The Long War, Part 20 / the retaking of Győr castle, 1598

Győr castle

Early Spring, 1598 – The re-taking of Győr Castle

The previous year had brought lots of success to the Christians but the year 1598 has been their year. Let us follow the research of our historian, Szibler Gábor about the events of the 15-Year War that raged in Hungary between the Christians and the Ottoman Empire. Please, note that I use the Oriental name order for Hungarian names whereas family names come first.

The Imperial troops were getting ready for the campaign with great forces. Now, they had to fight on two different fronts at the same time. As Prince Báthori Zsigmond had resigned from the throne of Transylvania, the Imperials wanted to send an army of 10-12,000 men to Upper Hungary and Transylvania. Also, they intended to start their Lower Hungary campaign with 36,000 soldiers. Yet, before the main army would have assembled, an important military deed had been achieved which was warmly welcomed and celebrated everywhere in Europe. It was the deed of Colonel Adolf von Schwarzenberg and Pálffy Miklós who took back Győr Castle, the fore-castle before Vienna, with a surprise attack from the Turks.

The walls of Győr (Photo: Pe-Jo)

Győr fell in 1594 to the Ottomans. As a result of this, Vienna has been in immediate peril since that time. On top of that, the lands of Royal Hungary were almost cut in two. The western part of the Trans-Danubian Region had been quite untouched by destruction so far, now it has become the target of Ottoman and Crimean Tatar raids. Allegedly, the Pasha of Győr declared: „Győr Castle becomes Christian again only if the Iron Rooster on the tower of the fort’s Water Gate will crow.” Here is more about the history of Győr:

Győr Castle, in Turk’s hands, has been in a more difficult situation since the taking of Esztergom and later the taking of Tata (1597). The Imperial troops were slowly isolating it from the Occupied Lands. They tried to retake Győr in the autumn of 1597 but they had to withdraw their forces because the Ottoman reinforcing army was coming. Let us remark that Győr was called in the Turk language “Janik kala” (Burned Castle) because Sultan Suleiman had burned its city in 1529.

Győr in 1600 (by Pazirik Studio)
Győr in 1600 (by Pazirik Studio)

The Christians made good use of the explosive called „patara” at the taking of Győr as in the taking of Tata. It was said to be the idea of General Giorgio Basta and it was accepted by Colonel Adolf von Schwarzenberg and by Baron Pálffy Miklós, Chief Captain of Esztergom and Komárom, as well as it was to the liking of Archduke Miksa (Maximilian) and King Rudolf. It is a small wonder that the Ottoman spies haven’t heard of it.

The “petard” in use at Győr

The Imperials were able to get proper information about the number of guards in Győr, about the condition of the walls. The campaign was launched on 20 March, in deep secret. They concentrated Hungarian, German, Spanish, French, and Walloon troops in a 5,000-strong-unit and approached Győr without being noticed. It was the evening of 28 March when they sent five Hussars (who spoke Turk well) and two wagons with explosives to the gate called Fehérvári of the fort. The expert of the „patara”, Captain Vauvecourt was hiding in one of the wagons. The Hussars distracted the attention of the Turk guards while Vauvecourt could fix the „patara” on the gate with the help of a hammer and nails. The Turks discovered the trick only at the last minute but it was too late, the bomb went off and tore the gate out. Vauvecourt and his men killed the guards and the hiding Christian units rushed in, one by one, according to the plans.

Three imperial soldiers, 1593

The Turk guards were alarmed and fought bravely, their commander was Ali who fought so well that he could be killed only by a musket. The attackers have been repelled several times, though. Finally, the reinforcing Hussars of Pálffy have turned the fight. The Hussars were cavalrymen and they were not willing to fight on foot but Pálffy dismounted and showed a good example so they followed him. Some of the defenders got into the bastion called Szentdombi where they blew up the gunpowder under themselves, causing serious losses to the attackers; Captain Don Lopez and his 50 Spanish soldiers were also reported to have died there.

The Iron Rooster in Győr that crowed according to the legend

The rest of the defenders got stuck in the inner castle and Pálffy Miklós brought up his cannons to force them to surrender. The fight was ended about 8-9 AM, 29 March 1598. According to the legend, the iron rooster on the tower was screeching once in the wind during the siege so the prophecy of the Pasha has come true.

The Plaque of Pálffy Miklós (in Győr)

About 1,300 Ottomans died there and 3,000 were captured. The Christians lost 300 men and they had 700 wounded. There were plenty of booties which was divided among the soldiers. They put the head of Pasha Mahmud on a spear and planted it on the top of the Magyar Bastion. The Emperor made Vauvercourt a Vice Colonel and knighted Schwarzenberg. Pálffy asked for no rewards, saying that he was just fighting for his homeland. However, the Austrian Estates gifted him with a golden goblet but he refused it. The Christians repaired the damage caused by the explosion and the walls and re-established the Chief Captaciancy to Győr Castle. It was supervising the area again over the lands of Óvár and Sárvár, led by Siegmund Hagerrel. 

Summer 1598 – A Lightning War in the Trans-Danubian Region of Hungary

The taking of Győr Castle has brought about a significant improvement in the morale of the Christians. Yet, they could launch their attack when all the units have arrived at their camp. Instead of Archduke Miksa (Maximilian), this time it was his brother, Archduke Matthias who took the lead. He has been substituted until his arrival by Adolf von Schwarzenberg. King Rudolf sent Miksa to Transylvania.

Győr: the statue of Pálffy and Schwarzenberg

Schwarzenberg had about 14,000 mercenaries and launched his attack from Komárom Castle at the end of July. He was accompanied by the troops of the Hungarian estates, led by Pálffy. They set out on 31 July from Komárom and made their camp at Tata in the evening. They began the bombardment of the castle the next morning and they sent the first assault against the Ferrando Bastion which was next to the lake at 6 PM. Their second assault was better because they could take the outer castle. They slaughtered the last of the defenders on 2 August in the inner castle, leaving alive just a few of them.

Tata Castle in 1617

Then, they cleaned up the ruins and left a garrison there. They went on with their campaign quickly, leaving Tata on 3 August. The Ottomans abandoned the small Gesztes Castle that fell to the Christians on the same day. They arrived at Csókakő Castle on 5 August and began to shoot it on the next day, taking it with a brave assault of Pálffy who destroyed the fort upon leaving. Here is more about Csókakő castle:

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The next target was (Vár)Palota Castle where they arrived on 8 August. They were bombarding the fort from two sides and the stronghold could not bear it for long, the guards surrendered after a few shots. After leaving behind a garrison, the Christians moved to Veszprém Castle. The Turks saw them come and fled, surrendering the castle. The new captain has become Maróthy Mihály. 
The army was moving on and Nádasdy Ferenc who was in the meantime appointed as the Chief Captain of the Trans-Danubian Region could hardly catch up with them towards the evening of 10 August, bringing 500 Hussars and 250 Hajdú footmen. His riders marched into the abandoned Vázsony and Tihany castles.

Palota Castle (Photo: Civertan)

Having taken these forts, they turned back on 11 August and arrived in Pápa on 12 August, then on 17 August in Győr.
This ten-day-long lightening campaign has set several smaller and bigger castles free: Tata, Gesztes, Csókakő, Palota, Veszprém as well as Vitány, Vázsony, and Tihany castles. The main army was waiting for further reinforcement to launch the siege of Buda during the autumn.

Csókakő castle (Photo: fabiolah)

Source: Szibler Gábor

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