Elizabeth Bathory, most noted in history for her brutality toward young women, was a Hungarian noble woman born in Transylvania on August 7, 1560. As had been the case with Vlad The Impaler, her people were in constant war with the Ottoman Turks, a very violent time in history in that part of the world.
She was born into extreme wealth and privilege, her family’s control over the surrounding area complete. In fact, her husband appended her name to his own when they were wed. However, her family was also known for its brutality, a collection of Hungarian and Transylvanian princes that would kill their opponents and peasants who fell out of line in the most brutal manner. The torture of servants was part of everyday life.
While her husband was away at war, Elizabeth was left to rule the empire on her own, and by all accounts did so quite well. But when Ferenc died in battle when she was aged 44, Elizabeth spiraled out of control. Her obsession became sexuality, youth, and power.
With the help of a few favorite servants, including a deformed male dwarf she called Fizgo, Elizabeth is said to have murdered over 600 people. She took to beating, biting, and burning her victims, but she also had an array of mechanical devices that she would use, including cages that would shoot out spring-loaded blades and cages with spikes that would slowly spear the victim while Fizgo yelled out sexual obscenities at them. There were times Elizabeth would fly into a rage and kill her victim instantaneously, but she also enjoyed killing her victims slowly through an assortment of means, including stripping girls naked in the dead of winter, throwing them outside, and pouring water over them to watch them literally freeze to the ground.
Of course, there are the infamous legends that gave Elizabeth Bathory her moniker – The Blood Countess – stories that she bathed in the blood of virgins, believing this would help her retain a youthful visage. Some of these legends claim that she was a vampire. The story goes that a servant girl who was brushing her hair pulled a little too hard with one particular stroke, and Elizabeth smacked the girl so hard that she bled. Some of this blood dripped onto Elizabeth’s hand and she noticed it had a rejuvenating quality to her skin. Thus, she took to bathing in blood… as the legends goes. But there is little evidence to support that she actually did bathe in blood, even with all the atrocities she committed. However, she did take to biting victims during her torture sessions, even to the point of drawing blood.
Elizabeth’s downfall could either be contributed to carelessness or her own ego after having gotten away with murder for decades. Bodies were carelessly discarded around the land, near rivers, or simply thrown over the castle wall, but she also upped the ante when she started running out of local servant girls to prey upon. She began luring the young daughters of nobility to Cachtice Castle to learn etiquette, and when they started disappearing, the noble families wanted answers.
When an investigation was launched by King Matthias of Hungary, the investigation’s lead, George Turzo, wrote that immediately upon entering Cachtice Castle the murdered body of servant girl was discovered. In all, nine girls were discovered in some state of mutilation.
Elizabeth was arrested and testimony was collected against her, but she was never put on trial. Doing so would have put her in line for an execution. Such was not the case for her loyal servants who assisted her, three being executed and the other serving life imprisonment.
Although some called for her torture and execution, Elizabeth Bathory was still a noblewoman, after all, so instead she was locked away in a room in her castle and fed through a slot in the wall. She eventually died there four years later in 1614.
There’s a lot we don’t know about Elizabeth Bathory. Many documents that were compiled at the time were destroyed in an effort to hide the atrocities that happened, to cover up the blemish of this Hungarian society. There is also no known image of Elizabeth, the paintings that are used to depict her are actually of other women who have been said to resemble her appearance. And then there are the legends and stories that have cropped up over the centuries, eventually making it into Hollywood to further murky the facts of her life.
Today, the ruins of Cachtice Castle, abandoned in the 1700s, still exist as a haunting visage and may be visited, and a local winery uses the basement of a Bathory manor house where many of the tortures were committed to store barrels of wine. They do sell an Elizabeth Bathory-themed wine, which is, of course, blood red.