Posted by: Democratic Thinker | September 11, 2014

Correspondence: Mohammedans at the Gates of Vienna


In September, 1683, after the defeat of the Mohammedans at the Gates of Vienna, John Sobieski—commander of the Europeans—writes to his wife with an account of the battle.

Non nobis, non nobis, Domine exercituum, sed nomini tuo da gloriam.—Psalm 115:1.


Plan of the Siege of Vienna in 1683.


Mohammedans at the Gates of Vienna.


To Marysieńka.

In The Tent of the Vizier.
The 13th of September, at night.

There Was a Man sent from God,
Whose Name was John.

ONLY joy of my soul, charming and much loved Mariette! God be praised for ever! He has given the victory to our nation! He has given such a triumph as past ages have never seen. All the artillery, all the camp of the Musulmans, infinite riches have fallen into our hands. The approaches to the city, the fields round, are covered with the dead of the infidel army, and the remains of it are flying in consternation. Our people are bringing us every minute camels, mules, oxen, and sheep, which the enemy had with him, and besides an innumerable quantity of prisoners. The victory has been so sudden and so extraordinary that, in the city as in the camp, there was always a state of alarm. People fancied every moment that they saw the enemy return. He has left in powder and ammunition to the value of a million florins. I was witness this night to a spectacle which I had long desired to see. Our baggage-companies have in several places set fire to gunpowder; the explosion was like that of the Last Judgment, without, however, doing injury to any one. I could see on the occasion in what way clouds are formed in the atmosphere, but it is a misfortune; it is really a loss of half a million. The Vizier, Kara Mustapha, abandoned everything in his flight, he has only kept his clothing and horse. It is I who am his heir, for the greater part of his wealth has fallen into my hands.

Advancing with the first line, and driving the Vizier before me, I met with one of his servants, who conducted me into the tents of his private court; these tents alone occupy a space as great as the city of Warsaw or Lemberg. I seized all the decorations and flags which were ordinarily carried before the Vizier. As to the grand standard of Mahomet, which his sovereign entrusted to him for this war, I sent it to the Holy Father by Talenti. Moreover, we have rich tents, superb equipages, and a thousand other very rich and very beautiful toys. I have not seen all yet; but there is no comparison with what we saw at Chocim; four or five quivers mounted with rubies and sapphires are worth alone some thousands of ducats. You will not, then, say to me, my love, like the Tatar women to their husbands, when they return without booty, ‘You are no warrior, since you have not brought me anything; for only the man who goes in front can get anything.’ I have also a horse once belonging to the Vizier, with all his harness. He himself was pursued very closely, but he escaped. His kiyaia, or first lieutenant, was killed, as well as a number of the other principal officers. Our soldiers have got hold of many sabres mounted with gold. Night put an end to the pursuit; but even during the night the Turks can make an obstinate defence. In this respect ils ont fait la plus belle retirade du monde. Nevertheless, the Janissaries in the trenches were forgotten, and during the night they were all cut to pieces. Such was the pride and the presumption of the Turks, that while one part of the army offered us battle another part assaulted the city. So they had enough men for both. I estimate them at 300,000 combatants. I counted about 100,000 tents. For two nights and a day any one who likes may take them, even the people of the city have come for their share of the booty. I am sure they will have enough to occupy them for eight days. The Turks left in their flight many prisoners, natives of the country, especially women, but they massacred all they could. Many of the women are only wounded, and may be set right again. I saw yesterday a child of four years of age whose head one of these cowards had cloven down to the mouth. A fine ostrich was found; but the Vizier had had its head cut off, so that it should not fall into the hands of the Christians.

It is impossible to describe all the refinement of luxury which the Vizier had collected in his tents. There were baths, little gardens with fountains, even a parrot, which our soldiers pursued but could not capture. To-day I went to see the city; it could not have held out longer than five days. It is all riddled with bullets; those immense bastions perforated and half tumbling to pieces have a terrible aspect; one would think they were great masses of rocks. All the soldiers did their duty; they attribute the victory to God and ourselves. At the moment when the enemy began to give way the greatest danger was at the spot where I found myself opposite to the Vizier. All the remaining cavalry of the army turned towards me on the right wing; the centre and the left wing having already very little to do. I then saw the Elector of Bavaria, the Prince of Waldeck, and many other German princes; they embraced me and kissed me. The soldiers, the foot and cavalry officers cried out: ‘Ah! unser braver König!

It is only this morning that I have seen the Prince of Lorraine and the Elector of Saxony; we could not meet yesterday because they were at the extreme left. I had given them some squadrons of our hussars, commanded by the Marshal of the Court, Jerome Lubomirski. The commandant of the town, Stahremberg, also came to see me yesterday. All have embraced me, and called me their saviour. I have been in two churches, where the people kissed my hands, feet, and clothes; others, who could only touch me at a distance, cried out, ‘Ah! let me kiss your victorious hands.’ They seemed to wish to cry out vivat, but were prevented from fear of their officers and other superiors. Nevertheless a crowd of people shouted out a kind of vivat. I remarked that their superiors regarded this conduct with disfavour, and so, after having dined with the commandant, I hastened to quit the town and to return to the camp. The crowd accompanied me almost to the gates. The Emperor has sent to let me know that he is a few miles off; but I have not much hope of meeting him. We have not lost many of our men in battles; but we must regret especially two persons, Modrzewski and young Potocki, whom I cannot mention without shedding tears. Among the strangers the Prince of Croz has been wounded, and a good many others have perished. The well-known Capuchin, Marco Aviano, has never ceased kissing me and pressing me to his heart. He declares that he saw during the battle a white dove flying over the Christian soldiery. This priest has now gone to Hungary to pursue the infidels. As soon as the Vizier saw that he could hold out no longer, he called his two sons to him, and having embraced them, said with tears to the Tatar Khan: ‘Save me, if you are able to do so.’ The Khan answered: ‘We know well the King of Poland; it is impossible to resist him; let us rather think how we can escape from this place.’

They have just discovered a great quantity of ammunition. I do not know what they have left, with which they will be able to fire upon us. I have just received information that the enemy has abandoned twenty cannons in his flight. I am about to get on horseback to go into Hungary, and I hope, as I said when I left you, to see you again at Stryc. The princes of Bavaria and Saxony are ready to go with me to the end of the world. We shall have to double our pace throughout the first two miles on account of the insupportable odours of the bodies of men, horses, and camels. I have written to the King of France; I told him that it was to him especially, as to the most Christian king, that I ought to make my report about the battle gained and the safety of Christendom. Notre Fanfan [young Prince James] is brave in the highest degree.


—W. R. Morfill (trans.).