Selected Passages from Hungarian-Ottoman Wars

The end of the Perényi-story, and a few words about the Crimean Tatars

the signature of Loboczky Mátyás, 1551

I am going to translate you the letter of a Hungarian nobleman, Loboczki Mátyás that he had written to King Habsburg Ferdinand I on 01 January 1539. It contains some details about the story of Lord Perényi Péter and his son as well as a few interesting info about why the Ottomans disliked taking Hungarian boys for turning them into Janissaries. Note, I am using the Eastern name order as far as Hungarian names are concerned. As for the full story, don’t miss the two previous parts of the Perényi-story, you can read them here:

Part One:

Part Two:

Loboczki was a diplomat of the age, later he became a faithful man of Queen Isabella, the widow of King Szapolyai János. The letter of Loboczki to Habsburg Ferdinand goes like this:
„I have wanted to write to Your Majesty about what I had heard because it was not only from empty hearsay but from real sources. Let Your Majesty be informed that the Sultan of the Turks (Suleiman) when returning from his campaign of Moldova, crossed the Danube River and summoned those Sanjak beys who are living along the Hungarian Borderland and called two pashas and addressed them with this question:
-You who live on the Borderland of Hungary, you have come to know the Hungarian lords and you know about their reputation. Tell me, then, whether you know any of them who are not traitors.
It was Pasha Aias (?) who answered him with a smile:
– I know not any except Lord Perényi Péter.
Answered the Sultan to this, saying:
– Since the creation of the Earth, there has not been and is not a bigger traitor than Perényi Péter. He had betrayed me twice so far, then he betrayed King János (Szapolyai), King Habsburg Ferdinand, and his own son, his own kin whom I have in my hand. I had taken the son of Perényi Péter to my hand because I knew that King János was lacking an heir and I wanted to make either Péter or his son the king of Hungary after the death of King János. But now I see that the blood of this traitor is not fitting to kingship. – said the Sultan. The Sanjak Bey of Szendrő (Smedorevo) said to this:
– My Sultan, you should never believe that a Hungarian could ever be born into this world who would not be a traitor. The Turks have already learned the serious betrayals of the Hungarians by paying a high price for them. Such treasons which we have never seen in any nation of humankind. Behold, even those Hungarian children we had happened to take into captivity, dared to betray their lords. However well we treated them and whatever we had wasted on them. Many of their lords were killed in their sleep so however young our Hungarian prisoner should be, we never trust them. – It was said by the Bey of Szendrő but others made similar testimonies about the Hungarians.

Erhard Schön: Ottoman slave market, 1532

Hearing all this, the Sultan rose his hand and swore an oath, saying that he would like to move to Hungary with his whole army and he would either die there with all of his men or he would exterminate the clans of the Hungarians from the surface of Hungary.
In order to meet this plan, the Sultan sent his Wallachians who we call „posts” to the Tatar khans who were rivaling among each other so as to make peace between them and make them ready to march against Hungary by next summer. (…) The Turk Sultan has made an oath and decided to settle the Tatar nation on the fields of Hungary around the Tisza River and uproot and annihilate the Hungarian nation.”


The forefathers of the Crimean Tatars

The first Tatar destruction in 1241 in the Chronicle of Thuróczy (published in 1488)

Many people think that the Mongolians (we called them Tatars) had invaded Hungary just twice: once in 1241-42 and later in 1285. We know how destructive the first attack was in 1241 but the Mongols were promptly defeated in 1285. Note, according to the latest research, the first invasion had not been so severe as historians thought it, though. The Mongols withdrew their forces from the Kingdom of Hungary in 1242, not just because of their internal troubles. The Hungarian medieval army was more effective against them because it included western and eastern elements: it was why the Hungarians have always been so successful against the eastern nomads and against the western attacks at the same time. Let us not forget, that King Béla IV was strong enough and was able to take back the western counties of Hungary quite easily from the Germans right after the Mongolians’ withdrawal. The birth of the Crimean Khaganate also dates back to the 13th century. Later, they have attacked Hungary and Transylvania many times.

The Crimean Khaganate

The leader of the Tatars became Giray Khan in 1449. After Giray’s death in 1466, his sons fought over which of them should succeed their father and this allowed the Ottomans to consider taking over the whole of the Crimean peninsula. Eventually, Mengili Giray took the throne through Ottoman intervention but only after he swore allegiance to the Ottomans. Still, this did not stop him from cooperating with Muscovy after the Ottomans attacked the south coast of the Crimea in 1475 and took over the Genoese colonies and the Greek Principality of Theodoro. The Ottomans then sought to replace him with his son Erminak, who was only too happy to swear allegiance to the Ottomans and assist them in capturing the remaining Genoese colonies. As there were a number of Crimean notables in the Ottoman service, these were able to persuade Fatih Sultan Mehmed II that Mengili was the better person to lead the Tatars against enemies to the north. Mengili agreed to henceforth supply military and financial assistance to the Ottomans as needed. 

a Crimean Tatar

Thus Ottoman control of the Crimean Tatars was established. It was to continue for three centuries, providing the sultans with not only another base to control the Black Sea but also a regular supply of fighting men. The power of the Crimeans was not extensive, hardly extending beyond the Crimea itself, but with Ottoman help, they were at least able to avoid being absorbed by Muscovy… They remained the principal Ottoman buffers to keep the Russians away from the Black Sea for another two centuries. 

However, the khans enjoyed independence from the Ottomans who needed them to supply scouts and cavalry for their frequent military forays into the Balkan countries and battles with the Poles, Hungarians, and Austrians. Crimea provided Istanbul with slaves, grain, salt, lumber, fish and meat. The slave trade was particularly lucrative, especially in women because Ukrainian and Russian women were highly prized in Istanbul for their beauty. The historian Alan Fisher has estimated that as many as a million members of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth were carried off into slavery between 1474 and 1694. As for the Hungarians, we know how much money it cost to ransom the entire Transylvanian army in 1658 from the Crimean captivity. The Crimeans’ economy strongly based on the slave trade and they were very good at it. When they accompanied the Ottoman armies to Hungary, the local Turks often warned the Hungarians of their coming. The Ottoman soldiers in their garrisons on the Hungarian Occupied Lands despised the Tatars for their unnecessary savageness.

a Tatar rider

Suleiman’s mother

Sultan Selim I

No wonder that Suleiman wanted to give Hungary to the Tatars when he was angry. His mother, Ayşe Hafsa was a Crimean Tatar who was married to Sultan Selim. She was thought to be the daughter of Mengili I Giray, although there’s no proof of this. From the time that Suleiman took the throne in 1520 until her death in 1534, she was the Valide Sultan and the first of many influential ones at that. The Crimeans had a strong influence on Sultan Suleiman as a result of this.

Sultan Suleiman I

At the height of its power in the mid-16th century, the Crimean Khanate was able to successfully attack Muscovy and her allies and even burn Moscow in 1571 as part of its efforts to extend its area into the Caspian-Volga region. The following year, however, the Crimean Tatars were decisively defeated at Molodi, some 40 miles south of Moscow. Only 20,000 out of the 120,000-strong Tatar army lived to return to the Crimea. This was the last time the Ottomans and the Tatars attempted to invade north of the Black Sea.

The Cossacks took advantage of the weakness of the Crimean Tatars in the early seventeenth century and raided pretty much at will throughout the peninsula. The seventeenth-century Ottoman travel writer, Evliya Çelebi, mentions the destruction of Crimean cities and the trade routes that had brought the area great prosperity. At the time he thought the only place that was secure was the Ottoman fortress at Arabat.

the statue of Evliya Çelebi in Eger, Hungary (photo: Rostás Bea)

Although the Crimean Tatars continued to participate in Ottoman military campaigns, the decline among the Ottomans meant they would return home more often than not without booty. At the same time, the Europeans and the Russians were equipping their armies with more modern, better weaponry. Warfare continued throughout the 18th century until finally with the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca in 1774, the Crimea became independent of the Ottoman Empire and from then on had to side with Russia. Oddly enough the Ottoman sultan as caliph was granted the right to remain as the religious leader of the Crimean Tatars. The peninsula was finally annexed to Russia in 1783. Yet, the Tatars poised a threat until the mid-18th century to Transylvania. You can find many fortified Saxon and Székely churches from the region on my page where the locals tried to find shelter against them.

You can also read about a Tatar raid against Transylvania that took place in 1658:

Sources: Niki GAMM, Stanford Shaw, and Szerecz Miklós

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