Everyone knows about the fountain of youth. Its one of the many, many ancient legends spanning back thousands of years. Well, in the 1500’s, a Hungarian noble by the name of Erzabet (Elizabeth) Bathory decided to make her own. She believed that by bathing in the blood of young female virgins, she would stay young forever. So, she kidnapped young women, drained enough of their collective blood to fill a bath tub, and bathed in it…Sounds wonderful doesn’t it.
As always, some background first. Erzabet, translated to Elizabeth, was born into the upper noble Bathory household on August 7, 1560 from Anna Bathory and George VI Bathory. The Bathorys basically controlled Transylvania at the time, and her uncle Stephan was the current king of Poland, so they had a lot of power. Since this was the 16th century and arranged marriage was still a thing, she was betrothed to one of the sons of another noble family, Ferenc Nádasdy. The betrothal happened when she was roughly 12 and they married at 14 in 1575. In those two years however, Elizabeth had a daughter with a much lower-class gentleman. When Ferenc found out, he was not pleased. And, since this was, again, the 16th century and rich people could do what ever they pleased, Ferenc reportedly had the lower-class man castrated and then torn apart by dogs. The child was allowed to live, but she was hidden away. It is said she was given to a peasant woman to be raised. Excluding the peasant child, Elizabeth had five children; Anna, Orsolya, Katalin, Andras, and Pal. From the time of her birth to her marriage and the birth of her children, everything seemed to be fine. When her husband died in January of 1604, that’s when problems started to occur.
Something I neglected to mention earlier. In her younger years, Elizabeth was frequented with moderate seizures and violent outbursts, often striking out at the nearest person during her rage. Her issues seemed to be restricted to this. However, after her husband died, she seemed to let loose a little. As it turns out, Bathory was a sadist, that is, she derived pleasure from causing other physical and/or mental harm. In Elizabeth’s case, it was physical. “Witnesses told of her stabbing victims or biting their breasts, hands, faces and arms, cutting them with scissors, sticking needles into their lips or burning them with red-hot irons, coins or keys.” (Cavendish 1). It is said that Elizabeth believed drinking the blood of young virgins would keep her young and healthy forever. And, unfortunately, she had no shortage of victims. Peasant mothers would constantly send their daughters off to Elizabeth’s home (Nádasdy castle) to learn proper etiquette. That gave her plenty victims already, but on top of that, she would hire other young peasant women as maids for her castle. Since her family had a hand in the local government, along with being part of an esteemed upper noble family, she was able to freely commit these crimes without any interference. This probably could have gone on much longer, if not for the fact that she started targeting the children of other noble families. Back in the 16th & 17th century, no one batted an eye if several peasants disappeared. When rich people start disappearing though, that catches attention real quick. Elizabeth’s cousin, György Thurzó, was sent to investigate the disappearances, and quickly discovered that Elizabeth was responsible. She, along with a few servants, were arrested and tried for countless of murder. But even with multiple noble families against her, along with several witness accounts from peasants and survivors, they could not kill her because of her political standing. They could incarcerate her however, and that’s what they did. “Báthory was imprisoned in Čachtice Castle. She was kept bricked up in a windowless room, with only small slits left open for ventilation and the passing of food. She remained there for four years, until her death on 24 August, 1614.” (April 1)
There were a few notable causes that might have ultimately led to Elizabeth’s mass homicide. As with the case of Vlad the Impaler, these events took place so long ago that it is hard to efficiently tell truth from lie in her history. But there are a few similarities found amongst the articles. One being that she suffered from violent seizures, loss of control, and fits of rage. The seizures could be explained by inbreeding, as Elizabeth was the product of inbreeding between Baron George Bathory and Baroness Anna Bathory. So, she already had genetic instabilities from the get go. Second contributing factor, her sadistic streak. This had two possible sources. Either A; she was born a sadist (as some people are) or B; she picked it up from her husband, “Black Knight” Nádasdy who was known for his viciousness against the ottomans during his time in the war. He was known to torture war prisoners. Her sadistic streak, combined with her lack of control and bursts of rage, results in a deadly combination. And since she was part of two upper noble families, no one could touch her. She could torture to her hearts content and no one could do a thing about it. No wonder she was able to kill as many as she did, no one had the power to stop her. Aside from the disappearance of many peasants, her actions didn’t seem to have many long-term effects.
Jeffery Cohen wrote a thesis of seven monster theories, and Elizabeth Bathory might fit into two of them. Thesis One: The Monster’s body is a cultural body. This place was 16th-17th century Transylvania. There was a very clear divide between the rich and the poor. The rich disliked the poor because they were poor, and the poor dislike the rich because of what they had. In some cases, the rich and nobles would treat their servants (which happened to be peasants) like dirt. They would act like low level monsters. Well, Elizabeth Bathory gave them an actual monster. A spider that would lure in insects with honeyed words only to kill them and drink their life essence (literally). There’s no boogeyman under the bed, but there was a vampire up the hill. There was also the fact that serfs and peasants could do nothing against the nobles. This was brought to the extreme, as someone was basically eating their kids, but no one would hear their cries for help.
The other category which she fits is Thesis VI: Fear of the Monster is Really a Kind of Desire. Let’s face it, 90% of people want to be rich, or in this case, be a noble. A peasant’s dream is to A: live a happy, fulfilling life, or B: rise above their poverty. Mothers would send their young daughters to Bathory Castle in order for them to learn proper etiquette. Like every parent, they wanted a better life for their children. Though that plan obviously backfired. While they feared Elizabeth for her deeds, they still wished to be a noble like her. They just didn’t want to be crazy as well.
Over 600 young virgins brutally tortured and killed over a span of nearly 10 years, a women who drank and bathed in the blood of the youthful, and no one could do anything to stop it. Elizabeth was in no way secretive about her killing, rumors about her actions started happening almost immediately. She just had so much power with her position that no one could legally do anything about it. It took someone else in her extended family, with a power and backing equal to her own, to finally take her down. This is the woman who holds the world record of Most Prolific Female Murderer in History.
1.Cavendish, Richard. “Death of Countess Elizabeth Bathory.” History Today, Aug. 2014, www.historytoday.com/richard-cavendish/death-countess-elizabeth-bathory.
Title gives away the content pretty easily, though not all of it. While it does give the details of her execution, it also gives a short summary of her early life. It also gives one very important fact; she happened to be a sadist. This information will probably be used earlier in the writings, but I will probably use the sadist information specifically. This article is from a well-known magazine called History Today. This is from Volume 64, issue 8.
- Glenday, Craig. “Most Prolific Female Murderer.” Guinness World Records, Guinness World Records, 2015, www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/most-prolific-female-murderer.
Just the fact that someone is in the Guinness World Records book for murder is just incredible on its own. This one is just going to be used explicitly for this fact. From the Guinness World Records, 2015 Edition.
- Holloway, April. “Elizabeth Bathory – 16th Century Deranged Serial Killer or Victim of Betrayal?” Ancient Origins, Ancient Origins, 3 Sept. 2014, www.ancient-origins.net/history-famous-people/elizabeth-bathory-16th-century-deranged-serial-killer-or-victim-betrayal.
One of the more extensive readings of Erzabet Bathory. Talks much more in-depthly about her trial and the circumstances around it. Gives a little more info about her life and when she went crazy. Still looking for a complete reading of her life that isn’t Wikipedia. Will be used to talk about her trial. Info from ancientorigins.net, which is a site that just talks about a bunch of historical figures
- Ellerbrok, Ariane. “The Social Study of Serial Killers.” Racial Profiling | Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, 2009, www.crimeandjustice.org.uk/publications/cjm/article/social-study-serial-killers.
A study of the effects of serial killers on society. Refers to studies of individual studies of certain killers in historical context, and delving into the different psychiatric background and environmental differences. Also talks about societies of strangers, the effects of mass media, and marginalization. Good for building information on the current studies of psychopaths, or at least a summary of it. Will be used in the middle of the writings. From the center for crime and justice.
- Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. Monster Theory: Reading Culture. University of Minnesota Press, 1997.
The book that we the monster theories that we used in class originated from. The inclusion of the thesis is necessary to establish what exactly makes them a monster. Though I cited the whole book, I’m focusing on the theories themselves. These are the theories that sum up monsters in their totality in a more…cultural aspect. What they symbolize and what led to their creation.