Unwinding Fact From Fiction
Many readers state that they like the historical settings in my novels. It was super fun to delve into the past for The Lords and Commoners Series. It’s full of actual historical events, people and places. Of course, parts of my story greatly diverged from history. I had to alter some events to fit my story, so why don’t we un-alter history?
But first let’s play a game.
The second book in my series, Of Princes and Dragons, is largely about Vlad Dracula. So let’s start with getting some facts straight about his fascinating life.
True or False About Vlad the Impaler
1. Vlad the Impaler was a real person. True or False?
2. Vlad invented the intimidation tactic of impaling. True or False?
3. He was the ruler of Transylvania. True or False?
4. A good portion of his childhood was spent living with the Ottomans (his country’s enemy). True or False?
5. Vlad became next in line for the throne after his father and eldest brother were brutally murdered. True or False?
6. Vlad most likely had 3 wives (at different times) and 20 concubines throughout his lifetime. True or False?
7. One of Vlad’s wives committed suicide. True or False?
8. Vlad was tall, dark and handsome. True or False?
1. Vlad the Impaler was a real person. This is True. He did indeed walk this earth. He was born around 1431 to a nobleman named Vladislav II. His father later took on the name Dracul (Dragon). In order to lessen confusion, I’ll refer to Vlad’s father as Dracul. Most historians agree that Vlad was beheaded in December of 1476 or January of 1477.
2. Vlad invented the intimidation tactic of impaling. False. He did not. Impaling was commonly used in this region. There is a good chance the Ottomans were some of the first to use this method of torture. In fact, it’s not that different from how the Roman’s dealt with criminals; think of Jesus on the cross. Impaling was not a quick death. Men could live for up to 3 days on the stake.
3. He was the ruler of Transylvania. False. Vlad ruled Wallachia (the Southernmost part of modern-day Romania. Wallachia is just south of Transylvania (which is located in central Romania). He was born in Transylvania and buried there. Well, his headless body was buried in Transylvania. The confusion may have come from Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula. Stoker preferred the name Transylvania over Wallachia. Who could blame him? Transylvania is much more exotic sounding.
4. A good portion of his childhood was spent living with the Ottomans. This was true and a fascinating story. I explain more below.
5. Vlad became next in line for the throne after his father and eldest brother were brutally murdered. True again. There’s more on his tormented childhood below.
6. Vlad had at least 3 wives and 20 concubines throughout his lifetime. This is as close to the truth as we can tell. His first wife’s name is unknown as there is officially no record of her. We do know that later in life he married Ilona and then after her death he married (most likely for political reasons) the King of Hungary’s cousin, Jusztina. Both of these women appear in Of Princes and Dragons as two of Vlad’s concubines.
7. One of Vlad’s wives committed suicide. True. Ilona, who was most likely Vlad’s second wife, threw herself off the balcony at the Castle Poenari. The Ottoman’s were closing in and she didn’t want to become an Ottoman slave or to be added to the largest known harem in the world. Mehmed II allegedly kept 700 concubines at his disposal. The river far below the castle is still nicknamed the River of the Princess or the River of Sorrow in honor of Ilona.
8. Vlad was tall, dark and handsome. False. He was short and stocky. In my opinion, he was also very ugly.
How Did You Do?
8-6 Correct answers means you’re an EXPERT! Congratulations!
5-3 Not Bad (yet not that great).
2-0 You really needed this history refresher or maybe history is not your thing ;-)
What Really Happened?
Or, more accurately, what some historians have reported.
Tons of myths surround this infamous character, so it’s not always easy to say what really happened. Most of what Vlad the Impaler did after he took the Wallachian throne in my novel was how historians like Sir Jens (2012) explained it.
Vlad inherited a huge mess when he became the ruler of Wallachia in 1456. He systematically listed each threat to his rule, prioritized them and eliminated them in the order of importance.
1. The Boyar Class (a political mafia, of sorts)
2. Germanic Saxons (wealthy merchants of Transylvania)
3. Criminals (also poor and indigent populations)
The best way to describe the Boyar Class is that they were a type of mafia, making money by assassinating rulers. They became a noble class and deemed it their job to determine who the rulers of Wallachia should be.
Vlad knew very well just how dangerous the Boyar Class was. They were responsible for chasing down and brutally killing his father (Dracul) and his eldest brother (Mircea).
Thus, the Boyar Class was the first to be impaled on Vlad’s front lawn for all to see. Some have said that Vlad murdered this entire group of people, sons, daughters, wives, cousins, etc. Even if he didn’t kill ALL of them, he killed enough that the Boyars were taken out of politics for the time being.
Next, Vlad started a war in Transylvania over taxation rights with the Saxons. He not only won but he also eliminated a good number of the Danesti family. The Danesti family were nobles who constantly competed with Vlad’s family line for the right to rule Wallachia. It’s rumored that Vlad impaled Dan III and his entire family.
Then he turned his sights on the criminal and indigent populations of Wallachia. Long story short, he impaled them as well. There’s obviously a pattern here and it’s no wonder he’s called The Impaler.
This left him free to focus on bigger foes, namely one of the largest empires to ever rule — the Ottomans. Vlad did take on the mighty empire with his small army. Using guerilla warfare he gave them a good fight but did not run them out of his lands, as was the case in my story.
The global politics of the time were accurately described in my novels (to the best of our knowledge). With the Catholic Church in Rome backing Hungary on one side and the mighty Ottoman Empire on the other, poor little Wallachia was literally the border between two power houses. And therefore, was of great interest to both sides.
Wallachia was constantly being pushed and pulled — the crown ever changing. As Hungary wanted a leader who was loyal to the Church and the Ottoman’s wanted a ruler who was loyal to the Sultan.
One big argument today is how Vlad was viewed by his people. Some called him “the Law-Giver” and they were grateful for the order that Vlad brought to his country. Others claimed he was a bloodthirsty and brutal madman. According to the historian Sir Jens (2012) Vlad is hailed as a national hero in Romania today. Most likely both arguments are correct; he was brutal and he brought order to his country.
How I Diverged From History
It’s incredibly ironic that my version of the story, which includes vampires, was much less brutal than the true history of Vlad’s life.
Of course, I have no reason to suspect that Dracul (Vlad’s father) was gay, as he appeared in my novel. He had many children with his wife and concubines. It’s believed that Vlad the Impaler was actually not the son of his father’s wife but rather one of his favored concubines.
Therefore, our hero (or villain, whichever you prefer) was considered a bastard by the Catholic Church as his parents were not married. However, the culture in Wallachia was such that ANY of the rulers sons (regardless of who the mother was) was seen as a legitimate heir to the throne. In Eastern Europe Vlad was not considered a bastard. He was of royal blood — a prince.
Vlad’s story is an intriguing tragedy from start to finish. As a child, he and his younger brother Radu were taken as Ottoman “prisoners.” This was to ensure that Dracul would remain loyal to the Sultan. If Dracul were to step out of line, Vlad and Radu would have had their eyes burned out with hot pokers.
However, they weren’t held in prison cells. They were educated and trained to fight along with other nobles in the Sultan’s palace.
Radu’s moniker was Radu the Handsome. His good looks quickly caught the eye of the future Sultan, Mehmed II. Mehmed had a fondness for boys. He was close in age to Vlad and was Vlad’s lifelong enemy. At first, Radu did not like Mehmed’s attention. Yet, as Radu grew he remained loyal to the Sultan until his death, even betraying his own brother, Vlad.
Vlad’s childhood explains a lot about who he became and why he did the things he did, like torture people. Was he a psychopath? Maybe. Or perhaps he was simply a product of the cruel world he’d been born into.
What do you think, was Vlad a heartless killer (what psychologists today would call a psychopath)? Why or why not?
As always, I look forward to hearing from you!