Thorny Tamás, a Hungarian hero

Thorny Tamás came from a noble family in the Trans-Tisza River Region. His name was noted in 1561 as a part-owner of Szentes. He may have been born there in the second part of the 1540s.

He served at Gyula Castle in 1562 as a Hussar officer, leading five horsemen and he had six Hussars on his payroll in 1564.

Gyula castle (Photo: enpe-Indafoto)

Thorny became famous because of his duel which took place in August 1565. He fought it against Deli Hussein of Arad.
We have come to know about it from a poem written in 1807 by a nobleman called Vörös Mihály of Hódmezővásárhely; he also wrote down the siege of Gyula Castle in 1566. Its title was „Toronyi (=Thorny) Tamás and the heroes in the Borderland-Castle of Gyula”. This poem got so popular in the 19th century that it has been published several times.

Hungarians know well the work of Arany János, the „Toldi”: the poet used Vörös as a source when he described the duel of his hero.

Even Petőfi Sándor, perhaps the greatest Hungarian poet of the 19th century used the story of Thorny Tamás when writing his work called „János vitéz”.

We can also read about the deed of Thorny in the autobiography of Prince Kemény János of Transylvania because Thorny happened to be his grandfather on his mother’s side.

He wrote about him like this: „My mother was Tornyi Zsófia and her father was Tornyi Tamás who used to live in Gyula, he was a very famous and valiant warrior and a high lord. His first lucky duel, at the age of eighteen, was a lance-breaking with the famous Turk called Deli Hussein of Arad and he had many renowned deeds later on as well. He was summoned to Transylvania from Gyula where he became the leader of the Dukedom (Bánság) of Lugos and Karánsebes. He was given the properties at Pusztakamarás, Magyargáld with peasants, these were considered rich villages at that time. The mother of my mother was Toldi Petronella, the family whose member had been that famous strong warrior called Toldi Miklós.”

Gyula in 1566

We have one more source about Thorny Tamás: according to a spy’s report written to Vienna „it happened on 9 August 1565, in the time of Thorny Tamás’ duel that 16 Forints were paid for four gilded shields which were given to the Sanjak Bey of Arad”.

All we know that the famous duel took place in the field of Kétegyháza and Thorny was the winner.

According to the poem of Vörös, Thorny was fighting in Gyula Castle during its siege in 1566 and died there. In fact, it is quite likely that he hadn’t even taken part in the siege. Due to the violent behavior of the Captain of Gyula, Kerecsényi László, many warriors had left the castle for Transylvania. Thorny could be one of them and yes, we see that he made a nice career there.

He was the Bán (Duke) of Lugos and Karánsebes from the mid-1570s until the Christmas of 1587 when he died.


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