Gabriel (Gabor) Bethlen (Hungarian: Bethlén Gábor, Slovak: Gabriel Betlen) (1580-1629), prince of Transylvania and leader of an anti-Habsburg insurrection (uprising) in the Kingdom of Hungary on the territory of present-day Slovakia (1619 - 1626).
This most famous representative of the Iktári branch of the very ancient Hungarian Bethlen family, was born at Illy, and educated at Lazarea (in Transylvania), at the castle of his uncle András Lázár. Thence he was sent to the court of the Transylvanian Prince Sigismund Báthory (Zsigmond Báthory), whom he accompanied on his famous Wallachian campaign. Subsequently he assisted Stephen Bocskay to become the Prince of Transylvania (1605), and remained his chief counsellor. Bethlen also supported Bocskay's successor Gabriel Báthory (1608-1613), but the prince became jealous of Bethlen's superiorabilities, and Bethlen was obliged to take refuge with the Turks.
In 1613, Bethlen led a large army against Prince Báthory, but in the same year Báthory had been murdered by two of his officers and Bethlen was placed on the throne by the Turks (Ottoman Empire), in opposition to the wishes of the Austrian Habsburg emperor, who preferred a prince who would incline more towards Vienna than towards the Turkish Constantinople. On October 13, 1613, the Transylvanian Diet at Cluj, confirmed this choice of the Turkish sultan. In 1615 Gabor was also officially recognized by the Austrian emperor Matthias as the Prince of Transylvania. Bethlen no sooner felt firmly seated on ‘his throne than he seized the opportunity presented to him by the outbreak of the Thirty Years' War to take up arms in defence of the liberties and the constitution of the extra-Transylvanian counties of the Kigdom of Hungary, with the view of more effectually assuring his own position.
While Ferdinand was occupied with the Czech anti-Habsburg rebellion (1618), Bethlen led his armies into Hungary, more exactly present-day Slovakia, in August 1619, and occupied the town of Košice in September, where his Protestant supporters declared him „head“ of Hungary and protector of the Protestants. He then soon won over the whole territory of present-day Slovakia, even securing Bratislava (in October), the then capital of Hungary, where the palatine even handed over the Hungarian crown to Bethlen. Then, Bethlen’s troops joined with the troops of Czech and Moravian estates (led by J. M. Thurno) and they failed to conquer Vienna in November – Bethlen was forced to leave Austria because he was attacked by Habsburg troops (George Druget and Polish mercenaries) in eastern Slovakia. Although he had conquered Slovakia, i. e. most of the then Hungary, Bethlen was not averse to a peace, nor to a preliminary suspension of hostilities, and negotiations were opened at the conquered towns Bratislava , Košice and Banská Bystrica successively. Initially they led to nothing because Bethlen insisted on including the Czechs in the peace, but finally a truce was concluded in January 1620, under which Bethlen received 13 counties of Hungary (mainly in present-day Slovakia). On 20 August 1620 the estates elected him king at the Diet in Banská Bystrica.Bethlen accepted the title but refused to be crowned for tactical reasons. The war with the Habsburgs resumed in present-day southwestern Slovakia and Lower Austria in September.
The defeat of the Czechss by Ferdinand II’s troops at the battle of the White Mountain on November 1620 (to which also Bethlen sent 3000 troops which however came too late) gave a new turn to Bethlen’s insurrection against the Habsburgs. Ferdinand II took a fearful revenge upon the vanquished in Bohemia and started to successfully reconquer present-day Slovakia (Bratislava reconquered in May 1621, parts of central Slovakia conquered in June 1621) and Bethlen started peace negotiations , since he was not directly supported by the Turks and had lost the support of Protestant nobles because they had not received the confiscated property of the Catholics on Bethlen’s territory. As a result, the peace of Mikulov was concluded on October 31 1621/ January 6 1622, under which Bethlen renounced the royal title on condition that Ferdinand confirmed the 1606 Peace of Vienna (which had granted full liberty of worship to the Protestants) and engaged to summon a general diet within six months. In addition, Bethlen secured the (purely formal) title of “Imperial Prince“, seven counties around the Upper Tisza(Tisa) river (in present-day Slovakia, Ukraine, Hungary and Romania), the fortresses of Tokaj, Mukacheve and Ecsed, and 2 principalities in Silesia.
Subsequently Bethlen twice (1623-1624 and 1626) launched campaigns to the territory of present-day Slovakia against Ferdinand , this time as an ally of the anti-Habsburg Protestant powers. The first war was concluded by the 1624 Peace of Vienna, the second by the 1626 Peace of Bratislava, both confirmatory of the 1621/1622 Peace of Mikulov. After the second of these campaigns, Bethlen attempted a rapprochement with the court of Vienna on the basis of an alliance against the Turks and his own marriage with one of the Austrian archduchesses; but Ferdinand had no confidence in him and rejected his overtures. Bethlen was obliged to renounce his anti-Turkish projects, which he had hitherto cherished as the great aim and object of his life, and continue in the old beaten paths. Accordingly, on his return from Vienna he wedded Catherine, the daughter of the elector of Brandenburg, and still more closely allied himself with the Protestant powers, especially with his brother-in-law Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden (their wifes were sisters), who, he hoped, would assist him to obtain the Polish crown. He died before he could accomplish any of his great designs (November 15, 1629), having previously secured the election of his wife Catherine as princess. His first wife, Zsuzsanna Károlyi, died in 1622.
Gabriel Bethlen was certainly one of the most striking and original personages of his century. A zealous Calvinist, whose boast it was that he had read the Bible twenty-five times, he was nevertheless no persecutor, and even helped the Jesuit Kaldy to translate and print his version of the Scriptures. He was in communication all his life with the leading contemporary statesmen, so that his correspondence is one of the most interesting and important of historical documents. He also composed hymns.