This past week, I lost a dear friend to cancer. Cindy was one of my neighbors and one who loved to read--particularly historical fiction. Whenever I had read an especially fabulous book, I'd always let her know, and she'd do the same for me, so we'd never miss a read that was un-put-downable.
I had the honor of playing the piano for her funeral, but unknown to me and before her death Cindy planned an honor for me. Tom, her husband, had set up a "Cindy display"--her Adirondack chair that she loved with her favorite blanket hanging over it, her glasses, and a good book. But it was the choice of WHICH book Cindy chose. Sitting in the Adirondack chair, right under her glasses was Antonius: Son of Rome.
I was reduced to tears, standing there and seeing what my friend had done. Readers are every author's friend, and sometimes you find a special one in the bunch that touches you beyond words. That was me today.
This week, I have the joy of welcoming Griffin Brady--who just like Cindy and me--has a passion for historical fiction. I asked Griffin to tell us more about what a "hussar" was, so we could get right down into the depth of her work. I hope you enjoy her response and the lovely graphics associated with her blog. This is a sweeping story--and I can't wait to download this book!
So read on, everybody!
Polish Winged Hussars
By Griffin Brady
The rise of the Polish winged hussars began in the late 16th century when the Kingdom of Poland was united with the Duchy of Lithuania in one vast commonwealth, making it a superpower. Europe’s most populous country at the time, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was also one of the largest.
Poland was a center of cultural enlightenment, known for its democracy and religious freedom. Unfortunately, the Commonwealth was constantly warring with its enemies: Muscovy, Sweden, and the Ottoman Empire, together with their vassals, the Crimean Tatars. A strong military was a necessity, but Poland had only a small standing army. Hence, it relied heavily on the nobility to fight its wars.
The Polish winged hussars had been around in various iterations for decades. The first were unarmored Serbian light cavalry with shields, and their force soon grew to include Polish, Lithuanian and Hungarian recruits. Along the way, they became an amalgam of eastern and western influences. For instance, while Polish armies had been based on western Europe’s medieval knight—complete with cumbersome armor and heavy lance—Lithuania’s military borrowed from Byzantine, Russian and Mongol traditions. By the 1550s, companies were a mishmash—a mix of heavily-armored, western style lancers and the lighter hussar cavalrymen who sometimes sported western armor as they fought alongside the heavy lancers.
Enter Stefan Batory (right) of the Hungarian noble house of Batory, ruler of Transylvania, who was elected the Commonwealth’s King in 1576. He took the two forces and blended them into one consistent “heavy” cavalry, abandoning the shield and taking up armor in its stead. King Stefan’s newly created heavy hussars were soon battle-tested and proved themselves a dominant force, and by the 1590s, the prototype was consistent throughout the Polish army.
The husaria, as they were also known, would become a fundamental component of the Commonwealth’s troops, developing into an elite group of armored cavalrymen. With a twenty-foot lance called a “kopia,” they perfected cavalry charges that smashed enemy defensive lines. Because they often fought on open plains that favored such cavalry charges, they dominated the battlefield. Exceptionally trained, the hussars were highly skilled shock troops. They were their own version of modern-day special forces, and they were formidable.
(Below left, a Winged Hussar)
Polish winged hussars were the difference maker in many conflicts, where they prevailed over enemy armies that far outnumbered them. For instance, in one of their most extraordinary victories, the Battle of Kłuszyn, on July 4, 1610, a force of roughly 2,700 (200 infantrymen and 2,500 winged hussars) defeated 40,000 combined Muscovites and foreign troops.* The difference in troop sizes was eye-popping, and yet the hussars triumphed.
The Battle of Kłuszyn was not just one aberrant phenomenon. During the winged hussars’ golden age (late 16th century to late 17th century), they engaged in similarly skewed battles where they emerged the victors. A few examples: the Battle of Kokenhausen in 1601, the Battle of Kircholm in 1605, and the Battle of Chocim in 1621.
The Polish winged hussars were truly exceptional soldiers who flexed their formidable muscle and impacted warfare for over a hundred years, garnering respect and dread from those familiar with their feats. They are now the stuff of legends.
*As recounted in Radisław Sikora, Ph.D.’s writings. Dr. Sikora is one of the world’s leading experts on the history of the Polish winged hussars.
Behind Heart of a Hussar
Poland is at war. He must choose between his lifelong ambition and his heart.
Exploiting Muscovy’s Time of Troubles, Poland has invaded the chaotic country. Twenty-two-year-old Jacek Dąbrowski is an honorable, ferocious warrior in a company of winged hussars—an unrivaled, lethal cavalry. When his lieutenant dies in battle, Jacek is promoted to replace him, against the wishes of his superior, Mateusz, who now has more reason to eliminate him.
Jacek dedicates his life to gaining the king’s recognition and manor lands of his own. Consequently, he closely guards his heart, avoiding lasting romantic entanglements. Unscathed on the battlefield, undefeated in tournaments, and adored by women eager to share his bed, Jacek has never lost at anything he sets out to conquer. So when he charges toward his goals, he believes nothing stands in his way.
Upon his return from battle, Jacek deviates from his ordinarily unemotional mindset and rescues enemy siblings, fifteen-year-old Oliwia and her younger brother, Filip, from their devastated Muscovite village. His act of mercy sets into motion unstoppable consequences that ripple through his well-ordered life for years to come—and causes him to irretrievably lose his heart.
Oliwia has her own single-minded drive: to protect her young brother. Her determination and self-sacrifice lead her to adopt a new country, a new religion, and a new way of life. But it’s not the first time the resilient beauty has had to remake herself, for she is not what she appears to be.
As Jacek battles the Muscovites and Tatars threatening Poland’s borders for months at a time, Oliwia is groomed for a purpose concealed from her. All the while, Mateusz’s treachery and a mysterious enemy looming on the horizon threaten to destroy everything Jacek holds dear.
All About Griffin
Griffin Brady is a historical fiction author with a keen interest in the Polish Winged Hussars of the 16th and 17th centuries. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society and Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. The Heart of a Hussar took third place in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ 2018 Colorado Gold Contest and was a finalist in the Northern Colorado Writers’ 2017 Top of the Mountain Award.
The proud mother three grown sons, she lives in Colorado with her husband. She is also an award-winning, Amazon bestselling romance author who writes under the pen name G.K. Brady.
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