On this day in 1408, Hungarian King Sigismund von Luxembourg founded the Order of the Dragon, a chivalric order dedicated to protecting Central Europe from foreign incursions. Knights and important figures from the Holy Roman Empire, Wallachia, Aragon, Moldova, Hungary and the Serbian Despotate signed on in the face of mounting threats from the Ottoman Empire. The order grew disorganized after the death of King Sigismund, but the fall of Constantinople (now Istanbul) to the Ottomans in 1453 united its members once again. Although the highly selective and secretive order was focused on defense of the Cross, it played an important part in the Crusades to the Middle East and Asia.
One of its most significant members was the Romanian Vlad the Impaler. Vlad, whose father’s title of “Dracul” (Dragon) came from the order, united Romania – then called Wallachia – through vicious acts of communal punishment. Many of Vlad’s acts of violence were sanctioned by, or in aid of, the Order of the Dragon and its mandate of protecting the Cross. Bram Stoker drew inspiration from Vlad the Impaler for his 1897 work Count Dracula.
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