"Hammer of the Turks"
János Hunyadi was born in around 1387. Not much is known about
Hunyadi's early life. Initially he was a knight at the court of
king Sigismund and, together with his brother Jován, Hunyadi served
the king commanding a force of 300 soldiers. He become immensely
rich and raised himself from the ranks of the lesser nobility into
those of the aristocratic elite. Eventually, thanks to his outstanding
personal qualities, he become the most powerful man in the country.
During the 13th and 14th centuries, large numbers of Vlachs, Serbs,
Germans and other peoples settled in the country's uninhabited regions.
They lived under serfdom, with the head of a family receiving 40
"holds" (1 hold = 1x42 English acres) of land and their
leaders 80 holds, which they were free to dispose of as they wished.
The leaders, of these settlers were freemen and as time went by
most of them rose to the ranks of the Hungarian nobility. This was
the case with a Vlach called Serbe, who had settled in Transylvania
in the county of Hunyad. Serbe was János Hunyadi's grandfather and
since he lived in Hunyad he adopted this as his surname. János Hunyadi's
father Vajk became a Catholic and member, of the lesser nobility,
indeed he was actually a courtier and in time of war, at the head
János Hunyadi's great series of victories against the Turks began
in 1441 when he became vojvode of Transylvania and mobilised the
military forces there in a successful defence of the region. In
1441 he attacked the forces of the bey Ishak, who had invaded Serbia.
Following a minor defeat, in 1442 Hunyadi won another decisive victory
and in September of the same year he destroyed the forces of the
This series of victories, the news of which resounded throughout
Europe, encouraged the young King Ladislaus I, aided by other states,
to take advantage of the Sultan's embroilment in Asia and begin
a campaign against him. In the autamn of 1443 an army almost 35.OOO
strong, made up of Hungarians, Poles, Bosnians and Serbs, marched
through Serbia into Bulgaria. The vanguard of this army, which was
led by János Hunyadi and Miklós Újlaki, inflicted defeats on the
different parts of the Turkish army one after the other. The united
forces of the royal army then decisively defeated the Turks in Moravia.
The way was now clear as far as the Balkan Mountains. However, the
Sultan's forces fiercely defended the Zlatica Pass, and finally
in the bitter cold of winter the royal army was forced to turn back.
Hunyadi had the task of covering the withdrawal and defeated the
emboldened Turkish forces on a further two occasions.
The Sultan Murad II was surprised by this turn of events and offered
such favourable peace terms that it was impossible to reject them.
This peace settlement was also advantageous for the Serb prince
György Brankovics, for by the terms of the agreement the Sultan
promised to restore his lands to him. The Hungarians signed this
peace but had previously vowed to continue fighting. They were encouraged
to do this by the papal representative Cardinal Cesarini, who promised
that a Christian army would close the Bosporus making it a relatively
easy matter to defeat the smaller Ottoman forces, who were occupying
the European side, reaving the Balkans once more in the hands of
the Christians. This plan was very tempting and neither Hunyadi
nor the King could resist taking part. After signing the peace agreement
the Sultan fulfilled all its terms and returned a whole series of
Serb castles to Brankovics. The Serb prince was taken aback by the
deception practised by the Hungarians and realised it could bring
about his downfall. In consequence, not only did Brankovics not
participate in the campaign but he also refused to allow the royal
armies to march through his lands. At the Bosporus, however, it
was not a Christian army that awaited them but the Sultan. The allied
fleet had not been able to blockade the Bosporus. On November 10th
1444, the day of the battle, despite facing superior Turkish forces,
Hunyadi and the Hungarian army attempted the impossible. During
the battle the King recklessly broke through hoping to secure a
victory but he and his entourage were killed. With the death of
the King the army disintegrated. The battle was lost but Hunyadi
and his Knights managed to escape.
When he became viceroy Hunyadi continued to struggle with all his
might against the Turks. In 1448 in a battle fought over two days.
the Hungarian forces suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of
the Sultan, with Hunyadi himself only escaping with great difficulty.
After a number of skirmishes on July 3th 1456 Sultan Mehmed II began
the siege of Nándorfehérvár the most important link in the chain
of border. The Sultan's thirst for conquest was insatiable.
The greatest help was provided by Pope Calixtus III, who organised
a collection of money to finance an army to do battle with the Turks.
In addition the Pope also gave instructions that throughout Christendom
the church bells should be rung to remind Christians that they,
should pray for the relief of Nándorfehérvár and for the survival
of Hungary. The custom of ringing church bells at noon, which is
still abserved throughout the Catholic world today, dates from this
Scarcely ten days after the beginning of the siege Hunyadi arrived
with his army, intent on relieving the beleagured castle. The position
seemed hopeless but, nevertheless, Hunyadi and his men managed to
break through the Turkish lines and enter the city, which had suffered
great damage from the Turkish cannon. The Turks continued to bombard
the city for another week until on July 21st the Sultan ordered
his men to storm the city. During the fierce fighting the janissaries
actually managed to break through and enter the city but Hunyadi
and his heavy cavalry drove them out again. One of the Turks hoisted
a flag on one of the walls of the city as a sign of victory but
a brave knight named Titus Dugovich in an act of self-sacrifice
tore the flag from the wall and plunged to his death. The Turks
suffered enormous losses and were forced to withdraw to their camp.
The next day the Christian forces, encouraged by this turn of events,
captured a hill, from which they were able to repulse the Turks
when they counterattacked. Hunyadi also came to their aid and by
means of a during manoeuvre was able to seize the Turks cannon and
used them to attack the flank of the Turkish army. The Turks were
then seized by panic and fled in confusion.
News of this victory was greeted with fervent celebrations throughout
Europe. Hunyadi, however, scarcely three weeks after his historic
victory died of the plague, along with many of his Knights. Even
in the last days of his life he was writing letters with the aim
of recapturing Constantinople and driving out the Turks.