Stefan Bathory

Stefan Bathory

Polish king (from 1575) and Grand Duke of Lithuania (1576-1586)
Date of Birth: 27.09.1533
Country: Belarus

  1. Biography of Stephen Báthory
  2. Tartar Raid and Election as King
  3. Ruling the Country

Biography of Stephen Báthory

Stephen Báthory, a Polish king (from 1575) and the Grand Duke of Lithuania (1576-1586), was the son of Stephen IV, the voivode of Transylvania. He studied at the University of Padua. From 1571 to 1576, he served as the Prince of Transylvania. After the escape of King Henry of Valois in 1574, a period of interregnum began in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Orthodox western-Russian nobles, led by Krysztof Graevski, proposed Ivan IV, the Tsar of Russia, as a candidate for the Polish throne in order to form a union with the Moscow State and jointly fight against the Turks and Crimean Tatars. Then, as candidates, Emperor Maximilian II of the Holy Roman Empire and Archduke Ernest of Austria, who also pursued a policy of fighting against the Turks and were supported by Moscow, were put forward. The Turkish sultan sent a letter to the nobles demanding that they not choose Emperor Maximilian II of the Holy Roman Empire as king, and Stephen Báthory was named as one of the candidates.

Tartar Raid and Election as King

A Tartar raid in September-October 1575 on the eastern lands of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (Podolia, Volhynia, and Red Ruthenia) pushed the middle-ranking nobility towards supporting Báthory's candidacy. At their insistence, he was elected as the Polish king. In 1576, members of the electoral Sejm of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania proclaimed Stephen Báthory, the Prince of Transylvania and the King of Poland, as the Grand Duke of Lithuania. Stephen was of Hungarian nationality, but he hardly spoke the languages of his subjects and communicated with them in Latin, which he learned during his studies at the Italian university. He sought to strengthen royal authority, fought against the magnates, supported the Catholic clergy and Jesuits in their opposition to the Reformation movements. He was one of the most decisive and successful military opponents of the Moscow State. "Among the internal reforms introduced by Báthory in Poland, particular attention should be paid to the organization of the Zaporozhian Cossacks, whom he provided with proper organization, endowed with lands, allowed them to elect their hetman and all military leaders, while reserving the king's right to grant the hetman a banner, a mace, and a seal, and to confirm him after taking the oath of allegiance. Seeking to restore not only political but also spiritual harmony in Poland, Báthory tried to reconcile dissidents with Catholicism, but he never resorted to violence and always sought to act humanely and peacefully."

Ruling the Country

As king, Stephen Báthory governed the country without knowledge of the languages of his subjects (he used Latin) and regularly declared his personal commitment to Catholicism, constantly needing competent administrators to implement numerous reforms. The Jesuits provided him with such people through their efficient school system. Therefore, he established the first Jesuit college for himself in his homeland, Kolozsvár (1579). And then, over the course of 5 years, Jesuit colleges were founded in Lublin (1581), Polotsk (1582), Riga (1582), Kalisz (1583), Nesvizh (1584), Lviv (1584), and Tartu (1586). Due to the Eastern focus of foreign policy, Báthory sought to develop the infrastructure of state administration within the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and planned to move the capital of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth to Grodno, where he rebuilt the royal castle, and supported the Jesuits' efforts to create a higher educational institution in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. On April 1, 1579, he issued a privilege according to which the Jesuit college established in Vilnius in 1570 was transformed into the Academy and University of Vilnius of the Society of Jesus (Almae Academia et Universitas Vilnensis Societatis Jesu). A bull from Pope Gregory XIII on October 30, 1579, confirmed Stephen Báthory's privilege, which is considered the founding date of Vilnius University. When recruiting the army, Báthory rejected the noble militia and extensively used mercenaries, mainly Hungarians and Germans. He tried to create a permanent army by recruiting soldiers from royal estates. From 1579 to 1582, he participated in the Livonian War (1558-1583) and, through skillful maneuvering, achieved a series of victories over the forces of the Moscow State, nullifying all of Ivan the Terrible's conquests in Livonia. Cavalry units from Báthory's army occupied Smolensk and Chernihiv. But after an unsuccessful siege of Pskov, the king concluded a truce with the Moscow State (Treaty of Yam-Zapolsky). The University of Vilnius, reestablished in 1919, was named after Stephen Báthory (University of Stefan Batory). There is a street in Vilnius named after Báthory, leading from the city center towards Polotsk, as well as one street in Grodno.

In 1994, a memorial plaque was installed in the courtyard of the Vilnius University ensemble in memory of Stephen Báthory, the King of Poland and the Grand Duke of Lithuania, the founder of the Vilnius Academy and the University of the Society of Jesus, with an inscription in Latin from the Polish chronicler of the 16th century, Martin Kromer.