Vlad III and Dracula: Separating the Man from the Myth
When many of us encounter the name “Dracula”, many of us have the image of a tall and pale gentleman with fangs who seems to be the personification of the evil. A few of us may be acquainted with the fact that the popular fictional character Dracula was believed to be based on Vlad the Impaler, a historical character who was known to have a legendary bloodlust that led him to impale hundreds of people on wooden stakes and use other cruel methods of torture to conquer his enemies.
However these two popular views of Dracula and Vlad the Impaler are not only not entirely factual but also do an injustice to the real character of Vlad III who is viewed as a hero by the Romanian people for protecting Romania and his people against the Turkish Invasion during his reign as prince. Some of us might think of Vlad the Impaler as an insane and evil tyrant whose torturous and cruel practices showed his disregard human life.
This paper aims to separate the facts from the myths and legends behind Vlad III otherwise more popularly known as Dracula. The paper shows that the Russians view Vlad III as a hero and not a villain and this paper also shows that he did not simply do the actions of torture out of bloodlust or wanton destruction but out of revenge and necessity in order to protect his people against an overwhelming Turkish invasion.
In fact, certain facts may show that Vlad III was actually a brave prince who restored order during his reign in Wallachia and who bravely fought the boyars (the Wallachian nobility) and was a “man of the masses”, a progressive leader who appointed political posts from the free peasants class rather than the present boyar nobility (Florescu and Mcnally 48). Vlad III: The Historical Character
The character we know as Dracula as popularized by Bram Stoker’s book is believed to be based on Vlad III a 15th Century Romanian Prince who ruled the region of Walachia in intermittently for three brief periods from 1448 to 1476 and was also known as Vlad III Dracula, Vlad Tepes, and Vlad the Impaler. Throughout this paper we will use Vlad III to refer to the actual historical character. Much has been told about Vlad III’s ruthlessness in punishing and torturing his enemies.
He was known to use many appalling techniques of torture such as boiling or skinning his enemies alive as well as impaling them on long wooden stakes that garnered him the name of “Impaler”. Yet many authors also view him as “the first modern Renaissance prince of the land” (Florescu and Mcnally 65) and as a brave warrior prince who defended Europe against the Turkish invaders and the Ottoman Empire and who died in battle while leading his troops against the Turks. Explanation of Vlad III’s Atrocities
Although Vlad III was widely known for his excessive cruelty in dispensing punishment to his enemies, the people of Romania actually refer to Vlad III as a brave warrior who led the nation in battling the Turkish invasion and justify his methods of torture in the sense that those certain methods of torture were already being used during his time. Moreover the exact number of people who were impaled by Vlad III is very hard to acertain and the large figures of impalements attributed to him are likely to have been overly exaggerated by his enemies reports (Keymer 45).
Furthermore the society in which Vlad III found himself in was an extremely violent and militaristic. Vlad III’s father was at the center of the bloody and violent political system at the time as he was serving as the leader of the Walachian voivodate (principality). In fact Vlad III’s father was assassinated for political reasons and his older brother was tortured and killed at the hands of the Walachian boyars (nobles). Vlad III also suffered a difficult childhood as he and his older brother were both given up as hostages to the Ottoman Sultan when they were young.
This led Vlad III to develop a strong hatred against the Ottomans as well as distrust against his father for allowing them to be held hostage by the Ottomans. Vlad III was also traumatized by the fact that his older brother Mircea who he had been very close to and who had taken care of him during their time as hostages of the Ottomans was blinded with hot iron stakes and buried alive by political rivals. This also led to a strong sense of hate and distrust of Vlad III of politics and the boyar nobility who were always seeking political power.
These may have been the reasons as to Vlad III’s first significant act of cruelty wherein he did his first mass impalement. It was during his main reign as Prince of Wallachia wherein he held a feast for the boyars (nobles) and their families in order to celebrate Easter. Vlad III was well aware that many of the boyars in the feast were responsible for the conspiracy that led to Vlad III’s fathers assassination as well as the cruel torture and death of his beloved elder brother Mircea.
Many of the boyars present had likewise been involved in numerous assassinations and overthrows of Wallachian princes in the past. Vlad III must have sensed that it was only a matter of time when these boyars would also turn against him and overthrow or assassinate him. During the feast, Vlad had asked the boyars how many princes had ruled during the boyar’s lifetimes and all of the boyars answered that they had outlived several princes. One boyar even answered that at least thirty princes had held the throne during his lifetime (Gelder 82).
This reflected the fact that well-known fact that Wallachian politics at the time was very bloody, assassination was a very common means of eliminating political rivals and princes such as Vlad III never held on the throne for long and were usually overthrown or killed by a political rival. These facts and this mindset was probably what let Vlad III to order the arrest all of the boyars present and have the older boyars together with their families impaled on long wooden stakes.
The rest of the younger and healthier nobles and their families were marched a long distance to the ruins of a castle in the mountains above the Arges River where Vlad III was to rebuild this fortress as his own stronghold and castle. He enslaved the boyars and their families and forced them to labor for months rebuilding the old castle with materials from another nearby ruin (Gelder 89). Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the Vampire Myth
Most readers are acquainted with Vlad the Impaler or Vlad III through the fictional novel of Bram Stoker entitled Dracula as many hold the belief that the fictional character of Dracula was based on the historical character Vlad III. However it is widely argued that Bram Stoker had only loosely based his character on Vlad III and most likely based his character more on earlier villains in Gothic literature and also based on his employer the legendary actor Henry Irving.
Moreover, Vlad III was neither a Count nor a vampire or ever associated with vampires. Bram Stoker was however, acquainted with the historical character Vlad III through information from Arminius Vambery, a Hungarian professor from Budapest whom Stoker met personally with on several occasions and may have gleaned much information about Vlad III on which he may have based his Count Dracula character on. Stoker’s fictional novel does provide striking similarities between the fictional character Dracula and Vlad III.
Both were engaged in battling the Turks, the driving of the stake through a vampire’s heart is similar to the Vlad III’s usual practice of impalement, Count Dracula’s loathing of holy objects may be based on Vlad III’s renunciation of the Orthodox Church. However all these observations are merely guesswork as there is no historical evidence to suggest that Arminius Vambrey ever indulged Stoker with stories of Vlad Tepes, vampires, or Transylvania during their meetings together (Trow 24).
Additionally, the famous myth of vampirism surrounding Vlad III as a result of Bram Stoker’s Dracula is unfounded. There is no factual evidence to suggest that Vlad III was a practitioner of vampirism or related to any order of vampires whatsoever (Rickels 102). It is more likely that Bram Stoker had gleamed the subject of vampirism from the Gothic horror novels featuring vampires such as the short story The Vampyre by John Polidori which was published in 1819 and the melodrama “Les Vampires” by Charles Nodier and Carmouche which was produced in Paris in 1820.
It is very likely that Bram Stoker based his ideas of vampires from works such as these which were existing in his time and not based on the life of Vlad III as is popularly believed to be (Florescu and Mcnally 37). Conclusion This paper shows that a historical and factual investigation into the life of Vlad III otherwise known as Vlad the Impaler and Dracula shows that there are many popular misconceptions of the historical character Vlad III as a result of the fictional work of Bram Stoker and many other succeeding fictional works based on the Dracula character and vampire concept.
Although it is true that Vlad III did use cruel methods of torture to punish his enemies such as that of impaling his enemies on long wooden stakes, there is not historical evidence to suggest that Vlad III practiced vampirism or was related to any societies that practiced vampirism. Furthermore a historical investigation into the life of Vlad III can offer us some explanations as to the cruel and seemingly inhuman actions of Vlad III on his enemies.
Vlad III may have been primarily motivated by revenge for his father and brother’s cruel deaths at the hands of the boyars as well as the desire to stay in power as Prince of Wallachia for as long as possible that is why he resorted to the cruel actions in order to intimidate his rivals and to sow terror among them and make them afraid of him. Additionally, his reputation as a terrifying and ruthless warrior helped him stave off the powerful Ottoman Empire that was threatening to invade his country. He may have resorted to extremely violent tactics in order to intimidate the superior Ottoman army which outnumbered his forces.
Whatever the real motivations behind Vlad III’s actions we may never really know, however one thing is certain – that Romanians view Vlad III as a national hero who fought bravely and died in battle in order to protect his country and his reputation as an evil vampire or evil tyrant is largely unfounded and undeserved. Works Cited Florescu, Radu and Mcnally, Raymnod. Dracula, Prince of Many Faces: His Life and His Times. New York: Bay Back Books. 1990. Print. Florescu, Radu and McNally, Raymond. Dracula: Biography of Vlad the Impaler.
New York: Hawthorn Books, 1973. Print. Gelder, Ken. Reading the Vampire. New York: Routeledge, 1994. Print. Goldberg, Enid and Itzkowitz, Norman. Vlad the Impaler: The Real Count Dracula. New York: Franklin Watts. 2008. Print. Rickels, Laurence A. The Vampire Lectures. Minnesota: Univeristy of Minnesota Press 1999. Print. Keymer, David. From Demons to Dracula: The Creation of the Modern Vampire Myth. Library Journal, 12/1/2008, Vol. 133 Issue 20, p145-145. Trow, M. J. Vlad the Impaler: In Search of the Real Dracula. London: The History Press. 2004. Print.Sample Essay of EduBirdie.com