ERZSEBET BATHORY – THE BLOOD COUNTESS
Posted November 15, 2011on:
- In: Uncategorized
- Comments Off on ERZSEBET BATHORY – THE BLOOD COUNTESS
When it comes to sadistic serial-killers we tend to think of it as being largely a male phenomenon. It is true that the female version are thankfully relatively rare, but one of the most prolific serial-killers of all time was in fact a woman. The exact number of her victims is unknown. Some like to believe she was entirely innocent, that she was in fact set up by rival powers. I don’t believe that. I think the Countess was a cruel creature. Outside estimates put the total number of her victims (all women) at over 600. I think the ones who believe in her innocence, who like to think of her as a woman at the mercy of ambitious, unscrupulous men, simply refuse to believe that a woman is capable of such horrendous deeds. This of course is nonsense. Women can be every bit as cruel and malicious as men. To argue that the female nuturing instinct would stop a woman from committing a sadistic act (as I have actually seen some argue) is, quite frankly, complete poppycock.
The only portrait I’ve seen of the Countess shows a deceptively pretty, almost demure-looking young woman with deep, dark eyes. But there is a sullen, somewhat petulant look to her face, she looks like the kind of woman who would be hell-bent on getting her own way at all times. Erzsebet was Hungarian. The English translation of her first name is Elizabeth, and the Countess Elizabeth Bathory (pronounced Bar-tory) is how she is often referred to. Erzsebet was born on 7 August 1560 at Ecsed Castle, the daughter of George and Anna Bathory, Transylvanian aristocrats. Her uncle was Stefan Bathory, King of Poland. As a young girl she was beautiful, and with her looks, her aristocratic heritage, and her scholarly education (she could speak several languages) she must have been a considerable catch on the marriage market. At the tender age of 15 she was married off to a fellow aristocrat, Ferenc Nadasdy, and taken to Csejthe Castle, in the Carpathian mountains, which had been gifted to Erzsebet as a wedding present by her new husband.
Her husband was a soldier, and in 1578 he was promoted to being chief commander of the Hungarian troops, and so consequently was often away on long campaigns, leaving his young bride (dangerously) to her own devices. Although Erzsebet was entrusted with the running of the castle and the surrounding estate, she must have got bored and lonely very quickly at the remote castle, and took to some dubious past-times to liven up her long days. She had had six children, four of whom survived infancy, but in true aristocratic tradition she handed over their upbringing solely to governesses, leaving her with a lot of time to fill. She began to consort with witches, alchemists and magicians, eager to learn all about the dark, mysterious side of life. This kind of thing was not unusual for bored, aristocratic ladies, who wanted a taste of the forbidden to spice up their dull, empty lives. Sexual frustration must have also been a major bugbear in her life, and Erzsebet decided to ramp things up in this department as well. It is believed that she may have inherited sadistic tendancies from an aunt (whether she was corrupted herself as a child I do not know). Erzsebet was able to lay her hands on various instruments of torture she found around her castle, including a book of torture practices that her husband had turned to for ideas when fighting the Turks.
Erzsebet was 43 when her husband died in 1604, from a battle injury. The 40s can be a difficult, transforming time for women. It’s usually when the first signs of the menopause begin to hit (in Erzsebet’s days this would possibly have happened even sooner, in her late 30s perhaps), and the realisation is brought home that you are now officially middle-aged. This should be a liberating time, but for excessively vain women like Erzsebet it would be intolerable. These days she would probably be botox-ing herself up to the hilt, and spending a small fortune on plastic surgery.
Legend has it that one day Erszebet slapped the face of a young serving-girl, and managed to draw blood with her long nails. Erzebet was convinced that the part of her where the girl’s blood had splattered onto was younger and fresher than before. It is impossible to write about this without thinking of the scene in the old Hammer film ‘Countess Dracula’, where Ingrid Pitt (superb as the Countess) hits a girl whilst she is attempting to peel a peach. Erzsebet got it into her head that bathing in the blood of young virgins would halt the ageing process forever.
This of course would sound lunacy to most people, but Erzsebet wasn’t exactly the sanest woman on the planet anyway. She had been spoilt and indulged all her life, surrounded by people anxious to pander to her every need. A sense of proportion was never likely to be her strong point. Plus her total paranoia over her looks and getting older would have banished any rationale out of the window. She would have consulted her pet sorcerers and alchemists, who would have hastily agreed with whatever their benefactress would say.
Erzsebet started out on a killing spree that would become the stuff of dark, gothic legend. She and her seedy cohorts trawled the surrounding countryside for vulnerable women, who would be taken back to the castle. There they would be stripped and hung in chains, and their blood drained off for the Countess to bathe herself in. What was left over she drank. The girls were also subjected to horrific acts of torture, to assauge the Countess’ taste in sexual sadism. They were flogged, their flesh torn with silver pincers, and left tied naked to trees outside. In winter this would be so that they would freeze to death, in summer their flesh would be smeared with honey so that they would be attacked by bees. At her trial she was also accused of biting the flesh off her victims, performing surgery on them (with fatal results), and starving them.
After a while people began to refuse to let their young women take up jobs at the castle. Erzsebet also began to doubt that the blood of mere peasant women would be sufficient for a great lady such as herself. So in 1609 she started up a young ladies’ academy, and soon it was the blood of girls of the nobility that was being spilled as well. Sometimes the Countess ventured further afield. It is said that she went to her town-house in Vienna, where the screams of the girls being tortured was so acute that the monks at the nearby cathedral rang the bells to dry and drown them out!
Like many psychopaths Erzsebet in her arrogance and single-mindedness began to grow careless. Four bodies were thrown over the castle walls, where they were collected by local villagers, who took them away to be identified. Erzsebet must have thought she was too rich and powerful in the area to be brought down. But she was in for an uncomfortable surprise. News of her atrocities reached the ear of the Emperor, Matthias II. He ordered the castle to be raided, and it is thought that this happened on 30 December 1609, when the Countess was in the midst of her own sick brand of festive celebrating. In the castle they found several young women in various pitiable states. One was already dead, another dying, several were found locked up.
Her trial was a sensation. But as an aristocrat Erzsebet had rights. She could not be arrested, she could not be executed. The Emperor was determined though that she wasn’t going to get away with it. A special act of parliament was passed to enable the trial to go ahead. Erzsebet’s hench-people, who had cold-bloodedly assisted her in the procurement and torture of over 600 young women, were tortured by having their fingers ripped out and then were burnt at the stake.
The exact number of Erzsebet’s victims is debatable. According to Wikipedia it was said that at the trial one witness referred to a book in which Erzsebet methodically listed her victims, and the list came to over 650.
Erzsebet may have escaped the death-penalty, but her fate was to be no less severe. She was condemned to a living death instead. She was walled up in a tiny room at her castle, condemned to speak to no one, to never see daylight again. Scraps of food were pushed through a gap in the door at her.
The terrible Countess lived in this way for 4 years, until on the morning of 21 August 1614 it was noticed that several bowls of food lay untouched on her cell floor. She was found dead. Not once in those 4 years had she even attempted to communicate with anyone, let alone express any remorse for her atrocious crimes. Local villagers objected to her being buried nearby, and Erzsebet was eventually taken back to her home castle of Ecsed, where she was interred in the family crypt.
Countess Bathory lives on in legend. She has been a staple favourite of vampire yarns and gothic fantasy for over 200 years. I’ve even written about her myself. But I find it hard to believe she was innocent, or that she was simply a little sexpot (as Ingrid Pitt once described her in an interview). She was a complex character, highly intelligent, very capable of managing her estates, but perhaps let down (if that’s not too much of an understatement!) by her overweening vanity.
Several books have been written about the Countess, frankly many aren’t very good, usually suffering from the problem of the authors too busy grinding their own axes to get on with telling her story. I will recommend Andrei Codrescu’s ‘The Blood Countess’ though. It is a bit nutty, told from the point of view of modern-day character Drake Bathory-Kereshtur who claims to be a direct descendent of the Countess. But it has a gothic dark poetry to it. and does full service to the legend of this terrible woman.