Ghost Stories: Elizabeth Bathory – The Blood Countess
Cachtice castle stands in ruins today, thought in the 16th century, it stood tall and proud. Within the walls of this castle, legends and rumours began. Stories that would lead one countess to be titled The Blood Countess.
Elizabeth Bathory or Erzsébet Báthory as she was known in Hungarian, became famous for her murders of young girls over twenty years.
Bathory was born in 1560, married when she was only twelve years of age to Ferenc Nádasdy. It was Ferenc who gave her Cachtice castle as a wedding gift. Of course as most marriages were for political gain, this one was no different.
Bathory was schooled in Greek, Latin, and Hungarian and as everything but illiterate. It was said that she was a great beauty, thought no one would speak openly about the daughter of one of the most influential families in Hungary.
In 1578, her husband became chief commander of Hungarian troops. Elizabeth was in charge of the estates and business affairs of the lands, later she was also given the power to defend the estates. She intervened on behalf of women who were destitute, including a woman who’s husband was kidnapped by the Turks and her daughter who was raped and impregnated.
One would think that with a kind heart like Elizabeth’s that nothing grim and gruesome would be going on behind the walls of the castle. She was considered a doting mother to all of her children. It might have even been her husband who turned her on to the idea of torturing her servants for her own pleasure. The real reason why she did it isn’t completely known.
Legends tell that Elizabeth, would beat her servants with barbed leashes, heavy cudgels and then drag them into snow where they would be doused in ice water until they froze to death. Later it was told that she began to use blood to reduce the aging after discovering this after she struck a servant for pulling her hair. Various eye-witness accounts tell vivid details of her crimes, but none saying that she actually took baths in blood.
In 1610 rumours flew around, and soon could not be ignored by the King. He assigned Juraj Thurzo to seek the truth to these rumours. On December 30th, Thurzo invaded the castle to find a dead girl in the hall, and many more dead, dying or awaiting torture in one of the many cells. At this time only a few of Elizabeth’s personal servants were taken; Helena Jo, Dorothea and Ficzko. The evidence and the confessions, probably tortured out of them was enough to convict them within a few days.
The two women were considered witches and had their fingers dipped in Christian blood then the nails removed with red hot pincers, after this they were burned alive. Ficzko was decapitated and then burned next to the women.
Testimonies of witnesses gave accounts of what happened, most were considered hearsay, but ones that were consistent included:
- Beatings over long periods of time, often resulting in death
- mutilation or removal of hands, face and sometimes genitalia
- biting flesh off their faces, arms or other body parts
- freezing to death
- fatal surgeries
- Sexual abuse
The actual count of victims was around 650, but it unknown if that is the true number. Elizabeth, to save face of the family, was not convicted of any crimes. However, she was considered a menace to her family and their name, and was placed under house arrest. Elizabeth Bathory was walled into her bedroom, which had a slot for air and food to pass through.
Four years later, a guard of Bathory’s room, found her face down, dead.
One thing I find incredibly interesting about the lives of people like Elizabeth Bathory, and like Vlad the Impaler, is when you read about them you find they were incredibly devote Christians. But over the years, that devotion to the Christian faith is given a wash and more focus placed on the atrocities that they committed.
Were they evil and villinous in their lives? No question, their techniques in war, such as Vlad, were sickening. The descriptions of how he staked people were horrifying. Elizabeth’s life became akin to one of the seven deadly sins. She was so vain in her appearance, but I believe that can be attributed to everyone around her saying she was so beautiful. She wanted to retain that beauty and did whatever she could to keep it.
The views of these two by eastern and western Europe are also very different, especially with Vlad the Impaler. In Western Europe after Vlad’s death, the west painted him as a maniacal madman who took great pleasure in seeing his enemies suffer. Whereas in the East, his actions were defended as a prince protecting his people, taking on their sins so they could live life free of sin. As well, he was heralded as a hero for his actions. In Germany and Russian, documentation has been recorded about Vlad’s exploits, and while some are very similar in the accounts of the events, they paint an entirely different picture.
Elizabeth wasn’t the warlord that Vlad was. She wasn’t protecting her properties or her homeland. Her husband had done that already. But there was a great deal of political intrigue that surrounded the aspect of Elizabeth, especially with her relations to powerful people in Hungary and Poland. In Hungary, those in power knew that Bathory was slaughtering innocents for her own pleasure, but they couldn’t really do anything about it due to her political connections in Poland. No one wanted to start a war over this. Bathory’s accomplises were eventually tried and executed, but Bathory herself was walled up in her castle. In some of the accounts, you could almost say there was an amount of sympathy for this woman.
What’s even more incredible about Bathory’s history is that she began as a very kind hearted woman.So, what exactly set her off to become known throughout history as the Blood Countess? We can only really speculate and offer educated guesses, as medical records were not kept nearly as accurate as they are today. But it may have been a condition of the mind, and as the mind grows older, the mind can change a great deal. Was Bathory insane? I think one merely need examine the accounts of her life after becoming known as the Blood Countess to come to a conclusion.
Vlad and Bathory were just two individuals throughout history that lead very villainous lives. Sure, there were others, but these two had their stories retold generation after generation. With the telling of each story details may have been exagerated, twisted or even completely changed to make it seem more horrifying than it really was. Such as the case with the concept of the vampire becoming prevelent in both Vlad and Bathory. Which can only stand to reason as they both live in an area of Romania where the populous believed in vampirism so readily.
So with these two, no there wasn’t any grim tales of hauntings or any ghostly visits that continue at their castles. Why do they appear in a list of ghost stories throughout the month of October? Because their actions in life were equally as horrifying, in most cast moreso, as what ghost stories could ever be told.