General Schwendi in Royal Hungary, a German Hero
It was Lazarus von Schwendi (1522-1583), the Chief Captain of Kassa (Kosice, Kaschau), the General of Emperor Maximilian II who wrote the following: “…if we lost Hungary, all the weight of our defense and struggle for freedom would fall on our German peasants.”
Baron Schwendi Lázár, as Hungarians called him, was a German general and the Chief Captain of Kassa / Kosice / Kaschau.
Schwendi is a dividing person in Hungary because he is associated with the Habsburgs and his heroic fights against the Turks are often ignored.
He was born as a natural son of a nobleman in Voralberg but his father was able to make the world accept him as his legitimate son. Schwendi was an educated man, we know that he studied at a university and came to know the Protestant faith as well. He became a soldier and took part in the War of Schmalkalden, serving Emperor Charles V. And he was knighted after the siege of Metz and was admitted to the Teuton Order, too. He could get higher in society in 1553 when he married a noble lady called Anna Böcklin von Böcklinsau. Schwendi was fighting in the army of Count Egmont in the Netherlands from 1556 on. He distinguished himself in the battle of Saint Quentin in 1557 and in the battle of Gravelingen in 1558.
King Habsburg Ferdinand has many times tried to invite him to join his army. Finally, he accepted his offer and became the commander of the German army in the Szepesség (Zips Land, North Hungary) in 1565. He was the Chief Captain of Upper Hungary between 1565 and 1568, his headquarters were in Kassa (Kaschau / Kosice). His task was to fight against the elected King János Zsigmond, son of King Szapolyai of Hungary. During the hard winter of 1565, he took Tokaj Castle and Szatmár Castle, soon Nagybánya Castle, and Erdőd Castle as well. After a short truce, though, he had to cede Borosjenő Castle and Nagybánya Castle as he was harassed by the Rumelian Begler Bey and by the forces of the Pasha of Temesvár and Buda.
As for Tokaj, he sent some vine branches to his home and began to produce wine in Germany. Today it is in France where you can see his statue in Colmar and taste the locally produced Tokay d’Alsace. As a captain of Kassa, he organized the Chamber of Zips Lands which was helping to finance the Hungarian Borderland castles. Scwendi was a Roman Catholic but he was tolerant of the Protestants in Royal Hungary, except with the Anabaptists. Later, he embraced the Protestant faith and wrote memorandums to the monarch to ask for religious tolerance.
Also, he wrote a memorandum to Maximilian in 1566 in which he was honestly telling him about the miserable condition of his army, describing the hostile mood of the underpaid Hungarians who still served under his flag. Sadly, his great military campaign in that year was futile as Emperor Maximilian cowardly held him back although Schwendi was urging him in vain. As a result, the so-called „beautiful army” of 100.000 men idly waiting in Győr was sent home instead of bringing relief to Zrínyi Miklós (aka Nikola Zrínski) who was desperately defending Szigetvár Castle, causing huge losses to the Ottoman army in doing so.
In the meantime, Schwendi chased away the 16.000-strong army of King János Zsigmond that was besieging Tokaj Castle and he defeated two Ottoman Turk-Tatar armies on the way there. He also took the castles of the infamous but valiant Lord Bebek: Szendrő, Krasznahorka, and Pelsőc. He also took Szatmár and Munkács castles and managed to force János Zsigmond entirely from Upper Hungary, back to Transylvania by 1567.
He took Szádvár Castle and Munkács Castle in 1567. The siege of Szádvár was quite a remarkable case, though because he was almost shot. In fact, attacking Szádvár in the winter was not a grateful job, and not a knightly deed, either: the castle was heroically was defended by Patóchy Zsófia and her four daughters. At least, Scwendi let them go when the castle was already shot to pieces.
When the peace of Edirne was made in 1568, Schwendi became a Baron and the Emperor often asked for his advice. His military experience was written by him in his work called Artikelbrief which brought about reforms in the emperor’s army in 1570. However, after the Treaty of Speyer between János Zsigmond and Ferdinand, Schwendi’s fights in Hungary were finished. Yet, it does not mean that he was not helping the defenses against the Ottomans. Schwendi took part in the Imperial Diet in Regensburg in 1576 and it was when he delivered a famous speech about the Turkish peril in Hungary. It was when he said that “…if we lost Hungary, all the weight of our defense and struggle for freedom would fall on our German peasants.”
It was Schwendi who created a codex of military regulations for the Hungarian infantry and cavalry in 1566-1567, it contained 74 chapters. These rules were accepted as the regulations for the German infantry as well in Speyer in 1570. This was translated into the Croatian language in 1578 and it was in use in the southern region of Royal Hungary and Croatia until the end of the 17th century. It shows that Hungary was regarded as an important war zone in Europe.
Schwendi often fought in one unit with Hungarian soldiers and he had a very good opinion about them. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he came to appreciate the Hajdú soldiers as well, in spite of their savage reputation. He said that the Hungarian soldiers were better than the mercenaries of the Imperial army. He also supported the founding of hospitals for soldiers. Let us note, that he spoke not just in German but his Latin, French, Spanish, and Dutch language skills were also excellent. On top of this, he even learned the Hungarian language.
Hans Ruber, the Chief Captain of the army of Upper Hungary wanted to launch a campaign against the Ottomans but Schwendi thought that building out a strong and active defense line would be better. Finally, Archduke Habsburg Ernő took Schwendi’s advice in 1577 in Vienna: he accepted his plan for the reinforcement of the Hungarian Borderland castle chain. It was how the new northern Borderland was built out, and the castle of Kanizsa was also reinforced.
All in all, Schwendi Lázár has done much in defense of Hungary and of course, Vienna. When not in the army, he lived in his town Kientzheim. After the loss of his first wife, he wed Eleonora von Zimmern. He died on 28 May 1583 when he was 61 years old. In this contemporary picture, you can see him riding with Thury György and Emperor Maximilian:
(Source and pictures are from Szatmári Tamás, and also from Szibler Gábor)
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