• The Blood Countess-
    By Denise Noe

    Countess Elizabeth Báthory may have been a butcher far more terrible than Jack the Ripper. In fact, the crimes attributed to her would make her one of the worst mass murderers in history.

    Legend tells us this very rich, beautiful and high born woman tortured and murdered some 650 young women and bathed in their warm blood to keep herself beautiful. Was this horror story true?
    And if it was, why did she do it? And finally, did she ever pay for this carnage?

    .....The Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Báthory, born in 1560, lived most of her life in the late Sixteenth Century. The Báthorys were an especially highly placed, well connected, and powerful noble family. Stephen Báthory, a supporter of John I of Hungary, was made governor of Transylvania. His younger son, Stephen Báthory, became king of Poland in 1575. His brother, Christopher Báthory, succeeded him as prince of Transylvania
    Elizabeth was the niece of Stephen Báthory, the king of Poland. Her family promised her to Ferencz Nádasdy when she was only ten and married her to him at fifteen. In keeping with custom, Elizabeth Báthory kept her birth name because her family was more powerful than her husband's.

    The Countess had her own, very peculiar streak of cruelty toward servants--
    if they were female. Báthory punished them by placing a piece of paper between a woman's toes and setting it on fire. She chastized suspected thieves by heating a coin, then forcing the culprit to hold it until it sizzled a mark in her palm. If a servant failed to press the Countess's garments adequately, a hot iron would be held to her face until she was scarred for life. These treatments often resulted in death but that was neither surprising nor disappointing to the callous Countess.

    How did Báthory get away with waging a femicide for over three decades? The deaths of enough women to populate a village could not have been a complete secret--and, indeed, it was not. What's more, many women and girls survived with faces and palms displaying the evidence of her cruelty.

    To understand why Báthory got away with her crimes for as long as she did, we need to understand the position of peasants in her country at the time as well as the privileges accorded high birth. There had been a Hungarian peasant uprising in 1524, a generation before the Countess's birth. It had been crushed and the rebels subjected to truly diabolical punishments. Their leader was "roasted alive on an iron throne and his followers forced to eat his flesh before they themselves were broken on the wheel and hanged." (McNally)

    The story of why Báthory's decades long crime spree was ended is highly ironic. There were three factors which contributed to her downfall. The first is that she started preying upon young girls and women of the lesser nobility. The second reason is that (perhaps because her atrocities had gone unremarked for so very long) she became sloppier in her disposals: she sometimes just tossed corpses out of her carriage to rot and be eaten by wolves. The third, and probably most important reason, for her arrest is that running a murder factory was becoming expensive (she had long ago killed off the young serf women who "belonged" to her estates and was having to send her henchwomen farther and farther afield to recruit the unsuspecting), so Báthory began pestering the King for payment on loans he had taken from her late husband. It was the King's desire to cancel these loans (under their law, they were no longer active if the person to whom money was owed was in prison); in large part, that led him to demand Báthory be arrested.

    A major, significant, and lasting alteration in the Báthory story took root as she passed into legend--she became a vampire. According to the vampire myth, Countess Báthory was a very beautiful and vain woman. One day a servant girl was fixing her hair and pulled it too tight. The hot-tempered noblewoman punched the girl's nose, drawing blood. After washing the blood off her hand, she thought the skin where it had been looked fresher and younger. She then commanded other servants to kill the hapless girl and drain her body of blood so she could bathe in it.

    Exactly when in her life this fateful incident occurred varies according to the account. In some, she wanted to retain her youthful complexion to please her husband and is quoted as saying, "It is my duty to be good to my husband and keep myself beautiful for him. God has shown me how to do this so I would be unwise not to take advantage of the opportunity." Other Báthory chronicles say she was an aging widow concerned about keeping up her appearance to catch a second husband.

    In any event, the legend has it that the Countess murdered hundreds of young peasant girls, then bathed in tubs of their blood because she believed that the blood of young maidens (or "virgin blood" wink was a miraculous anti-wrinkling agent. In some stories, Báthory is said to have drank blood as well as bathed in it.