Discover more from Dirtbags Through the Ages
where the crawvlads sing
Or, Vlad Dracula and truly so much stabbing I feel like I need a shower.
Last issue’s poll was a nail-biter, but in the end “unreasonable amounts of stabbing” won by a hair. (I’m worried about you guys. Really.) That means this time we’re going with reader Jaclyn’s suggestion of…
Vlad Țepeș, the Wallachian Prince Who Stabbed a Donkey and Also Roughly 80,000 Other Human People
If you’ve heard of this guy before, it’s probably as “Vlad Dracula” or “Vlad the Impaler.” (Spoiler for what’s about to happen.) Because of the absolute tsunami of men named Vlad who are about to appear in this story, I’m going to call him Dracula.
Dracula was born in 1428-ish in Wallachia, which on a modern-day map would be the southern part of Romania. His father—also named Vlad, because of course, so let’s call him Papa Vlad—was an illegitimate son of Mircea I, Prince of Wallachia. Mircea I died a few years before Dracula was born, leading to a real messy period of history.
I’m not going to get too deep into the Wallachian succession crisis of the early 15th century. Suffice it to say that things got batshit and all of Mircea I’s innumerable illegitimate sons argued about it for a decade. I tried tracing the line of succession and almost threw my laptop out the window when I got to Dan II.
Finally, in 1436, Papa Vlad took over the throne of Wallachia. If you thought this was going to lead to a period of stability in this story, joke’s on you.
Betrayal of the Reasonably Priced Sedan
Shortly after his coronation, Papa Vlad teamed up with neighboring prince John Hunyadi of Transylvania to figure out what to do about their neighbor the Ottoman Empire: the dominant power in the region. (Sidebar: it took me fully an hour of research before I realized his name is not John Hyundai, but by that point it was too late. The damage was done.)
Papa Vlad decided that the safest course of action was to travel to Constantinople and pledge his loyalty to Sultan Murad II, so that the Ottoman Empire wouldn’t invade Wallachia. This…did not work out as planned. In 1442, the sultan imprisoned Dracula and his brother Radu, and threatened to kill them if Papa Vlad rebelled against the Ottomans.
So what did Papa Vlad do, you ask? Well, he went back to Wallachia and immediately rebelled against the Ottomans.
The rebellion was a failure, and for some reason Dracula and Radu got released, even though they really should have gotten murdered. Then, in 1447, John Hyundai Sonata of Transylvania betrayed Papa Vlad and murdered him, torturing and murdering Dracula’s older brother Mircea while they were at it. They installed a guy named Vladislav II as the new prince of Wallachia.
It was at this point in my research that I decided I wanted to fight the entire country of Romania. Vlad II was succeeded by a guy named Vladislav II. I keep expecting Ashton Kutcher to jump out and tell me I’m being punked. NO MORE VLADS.
Dracula didn’t like this new guy at all, probably because he was complicit in murdering Papa Vlad and torturing his brother to death. So in 1448, when Vladislav II and John Hyundai Sonata were away on war business, Dracula snuck back into Wallachia and took over the throne for himself.
All hail Prince Dracula!
Because obviously Vladislav II and John Hyundai Sonata turned around and noticed what was happening. You can’t just steal the kingdom of Wallachia like you’re a whimsical animated bear and it’s a pie cooling on a windowsill.
They came back and ran Dracula out of town, and he had to hide in exile in Moldavia for almost a decade.
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (It’s Murder)
In 1456, Dracula tried invading Wallachia again, this time with an army, which helped. He beheaded Vladislav II in hand-to-hand combat and actually made himself Prince of Wallachia. Second time’s the charm.
Dracula opened his reign with a revenge campaign against all the lords who had been involved in the betrayal of Papa Vlad, executing hundreds of people. Stories report that he invited the lords to a grand banquet at his castle, then locked the doors, stabbed everyone in attendance, and impaled their bodies on spikes before returning to dinner. (John Hyundai Sonata, unfortunately, had already died of plague and so could not attend.)
His reputation for cruelty continued to grow from there. According to legend, when two monks complained about the brutality of his rule, Dracula had them impaled on giant stakes, “to help them get closer to heaven.” He also impaled the monks’ donkey for making noises while he impaled its masters.
With the local people thoroughly freaked out into obedience, Dracula moved on to the next item on his to-do list: TAKE OVER EASTERN EUROPE AND IMPALE EVERYBODY WHO GOT IN HIS WAY. I’m not going to get into the geopolitics of it all, but between 1456 and 1462, Dracula tried to take over:
The entire goddamn Ottoman Empire
Like, bro. Please relax.
Four-Door Chevy Impale-a
(No more car puns, I promise.)
The sultan—a new one now, Mehmet II—was not at all thrilled with this wacky Wallachian causing a ruckus and impaling the clergy. So in 1462, Mehmet II got a really big Ottoman army together to deal with this problem once and for all. He teamed up with Dracula’s brother Radu, whom the Ottomans figured would probably impale fewer people if he ruled Wallachia, and attacked the fucking shit out of Dracula.
Dracula did not surrender, even though he was way outnumbered. On the contrary, he broke into the Ottoman camp at midnight and tried to stab the sultan through the throat. Failing that, he impaled twenty thousand Ottomans and escaped into the night, leaving the Sultan to wake up to a literal forest of impaled bodies. Some of the impaled were babies.
It’s a true “what the fuck” moment. Like, it’s a war crime, but it also seems like a really labor-intensive war crime. Who has the energy for this.
“Babies on Stakes” did not help Dracula’s PR efforts. Even his own soldiers started deserting him, and before the end of 1462 Dracula had to flee into exile in the Carpathian mountains.
He was pursued and captured, and he spent the next 14 years in a Hungarian prison. According to legend, he passed the time in prison by catching rats, cutting them into pieces, and impaling those on tiny chips of wood.
Listen, he is a consistent individual, I will grant him that.
Skull-a-Bye and Good Night
In 1475, Dracula was released from prison because the King of Hungary thought his unhinged stabby ways could be useful in the ongoing Crusades against the Ottoman Empire. They did make him convert to Catholicism first, which I find darkly hilarious. Like, now that you’ve been baptized, would you please go out and spear some more babies, the Pope would appreciate that.
Finally free, Dracula settled in Hungary and began to plan his return to the Wallachian throne. He bought a house called Drakula Háza, which I thought for sure was going to look like a spooky Bram Stoker turret-y thing but instead looks like a really lovely cafe where you could sit on the terrace with a glass of wine and some goulash.
When not relaxing at his new villa, Dracula went out and committed more war crimes against the Ottomans. Whenever he could combine war crimes with an effort to get himself back on the throne of Wallachia, he tried that.
In 1476, Dracula successfully re-invaded Wallachia and crowned himself its prince—for the third time, if you’re keeping track at home. The Ottomans, fucking exhausted with his nonsense by this point, came after him. In early 1477, there was a massive faceoff between Dracula and the Sultan, and Dracula was killed.
The opposing army hacked Dracula’s body into loads of tiny pieces, which seems fair, all things considered. They sent the head back to the Sultan, who had it impaled on a pike and displayed in Constantinople before eventually burying it…somewhere. (Check off “lost the skull at some point” on your Dirtbag Nation Bingo Card.)
As with all stories this fucking wild, how much of it is true? Obviously, opposing kings had something to gain by making Dracula out to be inhumanly cruel and vicious. In Romania, his legend is more complicated: he’s sometimes seen as a brutal but fair ruler who held the country together. Some legends might have gotten embellished in the retelling. That said, I’m not here to tell you what’s propaganda and what’s fact. I’m here for a fucking batshit story. And that much, Vlad Dracula delivers.
That’s all for this time! I’ll be back before the end of the month with another story of history’s worst dickbags (and perhaps a piece of news???). In the meantime, Let the Dead Bury the Dead is still available for preorder (and offers free gifts if you do), A Tip for the Hangman is still for sale wherever you buy books, and you can still register to join me at July’s virtual dialogue workshop if the spirit moves you.
For now, be well, and if you drive a Hyundai Sonata please put a jaunty little hat on the dashboard and pretend it is the Prince of Transylvania,