The history of Eastern European is full of examples of aristocrats who amused themselves with massacres, cruelty and bloodshed.
Some, like Countess Elizabeth Bathory, was suspected of being vampires. Her hideous crimes, once fully revealed, included torture, murder and alleged blood drinking.
Born in 1560, almost a century after the death of Vlad the Impaler, “Erzsebet” (Elizabeth) Bathory was a child brought up in wealth and privilege.
Her relatives became cardinals, senior ministers or kings. Unfortunately, members of her extended family also practiced black magic, Satanism and lesbianism. It is assumed that none of these practices remained unknown to her while Elizabeth grew up.
One family member showed signs of proven virtue – Nikolaus Bathory, the bishop of Vag. Most of the other members had their days ended in a dramatic way : uncle Sigismund saw ghosts and fought them with swords. Another uncle, Gabor, lived the last years of his life biting fiercely on whatever part of himself was in his reach. Andras, a cousin, was beheaded and his head was exposed as a prize on a glacier as several garrisons of unbelievers [turks] took turn to watch it. After they recovered the head, the family stitched the body and exposed with a cloth covering neck, in the Bathory church [where many of the Bathory members are buried].
But the one that initiated the child Erzsebet in certain practices was her beloved aunt Klara – they would often lock themselves in their private chambers. Klara Bathory was a known bisexual and legend has it that she met her end by impalement when she was caught with one of her lovers by her husband. After witnessing her new toy being boiled alive and after being raped by the whole garrison she was impaled in her very castle.
Her famous lineage and great beauty made her easy pray for political arrangements and at age 11 she was already promised.
At 14 it is assumed that she gave birth to a child conceived with a young peasant in her future groom`s castle, after that she was taken away by Countess Ursula Nadasdy, her future mother-in-law.
On May 8, 1575 she married Count Ferenc (Franz) Nadasdy, when she was 15 and he 25. She kept her name [because it was more important] and the Count changed his. This alliance was by far the most profitable, the two holding together more than 50% of the territory of present-day Hungary along with several mansions in all European capitals. They maintained relationships in all the royal courts of that time. They were even richer than their king, Matthias the 2nd.
Elizabeth took over the castle of Sarvar [from the Nadasdy family estate] while her husband went on the battlefield and reported victories against the Turks, gaining the name “The Black Knight of Hungary”. The Hungarian crown borrowed large sums of money from them to finance the war and so their influence grew!
When it came time for an extended war campaign, the Count concealed his new bride deep in the Carpathian Mountains, in northern Hungary. Elizabeth’s new home was the isolated fortress – castle Csejthe [Cachtice, in present day Slovakia]. The valleys surrounding it were prosperous lands worked by superstitious peasants.
Elizabeth was not impressed neither with her conjugal life nor her strange isolation, and the Count didn`t try to please her in any way. He was at her side enough to ensure that the line would be continued and then he left for the front.
Countess Bathory gave birth to three daughters: Anna, Orsika (Ursula), Kato (Katherine) and finally a son, Paul, in 1598. The latter was entrusted to a favorite at the court of Matthias Corvinus, to be educated to please her husband.
As to her boredom she would try to fight it by indulging in the practice of black magic along with her trusted Darvulia [supposedly a local witch], she admired her beauty in a mirror for hours and gradually became obsessed by her own image.
Another thing that made young Elizabeth happy was escaping her castle to go visit her aunt Klara – while the latter was still alive.
She had many young lovers and even ran away with one, but soon returned home, and the Count forgave her.
Among the innumerable lovers she had, the locals thought that one was himself a vampire, because of his unusual suppleness, paleness and very sharp teeth. His sudden disappearance from the property only feed their beliefs and the frightened villagers were more cautious in order not to upset the Countess.
One may ask oneself what could such a person want in life?
Girls who were born in poor families longed for love and security, those that had a normal life [middle class] wished for nobility – but she had all of these by birth-right so she wanted the one thing that seamed beyond her reach: eternal life!
Her delusions started when she first felt blood on her skin… she was known to be a merciless mistress and the young girls in her service were often subject to her mood swings.
It is said that as one of her servants brushed her hair one morning she pulled one of her locks and because of it the Countess stroke at her with rage getting her hand dirty with blood. Rather than wanting to clean herself, Bathory wanted to cover herself in blood!
She gathered reliable people: outlaws for a private defense army, a “nurse” and several other practitioners of dark magic, with whom she began to deepen her knowledge on witchcraft. Several of the rooms in the dungeons of Cachtice were transformed according to her instructions and she even found use for some of the torture devices that her husband brought home to torture the Turkish war prisoners.
While Franz was still alive she fulfilled her fantasies in a more careful manner. She was after all a respectable woman of the Hungarian court and she had appearances to keep. She continued to attend festivities but made sure she always had young maids waiting for her at the mansions when the parties were over.
It all changed when the Black Knight of Hungary died on the battlefield and his widow was able to retreat to Cachtice. After having escaped all the relatives gathered for the funeral she could focus on the freedom that came with her new condition of respected and feared widow.
She dispatched her children to other properties under the care of influential relatives [it wasn`t uncommon in those times since her girls were also predestined to marry via political arrangement so they needed to have a certain education].
Elizabeth was now 40 years old and was desperate to find a way to stay young.
Her temper became even more unpredictable, and the acts of cruelty to her servants reached a climax. Young girls were dragged to the basement of her castle and tortured mercilessly, sometimes in a ritual. Nobody dared to defend the girls for fear of The Bloody Countess – as she would later be titled.
Her trusted servants satisfied her thirst for blood bringing girls under the pretext that they provide a good place to work at the castle.
Tortures Elizabeth Bathory practiced on girls included:
– To beat servants with a heavy metal bar;
– To stick nails and needles in the girls lips as well as in other parts of the body;
– To order the girls to undress and to fulfill household functions before men;
– Starvation of the servants for days;
– To pour water over the girls who were naked outside in the snow so they would froze up;
– To force girls to enter the rivers in winter;
– Nails and coins that were hot were given to the girls [they were forced to hold them];
– Anointing with honey and leaving the girls out for 24 hours, subject to insect bites;
– To put the paper between your toes and light it
– Setting pubic hair on fire;
– Scratching the girls with hot swords;
– Pouring dirty water on girls;
– Making them fight and bite their extremities (face, neck and shoulders);
– Cutting fingers with scissors;
An automatic known as “Iron Maiden” [or Lady of Steel – native of Nuremberg], was brought in the torture chamber. There are several versions [stages of development] for this machine and it is unclear what type she had – the most common form is that of a metal casket perfectly shaped so that a human could be closed in it [with spikes placed strategically so that as it closed it would pierce the human body within in different points].
A cage -too short to stand in it, but too narrow for you to sit, was one of the favorite toys of the Countess. Hanging by a rope and with dozens of spikes fixed to the bar cage it would be balanced back and forth so that the girl was to be torn by the thorns inside.
But the number of peasant girls in the region declined, and terrified, Elizabeth found another way to bring young maidens to her mountain hideout.
Aristocratic families were always seeking tutors for their daughters and Countess Bathory, whose line was long and perfect, was the perfect choice. It did not take long until she had the next badge of victims.
That was the mistake that doomed her.
Reports about the strange things that were happening at Cachtice were already invading the royal Hungarian court and Erzsebet was protected by her noble status as long as the rumors were all about peasant girls!
When simple girls disappeared without a trace, no one asks too many questions and excuses were invented, but when young aristocratic disappeared, it was not long until families complained. Once the noblemen failed to receive news from their daughters [the ones they had entrusted to Countess Bathory] they went before the king to seek answers.
In December 1610, King Matthias dispatched the Lord Palatine of Hungary, Count György Thurzó, to raid the castle. Her own cousin was sent to investigate!
On the night of December 30, 1610, the soldiers came upon a scene which froze the blood in their veins: 6 dead or dying young girls, all tortured in terrible ways were discovered in the entry-hall. Dozens of other bodies were found in the castle and its surroundings – Elizabeth and her accomplices were arrested immediately.
All but she were tried and convicted. She could not be subjected to a true investigation [as we perceive one in modern days] because she was of noble birth and an aristocrat on trial was unconceivable at that time.
The trial began on January 2, 1611 and lasted until January 7. All those involved were executed and determined not to let the Countess escape unpunished for her crimes, the parliament passed a law in an emergency regime.
Erzsebet`s diary, taken from her at the time of her arrest, attested 612 deaths but it is presumed that those do not include the victims she made in her early years when she was forced to kill away from her fortress due to her husband still being alive. The total number of victims is estimated to around 800 – making her the most prolific serial killer in history.
According to legend she based her defense on the Bible, saying she followed the holy word literally. [“He who drinks of my blood and eat of my flesh will have eternal life!”]
Death as a punishment was out of the question since this would lead to immediate conflict with Poland and Transylvania [led by relatives of the Countess] so she was imprisoned in a small tower at her own castle.
Four years later, Elizabeth Bathory, died at age 54, unrepented for the acts she committed.