Kassa in 1617

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.

The tombstone of Petrus a Roussel in the wall of the Cathedral (1577) Photo: Corbulo pise

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.

Photo: Kocsis Kadosa

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.

King Szapolyai could not allow having such a dangerous center of resistance in the middle of his part of the country so he sent an army. The city was taken on 4 December 1536. The king’s general, Czeczey Lénárd led the army, he was the most faithful follower of the White Monk, Brother György. (Later, Brother György 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/Jan Zadorla. Read more about him here:


Photo: Kocsis Kadosa

When Szapolyai’s men became the masters in Kassa, they punished the German burghers who had been hostile against King Szapolyai. Czeczey immediately began to arrest the German members of the city council and took the city away from them. Those Germans who were openly opposing the new rule were banned from the town and Hungarians were settled from those southern territories which lay in the throat of the Turks. 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. Czeczey has done much to reinforce the city. He hired soldiers and supplied the city with food and weapons. In order to do so, he seized the mines in the area. He also had many cannons cast. His riders were constantly raiding around and they attacked the city near Kassa, Eperjes (Prjesov) in the summer of 1539.

The St. Mihály (Michal) Cathedral (Photo: Kocsis Kadosa)

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 and 1987, the Hungarians had 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.

Photo: Kocsis Kadosa

The commander of King Habsburg Ferdinand, Tomasso Lascano came against Kassa but Czeczey snared them in a trap and defeated the German army. After the death of King Szapolyai, Brother György confirmed Czeczey’s position as a Chief Captain of Kassa which he held for 15 years. According to the Truce of Nyírbátony in 1551, Kassa had to return to King Ferdinand. Queen Isabella (Szapolyai’s widow) resigned, too, and the Habsburg ruler obtained Kassa.

Kassa, Saint Erzsébet cathedral (Photo: Nevitsky castle)
King Ferdinánd forgave Czeczey and his men for all their deeds and let them and their heirs keep their properties as well.

Yet, the Chief Captain did not wish to serve Ferdinand resigned from his title and wanted to leave the country with Isabella but he couldn’t do so because he died at the end of 1551. He was buried in Kassa. Tinódi Lantos Sebestyén, a famous poet and singer of his age wrote about Czeczey’s death in his song:

“Czeczey had been a captain of Kassa,
He had owned the city for fifteen years,
He had been clever and wise in his mind,
He used to be a great merry man, all liked him dearly.”


However, Prince Bocskai István occupied 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.

Photo: Kocsis Kadosa

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 despite 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 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.

This bell was so loud that it was heard even in Eger castle in clear weather. Photo: Kocsis Kadosa

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 Forgách Mária, 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.

The COA of Kassa

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 besieged 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. 

Parts of the town wall (Photo: Ladislav Luppa)

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. 

Parts of the town wall (Photo: Ladislav Luppa)

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Here are more pictures of Kassa and the city’s wall: