One of the least-known personalities involved in the story of the historical Dracula is his uncle, Alexander Aldea. A son of Mircea the Old, Alexander Aldea ruled Wallachia from 1431 to 1436.
Alexander Aldea’s rise to power came quite unexpectedly. He had faithfully served as a territorial governor under his brother, Radu II, but had taken exile in Moldavia after the latter’s death in battle against his rival Dan II. Apart from that, just before Alexander II came to the throne, another son of Mircea was poised to reclaim his father’s legacy. In February, 1431, Emperor Sigismund of Luxemburg invested Vlad II as prince of Wallachia at Nuremburg in a grand ceremony, amid great pomp and circumstance. At the same time, the Hungarian king made Vlad a member of the Order of the Dragon. This led both him and his sons to henceforth be known by the name Dracul/Dracula. Everything was now set for Vlad to march to Wallachia to claim the throne of the principality bordering the Danube. Unfortunately for Vlad, the political situation in the region changed rapidly.
Even before news of Vlad’s coronation reached Wallachia, events were set in motion that would impede his chances of ever reaching Târgoviște. Alexander the Good, prince of Moldavia (1399-1432), now seized the initiative in his ongoing dispute with Dan II, prince of Wallachia, over control of the port city of Chilia at the mouth of the Danube. Dan had twice invaded Moldavia during the previous two years, the last time accompanied by Turkish troops. Alexander feared that Dan, who had been engaged in an ongoing struggle with Vlad II’s older brother Radu for the throne of the small Danubian principality during the prior decade, might yet succeed in recovering the port city at the mouth of the Danube with support from the Ottomans. The Moldavian prince, always a wise tactician, decided to strike first and readied his troops to invade Wallachia.
Convinced of the need to intervene in the neighboring principality and to place on the throne a prince resigned to accept Moldavian control over Chilia, Alexander the Good turned to another of Mircea’s sons, like himself named Alexander, but also known as Aldea, who had sought refuge in the principality east of the Carpathians after Dan had defeated his brother Radu. Having married into the Moldavian royal family while in exile there, when relations between Wallachia and Moldavia deteriorated under Dan II, Alexander Aldea found support to make his own bid for his father’s throne.
Accompanied by his Wallachian supporters, Alexander Aldea led Moldavian forces into Wallachia in the spring of 1431. The move caught Dan by surprise and forced him to flee across the Danube to his Ottoman allies. Alexander II Aldea now ruled from Târgoviște, ending for the moment the conflict between Moldavia and Wallachia over Chilia.
Alexander II’s first order of business as prince was to consolidate his position and to prepare for the inevitable Ottoman counterattack. In this task, he was greatly aided by Albul, formerly one of Dan II’s leading boyars, but who had also served on the royal council during the final years of the reign of Mircea the Old. Albul played a role unprecedented for a court official in Wallachia up to this time. He virtually became co-ruler of the country. Taking into account the unique position Albul held, and the fact that Alexander Aldea appears to have been in frail health at various times throughout his reign, it is plausible that Albul fled to Moldavia with the intention of engineering the rise of Alexander II to the throne.
By now aware of Sigismund’s intention to place his younger brother on the throne and the steps the Emperor had already taken in this direction, Alexander moved quickly to try to convince the Hungarian king to accept the fait accompli and to confirm him as ruler of Wallachia. Although Sigismund accepted Alexander Aldea as the new ruler of Wallachia, Vlad maintained his title and privileges. As compensation for abandoning plans to place him on the throne of the Transalpine land, the Emperor installed Vlad as ruler of the duchies of Amlaș and Făgăraș in southern Transylvania, holdings generally reserved for the prince of Wallachia. These territories never came under Alexander II’s jurisdiction. Unlike his predecessors since the days of his father Mircea, Alexander Aldea titles himself solely as ruler “over all of the land of Ungrovalachia” in his internal documents. During his long reign, Sigismund had learned many times that circumstances could change rapidly and it suited him to keep Vlad ready should the need arise to intervene south of the Carpathians.
Alexander Aldea owed his success in obtaining recognition from the Hungarian Crown in large measure to dramatic changes taking place on the political scene in Eastern Europe at this time. The anticipated Ottoman counterattack intended to restore Dan II came in the summer of 1431. Alexander the Good also sent forces to aid his protégé in Wallachia. A Ragusan report dated September 6 tells of the defeat of the Turks who had invaded Wallachia that summer. Dan, who had accompanied these Ottoman forces, died in the fighting. For the moment, Alexander II had secured his position.
Vlad’s prospects of attaining the throne improved at the beginning of the following year as the political landscape continued to evolve. The unexpected death of Aldea’s patron, Alexander the Good, on January 1, 1432, meant that the Wallachian prince could no longer depend on Moldavian support because of the uncertain political situation in the neighboring principality. Nor could he rely upon Hungary for military assistance against the Turks. Sigismund had set out for Italy for his long-delayed coronation as Emperor by the Pope and events in the West continued to take precedence over the struggle against the Ottomans. Alexander II had additional reasons to feel insecure in his alliance with the Hungarians; Vlad ruled the duchies of Amlaș and Făgăraș, traditionally reserved for rulers of the Transalpine land, and continued to use the title prince of Wallachia with the Emperor’s tacit consent. Weighing these factors and realizing the imminent danger of renewed Ottoman attacks on Wallachia, Alexander Aldea felt constrained to come to terms with the Sultan.
One of Alexander Aldea’s obligations as a vassal of the Porte was to accompany the Ottoman army with Wallachian contingents when called upon by the Sultan. As the three-year peace agreement concluded between the Hungarians and the Ottomans in 1429 expired, Murad II prepared to launch a new attack on Transylvania. The Wallachian prince readied his troops and joined the Ottoman offensive. The invasion of 1432 marked the most devastating attack on Transylvania since 1421.
By the fall of 1433, Alexander Aldea again began making peace overtures to Hungary. Having accompanied the Ottoman forces that had burned and pillaged Transylvania the year before, his task was not an easy one. All the more so because he had to proceed cautiously so as not to provoke the ire of the Sultan. In addition, Vlad stood poised across the mountains ready to move against his brother as soon as he received Sigismund’s approval to launch an invasion. We know that, at the end of 1433, Sigismund still considered Wallachia as belonging to the Ottoman camp. But before intensifying efforts to improve relations with Hungary, Alexander Aldea first sought to secure his border with Moldavia. He provided military assistance to his brother-in-law Stephen.
Having acquired an ally in Moldavia, Alexander II now turned his attention to Hungary, hoping to forestall Vlad from launching an attack against him. Albul almost certainly played a key role in this diplomatic maneuvering to neutralize Vlad, and his efforts paid off. To convince the Hungarians of their goodwill, Aldea and Albul ransomed Transylvanian citizens taken captive during the recent Ottoman attacks on the province. Although wary of Alexander Aldea’s professed loyalty, Sigismund preferred peaceful relations with Wallachia as the conflict in Bohemia continued to preoccupy the king. The time for Vlad to throw down the gauntlet had not yet arrived.
Soon after he managed to restore peaceful relations with Hungary, Alexander Aldea again found himself in a delicate situation as the Ottomans planned a new assault on Transylvania for the summer of 1434. Aldea had informed Hungarian officials of Turkish intentions and traveled to Moldavia where he met with his ally, Stephen, in the spring of that year. Aldea further proposed that the Ottoman pretender Daud Celebi, be sent with an army to lead a counteroffensive.
Prior to his trip to Moldavia, Alexander II had traveled to Adrianople to pay homage to Sultan Murad II. During this visit, he probably first learned of Ottoman plans for a new raid on Transylvania. The events of 1432 still fresh in their minds, Aldea’s meeting with the Sultan provoked concern among Transylvanian leaders. Vlad hoped to turn this situation to his advantage and to launch an invasion south of the Carpathians. The Turkish raid in the summer of 1434 concentrated on Brașov and the Bârsa land. The burning and pillaging by Turkish forces in this region was extensive.
Alexander Aldea’s grandiose scheme to organize a Christian counter-offensive to turn the tables on the Turks in 1434 never materialized, albeit through no fault of his own. The Hungarians did not set loose the Ottoman pretender Daud Çelebi, nor did they prove capable of mobilizing a force strong enough to launch a counterattack against the Islamic invaders. Under these circumstances, Alexander II could not openly betray the Sultan and continued to pay homage to the Porte.
Despite his timid involvement in the Ottoman attack, Alexander Aldea managed to maintain good relations with Hungary. He had secretly provided Hungarian officials with accurate information about Ottoman plans, troop strength, and movements, and his intention to revolt against the Turks could not be realized through no fault of his own. The intelligence he provided certainly helped limit damages suffered during the recent invasion. For the moment, he served Hungarian interests better by feigning allegiance to the Sultan than by turning against the Turks on his own, without Hungarian military support to back him up, which could only result in his removal and replacement by a prince more pliant to Ottoman interests. As a result, Vlad had to bide his time in southern Transylvania, watching and waiting from his base in Schässburg (Sighișoara) and continuing to rule over the duchies of Amlaș and Făgăraș.
Alexander Aldea had taken severely ill in the summer of 1435 and rumors of his death began to circulate. Reports of Aldea’s death, however, were premature. The prince had recovered by October 15 when he issued a diploma for the Monastery of Cozia. Nevertheless, the severity of his illness and the potential for instability in the principality in the event of his passing made the situation in Wallachia tenuous.
For the moment, the powerful Vornic Albul maintained political stability in Wallachia during Aldea’s illness in the summer of 1435. The ties to Hungary that he had forged as one of Dan II’s leading boyars continued to serve him well in this task. While Vlad worked to gather support to invade Wallachia to oust his brother, Albul countered his efforts and worked to improve relations with Hungary, and especially with the Saxon city of Brasov, among Wallachia’s most important trade partners. Meanwhile, Ottoman troops entered Wallachia during the summer of 1435, during Alexander II’s severe illness, to ensure that, if should Aldea die, the Hungarians would not enter the country and impose their candidate, Vlad, on the throne. They also launched new attacks in the area around Severin and in southwestern Transylvania.
Although Alexander Aldea cheated death in the summer of 1435, he never fully recovered his health. This created further instability in the principality. Aldea had no children to succeed him and many of the leading boyars began to consider other possible successors, who, apart from Vlad, included Dan II’s sons Danciul and Basarab. Certainly, some also resented Albul’s powerful position. As a result, several boyars took refuge in Transylvania where they joined Vlad. This had been a persistent problem throughout Alexander Aldea’s reign, amplified by the fact that Vlad was no ordinary pretender; not only had the Holy Roman Emperor invested him as prince of Wallachia, but he effectively governed the two duchies in southern Transylvania, traditionally the purview of the ruler of the Transalpine land. Whenever Alexander Aldea enjoyed amicable relations with Hungary, he used the opportunity to try to compel the burghers of Brașov to remove his enemies from their midst.
By 1436, Vlad Dracul’s star was on the rise. Sigismund returned to the region for the first time since he had concluded the peace agreement with the Sultan in 1429. The Emperor was determined at long-last to organize a new crusade against the Ottomans. Aware of Alexander Aldea’s fragile health and leery of his past dealings with the Turks, the Emperor preferred a reliable man on the throne of Wallachia — a member of the Order of the Dragon. In April 1436, Sigismund spent the Easter holiday at Seghedin where he sought to put order in affairs in the eastern part of his kingdom. Vlad journeyed there to meet with the Emperor for the first time since his coronation at Nuremburg in 1431.
Vlad’s meeting with Sigismund in the spring of 1436 emanated from the Emperor’s intention to launch a new crusade against the Ottomans. The Peace of Arras had brought a temporary halt to the Hundred Years’ War, making possible the participation of English and French troops in such an enterprise. The Emperor had finally managed to bring the situation in Bohemia under control, and the Diet of 1435 had reorganized the Hungarian army in an attempt to make it a more effective fighting force. Sigismund again actively began to promote the union of the two Churches and proposed moving the Council of Basel to Buda in this scope. The Emperor had even come to an understanding with his long-time nemesis Venice, after concluding an armistice with the Republic of St. Mark in 1433 and a peace treaty in 1435, to support such an endeavor.
The last extant diploma from the reign of Alexander II is dated June 25, 1436, from Târgoviste. In it, Alexander Aldea confirms to the Monastery of Cozia all of its previous endowments. The boyars serving in the royal council at that time, listed as witnesses to this document, include Albul, Radu of Sahac, Stanciul the brother of Mircea, Valcsan of Florea, Radu of Borcea, Nan Pascal, Tatul Sarbul, Iarciul, Spatar Stancea, Vistier Stanciul, Stolnic Vlaicu, Paharnic Barbul, and Logofat Cazan. Most of these nobles had served Alexander Aldea faithfully since the beginning of his reign. But with the prince’s health failing him and the threat of an invasion looming from the north, an alarming number of boyars began to abandon Aldea.
By late August, Alexander Aldea’s health had again taken a turn for the worse. Vlad now wrote to the officials of Brasov, telling them that “people have come to me from Wallachia and told me that Aldea is dead. If he has not yet died, he is gravely ill and will die soon…” By September 5, Vlad was on the move, writing to the officials of Brasov from his camp at Roya, recommending to them his emissary Johannes Hanesh who was charged with informing them of the latest developments. Although we have no information about the campaign itself, we know that Vlad’s endeavor was successful. This time the rumors of Aldea’s death proved correct. As he had anticipated in a letter to Brasov, Vlad met little resistance. By late September 1436, more than five and a half years after his investiture at Nuremburg, Vlad finally assumed his father’s throne. His long wait had ended. Vlad now rightfully bore the title, “John Vlad, Voivode and Prince of all of the land of Ungrovalachia and of the parts across the mountains, Duke of Amlaș and Făgăraș.”
Although little-known today, Dracula’s uncle, Alexander Aldea, should be remembered as a capable prince. Following in the tradition of his father, Mircea the Old, he tried to skillfully balance the influence of the neighboring powers in an attempt to maintain the autonomy of his principality. Although Alexander II Aldea only reigned for a short five years, he demonstrated remarkable skills in both domestic and international politics. One of the few rulers of fifteenth century Wallachia who died a non-violent death while ruling, one cannot help but conclude that if his health been stronger and the political circumstances of his principality better, Alexander Aldea may have been remembered as one of Wallachia’s greatest rulers during this epoch. In any event, the policies of his reign foreshadow those of his younger brother Vlad II Dracul.
For more on the early history of Wallachia see A.K. Brackob, Mircea the Old: Father of Wallachia, Grandfather of Dracula available on Amazon and at HistriaBooks.com.
For more on the historical Dracula see Dracula: Essays on the Life and Times of Vlad the Impaler, edited by Kurt W. Treptow, available on Amazon and at HistriaBooks.com.
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