Italian mercenaries in the bloody struggles of the 15-Year-War in Hungary

Esztergom Castle is located on the Bend of the Danube, it used to be a royal town of the Hungarian Kingdom. When the Ottomans took it in 1543, they left nobody alive in it. Taking it back had a vital importance for the Christian forces.

Prince Gian Francesco Aldobrandini was the nephew of Pope Clement VIII and he was fighting against the Ottomans at the siege of Esztergom Castle in 1595. Let me remark that Esztergom had been besieged in the previous year, too, when Balassi Bálint, the great warrior-poet lost his life there. Now, the taking of Esztergom was crucial as it lay between Vienna and Buda.

the siege of Esztergom in 1595

After the Christians, led by General Karl Mansfeld had besieged Esztergom Castle, the Pasha of Buda tried to relieve it but received a serious defeat on 4 August by the Hungarian Pálffy Miklós and Nádasdy Ferenc.  The Italian reinforcement arrived in their camp on 22 August. They were needed very much because the besiegers had had heavy losses. The Ottoman defenders of Esztergom have been famous for their valor and now, they were fighting desperately.

The fort has not been properly rebuilt after the previous year’s siege and the Turks (in fact: mostly South-Slavic people) were mostly wounded. According to spy reports, there were 4,000 defenders but only 400 of them were without wounds. Here you can listen to the marching band of the Janissaries of Esztergom:

The Pope had offered to send the Italian troops and they were around in the hills of Tirol when the siege started, far away. The 8,000 Italian soldiers came from the west, entered the Hungarian Kingdom at Dévény near Pozsony (Bratislava, Pressburg) where Prince Aldobrandini took over their lead. He, the nephew of Pope Clement VIII, took them to Esztergom. My remark: the Pope spent 600,000 Scudi to the military expenses during the years 1594-95. He also sent papal armies several times to Hungary against the Turks, and he supported the anti-Ottoman policy of Báthory Zsigmond, the Transylvanian prince.

Their arrival gave hope to the Christian troops because they had suffered great losses due to the brave but cornered Ottoman defenders, and because of sicknesses in their camp. The new Italian commander was burning with the desire to launch his attack. Indeed, Matthias von Habsburg intended to send them against the walls on 23 August. This plan was vehemently opposed by another Italian commander called Prince Giovanni de Medici (the Turks called him „Great Devil”) who said the siege had to be continued by further artillery fire. Despite his opinion, it was decided to launch an attack on 24 August because they received further reinforcement: the „strong Black Bey” aka Nádasdy Ferenc arrived with his Hungarian troops, along with the Imperial Swabian cavalry.


Finally, the attack was launched on 25 August at 11 AM: the freshly arrived Italian troops went into the front, followed by the Hungarians. They were able to take hold of several points of the wall and some bastions as well but the heroic defenders pushed them back. In this single fight at least 400 Turks died and twice as many Christians fell. As the assault was repelled, many of the besiegers lost faith.

The Ottomans were at the end of their resistance because all of them were wounded and had barely any food or water, besides, they were running out of gunpowder. We have to include Prince Vincenzo (I.) Gonzaga of Mantova as he took part in this same siege with a unit he had paid. His unit has suffered very heavy losses. Finally, Esztergom was surrendered on 2 September 1595, after 52 years of Ottoman rule. However, it was recovered by the Ottomans in 1605 and held until 1683 again.

Duke Vincenzo (I) Gonzaga (by Rubens)

Prince Gian Francesco Aldobrandini took part in the taking of Visegrád as well, then he led his Italian troops to Pápa Castle where he joined Prince Gonzaga in 1597. He got sick during the campaign around Kanizsa Castle in 1601 and died there. He was buried in the church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli. The script on his tombstone in the Borghese Chapel tells proudly that he had taken part in the heroic retaking of Esztergom Castle.

 The recovery of Esztergom Castle was hailed as a miraculous victory; considering the topography and the fortifications of the city, it certainly seemed so. Then, the heroic Papal forces were recalled to Italy.

(Source: mainly from Szerecz Miklós)

Naturally, there were plenty of Italian soldiers who had taken part in the wars against the Ottoman Empire in Hungary. For example, you can read about Sforza Pallavicini, another Italian mercenary leader’s role in the Battle of Palást, 1552, in my book here:

Sforza Pallavicini

Also, here is a link to Esztergom Castle:

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