THE HOUSE OF BASARAB
This royal house began in the terrible years of the Mongolian invasion of Europe. Up until this time, the region we know of today as Romania was divided between three states, Wallachia, Transylvania, and Moldavia. The three states were possessions of the Kingdom of Hungary though they were often occupied by Mongols and (later) Ottomans. In 1330, King Charles I of Hungary invaded Wallachia to reassert his authority over the region from the land-hoarding magnate Basarab, a man of probable Turkish descent. At the Battle of Posada, the Hungarians lost badly against Basarab and he declared Wallachia an independent principality. Basarab established a tradition of marrying children in with the Bulgarian royal family. His son, Nicholas Alexander, failed to defeat the Hungarians in 1354 and agreed to pay tribute to Hungary annually in exchange for Wallachia's independence. Through the next few reigns, Wallachia became increasingly a vassal of both Hungary and Bulgaria, even if nominally independent.
|Romania under Mircea I, c. 1390.|
CIVIL WAR IN WALLACHIA
|Vlad II Dracul, voivode of Wallachia|
The civil war became more serious in the 1470s as Vlad II's son Radu converted to Islam. While Vlad III was tortured by Ottoman prison guards, Radu found favor with the future sultan Mehmet II. Over the period 1462 to 1473, Radu sat on the Wallachian throne on four separate occasions, placed there by the Ottoman Empire. At first he had replaced Vlad III, but he was deposed three times by Basarab III, who was elected by the boyars (electoral council). When Radu died, Basarab briefly retook the throne before being overthrown by Vlad III.
Such intrigues continued for another fifty years. Vlad IV was replaced by Radu IV who was replaced by Mihnea. Few of these monarchs died on the throne. Most were deposed and lived a short life before being killed.
THE END OF WALLACHIAN INDEPENDENCE
Saint Neagoe Basarab was the first of the Craiovesti dynasty and he sought to increase the wealth and culture of Wallachia like Mircea the Great. He patronized Orthodox churches and brought in traders from Venice and the Papal States. But his reign was too short to see lasting change. During the reign of Radu, the Ottoman Empire occupied Hungary and surrounded Romania. His eventual successor, Moise, was a tradeoff between the Ottoman appointee, Basarab V, and the boyars. Moise kept a close relationship with Sultan Suleiman the Magnificant as well as the Habsburg Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand I.
The Drasculesti family resumed importance in sixteenth century, but they were nominal rulers, rogues, or rebels. The Ottoman Empire was in firm control of the Wallachian government, and most of the rogue and rebel princes fought from the hills for their country. The west still recognized most of them and often aided them in their fight against the Ottomans. One of the chief problems of the princes was their desire to appease both sides. They did not want to be deposed by the Ottomans, so often did rash things such as with Mihnea II who converted to Islam. But at the same time, they wanted the support of the west and were often forced to flee into the Carpathian Mountains, leaving their country to a random relative installed by the Ottoman Sultan. This back-and-forth process became standard from around 1415, when the Ottomans first began occupying parts of Wallachia, to 1715 when the Ottoman Empire formally annexed it.
|Michael the Brave's brief Romanian Empire of 1600|
Things continued to go downhill for Wallachia after Michael. The Long War ended in 1606 and Wallachia resumed it decline. In 1632, the last of the House of Draculesti died. For the past thirty years, various dynasties had briefly ruled the principality including Báthorys of Poland and Movilestis (a noble family). After the fall of the Drasculestis, Brânovenstis, Ghicas and Cantacuzenes ruled Wallachia, in addition to the Movilestis. Most were Ottoman sympathizers and some converts to Islam. In 1715, Stefan Cantacuzino briefly rebelled against the Ottoman Empire and made an alliance with Austria. He was quickly deposed and arrested, then executed in Istanbul. After this, the position of Voivode (Prince) of Wallachia (and Moldavia) was placed mostly in the hands of the loyal Ottoman Mavrocordato family, of Greek origin, until 1834 when the first vestiges of a Romanian state began to form.
THE LEGACY OF VLAD III
|The Ambras Castle portrait of Vlad III, c. 1560,|
supposedly based on a lost original
So what's so important about this guy? Not a ton, actually. He only reigned collectively for eight-ish years over three periods. His ruthlessness scared away many of his supporters. But his aggression is also his fame, for he was such a thorn in the side of the Ottomans that his fame spread like wildfire. In childhood, he was sent as a hostage to the Ottoman Empire and was regularly beaten for his stubbornness and back talking. He distrusted his father and the Hungarians for making treaties with the Ottomans even after declaring total war on them. He allied with the Hungarian regent, John Hunyadi, in 1447 and became an advisor to him. When Hunyadi invaded Serbia to fight against the Ottomans, Vlad led his own army into Wallachia, killed Pinrce Vladislav II in hand-to-hand combat, and successfully claimed the throne for the longest of his three reigns. (He had briefly held the throne in 1448 but was quickly ousted.)
|By the end of the fifteenth century, Vlad's fame for|
impaling victims had spread to Germany
Vlad was imprisoned in Hungary on trumped up charges and held there for over a decade. He finally was released and reclaimed the throne for a final time in 1476, but he was assassinated two months later by Ottoman sympathizers. His fame spread over the centuries and was reinvigorated by Bram Stoker's Dracula novel which mixed Vlad's history with that of vampires. Interestingly, "Count" Dracula was never a correct title for the historical figure. Counts were directly responsible to another monarch, while "Princes" (or Voivodes) were sovereign, at times, as in the case of Vlad III.
As can be read above, the history of Wallachia is vast and extremely complex. Their dynastic history alone could fill many textbooks. Vlad the Impaler himself is a noted member of Queen Elizabeth II's ancestry through her mother, Mary of Teck. Prince Charles recently used that ancestry as a justification for donating to a fund to save Transylvanian forests. And although Vlad III, or most Wallachian monarchs for that matter, never ruled Transylvania, their histories, as well as that of Moldavia (modern-day Moldova), are all linked to the eventual fate of the modern state of Romania. Today, Wallachia comprises nearly half the modern Romanian state. Yet for many years, Wallachia was the very fringe of the Ottoman frontier, the place where battles were fought between Christians and Muslims in Europe and where the status quo was drawn on maps. The region, so ignored today, was once the place where the fate of Europe was decided on an annual basis.