The Real Hackstory of Lord Dracula

Hayley Milliman - Content Lead

Tags:

Before vampires became sparkly, over-protective boyfriends with penchants for emotional abuse in the cultural milieu, they were terrifying supernatural beings that inspired real fear in the hearts of intrepid tourists exploring the woods of Transylvania and jumpy moviegoers around the world.

The grandfather of all bloodsucking nightmares was Count Dracula, first brought into undead being by Irish author Bram Stoker 1. Written in epistolary format as a series of fake letters, diary entries, ships’ logs, and newspaper articles, Dracula instilled a peculiar sense of dread in its readers: while the story was obviously too fantastic to be true, the realistic and unique format of the text made people wonder, “Okay, but what if?”

Stoker drew on a number of sources as inspiration for Dracula. The grim visage of foggy English coastal towns and Stoker’s struggle with his own repressed homosexuality 2 might have provided the initial fodder for this Gothic horror, but it was a chance encounter with a Hungarian traveler that unlocked the stories Stoker would ultimately use to craft his supervillain.

That Hungarian traveler told Stoker about the Carpathian Mountains, a spectacular set of mountain ranges that is not only home to some of the most stunning scenery in Eastern Europe but dark legends of supernatural creatures and mysterious occurrences.

The darkest tale to emerge from the shadows of the Carpathians wasn’t even legend at all – it was the true story of a Wallachian leader, whose reign of terror inspired fear, superstition, and Bram Stoker 3.

His name was Lord Dracula. And yes, he wanted to drink your blood.

Vlad III and The Order of the Dragon

Presenting: The O.G. Prince of Darkness

The real Lord Dracula’s full name was Vlad III Dracula.

Vlad III was the second son of Vlad II, the leader of a small principality known as Wallachia. Vlad the Dad was inducted into something called “The Order of the Dragon,” which was either an underground resistance group against an evil dark wizard or a collection of religious zealots tasked with the defense of Christian Europe by the Holy Roman Emperor 4. For his trouble, Vlad II got to add the moniker “Dracul” (dragon) to the end of his name.

Obsessed with his father’s legacy, Vlad III took “Dracula,” meaning “Son of the Dragon”, as his own sobriquet from a very young age. He’d take on another name later in life, one that may be familiar to you:

Vlad the Impaler.

Vampires Aren’t Born. They’re Made.

Ah, the miracle of undead life.

If you’re Bill from True Blood, you make your progeny by draining their human blood, replacing it with some of your own vampiric “life essence,” and burying your unwitting offspring in a shallow grave with you for one cramped, smelly night.

Folklore suggests that vampires aren’t simply born: they’re made, by other vampires, and the same holds true for Vlad III Dracula. He wasn’t born cruel; he had cruelness thrust upon him.

Wallachia was a tiny Central-European province smackdab in the middle of many larger, more powerful players. One of those powers was the Ottoman Empire, ruled by Sultan Murad II. As a young child, Vlad III and his brother, Radu, were given to Murad II as collateral to ensure that their father, Vlad II, behaved.

Growing up in the Sultan’s court was likely very challenging for Vlad III. For starters, he and Radu were hostages and held as prisoners in various fortresses throughout the Ottoman Empire. While the brothers weren’t always kept in chains, they were never quite able to forget that they were not honored guests but potential top-billing at the next live execution.

Secondly, Vlad III and Radu grew up as Catholics (remember, Vlad the Dad got his moniker by defending the Christian Empire). Murad II’s court was Muslim and Vlad and Radu were likely forced to put aside their beliefs and practice Islam. While sources suggest that Radu eventually converted to Islam, Vlad III’s later conflict with Murad’s son, Mehmed the Conqueror, suggests that adopting a new religion never sat quite well with young Dracula.

And to top it all off, it seems as though Vlad the Dad either didn’t really give a crap about the well-being of his youngest sons or else was extremely confused about what Murad II meant when he said said he was taking the boys as collateral and expected loyalty. Vlad II not only never ever really accepted Murad’s rule, he also actively supported the King of Poland and Hungary in his uprising against the Ottoman leader 5.

Vlad and Radu were in considerable danger after their father’s disobedience, and while no lasting harm came to either boy, they probably lived in abject terror for quite awhile until their dad fell in line again. #thanksdad

After four years of living as a prisoner in the Ottoman Court, Vlad III left sans Radu and made for Wallachia. Vlad had recently received word that his father and older brother were assassinated by some of the Wallachian nobles, meaning that Vlad III entered his homeland with quite a few axes to grind and no qualms, it seems, about grinding them.

How Does One Come To Be Called “The Impaler”?

Looking for a new nickname, eh?

Suffice to say, being known as “The Impaler” isn’t a point of pride for 99.9% of people – but Vlad III relished his reputation for cruelty.

After leaving the Ottoman court, Lord Dracula embarked on what would become a lifelong quest to have and hold his father’s seat of power in Wallachia. Basically no one else wanted Vlad III to achieve his goal; when Vlad III first fought for the throne, his opponents included his only surviving brother, Radu, the Ottoman sultan and his giant army, and the entirety of Wallachia’s feudal aristocracy 6.

Vlad III won and lost the Wallachian throne three times, spending almost the totality of his adult life in battle (the guy had persistence). It was a time of great upheaval in the region, so Dracula’s propensity for violence wasn’t all that unique.

What was unique, however, was the particular breed of cruelty that Vlad III employed against his enemies.

Firsthand sources would call Vlad a “demented psychopath, a sadist, a gruesome murderer, a masochist,” 7 and Vlad himself boasted of his depravity in letters to his allies. The legendary bloodthirstiness of Lord Dracula would inspire bestsellers long before Bram Stoker added fangs to the villain – stories about Vlad were published in some of the first printed books, accompanied by woodcuts depicting charming scenes like Vlad dining next to the impaled corpses of his victims 8.

“Damnit, Dave, I’ve asked you to pass the salt three times.”

If the stories were exaggerated is up for debate, but regardless of whether or not Vlad’s only dinner partners were his dead enemies, it’s certain that he was pretty terrible.

Here are some of the things Vlad III did to earn the nickname “Impaler.”

#1: Impale People, Obviously

Unsurprisingly, Vlad the Impaler was really fond of impaling people. And not dead people – Vlad liked to spear live people onto stakes and leave them there to perish.

Vlad was an equal opportunity impaler: he impaled men, women, children, babies, domestic enemies, foreign enemies… basically, anyone and everyone who had the gall to get in his way. After retreating from a battle in 1462, Vlad III left a field filled with thousands of impaled people to warn off the Ottomans from their pursuit 9.

It kind of worked – Vlad III evaded the Ottomans, only to be captured and imprisoned by the Hungarians.

#2: Pissing Off PETA

When I said that Vlad was an equal opportunity impaler, I meant it.

According to one source, Vlad impaled two monks (apparently to help them go to heaven, though it’s not clear to me how stabbing someone on a wooden stake and leaving them to die does that) and then ordered the impalement of their poor donkey after it wouldn’t stop braying 10.

Another first-hand account from a former papal legate (so it must be accurate *wink*) said that Vlad, ever the considerate house guest, would cut up and impale rats on tiny pieces of wood when he was stuck in prison 11.

Whatever else, Vlad III certainly knew how to live his personal brand.

#3: Inventing New Ways to Torture

“Once again, welcome to my house.”

We all contain multitudes, and Vlad the Impaler certainly wasn’t just an impaler. He was a fan of all kinds of torture and particularly enjoyed coming up with new and ever crueler ways to punish his enemies.

Here are just some of the atrocities commonly attributed to Vlad III:

  • Nailing Turkish messengers’ turbans to their heads
  • Sticking people’s heads into cauldrons of boiling water
  • Murdering guests at parties he invited them to
  • Burning the lands of boyars that resisted him
  • Bringing about the deaths of over 80,000 people

Lest you think think that Vlad the Impaler could not possibly have orchestrated all of this chaos without feeling a tiny bit of remorse, primary sources suggest that Lord Dracula not only owned his reign of terror, but exalted in it.

A letter from Vlad to one of his military allies in 1462 reads: “I have killed peasants, men and women, old and young… We killed 23,884 Turks, without counting those whom we burned in homes or the Turks whose heads were cut by our soldiers… Thus, your highness, you must know that I have broken the peace.” 12

Um, duh.

Prince of Darkness, indeed.

The Haunting of the Carpathians

After all that death, it might surprise you to learn that Lord Dracula died peacefully in his bed, surrounded by lov…

Just kidding.

Historians don’t actually know how Vlad the Impaler died. Shortly after he regained his father’s throne for the third and final time, Dracula was killed in battle. According to one noble, Vlad’s corpse was cut into pieces and sent to the Ottoman ruler. According to another, he was buried in an unmarked tomb in a small monastery 13 .

We have no evidence that either theory is true. There are no records that Vlad’s head ever made its way to Mehmed II and, when excavations into the unmarked grave were carried out in 1933, they found nothing beneath the tombstone but some horse jaws 14.

Perhaps, like Historian Constantin Rezachevici suggests, Vlad the Impaler was buried at a church near the battlefield where he was killed.

Or maybe, just maybe, Lord Dracula haunted the nearby forests of Transylvania for centuries before traveling to England to take up residence in Carfax Abbey.

I guess we’ll never really know.

 

Share this article... your friends will love it too ❤️

Notes & Gossip 📌

  1. “Bram Stoker – Novels.” Retrieved from Bramstoker.org
  2. Christopher Craft (1984). “Kiss Me with Those Red Lips”: Gender and Inversion in Bram Stoker’s Dracula
  3. Sources are divided on how much Stoker actually knew about the real Dracula. The use of the name certainly can’t be a coincidence, but there’s no record of research about the real Dracula in Stoker’s notes
  4. Pallardy, R. Vlad the Impaler: Ruler of Wallachia. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Vlad-the-Impaler
  5. Pallardy, R. Vlad the Impaler: Ruler of Wallachia. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Vlad-the-Impaler
  6. Pallardy, R. Vlad the Impaler: Ruler of Wallachia. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Vlad-the-Impaler
  7. Florescu, Radu R.; McNally, Raymond T. (1989). Dracula, Prince of Many Faces: His Life and his Times. Back Bay Books.
  8. Florescu, Radu R.; McNally, Raymond T. (1989). Dracula, Prince of Many Faces: His Life and his Times. Back Bay Books.
  9. Pallardy, R. Vlad the Impaler: Ruler of Wallachia. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Vlad-the-Impaler
  10. Florescu, Radu R.; McNally, Raymond T. (1989). Dracula, Prince of Many Faces: His Life and his Times. Back Bay Books.
  11. Florescu, Radu R.; McNally, Raymond T. (1989). Dracula, Prince of Many Faces: His Life and his Times. Back Bay Books.
  12. Pallardy, R. Vlad the Impaler: Ruler of Wallachia. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Vlad-the-Impaler
  13. Rezachevici, Constantin (1991). Vlad Țepeș – Chronology and historical bibliography. Columbia University Press.
  14. Rezachevici, Constantin (1991). Vlad Țepeș – Chronology and historical bibliography. Columbia University Press.

Scholarly Shout-outs 🌟

Want our best stories in your inbox once per week?️

Yes 🙌 No 😞