The general assault against the Castle of Eger on Saint Michael’s Day, 1552

The women of Eger

This day was not just a famous religious holiday but many folk traditions were connected to it in Hungary. It was the time when the grey cattle were herded back into the villages from the pastures, and women were banned from working on this day. It was the beginning of the second wedding season of the year and many fairs were held on Saint Michael’s Day.

The cult of St Michael was one of the most important in medieval Christianity, its popularity spreading from Ireland to Asia Minor. His status as leader of the heavenly militia, messenger of God, and psychopomp angel, or conveyor of the souls of the faithful to heaven at death (an element taken from Judaism) gave the archangel unparalleled prestige which was expressed in many ways: Emperor Constantine built at least one church in his honor in Constantinople; Hadrian’s mausoleum in Rome came to be known as “the Castle of the Holy Angel” because by the 9th cent. a chapel dedicated to Michael was built on its tower. A Visigothic slate in Spain dating from the 8th century. and bearing the name of Michael and other angels shows that the saint was also invoked against bad weather, while in England, no fewer than 650 churches have been dedicated to him over the centuries.

St. Michael and the Dragon, Florence

The defenders of Eger must have prayed the well-known prayer before the assault, and during it as well:

“St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle, be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.  May God rebuke him we humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly host, by the power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.

The following fight happened during the famous siege of Eger Castle and this huge Ottoman attack was repelled by the valiant defenders on Saint Michael’s Day, 29 September 1552. The failure of the Turk assault on Saint Michael’s Day seriously contributed to saving Eger castle which was guarding the road to the rich Mining Towns of Northern Hungary. You can read here more details about the history of Eger Castle:

Before the siege, the Ottoman campaign had been triumphant, they seized many key forts and defeated the Christians in an open battle at Palást, too. However, the heroic last stand of Szondi György, captain of Drégely castle lifted the morale of Eger castle’s defenders. The siege of Eger had been going on since the beginning of September. The enemy was led by three Pashas who had been quite triumphant during the latest Hungarian campaign of 1552. They were Second Vizier Kara Achmed, Begler-Bey Szokollu Mohamed of Rumelia, and Begler-Bey Khádim Ali of Buda Castle. Their army highly outnumbered the Hungarians and they had a huge artillery power: they had been permanently bombarding the castle. Yet, they had not launched a great general assault so far.

Eger Castle

The Pasha of Buda ordered Bey Arszlán of Székesfehérvár to send a letter of surrender into the castle, offering free conduct in it if they surrendered but Captain Dobó István ignored it. (Please, note that I am using the Oriental name order intentionally as far as Hungarians are concerned so family names are coming first.) The Ottomans had high hopes that the defenders would give up the castle because they had been able to persuade the foreign mercenaries of Szolnok and Temesvár castles to do so.

According to the sources, they kept sending in letters not only in Hungarian but also in German, Spanish, Italian, Czech, and Latin languages (even Wallachian aka Romanian ones as well) or they were shouting them into the castle to make propaganda among the foreign soldiers. They may not have known that almost all of the defenders were Hungarians. There was just one of them, Lieutenant Hegedűs István from Kassa (Kosice, Kaschau) who went into negotiations with the enemy but he was caught and promptly hanged.

The tombstone of Captain Dobó István (photo: Thaler Tamás)

The enemy’s cannonade lasted from 17 September to 28 September, and it inflicted severe damage on the walls, especially on the outer castle’s wall that was defended by the chief lieutenants (Pethő Gáspár, Bornemisza Gergely, Zolthay István, and Figedy János). The assault on 29 September also focused on this section. 

The siege of Eger in 1552 (by Vízkelety Béla)

After 19 days of heavy siege, the attack was launched on Saint Michael’s Day. The Ottomans trusted their superior numbers and there was a particularly fierce fight all along the walls. A powerful assault hit the section between the Ókaputorony (Old Gate tower) and the Bolyki Bastion where two officers, Zoltay István and Bornemissza Gergely were in charge of the defense. They successfully repelled the attack.

Eger castle (Photo: Derzsi Elekes Andor)

The most perilous assault came from the western side, at the Ókaputorony (Old-Gate Tower). It was Pethő Gáspár who led the defenders there but he was shot on his leg and he had to be carried away. The enemy concentrated their assaults on the section of the wall between the Bebek Bastion and the Ókaputorony (Old-Gate Tower). It was defended by Bornemissza Gergely. The Ottoman miners exploded the gate of the castle and pulled down the wooden wall that was built behind it. The Ottoman infantry could rush through the breach in numbers. The Janissaries took up strong positions in the tower that stood over the Ó-Gate. They could shoot the defenders very effectively from there, killing many.

In this dangerous situation, Captain Dobó István was on the Szentély Bastion (Shrine Bastion) and he had all his largest cannons turned towards the enemy-held gate and tower where the fighting was still fiercely going on. The volley of his cannons destroyed their targets, killing friend and foe alike. The tower went down, and shortly after this, the section was taken back. Finally, they were able to repel the first general attack in bloody close combat, and chased the attackers away, sallying out from the castle to the enemy’s trenches.

Eger Castle (Photo: David Sallay)

As for the women who took part in the defense, it was quite a common thing among the women of the Valiant Order all along the Borderland. Here you can read more about the Valiant Order:

In the painting of Székely Bertalan, you can see the famous women of Eger fighting from the walls:

“The women of Eger” by Székely Bertalan

The assault on Saint Michael’s Day appeared in the historical song of Tinódi Lantos Sebestyén as well. It is like this, in the Hungarian language, with my poor English translation:

„Az ostromokat minden meghallya,
Mikoron vala Szent Mihály napja
(Everyone can hear the sieges
when the day of Saint Michael has come)
Az megszállásnak egy héán húsz napja,
Éjjel terekek bégyűltek sáncokba.
(On the 19th day of the siege,
the Turks gathered in the siege trenches at night).
Sivalkodással reggel hajnalba
Felszóval vannak Allá kiáltásba,
(At dawn, with great clamor
They cry out the name of Allah)
Az palotákra nagy ostromlásba,
Huszonhét zászlóval másznak kőfalra.
(They besieged the palaces,
with 27 banners they scaled the stone wall)
Az szeglettorony Bolyki bástyája,
Bolyki Tamásnak hol lőn halála,
(The corner bastion was called Bolyki’s Bastion
where Bolyki Tamás had died)
Zászlóval terek ott es rohana,
Bebek tornyára sok terek rohana.
(The Turks ran there with flags,
and many Turks ran to the tower of Bebek).
Törésére az régi ó kapunak
Huszonhét zászlóval bévön jutának,
(Where the old gate was breached,
they could enter with 27 flags)
Vitésségöket ők mutatának,
Várbélieknek nagy gondot adának.
(They showed courage,
and gave the defenders much trouble)
Csuda bátorok ott benn valának,
Bölcsen hadnagyok ott forgódának,
(Inside, the men were miraculously brave,
and the lieutenants gave wise instructions).
Jóllehet bennök sokan hullának,
Rajtok terekek semmit kophatának
(However, many of them fell
but the Turks could not overpower them).
Isten magadá szerencséjeket,
Mert ő meghallá könyörgésöket,
(God gave them their fortune
for He heard their prayer)
Ám ott elveszte sok terekeket,
Szégyembe hozá ő eltérésöket.
(But He killed many Turks there
and shamed them for their deeds)”.
Tinódi Lantos Sebestyén: “Egri históriának summája” (“The history of Eger castle”)
Tinódi Lantos Sebestyén

Source: Szibler Gábor

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