The siege of Szigetvár in 1556

Szigetvár castle fell to the Turks only in 1566 (Photo: Civertan)

The Ottomans were getting ready to launch their campaign…

On 18 May 1556, traitors appeared in the South Transdanubian fortresses.
A letter of 25 June reports that “pribéks” (double agents) tried to surrender several Somogy fortresses to the Turks on Whit Sunday. Bük Ágoston and Máté deák (scribe) told the story to Csányi Ákos, the servant of Nádasdy Tamás:

“We can report to you that the soldier who was taken on the word of Horvát Farkas, whose name is Dombay Markó, a hireling under the command of the voivode, is being tortured today. I, Bük Ágoston, was present at the torture with my master Giczy Farkas and Vajda, your servant. He testified that he had a companion in Berzence Castle, his name was Néző János, another companion in Csurgó Castle, his name was Csók Márton, and a third companion in Csütörtökhely, his name was Lázy Imre. They wanted to make such a betrayal that on the day of Pentecost they would burn and attack the outer towns, both in Kanizsa and in Berzence and Csurgó, to free the prisoners in the town. My lord Bálint wrote to both Berzence and Csurgó that the traitors should be captured. He said that Geletics György was the chief of this treason. This can be written…”

Berzence in 1664

Before their famous summer campaign of 1556, the Turks wanted to disrupt important southern castles in a coordinated sabotage operation, and possibly occupy the castle by freeing the Ottoman prisoners. Eventually, the traitors were exposed and were duly punished. Geletics Görgy’s leading role is interesting. The merchant from Kalmáncsehi had been delivering news to the Hungarians for some time, but he could also have been a double spy. He still got off with the punishment, as Csányi’s letter reveals, but he was threatened with impalement. He was still working for Kanizsa Castle in 1560.

The Borderland area around Kanizsa in the 17th century

It is also possible that Geletics, who had good Turkish connections, prepared a fake sabotage to get the rabbit out of the bush and to reveal who would be available for treason. On the eve of the Turkish campaign, the commanders of the Hungarian border castles were also curious to know who they could count on to defend them and who they could not. And Geletics helped them, and Csányi, perhaps as a joke, to allay the enemy’s suspicions, also threatened him with impalement. Of course, even in such a case, it might not have been worth killing a good spy, but it was worth recruiting one. In any case, the merchant would later have to prove his loyalty to the Christians, and he swore an oath to serve them.

Kanizsa castle

A raid of the warriors of Pápa, Devecser, and Győr, connected to the siege of Szigetvár

The Ottoman warriors of the Trans-Danubian Region’s “sanjak” districts went to Szigetvár castle to aid the besiegers with their swords. They left only a few soldiers at home and the Hungarian Borderland warriors of the North Trans-Danubian Region took advantage of the situation. In the second part of June 1556, the Hungarian Hussars of Pápa Castle defeated the Ottomans at Veszprém. After this success, they joined forces with the garrisons of Devecser and Győr castles and launched an attack around the castle of Fehérvár which certainly was a lot stronger fortification.


At that time, there were only a bit more than a couple of hundred Ottoman guards in it, though. The Hungarians managed to beat them back into the castle and they could also burn the countryside. As it was, the surrounding villages fed the garrison on either side of the Borderland so the destruction of their houses was always the target of the Ottomans or the Hungarians. When the villagers could not produce food, the garrison starved. Enyingi Török Ferenc wrote a letter on 15 July about the military action of 12 July and remarked that they could have taken the outer city of Fehérvár if they had had a larger unit.

The siege of Székesfehérvár in 1543, some 13 years before

It is thought that the Hungarians’ raid was just a diversion. By this time, the Christians’ reinforcing army had been marching toward Szigetvár castle, led by Palatine Nádasdy Tamás. Nádasdy must have known about the raid around Fehérvár, as it can be guessed from the letter of Török that he sent to Nádasdy. In his letter, Török wrote that there were about 250 Turkish cavalrymen who rode out from Fehérvár. He said there were infantrymen as well but he did not count them. The Turks were fighting bravely, the struggle lasted for four hours. The Hungarians “broke lances” with the Ottomans, and took many heads but only two Hussars died, Krakkai Tamás and his servant. Finally, the enemy was forced back behind the gate, and some of them fell into the moat.

Ottoman horsemen
According to Török, the Ottomans lost five soldiers, one of them an officer. However, there were many injured men and horses among the Ottomans who were wounded by rifles and lances. The warriors of Győr were led by the Imperial Captain Ádám Gál (Gall) who gave an order to burn the villages, following the king’s previous orders. This was how the village of Battyány and the nearby settlements perished. A fortified stately home was also destroyed (and pillaged). Török said that its walls remained intact, though. Whatever cattle and sheep they found around Fehérvár, they herded away and returned home in peace.
The Gyulaffy Banderium’s members on horseback

The siege of Szigetvár

The siege of Szigetvár castle began on 11 June 1556. At that time, the castle was under the command of Horváth Stancsics Márk, a faithful man of Nádasdy Tamás. He took over the leadership in February in this perilous outpost that was in the throat of the enemy. During the previous year, the Ottoman Turks had taken Kaposvár, Korotna, and Babócsa castles and it was quite likely that they would turn against Szigetvár. You can learn about the history of Szigetvár on my page:
The castle of Szigetvár in the 16th century (Picture: Pazirik Ltd.)
Beglerbey Pasha Hádim Ali of Buda castle had set out from Istanbul in April with several thousand Janissaries, and the Ottoman sanjak beys of the South-Hungarian Ottoman Lands were trying to disturb the Hungarians defenders to get ready for the coming siege. There were Bey Dervis of Pécs, Bey Achmed of Babócsa, Bej Nászuf of Koppány, as well as Bey Mehmed of Szolnok whose soldiers were gathering near Szentlőrinc. The Ottoman raiding parties tried to block the Hungarians who were filling up the castle with supplies. They were not successful, though, because the Hussars of Szigetvár could chase them away.
Szigetvár in the 16th century
King Habsburg Ferdinand requested soldiers from the Styrian estates but it was too late. They could not approach the castle at the end of May because of the Ottoman presence. Meanwhile, the army of Ali arrived at Pécs on 9 June. They rested for a day, then set out toward Szigetvár on 10 June. The local Ottoman beys whose camp was at Szentlőrinc also joined him. The entire army grew to 10,000 men, and they had nine wall-breaching cannons and many smaller ones as well. Not all the Ottoman soldiers were in the army from the Ottoman Occupied Lands of Hungary, most of them had to remain at home to guard the newly conquered regions.
In Szigetvár, there were only 600 soldiers and 200 burghers who were willing to take up arms. Together with other folks, there were about 1,000 defenders. Further 3,000 people sought refuge in the town, and there was not enough food for them. Szigetvár castle consisted of three parts: the inner- and outer castles, and the old town that was surrounded by a wall. Luckily, the moats were full of water.
Szigetvár, 1625
The enemy arrived in the evening hours of 10 June but the defenders did not give them a rest and killed many of them. The Ottomans made camps on the southern and eastern sides of Szigetvár and the Akindji light cavalry surrounded the fort, cutting it off from the countryside. The siege began on 11 June in earnest. The cannons were deployed on the next day, they were facing the southern walls of the town. The bombardment started on the morning of 12 June. The defenders were able to hinder the artillery fire by sallies but they could not stop them. Parallel with this, the enemy herded Hungarian peasants to dig trenches.

The Henyei Bastion caught fire on 14 June but no serious problem was caused by this. The town had to be defended because it was an important section of the castle’s defense in general. The town was surrounded by a wide moat and the enemy tried to fill it up with wood but the defenders regularly set it on fire.
The Ottomans managed to shoot the three bastions of the town to shred in a few days because the Késás, Henyei, and Bagothai bastions were mainly built of timber and earth.
The Siege of Szigetvár, 1566
The first general assault was launched on 21 June. The defenders repelled the waves of attacks four times but the fifth was successful, and the besiegers could take the town. However, Vice-Captain Újlaky Sebestyén and Voivode Radován Jakab led the defenders to launch a counter-attack, and they carried out great destruction amid the Ottomans. After several hours of fierce battle, the defenders had to withdraw. In the meantime, Captain Horváth Márk had Lituenant Topordy Benedek shot because he made secret negotiations with the Turks about the surrender of the castle.
A Sipahi vs. Hussar duel at Szigetvár, Hungary (by Thury Toportyánok)

The enemy pulled the cannons into the city on the following day and they could shoot the castle from the south and the east. Also, they were doing a good job of drying up the marshland around the castle because they pulled down the dam of the mill that helped them to channel the moat’s water away. Captain Horváth lost both of his artillerymen but to his luck, he had a prisoner of war called Pribék Lázár who was willing to substitute them in exchange for his freedom. Pribék Lázár proved to be a skilled shooter and could destroy several Ottoman cannons. Nevertheless, the Ottomans went on with building a high trench in front of the two southern bastions of the castle. They made Hungarian peasants work and the defenders had to kill them with guns to prevent them from accomplishing the construction. The enemy was able to dry the moats by the first days of July and the earthwork mound was also ready near the walls.

Turkish Council meeting after the conquest of Szigetvar in 1566

At this point, Pribék Lázár instructed the defenders to throw lard and gunpowder on them on 5 and 7 July 1556. When the Ottoman soldiers assaulted the walls, the earth was set on fire under their feet, and the volleys of the defenders killed many of them. Yet, Pasha Hádim Ali began to build a new earthwork. Additionally, he had tall wooden towers built for his Janissaries who could cover the construction with lethal musket fire. Things were not very promising for the defenders.

Fortunately, the reinforcing Christian army was coming together at Kanizsa castle, led by Nádsady Tamás and Sforza Pallavicini. It was encouraging to the exhausted defenders. During the systematic siege, the warriors of Captain Horváth sallied from time to time to disturb the besieging Ottomans who had lost much of their eagerness by this time. The reinforcing army reached Babócsa castle on 18 July and besieged it. Hearing this, Hádim Ali had to lift the siege of Szigetvár…After the siege, the ruined fort was reinforced with the help of Italian engineers, and thus it has become the strongest and most up-to-date castle in the 1,000-mile-long Hungarian Borderland.

the walls of Szigetvár

Let us pay honor to the heroes who defended Szigetvár, and let us meet some of them in person. Here is the list of the braves who distinguished themselves in the successful defense of the castle in 1556, and were rewarded. More than one of them also took part in the defense of the castle during the “Great Siege” of 1566, ten years later where they lost their lives.

Hungarian Hussar, 16th century


One gold Forint = 100 Denars

The word ‘KOTHYEWETHIA” stands for “kótyavetye” in the Hungarian language, it means “auction” which was held after successful raids and battles when they divided the booty. The origin of the word is Slavic, it derives from  “ko će veće, ko hoće veće datyi?” (Who wants to give more?).  The text above means It is the list of the Kótyavetye (auction) after the time of the captivity of the Jannissary Agha when he besieged Sziget Castle. It is the list of those who took part in the assault and brought back booty. Fourty-four Denarii (silver coins) were issued to each person in 1556.”

a Hungarian Hussar reenactor

The list of names you can read as it was written in the old Hungarian language (XVI century). A total of 201 Forints of gold were distributed among 253 warriors:

Aghtheleky Jakab,
Andorka Bálint,
Anthla Péter,
The drummer, the Lord’s servant,
The whistler, the Lord’s servant,
Baarbeel Gábor,
Babochay Péter,
Babos János,
Babos Tamás,
Bachmegyei Simon,
the servant of Bachmegyei,
Baga Balázs,
Baga István,
Alberth, the servant of Balassa Dénes,
Balázs Anthal Péter,
Balog Tamás,
Balogh Gergely, the Lord’s servant,
Balogh István,
Balogh István,
Barackhay Lukács,
Baranyay Lőrinc,
Barbel István,
Barbel Máté,
Barlanchyth Gyurko,
Batha Péter,
Beczeffalway Péter,
Nagh Barnabás, the servant of Beder Kristóf,
Péter, servant of Beder Kristóf,
Ferenc, servant of Benedek Mátyás,
Bethkes Péter,
Betkhes András,
Boghkay János,
Borotwash István,
Borsody Mátyás,
Botha István,
Boynykowyth Lukács,
Bwdanyth András,
Byzo Ambrus,
Mátyás, servant of Chermeel Miklós,
Mihály, servant of Chernel Miklós,
Chezko Gywrko,
Chyzaer János,
Chyzar András,
Chyzar Balázs,
Chyzar István,
Cserdy Márton,
Dawith János,
Nagh Miklós, servant of lieutenant Demeter,
Dobos Marko,
Dobos Mátyás,
Dohochyth Iván,
Domby Gergely,
Domokos Ambrus,
Dosa János,
Dyozeghy Nagh Mátyás,
Ewthwes Márton,
Farkas Bálint,
Farkas János in the unit of Zaloky Imre,
Fekete Jakab,
Balas, servant of Fekethe Benedek,
Fekethe Gábor and his comerade,
Fekethe János,
Fykaak Miklós,
Galos Jakab,
Gewry István,
Ghewre Benedek,
Gymothy Imre,
Haghmassy István,
Hamos Barrabás,
Heencz János,
Heencz János,
Heghedes Jakab,
Heghedes Lőrinc,
Heghedes Márton,
Hegy Pál,
Hoboly Tamás,
Horváth György,
Horwath András,servant of the Lord,
Horwath György,
Horwath Gywrko, servant of the Judge at Court,
Miklós, servant of Horwath Márton,
Horwath Marton,
Horwath Pál and his two comrades,
Horwath Pál,
Horwath Péter,
Igmandy (?),
Isthwandy Albert,
Iyos János,
Kakochy Mihály,
Kapra Ferenc,
Karanchy Péter,
Karmasy Fábián,
Katothy László,
Kayary Péter,
Kayczy János,
Kechky Orbán,
Kehedy György,
Kepy András,
Keresith György,
Kesas Ferenc,
Kooncz György,
Kopa Mihály,
Kowach Gergely,
Kowach György,
Kowach István,
Lossonczy Péter,
Lowaz Gywrko, servant of the Judge of Court,
Mathoracz András,
Medwezy Gergely,
Medwezy Péter,
Mezaros Bereck,
Mohachy Antal,
Monyorosy Péter,
More Kechky Orbán zolgai Márton,
Myhalyth Benedek,
Nag Wathy Ferenc,
Nagh … Péter,
Nagh Albert,
Nagh Antal,
Nagh Balázs,
Nagh Fábián,
Nagh Ferenc,
Nagh Gál,
Nagh Gergely,
Nagh György,
Nagh Iván,
Nagh Mátyás,
Nagh Mihály,
Nagh Mihály,
Nagh Pál,
Naghwathy Péter, servant of the Lord,
Nemes András,
Németh Gáspár,
Nyerghes István,
Olah János,
Olaz János,
Ormándy Pál,
Ormondy Mihály,
Orban Balázs, sevant of Lieutant Paal,
Gergely, a servant of Paladyn,
Balázs, servant of Panka,
János, servant of Panka,
Parraghy Benedek,
Pechy Mátyás,
the servants of Perwana,
Phile Balázs,
Polyany Tamás,
Porees Pál,
Posgay György,
Fekethe György, servant of Posgay Mátyás,
István, servant of Posgay Mátyás,
Pynthér György,
Raacz Farkas,
Raacz Iván,
Raacz László alias Prevana 44 Deanrs paid and one gold given to the soldiers of his,
Raacz Lázár,
Raacz Márton,
Rachozay Mihály,
Reghe Mihály,
Rybek Lázár,
Sapko Gergely,
Sempthey Ambrus,
Soklyossy Lőrinc,
Somogy Benedek,
Somogy Ferenc,
Myhal, servant of Somogy Ferencz,
Sylko and his comerade,
Symon Gergely,
Symon Péter,
Symony Benedek,
Terek Balázs,
Thamasko, the son of the guard,
Thapy János,
Themeswary Mihály,
Thesseny Albert,
Thoot Benedek,
Thooth Pál,
Fekete Albert, servant of Thopordy,
Thot Márton,
Thot Simon,
Thoth András,
Thoth András,
Thoth Bálint,
Thoth Márton,
Thwbyth István,
Thwron István,
the lad of Thynody Péter,
Toth Mihály,
Warga András,
Warga István,
Warga Simon,
Was György,
Was Pál, a servant of the Lord.
Was Pál,
Was Pál,
Wayda Pál,
Weegh István,
Weres István,
Weres Mihály, and his two comerades,
Pál, servant of Weres Mihály,
Wyda András,
Wyda István,
Lieutenant Wylaky Sebestyén swore he and five of his soldiers received five Forints minus 20 Denars,
Zabo Jakab,
Zabo János,
Zabo János,
Zabo Péter,
Zabo Péter,
Zadory Bálint,
Zago János,
Zakal Ferenc,
Zalay Demeter and his three comerades got 3 forint 20 dénár,
Zalay Simon, the servant of the Lord,
Zaloky Imre,
Zarka János,
Zarka Márton,
Zeel Balázs,
Zekchewy Máté,
Zekchey Pál,
The servants of Zekel Gergh,
Zeky Péter,
Zele Ambrus,
Zele János,
Zenthegedy Benedek,
Zenthkyraly Balázs,
Zerdahelyi Bálint,
Albert, servant of Zereny Pál,
Zewch Fábián,
Zewreny Ferenc,
Zolga Jakab,
Zthergethy Márton,
Zwga Mátyás,
Zyjarto István
Hungarian Hussars (by Somogyi Győző)

The monthly pay of a mounted Hussar was 2-3 Gold Forints so this was not such a great reward. Let us pay tribute to them for their sacrifice: they invested their blood and life into saving the future for us.

Source: Szibler Gábor and Szerecz Miklós

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