June 17, 1462: The Battle of the Blood Drinkers

Like flaming demons, Wallachians rushed out of the night and into the Turkish camp, striking terror in an army of terrorists. Leading the charge was a gore-spattered chieftain—hewing and hacking a path to the central tents where the Sultan huddled in fear. On he came, Vlad Dracul, raining down slaughter and raging for Mehmed’s blood.

On June 17, 1462, outside Targoviste, Romania, the world was given a rare instance of how the good can be accomplished though the grotesque—for God can deploy His enemies as allies. Vlad Dracul III, Prince of Wallachia, can hardly be considered a warrior of faith; but he was certainly a warrior for the Faith.

VladTheImpalerWhen Constantinople fell in 1453, 21 year-old Sultan Mehmed II boasted that finally Trojans were given vengeance over Greeks, and that he should be known as the Caesar of the Caliphs. He was more widely known, however, as the Blood Drinker. Mehmed enjoyed torture and execution for its own sake, making him a terrifying conqueror whose ambition was bent on the Christian West.

Mehmed launched his conquest of Eastern Europe, but was repelled at the Siege of Belgrade by John Hunyadi of Hungary in 1456. The retreating Ottomans regarded Wallachia (present day southern Romania) as a buffer between them and Hungary, and so, for a yearly jizyah (tax for non-Muslims), they left Wallachia alone—though both Hungary and the Turks vied to make Wallachia their vassal.

At that time Vlad III, a savage and sadistic prince of the Dragon Order, ruled in Romania. Vlad, like Mehmed, was also known for the pleasure he took in murdering people through excruciating procedures. Impaling was his trademark method, and it is said that in his lifetime Vlad the Impaler impaled in the tens of thousands.

Also at that time Pope Pius II, a saintly and savvy prince of the Church, ruled in Rome. Pope Pius called for a crusade against Islam in 1459, appointing the King of Hungary, Matthias Corvinus, with the task of organizing a Catholic military resistance to the Moslem threat that loomed on the eastern horizon.

Seeing an opportunity to maintain independence from Mehmed, Prince Vlad allied himself with the Hungarians in 1461. Later that year, when envoys from Mehmed arrived at Vlad’s capital of Targoviste to collect the annual tribute, Vlad refused to pay—suggesting instead that the emissaries remove their turbans in the presence of a prince. When this demand was in turn refused, Vlad ordered the turbans nailed to their heads.

In response, Mehmed sent a punitive troop to Wallachia under pretense of making peace but intending an ambush to crush the insubordinate prince. Spies brought Vlad intelligence of this treachery, however, and he ambushed the Ottoman soldiers himself. Any who were not killed by Vlad’s cannons, were captured and impaled. Then Vlad Dracul marched his army across the frozen Danube and utterly devastated the Turkish outposts in Bulgaria, leaving twenty-four thousand dead behind him. Furious, Mehmed sent his own Grand Vizier with an army of eighteen thousand to end the routing. The router marched out to meet them, and not eight thousand Turks survived.

By March 1462, Vlad III found himself the keenest participant in the Pope’s crusade—though his motivation was hatred for the Turk rather than love for the Church. When reports of his violent victories over the Ottoman Empire spread throughout Europe, however, Te Deum was sung and Catholics rejoiced with Pius II at these campaigns that continued to drive Mehmed’s forces further from Rome.

Sultan Mehmed IIIt was then that Mehmed abandoned his siege of Corinth and determined to go after Vlad personally. He assembled a force of nearly one hundred thousand, and set forth to conquer Wallachia, which would put Vienna within his grasp—the doorstep to Rome.

Vlad III, whose peasant infantrymen and boyar cavalry only numbered thirty thousand, could not prevent Mehmed from crossing the Danube into his country. The Turks began their march toward Targoviste, while Vlad’s army lurked just beyond their reach, employing sudden guerilla strikes and scorched earth tactics. Hidden archers shot down janissaries. Scores fell into pits covered with brush and lined with stakes. Waters were poisoned. Livestock was slain. The Wallachian prince even paid people with leprosy or the bubonic plague to mingle with the Turks and infect them. Mehmed’s militia was severely impaired by these strategies as they dragged heavy artillery through disease-ridden marshes, sustaining great loss from Vlad’s hit-and-run maneuvers.

Finally, Mehmed trapped his enemy in a mountain pass and set up siege, determined to wait till Vlad and his followers starved or surrendered. Recognizing his peril, the Wallachian prince determined to meet death in a manner befitting the temper of his blood. He laid his plans on that June evening, and waited till nightfall.

The Ottoman camp lay in silence. Suddenly, a trumpet blast brayed out. The rumble of rushing feet and roaring voices swelled over the tents as Vlad III lead a surprise attack in the dead of night, blades gleaming in the torchlight. The prince threshed a path toward Mehmed’s tent, spreading chaos and carnage with the ferocity of his invasion. The panicked Turks reeled beneath the blow, until the Janissaries rallied themselves. Encircling the Sultan, they drove the Wallachians back into the gloom—only after fifteen thousand Turks had been butchered.

This famous skirmish of June 17, 1462, allegedly left Mehmed II petrified. With his forces in tatters and demoralized, he abandoned the chase of Vlad Dracul, allowing the Wallachians to return to Targoviste. Soon afterwards, however, Mehmed repented pulling away and marched on the capital after Vlad. Another surprise awaited him there. The gates of the city stood open. No resistance was offered.

And twenty thousand dead Turks surrounded the city, impaled on stakes.

The Sultan beheld this masterpiece of horror and knew that here was a match for Turkish terrors—a man who knew his enemy well enough to give them a taste of their own brutality. Though Mehmed shrank from the sight, something like admiration burnt in his eye. He wheeled his army southward, and retreated. Barbarism put the barbarians to flight, the Moslem Moon waned in the east, and a shadow was lifted from Vienna.

It is common and commendable that Christians defend the truths and beauties of heathen things. History, however, provides moments of mystery when it is heathens that defend Christian things. The overawing of Mehmed II by Vlad III is one of those moments. Though Vlad Dracul is—and for good reason—the historical basis for the blood-drinking Dracula, he is still the prince who waged war against the Ottoman Blood Drinker. The story surrounding the 1462 Night Raid is both terrible and triumphant, featuring an unholy hero for the Faith who bore the Standard of Christ without really intending to. There are realities here that are worth wrestling with: God can inspire the ungodly to save His Church; many who fight for the Faith are not among the faithful.

It can be argued that the attitude of bold and brutal attack against the infidel that the bloodthirsty Vlad Dracul exhibited was embraced and ennobled a century later by Don John at the Battle of Lepanto, and a century after that by Jan Sobieski at the Siege of Vienna. Each of these victories was pivotal in keeping the Cross over Rome instead of the Crescent—and even savages like Vlad the Impaler should be given credit where credit is due.

Just as sending a thief to catch a thief is sometimes advisable, so too, perhaps, is sending a devil to conquer a devil.

Sean Fitzpatrick

By

Sean Fitzpatrick is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College and the Headmaster of Gregory the Great Academy. He lives in Scranton, PA with his wife and family of four.

  • publiusnj

    Don Juan and Jan Sobieski are great heroes of the Faith. Vlad wasn’t, although his resistance for his own reasons helped keep the Infidel at bay for awhile.

  • poetcomic1

    It seems to me you refuse to draw some obvious (modern) conclusions.

    • MarkRutledge

      Obvious or simplistic?

      • poetcomic1

        Simplistic, like Freddy Kreuger in a slasher movie. Shoot to kill.

        • STF

          It is not that simple. The proper paradigm is not Kreuger, but rather the Crusader.

          I realize that we’re talking about Count Dracula here, but the mode of mindless murder – the mode of the slasher – is a Moslem extremist strategy. The Christian extremist strategy must be more calculated.

          Western civilization must fight against the new barbarism, but also bear in mind that conversion is a more thorough conquest than killing.

    • STF

      There were times when people actually defended themselves against those who would destroy them. As Chesterton said in his poem ‘Lepanto,’ “dead is all the innocence of anger and surprise.” No one can live the Faith if they are not willing to die for it. In today’s ever-growing conflict, it is painfully clear which side is willing to die for their religion—and it is the wrong side.

      If modern inferences are missing in the article, it is not due to refusal to draw similarities. It is due to hesitation in knowing where to begin drawing them. Please share your observations.

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  • Jambe d’Argent

    Here’s an interesting question: is Vlad Tepes going to be saved for his good deeds despite his very bad ones? Simon of Cyrene helped Christ Himself and he has not even been declared a saint by any Christian church known to me. Does God choose His tools and then discards them without proper reward?

    • roxwyfe

      But how do we know He does not give His tools proper rewards? Just because men aren’t glorified on Earth does not mean they do not receive their due in the afterlife.

      • Jambe d’Argent

        Yes indeed, how do we know? Yes, the Christian certainties…

        • Bono95

          The Canonized Saints and the Servants of Gods, Venerables, and Blesseds (people on their way to canonization), as many as they are, make up only a tiny fraction of all the men and women in Heaven. Those not canonized are my no means less holy or worthy of admiration than those who are, it’s just that either not enough of the required evidence for canonization (including death in a state of grace and 2 attributable posthumous miracles) survived or that they were eventually forgotten by those here on earth. But God has not forgotten them, and neither has anyone else in Heaven. A title of sainthood is not necessary to be in Heaven and to enjoy eternal happiness (it is a lifestyle of sainthood that is necessary). And there is no envy in Heaven, so canonized people don’t brag about their titles and non-canonized people harbor no resentment.

    • Michael Paterson-Seymour

      St Augustine says that God is the creator of good wills and the most just exploiter of evil ones (De Civ Dei XI 17)

      Thus in Jeremiah, God twice calls Nebuchadnezzar his servant ( Jer 27:6 & 43:10), for He exploited the king’s wickedness to serve His own purposes.

      As St Augustine also says, “”We know that Divine grace is not given to all men, and that to those to whom it is given, it is not given either according to the merit of works, or according to the merit of the will, but by free grace: in regard to those to whom it is not given, we know that the not giving of it is a just judgement from God,” (August. ad Bonifac. Ep. 106.) – He is speaking, of course, of efficacious grace.

      • Jambe d’Argent

        Ah, that really answers my questions…

  • James Broberg

    I often tease a friend of mine that Romanian Catholicism (Yay for Eastern Catholics!) was saved by vampires. :)

  • Tom Riley

    Vlad was a convert to Catholicism from Orthodoxy — though probably an insincere one. His conversion was a condition for escaping captivity in Hungary.

    Vlad was no choirboy. The papal legate to the Hungarian court related in a letter that he was terrified just to be in the same room with Vlad. But tales of his extreme cruelty have to be taken with more than a grain of salt. They are all related by his enemies. When I was in Romania in 1996, he was still regarded as a national hero.

    It was a hard age, boys and girls. Vlad learned the art of impalement from the Turks themselves — who inherited it ultimately from the Persians. To assume that a bloody-minded prince could not have been a sincere Christian is to lack historical perspective.

    In Romanian the name is “Draculea,” which means “Son of the Dragon.” His father was “Dracul” — “the Dragon.”

    • mrteachersir

      I wonder if Vlad’s temperament was the result of his constant struggle against enemies to his rule and threats to his people. It was a hard age, particularly for those in Eastern Europe. Wallachia was, IIRC, nearly always under threat from either the Turks and their janissaries, or the Catholic Hungarians, or the Orthodox Russians. Further, again relying on memory, didn’t the Turks require jizyah in the form of young boys?
      The Russian prince St. Vladimir, who forced conversion onto the tribes of Russia, is very similar in his penchant for blood (I think he had his other wives killed before or after his conversion and marriage to a Christian), and yet seems to have been sincere in his conversion.

      • STF

        The tribute often was paid in young boys. Vlad II, the father of Vlad III, actually sent his sons Vlad and Radu as hostages to the Ottoman Court when they were young. They were educated there in the arts of warfare, and it is there that Vlad probably picked up his taste and proficiency in impalement.

        Vlad III returned to Wallachia to become the Impaler after his father died, while his younger, more sensitive brother remained in the service of the Sultan, earning his own epithet – Radu the Handsome. According to both history and legend, the maneuvers Radu practiced upon the Turks – though done in the name of affection – were no less disgusting and unnatural than his brother’s.

  • Seraphim

    What was omitted in this account was Vlad’s role in restoring communion between the Orthodox Church in Romania with the See of Rome, and under what circumstances – it was Vlad who accepted and implemented the Union of Ferrara-Florence. The founder of about fifty monasteries in Moldavia, he could be remembered by history as a hero of Christian unity and a champion against schism.
    Unfortunately, his bad habit of skewering his enemies has impeded his canonization.

    • FrJim

      Ah yes. The Church usually frowns on the act of impaling another. Although, if we could figure a way to do something similar but not sinful to those whose cell phones go off in church…. Now that might have some merit.

    • Tom Riley

      Could you give me some references for these facts, Seraphim? I want to study further on this point. I do read Romanian….

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