Thursday, 21 March 2013

A Lesser Known Character of the Reformation...

Ioan Iacob Heraclid (or Eraclid) (1511–1563), also known as Jacob Heraclides, was a Greek soldier and ruler of Moldavia from November 1561 to November 1563, most notable for being the first officially Protestant monarch in Eastern Europe.

Jakob Heraklides was a Greek solider of fortune from the Aegean Island of Samos, who made a career in western European armies and became fascinated by Latin Europe and western Christianity. Clearly charming and charismatic, he won the good opinion of Philipp Melancthon (German Reformer) during time in Wittenberg and he successfully served in Charles V's (Holy Roman Emperor, indeed Habsburg world monarch) armies and in Poland-Lithuania. His contact with the Reformed magnate family of Radziwill encouraged him away from his enthusiasm for Lutheranism, and it was also Prince Mickolaj Krzysztov of Radziwell who recommended him to service of the Voivode (Prince) of Moldavia  Having arrived there, Heraklides scented an opportunity to harness discontent against a ruler who was widely hated for collaborating with the Turkish Empire. Creatively drawing on his varied acquaintance in the West, he led an army backed by both the Habsburgs and by Lithuanian magnates, and in 1561 he succeeded in his bid to take over Moldavia, taking the Greek title of Despot. He paid tribute to the Turkish Sultan and saw himself as a champion of Christianity, and most remarkably he saw himself as a Protestant Christian and he regarded the religion of his birth with contempt.

Heraklides ordered Protestant worship at his Moldavian Court, appointed a Polish Reformer as Bishop, and called scholars from all over the Protestant World. Some were optimistic enough to accept the invitation, which was a mistake, because Heraklides' rule was rapidly undermined by his genuine and urgent commitment to Reformed Protestantism, in a land which knew only small communities of non-Moldavians not owing loyalty to the Orthodox hierarchy of bishops. If anything destroyed this monarch, it was the issue that seperated the Reformed from everyone else- their hatred of scared images. In the Despot's need for cash to support his government and army he plundered Orthodox monasteries, not exempting various precious metal crosses which were regarded with particular veneration, or worse still, the precious metal frames of icons; out of this bullion he minted a coinage which as was customary, bore his portrait.

Nothing was more calculated to enrage the Orthodox population, because it recalled for them the iconoclastic disputes which had torn apart the Byzantine Empire nearly a millennium before. Those ancient destroyers had denounced images, but showed no problems with the portraits of monarchs on coins: this inconsistency had been seen as a symptom of their wickedness by the victorious champions of icons. Now the same rhetoric was turned on Heraklides by the leaders of the Orthodox Church.

When Heraklides married the daughter of a great Polish aristocrat, rather than a Moldavian, his fate was sealed. His army melted away and he was butchered without mercy, as was the hapless widow of the late Polish bishop and anyone else whom the infuriated Moldavians decided was a Protestant.

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