Gyula is a town in Békés County, Hungary. The town is best known for its Medieval castle and thermal bath. The first recorded reference to Gyula was in a document dated 1313 which mentions a monastery called Gyulamonostora.
By 1332 the settlement around the monastery was being called Gyula. The construction of Gyula Castle began in the 14th century but finished only in the mid-16th century. It was the property of the Maróthy family and later John Corvinus, the illegitimate son of King Matthias Corvinus.
The warriors of Gyula were collecting heads in August 1564
It happened in 1564 when an unlucky Ottoman raiding party rushed into the hands of the warriors of Gyula Castle along the River of Fehér-Kőrös. It was thanks to the alertness of the warriors of Gyula Castle that the Turk raiding party was noticed while it was speeding to the northwest along the River Fehér-Kőrös. They saw them when they entered the area near Gyulavarsád. The Hussars were alarmed at once and they hurried to attack the bold Turks and they made them flee after a fierce fight. They captured 13 of them and collected the heads of 9 of the fallen foe. The Hungarians lost three of their soldiers.
According to the custom of the age which was shared equally by the Turks and the Hungarians, they took the heads home and placed them either on the wall of Gyula Castle or on stakes on the Palisade. Its aim was to tell everybody about the fame of their luck and courage. Yet, sometimes the fortune was turning and their heads “decorated” the walls of Turk castles or palisades.
The siege of Gyula in 1566
For a long time, Captain Kerecsényi László had not been considered a hero of the Borderland. It was quite unjust, though. Finally, he received his first memorial plaque in Gyula castle only in 2016. Kerecsényi László of Kányaföld came from a gentry family of Zala County. He was the friend of the Croatian Ban, Zrínyi Miklós (Nikola Šubić Zrinski), and he was rising quickly in the hierarchy. His brothers also served as officers on the Borderland.
Upon Zrínyi’s suggestion, King Ferdinand I appointed Kerecsényi as the captain of Szigetvár castle on 12 august 1554. He was in a difficult situation in defense of this important South-Trans Danubian castle because not only the Ottoman warriors of Pécs were lurking always around the walls but there was a serious epidemic among his soldiers. The walls were in pitiful condition, too. Also, the swamps were not offering enough shelter around the castle. Kerecsényi began to make a difference, with great zeal.
Kerecsényi built two new bastions and tried to discipline the defenders in anticipation of the coming Ottoman siege. He increased the number of soldiers, food, and equipment. However, he had only enough food in October 1554 when the Turks attacked. The army of Pasha Tojgun of Buda had taken already Kaposvár, Korotna, and Babócsa castles by this time. Yet, Kerecsényi declared that “me too, if it is the merciful will of God Almighty, want to serve Christendomuntil my death”. He was very pessimistic about both his future and the castle.
However, he was lucky because the Pasha quit the siege after five days because he did not have enough supplies, and the new bastions seemed too formidable to him. On top of that, the defenders sallied every day and inflicted lots of damage on them. At last, Pasha Tojgun went home on 9 October 1554. Read more about Szigetvár castle here:
Kerecsényi was utterly angry because he had not received any help, and was not paid after the siege, either. He resigned and left Szigetvár at the end of the year. Next time, he defeated the army of the Bosnian pasha who broke into Slavonia in 1557. The king elevated him among the “flag bearers” of the kingdom in 1559, then he appointed him to command Gyula castle.
In Gyula, Kerecsényi faced similar problems that he had in Szigetvár castle. However, with the help of Paolo Mirandola, a military engineer, he tried to strengthen the walls, and he did his best to get supplies for the soldiers. He was not gentle-handed in this. He seized the lands of the bishop, and he was very hard on the peasants, gaining a cruel reputation for himself. But he could pile up plenty of food for the soldiers, the truth must be told.
On the other hand, he got rich as well: he purchased the Moravian castle of Nikolsburg from his income. He moved his family there, bringing his son László and his daughter Judit along. He got married for the second time on 3 March 1566, he married Lady Frangepán Klára. He became a member of the highest aristocrats.
In 1566, he had to deal with the Ottoman siege. At that time, Sultan Suleiman divided his army into two parts. The Sultan led his army against Szigetvár castle while he sent his relative, Pasha Petrev against Gyula. Petrev had Turkish-Crimean Tatar-Moldavian-Wallachian troops in his army, including Hungarians from Transylvania.
Gyula was defended by 2,000 Hungarians and 600 Germans. They were sure that they would not get reinforcement, and they knew that the siege that began on 2 July because of the bad weather, would not be interrupted, either. Against all the odds, they fought bravely for two full months, for 63 days. In this age, only the siege of Nándorfehérvár (Belgrade) lasted for a longer time, for 66 days. Captain Kerecsényi refused to surrender, even though his brother-in-law, Báthory Kristóf was pleading for it.
The siege was very strongly started, and the city was hard to defend so Kerecsényi had to withdraw his people from there on 7 July. Then, the Ottomans attacked the castle directly. The first general attack was beaten back on 17 July, the defenders suffered lots of losses, though. Then, the enemy burned the wooden palisade and the defenders had to withdraw into the brick inner castle on 25 August. The move was covered by the counter-attack of Kerecsényi’s hussars.
Moreover, the swamp dried up around the castle because the besiegers managed to drive the water away. The defenders were running out of gunpowder, and the epidemic killed lots of them. There was not enough water to drink, just food. Yet, they repelled the assaults.
When Kerecsényi realized that the castle cannot be held anymore, offered talks to the Pasha. They made a cease-fire to gain time, under the pretext of negotiation. The captain still hoped to receive reinforcement. Finally, they agreed on 30 August that the surviving defenders could leave the castle, keeping their weapons. The warriors of Gyula had to know that they should not trust the enemy because they had many times slaughtered the surrendering soldiers.
They left the castle on 2 September, the unarmed city dwellers went in the front, then the soldiers followed. When the last soldier was out, the Ottomans attacked them. The infantrymen were all killed but most of the hussars could cut themselves out. As far as I can assume, it was the latest time when the family members of Albrecht Dürer could be still alive, had they taken shelter in Gyula castle, which is quite likely. Had Dürer’s father not moved from Gyula to Germany, we would be poorer with a genius artist.
Kerecsényi was captured, and taken to the besiegers’ camp in Szigetvár. Then, after a few months of captivity, he was executed, we do not know the details. The sources talk about poison, silk string, and beheading. We can compare the soldiers of Gyula to the defenders of Eger, Szigetvár, and other castles’ heroes, and we should dismiss the negative reputation of Kerecsényi who was not a traitor.
For more than a century the castle had controlled the area between the Kőrös and the Maros Rivers. Gyula became a center of its Sanjak that was divided into four parts: the Nahije of Arad, Békés, Zaránd, and Bihar. The Bey of Gyula ruled over these territories. The town had a mixed population of Turks and Hungarians. Using the stones of the surrounding areas’ Christian churches as building materials, the Muslims erected two mosques, a ceremonial bath, and a turbe (tomb).
This town was well documented in the writings of Evlija Chelebi, the Ottoman traveler who filled 10 thick books with his stories and descriptions between 1664-1666. He was on the Sublime Porte’s errand and had mustered almost all places of the Ottoman Empire during his forty years of service.
He wrote of Gyula that it had “…two hundred shops and three churches in the outer town…it is a peculiar spectacle that everybody uses a boat when they visit each other from house to house, from the garden to the mill.”
As the tax-paying Hungarian population was severely decreasing, the Ottomans tried to fill the numbers up with settlers from the South-Slavic areas, giving them abandoned villages, as they did it elsewhere. The town remained a part of the Ottoman Empire until 1694 when Christian troops liberated the area. Due to the wars, the native Hungarian population fled from Gyula, and Békés County became near uninhabited.
The landlord János Harruckern invited German, Hungarian, and Romanian settlers, who re-established the town in the early 18th century. There is such a village near Gyula, called Ajtós. It is famous for its German-Hungarian family who left for Germany in 1455 and became famous in Nurnberg: it was Albrecht Dürer’s father. The word “Dürer” is the direct translation of the village’s name, “Ajtós”.
You can read more about Dürer’s Hungarian connections here:
If you like my writings, please feel free to support me with a coffee here:
This article contains Amazon ads. By purchasing through these links, you can help my work at no added cost to you. Below, you can find my books in various editions (color/black-and-white, paperback, hardcover, ebook) Thank you very much.
My work can also be followed and supported on Patreon: