Eastern European history
A rough view of the 14th-15th century
Due to their geographical position between the big powers of Hungarian Kingdom, decaying Byzantine Empire and the dangerous raising of the Ottoman Empire, Wallachians had to fight in order to keep their freedom. Struggling between the neighbors, they managed to make their point in Eastern European history.
In times when the Ottoman Empire raised to power, becoming a real threat for the whole Europe, Wallachia, together with Transylvania and Moldavia acted as a defense wall against that threat. This was the very reason of the Romanians' life. And they often succeeded where the western European countries failed.
Both crusades at Nikopol (Nicopolis), in 1396 and Varna, in 1444 failed. But Romanians such as: Mircea the Elder; Ioan Corvin of Hunedoara (maybe you heard about his Hungarian name, Janos/John Hunyadi, but he was a Romanian, too; only he learned Hungarian to maintain his feudal nobleman's rank likewise many English Saxon Thanes learning French under the Normans); Vlad II (the son of Mircea the Elder) and his son, Vlad III the Impaler or Stephan the Great managed to beat and keep the Ottomans in check.
The French medievalist Ferdinand Lot tells us about the importance of the Romanians' resistance, who, "through their sacrifice, encouraged the development of the western civilization".
Balkan people fighting for their own freedom wrote Eastern European history. Their battles for their own land gave the western countries the peacetime for Renaissance and the Reform development. Protected from the great invasions, the western monarchies perfected their technology and firearms, which led to a balance between Europe and the Ottoman Empire in the next century.
Two years before Nicopolis, Mircea the Elder (1386-1418), the ruling prince of Wallachia, had won the battle of Rovine against the powerful Sultan Bayezid. As long as Mircea the Elder lived and ruled the country, the Ottoman power was stopped at the Danube. But his great achievement was that he reunited the Romanians between the Danube, the Carpathians and the Black Sea under a single ruling prince.
In 1418 his son, Mikhail, follows him on the throne. But the sultan Murad II Celebi starts a Danube campaign, beating Mikhail I and conquering Dobruja for the first time. This was only the beginning. The Ottomans tried again and again to control the Danube, a good means for transportation and upholding the army, thinking to a future European assault.
European kings were quite unaffected by the Romanians' loss. They didn't understand the Ottomans' rising power and the Romanian goal to stop them. The first who tried to do something was Ioan Corvin (Joannes Corvinus) of Hunedoara. He organized the Varna Crusade in 1444. But it was too late. The Ottomans were already in Europe and powerful enough to stay and even expand. In 1453 they polished their job by conquering the last stronghold of the Eastern Roman Empire, Constantinople.
In the meantime, in Wallachia, the fight for the throne almost broke down the country. A blood feud arisen in the Basarab royal family, during the reign of Mircea the Elder. This conflict lasted more than a century and it was kept alive by the lust for power. The ancient family of Basarab was divided into two branches: Draculesti and Danesti. The first branch were descendents of Mircea the Elder and their name was derived from the title of Vlad II (Draco - Latin for "the Dragon"). The others were descendents of Dan I - a brother of Mircea the Elder (he was ruling prince of Wallachia too, between 1377 and 1386).
The members of the two families succeeded alternatively to the throne of Wallachia. With a big internal help (from Wallachian noblemen), but also external (from Transylvanian governors or kings as well as Ottoman sultans) they continuously killed and persecuted each other. Well, all these "helpers" acted according with their own interests. Wallachian noblemen needed a puppet ruling prince to allow them unrestricted power and riches. Ottomans and Hungarians needed a puppet ruling prince, to allow them control over the Danube River and Wallachian commercial routes. This way, from Mircea the Elder's death to the first rule of Vlad the Impaler (1448), in only 30 years, there were nine ruling princes in Wallachia.
Vlad II, the son of Mircea the Elder and the father of Vlad the Impaler, came to the throne in 1436 with the help of Alexander the Good (the Moldavian ruling prince). The sultan Murad II welcomed him and his allegiance gifts. But Vlad II was also (at Nurnberg, in 1431) granted the order of the Dragon by the emperor of the Roman-German Empire, Sigismund of Luxemburg himself.
So, he pledged loyalty towards the two camps. He assumed a risky role, but he kept the peace in the country, which started to flourish. In 1439 he took the Chilia Veche fortress from the Moldavians. He had control over the Danube and raised his power because he also had access to the Black Sea. He also participated in a few battles against the Turks.
The sultan Murad II didn’t like at all this situation, so he invited Vlad to Adrianople and imprisoned him. After a few months he was released in exchange for his two younger sons.
Ioan Corvin of Hunedoara became governor of Transylvania in 1441 and continued his ascent until 1442, when he won important victories against the Ottomans, victories that brought him esteem on a political level. The Pope called him the White Knight of the Christendom. He found out that his neighbor, Vlad II, an Order of the Dragon's knight, could serve his interests at that time.
Until that time, Vlad II had already his two sons, Vlad and Radu, kept as hostages (to assure his loyalty) in the Ottoman fortress Egrigoz, as the chronicler Nesri describes.
Despite exposing his family, Vlad Dracul (the Dragon) and his oldest son, Mircea, continued the fight against the Ottomans. Ioan Corvin of Hunedoara highly regarded this sacrifice and Vlad II the Dragon became one of his protégés. They participated together in the crusades of 1443 and 1444 and in the campaign of 1445, when the Romanians conquered the citadel Giurgiu with the help of a Burgundy fleet under the command of Walerand of Wawrin.
The two captive sons of Vlad II, Vlad and Radu remained alive because the Ottoman sultan had other plans for them: switching their mind to be, at the proper time, puppets loyal to the Ottoman Empire on the Wallachian throne. And Ottomans were very good in brain washing.
Young Vlad's father was assassinated in a battle near Balteni in December of 1447. Vlad's older brother Mircea was also buried alive. The identity of Vlad II assassins is still a mystery.
Some historical sources say that, in those years, Vlad Dracul (the Dragon) had to conclude a peace with the Ottomans. But, Ioan Corvin of Hunedoara was just preparing a new campaign against them and needed military assistance from Wallachia. So, an assumption regarding the death of Vlad II is that Ioan Corvin of Hunedoara ordained his death and enthroned Vladislav-Dan, a member of the rival family of Danesti. Other historical sources assert that Vlad Dracul (the Dragon) was killed by Vladislav-Dan himself, being known the terrible conflict between the families of the two ruling princes.
All we know is that on the 4th of December 1447 Ioan of Hunedoara issued a document from Targoviste. In this document he named Targoviste "our citadel" and he entitled himself "voivode of the transalpine territories". This event marked the entering of Wallachia under the suzerainty of Hungary.
A few months later, Ioan of Hunedoara, governor of Hungary and ruler of Transylvania, proceeded in the same manner with Moldavia, installing a ruling prince faithful to his cause. The Romanian Countries were, in this way, united into a powerful front against the Ottomans. In the battle of Kossovopolje (17-th to 19-th of October 1448), the reunited armies of the Romanians from Transylvania, Wallachia and Moldavia, side by side with the armies of the Hungarian kingdom and of the Serbian despot Gheorghe Brancovici were fighting their last great offensive battle against the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century.
As you can see, the Eastern European history was very tumultuous at the time Vlad Dracula reached his throne. That influenced a lot Wallachian history and the decisions Vlad had to take.
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