Dracula: Prince of Many Faces.
It’s an Impalathon over here chez Sonika. After The Historian, I really wanted to learn about this Vlad Tepes dude, so I checked out one of the biographies from the library. THE LIBRARY. Did you hear that, internet? I am learning that I do not have to OWN books in order to READ them. What a novel thought. Ha. Novel.
I’m sorry, the kids I nanny for have been ill. I’m a little addled.
So. Yes. Vlad Tepes. Great dude. And by “great,” I mean “mass-murdering fuckhead.” While modern historians (mostly Romanians) try to be Impaler Apologists and say “Oh, he didn’t kill THAT many people.” or “He had GOOD REASONS” to impale them, the dude was a monster. Even by 15th century standards. Which, of course, is the basis for his appeal. Everyone likes a good horror show! Or at least, I do.
Reading the biography does at least provide context for his proclivities. His politics were a bit French Revolution-esque in the “Well, these are the ends I would like to achieve. I’m a bit hazy on the means. I’ll just kill people! Yeah! That’ll do it!” sort of genre.
Since really, it is all about the gory details, I’m going to provide some of the first hand accounts from the book that make it impossible to deny that whatever political motives this dude may have had, he was seriously, seriously twisted and definitely a candidate for World’s Next Top Psychopath.
A contemporary account detailing a reception of a Genoese delegation:
I have found that some Italians [i.e., Genoese] came as ambassadors to his court. As they came to him they took off their hats and hoods facing the prince. Under the hat, each of them wore a coif or a little skullcap that he did not take off, as is the habit among Italians. Dracula then asked them for an explanation of why they had only taken their hats off, leaving their skullcaps on their heads. To which they answered: “This is our custom. We are not obliged to take our skullcaps off under any circumstances, even an audience with the sultan or the Holy Roman Emperor. Dracula then said, “In all fairness, I want to strengthen and recognize your customs.” They thanked him bowing to him and added, “Sire we shall always serve you with your interests if you show us such goodness, and we shall praise your greatness everywhere.” Then in a deliberate manner this tyrant and killer did the following: he took some big iron nails and planted them in a circle in the head of each ambassador. “Believe me,” he said while his attendants nailed the skullcaps on the heads of the envoys, “this is the manner in which I will strengthen your customs.”
On an encountering a man whose shirt was not up to his standards:
One day Dracula met a peasant who was wearing too short a shirt. One could also notice his homespun peasant trousers, which were glued to his legs, and one could make out the sides of his thighs. When he saw him [dressed] in this manner, Dracula immediately ordered him to be brought to court. “Are you married?” he inquired. “Yes, I am, Your Highness.” “Your wife is assuredly of the kind who remains idle. How is it possible your shirt does not reach the calf of your leg? She is not worthy of living in my realm. May she perish!” “Beg forgiveness, my lord, but I am satisfied with her, she never leaves home and she is honest.” “You will be more satisfied with another since you are a decent and hardworking man.” Two of Dracula’s men had in the meantime brought the wretched woman to him, and she was immediately impaled. Then bringing another woman, he gave her away to be married to the peasant widower. Dracula, however, was careful to show the reasons why she had incurred the princely wrath. Consequently, the new wife worked so hard she had no time to eat. She placed the bread on one shoulder, the salt on another, and worked in this fashion. She tried hard to give greater satisfaction to her new husband than the first wife and not to incur the curse of Dracula.
This incident involving poor peasants is recounted in German, Russian, and Romanian narratives of Vlad Dracula. This is the Romanian version.
Having asked the old, the ill, the lame, the poor, the blind, and the vagabonds to a large dining hall in Tirgoviste, Dracula ordered that a feast be prepared for them. On the appointed day, Tirgoviste groaned under the weight of the large number of beggars who had come. The prince’s servants passed out a batch of clothes ot each one, then they led the beggars to a large mansion where tables had been set. The beggars marveled at the prince’s generosity, and they spoke among themselves: “Truly it is a prince’s kind of grace.” Then they started eating. And what do you think they saw before them: a meal as such as one would find on the prince’s own table, wines and all the best things to eat which weigh you down. The beggars had a feast that became legendary. They ate, and drank greedily. Most of them became dead drunk. As they became unable to communicate with one another, and became incoherent, they were suddenly faced with fire and smoke on all sides. They rushed to the doors to get out, but the doors were locked. The fire progressed. The blaze rose high like inflamed dragons. Shouts, shrieks, and moans arose from the lips of all the poor enclosed there. But why should a fire be moved by the entreaties of men? They fell upon each other. They embraced each other. They sought help, but there was no human ear left to listen to them. They began to twist in the torments of the fire that was destroying them. The fire stifled some, the embers reduced others to ashes, the flames grilled most of them. When the fire finally abated, there was no trace of any living soul.
This one is the most horrifying and grotesque. You’ve been warned.
If any wife had an affair outside of marriage, Dracula ordered her sexual organs cut. She was then skinned alive and exposed in her skinless flesh in a public square, her skin hanging separately from a pole or placed on a table in the middle of the marketplace. The same punishement was applied to maidens who did not keep their virginity, and also to unchaste widows. Dracula was known to have the nipple of a woman’s breast cut off. He also once had a red-hot iron stake shoved into a woman’s vagina, making the instrument penetrate her entrails and emerge from her mouth. He then had the woman tied to a pole naked and left her exposed there until the flesh from the body, and the bones detached themselves from the sockets.
Equal harm befell political opponents, as was documented in a report presented to Pope Pius II.
He killed some of them by breaking them under the wheels of carts; others, stripped of their clothes, were skinned alive up to their entrails; others placed on stakes, or roasted on red-hot coals placed under them; others punctured with stakes piercing their head, their navel, breast, and, what is even unworthy of relating, their buttocks and the middle of their entrails, and, emerging from their mouths; in order that no form of cruelty be missing, he stuck stakes in both breasts of mothers and thrust their babies onto them; he killed others in the most ferocious ways, torturing them with varied instruments such as the atrocious cruelties of the most frightful tyrants could devise.
Perhaps most infamous was the Forest of the Dead, which succeeded in the aim of so horrifying Sultan Mehmed II that he gave up on his campaign to annex Wallachia as part of the Ottoman Empire:
In front of the wooden fortress where he had his residence, he set up at a distance of six leagues two rows of fence with impaled Hungarians, Moldavians, and Wallachians. In addition, since the neighboring area was forested, innumerable people were hanging from each tree branch, and he ordered that if anyone should take one of the hanging victims down, he would hang in his place.
And yet, some modern Romanian historians try to justify this dude as a crusader for a free Romania. While this is true in spirit, I don’t think that a state ruled by Vlad Tepes – while independent from foreign rule – would be classified as “free.”
I certainly would be really careful about the length of my husband’s shirt, that’s for sure.