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Modern History Sourcebook:
The Secret History of the Reign of Jan Sobieski, 1683 AD
In early Modern Europe one of the most powerful states was the joint Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania, covering an area which would have included modern Poland, Lituania, Belorussia, Slovakia and much of Ukraine. The following is an account of the victory of King Jan Sobieski in 1683. The 18th century was to see both Poland and the Ottoman empire suffer a relative decline in power in comparison with the newer formations of Prussia, Austria and Russia: by the end of the 18th century Poland had been gobbled up by these states, and Ottoman Turkey endured a protracted conflict over which European state was going to dominate its territories.
The Victory which the King of Poland has obtained over the Infidels, is so great and so complete that past Ages can scarce parallel the fame; and perhaps future Ages will never see any thing like it. All its Circumstances are as profitable to Christendom in general, and to the Empire in particular, as glorious to the Monarch. On one hand we see Vienna besieged by three hundred thousand Turks; reduced to the last extremity; its Outworks taken; the Enemy fixed to the Body of the Place; Masters of one Point of the Bastions, having frightful Mines under the Retrenchments of the besieged: We see an Emperor chased from his Capital; retired to a corner of his Dominions; all his country at the mercy of the Tartars, who have filled the Camp with an infinite number of unfortunate Slaves that had been forcibly carried away out of Austria. On the other hand we see the King of Poland, who goes out of his Kingdom, with part of his Army, and hastens to succor his Allies, who abandons what is dearest to him, to march against the enemies of the Christian Religion willing to act in Person on this occasion, as a true Buckler of Religion; and will not spare his eldest son, the Prince of Poland, whom he carries with him, even in a tender age, to so dangerous an Expedition as this was. That which preceded the battle is no less surprising. The Empire assembles on all sides, the Elector's of Saxony and Bavaria come in person to join their troops with the Imperialists under the command of the Duke of Lorraine. Thirty other Princes repair out of emulation, to one another, to the Army, which nevertheless, before they will enter upon Action, stay for the presence of the King of Poland, whose presence alone is worth an Army.
They all march with this confidence. The King passes the Danube first, and leaves no troops on the other side to cover Moravia from the incursions that the malcontents under Count Teckley might make into the same, as the Duke of Lorraine had proposed; because, says the King, he had wrote to that Hungarian Lord, that if he burnt one straw in the territories of his allies, or in his own, he would go and burn him and all his family in his house, so that this was enough to protect that country during the distance of the army. He leads them afterwards, through unfrequented defiles to the tops of the hills of Vienna, and in fight of the Turks, who drew out of their camp to put themselves in order, and even attacked the Imperialists by break of day on Sunday the twelfth of September, before the King of Poland had made an end of forming his order of battle, and extending his lines, in which his Majesty has mixed his hussars, and other Polish troops among those of the Empire.
In the meantime, the Turks leave their trenches well provided with Janissaries, with a considerable body of at the posts and at the attacks, to hinder the besieged from sallying out; hoping to continue the siege at the same time as the army should make head against the succors of the Christian princes; and truly they had wherewithal to back this proud revolution; having above 300,000 men, according to the King's account, who found above 100,000 small tents in their camp, wherein apparently according to the manner of disposing their men, there were at least three men in each, and his Polish Majesty has reduced the common report of 300,000 tents which would infinitely augment the number of soldiers to that of 1,000,000.
The battle was fought on the twelfth, it lasted fourteen or fifteen hours; the slaughter was horrible, and the loss of the Turks inestimable, for they left upon the field of battle, besides the dead and prisoners, all their cannon, equipage, tents and infinite riches that they had been six years gathering together throughout the whole Ottoman Empire. There was found in their camp above a million pounds of powder, bullets, balls, and other ammunition, without reckoning the powder that the slaves burnt by inadvertency in several places of the park of the artillery, the flame whereof made an emblem of the terrible day of judgment, with the earthquakes that will accompany it; and that thick mass of clouds that will obscure the universe: a loss nevertheless which ought to be called a great misfortune, seeing tis above a million pounds more, as the King assures us in his letter, that he wrote himself to the Queen, from which all these particulars are extracted.
The battle ended by the infantry of the trenches, and of the Isle of the Danube, where the Turks had a battery [of artillery]. The night was spent in slaughter, and the unhappy remnant of this army saved their lives by flight, having abandoned all to the victors; even an infinite number of wagons, laden with ammunition, and some field pieces, that designed to have carried with them; and which were found next day upon the road they had taken; which makes us suspect that they'll not be able to rally again, as neither having wherewithal to encamp themselves nor cannon to shoot with.
So soon as the Grand Vizier knew the defeat of his first lines, he caused a red tent to be pitched at the head of his main body, where he resolved to die for the Ottoman Empire, but his last efforts were to no purpose; and the wing of the Imperialists, which he attacked with all his might, was so opportunely succored by the presence of the king, who brought part of the troops of his left wing thither, that all fled before him. So soon as he perceived the red tent, knowing by it that the Vizier was there in person, he caused all his artillery to fire upon that pavilion, encouraging the activity of the gunners by considerable recompenses, promising them fifty crowns for each cannon-shot; and these leveled their pieces so well, that they brought down the red tent of the Grand Vizier; and the troop of Prince Alexander his second son, had the advantage to break through that body of cavalry, at the very place where the Vizier was, who was dismounted, and had much ado to save himself upon another horse; having left, among the slain, his Kiayia, that is, his lieutenant general, and the second person of the army; with abundance of considerable officers; all the standards; the marks of his dignity that are carried before him, or that are set up before his pavilions; even the great standard of Mahomet, which the Sultan had put into his hands when he set out upon this expedition; and which the king has sent to Rome by the Sieur Talenti, one of his secretaries, to be a testimony to the Pope, of this great victory.
The King understood afterwards by deserters, who come every hour in troops to surrender themselves to him, as well as the renegades, that the Vizier, seeing the defeat of the army, called his sons to him, embraced them, bitterly bewailed their misfortune, and turned towards the Khan of the Tartars, and said "And you, will not you succor me?" To whom the Tartar prince replied, that he knew the King of Poland by more than one proof, and that the Vizier would be very happy if he could save himself by flight, as having no other way for his security, and that he was going to show him the example.
The Grand Vizier being thus abandoned, took the same way, and retired in disorder with only one horse; that which he had in the battle, and was armed all over with steel, having fallen into the hands of the king with all the equipages of that Ottoman general; who has left his Majesty heir to all his riches. In effect, his letters were dated from the tents of the Grand Vizier, the park whereof was as large extent as the city of Warsaw or that or Leopold; enclosing his baths, fountains, canals, a garden, a king of menagerie or place for strange beasts and birds, with dogs, rabbits and parrots. There was found an ostrich of an admirable beauty, which had been taken from one of the Emperor's country-houses, and whose head the vizier's men cut off in their retreat, that it might not serve to adorn the King's menagerie. This precaution would have been of greater use if they had taken it with respect to the Standard of Mahomet, and of that prodigious quantity of riches, bows, quivers, sabers set with rubies, and diamonds, precious movables and equipages of great value, that were left with the tents to the King of Poland; which made that monarch say very pleasantly in his letter to his Queen, "You will not tell me at my return, what the Tartarian women tell their husbands when they see them return from the army without booty, You are not a Man, seeing you return empty-handed,' for doubtless he was the first in the battle, who returns laden with the spoils of the Enemy; the Grand Vizier having made me his Universal Legatee."
The booty that was taken in this action is infinite and inestimable: the field of battle was sowed with gold sabers, with pieces of stuff, and such a prodigious quantity of other things that the pillage which has already lasted three days will scarce be over in a whole week, although the besieged are come out of the town in great companies to partake of the booty with the victorious soldier; both the one and the other being scarce able as yet to persuade themselves that this happy success is real, it is so extraordinary: insomuch that the whole army, which nevertheless has done its duty very courageously, can't forbear to attribute this great victory to the mighty God of Battles, who would make use of the hands of the King of Poland to overthrow the enemies of his name, for which let him be honored and glorified forever and ever!

Source.

From: Polish Manuscripts, or The Secret History of the Reign of John Sobieski, The III of that Name, King of Poland, containing a particular account of the siege of Vienna. . . . trans. François-Paulin Dalairac (London: Rhodes, Bennet, Bell, Leigh & Midwinter, 1700), pp. 355-364.
Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton

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(c)Paul Halsall May1998
halsall@murray.fordham.edu