When we think of Romania, we often think about Vlad the Impaler, but every historical figure has a beginning and an origin story. Let’s go back to the beginning to unveil the man behind the larger-than-life figure he became.
An Only Child With No Friends By Choice
I was the odd kid parents warned their children about. I was the nightmare blowing through mindless youngsters’ hair. No grown-up liked me, and I hadn’t a care. All I needed were books, blank papers, crayons, and one person from history to kick-start my story.
My maternal grandparents raised me as I was their only child’s child. My grandpa worked at a printing and binding company and often would come home with boxes of expensive books that didn’t make the cut. It was a minor mistake, like the margin’s width or not the right colour, and so on. As an only child surrounded by books all the time, I started reading ahead of other children my age and went to a performing arts school.
I was in horror at a very young age. The first books I read alone, around seven years old, were Goosebumps by R.L. Stine from Scholastics. I then moved on to Fear Street by the same author, only to jump to IT by Stephen King. What fascinated me was the unknown lurking in the dark, and the best was when reality met fiction. That is when I met my hero.
Vladislav Basarab Tepes III, Wladislaus Dragwlya, also known as Vlad the Impaler. While most of the world regards Vlad the Impaler as one of the evilest monsters in history, I see him as a hero, and most Romanians do. He became an early obsession of mine. Nothing in this world was more important to me than finding all the answers about the life of the Printul and Voivoide of Wallachia.
So, let’s see if the apple fell close or far from the tree…
There Are No Easy Path To Wallachia
The noble family of Vlad II was Vlad III’s home. His father shared the name Vlad the Dragon and was Voivoide of Wallachia from 1436 to 1447. One of his most significant accomplishments was being Vlad the Impaler’s father. Their sobriquet, Dracul, meant ‘son of Dracul,’ which translates to ‘dragon’ after the family entered the Order of the Dragon.
Vlad II was Mircea I of Wallachia‘s illegitimate son. His youth took place at King Sigismund of Luxembourg‘s court, after which he became a loyal member of the Order of the Dragon in 1431, followed by his recognition of Sigismund as the Prince of Wallachia. The latter allowed Vlad II to build his home near Transylvania.
However, Vlad II could not become the official ruler for the remainder of his half-brother, Alexander I Aldea‘s life. The Ottoman Sultan, Murad II, was whom Vlad II’s brother recognised as sovereign.
In 1436, Alexander I Aldea passed away, and Vlad II took over Wallachia with the help of the Hungarian kingdom. However, Hungary’s forces weakened after the passing of Sigismund of Luxembourg in 1437. The weakening of such an important ally had Vlad II pay homage to Murad II. In 1438 the emperor’s cruelty grew as he forced Vlad II to invade Transylvania.
In 1441, John Hunyadi, the Voivoide of Transylvania, travelled to Wallachia, asking Vlad II to join his crusade against the Ottoman. But in 1442, the sultan took Vlad II prisoner after Hunyadi routed an Ottoman army in Transylvania. Following Vlad II’s capture, Hunyadi invaded Wallachia and named Basarab II Voivoide Vlad II’s cousin.
The Life Of A Ruler Put Together By Pieces Of Papers
Because of the time and place Vlad II was in his early life, he has next to no documentation. Historians agree that Vlad II was born somewhere before 1395. He was only one of many children referred to back then as ‘bastards.’ Many illegitimate children existed in the Middle Ages and were often pawns, hidden, adopted, or sent to monasteries or nunneries.
However, for Vlad II, modern historians and biographers agree that Vlad the Dragon became a royal prisoner. In either 1395 or 1396, Sigismund of Luxembourg, King of Hungary, had Vlad II in his court as a hostage. Vlad II grew up educated by the royal family’s tutors in Buda, Nuremberg. He most likely moved to other major towns of Hungary, including the Holy Roman Empire.
It was in 1418 that Mircea I passed away and his legitimate son and co-ruler, Michael, wore the crown. Two years went by, after which Michael died fighting his cousin Dan II, his uncle Dan I’s son. The quarrel’s fallout ended, causing Dan II and Radu II Praznaglava, Vlad II half-brother, to fight each other for the possession of Wallachia.
In the early year of 1423, without Sigismund’s authorisation, Vlad II escaped Buda and tried to reach Poland. Vlad II never reached the border to his demise and was instead captured. Dan II was the lawful ruler of Wallachia, according to Sigismund. Meanwhile, Vlad II was an officer in the army of the Byzantine Emperor, John VIII Palaiologos. This position gave him access to the imperial palace in Constantinople.
In 1423 in Venice, Sigismund sent for Vlad II, who received the order to welcome Emperor John VIII. The man came to Italy for assistance against the Ottoman. Vlad II accompanied the emperor back to Constantinople. However, in 1429, Vlad II returned to Hungary as he learned the emperor could not assist in the efforts to regain Wallachia.
The Dragon Invasion Of Wallachia And Vlad II
On February 8th, 1431, the chivalric Order of the Dragon welcomed Vlad II as a first-class member offered to him by Sigismund. Other high members were Alfonso V of Aragon and Vytautas Grand Duke of Lithuania.
The order’s badge shaped like a dragon inspired the sobriquet Dracul, meaning dragon. After Vlad II swore his allegiance to Sigismund, the king declared him the lawful prince of Wallachia. In exchange, Vlad II promised to protect the Roman Catholic Church at all costs. Despite giving him the title of prince, Sigismund refused to help Vlad II in his battle to regain Wallachia.
Without help, Alexander I Aldea, along with Moldavian support, conquered Wallachia in the summer and dethroned Dan II. Following Alexander’s success, Vlad II settled next door in Transylvania. In 1432 in Adrianople, Alexander Aldea paid homage to the Ottoman Sultan, Murad II.
Despite wanting to invade Wallachia with the support of boyars, otherwise known as noblemen, who sought refuge in Transylvania, Vlad II couldn’t follow through. To prevent any attempt on Wallachia, Alexander Aldea’s prime officer, Albu, was in charge of the kingdom. In 1434, Sigismund permitted Vlad II to buy weaponry and build an army of exiled boyars.
When Alexander Aldea fell to his illness in 1435, Vlad II acted upon the advantage of a weakened ruler. Vlad II broke into Wallachia, but sadly, again, Alexander Aldea, helped by the Ottoman allies, ensured his retreat.
To be continued…