For this week’s Femme Fatale Friday here at White Rose of Avalon I have chosen a very fatal female indeed. In honor of today being the start of October (and ever closer to Halloween) I will be discussing the story of Erzsebet Bathory! Erzsebet is most often known in the English speaking world by the English version of her name, Elizabeth. Elizabeth Bathory is a name some may recognize, as she was the late sixteenth, and early seventeenth, century Hungarian countess known as the Bloody Countess!
Erzsebet Bathory has become known to history as the most prolific female serial killer of all time! She was accused of killing at least 650 young women in her reign of terror, but was only convicted of about 80 murders! Being that she was powerful and was a member of the nobility, she was not put to death. Instead she was walled up in a tower in her own castle, until she died! Whether or not she actually committed the atrocities she was accused of is something that modern historians have begun to question.
Bathory was borne at a time and in a place that did not allow women to have much power, or any power really. In Hungary, the late 16th century was a time of great cruelty, and it was a bloody place to live. Erzsebet was betrothed at a young age to another noble. She was married at 15 yet she did not give birth to a child until ten years into the union. By the time she had her first child many had already questioned whether or not she was barren, as this was highly uncommon for a marriage to take a decade to bare fruit!
This also leads to the first instance of Bathory being accused of supernatural deeds. Many believed that she had used witchcraft and black magic to allow herself to become pregnant! Whether or not she actually practiced some sort of magic to conceive should not prove she was doing anything evil. Magic having to do with fertility was usually practiced by midwives at the time, and was considered healing and white magic (not dark magic at all). In time, she would give birth to more children, however there would also be miscarriages. There is a tragic tale that one of the miscarriages could have been due to her husband raping her while she was pregnant! I am uncertain if this has historical evidence, but it is included in a film about her life.
Her husband would die in battle, leaving Erzsebet a widow with a lot of money, power, and land. She and her husband had been so wealthy that they even loaned the king money, making him in their debt! This fact, along with the fact that she refused to remarry another nobleman (who was looking to obtain her wealth) made her a female to very much be feared. This is where modern historians begin to question the story of her epic cruelty and bloodlust. There is a chance that she was the victim of a plot to gain her money and lands, and they used character assassination to be able to take down a powerful woman!
The tale of Bathory slapping a servant with the back of her hand and cutting the girl’s face with her ring is a famous one. It was said that Bathory became enchanted by the blood of the young woman now on her hand. Bathory would begin to believe that the blood of virgins was the key to eternal youth and beauty! It was this vanity that would go on to fuel her atrocious behavior. She had many girls brought to her palace to work for her, and she would torture them!
There are many tales of her blood letting them, and killing them to drain their blood. She was also accused of drinking the blood and bathing in it to preserve her famously ageless beauty! It is said that her horrors were discovered when she moved on from peasants to killing a young noble born girl, who had been brought to live at her castle for etiquette training. The fact that it was now a noble girl who died made people finally take notice to a woman the village had lived in terror of for many years!
Once again, I will finish by saying we do not know if Bathory committed these horrific crimes, she may have only killed to protect (few in Hungary at the time did not have blood on their hands due to how cruel it was back then). However, we will now always remember her for the monster she was accused of being by the men who feared her, and wanted her power for themselves. I hope you have enjoyed learning a bit about the Blood Countess. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is a modern artistic take on Bathory, based on some old portraiture (I could not find a good resolution image of the older portraits that I liked). I found the image on https://www.artstation.com/artwork/W2abD2.
- The Bloody Countess: Atrocities of Erzsebet Bathory by Valentine Penrose and Alexander Trocchi
- Princesses Behaving Badly by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie
- Uppity Women of Medieval Times by Vicki Leon
- Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)
- The Countess (2008)