"Think with what passionate delight
The tale was told in Christian halls
How Sobieski turned to flight
The Moslem from Vienna's walls."
A MONG the great names that fill the stage of Europe in the last quarter of the seventeenth century—William III., King of England and Holland; Louis XIV., King of France; Peter the Great, Tsar of Russia; and Charles XII. of Sweden—the name of John Sobieski, King of Poland, must not be forgotten. Sobieski was a national hero rather than a great king. He might well have belonged to the old crusading days, for his head, even now, was full of crusading ideas. With other Christian rulers he watched the growth of Mohammedanism over Western Europe with increasing anxiety.
For the last two hundred years the Ottoman empire had stood high among the Powers of Europe. Greece was subject to Turkey; parts of Hungary, Austria, and Russia owned her sway. Now in the year 1683 the Turks were marching on Austria's capital, Vienna, and Vienna was totally unprepared for a siege. The Emperor of Austria was no soldier, so he removed his court to a place some fifteen miles away and calmly awaited events. The Viennese now turned to Sobieski, the King of Poland, a well-known champion of the Christians, a well-known hater of the Turks. The fate of Austria hung on his reply. To Sobieski the appeal had all the old romance of the Crusades.
"Yes," he answered in haste, "I will come and help you."
And "flinging his powerful frame into the saddle and his great soul into the cause," the King of Poland began eagerly to recruit his scattered army. Meanwhile the defence of the city was intrusted to Count Stahremberg. He instantly set all hands to work.
"Set fire to the suburbs," he ordered. "They shall not serve as cover to the enemy."
The flames rose high around the city, a wind sprang up, and Vienna herself had a narrow escape of being burned to the ground. Presently the main force of the enemy appeared on the plain in front of Vienna. In a short time thousands of Turkish tents had sprung up, and the camp was alive with bustle and excitement. The tents of the Grand Vizier, or Prime Minister, were conspicuous with their green silk worked in gold and silver, their pearls and precious stones, their gorgeous Eastern carpets. Around them were arranged baths, fountains, flower-gardens, and even a menagerie of animals. From time to time the Grand Vizier, in gorgeously embroidered robes, was carried out in a litter to inspect the works.
The siege had begun in real earnest. Assault followed assault. Day by day Stahremberg climbed up the lofty fretted spire of the cathedral church in the heart of Vienna; he looked gloomily over the busy Turkish camp and owned sadly to himself that the Turks were gaining ground inch by inch. Sickness and famine followed, and still Sobieski did not come.
Sobieski had left Poland a few days after the siege had begun in July, but the way was long; he himself was stout and heavy. It was the end of August before he reached the outskirts of Vienna. Here he found a little crowd of German princes awaiting him, together with Duke Charles of Lorraine, ancestor of the Imperial House of Austria. Here was the Hanoverian prince, afterwards George I. of England; here was Eugene of Savoy, the colleague of Marlborough at Blenheim; here were men who had fought in the battle of the Boyne, veterans of the Thirty Years' War,—all united in a common cause.
"We have not come to save a single city, but the whole of Christendom," said John Sobieski, as preparations for an attack on the Turks went forward.
Marching to within four miles of Vienna, the Christian army occupied the heights of the Kahlenberg.
The sun was just setting on the evening of September 11 when Sobieski and his generals stood on the crest of the hill. They could hear the Turkish cannonade raging vigorously, they could hear the feeble reply from the despairing garrison within the town. But Sobieski's rockets from the Kahlenberg brought new hope to the brave defenders, and Stahremberg despatched a messenger with a few urgent words: "No time to be lost!—no time indeed to be lost!"
Morning dawned misty and hot. The fate of Vienna depended on the events of the day. The army of the Christians began with a solemn service in the little chapel on the heights of the Kahlenberg. Then a standard with a white cross on a red ground was unfurled amid shouts of enthusiasm, and the leaders of the great army moved forward. The sky-blue doublet of John Sobieski marked him out above his fellows, as the descent of the wooded slopes towards Vienna began.
The Grand Vizier's preparations for the battle were somewhat different. He slaughtered thirty thousand captives in cold blood and then ordered the advance.
Down the slopes poured the Christian army like a whirlwind, while the shout, "Long live Sobieski!" rolled along the lines. With all their faults the Turks did not know cowardice; they fought as brave men, but they could not withstand the rush of the Christian army.
"Can you not help me?" cried the Vizier in despair to one of his pashas.
"No," was the answer. "I know the King of Poland. It is impossible to resist him. Think only of flight."
Panic-stricken, the Turks fled, away through the wasted suburbs of Vienna, towards the frontier of Hungary. The Grand Vizier, weeping and cursing by turns, was hurried along with the stream.
By evening communication with Vienna was established, and Stahremberg led forth his starving garrison to greet his deliverers. Amid the shouts of the people John Sobieski entered Vienna, the city which he had saved from the Turks.
"How will the Emperor receive him?" the people asked in their joy; "for he has saved the empire."
They might well question. The Emperor received the deliverer of his people with a few cold words in Latin, for he was jealous of Sobieski's success. The King of Poland saw how matters stood. With a courteous chivalry that might have belonged to the middle ages, he saluted the Austrian emperor.
"I am happy, sire, to have been able to render you this slight service," he said simply.
A general chorus of admiration and thanksgiving arose from Europe. John Sobieski had not only saved Austria's capital, but he had destroyed the growing power of Turkey and forced the Mohammedans back to their own dominions.