Hungary and Transylvania, Part 4: High Politics of Hungary at the Ring of Fire

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Here is the list of persons either living in the Ring of Fire period or who directly impacted the political scene leading up to the Ring of Fire:

 

HT4bksstvnIstván Bocskay, Prince of Transylvania (1557-1606)

He was a very important figure leading up to this period: learning about his person and his achievements is essential to understand the situation in 1630. Many people, active at the time of the Ring of Fire, had fought under Bocskay and Bethlen, two heroes of Protestantism. You can see his statue on the Reformation Wall in Geneva, Switzerland, next to Luther's.

Bocskay was an extremely wealthy nobleman of Royal Hungary and Transylvania. He had played important roles in previous Transylvanian politics and eventually gained more lands and power. He was also a skilled general and in 1595, the Transylvanian army under his command advanced into Wallachia and together with the Wallachian voivode defeated the Ottoman army nearby. The young Gábor Bethlen, the next prince of Transylvania, served in his army and was his advisor.

Later the Habsburgs cast their eyes on his vast lands and accused him of treason in order to confiscate his possessions. He had no choice but to lead a revolt against the Holy Roman Empire.  He established an alliance with the Ottoman Empire and, supported by the Hajdus (emancipated peasant warriors or armed herders), compelled the Viennese court to reaffirm and guarantee the religious freedoms of and his right to his lands.

Bocskay also succeeded in gaining the support of the middle and partially the upper classes of the Hungarian nobility for his struggles. More and more rebels flocked to his forces, and as a result of this, Bocskay's army won two critical battles against the Habsburg armies. In 1605, István Bocskay was elected to be the ruling prince of Hungary and Transylvania and by the end of the year, Bocskay gained supremacy over Transylvania and the entire part of the Kingdom of Hungary which was not under Ottoman control and eventually forced Archduke Matthias to open negotiations on recognition.

Prince Bocskay granted titles of nobility to 9,254 Hajdus and settled them on the northern part of River Tisza. He allowed tax benefits for their towns which provided them the economic ability to serve militarily. They had the personal obligation to defend the country, thereby becoming the principality's favored social class.

At the same time, the Ottoman sultan sent a magnificent jeweled crown to Bocskay to make him king for Transylvania and Hungary. It is important to know that the Turks never gave anyone a crown and it was not their intent at this time, either. It was Bocskay's diplomatic success to achieve it and as it turned out, it was just part of a magnificent political show.

The Turks received Bocskay in Pest and under great celebrations he was belted with a decorative saber and dressed in a cloak embroidered richly with gold and silver. Then, the second mightiest man of the Ottoman Empire placed the Turkish crown, sent from the Sultan, onto Bocskay's head. This crown was said to have belonged to the last Byzantine Caesar, a masterpiece of a Persian goldsmith, it had been highly esteemed in the Sultan's treasury.

At this point, the coronation took an unexpected turn: Bocskay profusely thanked them for the gift and suddenly took it off his head, saying that he could not accept this crown's authority above the Holy Crown of Hungary. "As the Holy Crown is on Emperor Rudolf's head, I cannot be the crowned king of Hungary, according to the Hungarian laws," he declared and handed the Turkish crown over to one of his men, Homonnai Drugeth, to guard it. The Turks and the assembled people were astonished but it may have been possible that the present Great Vizier and Pasha Lalla Mohamed of Buda had known what would happen. The Turkish crown remained with Bálint Homonnai Drugeth and later it was confiscated from his heirs by the Court of Vienna where you can see it in the museum.

We can see how Bocskay refused the royal dignity, but made skillful use of the Turkish alliance.

The Habsburgs, who wanted to save the Hungarian provinces and set aside the unstable Rudolf II, entered into negotiations with Bocskay and concluded the Peace of Vienna in 1606. The peace guaranteed all the constitutional and religious rights and privileges of the Hungarians both in Transylvania and Royal Hungary. Bocskay was acknowledged as Prince of Transylvania by the Austrian court, and the right of the Transylvanians to elect their own independent princes in the future was officially recognized. Simultaneously, the Peace of Zsitvatorok was concluded with the Ottomans, which confirmed the Peace of Vienna: it ended the Fifteen Year War between the Habsburgs and the Ottomans. It is worth noting that at the time of the Ring of Fire many Hungarians in their forties or fifties had military experience from either this long war against the Turks or from Bocskay's campaigns.

Bocskay survived this diplomatic triumph for only a few months—on 29 December 1606 he was allegedly poisoned by his chancellor, who was then hacked to bits by Bocskay's adherents (or enemies?) in the town's marketplace. It was never learned which empire had been responsible.

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HT4gbrbthlnGábor (Gabriel) Bethlen (1580-1629)

He was a Protestant uncrowned King of Hungary (1620-21) and a Prince of Transylvania (1613-29) and Duke of Opole (1622-25) who led an insurrection against the House of Habsburg in Royal Hungary. He was the one who turned Transylvania into the famous "Fairy Garden" as it was called at that time.

Bethlen was born in Transylvania and served in the court of Zsigmond (Sigismund) Bathory, a Transylvanian prince, and accompanied him on his campaign to Wallachia. Although he was a Calvinist, he helped György Káldy, a Jesuit, translate and print the Bible. He also composed hymns and from 1625, employed Johannes Thesselius from Erfurt, as kapellmeister (composer).

As many Ring of Fire stories deal with musicians, some facts about musicians in Bethlen's court seem worth mentioning. Bethlen loved music and in addition to eight previously-hired German musicians he had six harpists and violinists and invited more from Silesia. He also had Italian and Polish musicians as well as eleven Turkish players. There were additionally twelve trumpeters and when Catherine of Brandenburg, his second wife, arrived, she brought along the organ player Michael Hermann who later became the city judge in Brassó (Kornstadt). Bethlen also invited organ builder masters from Germany in 1629. The last group of ten musicians arrived in January, 1628, led by the dance master called Diego del Estrada.

As previously stated, in 1605 Bethlen supported Prince István (Stephen) Bocskay and his successor Gabriel Bathory (1608-1613). Bethlen later fell out with Báthory and fled to the Ottoman Empire where he made excellent connections.

In 1613, after Báthory was murdered, the Ottomans installed Bethlen as prince of Transylvania and this was also endorsed by the Transylvanian Diet at Kolozsvár (Cluj, Klausenburg). Taking advantage of the chaotic situation after the previous prince's murder, Bethlen was able to get into power by relying on his diplomacy at the Sublime Porte. After using the Turks' military assistance so openly, he tried hard to improve his reputation because he was accused of "Turk friendship," and Transylvanians in general were mockingly called "Turks with hair on" by other Hungarians.

The Transylvanian-Turkish relations were far from peaceful; it was an alliance born under pressure and the parties didn't trust each other at all. Bethlen tried to manipulate and use his Turk "allies" as much as he could. Transylvania was still too far from both Vienna and Istanbul and Bethlen had to pay the Turks only symbolical taxes to keep them out of his country. The Turks said about Bethlen that ". . . even those who show friendship toward us, do not wish the victory of the Muslims." Nevertheless, in 1615, after the Peace of Tyrnau, Bethlen was also recognized by Matthias, Holy Roman Emperor.

Bethlen's rule was one of patriarchal enlightened absolutism. He developed mines and industry and nationalized many branches of Transylvania's foreign trade. His agents bought goods at fixed prices and sold them abroad at profit. In his capital, in Gyulafehérvár (Alba Iulia), Bethlen built a grand new palace. Bethlen was a patron of the arts and the Calvinist church, giving hereditary nobility to Protestant priests. He also encouraged learning by founding a college, encouraging the enrollment of Hungarian academics and teachers, and sending Transylvanian students to the Protestant universities of England and the Low Countries, as well as in the Protestant principalities of Germany. He also ensured the right of serfs' children to be educated.

Bethlen maintained an efficient standing army of mercenaries. While keeping relations with the Sublime Porte, the Ottomans, he sought to gain lands to the north and west. During the Thirty Years' War, he attacked the Habsburgs of Royal Hungary (1619-1626). Bethlen opposed the tyranny of the Habsburgs and the persecution of Protestants in Royal Hungary, as well as the violation of Bocskay's Peace of Vienna, 1606.

In August, 1619, Bethlen invaded Royal Hungary for the first time and took Kassa (Kosice) in September. His Protestant supporters declared him the leader of Hungary and protector of Protestants and thus he gained control of Upper Hungary. Three Jesuits were mercilessly executed in Kassa that same month, under his authority but without his knowledge. Later these victims, one of which was a good friend of Péter Pázmány, became known as the Martyrs of Kassa and were canonized by the Catholic Church.

In October, 1619, Bethlen took Pozsony (Bratislava, Pressburg), where the Palatine of Hungary ceded him the Holy Crown of Hungary. He was able to take the Royal Hungarian territories quite easily because the local landlords and the warriors of the Frontier sided with him at once. Skeptics may say that the nobility swore fealty to him because they didn't want armies marching through their lands.  After all, at that time it was only Bethlen who could guarantee the territorial status quo and the nobility's unperturbed continuity of their feudal rights. Also, Bethlen's quick success somewhat resembled the glorious age of King Matthias. On the other hand, the petty nobility appreciated that Bethlen had the money to offer an honest rate of pay for both the warriors of the Frontier and the Hajdus, the free soldiers. He encouraged them to join him, and they flocked to his flag: a foot soldier was paid three florins and a rider received four per month. It was very little, but at least it was paid regularly.

In November, his army took the suburbs of Vienna. Unfortunately, they did not take Vienna, and soon the forces of George Druget, Captain of Upper Hungary and Polish mercenaries forced Bethlen to leave Austria and Upper Hungary.

In 1619 everything was ready for Bethlen to be elected and crowned King of Hungary, but if he had taken the title and the Holy Crown at that point, he would have made any further talks with Ferdinand II impossible. In the summer of 1620 Bethlen refused the Holy Crown like Bocskay had in 1605 but later negotiated for peace at Pozsony and in Kassa. He finally received ownership of thirteen counties in the east of Royal Hungary in that same year and was elected King of Hungary at the Diet of Besztercebánya (Banská Bystrica). As a result the war with the Habsburgs resumed.

In his 1620 campaign, Bethlen was successfully able to call the Hungarians to his flag again. He entered Royal Hungary with only three thousand Transylvanian soldiers, but when he arrived in the Trans-Danubian region, all the warriors of the frontier castles, from Tata, Pápa, Veszprém, Várpalota, Sümeg (mentioning just the biggest ones of the fourteen strongholds that changed sides) gladly joined forces with him after a very short time. They reasoned this way: "We have made this turn over neither in hope of booty nor for aspiring after someone's property: but it was out of true love of our homeland and our agreement in defending the freedoms of our country and to safeguard and restore justice, and above all, it was out of the desire of the right to freely live to our faith and religion that had driven us in our actions." Bethlen appreciated that they were the best warriors, experienced and hardened through the wars with the Turks for many generations. The Austrian general Buquoi and Miklós (Nicholas) Eszterházy tried to force them back to the Emperor's service in 1621, but in vain; the warriors followed Bethlen's call and in January they gathered near Szombathely (Savaria) to oppose General Collato's army. It was interesting that these warriors fought not only against Bethlen's enemies but also against Bethlen's Turkish "friendly" auxiliary forces which were pillaging the Hungarian countryside.

In 1621, Ferdinand II regained Pozsony (Bratislava, Pressburg) and the central mining towns. Now it was Bethlen who asked for peace, and in December, 1621, the Peace of Nikolsburg was made. Bethlen renounced his royal title on the condition that Hungarian Protestants were given religious freedoms, and in return he was given the title of Imperial Prince of Hungary and Transylvania, seven counties around the Upper Tisza River, the important fortresses of Tokaj, Munkács (Munkacsevo), and Ecsed (Nagyecsed), and a duchy in Silesia. The Peace of Nikolsburg was a result of Bethlen's realization that he alone didn't possess sufficient power to reunite Hungary against the Habsburgs and that trying to do so without getting rid of the Turkish yoke would lead to great peril.

In 1623, 1624, and 1626, Bethlen, allied with the anti-Habsburg Protestants, made campaigns against Ferdinand in Upper Hungary. The first campaign ended with the Peace of Vienna in 1624, the second by the Peace of Pozsony (Pressburg) in 1626. After the second campaign, Bethlen offered the court of Vienna an alliance against the Ottomans and offered himself in marriage to Renata Cecilia, the Archduchess of Austria, but Ferdinand rejected it. Instead, on his return from Vienna, Bethlen wed the young and beautiful Catherine of Brandenburg, the daughter of John Sigismund, Elector of Brandenburg and the brother-in-law of Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden. Catherine's sister was the wife of Christian IV of Denmark, who had just attacked Ferdinand.

After Bethlen's death in 1629, it was his wife, Catherine of Brandenburg, who became the only female crowned ruler of Transylvania in 1629-1630. She is the connection between the Swedes and the Hungarians.

Swedish-Hungarian diplomatic relations began with negotiations, and when King Gustav Adolph's envoy, Filip Sadler [i.e., Philip Sattler], arrived in Transylvania in 1626, he tried to persuade Bethlen to attack Poland. Bethlen sidestepped and offered to meet Gustav Adolph's troops in Silesia. The Swedish-Transylvanian negotiations went on in Gyulafehérvár, Bethlen's capital. They discussed how to aid each other mutually against the emperor, and the Swedish made an attempt to gain joint monopoly over the red copper mines. It is likely that Bethlen wanted the Polish throne for himself and may have thought of Gustav Adolph as his rival.

The princely wedding with Catherine of Brandenburg took place in Kassa (Kosice) in 1626, but only under the condition set by the bride that Bethlen should make a compensation for the Jesuit martyrs who were executed a few years previously in the very same city. Catherine was twenty-one and Bethlen was forty-five; the latter spoke neither German nor French so they must had had language barriers at first. After arriving in Transylvania, Catherine wasn't warmly accepted by the nobility because she was too fond of grandeur and festivals. Besides, she was German. Soon gossip started connecting her with a handsome young count, István Csáky. On top of that, Bethlen seemingly fell in love with her, giving her luxurious presents and nominating her as his heir on the throne, just a few months after the wedding. The influence of the young Count Csáky had been growing and became more and more obvious. Yet, after Bethlen's death in 1629, the nobility raised no obstacles and allowed her to take the throne, in accordance with Bethlen's will. Bethlen had assigned his younger brother, István Bethlen, to act as a governor, thus assisting in Catherine's reign.

The Protestant István Bethlen developed a strong dislike towards the princess because the young Catholic Count Csáky's influence had become even stronger. The young nobleman was given control over seven royal counties in 1630 and convinced the spiritually unbalanced Catherine to convert to Catholicism and tried to make her negotiate with the Habsburgs. Although the princess hadn't done anything wrong during her ten-month reign, her suggestibility forecast a frightening prospect for the future, and nobody wanted to take the risk. So István Bethlen and the nobles played the inexperienced princess off against the laws and took her power and wealth away, making her resign in September, 1630, just a few months before the Ring of Fire.

It was around this time that György Rakoczi appeared on the scene, and a fierce political fight developed between István Bethlen and him for the throne of Transylvania. The humiliated Catherine of Brandenburg took her revenge on István Bethlen by voting against him in favor of György Rákóczi. Her intervention decided the fate of Transylvania . . . she was able to obtain the Sultan's athname for Rákóczi that officially put him in power. She read it in the Council with utter pleasure. The details of events concerning Catherine between 1630-1633 before she left Transylvania, never to return, would take an entire article by themselves.

In Vienna Catherine met Francis Charles, Prince of Saxonia and Lauenburg. They married in 1639 and lived happily together until she died in 1649.

Gábor Bethlen left behind a stable and independent country, a true "Fairy Garden." It remained George Rakoczi I's task to make it even stronger. When Wallenstein came to know of his adversary's death, he was cursing and loudly exclaimed that "it was due time that he has finally croaked."

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HT4ptrpsmnyPéter Pázmány (1570-1637)

He was a Jesuit, a noted philosopher, theologian, cardinal, pulpit orator, a "Hungarian Cicero in purple" and a great statesman. He was considered to be the most important figure in the Counter-Reformation in the Hungarian kingdom. It was said, "He was born in a Protestant country and died in a Catholic one." He created the Hungarian literary language and became the Primate of Hungary, the chief priest of the kingdom, in 1616.

In 1619 he founded a seminary for theological candidates at Nagyszombat (Trnava) and in 1623 laid the foundations of a similar institution at Vienna, the still famous Pazmaneum. In 1635 he founded the university in Nagyszombat. The faculty of Theology later, in modern days, became the famous Peter Pázmány Catholic University of Budapest, named for him. Pázmány also built Jesuit colleges and schools at Pozsony (Bratislava, Pressburg) and Franciscan monasteries at Érsekújvár (Nove Zamky) and Körmöcbánya.

It was chiefly due to him that the Diet of 1618 elected Archduke Ferdinand to succeed the childless Matthias. He also repeatedly softened the martial ambitions of his good friend, the Transylvanian Prince Gabriel Bethlen and prevented György Rákoczi I, over whom he had a great influence, from allying with the Ottoman Empire and the Protestants.

Pope Urban VIII made him a Cardinal in 1629. He was assigned by the emperor to be the tutor of young Nicholas (Miklos) Zrinyi.

In 1630 he was in Rome and tried through his influence with the pope to help his country. Sadly, the pope was very cold to him and was happy when he left.

The emperor sent Pázmány to Rome again in 1632 to persuade the pope to support the steps against the decline of Catholicism. Pázmány asked the pope to dissuade Louis XIII of French from supporting the Swedish king. Urban VIII turned it down, saying that the Swedish king's war motives were not religious ones. While Paul V and Gregory XV perceived the Thirty Years War as a religious struggle, Urban VIII didn't because he was looking at it from the Italian princes' viewpoint. The Pope strongly disliked the Spanish success and could hardly hide his happiness as he witnessed the Habsburgs' decline. The Pope absolutely agreed with Richelieu on that.

In vain did Pázmány hope that the Catholic forces would do away with the heretics first, then would sweep the pagan Turks out altogether. The Barberinis of Rome praised his clever brain and wits but coldly refused his plans. He was told that he couldn't be an advocate nor envoy of rulers because he was a high priest. He was sent back to Vienna with a very small amount of financial support against the Turks.

Later, the pope was not very happy with one of the Spanish rulers' idea that he wanted Pázmány to return to Rome.

In one of his letters to the Emperor Ferdinand II, written in Pozsony in 1632, Pázmány suggested the creation of a western Catholic coalition against the Turks. "I know very well what they say about the Austrian Empire in Rome," he wrote. "They think you do nothing against the Ottomans and you only want to make war with foreign help." He did his utmost to use his influence with the pope to provoke Ferdinand and urge the war. It was a measure of his skill that he could negotiate between Prince Rákóczi and István Bethlen in 1636.  He died in Pozsony in 1637. (Unless possibly superior medical treatment from the future prolongs his life—his good intentions and negotiator's skills could be most helpful.)

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Péter Alvinczi - born Nagyenyed (Aiud), 1570; died Kassa (Kosice, Kaschau), 1634.

He was a famous Reformed pastor, polemicist, and the great adversary of Archibishop Péter Pázmány. He studied first at Nagyvárad (Oradea). It is unknown whether he went to Switzerland and Italy but he must have gone to Wittenberg and Heidelberg, Germany. He returned in 1602 and became a dean in Debrecen, then became a pastor in 1603 in Nagyvárad where he stayed until 1604. He was invited by Prince Bocskay to come and be his pastor at Nagykereki. He accepted and became the Prince's vicar. He was then a pastor in Kassa, 1606, where he stayed in this office until his death in 1634. When the three Jesuits were executed in Kassa, allegedly it was he who had demanded their death; one of them used to be a dear friend of Péter Pázmány. He became most famous for his debates with Archibishop Péter Pázmány. He wrote political pamphlets and exchanged letters with Prince Gábor Bethlen. He also published a Latin grammar book and was dealing with Hungarian grammar as well but his Hungarian grammar book published in 1639 has since disappeared.  He would probably not have welcomed the Americans from Grantville, despite being a Protestant. Yet because of the Ring of Fire, he could possibly have lived beyond 1634.

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HT4ncsthzyBaron Miklós (Nicholas) Esterházy (1583-1645)

He was the founder of his family's wealth. Coming from the lower nobility he rose to became a baron, count, and Palatine of Hungary. He had seven younger and two elder brothers as well as two sisters. He was brought up in Vienna by the Jesuits.

He converted to the Catholic faith in 1601, and his father disinherited him and chased him away from home. During the siege of Esztergom he was in one camp with Wallenstein in 1604 but nothing is known about their relationship. After serving under the former palatine, he went to Kassa where he served under its captain.

He became immensely rich because of his first marriage in 1612 with Orsolya Dersffy, the widow of the departed captain of Kassa. He had been having a love affair with Orsolya—who was many years older than him—while her husband (his boss) was still alive. Later the lady helped him a lot, and they had a son, István, in 1616.

Orsolya died in 1619 and Esterházy married another rich widow, Krisztina Nyáry, in 1624. During the fifteen years of their marriage they had nine children.

The Habsburgs noted Baron Esterházy because he was one of the few members of the Hungarian nobility to convert to Catholicism, and also because of his zeal in fighting the Turks. The king made him a baron, along with five of his brothers, in 1613, and the next year he gained his reputation as a negotiator in Linz.

His former Jesuit tutor was Péter Pázmány, and Esterházy helped him to be promoted to archbishop of Esztergom. Their relationship later was spoiled, and Pázmány vehemently attacked him in public many times while Esterházy blamed the Jesuit for his friendly relations with the almost bigot Calvinist Prince Rákóczi I. Pázmány also tried to restrict the palatine's power and rights in favor of his own authority.

Esterházy had been in battles against the Turks during the Long War, but he also defeated the army of the Pasha of Bosnia in 1623. (When the pasha was dismissed by Prince Bethlen from his camp, the Turk soldier returned angrily home, packed with plunder and slaves. He was attacked and utterly defeated by Esterházy when crossing the Nyitra river. All the Christian captives were freed, and it was guessed that it may have been Bethlen himself who had informed Esterházy about the pasha's route in order to get rid of his unwanted Turkish ally.)

The Emperor made him Palatine of Hungary in 1625, giving him the highest political function in the country. This time the Palatine's annual salary was twenty-two thousand Hungarian florins. He also became Count of Fraknó and Knight in the Order of the Golden Fleece in 1626. He had been entrusted with the most important questions of the country since 1622. In his court he surrounded himself with the most talented young Hungarian aristocrats whom he trained to become successful diplomats. The list of his titles and domains is long. He fought against Prince Bethlen and was rewarded by the Emperor for it. Also, he was an enemy of Prince György Rákóczi I. Esterházy collected a five thousand-strong army when the Prince was crowned and tried to defeat him, but Rákóczi won the battle of Rakamaz in March, 1631, by sending his Hajdus to attack the mounds of the fortification.

The emperor issued some warnings against the palatine in the 1630s because he had made some attacks from the frontier castles against the Turks. He was said to have been struggling with the emperor and many times had considered resigning from his posts.

He openly supported the Hungarian interests in court and organized the upkeep of the frontier castles. Esterházy established the famous library called Bibliotheca Esterhazyana in his palace in Lackenbach, near Vienna. This palace also had a huge and elegant Renaissance garden. He considered writing to be as important as politics. His court became a meeting place of notable theologians of the age. He founded a renowned treasury-collection at his other main residence, the great castle of Fraknó (Forchtenstein) of Upper Hungary.

The palatine's goal was to bring about the unity of Royal Hungary and Transylvania under the Habsburgs' rule in order to defeat the Turks. He considered Transylvania a puppet-state of the Ottoman Empire, a dangerous bastion against the Catholics, but he defended the feudal privileges of the Hungarian nobility and fought for the emperor's approval of an independent Hungarian army at the same time.

After the death of Ferdinand II in 1637, he suddenly had many enemies, although the Ring of Fire could change this. In the original timeline he was central in Hungarian anti-Protestantism and achieved the conversion of many Hungarian aristocrats, including Ádám Batthyány and Ferenc Nádasdy. He also supported the baroque-style constructions and music throughout the country.

During his last years, the young Miklós Zrínyi visited him. Later Pál Esterházy, Miklós' son, served under Zrínyi against the Turks.

Four members of the Esterházy family died in the battle of Vezekény against the Turks when they defeated an army that was three times bigger than theirs. The palatine's son, Pál, never joined the conspirator aristocrats against the court and helped the Habsburgs put down Prince Ferenc Rákóczi II's freedom fight in 1703-11.

Palatine Miklós Esterházy is a dividing figure, and one can't jump to conclusions about his person easily. It is true that he fought against the Turks with all his might, but he was absolutely loyal to the Habsburgs. The reaction of Miklós Esterházy to the Americans' arrival is an open question.

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