During the Christmas season in 1609 (or 1610), King Mathias II of Hungary sent a party of men to the massive Castle Csejthe. He had heard rumors that several young women from the area were being held in the castle against their will, if not actually killed. In haste, he sent the team to investigate.
Valentine Penrose described what happened in Erzsébet Báthory, La Comtesse Sanglante
, translated in English as The Bloody Countess
, and a fictionalized account can be found in The Blood Countess,
by Andrei Codrescu, which provides a good sense of the setting. Yet the earliest accounts derive from an 18th Century history of Hungary
, by Father Laslo Turáczi with a monograph published in 1744, and a 1796 German publication, which is translated and quoted in Sabine Baring-Goulds 1865 account of werewolf legends around the world.
These men knew they had to be careful. The beautiful mistress of the manor, known for her lustrous black hair and pale skin, was of royal blood and was especially well connected. Once married to a warrior count known as Hungarys Black Hero for his bravery in battles with the Turks, she was related to princes and kings, bishops and cardinals, and she was the cousin of Prime Minister Thurzoa member of the very party that approached her imposing domain that night with such stealth and trepidation. If she recognized his colors, she would let him in, but their preference was to arrive unannounced. The womans uncle, Stephen Báthory, had been king of Poland
. If the persistent rumors proved to be unfounded, she could be a dangerous political enemy. On the other hand, if they were true, then something had to be done to stop her.
Stephen Bathory, King of Poland
It was cold and the men had difficulty finding their way, even with a few torches. The talk around town was that the woman they sought would be having one of her late-night clandestine gatheringsa sight to behold if they managed to get that close, and probably incriminatingfor witchcraft, at the very least. They hoped to catch her in a deviant illegal act. People down the hill in the village often claimed to have heard screams emanating from within this place, and they spoke of disappearing girls and of murder, but no one had dared approach the regal, 50-something countess until now. Word had come to the king that she had kidnapped or killed nine girls from good families.
The men who came together for this raid had heard that the mistress was a practitioner of the Dark Arts and they did not dare let her servants spot them. A spell must be avoided at all cost. Thats why they crept close to the castle without announcing their presence. All told, the party consisted of the prime minister, a priest who had lodged the complaint, the local governor (who was also a relative of this woman), and several soldiers. Climbing the imposing hill on which the stone castle stood, they stopped to catch their breath and to ensure they had not been detected. Most of the windows were dark, but the castle was a large stronghold and those inside could be almost anywhere. So far, there had been no cry of alarm and no evidence of a guard at the door. They moved on toward the castle, preparing to break in.
To their surprise, the massive wooden door stood partly ajar, as if inviting them in, so they pushed it open and entered. To their right, a cat jumped out, startling them. They had heard that the Countess used these animals as her wicked emissaries, sending them out to attack her enemies. Two more cats emerged from the shadows. The priest quickly crossed himself. He counted six cats in all and would later have reason to remember them.
At that moment they saw, quite unexpectedly, the first evidence of what they had come for.