If you know me and my writing, you've guessed I like elusive characters and locales, in part because I love researching about them and uncovering those hidden details. I couldn't have chosen a more enigmatic figure than Vlad II Dracul, father of the real Prince Dracula, or such a place as fifteenth-century Romania in my latest WIP, Order of the Dragon. A land mired in superstition, governed by a man who is still a mystery more than five hundred years later. A prince who had ruled over a region called Wallachia with some interruption. One who had joined a monarchical chivalric order dedicated to the protection of Christendom with fellow members who included the rulers of Naples and Aragon. But in many ways, Vlad became subservient to the Sultans of the Turks in the Ottoman Empire. How could a dedicated Christian warrior accept the dominion of Islamic rulers?
I've long imagined Vlad as a practical man, given the choices he made throughout his life. Despite his commitment to the Order of the Dragon, which counted the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund as its founder, the political reality Vlad faced required tough decisions. He took his vows dutifully but what compelled him to cooperate with the Turks? I've spent much of my time on research also pondering the strange circumstances of his existence. Not that the research has been a straightforward process - would that have been too much to ask? One of the chief secondary sources I've relied upon for the story of Vlad's life is clearly wrong because it places Vlad in areas where logic and subsequent events dictate he could not have been. So, some mysteries about the historical figure that inspired my hero in this novel remain. To some, no doubt his actions toward the Turks would seem less than heroic. Even craven. I believe one goal drove him; the preservation of his principality at Wallachia. To ensure that future, he might have willing to pay the ultimate price.
Romania in the fifteenth century required rulers willing to make difficult decisions. Bordered to the northeast by Moldova, the origin of Vlad's wife, Hungary in the west and Serbia and Bulgaria in the south, all such lands faced constant Turkish threats. By the late 1300's the Ottomans had claimed much of Bulgaria and imposed heavy taxes and in the mid-fifteenth century, the incursions of the Ottomans had wrested control over the former Serbian Empire. Both essentially existed as vassal states of the Turks. Romania remained in the path of their ambitions that extended to the seizure of Rome. The Romanians lived in three principalities; Vlad controlled Wallachia after the death of his half-brother. Yet he did so after a time by the permission of the Turks, who had imposed a yearly tribute of ten-thousand gold coins and at least five hundred boys to serve in the Jannisary corps. If I can ever find the wherewithal, I'd love to visit the Princely Court where Vlad had his power base in Wallachia, the ruins of which are in the foreground of the picture above.
The introduction of Vlad in Order of the Dragon reveals some of the troubles he faces: