Happy Birthday The Blood Countess: Erzsebet Báthory (1560-1614)

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Countess Báthory is said to have bathed in the blood of 650 young girls, all of whom she tortured, murdered and drained their bodies of blood to retain her youth. Reputed to be a vampire, a lesbian and a witch, her story inspired the Brothers Grimm, Bram Stoker, and Gothic horror fans for the past four hundred years. Legend has it she was the most prolific serial killer in history.

On August 7th, 1560, the daughter of Baron George Báthory and Baroness Anna Báthory was born. They named her Erzsebet (anglicized name is Elizabeth). George and Anna were both Báthorys by birth and from one of the most powerful Protestant families in Hungary. Erzsebet was highly-educated — fluent in Hungarian, Latin and Greek — during a time when most Hungarians of noble birth were illiterate. Growing up, Erzsebet witnessed the brutal punishments executed by family’s officers on their estates at Ecsel. When she was six, one story reports, a gypsy who was accused of theft was sewn up in the stomach of a horse sliced open, with his head exposed and left in this position to slowly die.

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At the age of eleven, she was engaged to František (Ferenc) Nádasdy who was a nobleman and captain of the Hungarian army, and moved to Sárvár and Kereszstúr castles to live with her mother-in-law until her marriage.
In 1575, she married Ferenc. As a wedding gift, he bought her Čachtice Castle in western Slovakia. Often times her husband — chief commander of the Hungarian troops in the war against the Turks — was gone for long periods of time. It was said he was feared and that he danced with the dead bodies of Turk soldiers, throwing their decapitated heads up in the air after battle. He taught Erzsebet new ways to reprimand servant girls — pour honey over their bodies and leave them outside for the insects to creep all over and wasps to sting them. He also left her with iron torturing devises he used in battle to exercise on her servants.

While her husband was gone, Erzsebet managed the affairs of the Castle. It was here that Erzsebet’s thirst for evil supposedly began — she cruelly disciplined her large household staff, especially the young girls beating them with a barbed lash or a heavy cudgel, she cut the skin between their fingers, and dragged them naked into the snow dumping cold water on their bodies until they froze to death. It is said that she suffered from seizures accompanied by loss of control and fits of rage. Once so angry at a young servant girl, she grabbed her jaw and ripped it from the bone.

In 1604, her husband died. Records show more and more young peasant girls went to work in the castle were disappearing. She was extraordinarily powerful. She became more sadistic. She had no supervision. She was isolated. Her mental state was rapidly deteriorating. Erzsebet was now 43 and her angelic complexion had faded. This, it was said, put her into a tempestuous rage. One night, a maidservant combing her hair, pulled out some strands. Enraged, Erzsebet hit her in the face, blood splattered all over her arm. Wiping it away, she noticed how soft and smooth her skin was. She consulted with alchemists and they too agreed blood was an elixir of youth. If nature was going to steal her youth, she would take it back from the young.

Legend says that Erzsebet began capturing and torturing young girls — particularly virgins between the ages of 10-14. She lured girls to work for her and ordered her servants to nab girls off the streets from surrounding villages and lock them in the dungeon. There, she attacked them with knives, burned their private parts with a hot iron, and stuck pins underneath their fingernails before cutting off the digits of those who resisted. She cut areas of flesh from their bodies and forced them to eat it. Shoved in small cages and slowly impaled with spikes. Some, it was said, were hung upside-down by chains round their ankles, naked and still alive. Their throats slit and blood drained for Erzsebet’s bath. When the Countess was too tired and retired to bed, girls were brought to her bedside so she could bite out pieces of flesh from the their shoulders, cheeks and breasts.

Erzsebet eventually became careless moving to the nobility for her victims. Four drained bodies were thrown from the walls of the castle. Peasant girls were one thing, but noble girls were vastly different. Church records show an inordinate amount of deaths of young girls. Word reached Matthias II. And in 1610, an investigation was launched. Troops were sent, dead and mutilated tortured bodies were found strewn about the castle. An official inquiry of 300 witness statements were taken. Her aristocratic status meant she could not be arrested and executed. Her maidservants and accomplices were not so lucky. They had all their fingers pulled out by red-hot pincers, they were tortured and their bodies thrown alive into a fire.

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She was never convicted of any crime. But to remove her from power, she was walled up within her bed chamber with only small slits for ventilation; and occasionally the passage of food.

After three years, a guard looking through one of the slots saw the Blood Countess lying face down on the floor of her chamber, dead. Erzsebet died in Čachtice Castle on August 21, 1614.

This is a result of the legend created about the life of Countess Báthory. We don’t know for sure. Documents about her life disappeared. Was she a sadistic murderer? Or was this a plot to remove a women from power. Women in early 17th-century Hungary were supposed to retire and mourn after their husband’s demise, but Erzsebet continued on. “You will find a man in me!” she stated in one of her letters. This threatened the reputation of her family.

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Born: 1560; Died: 1614 Countess Elizabeth Bathory is considered the most infamous serial killer in Hungarian/Slovak history. Rumors had circulated for years about missing peasant girls; offered well paid work at the castle, they were never seen again.

Considering the Countess was an unfavorable Protestant born into one of the most important and wealthiest noble families in central Europe, a woman managing ten very valuable castles estates on her own, and that the king owed her late husband a large sum of money, there was motivation to quickly remove her.

Like other legends, the tales of the Blood Countess were shrouded with rumors. Many books and films were made of her life. Whether these stories are true or not, their appeal to a certain kind of audience remains as strong as ever.

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