Elizabeth Bathory: The Blood Countess
Written By: Aurora Caskey
Edited By: Grave Reviews Staff
Though the concept of “serial killers” might seem modern, throughout history there have been people with an insatiable blood lust who murdered many during their lifetimes. One such person, who also has the distinction of being the most prolific female killer, is Elizabeth Báthory.
Bathory was a Hungarian Countess born in 1560 to a prominent and wealthy family. She was married off at age 15 to Ferenc Nádasdy, who was the son of a baron and four years her senior. Because the Bathory name had more cache to it, Ferenc actually took Elizabeth’s last name when they got married. After the wedding, the couple moved to a castle in what is now Slovakia. Elizabeth was left alone for long stretches of time to manage the family’s estates and business affairs. Ferenc was the chief commander of the Hungarian army, leading them into war against the Ottoman Empire.
Ferenc was nicknamed the Black Hero of Hungary and celebrated for his brutality on the battlefield. He even taught Elizabeth torture methods he learned during wartime. When Ferenc died at age 48, he left a substantial amount of wealth and power in Elizabeth’s hands. Elizabeth was beautiful, well educated, and independent, which made her a political target once her husband died.
Following her husband’s death, and possibly before, rumors about Elizabeth’s cruelty and penchant for torture began to swirl. She began with servant girls, beating and starving them to death. It’s said that she stuck pins under their fingernails and even cut and ate their flesh. She had a girl covered in honey and left her to be bitten by insects.
There was an obvious sexual component to her crimes. Most of her victims were young women and it’s said that she preferred to torture girls with large breasts. Even when she was so weak that she could not get out of bed, she had a faithful servant bring a girl to her bedside and proceeded to bite the girl’s breasts and rip a chunk of flesh from her shoulder. After her death, it was claimed that she bathed in and consumed the blood of young girls to preserve her beauty.
Elizabeth grew bored of killing peasant girls and eventually started murdering daughters of wealthy nobles that were sent to the castle to learn manners. This caused her crimes to be more conspicuous. She supposedly killed a famous choir singer who wouldn’t perform for her and people noticed when the girl went missing.
What made Elizabeth into a killer?
There are a few theories. Some say she was inbred and suffered from epilepsy. While she might have had a chronic condition, her parents were very distantly related, so inbreeding likely wasn’t an issue. Another explanation that cannot be proven or disproven is that she witnessed torture and brutality at a young age.
But there’s another explanation for the story of Elizabeth Bathory. She was left in a very powerful position after her husband died and refused to remarry. The Catholic king of Hungary was reportedly threatened by the immense wealth and influence of the Protestant Bathory family. Some historians think she was set-up by powerful men so that debts owed to the Bathory family would be forgiven and Elizabeth would be stripped of her power.
Arrest and Trials
While there are dozens of crimes laid at Elizabeth’s feet, she never had a real trial, nor were there any real witnesses who saw the murders firsthand. All the servants who testified got their information second hand. Her alleged co-conspirators, servants who help her torture and murder people, were they themselves tortured before confessing and pinning the blame on Elizabeth.
Because of her position, Elizabeth was spared being put to death. Her punishment was ultimately more horrifying; she was walled up inside her castle for the remaining short years of her life.
We will never know who Elizabeth Bathory really was. Was she a sociopathic socialite who grew so bored with her privileged life she had to torture people? Or was she merely an educated and powerful woman in an age dominated by men?
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