Vlad the Impaler
By July, 1475, Dracula had served almost 13 years as a political "prisoner" when Matthias officially pardoned him so he could take part in a campaign against the Turks. The "Army of Allah" had worked its way through Wallachia and was now sporadically crossing into Transylvania and Moldavia, thanks to Radu's white-dove policies. It had become, therefore, the defenders' aim to sever the Turks' lifeline by attacking several main supply bases below the Danube, in the Serbian province of Bosnia. Effectively, the triumvirate of Matthias, Stephen and Dracula was historical; it meant that, for the first time, Transylvania, Moldavia and Wallachia were working together as a unit.
In examining the situation, it appears that the Hungarian King wanted his cousin-in-law, Dracula, to again sit on the throne of Wallachia. Who better to run this important principality than a relative? But, there was one problem. Its citizens had not forgotten the reign of terror his protégé had conducted there. Because of that, Matthias resolved to become Dracula's (what today we would call) PR manager. The king thought him a good investment, judging from Dracula's military past. The man would undoubtedly serve the campaign well; would prove once again to be a hero of Romania. Once re-glorified, Dracula could regain (if not more) the tolerance of the people.
A massive offense began in the autumn. Results came quicker than the Christian army had expected. Its first objective, dethroning Radu, was taken care of by nature, bloodlessly. Radu died of syphilis, and his brother shed no tears.
With troops numbering 5,000, the crusaders rode south towards Bosnia. They stealthily cut their way through small contingencies of Turks until they reached Sabac, which they destroyed; then Srebrenica, Kuslat and Zwornik. Along the way, Dracula impaled thousands of Turks, but Matthias was sure to tell the European courts that this time the impalements were for the honor of freedom, and the Vatican that they were for the honor of God.
Their victories met, the sultan weakened, the attackers returned to Romania in March, 1476. The fighting didn't end there, however. Before the summer ended, Dracula and his compatriots' forces had cut a wide swath through their homeland, routing Turkish invaders from the Carpathians in a bloodbath of frenzy. It was the closest thing to a gotterdamerung — the united power of the fierce German gods of myth — that the Turks ever saw.
That November, Dracula was back on the throne at Tirgoviste. But, the end was coming for the Impaler. He would be dead within a month.
Matthias' vindication of Dracula's crimes did not sit well in the provinces surrounding the capital city, those most affected by Dracula's earlier, cruel reign. The boyars, who had lost fathers, mothers, children, brothers, sisters, cousins to impaling and tens of other tortures, remembered. So when Dracula found himself alone, the forces of Matthias having returned to Hungary and those of Stephen to Moldavia, he also found himself an unsupportive kingdom. Left with only a meager garrison — not more than 2,000 men comprised of mostly Moldavians — to defend Wallachia, he needed able-bodied males to rouse to his call of arms. No one responded.
The never-discouraged, ever-aggressive Sultan Mehmed had recovered from the recent defeats and had revised his strategy. He still held onto a major city, Bucharest, near the Danube, and from there was concentrating what was left of his battalions. The units, once amassed, came to double-digit thousands.
Dracula, virtually a man without an army, would be called on to attack them.
The recently appointed governor of Transylvania, a man named Stefan Bathory, was working with Hungary on an invasion of Bucharest and needed Dracula to help pave the way. It was the latter's assignment to skirmish the Turks in the area just north of Bucharest, a topography of woodland and marsh, causing confusion and serving as decoy. Undermanned and over-anticipated, Dracula understood his precarious situation — he had left his wife and sons in Transylvania for their safety — and may have expressed concerns to his authorities. If he had, none have been recorded. Marching out the gates of Tirgoviste in early December, 1476, he followed the Dimbovita River south, His destination was the monastery at Snagov, where he would finalize battle plans. He probably hoped that Count Bathory would assign reinforcements to meet him there. None came.
On a cold morning not long before Christmas, Dracula and his vanguard encountered an overwhelming body of Turks in the Vlasia Forest, adjacent to the monastery. Fighting was fierce and the Romanians, though in great minority, fought like devils. They were probably inspired by their leader who, wielding his father's, the Dragon's, Toledo blade charged the enemy screaming a Valkyrie-like cry of no surrender.
How Dracula died is anyone's guess...assumptions are many and witnesses unreliable. They have him fighting to the last until speared by a Turk; or taking a blow from an axe by one of his own men in confusion; or shot through the head while cheering his men's bravery. But, one fact is certain — it was recorded by the monastery monks — his body was found mutilated in a nearby bog: The only way the good priests could tell who he was came from the medallions and the princely vestments he wore. He was decapitated, seemingly in ritualistic style after death. His head was nowhere to be found.