Nikola Zrinski became the head of the Szigetvar Fortress in 1561 after the death of Marko Stančić Horvat, a famous captain and defender of Sigetvar during the first Ottoman siege in 1556, at his own request, thus becoming the chief captain of Szigetvar. In 1563, Zrinski took over the duty of general and commander of the defense of the entire Transdanubia and thus placed under his direct control the entire border defense between Lake Balaton and the Drava River. Emperor and King Ferdinand I left Zrinski the opportunity to leave Szigetvar in the event of an Ottoman siege and leave the defense to another commander, but when the Ottoman army approached Szigetvar in 1566, Zrinski decided to stay to defend the city with his soldiers.
In 1566, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent set out, at an advanced age (72 years) with about 100,000 soldiers and 300 cannons in the last attempt to conquer Vienna. In 1565, the Ottomans suffered a heavy defeat in the siege of Malta. Suleiman felt that his last days were approaching and he did not want to be remembered for that failure.
The forts of Gyula, Eger and Szigetvar stood on the way to Buda and Vienna to the Sultan. Zrinski knew how important the Szigetvar fortress was and began to prepare for defense in advance. 100,000 liters of wheat and other food were brought to the city, and according to food estimates, it was enough for about 4 months of siege. In April 1566, he hired 1,000 mercenaries and increased the number of soldiers in the fort to 2,500. In addition to 40 previous cannons, he received 14 more from Archduke Charles, about 2,400 tanads and a lot of gunpowder, and about 300 war axes and other cold weapons.
Of these three forts, Suleiman decided to attack Szigetvar. In order to reach it, he had to cross the Drava river. After the construction of the first two bridges failed due to strong river currents, the third was successfully built near Osijek. The famous bridge near Osijek was built by Hamza-beg in just ten days, certainly largely motivated by the fact that his head depended on the success of construction. The bridge near Osijek is still known and was actually an ingenious solution in which part of the bridge over the Drava was built on ships, and the part that crossed the swampy area around the river on pillars, a total length of 6 km. The Sultan crossed the bridge on July 20, 1566. By then, Zrinski had already learned from the spy that Sulejman was going to Szigetvar.
Before the battle, he asked his soldiers, most of whom were Croats, to promise him obedience and loyalty until death. Before that, he swore by these words:
“I, Nikola, Duke Zrinski, promise first to the great God, then to His Majesty, to our great ruler and to our poor homeland and to you knights that I will never leave you, but that I will live and die with you, endure good and evil. So help me God! “
In order to understand the battle and the course of the battle it is necessary to know the structure of Szigetvar. It was consisted of three part. The first is “New Varos”, the second is “Old Varos”, and the third is “Old city”, which has a separate “Inner City”. All these parts are separated from each other by bridges, of which the one leading from Old Varos to the City is the longest. Around Szigetvar there was a swamp created by irrigation from the nearby stream Almas. Thus, Siget was a real bastion fort, because in order to fall, the attacker had to conquer one part at a time, each stronger than the previous one and each with more bastions, and the wetland made it difficult to attack from several sides. As the fort was in good condition, Zrinski was left with only an oath of allegiance from his soldiers, and it was especially emphasized that all traitors and disobedient people would be severely punished, and that he would arrange straw and fuel in New and Old Varos so that they could be set on fire in case of withdrawal.
At the beginning of August, the Ottoman army came near Szigetvar, and from August 5, intense fighting began. The sultan himself came the day after the battle began. He stayed in his tent about ¼ miles from the fort, as he was forced to be out of battle due to old age and illness, and could barely walk on his own. The Ottoman army was numerous and historians generally agree that there were somewhere around 100,000 Ottoman soldiers, many of them elite janissaries, and two to three hundred cannons. In addition to the sultan, it was led by the Grand Vizier Mehmed Sokolović. Heavy attacks and cannon fire, coordinated by the Aliportug artillery commander, in New Varos ultimately forced Zrinski to issue an order to withdraw to Old Varos on the evening of 9 August. The attackers did not stop and new attacks began the next day. The Janissaries approached the town from three sides, digging ditches towards the places where the cannons focused their fire. At the same time, they started working on draining the swamp and demolishing the embankment of the Almas stream. Two embankments were also erected to make it easier to shoot at the defenders. Deciding, the seventh in total, the assault on Old Varos took place on August 19th. During the retreat to the City, some defenders were cut off from the bridge and died surrounded in the town.
By August 20, the swamp around Szigetvar was already largely drained. All that’s left is mud. Attacks were launched from all four sides. The first assault followed six days of firing on the walls, but was repulsed. A new great assault followed on August 29, but this attack was repulsed with heavy Ottoman losses, and the commander Aliportug also fell.
All this time Zrinski had hoped that the Christian army would come to his aid, and he refused offers of surrender. At one point, the attackers brought the trumpet player of his son Juraj, and fraudulently wanted to convince Zrinski to keep his son, whom he would kill if he did not surrender. Despite everything, Zrinski refused to surrender, and all offers to surrender fired at the arrows in Szigetvar were useless, because the defenders did not want to surrender, either out of loyalty to Zrinski or out of fear of severe punishment if their plan was revealed. Emperor and King Maximilian already had 90,000 troops gathered near Gyula, but the military council decided for now to do nothing and strike neither directly at Szigetvar nor at Ostrogon to drag parts of the Ottoman army.
In late August and early September, raids became regular. On September 4, the sick Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent passed away in his tent. In order not to demoralize his soldiers, Mehmed Pasha Sokolovic concealed the death of the great sultan, which only the closest circle of people knew about.
As the artificial lake was completely drained, the Ottomans began digging tunnels to reach the walls of the fort and demolished them with an explosion. On September 5, they managed to demolish part of the ramparts of the Old City. In addition, the south wind began to blow and the fire spread throughout the Old City. The general confusion was used by the attackers and they soon attacked the city, so Zrinski had to retreat to the Inner City, leaving some of the soldiers outside to buy time to retreat and lower the gates.
Zrinski remained in the last stronghold with about 500 soldiers and with little supplies, as most of them remained outside the Inner City. The situation was further aggravated when the Inner City was set on fire on 7 September. It became clear to Zrinski that there was no other way out, but he nevertheless refused the offer to surrender, commenting that he would defend the city until his death. Seeing that everything was over, Zrinski gave his last speech in front of his soldiers. He thanked them for standing by him all the time and agreed to stand together in front of the Turks and die heroically. After that he put on his noble clothes and with his father’s sword and small shield, leading his soldiers, rode out of the Inner City. Soon Zrinski was hit by janissary rifles, and fell dead after being hit in the head. Part of the defenders resisted for some time, but the battle was soon over. After the battle ended, a young girl who remained hidden in a gunpowder store lit wicks. Another 3,000 Turkish soldiers were killed in the big blast.
In total, the Ottomans had about 30,000 soldiers killed, of which 5,000 to 7,000 were janissaries. Only a few Szigetvar defenders survived the siege.
Peace between the Ottomans and the Habsburgs was made on February 17, 1568 in the city of Edirne between the Emperor and King Maximilian and the new Sultan Selim II. According to the provisions of the peace, all the conquests from 1552 to 1566 were recognized to the Ottomans. Szigetvar will remain in Ottoman hands until 1689.
Due to the death of Suleiman the Magnificent during the battle, but also due to the huge losses after the conquest of Szigetvar, the Ottomans had to retreat to the south. Their expedition to Vienna failed, and more than a hundred years will pass before the new one (1683).