Winter Campaign

  By Raider, 1 January 2007; Revised 1 January 2007
  Category: Hungarian History
Contents »

September 1443 – February 1444


By 1443, King Uladislaus managed to secure his power in most parts of Hungary, although supporters of the child, Ladislaus Posthumus,  strongly maintained some territories in the kingdom.  The continuous attacks of the Ottoman Empire and the earlier successes of Hunyadi showed that the Ottoman question must be solved in a military way. A successful campaign against the Ottomans could also have increased the authority and legitimacy of Vladislaus, solidifing his power.

A campaign was also urged by Đurađ Branković, the exiled Serbian despot who lived in Hungary since 1439, when he lost his country to the Ottomans.

After the Council of Basel-Ferrara and the controversial union with the Eastern Church, Pope Eugenius IV sent Cardinal Giuliano Cesarini as his legate to Hungary in order to organize a crusade against the Ottomans. Cardinal Cesarini successfully mediated a cease fire between Uladislaus and the party of Ladislaus Posthumus.

Vladislaus Jagiellon, painting by Jan Matejko
Vladislaus Jagiellon, painting by Jan Matejko
In March 1443, the royal council passed an order of collecting extraordinary war tax (1 golden forint per serf mansion). Hungary also got financial aid from the Pope and Venice helped the crusaders with 10 thousand pounds of gunpowder. Negotiations began by sending a Papal–Venetian fleet to cut Ottoman supply from Asia Minor, but this plan failed because the Pope and Venice were not able to agree on who would finance the fleet.

Finally, Uladislaus raised an army of 25-30 000 men. Besides the Hungarian army, there were Polish troops plus Wallachian, Bosnian and Serbian (under Branković) auxiliary forces.  A contingent of Crusader insurgents and armed peasants were also raised. The army had 600 Hussite warwagons with Bohemian mercenaries as crew. The warwagons were commanded by Jan Čapek, a former deputy of Jan Griska. The crusader force was significant, though the king had to leave behind forces to ensure the peaceful behaviour of Ladislaus Posthumus supporters.

The aim of the crusade was to shake Ottoman power on the Balkans, and, if possible, the capture of its capital, Adrianople (modern Edirne, hung. Drinápoly). The moment was favourable. Sultan Murad II  fought with the elite forces in Asia Minor against Karamania and the Balkans were only defended by the Rumelian army garrisons.

Events of the Campaign

September 1443

The campaign was launched. The Crusaders formed two armies: the vanguard (12 000 men) commanded by John Hunyadi, and the rest of the army, personally led by King Uladislaus.  Minor Ottoman reinforcements (soldiers from some of the Anatolian sandjaks) arrived from Anatolia. The Ottoman army in the Balkans numbered cca. 20 000 men, led by Khasim, the beylerbey of Rumelia.  The Crusader army were numerically superior and Ottoman forces were scattered in the Balkans. Khasim avoided open field battles and slowly retreated. He hoped that the coming winter and continuous harassment would stop or at least weaken the Christians. Crusaders captured Niš without any difficulties.

November 1443

Minor Ottoman forces were harrassing the Crusader vanguard. Hunyadi defeated them one by one.
- Isa bey’s cavalry

- Unidentified light cavalry troops

- Turkhan bey’s akincis

Presumably beylerbey Khasim tried to lure the vanguard far from the main army with these minor forces.  Suddenly, he bypassed Hunyadi and attacked Uladislaus, somewhere between Niš and Kruševac. His plan failed. Hunyadi’s scouts informed the voivod of the attack. Hunyadi ordered forced march and managed to surprise Khasim. The beylerbey was defeated.

Murad II ended the war with Karamania and hurried back to the Balkans with most of

Sultan Murad II
Sultan Murad II
his forces, although he had to leave some forces to ensure his back. He reached Sofia. The long and fast march exhausted his forces and he did not dare to fight an open field battle. Instead, he fortified strategically important mountain passes.

The Crusaders also had difficulties.  November of 1443 was unusually cold, food supply was lessened and horse plague brokes out in the camp. Murad II left Sorfia with only a smaller garrison left behind. He went to the east. Crusaders captured Sofia.

December 1443

Trajan’s Gate (a mountain pass) to the south is so strongly fortified that the Crusaders chose the Zlatitsa Pass instead to reach Adrianople. But Murad had already fortified it and waited behind with his army.

12th December 1443

The Crusaders stormed the pass, but, after some failed attempts, Uladislaus ordered the withdrawal to Hungary. The Crusaders were harrassed by Ottoman marauders and the Sultan ordered the Garand Vizier, Khalil pasha, to pursue the christians. [NOTE: Other sources mentions Khasim pasha.]

24th December 1443

Khalil pasha caught up to the Crusaders at Melstitsa. The fight remained undecided. Hunyadi set a trap at the Kunovitsa Pass. The army of Khalil pasha attacked the rearguard, led by the despot. Branković slowly withdrew and lured the Grand Vizier in front of the full crusader army in battle order. The unexpected charge of heavy cavalry crushed the Ottoman army. Even the Ottoman camp was captured. After this victory, the Crusaders could withdraw unmolested.

January 1444 

13rd January 1444

The Crusader army reaches Kruševac. The despot tries to convince the king to spent the winter in Serbia, but this can’t be carried out: food supply ran out, many horses died of plague, and the king ran out of money and was unable to pay the mercenaries any longer. The army returned to Hungary

February 1444

The king triumphantly entered Buda. A great praise mass was held in the Virgin Mary Church, where the coat of arms of all of those lords who took part in the crusade was hung. (More precisely it is the Nagyboldogasszony Church – modern Matthias Church - but I am unable to translate it accurately.)

During the campaign, the crusaders captured many important people like the bey of Vidin, Plovdiv, Sofia, Sihabeddin former beylerbey, even the brother-in-law of the sultan. They also won many Ottoman banners etc.


The long campaign was not a decisive one. The Crusaders reconquered no lands or castles. They did not fight with the main Ottoman army on an open field battle, though it was a significant victory. Hungary was on the defensive until the time of Sigismund. But now, an army deeply penetrated the Ottoman territories, defeated the "Turks” six times, and returned with the booty without any serious defeat. The expulsion of the Ottomans from Europe, again, seemed a possibility and Hunyadi’s reputation reached the skies.

Cardinal Cesarini urged a new campaign which would crush Ottoman once and for all, and, only after some weeks of rest, arrangements were made for a new crusade. But not just the Hungarians believed this was an important victory, Murad II realized that Hungary, with its allies, was a dangereous threat. The Ottoman Empire can’t accept a two front war with the crusaders and with Karamania. He needed time, and he wanted to abdicate and leave the throne to his son.

The Sultan asked Branković (his father-in-law) to mediate a peace with Hungary. He offered to restore the Serbian State (under the despot)  to pay Hungary a tribute of 100 000 gold coins and to help Hungary with an army of 30 000 men, if needed. His offer was taken into consideration...