#youreallyshouldteach…Vlad the Impaler

Ben Newmark and Mike Stuchbery over on Twitter have been hoping to highlight some obscure bits of history that are worth teaching. I’m going to bang my Vlad the Impaler drum again.

In my final year at university I took an excellent module on travel writing and perceptions of east and west in Europe. It was marvellous. I vividly remember finding a book on Vlad and his more famous alter-ego, Dracula, in the course of my wider reading and making a point of finding it after uni when relevance was no longer top of the list when book choosing. As a peachy keen NQT and having attended an HA/Christine Counsell weekend on interpretations, I wrote a whole unit for year 7 about him; but I’m a little longer in the tooth now and think six weeks on an obscure Wallachian prince might be a bit of an indulgence.

Vlad would make a great one off for World Book Day or something similar, though. Ruler of a country on the dynamic border between the Holy Roman and Ottoman empires in the 15th century, Vlad had seen his brother and father buried alive for upsetting the Sultan and his countrymen pushed into poverty by monopolising German merchants. If he was extremely tough, it was because he needed to be.  This was the 15th century, after all – England was witnessing the brutality of the Wars of the Roses. Brutality got one’s point across.

It was the conversion of Vlad to blood-sucking monster that interested me the most. It seems those German merchants, banished to their homelands, carried tales of their ejector back with them where they seeped into the folklore and found their way into the British Library. Bram Stoker came across them there, at a time when suicide victims in Britain were still sometimes buried with stakes through their hearts to prevent blood-seeking resurrection, and the rest is history. So, while Romania celebrate him on a stamp, in the west he’s the stuff of nightmares.

This made a great interpretations study for me and helped my year 7s to understand how important it is to understand the context of the people telling the history.

You really should teach about him, because he is much maligned and misunderstood, and he provides a gory introduction into how history is written by, if not the winners, then the people who could make their stories travel furthest.

Here are some resources: character cards, a writing frame and a newsflash (How do these people feel about Vlad the Impaler?) and a card sort of four stories, found in both Romanian and German chronicles and therefore told from two different points of view. I loved using this for a literacy exercise: how does the language make you feel about Vlad?

Next time…the assassination of Tsar Alexander II: is this the most d’oh moment in history?

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