The year is 1604.
A mourning Lady Báthory is grieving the sudden death of her husband. Rumors are running rampant – dark rumors of torture, blood lust, and murder involving the Lady and four of her servants. Young women have been reported to have disappeared after being sent to the Lady as maids; others reported their young daughters snatched from their homes in the middle of the night. All the disappearances had two things in common: They were all reported in and around all of Lady Báthory’s estates and all involved young virgins.
After many citizen complaints and public demands made from a local minister, the king sent the Palatine of Hungary (the highest dignitary in Hungary) to investigate the esteemed Lady Báthory. The Palatine and his team of investigators questioned 300 witnesses, some of which lived with Lady Báthory. At the end of their investigation, Báthory’s four servants were arrested.
Witnesses, along with the arrested servants, gave sadistic accounts of “severe beatings, burning or mutilation of hands, biting the flesh off the virgins, freezing or starving to death, and sexual abuse” (Wikipedia). The witnesses also pointed to the use of needles and the Lady piercing different body parts and bathing in the blood of her victims. People came forward admitting that the Lady had hired them to kidnap young women or lured the young women onto the properties with empty promises.
One witness addressed a book that Lady Báthory kept, a diary of her kills, which included 650 victims. It is important to note that this journal has never been located. At Csejte, the personnel reported removing between 100 – 200 bodies from the premises.
The total number of missing women vary, but all accounts agree that the number was somewhere between 300 and 650!
Three of the four servants and accomplices were burned at the stake for their involvement. The fourth was a woman who convinced the court that she was bullied into the role she played and feared for her life if she didn’t comply with the Lady’s demands. For this, she was sentenced to life in prison.
The king pushed for the Palatine to arrest Lady Báthory. According to his reports, when the Palatine and his men arrived at Csejte, they recovered several mutilated bodies and found a couple of tortured young women in the dungeon and in Lady Báthory’s bedroom. She was placed under strict house arrest.
The Palatine was certain that publically arresting the Lady and taking her to trial would negatively impact the line of nobility. Despite the king’s desire for Lady Báthory to be tried and executed, the Palatine placed her under house arrest indefinitely.
Now, let’s back up a bit.
Lady Báthory belonged to a noble family that had publically proclaimed opposition to the ruling family of Hungary, the Hapsburgs. She was also a well known Protestant in a time where Protestants were looked at as rebels of the country. King Matthias was head of the House of Hapsburg, who were known for their strong Catholic beliefs.
And the minister who demanded that Lady Báthory be investigated in the first place? He was a Lutheran minister, also known to oppose the Protestant movement.
It is also important to note that Lady Báthory’s husband had loaned a considerable amount of money to the king. So when it was decreed to place Lady Báthory under house arrest, it was included in the decree that the king would not have to repay his debt to her, which worked out nicely for the king, since he didn’t have the funds.
If Lady Báthory had been tried and executed, all of her properties would have been seized by the crown.
But it was decided not to try the Lady and instead, she was bricked into the lower level of her home, with only a slit for food to pass. Four years later, Lady Báthory was found dead, the exact date of her death is unknown. She was 54 years old.
Some people speculate the “Tigress of Csejte” was obsessed with staying young and believed that bathing in the blood of virgins would cease her own aging. Based on witness accounts, Lady Báthory enjoyed torturing young women and experimenting on them with needles and branding irons. Still others lean towards the conspiracy theory – the king owed her money, she was part of a group opposing his rule, and she came from a rich aristocratic family whose money would have help him secure his crown.
We may never know the truth, but one thing is for certain, Countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed is considered to be the first female serial killer.
What do you think? Was Lady Báthory a sadistic blood thirsty murderer? Or was she the victim of a king struggling to retain his power? Or was she indeed obsessed with immortality and youth, believing it her prerogative to bathe in the blood of non-noble virgins?
Let me know what you think!
Oh! And due to high demand (okay, okay, a couple of Literati inquiries), I will soon be posting notes about my experiences from the Backspace Writer’s Conference, along with the main points on what I learned.
Happy reading and writing!