The story goes that on St. Bartholomew's Day in 1459, Vlad the Impaler had 30,000 of the merchants and nobles of the Transylvanian city of Brasov impaled on stakes. The 15th-century prince preferred this cruel and horrible death above all others — a notoriety that many believe became the inspiration for Bram Stoker's vampire classic, "Dracula." 


The legend continues that on that dreadful holiday, to fully enjoy his work, he had a great feast set up in the middle of the impaled bodies and invited his most loyal subjects to dine with him. When he noticed one of these "boyars" holding his nose to avoid the stench, he ordered him impaled on a stake higher than all the others "so that he might be above the stench."


Not the kind of guy you want to publicly admit to having in the family tree — but Prince Charles, who has traced his roots back to the original vamp, is using the link as a way to connect with the people of Transylvania. The 62-year-old royal has joined a new campaign to save some of the last untouched wilderness areas in Europe, 65 percent of which is in Romania and under threat from logging and development. 


In a new documentary about the Carpathian mountains and its untouched forests, Charles makes light of his ancestral links to Count Dracula. "The genealogy shows I am descended from Vlad the Impaler, so I do have a bit of a stake in the country," he quips.


"It seems to me in Transylvania there is a combination of the natural ecosystem with a human cultural system," the prince says in the documentary, according to the Daily Telegraph. "This extraordinarily unique integrated relationship is so hugely important. People are yearning for that sense of belonging and identity and meaning."


According to Magor Csibi, country manager of the World Wildlife Fund's Danube-Carpathian program in Romania, nearly 618,000 acres of virgin forest are in desperate need of protection. Without it, Charles fears the region could become a mirror image of the barren Highlands of Scotland or Canada that were once rich with trees. 


You can check out a trailer for "Wild Carpathia," the documentary that features Prince Charles, below. 


Michael d'Estries ( @michaeldestries ) covers science, technology, art, and the beautiful, unusual corners of our incredible world.

Vlad the Impaler inspires Prince Charles to action
Charles, who says he's related to the notorious 15th-century prince, joins campaign to save the forests of Transylvania.