Hedwig—and Angry Vampires?

Piotr Stachiewicz (Polish, a cycle of illustrations portraying the life and legends of Jadwiga, “King” of Poland.) This scene depicts a drowned man she brought back to life by draping her cloak over his wet corpse.

Jadwiga, also known as Hedwig (without an “angry inch!”), was the first female monarch of the Kingdom of Poland, reigning from October 16, 1384 until her death (July 1399). Jadwiga was crowned “king,” reflecting the Polish lords’ opposition to her intended future husband, William; she married someone else instead but remained “king” herself.

Her marriage made the union of Poland and Lithuania possible, establishing a large state in eastern Central Europe. She established new hospitals, schools and churches, and restored older ones that had fallen into ruin. Jadwiga promoted the use of Polish rather than Latin in church services, especially the singing of hymns in Polish. She ordered that the Bible be translated into Polish. Jadwiga bought houses along a central street of Kraków in order to establish the university there. In accordance with Jadwiga’s last will, the university was partially financed through the sale of her jewels. Her charity led many to consider her a saint. She is said to have brought the dead to life on at least one occasion (see illustration above).

Poland has always been a source of fascinating tales and legends. Vampire stories were more common in Poland than in Transylvania (Romania). Vampire graves in Poland are recognised by the positioning of the body in the tomb: those thought to be vampires were buried face down, in the fetal position, with their heads cut off and placed between their legs, with wooden or metal pegs and studs piercing their bodies, or in a grave held down by rocks. Many such graves have been discovered in different parts of Poland. Underneath Kraków’s main square researchers discovered female skeletons laid in the fetal position, and in another town the body of a woman was found with her hand cut off and placed in her mouth.

Aoife and Strongbow

The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife by Cork born historical painter Daniel Maclise (1806-1870) at the National Gallery of Ireland

The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife by Cork born historical painter Daniel Maclise (1806-1870) at the National Gallery of Ireland

Aoife, princess of Leinster, wed the English knight known as “Strongbow” on August 25, AD 1170. Aoife’s father, Diarmait Mac Murchada, had lost his seat as king of Leinster and sought military aid from England to reclaim it. Richard de Clare, a minor knight at the English court, responded to the Irish king’s request for aid; Diarmait promised that whichever knight helped him regain the throne would be given the his daughter Aoife as wife. Richard brought 1,200 fighting men with him and won the battle at Waterford, Ireland on August 23. He and Aoife were married on August 25 on the shore of the River Suir beneath a great oak tree that came to be known as “Strongbow’s Oak.” (The painting above shows the couple being wed in front of the stone tower that was built later alongside the oak.)

According to Irish law at that time, both the man and the woman had to consent to the marriage; it is fair to conclude that Aoife accepted her father’s arrangements. Aoife led troops in battle and is sometimes known as Red Eva (Aoife Rua).

When Diarmait died the next year, Strongbow claimed the throne by right of his marriage to Aoife and began the English occupation of Ireland which continued until the Irish Free State was established in 1922.

Aoife had two sons and a daughter with her husband Strongbow, and via their daughter, Isabel de Clare, within a few generations their descendants included much of the nobility of Europe including all the monarchs of Scotland since Robert I (1274–1329) and all those of England, Great Britain and the United Kingdom since Henry IV (1367–1413); and, apart from Anne of Cleves, all the queen consorts of Henry VIII.

Later folktales also identify Strongbow’s Oak as the location of the grave of the young woman known as the dearg-due (“red blood sucker”) who rises from the dead to seduce and kill men, lapping up their blood to sustain herself. The girl who became the dearg due was herself said to have been beaten to death by her English husband and he was her first victim when she rose from the grave as the vampire woman. The dearg due is an important character in the Come Hell or High Water trilogy.

In my upcoming project Earth to Earth, Ashes to Ashes the princess Aoife makes a bargain with the goddess Badb to be sure that Strongbow wins the battle; the English occupation of Ireland is therefore the result of witchcraft and magic. The goddess Badb is involved in creating the dearg due in an attempt to drive at least some of the English away from Waterford itself.

July 12, 1801: Two Strikes? Vampires home free!

The Monastery of Horezu, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Wallachia, Romania

The Monastery of Horezu, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Wallachia, Romania

Wallachia, the region of southern Romania which borders the more famous region of Transylvania to the north, was an independent principality until 1859, when it united with Moldavia to form the basis of the modern state of Romania. Transylvania joined 59 years later (1918) to form the new Kingdom of Romania. Vlad the Impaler, often thought to have inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula, was actually the ruler of Wallachia (not Transylvania).

In 1801, before its unification with Moldavia, farmers and rural peasants still believed fervently in vampires even though modern science was beginning to dispel belief in vampires among the aristocracy. One of the more common ways farmers had in Wallachia to dispatch a vampire was to exhume the body and decapitate the corpse. If the vampire seemed to still attack the living after that, then the body was exhumed again and the body was either turned face-down or a wooden stake driven through it. If the attacks still seemed to continue, the body would be dug up a third time and burned (which was a difficult undertaking because dead bodies are so moist and therefore the last resort of vampire dispatchers — you can read about the fascinating science involved in burning dead bodies in Vampires, Burial, and Death: Folklore and Reality by Paul Barber).

It was the continued exhumation of corpses which came to the attention of the Wallachian authorities. On July 1, 1801 the authorities in Wallachia proclaimed that a corpse could not be exhumed more than TWICE in Wallachian territory if it was suspected of being a vampire!

Blood was not only important to the vampires the Wallachian farmers were trying to destroy. The stunningly beautiful Curtea de Arges Monastery was built by a ruler of Wallachia in 1512. But the walls kept crumbling because of a problem with the foundations. The architect and construction workers resorted to an ancient practice to reinforce the foundations: they sprinkled the blood of a newborn baby on the foundations and the walls stopped crumbling. (Another version of the story says how the pregnant wife of the architect was sealed alive inside the walls in order to stop them from crumbling.)