Selected Passages from Hungarian-Ottoman Wars

The Long War, Part 15: the fall of Eger castle

Eger castle in 1596

The Sultan’s army has arrived at Eger around 20-22 September. The fort had been quite reconstructed according to the fashion of the age by the help of Italian engineers (Ottavio Baldigara, Paolo Mirandola, Pietro Ferabosco, Carlo Theti, Christoforo Stella). New Italian-style bastions have been built but due to the lack of money, they could not complete the total rebuilding of the castle in a pentagonal new Italian way. Only four bastions got ready instead of eight. Yet, it was a strong fort, in peacetime it had 1,000 guards. You can read more about Eger castle here, in particular about its famous siege of 1552:

Upon his return from the main camp of the Christians, Captain Nyáry Pál has brought along a serious reinforcement. (See, I use the Eastern name order for Hungarian names where the family names come first.) Wilhelm Terska came with his 500 German mounted riflemen and with 300 Walloons while Thurn brought Moravian infantrymen to Eger. In addition to this, there were new Czech, Italian, and Swabian troops as well. The total number of the defenders was between 3-4,000 men.

Imperial soldiers in 1593

The Ottoman army has surrounded the castle and the systematic siege began on 23 September. We have lots of information about the siege from the letters of the envoy of the English Queen Elisabeth, a man called Barton who was in the Sultan’s camp. As the town was beyond salvation, the defenders set it on fire and withdrew into the castle. The Turk cannons had not made lots of damage in the walls because the defenders, with the help of the military engineer Claudio Cogonara, could mend the walls at night. Yet, Cogonara remarked that Captain Nyáry was too lenient with the soldiers so they worked rather lazily.

Hungarian troops, 1593

The Janissaries assaulted the castle too early thus their attack was easily repelled. Then the Turk lagudjies, the mine-diggers came into action. They have built several tunnels under the fort but the mines exploded on 30 September blew up backward. The defenders charged out and the besiegers had great losses, captives were also taken. The Ottomans made great efforts to fill the moats and the cannonade went on, this time they could damage the walls seriously.

A mine went up during the siege of the outer castle and it broke a huge gap on the wall on 4 October. The first assault was repelled but during the second attack, there was a sudden explosion of a gunpowder-barrel which caused panic among the defenders. Pál Nyáry fled with the defenders into the inner castle and they slew 500 Turks while doing so. Thus, the Turks could place cannons on the outer walls and they could easily destroy the walls of the inner fort. Soon, it has become impossible to hold.

Ottoman troops

Yet, the siege went on, the Turks artillery fire and the mines caused further damage in the walls but the defenders still repelled the Turks who lost lots of men. The mine-explosion on 8 October killed 50 defenders and the military engineer Christoforo Stella also died. The soldiers in the fort began to riot in spite of the efforts of Nyáry, Terska, and Kinski. 

The rioters began negotiations with the Turks on 11 October and agreed to leave the castle on the following day, unharmed. Yet, due to the slaughter of Hatvan, the Turks have slain almost all of them on the way out on 13 October, though they let the Hungarians go and killed only the Germans. The officers were taken into captivity. Eger became a center of a new Vilayet and the Sultan appointed Pasha Szúfi Sinan as its Beglerbey. The Sultan has regarded his campaign finished with this but Archduke Maximilian (Miksa) and Prince Báthory could not have allowed the loss of such an important fort.

Hungarian reenactors fire a hook-gun in Eger

Yet, the Christian reinforcing troops were only at Fülek Castle when Eger was taken. The Imperial, the Transylvanian, and the army of the Upper Land of Hungary joined forces at Sajóvámos on 18 October. Taking the ruined Eger back would have been possible only after defeating the Sultan on the open field, though. Unfortunately, the military luck was not with the Christians in the Battle of Mezőkeresztes which was to take place soon.

Source: Szibler Gábor

Supply carts of the Imperial army, 1593

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