Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Lady of Blood: Countess Bathory

Current Notions

Melton points out in The Vampire Companion that no testimony was offered at Báthorys trial regarding her supposed habit of bathing in the blood of her victims. No one raised the issue and no one reported it. Yet the records of the trial were sealed at the time so as not to embarrass the Hungarian aristocracy. No one among them was even allowed to mention her name.

Laszlo Turáczi collected the documents and folktales a century later and recorded them in his book. Melton says that it was this man who first suggested the countesss gory bathing habits (Penrose says the account was from contemporary records), and his book appeared in Europe when there was widespread fear of vampires. How much of the tale was embellished is difficult to say. Although Erzsébet shows up in many accounts about real vampires, she never actually drank blood, to anyones knowledgedespite Penroses habit of calling her a vampire throughout his book. Nevertheless, she has been immortalized in fiction and film as a vampire.

During the 1980s, McNally published Dracula was a Woman: In Search of the Blood Countess of Transylvania. He claimed that Dracula author Bram Stoker had read about the countess in Sabine Baring-Goulds 1865 The Book of Werewolves, which offered an account in the context of werewolf legends. McNally also suggested that some of that tale may have influenced Stoker to set his story in Transylvania. Since the drinking of blood appeared to help Dracula to become youthful, McNally argues that the folklore about Erzsébet Báthorys own obsession with blood and youth may have come into Stokers calculations for his monster. [Báthorys] legend certainly played a major role in the creation of the character of Count Dracula, he wrote. He also said that the character of Renfield, the life-eater bore strong similarities to the countess.

Dracula, Sense and Nonsense book
Dracula, Sense and Nonsense book
Yet scholar Elizabeth Miller, in Dracula: Sense and Nonsense, contradicts this notion. Rubbish! she insists. Though a brief section on Báthory appears in one of Stokers source-texts [Baring-Gould], no evidence exists that he was influenced by it or even read it. She claims the hypothetical link between Báthory and the character of Count Dracula derives from publications during the 1970s, notably Gabriel Ronays 1972 book, The Dracula Myth and Donald Gluts 1971 True Vampires of History. Miller asserts that many critics assume that if Báthory is mentioned in one of Stokers sources, then he both read and was influenced by it. Having read Stokers notes herself, Miller claims that McNally is in error when he says that references to Báthory are in the notes. More likely, Miller goes on to suggest, he was influenced by Baring-Goulds association between vampires and werewolves.

 

Whether Erzébet Bathóry drank or bathed in blood, was obsessed with youth, or targeted young women for their skin, she certainly was a bloodthirsty tyrant even during a time when aristocrats were rarely called on the carpet for such deeds. Even disregarding tales gained through torture, the evidence from the many missing girls, testimony from damaged survivors, and the discovery of human remains all serve to underscore the charge of extreme torture and serial murder.

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