Selected Passages from Hungarian-Ottoman Wars

1575 The Battle of Kerelőszentpál

Báthory István (Stephen, later Polish king) had been sitting on the throne of Transylvania since 1571 and he changed his title of „Voivode” to „Prince” only in 1576. It was Lord Bekes Gáspár who organized a party against him because he wanted the throne for himself by all means.
Bekes used to belong to the inner circle of the late János Zsigmond, elected king of Hungary, son of King Szapolyai. It was whyí he thought his claim for the throne was a better one than Báthory’s. Bekes began to organize his action from the Castle of Fogaras but Báthory had him chased away from Transylvania with the help of the Estates.
Lord Bekes fled to Emperor Maximilian who offered his support to him. The usurper has even gone to the Sublime Port so as to gain supporters. He was not openly supported in the Sultan’s court but he was not refused, either. He was told that he would be accepted if he could get the throne by himself.
Bekes was able to gain serious support from Transylvania, too. He was joined by military leaders from Royal Hungary and lords as well. We could find the warrior-poet Bálint Balassi under his flag, just like the Székely free guardsmen of Transylvania. The Székelys were upset because Báthory had put their uprising down before he gained the throne.
Of course, Báthory was not idly sitting around in the meantime. He achieved the confirmation of his rank of „Voivode” by the Sultan. He recruited an army who were led by Mózes Székely and the famous borderland-warrior László Gyulaffy. His army was joined by a smaller Ottoman unit and the famous „blue drabants” (Hungarian infantrymen, the bodyguards of the Transylvanian princes) came also under his flag. The Transylvanian Saxons sent 1,000 cavalrymen, led by Ágoston Helvig, Consul of Szeben (Sibiu).
There was a military clash before the battle: Lord Gáspár Kornis and his men were in a hurry to join the army of Báthory but he ran into the unit of Bálint Balassi who scattered them.
Kornis got wounded but was able to get to the Voivode. Shortly after this, Bálint Balassi and his soldiers ran into the men of Kristóf Hagymássy who captured him and took him to Báthory.
Bekes launched his attack at the end of June 1575 and via Dés and Szamosújvár he arrived in Torda on 28 June.
Voivode Báthory was hurrying from Gyulafehérvár (now it is called Alba Iulia, it was the old capital of Transylvania) towards Torda, too. He wanted to prevent his enemy from joining the Székely forces. (My note: they were often capable of sending 20,000 soldiers to war.)
Even without the Székelys, Bekes’ army was twice as big as Báthory’s. Finally, only 2,000 Székely cavalrymen could join Bekes, led by Péter Andrási.
Báthory had a few Turks under his flag, a rather symbolical unit and there were the soldiers of his brother, Kristóf Báthory who was the Captain of Várad. The Wallachian Voivode sent him 200 cavalrymen, too.
The battle took place at the village of Kerelőszentpál, next to the Maros River. It was either on 9 or 19 of July.
Before the day of the battle, Mózes Székely, one of the generals of Báthory, took a sword between his teeth and swam across the Maros River at Radnót. He challenged a warrior of Bekes for a duel and killed him, then killed the second one, too. Many soldiers of Bekes got frightened because of this; Báthory rewarded Mózes for his deed.
The usurper’s warriors did nothing when Báthory’s army crossed the Maros on the following day. It was a grave mistake because they could have defeated the Voivode’s smaller army there.
Having crossed the river, Báthory deployed his troops in battle order. His cannons were commanded by Raffaello Cinna of Florence. When the Italian’s cannons began to fire, the army of Bekes slowly withdrew. They must have wanted to invite the Voivode’s army into a trap by luring them to an inadequate battlefield. Yet, Báthory kept his men together.
Eventually, the evening has come and the clash had to be postponed to the next day.
In the morning, the army of Bekes stood on the higher ground while Báthory’s men took a position on a lower land that was a bit marshy. As the enemy didn’t want to attack, Báthory left behind his wagons and heavy cannons and slowly began to move onward. He led his soldiers a bit to the right, getting around Bekes’ army.
As a result of this, Bekes had to leave behind the higher ground and thus has lost its advantage. Bekes withdrew his army into the fortified palace of Szentpál and looked for a route of escape along the Maros River.
Báthory sent Mózes Székely and some cavalry units against them, along with the blue drabants.
In the beginning, the army of Bekes was standing firm against the attacks and they repelled the units of Mózes Székely. Then, Lord Gyulaffy assaulted the middle of the enemy with a strong hussar unit and after a hard fight, he could make them flee.
Seeing Báthory’s attack, Bekes and the rebelling noblemen haven’t even attempted any resistance and ran away from the battlefield. Many of them died in the marsh or got trampled down.
The third part of Bekes’ army was more valiant, they have assaulted the Voivode’s army four times but finally, they had to flee, too. Many of them fell from the causeway into the Maros River and drowned.
Having taken the battlefield, Báthory had five noblemen hanged at once: Barthokovith János, Zádorlaki György, Barcsai Gáspár, Szakács Miklós, and Darolczi János.
The battle was over at 10 a.m. but the fugitives have been chased until the evening. The soldiers from Kolozsvár (Cluj, Klausenburg) have slain many of the runners.
The Transylvanian Diet assembled on 8 August and many more people were sentenced to death. Even Miklós Wesselényi, the aged Chief Judge of the country was sobbing while reading up the verdicts about beheadings and confiscation of properties. Nine high lords were executed on 8-9 August and 39 Székely soldiers were mutilated (their ears and noses were cut off) at Szamosfalva village.
The case of the Pókai family became known: the two brothers, János and Péter were sentenced to death but Báthory, listening to the pleadings of their mother, saved one of their lives. The Voivode told to the mother to decide which one should die. As the woman was unable to decide, her relatives suggested that the elder brother, János should die.
According to the Chronicle of Farkas Bethlen, the following lords were executed along with János: Farkas Kabos, Gáspár Bogáthi, Miklós Barcsai, János Csanádi, Miklós Ősi, and Miklós Csányi. The corpses had remained unburied for three days by the time Báthory allowed their burial next to the meat market of Kolozsvár city.
Lord Balassi had not sworn fealty to Voivode Báthory so he was not hurt.
Bekes could escape: at first, he fled to Szatmár Castle, then ran to Ungvár Castle. Later, he has received the Voivode’s pardon and became one of the most loyal commanders of Báthory who was already elected King of Poland.
In order to gain the royal title, the Battle of Kerelőszentpál had a great role: the Voivode could strengthen his position in Transylvania and became a renowned general.
(My note: when he put the rebelling Cossacks down in Moldavia, he cooked their leaders in oil and even the Turkish envoy got sick while watching it over. Even though it is being said that cruelty was a common thing in that age, and we can see that almost all monarchs and princes committed terrible crimes, to me, it is quite a de-heroization.)
Source: Szibler Gábor
You can read the history of the fortified palace standing in Kerelőszentpál here:

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