The Long War, Part 21 / the sieges of Buda and Várad castles, 1598

The Siege of Buda in 1598, by Johann Siebmacher

Autumn 1598 – The first Siege of Buda Castle

Having taken many castles of the Bakony Mountain, the Christian army had spent several weeks in the Csallóköz area, protected by the Danube River. They were running out of food and the roads were damp and muddy because of the heavy rains but they had to be waiting for reinforcements.

The Csallóköz Region on a modern map, in Slovakia, at Pozsony (Bratislava, Pressburg)

It was why they set out towards Buda only on 22 September. The vanguard consisted of 5,000 Hungarian Hussars of Pálffy, he was followed by 1,000-1,000 Hussars of Nádasdy and Stadnicki. After them, came 5-6,000 German, French, and Walloon infantrymen and finally 25,000 German soldiers. The Turks had 3-7,000 men in Buda Castle, 500-1,000 of them were Janissaries.
The Christians arrived on 3 October and made their camp the next day. The systematic siege began on 5 October. They tried to blow up the gates with the explosives called “petard” but it was an unsuccessful attempt.

Then, they decided to make a try first with the Water City which was reaching down to the Danube. So they were shooting the walls from three directions and launched an assault against them. This was launched at 3 PM on 10 October, and the troops, mainly Hajdú and foreign mercenaries were repelled at first but Pálffy and his 600 Hungarian infantrymen stopped the running soldiers and they could turn back and be able to break into the city. The mercenaries were advancing very quickly and they could cut off the Turks from withdrawing into the inner castle. They got around the enemy and slaughtered them, the last defenders were slain in a mosque, and two pashas were among them. Here is more about the history of Buda Castle:

Some of the Turks could escape to Pest city through the boat bridge but they had many casualties. Around 1,500-3,000 Ottoman soldiers were slain but the attackers lost many hundreds of men, too. There was a small wooden fortress on the top of the Gellért Hill, the Turks abandoned it during the following day. As a result of this, the systematic siege could be continued more efficiently because the Christians deployed cannons on Gellért Hill, too. Here, you can read more about the history of Pest:

Pest in 1616

Yet, there were enough defenders in the castle who could even carry out successful sallies as well. The weather turned cold on 19 October and the rains made the task of the besiegers more difficult. They attempted to take the city of Pest on the other side of the Danube River but it has been futile. As they could not have destroyed the walls of Buda sufficiently, all the assaults have also been unsuccessful. The news was coming of a 10-20,000-strong Ottoman reinforcing army. Finally, the Christian army slowly withdrew itself among great difficulties on 2 November. The first siege of Buda was a failure due to the late beginning of the siege and the bad weather, not to mention the valiant and persistent Turk defenders.

Autumn 1598 – The Siege of Várad Castle

The advancement of the Christian armies had been successful so far partly because the Ottomans launched their campaign too late and the Turks’ main objective had been to punish Transylvania. The Sublime Port was able to find a good reason because Prince  Báthori Zsigmond resigned from the throne of Transylvania in the first part of 1598 whereas he had ceded the Principality to Emperor Habsburg Rudolf. (Please, note that I keep using the Eastern name order for Hungarian names where family names come first.)

Transylvania and the Partium in 1570

The clashes had begun along the Temes River a lot sooner than the Sultan’s army set out from Istanbul. Pasha Szulejmán of Temesvár (Timisoara) Castle attacked Csanád Castle but he withdrew when Captain Király György of Várad (Nagyvárad / Várad, Oradea) was coming with his reinforcement. Not much later, the Bán (Duke) of Lugos Castle and of Karánsebes, Barcsai András snared the Pasha in a trap and made him attack Lugos Castle. Barcsai had hidden 200 Hajdú soldiers a bit farther from the fort and in the dawn of 7 July they ambushed the back of the approaching Pasha Szulejmán and at the same time he charged out from Lugos Castle. There were about 2,000 men in the Ottoman army and they had severe losses, many of them drowned in the water of the Temes River. Here is more about the history of Lugos Castle:

It was Szaturdzsi Mehmed who was appointed as the Serdar of the main Ottoman army but he had set out from Istanbul quite late. Then, he spent a long time in the area around the Temes River (Temesköz), waiting for the auxiliary units. When his army numbered 50-60,000 men, he set out in September but already half of the time allocated for the campaign had been used up.
They arrived at Csanád Castle on 8 September where the Christian guards fled as soon as the first shots were fired. Some of them were captured and killed by the Crimean Tatars, and the rest of them ran to Lippa castle, led by Captain Lugosi Ferenc. The guards of Arad Castle have also fled but they had at least set the fort on fire before that. Nagylak and Solymos castles have been emptied, too.

Várad castle (Photo: Țetcu Mircea Rareș)

The Serdar went around Lippa Castle and moved straight against Várad (Nagyvárad) Castle. They arrived there on the day of Saint Michael, on 29 September. It coincided with the siege of Buda, it was the reason why the Christians were able to besiege the capital so undisturbed because the main Ottoman army was being held up at Várad Castle.

At this time, Várad was on the side of Archduke Miksa (Maximilian) and not on the side of Prince Báthory Zsigmond who was coming back to sit again on his throne just about this time. The captains of Várad were Király György and the former Chief Captain of Eger, Nyáry Pál. (My remark: it was the habit of the age to appoint two captains in the castles of the Hungarian Borderland because one of them could always stay in the castle while the other one could lead the constant raids and patrols of the Hussars. “A castle can be defended only in the field” was the saying of the age.) Here is more about the history of Várad Castle:

Nagyvárad castle (Photo: Vertigoro)

The defenders had about 3,500-4,000 men. They set the outer towns on fire and withdrew into the fort. It was a pentagonal fort but the stone construction of its bastion has not been finished just then. Pasha Mehmed began the bombardment of the castle on 3 October and he was also digging tunnels for mines. Fortunately, there was an Italian artillery commander called Count Giovanni Marco Isolano in the fort who took care of these mines. The defenders were bravely fighting and repelling the attacks, the biggest assault was launched when a mine exploded under the Csonka Bastion on 17 October and a part of the wall fell but it was beaten back, too. Yet, Chief Captain Király György got wounded and died within a few days so Nyáry Pál took his place. Here is more about his life:

The castle of Várad

The Ottomans launched attacks during the next few days but each time they were repelled with great losses. The ceaseless rains and the cold were hindering the siege and there was a shortage of food in the Turk camp, the soldiers were rioting. Szaturdzsi set out towards home on 3 November. The Ottoman army suffered serious losses but the defenders had many casualties, too. Barely 700 healthy men were numbered in the castle after the siege was lifted. 

In the meantime, Voivode Michael of Wallachia had defeated Pasha Ahmed Háfiz at Nicopolis (Nikápoly) but could not take the town. The Sublime Port lost significant territories during the year 1598, Győr Castle, and the forts in the Bakony Mountain. On top of that, the Christians were besieging Buda and the Ottomans were not able to take Várad Castle.
Pasha Szaturdzsi Mehmed was made responsible for this and received the silver string.

It was how an execution with the silk string looked like in 1683 (Kara Mustafa’s death)

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