Erzsebet Bathory, often recognized as Elizabeth, may very well be the best known female killer throughout history; she is listed in Gunness World Book Of Records as being the woman with the highest body count: between 80 and 650. It’s certainly an impressive number, but is it factual? Was Erzsebet truly a blood thirsty serial killer, or a woman in power who ran things so well that those in her presence plotted against her?
Erzsebet was born into a wealthy noble Hungarian family on August 7th of 1560; her people ruled Transylvania, her Uncle Stephen had been king of Poland, and she’d had blood ties to royalty in Lithuania. As a child Erzsebet suffered more than her fair share of health issues including seizures, a condition which many believe to have been a side effect of her family’s generational inbreeding.
Erzsebet was very well educated for a young lady of her time, she not only had a great deal of business sense but could speak several different languages with ease. If this hadn’t made her enough of a catch, the child grew to become one of the greatest beauties of her time. In 1575, when Erzsebet was just 15, she wed the 19 year old Count Ferencz Nádasdy, who had also been born into very powerful family. As a wedding present the Count gifted his beautiful bride 17 villages and the enormous Castle C̆achtice to have as her very own; it was within this castle that the couple raised their four children.
It is said that the marriage had been a happy one, that the couple had been deeply in love but the Count had rarely been home – especially in the later part of the marriage. Ferencz had been a highly regarded chief war commander; while her husband was away, the Countess was left in charge of not only her own castle, her villages, but also those which had belonged to Count Ferencz. The Countess had single handily been responsible for defending all of these areas as well; it must be said that the woman was exceedingly intelligent, and she could govern her people rather effortlessly. At one time Erzsebet had been known as a champion amongst her people, but especially for the women; the Countess had gone above and beyond to help women in need.
Erzsebet’s husband passed away on January 4th of 1604, after a long bout with an illness; this is when the tales of her cruelty began to circulate. It was said that young girls, servants and peasants between the ages of ten and fourteen who’d lived in Erzsebet’s villages had been disappearing. It wasn’t until 1610 that Hungarian King Matthias The Second decided to actually have these claims investigated, and he placed a man named Gyorgy Thurzo in charge of the investigation; Thurzo found hundreds of witnesses willing to testify against the Countess. It is said that she had lured these girls to her castle with the promise of work, and they’d never be heard from again; others had been forcibly kidnapped. Eventually Erzsebet is said to have gotten a little too comfortable, and she began to lure girls from good families, girls who would definitely be missed. Some of these witnesses claimed to have seen the ravaged remains of the Countess’s victims.
It is said that Erzsebet had thoroughly enjoyed the act of torture. There are tales of terrible abuse suffered at the hands of the Countess: beatings, the burning of flesh, mouths which had been sewn shut, needles shoved into the victim’s fingernails, biting so savage that chunks of these girls faces and/or breasts were ripped off, and even cannibalism. It’s said that she’d liked to starve these girls, or drench them in freezing cold water and force them to stay outside until they froze to death. There’s talk of victims having been coated in honey and eaten alive by insects, and pieces of them being snipped off with scissors while still alive. It’s just horrific.
So the story goes that police arrived at the castle during this big murder party type thing, and that Erzsebet and her cohorts were caught in the act. That’s not the way it went down, in reality the authorities busted in on the Countess during dinner; she and four of her servants were arrested on December 30th of 1609. Erzsebet’s cohorts were tortured until they confessed, tried, and burnt at the stake; though she was believed to have killed at least 80, due to her status the Countess’s life was spared. Erzsebet was forced to live the rest of her life within a tower of her castle; walls were erected around her, and the woman could not leave. She had very little interaction with anyone, and finally passed away in August of 1614.
So let’s discuss the common rumors and theories surrounding this case, shall we? I know what you’re wanting to hear them and I do aim to please! Surely you’ve heard that Lizzie was into the dark arts – witchcraft and Satanism, and that some of her victims had often been sacrificed. There’s actually nothing substantial about this claim, and the Countess had been a practicing Christian – Protestant, to be precise. Now on to the biggest belief, the main thing which Erzsebet is known for: bathing in the blood of her victims. The story goes that she had been abusing a young servant girl one day when blood splashed on the Countess’s own skin. Once she’d cleansed the area, Erzsebet is said to have noticed that the skin where the blood had fallen now appeared to be more youthful. The rumor goes that from this day forward she’d practiced bleeding these young peasant girls, that she painted their blood on her own skin and even bathed in it. In all reality this almost certainly did not happen. It’s very possible that this claim originated from Erzsebet’s epilepsy, as placing blood which had belonged to a non-epileptic on the lips of a person having the fit had been the common treatment back in those days.
Today it’s thought by many that Erzsebet hadn’t been responsible for much (if any) of what she has been accused of, many believe that she was completely innocent. It’s commonly believed that people had been upset that a woman had so much power, and that she had been capable of running things the way she did. And you must admit, it is a bit strange that no one complained about her dirty deeds until she’d become a widow. When the Count passed away he left all of his land to his wife, which meant that she now owned one of the largest estates (if not the biggest) in all of Hungary; in order words Erzsebet was now ridiculously powerful. So, could this really have been just one big conspiracy against the Countess? Well, the townspeople who had testified to having witnessed the kidnappings, torture, murders, and the corpses, most of them had merely testified to second hand information; it was rumors – they’d known of someone who’d claimed to have witnessed it. Of the hundreds of statements collected, only a few actually claimed to have witnessed these atrocities for themselves. The servants who had confessed to having helped the Countess had done so during their own torture, there was no such thing as a coerced confession back then. But why would a well loved noblewoman be conspired against in this way? This is the icing on the cake right here: Erzsebet had been so wealthy that the king Matthias of Hungary had owed her a good deal of money. It must be said that the king had made no bones about it, he’d wanted Erzsebet put to death but Thurzo wouldn’t permit it; after the Countess was accused of these murders, the king’s debt was quashed. So was Erzsebet truly the blood thirsty, black arts practicing serial killer as we have all been led to believe? Most modern day scholars do not believe that she was.