Dark Angels IV: Erzsebet Bathory

For this issue of Dark Angels, I tapped a good friend of mine, Theresa, a web designer and a woman with a rich knowledge of this particular dark angel…

“She demanded the Heavens and forever to glean
The elixir of Youth from the pure
Whilst Her lesbian fantasies
Reamed to extremes
O’er decades unleashed
Came for blood’s silken cure”

Bathory Aria ~ Cradle of Filth

When the topic of Dark Angels comes up there are many names that can come to mind, from the mythical Lilith and Baba Yaga to Lizzie Borden to Madame Blavatsky in modern times. Yet one name tends to stand above all the others as the darkest of these fascinating women – the Countess Erzsebet (Elizabeth) Bathory.

Many do not know her legend and fewer still know her history. The Guinness Book of World Records lists her as history’s most prolific serial killer with anywhere from 600 – 650 maidens her victims.

Little is actually known about Countess Bathory as none of her letters survived her. Erzsebet Bathory, was born in Hungary, August 7th, 1560, the daughter of Baron George Bathory and Baroness Anna Bathory. George and Anna were both Bathory’s by birth; he a member of the Ecsed branch of the family and she of the Somlyo. Such inbreeding was not uncommon in the aristocracy of 16th Century Eastern Europe, as the purity of the noble line was seen as paramount.

Her legend may have inspired Bram Stocker’s Dracula even more than the legend of Vlad the Impaler. Another Bathory – Stephen – fought alongside Vlad in one of his many attempts to reclaim the Wallachian throne and became Prince of Transylvania in 1571, so it is possible that Stoker encountered the Bathory’s during his research.

Elizabeth was a great beauty and at the age of eleven, she was engaged to Count Ferenc Nadasdy. Three years later they married. Elizabeth retained her maiden name, and Ferenc added it to his own less distinguished one, and became Ferenc Bathory-Nadasdy. After her marriage, Elizabeth was mistress of the Nadasdy estate around Castle Sarvar. Here the Nadasdy’s held a reputation as harsh masters. Ferenc is said to have shown her some of his own favored ways of punishing his servants. There are also tales of the couple engaging in diabolic rites and patronizing occultists and Satanists.

Ferenc was a warrior by nature, and frequently absent. Elizabeth occupied her time by taking numerous young men as lovers. She also spent time visiting her aunt, noted at the time for her open bisexuality, and contemporary reports seem to consider Elizabeth’s sexual ambivalence to be an integral part of her overall personality.

It was during her husband’s many absences that Elizabeth is reputed to have begun torturing young servant girls for her own pleasure, although speculation again has Ferenc as her early teacher in harsh treatment. Hearsay testimony at her trial reports she took to beating her maidservants with a barbed lash and a heavy cudgel, and having them dragged naked into the snow and doused with cold water until they froze to death creating statues from their frozen bodies.

In January 1604, Ferenc Nadasdy died of an infected battle wound, though some sources state that it was inflicted by a harlot whom he refused to pay. Elizabeth transferred herself to the royal court at Vienna with almost unseemly haste, and took to spending much time at her castle at Cachtice in north-west Hungary (now Slovakia).

This was the period in which Elizabeth is said to have committed her greatest atrocities, under the guidance of Anna Darvula, described as the most active sadist in her entourage. Alleged to be a witch Darvula was also said to be Elizabeth ‘s lover.

It was this time that legend tells us that she discovered, on striking a servant girl who accidentally pulled her hair whilst combing it, that blood appeared to reduce the signs of aging on her skin. Darvula purportedly told Elizabeth that bathing in the blood of young girls was the secret to staying young. Legend said that she also bit, to the point of tearing flesh from the throats, shoulders and breasts of these maidens. These acts were done in the course of lesbian acts of carnal indulgences while committing sadistic acts of violence.

Elizabeth’s proclivities went largely undetected – or at least ignored – until around 1609 when Darvula had died of natural causes. Fearing that the blood of peasant maids was no longer “vital” enough to keep her youth she opened a school to maidens of noble blood but little wealth. The deaths of peasant girls might be overlooked, but the murder of nobles, even those of such limited means as those Elizabeth selected, lead to her downfall.

The King of Hungary ordered her arrest and her cousin, Count Cuyorgy Thurzo, lead a raid on Castle Cachtice and supposedly found the bodies of dead girls in the hallway, and discovered many other victims dead, dying, or awaiting torture in cells. Other accomplices of Elizabeth’s – Dorothea, Helena and Ficzko – were arrested, along with Katarina Beneczky, a washerwoman newly entered into the Countess’ service. One more of Elizabeth’s friends, Erszi Majorova, escaped capture in the raid but was later also arrested. Elizabeth herself was held but not taken away with her associates.

In January 1611 Elizabeth’s accomplices were subjected to two hurried show trials, in which they gave evidence, almost certainly extracted under torture, and were convicted of their heinous crimes in a matter of days. In the second trial, another servant named as Zusanna gave evidence of the existence of a register, in her mistress’ handwriting, which recorded over 650 victims who had died at the Countess’ hands over the years.

Elizabeth Bathory was not allowed to attend or give testimony at either trial, and was never convicted of any crime. The Bathory family walled Elizabeth up within her bed chamber, with only small slits for ventilation and the passing of food. Three years later, a guard looking through one of the slots saw the Countess lying dead.

Elizabeth died in Castle Cachtice on 21 August, 1614. The bulk of her estate was divided, according to her will, between her children. She was taken from the castle and buried at her birthplace at Ecsed.

Her legend is powerful, dark and disturbing but is it true? In the second part of her story I will examine the “facts” and the few truly historical records that are available to explore this dark angel, her likeness hung in the black gallery, commanding unease, demanding of Death to breathe…