Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Blood Countess Elizabeth Bathory: Transylvania's True Vampire

More likely than not, credit for being the world's best known vampire would have to go to Count Dracula, a creation of nineteenth century novelist, Bram Stoker. It's common knowledge that the author based his story upon a real-life prince who lived in Transylvania during the fifteenth century named Vlad Dracul lll. Although the prince, more commonly referred to as Vlad the Impaler, was responsible for the brutal and often sadistic execution of up to 100,000 souls during his reign, he was no vampire. In fact, he is considered a hero in Romania to this very day as his brutality served to protect his people from Ottoman invaders. Still, there is one who arrived on the scene over 200 years later whose sadistic passions and blood lust may have even surpassed those of Prince Vlad, and it might just be that this person's behavior also inspired Mr. Stoker's famous novel.     

On August 7, 1560 in Nyribator, Hungary a child was born to the Bathory clan, a family of considerable influence. Erzsebet, or Elizabeth as the name is translated, was raised as royalty and grew into a beautiful and statuesque young lady with delicate features and  pale, creamy skin. She was well educated, talented, and learned to read and speak in four languages. Likely as a matter of political convenience, she was given in marriage at the age of fifteen to a Count Ferencz Nadasdy and resided with him at Nadasdy Cachtice Castle (Csejte Castle), which he bestowed upon her as a wedding present. The castle was situated in the Carpathian Mountains of Transylvania. Upon their marriage the count took on his bride's surname; and by so doing, gave her the official title of Countess Elizabeth Bathory de Ecsed

Elizabeth's husband was a soldier and as such, was often away from home pursuing his military interests. During his absences, which were often of considerable length, the countess took on interests that were quite eclectic, to say the least. Allegedly, she began surrounding herself with witches, alchemists, wizards, sorcerers and others who dabbled in vile deeds in league with the Devil; at least, as it was believed at the time..Her associates supposedly taught her all that they knew and she reveled in her new found knowledge. 

Not satisfied with just practicing the darker arts she had learned from her new associates, Elizabeth took great pleasure in practicing the art of flagellation upon various victims, an interest she derived from an aunt. Attached to the end of her whip was a type of silver pincer or claw, which was designed to tear into the flesh of the unfortunate person hanging before her. It is said that she derived great pleasure from brutally applying these to the flesh of  various Slavic debtors.

In 1604 Elizabeth's husband died; and having never really loved him, she almost immediately set out to attract another lover; and hopefully, one that could help her attain to an even higher position of political power..Since she was now 43 years of age, her youthful beauty had faded and she became obsessed with regressing back to a more youthful appearance. One day after slapping one of her young female servants and drawing blood, the countess imagined that contact with the girl's body fluid had made the skin on her hand more youthful appearing. She immediately called in the alchemists for consultation as well as her beauty consultant. These assured her that she had indeed, made a most important discovery and one that was backed up by historic precedent. The countess quickly came to believe that by bathing in the blood of young virgins she could restore her lost youth.

Overjoyed with this turn of events. Elizabeth incorporated the assistance of her witches as well as her most trusted helper, Dorotta Szentes (Dorka), in the carrying out of a bold plan. Under the cover of darkness Elizabeth and her assistants began roaming the countryside in search of young virgins. After finding several they would return to the castle where the girls would be stripped naked and hung upside down. Then, each young lady would have her throat cut, her blood draining into the countess' bath. Elizabeth apparently believed that the procedure would be most effective if she bathed while the blood was still warm. If a girl was particularly attractive, the countess would drink her blood. It is said that at first she used a golden flask when partaking, but eventually drank the girls' life essence more directly, even as the child continued to struggle for life. 

Eventually, Elizabeth came to the conclusion that the blood of peasant girls was not serving to achieve her goal and that higher quality blood was necessary. Therefore, she started an academy inside the castle with the supposed purpose of educating proper young ladies in manners and etiquette. A total of 25 at a time were brought to the so-called academy and each of these met the same fate the peasants had met before them. 

Although the disappearances of young girls from the poorer population had surely been noticed by their families, the countess and her diabolical companions were able to continue with their sinister activities unhindered. After all, the poor had no clout, so to speak, and those of higher economic and social standing likely didn't care what happened to them. The luring of young girls from more affluent families was a riskier proposition however, and it was apparently a potential pitfall that the countess and her assistants failed to recognize. One night after a particularly intense session of killing and sanguine pleasure, four blood-drained bodies were carelessly thrown over the side of the castle. Not only were the lifeless remains of the victims quickly identified by the villagers below, but word rapidly spread that some unspeakable horror had been befalling the adolescent maidens who had been taken into the care of the countess. 

It wasn't long before word of the atrocities reached the Hungarian Emperor Matthias ll, who without hesitation, ordered that Countess Elizabeth Bathory be placed on public trial. Since Elizabeth was an aristocrat she could be neither arrested nor put on trial. Instead, Dorka and her witches were put on trial and after being found guilty of their heinous crimes, were burned at the stake. 

Although Elizabeth was never brought to trial, she did face a formal hearing where, in the year 1610, it was decided that she would spend the rest of her days sealed up in a small room in the castle--a room with openings only large enough to pass food through. Elizabeth Bathory died four years later at the age of 54. 

All in all, it is believed that some 600 young girls died  horrific deaths at the hands of the countess; this, although she never admitted to anything. And while it's difficult to accurately verify all of the vile activities that allegedly took place during the years of Elizabeth Bathory's residency at Cachtice Castle, most of the information we have today was obtained during the trial of Dorka and the other witches. 

Although we cannot know for sure just what happened within the walls of that dark and damp fortress during those opening days of the seventeenth century, it's clear that some extraordinary and ghastly events transpired at the hands of the Blood Countess Elizabeth Bathory and that she is likely, one of Transylvania's most vile figures and a true vampire in every sense of the word.

A view of Cachtice Castle where it all occurred. 

The authors or creators of these photos are unknown and are used here under the fair use provisions of U.S. copyright law.


  1. I think Bathory has been completely misunderstood and misrepresented in popular legend and media portrayals. I mean, all she wanted was to be young and beautiful forever, and it just so happened that the blood of young maidens was her solution. It wasn't her fault that the blood was the only way to make her young, was it???
    Love it!

  2. Gee, and we think OUR culture is obssessed with staying young! I guess we need more lessons from the REAL experts...

  3. I'm always slightly surprised when I see a portrait of Elizabeth Bathory. When I was very young, my father would let me watch old Hammer Horrors with him and actress, Ingrid Pitt, will forever be stamped on my brain as the "Blood Countess" after seeing "Countess Dracula". I wonder why more movies haven't been made about her?

  4. While I knew about Elizabeth Bathory, there were lots of interesting details in your post that I didn't know before. I always like learning my history in such an entertaining fashion, so thanks for this post, Nightwind! :o)

  5. I think you're right Underground For Tea. How can we blame poor Elizabeth for wanting to stay young? Heck! I wish I could stay young too! It's true though, we're not the first people to have an obsession with staying young.

    Although films about Elizabeth Bathory might be a bit rare, two films about her have been made in recent years. One was "Bathory: Countess of Blood" (2008), which stars Anna Friel as Elizabeth. The other is simply titled, "The Countess," and Julie Delpy plays the leading role. A third production entitled "Elizabeth Bathory," a film directed by Elizabeth Nixon, is scheduled for release around Halloween of this year.

  6. We don't necessarily regard Bathory as being a part of our Transylvanian culture. She is more of a legend, we like our Vlad Tepes (The Impaler) more. :))

    I read an older comment of yours on Insomniac's Attic blog regarding my country (Romania)saying that you are interested in it. That makes me proud so please, if you have any questions feel free to drop by and send me a message.

  7. Thank so much, Poisoned Purple for offering to answer my questions. I do have a fascination for your country and from photos that I've seen of it, Romania is very beautiful.

    Several months ago I purchased a book about Romania, which in addition to containing great photos, was filled with information about its history and culture. It made me want to visit even more.

  8. Well, it would be time well spent, it is a wonderful country with photographic scenery. However, do be careful with your belongings, mostly in Bucharest. I see so many foreigners around here walking with their backpacks half open while taking photos. :))

  9. Thanks for the advice, Poisoned Purple! If I ever make it out that way I'll definitely keep an eye on my stuff.

  10. A very fascinating post indeed :3 I reckon this just shows how obsessed she was with staying young and how much different is it from some women nowadays really, who spend hundreds and hundreds of euros on cosmetics that promise to make them look youthful again?

  11. And perhaps the Countess had some other things going as well; things like an enjoyment of sadistic activities perhaps? Staying young might only have been a part of it.