Selected Passages from Hungarian-Ottoman Wars

The Long War, Part 23 / Christian ambushes, 1599

An imperial soldier on horseback 1591-93

Spring-summer 1599 – Christian raids and ambushes

Both sides have been showing signs of getting tired of war by this year. The armies were coming together very slowly, the Imperial army numbered only 16-18,000 men later in September.
It was the reason why Pálffy and Schwarzenberg were trying to attack the Ottoman Turks with smaller raids and ambushes. You may have read about the great Hajdú victory in Tolna in the previous post: these kinds of “smaller” fights were rather typical this year.

A Hungarian Hajdú infantryman

Captain Adolf Schwarzenberg of Győr and Captain Pálffy Miklós of Érsekújvár and Esztergom set out against Buda castle with an army of 8,000 Hungarian, German, French, and Walloons soldiers. (Note, I use the Oriental name order for Hungarians where family names come first.) During the past two years, they had taken Tata and Győr castles and now their goal was to make an attempt to take Buda castle with a “petard”.

Three Hungarian standard bearers, 1593

Last year they had tried to take the capital by siege, unsuccessfully. Now they prepared a surprise attack. They were also informed that the Ottoman garrison was decreased pretty much and there was not much food. Just think about the victory of the Hajdús who cut the logistic lines of the Turks.

In deep secret, they tried to sneak to the walls of the castle on the dawn of 16 or 17 April but it was not so easy to surprise the enemy anymore because after the similar cases of Tata and Győr the Turk guards were paying more attention.  After some alarm shots, the attackers withdrew. On the way back home they blew in the gate of the small Zsámbék palisade castle with the “petard” and the defenders gave up the fort the next day, then the Christians burned the palisade to ashes.

Zsámbék (Photo: Civertan)

Three weeks later they made a similar attempt against Székesfehérvár but with not much success. They set out from Komárom on 9 May and arrived at Fehérvár during the next day`s dawn. Here, they could explode the gate of the outer city and could cut down the defenders but the rest of the Ottoman Turks withdrew to the inner castle. There were only about 5,000 men in the Imperial army so it would have been futile to continue the siege.

(Székes)Fehérvár in 1601

The “petard” or in Hungarian, the “petárda” was a special explosive when they stuffed a bronze bell with gunpowder and covered it with a plank. There was a fuse coming out of it. They hanged up the petárda on the castle gate or nailed it to there, using a plank against the door. The point was to have the proper mix of explosives because if there was not enough gunpowder, it didn’t harm the gate only the bell blew up. (Especially, if it was a double gate.) The hard thing was to fix the petárda on the door, it required lots of discipline and some good luck. The method was first tried at Tata castle on 23 May 1597 then it was used a year later at Győr on 29 March 1598. Read more about it here:


April 1599: The heroic death of Bey Naszuf, the Ghazi warrior of Szigetvár Castle

Ottoman cavalryman

The famous Bey of Szigetvár, Naszuf, and his unit was snared in a trap and killed near Babócsa Castle. As a result, the Bey became a “Ghazi” aka martyr himself because he was killed in battle, according to the Ottomans’ belief. Here is more about Babócsa castle:

Babócsa castle

The Hussars of Kanizsa castle, led by their lieutenant, Csúzy András set out for a raid along the River Dráva. The so-called wandering “free-lads” of the area, Hajdú soldiers hungry for booty, also joined them. They came close to Babócsa. When the Turks of Szigetvár heard of their coming from their spies, they hurried to meet them at Babócsa, led by Naszuf.

Deli riders, 1590

However, the Hungarians’ unit has grown so big that they could hide a part of their men and thus they were able to snare the Turks of Szigetvár into a trap. The Ottoman unit was scattered, most of the soldiers fell and only a few could flee. Bey Naszuf died a heroic death there. The head of the renowned Turk was cut off and presented to Zrínyi György (Juraj IV Zrinski) who had it salted and stuffed before sending it to Vienna to Archduke Matthias. (It was the habit both in Istanbul and in Vienna at this time.) There was an Ottoman envoy who saw the head of Naszuf and he said in tears that the Sultan had not many valiant soldiers like Bey Naszuf who had become a “ghazi”.

Hungarian Hussars

Summer, 1599: a new attempt against Buda

Pálffy and Schwarzenberg moved against Buda on 7 August to make a try again. The Pasha bravely rode out with his cavalry to meet them but Pálffy and Zrínyi were able to ambush him. They slew more than 400 Turks and captured the pasha himself. Later in September, they tried to take Pest city with the „petard” explosives but the guards beat them back, Schwarzenberg got even a wound in his leg. He was substituted by Archduke Matthias and by Pálffy until the new commander arrived.

The statue of Pálffy and Schwarzenberg in Győr

As we can see, there were barely 16-18,000 foreign mercenaries and about 10,000 Hungarian soldiers at Esztergom in September. Pálffy, Schwarzenberg, and Nádasdy were demanding the payment of their soldiers from Matthias and they wanted to have a minimum of 5,000 German infantrymen, not to mention the arrival of the Upper Hungarian army of General Basta.
The Ottomans’ army was roughly the same size. This army was waiting for the troops of Pasha Ibrahim who had been appointed as a Serdar in the meanwhile.

A formation of Hungarian foot soldiers armed with muskets, 1591

Autumn 1599 – Negotiations between the Ottomans and the Imperials

The army of Grand Vizier Ibrahim was just advancing slowly in Hungary because they were waiting for the auxiliary forces to join them and the Crimean Tatars to arrive. They have reached Buda only by the middle of September. The Sublime Port now has wanted to finish the war by all means because of the huge costs and the uprising of the Dzselali people in Anatolia. But they wanted to take back Esztergom, either by siege or by talks. The talks began in October. As for the Tatar Khan Gházi Giráj, he had tried to make his own truce before but it could not have been successful because of the high demands of the Sublime Port (they wanted to have Esztergom and Győr, keeping Eger at the same time).

A Hungarian nobleman

It was Ibrahim who initiated the talks and Pálffy used the time of the ceasefire to quickly reinforce Esztergom Castle if a siege happened to take place. In the meantime, the Ottoman army was not idle either, they had moved into the abandoned castle of Vác.

The participants of the talks were Chancellor Bartholomäeus Pezzen, the Archbishop of Esztergom Kutassy János, the President of the Military Council, David Ungnad, Chief Captain Pálffy Miklós while the Turks sent Pasha Murad of Diyarbekir, Mehmed kethüda, and the Crimean Tatar Agha Ahmed.
The location was an island of the Danube River called Helemba, equal distance from both sides. The negotiations began on 6 October.

The situation in the first years of the 1590s

The Christians declared that Transylvania and Wallachia were the properties of the Habsburgs or they were minimum neutral lands. They claimed Eger, Bihács, and Ripacs castles back and agreed on the rest of the “status quo”. Instead of sending the tax to the Sultan, they recommended that both rulers should send gifts to each other and the time of the truce should be minimum 8-10 years. The Ottomans insisted on getting Esztergom so the talks have come to an end.

Then, Ibrahim’s army was advancing and went past Nógrád castle without laying a siege on it. But he could only take the Castle of Drégely which had been emptied by the Christians. After this, he made camp at Párkány (Sturovo) and sent Tatar-Turk raiders to pillage the areas north of the Danube. They have been destroying up to Trencsén (Trencin) Castle and according to the sources, they took a minimum of 10,000 slaves.

Nógrád castle, by Pazirik Kft

Then, Ibrahim has come up with a new proposal, he would have reconsidered his claim for Esztergom if they had got Fülek, Szécsény, Palota, and Veszprém castles. As there was no agreement, Ibrahim has moved to besiege Érsekújvár (Nové Zámky) castle. When the Day of Kászim has come (the end of war season), he returned to Pest and went to his wintering place on 3 November. Meanwhile, Pálffy and Nádasdy scattered an army of Tatars which were burning and pillaging near Szécsény Castle.

There was another campaign of the Christians, they launched an attack to the south of Lake Balaton, led by Schwarzenberg, Pálffy, and Nádasdy. They took (Vár)Gesztes Castle and they took Csesznek Castle, Lak, and Bolondvár (Balatonszemes) as well. The Turks fled from Koppány Castle and from Dombó, Ozora. The siege of Kaposvár Castle has been not successful due to the cold weather. The Christians moved to their wintering places on 23 November, after a very eventful year.

Sources: Szibler Gábor and Szerecz Miklós

a Christian army on the move, 1596 (the elephant must be a joke)

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