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Calendar >  Vlad the Impaler–Bram Stoker– Count Dracula: Fact – Fiction – Myth & Legend

Vlad the Impaler–Bram Stoker– Count Dracula: Fact – Fiction – Myth & Legend

By   /  October 26, 2015  /  1 Comment

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TR Robertson

TR Robertson

As Halloween approaches, how appropriate that our recent trip to Easter Europe took us to Romania and a chance to visit the popular tourist destination of the castle known as Bran Castle, supposed home of Vlad the Impaler, thought to be the inspiration for the infamous Count Dracula.

Vlad the Impaler, was a real person and supposedly used by Irish writer Bram Stoker as the inspiration for the Gothic horror novel, Dracula. There is a great deal of mystery wrapped in the story and life of Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia. He lived in the area now known as Transylvania, one of the regions of what was at that time Hungary. Vlad was the son of Vlad II Dracul, a member of the Order of the Dragon. His father and grandfather were members of the House of Draculesti and Vlad’s name was Vlad Draculea. Vlad III was born in 1431 in Sighisoava, Transylvania, Kingdom of Hungary and died either in 1476 or 1477. His father ruled from 1456 until his death in 1462, when Vlad III would become king. His father was sworn to defend Christendom from the invading Ottoman Empire. For this his father was given the epithet Dracul, which means dragon, by the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund. In modern Romanian language, drac has come to refer to the devil rather than dragon. As Vlad began to assume leadership, by 1462 he had fought many battles, winning a majority of the conflicts. He and his brother were held prisoner by the Ottomans in their early years. His brother would become a Muslim and Vlad would choose to follow his father’s wishes and defend Christendom against the Ottomans. Vlad would continue to fight against the Turks until 1475. He was held prisoner for a period of time as well. He would come to be called Vlad the Impaler based on what many believed to be excessive cruelty inflicted on those he defeated. He would have his soldiers impale surviving prisoners and line the towns and roads with the victims. One story says he defeated the Turks in a night battle and impaled over 15,000 prisoners. He and his soldiers are said to have tortured and killed between 40,000 – 100,000 soldiers. Another account says in one battle he had 20,000 prisoners impaled. Legend says he had whole villages and fortresses destroyed and burned to the ground. His reputation and legend would spread. Vlad’s death would become a story of legend as well. One story has him being killed by the Turk’s (possibly beheaded), another story says he was killed in a hunt accidently by his own men. The exact date of his death was either in 1476 or 1477. We do know for a fact that by January 10, 1477 he was officially declared dead. Even his burial has been surrounded in mystery. One possible burial site is at Comana, a monastery founded by Vlad. Today, many believe he is buried at Snagov, an island monastery near Bucharest.

Photos by Carolyn Robertson

As the legend of Vlad the Impaler spread, written stories began to appear. Various German and Russian manuscripts and pamphlets expounded on the cruelty and savagery of his victories and campaigns. One manuscript was titled, “Tale of Warlord Dracula”. One poem that was composed said he liked to dine surrounded by impaled victims, dipping his bread in their blood and washing his hands in the blood of his victims. There is no proof this ever occurred. Romanian and Bulgarian documents would portray Vlad III as a hero and true leader of the early Romanian civilization.

This brings us to Abraham “Bram” Stoker, an Irish writer born in 1847 and passing away in 1912. Stoker would write 12 novels during his life, but it is his 1897 novel, Dracula, we will always remember. The link between Vlad the Impaler and Stokers Dracula has become a story as mysterious as Vlad’s life. The novel itself is interesting as it is an epistolary novel, written as a series of diary entries, telegrams, letters, ship logs and newspaper clippings to become the horror novel we know today. Stoker supposedly heard tales of Vlad from a visiting Hungarian writer and traveler, Armin Vambery, who was traveling in England. They met in 1890 in the English town of Whitby. Vambery told Stoker many tales from the area around the Carpathian Mountains. This included stories of a ruthless warrior king, Vlad the Impaler. Stoker began to research European folklore, including stories of vampires. He would visit various locations around England that he thought might fit into the theme of the novel. His original main location for the character that would become Count Dracula was the mountain top of  Mt. Izvovul Calimanului, located 6,670 feet high in the Transylvanian Calimani Alps. Stoker got his information for his novel only from his interviews and travels around England. He never traveled to Romania, Transylvania or Bran Castle. When the novel was first published it met with mixed reactions. Most considered it a good adventure story. It wasn’t until the novel began to appear in movie format that a greater interest in the original novel would take place. Interestingly, the original manuscript, some 541 pages, was lost; only to be found in a barn in northwestern Pennsylvania in the 1980’s. The title listed on the manuscript was “The Un-Dead”. The manuscript was purchased by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen for an undisclosed amount. In 1914, a short story collection written by Stoker, called “Dracula’s Guest and Other Weird Stories” was published by Stoker’s widow, Florence. In 1922, the first film adaptation of Dracula was released, “Nosferatu”. Florence Stoker sued the filmmakers for making the film from the novel without her permission. The first authorized film version was released in 1935, “Dracula” starring Bela Lugosi. In 2009, Canadian Dacre Stoker, great-grandnephew of Bram Stoker, co-wrote, Dracula – The Un-Dead, to try and capture Bram Stoker’s original story. To date, 1000 novels and over 200 films have been made about the vampire, Dracula.

And now, the final piece of the intertwined and mysterious tale of Vlad-Dracula-Bram Stoker; the castle called Bran Castle, known by thousands as Dracula’s Castle. Bran Castle sits on a 200 foot tall rock outcropping, 2,500 feet above sea level, in Transylvania, Principality of Wallachia. In Chapter 2 of Stoker’s Dracula, he refers to the Count’s Castle “on the very edge of a terrific precipice with occasionally a deep rift where there is a chasm with silver threads and rivers wind in deep gorges”. The castle can also be seen in etchings from 1865 in a book, Transylvania: It’s Products and It’s People. Most think Stoker had heard about and saw the etchings and changed the home of his main character, Dracula, to Bran Castle. Bran Castle is considered one of Vlad the Impaler’s castles. This is actually not the case. Vlad was only in this castle for 2 months, actually as a prisoner. There are two other castles/fortresses Vlad had longer periods of residence  – Poenari and Hunyad Castles. The longest resident of Bran Castle was Queen Marie of Romania and her daughter, Princess Ileana. It was a royal residence and during World War II was used as a hospital. During the Communist occupation, the castle was seized. When the Communists were expelled from Romania, the castle was designated as a National Monument of Romania. The castle is currently owned by descendants of Britain’s Queen Victoria, 3 older siblings in their 70’s with the last name of Habsberg. The castle has 57 rooms, sits on 27 acres and is currently for sale with prices listed from $80-$135 million. The rooms in the castle are small and wind around the castle connected by circular stairs and narrow ramps. It is a very compact castle with beautiful views over the countryside. The walkways leading up to the castle are filled with numerous vendors selling anything and everything related to Vlad and Dracula. There is even Vlad the Impaler and Dracula red wine, of course. What makes this castle even more intriguing is that in the villages near Bran, stories exist about evil spirits called steregoi. These are people who live normal lives during the day and at night their souls leave their bodies to torment people in their sleep. Steregoi also suffer the curse of immortality. You cannot get away from Vlad – Stoker and Dracula.

No Halloween would be Halloween without the tuxedo wearing, fanged toothed, pale skinned creature known as Dracula. How we came to know of him, the fact and fiction of the stories surrounding him are fascinating. The fact my wife and I were able to see “Dracula’s Castle” has made this well-known tale come to life, even if it is fiction. And, if anyone out there has $80-$135 million just sitting around, there is a Transylvanian castle out there for you.

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1 Comment

  1. Cheryl Arney says:

    Thanks, Tom.Interesting article.

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