The Fifteen-Year-War Series (1591-1606)

Allegory at the beginning of the 15-Year-War (by Hans von Aachen)


I would like to give you the accounts of these events in chronological order, mainly based on the research of Hungarian historian Szibler Gábor. At times, I am going to rely on the excellent work of Szerecz Miklós as well. Please note, that I am going to use the Oriental name order for Hungarian names where the family names come first.

After the fights of Hunyadi János in the 15th century and the wars of Sultan Suleiman in the 16th century, this conflict caused the greatest suffering and destruction to the Habsburg-ruled Kingdom of Hungary and the freshly born Principality of Transylvania. Only the devastation caused by the reconquest-wars of Hungary after 1684 can perhaps surpass it. 

Hungary at the beginning of the 1590s

Here is my article about ethnic changes due to the Ottoman wars in Hungary:

However, only God knows how much blood was shed and how many people were enslaved or wiped out between the “peaceful” periods of major wars, during the “small war” that was raging ceaselessly along the 1,000-mile-long Borderland that separated the Christian and the Muslim world since the beginning of the 15th century. Here is my short writing about this Borderland:

The origin of the name

The war in concern raging between the Habsburgs and the Ottoman Empire took place at the turn of the 16th-17th century and it is also called the Long War. Later on, there were more “long wars” in history, our historians try to distinguish this particular one and call it the 15-Year-War.

The Battle of Sziszek, painting in Sárvár castle; Sziszek has been attacked three times…

The war broke out in the summer of 1593 and the truce was signed between the two opposing forces in the autumn of 1603. It can be easily seen that it hadn`t covered 15 years. Why is it called like this, then?

Croatia – which used to be in a personal union with the Kingdom of Hungary since 1102 – had been continuously the target of the Ottoman army since 1591. The Bosnian Bey, Telli (Deli) Hasszán didn`t cease his attacks against the Borderland. His fixed idea was to take Sziszek (Sisak, Sisseg) Castle which was on the Croatian part of the Frontier.

These campaigns and raids were always launched by the Ottomans, they aimed to take the above-mentioned Castle of Sziszek. This important Borderland castle didn`t fall to them either in 1591 or in 1952. Yet, they were able to take the Castle of Bihács in 1592 and the castles of Gora and Hrasztovica. Also, the Bán (Duke) of Croatia-Slavonia, Tamás Erdődy has suffered a serious defeat. More details will be told about these events in the coming parts of our subsequent series.

So we can see that the war had been going on since 1591 but the opponents haven`t declared it officially. The Truce of Drinápoly (Edirne) had banned the taking of castles but Pasha Hasszán`s military actions seemed to have ignored this point of the treaty.
The Sublime Port had been in a war against the Persian Empire until 1590 so it was against their interest to open a new front in the west. During the period of this “truce”, the creation of the new northern Hungarian Borderland castle system had been carried out with the help of the Habsburgs and it has proved to be the most effective way to block the Turk attacks.

Sziszek / Sisak castle (Photo: igor kis)

The Court of Vienna (later of Prague) paid a tax (or as it was called a “gift”) to the Sultan for allowing the Habsburg ruler to keep the “unconquered” territories of the Kingdom of Hungary. Note, that this amount sometimes was higher than the “tax” paid by the Transylvanian Principality to the Ottomans. The special semi-independence of Transylvania will also be described in our series.

Despite the Habsburgs’ tax, the Turk intrusions visibly intensified in the second part of the 1580s. It was partly what we called the “small war”. For example, the four Sandjak Beys of the Southern Trans-Danubian Region joined their forces to raid the Hungarian Zala County, then there was the Defeat of Kacorlak (the Hungarians defeated the Turks on the way home from a raid) and the Sack of Szikszó in 1588, not to forget the defeat suffered by the Bey of Fülek. These events indicated that the Sublime Port had begun to change its opinion about the “peace” in Hungary.

Here is more about Fülek Castle:

The reconstructional drawing of Fülek Castle

In answer to the raids, the Emperor and King Rudolf didn`t send the “gift” to the Sultan. The connections rapidly deteriorated but they could manage the tension until 1590. Yet, the raids of Pasha Hasszán were too much and the Habsburgs had to express their objections but it was already in vain. The two opponents accused each other of breaking the Truce and both were expecting the other to make amends to avoid open war. Hasszán`s action finally provoked the conflict in earnest.

 Let us not forget that the Ottoman Empire was based on the need for constant conquest and expansion. After the end of the Persian war, the Ottoman soldiers had to be given a task somewhere else. The Janissaries were threatening the governing of the Empire unless this elite army would not be sent to a new war. As a result of this, the Sublime Port was getting ready to open a new front in the west. It was the new Grand Vizier, Pasha Szinán, the previous leader of the Vilayet of Buda who was recommending this war the most busily.

The size of the destruction in Croatia

Just to give a hint about the size of these destructions, let us recall the assembly of the Croatian Estates in April 1993. Then, they came together in Zágráb and made an account of the Turkish destructions and damages to send it to the king in Vienna. According to them, due to the Ottoman attacks of the previous two years, they had lost 25 castles and forts and nearly 35,000 Christians were taken to the slave markets.

Ottoman slave market (1532, Erhard Schön)

So the conflict can be dated to the first attack against Sziszek / Sisak Castle in 1591 and was finished because of the uprising of Prince Bocskai István in 1606. Follow me through the events in the next fifty or more posts to come…

More about Prince Bocskai:

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