Name: Vlad III 'Tepes' (The Impaler) DRACULA
Given Name: Vlad III 'Tepes' (The Impaler)
Suffix: Prince of Wallachia (1431-1476)
Title: Prince of Wallachia (1431-1476)
Vlad Tepes Dracula, the historical figure who inspired Bram Stoker forhis novel, is definitely less known. The centennial of the gothicmasterpiece provides us with a good pretext to dive back into the lifeof this machiavellian fifteenth century leader - an initiative thatwill enable us to better appreciate the work of Stoker. Vlad Tepes wasborn in November or December 1431, in the fortress of Sighisoara,Romania. His father, Vlad Dracul, at that time appointed militarygovernor of Transylvania by the emperor Sigismund, had been inductedinto the Order of the Dragon about one year before. The order - whichcould be compared to the Knights of the Hospital of St. John or evento the Teutonic Order of Knights - was a semimilitary and religioussociety, originally created in 1387 by the Holy Roman Emperor and hissecond wife, Barbara Cilli. The main goals of such a secret fraternalorder of knights was mainly to protect the interests of Catholicism,and to crusade against the Turks. There are different reasons why thissociety is so important to us. First, it provides an explanation forthe name "Dracula;" "Dracul," in Romanian language, means "Dragon",and the boyars of Romania, who knew of Vlad Tepes' father inductioninto the Order of the Dragon, decided to call him "Dracul." "Dracula,"a diminutive which means "the son of Dracul," was a surname to be usedultimately by Vlad Tepes. A second major role of this Order as asource of inspiration for Stoker's evil character is the Order'sofficial dress - a black cape over a red garment - to be worn only onFridays or during the commemoration of Christ's Passion.
In the winter of 1436-1437, Dracul became prince of Wallachia (one ofthe three Romanian provinces) and took up residence at the palace ofTirgoviste, the princely capital. Vlad Tepes followed his father andlived six years at the princely court. In 1442, for political reasons,Dracula and his younger brother Radu were taken hostage by the SultanMurad II; Dracula was held in Turkey until 1448, while his brotherRadu decided to stay there until 1462. This Turkish captivity surelyplayed an important role in Dracula's upbringing; it must be at thisperiod that he adopted a very pessimistic view of life. Indeed, theTurks set him free after informing him of his father's assassinationin 1447 - organized by Vladislav II. He also learned about his olderbrother's death - Mircea was the eldest legitimate son of Dracul - andhow he had been tortured and buried alive by the boyars of Tirgoviste.
At 17 years old, Vlad Tepes Dracula, supported by a force of Turkishcavalry and a contingent of troops lent to him by pasha MustafaHassan, made his first major move toward seizing the Wallachianthrone. But another claimant, no other than Vladislav II himself,defeated him only two months later. In order to secure his second andmajor reign over Wallachia, Dracula had to wait until July of 1456,when he had the satisfaction of killing his mortal enemy and hisfather's assassin. Vlad then began his longest reign - 6 years -during which he committed many cruelties, and hence established hiscontroversed reputation.
His first major act of revenge was aimed at the boyars of Tirgovistefor the killing of his father and his brother Mircea. On Easter Sundayof what we believe to be 1459, he arrested all the boyar families whohad participated to the princely feast. He impaled the older ones onstakes while forcing the others to march from the capital to the townof Poenari. This fifty-mile trek was quite grueling, and those whosurvived were not permitted to rest until they reached
destination. Dracula then ordered them to build him a fortress on theruins of an older outpost overlooking the Arges river. Many died inthe process, and Dracula therefore succeeded in creating a newnobility and obtaining a fortress for future emergencies. What is lefttoday of the building is identified as Castle Dracula.
Vlad became quite known for his brutal punishment techniques; he oftenordered people to be skinned, boiled, decapitated, blinded, strangled,hanged, burned, roasted, hacked, nailed, buried alive, stabbed, etc.He also liked to cut off noses, ears, sexual organs and limbs. But hisfavorite method was impalement on stakes, hence the surname "Tepes"which means "The Impaler" in the Romanian language. Even the Turksreferred to him as "Kaziglu Bey," meaning "The Impaler Prince." It isthis technique he used in 1457, 1459 and 1460 against Transylvanianmerchants who had ignored his trade laws. The raids he led against
the German Saxons of Transylvania were also acts of proto-nationalismin order to protect and favour the Wallachian commerce activities.
There are many anecdotes about the philosophy of Vlad Tepes Dracula.He was for
instance particularly known throughout his land for his fierceinsistence on honesty and order. Almost any crime, from lying andstealing to killing, could be punished by impalement. Being soconfident in the effectiveness of his law, Dracula placed a golden cupon display in the central square of Tirgoviste. The cup could be usedby thirsty travelers, but had to remain on the square. According tothe available historic sources, it was never stolen and remainedentirely unmolested throughout Vlad's reign. Dracula was also veryconcerned
that all his subjects work and be productive to the community. Helooked upon the poor, vagrants and beggars as thieves. Consequently,he invited all the poor and sick of Wallachia to his princely court inTirgoviste for a great feast. After the guests ate and drank, Draculaordered the hall boarded up and set on fire. No one survived.
In the beginning of 1462, Vlad launched a campaign against the Turksalong the Danube river. It was quite risky, the military force ofSultan Mehmed II being by far more powerful than the Wallachian army.However, during the winter of 1462, Vlad was very successful andmanaged to gain many victories. To punish Dracula, the Sultan decidedto launch a full-
scale invasion of Wallachia. Of course, his other goal was totransform this land into a Turkish province and he entered Wallachiawith an army three times larger than Dracula's. Finding himselfwithout allies, Vlad, forced to retreat towards Tirgoviste, burned hisown villages and poisoned the wells along the way, so that the Turkisharmy would find nothing to eat or drink. Moreover, when the Sultan,exhausted, finally reached the capital city, he was confronted by amost gruesome sight: thousands of stakes held the remaining carcassesof some 20,000 Turkish captives, a horror scene which was ultimatelynicknamed the "Forest of the Impaled." This terror tactic deliberatelystage-managed by Dracula was definitely successful; the scene had astrong effect on Mehmed's most stout-hearted officers, and the Sultan,tired and hungry, admitted defeat (it is worth mentioning that evenVictor Hugo, in his Legende des Siecles, recalls this particularincident). Nevertheless, following his retreat from Wallachianterritory, Mehmed left the next phase of the battle to Vlad's youngerbrother
Radu, the Turkish favorite for the Wallachian throne. At the head of aTurkish army and joined by Vlad's detractors, Radu pursued his brotherto Poenari castle on the Arges river.
According to the legend, this is when Dracula's wife, in order toescape Turkish capture, committed suicide by hurling herself from theupper battlements, her body falling down the precipice into the riverbelow - a scene exploited by Francis Ford Coppola's production. Vlad,who was definitely not the kind of man to kill himself, managed toescape the siege of his fortress by using a secret passage into themountain. Helped by some peasants of the Arefu village, he was able toreach Transylvania where he met the new king of Hungary, Matthias
Corvinus. However, instead of providing some help, Matthias arrestedDracula and imprisoned him at the Hungarian capital of Visegrad. Itwas not until 1475 that Vlad was again recognized as the prince ofWallachia, enjoying a very short third reign. In fact, he wasassassinated toward the end of December 1476.
We do not know exactly why Bram Stoker chose this fifteenth centuryRomanian prince as a model for his fictional character. Some scholarshave proposed that Stoker had a friendly relationship with a Hungarianprofessor from the University of Budapest, Arminius Vambery (HermannVamberger) , and it is likely that this man gave Stoker someinformation about Vlad Tepes Dracula. Moreover, the fact that Dr.Abraham Van Helsing mentions his "friend Arminius" in the 1897 novelas the source of his knowledge on Vlad seems to support thishypothesis. It should also be kept in mind that the only real linkbetween the historical
Dracula (1431-1476) and the modern literary myth of the vampire is infact the 1897 novel; Stoker made use of folkloric sources, historicreferences and some of his own life experiences to create hiscomposite creature. On the other hand, it is worth mentioning thatVlad Dracula's political detractors - mainly German Saxons - made useof the other meaning of the Romanian word "Dracul" - "Devil" - inorder to blacken the prince's reputation. Could the association of thewords "Dragon" and "Devil" in Romanian language explain an earlierlink between Vlad Tepes and vampirism?
Father: Vlad II 'Dracul'
- Mihnea 'The Bad' b: (143?)
NN... b: in Hungary