27 March and 23 June 1562: the victories of Hassan, Bey of Fülek

Let us talk about two Ottoman victories that took place in the same year.

Prelude to the battle of 27 March 1562

 The first one happened on 27 March 1562 when the Bey of Fülek castle, Hasszán, defeated the Hungarian Borderland warriors of the Felvidék (Upper Lands or Highlands, the northern part of Royal Hungary) at Szécsény. But let us take a closer look at the military actions taking place a few weeks before it.

Szécsény castle’s bastion, a modern reconstruction…(Photo: Rákász Mihály)

War broke out between Transylvania (or it could be called East-Hungary at this point) and the Habsburg-ruled western part of the Kingdom of Hungary in 1562. The Ottomans had also joined the fight on the side of János Zsigmond who was the ruler of the eastern part of Hungary.

The “Hungaries”

First, the Royal troops of the Habsburg king attacked Transylvania and defeated the army of Némethy Ferenc and Báthory István in the battle of Hadad. János Zsigmond, the son of late King Szapolyai János, was the ruler of Transylvania and he was being supported by Turk troops as well. Please, note that I use the Eastern name order for Hungarians where family names come first. You can read here more about the Mining Towns District of Hungary, an area rich in gold and silver, the main target of the Ottomans:


The Habsburg victory at Hadad, 4 March 1562

King Habsburg Ferdinand was able to hold Transylvania only between 1551 and 1556 because János Zsigmond (the son of late King Szapolyai János) and his mother, Queen Isabella returned from Poland. The Queen took over the control of Eastern Hungary and she firmly ruled there until she died in 1559. However, her hard rule caused unrest among many subjects. For example, the Hungarian Székelys were very upset because of the introduced taxes. The Székelys were privileged frontier guards of Transylvania who had never had to pay any taxes before. Ferdinand was glad for these feelings because he didn’t want to cede Transylvania that easily.

János Zsigmond, elected (and not crowned) king of Hungary

When Queen Isabella died, the 19-year-old János Zsigmond became the king. The fight between Ferdinand and János Zsigmond took an unexpected turn when Lord Balassa Menyhárt left János Zsigmond and abruptly sided with Habsburg Ferdinand in 1560. Then,  Balassa and Lord Zay Ferenc, the Chief Captain of Upper Hungary launched a campaign against Transylvania in 1562. Balassa was able to persuade Sulyok György, the captain of Hadad castle to join Ferdinand. At the same time, they attempted to overrun the Partium (the lands between Transylvania and the Ottoman Occupied Lands). The Székelys were being instigated, too. 

The tombstone of Balassa Menyhárt

Naturally, János Zsigmond was not idly sitting around in the meantime. He sent his army led by Némethi Ferenc and Báthory István against the Imperial troops. His men looted the Transylvanian lands of Balassa, then took Hadad castle at the end of February. The two armies clashed at Hadad castle, the Imperial army was outnumbered by the Transylvanian army two to one.  Balassa had just 4,000 seasoned Hungarian and German troops while the Transylvanians had 8,000 soldiers but they were mainly untrained peasants.

Forgách Ferenc

Let us read how Baron Forgách Ferenc wrote about this battle:

“When Ferdinand was informed about the growing conflict, he ordered the troops of the Hungarian counties to centralize their forces. In the enemy’s camp, Báthori István and Némethy Ferenc had 8,000 soldiers. As for János Zsigmond, he was not well and he was staying at Kolozsmonostor, near Kolozsvár (Cluj, Klausenburg). Still, he was trying to recruit more troops from everywhere. He ordered his generals to avoid any battles because he wanted to lead his army in person in case he could hire more soldiers. However, his adversaries knew about his intention so they were all the more hurrying. They quickly obtained as many soldiers from the counties as they could, and they moved to Hadad on 4 March.”

Hungarian and German officers, 16th century (in the middle: Thury György)

“Initially, the generals of János Zsigmond wanted to stay in the castle and wanted to engage only in lighter clashes. They had twice as many soldiers and the castle was defending their camp as well. However, Némethy Ferenc didn’t keep himself to this plan and he had the alarm sounded when the enemy arrived and marched all his infantrymen and cavalrymen against them. The soldiers were deployed before the camp and were just standing around, without receiving any orders. Unlike the enemy who was prepared to fight.”

 “When they got closer to each other, Balassa assaulted them with a group of hussars, not waiting for anyone. He pushed the first lines back, and then the Transylvanian infantrymen, mainly Saxon Germans, fled. They were followed by Némethy Ferenc and the entire army was running. Only Báthory István held his place and fought on, despite the wounds on his chest and his arm. Finally, he saw that everybody abandoned him.

He had just a few men left and amid the dense lines of the enemy – who were riding sometimes before them, sometimes around them – they managed to escape to the surrounding forests that Báthory knew well. Many of his scattered soldiers were slain by Balassa’s men who wanted to prove their fame with these horrible murders. Many lords were captured, including the wealthy and high-ranking Telegdy Miklós, Csáky Pál, and Bornemissza Benedek; later they had to pay a heavy ransom for their freedom. After the battle, the camp was occupied, too. Hadad castle opened its gates because it would have been impossible to defend.” Note: according to the chronicles of Istvánffy Miklós, Báthory was not wounded but he could barely escape, and only Keresztury Kristóf helped him alone. Read more about Baron Forgách Ferenc here:


Hearing the defeat, King János Zsigmond was ready to flee to Poland. Moreover, the Székelys were also rebelling against him. Only Báthory István and his brother, Kristóf were able to dissuade him from running away from Transylvania. As it turned out, Balassa and Zay didn’t have enough soldiers to attack Transylvania so János Zsigmond could eventually put down the Székely uprising. Mocking the Székelys, János Zsigmond had two castles built to control the Székelys in the future: Székelytámadt and Székelybánja castles. (Literally: they mean: “Székely attacked” and “Székely regrets”.)

Reconstruction of Székelytámadt castle (by Fodor Zsolt)

These castles were later pulled to the ground in 1599 by the Wallachian Mihai Viteazul: the Székelys swore fealty to him only under the condition that he would give their old privileges back and destroy the shameful forts.

Székelybánja castle (photo: Szeles József, Wikipedia)

Read more about the Székelys here:


The Turk victory on 27 March 1562:

Meanwhile, in the area around Nógrád County the following military action was happening, according to contemporary sources:

„When King (Habsburg) Ferdinand saw at the beginning of the conflict that a big war was going to take shape, he advised all the leaders and the captains to block the advancement of the Turks all along the borders as much as possible. So it happened, for example, that the Chief Comes of Zólyom (Zvolen) castle, a man called Balassa János, also the Chief Captain of the Lands East to the Danube began to lay a siege on the castle of Szécsény. He had 4,000 soldiers who had been summoned from the neighboring castles and the Mining Towns. They were coming from the mountains and were not experienced soldiers.”

Turks defeating Hungarians

“The Pasha of Buda sent against them Hasszán, the Sanjak Bey of Fülek (Filakovo) castle with his 2,000 picked warriors. Hasszán arrived there with unbelievable speed, almost just before the news of his coming.  So he appeared in front of the soldiers of the Emperor on the dawn of 27 March. The Hungarian riders and infantrymen of the castles fought against him very decently but the common folks coming from the towns and villages of the north regarded the victory, not as an honor and considered fleeing not a disgrace, and began to run away at the beginning of the battle and finally, all of them fled.”

“Captain Balassi János could hardly get out from the lost battle with a few of his men while all of his armies either perished or got captured there. Krusith János, the Captain of Korpona castle, and Pálffy Tamás, Hussar captain, were captured alive by the enemy.”

However, according to another chronicler called Istvánffy Miklós, Bey Hasszán went there by himself and only with 800 riders.
Pálffy himself spent four years in Constantinople until he could get home. Later, he became a famous member of the Valiant Order and he was a renowned duelist, serving as the Captain of Palota castle. You can read more about Pálffy Tamás here:


A heavily armed Sipahi cavalryman of the Ottoman army

We know, that Zolthay István, Captain of Eger castle had sent 100 infantrymen and 100 Hussars who were under the flag of Lituenant Mátyás Demeter. Most of them were slain or captured. Mátyás Demeter and his horse drawned into the Ipoly River. Bey Hasszán collected altogether 650 heads that he sent to the sultan. The Hungarians could achieve some success, though, because the army of Palatine Nádasdy Tamás and the troops of Nicholas Salm, the Captain of Győr castle, could take back the castle of Hegyesd in the Trans-Danubian area. 

Hungarian Hussars in the 16th century

The Ottoman victory on 23 June 1562

The royal troops suffered more failures during 1562. It was the Bey of Fülek who enticed the troops of Rákóczi György, Bebek György and Magóchy Gáspár into a trap during the summer. How did it start? Bebek György had a “pribék” (renegade) servant called Török Ferenc. Török told to his lord that he could lure Bey Hasszán of Fülek castle into a trap. According to another source, it was Bebek who ordered his “pribék” to prepare a trap for Hasszán. However, Török proved to be a double agent because he warned Bey Hasszán about the plot and Hasszán believed him. The Bey took action and prepared his counter-trap. 

Fülek in 1593
Forgách Ferenc wrote about the events like this:
“Bebek György had a fugitive servant (here Forgách added: The servant of Bebek was called Törek Ferenc who was supported by Bebek but Török sided with Bey Hasszán who made him the Voivode of Szabadka.) and he made Bebek believe with a help of letters and messages that he would give Bey Hasszán to Bebek’s hand. Törek informed the Bey about the time and place of the action, asking for safe conduct for himself. When they arrived in the forest near Fülek, the Turks ambushed them from behind, then from the front and the sides. The (Hungarians) could not deploy their soldiers and they tried to defend themselves where they were. It was not even a battle. Bebek, Magóchy, Sárközy (Mihály), and almost all of the others were captured, many died there, and fortune saved only a few of them. Bebek and Sárközy were taken to Byzantium; Mágóchy was ransomed for 8,000 gold Forints (in fact, for 14,000).” 
The gold Forint minted by King Szapolyai, 1540
Rákóczi György was also among the captives, he was the uncle of Rákóczi Zsigmond who became later prince of Transylvania. As for the common soldiers, 260 died of 7-800 men, the rest of them were captured, except for a few. Bebek sent a message home, that his most important Turkish prisoners should be released at once. The Bey of Fülek returned this favor by letting Rákóczi and other officers go home. The ransom of Mágóchy was 14,000 gold Forints, Forgách was mistaken about it. Bebek was indeed taken to Constantinapolis. His wife did everything to free him but he was released finally under the condition that he had to side with King János Zsigmond in 1565. 
Szádvár castle
When Bebek left King Ferdinand, the Habsburg king sent General Lazarus von Schwendi to occupy Bebek’s castles. Szádvár castle was heroically defended by Lady Patócsy Zsófia in January 1567 but she had to surrender it after a short time. She is a good example of a woman defending their husbands’ castles in Hungary, similar to Lady Zrínyi Ilona who did the same later in Munkács castle. You can read more about Szádvár Castle here:
The tombstone of Patócsy Zsófia
When Magóchy was released, King Ferdinand gave him the title of a baron. Then, he was appointed as Chief Captain of Eger castle on 10 December 1563. He remained its commander until 1567. 

Source: Szibler Gábor

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