Soon after his birth, Vlad Dracul, joined the Order of the Dragon and took an oath that he and his family would be dedicated to fighting the Turks, who had begun an attack upon Europe. The Order of the Dragon, founded by Sigismund of Luxembourg (king of Hungary, Croatia and Bohemia, and Holy Roman Emperor) to uphold Christianity and defend the Empire against the Ottoman Turks. He was then appointed the post of military governor of Transylvania, a post he held from 1431 to 1935.
Either because the people believed the dragon to represent the devil, or of the fact that the Romanian archaic word for dragon was “drac”, his subjects called him Vlad Dracul (Vlad the Devil). In archaic Romanian the ending -ulea meant “the son of”. Vlad III thus became Vlad Draculea, “The Son of the Devil” (or “of the Dragon”).
Dracula learned all the skills of war and peace that were deemed necessary for a Christian knight. His first tutor in his apprenticeship to knighthood was an elderly boyar whom had fought under the banner of Enguerrand de Courcy at the battle of Nicolopolis against the Turks.
Dracula’s father was not content to remain a mere governor forever.. During his years in Transylvania, he gathered supporters for his plan to seize Walachia’s throne from its current occupant, a Danesti prince named Alexandru I. In late 1436, Vlad Dracul killed Alexandru and became Prince Vlad II, ruler of Walachia.
In 1442 Turkey invaded Transylvania. Vlad tried to stay neutral, but Hungary’s rulers blamed him and drove him and his family out of Walachia. A Hungarian general, Janos Hunyadi (who may have been the illegitimate son of Emperor Sigismund) made a Danesti named Basarab II the prince of Walachia.
The following year Vlad regained the throne with the help of the sultan of Turkey. In 1444 he sent his two younger sons to Turkey to prove his loyalty. Dracula was about 13. He spent the next four years in Adrianople, Turkey as a hostage.
In 1444 the King of Hungary, Ladislas Posthumous, broke the peace and launched the Varna campaign under the command of John Hunyadi in an effort to drive the Turks out of Europe. Hunyadi demanded that Vlad II fulfill his oath as a member of the Order of the Dragon and a vassal of Hungary and join the crusade against the Turk. Rather than join the Christian forces himself he sent his oldest son, Mircea. Perhaps he hoped the sultan would spare his younger sons if he himself did not join the crusade.
The results of the Varna Crusade are well known. The Christian army was utterly destroyed in the Battle of Varna. John Hunyadi managed to escape the battle under conditions that add little glory to the White Knight’s reputation. Many, apparently including Mircea and his father, blamed Hunyadi for the debacle. From this moment forth John Hunyadi was bitterly hostile toward Vlad Dracul and his eldest son. In 1447 Vlad Dracul was assassinated along with his son Mircea. Mircea was apparently buried alive by the boyars and merchants of Tirgoviste. Hunyadi placed his own candidate, Vladislav II, a member of the Danesti clan, on the throne of Wallachia.
On receiving the news of Vlad Dracul’s death the Turks released Dracula and supported him as their own candidate for the Wallachian throne. In 1448 Dracula managed to briefly seize the Wallachian throne with Turkish support. Within two months Hunyadi forced Dracula to surrender the throne and flee to his cousin, the Prince of Moldavia, while Hunyadi once again placed Vladislav II on the Wallachian throne.
Dracula remained in exile in Moldavia for three years, until Prince Bogdan of Moldavia was assassinated in 1451. The resulting turmoil in Moldavia forced Dracula to flee to Transylvania and seek the protection of his family enemy, Hunyadi. The timing was propitious; Hunaydi’s puppet on the Wallachian throne, Vladislav II, had instituted a pro-Turkish policy and Hunyadi needed a more reliable man in Wallachia. Consequently, Hunyadi accepted the allegiance of his old enemy’s son and put him forward as the Hungarian candidate for the throne of Wallachia. Dracula became Hunyadi’s vassal and received his father’s old Transylvanian duchies of Faragas and Almas.
Dracula remained in Transylvania, under Hunyadi’s protection, until 1456 waiting for an opportunity to retake Wallachia from his rival.
In 1453 the Christian world was shocked by the final fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans. The East Roman Empire which had existed since the time of Constantine the Great and which for a thousand years had shielded the rest of Christendom from Islam was no more. Hunyadi immediately began planning another campaign against the Turks.
In 1456 Hunyadi invaded Turkish Serbia while Dracula simultaneously invaded Wallachia. In the Battle of Belgrade Hunyadi was killed and his army defeated. Meanwhile, Dracula succeeded in killing Vladislav II and taking the Wallachian throne but Hunaydi’s defeat made his long term tenure questionable. For a time at least, Dracula was forced to attempt to placate the Turks while he solidified his own position.