Cited alongside Vlad the Impaler as an inspiration for Bram Stoker’s eponymous vampire, Dracula, the blood-thirsty version of ‘The Blood Countess’ is the one most ingrained in the collective memory. Some scholars, however, now question the validity of numerous accusations, suggesting that rather than a murderer, as a powerful & recently widowed female figure, Bathory may have been the victim of political betrayal.
Báthory Erzsébet de Ecsed (in native Hungarian) was born a countess in 1560/61 to a violent & inbred noble family of wealthy landowners. The subject of rumour and speculation during her own life, the passage of time has only served to further obscure the truth about Báthory…
It is said that, as a child, Báthory witnessed the punishment of a local peasant thief who was stitched, live, into the stomach of a dying horse and left to a slow and cruel death. She is also believed to have suffered from epilepsy, which at the time was treated with the blood of non-epileptics – both by rubbing it onto the lips and by ingesting it.
This background information becomes potentially relevant in 1610, when Báthory stood accused of the disappearance, torture, and death of somewhere between 80 and 650 peasant girls and female servants.
The myth remains widespread to this day that Báthory slit the veins of young women and bathed in their blood, seeking eternal youth and beauty, but the testimonies reportedly only mentioned torture including the mutilating of hands, burning & freezing of flesh, starvation, and biting or possible cannibalism.
Rumours of her actions began spreading in 1602, a year after her husband & chief commander of the Hungarian military troops, Count Ferenc Nádasdy de Nádasd et Fogarasföld, fell ill.
Eventually, in 1610, a widow of 6 years, Báthory was accused by a King significantly indebted to her and investigated by the very man into whose care her husband’s will had entrusted her and their heirs.
As a rich, powerful, and now solitary female figure, Báthory was looked unfavourably upon, and everyone who rose against her during the investigation stood to benefit personally from her demise.
Báthory was imprisoned, avoiding public trial & execution, in her home, Csejte (or Čachtice) Castle for the four remaining years of her life.
Whilst it is sometimes easy to idealise or trivialise events that occurred in the depths of our collective past, it is important to remember that – if the accusations are to be believed – Báthory remains the ‘most prolific serial killer in history’ to this day (source: Guinness World Records), and if not, she was a woman wronged repeatedly in the eternalising pages of history.
🗡️Assailant or Victim: which do you think the Countess was?
Have a listen to the Báthory-inspired bands below, whilst sharing your thoughts in the comment section.