Selected Passages from Hungarian-Ottoman Wars between 1372-1699

The size of King Matthias` army

Kinizsi Pál, according to a legend, offered a drink to Matthias on a mill-stone;

„Qui bene imperat, bene obeditur.” (Who commands well, he will be well obeyed.)

The martial skills of the king; and a few words about his army, based on contemporary Italian reports, and modern historians.
Let me preface it with a quotation from Zrínyi Miklós’ work that we had cited before; Count Zrínyi Miklós aka Nikola Zrinski, the famous Hungarian-Croatian poet and general wrote about the military skills of his greatest beau ideal, King Matthias in 1657 like this:
„If one wants to learn more about the military knowledge of this king, one should all read it in Bonfinius, I say nothing more here, except one thing, namely, there is no other knowledge which is more important to have for a king than »bene impere«, to command well. If he knows this, he knows everything. So it is enough for the military generals, even if they know nothing else: „Qui bene imperat, bene obeditur.” (Who commands well, he will be well obeyed.) (…) My second point is that King Mátyás has never done such deeds if he hadn`t established good order and discipline; the army is not an army without that, it is rather a confusion. Alas, we, Hungarians we don`t even know what discipline is and its reason is that King Mátyás has died. (…) Mátyás` army was able to make war against two emperors with the same luck and with equal ability.”

You can find more articles on my page about King Matthias:

The envoy of Venice wrote:

the soldiers of the Black Army are guarding the coat of arms of King Matthias

The envoy of Venice wrote home the next about Matthias` land army(!):

„His Majesty had 3,000 wagons which were holding the supplies for making camp; had 30 bombarding cannons which could cast stones weighted 100 Italian pounds without having to be dismounted from their wheels; he had 30 big and long cannons (cerbottana dette – pisside grandi); he had 24 wagons with two wheels which carried 44 cannons, each carrying two stone-shooting cannons (cerbottana). Also, he had 12 great bombarding wagons, each carrying 6 bombarding cannons which could cast stone balls weight 50 Italian pounds, 8 wall-breaching bombard and 8 wall-destroyer machines, 10 great bombards which could cast flaming stone balls and there were more incendiary machines.”

The Italian ambassador reports the next regarding the size of the army:
„Heavy Silesian-Moravian cavalry: 6,000; infantrymen: 10,000; Hungarian heavy cavalry: 10,000; 
footmen armed with ballists (?) and shields: 4,000; Székely horsemen, armed with a lance, shield, and hand-bows who are regarded as the best Eastern archers and who have very rapid horses: 16,000; Székely footmen with the same weapons: 16,000; riflemen: 400; artillery-masters: 80; the army of the noblemen and the high lords of Transylvania: 10,000; Wallachians of Transylvania who had fought on the side of János Hunyadi: 2,000; riders sent by the Voivode of Wallachia: 12,000; infantrymen and artillery-men: 20,000; riders sent from Moldavian Voivode: 8,000; footmen warriors: 30,000; altogether: 144,480 men.”

As for the Wallachians who were ruled by Vovivode Vlad Tepes III, the envoy adds: “They have been fighting against the Turks for 100 years already, without making much harm in them. Nothing separates them from the Turks except for the Danube River.”

Modern historians think:

According to Professor Szendrei János, the Black Army was just the core of the entire army of the king what he was able to mobilize in case of war. It was not wholly without roots because the Hungarian Kingdom had always relied on similar inner resources.
When the king fought a war against the Ottoman Turks in 1479, the huge number of his army attracted quite a big attention in Europe.

Matthias’ heavy cavalry (by Velemir Vuksic)

According to Professor Szendrei, „the standing army of Matthias at its peak was including about 35,000 men: containing cavalry, infantry, artillery, and engineers. We know, that the Russian ruler had asked him to lend professional engineers who were skilled in sieges.”

the light cavalry of Matthias (by Velemir Vuksic)

„As for the number of infantrymen, Mátyás (Matthias) had 11,000 cavalrymen and 5,000 footmen in 1468 when he attacked Czechia while he had 8,000 footmen and 20,000 riders in 1487 at his great military parade in Bécsújhely (near Vienna).”(…)”To see how many troops he was able to mobilize anytime, we can see that he led his army to Bosnia in 1480 while he was sending General Kinizsi Pál to Serbia with 32,000 men at the same time. He had an army at hand to attack the German Emperor in 1483 while another army with 70,000 men stood ready to march against the Ottoman Turks.” 

the duel between Matthias and the Czech knight, Holubar

There was also a certain charm around Matthias because he has often taken part in close combat like a simple soldier and his men haven`t forgotten whose son he was, either. After the won battles he shook hands with all of his soldiers, as Bonfinius wrote.

In the picture, you can see the deployment of Matthias` army on the military parade at Bécsújhely (Wiener Neustadt) which was observed by his Queen, the ambassadors, and other court members in 1487.:

The military deployment of King Matthias at the parade of Schottwien on 10 July 1487, translation of the picture: harci szekerek=war wagons; ágyúk= cannons; könnyű lov.= light cavalry; nehéz lov.= heavy cavalry; nehéz gyalogság = heavy infantry; könnyű gyalogság = light infantry, puskás gyalogság = infantry with rifles; poggyász szekerek = luggage wagons; the three dots = the line of armored infantry with shields;

The professor says: “There were 28,000 men there, 8,000 of them belonged to the Black Arm; there were 20,000 riders and 9,000 wagons. Bonfinius mentioned that these troops were moving so swiftly and in unison by the sounds of the commands that nobody could hide their surprise among the onlookers. After the parade, the king gave a speech and distributed gifts among his soldiers. Bonfini concluded: „I was witnessing all those movements and battle-applications being carried out what I had read in the great books of the ancient classical Roman and Greek authors.”

Antonio Bonfini on a page of a Corvina book

It makes me think that Matthias had not only the biggest but also the best disciplined and organized army of the age.

And we haven’t said a word about his fleet just yet.

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