Selected Passages from Hungarian-Ottoman Wars

Captain Thury György (cc1520-1571)

The Thury family is from Hont County, originally from the village of Középtúr. They were an ancient but common noble family who had served the Hungarian kings with their swords since the age of the Árpád Dynasty. One of them was Thury Miklós who distinguished himself in the wars of King Matthias Corvinus, and Gábor, his son was also a renowned warrior.

 

Thury Gábor was the father of our hero, Thury György who had two brothers: Benedek and Farkas who were also great warriors of the 1,000-mile-long Hungarian Borderland in the 16th century. Note, that the name “Farkas” (“Wolf”) was usually given to the youngest male child in the family. Please, also note, that I use the Oriental name order for Hungarian names where family names come first.

We do not exactly know when György was born, the date is between 1518-and 1520. We have no records about his education, allegedly he never learned to read or write. He joined the life of the Borderland warriors at a very young age, he was already a “chief Hussar warrior” at the beginning of the 1540s when he served in Ság (Ipolyság). Soon, he became a Hussar officer. He took part in the famous battle of Szalka in 1544 where the Hungarians defeated the Ottomans of Esztergom castle who had tried to ambush Léva castle where Balassa Menyhárt was in charge. You can read more about this battle on my page:

https://www.hungarianottomanwars.com/dramatized-historical-writings/lord-balassas-victory-at-szalka-1544/

 

György’s reputation was increasing, it might be connected to the fact that he was a winner of more and more duels against the Turks. The next time we read about him was in 1549 when he was a participant in an Ottoman-Hungarian negotiation in Gyöngyös. As it turned out, he befriended a Turkish soldier called Juszuf and gifted him a long spear. Juszuf was drunk and wanted to amuse the soldiers with all kinds of tricks he knew and kept throwing the spear up in the air. Unluckily, he failed to catch it and it pierced his belly, killing him. 

A modern drawing of Thury György by Somogyi Győző
We know of a duel from 1551 when the Habsburg king gave a permit to György and two of his mates to get involved in a duel. Then, he killed his opponent who was a famous duelist himself. Thury reported the duel in person to King Ferdinand. György fought bravely in the Battle of Palást in 1552 and it was he who saved the life of the Italian contingent. You can read more about his deed on my page here:
As Pasha Ali took Ság, Thury’s village, it is thought that he had gone to serve in Léva castle. He became the captain of Léva in 1556 but he was also the judge of the area who supervised the castle’s income as well. He was appointed as the Chief Comes of Bars County in 1558 but he never gave up his dueling habits.
Besides other enemy warriors, he also defeated the newly appointed Bey of Vác castle in a duel. Thury resigned in 1558 and Dobó István became the next captain of Léva castle. However, Thury accepted the position of the captaincy of Palota (Várpalota) castle in the same year. You can read more about Palota Castle here:
Palota castle
 He was not just sitting in Palota castle but continued his battles against the Turks. Besides, he kept sending letters of challenge to the Ottoman warriors. One of the most renowned Ottoman duelists was a man called Voivode Dzsáfer, Thury fought with him at Palota. Thury had many troubles with the Snjak Bey Hamza who was commanding Fehérvár castle. Bey Hamza was a cunning and fierce enemy. He wanted to have Thury assassinated but he outsmarted him. You can read the details of this on my page, too:
Thury also had spies in his service and could monitor the enemy’s moves. Also, he regularly sent raiding parties to the Ottoman Occupied Lands of Hungary. The Viennese court always received lots of complaints from the Ottoman Beys and the Pasha of Buda. Although it was the period of truce when duels were banned, smaller raids were often overlooked by both parties. When Habsburg Maximilian was crowned as King of Hungary in 1563, Thury was invited to take part in the celebrations held in Pozsony (Pressburg, Bratislava).
Naturally, he fought in the knightly tournament which was part of the festivities. Finally, he defeated everybody except for Gyulaffy László, the “Hungarian Achilles”. The king had to separate them because he was afraid of accidentally losing his best swordsmen. They were awarded by accepting them into the Knightly Order of the Golden Spur. Read more about this Order here:
Gradually, Thury’s name became well-known even in distant lands, he was called the “most savage Hungarian”, the “El Cid of Hungary” or the “Lion of the Trans-Danubian Region”. He married Hathalmy Zsófia in the autumn of 1563. Archduke Charles sent him two gilded cups for the wedding. Thury György had several sons and daughters but all of his male children died at a young age. 
Contemporary drawing of Thury György (in the middle)
There was a good chance to liberate Fehérvár castle in 1565 but the plan failed due to the delay made by the king. It was when the embittered Captain Thury had handed in his resignation again. Fortunately, he remained in his position because Palota castle was facing a great threat. Sultan Suleiman was coming to Hungary in 1566 to take Szigetvár and Gyula castles but Pasha Arszlán of Buda decided to attack Palota before his arrival. It was how Pasha Arszlán wanted to distinguish himself before his ruler. He launched his private war and besieged Palota castle on 5 June 1566.
Palota castle
Thury and his 500 men were bravely defending the castle, their artillery fire and sallies did lots of damage to the attackers. Even the poet-warrior Zrínyi Miklós (1620-1664) wrote about his deeds in his work the “Peril of Sziget”. The Ottoman cannons caused lots of damage to the walls. Finally, the reinforcing army of General Salm, Chief Captain of Győr castle arrived and saved the situation.
However, there is more to it because Pasha Arszlán quit the siege in such a hurry on 20 June which cost him his life, and his cowardice was severely punished by the sultan. You can read the details of this amusing siege on my page:
Thury and his men joined Salm and went to the camp at Győr. We know that his contingent scattered the raiding unit of Bey Mahmut of Fehérvár castle on 5 September on the fringe of the Bakony Mountain. Thury’s horse was killed in the battle but he won the fight, cutting down lots of soldiers. He captured Bey Mahmut and 40 additional prisoners of war, along with eight flags. They brought plenty of severed heads to King Maximilian, it was a habit that was a weird custom that was rewarded by both the Christian and the Muslim rulers. The king knighted Thury repeatedly and gave him a necklace that was worth 1,000 Gold Forints. 
Hungarian reenactors (the Palotai Darabontok) commemorate Thury’s death at his statue, in 2021
After the execution of Pasha Arszlán, Pasha Mustapha took his place. He made the mistake of insulting Thury, Gyulaffy, and Török Ferenc, the three best swordsmen in the country. They jumped at the opportunity and challenged the Pasha but he did not dare to take up the fight. You can read the text of this letter here:
After the siege of Palota castle, Thury György resigned from his post and it was his nephew, Márton who became the captain of the fort. The king gave Kesző castle to György, including the villages and lands belonging to it because he owed lots of money to him. It was easier to give a domain than to pay cash. When Veszprém castle was besieged by the enemy in 1567, Thury György as a Hussar captain was among the reinforcing Imperial army.
After the success, the king offered him the position of Captain of Kanizsa and Vice-Chief Captain of the Trans-Danubian Region in September. To make him accept the job, the king gave him further domains. Among other lands, he received the market town of Tolna, even though the settlement was in the Ottoman Occupied Lands.
(Vár) Palota Castle, Hungary
In this age, it was not a malicious thing: rulers considered the Ottomans’ conquest as a temporary thing and gifted lands where they had no power. What is even more surprising, the Hungarian lords accepted these domains and tried to collect taxes from there. Also, we know that the local peasants insisted on paying taxes to their old landlords who had long run away from the Ottomans. And the landlords never gave up their right to their properties, despite losing them a hundred years before. Now, in 2022, imagine how weird it would be if I went to Slovakia and collected rent after the house that had been taken away by force from my grandfather in 1946.
This map is not perfect but it shows both the 16th century and the modern borders of Hungary (pink dots)
Thury György met and befriended Chief Captain Lazarus von Schwendi in Kanizsa castle. As the Captain of Kanizsa, Thury’s goal was to extend the castle vicinity’s boundaries and take back lands from the enemy. He wanted to increase the profit made by the castle’s villages. Soon, he got into a conflict with the Bey of Szigetvár castle because of this. Once he even captured the Bey but the Viennese court ordered him to release him. As for his duels, we do not have records about their numbers because they were banned.
According to contemporary sources, he had 600 victorious fights. However, we know about a few. For example, there was a very strong warrior called Koralikos who came from Mesopotamia just to challenge him. Later, Thury took part in a duel in which a team fought against another team of warriors in 1570 in Kanizsa.
Kanizsa castle in the 17th century
Thury caused plenty of damage to the enemy in the South-Trans -Danubian Region so the Ottoman beys of the area decided to lure him into a trap in 1571. They sent a smaller raiding party as bait near Kanizsa. Thury rode out with a small unit and he was ambushed in a narrow valley at Orosztorony by a vastly outnumbering army of the enemy. He made his last stand there. When his horse was killed, his page offered him his horse but he was dragged back to the ground: the ambushers tried to injure his leg to capture him alive.
Thury did not want to get into their hands so he tore off his helmet to receive a lethal wound sooner. “You, hounds, will not lead me on a lead,” he said according to a song about him. Thus, he was slaughtered, his head severed and sent to Istanbul. We know, that many Borderland warriors of Kanizsa were killed or captured in this fight, too. His head was not given out to the Habsburg Emperor’s envoy, though. You can read more details about his last stand here:

https://www.hungarianottomanwars.com/1541-1699/1571-the-last-stand-of-captain-thury-gyorgy/

Thury’s “pallos” in the museum of Kanizsa, being guarded by Hungarian reenactors
When Thury’s friend, Zrínyi György heard about the peril, he hurried to Orosztorony but he was too late. He buried the hero in Kanizsa castle. The chapel where Thury was put to rest was standing in 1664, according to the Christian troops who besieged Kanizsa at that time. It means, that the enemy respected and did not bother the tomb of Thury György even after the taking of Kanizsa in 1600.
It is quite likely that his scribe, Alistály Márton was the one who created the famous song about his death. The scribe was fighting beside him at Orosztorny. The double-edged broadsword of Thury György is on display in the Hungarian National Museum. You can read more about this weapon here:

https://www.hungarianottomanwars.com/swords-and-sabers/pallos/

Read the short dramatized writing of Konnát Árpád, I’ve just translated it into English:

The Sixt Hundreth

„I’m the Six Hundredth. That is who I am. At first, I was a little embarrassed to think that I was just a number under God’s heaven, but now that I have ridden into Paradise on the bridge of Alsirate under the shadow of two crossed swords into the arms of these seventy-two full-bosomed virgins, I am no longer ashamed to tell how I came here by the infinite grace of God.
I was born in a small mountain village in the Balkans, my father was a farmer and also a poacher, like all the men in the village, he hunted whenever he could. I was the strongest of my six brothers and sisters, and from the age of seven, I went hunting with my father.
I was fourteen when Turkish soldiers came to our village and rounded up all the boys over fourteen, including me. My parents said a tearful goodbye to me, but I was happy because I knew that if they took me away, my parents and brothers would not be hurt anymore, and they would not have to pay more taxes. After a long and tiring walk, we arrived in the capital of the Empire, Istanbul.
It was at this place where we were circumcised and learned about the true faith. I met God for the first time here while lying on my back in the mosque and looking up at the sunlight streaming through the dome. It was then that I felt I had come home. Afterwards, we were assigned to families and I was placed with a wise Hodja.
He was very strict with me, and always chastised me if I made a mistake or did something wrong, but he also showed me great love. During my four years here, I grew a lot in body and soul, and at the same time, my faith in God and of course in His Prophet (peace be upon him) grew stronger.
At the age of eighteen, I was sent back to the barracks where I continued my training. Soon I was the strongest of the ten of us, and I was chosen to be a Boluk-bashi. We were not long in Istanbul, for we were off to the eastern reaches of the Empire, to fight the Persians.
After the victorious campaign, I was visited in the camp by the same old wise Hodja who had educated me for four years. He told me that far to the west, the true believers of the Empire were being ravaged by a monster that must be defeated and that each regiment should send ten champions.
It was known that this monster had already killed five hundred and fifty of our comrades. It was a great honor to be one of these ten warriors. But the black soup came next, for the soldiers of the Hodja led us to an old fighting pit, where they threw a saber and told us that only one man could come out of the pit alive.
No more needed to be said, we saw that we would be all being shot like hedgehogs, so we turned on each other to get the only weapon. God was with me and wounded though I was, I crawled out alive with a saber with a soaking bloody blade in my hand.
This is how nine of my friends arrived in Paradise just before me. There were also twenty other warriors, each having lost nine comrades. The Hodja took twenty of us to a mountain in Anatolia, where we pitched our tents and hunted for our survival.
Every day was tough. I believed we were all strong fighters to be here, but I was let down. Satan guided me down a selfish path. Compared to the Hodja, we were all just young children.
Every day we fought, practiced archery, trained, and prayed five times a day. We also performed the holy ablutions and learned much about God and His Prophet (Peace be upon him) from the Hodja.
Meanwhile, news kept coming in from the far West that the monster was killing more and more of our soldiers, five hundred and sixty, five hundred and seventy and the number kept growing. Now we were curious to know what this monster was like, but it is not fitting for a valiant warrior to be girlishly nosy, so we did not ask our master. Finally, after two years, the Hodja deemed us ready for the challenge.
One morning the soldiers of the Hodja took our weapons and chased us out of the camp into the forest. In the forest, they released a lot of pre-wounded wolves. They were real huge grey-furred Anatolian monsters. But by this time I had believed in God so strongly that I feared nothing but Him, and my faith helped me to defeat the wolf, which I strangled with my bare hands and then threw its carcass at the feet of the Hodja.
There were only ten of us left out of twenty, but we ten were such fighters that each of us was equal to ten other men. The Hodja then told us that the monster we had to defeat was not a wolf, but a Lion. A walking Lion with a huge mustache and eyes that shoot fire.
So the ten of us set out to the West to confront him for the glory of God and His Prophet (peace be upon him). In the meantime, we were receiving news of more true believers being devoured by the Lion, five hundred and eighty, five hundred and ninety. We traveled across the Empire until we reached the edge of the Lion’s Homeland.
It was a region about the same as where I come from, but with gentler hills and bigger rivers. By the time we got there, another nine of our champions had fallen at the Lion’s hand. Of the ten of us, I was by far the strongest, so I was given the honor of facing him.
God has already aided me in defeating Satan and his aspirations. Therefore, I composed my challenge letter with humility, expressed in simple language, which went as follows:
“To my honourable Captain Thury György, in the castle of Palota. I, who am Abd el Karim, first Bolik-basi of the Janissary-ordu, soldier of the Padishah, and most humble servant of God and His Prophet (Peace be upon him), call upon your lordship for a duel.
We Turkish soldiers of the True Faith here know that your Lordship is a worthy man, whose many brave warriors eat his bread. There is no other Thury György in this country but your Lordship. We all know this well, and so we often raise a glass to your Lordship’s name, not sitting still, but standing up!
Let there be a contest between us on the twenty-fifth day of the month of Resheba, in the field beneath Palota castle. I call upon your Lordship to fight to the death, expecting an early answer to my letter. God grant victory to the better man! God with us!”
Along with this letter, I sent the Lion a magnificently harnessed Arabian thoroughbred as a gift, to show him that he was facing a valiant opponent.
“Let my letter be given to Abd el Karim Basi. I accept your Lordship’s challenge. May God decide in our struggle.”
That’s all the reply letter said, but for me, it was more than enough. I was very excited the night before the fight, even though I’d never been defeated, be it by a Serb, Turk, Persian, or wolf, but still felt afraid of whether my faith would remain strong enough.
I prayed all night to enter the field of battle with a clear spirit at dawn. We arrived at the Lion’s castle well past noon when they showed up. They were men dressed like us, riding the same horses with the same weapons.
Even the manner of hanging the sword was identical. It felt like we were facing our reflection from across the flower field. The Lion himself was a cheerful, broad-shouldered man, shorter than me, with a large mustache. Wearing nothing but a hussar’s helmet and breastplate for armor, he drew a huge Persian broadsword from under his saddle and twirled it in his hand as quickly as if it were a hazelnut rod.
We agreed to fight to the death on foot. We prayed beforehand, of course. He plunged his sword into the ground, knelt, made the sign of the cross, and started praying. I had already performed the holy ablution beforehand so that I could stand before him in purity to pray, prostrate on my prayer mat, facing East.
He ended his prayer quickly, then patiently waited for me until I got up much later. I held my shield in my left hand and drew my Damascus sword. He waited calmly and smiled strangely at me, which sent shivers down my spine, although I had put all my faith and hope in God and His Prophet (Peace be upon him!) All he said was, in the twinkling of an eye, before I struck him, “Lord God and Saint László!”
After ten seconds, I became The Six Hundredth. Now with my life on earth behind me, here in Paradise, I realize: we will never be able to defeat the Lion. I can now safely admit this, for I have fulfilled my soul’s dream, dying in a holy war in defense and glorious spread of the faith of God and His Prophet (Peace be upon him).
I am no longer angry with Thury György for killing me. There is no shame in losing against a Lion. We are brave warriors like they are, so that’s not why we can’t beat them. There are only two valiant nations under God’s heaven, we Turks and the Hungarians.
We cannot overcome him because his faith is stronger, not for any other reason. May God bless the Hungarians, and may Thury György also receive God’s blessings! Let peace be upon him.”
(Written by Konnát Árpád, translated by Szántai Gábor)

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