Vlad III Dracula was a mere boy of approximately seventeen when he first seized the throne of Wallachia. After having grown up at his father’s court and subsequently spending time as a hostage at the Ottoman Porte, Vlad III Dracula’s first opportunity to claim his inheritance came in the fall of 1448, less than a year after the death of his father, Vlad II Dracul, and his elder brother, Mircea. In that year, the Governor General of Hungary and Voivode of Transylvania, John Hunyadi, who had emerged as the leader of the anti-Ottoman struggle in southeastern Europe in the years following the death of Emperor Sigismund of Luxemburg, organized what was to be the last great Christian effort to liberate the Balkans before the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Accompanied by Vladislav II, who had become Prince of Wallachia when Vlad II Dracul was deposed, Hunyadi crossed the Danube into Serbia in September with a Christian army that reached Kosovo in mid-October where they encountered the Ottoman forces commanded by Sultan Murad II.
Byzantine chronicler Laonikos Chalkokondyles tells us that at Kosovo:
“On the left wing there was Dan [Vladislav II] who was his [John Hunyadi’s] great friend whom he had brought to the throne of the land of the Dacians [Wallachia] because of his animosity for Dracula [Vlad Dracul]… [Vladislav] brought 8,000 Dacians with him to make war.”
The battle ended in another disaster for the Christian forces, and in their hasty retreat. Hunyadi was taken prisoner by the Serbian Prince George Branković. Hoping to create difficulties for the Christian offensive, the Ottomans supported Vlad, who, in early October, invaded Wallachia in the absence of Vladislav II and took the throne.
Amidst the uncertainty surrounding the outcome of the battle of Kosovo and the fate of the Christian leader, the new prince, Vlad III Dracula, wrote to the burghers of Brașov:
“We bring you news that Mr. Nicolae from Ocna Sibiului writes to us and asks us to be so kind as to come to him until John [Hunyadi], the Royal Governor of Hungary, returns from the war. We are unable to do this because an emissary from Nicopolis came to us this past Tuesday [29 October] and said with great certainty that Murad, the Turkish Sultan, made war for three days against John [Hunyadi] the Governor, and that on the last day he [Hunyadi] formed a circle with his caravan, then the Sultan himself went down among the janissaries and they attacked this caravan, broke through their lines, and defeated and killed them. If we come to him now, the Turks could come and kill both you and us. Therefore, we ask you to have patience until we see what has happened to John. We do not even know if he is alive. If he returns from the war, we will meet with him and we will make peace with him. But if you will be our enemies now, and if something happens, you will have sinned and you will have to answer for it before God.”
An anonymous Ottoman chronicle also mentions Vlad’s invasion of Wallachia, but mistakenly places these events in 1449. A letter from Constantinople, dated 7 December 1448, also mentions Dracula’s invasion of Wallachia, supported by Ottoman troops; though it confuses many events, it clearly indicates that by this date he had been removed from the throne. According to Chalkokondyles, upon his return from Kosovo, Vladislav II, aided by Petru II, prince of Moldavia, forced Vlad III to abandon the throne. This means that by late November Dracula’s first reign as prince of Wallachia had come to an end.
Despite the ephemeral nature of his first reign on the throne of Wallachia, the events of 1448 established young Vlad III as a legitimate pretender to the throne of his father and grandfather. It would take him almost eight more years before he once again assumed the throne, but the trajectory of his career was now established.
For more on the career of Vlad III Dracula, including his first reign in 1448, 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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