Fráter György (Utišinović / Martinuzzi György) 1482-1551

Fráter György
Martinuzzi György or “Fráter György” came from a Croatian family, his Croatian name was Juraj Utješenović, but he was often nicknamed the “White Monk” because of his white habit worn by Pauline monks. We will call him Prior György, Friar György, the White Monk, Fráter György or Martinuzzi…
A nobleman, a statesman, a Pauline monk, later Bishop of Várad, Archbishop of Esztergom and finally Cardinal, he is still quite a divisive figure and many Hungarian historians have mixed feelings about him. Let us not forget the dangerous times in which he lived: it was a time of religious wars and people were being executed all over Europe because of their faith. We see him as the statesman who laid the foundations of the semi-independent Principality of Transylvania. Not to speak of him would be to leave Cardinal Richelieu or his agent, François Leclerc du Tremblay, the Grey Friar, out of French history.
The COA of Fráter György (Drawing: GiMa38)
He was born on 18 June 1482 in the castle of Kamicsác into a Croatian/Hungarian/Venetian noble family. His father was Grgur Utiešenić or Utiešenović (the Hungarians called him Utyeszenics, Utyeszenovics Gergely). His mother was Martinušević Anna, a descendant of a Venetian noble family. Later, her name was used for her son in a more Italian way, which is why we also call him “Martinuzzi”. On his father’s side he comes from a Hungarian noble family (from the Dobra genus). His grandfather was Mátyok-Kézi András. György was still a child when his father and his two eldest brothers, Miklós and Mátyás, died and the Ottomans occupied the family estates. His third brother, Jakab, died as a soldier during the siege of Nándorfehérvár castle in 1521. He had a sister named Anna, who later married Draskovich Bertalan.
Nándorfehérvár / Belgrade in 1522
Later György went to the court of Prince Corvin János, the natural son of King Matthias, who sent him to serve at Hunyad Castle. György spent 13 years at the prince’s side and became a soldier. At the age of 20, he went to the Szepesség (Zipt, Spis) Region, to the castle of Szepesvár (Spis), where he joined the court of Princess Hedvig of Teschen, the widow of the late Palatine Szapolyai István. György distinguished himself as a soldier and all his comrades looked up to him for his morality. It is believed that he could neither read nor write at that time. After the battle of Mohács (1526), György was in the service of King Szapolyai, the son of Princess Hedvig. He fought in Szapolyai’s army in Transylvania and gained a good reputation, being called a fearless warrior.
The Szepesség in the Kingdom of Hungary
Then, at the age of 24, he began his ecclesiastical career and soon became a Pauline monk in the monastery of Budaszentlőrinc. The Pauline Order is the only monastic order founded in Hungary, and its monks can be recognized by their white robes. He learned to read and write and was then sent to Poland to continue his education. There he soon became prior of the Jasna Gora monastery in Częstochowa. When he returned home in 1527, he was elected Prior of the monastery of Sajólád. That is why we sometimes call him Prior György.
Szepes castle
The Dual Kingship tore the Kingdom of Hungary in two when King Ferdinand of Habsburg attacked Szapolyai. When King Szapolyai was defeated in the Battle of Szina in the spring of 1528, he had to flee to Poland. On his way there he met Prior György, who decided to travel to Poland with him. Once there, Prior György helped to raise soldiers, supporters, and money for his king, and it was he who organized the king’s return. He soon became King Szapolyai’s closest advisor. It was Lodovico Gritti, Sultan Suleiman’s man in Hungary, who appointed him as a judge at the Buda Castle in 1532.
Lodovico Gritti
Gritti, the natural son of the Venetian Doge, wanted to seize power in Transylvania and made the mistake of assassinating Bishop Czibak Imre of Transylvania. This ultimately cost him his life, as the enraged Hungarian nobles slaughtered him. As for King Szapolyai, he was glad to be rid of the Sultan’s man. Soon the king gave the bishopric of Várad (Oradea) to Prior György in 1534. However, the pope did not confirm his title until 1539. He also became the king’s treasurer and advisor. As treasurer, he did an excellent job and managed to fill the treasury. He united and centralized all the chambers and was strict with his men. Because of this, he was often accused of being greedy and power-hungry.
King Szapolyai János of Hungary
Friar György carried out important diplomatic missions on behalf of his king and was instrumental in securing the 1538 truce between Ferdinand of Habsburg and Szapolyai. The Treaty of Várad in 1538 ended the war and Ferdinand accepted Szapolyai’s rule for the time being, believing that he would outlive him. According to the treaty, Ferdinand was to inherit Szapolyai’s throne on his death. Ferdinand did his best to get rid of Szapolyai, even sending an assassin to kill him, but Szapolyai disarmed his attacker himself. Not much later, in 1539, Szapolyai married the Polish/Italian prince Isabella Jagiello. We know that Prior György was actively involved in organizing the royal marriage. Ferdinand was furious and betrayed the secret agreement to Sultan Suleiman.
King Habsburg Ferdinand I of Hungary
János Zsigmond, the son of King Szapolyai, was born in 1540. When Szapolyai heard the news of his birth, he hurried home but fell mortally ill (rumor has it that he was poisoned.) On his deathbed, he appointed Martinuzzi as his son’s guardian. At the same time, he made the monk break the Treaty of Várad and ordered him to have the baby crowned King of Hungary. Fráter (Prior) György obeyed, and the first thing he did was to organize the defense of Buda Castle against the attack of Ferdinand of Habsburg in 1540.
Suleiman receiving Isabella at Buda
Then he saw that he would not have enough military power to defend Buda against Habsburg Ferdinand, so he asked Sultan Suleiman for help the following year. Suleiman set out with his army in 1541 and joined forces with Martinuzzi, together they defeated the German troops. The Sultan then used a trick to take Buda Castle. But there is more to the story because Queen Isabella had a hand in it. You can read my dramatized short historical story about it here:

At the time, contemporary Hungarians accused Martinuzzi of losing Buda and becoming a “vassal of the Turks”. His hunger for power and his immense political ambitions were criticized. Indeed, Martinuzzi never forgave himself for the loss of Buda. Of course, it is always easier to judge a situation long after the fact.

Fráter (Prior / Friar / Martinuzzi) György

Sultan Suleiman sent Queen Isabella and the baby king to Transylvania to rule. Originally it was Sultan Suleiman who gave Martinuzzi power over the Trans-Tisza region in 1541, appointing Petrovics Péter as leader of the Temesköz Region in return for an annual tax. However, he was disappointed by the loyalty of his new ‘vassals’, at least as far as Martinuzzi, the guardian of the child king János Zsigmond II, was concerned. At the beginning of September 1541, Isabella and her court left for the East. She was accompanied by her Prior György, Szapolyai’s former treasurer. He was now governor of the Trans-Tisza Region.

Buda before 1541
Prior György soon realized that Suleiman was not helping his Hungarian vassal in his fight against Ferdinand in the usual way, i.e. not only by providing military assistance but also by taking permanent possession of the capital. But Isabella was both furious and delighted that it was his fault that the Hungarian royal capital had fallen into Turkish hands.
However, once they arrived in their new part of the country, Isabella moved (temporarily) into the castle at Lippa, and the White Monk began to apply his former energy to the administration of the territory under her rule. But he also understood that the Treaty of Várad of 1538, which would have transferred the country to Ferdinand on the death of King Szapolyai, should not be broken. He therefore sought contact with the Habsburg king and was pleased to learn that Ferdinand was indeed willing to help in the recovery of Buda.
Hungary in 1541

The Treaty of Gyalu 

On 5 December 1541, the Austrian and Bohemian provinces granted the king substantial aid for the war against the Turks. The loss of Buda had brought the Turks within touching distance of the hereditary provinces of Bohemia and Austria. Then the White Monk, as a politician should, began to balance the power by trying to unite Hungary under the Habsburgs. This time, Prior György could also see that Ferdinand’s intentions were serious, and hopes were revived that the whole of Hungary could be reunited.
Queen Isabella
Thus, on 29 December at Gyalu Castle in Transylvania, Ferdinand’s envoy Serédy Gáspár and, on behalf of Isabella, Prior György, Petrovics Péter and János Statileo, Bishop of Transylvania, signed the treaty, which was very similar to the text of the Peace of Várad. In other words, the whole country was united under Ferdinand’s rule, and in return, the Szapolyai family was to receive compensation, but this time they would have to make do with the castle of Szepes and its outbuildings.
Gyalu Castle in Transylvania

In a personal declaration, Friar György agreed to become a loyal subject of Ferdinand, but only if he ‘defends the country and snatches it from the jaws of the enemy, and receives his loyal subjects into his royal favor’. Ferdinand did indeed send his armies the following year, this time with more than 50,000 men, but it was too late, in the autumn, and the siege of Buda ended in disaster. The Treaty of Gyalu did not come into force and Isabella remained governor of Transylvania. In 1543, however, Suleiman invaded Hungary again to extend the defenses of Buda. The castles of Siklós, Pécs, Esztergom, Tata, and Székesfehérvár all fell to the Ottomans.


The siege of Buda and Pest in 1542

At the same time, in 1542, the White Monk began to organize Eastern Hungary. Soon Martinuzzi was able to seize most of the power, and Queen Isabella began to hate him with all her heart. In addition, the angry Ottomans sent the army of Voivode Petru Rareş of Wallachia to invade Transylvania. Fortunately, Martinuzzi was also an excellent military leader and was able to defeat them. You can read more about the Battle of Pest in 1542 here:

Despite all the difficulties, Martinuzzi tried to maintain contact with Habsburg Ferdinand. He sent him secret information about the plans of the Ottomans to attack the castles of Székesfehérvár and Esztergom in 1543. At the same time, the White Monk sent his envoys with his annual tax to the Sublime Porte. For this reason, Ferdinand did not trust him unconditionally.

Hungary in 1550
Transylvania seemed to be an island of tolerance compared to the cruelty of the West when it came to religion. The White Monk tried to tolerate the beliefs of others for the sake of the fragile inner peace of Transylvania, but once he sent a man to the stake for slapping a woman who was praying before a carved statue of the Virgin Mary. For me, it was a crime he had committed. But without the stubborn work of the White Monk, the Principality of Transylvania would never have been born.
Fráter György
A talented statesman, he went to great lengths to raise an army and fortify the frontier against both the Ottoman Turks and the Habsburgs. However, Queen Isabella hated him deeply and tried to undermine him wherever she could. Nominally it was Queen Isabella who held power on behalf of her son, but in reality, it was Martinuzzi who ran the country.
His rule was legitimized by the will of King Szapolyai, and he also enjoyed the official approval of the Sultan. In addition, he had firm ideas and the ability to keep the reins of power in his hands. He soon became Bishop of Csanád, and after the death of Bishop Statileo János of Gyulafehérvár (Alba Iulia) in 1542, he also took over his position. It was the year when the estates elected him as the chief captain of Transylvania, but he wanted more, he wanted to get the title of governor.
The signature of Martinuzzi
Everyone remembered Governor Gritti and the title sounded rather ominous, so Martinuzzi was eventually appointed “Potentate” (locumtenens). He was also in charge of the royal revenues since he was also the treasurer. At the same time, Queen Isabella was fond of festivities and luxury and had a reputation for quick anger and hysterical outbursts. The White Monk often commented on her behavior; he did not consider her to be an adult. Hostility and tension grew between them. In 1544, Martinuzzi was also given the title of Supreme Judge.
Nyírbátor, the Báthory palace (Picture: Kocsis Kadosa)
Ferdinand and Martinuzzi signed the next treaty in 1549 at Nyírbátor, the eagle’s nest of the Báthory clan. It was almost the same as the Treaty of Gyalu. According to it, in exchange for Ferdinand’s military help, Queen Isabella and King János Zsigmond would renounce their titles and the Habsburgs would receive Transylvania. It should be noted that Queen Isabella was unaware of this, as she was enjoying herself at Déva Castle. When she heard the news, she became very angry.
Naturally, Isabella disagreed with the deal and betrayed the secret treaty to the Sublime Porte. (Note that the Sultan had already been informed from Vienna, so the Habsburgs also leaked the information to make life difficult for the White Monk). Now it was Sultan Suleiman who began to doubt the White Monk’s sincerity.
A mounted Hungarian Hussar from Transylvania, mid-16th century (Picture: Somogyi Győző)

In the summer of 1550, civil war broke out in Transylvania. So far, the monk had brilliantly balanced between the two powers, the Ottomans and the Habsburgs, but this eventually led to his downfall. Meanwhile, the Turks watched in horror as Eastern Hungary grew stronger, and the next war with the Ottomans broke out in 1550 when they came in force to expand their occupied territories.

The Sultan sent his Chaus (officer) to Transylvania in the spring of 1550, demanding that the Estates leave Martinuzzi and obey only Queen Isabella and her son. The queen’s supporters began to plot with Petrovics Péter, the Hungarian Székelys began their rebellion and Queen Isabella gathered soldiers and took refuge in the castle of Gyulafehérvár.


The White Monk had to react fast, first, he executed the leaders of the Székely rebels and put the uprising down. At that time, Petrovics Péter set out from the Temesköz region with his army and got into Transylvania. He took Csanád, Déva, Vízakna, and Alvinc. Pasha Kászim of Buda also came to Lippa castle with his troops, he was there on 22 October. Martinuzzi had to fight against multiple foes at the same time. The Ottomans made Ilie II Rareș, Voivode of Moldavia, and the Wallachian Voivode attack Transylvania to punish him.

Gyulafehérvár (Alba Iulia), the capital of Transylvania (Photo: Kiki Vasilescu)

The Wallachians (Romanians) attacked the Székely Land on 2 November, and the Moldavians were at the Vöröstorony Pass of the Carpathians, but the White Monk led an army against them and defeated the attackers. Then his troops also defeated the army of Comes Petrovics Péter of Temes, who was supporting Queen Isabella.

Martinuzzi had a strong army and besieged Gyulafehérvár, but the town defended itself bravely for six weeks. At the end of October, the queen surrendered and “pardoned” the White Monk and became his friend again. You can read more about it here:

Queen Isabella leaving Transylvania behind (by Wagner)
It was then that the army (not very numerous) sent by the Habsburg Ferdinand began to occupy faraway Transylvania. It was led by Gianbattista Castaldo. The new royal commissioners, Nádasdy Tamás, the judge of the country, and Báthory András, the chamberlain, also arrived in Transylvania to arrange the takeover of Transylvania on behalf of Ferdinand.
Finally, in 1551, Prior György forced Queen Isabella and János Zsigmond to resign, and Pope Julius III made him a cardinal. Isabella had to leave Transylvania for Poland in the summer of 1551. Martinuzzi was appointed Voivode of Transylvania and retained the office of Treasurer.
The Gold Forint of János Zsigmond and Isabella (1559)
Sultan Suleiman, of course, could not allow the influence of this area to be lost so easily. The troops of Pasha Szokollu Mehmed besieged the castles of Becse, Becskerek, Csanád, and Lippa. After a short time, they took them, but they could not take the castle of Temesvár. Martinuzzi’s men were joined by the 9,000-strong army of the Italian mercenary commander Count Giovanni Battista Castaldo. The army of the Habsburg emperor was made up of German-Bohemian-Spanish-Italian-Hungarian troops, who joined forces with the Hungarian nobility and the units of Báthory and Nádasdy. Together they managed to force the Turks to retreat.
Pallavichi Sforza
When their troops retreated from there, the army of the White Monk, joined by the soldiers of Nádasdy, Castaldo, and Pallavichi Sforza, rushed to Lippa and besieged it. They soon forced the Bey Ulema to surrender, but the Prior promised safe conduct to the Turkish garrison of Lippa Castle. The events of this siege led to the fall of Martinuzzi. King Ferdinand betrayed him and ordered his assassination.
When Castaldo saw the Turks marching away undisturbed on 28 November, he was very surprised and began to accuse the Prior of treason. He wrote a letter to King Ferdinand and Emperor Charles V, accusing Martinuzzi of treason. Friar György was negotiating with several Ottoman pashas of southern Hungary to buy some time. As a result, Castaldo was able to persuade Ferdinand, who gave the order for the monk (by then a cardinal) to be murdered. However, the mercenary leaders needed Ferdinand’s approval first.
The assassination of Fráter György
Castaldo hired the monk’s secretary, Marco Aurelio Ferrari, to carry out the crime. The White Monk was killed in his palace in Alvinc on the night of 16 to 17 December 1551. Martinuzzi had his bodyguards removed, believing it to be a sign of peace, and waited for Ferdinand’s men without suspecting anything. The assassins of General Sforza-Pallavicini came to help Marco Aurelio Ferrari. They, Lorenzo Campeggi, Giovanni Munino, Mercada, Scramuccia, and two Spanish soldiers killed the 69-year-old priest with two musket shots and 75 stabs. The priest cried “Jesus – Maria” and fell to the floor.
After dishonoring his body (they cut off his hairy ear and sent it to Ferdinand), it was left unburied for 70 days. The mercenaries cut off his hairy ear and sent it to Ferdinand as evidence. The surviving members of the household fled the castle after the murder. Only in February 1552 the people of the Gyulafehérvár Chapter came to his residence in Alvinc and he was buried in the crypt of St. Mihály Cathedral on February 25, 1552.
When Queen Isabella heard of the murder, she first rejoiced, then is said to have mourned. Count Castaldo reported the killing of the cardinal to King Ferdinand, who took the blame and sent an envoy with an 87-point indictment to Pope Julius III to exonerate himself and his captains and to prove the treason of Fráter György. The Pope had to conduct an investigation, but it was inconclusive.
Pope Julius III
Since Brother György had the rank of cardinal and was a high-ranking cleric, there were serious complications between Vienna and Rome. The Pope gave little credence to the accusations and was also highly suspicious of Castaldo and Ferdinand. On his orders, Nuncio Geronimo Martinengo and Provost Bondenarius of Vienna interrogated a total of 139 witnesses between March 1553 and March 1554.
The investigating commission of four cardinals, after much reluctance and at Ferdinand’s constant insistence, on February 14, 1555, pronounced a verdict on behalf of the Pope, stating that the murder had been committed “by order of our dearest son in Christ, King Ferdinand of Rome,” thus acquitting the king (as an anointed monarch responsible to God alone) and all those involved in the murder and all their accomplices. It was how the Pope forgave King Ferdinand and no one was punished for the crime.
The Tomb of Fráter György in Gyulafehérvár (Photo: h laca)
Later, General Pallavicini Sforza was captured by the Turks at the Battle of Palást in 1552 and herded on foot to Istanbul, beaten with a stick all the way, where he was ransomed for 16,000 gold ducats. Marco Aurelio Ferrari was hanged for a crime somewhere in Italy.
Mercada’s hand was cut off in a brawl, and he was later torn to pieces by a boar while hunting.
Scramuccia was butchered by his soldiers.
Giovanni Munino was beheaded in Piedmont.
(elected but not crowned) King János Zsigmond of Hungary, first Prince of Transylvania
As for the White Monk, Fráter György, Martinuzzi, or Prior György, we can conclude that he masterfully balanced between two superpowers and managed to save the remaining land of his country. He realized that he could not be on the side of one power or the other, but these political games cost him his life. He had a bad conscience about Buda until his death, but obviously, he was not the only one who played a role in losing it.
However, it was he who laid the foundations of the Transylvanian Principality, which he ruled with a firm hand. The unification of the Kingdom of Hungary was not timely at that time, but the people of that time had no chance of realizing it. For many, Martinuzzio was an evil traitor, a tyrant, and a greedy man who was always hungry for power, while others say he was an excellent and clever politician and a brave warrior of remarkable intelligence and broad-mindedness, who loved his homeland, Hungary, with passion.
the tombstone of Queen Isabella
Source: partly from Szibler Gábor

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