1 August 1664 The battle of Szentgotthárd / Saint Gotthard, and the peace of Vasvár
1 August 1664 The battle of Szentgotthárd / Saint Gotthard, and the peace of Vasvár
Having relieved the siege of Kanizsa castle, the Ottoman army took Zrínyi-Újvár castle on 30 June 1664. After this, they stayed in the region of the Mura river for nearly two weeks. until 12 July. There was a Christian army on the other side of the river, watching the Ottoman army’s moves but they had to stay there until they were sure that the enemy would certainly march toward the Rába river. While the army of Grand Vizier Köprülüzáde Fazil Ahmed was marching straight up to the north, taking the shortest road, the army of Raimondo Montecuccoli was coming via the longer road. They were approaching the Rába river from the direction of Muraszombat and Felsőlendva castles.
The Ottoman army arrived at Körmend about 20 July, and hearing this, the cavalry, led by Montecuccoli rode to Szentgotthárd. Fortunately, the Hungarian troops at Körmend castle were able to block the Ottomans and they could not build out a bridgehead on the northern bank of the river. Of course, it was not without a fight. You can read more about the battle at Körmend here:
As a result of this battle, Ahmed had to turn toward the west, so it was the reason why he was heading toward Szentgotthárd (Saint Gotthard). It was a small miracle that the Christian army was able to get there before the Turks, and the Imperials were at the Rába river on 28 July and event the infantrymen arrived at Szentgotthárd. The Ottomans were hindered by logistic problems, and the roads became literally a sea of mud, too, because of the heavy rains.
Finally, the battle took place a bit west of Szentgotthárd, on the location of Nagyfalu (today it is in Austria and called Mogersdorf). Almost all nations of Europe were present in the Christian army. However, most of them were coming from Germany and France. They had 24,500 soldiers and 24 cannons but their food and gunpowder supplies were not properly organized. Right before the battle, the cavalrymen had to go out to collect fodder in the area. On the other hand, the Ottoman army consisted of 120-130,000 men. They also had logistic problems but at least they had enough gunpowder.
On top of that, the Christian military leaders did not see the situation properly and they failed to deploy enough troops inside the hook of the Rába river because they thought that the bank of the Rába river was quite steep and the Turks would not make an attempt of crossing the river there. Later, they paid a high price for their mistake. As it happened, the Turks transported lots of wooden materials to the place on the night of 31 July, in deep secret. They sent 20,000 picked warriors, led by Pasha Ahmed Ismail, the brother-in-law of the Sultan. The Turks planned to launch the attack only on 2 August, as 1 August fell to Friday which was a holy day in the Islam faith.
The Ottoman elite infantrymen, armed with muskets, chased away the few Christian guards in the hoop of the Rába river, at noon on 31 July. They were supported by cannons from two sides. Then, the enemy began crossing the ford and by the evening they have established a firm bridgehead on the northern bank of the river. At night, they continued the crossing, and they also started to build a bridge. In addition to this, they dag a ditch system that consisted of 8 rows.
Early in the morning, around 6 A.M. there were about 12,000 Janissaries and Sipahis deployed at the bridgehead.
In the beginning, the Christian military leaders thought it was just a diverting action of the enemy, and they took serious action only in the morning. Montecuccoli did not sense any danger, and William of Baden, the commander of the Imperial forces standing in front of the bridgehead was also just a passive observer. In the evening, he took off his clothes and went to bed as if no danger were there at all. On the other hand, General Julius von Hohenlohe and General Coligny-Saligny realized that the enemy was up to no good, even though these generals were far from the location because they were leading the left wing. They asked Montecuccoli and William of Baden for taking action but their request was turned down. During this time, the Turks set out from the bridgehead and took the village of Nagyfalu where they found only a few injured Christian soldiers.
When finally William of Baden reacted, there were no thanks in it. Upon hearing the alarm, the soldiers headlessly tried to obey, without any discipline. The rugged and hilly terrain did not help the arrangement of lines, either. The Christian counter-attack was launched around 9 A.M., in total chaos. The terrain before Nagyfalu was obstructing the vision, and the troops had no idea of what was waiting for them. The Turks had moved out from the village but it was just a trick. The moment the Christians emerged from the forest, the Ottoman warriors threw themselves on them with a terrible battle cry. At the same time, other Turks who were at the bridgehead were covering them with cannon and musket fire from the side.
Great havoc broke out among the Imperials, and they began to flee. Their cavalry stomped over the running infantry, and entire regiments froze down, and they literally let themself be slaughtered. The Turks killed about 1,000-1,500 soldiers. The running soldiers caused a great panic even as far as Styria. As the central part of the Imperial army collapsed, a huge gap was cut into the Christian army but fortunately, the enemy did not take advantage of this unexpected situation. General Hohenlohe on the left wing and General Montecucoli on the right wing realized this peril, though. They launched a quick counter-attack, Hohenlohe took the village back with his fast assault but the Turks soon returned and forced him out. Only the arrival of French troops could beat the enemy out from there.
Just like here, the battle turned into long close combat on the right wing. The meléé lasted for several hours. It was where Duke Charles of Lorrain distinguished himself.
The fleeing Imperial troops were stopped and reorganized by General Waldeck who led them to join the counter-attack. Together, they succeeded in pushing the Turks out of Nagyfalu and its forest, through tremendous hardships. In the meantime, the Ottoman units were continuously crossing the bridge but they did not launch a general attack. Had they attacked the gap of the Christian army, they would have achieved a great victory. Even Montecuccoli admitted that they were very close to total defeat. Let us remark that the entire Ottoman army was still not inside the camp, they were collecting fodder. They could not launch any major counter-attack, and they did not really plan one as they wanted to attack on Friday.
Around 11 A.M., the Christian commanders held a military council where they decided to get over with the battle by all means, and they swore to cooperate with each other. Yet, Montecuccoli did not really want to launch an attack but Hohenlohe made him understand that the Ottoman bridgehead must be annihilated if they wanted to prevent the whole Ottoman army from crossing and destroying the Christian army with ease.
While they were debating, another Ottoman large unit crossed the river, a bit left from the bridgehead. However, they were not supported by artillery. The Imperials sent their units to block them, their task was to support the counter-attack against the bridgehead from the west. The French soldiers were attacking the bridgehead from the north, at the same time. The French had the toughest job because they had to fight themselves through the 8 rows of ditches that the Turks had built before.
On top of that, the French soldiers were demoralized because the Turks placed the fallen French soldiers’ heads and limbs on sharpened stakes. In spite of this, the musket fire and the strong assault of their cavalry shook the Ottoman lines. The French were advancing despite the bombardment of the enemy cannons that shot their regiments from the other side of the river. In the meantime, the right wing’s attack also proved to be successful so the Turk lines were slowly but surely rolled up.
The superior artillery fire finally brought about the victory of the Christians. The steady movements of the extremely disciplined regiments also contributed to the success. Those Christian soldiers who had been desperately panicking a couple of hours before, now regrouped and bravely threw themselves on the enemy with a wild battle cry. They were forcing the Ottomans into the Rába river with their savage assault.
At this decisive moment, the Turks received an unfortunate order from the Grand Vizier. He withdrew the Janissaries back into the last defense line that was also the shortest trench system. He tried to strengthen the defense with this move but the Ottoman warriors who fought in the first ranks saw the Janissaries’ withdrawal and began to panic. Altogether more than 7-8,000 Turks died, many of them in the river. Lots of them were killed in a brawl when they fought against each other while crossing the river.
As for the Imperial army, they lost about 5-6,000 men, and the army’s number decreased below 20,000 soldiers. Montecuccoli could not even think of chasing the enemy, and darkness fell soon. Moreover, the Rába river began flooding, and crossing it was not a good idea while there were still intact Ottoman units on the other bank. Due to the heavy losses, the Christians’ morale became low.
The peace of Vasvár
The Ottoman army left for Esztergom castle via Fehérvár, and they very quickly made peace with the envoys of the Viennese Court on 10 August at Vasvár. In fact, the Habsburg court had continuously tried to achieve peace during the recent war with the Ottomans. Their envoy in Istanbul, Simon Reiniger was doing his best to come to proper terms but the Ottomans seemed to have wanted too much. As it was sometimes a habit to bring other countries’ envoys to war, Grand Vizier Köprülü Ahmed took Reiniger with his army during his campaign in 1664.
After the defeat of Szentgotthárd, the Sublime Porte had to be more lenient. In the Grand Vizier’s camp at Vasvár, Köprülü Ahmed and Reiniger signed the peace treaty on 10 August, and we know that the negotiations about the finer points of the peace had begun shortly before the battle. Moreover, they had managed to settle the most important parts before the end of the fight.
The “status quo” in Hungary was confirmed, according to the current military situation. Again, they declared Transylvania as a neutral state. According to the treaty, the Ottomans were allowed to keep Érsekújvár, Nógrád, and Nagyvárad castles even though they had just recently been occupied by the enemy. At the same time, both the Ottoman and the Imperial army were obliged to retire from Transylvania where Prince Apafi Mihály, the ally of the Sultan remained in power. The newly built Christian forts of Új-Zrínyivár and Székelyhíd had to be demolished.
On the other hand, the Ottomans did not demand to get Nyitra and Kiskomárom castles. According to the document, the Transylvanian estates were free to elect their ruler in the future like before but the Habsburgs were not allowed to support the claims of Rákóczi Ferenc for the Transylvanian throne. The treaty came to light in October and it caused a huge scandal both in Hungary and in the Holy Roman Empire.
Yet, according to some historians, the treaty cannot be regarded only as the Viennese court’s policy of appeasement. It was the Sultan who first disregarded his demand of getting 2,000.000 gold Forints as compensation. Emperor Leopold had to pay “only” 20,000 Forints as a “voluntarily gift”. However, the Sultan was obliged to respond to it with the same valuable gift. Leopold had to focus his attention on his French opponent, and he had plans for Spain, too. There were several thousand French volunteers fighting in the battle of Szentgotthárd and Leopold wanted to see them go home as soon as possible. He would not have been glad to see the French monarch King Louis XIV portrayed as the victor of the Ottomans.
The Spanish wars of inheritance finished only in 1714 and these struggles were the most important goals for the Habsburgs at that time. The focus fell only later on the eastern part of their empire. The Peace of Vasvár contributed to the international goals of Leopold but it had very negative consequences for Hungary. Hungarians and Croatians had to reconsider their political ties to the Habsburgs. The events led to the Wesselényi Conspiracy and its cruel reprisal, then to the rebel “kuruc” uprisings all over Hungary, and to further partition of the country. Let us recall the short-lived northern Principality of Thököly Imre who had been promptly alienated by the Habsburgs.
The Treaty of Vasvár is regarded as a quite shameful one, and there are many debates about its necessity and reasons. Yet, historians call our attention to the international circumstances that had an impact on the Habsburgs’ intention. After all, it became obvious to everyone that the Battle of Szentgotthárd convinced the contemporary people that the Turks were not invincible and their empire was declining. Although it was not a decisive victory, morally speaking, it was a very important one. Both the Viennese Court and the French king took advantage of this success and used the battle for propaganda purposes.
Source: Szibler Gábor
You can watch a detailed video, created by our Turkish friends about the battle and the historical events before and after it; fortunately, there are English subtitles: