Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Lady of Blood: Countess Bathory


While her accomplices were tortured and put to death in a variety of ghastly ways --- some had their fingers pulled off, some were buried alive, some were beheaded --- the judges considered what to do with the mistress. King Mathias favored execution, but that meant enacting a special statute to strip her of her royal immunity. Theyd already had to instigate such a statute just to prosecute her. Prime Minister Thurzo, her relative, intervened on her behalf to insist that she was unable to appreciate what she had done. Yet the court report indicated that the number of torture devices found in her residence belied her inability to control her anger. Clearly, she had taken pleasure in her deviant acts.

Igrid Pitt in Countess Dracula
Igrid Pitt in Countess Dracula

Nevertheless, pressure was on to keep her fortune in the family, so in the end Erzsébet Báthory was imprisoned for life, with no formal sentencing, locked in a small set of rooms in her own castle at Cahtice. Her sonand sole heirwrote a letter on her behalf asking for mercy, but her daughter Anna vowed never to speak to her mother again, or allow her children to do so. Erzsébet claimed that she was innocent of all charges. She said the peasant girls died of many different things, from contagious disease to blood poisoning, and she should not be held responsible for the whims of nature.


She was confined to her rooms, with the entrances and windows walled up, save for tiny slits for food and air. Penrose says she was heartbroken that she no longer had her magic incantation. After only three and a half years, during the summer of 1614 (or 1613) when she was 54 (or 53), she died. The evidence of this was her untouched dinner plates. Someone who looked through the slit in the door, says Glut, saw her lying face down on the floor.

When they tore down the walls to retrieve her body, legend has it that they found a brief document to the effect that before her imprisonment she had invoked a darker power to send 99 cats to tear out the hearts of her accusers and judges. The priest, who read it, recalled the cats they had seen that night when they entered the castle.

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