20 July 1541 The fall of Fogaras castle
The siege of Fogaras castle took place during the bloody Dual Kingship of Hungary when civil war tore the country into two: King Habsburg Ferdinand ruled the western lands while the eastern part of the country was under the rule of the son of late King Szapolyai János. However, it was Queen Isabella and Prior Martinuzzi aka Fráter györgy who ruled on behalf of King János Zsigmond who was barely one year old. Fogaras castle was one of the “gates of Transylvania”, a very important stronghold. Whoever owned it, could easily control Transylvania. Ferdinand wanted to seize Transylvania quite badly, in spite of the fact that he proved to be powerless against the mighty Ottoman Empire’s expansion.
Voivode Mayláth István of Transylvania was the man of King Ferdinand. But let us tell a few words about how it happened. Hungarian readers might know his figure from the historical novel of Gárdonyi Géza, “The Fall of the Crescent moon” (Egri csillagok) where the author portrayed Mayláth as a rather positive character. In fact, he was not a “knight in shining armor” as we would say. Nobody was that, at that age. Noblemen betrayed their rulers quite often and disregarded the Ottoman peril. However, these selfish lords proved to be heroic soldiers when it came to that and often distinguished themselves against the enemy. Just look at Captain Dobó István of Eger castle, he became famous as the hero of the Eger’s siege of 1552 but on the other hand, he was not always a decent and gentle man. It is why I like this age so much: villains became heroes and heroes became villains so often.
As for Mayláth, he may have derived from a Wallachian family and fought bravely in the Battle of Mohács in 1526. Then, he took the side of Habsburg Ferdinand. Ferdinand had only a handful of supporters at the beginning, the 95% of the country supported King Szapolyai János. In Ferdinand’s court, Mayláth befriended Nádasdy Tamás, another aristocrat who aided Ferdinand, and he married Nádasdy’s younger sister, Anna. When Nádasdy died in the first part of the 1530s, Mayláth was forced to switch sides and swore fealty to King Szapolyai. At this time, many noblemen were turning cloaks because it was the natural way to enlarge their domains. Mayláth took to King Ferdinand at the first given chance but he persuaded his brother-in-law to take the side of Szapolyai. It was safe to have friends on both sides: they could defend each other’s interests from different directions.
In 1534, Mayláth was still with Szapolyai who appointed him as the Voivode of Transylvania. In exchange for this rank, Mayláth took action and besieged the castle of Medgyes where Ludovico Gritti was hiding. Gritti, the natural son of the Venetian Doge was the Governor appointed by Sultan Suleiman. He was plotting to gain the throne of Eastern Hungary ( it included Transylvania at that time) but his position in the Sublime Porte was declining. Eventually, Gritti fled but Mayláth captured him and soon he had him beheaded. Szapolyai was grateful because Gritti was a burden on him.
However, Mayláth could not get along with an upstart, Prior Martinuzzi György, and his voivode position was not so sure anymore at the end of the 1530s. King Szapolyai appointed a co-voivode next to him, he was Balassa Imre. (Note, I use the Oriental name order for Hungarians where family names come first.) It was when Mayláth began to think about returning to King Ferdinand’s side. Soon, King Szapolyai came to know about his intentions and took away his domains, and sentenced him to death. It happened in the spring of 1540, and the Transylvanians were quite upset because of the changes. King Szapolyai left behind his wife, Queen Isabella who was about to give birth to his son and hurriedly went to Transylvania to calm down the tensions. Yet, he died on the way back home. (My note: gossip said he was poisoned.)
Mayláth immediately summoned a Diet and began to carry out his own political concept. On the Diet, the Estates elected him and Balassa Imre as Chief Captains. His goal was to gain the rank of Transylvania’s sovereign ruler. In order to achieve it, he was looking for contacts with both King Ferdinand and the Sublime Porte. Then, his opponent, Prior György betrayed him to Sultan Suleiman: the sultan was informed about the negotiations between Ferdinand and Mayláth. That was the end of it. The Turks could not have let the Habsburgs gain ground. Read more about Fogaras castle here:
Mayláth was aware of the coming Ottoman army and sent his summons of calling to arms throughout Transylvania. He was in the castle of Fogaras, a formidable castle in southern Transylvania. However, nobody wanted to obey his summons and he received no troops. Soon, the Ottoman army arrived at Fogaras, led by Pasha Achmed, aided by the troops of the Wallachian Voivode, Petru Rares. The siege began on 19 June and lasted for a month. Voivode Petru Rares wanted to prove his loyalty to the sultan by all means because he had not been always so loyal before. Now, he did everything to capture Mayláth.
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