The year was 1442. After having suffered countless atrocities from
the invading Turks, “everyone [in the West] spoke of making war on the
infidels and driving them out of Europe”—and it was entirely due to the
martial exploits of John Hunyadi, the Transylvanian-born hero who had
singlehandedly bested the Turks in several recent engagements.
After putting an army of some 25,000 Christians together—mostly from
Hungary, Poland, Wallachia, Moldavia, and Serbia—Hunyadi took the
initiative by doing the unthinkable: he led them into Turkish-held
territories at the end of September 1442—when campaigning season was
supposed to end, due to the usual harsh weather, not begin.
Hunyadi was always in the vanguard, a day ahead of the main army and
Hungarian king, Ladislaus III, its formal leader. The Christian army
marched south of the Danube, scourging the Turks in every encounter and
liberating Christian town after town. The deeper the Christians
penetrated into subject Ottoman territory, the larger their army became,
as overjoyed Christian subjects, casting off the yoke of their Muslim
masters, rushed to join and augment the ranks of their saviors.
After Hunyadi took Niš in early November, and in an attempt to trap
and annihilate the Christians, three different Muslim armies converged
on the town. With lightning speed, Hunyadi defeated all three, one by
one, before they could unite.
By late November, the Christians had reached Sophia in Bulgaria—more
than 450 miles whence the Crusaders had first started marching.
Considering that Sophia had been under Islamic rule for more than half a
century, since 1382, the long oppressed “Bulgarians went wild with
joy.” Liberator and liberated reconverted the mosques back into churches
and gave thanks in them.
The long cherished dream of freedom from Islamic domination was becoming palpable:
The Balkan peoples became excited by the hope of their
liberation which appeared close…. [T]he local population welcomed them
everywhere with gifts and food, so that the soldiers hardly used the
supplies they had brought along. The camp of the king became filled with
Bulgarians, Bosnians, Serbians, and Albanians…. According to the
sources from that time, the population was very much set against its
The victorious Crusaders next set their sights on Adrianople
(Edirne)—the very capital of the Ottoman Empire, and the sultan’s own
seat of power. Once a beautiful Greek city, Adrianople was now a major
center of the Muslim slave trade. Its markets were so inundated with
Christian flesh that children sold for pennies, “a very beautiful slave
woman was exchanged for a pair of boots, and four Serbian slaves were
traded for a horse.”