It seems more than likely that Bram Stoker was inspired to write Dracula by this fifteenth century ruler in Transvylvania, whose father bore the nickname ‘Dracul’ (which simply means Dragon). On his shield when he went into battle (which was often) was a dragon. The suffix ‘a’ was later added by Orthodox scribes, making a Slavonic genitive into Latin to create a surname equivalent to ‘son of Dracul’. The eager student must travel to Transylvania where he/she can see many documents signed Dragwyla, Voivoda partium Transalpinorum.
Students of the history of the savage fifteenth century will also wish to know why Vlad V became known as ‘The Impaler’. It comes from the Rumanian, and depicts Vlad’s habit of taking his picnics on the battlefield, surrounded by forests of persons dying the worst of deaths impaled on sharp wood staves. You will find copies of this pastoral scene in the museums of a dozen Balkan capitals. The original engraving was made only 24 years after his death.
Vlad used to explain this inhospitable habit by blaming foreigners who insisted on entering his territory under arms. Two centuries later a Frenchman would invent the phrase pour encourager les autres. Records state that Vlad impaled more than 25,000 Bulgarian men, women and children in only one campaign. But he was very much not of the ‘undead’. Nor was he a vampire; he was an extraordinarily violent European satrap ruler who won battles and then impaled the wounded. The Voivode is also said to have cooked people alive. Any writer or photo-journalist who covered the recent Balkan Wars will tell you that none of these customs have changed much in the last six hundred years, though gentle editors may not have used these discoveries, for fear of losing circulation.
Vlad V decentralised the government of Wollachia, overthrew much local customary law, and impaled around 50 nobles after inviting them to a banquet. Much of the actual banquet is said to have been dressed crabs which had been fed on the brains of other nobles. Vlad did not do things by halves.
Contemporary historians had it that Vlad was a ‘very severe, just Prince; he could not bear thieves, liars (this word might be ‘lawyers’, but it is difficult to ascertain) and spongers. Genealogists will be interested to learn that Dracul and his son were direct descendents of Gengis Khan, himself given to erecting buildings from the skulls of his enemies. Vlad V also sprang from the same stock as the Tartar princess who was the mother of Ivan the Terrible of Russia, who criminally re-organised central government there with ferocious cruelty. One of his barely unmentionable acts took place at Novgorod, where the population wanted to stand up for their rights. Ivan took the city and tortured the entire population (around 50,000) to death in a Russian February.
Leaving aside the fact that many historians forgivingly compare Ivan with Peter the Great and Catherine the Great, Henry VIII, and Pol Pot as well as Lenin, it is amazing how often monsters should be lauded to the multitudes as benefactors. Peter the Great murdered his own son, Catherine sent hundreds of thousands to their deaths in battle, and Lenin’s committees agreed to the murder of an entire royal family. Lenin saw it as a worthwhile beginning to Socialism.
Vlad V was unsurprisingly murdered in 1476, and Hell only knows how and why he was the inspiration for Mr Stoker’s novel. He was not an elegant Count permanently dressed for the ball. He was known not for the drinking of blood but the spilling of blood.
Christopher Lee had a great deal of enjoyment portraying him in the first Dracula film made in 1958 (in my opinion the best of the genre ever made). Vlad V (Tepes) was a military leader of the utmost savagery who is still a hero in the eyes of the majority of his countrymen.