>> Sunday, September 13, 2009
Vlad Tepes is an interesting historical figure surrounded by a great deal of apocryphal history.
As nearly everyone noted, Dracula had to do with being "Son of the Dragon," as his father was called Dracul when he entered the Order of the Dragon. I've often found it ironic that Dracula is so firmly connected to being the antithesis of the christian religion when this title (and the Order that bestowed it) was given to those to protecting the Catholic Church against Turkish Muslims. And that's exactly what Vlad did. Not always, of course. Both he and his father spent some time bowing down to the Turks, but one could say that was out of necessity.
That, of course, does not make Vlad a good guy. Did he perform all the atrocities attributed to him? Perhaps, perhaps not. There was clearly some propaganda at the time against him, but I don't think even the most charitable could call him a good man. He was ruthless. He was brutal. And he was a product of a particularly brutal time and still stood out.
But there are many who believe that he was pivotal to the defense of Christianity in Europe against the Turks despite being in power seven years total. Even today he is regarded almost as a folk hero in places in Easter Europe. He sent the Turks back empty-handed against overwhelming odds, shocked even them with his brutality, which was saying something. In fact, Vlad the younger spent a great deal of time as a hostage to the Turks while his father ruled and learned many of his less appealing ruthless practices under their auspices, including his propensity for impalement (and impalement was even worse than it is often depicted - I'll spare you the details but they're pretty bad).
That served the Turks ill when they invaded once with overwhelming force to be confronted with an army of the impaled: 20,000 Turkish prisoners impaled on stakes. Dracula's guerrilla tactics also worked to stop the overwhelming force, but some historians think the unmistakable evidence of the risks of failure are really what sent the Turks back.
Estimates of the number of people Vlad Tepes had killed vary from 40,000 to 100,000 (impressive at any time, in a horrible kind of way), but it's important to realize a few things. First, brutality in the name of religion or crime was standard practice at that time in Europe. Even trivial crimes would routinely end in death (often brutal death) and torture was not eschewed even in the most enlightened European countries of the time. He may have stood out, but it was a matter of degree only in a brutal world (and his anticrime stances was apparently rewarded with an incredibly low crime rate - but I suspect that the atmosphere was much like the informing and paranoid world of fear under the Nazis). Also, many of the casualties we're talking about were undoubtedly casualties of war, either killed prisoners (which was not an uncommon practice) or killed in combat. The US has killed more civilians than that just in the past decade. But, no matter how you slice it, Vlad was vicious, he enjoyed impaling as a punishment, did not preclude women and children from his brutalities and generally disgusted even his contemporaries.
As to whether Vlad Tepes was married - it's not clear. He had women and children, but it's not clear that they were married per se or that there was only one at a time. There was a story of one of his women (presumably the mother of his eldest son, Mihnea cel Rău) who flung herself from a castle to the river below for fear of being captured by the Turks - the river is called The Lady's River even today. Another woman, Ilona Szilágyi, is reputed to have married Vlad Tepes, is believed to have married him and provided him two more sons.
Not a pretty chapter and not a pretty guy, but far and away from Bram Stoker's Dracula.