Selected Passages from Hungarian-Ottoman Wars

The Long War, Part 37 / The heydays of Bocskai, 1605

Esztergom castle

The fall of Esztergom castle, 3 October 1605

The tragic fall of Esztergom is said to be connected to Bocskai’s alliance with the Turks: no wonder, that Bocskai felt “haunted” because of it. The recapturing of Esztergom in 1595 used to be one of the greatest successes of the 15-Year-War for the Christian forces. That was a long and tiresome siege but the fort had to be taken as it was a very important castle in the defense of Buda, the ancient capital of Hungary.

Esztergom in 1664

The Sublime Porte has tried to do everything from then on to recapture this strategic place. The Turks would have even agreed to trade it for the castle of Eger or Kanizsa. Still, they had no chance to lay a siege on Esztergom during the war, and first, they could do this only in 1604. The siege was laid between 19 September and 13 October but the Christians were defending it well and had defeated the army led by Grand Vizier Lala Mehmed. Read more about it here:

By the time the siege had been finally finished, the revolt of Prince Bocskai was already going on and he took all of Upper Hungary before the end of 1605. Naturally, the Porte took advantage of the current hardship of the Habsburgs and made an attempt to seize Esztergom during the fall of 1605. General Basta had 8,000 men but they proved to be insufficient to relieve Érsekújvár which was being besieged by Bocskai and Basta couldn’t bring reinforcement to the besieged Esztergom, either.

Érsekújvár in 1605

Esztergom’s captain, Adolf von Althan, had just recently given in his resignation so the castle was without a leader. Wilheim Öttingen took charge of the leadership and he was in command of about 5-6,000 soldiers. Prince Bocskai was not happy with the Turks’ siege laid on Esztergom and he denied any help from the Turkish Serdar (General). Read more about Bocskai here:

Bocskai István

Öttingen didn’t trust the Hungarian soldiers so he had let them go away before the siege. These Hungarians could go nowhere but to join Bocskai at the siege of Érsekújvár. The Ottoman army arrived at Esztergom on 30 August. Before the siege was complete, Count Dampierre had been able to break out from Komárom castle with his five battalions and brought reinforcement to Esztergom.
The increased numbers in the fort were just enough to guard the inner walls and the long outer ramparts, the fort on the Saint Thomas hill, and the town next to the River Danube.

Heinrich von Dampierre

The Germans were stoutly defending the fort and beat back the assault that targeted Saint Thomas hill on 8 September. Despite their steadiness, the Turks surprised the Christian soldiers at dawn on 16 September and slaughtered all the guards of the Saint Thomas fort. This important fortification has fallen. Soon, the rest of the rampart system has fallen, too. The remnants of the guards ( about 5,000 men) withdrew into the inner castle.

Then, the Turks began shooting the town and had been firing their cannons ceaselessly at the walls. After this, they launched an attack on 1 October. The Germans suffered huge losses and withdrew themselves from the town, all of them were moving into the inner castle. About 1,000 of them fell defending the town. Richan, the vice-commander of Öttingen, also lost his life there.
The commander has become Count Dampierre.

Western mercenary in Hungary

The Turks were digging mines under the walls and the buildings of the castle caught fire, killing many Germans. The German guards began demanding Dampierre to cede the castle who refuse it at first. Finally, they ceded the castle, and the defenders were allowed to leave the city and could keep their arms. The weird thing of fate was that the taker of Esztergom was the very same Pasha Lala Mehmed who had had to surrender the castle ten years ago.

Lala Mehmed

Among the members of the negotiating committee, there was Pecevi Ibrahim (who was born in Pécs, Hungary) who had also been there ten years ago among the signers of the document in which the castle had changed hands. We know that the father of the famous Turk historian, Cselebi was fighting among the besiegers. His name was Dervis Mehmed Zillin. The Germans who retreated to fort Komárom, have been disarmed and imprisoned upon their arrival. Captain Leonhad Friedrich Schlöcker was sentenced to get his tongue and arms cut off and death by hanging; and 24 other soldiers were also hanged. The names of those who had sided with the enemy were nailed to the gallow tree, indicating what fate awaits them if they are captured. Dampierre later received a pardon.


The Ottomans left three “oda” (3,000) Jannisaries to guard Esztergom. They were banned from ever leaving the town. However, there were the soldiers of the Kapudan Pasha, the irregular marauders who were regularly patrolling the area and plundering the Christian villages. According to Cselebi, these soldiers dressed like Hungarians and spoke the Hungarian language. Their raids reached the lands of Germany. As for Esztergom, the muezzin’s song was being heard again for many years; the local Hungarians just nicknamed him “skin-bell” (bőrharang).

Autumn 1605 – The heydays of Prince Bocskai

Having taken Esztergom Castle, the army of Pasha Lala Mehmed appeared at Érsekújvár (Nové Zámky) where they joined the camp of the rebels. His appearance has made the defenders of Érsekújvár hurry to surrender the fort. Finally, they could achieve that only the Hajdú soldiers entered the city while the Turks had to remain outside.

Bocskai’s silver thaller from 1605

The famous meeting of Rákosmezeje (at Pest) was the next event where Pasha Lala Mehmed handed the crown sent by the Sultan to Bocskai. The sources are divided regarding whether Bocskai had accepted or refused it. His symbolical coronation most likely had taken place but the diplomats (like Bocatinus János who wrote it down) around the Prince wanted to make it appear before the Habsburgs as the Prince had received the crown only as a gift. 

The crown given to Bocskai

After this, Bocskai summoned the Estates to Korpona because he wanted to make a truce with the Habsburgs as well. He knew that Hungary could get help against the Turks only from the Habsburgs in case of peril. At the same time, the Transylvanian Principality would be stronger if he could get some more northern counties from Royal Hungary. A powerful Transylvania would be able to defend the constitutional rights of the Hungarian Estates of Royal Hungary against the Habsburgs. 

The Diet began on 24 November but there were plenty of debates about the future. The radicals, led by Bocskai`s chancellor called Kátay Mihály would have welcomed a Protestant ruler from abroad on the Hungarian throne and they were against the truce with the Habsburgs. In favor of them, the Estates made more laws that served the interests of the Protestants. Here I have to note that the whole uprising was originally related to the Habsburgs because they had been persecuting the Protestants and were busy filling their Treasury with the wealth taken away from the richest Hungarian lords.

Hungarian Hajdú soldiers

The Diet ruled about the election of a Palatine (according to this ancient rank which had existed in the Hungarian Kingdom, he was the substitute of the Hungarian king who ruled on his behalf if the king was not within the borders of Hungary). Also, they decided on making a peace with the Turks. Bocskai issued a donation letter on 12 December and he settled 10,000 Hajdú soldiers in the towns of Bihar County, giving them so-called „collective nobility”.
After the decisions of the Diet, the negotiations with the Court of Vienna and Prague have begun, led by Lord Illésházy.

3 December 1605: The mercenaries of General Basta defeat Prince Bocskai`s troops at Rábahídvég

Hajdú-captain Gergely Némethy had led two campaigns to conquest the Trans-Danubian Region of Royal Hungary in 1605. During the military actions from May to the end of June, the rebels of Bocskai had taken almost the entire West- and Middle-Trans-Danubian Region, except Sopron Castle and a few castles on the Austrian border. Yet, the Imperials struck back in July-August and forced Captain Némethy from this part of the country but he turned back at the end of August.

The campaigns of Bocskai

His Hajdú troops were not as successful as before and he could hardly enlarge their numbers. He didn`t have enough power to besiege castles, he was just raiding around. Still, he could scatter the 800 mounted riflemen of Alexander Ridolphi at the end of September near Szombathely.

A mounted rifleman, end of 17th century, by Somogyi Győző

The Imperial counter-attack was launched in October and he has been gradually pushed out from the area that lay west of the Rába River, in spite of the fact that the rebels were supported by Turkish and Crimean Tatar troops. The beginning of December found the Imperial and the Hajdú troops facing each other on the opposite banks of the Rába River. It was the location where Prince Bocskai`s last Trans-Danubian clash took place.

a Crimean Tatar

Arch-Duke Matthias wrote the following to the Archbishop of Mainz on 14 December:
„The enemy, namely 300 Tatars, 100 Turks, and 200 Hungarian rebels attacked our camp at Hídvég between Szombathely and Körmend on 3 December, and they had been fighting against our Serbian soldiers for a long time. Finally, Basta has come to their help with his Walloons and other folks. The enemy, with the help of God, was forced back to the Rába River, 200 were slain and many of them drowned in the water or got captured. Two Walloon companies took over the chase but the enemy didn`t stop his running. Count Valle had fallen in these fights, by getting into a throng during the chase and was killed by a shot. Besides the captured enemy, we got hold of 1,500 Tatar horses. Now, our camp is at Egervár Castle, 5 miles from Kanizsa Castle.”

Hajdú soldiers (1650) by Somogyi Győző

The Hungarian chronicler Istvánffy added to this: „the whole army has been extremely saddened that Prince Fridericus Holstainius, a young lad, captain of 1,000 riders, fell in the fight. He was dressed up in gilded armor and had shining weapons in his hands, wearing a gold helmet on his head, in a gold color leather riding trousers and noticing him, the enemy killed his horse with arrows, then he was pulled to the ground. As his body was sheltered all over with iron, they thrust a handjar (a curved Turkish dagger) between his last rib and his groins.”

According to other sources, the number of Turkish-Tatar troops was tenfold than mentioned above.
In fact, this defeat was the end of the uprising in the Trans-Danubian Region. Némethy fled to the Ottoman Occupied Lands, then returned to Prince Bocskai. Others, like Nádasdy Tamás, did the same, while Hagymássy Kristóf closed himself into Szentgrót Castle. Only the Castle of Tata remained faithful to Bocskai in the region.

Source: Szibler Gábor

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