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Elizabeth Báthory (Báthory Erzsébet in Hungarian, Alžbeta Bátoriová-Nádašdy in Slovak, August 7?, 1560 - August 21, 1614), the Bloody Lady of Čachtice , born approximately 84 years after Vlad III Dracula died, was a Hungarian countess. She is considered the most famous serial killer in Slovak and Hungarian history. She and four collaborators were accused of torturing and killing numerous girls and young women (20 - 2000 victims, depending on the source). In 1610, she was imprisoned in solitary confinement, where she died. Her alleged collaborators were executed. Her guilt has never been proven.
Various legends about her life, including the unsubstantiated rumors that she bathed in or drank the blood of servant girls, are thought by some to have been a major influence on numerous vampire myths, the Dracula story, and the trope of the sexually sadistic vampiress in particular.
The Báthory lineage
The ancestors of Elizabeth (the Hun Gutkeled clan) came to the Hungarian Kingdom from Scandinavia in the mid-11th century. They held power in what is now Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and Romania. The Hun Gutkeled emerged to assume a role of relative eminence by the early 13th century and assumed the name Báthory (according to one of their estates Báthor [today Nyírbátor] meaning "valiant") in 1279. Their power peaked during the mid-16th century, was virtually gone by 1658, and they died out in 1680 (with the death of the wife of George Rákóczi II ).
Her parents were from two branches of the Báthory family, the brother of Elizabeth’s mother was the Polish king Stephen Báthory.
She was born in Nyírbátor in present-day Hungary on August 7? 1560 and died on August 21 1614 in Čachtice in present-day Slovakia.
She spent her childhood at the Ecsed Castle; details from this period are unknown. At the age of 11 she was forced to become engaged with the noble and successful warrior Francis Nádasdy and moved to the Sárvár Castle, where she became entangled with a peasant for a short time. In 1575, she married Nádasdy in Vranov, who in 1578 became the chief commander of Hungarian troops in their war against the Turks. He was known as a very brave, but also very cruel person. The Turks feared him and called him the Black Beg.
Nádasdy’s wedding gift to Elizabeth was his home, the Čachtice Castle (situated in the Carpathians in present-day western Slovakia near Trencin- then part of the Kingdom of Hungary) together with the Čachtice country-house and with adjacent 17 villages. The castle was surrounded by a village of peasants and rolling agricultural lands, interspersed with outcroppings of the Carpathians. In 1602, Elizabeth’s husband definitively bought the castle from the emperor Rudolf II, so that it became a property of the Nádasdys. Since fights with the Turks occupied her husband, Elizabeth became the lady of the castle. At this time she was able to read and write in four languages. Elizabeth had 5 children; two of them died at an early age. Her husband died in 1602 or 1604, murdered by a harlot in Bucharest, to whom he owed money.
It is unknown when Elizabeth started to kill young women, but she was doing so for certain from 1585 to 1610. Both her husband and her relatives knew about her sadistic inclination, but they did not intervene. She was constantly improving her torturing methods and her brutality was increasing. The people living around her castle hated her so much that she only left the castle under an armed escort. But she has also tortured some girls at her properties in Sárvár and Keresztúr . Her victims were initially local female peasants, but later she also killed daughters of lower gentry, who were sent to their castles by their parents to learn noble manners, since in the early 17th century, parents of substantial position often wished their daughters to be educated in the social graces and etiquettes. When it became known in the surroundings what she was (probably) doing, she had to send “assistants“ to bring young women from more distant regions. And when rumours spread all over the Hungarian Kingdom, she had to have girls kidnapped in order to get them.
But it was only after the parish priest of Čachtice and even the monks in (the relatively nearby) Vienna had lodged several complaints with the ruling class in Vienna about cries from the castle that the (new) emperor Matthias II assigned George Thurzo , the palatine of Hungary, to investigate the complaints. Thurzo and his men invaded Čachtice in the morning of December 29 1610 and caught Elizabeth in the act in the Čachtice country-house – she was torturing several girls. She and her four collaborators were charged with sadistic torture and mass murder. Elizabeth was sealed into a closet of her castle without a trial and died there on August 21 1614. For her collaborators see below.
More than 300 people were interrogated before her death between 1611 and 1614. Despite several interventions by the emperor, a regular trial never took place and the whole case remained open. The reason for this might have been that the palatine Thurzo did not want a trial against a member of the high gentry (with which he was reproached already at that time). Moreover, Elizabeth’s nephew Gabriel Báthory was the ruler of Transylvania and Thurzo did not want to get into troubles with Transylvania. And finally, Thurzo’s properties were adjacent to those of Elizabeth and Thurzo was interested in her properties.
Many scholarly sources mention the strong possibility that she was falsely convicted by the political opponents of the family, mainly because the Báthory family owned large areas of land and were wealthy. The existing historical documents show lack of investigation, omitted evidence and decisions kept in tight local political circles. Some of the most dramatic charges against her, that of Satanism and vampirism, are thought to have been either deliberate falsehoods or folklore that grew up around an unliked figure. Some people claim that the vampire legends could have been exaggerations of actual medical help provided for peasants; at that age it was very unusual that a noble cared about the health of her servants, and bloodletting was practiced by medical authorities for many years. Modern supporters of the vampire legends attached to her life are either unaware of or choose to ignore historical documents and letters that would possibly ruin the otherwise dramatic tales.
Her deviation might have genetic reasons, because many of both her father’s and her mother’s ancestors were very brutal individuals (e. g. the Transylvanian ruler Sigismund Báthory who liked to have his retainers killed). Legends, however, say that she was killing the girls in order to bathe in their blood and, thus, stay forever young or improve her complexion. Alternatively, it is believed that the Báthory family was inbred and that this may have helped cause various psychotic disorders that the family was known to have.
It should be noted, however, that brutality was relatively widespread at the time. People arrested under suspicion of crimes and sometimes even witnesses were tortured for their confessions, and punishment of the poor or of political enemies was often death.
Elizabeth’s collaborators were Dorottya Szentes , János Ujváry (called Fickó) , Ilona Jó and Katarína Benická . Except for Katarína (whose guilt could not be proven), they all were executed (burned alive) at Bytča on January 7 1611.
Their confessions and testimony against Báthory were taken under torture by Thurzo.
The following lists some of the best known legends about Elizabeth Báthory. Although they are partly based on statements made by those interrogated after 1610, their truthfulness cannot be verified.
While interrogating Turks, her husband employed a device of torture: articulated claw-like pincers, of silver; which, when fastened to a whip would tear and rip the flesh to such an obscene degree that he abandoned the apparatus in disgust and left it at the castle.
Aware of Báthory's preoccupations, her aunt had introduced her to the flagellation of others, a taste she quickly acquired. Equipped with her husband's silver claws, she generously indulged herself, whiling away many lonely hours at the expense of forlorn Slavic debtors. She preferred to whip her subjects on the front of their nude bodies rather than their backs, so that she could watch their faces contort in horror at their fate.
Vampirism and Satanism
Báthory began to gather those who claimed to be witches, sorcerers, seers, wizards, alchemists, and those who would practice the most depraved deeds in league with Satan.
She also reportedly became obsessed with youth and vitality, desiring to acquire political power. According to the most famous legend, she struck a servant girl and drew blood when her pointed nails raked the girl's cheek. The wound was serious enough that some of the blood got onto Báthory's skin, and she became convinced that it had improved her complexion. Alchemists informed her that the blood of a young virgin just might have such effects. Báthory reasoned that if she bathed in the blood of young virgins — and in the case of especially pretty ones, drank their blood — then she would become gloriously beautiful and strong. Báthory began to roam the countryside by night, hunting for suitable girls. Each batch of young girls would be hung upside-down by chains, wrapped around their ankles. Their throats would be slit and their blood drained for a bath or shower. Occasionally, she would drink blood: at first from a golden flask, but later, directly from the dying body.
After five years, Báthory began to realize that the blood of peasant girls was having little effect on the quality of her skin. In 1609, she established an academy in the castle, offering to take 25 girls at a time to finish their educations. Assisted by Dorottya Szentes and Anna Darvulia (a woman thought to be her lover), these students were killed by Báthory. However, during a frenzy of lust, four bodies were thrown off the castle walls.
- McNally, Raymond T.: Dracula was a woman: in search of the blood countess of Transylvania. New York: McGraw Hill, 1983. ISBN 0070456712
- Hungarian sources:
- Codrescu, Andrei.: The Blood Countess. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995 (fiction). Also available on cassette tape from Simon & Schuster AudioWorks.
- Thorne, Tony.: Countess Dracula: The Life and Times of Elisabeth Báthory, the Blood Countess. Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. 1997 (fiction).
- Daughters of Darkness (film) 1971. VHS and DVD. (loosely based on Erzsébet Báthory)
Last updated: 08-04-2005 16:40:11