Prisoner of the Turks
As mentioned in the account of Vlad Dracul’s life, his lack of faith in his Hungarian allies led to him changing allegiance and paying tribute to Sultan Murad II (1404-51). Dracul accompanied Murad II’s invading army into Transylvania, where they slaughtered locals, looted treasure, and generally burned anything that took their fancy. However, when John Hunyadi began to gain ascendancy in the battle against the Ottomans, Dracul was stuck between a rock and a hard place, and attempted to appear neutral. Murad grew suspicious of his former partner in crime, and wanted to ascertain the strength of his loyalty.
Murad invited Dracul to stay with him at Gallipolli, but as soon as the voivode reached the city gates he was tied up and his two youngest sons, Tepes and Radu the Handsome, led away as prisoners. Like Dracul before them, Tepes, aged around 14, and Radu, aged 7 and ‘no taller than a bouquet of flowers’, were to serve as a surety of their father’s loyalty. For the next 6 years, Tepes was a prisoner of the Ottomans in a strange world in which he spoke not a word of his jailors’ language; Dracul was released after a year.
Contemporary Turkish chronicles document the boys’ incarceration in Anatolia and Adrianople. One comfort for the children would have been the resemblance of the mountains and forests surrounding their first prison at Egrigoz to the sub-Carpathian landscape of Wallachia. Their imprisonment was not severe, however, as the Sultan hoped to encourage their goodwill towards him in preparation for their eventual release and potential term as voivodes. They travelled with the court to Bursa and the summer palace at Manisa, but the threat of execution loomed large, and the boys knew that if their father betrayed the Sultan they would surely die.
Indeed, other boys were held hostage under similar arrangements, and one set who were caught conspiring by letter with their father against the Sultan were blinded with red-hot irons as punishment. Tepes proved a difficult student, too, and the chronicles tell us that he was frequently whipped. By contrast, Radu excelled and was a popular member of the court, which led to a lifelong mutual hatred of one another. These circumstances all led to Tepes’s hatred of the Turks, and when he became voivode of Wallachia this former intimate of the Ottoman court was to prove a disproportionately immovable adversary.