23 January 1662 The Battle of Nagyszőlős, the Death of Prince Kemény

Prince Kemény János of Transylvania
Prince Rákóczi György’s Polish war of 1657 has resulted in a disaster. Ottoman and Crimean Tatar punishing armies flooded Transylvania, burning and looting the once so wealthy “Fairy Garden” of Europe. The Transylvanian army had been captured by the Tatars and taken to Crimea. Their General, Kemény János was among the captives. His family had to collect the huge amount of 116,000 Thallers to ransom him, it took them two years. While in captivity, Kemény took the responsibility for his soldiers as well. As it turned out, the Tatars would have released him earlier but one of his officers, Barcsay András escaped from the captivity and Kemény had to remain a prisoner. Allegedly, it was the first reason why he began to detest the Barcsay family. You can read more about Rákóczi’s Polish war here:



Prince Barcsay Ákos of Transylvania

In Transylvania, Grand Vizier Köprülü Mehmed wanted to settle the situation by making the Transylvanian noble estates elect a new prince. To avoid further looting and destruction, the estates elected Barcsay Ákos (1619-1661), a learned and peaceful nobleman. Barcsay accepted the position on 14 September 1658 to stop the terrible devastation of the land.  He paid half a million Ducats to the Turks as a “military compensation” and agreed to pay an annual tax of 40,000 ducats to the Sublime Port. Yet, the Turk and Tatar troops left Transylvania in October only when he ceded the forts of Lugos and Karánsebes. Barcsay had to promise that he would arrest the rebelling Prince Rákóczi György II and capture the Wallachian voivode as well. At this point, Rákóczi was still trying to regain his throne, he died on the battlefield in doing so in 1660, you can read more about it here:

The estoch of Kemény János (photo from 1895)
According to some historians, the appearance of Kemény János on the scene has done almost as large harm and suffering in Transylvania as the irresponsible Polish war of Prince Rákóczi György II. When he returned from his captivity, he was full of hatred against Rákóczi who had failed to ransom him. He felt the same against the Barcsay family. Kemény decided to save Transylvania from the Ottoman Empire, with the help of the Habsburg Empire. He thought the Turks would take away the freedom of Transylvania and the Habsburgs could provide enough military help against the heathen. History proved how wrong he was.
Kemény was persuaded by the Hungarian Székely border guards, too, because they were mostly Catholics and would have welcomed the Catholic Habsburg help. Kemény, the new usurper to the throne of Transylvania, was a tall, savage-looking, and proud warrior but he was also a learned person who excelled in writing. He was famous for delivering eloquent speeches. Yet, allegedly he was lacking military talent. He was just as inadequate for governing Transylvania as Prince Barcsay. However, Kemény was regarded as a person with common sense who could easily adapt to new circumstances.
Prince Kemény János
Cserey Mihály (1667-1756) was a historian from Transylvania, he did not like Kemény and wrote that he used to be an evil, ambitious, blood-thirsty, and cruel person throughout his life. Undoubtedly, Kemény is a dividing figure in our history, just like Prince Báthory Zsigmond, Prince Rákóczi György II, or Prince Thököly Imre…(Please, note that I use the Oriental name order for Hungarians where family names come first.)
Kemény’s coins from 1661
Transylvania paid a high price to have peace and it was about to get rid of the Ottoman troops when Kemény launched his attack. His troops defeated the prince’s army at the end of November 1660 at (Maros)Örményes, and he had Barcsay Gáspár killed, the brother of Prince Barcsay Ákos. Prince Barcsay had another brother called András, we have mentioned that he had escaped from the Tatars’ captivity: now, he ceded the fort of Fogaras to Kemény. In spite of this, Kemény had him hanged on 16 May 1661.
Transylvanian soldiers (Drawing: Somogyi Győző)
As it turned out, the Ottomans seemed to be disappointed with Prince Barcsay, too. Pasha Ali gave an order to the Transylvanian estates to remove him and elect Apafi Mihály instead of him. Barcsay resigned on 1 January 1661, and Apafi was elected at the Diet of Kereszténysziget on 14 September 1661. Kemény was not sitting around idly: he had a Diet summoned on Beszterce on 23 April 1661 where they declared the detachment of Transylvania from the Ottoman Empire.
Obviously, there was an insecurity in Vienna because of the fall of Várad castle in 1660, and Emperor Leopold I was seemed to be supporting Kemény. He was willing to help Kemény in exchange for a few forts that he would cede to the Emperor. No wonder, that the Ottoman Turk troops, hearing this threat, turned back to Transylvania in June. Now, Kemény had a good reason to have the retired Barcsay Ákos executed as a “prevention”. He claimed the Turks would eventually aid the ex-ruler. But murder was just murder.
General Montecuccoli, the great adversary of Zrínyi Miklós
It was General Raymondo Montecuccoli who was sent by Emperor Leopold to “give a careful aid” to Kemény. The General had a maximum of 24,000 mercenaries but he informed Kemény that he would be willing to give only 1,000 soldiers, and only for guarding Kolozsvár (Cluj, Klausenburg). Montecuccoli’s army joined the unit of Kemény in the Partium because Kemény had already been forced out of Transylvania. They moved to Kolozsvár together where Montecuccoli received the news of the election of Apafi Mihály. He also learned that the Turks were satisfied with putting him on the throne and they would leave the country before soon. Thus, Montecuccoli also decided to leave for home, abandoning Kemény’s war against Apafi. As the Imperial aid was gone, Kemény was doomed.
Emperor Leopold I
As for Apafi, he was well-received by the people of Transylvania who had suffered enough. He said: “one should not run headlessly after shadow-like promises, instead, one should make a favor to his sweet nation, and not find delight in shedding more Christian blood and in dragging innocent souls into slavery. One should come to his senses and should strive to evade the weapon that is aimed at him.” In the Hungarian language it sounds like this: „ne kapdosson valami árnyékhoz hasonló biztatásokon, kedvezzen édes nemzetének, ne gyönyörködjék még több keresztény vér kiontásán és ártatlan lelkeknek rabságra való vitetéseken. Térjen elméjére valaha és igyekezzék mennél hamarább a reájok felhuzott fegyvert magáról elforditani”.
Prince Apafi Mihály
Even Kemény accepted that many people came to like Apafi. However, the Székelys were not willing to lay down their arms because of Kemény. In answer to that, the Tatars and the soldiers of Pasha Ali flooded Csíkszék, their region. It was cruelly devastated, many people were massacred and 4,000 local Székelys were herded into slavery. Luckily, the Székelys in the Gyergyó region did not resist and they were not destroyed. When Kemény arrived there at the end of October with 5-6,000 men, he was too late. You can read about the Székelys on my page here:



Hungarian Székely soldiers in the 17th century (by Somogyi Győző)

Then, Ali turned against Kemény who had to flee from Transylvania again. Yet, he recruited a new army and broke into Transylvania in January 1662. Apafi told him to give up his plans and receive his pardon. Kemény was offered the right to keep his domains, too. But he said no. He forced Apafi to get into Segesvár castle but the unit of the Pasha of Temesvár, Kücsük Mehmed arrived with his 2,000 warriors. Kemény was afraid to fight them but according to Cserey, he could have defeated both Mehmed and Apafi easily. Instead of this, Kemény marched his (bigger) army to Nagyszőlős (Seleușul Mare, Grossalisch) that is located in the land of the German Saxons. He thought that the tired and smaller Turkish army would not follow him.

Pasha Kücsük Mehmed
He was wrong again, this time it cost him his life. Apafi’s units joined Pasha Kücsük at Segesvár, then they surprised him when he was having his lunch. Cserey says that “as Pasha Kücsük was a fast and brave man, he arrived at Nagyszőlős around noon. As soon as he caught sight of the camp of Kemény János, he dismounted and kissed the ground, then he mounted on his horse again, and ordered his troops to attack.” The Pasha sent his own son to the left wing of his army with these words: “Go, and lead the left wing of this army, and act and fight that way that I should see you killed dead by the weapon of the foe, rather than disgracefully run away. In this case (and he hit his weapon on his belt) my sword will kill you.”
an Ottoman soldier


Pasha Kücsük had Wallachian troops in his army, he deployed them amid the Turk troops, threatening them that he would have them beheaded if they fled. At the same time, he ordered to put aside all the muskets and rifles because he saw that the Germans and the Hungarians had more firearms. To prevent engaging in an unbalanced exchange of fire, he ordered his men to draw their sabers. 
When Kemény saw the Turks, he despised them because of their few numbers and he was sure of his victory. But there was a bad omen: when he was deploying his army, his horse stumbled and the strong bits broke in its mouth. Many of his soldiers were not even in the camp, they were collecting booty in the countryside near Segesvár. The terrain was not very good, either: Kemény had to deploy his troops in a narrow valley where he could not take advantage of his army’s superior numbers. His men were a bit confused and frightened by the sudden attack but Kemény managed to make a battle order. 
The Battle of Nagyszőlős
He placed his Croat horsemen and his Dragoons on the left wing, the hussars stood in the center. He had some Transylvanian infantrymen, they were deployed on the right wing. But he had not finished deploying them fully when the Turks were on them.  Unfortunately, his vanguard did not report the coming enemy in time. The Hussars were so startled that they turned and fled without a fight. The infantry followed them. The battle was lost almost without a fight, only 50 people fell, and not many soldiers were captured, either. It is thought that Kemény died when he threw himself before the running Hussars, trying to stop them. He must have been trampled to death by the horses.
Ottoman soldiers
We know, that when the Turks came to shooting distance, they leaned on the neck of their horses to avoid the bullets. They could reach Kemény’s army with their sabers. According to Georg Krausz, a Saxon historian, Kemény’s severed head was found among the ones that the Turks collected. As a habit, these heads were skinned and stuffed with hay. Kemény’s saber and a few of his items were found in a Jannissary’s sack. Even Apafi sent a search party to find his body but it was in vain. Some say, his remains were buried in the Orthodox cemetery of Szásznádas. We can see the monument of the battle next to the road of Szásznádas:
The ruined monument of the battle
Cserey remarked that God had made justice because of the murder of poor Prince Barcsay Ákos. The Ottoman Turks wanted to make Prince Apafi Mihály understand how to behave in the future, though. After the Battle of Nagyszőlős, Pasha Ali of Várad castle summoned Apafi to Várad (Oradea) where he ceremonially adopted him as his son. But Apafi had to watch over a disgraceful show: a promenade of the captured Hungarian warriors of Kemény János who carried 468 severed heads. These officers and hussars, about 30 people were forced to skin the heads and stuff them with hay. When they finished this grim job, they were beheaded on the spot, too.
Transylvania in 1662
However, the fight did not end after the death of Kemény János. His movement lived on. His followers held a meeting on 16 February 1662 and decided to continue the war with German support. They were led by Kemény Simon, the son of the late Kemény János. Vienna welcomed their plot, and Kemény Simon summoned a Diet. Yet, Vienna did not help them later, and the movement could not attract much attention in Transylvania.
We know a letter written by Pasha Kücsük that he sent to Kemény Simon:
“We, the caretaker and director of the Borderland castles on this inner side of the Danube River as well as commander of the invincible Sultan’s army in Transylvania, we, the Begler-Bey of Temesvár castle, Chief-Pasha of Borosjenő, the worshipful Pasha Kücsük Mehmet write:
We let you know, you little son of the big devil, devil’s soul, half-dog, half-pig, that I have got the letter that you wrote, and I know why you are writing to the country of Transylvania, to the poor people. You know you hound-souled, that our powerful Sultan (Mohamed IV) owns Transylvania by his ancient right and he can appoint anyone as a prince whoever he wants to.
He sent me to Transylvania to defend this land from this kind of dog-souled creature like you. You won’t rule in Transylvania unless we fight, and you may give orders when you chase me away from this country. Do not dare to threaten my ruler’s subjects with plundering and burning. You, Kemény Simon! Your father used to be a great devil, he had summoned all the German and Hungarian devils, and I had prayed to God to stand face to face with him, and He granted my pleading. I have sent your father to hell, and you are the son of that big devil, and I want to know very much where you are walking. I am begging God now, too, and I know He will listen to my prayer, I will be waiting for you, you just come to me, we have to see each other: because the True Faith of the Turk nation says that one should not wait for such a devil soul like you but we should go and get you.
May God give me, I will send your head to the devil in hell where your villain father is waiting for you. So you gonna be a bad man if you don’t wait for me. Don’t you know that your father had tasted the sword of the brave warriors of our mighty Sultan, if God grants it, you can have the same. Give a reply to my letter, and wait for me. God is with us. Datum in castris ad Kolozsvár positis, 11 Juny, 1662. (Dated in Kolozsvár castle on 11 July 1662) “
Jenő aka Borosjenő castle
You can read this letter in the Hungarian language, too:

“Mi, hatalmas győzhetetlen császárunk Dunán innen lévő végházainak és Erdélyben lévő fényes hadainak igazgatója és gondviselője, Temesvárnak beglerbégje, Borosjenő várnak főbasája, nagyságos Kucsuk Mehmet basa.

Tudtodra legyen, te nagy ördögnek kis ördög fia, ördög lelke, kutya fele, disznó fele, kezemhez jutott az te kutya leveled, mit írtál, láttam miért írsz te Erdély országának, miért ő szegénységének, tudod-e azt te eblelkű, Erdély hatalmas császárunk [IV. Mohamed] őstől maradott országa, fejedelemmé tette, ki akart; azért küldött ide Erdélybe engemet, hogy ilyen ördög lelkétől megoltalmazzam; addig nem parancsolsz Erdélyben, elsőben verekedjünk meg ketten, ha engemet te kikergetsz az országból, akkor parancsolj. Ne fenyegesd hatalmas császárunk jobbágyit égetéssel s rablással. Te Kemény Simon! az te atyád nagy ördög volt, mind magához hívta az német ördögöket és magyar ördögöket; imádkoztam én az Istennek, hogy lássuk szemben egymást amint könyörgöttem, meghallgatta. Az te apádat pokolra vesztettem, te annak az nagy ördögnek fia vagy, igen akarom, hogy tudgyam meg, hol jársz. Az Istennek most is könyörgök, tudom, meghallgatja, megvárlak, te jöjj énhozzám, meg kell látnunk egymást: mert a török nemzetnek igaz vallása tartja, az ilyen ördög lelket, mint te vagy, nem kell várni, eleiben kell menni. Megadja Isten, lator apád után, ördögben, pokolban bocsátom fejedet. Azért rossz ember lészesz, ha meg nem vársz. Hatalmas császárunk vitézeinek kardját, tudod-e, apád is megkóstolta, ha Isten adja, neked is jut benne. Levelemre tégy választ, s várj el. Isten hozzánk. Datum in castris ad Kolozsvár positis, 11 Juny, 1662. “

Prince Apafi Mihály (1632-1690), the last sovereign ruler of Transylvania
Sources: Szibler Gábor, Szerecz Miklós, Arcanum

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