Selected Passages from Hungarian-Ottoman Wars

25 November 1556 The Diet of Transylvania made Isabella Governor

Queen Isabella, widow of King Szapolyai János

It was the day when the Diet of Transylvania made Isabella Governor of Transylvania until her son, János Zsigmond would reach the age of maturity. We know that Queen Isabella was the widow of King Szapolyai János of Hungary, and Sultan Suleiman made her leave Buda castle in 1541. Suleiman learned that Isabella wanted to cede Buda castle to the Habsburgs so he could not trust her anymore. You can read my short dramatized writing about the circumstances of that event:

Suleiman received Isabella and her son at Buda in 1541

After this, she left for East Hungary, and then, she made her court in Transylvania. Her late father’s advisor, Father Martinuzzi György, the “White Monk” was the tutor of her son, the baby János Zsigmond (later elected King of Hungary, and Prince of Transylvania). He, a nobleman, a statesman, a Pauline monk, later Bishop of Várad, Archbishop of Esztergom, and finally Cardinal, had lots of debates with Queen Isabella. Both Isabella and Martinuzzi were very exciting and colorful examples of  Hungarian history, no wonder they are quite dividing figures. You can get to know more about Martinuzzi’s life here:

Brother György Martinuzzi, the White Monk

The White Monk was busy balancing the power between the Austrians and the Ottomans. Finally, King Habsburg Ferdinand and Martinuzzi signed a treaty in 1549 in Nyírbátor, in the eagle nest of the Báthory Clan. It was almost the same as the previous Treaty of Gyalu. According to it, in exchange for Ferdinand’s military help, Queen Isabella and King János Zsigmond would resign from their titles and the Habsburgs would receive Transylvania. Let us remark, Queen Isabella knew nothing of this, she was having a good time in Déva castle. When she received the news, she got very angry. Of course, Isabella did not agree with the agreement and betrayed the secret treaty to the Sublime Porte.

West Hungary and East Hungary in the age of the Dual Kingship

In the summer of 1550, a civil war broke out in Transylvania. So far, the monk had brilliantly balanced between the two powers, the Ottomans and the Habsburgs but finally, it led to his fall. In the meantime, the Turks were watching with dismay how Eastern Hungary was getting stronger. The next war with the Ottomans broke out also in 1550 when they came in force to widen further their occupied territories. The Sultan sent his Chaus (officer) to Transylvania in the spring of 1550 who demanded that the noble Estates should leave Martinuzzi and obey only Queen Isabella and her son. The followers of the Queen began to plot with Petrovics Péter, the Hungarian Székelys began their riot, and Queen Isabella gathered soldiers and took herself into the castle of Gyulafehérvár.


The White Monk had to react fast, first, he executed the leaders of the Székely rebels and put the uprising down. At that time, Petrovics Péter set out from the Temesköz region with his army and got into Transylvania. He took Csanád, Déva, Vízakna, and Alvinc. Pasha Kászim of Buda also came to Lippa castle with his troops, he was there on 22 October. Martinuzzi had to fight against multiple foes at the same time. The Ottomans made Ilie II Rareș, Voivode of Moldavia, and the Wallachian Voivode attack Transylvania to punish him.

The Wallachians (Romanians) attacked the Székely Land on 2 November, and the Moldavians were at the Vöröstorony Pass of the Carpathian Mountains. but the White Monk led an army against them and defeated the attackers. Then, his troops also defeated the army of Comes Petrovics Péter of Temes who was supporting Queen Isabella. Martinuzzi had a strong army and besieged Gyulafehérvár but the town defended itself bravely for six weeks. At the end of October, the Queen surrendered and “gave pardon” to the White Monk, and became his friend again. You can read more about this here:

Sultan Suleiman
Naturally, Sultan Suleiman could not allow losing the influence over this territory so easily. The troops of Pasha Szokollu Mehmed besieged Becse, Becskerek, Csanád, and Lippa castles. After a short time, they took them but they were not able to take Temesvár castle, though. Martinuzzi’s men were joined by the 9,000-strong army of the Italian mercenary commander, Count Giovanni Battista Castaldo. The Habsburg emperor`s army consisted of German-Bohemian-Spanish-Italian-Hungarian troops who joined forces with the Hungarian noble estates and the units of Báthory and Nádasdy. Together, they succeeded to make the Turks withdraw.
King Habsburg Ferdinand I of Hungary

When their troops withdrew from there, the army of the White Monk, joined by the soldiers of Nádasdy, Castaldo, and Pallavichi Sforza hurried to Lippa and besieged it. Soon, they forced Bey Ulema to surrender but the Prior promised the Turkish garrison of Lippa Castle safe conduct. Actually, the events of this siege led to the fall of Martinuzzi. King Ferdinand betrayed him and ordered his assassination. When Castaldo saw the Turks march away undisturbed on 28 November, he got very surprised and began to accuse the Prior of treason. He wrote a letter to King Ferdinand and to Emperor Charles V and reported Martinuzzi as a traitor. Brother György was indeed negotiating with several Ottoman Pashas of Southern Hungary because he wanted to gain some time. Due to this, Castaldo was able to convince Ferdinand who gave the order to have the monk (by this time he was a cardinal) assassinated. However, the mercenary leaders had to have Ferdinand’s approval sooner than that.

Sforza Pallavicini

Castaldo hired the secretariat of the monk, Marco Aurelio Ferrari for the crime. The White Monk was killed in his palace in Alvinc on the night of 16- 17 December 1551. Martinuzzi had his bodyguards removed because he thought it was a sign of peace and he was waiting for the men of Ferdinand like this, guessing nothing. The assassins of General Sforza-Pallavicini came to help Marco Aurelio Ferrari. They, Lorenzo Campeggi, Giovanni Munino, Mercada, Scramuccia, and two Spanish soldiers killed the 69 years old priest with two shots of musket and with 75 stabs. After dishonoring his corpse, the body was left unburied there for 70 days. The mercenaries cut off his hairy ear and sent it to Ferdinand as proof. When Queen Isabella heard of the murder, first she rejoiced, then she allegedly mourned him. Transylvania fell temporarily into the hands of the Habsburgs.

After these turbulent events, the Transylvanians received Isabella and János Zsigmond upon their return from Poland with great pomp and festivities because the local noblemen had had had enough of the five-year-long Habsburg rule (1551-1556). Obviously, King Ferdinand was not able to defend Transylvania and the Sublime Port of the Sultan did not want to lose it, either.
Consequently, a war broke out between the followers of János Zsigmond (Szapolyai’s son) and Habsburg Ferdinand at the beginning of 1556.
King János Zsigmond, son of King Szapolyai of Hungary 1540-1571
The Transylvanian Diet of Torda city declared the division from the Habsburgs right after that and they proclaimed János Zsigmond as their king on 8 March at Szászsebes. However, he has never been crowned with the Crown of the Hungarians which made a huge difference. After this, Ferdinand hurried to let the Sultan know in June that he had given Transylvania back to the followers of the Szapolyai clan.
The Gold Forint of János Zsigmond and Isabella (1559)
As a result of this, the Transylvanians received the Queen and her son who came in through the Pass of Verecke from Poland. There were bright celebrations held at Kolozsvár (Cluj, Klausenburg) and the Diet swore fealty to János Zsigmond on 25 November but they made his mother the Governor due to his young age. The troops of the Queen took back the forts from the Habsburgs one by one. The last big forts, Várad (Oradea) and Szamosújvár fell as well, Szamosújvár was defended by the previous Voivode of Transylvania. This Voivode was Dobó István, the hero of Eger Castle, who fought on the Habsburgs’ side.
The tombstone of Captain Dobó István (photo: Thaler Tamás)
Isabella was controlling Transylvania until her death in 1559. As the White Monk was not alive, the Queen didn’t have to take care much about saving money as the tight-fisted monk used to do it. She was in full charge of the financial issues and could lead her Renaissance spendthrift lifestyle as much as she wanted to. She spoke several languages but preferred the company of Italian and Polish people in her court. She ordered gorgeous Renaissance pieces of furniture and dresses from Italy and invited artists and musicians to her court in Gyulafehérvár (Alba Iulia). She adored jewels. She wanted to arrange a marriage between her son and a French princess but in order to do so she should have passed her power to her son who was growing up already. It was the same reason why the young János Zsigmond could not wed the daughter of Habsburg Ferdinand.
The signatures of Isabella and her son, 1558
At the same time, the foundation of religious tolerance in Transylvania was laid down during Isabella’s reign. The Diet of Torda in 1557 declared that “everybody is allowed to live in the faith they wanted to if it is done without disturbing the other people’s practicing their religion.” It was the first step taken toward religious freedom. The Lutheran faith was legalized, and this thinking was improved during the diets of the 1560s. 
The fortified church of Torda (Source: Csetri Elek,
A group of the Transylvanian lords made a conspiration against Isabella in 1558. Their plan was to make the Queen resign and give the power to her son. The Queen snared the plotters to Kolozsvár (Cluj, Klausenburg) namely Antal Kendy and Ferenc Bebek, and had them killed at night. Later, she fabricated a case of treason to justify the murder. One could see a very basic characteristic of the Queen in this action. Although she was described as a very lovely and beautiful woman, she had significant manly characteristics. Many times she could go mad with such hysteria and rage that was frightening. Some say, she must have inherited this from her mother, she had Italian descent, and she was Queen Bona Sforza of Poland. Isabella died on 15 September 1559. 
The tombstone of Queen Isabella in Gyulafehérvár

It would be thrilling to read a historical novel about her life.

Source: partly from Szibler Gábor

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The coins minted by Isabella