Standing with Vlad the Impaler

Vlad the Impaler
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A video went viral this month of a tough New York mother taking a stand against her local school board in fiery protest over the woke, anti-police, LGBTQIA+ agenda she perceived being foisted on children by teachers in the classroom. While some criticism may be leveled against such heated displays, it nevertheless serves as a wake-up call to what all Catholics and conservatives must prepare to do with purpose and poise: namely, to take an immovable, indignant stand against a destructive cultural tyranny and speak with force against the invasion of ideas and systems that are enemies to truth, goodness, and Western Civilization. 

As we all know, there is a veritable war raging right now in our streets, schools, churches, town halls, and workplaces that must be acknowledged and fought with valor and vigor if it is to be won in any way. And there may be times—these may be the times—when a brute force of staunch and even righteously angry resistance is precisely what is called for. June 17 marks a date in history when a man fought like a savage for the sake of civilization, and it is a story that is well remembered in our day of battle when a man legend paints as a kind of devil fought for God.

On June 17, 1462, the world was given a rare instance of how the good can be accomplished though the gritty. Vlad Dracul III, Prince of Wallachia, present-day Romania, can hardly be considered a warrior of faith; but he was certainly a warrior for the Faith when he overawed the invading Ottoman Sultan, Mehmed II, in his famous Night Raid.

When Constantinople fell in 1453, the 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 a conquest of Eastern Europe but was routed 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. For an annual jizya, the tax for non-Muslims, they left Wallachia alone—though both Hungary and the Turks vied to make Wallachia their vassal.

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

Also at that time, a savvy prince of the Church named Pius II 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 Muslim threat that loomed out of the East.

Seeing an opportunity to maintain independence from Mehmed, Prince Vlad allied himself with the Hungarians in 1461, and later that year, when envoys from Mehmed arrived at Vlad’s capital of Târgoviște to collect the annual tribute, Vlad refused to pay—suggesting instead that the emissaries remove their turbans in his presence. 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 marched his army across the frozen Danube and 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 put an end to the Wallachian resistance. The resister marched out to meet them, and not eight thousand Turks survived.

By March 1462, Vlad III, of all the princes of Europe, 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 as it had been at Belgrade, and Catholics rejoiced with Pius II at these campaigns that continued to drive Mehmed’s forces further from Rome.

It 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 Târgoviște, while Vlad’s army lurked beyond their reach, employing 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 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 a 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 he waited till nightfall.

The Ottoman camp lay in silence. Suddenly, a trumpet brayed. The rumble of rushing feet and roaring voices swelled over the tents as Vlad III led a surprise attack in the dead of night, blades gleaming in the torchlight. Like flaming ghosts, Wallachians rushed out of the night and into the Turkish camp, striking terror in an army of terrorists. Leading the charge was that 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. 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 fallen.

This famous skirmish of June 17, 1462 allegedly left Mehmed II terrified. With his forces in tatters and demoralized, he abandoned the chase of Vlad Dracul, allowing the Wallachians to return to Târgoviște. Soon afterward, however, Mehmed repented pulling away and marched on the capital after Vlad. Another shock 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.

When the Sultan beheld this masterpiece of horror, he knew that here was a match for Turkish terrors—a man who knew his enemies well enough to give them a taste of their own brutality. Though Mehmed shrank from the sight, something like admiration smoldered in his eye. He wheeled his army southward and retreated. 

It is common and commendable that Christians defend the truths and beauties of heathen things, as Chesterton observed in The Ballad of the White Horse. 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 was still a prince who waged war against the Ottoman Blood Drinker as a threat to his kingdom with decisive determination. 

It can be argued that the attitude of bold and brutal attack 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, instead of the Crescent, over Rome—and even savages like Vlad the Impaler should be given credit where credit is due. And so should his attitude be ennobled to this day.

The story surrounding the June 17 Night Raid is both terrible and triumphant, featuring a strange and striking hero for the Faith who bore the Standard of Christ without really intending to—but giving a strange and striking example to those who would fight while holding that holy Standard on high. The time for bold and uncompromising resistance is upon us. Needless to say, impaling or blood-drinking of any kind is unthinkable, but Catholics should give no philosophical or societal quarter in the attack against reality and religion. Vlad Dracul is not the best role model as a man, but as a warrior, he sparks the spirit of what it means to take a terrible stand when such a stand is called for.

[Photo Credit: Public Domain]

By

Sean Fitzpatrick is a senior contributor to Crisis and serves on the faculty of Gregory the Great Academy, a Catholic boarding school for boys in Pennsylvania.

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