Saturday, October 22, 2011

The House of Karnstein (pt. 1)


No one knows the precise origin of the Karnsteins, although they were first mentioned in the (now lost) Styrian Chronicles in 1187 CE.  Even the name remains a bit of a mystery.  It may refer to cairn, i.e. a collection of stones used to mark a grave, or to the German word for carnivore.  But the family's reputation for evil and decadence remains certain.

But not completely deserved.  Many Karnsteins seem to have been ordinary persons, untainted by the worst of their kin.  Still others dedicated their lives to fighting demonic evil.  In fact, more than one Karnstein's evil career came to an end because some other family member brought them to justice.

In their day, they spread nearly as far as the Oldenbergs or Bourbons.  Branches took root in their native Styria, in neighboring Hungary, in Spain as well as Italy.  Scions of that house found their way to England and eventually to the New World.  These days the name may be extinct, but the blood, that continues still.  Indeed, circumstantial evidence suggests that among their relatives would be none of than the Van Helsings!  Yet who can deny their zenith is long past?  That hour of history would seem to have been in the 17th and early 18th centuries.  A peculiar practice of that era involved naming the girl children.  Many such ended up with anagrams of Millarca, including Marcilla and Carmilla and of course Mircalla.  Such did no help to any historian!  Yet an overall pattern does emerge.

For the House of Karnstein, the beginning of the end occurred in 1710 when Prince Prospero of that house--a man who in the words of one chronicler "out-Heroded Herod"--sought to avoid a terrible plague, a pestilence known as the Red Death.  He walled himself and a coterie of friends inside an abandoned monastery, one outfitted for all manner of luxury and indulgence.  What neither he nor any of his guests suspected was the truth.  Plague?  There was no plague.  Rather the lands suffered the thirst of an ancient and terrible evil, a vampire whose name is now lost to history.  Over two and a half centuries later this creature was destroyed in a tiny American town called 'Salem's Lot.  At that time he called himself Barlow and boasted of having brought the Roman Empire down by his personal efforts.  Yet in the early 1700s his thirst could not be easily quenched nor could any mere human abode withstand him, no matter how well-built or locked against intruders.  Prince Prospero, his guests and many of his relatives died in a single night, slaking the boundless thirst for human blood of a creature older than Christendom.  Some rose from their graves, undead.  Others simply rotted.

At this point only a tiny few of the main branch of the Karnsteins survived.  Within two generations only two remained--Millarca IV and her brother Damien.  She went to Spain and married a man whom she later murdered.  He had, according to legend, demanded of her "unspeakable things." Exactly what happened next is unclear, but paintings of her were destroyed.  The castle where she had wed became her haunting ground for the next two hundred years, drinking the blood of those she desired.  Her brother Damien fared less well, or better, depending upon how one views it.  Obsessed by the occult, he finally committed a human sacrifice in an effort to raise one of his undead ancestors--and succeeded!  Mircalla II Karnstein emerged from her tomb to couple and then feed upon him, transforming Count Damien into a vampire.  He did not enjoy his immortality long.  A band of local witch-hunters caught wind of his activities and stormed mighty Castle Karnstein.  The Count was killed, beheaded, and the castle itself looted, partially burned.  Within another dozen years, the Baron Hartog crept into the remains of the Castle, driving stakes through the hearts of all he could find, in vengeance for the death of his sister at the fangs of a Karnstein.

So ended the main branch of the once-mighty Karnsteins.  But such was hardly the end of their story...

The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe
'Salem's Lot by Stephen King
The Blood Spattered Bride (motion picture)
The Vampire Lovers (motion picture)
Twins of Evil (motion picture)
Lust for a Vampire (motion picture)
Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter (motion picture)

The question seems valid--can we be sure the Karnsteins belong in the Wold Newton Universe?  As evidence I would point to the following:
1.  The MONSTAAH timeline includes mention of both Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu as well as a purported meeting in the 1700s between various major undead as recorded by Kim Newman in Red Reign.  This last included both at least one Karnstein (exactly who remains uncertain) as well as Dracula Prime.
2.  The same source which chronicled much of the unlife story of Denrom also related many involving various members of the Karnstein family.
3.  The Dr. Who episode "State of Decay" chronicles The Doctor meeting a human woman named Karmilla who had become a vampire.  Circumstantial evidence to be sure (and very vague at that), but offered for what it is worth.
(edited to add...)
4.  In the story Mall of Cthulhu by Seamus Cooper a vampire named Carmilla Karnstein makes an appearance.
5.  The soul clone encountered by Batman IV in the film Batman Vs Dracula had a vampire bride he sought to resurrect named Carmilla. Her last name is not given, but anagrams of Millarca made up a significant number of female first names in the Karnstein family.

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