Pálffy Tamás (1534-1581), a Hungarian Hero
He was said to be a brave warrior of the Borderland who treated everybody humanly and he was equally valiant in duels, battles, and as a captain of a castle.
He was born in 1534, his father was Pálffy Péter and his mother was Dersffy Zsófia. His brother, Miklós, was 20 years younger than he and became an outstanding warrior of the Borderland, a heroic military leader of the 15-Year-War. (You will read a lot about the other family members of the Pálffy’s.)
As Tamás has come from a wealthy aristocratic family, he received an excellent education and learned not only the martial arts but all kinds of knowledge as well. He had been soldiering since his young age, serving in the “field army”, under his liege lord.
He went to serve the king in 1551 and became his soldier in Győr Castle. He took part in several raids as a light hussar officer. His superiors were General Adam Gall and Nicolas von Salm. Later, we find him in Léva Castle where he was serving Thury György who was his best teacher in duels and fights where they broke lances with the enemy.
As a hussar officer of Léva Castle, he took part in the unlucky fight at Szécsény in 1562. He and other chief officers were captured there and taken to Istanbul where he spent years as a prisoner of war. We don’t know the details of his release in 1565, supposedly he was ransomed. We can find him in March 1565 in the army of Dersffy István, serving as a hussar captain.
Next year he fought in the campaign when Veszprém Castle was retaken and as a hussar officer of Győr Castle, he was in the army sent to the relief of the besieged Palota Castle. He went to Léva Castle again in November 1569 where he commanded 50 hussars.
As a result of his outstanding deeds there, he was appointed two years later as the Captain of Besztercebánya (Banská Bystrica). Assumedly, the Court wanted to compensate him with this post because the king had accumulated too much debt by not paying his soldiers. He stayed in Besztercebánya only for two years, though, then he returned to Léva Castle. The Military Council of Vienna appointed him as Captain of Palota castle in October 1573.
During his almost ten-year-long captaincy, he had successfully defended all Turkish attempts to take the castle. He had spies in each Turkish-owned Borderland castle and he was so well-informed that the king’s generals regularly turned to him for information.
There were many complaints by the Turks against the soldiers of Palota Castle because of their constant raids. The individual and team duels were not rare, either. Pálffy received many warnings from Vienna because they were banned but Pálffy didn’t pay much heed to them.
He wrote the following to Batthyányi Boldizsár in 1574: „The Bey of Fehérvár is on the way here. He had chosen 100 Deli-warriors from his army and he wants to break lances with us. I don’t know the hour of their arrival. I, too, ask for the protection of the Lord God, to be our shield and to block all the harm as He is willing.”
He was often taking part in personal duels as well. He had a duel in 1577 with the famous Bey of Fehérvár, Kara Ali. When they fought with a lance on horseback, the Bey could not hit him but Pálffy’s lance “penetrated the Turk’s armored body, through his breast-plate and the head of the lance came out in the back” as it was recorded by István Illésházy. Pálffy challenged the new Bey of Fehérvár, too, in 1580. He has even asked for the king’s permit from Vienna for the duel but we don’t know its outcome.
His soldiers from Palota ambushed the Turks who came to conduct the correction of the border according to the truce in the fall of 1579.
„Once we have all come out like this, let us break a few pieces of wood (lances) according to the old habits, having a little fun and merriment”
– it was how the Hungarians were inviting the Ottoman Turks. The Turks of Fehérvár had to answer the challenge but we know nothing of the outcome of the clash. (Note, we know that they were not ethnically Turkish as far as the garrisons of the Ottoman Occupied Lands are concerned because according to the Ottoman payrolls, 96% of them were Albanians, Serbs, Sout-Slavic mercenaries but we traditionally call them “Turks”, all the same.)
Pálfy was handling his prisoners of war quite hard, rather cruelly. When he discovered a “pribék” (a renegade), he had him simply executed. The Pasha of Fehérvár and the Pasha of Buda often complained about the treatment of the Ottoman prisoners and kept sending letters to Vienna.
The activity of the Turks became very intensive between 1574-75 around Palota Castle. They were not only attacking the castle but went on challenging the Hungarian warriors for duels.
Pálffy did not evade these clashes and he often ambushed the Turks with his famous brothers-in-arms called Nádasdy Ferenc, Majthényi László, Thury Márton, and Thengöldi Bornemisza János. He rarely was praised for his deeds from Vienna, rather, he was often scolded for his attacks.
It was in 1577 when the Turks ambushed the Castle of Győr, defeating the garrison. The commander of Győr blamed it on Pálffy for not having warned him in time but Pálffy made his riposte: he excused himself in Vienna and on top of this, he defeated the Bey of Fehérvár as compensation. The allied forces of the castles of Sárvár, Veszprém, Palota, and Győr, and Tata fought under his flag. He had even captured the younger brother of the Bey.
Later, he and his warriors of Palota managed to stop the intentions of the Turks several times when they wanted to build palisade castles at Kenese and he prevented their reinforcement of the fortified church of Kajár in 1577.
All of this and more he could achieve with his badly paid soldiers, from a castle that was in a very bad condition, too. Many times, like the other captains, he paid his men and repair the castle from his own purse. Thus, the Court has accumulated a huge debt against him.
Pálffy wrote the next to the king in July 1575:
„Many of my warriors are gone and I have only that many riders and footmen who are just enough to close the gate of the castle and there are not enough to guard the walls. They keep slipping away day by day…”
The soldiers, even the German ones were complaining because of the poor food.
No wonder, that Pálffy (who was many times getting ill in that time) was thinking about giving in his resignation in the 1570s but he was always made to remain. Yet, he was forced to ask for sick leave more often. In addition to this, the buildings of the castle got damaged in a great fire which also had to be rebuilt.
These troubles and difficulties have contributed to his early death. He died on 20 August 1581. It is assumed that he was buried in the church of Bazin. The script on his tombstone says:
„The castle of Palota bears witness how many times he attacked the enemy. He had been serving the Homeland from his youth to his death. He has freed many Hungarians from the slavery of the Turks: he was to the blessing of many. The glory of his deeds will live forever.”
His wife was Nyáry Sára but they had no children.
(Source: Szibler Gábor)
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