Elizabeth Báthory, (in Nádasdy, after the marriage) was born in 1560. Hungarian countess, she’s worldwide known as the Bloody Lady of Cachtice, the castle she used to live in, next to Trencin (in Hungarian 'Trencsén') She is considered the most famous serial killer in Hungarian and Slovak history as well as the world's most prolific mass murderer (according to Guinness World Records). She and her alleged four collaborators were accused of torturing and killing numerous girls and young women, an estimate varying from 20 to 2000 victims, depending on its source. Various legends about her life, including the idea that she bathed in or drank the blood of servant girls, are thought by some to have been the origin of numerous vampire myths, the Dracula story, as well as being the origin of the sexually sadistic vampiress. Her historical nicknames include "The Blood Countess" and "Countess Dracula".
The Báthory Family History
The ancestors of Elizabeth (the Gutkeled clan) came to the Hungarian Kingdom in the mid-11th century. They held power in what is now Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and Transylvania. The Gutkeled clan emerged to assume a role of relative eminence by the early 13th century and the name Báthory (according to one of their estates Báthor [today Nyírbátor] meaning valiant, without 'h') was assumed by that sub-family in 1279. Their power peaked during the mid-16th century, and was virtually gone by 1658. With the death of the wife of György Rákóczi II (Zsófia Báthory), they died out in 1680. Elizabeth's parents were from the two branches of the Báthory family (Báthory of Ecsed and Báthory of Somlyó) and the brother of Elizabeth’s mother was the Polish king, and the princeps of Transylvania István Báthory.
The Countess’ Story
She was born in Nyírbátor in present-day Hungary in 1560 and died in 1614 in Čachtice (Hungarian = "Csejte"), currently in Slovakia. She spent her childhood at the Ecsed Castle; details from this period are unknown. At the age of 11 she was engaged with the noble and successful warrior Ferenc Nádasdy and moved to the Nádasdy Castle in Sárvár, where she had a short romance with a peasant. In 1575 she married Nádasdy in Vranov nad Topľou; three years later he became the chief commander of Hungarian troops in their war against the Turks. He was considered 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 Cachtice, then part of the Kingdom of Hungary) together with the Cachtice country-house and seventeen adjacent villages. The castle itself was surrounded by a peasant village and rolling agricultural lands, interspersed with outcroppings of the Carpathian Mountains. In 1602, Elizabeth’s husband definitively bought the castle from Emperor Rudolf II, so that it became a property of the Nádasdys. Since battles 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 six children. Two of them died at an early age. The first one, Anastasia, born when Elizabeth was 14, was an illegitimate daughter. Her husband died supposedly died in 1602 or 1604, either from an illness, at the hands of a prostitute or in battle. Another view holds be that he was murdered by general Giorgio Basta, whose reign of terror in Transylvania at that time led to a sharp decline in the Bathory family's power
It is alleged that Elizabeth started to kill young women between 1585 and 1610, and that her husband and her relatives knew about her sadistic inclination, but they did not directly intervene. While her husband lived, she apparently kept her activities to a moderate level, but upon his death any restraints he may have imposed on her (or she on herself) were completely removed. It is said that people living around her castle hated her so much that she only left the castle under an armed escort. However, she did torture some girls at her properties in Sárvár and Keresztúr. Her possible victims were initially local female peasants, many of which were lured to Cachtice by offers of well-paid work. However, when stories spread of the countess's inclinations, the supply of new maids began to dwindle. At this point, she may have begun to kill daughters of lower gentry, who were sent to her castle by their parents to learn noble manners. In the early 17th century, parents of substantial position often wished their daughters to be educated in the social graces and etiquette. As rumours spread further throughout the Hungarian Kingdom, she may have had girls kidnapped both locally and from more distant areas. After the parish priest of Cachtice and the monks of the relatively nearby Vienna had lodged several complaints with the court in Vienna about cries from the castle, the Emperor Matthias assigned Juraj Thurzo, the Palatine of Hungary, to investigate these complaints. Thurzo and his men invaded Cachtice in the morning of December 29 1610 and caught Elizabeth in the act of torturing several girls - one of them had just died. She and four collaborators were charged with sadistic torture, as well as mass murder. Despite the overwhelming evidence found by investigators, Elizabeth herself was not brought to trial. Her son Paul and his tutor Megyery raised valid concerns that, apart from the public scandal and family disgrace, by law the family inheritance would go to the crown. While she was investigated in absentia, Elizabeth was kept under tight house arrest and waged a spirited defence by a furious stream of letters. The outcome was inevitable. The bloody countess was bricked up in her own private chamber of her castle, kept alive only by food poked through a slit in the door, and died there on August 21st 1614.
After the imprisonment
More than 300 people were interrogated before her death. Despite several interventions by the Hungarian king, a regular trial never took place and the 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 at the time). Moreover, Elizabeth’s relative Gabriel Báthory was the ruler of Transylvania and Thurzo did not want to get into trouble. Because her eventual punishment was politically motivated, some have questioned whether she was guilty at all. It it is rumoured that she documented each death in her diary, totalling over 600 entries. She stayed in solitary confinement until her death. Her nobility permitted her to avoid an immediate execution. However, her alleged collaborators were executed.
Elizabeth came from a family of brutal individuals (e.g. the Transylvanian ruler Zsigmond Báthory who liked to have his retainers killed). Alternatively, [inbreeding is believed to have caused various psychotic disorders that the family was known to have. McNally and Radu Florescu imply, that she learned techniques of torture, from her husband, the "Black Beg." Her crimes, arrest, and imprisonment can be seen in the context of a financial wartime power struggle she and her family eventually lost to the Habsburgs. The Bathory family's influence had declined in its base, Transylvania, after their involvement in the Long War with the Turks and subsequent betrayal at the hands of their allies. After her husband's death, the Emperor had refused to pay debts owed to the late "Black Beg". Elizabeth's relative Gabor Bathory (listed as a brother, cousin, or nephew depending on the source) was involved in anti-Habsburg intrigue following the Long War and she was said to have been linked to these activities. While she was almost certainly a very ruthless individual, many have cast doubt on the motives of legend. That she was killing the girls in order to bathe in their blood and, thus, stay forever young or improve her complexion was not mentioned at her trial, but lurid legends about her continued even after it was made against the law to speak her name in Hungary. The tortures described in the actual recorded documents of the case are different from the overtly sexual atrocities alleged in sensational fictional stories about her. Her diaries, if they exist, may shed light on her motives but have not been published. They are said to be in Hungary's national archives.
A shadowy figure named Anna Darvulia, a suspected local witch that dabbled in black magic and satanic ritual, is rumoured to have influenced much of Elizabeth's early sadistic career, but apparently died before the major events of Elizabeth's reign of terror commenced. Elizabeth's main collaborators after Anna's death were her maids:
- Dorottya Szentes, Dorota Sentéšová, or Dorko;
- Helena Jo, or Ilona Jó
- Katarína Benick or Katalin Benick
- János Ujváry or Ján Ujvári, or Fickó, a dwarf.
Except for Katarína, they were all executed at Bytca|Bytča on January 7 4611. Katarína's guilt could not be proven, and according to McNally's sources from recorded testimony by all witnesses, she seems to have been dominated and bullied by the other executed women. Two of the women had their extremities hacked off before being thrown onto a blazing fire, while Fickó, whose guilt was deemed the lesser, had the mercy of being beheaded before being consigned to the flames. A public scaffold was erected near the castle to show the public that justice had been done. The confessions and testimony against Báthory were taken under torture by Thurzo.
Legends Surrounding the Myth
The following are some of the best known legends about Elizabeth Báthory. Although some are partly based on statements made by those interrogated after 1610, their truthfulness cannot be verified.
Elizabeth Báthory, described as a beauty by her contemporaries, is believed to have been exceedingly vain and obsessed with preserving her youth. Like many legends and/or myths, this story has constantly been expanded upon (According to the 2006 movie Stay Alive, of which Bathory's story is the main subject, Bathory also had an aversion to mirrors as she could not stand to see herself age). One day, a servant girl pulled the Countess's hair while arranging it, and Báthory slapped her so hard her nose bled. She believed that the servant's blood had made her skin young and fresh again, and so she conceived the idea of bathing in blood as a magical restorative. Her reputation as the "Blood Countess" arose in large part from stories of servants and virgin peasant girls strung upside down and drained of their blood to provide Báthory with her youth serum. The story of the blood baths is one of the most enduring parts of Báthory's legend and appears in most fictional works inspired by it. McNally did not find anything about this in the original documents of the investigation of her crimes.
While interrogating Turks, her husband at one time employed 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 soon abandoned the apparatus in disgust and left it at the castle. Báthory's aunt had introduced her to the practice of flagellation, and she equipped herself with her husband's silver claws for use on Slavic debtors and other victims. 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. Báthory used other methods of torture as well, often as punishments for servants who incurred her displeasure. Sticking pins under the fingernails of maids, covering young women in honey and leaving them to be stung to death by bees, or dousing naked victims in cold water during the harshest parts of the winter until they froze to death were among the tortures rumoured to have taken place at her castle. She and her servants also beat and starved her victims. Other legends mention Báthory's use of the iron maiden, but this is not in the testimony of the interrogated servants. Many works of fiction portray the countess as bisexual or lesbian, drawing on the belief that her victims were exclusively women. It is unclear whether her sadism had any sexual component, nor is it confirmed that she only killed women. It should be noted that torture was commonly practiced by both sides of the conflict during the Ottoman wars in Europe, of which Hungary was at the forefront for centuries.
The Myth in Art
There have been several movies about or inspired by Elizabeth Báthory:
- 1970, Necropolis by Franco Brocani
- 1970, Countess Dracula by (Peter Sasdy with Ingrid Pitt
- 1971, Les Levres rouges/Daughters of Darkness by Harry Kummel
- 1973, Ceremonia sangrienta/Blood Castle by Jorge Grau
- 1973, El Retorno de Walpurgis/Curse of the Devil by Carlos Aured
- 1974, Contes Immoraux/Immoral Tales by Walerian Borowczyk
- 1975, Alžbeta Hrozná alebo Krw story/Elisabeth the Terrible or The Krw Story by Stanislav Štepka
- 1980, Krvavá pani/The Bloody Lady by Viktor Kubal
- 1980, El Retorno del Hombre-Lobo/Night of the Werewolf by Jacinto Molina
- 1988, The Mysterious Death of Nina Chereau by Dennis Berry
- 2000, Bathory by Brian Topping
- 2004, Tomb of the Werewolf by Fred Olen Ray
- 2004, Eternal by Wilhelm Liebenberg andFederico Sanchez
- 2002, Killer Love by Lloyd A. Simandl
- 2006, Stay Alive by William Brent Bell
- 2007, Bathory]] by Juraj Jakubisko, in production imdb
- Heavy metal band Bathory took its name from the blood countess, and have some songs about her, including "Woman of Dark Desires".
- The black metal band Cradle of Filth has many songs about the countess, and its 1998 album, Cruelty and the Beast, is completely dedicated to Elizabeth.
- Progressive power metal]] band Kamelot have a 3 part song on their Karma album about Bathory called "Elizabeth".
- British black metal band Venom have a song called "Countess Bathory".
- Hungarian black metal band Tormentor has a song called "Elisabeth Bathory" on their Anno Domini album. Later this song was covered by Swedish Dissection on Where Dead Angels Lie.
- American band Boy Sets Fire recorded a song called "Bathory's Sainthood" on their 2003 album, Tomorrow Come Today.
- The final track of the album “Black One" by experimental doom metal band Sunn O, titled "Bathory Erzsebet", is in part dedicated to her. The vocal tracks to the song were actually recorded with the band member nailed inside a coffin, to recreate the kind of terror those that Countess Bathory tortured must have felt.
- Báthory is a major character in the alternative history/fantasy novel This Rough Magic by Eric Flint, Dave Freer and Mercedes Lackey. In the book she is of undetermined age and uses the blood of the slain young girls to retain her youth and power, in the eventual goal of attaining immortality without giving up her soul to Shaitan.
- The Blood Countess is a novel by Andrei Codrescu, a Romanian native and descendant of Elizabeth Báthory, currently a professor of writing at Louisiana State University and columnist with NPR.
- Bathory is a key character in "A Midnight Opera", a graphic novel/Amerimanga by Hans Steinbach.
- Báthory figures in the novel Managra by writer Stephen Marley.
- Báthory is an ancestress of Christopher Cséjthe, the protagonist of the "Half/Life" series by Mark Simmons; this blood relationship, merely alluded to in the first book, becomes a major plot point in the second book.
- She has a main role in the book Lord of the Vampires. The last book in in The Diaries of the Family Dracul trilogy(prequel to Dracula) by Jeanne Kalogridis
- The pen-and-paper RPG, Vampire, has a class of vampire called "Bathory". It feeds on blood through absorption at the skin rather than drinking.
- In the video game Bloodrayne, one of the characters claims to be the descendant of Elizabeth Bathory and shares her lust for blood and torture.
- In the video game Castlevania: Bloodlines, a character named Elizabeth Bartley, whose history is strikingly similar to Báthory's, is the niece of Count Dracula and resurrects him so he can conquer the world. Given the idiosyncrasies of phonetic translation between Japanese and other languages, it is likely that this character is indeed Elizabeth Bathory. ("Bathory" could be spelled either "bāsorii" or "bātorii". In the latter case, retranslating the name into English can result in "Bartley".)
- In the PC game Diablo II, one of the quests in the game is to find the tower belonging to the "Countess", who, in the game, is said to have been buried alive for bathing in the blood of a hundred virgins. For her crimes, she was sealed alive inside a tower, where legends have it (true, of course) that her vast fortune was hidden, although the countess herself, now an undead fiend, guards the treasure fiercely.
- In the PC multi-player online game Ragnarok Online, the "Bathory" lives in the haunted castle Glast Heim, and is one of the more dangerous characters in that area.
- In the 2006 movie Stay Alive the name 'Elizabeth Bathory' is used to describe the "witch" inside the game that comes to kill players who have died in the game. Her story is similar, except it takes place in Louisiana. She runs a plantation and finishing school, killing the young women that attend and bathing in their blood. After tried, she is locked inside a tower in her backyard, but her spirit remains.
- In the VCR/DVD boardgame Atmosfear, Elizabeth Bathory is a playable character and is portrayed as a vampiress.
- Crime Library article on Erzsébet Báthory
- Website of a possible relative of Erzsébet Báthory
- The Straight Dope
- Newer sources on Erzsébet Báthory's life
- The allegedly disillusioning truth - a show trial in the 17th century
- A genealogy of the Nadasdy family, including her descendants
- Story of a Bloody Lady from Cachtice