Baron Nádasdy Tamás (1498-1562)

Nádasdy Tamás

Baron Nádasdy Tamás de Nádasd et Fogarasföld (I), called the Great Palatine (1498-1562), was a Hungarian nobleman, landowner and statesman. Born into the house of Nádasdy, he was the son of Nádasdy I Ferenc de Nádasd (1492-1541) and his first wife, Therjék Orsolya de Szenterzsébet (d. 1529). After the death of Tamás’s mother, his father remarried to Véssey Orsolya de Vésse. (Please note that I use the Oriental name order for Hungarians, where the surname comes first).

He was educated in Graz, Bologna, and Rome. In 1521 he accompanied Thomas Cajetan (whom the Pope had sent to Hungary to preach a crusade against the Turks) to Buda as his interpreter. In 1525 he became a member of the Council of State and was sent by King Lajos II to the Diet of Speyer to ask for help in the impending Turkish war. During his absence, the Mohács disaster occurred, and Nádasdy returned to Hungary only in time to escort the queen-widow from Komárom to Pozsony. He was sent to offer the Hungarian crown to Archduke Ferdinand, and at the coronation (November 3, 1527) he became the commander of the Buda Castle. In 1528 Nádasdy occupied Győr for Ferdinand with the help of Cseszneky György, the commander of Tata Castle.


After the conquest of Buda by Sultan Suleiman, Nádasdy went over to King Szapolyai János. In 1530 he successfully defended Buda against the imperial troops. In 1533, jealous of Lodovico Gritti’s dominating influence, he left Szapolyai for Ferdinand, to whom he remained faithful.

Lodovico Gritti, the natural son of the Venetian Doge, the sultan’s diplomat

In 1535 he married Kanizsay Orsolya de Kanizsa (1523-1571), the last member and heiress of the powerful and wealthy Kanizsay family. The emperor endowed him with enormous estates, and from 1537 he became Ferdinand’s secret but most influential advisor. Later, as Ban (Duke) of Croatia-Slavonia, he bravely defended this frontier province against the Turks.

Kanizsai Orsolya

He did his utmost to promote education and the school he founded in Újsziget, where he also established a printing press, was warmly praised by Philipp Melanchthon. As the Ottoman Empire expanded its borders, the defense of Hungary had to be organized more effectively. For the first time in September 1540, King Ferdinand appointed a “supremus capitaneus regni Hungariae” (supreme captain of the country), who was Perényi Péter. He had to give him this title because in case he got Lord Perényi’s support, he had to give him the same rank that Perényi had received from the late King Szapolyai in 1537. You can read more about the Perényi family here:

Perényi Péter
However, Buda fell in 1541 and its recapture failed the following year. It became clear that the Turks would not leave soon, so the defense of the remaining part of the Kingdom of Hungary had to be reorganized. There were foreign mercenaries led by commanders appointed by the king. On the other hand, there were Hungarian units in every county, not to mention the Hungarian field troops and border guards who were also paid by the king. Their commander should have been the palatine of the kingdom, but the king has not appointed anyone to this highest position for years.
Nádasdy Tamás
In February and March 1542, the Hungarian Estates held a diet in Besztercebánya (Banská Bystrica), where they elected Báthory András as the country’s chief captain. Now there were two chief captains, but their roles were separated. Chief Captain Perényi owned his lands mainly in the northern part of the kingdom, so he was supposed to control the areas north and east of the Danube River, while Báthory’s domains were mainly in the southern Trans-Danubian region, so he was put in charge of the Trans-Danubian region. Soon Perényi was arrested by the king in October, the lord was accused of conspiring with the Turks.
Nádasdy and Tinódi Lantos Sebestyén, the lutist
As the Ottoman attacks continued, his title had to be given to someone. The estates met in November in Pozsony (Pressburg, Bratislava), where they elected Nádasdy Tamás as the chief captain. Accordingly, the king appointed him in his letter of December 23, 1542. Nádasdy was allowed to keep 500 cavalrymen, but the king also gave him 1,000 horsemen and 1,000 infantrymen. Since Nádasdy’s dominions were in the Trans-Danubian region, he exchanged the area of his captaincy with Báthory. Báthory took his headquarters in Eastern Hungary.
Hungary in 1550
They were responsible for stopping minor Ottoman raids and helping the smaller castles in the Borderlands when they were under siege. They were in charge of the military affairs of the counties they controlled and led the armed nobles who had to serve in times of war. The Diet voted for a military tax each year to support their expenses.
a Hungarian nobleman from the 16th century
However, these troops proved insufficient to effectively guard the border. As a result, Nádasdy had to invest money from his own pocket to pay for his soldiers and castles, not to mention the spy network and all the additional costs. The 2,000 soldiers offered by the king were not always available. The king gave him far fewer men, but the captain still did his best.
a Hungarian nobleman in the 16th century
He had all the crossings and fords of the Rába River surveyed to block them in case of danger. He also had dams built on the river. Unfortunately, he did not receive the promised money from the king, so he resigned at the beginning of 1546. His successor, Késás Pál, died within a year and after a pause, the king appointed Nádasdy again in 1548. Nádasdy accepted only on the condition that the king would increase the number of his cavalry by 200 horsemen, 25 of whom would be sent by Nádasdy’s servants.
He also wanted 300 horsemen and 36 infantrymen to be paid by the king. Thus, he could lead a unit of more than 500 men, which was promised to be more effective. He also demanded that the Treasury pay the men on time and that the army be mustered regularly. As for his salary, Nádasdy wanted 300 forints a year and other sums to pay his spies and envoys.
Maximilian’s Forint (1578)

Never joke with Nádasdy

Nádasdy, who is otherwise portrayed in a positive light, but without any scruples, was not averse to murder and drowned Istvánffy István in the Danube. Two of our contemporary historians, Istvánffy Miklós and Forgách described the incident. 

Buda taken by Suleiman in 1529

Forgách also said in detail that Istvánffy István had mocked Nádasdy for his 1529 performance as castellan of Buda. At that time, Nádasdy had put a black coffin on the walls of Buda as a symbol of his determined defense against the Turks, but he surrendered the castle (or rather, it was the German mercenaries who surrendered and took Nádasdy prisoner). Quoting the New Testament, Istvánffy István slapped an insult into Nádasdy’s face and said, “He’s not here, he’s risen”. It was as if he was suggesting that Nádasdy had given up the castle out of self-interest.

Istvánffy Miklós (1538-1615)

In 1544 Nádasdy caught Istvánffy István at Jolka near Pozsony and killed him on the way. Istvánffy Miklós and Forgách wrote that Nádasdy Tamás had deliberately and cruelly drowned István and had hardly allowed him to confess before throwing him into the Danube. The historian Istvánffy Miklós was Istvánffy István’s cousin, and his historical work is understandably negative about Nádasdy’s career. However, Ferdinand let the case against Nádasdy rest.

Forgách Ferenc

The second part of Nádasdy’s carreer

In 1547 Nádasdy presided over the Diet of Nagyszombat. The second part of Nádasdy’s captaincy was more effective because there was a truce between the Sultan and the Habsburgs, so there were no major attacks to be expected and he could focus on strengthening the borderland system. He was quite successful in strengthening the defenses in the southern part of the Trans-Danubian region, mainly in Somogy County. The central stronghold of the area was Szigetvár Castle, which also became the headquarters of his unit. They also built smaller palisade castles in the neighboring lands.
The Nádasdy castle in Sárvár (Photo: Civertan)
Nádasdy was quite discouraged in 1551 when the attempts to unite the Kingdom of Hungary and Transylvania failed, and he was shocked by the successful Ottoman attack in 1552. He was often ill and the king did not pay his soldiers as agreed. Bánffy István acted in his place from July 1552 and Nádasdy resigned in December, which was accepted by King Ferdinand.
The New Testament of Sylvester printed in Sárvár
He never completely gave up his role because in 1554 he became the Palatine of Hungary and acted again as the chief captain of the country (generalis et supremus capitaneus). Tahy Ferenc was the chief captain of the Trans-Danubian region, but in reality, it was Nádasdy who commanded him. It was Nádasdy who relieved the siege of Szigetvár in 1556. In 1559 he was elected Palatine by the Diet of Pozsony. In the last years of his life, he supported the heroic Zrínyi Miklós alias Nikola Subic Zrinski against the Ottomans and organized the recapture of Hegyesd Castle in 1562. This was his last military action. He died two months later, on June 2nd.
Sárvár (by Fodor Zsolt)

Sources: Szibler Gábor and Wikipedia 

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