Mihai Viteazu (Michael the Brave – the prince of Wallachia as Michael II) was a great general, a cunning and smart politician, but most of all, an adventurer. He lived in one of the most chaotic historical periods in Central Europe between the two super-powers of the era – the Ottoman and the Habsburg empires at the end of the 16th century. Staying alive and prospering in these circumstances was only possible with a clever swing policy, and Mihai Viteazu mastered this skill – therefore, he became a symbolic figure of his era.
According to Levente Nagy, habilitated docent of ELTE University (Budapest), there are several false myths about his life, though – based on the information of 24.hu.
One of these false myths is what the nationalist Romanian historiography states – that he united Transylvania, Moldavia, and Wallachia for the first time.
The situation of Transylvania was pretty unique. It became a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire after the peace treaty of Adrianople (1568), but it enjoyed complete internal autonomy in the meantime. After 20 years of peace, the campaigns restarted, and the armies of the Ottoman and the Habsburg empires collided again on the battlefields of Hungarian and Transylvanian territories in the Fifteen Years War (1591-1606).
Zsigmond Báthory, the prince of Transylvania, joined the Holy League on the side of Rudolf of Habsburg in 1594 to get rid of the Turkish yoke – Michael II followed him immediately. The tides of the war turned, and Zsigmond Báthory resigned several times in favour of Rudolf, and in the end, he left Transylvania to be ruled by his cousin cardinal András Báthory in March 1599 – he had just returned from Poland. The Habsburgs did not like András Báthory at all because he wanted to make peace with the Turks and stay neutral just like Poland. So, Rudolf decided to take steps to keep Transylvania in the Holy League against the Turks.
The Habsburg emperor and the Wallachian prince conspired against András Bárthory in 1598. Rudolf established and financed a mercenary army for Mihai Viteazu to conquer Transylvania, remove the prince, and preserve the land for the emperor until the governors of the Habsburgs arrive.
In 1599, Michael II managed to gain the support of the Szekler troops by creating a fake bull of Rudolf in which he promises to restore the ancient freedom of the Szeklers.
This was a very smart move because the Szeklers (ancient inhabitants of Transylvania) were outraged by forcing them to become serfs of the Transylvanian nobility, and they wanted to gain back their former status – they also hated the Báthory family for participating in taking away their freedom before. András Bárhory saw the danger, and his spies alerted him about the possible attack of Mihai Viteazu. To the Transylvanian prince’s question about his army concentration, Mihai Viteazu’s answer was that he was gathering troops to attack the Ottomans – this proved to be a lie, but Báthory believed him and ignored his spies.
With the 10-20 thousand Szeklers in his strong mercenary army, Michael II managed to defeat András Báthory in the battle of Sellenberk (Selimbar – 28 October 1599), and the fierce Szeklers caught and beheaded the Transylvanian prince. He marched into the city of Gyulafehérvár, and the nobility elected him to be procurator of the Habsburgs (November 1599).
At this point, he had to wait for the governors of Rudolf, who arrived soon enough. But Mihai II was not satisfied at all and was greedy enough to further feed his hunger for power. He did not pass on his power to the Habsburgs but claimed himself to be the prince of Transylvania instead and demanded the territories of Partium that belonged to Hungary at the time. Pointless negotiations started with the Habsburgs for months, and in the meantime, Michael II broke down the boyar conspiracy against him in Wallachia and conquered the territory of Moldavia – he banished its Polish-friendly ruler Jeremiah and made himself to be the voivode of Moldavia in May 1600.
This is what the Romanian historiography calls “the first unification of Transylvania, Wallachia, and Moldavia” – and the second was in 1919 according to them. According to Levente Nagy, it was only a personal union because of the common ruler for some months, but in reality, these regions had no real connection apart from that.
“This is so unhistorical as if we said that Hungary and Romania united in 1919 when the Romanian troops occupied Budapest,”
said Levente Nagy.
In the same year, the Habsburgs got bored of the negotiations and sent Giorgio Basta, one of the best generals of the era, to retake Transylvania from the Wallachian prince. On 18 September, Basta defeated Mihai Viteazu, the Habsburg restored Jeremiah’s rule in Moldavia, and the prince was also removed from his position in Wallachia thanks to another boyar conspiracy. Michael II fled ahead to Prague to beg for mercy from the emperor, and he managed to gain that. However, it was probably only a trick of Rudolf.
Zsigmond Báthory took control of Transylvania again, and Rudolf sent Basta and Mihai Viteazu together to defeat the prince. At the beginning of August 1601, they defeated Báthory at the battle of Goroszló. A week later, Mihai Viteazu was assassinated by the Walloon mercenaries of general Basta (probably on the order of the emperor). Rudolf used the abilities and the leading skills of the Wallachian prince for the last time, and then he threw him away – but his fame remains even today.
You can read about an event similar to the Red Wedding of Game of Thrones from Hungarian history here.