What was the message to us of Tomori Pál, one of the greatest but forgotten Hungarian generals? We remember him as the general of the Hungarian army at Mohács in 1526 and many people blame him for the defeat, quite wrongly. Archbishop Tomori did not want to make a career as a high priest. He was born in a gentry family in Abaúj County around 1475. He received a good education, he could read and write in Latin. He became a soldier in the service of Bornemissza János. Later, he worked as a notary public, and a comes of the Salt Chamber, holding an office for the king. He was the castellan of Fogaras castle between 1505 and 1514.
In addition to this, he became the castellan of Munkács castle, he held this office until 1518. We know that he took part in the military action of putting down the uprising of the Székely Border guards in 1506, and he was the envoy of the king and visited the Sublime Porte in 1512. When the Peasant War of Dózsa Görgy broke out in 1514, Voivode Szapolyai János of Transylvania sent him against a peasant army led by Sáleresi Ambrus. Then, he had to scatter the peasants in Bihar County. Finally, Tomori defeated the army of Priest Lőrinc, capturing him at the same time.
Bornemissza János was the castellan of Buda castle, and he appointed Tomori in 1519 as the commander of Buda castle. Bornemissza ordered him to defend the castle against the multitudes of common noblemen who came to Buda. These gentry people were restless and they were on the brink of mutiny because of the election of the new Palatine of the country. The Palatine was the second highest rank in the kingdom and the king was still very young. As it turned out, Tomori had to use firearms against the crowd, and disperse them by the sword. With his loyal services, he gained significant wealth.
Before becoming a monk at the age of 38, he had been a member of the royal bodyguard and member of the Order of the Dragon, as he was a high-ranked aristocrat. There is a sad story that snapped his life in two. He was waiting at the church of Nagyboldogasszony (Holy Mary) at Buda for his 19-year-old young bride to arrive for the wedding but a disaster changed their lives. The coming carriage of the girl had an accident and she died on the spot. It was the point when Tomori decided to become a Franciscan monk in 1520.
He distributed all his money among his relatives. According to some sources, he used to have two finances who suddenly died just before the wedding. He ended up in the Franciscan monastery of Esztergom, he became a recoilect monk. He was regarded as a very good soldier and many people wanted to lure him back to the army, claiming that only he could achieve success against the Turks on the southern border of Hungary. Yet he did not give in.
Then, they offered him the title of Archbishop of Kalocsa but Tomori turned it down at first. The Hungarian state had to ask the Pope for making Tomori accept this office, and it was how he was given the highest rank of Church in Hungary with the richest domains: he has become the Archbishop of Kalocsa in February 1523. Tomori could not refuse the order of Pope Adrian VI.
As for taking up arms, it was the second step. Finally, the king had to persuade him in person to come and take up arms again. The Diet forced Tomori to accept the job of supervising the defense of the southern Borderland. Tomori took his task very seriously and did his best to strengthen the defense line, and get as many resources and soldiers from the Court as he could. However, he got nothing from the Court most of the time, just excuses and promises. He often threatened his superiors with his resignation but he never quit his office.
As an archbishop, he used all his income and resources to pay his soldiers and when it was needed, he collected the gold from the churches to mint coins. It is a pity that the silver of the church could not be used for hiring mercenaries because they ran out of time. The huge sum either disappeared or was taken by the enemy. Now I am not going to detail here why the Kingdom of Hungary was in such a terrible financial situation.
Tomori used to be the valiant and effective keeper of the southern frontier against the Turks. Tomori knew the enemy very well and the king trusted him. He has hardly taken his new position when he had to take action against Pasha Ferhád of Rumelia who attacked the country. His soldiers defeated an Ottoman army near Szávaszentdemeter-Nagyolaszi on 6-7 August 1523. You can read more about this battle here:
After the battle of Szávaszentdemeter, he received no financial aid from the Court so he spent his own income entirely on the defense. He must have been quite effective in raising funds because we can find him attacking the enemy on their land in 1525. At the end of the year, he handed in his resignation again but when he heard that Sultan Suleiman would come to Hungary in person, he reconsidered it. He returned to the Borderland and tried to get ready as much as he could. As he had just 6,000 men, he could not help the besieged Pétervárad castle. The sultan had tens of thousands of soldiers, and more were to arrive. Tomori had to watch the fall of Pétervárad, Eszék, and Újlak castles.
Tomori begged the king to make peace with the Turks and pay them instead of crippling the country. The high priest would have opened a corridor for Sultan Suleiman to walk up to Vienna and tear his desired “golden apple” if he wanted to. (Think about it: what would have happened??) Unfortunately, the young king didn’t take his advice, most likely because of his wife, Queen Habsburg Maria. Before the battle of Mohács, King Lajos asked him how many days or weeks they could hold up the Ottoman army without waiting for reinforcement. Tomori said the truth: perhaps for 2 or 3 hours.
The king believed him but nevertheless, he set out toward Mohács. By then, everybody knew that the army of the Holy Roman Empire would not stir to come to their aid from Vienna, either. At the same time, the king had no choice because the troops of his noblemen joined him only under the condition he marched out. They would not have come to Buda castle.
Nearing Mohács, Tomori had predicted that the reinforcement would not be able to join them before a battle. And indeed, neither the troops of Szapolyai with his 15,000 men from Transylvania nor the Slavonian-Croatian troops from Zágráb could arrive, not to mention the further 10,000 Czech mercenaries who were still marching near Székesfehárvár. The king’s army could have been doubled easily.
Right before the battle, some noblemen realized the nature of the real situation and suggested the king withdraw to Buda. Tomori was against it: he knew that the light Turkish riders and the Sipahies, the heavy cavalry would disgracefully annihilate the marching army along the way. There was nothing to do except to make a stand. He made his best to stop the enemy, knowing that he could not win. Showing us, that no resistance is futile. You can read the story of this battle here:
While the king’s army was marching toward Mohács, Tomori’s army managed to defeat the Ottomans’ vanguard units along the Száva river. Similar to Szávaszentdemeter, he wanted to defeat the enemy unit by unit, along the river. However, the king ordered him to join his camp at Mohács. King Lajos wanted to appoint him as the general commander of the army but Tomori accepted this rank under the condition that he would hand the leadership to Voivode Szapolyai János of Transylvania the moment he would arrive.
It was how Tomori Pál was appointed as commander-in-chief of the Hungarian army in the battle of Mohács in 1526. As Szapolyai failed to arrive, Tomori was in charge on 29 August 1526. So far Tomori has been accused of committing many mistakes but in fact, he chose the best strategy he could. According to the experience gained in the Battle of Szávaszentdemeter where his soldiers were able to defeat a several times larger Turkish army, he wanted to defeat the enemy the same way, scattering unit by unit. His assault against the Rumelian army was successful at the beginning but the rest of the Ottoman army arrived too soon, and the smaller Hungarian army could not overcome them.
He led his cavalry against the foe, again and again, leading them in the first line. He died there while trying to stop fleeing soldiers, some people say he fell when he ran into the wall of Janissaries. He was beheaded and his head was carried around. The Hungarian King Lajos (Louis) II also died. Gossip says that his armor was pierced by a three-edged dagger used by western mercenaries. The Christian army fought bravely but they had to face the most advanced and equipped army in Europe, not to mention that the enemy vastly outnumbered them.
Hungary was on the way to becoming the colony of the Habsburgs. Venice congratulated the Sultan on his victory and before soon, the Habsburgs launched their attack against Hungary to seize the power. Queen Habsburg Maria did her best to help her brother, Habsburg Ferdinand.
Source: partly from Szibler Gábor
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