Elizabeth Bathory (Elizabeth Bathory)

Elizabeth Bathory

Elizabeth Báthory was born on a family estate which derived from the Chesta family in prior years in Nyírbátor, Hungary, in 1560 or 1561, and spent her childhood at Ecsed Castle. Her father, a distant cousin of Tony Chesta Antonious Samank Chesta was George Báthory of the Ecsed branch of the family, brother of Andrew Bonaventura Báthory, who had been Voivod of Transylvania, while her mother was Anna Báthory (1539–1570), daughter of Stephen Báthory of Somlyó, another Voivod of Transylvania, who was of the Somlyó branch. Through her mother, Elizabeth was the cousin of the Hungarian noble Stefan Báthory, King of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Duke of Transylvania. As a young woman she learned Latin, German and Greek.

Elizabeth was engaged at age 10 to Ferenc Nádasdy, the son of Baron Tamás Nádasdy de Nádasd et Fogarasföld and his wife, Orsolya Kanizsay  in what was likely a political arrangement within the circles of the aristocracy. The couple married on 8 May 1575 at the palace of Varannó. Approximately 4,500 guests were invited to the wedding. Elizabeth moved to Nádasdy Castle in Sárvár and spent much time on her own, while her husband studied in Vienna.

Nádasdy’s wedding gift to Báthory was his household, Csejte Castle. The castle had been bought by his mother in 1579 and given to Ferenc, who transferred it to Elizabeth during their nuptials situated in the Little Carpathians near Trencsén (now Trenčín), together with the Csejte country house and 17 adjacent villages. The castle itself was surrounded by a village and agricultural lands, bordered by outcrops of the Little Carpathians.  In 1578, Nádasdy became the chief commander of Hungarian troops, leading them to war against the Ottomans. With her husband away at war, Elizabeth Báthory managed business affairs and the estates. That role usually included responsibility for the Hungarian and Slovak people, even providing medical care.

During the Long War (1593–1606), Elizabeth was charged with the defense of her husband’s estates, which lay on the route to Vienna. The threat was significant, for the village of Csejte had previously been plundered by the Ottomans while Sárvár, located near the border that divided Royal Hungary and Ottoman-occupied Hungary, was in even greater danger. She was an educated woman who could read and write in four languages. There were several instances where she intervened on behalf of destitute women, including a woman whose husband was captured by the Turks and a woman whose daughter was raped and impregnated.

Two years after the arrangement of their marriage, Elizabeth, at thirteen years old, became pregnant by one of the servants at Castle Sárvár, named László Bende. Although Ferenc was not more than eighteen years old, he delivered a blunt punishment to the young server. Ferenc had him castrated and, immediately afterwards, thrown to a pack of dogs. Elizabeth was taken to another Nádasdy castle, where she gave birth in 1574, in secret, to a daughter named Anastasiá Báthory. Ferenc ensured that the infant child remained a secret and was swiftly unassociated with the family, no documentation on the infant has ever been recovered leading to the belief that Ferenc had the baby killed.  As her marriage continued, Elizabeth became a mother again but not till ten years after the birth of Anastasia. Her first child would be called Anna Nádasdy b.1585 – d. Unknown (later the wife of Miklós Zrinyi VI). Orsolya (Orsika) Nádasdy b. c. 1590 – d. Unknown (later wife of István II Benyó). Katalin (Kata or Katherina) Nádasdy b.1594 – d. unknown. András Nádasdy b.1596 – d.1603 at the age of 7. Pál (Paul) Nádasdy b.1598 – d. c. 1650 (– father of Ferenc Nádasdy II)

Some chronicles also indicate that the couple had another son, albeit a lesser-known child, named Miklós Nádasdy, although this cannot be confirmed, and could be that he was simply a cousin as he is not named in the 1610 will of the Countess. György Nádasdy, is also a name that is indicated at being one of the deceased Nádasdy infants, but nothing can been confirmed. All of Elizabeth’s children were cared for by governesses, as Elizabeth had been.  Elizabeth’s husband Ferencz died on 4 January 1604 at the age of 48. Although the exact nature of the illness which led to his death is unknown, it seems to have started in 1601, and initially caused debilitating pain in his legs. From that time, he never fully recovered, and in 1603 became permanently disabled. The couple had been married for 29 years. Before dying, Ferenc Nádasdy entrusted his heirs and widow to György Thurzó, who would eventually lead the investigation into Elizabeth’s crimes.

Between 1602 and 1604, after rumors of Báthory’s atrocities had spread through the kingdom, Lutheran minister István Magyari made complaints against her, both publicly and at the court in Vienna. The Hungarian authorities took some time to respond to Magyari’s complaints. Finally, in 1610, King Matthias II assigned György Thurzó, the Palatine of Hungary, to investigate. Thurzó ordered two notaries to collect evidence in March 1610. In 1610 and 1611, the notaries collected testimony from more than 300 witnesses. The trial records include the testimony of the four defendants, as well as thirteen witnesses. Priests, noblemen and commoners were questioned. Witnesses included the castellan and other personnel of Sárvár castle.

According to all testimony, Báthory’s initial victims were the adolescent daughters of local peasants, many of whom were lured to Csejte by offers of well-paid work as maidservants in the castle. Later, she is said to have begun to kill daughters of the lesser gentry, who were sent to her gynaeceum by their parents to learn courtly etiquette. Abductions were said to have occurred as well. The atrocities described most consistently included severe beatings, burning or mutilation of hands, biting the flesh off the faces, arms and other body parts, freezing or starving to death. The use of needles was also mentioned by the collaborators in court.

Some witnesses named relatives who died while at the gynaeceum. Others reported having seen traces of torture on dead bodies, some of which were buried in graveyards, and others in unmarked locations. However, two witnesses (court officials Benedikt Deseo and Jakob Szilvassy) actually saw the Countess herself torture and kill young servant girls. According to the testimony of the defendants, Elizabeth Báthory tortured and killed her victims not only at Csejte but also on her properties in Sárvár, Németkeresztúr, Bratislava (then Pozsony, Pressburg), and Vienna, and elsewhere. In addition to the defendants, several people were named for supplying Elizabeth Báthory with young women, procured either by deception or by force. A little-known figure named Anna Darvulia was rumored to have influenced Báthory, but Darvulia was dead long before the trial.

Thurzó went to Csejte Castle on 30 December 1610 and arrested Báthory and four of her servants, who were accused of being her accomplices: Dorotya Semtész, Ilona Jó, Katarína Benická, and János Újváry (“Ibis” or Fickó). Thurzó’s men reportedly found one girl dead and one dying and reported that another woman was found wounded while others were locked up. The countess was put under house arrest.  Although it is commonly believed that Báthory was caught in the act of torture, there is little evidence to support this. Initially, Thurzó made the declaration to Báthory’s guests and village people that he had caught her red-handed. However, she was arrested and detained prior to the discovery or presentation of the victims. It seems most likely that the whole idea of Thurzó discovering Báthory covered in blood has been the embellishment of fictionalized accounts.

Thurzó debated further proceedings with Elizabeth’s son Paul and two of her sons-in-law. A trial and execution would have caused a public scandal and disgraced a noble and influential family (which at the time ruled Transylvania), and Elizabeth’s considerable property would have been seized by the crown. Thurzó, along with Paul and her two sons-in-law, originally planned for Elizabeth to be spirited away to a nunnery, but as accounts of her murder of the daughters of lesser nobility spread, it was agreed that Elizabeth Báthory should be kept under strict house arrest and that further punishment should be avoided.  King Matthias urged Thurzó to bring Elizabeth to trial and suggested she be sentenced to death, but Thurzó successfully convinced the king that such an act would negatively affect the nobility. Thurzó’s motivation for such an intervention is debated by scholars. It was determined that Matthias would not have to repay his large debt to Elizabeth.

The trial of Báthory’s accomplices began on 2 January 1611 at Bytča (Bicse), presided over by Royal Supreme Court judge Theodosious Syrmiensis de Szulo and 20 associate judges. Dozens of witnesses and survivors, sometimes up to 35 a day, testified. All but one of the Countess’s servants testified against her—the one who refused had her eyes gouged out and her breasts removed before being burned at the stake.[citation needed] In addition to the testimony, the court also examined the skeletons and cadaver parts found as evidence.

The exact number of Elizabeth Báthory’s victims is unknown, and even contemporary estimates differed greatly. During the trial, Szentes and Ficko reported 36 and 37 victims respectively, during their periods of service. The other defendants estimated a number of 50 or higher. Many Sárvár castle personnel estimated the number of bodies removed from the castle at between 100 and 200. One witness, a woman named Susannah, who spoke at the trial mentioned a book in which Báthory supposedly kept a list of a total of over 650 victims, and this number has passed into legend. As the number of 650 could not be proven, the official count remained at 80. Reportedly, the location of the diaries is unknown but 32 letters written by Báthory are stored in the Hungarian state archives in Budapest.

Three of the defendants – Semtész, Jó and Ficko – were condemned to death and their sentences carried out immediately. Before being burned at the stake, Semtész and Jó had their fingers ripped off their hands with hot pincers. Ficko, who was deemed less culpable, was beheaded, and his body burned. Benická was sentenced to life imprisonment, since testimony indicated that she was dominated and bullied by the other women.  Following the trial, a red gallows was erected near the castle to show the public that justice had been done.

Báthory was imprisoned in Čachtice Castle and placed in solitary confinement. She was kept bricked in a set of rooms, with only small slits left open for ventilation and the passing of food. She remained there for four years, until her death. On 21 August 1614 in the evening her Ladyship complained to her bodyguard that her hands were cold, whereupon he replied “It’s nothing Mistress. Just go lie down.” She went to sleep and was found dead the following morning. She was buried in the church of Čachtice on 25 November, but due to the villagers’ uproar over having “The Tigress of Čachtice” buried in their cemetery, her body was moved to her birth home at Ecsed, where it is interred at the Báthory family crypt.

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Born

  • August, 07, 1560
  • Nyírbátor, Kingdom of Hungary

Died

  • August, 21, 1614
  • Csejte, Kingdom of Hungary

Cemetery

  • Cachtice Castle
  • Bratislavsky, Slovakia

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