduced the Gregorian calendar in Poland, thus eliminating discrepancies between the calendar and astronomical years.

This article has been sponsored by the Wacław Felczak Institute of Polish-Hungarian Cooperation.

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