Bizarre: The story of Elizabeth Báthory

Posted on Wednesday 27 January 2010 at 1:51 pm in category: Anti Helden - Anti Heroes
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Elizabeth Bathory

After writing that thing about Issei Sagawa a while ago, I wanted to write some more about evil people.  In my search for evil people in history, this time I've come across somebody that may or may not be the most evil person ever (not taking people like Hitler in consideration).

The evil person I would like to introduce to you today is probably the most prolific serial killer in history. The fact that it is a woman is pure coincidence.

Let me introduce you to countess Elizabeth Báthory:

Elisabeth Bathory

Elisabeth Báthory

In recent years it has been a little quiet around serial killers, but the 70's and 80's of the 20th century were definitely the glory days for psychopathic killers like John Wayne GacyJeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy. Around that time, serial killing seemed to be a hobby exclusively performed in the USA, but long before that, we had the famous Jack the Ripper in England. Of course, serial killing was not invented by Jack the Ripper, although he was the first serial killer that had a lot of media exposure, making him one of the earliest well-known serial killers.

Back in the day though, at the end of the 16th and beginning of the 17th century, is when Elizabeth Bathory had her killing spree.

Being born in 1560 in Hungary, she was only 11 years old when she was engaged to Ferenc Nádasdy, and in 1575 they got married. As a wedding present, she received Csejte Castle, together with a nice countryhouse called Cachtice, and the 17 villages surrounding it. Ferenc was commander in chief of the Hungarian army, so he wasn't home a lot. In that time, armies were pretty busy trying to chop other armies in pieces, so Elizabeth was usually at home alone with the servants, and she had to manage the estates and the family's business.

After some strange rumors about the countess had spread to the court in Vienna (especially the rumor about bathing in blood raised some eyebrows), a careful investigation was started. You couldn't just bust into a castle Law and Order style with a search warrant form the DA's office, so it took from the first time somebody complained in 1602 until 1610 until she was arrested by György Thurzó. And even then, there was not going to be a trial. Although four of her servants were sentenced to death, Elizabeth was placed under house arrest, and would remain in her castle until she was found dead in her room four years later.

Only after she was arrested, when people started coming forward with eye-witness testimonies, the full horror of what had happened became clear (although some of the testimonies might be exagerrated). A small selection of some accusations include, but is not limited to:

  • 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 including biting off and eating the bellybuttons
  • freezing to death
  • surgery on victims, often fatal
  • starving of victims
  • and of course the obligatory sexual abuse

Quite an impressive summary, even for that time, I think.

Of course, because of the rumors that the servants in the castle usually didn't live very long, the supply of local peasants' daughters dried up pretty quickly. So instead of indulging in the local girls, Elizabeth had moved on to the daughters of the lower gentry, that were sent to the castle for education. This probably started her downfall, because nobody would ever investigate the dissapearing of peasant maid-servants, but when the daughters of the nobility started to dissapear, people became a little more curious.

The exact amount of victims Elizabeth Bathory made is unknown, but it is believed that a couple hundred is a good estimate of the rough order of magnitude of the crimes. During the trial, witnesses said they had seen between 100 and 200 bodies carried out of one of her castles at some point in time (she owned 5 castles, you do the math), and others said they had seen a list, written by Bathory herself, with the names of around 650 victims.

Two of her four servant-accomplices (all women) were thrown in a fire following the trial in 1911, after their nails had been pulled out of their fingers. The third was decapitated first, which was considered a lesser sentence, and the fourth was sent to prison for life, because she had only acted under the domination of the other women.

A story like this is an excellent opportunity to make a movie, and that is what the Czech movie director Juraj Jakubisko did. You can watch a 9 minute trailer on You Tube.

A good read on her life is this book: Infamous Lady: The True Story of Countess Erzsébet Báthory

There is a lot lot of stuff to read if you're interested of course, here's some links: