The Long War, Part 34 / The Siege of Esztergom, 1604
As the Sublime Port was forced to make war on two or three fronts at the same time, the Ottomans tried to make a truce and finish the western wars at the beginning of the year. The peace talks took place near Pest city but both parties insisted on getting their lost castles back. The Turks wanted to get Esztergom and Győr back, in addition to this, they demanded the annual gifts for the Sultan.
The peace talks had been doomed since the beginning, though. The Imperials wanted to get back Eger and Kanizsa castles. Of course, they could not come to terms and the war has been renewed. Allegedly, the Turks were scorning the Imperial soldiers like this: “Why are you sitting around idly in the harbor? Instead of this, go and defend Esztergom because now we are going to march there!” The Imperials replied: “Just go ahead! What you are going to seek there, you will surely find there.”
It was Grand Vizier Ali who was in charge of organizing the campaign but he died in Belgrad in July. Before his death, he had appointed Pasha Lala Mehmed as his successor who later became Grand Vizier.
The Ottomans’ plan for 1604 was to take Esztergom with the main army. Parallel with it, they planned to send Begler Bey Hassan of Temesvár castle and the men of the Begler Bey of Becskerek to Transylvania to destroy the Imperial forces there and place Bocskai István on the throne of Transylvania. They were supported by the unit of the Transylvanian outcasts, too, but you will read about it only in the following post.
This time, the Ottomans have mobilized bigger forces than in the previous year so approximately 60-70,000-strong army arrived in Hungary while the Imperials had about 25-30,000 men. They were under the flag of General Giorgio Basta who had been called out of Transylvania for this very reason. The Christian army was being assembled at Esztergom but when they got word of the coming Ottoman army they crossed to the other side of the Danube. However, they remained connected to the castle.
Having ruined their own forts, the garrisons of Pest, Hatvan, and Vác castles fled from the advancing Grand Vizier. Lala Mehmed simply walked in them, had them repaired, and left his guards in them. You can read more about Pest here:
It was count Adolf M. Althan who was in charge of Esztergom’s defense. He received news of the Turks’ coming on 14 September so had all the cattle herded into the castle from the surrounding area and sent the Hungarian peasants to dig trenches. They built a great trench at Szentgyörgymező, east to the castle and Althan deployed six cannons there. The defenders received some reinforcement, the regiment of Kollonich Nándor arrived and took up positions in the newly built trenches. The unit of Count Mansfeld was sent to the fort on the Tamás Hill. When Archduke Habsburg Matthias heard of Esztergom’s peril, instead of sending more reinforcement or supplies, he ordered to organize a procession in Vienna and keep a 40-hour-long prayer for Esztergom.
Due to the heavy artillery fire coming from the castle, the Turks were forced to withdrew their camp to the Kővágó hill right after their arrival. The enemy began to dig their siege trenches on 20 September towards the fort of St. Tamás Hill. In the meantime, all the Ottoman cannons were bombarding the Christian fortifications.
The Turks attacked the Saint Tamás Fortification but it was repelled on 27 September. The defenders sallied out several times during the next day against the Turks who were in the siege trenches. These charges were supported by the soldiers of Basta from the opposite side of the river. The Turks could push the Christians back by losing 5-600 men while the defenders lost 120-200 soldiers. Among the fallen, there were Count Casimir Hohenlohe, Count Salm, and Captain Ammon.
After this, Lala Mehmed initiated talks for peace, offering Kanizsa Castle for getting Esztergom. The Imperials wanted to have Eger Castle, too. The Turks insisted to keep Eger because it was the father of the Sultan, Mehmed III who had taken it. After the talks have ceased, the siege was going on.
There were 700 Cossack soldiers employed in the Ottoman army and they decided to desert the Turks on 1 October. However, their plot was discovered and many of them were arrested or slain by the Turks.
The besiegers began to dig mines but their attempts were repelled by counter-mines. There was a second attack against the Saint Thomas Fortification on 3 October but it has been beaten back by the German soldiers. At the same time, the Hungarian boaters sank or destroyed 60 Ottoman ships on the Danube River.
The defenders charged out on 5 October and chased the Janissaries out of their trenches, for a time being.
Two days later, Lala Mehmed could manage to destroy the boat-bridge over the Danube but his attack has failed against the fortification on the Saint Thomas Hill repeatedly. The attackers lost 500 men this time.
Lala Mehmed’s men managed to explode a mine on 9 October but it gained not much success to them. The assaults against the fort were repelled on 9 and 10 October, too. The defenders repelled altogether 7 desperate attacks on 10 October. Then, the heavy rains made further military moves impossible. Also, the Ottomans lost several cannons that were shot to shreds by the castle’s artillery.
It was 12 October when Lala Mehmed broke his camp and moved away from Esztergom. He had significant losses, about 8,000 of his men died, mostly the Janissaries and the officers suffered the greatest casualties. The Christians paid with the lives of 700 soldiers for keeping this important castle. When the defenders saw Lala Mehmed leave, they were so happy that shot all their cannons to celebrate the victory.
According to the Ottoman historian, Kjátib Celebi, the failure of the siege was due to “the constant rains that made it impossible to stay in the trenches. In fact, the taking of Esztergom was not really our intention, we just wanted to show our strength and military power to the enemy. The army wasn’t full-heartedly preparing the siege while the enemy made their camp on the other side of the Danube River. They built a bridge that connected them with the castle and defended it with cannons. Thus, they could replace the wounded soldiers with strong ones…so the Jannisaries said that the siege makes only damage but it has no use so they quit it…” Let us note, that you will read about the fall of Esztergom that took place in 1605, though when Esztergom was ceded to the Turks after 10 years, only by treason.
Last year, the Turks were forced to defend themselves but now, it was the Habsburgs who did the same. Both armies were getting exhausted, it can clearly be seen because they had enough strength only for besieging 1-1 castles.
The uprising of Bocskai István in Transylvania has made the situation of the Turks slightly better because it hinted the hope that the Principality might return to the side of the Ottoman Empire.
Sources: Szibler Gábor, borovszky Samu (Arcanum, Database), and Esztergom Anno.
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