Radu cel Frumos: The Queer Brother Nobody Cares Dracula Had

 

andrej pejic as radu the beautfiul in turkish tv series faith

Imagine being this guy: his brother is Dracula. And that’s generally where the commentary stops.

Alternatively, imagine being this guy: he and Sultan Mehmed II were lovers. And that’s generally where the commentary stops.

‘Cel Frumos’ translates to ‘the beautiful.’ It was applied to the younger brother of Vlad III Dracula, best known for… well, being Dracula. Radu cel Frumos, Voivode of Wallachia for a little bit, at least, though in those days it was a title that traded blood-splattered hands quite often.

To me, it’s worth noting that the Romanian version of Prince Charming is Făt-Frumos, ‘Beautiful Infant/Son.’ I just think that’s a little funny. Dracula’s brother is practically named Prince Charming. What a character he must have been, and could be in modern works.

Shame, then, that I never see him.

The fact that I have yet to see one Dracula movie where Radu was a major character, or even mentioned, is a crying shame. It could certainly be the source of much drama: when Vlad proved he would not stop being a serious nuisance (a rather gentle way to describe a policy of scorched-earth marches and impaling people), the Sultan sent Radu to rout him.

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Imagine being this guy: your older brother, the one you’ve been with since birth, the one you were sent away from your mother and siblings with, stands opposite you. All around, there are dead and dying men sliding down stakes, a forest of death in which the only clearing is the field of battle.

Imagine being this guy: your older brother is Dracula, and across the now-insurmountable gulf between you, his eyes seethe with loathing and revulsion.  When he catches you, he will kill you, and he will make it a death unlike any you, your men, or even his men have ever seen, because you? You’re worse than an invader or a pretender. You’re a traitor. You were his little brother and you betrayed everything he stood for. You betrayed your country, your people, your very religion, everything. When your older brother catches you, you will be wishing you were dead for a very long time.

Imagine being this guy: you’re known for being gentle. You’re known for being pretty. You’re known for having a good personality and a winning disposition. Your brother is known for butchering anyone who gets in his way. Your brother is the most brutal warlord in an age of extravagant brutality as a matter of course. Your brother is Dracula.

Imagine being this guy: and then you beat Dracula. You are a major contributor to his downfall. You don’t execute him or defeat him on the field of battle, but because of your efforts–half on the battlefield, and half in diplomacy with rival princes–he is forced to flee. When he flees, he is betrayed and arrested. When next the world must suffer him, he is the leashed dog of the man who betrayed him.

Imagine being this guy: you are relegated to a footnote, a historic anecdote. Vlad will be a romantic hero and you will be a joke, when people remember you at all. Radu the Beautiful, Dracula’s gay, traitor brother.


 

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Radu cel Frumos led a pretty tumultuous life, which was just the price any Romanian noble had to pay for the opportunity to not farm turnips forever. When he was just a child, his father, Vlad II Dracul went to swear loyalty to the Ottoman Empire. Some immensely shady dealings made it seem like he was letting rebel warlord John Hunyadi run rampant through his territory or even supporting him against the Ottoman Empire.

Possibly he was, or possibly his attempts at balancing between the two powers failed and the Ottomans were just the first to snap at him. Either way, Vlad II was made to pay heavy fines and promise not to aid enemies of the Ottomans. I’m assuming they made him say ‘…and this time I mean it!’ considering he’d made that same oath after taking the throne.

The biggest blow, though, was being forced to leave his two young sons, Vlad and Radu, in the fortress of Edirne as hostages. For some reason, he brought them along, then had the audacity to seem shocked that the Ottomans wanted them. He would later lament to Hungarian allies-turned-enemies that he had left his “little children to be butchered for Christian peace so that [he] and [his] country [could] be subjects” of Hungary, clearly believing that they were murdered.

Possibly the fact that he promptly went and supported a Crusade against the Ottomans after leaving the boys in the Sultan’s court fed this belief.

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Why, when they were raised in identical circumstances, did Vlad turn out to be… well, Dracula, while Radu was by all accounts a good-natured sort? Radu was likely much, much younger than Vlad, making it much easier for him to adapt. Vlad had a horrible temper (shockingly enough) and was constantly being punished for lashing out at his captors, while Radu got along fine, doing well in his studies and not causing a lot of trouble.

As a brief aside: I imagine that Vlad viewed his brother much like the kid from Narnia. You know the one. The one who allied with the Witch in exchange for Turkish delights.

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Well, I said not causing a lot of trouble, but the truth is, there was a famous incident involving the young Sultan and his passionate attraction to Radu. He’d been trying to woo him for some time and finally got him into his private rooms. There, he attempted to force himself on Radu, who responded to this assault by resignedly opening his legs–wait, wait, no, actually what happened is he pulled out a knife and stabbed the most powerful man in the world in the leg. Then he climbed a tree and, according to some tellings, wouldn’t come down until Mehmed himself limped over and promised he wasn’t in any trouble.

Whatever apology Mehmed gave for this attempted rape must have been real damn good, because it wasn’t long after that he and Radu were intimate friends. Maybe Radu swallowed his violation and went with the politically intelligent relationship, or perhaps after the serious stabbing, they called it even and fist-bumped on it. Maybe it was a combination of both. Whatever the case, Radu became Mehmed’s favorite and a major figure in his court, and the two spent much time, both day and night, in each other’s company.

Radu was given support in his campaign for the throne of Wallachia. He also rode alongside Sultan Mehmed, who had decided he had to personally lead the assault against Vlad III, who would not stop being overwhelmingly terrible.

As he was wont, Vlad III responded to this by being even more overwhelmingly terrible. Radu was among the forces who were met with the horrific sight of 20,000 of Ottomans impaled outside of Târgoviște.

Like most number associated with Dracula, this total is almost certainly exaggerated. Does that really matter, though? One impaled person is one too many, and Vlad III was nothing if not numerically ambitious. However many the exact figure was, it was a huge amount of dead or dying human beings, writhing in their torture or being pecked apart by carrion crows or, Hell, since this is a dip into the true depths of human inhumanity, probably both in a lot of cases. The Ottomans turned back to rejoin their main force, completely horrified by the sight.

They could have won: Mehmed’s personal Janissary guard numbered higher than Vlad III’s entire army. Both Mehmed and Radu were studied tacticians and excellent horsemen. But at the sight, they turned tail and fled. That’s the power of psychological warfare.


As it transpired, Vlad III continued being impossible to keep down for long, and the Ottomans continued trying to stop him from completely uprooting their political system until his death.

There’s a lot to be said about Vlad III’s campaigns against the boyars, who had responded to a great crisis with petty in-fighting, and wrang the peasantry dry to continue leading luxurious lives under Ottoman rule. There’s a lot to be said about the unfair favoritism of the Transylvanian Saxons that allowed them to lord over and oppress the native Vlach, due to a centuries-old mandate by King Geza II of Hungary.

There’s a lot to be said about how Radu’s solution to the problems facing his country was to give the boyars all their power back and give the Transylvanian Saxons all their unfair tax exemptions back to appease them.

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Whatever there is to be said, it all ends the same: Vlad III died fighting and Radu was most likely executed by his son-in-law. His daughter, Maria, was the fourth wife of great Moldavian leader Stephen II, against whom Radu had struggled before. How his lovely daughter felt about her husband killing her him, history does not record, but considering how powerful and well-liked Stephen II was and is, I’m going to err on the side of ‘she got over it.’

It’s a pretty underwhelming end, isn’t it? His brother is Dracula, his lover is the most powerful man in the world… and in the end, he falls to mundane noble treachery.


There’s a great tragedy to the story of Vlad and Radu. People are all about reinventing the character of Dracula to be more romantic or whatever, and time and again they return to the life of Vlad III for ideas.

Or, rather, they say they’re going to the life of Vlad III then pull some shit right out of their asses.

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Bad.

There’s plenty of pathos to be had in the man’s real life, though, and Radu could be at the center of it. Certainly, it could have implications and effects on Dracula’s character that are just as interesting as the ones for Generic Movie Wives. (Side note: the problem of the Generic Movie Wife could be solved if people would give these women some goddamn personality and have them do something besides look pretty and die, but that’s a whole other fridge of dead women.) There could be themes of betrayal, themes of seduction as Dracula sees his brother get seduced then moves on to become The Ultimate Seducer.

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Or, and this is much better…

Why can’t we make a Dracula movie about Radu?

This may be quite niche, but I think a movie about a pretty queer man trying to slay his much cooler older brother because he’s turned into a demon is a damn cool concept. I mean, historically speaking, this was probably pretty close to how it went down, at leat from the perception of the involved parties.

Think of it like this:

Radu knows his older brother is better than he is and always has been. Vlad is stronger than him, manlier, more vicious, more brutal. These are the traits by which power is earned and held in their homeland, and have been for centuries. It’s well that Vlad is going back to be the Voivode of Wallachia and Radu is staying here at his lover’s side. The last time they left, they had to come running right back and it was all very embarrassing for everyone involved.

They often argue nowadays over their views on what’s best for Wallachia and Transylvanian, the land they were born in due to their father’s exile. One thing they agree on, though, is that their goals are the same: they both value their homeland and want what’s best for it. Vlad thinks independence from the Ottoman Empire is best, but Radu believes the Ottoman Empire helps keep them safe from the constant invasion and instability that has tormented the region since time immemorial.

Vlad leaves, assuring through some small gesture or Laconic statement that Radu will always be his beloved younger brother. This is specifically so that when Vlad later declares his undying hatred, it hurts people’s feelings. Radu enjoys life at court, where he is well-liked by most and adored by the Sultan, his lover, who isn’t eager to give him up despite his political usefulness in Wallachia. This is a good place to put in the sumptuous luxury pans. You know, like in Game of Thrones where it just lingers on the architecture and food and stuff?

And then it becomes obvious that something is super wrong with Vlad, and Radu goes to confront him. The various atrocities of the Ottoman Empire are discussed as reasons they have to go, and it’s taken for granted (remember, a conspiracy of boyars murdered Radu’s brother and father) that the Boyars are no good. But no matter what good points Vlad brings up, it’s obvious that whatever he is now just wants to kill and will use any justification it can. As the demon that was once Vlad rampages, killing his own peasants and delighting in tortures, Radu realizes the only thing he can do is kill his beloved older brother, or die trying.

Probably Radu loses. After all, Vlad has always been better than him. Maybe he eats him on the spot, reduced to a ravenous fiend by the vampiric condition, motivated by hunger and hatred. Maybe he throws Radu’s mutilated body at the Turkish camp as one of his famous ‘mess with me and this will happen to you’ messages.

Or maybe Radu thinks he’s been killed, then wakes up the next night, perfectly fine but no longer breathing. The ultimate act of revenge by Dracula… and the perfect bait for a sequel.

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“Oh God Not Another Damn Vampire”

 


I just really think Radu is a fascinating character to add to the Dracula mythos. His perceived betrayal would have extremely long-lasting ramifications for Dracula’s character. He could be a longstanding foe who has sworn to destroy his vampire brother… or a distant memory that Vlad carries with him, an old hurt yet to scar over. A tragic character in that once, he and Vlad were brothers who were close… or a villain (I GUESS) who turned on everything he stood for and betrayed him for some choice Ottoman dick; that, of course, has a lot of really, REALLY ugly implications about queer people that I’m sick and fucking tired of having shoved in my face.

Isn’t a sense of history important to the Dracula character? Another attachment to the world could only do good and interesting things for Dracula. After all, a reminder that one was once human makes their inhumanity all the more striking.

Besides, ‘Dracula’s pretty queer brother’ is a concept so electrifyingly vampire I’m shocked it hasn’t been done before. How Goth is that? He’s pretty and he regularly had sex with a Sultan. Lestat, eat your heart out.

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However he’s used, however the Ottoman Empire is cast in the story, the younger brother provides a great contrast to the elder. It’s a great way to inform the audience about your characters without falling to exposition. It’s a great way to add depth to Dracula’s motivations, to explain why he treats his lovers and minions the way the does.

And, again, more than anything, it reminds you that Vlad III, for all the stories, for all the nightmares he inspired or continues to inspire in whatever media, was a human being. He had a family. He had siblings. He was very real. And that’s the scariest part of all, isn’t it? As spooky as Dracula may, he hasn’t got anything on Vlad III, because Vlad was super real and Dracula is a Victorian-era sex metaphor.

Radu cel Frumos was related to him, and he still said, ‘yeah, I’m going to put an end to your shit.’ That’s some real shit right there.

Move over, Van Hellsing: Radu has it under control.


Had you ever heard of Radu? What do you think of him now that you’ve read this? Isn’t Andreja Pejic just the most handsome person ever? Leave a comment to tell me how you feel!

16 thoughts on “Radu cel Frumos: The Queer Brother Nobody Cares Dracula Had

  1. I love this so much! One quick note though on why I’m here in the first place: ‘And I Darken’ by Kiersten White. I didn’t even know Radu existed till that book (surprisingly accurate but with a few history errs – that’s acceptable though, in her case) was brought to my attention. Plus – VLAD THE IMPALER IS A WOMAN!
    Must read

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      1. My friend. Historically speaking, Vlad was a 5’0” Wallachian nobleman who loved murder and never brushed his teeth. So long as it’s understood to be fictional, there’s nothing wrong with making changes for the sake of whatever story you’re interested in telling. Please, there is no reason to be upset.

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  2. I love this article. I just recently found out about Radu and was very surprised to hear he had almost no depiction in stories related to Vlad III. I hope something like that gets done soon, I think it’d pretty damn cool.

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    1. Hey Catkin, I’m super glad you enjoyed it! Yeah, it’s weird that Radu isn’t ever included because that’s super easy drama. I’ve noticed a lot more people finding out about Radu, though, so hopefully we’ll see him more often and soon!

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    1. I sincerely apologize for the delay in responding, I was on vacation with my family that I rarely get to see.

      I’m so happy that someone else was so inspired by Radu! I’ll be sure to check your works out, Philippe, and thank you for telling me about it.

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  3. It’s also quite recently that I heard about Radu, when a friend of mine said I was going just like “Radu the Handsome” — she meant ‘brainwashed’ as per my tendency to defend the Islamic religion in some points.
    Apart from that, the story got me really interested, and I must thank her for telling me about him 😀
    As for your very nice text — I have had some good laugh reading it! And one thing I feel for sure: Radu is never added because of the sexual implications. And a movie with Vlad/Dracula (and Radu) would be a movie aiming for comercial success, and alas the usual public won’t really enjoy the queer addings. See what happens when it comes to be a movie on Alexander the Great? They just don’t know what to do with Hephaestion.
    Maybe Radu could show up in a “film d’ art”?
    I have watched the Turkish series ‘Fatih’, and I liked the way Radu is presented, and I just loved the way Andrej is placed as Radu —— jesusmaryjoseph he *is* hot! But, weell, I never expected meaningful glances between Mehmet and Radu in a Turkish soup opera 😀
    So we are told to be contented with a brotherly backslapping. That’s ok!
    But — a question lingers: why did the Turkish production choose Andrej (a known boy/girl model) as Radu? Anyone? 😀

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    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

      Jesus Christ @ your friend’s comment. Sometimes the people we love say the damndest stuff. It would be pretty boring if everyone was the same, though!

      I agree with your point that the wider public generally doesn’t accept very nuanced portrayals of queers, when they accept portrayals at all. Thus robbing me of some of my very favorite historical romances…. Hadrian and Antinous when, Hollywood! When?!

      As for why Faith picked Andreja (she recently transisitioned officially! Yay!), I think it’s because even pre-transition, she was incredibly pretty and very obviously Eastern European. That’s my hot take at least.

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      1. Aha, you like Hadrian and Antinous story, and so do I! There was once a John Boorman promise, you remember? He was into the Hadrian’s Memoirs project, but gave up on the grounds of “expensive”… Turkish production could manipulate Fatih and Radu, but nothing could have been done with H and A… As you say, such a waste of greatly dramatic stories, yes?

        Bingo for Andreja!!
        But, you know, I still like the androginous-looking people without having to resort to transitions, as you put it. Androginous is cooler, I think.

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      2. There is literally no way to portray Hadrian and Antinous without getting not only into how gay they were, but also into some really weird Roman social mores that would probably make even relatively progressive viewers uncomfortable… so I’ve resigned myself to never seeing it… unless in an art film, like you said with Radu.

        In America’s case, I think being an androgynous model was her way to express her gender without risking her career, but once her international identity was secured, she felt safe with making her transition. Although I idolize and love androgynous looks (it’s what I aspire to, in fact), her getting to be true to who she is makes me so happy. I’ve admired her for such a long time and I just want her to be happy, y’know?

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  4. BTW, Happy New Year.

    You mentioned weird Roman social mores, I wonder what those would be? Hadrian never sounds as if he had had a Caligula-like life. Actually he does sound a quiet, centered man…

    I still am a wee bit stranged with this sex-change thing, but ahoy! if one feels like doing it for a better life.

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    1. I apologize for the delay! I, uh, not to be unprofessional or anything, but I got a little bit hammered on New Year and spent the first day of 2018 recovering from the last day of 2017. But I should be okay now! A happy New Year to you as well, Isabela, I’m super glad we got to talk through the end of one year and the beginning of another! It really does mean a lot.

      Hadrian himself wasn’t too weird. Like you said, very quiet, very centered, especially when compared to some (cough cough Nero) of his peers. However, a lot of the external conflict, to use writer jargon, in his and Antinous’s relationship came from the fact that many citizens found it objectionable that their Emperor continued a relationship with his youth lover once that youth started growing a beard and broad shoulders. Antinous also began to have wants more in line with being a grown man and less in line with being a youth lover, and Hadrian was put in a situation where choosing to honor the mos maiorum would be unkind to the person he loved. And then, of course, Antinous’s mysterious death devastated him and he started doing things some modern audiences might find strange. Like declaring him a god and making people worship him. Grief makes madmen of us all…

      Might could be that something with Radu is on my project list! The interest in him is definitely encouraging.

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      1. I should tell you that I know and admire and oggle at Hadrian since 1994! And everything gets so much more exciting when I know he was an Aquarius born two days after me (I’m a January 22nd). I So understand his not giving a damn about his keeping Antinous and forget about that stupid Greek idea (although he’d loved all Greek things…). But I really never gave any thoughts on what the Roman citizens thought re. his relationship with a grown up youth… Must have been quite a shock, now that you mentioned.
        Well, Aquarians are rebel souls. If we can do it differently from most people, yes, we will ardorously do it! Hah! And many scandalized people in the process! Fun!
        Incidently, I have a poem here somewhere on Hadrian crying over Antinous. Very sad! 😉

        You could make your Radu Project a screenplay, so the thing will come up as a movie! Yes!

        Oh, you have had fun on a New York below zero New Year’s Day Party! Good!

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