"Where are you now, Lord Țepeș?" Vlad III Ţepeş' Night Attack of Târgovişte in 1462

17 June 1462, the Voivode of Wallachia, Vlad III Ţepeş, fought the far superior army of Sultan Mehmet the Conquerer in a daring night raid near his capital of Târgovişte in present-day Romania.

“Cum nu vii tu, Ţepeş doamne, ca punând mâna pe ei, / Să-i împarţi în două cete: în smintiţi şi în mişei, / Şi în două temniţi large cu de-a sila să-i aduni,/ Să dai foc la puşcărie şi la casa de nebuni!” ("Where are you now, Lord Țepeș, so that you can grab them and part them into two groups, the madmen and the stealing criminals, put them into madhouses and prisons, then burn them!“ Mihai Eminescu, "Letter 3“, 1881)

The pre-Impressionistic imagination of Vlad’s Night Battle against Mehmet II
by the Romanian painter Theodor Aman (1831 – 1891)

No self-respecting conqueror, after capturing the greatest city in living memory and commanding one of the largest, best-equipped, disciplined, and victorious armies in the world and bent on further empire building would accept the general insubordination and the partial control of a strategic lifeline like the Great River by some backward savages dwelling in a godforsaken back-of-beyond. Thus, in the spring of 1462, nine years after the fall of Constantinople, Fatih Sultan Mehmed deployed hundred thousands to cross the Danube and show the stubborn Wallachians what’s what. Unfortunately, their leader was a highly educated master tactician and at least as smart as he was ruthless. And his reputation for savagery would ring through the centuries. The illustrious voivode, prince, was Vlad III, known as Dragwyla or Dracula “Son of the Dragon” after his father Vlad Dracul, the Dragon, a founding member of the Order of the Dragon, sworn to protect Europe from the incursions of the Ottomans. Later Vlad III would be called Țepeș, the Impaler, and he certainly lived up to his name during Mehmed’s campaign.

Theodor Aman: "Vlad the Impaler and the Turkish Envoys"

On June 4th, Mehmet and his colossal army had forced the crossing of the Danube and marched towards the Wallachian capital of Târgovişte, about 200 miles through the Wallachian Plain, excellent cavalry country, but Vlad did not offer battle. Quite the reverse. The breadbasket of the region was devastated with scorched earth tactics, allegedly the Ottoman Turks did not see man or beast for seven days – except plague victims, sent to infect Mehmet’s men and Vlad’s skirmishers who harassed the Ottoman army with hit and run attacks. Then, near his capital, Vlad decided to close the bag. Educated at the Ottoman court as a boy, together with his brother Radu, hostages to guarantee their father’s good behaviour, Vlad was fluent in Turkish, sneaked into the camp of Mehmet’s army, wandered around, believed to have found the sultan’s tent and returned with his army for a major raid on the following night. The Wallachians took the Ottomans completely by surprise, wreaked havoc among the sleepy enemy, but ultimately, Vlad was unable to break through to Mehmet’s tent and kill the sultan. Finally, after a relief force led by a disgruntled Wallachian boyar did not appear, Vlad and his men were pushed from the field by Mehmet’s elite janissaries in the wee hours and the battle was over. Mehmet pushed on towards Târgovişte, was greeted at the city’s gates by a forest of impaled victims of Vlad’s last year’s raid into Ottoman Bulgaria and prisoners from the current campaign, rotting on the stakes, and found the city deserted. Mehmet decided he’d had it, withdrew back across the Great River to Edirne and both sides declared a victory. In August of the same year, the sultan commissioned Vlad’s brother Radu, long since one of the faithful and a trusted vassal of Mehmet, with a renewal of the campaign and securing the help of more discontented boyars, Radu would succeed where the sultan had failed. Vlad was forced to flee to Hungarian Transylvania and the war was over for the moment.

A portrait of Vlad Țepeș from a German source (woodcut, 1488)

Dracula returned again, however. While Eastern Christianity celebrated Vlad as their saviour, the Catholic King of Hungary Matthias Corvinus, who had somehow mislaid the money given to him by the Pope to finance a crusade against the Ottomans, jealously incarcerated the Wallachian prince with trumped up charges for twelve years – until he was persuaded to use him to fight Mehmet the Conqueror again and succeeded. After a few weeks of campaigning, they reconquered Wallachia, Vlad became voivode again and was murdered after a few weeks in the winter of 1476. His old enemies, the Transylvanian Saxons, who had their trade privileges cut by Vlad in favour of native merchants and impaled a few of them for good measure and insubordination, spread the story “von ainem wutrich der hies Trakle waida von der Walachei" (about a violent madman by the name of Trakle waida, Voivode Dracula, of Wallachia) in the Holy Roman Empire and the tale, illustrated with shocking woodcuts went viral with the help of the newly invented printing press. The reports of the Saxon minority, while certainly not without a truth content, the Wallachians themselves did not name Vlad “the Impaler” for nothing, were probably quite exaggerated. However, half forgotten as the tale of the wutrich Trakle waida was 400 years later, Bram Stoker found it to be the ideal historical background for the transformation of the meanwhile established archetype of the vampiric Byronic anti-hero into a monster with a historical pedigree and thus, Vlad III Dragwyla is best remembered as the Uber-Vampire Count Dracula outside of Romania, where people still venerate the cunning, brutal, sophisticated and brave voivode as a national hero for his fight against the Ottoman Turks.

And more about the Atacul de noapte de la Târgovişte, the Night Attack of Târgovişte, on: