Csáktornya (Cakovec) is in Croatia, next to the Hungarian border. It is famous for the famous Croatian-Hungarian Zrinyi family. Its “Öregvár” (Stary Grad) castle is on the spot where the previous fort used to stand. The former castle had also been called Csaka-Tornya, Csak-Thurn, Scakerturm, Tschakertornia, or Chaktornya. Literally, the Hungarian meaning of the name is “the tower of Csák” as the first family who founded the settlement in the 13th century was the Hungarian Csák family of the Hahót Clan who had a high office in the court of King Béla IV. Later, Csák was appointed as Bán (Duke) of Croatia. He was said to have built the first castle in 1266 which initially consisted of a stone tower and a trench around it.
It belonged to the Austrian Kőszegi (Németújvári) Henrik in 1270. He had huge domains in Hungary and he used to be Bán of Slavonia between 1267 and 1274, too. However, King Károly Róbert broke the power of the local oligarchs and he got Csáktornya back in 1328. The castle of Csáktornya’s name was first mentioned in a document in 1333.
King Lajos gave Csáktornya castle and the entire Muraköz area to his Transylvanian Voivode Lackfi in 1350 who gained the title of Duke of Croatia / Slavonia / Dalmatia a year later. Lackfi founded a Paulinian monastery in the nearby village of Szentilona (Šenkovec) in 1351.
The Lackfi family’s fortune had lasted only until the so-called “Bloody Diet” of 1397, then the Kanizsai family owned the castle for 8 years. The Cillei family got it in 1405 in exchange for 40,000 gold Ducats but King Zsigmond never bought the castle back from them. Thus, it had remained in their hands until the extinction of the family, in 1456. The ownership of Csáktornya was inherited by Bán Jan Vitovec of Croatia.
King Matthias Corvinus gave the castle to Ernuszt János, his Swedish-Jewish Treasurer. They were the dukes of Croatia until 1540, too. His sons adopted the name “Csáktornyai”. The Zrínyi / Zrínski family gained the castle in 1547 from the Keglevitz family by a siege. Zrínyi Miklós received the castle in exchange for his military service, as the king owed his soldiers’ payment.
It was the Zrinyi family, the descendant of the Croatian Subich of Bribir family (first mentioned in the 11th century) who had improved the castle significantly. Although the Zrínyi family used to own Csáktornya “only” for five generations, their rule had a significant impact on the development of the Muraköz region. They held a court in their Renaissance castle that was similar to a royal court in its splendor. Csáktornya was their headquarters, the center of their extensive lands.
Szigetvári Zrínyi Miklós aka Nikola Šubić Zrinski (1508-1566) inherited the family’s huge domains in 1541 when his elder brother, János died. Zrínyi miklós was the Bán (Duke) of Croatia between 1542 and 1557, the became the captain of Szigetvár castle. He was also the Chief Captain of the Hungarian Lands South of the Danube. When King Ferdinand gave him the Muraköz region in 1554, he also became a count and received a new Coat of Arms. Zrínyi incorporated the Coat of Arms of the Ernuszt family, the former owners of Csáktornya, in this new Coat of Arms.
According to some theories, the castle of Csáktornya was so simple that Zrínyi had it demolished and built a new one. However, the old castle used to have rather thick walls and strong towers because Zrínyi Miklós could not beat out Lord Keglevich in spite of his large army and the long siege. The old castle must have been pulled down only after the legal debates were over. The Zrínyi family turned it into a Renaissance fortification by the end of the 16th century.
As for the outer castle, they kept the semi-circle-shaped bastions but added new bastions, according to the Renaissance military architecture. Thus, they could defend the moat more effectively. As a result of the construction, the castle of Csáktornya became a blend of a former water castle (Wasserburg) and a new, Renaissance fort.
Zríny Miklós aka Nicholas Zrinski inherited Csáktornya in 1637. He was a famous European poet and general, who lost his life near the castle in 1664 because of a hunting accident. Some people doubt it, they say it was not a coincidence and say “that boar who killed Zrínyi spoke German”. To me, it is all the more likely because right before this “accident” Zrínyi had been greatly disappointed in the Emperor and gossip said he was offered the Hungarian crown by the Turks in secret. What would have happened if he had accepted it and would have opened a corridor toward Vienna for the Turks? Think about it. It was not for nothing that when the Turks talked about Hungary among themselves, they used to call Hungary “the country of the Zrinyis”. On the other hand, Zrínyi’s younger brother, Petar Zrinski aka Zrínyi Péter offered Croatia to the sultan in exchange for the Ottomans’ support against the Habsburgs. He wanted to be the crowned king of Croatia, so why should it be a far-fetched idea if his brother had had similar thoughts before his tragic accident?
After the death of Zrínyi Miklós, the Habsburgs made a peace with the Ottomans which was totally unacceptable to the Hungarians and Croatians alike. The Emperor alienated his Croatian and Hungarian subjects and the events caused the Wesselényi Conspiracy. It was a badly organized plot against the Habsburgs and it was revealed even before the uprising could break out in earnest. Zrínyi Péter was involved in it, and he set out from Csáktornya to Vienna in 1671 to clear the charges made against him. He didn’t know that the sultan had already betrayed him to Emperor Leopold. Although he was promised to get a safe-conduct from Emperor Leopold, he was arrested. He and Frangepán, along with Nádasdy were soon beheaded and General Spankau seized Csáktornya and imprisoned his family members. Here you can read more about the Zrínyi family:
The last of the Zrínyi family died in the battle of Zalánkemén in 1691, fighting for the Habsburg Emperor. The Habsburgs later gave the castle to the Bohemian nobleman, Count Jan Althan in 1719. The castle suffered a great fire in 1723 and in 1741, and there was an earthquake in 1738, too. Fortunately, the buildings were repaired. It was the time when a second floor was added to the palace, and the ruined bell tower was rebuilt in a different place, namely on the top of the gate bastion. They built a clock into the bell tower which was considered a very modern thing. After the Althan family, the Festetics family has owned Csáktornya for 132 years.
Officially, 2016 was the year in Hungary when we commemorated Zrínyi Miklós, along with our Croatian friends. It was the year when I launched my FB page to spread Hungarian history on English-speaking social media. My first post was about Zrínyi Miklós whom I respect above everybody in Hungarian history.
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Here are a few more pictures of Csáktornya: