Most Notorious Serial Killers
The Blood Countess
Elizabeth Báthory was born on a family estate in Nyírbátor, Hungary, Habsburg monarchy, in 1560 or 1561, and spent her childhood at EcsedCastle. Her father was George Báthory of the Ecsed branch of the family, brother of Andrew Bonaventura Báthory, who had been voivode of Transylvania, while her mother was Anna Báthory, daughter of Stephen Báthory of Somlyó, another voivode of Transylvania, who was of the Somlyó branch. Through her mother, Elizabeth was the niece of the Hungarian noble Stephen Báthory, the king of Poland and the grand duke of Lithuania of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the prince of Transylvania. Her older brother was Stephen Báthory, who became a judge royal of Hungary. Elizabeth was raised Protestant, Calvinist. As a young woman, she learned Latin, German and Greek. Born into a privileged family of nobility, Elizabeth was showered and endowed with wealth, education and a stellar social position. Before her first marriage, at the age of 13, Elizabeth allegedly gave birth to a child. The child, said to have been fathered by a peasant boy, was supposedly given away to a local woman that was trusted by the Báthory family. The woman was paid for her act, and the child was taken to Wallachia.
Elizabeth was engaged at age 11 to Ferenc Nádasdy, the son of Baron Tamás Nádasdy de Nádasd et Fogarasföld and Orsolya Kanizsay in what was probably a political arrangement within the circles of the aristocracy. As Elizabeth's social standing was higher than that of her husband, she refused to change her last name, remaining a Báthory. The couple married when she was 15 (and he was aged 19) at the palace of Vranov nad Topľou(Varannó in Hungarian) on 8 May 1575. Approximately 4,500 guests were invited to 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 household, Čachtice Castle (Csejte in Hungarian) situated in the Little Carpathians near Nové Mesto nad Váhom and Trenčín in now Slovakia. The castle had been bought by his mother in 1569 and given to Nádasdy, who transferred it to Elizabeth during their nuptials, together with the Čachtice country house and 17 adjacent villages. The castle was (and still is) surrounded by a village and agricultural lands, bordered by outcrops of the Little Carpathians.]
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 responsibility for the Hungarian and Slovak people, even providing medical care.
During the Long War (1593-1606), Elizabeth 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.
Her child, Anna Nádasdy, was born in 1585 and was later to become the wife of Nikola VI Zrinski. Her other known children include Orsolya (Orsika) Nádasdy who would later become the wife of István II Benyó, Katalin (Kata or Katherina) Nádasdy, András Nádasdy, and Pál (Paul) Nádasdy, father of Ferenc II Nádasdy.
Some chronicles also indicate that the couple had another son, albeit a lesser known child, named Miklós Nádasdy, although this cannot be confirmed, and could be that he was simply a cousin as he is not named in the 1610 will of the Countess. György Nádasdy is also a name that is indicated as being one of the deceased Nádasdy infants, but nothing can be confirmed. All of Elizabeth's children were cared for by governesses, as Elizabeth had been.
Elizabeth's husband, Ferenc Nádasdy, died on 4 January 1604 at the age of 48. Although the exact nature of the illness which led to his death is unknown, it seems to have started in 1601, and initially caused debilitating pain in his legs. From that time, he never fully recovered, and in 1603 became permanently disabled. The couple had been married for 29 years. Before dying, Ferenc Nádasdy entrusted his heirs and widow to György Thurzó, who would eventually lead the investigation into Elizabeth's crimes.
Between 1602 and 1604, after rumours of Báthory's atrocities had spread through the kingdom, Lutheran minister István Magyari made complaints against her, both publicly and at the court in Vienna. The Hungarian authorities took some time to respond to Magyari's complaints. Finally, in 1610, King Matthias II assigned György Thurzó, the Palatine of Hungary, to investigate. Thurzó ordered two notaries to collect evidence in March 1610. In 1610 and 1611, the notaries collected testimony from more than 300 witnesses. The trial records include the testimony of the four defendants, as well as thirteen witnesses. Priests, noblemen and commoners were questioned. Witnesses included the castellanand other personnel of Sárvár castle.
According to the testimonies, Báthory's initial victims were the adolescent daughters of local peasants, many of whom were lured to Čachtice by offers of well paid work as maids and servants in the castle. Later, she is said to have begun to kill daughters of the lesser gentry, who were sent to her gynaeceum by their parents to learn courtly etiquette. Abductions were said to have occurred as well. The atrocities described most consistently included severe beatings, burning or mutilation of hands, biting the flesh off the faces, arms and other body parts, freezing or starving to death. The use of needles was also mentioned by the collaborators in court. There were many suspected forms of torture carried out by Elizabeth. According to the Budapest City Archives, the girls were scalded with hot tongs and then placed in freezing cold water. They were also covered in honey and live ants. Elizabeth is also suspected of cannibalism.
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. Two witnesses (court officials Benedek Deseő and Jakab Szilvássy) actually saw the Countess torture and kill young servant girls. According to the testimony of the defendants, Elizabeth Báthory tortured and killed her victims not only at Čachtice but also on her properties in Sárvár, Németkeresztúr, Bratislava (Pozsony in Hungarian), and Vienna, and elsewhere. In addition to the defendants, several people were named for supplying Elizabeth Báthory with young women, procured either by deception or by force.
Torture and bloody orgies were supposedly carried out to accompany family celebrations, including her daughter's wedding, and holidays.
Thurzó went to Čachtice Castle after Christmas on 30 December 1610 and caught Báthory in the act. Thurzó arrested Báthory and four of her servants, who were accused of being her accomplices: Dorotya Semtész, Ilona Jó, Katarína Benická, and János Újváry ("Ibis" or Fickó). Thurzó's men reportedly found one girl dead and one dying and reported that another woman was found wounded while others were locked up. The countess was put under house arrest.
Although it is commonly believed that Báthory was caught in the act of torture, there is little evidence to support this. Initially, Thurzó made the declaration to Báthory's guests and village people that he had caught her red-handed. However, she was arrested and detained prior to the discovery or presentation of the victims. It seems most likely that the whole idea of Thurzó discovering Báthory covered in blood has been the embellishment of fictionalized accounts.
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. Thurzó, along with Paul and her two sons-in-law, originally planned for Elizabeth to be spirited away 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 and that further punishment should be avoided.
King Matthias urged Thurzó to bring Elizabeth to trial and suggested she be sentenced to death, but Thurzó successfully convinced the king that such an act would adversely affect the nobility. Thurzó's motivation for such an intervention is debated by scholars. It was decided that Matthias would not have to repay his large debt to Elizabeth.
The trial of Báthory's accomplices began on 2 January 1611 at Bytča (Bicse), presided over by royal supreme court judge Theodosious Syrmiensis de Szulo and 20 associate judges. Dozens of witnesses and survivors, sometimes up to 35 a day, testified. All but one of the countess's servants testified against her. In addition to the testimony, the court also examined the skeletons and cadaver parts found as evidence.
The exact number of Elizabeth Báthory's victims is unknown, and even contemporary estimates differed greatly. During the trial, Szentes and Ficko reported 36 and 37 victims 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 between 100 and 200. One witness, a woman named Susannah, who spoke at the trial mentioned a book in which Báthory supposedly kept a list of a total of over 650 victims, and this number has passed into legend. As the number of 650 could not be proven, the official count remained at 80. Reportedly, the location of the diaries is unknown but 32 letters written by Báthory are stored in the Hungarian state archives in Budapest.
Imprisonment and Death
Báthory was imprisoned in Čachtice Castle and placed in solitary confinement. She was kept bricked in a set of rooms, with only small slits left open for ventilation and the passing of food. She remained there for four years until her death. On the evening of 21 August 1614, Báthory complained to her bodyguard that her hands were cold, whereupon he replied "It's nothing, mistress. Just go lie down." She went to sleep and was found dead the following morning. She was buried in the church of Čachtice on 25 November 1614, but according to some sources due to the villagers' uproar over having the Blood Countess buried in their cemetery, her body was moved to her birth home at Ecsed, where it was interred at the Báthory family crypt. The location of her body today is unknown. Čachtice church or Čachtice castle do not bear any markings of her possible grave.