The True Story of Dracula
Dracula or Vlad the Impaler was the son of Vlad Dracul (1436-1442;
1443-1447) and grandson of Mircea the Old (1386-1418). Vlad Dracul was
dubbed a knight of the Dragon Order by the Hungarian king. All the members
of the order had a dragon on their coat of arms, and that is what brought
him the nickname of Dracul (the Devil). Vlad the Impaler used to sign
himself Draculea or Draculya - the Devil's son -, a name which was distorted
Dracula's renown reached the West through the Saxons from the Transylvanian
towns of Brasov (Kronstadt) and Sibiu (Hermannstadt), who often gave
shelter to those who claimed the Wallachian throne. In order to escape
the peril of losing his throne, Vlad would punish the Saxons. Sibiu
and the neighbouring area were pillaged and burnt down by Vlad, and
many Saxons were impaled. The same happened to the Saxon merchants who
came on business to Tārgoviste.
In fact, Vlad was called Tepes (the Impaler) only after his death (1476).
He ruled in Wallachia between 1456-1462 and in 1476. In 1462, having
been defeated by the Turks, Vlad took refuge in Hungary. In 1476, with
the help of the Hungarian king Matia Corvin and the Moldavian prince
Stephen the Great, Vlad took over the Wallachian throne again for a
month. A battle followed, during which Vlad was killed. His body was
buried in the church of the Snagov Monastery, on an island near Bucharest.
His body lies in front of the altar. In 1935, a richly dressed but beheaded
corpse was exhumed at Snagov, a fate known to have overtaken Dracula,
whose head was supposedly wrapped, perfumed and dispatched as a gift
to the Turkish sultan. They say that impalling was one of Dracula's
favourite punishments, but he was not the only one who made use of it
at the time.
Other German and Spanish princes would do the same. He used the method
for boyars, thieves and criminals, Turks, Saxons and those who conspired
against him; more than once it happened that a whole forest of sharp
stakes with enemies' heads would rise around Tārgoviste, the capital
of Wallachia at the time. Horrified by these atrocities, the Saxons
printed books and pamphlets in which they told about Vlad's cruelty.
These booklets also reached Germany and Western Europe, where Dracula
became known as a bloody tyrant.
In 1897, the Irish writer Bram Stoker published Dracula, which made
the Impaler famous world-wide. Stoker read the stories about Dracula
printed in the 15th and 16th centuries and was struck by his acts of
cruelty. He decided to make him his character; he also read several
books about Transylvania (a name of Latin origin, meaning "the country
beyond the forests"), and thought that this "exotic" land would make
a proper setting for Dracula's deeds.
In fact, Stoker used Vlad only as a source of inspiration, since in
his novel, Dracula is not prince Vlad the Impaler, but a Transylvanian
count living in a mysterious castle where he lured his victims. His
story takes place in the Bistritza area, and the castle lies near the
Bārgau Pass (in the Carpathian Mountains). As Stoker had never visited
Transylvania, most places and happenings were pure fiction.
Legend and true history about Dracula intermingle and are being kept
alive by tourist destinations like the Monastery of Snagov near Bucharest,
or Bran Castle near Brasov.