Selected Passages from Hungarian-Ottoman Wars between 1372-1699

29 August 1526: The Battle of Mohács

The Battle of Mohács on a contemporary etching

Foreword

The following article is a summary of the Battle of Mohács, written by a Hungarian historian, reenactor, and friend, Szibler Gábor who has been spreading so passionately our history in Hungarian social media on his Facebook group “Vitézlő Rend – török- és kuruckori hagyományőrzés”, and so effectively, on very high quality. Here is his Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/411986345503354 

The Battle of Mohács

In order to understand the military side of this battle, it is advisable to read the story of the Battle of Szávaszentdemeter in 1523 where the Hungarians defeated a lot larger Ottoman army:

https://www.hungarianottomanwars.com/1490-1541/the-battle-of-szavaszentdemeter-1523/

Sultan Suleiman

There are many things to say about this battle that was a milestone in Hungarian history but I am intending to write about them in a stand-alone series. I would like to address the questions about the death of King Lajos aka Louis II and scrutinize the history of the 1520s in a more detailed way, as the 500th anniversary of this event is ahead of us.

King Lajos II of Hungary and his Queen, Habsburg Maria

In addition to the bare facts, enjoy this well-documented and excellent animation video and read the English subtitles:

https://www.hungarianottomanwars.com/videos/the-battle-of-mohacs-1526/

The Battle of Mohács, 29 August 1526

Christian knights, 16th century
Sultan Suleiman launched a second campaign against Hungary in 1526. Previously, he had tried to persuade King Lajos II to yield the power to him but his demand was refused. The sultan was particularly angered by the imprisonment of his envoy in Buda. Suleiman had taken the most important southern Borderland castles of Hungary five years ago: behind Szabács (Sabac) and Nándorfehérvár (Belgrade), there was not existing a serious line of castles. Thus, the Turkish army could have even marched unopposed until Buda. 
The events on the map
On the way, the Ottoman army took Pétervárad (Petrovaradin) castle, then Újlak (Ilok) castle. In the meantime, the Chief Captain of the southern Borderland, Tomori Pál, the Archbishop of Kalocsa was slowly withdrawing before them as his small army could not have attacked the Ottoman army. During this time, the Hungarian main army was coming together quite slowly. The reason for the slowness was that they had to summon the Diet first, and the harvest had to be completed, too. Also, the foreign mercenaries coming from abroad could set out towards Hungary only during the summer. 
Hungarian noblemen of the age
Finally, according to the sources it is undoubtedly that 25-26,000 men and 85 cannons were deployed on the battlefield of Mohács. In this age, no other western country would have been able to summon a bigger army. For example, the territory of France was about the same territory but they had more inhabitants: their army was about the same size. 
The jousting sallet of King Lajos II
The Hungarian king’s court troops numbered between 500 and 1,000 soldiers while the standing army of the Borderland castles consisted of 5,000 cavalrymen. The noblemen sent 15-18,000 soldiers, based on the so-called “Banderium” system. By law, the landlords were obliged to send a certain number of soldiers according to the size of the nobleman’s domain. The royal towns sent about 1,000 mercenaries. As for the mass-obligation of the Hungarian noblemen, 20-21,000 should have answered to the summons of the king, not many appeared at Mohács because of various excuses like old age or not having enough money.
A gold Forint minted by King Lajos II (1517)
The Transylvanian army was not able to be at Mohács because Voivode Szapolyai János was still staying at Szeged with his troops at the time of the battle. Additionally, several thousands of Czech, Polish, and Papal elite mercenaries would have arrived, most of them were paid by the noblemen of Bohemia and Moravia but they could have arrived in Buda only at the end of the summer.
The Hungarian cavalry mainly consisted of light horsemen that were effective against the Ottoman light cavalry. The heavy cavalry was more expensive but their role could have been decisive in the battle.
*My note: please, read my article about the role of cavalry at Mohács here:

During the reign of Sultan Selim I there was a long peace and only those soldiers were able to gain martial experiences who were guarding the Hungarian southern borders, not to mention the seasoned and professional mercenaries. Unfortunately, many of the best warriors just died during the fights before Mohács. 
Janissaries
In this case, the Ottomans were the attackers so they were able to amass food supplies and they could set the target, too. They could not be blocked on the Hungarian border because the castles had fallen to the Turks before and the king’s army was coming together very slowly. It was why the Hungarian military council appointed the flat area of Mohács as a battlefield because the swamps could defend the troops from two sides. There was no way to move further north, the withdrawal without a fight may have morally tousled the country. King Lajos (Louis) appointed Tomori as the commander of the army. The same rank was given to Szapolyai György who was supposed to command the army with Tomori until the arrival of his brother, Voivode Szapolyai János. (Please, note that I use the Oriental name order for Hungarians where family names come first.)
Tomori Pál (drawing by Somogyi Győző)
As it was, the Hungarian army counted 25,000 soldiers and it faced a 2-3 times larger enemy. Because of this, Tomori’s concept was to beat the foe unit by unit. He deployed his soldiers in a wide battle line to prevent getting surrounded. In the morning hours of 29 August, the Hungarian army was standing in full readiness, deployed on the field amid the heat of the summer. The Ottomans arrived only in the afternoon, in full battle order. At first, the Rumelian army approached the battlefield, during the early afternoon. They made camp on the top of a hillock. Then, Grand Vizier Ibrahim sent Bey Báli and Bey Hüszrev to surround the Hungarians with their light cavalry. In the meantime, the rest of the Ottoman troops haven’t appeared yet so Ibrahim decided not to attack that day.
The Battle of Mohács
Tomori sent the riders of Ráskay Gáspár against the horsemen of Bey Báli. They proved to be not numerous enough and the Turks scattered them, then they looted the Hungarian camp. It was around 4 pm and the Hungarian commanders sensed that there would not be an Ottoman attack that day. Tomori was put to the question to attack or retire. Finally, he has decided to attack the enemy and sent a messenger to the king and King Lajos II issued the order to launch the attack.
The Battle of Mohács
The Hungarian right-wing began the assault, led by Batthyány Ferenc. The sudden cavalry attack surprised the Turks who were busily making camp and the Rumelian army was swept away. The Hungarian riders went around the cannons and entered the Ottoman camp. This time, the lines were loosened and the discipline was weakening.
The Battle of Mohács
The Turks began to rearrange their units and the Sipahi riders got around the Hungarians. in this crucial moment, Tomori demanded the king to send his men to the battle. Thus, the middle section of the army came into motion but the riders of Bey Báli and Bey Hüszrev got around them, too. It was the time when the Anatolian army finally arrived along with the mercenary army of the Sultan. Now, the Hungarians had to face the entire Ottoman army. However, the attacking Hungarians have lost much of their initial momentum. Perényi Péter also led the left-wing into the attack but after some success, he was pushed back. 
a Sipahi in full armor
When the Sultan’s unit appeared, the Hungarian army launched a final but desperate assault against the Sultan’s bodyguards. According to some eye-witnesses, at that time Tomori was still alive. The knights have attenuated the lines of the Janissaries and the bodyguards but the exhausted Hungarian cavalry was slowly being crushed.
Knights in full armor, 16th century
The fleeing of the soldiers slowly began in the late afternoon hours but more and more it turned into a general running. The infantry was fighting for the longest time in the middle but it was crushed before soon. It was a sudden rainstorm that finished the battle. The king was able to flee but he drowned in a swamp near the Danube River because of his heavy armor.
longswords planted into the ground, commemorating the fallen heroes…
Yet, most of the riders could leave the battlefield easily. On the other hand, they abandoned the infantry who fought on and got killed or surrendered. The captured survivors were massacred on the following day by the order of the Sultan. More than 50% of the Hungarian army perished, including 3-4,000 cavalrymen and about 10,000 infantrymen.
One of the mass graves of the infantry…
All in all, the Hungarians have done everything that they could. They had chosen the best tactic under the given circumstances. But they could do nothing against the overpowering numbers of the enemy. Not even King Matthias Corvinus or any other European empire could have been able to withstand such a large and well-trained army.
The historical park at Mohács (Photo: Csanady)
The Hungarian, Croatian, Czech, Polish, Italian, German soldiers, just like any soldiers from other countries on the battlefield of Mohács were not cowards, they fought bravely. If we regard the deed of Zrínyi Miklós (aka Nikola Šubić Zrinski) in 1566 as a heroic act when he and his men of Sziget castle fell against the overpowering enemy, then we might as well consider the heroes the fallen warriors of Mohács. Tomori, just like Zrínyi, fought against the Ottomans like a “Hungarian Leonidas”. They died but not cowardly, opposing a 3-times-larger army. 
The Battle of Mohács on a contemporary map
At first, Suleiman didn’t believe that he had won. He didn’t think he defeated the Hungarian main army, either. He has been waiting for days for the next Hungarian attack. When he made sure that there would be no more, he broke his camp and marched north.
He occupied and plundered Buda that was abandoned by Queen Maria and the burghers. Then, he destroyed the Hungarian Great Plain in September, on the way home.
a German broadsheet about the battle from 1526
The dead were buried at Mohács by Lady Kanizsai Dorottya who lived near Mohács and who was looking for the body of her step-son, Bishop Perényi Ferenc of Várad. She hired 400 peasants to bury the dead.
Lady Kanizsai Dorottya burying the dead (painting by Orlai Petrich Soma)
Since this day, the name of Mohács has been connected to the fall of the medieval Hungarian kingdom and the result of the Ottoman wars added even more pain to this name. Hungarians commemorate Mohács in a more painful way than they would feel about the Battle of Muhi in 1241 or the Laying Down of Arms at Világos in 1849. It is also called the “Hungarian Golgotha”. Yet, it was high time to think of it as the symbol of Hungarian heroism, self-sacrifice,  and patriotism. Because they have done what “the Homeland demanded of them”.
Source: Szibler Gábor
Sultan Suleiman on a German broadsheet

Final thoughts

As for me, there are plenty of questions that have remained unanswered. Did King Lajos II really die in the swamp? Wasn’t he assassinated by Czettrich, the bodyguard sent by his Queen, Mary of Habsburg? Why was the kingdom in such a bad financial situation before the battle? Why didn’t the Habsburgs help? Why didn’t make the Hungarians peace with Suleiman before the battle, similar to the Polish and the French kings? What if the king had waited in Buda for the incoming reinforcements, the foreign mercenaries, and the Transylvanian army? Did Szapolyai want to get rid of the king, too? Was the Hungarian army really so weak, couldn’t they have won the battle? How could the Turks take Buda so easily after the battle? Why don’t we talk also about the Battle of Pusztamarót that took place shortly after Buda’s fall? I will try to answer them as much as possible, let us start with Pusztamarót, read more about it here:

https://www.hungarianottomanwars.com/1490-1541/13-15-september-1526-the-battle-of-pusztamarot/

King Lajos (Louis) II of Hungary who was not afraid of fighting in the meléé (by Hans Krell)

 

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…and it is how King Lajos II is portreyed in Mohács, Hungary…
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