Battle of Selimbar ⚔️ The Unification ⚔️ Story of Michael the Brave (Part 3/5)


It’s late in the year 1599. Having signed a peace treaty with the Ottoman
Empire, Mihai gained control of all fortifications on the Wallachian side of the Danube and was
recognized by the Sultan as Voivode of Wallachia. But despite these favourable peace terms that
secured Mihai’s southern border, trouble was brewing in the north… The scheming rulers of Transylvania and Moldavia were plotting to overthrow the Wallachian voivode. It was then that Mihai laid out his political plan of unifying the three principalities under his rule… As he allowed his army to regain strength
after several months of campaigning, Mihai knew that the issue with the Ottomans was
far from settled. However, the peace treaty allowed him enough
time to address a growing problem to the north. The election of Andrew Bathory as Prince of
Transylvania, after his cousin Sigismund abdicated, was most unfavorable for Mihai. With the new Prince enjoying support from
Poland, Transylvania slipped into the sphere of influence of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which in turn was friendly towards the Ottoman Empire. Seeking to impose suzerainty over the three
Carpathian principalities, Andrew first arranged a marriage between his half-brother and the
daughter of Yeremia Movila, who was part of the pro-Polish party already ruling in Moldavia. This made the principality a vassal of Poland,
whilst also being under suzerainty of Transylvania and paying tribute to Constantinople, all
at the same time. This concept is known as “condominium”,
a territory ruled by two or more sovereign powers. After securing Moldavia, Andrew then entered
negotiations with the Ottoman Empire, asking for the confirmation of his hereditary rule
and suzerainty over Wallachia, and began plotting to install a pretender, Yeremia’s younger
brother Simion Movila, on the Wallachian throne. The Ottomans supported this policy, deeming
Mihai a dangerous opponent. If he were removed from power it would be
much easier for the Sultan to put a new, pro-Ottoman voivode on the throne as a political puppet,
who would again pay tribute and return all fortifications along the Danube to the Ottomans. Mihai now found himself surrounded by rulers
who viewed him as a dangerous political obstacle, and it was in their political and economic
interest to replace him. To offset an invasion from Transylvania and
Moldavia that was certainly coming, the wily Wallachian voivode cunningly swore fealty
to Andrew, which gave him time to make preparations of his own. A host of 13,000 troops was ordered to gather
at Târgovişte, including 4,000 experienced mercenaries and haiducs, mostly Serbians,
Bulgarians, and Albanians. Mihai then turned to Vienna to negotiate the much needed political backing from Rudolf II, which gave his plan to invade Transylvania
considerable legitimacy. The Holy Roman Emperor hadn’t acknowledged
Andrew’s rule and it was in his interest to help the Wallachian voivode’s invasion,
seeing it as a chance to regain suzerainty over Transylvania for the House of Habsburg. In the east, Mihai created the “Banate of
Buzau and Braila”, and assigned a ban to keep an eye and react to any activity on the
Moldavian border. Then, during the first week of October, a
messenger came from Transylvania, presenting a highly provocative and insolent ultimatum. By the power of his overlordship over Wallachia,
Andrew Bathory ordered Mihai to take his entire family and leave the country. The Wallachian voivode simply sent the messenger
on his way without a reply. There would be war… Before the messenger could return to Andrew,
Mihai already set off with his army from Targoviste. In order to secure his back, the Wallachian
voivode bribed Ottoman officials in Constantinople and moved through the Buzau pass over the
mountains. In choosing this route he hoped to convince
the Szekelys to join him against Andrew Bathory, who had stripped them of their old privileges. Declaring that he is attacking Transylvania
on behalf of Rudolf II and with the promise to have their freedoms restored, several thousand
Szekely troops and a contingent of artillery came to Mihai’s banner. Further military aid came from the Transylvanian
Saxons and reinforcements arrived from Oltenia, Mihai’s power base. His army, now numbering around 20,000 men,
marched towards the fortified city of Sibiu. The city was a highly important strategic
point from where the rest of Transylvania could be controlled. To protect it from falling into Wallachian
hands, Andrew drew up in front of the city walls an army around 16,000-strong and waited
for Mihai… Neither of the two armies got much sleep during
the early hours of October 18th. The rain turned the stirred up ground in both
camps into a sticky quagmire, and the howling cold mountain wind swept down across the flat
plain. But finally, some hours after daybreak the
miserable weather cleared, and the ground hardened under the warm morning Sun as the
two armies arrayed opposite each other just south of Sibiu, near the village of Shelimbar. Out from the Transylvanian ranks rode out
a figure with the Papal standard above him. It was a diplomat by the name of Malaspina. On the behest of Andrew Bathory he tried to
exert his authority as a papal representative to convince Mihai to retreat. But the Wallachian voivode refused. Incredibly, despite facing the Wallachian
army across the field, Andrew was still confident he could negotiate Mihai’s abdication and
impose himself as the ruler of Wallachia. He only really took Mihai’s military preparations
seriously when Malaspina came back with a negative answer. At around 9 o’clock in the morning the battle began with an intense exchange of artillery fire. Mihai’s 18 guns, although of higher caliber,
initially had the wrong shot and were ineffective. Andrew, meanwhile, unleashed his 50 guns. He tried to overwhelm the Wallachians with
repeated massive volleys of cannon fire. However, when he arrayed his army earlier
in the day Mihai ordered his troops to spread out, anticipating a heavy bombardment from
the numerically superior Transylvanian artillery, thereby minimizing losses from enemy fire. In contrast, Andrew arrayed his troops shoulder-to-shoulder, in a typical battle formation, and once Mihai’s guns switched to the correct shot, the Wallachian artillery fire tore through the Transylvanian ranks. The stark contrast in leadership capabilities
started to become evident, as Mihai’s 18 guns outmatched the 50 cannon Andrew had at
his disposal. The Transylvanian Prince took heavy losses,
with many of his densely packed troops killed and maimed in the artillery exchange. A light rain finally halted the prolonged
bombardment, and Mihai took the initiative straight away. On the left, he ordered Starina Novak to lead
the attack with his experienced Serbian mercenaries and haiducs, along with Hungarian and Cossack
mercenaries on the left wing, commanded by the ban of Oltenia. On the right, Aga Leka led contingents of
Serbians and Moldavians on a delayed charge, while the Wallachians followed in the second
line. Mihai slowly advanced with the reserve, formed
by his personal retinue, court troops and another contingent of Cossacks. Seeing the onrushing Starina Novak, Andrew’s
right braced for impact. Mihai tasked the Serbian mercenaries with
punching through the enemy line. But the Transylvanian troops briefly held
the enemy from breaking through and managed to keep their formation, although they gradually
gave ground. On the other side of the battlefield, the
fighting line shifted back in forth as the savage stalemate dragged on for a couple of
hours. Nevertheless, the Transylvanian line held. On the left, Mihai’s reliance on Starina
Novak paid off as the unrelenting push of Serbian shock troops carved open the enemy
line. Hungarian mounted units poured through the
opening as the Transylvanian Prince failed to react in time to plug the gap. But one of Andrew’s captains, Gaspar Kornis,
took the initiative and surged forward with his contingent. His quick reaction stabilized the line, all
but halting Starina Novak’s push. By now the battle entered its’ third hour. Mihai’s exhausted troops on the left could
not withstand the fresh enemy reinforcements, and they fell back. Gaspar spurred the men on across the entire
battle line to push forward. The Transylvanian counter-attack had begun. Some of the Hungarian noblemen at Andrew’s
side began to cheer, thinking that they got the enemy on the run. Mihai sprang into action, seeing that the
second line of Wallachian infantry wasn’t able to stem the tide. He knew that the fighting retreat of his troops
could turn into a rout at any moment. Personally leading the charge, the Wallachian
voivode slammed into Gashpar’s contingent with his personal retinue and the Cossacks He signaled his court troops to wheel
about and focused his own attack on pinning down Gaspar’s best troops in close-quarters
to prevent them from covering the flank. Meanwhile on the Wallachian right, Aga Leka
was finding it increasingly difficult to keep his troops in line, as gaps began opening
up between Moldavian contingents. But as Mihai’s court troops swung around
the enemy line, Transylvanian troops on the right lost heart and began fleeing to avoid
being enveloped. Instead of trying to rally the troops Andrew
Bathory fled the field with his retinue. The retreat caused a chain reaction and soon
the rest of the army followed. During the subsequent pursuit, Mihai’s troops
killed several thousand enemy troops, taking many prominent nobles prisoner, among them
Gaspar Kornis. News of the defeat quickly reached the Transylvanian
capital. The nobility met to decide their next course
of action, and when Mihai triumphantly entered the city a few days later, they elected the
Wallachian Voivode as the Prince of Transylvania. Two days later the new ruler assembled the
Transylvanian Diet, demanding that the Estates swear loyalty to Emperor Rudolf, then to himself
and to his son. He now began calling himself “King” of
Transylvania and Wallachia. Meanwhile, Andrew’s troops dispersed to
avoid the wrath of the Wallachians. With his army in tatters the dethroned Prince
fled north east with only a handful of followers, intending to cross into Moldavia where he
hoped to receive support. However, as he entered one of the Carpathian
mountain passes, Szekely shepherds recognized and killed him in an ambush. Mihai knew that Andrew’s unexpected demise
was most fortunate, for had he managed to cross the mountains, the support from Moldavia
and Poland would’ve been enough to attempt to re-take the throne of Transylvania. And it was clear to Mihai that, with Poland’s
backing, Yeremia’s scheming diplomatic and military opposition would continue to pose
a serious threat to his rule. Seeing no other way than to overthrow the
Moldavian voivode, Mihai began planning an invasion. He met with Polish envoys to begin negotiations
whereby he would recognize the Polish King as his sovereign in exchange for the Moldavian
crown and the recognition of hereditary rights of his male heirs over the three principalities. Negotiations weren’t fruitful but on 14 April 1600 his troops, nevertheless, entered Moldavia. The invasion was met with only minor resistance as Yeremia was caught completely by surprise. Before even attempting to mount a resistance he fled north with his followers. The fast conquest was facilitated by the fact that, due to the Ottoman ban on building defenses, Moldavia did not have any fortresses that could slow down the invading army, with the exception of the Hotin fortress in the north. But the cause for the fast breakdown of Yeremia’s rule was the dissatisfaction of the Moldavian army, with many troops simply deserting him. Within three weeks Mihai caught up with him at Hotin. In the castle, Movila took refuge with his family and a handful of boyars. Much like the majority of the troops throughout the country, the Moldavian soldiers in the fortress deserted and joined Mihai. Left with only a small Polish garrison, on June 11th, Yeremia snuck out of Hotin under the cover of darkness. Mihai’s warring ways unified for the first time the principalities of Wallachia, Transylvania and Moldavia under a Romanian ruler. But a new dynasty controlling this new and potentially powerful kingdom has upset the balance of power in the region. The neighboring states were bound to interfere and Mihai would soon face the enormous challenge of keeping his young kingdom together…

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