Dracula’s main reign stretched from 1456 to 1462. His capital was the city of Tirgoviste while his castle was raised some distance away in the mountains near the Arges River.
On Easter Sunday of 1459, Vlad committed his first major act of revenge by arresting the boyar families whom he held responsible for the death of his father and brother. He impaled the older ones outside the city walls and forced the rest to build what is now identified as Castle Dracula. They worked a long time; when their clothes fell off, they worked naked. Most of them died, of course. He then redistributed their estates and positions to those who were loyal to only him. Vlad also began fighting the churches, both Orthodox and Roman Catholic, whom he saw as having foreign influence on Romania.
He also took actions against foreign merchants whom he saw as preventing the development of the Romanian industry. Vlad would use his position to enforce a strict moral code upon his people, and those who offended this code would be killed. He not only would impale people in various ways, but would often execute his victims in a manner that was in some way related to the crime for which they were being punished. In his six year reign, he is said to have had around 40,000 victims.
It was also during this time that he launched his own campaign against the Turks. This campaign was relatively successful at first. His skill as a warrior and his well-known cruelty made him a much feared enemy. However, he received little support from his titular overlord, Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary (the son of John Hunyadi) and Wallachia’s resources were too limited to achieve any lasting success against the conquerors of Constantinople. In 1462 Dracula attacked the Turks to drive them out of the Danube River valley.
Sultan Mehmed II retaliated by invading Walachia with an army three times larger than Dracula’s. He had a brief victory but was soon forced to retreat back to retreat to his capital, Tirgoviste. He burned his own villages and poisoned wells on the way so that the Turkish army wouldn’t have any food or water. When the sultan reached Tirgoviste, he saw a terrifying scene, remembered in history as “the Forest of the Impaled.” There, outside the city, were 20,000 Turkish prisoners, all impaled. The sultan’s officers were too scared to go on and gave up. Then the Turks provided Dracula’s little brother Radu with an army in hopes that he could seize Dracula’s throne.
Radu’s army pursued Dracula to his fortress at Poenari. According to the legend, the Turks seized the castle, but Dracula managed to escape through a secret tunnel while his unfortunate first wife committed suicide by leaping from the towers of Dracula’s castle into the waters of the Arges .
In Transylvania, Dracula presented himself to the new king of Hungary, Mattias Corvinus, and was arrested and imprisoned in a royal tower near Buda. The Russian pamphlets indicate that he was a prisoner from 1462 until 1474. Dracula. McNally and Florescu place Dracula’s actual period of confinement at about four years from 1462 until 1466.
He was able to gradually win his way back into the graces of Hungary’s monarch; so much so that he marry a member of the royal family (some of the sources claim Dracula’s second wife was actually the sister of Matthias Corvinus) and have two sons. For most of the period of Dracula’s incarceration his brother, Radu the Handsome, ruled Wallachia as a puppet of the Ottoman sultan. When Radu died (1474) the sultan appointed Basarab the Old, a member of the Danesti clan. where his remains are buried. But one fact does emerge from all of this material.
In 1476 Dracula was again ready to make another attempt to recover his throne. Dracula and Prince Stephen Bathory of Transylvania invaded Wallachia with a mixed force of Transylvanians, a few dissatisfied Wallachian boyars and a contingent of Moldavians sent by Dracula’s cousin, Prince Stephen the Great of Moldavia. At the approach of Dracula’s army Basarab and his coherents fled, some to the protection of the Turks, others to the shelter of the mountains.
After placing Dracula on the throne (November 1476) Stephen Bathory and the bulk of Dracula’s forces returned to Transylvania, leaving Dracula’s tactical position very weak. Dracula had little time to gather support before a large Turkish army entered Wallachia determined to return Basarab to the throne. Dracula’s cruelties over the years had alienated the boyars who felt they had a better chance of surviving under Prince Basarab. Apparently, even the peasants, tired of the depredations of the Impaler, abandoned him to his fate. Dracula was forced to march to meet the Turks with the small forces at his disposal, somewhat less than four thousand men.
Dracula was killed in battle against the Turks near the small town of Bucharest in December of 1476. Some reports indicated that he was assassinated by disloyal Wallachian boyars just as he was about to sweep the Turks from the field. Other accounts have Dracula falling in defeat; surrounded by the bodies of his loyal Moldavian bodyguard (the troops loaned by Prince Stephen of Moldavia remained with Dracula after Stephen Bathory returned to Transylvania). Still other reports claim that Dracula, at the moment of victory, was accidentally struck down by one of his own men.
Dracula’s body was decapitated by the Turks and his head sent to Constantinople where the sultan had it displayed on a stake as proof that the Impaler was dead. His headless body was reportedly buried at Snagov, an island monastery located near Bucharest.