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The Historical Dracula

Chapter V: Anecdotal Evidence

M
uch of the information we have about Vlad III comes from pamphlets published in Germany and Russia after his death. The German pamphlets appeared shortly after Dracula's death and, at least initially, may have been politically inspired. At that time Matthias Corvinus of Hungary was seeking to bolster his own reputation in the Holy Roman Empire and may have intended the early pamphlets as justification of his less than vigorous support of his vassal. The pamphlets were also a form of mass entertainment in a society where the printing press was just coming into widespread use. Much like the subject matter of the supermarket tabloids of today, the cruel life of the Wallachian tyrant was easily sensationalized. The pamphlets were reprinted numerous times over the thirty or so years following Dracula's death -- strong proof of their popularity.

The German pamphlets painted Dracula as an inhuman monster who terrorized the land and butchered innocents with sadistic glee. The Russian pamphlets took a somewhat different view. The princes of Moscow were at that time just beginning to build the basis of what would become the autocracy of the czars. They were also having considerable trouble with disloyal, often treasonous boyars. In Russia, Dracula was presented as a cruel but just prince whose actions were directed toward the greater good of his people. Despite the differences in interpretation the pamphlets, regardless of their land of origin, agree remarkably well as to specifics. The level of agreement between the various pamphlets has led most historians to conclude that at least the broad outlines of the events covered actually occurred.

Romanian verbal tradition provides another important source for the life of Vlad Dracula. Legends and tales concerning the Impaler have remained a part of folklore among the Romanian peasantry. These tales have been passed down from generation to generation for five hundred years. Through constant retelling they have become somewhat garbled and confused and they are gradually being forgotten by the younger generations. However, they still provide valuable information about Dracula and his relationship with his own people. Many of the tales contained in the pamphlets are also found in the verbal tradition, though with a somewhat different emphasis. Among the Romanian peasantry Dracula is remembered as a just prince who defended his people from foreigners, whether those foreigners be Turkish invaders or German merchants. He is also remembered as somewhat of a champion of the common man against the oppression of the boyars. Dracula's fierce insistence on honesty is a central part of the verbal tradition. Many of the anecdotes contained in the pamphlets and in the verbal tradition demonstrate the prince's efforts to eliminate crime and dishonesty from his domain. However, despite the more positive interpretation, the Romanian verbal tradition also remembers Dracula as an exceptionally cruel and often capricious ruler.

There are several events that are common to all the pamphlets, regardless of their nation of origin. Many of these events are also found in the Romanian verbal tradition. Specific details may vary among the different versions of these anecdotes but the general course of events usually agrees to a remarkable extent. For example, in some versions the foreign ambassadors received by Dracula at Tirgoviste are Florentine, in others they are Turkish. The nature of their offense against the Prince also varies from version to version. However, all versions agree that Dracula, in response to some real or imagined insult, had their hats nailed to their heads. Some of the sources view Dracula's actions as justified, others view his acts as crimes of wanton and senseless cruelty. There are about nine anecdotes that are almost universal in the Dracula literature.

1. The Golden Cup

Dracula was known throughout his land for his fierce insistence on honesty and order. Thieves seldom dared practice their trade within Dracula's domain -- they knew that the stake awaited any who were caught. Dracula was so confident in the effectiveness of his law that he placed a golden cup on display in the central square of Tirgoviste. The cup was never stolen and remained entirely unmolested throughout Dracula's reign.

2. The Foreign Merchant

A merchant from a foreign land once visited Dracula's capital of Tirgoviste. Aware of the reputation of Dracula's land for honesty, he left a treasure-laden cart unguarded in the street over night. Returning to his wagon in the morning, the merchant was shocked to find 160 golden ducats missing. When the merchant complained of his loss to the prince, Dracula assured the him that his money would be returned and invited him to remain in the palace that night. Dracula then issued a proclamation to the city -- find the thief and return the money or the city will be destroyed. During the night he ordered that 160 ducats plus one extra be taken from his own treasury and placed in the merchant's cart. On returning to his cart in the morning and counting his money the merchant discovered the extra ducat. The merchant returned to Dracula and reported that his money had indeed been returned plus an extra ducat. Meanwhile the thief had been captured and turned over to the prince's guards along with the stolen money. Dracula ordered the thief impaled and informed the merchant that if he had not reported the extra ducat he would have been impaled alongside the thief.

3. The Two Monks

There are several versions of this anecdote. In some the two monks were from a Catholic monastery in Wallachia or wandering Catholic monks from a foreign land. In either case Catholic monks would be viewed as representatives of a foreign power by Dracula. In other versions of the story the monks were from a Romanian Orthodox establishment (the native church of Wallachia). Dracula's motivation also varies considerably among the different versions of the story.
All versions of the story agree that two monks visited Dracula in his palace at Tirgoviste. Curious to see the reaction of the churchmen, Dracula showed them the rows of impaled corpses in the courtyard. When asked their opinions of his actions by the prince, one of the monks responded, "You are appointed by God to punish evil-doers." The other monk had the moral courage to condemn the cruel prince. In the version of the story most common in the German pamphlets, Dracula rewarded the sycophantic monk and impaled the honest monk. In the version found in the Russian pamphlets and in the Romanian verbal tradition Dracula rewarded the honest monk for his integrity and courage and impaled the sycophant for his dishonesty.

4. The Polish Nobleman

Benedict de Boithor, a Polish nobleman in the service of the King of Hungary, visited Dracula at Tirgoviste in September of 1458. At dinner one evening Dracula ordered a golden spear brought and set up directly in from of the royal envoy. Dracula then asked the envoy why he thought this spear had been set up. Benedict replied that he imagined that some boyar had offended the prince and that Dracula intended to honor him. Dracula then responded that he had, in fact, had the spear set up in honor of his noble, Polish guest. The Pole then responded that had he done anything to deserve death that Dracula should do as he thought best. He further asserted that in that case Dracula would not be responsible for his death, rather he would be responsible for his own death for incurring the displeasure of the prince. Dracula was greatly pleased by this answer and showered the man with gifts while declaring that had he answered in any other manner he would have been immediately impaled.

5. The Foreign Ambassadors

There are at least two versions of this story in the literature. As with the story of the two monks, one version is common in the German pamphlets and views Dracula's actions unfavorably while the other version is common in eastern Europe and sees Dracula's actions in a much more favorable light. In both versions ambassadors of a foreign power visit Dracula's court at Tirgoviste. When granted an audience with the prince the envoys refused to remove their hats as was the custom when in the presence of the prince in Wallachia. Angered at this sign of disrespect Dracula had the ambassadors' hats nailed to their heads so that they might never remove them.

In the German version of the story the envoys are Florentine and refused to remove their hats to demonstrate their superiority. When Dracula asked the ambassadors why they wouldn't remove their hats they responded that such was not their custom and that they wouldn't remove their hats, even for the Holy Roman emperor. Dracula immediately had their hats nailed to their heads so that they might never come off and had the ambassadors ejected from his court. In Germany and the West, where the concept of diplomatic immunity was at least given lip service, this was held to be an act of barbarity against the representatives of a friendly power.

In the version of the story common in the east, the envoys are Turkish. When ushered into the presence of the prince, the Turks refused to remove their Phrygian caps. When questioned they answered that it was not the custom of their fathers to remove their hats. Dracula then ordered their hats nailed to their heads with three nails so that they might never have to break such an excellent tradition. The envoys were then sent back to the sultan. In the east this was held to be a courageous act of defiance in the face of the power of the Ottoman sultan. It should also be noted that the nailing of hats to the heads of those who displeased a monarch was not an unknown act in eastern Europe. Apparently this method was occasionally used by the princes of Moscow when faced by unpleasant envoys.

6. Dracula's Mistress

Dracula once had a mistress who lived in a house in the back streets of Tirgoviste. This woman apparently loved the prince to distraction and was always anxious to please him. Dracula was often moody and depressed and the woman made every effort to lighten her lover's burdens. Once, when Dracula was particularly depressed, the woman dared tell him a lie in an effort to cheer him up; she told him that she was with child. Dracula warned the woman not to joke about such matters but she insisted on the truth of her claim despite her knowledge of the prince's feelings about dishonesty. Dracula had the woman examined by the bath matrons to determine the veracity of her claim. When informed that the woman was lying Dracula drew his knife and cut her open from the groin to her breasts while proclaiming his desire for the world to see where he had been. Dracula then left the woman to die in agony.

7. The Lazy Woman

Dracula once noticed a man working in the fields while wearing a too short caftan. The prince stopped and asked the man whether or not he had a wife. When the man answered in the affirmative Dracula had the woman brought before him and asked her how she spent her days. The poor, frightened woman stated that she spent her days washing, baking and sewing. The prince pointed out her husband's short caftan as evidence of her laziness and dishonesty and ordered her impaled despite her husband's protestations that he was well satisfied with his wife. Dracula then ordered another woman to marry the peasant but admonished her to work hard or she would suffer her predecessor's fate.

8. The Nobleman with the Keen Sense of Smell

On St. Bartholomew's Day in 1459 Dracula caused thirty thousand of the merchants and nobles of the Transylvanian city of Brasov to be impaled. In order that he might better enjoy the results of his orders, the prince commanded that his table be set up and that his boyars join him for a feast amongst the forest of impaled corpses. While dining, Dracula noticed that one of his boyars was holding his nose in an effort to alleviate the terrible smell of clotting blood and emptied bowels. Dracula then ordered the sensitive nobleman impaled on a stake higher than all the rest so that he might be above the stench.

In another version of this story the sensitive nobleman is an envoy of the Transylvanian cities of Brasov and Sibiu sent to appeal to the cruel Wallachian to spare those cities. While hearing the nobleman's appeal Dracula walked amongst the stakes and their grisly burdens. Some of the victims still lived. Nearly overcome by the smell of drying blood and human wastes the nobleman asked the prince why he walked amidst the awful stench. Dracula then asked the envoy if he found the stench oppressive. The envoy, seeing an opportunity to ingratiate himself with Dracula, responded that his only concern was for the health and welfare of the prince. Dracula, angered at the nobleman's dishonesty ordered him impaled on the spot on a very high stake so that he might be above the offending odors.

9. The Burning of the Sick and Poor

Dracula was very concerned that all his subjects work and contribute to the common welfare. He once noticed that the poor, vagrants, beggars and cripples had become very numerous in his land. Consequently, he issued an invitation to all the poor and sick in Wallachia to come to Tirgoviste for a great feast, claiming that no one should go hungry in his land. As the poor and crippled arrived in the city they were ushered into a great hall where a fabulous feast was prepared for them. The prince's guests ate and drank late into the night, when Dracula himself made an appearance. "What else do you desire? Do you want to be without cares, lacking nothing in this world," asked the prince. When they responded positively Dracula ordered the hall boarded up and set on fire. None escaped the flames. Dracula explained his action to the boyars by claiming that he did this, "in order that they represent no further burden to other men so that no one will be poor in my realm."

 

>> Chapter VI: Dracula and the Vampire Myth



All Text Rights Reserved.
 "The Historical Dracula" is Copyright Ray Porter, 1992

 

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