Few recall that Radu the Handsome was able to defeat his notorious brother Vlad in 1462 with the help of Sultan Mehmed II, who may have also been Radu's lover.
The story of Vlad the Impaler — the cruel ruler sometimes referred to as the “real” Dracula — is well known. But history has almost forgotten about his brother, Radu III of Wallachia or Radu the Handsome.
The two brothers were sent to live in the Ottoman Empire as a hostages when they were boys. They learned about statecraft, religion, and warfare, but otherwise took diverging paths. While Vlad set out to rule over Wallachia, Radu became close with Mehmed II, the sultan of the Ottoman Empire.
The two men may have been lovers. And, by his side, Radu the Handsome participated in military campaigns that led to the fall of Constantinople and the defeat of his infamous brother in Wallachia.
This is the story of Radu the Handsome, the forgotten brother of Vlad the Impaler.
Early Life Of Radu The Handsome
Radu the Handsome was born Radu III of Wallachia in 1438. His father, Vlad II Dracul ruled the kingdom of Wallachia, a territory that is part of Romania today. But when Radu was around four years old, his life changed dramatically. In 1442, his father brought him and his brother to a meeting with Sultan Murad II. They were betrayed and captured, and Vlad II could only escape after agreeing to leave his young sons as hostages.
For Radu and Vlad III, life took on a new form. Held hostage in order to ensure their father’s loyalty, they were nevertheless free to study logic, the Quran, and multiple languages. However, NBC News reports that Vlad may have been tortured, and that he may have witnessed the impalement of the Ottomans’ enemies — a technique he’d later use against his own foes.
Six years after they were taken hostage, Vlad II was killed by local warlords, and Vlad III and Radu’s eldest brother was tortured, blinded, and buried alive. Soon afterward, Vlad II was released by the sultan and began to plot his revenge. However, young Radu did not accompany him.
While Vlad III fought reclaim his father’s throne, Radu converted to Islam and became a beloved member of the Ottoman court. There, Radu and Mehmed II, the sultan’s heir, began their alleged relationship.
Radu The Handsome’s Suspected Relationship With Mehmed The Conqueror
Extensive historical accounts exist about the life and reign of Mehmed II, one of the Ottoman Empire’s most influential figures. Many of these accounts testify to the young ruler’s insatiable sexual appetite.
According to The Histories, a book by Greek writer, historian, and member of Mehmed II’s court, Laonikos Chalkokondyles, Mehmed II would frequently select young boys to come to his bedchamber. Later, he would have them trained for positions of importance in his court.
It seems as though Radu the Handsome caught Mehmed’s eye while living as a hostage in the Ottoman Empire. According to Chalkokondyles, Mehmed II propositioned Radu III for sex not long after he became sultan.
“He was in love with the boy and invited him for conversation, and then as a sign of his respect he invited him for drinks to his bedchamber,” Chalkokondyles wrote.
While in Radu was in his room, Mehmed II allegedly attempted to have sex with him. Radu fought him off, taken aback at the advances. When Mehmed II forcibly kissed him, Radu grabbed a knife, stabbed the sultan in the leg, and ran off. Despite this auspicious start, however, the two men allegedly became lovers soon afterward.
Radu the Handsome’s relationship with the powerful sultan would have profound implications. In 1453, Mehmed II besieged Constantinople and eventually took the city with with Radu at his side.
Mehmed encouraged his own citizens to move to Constantinople in an effort to make it the burgeoning new capital of the Ottoman Empire, and installed Radu the Handsome in the newly built Topkapı Palace.
Radu lived alongside Mehmed II in the new Constantinople until another challenge, a more familial one, threatened the Ottomans.
Radu The Handsome’s Return To Wallachia And Death
After Vlad III left the Ottoman Empire to avenge his father’s death, he took the throne for himself. Mehmed II initially rejoiced at the news, as he expected Vlad III to retain close ties with the empire and pay tribute.
However, Vlad III was hungry to carve his own sphere of influence, and he soon betrayed Mehmed II by refusing to pay tribute. To add insult to injury, he also impaled two of Mehmed’s envoys and nailed their turbans into their heads, according to the book Vlad III Dracula: The Life and Times of the Historical Dracula.
Then, in 1462, Vlad III attacked Ottoman land, killing thousands of Turk and Muslim Bulgarians.
Mehmed II was furious when he heard the news. He raised an army of 150,000 men, and sailed with Radu the Handsome to Wallachia. Mehmed hoped to install his alleged lover as ruler in Vlad III’s place.
But Vlad the Impaler put up a fight. As Radu and Mehmed marched to war, they were horrified to find that Vlad had killed and impaled an entire town where many of Mehmed’s men were camping out.
“The sultan’s army entered into the area of the impalements, which was seventeen stades long and seven stades wide,” Chalkokondyles later wrote. “There were large stakes there, on which, as it was said, about 20,000 men, women, and children had been spitted… There were infants too, affixed to their mothers on the stakes, and birds had made their nests in their entrails.”
Vlad III made no secret of his violence, bragging to an ally that he had “killed peasants, men and women, old and young… [and] 23,884 Turks, without counting those whom we burned in homes or the Turks whose heads were cut by our soldiers.”
Despite this, Mehmed II’s victory over Vlad III was swift. Vlad fled to Transylvania, but the King of Hungary had him imprisoned for 12 years instead. He later died in battle in 1477.
Back in Wallachia, Radu the Handsome took the throne. But his rule was rocky. In 1471, he was deposed by Stephen III of Moldavia, his future son-in-law, starting a battle between the two that would see Radu deposed three more times. In 1473, Basarab Laiotă cel Bătrân took the throne, though Radu managed to wrestle it back twice.
In the end, Radu the Handsome died throneless between 1475 and 1477. He never saw Mehmed II ever again.
Today, Radu the Handsome is considered a great traitor in Romania because of how he marched against his brother alongside the Ottomans. Yet his legacy is also overshadowed by the two men closest to him. Mehmed II is known as the man who conquered Constantinople (called Istanbul today). And Vlad III is known as Vlad the Impaler and the “real life” Dracula.
Radu, known for his beauty and relationship with Mehmed, is more of a footnote to history. But he nevertheless played an important role as Mehmed’s lover and Vlad III’s brother.
After reading about Radu the Handsome, explore the blood-soaked history of his brother, Vlad the Impaler. Then, dive into the life and accomplishments of Mehmed the Conqueror, one of the Ottoman Empire’s most impactful rulers.