Historical Horror: The Blood Countess

The Blood Countess: Elizabeth Bathory (property of Rebeca Saray, 2010)

Halloween is steadily approaching and all things spooky dwell in the darkness. Children ready their costumes, parents prepare their treats and everyone waits anxiously for the scariest day of the year. But even the most frightening slasher film or haunted house cannot compare with some of the horrors from history, including this terrifying tale from the 16th century.

Erzsebet (or “Elizabeth”) Bathory was a countess born in 1560 Slovakia and raised near the town of Vishine, just north-east of present day Bratislava. Her parents, George and Anna, were both Bathorys by birth, which made Elizabeth the product of inbreeding, a common practice among the European aristocracy at the time. The Bathorys were one of the most powerful Protestant families in Hungary. Among them were clerics, politicians, warlords and even royalty, including the Prince of Transylvania and future King of Poland.

As a child, Elizabeth suffered from seizures—most likely due to epilepsy connected to the inbreeding—and would sometimes lose control and go into a rage. She also witnessed atrocities committed by her family’s officers at their Transylvania estate. One story tells of a gypsy thief who was captured, sewn into the belly of a dying horse with only his head sticking out and left to die. For Elizabeth, grisly death and murder were commonplace. And they undoubtedly had an effect on her later in life.

At fourteen years of age, Elizabeth became pregnant to a peasant man and had to be isolated until her daughter was born. The child was given to a peasant couple to raise because Elizabeth had a different plan: she was to marry Count Ferenc Nadasdy and did so in May 1575.

Nadasdy was a soldier and was frequently away for long periods of time, leaving Elizabeth to manage the family estate, Castle Sarvar. She soon developed a reputation as a harsh master, behaving cruelly to her large staff—primarily young girls—and disciplining them endlessly to exert her authority. Bathory’s husband even joined her during his returns home, teaching her new and more sadistic ways to torment and torture her servants.

Sometimes, Elizabeth would stick pins into sensitive areas of her servants’ bodies, like under their fingernails or between their toes. In the winter, it’s said that Bathory would execute her victims by taking them out in the snow naked and tossing water on them until they froze and died. Rumor has it her husband even taught her a warm-weather version of this torture: the stripped woman would be covered with honey and left for the insects to devour.

None of this compared with what was to come.

Count Ferenc died in 1604 of an infected wound, the rumor being that it was inflicted by a prostitute he refused to pay. Elizabeth buried her husband and moved to Vienna, but she spent a great deal of her time at her castle Cachtice in Slovakia. Here she met Anna Darvula, a sadist who soon became her lover and helped Elizabeth commit some of her greatest and most disturbing atrocities.

One fateful day, a servant girl was combing Elizabeth’s hair and accidentally pulled it, leading the Countess to strike her. A few drops of blood fell on Elizabeth’s skin and she noticed that it seemed to reduce the signs of aging. According to several eyewitnesses, this was when Bathory began to kill her female servants and to drain them of their blood, which she allegedly bathed in and even drank. She was also known to bite servants’ flesh as she tortured them, a behavior that provided Bram Stoker with inspiration for his most famous character, Dracula.

Darvula died in 1609, so Bathory found a new accomplice and lover, Erszi Majorova, the widow of one of her farmer tenants. Majorova convinced Elizabeth to victimize noble girls as well as peasant girls, a move which brought the Countess too much attention. The King of Hungary eventually ordered her arrest and his troops raided the castle Cachtice. Inside, they found the bodies of Bathory’s victims—as well as some still alive and locked in cells—and allegedly discovered a register with the names of more than 650 people she killed. Elizabeth’s associates were arrested and later executed in gruesome ways—two had their fingers torn off with red-hot pincers before being burned alive, while a third was decapitated and tossed onto the same fire later.

Elizabeth Bathory was never convicted of a crime, but she did pay the price for her evil deeds. Bathory’s cousin, the King of Poland, had her confined to a room in Castle Cachtice with no windows or doors. There were only a few slits for air, as well as one for food and water. Bathory remained in this solitary room for three years and died in August 1614.

Now she bathes in the blood of eternal damnation, further proof that the “evil that men do” is always more frightening than Halloween fiction and horror films. Beware “The Blood Countess” as you venture out into the darkness of All Hallow’s Eve. She just might be waiting for you…

Posted on October 28, 2012, in Perspectives, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Happy Halloween,think I’ll just stay in with a loaded shotgun…..smiley.

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