Selected Passages from Hungarian-Ottoman Wars

1657: the unlucky Polish war of Prince Rákóczi György II

The beginning

Many people today think that the prince’s unfortunate military action was only the result of his selfish conquest policy, which lacked any kind of responsibility and led to the fall of Transylvania. However, there were very few who would have dissuaded the prince when the war was declared. Lórántffy Zsuzsanna, the prince’s mother, was one of those few. Many others welcomed the campaign and the vengeful Ottoman campaign was not obvious. It was because the Sultan’s power had been weakening for decades, and the Sublime Porte had only warned its vassals on such occasions but had never sent an army to take revenge for disobedience. (Please note that I use the Oriental name order for Hungarians, where the surname comes first).

Lórántffy Zsuzsanna (cc1600-1660)

Neither Prince Rákóczi nor any of his contemporary politicians were able to notice the serious reforms initiated by Pasha Köprülü Mehmed and they did not realize that the Sublime Porte had been revived and it was not the dying empire as it had seemed. Besides, everybody remembered Báthory István (Stephen) who had become the king of Poland and the union of the two countries would have been a serious opportunity to liberate the whole Kingdom of Hungary from the Turks. But let us not forget that he was a Roman Catholic. However, I have a question: how could the Protestant Rákóczi György II ever imagine himself as the king of the Catholic Polish people? Surely he could not have imagined that the Polish nobility would ally with the Muslim Crimean Tatars against him…

Poland and Hungary, 1552

Prince Rákóczi György II inherited the interest in the Polish throne from his father, Prince Rákóczi György I, who was also a Protestant. At that time, Poland seemed to be weakened, as it was threatened not only by the Turks but also by the Russians and the Swedes, along with Brandenburg-Prussia. In addition, the free Cossacks of Hetman Bogdan Hmelnickij were rioting in its borderland, they revolted against the Polish king in 1648. The Crimean Tatars allied with their eternal enemies, the Cossacks, and together they defeated the Polish armies one by one. King Vladislav IV died in 1648 and was succeeded by his younger brother, King János Kázmér (Casimir). King Kázmér had to make a truce with Hetman Hmelnickij (Bohdan Mychajlowytsch Chmelnyzky).

Hetman Bohdan Mychajlowytsch Chmelnyzky

The Hetman was looking for allies, so in 1651 he signed a treaty with Prince Rákóczi György II. The prince wanted to make Transylvania a regional power in the Black Sea area. The Cossacks were supported by the Russian Tsar Aleksei, who wanted to gain new lands along the Dnieper and Volga rivers. Ukraine joined Russia in 1654, but Poland had to prevent this, so war broke out between the two countries. Hmelnickij continued his political intrigues and allied with the Voivode of Moldavia, Gheorghe Stefan, and the Voivode of Wallachia, Constantine I Serban. Both were nominally vassals of Rákóczi and the Turks. It was Prince Rákóczi who had helped Stephen to take the throne. All in all, there was a Cossack-Russian coalition and a Transylvanian-Moldavian-Wallachian-Cossack coalition, both against Poland.

It was not fortunate for the Poles that the northern kingdom of Sweden expanded its power and the young and energetic King Gustav X Charles became their king, who wanted to take land from Poland. He sent his armies in June 1655. The Northern War broke out, which the Polish called the “Deluge” because the armies of many nations flooded their land. We can read this great story in the world-famous novels of Henryk Sienkiewicz. (My note: I grew up reading them several times 🙂 Also, do not miss the movies made about it in 1974).

The Polish War of Prince Rákóczi György II

Read the map like this: Greenish: Holy Roman Empire
Black: Swedish troops’ camps, winter 1656/57
Purple: Polish troops’ meeting point, spring 1657
Green: Rákóczi’s troops’ location on 15 June
Dark pink: The meeting point of Polish-Lithuanian troops, summer 1657
Black/purple squares: castles in Swedish or Polish hands
Black arrow: Swedish moves
Green arrow: Transylvanian (and Moldavian / Wallachian) moves
Green arrow with dots: Cossack moves
Purple arrow: Polish moves
Brown arrow: Crimean Tatar moves
Purple arrow with dots: Imperial moves

Prince Rákóczi György II

The Russians seized Ukraine and Lithuania, the Swedes occupied Prussia, and a considerable part of Poland and Warsaw also fell. The rest of Poland seemed unable to stop the flood in 1657. King János Kázmér appealed to the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III for help, but the emperor did nothing. The Swedes were stopped by the Poles in 1656, though with hard fights, and that is why King Gustav Charles turned to Prince Rákóczi for help. Rákóczi asked for the permission of the Sublime Porte, but he did not get it, but his campaign was not forbidden either.

Prince Rákóczi György II

Rákóczi’s campaign

It was on January 18, 1657, that Prince Rákóczi György II started his campaign to Poland. More precisely, in the first half of 1657, he moved his armies from Visk towards the Polish border. Due to the hard winter, it was very difficult to cross the Carpathian Mountains through the Verecke Pass. It was the middle of February when he joined the Cossack army near Przemysl. They numbered 50,000 men. However, the outcome of the campaign was foreshadowed by the attitude of the larger cities such as Lviv, Szambor, and Przemysl, which were not willing to open their gates to Rákóczi.

Rákóczi’s moves in Poland

Crown Hetman Lubomirski stopped his military actions when he heard of Rákóczi’s approach (he was besieging Krakow, which was defended by the Swedish general Würtz). Although Lubomirski had previously promised Rákóczi that he would make him king of Poland if he entered the country with his army, he now denied this statement. In response, Rákóczi had Lubomirski’s property in Łańcú plundered by troops led by Kemény János. The Hungarian army gained a very bad reputation for plundering churches and monasteries, torturing priests and monks, and even digging up graves in search of gold. More raids, plundering, and destruction began. The Polish troops did not fight, but from time to time they ambushed the Hungarian-Cossack-Moldavian army.

Jerzy Sebastian Lubomirski

Rákóczi marched with great determination to Kraków, the coronation city. He entered the city at the end of March, but stayed only two days, as his priority was to meet the army of the Swedish king. He left behind about 2,000 Transylvanian troops to support Würtz and marched out of the city on March 31st.

The meeting of Prince Rákóczi and the Swedish king (by Dahlberg)

On April 12, he met King Gustav Charles in Sandomierz, but both were disappointed. The Swedish ruler criticized the quality of the Hungarian-Walachian-Cossack army and Rákóczi was embittered by the small size of the Swedish army, which numbered 10-12,000 men.

Charles X Gustav of Sweden

Meanwhile, the national feeling in Poland was growing. Slowly the Polish king and Lubomirski, Potocki, and the Lithuanians began to join forces in the Sandomierz-Lublin area. Gustavus Charles tried to outflank the Polish-Lithuanian army from all sides, but it slipped out of the trap. On the other hand, the military movements provoked fights between the Cossacks and the Transylvanians due to disputes over the booty. Rákóczi could do little about the deteriorating discipline. The problem reached its peak during the capture of Breszt when the Cossacks claimed the town as their own. It was the time when King Gustav Charles left Rákóczi behind because Denmark declared war on him and his power in Prussia was also weakened.

The Transylvanian army in Poland at Warsaw, crossing the Vistula river

Rákóczi decided to follow the Swedes, but at this point, the Cossacks refused his order and revolted. The prince’s army, reduced in size and morale, moved to Warsaw, which opened its doors only after a few days of resistance. On June 22, the coalition army entered the city and plundered it, competing to see who could loot more. By this time, the coalition against the Swedish-Cossack-Transylvanian alliance had already taken shape, and the Poles were able to ally themselves with the Crimean Caganate.

Crimea

Moreover, the Poles at the Sublime Porte were able to get Prince Rákóczi ordered to return to Transylvania. (Rákóczi did not obey.) In addition, the new Holy Roman Emperor, Leopold I, sent an army to help King János Kázmér (John II Casimir). In addition, Denmark was incited to attack Sweden. Meanwhile, Hmelnickij had broken his alliance with Russia, which had meanwhile made peace with the Poles in exchange for Lithuania and Ukraine.

General Lubomirski broke into northeastern Hungary with a smaller force and devastated the area around Munkács, similar to what the Hungarians had done to his domains. They burned down 300 settlements and killed women and children in Beregszász who were coming home from mass. They rest in peace in unmarked graves in front of the church of Beregszász. The Catholic Church of Beregszász was also destroyed, and many castles and churches were destroyed, such as Borsova Castle and the Church of Kismuzsaly.

King John II Casimir (Kázmér) of Poland

The Sublime Porte sent a more severe order to Rákóczi, demanding his return and threatening him with a Turkish-Crimean Tatar punitive campaign if he did not obey. Rákóczi tried to bribe the Turkish leaders, but it was in vain because Pasha Köprülü was an incorruptible man. Rákóczi’s situation became more and more desperate. He offered peace to King János Kázmér, but he was not willing to negotiate with him. Then he turned to Hmelnickij and asked him for help. In June, Rákóczi marched from Warsaw to Sandomierze.

Meanwhile, the Hungarian garrison of Krakow was killed by the Imperial troops. At this point, Rákóczi’s last Polish allies abandoned him, and he had to drag his army across the Vistula River, supported only by his Cossack allies. When he crossed the river on July 3, he had his baggage set on fire and his cannons submerged to reach Transylvania faster.

Köprülü Mehmed Paşa

The Polish army harassed his marching troops with constant attacks. Czarniecki slaughtered 3,000 Transylvanian men at Magierów and Kulików. When they decided to rescue the army to the Cossack lands, about 3-4,000 Transylvanians revolted and left the army. Finally, on July 22, Rákóczy made a humiliating truce with the Poles, promising to leave the country. In return, he renounced his claim to the Polish throne, agreed to pay a huge ransom, and offered his military assistance to Poland. Hearing this, the Cossacks left his army.

The gold Forint of Rákóczi from 1651

However, the truce did not stop the Crimean Khan, who had sworn to punish Rákóczi. When the Hungarians were moving from Mendzsibozs to Transylvania, their army was surrounded by the enemy at the settlement of Terebovlja. Rákóczi was rescued in time and carried home by his men. He left behind his general, Kemény János, who had to surrender after three days of hard fighting (July 31st). The Crimean Tatars, true to their word, took the prisoners to the Crimean peninsula, and many of the soldiers could return only after several years, for a huge ransom. Many never made it home. Read more about the battles of Prince Rákóczi in 1658 here:

https://www.hungarianottomanwars.com/1541-1699/1658-prince-gyorgy-rakoczi-ii-defeated-the-ottoman-army/

For a long time, Transylvania was defencelessly targeted by the punitive campaign of several Turkish and Tatar armies, and soon Prince Rákóczi was also killed: but that is another story. Let us go into the details of some of the events we have just outlined.

The siege of the Transylvanians’ camp 

We know that the Transylvanian army was captured, but we do not know how it happened. They didn’t give away their freedom so easily, according to the chronicler Evliya Celebi’s work. These parts of his work have never been translated into Hungarian. Therefore, we will rely on the story of the Turkish eyewitness and chronicler Evliya Celebi (1611-1684/87) with the help of Ivanics Mária’s interpretation. We can read how Celebi saw the disaster of the Transylvanian army, abandoned by its prince, surrounded by Tatars on the Ukrainian field near Terebovlja.
Statue of Evliya Celebi close to the Castle of Eger, Hungary
Celebi wrote (with the usual Eastern exaggeration):
“This chapter tells you about the siege of King Rákóczi’s camp. On the 15th day of the month of Zilhicce in 1067 (July 28, 1657), as the sun was rising, the Sultan of Nureddin, together with the Tatars of Yal, the Polish auxiliary troops and the Cossacks of Kardas, shouted “Allah, Allah” from the forest of the plain (…) the Ghazies unleashed their horses on them like lightning and with all these soldiers surrounded the camp of King Rákóczi. Then, after we had settled down a bit further away from there, we posted guards everywhere and went to sleep in the evening. There were no attacks from the Ghiaour and we did not attack them either, so we all had a peaceful rest.”
Cossacks
“The description of the cursed Hungarian Ghiaour, Rákóczi’s camp:
The unbelievers in the camp were so busy with persistent cunning and evil deeds that they did not sleep until morning. When the sun came up, we looked at the camp from a higher place. The unbelievers had dug two trenches in addition to the trench of their camp, and they had directed the local river into them. They had dug hundreds of thousands of small holes and placed fire wheels (çarh-i felekler) and barriers (şaranpav) in them, built fences, and brought hundreds of thousands of carts there, putting their wheels on the ground. They planted bushes and some hundred thousand sharpened stakes in the ground, built five hanging bridges, and dug high earth trenches in eleven places. They placed 40-50 large cannons (“balyemez”) on each bastion, and the howitzers and bombardment cannons stood ready all around. From the trenches, they threw grenades spewing gunpowder and fire. In a word, we had besieged this camp for two full days, but we could not even catch a “tongue” and could not achieve any success.
A Crimean Tatar
Then Celebi tells us the trick of the Crimean Tartar Khan: the Khan allowed the Tartar criminals sentenced to death to attempt exchange for their lives. Three hundred of them volunteered (they also had some knowledge of the Hungarian language) and sneaked into the Hungarian camp, pretending to be beggars fleeing from the Poles. Their mission was to take out a “tongue”. According to Evliya, this action caused quite a stir in the Hungarian camp at night:
“We saw our men coming out in the morning. Only seven of them died. The rest returned with a huge bounty, bringing 78 crestfallen Ghiaours with their legs bound. They brought them before the Sultan of Nureddin. Some of them were drunk, others were unconscious. Many of them were interrogated by interpreters (tilmaş). When they got the information from them that there were 200,000 Ghiaour and 87,000 infantrymen with rifles in the camp and that they had already run out of food. After interrogation, the prisoners were all beheaded.”
Let’s note: in fact, the entire Transylvanian military force was not more than 26,000 men, but it was still a huge number.
A mounted “green” rifleman of Prince Rákóczi II 1648-1660 (by Somogyi Győző)
After that, the “army of the Muslims that was like the sea” and their auxiliaries, the Cossacks and the Polish troops approached the Hungarian camp, but they could only take the Transylvanian bison (they were grazing outside the camp) that were used to pull the cannons. Evliya wrote that the Crimean Tatars “ate them raw”, but he roasted the meat. They attacked the camp, hoping that the Hungarians would soon starve to death. “They (the Tartars) swarmed around the camp like wasps, but they could not attack the camp from any direction. Evliya described the low morale of the Hungarians, mentioning hunger and epidemics:
“Fear gripped the souls of the Ghiaour and they sank into a whirlpool of grief. They were surrounded by a menacing stench and mosquitoes. They hoped to get help from the Székely people of Transylvania (Erdel Seykeli), but they waited for them in vain, because there was a Crimean Tatar, a Cossack or a Pole hiding in the shadow of every tree. They did not allow a bird to fly over the camp, let alone reinforcements and food”.
Székely “red” infantrymen, 17th century (by Somogyi Győző)
After they had eaten all their animals, after a week they were so hungry that they had to eat their dead, according to the Turkish chronicler. Conditions must have been very bad. Things had just gotten worse when Khan Mehmed Giráj arrived with his 87,000 (!) Crimean Tatars: “They were as fast as the wind, hunters of the enemy.”
Then the Hungarians sent a delegation to the Khan saying that it was Grand Vizier Boynugeri (“beveled-necked”) Mehemed who ordered them to attack Poland to take Hotin Castle and give it to the Sultan. We know that this was not the real goal, and the Khan knew it as well. He said: “Pasha Mehmed with the Beveled neck was forced to resign and became a mazul, and now Pasha (Köprülü) Mehmed with the straight neck and beveled teeth is in charge. And he has sent me and Pasha Melek Achmed along with the Ottoman army and the Tatar army against you to prevent you from taking the throne of Poland and to make you return to your country. Surely, we will give you neither mercy nor time and soon we will fight”.
Any agreement was impossible because the warriors of the Crimean Khan told them that they would not return home without a bounty. The situation became difficult.
a Crimean Tatar
There were Cossacks and Poles on the side of the Ottomans, but their armies set up their camps far from each other, the Cossacks also built defenses against their “allied” Polish army. As we can read, Rákóczi urged his troops to keep up the good fight, but he fled the camp with some of his men when there was a gap they could find. He went to Transylvania to get reinforcements. Then the Transylvanians held a council and said: “All the trouble and misery was caused by Rákóczi. And now he has fled. For whom are we going to fight, starve and die?” They decided to give an expensive gift in exchange for their lives. But when they were about to visit the Khan and make the offer, all the besiegers attacked the camp:

Celebi wrote: “There were hundreds of thousands of Tatars who put two or three arrows on the string of their bows, and when they pulled the bowstring and released the string, two hundred thousand arrows fell on the camp like a cursed shower of rain. When the thousands of arrows struck the defenseless horses, they bolted and kicked and bit the men. The arrows pierced the heads of the Ghiaour as if they had been planted with tulips. Wailing and screaming came from the camp. The unbelieving Poles fired their “balyemez” cannons at the camp from seven sides, and the Cossacks spread the camp with their rifle bullets. The devastation was complete. On the 23rd day of Zilhicce 1067 (October 2, 1657) the Ghiaour Hungarians fired a volley of their cannons and muskets and then broke out of the camp. The battle raged for three hours. The black dust became a thick fog, the fighters could not see each other. From the outside we heard our soldiers shouting “Allah, Allah” and from the camp “Jesus, Jesus” (Yažuž!), the sound of bells and trumpets rose to the sky, while several thousand souls emptied the cup of life and death.”
a Cossack, 17th century (by Somogyi Győző)
When the Crimean Tatars wanted to take away some of the higher officers of the Hungarians, then “even the dead came back to life” of the Hungarians and the fight continued with renewed force, as they rallied to free their lords. Meanwhile, the Poles and Cossacks were able to enter the weakened camp and immediately began looting. The Tatars did not want to miss this, but first, they had to fight with the remaining Hungarians. This is how Evliya Celebi wrote about it:
“The Tartars were immediately ordered to begin their traditional tactics. As the Hungarians were already on the battlefield, the Tartars started their ‘dogfight’ (chasing each other). For an hour, they fought a dogfight worthy of Rüstem; it was a mad battle and there had not been such a battle and slaughter since the time of the dynasties of Khan Dsingis, Khan Hülegü, Khan Timur, Khan Tohtamis, Khan Suyunci and Khan Mengli Giray. (…) In the course of this battle, an innumerable number of unfortunate, hellish Hungarian Ghiaours were put on the edge of the sword”.
Whoever managed to escape from the Tartars was immediately captured.

In the captivity of the Tatars

“There has never been such a battle of faith since the time of Adam,
The sword of Mohammed was drawn against the dirty Hungarian”.
“…man, have you become rich from the manly Hungarian fight?”
We have read about the disaster of the Transylvanian army and heard from the Turkish chronicler Evliya Celebi about the prisoners and the bounty. Evliya exaggerates the figures, but the amount must have been considerable:
“The Polish and Cossack soldiers received a rich bounty during this campaign. The living bounty was given to the Tartars. They got 27,000 horses and 47,000 prisoners. A total of 87,000 dead Ghiaour were lying face down on the ground, the Khan had their backs marked with a sword and counted them. The captives were tied together by their legs, broken, and jumping sadly over the piles of their dead. (…) Only the Creator can tell the number of the rich booty that was driven to the lands of the Tartars and White Cossacks. Since 40,000 Tatars from Budzsák fought on the side of the majestic Tatar Khan in this victorious campaign, they were also enriched with an incalculable amount of bounty. They also found 8,000 wagons full of beautiful virgins with lovesick eyes, smiling faces, and unopened rosebuds. Each of them was worth a Haradz in Rumelia, but they were sold for an arrow or a pipe of tobacco.”
Prince Rákóczi György II had fled by that time (drawing by Somogyi Győző)
Here we have to mention the case as a mystery because it was forbidden to bring women to the Transylvanian army; these girls could have been collected there if the whole thing is true at all.
Evliya Celebi also spoke about his share: “Thank God, I, the poor sinner, was given seven prisoners, three of them were beautiful girls, the other prisoners were Hungarian Ghiaour soldiers, I got ten rifles, seventeen silver trays, a silver cross, two pairs of silver stirrups made in Hungarian style, a silver goblet and similar other things. Thanks to God, we were able to return home safely. To this day, the Crimean Tatars call this campaign the “Hungarian Manly Campaign”. It has also become a saying because they say to those who have suddenly become rich: “Wow, did you get rich in the Manly Hungarian Campaign? They made so much money from this campaign that the thatched roofs of the houses in Bahcsiszeráj (Bakhchysarai) were replaced with red tiles. May the Eternal God preserve the land of the Crimean Peninsula for a long time, for this place is the source of warriors of faith who walk in the path of Allah!”
Kemény János, later Prince of Transylvania
Evliya Celebi adds that the “cursed Rákóczi” has escaped, but he invented a dialog with Kemény János, the captured leader of the Transylvanian army, as follows: “…Kemény János was wearing a leg strap, he was captured with a sad heart and he was injured. (Note: he was not wounded). Being an educated man, he learned all the wisdom, and he was extremely clever in special and wonderful arts. However, when he was half dead due to his serious wound, with a manacle on his neck and a thick handcuff on his arms, he kept saying the following:
When I recover from my wounds and regain my freedom, I will be the king of Transylvania after King Rákóczi. I will pour ashes on the fireplace of the Ottomans, but I cannot live long, for your Mehemed would kill me before long.’ I, the poor one, said to him, `How do you know this secret destiny?’ The Vizier replied, `I know it from the hidden knowledge of astronomy. I, the poor man, replied: ‘But how is it that you did not know about your captivity and let so many unbelievers perish?` Kemény János replied: ‘It must have been the order of fate that these unfortunate things happened to me and my king Rákóczi. After all, we could help our king escape to defend our faith, but fate decided that we should become prisoners. It is not a shame, whatever the stars show us, it always happens this way,” he said, trying to comfort himself. (…)”
The silver Thaler of Rákóczi, 1656
“It is true that Kemény János was freed with 80,000 gold pieces paid to the Khan and returned to Transylvania…” then Evliya told us that everything happened as Kemény had foreseen it by the stars: after the defeat that Rákóczi suffered in Transylvania and died, Kemény became the prince of the country. Finally, Kemény fought hard against the Ottomans, but he was also defeated by Kücsük Mehemed in the battle of Nagyszőllős, where he also died. This campaign had a great impact on Evliya Celebi, he even made a colored drawing about the trenches of the Hungarian camp. He concluded the fight in his poem:
Evliya Celebi’s statue in Turkey
“Thanks be to God, this battle of faith took place in the year one thousand and sixty-seven.
The Lord made possible the victory in Crete (in Turkish, “Grid”; note: when the Turkish fleet drove the Venetians from the island of Tenedos in October 1567).
There has never been such a battle of faith since the time of Adam,
The sword of Mohammed was drawn against the dirty Hungarian.
The glory of the dynasty of Khan Genghis was invoked by His Majesty the Khan.
A similar sword could have been drawn by Bu Müslim against the Yezid (it is the synonym for evil).
Arab horse, sharp sword, quiver, all this for Your Majesty.
The arrow flew, released from the bow of fear”.
Crimean saber, 17th century
It is worth mentioning that according to Evliya Celebi, the bodies of the fallen Tatars were salted and sent back to the Crimean peninsula for an honorable burial. According to Ivanics Mária, only the supreme commanders were treated in this way. Our Hungarian historian Szerecz Miklós remembers that there were similar customs mentioned by Rubruk or Plano Carpini in the 13th century.
Let’s end the story with a quote from Evliya Celebi:
“…the star of the unhappy and ruined Giaours (kafirs, infidels) was darkened, and the army of the true believers scattered the bones of the wicked, the bones of the rebellious monsters, turned them into the booty of the sword, and made their women and children prisoners…”
You can read more about the Crimean Tatars in my article here:

https://www.hungarianottomanwars.com/essays/the-crimean-tatars/

 

The map of the “Hungaries”: to the right, the Transylvanian Principality (by Somogyi Győző)

It must be added that the suffering in Transylvania had just begun: the people at home had to collect a huge ransom, and the Turk-Tatar punitive campaigns were also on the way…

Source: Szibler Gábor, Szerecz Miklós, Nagy Sándor, Konnát Árpád

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