Even though many centuries passed since Elizabeth Bathory ‘s death, her story remains a sensation and controversy.
Many legends and stories have been told about her brutal acts. According to some of them, the aristocrat was a victim of the conspiracy organized by the palatine, Gyorgy VII Thurzo, whose aim was to deprive her of her strong position and seize her wealth.
In recent years, Hungarian historians have also been trying to prove that the countess was not a torturer, but a healer of the sick. However, none of the eyewitnesses did mention anything about her healing practices, but rather the plight and martyrdom. Therefore, where the historical truth about Elizabeth Bathory is? Historians should still delve into this topic and study the secrets of this very interesting and complicated family. As for now, we talk about ‘The legend of the bloody countess’.
Elizabeth Bathory, born in 1560, was the niece of the Polish king and the duke of Transylvania – Stephen Bathory. Her father, George Batory was a pastor, while her mother, Anna Bathory, closely related to her husband George, was a sister of the King Stephen Bathory and just like her daughter, practiced magic and witchcraft.
Elizabeth Bathory gor married at the age of only 17. On 8th May 1575 in Vranow the countess married Ferenc Nadasdy the magnate and the chief capitan of the Hungarian Army. The couple seized many lands and assets, including the Vranow and the Devin castles and 2 palaces in Bratislava and Vienna.
The era that they lived in, was the time of unrest, havoc, many fires and the Fifteen years war against Turkey (1590-1605). Burned villages, orphans, and tears represented the time when Elizabeth Bathory entered the scene. Her inhuman crimes made the lives of the local people just worse. These times were very convenient for her actions. Among her victims there were many orphans, that no one was looking for, in case they got missing, and bourgeois girls, whose parents sent them to her castles in order to teach them good behaviour.
‘The bloody countess’ was travelling a lot, which helped her in capturing new victims. Her presence meant a potential death for every girl or a young wife. Her guards lured, abducted and bought virgins, that later on died in her hand. Some of them were placed in secret rooms of her castles, where imprisoned they had to wait for the sad end of their lives. As soon as Elizabeth Bathory appeared, the end was near. According to the historical sources, the bloody countess’ tortures became an open secret for more than a quarter of a century (1585-1610). We should also take into consideration that in the meantime, she gave birth to 5 children and her husband Ferenc Nadasy was fully aware of her actions. The beginning of the end of her actions started in December 1610, when a Hungarian palatine (a local official with signinficant judiciary powers) Gyorgy VII Thurzo unexpectedly visited the Cachtice castle, where the countess was caught red-handed while torturing an orphan.
This way he got reassured about the bloodiness of the lady aristocrat. He immediately announced an oral order, that her castle in Cachtice, will be her lifetime prison.
On 2nd January 1611 Gyorgy VII Thurzo opened a legal case in Bytci concerning tortures done by Elizabeth Bathory. The court was formed by 24 people and around 200 witnesses were heard.
According to them, ‘The bloody Countess’ whipped her victims till they bled, hit them with spades, put burning hot pieces of iron into their vaginas and drown naked women in freezing water.
One of the witnesses, John Kun said, ‘I heard that she put girls into a hot bath and pull out their back muscles and sprained their arms in the joints.’ Furthermore, a dweller of the Sarvar city said Elizabeth Bathory had inserted needles underneath her victims’ nails and then had applied burning keys to their bodies’.
Benedikt Deso, a courtier from Sarvar, told a story that he witnessed himself. According to him, ‘The bloody Countess’ undressed her victims, stabbed their hands with a knife and then set them on fire with a candle till they burned and died. Virgins had to stand in front of her naked. She whipped them herself and then cut out a piece of their back body and made them eat it. As stated in Elizabeth’s private diary, the number of her victims reached 650.
Elizabeth Bathory never stood trial and died at the age of 53, after 3 years of imprisonment spent in a small room, where only to 3 guards and one older woman bringing her food had access to. She died on 21st August 1614 at the dusk and she was buried 4 days later in a Cachtice church. More details about her death can be found in the Stanislaw Thurzo’s (Bishop of the Czech Diocese of Olomouc) letter dated August 25, 1614, addressed to George VII Thurzo: ‘In the evening she was complaining to the guard that her hands were cold.
The pillow, that usually was under her head, she put underneath her legs that night. It is said, that she had been eagerly praying and singing. Few hours before her death, a spark of sympathy for her victims may have arisen in her’. A famous Slovakian historian and archivist, Jozef Kocis (1928-2013) studied Elizabeth Bathory’s health condition and sanity, and on the basis of collected documentary he confirmed her liability for the actions.
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