It often seems that the Ottoman-Habsburg war
over Hungary was a slogging match, and trust us,
we feel the same. However, even this conflict, which brought minor changes to the territory,
is crucial, both because of its importance to
the history of Hungary and Europe, and for a cast of
colorful characters that deserve multiple TV shows to be created. Welcome to our video
on the siege of Buda and Eger! Shoutout to Squarespace for sponsoring today’s
video! Learn more about Squarespace and their offer at the end of the video! The 1530s brought constant warfare to Hungary,
as the king, John I Zapolya, supported by the
Ottoman Sultan Suleiman, fought against the brother of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles
V Habsburg – Ferdinand. Although Suleiman’s
military assistance allowed John I to control most of
Hungary, the latter was pressured by the neighboring Christian monarchs to reconcile with
Ferdinand. The king of Poland Sigismund I Jagiellon was
eager to secure his southern border against the
Ottomans by having a strong Hungary, while his wife, the daughter of the duke of Milan,
Bona Sforza, traditionally opposed the Habsburgs,
and wanted to marry her daughter Isabella to John I
in order to form another Polish-Hungarian alliance. These two parties, alongside envoys
from the Holy Roman Empire and the local clergy, forced
John I to sign the Treaty of Nagyvárad in secret
from the Ottomans in February of 1538. According to the treaty, Ferdinand accepted John I as
the king of Hungary, while John I conceded Western Hungary to Ferdinand, and promised
to make him his successor.
John, who was in his 50s, was expected to remain unmarried and without offspring, but
in February of 1539 he married Isabella Jagiellon. That
was a shock for the Habsburgs, and forced Ferdinand to inform Suleiman of the treaty
in hopes that the Sultan would abandon John I.
Suleiman’s reaction is unclear, but it seems that he decided to wait and see what this
new situation would bring. Simultaneously, Ferdinand’s
supporter Stephen Majláth started an uprising in Transylvania in Spring of 1540.
John marched against the rebels and won an easy
victory. Back home, his queen was with child, and in July of the same year, she gave birth
to a son – John Sigismund. The birth of a son changed
John’s outlook on the treaty, and in his new
will dictated to bishop George Martinuzzi, John Sigismund was made the heir of the Hungarian
throne. John I passed away just 2 weeks later. Many Hungarian nobles, led by Martinuzzi,
had no desire to be ruled by the Habsburgs, and in
August they rejected Ferdinand’s demand to give him the throne. Less than a month
later they declared John Sigismund the king, with Queen
Isabella as his regent. Letters were sent to
Krakow and Constantinople to gain the support of Poland and the Ottomans. However, the
queen’s party was not strong enough, and many Hungarian feudals defected to the Habsburgs.
This allowed Ferdinand, who started his campaign to take the Hungarian throne in early October,
to capture Visegrád, Pecs, Székesfehérvár, and other cities, with relative ease. On the
21st of October 1540, Ferdinand’s general Leonhard
von Fels besieged the capital of Hungary, Buda.
The details are unclear, but the sources claim that a plague struck the besieging army almost
immediately, while the Imperial and Hungarian leaders were bickering about everything. At
the same time, Martinuzzi managed to spread the
rumor that the Ottoman army would soon be near
Buda. All that forced the Habsburgs to retreat. However, the Habsburg prince wasn’t going
to give up easily. Between February and March, the
Imperial army in Hungary was reinforced to almost 40 thousand troops, and command was
given to a veteran of the first siege of Vienna,
Wilhelm von Roggendorf. In response, Suleiman I’s
quickly assembled army, which numbered anywhere from 20 to 50 thousand troops, started
marching from Edirne. Von Roggendorf reached Buda, which was defended
by less than 3000 Hungarians and Serbs, on the 3rd of May. The Queen and her
supporters had used the last few months reinforcing the walls and building fortifications.
The Habsburg commander wasn’t eager to besiege or assault these new fortifications,
and attempted to negotiate with Isabella, promising her and her infant son safe passage
to Poland, if Ferdinand’s claim to the throne was satisfied. Although the Queen was willing
to accept, Hungarian lords vehemently opposed this and imprisoned her.
The Imperials decided to use their artillery to soften up the defences, and between 4th
and 6th of May their cannons managed to damage
portions of the walls, however the defenders were able to repair the fortifications every
night. Von Roggendorf ordered the troops to dig trenches
in order to bring the artillery closer to the city walls. By June 1st, these trenches
were dug and the cannons, now brought closer, made two breaches in the walls. On the next
day these breaches were attacked by the Habsburg units, but the resistance was so
effective in these areas that the Hungarians not
only managed to repel the attack, but counter-attacked, killing many before they retreated
to the city. Unfortunately for the defenders, by the end
of June they had lost more than half of their numbers, while supplies were running out.
That is when a letter from Suleiman, saying that
his vanguard will soon be within the reach of Buda, arrived. A few days later, Hungarian
noble Bálint Török succeeded in breaking into the city with supplies and some
reinforcements. Von Roggendorf concluded that he had to starve the city.
Sometime in early July a group supporting the Queen attempted to open the gates for
the Habsburg troops, but the defenders stopped
this attempt. On the 10th of July, the cavalry vanguard of the Ottoman army started to harass
the Imperials from the south. Von Roggendorf’s attempt to crush the small
Ottoman group failed, as the Ottoman commander Hosrov pasha’s cavalry proved
to be too quick, constantly retreating, pulling in smaller Habsburg units, and destroying
them. Throughout July, more and more Ottoman troops
arrived in the area, which forced Von Roggendorf to weaken the circle around the
city and concentrate troops on his southern flank. This proved to be a mistake, as Suleiman
reached the city on the 20th of August, but instead of joining his troops, attacked the
Habsburgs from the East. This attack came as a
surprise for the Imperials, and the Eastern portion of the besieging army was soon
destroyed. The Sultan, reinforced by the defenders of
Buda, then moved to the south using his vanguard as an anvil to disperse this group,
too. The details of what happened next are not
clear, but the Ottoman cavalry continued to harass the retreating Imperials, and in total
20 thousand Habsburg troops were killed, along
with their commander, who died of his wounds.
Over the next few days Suleiman celebrated alongside his Hungarian allies. However, this
celebration proved to be a ruse. Hungarian nobles and the Queen spent days in the
Ottoman camp and the defenders of the city became complacent. Meanwhile, the Ottoman
troops were entering and leaving the city as they pleased. This was all a trick to take
over the city peacefully and it worked as intended
by the Sultan. On the 29th the Sultan declared to Isabella
that he would acknowledge her son as the king, but
the territory directly under John II would be limited to Transylvania and the lands to
the East of the river Tisza. Buda and all territories
to the west and south of Transylvania would be converted
into Ottoman pashaliks, administered by the Beylerbeyi of Rumelia. With that, Suleiman
returned to his capital. Neither the young queen, nor Martinuzzi were
happy with their reduced lands and influence, so
in December of 1541 they signed another secret treaty with Ferdinand at Gyalu, promising
to abdicate the throne to him if he managed to
retake Buda. Indeed, the Habsburg prince had sent a
50 thousand strong army under Joachim II of Brandenburg to attack in August of 1542.
However, their slow movement allowed the Ottoman pashas to concentrate some troops in Buda
and Pest. By the time Joachim besieged Pest it was fully defended, and the siege ended
in a complete failure.
Suleiman obviously had to respond, and he started his preparations in December of the
same year. The goal of the campaign that started
in April of 1543 was to take the strategically important Esztergom, as that fortress provided
the Habsburgs with a valuable springboard to
Buda. Between June and August, the Sultan managed to seize many important fortresses
to the north of Buda, capping the campaign off with
the occupation of Esztergom. The Habsburgs were exhausted by this war,
and as the situation on the Safavid frontier once
again was heating up, Suleiman also wanted peace, so a ceasefire, negotiated by the French
king Francis I, was enacted in 1545. In 1547 Suleiman
signed the Treaty of Edirne with Charles V and
Ferdinand – his conquests in Hungary were acknowledged, while Suleiman accepted Habsburg
rule over parts of Hungary in exchange for 30,000 gold florins annually.
We will describe the campaign against the Safavids in 1548 in a separate video, but
in short, Suleiman was able to move deeper into Iran,
but overall, the campaign brought no tangible results. However, it allowed Isabella and
Martunuzzi to regain hope. In 1549 Martinuzzi initiated
talks with Ferdinand to unite Hungary once again. According to the treaty, Isabella and
John Sigismund would abdicate in exchange for the
lands in Silesia. This caused the alliance between
the bishop and the queen to fracture. Isabella wrote a letter to the Sultan complaining of
Martinuzzi’s actions, but Suleiman didn’t do anything immediately, and after a short
military campaign Isabella was defeated and forced
to take the lands in Silesia. Still Martinuzzi tried to
play both sides, hoping to secure an even better deal either from the Ottomans or the
Habsburgs. In 1551 Ferdinand caught wind of this kowtowing
and ordered his execution. Nevertheless, the damage had been done, and
the Sultan had become aware of the treachery coming out of his vassal Kingdom to the north.
His response was quick, decisive and heavy- handed. Come Springtime of the following year,
the Ottoman army would once again launch a full-scale campaign into Hungarian territory,
rip out Ferdinand’s holdings root and stem, and end
any hope of a united Hungary under Habsburg rule.
Two Ottoman armies were formed up in March of 1552. The first was a garrison out of the
occupied Buda, led by one Khadim Ali Pasha, while the second was sent by the Sultan himself
from Constantinople, led by Kara Ahmed Pasha. Contemporary accounts number the combined
Ottoman rally at over 150,000 men, but modern historians consider a number closer to 40
or 50 thousand to be a more accurate account.
As expected, outposts and fortresses fell like dominoes to overwhelming Ottoman might.
Khadim’s force took the castles of Szeged, Veszprém, Buják, Drégely and Szécsény,
while Kara Ahmed rooted a force of Habsburg-Spaniards
out of Temesvár. The two armies rendezvoused outside Szolnok on September 4th, and together
captured the township with little effort. From a geopolitical standpoint, their next
objective was clear. The combined Ottoman armies
would advance upon the small fortress of Eger and seize it, thereby dividing Ferdinand’s
remaining western and northern holdings into two halves.
The garrison at Eger Castle was only around 2,000 men strong, led by the fifty-year-old
commander, Istvan Dobo. The men and women within the fortress were native
Hungarians. Despite being sworn to King Ferdinand, they fought not for plunder or glory,
but to protect their home, a land which they had cultivated for generations.
The Ottomans arrived at the fortress on September 11th and set up their encampments,
preparing for a siege. Five days later, the bombardment began. Pasha Ali led the artillery
effort, inflicting major damage upon Eger’s walls despite having only four large siege
guns at his disposal. The Hungarian’s own cannons
were smaller, and had not the range nor firepower to put up an effective resistance.
Yet, the resolve of the defenders did not waver. Dobo systematically sent out wave after
wave of light cavalry to sally and harass the Ottoman bombardiers. They dealt some
casualties, but these hit-and-run tactics proved ultimately ineffective, and the shelling
continued. Inevitably, the walls crumbled and a breach was created.
The Ottoman infantry under Kara Ahmed seized their opportunity and launched a full
assault upon the walls. And yet, the overwhelmingly outnumbered defenders held the line,
fighting valiantly upon the breach due largely to the bravery and charisma of their veteran
commander. Hungarian engineering played a crucial role
as peasant and soldier alike repulsed the Turkish tide day after day. Dobo’s second
in command, Gergely Bornemissza, cemented his legacy as the inventor of a slew of anti-siege
weaponry. Thanks to his craftsmanship, the defenders employed a primitive form of hand
grenade that caused concussive destruction and spread fire through the enemy ranks.
But, the most iconic instrument of destruction devised by Bornemissza was an improvised
vehicle of death, a set of two mill-wheels stuffed at the center with explosives and
lit aflame, then rolled downhill at the Ottoman ranks
during their many assaults upon the fortress breach. These firewheels caused panic and
mass-destruction, and played a major role in
keeping the attackers at bay. By the turn of the month, the Turkish commanders
had grown tired of their infantry’s ineffectiveness, and had refocused their efforts
beneath the earth. As they’d done in countless sieges before, the Ottoman sappers
began digging a network of tunnels that inched towards the fortress, setting explosive
mines to undermine the walls’ foundations. After all, if the Ottomans could blast more
breaches into Egers’ defenses, it would force the
already thinly spread Hungarians to defend on multiple fronts. Dobo, however, proved
highly competent at countersiege, and set a series of countermines that obliterated
the Ottoman sappers as they dug ever closer.
Meanwhile, moral in the Ottoman camp was at an all-time low. Food rations had been
reduced, and the heavy autumn rains had begun to fall, reducing their living conditions
into a muddy hellscape. To compound all this, the army’s two commanding viziers,
Khadim Ali and Kara Ahmed, began feuding heavily with one another, and rumours of
corruption amongst the Turkish commanders spread like wildfire.
On October 11th, the Ottomans launched one final, all-out assault upon Eger’s battered
walls, and once more, the defenders held. Here, the women of the fortress entered into
legend, stepping right into the fray alongside their sons and husbands, slinging buckets
of boiling oil onto the foe. After two days,
the Ottomans withdrew, having gained no ground against their resolute enemy.
On October 17th, the dual Viziers ordered a full withdrawal from the fortress. Weather,
moral and infighting had all compounded, and the invading force, beaten and exhausted,
abandoned the fight. It was over. Against all odds, the Hungarian defenders had won.
Modern estimates account for only 300 defenders dead, while the Ottomans lost over 8,000
men. Thanks to the heroics of Istvan Dobo and his
unlikely group of underdogs, the Habsburgs retained their foothold in northern Hungary.
Suleiman had once more failed to remove his pesky
rivals from the region for good. Conversely, the Ottoman campaign of 1552 had still been
an overall success, as they had captured 24 other
Habsburg fortresses. Either way, the struggle for
domination over this war-torn kingdom would inevitably continue. Thanks to Squarespace for sponsoring today’s
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