The destruction of Csepreg, January 9-12, 1621

A few words about Csepreg:

Csepreg (German: Schapring; Croatian: Čepreg) is a town in Vas County, Hungary.  It is the largest town on the Répce River, and before its terrible fate, it was the second-largest town in the county. The area around Csepreg was already a densely populated place in the times of the Árpád kings, as the remains of two fortresses, a church, and several other artifacts from the same period have been found here.

Csepreg (Photo: Civertan)

The first mention of the town dates back to 1255, but at that time it was certainly the most important settlement in the wider area. In the 14th century, it was mentioned several times as a town, its coat of arms was known before 1362, but in 1390 the king gave it to the Kanizsa family, so it became a market town. In 1452 it was occupied by the Bohemian Hussites, but they were later expelled from the town.

Csepreg (by Civertan)

In the 16th century, Csepreg regained its importance and was the seat of several county assemblies (of Sopron County). With a population of 1650 (in 1522), two parish churches, and Jews, it was one of the largest market towns in Hungary. Csepreg survived the Turkish campaign to Vienna in 1532 unscathed, because the Nádasdy family (de facto owners since 1535), who were already landowners, sided with King Szapolyai János who was allied with Sultan Suleiman.

Csepreg, the Schöller mansion (by Civertan)

In the 16th century, the majority of the population became Protestant. Between 1557 and 1643 there was already a school (college) in Csepreg. The Protestant Synod of Csepreg was held here in June 1591, where the separation of the two main Protestant churches in Western Hungary, the Evangelicals and the Reformed, was decided.

Csepreg, St. Miklós church (by Civertan)

At the beginning of the 17th century, the spiritual center of the relatively small number of Hungarian-speaking Evangelicals from Transdanubia and the Little Plain was the bustling market town of Csepreg, which belonged to the Nádasdy estate and also operated a high-quality school and printing press. At that time the town was the most important settlement of the region, together with Sopron and Kőszeg, with several guilds, a growing population, and a lively evangelical cultural life. Unlike other Hungarian market towns, it had a mayor, an independent court (with the Court of the Lord as its appellate body), and extensive vineyards.

Houses in Csepreg

However, the citizens of Csepreg, who were on friendly terms with Bethlen, were massacred by the Catholic mercenaries led by Eszterházy Miklós in 1621, and the Lutherans of Transdanubia could hardly recover from the loss. Let us take a look into the details.

Bethlen Gábor and Esterházy Miklós in Sopronnyék (Neckenmarkt, Austria)

The terrible fate of Csepreg in 1621:

In the fall of 1619, the Transylvanian prince Bethlen Gábor, who had joined the rebellious Bohemian-Moravian nobility in the Thirty Years’ War, launched a campaign against the Habsburg monarch. In a short time he managed to occupy the part of the country up to Pozsony (Pressburg, Bratislava) and the Holy Crown was in his hands. Some of the Transdanubian nobility also recognized the prince as their master, while others waited.
The Kingdom of Hungary, the Principality of Transylvania, and the Ottoman lands in 1626
Batthyány Ferenc and Nádasdy Pál, two of the most powerful Protestant lords of the region, did not join Bethlen immediately, but only during his Transdanubian campaign in the fall of 1620. At the end of September 1620, Bethlen arrived in Szombathely via Sopron, Lakompak, and Kőszeg, and on October 7th he met Batthyány, who asked him to accept the title of Transdanubian captain-general offered to him the previous year.
Prince Bethlen Gábor
In the meantime, however, the Emperor’s armies had achieved successes against the Bohemian estates, and on November 8 they decisively defeated the rebels at Fehérhegy (Bílá Hora) and marched on Prague, which they plundered for days. The Emperor put the leaders of the rebels on the scaffold, confiscated their property, and began a violent recatholization.
The Battle of White Mountain, 1620
The attack on the Hungarian rebels was not long in coming. By the end of November, some 8,000 troops had gathered on the borders of Western Hungary, Lower Austria, and Styria. Bethlen retreated to Nagyszombat, leaving the defense of the Danube region to Batthyány. His army consisted mainly of the converted Hungarian Borderland warriors, the noble insurgents, and the landlord’s troops.
Palatine Esterházy Miklós (1582-1645)
By mid-December, the Imperial Army was in a state of readiness with 8,000 men. Esterházy Miklós, who remained loyal to the Habsburg king, sent threatening letters to the counties, saying that if they did not surrender, they would be subjected to “treatment” similar to that of the Bohemians. A foretaste of the expected behavior of the imperial soldiers was given to some villages in Batthyány’s dominion of Rohonc-Szalónak.
Batthyány Ferenc
Batthyány, not only on Bethlen’s orders but also in his well-understood interest, gathered the troops of the Borderland of the Kanizsa region and the noble insurrection of the Vas county in Körmend and marched against them towards Kőszeg. By the end of December, they had already clashed with the marauding Poles at Moresdorf (Máriafalu – today Máriasdorf) and slaughtered many of them.
a typical Polish-Hungarian saber from 1600
However, the atrocities of the mercenaries continued, and the settlements of the Nádasdy properties, Pereszteg, and Lövő suffered greatly. The vice-captain of Transdanubia, Sennyey Gáspár sent soldiers to Rust, Sopronkeresztúr, Fertőszéplak, and Lózs.
a Hungarian nobleman from the 16th century
Batthyány and Nádasdy, the heads of the Vas and Sopron counties, gathered the soldiers of the Borderland, the noble insurrection, and the county troops in Csepreg. Horváth Bálint from Sopron, Kisfaludy Balázs, the deputy Comes of Vas County, Szántóházy Ferenc, the magistrate, the notary of the two counties, and Czimber János, the leader of Nádasdy’s troops arrived here at the beginning of January 1621. Sennyey’s 73 horsemen also arrived, bringing about 800 soldiers to the second most populous town of Sopron County.
The St. Miklós church, Csepreg
At that time the population could exceed 1800 inhabitants. It was an important Lutheran center, the most populous college in Transdanubia, and the seat of the Lutheran bishop. The number of students was over 300 in the early 1600s. The settlement was divided into two parts, the lower and the upper town, the former with the churches of St. Catherine and St. Mary, surrounded by a palisade wall, and the latter with the church of St. Nicholas, protected by a brick wall. Near the latter, surrounded by a moat, was the Nádasdy castle. The whole town was surrounded by palisades, but they were of little use against the military.
The St. Miklós (Nicholas) church in Csepreg
The first source of information about the devastation of the town is the poetic narrative of an unknown student who witnessed the events. Many of the inhabitants of the surrounding villages also fled from the imperial troops. On January 7, Horváth Bálint sent out scouts to observe the movements of the imperial soldiers. General Collalto Raimbold’s 2,000 men approached Csepreg from the direction of Sopron, passing through Borsmonostor, Locsmánd, Alsó- and Felsőszakony. On the night of January 8-9, Horváth retreated to Rohonc with a large part of his army. The other half of his army stayed behind. The population was prepared for the attack, they fled to the churches and took their valuables there.
General Collalto Raimbold
At dawn on January 9, Collalto’s army stormed the city through the northern gate on the Szakony side. The weak guards were quickly routed and fled towards the Lower Town. The enemy continued to advance through the city, killing and torturing those who came in front of them. They surrounded the church in the Lower Town, and those inside defended themselves. The siege didn’t last long, the invading soldiers slaughtered the defenders.
Batorowka-style Polish sabers
The unknown student recorded the following:
“In this church, there was so much abundant blood,
that was upon the sinews of man,
For the enemy hath no pity there,
They delighted in their bloodshed.”
Those who had fled to the tower were called down with promises of mercy, and locked in a house, but all were later butchered. The German and Polish mercenaries burned the bodies, looted, and set fire to the church. Then they took the town and the church. Meanwhile, a group of Hungarian cavalrymen from Szombathely, led by Póka Bálint, arrived and clashed with the plundering Poles, but the enemy drove them out of the town. They observed the events at close range and their report was the basis for Telekesi Török János’s note to Batthyány: “It is terrible to hear what they are doing to the poor town of Csepreg”.
The St. Miklós church, Csepreg
An imperial officer, Johan Georg Zinner, recorded that about 800 people barricaded themselves in St. Nicholas Church and defended themselves for eight hours. Five imperial soldiers were killed and 25 wounded. As night fell, the defenders surrendered, but the mercenaries who had entered the church began the massacre there as well. The preacher, the scholar Zvonarich Imre, was also murdered as he was “praying and encouraging his flock” in the choir. Here, instead of luring the refugees from the tower, they set fire to the wooden structure. In addition to the people, the bells were “reduced to nothing” in the intense heat. Even Zinner acknowledged the massacre: “Nearly all the men (who were in his church) were beaten down, and in this Calvinistic [actually Lutheran] church they were vicious.”
The destruction of Csepreg (by Zich Nándor)
The defenders of the castle surrendered in the evening of the 9th or the morning of the 10th. Kisfaludy Balázs, the deputy governor, Szántóházy Ferenc, the notary, Czimber János, the captain, and Szentgyörgyi Gábor, the local Comes of the Nádasdy family were also captured. They were soon released by the Emperor.
A memorial plaque on the church, commemorating the victims
With the students, “a hymn was sung with them / Then they were all cut down.” They fell victim to the massacre either in the school or in the church. The schoolmaster Galgóczi Matula Miklós and the pastor of the lower town Keresztúri Miklós were also wounded. The looting, the rape of the women, the destruction of the altars, and the hunt for money began. Torture was used to extract the whereabouts of the prisoners’ valuables. The looting ended on January 12. The imperial army withdrew, the town was set on fire, and the Poles took the young women with them.
A book from Csepreg Source:
A total of 1,223 victims were counted, but there were more who burned in the tower and later died of their wounds, and the number of prisoners is unknown. The town was slow to recover and Nádasdy helped with money and food and sent settlers. In 1622 only 88 inhabited houses were registered (315 in 1599).
Source: Szibler Gábor, and Wikipedia
A brick from Csepreg with the COA of the Jankovitch family

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