Ilona Zrínyi, Hungary
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Europe’s bravest woman is the most famous heroine in Hungarian history. Not only her knowledge and her literacy made her an icon but her courage and acts. She was not just a wife and a mother, but the bravest defender of the Castle of Munkács and that battle made her Europe’s most well-known woman in that time.

Ilona Zrínyi was born in Ozaly (Croatia) as the daughter of Péter Zrínyi (Ban of Croatia [1665–1670]) and Katalin Frangepán (grandmother of Ferenc Rákóczi II). As a little child, she received an excellent education: she spoke four languages and had excellent skills in writing and reading. There is a constant debate about the year when Zrínyi was born: some sources mention 1643, but there are others about 1652. Her name became known in Europe when she got married to one of the most famous and influential Hungarian aristocrats Ferenc Rákóczi I. Their ceremony was the biggest event in that time in Hungary, and many aristocrats and noble families attended. 

This marriage provided an excellent opportunity for the two noble families to unite. Influenced by political and economic background, it is possible that Ilona Zrínyi did not feel any love for her husband at all and only married her because of the obligation of the family.

Ilona Zrínyi, heroine, Hungary
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

After the wedding, the young couple settled down in the Castle of Sárospatak (Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén County). Their first child György Rákóczi was born on November 1, 1667, but died after a few months. Their next child, born only after five years, was called Borbála Julianna, and four years later Ferenc Rákóczi II. Unfortunately, his father did not have much time to enjoy the arrival of his newborn son as he died four months after the birth of the little boy. In his last letter, he wanted his children to be given to a guardian, but Ilona Zrínyi did not let anyone take the children away from their mother. They moved to another property of the family: the Castle of Munkács (today: Mukachevo, Ukraine).

Her relationship with her mother-in-law was getting worse and worse day by day, but Ilona Zrínyi stayed next to her all the time to take care of her. Besides taking care of her children and family members, she also supervised all the lands and properties of the Rákóczi Family.

Ilona Zrínyi, Hungary
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

In 1682 she remarried to Imre Thököly (prince of Upper-Hungary and Transylvania) and became his supporter of the Kuruc-movement in the country against the Habsburg Empire. Five years later, Thököly – with the help of the Turkish army – tried to capture the city of Vienna to make the constant conflict between the two sides over, but after a long battle, they failed. Thököly took another step forward and began to negotiate with Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor about better political relations between the two sides. The negotiations did not last for long as the Turkish captured Thököly who is after imprisoned by the Habsburgs. After taking Thököly away, the Habsburg army started to conquer all the castles and properties of Thököly’s supporters. There was only one left: Munkács.

The Habsburg army arrived at the Castle of Munkács in November 1685. The castle was strong and hard to occupy. With almost 4,000 soldiers and her children, Ilona Zrínyi gave commands to the soldiers protecting the castle. She encouraged the soldiers during the heaviest cannon-shots and did not run away for a minute. Ilona Zrínyi managed to protect the fort against the Habsburg army for almost two years. In 1688, after a long and tiring battle, Ilona Zrínyi was forced to give up the struggle.

Ilona Zrínyi, Hungary
Photo: Wikimedia Commons by Károly Jakobey

Ilona Zrínyi was taken to Vienna where her children were taken away from her. Her daughter and Ilona were sentenced to live in a monastery, while Ferenc Rákóczi II was brought to Neuhaus (Austria). He and Ilona never met again. In 1692, Ilona was rescued by kuruc generals and continued to fight next to his husband.

On February 18, 1703, the bravest and strongest woman of Hungarian history passed away.

Ilona Zrínyi, Hungary
The death of Ilona Zrínyi – painting by József Marastoni (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The Zrínyi family and the HabsburgsREAD MORE HERE

Source: www.montazsmagazin.hu, www.mult-kor.hu, www.magyarhosok.hupont.hu

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