20 July 1541 The fall of Fogaras castle

Photo: Andrei Dan Suciu

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 (Martinuzzi) 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.

Fogaras (Photo: Andrei Dan Suciu)

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. 

Mayláth’s book

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.

Prior György Martinuzzi

 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. 

Ludovico Gritti

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 namtamáses come first.) It was when Mayláth began to think about returning to King Ferdinand’s side. Mayláth conspired with Nádasdy, his brother-in-law, and Thurzó Elek to switch sides. He even established contacts with the Sublime Porte just to undermine Szapolyai’s position.

Sultan Suleiman I

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.)

King Szapolyai in 1535

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.

The campaigns of Suleiman against Hungary

After Szapolyai’s death, Habsburg Ferdinand sent troops to take Buda castle. In answer to that, Sultan Suleiman set out from Istanbul to relieve Buda and sent the Moldavian ruler Petru IV and Ahmed, Sanjak Bey of Nikopolis against Mayláth.
At first, they only surrounded Fogaras and fought a minor battle with Mayláth’s men.

Sultan Suleiman on a German broadsheet

Soon, the Ottoman army arrived at Fogaras, led by Pasha Achmed, aided by the troops of the Moldavian 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.

The siege was going on very slowly so they had to come up with another solution, though. They sent Bornemissza Boldizsár on 19 July 1541 into the castle to start talks with Mayláth. Bornemissza somehow made him believe that the sultan would grant him the throne of Transylvania. Although Mayláth did not like Bornemissza at all, his desire for power was stronger than his precaution. Bornemissza was shrewd and he knew that if he warned him about the danger of accepting the offer, Mayláth would be suspicious. So he skillfully told to him: “My lord, you have always been a smart man, now you have to be very clever, and do not even try to go close to the Turks because you will be cheated, you know the Turks and the Wallachians well enough!” 
As Bornemissza had expected, Mayláth turned him down and decided to go out to negotiate. However, he asked for high-ranking Ottoman hostages. Pasha Achmed dressed simple soldiers in ornamented clothes and sent them to Fogaras castle to reassure him. Lady Nádasdy Anna had more common sense and she was pleading with her husband not to go out but nobody could discourage him. Mayláth put on his richest cloth, and in the company of 60 picked men, he left Fogaras castle. Outside, his men built his tent where they were having a party for a whole day. The next day, he visited the camp of Voivode Petru Rares where his soldiers were disarmed and he was captured. Voivode Petru received him with the following words: “You are a dog, you are the captive of the Turk sultan.” Then, he sent Mayláth to Bali bey who had him transported to Constantinapolis where he was imprisoned in the infamous Jedikule. Sultan Suleiman received the news of his capture at Nándorfehérvár (Belgrade). 
The Yedikule in Istanbul (Photo: Lohen11 Josep Renalias)

On hearing of the capture of their leader, the garrison of Fogaras refused to resist and opened the gate to the Moldovans and Turks. Two days after the conquest of Fogaras, the Transylvanian noble Estates, who had previously looked towards King Ferdinand, pledged allegiance to the infant János Sigismund, son of Szapolyai. Fogaras castle was then returned by the Turks to the Transylvanians, who were soon granted the right by the Sultan to become a state under Queen Isabella, and those who were loyal to the Habsburgs were gradually driven out of the country.

Queen Isabella
Not much later, Mayláth got company in his prison: the sultan arrested Török Bálint at the time of taking Buda castle. Soon, Móré László, the robber knight arrived in the Jedikula. King Ferdinand, Lady Nádasdy, and the Hungarian Estates tried to do their best to free Mayláth but their efforts were powerless because Prior Martinuzzi György hindered them. Mayláth István died in December 1550 in his cell. His wife and his son, Gábor lived in the castle of Sárvár between 1540-1550, the place belonged to Nádasdy Tamás at that time. Before Nádasdy Ferenc was born, the Mayláth Gábor was considered the heir of the Nádasdy family’s domains. You can read more about Prior Martinuzzi here:
Source: Szibler Gábor

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