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Crusade of Varna

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Crusade of Varna

Crusade of Varna

Painting by Stanisław Chlebowski portraying king Wladyslaw's death after the battle of Varna
Date October 1443-November 1444
Location Balkans
Result Ottoman victory
Kingdom of Poland
Kingdom of Hungary
Crown of Bohemia
Grand Duchy of Lithuania
Serbian Despotate
Principality of Wallachia
Principality of Moldavia
Bulgarian rebels
Papal States
Teutonic Knights
Ottoman Empire
Commanders and leaders
Vladislaw III 
John Hunyadi
Đurađ Branković
Murad II
Kazim Pasha
Türhan Bey

The Crusade of Varna was a string of events in 1443–44 between the Kingdom of Hungary, the Serbian Despotate, the Principality of Wallachia and the Ottoman Empire. It culminated in a devastating Christian loss at the Battle of Varna on 10 November 1444.


In 1428, while the Ottoman Empire was fighting a war with the Republic of Venice, the Ottomans and the Kingdom of Hungary achieved a temporary peace by establishing the Serbian Despotate as a buffer state. After the war ended in 1430,[1][2] the Ottomans returned to their earlier policy of controlling all lands south of the Danube. In 1432, Sultan Murad II began raiding into Transylvania. After King Sigismund died in 1437, the attacks intensified, with the Ottomans occupying Borač in 1438 and Zvornik and Srebrenica in 1439. At the end of 1439, Smederevo capitulated and Murad succeeded in making Serbia an Ottoman province. Đurađ Branković, Despot of Serbia, fled to his estates in Hungary. In 1440, Murad besieged Hungary's main border fortress, Belgrade. After failing to take the fortress, he was forced to return to Anatolia to stop attacks by the Karamanids.[3][4]

Meanwhile, Sigismund's successor Albert had died in October 1439, shortly after signing a law to "restore the ancient laws and customs of the realm". The law restricted the royal authority by requiring the participation of landed nobility in political decisions. Four months after Albert's death, his only son, Ladislaus, was born while Hungary was in the midst of a civil war over the next monarch. On 17 July 1440 Vladislaus, king of Poland, was crowned despite continuing disputes.[5] John Hunyadi aided Vladislaus's cause by pacifying the eastern counties, gaining him the position of Voivode of Transylvania and the corresponding responsibility of protecting Hungary's southern border. By the end of 1442, Vladislaus had secured his status in Hungary, and denied an Ottoman proposal of peace in exchange for Belgrade.[4]

The Roman Catholic Church, meanwhile, had long been advocating for a crusade against the Ottomans, and with the end of both the Hungarian civil war and a nearly simultaneous one in Byzantium, they were able to realistically begin negotiations and planning. The impetus required to turn the plans into action was provided by Hunyadi between 1441–42. In 1441, he defeated a raid led by Ishak Pasha of Smederevo.[3] He nearly annihilated Mezid Bey's army in Transylvania on 22 March 1442, and in September he defeated the revenge attack of Şihabeddin Pasha, governor-general of Rumelia.[4] Branković, hoping to liberate Serbia, also lent his support after Novo Brdo, the last major Serbian city, fell to the Ottomans in 1441.

The Crusade

Early fighting

On 1 January 1443 Pope Eugene IV published a crusading bull. In early May, it was reported "that the Turks were in a bad state and that it would be easy to expel them from Europe", though the success of the crusade still required the simultaneous attacks of both the Hungarian and Karamanid armies. However, in the spring of 1443, before the Hungarians were ready, the Karamanids attacked the Ottoman Empire and were devastated by Murad's full army.[4]

The Hungarian army, led by Vladislaus, Hunyadi, and Branković, attacked in mid-October. They correctly expected that Murad would not be able to quickly mobilize his army, which consisted mainly of fief-holding cavalrymen who needed to collect the harvest to pay taxes. Hunyadi's experience of winter campaigns from 1441–42 added to the Hungarian's advantage. They also had better armor, often rendering the Ottoman weapons useless. Murad could not rely on the loyalty of his troops from Rumelia, and had difficulties countering Hungarian tactics.[4]

As the Hungarians advanced, they forced Kasim Pasha of Rumelia and his co-commander Turahan Bey to abandon camp and flee to Sofia, Bulgaria to warn Murad of the invasion. However, the two burned all the villages in their path in an attempt to wear down the Hungarians with a scorched earth tactic. When they arrived in Sofia, they advised the Sultan to burn the city and retreat to the mountain passes beyond, where the Ottoman's smaller army would not be such a disadvantage. Shortly after, bitter cold set in, and the next encounter, fought at Zlatitsa Pass just before Christmas 1443, was fought in the snow. The Hungarians were defeated. As they marched home, however, they ambushed and defeated a pursuing force in Dragoman Pass, where Mahmud Bey, son-in-law of the Sultan and brother of the Grand Vizier Çandarlı Halil Pasha, was taken prisoner.[4]

While the battle at Zlatitsa Pass had been a disaster, the ambush returned to the Hungarians the illusion of an overall Christian victory, and they returned triumphant. The King and Church were both anxious to maintain the illusion and gave instructions to spread word of the victories, but contradict anyone who mentioned the loss.[4]

Murad, meanwhile, returned angry and dejected by the unreliability of his forces, and imprisoned Turahan after blaming him for the army's setbacks and Mahmud Bey's capture.[4]

Peace proposals

Murad is believed to have had the greatest wish for peace. Among other things, his sister begged him to obtain her husband Mahmud's release, and his wife Mara, daughter of Đurađ Branković, added additional pressure. On 6 March 1444 Mara sent an envoy to Branković; their discussion started the peace negotiations with the Ottoman Empire.[4]

On 24 April 1444 Vladislaus sent a letter to Murad, stating that his ambassador, Stojka Gisdanić, was travelling to Edirne with full powers to negotiate on his behalf. He asked that, once an agreement was reached, Murad send his own ambassadors with the treaty and his sworn oath to Hungary, at which point Vladislaus could also swear.[4]

That same day, Vladislaus held a Diet at Buda, where he swore before Cardinal Julian Cesarini to lead a new expedition against the Ottomans in the summer. The strongest remaining supporter of Ladislaus' claim for the throne also agreed to a truce, thus removing the danger of another civil war.[4]

Between June and August 1444, negotiations for a treaty were carried out, first in Edirne, and then in Szeged. The Hungarians were not entirely interested in peace, however, especially with Cesarini pushing for the crusade's continuation. The Cardinal eventually found a solution that would allow for both the continuation of fighting and the ratification of the treaty, and on 15 August 1444 the Peace of Szeged was sworn into effect.[4]

Final stage

Shortly after all the short-term requirements of the treaty were fulfilled, the Hungarians and their allies resumed the crusade. Murad, who had retired shortly after the treaty was completed, was called back to lead the Ottoman army. On 10 November 1444 the two armies clashed at the Battle of Varna (near the Black Sea fortress of Varna, Bulgaria). The Ottomans won a decisive victory despite heavy losses, while the Hungarians lost their King and over 10,000 men.[4]


Many were crippled by frostbite, many more died in smaller follow-up battles, and most European prisoners were killed or sold into slavery. Hungary fell back into civil war until Hunyadi was elected Regent for the infant Ladislaus in June 1446. Branković retained control over Serbia. The Ottoman Empire was free, for several decades, from any further serious attempts to push it out of Europe.[4]


  1. ^ Ganse, Alexander (June 6, 2005). "History of Warfare". World History at  
  2. ^ Stearns, Peter N., et al, ed. (June 2002). "5. Venice". The Encyclopedia of World History: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern (6th ed.). New York:  
  3. ^ a b Sugar, Peter (1977). "Chapter 1: The Early History and the Establishment of the Ottomans in Europe". Southeastern Europe Under Ottoman Rule, 1354–1804 (Reprint).  
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Imber, Colin (July 2006). "Introduction". The Crusade of Varna, 1443-45 ( 
  5. ^ "Wladislaus III". Classic Encyclopedia (Reprint of  
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