The Hussar tournaments of Ferdinand II, Archduke of Austria

Archduke Ferdinand II
The so-called „Hussarisches Turnier” (“Hussar Tournaments”) were organized by Habsburg Ferdinand II, Archduke of Austria who lived between 1529 and 1595. The tournaments took place between 1548 and 1582, and they were not just a hobby of a Renaissance ruler but they had a political message, too. 
The participants of the Hussar tournament
Hungarians particularly liked “Tiroli Ferdinand” (Ferdinand of Tyrol) and the Archduke seemed to have returned this feeling. He organized a great Hussar and Knightly tournament in Prague on 23 May 1548. It is interesting, that he organized a similarly magnificent Hussar tournament toward the end of his life in Innsbruck in 1582. It took place in the spring, almost on the same day but there were a few differences between the two events.
Archduke Ferdinand II

It is perhaps not so well known, but it is a fact that Ferdinand of Tyrol was a lover of knightly martial arts and jousting tournaments, a tradition he probably ‘inherited’ from Emperor Maximilian I. The fact that he was also obsessed with Hungarian Hussar fighting and jousting (one might say so, since he not only organized a series of ‘Hussar tournaments’, but also passionately collected Hussar weapons, equipment, and even relics, portraits, etc. of great heroes of the time) is something that Tirolian Ferdinand was passionate about. It can be seen no longer as a decadent nostalgia for a bygone age (the age of the knights) but as a current political message or program aimed at mobilizing people to fight the Turks.

The saber and the helmet of Zrínyi Miklós (Nikola Šubić Zrinski)

It is worth noting that Archduke Ferdinand of Tyrol acquired for his collection the saber and helmet of Zrínyi, the hero of Szigetvár (1566) which was transferred to the collections of Innsbruck and Vienna. According to research – most recently thoroughly researched by Gulyás Borbála – the Archduke held at least five such tournaments between 1548 and 1557: they were the  “Hussarisches Turnier.”

a Hussar-drinking vessel from the 16th century

The Hungarian Hussars – as a light cavalry – became generally known beyond the borders of the country, see the deeds of the Hungarian Hussars in the Schmalkalden War. Without them, the Habsburgs would have had difficulties defeating their Protestant opponents. Also, Archduke Ferdinand of Tyrol was an important player in the battles twice against the Turks here in the Kingdom of Hungary. Both times were in battles in which the Turks aimed to take Szigetvár castle – the first unsuccessful one in 1556 and the great siege ten years later.

Note: In the summer of 1556, Archduke Ferdinand of Tyrol was present – with several Hungarian dignitaries – in the war that achieved the liberation of the besieged castle. However, ten years later in 1566, he did not move from Győr castle, remained idle, and just watched the heroic fall of Szigetvár castle. You can read more about the first siege (1556) of Szigetvár on my page:

The second siege of Szigetvár, 1566

The Archduke himself also took part in the Hussar tournaments, wearing a red and green fringed “dolman” and “mente” (traditional Hungarian short- and long clothes), a combat helmet decorated with feathers and oriental motifs, and a large mustache which was, of course, a false one. We do not have a complete picture of the course of these tournaments, nor do we always know who the participants were.

The Dolman of King Matthias from 1490

In most cases, foreigners donned these exotic outfits which were Turkish, possibly Moorish or Hungarian ‘costumes’. They fought in the Hussar style, first with their spears (“kopja”) and then with sabers. There were Germans, Czechs, Italians and some French among them… The Hussar tournament held in June 1549 – also in Prague – was recorded to have included Hungarian officers such as Balassa János (father of Balassi Bálint), Macedonian Péter and Török János of Enying (son of Török Bálint). (Please, note that I use the Oriental name order for Hungarians where family names come first.)

a participant of the Hussar tournament
a participant in the Hussar tournament with a “kopja”

The popularity of the Hussar Tournament was increasing: for example, Maurice, Elector of Saxony, who also took part in the Hungarian battles (1548, 1552, 1553), tried to establish the Hussarisches Turnier at his residence in Dresden, perhaps in imitation of the Archduke of Tyrol. 

As for Ferdinand (II) of Tyrol, it is also worth recalling that in 1582, on the occasion of his second marriage (he married Princess Anna Catherina Gonzaga), he also organized a large-scale Hussar tournament at his court in Innsbruck. Here he choreographed the event himself, as he had done for many of the previous ones, but the only change was that he appeared at the opening in an ‘all antica’ costume, following the fashion changes of the time, but later he wore a Hussar’s uniform and a cuirass.
The Archduke as a Hussar
According to the manuscript of the event, the Archduke, then in his 50s, led the Hussars on a white horse and in a red and green embroidered “mente”. The only difference from the previous Hussar tournaments was that this was not a simple cavalry duel with medieval roots, but a courtly celebration with ‘elaborate allegorical, mythological scenes and plots’.
Hussar masks, and shields used in the tournaments
There were certainly individual matches, as well as doubles and groups (24-24 people). All these tournaments were a curiosity and unique in the courts of the palaces of Austria, Bohemia, Saxony, and Silesia, but they also hinted at the life-and-death struggle that was a daily reality in the Ottoman-occupied Hungary, in the Turkish-Hungarian hinterland of the time.
You can read more about Hussar masks and armor on my page:
A Hussar Mask for tournaments (Drawing: Somogyi Győző)

„Mummerei und Sarmatie…” 1552

The court of the Habsburg archduke Ferdinand of Tyrol in Bohemia – when he spent much time here as governor between 1547 and 1567 – included a nobleman from Bohemia, a certain Johann Zajič von Hassenburg, who wrote in his diary that he had also organized a Hussar tournament in his own castle…
Pictures of a Hussar Tournament’s participants

The most interesting thing about the tournament, which took place in Budyně nad Ohří at the end of 1552 – on 27 December to be precise – is that the “Turkish” players fought with “Slavic knights”. The Hussar tournament became known as ‘Mummerei und Sarmatie, Komödie und Turnier’.

Archduke Ferdinand II

Source: Szerecz Miklós
Literature: Gulyás Borbála: Huszárok Prágában és Innsbruckban, törökök Drezdában – huszártornák a 16. századi Európában. In: Színlelés és rejtőzködés. A kora újkori magyar politika szerepjátékai. szerk. G. Etényi Nóra és Horn Ildikó. Bp. 2010. 273-290.; Uő. A török elleni harc megjelenítése a Habsburgok udvari ünnepségein a 16. században. In: Identitás és kultúra a török hódoltság korában. szerk. Ács Pál és Székely Júlia. Bp. 2012. 249-264.
The tomb of Archduke Ferdinand II

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a Hungarian Hussar reenactor