To Vlad the Impaler the year 1476 was a tragic and sad chapter.
After his reinstatement on the throne was delayed for almost two years, his last reign was as short as the first. It took prince Basarab Laiota only a few weeks to return with Ottoman support and kill him.
Although it is known that he participated in several campaigns under Matthias Corvinus as an army general, we can be only certain of his acts in the winter of 1475 to 1476.
He participated in the battle of Bosnia, where he used one of his signature methods to conquer the city of Srebrenica. During the day of a local fair, 500 of his people gained entrance disguised as merchants and slaughtered the garrison.
The Turks had come to be horrified only by hearing his name!
When, in the late spring of 1476, his cousin Stephen the Great was attacked by the Sultan, Vlad gathered troops in Transylvania and marched with Stephen Bathory [uncle of Elizabeth Bathory] to help Moldova.
Although they did not arrive in time to prevent their loss of the battle, they helped Stephen the Great to drive out the Turks out of his land.
Only then did the three cross the border in Wallachia and Vlad was on the throne of Targoviste for a third time with the help of Stephen the Great and Stephen Bathory.
But he was unable to stand on it for a long time – in the end it was the noblemen who betrayed him.
According to legend Dracula was beheaded and his head was sent to the Turkish Sultan as a reassurement that the dreaded Wallachian prince was dead. His head was exposed in a square in Constantinople so that the Turks could once again feel safe and trust their ruler again after the epic fail represented by the campaign the Sultan had started against Dracula.
For many years is was believed that the body of Vlad the Impaler had been buried at the monastery of Snagov, but recent excavations contradict these data. NO bones were found to match the period of Dracula, and some grave historians hypothesize that they were actually switched to another grave to protect Dracula`s last resting place – recent theories rank the monastery of Comana as a more probable burial site.
† Vlad the Impaler
† Count Dracula
The sultan was busy on Asian war front, so Vlad did not suffer immediate consequences for refusing to pay tribute in 1459. But in early 1461, the sultan could focus onWallachia.
Fearing it would not take long until he would have to face him on the front and knowing Vlad`s temper, at first Mahomed tried to lure him to his court, using the same trick his father used on Vlad Dracul .
Hoping that history would repeat itself, Thomas Katabolenos was sent to bring Vlad to Constantinople [later renamed Istanbul]. He put his faith in the Greek`s diplomatic talent and planned for one of his subjects [Hamza, who ruled the territory near the border with Wallachia] to meet Vlad while they would cross the Danube.
Katabolenos was supposed to collect 10,000 gold coins – three years tribute plus interest.
Vlad pretended to obey the sultan and left Targoviste with only a few men, leaving personal instructions to his personal army that they were to follow remaining on the inner roads known only to them [forests covering half or more of the country as I stated in a previous article].
He did not hesitate to massacre the men sent to capture him and launched a campaign on the Turkish bank of the Danube. He burned all the settlements he found in his way and killed all the pagans [including women, elders and children].
Following an ingenious strategy, a group was dressed in Turkish robes and simulated a withdrawal to the [fortified] city of Giurgiu. When defenders of the city opened, the group turned against them and the rest of Vlad’s army took advantage of the confusion General and slaughtered the enemy troops without suffering many casualties.
Vlad took a lot of victims and ordered the lifting of the famous Forest of the Impaled, reserving a silver stake for Hamza [the prince that was supposed to capture him and take him to the sultan], so that he could ‘admire’ his subjects freely.
Contrary to urban legend, the forest was not built palace near Targoviste, but on a nearby road.
Some say that the count of 20,000 stakes is probably exaggerated in pamphlets, but even Vlad gives us the number of corpses in a letter to Matthias Corvinus in early 1462 – he counted 23,884. So the forest that stretched nearly 3km and and was about 1km wide is in fact a historical reality!
† Vlad the Impaler
† Count Dracula
In 1457 Vlad helped his cousin take Moldavia, thus ending an alliance with Stephen the Great. History proves, however, that Vlad was to be betrayed by his cousin in one of the hardest moments.
In an attempt to help Wallachian merchants increase their income, he decided to close the roads for the foreigners that enjoyed free pass until then. He allowed them to participate with their goods [but only in large volumes] in three exhibitions at the border; called in documents “store cities” : Targoviste, Campulung and Targsor.
Hence commerce in Wallachia would be made only by local vendors.
Accustomed with frequent changes of rulers, of which in fact they were not estranged, the Germans decided to ignore these orders, so Vlad sent his personal army on their trail.
This type of army was something new and represented the Wallachian prince’s personal guard. Because he had noticed how those in job for the sultan acted, he adapted this new form of organization and hired mercenaries that answered directly to him. These soldiers were hardened in the “art” of war and made up the military elite. To ensure that it will not betray him, Vlad allowed them to steal from the enemy when they attacked settlements at his command.
The Germans captured on Wallachian roads were impaled and their possessions confiscated.
Shortly after this episode, Matthias received letters from the desperate Saxons of Brasov and Sibiu; they complained that they had been attacked by Vlad. What they “forgot” to mention, however, is that he had previously asked them to stop aiding the pretenders to his throne. In fact he was banished himself from Brasov in 1452 because of the same reason.
The refusal to have his opponents banished led to raids in a couple of regions near Brasov and Sibiu! There were many casualties and property damage.
Vlad continued to pay tribute up until 1459 when the sultan asked for 500 of his young for his contingents of janissaries.
This was unprecedented for the Romanian Country because this requirement was specific only to regions under Turkish occupancy and Wallachia retain its autonomy. Vlad paid only a sum calculated according to annual production.
If he had “delivered” the young boys it would have been equivalent to him accepting the integration into the Ottoman political and administrative structures – so occupation.
But even if Wallachia paid tribute it kept its internal autonomy, landowners had the right to choose the ruler, and people practice their own religion without restriction. The Turks had no right to settle permanently [by in possession of houses, buy land or build mosques on the territory]. The only foreigners were tolerated Catholics, but they lived in closed communities and were forbidden to practice any religious rituals in public. Instead, the Orthodox were welcome. Gypsies had slave status and adopted the religion of the majority.
Three years would still pass until the outbreak of war between Vlad the Impaler and the Conqueror of Constantinople.
† Vlad the Impaler
† Count Dracula
Considering that he was not strong enough to engage in a fight with the sultan, Vlad was forced to pay tribute.
He used the time he thus gained to get rid of traitors and to organize; he fortified the city of Targoviste and built a stronghold at Poienari.
Knowing the unstable nature of the nobility he also made changes in the royal council surrounding himself with new people who had proven their loyalty.
Because during the coronation ceremony held at Arges the boyars were forced to take the oath of allegiance, he was able to command the immediate execution of the nobility who openly criticized him.
Those that were against him from the very beginning were impaled alongside their entire family, and others that were caught plotting against him were at first “spared” and then used for hard labor in the benefit of the ruler. All their assets being seized he had the funds to concentrate on building a personal army.
Is believed to attract all potential traitors trap used the following trick:
He invited to his house all small and large landowners in his country, when supper had ended he turned to the oldest and asked how many princes who ruled in that country he remembers. He answered how many he knew so Vlad turned to the others, young and old, and asked how many each recalls. One said fifty, some thirty, one twenty, another twelve, and none was so young to remember less than seven. He asked for all those lords to be impaled, and they were in number five hundred.
[translated from “Dracula” by Matei Cazacu, page 166]
The fragment is part of a German story, and the numbers are obviously exaggerated, but this scene was recognized even by the wallachian chronicle [revised and translated into Romanian in the 17th century], adding some details of psychological motivation and how landowners were sent to “work for the community”.
According to the chronicle, the feast took place at the royal court [remember the establishments he had in Chindia] on Easter. It is said that he invited not only the boyars but also all their family members. While the scene above described took place in the manor in between the council members and Vlad the Impaler, the family members were gathered and chained up. He impaled the old and took the young up at Poienari, where he made them work to death to raise the stronghold.
We are also given a reason for these seemingly cruel actions: upon investigating the death of his father and his older brother [remember that Vlad Dracul and his oldest son Mircea were killed by the boyars after they had tricked Hunyadi into believing Dracul would betray him] he found that his brother was turned in his grave – face down and twisted. He concluded that at least Mircea was buried alive and he took revenge on the people that killed his family.
† Vlad the Impaler
† Count Dracula
When Vlad Dracul grew apart from John Hunyadi and started to pay tribute to the Sultan he gained an additional foe in the person of his former brother in arms.
The sultan never trusted him, but Vlad realized the futility of the war and decided to retire as not to endanger the economy of Wallachia more than it had already been.
Knowing that the wallachian would betray him at any moment if Hunyadi rebuild his forces, the sultan set a trap and demanded that the tribute from 1442 be paid in person. Vlad Dracul was captured and not allowed to return to Wallachia until two of his sons were brought to Adrianople [Edinet]: Vlad and Radu.
Unfortunately Vlad Dracul returned home only to be killed at the command of John Hunyadi.
Young Vlad was sent with his younger brother in a city from Minor Asia [near Bursa], where he spent several years not in prison as historians previously thought but in a manor. They were treated as princes and had the opportunity to learn the Turkish language and customs.
While Vlad developed a deep hatred for the Turks and studied their military organization [knowledge that was to be extremely useful in developing future strategies in the war], Radu became an intimate of the sultan Mehmet and converted to Islam.
Although after his father died Vlad managed to reclaim the throne in Targoviste [helped by some landowners] he was banished shortly afterwards. This first rule in 1448 lasted at least 2 weeks within a maximum of 3 months.
Over the next eight years would be a ranger, taking refuge first in Moldova with his uncle Bogdan and then in Transylvania taking his cousin Stephen with him [he would later become Stephen the Great].
In the three years spent in Moldova [before Bogdan was overthrown and killed], Vlad reunited with his father`s widow and his step-sister. There are many documents attesting that Alexandra returned to Wallachia at one point after her brother took the throne in his second reign and we find some of her descendants in the following centuries in important families from the areas around Targoviste.
Vlad the Impaler was received in Transylvania for a very short period – Vlad and Hunyadi were not as close as we’d imagined … at least at the beginning, perhaps because Vlad knew that his father died at the command of the Transylvanian governor.
More than likely Hunyadi received him in one of his cities [Brasov or Sighisoara] for fear that he would otherwise resort to using help from the new Turkish sultan, Mehmed the 2nd, who remained recorded in history as the Conqueror of Constantinople.
Just because they were focusing on the siege of the imperial city, in November 1451 an armistice was signed on a minimum of three years, which included Wallahia. Hungary couldn`t intervene in Wallachia in any way, and Vladislav the 2nd was protected from any actions that would remove him from the throne.
Authorities in Brasov had to remove Vlad from the city because of this treaty, after receiving a letter from John Hunyadi, dated February 6, 1452.
The next four years remain a mystery.
We can not know exactly where Vlad Dracula fled, but in 1456 he was already among the protégées of John Hunyadi, and the latter was planning to put him on the wallachian throne.
† Vlad the Impaler
† Count Dracula