Today’s episode of “Liturgical Liquors” takes us to the pulchritudinous plains of Poland, the birthplace of vodka. The story of today’s blessed booze begins in Poland’s rich Mazowse fields where the golden Dankowski Rye is harvested. This grain has been recognized for centuries for its distinctive character. Crystalline water from Oligocene springs contributes to the silky finish of this noble spirit. It is then continuously distilled, creating one of the purest and smoothest vodkas in the world. It meets the strict requirements of the Polish Product Origin Control System in order to be marketed as True Polish Vodka. As a pious pinnacle of Polish pride, this potent potable is named after John III, by the grace of God King of Poland, Grand Duke of Lithuania, Ruthenia, Prussia, Masovia, Samogitia, Livonia, Smolensk, Kiev, Volhynia, Podlasie, Severia and Chernihiv, etc. On the bottle it is labeled simply “Sobieski”.
The Roman Breviary relates: “Particular honours were already paid to this worshipful name of Mary in divers parts of the Christian world, but the Bishop of Rome, Innocent XI., ordered this Feast in honour of it to be held every year throughout the whole Church, upon the Lord’s Day within the Octave of the Birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as an everlasting thanksgiving for the great blessing that, under her protection, the brutal Sultan of the Turks, who was trampling upon the necks of the Christian population, was thoroughly beaten before the walls of Vienna, (upon the 12th day of September, in the year 1683.)” In order better understand the prayerful pithiness of the Divine Office while simultaneously sipping the signature spirit, let us briefly review the history books: “The Ottoman army laid siege to Vienna on 14 July. On the same day, Kara Mustafa sent the traditional demand for surrender to the city. Ernst Rüdiger Graf von Starhemberg, leader of the remaining 15,000 troops and 8,700 volunteers with 370 cannons, refused to capitulate. Only days before, he had received news of the mass slaughter at Perchtoldsdorf, a town south of Vienna whose citizens had handed over the keys of the city after having been given a similar choice. The Viennese had demolished many of the houses around the city walls and cleared the debris, leaving an empty plain that would expose the Ottomans to defensive fire if they tried to rush the city. Kara Mustafa Pasha solved that problem by ordering his forces to dig long lines of trenches directly toward the city, to help protect them from the defenders as they advanced steadily toward the city. The lack of urgency by the Ottomans at this point, combined with the delay in advancing their army after declaring war, eventually allowed a relief force to arrive. Historians have speculated that Kara Mustafa wanted to take the city intact for its riches, and declined an all-out attack in order to prevent the right of plunder which would accompany an assault. The Ottoman siege cut virtually every means of food supply into Vienna, and the garrison and civilian volunteers suffered extreme hardships. Fatigue became such a problem that Graf Ernst Rüdiger von Starhemberg ordered any soldier found asleep on watch to be shot. Increasingly desperate, the forces holding Vienna were on their last legs when in August, Imperial forces under Charles V, Duke of Lorraine beat Imre Thököly of Hungary at Bisamberg, 5 km northwest of Vienna.
On 6 September, the Poles under Jan III Sobieski [refill, anybody?] crossed the Danube 30 km north west of Vienna at Tulln, to unite with the Imperial troops and the additional forces from Saxony, Bavaria, Baden, Franconia and Swabia. The result of an alliance of John III Sobieski [ahhh…another?] and the Emperor Leopold I was help from Poland and joining the allies by the army of Polish Hussars. The Command of the forces of European allies was entrusted to the Polish king, who had under his command 70 thousand soldiers against 100-thousand Turkish army. During early September, the experienced 5,000 Ottoman sappers repeatedly blew up large portions of the walls, the Burg bastion, the Löbel bastion and the Burg ravelin in between, creating gaps of about 12m in width. The Viennese tried to counter by digging their own tunnels, to intercept the depositing of large amounts of gunpowder in subterranean caverns. The Ottomans finally managed to occupy the Burg ravelin and the Nieder wall in that area on 8 September. Anticipating a breach in the city walls, the remaining Viennese prepared to fight within the city walls.
The relief army had to act quickly to save the city and to prevent another long siege. Despite the bi-national composition and the short time of only six days, an effective leadership structure was established, centered on the King of Poland [looks like your glass is empty] and his heavy cavalry (Polish Hussars). The Holy League settled its issues on payment by using all available funds from the government, taking loans from several wealthy bankers and noblemen, and receiving large sums of money from the Pope. Also, the Habsburgs and Poles agreed that the Polish government would pay for its own troops while still in Poland, but would be paid for by the Austrian government once into imperial territory. However, the Habsburgs had to concede to Sobieski [prosit!] and guarantee him first rights of plunder in the event of a victory.
Kara Mustafa Pasha, on the other hand, was less effective, despite having months of time to organize his forces, ensure their motivation and loyalty, and prepare for the expected relief army attack. He had entrusted defense of the rear to the Khan of Crimea and his cavalry force, which numbered about 30–40,000. There are serious questions as to how much the Tatar forces participated in the final battle at Vienna. Their Khan felt humiliated by repeated snubs by Kara Mustafa. He reportedly refused to attack the Polish relief force as it crossed the mountains, where the Tatar light horse would have had an advantage over the Polish heavy cavalry. Nor were they the only component of the Ottoman army to defy Mustafa openly or refuse assignments. This left vital bridges undefended and allowed passage of the allied forces, which arrived to relieve the siege. Also, the Ottomans could not rely on their Wallachian and Moldavian allies. The Romanians resented the Ottomans, who extracted heavy tributes from their countries. The Ottomans also intervened in the internal politics of these countries, seeking to replace their ruling princes with mere Ottoman puppets. When George Ducas, Prince of Moldavia and Şerban Cantacuzino, Prince of Wallachia learned of the Ottoman plans, they tried to warn the Habsburgs. They also tried to avoid participating in the campaign, but the Ottomans insisted that they send troops.
On arrival of the confederated troops on the Kahlenberg above Vienna, they signaled their arrival with bonfires. In the early morning hours of 12 September, before the battle, a Mass was held for the King of Poland [another round, please] and his nobles. The battle started before all units were fully deployed. Early in the morning, at 4 AM, the Ottomans attacked, seeking to interfere with the deployment of the Holy League troops. Charles of Lorraine moved forward with the Imperial army on the left and the other Holy Roman Empire forces in the center. Mustafa Pasha launched a counter-attack with most of his force, but held back some of the elite Janissary and Sipahi units for a simultaneous assault on the city. The Ottoman commanders had intended to take Vienna before Sobieski [looks like we need to open a new bottle] arrived, but time ran out. Their sappers had prepared another large and final detonation under the Löbelbastei, to breach the walls. While the Ottomans hastily finished their work and sealed the tunnel to make the explosion more effective, the Viennese “moles” detected the tunnel in the afternoon. One of them entered and defused the load just in time. At that time, above the “subterranean battlefield”, a large battle was going on, as the Polish infantry launched a massive assault upon the Ottoman right flank. Instead of focusing on the battle with the relief army, the Ottomans continued their efforts to force their way into the city. There was a moment during the battle where Kara Mustafa personally ordered the execution of 30,000 Christian hostages.
After twelve hours of fighting, the Poles held the high ground on the right. On the flanks, it is recorded that out of the forest the Polish cavalry slowly emerged and received a cheer from the onlooking infantry who had been anticipating their arrival. The Holy League cavalry waited on the hills, and watched the infantry battle for the whole day. At about 5 PM, the Polish King ordered the cavalry attack in four groups, one of the Holy Roman Empire and three Polish. Twenty thousand horsemen charged down the hills (the largest cavalry charge in history). Jan III Sobieski [huzzah! A round in his honor!] led the charge at the head of 3,000 Polish heavy lancers, the famed “Winged Hussars”. The Lipka Tatars who fought on the Polish side wore a sprig of straw in their helmets to distinguish themselves from the Tatars fighting on the Ottoman side. The charge broke the lines of the Ottomans, who were tired from the long fight on two sides. In the confusion, the cavalry headed straight for the Ottoman camps, while the remaining Vienna garrison sallied out of its defenses and joined in the assault. The Ottoman troops were tired and dispirited following the failure of both the sapping attempt and the brute force assault on the city. The arrival of the cavalry turned the tide of battle against them, sending them into retreat to the south and east. In less than three hours after the cavalry attack, the Christian forces had won the battle and saved Vienna.
After the battle, Sobieski paraphrased Julius Caesar’s famous quote (Veni, vidi, vici) by saying “Venimus, Vidimus, Deus vincit” – “We came, We saw, God conquered”.
And to that, we conclude “Liturgical Liquors” by saying, “Bottoms up!” Wait. Which way is up?