The greatest knight of his time
Knight of the Golden Spur
Captain of Palota Castle
Subject of Epic Poems
Hero of the Valiant Order
The 'Hungarian El Cid'
The 'Transdanubian Lion'
The Scourge of the Turks
The Nemesis of 'Suleiman the Great'
& Apparently a Really Good Guy
György Thury 1519 - 1571
Gyorgy Thury came from a long line of highly respected knights and castle captains. His grandfather, Miklos Thury had served in the Black Army of King Matthias and his father, Gabor (Gabriel) fought under King Wladislas. It is said that as an infant the first toy Gyorgy recieved was a wooden sword. It is likely that his youth was devoted to learning the arts of war. By many accounts, he grew to be exceptionally tall and strong yet was still very quick and agile. By the age of twenty-two he was already gaining renown as a duelist.Later, knights came great distances to challenge him but he was never defeated. According to legend, Thury fought and won 600 duels during his lifetime. The number is surely exaggerated but there were over 70 officially recorded – an already unprecedently high number and likely there were many more that were not written in the official records.
Thury was one of the greatest figures of the valiant Hungarian border castle life
"Thury was one of the greatest figures of the valiant Hungarian border castle life. He was a heroic soldier, a great patriot, a clever commander and a valiant fighter. Several chroniclers noted him to be a good man and true, with an honest character, who regarded his soldiers as his friends and brethren. His fame swept through all of Europe, yet he was not haughty, nor vain, but only proud and cruel towards the enemy. Thury was fearful, hard and brave in battle, and would risk his life for his country without second thought. Therefore it is not surprising that his men loved him almost fanatically. Legend has it that whoever fought under him never wished for another leader. He was famed for being a champion never beaten in duel. himset a beautiful example of courage, love for his homeland and self-sacrifice all over the Turkish-invaded countries."
Gyorgy Thury was made captain of Palota Castle in 1558
Gyorgy Thury was made captain of Palota Castle in 1558. It was an extremely important fortress because it was the last in the region that had yet to be captured by the Ottomans despite several attempts. It also was all that stood between the Turks and the pass through the Bakony Mountains that led into Upper Hungary (now Slovakia), then part of what had become King Ferdinand Habsburg's "Royal Kingdom of Hungary." Despite this, the king did little to support the defense of Palota. The soldier's pay was in arrears, the military equipment was insufficient and the castle needed to be more strongly fortified. There was no money even to by food and supplies and the entire garrison was ready to quit. In desperation, Thury sent letters to Vienna, literally 'begging' the king for help but his pleas fell on deaf ears.
Thury's letter to King Ferdinand
Palota, 22 April, 1559
"Your Mightiest Royal Majesty, My Most Merciful Lord,
I have again understood Your Majesty's gracious and most merciful wish from Ferenc Thurzó. Therefore I am also most humbly offering to be satisfied with the amount of five thousand Hungarian forints for the upkeep of Your Majesty's castle called Palota and as most of the infantry presently in the castle is about to leave the service, so I shall hire new ones instead of them, therefore I am humbly begging Your Holiest Majesty to grant at least part of the prescribed amount of five thousand forints to me now, and please give the remaining part of the mentioned amount later from the war tax of Nyitra county. As Your Majesty had agreed with the late Lord Rafael Podmaniczky earlier. Indeed, my Merciful Lord, if we look at the size of the castle and the horse and foot guards necessary to man it, this my humble request will be regarded as most rightful by Your Majesty. Your Majesty can wisely judge what kind of amount is necessary for the upkeep of only a hundred cavalry and as many foot-soldiers for a year, not to mention the need to constantly store provisions in the castle for future needs.
I, My Merciful Lord, am not seeking my own good, but if it were possible, I would be ready to serve Your Majesty for even as little as a hundred forints, but because this castle is right in the throat of the enemy, I do not see myself fit to defend it without the necessary guards. A small army is not enough to defend it, as such is its size and condition. Indeed, My Merciful Lord, there may come a time and way when I could gain a profit of over one thousand forints for Your Majesty and the country with my service in a single day or hour. Looking forward to Your Majesty's most merciful reply.
Your Highest Majesty's faithful and humble servant,
The reply - we won't help you but don't let us down:
"In vain did they wait for their pay in arrears, in vain did Thury write the letter, he received nothing but promises from Vienna. No money arrived, and the military support is well represented by Count Salm's reply: "The castle of Palota lies at a perilous place and I do not want to be ashamed." To this Thury wrote a second letter, but in order to alleviate their miserable state himself, he would launch attacks on the Turks encampments in the neighborhood and wreak dreadful destruction among them, returning from his forays with plentiful loot. He seized arms and horses and carried many Turkish prisoners into the castle, as the building work continually required labour force."
The Siege of Palota
The Ottoman's Most Humilating Defeat, 1566
Thury and his small army of defenders were so successful in thier raids and caused the Turks so much trouble and loss in terms of soldiers, horses, military equipment and supplies that the sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Suleiman the Great, finally sent Arslan, the Pasha of Budapest, 8,000 soldiers to take Palota and put an end to Thury:
"On June 5, 1566, Pasha Arslan of Buda was preparing for the attack with great force and determination as well as with a lot of good military equipment, cannons and almost 8000 men. Two-tailed Turkish flags, lances and cannons were teeming on Mount Sintér and on the hills of the Kopasz promontory. The preparation of the Turkish side was frightening. Thury recruited some help from the border castles nearby, but even so the manpower was less than 200 strong. In vain was Captain Thury shooting at the preparing Turks and decimating their numbers, they were so many that it did not even show.
Despite the havoc wreaked by Thury's raids, the preparation for the siege did not cease, but on the contrary: the Turks answered by peppering the castle with cannon-shot. Therefore two soldiers, Péter Papp and Péter Literádi undertook the mission of sneaking into the Turkish camp and blowing up their gunpowder store. The two Hungarian soldiers accomplished their mission but the Turks captured, tortured and interrogated them. The two valiant soldiers misled the enemy by lying to them that the wall was extremely well fortified and very thick where the Turks were shelling it, whereas in reality it had almost fallen down. The scheme worked, the Turks started shelling the wall at another place and thus it did not collapse, thanks to the two brave soldiers. They paid with their lives to save the castle: the Turks cruelly impaled both of them.
Of course, Thury saw the great calamity and felt the end approaching. Therefore he asked his two bravest lieutenants, his brother Farkas Thury and Ferenc Pálffy to undertake a dangerous mission. They undertook the task of riding to Vienna, to let Emperor Maximilian know that unless he provided help they would not be able to keep this important castle. The two soldiers bandaged their horses' hooves and quietly, knowing the mysterious ways of the Bakony, they reached Emperor Maximilian and Count Salm in Vienna with the last warning. In the castle, desperation took over when the defenders saw the collapsing walls. The password was life or death, they knew they only had themselves to rely on.
On April 14, 1566, Pasha Arslan put an end to the shelling and was preparing for the final attack the next day, as he had been informed by one of his spies in Vienna that King Ferdinand had finally sent a large relief army and it was on its way to help the Hungarians. Turkish scouts were sent out to the Bakony to signal if the relief army was approacing. The Turks wanted to rest before the battle, so Arslan ordered his men in for the evening prayer and sleep. Using this state of mind and the fearful silence before the battle, Thury made up his mind to attack.
Night fell, it was pitch dark, the chains of the castle gates and drawbridges were greased and the 200 soldiers left the castle without any noise and attacked the sleeping Turks. There was wild uproar and panic in the camp. Storehouses, stables and haystacks were set on fire. Thury rode towards the pasha's tent, surrounded by a whole Turkish army, but Thury was ceaselessly slashing into the enemy with his broadsword.
This was when a fortuitous coincidence occured that seemed like a miraculous reward for their courage. The Turkish scouts that had been sent out came running in terror back to the camp and reported to the pasha what they had seen in the forest - that a huge relief army from Vienna was approaching. Upon hearing the news, Pasha Arslan, screaming and shouting, ordered his troops to retreat. By daybreak, the Turks retreated to Fehérvár with great losses, leaving behind provisions, animals, tents, cannons and gunpowder as well as many casualties from Thury's raid. In reality, what the Ottoman scouts had seen from the distance was a long caravan of workers and carts sent out by the mayor of Győr to cut down trees for wood to reinforce the dikes along the river Danube. They were raising a lot of dust, making a lot of noise and shouting in German and Hungarian, causing the scouts to think they were the relief army sent from Vienna.
King Ferdinand had finally sent troops from Vienna under the commmand of Count Salm, but they were late, arriving three days after the Turks' rapid retreat and it was certainly not thanks to them that the castle was saved!
Suleiman was furious when he heard and ordered that Pasha Arslan recieve the 'silk cord' for the humiliating defeat. The 'silk cord' referred to a method of formal execution reserved for high officials of the Ottoman Empire who disappointed or failed the sultan: strangulation with a silk rope.
Shortly afterwards in 1567, György Thury submitted his resignation as captain of Palota Castle and his younger, brother, Benedek took the post.
The Hero of Oalast
In August of 1552 at the Battle of Palasthe, Gyorgy Thury twice saved a battalion of Italian mercenaries who were fighting the Ottomans under Lord Balassa. The Italians were cut off from the rest of the army and surrounded by Ottoman Janissary troops. They were facing certain annihilation when suddenly Thury charged in with a small group of his Hussars (light cavalry) . Thury was unstoppable, cutting a swath through the elite Ottoman forces who then fled into the forest.
The entire battle is depicted in vivid detail in the book 33 Castles, Battles & Legends by Gabor Szantai.* He gives a wonderful description of Gyorgy Thury's participation and heroic deeds:
"No scimitar nor saber was strong enough against his powerful two-handed blows which fell at the speed of lightning from the most unexpected directions."
The soldiers in the vast armies of Sultan Suleiman learned to fear Thury so much that many fled at the sight of him. The superstitious among them believed him to be a Djinni, or demonic spirit. But, in the Ottoman Empire he became known as "Trandanubian Lion" - Trandanubia being the central region of the former Kingdom of Hungary. In Europe he was called the "Hungarian El Cid"
Twist of a Turkish Trick
Although Buda (1541), Fehérvár (1543), Esztergom (1543) and Veszprém (1552) were already in Turkish hands at the time, the Bakony breezes still waived a Hungarian flag atop Palota castle.
Bey Hamza, was a captain the troops in the Ottoman controlled town of Szekesfehevar. Having been frustrated in his attempts to take Palota Castle by traditional methods he came up with a devious plan. He instructed the spy he had among Thury's men to put a tincture - a small amount of which could incapacitate a person for three days – into the castle wine supply. It turned out the spy was a double agent. He revealed the plot to the Captain Thury. The double agent returned to the Ottoman camp and reported to Bey Hamza that he had accomplished his mission and had even seen Thury and his soldiers drink the wine with the sleeping tincture in it.
Thinking the castle soldiers were incapacitated, the Bey moved his army in to begin the assault on the Hungarian fortress. In reality the soldiers of Varpalota were very much awake and ready for them. Thury's men suddenly appeared on the castle's ramparts and initiated a counter-attack. Bey Hamza could not convince his troops to get in to cross the moat that surrounded Varpalota because 'they were afraid of the sharpened stakes hiding beneath the muddy water.' He became so angry that he even slew some of his own soldiers but the rest still refused. Instead of a sure victory, Bey Hamza's troops fled and he arrived back to Szekesfehevar in shame.
According to Captain Jozsef Ormany of Sumeg Castle who wrote of the events in 1561, a week later Thury sent a message to Bey Hamza in which he wrote:
"I have heard that your lordship paid a visit here. Alas, at the time I was so ill for three days that I could not received you properly. Had I not been so drunk, I would have had a decent fight with your lordship."
So, on top of all his other outstanding quality's, Thury also had a good sense of humor.
Gyorgy Thury was the grandson of Katalin Podmaniczky (direct ancestors), sister of Janos and Rafael Podmaniczky. Palota Castle (Varpalota) was awarded to the brothers in 1537 by King John Zapolya for having captured so many castles in his name. In 1557 Rafael appointed his nephew, Gyorgy Thury as captain of Palota and Thury swore an oath of fealty to Rafael and his wife. It is claimed that under the Podmaniczkys the castle became impoverished militarily as well as financially due to thier 'mismanagement'. However this contradicts the fact that the Ottomans made several attempts to capture Palota during that time and never succeeded while all the other castles and territories around it fell to their control. It is evidenced by the letter above that King Ferdinand Habsburg failed to contributed much, if anything, to its defences when it belonged to the family. Note in the letter that Thury refers to an agreement reached between Baron Rafael Podmaniczky and King Ferdinand stipulating that the Habsburg king would finally allocate 5,000 forints (florins) to the defense of what was by then the last castle in the area standing against the Ottomans. However, King Ferdinand obviously reneged on the deal because after Podmaniczky died in 1558, Palota devolved to the Habsburg royal demense and was soon in worse shape than before. It was that owed sum that Gyorgy Thury was asking for.
Historians love to portray the Habsburgs as the great Turk fighters but in fact in the century following the Ottoman invasion of Hungary in 1526, during thier rule of the 1/3 of the former Hungarian Kingdom that they controlled, the Habsburgs did little to help the soldiers of the border castles that kept the Turks at bay.
Gyorgy Thury is still one of Hungary's most admired heroes. There are several statues of him around the country. Many ballads, poems and stories have been written about him. Also there are Gyorgy Thury swordfighting competitions, tournaments and exhibitions. I found some of the ballads on youtube, including this kind of awesome metal/folk version of one - I wish I could understand the lyrics:
1544 Battle against the Turks at Szitnya with Balassa Menyhért
"Now, he has come to know Gyorgy Thury, the young Lieutenant of Ipolysag. It was the twenty-two year old lad's reputation as a duelist and not his thirty hussars which made the Sipahis ride back to the wagons."
- Gabor Szantai, "33 Castles, Battles, & Legends"
The Emperor's Tournament
In 1563 a great tournament was held during the celebration of the coronation of Maximilain II as Holy Roman Emperor. Knights came from all corners of Europe to compete. In the final round two competitors were left standing, György Thury and László Gyulafy.The young emperor stopped the fight early, saying he did not want to lose either of his two best knights and pronounced them both champions of the tournament. As a reward Thury was given a gold medal commemorating the great event and an estate with several villages.
Although already a knight of the Kingdom of Hungary, Maximilian dubbed Thury a knight of the Holy Roman Empire. That also made him a 'Knight of the Golden Spur.' This was an honorific title bestowed upon those who were dubbed knights by the monarch or emperor at his or her coronation.
The Death of a Hero 1571
For years Gyory Thury was at the top of the Ottoman Empire's 'MOST WANTED' list and the bane of Sultan Suleiman who did not live to see his strongest enemy taken down. It was up to his successor, Selim II, to accomplish the deed. Removing Thury as a threat became a high priority for the Sultan who wanted him 'dead or alive' although preferred that he be taken alive so he could parade the terror of the Turks around as a prize and make a great show of executiing him. On April 14th, 1571 Thury and a hundred of his men were ambushed by 600 Ottoman soldiers. They managed to isolate and surround the great swordsman but Thury fought furiously, cutting down many of his would be captors. Badly injured but still fighting, Thury threw off his helmet and shouted that he would never be taken alive to be paraded around with a rope around his neck. He went down, still swinging his mighty longsword and finally, surrounded by dozens of enemy soldiers closing in on him, the gallant knight of the Valiant Order, died.
As Sultan Selim II had ordered, Thury's head was carried back to Constantinople and delivered directly to him. He immediately saw that the soldiers charged with carrying it had desecrated it in a vile manner. Selim was enraged, for he had a great respect for his most formidable enemy, Gyorgy Thury. He was so angry, he had those responsible for the desecration executed and then buried the head of the noble knight and the world's greatest duelist with honors.
The Valiant Order of the Borderland
The Valiant Order was not an official order but rather a recognition of the fraternity among the soldiers along the 1,000 mile border that divided Christian Europe from the Islamic Ottoman Empire. It included both those who defended the network of castles that stood against the Turks and the Turks themselves. The Valiant Ordered lived, fought and died by an unwritten creed, a kind of chivalric code that applied to soldiers of both sides who, strange as it seems, often developed a comraderie. After all, they lived so close to each other in remote outposts and soon learned the basics of each others' language, Hungarian and Turkish.
"These knights lived by the unwritten law of the Borderland, according to the customs of Turkish and Hungarian warriors. Both nations respected this ancient code equally. They appreciated valiant courage and personal bravery, whilst despising traitors, mercenaries, and renegades. Even the Turks were members of the „Valiant Order”.
To these brothers-in-arms, a man’s word of honor was the most important thing and there were strict rules for duels as well as for visiting each other. Many times Turks had drunk with Hungarians deep into the night before killing each other in a lethal duel the following day." - Gabor Szantai
The Memory of György Thury in Hungary
33 Castles, Battles, Legends: by Gábor Szántai (Hungarian-Ottoman War Series Book 1)
This book Gabor Sznantai provided much information and many great stories including several that involved Gyorgy Thury.
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The Lost Kingdom
Nowadays Hungary is a small country we don't hear too much about but throughout the Middle Ages it was the largest cohesive political entitity in Europe. The Kingdom of Hungary existed as an independent realm for over five hundred years from 1000 A.D. to 1526 during which time it was considered one of most powerful countries in western civilization. It included territories of what are now Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Romania, Transylvania, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, as well as parts of Austria, Poland and the Ukraine. Yet, history only seems to remember it in its relationship to Austria- first as part of the Habsburg Empire and later as half of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The families whose legends and I present on this site are part of the rich and unbelievably dramatic history the the Hungarian Kingdom that was driven externally by the threat of the Holy Roman and the Ottoman Empires and internally by a constant tension between the monarchs and the powerful barons. This caused a series of battles of succession that, I have to say, kind of make the War of the Roses look like a picnic in the park.
About the Nobility of Hungary
Like most kingdoms in medieval times, Hungary was divided into two main classes, nobles and commoners. But within these groups were further distinctions. The nobility was divided into the categories of "higher" and "lesser." The high nobility were the magnates, families that owned in the area of thirty or more estates that probably included a castle or several castles. They lesser were all the rest ranging from those those that owned twenty estates to those who owned only one impoverished estate to those who owned no estates at all but nevertheless had a coat-of-arms.
There were many noble who had less than well-off peasants.
Some had titles that translate as follows.
The head of the county: comes or ispan = count
Deputy head of county: alispan = viscount
Governor of a territory or sub-nation: ban, voivode = duke, earl, prince (e.g. Ban of Croatia, Voivode of Transylvania)
What made these titles different from their English counterparts was that generally until the 1500s they were NOT HEREDITARY. They only applied to the people during the time they held the office and the rank did not pass on to their children. The king could remove them from their positions and appoint someone else. There wasn't much job security. Patents of nobility and the accompanying coats of arms were hereditary. Nobility could pass on the father's side and the mother's side but property could only be inherited by sons, while the inheritance of daughters was the equivalent of 1/4 of the property's worth in currency.
Interestingly noble women kept their maiden names after they were married while their children took the husbands name.
Barons v. Barons of the Realm
Baron was an informal designation for wealthy lords who owned a large amout of property usually including a castle. All the lords with estates and villages attached by the charter to a particular castle were the baron's banderium, or bannermen. They pledge loyalty to the baron and were under obligation to respond to his call to arms with one "lance" (meaning heavily armored knight) or several archers for every 10- 20 serfs they had, depending on the ratio stipulated at the time.
Barons of the realm were those members of the nobility who held the highest offices in government and in the royal household were usually either descended from the original clans of the Hungarian tribes that settled in the Carpethian Basin in the late ninth century or from the foreign knights that came to the kingdom with their own small armies to provide military support to the Hungarian kings in the 11th and 12th centuries. Originally They were called barones regni, barons of the realm, a status originally only held by the office holder while he was in office but by the late 1300s it also to applied to the descendants of the high office holders. They became known as the magnates and were given the prefix of 'magificus' in documents.
The 19 Families
In the late 1400s, nineteen families were distinguished from the rest of the barons of the realm by King Matthias. They were now called the natural barons of the realm (barones regni natureles). The list included the Orszag, Rozgony, and Hedervary families.
Barons of the Realm
Holders of the highest offices in the Kingdom of Hungary:
- Royal Judge
- Bans of Croatia, Severin & Slavonia
- Voivode of Transylvania
- Master of the Treasury
- Master of the Horse
- Master of the Cupbearers
- Master of the Stewards
- Master of the Doorkeepers
- Ispan of the Counties Pozsony & Temes