The Islamic Ottoman Influence
On the Development of Religious Toleration in Reformation Transylvania
By Rev. Dr. Susan Ritchie
When Sultan Suleyman of the Ottoman Empire first learned of the birth of John Sigismund, the son of the King of Hungary, he felt it was such a fortuitous event that he sent an equerry to stand in a corner of Queen Isabellaís room to witness her nursing the infant (Goodman, 1996, p. 86). Sigismundís father, King John Zapolya, King of Hungary and Voivode of Transylvania, had died just two weeks after his sonís birth that July of 1540. On his deathbed, he had given instructions that his son be named heir to his titles, a violation of a previous agreement that promised Hungary after Johnís death to Ferdinand, the brother of the Hapsburg emperor, Charles. When it became clear after Johnís death that his successors had no intention of allowing Hungary to become a part of the Hapsburg empire, Ferdinand responded by laying siege on Buda. In 1541, with Queen Isabellaís forces nearing collapse, Sultan Suleyman appeared in Buda with a large army, successfully repulsing Ferdinand. Suleyman claimed the capital of Buda and much of lower Hungary for his direct control while granting Isabella and her infant son Transylvania to rule independently but under the ultimate suzerainty of Turkey. After some years of political contrivance and redefinition, Transylvania developed into its new identity as a border state. An odd slice of semi-independence between those areas directly controlled by the Hapsburgs and the Ottomans, Transylvania eventually became one of the safest places in Europe for the development of progressive Protestantism, including Unitarianism. In 1568, the now grown-up king and newly minted Unitarian John Sigismund issued the Edict of Torda, a document which historians have proclaimed to be the first European policy of expansive religious toleration (Cadzow, Ludanyi, and Elteto, 1983). Though this much is well known, American Unitarian historians have long been tantalized by the prospect of making a more specific connection between the Islamic Ottoman rule and ...
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