The tale of Elizabeth Bathory countess of Transylvania is widely known as one of history’s greatest horror stories. Supposedly obsessed with her own youth, she would kill and drink the blood of young girls who came to work at her estate. It’s estimated she may have killed 600 girls in her life time. But are these monstrous claims true or the result of slander and later embellishment?

Elizabeth Bathory was born in 1560 into one of the most powerful noble families of Hungary. Her family practically ruled Transylvania as its own kingdom inside Hungary. When she was eleven she was engaged to another rich noblemen Ferenc Nádasdy who would rise through the military becoming the main general for Hungary’s army. This marriage made for a huge power couple and soon the Bathorys became even more wealthy and powerful.

Unfortunately for Elizabeth in 1604 her influential husband died while he was on campaign. György Thurzó a friend of Fenrenc’s was supposed to care for her but when he eventually was made second in command of Hungary the facts about Bathorys rampage came to light and she was locked away in Čachtice Castle till her death in 1614. What’s interesting is that Bathory a powerful noble was never actually given a public trail by the king for her crimes.

A portrait of Bathory.

In 1609 Thurzo launched an investigation into Elizabeth after it was claimed by lower nobles that they had not heard from their daughters after they were sent to live at the Bathory estate. On December 29th Thurzo and a group of armed men stormed into the Bathory estate and arrested Elizabeth and four of here servants 3 elderly women and a young boy. They claimed to have seen the bodies of many of her victims all around the estate. When they questioned her servants many claimed that Elizabeth would regularly attack young girls working there. The four servants arrested with Bathory claimed they would torture them in all sorts of awful ways everything from whipping and burning them to using needles on them . Some said that Bathory would even bite them sometimes.

The king of Hungary King Mátyás was set to put Bathory on trial but that was abandoned when none other than Thurzo asked for leniency. He asked that Elizabeth instead be allowed to live her life confined to an area of her castle. It was there that she died August 24 1614 of unrecorded causes. As for her accomplices three were executed and another sentenced to house arrest.
Well with so many witnesses saying she committed all these crimes then what is there to doubt. Well for one there was never any real trail so none of the witnesses were ever cross examined. Everything was done in a series of letters. At that time also integration’s were less about being good cop bad cop and more about putting someone on the rack, it’s likely the servants arrested with her were tortured to get them to tell what was supposed to be the truth.

A portrait of Thurzo.

Secondly, both King Mátyás and Thurzo had good reasons to have Elizabeth gone. Gabrial Bathory was a cousin of Elizabeth’s and also prince of Transylvania. He had a habit of going to war inside Hungary even with forces that could threaten Hungary’s very existence. So many of Hungary’s nobles didn’t want him sticking around causing trouble. At this time King Mátyás was trying to stabilize his control of Hungary. In 1913 Gabriel was removed from his position as prince after lots of rumors about him and his family were being tossed around. Elizabeth’s husband Furenc had also lent the king large sums of money, debts that Elizabeth was calling in. It’s not a stretch that the king sick of dealing with troublesome Bathory would seek to run the family name through the mud. Thurzo was entrusted with keeping Elizbeth safe so one would assume that some of her enormous wealth would given to him in the event that she could no longer use it. He was also very loyal to Hapsburgs who were political enemies of the Bathory family.

Cachtice castle where Bathory was placed on house arrest.

So the question becomes was Elizabeth a serial killer or the victim of Hungary’s constant political upheaval. It doesn’t help that history has more than a few times added to the legend. It’s a popular part of the story that she bathed in the blood of victims but the first known claim of this was in a 1729 book by a Jesuit scholar and no evidence of actual blood baths exist among the letters from the actual event. So we can’t say for sure if Bathory was history’s most prolific female killer and vampire but her story earned or not will always be synonymous with horror.


STBM: The legend of Elizabeth Báthory, the Blood Countessáthory