Vlad III Dracula, also known as "Vlad the Impaler", was a ruler of Wallachia, in the mid-to-late fifteenth century. His name originates from his father’s, Vlad II Dracul, who was a member of the Order of the Dragon, a military fraternity devoted to stopping the Ottoman Empire from advancing into Europe. His father was Voivode of Wallachia until 1442.
Vlad Ţepeş, der Pfähler, Woywode der Walachei, 16th Centrury painting / Wikipedia
Vlad Dracula was born between 1428 and 1431 in the town of Sighisoara, and was his father’s second son. Vlad had a younger brother Radu "The Handsome". In 1442, Vlad II, and his sons Vlad Dracula and Radu were summoned to Gallipoli by sultan Murad II. Here, they were imprisoned, as Vlad II had declined to support the Ottomans. Although their father was released within the year, Vlad Dracula and Radu remained imprisoned, to ensure their father’s loyalty to the Ottomans.
Following the unsuccessful Crusade of Varna in 1444, Vlad II capitulated to Murad, agreeing to pay him an annual tribute in thanks for the return for his two sons. However, in 1447, John Hunyadi, regent-governor of Hungary, broke into Wallachia, causing Vlad II and Radu to flee back to the Ottoman Empire. Voivode Vlad II was murdered in Wallachia, and his cousin Vladislav II became Voivode. However, the murder of his father also meant Vlad Dracula had a claim to rule.
Vlad Dracula took advantage of Vladislav leaving with Hunyadi to fight the Ottomans, and led an Ottoman army into Wallachia in early October 1448, strengthening the captured fortress of Giurgiu in southern Romania. Vlad’s army defeated Hunyadi’s army at the Battle of Kosovo in mid-October, and Vlad became ruler of the region. However, Vlad was forced to flee back to the Ottoman Empire in December, as Vladislav’s army returned to Wallachia, thus ending Vlad’s rule. Now in exile, Vlad moved to Moldavia, to be with his father’s brother-in-law, Bogdan II, whom Hunyadi had helped to the throne. Bogdan was murdered by a rival prince in late 1451, and Vlad fled back to Transylvania with Bogdan’s son, Steven, in order to seek Hunyadi’s help. However, Hunyadi forbade the authorities (known as berghers) of Brasov, where Vlad wanted to settle, from sheltering him, forcing Vlad to return to Moldavia.
In 1456, Vlad returned with a Hungarian army and claimed Wallachia, killing Vladislav in the process. Hunyadi had died during this summer, leaving his son, Ladislaus Hunyadi, in his post. Vlad was now Voivode for the second time, and marked his rule with mass executions - he killed anyone involved with the murder of his father while continuing to send the annual tribute to the sultan. This led Ladislaus Hunyadi to accuse Vlad of disloyalty to the Hungarian King, Ladislaus V, and encouraged the berghers to support Vlad’s rival, Dan III. Other berghers supported Vlad the Monk, Vlad Dracula’s illegitimate brother, who was gaining traction in the surrounding area. However, Ladislaus V executed Hunyadi in March 1457, leading Hunyadi’s family, the Szilágyis, to begin a rebellion against the Saxon throne. Amidst the chaos of civil war, Vlad plundered Saxon areas of Transylvania held by Vlad the Monk and impaled his followers.
Pamphlet by Markus Ayrer - Nuremberg 1499, depcting Vlad dining among his impaled victims / Wikipedia
In 1457, as Vlad aided negotiations between the Szilágyis and the Saxons, he ordered that the burghers of Brasov expel Dan, and promised to keep his own peace with the Saxons. However, by May, this relationship had deteriorated due to disagreements over trade, leading the new king of Hungary, and Ladislaus Hunyadi’s brother, Matthias Corvinus, to support Dan III, who had since returned to Brasov. Dan attempted to seize Wallachia but was defeated and executed by Vlad Dracula in April 1460, who also had all captives from Brasov impaled.
By 1462, Vlad Dracula had refused to pay the annual tribute to the sultan and had also begun negotiations with Matthias Corvinus to defeat the Ottomans. He was summoned to Constantinople but discovered the sultan’s envoys were plotting to capture him. He had them executed, and ordered the opening of the fortress of Giurgiu, allowing his Wallachian army to capture it. Vlad subsequently invaded the Ottoman Empire, killing thousands in his path along the Danube.
Mehmed II responded by raising a gigantic army, aiming to instate Vlad’s younger brother, Radu "The Hansome" as Voivode. As the Ottomans moved down the Danube, the Wallachians retreated, destroying everything and leaving behind a sea of impaled bodies. The Ottomans eventually left Wallachia, with Radu and his troops remaining to take power. As increasing numbers of Wallachians defected to Radu, Vlad fled to the Carpathian Mountains and requested help from Matthius Corvinus. They met for negotiations in November 1462, however, Corvinus, reluctant to wage war against the Ottomans, had Vlad captured and imprisoned.
Fourteen years later, in 1475, Stephen III of Moldavia, Bogdan’s son, asked Corvinus to return Vlad to Wallachia so that he could stand against the current Voivode, pro-Ottoman Basarab Laiota. Corvinus released Vlad and recognised him as the lawful prince of Wallachia, however, the sultan still considered Basarab Laiota as Wallachia’s ruler. Although Corvinus and Laiota agreed a treaty in January 1476, the relationship between the Saxons and Laiota was still rocky, and Corvinus dispatched Vlad to fight the Ottomans in Bosnia shortly afterwards.
House and birth place of Vlad III Dracula in Sighisoara, Romania / Wikipedia
Mehmed defeated Stephen III in the summer of 1476, however, Vlad’s advance into Moldavia with Hungarian commander Stephen Báthory marked a victory against the Ottomans. Towards the end of the year, Vlad and Stephen III confirmed their alliance and occupied Bucharest. This forced Basarab Laiota to flee to the Ottoman Empire, allowing Vlad to seize the crown of Wallachia by November. However, in December 1476, Basarab Laiota returned with an Ottoman army, and Vlad was killed in battle. His body was cut into pieces by his enemies, and his place of burial remains a topic of debate to this day.
The story of "Dracula" was written by Irish author Bram Stoker in 1897 it has been delighting and terrifying for readers ever since it was first published. It appears that Bram Stoker heard the legends of the bloodthisty ruler, that defended the country against the Ottoman invasion, while travelling to Romania and found that the name "Dracul" is the word for "Devil" in the regional language. Stoker saw the grisly woodcut depictions of the mass impalings carried out by Vlad III, and came up with his literary masterpiece based on the name Dracula and the ambience of the Romanian landscape and history.
There have been numerous film versions of the tale with Count Dracula as the demonic vampire nobleman from Transylvania. The first film about Dracula was a silent film produced in 1922 by F.W. Murnau under the name "Nosferatu" (due to copyright). Count Dracula, played by Max Schreck, is replaced with "Count Orlok" and the word "vampire" with "nosferatu". The first cinematic movie "Dracula" appeared in 1931, starring Bela Lugosi as the Count, and was directed by Tod Browning.