Pozsony (Bratislava, Pressburg) was once the Capital of Hungary, now it is the Capital of Slovakia. The castle was said to be a fort owned by Count Braszlav before the coming of the Hungarians who took it in 902 A.D. However, Braslav was rather in charge of Lower Pannonia between 892 and 907, his liege lord was King Arnulf, an East-Frank ruler, and had no connection with Pozsony. The famous battle of Pozsony is considered to be the last step of the Hungarian’s ‘Home Taking’ (it is called “Honfoglalás” in the Hungarian language) and it took place on 4 July 907. This victory was a major success and guaranteed Hungary’s independence from the Holy Roman Empire and the west.
The first mention of “Poson” is from 1002 AD. During the interregnum in 1042, after King St Stephen’s death, the castle was taken for a short time by a Czech prince called Bretislaw, which is why Pozsony is called Bratislava now. This castle stood on a strategic point on the bank of the Danube River and it guarded the land against a hill.
Holy Roman Emperor Heinrich III tried to take the castle by siege in 1051 but his boats were sunk by the Hungarian, Kund the Diver, and his men. The Eastern Germans and the Austrians had always wanted to seize Hungary and Pozsony blocked their way. Yet, the city was in Austrian hands for a short time in 1146.
The next threat from the West came when Frederick Barbarossa, the Holy Roman Emperor, was gathering his troops at Pozsony whilst he was on his way to the Holy Land in 1189. But Béla III, the Hungarian king, let him pass through Hungary. He even gave food to the Crusaders and guides seeing them through the Balkan so they did not have to pillage food. Not all Germans were hostile though. Peaceful German settlers from Bavaria arrived there in the 13th century and they became dominant in the city, as in so many Hungarian towns.
Pozsony was one of the lucky forts that were not taken by the Mongols in 1241, which was an outstanding deed. The town was always in the middle of the action. King Béla IV was defeated at Pozsony by his son, István, in 1262. The Austrian Prince, Ottokar took the fort twice in 1263. It happened because of the city’s strategic location.
It was King István V who later made his truce with Prince Ottokar in 1270, but the prince took the fort the next year in spite of the truce. Soon, he returned it according to a new truce. Next, the Austrian Prince Albert took it in 1287; but it was promptly retaken. Later, the Hungarian King Endre III gave privileges to Pozsony in 1291. The famous Toldi Miklós, the legendary strong Hungarian warrior was the captain of Pozsony in 1354. (Please note, that I use the Eastern name order for Hungarian names where family names come first.)
Pozsony is known as the City of Diets which is where the Hungarian Noble Estates met to decide on the important questions of the Kingdom. The first Diet was held in the city in 1402 by King Zsigmond (Sigismund). He began reinforcing the fort in earnest because of the Bohemian Hussites’ threat. When he became Holy Roman Emperor, he summoned the Imperial Council to Pozsony in 1429. Thus, Pozsony became the capital of the Holy Roman Empire for a while.
Initially, the town was under the authority of the Chief Treasurer of Hungary. Perhaps this was because of the famous mining towns of the Upper Lands which produced an immense amount of gold and silver for the king, or for the debtors of the king. The town grew according to its importance. Its university was established by King Matthias Corvinus in 1467. You can read more articles about King Matthias on my page:
Monarchs and rulers met in this important city. Pozsony was the place where the Hungarian King Vladislav (Ulászló) II and the Holy Roman Emperor Habsburg Maximilian II agreed, in 1491, that after the end of the Jagiellonian dynasty, the Habsburgs were to inherit the throne of Hungary. This was the agreement upon which all of the Habsburg rulers have based their claims for the Hungarian throne ever since.
Later, this contract was broken by the decision of the Hungarian nobles who supported King Szapolyai János. Eventually, the treaty of 1491 paved the way for the Dual Kingship when King Ferdinand and King Szapolyai János tore the country in two while the Ottoman Empire slowly gained ground amid their debate. The town was taken for a short time by the Austrian Maximilian I in 1506.
Owing to Ottoman advances into Hungarian territory, the city was designated to be the new Capital of the Kingdom of Hungary in 1535, marking the beginning of a new era. When Buda fell in 1541, Pozsony emerged as the new capital. Pozsony was a formidable obstacle on the Danube and it was able to block the Turk’s advances on Vienna. The Turks had besieged and damaged Pozsony but had always failed to conquer it.
The city became a coronation town and the seat of kings, archbishops (1543), the center of nobility, and all major organizations and offices. There were 43 Diets held in the city altogether during the 16th century. The reconstruction of the castle in the Renaissance style took place after 1552. The Hungarian Holy Crown had been held there and many members of the Pálffy family were in charge of it. The wealthy Pálffy family also gained the hereditary title of the Comes of Pozsony County. This Lord and his family members fought the Ottomans very effectively. Between 1536 and 1830, eleven Hungarian kings and queens were crowned in St. Martin’s Cathedral.
During the time of the Habsburg-Transylvanian wars, Pozsony had always been rather loyal to the Hungarians from Transylvania in spite of its German Burghers. The army of Prince Bethlen Gábor took the town in 1619. However, the Habsburgs attempted to stop the Bohemian uprising, and at the same time, they tried to take Pozsony back in the autumn of 1620 and send Bethlen back to Transylvania. At the end of September 1620, General Heinrich du Vall Dampierre broke into the western part of the country and defeated the Hungarian army of Huszár István at Lakompak, though the General had just half of his army.
Then, the Imperial army targeted Pozsony, the coronation town which was defended by the Hajdú soldiers of Rákóczi György. They were under the command of Ibrányi Mihály who sent a letter to Rákóczi on 24 October:
“When our Almighty God took us into Pozsony with the army of His Highness (*Bethlen), Dampiere arrived there with all of his troops in the same hour, accidentally. Then, our King (*the elected Hungarian king, Bethlen Gábor) was in the Trans-Danubian Region at Szombathely, and there were not enough soldiers left in Pozsony. We had to dismount and bring our soldiers to the trenches. The fight between us (*and Dampiere) lasted from 7 o’clock in the morning to 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Although we had fewer men, our Merciful God has ashamed the army of the Emperor that even Dampiere perished in the struggle, and many chief lieutenants and German flag bearers died there, and the enemy was running away with a great disgrace. At the moment, our men are still chasing and beating them every day all around the countryside.”
It was a strange thing that Dampiere was shot in the head by those Hajdú soldiers who had been supplied with firearms by him. Bethlen had ceremonially buried him, then his body was carried to Vienna where King Habsburg Ferdinand organized a very nice funeral for him, too. This battle at Pozsony was a rare example of how the Hungarian Hajdú soldiers could beat the better-trained and equipped Imperial troops.
Bethlen later made his peace with the Emperor in this city in 1626. You can read more about Bethlen Gábor on my page:
As for culture, the beginning of the Hungarian Baroque period is around 1630, first appearing in territories here near Austria. It is during this time that the reconstruction of the royal palace of Pozsony began in 1635 in the Baroque style.
The fort guarded the Danube River with its cannons so it remained the greatest roadblock before Vienna. Unfortunately, the Habsburgs alienated a Hungarian aristocrat, Thököly Imre, who rebelled against the king, and soon the Sultan made him Prince of Transylvania and Northern Hungary. Thököly knew that the Turks needed Vienna. However, they could never set their feet on his territories, so he let the Turks go towards their desire, the Golden Apple, Vienna.
The Austrian capital was reached in 1683 by the Ottoman Empire because Pozsony had opened its gates for the rebel Prince who let the Turks pass unhindered toward Vienna. He thought; let them kill each other. Yet, his dreams were soon broken. He was arrested by the Sultan’s man at Nagyvárad (Oradea) and the Turks were defeated by the Polish King Sobieski’s Hussars. It was at this point that the Western powers realized that, without the Polish, they would not be able to withstand another Ottoman onslaught or a Hungarian uprising. So they decided that, after a 150-year hesitation, they must drive the Turks out of Hungary.
Pozsony was where the Diet accepted Habsburg’s right to inherit the throne of Hungary. In 1687 the Hungarian Estates decided to hand over unrestricted power in exchange for their help in driving the Turks from the country. The famous “Article Number 31” of the Golden Bull was thrown out. This article authorized the nobility to resist tyranny and banish such kings as those who would not uphold the Hungarian Constitution of the Golden Bull of 1222. Thus, Hungary was “liberated” and all of Thököly`s soldiers joined the Crusade against the Ottomans.
This is how Hungary was conquered by the Habsburgs. Some historians say that this last war of “liberation” caused greater destruction and more casualties than the previous Ottoman occupation altogether. Yet, it is a different story; you can read my article about ethnic changes in Hungary due to the Ottoman wars here:
This article was an extract from my book “33 Castles, Battles, Legends”. I’ve also written the short story of how Prince Bethlen Gábor of Transylvania took the town of Pozsony, you can read it here:
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Here are more pictures of Pozsony: