In September 1396 on the banks of Nicropolis (now in Turkey), two determined armies prepared for combat. A call from the Pope had proclaimed this engagement that was one of many, as a crusade against the Muslim Empire in the region.
Representing the Islamic response stood Sultan Bayazid, with a force of no more than 100, 000 at the most, 60, 000 of which comprised of janissaries; an army of Christians under Muslim authority, a practice that was prevalent at the time.
On the opposite side, their adversaries were a formidable and imposing force of no less than 250, 000 composed of at least six nations and headed overall by Sigmund, the King of Hungary.
His alliance included France (including three cousins of the French King namely James, Philip and Henry), Burgundy [under the Duke of Burgundy], Pomerania (North-western part of Poland on the Baltic Sea), the Christian King of Wallachia (a principality on the lower Danube River) and volunteers from England and the Netherlands.
The Coalition also comprised of a sizeable number of princes, lords and nobles including the leader of the Savoy, the Master of the Prussian knights, Frederick of Honenzollern, the Grand Master of Rhodes-Knights of St John, Philip of Artois, the high constable of France and several electors. The strongest army however, came from France.
Prior to this, the Christian army had overrun several Muslim cities, captured several forts and taken many prisoners on its way to Nicropolis. The morale of the advancing army, thus was understandably high and certain of victory.
So high was their morale in fact, they boasted that even if the sky were to fall, they would hold it up with their spears. Sultan Bayazid, who had been active elsewhere at the time of their initial advance, cut short his current engagements to face them.
Their spirits were temporarily apprehensive at the news Sultan Bayazid was approaching with a large force himself, but were eased after leaders reminded them of their mission and divine support.
The Christian army at the time of the battle then, was not only vastly numerically superior but also adequately equipped with larger, finer and more advanced weaponry and resources but also comprised of the bravest, best, greatest and most seasoned commanders and soldiers in the Christian World at the time.
Sultan Bayazid himself despatched his forces to separate areas as a military strategy so one unit would engage with the Christians initially and the other would remain on another side when it too would eventually join their comrades in battle.
The first would thus act as the vanguard and face the enemy in the initial head to head confrontation whilst the second, the janissaries, would appear from the rear of the French army on the opposite scene of the battlefield where the enemy forces had encamped and attack from behind after the Sultan gave his order.
The ploy was to make the Christians believe the Muslim army who came out to the battlefield first were the regular army and flower of the Sultan’s forces instead of the vanguard.
Unknown to the Christians, the initial segment of troops were a small irregular detachment intended to lure them into a false sense of hope and security and exhaust the Christians. The plan worked perfectly.
In the first phase of the battle, the Christians seemed to have the upper hand as they smashed through the first three lines of whom they assumed to be the light cavalry of the Muslims.
As they sensed victory in sight, the Sultan signalled the janissaries to make the counter charge and as they did so, the Christians found themselves besieged in between the irregular forces and the approaching rear assault.
The Bavarian and Austrian detachments fought as defensively and bravely as they could but it was too late and within a short span of time the entire Christian army, as large and as well equipped as it had been, were cut to pieces.
Sigmund, the ‘brave and courageous’ King of Hungary and official ringleader of the Christian Crusade fled for his life from the battle scene when all now seemed lost as did many others.
No less than 25 princes, dukes and sovereign rulers were caught as prisoners and presented to the Sultan before being released without a ransom, conditions or otherwise.
He had merely wished to instruct them to prepare for the next assault on their own territories and gave them an early head start by telling them almost exactly how he intended to do it.
A total of 150, 000 Christians had been killed in the battle, although Muslim losses were by no means small themselves. Sultan Bayazid then made preparations to invade France, Austria, Hungary and Constantinople immediately but the plan soon fizzled out for various reasons.