1611: Three accomplices of Elizabeth Báthory, the Countess of Blood

Four hundred years ago today, on Jan. 7 1611, three servants of the legendary “Countess of Blood” Elizabeth Bathory (Báthory Erzsébet, in the Hungarian) were tried, convicted, and immediately put to death for the noblewoman’s stupendous career of homicide.

This date’s entry is occasioned by the deaths of three subalterns — manservant Janos Ujvary, beheaded; and female attendants Ilona Jo and Dorottya Szentes, fingers ripped off and burned — but the headline attraction is their employer, who was never tried or condemned.

Not, at least, juridically. Posterity’s condemnation of this classic vampire inspiration has been little short of … voluptuous.

A 1971 film based on Elizabeth Bathory’s exploits. Horror star Ingrid Pitt later reprised her “role” with guest vocals on a Cradle of Filth concept album devoted to the Countess, Cruelty and the Beast.

Bathory was rarefied Hungarian nobility, the niece of the King of Poland, which is also the biography of countless aristocrats you’ve never heard of.

The world remembers Elizabeth Bathory because she exploited her rank to butcher hundreds of peasant girls, allegedly to bathe in their rejuvenating blood.

On one occasion, a lady’s-maid saw something wrong in [Elizabeth Bathory’s] head-dress, and as a recompence for observing it, received such a severe box on the ears that the blood gushed from her nose, and spirted on to her mistress’s face. When the blood drops were washed off her face, her skin appeared much more beautiful — whiter and more transparent on the spots where the blood had been.

Elizabeth formed the resolution to bathe her face and her whole body in human blood so as to enhance her beauty.

McFarlane Toys figurine of Erzsebet (Elizabeth) Bathory from its grotesque “Faces of Madness” series.

These scrub-ups are what the Countess of Blood is best remembered for, but however striking the visual, it’s an atrocity that actually doesn’t turn up in the trial records.

But she could hardly complain of the embroidery, having given her interlocutors so much material.

Elizabeth Bathory is supposed to be responsible for over six hundred deaths, starting while her husband was away on campaign, and then carrying on into a wholesale operation after he died. When she and her servants were finally busted at Csejte Castle the end of 1610, their captors found a dead girl, a dying girl, and several others imprisoned and awaiting that fate.

Elizabeth Bathory, a sexually charged 1893 painting by Hungarian impressionist Istvan Csok depicting one of the countess’s victims being drenched in icy water for death by exposure.

So although the confessions the servants made this date to seal their own fates were undoubtedly torture-adduced, the documentary record turns out to be amazingly strong for such a fantastical spree. Hungarian King Matthias II convened a tribunal that examined 200 to 300 witnesses.

One can postulate that the woman ran afoul of a patriarchal culture affronted by her exercise of power or that she became a parable for the “unnatural” lust of a middle-aged woman … but so far as we are left to understand, Erzsebet Bathory really did lure young girls to her castle, and then inflict (pdf) a Nazi doctors’ litany of sadism on them … like jabbing them with needles to drain out their blood. She even kept a log of the victims in her own hand.

So, locals disappearing into the creepy castle, never to be seen again, or possibly to turn up pallid and dead. (Disposing of all those corpses became a logistical problem for the creepy castle.) No surprise to find it associated with the vampire legend.*

And no surprise that the tale became magnified, twisted, and reconfigured by popular culture.

In 1817, as accounts of the testimonies about the alleged murders and sadistic tortures were published for the first time, national and international headlines sensationalized the already misconceived story. From that on [sic], the literary countess took on a life of her own: the Grimm brothers wrote a short story about her, the romantic German writer, Johann Ludwig Tieck (1774 – 1853), cast her as a Gothic femme fatale, Swanhilda, in his short story Wake Not the Dead. It is alleged that Sheridan le Fanu shaped his female vampire Carmilla on Elizabeth Bathory. If we can believe some etymological explanation the compound English word blood-bath is of mid-nineteenth century origin possibly connected to the bloody countess’ rising popularity in England.

-László Kürti, “The Symbolic Construction of the Monstrous — The Elizabeth Bathory Story,” Croatian Journal Of Ethnology and Folklore Research, Jan. 2009

A few books about Erzsebet Bathory

To say nothing of the death porn (link not safe for work).

The noblewoman never faced an executioner herself, owing to her rank; she was shut up in the castle.

* As it turns out, a Bathory ancestor actually fought with the “original Dracula” Vlad the Impaler in the 15th century.

On this day..

9 thoughts on “1611: Three accomplices of Elizabeth Báthory, the Countess of Blood

  1. I have written my own novel about the countess…and they weren’t accomplices of the countess. they acted on their own accord…if they acted at all…Nothing can be trusted back then…they were out to get her from the start…it was very obvious of their intentions…they didn’t find hundreds of bodies, like the legends say…they barely found anyone…and people died from diseases all the time back then…and it was those 4 not 3 servants that acted alone, while the countess wasn’t even there at the time…

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  3. Actually, there were 4 servants put on trial. But, from what I understand, only 3 were put to death, the 4th one was spared.

    I totally agree. This was one huge sham. The king wasn’t the only one who owed the countess’ family tons of money, many many others did as well. I believe there was something going on, murders, torture; But I don’t trust anything written back then. The countess was ultimately found responsible for her servants actions. she was their employer, therefore, she is responsible. So much just doesn’t make any sense.

    Why would she put these 4 servants in charge of other servants. A servant is a servant. What made these 4 special. While she was imprisoned in her castle, a minister came to hear her confessions. Obviously, she never admitted any wrong doing. She pointed out that the 4 servants acted of their own accord. She wrote so many letters, asking to be heard before the courts, but was never allowed to do so. Gee, I wonder why.

  4. There was never a log in her own hand. One of the women testifying said she saw a log. But none was ever presented or seen by anyone else. This whole thing is very similar to the Salem witch trials. 200-300 “witnesses” – everyone riled up into a state of frenzy. Never a trial. The king owed this woman so much money he couldn’t pay it. Hmmm. Convenient to get rid of her. What better way than to accuse her of witchcraft and murder.

    • I just finished a novel about the countess. She was totally rail roaded from the start. She lived in a time where women were property, and she was the most powerful person there was. She was defiant in many ways, unafraid of men. The evidence against her is laughable at best. There were not hundreds of bodies found. They found 1 dead girl and another sick. You realize how many people died from disease back then? Everything about that case stinks. Stinks badly.

  5. I firmly believe now stronger than ever, that this woman was 100% totally rail roaded. Those 3 servants were convicted and put to death, because they were the only who admitted to and actually caught in the act of torturing. The story of why would people go out of their way to snare the countess is complex. But plainly obvious to anyone who looks. She was a woman of vast power and extreme intelligence. IN a day where women were nothing but property, she ruled. Many of the people involved with bringing charges against her, owed her family vast sums of money. With her gone, not only would they not have to pay that money back, but would also get her land.

    There’s a huge reason why, she was never actually put on trial. They had no evidence against her. Imagine today, trying to prosecute someone solely based on the word of admitted killers, with all their testimony gotten from torture. Not too mention she was given no lawyer or even allowed to speak in her own defense. Why? They knew she would tear apart the so called evidence against her, so would any even half way decent lawyer. Don’t be fooled by the myths and legends surrounding her.

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