The Battle of Stillfried, 1278, from the Gesta Hungarorum

The Gesta Hungarorum, or The Deeds of the Hungarians, was written by Simon of Keza around 1280-2. Simon was a court cleric to King Ladislas IV of Hungary, and his work is highly laudatory of his king. In the following section, the writer describes the battle of Stillfield, in which the forces of Ladislas and Rudolf of Habsburg, the German king, defeated King Otakar of Bohemia. The battle was fought on August 26, 1278.

His son Ladislas the Third [IV] has been reigning since then. By divine dispensation he came to the throne and was crowned king when he was still only a boy. In his days much of the borders of Hungary had suffered devastation from attacks at various points by King Otakar of Bohemia, who had usurped numerous imperial prerogatives de facto and unjustly, and amassed unprecedented powers and strength in the process. Because he died unexpectedly, Ladislas’s father had never had the opportunity to exact adequate retribution from the Bohemian king. However, in the meantime the German princes elected Count Rudolf of Habsburg as their king at the court of Frankfurt. Rudolf was supposed to recover the imperial rights which had been alienated. First of all he entered Austria, which had been invaded and occupied by Otakar, with the intention of winning back the imperial fiefs. Rudolf had been in Vienna for some time reasserting claims over Bohemia, when the Bohemian king advanced against him with an army so large and strong that the German prince was reluctant to oppose him with his own forces alone. So he approached the glorious king of Hungary and humbly requested him as a son of the holy Catholic church for his assistance, pledging therewith his eternal friendship, and suggesting into the bargain that in doing so he would again be seen to be showing his deep devotion to the holy church of Rome; in return Rudolf would be bound to offer similar assistance to the king; of Hungary at any time the latter should request it.

Now King Ladislas of Hungary had continued to overlook the presumptuous and high-handed liberties which Otakar had taken with his father and with himself because he was young and not fully grown, so now he agreed to grant the request of the German prince. He marched forth from Szekesfehervar with the royal banner flying like a son of Mars, whom the constellation at his conception and birth ever since endows with boldness and other natural virtues, expecting and trusting in the power of the Almighty and the saintly intercession of his forefathers, the holy kings Stephen, Emeric, and I.adislas. At Marchegg his army joined forces with Rudolf who was waiting for his arrival and assistance, regarding both as heaven-sent. However, Rudolf’s troops, more heavily armed and therefore slow in movement, were quite unnerved at the thought of facing a force as powerful as the one Otakar was reported to be leading, and refused to stir or to join battle. Ladislas saw the problem and the solution. Otakar was prepared and in haste to join battle. Ladislas closed on him, and at the castle of Stillfrid by the river Morava surrounded the Bohemian army on all sides. The king’s Hungarian and Cuman archers then proceeded to wound and harry them and their horses so mercilessly that their commander Milota, in whom the rank and file placed their greatest trust, was incapable of withstanding the volleys of Hungarian arrows. He and his men fled, whereupon the contingent of Polish mercenaries broke ranks and joined the rout.

In between the fighting, the Cumans managed to seize and disperse the baggage and the equipment of the Bohemian king and his army. King Otaklr, found wandering over the battlefield in a state of mental distraction and confusion, was seized and put to death. His son, Duke Nicholas, was taken prisoner and marched off to Hungary, along with countless other barons, counts and knights. Only the omniscience of the Almighty could estimate the number of those who fell in this battle. Rudolf, king of Germany and of the Romans, had been standing by with his followers and looking on as these events unfolded. When the victory was won the German king offered King Ladislas his thanks, declaring that through his help all Austria and Styria had been restored to him that day. So King Ladislas of Hungary returned victoriously while the German king remained in Austria. This, then, was the first of King Ladislas’ victories accorded to him by divine mercy before he was even an adult. Ispan Reynold son of Reynold, of the clan of Basztely, firmly and unflinchingly held the royal banner in the host that day, while his brothers Andrew, Soloman, and Ladislas, and other nobles of the realm of Hungary, countless as the stars in heaven, stood by the side of their lord the king. To enshrine the memory of King Ladislas’s singularly glorious and triumphant victory and to the everlasting shame and disgrace of the Czechs, Poles, and Moravians, their shields and banners remain hanging for all time on the wall of the church at Szekesfehervar, the royal seat and throne of Hungary.

This section was first translated in Gesta Hungarorum/The Deeds of the Hungarians, edited and translated by Laszlo Veszpremy and Frank Schaer (Budapest: Central European University Press, 1999). We thank the Central European University Press for giving us permission to republish this text.

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