2020-09-29

UU Minute #12

UU Minute #12: Isabella Banished



Unitarianism in Transylvania emerged in the turbulent politics of the time, fostered by Isabella, the dowager queen and regent who enacted Europe’s first edict of religious toleration, and her son, John Sigismund, Europe’s only Unitarian monarch ever.

As the 16th-century began, the Ottoman Empire covered Turkey, the Balkans, and Greece. In 1526, the Ottoman Empire under Sultan Suleiman crushed the Hungarian royal army in the Battle of Mohács and killed King Louis II. Hungary was then divided into three parts. The Ottoman Empire annexed one part. A second part was allowed to continue as a much-diminished Hungary. And a third part – Transylvania – was granted autonomy under the rule of John Zapolya – although paying annual tribute to the Ottomans.

Thirteen years later, in 1539, John Zapolya married Isabella, oldest child of the Polish King Sigismund. John Zapolya was 50 years old; Isabella was 20 – beautiful and very bright.

A year later, 1540, Isabella gave birth to a son, John Sigismund. Two weeks later, John Zapolya died from injuries sustained while subduing a rebellion. The young Isabella thus found herself ruler of Transylvania: regent on behalf of her infant son.

Archduke Ferdinand immediately moved to retake Transylvania for the Hapsburgs. With the military assistance of Sultan Suleiman, Isabella fended off Ferdinand for ten years – until, in 1551, Ferdinand’s forces prevailed. Isabella, with her then-11-year-old son, was banished back to Poland to live with her family.

Prospects looked very bleak for either of them to foster a new religion that endures to this day.

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