Saturday, June 17, 2006

Women in History

Elizabeth Bathory (1560-1614)

Elizabeth Bathory was the countess who tortured and murdered numerous young women and, because of these acts, became known as one of the “true” vampires in history. She was born in 1569, the daughter of George and Anna Bathory. Most of her adult life was spent at Castle Cachtrice, near the town of Vishine, northeast of present-day Bratslava, where Austria, Hungary and the Slovak Republic come together.

As a child she was subject to seizures accompanied by intense rage and uncontrollable behavior. In 1571, her cousin Stephan became Prince of Transylvania and later in the decade, additionally assumed the throne of Poland. He was one of the most effective rulers of his day.

In 1574, Elizabeth became pregnant as a result of a brief affair with a peasant man. When her condition became evident, she was sequestered until the baby arrived because she was engaged to marry Count Ferenc Nasdasdy. The marriage took place in May 1575. Count Nadasdy was a soldier and frequently away from home for long periods. Meanwhile, Elizabeth assumed the duties of managing the affairs at Castle Sarvar, the Nadasdy family estate. It was here that her career of evil really began, with the discipline of the large household staff, particularly the young girls.

In a time period in which cruel and arbitrary behavior by those in power toward those who were servants was common. Elizabeth’s level of cruelty was noteworthy. She did not just punish infringements on her rules, but found excuses to inflict punishments and delighted in the torture and death of her victims far beyond what her contemporaries could accept. She would stick pins in various body parts, such as under the fingernails. In the winter she would execute victims by having them stripped, led out into the snow, and doused with water until they were frozen.

Elizabeth’s husband joined in some of the sadistic behavior and actually taught his wife some new varieties of punishment. For example, he showed her a summertime version of her freezing exercise, he had a woman stripped, covered with honey, then left outside to be bitten by numerous insects. He died in 1604, and Elizabeth moved to Vienna soon after his burial.

As early as the summer of 1610, an initial inquiry had begun into Elizabeth’s crimes. Underlying the inquiry, quite apart from the steadily increasing number of victims, were political concerns. The crown hoped to confiscate Elizabeth’s large land holdings and escape having to pay back the extensive loan that her husband had made to the king. With these things in mind, Elizabeth was arrested on December 28, 1610.

At the trial, a register found in Elizabeth’s living quarters was introduced as evidence. It noted the names of 650 victims, all recorded in her handwriting. Her accomplices were sentenced to be excited, the manner determined by their roles in the tortures. Elizabeth was sentenced to life imprisonment in solitary confinement. There she remained for the next three years until her death on August 21, 1614. She was buried in the Bathory land at Ecsed.

Bram Stoker (1847-1912)

Above and beyond Elizabeth’s reputation as a sadistic killer, she has been accused of being both a werewolf and a vampire. During her trail, testimony was presented that on occasion, she bit the flesh of the girls while torturing them. These accusations became the basis of her connection with were-wolfism. The connection between Elizabeth and vampirism is somewhat more tenuous. She was accused of draining the blood of her victims and bathing in it to retain her youthful beauty, and she was by all accounts a most attractive woman.

Following her death, the records of the trail were sealed because the revelations of her activities were quite scandalous for the Hungarian ruling community. Hungarian King Matthias II forbade the mention of her name in polite society. It was until 100 years later that a Jesuit priest, Laszlo Turoczy, located copies of some of the original trial documents and gathered stories circulating among the people of Cachtice, the site of Elizabeth’s castle. Turoczy included an account of her life in a book he wrote on Hungarian history. His book initially suggested the possibility that she bathed in blood. Polished in 1720, it appeared during the wave of vampirism in Eastern Europe that excited the interest of the continent.

Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula (1897), read of Elizabeth in The Book of Werewolves by Sabine Baring-Gould (1865) where the first lengthy English-language account of Elizabeth’s life appeared. It has been suggested “that the description of Elizabeth might have influenced Stoker to shift the site of his novel from Austria to Transylvania and the played a major role in the creation of the character of Count Dracula in the midst of Bram Stoker.”~ Raymond Mc Nally

Baring-Gould, Sabine. The Book of Werewolves. London: Smith, Elder 1865. Reprint. New York, Causeway Books, 1973
Mc Nally, Raymond T. Dracula was a Woman: In Search of the Blood Countess of Transylvania. New York: Mc Graw-Hill, 1983. Reprint, London: Robert Hale, 1984
Penrose, Valentine. Erzebet Bathory, La Comtesse Sanglante. Paris: Mercure du Paris, 1962, English translation as: The Bloody Countess. London: Calder & Boyars, 1970.

N Posted by Rain at 6/17/2006 02:38:00 AM


  • Blogger Sheila posted at 8:03 PM  
    This is a great read Rain, it was just what I was in the mood for on a cold winter's Sunday (yes its cold over here). Even though her actions are repulsive, I still find this fascinating and would love to know more. Imagine if Bram Stoker had made Count Dracula a countess....
  • Blogger The Fat Lady Sings posted at 5:51 PM  
    There are people who are born without souls. Now - I am not at all religious. Spiritual - but organized religion leaves me cold. My best friend, who is religious, thinks people like Elizabeth have a chemical imbalance in their brains. She, thank god, has never confronted true evil. I have - and the only lexicon that seems appropriate is one that is spiritually based. One chooses evil - evil may be there from the onset, yes; I'm told my brother used to put his fists through windows at age 2 and lick the blood off of his tiny fists - but I believe at some point he had the wit to know better - and choose to nurture evil instead of repudiate it.

    Fascinating character study, my dear. I'd love to talk philosophy with you someday. You seem interested in all things human. So am I.
  • Blogger Rain posted at 9:22 PM  
    Shelia, Hammer Flims, what is possibly the best of the several movies based on Elizabeth's life, Countess Dracula (1970) Ingrid Pitt starred in the title role. I have never seen this movie, although it has recieved good reviews.

    The Fat Lady Sings,
    You and I have many common interests and similar backgrounds. You certainly are a treasure!Thank you.
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