The life of Vlad Tepes, the infamous Dracula, can help us understand both the political science behind those princes who accepted the Reforms, the fears that prompted them, and the ills that impassioned them. Such is helpfully brought to light (with a little help from your humble reviewer) through a biography of Dracula written by a Romanian aristocrat, an actual descendent of Vlad, Radu Florescu, and a sometime Boston College professor, Raymond McNally.
Let us review the situation: Romania is separated into various areas, Moldavia, Wallachia, etc. But the people of this language group are very loyal to the Greek/Russian Orthodox Faith and still are to this day. In the midst of Romania, Saxons who are loyal to a German Roman Catholicism are living. In Hungary, there is a strong presence of Roman Catholicism. The King of Hungary, often attempting to attain the German Emperorship, is fighting against the disciples of John Huss, a proto-movement of the Reformation. The Polish Kingdom is likewise loyal to Rome. Muscovite Russia is crouching to move towards ascendency among the Eastern Orthodox as Constantinople falls to the Turks. Greece is compromised and many Greeks, Bulgarians, Serbs and Romanians have fallen down to the Sultan’s will. The situation is desperate.
The age of Crusades is not at an end. Rome continues to declare them. But Italy plays the political games that make that peninsula the stage of the Borgias, Machiavelli, the martyred Savanarola and the good, the bad and the ugly of the Vatican. The Germanic kingdoms have their own drama. And in the midst of all of it, the Balkan Peninsula to the Black Sea is the scene of slaughter unbridled and blood up to the bridle. Is the world coming to an end?
Folks must have wondered if it were so. But a man stepped into the picture who, while only leading the people of Wallachia (in between various exiles) less than a decade, would become a figure of such political science as to make Machiavelli a midget and Ivan the Terrible almost tolerable. Vlad was inducted very young into the Order of the Dragon, one of the semi-secret military orders like the Knights Templar of a previous century. Loyal to Rome, they were supposed to fight the Turks and stop the Hussites. When he began to rule Wallachia, he became Romanian Orthodox. When he wanted to marry into Hungarian royalty, he became Roman again. He impaled a lot of people. He sometimes persecuted the Church, whether loyal to Rome or Constantinople. He sometimes upheld the Church, both Roman and Byzantine. Was Vlad of Wallachia a monster? Yes. Was he a hero? Yes.
Let us fast forward a generation: The rebellion of John Huss has been hijacked by Martin Luther. Some of the princes of Germany, for whatever reasons, supported Luther. Henry VIII remained loyal to Rome for a bit, debating Martin Luther. Henry VIII needed a divorce so that he could have an heir and so that he could separate from the Spanish whose allegiance had perhaps become oppressive. The Spanish, having recently ousted the Moors, had become Roman Catholic fanatics. He was aware of the way the Emperor of Byzantium had had some measure of control over the Orthodox Church. He knew the claims of previous monarchs of Europe concerning their right to rule their local part of the Church. His scholars sought means to divorce him from his wife. He crushed his enemies: St. Thomas More’s head rolled, the Holy Maid of Kent prophesied no longer, the Carthusians of the London Charterhouse were drawn and quartered. So very like Vlad, his reign became bathed in blood. Yet, unlike his daughter, Queen Mary, “bloody” was not his undying suffix; she was Roman after all, not Reformed. And she, like her Spanish husband, was certainly bathed in blood, just not dead spouses.
Henry VIII stripped his monasteries – but he intended to build them back up again as non-Papal places of prayer. Henry VIII utilized something of the Eastern Orthodox idea of Divorce, declaring it for himself as a Pope-of-sorts, and he did so to a fault. He persecuted the Church. He built the Church up. He supported the Crusades against the Turks along with Roman Catholic nations. Indeed, he never left the Roman Communion just had himself declared the head of the Western Church in England. He dwelled, like Vlad, in a nowhere land, not between Rome and Constantinople, but between Rome and Reform. He didn’t make the situation. He just reacted to it, the way a leader has to – bearing the consequences along the way.
When we seek to crucify or congratulate some political leader, to declare him or her a monster or a model, we should look very carefully at the complex scenario and the propaganda of that leader’s friends and foes. It isn’t easy. But I think that when we look at whether a man is a tyrant or just a terror to his enemies, we need to consider all sides. As the recent movie Dracula Untold attempts to do, we should begin to understand that a leader can easily become a monster for the sake of his own people. One would not wish to make excuses, but one might beg to point out: It is a duty very clearly outlined in a coronation oath – one is to defend the people committed to one’s rule, with sword, with scepter, by blood.