Saturday, October 17, 2009

Elizabeth Bathory, The Blood Countess

Help Wanted: Ever dreamed of working in a castle? Well then Castle of Cachtice is just the place for you. Located high up in the magnificent Carpathian Mountains, Castle of Cachtice is looking for female servants to work for the Countess. Must be between the ages of 10-17, virgins and orphans preferred. Duties include light dusting, and helping the Countess with her beauty regiment. Healthcare and Dental not provided.

When Sheridan Le Fanu, the Victorian Gothic writer, was creating his novella Carmilla, he probably had Countess Elizabeth (Erszebet), one of the world's greatest serial killers in mind for his anti-heroine. Bram Stoker's Dracula owes as much to her as to Vlad the Impaler. By the time the Blood Countess's reign of terror was over, 650 girls had lost their lives, all for the Countess's insatiable desire to look young.

Elizabeth Bathory (1560-1614) came from one of the richest and noblest families in all of Hungary. One of her ancestors Stephen Bathory actually fought alongside Vlad III Dracul (aka The Impaler) during his wars against the Turks. Another ancestor was a King of Poland. With that kind of background, Elizabeth's life should have been plain sailing. She was beautiful, and intelligent, able to speak four languages. But she was also spoiled, sadistic, and probably a little bit insane as well. At the age of 4, she began to suffer from epileptic seizures. Later she suffered extreme mood swings (she was probably bipolar) and violent uncontrollable rages. She grew up willful and spoiled, without any attempt of discipline from her governesses. Huge mistake because the lack of discipline just made Elizabeth think that she could do what she wanted. Her family also suffered from the inbreeding common amongst the nobility at that time, trying to keep the bloodlines pure.

At the age of 14, Elizabeth was married to Count Ferenc Nadasdy, who took the name Bathory, because her family was nobler than his. Nadasdy was 25 at the time of their marriage and nicknamed 'The Black Hero of Hungary' for his incredible temper. Like his wife, Nadasdy apparently was a sadist, although even he became disgusted by his wife's actions. Since Nadasdy was often away from home waging war, Elizabeth occupied her time by becoming involved with the occult and refining various torture methods. Her companions in fun were her Aunt Klara, who apparently was well-versed in fun past-times like torture and flogging, as well as a retainer with the colorful name of Thorko. During this time, she also gave birth to five children. By all accounts, she was a loving and devoted mother, which somehow seems at odds with her later reputation for sadism.

Elizabeth soon discovered how much fun it was to torture the servants, particularly young girls who couldn't fight back for fearing of losing their lives if they talked. Elizabeth would punish them for the slightest mistake, she once sewed the mouth of a girl shut because she talked too much. It was a high time at the castle what with the screaming, and the hushing and shushing going on. Other fun games included covering girls with honey and leaving them tied to trees, or forcing them to stand outside naked in winter time. The doings at Castle Cachtice soon became known to the populace, but Bathory's family were powerful enough to bribe the right people to say nothing. People were afraid of them and their power, including the Church. Even the nobles who suspected something protected their own.

After her husband's death, Elizabeth realized that she was getting older. She was in her forties and not the luscious young thing that she once was. Legend has it that she slapped a servant girl for pulling her hair too tight, scratching her with her long nails. As she wiped away the blood on her hand, Elizabeth noticed that the skin beneath looked younger and firmer. Before you could say Oil of Olay, Bathory got the bright idea that bathing in virgin's blood would help her look younger. Her alchemist did her one better and suggested that drinking the blood would also rejuvenate her. Nothing like a glass of B+ before you go to bed at night. Girls were tortured, and their blood drained to appease the Countess.

After awhile, Bathory decided that peasant blood just wasn't cutting it anymore. She was an aristocrat, what she needed was the blood of her own kind. So....she decided to open a school for the daughters of the minor nobility to teach them deportment and manners. Big mistake, while peasant girls going missing might not arouse suspicion, these girls had families who cared about them. Bathory's whopper of a mistake was tossing the bodies of 4 girls over the wall of the castle, instead of burying them which would have been smarter. This time she wasn't going to get away with it so easily.

Word reached the year of the King of Hungary, who ordered an investigation into the situation. This worked to the King's advantage because it gave him the chance to check the power of the nobility who were always getting out of hand. A raid on the castle was ordered. Girls were found dead or dying in the dungeon of the castle, and bodies were found under the floor boards, in cupboards, where ever they could be stashed. Stupidly Elizabeth had actually kept a ledger in her desk with the names of the girls that she had killed.

Elizabeth was arrested along with her cronies in torture. They all immediately confessed after a little torture. However, Elizabeth as an aristocrat could not be put on trial for her deeds. However, not realizing a get out jail card when she saw one, Elizabeth tried to get the authorities to let her stand trial. Instead, her accomplices had to pay for her crime with their lives. But Elizabeth did not escape unscathed, her family had her walled up in a tiny room at Cachtice with little ventilation where she died at the age of 54.

There are those who believe that Bathory was not quite as bad as she was made out to be, that like Vlad the Impaler, her name has been blackened as part of a conspiracy. The confessions of her servants were obtained by torture and she was never tried for her crimes. Her diaries are in a library in Hungary but they have not been translated because the handwriting and the language are difficult to read.


A Dark History; The Kings & Queens of Europe, From Medieval Tyrants to Mad Monarchs: Brenda Ralph Lewis, Amber Books Ltd. 2008
The World's Wickedest Women - Margaret Nicholas

The Blood Countess - Alisa M. Libby


A Bookshelf Monstrosity said...

Such an interesting post. After all, there's nothing like some virgin's blood, especially around Halloween :)
I'll be checking out The Blood Countess.

zquilts said...

A fine tale for the Halloween season !

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

I find her fascinating, particularly the fact that no one did anything until she started killing girls of the nobility. Who cares about a few hundred peasant girls, but if you are rich and have a title than justice will be served. Some things haven't changed over the years.

Zibilee said...

I have a book about her entitled The Blood Countess on my shelf, but have not read it yet. I bought it after hearing a little about her and finding her story weird and enthralling. After reading your post my interest is piqued again, and I think I'll try to get to it soon. Thanks for the very interesting post!

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Zibilee, who wrote it? I've been looking for more books on her myself that don't cost $50 to buy used!

Katherine said...

Can't find this "Blood Countess" book anywhere. Got any suggestions???

MrsSpidr said...

The book "Dracula was a woman" by Raymond T. McNally has part of the original court transcripts in it. A very good read. McNally is a professor at Brown University in East European history.

MrsSpidr said...

Katherine- The blood countess (fiction) is by Andrei Codrescu, and you can find it on for pretty cheap.

Dirgesinger said...

I am sorry to counter the post, but there is no single evidence for the cruelties of the Countess. Historians searched through hundreds of pages of confessions from "eyewitnesses" only to find that all of them were done under torture. It has to be mentioned that Thurzo palatine of Hungary and the husbands of her daughters (among them, one member of the Zrinyi family) wanted her lands and riches for her lands were the greatest after the kings', and all ruled by a woman, which was not common around that time. Besides, no bodies have been found (where could she put 600 bodies??) and the people of the villages around Csejte (Cahtice) said the Countess were very good to them, knowing the herbs and curing many of their illnesses.

tourniquet1995 said...

Man this woman Elizabeth Bthory is and aways will be my idol, iam a BIG FAN!! I LOVE her work.