Tuesday, February 28, 2012

DRACULA: THE TRUE STORY

Dracula has been attributed to many literary genres including horror fiction, the gothic novel and invasion literature. Structurally it is an epistolary novel, that is, told as a series of diary letters. Although Stoker did not invent the vampire, the novel's influence on the popularity of vampires has been singularly responsible for many theatrical and film interpretations throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.

Vladislav III, called "Vlad the Impaler" (that is, Vlad Tepes, pronounced ['tsepe?] in Romanian; also known as Vladislav Dracula or simply Dracula, in Romanian Draculea; November/December 8, 1431 - December 1476), was a Wallachian (Romanian) voivode (nobleman). His three reigns were in 1448, 1456 - 1462, and 1476. Vlad the Impaler is known for the exceedingly cruel punishments he imposed during his reign.

His Romanian surname Draculea, is derived from his father's title Dracul, meaning affiliation to or descent from "Dracul"; the later was a member of the Order of the Dragon created by Emperor Sigismund. Vlad's family had two factions, the Draculesti and the Danesti. The word "dracul" means "the Devil" or "demon" in modern Romanian but in Vlad's day also meant "dragon", and derives from the Latin word Draco, also meaning "dragon".

His post-mortem moniker of Tepes (Impaler) originated in his preferred method for executing his opponents, impalement - as popularized by medieval Transylvanian pamphlets. In Turkish, he was known as "Kazikli Bey" which means "Impaler Prince". Vlad was referred to as Dracula in a number of documents of his times, mainly the Transylvanian Saxon pamphlets and The Annals of Jan Dlugosz.

The crown of Wallachia was not passed automatically from father to son; instead, the leader was elected by the boyars, with the requirement that the Prince-elect be of nominally Basarab princely lineage (os de domn - "of voivode bones", "of voivode marrow"), including out of wedlock births. This elective monarchy often resulted in instability, family disputes and assassinations. Eventually, the princely house split between two factions: the descendants of Mircea the Elder, Vlad's grandfather; and those of another prince, Dan II (Danesti faction). In addition to that, as in all feudal states, there was another struggle between the central administration (the prince) and the high nobility for control over the country. To top it off, the two powerful neighbors of Wallachia, the Kingdom of Hungary and the Ottoman Empire, were at the peak of their rivalry for control of southeastern Europe, turning Wallachia into a battle ground.

Vlad was very likely born in the citadel (a military fortress) of Sighisoara in Transylvania, during the winter of 1431. He was born as the second son to his father Vlad Dracul and his mother Princess Cneajna of Moldavia. He had an older brother named Mircea and a younger brother named Radu the Handsome. Although his native country was Wallachia to the south, the family lived in exile in Transylvania as his father had been ousted by pro-Ottoman boyars. In the same year as his birth, his father, Vlad Dracul, could be found in Nuremberg, where he was vested into the Order of the Dragon. At the tender age of five, young "Vlad" was also initiated into the Order of the Dragon.

His father, Vlad II Dracul, born around 1395, was an illegitimate son of Mircea the Elder, an important early Wallachian ruler. As a young man, he had joined the court of Sigismund of Luxemburg, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Hungary, whose support for claiming the throne of Wallachia he eventually acquired. While the people of Wallachia did give Vlad II the surname Dracu (Dracul being the more grammatically correct form), any connection with a dark power was most likely coincidental. His son Vlad III would later use in several documents the surname Draculea. Through various translations (Draculea, Drakulya) Vlad III eventually came to be known as Dracula (note that this ultimate version is a neologism).

From his first marriage, to a Wallachian noble woman, Vlad III apparently had a son, later prince of Wallachia as Mihnea cel Rau, and another two with his second wife, a relative of Matthias Corvinus of Hungary.
The reputation of Vlad Tepes was considerably darker in the Western Europe than in the Eastern Europe and Romania. In the West, Vlad III Tepes had been characterized as an exceedingly cruel madman. The number of his victims ranges from 40,000 to 100,000. Much of the information about his atrocities and cruelness comes from the German stories written about him, which were for the most part politically, religiously and economically inspired propaganda against Vlad Tepes.

The atrocities made by Vlad in the German stories include impaling, torturing, burning, skinning, roasting, and boiling people, feeding people human flesh (their friends or relatives), cutting off limbs, drowning and nailing of hats to the heads of people. His victims included men and women of all ages, religions and social classes, children and babies.

In the memoirs of the Serbian Janissary Konstantin Mihailovic, it is documented by Mihailovic that the Ottomans feared Vlad III, and Mihailovic goes into great detail about how Vlad III would often cut off the noses of Turkish soldiers, sending them to Hungary to boast of how many of the enemy he had killed. Mihailovic also documents that the Ottomans were fearful of Wallachian attacks at night. He does elude to the famed "forrest of the impaled", where Vlad III was alleged to have lined the roadways with thousands of impaled Turkish soldiers. However, Mihailovic did not actually see this. He was with the army at that time, but was in the rear portion of the Ottoman army, recounting it based on the word of others.

The actions taken by Vlad Tepes must be viewed in the light of the standards and morality of his time. Most of the actions taken by Vlad can be justified on moral grounds or they had a utilitarian purpose or in some cases both. Most of the tortures done by Tepes in the different stories are actually normal punisments in that time. It is also common sense to think that if Vlad really was a bloodthirsty tyrant and a madman, the Hungarian king would not have had him marry a relative of his and put him on the throne of Wallachia.

Impalement was Tepes's preferred method of torture and execution. His method of torture was a horse attached to each of the victim's legs as a sharpened stake was gradually forced into the body. The end of the stake was usually oiled, and care was taken that the stake not be too sharp; else the victim might die too rapidly from shock. Normally the stake was inserted into the body through the anus and was often forced through the body until it emerged from the mouth. However, there were many instances where victims were impaled through other bodily orifices or through the abdomen or chest. Infants were sometimes impaled on the stake forced through their mother's chests. The records indicate that victims were sometimes impaled so that they hung upside down on the stake.

As expected, death by impalement was slow and painful. Victims sometimes endured for hours or days. Vlad often had the stakes arranged in various geometric patterns. The most common pattern was a ring of concentric circles in the outskirts of a city that constituted his target. The height of the spear indicated the rank of the victim. The corpses were often left decaying for months.

There are claims that thousands of people were impaled at a single time. One of the most famous woodcuts of the period shows Vlad the Impaler feasting amongst a forest of stakes and their grisly burdens outside Brasov, while a nearby executioner cuts apart other victims.

An old Romanian story says that Vlad left a gold cup in the middle of the street, then returned to pick it up the next day since no one touched it, as people were so afraid to commit crimes during his reign due to these horrific means of torture and capital punishment.

Many have attempted to justify Vlad's actions on the basis of nascent nationalism and political necessity. Most of the merchants in Transylvania and Wallachia were Saxons who were seen as parasites, preying upon Romanian natives of Wallachia, while the boyars had proven their disloyalty time and time again (Vlad's own father and older brother were murdered by unfaithful boyars). His actions were likely driven by one or more of three motives: personal or political vendettas, and the establishment of iron-fisted law and order in Wallachia.

Vlad Tepes is alleged to have committed even more impalements and other tortures against invading Ottoman forces. It was reported that an invading Ottoman army turned back in fright when it encountered thousands of rotting corpses impaled on the banks of the Danube. It has also been said that in 1462 Mehmed II, the conqueror of Constantinople, a man noted for his own psychological warfare tactics, returned to Constantinople after being sickened by the sight of 20,000 impaled corpses outside Vlad's capital of Târgoviste. Many of the victims were Turkish prisoners of war Vlad had previously captured during the Turkish invasion. The total Turkish casualty toll in this battle reached over 40,000. The warrior sultan turned command of the campaign against Vlad over to subordinates and returned to Constantinople, even though his army had initially outnumbered Vlad's three to one and was better equipped.

Almost as soon as he came to power, his first significant act of cruelty may have been motivated by a desire of revenge as well as a need to solidify his power. Early in his reign he gave a feast for his boyars and their families to celebrate Easter. Vlad was well aware that many of these same nobles were part of the conspiracy that led to his father's assassination and the burying alive of his elder brother, Mircea. Many had also played a role in the overthrow of numerous Wallachian princes. During the feast Vlad asked his noble guests how many princes had ruled during their life times. All of the nobles present had outlived several princes. One answered that at least thirty princes had held the throne during his life. None had seen less than seven reigns. Vlad immediately had all the assembled nobles arrested. The older boyars and their families were impaled on the spot. The younger and healthier nobles and their families were marched north from Târgoviste to the ruins of Poienari Castle in the mountains above the Arges River. Vlad the Impaler was determined to rebuild this ancient fortress as his own stronghold and refuge. The enslaved boyars and their families were forced to labor for months rebuilding the old castle with materials from another nearby ruin. According to the stories, they labored until the clothes fell off their bodies and then were forced to continue working naked. Very few of the old gentry survived the ordeal of building Vlad's castle.

It is most likely that Bram Stoker found the name for his vampire from William Wilkinsons book called An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia: with various Political Observations Relating to Them. It is known that Stoker made notes about this book. It is also suggested by some that because Stoker was a friend of a Hungarian professor (Arminius Vambery/Hermann Vamberger) from Budapest, Vlad's name might have been mentioned by this friend. Regardless of how the name came to Stoker's attention, the cruel history of the Impaler would have readily lent itself to Stoker's purposes. The events of Vlad's life were played out in a region of the world that was still basically medieval even in Stoker's time. The Balkans had only recently shaken off the Turkish yoke when Stoker started working on his novel and ancient superstitions were still prevalent. 

Given the history of the vampire legend in Europe it is perhaps natural that Stoker should place his great vampire in the heart of the region that gave birth to the story. Once Stoker had determined on a locality Vlad Dracula would stand out as one of the most notorious rulers of the selected region. He was obscure enough that few would recognize the name and those who did would know him for his acts of brutal cruelty; Dracula was a natural candidate for vampirism.

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