December 26 – Elizabeth Bathory

Perhaps one of the most sensationalized historical figures is Countess Elizabeth Bathory.  She is often thought of as a real vampire.  Living in the 1600s, she was arrested on December 26, 1610 on the account of many horrible acts.  According to the accusations, she had killed around 650 young girls in grizzly ways.  She was accused of kidnapping and torturing the young girls in unspeakably horrible manners.  Of course, many theories surround what caused her to do such terrible things.  Many considered her a real life vampire that feasted on the blood of the innocent young girls.  However, history may point to Bathory’s innocence instead of her guilt.  At a time when most young girls lacked education and any sort of advantage in life, Elizabeth Bathory was endowed with good looks, wealth, high position in society, and a good education.  At the young age of 14, she married an ambitious soldier named Ferenc Nadasdy.  While they did apparently have a happy marriage, Nadasdy was often away from the castle in pursuit of his military career, which left Elizabeth with much freedom.  While he was away, she was in charge of his large estate and also took several lovers.  She bore her husband four children: three girls and a boy.  While some accounts say that she began torturing her maid servants even at this point, it is clear that these were rather isolated incidents.  However, she did become interested and somewhat involved in the “dark arts” of the occult, supposedly due to her great dislike of her domineering mother-in-law.  Despite all of these accusation, letters to relatives show that she was a surprisingly good mother.  She seems to have been both kind and protective to her children.  All accounts agree that something changed when her husband died.  He died in 1604, and she began to commit terrible atrocities.  Unfortunately, this is also where the story becomes harder to prove.  According to some accounts, Elizabeth became completely psychotic and began to kidnap young girls just to torture and kill them.  Some accounts say that she drank their blood thinking that it would keep her young.  Some even say that she bathed in virgins’ blood.  However, most of these stories cannot be fully proved.  At any rate, these supposed atrocities came to light and caused her to be arrested on December 26, 1610.  Perhaps the validity of these accusations might not have been questioned if her trial had been more conventional.  However, by January 2, a 20 judge court had been convened.  Also, most evidence points to the investigation into her private acts only taking place over the winter.  Lastly, there is the common myth that she was found in the act when she was arrested.  The problem is that it took the man who made the arrest 24 hours to provide proof of these.  Further investigation yielded that she was actually taken quietly with no evidence of her harming anyone.  However, three servant girls were found in her castle: one was dead, one was dying, and the other was very sick.  Thus, the evidence found was rather suspicious.  Also, her confession of the deaths of 30 servants provides a very different perspective on what she actually was doing.  Since she lived at a time where most people did not have access to someone with formal medical training, people often followed folk medicine to try to cure themselves.  Especially in the Middle Ages, these cures were often completely ineffective and torturous to our modern ideas of medicine.  So in her many years providing medical care to her servants, it is quite likely that she did perform some of these horrible folk cures on them.  It is also reasonable to assume that some of the servants died from the administration of such extreme cures.  Thus, looking at her past acts, many of the accusations can actually be classified as just folk medicine put into practice.  Of course there still are the crazy young maiden’s blood accusations.  Perhaps these could be explained by remembering the time she lived in.  She was a powerful woman living in a time when people literally hunted for “witches.”  Letters show that she clearly did not take any nonsense from anyone, not even her husband.  She also had a former lover who had some reason to wish for her to be out of the way.  Thurzo was her former lover, but more importantly, the man who would inherit the estate if she was executed.  He certainly had reason to want to get rid of her, and he was the one who made the discoveries and arrested her.  After her conviction, he made a deal with her eldest son that saved Elizabeth from execution, but it also allowed him to get some of her estate.  While there is still no concrete proof that Thurzo fabricated the reports to get her arrested, it is a theory that has presented itself as a much more plausible answer.  After all, it is much more believable that Elizabeth Bathroy was a no-nonsense woman, who killed a few servants trying to cure them than that she was a blood-thirsty monster, who killed 650 people in a little more than 10 years.  While her true identity and story is still much of a mystery, she was still convicted of the murders and walled up in her room in the castle.  She lived in solitary confinement for 3 or 4 years before dying.  Her story has been preserved as a horrific true story.  She has been called the blood countess, and people have been fascinated by the gore of her deeds.  But, after all, it may be that her story is no more known now than it was in 1610.  She may not have been a psychotic blood monster, but actually a strong, falsely accused woman.  One lesson that can be learned is that one cannot seize the sensational tidbits of history without first examining their validity.



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