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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Metaphisical Monsters: Vampires: Part 2 Vlad Tepes

 While most identify Vlad "Dracula" Tepes as the historical inspiration for the fictional Dracula, his actual life was just as fascinating. There is an old saying that "truth is stranger than fiction" and no one ever lived that more than Vlad Tepes.

Familial Background
Wallachia, a province of Romania, was located along the Southern border of Transylvania, and was founded in 1290 by a Transylvanian named Rudolph the Black (Rudolph Negru). However it wasn't until the fall of the East Roman Empire that it established it's own rulership. The first Prince of Wallachia was a name named Basarab the Great. Following Basarab's lineage we find Dracula's Grandfather, Prince Mircea the Old, who reigned from 1386 - 1418. However, by the late 15th century the House of Basarab had split in to two rival clans; in one the decedents of the Prince Dan and the other, the decendands of Prince Mircea the Old. Mircea had an illegitimate son, Vlad (Dracul), who was born sometime around 1390. He was educated in Hungary and Germany and served as a page for King Sigismund of Hungary (who in 1410, became the Holy Roman Emperor).

As a young man Vlad joined the Order of the Dragon, founded to uphold Christianity and defend the Empire against the Ottoman Turks. Vlad would take an oath, as all members did, that his family would be dedicated to fighting the Turks who had already begun to attack Europe. The Romanian archaic word for Dragon is "Drac," so Vlad thus became Vlad Dracul or Vlad the Dragon. His son, would take the name Draculea or "Son of the Dragon" as "-ulea" meant "son of" in that same Romanian tongue.
Young Dracula
Birth records from Romania in the 1400s simply don't exist! So while I wish I could give you a date and time for Dracula's birth, it's simply not do-able! We do know he was born in a small Transylvanian town called Schassburgh sometime around 1430-31. And it's fair to guess that is poor mother didn't have pain pills, lol.

Dracula was taught the skills of war and peace that were deemed necessary for a Christian Knight. His first teacher was an elderly boyar whom had fought against the Turks under the banner of Enguerrand de Courcy at the battle of Niclopolis.

In 1431, King Sigismund made Vlad Dracul the military governor of Transylvania. However, Vlad was not content to serve as a governor forever, and so he began gathering supporters for his plan to seize Wallachia from it's current occupant, Alexandru I, a prince of the Danesti Line. In late 1436, Vlad Dracul killed Alexandru and became Prince Vlad II, ruler of Walachia.

In 1442 Turkey invaded Transylvania. Vlad tried to stay neutral, but Hungary's rulers blamed him and drove him and his family out of Walachia. A Hungarian general, Janos Hunyadi (who may have been the illegitimate son of Emperor Sigismund) made a Danesti named Basarab II the prince of Walachia.

The following year, Vlad regained the Wallachian throne with Turkish support, but on the condition that Vlad send a yearly contingent of Wallachian boys to join the Sultan’s Janissaries. In 1444, to further assure to the Sultan his good faith, Vlad sent his two younger sons --Vlad III and Radu the Handsome--to Adrianople as hostages. Vlad (about age 13) was to spend his next four years there. It is unknown exactly what took place in his life while in Turkey, but it is known that his brother Radu was a clear favorite.

That same year the King of Hungary, Ladislas Posthumous, broke the peace and launched the Varna Campaign under the command of John Hunyadi, in an effort to drive the Turks out of Eruope. Vlad having had the help of the Turks to regain his thrown, and having two of his sons in their custody attempted to stay neutral. Hunyadi demanded that Vlad II fulfill his oath as a member of the Order of the Dragon and as a vassal of Hungary and join the crusade. Attempting to say loyal to both sides Vlad decided that rather than go and join the Christian forces against the Turks himself, he would send his oldest son Mircea.

The Varna Crusade was an utter failure! And the Christian army was completely destroyed during the Battle of Varna. John Hunyadi managed to escape the battle under inglorious conditions. Vlad and Mircea seem to have blamed Hunydi for the entire ordeal, and Hunydi seem to have blamed Vlad & Mircea for the loss because from here on Hunyadi was bitterly hostile towards the two. And in 1447 both Vlad and his son were killed according to the wishes of Hunyadi. Apparently, poor Mircea was buried alive by the boyars and merchants of Tirgoviste. Once the competition was gone, Hunyadi placed his own man, Vladislav II, a member of the Danesti clan, on the throne of Wallachia.

Dracula's Rise To Power
When the Turks learned of the death of Vlad and his son (who would have been next in line for the throne) it was decided not only to allow Dracula to return home, but to support him as their candidate for the seat of Prince. With this support Dracula was able to dethrone the current Prince and assumed the seat for himself. Unfortunately less than two months later, Dracula was forced to surrender to Vladislav II, and flee to the home of his cousin, the Prince of Moldavia.

He would remain in Moldavia for the next three years. However, Prince Bogdan of Moldavia was assassinated in 1451 and Dracula was forced to flee yet again! This time he would go to Transylvania and seek the protection from the family of the vary man who had been responsible for so much pain in his life, Hunyadi. However, it seems as if the timing was perfect. Vladislav II, who was still serving as the Puppet Prince of Wallachia had addopted Pro-Turkish policy. Thus, Hunyadi needed a more reliable man to take his place. Because of this he was willing to accept the allegiance of his enemy and aid him in returning to the thrown that he previously removed him from...

Dracula became Hunyadi's vassel and received the Transylvanian duchies formerly governed by his father. He remained there, under the protection of Hunyadi, awaiting the opportunity to retake Wallachia from his rival.

In 1453 Christian Constantinople fell to the Ottomans. And the Christian world was shaken and shocked!  The East Roman Empire which had existed since the time of Constantine the Great and which for a thousand years had shielded the rest of Christendom from Islam was no more. Hunyadi immediately began planning another campaign against the Turks.

In 1456 Hunyadi invaded Turkish Serbia while Dracula invaded Wallachia. In the Battle of Belgrade, Hunyadi was killed and his army defeated. Dracula, however, succeeded in killing Vladislav II and taking the Wallachian throne but Hunaydi's defeat made his long term tenure questionable. For a time at least, Dracula was forced to attempt to placate the Turks while he solidified his own position.

Vlad The Impaler
Of course while is struggle for power is interesting, it's far from the inspiration for the legend which has been born of his name. And I simply wouldn't be doing his justice to skip through the blood, nasty and horrid violence which earned him his place in the history books. However, I will warn you that in doing so, I will be discussing some actions which may bother those of weaker constitutions, so if you're someone who may wish to skip over the gore, here's where you'll want to stop reading!

Impalement, of course was Dracula’s preferred method of torture and execution. Impalement was and is one of the most gruesome ways of dying imaginable, slow and extremely painful. He usually had a horse attached to each of the victim’s legs and a sharpened stake was gradually forced into the body. The end of the stake was usually greased with pig fat and care was taken that the stake not be too sharp, else the victim might die too rapidly from shock. Normally the stake was inserted into the body through the anus and was often forced through the body until it emerged from the mouth. However, there were many instances where victims were impaled through other body orifices or through the abdomen or chest. Infants were sometimes impaled on the stake forced through their mother’s chests. The records indicate that victims were sometimes impaled so that they hung upside down on the stake.

Vlad Tepes (previously Dracula) often had the stakes arranged in various geometric patterns. The most common pattern was a ring of concentric circles in the outskirts of a city that was his target. The height of the spear indicated the rank of the victim. The decaying corpses were often left up for months. It was once reported that an invading Turkish army turned back in fright when it encountered thousands of rotting corpses impaled on the banks of the Danube. In 1461 Mohammed II, the conqueror of Constantinople, a man not noted for his squeamishness, returned to Constantinople after being sickened by the sight of twenty thousand impaled Turkish prisoners outside of the city of Tirgoviste. This gruesome sight is remembered in history as "the Forest of the Impaled."

Thousands were often impaled at a single time. Ten thousand were impaled in the Transylvanian city of Sibiu in 1460. In 1459, on St. Bartholomew’s Day, Vlad III had thirty thousand of the merchants and boyars of the Transylvanian city of Brasov impaled. One of the most famous woodcuts of the period shows Vlad Dracula feasting amongst a forest of stakes and their grisly burdens outside Brasov while a nearby executioner cuts apart other victims.

Although impalement was Vlad Dracula’s favorite method of torture, it was by no means his only method. The list of tortures employed by this cruel prince reads like an inventory of hell’s tools: nails in heads, cutting off of limbs, blinding, strangulation, burning, cutting off of noses and ears, mutilation of sexual organs (especially in the case of women), scalping, skinning, exposure to the elements or to wild animals, and burning alive.

No one was immune to Vlad’s attentions. His victims included women and children, peasants and great lords, ambassadors from foreign powers and merchants. However, the vast majority of his victims came from the merchants and boyars of Transylvania and his own Wallachia.

Many have attempted to justify Vlad Dracula’s actions on the basis of nascent nationalism and political necessity. Many of the merchants in Transylvania and Wallachia were German Saxons who were seen as parasites, preying upon Romanian natives of Wallachia. The wealthy land owning boyars exerted their own often capricious and unfaithful influence over the reigning princes. Vlad’s own father and older brother were murdered by unfaithful boyars. However, many of Vlad Dracula’s victims were also Wallachians, and few deny that he derived a perverted pleasure from his actions.

Vlad Dracula began his reign of terror almost as soon as he came to power. His first significant act of cruelty may have been motivated by a desire for revenge as well as a need to solidify his power. Early in his main reign he gave a feast for his boyars and their families to celebrate Easter, 1459. Being well aware that many of these same nobles were part of the conspiracy that led to his father’s assassination and the burying alive of his elder brother, Mircea. Many had also played a role in the overthrow of numerous Wallachian princes. During the feast Vlad asked his noble guests how many princes had ruled during their lifetimes. All of the nobles present had outlived several princes. None had seen less then seven reigns. Vlad immediately had all the assembled nobles arrested. The older boyars and their families were impaled on the spot. The younger and healthier nobles and their families were marched north from Tirgoviste to the ruins of his castle in the mountains above the Arges River. The enslaved boyars and their families were forced to labor for months rebuilding the old castle with materials from a nearby ruin. According to the reports they labored until the clothes fell off their bodies and then were forced to continue working naked. Very few survived this ordeal.

Throughout his reign Vlad continued to systematically eradicate the old boyar class of Wallachia. Apparently Vlad was determined that his own power be on a modern and thoroughly secure footing. In the place of the executed boyars Vlad promoted new men from among the free peasantry and middle class; men who would be loyal only to their prince.

Vlad Tepes’ atrocities against the people of Wallachia were usually attempts to enforce his own moral code upon his country. He appears to have been particularly concerned with female chastity. Maidens who lost their virginity, adulterous wives and unchaste widows were all targets of Vlad’s cruelty. Such women often had their sexual organs cut out or their breasts cut off, and were often impaled through the vagina on red-hot stakes. One report tells of the execution of an unfaithful wife. Vlad had the woman’s breasts cut off, then she was skinned and impaled in a square in Tirgoviste with her skin lying on a nearby table. Vlad also insisted that his people be honest and hard working. Merchants who cheated their customers were likely to find themselves mounted on a stake beside common thieves.

The End Of Vlad Tepes
Throughout his rule Vlad Tepes spared no expense to defend his land, his country and his people against the Turks. Yet, his successes were short lived! The King of Hungary did little to aid him and his own resources were simply to limited to create any lasting defense system. So, in 1462, Vlad would be forced to flee, once again, to Transylvania.

His first wife committed suicide by leaping from the towers of "Castle Dracula" rather than risk capture or death at the hands of the Turks. However, with the help of some tricky country folk Vlad was able to escape. The story goes that the peasants removed the shoes from their horses and reversed them before sending help to the Castle. When they lead Vlad away from the castle on horseback the tracks seemed to lead toward the Castle rather than away from it and they were able to get away without being tracked.

After his escape, Vlad reached out to King Matthius Corvinus, the King of Hungary and son of John Hunyadi, for help. The king's reaction to this plea was to have Vlad arrested and thrown in a royal tower. While we aren't completely positive how long Vlad was locked away, most historians agree that he remained a prisoner from 1462 until 1474. During this 12 years, Vlad Tepes was able to reconnect with and even marry in to the Royal family. Little is known about this wife and his relationship with her, but it is known that he fathered two sons with her.

However, here's the deal. It's impossible to believe that ANY prisoner, royalty or not, would have been permitted to marry or sleep with any member of the Hungarian royal family! And seeing how his oldest son was around 10 when he reclaimed his thrown in 1476, it only makes sense that he was in fact only a "PRISONER" until about 1466 or maybe even earlier than that. But he would have stayed on to gain both power and strengthen ties prior to "getting back."

It is also apparent that he didn't give up his hobbies of torture mutilation. Fortunately for the people of Hungary though, it seems as if he limited himself to small animals during this time. Capturing mice, rats, birds and other animals to torture and mutilate them. Some were beheaded or tarred-and-feathered and released. Most were impaled on tiny spears.

There is also a more likely reason for Vlad's rehabilitation. Vlad's brother, Radu the Handsome, had succeeded to the Wallachian throne and instituted very Pro-Turkish policies. Because of this, the Hungarian king may have viewed Vlad as a possible candidate to reclaim the seat as Prince. Surely the fact that Vlad renounced his faith as an Orthodox and adopted Catholicism most likely played a part as well.

Vlad decided to once again take his thrown in 1476 and with the Transylvanian Prince (Stephen Bathory) he invaded Wallachia. By this time Radu, Vlad's brother, had died and been replaced by Basarab the Old. As the forces of Prince Bathory and Vlad approached, Basarab fled. Problem was when the Prince and most of the forces which had aided him in retaking his country returned to Transylvania, Vlad was left vulnerable. The Turks had a large army and didn't delay their aproach long enough for Vlad to gain the support he needed to properly face them. So within months of retaking his thrown he was forced to march and meet the Turks with less than four thousand men at his side.

Death
Vlad Dracula was killed in battle against the Turks near the town of Bucharest in December of 1476. Some reports indicate that he was assassinated by disloyal Wallachian boyars just as he was about to sweep the Turks from the field. Other accounts have him falling in defeat, surrounded by the ranks of his loyal Moldavian bodyguard. Still other reports claim that Vlad, at the moment of victory, was accidentally struck down by one of his own men. The one undisputed fact is that ultimately his body was decapitated by the Turks and his head sent to Constantinople where the sultan had it displayed on a stake as proof that the horrible Impaler was finally dead.

The monks of the Snagov Monastery, near where Vlad was reportedly killed, took it upon themselves to inter him. Perhaps the monks felt indebted to Vlad for the additions he insisted be added to their abode—most bizarrely, a prison and a torture chamber. Whatever the reasons, the monks dressed the body richly and put it to rest in front of the church alter. However, while Vlad did request to be buried at the monastery, some say that it was another nobleman who was placed in this tomb.

But there is some question to whether or not anyone was actually buried there. In 1931, the tomb was opened by a group of explorers. While it was expected that they would find the skull-less remains of Vlad Tepes, all that was discovered was animal bones. Whether or not Vlad, another nobleman or anyone else was ever actually buried there is up for debate. But more curious than why only animal bones were found is the question of WHERE the actual burial plot of Vlad is, or was, or if a later ruler destroyed them...

Present Day
Today most people only know the mythical Dracula. But the people of Romania continue to see him as a "freedom fighter" and a great leader for defending their land from the Turks. Although the Turks did retake control after his death, his efforts have forever won him a place in history and in the hearts of his people!  So in the end I guess it's true that every story has two sides, or in the case of Vlad Tepes, three - Vlad the Myth, Vlad the Impaler and Vlad the Hero!

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