Vlad III Dracula

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Portrait of Vlad III
Portrait of Vlad III

Vlad III Dracula (Also known as Vlad Ţepeş /'TSE-pesh/ in Romanian or Vlad the Impaler), November/December, 1431December 1476, and reigned as Prince of Wallachia 1448, 1456-1462 and 1476. He was born in Sighişoara, a small town in Transylvania. He led an independent policy in relation to the Ottoman Empire. He is known in Turkish as Kaziglu Bey, or "the Impaler Prince", and is a popular folk hero in Romania and Moldova even to-day. However, abroad, he is popularly associated with the title of vampire - a character of Bram Stoker's horror novel, Dracula - to the point where he is thought to be the inspiration for it. His post-mortem nickname Ţepeş (Impaler) comes from the method of execution by impalement, propagated by the medieval Transylvanian brochures.


The Family of Vlad III

The crown of Wallachia was not passed automatically from father to son; instead the leader was elected by the boyars. Although this system was more democratic than most contemporary forms of governance, it did result in instability, family disputes and assassinations. Eventually, the royal house split between two factions: the descendants of Prince Mircea the Old, Dracula's grandfather; and those of another prince, Dan II (the Dăneşti).

Vlad (born c. 1390) was an illegitimate son of Prince Mircea the Old, brought up at the court of King Sigismund of Hungary. Sigismund, who later became Holy Roman Emperor founded a secret order of knights called the Order of the Dragon to defend Christianity from Ottoman expansion. Vlad was inducted into this order and was then known in Wallachia as "Vlad the Dragon" or "Vlad II Dracul". He married Marya Magdalene Cneajna Muşati, daughter of King Alexandru cel Bun of Moldova.

In 1431, King Sigismund made Vlad Dracul the governor of Transylvania; it was here that his second son, also named Vlad, was born. Vlad would be known as "Son of the Dragon" or "Dracula" (also Draculea). The house in which he was born still stands in Sighişoara and is marked with a small plaque. In 1436, Vlad Dracul's ambition to seize the throne of Wallachia resulted in him recruiting supporters. This he did by killing the incumbent king, a Dăneşti, named Alexandru I Aldea, and crowned himself Vlad II.

Vlad's position was far from secure. He was liege of Hungary, and he had to pay tribute to the Ottoman sultan Murad II. When the Turks invaded Transylvania in 1442, Ulaszlo I of Hungary accused (unfairly) Vlad of failing to properly defend the approaches to Transylvania from the south (i.e., the passes leading from Wallachia to Transylvania) and forced Vlad out of Wallachia. Vlad and his family appealed to Murad II for assistance, and regained the throne the following year. To secure his allegiance, Vlad was required to surrender his two youngest sons, Vlad and Radu the Handsome, as hostages in March 1442. They were sent to Egrigoz and joined the Ottoman court alongside Prince Mehmed. Vlad Dracula was 13, and for the next four years he was held in the Ottoman Empire as a hostage.

Shortly after, however, Hungary declared war on the Ottoman Empire. Vlad Dracul was summoned to join the crusade, and as a member of the Order of the Dragon he could not refuse outright, but, not wishing to anger the captors of his younger sons he sent his eldest son Mircea in his place. The crusade was a failure, and the Christian armies were crushed at the Battle of Varna. Vlad fell further out of favour with Hungary.

In 1447 both Vlad Dracul and Mircea were murdered on Hungarian orders by the Boyar council, and a puppet king was installed in Wallachia. This displeased the Turks, who therefore freed the 17 year old Vlad Dracula and gave him an army. He regained the throne becoming Vlad III, but was quickly forced out by Hungary, who again installed a puppet ruler, Vladislav II.

When Vladislav II switched sides to support the Ottoman Turks, Vlad Dracul was able to gain Ladislaus' support for a fresh attempt to win the throne. He killed Vladislav in 1456 and ruled a united Wallachia until 1462, when the then-king of Hungary, Matthias Corvinus, fell out with him and invaded Wallachia. After four years (1462-1466) as Matthias's prisoner in Buda, he was again reinstated as the ruler of Wallachia.

The Reign of Vlad III

During his reign, Vlad was called Ţepeş first by his enemies, and after his death, by his own people; although he called himself Dracula, which means the son of the Dragon order.

He was greatly disliked, but the bufferzone between Central Europe and the Ottoman Empire made Vlad a crucial player in the defense of Christendom. At times, he and his army would pass over the frozen Danube and invade Ottoman territory (mainly in present-day Bulgaria) and cause great mayhem. In one of his invasions, he is supposedly to have killed more than 20,000 Turks. This, in turn, caught the attention of the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II, who himself laid siege on Targoviste. Vlad fled, but left impaled corpses of Muslims and used the scorched-earth policy. He ordered the burning of crops, the poisoning of wells, and the killing of all domestic animals. He freed convicted criminals and encouraged those who were afflicted with leprosy and the bubonic plague to mingle among the Turks. Mahmud Pasha lamented that "for six leagues not a drop of water was to be found. The intensity of the heat caused by the scorching sun was so great that the armor seemed as if it would melt like a lighted candle."

Upon reaching Targoviste, the Turks encountered the following gruesome sight: :"[Sultan Mehmed] marched on for about five kilometers when he saw men impaled; the Sultan's army came across a field of stakes, about three kilometers long and one kilometer wide. And there were large stakes upon which he could see the impaled bodies of men, women, and children, about twenty-thousand of them... And the other Turks, seeing so many people impaled, were scared out of their wits."

Eventually, he regained his throne, but Matthias Corvinus captured Vlad and imprisoned him. Once again he was let free after he converted from Eastern Orthodox to Roman Catholicism. He also married a relative of Corvinus, named Ilona Szilgyi; she was also related to the Bthory family. Vlad had a son from an earlier marriage, Mihnea cel Rău. His first wife, whose name is not recorded, died during the siege of his castle in 1462. The Turkish army surrounded Poenari Castle, led by his half-brother Radu the Handsome. An archer shot an arrow through a window into Dracula's main quarters, demanding his surrender. Upon reading the message, Vlad's wife was so frightened that she flung herself off the tower into the Arges river below the castle. To-day, this section of the Arges is called Riul Doamnei (the Princess' River).

Vlad and Ilona were given a house in Pest, near Buda, where they lived for a couple of years and where their sons were born. It was here that a Hungarian guard chased a thief into Dracula's house. Vlad stabbed the guard to death, offended that he had not asked permission to enter his home. In 1474 he was given command of a contingent of soldiers and re-entered Wallachia, determined to win back his throne. He was accompanied by his cousin, Stefan cel Mare. Vlad was killed under mysterious circumstances, which are still not fully understood. A Slavic account of his death reports:

"Dracula's army began killing Turks without mercy. Out of sheer joy, Dracula ascended a hill in order to better see his troops massacring Turks. Thus detached from his army and friends, some took him for a Turk, and one of them struck him with a lance. But Dracula, seeing that he was being attacked by his own men, immediately killed five of his would-be assassins with his own sword. However he was pierced by many lances and then he died."

Vlad was beheaded and the head was sent as a gift to Sultan Mehmed II, who had it placed on a spike in Istanbul to prove to all his subjects that the dreaded Kaziglu Bey was truly dead.


Missing image
Woodblock print of Vlad III attending a mass impalement.

Vlad's reign is best known, at least outside Romania, for his cruelty. Many of the stories have an element of legend; it is hard to know how much the tales have grown in the telling.

Many accounts of Vlad's rule are delivered from defamation pamphlets printed by ethnic Germans, utilizing the then-recent invention of the printing press. According to these accounts, he had a terrifying habit of pillaging towns that did not obey his rule, and murdering great numbers of people. The most notorius picture of Vlad is a woodblock print from one of these pamphlets depicting Vlad eating his dinner on a grassy hill surrounded by a forest of dead Turks. True to his name, most of the victims were impaled. The pamphlets also claim that to massacre more victims at once, he would herd captured Turks over cliffsides onto beds of spikes below. From these victims he was able to create an infamous "forest of the impaled" surrounding his capital to dissuade any attacking army from invading.

Other examples of his notoriety abound in other European records of history and folklore. On one occasion Vlad is supposed to have invited many beggars to his castle, then burnt it to the ground, killing them all, so that nobody would be poor in his kingdom. (However, this may be a reattribution, as the same gambit is also attributed to Hatto II of Mainz, archbishop from 968-970, and sometimes attributed to Hatto I.)

Soon after gaining his throne, Vlad invited the Boyars to his castle in Targoviste. After a day of festivities, Vlad impaled everyone to avenge the death of his father.

When an Ottoman emissary invoked his custom, refusing to remove his turban when in Vlad's presence (thus offending him), Vlad told him that he wished only to strengthen and honour the Ottoman custom - then nailed the emissary's turban to his head.

Conversely, just as Vlad responded harshly to insult, he responded favourably to flattery. Allegedly, when a messenger arrived with news from neighboring Hungary, Vlad grew very angry, and invited him to dinner. Seeing the dining room filled with dead and dying people impaled on stakes, and guards behind him holding a gold-plated stake, the messenger grew very anxious. When Vlad asked him if he knew why he was asked to dinner, the messenger thought quickly and responded, "I do not know, but I know you are a wise and great ruler, and no matter what you command, even if you were to command my death, it should be done". Impressed, Vlad waved the soldiers away, and said "Had you not answered so well, I would have impaled you on the spot." The messenger was showered with gifts, before being sent back to Hungary.

Another anecdote accounts that there once was a foreign merchant who was in Vlad's capital city. The merchant left his wagon out, knowing the strict punishment for breaking the law. When he came back to the wagon in the morning he found that 16 ducats were missing. He went to Dracula and told him of the stolen money. Vlad told him he would have his money by sundown. He then told the people that if they did not find the thief, then he (Vlad), would burn down the city. He then told one of his servants to place 17 ducats in the merchant's wagon. After the merchant discovered the ducats, he went to Dracula and told him that there was an extra ducat. At this point the thief was brought to Dracula who ordered him impaled, and Dracula also told the merchant that if he had not returned the extra ducat, he would have been impaled along with the thief.

It became widely known that Wallachian justice was harsh and Vlad had many criminals impaled, regardless of their crimes. In another anecdote, two wandering monks arrived in Targoviste and saw for themselves the draconian punishments implemented by Vlad. When summoned to his castle, Vlad asked them what they thought of his rule. One monk commended him for keeping law and order in the kingdom, while another harshly denounced Vlad as the Devil because of his cruelty. Although it is not truly known which of the monks was ordered impaled, supposedly, Vlad ordered the first monk impaled, seeing through his cowardly lies, and commended and rewarded the second for his honesty.

On a kinder note, another story tells that Vlad placed a golden cup at a well-travelled spring so travelers could drink. Not once during his entire reign was the cup ever stolen.

Some legends say that he was taken captive by the Hungarians. Then, they supposedly burned out his eyes and buried him alive. The next day, they dug up the spot where he was buried and found no corpse. Several years later there were numerous mysterious deaths at his castle.

A good description of Vlad Dracula survives courtesy of Modrussa, who wrote:
He was not very tall, but very stocky and strong, with a cruel and terrible appearance, a long straight nose, distended nostrils, a thin and reddish face in which the large wide-open green eyes were enframed by bushy black eyebrows, which made them appear threatening. His face and chin were shaven but for a moustache. The swollen temples increased the bulk of his head. A bull's neck supported the head, from which black curly locks were falling to his wide-shouldered person.

Count Dracula, the monstrous central character of Bram Stoker's novel Dracula is thought to be named after Vlad, but it is unclear whether the resemblance is any more than superficial; it bears more resemblance to the Hungarian Bthory noble family. Recent research suggests that Stoker knew little of the Prince of Wallachia. (See Dracula - Origins for more detail). In his novel Children of the Night, Dan Simmons creates a history for the character that merges events from the life of the real Vlad Dracula with Stoker's vampire.

Of the recent literary works written in Romania about the real Vlad, only Marin Sorescu's contemporary play Vlad Dracula, the Impaler has been translated into English.


  • Dracula: Prince of Many Faces (1989). Florescu, Radu R. and Mcnally, Raymond T. Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 0316286559.
  • Vlad Dracula: The Life and Times of the Historical Dracula (2000). Treptow, Kurt. Center for Romanian Studies.
  • In Search of Dracula, Revised (1994). Florescu, Radu R. and Mcnally, Raymond T. Little, Houghton Mifflin.

External links

Preceded by:
Vladislav II
Prince of Wallachia
Succeeded by:
Vladislav II
Preceded by:
Vladislav II
Prince of Wallachia
Succeeded by:
Radu cel Frumos
Preceded by:
Basarab Laiotă cel Bătrn
Prince of Wallachia
Succeeded by:
Basarab Laiotă cel Bătrn

Template:End boxde:Vlad Drăculea III. es:Vlad Draculea eo:Vlad la 3-a Drakulo fr:Vlad Tepes it:Vlad III he:ולאד השלישי דראקולה la:Vladislaus III Dracula nl:Vlad Tepes ja:ヴラド・ツェペシュ pl:Vlad Tepes pt:Vlad Tepes ro:Vlad Ţepeş fi:Vlad III sv:Vlad III Dracula


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