The Long War, Part 13 / Upper Lands, and Transylvania 1595

Archduke Matthias, later Emperor Matthias I (1557-1619)

Autumn, 1595 – The Army of the Upper Lands of Hungary attacks the Great Hungarian Plain

After Archduke Matthias had declared the campaign over, his younger brother Maximilian III (Miksa) launched an attack with the army of the Hungarian Upper Lands. He went from Esztergom to the castle of Eger, then made some maneuvers to confuse the Turks and moved on to Szolnok. When the Ottoman garrisons of Törökszentmiklós, Szarvas, and Békés heard the Christian army approaching, they set fire to their castles and fled. Maximilian/Miksa arrived at Szolnok Castle on 17 October and used his cannons to bombard the fortress. But the cold had come too early and they had received (false) news of the arrival of the Ottoman reinforcements, so the Christian army forced its leader to abandon the siege. So there was no result after this short siege.

Szolnok castle in 1552, reconstruction drawing, Pazirik Kft.

Summer and autumn, 1595 – The victories of the Transylvanian troops

While the Habsburg troops were fighting quite successfully at Esztergom, the military machine of the Transylvanian-Moldavian-Wallachian alliance came into action. (Note that I use the Oriental name order for Hungarian names, where surnames come first, and Wallachians and Moldavians are Romanians). It was Borbély György, the captain of Lugos Castle, who launched an attack in the Temesköz area in the summer. The Turks surrendered the castles of Bokszeg, Varsánd, Tótváradja, and Facsád (Facset), which were the landmarks of the Transylvanian success. Borbély defeated the smaller army of the Pasha of Temesvár Castle near Facsád on 12 August. The Ottoman guards of the forts of Solymos and Eperjes also fled. The Transylvanian army even besieged the strongest fortress on the Maros River, Lippa Castle. Lippa’s garrison finally surrendered on 18 August. Upon hearing the news, the Ottoman defenders abandoned the castles of Világos, Pankota, Siri, Csanád, and Arad. Here you can read more about Lippa Castle:

The area around the Maros River was liberated and, in addition, Bán (Duke) Békés István of Lugos managed to take the next strongest fortress in the area, (Boros) Jenő Castle, at the end of October after a month-long siege. On 16 September, Békés surrounded Jenő Castle with 1,000 soldiers. They were joined the next day by the army of Vice-Captain Király György from Várad Castle. As a result of the heavy bombardment, the defenders were forced to abandon the town and they retreated to the castle.  

Jenő castle

The Körös River made the siege of the castle difficult. The Transylvanians had to dig a canal and try to divert the river from the moat of the castle. Then they tried to fill it up with earth, but the autumn rains ruined their efforts. After that, they continued with the artillery fire and launched a general attack, but it was repulsed by the defenders. Finally, the Transylvanians received reinforcements and the defenders decided to surrender the fort on 22 October. Thus the region of Transylvania along the Maros River was liberated from Ottoman rule.

Jenő castle
There is an interesting addition to the history of Jenő Castle: the Sandjak district of Jenő Castle was ruled by Bey Ibrahim between 1588 and 1591. He was actually a Hungarian renegade named Márkházi Pál, who tried to usurp the throne of Transylvania during the reign of Prince Báthory István and Prince Báthory Zsigmond. He lobbied in Istanbul and became a Muslim to achieve his goal. As the Bey of Jenő Castle, he eagerly tried to prove his worthiness by plundering and conquering the Hungarian villages of the Trans-Tisza region. These villages belonged to Transylvania at that time. Here is more about Jenő Castle’s history:
Borosjenő castle (Photo: Gr33nPixelz-1)

In the meantime, the main Ottoman army had arrived in the Lower Danube area, but the Grand Vizier Ferhád was ordered to return to Istanbul, where he was relieved of his duties and then killed. The new Grand Vizier was again Sinan, but this obviously caused a delay. Let us remember that it was this delay that allowed the Habsburg imperial troops to take the castle of Esztergom after a long siege. More about the siege of Esztergom:

Pasha Sinan

Soon, in August, Sinan had a bridge built over the Danube and crossed into Wallachia. Let us not forget that Voivode Mihail Vitez of Wallachia (alias Mihai Viteazul) and Voivode Stefan Razvan of Moldavia had joined the Christian Coalition. This meant that Transylvanian auxiliaries had been in Wallachia for a year, and they and their Wallachian allies began their campaign during the winter. They slaughtered the Turkish garrisons and defeated the Crimean Tatars and the Ottoman armies. However, they were not strong enough to resist the Grand Vizier’s troops at the Danube.

Voivode Mihail withdrew his troops towards Bucharest. He had a smaller army, but he took position at a narrow pass called Calugareni, where he stopped and defeated the Ottoman army, but he could not eliminate it. Nevertheless, the Turkish attackers suffered heavy losses and Sinan himself was in danger. Unfortunately, this victory was not enough to stop the Turks completely. Voivode Mihail had to retreat to the Transylvanian mountains. This allowed Sinan to retake Bucharest and the capital, Tirgovistye. Sinan intended to turn the former vassal state into a vilayet and even appointed a pasha to lead Wallachia. At this point, the voivode asked Prince Báthory Zsigmond for help.

Voivode Mihai Viteazul (1558-1601)

But the Ottoman commander hadn’t reckoned with Prince Báthory Zsigmond’s attack. When he heard of the danger, Prince Zsigmond set off to help his ally. To tell the truth, it was not the young Báthory, but Bocskai István, the experienced soldier, the loyal supporter of the prince, who led the army. However, he had only 10,000 men, including the auxiliaries from Silesia and Moldavia, when he set out from Gyulafehérvár (Alba Iulia) on 27 August. On reaching the Transylvanian border, the prince was forced to grant the Székely guards their old freedom. Here is more about the Hungarian Székely warriors of Transylvania:

The flag of the Székelys

Thus the Hungarian Székely warriors joined his army and the whole Transylvanian-Moldavian army became 30-35,000 strong. The total army, including Voivode Mihail, numbered between 40,000 and 60,000 soldiers. Sinan wanted to avoid the battle and left for his wintering places in October. The Christian Coalition followed in his footsteps and took Trigovistye in a sudden attack on 18 October, capturing Pasha Hassan, who had been stationed there as leader of Wallachia. Bucharest was abandoned and set on fire by its Ottoman defenders. The allied forces then moved to Gyurgyevó, where Sinan’s army was to cross the river. 

The Battle of Gyurgyevo (Giurgiu, Гюргево, Yerkoekoe, Fekete Gyergyó)

It was the greatest deed of the year, along with the capture of Esztergom, when the Transylvanian-Wallachian armies defeated the retreating army of the Grand Vizier Sinan at Gyurgyevo. The castle of Gyurgyevo is located on the island of the Danube, with a bridge to both banks. Most of the Pasha’s army had already crossed the river by the time the Christians arrived. Only the Akindjis, the wagons, and the booty (including the captured slaves) were left on the left bank.

irregular Akinji cavalry (1526)

The Ottoman artillery tried to disturb the allied forces, but with little success, as they rushed at the Akindjies, slaughtering them or pushing them into the water. The Christian troops crushed them, took the supplies, and freed the prisoners. This happened on 25 October. Two days later, they attacked the castle of Gyurgyevó and took it, killing the guards. The battle was an important turning point in the history of the Ottoman Army, as the irregular Akinji cavalry was eliminated to such an extent that they were replaced by Crimean Tatar cavalrymen. They proved to be even more effective and deadly than the Akinji in burning the countryside and taking slaves.

Voivode Stefan Razvan of Moldova

Moldova had to leave the alliance because Polish and Crimean Tatar troops invaded its territory and Razvan was deposed by them. The new voivode was Jeremiás Movila, nominated by the Poles, who put him in power. Thus, at the end of 1595, Moldavia fell out of the Christian coalition. All in all, the vain and ambitious prince Báthory Zsigmond was able to play the role of the “victorious Christian ruler”, a role in which the young man took great pleasure. He needed this success because he was disappointed in his marriage. The year 1595 brought the success of the Habsburg-Transylvanian coalition. They didn’t know that the Ottomans would attack the following year with an even larger army.

Bocskai István (1557-1606)

Source: Szibler Gábor and Szerecz Miklós

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A Crimean Tatar archer (by Somogyi Győző)