Mircea the Elder and Vlad the Impaler, Family and Historical Ties

Mircea the Elder, Vlad the Imaler, Vlad Tepes, history, family, Dracula nickname

Without the great courage and patriotism of Mircea the Elder, grandfather to Vlad the Impaler, ‘Vlad Dracul‘, Vlad Draculea in Romanian or Dracula the nickname may not have existed.

Sometimes history whispers, and the tales it tells are worth listening to and passing on.

It was in 1395 on this day, March 7, when Mircea the Elder, or Mircea I of Walachia, (Mircea cel Batran in Romanian) signed a coalition treaty with Holy Roman Emperor Sigmund of Luxembourg, King of Hungary and Croatia, king of Germany from 1411, king of Bohemia from 1419 and king of Italy from 1431. The treaty was signed in the beautiful city of Brasov (then Kronstadt) and initiated a military coalition against the Ottoman Empire.

Historical conjunctures during the 14th century Europe

Try to conjure your knowledge of Medieval Europe. Around the 14th century, when The Black Death claimed million of lives, when the Kingdoms of England and France were tormented by the Hundred Years’ War, but also when chivalry was reaching its peak and knights rode in shinning armors, ready to die for an ideal.

At the very same time, Eastern Europe was facing the Ottoman Empire’s increase in power. And the one land that stood in the way of the Turkish countless invasions, fighting them off and acting as a buffer for the Western Europe was Romania, back then still split into Walachia (Tara Romaneasca), Moldavia and Transylvania (incorporated in Hungary, later Holy Roman Empire).

East Europe during the 14th century - Ottoman Empire, Wallachia, Moldovia and Transylvania (still part of Hungary)
East Europe during the 14th century – Ottoman Empire, Wallachia, Moldovia and Transylvania (still part of Hungary)

It was imperative for King Sigismund to strike a military alliance with the rulers of Wallachia, Mircea I at that time, if he wanted to keep his empire intact. Don’t you think so? Good planning…

Sigismund of Luxembourg and the Order of the Dragon

Inspired by the military orders of the Crusades , the Order of the Dragon (Societas Draconistarum, Society of the Dragonists) was a monarchical chivalry founded in 1408 by King Sigismund of Luxembourg. Its members were expected to defend Christianity against all enemies, especially the Muslim Ottoman Empire, and the order was awarded only to few selected members of the nobility.

Order of the Dragon insignia
Order of the Dragon insignia

One such exemplary warrior was Vlad II, the second son of Mircea the Elder. King Sigismund of Luxembourg held Vlad II in highest regard and awarded him the Order of the Dragon on the 8th of February 1431 in Nuremberg for ultimate services in the gruesome fight against the Ottoman Empire.

Vlad II was later known as Vlad Dracul II, Prince of Wallachia, as in Romanian language dragon had close connotations and resonance with dracul, the Romanian word for devil.

Mircea the Elder was Prince of Wallachia from 1386 until his death in 1418.

Vlad II, his son, was Prince of Wallachia from 1436 to 1442 and again from 1443 to 1447.

Vlad III Dracula, Vlad Tepes, Vlad the Impaler, born in 1431 in Sighisoara (some sources state 1429), was the middle son of Vlad Dracul II and grandson of Mircea the Elder (from the Basarab Dynasty).

Mircea the Elder, Vlad II Dracul, Vlad the Impaler, grandfather, son, grandson

History whispers to us today. Mircea the Elder, through his military campaigns and political ties with King Sigismund of Luxembourg, paved the road for Vlad II to join the military coalition against the Ottoman Empire (did he even had a say?) and be awarded the Order of the Dragon later inherited by Vlad the Impaler, Vlad Tepes, and the nickname the Dragon, Dracul, was passed on.

Perhaps without Mircea the Elder we would not have Dracula, Vlad Dracul, after all…

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Medieval Sighisoara and the House where Vlad the Impaler was Born

medieval Sighisoara, House where Vlas the Impaler was born

What turns a house into a home? Is it the light that peeks inside through its windows? The scents rising from the kitchen? Or is it the people, the mingle of generations, of shared laughter and tears?
While we visited the house where Vlad the Impaler, Vlad Tepes, was born, I asked myself: what was the light like inside? What street noises reached every morning to little Vlad’s room and woke him up? What childhood memories he kept locked in his heart that reminded him of his mother and home – while imprisoned by the Turks? Or when he was fighting them, surrounded by the sights and the stench of war?

Imagining the medieval Sighisoara fortress at the time Vlad Tepes was born

Imagine 164 houses and thirteen public buildings up on a hill, within the protective walls of a fortress. Tall or short, stone or wood, depending on the wealth of their owners, the houses have one floor, some two. But not more.

Sighisoara - narrow streets stone paved.
Sighisoara – narrow streets stone paved.

Well worth looking up, their roofs have sharp slopes to reduce the weight of the snow in winter, as well as a small window acting as a watchtower, for protection. One can see far away from the tiny, dark attic as well as keep an eye on whoever approaches the house. Friend or foe?

Sighisoara - slanted roof and a peep-window
Sighisoara – slanted roof and a peep-window

The doors are narrow and so are the windows – functionality and safety are paramount. If the house has an extra floor, then the inner stairway is narrow and most probably dark.
The homes are built close together, often sharing a wall, making for narrow, dark streets and passageways. Comfort, as we know it and understand it today, meant a shelter overhead and safe, strong walls during the Middle Ages.
Yet shiny stones pave the streets and there are gutters too, aiding to the drainage of rain-water, melted snow, and – how else – the household’s gray water.

Sighisoara - typical house

The city has only eight wells for drinking water, not enough for the increasing number of inhabitants or siege or fire hazard situations. But it is fresh, clean water, and it is almost enough for their families’ usage during peaceful days, when they can also up the supply from the river.

Let’s meet little Vlad, his family and the house where Vlad the Impaler was born.

The house where Vlad Tepes was born

As you leave the Clock Tower behind, just ahead and on your left, on the corner of Cositorilor Street (Tin-makers Street) stands a tall terracotta house with clean lines. Today it rises with two levels above the ground floor plus a dark attic. You will want to have a good look at it as, although not supported by plenty of historical documents but letters signed by Vlad II and written from Sighisoara , so not impossible, it is the house where Vlad Tepes was born, also known as House Paulinus after its 18th-century owner.

The house where Vlad Tepes, Vlad the Impaler was born - A house like any other.
A house like any other.

But when it was just built in the vicinity of the Clock Tower, out of river stones and with only one level, this house belonged to the guards protecting the main entrance into the fortress.

Vlad’s family was well-off, his father, Vlad II, a first-class member of the Order of the Dragon and lawful prince of Wallachia but without a kingdom at this stage. They settled in Sighisoara and rented guestrooms in a house of stone, awaiting the right moment to raise an army of trusted boyars and reclaim his land.

This is the house, the oldest one in the fortress and still standing because it was built of stones thus withstanding the big fire of 1676. The round vault on the ground floor is the original one, constructed with the stones picked from the nearby rivers, Tarnava Mare especially. Its second floor rose much later, during the 18th century.

The round vault on the ground floor in the house where Vlad the Impaler was born
The round vault on the ground floor in the house where Vlad the Impaler was born

It appears that in the basement of this house there was a coin mint at that time – when the coinage was only the monopoly of the Hungarian Kings ruling the Kingdom of Hungary. This is another proof of Sigismund’s trust and respect towards Vlad Dracul II as Vlad II minted his own silver ducats, the “new ducat”. He did this in preparation for his expected ruling. These coins were first used in Transylvania, then in Wallachia too (yay!). They had the eagle on the head side and a winged dragon on the coin’s tail.

Vlad II Dracul ('the Dragon') coin, struck circa 1445-1446. Eagle standing, head right; cross above / Dragon advancing to the left, its wings spread
Vlad II Dracul (‘the Dragon’) coin, struck circa 1445-1446. Eagle standing left, head towards the right; cross above / Dragon advancing to the left, its wings are spread. Source

It was now, during the time Vlad Dracul II spent in exile in Sighisoara preparing for his rule over Wallachia, that the Romanian name of the fortress appears in writing for the first time. Double yay!

Vlad Tepes was born in 1431 (or some sources state 1429), the middle son of Vlad Dracul II, Prince of Wallachia and son of Mircea cel Batran (Mircea the Eldest) from the Basarab Dynasty. King Sigismund of Luxembourg held Vlad Dracul II in high regard, awarding him, as mentioned before, the Order of the Dragon on the 8th of February 1431 in Nuremberg, for ultimate services in the gruesome fight against the Ottoman Empire.

Dragon order insignia
Dragon order insignia

The Order of the Dragon (Societas Draconistarum, Society of the Dragonists) was a monarchical chivalry order awarded only to selected members of the nobility. Founded in 1408 by the Hungarian King Sigismund von Luxembourg (later Holy Roman Emperor), it was similar to the military orders of the Crusades. Its members were expected to defend Christianity against all enemies, especially the Ottoman Empire.

The Order of the Dragon on a medieval sleigh
The Order of the Dragon on a sleigh

I liked the dragon featured on the sign above the door, I thought it is a great reference to the Order of the Dragon.

a dragon on the house where Vlad Tepes, Vlad Dracul, Vlad the Impaler was born

The symbol of the Order was a dragon with the tip of its tail coiled around his neck and a red cross on his back, the Red Cross of Saint George.

Calling him Vlad Dracul, correct or not?

Before 1475 Vlad III signed his name simply Vlad. But from 1475, before his third ruling as Prince of Wallachia, he signs as Ladislaus Dragwlya (or Dragkwlya, Drakulya) which appears on his seal too.

Hence Vlad the Impaler’s nickname Dracul (and identical with the Romanian word for devil) or Draculea, his ancestors named Draculesti, from dragon, or Drachen in German.

Vlad’s mother was also of Romanian royal blood, Chiajna Musatin, a Moldavian Princess and the eldest daughter of Alexandru cel Bun as well as aunt of Stefan cel Mare (Stefan the Great), of the Musatin Dynasty.

So, Vlad Tepes and his parents hopefully lived in Sighisoara until 1436. Just imagine, young Vlad might have used one of these cups to drink fresh milk.

medieval ceramics found in the house of Vlad the Impaler, Vlad Dracul
Medieval ceramics found in the house of Vlad the Impaler, Vlad Dracul

Vlad would have been five or seven years old when his parents moved to Targoviste when his father took over Wallachia (the principality located south of Transylvania) and was – finally – crowned the rightful Prince of Wallachia.

In the middle of the 20th century, a hidden mural was discovered in the house where Vlad the Impaler was born, that of a man resembling his father, Vlad II.

Comparing Vlad II with Vlad III, Tepes, the Impaler. Notice similarities.

A Sad Reality

Without saying too much, here are some pictures from the upper level of Vlad’s house as it looked when we visited. No skulls here, just misunderstood advertisement.

inside house Vlad Impaler born
inside house Vlad Impaler born
inside house Vlad Impaler born
inside the house where Vlad the Impaler, Vlad Dracul, Dracula was born

A Secret Entrance into Vlad the Impaler’s House

Most tourists are familiar with the front entrance of the house where Vlad the Impaler was born.

house Vlad Impaler born

Yet if you play “what if” and follow the narrow street on the left, walking underneath the arch connecting the two buildings and feeling tiny compared to their height…

house Vlad Impaler born

You will soon discover the back entrance, through a small, walled yard:

house Vlad Impaler born

We took this way in.

The back entrance in the house where Vlad the Impaler Vlad Dracul, was born
The back entrance in the house where Vlad the Impaler Vlad Dracul, was born

Sighisoara City: Coat of Arms and blazon symbology

Sighisoara’s coat of arms is so fitting for its rich medieval ancestry. It depicts a rampant golden lion and a silver fortress with three towers on a red shield topped with a silver crown with five crenelated towers.
The lion, facing right, dexter (with respect to the person carrying the shield), wears a gold crown, his tongue sticks out and holds a gold sword.

Sighisoara's coat of arms today
Sighisoara’s coat of arms today

The fortress on the shield symbolizes the medieval Sighisoara and its crucial economical and military strengths as well as the cultural and religious roles it played. The lion, through the way it is depicted on the shield, symbolizes the judicial autonomy Sighisoara held, having the right to decree the death penalty, the right of the sword, jus gladii. The lion also symbolizes strength, generosity, and beauty.
The crown shows that today, Sighisoara is a municipality.
It is worth noticing that the lion’s hind legs are apart, symbolizing stability.

Medieval Sighisoara has much more to reveal besides the house where Vlad the Impaler was born, with its history and secrets.

Moving on from it, our eyes fell upon a beautiful building with clean lines and… a pair of horns.

We’ll open the door to this story next time.

Sighisoara, a medieval door

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Vlad the Impaler’s Medieval Feast. Wine or Blood?

Vlad Impaler medieval feast wine or blood

Started as a rumor, the story that Vlad the Impaler, Vlad Tepes or Dracula, a Romanian medieval prince, loved to feast on blood and not wine, snowballed along the centuries to such an extent that it is accepted as truthful today.

Before we dress up and attend Vlad’s medieval feast to find out the truth by ourselves, what’s in his cup, wine or blood, we owe it to the historical facts to acknowledge his bravery in battle.

When my children were young, as a loving mother I was the one in charge of pouring their drinks; at least most of the time. But if we would have been a royal family living during medieval times, we would have had a personal cup-bearer. Not too bad, isn’t it? Not to mention drink wine with most meals, as the water was too unclean to be consumed. Oh, not so sure about this…

The first documentation of such a job, cup-bearer or paharnic in Romanian (from pahar meaning cup) dates back to 8 January 1392. The paharnic was also responsible for the royal cellar. From the same time dates the first documented stolnic job, or the King’s seneschal, responsible with his food and meals. And making sure there was plenty of! In Romania’s former principalities, Wallachia, Transylvania, and Moldovia, these jobs were filled by boyar aristocrats. Always a source of conspiracies, double cheats and overturn.

Vlad the Impaler and the boyars. Paharnic. vlad medieval feast blood

It was this piece of information tht reminded me of some stories about Vlad the Impaler and his medieval feast on blood… As a Romanian born, I do know this is not true, but how many of you know the real story?

Read on.

Vlad the Impaler and his medieval feast. Blood or wine?

Vlad the Impaler, born in Sighisoara, ruled Wallachia over three terms during his life. Considered one of Romania’s national heroes, Vlad is the hero of plenty of terrifying accounts. Some true, some lost in translation. Let’s see the known resources of the time.

History is true as long as it is based on credible, unbiased resources.

German stories about Vlad the Impaler

During the Autumn of 1462, a Saxon chronicler from Brasov compiled a collection of over thirty horror stories about Vlad the Impaler and his most uncommon endeavors, Geschichte Drakole waideThe History of Prince Dracula (Istoria lui Drăculea vodă). According to this, Vlad ordered the impaling of approximately three hundred Saxon merchants from Transylvania and had others burned alive.

woodcut of Vlad the Impaler on the title page of a German pamphlet  published in Nuremberg in 1488 - wikimedia
A woodcut depicting Vlad on the title page of a German pamphlet about him published in Nuremberg in 1488

There are no other known written accounts of the same genre left by the Saxon writers from Brasov to better understand the style of the time, only the ones about Vlad.

Why they did it?

Killing and torture were pretty common during Medieval Times, still, Vlad’s endeavors seemed to stand above the rest and to have the right frightening impact on the peasants. The fascination with death, under all its aspects, is certainly deeply rooted in human nature. From here was but a short distance to Vlad and his medieval feast on blood.

It is worth considering that, at the time when this collection of horror stories was compiled, Matei Corvin (Matthias Corvinus, son of Iancu de Hunedoara) was King of Hungary.
Matei Corvin and Vlad the Impaler had a secret agreement to become allies and start an anti-Ottoman crusade and free Constantinople, as well as block the spread of the Ottoman Empire westward. Even Pope Pius II supported them by giving Matei 40 000 gold coins for soldiers and warships.
But Matei Corvin needed the Pope’s moral and financial support for his own political struggles, to rally to his cause the nobility of his country, even under the banner of the Crusade. In fact, he pursued his main goal relentlessly: to be recognized king of Hungary by the emperor.
Matei Corvin changed his mind at the last moment (after receiving the Pope’s financial contribution) mainly due to extreme political changes in the Holy Roman Empire and Corvin’s wish to keep the Holy Crown of Hungary at all cost. Thus he used the Pope’s money to pay for it, fulfilling his own pland and did not joined Vlad the Impaler in the anti-Ottoman crusade.

This entire game of Matei Corvin led to Vlad the Impaler facing the army of Mohamed II alone in the famous Night Attack at Târgoviște on Thursday, June 17, 1462. Here, Mehmed came with an army ‘in which in numbers and armaments must have been equal to that which he had employed on the siege of Constantinople.’ The Sultan wrote of 150 000, chroniclers of the time mention 400 000. Vlad the Impaler, while still awaiting Matei Corvinu’s support that never arrived, mustered an army of 30 000 (22,000 and 30,900 chroniclers say) men, women, and children over the age of twelve. It was in this battle that Vlad ordered that 23,844 Turks be impaled.

The Night Attack of Vlad the Impaler as painted by Romanian artists Theodor Aman.
The Night Attack of Vlad the Impaler as painted by Romanian artists Theodor Aman.

Vlad the Impaler, between a rock and a hard place

After the retreat of the Turks, the situation did not improve for Vlad.
His younger brother, Radu the Handsome, Radu cel Frumos, had the Turk’s protection (situation going back twenty years to the time when both Vlad and Radu were held hostages there to secure their father’s loyalty).
The Saxons of Transylvania, instead of supporting Vlad, conflicted him because Vlad had limited their economic freedom in Wallachia in his attempt to support the local merchants.
So the Saxons of Transylvania compile an account of Vlad’s acts and complain to Matei Corvin who sees this as the best opportunity to please them as well as solve his own problems, thus turning Vlad the Impaler into a scapegoat.

Matei Corvin ordered that Vlad the Impaler be captured and imprisoned by the end of 1462. And then Matei Corvin sent ambassadors to Venice and to the Pope to explain his acts and his financial spending. The ambassadors brought along texts containing evidence of treason and “inhuman cruelty” of Dracula. The texts were compiled by the Saxons of Transylvania, Die Geschichte Dracole waide (The Story of Prince Dracula).

You can see how Matei Corvin, having all these horror stories about bloody Vlad the Impaler, so un-Christian like, could explain his last-minute abandon of a Christian Crusade.

Danuve Principalities - Moldavia, Wallachia. Transylvania, part of the Kingdom of Hungary
Danuve Principalities – Moldavia, Wallachia. Transylvania as part of the Kingdom of Hungary

At the same time, Gutenberg’s press, although still brand new, was very much in operation. Before 1500 there were already over fourteen editions (surely each one revised and improved) of Vlad’s horror stories circulating Germany. By the end of the 16th century, thirty such editions were in print.

The Story of Prince Dracula, as written by the Saxon merchants

The accounts included here refer to Vlad the Impaler’s main reign from 1456 to 1462. The text was recorded almost at the same time by three witnesses. Thomas Ebendorfer, professor at the University of Vienna, wrote Latin chronicle, Cronica Regum Romanorum (Kaiserchronik) and he considers the events as taking place between May and August 1463. Pope Pius II mentioned it in his Commentaries and considers that the stories took place between April and July 1463. Lastly, the accounts of the German minstrel Michel Beheim who composed his 1070 verses long poem. Beheim used the Saxon tales and new information provided to him by a monk, Jacques de Gorrion (Gornji Grad).

The sequence of events in the three sources is identical, proving the existence of a common source, the Saxon stories, brought by the Hungarian delegation and put in circulation June-August 1463 in Vienna. A renowned printer of that time was Ulrich Han who worked in Mainz with Gutenberg and had already published an Almanach, Almanack in Vienna during 1462

Further printings only began in 1488 and lasted until 1559-1568 in Nuremberg, Lübeck, Bamberg, Leipzig, Augsburg, Strasbourg, and Hamburg. Yet, there are great differences between the first edition from 1463 and the 1488 texts, with regards to the order and the content of the events described.

The Story of Vlad the Impaler, 1488 - vlad medieval feast blood
Front page of Die Geschicht Dracole Wayda Nuremberg Marx Ayrer, 14. October 1488

Some tales said Vlad ordered his victims to be chopped like the cabbage. Others depicted Vlad boiling his victims alive, in huge cauldrons, only their heads sticking out. Others were so horrible and unbelievable, I won’t even mention them. But some are worth sharing.

After the old governor ordered that old Dracul be killed, Draculea (Vlad the Impaler) and his brothers gave up their Islamic believes and promised to protect the Christian faith.

The same year, Vlad was made governor of Wallachia. Immediately he orders the murder of Vladislav Voda, the previous ruler.

Vlad ordered that Saxon villages and fortresses near Sibiu, in Transylvania, be burned to the ground. The Transylvanian villages of Klosterholtz, Nuwdorff, Holtznetya were turned to soot.

It is worth mentioning here that although I don’t approve of Vlad’s crimes, some of the places Vlad set alight – if not all – harbored boyars who wished to take Vlad’s place as ruler of Wallachia.

Dracula ordered that all the thrives of his kingdom be caught and he had them all impaled

Vlad the Impaler depicted here as feasting among the impaled. A colorized rendering of the woodcut by Ambrosius Huber of Nuremberg (1499). NOTICE the blond beard - colours added much later.
Vlad the Impaler depicted here as feasting among the impaled. A colorized rendering of the woodcut by Ambrosius Huber of Nuremberg (1499). NOTICE the blond beard – colours added much later.

When the Turk ambassadors arrived at his court and, according to their tradition, did not remove their headdresses, the turbans, Vlad ordered that they are nailed to the ambassadors’ heads. As a lesson.

One of the first things Vlad did was to order that all the boyards who cheated his father and contributed to his death be caught and impaled.

Once a priest came by, preaching that sins can never be forgiven. Vlad invited him to his place, to share his meal. So Dracula breaks bread and starts eating, all the time beckoning the priest to take a bite, knowing that it was before sundown the priest should fast. And the priest ate. Enraged, Vlad asked him how he can preach about sins when he sins himself?

Another story speaks of a great feast Vlad organized for all the lazy, old, sick or generally non-working people of his kingdom. He first ordered that a great hall be built, then he had a banquet table set inside, filled with mouth-watering food and drinks. And invited them all to the feast. When they were enjoying themselves the most, he ordered the doors shut and the whole place set on fire. To teach everyone a lesson about the value of work.

Vlad the Impaler - capturing boyars. Painting by Theodor Aman. 
vlad medieval feast blood
Vlad the Impaler’s envoys capturing the boyars during a feast (April 1457), in an 1860s painting by Theodor Aman. Source

Once, a foreign merchant complained to Vlad that, while he spent the night at an inn, 160 ducats have been stolen from his cart. Vlad ordered a hunt of the thief who was later impaled. Then he repaid the merchant but ordered that 161 ducats be returned. When the merchant came to Vlad to thank him for his help, he also returned the extra coin. Vlad appreciated the man’s honesty and admitted to his plans of impaling the merchant, should he had not come clean.

At a major crossroads, where there was a well for thirsty travelers, Vlad ordered that a golden cup be placed, for everyone’s usage. The cup stood there as long as Vlad was the ruler of Wallachia, as a testimony of Vlad’s love for honesty and order.

Vlad’s life included in the Cosmography by Sebastian Münster

The stories of Vlad the Impaler are also included in the 1544 Cosmography by Sebastian Münster, the earliest German-language description of the world.

Europe As A Queen - depicted by Sebastian Munster in 1570
Europe As A Queen – depicted by Sebastian Munster in 1570

What exactly did Vlad the Impaler dip in the blood?

Michael Beheim’s song about Vlad the Impaler

In a time when reading was not an option for everyone, these stories were further spread by troubadours or minstrels, Minnesänger. One such troubadour was Michael Beheim who compiled ‘Story of a Violent Madman Called Voïvode Dracula of Wallachia’ or Ainem wutrich der heis Trakle waida von der Walachei, a 1070 verse long song. Beheim first sang his poem at the court of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III during a long winter in 1463. Here is a tiny small extract:

 Michael Beheim - Dracula Song, 15th Century (source) vlad medieval feast blood
Michael Beheim – Dracula Song, 15th Century (source)
Translating to:
'It was his pleasure and gave him courage
To see human blood flow
And it was his custom
To wash his hands in it
As it was brought to the table
While he was taking his meal.'

(Translated by German scholars Clemens Ruthner and John Buffinga)

Well, hands, not bread dipped in blood.

I try to imagine the people listening to this song, perhaps having already heard of Vlad the Impaler, Dracula, imagining how Vlad would enjoy a (medieval) feast on blood.

I wanted to mention this detail of hands / bread, as there was an entire dispute between two Boston Professors, McNally and Florescu, and the Canadian Professor Emerita Elizabeth Miller, leading expert on Bram’s Stoker’s Dracula – over what exactly did Vlad the Impaler dip in the blood, bread or his hand?
Bottom line is:

  • Bram Stoker, when he wrote Dracula (1895 – 1897), might have been familiar with Beheim’s poem about Vlad Tepes.
  • 1972, McNally and Florescu used a liberal translation of Beheim’s poem to tie Bram Stoker’s Dracula to the real Vlad the Impaler, Dracula III. This translation stated that Vlad dipped his bread in the blood.
  • Elizabeth Miller states that Stoker only borrowed the name and bit of historical information and that there was no mention of Vlad the Impaler, Dracula III in Stoker’s notes.
French Xylography from 1499 depicting Vlad the Impaler
French Xylography from 1499 depicting Vlad the Impaler

More bloody stories about Vlad the Impaler

Russian stories about Vlad the Impaler

in 1490 the monk Eufrosin translated into Russian a collection of 19 such horror tales of Hungarian origin: Stories about Prince Vlad. We know the origin of the author because he mentions ‘King Mátyás, using Matthias Corvinus Hungarian name. We also know that their writer was a Christian believer. These stories do depict Vlad’s bravery against the Ottomans. But do they mention of Vlad enjoying a medieval feast on blood?

This collection was less spread in the East since here Gutenberg’s print was not used yet. Thus, mostly the monarchs, the monks, and the clerics had the chance to read it. But it reached the hands of Ivan the Terrible who, they say, was inspired by Vlad the Impaler. We are familiar with the Tsarist autocracy of byzantine inspiration, and how the Russian people stayed loyal to their Church, thus revering their Byzantine heritage. Remember, this happened shortly after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, an event considered by many as a sign the End time was near. Also, a time when the idea Moscow as a Third Rome was of great appeal.

These stories read today as historical fictional accounts, making Vlad the Impaler a mythical character.

One such story depicts Dracula enjoying his lunch beneath a forest of impaled bodies. A servant was seated opposite Vlad, invited to share in the King’s meal. When the henchman could not stand enveloping reek of death anymore and covered his nose, Vlad was seized by murderous rage and ordered that the servant be impaled. ‘On the height of the stake the air is clean and so no stench will reach your nose’, he is supposed to have said.

Another time, an emissary of King Matei Corvin arrived to see Vlad the Impaler. It was an important delegate, a high Polish nobleman. He, too, was invited by Vlad to share his feast among the impaled bodies. Nearby, a brand new, gold spike stood. Vlad asked the emissary how he finds the spike. Whose was it? What would you answer? The Polish nobleman said that perhaps a boyar upset Prince Vlad and he, as a good Prince that he is, wants to show his respect for the man’s position at his court, impaling him into a stellar spike. Vlad liked the emissary’s answer but explained that the spike had been custom made for the Polish nobleman. The man accepted his fate, coming from such a fair and expert judge, admitting that he, alone, is to be blamed for his death and not Prince Vlad. Dracula liked the man’s answer, stating that he is a true emissary who knows how to speak to a sovereign and even granted his clemency.

Other stories also mention Vlad’s dislike for emissaries, Kings or any Sovereign who came to see him but were not dressed according to their rank or could not answer his riddles. He would simply order their death by impaling, stating that it wasn’t his fault, but their own, or their King’s, for not educating them before coming to speak to him.

The portrait of Vlad the Impaler found in Ambras Castle portrait and painted in 1560, a copy of an original made during his lifetime
The portrait of Vlad the Impaler found in Ambras Castle portrait and painted in 1560, a copy of an original made during his lifetime

Vlad’s black and white vision of the world

One of the stories translated into Russian speaks of Vlad the Impaler after he was released from Matei Corvin’s imprisonment (1462 – 1475), depicting his righteousness and character. Vlad was given a house in Pesta to live in, before his return to Wallachia. One day, a thief, running from local guards, sought refuge in Vlad’s yard. After him, the Hungarian guards rushed in. Vlad arrived in the yard at the moment a Hungarian sentry took hold of the thief. In one motion, Vlad cut the sentry’s head. The Hungarian King, Matei Corvin, later asked Vlad why he killed the guard. At which Vlad replied that it had been the guard’s fault entierly since he entered the house of a great ruler and inflicted pain one a human being. If the sentry would have asked to speak with Vlad first and presented him with the facts instead of taking the law into his hands – he would have still been alive and Vlad would have ceased the thief himself.

Along the centuries, some kings feasted from gold plates, drinking from silver goblets adorned with jewels, while sitting on thrones nailed in silver, covered in expensive brocade sewn with gold thread, on silk pillows. Others had banquets with countless courses of food, barrels of wine and beer that everyone was expected to drink, eating hundreds of animals cooked just for that one meal. Perhaps this is another reasonas to why Vlad , living at the end of the ruthless medieval era, was imagined to feast on blood.

Vlad's signature
Vlad’s 1470s signature, Wladislaw Drakulya

Throughout his life, Vlad the Impaler had one thought on his mind, to protect his country from Ottoman invaders, to assure its autonomy, to build its economic strength, to be recognised as a Great King. Judged harshly by his contemporaries, Vlad was often stood alone in his confrontation of the biggest political power of his time, the Ottoman Empire.

It was this struggle that allowed him to cast one of the biggest shadows throughout history, perhaps as big as the fame he wished to have during life.

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vlad medieval feast blood vlad medieval feast blood

Exploring Romania, Top Medieval Movie Locations: Corvin Castle

Corvin Castle

Next in exploring Romania and its top locations is Corvin Castle, a fortress fit for a movie – and a book *wink*!
While we were able to spot the elegant Peles Castle in various movies after visiting it for quite a few times, for Corvin Castle we decided to watch the movie before planning the visit. The reason was that Corvin Castle is tucked away in Hunedoara County, at a significant distance from major railway stations or airports.

To visit Corvin Castle we traveled by train from Bucharest to Brasov where we planned a stop over and allowed an entire day only to visit Corvin Castle, including traveling to and returning to Brasov by car. We couldn’t have done it without the amazing support and advise of Mr Cornel and Mrs Cristina, the owners of Guesthouse Casa Cristina in Brasov, always welcoming, offering the same top accommodation and a hearty breakfast for the past ten years that we’ve been visiting them (this endorsement is not backed by any financial gain).

Dragonheart: Battle for the Heartfire, the movie shot at Corvin Castle

You might be familiar with the sight of dark marbled towers topped with pointy, burgundy roofs – a result of the smoke and red dust produced by the industrial furnaces of nearby Hunedoara’s Iron foundries. This stern looking fortress is often associated with Vlad Tepes, although his true presence here still fuels debates between historians.

Welcome to medieval Corvin Castle, or Hunyadi Castle / Hunedoara Castle.

Corvin Castle as seen in Dragonheart: Battle for the Heartfire.
Corvin Castle as seen in Dragonheart: Battle for the Heartfire.
top movie locations - exploring Romania Corvin Castle
Corvin Castle as we saw it during the summer of 2019.

This fairy-tale castle of Gothic-renaissance architecture, built on an old Roman fortification, is a stunning sight with a three pointed drawbridge and high battlements. Five marble columns with delicate ribbed vaults support two halls, the Diet Hall above and the Knight’s Hall below, both from 1453 – what you first see as you look at the castle.

Dragonheart: Battle for the Heartfire - looking up at Corvin Castle
Dragonheart: Battle for the Heartfire – looking up at Corvin Castle, Knight Hall on the right.

Dragonheart: Battle for the Heartfire is the third in the Dragonheart movie series. When the king of Brittania dies, the dragon who shares his heart must find a new ruler. We meet the monarch’s twin grandchildren, twin boy and girl who bear the mark of the dragon, thus had to be hidden away at birth. To save the kingdom, Drago the dragon (voiced by Patrick Stewart) must forge a bond between the estranged twins and locate the Heartstone, the source of his power, stolen by a common enemy.

Above, Edric (Tom Rhys Harries), the twin boy, a young man with incredible strength, enters Corvin Castle. Below, the entrance in the castle as we saw it.

exploring Romania Corvin Castle
Corvin Castle, summer 2019

On the right side of the main entrance is the original torture chamber. On the left side, the torture bastion and above it the gold chamber.

holiday in Transylvania, Hunedoara, Huniazi fortress
Greetings from Corvin Castle, from yours, truly 🙂

The castle wall was built out of 30m solid rock by Turkish prisoners. The fortress was extensively restored by Iancu de Hunedoara (Janos Hunyadi in Hungarian) from 1452 onward. The castle’s last restoration dates from 1952.

On the far right of the picture above are the Neboisa Gallery and the Neboisa Tower.

But what would you do if a dragon suddenly lands in front of you, as you approach the castle’s gate tower?

Dragonheart: Battle for the Heartfire   -entrance to New Gate Tower
Dragonheart: Battle for the Heartfire
Corvin Castle, New gate tower, built 1440-1444 at the order of Iancu de Hunedoara
New gate tower, built 1440-1444 at the order of Iancu de Hunedoara

The new gate tower (above) was built during Iancu de Hunedoara’s first stage of construction (1440-1444) on the North-West side of the fortress. At that time it was only a rectangular defense tower, with three levels. During the 17th century its defense floors were turned into bedrooms and a new entrance into the castle was opened through its ground level, still in use today.
Believe me, it is well worth exploring Romania and its castles, especially the medieval Corvin Castle.

Dragonheart: Battle for the Heartfire  - Drago on the valley near Corvin Castle
Dragonheart: Battle for the Heartfire – Drago on the valley near Corvin Castle
Corvin Castle, the valley

This stream is as old as the fortress, Zlasti Stream, and the hills profiling behind are part of the Poiana Rusca Mountains. Something tells me that this stream was running with more force back in medieval Romania, a true defender of Corvin Castle.

Dragonheart: Battle for the Heartfire  - main courtyard of Corvin Castle
Dragonheart: Battle for the Heartfire – battle scene in the main courtyard.
Dragonheart: Battle for the Heartfire  - stairs to the Chapel.
Dragonheart: Battle for the Heartfire – the stairs going to the Chapel.

Below, the main courtyard of Corvin Castle today.
Right in front is the Matia wing. The same stairs as above can be viewed on the right side – leading to the Chapel Complex and the Neo-Gothic gallery.
On the left are the Knights Hall (ground level) and the Council Hall or Diet Hall (first floor).

Corvin Castle, main court: Matia wing in front, Chapel Complex on the right, Knights Hall and Diet Hall on the left
Corvin Castle, main court: Matia wing in front, Chapel Complex on the right, Knights Hall and Diet Hall on the left
Corvin Castle -  the Neo-Gothic gallery
Corvin Castle – the Neo-Gothic gallery

But when night falls, dragons return to Corvin Castle:

Dragonheart: Battle for the Heartfire - dragons in the night at Corvin Castle
Dragonheart: Battle for the Heartfire

Looking less scary during daylight, I admit. Right in front is the administrative palace and the Bethlen palace on the left (the square-ish building).

Corvin Castle,main court

Below, a view of the main court of Corvin Castle, looking towards the Bethlen palace and the administrative palace, while standing on the first floor balcony of the Matia wing.

Huniazi fortress

Initially built by the Anjou family on a Roman camp, in a zone dating from the Bronze age and rich in iron, along trade routes between Alba Iulia, Hunedoara and Hateg, Corvin Castle changed rulers, fought the Ottoman Empire, and it still stands, one of the seven wonders or Romania.

Corvin Castle, the history of a name

Its name derives from the regents who built it, Iancu de Hunedoara (aka John Hunyadi), and his son, Matthias Corvinus (King of Hungary between 1458 and 1490). The Corvin family was renowned for stopping the Ottoman Empire from conquering Belgrade and advancing towards Western Europe during the 15th century.

Not many know, but Vlad Tepes’ father, Vlad Dracul II, supported Iancu de Hunedoara’s campaigns against the Ottoman Empire. Later, his son, Vlad Tepes, aka Dracula, won great, significant battles against the Turks. The Corvin family was related to Vlad the Impaler, sharing a tumultuous history fitting for those dark times and filled with passions, conspiracies and betrayals…

The oldest door of Corvin Castle, 15th century, medieval
The oldest door of Corvin Castle, 15th century

I hope you enjoyed exploring medieval Romania and Corvin Castle. We left the door to Corvin Castle open – as we wish to return there. If not by train, then surely in the pages of a book…

Until then, you might like to read:
A Journey through the Medieval City of Sighisoara, Romania
Looking UP: Street Lamps from Brasov and Fagaras Castle, Romania
5 Remarkable Places You Will Want to Visit After Reading Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for

Exploring Romania’s Top Movie Locations: Peles Castle

Romania Movie Locations Peles Castle

I invite you to join me in exploring Romania’s top movie locations – Peles Castle today! I’ll show you the locations as depicted in the motion pictures as well as the genuine places.

As a reader and a cinefile, I do love a good location, more so if I’ve walked the streets or explored the castles depicted in it. And if I haven’t, a visit is often planned. Or at least dreamed of.

A Princess for Christmas and Peles Castle, Sinaia

A charming Christmas romance suitable for all ages, A Princess for Christmas was shot during 2011. At the invitation of her late sister’s father in law, a young American woman travels with her niece and nephew to a castle in Europe ahead of Christmas, where she charms everyone with her kindness and art knowledge , including a dashing Prince… It is Europe, after all! Staring Katie McGrath, Roger Moore, and Sam Heughan (yes, Outlander’s very own Jamie Fraser) as well as a few Romanian actors, Razvan Oprea, Oxana Moravec, Madalina Anea.

Let’s go exploring this Romanian movie location, Peles Castle.

exploring Romania movie locations, A Princess for Christmas, Peles Castle
First sighting of Peles Castle in A Princess for Christmas
exploring Romania movie locations, Peles Castle featured in A Princess for Christmas
Peles Castle in the winter of 2016, when we last visited

Peles Castle belongs to Hohenzollern Family, a German ruling dynasty. The castle was built between 1873 – 1914 in Neo-Renaissance style, at the order of King Carol I of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen. Kind Carol I was the monarch of Romania between 1866 – 1914 and under his reign Romania gained its independence from the Ottoman Empire in May 1877.

King Carol I first visited this pristine area in 1866 and fell in love with the majestic mountainous scenery. In 1872 the Crown purchased 5 square kilometers of land near the Piatra Arsă River naming it the Royal Estate of Sinaia.

Peles Castle in summer
Peles Castle during the summer of 2012

The architectural plans submitted by German architect Johannes Schultz were the fourth ones presented to King Carol I and the most original ones. The King did not want a copy of some European castle, but something unique. The cost of the work on the castle alone was estimated to be 16,000,000 Romanian lei in gold (over. US$ 120 million today). King Carol I and Queen Elizabeth lived in Foişor Villa nearby during the construction of Peles Castle.

exploring Romania movie locations - Peles Castle in A Princess for Christmas
Peles Castle in A Princess for Christmas, the Rolls pulls in front of the castle
Peles Castle as featured in the movie A Princess for Christmas
A wider shot of the castle’s main entrance
Main gate of Peles Castle in the movie A Princess for Christmas
A close-up of the main entrance
Peles Castle, Sinaia, the main entrance
Here is the same main entrance of Peles Castle during our summer visit.

Queen Elisabeth of the Romanians, the wife of King Carol I, on the building process of Peles Castle

‘Italians were masons, Romanians were building terraces, the Gypsies were laborers. Albanians and Greeks worked in stone, Germans and Hungarians were carpenters. Turks were burning brick. Engineers were Polish and the stone carvers were Czech. The Frenchmen were drawing, the Englishmen were measuring, and so was then when you could see hundreds of national costumes and fourteen languages in which they spoke, sang, cursed and quarreled in all dialects and tones, a joyful mix of men, horses, cart oxen and domestic buffaloes.’

Queen Elisabeth of the Romanians
exploring Romania movie locations. Sam Heughan at Peles Castle, Romania, in movie A Princess for Christmas
A close-up of Sam Heughan as he arrives in A Princess for Christmas at Peles Castle
exploring Romania movie locations
The same entrance as above – known as the visitor’s entrance.

Several auxiliary buildings rose simultaneously with the castle: the guards’ chambers, the Economat Building, the Foișor hunting lodge, the royal stables, and a power plant. Peleș became the world’s first castle fully powered by locally produced electricity.

King Ferdinand I of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen followed King Carol I at the throne of Romania, 1914 – 1927 (his death), since King Carol I, his uncle, was childless. Ferdinand was nicknamed the Unifier’, Întregitorul as during World War I he sided against the Central Powers. Thus, at the war’s end, Romania emerged as a much-enlarged kingdom, including Bessarabia, Bucovina and Transylvania. Ferdinand I was crowned king of ‘Greater Romania’ during a gorgeous ceremony in 1922.

There was a heartbreaking romance budding between young Ferdinand I and Elena Vacarescu, one of Queen Elisabeth’s ladies in waiting. Yet they both knew that the 1866 Constitution of Romania was forbidding the heir-presumptive to the throne to marry a Romanian. Their love story stirred a dynastic crisis in 1891. Soon after, Ferdinand I married Princess Marie of Edinburgh, Queen Victoria’s granddaughter (of the United Kingdom).

King Ferdinand and Queen Marie also stayed at Foisor Villa during the construction of Pelișor Castle. Pelisor Castle is located near Peles Castle and was built by order of King Carol I for his nephew, future King Ferdinand I. Ferdinand and Marie had six children, the first born is future King Carol II who reigned as King of Romania from 8 June 1930 until his abdication on 6 September 1940.

A morning shot at Peles Castle in A Princess for Christmas
A morning shot in A Princess for Christmas
Peles Castle
And the picture we took 🙂

The symbology behind Peles Castle

Carol II, son of Ferdinand I and Marie, was born at Peles Castle in 1893. Carol I previously bestowed upon Peles Castle the label ‘cradle of the dynasty, cradle of the nation’, so the birth of his first son and heir here was the perfect embodiment of Peles’ true meaning. Carol II spoke Romanian as his first language and was the first member of the Romanian royal family to be raised in the Christian Orthodox faith (the religion of the Romanian people).

But Carol II had a tumultuous personal life that kept him too busy to rule. His son, only five years old, ruled Romania as King Mihai I between 1927 (when King Ferdinand I died) and 1930 when King Carol II felt like returning as a ruler. His ill-planned reign was marked by Romania’s re-alignment with Nazi Germany (something King Carol I of Romania fought against), the adoption of anti-Semitic laws, and ultimately it evolved into a personal dictatorship lasting from 1938 until 6 September 1940, when he was forced by his Prime Minister and authoritarian politician Ion Antonescu to leave the country and live in exile abroad.

Peles Castle as movie location in A Princess for Christmas
Peles Castle in the movie A Princess for Christmas
The same shot, taken during the day 🙂

King Carol II was succeeded in 1940 by his beautiful, smart and patriotic son King Michael I. These were dark times for Romania and the Royal Family. In 1944, King Michael I participated in a coup against military dictator Ion Antonescu. In March 1945, political pressures forced Michael to appoint a pro-Soviet government for Romania. From August 1945 to January 1946, Michael went on a “royal strike” and unsuccessfully tried to oppose pro-Soviet government by refusing to sign and endorse its decrees.

In November 1947 King Michael I was in London, attending the wedding of his cousins, the future Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom and Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark. On the morning of 30 December 1947, Groza, the pro-soviet prime minister of Romania, met with King Michael I and blackmailed him into abdication – or 1 000 imprisoned students, supporters of the Monarchy, will be executed. Michael was forced into exile, his properties confiscated, and his citizenship stripped. In 1948, he married Princess Anne of Bourbon-Parma (thenceforth known as Queen Anne of Romania), with whom he had five daughters and lived in Switzerland.

The Castle was declared a museum in 1953 and is still open for visitors. Peles Castle is located in the northwest of Sinaia (use Sinaia train station to visit Peles). Sinaia is located 48km from Brasov and 124km from Bucharest.

If you do wonder, more movies were shot at Peles Castle, its majestic allure and romantic charm making it fir for royal love-stories and Christmas happy-endings (2018 Royal Matchmaker and A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding) but also historical drama (1975 Stephen the Great – Vaslui 1475, 2013 Roxanne, 2001 Carol I), documentaries (2011 Wild Carpathis), or adventure (2008 The Brothers Bloom).

Next time we will explore another one of Romania’s movie locations, Corvin Castle. Why don’t you subscribe to my newsletter and make sure you don’t miss a post?

And, you might like: A Journey through the Medieval City of Sighisoara, Romania.