Like most people – including apparently the makers of the atrocious looking new film Dracula: Untold – I’d thought it was a fact that Bram Stoker had modelled his vampiric villain on the notoriously cruel medieval Romanian ruler Vlad the Impaler.
IO9 suggests this is a myth. Apparently it arose because Stoker’s notes of his research for Dracula went missing for many decades. In their absence, speculation about Dracula’s came to focus on the idea that as the name Dracula was derived from Vlad’s patronymic, so might the rest of his character. However, when the notes eventually resurfaced they didn’t really bare this out:
The truth is, there’s no evidence that Bram Stoker was even aware of the name Vlad III—much less that he was called “Vlad the Impaler.” [Stoker scholar] Miller warns that we can’t assume that Stoker’s notes are the end-all, be-all of the creation of Dracula, but they do provide the only factual information we currently have about Stoker’s research. And the notes tell us exactly where Stoker got the name “Dracula.”
While in Whitby in the summer of 1890…Stoker came across a copy of William Wilkinson’s book An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia. We know that, because he copied sections of the book into his notes. Wilkinson’s book contains references to multiple voivodes named Dracula, and some of the sparse details on one such Voivode Dracula make it into Stoker’s text: that he crossed the Danube to attack Turkish troops and had some success. That’s it. There is no reference to a “Vlad,” no mention of a nickname Tepes or “the Impaler,” no detailing of his legendary atrocities.
So why did Stoker choose that name, Dracula? Well, we can infer that from his own notes. He copied information from a footnote from Wilkinson’s book that read in his own notes, “DRACULA in Wallachian language means DEVIL,” with those capital letters. The footnote explained that Wallachians gave the name “Dracula” to people who were especially courageous, cruel, or cunning. Stoker chose the name, it appears, because of its devilish associations, not because of the history and legends attached to its owner.
This is the only reference to the historical Voivode Dracula that appears in Stoker’s notes. Is it possible he knew more? Sure, it’s possible. But this all we know for certain.
The article does, however, eventually conclude that – whatever the initial truth – Vlad III and Dracula have been conflated for so long that they will probably remain so even though the truth is now known.