A little bit of history
Just so we know the time and place where the legend of Countess Dracula was born, a little piece of history won’t hurt anybody.
A Medieval Europe shredded by wars between Christians and Turks, where aristocratic families would rule over the counties, claiming their rights as nobles to exert their power over the peasants and lands. The world was divided in two: the nobility, owners of estates, possessing a great deal of wealth and the rest of the people, the peasants, which were regarded as worthless, as mere objects to be used and get rid of as soon as they were no longer needed.
Besides the external danger coming from the Ottoman Empire, the Kingdom of Hungary was also facing internal struggles, because of the animosities between Hungarians, Austrians and Slovaks.
Bathory clan was one of the oldest, richest and most powerful in the Kingdom of Hungary. They were known as fierce warriors, a dynasty which gave birth to several princes of Transylvania and a king, the king of Poland. But besides the wealth and power, the Bathorys also had a history of mental illness.
Elizabeth Bathory’s life
Born in 1560, the daughter of George and Anna Bathory, she was doomed to become one of the most evil women in history, gaining a place in Guinness Book.
At the age of 15 she married Ferenc Nádasdy, an arrangement which was most probably made by their parents in order to establish a political alliance. Surprisingly, their marriage was a happy one, unlike many others which were arranged with the purpose of making alliances or increasing wealth. Ferenc Nádasdy had a very special wedding gift for his wife: the Castle of Csejte, located in modern Slovakia.
The country being at war, and her husband becoming the chief commander of Hungarian troops, countess Bathory used to spend almost all of her time alone, isolated in the Carpathians, in the castle she received as a gift. While her husband was away protecting the country, she used to be the one dealing with family business and estates.
Elizabeth’s husband died in 1604, in battle. This tragic event let her alone, with a huge fortune. She was a rich, noble woman, which enjoyed the protection of many important men of her family, widowed in a world dominated by men.
Legends, myths, mystery
Blood Countess, Countess Dracula, the Vampire Countess – these were all names given to the notorious Elizabeth Bathory.
It is said that her lust for blood was endless; the cruelty with which she treated her slaves still gives you goose bumps today and the fact that at the same time she was an educated woman and a loving mother makes her even creepier.
Bathing in the blood of the young maids is the oldest and most common myth surrounding her. Drinking and bathing in blood determined her “vampiric” nature. Stories about her sacrifices and orgies of blood were born because she was known to be concerned with her looks. She thought that the virgins’ blood would keep her young and beautiful. Her lust for blood became an obsession when hitting a young maid, who pulled her hair too hard while combing, a few drops of blood dropped on her hand. It was then when she realized that the blood reduces the sings of aging.
Of course there are no records of her infamous baths of blood, not even in witnesses’ testimonies.
There is another myth connected to her name, an attempt to explain her sadism.
When she was still a child at her father’s estate she witnessed an incident she was not to forget easily. A gypsy accused of theft was severely beaten by her father, and sewn up in the belly of a dying horse, only his head left out so he could watch his own death, and both, the animal and the human left to die in pains.
Just as in the case of blood baths, there are no evidences of this event.
Severe beatings, burnings of the flash, mutilation of hands, biting the flash off the maids’ faces and necks, dragging the girls out in the snow, naked, cold water doused on them and letting them to freeze to death, starvation, sexual abuse – these were the acts of one the most influential women of that time.
For all these accusation, the most fateful servants of Elizabeth paid, and not her. She was never trialed, as she was a noble.
György Thurzó was assigned by King Mathias II to conduct the investigations. More than 300 testimonies were gathered from hundreds of witnesses. Of course, most of the testimonies were obtained under torture.
“They tied the hands and arms very tightly with Viennese cord, they were beaten to death until the whole body was black as charcoal and their skin was rent and torn. One girl suffered more than two hundred blows before dying. Dorko [another accomplice and procurer] cut their fingers one by one with shears and then slit the veins with scissors.” — Ficzko (Servant of Bathory)
As a punishment, Elizabeth was walled up in her own bedchamber, where she died three years later.
Elizabeth Bathory was born in age of cruelty, when beating the slaves was not uncommon. Due to the war against the Ottomans cruelty and death were everywhere. Being a noble, one of the richest nobles, she had power; absolute power. Beating and killing servant girls wouldn’t have been a problem, but she didn’t limit to that. She eventually started to use noble young girls for her sadistic rituals. That could not go overseen by the other noblemen.
Was she suffering by a mental illness, like others of her family? Was she surrounded by witches and sorcerers (it has been said that her most faithful servants were dealing with the dark arts)? Was she performing sadistic, satanic rituals? Was she initiated into the secrets of sadism by her husband, who was known to be extremely brutal? Was she the victim of a conspiracy, because she was a rich, powerful woman in a patriarchal world?
Every single one of these hypothesis may stand with evidence. There were many researches done on her character and her life, and every researcher came with a new idea regarding her acts of violence.
Her legend gave birth to many books, movies and documentaries. Her actions made her the most prolific serial killer ever and the mysticism added by popular legends and film directors, turned her into a gothic, sensual, sexy figure.
While the possible explanations regarding her acts are many, one thing is for sure: the mystery veiling her name will always be there.
After reading many articles and watching many movies regarding the Blood Countess, I can’t help but ask myself: How was she any different by the other nobles of her time? She used some of the most brutal ways to punish her slaves, but the testimonies which attested her guilt were obtained by torturing and threatening the witnesses.
In the end, I believe she just got caught in the dangerous web of politics and she was just not able to get away.
Bathoty 2008 (artistic movie)
The Countess 2009 (artistic movie)
Most evil Women in History (documentary movie by Discovey)
Serial Killer Elizabeth Bathory (documentary)
Vampire or Megalomaniac Serial Killer?: The Bloody Countess Elizabeth Bathory, Cristina Santos, article presented at the global conference about Monsters, Oxford, 2009
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