Vlad The Impaler: Real-Life Dracula's Most Monstrous Acts
He had a knight killed because he held his nose
You could say Vlad the Imapler was a bad guy. After all, you don't get to be immortalized as a bloodthirsty monster if you're Mr. Congeniality. Not only did Vlad III Dracula, or Vlad Voivode of Wallachia, oversee mass murder and genocide, he personally carried out some seriously gruesome acts. No one was safe when Vlad was around, not even his own men. Or women. Or children. Or random buildings.
To get an idea of just what we're working with here, one story about your boy Vlad that's tough to verify but sounds right up his alley is that one time, he was standing in the middle of a field of 20,000 impaled corpses (he didn't get the nickname because of his fabulous chicken skewers) when he noticed one of his knights holding his nose to avoid the stench. Vlad was somehow offended by this, so he impaled him, too. If this teaches us anything, it's that whenever your boss makes something, you should be nice about it, unless you want to end up on a pike. (You don't.)
As a boy, he was a political prisoner
Like everyone, Vlad wasn't born an impaling madman. It's likely that he was turned that way thanks to his treatment by the Ottomans as a child. In 1442, he and his brother, Radu, were taken by the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire to keep their father loyal during a war with Hungary. At the time, the boys were mostly treated well. They were tutored and supposedly taught everything from sword fighting to military planning. According to legend, Vlad's brother enjoyed his time with the Ottomans, but Vlad acted out. His punishments were brutal, which led to a lifelong hatred of the Ottomons.
In Romania, he is as highly regarded as George Washington is here
Was Vlad the Impaler a bad guy? Yeah, probably. He did impale hundreds of thousands of people for a variety of reasons that we wouldn't normally consider impalable infractions. However, in Romania, he's seen as one of their greatest leaders, if not their most revered son. Not only did he serve as the Voivode of Wallachia (essentially the highest military commander in the region) three times between 1448 and his death, he protected the region from everyone who tried to take it over. His former home, Bran Castle, is even a national landmark that you can still visit today.
Vlad the Impaler killed more people than all of the European witch hunts combined
No one knows the exact death toll of the European witch hunts that took place between the 15th and 18th centuries, but it's somewhere around 60,000 people. That number was built up over hundreds of years, but Vlad managed to beat that in a few measly decades. It's estimated that that he was behind the deaths of 100,000 people, give or take a few peasants. As his name suggests, he preferred to impale his victims on a stake from anus to mouth. He was a thorough guy: The spears were washed in oil to keep his victims from tearing as they were impaled and ensure that the full-body stabbing process lasted as long as possible.
Vlad the tickler
Vlad loved to carry out a litany of tortures against his enemies, his own people, and really, whoever he had a chance to mess with. We know that he stuck people on pikes, set them on fire, shoved them into tight spaces, and otherwise extracted pain in fascinating ways, but one story about Vlad shows that he also had a sense of humor about things. Supposedly, he liked to tickle people as a means to torture.
He was super moral, save for the whole beheading and impaling thing
Sure, ol' Vladdy had his flaws, but he also had his values. One of his biggest pet peeves was women who had sex outside of marriage, so any women in Wallachia who had a healthy sex drive ran the risk of being horribly murdered. Their sexual organs were removed from their bodes before they were impaled because Vlad liked to personalize his torment, even when he stuck with his signature move.
He killed a soldier for not asking permission to enter his home
Vlad never saw a rule he didn't like. Aside from his penchant for wiping out entire villages of people, he was a fairly well-mannered guy, and he held his guests to a similar standard. When a group of soldiers broke into his home while chasing a thief who tried to hide out in one of Vlad's rooms, Mr. Impaler executed their commander for not asking permission to enter his home. Another time, when a group of turban-wearing Turks paid him a visit to collect a tax, he was affronted that the men failed to lift their "hats" to him. After they explained that it was forbidden by their religious beliefs, he nailed the turbans to their heads. Sure, it started a war, but respect is respect.
Vlad had more than 20,000 people impaled to ward off the Ottoman army
During Vlad's second of three reigns as the ruler of Wallachia, he spent much of his time fighting off Mehmed II and the Ottoman army. While there were way more Ottomans than Wallachians, Vlad still managed to terrorize his enemies through horrifying means. Mehmed II already knew that Vlad was a brutal ruler thanks to the stories of his torture getting around Europe, but it wasn't until he and his troops marched to Târgoviște that he realized exactly how vicious Vlad could be. When Mehmed and his men arrived at the city, the gates were open for him, but there were no residents to be seen. There were, however, 23,844 bodies arranged in a "forest" of wooden stakes across 7 acres.
Churches? Vlad don't need no stinking churches
When Vlad the Impaler led military missions, he did his best to incite fear in his enemies. Whenever he was forced to retreat from a village, he burned it to the ground behind him, because if Vlad couldn't have something, then no one else could. Supposedly, he even poisoned the wells of his own villages and killed his own followers to keep his enemies from enjoying any spoils of victory. He took particular pleasure in destroying churches. Rather than raid the church and take everything of value, Vlad locked the doors and burned everything inside until it was ash. He wasn't just terrorizing the people; he was letting their leaders know that he put no stock in their faith.
His followers were locked in cauldrons and boiled
There are so many stories about the terror that Vlad inflicted that it's hard to tell fact from fiction. After all, the stories we know to be true are just as barbaric as the obviously fake ones. The whole "turning into a bat thing" is probably false, but according to some woodcuts from 1499, he enjoyed locking people in a copper cauldron and lighting a fire beneath it, boiling them to death. According to A Mischievous Tyrant Called Dracula Vodä:
... [Vlad] had a big copper cauldron built and put a lid made of wood with holes in it on top. He put the people in the cauldron and put their heads in the holes and fastened them there; then he filled it with water and set a fire under it and let the people cry their eyes out until they were boiled to death.
He had fans during his lifetime
Vlad didn't just become popular after he was turned into a mythical vampire; plenty of people across Europe were enthralled by tales of his murderous deeds. When the printing press created a glut of reading material, stories of Vlad's gruesome life were perfect for hungry readers. The books mixed fact and fiction, which is why it's so hard to pull them apart today. According to The Story of a Bloodthirsty Madman Called Dracula of Wallachia by Michel Beheim, written in the 15th century, Vlad hosted lavish dinner parties where he fed his guests huge meals before impaling them and dipping his bread into pools of their blood.
The golden cup was Vlad's cruelest test
In fact, according to one (likely apocryphal) story, Vlad the Impaler held such control over his people that he placed a solid gold cup in the middle of the town square, telling them they could drink out of it as much as they wanted but couldn't take the cup out of the square. The cup was worth a fortune, but Vlad was known as such a vicious person that none of his thousands of constituents even attempted to steal it.
He may have set a bunch of poor people on fire
Another story about Vlad that may or may not be true is his ingenious way of getting rid of poverty. Many of his followers were poor, a problem that he allegedly solved by killing them. A folk story about the Impaler says that he invited the infirm or anyone without a home to a hall in Tirgoviste for a huge meal, and while they dug into their feast, he locked them inside the building and set it on fire. It was certainly one way to lower the poverty rate.
The British Royal Family claims to be related to him
According to the British royal family, they share a blood connection with Vlad the Impaler. If you squint hard enough, you can pretend this makes sense. While promoting travel to Transylvania, Prince Charles said:
Transylvania is in my blood. The genealogy shows I am descended from Vlad the Impaler, so I do have a bit of a stake in the country.
Robert Pattinson is distantly related to Dracula
If the royal connection is true, then the inspiration behind Dracula is also related to modern culture's dreamiest vampire. According to researchers at Ancestry.com, Robert Pattinson is connected to Vlad the Impaler through a distant relationship with the royal family. Anastasia Tyler, a genealogist for the company, explained the relationship between Pattinson and Vlad:
Tracing Pattinson's family back to Vlad was difficult research, but the pieces that unraveled created the perfect accompaniment to the 'Twilight Saga,' Without any myth or magic, we find royalty and vampires lurking in Pattinson's life — making his story just as supernatural as the one he's playing on screen.
His body was exhumed, just to be beheaded
Dracula likely died the way he wanted: in battle with the Turks. Supposedly, his body was buried at the Snagov Monastery, where it's believed that he was dug up and decapitated after death. However, it's unclear if that's true because no one has ever found his remains ... or is it because they don't exist and he lives on as an immortal neck-biter? Probably the first thing.