Count Nádasdy Ferenc, the Strong Black Bey (1555-1604)
Count Nádasdy Ferenc, the Strong Black Bey (1555-1604)
Nádasdy II Ferenc, an outstanding commander of the Borderland wars, died in Sárvár castle on 4 January 1604. 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 family names come first.) You can read more about Nádasdy Tamás here:
After twenty years of living together, the couple’s only child was born at dawn on 7 October 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 to 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 21 October. He was often ill as a boy, his body covered with boils, but with the help of the ever-helpful doctor Szegedi Kőrös Gáspár, he recovered and grew up.
We know that his father took special care of his upbringing, but he was also given lots of toys for children. Perhaps he even learned to play the lute. At 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 also warned his wife to spank him occasionally, and even earlier, not to spare his eyes from the sun, as he would often have to ‘look at the point of the bald spear’.
Nádasdy was educated by Lutheran priests Beythe István and Szegedi Máté, and Sennyei Ferenc, the castle governor of the Sárvár and Kapuvár castles. Thus, he became a follower of the new faith. His father died in 1562, and in 1567 his son was sent to the imperial court in Vienna by his wife Orsolya. He grew up with the children of the monarch. The children Rudolph and Matthias were nearly his own age. He also had access to the Emperor, who sometimes led the young Nádasdy by the hand. He played in court plays and learned Latin and German. But he never went on to higher education.
His mother chose for him his future wife. She was Báthory Erzsébet, the daughter of Báthory György and Báthory Anna. The engagement ceremony took place in 1573, and the wedding was on 8 May 1575 in Varannó, Zemplén county. Few letters testify to the couple’s relationship, but it seems they lived in a harmonious marriage. They had several children, of whom three daughters (Orsolya, Katalin, and Anna) and two sons (Paul 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:
Nádasdy Ferenc is known primarily for his military deeds, but he also made a mark in the field of culture and his chosen religion. At the Csepreg Synod of 1591, he and his priests professed their faith in the Lutheran religion, and those who held other (e.g. Helvetic) principles were banished from their estates. Sárvár castle, the seat of Nádasdy, became the stronghold of Lutheran culture and was also the seat of the bishopric. His preachers continued to spread the faith, and the books that came out of his press became important literary works of the Reformation. First of all, we must 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 considered the Turkish conquest to be the consequence of the sins of the Catholics. In the military section 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 launching the literature on the disputation of faith.
He was one of the wealthiest aristocrats of his time, so it is no wonder that he was involved in politics. He was appointed Royal Stable Master and was a regular participant in the Diets. However, in the 1570s-80s, his career seemed to be on the rocks, as he was connected to his friends, especially to Batthyány Boldizsár, and the Polish King Báthory István (also the Prince of Transylvania). Nádasdy and his friends would have been glad 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 only eased after King Báthory’s death 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.
He was a regular participant in the anti-Ottoman struggle from a young age. The Transdanubian region and Slavonia were his areas of operation, and his successes gave him his well-known name. Initially, he suffered setbacks, including a heavy defeat at the Vértes Mountain in the summer of 1578, but he became a capable leader in time. From the complaints of the Pasha of Buda, we learn that he appeared around Fehérvár, Zsámbék, Buda, Simontornya, or Berzence castles which were deep in the Ottoman-controlled lands.
He always took care of fortifying the Borderland, he also had palisades built at 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 real, much-publicized deed was accomplished in February 1587, when he and the Trans-Danubian soldiers surprised Koppány Castle despite the harsh winter. 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 because he thought it was Nádasdy because the Hajdú pretended himself in order to defend Nádasdy. Then, Nádasdy was carried away by Turks who were dragging him out of a house, he fell from his horse, but fortunately recovered in time to kill his opponent. Here is more about it:
In June 1584, he defeated the Bey of Pozega at Károlyváros, where he also captured the Alaj-Bey. He is known to have regularly held more distinguished Turkish prisoners captive, but generally treated them fairly. He released the Alaj-Bey to go and raise 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, giving him due respect. He described that when he traveled on one occasion with a Hungarian soldier, he raised his glass to Nádasdy: “I drink a full glass of wine to a man who has no match in the court of the emperor or the sultan, whose sword is the mightiest sword, who goes everywhere and wins everywhere.”
However, he could also be cruel when he needed to be. In the autumn of 1589, following an attack on Fehérvár castle, the Turkish Bey had three Hungarians impaled on stakes for not having informed him in advance of the Hungarian preparations. In response, Nádasdy himself had three Turks, two Odabasa and the Kihajá of Fehérvár impaled alongside them. 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 the letter of Pasha Ferhát of Buda, written on 20 July 1589, addressed to Archduke Ernest von Habsburg that the Hungarians were breaking the truce, they were raiding all the time around Székesfehérvár Castle… 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” aka Nádasdy Ferenc who took bloody revenge in exchange for it.
We know that the Hungarian Borderland warriors of Komárom Castle were raiding around Vál at this time. They captured a Turk Agha and after slaughtering the guards, herded away 16 horses that had belonged to the Pasha of Buda. Not much later, (according to the Pasha’s letter), in June and in July on the day of Saint Jakab, the Hungarian Hussar rode out to the Ottoman-held Székesfehérvár.
They must have been lucky because they angered the Turk commander of (Székes)Fehérvár Castle very much. 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 has heard of it in Sárvár Castle. He got so furious that he had three of his Turk prisoners of war impaled at once.
As the Pasha complained, these Turks were two “odabasi” officers of the Janissaries and the third one was a “kihaja” officer so they were higher in rank than mere peasants. Nádasdy must have gotten fed up because he executed three of his valuable prisoners who could have been ransomed. By the way, Pasha Ferhát wrote a letter of complaint to Emperor Rudolf about this case as well.
Nádasdy’s name was also known among the Turks, so much so 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 Grand Vizier Sinan. The Hungarian overlord, however, did not turn traitor and was fighting on the Habsburg side with his troops. In the autumn of 1593, he took part in the attack on Fehérvár castle and in defeating the army of the Pasha of Buda. In the spring of the following year, together with György Zrínyi György aka Juraj Zrinski, they recaptured several fortresses along the Dráva River and then marched to the siege of Esztergom.
Nádasdy also took part in the assault of 19 May, during which Balassi Bálint, the great poet and warrior was killed. After that, his role was important in the defense of Győr castle and in the crushing of the Crimean Tatars who were advancing on the Rábaköz. After the fall of Győr, he took part in the construction of the new fortress line, the Magyaróvár-Sárvár Borderland section. In 1595, during the second siege of Esztergom, he and Pálffy Miklós captured Párkány, twice crushed the Ottoman relief army, and again his life was in danger during the raid on Vörösvár on 27 August. He was then present at the talks before the surrender of Esztergom. You can read more about these in the series written about the events of the 15-Year War:
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 establishment of a more independent Hungarian army. In the summer of 1597, at his suggestion, the Christian army marched to retake 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 autumn of that year, he was in the army that marched to the siege of Buda. In 1600 he was 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 in the capture of Székesfehérvár (1601), not to mention the second and third sieges of Buda (1602, 1603).
The successful defense of Pest, and the victory at Csepel Island in the autumn of 1603, were also partly due to his effective contribution. On several occasions, he was asked to conduct peace negotiations with the Turks. For his successes, he and Pálffy were knighted with gold spurs on 28 June 1598. You can read more about the Order of the Knights of the Golden Spur and the details of Nádasdy’s knighting ceremony on my page:
After the fall of Kanizsa, he, along with Zrínyi György (Juraj Zrinski) and Batthyány Ferenc, submitted a proposal for the establishment of a new line of Borderland, and the Military Council took his ideas into consideration.
The Fifteen Years’ War was still going on when he died of an unknown illness (or wound) on 4 January 1604 in his castle in Sárvár. His priest, Magyari István, gave him a beautiful funeral oration, calling him “a star of Hungary, a mirror of the valiant, 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 then a prisoner in Constantinople, heard of the death of his former master and wrote a poem about him in his memory.
You can read my article about the Nádasdy Banderium, a reenactor association in Hungary here: