A very short summary of Hungarian-Ottoman wars

You can see some of the geographical areas of the Kingdom of Hungary: some towns in Hungarian are different: Vienna = Bécs
Bratislava = Pozsony; Belgrade = Nándorfehérvár

I am posting selected passages of our history but sometimes it is good to see the whole story…
As a reminder, let me give you a very short summary of the Ottoman-Hungarian wars, as I see them. Please note, that I am intentionally using the Oriental name order for Hungarians where family names come first. 

The 1st part: 1372-1541;

The Kingdom of Hungary tried to block the Ottoman conquest of the Balkan. At first, it attempted to attack the Turks and gain influence in the states of the Balkan. Sadly, it was alienating the locals at the same time. Many Orthodox Slavic or Wallachian rulers fell between the Kingdom of Hungary and the Ottoman Empire and they had to balance between them.

When the offensive wars failed, King Sigismund (Zsigmond, 1367-1437) began to concentrate on the defense system and built out the southern chain of Borderland castles. Nevertheless, Hunyadi’s famous Winter Campaign was a success in offensive wars.

King Louis I fighting against the Turks in Bulgaria, in 1368

After the fall of Constantinapolis, the Sultan was defeated at Nándorfehérvár (Belgrade) in 1456 by Hunyadi János who gained 60-70 more or less peaceful years.
King Matthias (1443-1490), Hunyadi’s son could keep the enemy out but he suddenly died (or was assassinated) before he could launch his long-planned combined attack of European powers against the Ottoman Empire. Also, he could build out the second line of forts that stood behind the frontier strongholds. However, after his death, the southern Borderland was weakened because of the lack of money and Nándorfehérvár / Belgrade fell in 1521.

The kingdom received a blow at Mohács in 1526, the young King Lajos / Louis II got killed (or assassinated) and Szapolyai János became the king who soon restored the order. Most sadly, he was attacked by Habsburg Ferdinand, King of Bohemia in 1527 who usurped the throne and the Dual Kingship tore the country in two. King Szapolyai was able to keep Eastern Hungary only with the support of the Ottomans. He was balancing the power but could keep the Ottomans out for the time being.

King Ferdinand I

In the meantime, King Ferdinand was trying to keep West Hungary, using it as a battlefield to defend Vienna. However, Sultan Suleiman kept attacking him and Ferdinand would have fallen without the heroic stands of the Hungarian and Croatian Borderland warriors. Read more about the 1,000-mile-long Military Borderland here:


The 2nd part: 1541-1664

King Szapolyai János died in 1540 and the Turks moved to Buda in 1541: the middle of the kingdom was occupied only from this time on. Constant wars raged: Suleiman attacked western Hungary and tried to get Eastern Hungary as well which was slowly becoming the Principality of Transylvania. As Transylvania was too hard to get, the Ottomans focused on Western Hungary which remained a sovereign kingdom, although ruled by a Habsburg king. The Hungarian Estates never let their privileges disappear and the constitution also remained intact; the Habsburg kings had to swear on the Hungarians’ Sacred Crown so as to rule. It was why Hungary has never become a mere province of the Habsburgs.

The Sacred Crown of the Hungarians

A new Borderland system of forts had been built out and after the Truce of Edirne (1568), a “small war” was raging in the frontier zone (it never ceased until 1699). The weight of the fight fell on the Hungarian and Croatian castle warriors who regarded themselves as the members of an unofficial knightly order, the Valiant Order. The Borderland conflicts eventually led to the 15-Year War (1591-1606) which just devastated the land and nobody gained anything, except the Transylvanian Principality which became stronger after 1606. 

The 3rd part

In the 17th century, we have to point to Zrínyi Miklós’ (aka Nikola Zrínski) attempt in 1664 when he could almost bring along the liberation of the country by his victories but he was sabotaged by the Habsburg king. (Zrínyi wanted to rely on German and French aid which was against the dynastic interests of his Habsburg monarch.)

Zrínyi Miklós / Nicholas Zrinski

After his suspicious death in a hunting accident, the Hungarian and Croatian lords were rapidly alienated by the Habsburgs and Prince Thököly Imre gained control over Transylvania and Upper Hungary, opening the road to the Turks towards Vienna in 1683. Thököly thought that the Habsburgs had to be weakened and wanted to deal with the Ottomans after it.

However, the Turks failed to take Vienna and the Habsburgs had to realize that Hungary’s “liberation” could not be postponed anymore: who would save Vienna if the Hungarian lords became all hostile and the Polish winged hussars would not come next time?
The liberation of Hungary had to be started by the Habsburgs unless they wanted to lose control over Hungary. They joined forces with the European powers and were aided by the Hungarian-Croatian members of the Valiant Order, the Christians could take Buda in 1686 and they were able to drive the Turks out until 1699 (although the whole country was liberated only by 1718 and there were Crimean Tatar raids in Transylvania even in the 1750s).

anti-Habsburg fight

The Hungarian followers left Prince Thököly Imre and joined in the reconquest wars, and chose to help the Habsburgs against the Ottomans. 
The unique history of the Transylvanian Principality has not even been told here but it should deserve praise for its military deeds, freedom of religion, and prosperity.

All in all, this was how the Habsburgs were able to occupy Hungary AND Transylvania (despite Prince Rákóczi Ferenc’s War of Independence between 1703-11) and rule it until the First World War ended. More about ethnic changes in Hungary:


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