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Countess Erzsébet Báthory (Báthory Erzsébet in Hungarian, Alžbeta Bátoriová (-Nádasdy in Slovak), Elżbieta Batory in Polish, August 7?, 1560 – August 21, 1614), the Bloody Lady of Čachtice (Csejte), was a Hungarian countess who lived in the Čachtice Castle near Trenčín (Trencsén), in Royal Hungary, in present-day Slovakia, relative of king of Poland and prince of Transylvania, István Báthory.
She is considered the most infamous serial killer in Hungarian and Slovak history. She spent most of her life at the Čachtice Castle. After her husband's death, she and her four alleged collaborators were accused of torturing and killing dozens of girls and young women. In 1611, she was imprisoned in Čachtice Castle, where she remained until her death three years later. Her nobility allowed her to avoid trial and execution. Three of her four alleged collaborators were put to death.
The Báthory case has inspired many stories, featuring the Countess bathing in the blood of her victims in order to retain her youth. This inspired nicknames like the Blood Countess.
Báthory was born on a family estate in Nyírbátor, Hungary, on August 7, 1560 and died on August 21, 1614 in Čachtice (Csejte, Schächtitz), present-day Slovakia.
She spent her childhood at Ecsed Castle. At the age of 11 she was engaged to Ferencz Nádasdy and moved to Nádasdy Castle in Sárvár. In 1575, she married Nádasdy in Vranov nad Topľou. Nadasdy took on her last name because of her status. In 1578, he became the chief commander of Hungarian troops, leading them to war against the Turks. He was considered brave as well as cruel. It is said that he also was violent with his wife. The Turks feared him and called him the "Black Beg".
Nádasdy’s wedding gift to Báthory was his home, Čachtice Castle (situated in the Carpathians in present-day western Slovakia near Trenčín, then part of Royal Hungary), together with the Čachtice country house and seventeen adjacent villages. The castle itself was surrounded by a village and agricultural lands, bordered by outcrops of the Carpathian Mountains. In 1602, Báthory’s husband finally bought the castle from Emperor Rudolf II, so that it became a private property of the Nádasdy family.
With her husband away at war, Báthory ran the castle's affairs and local defences. An educated woman who could read and write in four languages, her job was to keep the Turks away from Vienna at the behest of the Habsburgs who ruled Royal Hungary. The threat was significant, for the village of Cachtice had been plundered by the Turks in 1599. Sárvár was even more dangerous, as it was located near the border that divided Royal Hungary and Ottoman Hungary. This was during the height of the Long War, the result of which kept the Turks back from Vienna for several decades and rendered them a minimal threat to the West during the duration of the Thirty Years War.
Bathory was a member of a practicing coven, which she depended upon to provide her with power, wealth, and protection. The coven provided her with oral blessings and written incantations designed to keep her safe from prosecution.
It is hard to say whether she had four or five children. Some believe that she had four around 1585, Elizabeth bore a girl whom she named Anna, and over the following nine years gave birth to two more girls, Ursula and Katherina, and in 1598 bore her first and only son, Paul. Others think that Báthory had five children. Two of them died at an early age:
* Anna Nádasdy (born c. 1585).
Either way Judging from letters she wrote to relatives, she was a good wife and protective mother, which was not surprising since nobles usually treated immediate family very differently from the lower servants and peasant classes.
Death of Ferencz Nádasdy
Her husband died in either 1600, 1602 or 1604 at the age of 47. Various sources attribute his death to an illness, to a murder at the hands of a prostitute, or to an injury sustained in battle. Another view holds that he was murdered by General Giorgio Basta, whose reign of terror in Transylvania at that time led to a sharp decline in the Báthory family's power. Hapsburg Emperor Matthias II refused to pay her the debt he owed Nadasdy.
Based on the letters Elizabeth has left behind, we know of several instances where she intervened on behalf of destitute women, including a woman whose husband was captured by the Turks and a woman whose daughter was raped and pregnant. Her letters to her husband openly admitted to practicing black magic.
Criminal trial and death
It is believed that Elizabeth Báthory tortured and killed an unknown number of young women, though it is often cited as being in the hundreds, between the years 1585 and 1610. Although her husband and her relatives knew about her sadistic inclination, they did not directly intervene. After her husband's death any restraints he may have imposed on her (or she on herself) seemed completely removed. It should be noted that besides supporting Giorgio Basta's marauding in Transylvania, the Habsburg King also refused to pay her the debt he had owed her fallen husband, this may have caused a change in her already violent character.
Her initial victims were local peasant girls, many of whom were lured to Čachtice by offers of well-paid work as maids in the castle. Later she may have begun to kill daughters of lower gentry, who were sent to her castle by their parents to learn high society etiquette by the opportunity to attend a sort of 'finishing school'. Abductions seem to have occurred as well.
Investigation of her actions
Between 1602 and 1604, Lutheran parish priest István Magyari complained about atrocities both publicly and with the court in Vienna, after rumours had spread.
The authorities took some time to respond to Magyari's complaints. Finally, in 1610, King Matthias II assigned György Thurzó, the Palatine of Hungary, to investigate. Thurzó ordered two notaries to collect evidence in March 1610. Even before obtaining the results, Thurzó debated further proceedings with Báthory's son Paul and two of her sons in law. In case of a trial and execution, considerable property would have been seized by the crown, a public scandal would have been caused, and a noble and influential family disgraced. Báthory’s family was then extremely powerful: her relative Gabriel Báthory was the ruler of Transylvania.
It was decided that Elizabeth Báthory should be kept under strict house arrest, but that further punishment should be avoided. Bathory chose not appear at the trial but remained under house arrest until her death without ever being officially convicted.
Thurzó went to arrest Báthory on December 29, 1610. According to a letter by Thurzó to his wife, his party found one girl dead and one dying. Another woman was found wounded, others locked up. Báthory remained prisoner in her own castle from that point on. A trial of her collaborators was hastily prepared and held on January 7, 1611 at Bytča. The trial was presided by Royal Supreme Court judge Theodosious Syrmiensis de Szulo and 20 associate judges. The proceeding was a strict criminal murder trial, vampirism and witchcraft were not considered issues over the course of the trial.
A parchment bearing a written incantation was in the possession of Elizabeth Bathory at the time of her arrest. The incantation read, in part, God, help me... You little cloud, when I am in danger, send nintey-nine cats... Order ninety-nine cats to come with speed and bite the heart of King Matthias. Order them to bite the heart of Moses Cziraky, and to bite also the heart of my cousin the prime minister. Command them to claw and bite the heart of Red Megyeri.
A little-known figure named Anna Darvulia, possibly a local, is rumoured to have influenced much of Báthory's early sadistic career, but apparently died at an earlier time.
Báthory's main collaborators after Anna's death were her maids:
* Dorottya Szentes, also referred to as Dorko
Except for Benick, they were all executed at Nagybiccse on January 7, 1611.
Benická's guilt could not be proven. Recorded testimony implies that she had been dominated and bullied by the other women. Two of the convicted had their fingers severed before being thrown onto a blazing fire, while Fickó, whose guilt was deemed the lesser, was beheaded before being consigned to the flames. A public scaffold was erected near the castle to show the public that justice had been done.
Testimonies collected in 1610 and 1611 contain a total of over 300 witness accounts. Trial records include testimonies of the four persons indicted, as well as 13 more witnesses. Priests, noblemen and commoners were questioned. Eye-witnesses include the castellan and other personnel of Báthory's Sárvár castle.
Some witnesses named relatives that died while in Báthory's gynaeceum. Others reported having seen traces of torture on dead bodies, some of which were buried in graveyards, and others in unmarked locations.
The descriptions of torture that emerged during the trials were often based on hearsay. The atrocities described most consistently included:
* severe beatings over extended periods of time, often leading to death,
Biting and the use of needles was also mentioned by the collaborators in court.
According to the defendants, whose confessions were obtained under brutal torture, Báthory tortured and killed her victims not only at Čachtice, but also on her properties in Bécko, Sárvár, Keresztúr, Pozsony (Bratislava) and Vienna, and even en route between these locations.
In addition to the defendants, several people were named for supplying Báthory with young girls. The girls had been procured either by deception or by force.
One witness who spoke at the trial mentioned a book in which a total of 650 victims was supposed to have been listed by Báthory herself. This book was never mentioned anywhere else, nor was it ever discovered. However, this number became part of the legend surrounding Báthory.
The estimated number of victims differs greatly. Szentes and Fičkó reported 36 and 37 respectively, during their periods of service. The other defendants estimated a number of 50 or higher. Sárvár castle personnel estimated the number of bodies removed from the castle at between 100 and 200.
Last years and death
Emperor Matthias II urged Thurzó to bring Báthory herself to trial. The same two notaries were sent to collect further witness accounts. Letters exchanged between the Emperor and his Palatine from 1611 to 1613 suggest that Thurzó was not keen to advance the case against Báthory herself, and she was never brought to court.
On August 21, 1614 Báthory died in her castle. She was buried in the church of Čachtice.
Folklore, literature and popular culture
The case of Elizabeth Báthory inspired numerous stories during the 18th and 19th centuries. The most common motif of these works was that of the countess bathing in her victims' blood in order to retain beauty or youth.
This legend appeared in print for the first time in 1729, in the Jesuit scholar László Turóczi’s Tragica historia, the first written account of the Báthory case.
Modern historians Radu Florescu and Raymond T. McNally have concluded that the theory Báthory murdered on account of her vanity sprung up from contemporary prejudices about gender roles. Women were not believed to be capable of violence for its own sake.
At the beginning of the 19th century, this certainty was questioned, and sadistic pleasure was considered a plausible motive for Báthory's crimes. In 1817, the witness accounts (which had surfaced in 1765) were published for the first time, demonstrating that the bloodbaths were legend rather than fact.
The legend nonetheless persisted in the popular imagination. Some versions of the story were told with the purpose of denouncing female vanity, while other versions aimed to entertain or thrill their audience. During the 20th and 21st centuries, Báthory has continued to appear as a character in music, film, books, games and toys.
The emergence of the bloodbath myth coincided with the vampire scares that haunted Europe in the early 18th century, reaching even into educated and scientific circles. The strong connection between the bloodbath myth and vampire myth was not made until the 1970s. The first connections were made to promote works of fiction by linking them to the already commercially successful Dracula story.
Some Báthory biographers, Raymond McNally in particular, have tried to establish the bloodbath myth and the historical Elizabeth Báthory as a source of influence for Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula, pointing to similarities in settings and motifs and the fact that Stoker might have read about her. This theory is opposed by other authors.
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