Friday, April 13, 2007

Biography Podcast 0025: Vlad the Impaler - Part II

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Biography Transcript

The Impaler's rule continued along the same lines. Many boyars were taken captive and used for slave labor, the church structure was changed with Dracula putting his uncle (a Bishop) as the head of his church rather than answer to Rome. Then, Vlad the Impaler went on one of the most awful reigns of terror known to man, killing between 30,000 to 100,000 men, women and children. Numbers only comparable to the brutality and cruelty of Nazi Germany or Stalin's Russia. For the sake of saving the young listeners, I will spare most of the details, however, if you can imagine a cruel and unusual way to kill someone, Dracula did it. He impaled, he boiled people, he had them skinned, he had their internals cut out and cut people open - while they were alive. But mostly, he impaled.

While impalement wasn't the invention of Vlad Dracula, he raised it to an art form, in ways a little to graphic for me to describe here. But, if Dracula was so busy raising torture to an art form and murdering thousands of people - how did he stay in power? Why wasn't there some type of rebellion? The answer to the question was in two parts. It was a willing ignorance from the ruling elites that were willing to allow whatever happened inside Romania to stay inside Romania (kind of like modern day Vegas) as long as Vlad was also killing the Turks - which he was also doing by the thousands; and, it was fear and intimidation that kept the countrymen quiet. But, it couldn't stay quiet forever, and, it didn't.

Near the middle of the second rule, conflicts started again with the Ottoman Empire, and the Son of the Dragon was in the midst of the trouble. With the west, lead by the Roman Church attempting to stay out of all out war, Dracula pushed the then Sultan, Sultan Mehmed whom he knew from his boyhood, into a desire to crush the Wallachian ruler once and for all by sending back his emissaries with their traditional head garb nailed to their heads with rusty spikes. Despite a potential last effort at relative peace by the Muslims - which Vlad responded to by impaling an advanced guard and leaving them out in the sun to rot - the Sultan was finally inflamed enough to attack.

The numbers were staggering. Dracula was out manned, he was desperate. He appealed to Rome to authorize a Holy Crusade (which they did), though it was by threatening them to provide help or be attacked by *him* if Romaina was taken. The 30,000 men weren't enough though. Dracula knew that he could not defeat the massive Ottoman force no matter how brilliant a physical campaign could be run. He knew that he had to defeat the Ottomans in their imaginations. And he knew the way to do it. As the Sultan and his men marched on the capital, Vlad Dracula took all of the Muslim captives he had taken - all 20,000 of them - from his dungeon. When the Sultan and his men reached the capital they saw a vision of hell. 20,000 of their comrades with their robes billowing about them, impaled through their backsides with the spikes coming out of their mouths. The Ottomans buckled their mounts, turned in terror and rode for the Danube praying for deliverance from the devil behind them. What Vlad the Impaler did not know was that among the retreating Turks was his brother, Radu, who was determined to take Wallachia for the Turks and become the first Prince crowned in Romania for the Ottoman Empire.

Using his knowledge of Vlad and his knowledge of the Europeans, Radu - also son of the dragon - planned his attack. Using the same mind games, Radu stationed troops where he could summon them, then infiltrated the Boyar class. There he took advantage of Dracula's cruelty by promising the boyars that there would be no more torture, a restoration of their ruling class - and peace with the Turks - *if* they supported him as prince. With the die thus set, Radu started a rebellion. Vlad, thinking that his brother could not bald-face betray him, made the mistake of letting his guard down. Radu, calling for troops out of nowhere attacked and routed the Prince's castle... but Vlad wasn't there. As it turned out, Vlad was vacationing in his castle to the north of the capital. Hearing this, Radu surrounded the castle and attacked. With but a few gunners and troops the castle was soon breached. Rather than suffer a horrible fate, Vlad's wife threw herself from a tower. With his wife and his kingdom gone, Vlad Son of the Dragon fled for his life to Hungary - where he was promptly arrested and imprisoned by King Matthias.

While imprisoned, confined to his cell, the former prince practiced a strange habit of impaling spiders, roaches and mice that he would trap. According to prison guards, he would skewer them with slivers of wood pried from the floorboards of his cell and display them, trophies, on his windowsill. He'd sink into a reverie after stabbing them, gazing in awe at their tiny twitches until they finally lay still. But Vlad was not to be in prison long.

Only several months after Vlad was imprisoned, Radu settled into his seat on the throne of Wallechia, affairs calmed down, and Vlad's imprisionment became more of a "tag" program - where, while he was still technically in custody of the King, Vlad was on a release program and could go (within the country where he would). Here Vlad Dracula proved his sanity, and his deviousness. While in custody, Dracula, rather than being a lowly prisioner, turned on all the charm of a brilliant noble born and charmed the court of the King - going so far as to win the heart of the Countess Ilona Szilagy - a cousin of the King - and getting the king's blessing to marry her and an apartment to live in! Vlad was on best behavior in this marriage (as opposed to earlier marriages and affairs where he had his wife and mistress killed in gruesome manners) - and the Countess provided the son of the dragon with two strapping sons - one even named Vlad. But, even with prosperity, a wife, healthy children and all the benefits of being one of the king's confidants - Dracula was not happy. He wanted war - and as it turned out, he didn't have too long to wait.

After 13 years as a political prisoner - King Matthias officially pardoned Dracula - but with a purpose. Unrest had grown in Wallechia for two reasons. Vlad's brother Radu was in trouble with the boyar class, who were unhappy with him because he hadn't come through with all the reforms in their favor that he had promised when they helped him overthrow his brother Vlad. Meanwhile, Matthias and Steven the Great were unhappy with the Turkish presence and the traitorous actions of Radu, so, in an historical first alliance of all three portions of modern day Romania, along with Vlad, they plotted Radu's overthrow. There was only one problem, the people of Wallechia hadn't forgotten Vlad in his long absence. It seems that cruel torture, impalement and enslavement sits long on a populations mind. Undeterred, Matthias became Vlad's front-man. But why would he do such a thing? Good question.

Matthias wanted Vlad on the throne for two simple reasons. He knew he would be a capable commander, and he knew he'd be loyal. He wanted his cousin Vlad on the throne because it would be beneficial for him, and so, Matthias became Dracula's pimp. How'd you like to go down in history with that inauspicious moniker, heh?

Anyway, with the plot in motion, Matthias provided the blood thirsty Impaler with an army to terrorize the Turks, drive Radu out and weaken the sultan - all which Dracula did with relish. Getting rid of Radu was easier than planned - he died of syphilis. Would it surprise you to hear that Dracula wasn't all broken up over it? Good, because he wasn't. Instead of morning, starting in October of 1475, Dracula went on an impalement spree, cutting a swath through the reeling Turks all the way to the Danube. In one of the most staggering blood baths ever recorded, the 5,000 Crusaders routed the Turks and had Vlad ensconced in the palace at Tirgoviste by March of '76. Matthias did a masterful PR job for Dracula, telling the ruling class that the son of the Dragon was stabilizing the region and telling the Pope it was for the cause of the Crusades. Unfortunately, he couldn't sell it to the local counties around the palace, and that made Dracula's final rule briefer than the life expectancy of a vampire with a stake in it's heart.

With Vlad on the throne, Matthias' army returned home in March leaving Vlad with barely 2,000 men to defend the kingdom and to attack the Turks if needed. Unfortunately for Dracula, by November the Sultan regrouped and he was called to go into battle again. By Christmas, the Impaler would be dead. You see, unfortunately, when the son of the dragon sounded the battle cry - no one responded. Dracula, a man virtually without an army, went to fight the Sultan troops that numbered in the TENS of thousands.

On a cold morning not long before Christmas, Dracula and his vanguard encountered an overwhelming body of Turks. Lead by their leader who wielded his father's Toledo blade and charged screaming into the fray like a berserker, the Romanians, though in great minority, fought like devils. But, even the devil will have his day of judgement - and that day Vlad the Impaler had his. How Dracula died is anyone's guess...assumptions are many and witnesses unreliable. In the end, only this is certain – it was recorded by the monastery monks – his body was found mutilated in a nearby bog: The only way the good priests could tell who he was came from the medallions and the princely vestments he wore. He was decapitated, seemingly in ritualistic style after death. His head was nowhere to be found. Where he is buried is unknown.

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