|This article needs additional citations for verification. (November 2013)|
Copy of the lost 1585 original portrait of Erzsébet Báthory
(disappeared in the 1990s).
8 August 1560|
Nyírbátor, Kingdom of Hungary
|Died||21 August 1614
Csejte, Kingdom of Hungary (today Čachtice, Slovakia)
|Other names||The Blood Countess
The Bloody Lady of Csejte
|confinement until death|
Span of killings
|Country||Kingdom of Hungary|
|30 December 1610|
Countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed (Báthory Erzsébet in Hungarian, Alžbeta Bátoriová in Slovak; 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 and is remembered as the "Blood Countess", though the precise number of victims is debated. 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. Despite the evidence against Elizabeth, her family's influence kept her from ever being put on trial, although she was placed under house arrest. The stories about her vampire-like tendencies (for instance, that she bathed in blood to rejuvenate her skin) are much less verifiable than those of her sadism because, unlike the easily verified deaths of servants and young girls, these were generally recorded some years after her death. Her acts, real or apocryphal, quickly became part of national folklore.
After her husband Ferenc Nádasdy's death, she and four collaborators were accused of torturing and killing hundreds of girls, with one witness attributing to them over 650 victims, though the number for which they were convicted was 80. Due to her rank, Elizabeth herself was neither tried nor convicted, but promptly imprisoned upon her arrest 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 case led to legendary accounts of the Countess bathing in the blood of virgins 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.
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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.
Elizabeth was engaged to Ferenc Nádasdy at age 12, in what was probably a political arrangement within the circles of the aristocracy. Ferenc was the son of Baron Tamás Nádasdy de Nádasd et Fogarasföld and his wife, Orsolya Kanizsay. The couple married on 8 May 1575 when she was 14 and a half years old, in the little palace of Varannó. There were approximately 4,500 guests at the wedding. 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. The castle had been bought by his mother in 1579 and given to Ferenc, who transferred it to Elizabeth during their nuptials situated in the Little Carpathians near Trencsén (now Trenčín), together with the Csejte country house and 17 adjacent villages. The castle itself was surrounded by a village and agricultural lands, bordered by outcrops of the Little Carpathians.
In 1578, Nádasdy became the chief commander of Hungarian troops, leading them to war against the Ottomans. With her husband away at war, Elizabeth Báthory managed business affairs and the estates. That role usually included responsibility for the Hungarian and Slovak peasants, providing even medical care.
During the length of the Long War (1593–1606), she was charged with the defence of her husband's estates, which lay on the route to Vienna. 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. 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.
Around 1585, Elizabeth gave birth to a daughter, Anna (the wife of Miklós Zrinyi VI, who died after 1605), and, later, to daughter Katalin, son György, daughter Orsolya, and sons, Pál (1593/1597-1633/1650 – father of Ferenc Nádasdy II), András (1598–1603), and Miklós (husband to Zsuzsanna Zrinyi). All of her children were cared for by governesses, as Elizabeth had been.
Elizabeth's husband Ferencz died on 4 January 1604 at the age of 48, reportedly due to an unknown illness or battle wound. Before dying, Ferenc Nádasdy entrusted his heirs and widow to György Thurzó, who would eventually lead the investigation into her crimes. The couple had been married for 29 years.
Between 1602 and 1604, Lutheran minister István Magyari complained about atrocities both publicly and with the court in Vienna, after rumors had spread. 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. 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, 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 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. 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. 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. 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 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.
There are numerous problems with the revisionist conspiracy theory however, one of which is the fact that the investigation was sparked by complaints of Bathory's brutality from a Lutheran minister István Magyari. Obviously the source of the allegations against the powerful Bathory being Protestant in origin is inconsistent with any sort of Catholic/Hapsburg plot against the Protestant Elizabeth Bathory. Further evidence against the conspiracy theory is the fact that Bathory herself was never put on trial, despite the request of King Matthias that she should be put to death, a testament to her family's continued power and influence. Moreover, any revisionist attempt to cast Bathory 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 Bathory's accomplices. 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.
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. King Matthias requested that Elizabeth be sentenced to death. It was also determined that Matthias would not have to repay his large debt to her, for which he lacked sufficient funds.
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. The countess was put under house arrest.
King Matthias urged Thurzó to bring her to court and two notaries were sent to collect further evidence, but Thurzó successfully convinced the king that such an act would negatively affect the nobility. Hence, a trial was postponed indefinitely. Thurzo's motivation for such an intervention is debated by scholars.
Báthory's accomplices were brought to court. The trial began on 2 January 1611 at Bicse, presided over by Royal Supreme Court judge Theodosious Syrmiensis de Szulo and 20 associate judges. Báthory herself did not appear at the trial.
During the trial, dozens of witnesses and survivors, sometimes up to 35 a day, testified. All but one of her servants testified against her, and the one who refused had her eyes gouged out and her breasts removed before being burned at the stake. In addition to the testimony, the court also examined the skeletons and cadaver parts found as evidence.
The defendants were found guilty on 80 counts of murder. In a second part of the trial, a newly discovered register handwriting was entered as evidence that suggested there could have been as many as 650 victims, with the suggestion being that she recorded all her victims, but this could not be proven, and the count remained at 80.
Three of the defendants – Semtész, Jó and Ficko – were condemned to death. The sentences were carried out immediately. Before being burned at the stake, Semtész and Jó had their fingers ripped off their hands with hot pincers, while Ficko, who was deemed less culpable, was beheaded, and his body burned. Benická was sentenced to life imprisonment, since recorded 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.
Last years and death
Báthory was never brought to trial, but her family had her imprisoned in Čachtice Castle for life. She was kept bricked in a set of rooms, with only small slits left open for ventilation and the passing of meals. She remained there for four years, until her death. On 24 August 1614, Elizabeth Báthory was found dead in her room by a guard looking in through one of the slots. 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.
Folklore and popular culture
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. 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, which included no references to bloodbaths.
The legend nonetheless persisted in the popular imagination. This myth is speculated to persist 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.
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; they got the name after the Venom song. 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. 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".
|Ancestors of Elizabeth Báthory|
- Letter from Thurzó to his wife, 30 December 1610, printed in Farin, Heroine des Grauens, p. 293.
- 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.
- "The Plain Story". Elizabethbathory.net. Retrieved 18 November 2013.
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- Craft, Esq., Kimberly (2009). Infamous Lady: The True Story of Countess Erzsébet Báthory Craft, Kimberly (29 June 2011). Infamous Lady: The True Story of Countess Erzsébet Báthory. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. ISBN 1449513441.
- Craft, Kimberly L. (2009). Infamous lady : the true story of countess Erzsébet Báthory (1st ed.). Lexington, Ky.: Kimberly L. Craft Esq. p. 35. ISBN 978-1-4495-1344-3. OCLC 503315600.
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- Farin, Heroine des Grauens, pp. 234–237.
- Letters from Thurzó to both men on 5 March 1610, printed in Farin, Heroine des Grauens, pp. 265–266, 276–278.
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- 224 Witness accounts were sent to Matthias on 28 July 1611 by A. of Keresztúr, 12 by M. Cziraky on 14 December 1611,
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- 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
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- Hesperus, Prague, June 1817, Vol. 1, No. 31, pp. 241–248 and July 1817, Vol. 2, No. 34, pp. 270–272
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- 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.
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- Thorne, Tony (1997). Countess Dracula. Bloomsbury. ISBN 0-7475-2900-0.
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- Nemere, István (2009). Báthory Erzsébet magánélete. Könyvmolyképző Kiadó. ISBN 978-963-245-193-0.
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- History and new research on Erzsébet Báthory
- A complete genealogy of all descendants Elizabeth Báthory (17th-20th century)