THE TIMES AND CAREER OF MICHAEL THE BRAVE.
The state of society—Greater and lesser boyards—Taxation and oppression of the peasantry—Immorality of the boyards—The priesthood—Officers of State—Classes of peasantry—Rise of the towns—The soldiery—Aggressions of Turks and Tartars—Michael the Brave—His rise to power—Accession to the throne (1594)—Remonstrances with the Porte—Alliance with Hungary and Poland—Massacre of the Turks—Anecdote—Conspiracy against Michael quelled—The Turks attacked and routed on the Danube—Invasion of Wallachia by Achmed Pasha—His defeat—Michael swears fealty to Sigismund of Transylvania—Second Turkish invasion by Sinan Pasha—Determined stand of Michael at Giurgevo—Retreat of Michael and battle of Kalugereni—Defeat of Sinan—Retreat of Michael—Occupation of Wallachia by Sinan—Michael and his allies take the offensive—Flight of Sinan and slaughter of the Turks at Giurgevo—The Turks expelled—Peace in Wallachia—Intrigues of Michael—Accession of Andreas Bathori—Invasion and conquest of Transylvania by Michael—His triumph—Michael, Prince of Transylvania—Further intrigues—Invasion and conquest of Moldavia—Michael in the zenith of his power—Feud with the nobles—Michael encounters them at Miriszlo—Their Austrian ally, General Basta—Defeat and flight of Michael—Anecdote—Continued misfortunes of Michael—Petitions the Emperor—Is permitted to visit him—Recall of Sigismund Bathori—Michael reinstated by the Emperor—Invades Transylvania in alliance with Basta—Defeat of the nobles at Gorozlo—Quarrels of the victorious generals—Basta determines to remove Michael—Employs a Walloon officer to assassinate him—Michael murdered in his tent (1601)—Flight of his boyards—The German Court refuses to reward Basta's treachery.
As the state of the northern Danubian territories before the foundation of the Principalities has been compared by us to the present condition of what is called Independent Tartary, and at a subsequent period to that of the early Saxons, so in the reign of Michael the Brave (1593-1601 a.d.) the state of society resembled that of England under the Norman kings; indeed, there is a remarkably interesting agreement in some of its phases. As in England there were greater and lessor barons, so in Moldo-Wallachia there were greater and lesser boyards. These seem to have possessed all the rapacity of our robber barons, with but little of their reputed chivalry. They oppressed the peasantry, who since the time of Vlad the Impaler were to a large extent serfs, with unbearable taxes, and endeavoured on all occasions to shift the burdens of the State upon those whose shoulders were the least able to bear them. One of these imposts was the poll-tax, similar to that which gave rise to Wat. Tyler's riots in the time of Richard II., but which, strange to say, still survives in Roumania, to the dissatisfaction of all her right-minded citizens.
Besides the poll-tax, there was the 'Standard gift' (Poklon), which was levied at the installation of the Voivode; the Easter present; the extra tax (ajutoriță), which was raised when the other taxes ran short. Moreover, there were taxes in kind on malt, salt, fish, cattle, and horses, payable to the prince. The landlord (boyard) was entitled to land and pasturage tax, the tenth of the earth's productions, feudal service, bee, pig, and sheep taxes, and in addition to these a rate was levied upon bees, pigs, tobacco, wine, and sheep, for the benefit of the prince. Whilst these imposts and the extraordinary levies and ravages of war often reduced the whole of the peasantry to the most abject poverty, bordering on starvation, the boyards lived in comparative ease, and led a life of immorality and self-indulgence. Concubinage widely prevailed, and many boyards had, besides their legitimate wife, ten or a dozen mistresses. They appear to have been gradually growing in influence, and the greater boyards filled all the chief offices of State as well as the leading military posts in the districts. Personal distinctions existed also, the leading boyards being allowed to wear long beards, a practice which was forbidden to the lesser boyards.
Besides the boyards and their serfs there was hardly any native population worth speaking of, and no middle class whatever; all trade being in the hands of Greeks, Jews, and Armenians. There was, however, a priesthood, who were as ignorant as the peasantry; indeed many of them followed both occupations, the only exceptions being the metropolitan and the higher clerics, who possessed considerable influence there as elsewhere in the middle ages. The power of the prince had no definite limits, and, with the exception of the counteracting influence of the boyards, it was practically absolute. There was a council of twelve boyards, whose signatures along with that of the prince were visually appended to all important State documents.
In the time of Stephen (some writers say, at an earlier period), the various offices of State were established, which were maintained down to a recent date, both in Wallachia and Moldavia; and as it is impossible for the reader to interest himself in any question bearing upon the past history of the country without finding some mention made of one or other of them, it may be useful here to enumerate a few of their titles.