In 1462 Vlad moved against the Turks. He'd already refused to honor a prior agreement to pay tribute of money and young Wallachian boys for the sultan's army; now he launched full-scale attacks along the Danube river. Resistance was risky but, for Christian interests, imperative; the Turks had conquered Constantinople nine years earlier, and Bulgaria was now in Turkish hands. Only Translyvania stood between the forces of Islam and the rest of Christian Europe. How seriously Vlad Dracula took his role as a defender of Christianity is up for debate, but his hatred of the Turks is unquestioned.
Vlad's forces were greatly outnumbered, yet through guerilla tactics he managed to achieve several victories. Then Sultan Mehmed II decided to punish him for his rebellion, and invaded Wallachia. Drawing the Turks deep into Wallachian territory, Vlad poisoned wells and burned villages to leave nothing for the invaders. When the Sultan, exhausted, finally reached the capital city, he was met with the notoriously gruesome sight of what came to be known as the "Forest of the Impaled": 20,000 Turkish captives -- men, women, even children -- impaled on stakes over a field more than 2 miles long.
The sight so horrified the Sultan and his officers that he withdrew, unable, it was said, to conquer someone capable of such atrocities. But the war wasn't over. Mehmed put his support behind his good friend, Vlad's brother Radu, who led a Turkish army further into Wallachia with the help of Vlad's Romanian rivals, and pursued his brother to his castle at Poenari. (This is where, according to legend, Vlad's first wife threw herself from the castle into the river rather than be captured by the Turks, but there is no documentary evidence to support this.)
Oral history has it that Vlad escaped with the help of local villagers. He then sought out the protection of the new king of Hungary, Matthias Corvinus. But Corvinus did not help Vlad Dracula. Instead, he took him captive and threw his support behind Radu, using as evidence some letters that Vlad had supposedly written that indicated he was plotting to support the Turks. Most historians agree that the letters were forgeries, as Vlad's previous actions conflicted so violently with such an agenda.
At first, Vlad Dracula was imprisoned at the Hungarian capital of Visegrad. After his brother had consolidated his reign and he no longer seemed a threat, Vlad was allowed to move about freely. He became a frequent presence at the Hungarian court, eventually marrying the cousin of Mathias, Countess Ilona Szilagy, who gave him two sons. In the meantime, Radu was proving a disappointment to his western supporters; he had promised he'd disassociate himself from the Turks, but he was clearly little more than a puppet of the sultan.
After Radu's death, Corvinus officially pardoned Vlad Dracula and supported him in a move to take the throne from Radu's successor, Basarab the Old, who had been appointed by the sultan. With the assistance of a force of Moldavians sent by his cousin Prince Stephen and Transylvanians under the command of Prince Stephen Bathory, Vlad Dracula and his small contingent of loyal Wallachians drove Basarab out of the country, and he retook the throne in November of 1476.
But this reign was also short. When his allies left and took their armies with them, the Turks attacked once more. Vlad Dracula was killed in battle near Bucharest in December. What happened to his body remains a mystery.