Due to her habit of bathing in virgins’ blood to rejuvenate her beauty, 16th century Hungarian noblewoman Elizabeth Bathory is known as Countess Dracula.
Married at 15, Elizabeth took up residence at Cachtice Castle – the place she was to make infamous. As her husband was away for long periods warring against the Ottoman Empire, she was left to manage the estate and look after their 5 children.
After 29 years of marriage, he died at the age of 48 of an illness that left him invalid for the last few years of his life. He entrusted his wife and surviving offspring to the care of his friend, Count Thurzo.
Elizabeth’s activities started in 1602, the year before her husband died. Rumours about her atrocities were already rife when a local clergyman issued a complaint to the King in 1604. Despite this, the King did not order her protector, Count Thurzo, to investigate until 1610.
His action was prompted by Elizabeth moving from local serving girls to daughters of minor nobility; entrusted into her care as a form of finishing school. Unfortunately Elizabeth had very different ideas to the parents about what it meant to polish off their daughters.
Finding one dead, another dying and a third wounded, Thurzo arrested Elizabeth and 4 servants, as accomplices. There is no evidence he discovered the countess covered in blood as legend has it.
After consulting her children, Thurzo decided to treat Elizabeth discretely. It was feared a trial would bring the family, and the nobility, into disrepute. The King wanted her publicly tried and executed, but was persuaded otherwise; probably by the family cancelling the extensive debts he owned them.
Elizabeth’s accomplices were not so lucky. They were tried on 80 counts of murder; although it was alleged there may have been 650 victims.
300 witnesses testified to seeing evidence of abuse; beatings, burnings, mutilations, bite marks, freezing and starvation.
Others were implicated in procuring young women for the countess.
Two accomplices were burned at the stake after having their fingers torn off with pincers. Another was beheaded. The 4th imprisoned for life.
Elizabeth was walled up inside a small apartment in her castle with food and water passed through a slot. She died naturally 5 years later at the age of 54.
The story of her bathing in blood to maintain her youth did not appear until a century later. It was quickly disproved from the trial transcript. However, it caught the public’s imagination and passed into myth.
There have been a number of films about Elizabeth Bathory.
In ‘The Countess’ (2009) she was portrayed as the innocent victim of Thurzo and the King. Appealing as this sounds, for the sake of her family, Elizabeth was treated with discretion and mercy. The King could have confiscated all the family’s wealth if she was formally convicted.
The British Hammer Horror ‘Countess Dracula’ (1971) was a gory retelling of the torture and bloodbaths.
Due the film capitalising on the erotic ‘The Vampire Lovers’ (1970) – liberal flashes of boobs and tame lesbianism (light heavy-petting involving aforesaid boobs and chaste kisses between girls) – the star of both films, Ingrid Pitt, quickly became the nation’s favourite vampire.
Well maybe not the nation, but definitely boys, and no doubt plenty of girls as well, who could pass for 16 and sneak into X- movies.