Szerencs is in the beautiful northern hills of Hungary. Szerencs was known at the time of Chief Árpád in the 9th century. In fact, according to the Gesta Hungarorum, when the leader of the conquering Magyar tribes, Chief Árpád arrived at the hill of Szerencs, he fell in love with the beauty of the view at once. It was the reason why he gave the „lucky” (szerencsés) name to the place, feeling fortunate to have taken this land.
Szerencs castle is situated in the southern part of Zemplén County where the Takta creek created a small island among the swampy fields. The castle was built from the stones of a former monastery. Others say that it was created when the monastery was fortified around 1557 and 1558. The first mention of Szerencs was in a document issued in Eger in 1217.
The Benedictine monastery first appeared in a letter by King Béla IV in 1247. This monastery was founded by the Bogát-Radvány in the first part of the 13th century. It is thought that the Johannite knights used to have a monastery there but it was destroyed by the Mongols in 1241. The monastery was mentioned in 1264 as “Mososterium de Zerench”. However, the monks paid just 24 pennies as a tax to the Pope in 1334 which means they were quite poor. We know that the Monaki family wanted to build a stone wall around it in 1375.
King Zsigmond pledged Boldogkő castle in 1388 to Czudar Péter, and Szerencs belonged to that castle as well. We know about Czudar Péter and his brother that they were the ones who built up the castle of Ónod, without the permission of the king. According to a document from 1400, the Monaki family had been banned in 1375 to build a castle at Szerencs, though. (Please, note that I use the Oriental name order for Hungarians where family names come first.)
Both Boldogkő and Szerencs became the property of George Brankovich, the Serbian Despot in the 1420s. It was how King Zsigmond tried to secure his feudal rights over the Serbian lands. Then, we can see that Ónod and Boldogkő were owned by the king in 1471, and assumedly Szerencs was in the king’s hand as well. When Szerencs became a market town, it went to the Rákóczi family in 1490. The next lords of Boldogkő castle were the members of the Szapolyai family, Szerencs was part of their property, too. We know that Szapolyai János owned it in 1507.
After the Battle of Mohács (1526), the war between King Ferdinand and King Szapolyai tore the country into two. The castles of Tállya, Regéc, and Boldogkő belonged to King Szapolyai. On the other hand, Diósgyőr castle was on Ferdinand’s side, its captain was Pemflinger Sebestyén, Chief Comes of Borsod county. The two kings tried to lure the noblemen to their side by awarding lands to them. Thus, King Ferdinand gave the lands of Szapolyai to his followers. He gave Szerencs to Monoszlai Péter, then it was given to Bebek Ferenc in 1532. It was Bebek János who owned it in 1549.
Némethy Ferenc, Captain of Tokaj castle took Szerencs in 1557. He was Szapolyai’s man, and he built a castellum at Szerencs during the next winter. The main building had two stores, with a drawbridge attached to its southern corner. The tower at the gate was three stories high. There were stone walls around the palace building that had Renaissance windows looking over the courtyard. It was how the castle of Szerencs got its shape in the 16th century, thus becoming the earliest castle of Zemplén County.
Szerencs castle has been several times besieged by the Imperial troops of Habsburg Ferdinand. It was Pethő János, Captain of Kassa who tried to take it in 1559 but he was beaten back because Némethy ambushed them. When the stronger castle of Tokaj was taken by General Schwendi in 1565, Némethy fell during the siege. Soon, Schwendi sent his mercenaries, led by Balassa Menyhárt, and the garrison of Szerencs had to flee for their lives. The next year, the castle was partly destroyed by the Crimean Tatars. We could find only three intact rooms in it in 1571.
The castle was given as a token to Rákóczi Zsigmond in 1583 by Emperor Rudolf, in exchange for a loan of 9.160 gold Forints, but officially it came into his possession only in 1603. Rákóczi Zsigmond had the castle rebuilt in the Renaissance style. According to a letter from the Chamber of Szepesség in 1592, Szerencs was a well-fortified castle with towers and a deep moat, fulfilling an important role in the Military Borderland between Ónod castle and Tokaj castle.
Rákóczi Zsigmond joined the uprising led by Prince Bocskai against the Habsburgs and opened the gates of Szerencs before the prince. I was how Szerencs was the location of the Hungarian Diet in 1605 where Bocskai István was elected as Prince of Hungary. He granted privileges to the town next year, expressing his gratitude. After Bocskai’s death, Rákóczi Zsigmond was elected as Prince of Transylvania, it took place in Szerencs, too. It took place on 11 February 1607. However, he resigned a year later, and shortly after he died. He was buried in the Reformed church of Szerencs. His sons, György, Zsigmond, and Pál divided Szerencs among each other. You can read more about Bocskai here:
Rákóczi György was appointed as the captain of Ónod Castle in 1611. It was the year when Forgách Zsigmond tried to usurp the throne of Transylvania and set out with his army against Prince Bethlen Gábor. The troops of Forgách had stayed near Szerencs for a month. Two years later there was another army at Szerencs that wanted to attack Bethlen Gábor but Rákóczi György was neutral in this conflict. However, Rákóczi took Bethlen’s side in 1619, and he was appointed as the Chief General of Upper Hungary and the Captain of Kassa (Kaschau, Kosice). After Bethlen’s death, Rákóczi György was elected as Prince of Transylvania on 1 December 1630.
Palatine Eszterházy Miklós took it very personally because he had some debates with Rákóczi about the properties of the Mágóchy family. Eszterházy tried to remove Rákóczi by force in 1631, and he was destroying Rákóczi’s lands, especially the area of Szerencs suffered a lot. According to a list of 1635, the castle’s bastions were well supplied with cannons and there were 50 rifles and 11 smaller cannons in its armory. They must have been needed in 1637 when the Turks were destroying the region of Szerencs and Ónod but with their help, the local noblemen chased the raiding parties away.
During the 30-Year War, Prince Rákóczi György launched his campaign against the Habsburgs in February 1644. He took 13 Hungarian counties in three months. Later, he was not so lucky because the Imperials were attacking him. Szerencs belonged to Rákóczi László in May 1644 when it was overrun by the troops of Palatine Eszterházy Miklós whose soldiers plundered the castle. Radványi, the caretaker of Rákóczi László ceded the fort to them without a fight. The mercenaries broke up the coffin of Rákóczi Zsigmond and looted it. Szerencs was garrisoned with 150 mercenaries but the Hungarians, led by Kemény János took it back in the same year. Kemény had Radványi hanged at the gate.
The importance of Szerencs castle was a bit decreasing in the years to come. Only 8 villages belonged to it in 1648. After the disastrous Polish campaign of Prince Rákóczi György II in 1657, Transylvania was on the brink of destruction. The Prince died in the Battle of Szászfenes in 1660, and Várad castle was besieged by the Turks. In the meantime, the Imperial Army sent troops to Upper Hungary to secure the area. General De Suches occupied Tokaj castle, and they placed Imperial troops in Ónod castle, too. Wesselényi Ferenc, a high-ranking Hungarian aristocrat in Habsburg service, sent 500 musket men to Szerencs in 1662. According to contemporary records, the Western mercenaries caused lots of suffering in that region. We know, that De Souches’ army camped at Szerencs in 1663.
As a result of the shameful Treyt of Vasvár in 1664 that ended the war with the Ottomans, great unrest was breeding among the Hungarians and Croatians. The disappointed aristocrats were led by Palatine Wesselényi Ferenc. Zrínyi Péter aka Petar Zrinski was a member of the plot, and he made his daughter’s husband, Rákóczi Ferenc. Lady Zrínyi Ilona’s husband joined the conspiracy but it was soon discovered. Zrínyi Péter and Count Frangepán were arrested in 1670, and Csáktornya castle was taken by the Imperials. Rákóczi Ferenc knew nothing of this in Upper Hungary, though. Rákóczi, according to the conspirators’ plan, summoned his troops at Szerencs and set out to besiege Tokaj and Szatnmár castles.
When the conspiracy collapsed, he fled Munkács castle to escape his execution. Soon, he ceded his castles of Patak, Sáros, and Ecsed to the Emperor. Rákóczi could keep only Regéc and Munkács castles. Zrínyi, Nádasdy, and Frangepán were beheaded, and Thököly Imre had to flee to Transylvania. Szerencs castle was also occupied by German mercenaries in 1670 as revenge for the Wesselényi-conspiration.
It was the age of the anti-Habsburg movements, the so-called “kuruc” soldiers consisted of fugitives and the dismissed warriors who had to leave the Borderland castles. They sought the support of Transylvania and the Ottomans against the tyrannic Habsburg rule. The first clashes took place in Upper Hungary in 1672. the rebels wanted to establish a Hungarian Principality under the protection of the Ottomans, similar to the case of Transylvania.
Rákóczi Ferenc was reluctant to join them and got into Regéc castle. The kuruc troops, led by Kende Gábor besieged Regéc, and other kuruc troops were plundering the area of Szerencs. They took the town of Ónod but could not take its castle. The rebels were supported by Transylvanian soldiers, too. The joint Transylvanian Kkuruc troops besieged Szerencs castle on 16 July 1678, led by Lord Teleki. After a few cannon shots, the castle surrendered. However, the garrison of Szerencs castle opened the gate before the arriving Imperial soldiers in the autumn of 1685.
The Freedom fight of Prince Rákóczi Ferenc II began in 1703. The Rákóczi domains, including Szerencs, joined his war. The prince often stayed in Szerencs. When the war ended in 1711, the place was no longer used as a fort. Many buildings were in ruins, and the wooden and earth fortifications were in a very poor state. Rákóczi Julianna was allowed to keep half of the domains around Szerencs, but the other part belonged to the Treasury. Later, this part was given to the Almássy, the Grassalkovich, and the Szirmay families.
Three bastions were pulled down in the 18th century: its military role was ended by the Habsburg conquerors. However, the castle was still quite intact according to a description from 1717. It is interesting, that the bones of Rákóczi Zsigmond and his wife were unburied in 1849. Finally, the Hungarian officers of the 10th Division had them buried during the Hungarian Revolution in 1849, placing them in a nice white sandstone sarcophagus.
Presently there is a beautiful exhibition in the castle from the age of Rákóczi Zsigmond. Enjoy the video about Szerencs castle:
Source: Szöllösi Gábor http://www.varlexikon.hu
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