10/26/2008

Woman of the week - Elizabeth Báthory

Name: Elizabeth (Erzsébet) Báthory
Born: 1560, Nyirbátor, Hungary
Died: Before 21 August 1614, Čachtice, today's Slovakia
Married to: Baron Ferenc Nádasdy (1555-1604)
Children: András (unknown dates)
Pál (1593 or 1597-1633 or 1650)
Anna (ca 1585-1625)
Katalin (ca 1594-?)
Miklós(unknown dates)
Orsolya (unknown dates)
Occupation: Baroness and murderer

Báthory is one of those women were fact is hard to separate from fiction. She lived a long time ago, in a time when information that was not partial was hard to come by, and her actions have made people's imagination run wild. I cannot vouch for everything being true, just that it is likely - it is hard to do anything else.

She came from a noble lineage, both her parents were Báthorys and her mother was the sister of a king of Poland. Aged 13 she was married to the five years older baron Ferenc Nádasy. She moved to his castle in Čachtice, that is located in today's Slovakia. There she gave birth to their children and took care of the usual business that would befell a noble-woman of the times. Her husband were gone a lot of the time, fighting in the Thirteen Years War (against the Ottoman empire) as a chief commander of the Hungarian troops and that meant that Báthory was left in charge of the castle and the villages connected to it. In that she differed little from other noble-women of the time. Her husband died in 1604 - probably due to injuries sustained in battle.

What is perhaps less common of noble ladies of the time is to accuse them of murder and sadism. Nobles who were their own law at their own estates, but there was a limit to how much you were allowed to get away with - and it is obvious that Báthory crossed that line. It took almost a ten years of talk for the authorities to start looking into the matter, in 1610 the Holy Roman Emperor Matthias decided on investigating the matter and after some months Bárthory and four of her servants were arrested. Matthias wanted her dead after reports of dead and dying and badly tortured girls having been found at her castle - but György Thurzó, Palatine of Hungary, who investigated the matter, persuaded him to leave her be - she came from a very influential family. She would never appear in court and she never got a proper sentence. But she would spend the last four years of her life in house-arrest in her castle, in a set of rooms behind a wall so she could not escape.

What is known of her atrocities come from the testimonies of her four servants, who were all tried and convicted for taking part in the crimes. According to them, and other witnesses that were heard, the crimes had started early on when Bárthory wanted girls from the local villages brought to her and she had the girls badly beaten and tortured and eventually killed. But since she was a noble and they were just daughters of peasants she could get away with it. Things escalated and she went after daughters of the lower gentry that came to her to learn the way of the nobles and the authorities could no longer look the other way. The exact number of victims are unknown - her servants talked about around 50 (at least during their time of service) and others of hundreds upon hundreds. We do not know if there is any truth in the number of 600+ that are sometimes mentioned - nor if she ever bathed in the blood of her victims, thinking it would stop her ageing, nor if she took part in Satanic rites.

She was found dead on the 21 August 1614, but found with several plates of untouched food so the exact date of her death is not known.

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