ERZSÉBET (ELIZABETH) BÁTHORY


Countess of Transylvania, vampire: Born 1560/61; died, August 21, 1614.

In order to improve her complexion and also to maintain her failing grasp on her youth and vitality, she slaughtered six hundred innocent young women from her tiny mountain principality...

The noble Báthory family stemmed from the Hun Gutkeled clan which held power in broad areas of east central Europe (in those places now known as Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and Romania), and had emerged to assume a role of relative eminence by the first half of the 13th century. Abandoning their tribal roots, they assumed the name of one of their estates (Bátor meaning 'valiant') as a family name. Their power rose to reach a zenith by the mid 16th century, but declined and faded to die out completely by 1658. Great kings, princes, members of the judiciary, as well as holders of ecclesiastical and civil posts were among the ranks of the Báthorys.

Adopting an exalted name did not alter some basic familial preferences among lesser lights however, and in order to consolidate more tenuous clingings to influence there was considerable intermarriage amongst the Báthory family, with some of the usual problems of this practice produced as a result. Unfortunately, beyond the 'usual problems' some extraordinary difficulties arose (namely hideous psychoses) and several "evil geniuses" appeared, the notorious and sadistic Erzsébet the most prominent of them.

Truly, she was evil enough to be recognized as one of the original "vampires" who later inspired Bram Stoker to write the legend of Dracula -- but unlike Stoker's story, she was real.

Unusual for one of her social status, she was a fit and active child. Raised as Magyar royalty, as a young maid she was quite beautiful; delicate in her features, slender of build, tall for the time, but her personality did not attain the same measure of fortuitous development. In her own opinion her most outstanding feature was her often commented upon gloriously creamy complexion. Although others were not really so equally impressed with the quality of her rather ordinary skin, they offered copious praise if they knew what was good for them, as Erzsébet did not accept unenthusiastic half-measures of adulation; and she was vindictive.

She was only 15 when she was 'married off' for political gain and position to a rough soldier of (nevertheless) aristocratic stock and manner. By reason of the marriage, she became the lady of the Castle of Csejthe, his home, situated deep in the Carpathian mountains of what is now central Romania, but which then was known only as Transylvania. Located near no exciting urban center, the castle was surrounded by a village of simple peasants and rolling agricultural lands, interspersed with the jagged outcroppings of the frozen Carpathians.

While the picturesque setting embraced a bucolic tapestry of ideal small fields, meandering stone walls, quaint cottages, a few satisfied brown cows, and goats with tinkling bells about their necks scampering amongst the chickens, life here was uneventful. The castle was typical for its day and place: cold, dun, gloomy, damp, dark; unlike the cozy thatched houses of the peasants below.

While her husband was pursuing his passion, the soldier business, and off on various campaigns, for Elizabeth -- who did not wish to amuse herself in the out-of-doors where those loutish peons were grubbing in the mud -- life became poundingly boring in very short order. Being an energetic teenager, although one with a view and experience of life which was 'special,' she set about finding novel amusements to occupy her days.

Her tastes were of a certain slant, and consequently she began to gather about herself (as her ample financial resources readily accommodated) persons of peculiar and sinister arts. These she welcomed into her presence, affording them commodious lodging and lavish attention to each of their most singular needs and interests. Among them were those who claimed to be witches, sorcerers, seers, wizards, alchemists, and others who practiced the most depraved deeds in league with the Devil and too painful to mention even in a story such as this. They taught her their crafts in intimate detail and she was enthralled. But learning such unspeakable things was not enough.

War in the 16th century was a brutal affair. While fashionably fighting the Turks and attempting to gain information from prisoners captured, her husband employed a horrid device of torture: clever articulated claw-like pincers, fashioned of hardened silver; which, when fastened to a stout whip would tear and rip the flesh to such an obscene degree that even he, a cruel man, abandoned the apparatus in disgust and left it at the castle as he departed on yet another heroic foray.

Elizabeth was not alone in her 'unusual' interests. Aware of Elizabeth's complex preoccupations, and amused by them, her aunt had introduced her also to the pleasures of flagellation (enacted upon desolate others of course), a taste Elizabeth quickly acquired. Equipped with her husband's heinous silver claws, she generously indulged herself, whiling away many lonely hours at the expense of forlorn Slav debtors from her own dungeons. The more shrill their screams and the more copious the blood, the more exquisite and orgasmic her amusement. She preferred to whip her 'subjects' on the front of their nude bodies rather than their backs, not only for the increased damage potential, but so that she could gleefully watch their faces contort in horror at their most grim and burning fate.

Her husband died in 1604 (some say 1602) of stab wounds imposed on him by a harlot in Bucharest whom he had not paid, and Elizabeth immediately dreamed of a lover to replace him, since she never cared for him in the first place -- so much for her mourning. However, the mirror showed her that her prurient indulgences, as well as time, had taken their toll on her appearance. Her 'angelic' complexion had long since faded to something less than perfection; she had reached 43. Her desire for a lover did not fade; she raged deep within, cursing time.

Such a simple interest as a new husband was not to rule the day, it was merely a detail. With the demise of her husband, prowling highly placed men began to smell a ripe opportunity to seize the power and influence encapsulated in the Báthory name; likely by acquiring her and then eliminating her. As well, she was next in line to become King of Poland, and she wanted the job. This seeming anomaly was possible within the governing constructs of the time, and the office of queen held no political weight. At the same time, she was educated beyond all those around her, reading and writing four languages while the prince of Transylvania was an illiterate boor (who bathed regularly -- every year on his birthday).

Maintaining her youth and vitality became central to this developing plot; the absolute divine right to power she understood was hers to keep and protect would be essential to the attainment of all that she sought. Vanity, sexual desire, drive for political power all were seamlessly blended into a central primordial passion. If she lost her youth, she could forfeit all.

Her mood deteriorated markedly and one day, as she viciously struck a servant girl for a minor oversight, she drew blood when her pointed nails raked the girl's cheek. The wound was serious enough that some of the blood got onto Elizabeth's skin. Later, Elizabeth was quite sure that that part of her own body - where the girl's blood had dropped - looked fresher somehow; younger, brighter and more pliant.

Immediately she consulted her alchemists for their opinion on the phenomenon. They, of course, were enjoying her hospitality and did not wish to disappoint, so, fortunately, they did recall a case many many years before and in a distant place where the blood of a young virgin had caused a similar effect on an aged (but generous) personage of nobility and good grace.

With such clear evidence at hand, Elizabeth was convinced that here was a brilliant discovery; a method to restore and preserve her youthful glow forever, or at least until she got what she wanted. The advice of her 'beauty consultant,' a woman named Katarina, concurred that her clever realization was most surely sound.

Elizabeth reasoned that if a little was good, then a lot would be better: she firmly believed that if she bathed in the blood of young virgins -- and in the case of especially pretty ones, drank it -- she would be gloriously beautiful and strong once again.

For years, Elizabeth's trusted helper in her various secret pleasures had been Dorotta Szentes. Now with her, and other 'witches' to help carry the load, Elizabeth roamed the countryside by night, hunting for suitable virginal girls as raw material for her difficult quest.

When back in the castle, each batch of young girls would be hung, alive and naked, upside-down by chains wrapped around their ankles. Their throats would be slit and all of their blood drained for Elizabeth's bath, to be taken while the heat of their young bodies still remained in the thickening and sticky crimson pool.

And every now and then, a really lovely young girl would be obtained. As a special treat, Elizabeth would drink the child's blood: at first from a golden flask, but later, as her taste for it increased, directly from the stream, as the writhing and whimpering body hung from the rafters, turning pale.

Although she had held off her political foes, after five years of this enterprise Elizabeth at last began to realize that the blood of peasant girls was having little effect on the quality of her skin. Obviously such blood was defective and better blood was required.

In early 17th century Transylvania, parents of substantial position wished their daughters to be educated in the appropriate social graces and etiquettes, so that they might gain the 'right' connections when ripe. Here was an opportunity.

In 1609, Elizabeth established an academy in the castle, offering to take 25 girls at a time from proper families, and to correctly finish their educations. Indeed, their educations were finished.

Assisted by Dorotta Szentes (known also by the graceful diminutive "Dorka") these poor students were consumed in exactly the same beastly fashion as the anguished peasant girls who preceded them. This was too easy, and Elizabeth became careless in her actions for the first time in her dreadful career. During a frenzy of lust, four drained bodies were thrown off the walls of the castle.

The error was realized too late, for villagers had already seen, collected, and begun to identify the girls. The disappearance of all those young women began to be solved; the secret was finished.

Word of this horror spread rapidly and soon reached the Hungarian Emperor, Matthias II, who immediately ordered that the Countess be placed on public trial. But, her aristocratic status did not allow that she be arrested. Parliament at once passed a new Act to reverse this privilege of station (lest she slip from their hands) and Elizabeth was brought before a formal hearing in 1610. Interestingly, no authority seemed inclined to offer any form of attention to these matters when merely peasant girls had been the subject of Elizabeth's blood-letting for five years previous.

By the final count, 600 girls had vanished; Elizabeth admitted nothing. Dorka and her witches were burned alive, but the Countess, by reason of her noble birth, could not be executed. Katarina was somehow seen as another victim, and was set free.

So, Elizabeth was damned to a death while alive. Sealed into a tiny closet of her castle -- and never let out -- she died four years later.

Elizabeth did not ever utter even a single word of regret, or remorse.

A note of interest: When Elizabeth was 25 years old, Stephan Báthory (a prince of Transylvania and her uncle) was elected King of Poland.

The last regularly scheduled trans-Atlantic passenger ocean liner ship in operation was named the "Stephan Batory" (a typical spelling variation.) It ceased operation in 1991, and its ports of call were Gdansk, Poland, and Montréal.

© Jerome C. Krause