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János Hunyadi

János Hunyadi
"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 to battle.

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 ottoman Turks.

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 time.

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.



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