The Life of Vlad III (1431-1476)
this page was made to honor the prince of impalement himself Vlad Tepes III better known as dracula or son of the dragon
The Atrocities of Vlad Tepes
More than anything else the historical Dracula is known for his inhuman cruelty. Impalement was Vlad III’s preferred method of torture and execution. Impalement was and is one of the most gruesome ways of dying imaginable, as it was typically slow and painful.
Vlad usually had a horse attached to each of the victim’s legs and a sharpened stake was gradually forced into the body. The end of the stake was usually oiled and care was taken that the stake not be too sharp, else the victim might die too rapidly from shock. Normally the stake was inserted into the body through the buttocks and was often forced through the body until it emerged from the mouth. However, there were many instances where victims were impaled through other body orifices or through the abdomen or chest. Infants were sometimes impaled on the stake forced through their mother’s chests. The records indicate that victims were sometimes impaled so that they hung upside down on the stake.
Vlad Tepes often had the stakes arranged in various geometric patterns. The most common pattern was a ring of concentric circles in the outskirts of a city that was his target. The height of the spear indicated the rank of the victim. The decaying corpses were often left up for months. It was once reported that an invading Turkish army turned back in fright when it encountered thousands of rotting corpses impaled on the banks of the Danube. In 1461 Mohammed II, the conqueror of Constantinople, a man not noted for his squeamishness, returned to Constantinople after being sickened by the sight of twenty thousand impaled Turkish prisoners outside of the city of Tirgoviste. This gruesome sight is remembered in history as "the Forest of the Impaled."
Thousands were often impaled at a single time. Ten thousand were impaled in the Transylvanian city of Sibiu in 1460. In 1459, on St. Bartholomew’s Day, Vlad III had thirty thousand of the merchants and boyars of the Transylvanian city of Brasov impaled. One of the most famous woodcuts of the period shows Vlad Dracula feasting amongst a forest of stakes and their grisly burdens outside Brasov while a nearby executioner cuts apart other victims.
Although impalement was Vlad Dracula’s favorite method of torture, it was by no means his only method. The list of tortures employed by this cruel prince reads like an inventory of hell’s tools: nails in heads, cutting off of limbs, blinding, strangulation, burning, cutting off of noses and ears, mutilation of sexual organs (especially in the case of women), scalping, skinning, exposure to the elements or to wild animals, and burning alive.
No one was immune to Vlad’s attentions. His victims included women and children, peasants and great lords, ambassadors from foreign powers and merchants. However, the vast majority of his victims came from the merchants and boyars of Transylvania and his own Wallachia.
Many have attempted to justify Vlad Dracula’s actions on the basis of nascent nationalism and political necessity. Many of the merchants in Transylvania and Wallachia were German Saxons who were seen as parasites, preying upon Romanian natives of Wallachia. The wealthy land owning boyars exerted their own often capricious and unfaithful influence over the reigning princes. Vlad’s own father and older brother were murdered by unfaithful boyars. However, many of Vlad Dracula’s victims were also Wallachians, and few deny that he derived a perverted pleasure from his actions.
Vlad Dracula began his reign of terror almost as soon as he came to power. His first significant act of cruelty may have been motivated by a desire for revenge as well as a need to solidify his power. Early in his main reign he gave a feast for his boyars and their families to celebrate Easter. Vlad was well aware that many of these same nobles were part of the conspiracy that led to his father’s assassination and the burying alive of his elder brother, Mircea. Many had also played a role in the overthrow of numerous Wallachian princes. During the feast Vlad asked his noble guests how many princes had ruled during their lifetimes. All of the nobles present had outlived several princes. None had seen less then seven reigns. Vlad immediately had all the assembled nobles arrested. The older boyars and their families were impaled on the spot. The younger and healthier nobles and their families were marched north from Tirgoviste to the ruins of his castle in the mountains above the Arges River. The enslaved boyars and their families were forced to labor for months rebuilding the old castle with materials from a nearby ruin. According to the reports they labored until the clothes fell off their bodies and then were forced to continue working naked. Very few survived this ordeal.
Throughout his reign Vlad continued to systematically eradicate the old boyar class of Wallachia. Apparently Vlad was determined that his own power be on a modern and thoroughly secure footing. In the place of the executed boyars Vlad promoted new men from among the free peasantry and middle class; men who would be loyal only to their prince.
Vlad Tepes’ atrocities against the people of Wallachia were usually attempts to enforce his own moral code upon his country. He appears to have been particularly concerned with female chastity. Maidens who lost their virginity, adulterous wives and unchaste widows were all targets of Vlad’s cruelty. Such women often had their sexual organs cut out or their breasts cut off, and were often impaled through the vagina on red-hot stakes. One report tells of the execution of an unfaithful wife. Vlad had the woman’s breasts cut off, then she was skinned and impaled in a square in Tirgoviste with her skin lying on a nearby table. Vlad also insisted that his people be honest and hard working. Merchants who cheated their customers were likely to find themselves mounted on a stake beside common thieves.
The Golden Cup
Vlad Dracula was known throughout his land for his fierce insistence on honesty and order. Thieves seldom dared practice their trade within his domain, for they knew that the stake awaited any who were caught. Vlad was so confident in the effectiveness of his law that he laced a golden cup on display in the central square of Tirgoviste. The cup was never stolen and remained entirely unmolested throughout Vlad Dracula’s reign.
The Burning of the Sick and Poor
Vlad Dracula was very concerned that all his subjects work and contribute to the common welfare. He once notice that the poor, vagrants, beggars and cripples had become very numerous in his land. Consequently, he issued an invitation to all the poor and sick in Wallachia to come to Tirgoviste for a great feast, claiming that no one should go hungry in his land. As the poor and crippled arrived in the city they were ushered into a great hall where a fabulous feast was prepared for them. The guests ate and drank late into the night. Vlad himself then made an appearance and asked them, "What else do you desire? Do you want to be without cares, lacking nothing in this world?" When they responded positively Vlad ordered the hall boarded up and set on fire. None escaped the flames. Vlad explained his action to the boyars by claiming that he did this "in order that they represent no further burden to other men, and that no one will be poor in my realm."
The Foreign Ambassadors
Although there are some discrepancies between the German and Russian pamphlets in the interpretation of this story, they agree to the following: Two ambassadors of a foreign power visited Vlad’s court at Tirgoviste. When in the presence of the prince, they refused to remove their hats. Vlad ordered that the hats be nailed to their heads, such that they should never have to remove them again.
Note: The nailing of hats to the heads of those who displeased a monarch was not an unknown act in eastern Europe and by the princes of Moscow.
The Foreign Merchant
A merchant from a foreign land visited Tirgoviste. Aware of the reputation of Vlad Dracula’s land for honesty, he left a treasure-laden cart unguarded in the street over night. Upon returning to his wagon in the morning, the merchant was shocked to find 160 golden ducats missing. Then the merchant complained of his loss to the prince, Vlad assured him that his money would be returned. Vlad Dracula then issued a proclamation to the city—find the thief and return the money or the city will be destroyed. During the night he ordered that 160 ducats plus one extra be taken from his own treasury and placed in the merchant’s cart. On returning to his cart the next morning and counting his money the merchant discovered the extra ducat. The merchant returned to Vlad and reported that his money had indeed been returned plus an extra ducat. Meanwhile the thief had been captured and turned over to the prince’s guards along with the stolen money. Vlad ordered the thief impaled and informed the merchant that if he had not reported the extra ducat he would have been impaled alongside the thief.
The Lazy Woman
Vlad once noticed a man working in the fields while wearing a caftan (shirt) that he adjudged to be too short in length. The prince stopped and asked to see the man’s wife. When the woman was brought before him he asked her how she spent her days. The poor, frightened woman stated that she spent her days washing, baking and sewing. The prince pointed out her husband’s short caftan as evidence of her laziness and dishonesty and ordered her impaled, despite her husband’s protestations that he was well satisfied with his wife. Vlad then ordered another woman to marry the peasant but admonished her to work hard or she would suffer the same fate.
The Nobleman with the Keen Sense of Smell
On St. Bartholomew’s Day in 1459 Vlad Dracula caused thirty thousand of the merchants and nobles of the Transylvanian city of Brasov to be impaled. In order that he might better enjoy the results of his orders, the prince commanded that his table be set up and that his boyars join him for a feast amongst the forest of impaled corpses. While dining, Vlad noticed that one of his boyars was holding his nose in an effort to alleviate the terrible smell of clotting blood and emptied bowels. Vlad then ordered the sensitive nobleman impaled on a stake higher than all the rest so that he might be above the stench.
Vlad Dracula’s Mistress
Vlad Dracula once had a mistress that lived in a house in the back streets of Tirgoviste. This woman apparently loved the prince to distraction and was always anxious to please him. Vlad was often moody and depressed and the woman made every effort to lighten her lover’s burdens. Once, when he was particularly depressed, the woman dared tell him the lie that she was with child. Vlad had the woman examined by the bath matrons. When informed that the woman was lying, Vlad drew his knife and cut her open from the groin to her breast, leaving her to die in agony.
The Polish Nobleman
Benedict de Boithor, a Polish nobleman in the service of the King of Hungary, visited Vlad Dracula at Tirgoviste in September of 1458. At dinner one evening Vlad ordered a golden spear brought and set up directly in front of the royal envoy. Vlad then asked the envoy if he knew why this spear had been set up. Benedict replied that he imagined some boyar had offended the prince and that Vlad intended to honor him. Vlad responded that the spear had, in fact, been set up in honor of his noble, Polish guest. The Pole then responded that if he had done anything to deserve death that Vlad should do as he thought best. Vlad Dracula was greatly pleased by this answer, showered him with gifts, and declared that had he answered in any other manner he would have been immediately impaled.
The Two Monks
There is some discrepancy in the telling of this anecdote. The various sources agree, however, as to the basic story. Two monks from a foreign land came to visit Vlad Dracula in his palace at Tirgoviste. Curious to see the reaction of the churchmen, Vlad showed them rows of impaled corpses in the courtyard. When asked their opinions, the first monk responded, "You are appointed by God to punish evil-doers." The other monk had the moral courage to condemn the cruel prince. In the version of the story most common in the German pamphlets, Vlad rewarded the sycophantic monk and impaled the honest one. In the version found in Russian pamphlets and in Romanian verbal tradition Vlad rewarded the honest monk for his integrity and courage and impaled the sycophant for his dishonesty.
The End of Vlad III
Although Vlad III experienced some success in fending off the Turks, his accomplishments were relatively short-lived. He received little support from his titular overlord, Matthius Corvinus, King of Hungary (son of John Hunyadi) and Wallachian resources were too limited to achieve any lasting success against the powerful Turks.
The Turks finally succeeded in forcing Vlad to flee to Transylvania in 1462. Reportedly, his first wife committed suicide by leaping from the towers of Vlad’s castle into the waters of the Arges River rather than surrender to the Turks. Vlad escaped through a secret passage and fled across the mountains into Transylvania and appealed to Matthias Corvinus for aid. The king immediately had Vlad arrested and imprisoned in a royal tower.
There is some debate as to the exact length of Vlad’s confinement. The Russian pamphlets indicate that he was a prisoner from 1462 until 1474. However, during this period he was able to gradually win his way back into the graces of Matthias Corvinus and ultimately met and married a member of the royal family (possibly the sister of Corvinus) and fathered two sons. It is unlikely that a prisoner would be allowed to marry a member of the royal family. As the eldest son was about 10 years old at the point Vlad regained the Wallachian throne in 1476, his release probably occurred around 1466.
Note: The Russian narrative, normally very favorable to Vlad, indicates that even in captivity he could not give up his favorite past-time; he often captured birds and mice and proceeded to torture and mutilate them. Some were beheaded or tarred-and-feathered and released. Most were impaled on tiny spears.
Another possible reason for Vlad’s rehabilitation was that the new successor to the Wallachian throne, Vlad’s own brother, Radu the Handsome, had instituted a very pro-Turkish policy. The Hungarian king may have viewed Dracula as a possible candidate to retake the throne. The fact that Vlad renounced the Orthodox faith and adopted Catholicism was also surely meant to appease his Hungarian captor.
In 1476 Vlad was again ready to make a bid for power. Vlad Dracula and Prince Stephen Bathory of Transylvania invaded Wallachia with a mixed contingent of forces. Vlad’s brother, Radu, had by then already died and was replaced by Basarab the Old, a member of the Danesti clan. At the approach of Vlad’s army Basarab and his cohorts fled. However, shortly after retaking the throne, Prince Bathory and most of Vlad’s forces returned to Transylvania, leaving Vlad in a vulnerable position. Before he was able to gather support, a large Turkish army entered Wallachia. Vlad was forced to march and meet the Turks with less than four thousand men.
Vlad III Vlad Dracula was killed in battle against the Turks near the town of Bucharest in December of 1476. Some reports indicate that he was assassinated by disloyal Wallachian boyars just as he was about to sweep the Turks from the field. Other accounts have him falling in defeat, surrounded by the ranks of his loyal Moldavian bodyguard. Still other reports claim that Vlad, at the moment of victory, was accidentally struck down by one of his own men. The one undisputed fact is that ultimately his body was decapitated by the Turks and his head sent to Constantinople where the sultan had it displayed on a stake as proof that the horrible Impaler was finally dead. He was reportedly buried at Snagov, an island monastery located near Bucharest.
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