In a recent post on this blog, Gilles de Retz or Rais was discussed. France has its Gilles de Retz, and Hungary has its Elisabeth Báthory. The connection is that both were wealthy aristocrats, and both were found guilty of murdering children, very much in the plural sense. De Retz had a proper trial, but Elisabeth did not, though sentence of death was passed on both.
Britain has had its Moors Murderers of course, and Imperial Rome had captured foreign ladies stripped in public and later raped and eaten by savage animals as part of the day’s entertainment. The Japanese soldiery, during the Second World War, would use live prisoners for bayonet practice for conscripts. The list is endless. Man’s inhumanity to man is insatiable. Do you remember a picture on the front page of Time Magazine showing a Serbian civilian, smoking a cigarette while shooting a young Bosnian to death on the pavement?
Elisabeth’s father was the Count of Szatmar, while her mother was sister to Stephen, King of Poland and Princess of Transylvania (mention of which instantly brings Count Dracula to mind).Her madness does not appear to have been an outcome of incestuous marriages, because none of her seiz quartiers was the same person. There were two branches of the Báthorys, and they had been separated generations before.
She was a woman of noted beauty, intelligence and charm who spoke several languages fluently; she was well-read; her husband was a war-hero, an ambassador said to be capable of throwing two Turkish prisoners into the air at the same time and catching them both with twin swords on the way down. The family was rich enough to be called ‘The Hungarian Croesus(es)’.
After Elisabeth’s husband’s death from appendicitis, she became generous to the impoverished peasants living around any of her family’s enormous estates. Girls came to share castles with the Countess.
But the Countess was a schizophrenic from birth, and therefore imbued with a genuine dual personality (see ‘Gollum’). On the one hand there was this beautiful woman so charming to visitors and friends of her late husband. On the other, when she read that ’60 good maidens were martyred in order to save a sick lady’, she became sick herself. She wanted to be dipped in children’s blood, as a medicinal way of maintaining her gorgeous complexion. To avoid wrinkles, almost daily, she bathed in virgin’s blood.
Most of the Countess’s victims were daughters of local peasants from the rural meadows surrounding her castle; when in Vienna on a visit to one of her homes she would be well satisfied with ‘young Society girls’, who were thrust shouting for help into a narrow cylindrical cage lined with metal spikes and hoisted up on pulleys. From below the girls were prodded with red-hot pokers until they stabbed themselves on the spikes. The blood was collected in buckets and tranferred to Elisabeth’s bath. The awful noise made was heard clearly streets away.
If the twin-personality Báthory thought she could get away with this butchery, she was mistaken. The Lord Palatine of Hungary (actually a relation) rode to her castle of Scejthe with a pocketful of armed retainers. He found enough evidence of what had been happening to order the close arrest of his cousin. He found the chamber with the spiked cages, and the buckets, and the baths, and even an Iron Maiden.
The servants, who of course knew about the Countess’ dark side, were promptly strangled to prevent leaks, which existed in 1610 too. The Lord Palatine was more powerful than the King and tried to prevent the case being brought to Court, on the premise that Elisabeth was mad. He is known to have hidden away in one his castles all evidence, transcripts of evidence given by ths servants and friends of the Countess. There was a trial, not attended by Elisabeth. She was mentioned as ‘a Godless woman caught in the act at Csejthe Castle’. There had to be a trial of course, because of the hundreds of bitterly complaining parents.
Elisabeth Báthory was walled up in one of her bedrooms with a slot where there had been a door to let food in. The windows became arrow slits too small for her to squeeze even her tiny frame through. After a long time one her gaolers got fed up with the screams, broke into the bedroom and strangled her. This is an exemplary story of what used to be aristocratic privilege.