Selected Passages from Hungarian-Ottoman Wars

The Long War, Part 28 / Battles around Fehérvár, 1601

Aigentlicher Abriss: the retaking of Székesfehérvár, (20 September 1601)

Summer 1601 – Mobilization for the taking of Székesfehérvár Castle

After the taking of Kanizsa Castle, the war got into a new phase. It has, in fact, become a standing war, there was no serious success on either side. The taking of a new fort now and then has changed nothing profoundly. Both sides were living off their last drops of power and the Ottomans had got into an even worse situation when the Dzselali uprising broke out in Anatolia in 1601 which was taking away lots of resources.

Székesfehérvár (Photo: Szöllősi Gábor

The fall of Kanizsa Castle forced the Habsburgs to come up with more soldiers; they wanted to organize a much bigger army this time. Their main targets were Kanizsa Castle along with Székesfehérvár and Buda but they were planning the conquest of Transylvania, too.

The Borderland after 1580

Mercoeur had suggested taking Buda by joining their forces, then they should go on taking Fehérvár and Kanizsa. Styrian Archduke Ferdinand thought otherwise, he wanted to lead his own army against Kanizsa, obviously to gain glory. Francesco Aldobrandini, the commander of the mercenaries sent by the Pope, supported his plan. As a result of this, they divided the army into three parts, Mercoeur set out against Fehérvár while Ferdinánd (later Emperor Ferdinand II) went against Kanizsa, and General Basta was sent to take Transylvania. 

General Giorgio Basta

Yet, before launching this campaign, the Sublime Port had initiated peace talks. There were lengthy negotiations going on to choose a location for the talks, finally, Esztergom has been chosen. The Imperials sent there Nádasdy, Herberstein, and Pezzen while the Turks sent Pasha Murád and Pasha Mehmed, the Kethüda. Unfortunately, the talks were postponed because of the sickness of Pasha Mehmed and later because of the death of Ibrahim in July. Finally, they could start the discussions in the first part of August in Esztergom but they have achieved nothing. The Sublime Port would have demanded all the lost forts back which was impossible.

The campaign began in August in earnest. Mercoeur set out with 30,000-35,000 soldiers from the area of Győr and Komárom on 5 September and he arrived at Fehérvár Castle on 9 September. The fort was defended by Bey Hüszein and his 500-1,000 men.
Exploding the gate with a „petard” (the new explosive) hasn`t worked either so the Christians began a proper siege. In the meantime, Hoffkirchen has taken the castles of Csókakő and Ozora which were near so they could surround the main castle of Fehérvár entirely. You can read more about the history of Székesfehérvár aka Fehérvár here:

There was a huge marshland around Fehérvár and first, they had to fill it up. Then Russwurm led an ambush and took the outer city called Sziget (Island) on the night of 13 September. After this, the troops of Mercoeur have taken the other outer cities on the other side, they were called Mocsár (Swamp) city, Beslia, and Budai cities and the defenders got stuck into the inner castle.
The Christians deployed the cannons in the outer cities and after destroying the walls for days, they launched an overall attack on 20 September. The defenders were fighting hard but after an hour-long very fierce fight they almost all have died or have been captured.

The siege of Fehérvár in 1601

The church, which had been turned into the storage place for gunpowder by the Turks, exploded during the fight. The Bey himself was captured, too. The Walloon mercenaries fell into the Turks’ footsteps and plundered the Hungarian kings’ tombs. Then, the Christians had to mend the walls quickly as they were anticipating a Turk counter-attack. They placed many thousand soldiers into the fort and they took the smaller castles of Koppány, Adony, Földvár, and Paks as well.
It was intended but finally, they could not join the main army which was besieging Kanizsa Castle because the Turk main forces have arrived.

Fehérvár during the 15-Year-War

According to the archeological findings of Professor Siklósi Gyula and the letters of Wattai, the scientists found 4,000 skeletons in the moat at the gate called Palotai. Allegedly, 1,000 of them were Christians who had led four general attacks on 19 September, three of them repelled by the Turks. It was when the remaining Walloon mercenaries of Pápa (those 160 men) died, fighting on the Ottomans` side. (Read my previous article about the mutiny of Walloon mercenaries of Pápa castle.)


Battles around Székesfehérvár in October ( the battles of Sárrét)

As Pasha Ibrahim passed away, it was Jemiscsi (Fruit-seller) Hasszán who was appointed as a Serdar and Vizier. This change in power made the Ottomans act late so as to launch their campaign. Pasha Hassán could set out to Hungary only during the first part of August and he arrived in Belgrade only on 5 September. In the meantime, the leaders had decided on their military council at Eszék (Osiek) that they would rather retake Fehérvár Castle. After this, they thought they would bring relief to the Castle of Kanizsa which was besieged by the Christians. They were afraid of getting caught between two forces, thinking if they went to Kanizsa first, the Christian main army would go there as well and they would need to fight with both Christian forces.


There were many sick soldiers and the weather was bad, so the camp of Philippe-Emmanuel de Lorraine’s soldiers was made north of Fehérvár, near the castle of Csókakő, surrounded by hills. While resting, they tried to maintain contact with the defenders of Fehérvár, though. The Prince of Mercoeur could not carry this plan out because he was informed about the coming of the Ottoman reinforcement. In the meantime, Archduke Matthias had arrived and he moved the whole army on 3 October to a more defendable location that was closer to Fehérvár. This place was next to the village of Fehérvárcsurgó, protected by the Gaja River and the marshlands of Móri-water, surrounded by the hills of the Bakony mountains.

General Philippe-Emmanuel de Lorraine, prince of Mercoeur

The Ottomans arrived at Fehérvár on 9 October but they could not besiege it because of the Christian army standing there. So the 50-70,000-strong Ottoman army had to fight against the army of Mercoeur at first. The Christian army was three times smaller than Hasszán`s, they had 15,000 soldiers. A series of fights began and the Ottoman army withdrew only on 25 October but the two weeks in concern had not been entirely spent by battles.

The Ottoman army, led by Pasha Jemiscsi Haszán arrived at Adony on 8 October where they were joined by the troops of the Pasha of Buda, Mankirkus Mehmed. The two pashas discussed the situation and decided that they would attack the Christians’ camp at first, then they would take Fehérvár castle back.

Hermann Christoph von Russwurm

The battles began in earnest on 9 October. However, the more serious battles took place on 10, 13, and 15 October. The main objective of the Turks was to cut the connection between Fehérvár castle and the Christian army near to it. They launched a great attack on 10 October, the Serdar led his army through the marshland which was between the two armies at the place called Igar-puszta. The Christian cavalry made the Ottoman cavalry withdraw but when they were chasing them, they ran into the killing rifle fire of Janissaries,  a bit south of Magyaralmás village. The Christians suffered severe losses from the volleys. Then, the fight has been balanced and resultless. According to other sources, the Christians, having received more troops from their camp, could achieve more success. Finally, both sides returned to their camps when darkness fell. In this fight, the Ottomans lost 800 men while the Christians had 200 dead.

The Camp at Csurgó Picture: Gyula Sümegi

The following two days were quite peaceful and Mercouer used the time to reinforce his camp with earthen mounds and fortifications. He constructed them on Tatár Hill, south of Csurgó village. The Turks were not idle, either: they built bridges and crossing places through the marshland of the Móri-water, between Moha and Keresztes, in order to make way for the infantry and the cannons.

An Imperial cannon (1594)

The Ottomans attacked the Christians’ fortifications on 13 October and in the beginning, they were successful. Although the Christians repelled many assaults, the Turks took the higher grounds around the fortifications at Rákhegy, and it threatened the Imperials of being surrounded. Hermann Christoph von Russwurm launched a counter-attack at 3 PM, leading cavalrymen and infantrymen alike. He forced the Turks from the higher positions and took away their cannons, too. The right-wing of the Ottoman army was also repelled, even the Serdar got lightly wounded. The Ottomans lost about 1,500-2,000 soldiers at that time, the Christians had 300 dead after the battle at Csurgó. 

The battle on 13 October (Picture: Gyula Sümegi)

Archduke Matthias and Prince Mercoeur decided to move their army two miles towards Palota Castle so as to get closer to Fehérvár. Additionally, the new location offered even better defenses. The Turks attacked his marching army and there were smaller battles going on during the day of 14 October. The Christians spent the whole night in armor, without getting any rest in their temporary camp at Felsőkincses village, and they moved on on the dawn of 15 October. It was the day when they held a large-scale battle with the Ottomans, on the open field of Iszkaszentgyörgy.

Battle on 15 October (Picture: Gyula Sümegi)

On 15 October, the Ottoman right-wing, led by Kethüda Mehmed and the two Pashas of Buda and Bosnia forced the Hungarian left-wing back but in the most critical moment, the heavy cuirassier cavalry of Mercoeur appeared and repelled them, surrounding the Sipahi cavalry.

Kethüda Mehmed was slain, his head was cut off by a Geman cavalryman. The Pasha of Buda has also died there. The left-wing of the Ottomans and their center had not been seriously involved in the battle. By the evening, the Ottomans had to leave the battlefield of Iszkaszentgyörgy, and they withdrew in their camp. Similarly, the Christians moved to their camp that stood between Csór and Inota villages. The overall losses of the Christians were 500-1,000 men while the Turks lost 2,000-5,000 soldiers in this battle.

Three Imperial soldiers, 1593

The Christians have built a more reinforced camp by the next morning between Iszka Hill and the swamp of Sárrét, and the Ottomans didn`t dare to attack it. The Turks tried to take Fehérvár but it was unsuccessful, too. The Serdar withdrew on 25 October and sent the Rumelian Pasha, Lala Mehmed to Buda and part of his cavalry to the Ottoman castles of the Borderland. Although he had set out to relieve the besieged Kanizsa Castle. However, due to the cold weather, the Janissaries were rioting at Szigetvár and made him turn back. 

A Hungarian soldier on horseback, 1593

Drawing the conclusion, the Christians were more disciplined and better supplied this time and they have managed to repel the Turkish attacks and have held their positions. It was the first more significant Christian victory in an open battle, after 75 years of the Battle of Mohács. The Ottomans could not take Fehérvár and they could not bring reinforcement to Kanizsa, either. On top of that, Prince Mercoeur was able to bring his men to aid Kanizsa castle.

As for the 15-Year-War, this victory did not make a great difference. At least, the Imperials were given a year to improve their defense lines around Fehérvár castle.

Source: Szibler Gábor and Sümegi Gyula

If you like my writings, please  feel free to support me with a coffee here:

This article contains Amazon ads. By purchasing through these links, you can help my work at no added cost to you. Thank you!


My work can also be followed and supported on Patreon:

Become a Patron!