Elizabeth Báthory: Mass Murderer or Victim? Elizabeth Báthory is famed as the ‘Blood Countess,’ an Eastern European aristocrat who tortured and murdered over six hundred girls. However, we actually know little about both her and her alleged crimes, and the general trend in modern history has been to conclude that her guilt may well have been overplayed, and that she was, perhaps, the victim of rival nobles who wished to take her lands and cancel their debts to her. Nevertheless, she remains one of Europe’s most (in)famous criminals and has been adopted by modern vampire folklore.
Báthory was born into the Hungarian nobility in 1560. She had powerful connections, as her family had dominated Transylvania and her uncle had ruled Poland. She was relatively well educated, and in 1575 married Count Nádasdy. He was the heir to a rival Hungarian aristocratic family, and was widely viewed as a rising star of the nobility and, later, a leading war hero. Báthory moved to Castle Čachtice and, after some delays, gave birth to several children before Nádasdy died in 1604. His death left Elizabeth the ruler of vast, strategically important estates, whose governance she took on actively and unyieldingly.
Accusations and imprisonment
In 1610, the Count Palatine of Hungary, Elizabeth’s cousin, began to investigate allegations of cruelty by Elizabeth. A large number of potential witnesses were questioned, and a range of testimonies gathered implicating Bathory in torture and murder. The Count Palatinate concluded that she had tortured and executed dozens of girls. On December 30th, 1610, Báthory was arrested, and the Count claimed to have caught her in the act. Four of Bathory’s servants were tortured, tried, and three were found guilty and executed in 1611. Meanwhile, Báthory was also declared guilty, on the basis she had been caught red-handed and imprisoned in Castle Čachtice until she died.
There was no official trial, even though the King of Hungary pushed for one, just the collection of several hundred statements. Bathory’s death, in August 1614, came before the reluctant Count Palatine could be forced into organizing a court. This allowed Bathory’s estates to be saved from confiscation by the King of Hungary, thus not tipping the balance of power too much, and allowed the heirs—who petitioned, not for her innocence, but for their lands—to keep the wealth. A substantial debt owed by the King of Hungary to Báthory was waived in return for the family’s right to look after her while in prison.