Saturday, August 21, 2010

Deathday: Elizabeth Bathory 1560-1614 Countess & Serial Killer

Countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed (Báthory Erzsébet in Hungarian, Alžbeta Bátoriová in Slovak, 17 August 1560 – 21 August 1614) was a countess from the renowned Báthory family. Although in modern times she has been labeled the most prolific female serial killer in history, evidence of her alleged crimes is scant and her guilt is debated. Nevertheless, she is remembered as the "Blood Countess" and as the "Bloody Lady of Čachtice," after the castle near Trencsén (today Trenčín) in the Kingdom of Hungary (today's Slovakia), where she spent most of her adult life.

After her husband's death, she and four collaborators were accused of torturing and killing hundreds of girls and young women, with one witness attributing to them over 600 victims, though the number for which they were convicted was 80. Elizabeth herself was neither tried nor convicted. In 1610, however, she was imprisoned in the Csejte Castle, where she remained bricked in a set of rooms until her death four years later.

Later writings about the case have led to legendary accounts of the Countess bathing in the blood of virgins in order to retain her youth and subsequently also to comparisons with Vlad III the Impaler of Wallachia, on whom the fictional Count Dracula is partly based, and to modern nicknames of the Blood Countess and Countess Dracula.

The case of Elizabeth Báthory inspired numerous stories during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The most common motif of these works was that of the countess bathing in her victims' blood in order to retain beauty or youth.

This legend appeared in print for the first time in 1729, in the Jesuit scholar László Turóczi’s Tragica Historia, the first written account of the Báthory case. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, this certainty was questioned, and sadistic pleasure was considered a far more plausible motive for Elizabeth Báthory's crimes. In 1817, the witness accounts (which had surfaced in 1765) were published for the first time, suggesting that the bloodbaths, for the purpose of preserving her youth, were legend. However, there were accounts of Bathory showering herself in the blood of her victims, and drawing her victims' blood by biting them.

The legend nonetheless persisted in the popular imagination. Some versions of the story were told with the purpose of denouncing female vanity, while other versions aimed to entertain or thrill their audience. The ethnic divisions in Eastern Europe and financial incentives for tourism contribute to the problems with historical accuracy in understanding Elizabeth Bathory. During the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, Elizabeth Báthory has continued to appear as a character in music, film, plays, books, games and toys and to serve as an inspiration for similar characters.

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