Countess Elizabeth Báthory (August 7, 1560 – August 21, 1614) was a countess from the renowned Báthory family. She is possibly the most prolific female serial killer in history.
After her husband's death, she and four collaborators were accused of torturing and killing hundreds of girls and young women, with one witness attributing to them over 600 victims, though the number for which she was convicted was 80. In 1610, she was imprisoned in the Csejte Castle, where she remained bricked in a set of rooms until her death four years later. The case has led to legendary accounts of the Countess bathing in the blood of virgins in order to retain her youth.
Báthory Erzsébet was born on a family estate in Nyírbátor, Hungary, and spent her childhood at Ecsed Castle. Her father was Báthory György of the Ecsed branch of the family, brother of Andrew Bonaventura Báthory, who had been Voivod of Transylvania, while her mother was Báthory Anna (1539–1570), daughter of Báthory István of Somlyó, another Voivod of Transylvania, was of the Somlyó branch. Through her mother, Erzsébet was the niece of Báthory István of Poland, King of Poland.
As a young woman she learned Latin, German and Greek. She was also interested in science and astronomy.
At the age of 12, Erzsébet was engaged to Nádasdy Ferenc. The union was probably a political arrangement within the circles of the aristocracy.
The couple married on May 8, 1575, in the little palace of Varannó. There were approximately 4500 guests at the wedding. Elizabeth moved to Nádasdy Castle in Sárvár and spent much time on her own, while her husband studied in Vienna.
Nádasdy’s wedding gift to Báthory was his home, Csejte Castle, situated in the Little Carpathians near Trenčín, together with the Čachtice country house and 17 adjacent villages. The castle itself was surrounded by a village and agricultural lands, bordered by outcrops of the Little Carpathians. In 1602, Nádasdy finally bought the castle from Rudolf II, so that it became a private property of the family.
In 1578, Nádasdy became the chief commander of Hungarian troops, leading them to war against the Ottomans. With her husband away at war, Elizabeth Báthory managed business affairs and the estates. That role usually included providing for the Hungarian and Slovak peasants, even medical care.
During the height of the Long War (1593-1606), she was charged with the defense of her husband's estates, which lay on the route to Vienna. The threat was significant, for the village of Čachtice had previously been plundered by the Ottomans while Sárvár, located near the border that divided Royal Hungary and Ottoman occupied Hungary, was in even greater danger.
She was an educated woman who could read and write in four languages. There were several instances where she intervened on behalf of destitute women, including a woman whose husband was captured by the Turks and a woman whose daughter was raped and impregnated.
In 1585, Erzsébet gave birth to a daughter, Anna. A second daughter, Orsolya, and her first son, András, both died at an early age. After this, Erzsébet had three more children, Katalin (born in 1594), Pál (born around 1597) and Miklós. All of her children were cared for by governesses as Erzsébet had been.
Elizabeth's husband died in 1604 at the age of 47, reportedly due to an injury sustained in battle. The couple had been married for 29 years.
Between 1602 and 1604, Lutheran minister István Magyari complained about atrocities both publicly and with the court in Vienna, after rumors had spread.
The Hungarian authorities took some time to respond to Magyari's complaints. Finally, in 1610, King Matthias assigned Juraj Thurzo, the Palatine of Hungary, to investigate. Thurzo ordered two notaries to collect evidence in March 1610. Even before obtaining the results, Thurzó debated further proceedings with Elizabeth's son Paul and two of her sons-in-law. A trial and execution would have caused a public scandal and disgraced a noble and influential family (which at the time ruled Transylvania), and Elizabeth's considerable property would have been seized by the crown. Thurzo, along with Paul and her two sons-in-law, originally planned for Elizabeth to be secreted to a nunnery, but as accounts of her murder of the daughters of lesser nobility spread, it was agreed that Elizabeth Báthory should be kept under strict house arrest, but that further punishment should be avoided. It was also determined that Matthias did not have to repay a large debt for which he lacked sufficient funds.
Arrest and trialEdit
Thurzó went to Čachtice Castle on 30 December 1610 and arrested Báthory and four of her servants, who were accused of being her accomplices. Thurzó's men reportedly found one girl dead and one dying. They reported that another woman was found wounded, others locked up.
While the countess was put under house arrest (and remained so from that point on), King Matthias requested that Elizabeth be sentenced to death. However, Thurzo successfully convinced the King that such an act would negatively affect the nobility. Hence, a trial was postponed indefinitely.
The countess' associates however were brought to court. A trial was held on 7 January 1611 at Bicse, presided over by Royal Supreme Court judge Theodosious Syrmiensis de Szulo and 20 associate judges. Bathory herself did not appear at the trial.
The defendants at that trial were Dorottya Szentes, also referred to as Dorka, Ilona Jó, Katarína Benická, and János Újváry ("Ibis" or Ficko).
Dorka, Ilona Jó and Ficko were found guilty and put to death on the spot. Dorka and Ilona had their fingernails ripped out before they were thrown into a fire, while Ficko, who was deemed less guilty, was beheaded before being consigned to the flames. A public scaffold was erected near the castle to show the public that justice had been done. Katarína Benická was sentenced to life imprisonment, as she only acted under the domination and bullying by the other women, as implied by recorded testimony.
Last years and deathEdit
During the trial of her primary servants, Báthory had been placed under house arrest in a walled up set of rooms. She remained there for four years, until her death.
King Matthias had urged Thurzo to bring her to court and two notaries were sent to collect further evidence, but in the end no court proceedings against her were ever commenced.
On 21 August 1614, Elizabeth Báthory was found dead in her castle. Since there were several plates of food untouched, her actual date of death is unknown. She was buried in the church of Csejte, but due to the villagers' uproar over having "The Tigress of Csejte" buried in their cemetery, her body was moved to her birth home at Ecsed, where it is interred at the Báthory family crypt.
In 1610 and 1611 the notaries collected testimonies from more than 300 witness accounts. Trial records include testimonies of the four defendants, as well as 13 more witnesses. Priests, noblemen and commoners were questioned. Witnesses included the castellan and other personnel of Sárvár castle.
According to these testimonies, her initial victims were local peasant girls, many of whom were lured to Čachtice by offers of well-paid work as maidservants in the castle. Later she is said to have begun to kill daughters of lower gentry, who were sent to her gynaeceum by their parents to learn courtly etiquette. Abductions were said to have occurred as well. At the trial there were accusations of pagan practices and witchcraft.
The descriptions of torture that emerged during the trials were often based on hearsay. The atrocities described most consistently included:
- severe beatings over extended periods of time, often leading to death
- burning or mutilation of hands, sometimes also of faces and genitalia
- biting the flesh off the faces, arms and other bodily parts including biting off and eating the bellybuttons
- freezing to death
- surgery on victims, often fatal
- starving of victims
- sexual abuse
- The use of needles was also mentioned by the collaborators in court.
Some witnesses named relatives who died while at the gynaeceum. Others reported having seen traces of torture on dead bodies, some of which were buried in graveyards, and others in unmarked locations. According to testimonies by the defendants, Elizabeth Báthory tortured and killed her victims not only at Csejte but also on her properties in Sárvár, Sopronkeresztúr, Bratislava, (then Pozsony, Pressburg), and Vienna, and even between these locations. In addition to the defendants, several people were named for supplying Elizabeth Báthory with young women. The girls had been procured either by deception or by force. A little-known figure named Anna Darvulia was rumored to have influenced Báthory but Darvulia died long before the trial.
The exact number of young tortured and killed by Elizabeth Báthory is unknown, though it is often speculated to be as high as 650, between the years 1585 and 1610. The estimates differ greatly. During the trial and before their execution, Szentes and Ficko reported 36 and 37 respectively, during their periods of service. The other defendants estimated a number of 50 or higher. Many Sárvár castle personnel estimated the number of bodies removed from the castle at between 100 to 200. One witness who spoke at the trial mentioned a book in which a total of over 650 victims was supposed to have been listed by Báthory herself. This number became part of the legend surrounding Báthory. Reportedly, diaries in Báthory's hand are kept in the state archives in Budapest. Supposedly the diaries are difficult to read due to the condition of the material, the old language, the hand-writing and the horrific content