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Erzsebet Bathory, sometimes called the Blood Countess, Bloody Countess, or Bloody Lady of Cachtice, was a Hungarian Countess who lived from 1560 to 1614. She tortured and murdered as many as 600 or 700 women according to some counts, while some sources list a much lower number, between 35 and 60. She is a controversial figure, as her history has been the basis of much legend and fictionalized accounts, and it is often difficult to separate fact from fiction in her story. Nevertheless, she stands as one of the most famous female serial killers of all time and is nearly as important as Vlad Tepes in vampire lore.
The most famous story about Erzsebet Bathory, though undocumented and widely disbelieved by scholars, is that she bathed in the blood of her virgin victims in order to preserve her own youth. A highly unlikely legend holds that she violently slapped a maid one day and observed that her skin looked younger and whiter where it had been splashed with the maid's blood, thereby conceiving the idea of regular blood baths for which she required an increasing supply of young females. Raymond T. McNally, her 20th century biographer, holds that such legends were invented and circulated in order to explain why a woman would indulge in brutality and sadism, considered to be strictly masculine vices in the 18th and 19th centuries. Many stories about Erzsebet Bathory also include overtly sexual torture, probably based on the fact that all her victims were women, but this speculation is also not supported by historical evidence.
Erzsebet Bathory was born in Nyirbator, Hungary, on 7 August 1560, the product of a long standing and powerful family of Hungarian nobility. She was engaged to Ferencz Nadasdy and moved to Nadasdy Castle when she was 11 years old, and the two married in 1575. Cachtice Castle, a Nadasdy family holding, was presented to Bathory by her husband as a wedding gift, and she was to spend the remainder of her life there.
Nadasdy became the commander of Hungarian troops against the Turks in 1578, and Bathory managed the castle while he was away on the front. Bathory also helped to defend Vienna during this war, known as the Long War, for the Hapsburgs currently in control of Hungary. Cachtice was plundered by Turkish forces in 1599, but Vienna remained secure. Nadasdy died in either 1602 or 1604, and his death is attributed to various causes in different sources.
Bathory began her sadistic activities with her maids, but soon began to seek other means to ensure a steady supply, as most of her victims did not live long and she killed multiple women every week. Left to her own devices after the death of her husband and supported by a few loyal servants, Bathory is said to have employed a number of procuresses and to have induced young female members of the lower gentry to stay at her castle in the search for victims. In 1610, the parish priest of Cachtice and monks living in Vienna complained to the Viennese courts about the cries emanating from Bathory's castle. When her estate was investigated, she was caught in the act of torture and numerous dead victims were found.
Bathory was not brought to trial, probably for political reasons due to the influence of her relatives and the possible repercussions for them, but she was placed under house arrest and her servants and others were interrogated. In 1611, three of her servants were executed, and Bathory was bricked into a single room in Cachtice Castle and fed through a hole in the door. She died three years later, on 21 August 1614.