Countess Elizabeth Bathory de Ecsed (1560-1614), also known as the Blood Countess, was a wealthy and powerful Hungarian noblewoman who killed over 650 young women. Hoping to preserve her eternal beauty, Bathory would fill bathtubs with her victims’ blood and bathe in it. She was also fond of making living ice-sculptures, pouring buckets of water over naked victims stood outside the castle walls who froze to death, their faces preserved in agony. Some were covered in honey and consumed by sweet-toothed ants, others had gobbets of flesh removed with hot pincers for the Countess’s supper. Still others were simply burned.
Or so the story goes. In fact, there is no hard evidence that any of the above ever happened, and it is far more feasible to suspect that Elizabeth fell victim to a smear-campaign orchestrated by her fellow nobles. All evidence against her was hearsay, and archaeologists have found no evidence of the necessary mass burials at any of the properties she once owned. Elizabeth was a member of a prominent Hungarian family, outstandingly wealthy, and in possession of vast estates and castles. Through her deceased husband, Ferenc NÃ¡dasdy, she was connected to another of the most esteemed Hungarian dynasties.
As a widow, Bathory was dangerous. Should she remarry, she could upset the apple cart of power in Hungary, or gain a near monopoly on land ownership by allying herself with a wealthy suitor. Elizabeth was also sarcastic, intelligent, and incredibly self-assured: she was, in short, a big problem. When NÃ¡dasdy died, he entrusted his wife and children to the politically ambitious magnate, GyÃ¶rgy ThurzÃ³. It was ThurzÃ³ who led the investigation, trial of her accomplices, and confiscation of Bathory’s estates. Elizabeth was probably cruel to her servants, like many of her contemporaries, but she was unlikely a mass murderer.
Bathory was never formally tried or convicted, owing to the power of the rest of her family (who nonetheless seem to have been complicit in getting her out of the way), but she was walled up in a room in Äachtice Castle for the last five years of her life. Throughout her surviving letters written during her house arrest at Äachtice, Bathory firmly maintains her innocence. Nevertheless, the figure portrayed in ThurzÃ³’s prosecution is straight out of a fairy tale, and more titillating than a middle-aged widow tricked out of her estates, and that is how she has been remembered.
The Bloody Countess is, of course, the form that her phantom takes. Precise details of the haunting are scarce, but visitors to Äachtice describe feeling a sense of dread and evil which they naturally ascribe to her. Locals maintain, again nebulously, that the castle is haunted, though surprisingly little activity has been reported at the wine merchants that stands on the site of Bathory’s manor house where most of the âkillings’ actually took place. Perhaps it’s just easier to feel the (probably fictional) atrocities of the past in a ruined castle arrogantly-perched on a hill top than at an off-licence.