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Nikola Zrinski

See Nicholas Šubić Zrinski for the great grandfather.

Nicholas Zrinski (Nikola Zrinski in Croatian, Zrínyi Miklós in Hungarian) (1620-1664) was a Croatian and Hungarian warrior, statesman and poet, member of the noble family which is called Zrinski in Croatian and Zrínyi in Hungarian.

Nicholas was born in Čakovec (Csáktornya in Hungarian) (in Međimurje (Muraköz in Hungarian) to George Zrinski and Magdalena Szechy . At the court of Péter Pázmány the youth conceived a burning enthusiasm for his mother tongue and literature, although he always placed arms before arts. From 1635 to 1637 he accompanied Szenkveczy, one of the canons of Esztergom, on a long educative tour through Italy.

During the next few years he learnt the art of war in defending the Croatian frontier against the Turks, and approved himself one of the first captains of the age. In 1645 he acted against the Swedes in Moravia, equipping an army corps at his own expense. At Szkalec he scattered a Swedish division and took 2000 prisoners. At Eger he saved the emperor, who had been surprised at night in his camp by Wrangel. Subsequently he routed the army of George I Rákóczi, prince of Transylvania, on the Upper Tisza. For his services the emperor appointed him captain of Croatia. On his return from the war he married the wealthy Eusebia Drašković.

In 1646 he distinguished himself in the Turkish war. At the coronation of Ferdinand IV he carried the sword of state, and was made ban and captain-general of Croatia. In this double capacity he presided over many Croatian diets, always strenuously defending the political rights of the Croats and steadfastly maintaining that as regarded Hungary they were to be looked upon not as panes annexae but as a regnum.

During 1652—53 he was continually fighting against the Turks, yet from his castle at Cakovec he was in constant communication with the learned world; the Dutch scholar, Jacobus Tollius , even visited him, and has left in his Epistolae itinerariae a lively account of his experiences. Tollius was amazed at the linguistic resources of Zrinski, who spoke German, Croatian, Hungarian, Turkish and Latin with equal facility. Zrinski's Latin letters (from which we learn that he was married a second time, to Sophia Lobel) are fluent and agreeable, but largely interspersed with Croatian and Hungarian expressions.

The last year of his life was also its most glorious one. He set out to destroy the strongly fortified Turkish bridge at Osijek (Esseg in Hungarian) and thus cut off the retreat of the Turkish army, re-capturing all the strong fortresses on his way. He destroyed the bridge, but the further pursuance of the campaign was frustrated by the refusal of the imperial generals to co-operate. Still the expedition had covered him with glory. All Europe rang with his praises. It was said that only the Zrinskis had the secret of conquering the Turks. The emperor offered him the title of prince. The pope struck a commemorative medal with the effigy of Zrinski as a fieldmarshal. The Spanish king sent him the Golden Fleece. The French king created him a peer of France.

The Turks, to wipe out the disgrace of the Osijek affair, now laid siege to Uj-Zerin, a fortress which Zrinski had built, and the imperial troops under Montecuccoli looked on while he hastened to relieve it, refusing all assistance, with the result that the fortress fell. It was also by the advice of Montecuccoli that the disgraceful peace of Vasvár was concluded. Zrinski hastened to Vienna to protest against it, but in vain. Zrinski quit Vienna in disgust, after assuring the Venetian minister, Sagridino, that he was willing at any moment to assist the Republic against the Turks with 6000 men. He then returned to Cakovec, and there, on the November 18, was killed by a wild boar which he had twice wounded and recklessly pursued to its lair in the forest swamps, armed only with his hunting-knife.

Zrinski's most significant literary work, The Peril of Sziget (written in the Göcsej dialect of Hungarian, and often called in Hungarian Zrínyiász) was written in the winter of 1645-6, and was published (together with a few miscellaneous pieces of poetry) under the title of The Syren of the Adriatic Sea in Vienna in 1651. It was composed in the manner of the classic epic poets, such as Virgil and their sixteenth-century successor Tasso. The subject is the heroic but unsuccessful defence of Szigetvár by the author's great-grandfather, Nicholas Šubić Zrinski. Because of Zrinski's indiscriminate use of foreign words and seemingly careless metres, the work was much criticized. However, the fundamental idea — the duty of Hungarian/Croatian valour to shake off the Turkish yoke, with the help of God — is sublime, and the whole work is intense with martial and religious enthusiasin. It is no unworthy companion of the other epics of the Renaissance period, and had many imitators. János Arany first, in 1848, began to recast the Zrinyiad, as he called it, on modern lines, and the work was completed by Antal Vékóny in 1892.

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