History of Vlad Tepes (Dracula)
By Lois Batu
Who is the real Dracula? When the name “Dracula” is mentioned, should we refer to the undead blood-sucking vampire who sleeps in coffins and transforms into a bat, or should we reflect upon a fifteenth century Romanian prince with an obsession for impalement? Such questions lead us to realize that folklore offers us one Dracula, while history offers us another. We can thank Bram Stoker for stealing Dracula’s name and replacing it with a mythical villain who cannot even endure sunlight, and for leaving us to piece together the truth of a forgotten man. When the myth finally dies, and the fables are at last put to bed, the name of Dracula will remain unchanged in our history books – as it has for over half a millennia. Then we will find that the true history of Dracula, in fact, is far more fascinating than any vampire fairy tale. The real Dracula, Vlad Tepes III Dracula, was born during the winter months of 1431 in the Transylvanian fortress of Sighisoara, located in Romania. Dracula’s father, Vlad II, had three sons: the eldest, Mircea; Vlad, who kept his namesake; and Radu, who would come to be known as “The Handsome.” The early childhoods of Dracula and Radu were typical for sons of the nobility. Dracula’s first steps in becoming a monster were taken on at the age of five, when he began a formal apprenticeship for knighthood. Dracula learned the art of warfare, and the skills of combat deemed necessary for a Christian knight living in turbulent Europe. Contrary to the popular romantic legends of the Draculas living in Transylvania, they resided just southeast, in the Romanian independent province of Wallachi Wallachia, a principality, was often found caught in the middle of the constant power struggle between its stronger neighbors, Hungary and Turkey. At that time, Vlad II was living in Transylvania attempting to gather support for his intended effort to seize the Wallachian throne from a pro-Turkish puppet prince. The same year Dracula was born, Vlad II joined a group of Slavic rulers and warlords who swore to uphold the Christian faith by fighting off the advancing Ottoman Empire. The group was known as the Order of the Dragon. It gained Vlad II the Holy Roman Emperor’s pledge to support his claim to the throne of Wallachia. The Order of the Dragon was created by the Emperor Sigismund to defend the Cross and to war against its enemies, principally the Turks. It was comprised of noble princes and vassals that Sigismund considered useful for both political and military alliances. Dracula’s father was included in this Order, which used the mythical dragon as their emblem. From his induction on, Vlad II had the dragon symbol of the Order displayed on his coinage. True to the modern image of vampires, he also had it embroidered on a black cape over a silk red garment. Vlad II fell so deeply in love with the idea of being part of the cliquey Order that he adopted the dragon to his name, using the word “Dracul,” which means “The Dragon” or “The Devil” in Romanian. His son Vlad III used the sobriquet “Dracula” in the context of “The Son of Dracul” or “The son of he who was a member of the Order of the Dragon.” However, it was only a matter of time until young Vlad Dracula would cause the name to take on a second meaning. Dracula would give his enemies and superstitious peasants good reason to refer to members of the Dracul family as “Devils.” Dracula grew to be so deeply feared and associated with the diabolical, he was even depicted martyring St. Andrew in paintings of the day Regardless of his devil image, Dracula’s father killed his pro-Turkish rival in 1436, and became the Voevod (Warlord–Prince) of Wallachia with the help of the Order. However, the political situation in Wallachia remained unstable after Vlad Dracul seized the throne. In 1442, Vlad II decided to keep his principality neutral during Turkey’s invasion of...
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