The Hajdú warriors in Zrínyi’s Winter Campaign at Pécs in 1664
We have talked about these special Hungarian infantrymen who were in fact, light-infantrymen. Here you can read more about them:
Now, we are taking a look at their role in Zrínyi’s ingenious Winter Campaign of 1664. It was the campaign that tried to pave the way to the retaking of Nagykanizsa castle and eventually preparing the liberation of Hungary and Croatia. Unfortunately, the Habsburgs didn’t really support this war as Zrínyi involved French and German aid that was against the dynastic interests of the Habsburgs. Zrínyi was able to burn the Bridge of Eszék (Osiek) thus cutting off the Ottoman supply lines. He received the Golden Fleece and international fame for his deed but the Habsburgs sabotaged his further actions, especially his lethal enemy, General Montecuccoli was against him.
The Christian troops besieged the castle of Pécs in 1664. The town fell but the central fortification was still in the Turks’ hands, just because of the attacking soldiers’ discipline has so much loosened. Count Esterházy Pál (note, I use the Eastern name order for Hungarian names) took part in the campaign and he was reasoning like this: “the drunk Hajdús along with the musket-men were wallowing in the wine like animals”. (Source: Esterházy Pál: Mars Hungaricus page 144, transl. by Iványi Emma) Esterházy markedly separated the Hajdús and the musket-men in his sentence, not without a reason. The Hajdú soldiers’ role among the infantrymen was similar to the role of the Hussars among the cavalry.
Here is a Hajdú dance, performed by the Héttorony Hangászok in Eger castle, Hungary:
The origin of the Hajdú soldiers is being debated by historians. According to an older concept, they had derived from the cattle-herders of the 15th-16th century. It is thought that these herders were working on foot (!) while taking the half-wild grey cattle to markets abroad, mostly to Vienna or to the South-German lands. They were tough and seasoned men with good martial skills but they also had a bad reputation as trouble-makers.
Recent research says that their origin might be more complex. Due to the Ottoman Empire’s expansion, many people became landless who had to sell their swords so as to make the living. In the beginning, they were more like criminals and not soldiers. No wonder, that many laws were born that regulated how to persecute the Hajdús. In many cases, the law didn’t punish the act of killing a Hajdú at all. However, both the cattle trade and their eventual outlaw life contributed to skills that were useful in an army. They were very good at reconnoitering and scouting as well as in preparing traps and ambushes. Additionally, they knew the lay of the land like the back of their hand and could easily get mixed with the locals because they spoke their language.
It is not surprising that many military commanders and princes of Transylvania (like Bocskai István or Bethlen Gábor) liked to hire these inexpensive mercenaries. Count Zrínyi Miklós (aka Nicholas Zrinski) or other high-ranking officers of the Winter Campaign like General Wolfgang Julius Hohenlohe also liked them because the Hajdús were excellent light infantrymen under the proper leadership. The weapons of the Hajdús were chosen according to their role in the battle so they were not ideally equipped for grand-scale field battles. According to Kelenik József, the Hajdús were not fighting in closed battle formations “because their martial art required lots of space. They had a saber in their right hand and a light “fokos” spontoon in their left hand. Wielding them required wide and intensive movements that could not have been carried out in a closed formation without making disorder.” (In: Kelenik József: A hajdúk. Nagy Képes Milleniumi Hadtörténet, page 129.) Let us not forget that the famous Kádár István “fought with two hands”, as you can read more about him here:
Later, the Hajdú warriors began to use short-barrelled muskets in the second part of the 16th century. Not only their fighting style was different from other infantrymen but they had a special way of life and had their own habits. They had their own songs and dances that were often learned by the noblemen in the military camp, too. Esterházy Pál wrote: “Empress Leopoldina wished to see a Hungarian dance on that meeting so she summoned me to the castle where I had to dance with Hungarian gentleladies in front of the Emperor and the Empress. (…) After this, I had to dance a Hajdú-dance with two naked swords that I used to be practicing very well at that time.” (In: Esterhézy Pál: Visszaemlékezés, page 312 trans. Iványi Emma)
The Hajdús were not only popular in the “Hungaries” (mean: Royal Hungary, the Principality of Transylvania and the Ottoman Occupied Lands) but they were fighting on the side of King Báthory István of Poland. We often find Hajdús in the armies of Polish lords and Wallachian princes alike. During the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714) several Hajdú regiments were fighting.
As for the unsuccessful siege of Pécs castle, it is not only the Hajdú soldiers’ disobedience that can be blamed. Pécs was an important Ottoman stronghold with 6-7,000 houses in the city, along with 16 mosques. A strong wall encircled the town and the Turks turned the Cathedral into a fortification, surrounding it with high walls and a deep moat. It was the reason why Zrínyi wanted to take it by an ambush rather than laying a proper siege. His army was at Pécs on 28 January, and the German troops assaulted the city and took the outer town immediately. The inner town was taken during the next day but the castle was staunchly defended, in spite of two days of a hard fight.
Zrínyi and Esterházy left for Eszék (Osiek) on 31 January, taking along the Hungarian-Croatian cavalry to burn the famous Suleiman bridge. General Von Hohenlohe went on with the siege of Pécs while Zrínyi was destroying the 8-kilometer-long bridge at the village of Dárda. Grand Vizier Köprülü Achmed was late to prevent it. In the meantime, Zrínyi returned to Pécs but destroyed Baranyavár castle on the way there. He burned the land behind him and took all the supplies with him so as to hinder the Grand Vizier. The infantrymen at Pécs were successful only in a few attacks towards Mohács but Pécs castle remained in Ottoman hands, the siege was lifted on 6 February. Perhaps, the Hajdú soldiers in Zrínyi’s army were not good at sieges or simply there were not enough cannons with them.
Here you can read about another Hajdú adventure from 1594 and you can find out whether they were disciplined or not:
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