CROATIAN PORTRAITS: PETAR ZRINSKI AND FRAN KRSTO FRANKOPAN
PETAR ZRINSKI AND FRAN KRSTO FRANKOPAN
by Dr. Vinko Grubisic
"He who dies honourably lives forever".
Frank Krsto Frankopan
The year l971 is the anniversary of Croatia's jubilee, a time to remember its greatness and to inquire solemnly about its past and present because never more than at this very moment has it been so urgent to think about ourselves. Who we are and where we came from are questions that can surly help us to find the answer to what is our ultimate and single purpose. And precisely to inquire about the glorious and noble Croatian families of the Zrinski and Frankopan is the proper concern of an inquiry into the destiny of the Croatian nation as a whole: its endeavours, failures, defeats but also its glory.
Perhaps someone will argue that with such historical greatness we don't need a myth. "We were once Trojans", we can say with Virgil, adding to this all our illustrious self-reliance and valour in the face of every attack, every act of ill-will meant to obliterate Croatia from the face of the earth. We shall see that our defeats throughout history are worthy of consideration and indeed of urgent inquiry concerning the moment in which we are living. History can never be merely a collection of dates and facts, names and plots. Neither is history the guardian of individualism no! It only confirms us in our experience, appearing to us as the nexus of particular epochs leading to our own times, as the interrelation of historical structures. It affects us as the possibility of exaltation, the force of continuity, the justification of our experience. All this I say with only one intent; all our great men whom we celebrate this year were deeply involved with destiny. They lived, certainly, in different historical epochs but were nurtured in the same spirit of nationalism / patriotic feeling/. In the face of sterile Western promises and unscrupulousness Zrinski and Frankopan attempted new directions. Deceived and duped they tried desperately to save the "reliquiae reliquiarum", a pitiable Croatia torn asunder. They believed in the honour and worth of their ancestors, in their own strength. Eugen Kvaternik also tried to find a means of deliverance for the Croatian nation. He dreamt about help from Cavour /Camillo Benso Italian statesman/, was enthused by the French love of freedom. But Rakovica remains just the beginning of Croatia's outcry, her elementary cry for freedom. Rakovica plays the same role as Wiener Neustadt in that it symbolizes the deeper and more ominous comprehension of our national endeavour and the realization of how arrogant have been our tyrants past and present. Stjepan Radic lived and acted in different historical and social structures and had to deal with far more dangerous ideological slogans. The enemy was treacherous and ruthless than ever before, but finally he, like all previous Croatian heroes, died with the full realization that Croats must draw strength from their own sources, from their own wounds. But what did all these victims have in common save that national destiny which more properly belongs to historical processes than to history itself, that original rebellion of the Croatian soul against those tyrants who came to Croatia as wolves in sheep's clothing? Now that we are in touch with our historical processes we must see the necessity for myth. As does every individual so every nation has its celebration. A time to ask about our own destiny and about the importance of our presence in the world. And as long as some persons to whom have been attributed supernatural qualities have been justified by the passage of time, so perhaps they are necessary to us insofar as we observe them still from our own captive and obscure position. As long as their dates remain so uncertain as to question their very existence, so our hero myths enlarge them in proportion as we interpret them in the light of our own times. In our existence as Croatians, myth is simply a way of attiring the truth. Therefore it seems to me necessary before broaching the topic of Petar Zrinski and F. K. Francopan, to give a brief account of their families.
Already at the end of the twelfth century the Subic family whose native place was Bribir inherited the title of princes and later on their power steadily increase so that in the thirteenth century they possessed the territory between the rivers Krka and Zrmanja and the sea. At the outset of the fourteenth century, Pavao Subic governed Bosnia as far as the Drina. Later on the town of Zrin by which they gained the epithet, Zrinski fell into their hands. In the sixteenth century, ban (1) Nikola Zrinski gained dominion over Medjimurje with its capital at Cakovec. Next to them in importance by virtue of their power, wealth, fame, glory and role in Croatia's public life ranked the Frankopan family, so called only by the first half of the fifteenth century because of their affinity with the Roman patrician family of the Frangipan. However, they were mentioned in the year ll33 as rulers and lords of the island of Krk and part of the littoral. An important date in the genealogy of the Frankopan was the date when prince Ivan V became ban of Croatia and Dalmatia in l393. Although their possessions were exposed to every assault both from the east and the west, their power increased steadily until the seventeenth century they reached even to Karlovac.
Zrinski and Frankopan by marriage ties came into closer affinity until in the eyes of the European courts they had become the most important families of Croatia, finally to merge into legend with the fame of their battles against the Turks. The famed Nikola Subic Zrinski who died fighting and won the title of "Hero of Sziget" became the first outstanding example of the epithet "bulwark of Christianity" (antemurale Christianitatis).
"Is it possible, Almighty Creator, that such injustice oppresses your country?"
F. K. Frankopan
The Zrinski and Francopan families united in themselves not only bellicose but also literary qualities. Nikola Zrinski wrote in his time a very important book of lyrics and an epic in 15 cantos entitled "The Syren of the Adriatic" (Adriai tengernek syrenaia), an epic using the Hungarian language as a vehicle of expression, but whose inspiration is drawn from the Croatian soul. It would be very difficult to approach this work without being familiar with the tradition of Croatian literature. Among the educators and tutors at the court of Zrinski there lived certain glagolitic priests, one of whom helped Nikola's brother Petar translate "The Syren of the Adriatic" into Croatian, a work which even today leaves an impression on the reader that it is more likely to be the original than a mere translation. Besides this translation, Petar was occupied with other translations. The writer Vladislav Mencetic who says in his book''Trublja slovinska'' that the people of Dubrovnik celebrate Zrinski "all of one accord" asserts herein something that cannot be considered mere literary encomium without foundation. Katarina Zrinski translated from the German into Croatian her famous prayer-book "Road Companion'', meanwhile adding so many of her own convictions about God that one can say that it was in fact her own book. About twenty years younger than the other brothers, F.K. Frankopan was an authentic poet in his own right. He underwent various poetic influences, none of which was able to deafen his own inspiration. In such a vein was written his ''The Garden in which to Cheat Time'', a personal account of the poet's experiences while in prison. But from those ''unhappy moments'' we hear the authentic words of a man of thirty, who sings of unrequited love, of the symbolic life of flowers and of the forebodings of death. However absurd it may sound, he unfortunately knew his poet's art so well (he had been schooled and trained in it) that with this training he curbed his true feelings. But Mr.Kombol himself, in his survey of Croatian literature, although not very generous in paying him compliments, nevertheless says about him that from time to time he left in his poems ''a hint of genuine poetic temperament''. But his poem "The heart bewails the love that it does not see'' he rightly calls ''the most searing poem of our literature''. What continually compels us to return to his poetry is the interest in his language, which he knew excellently. Living as he did in an area bordering on several Croatian dialects at once, Frankopan stands for us, at a time when our language is being trusted more and more as a regional dialect, as a living witness to the way in which our dialects can when amalgamated serve as healthy linguistic base. In prison, Frankopan translated Moliere's "Georges Dandin", the first translation not only in Croatian, but also in any language of this work of Moliere's.
These are just a few remarks about the literary importance of Petar Zrinski and even more of his brother Nikola, F.K. Frankopan and his sister Katarina, Petar's wife. It is certain that in the literary field Zrinski and Frankopan were not behind the other European courts.
"O God, you who set Croatia as a bulwark of Christianity, remember our sufferings through the century".
Ante Tresic Pavicic, Katarina Zrinska
Only three centuries have elapsed since the bloody and tragic misfortunes that overtook Zrinski and Frankopan. Therefore one can expect to encounter various opinions concerning them both. For some their names represent only a familiar symbol of tactlessness and idealism, for others only a moral to show that we may never trust our enemies. In both of these opinions there is some truth, but still more speculation. Petar Zrinski and F. K. Frankopan were genuine champions of Croatia worthy of their illustrious forebears in every respect. Unfortunately it is true that there fundamental errors were repeated in every critical moment of Croatia's history. At the time of the heroic deed of Krsto Vuk Frankopan, and especially Nikola Zrinski, the court in Vienna was interested in everything but the prestige of these two families. Vienna was far more interested in any truce, however comprising, with the Ottoman Empire: a staid tranquillity interspersed with diplomatic skirmishes. Only these reasons can justify the Peace of Vasvar. When the Turks were defeated at St. Gotthard and forced to sue for armistice with Austria, Montecuccoli apparently took the occasion to make the Turks appear the victors at the expense of Zrinski and Frankopan. A powerful enemy of Zrinski and of Croatia in general, not only did he enable the Turks with a shameful peace to pillage the estates of Zrinski and Frankopan, but he represented to Vienna every act of self-defence on the part of the Croats as unnecessary defiance in the face of the Turks. In one word that peace of Vasvar (1664) was resolved to the detriment of Croatia's fundamental interests. Austrian emperor Leopold here appears to be quite incapable, just as later on many occasions. He himself considered this to be an act of treason for the very reason that neither Hungary nor Croatia recognized the peace. And it would have been absurd had they done so. The aforementioned Montecuccoli, Nikola Zrinski's personal enemy, proved to be quite incapable in a battle in Slovakia, but when Zrinski offered him his aid, he rejected it. What could be worse to a warrior such as Nikola Zrinski that that an official of the monarchy of which he considered himself to be a part should reject his offer of assistance? It is too bad for Croatia that ban Nikola Zrinski perished just when he was most indispensable to it. He allegedly died while hunting wild boar, but the wounds found on him indicate otherwise. In all probability a Habsburg soldier in his retinue shot him in the hunt, although the opinion persists that a member of the Hungarian noble family of Nadasy perpetrated it. There are many grounds to support this view, the most convincing of which is that at that time there was a contention among the Hungarian nobility for the crown of Hungary and that some of them believed that Nikola Zrinski was a likely candidate for the throne. Nikola's wife Maria had been living for a long time in Vienna with her son Adam who never appeared in the political arena. So with the death of Nikola Zrinski began the extermination of the two most influential Croatian families. After his death, at the end of 1664, the succession to the ban passed on to his brother Petar who was convinced that in this way he could continue the struggle for the lost Croatian privileges. But Vienna continued on the course it had charted, to utterly eliminate the families of Zrinski and Frankopan. Their estates were relentlessly pillaged not by the Turks, but by Austrian soldiers. The generalship of Karlovac fell not to Petar Zrinski, but to his bitterest enemy Herberstein. Indeed, Petar was still from time to time in favour in Vienna, keeping lively relations with the court through the offices of certain secular and ecclesiastical dignitaries, but it became increasingly clear to him that their offices were just dead letter and that the Austrian soldiery was perpetrating its crimes with the court's approval. Although Krsto Vuk Frankopan was a prisoner in Venice, good relations with certain eminent dignitaries in that city continued to exist, the Frankopans being especially honoured there. Then Zrinski and Frankopan began to negotiate concerning the possibility of a joint resistance against Vienna. For a long time France had had a personal account to settle with Austria and therefore it was quite natural that Zrinski, through Katarina his wife, should try to appeal assiduously to Venice and France. They wished at least to obtain by diplomacy what was then impossible to obtain by force of arms. But the Venetians were primarily a mercantile people with the slightest understanding of the idealism of small nations. As for the French, it was more essential that Zrinski and Frankopan cause the court trouble than that there should be any change in the status quo. Louis XIV did not wish any intrigues at the court of Vienna. SO on the side of the Venetians and the French everything remained just a plethora of promises. After this, Zrinski took a step from which it was hard to retreat. The Austrian soldiery continued to pillage even more relentlessly. When Bukovacki, one of the chief commanders in Zrinski's army, returned from his own charred estates, he proposed to go to the sultan in order to reach an agreement with the Turks. Although they had lost many soldiers in battle with Zrinski's army, nevertheless they respected and appreciated them as good and honourable men and soldiers. The chief commander and the Sultan's lieutenant for Bosnia, Omer-spahia, himself considered that Zrinski was not about to waist his energies in main. He was the sultan's son-in-law and enjoyed as high reputation in Istanbul. Petar Zrinski consented to Bukovacki's proposal. However, on this occasion he did not forget to stress the proposal to the Sultan of an armistice under the following conditions: that new territory conquered by them belong to Croatia, if Croatian, and to Hungary, if Hungarian; that Croatia's liberty be respected by constitutional guarantee; that Croatia pay a tribute to the Sultan as long as the Sultan respects the guarantees of human rights and constitutional liberties for all Croats. Bukovacki's proposal pleased the Turks and all went smoothly until the grand vizier Cuprilic, the same one who with Austria's blessing had burnt the town of Novi Zrin in 1664, rejected the proposal. And on the other hand the Hungarians did not agree with this proposal at all, though Zrinski had good relations there too.
So nothing came of that undertaking. Vienna in the meantime had spies all over the empire who kept an eye on Zrinski. They applied on that occasion their well-known tactics. At first, it was necessary to discredit Zrinski and Frankopan before their own people as alleged traitors. Vienna had no scruples about doing such a thing. They went as far as spreading the rumours that Katarina Zrinski had accepted the Islamic faith, that Zrinski betrayed his nation's blood spilt for liberty and wished to destroy Catholic and Apostolic Austria. Count Nikola Bakac, Hocher, Montecuccoli and Lobkowitz, himself related to Zrinski by marriage, all ministers at the court in Vienna, triumphed. They openly instigated soldiers to exterminate the Zrinskis. Seeing all this injustice, Zrinski and Frankopan went to Vienna by order of the emperor to explain to the court and to Leopold I how the names had been abused. They went there believing that by the mediation of the bishop of Zagreb, Martin Borkovic, and with the letter of safe conduct sent to them from the emperor nothing would happen to them. But they were deceived. They could foresee everything but not what actually happened to them. Even the Turks would not have foresworn their oath in order to kill their bitterest enemy. In Vienna both of them were jailed and tortured. During the night executioners brought to Petar Zrinski the false deposition of Frankopan against him while Frankopan was served likewise. A German military officer, Spankau, broke into Zrinski's estate in Cakovac and finding it defenceless, he and his soldiers pillaged without mercy all that he could lay his hands on. He forced Katarina to enter an Austrian convent where the heroic woman, the symbol of a suffering Croatia, spent the last hours of her husband's and brother's life in tears and grief.
Zrinski and Frankopan finally realized the treacherousness of the "Christian" Leopold and the crimes of Vienna, spending their last hours awaiting their tragic fate, in complete devotion to God and in the belief that the idea of a liberated Croatia would nonetheless be realized. See what consolation fills the lines of Petar's last letter to Katarina. All that they regretted was that they should be executed so miserably, that they did not die like their glorious ancestors in battle. They were sentenced to death for high treason. For Petar Zrinski the verdict was read that "he committed the greatest sins than the others in aspiring to obtain the same station as his majesty, that is, to be an independent Croatian ruler and therefore he indeed deserves to be crowned not with a crown, but with a bloody sword". On April 30th, 1671, Petar Zrinski and F. K. Frankopan were led to their place of execution. Both up to the last moment maintained their complete lucidity. "Today we have pardoned each other our transgressions. Therefore I ponder this letter and ask you for everlasting forgiveness. If I have mistreated you in some way, or offended you, forgive me. In the name of our Father, I am quite prepared to die and I am not afraid". So wrote Petar Zrinski in the letter of pardon to his wife Katarina. Frankopan also wrote a very sensitive letter to his wife. "My dear Julia, I would lie with all my soul to leave behind a last commemoration of my deepest love, but I am naked and miserable".
Before his death Petar allegedly tied his hair up in a handkerchief made by his wife, so that the executioner's axe should fall directly on his neck without obstruction. He wanted with his death to show that which he could not with this life, that a Croat knows how to die courageously. Only on the second blow did the executioner cut off first off Zrinski's head. The same thing happened in the case of F.H. K. Frankopan. Yet the court did not rest until the families of Zrinski and Frankopan were utterly destroyed. Two of Petar's daughters died in the convent. His son Ivan, after a terrible imprisonment and torture, died mad. So did Katarina, the very symbol of Croatia's destiny, the woman who in herself combined Spartan devotion and bravery with the wisdom of Athens. Nikola's son Adam died struck down in all probability by an Austrian soldier in a battle near Slankamen, twenty years after the decapitation of Petar Zrinski and F. K. Frankopan. Frankopan lost his son who died at a very young age. His family remained without male descendants, something in which only Vienna could triumph. Se disappeared from Croatian history, political and cultural life two most illustrious families. With their death Croatia became like a widow in mourning.
"Deeds are better witnesses than men"
E. Kumicic, "Petar Zrinski
By now it is not very difficult to prove that there was indeed no question of any conspiracy, but rather of an attempt that promised to save Croatia. Zrinski and Frankopan did not even try to answer the court in Vienna on the terms in which Vienna dealt with them, but rather wished to counteract its injustices with what was then a quite justifiable diplomacy. Vienna had seen the whole danger of such an undertaking whose cause was rooted in the dissatisfaction among Hungarians and Croats occasioned b the unfavourable peace of Vasvar. Leopold knew what was going on. He wished to settle the matter, but above all he wished to exculpate himself. The ministers of the crown proved to be the worst rascals in the entire history of the monarchy in removing their opponents by murder as adversaries to whom even the diplomatic game was begrudged. European courts were ready to promise much, to be involved in intrigues, but small nations serve only as their morsels until they could come to an agreement with the larger nations on the divisions of the spoils. All this I would not even mention were not such situations prevalent today. Two and a half centuries after these two victims, Stjepan Radic fell in Belgrade, the victim of a heinous crime with a remark which tallied with what Petar Zrinski's forebears had already expressed, to wit: "Nevermore, neither in Vienna or in Belgrade".
We could enumerate many more reasons why the undertaking of Zrinski and Frankopan was a failure. There was great discord among Croatia's potentates and terrible denunciations. Personal interest ruined the common good. Although it was natural that Hungarians should stick to diplomacy, their interests conflicted with Croatia's. Vienna, with the formation of a military frontier against Turkey, succeeded in restricting the power of the Croatian ban even in his own backyard and to dismember not only his territories but also their unity. In Croatia then, as unfortunately today, everyone had more rights than the Croats.
At the most critical moments Vienna succeeded in creating dissatisfaction among the Croatian people and diffidence toward ban Petar Zrinski. By lies and demagoguery Vienna applied all the tried and true methods of tyranny and oppression. Even today we must not believe in the same lies that our false Croats would have us believe, that for us the present situation is preferable to being independent.
In spite of every failure the undertaking of Petar Zrinski and Fran Krsto Frankopan to save Croatia by recourse to diplomacy and to vindicate once more Croatia's freedom and sense of justice will remain forever honourable and noteworthy. Their selfless devotion to the liberty of their fatherland even today serves as a milestone and example. As representatives of a small nation, they simply succumbed to the executioner's sword, victims of deceit. They showed the enemy that however much one may accomplish with a sword, one can never sit quiet upon it. Yet still less does their message lie even therein, because our time is so much like theirs, in the sense that they showed clearly that Croatia can live only if it is independent; if Croats are masters in Croatia, if ones does not look upon statehood as a dole from the tyrant's country, but rather as the expression of the national spirit and well-being. This they said with their lives, their blood and their destiny.
Last Letter of Ban Petar Zrinski to his wife Katarina:
My dear heart;
Do not be too sorrowful and upset on account of this letter. God's will be done. Tomorrow at ten o'clock they will cut off my head and your brother's too. Today we pardoned each other with all our heart. Therefore I ponder this letter and ask you for everlasting forgiveness. If I have mistreated you in some way, or offended you, as well I know, forgive me. In the name of our Father I am quite prepared to die and am not afraid. I hope that the Almighty God who has humiliated me in this world will have mercy on me. I would pray to him and ask him to whom tomorrow I hope to come that we may meet each other in everlasting glory before the Lord. I know nothing else to write to you about, neither our son nor the rest of our poor possessions. I have left this to God's will. Do not be sorry, everything had to be so. In Wiener Neustadt, the day before the last day of my life, at seven o'clock in the evening, April 29th, 1671. May Almighty God bless you together with our daughter Aurora VeronikaCount
In to the army, into the army, knightly elite,
Whomever a dauntless mother has raised;
Strike up the drums everywhere on hears the kettledrums;
The fifes and the trumpets are heard afar off;
Glorious companies are mustering.
Get up, get up, you envious idlers;
In the army, in the army, brave heroes,
Make ready post haste sabres and muskets;
Yourselves and your steeds deck out in chivalry;
Right now come together to the glorious flag.
Dispel from your heart all vapours of fury;
Put before you're the shield of courage;
Dearer to you will be glory, fame and honour
Than one instant, one moment of living in shame:
He who dies honourably lives forever.
Fran Krsto Frankopan