“On this day in 1610, the notorious mass-murderer Elizabeth Báthory was arrested in Csejte Castle in the Kingdom of Hungary. She was suspected of being involved in the disappearance of scores of young girls in the region, and is thought by some to be the most prolific killer in history. While the extent of her guilt remains a question for debate, she occupies a place at the top table of gothic legend, second only perhaps to Count Dracula.
Countess Erzsébet Báthory, to give her correct name, was born into a Hungarian noble family in 1560. She was married at the age of fifteen to Ferenc Nádasdy, also from a family of high social standing, moving to her husband’s family seat Csejte Castle in the Little Carpathians.
In the early 1600s, around the time of her husband’s death, rumours began to circulate that crimes of a heinous nature were being perpetrated in the vicinity of the Báthory estate. It was reported that young women and girls were going missing on a regular basis, and that Countess Báthory was somehow involved.
After resisting calls to have the rumours investigated, the Hungarian King finally acceded, and ordered his Palatine György Thurzo to examine the case. Testimonies were obtained from around 300 witnesses, many of a salacious and grotesque nature. Scenes of murder, torture, and sexual abuse were described, as well as dozens of accounts of abduction and imprisonment. On the basis of witness evidence, it appeared that the Countess might be responsible for anything between 17 and 650 deaths.
Much of the testimony was founded in hearsay and gossip, and now seems too fantastic to be likely, but there was enough evidence to induce Thurzo to go to Csejte Castle and place the Countess under house arrest. Her position of nobility was such that she would not face execution, but instead she was incarcerated in a cell in her castle, never to be released. Three of her servants were accused of being accomplices, and after trial each was condemned to burn at the stake, having first been horribly tortured.
Báthory died after four years of confinement, but the legends surrounding her bizarre crimes took on a life of their own. Outlandish and diabolical motives were attached to the Countess’s crimes, the most enduring being that they were a result of her irrepressible vanity, and a desire to stave off the symptoms of ageing.
In popular folklore Báthory became the wicked and vain Countess who preyed on the daughters of noble families and bathed in the blood of virgins. By the 1720s the story was already appearing in print, and the notion that Báthory was motivated by the search for eternal youth was cemented in popular consciousness. The myth continues to be perpetuated in popular culture, and, whether deserved or not, Erzsébet Báthory is destined to be remembered as The Blood Countess.”
Credit: Getty Images
Caption: A portrait of Elizabeth Bathory, more popularly known as “The Blood Countess.”