Selected Passages from Hungarian-Ottoman Wars between 1372-1699

Between “two pagans”: the Habsburgs and the Ottomans

King Szapolyai and King Ferdinand

Many people think it was the Habsburgs alone who saved Christendom from the Ottoman onslaught. 

However, the Ottomans could have never conquered western Europe almost only because of the efforts of the Kingdom of Hungary and Croatia between 1368–1526, then because of the struggles of the Valiant Order and Transylvanian Principality.

The Habsburgs had an ugly hand in restraining the Hungarians from defending Europe against the Turks. (Except for King Habsburg Albert who controlled Hungary from Buda.)

After the death of Hungarian King Sigismund (also Emperor of the HRE between 1433-37), the Habsburgs did their best to conquer Hungary. They hindered the efforts of Hunyadi János and his son, King Matthias Corvinus.

Do you still remember the Long Winter Campaign in 1442-43 and the siege of Nándorfehérvár aka Belgrade in 1456? The Battle of Breadfield, 1479? The southern chain of Hungarian Borderland forts? Who stopped the Ottomans there? Hundreds of fights can be added to the list.

the double chain of Hungarian castles against the Ottomans before 1521

The Habsburgs didn’t give any help to King Louis II when Suleiman attacked the country in 1526. (Yes, and the French king was Suleiman’s ally: the French king invited the Ottomans to attack Hungary, so as to weaken the Habsburgs.)

Moreover, King Louis II’s wife, Queen Mary von Habsburg made it impossible to settle a truce with the Turks: literally she sent her husband to die at Mohács. Some say it was she who had the poor king assassinated at Mohács. Anyway, she quickly invited his brother into the country.

When her brother, King Habsburg Ferdinand, king of Czechia attacked the legitimate king of Hungary a year after the Battle of Mohács with the mercenaries of Emperor Charles V (the ones who had sacked Rome), Hungary was stabbed into its back by a Christian neighbor. The Dual Kingship tore the kingdom into two and its consequences were severe. Soon, King Szapolyai had to get allied with the Sultan.

However, the Turks were rather targeting Vienna and tried to seize it. Some say they would not have had enough troops to control Royal Hungary (including Transylvania) at that time.

Do you still, remember the sieges of Kőszeg in 1532 and Eger in 1552? As for Kőszeg, read its story here:

The Hungarian-Croatian Borderland was about 1,000 miles long and the Hungarian-Croatian members of the Valiant Order fought in its castles for generations, protecting Vienna and the rest of Christendom, heroically. Due to their military knowledge that was a blend of western and eastern warfare, they were very effective against the Ottomans. Think of the development of Hussar and Hajdú soldiers. Without them, Europe would have suffered a lot more.

How are they omitted from popular history articles and TV series? I have always heard about the mighty Habsburgs who drove the Turks out. Not a word about the underpaid and starving members of the Valiant Order who actually had been doing the job between 1526-1699. About the Valiant Order:

Buda fell to the Turks in 1541 because King Ferdinand attacked King Szapolyai’s heir. It was the reason why Hungary was split into three parts, and not the defeat at Mohács in 1526. Had Ferdinand not wanted to seize Buda for himself, the Kingdom of Hungary would have remained intact.

Anyhow, it would have been a stronger country than the semi-independent Principality of Transylvania that eventually was born from East Hungary.

Hungary in 1550

Later, the Habsburgs bled the country dry but the greatest losses occurred mainly during the Long War (1593–1606) which they could not win because of the alienated and angered Protestant Hungarian Pince Bocskai István. Read about him here:

Prince Bocskai and his Hajdú soldiers

Again, the Habsburgs sabotaged the liberation of Hungary in 1664 when they undermined the efforts of Count Zrínyi Miklós (Nikola Zrinski) who was counting on German-French help. But it didn’t serve the Habsburg dynastic interests so it was not supported.

Zrínyi on his Winter Campaign

Then, the siege of Vienna in 1683 woke the Habsburgs up and they had to decide whether they create a grand coalition and wipe out the Ottomans from Hungary or the Hungarians would seize their country back.

Remember Prince Thököly. He should have not been alienated by the Habsburgs. It was he who opened the road to the Ottomans to reach the walls of Vienna: otherwise, they could have never walked there unhindered because of the cannons of Pozsony (Bratislava, Pressburg).

Thököly would have become the Prince of entire Hungary (not just the northern lands and Transylvania) if Vienna had been fallen to the Ottomans. It is known, that the Ottomans would have provided him bigger rights and independence that Transylvania ever enjoyed. And we know that Transylvania was a rather independent country, just let’s recall the time of Prince Bethlen and Prince Rákóczi György.

It would have been just a question of time and Thököly would have turned against the Ottomans. Cleverly, the Habsburgs realized this threat and “liberated” Hungary before it would happen.

They had to attack, instead of waiting for a possible combined Turkish-Hungarian assault, knowing that King Sobieski might not come to protect them again. 

Prince Thököly Imre (by Somogyi Győző)

Of course, the Borderland system could not have been paid without the help of the Habsburgs and the Germans but there are some historians who already doubt it.

The Hungarians have stopped the Ottomans between 1368–1699 only by making a battlefield from their country. The Habsburgs used Hungary as a battlefield, draining lots of money and food from it in the meantime. No wonder, that the rebel “kuruc” Hungarians were gaining ground rapidly after they got disillusioned in the western help, especially after the death of Zrínyi Miklós in 1664. The “kuruc” warriors had a famous song, the “Song of Tyukodi”: they sang that their blood was shed between two pagans, namely the Habsburgs and the Ottomans. Here you can listen to it:

Also, the ethnic consequences were also severe. After the Ottoman wars, the Habsburgs instigated the Serbs against the Hungarians and brought in German settlers to replace the indigenous Hungarian population who had perished while defending them. Against all the odds, Hungary hasn’t become a mere province of Austria but was able to keep its constitution and laws, albeit under Habsburg kings until 1918.

You can read more about these ethnic changes that were pointing at the Treaty of Versailles after WWI that sealed the fate of the historic kingdom of Hungary:

Let us commemorate the heroes of the Valiant Order, without them there we would live in a very different Europe now but let us also pay respect to the heroic foreign soldiers who sacrificed their lives in the Ottoman wars.

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