Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia (1431–1476), was a member of the House of Drăculești, a branch of the House of Basarab, also known by hispatronymic name: Dracula. He was posthumously dubbed Vlad the Impaler (Romanian: Vlad Țepeș pronounced [vlad t͡sepeʃ]), and was a three-time Voivode of Wallachia, ruling mainly from 1456 to 1462, the period of the incipient Ottoman conquest of the Balkans. His father, Vlad II Dracul, was a member of the Order of the Dragon, which was founded to protect Christianity in Eastern Europe. Vlad III is revered as a hero in Bulgaria as well for his protection of the Bulgarian population both south and north of the Danube. A significant number of Bulgarian common folk and remaining boyars (nobles) moved north of the Danube to Wallachia, recognized his leadership and settled there following his raids on the Ottomans.
As the cognomen ‘The Impaler’ suggests, his practice of impaling his enemies is central to his historical reputation. During his lifetime, his reputation for excessive cruelty spread abroad, to Germany and elsewhere in Europe. The total number of his victims is estimated in the tens of thousands. The name of the vampire Count Dracula in Bram Stoker‘s 1897 novel Dracula was inspired by Vlad’s patronymic.
During his life Vlad wrote his name in Latin documents as Wladislaus Dragwlya, vaivoda partium Transalpinarum (1475).His Romanian patronymic Dragwlya (or Dragkwlya)Dragulea, Dragolea, Drăculea is a diminutive of the epithet Dracul carried by his father Vlad II, who in 1431 was inducted as a member of the Order of the Dragon, a chivalric order founded by Sigismund of Hungary in 1408. Dracul is the Romanian definite form, the -ul being the suffixal definite article (deriving from Latin “ille”). The noun “drac” “dragon” itself continues Latin draco. Thus, Dracula literally means “Son of the Dragon”. In Modern Romanian, the word drac has adopted the meaning of “devil” (the term for “dragon” now being balaur or dragon). This has led to misinterpretations of Vlad’s epithet as characterizing him as “devilish”.
Vlad’s moniker of Țepeș (“Impaler”) identifies his favourite method of execution. It was attached to his name posthumously, in ca. 1550. Before this, however, he was known as “Kazikli Bey” (The Impaler Lord) by the Ottoman Empire after their armies encountered his “forests” of impalement victims.
Vlad was born in Sighișoara, Transylvania, in the Kingdom of Hungary (today part of Romania), in the winter of 1431 to Vlad II Dracul, future voivode of Wallachia. Vlad’s father was the son of the celebrated Voivode Mircea the Elder. His mother is unknown, though at the time his father is believed to have been married to Princess Cneajna of Moldavia (eldest daughter of Alexander “the Good”, Prince of Moldavia and aunt to Stephen the Great of Moldavia) but to also keep a number of mistresses. He had two older half-brothers, Mircea II and Vlad Călugărul, and a younger brother, Radu III the Handsome.
In the year of his birth, Vlad’s father, known under the nickname Dracul, had traveled to Nuremberg where he had been vested into the Order of the Dragon.Vlad and Radu spent their early formative years in Sighișoara. During the first reign of their father, Vlad II Dracul, the Voivode brought his young sons to Târgoviște, the capital of Wallachia at that time.
The Byzantine chancellor Mikhail Doukas showed that, at Târgoviște, the sons of boyars and ruling princes were well-educated by Romanian or Greek scholars commissioned from Constantinople. Vlad is believed to have learned combat skills, geography, mathematics, science, languages (Old Church Slavonic, German, Latin), and the classical arts and philosophy.
In 1436, Vlad II Dracul ascended the throne of Wallachia. He was ousted in 1442 by rival factions in league with Hungary, but secured Ottoman support for his return by agreeing to pay the Tribute to the Sultan.Vlad II also sent his two legitimate sons, Vlad and Radu, to the Ottoman court, to serve as hostages of his loyalty. After the death of Vlad II Dracul, Radu stayed at the Ottoman court.
During his years as hostage, Vlad was educated in logic, the Quran and the Turkish language and works of literature. He would speak this language fluently in his later years. He and his brother were also trained in warfare and riding horses. The boys’ father, Vlad Dracul, was awarded the support of the Ottomans and returned to Wallachia and took back his throne from Basarab II and some unfaithful Boyars.
In October 2011, Prince Charles publicly claimed that he is a descendant of Vlad the Impaler. The claim accompanied his announcement of a pledge to help conserve the forested areas of Transylvania. Radu Florescu documented on page 193 of his book, “Dracula: Prince of Many Faces” that the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I granted Ladislas Dracula and his brother John recognition as Dracula’s direct descendants: based on their documentation, the Emperor granted them letters patent (a patent of nobility) on January 20, 1535, in which their descent is described and also specific mention is made in the patent of “the ancient insignia of Ladislas’s family” as being the same as that of the Bathory family–i.e., gules (red) a sword covering three wolf teeth.
In December 1447, boyars in league with the Hungarian regent John Hunyadi rebelled against Vlad II Dracul and killed him in the marshes near Bălteni. Mircea, Dracul’s eldest son and heir, was blinded and buried alive at Târgoviște. To prevent Wallachia from falling into the Hungarian fold, the Ottomans invaded Wallachia and put young Vlad III on the throne. However, this rule was short-lived as Hunyadi himself now invaded Wallachia and restored his ally Vladislav II, of the Dănești clan, to the throne.
Vlad fled to Moldavia, where he lived under the protection of his uncle, Bogdan II. In October 1451, Bogdan was assassinated and Vlad fled to Hungary. Impressed by Vlad’s vast knowledge of the mindset and inner workings of the Ottoman Empire as well as his hatred of the new sultan Mehmed II, Hunyadi reconciled with his former rival and made him his advisor.
After the Fall of Constantinople to Mehmed II in 1453, Ottoman influence began to spread from this base through the Carpathians, threatening mainland Europe, and by 1481 conquering the entire Balkans peninsula. Vlad’s rule thus falls entirely within the three decades of the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans.
In 1456, three years after the Ottomans had conquered Constantinople, they threatened Hungary by besieging Belgrade. Hunyadi began a concerted counter-attack in Serbia: while he himself moved into Serbia and relieved the siege (before dying of the plague), Vlad led his own contingent into Wallachia, reconquered his native land and killed Vladislav II in hand-to-hand combat.
Vlad found Wallachia in a wretched state: constant war had resulted in rampant crime, falling agricultural production, and the virtual disappearance of trade. Regarding a stable economy essential to resisting external enemies, he used severe methods to restorthree aims for Wallachia: to strengthen the country’s economy, its defense, and his own political power. He took measures to help the peasants’ well-being by building new villages and raising agricultural output. He understood the importance of trade for the development of Wallachia. He helped the Wallachian merchants by limiting foreign merchant trade to three market towns: Târgșor, Câmpulung and Târgoviște.
Vlad considered the boyars the chief cause of the constant strife as well as of the death of his father and brother. To secure his rule, he had many leading nobles killed and gave positions in his council, traditionally belonging to the greatest boyars, to persons of obscure origins, who would be loyal to him alone, and some to foreigners. For lower offices, Vlad preferred knights and free peasants to boyars. In his aim of fixing up Wallachia, Vlad issued new laws punishing thieves. Vlad treated the boyars with the same harshness, believing them guilty of weakening Wallachia through their personal struggles for power. The army was also strengthened. He had a small personal guard, mostly made of mercenaries, who were rewarded with loot and promotions. He also established a militia or ‘lesser army’ made up of peasants called to fight whenever war came.
Vlad Dracula built a church at Târgșor (allegedly in the memory of his father and older brother who were killed nearby), and he contributed with money to the Snagov Monastery.
Since the Wallachian nobility was linked to the Transylvanian Saxons, Vlad also acted against them by eliminating their trade privileges and raiding their cities. In 1459, he had several Saxon settlers of Brașov (Kronstadt) impaled.
In 1459, Pope Pius II called for a new crusade against the Ottomans, at the Council of Mantua (1459) Congress of Mantua. In this crusade, the main role was to be played by Matthias Corvinus, son of John Hunyadi (János Hunyadi), the King of Hungary. To this effect, Matthias Corvinus received from the Pope 40,000 golden coins, an amount that was thought to be enough to gather an army of 12,000 men and purchase 10 Danube warships. In this context, Vlad allied himself with Matthias Corvinus, with the hope of keeping the Ottomans out of the country (Wallachia was claimed as a part of the Ottoman Empire by Sultan Mehmed II).
Later that year, in 1459, Ottoman Empire|Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II sent envoys to Vlad to urge him to pay a delayed tribute of 10,000 ducats and 500 recruits into the Ottoman forces. Vlad refused, because if he had paid the ‘tribute’, as the tax was called at the time, it would have meant a public acceptance of Wallachia as part of the Ottoman Empire. Vlad, just like most of his predecessors and successors, had as a primary goal to keep Wallachia as independent as possible. Vlad had the Turkish envoys killed on the pretext that they had refused to raise their “hats” to him, by nailing their turbans to their heads. Meanwhile, the Sultan received intelligence reports that revealed Vlad’s domination of the Danube. He sent the Bey of Nicopolis, Hamza Pasha, to make peace and, if necessary, eliminate Vlad III.
Vlad Țepeș planned to set an ambush. Hamza Pasha, the Bey of Nicopolis, brought with him 1000 cavalry and when passing through a narrow pass north of Giurgiu, Vlad launched a surprise attack. The Wallachians had the Turks surrounded and defeated. The Turks’ plans were thwarted and almost all of them caught and impaled, with Hamza Pasha impaled on the highest stake to show his rank.
In the winter of 1462, Vlad crossed the Danube and devastated the entire Bulgarian land in the area between Serbia and the Black Sea. In response to this, Sultan Mehmed II raised an army of around 60,000 troops and 30,000 irregulars, and in spring of 1462 headed towards Wallachia. Commanding at best only 30,000 to 40,000 me. Vlad was unable to stop the Ottomans from crossing the Danube on June 4, 1462 and entering Wallachia. He constantly organized small attacks and ambushes on the Turks, such as The Night Attack when 15,000 Turks were killed. This infuriated Mehmed II, who then crossed the Danube. With the exception of some Turkish references all the other chronicles at the time that mention the 1462 campaign state that the Sultan was defeated.
Vlad the Impaler’s attack was celebrated by the Saxon cities of Transylvania, the Italian states and the Pope. A Venetian envoy, upon hearing about the news at the court of Corvinus on 4 March, expressed great joy and said that the whole of Christianity should celebrate Vlad Țepeș’s successful campaign. The Genoese from Caffa also thanked Vlad, for his campaign had saved them from an attack of some 300 ships that the sultan planned to send against them.
Vlad III’s defeat at Poenari was due in part to the fact that the Boyars, who had been alienated by Vlad’s policy of undermining their authority, had joined Radu under the assurance that they would regain their privileges. They may have also believed that Ottoman protection was better than Hungarian. It was said as well that Radu (through his spies or traitors) found the place where some Boyars’ families were hidden during the war (probably some forests around Snagov) and blackmailed them to come to his side. By 8 September, Vlad had won another three victories, but continuous war had left him without any money and he could no longer pay his mercenaries.
Vlad traveled to Hungary to ask for help from his former ally, Matthias Corvinus. Instead of receiving help, he found himself arrested and thrown into the dungeon for high treason. Corvinus, not planning to get involved in a war after having spent the Papal money meant for it on personal expenses forged a letter from Vlad III to the Ottomans where he supposedly proposed a peace with them, to give an explanation for the Pope and a reason to abandon the war and return to his capital.
Vlad was imprisoned at Oratia, a fortress located at Podu Dâmboviței Bridge. A period of imprisonment in Visegrád near Buda followed, where the Wallachian prince was held for 10 years. Then he was imprisoned in Buda.
The exact length of Vlad’s period of captivity is open to some debate, though indications are that it was from 1462 until 1474. Diplomatic correspondence from [[Buda]] seems to indicate that the period of Vlad’s effective confinement was relatively short. Radu’s openly pro-Ottoman policy as voivode probably contributed to Vlad’s rehabilitation. Moreover, [[Steven the Great|Ștefan cel Mare]], [[Voievod]] of [[Moldavia]] and relative of Vlad intervened on his behalf to be released from prison as the Ottoman pressure on the territories north of the Danube was increasing.