Prior to the Twilight takeover, when someone mentioned the word Vampire most people pictured an aristocrat with a cape named Dracula. A top selling Novel, countless film retellings and believe it or not a couple of Musical Theater productions have made both Dracula and the Vampire a permanent part of our day to day life. It's nothing to see an entire shelf devoted to the subject amongst many a movie or book collections. In my home, we have both. Without doubt, Dracula is among our modern day's favorite undead celebrities!
But where did Dracula come from? Who was he? Did Bram Stoker make up the whole thing, or did he know something that others didn't?
Well, I'm sorry to tell you this, BUT, while Bram Stoker did have a number of real life influences for his Novel, he neither based the book on a real life Vampire nor created the genre. Vampire myths date back to Ancient times, many of which were recorded in both historical and religious texts of the day. However the first recognized Vampire Fiction Novel was The Vampyre written in 1919 by John Polidori.
But unlike Polidori's novel, Stoker did have some real life historical influences to base his writings on. While early literary scholars quickly jumped to claim that the book was based on stories of a 15th century Wallachian Price named Vlad III Dracula who was also given the name Tepes. The two have very little in common. In fact it wasn't until the final revision did Stoker's vampire assume the name Dracula, before that he was Count Wompyr.
Vlad II "Tepes" Dracula
So what was it about Vlad Dracula that made Stoker decide to change the name of his creation? Well, the story of Vlad III Dracula is one which takes more than a few paragraphs to write, and one which I will cover at length in a future post. The short version is simply that after the murder of both his father (Vlad II Dracul) and his older brother Mircea, who was in line for the thrown, Dracula became prince of Wallachia (in present day Romania). His control only lasted a matter of two months before he was driven out of his country and to neighboring Transylvania. After 7 years in exile and with the support of the Turks, Dracula was able to reclaim his thrown and take revenge on those who had killed his father and brother and driven him from his home.
Hungary's Governor had just died, leaving the the boyers to be dealt with. He held a Easter celebration and invited 500 boyers and the area's 5 Bishops. At the end of his day of celebration Vlad Dracula ordered that all of his guests, their families and their attendants be impaled. He would from here on be known as Vlad Tepes, which translates to Vlad The Impaler, a name he would live up to. He was a formidable opponent for anyone whom crossed him and would end many thousands of lives both innocent and guilty in the name of justice and freedom for his land. He has become most well known for his habit of sitting down amongst the freshly impaled to eat his meal. Historical myth states that he would have the blood gathered in bowls so that he could dip his bread in it. However, there isn't much proof to back this up, and it seems to be something which was added to his story after his death to sensationalize - an addition I don't believe he needed.
His death is shrouded in mystery. While many historians believe he died in battle against the Turks, many others believe it was murder. Either way he died while attempting to protect his Christian Country from a Muslim takeover. For this, he is still seen as a freedom fighter and a hero amongst the people of Romania.
One last interesting point is that of his burial. While tradition holds that his buried at the base of the Alter in the Snagov Monastery near Bucharest, his head was said to have been removed and delivered to the Turkish Sultan as proof of his death. However, in recent years it's been discovered that his body is in fact NOT buried in the Monastery, instead the tomb remains empty. Which begs the question "Where is Dracula's body?"
So, as you can see there are SOME similarities, the most obvious is the name Dracula. The name Dracula, in actuality means "son of Dracul." Depending on the translation Dracul is said to mean either Dragon or Devil. Most likely it means Dragon, as his father, Vlad Dracul, was a member of the order of the Dragon.
Beyond the name Stoker made Castle Dracula in Transylvania in to the home of Dracula, while in reality it was more of a fort he used during war and was not his home or even in his own country. Of course he was nobility, but rather than a Count, he was a Prince. And of course the cruelty and supposed blood thirst make for great inspiration for horror novels.
As if that weren't all enough the addition of the idea that he had been beheaded matching pre-existing vampire lore stating beheading was a sure fire end to a vampire's existence fit just perfectly. As did the fact that his body is in fact missing, this however is a fact which was not known at the time of Stoker's research.
Erzsebet (aka Elizabeth) Bathory
It's more likely that Stoker took more inspiration from the sixteenth century Countess Bathory than he did from Dracula. A great deal of information on Bathory has been found amongst Stoker's note books and research. Although Erzebet was actually a woman she and the fictional Count Dracula have a greater deal in common.
Again, there is much more to the story than can be put here, so look for future postings. However, it's a fairly simply story with many parallels to that of Dracula. Bathory is often sited as being Hungarian, but was more likely to have been born in to Slovakian Nobility. Although at the point when she lived land overturned ownership so much it would have been hard to really make such a distinction.
Her first cousin Prince Steven Bathory of Transylvania actually participated in an expedition lead by Vlad Dracula. And Castle Fagras, also known as "Castle Dracula" in Romania, actually became a possession of Prince Bathory during Erzebet's lifetime, she may have even spent time there, but it's doubtful.
Erzabet married her Count in 1575, but kept her own surname, which in that day was not only unheard of but that stuff of scandals! Her husband was very often away on military campaigns against the Turks. At one point Erzebet went to stay with her Aunt, Countess Karla Bathory. Who today would not only be considered a nymphomaniac, but would be imprisoned for her pension for murder and rape. Married and widowed four times, at least two of her husbands died at her hands. It's believed that her aunt is the one who taught Erzbet most of what she knew of torture, a past time which Erzbet came to greatly enjoy and even involved her husband in when he was at home.
A beautiful woman, she became incredibly vane and was greatly bothered by the aging process. She was known to spend days at a time in front of her mirror. She even had a mirror designed just for her that had supports where she could lean on her arms in an effort not to feel tired after hours of admiring herself.
It's the combination of her love of herself and her love of putting others in great pain that lead her to brutally kill hundreds of young girls. The story goes that one day as her servant girls were attending to her one girl accidentally pulled her hair, and she slapped the girl. Erzbet's ring sliced in to the girl's face and blood splattered on to Erzbet's face. As she wiped the blood away she thought the skin under it looked younger and more supple. From then on she would recruit, or even kidnap young girls from the surrounding towns where she would torture and murder them in ever more horrendous ways. Always draining their blood to use for her baths or "skin treatments" which she believed made her more beautiful. She was also known to consume blood on occasion.
Once she started to target nobility her antics were no longer to be tolerated. Her castle was stormed and she was arrested. Upon entering the castle the arresting army-men were appalled to find the evidence of the previous nights festivities in the basement - two mangled corpses and two more bloody girls who were in the last moments of life.
Because of her status Erzbeth was never heald to a trial. Instead she was simply dealt with "in house" by the ruling Count, who had taken over once her husband passed away. The Countess never once denied the accusations. Instead she stated that her activities were within her rights as a Nobel Woman. She was sentenced to death, but managed to delay her sentence indefinitely and she lived out her final days locked away in a tower of her own castle.
Now, it's easy to see the parallels and inspirations here. In fact it was most likely his research in to Bathory with lead him to find the information on Dracula and ultimately change his character's name. Like the fictional Dracula, Bathory was blood thirsty, bathing and drinking blood. She was known to be involved in the Occult and what today would amount to Devil Worship (although in that day was simply called Witchcraft). She killed hundreds of innocents, mostly all young girls, from neighboring towns which she had kidnapped through the night. And of course, she was a Countess. There is even a story of her having a relationship with a mysterious man in black who had filed his teeth in to points (although there isn't much information on who he could have been). With all of these similarities it's more likely that Bathory served as a greater inspiration than Vlad Dracula actually did.
Of course Vlad "Tepes" Dracula and Countess Erzbet Bathory weren't the only inspirations for Stoker. In addition to his research in to "historical vampires" Stoker also did a great deal of research in to Vampire Myth. Many of today's best known Vampire lore was birthed from Stoker's Novel. But Stoker himself simply retold it from thousands of years of myth. A steak through the heart, beheading and even holy water were all a part of vampire myths which dated back to the earliest known civilizations. However, as we will explore further in my Mythological Vampire's post, he still made quite a good bit up without any historical or mythological basis.
Of course, at it's core Dracula is a work of fiction. It's a horror novel full of adventure and intrigue and a now classic story line which has been rewritten and recreated over and over again to feed every hungry horror fans.