Selected Passages from Hungarian-Ottoman Wars

Lord Perényi Péter, (1502– 1548) and his „third way”

Lord Perényi Péter

This is the Part One of a Series of Three Parts about Lord Perényi

Lord Péter Perényi was a mighty Hungarian aristocrat, the Guardian of the Hungarian Holy Crown, Voivode of Transylvania. His family had played an important role before the Battle of Mohács (1526) where he was fighting valiantly. After the death of King Louis II, the age of the Dual Kingship commenced in Hungary, bringing about the destruction of the country. We know that it was King Szapolyai who was crowned at first then he was attacked by Habsburg Ferdinand who usurped the throne and was crowned, too.

King Szapolyai János

One would think that either King Habsburg Ferdinand I or King Szapolyai János was the answer to the survival of the Kingdom of Hungary during their simultaneous reign over the Ottoman-threatened country. However, Hungarians are quite divided even today about which monarch was right during the Dual Kingship. But the question suddenly arises: was there a third candidate who may have been better than them?

Hungary was divided between Ferdinand and Szapolyai: the Turks occupied the middle of the kingdom only after 1541.

The „third way” would have been Perényi Péter or his son, Ferenc as King of Hungary; but we know it was among Perényi`s plans to establish a similar system in Hungary to Venice whereas he would have been the elected leader of the „noble community”, like the Doge of Venice. Could it have really happened? Was Perényi far from reaching his goal? What if he had been a lot better than Szapolyai or Ferdinand? Now it remains to be seen forever but let us get to know him a bit better.

Péter was the son of Palatine Perényi Imre and the brother of Bishop Perényi Ferenc who died with a sword in his hand at Mohács. The Perényi family derived from a 13th-century German family who had settled in Hungary in the Hernád River’s valley. Later, the family held high positions in the Kingdom of Hungary. (Note: I am intentionally using the Eastern name order for Hungarians.)

The tombstone of Perényi Imre

To understand the power and influence of the Perényi family, let’s go back a few years before Mohács. In 1516, three years before the death of Perényi Imre, the barons and the estates of the country approved the 10-year-old Louis as their king with full authority on the Diet of Rákosmező on 24 April and they assigned a Board of Counsellors around him. Perényi Imre was a member of this Board: in fact, they were running the country (towards Mohács). Some months later after the Board began to operate, Count George Brandenburg (the nephew of the late King Ulászló and one of the tutors of young Louis II) made a treaty with Palatine Perényi Imre and Voivode Szapolyai to split the huge Hunyadi lands among them. Old Perényi Imre became the Godfather of a Spanish Jew called Fortunatus or Salamon ben Efraim who took the Kingdom’s financial issues into his hands because of Perényi’s support. Later, Fortunatus was accused of fraud by Szapolyai and they blamed him for the loss of Belgrade in 1521, too. 

The Perényi family had important castles like Terebes, Füzér, Csorbakő, and Újvár, not to mention Dédes Castle I have just shared on my page:

The family was the hereditary Chief Comes of Abaúj County and Perényi Imre had taken part in the making of the Habsburg-Jagellonian Treaty and as a result of this received a rank of a Prince of the Holy Roman Empire. They gained further castles in the Southern Lands of Hungary (Valpó Castle) and Siklós Castle in Baranya Castle, Debrő Castle in Heves County, and Ónod Castle of Borsod County. Perényi Péter inherited all this and on top of that, became the Chief Captain of Temesvár Castle (Timisoara). He was a member of the only Knightly Order established in Hungary, the Societas Draconistrarum (Sárkányos Lovagrend), and acted as the Guardian of the Holy Crown of Hungary. 

The insignia of the Dragon Order

After Mohács, 1526…

While Bishop Perényi Ferenc died with a sword in his hand, Péter fled from the Turks and took the Holy Crown to the fortified Trencsén Castle in the north of Hungary. After it, he became a man of King Szapolyai and gave out the Holy Crown for the coronation but they didn`t like each other. Yet, he was made the Voivode of Transylvania and fought the intruding troops of Cserni Jován`s Serbs until 1527 and defeated them at Szeged. He was joined by the peasant soldiers of late Dózsa György in this campaign. It is interesting to note that it was Szapolyai who had put their uprising so brutally down in 1514.

Cerni Jovan

The Holy Crown was guarded in the Castle of Füzér instead of Visegrád and Perényi took it to Archduke Ferdinand from there on 3 November 1527 and allowed him to be crowned with it. He received Sárospatak Castle and the money of the Eger`s Bishopry in exchange for this, it was a compensation for his lost property in Szapolyai`s hands. After the coronation, he took the Crown to Siklós Castle, then in 1529, to Sárospatak Castle. He had just a couple of hundred soldiers to guard the Crown on the way and quite unluckily he ran into the unit of King Szapolyai`s troops who were led by Chief Comes (and Bishop) Szerecsen János at Kajdács. They were defeated and all captured and King Szapolyai gifted Perényi to Sultan Suleiman in 1529. Suleiman learned that the Crown was being guarded in Slavonia, in the Castle of Sopron (in the castle of Bánfi János) and he wished “to see it”. He sent 300 Sipahi riders and they brought the Crown to him. As for Perényi Péter, he was in the captivity of Bishop Szerecsen János of Pécs.

The Sacred Crown of Hungary

 To Szapolyai`s surprise, the Sultan thought Perényi more valuable alive and set him free. Perényi, willy-nilly, had to serve again King Szapolyai in exchange for his life. He was the one who escorted Queen Isabella to his new-old king. As for the Sacred Crown of the Hungarians, Sultan Suleiman came to understand that it had to be given back to Szapolyai. Without wearing the Crown, nobody would have followed Szapolyai, and after the unsuccessful siege of Vienna in 1529, Suleiman had not enough power to overrun East Hungary. He needed to pacify Szapolyai so the Crown was returned to him.

Sultan Suleiman returns the Crown to Szapolyai

King Szapolyai could achieve the temporary independence of Eastern Hungary, there were no Turk garrisons in his country. Yet, the Dual Kingship had a very harmful impact on the kingdom, the noblemen were changing sides quite often, depending on whom they considered a better protector against the Ottoman threat. Perényi Péter was a leader of the Hungarian noblemen`s party who disliked both Ferdinand and Szapolyai. He and some important Hungarian barons went to Venice in the summer of 1531 to negotiate about seizing the power of Hungary. At this time, King Szapolyai was still childless and the bastard-son of the Doge, Lodovico Gritti was the Sultan`s Governor of Hungary who was authorized to give instructions to Szapolyai on behalf of Suleiman.

Lodovico Gritti, the natural son of the Doge of Venice

Lodovico, obviously a pain in Szapolyai`s neck, wanted himself to be appointed as the new king of Hungary. Perényi wanted to undermine his efforts at Andrea Gritti, the Doge of Venice. Perényi arrived in Venice, leading a rather impressive unit of 600 Hussars, and tried to persuade the Doge to support his claims for the throne if Szapolyai happened to leave no heir. 

Doge Andrea Gritti

At the same time, Perényi`s envoys, Zrínyi Miklós (Nikola Zrinski), and Bika Imre were trying to convince the Sultan in Istanbul that Gritti and Szapolyai were no good choice. Yet, it was in vain to send a great golden chalice and a sapphire ring worth 12,000 Ducats to Grand Vizier Ibrahim, Lodovico Gritti proved to have a greater influence in Istanbul. Soon, Suleiman was informed about the plot and had Perényi arrested in 1532 when he visited the sultan: they arrived as guests, armed with Suleiman`s document to protect them but his men were slaughtered on the spot.

Sultan Suleiman

Now, it was Suleiman who gifted Perényi to King Szapolyai János and thus Perényi had to swear fealty for the third time to him. But this time he had to pay an enormous sum and his 8-year-old son, Ferenc, was taken to Istanbul as a hostage. We will see from my next post that Suleiman had high plans with the little boy. 

Soon, Lodovico Gritti lost his best supporter, Vizier Ibrahim, and his position got weakened in Transylvania, too, especially after he had brutally executed Bishop Czibek Imre. Perényi`s core motivation at this time was to get his eldest son, Ferenc back by all means. In the meantime, Gritti was beheaded by the Hungarian nobles of Transylvania in 1534. Right after this, Perényi asked the Voivode of Moldavia to cede him the two sons of Gritti in order to exchange them for his son but the Voivode of Moldavia wrote him that unfortunately, he had already executed them.

Perényi`s chances got smaller in order to get his son back when the Turks were informed that the negotiations between Habsburg Ferdinand and Szapolyai took place in Perényi`s castle at Sárospatak. Finally, Ferdinand and Szapolyai have made peace and it has angered Suleiman not a bit. Nevertheless, Perényi did not consider Ferdinand strong enough to be able to defend Hungary so he and his party wrote a letter to Emperor Charles V., the brother of Ferdinand in which he proposed to remove Ferdinand from the throne of Hungary if he wasn`t able to fight off the Turks.

King Habsburg I Ferdinand

Szapolyai died in 1540 but against all the expectations, he left a male child who was born at the same time, called János Zsigmond. Buda Castle fell to the Turks in 1541 and as Perényi had been no longer the sworn man of Szapolyai, we find him on the side of King Ferdinand again who quickly appointed him as his chancellor and promised him to get his child back. Let us not forget, that Ferdinand couldn`t have been crowned without Perényi in 1527.

II. Joachim of Brandenburg

King Ferdinand sent Joachim of Brandenburg with his small and badly equipped army to retake Buda in the summer of 1542. Suleiman sent his reinforcement against them (in his army, there was Perényi`s son, Ferenc, a 20-year-old lad by this time). The leader of the Hungarian army was Perényi himself with 15,000 men and they could take Pest but the campaign has been ended in disaster. Ferdinand thought of betrayal and had Perényi arrested in October.

The siege of Buda and Pest in 1542

Suleiman had offered to set free Lord Majláth István, Lord Török Bálint, and Perényi Ferenc in exchange for the support of the Hungarian lords, we know that for sure. Perényi Péter may have thought that he would be a better leader of Hungary under the Ottoman Empire than Szapolyai`s baby son, knowing that the Turks were not strong enough to colonize East Hungary as they had done it with the Balkans. He could have enjoyed more independence in governing Hungary than under the rule of Ferdinand, whose strength hasn`t proved to be enough to defend the country, anyway.

However, Perényi Péter was released from his captivity only after paying 40,000 Ducats, six years later, only a few weeks before his death. In the prison, he was dealing with writing religious works, he was a friend of Melanchthon and a supporter of Protestantism. He left behind two daughters and two sons; see my next posts about them. Without Perényi, Török, Bátori, and noblemen like Thurzó, Szapolyai, and Martinuzzi, the “White Monk”, it is nearly impossible to comprehend this exciting and important period of Hungarian history.

The coat of arms of the Perényi family

Perényi Péter was buried in the church of Terebes but later some fanatic Paulinian monks dumped his remains, claiming that the lightning had struck the tower of the church because of the remains of this heretic lord. The story of his life helps us a great deal to understand the Dual Kingship of Hungary and we can play with the idea of what would have happened if…

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