- "These men live off the sweat of others, so they are useless to humanity. May such men be eliminated from my land."
- —Vlad explaining his reason for killing the boyars
- "From the mountainous kingdom of Wallachia in what is now modern Romania a man emerged who would excel himself in designing innovative methods of torture and mass murder. In a bloody six year reign, the ruler of this kingdom brought terror to both citizens and foreigners alike. Prince Vlad Dracula was more than the inspiration for the bloodthirsty vampire of legend. To this day he is still known as "Vlad Tepes.". Vlad the Impaler in memory of his favourite method of killing."
- —Introduction to a Discovery channel documentary
Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia, more commonly known as Vlad the Impaler (Vlad Ţepeş in Romanian), also known as Vlad Dracula, or simply Dracula (1431 – December 1476), was a Wallachian (present-day southern Romania) voivode. His three reigns were in 1448, 1456–1462, and 1476. Vlad the Impaler was known for the exceedingly cruel punishments he imposed as ruler of Wallachia. Impalement was Ţepeş's preferred method of torture and execution. His exceptional cruelty has inspired Bram Stoker for the horror chatacter of Count Dracula.
Vlad was very likely born in the citadel of Sighişoara, Transylvania in 1431. He was born as the second son to his father Vlad Dracul and his mother Princess Cneajna of Moldavia. He had an older brother named Mircea and a younger brother named Radu the Handsome. Although his native country was Wallachia to the south, the family lived in exile in Transylvania as his father had been ousted by pro-Ottoman boyars. In the same year as his birth, his father was living in Nuremberg, where he was vested into the Order of the Dragon. At the age of five, young Vlad was also initiated into the Order of the Dragon.
Hostage of the Ottoman Empire
Vlad's father was under considerable political pressure from the Ottoman sultan. Threatened with invasion, he gave a promise to be the vassal of the sultan and gave up his two younger sons as hostages so that he would keep his promise. Vlad developed a well-known hatred for Radu and for Mehmed, who would later become the sultan. According to McNally and Florescu, he also distrusted his own father for trading him to the Turks and betraying the Order of the Dragon's oath to fight them.
Brief reign and exile
Vlad's father was assassinated in the marshes near Bălteni in December 1447 by rebellious boyars allegedly under the orders of Hungarian regent John Hunyadi. Vlad's older brother Mircea was also dead at this point, blinded with hot iron stakes and buried alive by his political enemies at Târgovişte. To protect their political power in the region, the Ottomans invaded Wallachia and the Sultan put Vlad III on the throne as a puppet ruler. His rule at this time would be brief; Hunyadi himself invaded Wallachia and ousted him the same year. Vlad fled to Moldavia until October 1451 and was put under the protection of his uncle, Bogdan II.
Bogdan was assassinated by Petru Aron, and Vlad, taking a gamble, fled to Hungary. Impressed by Vlad's vast knowledge of the mindset and inner workings of the Ottoman Empire as well as his hatred of the new sultan Mehmed II, Hunyadi pardoned him and took him in as an advisor. Eventually Hunyadi put him forward as the Kingdom of Hungary's candidate for the throne of Wallachia. In 1453, the Ottomans, under Mehmed II, took Constantinople after a prolonged siege, thus putting an end to the final major Christian presence in the eastern Mediterranean. Ottoman influence began to spread from this base through the Carpathians, and began to threaten mainland Europe. In 1456, Hungary invaded Serbia to drive out the Ottomans, and Vlad III simultaneously invaded Wallachia with his own contingent. Both campaigns were successful, although Hunyadi died suddenly of the plague. Nevertheless, Vlad was now prince of his native land.
Main reign (1456–1462)
Vlad III's actions after 1456 are well-documented. After the death of his grandfather (Mircea the Elder) in 1418, Wallachia had fallen into a somewhat chaotic situation. A constant state of war had led to rampant crime, falling agricultural production, and the virtual disappearance of trade. Vlad used severe methods to restore order, as he needed an economically stable country if he was to have any chance against his external enemies. The early part of Vlad’s reign was dominated by the idea of eliminating all possible threats to his power, mainly the rival nobility groups, i.e. the boyars. This was done mainly by physical elimination, but also by reducing the economic role of the nobility: the key positions in the Prince’s Council, traditionally belonging to the country’s greatest boyars, were handed to obscure individuals, some of them of foreign origin, but who manifested loyalty towards Vlad. For the less important functions, Vlad also ignored the old boyars, preferring to knight and appoint men from the free peasantry.
A key element of the power of the Wallachian nobility was their connections in the Saxon-populated autonomous towns of Transylvania, so Vlad acted against these cities by eliminating their trade privileges in relation with Wallachia and by organizing raids against them. In 1459, he had several of the German settlers (Saxons) and officials of the Transylvanian city of Kronstadt who were transgressing his authority impaled. Vlad III was constantly on guard against the adherents of the Dăneşti clan, and some of his raids into Transylvania may have been efforts to capture the clan's would-be princes. Several members of the clan died at Vlad's hands. Vladislav II of Wallachia was murdered soon after Vlad came to power in 1456. Another Dăneşti prince, suspected to have taken part in burying his brother Mircea alive, was captured during one of Vlad's forays into Transylvania. Rumors (spread by his enemies) say thousands of citizens of the town that had sheltered his rival were impaled by Vlad. The captured prince was forced to read his own eulogy while kneeling before an open grave before his execution.
Following family traditions and due to his old hatred towards the Ottomans, Vlad decided to side with the Hungarians. To the end of the 1450s there was once again talk about a war against the Turks, in which the king of Hungary Matthias Corvinus would play the main role. Knowing this, Vlad stopped paying tribute to the Ottomans in 1459 and around 1460 made a new alliance with Corvinus. This angered the Turks, who attempted to remove him. They failed, however; later in the winter of 1461 to 1462 Vlad crossed south of the Danube and devastated the area between Serbia and the Black Sea. In Vlad's own words, "I have killed men and women, old and young...23,884 Turks and Bulgarians without counting those whom we burned alive in their homes or whose heads were not chopped off by our soldiers." However, while he killed Moslem Bulgarians and Turks, he spared Christian Bulgarians, some of who settled in Wallachia.
In response to this, Sultan Mehmed II, the recent conqueror of Constantinople, raised an army of around 60,000 troops and 30,000 irregulars and in the spring of 1462 headed towards Wallachia. Other estimates for the army include 150,000 by Michael Doukas, 250,000 by Laonicus Chalcond. Mehmed was greeted by the sight of a veritable forest of stakes on which Vlad the Impaler had impaled 20,000 Turkish prisoners. With his army of 20,000–40,000 men Vlad was unable to stop the Turks from entering Wallachia and occupying the capital Târgovişte (4 June 1462), so he resorted to guerrilla warfare, constantly organizing small attacks and ambushes on the Turks. The most important of these attacks took place on the nights of June 16–17, when Vlad and some of his men allegedly entered the main Turkish camp (wearing Ottoman disguises) and attempted to assassinate Mehmed. Unable to subdue Vlad, the Turks left the country, leaving Vlad's half-brother, Radu the Handsome, to continue fighting.
Despite Vlad achieving military victories, he had alienated himself from the nobility, which sided with Radu. By August 1462 Radu had struck a deal with the Hungarian Crown. Consequently, Vlad was imprisoned by Matthias Corvinus. His first wife, whose name is not recorded, died during the siege of his castle in 1462. The Turkish army surrounded Poienari Castle(former Vlad's Castle), led by Radu. An archer shot an arrow through a window into Vlad's main quarters, with a message warning him that Radu's army was approaching. McNally and Florescu explain that the archer was one of Vlad's former servants who sent the warning out of loyalty, despite having converted to Islam to escape enslavement by the Turks. Upon reading the message, Vlad's wife threw herself from the tower into a tributary of the Argeş River flowing below the castle. According to legend, she remarked that she "would rather have her body rot and be eaten by the fish of the Argeş than be led into captivity by the Turks". Today, the tributary is called Râul Doamnei (the Lady's River, also called the Princess's River).
The exact length of Vlad's period of captivity is open to some debate, though indications are that it was from 1462 until 1474. He was able to gradually win his way back into the graces of Hungary's monarch, and eventually marry a member of the royal family. His second wife, Countess Ilona Szilágyi (the cousin of Matthias), bore him two sons, Vlad Dracula & another son whose name is unknown, who were about ten years old when he reconquered Wallachia in 1476. Diplomatic correspondence from Buda during the period in question also seems to support the claim that Vlad's actual period of confinement was relatively short. The openly pro-Turkish policy of Radu (who was prince of Wallachia during most of Vlad's captivity), was a probable factor in Vlad's rehabilitation. During his captivity, Vlad also converted to Catholicism, in contrast to his brother who converted to Islam. In the years before his final release in 1474, when he began preparations for the reconquest of Wallachia, Vlad resided with his new wife in a house in the Hungarian capital.
His first wife, whose name was not recorded but spoken about in Romanian folk tales, was known to be a woman of innocence and beauty who bore a heart of gold. Together they had a son, Mihnea cel Rău, who would rule Wallachia 1508 to 1510. During a Turkish raid, his first wife flung herself into a stream leading to the Argeş River, now known today as Râul Doamnei meaning "The Lady's River" or "The Princess' River" rather than die in Turkish captivity. Vlad III would not marry again until after his imprisonment in Hungary in the 1460's. His second wife was Countess Ilona Szilágy, the cousin of Matthias and later princess due to her marriage to Vlad. His two sons Vlad Dracula and the son whose name is not recorded, failed to rule Wallachia. The unidentified younger son died in 1482 while living with the Bishop of Oradea. Vlad Dracula was a claimant to the Wallachian throne, but never ruled. The Hungarian branch of his descendants married into nobility off and on, but never ruled Wallachia. They include Princess Brianna Caradja and her two grandsons.
The Romanian branch of Vlad's descendants would continue to rule off and on until 1627, when the last descendant, Alexandru Coconul, would fail to produce an heir. Vlad's last descendants
Vlad Dracula was killed in battle against the Turks near the town of Bucharest in December of 1476. His body was decapitated by the Turks and his head sent to Istanbul where the Sultan had it displayed on a stake as proof that the Impaler was finally dead. He was reportedly buried at Snagov, an island monastery located near Bucharest.
Dracula appears as the main antagonist in many adaptations from the novel except for the film "Hotel Transylvania".
Dracula serves as one of the main protagonists as he later reincarnated as Alucard in the Japanese anime "Hellsing".