Until Bram Stoker took Vlad III of Wallachia as the model for his fictional character, the real life Dracula had not been connected with vampirism in popular culture and probably never would have been. Reportedly, current generation Romanians were surprised to hear Vlad Dracula had been cast as a vampire when the Iron Curtain lifted enough to allow them to know such things.
One way in which the historical Vlad Dracula has been linked to vampirism is in a Hungarian legend about his death. In this tale Dracula is captured by the Hungarians who burned his eyes out and then buried him alive. The next day they dug up the place where he was buried but Dracula's corpse was nowhere to be found. Immediately thereafter, a number of mysterious deaths occurred at the castle that were considered vampire-related.
Bishop Sean Manchester of Vampire Research Society fame presents his views* in answer to the question : Was the historical Dracula ~ Vlad the Impaler ~ a real vampire?
"The Draculas were held by their contemporaries to have had dealings with the Devil. The stories of Vlad Tepes III’s ferocity and hair-raising cruelty in defiance of the Turks is, according to the author of Dracula, related at length in two fifteenth century manuscripts,** one of which speaks of him as a “wampyr.” In my sequel to Stoker’s masterpiece, Carmel, I identify the historical Dracula as Wladislaus Dragwyla. He was a Voivode, which concurs with Stoker’s anti-hero, whose bloody acts were far too horrible to relate here. He was finally murdered by a hired assassin from the Turkish camp when he was forty-five years old, but when his tomb was opened in 1932 it was found to be empty save for some ceramics and various animal bones. If anyone threatened to return as a vampire, in accordance with undead lore, it was Vlad Tepes III, or Dragwyla who had forsaken Christ to embrace the Evil One ~ Satan. Even Dracula’s name in his native Wallachian language means son of the Devil. Did he actually return as an undead? Quite possibly, but the proof is absent."
Vlad III of Wallachia was killed under somewhat mysterious circumstances and accounts of his death vary, coloured by the affiliations of the scribe. Chronicles of events in the 15th century Balkans were as much propaganda as history. A Slavic report said: " Dracula's army began killing Turks without mercy. Out of sheer joy, Dracula ascended a hill in order to better see his troops massacring Turks. Thus detached from his army and friends, some took him for a Turk, and one of them struck him with a lance. But Dracula, seeing that he was being attacked by his own men, immediately killed five of his would-be assassins with his own sword. However he was pierced by many lances and then he died." The Slavic version is considered the most credible one by many scholars.
Another document which has surfaced relatively recently is also being cited in favor of the historical Dracula having been a vampire. It dates from 1463 and is titled "The Story of a Bloodthirsty Madman called Dracula of Wallachia". It mentions Dracula dipping his bread in human blood among other sins. (From McNally and Florescu's In Search of Dracula) So it's possible Dracula did like to consume blood. Even if that's true however, it can't be taken as proof that he practiced vampirism and has to be considered in context alongside Dracula's character and the times he lived in. Drinking the blood of ones enemies was done sometimes back then as a symbolic gesture, celebrating a victory. It wouldn't have raised many eyebrows at the time. Dracula delighted in torture and dined beneath a forest of hundreds of his impaled victims; he literally did his damnedest to cultivate a reputation as a fiend. It was helpful to have your enemies terrified of you. That's not to say the atrocities Vlad Dracula committed were all for the sake of psychological warfare; he was a sadistic psychopath as well.
Was the historical Dracula ~ Vlad the Impaler ~ a real vampire...most likely not.
*Vampires: Their Kith & Kin FAQ : www.gothicpress.freeserve.co.uk/Frequently Asked Questions.htm
**I've not been able to determine if this is the same manuscript as the one mentioned in the McNally-Florescu book but it seems probable.