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History and Transylvanian folklore have given Vlad Tepes, Prince of Wallachia, many names. He was regarded as an honorable knight, the Son of the Dragon, the hero who resisted and defied the Ottoman Turks again and again during his rule from 1456-1462. Tepes' countrymen excused his countless atrocities against visiting dignitaries, invading armies and his own people as necessary for the good of Romania. Yet these same subjects bowed under his yoke of terror, fearing that one mis-step would earn the Prince’s blazing disfavor and an immediate death sentence, one that was usually carried out by impalement. So fond was Tepes of this excruciating torture he was given yet another name, “Vlad the Impaler.”

By far Tepes' most noteworthy claim to fame is attributed to Bram Stoker. During the beginning of the 18th century there was a revival of interest in “vampires” and vampire myths. While the true numbers were never recorded, Tepes is believed to have executed anywhere from 40,000 to 75,000 victims during his short rule, usually by “staking.” It was only natural that Stoker take these stories and legends about “Vlad the Impaler” one step further. In 1897 the Scottish novelist introduced Count Dracula, blood-drinking vampire, to the literary world and in doing so forever immortalized Vlad Tepes.

But how did this Prince of Wallachia gain such a bloody and cruel reputation in the first place?

Vlad Tepes was born in the Transylvanian town of Sighisoara in 1431. In 1436 is father, Vlad Dracul, captured the Wallachian throne. During the next eleven years there were constant assassination attempts between the country’s own boyars (nobleman), squabbles with the King of Hungary and wars against Turkish invaders. In 1447 Vlad Sr. and his eldest son, Mircea, were assassinated.

With Turkish support, Vlad took over from his father. But a rival Hungarian knight, John Hunyadi, defeated Tepes and assumed power. Tepes fled to Moldavia until political turmoil there again forced him to leave. He offered his allegiance to his rival, Hunyadi, and was given
a duchy in Transylvania. When Hunyadi died in 1456, Vlad Tepes was once again crowned Prince of Wallachia.

During Tepes' reign from 1456-1462 his many progressive deeds were quickly overshadowed by countless acts of inhuman cruelty. He used slaves, many of them noble men and women, to build his Castle Dracula. He tortured or massacred thousands. It’s said that leaders of invading Turkish armies fled in fright after encountering a vast landscape of 20,000 impaled corpses rotting outside of Tirgoviste.

The Prince’s other methods of torture included skinning, strangulation, burning, boiling alive and exposure to elements or to wild animals. Friends, enemies, peasants, children, visiting dignitaries, none escaped his wrath, not even clergymen.

The majority of his noble counterparts decried Tepes as an inhuman monster. However, the Russians, who were dealing with uprisings of their own, decided his actions were for the good of his country, carried out solely to establish order and rout out disloyal and treasonous behavior.

Here are some anecdotes about how Tepes reacted to real or imagined insults.

Tepes insisted on honesty by all and announced any thieves caught red-handed would be immediately staked. Certain that none would defy him, he placed a golden cup in Tirgoviste square. During Tepe’s entire reign the cup was never touched.

When two Turkish envoys refused to remove their caps in Tepes' presence, he immediately ordered their hats nailed to their heads, then sent them back to their Sultan.

Tepes came upon a peasant working his fields and was displeased over his subject’s too-short caftan. He dragged the peasant’s terrified wife before him and accused her of being a lazy wife and seamstress, then ordered her immediately impaled. Almost as quickly he found another wife for the unfortunate peasant and bid them a good day. But not before warning the new bride to work hard or her fate would be the same as her predecessor’s.

In 1462 Tepes invaded Turkish territory and they counter attacked. Tepes was defeated and once again fled, seeking protection from King Matthias in Hungary. Tepes was put under very liberal house arrest for four years, married one of Matthias’ sisters, and was eventually promoted to captain in the Hungarian army.

Twelve years later he was freed and was killed in battle fighting the Turks near the tiny town of Bucharest. There are conflicting reports as to who really dealt the death blow, disloyal Wallachian boyars, or Turkish soldiers. Tepes body was decapitated and his head taken to
Constantinople. The Sultan ordered the grisly trophy displayed on a pike to assure everyone that “The Impaler” was truly dead.

Vlad Tepes' headless body was eventually buried at a monastery on the island of Snagov. Yet Eastern European legends still say that the body wasn’t that of Tepes at all, and claim the cruel Prince of Wallachia and the only true Dracula still walks the dark and shadowy realms of Transylvania to this day.