Memoires de Sobieski

There was no time to be lost indeed. The fortifications of Vienna were a
mere heap of ruins. The Imperial Palace was battered to pieces. Nearly
one whole quarter of the city was in ashes. On the 3rd of September, the
long contested Burg ravelin was yielded to the Turks. On the 4th, the
salient angle of the Burg bastion was blown into the air, and an attack
was with difficulty repelled. On the 6th, a similar mine and assault
following cumbered the Löwel bastion with ruin and with corpses. For a
moment, the horse tails were planted upon the ramparts. Driven back
thence with difficulty, the Turks still clung to the Burg ravelin, and
four pieces of cannon planted there, at frightfully close quarters,
completed the ruin of the works. But no new attack came. Informed of the
advance of Lorraine, though still incredulous of the presence of
Sobieski, the Vizier began to draw his troops towards the foot of the
Kahlenberg. He still clung to the batteries and trenches; still kept the
pick of his Janissaries grappling with the prize which but for him they
might have already won. He rejected the advice of the Pasha of Pesth, to
withdraw across the Wien and fortify a camp on the Wienersberg, secure
that if the Christians attacked and failed Vienna would fall. He
withdrew his troops indeed from the Leopoldstadt, and threw up some
slight works towards the Kahlenberg, but remained otherwise irresolute,
halting between his expected booty and her deliverer.

Sobieski had already taken the measure of his opponent. In reply to
desponding views of Lorraine at Tuln, he had said, “Be of good cheer;
which of us at the head of two hundred thousand men would have allowed
this bridge to have been thrown within five leagues of his camp?” To his
wife he wrote, “A commander who has thought neither of entrenching his
camp, nor of concentrating his forces, but who lies encamped there as if
we were one hundred miles off, is predestined to be beaten.” Viewing the
Turkish force from the Kahlenberg, he said to his soldiers, “This man is
badly encamped, he knows nothing of war; we shall beat him.”

It was well for the Christians and for Vienna that none of the great
warriors who had served the Porte was now in command. No man like
Kiuprili, or even like Ibrahim “the Devil,” the last Turkish commander
against whom Sobieski had contended, was there, to use the fidelity of
the Janissaries and the valour of the Spahis to advantage. The march up
the defiles of the Kahlenberg presented, even without interruptions,
extraordinary difficulties. The king himself pushed forward to
superintend the exploration of the way. He was so long parted from his
Polish troops that they became anxious for his safety. He rejoined them
at mid-day on the 11th, and encouraged them as they marched, or, as he
says, rather _climbed_ to the summit. Some Saxon troops, first arriving,
with three guns, opened fire upon a Turkish detachment marching too late
to secure the important position. The Turks retired, and the distant
sound of the firing announced to Vienna the first tidings of
deliverance. It was not till the evening of the 11th, however, that the
main body of the army had reached the ridge. Even then many had lagged
behind; the paths were nearly impracticable for artillery, and the
Germans abandoned many of their guns in despair between Tuln and the
Kahlenberg. But few pieces indeed were fired after the first beginning
of the battle on the following day, Polish guns, for the most part,
brought up by the vigour of the Grand Marshal of the Artillery, Kouski,
the same officer who had directed the Polish field-pieces against the
Turkish camp at Choczim.

“An hour before sunset,” September 11, as Sobieski and the generals
stood at length upon the crest of the hill, “they saw outspread before
them one of the most magnificent yet terrible displays of human power
which man has seen. There lay the valley and the islands of the Danube,
covered with an encampment, the sumptuousness of which seemed better
suited for an excursion of pleasure than for the hardships of war.
Within it stood an innumerable multitude of animals–horses, camels, and
oxen. Two hundred thousand fighting men moved in order here and there,
while along the foot of the hills below swarms of Tartars roamed at
will. A frightful cannonade was raging vigorously from the one side, in
feeble reply from the other. Beneath the canopy of smoke lay a great
city, visible only by her spires and her pinnacles, which pierced the
overwhelming cloud and flame.”[16] Sobieski estimated the force before
him at one hundred thousand tents and three hundred thousand men.
Including the non-combatants, he was, perhaps, not far wrong; but the
fighting men in the Turkish army by this time would be by many fewer
than that number. One hundred and sixty-eight thousand men is the most
which may be allowed from the muster-rolls found in the Vizier’s tent,
and that certainly exceeds the truth.[17] All around, except where in
the encampment the magnificence of the invader was proudly flaunted in
the face of the ruin that he had made, the prospect was desolated by
war. Whatever might be the fortune of the coming day, a generation at
least must elapse before those suburbs are rebuilt, those villages
restored and repeopled, those fields fully cultivated again. The army
felt that it lay with them, under God, to provide against that further
extension of the ravage which would follow, should the bulwark of the
_Oesterreich_, the Eastern March of the Empire, be forced by Hun and

Not distinguishable from the distance at which they stood, thousands of
Christian captives lay in the encampment below. The morrow might deliver
up the people of Vienna to a like fate with theirs. The city, as the
king declared on entering it after the relief, could not have held out
five days. As the wind now lifted the cloud of smoke, where should have
been the fortifications, the eye could discern nothing but a circle of
shapeless ruin, reaching from the Scottish gate to what had been the
Burg bastion. Up to and on to it climbed the curving lines of the
Turkish approaches.

Sobieski had only hoped gradually to fight his way into a position
whence he could communicate with the besieged, and he had arranged his
plan of battle at Tuln with that idea. But the inequalities of the
country between the Kahlenberg and Vienna, broken with vines, villages,
small hills and hollow ways, together with the unexpectedly rapid
development of the attack when once it began, seem to have interfered
with his original disposition.

His army occupied a front of half a Polish mile, or about an English
mile and three quarters. It was drawn up in three supporting lines that
faced south-eastward.

The first line of the right wing was composed of nineteen Polish
(cavalry) divisions and four battalions; the second, of six Polish and
eight Austrian divisions, and four Polish battalions; the third, of nine
Polish, six Austrian, three German divisions, three Polish and one
German battalion.

The centre was composed in the first line of nine Austrian and eleven
German divisions, and thirteen German battalions; in the second, of six
German divisions, ten German and six Austrian battalions; in the third,
of five German and two Austrian battalions.

The left wing shewed in the first line, ten Austrian and five German
divisions, and six Austrian battalions; in the second line, four German
and eight Austrian divisions; in the third line, three German and seven
Austrian battalions.

Lubomirski with his irregular Poles was on the left; the Polish
Field-Marshal, Jablonowski, commanded on the right; the Prince of
Waldeck, with the Electors of Bavaria and Saxony, the centre; the Duke
of Lorraine and Louis of Baden, with Counts Leslie and Caprara, were on
the left. The king was upon the right or right centre throughout the
day. The total force, including detachments not actually engaged, was
46,700 cavalry and dragoons, 38,700 infantry; in all 85,400 men, with
some irregulars, and 168 guns, many of them not in action at all. The
dragoons fought on foot in the battle.[18] The army was, roughly,
one-third Poles, one-third Austrians, one-third Bavarians, Saxons, and
other Germans.[19] The fatigues of the march from Tuln would naturally
diminish the number of effective soldiers on the day of battle; and the
troops were not all in position when the evening of Saturday, September
11, fell. As the night however wore away, the rear guard gained the
summit of the hills, and snatched a brief repose before the labours of
the morrow.

But for the king there was no rest. The man whom the French ambassador
had described as unable to ride, who was tormented certainly by wearing
pains, after three days of incessant toil, passed a sleepless night
preparatory to fourteen hours in the saddle upon the battle-field. The
season of repose was dedicated to the duties of a general and the
affection of a husband. At three a.m. on Sunday, the 12th, the king is
again writing to his _bien-aimée Mariette_. He has been toiling all day
in bringing his troops up the ravines. “We are so thin,” he writes, “we
might run down the stags on the mountains.” As to the pomp or even
comfort of a king, that is not to be thought of. “All my luggage which
we have got up here is in the two lightest carts.” He has some more upon
mules, but has not seen them for forty-eight hours. He had no thought of
sleep; indeed, the thunder of the Turkish cannon made it impossible; and
a gale of wind, which he describes as “sufficient to blow the men off
their horses,” bore the noise of their discharge with redoubled clamour
to the relieving army. Moreover, the king writes, he must be in the
saddle before daybreak, riding down from the right to the extreme left,
to consult with Lorraine, opposite whom the enemy lies in force; not
entrenched, he hopes, as on that side he means to break through to the
city. A two days’ affair, at least, he thinks. Then, “my eighth letter
to your sixth,” he adds, with other familiar and gentle conversation,
with tidings of her son and of other friends, but with no word of fear
or of apprehension. He had made his will before setting out from Warsaw,
but he entertained no thought of failure. Then closing his wife’s
letter, the affectionate husband becomes again the heroic king and
careful general. He rides from right to left along the lines, in that
boisterous autumnal morning, makes the last dispositions with Lorraine,
with him and with a few others takes again the Holy Communion from the
hands of Marco Aviano before the sun has risen, and then returns to his
post upon the right wing, ready for the advance that was to save Vienna.
His next letter to his wife was dated “September 13, night. The tents of
the Vizier.”


[16] Coyer, “Memoires de Sobieski.”

[17] The roll includes the forces of Tekeli, who was not in the Turkish
camp at all, and takes no count of the last losses which the Turkish
detachments had suffered, nor of the loss from desertion the night
before the battle, when many of the irregulars went off with their
booty. The Turks had lost, according to this roll, 48,500 men before the
battle.–See Thürheim’s “Starhemberg,” pp. 150 and _seq._

[18] The dragoons were mounted infantry, using horses to reach the scene
of action only. They carried the infantry weapons, sword and musket, but
not pikes. The bayonet was just coming into use, but was still fixed in
the muzzle of the gun, and had to be removed before firing.

[19] Count Thürheim, “Starhemberg,” p. 163 and _seqq._; and Sobieski to
his wife, September 13.

The position of the Christian army on the Kahlenberg was, from the left
wing, the nearest point, about four miles from Vienna. The centre and
right were further removed. The intervening country, far from being a
plain, as Sobieski had been led to believe when he formed his first plan
of battle, is broken up into hillocks and little valleys, intersected by
streams, full of vineyards, and interspersed with the ruins of numerous
villages burnt by the Turks. Beyond these lay the Turkish encampment and
approaches, mingled with the vestiges of the suburbs destroyed by
Starhemberg at the beginning of the siege.

The Turkish army was stretched over a front of about four miles from
point to point, but slightly curving with the convex side towards the
attacking force. Their right rested upon the Danube, and held the
Nussberg before the villages of Nussdorf and Heiligenstadt; their left
reached towards Breitensee near the Wien, and the Tartars swarmed still
further on the broken ground beyond. Their camp straggled in an
irregular half-moon from the river above Vienna to beyond the Wien, and
their troops were, at the beginning of the action, drawn up before it.
Some hasty entrenchments had been thrown up by them here and there, of
which the most considerable was a battery between Währing, Gerstorf and
Weinhaus;[20] but the bulk of their artillery remained in their lines,
pointed against the city, and the clamour of the ensuing battle was
swelled by the continuous roar of their bombardment, kept up as on
previous days. In the trenches lay a great body of Janissaries; and the
Turkish army was further weakened by the dispersal of Tartars and
irregulars on the night before the fight, doubtful of the event, and
anxious at any rate to secure their plunder. As the king had said, the
Turks were badly posted, their camp was long and straggling, too
valuable to be abandoned and not easy to defend. In case of a reverse,
their right wing would run the risk of being driven into the Danube, or
else have to fall back upon their centre and left, to the confusion of
the whole army. Fighting with a river and a fortified city upon their
flank and rear, repulse for them would mean certain disaster. But the
incapacity of the Vizier could not be fully fathomed till the attack
began. We have the assurance of Sobieski himself that he hoped upon the
first day merely to bring his army within striking distance of the
enemy, and to establish his left well forward near the bank of the
Danube, ready to deal a decisive blow, or to throw succour into Vienna
on the morrow or following day. He closed his letter to his wife in the
grey of the windy morning of the 12th of September, ignorant that the
decisive moment, bringing a victory greater than that of Choczim, was at

The Turks had pushed their outposts forward up the banks of the river,
and soon after daybreak Lorraine upon the left was engaged, and the
fight thickened as his attack towards Nussdorf and Heiligenstadt was
developed. Eugene of Savoy began his distinguished career in arms by
carrying tidings from Lorraine to the king that the battle had commenced
in earnest. Eugene, barely twenty, had left Paris that year, slighted by
Louis, and had entered the service of the Emperor. His memoirs dismiss
briefly this his first essay in war. “The confusion of that day can be
but confusedly described. The Poles, who had clambered up to the
Leopoldsberg–I know not why–went down again like madmen and fought
like lions. The Turks, encamped where I threw up lines in 1703, did not
know which way to front, neglected the eminences, and behaved like
idiots.”[21] The young aide-de-camp, carrying orders through the hottest
of the fire, could not yet penetrate the system which underlay the
apparent confusion of the march and battle. Advancing in columns with a
comparatively narrow front down the difficult slope of the hills, the
infantry gradually deployed right and left upon the lower ground, while
the cavalry of the second line advanced to fill the gaps thus left in
the foremost The Turks resisted gallantly, but they were principally
dismounted Spahis, not a match for Lorraine’s favourite troops, the
German foot, though regaining their horses they would retreat with great
rapidity, to again dismount, and again resist, as each favourable
position offered itself. The fighting was obstinate, and the losses
heavy upon both sides, but the tide of fight rolled steadily towards
Vienna. The Germans carried the height of the Nussberg, above Nussdorf,
and their guns planted there disordered the whole of the Turkish right
with their plunging fire. Osman Ogoli, Pasha of Kutaya, the Turkish
general of division, pushed forward three columns in a counter-attack,
boldly and skilfully directed. The Imperial infantry were shaken, but
five Saxon battalions, inclining to their left from the Christian
centre, checked in turn the onset of the Ottomans, and restored the
current of the battle. But had the whole force of the enemy been
commanded as their right wing, the allies would scarcely that night have
been greeted in Vienna. No false move in the advance escaped the skill
of Osman. As the Turkish attack recoiled, the Prince of Croy had dashed
forward with two battalions to carry with a rush the village of
Nussdorf. Checked and overwhelmed, he fell back again, himself wounded,
his brother slain. Louis of Baden, with his dismounted dragoons, came up
to the rescue, and checked the pursuing enemy. As they recoiled slowly
the fight grew fiercer, and then more stationary about Nussdorf and
about Döbling. Houses, gardens, and vineyards formed a series of
entrenchments, sharply attacked and obstinately defended. A third time
the fiery valour of the Turks, charging home with their sabres among the
pikes and muskets, disordered the allies, and all but regained the
summit of the Nussberg. Again the superior cohesion of the Christians
prevailed, and the Turkish column outflanked fell back, still stubbornly
contesting every foot of ground. From the long extended centre and left
of their line no support came to them, as the Vizier in anxious
irresolution expected the advance of the centre of the allies and of the
Poles upon their right. His infatuation, moreover, had kept in the
batteries the bulk of his artillery, and in the trenches the best of his
Janissaries. In dire want of the guns, which roared idly upon the
already shattered defences of the city, Osman was driven through
Nussdorf and through Heiligenstadt, upon the fortified defiles of
Döbling, where at last a battery of ten guns and a force of Janissaries
opposed a steadier resistance to the advancing Germans. It was now noon.
Lorraine had already won the position which had been marked out for his
achievement for the day, and slackened his attack while he reformed his
victorious battalions. The centre and right of the Christian army,
separated by a longer distance from their foes, had been slowly gaining
the field of action, and had scarce fired a shot nor struck a blow,
except for the support accorded to the left by the centre. The whole of
the infantry and cavalry had at mid-day gained the positions assigned to
them, and, in the absence of most of his artillery, Sobieski would have
hesitated to continue his advance had not his lines, upon the left
especially, become so deeply involved that it was difficult to suspend
the conflict for long. Yet a momentary lull succeeded to the sharp
sounds of close combat. A sultry autumn day had followed the boisterous
night and morning, and the heat was oppressive.[22] The Poles upon the
right halted and snatched a hasty meal from the provisions they had
brought with them. But as the rattle of the small arms and the clash of
weapons died away, the roar of the battering guns and the answering fire
of the city rose in overwhelming distinctness. Behind the smoky veil,
Starhemberg and his gallant garrison could perchance barely guess, by
sounds of conflict, the progress of their deliverers. Tidings from the
watch-chair on St. Stephen’s would spread alternate hope and despair
among the citizens. The fate of Vienna trembled in the balance. The
garrison stood ready in the breaches, the rest of the inhabitants
cowered upon the housetops to watch, or knelt in the churches to pray;
but to the Vizier came swiftly tidings of the foe with whom he had to
deal, the foe whose presence he had obstinately refused to credit.

Reforming after their brief delay, the Polish cavalry in gorgeous arms
came flashing from the woods and defiles near Dornbach on his left.
Those who had before fought against him, knew the plume raised upon a
spear point, the shield borne before him, the _banderolles_ on the
lances of his body guard, which declared the presence of the terrible
Sobieski. “By Allah, but the king is really among them,” cried Gieray,
Khan of the Crimea. And all doubt was at an end as the shout of “_Vivat
Sobieski_” rolled along the Christian lines, in dread and significant
answer to the discordant clamour of the Infidels.

Profiting, however, by the interruption in the battle, the Vizier had
reformed his line, brought up infantry from the trenches, and now
directed his attack upon the Poles and the most formidable of his
opponents, hoping by their overthrow to change the fortune of the day,
while the Imperialists and Saxons still halted before his entrenchments
at Döbling. The Turks advanced with courage. For a moment a regiment of
Polish lancers were thrown into confusion, and the officers, members of
the nobility of Poland, who strove to rally their lines, fell; but
Waldeck, moving up his Bavarians from the centre, restored the fight.
The attack was defeated, and advancing in turn the headlong valour of
the Poles drove the Turks back from point to point, over the Alserbach
and its branches upon the confines of their camp. To relieve the
pressure upon the right and centre, Lorraine had renewed his attack with
the left of the allies. Horses and men had recovered breath and order,
and their artillery had moved up in support. The defiles of Döbling were
cleared by the Saxons; and at about four or five o’clock the Turkish
redoubt before Währing was carried by Louis of Baden with his dismounted
dragoons. Falling back in confusion upon their approaches and
batteries, the Turks desperately endeavoured, too late, to turn the
siege guns upon the enemy, whose advance now threatened them upon all
sides. The caution of Sobieski had, up to the last moment, inclined him
to respect the superior numbers and the desperation of his foes, and to
rest content with the advantage won; but now, in the growing confusion,
he saw that the decisive hour had arrived. The Elector of Bavaria and
the Prince of Waldeck hastening from the centre already saluted him as

The desperate efforts of the Vizier to gain room by moving troops
towards his left from the centre, and so extending his lines beyond the
Polish right, served but to increase the confusion. The Field-Marshal
Jablonowski covered that wing, and the Queen of Poland’s brother, the
Count de Maligni, pushing forward with infantry, seized a mound, whence
his musketry fire dominated the spot where the Vizier stood. The last
shots were fired from the two or three cannon which had kept pace with
the advance. A French officer rammed home the last charge with his
gloves, his wig, and a packet of French papers. Already the roads to
Hungary were thronged with fugitives, whose course was marked by dust
in columns, when the king decided to seize the victory all but in his
grasp already. _Non nobis, non nobis, Domine exercituum, sed Nomini Tuo
des gloriam_, he cried in answer to the congratulations of his friends,
as he began the decisive movement.

Concentrating as rapidly as possible the bulk of the cavalry of the
whole army, German and Polish, upon the right wing,[23] he led them to
the charge, directly upon the spot where the Vizier with blows, tears,
and curses, was endeavouring to rally the soldiers, whom his own
ill-conduct had deprived of their wonted valour. The Turkish infantry
without pikes, their cavalry without heavy armour, were incapable of
withstanding the shock of the heavy German cuirassiers, or of arresting
the rush of the Polish nobles, whose spears, as they boasted to their
kings, would uphold the heavens should they fall. Their king at their
head, they came down like a whirlwind to the shout of “God preserve
Poland.” The spears of the first line were splintered against the few
who awaited them, but their onset was irresistible. Spahis and
Janissaries, Tartars and Christian allies alike went down before the
Polish lances, or turned and fled in headlong confusion. The old Pasha
of Pesth, the greatest of the Turkish warriors in reputation, had fled
already. The Pashas of Aleppo and of Silistria perished in the _melée_.
“Can you not help me?” cried the Vizier, turning to the Khan of the
Crimea. “No,” was the reply; “I know the King of Poland well, it is
impossible to resist him; think only of flight.”[24]

Away through the wasted borders of Austria, away to the Hungarian
frontier, to their army that lay before Raab, poured the fugitives.
There seldom has been a deliverance more complete and more decisive. The
terror which had so long weighed upon Eastern Christendom was dissolved
in that headlong rout. It was more than the scattering of an army; the
strength of an empire was dissipated on that day. Resources which had
been accumulating for years were destroyed; and such an expedition, so
numerous and so well furnished, never was sent forth by the Ottoman
again. The victory lacked nothing to render it more striking, either in
suddenness, in completeness, or in situation. The whole action had been
comprised in the hours between sunrise and sunset, before the gates of
one of the greatest capitals in Europe. We may borrow indeed the words
of Eugene, used in his despatch describing the last victory of the war
at Zenta, to picture the last hours of that evening before Vienna. For
upon the summits of the Weiner-Wald, whence the allies had descended
that morning to a yet doubtful field, “the sun seemed to linger, loath
to leave the day, until his rays had illumined to the end the triumph of
the glorious arms” of Poland and “of the Empire.”

There was no want of individual courage among the Turks. “They made the
best retreat you can conceive,” wrote the king, for hard pressed they
would turn sword in hand upon their pursuers. But the head which should
have directed that courage was wanting; and for that want they were a
gallant mob, but no longer an army. Grateful for the result though we
may be, there is something pathetic in the magnificent valour of a race
of soldiers being frustrated by such incapacity. The Christians,
exhausted by the toils of the last few days, could not pursue to any
distance. The Imperial General Dünewald indeed with a few squadrons of
Austrians and Poles, the stoutest steeds or the keenest riders,
despising both plunder and fatigue, pushed straight on through the
twilight to Enzersdorf, where the road crossed the stream of the Fischa,
ten miles from Vienna, and there bursting on the line of flight made a
slaughter of the fugitives, which showed how much they owed to the night
and to the weariness of their conquerors. But there was no general
pursuit on the part of the allies. Their commanders were doubtful of the
full extent of their victory, and feared lest from such a multitude some
part might rally and destroy the too eager followers whom they still
outnumbered. But without pursuit their work was done. At seven, Louis of
Baden had opened a communication with the besieged, and the garrison
sallying forth joined the relieving army in the slaughter of the
Janissaries who had remained, neglected or forgotten, in the trenches.
Even then one miner was found, doggedly toiling in his gallery beneath
the ramparts, ignorant of the flight or death of his companions; perhaps
from among so many the last staunch soldier of the Prophet.

I cannot conceive, wrote Sobieski, how they can carry on the war after
such a loss of _matériel_. The whole of the artillery of the Turks,
their munitions, and their baggage were the spoil of the victors. Three
hundred and ten pieces of cannon, twenty thousand animals, nine thousand
carriages, one hundred and twenty-five thousand tents, five million
pounds of powder are enumerated. The holy standard of the Prophet had
been saved, but the standard of the Vizier, mistaken for it, was sent to
the Pope by the conqueror, while his gilded stirrups were despatched at
once to Poland to the Queen, as a token of victory. Never, perhaps,
since Alexander stood a victor at Issus in the tents of Darius, or the
Greeks stormed the Persian camp at Platæa, had an European army entered
upon such spoil. Much money had been saved by the Turks in their flight;
but precious stuffs and jewelled arms, belts thick with diamonds,
intended to encircle the fair captives of Vienna, the varied plunder of
many a castle of Hungary and of Lower Austria, were found piled in the
encampment. In the Vizier’s quarters were gardens laid out with baths
and fountains, a menagerie, even a rabbit warren. His encampment alone
formed a labyrinth of tents, by itself of the circumference of a little
town, and with its contents declared the character of its late owner. An
ostrich, previously taken from an Imperial castle, was found beheaded to
prevent recapture. A parrot, more fortunate, escaped upon the wing. The
Polish envoy was discovered in the camp in chains, forgotten during the
turmoil, and thus saved from the death promised him if his master should
take the field. The Imperial agent at the Porte, Kunitz, had escaped
into the town during the battle; but the mass of Christian captives had
not been so happy. Before the battle the Vizier had ordered a general
massacre of prisoners, and the camp was cumbered with the bodies of men,
women, and children, but for the most part of women, foully slaughtered.
The benevolent energy of the Bishop of Neustadt, above-mentioned, found
employment in caring for five hundred children, who had, with their
mothers in a few cases, escaped the sword. The night was passed in the
camp by the victors, who were intent on securing their victory or their
plunder. Not till the following morning did the king meet Lorraine and
exchange congratulations upon their success. Then, with the Commandant
Starhemberg, they entered the city, passing over those well-contested
breaches, which but for them might have been that day trodden by the
Janissaries. They repaired to the churches for a solemn thanksgiving.
Sobieski himself sang the _Te Deum_ in one of them. Nothing could exceed
the enthusiastic gratitude of the people, who barely allowed a passage
to the horse of their deliverer. The priest, after the _Te Deum_ ended,
by a happy inspiration or plagiarism, gave out the words, “_There was a
man sent from God, whose name was John._”[25] A salute of three hundred
guns proclaimed the victory far and wide, and the shouts of “_Vivat
Sobieski!_” that filled the city out-thundered the thunder of the
cannon. Their walls were a chaos, their habitations a ruin, but the
citizens rejoiced as those rejoice whom the Lord hath redeemed and
delivered from the hand of the enemy. They were as men released not only
from the sword, pestilence, and famine, but from prison besides. They
poured forth to taste again the sweets of liberty, wondered at the
trenches, or joined in the pillage of the camp, where the air was
already sickening from the thousands of the slain, and foul from the
refuse of the barbaric encampment. But amid all the popular rejoicing,
the king could not but observe the coldness of the magistracy. The
Emperor could not endure that any but himself should triumph in Vienna,
and his feelings were reflected in his servants. On hearing of the
victory he had returned to the neighbourhood of the city. A council was
held to settle the weighty point as to how the elective Emperor was to
receive the elective King. “With open arms, since he has saved the
Empire,” said Lorraine; but Leopold would not descend to such an
indecorum. He strove to avoid a meeting with the deliverer of his
capital, and when the meeting was arranged could barely speak a few cold
words in Latin, well answered by Sobieski, who, saying, “I am happy,
Sire, to have been able to render you this slight service,” turned his
horse, saluted, and rode away. A few complimentary presents to Prince
James and to the Polish nobles did not efface the impression of
ingratitude. The German writers minimize the coldness of the Emperor,
but Sobieski was at the moment undoubtedly aggrieved, and others were


[20] The _Turkenschanze_, traces of which lately remained.

[21] In 1717 Eugene, in like case with the Vizier now, was besieging
Belgrade, and was himself surrounded by a large Turkish army. However,
he defeated the relieving army and took the city.

[22] There is a proverb, “_Vienna aut venenosa aut ventosa_.” She was
giving to her deliverers successive displays of her character.

[23] Sobieski’s letter of September 13.

[24] Sobieski’s letter of September 13. He must have heard of the
conversation from the Vizier’s attendants taken in his encampment.

[25] It was the exclamation of the Pope, Pius V., on hearing of the
victory of Don John of Austria over the Turks at Lepanto, in 1571.

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.


[26] A moderate estimate of the Christian loss is five thousand men, or
about one-fifteenth of those on the field; a loss in about the same
proportion as that of both sides at Sadowa. The Poles alone confessed to
the loss of one hundred officers killed, and they were neither so long
nor so hotly engaged as the left wing. The loss of the centre was
probably less. Thürheim and Schimmer give of the allies four thousand,
and twenty-five thousand Turks; but the latter figures are quite
uncertain, and the Christians made the least of their losses. As the
fight was so much hand-to-hand, with little artillery fire, it would
resemble ancient battles, where the loss of the vanquished was always
disproportionately large. The memoirs of the Duke of Lorraine simply
say, that “for about three hours the fighting was very bloody upon both
sides.” Fighting, however, had began soon after daybreak, and the
pursuit lasted till nightfall.