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The legend of Dracula, the king of vampires, is based on an historical figure of the 15th century. A prince of the province of Wallachia in Romania, Vlad III Dracula, also known as Vlad the Impaler, was a fearsome ruler, born in 1431. His father, Vlad II Dracul, was thought to have acquired the last part of his name as a symbol of bravery against the Turkish invaders. It meant ‘the order of the dragon’. So then Dracula would mean ‘the son of the order of the dragon’. More ominously though, Dracul in Romanian also means devil, and so Dracula could be translated as ‘son of the devil’.

The Wallachian throne was often changing hands through a combination of assassinations and pressure from the powerful but rival Hungarian (Christian) and Turkish (Islam) armies. Dracula’s father first seized the throne in 1436 after killing a rival from a different family. The Hungarians drove him out of Wallachia in 1442 though, unhappy at his show of neutrality to the invading Turks. He was able to return the next year under the protection of the Turks, and as a show of good faith sent Dracula and one other son to be hostages of them. Four years later, the unhappy locals assassinated Vlad II Dracul. This led to The Hungarians putting a member from a rival family on the throne, somebody who would carry out Hungarian orders and fight against the Turks. In turn Dracula was released to try and regain the throne under Turkish support. He did briefly, but was driven out into exile. When he returned three years later he asked for the protection of the Hungarians. They gave it to him, and he ousted his rival from the throne in 1456. Again he had to swap allegiances as the Turks decimated the Christian army. This is possibly how his father had acquired the name of ‘the devil’, because he was devilish in his dealings with opposing rulers, often changing sides to suit his own needs.

He reigned successfully from 1456-62, and it was in this time that he came to be known as Vlad the Impaler. It was his favoured method of execution, which he did a lot of. He always made sure the death was painful and slow, taking care that the spikes were not too sharp; that would give too swift a death. It was not his only method of execution though; ways such as skinning and boiling alive were also popular pastimes of this tyrannous ruler.

Late in 1462 Dracula was captured and imprisoned in Hungary where he remained for 12 years. In 1476 he briefly regained his throne before finally meeting his maker in a hopeless battle with the powerful Turkish army.

Dracula became known as a vampire through the popular Bram Stoker film. The atrocities carried out by the man seem suited to such a gothic horror. At the time of making the film, the Balkans were still gripped by the superstitions of the middle Ages and reports of vampires were rife.