Elizabeth Báthory: The cruelest countess in history

Over the years, there have been mass murderers who were so evil that they continue to enjoy a rather dubious level of notoriety in history books. Whether it's Jack the Ripper, Albert Fish or Ted Bundy, merely mentioning their names sends a chill down many people's spines even today. Yet one name remains surprisingly unknown, even though this person was probably the most prolific murderer of all time: Elizabeth Báthory. Known as the Blood Countess, Báthory lived in Hungary from 1560 to 1614 and her story is a truly bloodcurdling one.

Her tale is shrouded in mystery and nobody knows exactly how many people fell victim to her evil deeds. Some estimates have the death toll at up to 650 young girls...

It all started when the young Elizabeth was married off to Count Ferenc Nádasdy for political reasons at the age of 15. Unhappy with the arranged marriage from the start, she wasn't particularly saddened to hear of Ferenc's death in battle fighting the Ottoman Empire in 1604. Control of the nobleman's entire estate and Nádasdy Castle was then handed over to her.

This is when her reign of terror is said to have begun. It's suspected that the countess used the promise of work to lure girls from the surrounding farmland to her castle; the young farmhands would then disappear without a trace. When rumors of the alleged atrocities taking place at the castle finally spread, locals stormed the building. It's unclear what actually happened there, but Elizabeth's reputation as a wicked despot was sealed forever.

There are several disputed contemporary accounts detailing the scores of dead young girls found. When brought to "trial," Elizabeth wasn't allowed to speak in her defense — only her servants were questioned. While being tortured themselves, they admitted to mutilating and killing 80 girls. Further confessions revealed how the girls were stripped naked and shackled. Unable to break free, the victims were allegedly whipped, beaten, and maimed using blades; while some had needles driven between their toes and into their gums, others were scalded with boiling water, branded with red-hot irons or forced to stand naked in the snow while cold water was poured over them. It's alleged that between 36 and 80 young girls were tortured with all finally succumbing to their wounds.

Since the confessions were forced by means of torture, it's still unclear which of allegations are true. However, it's almost certain that Elizabeth tortured and murdered young girls — we just don't know to what degree these horrors extended. Following the trial, rumors were once again rife among the local population. Attempting to find eternal youth, the countess is said to have bathed in her victims' blood and drunk the blood of virgins.

There were also rumors of a diary containing the names of over 650 victims, though such a document has never been found. Despite all these inconsistencies, Elizabeth was found guilty. While her coconspirators were burned at the stake, Elisabeth was locked up in a windowless cell containing only a small slot for the passing of food. She died there four years later.

An astounding story, the Blood Countess's life has provided the inspiration for many books and films. Looking beyond the interpretation of her as a barbaric mass murderer though, there's also a theory that the countess may have been the victim of a conspiracy as her landholdings were of significant political importance. Many other noblemen and women are said to have performed similar despicable acts, and Elizabeth was brought to trial purely for strategic reasons. With the criminal proceedings carried out in an extremely dubious manner, it's unfortunately no longer possible to find out what really happened. There's little wonder then that the story of the Blood Countess is steeped in so much legend.

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