Birthplace: Szilágysomlyó, Transylvania
Location of death: Grodno, Lithuania
Cause of death: Stroke
Religion: Roman Catholic
Race or Ethnicity: White
Executive summary: King of Poland, 1575-86
Stephen Báthory, or in Hungarian, István Báthory, King of Poland and prince of Transylvania, the most famous member of the Somlyó branch of the ancient Báthory family, now extinct, but originally almost coeval with the Hungarian monarchy. István Báthory spent his early years at the court of the emperor Ferdinand, subsequently attached himself to Janos Zapolya, and won equal renown as a valiant lord-marcher, and as a skilful diplomat at the imperial court. Zapolya rewarded him with the voivodeship of Transylvania, and as the loyal defender of the rights of his patron's son, John Sigismund, he incurred the animosity of the emperor Maximilian, who kept him in prison for two years. On the 25th of May 1571, on the death of John Sigismund, Báthory was elected prince of Transylvania by the Hungarian estates, in spite of the opposition of the court of Vienna and contrary to the wishes of the late prince, who had appointed Gaspar Békesy his successor. Békesy insisting on his claims, a civil war ensued in which Báthory ultimately drove his rival out of Transylvania (1572). On the flight of Henry of Valois from Poland in 1574, the Polish nobility, chiefly at the instigation of the great chancellor, Jan Zamoyski, elected Báthory king of Poland (1575) in opposition to the emperor Maximilian, the candidate of the senate. On hearing of his altogether unexpected elevation, Báthory summoned the Transylvanian estates together at Medgyes and persuaded them to elect his brother Christopher prince in his stead; then hastening to Krakow, he accepted the onerous conditions laid upon him by the Polish Diet, espoused the princess Anne, the elderly sister of the last Jagiello, Sigismund II, and on the 1st of May was crowned with unprecedented magnificence. At first his position was extremely difficult; but the sudden death of the emperor Maximilian at the very moment when that potentate, in league with the Muscovite, was about to invade Poland, completely changed the face of things, and though Stephen's distrust of the Habsburgs remained invincible, he consented at last to enter into a defensive alliance with the empire which was carried through by the papal nuncio on his return to Rome in 1578. The leading events of Stephen Báthory's glorious reign can here only be briefly indicated. All armed opposition collapsed with the surrender of Danzig. "The Pearl of Poland", encouraged by her immense wealth, and almost impregnable fortifications, as well as by the secret support of Denmark and the emperor, had shut her gates against the new monarch, and was only reduced (December 16, 1577) after a six months' siege, beginning with a pitched battle beneath her walls in which she lost 5000 of her mercenaries. Danzig was compelled to pay a fine of 200,000 guldens, but her civil and religious liberties were wisely confirmed. Stephen was now able to devote himself to foreign affairs. The difficulties with the sultan were temporarily adjusted by a truce signed on the 5th of November 1577; and the Diet of Warsaw was persuaded to grant Stephen subsidies for the inevitable war against Muscovy. Two campaigns of wearing marches, and still more exhausting sieges ensued, in which Báthory, although repeatedly hampered by the parsimony of the Diet, was uniformly successful, his skilful diplomacy at the same time allaying the suspicions of the Porte and the emperor. In 1581 Stephen penetrated to the very heart of Muscovy, and, on the 22nd of August, sat down before the ancient city of Pskov, whose vast size and imposing fortifications filled the little Polish army with dismay. But the king, despite the murmurs of his own officers, and the protestations of the papal nuncio, Possevino, whom the curia, deluded by the mirage of a union of the churches, had sent expressly from Rome to mediate between the tsar and the king of Poland, closely besieged the city throughout a winter of arctic severity, until, on the 13th of December 1581, Ivan the Terrible, alarmed for the safety of the third city in his empire, concluded peace at Zapoli (January 15, 1582), thereby ceding Polotsk and the whole of Livonia. The chief domestic event of Stephen's reign was the establishment in Poland of the Jesuits, who alone had the intelligence to understand and promote his designs of uniting Poland, Muscovy and Transylvania into one great state with the object of ultimately expelling the Turks from Europe. The project was dissipated by his sudden death, of apoplexy, on the 12th of December 1586.
Polish Monarch 1575 to 12-Dec-1586
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