Haunted History: The Blood Countess
The Blood Countess, also known as The Countess Elizabeth Bathory de Esced is an alleged Hungarian serial killer from the 1500s. I first encountered her story in a film called The Countess (2009), though this legend has influenced countless novels, films and series. Some even believe in inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
The legend goes that Bathory killed at least 80, but potentially up to 650 victims. Keep in mind that there is some debate over whether or not these allegations hold true. We will get to that. There are some narratives that depict Bathory killing young girls in order to harvest their “virgin” blood, in an effort to remain ageless. However, this isn’t backed by the evidence. In truth, the accounts tell a chilling story of extreme torture, often sexual in nature.
Countess Bathory was an incredibly well connected noblewoman. She had family members as part of the royal families in Poland and Transylvania. At the startling age of 11, she was engaged to Count Ferenc Nadasdy. A political arrangement. By age 15 the couple was married, but waited 10 years to have their first child together. There is a rumor that before Bathory had children with her husband, she had an illegitimate child with a lower class man. Some claim that Nadasdy had the man castrated and killed by dogs. Bathory kept her name because at the time of her marriage her social standing was higher than that of her husband.
Count Nadasdy was often away from home, as war was waging. Bathory was tasked with protecting and representing the people in their territories in her husband’s absence. Though there are rumors that he helped teach her torture techniques when he was home. Further allegations suggest that Bathory often took lovers while her husband was in battle. In 1604 Bathory’s husband died from illness, after suffering for several years.
Bathory first sourced victims within her own walls, torturing her servants. Then she expanded to kill children of the lower class (not seen as a crime at the time). Ultimately, she ended up torturing and killing noble children sent to her to learn matters, which was seen as illegal due to their status. Witness testimony revealed that Bathory would often tortue these girls by biting them, hurt them using needles, ice, or burning metal.
In 1610 she was accused publically of horrifying crimes and thus began the investigation that would result in her arrest. The investigator, Count György Thurzó, caught Bathory in the act. She was imprisoned within her own castle. There was some murky involvement by a handful of servants. Some reports indicate that they were involved with the torture, though during trial they only admitted to burng bodies of the victims. Four of the servants were sentenced to death.
Because of Bathory’s status she was not officially convicted of a crime, she also would not be taken to prison. We know that she was kept in her castle, some believe she was walled up within it, until her death in 1614.
But here is the problem. The majority of the evidence can be written off as rumor or hearsay. Bathory’s servants were tortured by investigators, meaning their testimony cannot be trusted. And some speculate that the lead investigator held control over many of the witnesses. There was a good political reason to want to bring down Bathory, her reach, land ownership and wealth was expansion.
Even if there is some exaggeration at work here, it is likely that Bathory was not completely innocent. She and her husband had a reputation for being especially cruel to their servants.
Bathory’s story has inspired everyone from Bram Stoker to Lady Gaga (in her AHS performance). This story truly has inspired many horror-retellings, and fits perfectly with our mission to explore the history of horror.