It has been widely accepted in popular culture to see Countess Elizabeth Bathory as one of the most sadistic serial killers the world has known. This infamous lady is well known for her torturing and, in some account, even bathing in her victims’ blood. The horrendous crimes, which Elizabeth Bathory was accused of, have kept many intrigued for years. They have been portrayed through movies, plays and books for centuries. However, recently, due to more evidence and revision of past information, we have been given a new insight on the crimes committed by Bathory.
This information gives a new outlook on the life of the Countess, and doesn’t focus primarily on the crimes, but instead attempts to reconstruct its historiography. With this new material, we can see that there have been two different interpretation of the Countess. There is one that portrays her as a prolific, narcissistic serial killer, while the other portrays her as “a defenseless widow who owns more property than the king himself and who, as a result, becomes a victim of scheming from on high. – Kimberly Craft The popular perception of Elizabeth Bathory as a vicarious serial killer has been glamorized through many movies, books and plays. An illustration of this is “The Bloody Countess” by Valentine Penrose, a historian who studied and wrote about Bathory during the middle of the 1990’s. Her book promotes the interpretation of Elizabeth as being merely just a sadistic killer. The author claims that the Countess first started killing her servants due to lesbian urges, which she had during her adolescences (“Blood Countess,” par. 1).
As stated in the book, Bathory soon came to believe that the blood from her young victims could help to retain her beautiful porcelain skin, and thus, in the name of vanity and beauty, the Countess began torturing her slaves and draining their blood in order to bath in it. In some other books, for example “True vampires of history” by Donald Glut, Elizabeth was said to practice witchcraft and carried “a parchment on which was inscribed an incantation for protection” (Ramsland, par. 1).
Countess still continued to practice her torture rituals and write to him about them. The image of Elizabeth as a witch and a vampire has also been shown through the book “Bathory – Memoir of a Countess” by A. Mordeaux. The book again focuses the crimes she accused of, with pages filled with stories of Countess Elizabeth Bathory torturing and bathing in her victims’ blood. Mordeaux also blames the crimes Elizabeth committed on a mixture of the inborn nature of her family, her sadistic temperament and last but not least, her lonely childhood (“Blood Countess,” par. ). Most of the materials in those books mentioned above are perhaps written based on the testimony of the Countess’s cooperators during her trials. The witness accounts made by her accomplices before their death mostly accused Elizabeth of being extremely cruel to her servants. However, these accounts should not be taken as the absolute truth because of the fact that her accomplices were tortured into giving the accounts (“Bathory’s Accomplices,” par. 3). In order to stop the pain or to escape the death sentence, they would have said anything during that trial.
Furthermore, although testimonies were given by a large number of witnesses, they were mainly third hand hearsay, rumors or even gossip (Gelhaar, par. 5). Moreover, Elizabeth was never allowed to defend herself or to be defended against the accusation leveled at her; hence, the truth about the crimes she committed still remains unknown (Craft 203). The background of the time of her conviction also has a great impact in whether to consider the Countess as a sadistic killer or not. At the end of the 16th century, the area where Elizabeth lived had suffered years of bloody was, which resulted in a state of flux (“Blood Countess,” par. ). There was not mercy during that time; hence, torture and execution were a daily occurrence. Even within a household, methods of torture and punishment, that appear to be horrendous to us, were routinely employed to keep the servants in line. Cruel punishments were also carried out in front of the staff and within days of the punishment taking place, this might lead to death. Tony Thorne, who wrote “Countess Dracula: Life and time of Elizabeth Bathory”, explains the regular use of torture and that it is generally accepted at the time. The Countess is said to use it a lot and also had it applied to others under her instruction.
However, the writer finds an argument that some of the witness testimony used to incriminate her were actually descriptions of her torture gone wrong. In a time when a servant’s death from a beating was regarding as an unfortunate accident and that the practice of these torture techniques were commonplace, it is hardly likely that a malpractice would be accused of a sadistic killing. In many books, Countess Bathory is said to be obsessed about her age and appearance, and in order to restore youthfulness and maintain her beauty, she drained the blood of young peasant girls and bathed in it (“Blood Countess,” par. 4).
It is interesting; however, that all allegations provided by over three hundred witnesses, including the Countess’s four accomplices who confessed under torture, none specifically mentioned her bathing in the blood of victims (“Bathory’s Accomplices,” par. 3). In fact, the theory of Elizabeth bathing in the blood of her victims came up during the mid 1700’s, which is two hundred years after Elizabeth’s death (Craft 81). The story of the Countess’s blood-bathing, which is said to be brought up by a priest named Laszlo Turoczi, was very popular at that time because, during the mid 1700’s, the “vampire mania” was sweeping Europe.
Laszlo’s story was later adapted by Matej Bel in his encyclopedia on Hungarian history and geography. Since Matej was an academic and his work considered credible, the blood-bathing legend went unchallenged until now (Craft 82). With this information, we must look at the old books and plays which were written about Elizabeth, and question: Was this interpretation of the life and crimes of the Countess really fair? And what do we really know of Elizabeth Bathory? Recently books about the Countess such as “ Countess Dracula: Life and Times of Elisabeth Bathory” by Tony Throne and “The Infamous Lady” by Kimberly L. Craft focus on stripping away the myth from the fact instead of dwelling on the gruesome parts of Elizabeth’s crimes. Many books regarding to Elizabeth in the past have failed to mention the fact that Elizabeth received an outstanding education when she was little. She could read and write fluently in four languages and also appeared to have been interested in religion as well as the sciences. Various documents written in her own hand prove her ability to write fluently (Craft 148). Countess Elizabeth, by all accounts, cared about her children and provided well for them.
She made sure that her two daughters receive great wedding celebrations, partnering them with young men from prestigious families. Elizabeth also made certain that her son received fine education and that he would be the inheritor of her estate (Craft 52). The Countess also gave generously to the church, patronized scholars and the arts, and even protected incomes of the clergy (Craft 148). With all the evidence provided above, we wonder how someone as brilliant, poised, and wealthy as Countess Bathory could be sadistic and prolific serial killers.
According to “The Infamous Lady” by Kiberly Craft, when considered in a larger historical and political context, it appears that Elizabeth was a victim of an aristocratic conspiracy, and that her original accusers were politically and financially motivated. It was known that Elizabeth’s husband, Ferenc Nadasdy, lent enormous sums of money to the Hungarian Crown. At his death, the Crown owed him nearly 18000 gulden, an amount even King Matyas II could not afford to pay (Craft 67).
When Ferenc was away for duty, it was Elizabeth who ran all the estates of her husband, and it cost lots of money to operate them since the tax billing was increasingly heavy. After her husband death, the money stated drying up and the protection from her husband evaporated. It was during this time that the Countess made frequent trips back and forth to Court, each time demanding the King himself to repay the debts owed to her deceased husband (Craft 115). There was a theory which suggested that due to the stress of being alone and vulnerable, the Countess suffered a mental breakdown and seek to indulge herself in murderous rage.
With the rising number of victims, rumors started to form. King Matyas immediately ordered Thurzo, Lord Palentine in Hungary, to hold secret investigation on the Countess (“Blood Countess,” par. 1). Even after the Countess was sentenced life imprisonment by Thurzo, King Matyas still insisted on bringing another trial ( Craft 180). It could be understood that the King believed if Elizabeth received the death penalty, her property would cede to the Crown and his debt to her be cancelled.
Conversely, further investigation resulted in terrible evidence against Ferenc Nadasdy, a Hungary’s national hero, as well as many other nobles (Craft 181). In order to protect the Bathory and Nadasdy and other nobles reputations, the King finally agreed with the decision of Lord Thurzo in condition that his debt will be cancelled and a small portion of the Countess’s lands would be cede to him. In fact, in the beginning of the investigation, Thurzo was hatching a plot to either put the Countess away in a covent or imprison her for life in Csejthe Castle.
Thurzo and Elizabeth’s sons-in-law were already preparing to take over the administration of her estates immediately upon her apprehension. Their intention was presented in a letter concerning about a share of choice property, which was sent to Thurzo by Zrinyi, one of the Countess’s sons-in-law (Craft119). In other words; everyone would win except for Countess Elizabeth. In conclusion, the Countess was not completely innocence; however, her case shows evidence of political conspiracy, leading to severe miscarriages of justice.
There has been a clear exaggeration of her story, which makes Elizabeth an archetype of a serial killer, whose power and status allowed her to kill many young servants. Again, the complexity of her case makes her a figure of fascinating study. Overtime, we hopefully will come to better understand her personality and the cause of her crimes.