The Rumours of Vlad Dracula’s Blooddrinking Goes Back Further Than I Thought

Yesterday, I was flipping through a natty copy of Kurt Brokaw’s A Night in Transylvania (1976) at a local library. The book had been in circulation since at least since 1977. I actually own a copy, but it was nice to see it on the library’s shelves.

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Yes, some libraries still use due date slips. The earliest checkout date was November 28, 1977. Photo: Anthony Hogg.

I enjoy seeing traces of a book’s history in libraries (like the due dates, above), especially as books this old are typically weeded from their collections. Not only is it reassuring to know that the book was borrowed and read by someone (especially in this era of declining library usage), but there’s a connection you feel to the past—a human connection—like meeting someone back in time.

And sometimes, those people can be idiots:

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“I want to suck your tites [sic]” Carmilla (Ingrid Pitt) coos to  Emma Morton (Madeline Smith) in this defaced scence from The Vampire Lovers (1970). Photo: Anthony Hogg.

It’s not my favourite book about Dracula (that honour goes to Elizabeth Miller’s Dracula: Sense and Nonsense [2000; 2006]), but surely it still deserved better treatment than juvenile graffiti.

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Quite a mouthful. Someone, sometime, made an unfortunate addition to the page featuring the Vampire Circus (1972) poster. Photo: Anthony Hogg.

But it was the caption accompanying a 15th century representation of Vlad that really caught my attention:

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Proof of Vlad Dracula’s bloodlust? Picture in Kurt Brokaw’s A Night in Transylvania (1976). Photo: Anthony Hogg.

“An appetite for blood?” it read. “Vlad dining outside the palace; from a fifteenth-century German pamphlet, which is probably accurate in its description.”

My mind immediately raced back to a popular misconception: Vlad dipped his his bread in blood while dining amidst a forest of the impaled.

As far as I knew, that myth originated with the revised edition (1994) of Raymond T. McNally and Radu Florescu’s 1972 book, In Search of Dracula. Hans Corneel de Roos uncovered an earlier source: McNally and Florescu’s 1989 book, Dracula, Prince of Many Faces.

Whatever the source was, the myth can be traced back to their poor (or falsified) translation of Michael Beheim’s poem Von ainem wutrich der heis Trakle waida von der Walachei (1463), which mentioned Vlad washing his hands in blood, not dipping his bread in it. But seeing Brokaw’s caption made me wonder how far back that bullshit goes—because he didn’t stop at that caption:

He [Vlad Dracula] seemed to relish his roles as judge, jury and executioner; some say he occasionally drank blood while dining among a forest of impaled victims.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, if you’re used to this kind of weasel-wording that is, no source is given for the claim. Fortunately, Brokaw quickly reins it back in:

Turks, Saxons, and Hungarians began to speak of Dracula as a bloodthirsty monster around 1459–60, but this was probably because he spilled so much blood and not because he drank it. There is no evidence to suggest that Dracula practiced vampirism in the accepted sense of the word—draining blood from a bite wound in the neck.

Good save, Brokaw. But wait, what’s this?

Vampire lore will be discussed in detail in a later chapter, but it is worthwhile noting here that fifteenth-century Transylvanians had a tradition of belief in both vampirism and the undead. The sheer fact that Dracula among all rulers caused such excessive blood-letting is a significant link to the vampire lore that followed his reign.

Well, it would be significant—if Brokow had actually provided any examples of 15th century Transylvanian vampire (or undead) lore linking back to Vlad in someway. He doesn’t. Talk about having your cake and eating it, too.

In the meantime, I’m left wondering: were McNally and Florescu inspired by Brokaw’s passage? How far back do attempts at turning Vlad into a blooddrinker go? Is there a source out that that confirms he actually did drink blood after all?

If you know, share your source in the comments section.

Notes

  1. “An appetite for blood?”: Kurt Brokaw, A Night in Transylvania: The Dracula Scrapbook (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1976), 21.
  2. a popular misconception that I attributed to Raymond T. McNally and Radu Florescu: Anthony Hogg, “Was Vlad Dracula a Vampire?” Vamped, January 27, 2015, accessed March 7, 2017, http://vamped.org/2015/01/27/vlad-dracula-vampire/. archive.is link: https://archive.is/7LunN.
  3. Hans Corneel de Roos uncovered an earlier source: Hans Corneel de Roos, “Bloody Nonsense: How Two Scholars Pulled Off the Great Dracula Swindle,” Vamped, May 26, 2016, accessed March 7, 2017, http://vamped.org/2016/05/26/great-dracula-swindle/. archive.is link: https://archive.is/DEMRj.
  4. “He [Vlad Dracula] seemed to relish his roles”: Brokaw, A Night in Transylvania, 23.
  5. “Turks, Saxons, and Hungarians”: Ibid.
  6. “Vampire lore will be discussed in detail”: Ibid.
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5 thoughts on “The Rumours of Vlad Dracula’s Blooddrinking Goes Back Further Than I Thought

  1. Twenty years between the last two checkouts? Our library would have weeded this long ago, I’m afraid. And we quit stamping books ages ago. 🙂 I miss seeing the check out history of books (though of course I can access this on the computer at work, at least the last few years since we went to electronic scanning).
    But that’s neither here nor there! So, Florescu and McNally didn’t come up with the “dipping bread in enemies blood” passage until the revised version of their book? I could have sworn I’d read that in the first edition way back in the 70s. But my memory is not the greatest. I no longer have a copy, or I’d look it up. But since “In Search of Dracula” is mentioned later in the book, I think we can see who Brokaw’s source was concerning Vlad and his bloodthirsty ways.

    • Yeah, 20 years! Sad, ain’t it? Well, I initially thought it was the revised edition, but Hans established they had already done it in the 1989 book. I’ll have to doublecheck my first edition copy to make sure (it’s currently in storage, separate from my current collection), but going on Hans’ detective work, yep, it doesn’t seem to be in the first. The dipping bread in blood; that seems to be unique to McNally and Florescu.

  2. Thanks for the thorough scholarship, Anthony! I just ordered a copy of “A Night in Transylvania” — and, based just on the cover photo, it seems that your first comment-maker, ozarksgal, is on to something. The cover says that McNally and Florescu wrote the introduction to the book. So, “A Night in Transylvania” may be the first place where McNally and Florescu put forth the idea — albeit indirectly, by having suggested it to author Brokaw — that Vlad the Impaler was a literal blood-imbiber. They may, in other words, be the unnamed source(s) that Brokaw mentions for this dubious piece of information about Vlad.

    • Wow, I didn’t realise that they wrote the intro (been a long time since I read the book) and in this case, I was just skimming through it. So, let’s say it’s certainly possible!

  3. Pingback: Vlad Dracula Did Not Dip His Bread in Blood | The Vampirologist

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