In 1526, the Ottoman responded to a request by his new ally King Francis I of France to attack the Hapsburg Empire. This meant an attack on Hungary, traditionally the strong shield of the Hapsburgs’ Balkan frontier.
But the strong shield was strong no longer. In AD 1490 King Matthias Corvinus (Hunyadi Matyas) had died, and the strong army he had created melted away as the Hungarian nobles extorted privileges from his weak successor, Vladislaus (Ulaszlo) II (1490-1516). Revenues were slashed as the nobles kept the money for themselves and the royal army was disbanded, leaving the defence of the country in a very bad way.
Then the Turks attacked, in AD 1521. They took Belgrade (then called Nandorfehervar), which opened up the whole of southern Hungary to invasion.
In 1523, Louis II appointed Archbishop Pal Tomori to oversee Hungary’s defences, but had no money to give him, so the archbishop had to use his own resources to try and create some form of defence for the frontier towns, which the nobles’ greed had left without garrisons.
It was too little and too late. When the Turks under their Sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent, invaded in 1526 with an army of 100,000 men or more (modern historians say 50,000 so one can probably safely triple their estimate), they took the frontier towns of Petervarad, Ujlak and Eszek with little difficulty and advanced on Buda, the Hungarian capital, where Louis was still trying to collect his forces.
Kinng Louis, aware of the danger, was unable to rouse interest among other European nations. He was slow in organising his nation for defence, but was given additional time by the 2-week siege of Peterwardien (Petervarad) (12-27 July). Slowly gathering troops, Louis moved south to Mohacs, where his army grew to about 12,000 cavalry and 13,000 infantry (15 August). At this point, rumours that Suleiman had 300,000 men caused Louis and some of his advisors to waver. He was persuaded to stand firm by the confident arguments of Archbishop Tomori, a formidable warrior, who correctly estimated Turkish strength and discounted their capabilities.
Suleiman reached the southern edge of the Plain of Mohacs. His light reconnaissance cavalry discovered the Hungarian army prepared for battle in the centre fo the plain southwest of Mohacs. It was an area ideal for cavalry combat, the principal arm on both sides.
The infantry, about half German and other foreign mercenary contingents, the rest Hungarian, was formed in 3 large phalanxes in front of Mohacs, the left flank covered by marshes along the Danube river, the right flank in the air. The infantry included a substantial percentage of arquebusiers. Louis’ artillery (about 20 cannon) was in front of the central square. Large cavalry detachments were placed at intervals between the 3 squares; the remainder of the cavalry were drawn up into reserve lines to the rear.
Suleiman formed his army in three lines, the first 2 consisting of feudal timarots. Behind them, providing a base of manoeuvre for the cavalry, Suleiman deployed Janissaries, with artillery in front and the spahis on their flanks. A detachment of 6,000 timarots was sent by a circuitous route to the west, taking advantage of undulations of the ground, to launch a surprise attack on the Hungarian right after the armies were engaged.
The advancing Turks were met by a cannonade. The Hungarian first line heavy cavalry then charged to drive the Turkish first line back. The remainder of the Hungarian army advanced, following this initial success, but the guns could not keep up. Just as the Hungarian cavalry charged Suleiman’s second line, the Turkish enveloping force hit them on the right flank and threw them into considerable confusion. However this flank attack was driven off by the second line of Hungarian cavalry. Both Hungarian cavalry lines joined in smashing the Turkish second line. The Hungarians then charged against the centre of the third and final Turkish line,but suffered heavy casualties from the Turkish artillery, which they could not penetrate because the cannon were chained together. When the Janissaries and spahis counterattacked, the exhausted Hungarians broke and fled.
Suleiman’s army, which had suffered severely, attempted no organised pursuit; a few timariot units, rallied from their earlier defeat, harassed the fleeing Hungarians, whose losses were enormous: 10,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry killed. The few prisoners captured by the Turks were beheaded. Louis, Tomori and most of the other Hungarian leaders were killed.
Without leadership, the fleeing remnants of the Hungarian army simply scattered. Turkish losses are unknown, but they were probably at least as heavy as those of the Hungarians. Suleiman spent three days on the battlefield reorganising his army.
Mohacs undid Hungary. The king was killed, the army wiped out and Hungary laid open to conquest. The Ottomans were apparently surprised by their own success, because although they penetrated to Buda (the Hungarian capital) they merely sacked it and withdrew without making any attempt to hold and fortify it. (They did not conquer it until 1541.) Hungary was no longer viable as an independent entity, part being acquired by the Turks and the remainder by the Austrians when its last king, John Sigismund Zapolya, ceased to reign in 1570 (he became the first Prince of Transylvania under Ottoman auspices, dying a year later).
In 1687, an Austrian army under Charles of Lorraine met the main Ottoman army near Mohacs. The Turks attacked while the Austrians were redeploying, concentrating on the Austrian left. The Turks attempted to outflank the Austrians with their sipahis, but these were beaten off by Austrian cavalry and the Turkish attack became stuck. The Austrians redeployed for an attack, which went in at the same time as the Turks renewed their attack on the Austrian left. Taken off-balance, the Turkish army collapsed and was routed with heavy casualties. Ottoman power in the Balkans was broken and the Austrians as a result were able to recover practically the whole of Hungary. Once again, Hungary had a king – Archduke Josef of Austria, who assumed the Hungarian crown in addition to his Archducal and Imperial titles.
The Ottoman conquest of Hungary began at Mohacs and ended at Mohacs 160 years later.
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