Wallachia Prior to Vlad the Impaler (Dracula)

Wallachia was founded in 1290 by Radu Negru (Rudolph the Black). It was dominated by Hungary until 1330, when it became independent. The first ruler of the new country was Prince Basarab the Great, an ancestor of Dracula. Dracula’s grandfather, Prince Mircea the Old, reigned from 1386 to 1418. Eventually, the House of Basarab was split into two factions—Mircea’s descendant’s, and the descendants of another prince named Dan (called the Danesti). Much of the struggles to assume the throne during Dracula’s time were between these two competing factions.

In 1431 King Sigismund made Vlad Dracul the military governor of Transylvania, a region directly northwest of Wallachia. (Vlad III was born during this time, in the latter part of 1431.) Vlad was not content to serve as mere governor, and so gathered supporters for his plan to seize Wallachia from its current occupant, Alexandru I, a Danesti prince. In 1436 he succeeded in his plan, killing Alexandru and becoming Vlad II. (Presumably there was an earlier prince also named Vlad.)

For six years Vlad Dracul attempted to follow a middle ground between his two powerful neighbors. The prince of Wallachia was officially a vassal of the King of Hungary and Vlad was still 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. Vlad was forced to pay tribute to the Sultan, just as his father, Mircea the Old, had been forced to do.

In 1442 Vlad attempted to remain neutral when the Turks invaded Transylvania. The Turks were defeated, and the vengeful Hungarians under John Hunyadi—the White Knight of Hungary--forced Vlad Dracul and his family to flee Wallachia. In 1443 Vlad regained the Wallachian throne with Turkish support, but on the condition that Vlad send a yearly contingent of Wallachian boys to join the Sultan’s Janissaries. In 1444, to further assure to the Sultan his good faith, Vlad sent his two younger sons--Vlad III and Radu the Handsome--to Adrianople as hostages. Vlad III remained a hostage in Adrianople until 1448.

In 1444 Hungary broke the peace and launched the Varna Campaign, led by John Hunyadi, in an effort to drive the Turks out of Europe. Hunyadi demanded that Vlad Dracul fulfill his oath as a member of the Order of the Dragon and a vassal of Hungary and join the crusade against the Turks, yet 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 inglorious conditions. 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. (Vlad III later exacted revenge upon these boyars and merchants.) Hunyadi placed his own candidate, a member of the Danesti clan, on the throne of Wallachia.

On receiving news of Vlad Dracul’s death the Turks released Vlad III and supported him as their own candidate for the Wallachian throne. In 1448, at the age of seventeen, Vlad III managed to briefly seize the Wallachian throne. Yet within two months Hunyadi forced him to surrender the throne and flee to his cousin, the Prince of Moldavia. Vlad III’s successor to the throne, however—Vladislov II—unexpectedly instituted a pro-Turkish policy, which Hunyadi found to be unacceptable. He then turned to Vlad III, the son of his old enemy, as a more reliable candidate for the throne, and forged an allegiance with him to retake the throne by force. Vlad III received the Transylvanian duchies formerly governed by his father and remained there, under the protection of Hunyadi, waitng for an opportunity to retake Wallachia from his rival.

In 1453, however, the Christian world was shocked by the final fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans. Hunyadi thus broadened the scope of his campaign against the insurgent Turks. In 1456 Hunyadi invaded Turkish Serbia while Vlad III simultaneously invaded Wallachia. In the Battle of Belgrade Hunyadi was killed and his army defeated. Meanwhile, Vlad III succeeded in killing Vladislav II and taking the Wallachian throne.

Vlad III then began his main reign of Wallachia, which stretched from 1456-1462. It was during this period that he instituted his strict policies, stood up against the Turks and began his reign of terror by impalement.