Selected Passages from Hungarian-Ottoman Wars between 1372-1699

Kinizsi Pál, general of King Matthias

According to the legend, he was a miller-boy…

Kinizsi Pál (1432–1494), also known as Paulus de Kenezy (in Latin) or Paul Cneazul or Pavel Chinezu (in Romanian) was a general in the service of the Hungarian army under King Matthias Corvinus. Not only Hungarians but Serbians and Romanians claim him their hero. Yet, as I would always say: in this age the love of the Land and the loyalty to the monarch along with the religion was more important than the language. Note, in my articles I use the Eastern name order for Hungarian names where family names come first.

He was the Count of Temes County (in the historical Banat region, now part of Serbia and Romania) from 1484 and Captain-General of the Lower Parts. He was general of King Matthias’ famed Black Army. He is famous for his victory over the Ottomans in the Battle of Breadfield in October 1479. He reputedly has never lost a battle. 

According to some Serbian historians, he was of Serbian origin, and was possibly a descendant of Vuk Branković, though this could not be determined. According to Hungarian and Romanian folk tales, the king was hunting in the Bakony forest near the mill where he worked and asked for a drink; Kinizsi, to show his strength, served the cup on a millstone. The king, impressed, took him into his service, where Kinizsi’s strength, prowess, and loyalty earned him rapid promotion.

Kinizsi, in a 16th-century painting

He is said to have wielded two swords in battle and to have danced a victory dance after the Battle of Kenyérmező (aka Breadfield) with a captured or dead Turk under each arm and a third held with his hair or belt in his teeth. 

The first mention of his name is in 1464, in a Latin written document mentioning that Egrenius (His Excellency) Paulus de Kenezy receives possession in Abaúj County. Later in 1510, his name appears also in form of “Paulo de Kynys Comiti Themesiensi et Generali Capetaneo partium Regni nostrum inferiorum”.

Kinizsi’s coat of arms

Some historians say he derived from a low noble family of Bihar County but we can find families with the name „Kinizsi” in Székely Land in Transylvania and in Abaúj-Torna County (see the village of Nagykinizs). We know that his father had fought against the Turks in the army of Hunyadi János so he could not have been a mere miller-boy. Rather, a son of Hungarian székely warriors. Here is more about the Székelys:

Kinizsi was the Comes of Máramaros County from 1467 to 1472. He appeared in Lord Magyar Balázs’ army in Moravia as his vice-general in 1468. He received the Castle of Vázsony in 1472 from King Matthias Corvinus, in exchange for his faithful services. Kinizsi enlarged the castle and added a Paulinian Monastery in 1478.

Nagyvázsony castle

He got Somló Castle two years later and it was the year when he married Lady Magyar Benigna, the daughter of Magyar Balázs, another great general of Corvinus. As he was in charge of the kingdom’s southern defenses, three years after the heroic battle of Breadfield / Kenyérmező in 1479 he beat the enemy at Szendrő Castle as well.

More about this famous battle:

He had led several campaigns against the Ottomans into Serbia and also, he settled many Serbian people in the Hungarian Kingdom because the original inhabitants had been wiped out. He obliged the new Serbian settlers to fight in his army in exchange for the lands. After the death of King Matthias in 1490, he supported Polish king Vladislav (Ulászló) II of Hungary and the great magnates against Matthias’ illegitimate son and designated successor Corvin János. He destroyed his former king’s mercenary Black Army in 1492 which had become a robber band after its dissolution because of the lack of their pay. Those soldiers of the Black Army who didn`t want to sign up into the army of their new lord were executed in Kövesd Castle by starvation.

Kinizsi’s tombstone

After this, Kinizsi fought some more battles against the Turks, for example, he saved Nándorfehérvár (Belgrade) because its defenders wanted to sell it to the enemy in 1494. He interfered and had the traitors executed in a terrible way. Then, he broke in Serbia and Bulgaria but there he was crippled by a stroke and died shortly afterward at the siege of Szendrő Castle. He is one of the few generals of the world who never lost a battle. He was buried in Nagyvázsony but his tomb was destroyed in 1708. We can see his chain-mail and his double-edged broadsword in the Hungarian National Museum.

Kinizsi’s coat of arms at Zsolnalitva

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