The Gypsy warriors of Nagyida Castle (1556)
(It is a dramatized historical short story, based on facts and legends from my book “33 Castles, Battles, Legends”. It has been re-edited by Suzanna King.)
“Nagyida Castle was inherited by the two Perényi brothers; Mihály was the older and Ferenc the younger. They could have lived in peace but they could not agree about the castle. They kept on arguing until a day came when Mihály had heard enough and set out hunting for a change.
When he returned, the gate of the castle was shut before him and nobody would open it. Finally, his younger brother came out to the wall and shouted down to him:
“Now, Mihály you can hit the road because you won’t find a dwelling place here anymore. Find a new home for yourself.”
Mihály Perényi became very angry but there was nothing he could do. He had to go and find his luck in the court of King Ferdinand, while Ferenc remained in the service of Queen Isabella, the widow of late King János Szapolyai.
Mihály ended up in Kassa and joined the army of General Puchheim who was about to take the castles of Upper Hungary for King Ferdinand. Mihály Perényi and his men were most welcome and the General needed very little persuasion to set out against the castle of Nagyida. In the meantime, Ferenc Perényi had the castle fortified and appointed Mihály Gerendai as his Castellan.
When the army of Puchheim marched to the castle, they were received by such a fierce volley of cannons and arquebuses that they could hardly withdraw beyond their range. The General was not idle and arranged his own cannons at once and he poured out a terrible fire both from the south and from the north at the bastions. He tried to breach the palisade that went down to the Ida River but the defenders aimed twice as well as his artillerymen and the Germans suffered great losses. However, Puchheim had 4,000 infantrymen and 600 heavy cavalries, in addition to his 600 light Hussar cavalry.
Who were these excellent marksmen? Soon they found out what Captain Gerendai had done. As his soldiers were falling one by one, he had to make do with other men who had taken shelter in the fort. These were the Gypsies whose number was between 500 and 1,000 and they were led by their Voivode, Csóri. Gerendai gave them all the rusted armor, helmets, and old swords he found around the castle’s attic and in the cellars.
They were valiantly fighting on the walls and repulsed Puchaim’s assaults amid great shooting and shouting. In the old armor that was left from the time of King Matthias, they looked like savage Saracens as they were shaking their fists and their sabers toward the Germans,
“Good riddance, Germans. You had better get away from here while you can. We are going to send the lightning and thunder of Devla against you, with double-charged cannons and muskets!”
They were not just boasting, they handled the firearms with deadly precision as if they were the Devils themselves. What’s more, when the Germans did not expect it, they sallied out day and night, led by the brave Voivode Csóri.
Not much later, the morale of Puchhaim’s army was broken. The General was most annoyed that he was being beaten by mere Gypsies. The Folks of the Pharaoh, as they were called in Hungary, merrily sent volley after volley whenever a German soldier showed up near enough to the walls.
The first rains of autumn were beginning and Puchhaim did not know what Gerendai and his men knew. Namely, that there was not more than a handful of gunpowder left in the entire castle of Nagyida. Some of the Hajdu soldiers of the Castellan took it in mind and left the Gypsies alone and fled during the night.
Puchheim decided to leave too. He gritted his teeth, and to the greatest sorrow of Mihály Perényi, he made his mercenaries march away. Seeing the victory, the Gypsies were so happy, that never before or after could a Gypsy man be that happy. Dancing and singing they all ran to the ramparts and were shouting and screaming after the disgracefully retreating Germans.
“Run for your life! Lucky you, save your skins, if we had not run out of powder and balls, you would all be dead now.”
The scorning and cursing were clearly heard amongst the ranks of the enemy. Even Puchheim turned his head to one of his officers who spoke the Hungarian language.
“What are they shouting?” he asked him.
“My Lord, they keep crying that we would lose our lives if they had more gunpowder.”
Puchheim turned the reins of his horse immediately, drew his sword, and gave the order to attack the castle. It was the twenty-first attack but it was the last one.
“Forward! Give mercy to no one!”
It was the end of the Gypsy soldiers. The mercenaries of Puchheim left not a soul alive in the whole castle as the general was so ashamed.
There are many songs among the Gypsies which preserve the valor of their folk in the castle of Nagyida and it is said that while Puchheim is being tormented in Hell, the Devil is playing him Gypsy music.”
Here is more about the Perényi family:
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