COHEN MATTHEWS looks at Vlad the Impaler, the Transylvanian warlord that gave Bram Stoker’s famous vampire his name
Everybody knows Dracula. I’m sure that many a child has hidden under their sheets, quivering with fear, at the very mention of his name.
Countless adaptations have kept this story alive through the centuries – even Batman fought Dracula – but what was the real inspiration behind the well-spoken Count?
The most obvious, and often, the most misunderstood muse behind Bram Stoker’s famous Count, is Vlad III Dracula, Son of Vlad II Dracul, and Prince of Wallachia, later known as Vlad the Impaler.
Vlad’s cruelty and ruthlessness is still renowned today, and as the posthumous dubbing suggests, his favoured method of execution was impaling his victims. It wasn’t just the act itself that gained Vlad notoriety, even during his life, but the sadistic pleasure he reportedly obtained from this. German woodcuts from 1499 show him dining amongst the impaled corpses of his enemies – men, women and children.
Vlad III Dracula was undoubtedly bloodthirsty, but was he really thirsty for blood?
Was Vlad the Impaler a vampire?
Unlike Elizabeth Bathory, there are no implications that the word “vampire” was thrown around about Vlad at the time.
This doesn’t mean he didn’t inspire Stoker while writing the Dracula book, it was, of course, Dracula’s name that he made infamous, but what are the origins of the name itself?
In modern Romanian, the word drac, from which the patronymic Dracul is derived, has come to mean “Devil”. This would suggest, that the name taken by Vlad II would hold similar connotations, however, at the time, it meant Dragon.
OK, so dragons are still pretty scary, and the name was taken when Vlad II was initiated into The Order of the Dragon, an order that spread primarily through Germany and Italy in the early 15th century.
But what was the purpose if this order? Was it dedicated to the eating of babies, or to the ceremonial burning of all that is fluffy and cute? No, it was actually dedicated to protecting Christianity throughout Europe. That’s not quite as devilish as the name implies.
Vlad III Dracula, the impaler, committed some undoubtedly evil acts.
He killed somewhere in the region of 40,000 – 100,000 people, brutally and sadistically, but it wasn’t Vlad the Impaler’s actions themselves that inspired Bram Stoker’s character.
It was the legacy of violence and bloodshed he left behind. That, and a conveniently cool patronymic.