(reposted from my guest blog at World Weaver Press: http://worldweaverpress.com/2013/10/14/when-vampires-came-to-england/)
Much has been written lately about the sudden explosion of vampires onto the literary and popular-culture scene, from Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga, to Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire Mysteries and their HBO television version True Blood, to the hundreds of paranormal romances and urban fantasies with fanged heroes and villains. With this resurgence of vampires has come a renewed interest in older vampire tales, as well. And there are many of them to be found!
The most commonly known of these earlier vampire stories is Bram Stoker’s Dracula, of course. Dracula has become the model for countless vampires since its publication in 1897. One of the most striking elements of Dracula, and one that a number of scholars have touched upon, is the vampire’s journey to England, often interpreted as a xenophobic British attitude toward Eastern Europeans and Jews. When Dracula comes to England, he threatens the very heart of the Empire.
But Dracula was not the first vampire in England.
In March 1732, several London newspapers—including the London Journal, which seems to have first published the news—carried the story of Arnold Paole (rendered “Paul” in most English reports), a Hungarian who had apparently become a “vampire” after his death. Other newspapers quickly picked up the report and all included the same salient points: Arnold Paul had been attacked by a vampire during his lifetime and had returned after his death to haunt and murder his loved ones. Determined to exterminate the menace, local officials dug up Paul’s body, staked it through the heart, and burned it to ashes. These reports led to what has been termed the “Eighteenth-Century Vampire Controversy,” a debate over the existence of vampires that would eventually engross a number of clergymen; cause the exhumation, staking, and burning of bodies from countless eastern European gravesites; and end with the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria sending her personal physician, Gerhard van Swieten, to investigate. He concluded that vampires did not exist, and the Empress passed laws prohibiting the opening of graves and desecration of bodies.
Those 1732 reports probably constituted the earliest uses of the word “vampire” in English, despite the Oxford English Dictionary’s claim that the word actually appeared two years later. By 1734, vampires had already been much discussed in England as in the rest of Europe, and by 1740, at least one French clergyman—Dom Augustin Calmet—had written a treatise speculating about the possibility of the reality of vampires; this treatise was translated into English, then reprinted and often quoted.
Thus vampires were haunting England long before the Count appeared. Those of us who write about vampires owe much to Bram Stoker, but Dracula was only the latest in a long line of vampires to appear in English print.
I’m including a snippet below from one of those early vampire news stories. Enjoy!
From “Foreign Advices” in The Gentleman’s Magazine, March, 1732.
From Medreyga in Hungary, That certain dead Bodies called Vampyres, had kill’d several Persons by sucking out all their Blood. The Commander in Chief, and Magistrates of the Place were severally examin’d and unanimously declared, that about 5 years ago, a certain Heyduke named Arnold Paul, in his Life Time was heard to say, he had been tormented by a Vampyre, and that for a Remedy he had eaten some of the Earth of the Vampyre’s Grave, and rubbed himself with their Blood. That 20 or 30 Days after the Death of the said Arnold Paul, several Persons complained that they were tormented; and that he had taken away the Lives of 4 Persons. To put a Stop to such a Calamity, the Inhabitants having consulted their Hadnagi took up his Body, 40 Days after he had been dead, and found it fresh and free from Corruption; that he bled at the Nose, Mouth and Ears, pure and florid Blood; that his Shroud and Winding Sheet were all over Bloody; and that his Finger and Toe Nails were fallen off, and new ones grown in their room. By these Circumstances they were perswaded that he was a Vampyre, and, according to Custom, drove a Stake thro’ his Heart; at which he gave a horrid Groan. They burnt his Body to Ashes, and threw them into his Grave. ’Twas added, that those who have been tormented or killed by the Vampyres become Vampyres when they are dead. Upon which Account they served several other dead Bodies in the same manner.
1. A term meaning originally “robber, marauder, brigand” (a sense still retained in Serbia and adjacent countries), which in Hungary became the name of a special body of foot-soldiers (to whom the rank of nobility and a territory were given in 1605), and in Poland of the liveried personal followers or attendants of the nobles. (OED)
2. Generally translated in the eighteenth century as “bailiff”; clearly a public official.