Elizabeth Báthory, The Blood Countess
Elizabeth Báthory. Source: (wikipedia.org)
One of the most infamous female serial killers of all time, Elizabeth Báthory, nicknamed the Blood Countess, was believed by many to be a vampire. Determining where legend ends and actual history begins can be difficult, though, and many have come to speculate whether or not Báthory was actually guilty of the crimes of which she was accused.
Báthory was born in 1560, the daughter of Baron George Báthory and Baroness Anna Báthory who were Protestant nobility. Her family ruled Transylvania, a principality of Hungary, and her uncle, Stephen Báthory, was the king of Poland. She grew up at her family’s castle in Ecséd, Hungary. She was blessed with her looks as well as her social status which allowed her both wealth and education.
Around the age of eleven or twelve, she became engaged to Count Ferenc Nádasdy, also of Hungarian nobility. A year or two later, she gave birth to a daughter from another man. Her fiancé was alleged to have had her lover castrated and ripped apart by dogs, and the child was hidden away. In 1575, at the age of fourteen, Báthory married Nádasdy. Because she outranked him, Nádasdy added the surname Báthory to his name and she did not change hers.
After their marriage, the couple moved into Csejte Castle, a wedding gift from the Nádasdy family, which was located in present-day Slovakia. In 1578, Nádasdy became chief commander of the Hungarian army, fighting against the Ottoman empire. As a result, Báthory was left to rule their estates. The couple had four children together between 1585 and 1595, though it was rumored that Báthory had multiple lovers. In 1604, Nádasdy died, leaving Báthory permanently in charge at the age of forty-three.
The rumors had begun two years before Nádasdy’s death, but they grew even more prevalent afterward. It began with the disappearances of peasant girls who had gone to work at Csejte Castle. At first, the rumors claimed that Báthory tortured her servants. After the death of her husband, the rumors of torture escalated to rumors of murder. The rumors were largely ignored until her roster of victims began to include not only servants but also young girls of noble blood sent to the castle to be educated as well as some who may have been kidnapped and brought to the castle.
In 1610, her alleged crimes attracted the attention of Hungarian King Matthias II and he sent Báthory ’s cousin, György Thurzó, the count palatine of Hungary, to investigate the claims. What he uncovered was horrifying. Witnesses claimed Báthory tortured her victims by burning them with hot irons, stuck needles under their fingernails, sewed their lips together, and bit off chunks of their flesh. Later retellings of the story claimed she drank or bathed in the blood of her victims in order to maintain her youthful appearance and it was these claims which led to her association with vampirism. One witness claimed Báthory kept a book with the names of over six hundred of her victims, but such a book has never been found.
In December of 1610, Báthory was arrested along with four of her servants who were accused of participating in her heinous acts. They stood trial in 1611 and three of the servants were convicted of witchcraft and burned at the stake. The fourth was sentenced to life imprisonment. Báthory herself did not stand trial but was confined to her room, with its windows bricked up, until her death in 1614 at the age of fifty-four.
While the 1611 trial upheld the accusations against Báthory and her servants, modern historians are not convinced of her guilt. There is evidence which suggests that she may have been set up by powerful enemies. King Matthias II had amassed a substantial debt to Nádasdy’s estate. The forgiveness of that debt was a condition of Báthory ’s sentence to house arrest rather than facing the same fate as her servants. Additionally, the false accusations may have been made to allow the throne to seize her land. It is also likely the king felt threatened by her wealth and power, as well as the fact that she ruled without a man at her side. In any case, the king had more than enough motivation and power to pressure witnesses into testifying against her.
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