Divény (Divin), the castle of the Hungarian Balassa family, is located in the Upper lands/Horná Zem/Felvidék, it is in Slovakia. The northern part of the Losonc (Lusenec) Basin was occupied by the Hungarian Kacsics Clan after the Home Taking of the Magyar tribes in the 9th century.
According to the first document we have from 1213 about this area, the Hungarian lords were upset while King András II was leading a campaign to Halics. They made a plot and they murdered the hated Queen Gertrúd while the king was away. Having returned, the king didn’t immediately punish the plotters, though. Only when his son, Prince Béla demanded it in 1228, he confiscated the lands of Bán (Duke) Simon of the Kacsics Clan. The lands of Divény and Szécsény were among them. When King Béla IV began his rule, he gave these domains to his trusted man, Dénes, son of Dénes of the Tomaj Clan who was his Treasurer (later his Palatine). This lord received the fertile lands of the Losonc valley, its northern boundary was at Divény.
During the Mongolian Invasion, King Béla IV suffered a defeat at Muhi in 1241 where Palatine Dénes died. After the Mongols were gone, the king began his grand project of constructing castles all over the kingdom. There are two forts in Divény, the older one was built at the end of the 13th century by the Tomaj Clan’s members, the ancestors of the Losonczi family. In 1310, the mighty oligarch Csák Máté seized the lands of Nógrád County, too. The Kacsics family had to side with him, opening the gates of their castles of Salgó, Somoskő, Sztrahora, Zagyvafő, and Baglyaskő before him. They were allowed to keep their lands in exchange for military service to the oligarch. However, the Losonczy family of the Tomaj Clan resisted. In revenge, the oligarch had both of their castles (Divény and Gács) burned down.
King Károly Róbert was able to overcome Csák Máté only when he died in 1329, and it was when Divény castle was first mentioned in a document. No wonder, that the king reinforced the right of Tamás, son of Losonczy Dénes who had been loyal to him. Soon, both Gács and Divény have been repaired. The Losonczy family had owned Divény until 1451 when the intruding Bohemian Hussites defeated the Hungarian army at Losonc. It was only King Matthias Corvinus who took them back in 1462 and gave it to the Losonczy family again. However, we find Divény in the king’s hand in 1462.
Matthias gave Divény to Palatine Guthi Ország Mihály in 1467. The Balassa family gained Divény in the 16th century. The castle was reinforced in 1559, the Italian-style bastion was built at that time. Lord Balassa János was plotting against the Habsburg king and as a result of this, he was arrested and locked down in Pozsony (Bratislava, Pressburg). Yet, he managed to escape from his prison and fled to Poland in 1569. Somehow, he was able to keep Divény castle in spite of this. He received mercy two years later and returned home.
However, the Turks, after taking Kékkő castle, besieged Divény in 1575 when the Pasha of Buda launched a campaign against the Mining Town District of Hungary. The Ottoman army greatly outnumbered the defenders, and the cannon breached the walls soon. Assaults were launched, and the defenders made the enemy pay a high price. All the 300 warriors of Divény fell, except one: a Serbian soldier called Deli Radosa could escape. He took the news of the castles’ fall to his landlord, Balassa János. Later, he became the innkeeper of the Balassa family.
As for the fallen soldiers, the heads of the defenders of Divény were severed and placed on spears along the walls of the castle. Then, the Turks herded many peasants together from distant lands and made them repair the castle. They placed a new garrison in the fort, about 15-200 men. At that time, Divény was the northernmost castle occupied by the Ottomans. Many raids were sent from there against the wealthy Mining Towns but they could never take them. Read more about these fabulous Mining Towns here:
Divény was recaptured and went again to the Balassa family in 1593 by the Imperial army led by General Teuffenbach and Pálffy Miklós who were taking back the castles of Nógrád County one by one. According to the sources, Balassi Bálint, son of Balassa János (who died in 1577) was leading the assault against the walls of Divény in person. He was perhaps the greatest Hungarian Renaissance poet of the 16th century. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to enjoy the retaking of his family’s property for long because he fell the next year during the siege of Esztergom.
As Divény castle was in a very bad condition, the Diet ordered its repair in 1602 and ordered the peasants of Turóc County to carry out the work. However, the castle remained a second-class private fort, its military function was not significant. Prince Bocskai István took Divény in 1605 without a fight. The defenders opened their gate gladly before the Prince. They did the same when the troops of Prince Bethlen Gábor of Transylvania were marching westwards in 1619.
There was a member of the Balassa family, Balassa Imre who didn’t have a good reputation in Vienna. He was charged with homicide, allegedly he had thrown his wife, Lippay Borbála out of the window of Divény castle. In fact, it was the age when the Habsburgs liked to fabricate charges against the wealthy Hungarians in order to take away their properties. No wonder, that Balassa Imre didn’t show up on his trial in Vienna. As a result of this, his lands were confiscated and he became an outcast. However, he had some good friends in the Court and his properties were given back. Then, Balassa hired many poor lads and stray soldiers in the area and began to loot the villages in the neighborhood, including the manors of the local gentry. He even attacked the traveling Turkish merchants, thus violating the Peace of Vasvár of 1664.
Soon, he had to flee to his relatives who lived in Transylvania but they didn’t like him there. So he returned to Pozsony. There, he answered the charges of Palatine Wesselényi István on a trial. He was declared guilty in 32 cases and was locked into the dungeons. Yet, he managed to free himself before the end of the year and took himself into his castle in Divény. In Vienna, it was thought that the robber knight would side with the Turks so as to seize the rich Mining Towns. I would like to point out the similarity with his ancestor, Balassa Menyhárt who had the same troubles with the king’s men in 1544. You can read his story here:
In 1666, Lord Balassa made his Hajdú warriors bring together the peasants of the area. He armed them and set out against Gács castle which was owned by his old adversary, Lord Forgách. He had about 2,000 armed peasants and 400 Hajdú warriors. Soon, they reached the barn of Lord Forgách and took away his horses, along with the animals of other noblemen. They also looted the manors and herded away from the peasants their pigs and sheep. They killed the animals that they could not take away. They took captives, too. Count Forgách Ádám was in Vienna at that time and he hurried to Emperor Leopold to sue Balassa.
Later in the autumn of 1666, Palatine Wesselényi’s army of 3,000 soldiers besieged Divény castle. The defenders got frightened after a one-day-long bombardment and ceded the castle. They tied up Balassa Imre and handed him over to his enemy. He was taken to Wesselényi’s castle, in Murány, then he was tried in Pozsony. It is unbelievable, but he could get away and was released in 1667.
As he was declared a ruffian, he was not allowed to return to the old castle of Divény. However, he outsmarted his enemies again and he had a fortified palace built next to the old castle in 1670. One would think that he quit plotting but Balassa Imre took the old castle back later by a trick: cunningly, he made peace with the German captain. Then, he made him and his men drunk and killed them all in his new palace. All he had to do was to march into Divény castle and disarm the Imperial guards the next day.
It was too much for the Imperials: they sent a 4,000-strong army to take Divény and punish the rebelling lord in 1674. Unexpectedly, the Habsburg troops were repelled by Balassa’s men. Let us not forget, it was happening at the beginning of the Anti-Habsburg wars in Hungary, similar clashes took place all over the kingdom. Balassa has joined the rebelling forces of Prince Thököly Imre so he was not a mere robber knight anymore. (Perhaps he had never been, had he?)
Finally, General Strassaldo and Captain Leslie had to lay a siege on Divény castle. They took the fort and had it explode in 1679. Balassa was captured but he freed himself, as a rule. He died in peace in the town of Tállya, in the Hegyalja region in 1683. Divény castle has never been rebuilt since then. Later, Count Zichy bought it along with the Renaissance fortified palace and the 50 villages belonging to it. The archeological excavations began in 2011 in earnest and many decent changes have happened ever since.
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Here are many more pictures of the fortifications at Divény: