Count Nádasdy Ferenc, the Strong Black Bey (1555-1604)

Nádasdy Ferenc

Nádasdy II Ferenc, an outstanding commander of the Borderland, died on January 4, 1604, in the castle of Sárvár. His life is exceptionally well documented, thanks to the attention paid to the family by his parents, the noble Nádasdy Tamás and Kanizsai Orsolya, and the intimate relationship and regular correspondence between them. (Please note that I use the Oriental name order for Hungarians, where the surname comes first). You can read more about Nádasdy Tamás here:

Nádasdy Tamás (1498-1562)
After twenty years of living together, the couple’s only child was born at dawn on October 7, 1555, with the help of a doctor within the walls of the castle of Sárvár. The circumstances of his birth are recorded in several letters, so we know that a German and a Hungarian midwife attended the mother and that the German woman was largely responsible for the child’s survival. The boy was named after his grandfather and baptized on October 21. He was often ill as a boy, his body covered with boils, but with the help of the always helpful doctor Szegedi Kőrös Gáspár, he recovered and grew up.
Sárvár castle 
We know that his father took special care of his education, but he also received many toys for children. He may even have learned to play the lute. By the age of five, he could read and write, as a letter to his father attests. He was not spoiled, and his father, the Palatine, even warned his wife to spank him occasionally, and even earlier to protect his eyes from the sun, as he would often have to “look at the tip of the bald spear’.
Nádasdy was educated by the Lutheran priests Beythe István, Szegedi Máté, and Sennyei Ferenc, the governor of the castles of Sárvár and Kapuvár. Thus he became a follower of the new faith. His father died in 1562, and in 1567 his son was sent by his wife Orsolya to the imperial court in Vienna. He grew up with the monarch’s children. The children Rudolph and Matthias were almost his age. He also had access to the emperor, who sometimes led the young Nádasdy by the hand. He acted in court plays and learned Latin and German. But he never went on to higher education.
The statue of Nádasdy Ferenc in Sárvár (Photo: Goga504)

His mother chose his future wife. She was Báthory Erzsébet, the daughter of Báthory György and Báthory Anna. The engagement took place in 1573, and the wedding took place on May 8, 1575, in Varannó, Zemplén County. There are few letters about the relationship of the couple, but it seems that they lived in a harmonious marriage. They had several children, of whom three daughters (Orsolya, Katalin, and Anna) and two sons ( Pál and András) are known. Although her identity was later obscured by the bloody accusation, there was nothing in her marriage to suggest that she was different from other women of the time. You can read more about Báthory Erzsébet on my page:

Báthory Erzsébet
Nádasdy Ferenc is best known for his military exploits, but he also made his mark in the field of culture and his chosen religion. At the Csepreg Synod of 1591, he and his priests declared their faith in the Lutheran religion, and those who held other (e.g. Helvetic) principles were banished from their estates. The castle of Sárvár, the seat of Nádasdy, became the stronghold of Lutheran culture and the seat of the bishopric. His preachers continued to spread the faith, and the books published by his press became important literary works of the Reformation.
First of all, we should mention the work written in 1602 by his priest Magyari István on the causes of the many corruptions in the countries, in which the preacher saw the Turkish conquest as a consequence of the sins of the Catholics. In the military part of the book, some scholars have assumed that it was a summary of Nádasdy Ferenc’s military thoughts. The work had such an impact that Cardinal Pázmány Péter himself wrote his famous reply to it, thus starting the literature of the disputation of faith.
Cardinal Pázmány who re-catholized almost the entire Kingdom of Hungary
He was one of the wealthiest aristocrats of his time, so it is not surprising that he was involved in politics. He was appointed Royal Stable Master and regularly attended the Diets. However, in the 1570s and 80s, his career seemed to be on the rocks, as he was associated with his friends, especially Batthyány Boldizsár and the Polish king Báthory István (also the prince of Transylvania).
Nádasdy and his friends would have been happy to see Báthory István on the Hungarian throne. The court in Vienna became suspicious of them and wanted to summon and arrest them, but the two lords did not attend the summons. The hostility towards them diminished only after the death of King Báthory in 1586. Nádasdy did not win any serious political office, and he received the title of District Chief Captain of Transdanubia rather for his military successes.
Báthory István, King of Poland and Prince of Transylvania (1533-1586)
He was a regular participant in the anti-Ottoman struggle from his youth. The Transdanubian region and Slavonia were his areas of operation, and his successes gave him his famous name. Initially, he suffered setbacks, including a heavy defeat at Vértes Hill in the summer of 1578, but in time he became a capable leader. From the complaints of the Pasha of Buda, we learn that he appeared around the castles of Fehérvár, Zsámbék, Buda, Simontornya, or Berzence, which were deep in the Ottoman-controlled lands.
Nádasdy Ferenc
He always took care of the fortification of the Borderland, he also had palisades built in Komárom and Kanizsa. At the end of September 1580, he defeated the Bey of Pozsega near Varasd. In 1588 he tried to recapture Gesztes Castle by ambush, but his most famous deed took place in February 1587, when he and the Trans-Danubian soldiers surprised Koppány Castle despite the harsh winter.
Komárom castle
The secret operation was a complete success, the castle was taken and destroyed. During the battle, Nádasdy’s life was in danger several times, the Bey of Koppány killed the Hajdú soldier, who he thought was Nádasdy because the Hajdú pretended to be himself to defend Nádasdy. Then Nádasdy was carried away by the Turks who were dragging him out of a house, he fell from his horse, but fortunately, he recovered in time to kill his opponent.. Here is more about it:
In June 1584 he defeated the Bey of Pozsega at Károlyváros, where he also captured the Alaj-Bey. He is known to have regularly held more prominent Turkish prisoners but generally treated them fairly. He released the Alaj-Bey to collect his ransom, and his brother took his place as a hostage until the Bey returned with the money. The Ottoman chronicler Ibrahim Pecsevi also wrote about Nádasdy and gave him the respect he deserved. He described that once when he was traveling with a Hungarian soldier, he raised his glass to Nádasdy: “I drink a full glass of wine to a man who has no equal in the court of the Emperor or the Sultan, whose sword is the mightiest sword, who goes everywhere and wins everywhere”.
A Hungarian Hussar from 1591
But he could also be cruel when he needed to be. In the fall of 1589, after an attack on the castle of Fehérvár, the Turkish Bey had three Hungarians impaled on stakes for not informing him of the Hungarian preparations. In response, Nádasdy himself impaled three Turks, two Odabasa, and the Kihajá of Fehérvár. Here is more about this incident, according to the research of Szerecz Miklós:

An eye for an eye, and teeth for teeth…

We can read in the letter of Pasha Ferhát of Buda, written on July 20, 1589, to Archduke Ernest of Habsburg, that the Hungarians were breaking the truce, they were raiding all the time around the castle of Székesfehérvár… We can also read the story that the Sanjak Bey of Székesfehérvár punished the Hungarians for the raids, but his cruel deed was answered by the “Strong Black Bey” alias Nádasdy Ferenc who took bloody revenge.
The siege of Székesfehérvár, 1543
We know that the Hungarian Borderland warriors of the Komárom Castle were raiding around Vál at that time. They captured a Turk, Agha, and after slaughtering the guards they took away 16 horses belonging to the Pasha of Buda. Not much later (according to the letter of the Pasha), in June and July, on the day of St. Jakab, the Hungarian hussars rode to the Ottoman-held Székesfehérvár.
Székesfehérvár in 1602
They must have been lucky, because they made the Turkish commander of the castle of Fehérvár very angry. The Bey of Fehérvár got angry and blamed the neighboring Hungarian villages for not having warned him, and as a punishment he had three judges of the villages impaled. The news of the punishment spread quickly and Nádasdy heard about it in the castle of Sárvár. He was so angry that he had three of his Turkish prisoners impaled at once.
The Nádasdy castle in Sárvár (Photo: Civertan)
As the pasha complained, these Turks were two “odabasi” officers of the janissaries and the third was a “kihaja” officer, so they were higher in rank than mere peasants. Nádasdy must have had enough because he executed three of his valuable prisoners who could have been ransomed. By the way, Pasha Ferhát also wrote a letter of complaint to Emperor Rudolf about this case.
a Hungarian Hussar reenactor
Nádasdy’s name was so well known among the Turks that in the summer of 1593 when the Sublime Porte declared war on the Habsburgs, they offered Nádasdy the Kingdom of Bohemia in exchange for the accession of the Grand Vizier Sinan. The Hungarian ruler, however, did not turn traitor and fought with his troops on the side of the Habsburgs. In the fall of 1593, he participated in the attack on the castle of Fehérvár and in the defeat of the army of the Pasha of Buda. In the spring of the following year, together with Zrínyi György (Juraj Zrinski), they retook several fortresses along the Dráva River and then marched to the siege of Esztergom.
The site in Esztergom castle where Balassi was shot
Nádasdy also took part in the May 19 attack that killed Balassi Bálint, the great poet and warrior. After that, he played an important role in the defense of the castle of Győr and in the defeat of the Crimean Tatars who were advancing towards Rábaköz. After the fall of Győr, he participated in the construction of a new line of fortifications, the Magyaróvár-Sárvár Borderland section. In 1595, during the second siege of Esztergom, he and Pálffy Miklós captured Párkány, twice defeated the Ottoman relief army, and again his life was in danger during the attack on Vörösvár on August 27. He was then present at the talks before the surrender of Esztergom.
You can read more about this in the series about the events of the 15 Years’ War:
Győr in 1594
Together with Pálffy, they called for a more effective defense, and in the winter of 1597 they visited King Rudolf in Prague several times. Before the Diet, Nádasdy also demanded the creation of a more independent Hungarian army. In the summer of 1597, at his suggestion, the Christian army marched to recapture Pápa Castle, and the following year he fought in the blitzkrieg that ended with the recapture of Tata, Veszprém, Palota, Gesztes, and Vitány castles. In the fall of the same year he was in the army that marched to the siege of Buda. In 1600 he took part in the occupation of Pápa by rebel mercenaries, when he was briefly elected commander-in-chief of the Hungarian armies, as well as in the attempted liberation of Kanizsa and the capture of Székesfehérvár (1601), not to mention the second and third sieges of Buda (1602, 1603).
Pápa castle in 1597
The successful defense of Pest and the victory at Csepel Island in the fall of 1603 were also due to his effective contribution. On several occasions, he was asked to conduct peace negotiations with the Turks. On June 28, 1598, he and Pálffy were knighted with golden spurs for their achievements. You can read more about the Order of the Golden Spur and the details of Nádasdy’s knighting ceremony on my page:
After the fall of Kanizsa, together with Zrínyi György (Juraj Zrinski) and Batthyány Ferenc, he submitted a proposal for the establishment of a new Borderland line, and the Military Council considered his ideas.
Lord Gyulaffy and Lord Thury, perhaps the greatest Hungarian knights of the Golden Spur (picture: Győző Somogyi)
The Fifteen Years’ War was still going on when he died of an unknown illness (or wound) in his castle in Sárvár on January 4, 1604. His priest, Magyari István, gave a beautiful oration at his funeral, calling him “a star of Hungary, a mirror of the brave, a shield of our country, a bastion of our counties, and a faithful guardian of all Christendom until death”. He was buried in Léka. Wathay Ferenc, who was a prisoner in Constantinople at that time, heard about the death of his former master and wrote a poem about him in his memory.
The presentation of the Nádasdy Banderium
You can read my article about the Nádasdy Banderium, a reenactor association in Hungary here:
Source: Nádasdy Ferenc Bandérium 
The portrays of Nádasdy Ferenc and Báthori Erzsébet of Ecsed in the Museum of Csejte Castle’s Museum

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