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, where 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. However, the Ottoman peril was growing: On May 18, 1521, Sultan Suleiman I declared war on King Lajos (Louis) II of Hungary and Bohemia. In 1521, on 29 August, Nándorfehérvár (Belgrade), the key of Hungary, fell, as well as several other strongholds, such as Szabács and Zimony. This created a huge gap in the first line of fortifications.
Good soldiers were badly needed, and the leaders of the kingdom offered him the title of Archbishop of Kalocsa but Tomori turned it down at first. The Hungarian state had to ask the Pope to make Tomori accept this office, and it was how he was given the highest rank of the Church in Hungary with the richest domains: he became 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. His headquarters were in Pétervárad castle, literally in the throat of the enemy, and he managed to reorganize the southern defenses in a mere two months.
Sadly, he got no money 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 when it was needed. Especially, not much before the Battle of Mohács, he collected the gold from the churches of Hungary 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 hardly took his new position in June 1523 when he had to take action against Pasha Ferhás of Bosnia in August who attacked the country. He scattered the raiding party at once. 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. In 1524, several small invasions were also thwarted, and in 1525 Tomori even had the strength to lead a small campaign to the Turkish side (he even sacked the town of Kolics in the province of Sabács). He also relieved Jajca and successfully defended Klissa twice (Jajca: 1522, 1525; Klissa: 1522, 1524), in an attempt to prevent the Turkish advance. However, despite these minor victories, the Turks continued to widen the gap in the line of the fortress (1522: Orsova, 1524: Szörény). At the end of the year 1525, he handed in his resignation again but when he heard that Sultan Suleiman would come to Hungary in person, he reconsidered it because of the Pope’s request.
The Battle of Mohács, 1526
The Kingdom of Hungary was not fully prepared for war. Facing the mighty Ottoman Empire was a Hungarian state descending into feudal anarchy. On 23 April 1526, Suleiman set off from Istanbul with his main army. The Hungarians knew from the reports of both the Serbian despot Pál Bakic and the people of Wallachia that the Ottomans were moving against the Kingdom of Hungary, but they paid no attention. Instead, they were preoccupied with their private quarrels on the Diet. They were not concerned with the defence of the country either but it was a place for the interests of the overlords and party struggles. There were plenty of armed soldiers with them, but they were only there to enable one noble to attack another noble if necessary.
It was only on the last day of the Diet that the issue of defense was dealt with, and while they hurriedly agreed on it, little could be implemented. Tomori sent urgent letters to the King in May and June, asking for money, but received no reply. Papal nuncio Antonio Giovanni da Burgio was the only one who supported Tomori with all the gold he had, so Tomori could hire 200 Hussars on the money. On 8 June, the Sultan reached the Hungarian theatre of operations (Nándorfehérvár, now Belgrade). The Hungarian royal army had not yet assembled.
Tomori returned to the Borderland and tried to get ready as much as he could. The Ottoman army besieged Pétervárad and Újlak. Although the heroic endurance of the defenders delayed the Ottoman attack by a week or two, they could not stop it, and Pétervárad fell on 27 July and Újlak on 8 August. The other smaller Hungarian castles/fortresses fell quickly, falling into Ottoman hands almost without a shot being fired (e.g. Eszék / Osijek). As Tomori 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 so he was forced to leave Buda only with a very small unit.
The Sultan expected that the well-defended and swampy line of the Dráva River would be defended by the Hungarians, but it was not so. Tomori made no attempt with his 2-3 thousand cavalry to hold the river, so the Sultan’s army easily crossed the Dráva. The royal army was by then massing at Szekszárd, and on 17 August it reached Báta.
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.
Prelude to Mohács: the Battle of Krassó on 20-24 August 1526
While the king’s army was marching toward Mohács, Tomori’s army managed to defeat the Ottomans’ vanguard units along the Száva River. The Battle of Krassó took place in the marshes on the right bank of the Krassó River on 24 August 1526. It was here that Archbishop Tomori Pál of Kalocsa fought the Turkish raiders between 20 and 26 August. On that day, Tomori defeated a quite sizeable force assembled, outnumbering them by more than one and a half to one. As you can read the difficult situation Tomori had been in from the beginning, this victory was a small miracle. Or not? Perhaps the Hungarian soldiers just got the illusion that the Turks could be easily beaten so that was why they forced the king later to make a stand at Mohács. Let’s see how it was.
Tomori urged the king to send at least some reinforcements, but the king did not send any reserves. Tomori then marched to the Dráva with Perényi Péter, Guardian of the Crown, but the Ottoman army had already crossed it, so the captain and his army of 6,000 men marched to Krassó, where they set up a fortified camp in the marshy area.
Then, on 24 August, a larger Ottoman raiding force of about 10,000 men entered the Krassó County, which Tomori and his army scattered and routed in a minor battle. Tomori and his army wanted to take advantage of the victory, but the king’s war council at Báta decided that Tomori should also withdraw and join the main army so that the victory could not be used. This victory was small compared to the tragedy of Mohács, but it showed that with greater preparation and cohesion we could have won against the Ottomans. It is also proof that Tomori was not a bad general, he just did not have enough money and men to carry out his ideas.
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 did 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:
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 arrived.
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. And yes, King Lajos’ widow, Queen Habsburg Maria did her best to help her brother, Habsburg Ferdinand.
Source: partly from Szibler Gábor and the Hungarian Wikipedia
If you like my writings, please feel free to support me with a coffee here:
This article contains Amazon ads. By purchasing through these links, you can help my work at no added cost to you. Thank you!
My work can also be followed and supported on Patreon: