The Road To The Battle of Mohács 1526

The historical park at Mohács (Photo: Csanady)

The interpretation of Mohács has always been a dividing question

Many people like to think that the defeat at Mohács wiped the Hungarians off the face of the earth. The theory of “total annihilation” is well received by those nations who wish to belittle or marginalize the role of the Hungarians in saving Western Europe from the Ottoman threat.
One of the mass graves of the infantry near Mohács…
In fact, the Battle of Mohács didn’t mark the end of the Kingdom of Hungary, it was ‘only’ a military defeat. The death of the Hungarian king was perhaps the worst event that made things so impossible. The defeat was serious enough, but the kingdom was much more damaged by the civil war that began when the Habsburgs attacked Hungary. In this post, I would like to list some of the participants in the story, and at the end, you can decide on their role.
The Battle of Mohács on a contemporary map

A few general words about the situation

Mainstream historians believe that during the 36 years of the Jagellonians’ reign, the once strong and centralized kingdom of King Matthias Hunyadi (r. 1458-1490) became a weak, fragmented, and conflicted country. However, there are already a few of them who dare say that it was not quite like this. Under King Ulászló II (r. 1490-1526), the barons drastically reduced the king’s room for maneuver, and under King Louis II, who came to the throne as a child, they sought to influence the ruler directly. Meanwhile, in the 1520s, Hungary was torn apart by internal divisions: although the nobles had united in the Peasants’ War of 1514 to restore serfdom to its medieval status, the aristocracy and the common nobility were also locked in a bitter struggle.

The Kingdom of Hungary in the 15th century

The struggle of the leagues around Palatine Báthory István and the Transylvanian Voivode Szapolyai János was, of course, to influence the young king and to crush the power of the other side, leaving no time or energy for the real problems of the country. Although Louis was surprisingly energetic for his young age in his efforts to break out of his hopeless situation, the disinterest of the nobles and allied rulers – Archduke Ferdinand Habsburg of Austria and Emperor Charles V (r. 1519-1556) – and the financial pressure of the Fuggers condemned the king to inertia.

Hungary in the age of Hunyadi János

The situation was becoming dangerous as the new Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, the young Suleiman, planned to conquer Hungary, which had successfully resisted him for so many decades. The catastrophic situation of the kingdom became clear to all after the Turkish campaign of 1521, when the key to the fortress system, Nándorfehérvár. The stinging defeat of 1521 awakened the conscience of the Hungarian Estates for a few months, but by and large skirmishing remained more important than defending the frontiers.

the southern Borderland in the first part of the 16th century

In the months before Mohács, the court of Louis II had received several warnings of the impending Turkish campaign: the Serbian Bakics Pál, who had fled to Buda, had already announced the Sublime Porta’s plans at the end of 1525, but developments in European politics also made Suleiman’s attack likely. Francis I (r. 1515-1547), the ‘most Christian’ of the French kings, had formed an alliance with the Ottoman Empire in an attempt to break the emerging Habsburg hegemony in Europe; Louis II, as the dynasty’s closest ally, could therefore well expect an attack from the south, which was in any case to be expected after the events of 1521.

Hungary became the greatest rival of the Ottoman Empire in Europe

Despite all this, neither Ferdinand nor Emperor Charles V later considered it important to send help to Louis, nor did their own countries excel in this area. Although recruiting had begun in Bohemia – another Jagiellonian possession – in the spring, the Estates negotiating at the Diet of Cracow in 1526 were again faced with ‘more important’ matters than the defense of the frontiers.

Ottoman gold coin, 1520

But the Turkish military machine was not working perfectly either, and Suleiman’s march wasted precious days in the swampy region of the Morava River in Serbia, only reaching Nándorfehérvár (Belgrade) at the end of June. No one could make use of this time, however, and it is significant that Louis had only the 50,000 gold pieces he had received from Pope Clement VII and a letter of support from King Henry VIII of England (r. 1509-1547).

The gold minted by King Louis II in 1517

The situation was similar to that of 1521: the king again had no money to raise an army, and the nobles were again reluctant to go to war. Louis II ordered an assembly near Tolna on 2 July, but he himself did not leave Buda until 20 July. By this time, Suleiman had crossed the Száva River, besieged Pétervárad (Petrovarad), and captured Újlak on 27 July. When the Eszék (Osijek) garrison surrendered without a fight, the Sultan reached the Dráva River at the beginning of August without any serious resistance.

The road to Mohács

Obviously, if there had been a chance, the royal armies would not have set out against the Turks as they did in 1521; in this campaign, however, Suleiman’s aim was not to capture a fortress but to fight a decisive battle, after which he would certainly have forced the Hungarian monarch into a fiefdom.

King Lajos (Louis) II of Hungary

Left with no choice, the king marched to Tolna on 6 August and camped near Mohács on 24 August to await the enemy’s approach; Louis was able to mobilize an army of 24,500, mostly Hungarian nobles and mercenaries, as well as auxiliaries of the papal envoy Burgio. The royal army also had 85 cannons. Nevertheless, Louis’s situation was not hopeless, for there were also considerable armies marching from Bohemia and Slavonia, although he could not count on the help of Voivode Szapolyai János.

Szapolyai János

The Transylvanian voivode, camped in the east of the country, was later accused by many of abandoning his king – and even of saving his army for a later election – but in reality conflicting orders from the king and the slowness of recruitment in Transylvania made his intervention impossible. Far more fatal than Szapolyai’s absence was the fact that the Hungarian army allowed Suleiman’s forces to cross the Dráva River, which could have given Louis a significant advantage in terms of positioning.

Sultan Suleiman

Although the swampy battlefield 7 kilometers from Mohács was a good choice – as it exhausted the marching Ottomans – Tomori Pál and Szapolyai György, the two commanders in charge, made several mistakes that further worsened the already bleak chances. (Let me note, that the role of Tomori recently seems to have been restored, he made no fatal mistake.) One such unfortunate decision was the fact that the Christian army entered the battle on 29 August, even though it was expecting the arrival of two large corps – the Croatian Bán Frangepán Kristóf and the Bohemian forces – in the following days. Thus, the Turkish force of at least 60,000 men – and 150 cannons – was matched by only 24,500 Hungarian soldiers.

The Battle of Mohács
Regarding the exact actions of the Battle of Mohács, you can read the details here:

King Lajos (Louis II)

King Lajos (Louis) II
The first historical figure to be described is King Louis II, or as we call him, Lajos Király.
King Louis II (1506 – 29 August 1526) was King of Hungary, Croatia, and Bohemia from 1516 to 1526. He was killed during the Battle of Mohács against the Ottomans, whose victory led to the Ottoman invasion of Hungary. Some say he was murdered with a three-edged dagger, but please forgive me, because there is a lot of gossip that has accumulated during the five centuries of debate on these issues. So I humbly ask for everyone’s patience.
Toy knights of Louis, sent from his Habsburg relatives…
Louis was the only son of King Ulászló II (Vladislaus II Jagiellon), who ensured that Louis was crowned King of Hungary on 4 June 1508 in the Basilica of Székesfehérvár, and King of Bohemia in 1509. In 1515, King Louis II married Mary of Austria, the granddaughter of Emperor Maximilian I, who was several years his senior. Allegedly, they loved each other very much: at least it was what Habsburg Mary said. Louis’ sister, Anna, was married to Mary’s brother Habsburg Ferdinand, then governor in the name of his brother Charles V and later Emperor Ferdinand I.
King Lajos (Louis) II of Hungary (1506-1526) as a child
The old king, nicknamed Vladislaus Dobže (or very well known as Dobžse László), died in 1516. Louis’ foster parents were the bloodthirsty and greedy Báthory István and the lecherous George of Brandenburg. The latter introduced the young king to a very licentious lifestyle. Count Brandenburg was a cousin of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I.
The armor of the child King Lajos II
The queen’s lavish spending did not help Louis’ reputation. He is said to have sobered up only after 1525 when George of Brandenburg was removed from his court. The young king was trying to grow up to the size of the Turkish threat and was desperate for measures to stabilize the financial chaos in his kingdom.
The silver Denarii of King Lajos, 1522
He took back the mining and coin minting rights from the Fugger family in order to raise funds, but this was in vain and only made things worse. When General Tomori Pál and the Voivode of Transylvania, Szapolyai János, tried to persuade him to sign an armistice with Sultan Suleiman, he refused, listening to the Austrian supporters of his queen’s court. His queen suggested that a true knight should defend Christianity at all costs. (Note that it was no problem for the French and the Poles to make a truce with the Turks).
Knights in full armor, 16th-century
As a result, Louis refused to pay the annual tribute to Suleiman the queen’s men had the Ottoman ambassador executed and his head sent to the Sultan. Louis believed that the Papal States and other Christian states, including Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, would help him. This event hastened the fall of Hungary.
a Sipahi in full armor
In 1520, Hungary was in a state of near anarchy under the rule of the magnates. The king’s finances were a shambles; he borrowed to meet his household expenses, even though the king’s income amounted to about a third of the national income. The country’s defenses weakened as border guards went unpaid, fortresses fell into disrepair, and initiatives to raise taxes to strengthen defenses were stifled. By 1521, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent was well aware of Hungary’s weakness.
a heavily armored Sipahi 
The Ottoman Empire declared war on the Kingdom of Hungary in 1521. Nándorfehérvár (Belgrade) was defended by 700 unpaid warriors who held it for 66 days without any help. The nobles did not join the king, who set out to relieve the castle. The fall of this fortress was blamed on the queen, who was said to have taken the money that was to be sent to the southern borders. The chaos grew.
Nándorfehérvár / Belgrade in 1522
Some generalize that Louis made a tactical error in trying to stop the Ottoman army in an open-field battle with a medieval army, with insufficient firearms, and outdated tactics. Others say that he could not have stayed in Buda because the nobles would not have followed him. But nobody says he was a coward.
The signature of King Louis II
On 29 August 1526, Louis led his forces against Suleiman in the disastrous Battle of Mohács. The Hungarian army was surrounded in a pincer movement by Ottoman cavalry, and in the center, the Hungarian heavy knights and infantry were repulsed and suffered heavy casualties, especially from the well-placed Ottoman cannons and the well-armed and trained janissary musketeers, as a mainstreamer description would say.
Hans Krell: Portrait of King Louis II of Hungary (c.1526)
However, most of the Ottoman cannonballs flew high over the Hungarians’ heads, and the Jannissaries’ musket fire proved to be more deadly. Almost the entire Hungarian royal army was destroyed on the battlefield. During the retreat, the twenty-year-old king died when he fell backward from his horse while trying to ride up a steep ravine of the Csele stream. He fell into the stream and, unable to get up due to the weight of his armor, drowned. When his corpse was found, people said the king’s body was recognized after his teeth; others say it was “fresh as the martyrs’ body”. At least, it is the official version.

Queen Mary of Habsburg

Queen Habsburg Maria
After King Louis II of Hungary, let me present the second person, his queen, whose role cannot be ignored either. The second on our list is Maria of Habsburg (1505-1558), a divisive figure. Joanna the Mad was her mother and Philip of Castile (the Handsome) was her father.
The wedding dress of Maria von Habsburg
Mad Joanna’s other children were Charles and Ferdinand. Charles was responsible for the terrible Sack of Rome in 1527, and Ferdinand used his brother’s mercenaries to usurp the throne of Hungary in 1527, although the national king, Szapolyai, had already been crowned. Yet it was the same Hungarian high priest, the Bishop of Nyitra called Podmaniczky István, who crowned them both.
The Sack of Rome 1527
On 22 July 1515, Habsburg Maria and Louis were married in St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. Due to their age, it was decided that the newly married couple would not live together for some years. Anne, Louis’ sister, eventually married Maria’s brother Ferdinand and came to Vienna, where the double sisters-in-law were educated together until 1516. In that year Maria’s father-in-law died, making Louis and Maria King and Queen of Hungary and Bohemia. Maria moved to Innsbruck, where she was educated until 1521.
Maria von Habsburg
As you can see, George of Brandenburg had plenty of opportunities to encourage young Louis’s extravagant lifestyle in Mary’s absence. In June 1521, Mary traveled to Hungary and was anointed and crowned Queen of Hungary. Everybody said that the young couple fell in love when they were reunited in Buda. At first, because of her youth, Queen Mary had no influence on the politics of Hungary and Bohemia, and she cared only for feasting and luxurious living. Her court was full of Germans and Dutch who provided a base for the interests of the House of Habsburg. By 1524 Mary had bargained for considerable authority and influence. In 1525 she took control of a powerful political faction and neutralized the so-called ‘national’, also known as Hungarian, faction.
Maria von Habsburg 1520
During her reign as Queen of Hungary, Mary attracted the interest of Martin Luther, who dedicated four psalms to her in 1526.
Habsburg Maria had scattered the treasure of the Hungarian kingdom, while she had vehemently attacked the idea of a peace treaty between the Ottoman Empire and Hungary. Such a treaty was not unheard of, however, as the Turks had similar truces with Venice and Poland at the time.  She did not take care of the unpaid soldiers on the Military Frontier and was accused of overspending in such a dire situation.
The signature of Queen Mary
She had to know that Hungary could not withstand the Ottoman onslaught. She had to know that in Hungary the king was obliged to lead the army into battle in person. Louis simply had no choice; he could not have remained behind the well-defended walls of Buda without losing his reputation.
Buda in the Nuremberg Chronicles (after 1490)
Louis had been told days before he left for Mohács that his entire army could only hold off the Turks for two hours. He should have waited for the Bohemian mercenaries coming from the west and the troops of the Transylvanian voivode, Szapolyai, at Buda.
But his wife and her Austrian party insisted that he should fight the Turks on a grand scale, as befitted a defender of the faith. It was known that Sultan Suleiman would have been satisfied with some taxes from Louis and a corridor to Vienna… Everyone knew that Louis’s action in fighting him was suicidal.
Vienna in 1493
In the end, Louis accepted the role of defender of the Faith (and the Habsburgs) because it seemed militarily correct to defeat Suleiman’s forces one by one before they were properly assembled. But Mary must have known that her husband was doomed. Some say she was preparing Hungary to become a battleground, a ‘hinterland’ for the long German-Turkish wars to come.
King Louis II, the Defender of the Faith

The history of the battle is described on my page, let me add just one piece of information to it. On the road to Mohács, the young king sent several letters, here is the last one he wrote when he arrived. King Lajos II’s last letter from the Mohács camp is probably the most famous item in the Batthyány archives. Unfortunately, the original letter has not been preserved, but we have a 19th-century photograph of it.

The last letter of King Lajos II

It says: “Lajos, by the grace of God, King of Hungary and Bohemia, etc. Most reverend, great, illustrious, sincerely beloved, faithful followers! We have already written to you once today and sent one of our chamberlains to you with the request that you hasten to us. We now beckon to you again and command you to hasten to us with the utmost haste. The enemy is burning the land in many places before our very eyes. We are waiting for you, and as soon as you arrive, we will attack with God’s help. So hurry as fast as you can. Written in our camp at Mohács, on the Saturday after the feast of St Bartholomew [25 August], 1526”. Below: Ludovicus rex manu propria, cito, cito, cito [King Louis in his own hand, quickly, quickly, quickly]. After that, postscript: “Make haste, so that if you cannot arrive here before then, you may arrive here tomorrow at dawn!”

The back side of the letter
According to contemporary sources on the Battle of Mohács, the king was last seen in the company of two bodyguards, one of whom was Aczél István, while the other was actually the bodyguard of Queen Maria Habsburg, a man called Ulrich Czettrich. We also know that the queen was so worried about her husband that she sent her own men to guard him. To protect him or to kill him?
A 3-edged dagger
One thing is certain: the details of Louis’s death are known only from Czettricz. The world finally and officially accepted Czettricz’s surviving version: he said that the king walked into a small river that flowed into the Danube and Louis went under the water. Aczél made his horse jump after the king, who drowned there too. Then Czettrich fled straight to Pozsony (Bratislava, Pressburg) to report to the queen. Wait a minute: how could he know that the queen would be in Pozsony when she was supposed to be in Buda, worrying about her husband?
Pozsony (Presporok, Pressburg, Bratislava)
Upon hearing the news of their defeat, we learn that they hurriedly packed their valuables and treasures onto boats in Buda to leave for Pozsony. Strangely, we were told before that there was no money to hire mercenaries. What treasures was she packing? Her boats were stopped at Esztergom and her treasure was taken on the way to Pozsony. It would be nice to see an inventory of the stolen goods. Could she have hired more mercenaries for her husband? What was she up to? We know that the first thing she did in Pozsony was to invite her brother Ferdinand to the Hungarian throne.
The Hungarians’ Holy Crown (Photo: Ráfael Csaba)
My other question: Why did Czettrich just watch the death of King Louis and Aczél? There is another interesting bit: when the king’s body was found (separated from his armor, interestingly enough), there were three marks on his armor which had been “pierced by a weapon of German or Czech fashion”. It was most likely a round dagger. These three- or four-edged daggers could pierce any armor, and the Turks didn’t use similar weapons.
A Czech dagger in use (Source: www,
A note on Czettrich: After revealing the king’s temporary resting place after six weeks of the battle, he returned to the queen, who “had him killed with an evil death” so that the mercenary bodyguard could never talk about what he had seen or done.
A rondel (Source: www,
Apparently serving the dynastic interests of the Habsburgs, Maria opened the gates of Pozsony to Habsburg troops in 1527. Of course, she had the support of a Hungarian nobleman, Báthory István, who allowed Ferdinand’s troops to pass undisturbed under the Dévény Castle at Pozsony.
Dévény Castle, near Pozsony
In memory of her late husband, Maria vowed never to remarry and always wore the heart-shaped medallion he had worn at the fatal battle of Mohács. As a gift for serving the Habsburg dynasty so skilfully, she was later given the Netherlands, where she ruled until her death.
Queen Mary (1505–1558),
Some say that Sultan Suleiman could not have brought us greater harm than Maria, but we may never know if she sent her husband to his demise or adored him greatly.

Archduke Habsburg Ferdinand

Portrait of Habsburg Ferdinand
Here, I would like to say a few words about Habsburg Ferdinand, Emperor Charles V, and George von Brandenburg. Did they rejoice at the outcome of the Battle of Mohács in 1526?
Habsburg Ferdinand (1503-1564) was the one who profited the most from the death of King Louis II of Hungary. Having arrived from Spain, he initially struggled to learn German. Moreover, after marrying the Hungarian Princess Anna, he was faced with the additional challenge of grappling with the Hungarian language. I found two aspects of his character particularly noteworthy.
King Habsburg Ferdinand
On one hand, he struggled to manage the power-hungry East-European aristocrats in Hungary due to his upbringing in the Spanish court where he was accustomed to the notion of absolute power. Secondly, Ferdinand consistently assisted his elder brother Charles, despite his brother’s jealousy towards him. It’s worth noting that Ferdinand became a part of Hungary’s royal family by marrying Princess Anna, a member of the Árpád dynasty, in 1521.
The Habsburgs’ coat of arms
Yet, he had all the motives to remove King Louis II and gain control over Hungary, and his claims were undoubtedly strong. He could refer to the Habsburg-Jagellion mutual succession treaty, and thus he was crowned as the king of Hungary in 1527. He then initiated a war against King Szapolyai, who had already been elected before him, causing the country to be divided.
Some historians suggest that the Jagellion Treaty was rejected by the Hungarian Estates, who chose King Szapolyai, arguing that only a native Hungarian could hold the title of King of Hungary. It was how the age of the bloody Dual Kingship had come.
Habsburg Ferdinand attacked Hungary in 1527

Emperor Charles V

Emperor Charles V
Emperor Charles V (1500-1558) was the brother of Ferdinand and Habsburg Maria. It is a fact that he could not have been elected Emperor of the HRE in 1519 without the money from Anton Fugger. The Fuggers produced gold, silver, and copper from the richest mines in Europe, which were in Hungary. King Louis II of Hungary took these mines back from them to raise money against the Turks. Did the Fuggers feel pleased about this? There is no doubt that Emperor Charles V would have welcomed firm Austrian control of the mines in question.
Charles V. meets Ferdinand at Worms in 1527
Were not the mercenaries of Charles V, who had sacked Rome, dispatched to aid Ferdinand in 1527? Charles V had control of those mercenaries before the Battle of Mohács but chose not to support King Louis with them.

George von Brandenburg

George Brandenburg in 1539
As for George von Brandenburg (1483-1543), he was appointed as a tutor to King Louis II on behalf of Emperor Charles V. It is noteworthy that he was the nephew of the Hungarian Queen Barbara of Brandenburg (1464-1515) and also related to the Habsburg family through Elisabeth of Habsburg.
The COA of Brandenburg
At the court of Hungary, two parties opposed each other: the Magyar (Hungarian) party led by Szapolyai János and the German party led by George of Brandenburg and Queen Maria. George was a mighty lord whose power was bolstered by the acquisition of the duchies of Ratibor and Oppeln, as well as all of Upper Silesia.
George the Pious, Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach by Lucas Cranach the Younger (1571)
As the owner and mortgagee of these lands, he paved the way for the establishment of the Protestant Reformation, both here and in his hometown of Franconia. It may not have been in his best interest to fortify Hungary to resist the Ottoman threat.
All current sources concur that he harmed the formative personality of the juvenile Louis. He exposed him to excessive alcohol consumption and promiscuity. After his removal from Louis’ court in 1521, the youthful monarch moderated somewhat, though it seems it may have been too little, too late.

Anton Fugger

Jakob Fugger, the uncle of Anton Fugger
Anton Fugger and the members of the Fugger family are next on our list of those who may have contributed to the tragic outcome of Mohács in 1526. During the Middle Ages, most of the copper, gold, and silver, not to mention salt, was produced in the rich mining towns of the Carpathian Mountains in the Hungarian Kingdom.
Anton Fugger
Coinage and mining rights gave the king economic power when he was strong. In the case of King Louis II and his queen, we have seen how they squandered Hungary’s wealth. The greedy Hungarian oligarchs only made things worse.
We can add to our list Thurzó Elek, who was appointed treasurer in 1521.
Thurzó Elek
The Thurzó family provided valuable assistance to the notorious Fugger bankers who had leased the mining rights mentioned above. Eventually, the Thurzó family established matrimonial ties with the powerful Fuggers. Before the Battle of Mohács, the distribution of profits was as follows: out of 100 gold Forints earned from the mines, 80 were allocated to the Fuggers, 10 were retained by Thurzó, and 10 were surrendered to the monarch. While an exact figure is not available, it is apparent that vast wealth was involved. Here is more about the Mining Towns of Hungary:
Rich silver ore from Selmecbánya
When King Louis reclaimed the mining rights from the Fuggers in 1525, he gained no benefits. The Fuggers were displeased and confiscated all the mining equipment and skilled miners from each mine they had been operating. The king could no longer extract any revenue from there. Furthermore, the Fuggers declined to provide any further loans to King Louis.
The COA of Selmecbánya
Why, I was told they were simply merchants. Nonetheless, when King Louis passed away and Habsburg Ferdinand took over the country, Ferdinand seized control of the mining towns and the Fuggers received compensation. The Thurzó family remained faithful to the Habsburgs until the very end.
Besztercebánya in the 16th-17th century

Szerencsés Imre

Let’s discuss the role of Szerencsés Imre, also known as Fortunatus, the Jewish Vice-Treasurer of King Louis II. The Jewish community in Hungary has been historically more accepted and enjoyed greater tolerance compared to other Christian countries during the Middle Ages.
Szerencsés Imre
King Matthias established the Jewish Prefecture, a high office for the Jews. Its leader, Mendel, was from a wealthy and prominent Jewish family and also served as the president of the Jewish denomination. The Mendel family held this position between 1470-1526. The Jews held a place in the highest echelons of the Hungarian nobility and were even entitled to bear arms.
the famous sword gifted to the leaders of the Jews
Most regrettably, this situation has deteriorated since the reign of King Matthias. Owing to the avarice of the Hungarian oligarchs and the negligence of the royal couple, there has consistently been a shortage of funds in the Treasury, even though the country boasts the wealthiest silver, copper, and gold mines in all of Europe.
The Mining Towns in the north of the Kingdom of Hungary
Many of the Hungarian nobility, similar to the Austrians or any other individuals, shamelessly exploited anyone and anything to gain wealth and influence. Everyone pursued their personal agenda, disregarding integrity, religion, or nationality, except for a handful of individuals.
Szerencsés Imre in 1509
On top of this, the Vice-Treasurer of King Louis II had questionable morals. He was Szerencsés (Fortunatus) Imre aka Slomó ben Efrájim, a Jew from Spain who fled from the Inquisition and found refuge in Hungary. He later converted to the Catholic faith.
Samuel Kohn, the Jewish historian, references Fortunatus in “The Jewish Encyclopaedia” as follows: “Fortunatus was typical of the avaricious Hungarian barons of the time,” and concurs that he was a significant contributor to the kingdom’s financial downfall.
The gold of Louis II (1519) was minted in Körmöcbánya
Fortunatus was accused of stealing the funds allocated for payment to the fort and soldiers of Nándorfehérvár (Belgrade) in 1521 and was subsequently imprisoned in 1525 for this and other fraudulent activities. However, after a month, the Queen granted his release. Tensions escalated and an agitated mob looted the homes of Jews in Buda, including Fortunatus’ palace.
The gold of Louis II (1519) was minted in Körmöcbánya
The king once more entrusted Fortunatus, who attempted to shift the blame onto the Fuggers for the financial predicament. Soon after, the Hatvan Diet aimed to assign Fortunatus to oversee the former copper mines of the Fuggers, but his demise occurred shortly before the Battle of Mohács in 1526. Prior to his passing, he openly professed his Jewish faith.
The silver of Louis II (1522)
Unfortunately, his reputation has exacerbated the rising antisemitic tensions as it was convenient to point the finger at the Jewish population, particularly if an individual was found to be dishonorable. As a result, the Jewish community in Buda, the second-largest in Central Europe, understandably became fearful for their safety and concerned about the prospect of a potential pogrom.
The silver of Louis II (1522)
After 1526, Suleiman entered Buda castle and looted it before departing from the country. However, before he reached the Hungarian capital, he encountered a group of Jewish representatives from Buda at Dunaföldvár. They presented him with the keys to the city and pleaded for his protection. It is reasonable to assume that they were relieved when Suleiman offered them mercy and arranged for over 2,000 individuals to be transported from Buda to his empire via boats on the Danube River. They were able to return to the city safely in 1541 when the Turks ultimately occupied it.
The Ottoman army was on the move
For the Jewish people who stayed in Hungary, there was no longer any tolerance in the part owned by the Habsburgs. Their lives got much worse throughout the Habsburgs’ entire rule, unlike the eastern region which became the Transylvanian Principality and was known for religious tolerance.
The medieval Synagogue in Buda Castle (Source:
Now it’s time to discuss popes, cardinals, and Crusaders concerning the Battle of Mohács. Let’s delve into the life of Cardinal Bakócz Tamás (1442-1521), Pope Clement VII, and the leader of the Hungarian peasant Crusaders, Dózsa György (1470-1514).

Bakócz Tamás

Bakócz Tamás
The father of Cardinal Bakócz Tamás was a humble peasant but rose to great heights and nearly became the first Hungarian Pope. Supported by Venice, he became a Cardinal in 1500 and 1510 was appointed Patriarch of Constantinople, making him the second most powerful man in the Roman Catholic Church. Bakócz inevitably became embroiled in the Italian Wars, where he had to navigate between opposing factions.
The COA of Bakócz Tamás (Photo: Thaler Tamás)
When Pope Julius II passed away in 1513, he was next in line for the Papal throne. His rival, Giovanni de’ Medici, was able to outdo him through fierce competition, raising more funds and bribing more cardinals, and as a result, he became Pope Leo X. The new Pope dismissed Bakócz and sent him back to Hungary as a legate. Bakócz returned home with the Pope’s approval to arrange a Crusade against the Turks. It was a precarious situation for the Medici Pope as Bakócz’s successful Crusade would have greatly strengthened his position as no one could deny him the Papal title.
Pope Leo X (Giovanni di Lorenzo de’ Medici)
I wonder if Pope Leo X had an interest in the success of this crusade. Regardless, Bakócz convinced King Ulászló (Vladislav) II of Hungary to break the 3-year truce with Sultan Selim I and gather the Crusaders in April 1514. Their appointed leader was Dózsa György.
The Peasant War of Dózsa in 1514 had weakened the kingdom before the Turk attack
Something went drastically wrong, as the funds sent to the Crusaders failed to reach them. Consequently, the unpaid peasants suffered from hunger and a staggering 40,000 of them started looting the country, murdering the nobles and capturing their fortresses. Bakócz was powerless to stop this chaos from unfolding. One of the oligarchs, Báthori István, did not favor the crusade as his laborers were dwindling. With the support of the Transylvanian voivode, Szapolyai János, he put down the rebellion with extreme violence.
Dózsa György (by Somogyi Győző)
Finally, they succeeded in eliminating the rebels but the aftermath of the massacre was the immense animosity between the workers and the aristocrats. Following this brutal conflict, no one dared to arm the peasants against the Turks.

Pope Clement VII

Pope Clement VII
We need to discuss Pope Clement VII, also known as Giulio di Giuliano de’ Medici, who served as the Pope from 1523 to 1534. He outright refused to financially assist King Louis II, despite sending him just 50,000 gold Ducats, which was an insignificant amount. He claimed he had no funds, yet a year later, in 1527, when Emperor Charles V pillaged Rome, the Emperor seized booty worth 10 million Ducats. Moreover, the Pope had to pay 400,000 gold Ducats to secure his release.
The Guilden of Pope Clement VII
On the other hand, he maintained a cordial relationship with the Turks as a member of the League of Cognac, which was aligned with the French monarch. Did it serve his interests to aid Hungary’s survival? It is no surprise that Sultan Suleiman was preparing for an effortless triumph.
The Guilden of Pope Clement VII

Tomori Pál

It is a relief to be able to speak of honest and brave individuals when discussing the Battle of Mohács, as many of them died heroically on the battlefield. Let us shift our attention to Tomori Pál (1475-1526), the General of the King. What was the message to us of Tomori, one of the greatest but forgotten Hungarian generals?
Tomori Pál (drawing: Somogyi Győző)
Before becoming a monk at the age of 38, he was a member of the royal bodyguard and the Order of the Dragon, being a high-ranked aristocrat. While waiting at the church of Nagyboldogasszony (Holy Mary) in Buda for his 19-year-old bride to arrive for their wedding, the young girl’s carriage suffered an accident, and she passed away instantly. This event prompted Tomori to become a monk.
Tomori’s coat of arms
The king had to personally persuade him to take up arms once more. He was granted the highest rank in the Hungarian Church, along with the wealthiest region, and became the Archbishop of Kalocsa. He made use of all available resources to pay his soldiers and gathered gold from churches to mint coins due to the Kingdom of Hungary’s dire financial situation.

He was once the courageous defender of the southern border against the Turks. In 1523, he emerged victorious over an Ottoman army close to Szávaszentdemeter-Nagyolaszi. Tomori possessed a deep understanding of the adversary, and the king had faith in him. Regrettably, the king disregarded Tomori’s counsel. The latter implored the king to negotiate with the Turks and settle by paying them, rather than weakening the country. The eminent cleric could have created a passage for Sultan Suleiman to march on Vienna and seize his coveted “golden apple” if he so wished. (Consider the implications: What would have occurred in such a scenario?)
Christian knights, 16th century
Before heading to Mohács, King Louis inquired about how long they could defend themselves against the Ottoman army without reinforcement. Tomori truthfully replied that they could only hold out for 2-3 hours. Despite this, the king ignored his advice and proceeded to Mohács. It was widely known that the Holy Roman Empire’s army would not assist Vienna.
Akindji Deli Sinan’s duel with a Hungarian knight in 1526 at Mohács
Nearing Mohács, Tomori had predicted that the reinforcements would not be able to unite with them before the battle. Neither the troops of Szapolyai with his 15,000 men from Transylvania, nor the Slavonian-Croatian troops from Zágráb could arrive, let alone the additional 10,000 Bohemian mercenaries who were still marching near Székesfehárvár. With them, the king’s army could have been doubled effortlessly.
Detail of Bohemian pavisiers marching into action from the “Battle of Orsha, 1514” painting, c.1520-1534
Tomori decisively defeated Suleiman’s vanguard on 24 August, scattering 10,000 Ottoman warriors with his force of 6,000. On the eve of the Battle of Mohács (28 August), some recognized the gravity of the situation and advocated retreating to Buda. Tomori opposed the idea, knowing that the light Turkish riders and spahis would ruthlessly eliminate the moving army en route. Thus, the only option was to take a stand, despite knowing they couldn’t emerge victorious. Yet, it had a message to us, that resistance is not always futile.
The statue of Tomori Pál
Pál Tomori was appointed as the commander-in-chief of the Hungarian army during the battle of Mohács in 1526. Whilst endeavoring to halt soldiers who were fleeing, he perished. However, the Chronicle of Szerémi says otherwise: You will see it.

Szapolyai János

The COA of the Szapolyai family in Bajmóc (Photo: GiMa38)
We must speak of two Hungarian oligarchs, Szapolyai János, the Voivode of Transylvania, and Palatine Báthory István.
Szapolyai János (alias Zápolya) was a very divisive figure in his time, and he remains so today. Some historians see him as a traitor to Christianity and Hungary, while others see him as a savior and a victim, the last elected Hungarian national king, the one who laid the foundations of the Principality of Transylvania. It is certain that his younger brother, Szapolyai György, died a heroic death in Mohács. Or was it not so heroic? As always, the truth is more complex.
King Szapolyai in 1535
Szapolyai János (1487-1540) came from the Croatian Zapolje family and his father, István, was at the deathbed of King Matthias. He has been accused of poisoning Matthias, but this murder has not been proven. Legend has it that when King Matthias died in Vienna in 1490, his father, Szapolyai István, took his child into his arms and the oligarch said: “If you were ten years older, I would make you king of Hungary!”
Szapolyai István (?-1499)
Photo: Farkasven
It is true that Szapolyai did not arrive at the battlefield of Mohács with his 15-24,000 men. However, we should not forget that not only his troops were left out of the battle, but also the men of Lord Frangepán with the Croatian troops and the Czech mercenaries coming from Székesfehérvár could not arrive.
King Szapolyai
Some people say that Szapolyai waited for the death of King Louis II in cold blood in order to seize the crown. Can you tell me how many people waited for the death of the king who were not Turks? Others say that Szapolyai had to wait where he was because it was not clear where Suleiman would march his army. Again, others say that he would have hurried to Mohács, but he received a forged message from the king and was ordered to stay where he was in Szeged.
The gold Forint minted by King Szapolyai, 1540
However, Szapolyai was crowned King of Hungary in 1526, and the dual kingship began with his reign when Habsburg Ferdinand was crowned King of Hungary in 1527. (They were crowned by the same Podmanitzky István, the Bishop of Nyitra).
You can read more details of his life here:

We have another high lord who might have the motivation to get rid of King Louis. Was he not also the appointed tutor of the young King Louis? Báthory István (1480s-1530), the Palatine of the country, the corrupt oligarch, who had already been found guilty of fraud, was indeed present at Mohács, and some historians blame him for the military mistakes made during the battle. He survived the battle because he escaped on the rested horse of his servant, Kecskés Pál. (It is said that he later ransomed him from the Turks).

The Seal of Báthori István (1486)

On his way home, Báthory met some high priests fleeing from Pécs with the immense treasury of the church. He robbed them and hurried to Pozsony. He owned the castle of Dévény there and gladly sided with the usurper Ferdinand of Habsburg, who could enter the kingdom undisturbed only because Báthory let his army pass under the castle of Dévény in 1527.

The COA of Báthory István of Ecsed
Although he had been the bloody partner of Szapolyai János in suppressing the Dózsa peasant uprising in 1514, he became his greatest enemy in 1527. King Ferdinand rewarded him with Szapolyai’s lands, including four castles and Tokaj Castle but he couldn’t enjoy his wealth for long because he died in 1530.
The Ligeau of Cognac
King Francis of France

Before talking about Sultan Suleiman, we must consider the League of Cognac as a factor in the fall of Hungary. The War of the League of Cognac (1526-30) was fought between the Habsburg dominions of Charles V- primarily the Holy Roman Empire and Habsburg Spain – and the League of Cognac, an alliance that included France, Pope Clement VII, the Republic of Venice, the Kingdom of England, the Duchy of Milan, and the Republic of Florence. It was the French king’s diplomatic success that turned Sultan Suleiman against the Hungarians and the Habsburgs. He was urging Suleiman to attack Vienna via Hungary.

Sultan Suleiman

Sultan Suleiman on a German broadsheet
The last one on our list is Sultan Suleiman I the Magnificent (1520-1566), the talented and ingenious ruler who made the Ottoman Empire great. We had listed many people from Europe, and perhaps with the exception of King Louis II and his general Tomori Pál, everyone seems to have played a bigger role in ruining Hungary than the main enemy, Suleiman.
The signature of Sultan Suleiman
However, this fact should not diminish Suleiman’s role in causing the greatest damage to Hungary than the Mongol invasion of 1241.
Since the fall of Nándorfehérvár (Belgrade) in 1521, Suleiman had assessed the situation very well and used the inviting opportunity to take revenge for the failure of his great-grandfather Sultan Mehmed II, who had been defeated by the strong defense of Hunyadi János.
Sultan Mehmed II, the taker of Byzantium
According to Hungarian historian Kulcsár Árpád, there are ten reasons why millions of Hungarians should not celebrate the Suleiman series on television. We have to call a spade a spade, no matter how much I personally like the Turkish people today and no matter how nice a friendship has developed between us since the 18th century. Suleiman did the most damage to Hungary in the 16th century, perhaps only the Habsburgs can be compared to him.
The silver of Sultan Suleiman I
Here are the ten points listed against the Sultan:
1. He was the one who put an end to the sovereign Hungarian Kingdom by killing King Louis I at Mohács in 1526 so that Hungarian independence was lost and the Habsburgs were able to gain power.
Ottoman army on the march (1566)
2. No other ruler could destroy the country for so long, 45 years. Suleiman led seven campaigns against Hungary between 1521 and 1566. Hundreds of villages were burned, flourishing towns destroyed, and tens of thousands taken into slavery.
The campaigns of Sultan Suleiman against Hungary
3. According to contemporary sources, the loss of human life was enormous, and whole regions were depopulated. By the end of the Ottoman wars in 1699, an estimated one million Hungarians (civilians and soldiers alike) had been killed or enslaved. An entire Hungarian-speaking dialect disappeared from the country. Read more about the ethnic losses of Hungary here:
Erhard Schön: Ottoman slave market, 1532
4. Kulcsár includes the “verbal insults” in his list, accusing Suleiman of using words about the Hungarians such as “auspicious and dishonorable Hungarians” or “base damned ones”, “lecherous evils”, “villains living in false faith” and calling the Hungarian soldiers “offal who befriend the devil”.
A contemporary broadside: Hungarians are being enslaved by the Ottomans
5. The Sultan made a show of executing Christian prisoners. Márk Szkublics, the heroic Serbian defender of Zimony, was offered his life in 1521 if he would accept the Muslim faith, but when he refused, the young Suleiman had him thrown in front of his elephant. Five years later, he had 2,000 captured soldiers beheaded on the field of Mohács.
Suleiman executes Hungarian captives in 1521
6. He deliberately terrorized the inhabitants by sending his Akindji and Tatar horsemen to raid, pillage, and burn the lands to spread terror and fear among them.
An Akindji warrior with his trophy of war
7. He systematically plundered the conquered lands, taking all the valuable property from the castles and houses, not to mention the taxes he imposed on the newly occupied territories.
Look at the area around Buda in 1490 and after 1699, note the destruction
8. The timar system was introduced and as a result the new spahi landlords squeezed all the money out of their domains and any development became impossible.
9. The Sultan made Török Bálint, the foster father of the baby king János Zsigmond, a prisoner in 1541 by inviting him to his tent as a guest, and then he took the Buda Castle by a trick, not keeping his word. (My note: In other cases, however, Suleiman honestly kept his word better than any other Christian ruler in the region. Suleiman never broke his word to King Szapolyai and always supported him against the Habsburgs).
Sultan Suleiman I
10. Suleiman was also the enemy of the local Christian faith, he forbade the ringing of bells and did not allow the renovation or new construction of churches. Many were turned into mosques, and the Christian “fakirs” became second-class citizens who had to pay more taxes.
Buda during the Ottoman rule (by Pazirik)
What is certain is that the Ottoman Empire dealt the Hungarians such a blow that its effects were felt even in the 20th century.
Let us not forget that these wars were not only about Hungary but also about the rest of Europe. Hungary just happened to be in the way.
The Ottoman Empire in 1566

Szerémi’s Chronicle

Szerémi György (c. 1490 – after 1548) was born in Szerémség (Sirmium), southern Hungary, as the son of a peasant. Later he served Prince János Corvin, the natural son of King Matthias. He served as a priest in Buda in 1520. After Mohács, in 1526, he became the priest of King Szapolyai János. Szerémi followed his king everywhere, faithfully. He wrote his “Epistola de perdicione regni Hungarorum” in Transylvania, at the court of Queen Isabella and it covers the history between 1456-1543. Many historians criticize his facts; his version of the death of King Louis II is usually rejected by them.
The Battle Mohács
Why did Szerémi keep the whole story secret until the death of King Szapolyai (1540)? Whether Queen Habsburg Mary had a hand in the murder of King Louis or Szapolyai György had one, this story would not have been good for the reputation of the new king, Szapolyai János whose brother allegedly killed the previous ruler… But let us see Szerémi’s version:
The Battle of Mohács 1526 (painted in 1555 by Johann Schreire)

“Now, readers, please pay careful attention to my statement regarding King Louis’ death. When examining his body, we discovered three stab wounds inflicted by a Czech sword. As priests, we were only permitted to privately inspect the body and were forbidden from disclosing this information due to Voivode János (later King Szapolyai).

This is how King Louis’ death occurred. After the death of King Szapolyai, we can reveal the truth. A Hungarian warrior heard of King János’ (Szapolyai) death and exclaimed, “Now is the time for me to reveal the truth about the death of King Louis.” And he proceeded to speak as follows:

‘My beloved brothers, pay heed and learn about his death from me as it had happened to him. We, Szepesi György (my remark: Szapolyai György was the co-general of the Hungarian army at Mohács, he was the brother of Szapolyai János. György said to have disappeared in the battle), Tomori Pál, the Commander, have taken King Louis through the swamp, he was healthy and unhurt. Czetterich was with us, too.

And upon arriving at a village near the market town of Báta, Szepesi György suggested, “Would you like to take some rest here, my lord and king? You may dismount your horse and remove your armor while we prepare a meal for you.” The king, who had heard this proposal, welcomed it, and the Commander (Tomori) agreed.

When the king followed orders, Tomori Pál left with the king’s permission. György stayed with the king and said: “You, king, you dancing whore, you have lost Hungary, our rights, and Prince Lőrinc’s possessions. You will die.” György drew his sword and stabbed the king three times. The King fell to the ground, sitting in the room only in his shirt.

When Tomori Pál found out that he had killed him, he immediately rushed at György and exclaimed, “You killer rogue!” Tomori was wearing armor because he was guarding the king, so he hadn’t taken it off. He had just left his quarters and gone to his servants. Pál killed György on the spot. Szepesi György had a vice-lieutenant with a large group, and when he heard that his lord was killed, he immediately attacked the Commander and his men, resulting in Tomori Pál’s death. Three of them were dead, the Hungarian warrior remarked, by the time it was already nighttime on what was Thursday. The night was incredibly dark.

They rushed to bury Pál and György in a common grave at the village church. They removed King Louis’ clothes and transported him to the lake where they created a grave for the unfortunate king on the shore and left him on the bank of the river.”

They find King Louis after the battle

The Battle of Mohács was a milestone in Hungarian history.

Venice praised the Sultan for winning. Hungary was on its way to becoming a colony of the Habsburgs, who attacked in 1527 to take over power.

Wouldn’t it be important to uncover the truth, no matter the feelings it may stir up?

The Battle of Mohács on a contemporary etching
Source: The description of the situation is partly from the work of Tarján M. Tamás (Rubicon)

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