"Apa trece, pietrele ramin."
"The water flows, the rocks remain."
-- Old Romanian Proverb
Bram Stoker's Dracula, published in 1897, continues to send shivers down the spine of anyone who reads it. It is dark Gothic at its best, a brilliant, imaginative and can't-put-down work of art. The atmosphere it creates is, in this writer's opinion, spookier than any Stephen King novel.
But...many people who have read the book are not aware that the character Dracula the vampire is based on was a highborn member of a Romanian court, prominent in European history – and much more terrifying than his fictional descendant. While not the black-cloaked, centuries-old, fanged bloodsucker of literary fame, the infamy of the historical figure outperforms that of Stoker's creation.
Prince Vlad, or as he was called even in his own time, Dracula (which means "Son of the Dragon") tops the list of Romania's many, many Christian crusaders who, in the transition years between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, fought to keep the Muslim-faithed Ottoman Turks out of their country.
Odd that a name known for stirring nightmares actually belonged to a crusader of a religious cause!
Still, Dracula was not a saint. He ruled his military kingdom of Wallachia – southern Romania – with a heavy and blood-soaked fist. To not only the Turks but also to many of his own countrymen he was Vlad The Impaler, Vlad Die Tepes (pronounced Tee-pish). Determined not to be overtaken by the intrigue of an intriguing political underhandedness, in a world in which princes fell daily to smiling, hypocritical "allies," paranoia among the aristocracy was, and probably needed to be, utmost in a sovereign's disposition. Dracula built a defense around him that dared not open kindness nor trust to anyone. During his tenure, he killed by the droves, impaling on a forest of spikes around his castle thousands of subjects who he saw as either traitors, would-be traitors or enemies to the security of Romania and the Roman Catholic Church. Sometimes, he slew merely to show other possible insurgents and criminals just what their fate would be if they became troublesome.
A pamphlet published in Nuremburg, Germany, immediately following his death in 1476, tells of his burning beggars after allowing them free food at his court. "He felt they were eating the people's food for nothing, and could not repay it," the broadside explains. And there are countless of other tales of Dracula's wickedness written down ages ago, many of which will be related in this article.
But, Vlad Dracula was more than just a medieval despot. Biographers Radu R. Florescu and Raymond T. McNally call him "a man of many faces". He was a politician; a voivode (warrior); an erudite and well-learned gentleman when the occasion-to-be fit; and, as has been indicated, he was a mass murderer. He spoke several languages – Romanian, Turkish, Latin and German – and steeped himself in the use of broadsword and crossbow. He was an equestrian, riding at the head of his attacking army like a Berskerker. At three separate times, Dracula governed Wallachia, one of three Hungarian principalities that later merged with the others – Transylvania (to the north) and Moldavia (to the east) – to become the country of Romania. Because Wallachia, his province, sat directly above the open Danube River Plain, which separated the Ottoman Empire from free Romania, his was the frontal defense against the non- Christian Turks. Despite his cruelties and severe punishments, and because of his seething hatred for anything Turkish, he is considered today a national hero by the populace. Because he died in warfare against the foe, even fought against a brother whom he considered a sell-out to the enemy, he is often upheld as a martyr. Statues stand in his honor, and his birthplace at Sighisoara and resting-place at Snagov are considered almost canonical.
"Though many Westerners are baffled that a man whose political and military career was as steeped in blood as was that of Vlad Dracula," writes Elizabeth Miller for Journal of the Dark magazine, "the fact remains that for many Romanians he is an icon of heroism...It is this duality that is part of his appeal."
The adventurous life led by Dracula put him in contact with the era's most fascinating people, among them "White Knight" Jonas Hunyadi, Hungarian King Matthias Corvinus and the ambitious Sultan Mehmed of Turkey. In his lifetime, Dracula witnessed the rising use of gunpowder as a means of destruction, the Holy Crusades, the fall of Constantinople and the nouveau philosophy of art, alchemy and culture that became known as the Renaissance.
It was no idle choice that the red-bearded Irish novelist Bram Stoker in 1896 chose the factual Impaler as the model for his nosferatu, his "undead" vampire. Although admittedly never having set foot on Romanian soil, having done most of his research at the London Library, it is obvious that the infamous Count Dracula emulates his historical counterpart. Poring over texts such as An Extraordinary and Shocking History of a Great Berserker Called Prince Dracula, The Historie and Superstitions of Romantic Romania and Wilkinson's Account of Wallachia and Moldavia, Stoker chanced upon the tales of Dracula. (It has been suggested by scholars that such histories would be incomplete without generous space attributed to the man.) In the tomes he studied, Stoker assuredly read of the voivode Dracula, whose atrocities trembled the Christian Western World and whose audacity saved it from Allah.
A few 20th Century authors have denied any connection between the Romanian prince of fact and the bloodthirsty count of fiction, opining that Stoker merely used the rhythmical name he discovered in the pages of old histories. They base their interpretation primarily on two premises. The first is that Stoker's ghoul resides in a castle in the Transylvanian Alps and not in Wallachia's foothills, the better part of some 150 miles. The other is that the vampire is described by Stoker as being of Szekely blood, from a race of people in the "northern country," and not of an older Wallachian stock.
Other writers, however, recognizing the liberties afforded by literary license, point to the striking similarities that speak very strongly beyond coincidence. Most notable are the references to Count Dracula's past as uttered by the fictional nobleman himself. They paint a history parallel to Vlad Dracula's.
In the novel, when Jonathan Harker, a British solicitor, visits Dracula's castle in Transylvania for the purpose of closing a real estate deal (the vampire is relocating to London to pursue fresh blood), the count describes the land over which Harker has just journeyed as "ground fought over for centuries by the Wallachian, the Saxon and the Turk...enriched by the blood of men, patriots or invaders."
In a subsequent chapter, Count Dracula relates to Harker a virtual history of his own royal heritage. "Is it a wonder that we were a conquering race," he asks, "that we were proud; that when the Magyar, the Lombard, the Avar, the Bulgar or the Turk poured his thousands on our frontiers we drove them back?...To us, for centuries, was trusted the guarding of the frontier of Turkeyland; aye, and more than that, endless duty of the frontier guard."
At one point, Count Dracula alludes to an "ancestor" who "sold his people to the Turk and brought the shame of slavery on them!" Vlad Dracula had such a brother.
There are other tens of references, actually, throughout the novel that not-too-subtly point to Vlad Dracula as the accurate source – references to particular military campaigns in which he took part, contemporaries with whom he acquainted, and places he visited.
In summary, had Stoker not taken his character from the crimson cloth of Vlad the Impaler, he then certainly adorned his creation with a cloak colored amazingly close to the same hue.
Following is the story of the real Dracula, a man who, whether he would have preferred or not, became, in another incarnation, a figure whom the World Index has called, "one of the top ten most recognizable names in the English-speaking world."
I thank Messrs. Bogdan Banu and Nemecsek Einar, both Romanian-born and both quite knowledgeable of the Vlad Tepes days, for their input and clarifications in this story.
Where East Meets West
Vlad Dracula was born in either November or December (records are sketchy), 1431, in Transylvania. This Romanian principality at the time was under the rule of Hungary, immediately west. Dracula's father, Basarab the Dragon, was its royal governor. A member of the noble Basarab family, the Dragon had earned for himself a reputation in the "land beyond the forest" as a fierce warrior prince. At the time that his wife, the Princess Cneajna of Moldavia, gave birth to his second son, however, he was discontent in his position, eyeing instead the throne of Wallachia, located south of Transylvania on the Arges River.
Dracula was, therefore, a child of tumult. Before he could walk, before he could talk, he must have sensed the heat of the period, sensed the political rivalries and the subterfuge that were all a part of being a son in a royal family of a Renaissance-era Romania. Cutthroat was its nature. It was a land that knew battle, the discordance of small private armies on the march, the clanking of their breastplates being a daily and customary din. When blood wasn't being spilled over religious cause, it was spread over right of land. Fights were external and internal, and they were continuous.
Because Romania in the 15th Century sat on the border between the Eastern and Western cultures of the world, and because the Ottoman Turks and their Muslim rituals posed a threat to this Roman Catholic country, it became a virtual doorway linking the opposing cultures.
Since the 1100s, European crusaders on their way to save Byzantium – that is, to keep the Turks out of Europe – had crossed Romania to engage the white-hooded armies of the successive sultans. Much of the fighting took place directly above and below the Danube on the threshold of Romania/Bulgaria. Eventually, Bulgaria and its neighbor Serbia fell to the Turks. This left Romania an open doorway, through which the Turks seemed destined to charge at any moment.
But, the Turks were not the only agitators to Romania. Unbelievably, in the midst of the threat imposed by Turkey, the European dynasties surrounding it – Hungary, Germany and Poland – fought each other for its control. And as if that wasn't enough, the Romanians rebelled against each other for titles and land grants!
"There were internal problems regarding the heirs to the throne," says Badu Bogdan, a Romanian-American author who operates an excellent website on the historic Dracula. "In the Romanian states, there were several regal families, and they were fighting among themselves for who should rule the country. (There was) high political instability."
The root causes of this instability are not easily expressed in a summary nature, for they are very complex. However, they require some explanation at this point if we are to understand the direction of and the motives for Dracula's forthcoming politics.
A War-Torn History
Simply addressed, the story begins in turbulence, long before the Renaissance, long before the Middle Ages, long before the Ottoman Empire intimidated Europe and long before the formation of the Europe that we know today existed. Centuries before Christ, the Dacians who lived in the mountains of central Romania were forced to hold back an expanding Rome. Conquering these mountain people was not an easy task, Rome learned, and the Dacian defense was successful until 106 A.D., when the Carpathian Mountains caved in under the sandals of the Roman Guard. Romania remained an Imperial Roman province for nearly two hundred years and witnessed a slow transition from paganism to Christianity with the emergence of Constantine and his Holy Roman Empire.
Tranquility was short-lived. Soon, barbaric tribesmen in the form of Slavs, Goths and Huns – among them, Atilla – trampled the soil in the early centuries A.D., disrupting economy, commerce and culture. (Their "warlike fury swept the earth like a living flame," reads Jonathan Harker's journal in Dracula.)
By the 10th Century when the invasions halted, Romania was left with remnants of all the people who had, over the centuries, invaded it. The population was a polyglot mixture of Western and Eastern European influences, tasting of a blend of Roman, Byzantine (Greek), Hungarian, Florentine (Italian) and Saxon (Germanic) flavors. In mountainside villages, the architecture reflected this diversity. Poetic Grecian and Italian forms communicated with the heaviest accents of straight Germanic lines. In cities such as Bistritz, Sucovena, Brasov and Bucharest, fragments of Roman aqueducts still ran water past Moorish rooftops, Latin piazzas, Dutch-front hofbrauhauses. A bulbous tower of a Byzantine mosque might share the skyline with a narrow steeple of a Venetian cathedral.
This diverse concentration of nationalities – comprised particularly of Saxons and Hungarians – shifted as one power became predominant. Powerful, geographically close Hungary eventually dominated the land and engulfed Romania as a part of the Hungarian Kingdom.
The "Romania" was not, however, the entire country that we know today as Romania. Rather, it consisted of basically just the central part of the country, known as Transylvania, or the Carpathian Mountain Region. Connected to it were two "independent states,", Moldavia (east of Transylvania) and Wallachia (south of it) that were nevertheless thought of as Romania. As confusing as this might sound, it is important that we remember particularly Wallachia. Because of its geography, its commercial importance and the fact that it was the principality ruled over by the subject of this article, Dracula, it would become a major focus in the pages ahead.
According to the book, Transylvania – The Roots of Ethnic Conflict, published by Kent State Press, "The social organization of the Romanians...was relatively simple. The various groups of wandering herdsmen and soldiers were under the leadership of a voivode (warrior prince) and of a knez or kenez. These local leaders were the major official contact between the Romanians and the Hungarian political or ecclesiastical authority."
The ruling classes (or boyars) of Romania were the native Magyars and theSzekelys. There has been some confusion throughout the years as to what lineage Dracula was born into. Dracula author Bram Stoker claims he was Szekely. But, Radu Florescu and Raymond McNally, in their well-researched In Search of Dracula proclaim him to be of a race much older than either of the above races, one that dates directly back to the Dacians of the Pre-Roman Empire period.
Notwithstanding, many of Dracula's ancestors were warlord princes of Wallachia. One of the most notable, Basarab the Great, had driven the Mongols from the land in the mid-1300s. His son (Dracula's grandfather), named Mircea, had been a soldier, too, chalking up many victories against the Turks.
Dracula's father Basarab inherited Mircea's brains and stamina. For his chivalry, he was inducted into the Royal Order of the Dragon in 1431, only months before his son Vlad was born. This knighthood inadvertently gave the world a name that would endure in history books and in English literature for centuries. Foregoing his birth name, Basarab would refer to himself thereafter, and be referred to, as "The Dragon". In the Romanian tongue, Dragon is Dracul. Adding an "a" after the name denotes "son of". Thus, the Dragon's next heir, young Vlad, gained an eternal nickname: Dracula.
Before we follow the life of Dracula, let's spend a few moments on Dracula's father, Basarab the Dragon, who is himself an important historical entity and whose actions greatly affected his son's. Basarab was born out of wedlock in 1392 to Prince Mircea and one of his harem of concubines. When Mircea died, the Wallachian throne passed not to Basarab but to his brother, Mihail, whose birth had been legitimate. Basarab did not complain, but contented himself with becoming a royal page to Hungarian King Sigismund I at his palace in Luxembourg. There, he was treated to a classical education by Europe's finest teachers. When Sigismund drew up an army to route the Turks on the border region, dutiful and grateful Basarab followed, broadsword in belt, spear in hand.
Mihail passed away in 1421, leaving the state of Wallachia up for grabs. But, Basarab knew that several of his stepbrothers, as illegitimate as he, were vying for the throne. So was a cousin named Danejsti. Knowing that Danejsti was raising an army to take the principality for his own, Basarab sought the patronage of Sigismund to assign the princedom to him. Sigismund, claiming his page's young age and lack of experience, refused and, instead, supported Danejsti.
Basarab's hurt feelings soon diminished. He was soon off to Constantinople, the seat of the last vestiges of the Holy Roman Empire, to act as diplomat between his own church, the Roman Catholic, and the Eastern Orthodox. Pope Pius II in Rome, who was spearheading a movement to unite the two faiths, had petitioned Sigismund to send an envoy, one of considerable tact and speech, to convince the Holy Roman Emperor to savor the idea of unification with the Vatican. That Sigismund chose Basarab was a high compliment.
Byzantine Emperor John VIII Paleologus found the Hungarian-sent messenger a man of high ideal and decorum, but was forced to give him bad news. Although he was not closed indefinitely to the idea of further discussing a possible understanding between papist and non-papist faiths, the timing of the Pope's request, he said, was a bit premature. The Holy Roman Empire – that is, its people and their traditions – already had its hands full trying to remain intact from not only Mongolian attacks but also now constant Turkish ramrodding. The ethics of religious dogma would have to remain on hold until he could determine the strategy of the more corporal issue: defending the physical empire. Basarab graciously accepted the emperor's answer and reported back to Hungary.
Sigismund asked his ward to remain at Luxembourg to help him shape a possible crusade against the Turks. Basarab, promising his allegiance to His Majesty's wishes, nevertheless elected to take a hiatus back to Romania where he had earlier set his eyes on the daughter of Alexandru, prince of the Moldavian state. Princess Cneajna was now of marrying age, was beautiful and, best of all, very interested in her suitor. The couple married in 1427 at a High Mass. A boy child, Mircea II, was born to them a year later.
In 1431, while his wife was pregnant with their second child, Basarab was recalled to Hungary. The king's earlier designs of a Turkish crusade had flowered; now a strike against the Ottomans seemed imminent. The Turks had grown progressively dangerous; they had captured Serbia and Bulgaria; their dark shadow leaned suspiciously northwest towards Hungary. Aware that his country alone could not block a major enemy thrust, Sigismund sought the backing of other European dynasties that had a vested interest in keeping Europe Christian. To his court, then, he called together two-dozen heads of state to pledge themselves in a campaign. In a brilliant tour de force of partisanship, he admitted each representative into the highly respected and ancient Order of the Dragon, a society of knights whose principal aim, according to authors Florescu and McNally, "entailed the defense and propagation of Catholicism against...heretics". As his own compatriot, Sigismund selected Basarab, whose diplomacy in Constantinople had planted the seeds of acknowledgement between Eastern and Western churches.
As another prize, Sigismund begifted Basarab – now called the Dragon – the governorship of Transylvania. It was an attempt to atone for his refusal to support Basarab's earlier bid for Wallachia against Danejsti. While the Dragon's appointment made him content for the meanwhile, he still had his heart set on ruling Wallachia. As the principality's new governor, Basarab had access to Transylvania's armed militias, which, secretly and adroitly, he began to muster for a march against Danejsti when the time was ripe.
In the interim, he moved his family to the Transylvanian capital of Sighisoara, where he instantly took command of the mountainside citadel overlooking the town. In the family residence, a villa that still exists today, his princess gave birth to her second son. But, the Dragon's joy was cut short. He learned that Ottoman Turks had crossed the Danube and were pouring across Wallachia. Prince Danejsti, overwhelmed and frightened, had lain down his sword.
The Turks would have profound impact on the life of the boy who had just squealed his first cries in Sighisoara. And that boy, whose father had named Vlad Dracula, would have a very important impact on them.
The Ottoman Turks had descended from a large conglomeration of other tribes in Asia Minor in the late 13th Century. "(Their) roots rested on Islamic foundations, but from the start it was a heterogeneous mixture of ethnic groups and religious creeds," reads Turkey: A Country Study, a report effected by the Library of Congress' foreign research library. "Muslims were thereby lumped together...and Turks as such were Turkish-speaking Sunni-Muslims."
During the 14th Century, their hordes began to move westward, gulping down at first only small states within the Eastern World, those belonging to other nomadic peoples. Spreading out, they soon infiltrated Western borders, seizing Bulgarian lands and penetrating the corps of the Holy Roman Empire. By the time of Dracula's birth, in the winter of 1431, the Ottomans ruled a vast territory that stretched from the Occidental East to the corners of Western Europe. Their first inroad into accessing Europe was none other than Romania.
Plans to make further ingress, however, would be thwarted. Often inflicting unspeakable terrors on the inhabitants of their conquered countries, a strategy to make even the bravest Catholic knight wobble in his armor, the Turks were in for a shock of their own.
Of course, in 1431 they could not have foreseen their encountering a quarter-century later of a certain Romanian named Dracula who would outride, outthink, outsmart and outfrighten them – right out of their sandals.
Among the Ottomans
As the son of the Dragon, Vlad Dracula was expected to become, by his adolescence, a warrior. Even though the first-born Mircea would be first in line to the throne of the principality, the father looked upon all of his sons – Mircea, Vlad and Radu (born in 1435) – as champee elite to the family name. They learned how to steady a bow, wield a blade and ride bareback before they reached the age of their scholastic studies. The art of fighting came foremost.
In chain mail made to fit their small bodies, with broadswords equally balanced, and on Arabian ponies, they dashed through the edelweiss-strewn forest beside Sighisoara clipping gnarled sycamores and poplars they pretended were oversized sultans. While Carpathian eagles looped overhead, watching curiously, and as woodpeckers careened out of the way, the Dragon watched his little Davids taking on the imaginary Goliaths. He timed their charges, graded their legionnaire skills.
The Dragon envisioned great things for his clan. But, if the sons of Dracul were to be real men, he told himself, they would need a dominion of their own. Being siblings of the Governor of Transylvania, mere puppets to Hungary, was not enough. His prospect, therefore, continued to be to take free-state Wallachia from the timid Danejsti who had virtually placed the welcome mat out for the Turks.
By 1435, the Dragon had convinced his old mentor, King Sigismund of Hungary, to lend him an army large enough to oust the thin-blooded cousin before Romania was lost forever. After a bitter siege on Wallachia's capital, Tirgoviste, the Dragon finally sat on the throne he had wanted for more than a decade.
Tirgoviste, located on the banks of the Dimbovita River, was an old city even when young Dracula followed his conqueror father there. A busy crossroads and commercial thoroughfare in the southern bottomlands of the Carpathians, it was comprised of hundreds of varieties of markets and merchants' stores, busy at all hours. Near the center of town rose the Byzantine eaves of the wealthy landowners who owned a division of fertile grape-producing fields surrounding the town.
The Byzantine battlements of the Prince's Palace, more a fortress, overlooked the roofs of the town and earned a panorama of the rolling landscape of trees, boulders, plains and a generosity of small lakes that provided citizens with mountain water and freshwater fish. The palace's central walls, four feet thick, had been erected by Mircea from the ruins of an early Roman outpost; at a far and high corner of town, they merged with the walls that surrounded Tirgoviste itself. Posh living quarters and the prince's low-beamed rectangular throne room were set back from the main gate across a courtyard and gardens guarded night and day by a legion of sentries posted along the walls and atop the main lookout, the Chindia Watchtower.
Dracula's early life at Tirgoviste consisted of more of the same as in Transylvania, physical and mental study. His mother, the devoutly religious Catholic Princess Cneajna, saw to her sons' religious upbringing, ensuring that they received ongoing commune with the monks from the nearby Church of the Holy Paraclete. Before the sun set, the boys' tutoring had also included, apart from combat skills, daily injections of geography, mathematics, science, language and the classical arts and philosophy.
Dracula and his older brother, Mircea, were the most rough-and-tumble of the Dragon's heirs; they often got into mischief with many of the scamps of the local boyars in Tirgoviste. In appearance, they greatly resembled their father with his dark features, aquiline nose and high cheekbones. Dracula, it was said, inherited his father's temper, combustive and fiery.
Their younger sibling, Radu, despite his warrior's training, spoke softly, moved quietly and tended to prefer the company of only certain boys. (Florescu and McNally hint at Radu's homosexuality.) Angelic faced, the image of his mother, he would, in time, be called Radu the Handsome. In later years, he and Dracula would become fierce rivals.
As for the Dragon, he had become a dignified Wallachian statesman. He ruled firmly, but fairly. However, he found himself stuck between his conscience and duty. Due to the trepidation of his predecessor, Danejsti, the forces of Turkish Sultan Murad II had gained such a foothold in Wallachia that they were in a position to ransack the principality at will. They were everywhere. Their caravans roamed the streets of Tirgoviste, Buzau and Bucharest; their cavalries paraded unchecked from the border of Turkish Bulgaria to the Carpathian Mountains, their scimitars at their sides gleaming in the sun; their foot soldiers camped openly on the Arges and Olt Rivers. In essence, Murad – not the Dragon – owned Wallachia. Attesting to that, consider that the latter was forced to pay the sultan 10,000 gold ducats annually to keep the major cities in his province free from savage attack.
Depending on the source, the Dragon's relationship with the Turks was either forced (because he hadn't the strength to fight back) or chosen (accepting neutrality as a small price to pay for Wallachian liberty). Knowing the character of the Dracul, one might assume he was merely waiting for a first chance to strike. When that opportunity came in 1442, however, he desisted a fight by refusing to join the famous, politically ambitious "White Knight" Jonas Hunyadi, Viceroy of Transylvania, who mustered a huge army to kick the Turks back to Bulgaria.
Some authors believe that the Dragon was being pessimistic, believing that Hunyadi hadn't a chance. Nevertheless, the White Knight, ahead of a force comprised mostly of royal troops loaned to him by the new Hungarian king, Ladislaus III, moved without the Wallachian prince's participation. After a bloody engagement near the Danube, the Turks under the command of Sihabeddin were chased south of the Danube.
Frustrated and angered by his army's setback, Sultan Murad called several top-ranking Europeans, including the Dragon, to Turkish Gallipoli for a parley. No one but the Dragon answered the summons. He took with him his two sons, 13-year-old Dracula and nine-year-old Radu, believing it to be strictly a call under truce. When he entered the sultan's salon, he and his sons were promptly arrested.
Held captive for days, the prince was finally released under conditions set forth by the Turkish court:
- that he swear by both the Bible and the Koran to avoid the engendering of further hostilities;
- that he deposit 10,000 ducats in the sultan's treasury; and,
- insuring he is a man of his word, that he leave his two sons as hostages in Turkey for an indefinite period of time. The Dragon reluctantly consented.
It was not the first time that the Turks pressed into service youths wrested from European nobility. As a body, these captives were placed in what was called the Janissary Corps. The scholastic Turkey: A Country Study, explains: "Expeditions were regularly organized to collect a tribute of Christian boys from the Balkan provinces. Those taken became Muslims and underwent training that instilled in them a corporate identity. These 'slaves of the state' were...prepared for admission into the Ottoman ruling class...where they engaged in Islamic studies, learned Persian and Arabic, and received advanced military training."
Young Radu and Dracula were moved from Gallipoli to the center of the Turkish nation, the city of Adrianople. They were not treated as prisoners, per se, but were kept under constant surveillance and supervision. (After all, they were the sons of an important enemy and at many times were given access to government buildings and military unformation.) But, virtually, they were free to roam the day-lit streets when away from obligation, to partake of the Eastern way of life, to breathe in the atmosphere of the markets with their many spices and many new customs, to taste the indescribably aromatic dishes, even to court a girl if they wished – providing she was of honorable birth – under the silvery Byzantine moon.
Radu proved to require little, if any, observation; he fully accustomed himself to the laws, by-laws and culture of Turkey, which he saw as his "adopted" country.
Dracula, on the other hand, often displayed a belligerent and smothering attitude. A good pupil, and not outwardly hostile, he nevertheless liked to quarrel with superiors and bemoan his confinement. He fought for more personal liberty, insulted his bodyguards and a little too often (to suit his present patriarchs) belittled Asian customs.
The Turks were forced to take him to task – more precisely, to the whipping post – on quite a few occasions.
In 1445, European Christians attempted another crusade against the Ottomans. Again, their principle was Jonas Hunyadi, the White Knight, who rode towards Turkish districts with a legion armed for a long conflict. The Dragon, despite his promise to Sultan Murad – and most likely because he did not want to face a public chastisement like the one he had endured for his conscientious objection to the 1442 campaign – offered 4,000 cavalrymen under the leadership of his son, Mircea. He did refuse, however, to personally bear arms in the offensive, hoping the sultan would accept that decision as his intention of loyalty and, thus, refrain from harming his children.
The sultan, upon hearing that Hunyadi was on the attack, had the Dracul's boys locked in the dungeon. There, they received daily floggings and endured long periods of hunger. Dracula's insolence harshened his treatment; he suffered various tortures to mind and body. Still, he was kept alive, probably due to the fact that the sultan figured he could still be employed as a bartering tool.
From a narrow window above his cell, Dracula witnessed the executions of less-fortunate prisoners taking place in the yard outside. Depending upon their crime, they were hanged, shot with arrows or spears, beheaded, crushed under wheels, or given over to a wild beast of prey. Many were impaled.
At first, the teenage boy may have been repulsed at the site of impalement. But, after a while, he certainly grew fascinated by it. Impalement, the most inhuman of punishments, involved piercing a body length-wise with a sharpened pole, the victim then left to die atop the raised pole. Death was excruciating and sometimes slow. Men were usually struck through the rectum, women through the vagina. Dracula watched the victims squirm, scream, hemorrhage, then die. He saw the crows pick at their carcasses that often remained under the hot Turkish sun until they were only blistered meat.
Dracula learned to detest his captives for their cruelty, yet wished that he would be given the chance to serve his captives likewise. Not knowing if and when he might be next, he imagined, if he survived, a day that he could inflict such torment on the Turks. Battered, starving, cut, singed and now having to view what the Turks did several times a week just beyond his windowsill, he probably went mad.
Hunyadi's army had accrued a trio of victories in Turkish Bulgaria – at Peretz, Nis and Sofia – but when reaching the important shipping town of Varna on the Black Sea, it came face to face with an overpowering force under Murad. Hunyadi's troops were slaughtered, Hunyadi himself sent dashing on foot for his life. He and a very few of his soldiers, including the Dragon's son, Mircea, managed to reach Romania safely.
The White Knight, who valued his reputation (and who had set his sights on someday rising to the throne of Hungary), lost respect after the Varna fiasco. To compensate, he regrouped his forces, rebuilt a small army and attacked the Dragon's palace in Wallachia. By asserting his power this way, that is, by taking over Wallachia for his own, he could rebuild a new, first step to the political power he had lost.
The Dragon had been caught unaware. His castle walls were scaled after a brief siege. Fleeing into the hills, the forlorn prince, wife Cneajna and son Mircea could not evade their conquerors. Captured, they were quickly put to death. Mircea met the worst fate: He was buried alive.
When the news of his family's massacre reached 17-year-old Dracula, he went berserk. Sultan Murad, realizing that the boy had suffered enough, released him from prison and offered him a command position in the cavalry. (Even though the captive had been an often-unwilling one, even unruly, the sultan had admired his gumption.) Dracula accepted the post.
The first evidence of Dracula's cunning, a shrewdness that would serve him throughout his life, becomes apparent at this point. By using one enemy against another, he was able to escape Turkey, gain the throne of Wallachia, and avenge his parents' and brother's murders.
He made a deal with the sultan. If the latter would supply him with an appropriate force to push Hunyadi out of Wallachia and set him, Dracula, on its throne, he would keep the principality open to Turkish commerce, its highways unblocked, and restore the per annum tribute of 10,000 ducats to Turkey. The sultan agreed.
A large force of tribal horsemen followed Dracula westward in 1448. They surprised a vanguard of Hunyadi's army at Kosovo Polje, Serbia, and in a nocturnal battle, utterly destroyed it. Reining north in pursuit of Hunyadi, Dracula's cavalry galloped with war whoops into Tirgoviste. But, much to Dracula's disappointment, he learned that his prey had flown.
In all events, a Dracul had come home. He placed himself on the throne of embattled Wallachia, sought out any boyar who had sided with the ambitious White Knight against his father – there had been several – and made perfect example of them all.
There are stories that insist a faithful servant of the Dragon had recovered his master's prize sword from the field where he had been slain and presented it to the son and heir. Dracula. It was an elegant Toledo blade, etched with the Sign of the Dragon. Dracula would carry that sword with him the remainder of his life, going to his death wielding it. But, for now, as its first use, he blessed it in the blood of his father's killers.
The first of three separate Dracula reigns had begun. It was not to last long.
Dracula's first term as Prince of Wallachia lasted barely long enough for the royal tailors to refit the court vestments. Within two months, the beaten forces of Jonas Hunyadi had regrouped, this time under one of Hunyadi's vassals, Vandislas. When the latter's huge army appeared on the horizon, Dracula, greatly outnumbered, vacated the throne and sought refuge with the family of the Moldavian prince, Bogdan, a relative of his martyred mother. But, he vowed that Wallachia had not heard the last of Dracula.
"Dracula remained in exile in Moldavia for three years, until Prince Bogdan...was assassinated," explains Ray Porter in his article, "The Historical Dracula," written for a special program sponsored by Georgetown University. "(He then sought) the protection of his family enemy, Hunyadi. The timing was propitious; Hunyadi's puppet on the Wallachian throne (Vandislas) had instituted a pro-Turkish policy and Hunyadi needed a more reliable man in Wallachia. Consequently, Hunyadi accepted the allegiance of his old enemy's son."
That Dracula sided with the man whose forces killed his parents was strictly for self-survival. As well, being a politician first, the advantage suited Dracula. In turn, Hunyadi realized he had gained a fortuitous ally, for Dracula's years spent with the Ottomans in Adrianople had given him useful knowledge of how the Turks thought – and, most importantly, fought. In planning military expeditions, Dracula's input would be invaluable.
Both men were Machiavellians. And both were cognizant of the other's style. Yet, as diplomats and opportunists, they played that factor to the bone. Both men were brilliant.
If one studies their portraits, one would detect the cleverness in both their faces. From the walls of the Academy of the Romanian Socialist Republic, the White Knight's portrait looks down with a scowling, weathered, hard, ambitious countenance; he seems to want to jump off the canvas and tell us all to go to hell. Dracula's face, caught by an anonymous artist and which now hangs in a gallery in Innsbruck, reeks of a man of unbending opinions and an almost paranoid sense of observation. Dark eyes stare off in a deep, thoughtful reverie; his mind seems made up on something that he needs to do as soon as the painter dismisses him.
These two suspicious and suspecting characters met at Hunyadi's mountain castle, Hunedoara, to form a partnership and a pact. Dracula was placed in charge of a fortress at Sibiu, situated at the far southwest corner of Transylvania, guarding the frontier against possible intervention from Vandislas' forces. His immediate charge was keeping the two Transylvania duchies (counties), Faragas and Almas, out of enemy hands.
While in Sibiu, Dracula heard of the fall of Constantinople, a severe blow to Eastern European Christians that marked the end of the Holy Roman Empire. Constantinople had been the city that Holy Crusades for centuries had attempted to keep out of pagan hands. Its loss prompted Pope Nicholas V to declare, "The light of Christianity has suddenly gone out."
Europe was aghast and incensed as stories of the massacre at Constantinople filtered in, tales of thousands of Christians being impaled before the city walls while the Turks laughed, celebrated and pillaged; of how churches were burned; of the Holy Cross' razing from the palace to be used as kindle wood for funeral pyres. In one voice, Romania, Hungary, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Portugal and England cried for the death of the then-sultan, Mehmed, who had replaced Murad. Hungary, leading the defense, once again called on its White Knight, Jonas Hunyadi, to strike back hard.
By the first few months of 1456, it became apparent that the Turkish faction was making a beeline for Belgrade. This main outpost, sitting on the border between Turkish Siberia and Hungary, was commanded by Hunyadi's brother-in-law. Hunyadi, with the advice of Dracula, proposed a double offensive: to 1) rush reinforcements to Belgrade while 2) attacking Vandislas in Wallachia to prevent his opening of the back door to the sultan's contingent forces. Hunyadi's crusaders galloped to Belgrade; Dracula's cavalry to Tirgoviste. Both men were successful in meeting their objective.
Belgrade was spared, although Hunyadi, its savior, died of a fever within a year. In Wallachia, Vandislas met sound defeat by Dracula who engaged him in the Carpathian Valley. The hand-to-hand combat was one of Romania's most bloody hours. Old, unchallenged stories tell of Dracula insisting that he kill Vandislas personally after learning that it was he who had ordered the deaths of his family. If the legends are correct, the two men faced off on the field, each with sword in hand, and while their respective armies paused to cheer them on. Dracula, after a tense moment, cleared his foe's head from his shoulders with one well-aimed slice. Vandislas' troops, seeing what had happened to their leader, threw down their weapons and retreated.
Twenty-five-year-old Dracula, without further ado, mounted the throne of Wallachia once again. This time, he would not be routed. He ordered the artisans to emblazon the Dracula Crest – the crest bearing a winged dragon (the symbol of courage) embracing the Cross (a symbol of Catholicism) – on the provincial stamp, banners, coins, public buildings, suits of armor, and on a glorious plaque hanging above his throne. Had he been known by other names – Vlad the Warrior, Prince Vlad, Vlad the Conqueror – the constant sight of the family crest now reminded everyone that he was the son of a high member of the Order of the Dragon. As his reign took effect, and as he proved to be more than just another fleeting member of a hierarchy-in-chaos, he earned the name he wanted more than anything else in the world. Son of the Dragon. Dracula.
The Wallachia in which Dracula ruled was at the time formally known as the state of Tara Romenescu, "Romania's Land". In terms of size, it covered 48,000 square miles (Florescu and McNally compare it to the size of New York State) and contained 3,000-plus hamlets nestled chiefly on the pine-heavy slopes of the Lower Carpathian Mountains. Its populace, mostly peasants governed by a series of Magyar landowners, neared a half-million in numbers. Tirgoviste, where Dracula's palace stood, was the capital. Other important burghs along the Tirgoviste-to-Danube commercial-and-trading route were Tirgsor, Bucharest and Braila.
Since before Dracula's grandfather's time, the province had been ruled by a prince, or domnul. The domnul worked with the landowners, boyars, to keep commerce flowing and the right of land stationary and safe against trespassers and infidels. As well, the domnul maintained a good relationship with members of the Roman Catholic church, which dominated Romania. Of the latter partnership, both parties received parallel respect, God and Caesar kept happy, so to speak.
However, Dracula had new, what he called necessary, plans for his principality, where the Caesar would be just a trifle happier and much more powerful. He did away with the feudal system of the domnul who, he insisted, was no more than a puppet to the ruling class boyars with allegiance to other wealthy barons, and to church leaders with foreign patronage. Upon his coronation as prince, he announced that the people should look upon him rather as a voivode, a warrior prince, ruling his domain henceforth as if under martial law, where there is one sovereign, one decision-maker. Because the reality of the Turks imposed a constant threat upon the land, he considered Wallachia a war state, and a war state requires tougher government.
Up until that time, the boyars had made up their own laws of turfdom and trade; their legislative body had mandated prices; they had controlled merchandise and bargained titles for favors well done. They had even owned the propriety to interfere in the prince's justice. That would end. And those who retaliated, Dracula explained, would be dealt with – severely – from the throne at Tirgoviste.
In laying his plans, Dracula had brought to his side an entourage of strong allies, many of whom had been family champions for decades, and who had served faithfully under his father, the Dragon. Neither he, nor they, had forgotten that during the elder's reign many of the property owners in Wallachia had caused problems. Many had attempted to undermine the Dragon. Dracula had already slain those responsible for the Dragon's death, but it wasn't enough.
After his policies of transition were announced, a number of boyars retaliated by writing letters and calling meetings of protest. Dracula, who realized his message wasn't being taken seriously, called the body together – some two-hundred men – to let them air their complaints (or so he said) over a sumptuous dinner. After they were given time to voice themselves, Dracula, at the head of the table, pushed back his wineglass and spoke.
"You speak of your loyalties to Wallachia, to Romania, and some even to me. But, yet, you have had many princes in your land, including my father. How can you account for that?"
The assembly glanced at each other, waiting for a constituent among them to play spokesperson. When the response was slow in coming, the voivode leapt to his feet:
"Dare any of you admit the truth! I will tell you why princes have come and gone here: because of your shameful intrigue!"
With that, he motioned to a courtier awaiting at the hall door; he, in turn, signaled a number of guards waiting in the vestibule beyond.
"You will be escorted out!" Dracula told his guests. "Get out of my sight!" Toasting them in mockery, he watched as they left, flanked by armed custodians. When the company reached the courtyard, the boyars were speared after a nod from Dracula who appeared on a balcony overhead. Still twitching, their bodies were impaled outside the walls of the palace, overlooking the town below.
A 15th Century Romanian manuscript records another episode of Dracula's revenge. On an Easter Sunday morning not long after the banquet incident, a brigade of soldiery stomped into the town cathedral during High Mass and yanked some three-hundred boyars and their families from the pews. They were chained, women and children too, and delivered to Dracula's private castle overlooking the Arges River where "they were put to work until their clothes were torn and they were left naked."
Greek historian Chalcondyles explains in more detail how the captives were forced to work on the refurbishing of the castle, reinforcing its battlements by mixing mortar, heaving heavy stones and timberwood up steep precipices, digging a moat – all this until many of them succumbed to duress, fatigue and fever. Chalcondyles' estimate of prisoners far exceeds the three hundred chronicled in the Romanian text. The line of manacled peoples, says he, stretched miles from the small villages to the castle gate.
Dracula's castle should not to be confused with the palace at Tirgoviste. The castle, thirty miles north, was fitted for a long siege in case the district fell under Turkish attack. It was originally built by Mircea in the 1300s, but was left to Dracula to refortify. It consisted of high, deep walls of natural stone, an exterior defensive wall called a barbican, barracks, tall parapets, rectangular battlements, cannon batteries, watchtowers, a prison, a dungeon, an escape tunnel (or salle-port) to the river edge, a moat, a drawbridge and a great-house reserved for the prince. Although no description of the latter exists, it was probably akin to the fictional Transylvanian castle that Bram Stoker describes in Dracula – of studded doorways, great fireplaces, timber floors, winding stairwells, arched columns and cornices, and ceilings that disappeared into the darkness of height. Tapestries, murals or mosaics, and friezes probably decorated the sober walls.
"Everywhere in Europe in the High Middle Ages, the castle played a crucial role: military, political, social, economic, cultural," to quote Joseph and Frances Gies' Life in a Medieval Castle. This home-away-from-home of Dracula's reign often attracted large parties of royal game huntsmen or served to house huge celebrations that the palace could not accommodate. Dracula kept his mistresses there. Plus, it was always reassuring to the prince to know that he had a sanctuary from times of insurrection and war.
By the time Dracula came to power, much of the century-year-old structure had fallen into disrepair and decay, and required a thousand hands to mend its broken condition. These hands belonged to the boyars, whose slave labor, Dracula claimed, taught them humility, if nothing else.
To strengthen his cornerstone of power, Voivode Dracula reestablished a local church hierarchy that would be more apt to resign itself to his customized government. Princes in those days often had the say-so to manipulate the ministerial organizations, and Dracula wasted no time, for instance, replacing foreign abbots with Wallachian priests. To balance his interference, he paid tribute by erecting beautiful friaries throughout his domain. The most ornate of these was the monastery at Snagov, where he would be eventually buried.
Author Bram Stoker, while in the throes of outlining what would become his famous horror story about an insidious Transylvanian count, planned to call his villain (and the novel) Wampyr. It doesn't take too long to figure out that wampyr is a Balkanesque word for vampire. But, as mentioned earlier in this report, Stoker stumbled onto the legends of Prince Dracula, and a name that has been unspoken in most parts of the world for centuries was resurrected to human consciousness – in a landmark way.
If anything about the true-life Dracula stirred Stoker's blood, and chilled it at the same time, it was no doubt the stories he read of the man's cruelty toward his fellow Romamians. Even if the Gothic writer had not been searching for a particular prototype, how could he resist fashioning his nosferatu after he whom history books called the Impaler? Stoker couldn't use a lightweight to serve as his model of evil, and Dracula, in no way a lightweight, must have stretched Stoker's already illimitable senses.
He changed the name of his character and his novel to...Dracula.
Prince Dracula's "reign of terror," as even contemporary texts called it, lasted from 1456 to 1462. No one was safe from the voivode's deadly decrees. By today's standards, he would be called a mass murderer. Most of his killings were politically targeted – against domestic and foreign enemies – but sometimes he killed merely because he was bored. He hanged his victims, stretched them on the rack, burned them at the stake, boiled them alive, but mostly impaled them.
Estimated numbers of victims vary between 30,000 and more than 100,000. These figures are largely based on translations of Romanian, Hungarian, German and Russian manuscripts written within a century after Dracula's death. Records from his native Romania, which has tended to overlook his atrocities and uplift his military victories, give the lowest figures. Because Dracula hated the Saxon-German entrepreneurs whom he considered interlopers in his country's business affairs, and therefore provided fresh meat for the impaling stick, German sums are the highest.
The total of 100,000 is probably the most accurate, however. The majority of transcripts agree that at one sitting Dracula was capable of impaling an entire village or eradicating an entire brigade of Turkish Muslims.
Impalement wasn't a Dracula creation; if you remember, he learned about it while a boy in Adrianople. The French employed it before the guillotine. Spaniards and Hungarians used it. But, according to Ray Porter's account, "The Historical Dracula," impalement became an art form in Dracula's hands. "Dracula usually had a horse attached to each of the victim's legs and a sharpened stake was gradually forced into the body," he explains. "The end of the stake was usually oiled and care was taken that the stake was not too sharp; else the victim might die too rapidly from shock."
Studying the chronology of Dracula's crimes makes it easy to understand why his reign, though horrific, managed to go unchallenged by his own people or by other governments for six long years. For one thing, because he slew so many Turks in recognized time of conflict he was able to sustain the crusader image; foreign dignitaries who heard of the vast impaling applauded him for saving Romania. The domestics, who knew better, who knew that they too were objects of his mania, remained silent by intimidation.
Following are a few examples, anecdote-style, of Dracula's barbarism:
St. Bartholomew's Day
During an outdoor festival of St. Bartholomew at Sibiu, Dracula had 20,000 citizens arrested and spiked in one afternoon. Claiming that they were either treacherous bourgeoisie, or supporters of that element, he had them – men, women and infants – impaled on the outskirts of a neighboring forest. As was his custom, he had his servants draw up a solitary dining table of fine food and wine so that he might enjoy his lunch by watching the tortures at close range. He occasionally had a servant dip his bread in the blood of the dying souls so that he could savor the taste of life. (Is it a wonder that Stoker was inspired?)
It was at this function that he espied one of his knights holding his nose at the repugnant smell of death permeating the air. When he asked the soldier if he was making fun of the situation, the fellow stammered, "No, my lord, my stomach churns, but –" and he quickly added, "I am not of the stout heart that my prince be."
"But, why would I want in my service a man who cannot look at death without regurgitating? Death is a soldier's livelihood!" And with that, he called to his bodyguards to impale the feeble fellow. "Let him join these others, but because he had been loyal until today, hoist him higher than the rest that he does not have to smell his company!"
A Night With The Paupers
A perfect example of the dichotomy that was Dracula is woven into an old Nuremburg legend. It tells us of his sympathy for the downtrodden of his land – the poor, the invalid, the cripple, the infirm. But, this "sympathy" extended to a morbid result. One evening, he invited hundreds of paupers to his dining hall at his castle, treating them to something they had not had in years: a filling meal. After the desserts were served, Dracula and his staff slowly meandered out, leaving only the ragged guests alone in the hall of stone. This is when Dracula's skilled archers shot arrows of fire through the hall's tall windows from outside, igniting the treated tapestries, curtains, carpets and dinner linens into a blaze that erupted into an inferno. While the peasants banged helplessly against the bolted doors for egress, Dracula in a room beyond replied, "The poor unloved creatures, it is best that they leave this world now, on a full stomach."
Is Honesty the Best Policy?
In an episode that reminds us of Pilate's utterance, "What is truth?" as he simultaneously ordered the crucifixion of Christ, Dracula asked two visiting monks what they thought of his hard discipline – then killed the one who answered honestly.
After leading them through the rows and rows of recently impaled citizens one morning, he demanded that, as holy men, they appraise his bloody justice. One monk, no doubt in fear, answered, "You are the prince of all Wallachia! Who am I to question your decisions?" The other, unable to control his feelings, blurted condemnation: "What have these unfortunates done to deserve such fate? There is no excuse for mortal man playing God!" One can guess what friar went home alive that morning.
Another report of Draculean justice, with a different twist, is the story of the traveling merchant whose moneybox had been broken into while passing through Tirgoviste. Dracula heard of the man's loss and summoned him to his palace. "My city is the most crime-free of any in Europe, and incidences such as the robbery on your wagon are not tolerated," said Dracula. "The perpetrator will be apprehended."
As proof of the capital city's forthrightness, its prince ordered the merchant to leave his cart outside his hotel that night, exposed and unlocked. "No more florins will be missing," he promised. "In fact, when you awake in the morning, the stolen money will have been restored to your trove."
As promised, when the journeyer checked into his chest at sunrise, all the florins were replaced. In fact, there was one coin extra. Rushing to the court, the jubilant fellow expressed his thanks to Dracula: "Not only was my account replenished," he rejoiced, "but your guards added an extra florin, which I now return to you."
Dracula smiled, told the man to keep the florin, and added, "You are an upright being. Had you not confessed to the surplus, you would now be joining the thief whose body dangles on a spike in my patio."
As a sidenote, Dracula was not incorrect in assuming that his capital, Tirgoviste, really was an honest city. His reign of terror had so frightened miscreants that it was virtually the safest metropolis on the continent. A website called Castle of Spirits explains, "(Dracula) was so confident that no thief would dare challenge him (that) he placed a golden cup on display in the central square...The cup was never stolen and remained where it was, untouched, throughout (his) reign."
The "Lazy" Wife
Dracula viewed women as, in a word, inferiors. They brought pleasure in the bedroom and they were good for the menial work in life that men shouldn't handle.
Once, when traveling with his entourage through the countryside, Dracula spotted a planter wearing a caftan (apron) shorter than the traditional one worn during harvest. When he asked why his garment seemed incomplete, the man told the prince that his wife couldn't finish making it as she was of ailing health and was forced from her spinning wheel to her bed.
"Excuses!" Dracula barked. "We shall have no sloven women in my kingdom; her duty to you comes before her health!" Despite the husband's protestations, Dracula's men pulled the wife from her sickbed and impaled her outside her cottage. Then, riding to a neighboring farm, Dracula selected a comely, unwed girl whom he ordered to marry the sudden widower. "You are hale and young and are capable of making this poor farmer happy," he expressed. "You will marry this very afternoon, and I will check back in a month to see that your husband is properly clothed and fed."
Whether he returned as promised is not known. But, chances are the new wife proved to be the model of domesticity.
Never Lie to Dracula
Among the brood of Dracula's mistresses there was fervent hope that he would eventually choose one of them as his princess. They competitively fawned over him. One zealous young damsel, finding no other course to nab her prince, told him that she was pregnant.
The voivode, whose complex psychoses cannot be fully explained, went into a dither, fretting that his reputation would be ruined among the devout of his kingdom if he sired an illegitimate child! He called for wedding plans to be effected immediately. In this instance, the woman seems to have known Dracula better than he knew himself.
While the banns were being prepared, the would- be groom called for his lady to be examined by the royal physicians. When they announced to him that she was without child, he flew to her in a rage. She admitted her lie, but told him it was the only way she knew how to win him. "I love you and I want to conceive on our wedding night to give you a splendid child. Forgive me!" she pleaded.
His answer to her: "A man who lies is one thing, but a woman who deceives is a devil. Well, you shall not use your wiles to trap another man!"
While guards held her down, Dracula stripped her naked. With a dirk, he slashed her body open in a T-shaped formation, from her vagina to her chest and across her breasts. All this while she was conscious. He then commanded that her ravaged form be exhibited for all to see "the evil that a woman can wrought".
One Russian narrative that has survived through time talks about Dracula's view of womanhood in general. They were meant to be without sin, but once they sinned, deserved no dignity.
"If any wife had an affair outside of marriage, Dracula had her sexual organs cut out," the account reads. "She was then skinned alive and exposed in a public square, her skin hanging separately from a pole...The same punishment was applied to maidens who did not keep their virginity, and also to unchaste widows."
Stories like these are but a handful passed down from Dracula's time. Eventually he was to overexert his influence, especially since he began to practice his horrors across the Wallachian border in Transylvania. His justification for this imposition was that he needed to discourage his political rivals there who, he claimed, were planning his demise.
The worst Transylvanian atrocity was his taking of the city of Brasov in the Carpathian Mountains. He torched the city and rounded up its inhabitants on the crest of Timpa Hill. Those who weren't impaled, he had them chopped up like hides of beef before him, limb at a time. While the city burned below, and as the agonies of Hades were played out before him, he ate an extravagant dinner, fit for a prince.
Legend claims that in the background, far off, the wolves bayed at the moon. It was their symphony of terror that they could not help feeling this night. It was in the air.
"The children of the night," Count Dracula called them in the novel. "Oh, what music they make!"
Was he reminiscing?
Staggering the Turks
Dracula was not insane; that is what the scholars tell us. He knew right and wrong, and the difference. A brilliant political leader for his time and a devious military commander, he practiced both heaven and hell, whatever mode fit to conquer a land and hold it.
He knew the fabricwork of people, and he knew how to dive and where to dive to cut quick into the core of their souls. He made it his business to understand the emotion in their eyes and could recognize others' deceits, simply by comparing them to his own. If not always right, he guessed correctly most of the time.
However, he had an offbeat psychosis. Looking at his personality in retrospect, a psychiatrist or psychologist today might diagnose Dracula's crimes as tragic, inherent products of an erratic childhood. What he saw around him and what happened to him in his formative years seems to have greatly shaped the man.
First, there was the religious dichotomy of his era. Taught virtue and love, he also learned that it was all right to maim and torture in the name of God. Well...not really...but that was how the politicians of the day shaped religiosity to defend their own zealous ambitions based on the principle of stepping before being stepped on. To a child, however, it must have made all the sense in the world.
Born into nobility, Dracula was protected from the outside realities by a feudal system that favored the noble born; in fact, it nearly canonized it. He had no other recourse to learning the world than by experience, and that experience came heavily in the combative arts and in the judicious bigotry that must have been predominant in the Dragon's household. As a child playing in his father's chambers during meetings, he interpreted what he heard as fact: Turks are bad. Even our own subjects need watching. You can't trust anyone. Be on guard – or die. The fact that violence had wrought the success of his own father speaks strongly about Dracula's views on justice: Strength is violence, violence is strength, so violence is right.
His parentage represented both poles of the devout and the shrewd. His mother was a religiously devout woman who believed in the literal Bible; his father, a soldier first, believed in state. And at the age when he might resolve who was right, and where the dividing line lay, he was swept off to a foreign culture where Western ideals existed, but were translated in a way so unlike the familiar European parables.
Imagine the boy's feeling of betrayal when the father he adored handed him over to the foreigners who were supposed to be the enemy? Abandoned in Adrianople, taken away from the sensibilities of his mother, the guidance of his father, he was dissident. Yet, under the rebelliousness that he showed the Turks, he was learning just the same. Never quite able to understand the culture of his foster home, Turkey, he probably created his own culture – a mix of European and Turkish bias. And the lessons of physical justice taught by both.
When it came time to return home, he chose the quickest way to reindoctrinate himself as a prince, to pick up where his murdered father had left off. And because his father had been murdered, Dracula had made him a martyr and all feelings of the abandonment he suffered dissipated.
Revenge became his inspiration.
As for the impalings, do they suggest pseudo-sexual frustrations that some scholars claim? Perhaps. After all, for a man to whom violence was essential, wasn't sex another contact sport? The only female he had been allowed to escort in his early life had been the genteel form of refinement, but he knew that there was more to the animal instinct he felt than courtly bows and courteous manners. He simply may not have understood how to deal with the stirrings.
Dracula was not insane, no, but he was very, very confused.
One may wonder why any woman in her right mind would marry Dracula, but marry him someone did. Perhaps it was an arranged marriage of state or, as some critics suggest, he simply saw her, wanted her and took her. Who she was is uncertain; there are theories – a member of Moldavian royalty, a Hungarian princess, a daughter of a Wallachian nobleman. The marriage would be tragic and brief, as we shall see in an upcoming chapter, and seemed not to produce any qualities of home-and-hearth in the prince. He rarely allowed her in his company, and retained his libertines at Castle Dracula.
But, the desires of his libido grew fainter as his reign reached what would be its mid-term. By 1458, after a decade-long period of relative peace between Europe and the Turks, the renewal of border skirmishes along the Serbian-Romanian line began to manifest the clouds of war. The Vatican, eyeing the incidences suspiciously from Rome, made overtures to Christian kings to begin uniting in the event the Muslims become contentious.
If the Pope hoped for peace, Dracula's actions weren't helping to soothe relations. In 1458, Sultan Mehmed II sent a couple of emissaries to remind the Wallachian that he was three years behind in paying the annual tribute of 10,000 gold ducats; Dracula expected such a visit eventually, as he had already made up his mind to discontinue the payments altogether. To avoid vexsome arguments, he decided to make fast work of the envoys.
When they came before his throne, he let them state their business. Once he realized where they were heading – that is, to the subject of payments in arrears – he snipped them short. "Excuse me, gentlemen, but speaking of payments due, I can't help taking note that you have not paid me due respect in removing your hats before my court. Don't you realize it is the customary and honored tradition to do so?"
The representatives startled. One of them, tapping his Phrygian cap, humbly replied, "We have not meant to insult your lord, but were it not a religious custom of ours not to remove them in public, we would have done thus immediately before your presence. I am sure, having been a resident in our country at one time, you understand." This man followed up with a reassuring smile.
"I see," Dracula glowered. "Then what you are saying is that you wish to never be seen in public without your...er, turbans?"
"That is correct, your lord."
"Then, let your wish be granted," their host chuckled. Clicking his finger at his sentries, he told them, "Our friends here love their hats so much that I think we should allow them the privilege they request. Remove them from my carpet and have their damn caps nailed to their skulls so that they never come off again!"
Pleading for mercy, the Turks were dragged from the throne room never to be seen alive again by the Wallachians. But, their screams resounded through the palace as, from the dungeon, the high executioner performed his...carpentry?
When Sultan Mehmed in Constantinople received the bodies of his two envoys, their caps nailed to their skulls with rusty spikes, he raged. He hatched a plot to destroy Dracula once and for all. Notifying the prince that he wished to meet on the Danube River at the city of Giurgiu for peace talks, he actually planned instead to send an army of assassins ahead of time to ambush Dracula and his escort en route through the mountains.
Dracula didn't believe the sultan's proposition. Nevertheless, he wrote back agreeing to such a conference. Days before the assigned date, he took a small army with him to enact a surprise of his own. Laying wait north of Giurgiu, above a narrow pass, Dracula's troops surveyed a Turkish vanguard of a thousand men riding pell-mell in the direction of Tirgoviste. Although the cavalry greatly outnumbered his own, he used the advantage of true mountain fighting, a skill he learned years before in Turkeyland. Strategically placed, a number of his musketeers from overhead cut down the party, rider at a time, while the remainder of his shooters, firing from positions in the enemy's rear, forced them into a gap where there was no retreat. When the foe attempted to surrender, Dracula's rifles shot them to pieces. (This ambush portrays an example of Dracula's military cunning. Historians credit him as one of the first European crusaders to use gunpowder in a deadly artistic way.)
Days later, when the sultan arrived on the Danube, expecting to meet his advanced guard with some good news, he was jolted to find something unexpected: Along the riverbank, for miles, his dispatched regiments hung nailed to spikes, twisted into inhuman poses, half-eaten by countless ravens that, even as Mehmed stared, drove their beaks into the cadaverous flesh. The sight was so repulsive that Mehmed abandoned all other maneuvers to return to Constantinople, where he would require months to rethink the situation.
Despite his heroics, Dracula knew he may have pushed the sultan a trifle too far. He had known Mehmed as a boy, knew his temperament and the temper of the Ottoman Turks, and he knew that Mehmed was probably looking for just such an excuse to start a full-scale war. Nervously, Dracula wrote to the Pope: "If (Romania) is subjugated, please understand they will not stay content with our land, but will immediately make war on you...So now is the time: by helping us, you really help yourself by stopping their army far from your own land and by not allowing them to destroy (us) and harm and oppress us."
The prince was relieved to hear, in response, that a Holy Crusade had been agreed upon in Mantua, Italy, and that all forces were poised to ride into Turkey. Dracula pledged his allegiance and began recruiting an army comprised of loyal Wallachians and troops assigned to him from other nations. The size of his force is estimated to have been about 30,000, comprised mainly of foot soldiers.
But, it dwarfed when compared to the gargantuan Turkish machine of 250,000 that crossed the Danube in May, 1462. Among them were the elite Janissaries; the Saiales suicide-squad; the Azabs (lancers); the Acings (archers); the Beshlis (riflemen) and the Sipahis (cavalry). Most of them headed straight for Tirgoviste.
Knowing he was humiliatingly outmanned, Dracula determined to make the road to Tirgoviste a calamitous one. He felled trees in the invaders' path, poisoned the wells, burned bridges and even villages that might shelter them, and he hit the marchers wherever he could along the way. His marksmen, posted in the bluffs overlooking the passes, did their best to reduce the volume of the enemy; snipers and archers caused havoc along wooded riverbanks. The most damage done to the Turkish march occurred outside the capital city when Dracula's main body of cavalry swooped out of the night forests to massacre a large contingency of foot soldiers.
But, all these had inflicted physical harm to the Ottomans. And since when had physical pain and suffering stopped the Turks? Dracula knew from experience that only one thing would cause them to stop in their tracks, to hesitate, to maybe abandon their mission. And that was to throw open the gates of Hell before their eyes in all its putrescence. To attack them where it stung most. In their imagination.
For years, the Wallachian had been capturing Turkish soldiers and spies, wisely keeping them on hold as a bartering mechanism. His dungeons at Tirgoviste, at his castle and at other outposts amid the Carpathians bulged with them, some 20,000 captives. Now, with the defeat of Wallachia a possibility, Dracula decided that he had nothing to lose, all to gain. He went for the tool that worked before, to cut deep into the psychological edge.
When the Turks arrived outside the walls of Tirgoviste, they paused. And they trembled. Some wept. Many vomited. Encircling the town were the bodies of their very own comrades, 20,000 of them, their long locks and robes fluttering in the breeze, their eyes staring vacantly down, their mouths emitting the sharpened point of a spike hammered up their backsides. There was no sound from inside the enemy's walls, no movement from within. But, the volley of silence was deafening.
The Turks buckled their steeds, reigned and bolted for the Danube. Cries of "Allah, protect us!" on their lips, they dashed from the devil whom they couldn’t defeat.
A Brother's Treason
When the skittish Turks turned tail and fled from Tirgoviste that day, there was one man among them who had tried to rally them back in place, but to no avail. He knew and understood the mind games of men like Dracula; he remembered his own father, the Dragon, telling him that a good general can cause an enemy more discombobulation by using his brain over his blade. This man was none other than Radu, Dracula's younger brother.
Having remained in Turkey all these years, Radu had become fully indoctrinated into the Ottoman culture and its army, and now served as an officer in the Janissary Corps. Forced to ride back to the Danube with his retreating company, Radu was angry and disenchanted that one bugaboo trick caused by his murderous sibling had literally stymied the advance of his proud (but superstitious) adopted countrymen.
Radu was the son of the Dragon, too, considering himself every bit as wily as Dracula, and he was determined not to crawl back to Turkeyland empty-handed. Had Tirgoviste fallen, he was to have been its commander; with Dracula dead, he was to have been the Prince of Wallachia, That would have made him the Ottoman Empire's first crowned power in Romania. The honor it would have meant! But...he wasn't through yet.
When the sultan and his forces returned below the Danube, Radu remained behind, ready to play a mind game of his own. With the help of ambassadors already planted among the elite d'corps of Wallachia, Radu wiggled his way into the circle of the discontented boyar class who had been wanting for years to, but had no army, oust Dracula. Radu offered them a deal that seemed to accommodate everyone: Support him for the throne of Wallachia, and he would promise them 1) a truce with the Turks so that no more bloodshed would be spilled on Wallachian soil; 2) the return of their gentry-class power that his brother had taken away from them; and 3) his brother's exile. To the exuberant boyars, this also meant an end to the fearsome impalings, the wretched nights wondering if and when they and their families would be hauled out to die like dogs. They threw their entire support to Radu.
Dracula learned that his brother was in the vicinity, and since there was no love lost between the bothers, suspected him of intrigue. He knew that he had allied himself with the Turks, but since his scouts had not reported a Turkish force anywhere near Trigoviste, Dracula made a mistake: He let his guard down. Perhaps he had convinced himself that one son of the Dragon could not bare-face betray another. He failed, then, to heed obvious signs until the revolt began. The boyars, assisted with a brigade of Turks who materialized seemingly out of air, attacked the Prince's Palace.
But, Dracula, his wife and a tiny group of his most faithful followers happened to be vacationing in his castle north of the city at the time. When Radu discovered this, he hastened his forces to Poenari, across the Arges River from the castle, and commenced a cannonade. Dracula's few gunners were no match for Radu's polished artillery and the walls of the castle began to chip away. After three days of incessant drilling, a courier brought Dracula a message from Radu warning that unless he surrender immediately, he and all the inhabitants within the walls would be impaled upon capture. Dracula's wife, frightened, threw herself off the tower, choosing suicide to the bleak alternative.
His reign over, his wife gone, the beaten prince scrambled for the salle-port, which led to the banks of the Arges. Under the cover of flora and darkness, he sidestepped a rush of Turks fording the river for a frontal assault.
Before the siege had begun, Dracula had been planning to visit Hungary's latest monarch, Matthias Corvinus, to establish relations for another crusade against the Turks. The king was wont to spend his leisure in the Carpathian Mountains, in Brasov, where Dracula knew he was at the moment. With the situation changed in Wallachia, the fugitive hoped that Matthias, who was the son of his late ally, White Knight Jonas Hunyadi, would give him political refuge.
Keeping ahead of his traitor-brother's pursuit, Dracula headed northwest towards Brasov. Crossing the wild Transylvanian Alps, he found shelter in an abandoned castle near Dobrins. (It is interesting to note that this sanctuary was not far south of the famed Borgo Pass, where Bram Stoker placed his vampire's castle.) Fed and clothed by loyal peasants who knew and respected the "Turk slayer," he eventually moved on, succored by sheepherders, until he reached Brasov.
But, the greeting he received by Matthias was not the one he had hoped for. The king had him arrested and imprisoned.
The reason for Matthias' action was, as most dealings in Romania were at the time, political. Radu's strong aristocratic backing in Wallachia had helped him ingratiate himself with old European bloodlines who preferred his reform government to his brother's dictatorship. As King of Hungary, Matthias felt compelled to play a level field and avoid being the dissident – that is, supporting an unwanted, dethroned prince.
For months, political prisoner Dracula's new home was the medieval Solomon's Tower, a penal fortress in the Visegrad Palace, located in the south of Hungary. Though forsaken, Dracula could look out at the beautiful landscape surrounding his place of confinement. Columnist Caroline Wren, who toured the site for Central Europe Online, describes the scenery: "The view afforded by the climb up to the citadel is superb. Its position, spectacularly resting on a crag and overlooking Nagymaros and the Borzsony Mountains on the east bank of the Danube Bend, makes it well worth the climb."
Confined to his cell, the former prince practiced a strange habit of impaling spiders, roaches and mice that he would trap. According to prison guards, he would skewer them with slivers of wood pried from the floorboards of his cell and display them, trophies, on his windowsill. He'd sink into a reverie after stabbing them, gazing in awe at their tiny twitches until they finally lay still. (In Dracula, the novel, a psychotic character called Renfield, confined to an asylum, captures and devours insects; some he displays before consuming them. Coincidence?)
After Radu was safely on the throne in Wallachia and the furor of Dracula's overthrow died down, the terms of the Impaler's "imprisonment" faded along with it. While legally remaining in custody of the king over the next decade, Dracula was free to come and go in Transylvania, providing he keep en communicado with King Matthias or his administrators. Quickly removed from the dreary convict's ward and given an apartment in the palace, Dracula's image blossomed from state prisoner to more of a royal confidante. His presence at balls, social dinners and, after a time, even chamber meetings became apparent.
Early in his "incarceration," he was introduced to the lovely, statuesque Countess Ilona Szilagy, cousin of King Mathias. The king obviously sanctioned the romance, for the couple quickly became engaged. The betrothal, without a doubt, skyrocketed Dracula's influence in the nobility had caused his detractors to muzzle their opinions. It also seems likely that Dracula must have been on his best behavior – no fits of angst or anger, no impalings – for the marriage, one of noblesse oblige, seems to have worked very well. The couple lived in quarters in Badu, Transylvania, given to them by the king, and within three years Ilona gave her husband two strapping sons, one named Vlad, the other whose name remains uncertain.
But Dracula, husband and father aside, yearned for the war-like times. And they were coming again – fast. Radu had turned out to be a disappointment, conceding more to the Turks and less to the boyars to whom he had promised a slow disenfranchisement from Turkey. Many currently in high powers, from King Matthias to the prince of Moldavia, Stephen the Great, had taken personal affront with Radu's treachery against his native Romania and against everything the great Dragon had stood for. But no one was more opposed to Radu than his own insulted brother, Dracula. These three men conceived his downfall.
By July, 1475, Dracula had served almost 13 years as a political "prisoner" when Matthias officially pardoned him so he could take part in a campaign against the Turks. The "Army of Allah" had worked its way through Wallachia and was now sporadically crossing into Transylvania and Moldavia, thanks to Radu's white-dove policies. It had become, therefore, the defenders' aim to sever the Turks' lifeline by attacking several main supply bases below the Danube, in the Serbian province of Bosnia. Effectively, the triumvirate of Matthias, Stephen and Dracula was historical; it meant that, for the first time, Transylvania, Moldavia and Wallachia were working together as a unit.
In examining the situation, it appears that the Hungarian King wanted his cousin-in-law, Dracula, to again sit on the throne of Wallachia. Who better to run this important principality than a relative? But, there was one problem. Its citizens had not forgotten the reign of terror his protégé had conducted there. Because of that, Matthias resolved to become Dracula's (what today we would call) PR manager. The king thought him a good investment, judging from Dracula's military past. The man would undoubtedly serve the campaign well; would prove once again to be a hero of Romania. Once re-glorified, Dracula could regain (if not more) the tolerance of the people.
A massive offense began in the autumn. Results came quicker than the Christian army had expected. Its first objective, dethroning Radu, was taken care of by nature, bloodlessly. Radu died of syphilis, and his brother shed no tears.
With troops numbering 5,000, the crusaders rode south towards Bosnia. They stealthily cut their way through small contingencies of Turks until they reached Sabac, which they destroyed; then Srebrenica, Kuslat and Zwornik. Along the way, Dracula impaled thousands of Turks, but Matthias was sure to tell the European courts that this time the impalements were for the honor of freedom, and the Vatican that they were for the honor of God.
Their victories met, the sultan weakened, the attackers returned to Romania in March, 1476. The fighting didn't end there, however. Before the summer ended, Dracula and his compatriots' forces had cut a wide swath through their homeland, routing Turkish invaders from the Carpathians in a bloodbath of frenzy. It was the closest thing to a gotterdamerung – the united power of the fierce German gods of myth – that the Turks ever saw.
That November, Dracula was back on the throne at Tirgoviste. But, the end was coming for the Impaler. He would be dead within a month.
Matthias' vindication of Dracula's crimes did not sit well in the provinces surrounding the capital city, those most affected by Dracula's earlier, cruel reign. The boyars, who had lost fathers, mothers, children, brothers, sisters, cousins to impaling and tens of other tortures, remembered. So when Dracula found himself alone, the forces of Matthias having returned to Hungary and those of Stephen to Moldavia, he also found himself an unsupportive kingdom. Left with only a meager garrison – not more than 2,000 men comprised of mostly Moldavians – to defend Wallachia, he needed able-bodied males to rouse to his call of arms. No one responded.
The never-discouraged, ever-aggressive Sultan Mehmed had recovered from the recent defeats and had revised his strategy. He still held onto a major city, Bucharest, near the Danube, and from there was concentrating what was left of his battalions. The units, once amassed, came to double-digit thousands.
Dracula, virtually a man without an army, would be called on to attack them.
The recently appointed governor of Transylvania, a man named Stefan Bathory, was working with Hungary on an invasion of Bucharest and needed Dracula to help pave the way. It was the latter's assignment to skirmish the Turks in the area just north of Bucharest, a topography of woodland and marsh, causing confusion and serving as decoy. Undermanned and over-anticipated, Dracula understood his precarious situation – he had left his wife and sons in Transylvania for their safety – and may have expressed concerns to his authorities. If he had, none have been recorded. Marching out the gates of Tirgoviste in early December, 1476, he followed the Dimbovita River south, His destination was the monastery at Snagov, where he would finalize battle plans. He probably hoped that Count Bathory would assign reinforcements to meet him there. None came.
On a cold morning not long before Christmas, Dracula and his vanguard encountered an overwhelming body of Turks in the Vlasia Forest, adjacent to the monastery. Fighting was fierce and the Romanians, though in great minority, fought like devils. They were probably inspired by their leader who, wielding his father's, the Dragon's, Toledo blade charged the enemy screaming a Valkyrie-like cry of no surrender.
How Dracula died is anyone's guess...assumptions are many and witnesses unreliable. They have him fighting to the last until speared by a Turk; or taking a blow from an axe by one of his own men in confusion; or shot through the head while cheering his men's bravery. But, one fact is certain – it was recorded by the monastery monks – his body was found mutilated in a nearby bog: The only way the good priests could tell who he was came from the medallions and the princely vestments he wore. He was decapitated, seemingly in ritualistic style after death. His head was nowhere to be found.
Dracula's head was said to be brought back by the Turks to Constantinople, where Sultan Mehmed, Dracula's old enemy, exhibited it above the city gates: testimony to Allah's triumph over the evil European Empire.
The Ottoman nation would refuse to relinquish their claim to Romania for centuries after this story ends. It would not be until the year 1878 that Romania, with the assistance of the Romanovs of Russia, was able to shake off the Turks for good. "The revival of a Romanian political and national sentiment took place," explains the Romanian Travel Service. "A national bourgeoisie emerged, which struggled for the...unification of the separate states into a single nation...(Romania) was raised to the rank of Kingdom in 1881."
The Countess Ilona was invited by King Matthias to live in the Hungarian Court with her two sons after Dracula's demise. In 1508, Dracula's oldest son, Vlad, made a strike for the throne of Wallachia, but was beaten back by another relative named Mihnea who claimed to be an illegitimate son of Dracula's early days. Probably because he wanted to avoid a scandal that could hurt his mother, Vlad conceded.
If this Mihnea was lying about his bloodline, he certainly did a good job trying to act like the man he claimed was his father. The moment he set his posterior on the throne, the impalings began. But, this time the principality of Wallachia was ready. They rebelled in worthy numbers and the beast they called Mihnea the Bad was sent packing for the hills.
In the meantime, the legitimate Dracula family waned. Only Vlad lived to maturity. Of his two sons, only one married. From that point the number of direct male heirs dwindled. By the mid-1700s, the last of the Draculas was living in (where else?) Transylvania, along the infamous Borgo Pass.
Of Dracula's contemporaries, Matthias Corvinus reigned until 1490, continuing to fight the Turks as well as European Bohemia, which wanted its own king. A Renaissance man, he was a true patron of the arts. Says the Columbia Encyclopedia, "His library at Buda, the Corvina, was one of the finest in Europe."
Stefan Bathory continued to rule Transylvania for some time. His great niece, Elizabeth, was the one who would make history books, however. Countess Bathory, a vain and rather neurotic lady, believed that bathing in blood would preserve her youth. She was proven wrong, but not until she drained more than 300 women of the red stuff. For her endeavors, she was aptly named "Countess Dracula".
Where Dracula is buried is unknown. The friars at Snagov transcribed that they interred him at the foot of the altar in the chapel. But when historical archaeologists in the early 1930s removed the marble slab that was supposed to be covering the Impaler's grave, they encountered an empty six-foot pit that looked like someone at one time may have been buried there. This revelation gave rise to...well, that Dracula may have risen from the grave, after all! Bela Lugosi was still fresh in the mind of the Western World, having just appeared in the black-and-white movie version of the Stoker novel, and headlines had a field day!
Several years later, a headless skeleton was uncovered behind a large stone towards the rear of the church. Because the bones were wrapped in rotting rags that science has proven were once rich-fabric vestments, like those a prince in the 1400s would have worn, many believe that Dracula's earthly remains had been found. One strong argument in their behalf is that the faded cloak covering the shoulders indicates it had once been a vibrant wine red – the royal color of the Dragon's family.
With no better theory to disprove this, the skeleton is considered to this day to be that of the mighty and fearsome Vlad Tepes, Dracula. Researchists here and there aren't convinced and studies for and against continue to be penned.
Tongue in cheek, Radu Florescu and Raymond McNally in Dracula – Prince of Many Faces, quip, "The determined vampirists will of course reply that he never died and that his spirit will haunt us perpetually." In fact, they more soberly point to an old Russian Orthodoxy tradition that claims because Dracula "forsook the truth and the light and accepted darkness," he would never rest in peace.
Strange as it might seem to us, a large percentage of peasant stock residing in the Transylvanian Alps still believe in vampires and ghouls that rise from their graves. Religious ceremonies are enacted at certain times of the year, as on Walpurgis Nacht, the Night of the Devil (May 1), when evil is said to have sway over the world.
As Count Dracula tells British solicitor Jonathan Harker in the novel, "This is Transylvania and Transylvania is not England. Our ways are not your ways, and there shall be to you many strange things. Indeed, from what you have told me already, you know what strange things there may be."
Cadzow, John F., Ludanyi, Andrew & Eleto, Louis J. ed. Transylvania – The Roots of Ethnic Conflict. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1983.
Florescu, Radu R. & McNally, Raymond T. Dracula – Prince of Many Faces. NY: Little, Brown & Company/Back Bay Books, 1989.
Florescu, Radu. R. & McNally, Raymond T. In Search of Dracula. NY: Houghton Mifflin, 1994.
Gies, Joseph & Frances. Life in a Medieval Castle. NY: Harper & Row/Perennial Publishers, 1979.
Stoker, Bram. Dracula. NJ: Unicorn Publishing, 1985.
Stoker, Bram. Dracula's Guest. NY: Houghton Mifflin, 1979.
Banu, Bogdan. Bogdan's Domain website. Article: "Dracula – The Real Story," 1999.
Castle of Spirits website, article on "Vlad Dracula, the Impaler," 1996.
Lonely Planet World Guide. Article: "Romania," 2000.
McKaig, Angie. "Who is Vlad the Impaler?" Internet.
Miller. Elizabeth. Article: "Dracula: The Myth and the Myth of History," Journal of the Dark magazine, Issue 9, 1996.
Mutler, Alison/Associated Press. Article: "Romania Revamps Dracula Legend to Earn Tourist Dollars," The Independent Newspaper, May 28, 2000.
RO-Travel.Com, published by the Romanian
Tourist Services. Five articles: "Dracula, Between Legend and Reality," "The Geto-Dacians," "Roman Dacia," "The Romanian Principalities" and "The Middle Ages in Romania," 1999.
Tayler, Jeffrey. "Transylvania Today," The Atlantic Monthly, issue June, 1997.
Wren, Caroline. "Visegrad: The Seat of Kings," published by Central Europe Online.
Zyreco, George. "A Carpathian Moonlight Serenade," Postcards magazine, issue March, 1976.
Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th Edition, article on "Matthias Corvinus," NY: Columbia University Press, 2000.
Federation of East European Families Society. Article: "History of United Romania," 1995.
Hopkins, Martha E. Three articles: "Magyars Arrive in Transylvania," "Origins of Wallachia and Moldavia" and "The Ottoman Invasions," Federal Research Division, Library of Congress Country Studies, 1999.
Pitman, Paul M. "Turkey: A Country Study," Federal Research Division, Library of Congress Country Studies, 1987.
Porter, Ray. "The Historical Dracula, Vlad III," report for LISTSERV FAQ "Vampyres List," Georgetown University, April, 1992.
The following people and organizations clarified for me the often-complex history of Romania, as well as helped me better understand the importance of Vlad Dracula's respective place within it:
Nemecsek Einar of Dusseldorf, Germany, native of Romania.
The Transylvania Society, Ontario, Canada Chapter.
Joseph Geringer, a Chicagoan, has worked full-time or on a freelance basis as writer and editor for AT&T, the American Hospital Association, Macmillan and other corporations. He currently manages his own corporate support and design business, specializing in helping small business owners conduct a successful communications program. A history enthusiast, his areas of concentration are the American Civil War and the Prohibition Era. He is the author of several feature articles and dramatic works on the Lincoln assassination, including a play about John Wilkes Booth entitled Drown the Stage with Tears. As well, he wrote and produced Near To Me, a three-act play that faithfully recreates three days in Chicago's Irish bungalow belt in 1928.
Author: Joseph Geringer
Source: CourtTV / Crime Library