Hunyadi’s Long Campaign in 1443-44 /part one
When Hunyadi János, perhaps the greatest military leader of the 15th century is mentioned, people tend to remember three major things about him: his victory at Nándorfehérvár aka Belgrade in 1456, the Long Campaign and that he was the father of King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary. Now, let’s talk about the Long Campaign between October 1443 and January 1444.
It is important to note that young King Ulászló of Hungary and Poland (1424-1444) fought on Hunyadi’s side during the campaign.
You can read the history of the previous years on my page:
As we had read before, the kingdom was still on the brink of civil war and anarchy. We know it was the reason the Ottomans took advantage of the situation and attacked in the previous year but were defeated severely by Hunyadi’s sword. Yet, the Ottoman envoys were in Buda, hoping in the victory of their superior forces, unaware of the defeats. They were ready to offer peace to King Ulászló in case he ceded over Nándorfehérvár aka Belgrade…
Let us read the letter of Hunyadi to the King, sent in August 1442:
“If they (my note: the Turks) do not offer us peace under even-handed terms, then, with a strong soul, we will have to endure the inner and outer troubles that lie heavily on us. We must face the outer threats a thousand-folds than letting the country be mutilated by derogatory peace-terms, thus making the country smaller. We do not allow anyone to cut out even a small piece of our Homeland, neither temporarily nor forever. We will not tolerate that the land which we had taken over from our honorable forefathers in a considerable powerful state, should suffer mutilation due to unjust peace terms. There is no bigger dishonor to us than weakening the country day by day, just out of negligence and defeatism. On the contrary, we had better augmenting the country, following the example of our forebearers. As a result of this, continuing the war would encourage us to achieve better peace, unlike a different peace that could only be purchased by tearing off parts from the country. We do not need such peace! By our force, weapons and with our attainments we will fight a more righteous and reasonable peace for us.”
Even if we consider Hunyadi’s recent victories and the Ottoman Empire’s renewed troubles in the Karaman Province, it would have been a quite daring thing to attack the Turks. Especially, when the throne of the young king was not so steady, so to say.
Do you remember the daughter of late King Zsigmond, the widow of King Habsburg Albert? Queen Elisabeth of Luxembourg was still strong in the northern and western parts of the kingdom.
Was the Sacred Crown of the Hungarians not in the hand of the German King Frederick III (later emperor), just like the usurper baby King László V, son of Queen Elisabeth and Habsburg Albert? Fortunately, Cardinal Cesarini arrived from Rome in May 1442 to make peace between the Queen and the Polish-Hungarian King Ulászló I.
Then, the Queen gave in and mysteriously died in December in Győr, a few days after signing the treaty. Her followers rebelled and the civil war needed just a spark. But Cesarini intervented.
Hunyadi had excellent Italian contacts and he had to know that the Pope sent his envoy to pave the way to a new war against the Ottomans. Hunyadi was supported by Baron Újlaki Miklós and soon, the barons of the kingdom met in April to discuss the war against the Turks. Finally, they voted on a special military tax: the noblemen were to pay one gold Ducat per houses they owned in their villages. It is a pity that this money arrived mostly in the pockets of the lords, though.
However, the planned Crusade seemed to strengthen the position of the king. But he needed a few more victories quite badly.
The Pope issued a declaration in 1443 in which he called the victories of Hunyadi “a miracle of God” and called the people’s attention to the Muslim threat. All the European rulers were called to arms. Papal promises were made to equip a navy and one-tenth of the Pope’s global income was dedicated to the Crusade, at least on paper.
But the reality was different. According to the letter of Chancellor Gaspar Schlick of King Frederick III, written to Cesarini, there would be no help from Europe. Frederick excused himself because of his Czech problems. Venice, quite grudgingly, supplied six galleys so as to block the Bosporus but they had their second thoughts.
According to Bonfini, in spite of the unwillingness of the European kings, several knights arrived as volunteers from France and Germany.
It was only Cardinal Cesarini who was able to raise some money to the king. As a result of this, he became his trusted clergyman and we will see how it led to both of their deaths in the Battle of Várna in 1444.
Hunyadi was right when he wanted to place the theatre of war to the enemy’s land, though. Right after the decision, Hunyadi left Buda and began to collect the money for the war. The gold of the Serbian Despot Brankovics was quite helpful to him but he also invested 32,000 Gold pieces into the campaign from his own income. He ordered the Saxons of Transylvania to contribute to the campaign with wagons built in Hussite-style, along with cannons and guns and all kinds of equipment. We know that at least 600 Hussite-type wagons used in the campaign were produced in Hungary.
He was also recruiting 10-12,000 mercenaries, the core of his army. As for the other Hungarian high-ranking noblemen, we know that only Marcali, Cudar, and Pálóci joined in with their men. Polish and Moldavian troops also came under his flags.
With the mercenaries hired by the Pope, the king’s army grew to 15,000 men when they set out from Buda on 22 July 1443. We can add Hunyadi’s 10-12,000 professional soldiers coming from Transylvania, and the Serbian cavalry of Despot Brankovics, 8,000 horsemen who joined the army after crossing the border at Nándorfehérfár / Belgrade in October. Altogether, there were about 35,000 men, a considerably large force in that age. As they moved towards Edirne, the capital of the Sultan, more and more Balkanian troops joined them. The army’s supplies were carried on 3,000 wagons.
Historians are not sure who led the Wallachian troops (2,000 horsemen) to Hunyadi’s flag because Voivode Basarab Dan II of Wallachia, Hunyadi’s friend, had been removed by Vlad Dracul. Vlad Dracul was on the Turks’ side, this time. As for Vlad, we know that later he visited Hunyadi’s camp, suggesting them turn and flee as soon as they still can.