The Relief of Vienna
"I will not rest till Vienna and the whole of Christendom are under my subjection."
Such was the saying of the Grand Vizier of Turkey some hundred and fifty years before; such was the spirit in which the Grand Vizier of 1683 made his preparations for the second siege of Vienna. In vain was he dissuaded from this vast undertaking. Let him rather reduce other strong places still held by Christians in Hungary, urged the pashas. "A king," related the aged Ibrahim Pasha in allegorical terms, "once placed a heap of gold in the middle of a carpet, and offered it to any one who could take it up without treading on the carpet. One wise man rolled up the carpet from the corner, and thus obtained possession of the gold."
But the Grand Vizier declined to be that one "wise man;" he would get the gold from the centre, somehow. Vienna should be his; the march thither should begin without delay. Accordingly, burning villages on the way, destroying towns, and taking Christians into captivity, the mighty Turkish army advanced nearer and nearer to Austria's capital—Vienna.
Meanwhile the news was spreading quickly. Vienna was to be besieged, and Vienna was totally unprepared for a siege! To whom could the Austrians look for help? Reluctantly, if anxiously, they turned to one John Sobieski, the great King of Poland, a well-known champion of the Christians, a well-known hater of the Turks.
Almost feverishly Sobieski's reply was awaited, the fate of Austria hung on it.
Yes, Sobieski would come and help them. 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.
Leopold, Emperor of Austria, was no soldier; he would have been but a hindrance in the besieged city; so he removed himself and his court some fifteen miles away from the scene of action. It was the evening of the seventh of July, when a long line of imperial carriages might have been seen wending their way out of the capital, conveying into safety the emperor, his wife, the empress-mother, and court. Many of the wealthy citizens took the same opportunity of escaping, and all through the long night they made their way across the Tabor Bridge over the Danube, lighted only by the flames of the Carmelite convent on the heights of the Kahlenberg.
This tremendous exodus greatly reduced the number of those capable of bearing arms in the defence of the city. Vienna had no garrison, some mounted police were their only troops at this moment. But troops soon began to file into the city, and all were encouraged by the appearance of Count Stahremberg, to whom the emperor had confided the command and defence of the city.
Instantly he set all hands to work. Roused to a sense of their danger, men, women, and children worked with a will, even the old burgomaster might have been seen trundling his wheelbarrow with loads for the fortifications. Students of the university armed themselves, merchants and wholesale dealers formed a company of some two hundred and fifty men, officials and servants of the emperor's household formed a corps, butchers, brewers, bakers, shoemakers, all drilled with might and main by night and day, so that some twenty thousand men were under arms when the dreaded moment arrived four days later. Flames of burning villages told of the near approach of the invaders. There was no time to be lost.
"Set fire to the suburbs," ordered Stahremberg in supreme haste. "They shall not serve as cover to the enemy."
The flames rose round the city, a high wind sprang up at the same time, and it required all the efforts of those within the city to prevent Vienna itself from being burned to the ground. Then the gates were closed, built up, and barricaded.
At sunrise next morning the main force of the enemy appeared on the plain in front of Vienna. Their camp was formed in the shape of a half moon. In a few hours thousands of Turkish tents had sprung up from the ground, and the place was alive with bustle and excitement. The tents of the Grand Vizier were pitched on high ground. They were made of green silk worked with gold and silver, and were gorgeous to behold. Within they were adorned with pearls and precious stones and beautiful Eastern carpets. Around were baths, fountains, flower-gardens, and even a menagerie of animals.
Here, in his gorgeously embroidered robes, he used to sit during the progress of the siege. From time to time he was carried out in a litter, made shot-proof by plates of iron, to inspect the works. He would punish the idle with his own hands, and threaten the young and timid with his drawn sabre.
Meanwhile the siege was beginning in real earnest. Assault followed assault; the Turkish mines, cleverly and cunningly devised, were deadly; still the Turkish scimitar was no match for the German scythe and battle-axe. Day by day Stahremberg, wounded and ill as he was, climbed up to a stone seat in the lofty fretted spire of the cathedral church of St. Stephen's, right in the heart of the great city. Many an anxious hour did he spend there, looking gloomily away to the Turkish camp, watching every movement, observing every preparation, and feeling something like despair seize him as he could no longer disguise from himself the fact that the enemy was gaining ground inch by inch.
By the beginning of August, sickness had broken out in the city, owing partly to the constant use of dried and salted meat, partly to the toil and anxiety of the defence. Stahremberg, too weak to walk, was carried about in a chair from place to place, wherever his presence seemed most required.
To sickness followed famine. Cats became so valuable that a chase after them over the roofs at night was a recognized form of sport. They were humorously sold in the market as "roof hares!"
And where was Sobieski all this time, and his relieving army? On the sixth of August a messenger arrived in the city bearing a ciphered letter well sealed. It contained news of the relieving army, and assured those within the besieged city that help would soon come now. The messenger had bravely swum across an arm of the Danube at the risk of his life to bring this important message, but he was less fortunate in his return. He was taken by the Turks and brought before the Grand Vizier. He was closely questioned as to the condition of the city. Cunningly he invented a tale of despair.
"The defenders are at their last gasp," he said; "they are on the verge of surrender."
The invention saved his life. The Vizier proclaimed the glad tidings through his camp. He caused an arrow to be shot back into the city bearing a message to say there was no need to write in cipher, their wretched condition was known to the world at large; it was but their just punishment for rousing the wrath of the Sultan.
But the bravest among the messengers was Stahremberg's servant, a Pole, Kolschitzki. Stepping forward he offered to take news to the Christian army, though he went through fire and water. Dressed in Turkish costume he slipped out of the city, and soon found himself amidst the enemy. Still too near Vienna not to excite suspicion, he hid himself in the cellar of a ruined house near by. By-and-by when all seemed quiet, he emerged, and singing a Turkish song as naturally as he could, he passed idly by the lines of Turkish tents. Hearing familiar strains, a Turkish soldier invited him into his tent, gave him coffee, listened to his songs, and cautioned him against wandering too far and falling into Christian hands. Kolschitzki thanked him for his good advice, and passed on with safety right through the enemy's camp. Once through he made quickly for the Danube, and at last delivered his dispatch safely.
"I must tell your Highness," said Stahremberg's letter, "that we have up to this moment disputed the works with the enemy foot by foot, and they have not gained an inch of ground without paving for it dearly. As in duty bound, I assure your Highness that to show myself worthy of the confidence which your Highness reposes in my small services, I shall never yield the place but with the last drop of my blood."
The daring messenger returned, and after some hair-breadth escapes from Turkish sentries, he brought news back to Stahremberg. The Duke of Lorraine was ready with his armies, and only waiting for the arrival of the Polish forces commanded by Sobieski in person to attack the Turkish army. They must hold out a little longer yet.
Pitiful were the entries made day by day by Stahremberg in the garrison record: now the bread has failed, now some much-prized life is taken, now some false report makes them all lose heart. In vain did Stahremberg gaze from his stone seat in the fretted spire of St. Stephen's for any signal from the Kahlenberg, any sign of the approaching army. How had the long delay arisen?
John Sobieski had left Poland as early as the eighteenth of July, only a few days after the siege had begun, accompanied by his son James, a boy of sixteen. He was gouty, he was rheumatic, he was very stout for riding; nobody thought he would ever get to Vienna with his army. But Sobieski hated the Turks; he believed the words he addressed later to his soldiers: "We have to save not a single city, but the whole of Christendom, of which the city of Vienna is the bulwark."
By the third week in August he had reached the Silesian frontier, and soon after he arrived at the headquarters of Lorraine in safety, with his two thousand cavalry.
It must have been a curious meeting. In past years, Charles of Lorraine had competed with Sobieski for the crown of Poland; now the old rivals met face to face, ready to fight together against a common foe.
"The duke," wrote Sobieski to his wife, "is modest, stooping, plain, marked with smallpox, and with a hooked nose. He is clad in an old grey coat, with a fair wig, ill-made, a hat without a band, boots of yellow leather, or rather what was yellow three months ago!"
Rather a contrast to Sobieski, who went into action before Vienna in a sky-blue doublet!
Lorraine spoke with anxiety of the coming contest.
"Be of good cheer," replied Sobieski, "we are within five leagues of the Turkish camp, and have already constructed a bridge. The Vizier is a man of no capacity."
Besides Lorraine, Sobieski found a number of German princes awaiting his arrival. There were John George of Saxony, speaking no French and very little German; Maximilian of Bavaria, only twenty-one at this time; there was the prince who afterwards became George the First of England; there were veterans of the Thirty Years' War; and last and youngest, Eugene of Savoy. The eyes of all Europe were turned toward this brilliant assembly, these princely heads of the great Christian army, all united in a common cause.
It was determined to attack the Turks from the Kahlenberg, if indeed it might be unguarded by them. To discover this was a somewhat difficult task. But on the night of the tenth, Sobieski and some of the soldier princes set out to plan the attack. It took them so long struggling up the precipices and through the dense forests, that the greatest alarm was excited in the Christian camp, lest the king, their commander-in-chief, should have fallen into the hands of the Turks.
The crest of the Kahlenberg, with its castle and its chapel, was found unoccupied. The Turks, just awaking to the fact of its importance, were moving towards it, when the firing of guns from the summit told them it was already occupied by the enemy. The difficulty of getting the guns up was enormous, and the carrying of the army up the Kahlenberg a stupendous task. The country had been wasted by the Turks; there was no food for the men, no forage for the horses. Indeed the horses had to be given the leaves of the trees on the mountain side to eke out supplies!
It was the night of the tenth of September that the rockets rose from the Kahlenberg heights, telling the city that help was at hand.
Mingled joy and deep anxiety crept into the hearts of the Viennese citizens. Some spent the night in the churches, praying for their deliverance; some on the roofs of towers and houses, watching for the first gleam of the Christian weapons as they issued from the wooded heights. It was a night of agonizing suspense to all. As evening closed in, Stahremberg dispatched a messenger, who delivered the letter to Lorraine. The words were few and despairing: "No time to be lost!—no time indeed to be lost!"
The message was acknowledged by a cluster of rockets.
The night of the eleventh of September closed in upon the troubled scene, for the doom of Vienna was yet uncertain. At sunrise on the twelfth, the crest of the Kahlenberg was hidden by a thick autumn mist; it almost obscured the woods at its base, and rested heavily on the shores of the river below. The spire of St. Stephen's rose faintly above a sea of mist.
It was Sunday morning. The army of the Christians began their day with a solemn service at the little chapel on the heights of the Kahlenberg. As the bell for service tolled, the clang of arms and the noises of the march were silenced. On a space kept clear round the chapel, a standard with a white cross on a red ground was unfurled, as if to bid defiance to the blood-red flag planted in front of the Vizier's tent. One great shout arose as this emblem of their holy war was unfurled; then all was hushed again as the gates of the castle were flung open, and the princes of the empire, with other leaders of the Christian host, moved forward to the chapel.
Among the foremost was the Polish king, John Sobieski. He had been in the saddle since three in the morning; indeed, the roar of Turkish cannon all night had made sleep impossible. His sky-blue doublet, his height and breadth of shoulder, his lively gestures and dark beard, marked him out above his fellows; he was indeed the soldier king, the scourge and dread of the Moslem.
On his left was his young son, Prince James, armed with breastplate and helmet, sword and broad-bladed sabre; on his right was Charles, Duke of Lorraine.
The service having been performed, the distant thunder of the Turkish batteries forming a strange accompaniment to the Christian choir, the king stepped forward and conferred the honour of knighthood on his son, Prince James. Then he addressed the troops:—
"Warriors and friends! yonder in the plain are our enemies. We have to fight them on a foreign soil, but we fight for our own country, and under the walls of Vienna we are defending those of Warsaw and Cracow. The war is a holy one. There is a blessing on our arms, and a crown of glory for him who falls. You fight not for your earthly sovereign, but for the King of kings. His power has led you unopposed up the difficult access to these heights, and has thus placed half the victory in your hands. I have but one command to give you—Follow me. The time is come for the young to win their spurs!"
The shouts of thousands greeted these words, and as they closed five cannon shots gave the signal for a general advance.
To descend the wooded slopes of the Kahlenberg towards Vienna, in the face of the Turkish army, renowned for their courage, was no easy task. A sultry autumn day had followed the long, anxious night; the heat was intense.
Behind the veil of smoke, Stahremberg and his gallant garrison could barely guess how their deliverers were getting on. Tidings from the watch-tower of St. Stephen's would spread alternate hope and fear among the citizens. The fate of Vienna yet trembled in the balance.
The Vizier's preparations for the fight were very different from those of his Christian opponents. He began by slaughtering in cold blood thirty thousand captives who were confined in his camp, the majority being women.
The butchering ended, he posted his men. But to the Grand Vizier the news had been swiftly brought, the news he had hitherto refused to believe.
"By Allah, the king is really here," was the cry.
And as the words were spoken, the shout, "Long live Sobieski!" rolled along the Christian lines. There was no time to be lost.
From a field-tent of crimson silk the Vizier gave his orders. In overwhelming numbers the Turks fought bravely, for with all their faults, cowardice in battle was unknown to them; but the Turkish infantry without pikes, their cavalry without heavy armour, could not withstand the shock of the heavy German soldiers, could not arrest the rush of the Polish nobles, whose spears, it was said, "could uphold the heavens should they fall." The king at their head, they came down like a whirlwind, shouting, "God save Poland!"
The Turks went down before them, or turned and fled in headlong confusion. One old pasha, reputed to be the greatest of the Turkish warriors, had already fled.
"Can you not help me?" cried the Vizier in despair, turning to the Khan of the Crimea.
"No," was the answer. "I know the King of Poland well. It is impossible to resist him; think only of flight." The panic became general.
Away through the wasted borders of Austria, away to the frontier of Hungary, poured the Turkish soldiers. The Vizier himself was hurried along with the stream. Weeping and cursing by turns, he had neither time to think nor power to command.
His charger, too heavily ornamented for rapid flight, was still held by a slave at the entrance when Sobieski took possession of his gorgeous tent. Quickly cutting off one of the golden stirrups, he sent it to his queen as a token of the defeat and flight of its late owner.
By seven o'clock communication was opened with Stahremberg, and the little garrison sallied forth to join the relieving army in the slaughter of the Turkish soldiers who had been left forgotten in the trenches. Even then, one miner was found doggedly toiling beneath the ramparts, ignorant of the flight or death of his companions. Vienna was saved.
The spoil from the Turkish camp that fell into the hands of the Christians was enormous—310 pieces of cannon, 20,000 animals, 125,000 tents, 9,000 carriages.
These were but a few of the riches. In the Vizier's tent, carpets and furs, jewelled arms and quivers studded with rubies and pearls, fell into Sobieski's hands.
Among the menagerie, the king found a starving lioness, which he ordered to be fed and cared for. With his own hands, the Vizier had beheaded his favourite ostrich, to prevent it falling into the hands of the Christians.
At sunrise, on the thirteenth, the Viennese rushed forth in crowds, after their two months' imprisonment. There was only one gate open, but it was soon clogged with the crowds who were eager to pass through, and a vast number clambered over the rubbish of the breaches, eager to get their share of plunder from the Turkish camp.
At ten o'clock, Stahremberg himself came out of the city to greet his deliverers. John Sobieski and the Duke of Lorraine returned to Vienna with him, amid the shouts of the troops. People pressed forward to kiss the king's hand, and to welcome him as the saviour of their city. Then all went to church for a solemn thanksgiving service. "There was a man sent from God, whose name was John," was the text chosen by the preacher. Service over, a salute of three hundred guns proclaimed the victory far and wide, and the shouts of "Long live Sobieski!" that filled the city, out-thundered the thunder of the cannon.
Sobieski had saved Austria's capital. "How will the emperor receive him?" was the question which ran from lip to lip.
"With open arms, since he has saved the empire," said Lorraine decidedly.
But the emperor was jealous; Sobieski had earned the applause that he should have earned, had saved the capital that he should have saved. A few cold words in Latin were all he could find to say out of his jealousy to the deliverer of his people.
The great King of Poland saw how matters stood.
"I am happy, sire," he said, with his characteristic courtesy, "to have been able to render you this slight service." Then turning his horse, he saluted, and rode away.