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Ottoman Advance to Buda

According to Brodarics the battle lasted altogether an hour and ahalf. We may assume, however, that he came to this conclusionbecause he deemed the battle was over the moment he and thosearound him fled from the battlefield. [473] In fact, the battle must havelasted much longer. The central army led by Suleyman reached theterrace around 1300-1400 hours; this was the time the battle gotunder way. The Anatolian army, however, arrived only an hourlater; [474] hence the left wing under Perenyi could only have started itsattack then. Since according to the Ottoman chroniclers the Hungarians fought valiantly, and the battle wavered for a while, it isunlikely that it ended in less than an hour. That makes already twohours; if we add the time taken up by the stubborn resistance of theinfantry, we must estimate the duration of the battle at three hoursminimum. The Ottoman sources clearly indicate that fighting continued until the evening. The sultan's fethname proclaiming thevictory states: "In short, the fighting and lively encounters such asthe world had never seen continued all the way to the evening." [475]

The same charter describes the escape of Louis II from the battlefield stating that "he fled under the cover of impending darkness.."On August 29 the sun set around 1830 hours, and it was dark byabout 2000 hours. This remark also indicates that the fightinglasted until dankness set in. The fact that the Ottoman army couldnot pitch their tents after the battle also indicates that fightinglasted until darkness. Ferdi writes: "On this night the battlefieldbecame the bivouac, but since most of the victorious troops could notfind their baggage they did not alight from their mounts until themorning." [476] According to Suleyman's diary: "The victorious Sultanremained on horseback almost until midnight with all his servants, and then turned into tent to rest; the victorious soldiers dispersed and dismounted, but held on to the bridle until the morning..Neither the important persons nor the common soldiers were allowed near the baggage." [477] Although Kemal Pashazade focuses onbivouacking, it is possible to determine the time the battle wasconcluded almost to the minute from his communication. He writes:"While some assumed the aura of martyrdom, and the champions ofthe faith were sated with combat, the army returned to camp afterthe sun had set, before the hour of the last prayer." [478] The prayerbefore lying to rest was recited by the Ottomans as the horizon wasdarkening. This testimony is in full agreement with the time calculated from the above quoted fethname.

The confusion around the baggage demonstrates, by the way, thatduring the deployment and the fighting itself the order of battle wascompletely upset. Normally the baggage of the troops has a strictlyassigned location, usually behind the unit to which it belongs, precisely to avoid confusion. Since the troops did not know where theirbaggage was, we must assume that unusual chaos prevailed; hencethe order of Suleyman that "no one be allowed near the baggage." [479]Had the search continued in the dark, that is, if the troops had beenseeking their baggage and the train seeking them, complete chaoswould have resulted. Moreover, this chaos also indicates that theHungarian attack had caught the Ottoman army by surprise.

Thus the army spent the night on the battlefield, without shelter!food, or water; moreover, it was harassed by the rain which beganto fall after the battle. In the morning Suleyman inspected thebattlefield and ordered that the prisoners be led in "front of thedivan" the following day.

On the following day, August 31, the divan was held and, according to Suleyman's clerk, "the march towards Buda was decided." [480]Probably, however, this was not really the issue; rather it was amatter of organizing the advance and issuing the pertinent instructions, inasmuch as the occupation of Buda had been one of theobjectives of the campaign from the start. At this time the prisoners--some 2,000 men--were beheaded, and the heads of Tomori and hisfellow commanders were spiked on spears and carried in triumpharound the camp of the enemy; it is said that later on they were pitched into the ground in front of the sultan's tent. [481] Even the enemypaid homage to Tomori's martial virtues. Kemal Pashazade's linesreveal respect:

The most astute and brave among the wicked was the commander-in-chief of the decrepit and miserable king, Pauli Tomori, a renowned leader in that country and a second Isfendiar on the battlefield. He was like hammered iron, the more blows he received the harder he became. Had he been smitten to death like a rabid dog, he might still have revived. When he launched a charge, like the flooding Nile, braying like an enraged elephant, even tigers and lions would have stayed clear. [482]

The dead were buried on September 1, when 30-50,000 bodies musthave been put to rest beneath the plain of Mohacs, Ottoman casualties included. So far only about 600-800 of these have been unearthed, mostly in the vicinity of Satorhely, at a distance of about 4-5km from the actual battlefield. [483] What happened to the others? Theobvious answer is that they must be resting where the battle wasfought, in front of the terrace. It is there where about four massgraves, 700 meters long, covering quite a considerable area, mustbe. [484] But why have they not been discovered? First of all, they werenot sought where the battle took place. Up to now the discoverieshave always resulted from skeletal finds dug up by the plow. But wecannot count on such an accident on the battlefield itself because,although the fields are cultivated here as well, the terrain is coveredby a relatively thick layer of earth as a consequence of the erosion ofthe terrace, and even deep plowing would not disturb graves.

In contrast to the information from Ottoman sources, Istvanffy

wrote that the dead were buried by Dorottya Kanizsai, widow ofPalatine Perenyi. [485] She is, of course, a well known figure in historical paintings, and "every schoolboy" knows her memorable deed. Wehave no reason to doubt Suleyman's diary; hence we must assumethat Dorottya Kanizsai buried the corpses of those who died furtherfrom the battle. These may have been the fatally wounded whodragged themselves away, and especially the drowned ones whosecorpses were found long after the Ottoman army's departure, whenthe waters subsided. It is almost certain that the corpses in the massgraves were indeed buried by the Ottomans, for the bodies piled oneach other indicate lack of piety. The graves even include pyramidsof skulls. Moreover, according to the opinion of the anthropologistIstvan Kiszely, a significant portion of the bodies were placed intothe graves before the rigidity of the corpse had dissolved. As weknow, rigor mortis dissolves 24 to 48 hours after death occursDorottya Kanizsai could have reached Mohacs only weeks later.

On the very day of the burial the Ottoman high command sent outthe akindjis at "five to ten days march" to kill, burn, and takeprisoners. Brodarics writes: "On the day and night following thebattle the enemy rode up and down the countryside, burning anddestroying everything on its path, showing no mercy to anyone onaccount of gender, age, or religion, and perpetrated all kinds ofatrocities on the unfortunate nation." [486] Kemal Pashazade also describes all this, only with a different value judgment:

The cavalry, knowing no mercy, dispersed into the provinces of the wicked one like a stream overflowing its banks and, with the fiery meteors of its sparkling sabers, burned every home to the ground, sparing not a single one.... The contemptible ones were slain, their goods and families destroyed.... Not a stone of the churches and monasteries remained. [487]

Soon after the mass burial the Ottomans left the battlefield. Thedates in the diary of Suleyman probably refer only to the professionals: the sultan and his guards left on September 2 and spent thenight at Mohacs. On the next day they moved north after having setthe town on fire. On September 6 they left Tolna behind them. In themeantime the sultan ordered that male prisoners taken since thebattle be executed, the women set free.

The news of the disaster of Mohacs reached Buda on August 31.Our main source for the following days is Szeremi.

The battle took place on the plain of Mohacs on Wednesday. The next day, Thursday, one of the German servants of the queen arrived in haste from the war; he was too distraught to make it across the gate....Queen Mary rode away from the castle of Buda with fifty knights, through the Logod Gate, with the ladies of the court. Each carried a burning torch in her hands. The queen stopped at Logod to await her treasurer coming out of the city . . . All the Germans of Buda went with them, as we could observe from our window. The Hungarians did not even budge, because they are a nation that likes to remain at home and can understand only the Magyar language, moreover, those from Buda and Pest trusted in Voivode Janos. But he was demurring, idle, by the river Tisza.... The masses of Buda and Pest awaited Voivode Janos as their Messiah, because of the protection he would offer them; but the voivode was not granted to them, whether by God or the devil, I know not. When the residents of Buda and Pest found out, everyone got ready to travel to save his skin. Those who had feet ran away wherever they could . . . The emperor of the Turks set up camp at Kelenfold. Only the poor, the lame, the blind, the deranged remained in Buda. Those who could not lay their hands on a mount or a cart had to stay in Buda. There was a merchant of Buda who acted as middleman between the Hungarians and the Turks and managed to obtain mercy for the Christians from the emperor; moreover, the emperor gave him ten gold pieces as a present. The emperor entered Buda and ruled from there, biding his time for sixteen days. Then he had a meeting with his advisors, whether to burn down the castle or not. His advisors told him not to set fire to the castle but that the city of Buda must be burnt to the ground so that all nations remember that the emperor of the Turks was here. Let the castle remain as his capital. The emperor employed someone to set fires, and he was the one who told me all this on one occasion, during dinner. His name was Antal and he had been ordered to take care of the job. Then three hundred Turks began to set fire to the city of Buda. [488] Suleyman reached Buda on September 11. He inspected the city onthe following day. The construction of the bridge across the Danubewas begun on the 13th. The same day Pest was set on fire.

On September 14 Suleyman's clerk noted: "There was a great fortnearby so that 5-600 janissaries were sent there early in the morning with some cannons and 5-10,000 cavalry." The following entry forthe next day was: "Destroying the great fortress, they looted theequipment and goods found therein, and took the men prisoner.'' [489]

The fort referred to must be the camp built by escaped inhabitants ofthe capital at Pilismarot. Its siege is described by Brodarics:

The enemy, on a rampage in Hungary, met nowhere with serious resistance, except at Marot, not far from Esztergom .. Many thousand among us retreated to this spot with wives and children, trusting the protection provided by nature ... Finally, since the enemy was absolutely unable to capture our camp protected by carts, it was compelled to bring up the guns, and thus managed to blow it to pieces and cut down those within almost to a man. .. Adding up all those who were slain and taken prisoner I dare say almost 12,000 that I know of perished in this disaster. [490]

After Pest, Buda was likewise set on fire: the city burned day andnight, while the valuables were removed from the royal palace andloaded on ships to be carried to Constantinople. Kemal Pashazadedescribed the looting of the palace:

He [i.e., the sultan] gathered the very valuable booty and the products of his victory from the beautiful palace of the wicked king, which was like a garden adorned with flowers and fruit. In the treasury and the arsenal, filled to the brim with weapons, equipment, and stores, he gathered everything he found, valuable and worthless, loaded these onto the ships with the greatest care and dispatched them to the city of Belgrade, whence they were carried to the capital of the country of the true believers, on the back of the huge river. [491]

While the capital cities of the country were burning in flames andtheir inhabitants butchered or carried away in chains, the Ottomanleaders held sumptuous feasts in Buda. Suleyman gave two receptions, one of them a garden party. [492]

The Ottomans Leave the Country

Once the bridge across the Danube was completed, on September19, the army began to cross immediately; it continued day and nightand would have finished by the 23rd had the bridge not broken up.Fortunately for the Ottomans only the smaller part of the armyremained on the Buda side, and it was not too difficult to ferry themacross. [493] From Pest the army proceeded southward in two columns. We do not know the exact itinerary of the main column, led by Suleyman,but presumably it ran parallel to the Danube, or rather to itsswampy banks.

The other column under the command of Ibrahim marched toSzeged by way of Kecskemet. While the Ottoman sources make nomention of it, presumably Ibrahim's task was to function as a flankfor the main body against Szapolyai on the other side of the Tisza.Szapolyai must have reached Szeged around Septernber 3 or 4,rather than on the day of the battle as some aver. Moving parallel tothe Ottoman army, he advanced northward along the left bank of theTisza and reached Fegyvernek around September 25. [494] His objectivemust have been to bar the way should the Ottoman army decide tothreaten Transylvania.

Ibrahim reached Szeged on September 29. The march was ratherdifficult: the army had to struggle with lack of water and food, andthe beasts of burden were falling by the wayside. The situationchanged in the prosperous region of Szeged, where, as we learn fromSuleyman's diary, "the army had flour, wheat, oats, fodder, andother food plenty." [495]

From Szeged Ibrahim's army proceeded to Titel by way of Zenta.In this area the Ottomans had to confront the resistance of theSerbian hussars under Bosic Radic rather than just defenselessvillagers. The diary entry for October 2 reads: "It has been reportedthat one accursed named Deli-Radich captured alive three or fourhundred among those in the area, and slaughtered about 500 more;in general, barring the roads of access, he either killed or tookprisoner those coming from whatever direction." [496] Peter Perenyi,who escaped from the battle, also made his appearance; it seemsthat he followed the tracks of the Ottoman army, harassing itsrearguard, capturing its scouts and the laggards. Ibrahim dispatched Khosrev, who lured Perenyi's troops into an ambush inwhich he captured six prisoners and killed some of the soldiers.From Titel, Ibrahim reached Petervarad on October 3, where thesappers immediately began to build a bridge across the Danube.

The main body of the army seems to have encountered seriousresistance in the area of Bacs and had to take the city in combat.Here, according to the sultan's diary, they took 70,000 sheep asbooty. Suleyman reached Petervarad on October 7. The bridge was ready by the 8th, and the army initiated the crossing the same day.The sultan reached Szalankemen on the 9th and Belgrade on the10th. Thus the campaign was concluded. [497]

The Death of Louis II

We are fairly well acquainted with the circumstances surroundingthe death of Louis II. As we remember, Brodarics had lost sight ofhim when the Ottoman artillery began to fire:

The king was no longer with our division. He either shifted into one of the forward ranks, inasmuch as it had been decided even earlier that the king should not remain in one place, or he was escorted away by those standing behind him. Either event is possible.... I am certain, however, that he disappeared from our ranks when the guns began to boom and the right wing started to run away. [498]

He then continues by arguing with the Austrian historian, Cuspinianus, that the king had not been abandoned by his men, but that "ourunfortunate destiny decided that we should suffer not only on account of the loss of our king, but that inner conflicts and party-strifeshould tear us apart because of the election of a new king in hisplace." The king's bodyguards remained faithful to their lord and dideverything to save him. Hence, Brodarics was most upset by thefalse accusations. He exclaims: "Those who did everything one canexpect of good and loyal subjects, and almost all of whom lay there onthe field of which the king was lying, and by their sacrifice provedhow close they were to their king and how much they loved theircountry--can they be said to have abandoned the king?" [499]

The Queen received the authentic account of the death of the king,on August 31, at Neszmely. According to Burgio's report, UlrikCzetricz, the chamberlain of the king and his most trusted man, toldher that Louis had escaped from the battle with him and with IstvanAczel. During the escape they reached one of the small tributaries ofthe Danube, but when they attempted to cross it, the king's mountwent wild, reared in the water, and threw his master for whom thearmor was already too heavy; being tired. Louis drowned in thisbrook. When Aczel saw that the king was in danger, he jumped afterhim, but he, too, drowned. The legate adds that there were rumors implying "that the king managed to proceed beyond the brook inwhich, according to the chamberlain, he drowned, but the aforesaidexplanation is much more credible, because a whole week has passedsince the day of the battle, with no sign of His Majesty. We wouldhave received news if he were alive." [500]

In the middle of October, when the Ottomans cleared the country.Czetricz and Ferenc Sarffy, the Captain of Gyor, went down toMohacs, on instructions from the queen, to recover the body of theking. Sarffy gave Brodarics a detailed account of his mission: "Letyour Lordship be convinced that everything that Czetricz had said atthat time [August 31] about the death of the king was nothing butthe truth." Czetricz was able to point out the place even before theparty reached it. He believed that the king's body might be in theswamp and jumped into the mud, seeking the corpse of his lord. Buthe found only Louis' weapons. A bit further lay the dead body ofTrpka, the king's aide-de-camp. Not far from this swamp they finallyfound a fresh grave and under it "as if by divine guidance," theburied body of King Louis II. Czetricz immediately started to scratchaway the earth with his bare hands, and the others followed hisexample. When they had unearthed the legs, Czetricz cleansed themwith two handfuls of water, and then noted a mark on the king's rightleg. He exclaimed: "This is His Majesty the King, the corpse of myalways most Graceful Lord, there can be no doubt!", then, falling tohis knees in tears, he kissed the corpse. Sarffy added:

I do not mean to flatter, but Your Most Respected Lordship should be kind to believe me that never had we seen a human corpse so wholly preserved, neither disgusting nor frightening to such a degree: for not the least part if His Majesty's body was in decomposition, there was not the slightest wound upon it, not even the prick of a needle, except for a very minor one on his lips.

The royal corpse was dressed into a clean shirt and laid into thecasket. The cortege traveled without incident. At Szekesfehervar themunicipal judge and members of the estates came out from the citywith the entire clergy, in ceremonial parade towards the casket ofthe king. The coffin was carried into the city and placed in thechapter house, where the judge also recognized Louis. [501] There isevidence that before the Sarffy-Czetritz mission found the king'sbody, it was buried by the peasants of the vicinity who retained the king's clothing, his signet ring, and a golden heart which he worearound his neck. A judicial document dated 1527 identifies MartonHorvath of Mlatovit as the person who took the signet, and a numberof serfs who took Louis' clothing; they faithfully turned these over tothe queen, who in the presence of her councillors, had them cut toshreds.

As to the fate of the golden heart, the last will of the widow QueenMary has this to say:

Since the death of my husband, the king, I have worn on myself a golden heart, which he had worn to the end of his life. I hereby order that this heart, along with the small chain on which it hangs, be melted down and distributed among the poor. It was the companion of two persons who were never separated in life from each other in body and inclination until their death, and therefore let it be annihilated and let it change its form as have the bodies of those who loved one another. [502]

Mary, of course, died only in 1558, as former Habsburg regent of theNetherlands; thus the little pendant survived King Louis by morethan thirty years, into a time when his former realm was no more.

Mohacs from the Ottoman Point of View: Triumph or Failure?

It is quite possible that the reason Suleyman remained so long onthe battlefield covered with decaying corpses and most certainlyinundated with their stench was that he believed King Louis fell inthe battle. Unless he was prompted by some religious command orsanitary considerations, this would be the most likely explanationfor disposing of the corpses--which required considerable labor--and their exact reckoning. Suleyman was most concerned about thefate of the king, since he had launched the campaign to force theHungarian government to accept his conditions. Who else but theking could have negotiated with him?

Perhaps it is also a sign of this interest that his first fethnameissued to proclaim the victory states that "it is not known whetherthe king be dead or alive." [503] As the clerk of the diary dutifully notedhe sent this imperial announcement on Septernber 4 to every province of his empire. Only in Buda did Suleyman definitely learn thatLouis had died; and, as we have seen, he expressed what amountedto condolences in his message to the queen. Whether the death of the young king upset him as a human being, we cannot know, but wemay take it for granted that as statesman the news was a bitter pill.As Ferenc Salamon, one of the wisest and most lucid Hungarianhistorians, noted some hundred years ago:

But in addition to the trait of savagery .. moderation and caution in conquest are readily apparent in Suleyman. He avoids taking risks whether on the battlefield or in the expansion of the Empire. Buda was entirely his already in September 1526, yet he did not stake his claim to this conquest handed to him on a silver platter. It should be clear from this that he did not have in mind the conquest of Hungary, in whole or in part. For the time being the plan must have been to convert it into a vassal state paying tribute, just like Wallachia, in order to secure immediate domination of Bulgaria, Serbia, the not yet completely subdued Bosnia, and perhaps also Croatia. From such a perspective it may be assumed that the news of the death of the Hungarian king could not have been entirely welcome to the sultan. Since the country was left without leadership, there was no one with whom to reach an agreement. The major fact of not holding on to Buda announced more clearly than any words might have that the road to peaceful compromise with the sultan was not excluded--as indeed Pal Tomori had already noted before the battle of Mohacs. [504]

If we accept this analysis, which agrees with my basic thesis, wemay conclude that Suleyman and his advisors immediately recognized the unfortunate consequences of their brilliant victory, namelythat they had cleared the path to the Hungarian throne for Ferdinand of Habsburg. Ferdinand's probable succession could be gagednot only from the Habsburg-Jagiello treaty of 1515, of which Ottoman diplomacy must have been fully aware, but also from thefeverish activities the archduke embarked upon following the deathat Mohacs of his brother-in-law. In a letter dated as early as September 8 he appealed to the Hungarian lords, counties, towns, andcaptains of the castles to recognize his claim. [505] We may be certainthat the Ottomans were well aware of this circular.

Nothing could be done under the circumstances, except to put animmediate end to this extremely costly campaign, withdraw to homebase, and wait to see who would becomes king of Hungary, so that thethread of negotiations, interrupted in 1524, could be resumed. But inorder to ensure the appropriate atmosphere for such negotiationsand to impress upon the future Hungarian king that there was noalternative but to accept the stipulated conditions, Suleyman had to act according to the principles of limited warfare: to inflict suchdamage to the country that would make its leaders realize that theywould fare much better if they decided to accept his conditions.Perhaps this was the reason for sending the akindjis on forays afterthe battle, when no more serious military resistance could be expected from the Hungarians. The rationale for such destruction wasnot bloodthirsty cruelty or the need to allow looting for the unpaidirregulars, but the political consideration that by spreading terrorone can effectively weaken the enemy's powers of resistance andparalyze its government.

Can the campaign of 1526 be considered a victory from the Ottoman point of view? If we look at the political objective, then itactually ended in failure, for no Hungarian government remainedthat could be forced to accept the peace terms. In fact, what theleaders of the Ottoman state feared most came to pass with thedeath of the king: the Habsburgs laid claim to Hungary, by right ofinheritance. But if we look at the military objectives we must declareit successful, since the Hungarian army was defeated, Buda taken,and the country itself laid waste. In terms of limited warfare,Mohacs and its aftermath may be viewed overall as a victory. In itsaftermath the government of King John had to carry out the politicalstipulations imposed on Hungary by the Porte, if not immediatelyafter the battle, a year and a half later.

In the long term, of course, the campaign did not solve the problems of the Ottoman leaders, for the alliance with John eventuallyfailed, as we have seen. The breaking up of the political integrity ofHungary became inevitable, opening up a new front which absorbedenormous funds, energy, and thousands of lives for the empire whichwas already involved in wars in the Mediterranean and the NearEast. Whether the Ottoman Empire indeed began to decay in thesixteenth century, as some historians maintain, remains an issue,but the failure to realize Suleyman's concept contributed decisivelyto the drain on the strength of the empire. The serious lossessuffered in the Hungarian wars decimated those dwindling resources which might have been much better spent in avoiding theirreplaceable losses in the areas of the Black Sea, the Mediterranean, and the Near East.

History plays curious games: it would have been in the commoninterest of two states to find some manner of modus vivendi, yet theycould not achieve one for reasons beyond their control. Thus, one of them, even if a great power, entered the road toward decline; and theother--becoming dependent, partitioned, and devastated over a century and a half--suffered irreparable losses, ground between themillstones of two adjacent empires, never to recover its previousglory.

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