The King Players


August  - THE OTTOMAN INVASION. Over 100,000 Turks led by Sultan Suleiman invade the kingdom and decimate the army of 30,000 Hungarians led by 20 year old King Louis II.  In three hours the 500 year old Kingdom of Hungary is destroyed. It will never rise again as an independent kingdom.

The eastern troops of the kingdom under the command of the Voivode (duke) of Transylvania, John Zapalya and the support promised by Archduke Ferdinand of Austria (who is married to Louis II's sister) failed to arrive on time to the battle. Suspicious! 

King Louis (Lajos) II, most of the barons of the upper nobility as well as half of the church bishops were killed. Mihaly Podmaniczky (grandfather x16) who was captain of the king's guard died in battle but his brother Istvan, the Archbishop of Nitra who was also in the battle, survived. Istvan became guardian of Mihaly's sons, Janos and Rafael. 

Strangely, the Turks retreat after pillaging Buda-Pest, leaving chaos in their wake because nearly all the kingdom's leaders were dead. 

Uncle Istvan Crowns Two Kings

The Voivode of Transylvania, John Zapolya ,claims the throne and is elected as monarch by a majority of members of the middle and lower nobility. The Zapolyas and Podmaniczky estates and castles were near to each other and the two families had close ties ever since Laszlo Podmaniczky and Stephen Zapolya served together as captains under King Matthias.

November 10, 1526   Archbishop Istvan Podmaniczky who after the Battle of Mohacs is left as the senior most church official, crowns John Zapolya  as King of Hungary and works in his interest.

December  of 1526. Another claimant to the throne arises, Archduke Ferdinand Habsburg of Austria.  He is elected king by the lords of the upper nobilty, the barons and magnates.

  • The tragic Battle of Mohacs in 1526 marked the end of the 500+ years of the medieval Kingdom of Hungary (painting by Johann Schreire - the Battle at Mohacs)
  • King John Zapolya (De Bello Panonico, 1762)
  • King Ferdinand I (painting by Hans Bocksberger der Ältere)
  • Sultan Suleiman Ruler of The Ottoman Empire (painting by Tiziano, 1530)


King John is weak militarily and King Ferdinand is able, with the help of his brother, the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V,  to assemble a large enough army to capture western territories of Upper Hungary. Thus, the territories surrounding the Archdiocese of Nitra and many of the  Podmaniczky estates are now under Ferdinand's control.

July 29, 1527- with his position and the Podmaniczky dominions at risk so he goes to Vienna to take an oath of allegiance to Ferdinand. As the guardian of his underage nephews, Janos and Rafael, he pledges their allegiance to Ferdinand. Problem: Janos and Rafael don't like Ferdinand.

November 3, 1527: Istvan crowns Ferdinand King of Hungary and loans 1600 gold forints (today's equivalent of $200,000,000) to as well as three Podmaniczky castles; Bystrica, Hrico, and Illava

November 3, 1527. Archbishop Istvan Podmaniczky crowns Ferdinand King of Hungary. Chaos ensues.

There are now two crowned kings of Hungary!!! What a mess! The bulk of the nobility supports King John but the Magnates (the few most powerful families who hold most of the power) support King Ferdinand.

November 13, 1527: King Ferdinand borrows 1600 forints from Istvan Podmaniczky and promises to pledge Illava and Suka castles to them when he conquers them

  • I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men, and German to my horse (Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, image: wikipedia)


War Makes Strange Bedfellows

With the help of his brother, Charles V, the Habsburg who is both Emperor of the The Holy Roman Empire and King of Spain, Ferdinand and his mostly mercenary army drive King John out of Hungary. 

The medieval fortress of Povazska wos considered one of the most important and mosta impenetrable castles of the upper kingdom. Bystrica had been the central seat of the Podmaniczky family for the last hundred years. Archbishop Isvan now lends it to King Ferdinand and it becomes occupied by Commander Kazianer and menrcenary troops fighting on the Austrian side. 

Unbelievably enough, King John forms an alliance with Ottoman ruler, Sultan Suleiman (yes, the same who nearly destroyed Hungary in 1526) who provides troops for John to drive Ferdinand almost all the way back into Austria.

What it means: The conflict has escalated to involve, not just the fueding kings of Hungary, but two huge empires.

Chaos and Anarchy

1) With King John in control of the eastern part of the kingdom and King Ferdinand in control of the south and west, the central northern territories (now Slovakia) become a “no man's land” of anarchy and lawlessness. The lords who own the most land and castles in no man's land become even more powerful. Why: Because both kings want them on their side- they could determine which king ultimately wins.

2) The Podmaniczky, with their castles and over a hundred estates, towns and villages are one of the most powerful families in the region. 

3) The only heirs left to inherit all of that property, wealth and power of the family are two underage brothers, Janos and Rafael. For now they are under the thumb of their guardian, uncle Istvan but that is soon to change. Instead of the well ordered world they grew up in, Janos and Rafael are to come of age in the remnents of the kingdom where every baron is out for himself and the mode of life is 'kill or be killed.' 

Note: King John bequeaths two of his family castles, Leitiva and Strecno, to Miklos and Peter Kosztka.

  • Strecno Castle was pledged to the older Janos Podmaniczky. After Mohacs it fell into the hands of Miklos Kosztka who becomes the enemy of young Janos and Rafael (photo: wikipedia)


The Siege of Vienna, Janos Comes of Age

May 29, 1529, King Ferdinand gives the estates and castle of Kamenica to Istvan Podmaniczky and his two nephews, Janos and Rafael. It  had been pledged to their father in 1511 who may have given it back to the Tarczays. Due to it's its distance from thier other properties it is unclear if the Podmaniczky's ever took possession of it.

1529- The first famous  “Siege of Vienna” – Suleiman leads a force of 150,000 Ottomans to take Vienna but looses much of his equipment and his large cannon to floods along the way. The Turks surround Vienna but without the large cannon he can't breach the thick city walls. . Winter comes early forcing Suleiman to return to Istanbul with less than a quarter of the soldiers he left with. 

Nevertheless, Suleiman has proved to the Hungarians that Ferdinand is weaker than they supposed and that he, Suleiman, is serious about providing troops to King John. As a result many nobles switch their support to King John.

Janos Podmaniczky comes of age. He inherits the title of Lord Baron and all Podmaniczky territories. 

Secret Pact

Janos meets with King John in Budapest and promises his support on the condition that it is kept secret- he doesn't want his uncle, the archbishop, to know. In return King John gives him estates in Pest and a mansion in Buda. King John informs Janos that any castles he can capture back from Ferdinand are his to keep.

Note- another reason for Janos to keep his change of allegiance on the down low is that King Ferdinand still has control of Povazska Castle and Janos now likely wants the chance to get it back.

  • Site of the ruins of Kamenica Castle (aka Tarkő castle). It was one of the largest fortifications of its time. It was built by Rikolf in 1296, an ancestor of the Katalin Tarczay, mother of Janos and Rafael. Pledged to their father Mihaly January 1, 1511


The Death of the Archbishop, The Dangerous Game Begins

Early summer: Archbishop Istvan Podmaniczky dies leaving young Janos as the head of the family. He and Rafael  possessver a hundred villages and towns, several castles and huge amounts of territories with thousands of serfs and freemoen and many lesser lords who are pledged as their bannermen. However their uncle has “loaned” many of the Podmaniczky castles to Ferdinand so they are now occupied by mostly German mercenaries.  

Feuding Lords

The 'no man's land' between the warring kings is violent and lawless. Lords start taking advantage of the situation by taking over the property of others. Survival for the barons is basically a matter of kill or be killed now as Janos and Rafael or about to learn first hand….

Balint Torok, one of the most powerful lords and military leaders in the kingdom and a staunch supporter of King Ferdinand believes that Janos has changed allegiances. He and his soldiers take over Banovce (in southern Slovakia) a large town that has prospered under Podmaniczky rule since the mid 1400s. Janos commences a lawsuit against Torok.

Capturing Their First Castle

Because Ferdinand was often unable to pay his mercenaries they have been raiding the surrounding villages murdering and raping inhabitants of Upper Hungary. King Ferdinand was unable to stop their rampge.

Janos and Rafael assemble their bannermen and forcibly take Kasza Castle (also known as Kassa, Kosec, Kosice) from Ferdinand's mercenaries.


Fooling the Habsburg King

March 10, 1531, Janos is listed as a loyal supporter of Ferdinand, despite his capturing of Kasza Castle. 

King Ferdinand restores Povazska Castle (The Eagle's Nest) to the brothers and actually gives them two more estates! (What a sucker!) 

Because his lawsuit against Balint Torok for taking over the Podmaniczky town of Ban (Banovce) is not progressing, Janos and Rafael take revenge by raiding his villages, stealing his cattle as well as the wine from his vineyards.  Janos and his soldier burn one of his towns.

An Old Feud and Ancient Castle

Nearby is Illava Castle that has been pledged by Ferdinand to the Roszan family who support him as king. The Roszans and Podmaniczkys have been enemies since 1515.  Janos and Rafael capture Illava Castle. 

Since the lawsuit against Torok has not progressed, Janos and Rafael take revenge on him by raiding his properties and stealing his cattle and wine. They also burn down one of his towns,  Vágújhely.

Balint Torok Plot to Take Revenge

By the end of 1531, everyone in Ferdinand's court is aware that the Podmanczky brothers are in King John's camp and Ferdinand is finally convinced. 

Balint Torok schemes with Elek Thurzo, the Royal Governor who serves King Ferdinand, to conquer Povazska Castle with the help of Ferdinand's mercenaries. In exchange Torok promises to hand over two of his important castles to Ferdinand but the king nixes the plan, probably because he knows taking Povazska would be difficult and costly if not impossible.


Fued of the Robber Barons

Since 1529, the neighboring lords of Lietava and Strecno Castles, the Kosztka brothers, had been ambushing the king's tax collectors and stealing the funds -including the money from Podmaniczky territories. Naturally Janos and Rafael object to this but they like the idea. They become bandits themselves (aka robber barons)- taking the tax money for themselves. 

In retaliation the Kosztka's raid Podmaniczky lands and in retaliation for that, Janos and Rafael raid Kosztka lands.

From the castles of Illava and Kasza, Janos and Rafael continually harass the nobility of Trencin County (Ferdinand supporters), and collect taxes for themselves while preventing the king's men from collecting royal taxes.


Kidnapping and Castles

Now that Janos and Rafael realize that King Ferdinand fears taking action against them, they assemble their army and conquer Lednice Castle. This castle had been pledged to the Podmaniczky's by King Matthias and later in 1504 by King Wladislas but had fallen out of their hands and was under King Ferdinand's control when they captured it. 

The brothers invite Miklos Kosztka to a banquet supposedly to try and work out their differences. Whether it was pre-meditated or provoked by an argument at the banquet is unclear, but Janos and Rafael are not very good hosts and end up taking Miklos Koszka prisoner.They hold him captive for several months.

When the news gets out that the Podmaniczkys have kidnapped Miklos Kosztka it causes quite a sensation:

Both kings want to use the situation to their advantage and send envoys to try and negotiate for his release.

  • Ruins of Lednice Castle- first given by King Matthias to Laszlo Podmaniczky in 1466. HIs son Janos I has possession reaffirmed by King Wladislas in 1504 and his grandsons. Janos II and Rafael, recaptured by in 1533 from the forces of King Ferdinand who re-affirmed it as the Podmaniczky's castle in 1534 as part of the agreement for them to switch their support from King John to him, King Ferdinand (


Both Kings Want the Captive

January 5, 1534 5. King John sends Jeremy Lasky, Voivode of Transylvania, to negotiate with János Podmaniezky about Miklós Kosztka. The king offers Janos Lietava Castle in exchange for his release. 

King Ferdinand sends Ferenc Reway to try convince them to hand Kosztka over to him.

The brothers reject the offers. The captive is only release after paying 5000 gold forint (several hundred million dollars in todays terms) to the Podmaniczkys. 

January 12, 1534, Trenčín County officials send a letter to the Royal Commissioners telling them that because of János Podmaniezky's raids, the whole county has been miserable.

In February of 1534, King Ferdinand sent his envoy to try and negotiate a deal that would bring the Podmaniczkys over to his side but the brothers reject the offers.

Janos is Accused but Refuses to Stand Trial

Janos and Rafael have also been harassing the nobility who supported King Ferdinand, who then started to make an agreement with the Podmaniczkys that most likely involved them throwing their support behind King John. However Kazianer, commander of Ferdinand's armies, promises them that the king would send troops to defend the nobles so they stay under Ferdinand's influence. This kings falls far short of delivering the promised number of troops. King Ferdinand only manages to send 100 mounted knights to defend the territories being raided by the brothers. 

The lords in the vicinity make all kinds accusations against Janos that include taking over their castles, fighting with and killing their soldiers and serfs, stealing the royal tax money, and abducting their serfs, and stealing their wine. The king orders the brothers to stand trial. Janos wants the chance to defend himself but refuses to do so in the city that Ferdinand control in a court full of their enemies including Kosztka, knowing that it would likely be a trap. So representatives of the court go to Povaszka Castle to take his deposition. Janos tells them it is his enemies who committed the very same acts against him and his territories that they accuse him of.

Budetin Castle, An International Treaty, A Change in Allegiance

The brothers capture Budetin Castle that had been damaged by Ferdinand's mercenaries and begin fixing and fortifying it and then fill it thier soldiers to defentd it. They also get large loans from the wealthy mining towns of the region which angers Kosztka who had been trying  to get loans from them himself.

An agreement is made between King John, Sulieman, King Henry VIII of England and King Francis of France is negotiated by Ludovico Gritti (illegitimate son of the Doge of Venice who had been sent by Sulieman to King John's court) to form an alliance against the Habsburg King of Spain/Holy Roman Emperor. This puts King John in a strong position until Gritti tries to stage a coup against King John. 

Early in the year King Ferdinand sent his envoy Ferenc Reway to try to try gand convince Janos to change his support to Ferdinand but he refused.

Now, Ferdinand's General Kazianer, takes matters into his own hands and meets with Janos and Rafael. Because King John is dealing with the attempted coup, he cannot provide the brothers with military support in accordance with their agreement. 

July 27, 1534,.  So the brothers negotiate a deal with Kazianer. They agree to take an oath of allegiance to Ferdinand and return the castles of Kasza and Illava in exchange for amnesty being granted to themselves and their followers and King Ferdinand confirming the Podmaniczky's possession of Lednice Castle.   Also King Ferdinand agrees to pay the Podmaniczky brothers the 1600 forints he borrowed as well as 1200 forints that King Louis II had once borrowed from their uncle Istvan, the archbishop.  

A few days later Miklos Kozska, who has now gone over to Ferdinand's side, tries to convince Kazianer to help him recapture Budetin Castle but Kazianer tells him that he can't because of the agreement he just made with the Janos and Rafael. Many nobles have gone over to Ferdinand's side and there is peace in the Vah Valley for a little while.  

September 29, 1534 King Ferdinand I, issues a document to the Podmaniczky brothers that reaffirms their rights to  to Beszterce Castle (Povaszka), the City of Bán, and gives them the estates and towns of  Kisszántó and Boroseny in Transylvania.


King Ferdinand Sends Troops Against Janos & Rafael

October 6:  Ferenc Reway, envoy of Ferdinand, calls upon Kremnica (a major gold mining town) to assemble their knights, horses and weapons for the purpose of taking military action against the Janos and Rafael. 

October 10: Ferdinand's royal governor, Elek Thurzo issues a call to arms to several counties.

During this time the brothers fortify Sámibokréta, bring in the notorious robber baron, Matthias Basó, as well as the lord of Orava Castle as allies and sends for 800 mounted mercenaries from Poland and Moravia (Czech).

October 12 – Thurzo authorizes another town to send 25 archers and siege equipment and takes over command of the forces.

A Trick to take Suka Castle

October 19 -  Thurzo writes that the Podmaniczkys have also taken the city of Zilina.

Thurzo and Reway begin the siege of Sámibokréta Castle but cannot conquer it withoutcannons. Thurzo writes urgent letters to the king to send cannon and siege equipment from Vienna and warns him a significant part of his kingdom might be lost if they can't stop the Janos and Rafael. 

Late October- Meanwhile, with Thurzo distracted by the siege of the little castle of Sámibokréta, the brothers take over Thurzo's castle, Suka as well as the large town of Zolina. Note: Suka had been pledged to their Uncle Janos Podmaniczky about two decades earlier.

October 26- Governor Thurzo writes to King Ferdinand telling him that the siege cannot progress without siege equipment and more artillery and warns the king that they might lose the mining towns. He also tells the king it is two dangerous for him to leave the siege to go to Vienna.

November 15- Thurzo reports to the King Ferdinand that he believes King John is supporting the Podmaniczkys with arms which could be fatal to his control of the western counties of Hungary that are pretty much all of what make up Ferdinand's share of the kingdom.  

November 15- King Ferdinand write to Thurzo to tell him he will  send and army to defeat the Podmaniczky brothers and also that he will provide the needed siege equipment.

November 16 - Elek Thurzo writes to the king that once the cannons arrive at Sami Bokreta Castle, they will be successful in taking it and that after that they will attack the other Podmaniczky castles and  secure the region for the king, restoring peace to the area. He also remindes the king to pay the mercenaries he is employing for the siege so they do not desert him.

Not long after, do to the weakne cancels the delivery of the cannon.

Interesting Facts

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:

  • Palatine
  • 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