Wednesday 19 January 2022

The Siege of Buda, 1541

This weekend my friend Tom visited to continue our series of wargames. Having already played a couple of scenarios based around the struggles for control of 16th century Hungary we thought it would be interesting to give some of my 1540s collection its first outing and game a clash from the siege of Buda in 1541. The Erhard Schön series of woodcuts, all five of which are shown together in the image below, is incredibly detailed with images of the Imperialist camp and siege lines as well as the Ottoman assault on the camp and earthworks. This provided plenty of inspiration for a scenario that pitted a combined force of Imperialist and Hungarian troops against an Ottoman army that included Suleiman the Magnificent himself. They would do battle amongst the trenches and earthworks of the Habsburg siege lines.

Buda 1541, Erhard Schön.

The Siege of Buda, 1541

A war for Hungary had followed the battle of Mohacs as Ferdinand of Habsburg, brother of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, challenged John Zápolya, Voivode of Transylvania for control of the country. Suffering defeats at the hands of the Habsburgs at Tarcal, 1527,, and Szina, 1528, John Zápolya was driven into the arms of the Ottomans and made his portion of Hungary a vassal state in return for Ottoman support. Suleiman I invaded Austria, unsuccessfully besieging Vienna in 1529, and after more years of war a peace was established in 1533 with western Hungary becoming Habsburg and the east being ruled by John Zápolya, now John I of Hungary, Suleiman's vassal.

Following this peace, and expecting John to die childless, Ferdinand pressured John for the rest of the kingdom. In 1538 they made the secret Treaty of Nagyvárad in which John, having no heir, designated Ferdinand to be his successor, thus inheriting the whole of Hungary. Ferdinand's plans were thwarted when in early 1539 John married Isabella Jagiellon, daughter of King Sigismund I of Poland and Bona Sforza. They had a son on 15 July 1540 and days later John I died. The infant was crowned John II with his mother Isabella Jagiellon and bishop George Martinuzzi acting as regents with Ottoman backing.

This outcome was unacceptable to Ferdinand of Habsburg and in May 1541 the Hungarian capital, with perhaps 3,000 defenders, was besieged by up to 50,000 Habsburg and Hungarian troops under the command of Wilhelm von Roggendorf, a veteran captain of the Habsburgs who had commanded the heavy cavalry during the 1529 siege of Vienna. The siege did not go well for the Imperialists and their assaults on the breaches of Buda's walls were repulsed with heavy losses.

The Ottoman Sultan, Suleiman I, led the relief force himself, taking control of an army that included over 6,000 janissaries. By July 1541 Ottoman light cavalry were arriving at the Habsburg siege lines and skirmishing with Von Roggendorf's forces. On 21 August Suleiman himself arrived and immediately attacked the siege lines from the east. The Habsburgs were unprepared for this assault and Suleiman began to force them out of their positions being aided by troops from Buda's garrison and his light cavalry who had been previously harassing the Imperialists. 

The exact course of the battle is unknown but 20,000 Imperial troops are thought to have been killed with Von Roggendorf, their commander, dying of his wounds two days after the battle. The woodcut below gives a contemporary impression of what the Imperialists believed had happened to some of the besieging army following their capture by the Ottomans. How accurate such an image is remains open to debate but the Habsburgs had suffered an enormous defeat at the hands of the Suleiman. The relief of the siege by Suleiman was followed up by the Ottoman occupation of the city when the Turkish troops who had been allowed into the city by the rejoicing defenders suddenly disarmed the garrison and captured it for the Sultan. 

Slaughter of the landsknecht 1541, Erhard Schön.

The table before any troops are deployed. The walls represent the city with the gun battery, tents and wagons forming the objectives the Ottoman army had to attempt to destroy. The guns in the battery were not active units in the game instead forming an objective. 

The Scenario

The game represented the attack by Suleiman and his forces on the Imperialists on 21 August 1541. As always we used heavily modified "Renaissance Rampant" rules and the two armies were divided into two separate retinues each for the game. The Imperialists deployed along one table edge with no Ottoman forces starting on the table. The two Ottoman retinues would deploy via move activations to enter anywhere along the opposite table edge.

None of the janissary or kapikulu süvarileri units could enter until the kapikulu süvarileri unit that represented the Sultan had entered the table. This was to prevent the Ottoman player using that retinue to good effect whilst making it impossible for Suleiman to be targeted by keeping him off the table.

The earthworks and trenches gave cover to any units within them and counted as difficult terrain to fight in unless a unit was in position behind earthworks and defending them in which case only the attacking unit would suffer any penalties. The large earthwork with the gun battery on did not count as difficult terrain and the guns themselves were an objective and could not be used in the game. They represented a battery that had been focused on Buda's walls which the Imperialists had not had time to redeploy to face the Ottomans. 

The Objectives

The aim of the Ottoman player was to destroy the 3 objectives comprised of the gun battery, the camp and the wagons (see the photo above) along the Imperial line. To do so they had to use an infantry unit and had to have at least one base from that unit in contact with the objective at the start of their activation phase. As an ordered activation, they could use that unit to destroy the objective (instead of moving, attacking, or shooting). If there were 7 or more models in the unit the objective was destroyed on a roll of 8+ on 2D6; if there were 6 or fewer models in the unit then the position was destroyed on a roll of 9+ on 2D6. 

Once one of these objectives was destroyed the Ottoman player could also bring on two Balkan Cavalry units via a move activation from the town gates. They could do this on the turn the objective was destroyed and the units would form part of the Ottoman retinue that succeeded in destroying the objective.

If all 3 of the Imperial objectives were destroyed the game would immediately end and the Ottoman player would be victorious.

The Imperial aim was to either prevent the 3 objectives being destroyed or kill or rout Suleiman. If the Imperial player removed the Sultan from play they would win the game immediately.

Activation Fails

Each turn each player would take 5 cards from a deck. Any King, Queen or Jack cards from the 5 they took could be used to get a reroll on an activation fail for that turn for either of their retinues. At the end of the turn all unused cards were put in a discard pile. Once the deck ran out a fresh deck was used for the reroll cards.

The Imperialist army deployed in defence of the siege works.

A view along the siege lines as the Imperialists prepare to face the Ottoman attack.

The Imperial infantry are deployed closer to the walls of Buda.

The Habsburg camp.

The Armies

The Imperialists

The Imperial Infantry

1 Unit of Foot Knights - Wilhelm von Roggendorf  
3 Units of Landsknecht Pike                                            
2 Units of Landsknecht Shot                                          
3 Units of Mercenary Arquebusiers                            
2 Units of Imperial Mercenary Pike                                                   

The Imperial and Hungarian Horse

2 Units of Gendarmes (One is the retinue leader)
2 Units of Lancers 
2 Units of Hussars
2 Units of Hungarian Horse Archers

The Ottomans

Suleiman and the Kapikulu

2 Units of Kapikulu Süvarileri (One unit of the guard cavalry is joined by Suleiman the Magnificent)
1 Unit of Janissary Arquebusiers 
2 Units of Janissary Archers
2 Units of Zirhli Nefer
2 Units of Janissary Infantry

The Sipahis, Akinji and Infantry

2 Units of Sipahis (One is the retinue leader) 
3 Units of Akinji                                             
1 Unit of Azabs with arquebuses           
2 Units of Azab Archers                             
3 Units of Azab Infantry     

Buda's garrison

Once the Ottoman's had destroyed one objective two units of Balkan Horse could enter the game from the town gates.                        

For this game Tom decided to play as Von Roggendorf's Imperialists and I took command of Suleiman the Magnificent's Ottomans. As always the photos are the best way to follow the action. This was an epic game played out over two days and some of it was played once it got dark which had a noticeable affect on the photos. That said enough were taken to give a good idea of how the game went and a brief write up of the game also follows.

The Ottoman army appears in the distance, advancing along the siege works.

The kapikulu spearhead the attack.

The Sultan himself, Suleiman the Magnificent, is surrounded by his household troops.

A view of the table, the main Ottoman attack is coming from the top left corner, facing the Habsburg cavalry.

To the deep booms of enormous kettle drums the action started with Suleiman accompanied by his guard cavalry and janissaries launching a concentrated attack against the Habsburg right wing which was held by the Imperial cavalry. Whilst the weight of the Ottoman forces were concentrated on this wing across the field akinji and azab units also joined the assault in an attempt to distract and disorganise the Imperial lines with skirmishing attacks.

The hussars in the Imperial ranks rode forward and succeeded in quickly defeating the lighter armed Ottoman skirmishers, preventing them from becoming a problem for the rest of the Habsburg army.  Although the hussars themselves were eventually overwhelmed and routed they managed to defeat the sipahi unit that contained a retinue leader which was an early blow to the morale of the Ottomans. 

Hussars in Habsburg service are the first Imperial units to clash with the Ottomans.

More of Suleiman's army has deployed and Von Roggendorf's forces move forward to meet it.  

Units of hussars take on the akinji that are harassing the Habsburg lines.

The armies before the inevitable clash. The hussars can be seen in the top right engaging with the sipahis and akinji.

A view of the trenches and earthworks from above.

Akinji and Hungarian hussars clash. The janissaries can be seen pouring onto the battlefield in the background.

The hussars who have ridden forward to push back the Ottoman skirmishing horse are successful in bringing down the Ottoman retinue leader.

Following the initial clashes with the hussars some of the Sultan's own guard cavalry, the kapikulu süvarileri, clashed with the Habsburg heavy cavalry and were pushed back in the swirling melee. These Ottoman heavy horse were no match for the fully plated and barded German and Hungarian horsemen the Habsburgs could field.

Defeating one unit of the kapikulu süvarileri, the Imperial gendarmes then engaged in a series of bloody melees with the janissaries. Flushed by their initial success against the Sultan's elite they rode deep into the ranks of the oncoming janissary corps to find themselves surrounded and brought down, their captain also perishing in the chaos. With the heavy cavalry and hussars gone the rest of the Imperial cavalry could not stand against the disciplined janissaries and soon fled the field leaving the wagon train open to attack.

Meanwhile the Imperial gendarmes, including the cavalry retinue commander, clash with Suleiman's elite guard cavalry, the kapikulu süvarileri. 

Cavalry clashes have taken place all along the front lines.

The walls of Buda can be seen in the background with the battle developing in front.

The Imperial pike and shot move forward through the earthworks to stop the Ottoman advance.

Janissaries face the Imperialist cavalry.

Suleiman is surrounded by his elite troops.

The Imperial heavy cavalry clash with the janissaries in a series of fierce melees...

...and the retinue captain of the Imperial cavalry force is slain.

Whilst the Habsburg cavalry faced the Sultan with his elite cavalry and infantry at one end of the field closer to the city walls the Imperial pike blocks had moved forward in an attempt to defend their gun battery from a potential Turkish attack. This came in the form of a wild charge by a mass of poorly armed azabs. A combination of landsknecht and other mercenary pike, all in the pay of Ferdinand, stood their ground against the azabs. The pikemen successfully defended the gun battery and defeated the spear and sword armed azab infantry units who crashed against them. At the same time they suffered from a constant rain of turkish arrows and this in turn broke them, leaving only the Imperial shot to defend the Habsburg siege lines. 

Wilhelm von Roggendorf was not one to surrender and, reinforced by the arrival of some more Hungarian horse archers, he formed a defensive line with his arquebusiers and prepared for the final onslaught by the Ottomans who still looked to have overwhelming numbers. The Turks hadn't reached any of their objectives and Von Roggendorf knew his well entrenched mercenaries would prove difficult to break.

Closer to the walls a force of azabs enters the battlefield.

Some of the azabs are thrown back by the Habsburg pike.

The Imperialists form a wall of pikes against the rush of Turkish infantry.

Landsknecht and azabs clash in front of the city walls.

The landsknecht face the Ottomans in the ditches and earthworks of the siege lines.

Wilhelm von Roggendorf, in the bottom righthand corner, oversees the defence of his siege lines.

The Landsknecht have put up a stiff defence against the Turkish infantry but they are slowly forced into a retreat by the sheer numbers against them.

Imperial arquebusiers form a last line of defence.

Suleiman's janissaries over ran the Imperial wagons, with camp followers fleeing in all directions. The elite Ottoman infantry did not fall to looting but instead redressed their lines for the inevitable assault on the remaining Imperial positions. The zirhli nefer, heavily armoured janissaries who specialized in the storming of fortifications, lead the charge on the camp trenches but faced with a hail of close range shot they could not break into the earthworks. For a moment the arquebusiers faltered and withdrew so they were firing from the tents and the camp itself but their constant fire held the janissaries at bay and took a heavy toll on the Sultan's elite infantry.

Sensing an opportunity to turn the tide a cheer went up from within the walls of Buda and the pro Zápolya garrison rode out of the gates to attack their Habsburg besiegers. Their sally was ill judged as Von Roggendorf had positioned a mixture of landsknecht, Italian and Spanish arquebusiers in the earthworks outside the gates. The horsemen clattered out of the gatehouse into a lethal storm of arquebus shot that sent the survivors reeling back into the city.

The janissaries had taken the wagon train but both the gun battery and camp remained, despite both having been very close to being over run. The assault on the camps trenches had ground to a halt, the janissaries being unable to close with the mercenary arquebusiers and defeat them. Sensing his own position may be under threat the Sultan withdrew his troops from the attack. Far from being a Habsburg disaster this assault on Buda had been bloody, but had been repelled. As Suleiman withdrew Wilhelm von Roggendorf held the siege lines.

Janissaries armed with arquebuses are successful in reaching and destroying one of the objectives, the Imperial wagons.

Armoured janissaries, zirhli nefer, specialists in assaulting fortifications, attempt to dislodge the entrenched arquebusiers.

The right wing of the Imperialist lines has broken and the Sultan's men attempt to roll up the Habsburg forces.

The Habsburg camp trenches are defender by skilled mercenary shot.

Some of Buda's garrison sally out in support of the Ottoman attack. They are loyal to the newly crowned infant John Zápolya II, an Ottoman vassal.

The garrison's sally is quickly seen off as landsknecht and other mercenary arquebusiers send a hail of shot into the horsemen. 

Meanwhile the janissaries are finally halted at the camp. The veteran arquebusiers are more than a match for them and the attack has been thwarted.

 This was a marathon of a game that swung back and forth. It was really close as I managed to reach all of the objectives with the Ottomans at different stages of the game but could never quite be at the gun battery or camp long enough to destroy them. Tom put up a tenacious defence that paid off in the end. It was great to finally field lots of my 1540s figures that had never seen action before and they really looked the part amidst the trenches, gabions and earthworks that formed the Habsburg camp. Hopefully in some part the game matched the Erhard Schön woodcuts that depicted the events of the siege and were a big inspiration for the game. 

Tom and I will return to Hungary at some point, no doubt, but I think for our next game we plan to change things up a bit and return to the Italian Wars.


  1. An excellent post and descriptive report, what a great game.

    1. Thank you Stuart, it was a great game to play.

  2. I've enjoyed your lively and well illustrated report. Even reading it one could not predict how it would end. An unusual period and theatre of war to enjoy reading about. It must have been satisfying to see this collection in action.
    thank you

    1. Thank you Stephen, I agree that the mid 16th century is little represented on the tabletop, especially the wars involving the Habsburgs and Ottomans, it would be great to see more figures for the period.

  3. A magnificent spectacle of a game!

    1. Cheers David, I am glad you enjoyed it!

  4. That is some spectacle! And an interesting scenario. Great stuff.

    1. Thank you, it was fun to play such an unusual battle.

  5. Great write up Oli, the game was spectacular and certainly hard fought. Really interesting how the action was spread right across the table with all your figures really working to bring it to life. I certainly look forward to the next game.

    1. Thank you Tom, the game was made all the more enjoyable by your determination to stop the Ottoman onslaught! I have been looking in Novara and am starting to think up a scenario, it should be a lot of fun.

  6. Beautiful set up and very clear battle account, well done. I always felt sorry for the poor Hungarians during the period before and after Mohacs.

    1. Cheers Robbie, yes the Hungarians seem to have been beset by rebellions and their own factional fighting at this time, none of which was helped by the Habsburgs refusing to send any major aid to fight the Ottomans in the 1520s but then being keen to send armies in to take over the kingdom once Louis had been defeated at Mohacs.

  7. Splendid looking game, great to see your Ottomans and Hungarians on the table!
    Best Iain

    1. Thank you Iain, the Ottomans and Hungarians armies can be used for lots of interesting games in this period.

  8. A truly epic display, i like the multi-layered siege works on the board, almost splitting it into a series of separate mini-engagements. i can see just from the images that it was an exhausting set piece !

    1. Thank you Stuart. It was great to be able to set all the siege works up and have the game take place around them and yes it was an even longer game than our Agnadello epic!

  9. Inspiring post Oli. Really likes the terrain, especially the siege works. In the post you mention your "Renaissance Rampant" rules. As a group we have been putting on participation games at wargames shows on behalf of the Lance and Longbow Society and use our own version of Lion Rampant for them. Would you be willing to let us have a copy of your rules, so, if we put on a game which edges into the Renaissance period we could perhaps utilise your factors etc. We would be happy to reciprocate with a copy of our rules.



    1. Thanks David, Stuart Mulligan and myself have been working on them. They are basically some modifications on a few pages and then lots of different lists - that we tweak constantly! The lists have some interesting rules within them though. They make for really fun games and we often add extra scenario rules as well.

      Either email me at oliver frg @ hotmail. com (without the gaps) or post your email here and I would be more than happy to send you what we have at present.