Selected Passages from Hungarian-Ottoman Wars

The Long War, Part 36 / The Bocskai Uprising, 1604

Bocskai István amonmg his Hajdú soldiers

Transylvania has been the staging area of ​​the Imperials and pro-Turkish wars for many years. The candidates for the principality’s throne disappeared one after the other, failed, and died in the struggles. After Székely Mózes has been defeated, all his surviving followers fled to the Turks. The young Bethlen Gábor, later Prince of Transylvania, was among them. General Basta scattered the remains of Székely`s Transylvania-Turk troops in August 1603 at the Vaskapu Pass (Iron Gate, Porțile de Fier ). Basta`s rule commenced and he ruthlessly carried out the instructions of the Court of Prague. He retaliated against the noblemen who were opposing the Court, he was persecuting the Protestant priests, increased the taxes immensely, and did not care about the privileges of the Székely Guardsmen nor the gained or traditional rights of any other Estates of Transylvania. (Please, note that I use the Oriental name order for Hungarians where family names come first.)

A simple map of Bocskai’s war

Only one candidate for the Transylvanian throne was left, the pro-Habsburg Várad captain, István Bocskai István, the uncle of the former prince Báthory Zsigmond. He was the only man left in Transylvania who seemed to be strong enough to lead a movement against the Imperial rule and the cruel mercenaries. However, the Prague court wavered in Bocskai, he was not even allowed to return home for a short time, and his possessions were confiscated by the Transylvanian Estates. He had to feel that his previous loyalty was no longer recognized in Prague. Returning home, he retreated to his estates in the Partium region (between Hungary and Transylvania). He was monitoring the struggle of the Transylvanians from there. Bocskai, a Reformed man, was no longer fulfilling any offices. Slowly, he also shared the opinion of those who wanted to side with the Turks. 

Bocskai István

Some Hajdú soldiers who were loyal to the Habsburgs were raiding around Temesvár (Timisoara) on the night of 13 September 1604. They ambushed the rebels, and young Bethlen Gábor fled but left his coat in his tent. The Hajdús found a letter in the pocket of Bethlen Gábor which stated that Bocskai had been in correspondence with the Turks. However, it is assumed that the whole thing was Bethlen`s trick to make Lord Bocskai be involved in politics again: he had “forgotten” the documents in the tent intentionally…

Bethlen Gábor

Bocskai had to make a move, indeed. He would not have wanted to be captured by the Chief Captain of Kassa, Giacomo Barbiano, Count of Belgiojoso who had been quite hostile with him so far. Belgiojoso was appointed as Governor of Upper Hungary in 1593, and he was the commander of Kassa city as well. His soldiers seized the Saint Elisabeth Cathedral in the city and gave it to the Roman Catholics on 6 January 1604, thus angering the Protestant burghers of Kassa. It was how General Giacomo Barbiano di Belgiojoso turned the lords of the area, including Bocskai, against the Emperor.

Kassa, Saint Erzsébet cathedral (Photo: Nevitsky castle)

Later, the commander needed money and sent a letter to Bocskai and asked for a loan: it was a large sum, 20,000 Gold Forints. As Bocskai refused it, Belgiojoso became his lethal enemy. No wonder, that Belgiojoso had a hand in taking Bocskai’s letters and reporting him to the Emperor for treason. Bocskai could not explain himself so he had to call his forces together and take up arms. He was getting ready to resist so he summoned his castellans, Székely Ferenc and Örvéndy Pál in order to have his castles in Kereki and in Szentjobb reinforced.

Nevertheless, this meeting rose suspicions in the Captain of Várad (Oradea) Cipriano Concini who hurried to report it to Belgiojoso.
Then, Székely Ferenc betrayed Bocskai and ceded Szentjobb Castle to Concini on 2 October but the Captain of Kereki Castle,  Örvendy Pál was resisting. We know that Captain Örvéndy Pál recruited 300 Hajdús under Bocskai’s banner. Belgiojoso demanded that Bocskai hand over Kereki, who refused, although he continued to prove his Habsburg loyalty. Bocskai tried to apologize to Belgiojoso in a letter but he could not talk himself out of the situation. Finally, Bocskai realized that he had no choice left but to take up arms.

A flag that Bocskai gave to the Hajdús

Belgiojoso summoned his Hajdú soldiers and paid the money that the emperor was due. He told them about the betrayal of Bocskai and made them swear an oath against him. However, the Hajdú soldiers (all of them Reformed, too) made a decision on 14 October to join Bocskai instead. On that day, five Hajdú captains, Lippai Balázs, Ibrányi Ferenc, Dengelegi Mihály, Szénássi Mátyás, and Némethi Balázs signed a document in which they declared their loyalty to Bocskai. They said they “didn’t want to become the executioners of their own Homeland” but let us consider that Bocskai promised them more reliable and regular pay, and they were also on the Reformed faith just like Bocskai. 

Count Barbian Belgiojoso (1565-1626)

The first fight at Álmosd

Belgiojoso designated the meeting place of the Imperials next to Adorján, from where he planned the concentrated attack on Bocskai. Colonel Johann Petz’s unit arrived in Álmosd on the morning of the 14th. Here he received orders to join the main army. At midnight on October 14, the military column left for Adorján. Colonel Johann Petz had 2,000 infantry and 600 Silesian cavalry with 9 cannons. The unit was of mixed nationality and consisted mainly of newcomers. The marching column stretched for a long way, the terrain was swampy and bumpy. In addition, Petz did not comply with Belgiojoso’s order that the infantry is flanked by the cavalry.

An Imperial soldier on horseback 1593

However, the Silesians did not want to go slow with the infantry. They hurried to reach the Adorján camp as soon as possible, so they made haste and moved forward. Petz also went with them, who wanted to inspect the Ér bridge crossing the road in Diószeg. The carts came behind the cavalry, and they were followed by the cannons and then the infantry. The procession was completed by 150 riders. The marching column was about 5-6 km long.

Supply carts of the Imperial army, 1593

At Diószeg, Petz even talked with the Hajdus who had escaped from the camp at Adorján. They showed peaceful intentions. However, these Hajdús soon joined Bocskai’s army that was waiting for the ambush. As soon as the imperial foot soldiers reached the marshy valley of the Ér, about 3,000 Hajdú ambushed them, but the battle lasted for a long time. Since the attack hit the center of the infantry, the others and the cavalry could rush to their aid. The cavalry pushed the Hajdús back into the forest, but they could no longer pursue them there. There the Hajdus gathered again and attacked repeatedly.

Imperial soldiers in 1593

The attack was repeated eight times, but the Imperials defended themselves fiercely, and even the officers’ wives took up arms against the Hajdus. Finally, during the eighth attack, the Silesian cavalry fled, but many were submerged in the nearby swamps. Petz also tried to escape at dawn, but a “valiant, enthusiastic young man, Ládonyi György” chased and captured him.

After that, the Imperial infantry had to be broken, they built a castle out of the wagons. The Hajdus were powerless against this for the time being. There was continuous gunfire, and then an accident helped the rebels. The gunpowder stored on the cart exploded. Taking advantage of this, the Hajdus stormed into the “castle” and slaughtered the Imperial soldiers. 

An Imperial cannon from 1593 (British Museum)

Belgiojoso went from the Adorján camp to help Petz but the gunpowder explosion at the infantry and the victory of the Hajdus scared him off. He fled back to Adorján and then to Várad in a panic. According to contradicting sources, the Imperials lost half of their troops, and the rest of the army was scattered. The cannons also fell into Bocskai’s hands. 

Three Hungarian infantrymen (Hajdú) from 1591

The uprising which followed them wiped out the Habsburg rule in the Trans-Tisza River Area, except Várad Castle which remained in the hand of the Habsburgs. Then, Bocskai marched in Debrecen and Belgiojoso was retreating towards Kassa (Kosice, Kaschau) but when he was trying to cross the Tisza River at Rakamaz, the Hajdú soldiers defeated him again. Read more about the Hajdú soldiers on my page:

an Imperial soldier

25 October 1604: The Hajdú soldiers of Bocskai defeat the army of Belgiojoso at Rakamaz

After the victory of Álmosd, Bocskai moved into Debrecen with his army. Following this battle, Belgiojoso withdrew his army to Várad but he didn’t feel there secure, either, so he set out towards the center of the Hungarian Upper Land, to the city of Kassa (Kaschau, Kosice). He avoided Debrecen as much as he could and hurried to get to the ford at Rakamaz.

Hajdú soldiers

Yet, the Hajdús have come to know about his moves and didn’t delay making after Belgiojoso. It was the evening of 24 October when they reached the Imperial army which was spending the night in its camp on the left bank of the River Tisza. The next day in the foggy dawn, the Hajdús ambushed the rearguard of the enemy which consisted of Serbian soldiers. The fight was introduced with the formidable Hajdú battle cry, the ancient “hujj, hujj, hajrá” (Hurray, hurray, at it!) and their attack swept all resistance. They killed about 1,200 Serbian soldiers there but saved the lives of the Hungarians among them.

Hajdú infantrymen

Belgiojoso was on the opposite bank and was afraid to send help and the cannons of Tokaj castle couldn’t support him, either, due to the dense fog. The Imperial general gave the order to ruin the boat bridge and thus he blocked the way before the fleeing Serbians. Many of them died in the cold Tisza River.

Tokaj (by Hoefnagel)

Now, Belgiojoso sent over Colonel Dampierre to the Hajdú soldiers to negotiate because the colonel was very popular among them.
Yet, according to the chief captain, the Hajdús’ captain called Lippai Balázs said nothing good to Dampierre, except “revilings, meaningless things that were beside the point”. So Dampierre has returned to his camp without success.

General Dampierre

Belgiojoso wanted to ask that evening from Homonnai Drugeth Bálint whether he had any soldiers left and how many he had in his camp near Szikszó. Yet, the nobles of Upper Hungary had already sided with Bocskai. Instead of the Imperial army, they rather joined Bocskai with 3,000 new soldiers. Soon, the castle of Kálló opened its gates before Bocskai, its captain Káthay Mihály ceded it to the rebels. 

Kálló castle

The chief captain of Upper Hungary, Belgiojoso, had thought better and he withdrew his men to Kassa, into his center. To his surprise, the burghers of Kassa didn’t let him enter the city. Belgiojoso was threatening them in vain but no threat nor promise was accepted by the staunch burghers. The burghers of Kassa remembered who had taken away their church. Finally, the general had to send away his Walloon troops and his cavalrymen from Silesia. The troops from Transylvania left him alone as well. He had barely 30 people left to flee to Szepes castle.

Szepes castle (Photo: Civertan)

Imperial General Giorgio Basta was camping his army opposite Esztergom at the time of the battle of Rakamaz and he received an order on that day to go to Belgiojoso’s aid. He was instructed to regain Kassa, too. Yet, these orders couldn’t have been carried out anymore. We know that Kálló castle had come to Bocskai`s side, and soon, the insurrection of the nobles of the Upper Lands of Hungary, led by Homonnai-Drugeth Bálint has joined him, too. Bocskai moved into the emptied city of Kassa on 11 November where he established his headquarters. A certain nobleman fled to him from Poland, Illésházy István who has become his most important supporter.

Illésházy István’s portrait in his castle, Bazin

The Sublime Port had already made a princely „adhnamé” for Bocskai in November, a document or contract in which he was appointed. Moreover, the Ottomans addressed him already as „King of Hungary”. Although the Hajdú troops lost two battles against Basta at Osgyán and in Edelény, it could not hinder the spread of the uprising.

The Battle of Osgyán

In this battle, Basta defeated the forces of Prince Bocskai’s captain, Németi Balázs on 14 November 1604. General Basta had 15-20,000 men while the Hajdú captain had 4,000 peasants and 4,000 Hajdú soldiers. The Hajdú captain rode out with his cavalry to lure the attackers after him. Unfortunately, when he was riding home, followed by the enemy, his untrained peasant soldiers thought he was running away so they began to flee. Németi (or Némethy) gathered his best men and got into the stately home of Osgyán to cover the withdrawal of his soldiers. Only 500 people remained alive in the ruined castle, and Basta offered them to go freely away but he didn’t keep his word. The small palace was only surrounded by a weak fence and Basta soon destroyed the buildings with his cannons.

Osgyán castle (Photo: MirecXP)

The defenders tried to break out but in vain: most of them died in trying so, only a few succeeded to escape. Némethy got seriously injured on his left arm and was taken into captivity. Basta wanted to know more about Prince Bocskai’s army so he had Németi hanged upside-down on a tree but the tough captain betrayed nothing. Then he was imprisoned and sentenced to death. When he was escorted to the place of execution, he grabbed the executioner’s sword and killed him; then, he cut down many mercenaries as well before he went under.

The story of the Battle of Osgyán can be read in more detail in my book here: 

The Battle of Edelény

As for the Battle of Edelény, it was the second battle that Bocskai lost against Basta. Basta was an Italian soldier of Albanian descent, who had distinguished himself in the wars against the Protestants in the Low Countries, and in France. His mercenaries became infamous for their cruelty in Transylvania when Basta controlled it for a short but bloody period. However, he and his 10,000 soldiers were able to defend Esztergom against an 80.000-big army of the Ottomans. Now, he was sent against Bocskai and had already defeated his troops at Osgyán on 14 November. Basta was marching to get to Kassa as soon as he could.

Kassa in 1617
By this time, Bocskai had been aided by some Ottoman auxiliary forces as well. Bocskai wanted to ambush Basta while he was crossing a river but Basta discovered the trap and avoided it. Yet, the Transylvania lord was able to surround Basta’s army in the Valley of Edelény on the morning of 27 November. Bocskai deployed his cannons on the hilltops on the two sides of the valley, and he blocked the two entrances of the valley with his best troops. However, a thick fog descended on them, allowing Basta to find a solution.
A Hungarian Hussar commander, 1591
The Imperial General attacked the cannons on the two hills. The Hajdú soldiers who guarded the cannons were surprised and the Germans defeated them. With this, the battle has been decided. Bocskai lost 10% of his troops, about 1,500 soldiers. then, Basta could continue his way to Kassa but there he was hindered because the burghers of Kassa sided with Bocskai. They were defending the city so successfully that Basta had to move to Eperjes (Prjesov).
Giorgo Basta (1550-1607)


Bocskai, Prince of Transylvania

The Diet of Transylvania elected Bocskai as the Prince of Transylvania on 21 February 1605 because Gyulaffy László had taken the most important forts (Szatmár, Karánsebes, Jenő, Lugos, Lippa and Kővár castles). In the meantime, Rhédey Ferenc was advancing with his troops in Upper Hungary and the castles of Szendrő, Fülek, Szécsény, Korpona, Léva, Nógrád, Gyarmat, Drégely, Csábrág, and Szitnya were taken or ceded to him. The Estates of Upper Hungary gathered at Szerencs Castle on 17 April 1605 and they declared Bocskai three days later the Prince of Hungary. 
The crown that the Turks sent to Bocskai

The troops of the rebels moved on during the second part of the spring towards the west. They surrounded Érsekújvár (Nové Zámky) but Pozsony (Bratislava, Pressburg) has proved to be too strong for them. Yet, the rebels could take the castles of the Valley of the Vág River. The army of Némethy Gergely broke into Lower Austria and on the way back he conquered the Hungarian counties of the West-Trans-Danubian Region. The gates of Sümeg, Szombathely, Körmend, Kőszeg, Veszprém, and Várpalota were opened, and they were welcomed everywhere. Even Lord Nádasdy Tamás II has sided with Bocskai. 

Bocskai’s statue in Switzerland, Genf, at the Wall of Reformation

Homonnai began the siege of Érsekújvár at the end of August and the troops of Pasha Sinan of Eger were in his army, too. Yet, Bocskai had to keep in mind that the Turks might want to seize this important Borderland castle for themselves.
He thought of this because the fall of Esztergom Castle was haunting him. Why? You can read more about it here:

Source: Szibler Gábor

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The grave of the Bocskai family at Kismarja (Photo: