Was Elizabeth Bathory a sadistic killer who drank her victim’s blood? Or a victim of a conspiracy theory to discredit her?
Countess Elizabeth Bathory was born in 1560 in Nyírbátor, a town about 170 miles east of Budapest. She was fortunate to be born into a wealthy noble family, with ties to members of royalty. By all accounts, Bathory was a well educated and beautiful young woman.
At 13, Bathory was engaged to Count Ferenc Nádasdy who was five years her senior. One legend says that as a young teen, she had an affair with a lower class man, resulting in a child. When Nádasdy found out, he supposedly had the man castrated and then mauled by dogs.
After Bathory’s marriage to Nádasdy at 15, the couple moved to his castle in western Hungary. In an effort to please his new young wife, Nádasdy built a torture chamber for them to begin torturing for pleasure. In one instance, they tied a girl down, covered her in honey and left her to be attacked by insects.
Whether Nádasdy enjoyed the sadism that Bathory did is unclear, but he did nothing to dissuade her. In fact, he even gifted her spiked gloves to be used for beating servants. When he died in 1604, by all accounts Bathory’s malicious nature grew.
Increase in Victims
She moved to Čachtice Castle and rumors soon spread. Families attempted to keep their daughters safe and would try to keep them from working in her service. Despite this, Bathory had a steady supply of servants, and nobles would even send their girls to her for their education and training.
During this time, it was significantly easier to get away with killing servants and the lower class, but once rumors spread of Bathory killing the daughters of fellow nobility, an investigation was ordered in 1610.
Matthias II, King of Hungary, ordered a count to visit Bathory and investigate. He supposedly walked in on her leading a torture session of young girls.
Due to her social status, Bathory could not be tried, but four of servants were tried as accomplices. 289 witnesses were called to testify, testimony they gave painted a chilling picture of the tortures she conducted.
Bathory’s Torture Methods
Witnesses described a wide variety of methods that Bathory used to torture and kill her victims. Not lacking in sadistic creativity, Bathory supposedly tortured her victims via:
- Cutting with scissors
- Sticking needles into lips
- Burning with hot objects
- Ice baths in the winter
- Cutting noses and lips
- Pins under finger nails
- Biting pieces of flesh off victims
- Forcing victims to cook and eat their own flesh
Witnesses described that Bathory believed that drinking a virgin’s blood could grant her eternal youth an beauty. Over the years, legends have grown, claiming that she would also bathe in tubs of her victim’s blood.
The servants on trial admitted to burying the bodies, their estimates ranging from 36 to 51 victims. One witness claimed that Bathory kept records of her activity and that they had seen a list of 650 victims.
While Bathory was never convicted due to her social status, her servants were found guilty. Three were quickly executed and one was sentenced to life imprisonment.
As prison was a punishment for lower classes, Bathory was confined to her castle as punishment. She was held in solitary confinement until her own death three years later at the age of 54.
Was Bathory a Serial Killer?
Over 400 years later, we are left wondering: did Elizabeth Bathory really torture and kill hundreds of young women?
Records of the trial and testimony paint the legends that have been passed through time, but could these accounts be exaggerated? There was certainly motive to incriminate Bathory.
Motives to Discredit Her
King Matthias II, who called for the investigation, was a member of the Habsburg family. Supposedly they owed Bathory a large debt that they were not keen to pay back. With her out of the way, they would not need to repay.
She was likely considered a threat to Matthias II’s reign as well. She had family members challenging him for control of western Hungary, and she would surely have sided against the king.
Her own relatives would stand to gain with her discredited and imprisoned. Her vast wealth could be passed on much sooner than waiting for her death.
Bathory’s servants testified that they had helped bury victim’s, but they were tortured to confess, which was not uncommon at the time.
Unfortunately, as time passes it is unlikely that we will ever get to the bottom of the legends surrounding Elizabeth Bathory. Was she a victim of conspiracy theories meant to ruin her reputation? Or could she be one of the most prolific serial killers of all time?
- Cavendish, R. (2014, August 8). Death of Countess Elizabeth Bathory. History Today. Retrieved December 7, 2022, from https://www.historytoday.com/archive/months-past/death-countess-elizabeth-bathory
- History.com Editors. (2009, November 13). Hungarian countesses’ torturous escapades are exposed. History.com. Retrieved December 7, 2022, from https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/bathorys-torturous-escapades-are-exposed
- Kettler, S. (2020, May 21). Elizabeth Bathory Biography. Biography.com. Retrieved December 7, 2022, from https://www.biography.com/crime-figure/elizabeth-bathory
- O’Connell, R. (2022, October 21). The bloody legend of Hungary’s serial killer Countess. National Geographic. Retrieved December 7, 2022, from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/article/the-bloody-legend-of-hungarys-serial-killer-countess