Gyulaffy László (c.1520-1579), the champion of the Borderland

COA of the Gyulaffy family

Gyulaffy László came from a noble family whose domains were around Lake Balaton but they have lost everything because of the Ottoman conquest, except the famous Castle of Csobánc. It was where he was born and his father, István has given him a good martial education. László was fighting against the Turks in Somogy and in Baranya Counties and eventually, he has become a very skilled swordsman. (Please, note that I use the Oriental name order for Hungarians where family names come first.)

Gyulaffy László’s statue in Gyulafirátót

Whoever he had a duel with, he won it. He wielded both the saber and the lance masterfully. According to his cousin, Gyulaffy Lestár, he had altogether had five lethal duels in his life but he was always triumphant. Finally, he had to fight in disguise because nobody dared to fight against him. He gained the title of „Hungarian Achilles” during his life.

King Ferdinand offered him the captaincy of Szigetvár Castle in 1549 but the king could not fulfill his conditions so he rather went to Pápa Castle and served there as an officer of 100 Hussars. It was the year when he scattered the raiding army of Bey Velicsán of Székesfehérvár Castle. Soon, he was fighting in the king’s army that was sent to Transylvania and he was praised for his bravery at the siege of Lippa Castle. Then, he returned to Pápa but he did his best to defend Csobánc Castle, his family’s last property in the meantime. He defended it from the attacking Turks in 1554.

Csobánc castle (Photo: Civertan)

He proved himself so worthy during the siege of Babócsa Castle and during the reinforcement of the besieged Szigetvár Castle in 1556 that the king has tried to offer him the captaincy of Szigetvár again. Yet, he took up a post in Győr Castle in 1557 so as to protect Csobánc Castle more effectively from there.

He was appointed as captain of Tihany Castle in 1560 and thus he has got even closer to the enemy lines. During the spring of the eventful year of 1561, the Ottomans of Fehérvár took Hegyesd Castle which was right opposite Csobánc Castle. It may have been the reason why Gyulaffy took 400 infantrymen in secret from Győr to the Turk-held Veszprém Castle. Besides taking his revenge, his goal was to „hit” the great market on Polgárd. He hid his men in the surrounding hills of the Bakony Mountains and wanted to ambush the Turks but the enemy got informed by some Hungarian peasants about the trap and haven’t gone that way. It was Captain Ormányi Józsa of Sümeg Castle who angrily wrote the next about this incident: „…it happened so because everybody knows at once if the Hungarians want to set out to somewhere, it is not a secret…”

As it was, Gyulaffy got bored of waiting for the Turks in the hills and instead, he began raiding the (Hungarian) villages of the area which were paying taxes to the Turks. When he was going home, he put aside all precautions and made a camp around the village of Lovas and he and his men began to have fun in Hungarian fashion which involved lots of drinking, dancing, and singing. The Turks approached them and caught them unaware: they slaughtered 200 Hungarians and took many prisoners. Gyulaffy could hardly flee with his three men. Captain Ormányi wrote: „Those Hungarians are getting killed very much because of their merry-making. Alas, there will never be a Hungarian army without drunkenness. Even if they have to go into a battle, somehow they must get drunk…That Lord Gyulaffy will get himself killed on one day but he would not listen to anyone’s word!”

Hungarian reenactors in the Gyulaffy Banderium

As it was, Gyulafy regarded the case as a heavenly warning and he was ashamed because of this defeat. But he has learned his lesson, he became more precautious after this. You can read more about Csobánc castle’s history here:

He took part in the retaking of Hegyesd Castle in 1562. It was when he won a duel against Voivode Bajezid, the commander of Hegyesd Castle. It was Bajezid who had challenged him, though. At their first clash, Gyulaffy pierced the armored body of the Voivode with a „flagged lance” with such a mighty force that the spearhead came out in the back of his opponent. Gyulaffy Lestár remarked that „nobody has seen before such a terrible thrust”.

the members of the Gyulaffy Banderium at play

When Habsburg Maximillian (Miksa) was crowned in 1563, Gyulaffy and Thury György were knighted by the ruler and they were made „the knights of the Golden Spur”. Here is more about this knightly order:

Thury and Gyulaffy (by Somogyi Győző)

These newly knighted warriors were the victors of the following knightly tournament, beating all their possible opponents. Finally, they had to fight against each other but their fight was so ferocious that King Ferdinand had it interrupted in fear of losing his two best warriors. (Thury György was called  „El Cid of Hungary”, having reportedly won 600 duels during his life, you can read a lot about him on my page.)

The Gyulaffy Banderium

Lord Gyulaffy distinguished himself in the retaking of Veszprém castle in 1566, then at Gesztes, Tata and Vitányvár castles. In the meantime, he and his men have annihilated several Ottoman raiding parties and armies. King Maximillian gave him the captaincy of Veszprém Castle because its gate was broken in by him and his men during the siege. Besides, he remained the captain of Tihany Castle as well.

The Gyulaffy Banderium

As there was a truce, just the „small war” was raging on the 1,000-long Borderland of Hungary and bigger actions were banned by both Vienna and Istanbul. Yet, the Ottomans never ceased complaining against Gyulaffy’s attacks. His men suffered from poverty because their pay was always late and Gyulaffy has gained many enemies in Vienna when he was begging for money. He was not loved for his constant raids and his complaints, either. Finally, he was made responsible for his disobedience and he was disturbed in his properties, too. As a result of this, he got angry and quit his captaincy in 1568.

The Gyulaffy Banderium’s members on horseback

He left for Transylvania and took the side of (elected but not crowned) King János Zsigmond, son of late King Szapolyai. Gyulaffy took his part in the political life of Transylvania and was the advisor of the king in military issues. He was the one who led the army of Prince Báthory István (Stefan) of Transylvania (later polish king) against the usurper Bekes Gáspár and defeated him in the bloody battle that took place at Keresztelőszentpál. It was the “entrance ticket” of Báthory István to the throne of the Transylvanian Principality. Here is more about it:

The flag of the Gyulaffy Banderium

Yet, he has never got disconnected entirely from his former homeland, Royal Hungary. He sent his son, István to learn in Vienna and he managed to make peace with the Habsburg king as well. After the Battle of Keresztelőszentpál, he withdrew to his domains and he was said to have liked playing the lute. In his Last Will, he distributed his properties between his wife, Forgách Margit, and four children: István, László, Erzsébet, and Fruzsina. He died at Udvarhely and was buried in Szilágycsehi. We can read a poem on his tombstone in the Latin language, written by Kassai Dávid.

A Hungarian Hussar from the 16th century

(Source: Szibler Gábor)

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