Drégely castle is located in northern Hungary, near the Slovakian border. Its ruins are on a hilltop, guarding the basin of the Ipoly river where it meets the Börzsöny Mountain. Each Hungarian has heard of the valiant siege of Drégely and the heroic death of its captain, Szondi György so it is present in the historical consciousness of this nation. This small castle deserved to get as famous as Kőszeg or Szigetvár in the Turkish wars. (I am using the Eastern name order for Hungarian names.)
Its fortress was erected by the Bozóky line of the Hont-Pázmány dynasty between 1275 and 1285, in the golden age of Hungarian castle building. Drégely’s name appeared first in 1285. The small castle was taken by Csák Máté, the notorious oligarch, the lord of northwest Hungary at the beginning of the XIV century. After his death (1321), Drégely became a royal estate in the middle of the XIV century, under the rule of the Anjou dynasty.
It was seized by a Moravian marquis in 1388, but King Sigismund took it back from him and donated it to the Tari family in 1390. After a generation’s time, it became a royal estate once again for fifteen years, and then Albert Habsburg gave it to the archbishopric in Esztergom as a present. The small fort was kept as a hunting palace of the bishops of Esztergom.
The troubles of the kingdom tore the country into two after the Battle of Mohács in 1526 and the age of the Dual Kingship has begun. In spite of Emperor Charles V’s warning, the Habsburg King Ferdinand did not hurry to make peace with King Szapolyai who was forced to ally himself with Suleiman the Great.
The Sultan secured his rule as the king of Hungary so Szapolyai could control the Eastern part of the kingdom, including Transylvania. The Sultan did not demand any taxes nor services from him and it is a fact that Szapolyi never gave soldiers to Suleiman’s wars. Although Szapolyai is a dividing person, he was far from being a mere vassal of the Ottomans.
The noblemen of Hungary have switched sides often enough between Szapolyai and Ferdinand and the high priests were not exceptions from this. For instance, Várday Pál, Archbishop of Esztergom, used to be one of those who initiated the betrothal of Szapolyai at Tokaj, after 1526. When Suleiman was leading his army against Vienna in the fall of 1529, Várday fled to Drégely Castle.
Yet, we can find this high priest on Ferdinand’s side in the camp of General Roggendorf in 1531. The consequences of his betrayal of Szapolyai hit the inhabitants of Drégely, though. Three years later, the Serbian, Turkish and Hungarian soldiers of Szapolyai set the small agricultural town on fire and herded their cattle away. When King Ferdinand tried to take Buda from Szapolyai in 1536, Ottoman troops arrived to break the siege and these very soldiers took advantage of the situation and pillaged great areas of the Upper Lands, including Drégely. After Buda fell into the hands of the Muslims in 1541, King Ferdinand had to create a new chain of defense in the north, too.
This frontier line was designed by Archbishop Várday and by Chief Commander of the Habsburgs, Nicholas Graf zu Salm in the second half of the 1540s. They had to select those forts which were supposed to be reinforced and pull down the rest which was undefendable. North of the Danube River, the castles worth renovating were Drégely, Ság, Pásztó, Szécsény, Buják and Léva.
You can read more about the 1,000-mile-long Hungarian-Croatian-Transylvanian Borderland that had separated the western part of Europe from the Ottoman Empire from the 1400s to 1699 here:
Nógrád castle was taken by Pasha Mehmed in 1544 and this important castle in the neighborhood of Drégely became their basis for raiding the Upper Lands of Royal Hungary. During the winter of 1543-44, the Turks burned the village called Oroszi next to Drégely. It was the year when Drégely became a frontier castle, guarding the gate to the mining towns of Upper Hungary, especially towards Selmecbánya. As king Szapolyai died in 1541, his widow, Queen Isabella was ruling in East Hungary, led by the powerful and ingenious Paulin monk and statesman, Brother György. Forced by him, the Queen made a treaty with Ferdinand and ceded him Transylvania.
As the summit of Brother György`s political career, the Diet of Kolozsvár (Cluj, Klausenburg) swore fealty to Ferdinand and asked for his protection against the Turks. Brother György, the “White Monk” was a good soldier as well: he turned against Suleiman`s troops and scattered them at Temesvár and at Lippa.
Soon after this, the high priest was shamefully assassinated by King Ferdinand. The weak truce between King Ferdinand and Sultan Suleiman got broken in 1551. Yet, Suleiman regarded Queen Isabella`s son, János Zsigmond as the king of East Hungary and sent his troops to take revenge on Ferdinand. He sent three armies against the Habsburg king. His aim was to divide the western and the eastern part of Hungary so as to separate Transylvania from Ferdinand and to open a border with Poland.
Pasha Achmed, the Grand Vizier led the campaign and his forces soon took Temesvár and Szolnok castles. The second army which was supplemented with Tatar troops and the units of two Wallachian voivodes kept the Christian army of Transylvania at bay. It was the third, the smallest army with 10-12,000 men which began a campaign on the East-Trans Danubian Region. After taking Veszprém Castle, they turned towards the mining cities of the Upper Lands. Their leader was Hádim Ali, the Pasha of Buda, also called the Gelded. His first roadblock was Drégely Castle with Captain Szondi György in it.
The fort was in a rather poor condition because a lightning bolt exploded its gunpowder storage and there was not enough ammunition nor soldiers in it. Captain Szondi was serving Archbishop Várday but after the priest`s death, the castle went under the command of the king as the Treasury took over the Archbishop`s income. As a result of this, the pay of the soldiers has become even worse than before. According to data from 1551, the annual pay of the soldiers of Drégely and Újhely castles was 12,617 Gold Forints and they were given additionally 630 pieces of mine salt which were worth 100 Gold Forints and 80 Denarius. Comparing to this, Drégely Castle and Ság Castle together received only 3,253 Gold Forints and 34 Denarius in the first part of 1552.
When Bekefalvy Gergely, the vice-captain of Szondi György in Drégely saw that Pasha Ali was coming, abandoned the castle. He complained because of the lack of money and said he had a family and children to take care of.
Here is my dramatized historical short story about the siege of Drégely, from my book “33 Castles, Battles, Legends”:
There used to be sixty soldiers under Captain Szondi and his co-captain, Zoltay Lőrinc`s service but the King allowed the hiring of only a further 40 soldiers. The rich town of Selmecbánya also sent 24 men, but no gunpowder. The repairs of the castle have been not finished, either. Szondi had two cannons but his second cannon what he had sent to Körmöcbánya Town to be repaired. could not arrive before the siege, either, Szondi and his 146 men swore to defend the old-fashioned castle to the end, knowing that General Teuffel denied sending reinforcement.
They were resisting the Turks only for four days but these few days were legendary. Pasha Ali ordered Szondy to surrender the castle and after the refusal, he had the outer palisade put on fire. Szondy had to withdraw into the inner castle, behind old-fashioned stone walls. The Pasha had an earthen rampart built and placed his cannons there. After two days of bombardment, the castle and its high gate-tower were in ruins.
Pasha Ali was not a bloodthirsty man and he sent in the local priest, Márton, to negotiate. Szondi refused to yield the castle and sent two of his high-born Turkish captives, dressed in expensive clothes to Ali, along with his two favorite young pages. He asked Ali to give a good education to the lads because he wouldn’t surrender the castle alive. He asked for a proper burial for himself, too.
Meanwhile, Szondi had all his valuables, dresses, treasures piled up in the castle yard and burned them. Also, he had his horses and captives killed at the same time. Shortly after this, the Turks launched the final attack and Szondi got a bullet first in his knee and a second into his heart. All of his men fought to the end, although some injured Hungarian warriors were taken as captives. Upon their victory, Pasha Ali made a laudatory speech over Szondi’s body then had him buried decently as agreed.
The defenders had caused great losses to the enemy and their example gave encouragement to the Hungarian warriors all along the Borderland. The Turks went on and took the frontier castles of Gyarmat, Szécsény and finally, Ali defeated General Teuffel in the Battle of Palást, two months later. The coward leader was carried to Istanbul and was impaled in front of the Sultan. Only the small castle of Bussa followed the example of Drégely, hindering the Turks in their victorious campaign. Two years later Fülek and Salgó being occupied by the Turks, the first system of castles along the border was established by the Ottomans.
In 1575, Új-Drégely (New-Drégely), or differently Palánk was built by the fortification of the church in Drégely. The Turks did not renovate the old castle on the hilltop, instead, they built a strong palisade that was capable of holding 2,000 riders. This kind of palisade extension was called “huszárvár” or hussar castle at that time. The new castle became the headquarters of the raids aiming at the mining towns. This was the center where taxes imposed on the population of the region were collected. The population of the medieval borough of Drégely did probably not reach a thousand.
The Hungarian population grew with some Germans at the beginning of the XVI century. They, however, left the settlement during the Turkish rule and escaped to better-protected areas. South-Slavic people came to the settlement during the years of the occupation. This palisade castle was taken back by General Pálffy in 1593, at the beginning of the so-called Long War that lasted for 15 years. Hungarian military command considered it again as a border fortress for two decades.
General Pálffy left Nagy Ferenc in charge of the fort, as a castellan. The place used to remain the target of constant Turkish attacks which were beaten back repeatedly. Due to the lack of payment, the defenders’ number of Drégely decreased to a mere ten soldiers in December 1595. They were not enough to protect the surrounding villages so the settlements fell into the Turks’ hands and paid taxes to them. Fortunately, the garrison’s number was increased next year and they withhold the renewed Turkish attacks.
The Diet of 1604 ordered the reinforcement and the full renovation of the castle but it remained just a promise. The castle, repaired and strengthened after the Tatar raid of 1599, was subdued by the commanders reporting to the princes of Transylvania at the time of the Thirty Year War.
During the military campaign of Köprülü Ahmed, the Grand Vizier in 1663, Érsekújvár (Nove Zámky) fell and hearing the news, the guards of Drégelypalánk set the castle on fire and escaped. The palisade was beyond repair but it was somewhat repaired in 1615, though. During the Habsburg-Transylvanian wars, Prince Bethlen Gábor was camping his army next to Drégely castle in 1626, waiting for the chance to fight General Wallenstein.
Palánk (it stands for „palisade” in the Hungarian language), which was born in the middle of the XVI century, preserved some of its freedom as a border castle. The leading authority of the settlement was a lieutenant and not a judge. Its population, mostly craftsmen, were exempted from socage, and tithe. They worked as an escort to the lords, they delivered the post and collected and safeguarded the tithe.
In the first third of the XVIII century, German settlers arrived to populate Drégely and Palánk, which were organized into a village and now called Drégelypalánk.
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