Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Lady of Blood: Countess Bathory

The Lady

There is no extant account of what the party found that night, reportedly because the scene was too monstrous to be written into a permanent record, but there was plenty to tell for those who would be called to the legal proceedings. The officials arrested all of those involved in the licentious activities, freed the surviving victims, and took the protesting sorceress into a room in her own castle, to confine her until a decision was made about her fate.

Her name was Countess Erzsébet Báthory and she was a member of a powerful family from an estate at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains. Gordon Melton says she was the daughter of George (Gyrögy) and Anna Báthory, born in 1560 (or 1561). During this time, Hungary saw numerous battles between the Ottoman Empire and Austrias Hapsburg armies. The Báthorys were Protestant, a new religion at the time, and Erzsébet was raised on Ecsed, an estate in Transylvania. When she was 11, her cousin Stephen became prince of Transylvania, and he planned to unite Europe against the Turks. Yet battles on several fronts exhausted his resources. Stephen was known for his savagery, and scholars have cited him, among others, as evidence of derangement in the family lineage.

Erzsébet was not an easy child, nor was life easy for her, despite being a member of the privileged class. She suffered from fits, and exhibited uncontrolled rages that may have indicated a brain disorder associated with increased aggression. Others have pointed to the possibility of epilepsy. She was also promiscuous, getting pregnant at the age of 14 by a peasant and having to be sequestered to avoid scandal on her betrothal to an aristocrat.

Ferencz Nádasdy, coat of arms
Ferencz Nádasdy, coat of arms
At the age of 15, she married Count Ferencz Nádasdy, a great warrior who was often away from home. Thus, they joined two powerful political families with strains of madness running through them, both renowned for cruel behavior. Báthorys aunt, a distinguished lady at the court, was reputed to be a lesbian and witch. An uncle was an alchemist and devil-worshiper, and her brother was a reprobate around whom no woman or female child was considered safe. To make matters worse, her nurse from childhood, Ilona Jooone of those arrested in 1610was steeped in the practice of black magic that reportedly required the sacrifice of children for their bones and blood.

True Vampires of History
True Vampires of History
In True Vampires of History, Donald Glut (echoing Penrose) says that as Erzsébet grew older, she practiced witchcraft and carried a parchment (Penrose says the shriveled caul of a newborn child) on which was inscribed an incantation for protection. Accordingly, she called to the deity Isten for help, health, and long life. When I am in danger, this parchment supposedly said, send ninety-nine cats. I order you to do so because you are the supreme commander of cats... order ninety-nine cats to come with speed and bite the heart of King Matthias... And keep Elizabeth safe from harm.

Erzsébet moved into the castle Sarvar and learned how to run a great estate. While her behavior toward servants is legendary today, it was not uncommon among aristocrats to exercise their power in brutal beatings and even death for those they considered lesser beings. Erzsébet enjoyed power and had a vicious impulsiveness that only strengthened in an environment with no accountability for aristocrats.

Castle Sarvar
Castle Sarvar
By many accounts, she was also a petty and vain narcissist. She changed her clothing five or six times a day and spent hours admiring her legendary beauty in mirrors. She used all manner of oils and unguents to preserve and whiten her skin. No one denied her whatever she wanted and she demanded continuous praise. No one knows what she might have become had she not teamed up with her husband, but there is no doubt that she was fertile ground for his sadistic encouragement.

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