present day standards, her life should have been like that of a woman in a Harloquin
Romance. Her marriage was a political one that was cheered by the
nation and was seen as a merging of two of Central Europe's most
powerful families. And not only did her marriage garner the support of
an empire, her husband, as well as the kingdom in which she lived,
lusted after her. Strong-willed, beautiful, determined, she was a woman
who controlled vast territories in warring lands in a time when women
were second class citizens.
But while her beauty was renowned, she has, post mortem, been the study of mythologists, folklorists, horror writers, and vampirists and vampirologists for centuries. She has caused nightmares both throughout her life and after her death.She has even inspired defenders, a film director recently making a movie entitled Bathory in which the director begged viewers to ignore the written history of the woman and to see her as she 'really' was. The poorly laid out vision of the revisionists aside, the name Bathory has been fodder for folk tale, myth, and horror novel since the lady, imprisoned in a few rooms in her castle via walled up brick and mortar, died. Why?
Women, known from time immemorial as the gentler sex, are not known to kill. Most psychologists claim that women are solely likely to kill in defense of themselves, or, and this is even more likely, in the defense of their children. Even via a quick glance down the list of killers in the Penguin Books Collection: Women Who Kill, one is not all that surprised to find that many of the murderers listed are women who have committed crimes of passion, killed their husbands or lovers, parents, or aided their husband in murder. Most horrific are the women who killed their own children. But rare are the women who went out on the hunt for victims, who thrill-killed as modern day psychologists would call it. But, Lady Elizabeth Bathory, member of the Hungarian nobility and a woman renowned throughout Europe for her distinct beauty, was just that, a thrill killing woman centuries before the term had been coined. In fact, in her day, the ignorant and illiterate peasants could only think of three words to apply to the Lady after her conviction: vampire, werewolf, and witch. These being the three terms that generate the most interest in the House of Bathory--the royal family and their court. Even their history as the family that defended Europe from the invading Ottoman Turks, not comparing with the alleged crimes of the 'Blood Countess.'
So what made the Blood Countess tick? To understand the woman, it is important to understand the times into which she was born. The Holy Roman Empire was on its last legs. Rudolf II, the last King of the Catholic Empire that had ruled Central Europe and Northern Italy since the Fall of the Western Roman Empire had no heirs, and due to his rumored sexuality, would not be providing any either. The ever expanding Turkish Ottoman Empire was breeching not only Balkan and Russian Christian Orthodox Territories, but had now entered Catholic Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia and Italy. The Austrian Hapsburg's, the one family in Central Europe with an army strong enough to stand up to the growing Turkish military presense, had formally recognized the Ottoman ascendancy in Hungary in 1547, though the Turks and Hapsburgs would be at war again in 1593 in the Long War. But not only were the troubles coming from without, there were also problems within, the Hungarian Peasant's Revolt of 1524 still left a wall of mistrust between the peasantry and the nobility, a wall so thick that even with the knowledge that there was a violent serial killer in their midst, the serf classes were unable to have anything done to protect themselves or their wives and daughters from Lady Bathory's blood lust.
With her husband off to war, the nobility's interests and focus on the encrouching Ottoman forces, and with a peasant class unwilling to speak up for fear of being accused of treason, the scene was set for Lady Bathory to act upon the desires and impulses that had been festering and growing inside of her since her childhood tutelage under her nursemaid and chief servant Ilona Joo, who was quite openly a witch and a scorcerer. And while it was not unusual in this time for the nobility to have an interest in or to dabble in alchemy and the dark sciences--Holy Roman Emporer Rudolf II being an avid supporter of the dark arts both financially and spiritually--what was unusual was the ritualistic sacrifices that the Lady would perform. Her blood lust, based on the testimony of her servants, responsible for between fifteen and thirty deaths. And with the uncovering of the victims, Lady Elizabeth Bathory moved from being a historic figure who ruled a crucial part of of Slovakia to literature, rumors of witchery and vampirism starting long before her death.
And the legend began . . .
The written testimony of a priest one hundred years post the Lady's death attests that the lady had killed six hundred and fifty virgins and bathed in their blood to maintain her beauty has moved from story to fact. A more realistic belief is that the lady for some reason got off on watching and participating in the torture and the eventual deaths of her victims. The fact that bodies were chained and being held throughout her Trencin fortifications, leading one to believe that the lady was able to take her time. And the fact that the Prime Minister claimed that when he arrived with several soldiers to question his cousin on the rumors of her murderous ways, the door was open, leading any criminologist to see that she felt that she would and could continue on with her work unabated for as long as she liked. Of course, defenders of Lady Bathory, as well as some revisionists, do show appearances that the Lady had made in courts defending woman who had been attacked or who had had their land taken away as a counter to history’s long-held acceptance that the lady was a crazed killer. But while these records can be confirmed, it is important to note that Ted Bundy, one of the most prolific serial rapist/killers in history, worked as a rape councilor, while the BTK Killer, who harrassed the women of Witchita, Kansas for thirty-one years with his brand of killing: Bind, Torture, Kill, turned out when caught to be a sixty-one year old man who ran a cub scout troop, was the President of his Church, and worked for the very city he was terrorizing and causing to live in fear.
While the full story of Lady Bathory’s life has been covered up by time, her place in literature is secure. The priest's testimony that she bathed in the blood of her victims, perhaps based on the peasant explanation for the psychology of such a horrible woman, has already turned her into the basis of thousands of vampire stories and tales. And as well, some feel that Snow White's stepmother may have altered over time to concur with the life of the Hungarian Countess, Snow White's fleeing the beautiful queen to live in a dark and mysterious forest nothing when compared to what lingered for her back at Lady Bathory's Castle.
The threats to Central Europe may have dissipated over time, the Bathory estates may have crumbled to ruin, and the family's power may have dwindled over successive generations until they became nothing more than a familiar Hungarian name, but one horror still looks down on the Hungarian plains from Slovakia: the story of Lady Bathory and her blood lust. There is only truth in legend . . .