Selected Passages from Hungarian-Ottoman Wars

29 October 1588: the Hungarian warriors ambush Kékkő castle

Kékkő castle (Modrý Kameň)
Kékkő (Modrý Kameň) castle used to be the eagle-nest of the Balassi family but the Turks took it from them in 1575. It is assumed that the Ottomans seized the castle because Lord Balassi István was supporting Bekes Gáspár who wanted to usurp the throne of the Transylvanian Prince Báthory István. We know that Báthory was accepted already by the Sublime Porte as the prince of Transylvania and Bekes didn’t have a chance. Bekes suffered a crushing defeat from Báthory and Balassi was among the captives of the Transylvanians. Although there was “peace” between the Habsburgs and the Ottomans, smaller fights were usually tolerated unless the sieges did not include heavy artillery. So it was how the Ottomans could take Kékkő castle with a fast move while Balassi was away.
Balassa Menyhárt 1511-1568
Having taken Kékkő, the Turks were able to send raiding parties in the area that lay towards the precious Mining towns’ District. They threatened to cut the connection between the wealthy mining towns and the rest of Upper Hungary. You can read more about the Mining Towns that used to produce one-fourth of silver circulating in Europe:


Castles of the Borderland around 1580

Soon, the number of military actions was increasing on this part of the Borderland. During the autumn of 1588, the Ottomans set out and burned and sacked 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 on the open field, the invincible reputation of the Ottoman field army was fading away. Also, by using such a large army, the Ottomans seemed to have broken the peace. In answer to their action, the Military Council of Vienna sent orders to the Hungarian chief captains to take revenge on the Turks. 

Chief Captain Pálffy Miklós 1552-1600

It was the reason why Pálffy Miklós, Chief Captain of the Region of Érsekújvár (Nové Zámky, Neuhäuse), and Chief Captain of the Mining town District, was gathering an army at Korpona (Krupina). By the end of October, he was joined by the troops of the Imperial Colonel Ferdinand Hardegg and by the men of Captain Dobó Ferenc. The three commanders held a meeting on 27 October and decided to divide their army into three parts. They would march in three columns, one of them towards Szécsény castle, the second one towards Nógrád-Palánk, and the third one would march towards Kékkő castle. Then, they were informed about the bad weather and the flooded roads, and the narrow passages so finally, they agreed to go together toward Kékkő castle. Their goal was to take the outer castle of Kékkő or take and burn the whole castle if they can.

Korpona in the 16th century
The army set out on 28 October. There was Vice-Captain Görög János of Újvár castle with them but he had to turn back because of his rheumatic gout. However, others like Captain Szelestey János and Captain Sibrik Gáspár of Bakabánya (Pukanec, Pukantz) joined the army. Let me note, that according to the habit of the Borderland, there were usually two captains in one castle. During the Ottoman wars, there was a saying: “a castle can be defended only in the field”. It meant that the Hussars had to patrol the region ceaselessly, beating 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 fend off the possible assaults. This warfare was the cradle of the famous Hungarian Hussar units.

The Christians tried to approach Kékkő castle very cautiously and they ambushed the outer town of Kékkő after midnight. They could surprise the defenders and kill most of the guards. They took the outer castle and chased the surviving Turks into the citadel. They also tried to take this but the walls were strong and there were too many Ottoman soldiers inside. As the Truce banned them to apply artillery, they didn’t besiege it. Rather, they took away every moveable item from the outer castle, including many horses and Turkish flags, then set the buildings on fire. Only a stone tower remained intact because some Turkish soldiers took themselves in and defended it. 
Kékkő castle
The whole action lasted for 15 hours. The attackers were fighting bravely and only a few of them got lightly wounded. Captain Sibrik Gáspár was injured, too. They had a few casualties, though: six German and Hajdú soldiers, and six-seven Hungarians died. You can read more about the history of Kékkő castle here:

 Shortly after this, they marched to Korpona castle. We know that the army was not dissolved on 3 November because they were monitoring the Ottomans’ moves whose army was coming to Balassagyarmat and deployed behind the Ipoly river. The Christians wanted to attack them and then, go on to take Szécsény, Nógrád, or Párkány castles but the flooding river was hindering them.

The commanders pleaded to Archduke Ernst (Ernő) to issue an order to Nádasdy Ferenc, Batthyány Boldizsár, and Zrínyi György to summon their troops in the Trans-Danubian Region. The Archduke assured them that he had done so already.
The view from Kékkő castle (Photo: Kocsis Kadosa)
At the same time, the warriors of Győr castle set out to take Gesztes castle, led by Vice-Captain Gregoróczy Vince. They successfully took the small fort in the first days of November. Gesztes castle was an important post because it was an excellent gathering place 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. he addressed it to the Chief of the Military Council who was David Ungnad at that time. The Pasha accused the Hungarians of breaking the truce with their attacks on Kékkő and Gesztes castles. Archduke Ernst was not happy about the unsuccessful siege of Kékkő but he acknowledged it. He wrote that he would have rather preferred a simple raid to this siege but finally, he has not punished the Hungarians because the Turks had also taken Kékkő in the time of peace, using a trick. He ordered, though, that the three commanders should keep together and destroy the land of the enemy but if it is possible, avoid an open battle, except for fights where losses can be minimalized. Let me remark, that the “land of the enemy” was populated by Hungarians, too.  
The “Haversack castle” of Korpona (Photo: Szöllősi Gábor
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 behind strong garrisons in Nógrád, Szécsény, and (Drégely)Palánk castles. The Turks joined the army of the Pasha of Buda whose camp was at Vác. The Pasha has brought cannons, too.
The statue of Pálffy Miklós in Pozsony (Bratislava, Pressburg)
We do not know about more fighting in this area after this time because Chief-Captain Pálffy was already in Komárom on 19 November. On the other hand, the “small war” was raging in the Trans-Danubian Region: the Turks were summoning their forces to Vác, Buda, Fehérvár, and Esztergom. Their goal was to retake the small but important Gesztes castle.
Gesztes castle in the Vértes Mountain (Photo: Kocsis Kadosa)
Finally, Gesztes had to be given back to the Turks but Captain Gregoróczy and Pálffy had it demolished before that. Winter was coming and there were no more conflicts for the time being. Yet, the wind of the Long War was getting closer. You can read more about the 15-Year-War aka 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