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Elizabeth Bathory - Blood Countess

We've covered werewolves, a lot of werewolves, but we've rarely touched on vampirism. Real-life vampires are very different from those in fiction. Bram Stoker's Dracula was both sexy and dangerous. Anne Rice's vampires lean heavily toward the sexy. Edward Cullen twinkles.

Tales of true vampirism are more shocking. It is essentially a subset of cannibalism. There have been several serial killers who partook of their victims' blood. None more famously than Countess Elizabeth Bathory.

The Countess stood accused of the horrific murder of between 400 and 600 young girls. Her crimes were either terrible and true, or little more than a smear campaign.

Uneventful Beginnings

Elizabeth Báthory was born on 7 August 1560 in Nyírbátor, Hungary. Her family was part of the protestant nobility of Hungary. She was the niece of both the Voivode of Transylvania, and the king of Poland.

Báthory was raised in the castle in Ecséd. Her childhood was unremarkable enough to not have been recorded. It only lasted 15 years anyway, as she married Count Ferencz Nádasdy in 1575. The couple were gifted Castle Čachtice where they lived in marital bliss for 10 years.

Nádasdy and Báthory started having children in 1585. The couple produced five little nobles across the span of ten years. Two of their children died in infancy, leaving one son and two daughters.

War was a common pastime in the late 16th century. Ferencz Nádasdy, as a noble, would often take command of his soldiers. Other duties fell to the Count, like overseeing, or conducting, the torture of prisoners of war.

By some accounts, Ferencz really enjoyed torturing. He took to inflicting pain on others like a pig takes to slop. Like many who love their work, he seemed unable to leave it at work. So, when he was home from the war, he shared his favorite hobby with his wife.

Blood Spilled

Báthory loved her husband. She also enjoyed spending time with him. His hobby may have seemed a bit unorthodox to her at first, but she quickly discovered that she had a knack for inflicting agony.

There was a single report, often overlooked, of a peasant woman who disappeared into the castle between 1595 and 1604. In all likelihood, Nádasdy and Báthory ran out of legitimate prisoners to torture. They had become addicted to their own cruelty. She, the missing woman, may not have been their first murder, but she was the first recorded.

Ferencz Nádasdy died in 1604. He left all of his holdings to Elizabeth. She discovered that her thirst for depraved violence only grew with time. Finding victims was tough, so she came up with a plan.

Under the guise of charity, Elizabeth opened her doors to young noble, and peasant women alike. She would educate them in proper conduct. Something like a finishing school.

The peasant girls did not return to their homes. When questioned, Elizabeth would claim that she had found them a good match, or a job at a faraway estate. Neither were true. Trigger warning for extreme violence, skip to the next section if you are squeamish.

Elizabeth Báthory killed in a variety of ways. During the summer, she would strip her victims naked, and slather them in honey. They would be strapped to the ground outside where insects would slowly eat at them. Death would come from the insects, or starvation.

During the winter, she made her victims take ice baths. She delighted as they went into shock and perished. Not all of her tortures occurred outdoors. She was also partial to cutting off noses and lips, biting into shoulders, necks, breasts, and thighs. There were also reports of her inserting needles into fingertips. She also enjoyed burning the genitals of her victims with red-hot irons. The woman was a true monster.

Elizabeth Báthory is famous for bathing in the blood of virgins in an attempt to reinvigorate herself. She believed that the blood would make her more youthful. There are depictions of her sitting in a bath while a victim bleeds out suspended above her.

The blood baths seem to be an invention of later minds. There are no contemporary reports of this particular deviancy. The first time it is mentioned was around 100 years after her death.

Capturing the Blood Countess

Countess Elizabeth Bathory, the Blood Countess
Ready or not, here they come

Reports of missing peasants were of little concern to the Hungarian nobility. But when noble girls started disappearing into Báthory's castle, the country took notice.

Matthias, the Holy Roman Emperor, ordered the Count Palatine of Hungary, György Thurzó, to investigate in 1609. György Thurzó arrived at Castle Čachtice in late 1610. He arrived unannounced, and caught Báthory red-handed.

György Thurzó happened to be Elizabeth's cousin. This did not stop him from arresting her. Unlike a commoner, she could not be imprisoned. Instead, Elizabeth Báthory was placed under house arrest. Her servants, who were complicit in her crimes, were summarily tortured for information. Because it's only a crime if you do it for fun.

The trial began in January 1611. Elizabeth's thoroughly tortured servants were called in to testify. Their claims were inconsistent. Somewhere between 36 and 51 girls had passed through the meat grinder of Elizabeth's cruelty. They blamed most of the crimes on a servant who was already dead, and on an unnamed witch who assisted Báthory.

Three of the four servants were executed shortly after delivering their testimony. The fourth's fate is unknown.

György Thurzó interviewed 289 witnesses. He also included Báthory's own testimony, that she had killed 650 girls, in his report. Due to her status, and familial connections, Elizabeth wasn't put on trial or charged with a crime. Instead, she was confined to her castle, and her properties passed on to her relatives.

Elizabeth Báthory died in 1614.

Was Elizabeth Báthory a Serial Killer?

Countess Elizabeth Bathory as depicted by AI
It's more than a hobby, it's a lifestyle

Modern scholars dispute the claims that Elizabeth Báthory was a murderer. György Thurzó's 289 witnesses either didn't testify, or simply repeated a story they had heard from someone else.

Elizabeth's claim of 650 victims was never produced in court. The only report of this claim comes from a court official who wasn't even at the trial. Most of the witnesses called in during the servants' trial, were at György Thurzó's mercy. Should they go against him, he had every right to execute them too.

Elizabeth Báthory's servants were thoroughly tortured before their trial, so their testimony means nothing. It is common knowledge that torture does not lead to truth, it leads to whatever the torturer believes is true.

There are a few reasons why the Holy Roman Emperor would want Elizabeth out of the picture. Foremost of his reasons being that he owed her a lot of money. Her confinement meant that he could write off his debt. Another reason was that Elizabeth Báthory openly supported her nephew, the Prince of Transylvania, in his rebellion against the Empire.

Her direct family also benefitted from her downfall. All of her lands and holdings passed to her sons-in-law, who suddenly found themselves very wealthy.

This does not mean that Elizabeth Báthory was not guilty of some crimes. Her cruelty to peasants was famous. The 1602 letter from a priest in her area discussed her cruelty to those she deemed beneath her.

Historically, the line between truth and propaganda has been thin. Elizabeth Báthory may not have bathed in the blood of virgins, but she was most likely guilty of multiple murder.