Generally considered one of history's nastier pieces of work, Prince Vlad III of Wallachia (1431-1476) did much to earn his macabre nickname. The ruler of what is now Romania, he despised the Ottoman Empire for its attempts to invade his country, and for the cruel treatment he had received from them when imprisoned as a young man. He deliberately provoked war with them in 1459 by killing some envoys they had sent to him, and it was from this point that his capacity for cruelty reached its zenith. He killed tens of thousands of people, many of them through his favoured method of impaling. He also executed most of the boyar class of Wallachians, who had been responsible for the deaths of his father and brother; the remainder of his subjects were equally prone to the most atrocious punishments if they broke his laws. Invading Ottomans often saw 'forests' of rotting corpses impaled on spikes as they approached a large town or city, which was a deliberate method of psychological warfare. Vlad Tepes was famously depicted on a woodcut dining in front of such a scene.
In present day Romania, he is viewed as something of a national hero for his fierce defence of the country, but most of the world now associates him with 'Dracula', the most famous of vampires. From the 17th Century, reports of vampirism began spreading throughout Europe, many of them from Romania. Bram Stoker would have been aware of this, and it is thought that the cruel figure of Vlad the Impaler proved a natural source of inspiration. In the book, he is not explicitly linked to the character of Dracula, but many adaptations have connected the two; perhaps the most famous example is Francis Ford Coppola's 'Bram Stoker's Dracula' (1992). This romantic version also involved the story of Vlad Tepes' first wife, who really did commit suicide.