The Lack of a Western European Military Response to the Ottoman Invasions of Eastern Europe from Nicopolis (1396) to Mohacs (1526)
By Kelly DeVries
The Journal of Military History, Vol.63:3 (1999)
Introduction: On 25 September 1396, on the plains south of the central Bulgarian city of Nicopolis, a battle was fought. It was what military historians used to call a “decisive battle,” a battle that changed history.
A truly diverse soldiery took the field that day. On the one side, Bayezid I, Sultan of the Ottoman Turks, led a force manned by troops from his homeland, Asia Minor, and from his and his predecessors’ conquered and vassal countries, namely Serbs, Bulgarians, Bosnians, and Albanians. Added to these was the Turkish janissary corps, filled with young Christian tribute-children and prisoners of war, now converted to Islam and dedicated to the defeat of their former religionists. The total Turkish number, estimated by contemporary chroniclers, mostly western writers, at more than 100,000, was probably closer to 15,000.
Opposing Bayezid was a force composed of allied troops from throughout western and central Europe. Called a crusade army by all contemporary western authors, it was composed of Hungarian, Wallachian, Transylvanian, Hospitaller, German, Burgundian, French, and English soldier. Fewer in number than the Turks, although closer to a total of 12,000 than to the 100,000 found in contemporary sources it was controlled by the Franco-Burgundian cavalry troops and their leaders. This control became a problem, for these soldiers were foreigners to the region, and they refused to listen to the advice of those who lived closer to this enemy.