.
1431 - 1476?
Vlad Ţepeş (Vlad III) was born in the town of
Sighisoara, in Transylvania (now a
province in
northern Romania) in 1431 and later came to rule
the area of southern Romania known as
Walachia.  The word
Ţepeş [t s e - PEZH] in
Romanian means "impaler", and Vlad was so
nick named because of his penchant for
impalement as a means of punishing his enemies.  
Impalement was a particularly gruesome form of
execution, where the victim was impaled between
the legs
( to put it politely ) upon a large, sharpened
stake three to four inches thick.  Vlad enjoyed
mass executions, where several victims were
impaled at once and their stakes hoisted upright.  
As they hung suspended above the ground, the
weight of their bodies would slowly drag them
downwards, causing the sharpened end of the
stake to pierce their internal organs.  In order to
better enjoy these mass spectacles, Vlad routinely
ordered a banquet table set up in front of his
victims, and would enjoy a leisurely supper amid
the pitiful sights and sounds of the dying.
A t the same time as Vlad became notorious for his
sadism, his subjects also respected him because of the
fierce campaigns he waged against the Turks.  He was
respected as a warrior and stern ruler who tolerated no
crime against his people, and during his reign erected
several monasteries.  However, despite Vlad's political
ambition, the turbulent political atmosphere of the times
took its toll on his reign.  He was overthrown twice (he ruled
for a brief period in 1448, again from 1456-1462, and
again for a matter of weeks in the year of his death in
1476.)  Ultimately, he died violently (according to rumour,
at the hands of one of his men, who was actually a Turkish
spy).  He was buried on the island at
Snagov .
C ontrary to popular belief, Dracula's castle isn't in Transylvania.  He
actually had two castles and a palace, all in Walachia.  His primary
castle lies in ruins in Tirgoviste, in the Alges Valley of the
n orthern
province of
Walachia in modern Romania; the restored Castle Bran
(most often thought of as Dracula's Castle)
, very close to the
provicial border with Transylvania, was
used more a s a trading post
d
uring Vlad's l ife ; T he remains of his p alace in Bucharest (the city he
founded and named)
are all that's left of the third castle he owned .
(above) Reportedly, the
ransacked tomb of Vlad the
Impaler, under the monastery in
Snagov.
(r ight ) Dracul Family Tree (fictional?)
as given by
novelist Jeanne
Kalogridis. Click on the image for
full
-page viewing.
(below) Remains of Vlad's Palace in Bucharest
I n ad d ition to his title of  "Impaler", Vlad was also
c
alled Draculea or Dracula , which means "son of the
Dragon".  Originally, this title came about because
his father (also named Vlad) belonged to the
Order
of the Dragon
, a group of knights formed by Holy
Roman Emperor Sigismund for the purpose of
defeating the invading Turks.
Running t he Order and
f
ighting the Turks eventually fell entirely to Vlad the
Y ounger to perform. The elder Vlad used the dragon
symbol on his coins and crest, and went by the name
Dracul ("Dragon" or "devil").  Hence the diminuative
"-a" on his son's
nom de guerre , Dracula. As the
younger Vlad's talent for torture became known,
however, the name Dracula came to be interpreted
increasingly as the sinister "son of the devil".
N.B. - The above information is culled
from several sources and doesn't
represent original research on my part.