June 26 2020 update: this piece has really done the numbers! I’m thrilled to see people curious about Radu cel Frumos and Romanian history in general. But I cannot stress enough that I am NOT A HISTORIAN and that although there is a historical segment to this article that is a fair starting point for the curious, it is not an academic-quality research project. The history as presented is there to provide context for a fiction and pop culture analysis. If you’re curious, I implore you to look into the works of real actual professional historians, especially Romanian historians if you have the means. Please support them. All that said…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!