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Blood-Sucking Vampire or National Hero? A Defense of Vlad “Dracula” The Impaler

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Above: portrait of Vlad III (c. 1560).

Irish author Bram Stoker has invented one of the greatest yarns of horror while incorporating love and adventure in his captivating novel, Dracula. The Celtic peoples are generally known for their inventions of the weird and awful as well as the fairy people and leprechauns. Stoker has incorporated an adventure aspect as four brave men track down a vampire who has recently moved to England. The reader gets pulled into the story as the novel is composed of these people’s diary entries as they pursue their hunt day by day. The undead Count spends his days in the form of a cave bat and his nights as a man feasting on blood. As he can only sleep in a coffin filled with dirt from his homeland, the Count has scattered several around England in order to assist his mobility. The team must hunt down the coffin holding the Count and stake a tie into his heart in order to end his accursed life. Personally, I enjoyed this story, and it has many side scenarios that are relevant to our own day. It can be viewed as an allegory of a soul who is or has died in the unhappy state of mortal sin and therefore cannot feel any true peace.

The first journal writer, Jonathan Harker, spends several days in the company of the odd Count. Jonathan relates, “In his speaking of things and people, and especially of battles, he spoke as if he had been present at them all.” The most frightening aspect of the novel is the fact that Bram Stoker has done a very dangerous thing in “undeading” a real person from Romanian history. It brings forth the question: is this Vampire Dracula the same as the Catholic Fear of Infidels? It would hardly cross someone’s mind to consider that Dracula might actually be a Catholic hero. This is due to the fact that what is most widely read is most widely believed even if it is maybe a slanderous fiction.

When Pope Euginius IV called for a crusade to fight back the ever growing threat of the Ottomans invading Europe, only four men responded to the call. These were the great Christian general John Hunyadi of Hungary, the boy king Wladyslaw III of Poland, the eighty-year old King George of Serbia, and the dread Count Vlad Dracul of Wallachia, later to be known as “The Impaler” because of his singular talent of carrying out that style of execution in large numbers. “These men were only united by their passionate resentment of the infidel invader and their determination to strike heavy blows against them.”[1]

Vlad was born in modern day Romania around 1430. While quite young, he was captured by the Muslims and practically raised as one of them. Seeing what they did to prisoners and knowing what they personally feared, Vlad later used this knowledge against the Muslims. Vlad hated all things Turkish and had a personal vendetta against the new sultan, Mehmet II. “He remains the only opponent that the Turks ever faced who inspired them with the terror that they consistently sought to instill in others.”[2]

While the crusade was somewhat successful, Constantinople did fall into the hands of the Sultan. It was a blow to Christendom for “nothing was left but honor for the ghost of the second Rome.”[3] In 1458, Pope Pius II called for another crusade. All of Europe preferred to dispute amongst themselves so the pope’s pleading went mostly unheeded. He stood all alone begging for leaders to face a bigger threat, and no one responded “except for one unimportant prince of an obscure territory near Transylvania, Vlad III of Wallachia… Vlad was the only Christian ruler to respond to the pope’s declaration of a new Crusade.”[4]

Vlad’s tactic was to take the territory surrounding Wallachia. After a series of successful attacks, Mehmet personally turned his attention to putting Vlad down and taking Wallachia, which would serve as the stepping stone to the Infidel prize: Vienna. The Count knew that he was outnumbered against the massive army that Mehmet had raised so he retreated one step ahead of the Muslim horde to his capital. Vlad left every inconvenience behind him, building dams to create swamps, burning crops, poisoning wells, and slaughtering any cattle that could not keep up with the march. To add to the Ottoman’s misery, Vlad paid a high price to any leper or carrier of the Black Death to enter into the camp of the Muslims to mingle and even embrace the inhabitants.[5]

Vlad’s counter-Muslim actions infuriated and insulted Mehmet, who considered Vlad little more than a bandit. Meanwhile Vlad’s praises were being sung all throughout Europe leaving a great divide in the opinion of the Count’s actions. Some thought him a hero and wanted a share in his glory. Others were jealous of his luck and success and these largely contributed to the pamphlets that circled around Europe depicting the Wallachia prince feasting on the remains of his victims. These were widely spread in Germany, as Vlad’s northern subjects were already disappointed that Vlad was not German.[6]

Knowing of their superstition about the dark, Vlad carefully planned a night attack on his pursuers. Had he a little more luck in this endeavor, Mehmet’s advances would have come to a halt. Alas, in the confusion, Mehmet’s viziers were accidentally killed instead of him. Vlad called the retreat while “The Terrible Turk” Mehmet ordered the army to pursue even harder. But the army was unnerved and refused to chase after “Vlad the Devil” who dared to make movements in the dark.

Any Muslim or apostate that the retreating army found in their wake decorated Vlad’s “forest of impalement”. If any Muslim army attempted to seek Vlad’s life they would have to bear miles of inhaling the stench of their comrades’ bodies to get to him. When the Infidel army arrived at the brink of this forest, they rolled on the ground and vomited in fear and horror. Mixed with feelings of shock and admiration, Mehmet expressed that the prisoner had learned Muslim tactics all too well.[7]

Here, Vlad’s history becomes blurred. It was believed that Mehmet charged someone else to carry on the jihad while he continued to chase the count. Whether he was cornered and killed or spared by the vengeful sultan still remains a mystery. Some would deduce from this uncertain fact a tale that he never died. What is most certain is that he lived.

This great genius of phycological warfare was a man of daring ingenuity, severe cruelty to his enemies, and a sense of mercy to his subjects. Gypsies’ and murderers’ crimes were forgiven as long as they served their country in causing damage to the Infidel camps. His followers loved and respected him with a loyalty that only a true statesman earns. Once a prisoner was tortured by the Muslims to reveal some plan or location of the count, his only reply was, “I would never betray Dracula.”[8] No one can deny that Vlad was capable of inspiring men to follow him to the ends of the earth if necessary. It must not be overlooked that he converted to Catholicism during his war with Islam, making him not only a mere Christian general but a member of the long list of Catholic heroes.

“How did a national hero ever become branded as one of the greatest monsters in human history as a blood-sucking undead creature of the night?” The fact is that what is written is most widely believed. Even while Vlad was still alive, propaganda papers in Europe would open along the English equivalent to “Once upon a time…” and then would go into the bloody tale of the lone Transylvanian who prowled in the night to feast on human flesh. “One villainy that cannot be laid at the feet of Vlad III… is inspiring Anglo-Saxon author Bram Stoker’s (in)famous hero.”[9] Perhaps Bram Stoker only recreated the vampire that Vlad’s enemies fabricated during his own lifetime? Perhaps the two only have the name in common and the latter is a pure figment of Bram’s imagination? Finishing this line of Dracula’s while talking to Mr. Harker, I think that he very intentionally intended that they are the same:

“Is it a wonder that we were a conquering race; that when the Turk poured his thousands on our frontiers, we drove them back? Who more gladly than we throughout the Four Nations received the ‘bloody sword, or at its warlike call flocked quicker to the standard of the King? When was redeemed that great shame of my nation when the flags of the Wallach went down beneath the Crescent?”

[1] Warren H. Carroll, The Glory of Christendom (Front Royal, Christendom Press, 1993), 552.

[2] Michael D. Greaney, Ten Battles Every Catholic Should Know (Charlotte, TAN, 2018), 29.

[3] Carroll, 554.

[4] Greaney, 31.

[5] Ibid., 41.

[6] Ibid., 47.

[7] Ibid., 44.

[8] Ibid., 39.

[9] Elizabeth Miller, Professor of English at the Memorial University, Newfoundland, as quoted by Michael Greaney on p. 48.

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