Selected Passages from Hungarian-Ottoman Wars

Varkocs György, the defender of Székesfehérvár Castle

The roots of his family reach back to Silesia. They came to Hungary at the end of the 15th century, in the company of Princess Hedvig of Teschen, the wife of Palatine Szapolyai István. They settled in the szepesség region (Zipt region) in northern Hungary. The first known ancestor of the family was Varkuch Kristóf but later they used it in Hungarian fashion and were mentioned as Varkóczy, Varkócz, and Varkocs. Varkocs Kristóf married Tarczay Katalin, after her death, he married Bebek Margit, and his last wife was Homonnai-Drugeth Borbála. (Please, note that I use the Oriental name order for Hungarians where family names come first.)
Székesfehérvár castle’s model in the Castle Park of Dinnyés
His marriages indicate that he elevated quickly in the hierarchy because these ladies belonged to the highest aristocrats of Hungary. He gained lots of land, especially after his first wife. Kristóf died after 1527, we know that he had five children at that time: Menyhért, Gáspár, György, Margit, and Borbála. 
The name of György, the youngest son appeared first in 1511 but we do not know more about his childhood. When the Dual Kingship began, they remained loyal to the Szapolyai family so Habsburg Ferdinand took away their domains, and gave them to Horváth-Stancsics Márk who later became the heroic defender of Szigetvár castle. The members of the family gradually have become Hungarians while they were famous for fighting against the Ottoman Turks. 
The statue of Varkocs Ferenc in Székesfehérvár

Varkocs György was another renowned member of the family who died in defending (Székes)Fehérvár Castle, the ancient coronation town of the Hungarian kings. We do not know the details and the circumstances of how Varkocs György took the side of King Ferdinand, it may have been after the death of King Szapolyai in 1540. It is likely that he wanted to get his domains back in this way. However, we can find him in Pest in the autumn of 1540 where he was in command of the German garrison.

Pest in 1616

They had to hold the city in the spring of the next year when Brother Martinuzzi György sent the Ottoman Turks against them. They fought bravely and could keep the town, though. The main army of the Sultan arrived at the end of the summer, and they managed to take Pest, and Varkocs could only narrowly escape. Another family member, Varkocs Tamás used to be one of the captains of Eger Castle and took part in making the fort’s construction stronger. One of the bastions was named after him.

Székesfehérvár

Buda fell to the enemy in 1541, and it shocked the entire Christendom. They set out to retake it the next year but the Imperial army was beaten at Pest. However, these attacks made Sultan Suleiman realize that Buda and Pest were quite far away from the Dráva river and he would not be able to keep them for long. He had to widen his hinterland to defend Buda effectively. Eventually, it brought along the gradual Ottoman conquest of Hungary’s middle section. Suleiman launched a campaign in 1543 and took Siklós, Pécs, Esztergom, and Tata castles. The siege of Székesfehérvár took place after these conquests, at the end of August. 

The statue of Captain Varkocs Ferenc in Székesfehérvár (Photo: Szöllősi Gábor www.varlexikon.hu)

Ferdinánd appointed Varkocs György as captain of Fehérvár in the first part of 1543 when everybody already knew that Suleiman would arrive in person in Hungary. The king assigned to him several thousand Hungarian, German, Bohemian, Italian, and Spanish troops but not all of them could arrive in Fehérvár in time. We know that Werbőczy Imre, a famous Borderland warrior also served there. When the army of the Sultan arrived there, the garrison had not been filled up yet. In the meantime, the burghers of Székesfehérvár were against the appointment of Varkocs, knowing that he would fight until the last man. It is known that the wealthier burghers had made contact with the Ottomans even before the siege began in 1543. 

The campaigns of Sultan Suleiman to Hungary

Even Varkocs was outside the castle at that point. The burghers were negotiating about the surrender of the city when Lord Varkocs arrived on 20 August and officially took over the command. The Ottoman troops were right on his heels because he had returned only a few days before the besiegers totally surrounded the castle. Varkocs tried to strengthen the outer cities as much as he could. He had altogether 1,000-1,200 soldiers, including the burghers and some of the people who took shelter in the city.

The siege of Székesfehérvár on a Turkish miniature

The vanguard of the Sultan was all around the city on 20 August but the defenders bravely sallied and attacked them. Before the wall-breaching cannons arrived, the Ottomans tried to take the outer city by an infantry assault but the defenders repelled them, inflicting heavy losses on them. 

Sultan Suleiman

The siege began in earnest on 28 August with a heavy artillery bombardment. Soon, huge breaches were made on the walls of the outer town, and Pasha Huszrev ordered the general assault but it was duly repelled. Not only the soldiers but the burghers and the refugees from the neighboring area also fought on the walls, along with lots of women. The besiegers had great losses. The next assault on the following day was also beaten back.

 

In spite of the successful defense, the members of the garrison began to debate against each other, and the burghers wanted to give up the castle. Many of them wanted to pack their things already. The soldiers kept them back with weapons. The Italians and the Spanish mercenaries slaughtered those of their fellow soldiers who were talking about surrender. Then, Suleiman issued an order on 2 September and he allowed the soldiers to take whatever they could put their hands on, and they could keep it as booty. It proved to be very encouraging. 

Székesfehérvár in 1602

Then, the Ottomans managed to break into the outer city on 2 September under the cover of the fog they took the so-called Budai (later Beslia) Gate. Varkocs and his hussars tried to fend them off but soon they were outnumbered. When they wanted to withdraw into the castle, they were not allowed to get into the inner castle because the burghers closed the gate. The warriors were begging the burghers to let down the drawbridge and let them come in but it was in vain. The burghers said that if they opened the gate, the Turks would certainly push in after the Hungarians. Thus, the Hungarian warriors made their last stand and faced the enemy but they were outnumbered and massacred. Captain Varkocs György fell with them. Suleiman had the severed head of Varkocs carried around in the town for everyone to see.

Székesfehérvár in Ottoman hands

After Varkocs perished, the burghers started talks with Suleiman. The Italian and German mercenaries did not want to surrender, unlike the burghers. At first, the Sultan promised to let the foreign mercenaries leave but he wanted to punish the Hungarians. Finally, all soldiers could leave under safe conduct and he gave mercy to the Hungarians. When the foreign mercenaries left, they robbed the widow of Varkocs György, taking away all her belongings. 

The Park of the Kings in Székesfehérvár

Many of the burghers left Székesfehérvár, and they were the lucky ones because the Sultan had many of the surviving burghers executed, and lots of them were relocated to distant parts of the Ottoman empire. The city got quite depopulated. Soon, southern Slavic inhabitants were settled in Székesfehérvár aka Üsztüni-Belgirád in Turkish. You can read more about the history of Székesfehérvár castle here:

https://www.hungarianottomanwars.com/ottoman-occupied-lands/szekesfehervar/

The heroic deed of Varkocs György and his men were not forgotten, a Latin poem was written to commemorate their sacrifice. 

Varkocs György (the statue was made by Erdei Ferenc in 1934)

Source: Szibler Gábor


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