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

Eger castle in 1596

The Sultan’s army arrived at Eger around 20-22 September. The fort had been quite reconstructed according to the fashion of the age with 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 defenders was between 3-4,000 men.

Imperial soldiers in 1593

The Ottoman army surrounded the castle on 22 September and the systematic siege began on the following day. 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 did not cause a lot of damage to 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, and they 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.

Sultan Mehmed III

A mine went up during the siege of the outer castle and it broke a huge gap in the wall on 4 October. The first assault was repelled but during the second attack, there was an explosion of a gunpowder barrel which caused panic among the defenders. The outer castle was lost, and Nyáry Pál fled with the defenders into the inner castle and they slew 500 Ottoman warriors 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 to the walls but the defenders still repelled the enemy who lost lots of men. The enemy went on digging mines under the bastions of the inner castle. To destroy one of them, the military engineer Cogonara had a counter-mine dug, and he succeeded to block that particular mine but the enemy managed to blow up the southeastern bastion. 

Eger in 1596

The mine explosion on 8 October killed 50 defenders and the military engineer Christoforo Stella also died. He had served more than two decades in Eger, four lieutenants also died with him. Their names were Sennyey Jób, Baló György or Gergely, Pozsgay Gáspár, and Ziny István. Now, a memorial plaque commemorates them in the castle where they fell. Many warriors fell in that attack from both sides but the situation of Eger was disastrous. Luckily, heavy rains fell for two days which made the enemy’s assaults more difficult. Despite the hardships, the defenders repelled all waves of attacks. You can read more about Nyáry Pál here:

 More and more defenders found the situation hopeless. The soldiers in the fort began to riot despite the efforts of Nyáry, Terska, and Kinski. We do not know whether the German-Walloon mercenaries or the Hungarian guards came up first with the idea of surrendering the castle. The rioters began negotiations with the Turks on 11 October and the Sultan agreed on the next day that they might leave the castle unharmed. Yet, the Ottomans remembered how cruelly the Imperial mercenaries slaughtered the Turks in Hatvan castle, and they took revenge. They slew almost all of the rioters on the way out on 13 October, though they let the Hungarians go and killed only the Germans. The officers were taken into captivity. Not much later, Nyáry Pál managed to free himself during the confusion of the Battle of Mezőkeresztes, though. After the fall of Eger, the guards of the smaller Hungarian castles in the area (Cserépvár, Sirok, Szarvaskő castles) fled and the enemy took over the places. 

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. Eger became the center of a new Vilayet and the Sultan appointed Pasha Szúfi Sinan as its Beglerbey. With the fall of Eger, the road between Royal Hungary and Transylvania became more difficult. The Sultan regarded his campaign as finished with this but Archduke Maximilian (Miksa) and Prince Báthory could not have allowed the loss of such an important fort. Unfortunately, the military luck was not with the Christians in the Battle of Mezőkeresztes which was to take place within a few days…

Source: Szibler Gábor

Supply carts of the Imperial army, 1593

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