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Vlad III Dracula

Vlad III Dracula (Also known as Vlad Ţepeş /tse'pesh/ or Vlad the Impaler), lived November/December, 1431 - December, 1476, reigned as Prince of Wallachia 1448, 1456-1462 and 1476. He was born in Sighişoara, Transylvania. Thanks to his rule, Wallachia preserved its independence in relation with the Ottoman threat. He is known in Turkish as Kaziglu Bey, or "the Impaler Prince", and is a popular folk hero in Romania and Moldova even today. However, he was a savage ruler - his enemies were impaled, hence his nickname.


The Family of Vlad III

The Wallachia crown was not passed automatically from father to son, but rather the leader was elected by the boyars. Although, this system was vastly more democratic than most contemporary systems of governance, it did result in instablity, family disputes and assassinations. Finally the royal house became split between the descendents of Prince Mircea the Old (Dracula's grandfather) and those of another prince: Dan II: the Dăneşti .

Mircea had many sons, among them was Vlad, born c. 1390. Vlad was illegitimate and was 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 Catholicism from the Ottomans and the Eastern Church. Vlad was inducted into this order and became known in Wallachia as "Vlad the Dragon" or "Vlad II Dracul".

In 1431 King Sigismund made Vlad Dracul governor of Transylvania and it was here that his second son, also named Vlad was born. Vlad would be known as "Son of the Dragon" or "Dracula".

In 1436, Vlad Dracul's ambitions lead him to gather supporters for an attempt to seize the throne of Wallachia. This he did, killing the incumbent king, a Dăneşti, named Alexandru I , and crowned himself Vlad II.

Vlad's position, however was far from secure. He was liege of Hungary, and he had to pay tribute to the Ottoman sultan. When the Turks invaded Transylvania in 1442, Vlad was accused by Hungary 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 the Sultan for assistance, and regained the throne the following year. To show his gratitude he sent his two younger sons, Vlad and Radu the Handsome to Adrianople, Vlad was 13 and for the next four years he was held in Turkey as a hostage.

However shortly after, Hungary declared war on the Ottoman Empire. Vlad 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 and Mircea were murdered on Hungarian orders by the Boyar council, and a puppet king was installed in Wallachia. This displeased the Turks, so they 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 .

However Vladislav II, switched sides to support Turkey, and so Vlad Dracula was able to gain Hungarian support for a fresh attempt to win the throne. He killed Vladislav in 1456 and ruled a united Wallachia until 1462.

The Reign of Vlad III

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.

During his reign, Vlad was called Tepes (although he called himself Dracula or the son of the leader of the Dracul order) by his people and his enemies. Tepes, or impaler in Romanian languages, was used because of Vlad's habit of impaling people and then supposedly drinking their blood.

He was greatly disliked, but his buffer position between Europe and the Ottoman invaders, made him key to European defense. Using his armies, he killed so many Turks that the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II himself laid siege on Targoviste. Vlad fled, but left impaled corpses of Muslims and used the burnt earth policy.

Eventually, he regained his throne, but the Hungarian rulers captured Vlad and imprisoned him. Once again he was let free after he converted from Eastern Orthodox to Roman Catholicism. This time at reign, he was killed and his head was gifted to the Ottoman leaders.


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

He had a terrifying habit of pillaging certain towns under his rule, and murdering great numbers of people. For some reason, these towns tended to be ones that held high concentrations of ethnic Germans. He made such a profound effect on those peoples that most remaining accounts of Vlad are from German propaganda pamphlets created using the newly invented printing press. The most famous 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 impaled bodies. True to his name, most of his victims were by impalement. For large numbers, he would herd peasants over cliffsides onto beds of spikes below. From these victims he was able to create a blood-curdling “forest of the impaled” surrounding his capital to dissuade an attacking army from invading.

Examples of his notoriety abound. 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.) When foreign emissaries refused, out of custom, to remove their hats in his presence, he told them that he wished only to strengthen and honour their custom - then nailed their hats to their heads.

Conversely, just as Vlad responded harshly to insult, he responded favourably to flattery. 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.

Vlad was known to be harsh and have many criminals, regardless of their crimes, impaled. This was well known. Vlad placed a golden cup at a well traveled spring so travelers could drink. Not once during his entire reign was the cup ever stolen.

Once there 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 (form of money) 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 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 and Dracula ordered him impaled, and he also told the merchant that if he had not returned the extra ducat, he would have impaled the merchant along with the thief.

In another anecdote, two wandering monks arrived in Trigoiviste 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. It's not known which of the monks Vlad ordered impaled.

The savage prince was later fictionalized by Bram Stoker in the novel Dracula (1897). The novel is not directly based on his historical reign though. It is a work of fiction set in nineteenth century Transylvania and England. The Wallachian prince is transformed into the antihero Dracula, an immortal and powerful vampire who made a pact with Satan after his wife's murder.


  • Dracula: Prince of Many Faces (1989). Florescu, Radu R. and Mcnally, Raymond T. Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 0316286559.

External links

Preceded by:
Vladislav II
Prince of Wallachia
Followed by:
Vladislav II
Preceded by:
Vladislav II
Prince of Wallachia
Followed by:
Radu cel Frumos
Preceded by:
Basarab Laiotă cel Bătrân
Prince of Wallachia
Followed by:
Basarab Laiotă cel Bătrân

Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45