The Duel at Korpona’s Haversack Castle (1588)

This is a dramatized short historical writing from my book “33 Castles, Battles, Legends”, based on careful historical research. It is available on Amazon both in ebook and in paperback, you can find the link after the tale. The story is as follows: 

“The time came when the Turks began to threaten the eight mining cities of the Upper Lands. The Burghers of Selmecbánya, Körmöcbánya, Bélabánya, and Újbánya were trembling with fear just like the inhabitants of Breznóbánya, Besztercebánya, and Libetbánya, not forgetting the smallest of them, Bakabánya.

The turbaned warriors were lurking around Korpona as well and they took away men by the dozens and cattle by the hundreds. When they tried to break the gates in, the Chief Captain of Esztergom ordered the Burghers of Korpona to erect a guard tower on the hill above the city. There was nothing to do but open their purses, and soon the stand-alone tower was built on the hill next to Korpona. It was just big enough to hold forty soldiers, not more. As it had neither a kitchen nor cooks in it, the garrison was fed from their haversacks week by week. Ever since it was cleverly called Haversack Castle by everyone.

Korpona’s haversack castle (Photo: Ladin)

The Chief Captain of Esztergom also ordered that the cannons in the tower must be always loaded and ready to give signal day or night. The guards were told to light a bonfire if they saw the Turks coming from Bozók Castle or Csábrág Castle’s direction. A single shot was a sign of caution and two shots meant that the enemy was close. Three shots in quick succession meant that the Turks had already crossed the town’s boundary. The Chief Captain added to his orders one sentence:

“The cocks walk together to scratch. This is what you should bear in mind, Burghers of Korpona.”

It was Sir Mihaly Molitórisz, the Chief Notable in the city, who discovered its meaning;

“It means that we, the men, should keep together valiantly to defend the women.”

The Burghers took this advice to heart but they were not always able to look after their womenfolk when they were cultivating the fields around the city’s walls. Sometimes the Turks of Nógrád Castle ambushed them and took away the pretty ones for themselves, and their children for the Janissary schools. However, the warriors of the Haversack Castle improved the situation and rushed down from the tower to protect the women. They held the Turks up until the Burghers were up on their horses and had galloped out through the city gates. Now, together, they were able to overwhelm the enemy and scatter them, returning home with shaven bald heads on their spearheads.

Did the Turks become disheartened by the failures? Not in the least. They kept coming back always in greater numbers. The Burghers of Korpona had to send an envoy to Zólyom Castle to plead for the help of Captain János Balassa. There must have been some Turkish spies in Zólyom, though, who reported this to Bey Ali of Buda who became terribly angry with the Burghers. The Bey did not hesitate a minute but sent a letter to Korpona:

“You infidel pigs, do not dare to allow the dogs of Balassa within your walls unless you want to see yourself impaled and your heads drying on stakes.”

This was the way the Hungarians, Turks, and Saxons entertained each other for one hundred and fifty years around Korpona.

One day, a small unit of Turkish warriors arrived at the gates of the city, no more than fifty Muslim soldiers, all dressed in their best clothes. They were followed by just as many musicians who were mercilessly banging their drums and sounding their war whistles and instruments. The Burghers heard the warning shots from Haversack Castle and five hundred defenders were eyeing the enemy from the walls and bastions. They suspected more Turks were to come and nobody guessed what they were up to.

The Captain of Korpona was called György Fáncsy at this time. The spokesman of the Turks waved a flag, had a whistle sounded, and knocked on the oak-wood gate with the shaft of his lance.

“Listen to me, Ghiaurs, you coward dogs! We declare your Captain, the hound-souled György Fáncsy a coward swaggerer as he is indeed. It cannot be otherwise since even in the coat of arms of your city is just a coward sheep bleating. Your castle can fit into a haversack but you do not have as much courage as can fit into a leaking haversack. Well, that is all we want to say.”

With this, he tucked a turkey feather into a crack of the gate. The Turk’s bugles gave out scornful whining sounds. It was at that moment that the reddened face of Captain Fáncsy appeared in the gate tower’s window. He shouted angrily at them;

“Are you running away, already, you dogs? You are insolent boasters, snakes, shameful weaklings of your Allah. Would none of you dare to face me, fight me with a spear or a sword?”

The Turkish unit reined in. Now, it was another Turk who spoke up, turning his horse back on its hind legs,

“This was why we have come here, do you really dare to accept my challenge? I am Agha Hassan, come and fight me, go ahead!”

Agha Hassan was a renowned warrior, the son of the Bey of Nógrád Castle. He was always riding up and down in the Borderland in search of military honor. György Fáncsy could hardly wait to try his sword with the famous Turkish warrior’s saber.

Duels had their unwritten rules among the Valiant Order which were solemnly respected by both sides. Captain Fáncsy took no more than fifty warriors from the castle and they rode out to the field next to the city wall. Quickly they agreed to the rules, selected two judges from each unit, and marked the length and the width of the dueling field. It was all great fun and Turks and Hungarians were cordially chatting and mingling with each other. They knew not only each other’s language and names but even the names of their enemy’s horses as well.

The Agha rode his Arabian stallion to the far side of the field and repeated his challenging words. Captain Fáncsy said nothing, just leaned forward in his saddle and when the bugle was sounded, he squeezed his horse into a gallop and sped toward the brave Agha at once. They were supposed to break three lances before unsheathing their swords but now it was not so. To the horror of the Turks, the lancehead of the captain caught the steel visor of the Agha in the middle, knocking him out of the saddle with a terrible jerk.

The Turks cried out seeing how their fallen leader was being dragged by the stirrup after the bewildered stallion.

“Allahu Akbar, death to the Ghiaur dogs!” they screamed and they all fell on the Hungarian warriors with drawn sabers and yatagans. The Hussars of the Haversack Castle proved to be no boasters because they fought back and slew sixteen attackers in the bitter but short fight. The Hungarians lost no one. Seeing their warriors falling onto the green grass, the Turks turned tails and began to flee. The warriors of Korpona did not chase them, rather they called after them:

“Now, you do not need to run away! Come back and bury your dead in peace and let us keep the funeral feast together. We will not hurt you.”

The Turks believed them and they returned sadly to collect their brother-in-arms from the field.

And what befell to Agha Hassan? Did he die or stay alive? Miraculously, he survived and now he was standing on his unsteady legs with a bleeding forehead.

As was the habit after duels, the warriors made peace after the good game and celebrated together, sharing their wine and food. The Burghers of Korpona were happy that they had suffered no harm so they sent eight heavy wagons pulled by oxen, loaded with food and wine barrels to the field. Bonfires were built and the musicians began to play each other’s songs. They roasted meat and ate the soft white bread of the city. The fiery wine was flowing down their throats in great quantities and soon the Turks proposed a new contest, a horse race. In this game, they bested the Hungarians to their greatest merriment.

This was how the valiant warriors of Korpona were passing time with the brave and restless Turkish warriors in the year Anno Domini 1588.”  

Korpona in the 16th century

You can read more about the Mining towns of the Hungarian Kingdom here:

Here is more about Korpona:

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