Selected Passages from Hungarian-Ottoman Wars

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 religion were more important than the language. Note that I use the Oriental name order for Hungarian names where family names come first in my articles.

The medieval Hungarian Kingdom was prospering during the reign of King Matthias Corvinus (1458-90). The young king was able to support his rule more effectively by creating a new high nobility from the talented sons of the small- and middle-class noblemen who were loyal to him as they depended on his person. Kinizsi was one of them.

The young King Matthias, the son of Hunyadi János

Kinizsi 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 served under the command of Magyar Balázs, the general of Matthias’ standing army. At first, he was Magyar’s vice-general, then he became the general of the famed Black Army. Perhaps his most known deed is the victory over the Ottomans in the Battle of Breadfield (Kenyérmező) in October 1479.  He is one of the few generals in the world who never lost a single battle or a personal fight. 

The Black Army of King Matthias

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. However, we know it is just a legend because he came from a noble family.

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”. His name appeared in the army led by General Magyar Balázs in Moravia as his vice-general in 1468. 

Kinizsi’s coat of arms

Some historians say he derived from a not wealthy noble family in Bihar County but we can find families with the name „Kinizsi” in Székely Land in Transylvania and 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, he most likely was a son of Hungarian Székely warriors. Here is more about the Székelys:

The kingdom of Matthias Corvinus

Kinizsi was the Comes of Máramaros County from 1467 to 1472. He received the Castle of Vázsony in 1472 from King Matthias Corvinus, in exchange for his faithful services in the Polish wars. however, more Polish and Czech wars were coming so he was in for further promotion.

Nagyvázsony castle (Photo: Gabor Lajos)

It happened during the fall of 1474 that King Ulászló (Władysław) of Bohemia (1471–1516) and King IV. Kázmér (Kazimierz) of Poland (1444–92) joined forces and attacked King Matthias, instigated by Matthias’ greatest enemy, Emperor Frederick III (1452-93). At that time, Matthias held Silesia and the two kings assaulted him from two sides. Kinizsi was there, and he distinguished himself in the war at Boroszló (Wroclaw) in 1474. The Hussars of Kinizsi and Szapolyai István were successfully cutting the logistic lines of the enemy which eventually brought about success for the king. You can read more  about this particular war of King Matthias where he defeated a nine-times larger army than his:

We know that he was leading his own army in 1477 in Austria where he was besieging a castle on behalf of his king. At home, Kinizsi enlarged the castle of Vázsony and added a Paulinian Monastery to it in 1478. He was not only a daredevil military leader with a certain amount of savageness but he was also a generous landlord. The vicinity of (Nagy)Vázsony was rapidly developing during his time.

Nagyvázsony (Photo: Civertan)

He got Somló Castle two years later as a wedding gift from the king as it was the year when he married Lady Magyar Benigna. She was the daughter of Magyar Balázs, the famous general of King Matthias Corvinus. When Baron Újlaki Miklós died in 1477, King Matthias had to reorganize the defense system of the southern Borderland. As a result of this, the Dukedom of Macsó was no longer controlling the southern counties of Hungary. The king joined the function of the Comes of Temes County and the Chief Captain of the Lower Parts of the country. Kinizsi was appointed as the leader of Temesvár castle and he was in charge of the kingdom’s southern defenses as the military leader of Lower Hungary. More precisely, he was responsible for the eastern section of the double line of Borderland castles between Croatia and Transylvania.

The double line of the Borderland system in King Matthias’ age

The Turks attacked Hungary in 1479 from two directions: they assaulted the Trans-Danubian Region and Transylvania at the same time. During the fall, Kinizsi set out to help Voivode Báthori István of Transylvania. He arrived just in time, and they could beat the army of Bey Isa and the Wallachian (Romanian) Voivode Basarab IV at Kenyérmező (Breadfield) on 13 October. You can read more about this famous battle of Kenyérmező:

The Battle of Kenyérmező: Kinizsi rescues Báthori (painting by Ion Osolsobie)

In answer to the Turkish attacks, the Hungarians led several punishing campaigns against the Ottomans in 1479-80. The king led his troops in person to Bosnia, while Báthori and Voivode Stefan III of Moldavia (1457-1506) were attacking Wallachia. Kinizsi was sent to Serbia. Kinizsi led several campaigns against the Ottomans in Serbia because the king wanted to place the theatre of war on the enemy’s lands. Kinizsi was supported by the Serbian Despot Brankovics Vuk. At the same time, crowds of Serbians sought refugees in Hungary, so Kinizsi settled them in the Hungarian Kingdom where the local Hungarian inhabitants had been wiped out by the Ottoman attackers. He obliged the new Serbian settlers to fight in his army in exchange for the lands. 

Szendrő (Sederevo) Photo: _izgled_

In 1482, Kinizsi defeated the Ottomans at Szendrő Castle as well. During this campaign, he led a 30,000-strong army as far as Krusevác. Sultan Bajazid and King Matthias made a peace for ten years in 1483 but the so-called “small war” never ceased. It was Kinizsi’s job to beat the intruding Ottoman raiding parties out on the Borderland.

Kinizsi’s bust in Nagyvázsony castle

After the death of King Matthias in 1490, it was mainly Kinizsi’s deed that the immediately attacking Austrian army was forced out of the kingdom. Then, he decided to support the new king who was the previous enemy of Matthias, King Vladislav (Ulászló) II. Thus, Kinizsi had to turn against Matthias’ illegitimate son and designated successor, Prince Corvin János. Kinizsi and Bátori may not have been in an easy situation when they had to fight and defeat the army of Prince Corvin János at Csontmező (Bone-field) in Tolna County. Unfortunately, the once-famous Black Army had become a robber band after its dissolution because of the lack of their pay. So Kinizsi destroyed his former king’s mercenary Black Army in 1492 at the Száva river. 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 terribly. King Ulászló appointed him as Chief Judge of Hungary this year. Then, he broke into Serbia and Bulgaria, but he was crippled by a stroke. Despite the illness, he had himself tied to his horse and commanded his soldiers from the saddle. He died shortly afterward at the siege of Szendrő Castle on 24 November (before 26 November) 1494. He was buried in Nagyvázsony but his tomb was destroyed in 1708. Luckily, a few items from his grave were later found so now we can see his helmet, his chain mail, and his double-edged broadsword in the Hungarian National Museum.

Kinizsi’s coat of arms at Zsolnalitva

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