Kassa, (Kosice, Kaschau) was the key city of the Eastern Upper Lands of the Kingdom of Hungary (called Uhorsko in Slovakian). It is located in the Upper lands/Horná Zem/Felvidék, in Slovakia. The town was first mentioned in 1230 and its fort in 1312. It became a free royal town in Hungary in 1347 and played a significant role in Hungarian history during the medieval time and after, too. For example, King Louis I. held a Diet here in 1374. Here, we have just selected a few things from the rich history of this city.
Kassa was a strong, fortified town. Lord Perényi Miklós tried to take the city by force in 1441 and even King Ulászló couldn’t take it that year. It was at Kassa that the Czech Giskra defeated the army of Székely Tamás in 1449. Prince Albert of Poland couldn’t take the town, either, in 1491, not even after a half-year-siege.
Yet, the city opened its gates before the usurper King Ferdinand I in 1526. During the sad years of the Dual Kingship, the German burghers of the town tended to support the Habsburgs. They called King Szapolyai “canis rex” (dog-king) and opened the gates before the German mercenaries of Hans Katzianer. Also, they placed a prize on the head of Szapolyai.
Ten years later, in 1536 King Szapolyai János took Kassa back by force. His general, Czeczey Lénárd led his army, he was the most faithful follower of the White Monk, Friar György. (Later the Friar became the one who established the basement of the Principality of Transylvania, acting as the foster-father of Szapolyai’s son.) Czeczey was appointed as the captain of Kassa and we could identify his renowned Slovakian officer who was his right hand, János Zadorla. Read more about him here:
When Szapolyai’s men became the masters in Kassa, they punished the German burghers who had been hostile against King Szapolyai. The population of the place was intentionally changed: many Germans who were found guilty had to leave the town. Yet, the price of their properties (lands and houses) was paid to them in cash upon leaving. The Hungarians were gaining more and more power in it as their numbers were growing. Also, many Hungarian noblemen fled to Kassa from the expanding Ottoman Empire. Captain Czeczey reinforced Kassa and his Hussars were often raiding as far as Eperjes (Presov).
I can’t resist making a historical parallel between the dispelling of these Germans in 1536 and the dispelling of Hungarians in 1945. It was Gustav Husak in charge of Kassa after WWII who took part in creating the so-called Kosice Program that included the mass-punishment of Germans and Hungarians of Slovakia, calling them war criminals. According to the order of the communist Husak, later First Secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia between 1969-1987, the Hungarians has to be humiliated in public. Before their deportation to Hungary, the Hungarians of Kassa had to wear a red “M” letter on their coat that indicated them as “magyar” aka Hungarian. Of course, none of them has received any kind of compensation for their confiscated houses and land to the very day, including my own family. I feel it all the more shameful because I am Slovakian on my father’s side.
Ten years after Szapolyai’s death, King Habsburg Ferdinand got Kassa in 1551 again. King Habsburg Ferdinand was merciful and forgave Czeczey and his men but Czeczey died in his sorrow. He had been the captain of Kassa for 15 years and he could not bear the change of power. He was buried there.
However, Prince Bocskai István could occupy it in 1604 and turned it into his headquarters. As a result of this, the town had been part of the Transylvanian Principality in the 17th century for a long time. Although the Habsburgs regained it for a short time, Prince Bethlen Gábor of Transylvania took it in 1619, with the help of Lord Rákóczi György, his strongest supporter. Here was held Bethlen’s wedding and he issued his proclamations from here. It was the town of the princes in the 17th century.
We have to mention the famous Saint Erzsébet Cathedral of the city and its huge bell: it was said that the great bronze bell of Kassa could be heard from as far as Eger city. When the city was taken by Rákóczi for Prince Bethlen, it was when three Jesuits (Pongrátz István, Grodecz Menyhért, and Kőrösi Márk) were nastily murdered in spite of the promise had been made for them that they could go freely away. Allegedly, Alvinczi Péter, the Protestant preacher of the city had demanded their heads along with the death of all the Catholics of Kassa. Alvinczi was the greatest Reformed preacher and the legendary enemy of Archbishop Pázmány Péter. One of the executed priests was happened to be Pázmány’s dear friend.
Anyway, the savage Hajdú soldiers of Rákóczi tortured the Jesuits to find out where their gold was hidden and who might have been members of a Catholic conspiracy. After two days of starving them they were offered some raw liver to eat before their execution – but being a Friday, they couldn’t accept the food. Two of them were beheaded, the third was thought to be dead and thrown into the cesspit where he died twenty hours later. Some circumstances and motives are not clear but the murders very well could have happened with the 23-year-old Rákóczi’s and Prince Bethlen’s knowledge and this raises questions in me concerning the famous religious freedom of Transylvania (as far as Catholics were concerned).
After all, it turns out that being a Catholic was not such a safe thing in the Principality. Half-year later the peace talks between Prince Bethlen and Palatine Zsigmond Pálffy (who acted on behalf of the Habsburg king) were taking place in the same house where the martyrs had been executed. Upon reaching an agreement they held a great feast and Prince Bethlen asked the wife of the Palatine, Lady Pálffy Katalin for a dance. She was willing to dance only under the condition that the martyred priests could get a decent burial. It was grudgingly agreed, provided the burial would happen at night. We know that Bethlen made further compensations some years later when he wed the Catholic Catherine of Brandenburg who had demanded it.
Rákóczi György was declared as the prince of Transylvania in 1644 in Kassa. The situation must have improved during Prince Rákoczi György’s rule because he allowed the existence of a Jesuit mission in Kassa from 1630 on. We know that this Jesuit office in Kassa was led between 1632-34 by Dániel Vásárhelyi. The victims’ corpses finally were carried to a nunnery of Poor Claires in Nagyszombat where Lady Forgach Maria, the daughter of the Palatine, was the Abbess in 1635. Later in 1905, the martyrs were canonized by the Catholic church as the Martyrs of Kassa. Their day in the Catholic calendar is September 7, when they were killed.
Kassa was the center of the northern defense against the Ottomans but they could never take it. The Jesuits established a printing house and a high school in Kassa in 1657. The anti-Habsburg Kuruc troops were besieging the town several times in the 1670s but in vain. Unrest was growing against the Habsburgs and the city rebelled. Finally, the Habsburgs took the rebellious Kassa by force in 1677 and executed the Kuruc leaders. Before, the Austrians had built a fort opposing Kassa, to the south, between 1670-1676.
Prince Thököly Imre took Kassa in 1682 but General Carprara beat his troops out in 1685. The city opened its gates to Prince Rákóczi Ferenc in 1703 and repelled the attack of General Rabutin in 1706. It was only occupied in 1711 when the War of Independence of Rákóczi was put down.
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