Thursday, 29 August 2013

“Több is veszett Mohácsnál" - The Battle of Mohács in 1526


29 August 1526, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent decisively defeated an Eastern European army und King Louis II of Hungary at Mohács, 130 miles south of Budapest, the coup de grâce for the medieval Kingdom of Hungary.


“Több is veszett Mohácsnál" - More was lost at Mohács (well-known saying in Hungary)




The Hungarian Romantic painter Bertalan Székely’s (1835 – 1910) imagination of the “Discovery of the Body of King Louis the Second” (1860).




King Louis II of Hungary was in quite a pinch. Mighty Matthias Corvinus had died in 1490 and he was succeeded by the nobility’s puppet Vladislaus II, aptly named King Dobže, "very well", for the monarch’s habit of rubber-stamping almost every whim his nobles might come up with. Usually at the expense of the common people. Naturally, a major peasant revolt followed, wearing Hungary down to the bone, just a couple of years before Louis succeeded King Dobže. And there was an expansionistic neighbour, the Ottoman Empire, having Europe's arguably most modern army at its disposal. When Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent allied his empire with the French, actually Louis’ ancestors, against the growing influence of their mutual enemy, House Habsburg, and the Sultan capturing the key fortresses to Hungary’s southern approaches, Nándorfehérvár, (present-day Belgrade) and Szabács in 1521, young Louis was really in hot water.




(after Titian) "Portrait of King Louis II" (around 1526)


Nonetheless, Louis decided to go to war against the Ottomans, summoned his allies and gathered his army. Unfortunately, some of the allies like the Habsburgs had their hands full fighting in Burgundy and France. Or they had already concluded a separate peace with the Turks, like Poland, or were more or less their vassals, like the Prince of Transylvania. Louis marched to the southeast anyway, with an army half the size of Suleiman’s, mainly consisting of drafted peasants who hated his and the nobility’s guts and were secretly helping the Turks to advance – or did not care who their master was – and his heavy armoured nobles who tried to fight as knights like their ancestors did. When the two armies finally met at Mohács, the selfsame nobility was lured into a premature charge, ending up in the crossfire of Turkish artillery, a trick the Hungarian warlord John Hunyádi had often used a hundred years before against the Ottomans. The nobles were shot to pieces, Suleiman’s excellent troops followed up and 
what was left was driven into the swamps and slaughtered. By the end of the day, Louis’ army was no more, who did not fell in battle was beheaded, the king himself drowned in a creek called Csele, his corpse was found two months later.

 


Contemporary Ottoman imagination of the Battle of Mohács



Most of Hungary and Croatia was occupied by the Ottomans immediately in the aftermath and the line of the Kings of Hungary ended on that day with the country losing its political independence for the next 400 years. The Holy Roman Empire and the Habsburgs followed up immediately, though, and their continuous conflict with the Ottomans along the shifting military border of the two empires turned the whole Balkan area into a crisis region for a very long time. No wonder that the Battle of Mohács as an archetype of a catastrophe left a deep impression and played an important role as a significant reminder and ideological gathering point for Hungarian patriotism at least since the 19th century.