Countess Erzsebet Bathory
The Blood Countess: The Most Evil Woman in History



Countess Erzsebet Bathory
The Blood Countess: The Most Evil Woman in History

Countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed (Báthory Erzsébet in Hungarian, Alžbeta Bátoriová in Slovak, August 17th, 1560 – August 21st, 1614) was a countess from the renowned Báthory family.

Although in modern times she has been labeled the most prolific female serial killer in history, evidence of her alleged crimes is scant and her guilt is debated.

Nevertheless, she is remembered as the "Blood Countess" and as the "Bloody Lady of Čachtice", after the castle near Trencsén (today Trenčín) in the Kingdom of Hungary (today's Slovakia), where she spent most of her adult life.


Elizabeth Báthory was born on a family estate in Nyírbátor, Hungary on August 17th, 1560, and spent her childhood at Ecsed Castle.

Her father was George Báthory of the Ecsed branch of the family, brother of Andrew Bonaventura Báthory, who had been Voivod of Transylvania, while her mother was Anna Báthory (1539–1570), daughter of Stephen Báthory of Somlyó, another Voivod of Transylvania, was of the Somlyó branch.


Through her mother, Elizabeth was the niece of Stefan Báthory, King of Poland. As a young woman she learned Latin, German and Greek. She was also interested in science and astronomy.

After her husband's death, she and four collaborators were accused of torturing and killing hundreds of girls and young women, with one witness attributing to them over 600 victims, though the number for which they were convicted was 80. Elizabeth herself was neither tried nor convicted.

In 1610, however, she was imprisoned in the Csejte Castle, where she remained bricked in a set of rooms until her death four years later.

Later writings about the case have led to legendary accounts of the Countess bathing in the blood of virgins in order to retain her youth and subsequently also to comparisons with Vlad III the Impaler of Wallachia, on whom the fictional Count Dracula is partly based, and to modern nicknames of the Blood Countess and Countess Dracula.


In 1610 and 1611, the notaries collected testimony from more than 300 witnesses. The trial records include the testimony of the four defendants, as well as thirteen witnesses. Priests, noblemen and commoners were questioned.

Witnesses included the castellan and other personnel of Sárvár castle. According to all this testimony, her initial victims were the adolescent daughters of local peasants, many of whom were lured to Csejte by offers of well-paid work as maidservants in the castle.

Later, she is said to have begun to kill daughters of the lesser gentry, who were sent to her gynaeceum by their parents to learn courtly etiquette. Abductions were said to have occurred as well.

The descriptions of torture that emerged during the trials were often based on hearsay.


 
The case of Elizabeth Báthory inspired numerous stories during the eighteenth and 19th centuries. The most common motif of these works was that of the countess bathing in her victims' blood in order to retain beauty or youth.

Although in modern times she has been labeled the most prolific female serial killer in history, her guilt is debated. She is nevertheless remembered as the "Blood Countess" or "Blood Queen."




The atrocities described most consistently included:
  • severe beatings over extended periods of time, often leading to death
  • burning or mutilation of hands, sometimes also of faces and genitalia
  • biting the flesh off the faces, arms and other bodily parts
  • freezing to death
  • surgery on victims, often fatal
  • starving of victims
  • sexual abuse
The use of needles was also mentioned by the collaborators in court. Some witnesses named relatives who died while at the gynaeceum.

Others reported having seen traces of torture on dead bodies, some of which were buried in graveyards, and others in unmarked locations.

According to the testimony of the defendants, Elizabeth Báthory tortured and killed her victims not only at Csejte but also on her properties in Sárvár, Németkeresztúr, Bratislava, (then Pozsony, Pressburg), and Vienna, and even between these locations.

In addition to the defendants, several people were named for supplying Elizabeth Báthory with young women. The girls had been procured either by deception or by force. A little-known figure named Anna Darvulia was rumored to have influenced Báthory, but Darvulia was dead long before the trial.

The exact number of young women tortured and killed by Elizabeth Báthory is unknown, though it is often speculated to be as high as 650, between the years 1585 and 1610. The estimates differ greatly.

During the trial and before their execution, Szentes and Ficko reported 36 and 37 respectively, during their periods of service. The other defendants estimated a number of 50 or higher. Many Sárvár castle personnel estimated the number of bodies removed from the castle at between 100 to 200.

One witness who spoke at the trial mentioned a book in which a total of over 650 victims was supposed to have been listed by Báthory herself. This number became part of the legend surrounding Báthory.

Reportedly, the location of the diaries is unknown but 32 letters written by Báthory are stored in the Hungarian state archives in Budapest.


László Nagy has argued that Elizabeth Báthory was a victim of a conspiracy, a view opposed by others. Nagy argued that the proceedings were largely politically motivated. The conspiracy theory is consistent with Hungarian history at that time.

There was great conflict between religions, including Protestant ones, and this was related to the extension of Habsburg power over Hungary. As a Transylvanian Protestant aristocrat, Elizabeth belonged to a group generally opposed to the Habsburgs.

The case of Elizabeth Báthory inspired numerous stories during the eighteenth and 19th centuries. The most common motif of these works was that of the countess bathing in her victims' blood in order to retain beauty or youth.

This legend appeared in print for the first time in 1729, in the Jesuit scholar László Turóczi’s Tragica Historia, the first written account of the Báthory case.

At the beginning of the 19th century, this certainty was questioned, and sadistic pleasure was considered a far more plausible motive for Elizabeth Báthory's crimes.

In 1817, the witness accounts (which had surfaced in 1765) were published for the first time, suggesting that the bloodbaths were legend. The legend nonetheless persisted in the popular imagination.

Some versions of the story were told with the purpose of denouncing female vanity, while other versions aimed to entertain or thrill their audience. The ethnic divisions in Eastern Europe and financial incentives for tourism contribute to the problems with historical accuracy in understanding Elizabeth Báthory.

During the twentieth and 21st centuries, Elizabeth Báthory has continued to appear as a character in music, film, plays, books, games and toys and to serve as an inspiration for similar characters.

 
During the trial of her primary servants, Báthory had been placed under house arrest in a walled up set of rooms. She remained there for four years, until her death.

King Matthias had urged Thurzo to bring her to court and two notaries were sent to collect further evidence, but in the end no court proceedings against her were ever commenced.

On August 21st, 1614, Elizabeth Báthory was found dead in her castle. Since there were several plates of food untouched, her actual date of death is unknown.

She was buried in the church of Csejte, but due to the villagers' uproar over having "The Tigress of Csejte" buried in their cemetery, her body was moved to her birth home at Ecsed, where it is interred at the Báthory family crypt.