21 October 1540: Leonhard von Fels besieges Buda

Queen Isabella, late King Szapolyai’s widow
During the Dual Kingship of Hungary, two kings tore the kingdom in two. King Habsburg Ferdinand ruled the western part of the country while King Szapolyai János was the monarch of the eastern part, including Transylvania. In 1540, it was the second time that King Ferdinand attacked Buda, the first siege had been beaten back in 1530, with Turkish help, though. This time, there were no Ottoman soldiers defending Buda against the attacking German troops.
Buda in the 1530s
King Szapolyai János of Hungary passed away in July 1540. There was a treaty between him and King Habsburg Ferdinand, it was signed in 1538 at Várad. According to the treaty, King Ferdinand was supposed to inherit the country of King Szapolyai János who had no male heir at that time. However, King Szapolyai didn’t really trust that King Ferdinand would be able to defend Hungary from the Ottomans so he married Isabella Jagiellon, the daughter of the Polish King Sigismund I in 1539. Let’s remark, that the Treaty of Várad was a secret contract. However, Ferdinand got very angry because of Szapolyai’s marriage, and he sent his envoy, the Polish Jeromos Laszky to Istanbul to inform Sultan Suleiman about the secret treaty. Revealing the secret to the enemy would have been enough to break the agreement but on top of that, King Szapolyai had a son from Isabella in 1540: János Zsigmond.
King Szapolyai in 1535
When Szapolyai heard the news about the birth of his son, he was far away but he immediately set out home. Yet, he got mortally sick and before his sudden death, he took an oath from his Treasurer, Martinuzzi György aka Fráter György that his son would be placed on the Hungarian throne. After Szapolyai’s death, Ferdinand, according to the Treaty of Várad, demanded the Hungarian royal coronation jewels along with the castle of Buda from Queen Isabella.
King Habsburg Ferdinand I
However, Fráter György kept his word and summoned the Hungarian noblemen to the Field of Rákos near Buda to elect a new king. Thus, the baby János Zsigmond was elected as King of Hungary on 13 September 1540. Right after this, Fráter György sent an envoy to Sultan Suleiman on behalf of the new king. The sultan accepted him as a king (calling him “King István”) so Ferdinand had no other choice left except for a military attack.
Fráter György, the Caretaker of the young king
 The Habsburg king hastily summoned an army of 8,000 soldiers in the first days of October, near Vienna. His Senechal, Leonhard von Fels became the leader of the army. He used the Danube river as a road and carried the soldiers on boats from Vienna to Esztergom and to Buda. He arrived at Esztergom on 5 October. Then, the Habsburg army took the lower castle of Visegrád on 17 October, and Vác castle also fell on the next day. They were getting close to Buda castle, and Fráter György decided to resist, though Queen Isabella was open to agreeing with Ferdinand. Here is more about the history of Buda Castle:
Queen Isabella’s father, King Sigismund of Poland also accepted his grandchild, János Zsigmond as king of Hungary. The Polish king even sent an envoy to Sultan Suleiman to persuade him to aid the child king with Ottoman troops. Fráter György appointed Lord Török Bálint to organize the defense of Buda castle. There were 4,000 guards in Buda, and the castle had been significantly fortified by the late King Szapolyai in the previous decade.
Buda in 1540
The army of General Fels came to the proximity of Buda on 21 October. The general was very determined and gave an hour to Queen Isabella to reconsider and cede the Hungarian capital to him. Yet, Friar (Fráter) György was successfully delaying the fight with talks, distracting the attention of Fels. It was how the German troops were unprepared when a Hungarian Hussar contingent sallied from the castle, killing many of the enemies.
A Hungarian Hussar, 16th century
Initially, General Fels wanted to take Buda with a decisive assault. When he saw the new fortifications, he was not so sure about sending his soldiers against the walls. While thinking, his troops were destroying the area, raiding and plundering around. The German soldiers didn’t have much food and many of them began to doubt the successful outcome of the siege, too. In the meantime, Fráter György was freely carrying lots of food into the castle, before the eyes of the besiegers.
Also, Fráter György (he was nicknamed the “White Monk” after his Paulinian robes), spread the fake news in the neighboring villages that the Ottoman army was approaching and the Turks would destroy even more than the Germans. The White Monk offered everybody shelter in Buda castle in exchange for bringing in food. As a result of this, many folks were coming with loaded wagons of food but only those men were allowed to get in the castle who could wield a sword. The rest of the people were sent home.
a German cannon, 16th century
In the meantime, Fels received some more reinforcement, now he had 10,000 soldiers but their number was still not enough. They had 30 large siege cannons but in vain, because they hadn’t fired a single shot at the walls. The winter was coming, and Fels wanted to finish the campaign before soon. To achieve something, he crossed the Danube with his men on 14 November and took Pest City with a single assault. It was an easy success as Pest was barely defended by a few soldiers.
Pest, opposite to Buda, in 1526
 General Fels appointed three officers to guard Pest: they were Varkocs György, Bebek Ferenc, and Otto Dischkau. (Please, note that I use the Oriental name order for Hungarians where family names come first.) On the way back home to Vienna, Fels took Visegrád and Székesfehérvár castles but he could not seize Pápa castle, the stronghold of Lord Török Bálint. During the next year, King Ferdinand sent an army again to take Buda but they suffered a disastrous defeat because Sultan Suleiman’s army arrived there. And we know that Suleiman didn’t risk leaving Buda without Ottoman guards…It was how Buda fell to the Turks in 1541 because of the Habsburg attack. You can read about the details of Buda’s fall in my dramatized short story here:
Source: based on Szibler Gábor’s research

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Buda castle
Photo: Kocsis Kadosa