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 capture of Kanizsa Castle, the war entered a new phase. It became a war of attrition, with no serious successes for either side. The occasional capture of a new fortress did not change anything. Both sides were living off their last drops of strength and the Ottomans were in an even worse situation when the Dzselali rebellion broke out in Anatolia in 1601, draining them of many resources.

Székesfehérvár (Photo: Szöllősi Gábor

The fall of Kanizsa Castle forced the Habsburgs to find more soldiers; this time they wanted to organize a much larger army. Their main targets were Kanizsa Castle, Székesfehérvár, and Buda, but they also planned to conquer Transylvania.

The Borderland after 1580

Mercoeur had suggested that they should join forces and take Buda before moving on to Fehérvár and Kanizsa. Archduke Ferdinand of Styria disagreed and wanted to lead his own army against Kanizsa, apparently to gain glory. Francesco Aldobrandini, the commander of the mercenaries sent by the Pope, supported his plan. As a result, the army was divided into three: Mercoeur went to Fehérvár, Ferdinand (the future Emperor Ferdinand II) to Kanizsa, and General Basta to Transylvania.

General Giorgio Basta

But before this campaign was launched, the Sublime Porte had initiated peace talks. There were long negotiations to choose a place for the talks, and finally, Esztergom was chosen. The imperials sent Nádasdy, Herberstein, and Pezzen, while the Turks sent Pasha Murád and Pasha Mehmed, the Kethüda. Unfortunately, the talks were postponed because of Pasha Mehmed’s illness and later because of Ibrahim’s death in July. Finally, in the first half of August, the talks began in Esztergom, but nothing was achieved. The Sublime Porte would have demanded the return of all the lost fortresses, which was impossible.

The campaign began in earnest in August. Mercoeur set out from the Győr and Komárom area on 5 September with 30,000-35,000 soldiers and arrived at Fehérvár Castle on 9 September. The castle was defended by Bey Hüszein and his 500-1,000 men.

Exploding the gate with a “petard” (the new explosive) did not work either, so the Christians began a real siege. Meanwhile, the Hoffkirchen had taken the nearby castles of Csókakő and Ozora to surround the main castle of Fehérvár. You can read more about the history of Székesfehérvár aka Fehérvár here:

There was a huge swamp around Fehérvár and they had to fill it up first. Then Russwurm led an ambush and took the outlying town called Sziget (Island) on the night of 13 September. Then Mercoeur’s troops took the other outlying towns on the other side, called Mocsár, Beslia, and Budai, and the defenders were trapped in the inner castle.
The Christians used the cannons in the outer towns and after destroying the walls for days, they launched an all-out attack on 20 September. The defenders fought fiercely, but after an hour of fierce fighting, almost all of them died or were captured.

The siege of Fehérvár in 1601

The church, which had been used by the Turks to store gunpowder, exploded during the battle. The Bey himself was also taken prisoner. The Walloon mercenaries followed in the Turks’ footsteps and plundered the tombs of the Hungarian kings. The Christians then had to quickly repair the walls, expecting a Turkish counter-attack. They stationed thousands of soldiers in the fortress and also took the smaller castles of Koppány, Adony, Földvár, and Paks. This was intended, but in the end, they could not join the main army besieging Kanizsa Castle because the main Turkish army had arrived.

Fehérvár during the 15-Year-War

According to the archaeological findings of Professor Siklósi Gyula and the letters of Wattai, scientists found 4,000 skeletons in the moat of the gate called Palotai. It is said that 1,000 of them were Christians who led four general attacks on 19 September, three of which were repulsed by the Turks. The remaining Walloon mercenaries of Pápa (those 160 men) died fighting on the side of the Ottomans. (Read my previous article about the mutiny of the Walloon mercenaries of Pápa Castle).

Battles around Székesfehérvár in October ( the battles of Sárrét)

When Pasha Ibrahim died, it was Jemiscsi (“fruit seller”) Hasszán who was appointed Serdar and Vizier. This change in power meant that the Ottomans were late in launching their campaign. Pasha Hassán could not leave for Hungary until the first half of August and did not arrive in Belgrade until the 5th of September. Meanwhile, at their military council in Eszék (Osiek), the leaders had decided that they would rather retake Fehérvár Castle. After that, they thought they would bring relief to Kanizsa Castle, which was besieged by the Christians. They were afraid of being caught between two armies and thought that if they went to Kanizsa first, the main Christian army would also go there and they would have to fight with both Christian armies.


There were many sick soldiers and the weather was bad, so the soldiers of Philip-Emmanuel of Lorraine camped north of Fehérvár, near the castle of Csókakő, surrounded by hills. While resting, they tried to keep in contact with the defenders of Fehérvár. The Prince of Mercoeur could not carry out this plan as he was informed of the arrival of the Ottoman reinforcements. In the meantime, Archduke Matthias had arrived and on 3 October he moved the whole army to a more defensible place, closer to Fehérvár. This place was near the village of Fehérvárcsurgó, protected by the Gaja River and the Móri marshes, surrounded by the hills of the Bakony Hills.

General Philippe-Emmanuel de Lorraine, Prince of Mercoeur

The Ottomans arrived in Fehérvár on 9 October, but they could not lay siege to it because of the Christian army there. So the 50-70,000 strong Ottoman army first had to fight Mercoeur’s army. The Christian army was three times smaller than Hasszán’s, they had 15,000 soldiers. A series of battles ensued, and the Ottoman army did not retreat until 25 October, but the two weeks were not entirely spent in fighting.

Hungarian Hussars (by Somogyi Győző)

The Ottoman army led by Pasha Jemiscsi Haszán arrived in 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 first attack the Christian camp and then retake the castle of Fehérvár.

Hermann Christoph von Russwurm

Fighting began in earnest on 9 October. However, the most serious battles took place on 10, 13 and 15 October. The main goal of the Turks was to cut the connection between the castle of Fehérvár and the Christian army near it. They launched a big attack on 10 October, Serdar led his army through the swamp between the two armies at the place called Igar-puszta. The Christian cavalry forced the Ottoman cavalry to retreat, but in pursuit, they came under the deadly fire of the Janissaries, a little south of the village of Magyaralmás.

Janissaries (by Somogyi Győző)

The Christians suffered heavy losses from the volleys. After that, the battle was balanced and fruitless. According to other sources, the Christians were more successful because they had received more troops from their camp. Finally, as darkness fell, both sides returned to their camps. In this battle, the Ottomans lost 800 men, while the Christians had 200 dead.

The Camp at Csurgó Picture: Gyula Sümegi

The next two days were fairly peaceful and Mercouer used the time to reinforce his camp with earthworks and fortifications. He built them on Tatár Hill, south of the village of Csurgó. The Turks were not idle either: they built bridges and crossings across the marshes of the Móri River, between Moha and Keresztes, to make way for the infantry and cannons.

An Imperial cannon (1594)

The Ottomans attacked the Christian fortifications on 13 October and were initially successful. Although the Christians repulsed many of the attacks, the Turks took the higher ground around the Rákhegy fortifications, threatening to encircle the Imperials. Hermann Christoph von Russwurm launched a counter-attack at 15:00, leading both cavalry and infantry. He drove the Turks from their higher positions and also took their cannons. The right wing of the Ottoman army was also repulsed, even the Serdar was slightly wounded. The Ottomans lost between 1,500 and 2,000 soldiers, while the Christians had 300 dead after the battle of Csurgó.

The battle on 13 October (Picture: Gyula Sümegi)

Archduke Matthias and Prince Mercoeur decided to move their army two miles towards Palota Castle to get closer to Fehérvár. The new location also offered better defenses. The Turks attacked his marching army and there were small battles during the day of 14 October. The Christians spent the whole night in their temporary camp in the village of Felsőkincses in armour, without getting any rest, and they moved on at dawn on 15 October. On that day they fought a big battle with the Ottomans in the open field of Iszkaszentgyörgy.

Battle on 15 October (Picture: Gyula Sümegi)

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

a Sipahi in full armor

Kethüda Mehmed was killed, his head cut off by a German cavalryman. The Pasha of Buda also died there. The left wing of the Ottomans and their center were not seriously involved in the battle. In the evening the Ottomans had to leave the battlefield of Iszkaszentgyörgy and retreated to their camp. The Christians also withdrew to their camp between the villages of Csór and Inota. The total 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

By the next morning, the Christians had built a stronger camp between Iszka Hill and the Sárrét marsh, and the Ottomans did not dare to attack it. The Turks tried to take Fehérvár, but they also failed. The Serdar retreated on 25 October and sent the Rumelian Pasha, Lala Mehmed, to Buda and part of his cavalry to the Ottoman castles in the Borderland. He had set out to relieve the besieged castle of Kanizsa. However, due to the cold weather, the janissaries at Szigetvár rioted and forced him to turn back.

A Hungarian soldier on horseback, 1593

The conclusion was that this time the Christians were more disciplined and better supplied, and they managed to repel the Turkish attacks and hold their positions. It was the first major Christian victory in open battle after 75 years since the Battle of Mohács. The Ottomans could not take Fehérvár and they could not bring reinforcements to Kanizsa. In addition, Prince Mercoeur was able to bring his men to the aid of Kanizsa Castle.

As far as the 15 Years’ War was concerned, this victory did not make much difference. At least it gave the Imperials a year to improve their defenses around Fehérvár Castle.

Source: Szibler Gábor and Sümegi Gyula

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