2020-09-29

UU Minute #13

UU Minute #13: Isabella Returns to Transylvania



In 1551, Archduke Ferdinand’s Hapsburg forces took Transylvania, banishing Isabella and her then 11-year-old son back to Poland. After five years of exile, Isabella returned to Transylvania when Ottoman troops recaptured the region and invited her back. The Transylvanian Diet officially entrusted Isabella with a five-year regency on behalf of her now-16-year-old son.

Meanwhile, Protestantism had come to Transylvania. With religious tensions mounting, in 1557, Isabella signed an edict of religious toleration. Isabella declared, “every one might hold the faith of his choice . . . without offence to any . . . ” – provided, that is, that the “faith of his choice” was either Catholic or Lutheran. Even so,
“It was the first time since the political hegemony of Christendom had spread across the western world centuries before, that a national leader gave back to ordinary people the authority of their own consciences in matters of God and the soul” (Kendyl Gibbons).
The first time. And it came from a woman. And while that woman apparently remained Catholic herself to the end of her days, she was interested in Reformation ideas – and the values of freedom and reason by which she raised and taught her son, would lead King John Sigismund of Transylvania to become history’s only Unitarian monarch.
“Against all the odds, Isabella brought up a son who bent the arc of the moral universe toward justice, compassion, and human dignity; she saved the throne for him, and bequeathed him the concept of religious toleration that would not occur to the rest of Europe for centuries.” (Gibbons)

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