If, reading the title, you thought that Elizabeth Báthory is somehow related to Count Dracula, you would be deceived. She was neither the wife, nor the daughter or the sister of the Prince of Darkness.
However, you will find that the nickname Countess Dracula, or Bloody Countess, is one of the most appropriate ever. A curious, dark, supernatural and very horror story that of Elizabeth Báthory … discover it with us today 21 August, on the anniversary of her death.
Who is Elizabeth Báthory?
First years and youth
Erzsébeth Báthory (anglicized in Elizabeth) was born on 7 August 1560 into a family of the Protestant nobility in Hungary. Her family controlled the territory of Transylvania and her uncle, Stefan Báthory, was king of Poland.
She grew up in the family castle in Ecséd, Hungary. Speaking of family, due to inbreeding in marriages within it, some of the members suffered from mental illnesses, including epilepsy, schizophrenia, and other disorders. Elizabeth also seemed to show signs of imbalance from an early age, suddenly passing from joy to anger (perhaps today we could talk about bipolarism).
At the age of 15, in 1575, Elizabeth married Count Ferencz Nádasdy, a member of another powerful Hungarian family, and later moved to C̆achtice Castle, a wedding gift from the Nádasdy family. Count Ferencz was part of a group of swordsmen called the Terrible Quintet. And indeed there were some terrible practices particularly loved by the count, such as torturing the servants by sprinkling them with honey and then leaving them tied up near his hives.
In the first 10 years of marriage Elizabeth had no children, while from 1585 to 1595 she gave birth to four. However, it seems that Báthory had an illegitimate daughter around the age of 18-19, who was entrusted to a farmer.
The story of Countess Dracula
It is said that, during her husband’s numerous absences, Elizabeth Báthory visited an aunt to participate in orgies organized by the latter. Around the same time she came into contact with Dorothea Szentes, an expert in black magic. Dorothea, known as Dorka, and her servant Thorko introduced Elizabeth Báthory to the secrets and practices of witchcraft.
A special room inside the castle also emerges from the stories of the time, built by Nádasdy expressly for the purpose of torturing his servants. Elizabeth presumably began to use this room herself, experimenting on the servants how to cause pain in different ways, often joined by her husband, who taught her the “ways of torture”.
It all intensified considerably when Nádasdy died in 1604 after contracting a mysterious disease that left him debilitated and unable to walk. This would have proved unfortunate for the servants because, although he was a tyrant, he was practically a saint compared to his wife. In fact Elizabeth Báthory possessed a ruthless evil force that pulsed within her and urged her to do wickedness.
One of Elizabeth’s favorite activities was forcing the servants out into the snow naked in the middle of winter, bathing them in cold water and watching them freeze like ice statues. Or she would place the servants in spiked cages hung from the ceiling, torture them with needles or hot irons, sprinkle them with honey, and release bees or other insects (which she learned from her husband). Or she would hit them with hot irons or cut their fingers. Once she forced a waitress to open her mouth wide to the point of having it lacerated.
On top of all this, she was later said to be a powerful sorceress and witch too, with the ability to cast dark curses.
And last but not least, she was said to cut the servants into pieces and suck their blood, bite and eat shreds of their flesh, and even empty their blood into a bathtub, convinced that these “bloodbaths” were the key to eternal beauty. It seems that the triggering episode happened one day, when Elizabeth Báthory slapped a servant for badly combing her hair. The girl spilled blood from her lip and splashed on the countess’s face. Her friend Dorka told her that she looked younger thanks to that blood, and that episode then became a beauty ritual.
A ritual that, at a certain point, required women of higher lineage, because the blood of the servants was not of superior quality.
Trial and sentence
It is not known to what extent this really happened in the way it is described in the tradition, but the fact remains that rumors of Elizabeth Báthory’s cruelty and the disappearance of noble women began to emerge and become insistent.
It wasn’t long before all of this attracted the attention of the authorities, although Elizabeth’s social standing and title made her virtually untouchable and above the law.
Elizabeth’s cousin, György Thurzó, Count Palatine of Hungary, was ordered by Matthias, then King of Hungary, to investigate.
Elizabeth Báthory’s trial became public and saw over 300 witnesses and survivors speak out against her, telling a story of suffering and death that made the court shiver. Obviously this became a serious scandal that intertwined with popular folklore.
This is how the Bloody Countess was born. Her legend grew even as she was being tried. According to eyewitness accounts, Elizabeth was held responsible for the torture, mutilation and death of an unspecified number of girls (between 50 and 650) between the ages of 10 and 14. However, the official count put this number at “only” 80.
During the trial, the Countess was never allowed to speak for herself and this favor was not granted to anyone else. After the torture and interrogation, all but one of Elizabeth’s personal servants were executed.
Imprisoned for life, Elizabeth Báthory survived the day of her arrest by only four years; in fact he died on August 21, 1614, apparently suicidal. According to contemporary documents, “she was found dead in the morning. They say she prayed diligently and sang hymns to the Lord. “
Curiously, her body disappeared, and no one is really sure if and where she is buried.
The legacy of Elizabeth Báthory
Although not much is known about what happened to the body of Countess Dracula, we can say with certainty that she was not forgotten since, as we said earlier, her history is intertwined with legend, becoming part of popular folklore.
Like it or not, Elizabeth Báthory represents one of the most prolific serial killers in history and, you know, these elements become sources of inspiration for artistic works. As Carlo Lucarelli wrote in the volume Serial Killer, the “serial killer is a metaphor, a symbol, the personification of all that is irrational, primordial and feral in us and in our apparently so logical and orderly life”.
The story of the Bloody Countess Elizabeth Báthory has always been regarded as one of the influences of Dracula by Bram Stoker, such is her dark and twisted work. Many of the elements in her life and her passion for crime have undoubtedly been exaggerated and manipulated over time to make her look like some kind of vampire.
Indeed, Countess Elizabeth is the main antagonist of the novel Undead – The Immortals, written by Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt and the first official sequel to Bram Stoker’s classic Dracula.
After those of the Stokers, many volumes have been written to tell the story of the Countess, from various points of view, that of the sadistic torturer (Elisabeth Bathory. The torturer, by Angelo Quattrocchi) or that of those who seek eternal beauty (Erzsébet Bàthory – Blood and Perfection, by Simona Gervasone).
In 1989 we find “Guide de l’Auvergne Mystérieuse” curated by Annette Lauras-Pourrat. If you read the story (in English) you will find that, although set in another century than that of Elizabeth Báthory, the modus operandi of the protagonist is very similar to that of “our” Countess Dracula.
More recently, between 1994 and 1996, Countess Elizabeth Bathory becomes the historical inspiration for the literary antagonist of the saga The Dracula Family Diaries, by Californian writer Jeanne Kalogridis.
Cinema, comics and…games
Even the films about the Countess are numerous, never as many as those of Zorro we told you about a couple of weeks ago, but still many. Here is a non-exhaustive list:
- Daughters of Darkness (1971) – film directed by Peter Sasdy with Ingrid Pitt in the role of Erzsébet.
- The Vestal of Satan (1971) – film directed by Harry Kümel with Delphine Seyrig in the role of Erzsébet.
- Virgins ride death (1973) – film directed by Jorge Grau with Lucia Bosè in the role of Erzsébet.
- Immoral Tales (1974) – film directed by Walerian Borowczyk with Paloma Picasso in the role of Erzsébet.
- Eternal (2004) – film directed by Wilhelm Liebenberg and Federico Sanchez with Caroline Néron in the role of Elizabeth.
- Stay Alive (2006) – directed by William Brent Bell and written with Matthew Peterman; Maria Kalinina in the role of Erzsébet.
- Bathory (2008) – film written and directed by Juraj Jakubisko with Anna Friel in the role of Erzsébet.
- The Countess (2009) – film written, directed by and starring Julie Delpy in the role of Erzsébet.
As for the comics, however, we remember that the Japanese mangaka Riyoko Ikeda was inspired by Elizabeth Báthory for a short story following her most famous work, Lady Oscar. It is called The Countess with Black Dresses; at the end of the story the author cites the original story of the Countess, which inspired her.
And finally we mention the games. We have a couple. The first is Atmosfear (1991): a board game in which Elizabeth Bathory is one of the game characters. The second is Diablo II (2000): in one quest the countess is walled up alive after a bath in the blood of a hundred virgins in order to stay young.
If we talk about inspirations in the world of music, we think, for example, of the Swedish black metal band Bathory, which “consecrates” themselves to the countess by taking her name and dedicating many of their songs to her (the apex is the album Under the sign of the black mark)
Or think of Venom, who in 1982 recount the atrocities loved by the countess in the Black Metal album. We might also remember Slayer’s World Painted Blood album, in which the song Beauty Through Order focuses on the vampire countess.
Or even to Cradle of Filth and their Cruelty and the Beast. This is a concept album focused on the figure of Elizabeth Báthory and the cover represents the countess immersed in a tub of blood. Highlight of the disc is the song Báthory, an eleven minute suite in three movements. The album was a success.
The list of black metal bands that cannot resist the temptation to mention the Bloody Countess is very long. And not only does black metal not resist: also goth, doom, hardcore and thrash metal from all over Europe and beyond (in the USA we have Kamelot for example) tell the story of Elizabeth Báthory. Let’s take some verses of the latter, taken from the passage Mirror Mirror:
Once I struck a servant
She’s a virgin free from sin
Drops of blood caressed me
And refined my aging skin
In conclusion, as we have seen, both with regard to literature and music, we can say that Elizabeth Báthory represents an archetype, a dark and demonic model, which relies on man’s desire to provoke and shock others.
And with this last observation the story of Countess Dracula ends, sorry for the rush but blood is getting cold in my bathtub …