United Kingdom, Vampires in the

United Kingdom, Vampires in the

(pop culture)

The United Kingdom includes the countries of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. None of the four lands has a reputation as being a prominent home to real vampires or even vampire folklore, but they have been significant contributors to the development of the literary vampire. England’s vampire heritage is largely confined to reports contained in two volumes, both written at the end of the twelfth century, which describe vampiric creatures. Among several accounts in Walter Map’s De Nagis Curialium (c. 1190 C.E.), for example, was the story of a knight and his wife. She gave birth to a son, but on the morning following his birth, the baby was found dead with his throat cut. The same fate awaited both a second and a third child, in spite of extra precautions. When a fourth child was born, the entire house was called to stay up to keep the child safe. There was a stranger in the house who also kept watch. As the evening progressed, the stranger noticed all of the household falling asleep. He watched as a matronly woman came to the cradle and bent over it. Before she could hurt the baby, he seized the woman (who appeared to be a wealthy matron of the town). The real woman in town was summoned, and it was seen that the person captured at the cradle had assumed the matron’s form. The captured woman was declared a demon, escaped from the men’s grip, and flew away with a loud screech.

William of Newburgh finished his Chronicles in 1196. In his fifth book, among the stories he recounted, was one “of the extraordinary happening when a dead man wandered abroad out of his grave.” Some years previously, in Buckinghamshire, a husband appeared in his wife’s bedroom the day after his burial. After he returned a second night, she reported his visits to her neighbors. On the third evening, several people stayed with her, and when he appeared, they drove him away. He then turned to visiting his brothers and, upon being repelled, he disturbed the animals. The town was terrified by his sudden appearances at various hours of the day and night. They consulted the local clergy who referred the matter to the Bishop of London. The bishop first considered burning the body, but after further thought, advised exhumation of the corpse and the placement of a “chartula of episcopal absolution” on the body. It was further advised that the corpse should then be returned to the grave. The villagers followed his instructions. The body was found in the same condition it had been in on the day of burial. However, from that day forward, it never disturbed anyone again. William of Newburgh was also the source of the more famous cases of the vampires of Melrose Abbey and Alnwick Castle.

Both the stories of Map and William of Newburgh (quoted at length in the works of both Montague Summers and Donald Glut) contain many elements of the classical vampire tales of Eastern Europe, but each are missing an essential element—any reference to blood drinking. However, they are similar enough to illustrate the manner in which the vampire tales fit into the larger category of contact with revenants and the manner in which people from widely separated parts of Europe followed a similar set of actions in dealing with the problem.

In Scotland, several other traditional vampiric figures could be found. The baobban sith, for example, were known to appear as ravens or crows but more often as young maidens dressed in green dresses that hid their deer’s hooves. Katheryn Briggs related one of the more famous baobban sith stories (first published by C. M. Robertson) concerning its encounter with four unfortunate men. The four hunters were camping for the evening. They entertained themselves with dancing and singing. As they danced, they were joined by four maidens seemingly attracted by their music. One of the men sang, as the other men danced. The singer noticed that each of his comrades had blood on their necks and shirts. Frightened, he ran into the woods, with one of the women running behind him. He finally found shelter among the horses where, for some reason, the woman did not come. The following morning he found his hunting mates dead and drained of blood.

The redcap was a malignant spirit who haunted abandoned castles and other places where violence had occurred. If one slept in a spot haunted by the redcap, it would attempt to dip its cap in human blood. Not as sinister as some, it could be driven off with a word from the Bible or a cross.

During the centuries of the modern era, these beliefs seemed to have largely died out. If such beliefs, which appeared to be widespread in the twelfth century, survived into the modern era, one would expect to see references to them, for instance, in the records of the many proceedings against witches, but there are none. Also, in the seventeenth century, the initial reports of vampires from Eastern Europe were received as if they were describing a new and entirely continental phenomenon. In the years since news of the Slavic vampire became known in England, two significant cases of vampire infestation became known. The first, the vampire of Croglin Grange, was initially reported in the 1890s, while the more recent case was of the Highgate vampire at the famous Highgate cemetery in London during the 1960s and 1970s.

The Modern Vampire: The term vampire appears to have been introduced to English in 1741. It appeared in a footnote in an obscure book titled Observations on the Revolution in 1688, which, though written in 1688, was not published until 60 years later. Interestingly, the term vampire did not refer to a bloodsucking entity in the book, but was used metaphorically in a political sense, with no explanation, as if the term was fairly well known. The author said:

Our Merchants, indeed, bring money into their country, but it is said, there is another Set of Men amongst us who have as great an Address in sending out again to foreign Countries without any Returns for it, which defeats the Industry of the Merchant. These are the Vampires of the Publick, and Riflers of the Kingdom.

Actually, some years earlier in 1679, a book on the State of the Greek and Armenian Churches by Paul Ricaut (or Rycaut) described the existence of:

… a pretended demon, said to delight in sucking human blood, and to animate the bodies of dead persons, which when dug up, are said to be found florid and full of blood.

A more important reference to vampires, which not only used the term but described an encounter with them in some depth, appeared in the 1810 publication Travels of 3 English Gentlemen from Venice to Hamburg, Being the Grand Tour of Germany in the Year 1734. The author, the Earl of Oxford, offered the first serious explanation of the vampire phenomenon in English. At the time it was written, Germany was in the midst of the great vampire debates that followed on the heels of the vampire epidemics reported throughout the Hungarian Empire. Though written in 1734, the Travels of 3 English Gentlemen, remained unpublished for many decades. Meanwhile, Dom Augustin Calmet‘s 1746 treatise on apparitions, demons, and vampires was translated and published in an English edition in 1759. Both Calmet’s and the Earl of Oxford’s books informed the development of the literary vampire in England.

The English Literary Vampire: England’s main contribution to contemporary vampire lore was derived not so much from its folklore tradition as from its nurturing of vampire literature in the nineteenth century. While the origins of the literary vampire must be sought in Germany, British poets were quick to discover the theme. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Southey, and John Stagg were among the writers who were influenced by such popular translations as Gottfried August Bürger’s “Lenora” by Sir Walter Scott.

Then in 1819, John Polidori, out of his love-hate relationship with Lord Byron, launched the vampire legend with his initial short story “The Vampyre.” Polidori’s story of an aristocratic vampire who preyed upon the women of Europe was based upon a story fragment originally written by Lord Byron in 1816, although Polidori’s story took the fragment in a distinctly new direction. More important than Byron’s plot contribution to the story was its original publication under Byron’s name. Because of the name attached, it was hailed as a great work by German and French romantic writers, was quickly translated into various languages, and became the basis of a generation of dramatic productions in Paris and a German vampire opera.

In 1820 it was brought to the London stage by James Robinson Planché. Through the nineteenth century, some of the most famous and influential vampire stories were written. Drawing on ideas introduced by Polidori, James Malcolm Rymer wrote Varney the Vampyre, one of the most successful penny dreadfuls (a novel published chapter-by-chapter as a weekly serial publication). This highly successful story, which ran to 220 chapters, rivaled Polidori’s effort through the rest of the century. Varney the Vampyre was followed by a number of pieces of short fiction. Compiled in a single volume, they would constitute a relatively large body of vampire literature, and would include William Gilbert’s “The Last Lords of Gardonal” (1867); Sheridan Le Fanu‘s highly influential “Carmilla” (1872); Philip Robinson’s two stories, “The Man-Eating Tree” (1881) and “The Last of the Vampires” (1892); Anne Crawford’s “A Mystery of the Campagna” (1887); H. G. Wells’s, “The Flowering of the Strange Orchid” (1894); and Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s “Good Lady Ducayne” (1896). All of these stand behind the single most famous and influential piece of vampire literature of all time—Bram Stoker‘s Dracula, published in London in 1897.

More than any other single work, Dracula created the modern image of the vampire and brought the idea to the attention of the English-speaking public around the world. The character Dracula became synonymous with the vampire in many ways, and one could think of contemporary vampires as primarily variations of Stoker’s character. It initiated the concept of the vampire as a somewhat tamed monster capable of the incognito penetration of human society. Inspired by Stoker, a century of fiction writers would develop numerous concepts of the vampire in ways Stoker only hinted. Dracula now stands beside Sherlock Holmes as the single most popular character in English literature and the one most frequently brought to the screen. Dracula was brought to the stage in 1924 by Hamilton Deane.

The play enjoyed great success during Deane’s lifetime, but has rarely been revived in recent years. More importantly, Deane’s play was extensively revised by John L. Balderston for presentation on the American stage in 1927. Balderston’s revision, published by an American drama publishing house, has been frequently produced over the years. It was the basis of the three Universal Pictures productions—Dracula (1931) with Bela Lugosi, the Spanish version also filmed in 1931, and the 1979 version starring Frank Langella. The Langella version resulted from a major Broadway revival of the Balderston play in 1977.

England was also home to Hammer Films, which for 20 years (beginning around the mid-1950s) produced a host of horror films in general and vampire films in particular that defined an entire era of horror motion picture production. The distinctive Hammer vampire productions, beginning with The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and The Horror of Dracula (1958), were notable for their technicolor presentations and the introduction of a fanged vampire who bit his victims on screen. These Hammer productions made international stars of Christopher Lee, who joined Bela Lugosi and John Carradine as memorable Draculas, and Peter Cushing as Dracula’s ever-present nemesis, Abraham Van Helsing. They inspired a new wave of vampire films in Europe and America, and with the demise of Hammer in the mid-1970s, British leadership in the production of vampire movies passed to the United States.

The Contemporary English Vampire: The United Kingdom has been an integral factor in the current revival of interest in vampires. It is now home to a number of vampire interest groups. The Dracula Society, formed in 1973, is among the oldest and the Whitby Dracula Vampire Society, which puts on a variety of celebrative events at Whitby (where Dracula first landed in England), is the most active. Other organizations that focus vampire fandom in the UK include The Vampire Society (Gittens) and The Vampire Guild, which publishes the journal, Crimson. The more distinct Vampire Research Society, headed by Sean Manchester, looks with disdain on the vampire as an evil creature. British authors have contributed their share of novels to the new vampire literature, among the more significant being Brian Lumley, Barbara Hambly, Tanith Lee, Peter Tremayne, Steve Jones, and Kim Newman. The United Kingdom was also the home of the emergence of gothic music now promoted by the Gothic Society.


Briggs, Katherine. A Dictionary of Fairies. London: Penguin Books, 1976. Reprinted as An Encyclopedia of Fairies, Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures. New York: Pantheon Books, 1976. 481 pp.
Cox, Greg. The Transylvanian Library. San Bernardino, CA: Borgo Press, 1993. 264 pp.
Deane, Hamilton, and John L. Balderston. Dracula: The Ultimate Illustrated Edition of the World-Famous Vampire Play. Edited by David J. Skal. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993. 153 pp.
Jones, Stephen. The Illustrated Vampire Movie Guide. London: Titan Books, 1993. 144 pp.
Stoker, Bram. Dracula. London: A. Constable & Co., 1897. 390 pp.
Wilson, Katharina M. “The History of the Word ‘Vampire.’” Journal of the History of Ideas 46, 4 (October-December 1985): 577–583.
The Vampire Book, Second Edition © 2011 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
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