The Life of
Vlad Dracula

also known as Vlad Tepesch (Tzepes, Tepes) or Vlad the Impaler, Prince of Wallachia.

The Name Game

In 1431 Vlad II was invested with the Order of the Dragon by the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund of Luxembourg. The Order of the Dragon was a knightly order dedicated to fighting the Turk. Its emblem was a dragon, wings extended, hanging on a cross. From 1431 onward Vlad II wore the emblem of the order. His coinage bore the dragon symbol. The dragon was the symbol of the devil and, consequently, the alternate meaning of 'drac' was devil. The name is clearly related to Dracula's father's sobriquet 'Dracul'. Drac in Romanian means devil and 'ul' is the definitive article. Therefore, 'Dracul' literally means 'the devil'. The 'ulea' ending in Romanian indicates 'the son of'.

Under this interpretation Dracula becomes Vlad III, son of the devil. Under this interpretation Vlad II Dracul becomes Vlad II, the Dragon and his son becomes Vlad IV, the Son of the Dragon. Considering the title was granted by the Holy Roman Emperor as a reward for defending the Christian Empire against the infidels, it is unlikely that they would have conferred the title of Devil to a hero, regardless of his political manoeuverings.

There is some confusion in the secondary sources concerning Dracula's exact title. In most of the sources he is referred to as Vlad III. However, many sources refer to him as Vlad IV or Vlad V. This confusion stems from the chaos created by the two branches of the family discussed in the History. Vlad III was actually the son of Dan III, who ruled from 1451-1456. And Vlad V Laiot was the younger brother of Vlad III, who himself ruled from 1472-76 and 1477-81, gaining control from Rodolphe IV (Vlad IV's first cousin) and retaking control after Vlad IV's death. See Family Tree for details.

Historical Background

Bram Stoker penned his immortal classic, Dracula, basing his vampire on an actual historical figure. Stoker's model was Vlad IV Dracula, call Tzepes, pronounced tse-pesh; a fifteenth century viovode or prince of Wallachia of the princely House of Basarab. Wallachia is a provence of Romania bordered to the north by Transylvania and Moldavia, to the east by the Black Sea and to the south by Bulgaria. Wallachia first emerged as a political entity during the late thirteenth centuryfrom the weltering confusion left behind in the Balkans as the East Roman Empire slowly crumbled. The first prince of Wallachia was Basarab the Great (1310-1352), an ancestor of Dracula. Despite the splintering of the family into two rival, clans some members of the House of Basarab continued to govern Wallachia from that time until well after the Ottomans battered the principality down to the status of a client state. Dracula was the last prince of Wallachia to retain any real measure of independence and rulership.

The life of Vlad Dracula is directly related to the nature of Wallachian society and politics. The throne of Wallachia was hereditary but not by the law of primogeniture; the boyers or great nobles had the right to elect the voivode from among the various eligable members of the royal family. As with most elective monarchies during the Middle Ages the power of the central government tended to be dissipated among the nobility as various members of the ruling family vied for the throne. Wallachian politics was a bloody affair. Assasination was a common means of eliminating rivals and many of the voivodes ended their lives violently and prematurely. By the late fifteenth century the House of Basarab had split into two rival clans; the descendants of Prince Dan and those of Prince Mircea the Old. These two branches of the royal house were bitter rivals. Both Dracula and his father, Vlad II Dracul, murdered rivals from the Danesti upon reaching the throne.

The second ascendant fact of the fifteenth century Wallachian political life was the influence of powerful neighbors. In 1453 Constantinople and the last vestiges of the Byzantine or East Roman Empire, which had blocked the Islam's access to Europe for nearly one thousand years, succumbed to the armed might of the Ottoman Turks under Sultan Mohammed the Conqueror. Long before the fall of the Imperial City the Ottomans had penetrated deep into the Balkans. Dracula's grandfather, Mircea the Old, was forced to pay tribute to the sultan early in the fifteenth century. The Hungarian Kingdom to the north and west of Wallachia reached the zenith of its power during the fifteenth century and assumed Constantinople's ancient mantle as defender of Christendom. Throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the princes of Wallachia attempted to maintain a precarious independence by constantly shifting allegiances between these powerful neighbors.

Dracula ruled as Prince of Wallachia on three seperate occasions. He first claimed the throne with Turkish support in 1448. On this occasion he ruled for only two months (November-October) before being driven out by a Danesti claimant supported by Hungary. Dracula dwelt in exile for several years before returning to Wallachia to kill the Danesti prince, Vladislov II, and reclaim the Wallachian throne with Hungarian support. Dracula's second reignal period streched from 1456 to 1462. It was during this time that Dracula carried out his most famous military exploits against the Turks and also committed his most gruesome atrocities.

In 1462 Dracula fled to Transylvania to seek the aid of the King of Hungary when a Turkish army overwhelmed Wallachia. Instead of receiving the assistance he expected Dracula was imprisoned by the Hungarian king. He remained a prisoner of Matthius Corvinus of Hungary for several years. For most of the period of Dracula's incarceration his brother, Radu the Handsome, ruled Wallachia as a puppet of the Ottoman sultan. When Radu died (ca. 1474-1475) the sultan appointed Basarab the Old, a member of the Danesti clan, as prince.

Eventually, Dracula regained the favor and support of the Hungarian king. In 1476 he once again invaded Wallachia. His small force consisted of a few loyal Wallachians, a contingent of Moldavians sent by his cousin Prince Stephen the Great of Moldavia, and a contingent of Transylvanians under their prince, Stephen Bathory. The allies succeeded in driving Basarab out of the country and placing Dracula on the throne (November 1476). However, after Dracula was once again in control, Stephen Bathory returned to Transylvania taking most of Dracula's army with him. The Turk's soon counter-attacked with overwhelming force. Dracula was killed fighting the Turks near Bucharest in December of 1476. His head was sent to Constantinople where the Sultan had it displayed on a stake to prove that the terrible Impaler was really dead.