- A guest post by Morrigan Cunningham…
1560 Hungary saw constant wars, the Habsburg-Ottoman wars, which lasted from 1526 to 1568. Hungary was being split into three different territories, all of which saw dozens of battles with over 200,000 troops. The morale of Hungarian citizens was in the gutter, because of a lack of food, safety for their children, or support from their leadership. Citizens took whatever work they could get, whether that was servanthood or hard labor. Nobility, however, were still riding high in the lap of luxury.
Georg and Anna Báthory were ecstatic to discover Anna was carrying a child, a daughter no less, after their youngest daughter died at nine months old. This new child would be their second chance to have an heir of which they could be proud. They would make her in their image.
Elizabeth Báthory van Ecsed (Erzsebet Báthori of Ecsed) was born on August 7th, 1560, in Nyirbátor, Hungary. Elizabeth was born into Protestant nobility, as seen in the rest of her family. Her uncle, Stephen Báthory, was the king of Poland, and another of her uncles, András, was the prince of Transylvania.
She grew up in her family’s castle in Ecséd, Hungary. Her parents raised Elizabeth as a Protestant, and she had a great education for the time period, learning German, Latin, and Greek when she was growing up. In the 1500s, a small number of people could read or write, and almost all of them were men. Nobility were beginning to become more educated as another way of showing the poverty-stricken citizens that the nobility were better than they were. Classy, right? Women were only allowed to attend University in Hungary for the first time approximately 125 years ago, so the fact that Elizabeth got as much education as she did is astounding.
When she was a child, she had epilepsy. Her family tortured servants and coated Elizabeth’s lips in their blood, an attempt to cure her disorder. She also allegedly witnessed a man get sewn into a horse’s stomach, for theft. Her family’s nonchalance in the face of torture and death may have been a contributing factor into Elizabeth’s killer instinct.
When Elizabeth was 10, her family set up an arranged marriage with the Nádasdy family, another influential Hungarian family. She was set to marry Ferencz Nádasdy, who was 14 at the time of their engagement. When she was 13, she had a child out of wedlock, with a local peasant. The family gave away the child to avoid the public backlash, and her soon to be husband, Ferencz, castrated the peasant and fed his body to dogs. This should have been an indicator of how their marriage would go, but alas.
At the ripe age of 15, in 1575, she married Count Ferencz Nádasdy, who was 20 at the time, and moved to Castle Csejte in Sarvar, Hungary. Castle Csejte was a wedding gift from Ferencz’ family. Despite the general poverty of Hungary’s people at the time, the wedding was ridiculously lavish. With thousands of guests, wine, as much food as one could possibly eat, and of course, music. Between 1585 and 1598, Báthory gave birth to five children: Anna, Orsolya, Katalin, András, and Pál. Orsolya and András did not make it out of childhood, both dying before the age of 5.
Ferencz is said to have had a knack for torture and murder, especially when it came to his servants. He may have been one of the people to influence Elizabeth’s methods of torture, as he taught her to strip her victims, cover them in honey, and leave them outside for bugs to eat. Ferencz can be added to the surprisingly long list of people that taught Elizabeth Báthory how to become a killer.
On January 4th of 1604, Ferencz Nádasdy died, due to a sudden, mysterious illness. What truly killed him is still unknown to this day. One theory is that he died of an infected wound, which was given to him by a harlot he refused to pay. Ironic considering what happened to Elizabeth’s sidepiece when they were younger. Some believe that Elizabeth may have set up Ferencz’ death, in order to inherit all of her husband’s property, belongings, and wealth.
In the 1580s, Ferencz was spilling blood, sweat, and tears on the battlefield, fighting for his country and people. Do you know who was fighting by his side? John Smith, as in, the man that later tried to get together with Pocahontas. While Ferencz was out to war, Elizabeth met with Anna Darvulia to practice dark rituals. Talk about loyalty. Anna Darvulia is said to have been a witch and sorceress. Darvulia convinced Elizabeth that she should kill virgins and bathe in their blood, to keep her youth. Although it likely didn’t take much convincing, considering the sadistic nature of Elizabeth Báthory’s life thus far. She seemed to have a weird obsession with blood, connecting back to her parents painting her lips with blood, and now her bathing in it. While learning more about witchcraft and Satanism, Elizabeth started killing dozens of peasant girls, and servants, and bathing in their blood.
Over time, she perfected her torture and killing craft. She forced some of her victims to strip down and sit in an ice bath outside until they froze to death. Now that is just cold. She would slowly drive needles into her victims’ fingertips, bite their shoulders and breasts, burn their genitals, and whip them until they died. She had become a sadistic killer, who derived pleasure and joy from torturing and slowly killing her victims. She preferred to draw out their deaths as long as possible, rarely killing them quickly.
Anna Darvulia died a few years after the two first met. Elizabeth went in search of another witch, and found Erzsi Majorova. Supposedly, Majorova told Elizabeth that servants did not want to work for her anymore, so she should start killing nobility. Elizabeth was either very gullible, or just wanted another excuse to kill more people, because she took Majorova’s advice. Nobility suddenly going missing made suspicion grow in the area.
In this era, most people did not care what happened to peasants and servants. Hell, it was completely legal to murder peasants. They were considered less than human. The general populous cared much more for the nobility, who were seen as beautiful and often times perfect. When officials looked to Elizabeth for one missing girl, Elizabeth told them the girl had killed herself. The officials investigating the case did not think this was believable, and Elizabeth knew it. At this point, Elizabeth got nervous, and started killing at random. She did not want to be caught, but she cared more about killing as many people as possible. This is what inevitably got her arrested.
In the last few years before her husband died, people started to notice people going missing from Castle Csejte. Some of these people were found dead in the wilderness, but most of them simply disappeared. Rumors started swirling around Elizabeth, that she was cruel and sadistic to her workers. There was even a rumor spreading that Elizabeth would dismember and eat her servants. Tasty.
In 1604, a minister, Istvan Magyari, lodged a complaint against Báthory. This complaint caused King Matthias II, King of Hungary, to look into the accusations. He sent his right-hand man György Thurzó, who was the Palatine of Hungary, to investigate Elizabeth. Over 300 witnesses testified against her, including descriptions of how she dismembered, froze, tortured, and starved her victims.
Due to the seemingly overwhelming amount of evidence against Elizabeth Báthory, György Thurzó went to Castle Csejte to find her. He arrived with multiple guards, and found a dead girl and two more severely wounded, clearly tortured and almost in pieces. The sound of screaming led György and his guards down to Elizabeth’s torture chamber, where he caught Elizabeth in the act. She was actually torturing one of her servants when she was found, but that did not stop her from pleading her innocence. This may be a comment to how infallible nobility of the time believed they were. Despite her best efforts, György arrested Elizabeth.
Elizabeth Báthory pled not guilty of every crime she was accused. However, there were many people willing to testify against her, waiting for her demise. At the actual trial, thirteen people testified against her, all her own servants. One of the servants even had a list of all 650 of Elizabeth’s victims, in Elizabeth’s own handwriting.
Erzsi Majorova was also arrested, and she was put to death for helping Elizabeth. Four of Elizabeth’s servants were also arrested and put to death, either by beheading or by being burned alive, because they helped Elizabeth procure victims.
Nobility are perfect, and could not possibly murder over 600 people. Right? This is the image György Thurzó wanted to uphold when he ordered Elizabeth to be put on house arrest rather than jail. King Matthias II wanted Elizabeth to be brought to justice, and put to death. György Thurzó had to convince the King not to have Elizabeth beheaded, as it would have made the nobility look bad. She was diagnosed as criminally insane, and officials ordered Elizabeth to her castle, to spend her life. After she was ordered to house arrest, or in this case, castle arrest, people of Hungary pretended she did not exist. Her family was dead, she had no friends, and she was truly alone for the first time in her life. Nobody to talk to except the ghosts haunting her. She eventually died, alone, in Castle Csejte. In August of 1614, she told a guard that she felt cold. The next morning, the same guard found her dead, with a pale face and dull eyes.
By Morrigan Cunningham