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April 26, 2010

Countess Elizabeth Bathory

Countess Elizabeth Bathory (or Erzsébet Báthory) is associated with vampirism due to her lust for killing young servant girls and then draining their blood, in which she bathed in order to retain her youthful beauty. 

Elizabeth was born in 1560 and was the daughter of George and Anna Bathory.  It is frequently cited that Elizabeth grew up in Hungary, but due to the shifting of borders over time, it is likely that she was more closely associated with the Slovak republic.  Elizabeth spent most of her adult life in the castle Cachtice, near the town of Vishine, which is near where Austria, Hungary and the Slovak republic meet.  During Elizabeth’s youth, Hungary had been overrun by Turkish forces and was the battleground for the Turkish and Austrian armies.  This area was also split by religious differences.  The country was largely Catholic, although Elizabeth’s family was Protestant.  It is said that Elizabeth suffered from seizures, intense rage and uncontrollable behavior as a child.

Above: A picture of Castle Cachtice, in Slovenia.

Elizabeth became pregnant in 1574 at the age of 14 after a fling with a peasant.  She was sequestered in order to hide the pregnancy from her betrothed, Count Ferenc Nadasdy.  In 1575 she was married to the Count.  Elizabeth’s husband was a soldier and thus was frequently gone for large periods of time, so she was left in charge of the estate and all the servants, many of which were young girls.

Elizabeth enjoyed punishing her servants.  While it was not strange for nobility to punish their servants at this time, even by giving servants very dangerous reprimands, Elizabeth surpassed the norm for the era.  Elizabeth would often have her servants stuck with pins in fleshy areas, especially under their fingernails, as a form of torture.  She also had woman stripped of their clothing in the winter, then sent outside in the snow, to have ice water poured over them until they froze to death.  Her husband did not shy away from such behavior, he in fact joined in on the atrocious activities and even taught his wife some new forms of punishment.  For example, the Count came up with a summer-time version to the aforementioned torture.  In the summer, servant women were again stripped and then covered in honey.  They were sent outside and would be bitten by numerous insects. 

Above: Artwork depicting Countess Elizabeth Bathory’s bloodlust, from this deviantart.

Count Ferenc died in 1604, when Elizabeth was 44.  After her husband’s death, Elizabeth found a cohort to help in her gruesome activities.  Anna Darvulia aided the Countess until her health failed in 1609.  After this, Elizabeth began working with Erzsi Majorova, the widow of a tenant farmer.  It is believed that Erzsi persuaded Elizabeth to torture a young girl of nobility in 1609, leading to the girl’s death.  The young girl was said to have performed suicide, to cover for Elizabeth’s actions. 

The cover-up failed, however, and Elizabeth was put on trial in 1610.  Elizabeth was put on trial not only due to the high number of victims she had killed but also due to political reasons.  The Crown wanted the Countess’ land, and also had owed her late husband a large sum.  Thus, they used Elizabeth’s tendencies for their own gain, and staged a trial after her arrest on December 29, 1610.  In a secondary trial a register of all 650 of Elizabeth’s victims was used against her as evidence.  The list was said to be written by Elizabeth herself.  All of the Countess’ accomplices were executed, and Elizabeth was sentenced to life in solitary confinement.  She was kept in a room in the castle with no doors or windows for 3 years, until her death. 

Above: An image of Countess Elizabeth Bathory.

Elizabeth Bathory has been accused of being both a werewolf and vampire.  She was said to bite the girls she killed, which was the basis for the werewolf claim.  As mentioned above, the claim that Bathory drained young girls blood and then bathed in the blood to retain her beauty is the leading basis for her association with vampires.  However, there is no testimony that Elizabeth ever drained her victims or bathed in their blood, and she was never accused of drinking her victims blood, so she is merely a vampire through loose metaphor.  It is likely that the stories regarding the Countess’ actions have been embellished over time, resulting in her growth in popularity among vampire folklore.  In fact, one of my sources seemed skeptical of all counts held against Elizabeth Bathory.  If you’re interested in learning more about the Countess from a different perspective, try reading Slayers and Their Vampires, by Bruce A. McClelland.

Elizabeth Bathory has been tied to vampires repeatedly in popular culture.  A surge in her popularity occurred in the 1970s following Valentine Penrose’s Erzebet Bathory: La Comtesse Sanglante, a book from 1962 (the English version is titled The Bloody Countess).  A second work that boosted her popularity was Dracula was a Woman: In Search of the Blood Countess of Transylvania, by Raymond McNally, from 1984.  A fanzine, or magazine for fans, was published briefly in the mid 1990s under the name Bathory Palace.  For more information on Bathory Palace and vampire fiction in popular culture, check out this website.

I found some interesting websites when researching Elizabeth Bathory’s history.  One site is the Frequently Asked Questions page from a website owned and operated by Elizabeth’s (supposed) heir, Dennis Báthory-Kitsz.  To see this website, click here.  The page contains a plethora of information concerning the Countess, but like most websites, the information contained must be taken with a grain of salt.  A second, more entertaining, site is a fanfiction of Elizabeth’s diary.  A fanfiction is merely a work of fiction written by an amateur, or fan, on a certain subject.  In this case, the author decided to write a fictional diary entry from Elizabeth’s point of view during her final days in solitary confinement.  It is an interesting read and can be accessed here.

Filed by at April 26th, 2010 under Historical People
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