Mayláth István, Voivode of Transylvania (1502-1550)

The seal of Maylath István (Ste. Maylath) from 1532

 Let us tell a few words about the second line of lords and politicians who played important role in the Dual Kingship of Hungary after 1526. Many of us may have heard of the fate of Majláth István, Voivode of Transylvania who finished his life in the Yedikula as the captive of Sultan Suleiman. According to Gárdonyi Géza, the great Hungarian author of the 19th century, Mayláth was a positive hero but others say he wasn’t at all. The truth, as always, is sometimes in between. As it was, without Mayláth things would have taken a quite different course.

another Mayláth seal from 1532

Everything began at Mohács, 1526. After several desperate assaults, the Hungarian cavalry could not break the Ottoman lines. Only three knights could penetrate until the sultan’s bodyguards but they were cut down before reaching Suleiman. Finally, exhausted, the heavy cavalry turned and fled the field, abandoning the pike-and-shot infantrymen whose last stand bought the knights time to save their lives. One of the runners was a young knight called Mayláth István who was fleeing to the north. Did he curse Voivode Szapolyai János of Transylvania who was late to join King Louis’ army with his 15,000 men? We will never know.

A painting of the Battle of Mohács (made in 1555)

We can just assume that the 24-year-old knight had no idea that the next crowned king of Hungary would be Szapolyai who would later appoint Maylath as Voivode of Transylvania. Had he guessed it, he would not have hurried to Habsburg Ferdinand to become one of his few Hungarian supporters. The youngster did his best to serve the Habsburg usurper: he and his friends Nádasdy Tamás and Zalay János delivered him the Hungarian royal treasury along with the Castle of Pozsony (Pressburg, Bratislava). Without these, Ferdinand would not have been able to make a bridgehead in Hungary so he awarded Mayláth with the fortress of Fogaras that was a strategic fort of Transylvania: whoever owned it, was able to control Transylvania.

King Szapolyai János

 It is assumed that Mayláth István was born in Komána around 1502. His father had Wallachian roots, he settled in Transylvania in 1480 near Fogaras. We know that after Mohács he befriended Nádasdy Tamás and married his sister, Anna. (Please, note that I use the Oriental name order for Hungarians where family names come first.) It was the age when Hungarian lords often changed masters. Nádasdy left Ferdinand and joined Szapolyai, allegedly he changed sides quite unwillingly. He was returning to Ferdinand in 1530, though. However, while he was paving his way back to King Ferdinand, he persuaded Mayláth, his brother-in-law to take the side of King Szapolyai. It was not an unheard-of thing in that age: it happened in other noble families as well to secure their positions by sending one brother to Szapolyai, another to Ferdinand.

King Habsburg Ferdinand

 King Szapolyai was glad to see Mayláth on his side and appointed Voivode of Transylvania. Mayláth tried to express his gratitude by making order in Transylvania. At that time, Lodovico Gritti, the Venetian Doge’s natural son was the Governor of Hungary, appointed by Sultan Suleiman. Gritti was a pain in Szapolyai’s neck because the Italian renegade was secretly plotting against him, assumedly he wanted to lead Hungary on behalf of Suleiman. Gritti made the mistake of assassinating Bishop Czibak Imre of Transylvania, and he was also rapidly losing his influence in Istanbul. The murder of the bishop unnerved the Hungarian lords who began to take up arms against Gritti. It was the first time in Transylvania that the supporters of Szapolyai and Ferdinand joined forces to get rid of Gritti. Voivode Mayláth became their leader and they besieged Medgyes castle where Gritti fled. Mayláth even allied himself with Voivode Vlad VIII of Wallachia against Gritti.

Lodovico Gritti

The Doge’s son wasn’t sitting idly around, either: he summoned the troops of Voivode Huru of Moldavia to his aid. However, he was not so lucky in his choice because Huru’s men, arriving in Medgyes decided to join the besiegers. Gritti was captured and slain in 1534, his sons were handed over to the Moldavians.

Hungary in 1550 (West: ruled by Ferdinand; East: ruled by Szapolyai’s son)

As a Voivode, Mayláth was also leading a campaign to Upper Hungary where Prior György Martinuzzi, Szapolyai’s statesman accompanied him. Unfortunately, Martinuzzi developed a strong dislike against Mayláth during this war. Their conflict had been undermining Mayláth’s position so much by the end of the 1530s that King Szapolyai had to appoint a Co-Voivode next to Mayláth, it was Balassa Imre.

Prior György Martinuzzi, the “White Monk”

Of course, Mayláth wasn’t overjoyed and he launched his little plot in which Nádasdy Tamás and Thurzó Elek were involved: he was trying to return to King Ferdinand. Hearing so, King Szapolyai took action and quickly removed Maylath from the seat of Transyílvania, taking back all his lands at the same time in 1540. Szapolyai sentenced Mayláth to death, too. The king went to Transylvania to settle things down but he died on the way back home.

Nádasdy Tamás (1498-1562)

Mayláth had a Diet summoned at Segesvár on 29 August 1540 where he had himself and Balassa appointed Chief Captains of the Kingdom. His goal was to rule Transylvania on his own so he was seeking contact with the Ottoman Empire, too. However, he was negotiating with King Ferdinand as well. He should not have done so: Prior György Martinuzzi gave him up to the Sultan who got upset. Mayláth was preparing the Transylvanian army against the expected Turkish punishing campaign. He was sending letters around from Fogaras castle but nobody obeyed his summons.

Voivode Petru Rares of Moldova (1487-1546)

Instead, the Turk army arrived on 19 July 1541, led by Pasha Achmed, aided by the troops of Voivode Petru Rares of Moldova: they besieged Fogaras castle. The siege lasted for a full month. As for Petru Rares, he wanted to prove his loyalty to the Ottomans very badly because of his infidelity in the past so he did his best to capture Mayláth. As the siege was going very slowly, they had to come up with something else.

The besiegers sent an envoy into the castle, he was Bornemissza Boldizsár. Bornemissza tried to make Mayláth believe that the rank of Prince of Transylvania had been already granted to him. Although Mayláth didn’t like Borneemissza very much, his greed for power was greater than his caution. Bornemissza sensed that and he knew that he should persuade Mayláth with a double-talk, knowing that Mayláth would not trust his word.

So he told him: „My lord, you have always been a clever man, now you must rely on your talent in earnest. I tell you not to go out because they will cheat you, you know the reputation of Turks and Wallachians very much.” Hearing so, Mayláth decided to do on the contrary and he went out of his fortress. However, he demanded high-ranking hostages in exchange for this. He got them: but Pasha Achmed sent simple soldiers, dressed up in rich clothes. Lady Nádasdy Anna, Mayláth’s wife was begging his husband not to go out but he would not listen to her.

Fogaras castle

Maylath dressed up in his ornate dress and left Fogaras castle with 60 men. Outside, he had his tent built and spent there a day, making merriment, drinking wine. Then, he went over to the Wallachian Voivode’s camp on the following evening where his soldiers were disarmed and he was arrested. Voivode Petru greeted him like this: „Dog, now you are the captive of the Turk Sultan.” Then, he was sent to Bey Bali who had him carried to Constantinapolis where he was locked up in the Yedikule. Sultan Suleiman received the news of Maylath’s arrest in Nándorfehérvár (Belgrade).

Soon, Mayláth got new company in the prison: Török Bálint arrived during the autumn, then came the robber knight Móré László. King Ferdinand and Nádasdy Anna and Tamás tried to free Mayláth, but it could never happen. It must have been the hand of Prior György Martinuzzi who undermined these efforts. After all, the White Monk was the statesman who created the sovereign Principality of Transylvania that stood firmly between the Habsburgs and the Ottomans for many years.

The Yedikule in Istanbul (Photo: Lohen11 Josep Renalias)

Mayláth István died in December 1550. His wife and his son, Gábor lived in the castle of Nádasdy Tamás, in Sárvár in the 1540s and in the 1450s. Before the birth of Nádasdy Ferenc, Mayláth Gábor was supposed to inherit Nádasdy’s estates.

Source: Szibler Gábor

Sárvár castle (Source:

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