Battle of Mohacs | Ottoman Empire

Battle of Mohacs | Ottoman Empire

The Battle of Mohacs took place near Mohacs, Hungary, on August 29, 1526, between the armies of the Kingdom of Hungary and its allies, led by Louis II, and the Ottoman Empire, led by Suleiman the Magnificent. The Ottoman victory resulted in the partition of Hungary between the Ottoman Empire, the Habsburg Monarchy, and the Principality of Transylvania for several centuries. In addition, Louis II's death while fleeing the conflict signaled the end of the Jagiellonian dynasty in Hungary and Bohemia, whose dynastic claims were transferred to the House of Habsburg.

Background

Decline of Hungarian Royal Power (1490–1526)

Following the death of absolutist King Matthias Corvinus in 1490, the Hungarian magnates, who did not want another heavy-handed king, arranged for the ascension of King Vladislaus of Bohemia, who reigned as King Vladislaus II of Hungary from 1490 to 1516. For his propensity of accepting, without examination, every plea and paper put before him, he was known as King Dobre (or Dobzse in Hungarian orthography). The newly-elected King Vladislaus II gave the nobles the majority of the Hungarian royal lands, régales, and royalties. As a result, the monarch attempted to maintain his new reign's stability and popularity among the magnates.

The central power began to face severe financial difficulties as a result of the royal court's foolish fiscal and land policies, which included the expansion of feudal holdings at royal expense. The noble estate of parliament was successful in lowering their tax burden by 70–80% at the expense of the country's ability to defend itself. Vladislaus was reduced to a helpless "prisoner" of the magnates, unable to make any decisions without their approval.

The aristocracy disbanded Matthias Corvinus' standing mercenary army (the Black Army). The magnates also demolished the country's national administration institutions and bureaucracy. Border guards and castle garrisons went unpaid, fortifications fell into disrepair, and measures to raise taxes to maintain defenses were blocked, causing the country's defenses to deteriorate. Hungary's international status deteriorated, its political stability was shattered, and socioeconomic progress stalled. The entrance of Protestantism exacerbated the country's internal strife.

In 1514, the frail and elderly King Vladislaus II faced a large peasant uprising led by György Dózsa, which was ruthlessly suppressed by the aristocrats commanded by John Zápolya. Because the Hungarians were no longer a politically united people after the Dózsa Rebellion, the Turkish invasion of 1526 was substantially facilitated by the harsh subjugation of the peasants. The breakdown of order that resulted opened the path for Ottoman dominance.

Jagiellonian-Habsburg Attempt to Organize Defence against the Ottomans

In 1522, Hungary's King Louis II married Mary of Habsburg. The Ottomans considered this marriage between the Jagiellonians and the Habsburgs as a danger to their hegemony in the Balkans and attempted to break it apart. After Suleiman I took power in Constantinople in 1520, the High Porte offered at least one, if not two, peace offers to the Hungarians. Louis refused for unknown reasons. Louis may have been aware of Hungary's condition (especially after the Ottomans destroyed Persia in the Battle of Chaldiran (1514) and the Polish-Ottoman treaty of 1525) and decided that war was a better alternative than peace. The Ottomans assaulted Hungarian territory and conquered small territories (with border castles) even during peacetime, but a decisive fight gave Louis hope. As a result, another Ottoman–Hungarian conflict broke out, and an Ottoman expedition pushed across the Danube in June 1526.

Vladislav II (ruled 1490–1516), Louis II, and Croatian nobles regularly begged Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I for assistance in the early 1500s, but assistance for Hungary remained a plan during Maximilian's reign. After the first chain of fortifications fell, Archduke Ferdinand (later Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I) made a concerted effort to assist his brother-in-law, gauging the threat to his own lands. He convened his estates and recommended sending troops to Hungary when Nándorfehérvár was besieged. 2,000 German infantry forces were eventually dispatched. Field troops from Austria frequently arrived between 1522 until the defeat at Mohács in 1526, but they were not yet stationed in fortifications along the frontier as regular garrisons. Despite the fact that this military help was supposed to bolster this border region, it had the unintended consequence of fracturing the united leadership that had existed prior to the prohibition.

According to Alfred Kohler, Ferdinand, Mary, and Louis' coordination effort failed because the youthful Hungarian monarch lacked vitality, which was also observed by Hungarian nobility. Mary, on the other hand, was far more determined and forceful, but her reliance on non-Hungarian counsel bred suspicion.

European Events, and the Franco-Ottoman Alliance

The armies of the Habsburg Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, defeated King Francis I of France at the Battle of Pavia on February 24, 1525. Francis I was obliged to sign the Treaty of Madrid after spending several months in prison.

Francis made a formal Franco-Ottoman alliance with Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent as an ally against Charles V, marking a watershed point in European diplomacy. The strategic and tactical relationship between France and the Ottoman Empire lasted almost three centuries.

In 1525, Francis ordered Suleiman to wage war on the Holy Roman Empire to relieve Habsburg pressure on France, and the road from Turkey to the Holy Roman Empire led through Hungary. Suleiman's aspirations in Europe aligned nicely with the French king's desire, motivating him to attack Hungary in 1526, resulting in the Battle of Mohács.

Preparations

The Hungarians had long opposed Ottoman expansion in southeastern Europe, but in 1521, the Turks moved up the Danube River and captured Nandorfehervar (modern-day Belgrade, Serbia) and Szabács, the two most powerful Hungarian fortresses on the Danube (now Sabac, Serbia). The majority of southern Hungary was rendered defenseless as a result.

The loss of Nandorfehervar alarmed Hungary, but the king's massive 60,000-strong royal army — headed by the king, but recruited too late and too slowly – failed to bring supplies with them. As a result, under the burden of famine and disease, the army disbanded without even attempting to retake Belgrade from the newly stationed Turkish garrisons. Archbishop Pál Tomori, a brave priest-soldier, was appointed Captain of Southern Hungary in 1523. When he began to rebuild and reinforce Hungary's second line of border defense, he was obliged to rely on his own bishopric resources due to the country's overall disinterest. Due to a persistent paucity of castle garrisons, Petervarad fell to the Turks on July 15, 1526. Between Pétervárad and Buda, nearly 400 kilometers along the Danube, there was not a single Hungarian town, village, or fortification of any kind.

Three years later, on April 16, 1526, an Ottoman army led by Suleiman the Magnificent set out from Constantinople. Hungarian nobles, still unaware of the seriousness of the threat, did not quickly respond to their King's request for troops. The Hungarians eventually formed three main units: the Transylvanian army, led by John Zápolya, with between 8,000 and 13,000 men, tasked with guarding the Transylvanian Alps passes; the main army, led by Louis himself (along with numerous Spanish, German, Czech, and Serbian mercenaries); and a smaller force, commanded by the Croatian count Christoph Frankopan, with around 5,000 men. The Ottomans had the largest field artillery of the time, with 300 cannons, whilst the Hungarians only had 85 cannons, which was still more than any contemporary Western European armies deployed on the battlefields during the key confrontations of Western European countries.

The Hungarians couldn't know the Ottomans' final purpose until they crossed the Balkan Mountains, and when they did, the Transylvanian and Croatian armies were further away from Buda than the Ottomans. Despite the lack of contemporary historical documents, it appears that Louis chose a retreat, thus losing the nation to Ottoman forces, over actively fighting the Ottoman army in open conflict. The Hungarian war council committed a severe tactical miscalculation by choosing the battlefield near Mohács, an open but uneven plain with some swampy marshes, instead of waiting for reinforcements from Croatia and Transylvania, which were only a few days march away.

The Ottomans had pushed nearly unchallenged toward Mohács. They had besieged numerous towns (Petervarad, Ujlak, and Eszek) and crossed the Sava and Drava Rivers while Louis waited in Buda. Hungarian troops numbered between 25,000 and 30,000 at Mohács. Only a tiny group of Polish troops (1,500 soldiers and knights) led by royal commander Lenart Gnoiski provided foreign assistance (but organized and equipped by the Papal State). The Ottoman army comprised around 50,000 men, however some historians estimate that the number of Ottoman forces was closer to 100,000. Before the conflict, the majority of the Ottoman Balkan forces were identified as Bosnians or Croats.

The Hungarian army was positioned to take advantage of the terrain and engage the Ottoman army in pieces. They had the advantage of having well-rested men, whereas the Turks had recently completed a tough march in the searing summer heat.

Battle

Hungary amassed an expensive but outmoded army, modeled after King Francis I's force at the Battle of Pavia and relying mostly on heavily armoured cavalrymen mounted on barded warhorses comparable to gendarmes. There were two lines in the Hungarian fighting formation. The first had mercenary infantry and artillery in the center, with the preponderance of the cavalry on either flank. The second was a levy infantry and cavalry combination. The Ottoman army was a more sophisticated force, with artillery and the elite Janissaries wielding muskets. The rest was made up of feudal Timarli cavalry and conscripted Rumelia and Balkan troops.

The battle's duration is as unpredictable as the number of participants. It began between 1:00 and 2:00 p.m., although the exact time of the end is unknown. According to the few verifiable reports, Louis abandoned the field around dusk and fled under the cover of night. Because the sun did not set until 6:27 PM on August 29, 1526, the combat must have lasted longer than two to three hours (perhaps as long as four or five).

Suleiman's initial forces, the Rumelian army, were attacked and routed by Hungarian troops led by Pál Tomori as they marched onto the battlefield. The irregular Ottoman troops were thrown into confusion by the Hungarian right's charge, but the Ottomans rallied with the arrival of Ottoman regulars deployed from the reserves, even as the Hungarian offensive continued. While the Hungarian right advanced far enough to put Suleiman in danger from Hungarian bullets striking his cuirass, the Ottoman regulars' superiority and the Janissaries' timely charge crushed the assault, especially on the Hungarian left. The Hungarians suffered heavy losses as a result of the Turkish artillery and musket volleys, which were expertly handled. The Hungarians were unable to maintain their positions, and those who did not flee were encircled and murdered or captured. The Hungarians were decimated when their lines advanced into withering fire and flank attacks, falling into the same trap that John Hunyadi had employed so successfully against the Ottomans. The king left the battlefield at dusk, but was thrown from his horse into a river at Csele and drowned, his heavy armor weighing him down. A further 1,000 Hungarian nobility and leaders were assassinated. More than 14,000 Hungarian soldiers were slain in the initial combat, according to popular belief.

Suleiman couldn't believe that the once-powerful kingdom could only assemble this little, suicidal army against him, so he waited a few days at Mohacs before moving slowly against Buda. On August 31, 2,000 Hungarian prisoners were slaughtered in front of the Sultan's golden throne.

Aftermath

The Ottomans did not gain the security they desired as a result of their triumph. Only the French and Venetian ambassadors remained in Buda, waiting for the Sultan to congratulate him on his tremendous triumph. They retreated quickly after entering the unsecured vacated Buda and pillaging the castle and environs. Following the 1541 Siege of Buda, the Ottomans did not finally seize and occupy Buda until 1541. The Battle of Mohács, on the other hand, effectively ended the autonomous Kingdom of Hungary as a cohesive entity. The divided Hungarian nobles elected two monarchs at the same time, John Zápolya in 1526 and Ferdinand of Austria in 1527, amid political upheaval. The Habsburg Archduke of Austria, Ferdinand I, Louis's brother-in-law and successor by pact with King Vladislaus II, opposed the Ottoman occupation.

The Habsburgs ruled over Bohemia, as well as northern and western Hungary and the surviving Kingdom of Croatia, while the Ottomans ruled central Hungary and had suzerainty over semi-independent Transylvania. This gave the Hungarians the motivation they needed to continue resisting the Ottoman occupation for another seventy years.

For the Ottoman wars, the Austrian branch of the Habsburg monarchy required Hungary's economic power. During the Ottoman wars, the old Kingdom of Hungary's territory shrank by almost 70%. Despite these geographical and demographic losses, even at the end of the 16th century, the smaller, heavily war-torn Royal Hungary remained economically more important than Austria or the Kingdom of Bohemia. The depleted Kingdom of Hungary was Ferdinand's most important source of wealth at the time.

The near-constant fighting that followed necessitated a long-term commitment of Ottoman armies, a strain on resources that the primarily rural and war-torn empire was unable to repay. During the 16th century, Crusader troops besieged Buda on multiple occasions. During the Battle of Szigetvár in Hungary in 1566, Sultan Suleiman died of natural causes. Two Ottoman sieges of Eger failed, and the city did not fall until 1596, seventy years after the Ottoman triumph at Mohacs. The Turks were unsuccessful in conquering the Habsburg kings' northern and western areas of Hungary.

Georgius Bartholomaeus wrote a book on Turkish culture based on information gathered from Christian troops liberated by the Ottomans after the fight.

Last updated: 2022-April-02
Tags: History War Ottoman Empire Hungary
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