Who was the real Dracula? Is it this guy trying to bite Diane?
The man known as Dracula was born in 1431 in Sighisoara (pronounced ‘siggy-schwa-ra’), a town that we visited in Transylvania. Dracula (Vlad III) was named after his father Vlad II, a commander of the mountain passes between Transylvania and Wallachia. His mother was Princess Ceneajna of Moldavia. His father lived at Str Muzeului 6 near the clock tower, which is probably where Dracula was born.
Dracula’s birthplace is now a tourist restaurant and coffee shop.
In the year of Vlad III’s birth (the son), Vlad II (the father) traveled to Nuremburg and was vested into the Order of the Dragon, a society with the goal of protecting Christianity in Europe and defending it against the Ottoman Turks. The Order of the Dragon was founded by Sigismund of Luxembourg, Holy Roman Emperor and king of what later became Hungary, Croatia, and Bohemia. Afterwards Vlad II was known by the nickname Vlad Dracul (meaning ‘dragon’). Like his Dad, Vlad III was also initiated into this Order at age 5. Young Vlad became known as Dracula (‘son of the Dragon’) after his father.
In 1436, Vlad II Dracul became Voivode (King) of Wallachia, making Vlad III (Dracula) a Prince. His rule didn’t last long and he was overthrown in 1442 by rival factions in league with Hungary, but regained his thrown with support from the Ottomans (Turkish Muslims) in return for agreeing to pay the Jizya (a tax on non-Muslims). In addition, he was required to send his two sons Vlad III (Dracula) and Radu to the Ottoman court to serve as hostages to ensure his loyalty, a common practice in those days to ensure that people lived up to their commitments. There Vlad Dracula probably observed the Turks using torture and other techniques of terror, which he would later use against them.
Vlad Dracula grew and became a three-time Voivode of Wallachia, ruling mainly from 1456 to 1462. This was a period of growing attacks on the Balkans by the Ottomans. As a member of the Order of the Dragon, Vlad III spent much of his life battling against the Ottoman Empire and the expansion of Islam. In order to discourage them, he began the practice of impaling his enemies and allowing them to die slowly. He developed a reputation for excessive cruelty which was renowned across Europe. The total number of his victims is estimated in the tens of thousands. As a result of his practice of skewering his enemies, Vlad was later dubbed Vlad Țepeș (Vlad the Impaler).
Vlad was the inspiration for Count Dracula in Bram Stoker’s 1897 gothic horror novel Dracula. There is no evidence that the real Dracula drank blood, could change into animal forms, or was undead. Stoker knew just enough Romanian history to make the connection with Vlad Dracula and Transylvania undoubtedly seemed like such an exotic place for the home of his main character.
We also visited Bran Castle, which claims to have a connection to Dracula, one which is tenuous one at best. Still, it was an interesting castle to visit given its position, history, and design (many small rooms linked by twisting staircases and passageways). The Castle has displays about its own history, that of Vlad Dracula, plus information about vampires and strigoi (Romanian poltergeists, evil souls of the dead born again with the ability to change into animals, become invisible, and to drain the vitality of victims via blood loss – sound familiar?).
Vlad III Dracula was murdered at the age of 45 in the year 1476. His head was taken to Constantinople as a trophy, and his body was buried unceremoniously, but his memory and his descendants live on. Vlad Dracula is an ancestor of Queen Elizabeth. Mary of Teck, a descendant of Vlad the Impaler, joined the British Royal Family in 1893 upon her marriage to His Royal Highness Prince George, Duke of York, who later became King George V in 1910. In October 2011, Prince Charles publicly claimed that genealogy proves that he is a distant relative of the real Dracula.