The Real Story of Dracula
certainly seems stranger than fiction as the real story of
makes Bram Stoker's vampire seem quite tame. Dracula has been known by
many names, such as: Vlad Tepes and Vlad the Impaler. Admired by many in Romania
as a hero; feared by his enemies as a ruthless butcher. The truth is far
more bizarre than anything Bela Lugosi, Gary Oldman, Francis Ford
Coppola or even Hollywood could have imagined. Here is the real story of
Dracula and the turbulent area of Eastern Europe that was his home.
Dracula's grandfather, Prince Mircea, reigned over
Wallachia from 1386-1418. Wallachia, together with Transylvania, form
the area now covered by Romania. This area was threatened by invasion
from the Ottoman Turks and Prince Mircea fought to keep the country's
independence from the Turks. Unfortunately, this meant that he had to
pay 'tribute' to them: a kind of bribe to keep the Turks off Wallachian
At this time, princes were elected by wealthy landowners the Boyars and
this inevitably led to quarrels and disagreements. Eventually, two
groups opposed to each other emerged: Mircea's supporters and the
Mircea's son, Dracula's father, Vlad, was born in 1390 and spent his
youth growing up in the court of King Sigismund of Hungary. The King
later became the Holy Roman Emperor. Here, Vlad became a member of the
Order of the Dragon, an elite group sworn to fight the Ottomans and
uphold the Catholic faith but with a secret subtext to strengthen the
House of Luxemburg's political supremacy in Europe. Vlad became known as
Dracul or Dragon, Dracula means son of the dragon. Dracul also
means devil but it seems unlikely that contemporaries thought of Vlad in
this way. Eventually, Vlad became the Governor of Transylvania, living
in Sighisoara where Dracula was eventually born. Vlad's ambitions,
however, were not satisfied and he killed Prince Alexandru I and became
Prince Vlad II. Like his father, Vlad had to pay tribute to the Turks
who were the enemies of Hungary. As Vlad was also a vassal of Hungary,
this caused problems, especially when the Turks invaded Transylvania in
1442. Vlad was desperate to stay neutral but this angered Hungary and
they drove him out of Wallachia
Meanwhile, a Hungarian General, named Janos Hunyadi, made a Danesti,
Basarab II, prince. All changed in 1443 when Vlad, with the Sultan's
assistance, regained the throne.
In 1444, Vlad, together with his two youngest sons, travelled to Turkey
at the request of the Sultan. However, the invitation was simply a
pretext to hold them all hostage. Eventually, Vlad was released, but the
sons, Dracula and Radu, known as Radu the Handsome, remained. The Turks
held many hostages, mainly to keep their rivals in check, but also to
influence young minds and make them more amenable to the Ottoman Empire.
Although the sons were treated fairly well, they received an excellent
education, Dracula must have felt abandoned by his father and he was
prone to fits of temper. Radu, on the other hand, seems to have
developed a fondness for the Turks and remained with the Sultan.
When Hungary declared war on Turkey in 1444, Vlad sent his oldest son,
Mircea, to fight rather than go himself and anger the Sultan. At the
Battle of Varna, the Christians were beaten and Vlad and Mircea blamed
Hunyadi for the defeat. Hunyadi may have been behind the deaths of Vlad
and Mircea in 1447, although this has not been proven. Mircea's death
was particularly horrible: buried alive by the Boyars of Tirgoviste.
A Danesti, Vladislav II was placed on the throne and the Turks, not
wanting a Hungarian puppet on the throne, freed Dracula and gave him an
army, but Radu remained in Turkey, a loyal subject of the Sultan.
Dracula seized the throne but only held it for two months before being
forced into exile in Moldavia. Vladislav II became prince. Three years
later, the status quo changed when Vladislav II began supporting the
Turks. Dracula became Hunyadi's vassal and in 1456 killed Vladislav II
and gained the throne (again!).
In 1462, Dracula attacked the Turks but was driven back
by a much larger army than his. When the Sultan arrived at Tirgoviste,
it was said that 20,000 Turks were found impaled outside of the city.
Through the years, this has become known as the 'Forest of the Impaled'.
When the Sultan's officers saw this horrific
site, they refused to carry on. The real story of Dracula shows a
ruthless, sadistic man, capable of unspeakable cruelty, often in the
name of entertainment. However, Radu, part of the invading force,
refused to retreat and forced Dracula to retreat to Poenari. Here,
Dracula escaped through a secret tunnel, but not before his
terrified wife had thrown herself off the battlements. Dracula went to
Matthias Corvinus, the new King of Hungary, for assistance, but was
thrown into jail. Radu became the Prince of Wallachia, although under
the control of the Turks and Dracula tried to please the Hungarians by
becoming a Catholic and marrying one of the King's family.
Radu died in 1475 and in 1476, Dracula invaded Wallachia
and, once again, became Prince. This was a brief return to power as the
Turks soon attacked and killed Dracula near Bucharest in 1476. There
seem to be many accounts of how he died, a Turkish assassin disguised as
a servant, or perhaps killed by his own army when he disguised himself
as a Turk to confuse the enemy. Whatever, the real manner of Dracula's
death, his head was soon being parading on a pike around the streets of
Constantinople, the Sultan wanted everybody to know that Dracula was
Dracula was buried at Snagov, an island monastery.
In 1931, excavations on Snagov find the tomb of Dracula, but there is no
coffin to be found. The real story of Dracula continues to fascinate the
world just as much as the fictional Count. In fact, the real Dracula is
perhaps a more interesting character than Bram Stokers version of