I know I’m not the only person fascinated by vampire mythology – legends recently boosted by the discovery in Bulgaria of several medieval bodies buried with iron stakes through their chests. People really did believe in vampires, and in the last hundred years or so vampire mythologies have abounded, not so much through folk beliefs as through fantasy literature!
It’s mostly down to Bram Stoker, of course, although even he was influenced by John Polidori’s earlier tale, The Vampyre. Whatever the influences, we soak up vampire stories like sponges, and the explosion of vampire romance in more recent years has only fed the compulsion, with each author coming up with his or her own world of the undead.
As a writer of vampire romance (most recently, Blood Guilt, the start of a new series!), I find this field of the imagination very fertile! I love vampire stories and always have, ever since reading Dracula as a child and watching old late night horror films with my Dad.
Dracula is a fantastic villain: evil, sexually mesmerizing, powerful, ruthless, and yet in his living past he was a brave hero. As most people know, Bram Stoker based Dracula loosely on the fifteenth century Wallachian prince, Vlad the Impaler, a ruthless and yet heroic ruler who lived on in folk tales.
So, as both a writer and a lover of vampire tales, I’ve spent some time researching the enigmatic Vlad Dracula. I’ve found a few facts, and speculated on a few more J. Here are my FAQ’s.
1. Was he a vampire?
No! He was the ruling prince of Wallachia, now part of modern Romania. Bram Stoker took his nickname and some of his history for his own creation, Count Dracula. Before then, no one had ever accused him of vampirism!
2. When was he born and when did he die?
He was born around 1431, and died in 1476.
3. Did he really have a connection with Transylvania?
Yes. Although it belonged to Hungary at the time, the princes of Wallachia traditionally owned several towns there. However, he was never ruler of Transylvania.
4. When did he rule?
He had three turbulent reigns: the first in 1448 when he was a teenager - with Ottoman help, he seized the throne and lost it again within weeks. In 1556, he returned, killed the previous incumbent who was responsible for the murder of his father and brother, and ruled until the Ottoman invasion of 1462 replaced him with his younger brother, an Ottoman puppet. His final reign was in 1476, until he was killed within months by a rival claimant to the throne.
5. Why was he given the nickname, Dracula?
"Dracul" can mean "Devil" in Romanian, and some say he earned the title through the atrocities he committed. However "dracul" can also mean "dragon"; so Vlad's nickname is more probably to do with the chivalric Order of the Dragon bestowed by the Holy Roman Emperor on his father (also a Vlad) who was thereafter known as Vlad Dracul. Young Vlad also received the honour and was known as Vlad Dracula, Son of the Dragon. It was clearly a name he was proud of since he signed several documents “Vlad Dracula”.
6. Why was he called the Imapler?
This was a nickname given him by the Turks - "Lord Impaler" - because of his penchant for this form of punishment. The worst case in terms of numbers was when he displayed a "forest" of the impaled" outside his capital city of Tirgoviste, which scared the Sultan's invading army into retreat.
Impalement, vile as it is, was not a particularly rare form of execution in this period or in this area, being practiced by both Christians and Ottomans.
7. Was he the cruel, psychotic tyrant of legend?
According to many pamphlets and books of the time, yes he was. But according to the folk memory of his own people, he was a hero who defended his country from Turkish invasion, and prevented the Sultan's forces stealing Wallachian children to become janissaries.
In fact, the worst of the horror stories - which are clearly exaggerated as to numbers if nothing else - came from the German towns of Transylvania which rebelled against him and paid the price, and from the Hungarians who imprisoned him on false charges for twelve years.
So... a gentle man? Probably not!
A tyrant? Probably! It was more or less expected of princes of the period, but he always ruled with the agreement of his "boyars" (noblemen).
Cruel and psychotic? I doubt he was crueler than other rulers of a period when Machiavelli advised that it was better for a prince to be feared than loved. He seems to have been rigid and strict in dispensing justice; but a psycho hell-bent on torture and killing at the expense of the prosperity of his country? It doesn't fit with the way the people rallied to him to fight the Turks, and helped him escape when the war was lost. Or with the economic improvements he made to his country. Or the fact that no one assassinated him when he was at his weakest. Like king Macbeth in Scotland, another character who lives on in literature, I very much doubt that Vlad Dracula was a hated man in his own country.
Anyway, it seems to me Bram Stoker captured this hero/tyrant contradiction in his Dracula, and it’s at least partly this duel nature of vampires that’s so fascinating and keeps us reading – and writing! – more. If you’re a fan of vampire stories, what is it about them that draws you in?
Here's more about Marie's book.
(Blood Hunters, Book 1)
By Marie Treanor
eBook coming 5th June 2012
The first of a new vampire romance series, a sequel to the Awakened by Blood trilogy.
Natural enemies, deadly attraction…
Mihaela, a fearless vampire hunter secretly haunted by loneliness and childhood tragedy, finds it difficult to adjust to the new world order where vampires are not always the bad guys. She's taking a much needed vacation in Scotland when she sees a little boy being chased through the streets of Edinburgh. Rescuing him brings bigger problems - two vampires from her past: Gavril, who killed her family; and the reclusive and troubled Maximilian, gifted Renaissance artist and one-time overlord of the most powerful undead community in the world. Maximilian once saved her life and now needs that favor returned.
The earth moves for Mihaela in more ways than one. From Scotland to Budapest and Malta, she races against time to prevent a disastrous, vampire-induced earthquake and save an innocent yet powerful child – all while fighting a dreadful attraction to Maximilian, her only ally, whom she can’t afford to trust. For Maximilian, the hunter becomes a symbol of renewed existence, as he struggles to accept his past and rediscovers his appetite for blood and sex - and maybe even happiness.