László Kerecsényi

László Kerecsényi

B y the middle of the 16th century, beside Eger and Szigetvár, Gyula became of high importance in the borderline fortification system. The multi level protection was made up by the still standing inner brick castle, surrounded by a trapezoid outer brick castle with a still visible cannon tower on its south-western corner. A plank wall surrounded the outer castle with five bastions, and a four bastion hussar castle made from earth and wood was attached to this.

On the turn of 1565-1566, Sultan Suleiman decided that while he is attacking the Miklós Zrinyi led Szigetvár with the main army, he will send his brother-in-law with an army of 30000 against Gyula. Pasha Pertev arrived under the fortification of Gyula on the 2nd of July, 1566. The castle of Gyula and its demesne had already been governed for six years by László Kerecsényi, former constable of Szigetvár.

For the arrival of the Ottoman army, approximately 1500 Hungarian and Rác (Serbian) infantrymen and cavaliers and 600 German infantrymen gathered in Gyula. Their artillery was limited compared to the size of the enemy; they only had 22 different calibre cannons and howitzers at their disposal. The defenders of Gyula could not expect any help from the far away Habsburg territories.

K erecsényi was able to protect the town for a few days because of the high standing Fehér (white) Körös River, however, on the 6th of July, he set fire to the town and receded back into the outer (Hussar) castle. The siege of the Hussar castle started on the 11th of July. The siege artillery was breaking the planks of the outer castle from four different locations, in the meantime filling up the defensive trenches with sticks and soil. They brought the soil out from underneath the damaged bastions, replacing it with wood so that they can set fire in order to destroy them.

The defenders were able to damage the attackers quite severely but they themselves suffered major losses. Three of their old cannons were blown up, and the howitzer in the tower of the inner castle was destroyed by the battering-train. In this part of the battle, the first Hungarian officer was lost. Lieutenant Demeter Olcsárovics was injured on the forehead by a shell. From this, he got a blood infection and died within a few days.

To divide the defenders’ attention, on the dawn of July 20th, Pasha Pertev ordered the attack of four different locations of the damaged castle. The battle lasted until noon and even though the defenders managed to hold on to the severely damaged outer castle, they lost another leader. Miklós Hennyei was shot above the eye with an arrow and died three days later. István Földvári was also shot by an arrow on the shoulder.

Recreation of a clash at the Castle
Battle scene

F ollowing the unsuccessful attack, the Pasha changed tactics. He ordered the protective planks to be shot from the side so that the clay sticking can be damaged, then he set fire to the exposed beams thus creating gaps within the planks.

The pasha’s calculations were correct. Kerecsényi had to give up the outer castle. During the retreat, the defenders could barely get into the inner castle; they were unable to completely destroy the bridges on the water trench behind them.

The attackers started building new trenches right at the retreat to use against the inner castle. The new attack started at the crack of dawn on August 3rd. With the leadership of the recovered István Földvári and János Ghiczy, the defenders were not only able to protect the inner castle, but caused huge losses for the attackers. Apparently the Bejlerbey (head of beys) of Temesvár got seriously injured here as well.

I n spite of this, the defenders’ situation was becoming more and more oblique. Either on the 18th or 19th of August, they were forced back into the gothic brick castle. The next day Kerecsényi asked for a ceasefire even though a lot of the defenders did not agree with this idea. Lukács Jász, warder, and János Ghiczy challenged the captain on this, reminding him of the oath he made to defend the castle.

The discussions about the surrender lasted until August 30th. Both sides sent hostages as vouchers; Pertev sent a low-ranked civil servant and two mercenaries, Kerecsényi sent 3 heroes: János Budai, András Sárkány and Albert Tollkötő.

In agreement with the new deal, Kerecsényi sent 4000 Tallers to the leader of the janissaries to quiet down his mercenaries. The defenders started the withdrawal at noon on September 2nd. First to leave on wagons were the wounded soldiers and commoners who fled into the castle before the siege. At dusk they were followed by the German and Hungarian infantry and cavalry, then finally Kerecsényi himself with the three hostages. They were about a mile away from Gyula when despite the agreement, the Turkish army attacked the Hungarians from behind. Kerecsényi was captured, taken to Nándorfehérvár (now Belgrade) where he was soon executed.

Black and white picture of the Castle across the lake

At that time, the surrender of the castle was considered to be treason. However, Kerecsényi deserves to be called a hero since he defended Gyula for over two months without any hope of outside help. He gave up the fortress for the sake of the disease stricken civilians who were stuck behind its walls without any potable water.