Vlad Dr?culea III

Vlad Dr?culea III


When I tell friends or new acquaintances that my grandparents hailed from Transylvania, the Dracula jokes start flying (“Well, I guess I’ll watch my neck” or “Good Bloodlines,” and so on).

For those who don’t know how the Dracula legend got started, I thought I’d give you a thumbnail sketch. The real Dracula (upon whom it is believed that Bram Stoker derived at least the moniker for his novel’s main character) was a fearsome leader who literally made people’s blood run—and whose name alone made the blood run cold. He became “Prince of Wallachia,” so a bit about that centuries’ old principality is in order.

Wallachia (in yellow)  around 1390. Note "Kingdom of Hungary" to the north. Ottoman Empire directly south.

Wallachia (in yellow) around 1390. Note “Kingdom of Hungary” to the north. Ottoman Empire directly south.

Wallachia was originally founded in about 1290, but taken over by the Ottoman Empire in the early 15th century. Wallachia was just south of present day Romania.

Vlad Dr?culea III (sometimes spelled Drakulye, meaning “son of the dragon”) was born in 1431 in Sighi?oara (SIG ee SHWOR uh), called Schässburg by the Germans. It is one of the seven walled cities in Transylvania that give the area its German name, Siebenbürgen (seven fortresses).

In 1436 Vlad III’s dad, Vlad II, was made ruler of Wallachia, but was ousted just six years later in 1442 by rivals with Hungarian backing. Vlad II persuaded the Ottoman Empire to support him in getting back his throne, but they agreed only on the condition he give them two sons, including Vlad II, as hostages to ensure he would stay loyal. Vlad II was imprisoned, beaten, and whipped, and God knows what else by the Ottomans, ensuring his enduring hatred of them.

Vlad, the dad, was killed in 1447, and in 1456, Vlad, the lad (now age 25), reconquered his native land of Wallachia, which he found in economic ruin. He created laws to renew trade, help merchants and peasants, and imposed harsh punishments for thieves and robbers (the adjective “Draconian” might be used, but “Vladian” seems more appropriate).

My ancestors had not yet arrived in Transylvania when Vlad was ruler, and a good thing too. Because Vlad thought the Transylvanian Germans had helped to bring about Wallachia’s ruin, he raided their cities and impaled several Saxons in Kronstadt.

Impaling is what Vlad became most famous for, and his adorable nickname became Vlad Tepe? (TSEP-esh), meaning “Vlad, the Impaler.”

Vlad "The Impaler"

Vlad “The Impaler”. His sculpture near the town center of Sighisoara, Romania, his birthplace. Western Europeans thought Vlad was a monster, but in Eastern Europe he was admired for fighting off the Turks.

Vlad was a “take no prisoners” sort of ruler. If anyone broke his laws—men, women, children—punishment was the same. He instigated war with the Ottomans by nailing the turbans of some Turkish envoys to their heads because they wouldn’t “remove their hats” in his presence. That got their attention. Sure enough, the Ottomans invaded, but Vlad ambushed them and skewered all that didn’t die in the fighting.

He was superb at psychological warfare, once staking 20,000 people of all ages around his home town to freak out invading Ottoman forces. It worked. They turned back. A woodcut from the era shows Vlad dining while surrounded by his impaled victims. I want this to be a family friendly site, so this post won’t get into the grisly details. If you want to learn more, click on one of the links.

Needless to say, the real “Dracula” was a far more fearsome creature than the one Bram Stoker devised, and I’m just glad my forebears waited a couple of centuries before emigrating from Germany to Transylvania. Part of the fun of genealogy is imagining what our ancestors’ lives were like. I wouldn’t want to imagine them living under the rule of Vlad Tepe?.