Transcript: 160. Countess Dracula, Erzsébet Báthory | Hungary

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The pale countess stood at a window in the tower of her gothic castle, perched on top of a hill in the Transylvanian countryside. With her raven-black hair pulled up into a graceful bun, she looked fierce as she stared out at the rolling hills of the Little Carpathians.

The year was 1604 and her husband had just passed away, making her the wealthiest woman in all of Hungary. She owned a string of castles, ruled over many villages and even loaned the king some of her wealth.

As the years passed, and the countess’ beauty faded, local peasants grew increasingly wary of going to Csejte Castle. Stories of unimaginable cruelty began to surface, describing incidents of torture, Black Magic and cannibalism.

Perhaps the most frightening story of all, was that she tortured young girls, had her servants collect their blood in pails and then bathed in it. She believed that, by dousing herself in the blood of virgins, she could preserve her own beauty. It was said that she went into violent fits and bit the flesh off her victims, to devour their youth.

The countess and her heinous crimes inspired vampire stories over the centuries, and some believe that it was HER life that inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Like the fictional bloodthirsty Transylvanian character, Báthory was of noble birth with limitless wealth. She lived alone in a castle where she did as she pleased, and where no one could hear the screams for help of her victims. This is the spine-tingling true story of the Blood Countess, or Countess Dracula, Erzsébet Báthory.

>>Intro Music

Erzsébet Báthory de Ecsed was born on the 7th of August 1560, in her family’s castle in Nyírbátor [Near-bah-tor]. Erzsébet and her brother István were born into an influential family, with their paternal uncle being the ruler of Transylvania and their maternal uncle the King of Poland. 

At the time of Erzsébet’s birth, Ecsed was in an area considered to be a part of Hungary, but today it falls in the boundaries of Slovakia. Ecsed was located in the north of Hungary and formed a buffer between the Turkish ruled Ottoman Empire to the south and the rest of Europe. Northern Hungary was ruled by wealthy nobles, like the Báthory’s. Since Erzsébet’s birth in 1570, the country was embroiled in conflict. But sometimes the enemy was closer than they could imagine… Hungarian noble families distrusted each other, and ultimately, struggles for power and wealth overruled neighbourly love. Landowners would destroy anyone who threatened to take their land or question their power, even members of their own extended family.

In the 16th century, those on the bottom of the social ladder, the Slovak peasants, had a tough life. They were at the mercy of their landlords and most of them worked as slaves in the castles or manor houses nearest to their villages.

Erzsébet’s father, Baron George VI was a powerful man, the Voivode of Transylvania – this is similar to a governor. His position gave him a lot of judicial, military and administrative power in the area. He was married to his cousin, Baroness Anna Báthory, which was not uncommon at the time. Much has been made about this union over the years, blaming incest for their daughter’s shortcomings. However, family trees show that they were from two different branches of the Báthory family – George came from the Ecsed Báthory’s and Anna from the Somlyó side. 

Either way, Erzsébet was a rather delicate child with many health issues. The biggest concern was her ‘falling sickness’, or ‘falling evil’ as they called it back in the day. Today we know it is epilepsy. In the late 16th century, healers considered the cause of ‘falling sickness’ to be brought on by anything from head injuries to syphilis and even uraemia. Many superstitions surrounded the condition and magic cures were applied to rid the patient of the evil.

Epilepsy ran in the Báthory family and seizures were considered to be fits of madness. With limited medical knowledge about the illness, various treatments were applied in an attempt to heal Erzsébet, such as rubbing a non-epileptic’s blood on her lips after each episode. Another acceptable cure was to drink the blood from a gushing wound of another person as the seizure reached an end. 

Erzsébet grew up in violent times, in a particularly violent, military family. As a child, she witnessed many executions, torturous interrogations and physical punishments. When she was six years old, a gypsy in her father’s court was punished by severe torture, before being sewn into the carcass of a dying horse. Both the horse and the gypsy were left to die. Little Erzsébet witnessed the entire event. It was reported that the other kids ran away, but the youngest Báthory girl watched with awe and amusement. Although there is no documentary evidence of this incident, the story was passed on from one generation to the next as the gospel truth.

By all official accounts, Erzsébet was raised as a Calvinist Protestant. However, the Báthory family was known for practicing witchcraft and occult sciences like alchemy, astrology and natural magic. Erzsébet had an uncle who was a Satanist and an aunt who was into sadomasochism.

The little countess was very well educated: she could speak Magyar, German, Greek and Latin. Most of her female family members were illiterate, so the young noble was fortunate. She was destined for greatness and had her path laid out for her.

As the story goes, Erzsébet fell pregnant to a peasant boy in 1574, when she was only 13 years old. Her family did not want to taint their lineage with peasant blood, and the child was sent away to Wallachia [Wallah-kia]. In a more horrific version of this story, the baby was fed to wild dogs. If there was any truth to this rumour, we’ll never know, but it is a sidenote to her life’s story that has been passed down. 

If this story is true, it would have been a tremendous scandal, seeing as Erzsébet was already betrothed to another man. When she was 10 years old, her parents agreed that she would marry 14-year-old Count Ferenc Nádasdy. It was a long engagement and they married when Erzsébet was 15 and Ferenc 19. Their wedding was a spectacle of the ages – a three-day event that started on the 8th of May 1575 at the Castle Varannó. 4,500 guests attended to celebrate the union of the two young socialites. They were the ‘it’ couple of the times and had the world at their feet. 

Erzsébet had a higher social standing than Ferenc, so when she refused to take his last name, he bestowed upon himself the honour of becoming a Báthory. But Ferenc was hardly a pauper, and as a wedding gift, gave his bride his expansive property, the Castle of Csejte, nestled in the Little Carpathians. At the time, the castle was in Hungary, but today you’ll find it in Slovakia. The castle had a country house, a church as well as a couple of small villages attached to it. The castle, an imposing grey-stone fortress, was built on the crest of a forested hill, overlooking the valley of Myjava, the River Váh and the village of Csejte.

At 15, the young Erzsébet had it all. And to top it all off: she had blossomed into an attractive young woman who relished the fact that she was renowned for her beauty. And contrary to many arranged marriages, the Báthory-Nádasdy’s were reportedly quite taken with each other and got along tremendously. 

He was a fierce man, known as The Black Knight. And not to be outdone by her husband, his feisty wife earned the nickname of the Tigress of Csejte. Ferenc dabbled in Black Magic and alchemy and taught Erzsébet everything he knew. In exchange, her linguistic capabilities helped him with negotiations, seeing as he could barely read or write Magyar. Together they hosted rituals of ceremonial magic at their castle.

After being married for three years when Ferenc was appointed as commander-in-chief to Hungarian forces. In 1591 the Turks invaded Hungary – in what would turn out the become ‘The Long Turkish War’ that lasted for 13 years. During the war, Ferenc left Erzsébet to protect their castle and the people in their villages. Csejte Castle was on the route to Vienna, and attacks by the Ottomans were frequent. Women suffered badly, with their husbands being taken prisoner and their daughters being raped. Erzsébet saw the injustice and intervened to protect and defend destitute women.  

She entered negotiations and took charge of all her and Ferenc’s properties. At the time, it would have been customary for someone in her position to be provided with a male guardian, but she refused to appoint one. From an early age it was clear she was a woman who refused to be intimidated, this from a letter to a family friend:

“I will not allow myself to be dominated by men.”

Erzsébet was in her late-teens, beautiful, energetic and her husband was away at war. Stories began to surface about her private affairs, and it was said that she commanded sex whenever she felt like it. She spent some time with her bi-sexual aunt Clara, who introduced her to sadomasochism. It was later believed that it was her rapacious lust that became the driving force to her crimes.

Because Ferenc was hardly home during the war, Erzsébet only gave birth to their first child after ten years of marriage, when she was 25. Little Anna welcomed a baby sister, Ursula when she was five years old, and four years later Katharina was born. A year later the Báthory’s first son András came, but he sadly died when he was only seven years old. Erzsébet lost another infant boy before her youngest, Paul, was born in 1598. 

Erzsébet was not the motherly type, and like her mother and grandmother before her, she charged a team of governesses and wetnurses with the duties of rearing her children. Only once they were adults did they seem to grow closer, as was illustrated in heartfelt letters she wrote to all of them.

Not confined by the responsibilities of motherhood, Erzsébet looked forward to seeing Ferenc, whenever he managed to spend some time at Csejte Castle. The Black Knight was as cruel at home as he was on the battlefield. Ferenc had learnt how to inflict serious injuries as a warrior and was keen to share his ‘tricks’. It was reputed that he had a torture chamber installed in the castle’s underground tunnels, so his wife could be entertained. 

Ferenc taught Erzsébet one method of torture in particular, called ‘star kicking’. They soaked pieces of paper in oil, tucked it in between the toes of a servant, and set it on fire. Because the girl would react to the pain by kicking, her torturers sat back and enjoyed the ‘lightshow’ with amusement. They claimed that they only punished the servants to keep them in check. 

At the turn of the 16th century, rumours were going around about horrific crimes being committed within the castle walls. It fell on Lutheran minister István Magyari to bring the matter to the attention of authorities. He spoke out publicly against the sinister inhabitants of Csejte Castle, and even made the journey to Vienna to air his concerns in the royal court. There he reported that Countess Báthory was practicing occult sciences and that she was involved with the devil’s work. But nothing was ever done to address the issue. The Báthory family was powerful and no one wanted to cross them.

After a mysterious two-year illness, which caused severe leg pains, 48-year-old Ferenc Báthory died in January 1604. He was away from home, at war, and despite his illness, he died suddenly and unexpectedly. One source claimed that he died of a wound inflicted by a harlot whom he refused to pay. Either way, after a 29-year marriage, 44-year-old Erzsébet Báthory was a widow.

Before his death, Ferenc appointed a close confidant, György Thurzó, to oversee his estate and serve as a guardian to Erzsébet and their children. By all accounts, Erzsébet was in the best hands: Thurzó was the Palatine of Hungary, the king’s highest-ranking representative. Incidentally and perhaps not surprising, he was also Erzsébet’s cousin. Ferenc left his wife his entire estate, which, added to everything she already inherited from the Báthory family, made her the wealthiest landowner in Hungary. Her portfolio included ten castles, 17 villages and multiple estates, all within a 50-mile radius. 

Some years after Ferenc’s death, Erzsébet’s son-in-law, Nikola Zrinski (who was married to Anna), brought it to Thurzó’s attention that something sinister was afoot at Csejte Castle. Rumours of bloodshed became hard to ignore. Nikola himself visited Csejte Castle with his hunting dogs and they dug up body parts out of the castle grounds. The count discreetly asked Thurzó to investigate his wife’s mother. Thurzó employed two notaries to assist him.

As soon as Thurzó began his investigation, he realised that he had opened up a can of worms. Witnesses fell over their feet to provide statements, and by October of that year, he had no less than 52 statements in hand. By the next year, they had more than 300.

Thurzó pieced together an unbelievable puzzle… Most of the testimonies contained versions of the same events. People claimed that Erzsébet Báthory tortured and killed countless young girls inside the castle walls. Most of the girls were between 10 and 14 years of age. Her morbid fascination with watching young women suffer was ever evolving.

Although Ferenc shared her passion for torture, her behaviour escalated after he died. A Croatian midwife, Anna Darvulia, moved into Csejte Castle shortly after Ferenc’s death. Speculation arose that Darvulia, who was a witch, was the countess’ lover and had cast a spell over her, which made her even more hungry for torture. By all witness accounts, Darvulia was the cruellest sadist in Báthory’s entourage. 

The others in her motley crew of sadists, were her children’s wetnurse, Ilona Jo, a physically strong and sometimes-confused-for-a-man peasant witch Dorothea Szentes (or Dorka) and János Ujvary, a sadistic crippled dwarf who went by the nickname Ficzkó. 

Together they recruited girls from villages to work in the castle. Their families had no choice in the matter, as refusing her request could have caused her to evict them. Once inside the castle, the girls were forced to undress. Then Darvulia and Dorka presented them to the countess. She preferred robust girls because they could withstand torture for a longer period of time.

The countess commanded her servants work in the nude, and she watched them. She had a dark temper and snapped at a whim, her rage exploding into physical violence. If a laundry maid did not iron her clothing to her satisfaction, she took the iron and burned the incompetent servant. Another time she ordered one of her henchlings to burn the pubic hair of a servant girl while she watched. And so the torture continued and escalated: she stuck sewing needles under her servants’ fingernails and sewed their lips together. One of her favourite pastimes was to use scissors to cut the flesh between their fingers. 

Erzsébet Báthory was the human embodiment of evil sadism. She inflicted a lot of the torture herself, but at times she watched as others took over. For entertainment, she locked some girls in a suspended cage, with spears pointing to the inside. Ficzkó would then spear the girl to a slow and painful death. Báthory watched with glee and enjoyed the screaming. On occasion, she would impale them herself and shower in their blood, shouting obscenities. Here is a witness account of a similar incident – warning, it is quite graphic, so if you’re sensitive, skip ahead.

“…a 12-year-old girl named Pola somehow managed to escape from the castle. But Dorka, aided by Ilona Jo, caught the frightened girl by surprise and brought her forcibly back to Csejte Castle. Clad only in a long white robe, Countess Erzsébet greeted the girl upon her return. The countess was in another of her rages. She advanced on the 12-year-old child and forced her into a kind of cage. This particular cage was built like a huge ball, too narrow to sit in, too low to stand in. Once the girl was inside, the cage was suddenly hauled up by a pulley and dozens of short spikes jutted into the cage. Pola tried to avoid being caught on the spikes, but Ficzkó manoeuvred the ropes so that the cage shifted from side to side. Pola's flesh was torn to pieces.”

Girls were subjected to many forms of torture. Once they were in Báthory’s control, nothing was too brutal. Some girls were dragged outside with a barbed leash. Their naked bodies were doused with water from the well and they were left out in the snow to die of exposure. Some victims were branded with hot tongs and with wounds still smouldering, they were dunked into iced water. Others were covered in honey and left out to be covered with ants and bees. Once victims succumbed, they were buried within the castle compound. Eventually, they ran out of space, due to the high volume of victims. So, they threw bodies over the castle walls, into the woods, so the wolves could feast on their remains. Others were taken away and dumped out of a moving carriage.

The countess’ murder spree started to come undone after the death of her trusted servant Anna Darvulia in 1609. Up to then, Báthory only focussed on peasant girls. But after Darvulia passed away, she reportedly had a new lover, Erszi Majorova, a widow of one of her tenant farmers. It is believed that it was Majorova who convince Báthory to expand her cruelty across social lines.

Báthory occasionally spent time at her Augustinerstrasse apartment in Vienna. She attended a musical performance and became entranced by the new style of singing: opera. A young soprano impressed her so much, she commissioned a private show. Once the singer was there, she was so nervous, she could not perform as well as she did on stage. Displeased about the level of entertainment provided, Báthory attacked the opera star and tortured her, until she succumbed to her injuries. 

The countess was out of control at this point, and clearly saw herself as untouchable. As a landowner and member of many royal families, peasants would not dare to accuse her of these horrendous deeds. She had killed and mutilated so many, that it became increasingly more difficult to find new victims.

With the murder of the opera singer, Báthory had crossed a line. The performer was no peasant girl and her disappearance would not go unnoticed by her benefactors in Vienna. Still, nothing was done to stop the bloodthirsty countess. When she returned to Csejte, she devised a new plan to lure girls to her castle. She founded a finishing school for girls of higher social standing. Gentrified parents sent their daughters to learn about etiquette in the royal court, and most of them never returned home. More and more young girls disappeared in the area, many of them were never found again.

During one incident, a servant girl was brushing the countess’ hair, and when she accidentally pulled it, her unforgiving boss slapped her face, drawing blood. Instead of cleaning it off, Báthory was fixated on her blood-soaked hands, and believed that the blood rejuvenated her skin. It was mainly because of this story that it is believed she went on to bathe in the blood of her victims. This was not mentioned in any of the statements given to Thurzó during his investigation, however.

Báthory had lost her husband, and her most trusted employee, and there seemed to be no stopping the countess from quenching her thirst for torture. Still fighting the symptoms of epilepsy, she became weak, and at times took to her bed. Her henchlings were commanded to bring young virgins to her bedroom. Once they were presented to her, she would reach out in embrace and just start biting them, drawing blood, removing chunks of flesh. 

This is when the stories of vampirism and cannibalism and Lycanthropy reached the villages.

Lycanthropy is a mental affliction, when a person believes they are able to shapeshift into their spirit animal, usually a wolf. 

On 12 December 1610, after presenting the mountain of statements against the countess, Thurzó was given the go-ahead by Nikola Zrinski to arrest his mother-in-law. It wasn’t until the end of December that Thurzó and his men arrived at Csejte Castle. Thurzó wrote a letter to his wife about the events 

“When my men entered Csejte Manor, they found a girl dead in the house; another followed in death as a result of many wounds and agonies. In addition to this, there was also a wounded and tortured woman there; the other victims were kept hidden away.”

Altogether, they found nine girls, all mutilated, some barely clinging to life. Thurzó’s account became embellished over time, as it was re-told, and the most popular version was that Báthory was literally caught in the act of torture, and that she was covered in blood. However, this account has been re-visited, and is actually considered to have been a figure of speech – more like she had blood on her hands. The more accurate depiction was that the countess was sitting down at dinner when she, along with four of her servants, were taken into custody. Illona Jo, Dorka, Ficzkó and a newly-appointed washerwoman called Kata. Erszi Majorova escaped arrest that day, but authorities caught up with her later and she was also taken in.

The arrest of the most powerful woman in all of Hungary for heinous crimes was a very delicate situation. A public hearing and execution of a member of the ruling family of Transylvania would have tarnished the reputation of the crown. At first, Thurzó, Erzsébet Báthory’s son Paul, and two of her sons-in-law, Nikola and György, considered sending her away so she could live out her days in a nunnery. 

But they could not contain the news of her arrest and details about her crimes spread around Hungary like wildfire. Villagers and lesser nobles alike learnt that their daughters had been tortured and murdered by the countess and her sycophant servants and they wanted her head on a stake. It was decided then, that Báthory would remain under house arrest, until they figured out what to do with her.

As they worked their way through all the witness statements, it became clear that most testimonies were based on second-hand information. Witnesses heard about the torture, but no one actually SAW the incidents for themselves. Most of the accusations of murder could have been fabricated, based on nothing more than rumours.

Thurzó, realising that he needed more evidence to prove her guilt, set out to obtain confessions from her henchlings. They were taken into the dungeons of Csejte Castle where they were questioned separately. At the time, it was common practice to torture a suspect into confessing misdeeds, and this was no exception. They all admitted to the murder of between 35 and 50 girls, and everyone agreed that the new washerwoman, Kata, had nothing to do with any of it. 

During the first trial on the 2nd of January 1611 at Bitcse, Báthory and her three servants were accused of the torture and murder of hundreds of young women between 1590 and 1610. The countess was not allowed to attend this hearing. 

The second trial took place five days after the first one. This time, Báthory was charged with the murder of 80 girls. Ficzkó, confessed under severe torture, and admitted to the murder of 37 young women. The exact number of victims is not clear. At the trial, one of Báthory’s servants, a girl named Zusanna, said that Báthory’s court official Jakab Szilvássy read in one of Báthory’s private books that she had killed 650 girls. However, Szilvássy never mentioned this in his own testimony. He did claim to have seen the countess torture and kill young servant girls with his own eyes.

Wetnurse Ilona Jo and the muscular Dorka were both found guilty of witchcraft and sentenced to be burned at the stake. Before the fire that burned them alive was lit, their fingernails were pulled out one after the other. Ficzkó was decapitated and his body was thrown into the fire with his co-accused. On 24 January Erszi Majorova was also found guilty of witchcraft and executed. Kata the washerwoman was exonerated by her fellow-defendants and the witness Zuzanna.

The trial was quite the display, and people travelled from far and near to learn more about the salacious countess. Although there was little concrete evidence, more than 300 people testified against her: servants, surviving victims and other witnesses. When she was arrested there were many tortured victims, dead bodies and imprisoned young women in her castle. Although people believed Thurzó’s account to be an exaggerated one, most people believed it.

Countess Erzsébet Báthory was found guilty without being present at trial or given the opportunity to defend herself. The reason she was never tried for her crimes, was most probably because of her family’s status.

The once-untouchable countess was imprisoned in her home, Csejte Castle, where Thurzó claimed that she was confined to a room with a walled-up doorway. Only a small open slit was left in the doorway for food and air. Other reports stated that she was allowed to move around freely, under the watchful gaze of security guards, and the situation was what we would call house arrest today. 

Despite her guilty verdict, a motive for her heinous acts was never presented at court. Why did she torture and kill so many young girls? From a young age Erzsébet was given blood of others in an attempt to cure her ‘falling sickness’. Was her continuing blood shed a desperate attempt to heal herself? Or was she simply a narcissistic sadist who took pleasure in causing pain in others, while satisfying her own needs?

One night the 54-year-old countess told a prison guard that her hands were cold. He told her to go to sleep, which she did… But she never woke up again. Her official date of death is the 21st of August 1614.

The tainted countess was buried in the church inside of Csejte Castle four days after her death, on 25 November 1614. But the newly departed was not welcome to rest in peace in the view of the villagers. They were adamant that she HAD to go, so much so, her body was exhumed and taken to the Báthory family crypt at Ecsed. In the ruins of Csejte Castle, there is nothing commemorating the countess, and it is like her contemporaries wished to have her memory removed from the location. Locals were ordered not to mention her name for a hundred years.

Weeks before her death, Báthory validated an earlier will, in which she left her entire estate to her remaining three children, with the wish that they shared it equally. At the time, it was customary to leave one’s estate to a male heir. However, Báthory’s only remaining son, Paul was 16 when his mother died. His sisters Anna and Katharina were 29 and 24 respectively and married. Báthory deemed it more suitable to divide her expansive estate into three.

The Guinness World Records marks Báthory as THE most prolific female serial killer in history. However, some researchers found that Báthory was possibly the victim of a conspiracy. Author László Nagy reckons she was a target, because of her tremendous wealth, especially after Ferenc died and left her his entire estate as well. 

In the late 16th century political undercurrents were strong – and someone like Erzsébet Báthory, family of Transylvanian rulers, who owned land on the strategic route of Ottoman conflicts, was an obvious target. The investigation into the countess’ crimes ran at the same time as a political struggle in Transylvania. If she was indeed a violent sadist, she was threatening the reputation of the entire upper-class.

According to this conspiracy, all fingers point to a rising politician with grand ambitions, György Thurzó. He had been involved in a failed assassination attempt on Transylvanian prince, Gábor Báthory, in March 1610. He also had a hand in the imprisonment of another prince, Zsigmond Báthory and then ultimately, the downfall of Erzsébet Báthory at the end of the very same year. Also, Matthias, King of Hungary’s debt to the countess Báthory was written off after her arrest.

Those who believe in her innocence, have theorised that Báthory was not a sadistic murderess at all. On the contrary… Letters to her children were affectionate and kind.  doesn’t add up to a cruel, cold-hearted killer. 

At the time of her alleged crimes, medical care of villagers and farmers was the landowner’s responsibility. Bloodletting was a new medical practice in the early 17th century, and infection was stinted by burning injuries with hot iron. Medical devices of the time were among Báthory’s possessions. It was used to burn wounds, NOT torture. All of this, avant-garde medical procedures intended to help people, could have been construed as torture. Erzsébet would have learnt basic herbal recipes for healing, but she would have been taught in the castle garden at Ecsed, where plants were different to those grown in rest of Hungary. Her potions could have been regarded as outlandish. 

Some believe that when Thurzó entered the castle the victims he found were in fact patients, suffering from the Plague. There are claims that in October 1610 – two months before Báthory’s arrest, eight women, Plague patients, were quarantined in the castle.

Another theory was that, because Báthory was a fierce defender of women during the war, she also assisted them with more delicate matters. Abortion was illegal, as it was against the religious beliefs of the time. Assisting someone with an abortion would label one a killer. And because of this issue, Lutheran minister István Magyari decided to take her down. He was openly vocal about her occult practices and even travelled to Vienna to present his concerns to the King.

Before Thurzó’s inquest, there had not been any grievances against the countess. At the time, one would report someone by writing a letter of complaint and sending it to local authorities. But no one had ever sent anything about Báthory. Was this perhaps because of her position in society – because everyone felt that she was untouchable. Or did they fear for their own safety. Or perhaps, it was because there was nothing to report.

It was the theatrics of the trial and the extensive testimonies in Thurzó’s arsenal, that was used to turn the country against the Báthory family and ultimately dethrone Gabor. At the time of Erzsébet’s arrest, Gabor was planning a campaign against the Hapsburgs. The most damning testimonies against Erzsébet Báthory came from seven of her oldest servants. They could have been persuaded to start a gossip-chain, that would ultimately lead to ousting the countess, and leaving her sons-in-law to take over her estate. The recount of servants carried more weight than a testimony from the countess herself, seeing as she was never allowed to speak in her own defence.

Arguably the biggest oversight in the investigation, was the fact that Thurzó and his men did not ask the ‘dying’ girl found at Csejte Castle for a statement. Was she a victim of torture, or was she suffering from an illness?

Although it is important to consider the possibility that the countess was framed, one also has to acknowledge that many things point to her guilt. She escalated the violence after her husband’s death. She was the wealthiest woman in Hungary, she had to inspire fear to keep her enemies at bay. It was pivotal to run a tight ship, and she did so by disciplining her servants. It is probable that in doing so, she ordered them to be tortured.

Also, Thurzó collected no less than 300 witness statements – would so many people have lied? And how would one explain the multitude of bodies buried within the castle walls? Then there was the account of the opera singer in Vienna… Monks in a monastery across the road from Báthory’s Vienna home reported hearing gut-wrenching screams but could not gain access to the property to offer help. 

Another point to consider is, if Thurzó was on a mission to eliminate Erzsébet Báthory, why not accuse her of being a witch? At the time, many women were burned at the stake without much evidence against them. It would have been much easier to convict the countess of witchcraft than mass murder. 

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the story of Erzsébet Báthory become well-repeated legend. During this time, the retellings of her crimes became darker and darker each time it was told to the next generation, and then written as fact. Some witnesses said they saw her having intercourse with the devil himself. Stories of vampirism circulated and it was said that she bathed herself in the blood of virgins to retain her youth. However, this has been regarded as folklore, rather than fact. And through the years it has become increasingly challenging to separate fact from fiction. The first written account of the countess was in 1729, in László Turóczi's Tragica Historia – 115 years after Báthory’s death, who knows how much got lost with the passage of time? 

Today, the location where the ruins of Csejte Castle remain is a popular tourist attraction and is referred to by its Slovak name of Cachtice [Kush-teesh]. Gothic remnants and a reconstruction of the torture chamber leave visitors with an eerie feeling.

We will probably never know for sure if Báthory was a vampireous siren with an insatiable lust for blood. As it stands, history books remember her as the world’s most infamous female serial killer. There is something unsettling, yet irresistibly appealing about the notion of a medieval female vampire. But was there any truth to the horrifying tale of Countess Erzsébet Báthory? Or was it one of the biggest smear campaigns, ever committed in history?

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