Elizabeth Bathory

Elizabeth Bathory – 16th century deranged serial killer or victim of betrayal?


Countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed (Báthory Erzsébet in Hungarian) is recorded as being one of the most prolific serial killers in history, as documented by her entry in the Guinness Book of Records, and is estimated to have brutally tortured and killed between 80 and 650 young women between 1585 and 1610.  She was imprisoned in 1610 within Csejte Castle, now in Slovakia, where she remained immured in a set of rooms until her death four years later.  The gruesome tale of Elizabeth Bathory has become part of national folklore and the subject of numerous plays, books, and movies. She is often compared with Vlad III the Impaler of Wallachia, on whom the fictional Count Dracula is partly based, and has become known as The Blood Countess. But in recent years, the truth behind these tales has been brought into question and some scholars now argue that Elizabeth Báthory was no murderer, but rather the victim of political betrayal.

Elizabeth Báthory (1560 – 1614 AD) was a countess from the renowned Báthory family of nobility in the Kingdom of Hungary and cousin of the Hungarian noble Stefan Báthory, King of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Duke of Transylvania. She was born on a family estate in Nyírbátor, Hungary, and spent her childhood at Ecsed Castle.

Official portrait of Erzsébet Báthory

Copy of the lost 1585 official portrait of Erzsébet Báthory. Image source: Wikipedia

At the age of 15, Elizabeth was married to Ferenc Nádasdy, the son of Baron, in what was likely a political arrangement within the circles of the aristocracy. Nádasdy's wedding gift to Báthory was his home, Csejte Castle.  However, only three years after their marriage, Nádasdy became the chief commander of Hungarian troops, leading them to war against the Ottomans, and in 1604, Ferenc died at the age of 48, reportedly due to an unknown illness or a battle wound. During the war, and after Ferenc’s death, Elizabeth was left to run the Nádasdy estate, including management of its defence, business affairs, and upkeep, which would have been no easy task. It was during these years that Elizabeth was said to have gone on a brutal killing spree.

Legends of the Blood Countess

The first account of Elizbeth Báthory’s killing spree appeared in 1729 (more than a century after her death) in the book ‘Tragica Historia’ by Jesuit scholar László Turóczi.  According to Turóczi, Elizabeth would kidnap young peasant women from the nearby town or lure them to the castle with the promise of well-paid work, and would subsequently torture them to death through severe beatings, burning, mutilation, biting, freezing, or starving. She was then said to have ordered her slaves to gather their blood in buckets and fill a bath so that she could bathe in the blood of virgins to retain her youth.

Since this first publication, rumours and stories spread quickly throughout the country and abroad. Elizabeth was ascribed with vampire-like tendencies and was said to have bitten her victims and drunk their blood.  The stories of her serial murders and brutality are said to have been verified by the testimony of more than 300 witnesses and survivors as well as physical evidence and the presence of horribly mutilated dead, dying and imprisoned girls found at the time of her arrest.

There are many conflicting accounts regarding the number of women Elizabeth Báthory is said to have murdered. But according to another popular story, one witness reported that  Báthory had a book where she kept a list of over 650 victims. The location of this supposed diary is unknown.

 Elizabeth Bathory used to bathe in the blood of virgins

Popular legends say that Elizabeth Bathory used to bathe in the blood of virgins to remain youthful. Image credit: DrawingNightmare/deviant art

Investigation and arrest

Before dying, Elizabeth’s husband, Ferenc, entrusted his widow to György Thurzó, the Palatine of Hungary, who would eventually lead the investigation into Elizabeth's alleged crimes.

After rumours of Báthory's atrocities had spread through the kingdom, Thurzó ordered two notaries to collect evidence in March 1610, which supposedly included testimony from more than 300 witnesses (records actually show thirteen witnesses). In December 1610, Thurzó went to Csejte Castle and arrested Báthory. But he was faced with a dilemma – a trial and execution would have caused a public scandal and disgraced a noble and influential family, and Elizabeth's considerable property would have been seized by the crown.  Thurzó successfully convinced King Matthias that bringing Elizabeth to trial would negatively affect the nobility, so the trial was abandoned and instead Báthory was imprisoned in Čachtice Castle. She was kept bricked up in a windowless room, with only small slits left open for ventilation and the passing of food. She remained there for four years, until her death on 24 August, 1614.

Čachtice castle in Slovakia

Čachtice castle in Slovakia where Elizabeth Báthory was imprisoned and died. Source: Wikipedia

Political Betrayal?

In the last two decades, a number of historians, most notably Laszlo Nagy, have come   forward to defend the name of Elizabeth Báthory, claiming that the accusations made against her were part of a cunning plan by Thurzò to imprison a bothersome political rival. A number of arguments have been put forward by those proclaiming Elizabeth’s innocence.

Firstly, Thurzò took steps to imprison Bathory as soon as he became Palatine of Hungary, leading some scholars to suggest that this move was pre-planned. Thurzò had been assisting King Matthias in his efforts to extend his control over powerful Hungarian nobles and the Bathory family certainly fell into his category.  It has also been said that there is evidence that Thurzò was after Bathory’s significant wealth.

George Thurzo

Did George Thurzo frame Elizabeth Bathory? Image source: Wikipedia

Secondly, King Matthias and the Imperial Family owed substantial amounts of money to the Countess, which they had trouble paying due to the lack of cash flow in their coffers, and this may have provided motive to have her eliminated.

In addition, being a widow in charge of a large estate, Bathory could have been susceptible to rumours that she was involved in witchcraft. Scapegoating widows and accusing them for being responsible for natural deaths was common in Central Europe during this era.

It is impossible to know the true facts regarding Elizabeth’s story as she was never given a trial and so there were no official records of the case. It is known that confessions from Bathory’s alleged accomplices was obtained through torture, and they were subsequently executed. Elizabeth’s supposed list of victims has never been found, nor have other key documents that could have shed light on the true facts.  If there was an attempt made to frame Elizabeth for crimes she did not commit, the real motivation remains only a matter of speculation.

Overall, it is impossible to be completely confident in either proclaiming Bathory’s innocence or her guilt. However, unless any further evidence emerges to completely free her of the accusations, folk legends and popular media will unfortunately ensure that she is forever remembered as the Blood Countess, and one of the most brutal serial killers of all time.

References:

Elizabeth Bathory: a mass murderer or an innocent victim? – Keisz Augustine

Guilty or innocent? Outlining a historical dilemma – Countessebathory

Elizabeth Bathory – E-Grafo Magazine

Elizabeth Bathory: The Blood Countess – BBC

Infamous Lady: The True Story of Countess Erzsébet Báthory - Infamous Lady.com

By April Holloway

Comments

It certainly is possible that she was a victim of political intrigue. I never heard the facts about the Imperial family owing her money but, if true, it sounds much like the Knights Templar and King Philip who owed them huge amounts of money.

I’ve never believed all the tales as 650 girls going missing in such a short period of time if it happened it would certainly cause enough rumors that they would have been recorded somewhere. I’m not denying that she might have been guilty of some murders and may even have bathed in their blood, but the numbers would have to be much lower than those reported. But, as the article states, there was no trial so, unless documents showup, hidden in some castle or something, we can’t know the truth.

Keep fooling yourselves. So the tons of researchers and journalists who have delved into the story are lying? Like I said, keep deceiving yourself

Even in this day in age women are viewed with suspicion if they are successful, own a business, have wealth etc. The minion hoards will come out and say anything they want, write it up, claim its the official story, forge signatures, write incomplete accident reports, ask witnesses to omit favorable parts of what they saw happen, file false accusations, etc. For those who have had this happen, they know what a twilight zone of a nightmare this can be; intimidation, harassment, false complaints, attempts to frame, use of children against the parent etc etc We should trust our instincts about these things and all shadowy things leading up to these incidents. Also be aware that these groups participate in stalking and mobbing rings. Short of killing which they will do if they have to, their aim is to steal a business/wealth, what ever the physcopath wants to take. They will go as far as tell their buddies not to hire- "its political" was all one would say. From there its easy to piece it all together to see it for what it really is/was. And that is basically why and how income inequality exists, and advancement is prevented. All fraternal orders by their very nature exist for that reason alone, but one by one they do fall, and do so disgracefully; when their corruption becomes all too obvious. Time and internet can be very cathartic.

I guess it's safe to say that this is actually a valid history lesson that the whole situation sounds eerily similar to GamerGate today where Elizabeth Bathory can be easily compared to the Zoe Quinn of the 16th century as if nothing's really changed once you think about it...

I'm a hungarian and I read the hungarian wiki and it says those where just false charges against her, while she was a normal woman who loved her family and her servants and gave home for the victims of the Turkish attacks. It says those legends are clearly fake, while the english wikipedia shouts into your face that she was a serial killer and such, as a fact, while its not. She was innocent and it's a fact. The english wikipedia about her should be deleted, and read the hungarian version about her.

Pages

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Myths & Legends

A vase-scene from about 410 BC. Nimrod/Herakles, wearing his fearsome lion skin headdress, spins Noah/Nereus around and looks him straight in the eye. Noah gets the message and grimaces, grasping his scepter, a symbol of his rule - soon to be displaced in the post-Flood world by Nimrod/Herakles, whose visage reveals a stern smirk.
The Book of Genesis describes human history. Ancient Greek religious art depicts human history. While their viewpoints are opposite, the recounted events and characters match each other in convincing detail. This brief article focuses on how Greek religious art portrayed Noah, and how it portrayed Nimrod in his successful rebellion against Noah’s authority.

Human Origins

Cro-Magnon man communicating with each other and producing cave drawings
How human language began has been a question pestering researchers for centuries. One of the biggest issues with this topic is that empirical evidence is still lacking despite our great advances in...

Ancient Technology

The School of Athens
Much of modern science was known in ancient times. Robots and computers were a reality long before the 1940´s. The early Bronze Age inhabitants of the Levant used computers in stone, the Greeks in the 2nd century BC invented an analogue computer known as the Antikythera mechanism. An ancient Hindu book gives detailed instructions for the construction of an aircraft –ages before the Wright brothers. Where did such knowledge come from?

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article