People
Fact-checked

At PublicPeople, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.

Learn more...

Who is Erzsebet Bathory?

Erzsébet Báthory, a 16th-century Hungarian noblewoman, is infamously known as the 'Blood Countess.' Her legacy is shrouded in tales of her gruesome acts, with accusations of torturing and killing young women. While some argue her story is exaggerated, her life remains a dark enigma. What truths lie behind her notorious legend? Uncover the layers of history with us.
Niki Foster
Niki Foster
Niki Foster
Niki Foster

Erzsebet Bathory, sometimes called the Blood Countess, Bloody Countess, or Bloody Lady of Cachtice, was a Hungarian Countess who lived from 1560 to 1614. She tortured and murdered as many as 600 or 700 women according to some counts, while some sources list a much lower number, between 35 and 60. She is a controversial figure, as her history has been the basis of much legend and fictionalized accounts, and it is often difficult to separate fact from fiction in her story. Nevertheless, she stands as one of the most famous female serial killers of all time and is nearly as important as Vlad Tepes in vampire lore.

The most famous story about Erzsebet Bathory, though undocumented and widely disbelieved by scholars, is that she bathed in the blood of her virgin victims in order to preserve her own youth. A highly unlikely legend holds that she violently slapped a maid one day and observed that her skin looked younger and whiter where it had been splashed with the maid's blood, thereby conceiving the idea of regular blood baths for which she required an increasing supply of young females. Raymond T. McNally, her 20th century biographer, holds that such legends were invented and circulated in order to explain why a woman would indulge in brutality and sadism, considered to be strictly masculine vices in the 18th and 19th centuries. Many stories about Erzsebet Bathory also include overtly sexual torture, probably based on the fact that all her victims were women, but this speculation is also not supported by historical evidence.

Man holding a globe
Man holding a globe

Erzsebet Bathory was born in Nyirbator, Hungary, on 7 August 1560, the product of a long standing and powerful family of Hungarian nobility. She was engaged to Ferencz Nadasdy and moved to Nadasdy Castle when she was 11 years old, and the two married in 1575. Cachtice Castle, a Nadasdy family holding, was presented to Bathory by her husband as a wedding gift, and she was to spend the remainder of her life there.

Nadasdy became the commander of Hungarian troops against the Turks in 1578, and Bathory managed the castle while he was away on the front. Bathory also helped to defend Vienna during this war, known as the Long War, for the Hapsburgs currently in control of Hungary. Cachtice was plundered by Turkish forces in 1599, but Vienna remained secure. Nadasdy died in either 1602 or 1604, and his death is attributed to various causes in different sources.

Bathory began her sadistic activities with her maids, but soon began to seek other means to ensure a steady supply, as most of her victims did not live long and she killed multiple women every week. Left to her own devices after the death of her husband and supported by a few loyal servants, Bathory is said to have employed a number of procuresses and to have induced young female members of the lower gentry to stay at her castle in the search for victims. In 1610, the parish priest of Cachtice and monks living in Vienna complained to the Viennese courts about the cries emanating from Bathory's castle. When her estate was investigated, she was caught in the act of torture and numerous dead victims were found.

Bathory was not brought to trial, probably for political reasons due to the influence of her relatives and the possible repercussions for them, but she was placed under house arrest and her servants and others were interrogated. In 1611, three of her servants were executed, and Bathory was bricked into a single room in Cachtice Castle and fed through a hole in the door. She died three years later, on 21 August 1614.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who was Erzsebet Bathory and why is she infamous?

Erzsebet Bathory, also known as Elizabeth Bathory, was a Hungarian noblewoman born in 1560. She is infamous for her alleged gruesome crimes, which include the torture and murder of young women. According to legend and some historical accounts, she believed that bathing in the blood of virgins would maintain her youthful appearance. Her notoriety has earned her the nickname "The Blood Countess," and she is often cited as one of the most prolific female serial killers in history, with the number of her victims purportedly reaching up to 650, although this figure is widely debated among historians.

What evidence exists regarding the crimes of Erzsebet Bathory?

The evidence against Erzsebet Bathory primarily consists of testimonies from her servants and survivors, as well as physical evidence found at her castle. During her trial in 1611, numerous witnesses reported her cruelty and detailed the methods of torture she allegedly employed. However, it's important to note that Bathory herself was never put on trial and never confessed; her conviction was based on the testimony of others. Some modern historians argue that the evidence may have been exaggerated or even fabricated due to political motives.

How did Erzsebet Bathory's trial and conviction unfold?

Erzsebet Bathory was arrested in 1610, and her trial took place the following year. She was not present at the trial; instead, over 300 witnesses and survivors gave testimonies against her and her accomplices. Based on these accounts, her accomplices were convicted and executed, but Bathory herself was never formally tried or sentenced to death. Instead, she was placed under house arrest in a set of rooms within her own castle, where she remained until her death in 1614.

What is the historical significance of Erzsebet Bathory's story?

Erzsebet Bathory's story is significant for several reasons. It provides insight into the lives of the nobility in early modern Europe and the potential for abuse of power. Her case also reflects the legal and social standards of the time, particularly concerning the treatment of women and the judicial process. Additionally, her legend has influenced popular culture, contributing to the vampire mythos and the trope of the femme fatale in literature and film.

Has recent scholarship shed new light on Erzsebet Bathory's life and alleged crimes?

Recent scholarship has indeed re-examined the life and legacy of Erzsebet Bathory. Some historians suggest that she may have been the victim of a politically motivated conspiracy, as her extensive wealth and landholdings were coveted by others. Additionally, the lack of direct evidence and the reliance on hearsay and confessions obtained under torture have led to questions about the veracity of the accusations against her. This reevaluation has sparked debates about her guilt and the extent of her crimes, suggesting that the truth may be more complex than the legend.

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a PublicPeople editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

Learn more...
Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a PublicPeople editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

Learn more...

You might also Like

Discussion Comments

anon349395

That is fascinating and horrifying.

Post your comments
Login:
Forgot password?
Register:
    • Man holding a globe
      Man holding a globe