29 October 1588: the Hungarian warriors ambush Kékkő castle

Kékkő castle (Modrý Kameň)
The castle of Kékkő (Modrý Kameň) used to be the eagle’s nest of the Balassi family, but the Turks took it from them in 1575. It is believed that the Ottomans seized the castle because Lord Balassi István supported Bekes Gáspár, who wanted to usurp the throne of the Transylvanian prince Báthory István. We know that Báthory had already been accepted as the prince of Transylvania by the Sublime Porte, and Bekes didn’t stand a chance.
Bekes suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of Báthory and Balassi was among the Transylvanian prisoners. Although there was ‘peace’ between the Habsburgs and the Ottomans, smaller battles were usually tolerated, provided the sieges did not involve heavy artillery. Thus, the Ottomans were able to take Kékkő Castle in one quick move while Balassi was away.
Balassa Menyhárt 1511-1568
After taking Kékkő, the Turks were able to send raiding parties into the area around the valuable mining towns. They threatened to cut the link between the rich mining towns and the rest of Upper Hungary. You can read more about the Mining Town District, which once produced a quarter of the silver in circulation in Europe:



Castles of the Borderland around 1580

Soon the number of military actions in this part of the Borderland increased. In the autumn of 1588, the Ottomans set out and burned and plundered the market town of Szikszó on 8 October. However, the German and Hungarian soldiers attacked them and defeated them on the spot.

It was a significant defeat in the open field, and the invincible reputation of the Ottoman field army faded. Moreover, by deploying such a large army, the Ottomans seemed to have broken the peace. In response to their actions, the military council in Vienna sent orders to the Hungarian captains to take revenge on the Turks.

Chief Captain Pálffy Miklós 1552-1600

This was the reason why Pálffy Miklós, the chief captain of the Érsekújvár region and the chief captain of the Mining Town District, gathered an army in Korpona (Krupina). At the end of October, he was joined by the troops of Imperial Colonel Ferdinand Hardegg and the men of Captain Dobó Ferenc.

The three commanders met on 27 October and decided to divide their army into three parts. They would march in three columns, one towards Szécsény Castle, the second towards Nógrád-Palánk, and the third towards Kékkő Castle. Then they were informed about the bad weather, the flooded roads, and the narrow passages, so they finally agreed to march together towards Kékkő Castle. They aimed to take the outer castle of Kékkő or, if they could, to take and burn the whole castle.

Korpona in the 16th century
The army left on 28 October. Vice Captain Görög János of Újvár Castle was with them, but he had to turn back because of his rheumatic gout. However, others like Captain Szelestey János and Captain Sibrik Gáspár from Bakabánya (Pukanec, Pukantz) joined the army. It should be noted that according to the custom of the Borderland, there were usually two captains in one castle.
During the Ottoman wars, there was a saying: “A castle can only be defended in the field”. This meant that the hussars had to constantly patrol the region, beating back the enemy’s raiding parties and ambushing them whenever they could catch sight of them. These mobile Hussar units were led by one of the captains, while the second captain stayed at home to repel any possible attacks. This warfare was the cradle of the famous Hungarian Hussar units.
The Christians tried to approach Kékkő Castle very cautiously and after midnight they ambushed the outskirts of Kékkő. They surprised the defenders and killed most of the guards. They took the outer castle and chased the surviving Turks into the citadel. They tried to take it too, but the walls were strong and there were too many Ottoman soldiers inside.
As the truce prevented them from using artillery, they didn’t lay siege to it. Instead, they took everything movable from the outer castle, including many horses and Turkish flags, and then set fire to the buildings. Only a stone tower was left standing because some Turkish soldiers had taken up positions to defend it.
Kékkő castle
The whole action lasted 15 hours. The attackers fought bravely and only a few of them were lightly wounded. Captain Sibrik Gáspár was also injured. However, they suffered some casualties: six German and Hajdú soldiers and six to seven Hungarians You can read more about the history of Kékkő Castle here:


“The Ring of Kékkő Castle” (Paperback)

Shortly afterward, they marched to Korpona Castle. We know that the army was not disbanded on 3 November because they were watching the movements of the Ottomans, whose army was coming to Balassagyarmat and was stationed behind the Ipoly River. The Christians wanted to attack them and then take the castles of Szécsény, Nógrád, or Párkány, but the flooded river hindered them.

The commanders asked Archduke Ernst (Ernő) to give an order to Nádasdy Ferenc, Batthyány Boldizsár, and Zrínyi György to gather their troops in the Trans-Danubian region. The archduke assured them that he had already done so.

The view from Kékkő castle (Photo: Kocsis Kadosa)
At the same time, the warriors of the Győr castle, led by the vice-captain Gregoróczy Vince, set out to capture the Gesztes castle. They managed to take the small fortress in the first days of November. Gesztes Castle was an important post because it was an excellent assembly point for raids against the Turks and a meeting point on the way home. Here is more about the history of this small castle:


Gesztes in the first part of the 16th century (picture: Nagy Gábor)
The Pasha of Buda wrote a letter of complaint to Vienna on 4 November, addressed to the head of the military council, David Ungnad. The Pasha accused the Hungarians of breaking the armistice by attacking the castles of Kékkő and Gesztes. Archduke Ernst was not happy about the unsuccessful siege of Kékkő, but he acknowledged it.
He wrote that he would have preferred a simple raid to this siege, but in the end, he did not punish the Hungarians because the Turks had also taken Kékkő in peacetime using a trick. He did, however, order the three commanders to stay together and destroy the enemy’s land, but if possible to avoid open battle, except for battles where losses can be minimized. It should be noted that the “land of the enemy” was also inhabited by Hungarians.
The “Haversack castle” of Korpona (Photo: Szöllősi Gábor www.varlexikon.hu)
We find the three commanders still at Korpona Castle on 6 November. By this time the Ottomans had withdrawn their troops from (Balassa) Gyarmat, but they left strong garrisons in the castles of Nógrád, Szécsény, and (Drégely) Palánk. The Turks joined the army of the Pasha of Buda, whose camp was in Vác. The Pasha also brought cannons with him.
The statue of Pálffy Miklós in Pozsony (Bratislava, Pressburg)
We do not know of any further fighting in this area after this date, as Captain Pálffy was already in Komárom on 19 November. Meanwhile, in the Trans-Danubian region, the ‘small war’ was raging: the Turks were massing their forces in Vác, Buda, Fehérvár, and Esztergom. They aimed to recapture the small but important castle of Gesztes.
Gesztes castle in the Vértes Mountain (Photo: Kocsis Kadosa)
Eventually, Gesztes had to be surrendered to the Turks, but not before Captain Gregoróczy and Pálffy had it destroyed. Winter came and there were no more conflicts for the time being. But the winds of the Long War were getting closer. You can read more about the 15 Years’ War aka the Long War (1591/92-1606) as I have a series of 39 posts about it:
Source: Szibler Gábor (Jedlicska Pál: Adatok erdődi báró Pálffy Miklós a győri hősnek életrajza és korához 1552-1600. Eger, 1897.
Takáts – Eckhardt – Szekfű: A budai basák magyar nyelvű levelezése I. Bp., 1915.)

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Kékkő castle
Photo: Szöllösi Gábor