Castle of the Week 75 – Miskolc Diosgyor

Rising high above the valley floor, the four massive towers of Miskolc Diosgyor have stood as a landmark and symbol of power for nearly seven centuries. Located in Northeast Hungary, the castle is one of the most prominent medieval structures in the country today. It is situated atop a rocky knoll in the valley at the foot of Avas Hill, between the brooks Szinva and Pece which flow into the river Sajo. Evidence of human settlement in the valley dates back thousands of years to the Stone Age.

The first written record of the settlement was recorded in the 12th Century in the chronicles of Anonymous, who lived and wrote in the court of King Bela III of Hungary. Medieval Miskolc Diosgyor consisted of a castle (probably a motte and bailey), monastery and a peasant village. The settlement was located at the meeting point between the wine producing Hungarian Plain and the iron producing hill country. It controlled the vital trade routes between central and upper Hungary and into Poland. The castle belonged to the Bors family until the Tartar (or Mongol) invasion of 1241-42, when the entire settlement was destroyed and burned.

In 1271 a fortified stone keep was built on the previous site as the private residence of Ban Ernye, a man of local prominence. The new castle was given to Dozsa Debreczeni, the Prince of Transylvania as a royal donation in 1319. The castle then passed to the crown in 1340 and over the next several years it underwent major renovations.

Four massive towers were added to the keep to protect the outer ring of the castle. A deep and wide moat was constructed along the castle’s perimeter. Other defenses included a thick curtain wall and four strong gatehouses. King Louis the Great of Hungary loved the place so much that in 1364 he attached a large estate to Diosgyor and transformed it into a royal castle. It then joined Buda, Visegrad and Zolyom to become one of the four official residences of the king.

This transformation greatly increased the castle’s historical significance. As a result of becoming a royal residence, the king’s court spent several months out of the year at Miskolc Diosgyor. One of the most prominent events that occurred at the castle was the ratification of the Peace of Turin in 1381, which ended a long bloody war between Venice and Genoa and shaped the future of trade in the Mediterranean. The castle has ties to so many different kingdoms that it left my head spinning trying to get the lineage straight. I will simply state that Diosgyor has direct ties to the Hungarian, Polish, Bohemian and German thrones as well as the Holy Roman Empire.

Speaking of royalty, the Hungarian Crown Jewels at some point would have been at Miskolc Diosgyor with the king. They consist of the crown, orb, scepter, state sword and coronation robe. The Hungarian Crown Jewels are the oldest collection of crown jewels in Europe.

When the first Hungarian king, Stephen I (who was later sainted) was crowned, the fate of the Hungarian nation was forever tied to Christian Europe. Hungary became the “Shield of Christianity” against the Muslims. The crown was the mightiest symbol of power and played a significant role in Hungarian history. According to terms of being a king, the validity of the coronation depended on whether the sainted crown had covered the king’s head or not. The nation refused to accept the king as monarch if his coronation was not done with the crown of St Stephen. The crown has such importance that even if the king was of foreign origin, the people accepted and respected him if the Hungarian coronation rules were applied. The crown of St Stephen is still used today on the Hungarian coat of Arms.

King Sigismund, King of Hungary, Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor, gave Miskolc Diosgyor to his queen as a present. It subsequently became the endowment of the Hungarian Queens for years to come. It was the wedding present and the country residence of six queens between 1424 and 1526. The last queen to live at the castle was Maria Habsburg of Austria who was wife of Louis II, King of Hungary and Bohemia. The marriage of Louis and Maria drew the kingdom closer to the Habsburgs of Austria and the Ottomans saw this as a threat. They decided to use force to break this alliance and prepared for war.

In the summer of 1526, the Ottoman invasion of Hungary began. The decisive battle of the war occurred on August 29 1526 along the banks of the Danube at Mohacs where an out-numbered Hungarian force led by King Louis II awaited the Turkish invaders. The battle only lasted for two hours as the forces of Suleiman overran the Hungarian defenders. Among the 30,000+ Hungarian and Ottoman casualties was King Louis II who was drowned when thrown from his horse crossing a river fleeing the battle.

After the defeat at Mohacs, the kingdom disintegrated. Hungary was divided between the advancing Turks and the Austrians who annexed the western part of the country. The first wave of Turks reached Miskolc Diosgyor in 1544. The castle had been abandoned and did not put up a fight. Most of the town was burned, the livestock stolen and every able-bodied man carried away. For the next 150 years the Ottomans oppressively occupied Miskolc Diosgyor.

Before chasing the Turks out of the country, Kuruc troops (Hungarian Insurrectionists) took possession of the castle in 1674. Losing its strategic significance, the castle was partially blown up by Austrian troops in 1678. It was another eight years until the Austrians finally drove the Turks completely out of Hungary (1686). For a brief time in 1702, the castle was transformed into a treasury and mint. It was in 1703 that Prince Rakoczi led an uprising against the Austrian Habsburgs for Hungarian independence. The prince used Miskolc Diosgyor as his headquarters during the rebellion. As a result, on September 25th 1706, the town was sacked and burned by imperial forces. The castle was never re-occupied and decayed into ruin over the next 250 years.

Today, part of Miskolc Diosgyor has been rebuilt and serves as a cultural and historic symbol of Hungary. The castle houses a museum, which features the largest historical wax-works in central Europe. Scenes depicted range from medieval life to the signing of the Peace of Turin. Other exhibits include a gallery of weapons and armor from the 14th – 16th centuries, a coin or minting press and a 16th century parade cannon. The castle is also host to many festivals featuring art, song and dance. In fact, the central courtyard of the keep has been transformed into a theater. You may even see scenes reminiscent of William Tell as an international archery competition is held yearly in the castle grounds with competitors dressing and using period weapons.

Miskolc Diosgyor has been an interesting and enjoyable project. In the process of writing this article, I have learned a lot about Hungarian/Eastern European history. Not to mention the map I was able to design based on the historical blueprint of the castle! I must say, I got frustrated more than once trying to sort through dates and translations. For example, King Louis the Great in some places is referred to as Nagy Lajos (the Great). I had to put the pieces together like a jigsaw puzzle. I would like to thank Tibor Szabo who runs the Castles in Hungary website and Orsolya Kotzian from the Museums of Hungary for their assistance in my research.

Other sources include the following:
Museum of Hungary
Castle of Diósgyor
Diosgyor Castle
Nygaard family site
History of Hungary

Write-up and download courtesy of Duke of York


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