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It is little known the man on whom Bram Stoker based his Dracula character, Vlad Tepes III, was Eastern Europe's greatest defender of the Christian faith. Born in 1431, in the central Romanian town of Sighisoara, Vlad spent much of his childhood in a Turkish prison as a hostage of Sultan Murad II (1421-51).
In 1448, Vlad was installed by the Turks on his father's throne in Wallachia, Romania in the hope he would serve as their puppet prince. But Vlad was a committed Christian and, like his father, a member of the Order of the Dragon, a fraternity of knights dedicated to fighting the Muslim or Ottoman Turks.
In 1431, Vlad's father, Vlad II (1436-42) was invested with the Order of the Dragon by the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund of Luxembourg (1411-33). Its emblem was a dragon, with wings extended, hanging on a cross. On joining the order, Vlad II received the name dracul which, in Romanian, means "dragon" or "devil".
On the death of his father in 1447, Vlad III inherited the epithet dracula, meaning "son of the devil" ... Thus the Dracula name was born ...
In later years, the Romanian peasants no doubt would have wondered why Vlad Dracula carried a shield depicting a dragon as he rode into battle. It is not known how many people outside Dracula's court knew of his affiliations with the Order of the Dragon. Nor is it known how many peasants would have known about the order's role within the Roman Catholic Church. Few would have realised that, to Vlad Dracula's order, the dragon symbolised Christ's conquest of Satan by his death and resurrection. To the simple peasants, most of whom were members of the Eastern Orthodox Church, the dragon meant one thing. The devil ...