The Ghost in the Mirror: The Legend of Bloody Mary Revealed
The Ghost in the Mirror: The Legend of Bloody Mary Revealed

The Ghost in the Mirror: The Legend of Bloody Mary Revealed

Alexander Meddings - November 4, 2017

The Ghost in the Mirror: The Legend of Bloody Mary Revealed
Erzsébet Báthory. Wikimedia Commons

Bloody Mary 3) Elizabeth Bathory (1560 – 1614)

She might not be called Mary, but the violent deeds of Countess Erzébet Báthory (Elizabeth Bathory when anglicanized) make her a strong contender for the figure of Bloody Mary. From her base in the now very-ruined castle of Čachtice in Slovakia, she sadistically tortured and brutally murdered anywhere between 100 and 650 young girls. Owing to the nature of our evidence, we’ll never know the exact number. If the figures are even conservatively accurate, however, this would make her the most prolific female serial killer in history.

Elizabeth Bathory was better known as the “Blood Countess” because she used to bathe in the blood of her victims. She did this, we’re told, from the belief that their blood would preserve her youthful appearance. It’s likely that she was already embarked upon such cruelty while her husband was still around. She was married to Ferenc Nádasdy, a Hungarian war hero who fought with distinction against the Ottomans and gifted her his family estate of Čachtice Castle for their wedding.

However, Nádasdy’s death in 1604 gave way to six years of unabated killings. After exhausting the nearby village’s supply of adolescent peasant girls, she started searching further afield. Bathory began inviting the wealthy daughters of minor aristocrats to Čachtice to be instructed in the arts of court etiquette. Rather than receive a courtly education, however, they were instead ritually slaughtered.

An investigation launched by the King of Hungary (but requested by concerned, recently daughterless aristocrats) found that, for years, Bathory had been committing the kind of atrocities that make “Game of Thrones” torture scenes look like child’s play. Some victims would be scalded with white-hot tongs before being dunked in freezing water. Others would be covered in honey and slowly devoured by ants. Some would be burned, mutilated, and even cannibalized. The luckier ones would merely be beaten to death.

The Ghost in the Mirror: The Legend of Bloody Mary Revealed
Statue of Elizabeth Bathory in the center of Cachtice. John Malathrona

On December 30, 1610, Bathory was finally arrested along with four female accomplices. They were put on trial, during which dozens of witnesses came forward to testify. Elizabeth’s accomplices were tortured and burned at the stake. But it was decided that the countess shouldn’t be put to death; doing so would only be detrimental to the reputation of the nobility.

Instead Elizabeth it was decided that Elizabeth be walled up in Čachtice Castle, consigned to solitary confinement in a windowless cell where she would stay for four years until her death. Her macabre story has been cited as the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel “Dracula”. And it still brings a fair bit of tourism to the area of Čachtice. Amongst the souvenirs available are bottles of “Bathory Blood” from the local winery. Ruby red, naturally.

So which of our three contenders has the strongest claim as Bloody Mary? Ultimately it comes down to what kind of apparition you expect to find staring back at you: a pallid figure bathed in the blood of burned protestants, a headless, sinewy queen, or a serial killer countess. Just one thing’s for sure: none are the kind you’d like to meet in a dark alley, nevermind a candle-lit bathroom mirror.