Aug 30, 2021
16 mins read
A noble lady and countess from a high standing family. Yet, a dangerous sadistic woman, torture and death were all around her. She lived a life of depravity, pain, bloodletting and murder. We now look at the gruesome life of Elizabeth Bathory.
Elizabeth Bathory was born in 1560; she would spend her childhood at Ecsed Castle on the family estate of Nyírbátor in Hungary. Her father was George, who married his cousin Anna. Both her parents had family who had been classed as Voivode of Transylvania. They were the highest-ranking officials throughout the province and had wide-ranging administrative, military and judicial powers.
Elizabeth was born into a family that had quite a few peculiar relations. One of her uncles was said to be a follower of Satan, while her aunt Klara was a well-known bisexual who also possessed a need to torture her servants. Even Elizabeths brother Stephan was considered a drunk and a bit of a playboy. All in all, the family was eccentric, to say the least, and psychologically disturbed.
She was raised as a Calvinist protestant, although you will find it hard to believe she had a religious bone in her body! However, Elizabeth, even from an early age, would witness much horror. Her story is troubling, to say the least; her efforts in concealing her uncontrollable behaviour are appalling. One of the earliest memories, while Elizabeth was just six years old, was when a band of gipsies came visiting her home. One had been accused of selling his children to the Turks. She would witness one of the most brutal executions in her life. The Ottoman Empire had been at war with Hungary for many years, and even the slightest mention of the Turks would cause much distress and anguish. However, the accused man was found guilty, with a sentence of death now awaiting him. But this was no ordinary execution. A horse had been held on the ground and slaughtered, the prisoner then placed inside it, with just his head sticking out. The Bathory's men then stitched up the horse. There he would be left to die.
It's said Elizabeth had epilepsy as a child, but this did not hamper her education. She's been described as an articulate lady and one of high intelligence. Yet she mastered languages such as Latin and German; at this time, even some of the highest-ranked officials in the country could barely read or write. Elizabeth's family background was one of wealth and power with a prominent rank within social circles. The Bathorys were not a family you should mess with!
In 1571 Elizabeth was now 11 years old, and she quickly began to realise the power she had even at such a young age. At this age, most children know how to control aggression, but for Elizabeth, this was left unchecked. She was left to her own devices. These traits would undoubtedly be used in later life. Elizabeth was now ready for marriage; she was to become engaged to Ferenc Nadasdy, he was known as the "Black Hero of Hungary", a man known for his cruelty and brutality.
Although he had been born into nobility, his lineage was nothing compared to the Bathory's. While awaiting the union, Elizabeth had become pregnant to a local peasant, quite possibly not the sort of behaviour a young lady should be doing-especially one of her high esteem. When she gave birth, her daughter was quickly assigned to a local woman who swore that the child must never be seen again.
The big day arrived; Elizabeth now 15, and her husband to be was 21. It was to be one of the most spectacular events ever held, with a guest list of 4,500, including Maximillian, the Holy Roman Emperor. However, he declined the invite; the journey was long and arduous, but he sent a delegation to join the festivities. Elizabeth never took her new husband's surname as the one of Bathory held much more sway within the circles of nobility.
But after the wedding, Elizabeth would see little of Ferenc. He was the leader of the Hungarian forces who would constantly find themselves battling with the Ottomans. He was one of five men known for their fighting abilities, which would inspire the name of "unholy quintet."
Back at home, Elizabeth would bide her time managing the estate and other official business. The lack of quality time together also meant a lack of children. However, this didn't mean she would go without lovers. Men and Women and anyone found trespassing on her lands would be taken in, never to be seen again.
It would be around ten years before Elizabeth would give birth. But sometime around 1585, she had her first daughter, Anna, but again this was hardly prolific as it would take a further ten years to produce three more children. Two additional daughters, Ursula and Katherina and then in 1598, would have her one and only son, Paul.
Although Elizabeth doted on her children and kept them in line, this wasn't her only pursuit. Her aunt, Karla, had a love of parties, not in the conventional style. But one in which most would not want to integrate into themselves. But for Elizabeth, she found new passions and exciting carnal pleasures. But it didn't stop there; other side interests would include the occult, a dangerous route to take; however, Karla coaxed her into some seedy sadistic acts. Her life was now changing, her mind was confused, and she found herself tutored in the brutal ways of torture and ultimately killing.
She had written to her husband explaining the new methods she had learnt. Ferenc was also a very brutal man; he was also a man who enjoyed torturing others. Now started to teach Elizabeth the art of inflicting pain. Elizabeth absolutely loved this; she was in her element and thoroughly enjoyed watching others suffer.
There are some horrific stories of how the Bathorys tortured people. They devised numerous cruel methods, including stripping young girls naked, coating them in honey and tieing them up next to the estate's beehives.
As with all stories, there's always a sting in the tail and one that would eventually come back to haunt Elizabeth. However, the brutality of their regime was not just served up on neighbours but also staff within their castle home. If any servant said they were unwell to work on a particular day, they would have paper stuffed between their toes, covered in oil and set alight. You can imagine those sick days were under control; hardly anyone had a sniffle, never mind a cold.
Jokes aside, the pressures were intolerable. Cold icy darkness was forming around this family. Elizabeth was becoming more destructive; her toleration of anything or anyone that made even the slightest error would produce horrific results. Records survive of her killing sprees, and her inhuman actions are devastating.
The smallest of problems would stir Elizabeth; anything less than 100 per cent perfect would entail torture. Yet Elizabeth took much joy in giving pain. She would insist on watching the suffering given out and even take part in the gruesome maiming's. In 1604 her husband Ferenc died, yet before his death, he had given ownership of his heirs and wife to György Thurzó. He was the man who would eventually bring about the downfall of Elizabeth and confirm her crimes. But for now, it did nothing more than spur Elizabeth on to more atrocities.
Elizabeth would now live at the Castle Cachtice; this was a structure built upon a ridge high above the River Vah. It contained a layout of caves and tunnels below, which would provide evidence of her crimes in the years ahead.
After the death of Elizabeth's husband and a short amount of mourning, she was set to go again. A new woman came into her life, Anna Darvulia. If you thought the last twenty years were terrible, then this woman changed everything, and believe me, it only gets worse. Darvulia was a complete sadist, quite possibly one of the cruellest people ever to walk into Elizabeth's life. But for Elizabeth, she was like a breath of fresh air. She had new ideas on torture and killing; I mean, what's not to like! Darvulia ruled; she had to know everyone and everything around the castle, and nothing was left to chance.
It has never been doubted that Elizabeth was a beautiful woman and one whose vanity came very high on her list; she even expected to retain her youthful looks throughout her life. As we all know, this doesn't really happen, and over time, cracks started to appear, lines of age, the wrinkles of winter were setting in. Long gone were the days of her milky complexion and voluptuous body; everything was falling off a cliff.
Even her use of the best cosmetics of the day did little to improve her features. That was until one day when by accident Elizabeth thought she had found the elixir of life! On one occasion, one of her mistresses dared to suggest there was something not quite right with Elizabeth's hair. In a rage, Elizabeth struck the woman across the face and caused her nose to bleed; the blood-spattered across the face of Elizabeth. When she looked in a mirror, she discovered that the blood had covered the unsightly lines across her skin. Elizabeth now thought she had found the secret to youth, and she would instigate one of the most terrible retributions on women that even to this day has not been surpassed.
Darvulia was excited by this reaction, instructing Elizabeth on how to take this new discovery and make it work for her alone! Elizabeth believed every word, and it must be true that taking the blood of others would indeed provide youthful looks forever. For the mistress, well, guards took her to the torture chamber where her wrists were slit, which emptied her body of all its blood. The ground breaking revelation of Elizabeth took on a new meaning, and more girls were now required.
It was estimated that over ten years, more than 600 girls were murdered.
Elizabeth's cohorts would initially take them to the castle, all to be tortured, killed and drained. And all on the whim of one woman who thought eternal youth was now her right. News of the disappearances of these young women was now becoming hot gossip. Elizabeth was becoming more careless. The bodies were piling up, but she had little room to manoeuvre and get them hidden away without anyone noticing. The smell of decaying flesh was all around the castle, and the stench was becoming too much.
Although Elizabeth had asked a local Lutheran, Andreas Berthoni, to perform Christian burials, he refused, stating that the women had not died naturally due to the condition of the bodies. The girls, along with others, had been reported missing; Berthoni's thoughts were now one of suspicion. Word would continue to spread about Elizabeth and the strange goings-on at the castle. One woman whose daughter had died while in the service of the countess asked to see her body, but this request was refused. The countess knew to hide the tell tale signs of torture which would be seen. It was only later that the woman found out the real truth of what had happened to her daughter and many others.
Was Elizabeth beyond reproach? A new minister of the church came calling one day. He had been investigating underground tunnels that linked the church with the castle. His search found nine boxes containing the remains of girls who had all been killed at the castle. Although he reported the incident to his superior, the message never arrived as Elizabeth's guards intercepted it.
Elizabeth was feeling untouchable, and she was free to do whatever she wanted. No one would say anything or conduct any operation to find out the misdemeanours ongoing at her home. Well, that's what she thought. So confident was she in her mass killings that on one occasion, she got several servants to throw four girls from the castle walls in the full daylight of the villagers below. Yet the controversy would continue, and it wouldn't be long before the twisted minds of Elizabeth, and her cronies finally get their comeuppance. The biggest problem facing anyone was pure fear of Elizabeth's retributions if the locals said anything. Her tyrannical rule was so overpowering, and people were running scared.
Despite what many thought, her wealth was little to none. She had inherited money through family, but Elizabeth used that to pay for knights in the ongoing wars. It was a traditional use of cash in Hungary for large families to finance the armies which would protect them. But she also needed money to prise young girls of lower gentry back to the castle. It was after the death of Darvulia that another woman would come to Elizabeth. Her name was Erzsi Majarova. She told Elizabeth that now she should look towards girls of nobility rather than the peasants she had been using up to this point. The problem was Elizabeth had sent some of her men out to bring back young girls because there were very few left in her area. The search now was opened up, and on most occasions, money would have to pass hands for the girls to be released.
To make ends meet, Elizabeth would sell two of her family's castles, Theben and Beckov. The elixir of life was proving to be costly, if nothing else! But the end was nigh, and feelings were now on another level.
The truth was slowly coming out, and even witnesses were stepping up to give their reports. Initially, Count Thurzo, her cousin, had tried to get Elizabeth away from the castle to a convent where she would be safe from the threats. Still, this was halted upon hearing that the Hungarian parliament had received a formal complaint regarding Elizabeth. Elizabeth's family knew too what had been happening, and it was better for them to stay out of this, for their own safety.
The investigation began; rumours were rife of atrocities that had been circulating for some time. In 1610 King Matthius II ordered Thurzo to investigate the allegations. By October, parliament had received more than 50 witness statements, and within 12 months, that number had risen to over 300. If Elizabeth were to be found guilty, it would destroy her. Although Thurzo was her cousin, his loyalty was to the King. It placed him between a rock and a hard place, but he knew he must follow the King's orders.
Her trail of death was now coming to an end; Thurzo knew he had to gather the facts and, if necessary, punish the guilty. The net was closing in, and it was now Elizabeth who started to look over her shoulder. Yet her barbaric acts would go on, and her need for blood, that elixir of life she so craved to keep her beauty. Elizabeth knew the King was tracking her every move and wanted her removed. But some news was forthcoming that the King might visit her at the castle. Maybe this was an opportunity to remove him along with Thurzo. Elizabeth created a poisonous cake, but when the cake was made and tried out on some of her servants, luckily, all they got was an upset stomach. They did not attempt the method again.
Elizabeth's last victim was a girl from Croatia. Her name was Doricza; she was a powerful buxom woman accused of stealing a pair. She was made to undress and beaten severely by Elizabeth; however, this woman was strong and refused to die, her injuries so bad she was hardly recognisable. Eventually, Elizabeth, now covered in blood, stabbed Doricza with scissors.
On 30 December, Thurzo raided the castle, and the search party moved swiftly through the rooms. Thurzo had stumbled on his way through the courtyard; it was the body of a young girl. Once he had found Elizabeth now 50 years old, her first words to him were, " you'll pay for the intrusion", but Thurzo said, "this is not one of your servants, but the palatine Prince of Hungary that has come to do justice on these accursed walls."
The trial would begin on 2 January 1611. It was a massive occasion and made public. The details to come out of the trial are so incredible and gruesome that many are still hard to believe or how anyone could do to fellow human beings what this one woman and her cohorts did to hundreds of innocent people. The countess was tried on a criminal basis; even if found guilty, she would not be executed due to her noble birth as for Elizabeth's so-called friends, they would be charged with witchcraft and paganism and be burnt at the stake.
When it came to testimonies, the four friends of Elizabeth suggested that between 30 and 60 girls had lost their lives. But what the court heard next was simply the missing piece of the puzzle and one that would resonate not only at the time but even today. A witness called Zusanna was about to open the flood gates on this case. She revealed that in Elizabeth's drawer, she had kept a register listing the names of over 650 girls that over time had been murdered. The evidence was corroborated when realising Elizabeth had written the list. Unbelievably they had kept records of their crimes.
Elizabeth would continue to deny all charges and asked to be seen by the court again to give her position. But the court ignored this. Elizabeth was sentenced with the following words from Count Thurzo. " You are like a wild animal; you are in the last months of your life, you do not deserve to breathe the air on earth, nor see the light of the lord, you shall disappear from this world and shall never reappear in it again. The shadows will envelop you, and you will find time to repent your bestial life."
Elizabeth was condemned to life imprisonment at her castle, although this may sound like she got off lightly. Elizabeth would be placed in a small room that would be walled up. The only light to enter was from a tiny opening where her guards would push food through. Around the castle, four gibbets were erected to show the villagers that the King and Parliament had served justice.
In August 1614, four years after she was first imprisoned, she would die. A guard had seen her slumped over her bed face down. Elizabeth's body was supposed to be interred in the local community, but due to the hate for this woman, she was moved to the original Bathory seat and place of childhood. There are no clues to where her body finally came to rest, with the location remaining a mystery to this day.
The case of Elisabeth Bathory leaves many questions. It has been told hundreds of times, and as we know in a game of Chinese whispers, what starts out as the truth can soon fall into a tale with little to no conviction. It's difficult to know whether the stories of blood baths and horrific tortures are accurate, as it's quite possibly become fictionalised over the following centuries.
There is no doubt, however, that Elizabeth was from a troubled background. She fell prey to others and was taken in quite easily by promises and sadistic pleasures. You'll always find a grain of truth behind every story; however, in this instance, Elizabeth's motives to gain recognition and retain her stature went too far. She was ultimately found guilty of these horrendous crimes. A medieval serial killer, a dangerous woman, sadistic and cruel. And her title of the Countess of Blood is a pretty accurate description.