The siege of Kanizsa castle, 28 April 1664

Zrínyi Miklós / Nikola Zrinski

The events leading to Kanizsa’s siege

The combined Christian Army began the siege of Kanizsa castle on 28 April 1664, led by Zrínyi Miklós aka Nikola Zrinski, Bán (Duke) of Croatia. Let us tell a few words about the events that had taken place before this military action. As for Zrínyi, the retaking of Kanizsa castle was an extremely important goal. Read more about Kanizsa castle’s history here:

Kanizsa in 1600 (by Pazirik Ltd.)

The castle, which fell to the Turks in 1600, became a center of an Ottoman district, a Vilayet. It was the starting point for regular raids against the Zrínyi estates in the Muraköz area. Attacks started from here on Légrád castle. Légrád was especially important for the protection of the lands around the Mura River. Zrínyi did everything he could to somehow destroy the source of the peril, but the Viennese court, which was mindful of maintaining peace, regularly banned him from military operations.

Kanizsa and its area in the 17th century

This was also the case when, at the end of June 1660, a fire broke out in Kanizsa castle, which caused great damage to the wooden structures. The armies of Zrínyi and the troops of the Transdanubian Captiancy soon appeared under the castle and surrounded Kanizsa. If the Viennese court had not forbidden the further siege, it would presumably have fallen. 

Kanizsa castle

When the war between the Holy Roman Empire and the Sublime Port broke out because of Transylvania in 1661, Zrínyi acted quickly and built a fortress, Zrínyi-Újvár (Zrínyi New Castle), near Kanizsa. It was already in Turkish territory, at the confluence of the Mura and Drava rivers. The Ottomans strongly protested against this, but Zrínyi did not care. 

Grand Vizier Köprülü Ahmed (1635-1676)

Finally, in 1663, the Turkish armies did move to Hungary, but not along the Drava, but against Érsekújvár (Nové Zámky) that was in the north of Royal Hungary. The important fortress soon fell, and several border castles in Lower Hungary suffered this fate. After the army of Grand Vizier Ahmed of Köprülü marched into winter accommodation, Zrínyi prepared a preventive strike, which became the famous winter campaign of 1664. You can read more about these events in more detail here:

Zrínyi aimed to prevent the Turkish army from advancing rapidly the next year by destroying the Suleiman Bridge at Eszék (Osijek) and preparing for the siege of Kanizsa. On the way, the Christian army took the castles along the Drava River, including Segesd. On his return, the Ban (Duke) increasingly urged the Military Council to attack Kanizsa. However, the prominent members of the court, Raimondo Montecuccoli or Lobkowitz, the chairman of the Military Council, feared that the forces would be withdrawn from the main battlefield along the Danube. (My note: Zrínyi received the Golden Fleece for his military deeds and Montecuccoli was undermining his efforts out of jealousy by all means.) 

General Raimund Montecuccoli, Zrínyi’s lethal enemy

They said that in case the Turks attacked, Lower Hungary would be defenseless. But the siege of Kanizsa proved to be an advantageous idea because if it was occupied, the Christian coalition could show significant – propagandistic – success and would not entail the Ottomans’ response at all costs, while in the case of attacking Lower Hungary, it could certainly be expected.

The “Hungaries” (Royal Hungary, the Ottoman Occupied Lands, and the Principality of Transylvania), French map from 1664

The Siege of Kanizsa

Zrínyi wanted to start the siege in early March, but it didn’t go that fast. Gathering munitions, receiving troops, procuring means of transport, and carrying plenty of food (especially during the winter-early spring period) did not go overnight. The military engineer, the artillery officer, the rifle-maker, the butcher, the baker, the miner, and other specialists were missing. Eventually, an army of about 18-20,000 men was gathered, which was not enough to take a castle of this size. 

A Hungarian Hussar commander, 1591

In March, Zrínyi went to Kiskomárom with 300 Hussars to spy on Kanizsa. The Turkish sent a unit to capture him but the enemy was easily scattered by his soldiers. Before soon, Zrínyi made a report to Vienna, and the Military Council of the Court, and then Emperor Leopold nodded at the plan. The first day of the siege was scheduled for April 8, but due to the delay of the German armies, the operation could not start until the end of the month. 

Three Hungarian infantrymen (Hajdú) from 1591

The armies camped in and around Zrínyi-Újvár (New Zrínyi Castle) and then marched against Kanizsa on 28 April. General Hohenlohe occupied the western suburb of Kanizsa called Rácváros (Serbtown) with 6,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalries on that very day. From the east, Zrínyi and his younger brother, Péter, and General Strozzi camped with 10,000 infantry and 4,000 cavalries. 

An Imperial cannon

Colonel Zobel took the other suburbs with 1,000 musketeers at the cost of fierce firefights. In doing so, the soldiers used up all of their ammunition in a matter of hours, as they did not receive enough lead and gunpowder because they had been hastily supplied before the assault. It was only three days later that he was able to obtain the lead bullets to continue the siege. The soldiers then dug siege trenches day and night.

Kanizsa besieged, 1664

The operation was hampered by the lack of siege cannons of sufficient and appropriate size, and by the swamps separating the different parts of the army. In the west, Hohenlohe stood with the Imperial army, on the east Peter Strozzi with the Germans, and Zrínyi with the Hungarian, Croatian, and Styrian frontier troops took up positions. The soldiers seem to have been promised quick results, but we cannot talk about regular siege operations.

Ottoman soldiers

On April 30, the cannons began bombing the castle, the next day the cannons of Esterházy Pál (the later Palatine) rang and fired on the Szigetvár bastion all day. In the West, effective cannoning could begin only after the swamps were filled. However, they could not make a breach in the walls suitable for an attack despite the one-month artillery fire. On May 4, more cannons arrived from Graz, but they were so heavy that the embankments fell beneath them. After several days of work, military engineer Wassenhoff managed to restore the embankments, during which time the bombardment of the castle was paused. It was raining as well, and the defenders sallied out of the castle, they killed 50 soldiers and destroyed the embankment roads.

Kanizsa in 1664

Yet the siege should have been hurried, for the Ottoman army of Grand Vizier Ahmed Köprülü was approaching, crossing the rebuilt Eszék (Osijek) bridge on 14 May. On hearing this, Zrínyi tried to hurry up the taking of the castle, sending his envoy to Vienna for help, but help arrived too late. On May 19, the defenders carried out a strong sally: Strozzi was seriously injured, and the arm of Colonel Sparr was torn off by a cannonball. Zrínyi almost perished when an enemy projectile hit the ground a few steps away from him. The Bán (Duke) even lost consciousness for a few moments. Also, Lord Eszterházy’s ornate cap was hit by shrapnel. 

Eszterházy Pál

At last, the Bavarians arrived on 23 May. Zrínyi sent an assistant officer called Renaut to Hohenlohe with the news under the cover of night, but a team of defenders breaking out of the castle captured the envoy and dragged him behind the walls. On May 26, Strozzi sent a 3,000-strong reconnaissance detachment to monitor the movement of the Ottoman rescue army. The next evening, it was reported that enemy columns, about 60,000 soldiers were approaching Kanizsa in a forced march. The Turks occupied the smaller palisades and fortifications, they rested a bit near Szigetvár castle, on May 28 they were already camping at Babócsa castle. 

Kanizsa, 1664

On the morning of May 31, the Christian leaders held a war council to decide on what to do. Zrínyi was reasoning to carry on with the fight and confront the oncoming enemy, but the imperial leaders feared they could fall between two fires if the defenders also sallied out of the castle. Therefore, they decided to withdraw. On the early morning of June 2, the army hurriedly left the area around the castle and retreated toward Zrínyi-Újvár (New Zrínyi Castle). 

General Wolf von Hohenhole

The rearguard was led by General Spork and Colonel Bücher, but Köprülü’s vanguard assaulted them and caused them heavy losses. Zrínyi gave the leadership to  Hohenlohe and left the army in Zrínyi-Újvár, and he himself hurried to Csáktornya (Cakovec) with his brother and Esterházy. The Turks, whose main goal was to chase away the Christian army threatening Kanizsa, began the siege of the fortress built by Zrínyi. It was Zrínyi-Újvár aka Novi Zrin or Zrínyi New Castle. 

A few thoughts about Zrínyiújvár castle

Previously, it had been thought that it was the Military Council in Vienna that banned the construction of Zrínyiújvár castle. Now, we know that it was to the contrary: the Military Council even helped Zrínyi in the work. The project was supervised by Guislain Segers d’Ideghem von Wassenhoven, Chief Engineer of the Inner Austria Military Council. He was accompanied by a military engineer called Michael Possäner. Possäner even invited another engineer to come there. 

Walter Graf von Leslie

On the other hand, Graf von Tattenbach, leader of the Inner Austria Military Council issued an order to General Walter Graf von Leslie, Chief Captain of the Wend Borderland to keep his troops in readiness in case the Ottoman Turks tried to attack the construction of Zrínyi. General Leslie went there and reported to the Military Council. They all seemed to be well aware of the fact that the new castle would be a “casus belli” for the Ottomans. The Council told him to deny the construction if the Ottomans inquired about it. 

Zrínyi Újvár (Source:

After it had been completed, the Military Council insisted on the new fort. The question of Zrínyi Újvár was always part of the negotiations before the Treaty of Vasvár, led by Simon Reniger von Reningen. We know that there was a debate between Zrínyi and Wolfgang Julius Graf von Hohenlohe-Neunstein on 5 February 1664. Count Hohenlohe was arguing for continuing the siege of Pécs castle while Zrínyi decided to lift the siege.

The reason behind Zrínyi’s decision was the indiscipline and drunk behavior of Hohemhole’s mercenaries during the Count’s absence. As a result of this, Kanizsa castle was practically besieged by two sides: Count Hohenlohe attacked it from the west from the direction of present-day Kiskanizsa, while Zrínyi and Peter Graf von Strozzi besieged it from the east, from the direction of the eastern swamps of the Kanizsa River.

 The fall of Zrínyi-Újvár

The bulk of the Christian army crossed the Mura River and left Zrínyi-Újvár castle. They went a bit farther to wait for the reinforcement that was coming from the north, led by General Raimondo Montecuccoli. Only 1,900 guards were left in the castle, their captain was Horváth András. When the Grand Vizier’s main army besieged them, Horváth and his men attempted to make a stand and defend the fort. The Turks began the systematic siege in the first days of June.

Zrínyi-Újvár on Montecuccoli’s map

The much-waited reinforcement of Montecuccoli arrived on 15 June. The General had a firm order from the emperor: he was to block the Turk main army’s advancement until the forces of the League of the Rhine would arrive at the Rába River (near Vienna). Then, he was told to withdraw and join them in order to defend Vienna. Thus, the defenders of Zrínyi-Újvár were doomed. Montecuccoli was urged by Zrínyi to help them but the general decided otherwise. On 30 June he emptied the castle and had it exploded because he didn’t want to cede it to the enemy intact. I think it also must have been a good feeling that he was destroying the castle that his lethal enemy, Zrínyi had built.

Zrínyi-Újvár: existed between 1661-1664: 
This is a fantasy picture of the environs of the Drava-Mura fork. In the middle: there is the castle Csáktornya. Zrínyi-Újvár is on the right marked with the letter ‘M’.

However, before his men could properly carry out his order, the Janissaries launched a decisive attack and the confused defenders could not resist. They made a last stand but most of the guards died, 1,266 of them, including their captain, Horváth András. Finally, it was Grand Vizier Köprülü Ahmed who carried out Montecuccoli’s order: he had the fort explode on 7 July 1664, wiping it off from the surface of the Earth.

The death of Zrínyi Miklós, 1664

We will never know exactly what Zrínyi thought about the outcome of the year 1664 but gossip said he was severely disappointed in his monarch. Of course, there is no proof that Zrínyi was offered a crown of Hungary and Croatia by the Turks but we know that a tragic hunting accident finished his heroic life on 18 November 1664. We know, that Hungary’s liberation has been sabotaged by the Habsburgs and more than thirty years of Turkish rule commenced. However, Prince Thököly Imre, another alienated Hungarian nobleman did ally with the Turks in 1682 and opened the road to Vienna. His wife was called Lady Zrínyi Ilona (Jelena Zrinska), she was the niece of late Zrínyi Miklós…

Zrínyi Ilona

Source: Szibler Gábor (except the fall of Zrínyi-Újvár), Kiss Csaba, Domokos György

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