Elizabeth Báthory

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For the comic series, see Elizabeth Bathory (comics).
The native form of this personal name is ecsedi Báthory Erzsébet. This article uses the Western name order.
Countess Erzsébet Báthory
Elizabeth Bathory Portrait.jpg
Copy of the lost 1585 original portrait of Erzsébet Báthory
(disappeared in the 1990s).
Born (1560-08-08)8 August 1560
Nyírbátor, Kingdom of Hungary
Died 21 August 1614(1614-08-21) (aged 54)
Csejte, Kingdom of Hungary (today Čachtice, Slovakia)
Other names The Blood Countess
The Bloody Lady of Csejte
Criminal penalty
confinement until death
Children Paul
Andrew
Anna
Ursula
Katherine
Killings
Span of killings
1590–1610
Country Kingdom of Hungary
Date apprehended
30 December 1610

Countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed (Báthory Erzsébet in Hungarian; 8 August 1560 – 21 August 1614) was a countess from the renowned Báthory family of nobility in the Kingdom of Hungary. She has been labelled the most prolific female serial killer in history, though the precise number of her victims is debated. Báthory and four collaborators were accused of torturing and killing hundreds of girls between 1585 and 1610.[1] Despite the evidence against Elizabeth, her family's influence kept her from facing trial. She was imprisoned in December 1610 within Csejte Castle, Upper Hungary, now in Slovakia, where she remained immured in a set of rooms until her death four years later.

The stories of her serial murders and brutality are verified by the testimony of more than 300 witnesses and survivors as well as physical evidence and the presence of horribly mutilated dead, dying and imprisoned girls found at the time of her arrest.[2] Stories which ascribe to her vampire-like tendencies (most famously the tale that she bathed in the blood of virgins to retain her youth) were generally recorded years after her death and are considered unreliable. Her story quickly became part of national folklore, and her infamy persists to this day. [3] She is often compared with Vlad III the Impaler of Wallachia, on whom the fictional Count Dracula is partly based, and has been nicknamed The Blood Countess and Countess Dracula.

Life[edit]

Early years[edit]

Ecsed, the lake and the old castle.

Elizabeth Báthory was born on a family estate in Nyírbátor, Hungary, in 1560 or 1561, 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, who was of the Somlyó branch. Through her mother, Elizabeth was the cousin of the Hungarian noble Stefan Báthory, King of Poland and Duke of Transylvania. As a young woman she learned Latin, German and Greek.[1][4]

Married life[edit]

Aerial view of Čachtice Castle.
Main tower at Cachtice Castle, Slovakia.

Elizabeth was engaged at age 12 to Ferenc Nádasdy, the son of Baron Tamás Nádasdy de Nádasd et Fogarasföld and his wife, Orsolya Kanizsay [5] in what was likely a political arrangement within the circles of the aristocracy. The couple married on 8 May 1575 at the palace of Varannó. Approximately 4,500 guests attended the wedding.[citation needed] Elizabeth moved to Nádasdy Castle in Sárvár and spent much time on her own, while her husband studied in Vienna.

Nádasdy's wedding gift to Báthory was his home, Csejte Castle.[citation needed] The castle had been bought by his mother in 1579 and given to Ferenc, who transferred it to Elizabeth during their nuptials[5]:35 situated in the Little Carpathians near Trencsén (now Trenčín), together with the Csejte country house and 17 adjacent villages.[citation needed] The castle itself was surrounded by a village and agricultural lands, bordered by outcrops of the Little Carpathians.[citation needed]

In 1578, Nádasdy became the chief commander of Hungarian troops, leading them to war against the Ottomans.[citation needed] With her husband away at war, Elizabeth Báthory managed business affairs and the estates. That role usually included responsibility for the Hungarian and Slovak people, providing even medical care.[citation needed]

During the length of the Long War (1593–1606), Elizabeth was charged with the defense of her husband's estates, which lay on the route to Vienna.[4] The threat was significant, for the village of Csejte had previously been plundered by the Ottomans while Sárvár, located near the border that divided Royal Hungary and Ottoman-occupied Hungary, was in even greater danger. She was an educated woman who could read and write in four languages.[4] There were several instances where she intervened on behalf of destitute women, including a woman whose husband was captured by the Turks and a woman whose daughter was raped and impregnated.[citation needed]

Around 1585, Elizabeth gave birth to a daughter, Anna (later the wife of Miklós Zrinyi VI, who died after 1605). More children followed: daughter Katalin, son György, daughter Orsolya (later wife of István II Benyó), and sons Pál (1593/1597-1633/1650 – father of Ferenc Nádasdy II), András (1598–1603), and Miklós (husband to Zsuzsanna Zrinyi).[6] All of her children were cared for by governesses, as Elizabeth had been.[citation needed]

Elizabeth's husband Ferencz died on 4 January 1604 at the age of 48, reportedly due to an unknown illness or battle wound.[citation needed] The couple had been married for 29 years. Before dying, Ferenc Nádasdy entrusted his heirs and widow to György Thurzó, who would eventually lead the investigation into Elizabeth's crimes.[5]

Accusation[edit]

Investigation[edit]

Between 1602 and 1604, after rumors of Báthory's atrocities had spread through the kingdom, Lutheran minister István Magyari made complaints against her, both publicly and at the court in Vienna.[7] The Hungarian authorities took some time to respond to Magyari's complaints. Finally, in 1610, King Matthias II assigned György Thurzó, the Palatine of Hungary, to investigate. Thurzó ordered two notaries to collect evidence in March 1610.[8] 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 testimony, Báthory's 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.[9] The atrocities described most consistently included severe beatings, burning or mutilation of hands, biting the flesh off the faces, arms and other body parts, freezing or starving to death.[9] 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. However, two witnesses (court officials Benedikt Deseo and Jakob Szilvassy) actually saw the Countess herself torture and kill young servant girls.[5]:96–99 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 elsewhere. In addition to the defendants, several people were named for supplying Elizabeth Báthory with young women, 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.

Arrest[edit]

Thurzó went to Csejte Castle on 30 December 1610 and arrested Báthory and four of her servants, who were accused of being her accomplices: Dorotya Semtész, Ilona Jó, Katarína Benická, and János Újváry ("Ibis" or Fickó). Thurzó's men reportedly found one girl dead and one dying and reported that another woman was found wounded while others were locked up.[2] The countess was put under house arrest.

Thurzó debated further proceedings with Elizabeth's son Paul and two of her sons-in-law. A trial and execution would have caused a public scandal and disgraced a noble and influential family (which at the time ruled Transylvania), and Elizabeth's considerable property would have been seized by the crown. Thurzó, along with Paul and her two sons-in-law, originally planned for Elizabeth to be spirited away to a nunnery, but as accounts of her murder of the daughters of lesser nobility spread, it was agreed that Elizabeth Báthory should be kept under strict house arrest, but that further punishment should be avoided.[10]

King Matthias urged Thurzó to bring Elizabeth to trial and suggested she be sentenced to death, but Thurzó successfully convinced the king that such an act would negatively affect the nobility. Thurzó's motivation for such an intervention is debated by scholars. It was determined that Matthias would not have to repay his large debt to Elizabeth.[11]

Trial[edit]

The trial of Báthory's accomplices began on 2 January 1611 at Bicse, presided over by Royal Supreme Court judge Theodosious Syrmiensis de Szulo and 20 associate judges. Dozens of witnesses and survivors, sometimes up to 35 a day, testified. All but one of the Countess's servants testified against her--the one who refused had her eyes gouged out and her breasts removed before being burned at the stake.[citation needed] In addition to the testimony, the court also examined the skeletons and cadaver parts found as evidence.

The exact number of Elizabeth Báthory's victims is unknown, and even contemporary estimates differed greatly. During the trial, Szentes and Ficko reported 36 and 37 victims 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[who?] mentioned a book in which Báthory supposedly kept a list of a total of over 650 victims, and this number has passed into legend. In a second part of the trial, a newly discovered register was entered as evidence that suggested there could have been as many as 650 victims, but this could not be proven, and the count remained at 80.[1] Reportedly, the location of the diaries is unknown but 32 letters written by Báthory are stored in the Hungarian state archives in Budapest.[4]

Three of the defendants – Semtész, Jó and Ficko – were condemned to death and their sentences carried out immediately. Before being burned at the stake, Semtész and Jó had their fingers ripped off their hands with hot pincers. Ficko, who was deemed less culpable, was beheaded, and his body burned. Benická was sentenced to life imprisonment, since testimony indicated that she was dominated and bullied by the other women.

Following the trial, a red gallows was erected near the castle to show the public that justice had been done.[citation needed]

Last years and death[edit]

Báthory was imprisoned in Čachtice Castle. She was kept bricked in a set of rooms, with only small slits left open for ventilation and the passing of food. She remained there for four years, until her death. On 24 August 1614, a guard looked through one of the slots and observed Elizabeth Báthory lying dead face-down on the floor.[12] 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.[13]

Folklore and popular culture[edit]

The case of Elizabeth Báthory inspired numerous stories during the 18th and 19th centuries. The most common motif of these works was that of the countess bathing in her victims' blood 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.[14] The story came into question in 1817, when the witness accounts (which had surfaced in 1765) were published for the first time. They included no references to blood baths.[15] Sadistic pleasure is considered a far more plausible motive for Elizabeth Báthory's crimes.[16]

The legend nonetheless persisted in the popular imagination, perhaps in part because of Báthory's connection to Transylvania and vampire lore. 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 vampirism connection extends to the 21st century documentary Deadly Women, where she is profiled in the first episode of the series as maintaining her good looks by iron supplementation she obtained by drinking her victims' blood.

The ethnic divisions in Eastern Europe and financial incentives for tourism contribute to the problems with historical accuracy in understanding Elizabeth Báthory. During the 20th 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.

Fringe theories[edit]

László Nagy has argued that Elizabeth Báthory was a victim of a conspiracy,[17] a view opposed by others.[18] Nagy argued that the proceedings were largely politically motivated. The theory is consistent with Hungarian history at that time, which included religious and political conflict, especially relating to the wars with the Ottoman Empire, the spread of Protestantism and the extension of Habsburg power over Hungary.[19]

There are numerous problems with the revisionist conspiracy theory, however, one of which is the fact that the investigation into Báthory's crimes was sparked by complaints from a Lutheran minister, István Magyari.[7] This undermines the notion of a Catholic/Hapsburg plot against the Protestant Báthory. Further evidence against the conspiracy theory is the fact that Báthory herself was never put on trial,[11] despite the request of King Matthias that she should be put to death.[10] Moreover, any revisionist attempt to cast Báthory as innocent requires wholly discounting the testimony of more than 300 witnesses and survivors who testified, at a rate of up to 35 a day at the trials of Báthory's accomplices.[5]:96–99 The physical evidence collected by the investigators, including numerous bodies and dead and dying girls found when the castle was entered by Thurzó, would also have to be discounted in order for the conspiracy theory to be taken seriously.[2]

Music[edit]

British heavy metal band Venom recorded a song called "Countess Bathory" on their 1982 album Black Metal. Bathory was the name of a band from Vällingby, Sweden, which is widely credited with creating the black metal and Viking metal sub-genres. In 1998, the band Cradle of Filth took inspiration from Elizabeth Báthory for the album Cruelty and the Beast. The band Kamelot have written songs about her cruelty and want of eternal youth. Elizabeth Báthory's story also influenced an avant garde album entitled "The Flamboyant aspersion of Red". In 2010, Swedish heavy/doom metal band Ghost released "Elizabeth" as the first single of their debut album Opus Eponymous. The track is inspired by the alleged crimes of Báthory.[20] Composer Dennis Báthory-Kitsz composed an opera, "Erzsebet", based on the life of Báthory. In 2009, Seattle-based rock band Aiden released a song called "Elizabeth" on their 2009 album Knives about the "demon countess". The last track on the 2005 album Black One by Drone/Doom metal band Sunn O))) is titled "Báthory Erzsébet". Elizabeth also inspired Slayer in the song "Beauty Through Order" from the album World Painted Blood.


Ancestry[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Ramsland, Katherine. "Lady of Blood: Countess Bathory". Crime Library. Turner Entertainment Networks Inc. Retrieved 13 June 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c Letter from Thurzó to his wife, 30 December 1610, printed in Farin, Heroine des Grauens, p. 293.
  3. ^ "The Plain Story". Elizabethbathory.net. Retrieved 18 November 2013. 
  4. ^ a b c d Dennis Bathory-Kitsz (4 June 2009). "Báthory Erzsébet – Báthory Erzsébet: Short FAQ". Bathory.org. Retrieved 15 September 2012. [self-published source]
  5. ^ a b c d e Craft, Kimberly L. (2009). Infamous Lady: The True Story of Countess Erzsébet Báthory. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. ISBN 9781449513443. Retrieved 13 June 2014. [self-published source]
  6. ^ Marek, Miroslav. "Genealogy of the Nádasdy family". Genealogy.EU. [self-published source][better source needed]
  7. ^ a b Farin, Heroine des Grauens, pp. 234–237.
  8. ^ Letters from Thurzó to both men on 5 March 1610, printed in Farin, Heroine des Grauens, pp. 265–266, 276–278.
  9. ^ a b Did Dracula really exist? from The Straight Dope
  10. ^ a b Letter from 12 December 1610 by Elizabeth's son-in-law Zrínyi to Thurzó refers to agreement made earlier. See Farin, Heroine des Grauens, p. 291.
  11. ^ a b McNally, Raymond T. (1983). Dracula Was a Woman: In Search of the Blood Countess of Transylvania. New York: McGraw Hill. ISBN 0-07-045671-2.
  12. ^ "Elizabeth Bathory - the Blood Countess>". BBC News. Retrieved 13 June 2014. 
  13. ^ Farin, Heroine des Grauens, p. 246.
  14. ^ in Ungaria suis *** regibus compendia data, Typis Academicis Soc. Jesu per Fridericum Gall. Anno MCCCXXIX. Mense Sepembri Die 8. p 188–193, quoted by Farin
  15. ^ Hesperus, Prague, June 1817, Vol. 1, No. 31, pp. 241–248 and July 1817, Vol. 2, No. 34, pp. 270–272
  16. ^ Alois Freyherr von Mednyansky: Elisabeth Báthory, in Hesperus, Prague, October 1812, vol. 2, No. 59, pp. 470–472, quoted by Farin, Heroine des Grauens, pp. 61–65.
  17. ^ Nagy, László. A rossz hirü Báthoryak. Budapest: Kossuth Könyvkiadó 1984
  18. ^ Pollák, György. Az irástudók felelötlensége. In: Kritika. Müvelödéspollitikai és kritikai lap. Budapest, January 1986, pp. 21–22.
  19. ^ Sugar, P.F., etal:A History of Hungary. Indiana University Press, 1990, p. 97
  20. ^ "Elizabeth Lyric Meaning - Ghost Meanings". Songmeanings.net. Retrieved 18 November 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

In English[edit]

In French[edit]

  • Penrose, Valentine (1962). Erzsébet Báthory la Comtesse sanglante.  Valentine Penrose (1898–1978) was a French surrealist poet. This book was translated into English as The Bloody Countess: Atrocities of Erzsébet Báthory
  • Périsset, Maurice (2001). La comtesse de sang. Pygmalion. ISBN 2-85704-700-2. 

In German[edit]

  • Farin, Michael (2003). Heroine des Grauens. Elisabeth Báthory. Munich: P. Kirchheim. ISBN 3-87410-038-3. 

In Spanish[edit]

  • Pizarnik, Alejandra (1971). La condesa sangrienta. Aquarius.  Alejandra Pizarnik (1936–1972) was an Argentine poet. Several editions of this book have been published.

In Hungarian[edit]

  • Rexa, Dezső (1908). Báthory Erzsébet Nádasdy Ferencné. Benkő Gyula Udvari Könyvkereskedése. 
  • Supka, Géza (1940?). Az átkozott asszony: Nádasdy Ferencné, Báthory Erzsébet bűnügye. Erdélyi Egyetemes Könyvtár. 
  • Nagy, László (1984). A rossz hírű Báthoryak. Kossuth Könyvkiadó. ISBN 963-09-2308-4. 
  • Péter, Katalin (1985). A csejtei várúrnő: Báthory Erzsébet. Helikon. ISBN 963-207-652-4. 
  • Nagy, László (1987). Az erős fekete bég: Nádasdy Ferenc. Zrínyi Katonai Könyv és Lapkiadó. ISBN 963-326-933-4. 
  • Szádeczky-Kardoss, Irma (1993). Báthory Erzsébet igazsága. Nestor Kiadó. ISBN 963-7523-26-X. 
  • Bessenyei, József (2005). A Nádasdyak. General Press Kiadó. ISBN 963-9598-65-8. 
  • Nemere, István (2009). Báthory Erzsébet magánélete. Könyvmolyképző Kiadó. ISBN 978-963-245-193-0. 
  • Lengyel, Tünde and Várkonyi, Gábor (2010). Báthory Erzsébet, Egy asszony élete. General Press Kiadó. ISBN 978-963-643-168-6. 

In Slovak[edit]

  • Dvořák, Pavel (1999). Krvavá grófka: Alžbeta Bátoryová, fakty a výmysly. Slovart. ISBN 978-80-85501-07-0. 
  • Nižnánsky, Jožo (2001). Čachtická pani. Media klub. ISBN 80-88963-52-4. 
  • Kočiš, Jozef (2007). Alžbeta Bátoriová a jej obete. Knižné centrum. ISBN 80-8064-290-7. 

External links[edit]