Bey Csonka: the Ottoman hero of Buda, 1686

The hero of the Ottoman defenders of Buda: Bey Csonka

Mehmet Colak (1641-1705) was born in Bosnia and became the legendary Bey Csonka (“a lord with a missing hand”), who was another hero of the siege of Buda in 1686 – only on the Ottoman side. He was the deputy of the last Pasha of Buda, the (Albanian) Abdur-Rahmán, who died at the end of the siege with a sword in his hand. How was Bey Csonka captured, how did he become a Christian, and how did he make a name for himself in the service of Emperor Leopold, under the new name of Joseph Balthazar Baron of Czungenberg?

Csonka Bey

He began his career at the court of the Pasha of Buda and was given a Timar estate near Vác with a vineyard. He was a militarily talented Sipahi soldier, but he lost his left hand in a battle before he was appointed Sanjak Bey of Nógrád Castle. He had a silver hand fitted and continued to fight. His son was born in 1677.

He spoke Hungarian and took part in many negotiations with the Hungarians. Thus he became friends with Lord Thököly Imre, who was estranged from the Habsburgs. Thököly and Bey Csonka became good friends and the Bey supported the Hungarian rebels of Thököly with his troops. They were convinced that the Ottomans and the Hungarians could free Hungary from the yoke of the tyrannical Habsburgs. Their destinies were intertwined. Thököly called him the “Eye of the Grand Vizier”. Of course, Thököly had some doubts about helping the Turks: it is believed that he wanted to get rid of the Ottomans after defeating the Habsburgs.

Bey Csonka and his son

As for Thököly, he is a very divisive person: without his help, the Sultan’s army would not have been able to approach Vienna in 1683. On the other hand, his troops mercilessly crushed the Bulgarians who rebelled against Ottoman rule. The Bulgarians must have hated him pretty much. You can read more about his life here:

Thököly Imre

Thököly was very close to his goal and was gaining ground against the Habsburgs, but Vienna was not taken by the mighty Sultan and King Sobieski shattered his dreams. If Vienna had fallen to the Turks, he could have enjoyed greater independence in the Principality of Hungary than the Transylvanian princes ever enjoyed from the Sultan. But the Habsburgs realized that there would be no more Polish help, and it was the last time to liberate Hungary – for themselves. So they set out and the Holy League besieged Buda in 1686. Many of Thököly’s best soldiers decided to side with the “liberators” and joined the Christian forces. Thököly was doomed.

The allied Christian forces – despite the usual quarrels between the generals, which prolonged the siege by another bloody month – were finally able to retake Buda Castle after 77 hard days.

Bey Csonka took his share of the fighting and was wounded in the process. Read more about the Buda Castle here:

Csonka led the defense of the southern part of the castle, where the old Hungarian royal palace had been. He was attacked by the Bavarian troops from the direction of Gellért Hill. He bravely defended the palace to the last man and was one of the survivors captured by the German soldiers, together with his 9-year-old son. After being led to Prince Charles of Lorraine, he proudly told him: “Have me well guarded! Or have my head cut off immediately. For fortune changes: once me, tomorrow you…”

Buda in 1686

The Germans quickly learned how valuable he could be and took him to Vienna. He was soon taken to Major Eyersperg’s house, where he was reunited with his family. (His wife, 21 years his junior, was considered a real beauty.) His entire family was converted to Christianity in 1696, and his godfather was Emperor Leopold himself. He was also ennobled and the monarch made him a baron.

He then led two thousand Hungarian hussars to Western Europe and fought against the French until 1705, when he died. The Hungarian hussars adored his bravery.

The reprise of Buda in 1686

His given name “Czungenberg” is a Germanized version of his Hungarian nickname, Csonka bég.

His son Ferenc died without an heir: according to his last will, a church was built in Bécsújhely (Wiener Neustadt). In this church, masses are still celebrated for the members of the Czungenberg family.

A Hussar from the Csonkabég regiment

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