Selected Passages from Hungarian-Ottoman Wars

Captain John Smith, a Hungarian nobleman

How come the famous Captain John Smith happened to be a member of the Hungarian Valiant Order before setting out to North America?

Pocahontas must have heard of the Siege of Székesfehérvár, Hungary…

I had written before about the deeds of the Scots on the Hungarian battlefields, now it is time to tell you about the heroic adventures of Captain John Smith (1580-1631), the English soldier who later set out to America to meet Pocahontas one day.

Not many know that before visiting the New World, he had fought in the siege of Székesfehérvár castle and fought at the taking of Lendva Castle, fought in the army of Lord Székely Mózes, and was knighted by the Transylvanian Prince Báthory Zsigmond.

He was born in England, Lincolnshire in 1580 and he was 16 when he crossed the Channel and joined the French army. During his early years and travels in West Europe, he was also reading the books of Machiavelli, the ancient philosophers, and learned languages. He became a sailor and sailed the Mediterranian Sea as well.

He was 20 when he went to Vienna where he met some Imperial officers who told him about the plight of a certain Hungarian fort which was in great peril because of the wars which we now call the 15-Year-War or the Long War. Read more about this war here:

Smith didn`t hesitate much, he set out and joined the English officers in the throat of the beast, in the Hungarian castle in concern.

He met there Count Meldri and General Kisell who listened to his advice and it was how they could liberate the Castle of Alsólendva:
The castle had been fully surrounded by the Turks so the reinforcing army could not establish contact with the defenders. Captain Smith was insisting that he would be able to communicate with the English officers who were in the castle, by using torches. And behold, he used the communication signs of the sailors, telling his fellow countrymen:

„Gentlemen, we will attack from the East at night on Thursday. In the havoc, you sally out.” And it has happened like this. In addition to this, Smith sent several thousands of burning torches to the western side of the castle to confuse the Turks, snaring them out to attack the wrong way.
After this, Smith stayed in Hungary and began to fight against the Ottomans. He gave some good ideas to the siege of Székesfehérvár which were welcome by the leaders who were no lesser men than Prince Mecoeur, Giorgio Basta, and Archduke Ferdinand. Allegedly, he invented a new type of hand grenade. Thus, Székesfehérvár, after 50 years of Turkish occupation has been retaken.

Then, Smith joined Count Meldri and went to Transylvania where the situation was very confusing and it was hard to make out who is with who momentarily. As Smith had come to like the Hungarians (I wonder if he had learned the language, too?), he always joined the side where the Hungarians were and fought against the Turks in general. Yet, there was a period when he fought on the side of Székely Mózes against the Habsburgs and Voivode Mihai Viteazul.

Anyway, his heroic deeds were made when he fought against the Turks: one of his deeds made him a nobleman of Transylvania. Happened, that a Turk envoy challenged the soldiers of the Imperial army for a duel, telling them that both armies should appoint a champion to fight until the death. John Smith was the one who won the duel. Yet, the Turks repeated the challenge on the next and on the third day, too. Our hero has killed his opponents as well. Smith received his ennoblement officially in 1602 for this deed (see the coat of arms below). He was quite proud of his victory and later he named a group of islands in Virginia after this: „Three Turk Heads”. We can see this sentence on his tombstone, too.

Sadly, his success had been cut in half when he was injured and captured by the Turks at Vöröstorony. He was sold to slavery but his Turk owner`s wife fell in love with him and sent him to the Kaszpi Sea to her relative. Unfortunately, his life just became worse and when they were taking him for the daily whipping, he killed his owner and ran away to the Russian steppes. There, a Russian lady hurried to his help…Then, after some detours to Hungary and Prague, he returned to England and joined the Virginia Company in 1607. The world knows the second part of his life better.
As for me, I think he had done good service in helping the Hungarians against the Ottomans and I would remember him as a hero of the Valiant Order of the Borderland.

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