Elizabeth Báthory  

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"The complete absence of verifiable evidence for either the bloodbaths or the 650 fatalities [of Elizabeth Báthory] has done nothing to dampen the enthusiasm with which later authors have seized upon these features."--Murderesses in German Writing, 1720-1860: Heroines of Horror (2013) by Susanne Kord

"To the left, on a rock nearer the railway, are the remains of the Cachticz, Hungar. Csejthe, once the residence of the infamous Elizabeth Bathory, who is said to have caused upwards of 300 young girls to be murdered within ten years for the purpose of restoring herself to youth by means of their blood. She was afterwards thrown into prison, where she died in 1610." --Southern Germany and Austria, Including Hungary and Transylvania (1883)

Portrait of Elizabeth Báthory, her castle was in Čachtice, now Slovakia
Portrait of Elizabeth Báthory, her castle was in Čachtice, now Slovakia

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Elizabeth Báthory (1560 – 1614) was a countess from the renowned Báthory family of nobility in the Kingdom of Hungary. She has been labeled the most prolific female serial killer in history, although the number of murders is debated.

After her husband Ferenc Nádasdy's death, she and four collaborators were accused of torturing and killing hundreds of girls, with one witness attributing to them over 650 victims, though the number for which they were convicted was 80.

Elizabeth herself was neither tried, nor convicted. In 1610, she was imprisoned in the Csejte Castle, now in Slovakia and known as Čachtice, where she remained bricked in a set of rooms until her death four years later.

In recent years, a case has been made that the accusations arose from a conspiracy against her by the Palatine of Hungary, Count György Thurzó, and her own son-in-law, Miklós Zrínyi, grandson of the hero of the Siege of Szigetvár. .



Elizabeth Báthory in folklore and literature

The case of Elizabeth Báthory inspired numerous stories and fairy tales. Eighteenth and 19th century writers liberally added or omitted elements of the narrative. The most common motif of these works was that of the countess bathing in her victims' blood in order to retain beauty or youth. Frequently, the cruel countess would discover the secret of blood bathing when she slapped a female servant in rage, splashing parts of her own skin with blood. Upon removal of the blood, that portion of skin would seem younger and more beautiful than before.

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.

When quoting him in his 1742 history book, Matthias Bel was sceptical about this particular detail, he nevertheless helped the legend to spread. Subsequent writers of history and fiction alike often identified vanity as the sole motivation for Báthory's crimes.

Modern historians Radu Florescu and Raymond T. McNally have concluded that the theory Báthory murdered on account of her vanity sprung up from contemporary prejudices about gender roles. Women were not believed to be capable of violence for its own sake. However, while popular prejudice of the time is noted, these scholars' view is neither the only, nor the most accepted interpretation of the actual events.

At the beginning of the 19th century, this certainty was questioned, and sadistic pleasure was considered a plausible motive for Báthory's crimes. In 1817, the witness accounts (which had surfaced in 1765) were published for the first time, demonstrating that the bloodbaths were legend rather than fact.

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. Some versions of the story incorporated more elaborate torture chamber fantasies, such as the use of an iron maiden, which were not based on the evidence from Báthory's trial. Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, whose name inspired the term masochism, was inspired by the Báthory legend to write his 1874 novella Ewige Jugend ("eternal youth")

Elizabeth Báthory and the vampire myth

The emergence of the bloodbath myth coincided with the vampire scares that haunted Europe in the early 18th century, reaching even into educated and scientific circles. The strong connection between the bloodbath myth and vampire myth was not made until the 1970s. The first connections were made to promote works of fiction by linking them to the already commercially successful Dracula story. Thus a 1970 movie based on Báthory and the bloodbath myth was titled Countess Dracula.

Some Báthory biographers, McNally in particular, have tried to establish the bloodbath myth and the historical Elizabeth Báthory as a source of influence for Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula, pointing to similarities in settings and motifs and the fact that Stoker might have read about her. This theory is strongly disputed by author Elizabeth Miller.

Meanwhile Báthory has become an influence for modern vampire literature and vampire films.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Elizabeth Báthory" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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