Vlad the Impaler
Where East Meets West
Vlad Dracula was born in either November or December (records are sketchy), 1431, in Transylvania, a land which was, and had been, in constant turmoil, caught between the influences of Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. Dracula's father, Vlad II Dracul ("Vlad the Dragon"), was its royal governor. A member of the royal Basarab family, the Dragon had earned for himself a reputation in the "land beyond the forest" as a fierce warrior prince. At the time that his second wife, the Princess Cneajna of Moldavia, gave birth to his second son, however, he was discontent in his position, eyeing instead the throne of Wallachia, located south of Transylvania on the Arges River.
Dracula was, therefore, a child of tumult. Before he could walk, before he could talk, he must have sensed the heat of the period, sensed the political rivalries and the subterfuge that were all a part of being a son in a royal family of a Renaissance-era Romania. Cutthroat was its nature. It was a land that knew battle, the discord of small private armies on the march, the clanking of their breastplates being a daily and customary din. When blood wasn't being spilled over a religious cause, it was spread over right of land. Fights were external and internal, and they were continuous.
Because Romania in the 15th Century sat on the border between the Eastern and Western cultures of the world, this Roman Catholic country became a virtual doorway linking the opposing cultures.
Since the 1100s, European crusaders on their way to save Byzantium -- that is, to keep the Turks out of Europe -- had crossed Romania to engage the white-hooded armies of the successive sultans.
"There were internal problems regarding the heirs to the throne," says Badu Bogdan, a Romanian-American author who operates an excellent website on the historic Dracula. "In the Romanian states, there were several regal families, and they were fighting amongst themselves for who should rule the country. (There was) high political instability."
According to the book, Transylvania -- The Roots of Ethnic Conflict, published by Kent State Press, "The social organization of the Romanians...was relatively simple. The various groups of wandering herdsmen and soldiers were under the leadership of a voivode (warrior prince) and of a knez or kenez. These local leaders were the major official contact between the Romanians and the Hungarian political or ecclesiastical authority."
The ruling classes (or boyars) of Romania were the native Magyars and the Szekelys. There has been some confusion throughout the years as to which lineage Dracula belonged. Dracula author Bram Stoker claims he was a Szekely. But, Radu Florescu and Raymond McNally, in their well-researched In Search of Dracula proclaim him to have belonged to a race much older than either of the above races, one that dates directly back to the Dacians of the period preceding the Roman Empire.
Notwithstanding, Dracula's ancestors were warlords and princes. Dracula's father, Vlad II, was noted for his brains and stamina as well as his chivalry, for which he was inducted into the Royal Order of the Dragon in 1431, months before the birth of his son Vlad. This knighthood inadvertently gave the world a name that would endure in history books and in English literature for centuries. Foregoing his birth name, Vlad would refer to himself thereafter, and be referred to, as "The Dragon." In the Romanian tongue, Dragon is Dracul. Adding an "a" after the name denotes "son of." Thus, the Dragon's heir, young Vlad, gained the name: Dracula.