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Vlad Dracula was born into the cut-throat culture of Renaissance-era Romania to Basarab the Dragon the Royal Governor of Transylvania and Princess Cneajna of Moldavia in either November or December 1431. A son of tumult in a land that knew battle from the day of his birth well past the day of his death, Vlad son of Dragon (which is what Dracula means), never knew peace. His story is one of pride, courage, war and insanity.
Born the second son of the Royal Governor, Vlad along with his brothers Mircea (the first born) and Radu were trained to be warriors from their youth, all learning to steady a bow, wield a blade and ride bareback before they reached the age of their scholastic studies. Fighting was first because in the era and land that he lived in, war was constant over either religion with the Ottoman Turks, with rulers of the surrounding kingdoms such as Hungary and Poland or internally with the other members of the Romanian royal families trying to take over the different lands.
At the time of Vlad's birth, Romania (as was the case with what we have come to know as many modern European countries) was not one kingdom, but three. Vlad's father Barsarab was Governor of center kingdom, Transylvania, but there were two others including Wallechia (the southern kingdom and military state that Vlad was to rule later) and the eastern kingdom of Moldavia (the place of his mother's origins). In this environment, Prince Vlad was raised to be a noble familiar with all the affairs that impacted the kingdoms surrounding him and the treacheries of the court. He was a "gentleman" when the occasion was fit, and he was fluent in several languages including Romanian, Turkish, Latin and German. He was also a mass murderer, a Christian crusader and determined and brilliant military commander.
When Vlad was barley a teenager at age 13, Basarab the Dragon made the crucial mistake of responding to the request to treat with the Turkish court. Of all the nobility of Romania, the Dragon was the only noble to show up, and when he did both he and his two youngest sons (Vlad and Radu) were promptly arrested. In order to gain release, the Turkish court demanded that Basarab leave his two sons in custody, which without other alternatives, he did. In doing so, he provided the environment for the creation of one of the most bloody despots of all time.
After the Dragon's departure, the Turkish court imposed the same discipline on others they had taken captive. They were to become Muslims (a shock to the son of a devout and devoted Catholic mother who raised her sons in the church), engage in Islamic studies, study Persian and Arabic - all to prepare them to become part of the Ottoman ruling class. During most of their time in captivity, they were given fairly free reign. Each boy took differently to the circumstance, Radu considering Turkey his adopted country, Vlad bemoaning the lack of personal liberty and being openly derisive of the Asian customs. Accordingly, Vlad was taken to the whipping post on several occasions in order to help him curb his tongue.
In 1445, three years into his captivity, the Romanian kingdoms launched another Crusade against the Ottoman Turks. Though the Dragon did not personally bear arms in the fight, the Turkish court still threw Vlad and Radu into the dungeon. There, they received daily floggings and endured long periods of hunger. Dracula's insolence harshened his treatment; he suffered various tortures to mind and body. Still, he was kept alive. It was there, from a narrow window above his cell, Vlad Dracula witnessed the executions of less-fortunate prisoners taking place in the yard outside. Depending upon their crime, they received various punishments. Many were impaled.
At first, the teenage boy must have been repulsed at the site of impalement. But, after a while, he grew fascinated by it. Impalement, the most inhuman of punishments, involved piercing a body length-wise through an orifice with a sharpened pole, the victim then left to die atop the raised pole. Death was excruciating and sometimes slow. Dracula watched the victims squirm, scream, hemorrhage, then die. Vlad learned to detest his captives for their cruelty. Battered, starving, cut, singed and now having to view what the Turks did several times a week just beyond his windowsill, he probably went mad. It was there that his thirst for revenge grew and the making of the monster and heroic Crusader became complete. Now all the son of the Dragon needed was a way out of his imprisonment.
While Prince Vlad was imprisoned, the European crusade was led by Jonas Hunyadi, called the White Knight. After a few victories, Hunyadi's forces encountered an overwhelming force of Sultan Murad's army and the Crusaders were slaughtered and scattered. Hunyadi was forced to flee on foot. Shortly after, Hunyadi gathered a small army and rather than attack the Turks, he mounted an attack against Dracula's father in an attempt to regain power, run Wallechia, and hopefully still attain his goal of ruling Hungary. The Dragon was caught completely off guard and along with his wife and first son was forced to flee the castle for their lives.
When Vlad was 17 news that his father, mother and brother (who had been buried alive) had been attacked and massacred reached him. He went berserk. Seeing this, Sultan Murad determined that the Dragon's son had suffered enough and offered him a command in the cavalry. Vlad Dracula jumped at it and in less time than you can say "silver bullet" had slyly turned his release into his coronation party. Using shrewdness that served him well for the rest of his life, Vlad played his two enemies against each other by proposing to the sultan that he should fund him and supply an army so that he could take back the throne of Wallechia. If the sultan would help, Vlad promised to keep highways and commerce open and provide a 10,000 ducat annual tribute to the Sultan. The Sultan bought the plan - and Vlad struck.
With a large contingent of tribal horsemen riding with him the son of the dragon struck stealthily, swiftly and mercilessly. In a night raid Vlad's army attacked the vanguard of Hunydai's army and wiped it out, however, to the great disappointment of Dracula, Hunydai had escaped. Swiftly consolidating his power, Dracula placed himself on the throne, then rooted out and made examples of anyone who had supported Hunydai. Dracula's first reign began - and in almost record time came to a close, when within 2 months Hunydai's armies had regrouped, been reinforced and headed back to the castle. Prince Vlad saw the army coming and fled to his mother's home land of Moldavia where he was provided refuge by the family for the next three years.
In the third year, Prince Bogdan who was responsible for protecting the young prince, was assassinated. In need of protection, Vlad turned back to Wallachia where Jonas Hunydai - who was now ruling Hungary, found need of the former Turkish royal slave. In an odd alliance of two brilliant opportunists, the enemy of their enemy became their friend and they united against the new Turkish Sultan. Vlad, who was known by many names such as Vlad the Warrior Prince or Vlad the Conqueror, now set out for the title he wanted most - Vlad Son of the Dragon - Vlad Dracula.
When they allied, Hunydai assigned Vlad to two key provinces that needed to be defended against the Turkish forces. Soon, however, Hunydai called on the warrior prince to provide insight on how to attack the Moors as they stormed into eastern Europe after felling the Holy Roman empire. Hunydai relied on Dracula's two pronged strategy to defeat the oncoming Turks, and in two victories they sealed the security of Hungary and Romania, with Hunydai saving Belgrade. Vlad on the other hand is, according to uncontested legend, is said to have come face to face with is family's murderer, taken him on in single combat and in a single stroke - lopped of his head. Within a year of the dual victory, however, Hunydai had died and again, Prince Vlad mounted the Wallachian throne. This time though, there was no route. Instead, the new ruler had the the Dracula Crest – the crest bearing a winged dragon (the symbol of courage) embracing the Cross (a symbol of Catholicism) – on the provincial stamp, banners, coins, public buildings, suits of armor, and on a glorious plaque hanging above his throne. He had been called by many other names, but finally the one that he coveted was his - Vlad Dracula.
The new prince waisted no time in changing the order of things and for establishing his reputation for brutal retribution against his enemies. Dracula immediately created a military state, instituting what was essentially marshal law. His reason? Wallachia was on the front lines of defense against the Turks - there needed to be constant vigilance. And he, the new voivode the Warrior Prince would be the sovereign decision maker rather than the feudal system of the domnul (or princes) that were puppets of the boyars (or ruling class). To evidence this, Dracula invited 200 boyars who had written letters of complaint about the new system to the capital in Tirgoviste where he hosted a dinner. There he accused them of being the reason why the country had been unstable, then had them taken out, speared thereby killing them, then impaled and put on display outside the palace wall on display. The message was clear, Vlad the Dragon would not be trifled with.