György Dózsa

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A posthumous portrait of György Dózsa from 1913

György Dózsa (or György Székely,[note 1] Romanian: Gheorghe Doja; 1470 – 20 July 1514) was a Székely man-at-arms (and by some accounts, a nobleman) from Transylvania, Kingdom of Hungary who led a peasants' revolt against the kingdom's landed nobility. He was eventually caught, tortured, and executed along with his followers, and remembered as both a Christian martyr and a dangerous criminal. During the reign of king Vladislas II of Hungary (1490–1516), royal power declined in favour of the magnates, who used their power to curtail the peasants' freedom.[1]

From peasant crusade to rebellion[edit]

Dózsa was born in Dálnok (today Dalnic). During the wars against the Ottoman Empire, he was a soldier of fortune who won a reputation for valour.

In 1514, the Hungarian chancellor, Tamás Bakócz, returned from the Holy See with a papal bull issued by Leo X authorising a crusade against the Ottomans.[2] He appointed Dózsa to organize and direct the movement. Within a few weeks, Dózsa had gathered an army of some 40,000 so-called hajdú[citation needed], consisting for the most part of peasants, wandering students, friars, and parish priests - some of the lowest-ranking groups of medieval society. They assembled in their counties, and by the time he had provided them with some military training, they began to air the grievances of their status. No measures had been taken to supply these voluntary crusaders with food or clothing. As harvest-time approached, the landlords commanded them to return to reap the fields, and, on their refusing to do so, proceeded to maltreat their wives and families and set their armed retainers upon the local peasantry.

The volunteers became increasingly angry at the failure of the nobility to provide military leadership (the original and primary function of the nobility and the justification for its higher status in the society.)[3] The rebellious, anti-landlord sentiment of these "Crusaders" became apparent during their march across the Great Hungarian Plain, and Bakócz cancelled the campaign.[4] The movement was thus diverted from its original object, and the peasants and their leaders began a war of vengeance against the landlords.

Growing rebellion[edit]

Dózsa on the Wall from the "Dózsa woodcut series" by Gyula Derkovits, 1928

The rebellion became more dangerous when the towns joined on the side of the peasants. In Buda and elsewhere, the cavalry sent against them were unhorsed as they passed through the gates.

The rebellion spread quickly, principally in the central or purely Magyar provinces, where hundreds of manor houses and castles were burnt and thousands of the gentry killed by impalement, crucifixion, and other methods. Dózsa's camp at Cegléd was the centre of the jacquerie, as all raids in the surrounding area started out from there.

In reaction, the papal bull was revoked, and King Vladislaus II issued a proclamation commanding the peasantry to return to their homes under pain of death. By this time, the uprising had attained the dimensions of a revolution; all the vassals of the kingdom were called out against it, and soldiers of fortune were hired in haste from the Republic of Venice, Bohemia, and the Holy Roman Empire. Meanwhile, Dózsa had captured the city and fortress of Csanád (today's Cenad), and signaled his victory by impaling the bishop and the castellan.

Subsequently, at Arad, Lord Treasurer István Telegdy was seized and tortured to death. In general, however, the rebels only executed particularly vicious or greedy noblemen; those who freely submitted were released on parole.[citation needed] Dózsa not only never broke his given word, but frequently assisted the escape of fugitives.[citation needed] He was unable to consistently control his followers, however, and many of them hunted down rivals.

I, George Dózsa, the mighty champion valiant, head and captain of the blessed people of the Crusaders, only King of Hungary - but not subject of the Lords - individually and collectively send you our greetings! To all the cities, market towns, and villages of Hungary, especially in the counties of Pest and Outer Szolnok. Know ye that the treacherous lying nobility have risen up violently against us and against all the crusading armies preparing for holy war, to persecute and exterminate us. Therefore, under the penalty of banishment and eternal damnation, not to mention the death penalty and the loss of all your goods, we strictly enjoin and order you, that immediately after receiving this letter, without delay or excuse, you hasten here to the city of Cegléd, so that you, the blessed simple people, strengthened in the covenant sanctified by you, nobles must be limited, restrained, and destroyed. If not, you will not escape the punishment of the nobles intended for you. What’s more, we ordinary commoners suspend and hang nobles on their own gates, hang on skewers, destroy their property, tear down their houses, and kill their wives and children in the midst of the greatest possible torture.

— Dózsa's speech at Cegléd

Downfall and execution[edit]

Dózsa's execution (contemporary woodcut)

In the course of the summer, Dózsa seized the fortresses of Arad, Lippa (today Lipova), and Világos (now Şiria), and provided himself with cannons and trained gunners. One of his bands advanced to within 25 kilometres of the capital. But his ill-armed ploughmen were outmatched by the heavy cavalry of the nobles. Dózsa himself had apparently become demoralized by success: after Csanád, he issued proclamations which can be described as millenarian.[citation needed]

As his suppression had become a political necessity, Dózsa was routed at Temesvár (today Timișoara, Romania) by an army of 20,000[5] led by John Zápolya and István Báthory. He was captured after the battle, and condemned to sit on a smouldering, heated iron throne, and forced to wear a heated iron crown and sceptre (mocking his ambition to be king). While he was suffering, a procession of nine fellow rebels who had been starved beforehand were led to this throne. In the lead was Dózsa's younger brother, Gergely, who was cut in three despite Dózsa asking for Gergely to be spared. Next, executioners removed some pliers from a fire and forced them into Dózsa's skin. After tearing his flesh, the remaining rebels were ordered to bite spots where the hot pliers had been inserted and to swallow the flesh. The three or four who refused were simply cut up, prompting the others to comply. In the end, Dózsa died from the ordeal, while the rebels who obeyed were released and left alone.[6]

The revolt was repressed but some 70,000 peasants were tortured.[7] György's execution, and the brutal suppression of the peasants, greatly aided the 1526 Ottoman invasion as the Hungarians were no longer a politically united people. Another consequence was the creation of new laws, an effort in the Hungarian Diet led by István Werbőczy. The resulting Tripartitum elaborated the old rights of peasants, but also greatly enhanced the status of lesser nobility (gentry), erecting an iron curtain between Hungarians until 1848 when serfdom was abolished.[8]


Dózsa's portrait on the former 20 forint banknote

Today, on the site of the martyrdom of the hot throne, there is the Virgin Mary Monument, built by architect László Székely and sculptor György Kiss. According to the legend, during György Dózsa's torture, some monks saw in his ear the image of Mary. The first statue was raised in 1865, with the actual monument raised in 1906. Hungarian opera composer Ferenc Erkel wrote an opera, Dózsa György, about him.

His revolutionary image and Transylvanian background were drawn upon during the Communist regime of Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej. The Hungarian component of his movement was downplayed, but its strong anti-feudal character was emphasized.[9]

In Budapest, a square, a busy six-lane avenue, and a metro station bear his name, and it is one of the most popular street names in Hungarian villages. A number of streets in several cities of Romania were named Gheorghe Doja. Also, a number of streets in several cities of Serbia were named "Ulica Doža Đerđa". Two Postage stamps were issued in his honor by Hungary on 12 June 1919[10] and on 15 March 1947,[11] the latter in the "social revolutionists" series.


  1. ^ appears as "Georgius Zekel" in old texts


  1. ^ Britannica Dózsa Rebellion
  2. ^ Molnar p. 82
  3. ^ Norman Housley: Religious Warfare in Europe 1400-1536 (page: 70) Oxford University Press, 2002
  4. ^[permanent dead link]
  5. ^ Molnar, p. 82
  6. ^ Barbasi pp. 263–266
  7. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 12 April 2010. Retrieved 14 June 2010.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  8. ^ Molnar p. 83
  9. ^ (in Romanian) Emanuel Copilaş, "Confiscarea lui Dumnezeu şi mecanismul inevitabilităţii istorice" Archived 21 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine, Sfera Politicii 139, September 2009
  10. ^örgy_Dózsa-Social_Revolutionists-Hungary
  11. ^örgy_Dózsa_1474-1514-Hungarian_Freedom_Fighters-Hungary