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The Historical Dracula

Chapter III: The Life of Vlad III Dracula, called the Impaler (1431-1476)

House Birthplace of Dracula now a RestaurantDracula was born in 1431 in the Transylvanian city of Sighisoara. At that time Dracula's father, Vlad II Dracul, was living in exile in Transylvania. Vlad Dracul was in Transylvania attempting to gather support for his planned effort to seize the Wallachian throne from the Danesti prince, Alexandru I. The house where Dracula was born is still standing. In 1431 it was located in a prosperous neighborhood surrounded by the homes of Saxon and Magyar merchants and the townhouses of the nobility.

Little is known about the early years of Dracula's life. It is known that he had an elder brother, Mircea, and a younger brother named Radu. His early education was left in the hands of his mother, a Transylvanian noblewoman, and her family. His real education began in 1436 after his father succeeded in claiming the Wallachian throne and killing his Danesti rival. His training was typical of that common to the sons of the nobility throughout Europe. His first tutor in his apprenticeship to knighthood was an elderly boyar who had fought under the banner of Enguerrand de Courcy at the Battle of Nicolopolis against the Turks. Dracula learned all the skills of war and peace that were deemed necessary for a Christian knight.

The political situation in Wallachia remained unstable after Vlad Dracul seized the throne in 1436. The power of the Turks was growing rapidly as one by one the small states of the Balkans surrendered to the Ottoman onslaught. At the same time the power of Hungary was reaching its zenith and would peak during the time of John Hunyadi, the White Knight of HungaryJohn Hunyadi, the White Knight of Hungary, and his son King Matthias Corvinus. Any prince of Wallachia had to balance his policies precariously between these two powerful neighbors. The prince of Wallachia was officially a vassal of the King of Hungary. In addition, Vlad Dracul was a member of the Order of the Dragon and sworn to fight the infidel. At the same time the power of the Ottomans seemed unstoppable. Even in the time of Vlad's father, Mircea the Old, Wallachia had been forced to pay tribute to the Sultan. Vlad was forced to renew that tribute and from 1436-1442 attempted to walk a middle course between his powerful neighbors.

In 1442 Vlad attempted to remain neutral when the Turks invaded Transylvania. The Turks were defeated and the vengeful Hungarians under John Hunyadi forced Dracul and his family to flee Wallachia. Hunyadi placed a Danesti , Basarab II, on the Wallachian throne. In 1443 Vlad II regained the Wallachian throne with Turkish support, on the condition that he sign an new treaty with the sultan that included not only the customary annual tribute but the promise to yearly send contingents of Wallachian boys to join the sultan's Janissaries. In 1444, to further assure the sultan of his good faith, Vlad sent his two younger sons to Adrianople as hostages. Dracula remained a hostage in Adrianople until 1448.

In 1444 the King of Hungary, Ladislas Posthumous, broke the peace and launched the Varna campaign under the command of John Hunyadi in an effort to drive the Turks out of Europe. Hunyadi demanded that Vlad II fulfill his oath as a member of the Order of the Dragon and a vassal of Hungary and join the crusade against the Turk. The Pope absolved Dracul of his Turkish oath but the wily politician still attempted to steer a middle course. Rather than join the Christian forces himself he sent his oldest son, Mircea. Perhaps he hoped the sultan would spare his younger sons if he himself did not join the crusade.

The results of the Varna Crusade are well known. The Christian army was utterly destroyed in the Battle of Varna. John Hunyadi managed to escape the battle under conditions that add little glory to the White Knight's reputation. Many, apparently including Mircea and his father, blamed Hunyadi for the debacle.Battle of Varna From this moment forth John Hunyadi was bitterly hostile toward Vlad Dracul and his eldest son. In 1447 Vlad Dracul was assassinated along with his son Mircea. Mircea was apparently buried alive by the boyars and merchants of Tirgoviste. Hunyadi placed his own candidate, a member of the Danesti clan, on the throne of Wallachia.

On receiving the news of Vlad Dracul's death the Turks released Dracula and supported him as their own candidate for the Wallachian throne. In 1448 Dracula managed to briefly seize the Wallachian throne with Turkish support. Within two months Hunyadi forced Dracula to surrender the throne and flee to his cousin, the Prince of Moldavia, while Hunyadi once again placed Vladislav II on the Wallachian throne.

Dracula remained in exile in Moldavia for three years, until Prince Bogdan of Moldavia was assassinated in 1451. The resulting turmoil in Moldavia forced Dracula to flee to Transylvania and seek the protection of his family enemy, Hunyadi. The timing was propitious; Hunaydi's puppet on the Wallachian throne, Vladislav II, had instituted a pro-Turkish policy and Hunyadi needed a more reliable man in Wallachia. Consequently, Hunyadi accepted the allegiance of his old enemy's son and put him forward as the Hungarian candidate for the throne of Wallachia. Dracula became Hunyadi's vassal and received his father's old Transylvanian duchies of Faragas and Almas. Dracula remained in Transylvania, under Hunyadi's protection, until 1456 waiting for an opportunity to retake Wallachia from his rival.

In 1453 the Christian world was shocked by the final fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans. The East Roman Empire which had existed since the time of Constantine the Great and which for a thousand years had shielded the rest of Christendom from Islam was no more. Hunyadi immediately began planning another campaign against the Turks. In 1456 Hunyadi invaded Turkish Serbia while Dracula simultaneously invaded Wallachia. In the Battle of Belgrade Hunyadi was killed and his army defeated. Meanwhile, Dracula succeeded in killing Vladislav II and taking the Wallachian throne but Hunaydi's defeat made his long term tenure questionable. For a time at least, Dracula was forced to attempt to placate the Turks while he solidified his own position.

Poenari Castle - The Real Dracula Castle (now in ruins)Dracula's main reign stretched from 1456 to 1462. His capital was the city of Tirgoviste while his castle was raised some distance away in the mountains near the Arges River. Most of the atrocities associated with Dracula's name took place in these years. It was also during this time that he launched his own campaign against the Turks. This campaign was relatively successful at first. His skill as a warrior and his well-known cruelty made him a much feared enemy. However, he received little support from his titular overlord, Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary (the son of John Hunyadi) and Wallachia's resources were too limited to achieve any lasting success against the conqueror of Constantinople.

The Turks finally succeeded in forcing Dracula to flee to Transylvania in 1462. Reportedly, his first wife committed suicide by leaping from the towers of Dracula's castle into the waters of the Arges River rather than surrender to the Turks. Dracula escaped across the mountains into Transylvania and appealed to Matthias Corvinus for aid Instead the King had Dracula arrested and imprisoned in a royal tower near Buda. Dracula remained a prisoner for twelve years. Apparently his imprisonment was none too onerous. He was able to gradually win his way back into the graces of Hungary's monarch; so much so that he was able to meet and marry a member of the royal family (some of the sources claim Dracula's second wife was actually the sister of Matthias Corvinus). The openly pro-Turkish policy of Dracula's brother, Radu the Handsome, who was prince of Wallachia during most of Dracula's captivity probably was a factor in Dracula's rehabilitation. During his captivity Dracula also renounced the Orthodox faith and adopted Catholicism. It is interesting to note that the Russian narrative, normally very favorable to Dracula, indicates that even in captivity he could not give up his favorite past-time; he often captured birds and mice which he proceeded to torture and mutilate -- some were beheaded or tarred-and-feathered and released, most were impaled on tiny spears.

The exact length of Dracula's period of captivity is open to some debate. The Russian pamphlets indicate that he was a prisoner from 1462 until 1474. However, during that period Dracula managed to marry a member of the Hungarian royal family and have two sons who were about ten years old when he reconquered Wallachia in 1476. McNally and Florescu place Dracula's actual period of confinement at about four years from 1462 until 1466. It is unlikely that a prisoner would be allowed to marry into the royal family. Diplomatic correspondence from Buda during the period in question also seems to support the claim that Dracula's actual period of confinement was relatively short.

Apparently in years between his release and 1474 when he began preparations for the reconquest of Wallachia Dracula resided with his new wife in a house in the Hungarian capital. One anecdote from that period tells how a Hungarian captain followed a thief into Dracula's house. When Dracula discovered the intruders he killed the Hungarian officer rather than the thief. When questioned about his actions by the king Dracula answered that a gentlemen does not enter the presence of a great ruler without an introduction -- had the captain followed proper protocol he would not have incurred the wrath of the prince.

In 1476 Dracula was again ready to make another bid for power. Dracula and Prince Stephen Bathory of Transylvania invaded Wallachia with a mixed force of Transylvanians, a few dissatisfied Wallachian boyars and a contingent of Moldavians sent by Dracula's cousin, Prince Stephen the Great of Moldavia. Dracula's brother, Radu the Handsome, had died a couple of years earlier and been replaced on the Wallachian throne by another Turkish candidate, Basarab the Old, a member of the Danesti clan. At the approach of Dracula's army Basarab and his coherents fled, some to the protection of the Turks, others to the shelter of the mountains. After placing Dracula on the throne Stephen Bathory and the bulk of Dracula's forces returned to Transylvania, leaving Dracula's tactical position very weak. Dracula had little time to gather support before a large Turkish army entered Wallachia determined to return Basarab to the throne. Dracula's cruelties over the years had alienated the boyars who felt they had a better chance of surviving under Prince Basarab. Apparently, even the peasants, tired of the depredations of the Impaler, abandoned him to his fate. Dracula was forced to march to meet the Turks with the small forces at his disposal, somewhat less than four thousand men.

Snagov Monastary - The Tomb of DraculaDracula was killed in battle against the Turks near the small town of Bucharest in December of 1476. Some reports indicated that he was assassinated by disloyal Wallachian boyars just as he was about to sweep the Turks from the field. Other accounts have Dracula falling in defeat, surrounded by the bodies of his loyal Moldavian bodyguard (the troops loaned by Prince Stephen of Moldavia remained with Dracula after Stephen Bathory returned to Transylvania). Still other reports claim that Dracula, at the moment of victory, was accidentally struck down by one of his own men. Dracula's body was decapitated by the Turks and his head sent to Constantinople where the sultan had it displayed on a stake as proof that the Impaler was dead. He was reportedly buried at Snagov, an island monastery located near Bucharest.

 

>> Chapter IV: Atrocities



All Text Rights Reserved.
 "The Historical Dracula" is Copyright Ray Porter, 1992
 

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