In memory of the Croatian Leonidas

Objavljeno 7.9.2012.

I Nikola, Duke Zrinski, give my promise first to the God Almighty, then to His Majesty, our brilliant sovereign, to our afflicted homeland and to you knights, that I shall never abandon you, but shall live and die with you, bearing good as well as evil. So help me God!

Nikola Šubić Zrinski was born in 1508 in the town of Zrin to father Nikola III Zrinski and mother Jelena Karlović, the duchess of Krbava region and sister of Ivan Karlović, who later became the Croatian ban (viceroy). He was a proud Croat and an outstanding general, one of the greatest and most celebrated leading figures in the Croatian history, but in the Hungarian history as well. He fought against the Ottomans and already as a 21-year-old he distinguished himself at the battle in defence of Vienna in 1529, as well as at a battle in defence of Pest, when he and his 400 fighting men prevented its falling under siege. Precisely on account of his bravery King Ferdinand I appointed Zrinski ban of Croatia, which he was until 1556 when he personally asked to be relieved of this honorary duty. He is particularly well-remembered for his role in the battle for Szigetvár in which he bravely resisted 100,000 Ottoman soldiers personally led by the great Suleiman I and withstood their attacks on the town for a whole month. In spite of the enormous pressures on him to surrender the town, Nikola Šubić Zrinski did not falter and he continued inflicting heavy losses on the Ottoman army. When he realized that he could no longer resist the Ottoman assaults, Zrinski heroically led his men into a charge at his opponents during which they were overcome by the Ottoman soldiers.

Apart from being highly valued in this area and the surrounding regions, the heroic and samurai-like death of Nikola Zrinski made him greatly respected as far away from home as Japan. There in honour of this great deed the Japanese male-voice choirs often perform the aria from the opera Nikola Šubić Zrinski, which they learned in 1919 when the Croatian sailors were retreating from Siberia to their homeland. Since their boat got stranded, the sailors spent some time on Kobe and thus taught the local people the aria U boj, u boj. The occasion when a Japanese male-voice choir including 1,000 people sang this aria is certainly the record in the history of its performances.

The Croatian ban Nikola Zrinski Čakovečki established a highly valuable collection of books and manuscripts known as Bibliotheca Zriniana, which is preserved at the National and University Library in Zagreb. Among the materials included in Zriniana it is necessary to single out Adriai Tengernek Syrenaia (the first half of the 17th c.), Nikola Zrinski’s autograph. In the epic poem Obsidio Sigethiana Nikola celebrated in verse his great-grandfather Nikola Šubić Zrinski who lost his life defending Szigetvár. The library of the Zrinski family, which had been located in Vienna, came to the Royal University Library at the beginning of 1892 owing to the then Croatian government. It was purchased from the Vienna antiquarian Samuel Kende, who had bought it at an auction of the descendants of the aristocratic family Daun. Hungarian researchers and cultural enthusiasts Gábor Hausner, Tibor Klaniczay, Sándor Iván Kovács, István Monok and Géza Orlovszky reassembled the Zrinski Library and published a representative catalogue entitled A Bibliotheca Zriniana története és állománya (Budapest, 1991). Bibliotheca Zriniana also underwent a 3D reconstruction as part of the project 3D Bibliotheca Zriniana which was jointly undertaken by the Hungarian National Széchényi Library, University of Szeged Library and the National and University Library in Zagreb. This year the National and University Library in Zagreb hosted the exhibition on the books on architecture in the Zriniana Collection, ARTE ET MARTE: Knjige o arhitekturi u Zriniani, which for the first time brought before the public the tractates on architecture in Zriniana – the 17th century personal library of Nikola VII Zrinski and his son Adam which also includes books of the Moravian nobleman Ignác Jankovský z Vlašimi, preserved today as part of the Manuscripts and Old Books Collection at the National and University Library in Zagreb. Bibliotheca Zriniana, the library of the great Zrinski family, has survived a long history of good and bad periods, much like the Zrinski family itself, and continues serving as a lasting monument to the identity of the Croatian nation.

Nikola Šubić Zrinski, the Croatian pillar and shield, ruler of the town of Szigetvár and the Turkish terror of his time, will forever stay alive in the hearts of the Croatian people, and he certainly will not be much farther from Hungarian hearts, in which he is also valued as a national hero.

Count Nikola IV Zrinski died on 7 September 1566 in the Hungarian town of Szigetvár at the age of 59.