Battle of Vienna, Charles of Lorraine, christendom, Ernst von Starhemberg, Holy Roman Empire, Jan III Sobieski, Leopold I, September 12th
Venimus, Vidimus, Deus vicit!
“We came, we saw, God conquered!” These words of the Polish King Jan Sobieski reflect well the Hand of Providence in the victory which decisively saved Christendom from the long Turkish onslaught. The soldiers of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and their King certainly deserve the glory hard won on the Kahlenberg. However, save in their own countries those who fought alongside the renown Winged Hussars are often overshadowed and overlooked, be they Imperials, or the Lipka Tatars (Lithuanian Turkic Muslims who fought in the defense of Vienna).
Though not present at the battle, Emperor Leopold I conducted the evacuation of the civilian population of 60,000 Viennese westwards to Passau, an integral maneuver in siege warfare as the inhabitants of a city become a liability to its defenders. Vienna, the once great Kaiserstadt, had been ravaged by plague since 1679, and at the time of siege could barely function as a kaiserpfalz, with the Imperial government relying more and more on the city of Linz. It was under these conditions that the Emperor left his beloved city on the seventh of July, attempting to gather enough forces to relieve the city, and trusting in the Polish alliance, who had yet to repay the aid they had received from him in the form of the army of the great Austrian hero Count Raimondo von Montecúccoli during the Deluge of Poland-Lithuania.
The command of an army of 15,000 in the defense of the city was placed in the hands of Count Ernst Rüdiger von Starhemberg, born of a noble Styrian family later raised to Princely status. Despite the overwhelming force of the Ottoman army, the Count von Starhemberg managed to hold the city against the Turks for two months, and during the following battle as the enemy tried desperately to storm the city in order to counter the relief army. Though both ill and wounded during the siege, it was the brilliant defense conducted by von Starhemberg that kept the Turks out of the city long enough for the relief armies to arrive.
The first Imperial relief army was lead by Duke Charles of Lorraine, born of a Noble House of the Empire exiled by the wanton annexations of King of France Louis XIV. In spite of having only a force of 36,000 men, 6,000 of whom were Hungarian Protestants who defected to the Ottoman force, in late August the Duke defeated the Hungarian Protestant rebel leader Imre Thököly in battle three miles north of besieged Vienna. It was the Imperial army under Charles of Lorraine that was to be the bulk of the joint relief army, with support from Maximilian II Emanuel of Bavaria, and including one Imperial cavalry regiment that charged alongside Sobieski’s Hussars in the renown climax of battle which finally broke the Turkish forces.
The news of the victory was personally relayed to the Emperor by Maximilian Emanuel’s military protégé, Prince Eugene of Savoy, who had only a month earlier sworn his allegiance to the Emperor; “I will devote all my strength, all my courage, and if need be, my last drop of blood, to the service of your Imperial Majesty.” Distinguishing himself in the battle of the Kahlenberg, the Savoyard Prince would go on to lead on the Emperor’s behalf the reconquest of Hungary in the decades following the siege, culminating in the great battle of Zenta fought on the eleventh of September, 1697.
Upon receiving the news of victory, Emperor Leopold left for Vienna immediately to meet with the victorious commanders, arriving at the city by the Danube on the fourteenth. Meeting King Jan on the field of battle, both mounted on their horses, the Emperor greeted the Polish-Lithuanian Sovereign warmly and with gratitude in Latin, the only incident arising when the King’s son prince Jakub Sobieski was presented to the Emperor, who neglected to remove his hat in greeting. The Imperial Nobles present saw nothing extraordinary in this under Imperial protocol, and the prince himself suggested in a later account that Leopold was preoccupied with controlling his horse. Nevertheless this incident has often been used by the propaganda of Polish Nationalists to unreasonably malign the Emperor, reading into past events the conditions of the present. I am convinced that nothing could be worse in our current crisis than to so play nationalities against each other, and to obscure the truth that it was the Polish King in union with the loyal soldiers of the Empire that won this great victory for Christendom.
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