The Prince of Darkness at Peace
It was during his reign as Voivode of Wallachia that he showed a level of cruelty unmatched in medieval history.
The list of those who suffered his wrath was long and without prejudice: rich landowning boyars, Saxons, the Ottoman Turks, Hungarian nobles, peasants and the destitute were among the thousands he had put to death.
Looking back on the history of Vlad’s life can lead one to believe that he was forever at war, constantly hunting down enemies.To be sure there was plenty of that.
Fortunately for his opponents there was also a prolonged period in Vlad’s life where he did not engage in warfare or for that matter much of anything else. This period which is lesser known and even less discussed took place during his confinement along the Danube in Hungary.
He spent a decade imprisoned in Visegrád beginning in 1462. During this time he was the political prisoner of King Matyás Corvinus. For these ten years his life was sedentary. The popular image of a bloodthirsty avenger is the exact opposite of the years spent at Visegrád in relative solitude.
Why was he there? How did he spend these years? The reconstructed parts of the palace at Visegrád are the place to contemplate these questions.
Vlad Tepes ended up at Visegrád because of betrayl. In 1462 he traveled to Hungary seeking money from King Matyás to continue his campaigns against the Ottoman Turks. At this point, constant warfare had nearly bankrupted Vlad who was no longer able to pay his mercenary forces.
King Matyás saw Vlad as a useful political tool. Matyás had already spent money given to him by the Papacy to carry out expeditions against the Turks.
He was more interested in cultivating the Renaissance in his homeland, than fighting the Turks. He took Vlad prisoner and had a letter drawn up showing that Vlad had actually proposed peace with the Turks.
Thus Matyás had made it look as though Vlad had committed treason. This letter soon made its way to the pope. The upshot was that King Matyas now had Vlad in his possession for the foreseeable future.
What was Vlad Tepes up to for all these years? Was he plotting revenge? Planning an escape? Wondering if he would ever regain power?
Did he spend his time walking in the courtyard, peering at the magnificent hanging gardens, visiting with other guests who were housed like himself, in one of the palace’s 350 rooms?
Did he examine the ongoing work at the palace and realize that the money which could have funded his campaigns against the Turks was instead being used to adorn the palace with Renaissance style elements.
What information we do have about Vlad’s time at the palace seems to confirm that he had not changed. He was still was able to satisfy his lust for torture.
According to a Russian Ambassador, Vlad occupied himself capturing birds, then cutting off their heads or plucking them free of their feathers. An Italian bishop reported that Vlad cut up mice and then impaled their body parts on small sticks.
He was also used as a tool against the Turks. When the Sultan’s diplomats showed up at King Matyás court to talk over terms of armistice that had went into effect, they could not help, but notice that Matyás had Vlad present as he received the emissaries.
This would have sent shivers through the entire Ottoman Empire, all the way back to Sultan Mehmed. After all, in 1462 Mehmed had ordered his army to retreat when he came upon a macabre forest of 20,000 impaled, rotting corpses left behind by Vlad and his mercenary forces at Targoviste.
Eventually King Matyás would move Vlad to Pest before freeing him from twelve years of captivity. Vlad was sent back to Wallachia to deal with the ascendance of forces allied with the Turks.
Most likely the years at Visegrád extended Vlad’s life. Consider that he was assassinated a mere two years after he had regained his position as Voivode. He was forty five when he died. That means he lived over one-fifth of his life imprisoned at the Royal Palace in Visegrád.
It was the only time in his life when this Prince of Darkness was relatively at peace. That was…until his death.
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