Dracula. Bad publicity is good publicity.


What a bold endeavour to write such an article, out of already more than a thousand written ones, 90% of which have the same antagonistic titles and takes on the legendary or the historical aspects of a unique character: “Vlad the Impaler” or “Vlad Dracul”. Hmmm, “bloody subject”, as the Irish would say:-)

My purpose in choosing this subject as an absolute non-fan of horror movies, nor of bloodshed, ruffian stories, is to reply once and for all to the question I’ve always been asked every time I mention my origin: “so,? you come from the land of Dracula?!”; and also to take a bite of this appetising “cookie”, built up over centuries by so many curious or superstitious minds, craving for this particular myth. Sorry readers, but the gloomy-phantagoric-foggy-like whipping cream doesn?t stand a chance?.over the cookie, in my article.

The cookie myth?.

Everybody knows already about Bram Stoker’s novel “Dracula” (1897). I was probably the last Romanian to watch its ecranisation, mostly because everybody was talking about it. But what does the Irish writer have to do with Romanian folklore, myths and history?
Stoker did have a few resources from where to learn about the historically named “Vlad III”, prince of Wallachia, also called “Dracul” or “The Impaler”. The London Royal Library contains William Wilkinson’s work called “Principalities of Wallachia and Moldova” (1820), as well as Saxons engravings of Vlad being presented as a monster and as a “vampire drinking human blood”. A university professor in Budapest is also alleged to have been a good source of information to endorse Stoker’s curiosity in Vlad. These are said to have been the reasons why the Irishman chose a Romanian prince as a model for his fictional character, Dracula.

The name analogy with the “devil” was an easy task, since one meaning of the word “drac” is “devil” in modern Romanian; only Stoker purposely avoided the two other meanings of the word: “dragon” (from the Order of Dragon of which Vlad and his father were a part) and “dro-kila” (a word of geto-dacic origin, meaning a healing plant to our ancestors and also “three entities, three peaks or highnesses”, which Vlad wanted to be as leader of army, judge and ruler of the people).

A little history, folklore, many personal experiences, readings and a lot of fantasy intermingled to create a complex vitriolic character, in an eerie plot, very much astray from the real Prince of Wallachia, but at least?in a Romanian setting:-) Still an interesting choice, especially coming from a land full of mysteries and ancient myths like Ireland itself.

Stoker’s fiction takes place in both Transylvania and Anglia in the 19th century.
The plot is about a lawyer who travels to Transylvania to Count Dracula’s castle to settle the purchase of some territory. His wife’s friend is one of Count Dracula’s victims who is trying to escape from him. The bedevilled count sails to Yorkshire, but once in England, the lawyer and a professor expert in vampires try very hard and succeed in saving the lawyer’s wife from the count’s claws. The story concludes with the death of the vampire, stabbed by the lawyer and a friend both in the heart and throat…leaving only ashes behind.

But Dracula’s myth is not only in a book, or in a movie. Vlad Dracul had faced tremendous negative “publicity” from the adverse “social media” of the time (chronicles, pamphlets, letters, stories, etc.), intended to denigrate him from the outset, in the 15th century. Whether he wanted it or not, he was transformed into a legend of cruelty and blood-shedding tyranny, by his own enemies and later by the opinionated historians of conjunctural times.
Dissatisfied by the lack of commercial facilities and bound by other political allegiances, the Saxons from Transylvania had supported other pretenders to the throne and subsequently contrived and denigrated his image as an important ruler of the time with stories of cruelty and immorality. After his death, his deeds were reported in German popular pamphlets of macabre taste and also in Tsarist Russia. However, the latter took a milder approach to his life and ascertained his merits as a great soldier and ruler, justifying the atrocities for a righteous cause.

Another systematic denigration of a more political aspect came from Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary at that time. The King had received money from the Pope to engage in battles against the Ottomans, yet he could never defeat them; historians claimed that he encouraged the negative Saxon propaganda and participated in the intrigues and humbug against Vlad to excuse his failures and the expenditure of money.

However, it should be noted that none of the Russian or German gruesome stories or chronicles depict Vlad as an enraged maniac, vampire or as a poltergeist. These words and their meanings remain purely fictional, best suited for phantasmagorical representations alone.
At least we know from which artery all this “bloody” myth comes from.

?crumbles on history.

Entered in history in a troubled time, between the wane of the Byzantine Empire and the rise of the Ottoman one, yet being “the right ruler at the right time” (S. Andreescu), Vlad Tepes had a legendary image from the start, if only for the political and economical aspects of which he managed to change the course.
He was born in Sighisoara, Romania in 1431, was married twice, was the father of five children and three-time ruler of Wallachia, at that time a principality under the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire. The ruling principle in Wallachia, as compared to other states, was hereditary-elective, which led to much bloodshed and actions of high treason to gain access to the throne.

Vlad’s childhood was an extremely unhappy one. For political reasons, at the age of six, he and his brother were pledged as warrantee of allegiance by his father, Vlad Dracul II, Prince of Wallachia towards the Ottomans; and they were sent as hostages for six years. It was there where he saw many atrocities, witnessed punishment by impalement, experienced what fear for an absolute ruler meant, and it was also there where he garnered his hatred for anything that wasn’t right in his mind and heart, amid his enemies, away from his own home.
He was released when his father died, killed by a rival, and that’s when he also found out about the death of his older brother, of how he was tortured and buried alive by the boyards. That’s how he made his way back in his homeland, to grieve the dead and to settle his own justice among the living.

His first reign was too short and in the hands of the constant conflict between the Hungarians and the Ottomans. When the boyards rebelled against his father and killed him and his brother, the Ottomans wanted to prevent a Hungarian extension and designated him, as Vlad III, to the throne; yet it didn’t last long until the boyards invaded Wallachia again and restored their own ally to power. Vlad flew to Moldavia to live under the protection of his uncle, Bogdan, until the latter was killed as well, and Vlad had to flee to Hungary this time. The Hungarian regent was impressed by his vast knowledge of the Ottoman military techniques and inner secrets as well by his hatred towards the Ottomans, accumulated in his childhood years, and helped him regain his reign over Wallachia for a second time now, from 1456 to 1462.

Once in power, his first act of vengeance was against the boyards responsible for the death of his father and brother. He impaled them and subsequently took away the commercial privileges from the Saxons in Transylvania. His aim was to strengthen his principality economically and militarily against new pretenders to the throne and against economical dependence on other regions. While restricting foreign trade, he helped the peasants, built villages, improved agriculture and the Wallachian trade.
The most commonly circulated legend about how he imposed justice by inducing fear refers to a cup of gold he would place in the main square of Targoviste to quench the thirst of travellers and which no one ever dared to steal.
Politically, in order to secure his safety, he removed all the rich nobles from the Council and appointed unknown persons who would be loyal to him alone. For other roles he would appoint knights and free peasants, removing the deceptive boyards from any political role and influence. He strengthened his army and relied mainly on mercenaries, peasants, his “militia”, and his strategic mind.

And he started his own conspicuous crusades against the Ottomans.
Although the regent of Hungary, Matthias Corvinus, had been helped with money and support by the Pope in the crusades against the Ottomans, he failed in the shadows of Vlad who didn’t receive such help, but rather intrigues and bad reputation, purposely made by his so-called “ally” to cover up his failures in the battles against the Turks.
The official “declaration of war” started when Vlad refused to pay tribute to the Ottomans and killed the Sultan’s envoys, legend has it by nailing to the head their turbans for not having taken them off in front of the Wallachian sovereign. The Ottomans tried to attack him from the South but they were defeated by Vlad’s ambushes. In the following years Vlad invaded the Bulgarian territory and, using the tricks he had learned while living with his enemy, managed to destroy the Ottoman camps, killing over 20,000 Turks, as he would officially dispatch the news to the world himself. The infuriated Sultan raised a greater army of over 60,000 people to eliminate him. The year 1462 will have a crucial meaning due to the large scale of the campaign, which was won by Vlad with small attacks, ambushes and military intelligence. By July of the same year, the chronicles report Vlad III victorious over the Sultan who had to retreat, in embarrassment, to Adrianopolis.
Vlad ‘s victory was celebrated by the cities of Transylvania, the Italian states and the Pope.
However, this situation was not convenient in the long run for the Saxons who wanted to regain their commercial prerogatives, or for the Hungarian regent, who tried to integrate himself in the victory, where he was of no help. Vienna didn’t trust Hungary’s political and military intentions too much, but they needed an alliance with Hungary for better stability against the Turks so they accepted Matthias’ excuses and forged letters intended to denigrate Vlad. Besides, Hungary was of greater importance than Wallachia and Matthias was Catholic, which to the Pope, made him the only accepted ruler in the crusades.
At that time, Vlad’s other brother, the new Ottoman-driven “puppet” was helped by both the Ottomans and by the boyards who wanted to regain their privileges to invade Vlad’s castle in the same year. Vlad escaped and went to Matthias to ask for support, but instead he was imprisoned for 10 years. Historians say that Matthias forged a letter from Vlad to the Ottomans, in which he proposed a truce; again to Matthias another alibi in front of the Pope.
Not to take away Blake’s literary merits, but that would have been a very appealing intricate novel to write about too, albeit with less fantasy.

The third and last reign of Vlad was after his brother’s sudden death and it lasted less than two months before he was killed. His head was sent to the Turks as a trophy and his body was buried without ceremony in a monastery, still unknown to this date, but supposedly the Monastery of Comana. That was the downfall of a great ruler who managed to achieve an incredible exclusive fame, from his time up to the present day, when his life is still entwined with mysteries, legends, stories and curiosities.

As for his education, as much as the literature of those times and the subsequent ones wanted to present him as a wild beast, thirsty for blood and killing, Vlad could speak several languages fluently and was a cultivated person. He would sign his name in Latin as: Wladislaus Dragwlya, vaivoda partium Transalpinarum.

Eating the cookie?still.

Octavian Paler, Romanian journalist and politician, stated that Dracula was never a Romanian myth but rather an “imposed myth” from the outside into our own land, more or less like a Trojan horse.
As history has proven, “publicity” and “social media” of any time and of any type are the best means to at least attract the world’s core attention, even while sitting on the radius. In our “bloody” case, especially the negative propaganda and iniquitous reputation of our Romanian Prince have brought some advantage to our land, and Blake is considered to be the best “tourism agent” Romania has ever had. In the Ceausescu era, the Tihuta hotel-castle was built between Transylvania and Bucovina for “Vladoholics”, which together with the historical Bran castle are well-known attractions for an immersion in the “Dracula world”.

As much as Romanians are per se traditional and superstitious, for them Vlad Tepes, together with Stephan the Great (Prince of Moldavia, 1457 – 1504), will remain one of the paramount historical heroes who confronted and defeated repeatedly with small armies but great spirit the most feared power after the fall of Constantinople: the Ottoman Empire.
Some historians like Ioan Bogdan don’t justify all his severe punishments, declaring him a “fierce tyrant and a monster of humanity”. Others consider him just to have cut off the boyards anarchy in a world where the principle of “diversity of opinions” was not yet born, and in a time when cruelties were commonplace (see the Inquisition ?poque). That his main purpose was to defend the poor, punish the renegade and establish order in a chaotic land; and that his punishments were “rigorous and rightful…managing, through terror, to establish morality and public security.” (I.H. Radulescu).
In his “raw” but original language, Petre Tutea, Romanian philosopher, economist and journalist concluded: “Vlad Tepes has the merit of having put on the Moldavian throne one of the greatest Romanian voivodes, Stephan the Great. With weapons! He has the merit of bringing down the complete morality through kicking butts with stakes at absolute level. You would sleep with your gold purse at your head and you would be afraid to steal it from yourself. This is an absolute voivode, Vald Tepes. Well, without him, Romanian history would be just a meadow with lambs.” (322 Memorable Words of Petre Tutea, Ed Humanitas, 1997)

As for the world, Dracula will remain the most intriguing enigma to still explore, discover and crave for in all its ways from the unknown, small-scaled Romanian folklore or rituals up to the worldwide HD-screen of Hollywood. Not to forget that CNN was headlining in 2004 a possible blood relation between Bush and Dracula, while in 1998 BBC sustained that Prince Charles of Great Britain is genealogically related to our Romanian Prince, confirmed by the Prince himself in 2011. Politics and economics?again.

I paid my respects, learned the history, read the books and visited his residence, even bought cheap souvenirs to support Romanian trade:-), but I can’t be a fan of stereotypes, tall tales or convenient stands. It is important to know all the facets to be able to decide which one is closer to the truth. And then you know what to retort when you are asked “so,?you come from the land of Dracula?!”.

Happy Anniversary Romania!

(Soar, 1st December 2012. Picture credits: Wikipedia.org. Recommended reading: http://www.historia.ro/. Recommended film: “Vlad Tepes”, 1979, directed by Doru Năstase)

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