Gyorgy Dozsa (1470 – 1514) was a Transylvanian nobleman and soldier of fortune who led the Hungarian Dozsa Rebellion of 1514 – an unsuccessful uprising of downtrodden Hungarian peasants against their aristocratic overlords. After the peasant rebellion was put down and Dozsa with it, he went down in history as both a notorious criminal and as a Christian martyr.
After earning a reputation for valor and making a name for himself in wars against the Ottoman Turks, Dozsa was appointed by Pope Leo X to lead a Crusade against the Ottomans. An army of about 40,000 volunteers soon assembled under his banner, comprised in the main of peasants, friars, and parish priests – the lowest rungs of society. The nobility, however, failed to supply the Crusaders, or to offer military leadership – which was particularly off putting, since military leadership was the main justification for the aristocracy’s high social status. It was not long before the gathered throng began to voice collective grievances against the oppressive nobles, and at harvest time, the peasants refused to return and reap the fields.
When the aristocrats tried to seize the peasants by force and compel them to toil, Dozsa’s conscience was stirred, and siding with the serfs against his own class, led the Hungarian peasants in a violent uprising that became a war of extermination against the landlords. Hundreds of castles and noble manors were ransacked and put to the torch, while thousands of the gentry were killed, often tortured to death or executed in a variety of gruesome ways, such as crucifixion or impalement.
With difficulty, the uprising was finally put down, and the peasantry were subjected to a reign of terror and endured a wave of retaliatory vengeance by their noble overlords. Over 70,000 were tortured to death, the peasantry as a class were condemned to perpetual servitude, permanently bound to the soil, fined heavily, their taxes were heavily augmented, and the number of days they had to work for their landlords was increased.
Dozsa was himself captured and condemned to a fiendishly gruesome death by torture. Accused among other things of having sought to become king, he was sentenced to sit on a smoldering hot iron chair, while a heated iron crown was affixed to his head. Next, chunks of his flesh were torn out, and nine of his leading followers, starved beforehand, were forced to eat his flesh.
The aristocratic backlash backfired, however, and twelve years later, when the Ottoman Turks invaded Hungary in 1526, they swiftly overran what was a still bitterly divided country. As to Dozsa, the revolutionary aspects of his life and its ending were drawn upon during the communist era in Romania, his land of birth, and in Hungary, where Dozsa is the most popular street name in villages, and a main avenue and metro station in Budapest bear his name.