"Isten, give me help: and ye also, O all powerful cloud! Protect me, Erzsébet, and grant me a long life. I am in peril, O cloud! Send me ninety cats, for thou are the supreme Lord of cats. Give them thy orders and tell them, wherever they may be, to assemble together, to come from the mountains, from the waters, from the rivers, from the rainwater on the roofs, and from the oceans. Tell them to come to me. And to hasten them to bite the heart of [INSERT NAME] and also of [INSERT NAME] and of [INSERT NAME]. Let them rip to pieces and bite again and again the heart of Megyery the Red. And guard Erzsébet from all evil." [See note]
- Erzsébet's Prayer.
There are many legends about vampires. However, there are official documents proving the existence of an authentic seventeenth-century countess, Erzsébet Bathory, who was the most bloodthirsty vampiress of all time!!! [Ed. note: this is the popularized myth.]
Erzsébet (Elizabeth) Bathory was born in 1560 into one of the oldest and wealthiest families in Transylvania. Her parents were first cousins Anna and Gyorgy (George) Báthory, and she had many powerful relatives - a cardinal, princes, and a cousin who was prime minister of Hungary. The most famous Bathory was King Steven of Poland. 1575-86. She grew up in an era when much of Hungary had been overrun by the Turkish forces of the Ottoman empire and was a battleground between Turkish and Austrian (Hapsburg) armies. Raised on the Bathory estate at Ecsed in Transylvania, some reports say that as a child she was subject to siezures accompanied by intense rage and uncontrollable behavior.
In 1571, the eleven-year-old Erzsébet was engaged to the sixteen-year-old Count Ferencz Nadasdy; the match was arranged by his mother, Ursula. Three years later, Erzsébet became pregnant from an affair with a peasant; she was sequestered at a remote Bathory castle until the bastard daughter was born. On May 8, 1575, she and the young count were married - she was fifteen and he was around twenty-six (contradiction elsewhere). The count added her surname to his, so the countess kept her maiden name. They lived at Castle Csejthe in the Nyitra country of Hungary.
She also took over the household affairs at Castle Sarvar, the Nadasdy family estate, while Ferencz made war his "career" and began scoring victories against the Turks as early as 1578. He eventually earned the nickname "Black Knight of Hungary". He also lent the Hungarian Crown a great deal of money to finance the war against the Turks.
The first ten years of their marriage, Elizabeth bore no children because she and Ferenc shared so little time together as he pursued his military career. Then around 1585, Elizabeth bore a girl whom she named Anna, and over the following nine years gave birth to two more girls, Orsika (Ursula) and Kato (Katherine). In 1598, the Countess' only son, Pál (Paul), was born. At the time, she was around 38 years of age. The wet nurse for all of her children was her old nurse Jó Ilona (Helena Jo) who became one of her accomplices in her crimes. Ironically, judging from letters she wrote to relatives, she was a good wife and protective mother, which was not surprising since nobles usually treated immediate family very differently from the lower servants and peasant classes.
It was at Castle Servar that her career of evil really began - with the disciplining of the large household staff, particularly the young girls. In a time period in which cruel and arbitrary behavior by those in power toward those who were servants was common, Erzsébet's level of cruelty was noteworthy.
While her husband was away Elizabeth's manservant Thorko introduced her to the occult. For a brief time Elizabeth eloped with a "dark stranger". Upon her return to Castle Csejthe the count did forgive her for her leaving. Back at the castle, Elizabeth couldn't tolerate her domineering mother-in-law. With the help of her old nurse Ilona Joo, she began to torture the servant girls. Her other accomplices included the major-domo János Ujvary, Thorko, a forest witch named Darvula and a witch Dorottya Szentes.
She did not just punish infringements on her rules, but found excuses to inflict punishments and delighted in the torture and death of her victims far beyond what her contemporaries could accept. Reportedly, she would stick pins in various sensitive body parts, such as under the fingernails. In the winter she would execute victims by having them stripped, led out into the snow, and doused with water until they were frozen. Elizebeth actually got tips on how to torture from her husband who, as a soldier, used to brutalize Turkish prisoners-of-war. For example, he showed her a summertime version of her freezing exercise - he had a woman stripped, covered in honey, then left outside to be bitten by numerous insects. He died on January 4, 1604 at the age of 49 [Ed. note: contradictory sources say the year was 1600; that he was 51; that he died either in battle or some unknown illness]. Erzsébet moved to Vienna only four weeks after his death, thus shocking the royal court. She also began to spend time at the estates at Blindoc (Beckov) and Csejthe (now Csejthe, Slovakia), both located in the present-day country of Slovakia. Under the terms of Ferencz's will, their Paul was placed under the guardianship of Imre Megyery. The witch, Anna Darvulia, began serving Erzsébet sometime during this year; with her arrival, the torture and killings escalated.
First, she sent her hated mother-in-law away. Erzsébet was very vain and afraid of getting old and losing her beauty. One day a servant girl accidentially pulled her hair while combing it - Erzsébet slapped the girl's hand so hard she drew blood, which fell onto her own hand. She immediately though her skin took on the freshness of that of her young maid. She was sure she found the secret of eternal youthful skin! She had her major-domo and Thorko strip the maid, cut her and drain her blood into a huge vat. Erzsébet bathed in it to beautify her entire body. Over the next 10 years Erzsébet's evil henchmen provided her with new girls for the blood-draining ritual and her blood baths.
Meanwhile, in 1607, after demanding for years that the Crown repay the debt owed to Ferencz, the Countess was so financially strapped that she was forced to sell her castle at Theben. At this point, the women in her employ began to actively procure girls. Two years later, in the winter, the Countess invited around twenty-five impoverished noblewomen to stay at Csejthe. Erzsébet accused one of them of killing others for jewelry and then committing suicide. But one of her intended victims escaped and told the authorities about what was happening at Castle Csejthe.
In 1610, the purported witch Darvulia probably died. Still having financial problems, Countess Bathory sold Castle Blindoc. The Bathory family secretly decided to spirit the Countess off to a convent for the rest of her days, but before this could be accomplished, Megyery deposed a formal complaint against her before the Hungarian Parliament. Underlying the inquiry, quite apart from the steadily increasing number of victims, were political concerns. The crown hoped to confiscate Erzsébet's large landholdings and escape having to pay back the extensive loan that her husband had made to the king. King Mathias of Hungary ordered the Lord Palatine, Erzsébet's own cousin Count Cuyorgy Thurzo who was governor of the province, to raid Castle Csejthe. He had been one of the members of the Bathory family who had planned to have her retired to a convent.
Erzsébet was put under house arrest on December 29, 1610, the apparent grounds for arrest pertained to alleged witchcraft, not vampirism per se, and the next day the castle was raided. The raiders were horrified by the terrible sights in Castle Csejthe - one dead girl in the main room, drained of blood and another alive whose body had been pierced with holes; in the dungeon they discoverd several living girls, some of whose bodies had been pierced. Below the castle, they exhumed the bodies of some 50 girls.
Erzsébet was placed on trial a few days later. The trial was conducted by Count Thurzo as an agent of the king. As noted, the trial was initiated to not only obtain a conviction, but also to confiscate her lands. On January 7, 1611, less than a week after the first trial, a second trial was convened at Bitscse. One of the trials was conducted in Hungarian, the other in Latin. Although Erzsébet petitioned the court to allow her to appear and defend herself against the charges, her cousin Thurzo would not allow her to appear and so disgrace the Bathory name. While the court condemned the Countess' actions, she was not actually to be punished.
At this trial, a register was found in Erzsébet's living quarters and was introduced as evidence. It noted the names of 650 victims, all recorded in her handwriting. Johannes Ujvary, major-domo, testified that about 37 unmarried girls has been killed, six of whom he had personally recruited to work at the castle. The victims were tied up and cut with scissors. Sometimes the two witches tortured these girls, or the Countess herself. Erzsébet's old nurse testified that about 40 girls had been tortured and killed. All the accomplices in the killings, except the Countess Bathory and the two witches, were beheaded and cremated, the manner determined by their roles in the tortures. A complete transcript of the trial was made at the time and it survives today in Hungary! See The Accomplices.
The court never convicted Countess Erzsébet of any crime. Not allowed to appear at her trial by her cousin, she refused to plead guilty or innocent and she reportedly attempted to escape to Transylvannia during the trial. King Matthias II of Hungary continued to try and bring her to trial and demanded the death penalty. Although Matthias did seem quite outraged about Countess Bathory's crimes, his motives in wanting to bring her to trial more involved his desire to seize her lands and cancel the debt owed her husband by the Crown than any feelings of justice for the poor girls she murdered. He took depostions from witnesses in July and December and a later tribunal with more than 200 witnesses was convened by him. Her relatives lobbied very hard to keep a full trial from actually taking place, and the king finally conceeded defeat and agreed to an indefinitely delayed sentence. Thus, She was consequently condemned by Thurzo to lifelong imprisonment in solitary confinement in her castle at Csejthe. Stonemasons were brought in to wall up the windows and doors of the small bedchamber with the Countess inside. They left a small hole through which food could be passed and a few slits for air.
Erzsébet passed her time writing on the walls of her tower. Gyorgy Drugeth, Count of Homonna, who was married to Katelin Nádasdy, Erzsébet's daughter, visited Erzsébet when she was sealed in her tower to bring her food. She dictated her last will and testament on July 31, 1614 to two cathedral priests from the Esztergom bishopric. She wished that what remained of her family holdings be divided up equally among her children, although her son Paul and his descendants were the basic inheritors.
A few weeks later, one of the countess's jailers wanted to get a good look at her, since she was still reputedly one of the most beautiful women in Hungary. Peeking through the small aperture in her walled-up cell, he saw her lying face down on the floor. Countess Elizabeth Bathory was dead. The date of her death is said to be either Augst 14 or 21.
Her body was intended to be buried in the church in the town of Csejthe, but the grumbling of local inhabitants found abhorrent the idea of having the "infamous Lady" placed in their town, on hallowed ground no less! Considering this, and the fact that she was "one of the last of the descendants of the Ecsed line of the Bathory family", her body was placed to the northeastern Hungarian town of Ecsed, the original Bathory family seat.
There are some connections between the Bathorys and the Draculas. The commander of the expedition that helped Dracula regain his throne in 1476 was Prince Steven Bathory. A Dracula fief, Castle Fagaras, became a Bathory possession during the time of Erzsébet. Both families had a dragon design on their family crests.
Erzsébet's accomplices stood trial from January 2 to January 7, 1611. They were convicted, tortured in various ways and then executed - with two exceptions... Kateline, who was found innocent and released, and Thorko (also known as Fizcko and Ujváry János) who was spared the torture and just beheaded.
Thorko (Ficzkó / Ujváry János)
Arrived in 1594 and served the Countess as a manservant for 16 years. A dwarf who was said to be cruel and vicious.
Tried and convicted January 1611. Death by beheading with a sword on January 7, 1611. His body was thrown into a fire along with the other accomplices.
Served the Countess originally as a wet nurse for the Nádasdy children. She lived with the Countess for 10 years.
Tried and convicted January 1611. On January 7, 1611, she had her fingers torn off one by one with hot pincers. She fainted after the fourth had been removed and was promptly thrown into the bonfire.
Dorottya Szentes (Dorkó)
Had been with the Countess 5 years, originally serving Erzsébet's daughter Anna Nádasdy before her marriage.
Tried and convicted January 1611. On January 7, 1611, while awaiting her execution, she fainted at the site of Jó Ilona's torture and was thrown into the bonfire with her.
Kateline Beniezky (Katá)
Arrived in 1605 and served as the washerwoman. The most sympathetic of the bunch, she reportedly never actually killed anyone.
Tried in January 1611. On January 7, 1611, she was found innocent of murder and released.
Known as "The Witch of the Forest," she came to Erzsébet after the death of Ferenc Nádasdy in 1604. She taught Erzébet about the powers of witchcraft.
Anna died many years before the others were caught.
After the death of Anna Darvulia, Erzá, a sorceress, became the appointed healer of the house, with her spells and concoctions. Erzá convinced Erzsébet to bathe in the blood of nobility instead of peasants.
It is unclear what became of Erzá.
An old drunk woman who helped gather girls for Erzsébet. It is unclear what became of Kardoska.
Notable Extended Family
Siblings (Erzsébet was the 2nd child)
(If you want to learn more about the life of Countess Bathory, I suggest reading Valentine Penrose's book The Bloody Countess: The Crimes of Elizabeth Báthory [see http://www.bloodsoaked.com/erzsebet/vpessay.html], not to be confused with that horrid book by Andrei Codrescu, The Blood Countess [http://cgi.pathfinder.com/time/magazine/archive/1995/950814/950814.books.codrescu.html]. Believe me, there is a world of difference...
Another link you may wish to try is a website created by a descendent of Erzsébet, Dennis Bathory-Kitsz. Dennis is a musician and has composed some wonderful music, some of which is available in MIDI form on his website. In addition to the music, his pages include the most complete bibliography I've seen on the Countess (complete with links), photographs of Csejthe Castle as it stands in ruin today, along with a rather detailed account of an opera he is writing and producing about Countess Bathory.)
The original is said to have been Erzsébet's favorite, written in Slovak, and kept with her until the day she died. This was reported by the Reverend Ponikenusz, who was also reported (more third- and fourth-hand information) to have been a cold and harsh presence in Erzsébet's life. But the prayer (and the reportage) changed hands and was translated and republished several times, including in McNally (p.66), so its provenance is lost. It's the McNally version that I re-worked for poetic effect. It's powerful and moving, so whether it is really her prayer does not matter to me. [Dennis Báthory-Kitsz]