Tag Archives: Maddest Medieval Monarchs Week

Maddest Medieval Monarchs Week: Vlad the Impaler

Many times history is more interesting than fiction if we just look in the right places.  Follow me as I venture into the lives of some of the most scandalous, most murderous, most insane monarchs of the Middle Ages.  Day four of Maddest Medieval Monarchs Week brings us to a man  Immortalized as the love-sick vampire of Bram Stroker’s Dracula, Vlad the Impaler is probably the most infamous of the Maddest Medieval Monarchs. We often expect the fiction of a villain to be more sensational than the history, but the details of Vlad III’s life are far more horrific than those in the literary classic that made him famous.
Article written by Andrea Cefalo

Vlad III “The Impaler” of Wallachia

Vlad Ţepeş, the Impaler, Prince of Wallachia (...

Vlad Ţepeş, the Impaler, Prince of Wallachia (1456-1462) (died 1477) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Vlad III inherited his famous epithet, Dracula, from his father.  Vlad II Dracul was a member of the Order of the Dragon, a chivalric order developed to protect Christian nations from the pressing Ottoman Empire.  The drac– in Dracul originates from the Latin draco, which means dragon.  Despite, Vlad III’s cruelty, parts of Bulgaria remember him and his father as protectors of the Christian faith in Europe.  However, most who know of him remember him as a murderous tyrant.
It seems that Vlad II’s oath to the Order of the Dragon was half-hearted since he sent Vlad III and his brother Radu as hostages to the Ottoman court.  Vlad III grew a strong hatred for and mistrust of his father, his brother (who converted to Islam), the Hungarians, and the Ottoman Turks whom he was forced to live with.  Vlad III was put on the throne of Wallachia by the Turks in the 1440’s after a Hungarian regent murdered Vlad’s father and elder brother.  The Hungarians invaded Wallachia and Vlad was forced to flee.  Vlad led an army back into Wallachia in 1456, retaking his throne after killing his opposer in hand-to-hand combat.   Wallachia was in ruins upon his return, and, in order to turn the country’s economics around, Vlad ruled with an iron fist and many long sharpened steaks.
Throughout his reign, it is estimated that Vlad slaughtered between 40,000 and 100,000 people.  In 1462, Vlad surrounded his capitol city with 20,000 impaled men, women, and children.  When Ottoman Turks approached the city for battle, they were horrified upon entering the nightmarish Forest of the Impaled.  Shocked and fear-stricken, the Turkish soldiers quickly fled for their lives.

1499 German woodcut showing Dracule waide dini...

1499 German woodcut showing Dracule waide dining among the impaled corpses of his victims. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Vlad considered impalement an art form.  He arranged the impaled to form unique patters and would alternate his method of impalement so that some victims were impaled upright, others upside down, and some through the side.  In order to make the deaths slower and more excruciating, Vlad insisted that the stakes be smoothed and lubricated to keep from damaging internal organs.    Nobles were often invited to dine with the king in the Forest of the Impaled just before being impaled themselves.  While impalement was Vlad’s punishment of choice, he also resorted to other gruesome methods of torture, such as boiling, mutilating, skinning, as well as, cooking his victims while still alive.  Perhaps most appalling of all, he was known to force mothers to eat their own roasted children.
The Turks finally mounted a successful invasion and Vlad fled to Hungary where he was framed by a former ally and placed under house arrest for ten years.  While in captivity, Vlad captured and impaled the rodents and birds, arranging them in unique patters like he did with his human victims.  He was eventually released and reinstated as king of Wallachia where he ruled for another eight years.  He was assassinated in 1476, decapitated, and buried in an unknown grave.

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Sources:

  • Mad Kings & Queens: History’s Most Famous Raving Royals  by Alison Rattle and Allison Vale
  •  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vlad_the_Impaler
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Maddest Medieval Monarch Week: Isabella of France

Many times history is more interesting than fiction if we just look in the right places.  Follow me as I venture into the lives of some of the most scandalous, most murderous, most insane monarchs of the Middle Ages.  Day two of Maddest Medieval Monarchs Week brings us to a monarch made legendary by literature and cinema, Isabella of France.

Article Written by Andrea Cefalo

Isabella “She-Wolf” of France

English: Isabella of France, wife of Edward II...

English: Isabella of France, wife of Edward II of England. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most of us equate Isabella of France with the kind-hearted and lonely English princess from the movie Braveheart or the she-wolf of plays by Brecht and Marlowe.  Based on her life, it is easy to conclude that Isabella was lonely in her marriage to a bi-sexual English king. However, determining whether she was the she-wolf, as literature labeled her, or the sweetheart, as Hollywood made her, is not so easy.

Isabella was wedded at twelve to Edward II of England.  Edward, however, was in love with Piers Gaveston whom he openly showered with gifts. Isabella learned to tolerate Edward’s relationship, but some of the English barons never did. Four years into their marriage Gaveston was murdered.  Isabella consoled her grief-stricken husband and the two became closer.  They even had three children together, but in 1319, another man, Hugh Despenser the young, gained Edward’s affections. Despenser was ruthless, greedy, and insanely jealous.  For six years, Isabella’s power, influence, and income were reduced upon the advice of Despenser.

English: Illustration of the execution of Hugh...

English: Illustration of the execution of Hugh the Younger Despenser, from a manuscript of Froissart (Bibliotheque Nationale MS Fr. 2643, folio 197v) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Isabella visited her brother, King Charles IV of France in 1325, she met and fell in love with Roger Mortimer, a former English general who had since turned against the king and Despenser.  She and Mortimer raised an army, overthrew Edward, and tried Despenser for treason.  Despenser was hanged, drawn, and quartered.  Edward was imprisoned, tortured, and starved, but did not die until 1327.  It is rumored that he was killed under Isabella’s orders by a red-hot poker being inserted into his rectum.   Edward’s heart was placed in a silver coffin and given to Isabella.

Isabella served as regent for a short time until her son Edward III was old enough to take the throne.  Mortimer turned out to be every bit as greedy and ruthless as Despenser.  Edward III, with the support of English barons, arrested and executed Mortimer.  Isabella was imprisoned for two years in Windsor Castle, where she was rumored to have had a nervous breakdown after the loss of Mortimer.  Isabella was later cleared of any wrong-doing and lived a comfortable life.  Upon her death, she was entombed with Edward III’s heart, though buried next to Mortimer.

In literature and legend, Isabella is often remembered as a king-killer, but no one knows for sure who gave the orders for Edward II’s murder.  So was Isabella the she-wolf or simply a desperate woman trying to save England from a careless king?  No one really knows, but we can certainly speculate.

Article written by Andrea Cefalo, author of The Fairytale Keeper: a novel of corruption, devotion, and the origins of Grimm’s fairytales

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