Selected Passages from Hungarian-Ottoman Wars

Várna, 1444: Were Hunyadi and the King oathbreakers? Part One

King Ulászló I aka Wladyslaw III

The events leading to the Battle of Várna; the spring and the summer of 1444

We have talked about the glorious Long Campaign of Hunyadi that ended in February 1444.

You can read about it here:

Late posterity said that young King Ulászló I (aka Wladyslaw III), monarch of Hungary and Poland lost his life in the Battle of Várna in November 1444 because he broke the oath he had made with Sultan Murad.

Now, we are going to take a closer look at the events leading to the Battle of Várna where Hunyadi won the battle but the king lost it by getting himself killed in an unnecessary charge at the end of the fight. The battle itself will be told in a later post.

Let us see the circumstances of the king’s oath and find out whether it was a reasonable one or not before judging him too harshly.

Pope Eugenius IV had high hopes about the possible reunification of the Catholic and the Orthodox Church and Emperor Johannes VII of Byzantium would have agreed in case of a victorious campaign against the Ottoman Turks. Cardinal Cesarini, the Pope’s legate in Hungary was doing his best to persuade the king for the next Crusade. As a result of this, King Ulászló made an oath during the spring that he would lead a campaign against the Ottomans during the summer. However, the plan was not supported by his Polish subjects who thought that a new war would be unnecessary. They were upset about the money they were going to pay, saying that Poland was not in immediate danger.

In the meantime, Sultan Murad was not idle, either. He started negotiations with his father-in-law, the Serbian Despot, Brankovics György aka Đurađ Branković. He agreed to give him back to Serbia and would return his two sons who had been blinded while they were in Ottoman captivity.

Brankovics tried to persuade Hunyadi János to help him in bringing along peace between the Hungarian king and Murad. In exchange for Hunyadi’s help, Brankovics offered him his extended domains that were in the Kingdom of Hungary. It was not in vain, Hunyadi was tending to accept it. On top of this, Murad offered to pay 100,000 gold Forints to Ulászló as indemnity. Also, the Sultan promised him 25,000 Ottoman auxiliary forces in case Ulászló wanted to go on a campaign, aimed somewhere else than his Empire. The truce would have lasted for ten years. 

Of course, the king received reports about the unsolid conditions in the Ottoman Empire, namely that there were uprisings usurpers who appeared against the Sultan. There was great unrest in Edirne, bloodshed almost every day. The Turk soldiers were also rebelling because their pay had not arrived. It has also become obvious that Murad had to march his army to Anatolia.

Cardinal Cesarini Giuliano

Who supported Cesarini’s warmongering? The envoys of Venice and Burgundy made their solemn oath that their combined fleet would block the waters of the Helléspontos so as to stop the army of Murad coming from Anatolia. Moreover, Cardinal Francesco Condulmar, the cousin of Pope Eugenius declared on 4 June that eight warships of the Papal State are ready in the harbor of Venice. Additionally, the Burgundians were said to have equipped three more galleons and smaller ships in Nice. The Cardinal appointed Walerand de Wavrin as the admiral of the Christian fleet but the Cardinal remained the chief commander. 

a Venetian galley at about 1500

At the same time, the Doge of Venice wrote to the Hungarian king that the ships are already on the way towards Gallipoli, and further ships were sent to the lower section of the Danube River so as to help the Christian army’s crossing. The last reason given by Cesarini was that the Ottomans had not kept the peace as they did not cede the castle of Galambóc / Golubac over within eight days.

Galambóc / Golubac castle

Due to Giuliano Cesarini’s advice, the king decided to precede the signing of the truce with another oath. In this oath that he took in Szeged castle, he swore that the preparations for the new campaign would not stop and the truce with the Turks would be not valid.


As it happened, the Sultan’s peace offer was signed by Hunyadi in August, acting on behalf of the king at Nagyvárad (Oradea). Then, Cardinal Cesarini absolved the king from the „oath given to the pagans”.

In the case of a successful campaign, the king promised to make Hunyadi the King of Bulgaria. Nevertheless, Hunyadi managed to take over the huge domains of Brankovics that lay in Hungary. The Sultan was also taking steps in order to accomplish the terms of the truce. Yet, the campaign was launched on 22 September and the Hungarian troops set out to liberate the Balkan. However, their conditions were far worse than at the beginning of the Long Campaign a year ago.

You can read the second part of this story here:

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