The Blood Countess of Transylvania

Elizabeth (Erzsebet) Bathory – 1560-1614

Elizabeth Bathory was born in Hungary in 1560, the daughter of one of the richest and most influential families of the period. However, at a time when Hungary’s nobility was shrinking, decades of intermarriage had had an unfortunate effect on the family’s lineage and not only could the Bathorys boast warlords, kings, great statesmen and cardinals; but the branches of the family tree were also bowing under the weight of Satan worshippers, sadists, satyrs and psychotics.

In 1575 Elizabeth married Count Ferencz Nadasdy – a man who was daring and brave in battle, but whose own mother considered him a little dim. He earned a reputation as a cruel and sadistic man, both to his servants and to his enemies, and the Turks gave him the nickname Black Beg, or the Black Knight of Hungary. The happy couple moved into Castle Csejthe, a mountaintop fortress in Transylvania – now current-day Romania.

They settled down into married life – he away from home more often than not torturing prisoners on the battlefield and sleeping with prostitutes, the little wife back at the castle torturing the servants and taking the odd lover. She developed a liking for torturing her servants in ever more sadistic ways and she gathered around her a motley crew of witches, alchemists and Satanists, including her aunt Countess Klara Bathory (who apparently introduced her to the joys of orgies and flagellation).
It is said that she was so unpopular in the local area that she could only leave the castle under armed escort.

On one of his trips home Ferencz left an instrument of torture that he had used in battle – apparently even he deemed it too cruel even for use on prisoners. It was a silver claw-like instrument which would then be attached to a whip and used to flay the skin. Elizabeth, unlike her husband, had no such qualms and employed it on her poor servant girls – along with beating them with clubs, sticking pins into their lips and under their fingernails, watching them freeze to death in the snow while she poured cold water on them, or covering them in honey and leaving them to be eaten by insects in the woods.

In early 1604 Ferencz died of a stab wound received either in battle, or by a prostitute who he had refused to pay for her services. Elizabeth went into mourning, as etiquette demanded, but decided she had had enough of that after a month and took herself off to the royal court at Vienna to find a new man.

Now in her early forties, and with her beauty beginning to fade but her desire for power and influence – as well as for young men – increasing, Elizabeth became obsessed with the idea of how to retain her youth.
Then one day a young maidservant was brushing Elizabeth’s hair and accidentally pulled it, causing Elizabeth to lash out in anger. She hit the girl hard enough to draw blood, and a drop fell onto Elizabeth’s skin. To Elizabeth’s warped mind the skin felt immediately smoother and softer and looked fresher and younger. Elizabeth came to the conclusion that you can’t have too much of a good thing and, while dabbing herself with a virgin’s blood was all well and good, actually taking a bath in it would be even better.

What to do when you’re stuck in 16th century Hungary and a trip to the cosmetics counter at John Lewis for a litre of virgin’s blood isn’t an option?

Luckily for Elizabeth, the one thing in plentiful supply around Castle Csejthe was peasants and Elizabeth began hiring maids. Either nobody noticed, or nobody cared that much, when local peasant girls disappeared into the castle never to be seen again, and Elizabeth carried on in this fashion for the next five years or so. However, the supply of local peasant girls mysteriously began to run out as rumours began to fly that sending your CV to Elizabeth Bathory was not exactly the wisest of career moves.

At the same time, Elizabeth came to the realisation that the blood was not working its magic any more and she was - shock, horror - beginning to look older and her skin was not as taut and fresh as she had become used to. How could this be? The answer, obviously, was that the blood of peasant girls was not up to scratch, and she needed something more delicate and refined.

Elizabeth was nothing if not inventive. In 1609 she set up an academy for the daughters of the local gentry – teaching them etiquette and other social skills. A ‘finishing school’ in more ways than one. When they, too, began disappearing, never to be heard from again, the rumours began to fly.

In the winter of 1610, Elizabeth and her cohorts became even more careless. The bloodless bodies of four girls were thrown from the castle ramparts, within view of some villagers who decided that enough was enough.
You couldn't even take a country walk these days withouth a bloodless maiden landing on your head.

On the morning of December 29th, 1610, Count Thurzo and his troops, at the behest of Emperor Matthias, invaded the castle. Elizabeth was caught in the act in her underground torture chamber. One girl lay dead already, and several others awaited their turn in the cells. Thurzo’s men found around fifty more bodies.

At the subsequent trial, a servant called Zusanna gave evidence that there was a register of the victims, in Elizabeth’s own handwriting, that contained over 650 names, although Elizabeth’s accomplices only admitted to somewhere between thirty and sixty.

Two were tried as witches and sentenced to having their fingers torn off with a pair of red hot pliers, before being burned alive. One escaped lightly – he was decapitated and his body drained of blood before it was burned.
Elizabeth herself was never brought to trial, thanks to the power and influence of her family. However, she was confined to the castle. The windows and door to her bedchamber were walled up with her inside. With the exception of a small hatch through which food could be passed, and some ventilation holes, she was sealed in. Three years later, on 21 August 1614, a jailer peering in through the hatch saw her lying dead on the floor.

It has been claimed that, along with Vlad Dracul (who had earned his notoriety almost a century before and to whom Elizabeth Bathory was related by marriage), she was one of the inspirations for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Whether she was a real vampire, it is impossible to tell, but it’s clear that she was the first - and worst - of the Vladettes.

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Comment by Julie Morrigan on June 22, 2007 at 3:49am
I take comfort in that it couldn't happen now, certainly not round here, anyway. There's a distinct lack of the raw material! ;-)
Comment by Donna Moore on June 22, 2007 at 3:17am
Jools - if you made it up no one would ever believe it. Even if she only killed a quarter of that amount that's still one hell of a lot of virgin's blood :o)
Comment by Julie Morrigan on June 21, 2007 at 10:31pm
Jeez, Donna - that gave me the shivers! Well scary. We were staying at Plockton one time and a bunch of other hotel residents (ladies who lunch moralising over a dry sherry) were holding forth about how crime and horror writers have a responsibility not to write certain things, because it can put ideas into people's heads. Well, I dunno about you, but I could never have made that up!
Comment by Donna Moore on June 21, 2007 at 4:30pm
Lynne and Christa - thanks!

I've not seen that film - I shall look out for it. Although I have to say that I am not good with horror. Even the very mild BBC version of Dracula had m whimpering, and when the friends I was staying with at the time put a rubber skull in my bed that night...well, needless to say, I didn't get any sleep :o)
Comment by Christa M. Miller on June 21, 2007 at 2:26pm
I'd read about Bathory before, but not in quite so entertaining a way. :) Thanks for this! Have you ever seen the cult classic, "Daughters of Darkness"? It took the idea of her being a vampire and ran with it. Very interesting if risque film, not bad at all.
Comment by LC Fraser on June 21, 2007 at 12:38am
Shudder. At the story, not the pun. Mind you I could shudder at that too but it would be expected. What a horrid story! Interesting, fascinating even, but horrible. Puts modern serial killers in a different perspective for the most part. Not many can claim over 600 victims. Shudder. Keep up the good work - I am getting an education here.

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