Vlad the Impaler

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Vlad III, also known as Vlad the Impaler or Vlad Dracula, was a voivode (or prince) of Wallachia, the historical and geographical region of Romania, in the 15th century. His life inspired several legends while he was still living, and after his death, he has become a figure of worldwide fascination. Raised in the House of Drăculești, an offshoot of the House of Basarab, Vlad III and his younger sibling Radu began serving as hostages in the Ottoman Empire in 1442 to ensure their father’s loyalty. In 1448, following the assassinations of his father and older brother, Vlad III attacked Wallachia with an Ottoman army and began his tenure as voivode. However, he was quickly deposed and required refuge with the Turks. In 1456, he invaded his homeland for the second time with Hungarian assistance. During his second tenure, Vlad III conducted a systematic purge of the Wallachian boyars in order to bolster his position. As they had previously supported his throne opponents, he murdered and pillaged Transylvanian Saxons and their villages. After refusing to pay homage and then executing Sultan Mehmed II’s envoys, he reignited the war against the Ottoman Empire in 1461. He also unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate the sultan. He traveled to Hungary seeking assistance from Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary, in his struggle against the empire but was instead captured. Between 1463 and 1475, Vlad was held captive in Visegrád. During this time, stories of his cruelty began to spread throughout Europe. After his release in the summer of 1475, he regained the throne once more before his death in 1476 or 1477.

Youth and Early Life

Vlad III was likely born between 1428 and 1431, after his father, Vlad II, had moved to Transylvania. His mother was either a daughter (Princess Cneajna of Moldavia) or a kinswoman (Eupraxia of Moldavia) of Alexander I of Moldavia and the first wife of his father, according to the majority of historians. He had at least three brothers and sisters: Mircea II of Wallachia, RaducelFrumos, and VladCălugărul (Vlad II’s illegitimate son with DoamnaCălțuna).

Vlad II was the illegitimate son of his biological parent Mircea the Elder and Doamna Mara. Due to his membership in the Order of the Dragon, a military fraternity founded by Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund to halt the Ottoman advance into Christendom, he obtained the moniker “Dracul.” His son would proudly assume the title and continue the conflict against the Ottoman Empire begun by his father.

According to historian RaduFlorescu, Vlad III was born in the Transylvanian Saxon town of Sighișoara (then in the Kingdom of Hungary) between 1431 and 1435, when his father resided there. After his half-brother Alexander I Aldea’s demise in 1436, Vlad II seized the throne of Wallachia and, on January 20, 1437, issued a charter proclaiming Vlad III and Mircea II to be his “first-born sons.” From 1437 to 1439, Vlad II issued four additional charters mentioning his two sons, the most recent of which also referred to Radu as his legitimate son.

After he did not support the Ottoman invasion of Transylvania in March 1442, Ottoman Sultan Murad II demanded that Vlad II renew his loyalty to the Ottoman throne by visiting him in Gallipoli. Vlad II accompanied his two junior sons, Vlad III and Radu, to the Ottoman Empire, where they were promptly imprisoned. Vlad II was eventually liberated, but his sons were held as hostages to guarantee his loyalty.

During his tenure with the Turks, Vlad III received a sound education. In addition to being whipped and beaten, he developed a disdain for Radu and Mehmed. The latter was ultimately crowned sultan. After Vlad II declared his support for Vladislaus, King of Poland and Hungary, against the Ottoman Empire during the Crusade of Varna in 1444, he and his brother felt their lives were in grave peril. They were, however, unharmed.

According to some historians, the brothers fled the Ottoman Empire around the middle of the 1440s, but they later returned. In 1447, Vlad II and Mircea II were murdered by John Hunyadi, the Hungarian regent-governor. He was placed on the throne of Wallachia Vladislav II, the son of VladDracul’s cousin, Dan II.

Vlad’s First Reign

Following the passing of his father and sibling, Vlad III became a potential heir to his father’s seat. Vladislav II participated in Hunyadi’s campaign into Ottoman territory in September 1448. Vlad III, sensing an opening, invaded Wallachia with Ottoman troops, captured the Giurgiu fortress on the Danube, and assisted to fortify it. The Ottoman forces routed Hunyadi’s army in the Battle of Kosovo on October 18, 1448.

However, Vladislav II returned to Wallachia shortly thereafter, forcing Vlad III to retreat hastily and reluctantly in December. He traveled to Edirne in the Ottoman Empire after his first removal from authority. Later, he relocated to Moldavia, where one of his brothers had seized the throne, to seek assistance. However, that uncle was murdered, and Vlad III and his cousin were forced to flee to Transylvania. They petitioned Hunyadi for assistance, but he had already agreed to a three-year truce with the Ottoman Empire.

Impaler’s Second Monarchy

After assuming authority, Vladislav II expelled a significant portion of the Wallachian boyars, who eventually settled in Brașov. Vlad III desired to reside there, but Hunyadi denied his request. The details of his life after this juncture are unknown. In 1456, he once again entered the annals of history by assaulting Wallachia with Hungarian support. Vladislav II was assassinated, and Vlad III assumed the Wallachian principality later that year.

From the outset, Vlad III endeavored to establish himself as a confident and effective leader. He possessed a dominant personality. Most sources concur that, shortly after assuming power, he had hundreds of thousands of individuals executed.

He conducted a systematic purge of the Wallachian boyars he believed were involved in his father and brother’s murders. Seizing control of his victims’ money, property, and other commodities, he redistributed them among the loyalists, thereby radically altering the political and economic landscape of his principality.

He continued to pay the Ottoman Sultan his customary tributes. While this pleased the Ottomans, it angered the Hungarians. They had a new captain-general, the eldest son of John Hunyadi, Ladislaus Hunyadi. He asserted that Vlad III had “no intention of remaining” loyal to the Hungarian throne and instructed the citizens of Brașov to support Dan III, the sibling of Vladislaus II who had emerged as one of Vlad III’s rivals. The burghers also supported VladCălugărul, the half-brother of Vlad III.

Ladislaus Hunyadi was executed by Ladislaus V, the monarch of Hungary, on March 16, 1457. This led to a rebellion instigated by Hunyadi’s family, which ultimately placed Matthias Hunyadi (later Corvinus) on the throne of Hungary.

Vlad III helped Stephen, the son of Bogdan II of Moldavia, reclaim his father’s throne in June by taking advantage of this civil conflict. According to German legends, he also raided Transylvania, where he captured thousands of Saxon men, women, and children, brought them back to Wallachia, and impaled them.

Michael Szilágyi, a general and regent of Hungary, and the Saxons negotiated peace through representatives sent by Vlad III. The succeeding treaty required the inhabitants of Brașov to expel Dan III from their territory. In exchange, Vlad III agreed that merchants from Sibiu could freely conduct business in Wallachia in exchange for the “same treatment” of Wallachian merchants in Transylvania. Vlad III proclaimed Szilágyi his lord and senior brother on December 1, 1457.

By May 1458, the relationship between Vlad III and the Saxons had once again deteriorated after he refused to allow Saxon merchants into Wallachia and effectively forced them to sell their goods to Wallachian counterparts. Despite this, he claimed in 1476 that he had always supported unrestricted trade in his country.

On September 20, 1459, Vlad III bestowed upon himself several titles, including “Lord and ruler over all of Wallachia and the duchies of Amlaș and Făgăraș.” In 1460, Dan III invaded Wallachia with the support of the Hungarians but was defeated and executed by Vlad III in April. He then invaded southern Transylvania and devastated the Brașov suburbs to the ground. Thousands of individuals of all ages and genders were impaled.

He also pursued the expulsion of Wallachian refugees from Brașov during negotiations. Following the restoration of peace, he referred to the citizens of Brașov as his “brothers and friends.” In August, he punished the citizens of the duchies of Amlaș and Făgăraș who had supported Dan III, thereby consolidating his control over these territories.

The Turkish War

Vlad III became more daring as his authority and influence in southeastern Europe increased. When exactly he ceased paying tribute to the Ottoman Empire is a matter of debate. Some Christian academics contend that he began to disregard the suzerainty of the Ottoman Sultan, Mehmed II, as early as 1459, while Tursun Beg, a secretary at the court of the sultan, wrote that Vlad III became hostile towards the Ottoman Empire in 1461.

According to Tursun Beg, the Sultan was informed of the new negotiations between Vlad III and Matthias Corvinus by his agents. Mehmed II immediately dispatched a convoy led by the Greek politician Thomas Katabolinos and demanded that Vlad III appear in Constantinople.

In addition, he instructed Hamza, the Bey of Nicopolis, to apprehend Vlad III once he had crossed the Danube. Vlad III quickly uncovered the sultan’s plan, and after capturing Hamza and Katabolinos, he promptly executed them.

In the following months, he recaptured Giurgiu from the Turks and then invaded the empire itself. On February 11, 1462, he wrote Corvinus a letter requesting military assistance. He reported that over 23,884 Turks and Bulgarians were killed on his orders during the campaign and declared that he had broken the truce with the sultan in honor of the Hungarian Crown and Christianity.

Mehmed II, upon learning of Vlad III’s invasion, amassed, according to most accounts, an army of over 150,000 men and proclaimed Radu, Vlad III’s junior brother, ruler of Wallachia. In May of 1462, the Ottoman fleet reached Brăila, the sole Danube-based Wallachian port. Vlad III, overpowered by the sheer bulk of the Ottoman army, retreated and instituted a scorched earth policy.

On the night of 16 or 17 June, he entered the Ottoman camp in an attempt to assassinate the sultan. Instead of assaulting the court of the sultan himself, Vlad III and his men attacked the camps of viziers Mahmut Pasha and Isaac, resulting in failure. Vlad III and his retainers, realizing their error, escaped at dawn.

Mehmed II followed them to Targoviște, a town that served as Vlad III’s stronghold. When the sultan and his men entered Targoviște, they discovered the city deserted and were horrified to see thousands upon thousands of impaled corpses.

Vlad and his associates subsequently suffered a string of defeats, and he was forced to retreat to Chilia. After Mehmed II abandoned Wallachia, Radu commanded the Ottoman army. Vlad III defeated his brother twice, but an increasing number of individuals began to join Radu. By November 1462, Corvinus had ordered the apprehension of Vlad II by the Czech mercenary commander John Jiskra of Brands.

Last Reign, and Death

Vlad III spent the next fourteen years of his life imprisoned in Visegrád and was eventually liberated in the summer of 1475 after Stephen III of Moldavia petitioned Corvinusto to do so. However, initially, Corvinus did not support Vlad III in his campaign against the Ottoman-installed monarch of Wallachia, BasarabLaiotă. In November 1476, Vlad III, aided by the Hungarians and Moldavians, attacked Wallachia and forced its ruler to escape to the Ottoman Empire.

After becoming voivode for the third time, he sent letters to the citizens of Brașov, requesting carpenters to construct a residence for him in Targoviște. However, his third tenure was short-lived due to the return of BasarabLaiotă with an Ottoman army. In December 1476 or January 1477, while battling Laiotă and Ottoman forces, Vlad III perished. The current location of his grave is unknown.

Personal History and Legacy

Vlad III had been married twice. The historian Alexandru Simon concluded that his first wife was John Hunyadi’s illegitimate daughter. Probably in 1475, after the demise of his first wife, he married his second wife, Justina Szilágyi. MihneacelRău (1462-1510), an unconfirmed second son (??-1486), and VladDrakwlya (??-??) were reportedly Vlad III’s three sons.

During his lifetime, legends of Vlad III’s deeds began to spread. Since his death, numerous works of fiction and nonfiction have been written about him, most notably Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.” He remains of interest to historians, political scientists, and military tacticians. In Romania, he is revered as a national icon, whereas the rest of the world considers him a monster.

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