25 February 1587: The destruction of Koppány castle and the victory at Kacorlak

The general situation

Koppány castle is located to the south of Lake Balaton, and it was quite early met the attacking Ottomans during the 1540s. In fact, the place was finally occupied in 1555. It is doubted that there had been a fortification before the arrival of the Turks, though. It is thought that the conquerors built the palisade castle. Yet, it was a Sndjak-center in 1565, controlling an area around it. Usually, an Ottoman Sandjak was almost as big as a previous Hungarian County. We know that the Ottoman soldiers of Koppány castle used to be the most active Turk troops who led several raids beyond the Borderland, burning and looting the unconquered lands. This “softening up” warfare was a common military habit of the Ottoman soldiers. 

The “Hungaries” after 1568

The Ottoman raids intensified, and the enemy ventured even deeper behind the frontier line than before during the hard winter of 1582, they got as far as Kemenesalja. They captured plenty of people whom they wanted to sell as slaves but the Turks were stopped near Keszthely castle. There, the Hungarian guards of Pápa and Keszthely castle defeated them. In answer to this raid, the three famous Hungarian and Croatian lords: Nádasdy Ferenc, Zrínyi György (Juraj Zrinski), and Batthyány Boldizsár launched a counter-raid in March 1583 and looted the Sandjak area of Koppány. You can read more details about this event here:


Koppány castle (in fact, it was a very different-looking fort)

As revenge, the Turks of Koppány set out in June, joined by the Ottoman warriors of Pécs and Szigetvár castles, and began to plunder and burn the region around Körmend castle. The Hungarians didn’t leave it unanswered: the warriors of Palota and Veszprém castles joined forces and attacked them in the autumn. They clashed with the Turks of Koppány castle at Hídvég. Many warriors fell on both sides, but the Hungarians gained the upper hand: they could capture Sandjak Bey Ali of Koppány, along with other high-ranking officers. Bey Ali was ransomed but despite his oath, he never paid the whole amount to his captors. Yet, this incident caused tension between the Habsburgs’ Military Council and the Begler Bey of Buda. Ali left for Istanbul in October 1585 and Bey Redzseb took his office. Redzseb’s vice-captain became Bey Mustapha.

Lord Nádasdy Ferenc

The destruction of Koppány castle

One could already see from the increasing number of Ottoman raids in 1587 that the “peace” period is soon coming to an end. Anyway, the Peace of Edirne was only banning bigger campaigns: the nature of the Ottoman Empire was to wash away the borders in a ceaseless „small war”. But now, both the Turks and the Hungarians were more active in attacking each other than before.
As for Lord Nádasdy Ferenc (1555-1605), the „Strong Black Bey” or „the Black Knight of Hungary”, he ambushed the castle of Koppány in February and took it with his 1,700 men. (He, the husband of Lady Báthory Erzsébet, deserves a stand-alone post later.)

The Palisade castles in Somogy County

 Now, let us see how it was done. The deed was carried out by Nádasdy Ferenc, Batthyány Boldizsár, Huszár Péter, and their Trans-Danubian warriors. At this time, Huszár was the vice-captain of Pápa castle. He could join the campaign just because his superior in command, Captain Majthényi László was not at home. It was how Huszár Péter could take the entire garrison of Pápa castle with him. As for the infantrymen, their captain was another renowned warrior of the Borderland, Eörsy Péter. His men followed the cavalry on fast carriages called “coaches”. Read more about this unique Hungarian means of transport here:


a Hungarian coach, 1568

Bey Redzseb knew about the planned attack but he thought that the Hungarians were targeting the Serbian villages in Somogy County. (Note: 92% of the Ottoman warriors in Hungary were Serbian, Albanian, or Southern Slavic mercenaries whose families moved to live in the region.) the Hungarian warriors crossed the frozen Lake Balaton on 23 February and ambushed Koppány castle at night, under the cover of the dense fog. The infantrymen of Veszprém castle took the gate of the outer castle, and the hussars of Huszár Péter could ride in. The second gate was taken by the men of Fekete Mátyás who hurried on and exploded the gate of the inner castle as well. The attackers rushed in and began to slaughter the surprised defenders. 

Part of the besiegers’ army stayed outside in readiness, waiting for the Ottoman reinforcement. Soon, the Turks arrived from Simontornya, Pécs, and Fehérvár castles. however, the men of the Bey of Fehérvár thought that the other two units were Hungarians, and fled. The Turks from Pécs and Simontornya made the same mistake and they fled, too. 

Ottoman infantrymen

In the meanwhile, a fierce fight was going on inside the castle. Bey Redzseb surrendered without a struggle but his vice-commander, Bey Mustapha was defending his house bravely. He declared that he would surrender only to Lord Nádasdy. The Hungarian warriors thought it was a kind of deception so they sent a certain Hajdú soldier called Rácz János to the bey’s house. Rácz introduced himself as Nádasdy, and the Bey shot him at once. Seeing this, the Hungarians set the house on fire, killing the Bey in it. The wife of the Bey and his two children perished there, too. 

Ottoman cavalryman

A bey called Omer was also fighting hard, and finally, he was able to break out and escape. However, his family was captured. Lord Nádasdy got into peril for the second time when his horse stumbled. Three Turks rushed at him from a gate but he managed to get on his feet: he killed one of his attackers, it was how he could save himself. The houses were burned in the settlement and many of the enemies died in them. Lots of Turks could get away on horseback, though. Later, the sultan had them executed, calling them cowards. 

a Hungarian Hussar in the 16th century (Source: Arcanum)

 About two hundred Ottomans were captured, most of them women and children. The attackers gained eight flags and plenty of animals. They had to carry away so many things that the infantrymen had to get off from the coaches and load them with the plunder. What they could not take away, they burned. The gates of the castle were blown up, and almost the whole wooden palisade was burned to the ground. The warriors rode in Pápa castle on 27 February, loaded with rich booty. The Habsburg monarch was not overjoyed because he was afraid of the violation of the truce. He did not punish Nádasdy because he led his own men, but he made Huszár responsible for leaving Pápa castle unguarded. Also, Huszár took the king’s men to the raid, without permission.

A Sipahi vs. Hussar duel at Szigetvár, Hungary (by Thury Toportyánok)

Koppány was an important castle, it was one of the key Ottoman forts of the Trans-Danubian Region. Its destruction was a severe loss because not only a military post but one Sanjak center perished, it was also an economic center. As the Ottoman soldiers of the Bey of Koppány were posing a constant threat to the Hungarian villages in the area, the landlords of the Trans-Danubian Region were a bit relieved now. Today, one can hardly find the place of Koppány’s moat.

 The victory at Kacorlak

On the other hand, the combined forces of the Sanjaks (Ottoman regions) of the southern-Trans-Danubian Region, attacked the area of Kanizsa Castle in August. Bey Kara of Koppány met Bey Sejszüfár (Sásvár) of Szigetvár on 8 August in Szigetvár Castle, along with the beys of Mohács and Pécs Castle. They decided to launch an attack with 5,000 riders around Letenye and Lendva on 13 August. Zrínyi György (or in Croatian, Juraj Zrinski) received intelligence about this plan so he summoned the soldiers of the neighboring castles and summoned Batthyány Boldizsár, Nádasdy Ferenc, Huszár Péter the Captain of Pápa as well. (Please, note that I use the Oriental name order for Hungarians where family names come first.)

Berenhidai Huszár Péter, a contemporary drawing

Meanwhile, the Turks were destroying the area undisturbed, killing the garrison of Lendva who were the only ones who tried to resist them. Their heroic death gained time for the Christian forces. Zrínyi, to cut the road of withdrawal towards Szigetvár Castle (now in Turk’s hands), had the bridges of the Zala River destroyed and hid 3,000 soldiers around Kacorlak-Gelse, and placed 3,000 troops in reinforcement. It was a typical trap played on the 1,000-mile-long Military Borderland. The Turks often used it, too. Here is more about the life of Huszár Péter:


When the Bey saw the ruined crossing places, he realized the trap so he decided to sally out. Yet, the attempt failed in the early morning and they were caught between two fires. A fierce battle has been developed and finally, the troops of Zrínyi have pushed the enemy into the Zala River.

Hungarian cavalryman (drawing: Somogyi Győző)

Meanwhile, German and Hungarian musket-men were shooting at them from the opposite bank so only a very few of the Turks could flee. More than 2,000 Turks fell and 1,300 were captured. The Hungarians could take the supplies and the booty as well.
Many chief Turks fell on the battlefield, like Bey Szinan of Mohács or Bey Hasszán of Koppány. Many of them were captured, like Bey Naszuf of Berzence or Bey Ali of Pécs, along with many Ottoman officials, beys, and aghas. The ill-reputed Sehszüvár could hardly flee across the marshlands.

Several hundreds of peasants arrived on the following day to bury the dead.  The prisoners of war were taken to Kanizsa, they were to be ransomed in exchange for lots of money. It was an important victory and it was celebrated all over the country, and Zrínyi was declared its main hero.

Lord Zrínyi György (Juraj Zrinski)

This time, the Court from Vienna (Prague, in fact) sent nice words of praise to the commanders. (In other cases, they had always threatened the Hungarians with punishments in case they raided the Ottoman Turks.) The career of Bey Sehszüvár was finally broken by this defeat and he was summoned to Istanbul where he was arrested. Yet, he was able to buy himself out with his money. Shortly after this, he died suspiciously; Balassi Bálint suspected that he may have been poisoned.  Here I wrote more about the renegade Bey Sasvár:


Source: Nádasdy Banderium and Szibler Gábor

Here, you can read more about the Zrínyi family:


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