There are at least two versions of this story in the literature. As with the story of the two monks, one version is common in the German pamphlets and views Dracula’s actions unfavorably while the other version is common in eastern Europe and sees Dracula’s actions in a much more favorable light.
In both versions ambassadors of a foreign power visit Dracula’s court at Tirgoviste. When granted an audience with the prince the envoys refused to remove their hats, as was the custom when in the presence of the prince in Wallachia. Angered at this sign of disrespect Dracula had the ambassadors’ hats nailed to their heads so that they might never remove them.
In the German version of the story the envoys are Florentine and refused to remove their hats to demonstrate their superiority. When Dracula asked the ambassadors why they wouldn’t remove their hats they responded that such was not their custom and that they wouldn’t remove their hats, even for the Holy Roman emperor.
Dracula immediately had their hats nailed to their heads so that they might never come off and had the ambassadors ejected from his court. In Germany and the West, where the concept of diplomatic immunity was at least given lip service, this was held to be an act of barbarity against the representatives of a friendly power.
In the version of the story common in the east, the envoys are Turkish. When ushered into the presence of the prince, the Turks refused to remove their Phrygian caps. When questioned they answered that it was not the custom of their fathers to remove their hats.
Dracula then ordered their hats nailed to their heads with three nails so that they might never have to break such an excellent tradition. The envoys were then sent back to the sultan. In the east this was held to bee a courageous act of defiance in the face of the power of the Ottoman sultan.
It should also be noted that the nailing of hats to the heads of those who displeased a monarch was not an unknown act in Eastern Europe. Apparently the princes of Moscow when faced by unpleasant envoys occasionally used this method.