Synchronicity sometimes leads to some interesting and unexpected juxtapositions! I am currently employed as a driver education instructor, and earlier in the week the sighting of a Chevrolet Impala reminded me of this creative vanity license plate:
That, in turn, reminded me of a discussion some months previously with a different student, who happened to be Romanian: he informed me that Vlad the Impaler is actually remembered with considerable respect and affection in Romania, citing the example of his Romanian grandmother, who – when someone did something notably stupid – was known to mutter under her breath what is apparently a traditional byword in that country, “Where are you, Impaler?”
Now, today, an article came across my news-feed that His Royal Highness, Charles, Prince of Wales, had been on a visit to Romania. The article was mostly concerned with his support of charities in the area, and his visits to cultural events and landmarks, but in the latter context, noted in passing that he had visited the Old Princely Court in Bucharest – “which was built in the 15th century by ‘Vlad The Impaler’, an ancestor of The Prince”! I had not known of that family connection.
So, who was this Vlad the Impaler, anyway? He has a bit of a bad reputation, especially in the United States, due to his heavily fictionalized connection with Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.” But what is the real story?
Well, Vlad III “the Impaler” was the son of Vlad II, Prince of Wallachia, who was inducted (in 1431) into a knightly order – The Order of the Dragon – by King Sigismund of Hungary, who would later become the Holy Roman Emperor. We learn that this knightly induction
earned Vlad II a new surname: Dracul. The name came from the old Romanian word for dragon, “drac.” His son, Vlad III, would later be known as the “son of Dracul” or, in old Romanian, Drăculea, hence Dracula.
Now, The Order of the Dragon
was devoted to a singular task: the defeat of the Turkish, or Ottoman Empire. Situated between Christian Europe and the Muslim lands of the Ottoman Empire, Vlad II’s (and later Vlad III’s) home principality of Wallachia was frequently the scene of bloody battles as Ottoman forces pushed westward into Europe, and Christian forces repulsed the invaders.
Thus, the story bears an eerie sort of relevance to contemporary events, given the actions and attitudes of present-day Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, an Islamist despot who has threatened – directly or through his ministers – to “open the gates” and “flood” Europe with a horde of Muslim immigrants (pseudo-“refugees,” many if not most of whom are in fact migrants at best, invaders at worst) if he does not get what he wants out of the European Union.
This is not a new thing for Europe, this threat from Islamic Turkey, as the story of Vlad II and III makes clear! The difference is that we in the West are still labouring under the misapprehension that Turkey is a “NATO ally,” and since the end of the Cold War have become weak and soft when it comes to defending Europe from invasion, especially if the invaders can seize the moral high-ground with terms like “refugees.” In any case:
Vlad III spent much of his childhood in Turkish captivity, as a hostage to ensure the acquiescence of his father, and this apparently contributed to his antipathy to Turks! That said, he was willing to “make nice” with them, when it suited his political ambitions (mainly having to do with retaking his late father’s position as Prince of Wallachia). Still, he never forgot his ire at his captivity, or his dislike of the Ottomans. To shorten a long story:
Vlad III’s political and military tack truly came to the forefront amid the fall of Constantinople in 1453. After the fall, the Ottomans were in a position to invade all of Europe. Vlad, who had already solidified his anti-Ottoman position, was proclaimed voivode of Wallachia in 1456. One of his first orders of business in his new role was to stop paying an annual tribute to the Ottoman sultan — a measure that had formerly ensured peace between Wallachia and the Ottomans.
He may have consolidated his power by impaling the boyars that had turned against his father; so the legends say. He definitely used that technique against the Ottomans:
“After Mehmet II — the one who conquered Constantinople — invaded Wallachia in 1462, he actually was able to go all the way to Wallachia’s capital city of Târgoviște but found it deserted. And in front of the capital he found the bodies of the Ottoman prisoners of war that Vlad had taken — all impaled.”
Some 20,000 of them – a veritable “forest” of impaled enemies!
However, even Vlad III Drăculea was unable to defeat the much more powerful Mehmet II on his own, and eventually – after many more adventures and misadventures – met his end on yet another campaign against the Muslim Ottomans.
But his successes against the invaders had won him the admiration of many throughout Wallachia, Transylvania and the rest of Europe — even the Pope, Pius II, was impressed. He is revered in Romania in part for those victories, but in large measure for having been a just and fair – though harsh – ruler, at a time when that was not always the case.
Here is one story about him that illustrates the point:
One night a traveling merchant had nowhere to stay and called on the gates of Dracula’s castle. Dracula greeted him warmly, fed him, and gave him quarters to sleep in.
In the morning, the merchant discovered his money had been stolen and reported it to Dracula. All 50 ducats were missing. Dracula was greatly sorrowful and apologetic and promised the thief would be found and executed.
Later in the day Dracula said “Good news my friend! We found the thief, he has been executed, and here is your gold in full!”
The merchant counted it and found 51 ducats and said “But there is an extra ducat in here. I had 50 ducats stolen, and this is 51. Here, take back this ducat.”
Dracula smiled and said “Very good, my friend. I would have hated to hang two thieves today…”
As I said, harsh, but just!
As we in the West deal with the rise of militant, jihadist Islam in general, and an increasingly radicalized, Islamicized Turkey under an increasingly despotic Muslim President threatening to unleash what amounts of an invading army of Islamic migrants on a seemingly weak and paralyzed Europe, well might we all ask:
“Where are you, Impaler?”
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