Tuned in: Annie Lennox, Cold
January always brings a chill to my bones, and when I am cold, I think cold thoughts. So the story of the ‘Countess Dracula’ surfaced in my recollections. Transylvania, a country embroiled in age-old superstitions has long been the ‘dark mystery of Europe.’ Deep in the heart of its history are heroes and villains. One particularly evil woman was Elizabeth Bathory, also known as the ‘Blood Countess.’
Elizabeth was a sadist who beat, tortured and murdered her servants. In her lifetime, she herself recorded killing over 650 servants, peasants, and even girls of noble birth. The site of her murderous orgies was the Castle Cachtice, a huge fortress located on a mountaintop. The local peasants called this dark and foreboding symbol of her power, the ‘Castle of Vampires.’
Elizabeth was born in 1560 to one of the richest Protestant families in Transylvania. Her aristocratic lineage claimed war heroes, a cardinal, and a future king of Poland, but also some stranger kin as well. One of Elizabeth’s uncles reputedly participated in Satanic worship, her aunt was a well known bi-sexual who tortured her servants, and her brother was a drunken lecher. Other family members exhibited signs of epilepsy and madness. Elizabeth as a child often had fits of rage and uncontrollable behaviors. Before she married at fifteen, she had a bastard daughter who she promptly gave to a peasant.
Elizabeth’s marriage to the nobleman, Ferenc Nadasdy, was spectacular. Her twenty-one year old groom, called the ‘Black Hero of Hungary’ because of his brutal warrior ways, fought the Turks and was seldom at home for the first ten years of their marriage. In this time, Elizabeth acquired a reputation as an exceptionally beautiful woman and a cruel mistress. She ran her estate like a torture chamber, killing her servants on a whim, had many lovers both men and women, and in the second decade of her marriage bore four children who she nurtured and protected.
Elizabeth began to visit her bi-sexual aunt and participate in orgies. At the same time, having met a black magic witch named Dorothea, she developed an interest in the occult and a passion for torturing large-bosomed young girls. Her husband, Ferenc, who also enjoyed torturing servants, although not to death like Elizabeth, began to teach his wife the ‘subtle art’ of torture. If they suspected a servant of pretending to be ill, they would place pieces of paper soaked in oil between their toes, then set them on fire. In one instance, Elizabeth pulled the mouth of a seamstress apart until it split at the corners because she had not finished her work on time. Husband and wife committed countless tortures and murders for years until Ferenc suddenly died, supposedly by poison in 1604.
The Countess Bathory had long, raven black hair. Her cat-like eyes were amber and her figure voluptuous. However, Elizabeth’s beauty was beginning to show the ‘ravages of time.’ Cosmetics and expensive clothes could not hide her wrinkles. Then an incident with a servant reinvigorated Elizabeth’s love for murder.
Apparently, a dressing servant commented that Elizabeth’s headdress did not fit properly. Infuriated, the Countess slapped the girl whose nose spurted blood onto Elizabeth’s face. The countess ‘miraculously’ observed in the mirror that where the blood touched her skin, the lines of aging disappeared. Elizabeth believed that she could regain her youthful beauty. Her witch, Darvulia, convinced her that by taking the blood of girls, she would assimilate their physical and spiritual properties. Elizabeth had the girl brought to her torture chamber and slitting the girl’s wrists, she drained her body of its blood.
Over the next ten years, Elizabeth, tortured, beat, bled and dumped the bodies of hundreds of servant and peasant girls. Some were buried under the castle, thrown from the walls in plain day, left to rot in the courtyard and dumped from her moving carriage on the roadside. Word of her atrocities began to circulate far and wide and eventually reached the ears of the Hungarian King, Matthias.
After a time, no one would venture into her service. Now totally careless, she went after girls of nobility, or went to distant towns to recruit at high prices. She began to lose her wealth and pushed the king to pay an outstanding debt he owed her husband. King Matthias being challenged by some nobles for power wanted to restore order and avoid paying his debt. Consequently, he started an investigation into Elizabeth’s reputed acts of terror. Her family, fearing the King and that they would lose their lands and estates became accomplices in her capture and trial.
The trial began on January 2, 1611. A packed audience filled the courtroom. Onlookers were shocked to hear the details given by her closest cohorts, arrested as well, and now testifying against her. The Countess was tried on a criminal basis, while her accomplices were charged with vampirism, witchcraft and practicing pagan rituals. When one accomplice revealed that the countess kept a list of all the victims, it was retrieved and found to have 650 names. The accomplices were sentenced to a torturous death, and the Countess was walled up in a room in her castle with only a small opening for delivering food. She lived in the shadow of her prison cell four years and died on July 31, 1614 at the age of 54. Legend has it that the ‘Blood Countess’ died of lack of virgin blood.
Evil is real, cold and relentless. Perhaps when we face it, we grow stronger against it. In the case of the Countess Bathory, she was eventually denied the light of day, like the legend holds for the vampire. Any thoughts?