1566 King János Zsigmond’s victory over the Crimean Tatars

The battle took place towards the end of September in 1566 near Balmazújváros, Hungary
Several famous events happened in 1566, like the sieges of (Vár)Palota, Szigetvár, and Gyula castles. You can read about them on my page but now, let us talk about a less-known campaign that took place that year. It was the campaign of King János Zsigmond, son of King Szapolyai János. János Zsigmond was not a crowned king of Hungary, just an “elected” king which makes a great difference according to the Hungarian constitution.
Hungarians accepted a ruler as a king if he was coronated with the Sacred Crown of Saint István but during the Dual Kingship, the Habsburgs were able to seize it. Read more about the reasons and learn the role of Perényi Péter, the Guardian of the Crown; the story of the Dual Kingship that tore the country in two reaches back to the year after the Battle of Mohács when the Habsburgs attacked Hungary from the back. Here is the Perényi-story:


The “Hungaries” after 1550: left: Royal Hungary, right: Eastern Hungary (later the Transylvanian Principality); and the Ottoman Occupied Lands

King János Zsigmond was not watching idly the military actions taking place, he tried to take advantage of them.  Seeing, that the Habsburg forces were busy in other theatres of war, he attacked the castle of Szabatka near Rimaszombat, in Gömör County. In fact, he borrowed some auxiliary troops from his supporter who was no one else than Sultan Suleiman. Thus, he relied on the help of the “friendly” Ottoman units from the Sanjak centers of Hatvan, Fülek, Szolnok, and Nógrád. (Please, note that I use the Oriental name order for Hungarians where family names come first.)

János Zsigmond, (elected) king of Hungary, founder of the Transylvanian Principality
The Habsburg king’s general, Lazarus von Schwendi was afraid to interfere and stayed behind the walls of the fortified city of Kassa (Kosice, Kaschau). He was expecting an Ottoman attack against Kassa so he didn’t risk leaving it. He was sitting around and watched how Gyula castle fell to the Turks and how King János Zsigmond took Zsáka castle which was surrendered to him by its captain, Bey András, against the will of the German guards of the castle, though. Then, he was besieging Tokaj castle on 4 September. Schwendi’s troops had occupied Tokaj just a year ago and it was an important castle that was guarding the entrance of Transylvania. 
Lazarus von Schwendi
Tokaj castle was very effectively defended by its two captains, Jakob Ramiger and Kávássy Mátyás. The number of János Zsigmond’s army is not clear, the contemporary historian called Istvánffy claimed there were 16,000 Transylvanian soldiers there but it is thought that their number was fewer than that. He said there were more than 16,000 Crimean Tatars in the king’s army, too. when the king arrived at Tokaj, he had a bridge made over the Tisza river and crossed it. Then, he began the bombardment of the castle from three sides.
However, the defenders diligently repaired the breaches and the siege was going on very slowly. In the meantime, the Crimean Tatars were plundering and destroying the countryside. According to the historian Forgách Ferenc, the siege lasted for 17 days but Istvánffy insists it was 27 days long. Yet, both contemporary historians agree that the king abruptly quit the siege when he heard of the death of Sultan Suleiman.
Tokaj castle
Unfortunately, the Tatars didn’t leave the area and decided to carry on burning and looting the villages. The destructions took place in the area of Outer-Szolnok County which has already gone almost entirely under Ottoman control. Still, the lands of Bereg, Ugocsa, and other nearby counties were being destroyed, too. Our historian called Forgách gave an account of the events because his brother, Simon was taking part in the fights. Simon noted that the Crimean Tatars were pillaging not the lands of Máramaros but the area of Szamosköz, adding, that the number of victims was not 90,000 people, not even half or a third of it. As for Forgách Ferenc, you can read more here:
A Crimean Tatar in 1575
 Forgách Ferenc wrote the next about the Tatars:
“Svendi (*General Schwendi) used to stay in Kassa during the whole time, he had altogether about 5,000 cavalrymen and infantrymen. The light of the burning villages, homesteads, and houses was clearly visible, the flames reached the sky from everywhere. The enemy’s raiding parties could also be seen who dared to approach the outskirts of the town of Kassa, coming as close as the walls. Yet, only one or two of the many enemies could be captured. One could just feel pity because of the destruction in the area of the Tisza River and Máramaros. At the beginning of the war, many noblemen and noblewomen fled to Máramaros, carrying their children and valuables, as they thought they would be in greater safety, partly because this area belonged to the domains of János Zsigmond. But after the death of Suleiman, the rampancy of these savage soldiers (*the Tatars) was just increasing: they gave mercy to no one. Allegedly, they dragged 90,000 people to slavery.”
Transylvanian Hussar, from the second part of the 16th century (by Somogyi Győző)
 Seeing this, King János Zsigmond, who had been the Crimean Tatars’ ally, had to take action.  He set out against the Tatars with his army that was roughly half of the enemy’s size. According to Forgách, he bumped into the rearguard of the Crimeans’. At first, he wanted to persuade them to give the captives and the booty back, and return home in peace, but his attempt was in vain. The next morning, his army attacked the Crimean Tatars between Debrecen and (Balmaz)Újváros. The battle was won by the Transylvanians, and János Zsigmond “freed many captives, and slaughtered many of the Tatars”. Istvánffy, the historian, added, that the Transylvanians had not negligible losses, either: the arrows of the Tatars wounded to death many of them. He mentioned the name of a famous Hussar captain called Pogány Menyhárt who was among the fallen. 
Istvánffy Miklós (1538-1615)
Source: Szibler Gábor who researched it from:
Istvánffy Miklós magyarok dolgairól írt históriája I/2.
Forgách Ferenc: Emlékirat Magyarország állapotáról Ferdinánd, János, Miksa királysága és II. János fejedelemsége alatt
Gyárfás István: A Jász-kunok története. IV. kötet

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