Countess Elizabeth Báthory

Infobox Serial Killer
name=Elizabeth Báthory

location=Nyírbátor, Kingdom of Hungary
country=Kingdom of Hungary
apprehended=30 December 1610
penalty=House arrest

Countess Elizabeth Báthory ("Báthory Erzsébet" in Hungarian, "Alžbeta Bátoriová" in Slovak, "Alžběta Báthoryová" in Czech, "Elżbieta Batory" in Polish, 7 August 1560 – 21 August 1614), was a Hungarian countess from the renowned Báthory family. She is possibly the most prolific serial killer in history and is remembered as the "Blood Countess" and as "Bloody Lady of Čachtice", after the castle near Trenčín, at that time in Royal Hungary, where she spent most of her life.

She spent most of her adult life at Čachtice Castle in what is now Slovakia. The Báthory family is famous for defending Hungary against the Ottoman Turks.

After her husband's death, she and four collaborators were accused of torturing and killing hundreds of girls and young women, with one witness attributing to them over 600 victims, though she was only convicted on 80 counts. [ [ "Countess Elizabeth Bathory - The Blood Countess."] "The Crime Library".] In 1610, she was imprisoned in Čachtice Castle, where she remained bricked in a set of rooms until her death four years later. She was never formally tried in court.

The case has led to legendary accounts of the Countess bathing in the blood of virgins in order to retain her youth. These stories have led to comparisons with Vlad III the Impaler of Wallachia, on whom the fictional Count Dracula is partly based, and to modern nicknames of "the Blood Countess" and "Countess Dracula".


Early years

Elizabeth Báthory was born on a family estate in Nyírbátor, Hungary, and spent her childhood at Ecsed Castle. Her father was George Báthory of the Ecsed branch of the family, a brother of Andrew Bonaventura Báthory, who had been Voivod of Transylvania, while her mother was Anna Báthory (1539–1570), daughter of Stephen Báthory, another Voivod of Transylvania, of the Somlyó branch. Through her mother, she was the niece of Stefan Báthory, King of Poland.

Married life

At the age of 11, Báthory was engaged to Ferenc Nádasdy and moved to Nádasdy Castle in Sárvár, Hungary. In 1575, she married Nádasdy in Varannó. Nádasdy’s wedding gift to Báthory was his home, Čachtice Castle, situated in the Little Carpathians near Trenčín, together with the Čachtice country house and 17 adjacent villages. The castle itself was surrounded by a village and agricultural lands, bordered by outcrops of the Little Carpathians. In 1602, Nádasdy finally bought the castle from Rudolf II, so that it became a private property of the family.

In 1578, Nádasdy became the chief commander of Hungarian troops, leading them to war against the Ottomans. With her husband away at war, Elizabeth Báthory managed business affairs and the estates. That role usually included providing for the Hungarian and Slovak peasants, even medical care.

During the height of the Long War (1593-1606), she was charged with the defense of her husband's estates, which lay on the route to Vienna. [ Báthory Erzsébet - Elizabeth Báthory: Short FAQ ] ] The threat was significant, for the village of Čachtice had previously been plundered by the Ottomans while Sárvár, located near the border that divided Royal Hungary and Ottoman occupied Hungary, was in even greater danger.

She was an educated woman who could read and write in four languages. There were 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. She was interested in science and astronomy.

Her husband died in 1604 at the age of 47. His death is commonly reported as resulting from an injury sustained in battle.


Early investigation

Between 1602 and 1604, Lutheran minister István Magyari complained about atrocities both publicly and with the court in Vienna, after rumors had spread. [Farin, "Heroine des Grauens", p. 234-237.]

The Hungarian authorities took some time to respond to Magyari's complaints. Finally, in 1610, King Matthias assigned György Thurzó, the Palatine of Hungary, to investigate. Thurzó ordered two notaries to collect evidence in March 1610. [Letters from Thurzó to both men on 5 March 1610, printed in Farin, "Heroine des Grauens", p. 265-266, 276-278.] Even before obtaining the results, [On 19 September 1610, Andreas of Keresztúr sent 34 witness accounts to Thurzó. On 27 October 1610, Mózes Cziráky sent 18 accounts.] Thurzó 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 and disgraced a noble and influential family (which at the time ruled Transylvania), and Elizabeth's considerable property would have been seized by the crown. Thurzó, along with Paul and her two sons-in-law, originally planned for Elizabeth to be secreted to a nunnery, but as news of her murder of the daughters of lesser nobility spread, it was agreed that Elizabeth Báthory should be kept under strict house arrest, but that further punishment should be avoided. [Letter from 12 December 1610 by Elizabeth's son-in-law Zrinyi to Thurzó refers to agreement made earlier. See Farin, "Heroine des Grauens", p. 291.] It was also determined that Matthias did not have to repay a large debt for which he lacked sufficient funds.McNally, Raymond T. (1983). "Dracula Was a Woman: In Search of the Blood Countess of Transylvania". New York: McGraw Hill. ISBN 0070456712.]

Arrest and trial

Thurzó went to Čachtice Castle on 30 December 1610 and arrested Báthory and four of her servants, who were accused of being her accomplices. Thurzó's men reportedly found one girl dead and one dying. Another woman was found wounded, others locked up. [Letter from Thurzó to his wife, 30 December 1610, printed in Farin, "Heroine des Grauens", p. 293.]

While the countess was put under house arrest (and remained so from that point on), King Matthias requested that Elizabeth be sentenced to the death penalty. However, Thurzo successfully convinced the King that such an act would negatively affect the nobility. Hence, a trial was postponed indefinitely.

The countess' associates however were brought to court. A trial was held on 7 January 1611 at Bytča, presided over by Royal Supreme Court judge Theodosious Syrmiensis de Szulo and 20 associate judges. Bathory herself did not appear at the trial.

The defendants at that trial were Dorottya Szentes, also referred to as Dorko, Ilona Jó, Katarína Benická, and János Újváry ("Ibis" or Ficko).

Dorko, Ilona and Ficko were found guilty and put to death on the spot. Dorko and Ilona had their fingernails ripped out before they were thrown into a fire, while Ficko, who was deemed less guilty, 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. Katarína Benická was sentenced to life imprisonment, as she only acted under the domination and bullying by the other women, as implied by recorded testimony.

Last years and death

During the trial of her primary servants, Báthory had been placed under house arrest in a walled up set of rooms. She remained there for four years, until her death.

King Matthias had urged Thurzó to bring her to court and two notaries were sent to collect further evidence, [224 Witness accounts were sent to Matthias on 28 July 1611 by A. of Keresztúr, 12 by M. Cziraky on 14 December 1611,] but in the end no court proceedings against her were ever commenced.

On 21 August 1614, Elizabeth Báthory was found dead in her castle. Since there were several plates of food untouched, her actual date of death is unknown. She was buried in the church of Čachtice, but due to the villagers' uproar over having "The Tigress of Čachtice" buried in their cemetery, her body was moved to her birthhome at Nagyecsed in Hungary, where it is interred at the Báthory family crypt. [Farin, "Heroine des Grauens", p. 246.]


In 1610 and 1611 the notaries collected testimonies from 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. Witnesses included the castellan and other personnel of Sárvár castle.

According to these testimonies, her initial victims were local peasant girls, many of whom were lured to Čachtice by offers of well-paid work as maidservants in the castle. Later she is said to have begun to kill daughters of lower gentry, who were sent to her "gynaeceum" by their parents to learn courtly etiquette. Abductions were said to have occurred as well. At the trial there were accusations of pagan practices and witchcraft.Fact|date=September 2008

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.
* bad surgery on victims, often leading to death.
* starving of victims.

The use of needles was also mentioned by the collaborators in court.

Some witnesses named relatives who 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 confessions by the defendants, Elizabeth Báthory tortured and killed her victims not only at Čachtice but also on her properties in Sárvár, Sopronkeresztúr, Bratislava and Vienna, and even between these locations. In addition to the defendants, several people were named for supplying Elizabeth Báthory with young women. The girls had been procured either by deception or by force. A little-known figure named Anna Darvulia was also rumored to have influenced much of Báthory's early sadistic career but apparently died long before the trial.

The number of young women tortured and killed by Elizabeth Báthory is unknown, though it is often cited as being in the hundreds, between the years 1585 and 1610. The estimates differ greatly. During the trial and before their execution, Szentes and Ficko reported 36 and 37 respectively, during their periods of service. The other defendants estimated a number of 50 or higher. Many Sárvár castle personnel estimated the number of bodies removed from the castle at between 100 to 200. One witness who spoke at the trial mentioned a book in which a total of over 650 victims was supposed to have been listed by Báthory herself. This number became part of the legend surrounding Báthory. Reportedly, diaries in Báthory's hand are kept in the State Archives in Budapest. The diaries are difficult to read due to the condition of the material, the old language, the hand-writing and the horrific content. [ [ FAQ.]]

László Nagy has argued that Elizabeth Báthory was a victim of a conspiracy, [Nagy, László. "A rossz hirü Báthoryak". Budapest: Kossuth Könyvkiadó 1984] a view opposed by others. [Pollák, György. "Az irástudók felelötlensége". In: "Kritika. Müvelödéspollitikai és kritikai lap". Budapest, January 1986, p. 21-22.] Nagy argued that the proceedings were largely politically motivated. However the conspiracy theory is consistent with Hungarian history at that time. [Sugar, P.F., etal:"A History of Hungary". Indiana University Press, 1990, p. 97]

Folklore, literature and popular culture

The case of Elizabeth Báthory inspired numerous stories during the eighteenth and nineteenth 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", [in "Ungaria suis cum regibus compendia data", Typis Academicis Soc. Jesu per Fridericum Gall. Anno MCCCXXIX. Mense Sepembri Die 8. p 188-193, quoted by Farin] the first written account of the Báthory case. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, this certainty was questioned, and sadistic pleasure was considered a far more plausible motive for Elizabeth Báthory's crimes. [Alois Freyherr von Mednyansky: "Elisabeth Báthory", in "Hesperus", Prague, October 1812, vol. 2, No. 59, p. 470-472, quoted by Farin, "Heroine des Grauens", p. 61-65.] In 1817, the witness accounts (which had surfaced in 1765) were published for the first time, ["Hesperus", Prague, June 1817, Vol. 1, No. 31, p. 241-248 and July 1817, Vol. 2, No. 34, p. 270-272 ] demonstrating that the bloodbaths, for the purpose of preserving her youth, 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 twentieth and twenty first centuries, Elizabeth Báthory has continued to appear as a character in music, film, plays, books, games and toys and to serve as an inspiration for similar characters.

ee also

*Darya Saltykova
*La Quintrala
*Delphine LaLaurie
*Ottoman wars in Europe


Further reading

In English:
* cite book
last = McNally
first = Raymond T.
title = Dracula Was a Woman: In Search of the Blood Countess of Transylvania
location = New York
publisher = McGraw Hill
date = 1983
id = ISBN 0070456712

* cite book
last = Penrose
first = Valentine (trans. Alexander Trocchi)
title = The Bloody Countess: Atrocities of Erzsébet Báthory
publisher = Solar Books
date = 2006
id = ISBN 0971457824

* cite book
last = Thorne
first = Tony
title = Countess Dracula
publisher = Bloomsbury
date = 1997
id = ISBN 0747529000
In French:

* cite book
last = Périsset
first = Maurice
title = La comtesse de sang
publisher = Pygmalion
date = 2001
id = ISBN 2857047002
In German:

* cite book
last = Farin
first = Michael
title = Heroine des Grauens. Elisabeth Báthory
location = Munich
publisher = P. Kirchheim
date = 2003
id = ISBN 3-87410-038-3

In Hungarian:

* cite book
last = Bessenyei
first = József
title = A Nádasdyak
publisher = General Press Kiadó
date = 2005
id = ISBN 9639598658

* cite book
last = Nagy
first = László
title = A rossz hírű Báthoryak
publisher = Kossuth Könyvkiadó
date = 1984
id = ISBN 9630923084

* cite book
last = Péter
first = Katalin
title = A csejtei várúrnő: Báthory Erzsébet
publisher = Helikon
date = 1985
id = ISBN 9632076524

* cite book
last = Szádeczky-Kardoss
first = Irma
title = Báthory Erzsébet igazsága
publisher = Nestor Kiadó
date = 1993
id = ISBN 963752326x

* cite book
last = Welden
first = Oscar (pseud. for István Nemere)
title = Báthory Erzsébet magánélete
publisher = Anno kiadó
date = 2000
id = ISBN 9633752248

In Slovak:

* cite book
last = Dvořák
first = Pavel
title = Krvavá grófka: Alžbeta Bátoryová, fakty a výmysly
publisher = Slovart
date = 1999
id = ISBN 9788085501070

* cite book
last = Nižnánsky
first = Jožo
title = Čachtická pani
publisher = Media klub
date = 2001
id = ISBN 8088963524

External links

* [ Crime Library article on Erzsébet Báthory]
* [ BBC piece on Erzsébet Báthory]
* [ A genealogy of the Nadasdy family, including her descendants]
* [ A genealogy of the Báthory family]

NAME=Báthory, Elizabeth
ALTERNATIVE NAMES=Báthory Erzsébet (Hungarian); Bátoriová(-Nádašdy), Alžbeta (Slovak); Bloody Lady of Čachtice (nickname); Lady Dracula (nickname)
SHORT DESCRIPTION=Countess and serial killer
DATE OF BIRTH=7 August?, 1560
PLACE OF BIRTH=Nyírbátor, Hungary
DATE OF DEATH=21 August 1614
PLACE OF DEATH=Čachtice, Slovakia

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