Selected Passages from Hungarian-Ottoman Wars

The siege of Szigetvár in 1556

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

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 from 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
Source: Szibler Gábor

If you like my writings, please  feel free to support me with a coffee here:

This article contains Amazon ads. By purchasing through these links, you can help my work at no added cost to you. Thank you!

My work can also be followed and supported on Patreon: Become a Patron!