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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Ersebeth (Elizabeth) Bathory

Mirror mirror on the wall...

We wonder how old time story tellers got their ideas. When the Brother's Grimm told the story of snow white the nemesis was a beautiful queen with a vanity issue. Determined to be the most beautiful in the land, the queen consulted her magic mirror to confirm her status. If the mirror gave another name, the girl was history, even when the girl was her own step daughter.
The queen ordered the murder of snow white and wanted her heart in a box.

In a time where the misspoken word could be your last, could the brothers have used stories to hide the truths about current rulers?

The Countess Bathory (born in 1560) was not your typical renaissance woman. She was engaged at age 11 and married to Fenrec Nadasdy at age 15.
She was a tomboy, she insisted on the same education given her male cousins.
She spoke several languages: Latin, German, Hungarian among them and she was well read. Highly intelligent she maintained seven castles while her husband was away at war.

Violence was an everyday part of her life. She witnessed the rape and murder of her sisters, and she witnessed a peasant sewn into the body of a horse as punishment for stealing children. ( no trial just an accusation). The nobles meted out harsh treatment and peasants had no recourse. In order to bring a noble to trial, you had to be a noble yourself.

Her husband was known as the black knight for his ruthlessness in battle. It is rumored he had a whip with steel hooks embedded into the leather, he brought it home one day and decided the hateful weapon was too cruel for his use. The countess adopted it as her own. He was gone for the first ten years of her marriage, when he died in 1605, she became prolific at torture and murder.

Her sadism is verified in court documents with tales of flagellation. Some say she derived sexual pleasure from sadism, while others maintain she held orgies where violent sex play took place. Like snow White's queen, Bathory was vain, prone to temper tantrums, and willing to resort to cruelty and murder.
Despite being considered one of the most beautiful women in the land, or perhaps because of it, Bahtory grew terrified of losing her beauty. She felt her beauty would allow her into the good graces of men while her superior intellect would defeat any opposition to her eventually sitting on the throne of Poland. When her cousin was put on the throne instead of her, she flew into a rage. Certain she must maintain her beauty to regain power, she consulted witchcraft to assure her youth would stay intact.

Peasant girls by the score were found dumped along the roads and in the forests. After a while, she saw no change in her appearance. Legend has it her advisor told her the blood of peasants was no longer potent enough. she must have the blood of virgin noble women.
Bathory started a finishing school for young girls to lure them to her castle. here, they were tortured and bled for Bathory's youth elixir.

The legend of bathing in blood originated 100 years after her death, but it is believed she rubbed the blood of victims over her body and face like lotion. When she was arrested she was found hovering over the body of a dead girl frantically rubbing the girls' blood into her skin.

80 deaths are confirmed, but legend has it she killed 650. At trial there was mention of a journal where the countess kept the names of her victims, but no journal was ever found. One servant girl questioned in court was asked why no harm came to her. She explained that she was not attractive enough to use for the ritual. The trial is reported to have been a chaotic mess, notes taken are confusing as dozens of witnesses testified against the Countess and her three henchmen.

Bathory never stood trial herself, though she asked to take the stand. Her lackeys were burned at the stake after having their fingers ripped from the hands. the youngest lackey, the only male, was beheaded.

Bathory was walled up in her bedroom only a hole in the wall so food could be passed was provided. she died five years later, and was buried in Cachtice.


catslady said...

MY OH MY!!! You can't make up that kind of cruelty. Isn't it unfortunate that those given so much go to the dark side. Sewn into a horse - who could even think of such a thing!!! All very interesting but I think I'm going to have nightmares lol.

Lori Sanders-Foley said...

What an interesting story! She certainly serves as a model for Cruella and for Snow White's evil queen. It is interesting that in such a tumultuous time she achieved such status. As you pointed out, she exhibited a cleverness and intelligence that served her well. If Bram Stoker came across this tale when he was researching his classic tale, there might have been a sequel.

Kelly S. Bishop said...

I saw a documentary about her - I think it was on the History Channel.

I believe they said that she was distantly related to Vlad, so some of her story was probably added to the Dracula myth.

I can't understand why she got away with it for so long. It went on for years...

Katharine Ashe said...

Wow, Jen. How absolutely gruesome! History has such a wealth of horrid material for storytellers to use, doesn't it? Fortunately, it has the wonderful, too. (St. Nicholas comes to mind, but don't tell my seven-year-old I called that "storytelling"!)