A moderate estimate of the Christian loss

Neglected and distrusted by the sovereign whom he had delivered,
Sobieski found consolation in detailing his victory, his spoil, and his
wrongs alike to his wife. We find the great soldier again, in the full
flush of his victory, writing indefatigably to his _Mariette_. It is on
the night of the 13th, in the Vizier’s late quarters, in the camp still
cumbered with the slaughter of the combatants and of prisoners. The loss
had been heavy in the fighting upon both sides, he tells us; and such an
estimate, formed at such a moment by the victorious general, by far
outweighs the accounts by which the French above all tried to minimize
the slaughter made, and with it the greatness of the victory won.[26]
He begins his letter: “God be blessed for ever. He has given victory to
our people; He has given them such a triumph that past ages have not
seen the like.” All around, the explosions of the Turkish ammunition,
fired by the plunderers from city and army, “make a din like the last
judgment.” He plunges into a description of the riches that the camp
contains. “The Vizier has made me his heir; he has done everything _en
galant homme_.” “You cannot say to me, ‘You are no warrior,’ as the
Tartar women say to their husbands when they return empty-handed.” “For
two nights and a day plunder has gone on at will; even the townsfolk
have taken their share, and I am sure that there is enough left for
eight days more. The plunder we got at Choczim was nothing to this.”

There was a touch of the barbaric chieftain in the Polish king, and he
keenly enjoyed not merely the victory, but the spoil which he had won.
At the end of the seventeenth century, the character of this general of
the school of Montecuculi, this admirer of Condé, recalls to us at once
the ardour of a crusader, and the affectionate rapacity of a
moss-trooper, reserving the richest plunder of a foray to deck his wife
at home. He exults in the belts and in the watches studded with jewels,
the stuffs and the embroideries which are to adorn his wife’s boudoir.
But he is still bent on action. “We must march to-morrow for Hungary,”
he says, “and start at the double, to escape the smell of the camp and
its refuse, with the thousands of bodies of men and of animals lying

One letter, at least, he had despatched before writing to his wife. He
knew well the feelings with which the King of France would regard the
salvation of the Empire, and the setting free of the attention of
Germany to be directed to his own designs. In Sobieski’s own words to
his wife, he thus reveals his triumph over the French king, whose
intrigues had been ceaselessly directed to prevent his coming: “I have
written to the King of France; I have told him that it was to him
especially, as to the Most Christian King, that I felt bound to convey
the information of the battle that we have won, and of the safety of
Christendom.” This letter remained unanswered. It is said that the
proofs of Louis’ dealings with the Turks had at that moment passed into
the hands of the victors, amid the plunder of the Vizier’s quarters.

No sooner had Louis heard that the intrigues of his agents had failed,
and that Sobieski was actually in the field, than his armies were let
loose upon the Spanish Netherlands. Unable to anticipate the victory at
Vienna, the French revenged it by seizing Courtrai and Dixmunde in the
autumn, and bombarding Luxemburg before the end of the year. The French
nobility had been forbidden to hasten to the defence of Christendom; and
now were inclined to depreciate, at least in words, the victory they had
not shared.

Amidst the general chorus of admiration and of thankfulness which rose
from Europe, in France, and in France alone, were the deeds of Sobieski
slighted. He had cut in pieces not only the Turks, but the prophecies
which had filled Paris of the approaching downfall of the house of
Austria. The allies of that house took a bolder tone; Spain talked of
the declaration of that war against Louis which he had provoked for so
long; the United Provinces listened to the warlike councils of the
Prince of Orange; the Emperor spoke decidedly of succouring all his

Far different was to be the progress of Louis’ aggressions upon Germany,
now that the overmastering fear of Turkish invasion was done away with,
and the Turkish hold upon Hungary loosened. The alliance of Laxenberg
and the other leagues were now to ripen into the great confederacy of
Augsburg and the Grand Alliance.

Upon the Ottoman power the effect of the victory was decisive. Turkish
rule in Hungary had received a blow from which it never recovered. It is
true that Sobieski, advancing rashly with his cavalry alone, shortly
involved himself in a disaster, near the bridge of the Danube, opposite
Gran. The king himself had to ride for his life from the Turkish
horsemen. The check, however, was avenged by the complete destruction of
the force which had inflicted it; and the fortress of Gran, the most
important place upon that side of Hungary, became the prize of the

The views of Sobieski embraced the reduction of Buda, and, perhaps, of
the whole of Hungary, in this campaign. But this was forbidden by the
lateness of the season, still more by the jealousy of the Emperor. The
king warred against the Turks, but not against the Hungarians. He
sympathized with their efforts to regain their liberties, and strove to
reconcile rather than to subdue Tekeli. Leopold was fearful of the
establishment of a Polish interest in the country, and showed a studied
neglect of his allies. But had other causes allowed, the insubordination
of the Poles would have prevented further conquests. The Polish
nobility, the political masters of their king, were foremost in
clamouring for a return to their native country. A prolonged career of
conquest was impossible at the head of such a State and army. The hopes
of a Hungarian alliance died away. Tekeli, after much hesitation,
refused to enter into the negotiations which the king proposed; and
reluctantly the deliverer of Christendom withdrew through Upper Hungary
into Poland again, reducing some towns upon the road, but leaving his
great work half done. His army melted in his hands. The tardy
Lithuanians, too late for the fighting, arrived to add to his vexation
in Moravia, where they disgraced their country by pillaging the people
whom they had not helped to save.

But Sobieski was not alone in suffering from the Emperor’s ingratitude.
Starhemberg, the defender of the city, was deservedly rewarded; but most
of the others, from Lorraine downwards, who had participated in the
battle, had little recompense for their services. Even the ardour of the
Elector of Bavaria was for a time cooled by the coolness of the Emperor,
though he returned again to the service of his future father-in-law. The
Elector of Saxony, Waldeck, and others left the scene of the campaign to
enjoy their triumph, or to plunge into other enterprises; but under
Lorraine, and a series of generals, culminating in that Eugene of Savoy,
who had seen his first service at Vienna, the Turks were driven foot by
foot from Hungary. Kara Mustapha shortly paid for his defeat, as Ottoman
commanders did pay–with his head, suffering not unjustly. But his
successors, though less incompetent, were scarcely on the whole more
fortunate than he.

In vain a new Kiuprili was found to head the Turkish armies and to
reform the Turkish State. A short gleam of success under his leadership
was ended by his death in battle. In vain a Sultan, Mustapha II., again
appeared himself at the head of his armies. The means of warfare of the
Ottomans were to a great extent expended and lost beyond repair in the
great disaster at Vienna. New enemies rose up against them in their
weakness. Russia in the Ukraine, Venice in the Morea and in Dalmatia,
began conquests at the expense of the Porte. The war indeed dragged on,
delayed by the renewed contest between France and the Augsburg league;
but the very weakness of Austria served merely to show more clearly the
fallen fortunes of the Turks, who could make no lasting stand against
her. Steadily upon the whole the fortunes of the Ottomans declined,
though it was not till the great victory of Eugene at Zenta, in 1697,
that they were driven reluctantly to treat. The peace signed at
Carlowitz, in 1699, illustrates the altered relations of Europe since
the beginning of the war, when the Turks had been a menace to Germany.

For the first time, an European conference considered the affairs of
Turkey. England and Holland were mediators of the peace, that the
Emperor might be more free to act with them in the coming war of the
Spanish Succession. Sobieski had nearly three years earlier become a
memory, with his victories, his schemes, and his disappointments, in the
grave; and with him ended the ever unstable greatness of Poland. Another
yet more notable northern sovereign, Peter the Czar, was a party to the
negotiations. Everywhere was territory rent from Turkey. To Austria, she
yielded nearly all of Hungary and Transylvania, with most of the
Sclavonian lands between the Save and the Drave; to Poland, she gave up
Podolia; to Russia, Azof; to Venice, the Morea and parts of Dalmatia.
One point she proudly refused to yield. The Hungarian Tekeli and his
friends, who had sought her hospitality, were retained by her, safe from
the vengeance of the Emperor; as in 1849 other Hungarian exiles were
shielded by the Turks, against the vengeance of Austria and of Russia
combined. This was the first peace which had permanently reduced the
frontiers of the Ottomans; it marked the termination of the last of the
great Mohammedan aggressions upon Christendom; it saw the end of the
secret understandings by which, since the days of Francis I., France
had endeavoured to use Turkey for the subversion of Austria and for the
ends of her own ambition. The complete reversal of the former positions
of the combatants, the disastrous termination of the war for Turkey, the
“rolling away of the stone of Tantalus that hung above _their_ heads,
the intolerable woe for the _Germans_”,[27] the far-reaching results of
the struggle in the future history of Europe–all are traceable to the
day when the genius of Sobieski marked triumphantly, from the windy
heights of the Kahlenberg, that fatal incapacity which should open for
him the way, as victorious deliverer, to the foot of the ruined ramparts
of Vienna.

But naturally, before concluding our consideration of the subject, we
ask what gain did Poland, or the King of Poland, gather from the
enterprise in which he had played so glorious a part? For a few months
he was the centre of the admiring eyes of Christendom. “_L’empire du
monde vous serait du si le ciel l’eût réservé à un seul potentat_,”
wrote Christina of Sweden from Rome, not without a glance at the
pretensions of Louis XIV. to supremacy, and of Leopold to an imperial
primacy in Europe. Never before had Poland filled so great a place in
the eyes of the world. The cautious Venetians sought her special
alliance. In the language of diplomacy she was _Respublica Serenissima_;
but untroubled she never was, and her greatness was of short duration.
It is true that the frontiers of the State were relieved of a constant
fear. The Turks were for the time broken, the Tartars were crushed, the
Cossacks of the Ukraine again reduced to submission. But Sobieski had
fought and had conquered for others. His country was incapable of
gathering the fruits of victory; incapable of prolonged effort, and
therefore of lasting success. At the peace of Carlowitz, Podolia, with
the fortress of Kaminiec, was recovered; but Moldavia had been in vain
invaded by the Poles; and the Turks, it was soon seen, were beaten for
the benefit of Austria; the Tartars for the benefit of Russia.

The King of Poland, alive to the shortcomings of his countrymen, was
unable to correct them. A man who was at least the most eminent soldier,
general we may not say, of Europe; a man who above all others living
fulfilled the character of a hero; a king who had saved his country; a
husband who was devoted to his wife, found himself thwarted by his
subjects, and distracted by quarrels in his family. No doubt he laboured
to render the crown hereditary in his house, a service to his country it
would have been had he succeeded; but the jealousy of the Poles, still
more that of the neighbouring sovereigns, and to some extent the
misconduct of his wife, rendered this impossible. He found himself the
object of an empty respect, but the wielder of no authority; he saw his
country without order, without steadiness of purpose, unable to follow
any settled policy in conjunction either with France or with the enemies
of France. The factions of the Diet left him without soldiers and
without money. Not for the first, but nearly for the last time, the
Poles were victorious in battle, but were destined to fail woefully in
attaining the objects of war. The end was not far off. Sobieski was
followed by a foreigner upon the throne, and within ten years of his
death, Charles XII. of Sweden was disposing as a conqueror of the crown
of Poland. The prey to the ambition of her neighbours his country has
remained, now like her king a memory, to serve as a lesson of the
consequences of the disregard of those restraints and of that
self-control which alone can render freedom safe and liberty a blessing.
For want of these her place has vanished from the map of Europe, sooner
even than that of the foe whom she destroyed.