The sun rose above the thatch roofs of Gurusleu, as the narrow town streets came to life on
early morning of August 3rd, 1601.
To the sound of church bells the craftsmen opened their shops for customers, the town
crier’s public announcements echoed on the town square, the traders called out their
wares on the local marketplace, and the main street was awash with the smell of hot sheep’s
feet and beef-ribs coming from the fast-food stands.
But then, around 9 o’clock the pleasant morning routine was interrupted…
… there was little doubt that the thundering noise coming from across the hill was artillery fire.
After the defeat at Miraslau, Mihai rushed back across the mountains to regroup.
As he led some 7,000 survivors back through the Buzau pass, messengers rode forward, carrying
orders for the nobles to assemble their armies at Ploieşti, after receiving word that Yan
Zamoyski, the chancellor of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, marched into Moldavia with an
army of 17,000 troops and 10 artillery pieces, bringing with him the brothers Yeremia and
Simion Movila with the goal of overthrowing Mihai rule in Moldavia and Wallachia.
Many Moldavian nobles and peasants, unhappy with Mihai’s rule, joined the invaders,
further swelling Zamoyski’s ranks.
The Polish-Moldavian army expelled Mihai's officials in Iasi.
Yeremia Movila was re-instated as the voivode of Moldavia and Zamoyski spent the rest of
the month securing the loyalty of the nobility in the northern part of the principality,
in order to stabilize Yeremia’s rule and put Moldavia’s administration back in-sync
with the Commonwealth.
Then, on October 1st the Polish-Moldavian host continued towards the Wallachian frontier.
The lack of fortifications and castles enabled a quick advance south, and the local nobility
had little choice but to join the advancing army, lest they be stripped of their lands
and political power.
on October 10th, Zamoyski entered and occupied Buzau.
Mihai promptly marched against them.
But he managed to muster a force of around only 10,000 troops.
Outnumbered almost 2:1 and without any artillery he was defeated on October 20th by a larger
and better equipped Polish-Moldavian army.
Zamoyski launched extensive pursuits, aiming to further dismantle Mihai’s remaining forces,
as the invading host continued south.
As the Wallachian army retreated towards Oltenia, Mihai’s power-base, Zamoyski reached Bucharest.
Simion Movila was put on the throne of Wallachia with orders to pay a tribute of 40,000 florins
per year to the Polish crown, significantly spreading the Commonwealth’s sphere of influence in the region.
Meanwhile, Mihai spent the next month preparing for a counter-offensive and moved to reclaim
the throne of Wallachia in late November.
But the hastily assembled army was a far cry from the one that brought him victories against
the Ottomans and during the unification of Wallachia, Transylvania and Moldavia.
In late November, he crossed the river Olt, only to be defeated again, losing some of
his most important commanders.
The defeat at Curtea de Arges prevented him from taking a strategically important position
that allows access into Transylvania through three mountain passes, accessible to marching armies.
The most important nobles finally left him and his troops scattered.
Realizing he had no chance of re-taking Wallachia on his own.
Mihai made the hard decision to leave his homeland and head for Vienna, realizing that
The grueling and dangerous journey lasted over 30 days and he arrived in Vienna in mid-January.
However, Emperor Rudolf refused to give him an audience at his court.
But because of the volatile situation in Transylvania, the Emperor was unsure on how to approach the matter.
Basta’s governorship faced significant difficulties in handling the Transylvanian nobility, and
although Rudolf hoped that the situation will stabilize, now he had Mihai as a possible
alternative in case the political turmoil escalated.
Forced to wait for several weeks, Mihai got his chance when the Transylvanian Diet revolted
against Basta, forcing him into exile.
The noblemen decided to reinstate Sigismund Bathory, who turned his back on Rudolf and
was now loyal to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, having received from them substantial military support.
Mihai’s followers were promptly persecuted across Transylvania and severely punished.
Starina Novak, one of his most outstanding commanders, was burned alive for nearly two hours,
and then impaled while still alive.
With the situation in Transylvania deteriorating fast, Rudolf reacted.
100,000 florins were provided to Mihai to build a new army, formed by Serbian, Cossack
and Silesian mercenaries, which quickly reached 10,000 troops.
Another 10,000-strong army was commanded by Basta.
The Emperor ordered his two commanders to set their differences aside, and the united
army marched from Satu Mare into Transylvania.
Sigismund, meanwhile, marched to meet them.
The size of the Prince’s army isn’t fully known, but according to certain sources it
was about 40,000-strong, consisting of Hungarian noblemen, Moldavians, Cossacks, and Polish troops.
On August 3rd, the two armies met at the town of Gurusleu…
Looking at the army that arrayed across the valley, Sigismund Bathory was understandably confident.
Basta led around 5,000 cavalry and 5,000 infantry, while Mihai commanded 4,000 cavalry and 6,000
infantry – all told their army of some 20,000, supported by an artillery contingent, seemed
no match for the host commanded by the Transylvanian Prince.
Then, with a wave of a hand Sigismund ordered his 40,000 troops to advance.
Keeping their formation, the infantry and cavalry kept a slow pace, allowing the artillery
to get into a firing position.
At around 9 o’clock in the morning the battle started with an artillery duel.
The prolonged and ineffective cannonade was interrupted when Bathory ordered a massive
cavalry attack along the entire line, wishing to come down hard on the outnumbered enemy.
Transylvanian infantry and artillery followed behind as the cavalry steamed towards Mihai’s
and Basta’s line.
But… what Sigismund failed to notice was a steep grassy slope, up to a meter tall in
some places, running across almost the entire battlefield.
Prior to the battle Mihai knew the that this small slope would be vital for the outcome
of the battle, and on his suggestion the army lined up behind it.
Now, as Bathory’s cavalry was closing in, Mihai gave the signal and the entire line
moved to take up position along the edge of the slope.
As he predicted, the momentum of the cavalry was broken by the slope, helping the infantry
in the center cope with the impact of the charge.
Initially, Sigismund’s cavalry proved their mettle, inflicting significant losses on the enemy.
But as jabs were traded back and forth, the infantry in the center held.
However, all this changed once the Transylvanian infantry joined the fighting.
The sheer mass of Bathory’s men pushed back Mihai’s and Basta’s line, and slowly began
grinding down their numbers in a lopsided stand-off.
From the suffocating crush in the front of the fighting, the screams of men echoed across
the narrow valley.
Sensing that the tide will turn against them if this battle of attrition continued for
any longer, Mihai made a decisive move.
Personally taking command of the second line of his cavalry, he turned to maneuver his
way around Sigismund’s left flank.
He ordered his artillery men to position the cannons closer to the fighting and fire at will.
The cannon volleys helped support the under-pressure cavalry in the first line and create as much
chaos on Bathory’s left in order to help cover Mihai’s flanking maneuver.
Sigismund reacted by ordering his own cannons to get into position to counter the enemy
artillery fire, and sent the reserves to bolster the attack on his left.
But as the reinforcements rushed forward the men became spread out and the speed of the
Wallachian charge caught them out before they could consolidate.
Leading from the front, Mihai plowed into the Transylvanians from the left, his cavalrymen
trampling enemy soldiers, as the gaps in their formation afforded his horsemen plenty of room to maneuver.
Sigismund’s reserves that were sent to support the front line routed soon after.
Seeing the chaotic retreat in front of them, artillerymen also abandoned their posts.
As the Wallachian cavalry struck the rear of Bathory’s troops in the front, it became
evident that Mihai’s charge would decide the battle, as the surrounded Transylvanian
troops began running for their lives.
Having lost around 10,000 men and with all of his cannons captured, Sigismund Bathory
had no choice but to withdraw from the field…
With Sigismund’s army scattered, Mihai marched ahead and reached Cluj, where he planted a
flag in honor of his captain Starina Novak, who was executed by the Hungarian noblemen.
According to orders issued by Emperor Rudolf, Mihai was to continue on into Wallachia to
re-take the throne.
This was made easier by the fact that his supporters, led by the ever loyal Buzescu
family, had already overthrown Simion Movila and sent messages to Mihai that they awaited
his arrival in Targoviste.
However, Mihai wanted to separate himself from Basta and occupy Alba Iulia as his princely
seat, directly against Emperor Rudolf’s wishes.
Needless to say, it was unacceptable for the Habsburgs to allow Mihai to rule over a potentially
powerful kingdom and the Emperor put in motion a plot against his life.
On Rudolf’s behest, Basta sent his men in the morning of August 9th 1601 to Mihai’s camp.
When he tried to defend himself he was struck down with halberds and his head cut off.
His body was left to lay in the field for some time, but his followers managed to bring
his head back to Wallachia, to a monastery overlooking the former capital Targoviste
from a hill – where it is still today.
Mihai’s defeat was more a political than a military one.
He tried to impose the rule of his Wallachian party in Transylvania and Moldavia over the
power structures already established by the local nobility.
This caused significant resistance and finally led to his downfall.
It seems that he thought too much on a military level, using his army as the answer to the
demands of his rule.
In addition, the outside pressures proved too much as the strong monarchy that Mihai
tried to create presented a problem for the three major powers.
For Austria and Poland in particular it was strategically much more favorable to keep
Wallachia and Moldavia as weak buffer states with exchangeable voivodes, who easily agreed
to pay tribute and served to absorb potential invasions from the Ottoman Empire.
It was also a question of prestige for these powers to be the overlords of the three principalities
and not equals to a potentially strong leader like Mihai the Brave, ruling a powerful kingdom.
But his brief unification of Wallachia, Transylvania and Moldavia would go on to form the foundation
of the Romanian national identity...