She is considered the most infamous serial killer in Hungarian and Slovak history and is remembered as the Bloody Lady of Cachtice, after the castle near Trencín, in Royal Hungary, in present-day Slovakia, where she spent most of her life.
After her husband's death, she and her four alleged collaborators were accused of torturing and killing dozens of girls and young women. In 1610, she was imprisoned in Cachtice 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.
Learn more about Elizabeth Bathory and her horrific crimes, free from crimelibrary.com. The Bathory 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 and Countess Dracula.
Elizabeth Bathory was born on a family estate in Nyírbator, Hungary, on 7 August, 1560 and spent her childhood at Ecsed Castle. Her father was George Bathory, a brother of Andrew Bonaventura Bathory, who had been Voivod of Transylvania of the Ecsed branch of the family whereas her mother was Anna Bathory (1539-1570), daughter of Stephen Bathory, another Voivod of Transylvania, of the Somlyo branch. Through her mother, she was the niece of Stefan Batory, King of Poland.
At the age of eleven she was engaged to Ferenc Nadasdy and moved to Nadasdy Castle in Sarvar, where she reportedly had a short affair with a peasant and gave birth to an illegitimate daughter, who was secretly given to a foster family. In 1575, at age 15, she married Nadasdy in Varanno. Nadasdy took on her last name because of her status.
Nadasdy’s wedding gift to Bathory was his home Cachtice Castle, situated in the Carpathians near Trencseny, together with the Cachtice 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, Nŕdasdy finally bought the castle from Emperor Rudolf, so that it became a private property of the family.
In 1578, Nadasdy became the chief commander of Hungarian troops, leading them to war against the Turks. He was considered both brave and cruel. The Turks gave him the nickname "Black Beg." With her husband away at war, Elizabeth Bathory ran the affairs.
During the height of the Long War (1593-1606), she was charged with the defense of her husband's estates, which lay en route towards Vienna. The threat was significant, for the village of Cachtice had been plundered by the Turks in 1599 while Sarvar, located near the border that divided Royal Hungary and Ottoman Hungary, was in even greater danger.
She was an educated woman who could read and write in four languages. 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 impregnated.
Her husband died in 1604 at the age of 47. His death is commonly reported as resulting from an injury sustained in battle, while other sources alleged that he was murdered by a prostitute, or by General Giorgio Basta whose reign of terror in Transylvania at that time led to a sharp decline in the Bathory family's power. Later, King Matthias refused to pay her the debt he owed Nadasdy.
Between 1602 and 1604, Lutheran parish priest Istvan 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 assigned Gyorgy Thurzo, the Palatine of Hungary, to investigate. Thurzo ordered two notaries to collect evidence in March 1610. Even before obtaining the results, Thurzo debated further proceedings with Elizabeth's son Paul and two of her sons-in-law. A trial and execution would have caused a public scandal, disgraced a noble and influential family (which at the time ruled Transylvania) and Elizabeth's considerable property would have been seized by the crown. Thurzo agreed that Elizabeth Bathory should be kept under strict house arrest, but that further punishment should be avoided..
Arrest and trial
Thurzo went to Cachtice on 29 December, 1610 and arrested Elizabeth Bathory and four of her servants, who were accused of being Elizabeth's accomplices. Thurzo's men reportedly found one girl dead and one dying. Another woman was found wounded, others locked up.
While the Countess was put under house arrest (and remained from that point on), her accomplices were brought to court. A trial was hastily prepared and held on 7 January 7, 1611 at Biccse, presided over by Royal Supreme Court judge Theodosious Syrmiensis de Szulo and twenty associate judges. Elizabeth herself did not appear at the trial.
The defendants at that trial were:
* Dorottya Szentes, also referred to as Dorko
* Ilona Jo
* Katalin Benicka
* the dwarf Janos Újvary, Ibis or Ficko.
Dorko, Ilona and Ficko were found guilty and executed on the spot. Dorko and Ilona had their fingers severed before they were thrown into a blazing fire, while Ficko, 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.
Katalin Benicka was acquitted as her guilt could not be proven. Recorded testimony implies that she had been dominated and bullied by the other women.
Last years and death
Elizabeth was never brought to trial but remained under house arrest in a single room until her death.
King Matthias urged Thurzo to bring her to court. Two notaries were sent to collect further testimonies.
However, letters exchanged between the Emperor and his Palatine from 1611 to 1613 suggest that Thurzo was not keen to advance the case against the Countess herself.
On 21 August 21, 1614 Elizabeth Bathory died in her castle. She was buried in the church of Cachtice.
Testimonies collected in 1610 and 1611 contain a total of more than 300 witness accounts. Trial records include testimonies of the four defendants, as well as 13 more witnesses. Priests, noblemen and commoners were questioned. Eye-witnesses included the castellan and other personnel of Sarvar castle.
Her initial victims were local peasant girls, many of whom were lured to Cachtice by offers of well-paid work as maidservants in the castle. Later she may have begun to kill daughters of lower gentry, who were sent to her gynaeceum by their parents to learn courtly etiquette by the opportunity to attend a sort of 'finishing school'. Abductions seem to have occurred as well.
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,
* burning or mutilation of hands, sometimes also of faces and genitalia,
* biting the flesh off the faces, arms and other bodily parts
* freezing to death
* starving of victims.
Biting and the use of needles was also mentioned by the collaborators in court.
Some witnesses named relatives that died while at the gynaeceum. Others reported having seen traces of torture on dead bodies, some of which were buried in graveyards, and others in unmarked locations.
According to the defendants' confessions, Elizabeth Bathory tortured and killed her victims not only at Cachtice but also on her properties in Becko, Sarvar, Deutschkreutz, Bratislava and Vienna, and even en route between these locations.
In addition to the defendants, several people were named for supplying Elizabeth Bathory with young women. The girls had been procured either by deception or by force.
A little-known figure named Anna Darvulia, possibly a local, was also rumoured to have influenced much of Bathory's early sadistic career, but apparently died at an earlier time.
The number of young women tortured and killed by Elizabeth Bathory is unknown, though it is often cited as being in the hundreds, between the years 1585 and 1610.
The estimates differ greatly. Szentes and Ficko reported 36 and 37 respectively, during their periods of service. The other defendants estimated a number of 50 or higher. Sarvar castle personnel estimated the number of bodies removed from the castle at between 100 and 200.
One witness who spoke at the trial mentioned a book in which a total of 650 victims was supposed to have been listed by Elizabeth Bathory herself. This book was never mentioned anywhere else, nor was it ever discovered; however, this number became part of the legend surrounding Bathory.
Laszlo Nagy has argued that Elizabeth Bathory was a victim of a conspiracy, a view opposed by others. Nagy argued that the proceedings were politically motivated.
Folklore, literature and popular culture
The case of Elizabeth Bathory 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 Laszlo Turoczi’s Tragica historia, the first written account of the Bathory case.
Modern historians Radu Florescu and Raymond T. McNally have concluded that the theory of Elizabeth Bathory murdering 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 Elizabeth Bathory'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, Elizabeth Bathory has continued to appear as a character in music, film, books, games and toys, and as well to serve as an inspiration for similar characters.
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 biographers, Raymond McNally in particular, have tried to establish the bloodbath myth and the historical Elizabeth Bathory 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.