Prince Vlad III Drakula (a.k.a. Vlad the Impaler, Vlad the Undying)
And then the prince demanded, "Why have you insulted me by failing to remove your hats in my chamber?"
At this the Turks apologized, and explained that it was not the custom to remove their turbans in such a circumstance. Vlad nodded and said he understood, whereupon the messengers relaxed. Then, however, Vlad said that if that custom was so important, he would strengthen it for him. The Turks were held down, pleading for mercy, as their turbans were nailed to their skulls with three spikes each.
The prince watched this with an impassive face. I believe it would have been less frightening had he shown some form of amusement or pleasure. Witnessing the sight has given me nightmares, but for the prince... for the prince, it was as unremarkable as nailing a shelf to a well.
Few names evoke as much fear as Drakula. The other names that do are the alternate names he goes by. For more than 350 years, he has ruled Wallachia, turning it from a small principality under the influence of the Turkish Empire into a powerful nation in the modern world. To the native Wallachians, he is a hero. He is a man of the people, who fought to preserve their freedom. To foreigners, he is a bloodthirsty madman who conquered not to create a homeland for this people, but to sate an urge for violence.
BackgroundFor more details, visit the Wikipedia page for historical fact.
The name Drakula comes from his father, Vlad II, who earned the name "Vlad Dracul", or "Vlad the Dragon" upon becoming a member of the Order of the Dragon. "Dracula" is the word dracul in the genitive form. Vlad III's name, therefore, manes "Son of the Dragon". Reports of his activities first came to western Europe via the Saxons, hence the spelling of Drakula being his common name in the west. Drakula was born in the fortified town of Sighișoara while his father lived there in exile. He was born during a turbulent time,when Wallachia was a frontier principality squeezed between the Turks to the south and the Hungarians to the north. Shortly after Drakula was born, his father seized the voivodship of Wallachia with Hungarian support. Relations between Wallachia and Hungary eventually deteriorated due to trade disagreements and the arrest of Wallachian merchants in Transylvania. The voivode of Transylvania and the boyars of Wallachia supported a pretender to Wallachia's throne and invaded the principality in 1447. Vlad Dracul was forced to flee from the capital, but he was captured and killed not long after.
The Rule of Drakula
After the death of his father, Drakula went into exile while his father's cousin, the pretender, sat on the throne of Wallachia. He moved around, never staying in one city for too long. In 1456, Drakula made his return. With Hungarian support, he launched an invasion of Wallachia, killing the pretender to the throne and reclaiming it for himself. He established his capital in Târgoviște, and took up residence in the city's fortress. His reign secured, his first order of business was to purge Wallachia of any who might seek to overthrow him. To that end, he invited the boyars of Wallachia, the same ones who had turned against his father and led to his death, to a grand dinner to "celebrate the beginning of a new reign". As the dinner wound down, he looked at the assembled men and spoke.
"How many princes have you known?"
The boyars were unsure. Some said 20. Others 30. Even the youngest among them claimed to have seen 7.
Then Drakula said, "How do you explain the fact that you have had so many princes in so short a lifetime? I will tell you: it is due to your shameful intrigues. To be a prince with you as a court is to be a rabbit with a court made of wolves."
The boyars protested. It was only unfit rulers they had seen to eliminate, and Wallachia's poor luck that led so many unfit rulers to take its throne. These comments only damned them further, for Drakula had not forgotten that his father was one of the rulers killed by their scheming."
"Then I suppose," Drakula announced, "that I must show you what kind of ruler I am."
Drakula's soldiers surrounded the feast and seized the boyars. Those that were elderly, weak, or infirm he had no use for. They were marched outside the city and impaled, each left to writhe and scream as death slowly claimed them. There bodies were left until the skeletons fell to the ground - a warning of what happens to those who did not show Drakula loyalty. For the young and fit, Drakula had other plans. These boyars, and their wives and children, were clapped and chains and marched out of town, to the crumbling Poenari Castle on a steep mountain top. The once grand nobles were forced into hard labour to restore the castle to greatness, working without rest until their very clothes fell from their bodies. With the boyars out of the way, power in Wallachia was centralized on Drakula. The money, property, and goods that had belonged to the executed boyars were redistributed to Drakula's retainers, fundamentally changing Wallachia's political landscape.
Drakula ruled with an iron-fist. There were several attempts to remove him from the throne by surviving boyars, who aided a Hungarian attempt to install another pretender to the throne. Drakula fought off this insurrection and also raided Transylvanian towns along the border. Men, women, and children from these villages were impaled in the woods outside of town, so that the stakes of the impaled blended into the trees. Many of these villagers were Transylvanian Saxons and this act was what first brought the name Drakula out to western Europe. Woodcuts depicting the atrocity spread through the Holy Roman Empire and beyond, so that eventually there were those who couldn't play Wallachia on a map but knew Drakula as a monster.
In the early years of his reign, Drakula paid an annual homage to the sultan of the Turkish Empire. After being in power for some time, Drakula decided to no longer pay it, and that Wallachia would be a vassal of the Turks no longer. Sultan Mehmed II sent messengers to Drakula demanding the payment. During this meeting, Drakula not only refused to pay, but also nailed the men's turbans to their heads.
Drakula launched an invasion of the Turkish Empire, raiding and pillaging villages along the Danube. Wherever he went, he left forests of impaled prisoners behind. Drakula explained his actions as being a defense of Christendom, specifically of the Catholic faith. During this time period, Catholicism was slowly losing power in the west thanks to the spread of the Arbitrium Church, and he requested support from other Catholic rulers to ensure the church didn't also lose territory to Islam. Mehemd II gathered an army more than 150,000 strong with the intention of ousting Drakula from Wallachia, but Drakula had acquired financial and military support from other Catholic states, including Hungary, Bohemia, and Poland. War raged around the Turkish-Wallachian border for two years, with Drakula steadily pushing the Turks back. In 1464, the sultan gathered all the troops he could spare for a final march to the capital of Târgoviște. When the Turks came to a mountain pass on their way to Târgoviște, however, they came upon a gruesome sight. A battle between the Turks and Wallachians had taken place here only two weeks before, and the remnants of the Turkish battalion still rotted on spikes. The impaled soldiers formed a forest of corpses that filled the pass. It wasn't just soldiers, though, but women and children from the nearby Turkish village, too.
I lost my stomach at the sight. There were birds making nests in men's entrails and infants skewered on spikes with their mothers. I could not see the extent of the carnage, for the rows of spikes were so deep they obscured those further back as in a forest. What sort of man could conceive of such an atrocity, let alone carry it out?
Mehmed decided that any man who was capable of such depravity was not someone he wanted to get involved with. He turned his army around and retreated.
Drakula followed Mehmed's retreat, further pushing him back. Drakula managed to force the Turks out of Europe entirely, and came close to conquering Constantinople. The Turkish War ended with Wallachia possessing territory all the way to the Bosporus strait. More powerful than ever, Drakula demanded homage from the voivodes of Transylvania and Moldavia. Seeing this as treachery, his Catholic allies rescinded support. The voivodes of Transylvania and Moldavia, fearing the massacre Drakula would unleash upon their lands if they refused, conceded to Drakula and their lands were absorbed in the new Wallachian Empire. In the ensuing years, without support from his allies, Drakula was unable to hold all of Thrace and the Turks slowly crept back in through a series of campaigns. However, they were never able to reclaim all the territory they had lost, and Drakula maintained control of much of southeast Europe. Besides the Turks, the biggest thorn in his side were the Venetians, who had seized territory all along the Adriatic coast while Drakula and the Turks fought in the east.
Prince of the People
Drakula grew wealthy and powerful on the back of his new empire. He was unable to expand further, being boxed in by the Turks to the south, the Venetians to the west, and Hungary to the north, so he focused his efforts on defending his borders and maintaining absolute control over Wallachia. He had never forgotten the way the boyars had cycled through so many boyars in the past, and was careful to never allow a noble class to become too powerful. He imposed harsh taxes on the nobles, and used his wealth to provide protection, stores against famine, and public works for the commoners. A populace who loved him, he believed, would be difficult to turn against him in a civil war. The same benefits where provided to all citizens of Wallachia, whether they were originally Wallachian or not. While the rest of Europe exchanged horrifying tales of his cruelty and bloodthirst, citizens of Wallachia saw him a man of the people.
In 1472, a circle of boyars plotted an assassination to remove who they saw as a tyrant from power. Drakula was notoriously paranoid of assassins, having all his food and drink tested before he would eat it. With that avenue cut off, the assassin attempted a more direct route of hiding in his bedchamber and slitting his throat. The unlucky assassin, however, misjudged how asleep Drakula was when he made his move. Drakula was more than just a commander who sent troops into battle; he led his armies from the front and was a formidable fighter. He overpowered the man, but did not kill him. First, the man was taken to the dungeons of Târgoviște to be tortured until he revealed the names of who had sent him. Hearsay claims that Drakula did the torturing himself, though this is not confirmed. What is confirmed is that a week later, he hosted a dinner party for the boyars of Wallachia. When his guests arrived, they discovered that only the seven who had been involved in the scheme had been invited. When the meal was brought out, he presented them with the assassin's head on a platter. The boyars involved where impaled that evening. Drakula had come out of the assassination attempt unscathed, but he did ignore it. He was already past middle age, and feared that time would sap him of his ability to protect himself from future attacks. Further, he had no heir and did not trust that his empire would survive his death. He began to consider alternatives to dying.
Drakula turned his sights on a long-known but poorly understood condition known as Unbound. To be unbound means to be cut off from fate and the progression of life. Unbound individuals are greatly feared for the immunity to aging, injury, and death. They are not fully human. Drakula did not care about being human; he cared about being alive. Unfortunately, no one knew how one even became unbound. The condition was rare, and meeting an unbound person to ask was next to impossible. There were plenty who claimed the whole thing was a myth. Drakula was willing to find a way. Over the next 5 years, he devoted himself to researching the condition, fate, soul guides, vesanmer - anything he thought might lead him to immortality. He wasn't even fully dedicated on becoming unbound; by 1478, the word had spread throughout Europe that the Prince of Wallachia was offering a significant reward to any alchemist who could provide a philosopher's stone. The dungeons of Târgoviște castle were filled with political enemies who became convenient test subjects in his pursuit of immortality. Nobody knows how he did it. In 1480, Drakula walked into the town square and pierced his throat with his own knife. Spectators were aghast, and even more shocked when he pulled it out, coughed a little, and seemed wholly unperturbed by the incident.
Citizens of Wallachia, see now: No blade can harm me, no illness can weaken me, and fate itself cannot touch me. I am the true prince of Wallachia, for now and for all time.Drakula burned all of his notes and refused to reveal what he had done to become unbound.
Drakula the Undying
For the next century, Drakula ruled Wallachia without many changes. The most significant event was the creation of the Immortal Regiment, an army of unbound soldiers. Where Drakula got them remains a mystery. The borders of the empire were frequently in flux, but the Immortal Regiment proved to be a powerful obstacle. It wasn't large enough to mount a full invasion into the other empires around him, but defended Wallachia's borders well. His habit of impaling enemy prisoners on stakes also discouraged attack. Drakula's failure to age did not go unnoticed by the surrounding world. He was accused of witchcraft, devil worship, or vampirism. In 1485, he was excommunicated from the Catholic church for his flagrant defiance of God. In the long run, however, Wallachia could not be shunned and ignored. Drakula controlled the land route to the Turkish Empire, and with it, a tight grip on the flow of goods into Europe. Drakula became a despised but tolerated figure on the European political landscape, and remained there for the next three and half centuries.
The most significant event in the perpetual reign of Drakula was his taking of a wife. In the early 17th century, Drakula heard of a criminal case that had gone on in the neighboring Kingdom of Hungary. A countess by the name of Elizabeth Bathory was charged with murdering over 600 people, most of them servant girls, and most of them gruesomely. The charges against her were extensive. It was said she tortured victims for fun, that she had a dungeon in her palace full of mutilated corpses, and that she bathed in the blood of virgins to attain eternal youth. For her crimes, she was sentenced to house arrest in Čachtice Castle. Drakula saw in Elizabeth a kindred spirit. He had had a wife once, but she died during the Turkish Wars and he hadn't taken a mistress since. In 1613, Drakula met with King Matthias II of Hungary, who had ordered the arrest, and asked for Elizabeth to endure the rest of her sentence in Târgoviște. The king, happy to get her out of his kingdom, agreed and Drakula went to Čachtice Castle to get her. In the court of Drakula, Elizabeth did not remain a prisoner. He gave her full freedom within his empire and put her in charge of his torture chamber (as, somehow, he always seemed to find political enemies that needed to be punished). Drakula wooed Elizabeth, and in 1615, they were wed. As Princess of Wallachia, Elizabeth had more power than ever before. As Drakula's continued strength in Wallachia was in part due to the support of the masses, she had to turn to foreigners to enact her desires. This led to the Wallachian-Venetian War of 1625, when Venice accused the princess of Wallachia of kidnapping and murdering Venetian merchants. The bloody war (made bloody by Drakula's infamous ruthlessness) ended in a hesitant Venetian victory, with the ceding of territory along Wallachia's eastern border to Venice and an agreement that travellers were not to be harmed. After several years, it began to be noticed that Elizabeth had not appeared to age in some time, and she no longer ate at feasts, just as Drakula didn't. The unbound Elizabeth Bathory ruled by Drakula's side into the 18th century. She claims to have given up her torturous past, however, Wallachia is known for having a surprising absence of vagrants and bums, especially around the capital.
Drakula is still the prince of Wallachia at the end of the 18th century. He and his princess have become a bloody constant of Europe. Wallachia is considered one of the most backwards countries culturally due to Drakula's stagnation. Though he hasn't completely failed to modernize, he is still usually the last to pick up new technology. Drakula is not a member of any church, and as such, provides great religious tolerance to his subjects. Wallachia is considered a haven for Jewish people and any other religious minorities. It is also known as a country with brutal punishment for the violation of laws, where torturous executions persist even as the rest of Enlightenment Europe moves toward humane executions. Despite Wallachia being the black sheep of Europe, Drakula has made it powerful. Centuries of experience has made him a keen political strategist and given him great patience to make moves only when the time is perfect.