Bela Lugosi, Bram Stoker, Count Dracula, Dracul, Dracula, Halloween, Ottoman Empire, Vlad III, Vlad the Impaler, Voivode of Wallachia
Vlad III Dracula, known as Vlad the Impaler or Vlad Dracula was Voivode of Wallachia three times between 1448 and his death. He is often considered one of the most important rulers in Wallachian history and a national hero of Romania. He was born
circa 1428/31 and died circa 1476/77.
Vlad was the second legitimate son of Vlad II Dracul, who was an illegitimate son of Mircea I of Wallachia. Vlad II had won the moniker “Dracul” for his membership in the Order of the Dragon, a militant fraternity founded by Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund. The Order of the Dragon was dedicated to halting the Ottoman Empire’s advance into Europe.
Vlad III, Voivode of Wallachia
Vlad and his younger brother, Radu, were held as hostages in the Ottoman Empire in 1442 to secure their father’s loyalty. Vlad’s father and eldest brother, Mircea, were murdered after John Hunyadi, regent-governor of Hungary, invaded Wallachia in 1447. Hunyadi installed Vlad’s second cousin, Vladislav II, as the new voivode. Hunyadi launched a military campaign against the Ottomans in the autumn of 1448, and Vladislav accompanied him. Vlad broke into Wallachia with Ottoman support in October, but Vladislav returned and Vlad sought refuge in the Ottoman Empire before the end of the year. Vlad went to Moldavia in 1449 or 1450, and later to Hungary.
The Ottoman Sultan, Mehmed II, ordered Vlad to pay homage to him personally, but Vlad had the Sultan’s two envoys captured and impaled. In February 1462, he attacked Ottoman territory, massacring tens of thousands of Turks and Bulgarians. Mehmed launched a campaign against Wallachia to replace Vlad with Vlad’s younger brother, Radu. Vlad attempted to capture the sultan at Târgoviște during the night of 16–17 June 1462. The sultan and the main Ottoman army left Wallachia, but more and more Wallachians deserted to Radu. Vlad went to Transylvania to seek assistance from Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary, in late 1462, but Corvinus had him imprisoned.
Vlad was held in captivity in Visegrád from 1463 to 1475. During this period, anecdotes about his cruelty started to spread in Germany and Italy. He was released at the request of Stephen III of Moldavia in the summer of 1475. He fought in Corvinus’s army against the Ottomans in Bosnia in early 1476. Hungarian and Moldavian troops helped him to force Basarab Laiotă (who had dethroned Vlad’s brother, Radu) to flee from Wallachia in November. Basarab returned with Ottoman support before the end of the year. Vlad was killed in battle before 10 January 1477. Books describing Vlad’s cruel acts were among the first bestsellers in the German-speaking territories. In Russia, popular stories suggested that Vlad was able to strengthen central government only through applying brutal punishments, and a similar view was adopted by most Romanian historians in the 19th century.
Count Dracula portrayed by Bela Lugosi
Vlad’s reputation for cruelty and his patronymic inspired the name of the vampire Count Dracula, for whom, however, he did not serve as the general inspiration, in Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula.
According to “Dracula: Sense and Nonsense” by Elizabeth Miller, in 1890 Stoker read a book about Wallachia. Although it did not mention Vlad III, Stoker was struck by the word “Dracula.” He wrote in his notes, “in Wallachian language means DEVIL.” It is therefore likely that Stoker chose to name his character Dracula for the word’s devilish associations.
The theory that Vlad III and Dracula were the same person was developed and popularized by historians Radu Florescu and Raymond T. McNally in their 1972 book “In Search of Dracula.” Though far from accepted by all historians, the thesis took hold of the public imagination, according to The New York Times.
In Stoker’s novel, Jonathan Harker is having a conversation with Dracula in Chapter 3, where he refers to his own background, and these speeches show elements which Stoker directly copied from An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia: With Various Political Observations Relating to Them by William Wilkinson. Stoker mentions the Voivode of the Dracula race who fought against the Turks after the defeat in the Battle of Kosovo, and was later betrayed by his brother, historical facts which unequivocally point to Vlad III, described as “Voïvode Dracula”.
This indeed encourages the reader to identify the Count with the Voivode Dracula first mentioned by him in Chapter 3, the one betrayed by his brother: Vlad III Dracula, betrayed by his brother Radu the Handsome, who had chosen the side of the Turks. But as noted by the Dutch author Hans Corneel de Roos, in Chapter 25, Van Helsing and Mina drop this rudimentary connection to Vlad III and instead describe the Count’s personal past as that of “that other of his race” who lived “in a later age”. By smoothly exchanging Vlad III for a nameless double, Stoker avoided that his main character could be unambiguously linked to a historical person traceable in any history book.