Selected Passages from Hungarian-Ottoman Wars between 1372-1699

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

Aigentlicher Abriss: the retaking of Székesfehérvár, 1601

Summer 1601 – Mobilization for the taking of Székesfehérvár Castle

After the taking of Kanizsa Castle, the war has 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.

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 have divided the army into three parts, Mercoeur set out against Fehérvár while Ferdinánd (later Emperor Ferdinand II) went against Kanizsa, 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 chose 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 by a „petarda” (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) during 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, 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 have 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, was exploded during the fight. The Bey himself was captured, too. 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.)


October 1601 – Battles around Székesfehérvár ( the battles of Sárrét)

As Ibrahim has passed away, it was Jemiscsi (Fruit-seller) Hasszán who was appointed as a Serdar and Vizier. This change in the 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 Belgrad 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 then, 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.


They 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. The battles began on 9 October ottoman army withdrew only on 25 September but the two weeks in concern had not been entirely spent by battles. The more serious battles took place on 10, 13 and 15 September. 

General Mercoeur

The Christians` camp was located north of Fehérvár, in the Pass of Csókakő, surrounded by hills. They tried to maintain contact with the defenders of Fehérvár, though. The main objective of the Turks was to cut this connection. They launched a great attack on 10 September, the Serdar led his army through the marshland which was between the two armies. The Christian cavalry made the Turk cavalry withdraw but the rifle fire of the Janissaries caused severe losses to the Christians. The fight has been balanced and resultless, finally, both sides returned to their camps.

The following two days were quite peaceful and Mercouer used the time to reinforce his camp with earthen mounds and fortifications. The Ottomans attacked these fortifications on 13 September and in the beginning, they were successful. They took the higher grounds around the fortifications and it threatened the Imperials of being surrounded. Russwurm launched a counter-attack at 3 PM and 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 wounded. The Ottomans lost about 2,000 soldiers at that time. 

An Imperial cannon, 1593

Mercoeur decided to move his army towards Palota Castle so as to get closer to Fehérvár. The Turks attacked his marching army and there were smaller battles going on during the day of 14 September. The Christians spent the whole night in armor, without getting any rest and they moved on during the dawn of 15 September. It was the time when they held an open battle with the Ottomans.

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 cruassier cavalry of Mercoeur appeared and repelled them, surrounding the Sipahi cavalry. Kethüda Mehmed was slain, his head was cut off by a Geman horseman. The Pasha of Buda has also died there. The left-wing of the Ottomans and their center hadn`t been seriously involved in the battle. 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 had built a more reinforced camp by the next morning and the Ottomans didn`t dare attack it. They tried to take Fehérvár but it was unsuccessful. The Serdar withdrew on 25 September 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 Kanizsa Castle 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. The Ottomans could not take Fehérvár and they could not bring reinforcement to Kanizsa, either. On top of that, Mercoeur was able to bring his men to aid Kanizsa.

Source: Szibler Gábor

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