Investigations into the Countess’s activities only began when nobles died
No one called into question Elizabeth Bathory’s alleged activities until 1602, when the Lutheran minister of Sarvar, Istvan Magyari began to question the unusual number of bodies of young female servants coming from the castle for burial. The Countess claimed they were the victims of cholera but the sheer numbers were making the clergyman suspicious. So were the rumors of sealed chambers, out of bounds to all but the Countess’s most trusted servants.
The rumors also whispered that Lady Bathory was torturing and killing her serving girls in these rooms- in the cruelest ways. She reputedly whipped them, beat them, burned them, gouged out their flesh and even bit them. Tales of many of the incidents seem to suggest they were a combination of chastisement and irrational rage.
The ‘punishments’ were initially designed to fit the ‘crime.’ Girls the Countess accused of theft, for instance, had a heated coin pressed into their flesh. The violence then escalated as the Countess became carried away by her rage.
Magyari complained to the authorities. Nothing, however, was done as the girls were only serfs. If they wished to raise a complaint, they or their families needed to bring it to the attention of Ferenc Nadasdy- or his wife. They were hardly likely to do so considering the Countess was the alleged abuser. So nothing was done. However, the authorities started to take notice in 1610, when Lady Bathory opened a Gynaeceum or finishing school for noblewomen. Suddenly, young, noble girls were dying in alarming numbers. So their families took the matter to Matthias II, King of Hungary.
The Countess had a close network of servants who were privy to the activities of the secret inner chambers at Sarvar and her other castles. The first of those servants was Anna Darvolya, known as Darvulia. Darvulia had been a servant of the Nadasdy family for years but became a permanent part of the Countess’s inner circle from 1601 onwards. It is Darvulia who supposedly honed the Countess’s torture skills and instructed her other servants. These pupils later claimed that when Darvulia arrived âthe lady herself became crueler and crueler.”
The other servants consisted of three older women- and one young man. They were: Ilona Jo, the Countess’s children’s former wet nurse; Dorottya Szentes a friend of Jo; an elderly washerwoman called Katalin Beneczky and a boy named Janos Ujvary or Ficzko (âkid’). The women supervised (and terrorized) the young girls in the Countess’s employ. All admitted to participating in Lady Bathory’s torture sessions. However, when Thurzo finally accused her, the Lady herself laid the blame squarely at her servant’s door, claiming she allowed them to do such things because: “even I myself was afraid of them.”
But it was not just servants implicated in the Countess’s crimes. Nobles such as Lady Anna Welyker, Lady Judith Pogan, Lady Szell and others were supposed to have acted as âgirl catchers’ for the countess, traveling to find her new female servants when local supplies âdried up.” Even her youngest, favorite daughter Katalin had allegedly taken part in at least one torture session with her mother at Csejthe, the Countess’s favored residence. The event occurred before Katalin’s wedding.Two young girls were tortured and burnt so badly they later died during the marriage festivities.
All of the servants (except for Darvulia who was dead by 1609) were tried and executed. Jo and Szentes had their fingers torn out before the executioner burnt their bodies. Because of his relative youth, the same executioner beheaded Ficzko while guards removed Beneczky to prison. A local Csejthe forest witch, Erzsi Majorova was implicated in abetting the Countess’s attempts to kill King Matthias and Gyorgy Thurzo by magic. Thurzo had her burnt. But the nobles who acted as procurers and the Countess’s daughter were never brought to book.
Much of the initial evidence against the Countess was unsound
In 1610, Matthias II ordered Gyorgy Thurzo, to investigate the allegations. Thurzo was Palatine of Hungary- and ironically had been charged by the dying Ferenc Nadasdy with his wife’s protection. Between March and July 1610, Thurzo’s men interviewed 52 witnesses. 34 were servants of the Countess’s neighbors. These witnesses told lurid tales of bruised and beaten young women, stripped and left to die of exposure. But aside from a clerk, Andreas Somogy, who had seen a girl with badly burnt hands, they were repeating hearsay.
Things were little better amongst the Countess’s servants at Sarvar. The castle warden, Benedict Bicserdy, claimed to know of the secret torture rooms. However, although he had heard cries of pain and the sounds of a whip, he too had seen no evidence of torture. Anyone who was allowed into these secret rooms also reported there were no signs of anything untoward. Doctor’s called to the castle to tend to sick girls said they too had not seen any marks on their patients- although admittedly they were only allowed to see their faces.
When Thurzo arrested the Countess at Csejthe Castle on December 30, 1610, he claimed to have âcaught her in the act.’ But there is little evidence to substantiate this. What was discovered was the body of one dead girl and another who was severely injured, but alive. The injured girl, named Anna stated at the scene that the Countess did indeed beat and hit her- but that Beneczky ripped her flesh. But once in Ujhely, Anna changed her account. Now she claimed that it was the Countess herself who had destroyed her right hand and arm. Anna was later awarded 50 guilders, 15 pounds of wheat and a small farm in Csejthe as free property- all courtesy of Thurzo.
Now she claimed that it was the Countess herself who had destroyed her right hand and arm. Anna was later awarded 50 guilders, 15 pounds of wheat and a small farm in Csejthe as free property- all courtesy of Thurzo.
Thurzo tortured the Countess’s henchman. Other servants testified freely
While the Countess was locked in the castle dungeons as Csejthe, the notaries began to collect 300 witness testimonies against her. These were from servants at Sarvar and Csejthe, who came forward to testify- or who Jo et al. named under torture. During the initial stages of this torture, the Countess’s henchmen attempted to mitigate their involvement by laying the blame at the deceased Darvulia’s door- and at each other. But as the pain increased, they began to implicate the Countess. According to their accounts, Lady Bathoryonly occasionally killed when her husband was alive. But on Ferenc’s death, her murders became more numerous. They placed the numbers of deaths between 30-50.
According to their accounts, Lady Bathoryonly occasionally killed when her husband was alive. But on Ferenc’s death, her murders became more numerous. They placed the numbers of deaths between 30-50.
The figure of 650 deaths, on which the Countess’s reputation as a mass murderer was based, came from a servant girl known simply as âSuzannah.’ It is unlikely Suzannah was literate. Somehow, however, she knew of a ledger kept by the official Jacob Szilvassey, which apparently recorded the names of every one of the Countess’s victims. In his testimony, although Szilvassey admitted he had seen the Countess torture some of her victims, he never mentioned any such ledger. Nor was one ever found and presented to the court as evidence.
One other senior official testified against the Countess. Benedek Deseo was the Countess’s court master and a man she held in the highest trust. Deseo was named during the torture and admitted to seeing his mistress at work. He described how the Countess âdisciplined’ a young maid called Illonka for clumsiness. Lady Bathory stripped the girl and then began stabbing her in the fingers. The violence increased as the lady became more agitated, moving from fingers to arms, before the by now frenzied Countess whipped Illonka violently and burned her hands with a candle. The Countess did not cease until the girl was dead.
One crime associated with Countess Bathory that witnesses at the trial of her servants never accused her of, was a penchant for bathing in blood. Today, the Countess is believed to have murdered her victims so that she could immerse herself in their virgin blood, to preserve her youth and beauty. However, this never happened.
The story became part of the myth of the Countess just over a hundred years after her death. In 1729, a Jesuit scholar called Laszlo Turoczi was researching what was to be the first ever account of the Bathory case. In the course of his travels around the Countess’s former territories, he heard stories from the local villagers of the vampire countess who bathed in blood to look beautiful. So he added it to his book.
Readers believed Turoczi’s account because there was no evidence to contradict it. However, in 1817, the records of the trials of the Countess’s servants were rediscovered. Out of the 300 witness statements, not one mentions blood bathing. Indeed, the reports of the Countess’s servants reveal blood was of no concern to Lady Bathory. It was merely a by product of the violence itself.
Ilona Jo reported that the Countess did indeed beat girls until they bled, so hard that the blood pooled on the floor and splattered the Countess’s clothes. But when this happened, Elizabeth Bathory would change immediately. The servants would also wash away any blood on the floor-they did not collect it for bathing or any other purpose. Author Kimberly L Craft in her analysis of the Bathory case, “Infamous lady’, suggests that release of pent up rage and stress was more likely to be the motivation for the Countess’s torturous attacks as they can all be linked to periods when the Countess felt particularly under pressure. Blood was of no consequence.
Elizabeth Bathory knew she was in trouble in the latter half of 1610 when she heard of the investigations into her affairs. So she began to take measures to protect herself. Her first step was to try to counter the charges Thurzo was forging against her. In August 1610, the Countess appeared unexpectedly at a court in Eisenberg- with the mother of one of the dead girls from her finishing school in tow. The bereaved lady willingly took the stand to testify that her daughter had died of natural causes. It did little good as Thurzo, the King and the judges ignored this statement.
The Countess also spoke to Thurzo himself. While serving him tea at Cjesthe castle, she told him the somewhat unconvincing story that one of the finishing school girls had in fact, murdered all the others because she was greedy for their jewels. But by this time, the Countess knew she was living on borrowed time.
In September 1610, she made her will. This document was not merely a statement about the disposal of her goods after death- but a transferal of all her estates and possessions during her lifetime. The Will bequeathed everything to her three surviving children, Anna, Katalin, and Pal. The only thing the Countess would keep was her wedding dress which she intended to “wear until my death.” Not only would this mean the Bathory-Nadasdy holdings would avoid confiscation if Elizabeth were found guilty in court, but she probably also hoped it would satisfy both her son in laws, who were already plotting with Thurzo to have her put away so they could take over the administration of her estates.
Finally, in October 1610, Elizabeth Bathory withdrew from the Nadasdy family seat of Sarvar. She made one last spa trip with her daughter and then stopped off at the castle to collect her jewels and personal effects. Then she high tailed it to Csejthe. No doubt she hoped by the time anyone moved to arrest her, the roads would be unpassable because of severe winter weather. Elizabeth was already corresponding with her cousin Gabor Bathory, prince of Transylvania, in the hope that he would rescue her if all went wrong.
King Matthias had an interest in the Countess’s Fall
Besides greedy son in laws after her money, there were others who had a vested interest in seeing Elizabeth Bathory fall. It was this, rather than any sense of horror or belief in justice that was the real motivation behind the investigation against her. The King of Hungary had the most compelling reason of all.
For years, Ferenc Nadasdy had been lending money to the Hungarian crown- and the Crown had made no effort to pay that debt back. Elizabeth, as a widow had made herself extremely unpopular with her frequent trips to court to press for repayment. King Matthias knew if he could convict Elizabeth of a capital crime, he would not only wipe out his debt to her but he could also claim her vast estates. His money problems would be solved- and a troublesome, headstrong woman removed to boot.
Not only that, he would be one step closer to diminishing the powerful Bathory clan. When not fighting the Turks, the Kingdom of Hungary was busy fighting itself. The Thirty Years War between Catholics and Protestants loomed as the Catholic crown began to attempt to erode the rights of its Protestant subjects- before they could move to restrict its power. Most nobles were Catholic. However, the Bathory and Nadasdy were Protestant. Based on their combined power and wealth, they were best placed to lead any Protestant revolt against the king.
Worse yet, Elizabeth’s cousin, Gabor Bathory, the Prince of Transylvania had his eye on expanding his territory by uniting Transylvania and Royal Hungary under his rule. He and Elizabeth were known to correspond, and it seemed she had been financing him, as well as pledging troops to his cause (so long as he came to her aid as required). At the same time as he was investigating Elizabeth, Thurzo was attempting to negotiate a treaty with Gabor (who referred to the Palatine of Hungary as âa Lord’s serf) to stave off a potential war. However, the Countess’s support was vital to Gabor’s cause. If Matthias could remove her as a player, Gabor’s plans would be confounded.
Both Elizabeth Bathory and King Matthias wanted a trial: Matthias so he could secure her execution and Elizabeth because she believed, if she put her case in person, she could absolve herself. However, Thurzo determined that the Countess should not have her day in court. He initially intended to commit Lady Bathory to a convent, changing his mind because of the gravity of her crimes. However, the Countess seems to have provoked him with her refusal to give up.
Thurzo had joined Lady Bathory’s relatives on a visit to her prison cell where the Countess once again demanded a trial and was once again refused. Elizabeth furiously rounded on Thurzo, threatening him with Gabor Bathory as a âdire consequences of his illegal actions’ The furious Thurzo responded: “You Erzsebet are like a wild animalâ¦you do not deserve to breathe the air on earth or see the light of the Lord. You shall disappear from this world and shall never reappear in it again.’
Some suggest Thurzo was trying to fulfill his promise to Ferenc Nadasdy or to spare her children the shame of a public trial and execution. However, he was ultimately protecting himself. An act of parliament would have been required to bring someone of Elizabeth Bathory’s status to trial-and that would have set a precedent Thurzo was anxious to avoid. It could have opened the floodgates, allowing the monarchy to dispose of other inconvenient nobles. Thurzo, as a Protestant, was well aware of his tenuous situation
So he talked King Matthias out of the trial, selling it to the King as a form of damage limitation. A public trial would not only discredit the Bathory and Ferenc Nadasdy, a revered national hero but the wider nobility and so ultimately the crown. Thurzo persuaded the anxious nobles linked to the Bathory affair to petition the King. The ruse worked. The Bathory Nadasdy family agreed to cancel Matthias’s debts- and Matthias decided that Elizabeth Bathory would disappear behind the walls of her castle.
The exact circumstances of Elizabeth’s final imprisonment are unknown. However, Thurzo ordered her bricked into a windowless room in Cjsethe Castle. A small space was left to allow the passage of items to and from the chamber. Her daughter Katalin visited for a time, bringing candles, ink, and parchment- and Thurzo’s wife to steal her jewels, but other than a guard, Elizabeth Bathory was alone. She died on August 14, 1614.