Over the past couple of years there have been numerous movies which have made reference to the infamous Countess Elizabeth Bathory. That she is one of the most well known female serial killers in history cannot be disputed. However, there are various legends surrounding her which have proved much more difficult to confirm. Chief amongst them is the belief that she had a habit of bathing in the blood of her unfortunate victims in order to retain her youth. This led to her becoming known as ‘The Blood Countess’ and ‘The Bloody Lady of Cachtice’.
Elizabeth Bathory was born in August 1560 and was a descendent of a lineage that had distinguished itself in the war against the Ottoman Turks. Unfortunately, it is suspected that they also harbored a trace of madness. Elizabeth was married to Ferenc Nadasdy at the age of 15 and became the mistress of his home, Cachtice Castle. As her husband was often away for long periods of time, Elizabeth was left to her own devices.
Rumors abounded regarding the goings on at the castle but it wasn’t until the early 1600’s, after Nadasdy’s death, that any real investigation took place. The claims were first championed by Lutheran minister Istvan Magyari between 1602 and 1604. Given the imminent family name, it wasn’t until 1610 that King Matthias assigned Janos Thurza to investigate. The hesitation makes sense given Elizabeth’s noble lineage and her position as a member of high society, not to mention the nature of the allegations.
By the end of that year, the order had been given for the arrest of Elizabeth Bathory as well as four of her servants. The Countess herself was never brought to trial but during those of her accomplices some disturbing information was made public. It was found that Countess Bathory was indeed responsible for not only the deaths, but also the torture, of many young women who had been sent to her through various sources. This included starvation, beatings and being subjected to extreme heat or cold. While there was no evidence that she had bathed in their blood, she apparently had a fondness for biting victims to the point of bleeding. Whether she ingested the resulting blood or was satisfied by simply seeing it is unknown.
King Matthias wished to have her executed, especially since she had graduated from preying on poor peasant girls to daughters of minor nobles. The exact number of her victims is not known but ranges from 20 to 650. Given the time span involved, it is possible that the number of victims was far greater than the lower estimation. In any event it was thought that a death sentence would cause an even greater scandal and Countess Bathory was ultimately condemned to house arrest.
There is a popular myth that she was imprisoned within one of the walls of her castle and left there to die. In reality, she was kept in a walled up set of rooms and fed regularly, though she often refused to eat. She was found dead a few years later and buried in the local cemetery. Villagers were, however, not pleased to have her body among their deceased loved ones and so she was eventually moved to the Bathory family crypt in Hungary.