Salgó castle is located in Hungary on the northern border. It is silently facing Somoskő (Šomoška) castle on the top of a 625-meter-high hill. The small castle was built after the Mongolian invasion of 1242 by the Kacsics family. We know that in 1246 its lord was called Péter, he was the ancestor of the Salgói family. When he died, his brother Simon inherited it. Simon had been involved in the murder of Queen Gertrudis, the wife of King András II, in 1213. It is rather interesting to note that neither King András II nor his son, King Béla IV could take revenge on this high-ranked nobleman.
The members of the Salgói family passed the castle on from generation to generation. We know that after Simon’s ownership, his sons, Miklós and Simon followed suit. It was Miklós who had the castle rebuilt.
Salgó castle started as a small tower according to the fashion of early medieval castles and it had a small castle yard. It is thought that the cellar of the tower was used as a prison. Obtaining a good water supply was difficult on this volcanic rock, therefore, on the lower level of the peak, under the tower, they constructed a water-collecting cistern. This rock castle had two cisterns, a huge one and a smaller one. The water was essential, as it served not only for drinking but also for firefighting in case of a siege.
The next heirs were Illés and his brother, another Miklós in 1327. The first document that mentions the castle is from 1331. The castle was still in the hands of the Salgói family in 1348, but later in 1387, it is referred to as a royal castle. King Sigismund gave it to a chief bodyguard of his in 1399. This bodyguard was called Simon and was from the Szécsi family whose descendants were later also called Salgói. When Simon died, his son Miklós took the castle over, but the king took the castle back from him because of his villainous lifestyle. Then, the king passed the castle on to László of Szécsi, the Chief Comes of Nógrád County.
The fortification was controlled by the Czech Hussites in 1450 for ten years until King Matthias beat them out. According to legend, the king was personally leading the siege and was injured by an arrow that struck him in his face. He was so angered by this that he had the previously occupied castle of Zagyvafő, which stood nearby Salgó castle, pulled down. (Please, note that I use the Eastern name order for Hungarians where family names come first.)
Perhaps King Matthias didn’t want to keep Salgó Castle due to the bad experience because in 1470 he gave it to Cseh László of Léva and Palatine Országh Mihály of Guth. Not much later, Salgó Castle was gifted to Szapolyai Imre, a great lord of the king. Rumor says that the Szapolyai family had a hand in the poisoning of poor King Matthias in 1490. We will never know for sure, but it is a fact that the Szapolyai family provided the next king of Hungary after the tragic Battle of Mohács in 1526. There is hearsay whispered that Szapolyai János let the young King Lajos (Louis) II die on the battlefield so as to gain the throne for himself.
King Szapolyai János did not keep Salgó Castle either but gifted it to Szobi Mihály, then it ended up in the hands of the Palatine Werbőczy István in 1527. At this time, the lower castle yard was built in and the upper castle yard became roofed over. This part of the yard became a living space. The lord of the castle, Werbőczy István did not live in Salgó but his substitute the castellan lived in the upper yard living quarters. In the lower castle yard, there were stables and storehouses. Enjoy the video of Fodor Zsolt about how the castle looked like in the 16th century:
Later, the castle was owned by the infamous robber knight, Bebek Ferenc in 1542. He was perhaps one of the most interesting characters of the medieval Upper Lands of Hungary he was a villain yet a valiant knight against the Turks at the same time. Lord Bebek got the king’s permission to sell Salgó Castle for 8,000 gold Forints to Derencsényi Farkas in 1548. King Ferdinand I accepted Derencsényi as the captain of the castle, but at the same time, the king imprisoned the former owner, Ferenc Bebek in Salgó Castle for forging money in secret. It is not known how Derencsényi handled the situation and how he treated the seller of his castle. They may have even become friends.
During the Dual Kingship, many Hungarian noblemen changed sides, sometimes annually. Many of them looked only at their personal interests and this was not considered immoral according to contemporary public opinion. Yet, there were many who could not decide which king could protect the country better from the Ottomans, Ferdinand, or Szapolyai.
The Turks were threatening from all sides so Captain Derencsényi tried to reinforce the castle against them and had a pentagonal bastion built on the east side of the rock at the old tower. Salgó Castle was officially enlisted as a Borderland Castle and was waiting for the advancing enemy. Here you can read a scene from the famous siege of Eger Castle in 1552:
Zagyva Ferenc, its next captain in 1554, was the one who surrendered the castle to Bey Kara (Black) Hamza of Szécsény and Hatvan Castle. The legend of the castle tells its tale with different names. Unlike as described in the legend, the fortress was shelled into ruins by the Turks. They set artillery on top of the neighboring hill, called Kis-Salgó (Small-Salgó) or Boszorkánykő (The cliff of witches) opposite Salgó.
The father of Balassi Bálint, the great Hungarian poet, was given the fortress in spite of the fact that the Turkish were in it. In this period, monarchs liked to gift places that were in the Ottoman Occupied Lands. More surprising is that the new landlord was accepted by the locals who even tried to send him taxes.
The Turks owned Salgó Castle until the beginning of the 15-Year-War. The Christians, led by Kristóf Tiefenbach and Pálffy Miklós, set out in 1593, and during their first successful campaign, they took back many Hungarian castles from the Muslims. They seized the nearby Fülek Castle as well and a smaller contingent was sent from there to liberate Salgó and Somoskő castles.
It was Prépostvári Bálint who led them and the warrior-poet Balassa Bálint was riding in his company. According to some sources, both Salgó and Somoskő castles were surrendered without a fight, but it is also said that at Salgó, the fortress was taken by using heavy cannons and that the occupying army utterly destroyed it. Unfortunately, Balassi Bálint only had Salgó in his possession for a very short time because he died a heroic death at the siege of Esztergom in 1594. The nephew of Bálint inherited the ruins of Salgó and he left it to the Jesuits.
After the Ottomans had gone from the country the Court got its hands on this small fort that had no military role anymore. Soon, the king gave it to a loyal nobleman, Count Kristóf Otto Volkra. Finally, after all of its landlords had abandoned the fort, the ruins became overgrown with grass and shrubs. When Petőfi Sándor, another great and famous poet of Hungary, climbed up to the ruins of Salgó in 1845, the atmosphere of the ruins inspired him to write his romantic poem: „Salgó”. This is the tragic story about the Kompolti family, the lords of Salgó who tyrannized the region which was under their power. The story is based on a traditional legend.
It was the first castle I visited in my life; my father took me up there. The white clouds covered everything below, nothing except the opposite castle of Somoskő could be seen. The place deserves a visit.
Here is the legend of Salgó castle:
The small castle of Salgó stood on such a high summit that even the birds grew tired flying up there. The castle was not in need of weapons or military supplies. It was not worth much because the castle’s Captain, Ságivári Simon was not very clever in the knowledge of warcraft.
When Pasha Arszlán arrived with his huge army and made camp beneath the legs of the high cliffs the Hungarian soldiers just laughed at his efforts. How would he climb the steep slope of the hill without wings, they were jesting around. Even if he could get to the foot of the walls, how would he take a cannon there to open a breach?
Pasha Arszlán was wondering the very same thing. It was bad enough that he didn’t have a single cannon. Even if he had one, how would he be able to have one towed up the hillside?
The Pasha was not famous for his shrewdness without reason. Finally, he came up with a cunning plan. The clever Pasha had a great tree cut down and its branches chopped off. His carpenters worked on it until it looked like an enormous, six-meter-long cannon. Having painted it pitch black, he had the strange cannon laid on two huge wheels. Pasha Arszlán had six oxen tied in front of it to make it appear as if it was very heavy. Slowly, he began to have his wooden cannon pulled up the slopes of the hill next to Salgó castle amid great noise and whip-rattling. The herders were prompting the poor oxen loudly so the soldiers in the castle could well hear how hard they were toiling.
The foggy weather also contributed to the success of the Pasha’s plot. The dense fog was restricting the visibility from Salgó castle. This was why the defenders were deceived and took the trunk as a formidable firearm of the enemy. They became even more frightened when a few riders of Pasha Arszlán appeared at the walls and began to cry in the Hungarian language,
“The cannon is here! The cannon has arrived! Surrender the castle and you will have the mercy of the Pasha! Save yourselves and receive pardon!”
The borderland warriors were so frightened by the trunk cannon and shouting that they fled from the castle the following night. When the truth about the cannon became known, the whole Valiant Order of the Borderland was laughing at the slow-wittedness of Lord Ságivári.
Source: my book, “33 Castles, Battles, Legends”