Hungary in the Seven Years War


General Ferenc Nádasdy

During the Seven Years War (1756–63) two gifted Hungarian army commanders ensured that the bravery of the Hungarian regiments would make a great impression on Europe and arouse the Queen’s profound admiration. When on 17–18 June 1757 General Ferenc Nádasdy won a decisive victory in three successive cavalry charges against Frederick the Great of Prussia at the battle of Kolin, the Empress was overjoyed, calling it “the birthday of the Monarchy”, and established the Order of Maria Theresa for outstanding military achievement. Nádasdy was one of the first recipients of the Grand Cross. This most talented of Maria Theresa’s generals next to Laudon was the grandson of the Count Nádasdy executed in Vienna on the order of Leopold I for his participation in the Zrinyi-Wesselényi conspiracy in 1671.


General András Hadik

However, the most daring manoeuvre was accomplished some months later by General András Hadik (born in 1711 at Esztergom), who had already won spectacular successes during the Silesian wars. By a brilliantly executed stratagem Hadik took the war right into the enemy’s heartland, advancing directly on Berlin behind the back of the Prussian army as it marched westwards against the French. His raiding party consisted of a mere 3,500 cavalry and infantry, the artillery being represented by four cannons. On 16 October 1757, after a short and bloody clash, he forced an entry through the Köpenick gate and blew up a bridge, penetrating the city with 1,700 of his men; another party took the Cottbus gate. The frightened and confused Berliners estimated the strength of the attackers at 15,000 men, and in the belief that this force was merely the vanguard of a large Austrian army, the city council was willing to pay 125,000 silver thalers as tribute, giving Hadik a promissory note for a similar amount and an additional 25,000 thalers as a gift to the soldiers. The threat of bombardment had served its purpose. The following day Hadik disappeared without interference from the city with his men and the six banners and 400 prisoners they had captured. The infantry marched 50 km. a day and the cavalry rode at least 80 km. A unit of 300 hussars commanded by Colonel Ujházy held up the pincer movement of the pursuing Prussian troops. During one skirmish Magyars once again fought Magyars since the vanguard of the Prussian infantry included hussars under Colonel Mihály Székely. The frightened Court returned to Berlin on 18 October, following the Prussian troops who had re-entered the capital only the night before. King Frederick himself set out with his army in pursuit of Hadik—his order of the day was “These men must be ours, dead or alive!” However, he did not succeed in catching up with Hadik’s little unit.

According to the Habsburg historian Adam Wandruszka, Hadik’s exploit filled Maria Theresa with special pride, since she hated the Prussian King, whom she called the “thief of Silesia”. In a handwritten letter she told Hadik of her “most gracious satisfaction at the cleverly and successfully carried out enterprise against Berlin”, awarding him 3,000 ducats and the Grand Cross of the Military Order of Maria Theresa. Needless to say, Hadik’s bold venture furnished rich and colourful material for stories. According to one, he sent the Queen from Berlin a box of gloves of the finest leather—but because of the hurry it contained twenty-four for the left hand only.

Hadik was given the status of hereditary count, promoted Field-Marshal, appointed military governor of Transylvania and later of Galicia, and in 1774 chairman of the Supreme Military Council (Hofkriegsrat), a position he held until his death in 1790. The significance of this appointment, which marked the peak of his career, can be gauged by the fact that no Hungarian had ever before been permitted to appear even as an adviser to this authority. As the historian Julius Miskolczy put it: “Over the centuries not a single Hungarian statesman was honoured by participation in the government.[…] Even the country’s highest dignitaries, the palatine and the Chancellor, were kept away from the government of the Habsburg Monarchy. The reason for this was lack of trust.”

Maria Theresa was without doubt the outstanding figure in the history of the House of Austria. Frederick II himself paid homage to her in his Testament as “the wisest and politically most gifted” princess: “This woman, who could be regarded as a great man, has consolidated her father’s unstable monarchy.”

“Despite the fourteen years of war”, wrote Wandruszka, “despite the birth of sixteen children, despite the nobility’s and the clergy’s resistance, Maria Theresa was a great reformer blessed with benevolence, feminine charm and the talent of a virtuoso for choosing and treating her advisers.” He concludes:

No ruler before or after her in the long line of the old Habsburg and Habsburg-Lorraine dynasties, which had become merged within her person, knew how to place the right man at the right time in the right place: no one but she carried out, in the midst of critical wars, so many fundamental and revolutionary innovations which also stood the test of time. Whatever sphere of Austria’s modern history one deals with, be it administration, fiscal and trade policy, education, the armed forces, justice and health, one reaches the conclusion that the decisive reforms and beneficial institutions can be traced back to the reign of the great Empress.

With unfailing political instinct Maria Theresa tried always to take into consideration factors relating to tradition in her dealings with the Monarchy’s most difficult country, and from time to time at least partly to win over the suspicious and eccentric nobility to the central reforms. Distribution of offices, decorations and personal marks of favour were of great help in these efforts. The Hungarian policy of the court was doubtless moulded by the Queen’s humane disposition.

This attitude and her various educational, scientific and religious initiatives had far-reaching and sometimes unforeseen consequences for Hungary’s future, and indirectly for the Monarchy. Maria Theresa succeeded first and foremost in enticing the high and well-to-do section of the middle-ranking nobility into Vienna’s sphere of interest. In 1746 she established the Theresianum, the élite academy for training young nobles, which up to 1772 already attracted 117 sons of Hungarian aristocratic families. Numerous Hungarians also graduated from the Military Academy in Wiener Neustadt, and officers who attracted attention for their bravery were decorated with the newly-established Order of St Stephen. While Protestants were restricted in practising their religion and Jews were mercilessly persecuted and even occasionally expelled from Bohemia and Moravia, the pious Empress strongly supported the Catholic Church, partly in the interest of the Empire’s standardization. The victorious Counter-Reformation created a pro-dynastic but also explicitly Hungarian patriotism of a Baroque-Catholic flavour, culminating in the notion of the Regnum Marianum, deliberately linking it with the medieval national kingdom’s cult of Mary.

Two gestures in particular impressed the national-religious feelings of the Hungarians. After 1757 Maria Theresa again bore the title “Apostolic King of Hungary”, a new-old privilege, conferred by Pope Clement XIII in recognition of the Hungarian people’s sacrifice in the fight against the Turks. It harked back to the time of St Stephen, whose right hand was ceremonially repatriated from Ragusa (Dubrovnik) to the royal palace of Buda, to even greater effect.

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