Be gentle with the Romanians when you start talking about Dracula. Evidence suggests Vlad was really just a man of his times. Gruesome torture was kind of the standard in the 15th century. He spent his adolescence as a hostage in the Ottoman Empire court of Sultan Murad II to keep his father, Vlad II Dracul, in line and allow him to rule Walachia in favour of the Ottomans and neglect the Hungarian court. Not exactly the ideal way to spend your teenage years. Although he was like a prince, so he was educated rather than beaten. The 1% has always been with us. They used to be princes rather than billionaires.
And we’ve always been tribal. Luckily, some parts of the world are making tribes get along better and not feel so compelled to fight each other over turf but that lesson took at least five hundred more years in the part of the world into which Vlad III was born. Vlad III’s father was vested into the Order of the Dragon, a fellowship of knights sworn to defend Christianity against the competing choices, especially the conquering Ottoman Empire. As part of this ritual, he was given the epithet Dracul or dragon by the Holy Roman Emperor.
Dracula’s dad was the Voivode of Transylvania, which meant he wasn’t the king. The king was in Hungary – but he was the most powerful person in Transylvania. Transylvania is sexy 🙂 but, at the time, there were two other regions in Romania – Walachia and Moldova. Despite Transylvania being associated with Romania, at the time it belonged to the kingdom of Hungary. Walachia was the rebel state. Dracula’s grandfather (Mircea I) was the ruler of Walachia but Dracula’s dad was the illegitimate son he sent to the Hungarian court, which was how he got put in charge of Transylvania.
While Dracula (son of Dracul) gets all the attention thanks to Bram Stoker, his family tree would make an excellent telenovela 😉 His grandfather Mircea the Elder was a good guy apparently. Mircea’s dad was the Voivode of Walachia but he defected and won against the Hungarian crown, creating the first real Romanian state. You should look him up on Wikipedia. The Republican presidential candidates might want to do the same 🙂 Mircea was a true leader who brought peace, prosperity and progress to his people.
That’s why you need to put down your copy of Dracula for a minute and learn a bit about Romanian history. To the Romanians, Mircea the Elder is like Thomas Jefferson or Winston Churchill… and, if you check, Mircea might have the better morals… The dude you think of as Dracula thanks to an Irishman who never set foot in Romania is the grandson of a founding father. This was the 15th century. The printing press was just being developed. Factual information was hard to come by so a lot of the Dracula stuff may be legend rather than reality.
That’s the point of fiction. Why let the truth get in the way of a great narrative 😉 What’s not clear is whether Vlad III was more blood-thirsty than his compatriots in a century that included the Spanish Inquisition. What is clear is that he had a tough upbringing and he worked tirelessly trying to keep Walachia free from the Ottoman Empire, so, be sensitive. He is a kind of folk hero too. It’s possible he used some of the drastic tactics because he had a small army and his grandfather had used guerilla warfare against the Ottoman Empire to keep the region stable and prosperous in a time when that was hardly the norm. Remember, Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. Power and heroism are tough to reconcile.
While you should be sensitive in your chat about Dracula or Vlad while you are in Romania, by all means, go and see Bran Castle! The Romanians will forgive you. Bram’s fantasy was good for their economy 😉
Bran Castle itself is a little underwhelming but the countryside of the Carpathian Mountains is gorgeous and well worth the journey. Be prepared to
queue and it will be tough to get a photo without heads in it. As is no doubt obvious, I enjoyed the history more than the castle itself. There is more history to learn too. Bran Castle was used by the royal family of Romania, expropriated by the Communists and then returned to one of the Habsburg clan (even more ubiquitous than the Khardasians).
There are other Dracula sites in Romania as well if you are a fan of Bram Stoker. It would appear that he wrote it more based on the mythology and superstitions that arose from living in a densely forested and hostile environment back in the days before we started to conquer nature and see how fast we could make species extinct like it was some kind of demented video game. So, be open-minded about Vlad the Impaler, but you need to admire Bram Stoker. The book was published in 1897 and has never been out of print. He was born in the wrong decade… he coulda been a billionaire…