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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

Jape

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1.
The Fall of Constantinople



"Verily you shall conquer Constantinople. What a wonderful leader will her leader be, and what a wonderful army will that army be!" - The Prophet Muhammed
Mehmet II, later to be bestowed the honorific Fatih (the Conqueror) and deemed one of the greatest of Ottoman sultans, began his reign in less than auspicious circumstances. His father, Murad II, was an enlightened and popular ruler who over a thirty year reign had earned the love of his subjects through his sense of honour and justice, combined with a humble sincerity. He was also considered a great general, battling the Venetians, Turkmen emirs and his archenemies, the Hungarians, on numerous occasions. Regardless first and foremost Murad was a scholar and man of peace. Warfare and the pressures of kingship led him to abdicate, not once but twice, seeking the tranquillity of a private life. On both occasions the suffering Sultan was forced to return as the young Mehmet was forced from the throne, first by Halil Pasha the grand vizier, and then by Janissary revolt [1]. Mehmet was little loved by his father and outright loathed by many at the Ottoman court. He was considered pig-headed, rash and egotistical. As a child he had no respect for his tutors and following his father’s approval had had his education literally beaten into him. When Murad passed away in 1451 and Mehmet’s reign is considered to have begun proper, the young sultan cried “all who love me follow me”. It was a clear sign of his confidence in the face of apathy and distrust.

From the moment he took the Sword of Osman in his hands [2], Mehmet began planning the fall of Constantinople. Many saw this as yet another sign of the Sultan’s reckless personality. Since the 7th century Muslim armies had thrown themselves against the walls of Constantinople. Despite the Byzantine Empire being reduced by the 1400s to that impoverished city and a scattering of petty successor states, its walls had never given. The Ottoman realm surrounded Constantinople and its continued independence was both an embarrassment and a challenge to Turkish power. Mehmet understood the high stakes he was to play. After two coups he was lucky to have survived, he needed a great victory to cement his rule. In this the Sultan’s friend and advisor (and during his childhood, cane wielding tutor) Ak Semssedin was a prime advocate. He had instilled a religious zeal in the young Mehmet, convincing him of his mission to unite the world under God.


Mehmet's father, Murad II

It is important to understand the intertwining of religion and politics in this period. Discovering where Mehmet’s Islamic devotion ended and his kingly needs for security began is a fruitless task. Regardless, in the earthly realm his call to arms quickly gained support. He heartened the Janissary Corps with promise of battle and the Ulema [3] with the promise of fulfilling Koranic prophecy. Halil Pasha, the biggest opponent to war and the one with the most to lose from a rise in the Sultan’s prestige rapidly lost his influence at court. Candarli Halil, known in court simply as the Greek, was the latest in a line of powerful grand viziers from the same family who had helped build the Ottoman Empire. Along the way they had also enriched themselves to the extent that their coffers rivalled that of the House of Osman itself. In Murad, Halil had been given a gentle leader whom he could counsel and bend to his will but Mehmet was altogether different. He held a grudge against the grand vizier for his role in the palace putsches of his teenage years. Beyond the personal, he viewed the Candarli family as an obstruction on his quest for dominance of the body politic, something he could not abide.

While we will not dwell on the siege of Constantinople itself [4] the preparations for battle were almost as important to proving Mehmet’s dominance as Ottoman victory. Popular history often looks on the fall of Constantinople as a lightning bolt to Christian Europe but in reality not only was it a century in the making but Mehmet was methodical in choking of the last outpost of the Roman Empire. One of his first acts as sultan was to build the Rumelihisari, a coastal fortress on the European side of the Bosporus. The protests of Emperor Constantine XI, his nominal vassal, fell on deaf ears with the castle being completed in only a few months in April 1452. It not only helped strangle Latin aid to the Byzantines but stood across the water from the Anadoluhisari, built by Bayezid I in preparation for the 1395 Siege of Constantinople, a clear sign of Mehmet’s ambition. The employment of the rogue Hungarian engineer Urban, who constructed his famed cannons greatly contributed to the siege but more importantly made gunpowder a key component of the Ottoman armies from that moment on. As the siege began proper a vast army from across the empire and a newly constructed fleet (carried over land to blockade the Golden Horn) ensured the Byzantines would be slowly, inevitably crushed. This massive effort revealed the Sultan’s strength for logistics and strategy, which in turn convinced the Janissary and Pashas of his true martial prowess.

When Mehmet II entered Constantinople on 29th May 1453, he granted his soldiers three days of looting but ordered the architecture of the city be left intact. In his own mind he was not simply the conqueror but the successor of the Byzantines. He proclaimed himself Caesar and on arriving at Hagia Sophia, the great basilica of Emperor Justinian, had it declared a mosque and entered to pray. Beyond the religious symbols of Orthodox Christianity little was removed as the minarets were raised. He transported his court from Edirne within the week, taking the opportunity to reorganise his inner council and execute the once feared Halil Pasha [5]. At his great moment of triumph none dared question the Sultan. Mehmet had great plans for his new capital but already old enemies were mustering in the Balkans.


[1] Janissaries: the Ottoman ‘Imperial Guard’. We’ll go into more detail with these guys later.
[2] Sword of Osman: owned by the first Sultan and then passed on, it was a symbol of office bestowed in a grand ceremony that in many ways mirrored the coronation of European monarchs.
[3] Ulema: a broad term for the scholars, judges and preachers of Sunni Islam.
[4] I can waffle in the name of background but this is an AAR that starts after the Siege and I’m sure most readers know plenty about it. If not, good old Wikipedia has a treasure trove of information.
[5] Charged with passing funds and information to Emperor Constantine during the siege. Highly unlikely.
 
Last edited:

LordTempest

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For what it's worth, I actually enjoyed the little Mehmet biography. I look forward to you r real updates. :)
 

unmerged(76261)

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ooh looking forward to this. i don't know much about the Ottomans so the 'history lesson' is appreciated.
 

Milites

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Brilliantly introduced, Jape. Looking forward to more.
 

Jape

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2.
Hunyadi's Crusade: Part One


L to R: Skanderbeg, Mehmet II, John Hunyadi

John Hunyadi was a defining character in the story of Hungary and the Balkans in the 15th century. From an early age Hunyadi had shown his military acumen, first riding with Emperor Sigismund against the Hussites as a teenager before siding with King Wladyslaw III of Poland in the Hungarian Civil War. His abilities were renowned and after the death of Wladyslaw in 1444, he was accepted by the court of the rival claimant and new king, the minor Ladislaus, Duke of Austria. Extremely popular amongst the lesser nobility he was soon elected as a captain of the realm by the Hungarian Diet before officially becoming Lord-Regent in 1445. Although Hunyadi and the Hungarian army failed several times to defeat the forces of Murad II in open battle, the Regent’s long-term strategy of hit and run attacks led to stalemate and chaos in the Ottomans’ European provinces. By the 1450s he was the undisputed warlord of Hungary, controlling vast swathes of country as the kingdom’s greatest landowner. As the Ottomans marched on Constantinople, Hunyadi’s attention was pointed north as he struggled to have an imprisoned King Ladislaus freed from Emperor Frederick III. By the time his mission was complete and Ladislaus safely back at Buda Castle, the Byzantines had fallen.

Hunyadi was convinced the new energetic Sultan, Mehmet II intended to use the securing of the Bosporus to move a vast army into the Balkans and finish what his father had started. Pope Nicholas V, having failed to organise a crusade in the defence of Constantinople wrote to Hunyadi calling on him stop the Ottoman menace once and for all. Despite his powers as Regent, Hunyadi had many enemies at court, some who remembered his support of Wladyslaw, and others who opposed his warmongering all together seeing it as harmful to the lucrative Hungarian-Ottoman trade system [1]. When Hunyadi answered the Pope’s call he found few nobles willing to join him. His last such adventure, the Crusade of Varna had ended in defeat and the death of the Polish king. Beyond his own professional retinue he was forced to call on the peasantry of his lands, who flocked to the popular Regent.

The leaders of Serbia and Montenegro also joined Hunyadi. His predictions had been right and within a month of defeating the Byzantines, Mehmet was once more on the move into Europe. Their lands were obvious targets for the Sultan and they beseeched the Regent for aid. Durad Brankovic, the Despot of Serbia was particularly fearful. The Serbian throne had become a diplomatic battleground between the Hungarians and the Turks and Durad was very much a creature of Hunyadi, his capital at Belgrade little than a Hungarian military outpost. The Ottomans looked to his wayward son Lazar to be placed on the throne and this as much as anything pushed him into action. Although Mehmet certainly had designs on Serbia, ironically his march into the Balkans in 1453 had nothing to do with the Hungarians and the Despot’s throne. The Ottomans were marching to Albania, to defeat the rebellion of Skanderbeg [2].

Born George Kastrioti to Albanian nobility, he had been handed to Sultan Murad II as a hostage to ensure his father’s loyalty in 1423. For two decades Skanderbeg fought loyally for the Sultan and in 1440 was granted the governorship of Dibra, a province in his homeland. This proved a mistake. Once given access to his family and the population, Skanderbeg established connections and a power base. At the Battle of Nis in 1443, Skanderbeg saw his opportunity and defected to the Christian army before fleeing home and declaring himself Lord of Albania. The princes and clans responded and to the Ottomans’ horror he had turned the quiet Imperial province into his own personal fiefdom. Numerous armies were sent against Skanderbeg but two decades in the service of the Sultan had turned him into a gifted general and he destroyed force each in turn, using the mountains to fight a guerilla war.


The 'Battle' of Mavrovo

Mehmet saw Skanderbeg as a threat, not so much militarily as politically. His ten year resistance had become a symbol of Christian defiance. Constant raids and ambushes, often in tandem with those of Hunyadi, greatly destabilised the Ottoman Balkans, draining resources and inspiring further revolts. Western aid, primarily from Venice and the Kingdom of Naples, also financed the Albanians to act as roadblock to the Ottoman advance into Europe. Where his father had failed, Mehmet intended to succeed. Mehmet’s strategy was simple; he would not play to Skanderbeg’s guerrilla tactics. He hired local guides to avoid the most dangerous passes, ensured the supply train could maintain the troops in the event the rebels utilised a scorched earth strategy [3] and instead of trying to occupy the country as others had done, aimed only to crush the enemy army. He split his force in two, personally commanding 25,000 men to meet Skanderbeg in open battle, while 15,000 men under his trusted general Aydin Serdar Pasha marched from the south to seize Kruje Castle, the command centre of the rebellion.

Unluckily for the Albanians, Mehmet had chosen a fortuitous time to strike. In late June Skanderbeg had personally taken a 1,000 man raiding party into Ottoman Macedonia. Expecting only resistance from scattered Turkish garrisons, the rebels were shocked to find Sultan’s own field army bearing down upon them on July 9th near the village of Mavrovo. Unable to escape, Skanderbeg intended to launch a surprise attack on the Ottoman camp to hopefully sow enough confusion to allow a retreat into the hills. However he was betrayed. His nephew and confidante, Hamza Kastrioti had become alienated from the rebel leader on the birth of his son, which pushed Hamza out of the line of succession for Skanderbeg’s substantial holdings [4]. Promised wealth and power by Turkish agents, Hamza had Skanderbeg kidnapped in the dead of night and took him to Mehmet. It is not recorded what, if anything was said between the two men but the end result certainly is. The next morning as panic gripped the Albanian camp, the Ottomans advanced, the Sultan’s standard bearer carrying the head of Skanderbeg on a pike [5]. The sight broke what little morale the rebels had left. A few men were able to escape the ensuing massacre and as word spread across Albania of what had happened, Skanderbeg’s confederation crumbled. The clans and princes quickly began to squabble for control and when the Ottomans crossed into Albania many defected and swore fealty to the Sultan.

The collapse of Albanian resistance after the Battle of Mavrovo allowed Mehmet and Serdar Pasha to turn their attention north to Bulgaria, where the Despot Durad had launched an attack. The Sultan had been given word that the Hungarians were organising another coalition but he was surprised at the speed of the Serbian invasion. He was right to be surprised. Durad had not waited for Hunyadi, expecting Skanderbeg to hold up Mehmet for some months before he could march north. Durad’s invasion proved something of a disaster. Intending to destroy the Ottomans’ border forts before marching into Bulgaria proper and raising a rebellion, his army was halted at the imposing Belogradchik Castle. The defenders, numbering only several hundred, repelled assault after desperate assault while the fort’s thick walls took everything the Serbian artillery could give. On July 27th a flying column of sipahis [6] led by Serdar Pasha reached Belogradchik. Durad’s haggard force proved no match for Serdar’s cavalry and the siege was quickly lifted. The now wounded Despot led the remains of his army back over the border, harried the entire way by the sipahis. At the start of August Hunyadi arrived in Belgrade with his hastily assembled army of peasants and mercenaries, while to the south Mehmet had crossed into Serbia, intent on doing battle with his father’s nemesis.


Ottoman Sipahis
[1] During their brief periods of truce trade between the Ottomans and Hungarians was very profitable. Pretty much every peace treaty they signed had numerous articles about protecting the freedom of merchants moving across the border.
[2] Skanderbeg is a corruption of the Turkish Iskender Bey, meaning Lord Alexander.
[3] The Ottomans were probably the first army since the Romans who didn’t live off the land and instead relied on an organised supply train to feed the men.
[4] This is true, IOTL Hamza betrayed Skanderbeg in 1457 for the same reasons and became an Ottoman general.
[5] Mehmet had a thing for decapitation and impaling.
[6] Sipahis: Professional Ottoman cavalry. While the Sultan kept a corps of sipahis as household cavalry, most were timariots, provincial landholders who in many ways mirror the feudal knights of Europe.
 
Last edited:

Eber

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Excellent start, Jape!
 

Jape

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WG: I'm using Mare Apertum actually, I didn't get into EU3 properly before MM was discontinued and MA is a fantastic mod in of itself. And i'm glad you're enjoying in.

Eber: Appreciated.

Next update is too small for two posts but too big for one, so I apologise if its a bit hard to digest.
 

Jape

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3.
Hunyadi's Crusade: Part Two


Akinci irregular lassos a Hungarian knight. 15th century Ottoman miniature.

On August 9th 1453, four months after the era defining conquest of Constantinople, an Ottoman army 22,000 strong (one of three corps advancing through the region) arrived in the Serbian village of Pristina. At the head of the army, under the banner of the seven Imperial horse tails [1] was Mehmet II. Despite hearing warnings from his ghazi scouts that John Hunyadi was amassing a powerful Christian army to the north, the Sultan ordered his soldiers to halt. Riding five kilometres into the countryside, Mehmet and a small cadre arrived at an inconspicuous stretch of land known as Kosovo Field. Here they came to prayer and see the place where the Turks had smashed Christian armies in both 1389 and 1448. The latter time it had been Mehmet’s father Murad II who had triumphed over Hunyadi’s Serbian-Hungarian coalition. Mehmet himself had been present on that day and there’s seems to have been some consideration over whether the Sultan would remain in Pristina to meet the Regent on that symbolic battlefield. However after three days the Ottoman camp was packed up and the advance north resumed. The reason was Belgrade. The focus of the entire Ottoman campaign was the ‘White City’, the hub of Hunyadi’s operations in the region and one of the most imposing fortresses in South-eastern Europe. The capture of the city would push Ottoman control to the Danube and snatch Serbia from Hungarian control wholesale, a long sought after goal of the Empire.

Their Christian opponents were well aware of Mehmet’s intent and had no wish to fight a siege against the Ottomans (or more accurately against the cannons of Urban [2]). Hunyadi was confident he could defeat the young Mehmet in open battle, where his acumen for siege craft would be irrelevant. Hunyadi also had considerations of morale and logistics that encouraged a swift confrontation. Due to the opposition of many at King Ladislaus’ court, the Regent had been forced to raise his army almost entirely from his own (admittedly vast) coffers. At its core the army was a conglomeration of mercenary bands including French, German, Italian, Polish, Bohemian, and of course Hungarian troops. Beyond this the bulk of the men had been raised from the peasantry. Encouraged by the religious zeal of Giovanni Capestrano [3] and the endorsement of Rome to fight the heathen, thousands had set off with only scythe or pitchfork to hand. Concerned by the cost of keeping his professional soldiers and maintaining the fervour of Capestrano’s crusaders, Hunyadi left Belgrade to seek out the Sultan. Despite the determination of both commanders to do battle, an outbreak of plague in the region struck without respect for nationality or faith [4]. At the city of Nis the Ottoman besiegers led by Serdar Pasha were so badly hit by disease that Mehmet was forced to send several thousand men to reinforce the assault.


Mehmet II Fatih on the march

Many of the more superstitious of Hunyadi’s men saw the outbreak as a curse on the Crusade’s effort and began to slip away. Only a rousing sermon from Capestrano stopped the trickle of deserters from turning into a flood. Illness and fear the opposing army had not been hit by the plague saw weeks of tentative skirmishes. The arrival of the Despot Durad and his Serbian troops at Hunyadi’s camp finally galvanised the Regent into action. Word had reached of the fall of Jagodina Castle, a key position on the Belgrade Road. Reinforced and now aware of Mehmet’s location, the Hungarians marched along the Sava River to meet their foe. The Ottomans had plenty forewarning of the enemy’s approach. As the crusaders snaked through the Moravian hills their column was a cacophony of gongs, bells, trumpets and hymns. Camp followers cooked food in the wagons of the rear-guard, while others had brought their herds of goats and cattle. The combined stench of sweat, excrement, food and burning incense was said to be overpowering. An Italian mercenary captain in Hunyadi’s service later claimed that the Turks would have smelt the army long before they saw it. Stealth was of no concern to either side at this point. Mehmet had encamped near the town of Milosevo on September 25th, a thousand pennants of red, gold and green fluttering in the autumn breeze for all to see.

The next day the two armies faced each other across a narrow field buttressed on both sides by hills. Of finesse and tactics there is little to say. In the confined space both armies slammed into one another in a grinding maelstrom. Expert use of war wagons allowed the mercenaries to inflict major damage on the Janissary centre. After hours of back and forth, a classic tactic of their nomadic past turned the tide for the Ottomans. Over half of Mehmet’s army at Milosevo was cavalry which he utilised to lure Hunyadi’s inexperienced peasants with feint retreat after feint retreat [5]. Fearful that the bulk of his army would break under sipahi assault, Hunyadi led his knights and mounted men-at-arms, under flanking support from the mercenary infantry, in a charge down the centre, intending to cut the Ottomans in half and force them to break. Sadly for Hunyadi the surprise attack worked too well, the cavalry barging through the Turkish lines while their infantry support struggled to keep up. Isolated, the sipahi struck the knights from all sides with bow and lance, slaughtering the heavily armoured Christians forced into a crush by the encirclement. Durad and hundreds of others fell before Hunyadi and the survivors were able to break out of the scrum.


The Battle of Milosevo - September 26th 1453

Soon the entire Christian army was in retreat towards Belgrade. As Hunyadi’s men shambled north, they came under sporadic attack from Mehmet’s outriders. These raids spurred on the men, ever aware the Turks were in pursuit. The Regent sent couriers ahead begging the Hungarian Diet and King Ladislaus for aid. On the march, the remnants of the Serbian nobility elected Hunyadi Regent of the Despotate and Custodian of Belgrade. It was a hurried ceremony enacted by desperate men. With the first two sons of Durad blind (by Turkish hands) and living in exile, and the third a puppet of the Ottomans, the lords removed any pretence of their independence from Hungary and submitted to Hunyadi’s rule, hoping for a protection in desperate times. Hope of help from the west was removed when word reached the Christians that Stefan, Lord of Zeta and his Montenegrins had been crushed by Yusuf Pasha at the Battle of Cetinje. Despite the grim atmosphere that pervaded Hunyadi’s army, Belgrade was no defenceless hamlet. Protected on two sides by the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers and sporting three lines of defensive walls, it was an imposing obstacle even to Mehmet the Conqueror.

Arriving only days after Hunyadi, the Sultan encircled Belgrade on October 7th and began a week long bombardment of the city, eventually creating several breaches in the outer walls. On October 15th, Mehmet ordered an all-out assault which began at sundown and continued all night. The Ottomans attacked from all sides, with barges ferrying troops across the Sava. The Janissaries led the way, pushing deep into the city. At this most crucial moment of the siege, Hunyadi ordered the defenders to throw tarred wood into the breaches, and then set them alight. Soon a wall of flames separated the Janissaries fighting towards the central keep from their comrades trying to breach through the gaps into the upper town. The fierce battle between the encircled Janissaries and Crusaders inside the upper town was turning in favour of the Christians and the Hungarians managed to beat off the fierce assault from outside the walls. The Janissaries remaining inside the city were thus massacred while the Ottoman troops trying to breach the upper town suffered heavy losses. Mehmet was infuriated at the failure of his elite soldiers and over the coming weeks the walls of Belgrade were torn apart as the attacks continued.


Medieval Belgrade

Although the defenders struggled to rebuild the walls, the rubble strewn streets were used to their advantage, turning houses into redoubts and ambushing Turkish soldiers lost in the winding alleys [6]. Mehmet was further hindered by the weather, as rain turned the rivers into raging torrents, allowing Hunyadi to focus his defences on the land wall. By the end of October the snows had begun, and the Regent feared the freezing of the rivers would allow Mehmet to recommence his attacks on the Danube and Sava walls, stretching his tired soldiers to their limit. Following a massive Ottoman assault on November 14th, Capestrano and Hunyadi led the Crusaders in pursuit out of the city. In a moment of hesitation, the warrior-priest urged his peasant followers into a full blown sortie. Hunyadi joined in the counter-attack, and much to the Turks’ horror, the Christians were soon into their camp, the defenders’ religious zeal and desperation overwhelming Mehmet’s tired besiegers. This sudden turn of fortune broke the Ottomans’ spirit and having to be almost physically removed by his generals from the battlefield, the Sultan ordered the retreat. All across Europe, church bells rang in celebration of the ‘Miracle of Belgrade’ [7].

The Ottomans retired back to Jagodina Castle in silence, with Mehmet enveloped in shame and anger. On arriving, he ordered several of his commanders be executed for what he saw as their failure. When word arrived of Bulgarian revolt Mehmet was so introverted Serdar Pasha set off with 3,000 sipahis after several days of inaction from his lord. Despite their surprise victory, Hunyadi’s men were in no state to capitalise. Belgrade was a ruin, the Serbian royal line was dead and the Crusader army spent, the Regent’s coffers all but stripped by the campaign. Despite Capestrano’s pleas the survivors of the peasant contingent began to head north to their farms almost as soon the siege had been lifted. Fears of an Ottoman counter-attack were allayed in December when an envoy arrived in Belgrade, requesting peace. In no place to haggle, Hunyadi was forced to accept the loss of southern Serbia and Montenegro, while Albania by this point had devolved into such petty inter-clan conflict there was no nation to save. When the Regent arrived in Buda on Christmas Eve he was hailed as the vanquisher of the ‘Great Turk’. The nobles who had avoided offering aid now lauded him as he brought young King Ladislaus the crown of Serbia [8]. The Regent might have been the only man in Christendom who did not praise his efforts. Though he had held Mehmet at the Danube, the price paid by his allies had been great. Next time the Ottomans would strike Hungary itself.


The results of the 'victorious' crusade

[1] A hangover from their nomadic days, Ottoman leaders’ seniority was symbolised by the number of horse tails they had on their banner; Seven for the Sultan, five for the Grand Vizier, four for a Pasha commanding the army and three for others important Pashas.
[2] Mehmet’s chief engineer who provided all those lovely great cannon at Constantinople.
[3] Capestrano was an OTL demagogue and ‘warrior-priest’ who helped whip up the Hungarian peasantry in 1456 to join Hunyadi. He even led troops at the Siege of Belgrade that year despite being in his seventies.
[4] Both armies suffered huge attrition penalties before they could do battle in-game.
[5] A much beloved tactic from Saladin to Genghis Khan, Western armies spent centuries getting lured in by this simple trick.
[6] These surprisingly ‘modern’ tactics were used in the real 1456 siege.
[7] This too is based on the 1456 siege.
[8] With no strong contender for the Despotate and Hunyadi unwilling to take the crown, he urged the Serb lords to elect Ladislaus, to give them security and entrench Hungarian control of Belgrade.