Vlad III Dracula, known as Vlad the Impaler (Romanian: Vlad Țepeș, Bulgarian: Влад Цепеш, pronunciation: [ˈvlad ˈtsepeʃ] ) or Vlad Dracula (/ (Romanian: Vlad Drăculea, pronunciation: [ˈdrəkule̯a] , Bulgarian: Влад Дракула); 1428/31 – 1476/77), was Voivode of Wallachia three times between 1448 and his death. He is often considered one of the most important rulers in Wallachian history and a national hero of Romania.
He was the second son of Vlad Dracul, who became the ruler of Wallachia in 1436. Vlad and his younger brother, Radu, were held as hostages in the Ottoman Empire in 1442 to secure their father's loyalty. Vlad's father and eldest brother, Mircea, were murdered after John Hunyadi, regent-governor of Hungary, invaded Wallachia in 1447. Hunyadi installed Vlad's second cousin, II, as the new voivode. Hunyadi launched a military campaign against the Ottomans in the autumn of 1448, and Vladislav accompanied him. Vlad broke into Wallachia with Ottoman support in October, but Vladislav returned and Vlad sought refuge in the Ottoman Empire before the end of the year. Vlad went to Moldavia in 1449 or 1450, and later to Hungary.
Relations between Hungary and Vladislav later deteriorated, and in 1456 Vlad invaded Wallachia with Hungarian support. Vladislav died fighting against him. Vlad began a purge among the Wallachian boyars to strengthen his position. He came into conflict with the Transylvanian Saxons, who supported his opponents, Dan and Basarab Laiotă (who were Vladislav's brothers), and Vlad's illegitimate half-brother, Vlad the Monk. Vlad plundered the Saxon villages, taking the captured people to Wallachia where he had them impaled (which inspired his cognomen). Peace was restored in 1460.
The Ottoman Sultan, Mehmed II, ordered Vlad to pay homage to him personally, but Vlad had the Sultan's two envoys captured and impaled. In February 1462, he attacked Ottoman territory, massacring tens of thousands of Turks and Bulgarians. Mehmed launched a campaign against Wallachia to replace Vlad with Vlad's younger brother, Radu. Vlad attempted to capture the sultan at Târgoviște during the night of 16–17 June 1462. The sultan and the main Ottoman army left Wallachia, but more and more Wallachians deserted to Radu. Vlad went to Transylvania to seek assistance from Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary, in late 1462, but Corvinus had him imprisoned.
Vlad was held in captivity in Visegrád from 1463 to 1475. During this period, anecdotes about his cruelty started to spread in Germany and Italy. He was released at the request of Stephen III of Moldavia in the summer of 1475. He fought in Corvinus's army against the Ottomans in Bosnia in early 1476. Hungarian and Moldavian troops helped him to force Basarab Laiotă (who had dethroned Vlad's brother, Radu) to flee from Wallachia in November. Basarab returned with Ottoman support before the end of the year. Vlad was killed in battle before 10 January 1477. Books describing Vlad's cruel acts were among the first bestsellers in the German-speaking territories. In Russia, popular stories suggested that Vlad was able to strengthen central government only through applying brutal punishments, and a similar view was adopted by most Romanian historians in the 19th century. Vlad's reputation for cruelty and his patronymic inspired the name of the vampire Count Dracula in Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula.
The expression Dracula, which is now primarily known as the name of a fictional vampire, was for centuries known as the sobriquet of Vlad III. Diplomatic reports and popular stories referred to him as Dracula, Dracuglia, or Drakula already in the 15th century. He himself signed his two letters as "Dragulya" or "Drakulya" in the late 1470s. His name had its origin in the sobriquet of his father, Vlad Dracul ("Vlad the Dragon" in medieval Romanian), who received it after he became a member of the Order of the Dragon. Dracula is the Slavonic genitive form of Dracul, meaning "[the son] of Dracul (or the Dragon)". In modern Romanian, dracul means "the devil", which contributed to Vlad's reputation.
Vlad III is known as Vlad Țepeș (or Vlad the Impaler) in Romanian historiography. This sobriquet is connected to the impalement that was his favorite method of execution. The Ottoman writer Tursun Beg referred to him as Kazıklı Voyvoda (Impaler Lord) around 1500. Mircea the Shepherd, Voivode of Wallachia, used this sobriquet when referring to Vlad III in a letter of grant on 1 April 1551.