Thengöldi Bornemisza János (1520/30-1589)

Kanizsa (now: Nagykanizsa)

Bornemisza Thengöldi János died before 23 December 1589. He was the captain of Kanizsa, a renowned officer of the Borderland. His family’s ancestral estate was Tengöld, which is also included in his noble name, but these places were occupied by the Turks, so Bornemisza had to earn his bread with the sword. He is described as a tough soldier, but prone to melancholy, avoiding revelry, humane, on good terms with German soldiers, and disapproving of lying and robbery. He demanded discipline from his subordinates and was himself a vigilant, firm, and sober commander.

Hungarian nobleman, the middle of the 16th century, etching of Jobst Amman

He may have been born on his ancestral estate, Tengöld (now Tengőd), or Ősi, presumably in the 1520s-30s. He and his younger brother also joined the army, perhaps as family members of the Bishop of Pécs, Várallyai Szaniszló. In 1543 his name is mentioned as a hussar, and Magyar Bálint also served with him. When Pécs fell to the Turks (1543), he joined Magyar Bálint in the service of Nádasdy Tamás and was placed among the hussars of his brother Kristóf.

Pécs castle

Bornemisza quickly distinguished himself before his peers, because the Nádasdy family entrusted him with various tasks, including the delivery of letters, and he exchanged letters with Nádasdy Tamás and Kristóf. The chronicler Istvánffy Miklós writes that Bornemisza János was taken prisoner at the fall of Temesvár in 1552, but on the way to Constantinople, he was freed together with his companions and returned home via Transylvania. If this was the case, it is likely that he had entered the Temesvár region the previous year with the band of Nádasdy Tamás and participated in the defense of Temesvár castle.


In a letter from Segesd in 1556, he mentions his wife. Nádasdy Tamás even sent money to his soldier, who had obtained good horses for his lord, and in 1561 he was wounded but did his best to fulfill Nádasdy’s request. He served as a hussar officer of Nádasdy Kristóf in Pápa between 1553 and 1555. In 1556 he took part in the siege of Babócsa castle and helped to bring relief to Szigetvár castle when it was besieged. In 1557 he served in Győr castle and was then transferred to Egervár, still under Nádasdy Kristóf. In 1566, he probably also appeared in the royal camp and participated in the liberation of Palota castle and the recapture of Veszprém, Vitány, and Gesztes castles.

Győr in 1594

He then returned to Pápa, this time in the service of Török Ferenc of Enying. Török entrusted more and more tasks to his illustrious hussar captain, and in some operations, he was even allowed to take a leading role. In the autumn of 1570, together with Captain Thury Márton of Veszprém, he and his captain attacked the raiding Turks at Alsóörs at night and achieved considerable success. Four captured flags and one Ottoman chief prisoner were sent up to Vienna with Török Ferenc to Archduke Charles. In February 1571, he sent 50 infantrymen to the castles of Szigliget and Fonyód at the request of Magyar Bálint. However, the soldiers escaped, and the matter became so heated between the two valiant captains that they almost fought a duel.

Palonai Magyar Bálint (by Szikra János)

After the death of Thury György, captain of Kanizsa castle in 1571, Bornemisza was appointed head of the castle. He spent only two years here, then returned to Pápa, this time as captain. Undoubtedly, his new task meant high responsibility and honor at the same time. We know what difficulties a captain had to face when the Court was not paying his men. No wonder, that he tried to escape the responsibilities and resigned as captain at the end of 1574.


By then he was deputy district chief of Transdanubia, a post he held for only a year. The Court again appointed him to Kanizsa, this time as deputy captain to Zrínyi György (Juraj Zrinski). The two chief officers tried to keep the Turks from destroying the area around Zala and Kanizsa, but Zrínyi resigned at the end of 1575 due to a regular lack of payment from the Court, making Bornemisza the temporary acting captain of Kanizsa.

Kanizsa in 1600 (drawing by Fodor Zsolt)

He did everything he could to keep the Turks from raiding, but with unpaid and starving soldiers running around, he had his work cut out. He mainly besieged the Court and the Chamber to make up for lost pay, with little success. The Turks often tried to take Kanizsa. At the end of 1575, the Bornemisza family thoroughly defeated the enemy near the castle.


At the beginning of February 1577, Bornemisza’s daughter Anna married Batthyány István, the captain of Csákány castle, in Kanizsa. Both the Emperor and Archduke Ernő were present at the wedding, the latter sending the couple an ornate silver goblet as a gift. The festivities were still going on when, on the night of 24 March, a lightning strike caused the gun turret to explode. The detonation caused enormous damage to the walls, burying Bornemisza and his family in the rubble. The captain was found alive with serious injuries and broken bones, but his family members, wife, daughter, and new son-in-law died. In addition to them, 45 people were killed in the blast and many more were injured. Bornemisza was still on his bed when on 27 March 2,500 Turks tried to raid the heavily damaged castle. With great difficulty, the Kanizsa soldiers chased them from under the walls.

A Hungarian nobleman bearing the Hungarian flag 

Rumors of Bornemisza’s death spread among the Turks and also in Vienna, but he slowly recovered. However, a successor was soon found in the person of Andreas Kielmann von Kielmansegg, the chief captain of Komárom, who took over the post that spring. Bornemisza went for medical treatment, but in the autumn he was already on a raid with Nádasdy Ferenc, Zrínyi György, and Batthyány Boldizsár. The following year he also fought against the Bey of Fehérvár in the company of the Transdanubian lords.


When his younger brother Adam was taken prisoner by the Turks during a raid of the soldiers of Veszprém, he pledged his only possession, the village of Kimle, to bail his brother out of captivity. His attempt was unsuccessful because Adam, who had been taken to Constantinople as a prisoner of the Sultan, was not released.


Between 1582 and 1584 he served in Győr, probably as a Hussar captain, then his name came up as captain of Érsekújvár, and then he was appointed head of Palota castle at the end of 1584. In the spring of the following year, he took up his new post and did not sit idle. In September he repelled a Turkish attack, after which he led devastating raids on the Ottoman Occupied Lands. In 1586 the Pasha of Buda himself raided Palota, but Bornemisza and his soldiers repulsed the attack.

Palota castle (Picture: Szakonyi Balázs)

Soon his relations with the Court became very bad, and a complaint was made against him in Vienna, but we don’t know what the nature of the problem was. In any case, Bornemisza asked to be relieved of his captaincy and left Palota castle in early 1588. He went to Győr, where his son István also served. He repeatedly appealed to the Chamber in vain for payment for his previous service.


The Court owed him more than 3,000 forints, and he could get 200 forints on 15 August 1689. However, on 23 December his son applied to get the debt on behalf of his ‘departed father’ to be paid. Bornemisza János thus died in Győr before 23 December 1589. After the death of his brother and son, the family was discontinued in 1607.

Source: Szibler Gábor

a Hungarian nobleman from the 16th century

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