He has been portrayed in movies and television shows and has inspired many other stories of vampirism. But, as creepy as it may sound, did you know that Count Dracula is actually inspired by an actual person?
The character, Count Dracula was first introduced in a novel entitled, Dracula by an Irish novelist, Bram Stoker that was published in England in 1897. He got the inspiration for writing the story of Count Dracula upon doing research at the British Museum.
From the dark forested mountains of Wallachia in Eastern Europe, was a cruel brutal prince named Vlad III. With his fondness of impaling his victims, Vlad III was then given the alias Vlad Tepes. Tepes, in Romanian, means impaler, and another name that he came to be known as is Vlad the Impaler.
Although Vlad III was not an actual vampire, there were accounts of him drinking a victim’s blood and shedding bucketloads of blood to promote his lifelong goals, as compared to the vampire in Stoker’s novel who lived off blood. From that persona, the character Count Dracula was brought about.
Who is Vlad III?
Vlad III was born in 1431. Although there are disputes that he was born in Transylvania, a professor of medieval history and archaeology at the University of Florida, Florin Curta debunked that myth. Despite Vlad III being constantly linked to Transylvania with accounts that he used to live in Bran Castle, which has become a tourist attraction for the reason that it is believed to be once the residence of Vlad III, according to Curta, he has never resided there, nor ever owned anything in Transylvania.
On the other hand, some would argue that the Bran Castle is the closest to the description of Count Dracula’s castle in Stoker’s novel. In his novel, Stoker described the castle as, “on the very edge of a terrific precipice . . . with occasionally a deep rift where there is a chasm [with] silver threads where the rivers wind in deep gorges through the forests.” However, Stoker never really did set foot in Romania. He was only able to portray the castle from a source in his research in Britain.
Moreover, Curta stated in regards to Bran Castle that as it is situated in the spooky foggy mountains, it would be as expected of Count Dracula’s castle, though contradictory to the belief, it never was his residence. According to Curta, there is a possibility that Vlad III was born in Tirgoviste, the capital of Wallachia, which at the time of his birth, was also the time of the royal seat of the principality of Wallachia, where his father was a voivode or ruler.
Vlad III is the son of Vlad II who ruled Wallachia from 1436 to 1442 and was unseated by his countrymen and continued to reign over Wallachia from 1443 to 1446. Vlad III, later on, followed the footsteps of his father and earned the power to rule over Wallachia from 1456 to 1462. Furthermore, he is a defender of Christianity against the Muslim Turks. Though his father was more of a puppet leader to the Turks, as well as he was fated to become the same, he went with his own direction towards Romanian independence during his rule and fought them. Vlad III and his younger brother, Radu was even held captive by the Turks for over four years during their father’s reign over Wallachia for them to ensure their father’s loyalty to them. Eventually, Radu went to side with the Turks. Vlad III, however, stood firm on his fight against them.
Accounts of Vlad III's Cruelty
In his cruel bloody reign, there is an estimate victim count of about 40,000 according to the University of Louisiana. According to research, the motives for his murderousness were to free Romania from the authority of Germany; Hungary; and Turkey, thus promoting a unified Romania.
As mentioned earlier, Vlad III was fond of impaling his victims, an extremely painful method of torture, which gave him the aliases, Vlad Tepes and Vlad the Impaler. You can just imagine how painful that method is, but to make it worse, Vlad III intensified the pain even more by rounding the ends of the spikes and oiling them to reduce tearing. The spikes were introduced into victims’ anuses and pushed all the way up until the other end emerged from victims’ mouths. Thereafter, the victims are hoisted in an upright position, left writhing in agony that sometimes could even last for days.
There were accounts of him dining with guests and killing them after. On the Easter of 1456, he invited regional nobility to dine with him. Unfortunately, after the meal, the old and the infirm were murdered, while the remaining guests were forced to walk 50 miles to a dilapidated castle that he claimed his own and made them work hard labor to restore it. Due to maltreatment and exhaustion, most of them died. And after the completion of the restoration, those who remained alive were impaled to die outside the castle. Another account of such incident was when he invited poverty-stricken subjects to dine with him. With the belief that destitution is a scourge to his domain, at the end of the meal, he had the dining room locked and had it set on fire, killing the poor inside it.
Despite his cruel acts, ironically, Vlad III wanted to be remembered as a saint. However, due to his hardly saintly behavior, he was denied of canonization by a Catholic monk. He, then, irrationally murdered the Catholic monk.
During his rule, Vlad III developed a biological warfare. In 1456, he had subjects stricken with an infectious disease disguised as Turks to live among the Turkish armies in their camps. The Turks who survived attempted to invade Tirgoviste, but when they came across a forest filled with corpses and captured prisoners impaled on spikes, they fled quickly.
Order of the Dragon
It was in 1431, when Vlad III’s father, Vlad II was inducted into the secretive organization of Christian knights, Order of the Dragon by King Sigismund of Hungary. Upon becoming a member of the organization, he earned the surname, Dracul, derived from the old Romanian word for dragon, “drac”. Later on, when Vlad III, himself, was inducted into the Order of the Dragon, he became known as Dracula, which in old Romanian means son of Dracul. And that was where Stoker took the name for the character in his novel.
Vlad III's Thirst for Blood
Vlad III’s thirst for blood can be compared to the fictitious Count Dracula’s need for blood. Records in history often depicted Vlad III as a bloodthirsty ruthless ruler. He tortured and murdered his victims and enemies and was even reputed to eat meals outdoors among the impaled bodies. Such cruel acts of his were mostly to bring about his goals, while Count Dracula actually drank blood to stay alive. Nevertheless, blood indeed has a significant symbol of vitality and power.
Vlad III's Death
The difference between Vlad III and Count Dracula is Vlad III is not immortal. In August 1462, Vlad III was exiled in Hungary and imprisoned for a number of years. Though during that time, he was able to marry and have two children. After his imprisonment, his younger brother, Radu, who sided with the Turks, took over governance of Wallachia. However, after Radu’s death in 1475, Vlad III reclaimed the position as ruler of Wallachia in 1476. Unfortunately, shortly after reclaiming the throne, he died in a battle with the Turks.
Stoker's Count Dracula
In Stoker’s novel, Count Dracula is a centuries-old vampire; sorcerer; and Transylvanian nobleman who lived in a decaying castle in the Carpathian Mountains. He moved from Transylvania to England in search for new blood and to spread the undead curse. Unluckily for him, there came a group of vampire hunters headed by Professor Abraham Van Helsing who plotted to eradicate him.
So the character Count Dracula that has become popularized by the media is actually based from history. Although Count Dracula is not entirely real, terrifyingly, there was in reality, an actual person and events that inspired the story of Count Dracula.