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Vlad Dracolya, the fifteenth century voevod prince, also known as Vlad the Impaler, is best remembered as the inspiration for Bram Stoker's famous novel, Dracula. His true history, in fact, is far more facinating than any vampire story.
Vlad was born in the town of Sighisoara in the early forteen hundreds. He was the second son of the Prince of Wallachia, Vlad Dracul. The country of Wallachia was a principality, meaning that it was ruled by a prince, rather than a king. Dracul was a member of The Order of the Dragon (a position from which he derived his surname). The Order of the Dragon was a group of Slavic rulers and warlords who were sworn to uphold the Christian faith by fighting off the advancing Turks of the Ottoman Empire. Warfare was almost continuous in Wallachia and the surrounding areas at that period of history.
At a young age, perhaps the first battle he participated in, Vlad was taken captive by the Turks, along with his younger brother Radu the Handsome. Vlad and Radu were valuable hostages, being sons of the local prince, so they were taken back to Istanbul, and imprisoned by the Sultan, Mehemet.
When his sons were taken, Dracul had unsuccessfully attempted to bargain with the Turks for their release. This bargaining was viewed as treason by John Hunyadi, (the King of Hungary in fact if not in name, and the most powerful member of the Order of the Dragon.) Hunyadi hired assassins who killed Dracul and his oldest son (Vlad's older brother) Mihnea.
Meanwhile in Istanbul, Sultan Mehemet was trying to indoctrinate Vlad and Radu into Islam, making allies of them. He hoped to use their claim to the Wallachian throne to his advantage. Radu converted quickly, and was released from prison. Vlad, however, was far more stubborn. It has been suggested that Vlad's sadistic tendancies started as a result of his imprisonment by the Sultan.
When Vlad finally seemed subdued, The sultan turned back to the conquest of Wallachia. After taking its capital, he set up Vlad as the new prince. Vlad, however, did not want to be a puppet ruler, so after a few months, he fled the country, going north into Moldavia. Vlad stayed for some time with his cousin, and close friend Steven.
Vlad decided that the only way to oust the Turks, and become the true prince of Wallachia, was to enlist the help of John Hunyadi- the very man who had murdered his father and brother. Vlad was willing to put this aside to defeat their common enemy, the Sultan.
Hunyadi agreed to back Vlad militaraly. Vlad and Hunyadi were successfull in driving out Radu, who had been made prince by the Sultan when Vlad excaped. Vlad retook the Wallachian throne, beginning his second, and most infamous reign.
Vlad Dracolya was not a good or kind prince. He had a terrifying habit of repeatedly raiding certain towns in his territory, and murdering great numbers of people. For reasons unknown, the towns selected for these meaningless attacks where often those towns who's populations had largly German ancestory. As a result, most of the remaining written records of Vlad come from pamphlets printed by the Germans on 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.
Most of Vlad's victims were killed by impalement. When killing large numbers of peasants, he would drive them in herds over cliffsides onto beds of spikes below. He also employed methods such as boiling, quartering, decapitation, etc. There are many stories of varying levels of authentication about the dire deeds of Vlad durring his second reign. A few of them go as follows:
Once, two ambasadors from the Sultan came with a message for Vlad. When they entered his throne room, he asked them to remove their turbans. It was considered rude to address the prince without taking off one's hat. The Turks, however, took exception to this request. For one thing, Vlad an the Sultan where not on good terms, so insulting him really didn't seem to matter, and just as importantly, the turbans were not just headgear, they were a symbol of the Muslim religion. The Turks refused, not knowing just how serious a mistake it was to insult Vlad. Vlad immediately ordered his guards to sieze them, and then stated that if they were so unwilling to part with the turbans, that they should be nailed to their heads. Vlad then watched in satisfaction as the Turks writhed and screamed as large nails were driven into their skulls.
Just as Vlad reacted violently to insult, he responded very well to flatterey. Once a messenger was sent to Vlad from king Mathias of Hungary. It was unknown what news the messenger brought, but it angered Vlad. Vlad invited the messenger to eat dinner with him personally. Before the meal, Vlad asked the messenger
"Do you know why I have asked you here?"
The man knew Vlad's reputation, knew he was angry, and saw two soldiers standing behind Vlad, holding a gold tipped spear. Thinking fast, he replied
"I do not know, but I know you are a wize and great ruler, and no matter what you command, even if you were to command my death, it should be done."
Vlad motioned the soldiers away, and said "Had you not answered so well, I would have impaled you on the spot."
He then showered the messenger with gifts, and sent him back to Mathias.
Wallachia had been, for the most part, free from invasion durring Vlad's second reign, but a new Sultan, Suiliman II had come to power, and the Ottoman Empire once again turned its eyes toward Wallachia.
Vlad was informed by his spies of the great power of the approaching Turkish army. He knew that his forces could not win in open battle, and that he lacked the resourses to survive a long siege, so he undertook a very desperate venture. In the middle of the night, Vlad personally led a small elite force into the Turkish camp in the hopes of taking the Sultan off guard and killing him. If the Sultan died, the Turkish troops would be so demoralised that they might retreat. Thanks to the element of suprise, and excellent knowledge of the local terrain, Vlad's midnight offensive was almost successful. The Sultan was wounded, although not fataly, and Vlad's entire force escaped without casualties. (this battle was recorded in great detail by a Turkish soldier)
But the attack did not stop the Turkish army. Vlad retreated to his castle at Targoviste, and prepared to flee. His wife, believing that escape was impossible, comitted suicide by leaping off of a clift into a river. The river was afterwards known as the Princess River. Vlad was hit by a second tragedy as he and his servants escaped through the forest on horseback-- the servant who was carrying Vlad's infant son dropped him. The pursuing Turks were too close to risk turning back to look for the child, so they were forced to leave him behind. In one day Vlad had lost both his home and his family.
Seeking help, Vlad went to King Mathias of Hungary-- but Vlad's evil deeds finally caught up with him. People from some of the villages most persecuded by Vlad had gotten to Mathias first. They told the king that Vlad was an ally of the Turks, and coming as a spy. When Vlad arrived, he was immediately thrown into prison.
The Turks did not stay long in Targoviste. They were greeted by the impaled heads of several of their spies. Before fleeing, Vlad had set fire to the city, rendering it into ruins. The Turks took the city anyway, but after only a few days, Black Plague broke out among the soldiers, and they were forced to retreat out of Wallachia.
Vlad was imprisoned for several months, but he caught the eye of Ilona, King Mathias's sister. She used her influence with her brother to have Vlad freed, and they were married. Vlad was partially pardoned, but he was required to stay within the city. He was given a large home, and lived there for several years with his new wife, who bore him another son.
Once Mathias considered him an ally again, Vlad was free to go, so he returned to Wallachia and reclaimed the throne for the third and final time. He built a new capital, Bucharesti (now Bucharest, the capital of modern-day Romania)
Shortly after retaking his throne, A peasant came to Vlad with a young boy, saying that he had found him in the forest years ago on the night of the Turkish attack. The boy was Vlad's lost son. The boy was returned to Vlad, and the peasant was greatly rewarded.
Vlad died in battle, over the age of fifty. He will always be remembered. Many remember him as a cruel fiend. Some remember him as a proud and fierce defender of his homeland. He was, perhaps, both.