It is undeniable that the retaking of Buda was the most glorious and spectacular moment during the Reconquest Wars of Hungary when the Holy League liberated Buda after 145 years of Ottoman occupation. Chief General of the Imperial forces, Charles V. Duke of Lorraine (Lotharingiai Károly) was able to draw the right conclusions from the unsuccessful siege of Buda in 1684 so he planned the next siege more carefully. Envoys sent from Vienna tried to convince the German princes to support the campaign with their troops. Maximilian II Emanuel, Elector of Bavaria immediately agreed, promising 8,000 soldiers while Frederick William, Elector of Brandenburg offered 7,000 men. John George III, Elector of Saxony was going to send almost 5,000 soldiers.
However, there were volunteers coming from Italy, Germany, Spain, England, and even France. The warriors of the Hungarian Borderland castles also joined in, along with the “field regiments” and the soldiers of the Hungarian noblemen in their Banderial units, altogether about 15,000 men. Among their commanders, there were many who left the rebel army of Prince Thököly Imre and took the Habsburgs’ side in the hope of liberating Hungary. One of them was Petneházy Dávid.
Finding the target of the new campaign was not easy, though. The allied army was already assembled in the camp at Párkány when duke Charles could finally persuade King Leopold and the members of the military Council to attack Buda castle. The 45,000-strong-army set out from Párkány (near Esztergom) on 12 June 1686. The cannons, the equipment, and the food were carried by boats on the Danube river. The army was marching in two columns, the Bavarian troops were led by Maximilian Emanuel on the left bank of the river. They arrived at Pest in the dawn of 17 June and saw that the Turks had already emptied the town. Then, the Bavarians occupied Pest. Finishing there, they left a garrison and the bulk of their army returned towards Óbuda and crossed to the right bank of the river through a boat bridge. The other part of the Christian army arrived the next day, led by Charles of Lorraine.
It was the 70-year-old, seasoned Albanian Pasha Abdurrahman who commanded the Ottoman guards of Buda. his 10,000 men seemed sufficient to defend the castle. they had repaired the fort after the last siege, and they had enough food and gunpowder, too. The Ottoman soldiers were determined to defend Buda, they were masters of their trade, not to mention their 400 cannons waiting for the besiegers.
The Bavarians took up positions south of the castle, on the slopes of the Gellért hill. The camp of Duke Charles of Lorraine was in the north, between Óbuda and Pasarét. The units of the Hungarian and the Allied cavalry were raiding all over the Great Hungarian Plain, keeping an eye on the possible movements of the Ottoman Pashas of Várad, Temesvár, and Eger castles. The Hussars of Bottyán János discovered that the Turks wanted to escape their wives through the Csepel Island. they ambushed the Sipahi riders and scattered them while the Hungarian boatmen captured the women. they all got a huge bounty.
The rest of the German troops arrived at the end of June, including the soldiers from Brandenburg so the number of the besiegers increased to 75,000 men. The cannons deployed on the Rose Hill quickly destroyed the walls of the Water Town and the siege trenches got ready, too. Thus, Duke Charles ordered the first assault on 24 June. The attack was supported by the boatmen of the Danube who embarked and opened a gap for the infantrymen. The Janissaries shed a killer musket fire on the attackers who were pushing through the breach but it couldn’t stop them. The Imperials have occupied the breach. By the evening, the Christians were able to take the whole of Water Town, on the heels of the withdrawing Ottoman forces. Pasha Abdurrahman didn’t want to sacrifice too many soldiers to keep this part of the town.
The besiegers began to dig the new trenches at once. The cannons were also destroying an important section of the northern wall, the so-called Esztergomi Bastion near the Gate of Vienna. The round bastions were being attacked, and the howitzers tried to destroy the houses behind the walls. The Turks failed to hinder the building of the trenches and they were slowly but surely approaching the walls. These trenches were also successful to repulse the Ottomans’ sallies, though the soldiers of Duke Charles suffered heavy losses at these sallies.
Exploding mines was part of the systematic siege but the defenders were able to block the besiegers’ attempts. The Bavarians deployed their cannons against the southern large Round Bastion (the “Nagyrondella”). They were busily digging trenches, too. Slowly, the network of trenches surrounded the whole castle. The walls have fallen down in some places by the middle of July. Yet, the defenders constructed new lines of fortifications behind the breaches, made from earth and planks.
In spite of this, Duke Charles ordered a general attack to be launched on 14 July. A day before the assault, a mine seriously damaged the wall next to the Bastion of Pasha Sziavusz. The cannons concentrated their fire on it and the walls fell down. It was why Duke Charles issued the order of the assault a day earlier. The attackers sent three columns against the breaches at 7 p.m., they were throwing grenades at the defenders but they could not take a stand on the wooden palisade behind the breach. On top of that, an Ottoman mine blew up, causing severe losses among the thronged Christian soldiers: then, the defenders sallied on them, covered by rifle fire and bombs from the walls. Finally, Duke Charles had to call the Imperial troops back. The defenders lost about 600 soldiers while several hundred of the attackers fell, including many high officers.
The Bavarians launched an attack against the Nagyrondella on 16 July and they managed to take a stand in the moat. They deployed cannons there and broke the walls from close range, while their musket fire covered the artillerymen. The Ottomans tried to chase them away on 22 July and sallied out but the Bavarians repulsed them in bloody close combat. It was the moment when 800 quintals of gunpowder exploded where the Turks stored it in the former palace of King Matthias Corvinus: the eastern wing of the palace and a section of the wall blew up, killing 1,500 defenders on the spot.
Seeing this, Duke Charles sent his Chief Aide-de-Camp to Pasha Abdurrahman and demanded his surrender but it was refused. The Pasha had the damaged sections repaired in two days: the defenders had plenty of gunpowders left, and the effect of the explosion was not so large as it was thought. Many stories of bravery were recorded during the siege. Here you can read about an Ottoman hero of Buda, Bey Csonka who later became a famous Hussar commander in the Imperial army:
A long section of the Nagyrondella’s wall fell down on 25 July but the defenders built new lines of palisades behind it. However, the next day the planks were burned by a Franciscan monk called Rafael Babrielly: the Hungarians called him “Tüzes” aka “Conflagrant” Gábor as he was an expert on explosives. The Turks could not extinguish the fire because of the Christian musket men. During this time, the artillery and mine fight was going on at the northern section of the wall but with small success. The Turks sallied out from the castle on 25 July and attacked the soldiers from Brandenburg. The Germans were attacked from different directions and the Ottomans were forced back only with the help of the Hajdú soldiers of Fiáth János of Győr but the enemy’s cannon fire caused many casualties to the besiegers. (Please, note that I use the Oriental name order for Hungarians where family names come first.)
As for the Hungarian cavalrymen, they were not idle, either: at the end of July, they defeated the army of Pasha Osman of Eger, near Eger castle. The Hussars were led by Petneházy, Semsey Pál, and Donat Heissler. The Begler-Bey also fell in the battle. As a result of this, the besiegers didn’t need to expect an attack from that direction. However, the main reinforcing army was coming from the direction of the Dráva River, led by Grand Vizier Suleiman. Thus, the Christian military commanders agreed to launch a new attack against the walls before the reinforcement would arrive. The general attack included 12,000 men, 2,000 of them were Hajdú soldiers, led by Vice-General Esterházy János of Győr castle: they targeted the wall section that had been destroyed during the gunpowder explosion. Further 6,000 soldiers, the troops from Brandenburg were attacking from the north side while 4,000 Bavarians were doing the same from the eastern side.
Grenade throwers, sharpshooters, soldiers supplied with plug bayonets, soldiers with spears, and trench-digging workers were assigned in each column. The Ottomans were well aware of the attack and they received the Christians in readiness at 6 p.m. when the attack was launched. The Turks were blowing up hidden mines and their bullets rained on the attackers. Despite this, they were able to take the Pasha Sziavusz Bastion for a short time but they were pushed out of there. A Hungarian flag-bearer Hajdú from Győr was able to get on the wall and planted his flag on it. At the Nagyrondella bastion, the Imperials could make a foothold, just like in the south and in the north. Sadly, they suffered lots of casualties, 4,500 Germans and 600 Hungarians fell, especially among the mock attack made by the men of Esterházy. The defenders lost about 2,500 soldiers.
The reinforcing army of Grand Vizier Suleiman was approaching quickly so Duke Charles had his camp reinforced by trenches. then, he called back his cavalrymen from Tolna, Fejér, and Heves counties. They were sent to guard Buda and Pest. He sent his demand of surrender to the castle again on 31 July but it was refused all the same. To show up some results before the reinforcing army would arrive, Charles ordered another general attack on 3 August. As for the units on the northern side of the castle, they did not even start it because the mines failed to explode. On the other hand, the Bavarians were making their advance successfully and took a part of the former royal palace. It was a pity, that they had to be called back because of a Turk counter-attack. All in all, the soldiers of Duke Charles could not penetrate the Ottoman defenses.
The Ottoman reinforcement’s vanguard appeared on 8 August at Albertfalva, some 3-4,000 riders who were scattered by the 2,500 Hussars of Batthyány Ádám. The Duke went on with the artillery fire against Buda but he sent the bulk of his army to stop the troops of Suleiman. The Grand Vizier’s warriors launched their attack on 14 August, getting around the Christian army towards the Hills of Buda. They were promptly beaten back by the cavalry of Petneházy and Girolamo Lodron. The units of Pálffy János, Peter Mercy, and Count Dünnewald came to their help, too. The Ottomans’ army was three times larger but they have been repeatedly beaten back. There was a fierce cavalry battle at Budaörs, the Hungarian and the German riders equally distinguished themselves in it.
They fought against the elite unit of 3,000 Janissaries and killed 2,700 of them. The Bavarians joined in the fight on the right wing, too, following the Danube River. when Suleiman realized that he could not get around the Christians, he slowly withdrew his troops. After this, the besiegers turned their attention toward the castle again. they went on with the cannonade, making more breaches in the walls. In the meantime, the Grand Vizier made a desperate effort to send 3,000 riders into the besieged castle; 2,000 of the riders were Jannissaries mounted on horseback. They attacked in the dawn of 20 August, from the direction of the Hűvösvölgy Valley but the heavy cavalry of Caprara and Heissler cut down most of them. Only 2-300 exhausted Ottomans could get into the safety of Buda. The Grand Vizier made a second similar attempt on 29 August, this time from the direction of Óbuda. The mounted Janissaries were able to break through the trenches but all 2,000 of them died in the musket fire, except for 4 soldiers.
The István Tower stood on the southern part of the former royal palace near the Nagyrondella Bastion, and it had been taken by the Bavarians on 22 August. From there, they could shoot at the defenders continuously. Three days later the Turks forced them out but in answer to that, the Bavarian cannons destroyed the tower. In the meantime, the attackers on the northern side were able to build out a connection between the Esztergomi Bastion and the defense lines behind it.
The army of Vice-General Scherfenberg arrived on 29 august from Transylvania, he brought 10-12,000 rested soldiers, there were 1,500 Hungarians among them. Thus, the plan for the final general attack could be prepared. The Military Council was held on 31 August and they agreed to launch the assault the next day but Maximilian Eugene postponed it by a day. Then, they made a mock attack at Budaörs while the cannons didn’t stop shedding fire on the walls. The fire ceased at 3 p.m. on 2 September, and by this time, the attacking columns had taken their positions in the trenches.
The units broke through the second and the third lines of the wooden palisade at the Esztergom Bastion quite quickly, getting to the streets of the castle. It is true, that the Hajdú soldiers, the grenade throwers, and the volunteers who led the attack suffered a lot in the Jannissaries’ fire. Yet, the Ottomans had to withdraw toward the streets because there was an enormous push on them. The soldiers from Brandenburg also broke through the walls, amid lots of hardship, though. Both high officers who led the two attacking columns died while doing so. Pasha Abdurrahmán was on the square now called Hess András Square, his bodyguards pleaded with him to escape but he replied: “If I couldn’t defend the castle that was given to my care, it is all right to die in it!” So he drew his sword and attacked the intruding soldiers of Prince Karl Eugen de Croy. He died in the meleé.
The soldiers of the Allied Christian Forces opened the Fehérvári Gate where the cavalry led by Eugene of Savoy came in, it was at the modern Dísz Square. There was a Hungarian soldier called Ramocsaházy Endre who was among the first of those who entered the castle, he was captured by the Turks and was hanged but survived it, here is my article about him:
In the south, the Bavarians could only slowly go forward amid the ruins of the former palace of King Matthias Corvinus. But when they heard that the northern part of the castle was taken, they renewed their attack and forced the men of Pasha Ismail from the buildings in front of them. Many of the Ottomans who surrendered, similar to the civilians were killed outright, it was only Duke Charles who could stop the bloodshed. Pasha Ismail was captured, read his story above on my link: he was the one who became the famous Csonka Bey. The looting lasted for three days, Christians, Turks, and Jews alike were slaughtered by the revengeful soldiers, and the dead bodies of 2,000 people covered the streets. The besiegers captured 6,000 women and children; the women were distributed among the soldiers. Read my article about their fate:
There was only one man, the famous Italian engineer Luigi Ferdinando Marsigli who was not plundering the rich houses. Instead, he and his men were salvaging the surviving copies of King Matthias’ library. In fact, it was Marsigli who had drawn very profound maps of Buda castle during his captivity: without his drawings, the artillery of the besiegers would not have been so effective. The winners celebrated the victory on 3 September, and when the looting was stopped, they began to clean up the ruins. General Melchior Leopold Beeck and his 5,000 soldiers were appointed to guard Buda castle. Pest was guarded by Vice-General Koháry István and his 2,000 Hungarians. There were celebrations all over Europe with fireworks, processions, and singing of the “Te Deum”. Memorial coins were minted and bonfires were lit in commemorating that Ottoman rule ended after 145 years in Buda.
The direct outcome of Buda’s liberation
Let us cast a look back to 1683 when Vienna was attacked by the Ottomans. The assault against Vienna would have never taken place without the assistance of Prince Thököly Imre who let the Turks approach the Austrian capital. Thököly’s uprising against the Habsburgs derived from the Austrian court’s politics since 1664. They alienated and angered the Hungarians so much that Thököly was able to gain large lands in Upper Hungary, then in Transylvania. Thököly thought that the Turks would take Vienna for the time being, and it would have provided him with a better political situation in order to tear Hungary off the claws of the Habsburgs and the Ottomans alike.
Yet, due to the arrival of King Sobieski, Vienna survived the siege. Then, the Habsburgs had to realize that the Hungarians (or the Turks) might attack next time, and there will not be Sobieski always there. So, they had to launch the reconquest wars of Hungary, willy-nilly. Soon, almost all the soldiers of Thököly joined the war on their side. Thus, Buda’s retaking resulted in the coronation of the nine-year-old Habsburg Joseph I took place on 9 December 1687. He was crowned as a Hungarian king in Pozsony (Bratislava, Pressburg)…
The Hungarian nobles thought that there would be a real change because the old capital of the Hungarian Kingdom was retaken after 145 years of Ottoman rule. As a result of this, they were willing to give up two of their most important rights, out of gratitude. One of them was the right to elect a king out of their free will, and the second one was the right of resistance if the king happened to be unfaithful to his people.
The Diet assembled in Pozsony (Pressburg, Bratislava) during the autumn of 1687 and after hard debates, they accepted the inheritance rules of the Habsburg dynasty’s male heirs over the Hungarian throne and they were casting away the Golden Bull’s paragraph number 31. This particular paragraph 31 was the one that declared that the Hungarian nobles and high priests have the right to chase away those monarchs who would not keep the rules of the Golden Bull, issued in 1222.
It was how Emperor Leopold’s son, the nine-year-old Joseph I, was ceremonially crowned to be Hungarian king with great pomp on 9 December 1687. The greatest Hungarian aristocrats were carrying the ruler’s signs in the coronation procession: the sword was carried by Ádám Zrínyi Ádám aka Adam Zrinski who was the son of the poet and general Miklós Zrínyi Miklós (Nikola Zrinski) and he was also the nephew of the Zrínyi Péter (Petar Zrinski) who had been executed in 1671. You can read more about him here:
Everybody seemed to have forgotten that Buda was taken in 1541 by the Turks because the Habsburgs wanted to occupy it by force. Now, after 145 years since the Habsburg rulers could finally fulfill their promise (with significant international and Hungarian help) and took back Buda castle, the gratitude of the Hungarian nobles might be a bit exaggerated. Let us note, that it was Palatine Esterházy Pál and Széchényi Pál, archbishop of Kalocsa who had been working hard since 1683 to settle this “agreement” with the Habsburgs. On the other hand, Kollovitch Lipót, Archbishop of Esztergom practically wanted to place Hungary into the hereditary lands of the Habsburgs. Obviously, the Diet of 1687 had disastrous political consequences that paved the way for the War of Independence of Prince Rákóczi Ferenc II.
Source: Szibler Gábor and Szerecz Miklós, and Szántai Gábor
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