Szentlászlóvár / Lászlóvára
Szentlászlóvár castle is a great example of the early defense system against the Ottoman Empire.
Szentlászlóvár is located near the village of Lászlóvára (Pescari), on the Romanian bank of the Danube River. It is 250 meters above the river and the castle of Galambóc / Golubac is on the opposite side of the Danube. They are just 1.5 kilometers from each other and indeed, the cannons of Szentlászlóvár could reach the walls and the harbor of Galambóc / Golubac castle. (Please note, I use the Oriental name order for Hungarian names where family names come first.)
Here is Galambóc castle on my page:
The history of Szentlászlóvár is well-documented and it helps us to understand better the Hungarian-Ottoman fights in the 1420s.
Whoever held that section of the Danube river, was in charge of the routes between the Balkans and Hungary. Serbian Despot Lázár Brankovics had made a contract with King Zsigmond (Sigismund) of Hungary but the Despot died in 1427.
According to the treaty, the Despots’men had to cede the Serbian forts at the Iron Gate to Hungary so as to stop the expanding Ottoman Empire. Most sadly, the Serbian guards of Galambóc castle ignored this treaty and sold the fort to the Ottomans, instead.
In answer to this, a castle was quickly built on the Hungarian side of the river: it was named after the Hungarian Saint László by King Zsigmond himself who revered this knightly saint. Szentlászlóvár castle was ready in 1428 and the Hungarians attacked Galambóc from here. We know that the Castellain of the fort was Bocskai Miklós of Keresztúr in 1428 and the Vice-Castellan was János, son of Acsai (Acha-i) Pál. When Galambóc was attacked from the direction of Szentlászlóvár in April 1428, it was the first time in the history of the Hungarian military that artillery fire was used. Also, fierce river battles were taking shape on the Danube, too.
When the attack started, Zsigmond had around 15,000–20,000 soldiers and his army also included Lithuanian and Wallachian auxiliary regiments, commanded by Zawisza Czarny and Dan II of Wallachia. The Hungarian soldiers shelled the fortress from warships and from Szentlászlóvára castle. The Ottoman defenders of Galambóc / Golubac resisted well, but the shelling destroyed the walls. Zsigmond planned an assault against the walls when a significant Ottoman army, led personally by Murad II, arrived to save the fortress. Zsigmond did not engage the Sultan in an open battle and instead reached an armistice: the Christians would stop their attacks and retreat in peace, although the siege was almost successful.
The Christian army started crossing the Danube in retreat when the Ottomans broke the armistice and organized a surprise attack. During the battle, Zsigmond’s guards were led by Rozgonyi István, Comes of Temes County. Rozgonyi’s wife, Lady Cicelle personally organized the crossing of the Danube, bringing reinforcement by boats. She saved the king’s life who could narrowly escape on her boat. Lithuanian soldiers, including their commander, were killed while covering the crossing of Hungarian and Wallachian troops.
So it was how King Zsigmond was defeated in the battle of 12 June 1428. Having learned his lesson about facing the Ottomans in a grand-scale battle (Nicopolis 1396), King Zsigmond was doing his best to build out a strong defense system of castles. He sent a significant army to Nándorfehérvár / Belgrade castle right after the failure and focused on building out the southern chain of castles. However, Sultan Murad II did not attack Hungary and instead concentrated on the siege of Thessalonica. In 1430 the Ottomans reached an armistice with Zsigmond, which held till 1432.
Why did King Zsigmond give Szentlászlóvár castle to the Teutonic Order?
It is interesting how the Teutonic knights began their career in Hungary in the 13th century and how they returned there two hundred years later. The German knights had received lands in Hungary and five stone castles in Transylvania in 1211 so as to protect Christendom against the attacks of the pagan Cuman tribes and they did a good job in fighting them. However, when they wanted to establish their knightly state in the Kingdom of Hungary, King András II expelled them in 1224. It was why they went to Poland instead.
Now, Zsigmond acted also as a German king (since 1411) and invited the Teutonic knights to fight against the Ottomans and guard the castles at the lower end of the Danube. He gave them control over the Dukedom of Szörény. They owned these lands between 1429-1435, controlling 20 forts along the Lower Danube between Szentlászlóvár castle and Szörényvár castle (Drobeta-Turnu Severin, Дробета-Турн Северин) the two largest ones on the two ends of the chain.
The smaller forts were built right on the bank of the river or on the islands of the Danube but Szentlászlóvár was sitting on a hilltop. Its walls were almost three-meter-thick. On the other hand. the enclosed area of Szentlászlóvár was a lot larger than any other forts area that the German knights were defending: it was 19,000 square meters big while Szörényvár castle occupied “only” 10,800 square meters.
According to a record from October 1429, the Teutonic Order employed altogether 456 soldiers in Szentlászlóvár, 56 of them archers. At the same time, they had only 240 soldiers on their payroll in Szörényvár castle, 40 of them archers. We know, that the next Castellain was Eberhard Sax in 1433 who obeyed to the orders of Miklós Redwitz, Bán (Duke) of Szörény Region.
Given all this, we dare say that Szentlászlóvár was the most important fort of the Teutonic Order, the strongest bastion of the western section of the Iron Gate of the Danube. According to Veszprémy László who had been researching the siege of Galambóc profoundly, Szentlászlóvár Castle was a major threat to the Ottomans in Galambóc, not just because of the cannons but because the Christians could easily make damage in any boats or troops that wanted to cross the river.
Szentlászlóvár castle in the later period
According to the sources, Szentlászlóvár castle’s liege lord was Tallóci Frank, Bán (Duke) of Szörény in 1437 but it also belonged to Horvát István. You can read more about this age on my page here:
After the Teutonic knights were gone, during the leadership of Hunyadi János, Szentlászlóvár castle was mentioned in 1457 as the property of the king. Two years before the battle of Mohács in 1526, Szentlászlóvár castle was taken and fell to the Ottomans. We don’t know how it happened, it may have been just abandoned when the southern defense system fell apart. Now, you can see the ruins of the castle opposite the nicely renovated Galambóc castle.
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Here are a few pictures of Szentlászlóvár: