Munkács (Ukrainian: Мукачеве, Ruthenian: Мукачово, German: Munkatsch) Castle is in a strategic location which can be found in Ukraine. However, it used to belong to the Hungarian Kingdom and to the Transylvanian Principality. The castle is built on an enormous rock and overlooking the town and the Latorca River. It was controlling the road to the Eastern Passes of the Carpathian Mountains. Due to the strategic importance of this castle, its story is long as everyone wanted to take control of this stronghold.
The first wooden tower was built by the Hungarian Magyars in the 9th century right after they invaded the country led by Chief Árpád. The initial stronghold was enlarged after the Mongolian invasion (1241-1242) as it was first mentioned in 1263. The domains belonging to the Castle were mostly impenetrable forests during the time of King Béla IV who gave the area to his daughter, Konstancia.
Munkács was seized by the King of Halics, Leo, in the first part of the 14th century, but he had lost it by 1311. The founding cornerstone of the castle was laid down some years later by the members of the Hungarian noble family, Aba, and Munkács was an important fortification of the Kingdom of Hungary throughout the centuries.
The area became more developed during King Róbert Károly’s reign who settled more people here. The king’s foreign policy was active towards Poland and Holics so the role of Munkács increased. Tamás, Chief Comes of Bereg County was in charge of the castle in 1321. The Anjou king gave Munkács to his Queen, Erzsébet.
In 1397, King Zsigmond gifted the castle to the Lithuanian Todor Korjatovics, the Prince of Podolia, in exchange for obtaining rights over the Podolian part of the Lithuanian Principality. The Castle was rebuilt in a European style according to the fashion of the western knights during this time. The construction of the nunnery was ordered by Korjatovics and his wife, Olga. After their deaths, the castle returned to the Hungarian Crown and Zsigmond passed it on to Lord Pálóci Máté, the Comes of Bereg County.
István Lazarevic, the Serbian Despot, made a contract with the king in 1432 wherein he obtained Munkács, among other domains, in exchange for the key fortress of the Hungarian Southern Borderland, the Castle of Nándorfehérvár aka Belgrad. Lazarevic became one of the most trusted of Zsigmond’s men and he was even rewarded with membership in the Order of the Dragon. Lazarevic heir was György Brankovics who was in charge of Serbia as well.
As he was allying himself with the Ottomans, the Jagiellonian King, Ulászló I, confiscated Munkács from Brankovics and gave it to Pálóci László, the Judge of the Country. King Ulászló I was slain by the Turks in the Battle of Várna 1444, and Munkács was taken over by János Hunyadi, Governor of Hungary. You can read more about the Battle of Várna here:
The great General visited Munkács several times and after his death, it was Lady Szilágyi Erzsébet, his widow, who controlled the castle and the area. King Matthias Corvinus of Hunyad tried to strengthen the position of his illegitimate son, Duke Corvin János, and gave him Munkács in 1484. Unfortunately, Corvin János was not able to gain power after Matthias’ death and his domains were divided among his enemies.
The castle and the vast domains belonging to it were owned by Bishop Ernuszt Zsigmond of Pécs and then by a Transylvanian priest, Bishop Geréb László, for a short time. This was how Munkács ended up in the hands of the Bishop’s brother, Geréb Péter of Vingárt, the Judge of the Country who owned it until 1499.
Then it returned to the Crown, and King Ulászló II pledged it to Drágfy György of Béltek in 1504. Munkács was given to the Queen in 1505 and later it was given to the next Queen of Hungary, the wife of King Louis II, Queen Habsburg Maria in 1522. It belonged to King Szapolyai in 1528. He traded Munkács with Lord Báthori István in exchange for the Cities of Szatmár and Németi in 1529. Báthori did major construction work in the castle, particularly reinforcing the inner castle.
The following year Munkács went back to King Szapolyai. But it was Büdy Mihály, Habsburg Maria’s man who was, in fact, the commander within the walls in 1537. It was the period when the Dual Kingship tore the kingdom between King Ferdinand and King Szapolyai. However, according to the peace treaty of 1538 between King Szapolyai and King Ferdinand, Munkács was returned to Szapolyai. Unfortunately, after his death, the widow, Queen Isabella, gave the castle back to Ferdinand in 1540.
By now, we can see that Munkács Castle had to stand on a very important spot because it had changed hands so frequently. When Queen Isabella finally had to leave the country in 1552, Munkács was given to Petrovics Péter, Duke of Temes County. He was the foster-father of Szapolyai’s son, King, and Prince János Zsigmond. When Duke Petrovics died, his fosterling inherited the castle.
The Habsburg troops led by Lázár Schwendi, the Chief Captain of Upper Hungary, would take Munkács in 1567 through a siege. Emperor Maximilian appointed Mágóczhy Gáspár as the Captain in Munkács in 1573 in exchange for 42,000 gold Forints. Mágóczhy was a renowned soldier having previously been the Captain of Torna, Gyula, and Eger Castles, loyal to the Habsburgs through and through. As Munkács was on a key location between Royal Hungary and Transylvania, a trusted man like he was more precious than gold.
Later, Lord Rákóczi Zsigmond came into possession of Munkács through a marriage. Rákóczi Zsigmond was among the wealthiest noblemen of Hungary. His annual income was about 97,936 gold Forints. As for the neighborhood around Munkács, there were 260 houses in the area that paid taxes, and the new landlord had Wallachian and Slavic settlers brought in to cultivate more lands. The money coming from the huge domain around Munkács Castle was almost entirely spent on the maintenance and the improvement of the castle.
Prince Bocskai István took the castle in 1605 and kept it until his death. In 1608, we find the castle again in the hands of Mágóchy Ferenc, Chief Captain of Upper Hungary and Chief Comes of Torna and Bereg Counties. When he died in 1611, his widow, Dersffy Orsolya re-married. She gave her hand to a Lieutenant of Munkács Castle, a young man called Esterházy Miklós. This was the beginning of the rise of this family who became magnates through this marriage. The Habsburg king appointed Esterházy Miklós as Chief Comes of Bereg County in 1617, but Munkács had to be ceded to Prince Bethlen Gábor of Transylvania in 1620, according to the Peace Treaty of Nikolsburg. As compensation, Esterházy was given Fraknó Castle by the king. Read more about Fraknó here:
Prince Bethlen Gábor arrived in Munkács only in 1623 and he posted Balling János as his Castellan. Balling was the one who had the fort improved up to the contemporary military standards in 1629. The Castle had 14 bastions at that time. Prince Bethlen died during the same year and his young Queen, Catherine of Brandenburg, was trying to cede as many castles and lands to her lover, Csáky Pál, as she could during her one-year reign in Transylvania. The Governor of Transylvania was Bethlen István, the younger brother of the late Bethlen Gábor. He strongly disapproved of the Queen’s Habsburg orientation so he began negotiations with a wealthy Hungarian magnate, Rákóczi György, and invited him to the throne of the Principality. While he was negotiating, the Noble Estates of Transylvania made the Queen resign and elected István Bethlen as their prince. Read more about Catherine here:
Catherine of Brandenburg claimed that Munkács had traditionally always been the property of the queens and she went there to persuade Balling, the Castellan, to cede the castle to her. Balling was a steady man and he was willing to let her enter, but only without Csáky and his men. When she failed to simply take over control of the castle, Catherine went to Rákóczi and tried to obtain Munkács by making different offers. But all her efforts were in vain.
Instead of Bethlen István, Rákóczi György was the next Transylvanian Prince and Balling let him enter Munkács in 1631. At this time there were four agricultural towns and 148 villages belonging to Munkács Castle. The Prince held his court here. He received ambassadors from Poland, France, and Sweden within its walls. After his death in 1648, the castle went to his widow, Lorántffy Zsuzsanna who moved there to live.
His son, Prince Rákóczi György II, also received the envoys of the Cossack Hmelnickij in this fort between 1649 and 1656. He aspired to the throne of Poland and Munkács lay in the best location. Unfortunately, the Prince’s Polish campaign resulted in a disaster and the troops of the Polish Hetman Lubomirsky broke into the country burning and pillaging the land. Lady Lórántffy Zsuzsanna found shelter in Munkács but she was eventually captured by the Poles. When the enemy was gone and she was released, she immediately began to reinforce the fort and it was transformed into an impregnable fortress by her French engineers. The inner castle, the middle castle, and the outer castle were distinctly separated as can be seen today.
Munkács was inherited by Lady Báthory Zsófia who was the widow of the unlucky Prince Rákóczi György II. She passed it on to her sister-in-law, Lady Zrínyi Ilona (aka Jelena Zrinski) in 1680. The castle did not cease to remain the traditional eagle’s nest of the Rákóczi’s, though. Prince Rákóczi Ferenc I of Transylvania also lived here. He wed Lady Zrínyi Ilona and their son was the famous Prince Rákóczi Ferenc II, the hero of a later war of independence against the Habsburgs between 1703 and 1711. But that was yet to come. Munkács had to witness more wars and fights before that. After Prince Rákóczi Ferenc I’s death, Lady Zrinyi Ilona re-married and became the wife of Thököly Imre in 1682. Thököly had the fort’s palisade repaired and reinforced the castle where it was not yet strong enough and held a rich court there. Soon, Thököly launched his uprising against the Habsburgs.
The Habsburg Emperor’s General, Aeneas Caprara, took the Castle of Ungvár and besieged Munkács while Thököly was imprisoned in Belgrade by the Turks. His wife, Zrínyi Ilona heroically defended the fort from November 1685 to 1688 with her Hungarian, Slovakian, Rusyn, and German soldiers. She lost 24 men altogether during the siege but the Austrian’s losses were many times higher than this. The young Rákóczi Ferenc II was alongside his mother with his little sister. This siege of Munkács is the most recalled historical deed of the heroic Zrínyi Ilona.
As for Rákóczi Ferenc II, he grew up and became Prince of Transylvania. His first order of business was to lay a siege on Munkács which lasted from 1703 to1704 when he successfully took it back. He made the castle his natural headquarters during the War of Independence. He received the envoys of Russan Tsar Peter I within its wall. The Rusyn and Slovakian people living in the area have always supported the Hungarians during these centuries of war. It was Munkács Castle again, which was the last to fall into the hands of the Habsburgs when Rákóczi’s freedom fight was put down in 1711. Munkács Castle is the symbol of two centuries Habsburg-Hungarian struggles.
You can also read about this legendary siege in my book “33 Castles, Battles, Legends”.
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