Monday, February 6, 2012

Lady of Blood: Countess Bathory

Clandestine Entry

During the Christmas season in 1609 (or 1610), King Mathias II of Hungary sent a party of men to the massive Castle Csejthe. He had heard rumors that several young women from the area were being held in the castle against their will, if not actually killed. In haste, he sent the team to investigate.
The Blood Countess
The Blood Countess
Valentine Penrose described what happened in Erzsébet Báthory, La Comtesse Sanglante, translated in English as The Bloody Countess, and a fictionalized account can be found in The Blood Countess, by Andrei Codrescu, which provides a good sense of the setting. Yet the earliest accounts derive from an 18th Century history of Hungary, by Father Laslo Turáczi with a monograph published in 1744, and a 1796 German publication, which is translated and quoted in Sabine Baring-Gould’s 1865 account of werewolf legends around the world.
The Bloody Countess
The Bloody Countess
These men knew they had to be careful. The beautiful mistress of the manor, known for her lustrous black hair and pale skin, was of royal blood and was especially well connected. Once married to a warrior count known as Hungary’s “Black Hero” for his bravery in battles with the Turks, she was related to princes and kings, bishops and cardinals, and she was the cousin of Prime Minister Thurzo—a member of the very party that approached her imposing domain that night with such stealth and trepidation. If she recognized his colors, she would let him in, but their preference was to arrive unannounced. The woman’s uncle, Stephen Báthory, had been king of Poland. If the persistent rumors proved to be unfounded, she could be a dangerous political enemy. On the other hand, if they were true, then something had to be done to stop her.
Stephen Bathory, King of Poland
Stephen Bathory, King of Poland
It was cold and the men had difficulty finding their way, even with a few torches. The talk around town was that the woman they sought would be having one of her late-night clandestine gatherings—a sight to behold if they managed to get that close, and probably incriminating—for witchcraft, at the very least. They hoped to catch her in a deviant illegal act. People down the hill in the village often claimed to have heard screams emanating from within this place, and they spoke of disappearing girls and of murder, but no one had dared approach the regal, 50-something countess until now. Word had come to the king that she had kidnapped or killed nine girls from good families. The men who came together for this raid had heard that the mistress was a practitioner of the Dark Arts and they did not dare let her servants spot them. A spell must be avoided at all cost. That’s why they crept close to the castle without announcing their presence. All told, the party consisted of the prime minister, a priest who had lodged the complaint, the local governor (who was also a relative of this woman), and several soldiers. Climbing the imposing hill on which the stone castle stood, they stopped to catch their breath and to ensure they had not been detected. Most of the windows were dark, but the castle was a large stronghold and those inside could be almost anywhere. So far, there had been no cry of alarm and no evidence of a guard at the door. They moved on toward the castle, preparing to break in.
To their surprise, the massive wooden door stood partly ajar, as if inviting them in, so they pushed it open and entered. To their right, a cat jumped out, startling them. They had heard that the Countess used these animals as her wicked emissaries, sending them out to attack her enemies. Two more cats emerged from the shadows. The priest quickly crossed himself. He counted six cats in all and would later have reason to remember them.At that moment they saw, quite unexpectedly, the first evidence of what they had come for.

Beyond Belief

On the cold stone floor of the great hall lay a pale, partially clothed young girl. She failed to move. They wondered if she might simply be asleep or drunk, so several men went toward her. Still, she made no effort to rouse herself. One man reached down to touch her and shook his head. He told the others she was dead. They turned her over and saw how pale she looked. She appeared to have been drained of blood—exactly as the rumors went.
Then they heard a moan. Just a few paces away was another girl, sprawled face up but still alive. The men discovered that her body had been pierced in many places. She was also pale, as if from severe blood depletion. It was clear to them that she would not last long—not even long enough for them to take her to the village. Reluctantly, they left her there and moved deeper into the castle. They could smell the foul odors of decomposition.
Against a pillar, the party found another female corpse chained to a post. She bore marks of beatings and burns, as well as cuts from a whip. She, too, had lost most of her blood. Clearly, whatever was happening to these girls was related to some kind of blood ceremony, such as those practiced by devil worshippers.
Anxious now about their trespass into this domain, the men moved down the stone stairs to the lower floors to locate the dungeons. Thurzo had seen this area years earlier, as a child, so he remembered the way. As they made their way by touching the cold stone walls, their hearts beat hard at the prospect of discovery. Then they heard movement in the darkness and plaintive cries not far away. Rushing to the sounds, they discovered prison cells full of women and children, most of whom bore the scars of repeated bleedings. Those who were still healthy begged for help, and it was clear that they were to be sacrificed. They had learned that no one left the castle in the same state of health as they had come, so on this night these women had been lucky. They were rescued.The men freed the captives and led them out of the castle before venturing to the higher floors to find the woman responsible for these carnal atrocities. To their surprise, (some sources say) inside a large torch-lit room they discovered evidence of a drunken holiday orgy, complete with torture. The lady they came for had already fled, but they knew where she had gone and it was not difficult to find her.
It’s not easy distinguishing truth from legend in a case more than three centuries old. What follows is gleaned from several accounts, with contradictions on significant issues noted.

The Lady

There is no extant account of what the party found that night, reportedly because the scene was too monstrous to be written into a permanent record, but there was plenty to tell for those who would be called to the legal proceedings. The officials arrested all of those involved in the licentious activities, freed the surviving victims, and took the protesting sorceress into a room in her own castle, to confine her until a decision was made about her fate.
Her name was Countess Erzsébet Báthory and she was a member of a powerful family from an estate at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains. Gordon Melton says she was the daughter of George (Gyrögy) and Anna Báthory, born in 1560 (or 1561). During this time, Hungary saw numerous battles between the Ottoman Empire and Austria’s Hapsburg armies. The Báthorys were Protestant, a new religion at the time, and Erzsébet was raised on Ecsed, an estate in Transylvania. When she was 11, her cousin Stephen became prince of Transylvania, and he planned to unite Europe against the Turks. Yet battles on several fronts exhausted his resources. Stephen was known for his savagery, and scholars have cited him, among others, as evidence of derangement in the family lineage.Erzsébet was not an easy child, nor was life easy for her, despite being a member of the privileged class. She suffered from fits, and exhibited uncontrolled rages that may have indicated a brain disorder associated with increased aggression. Others have pointed to the possibility of epilepsy. She was also promiscuous, getting pregnant at the age of 14 by a peasant and having to be sequestered to avoid scandal on her betrothal to an aristocrat.
Ferencz Nádasdy, coat of arms
Ferencz Nádasdy, coat of arms
At the age of 15, she married Count Ferencz Nádasdy, a great warrior who was often away from home. Thus, they joined two powerful political families with strains of madness running through them, both renowned for cruel behavior. Báthory’s aunt, a distinguished lady at the court, was reputed to be a lesbian and witch. An uncle was an alchemist and devil-worshiper, and her brother was a reprobate around whom no woman or female child was considered safe. To make matters worse, her nurse from childhood, Ilona Joo—one of those arrested in 1610—was steeped in the practice of black magic that reportedly required the sacrifice of children for their bones and blood.
True Vampires of History
True Vampires of History
In True Vampires of History, Donald Glut (echoing Penrose) says that as Erzsébet grew older, she practiced witchcraft and carried a parchment (Penrose says the shriveled caul of a newborn child) on which was inscribed an incantation for protection. Accordingly, she called to the deity Isten for help, health, and long life. “When I am in danger,” this parchment supposedly said, “send ninety-nine cats. I order you to do so because you are the supreme commander of cats... order ninety-nine cats to come with speed and bite the heart of King Matthias... And keep Elizabeth safe from harm.”Erzsébet moved into the castle Sarvar and learned how to run a great estate. While her behavior toward servants is legendary today, it was not uncommon among aristocrats to exercise their power in brutal beatings and even death for those they considered lesser beings. Erzsébet enjoyed power and had a vicious impulsiveness that only strengthened in an environment with no accountability for aristocrats.
Castle Sarvar
Castle Sarvar
By many accounts, she was also a petty and vain narcissist. She changed her clothing five or six times a day and spent hours admiring her legendary beauty in mirrors. She used all manner of oils and unguents to preserve and whiten her skin. No one denied her whatever she wanted and she demanded continuous praise. No one knows what she might have become had she not teamed up with her husband, but there is no doubt that she was fertile ground for his sadistic encouragement.

Training in Torture

Coming to the castle to be Nádasdy’s wife introduced Erzebet to his special dungeons and modes of discipline. (Penrose says that Nádasdy only tolerated Erzsébet’s cruelty and did not torture anyone himself, but other accounts say he was just as hard on the servants and even taught his wife a few things.) One of his alleged methods was to spread honey over a naked servant girl and leave her tied down outside for the bugs to nibble and bees to sting. He also showed Erzsébet the art of freezing a girl to death during the winter by pouring water over her naked body until it hardened and she was unable to move. Sometimes he sent black magic spells from another land where he was at war for his wife to try out at home—a token of his love. He also encouraged Erzsébet how to beat the serving girls to the brink of death, a task in which she reportedly took great pleasure.
Nádasdy was frequently gone on his military campaigns, so Erzsébet would practice her rituals and write to him about them. Glut reveals the contents of one such missive, as Erzsébet describes how a mentor taught her a blood ritual: “Thurko has taught me a lovely new one. Catch a black hen and beat it to death with a white cane. Keep the blood and smear some on your enemy. If you get no chance to smear it on his body, obtain one of his garments and smear it.”She also received an assortment of male lovers, although, like her notorious aunt, she apparently indulged in lesbian sex as well. She accumulated an entourage of people who were adept at sorcery, alchemy and witchcraft. One nobleman with pale skin and long dark hair, who according to Glut was reputed to drink blood, was brought to live at the castle to teach her about it. “The stranger bore all the physical attributes of a supernatural vampire,” Glut writes, clearly influenced by American films. “Perhaps he was even Dracula back from the grave.” (Penrose suggests this stranger was a woman in drag.) For a time, Erzsébet ran off with him, but then returned alone. Glut (but no official records) says there was blood around her mouth.
After fathering four children with Erzsébet, three boys and a girl, Nádasdy fell ill in 1601 and was confined to his bed with a bad leg until he died in 1604, leaving Erzsébet at the age of 44, a middle-aged widow. (Glut suggests that she poisoned him.) She moved at once to their castle in Vienna, where she had a more active social life, but eventually returned to her estates in Hungary where she had more privacy for torture sessions.
Melton says that her “cohort in crime” until 1609 was a little-known figure named Anna Darvulia, and after that, it was Erzsi Majorova, a widow. In other words, she was not alone in her vile activities. Others knew, approved, and participated with her. In fact, it was supposedly Majorova who encouraged kidnapping girls from the lesser nobility.
Pretty young women began to disappear from villages near and far, as well as children. The families did not know what to do. Speaking out against the nobility could get them into trouble, so they went to their priests but otherwise held their tongues. They saw the Nádasdy carriage, drawn by black horses, go by at night with girls inside who never came back. Year after year, it was the same. No one could challenge it. They had not yet forgotten that in 1524 the nobles had met a peasant uprising with extreme punishment, and no one was willing to risk that again. It was their lot to endure whatever the lords and ladies meted out.
German anthropologist Michael Wagener points out that Erzsébet continued to use torture after her husband’s death, and even refined her methods. “The unhappy girls who were lured to the castle, under the plea that they were to be taken into service there, were locked up in a cellar. Here they were beaten till their bodies were swollen. Elizabeth not infrequently tortured the victims herself; often she changed their clothes which dripped with blood, and then renewed her cruelties. The swollen bodies were then cut up with razors. Occasionally she had the girls burned, and then cut up, but the great majority of them were beaten to death.” Many accounts say that she was psychotic, and that her mental illness grew worse with age. Many details came out during legal hearings.
Everitt adds that sometimes she would sew a servant girl’s mouth shut, force her to eat strips of her own flesh, or burn her genitals, while Wagener indicates that “she would stick needles into those who sat with her in a carriage, especially if they were of her own sex.” He also advanced another legend: "When she was ill, and could not indulge her cruelty, she bit a person who came near her sick bed as though she were a wild beast.” This was, in fact, trial testimony, albeit gained via torture.


Finally, the crop of peasant girls had run out. Erzsébet, ever daring, turned her blood thirst to lesser aristocrats. She had done so much thus far without being stopped, and like many serial killers after her, arrogance made her bold and stupid. She was eager to extend her reach for the thrill of seeing what she could get away with. She also appeared to be so caught up with the pleasures of what she was doing that she could not stop.
Sabine Baring-Gould
Sabine Baring-Gould
Sabine Baring-Gould, an English author and folklorist of considerable status during the 19th Century, used the tale of Erzsébet as an example of his own view of a certain psychological phenomenon. “I have seen an accomplished young woman of considerable refinement and of a highly strung nervous temperament string flies with her needle on a piece of thread, and watch complacently their flutterings,” he wrote in 1865. “Cruelty may remain latent till, by some accident, it is aroused, and then it will break forth in a devouring flame.” He says that the passion for blood follows the same pattern. “We have no conception of the violence with which they can rage till circumstances occur which call them into action... passion blazes forth, and the serenity of the quiet breast is shattered for ever. A word, a glance, a touch, are sufficient to fire the magazine of passion in the heart, and to desolate for ever an existence.”Blood thirst, too, may lurk inside a person, even those we love, and we may never even spot it. “It may smolder in the bosom which is most cherished by us, and we may be perfectly unconscious of its existence there. Perhaps circumstances will not cause its development; perhaps moral principle may have bound it down with fetters it can never break.”
To replenish her diminishing “stable,” Erzsébet offered to teach “social graces” to young women from noble families, and when they arrived at the castle she had her pick. After the murder of one of such young lady in 1609, which Erzsébet tried to stage as a suicide, the authorities finally decided to act. This suspicious incident, coupled with the many other rumors over the years, required action. The king supported it, because Erzsébet had been asking him to repay funds he had borrowed from her husband, and if the rumors proved true and she was arrested, he would be free of his debt. In other words, everyone would win... except the lady in question.

Judgment Day

Portrait of Countess Bathory
Portrait of Countess Bathory
 The rumors indeed proved true, and much that was far worse, so Erzsébet’s gory tyranny was brought to an end. On the night of the raid, Thurzo locked Erzsébet in her fortress and left some men in charge. In his letters, he mentioned finding only one corpse in the castle---that of a young woman accused of stealing a pear. Her hands were burned and her breasts were bitten. He later claimed he saw no orgies, but being Erzsébet’s relative, he had reason to protect the family reputation. Others reported a more dramatic evening, especially in the aftermath.
As Erzsébet awaited a hearing, officials searched her castle for evidence. They discovered bones and other human remains, along with the clothing and personal effects of missing girls. Codrescu quotes from a memoir of one of Thurzo’s lieutenants who wrote that as they searched the castle, they came upon the dead bodies of young girls everywhere they looked. Many had no arms or eyes. One blackened body was in the fireplace, not fully burned, and quite a few were buried in shallow graves around the castle. “We watched in horror as the dogs ran about with parts of the girls in their mouths.”
 They learned much from the victims who had survived, as well as detailed stories from a crew of accomplices. The men and women who had assisted Báthory in her bloody deeds jostled one another to be first to win clemency through cooperation—or to avoid further torture. Erzsébet herself did not attend the trial and did not testify. Instead she remained in her castle, maintaining her innocence. Everitt claims that her high-born relatives persuaded the court to keep her under house arrest and delay a sentence indefinitely.
Twenty-one judges were on hand on January 2, 1611, when the proceedings of the special tribunal began, with Judge Theodosius de Szulo of the Royal Supreme Court presiding. They called numerous witnesses, sometimes 35 a day, including the families from which girls had gone missing and victims who had survived. One mother had lost her 10-year-old daughter.
The principal testimony against Erzsébet was offered by her servants and by people who had assisted her in her bloody campaign. According to Penrose, each of her cohorts was asked the same 11 questions about how long he or she had been at the castle and what things had been done there related to the crimes. In particular, they were all asked whom they had murdered, how many, where the victims were from, and who had brought them to the castle. They were also pressed to describe any tortures they had used and what had happened to those girls who had died. More to the point, they were to describe fully the countess’s involvement. What they had to say revealed a practice so vile that Erzsébet is still known to this day as one of the cruelest monsters in history.

Testimony of the Torturers

Ficzko, a dwarf who had worked for Erzsébet for 16 years, claimed he had been taken there forcibly. He was not sure about how many women he helped to kill, but he did know the count of the girls: 37. Five were buried in holes, two in a garden, two at night in a church, and so on. They had been lured from the country with the promise of employment in the castle, and women in some of the villages actually conspired to provide girls for money or small gifts. If the girls did not come willingly, they were beaten into unconsciousness and carried off. At the castle, they were bound and stabbed with needles and scissors, among other cruelties. They had been chosen for the softness of their skin—even of their tongues—and for their youth and beauty.
When asked about the type of torture used, he said (as recorded by Penrose), “They tied the hands and arms very tightly with Viennese cord, they were beaten to death until the whole body was black as charcoal and their skin was rent and torn. One girl suffered more than two hundred blows before dying. Dorko [another accomplice and procurer] cut their fingers one by one with shears and then slit the veins with scissors.”
Erzsébet’s childhood nurse, Ilona Joo, admitting that she had killed about 50, said that she had applied red-hot pokers from the fire, shoving them into the mouth of some hapless girl, or up her nose. The mistress herself, she testified, had placed her fingers into the mouth of one girl and pulled hard until the sides split open. She had also stabbed them all over with needles, making them bleed, or had torn open their flesh with sharp pincers. She liked to slit open the skin between their fingers.
Erzsébet, it was said, administered many cruel and arbitrary beatings and was soon torturing and butchering the girls. She might cut off someone's fingers, or beat her about the face until the bones broke. Even when Erzsébet was ill, she didn't stop. Instead, she'd have girls brought to her bed so she could slap and bite them. Sometimes she bit them until they died, and she made her male servants consume their flesh. According to Ilona Joo, the countess might place oiled paper between a girl’s legs and set it on fire, or used candles to burn them. There was often so much blood from cutting the girls in strategic spots that cinders were place around the countess’s bed to absorb it. When they buried the bodies in secret places, they chanted over them.
The third accused accomplice added that the countess liked to apply a red-hot iron to the soles of the girls’ feet, and another witness said that she had seen four girls bound in shrouds, barely alive but unable to move. Yet another claimed she had seen the devil himself sitting on Countess Báthory’s lap, and that she had sexual relations with him, completely under his spell. That was due, in part, to his impressive male organ. Only one servant refused to testify against her mistress, and for that, says Codrescu, her eyes were put out and her breasts removed before she was ultimately burned at the stake.
Testimony also revealed that the kidnapped girls had been chained to walls in the dungeons and fattened up, because the Countess believed this increased the blood in their bodies—and blood was critical to her moonlit sorcery. They were also forced into deviant sexual activities with her. If they reacted with displeasure, they received torture and possibly death. Yet, even those who did well eventually bored her and they, too, were dispatched. Sometimes, depending on the countess’s whim, her favorite girls got the worst treatment. One had been forced to strip a piece of flesh off her own arm. A few were shoved into small cages full of spikes.
Even during an age when torture was commonplace, the judges who listened to these accounts were appalled, especially when survivors recounted their own stories. They told how they had been pierced, pinched, beaten, and burned by the mistress of the castle. Many were disfigured for life.
The hearing grew more gruesome by the day, as more people added their own tales of horror and how many dead bodies they had witnessed. Finally, it was over. Based on the skeletons and cadaver parts found, as well as witness reports, Countess Báthory and her cronies were convicted on 80 counts of murder. In a second part of the trial, a newly discovered register was entered as evidence that included in Erzsébet’s handwriting the names of, and small details about, more than 650 females, according to some accounts. The suggestion, which could not be proven, was that she had kept track of her victims and had actually killed that many. The formal charges remained at 80, although Penrose says that King Mathias indicated in a letter to Thurzo during the hearing that he knew of at least 300 victims.


While her accomplices were tortured and put to death in a variety of ghastly ways --- some had their fingers pulled off, some were buried alive, some were beheaded --- the judges considered what to do with the mistress. King Mathias favored execution, but that meant enacting a special statute to strip her of her royal immunity. They’d already had to instigate such a statute just to prosecute her. Prime Minister Thurzo, her relative, intervened on her behalf to insist that she was unable to appreciate what she had done. Yet the court report indicated that the number of torture devices found in her residence belied her inability to control her anger. Clearly, she had taken pleasure in her deviant acts.
Igrid Pitt in Countess Dracula
Igrid Pitt in Countess Dracula
Nevertheless, pressure was on to keep her fortune in the family, so in the end Erzsébet Báthory was imprisoned for life, with no formal sentencing, locked in a small set of rooms in her own castle at Cahtice. Her son—and sole heir—wrote a letter on her behalf asking for mercy, but her daughter Anna vowed never to speak to her mother again, or allow her children to do so. Erzsébet claimed that she was innocent of all charges. She said the peasant girls died of many different things, from contagious disease to blood poisoning, and she should not be held responsible for the whims of nature.
 She was confined to her rooms, with the entrances and windows walled up, save for tiny slits for food and air. Penrose says she was heartbroken that she no longer had her magic incantation. After only three and a half years, during the summer of 1614 (or 1613) when she was 54 (or 53), she died. The evidence of this was her untouched dinner plates. Someone who looked through the slit in the door, says Glut, saw her lying face down on the floor.
When they tore down the walls to retrieve her body, legend has it that they found a brief document to the effect that before her imprisonment she had invoked a darker power to send 99 cats to tear out the hearts of her accusers and judges. The priest, who read it, recalled the cats they had seen that night when they entered the castle.

For the Record

What's notable about Countess Báthory is that she is one of the extremely rare females throughout history who have displayed vampiric or cannibalistic appetites. After her death, rumors spread about how she'd actually bathed in the blood of her young victims. Everitt states quite emphatically, but without substantiation, that she had girls butchered so she could try out her beauty treatment. He attributed it to a preoccupation with eternal youth, and other authors have followed suit.
Raymond McNally
Raymond McNally
Yet, when Dracula scholar Raymond McNally traveled to Slovakia to examine court records, none mentioned bathing in blood, although some noted her frenzy for biting pieces of flesh off her victims. Father Laslo Turáczi had written about her in his historical account of Hungary, published in 1744, more than a century after she had died. He relied on official records, as well as on legend and lore, to piece together her tale. Yet, because the Catholic Church benefited from dramatic tales of werewolves, witches, and vampires, because it helped with their doctrines about God and Satan, his account during an era when werewolves and witches were being “discovered” and executed, must be suspect.One enduring legend is that Erzsébet had slapped a servant girl one day, got blood on her hand, and after washing it off found that it made her skin look younger. Alchemists apparently assured her that this was a sign of her nobility, so to restore her waning beauty, she made a practice of bathing in virginal blood. These ideas were suggested in 1795 by Wagener, when he (as translated by Sabine Baring-Gould) wrote: "Elizabeth was wont to dress well in order to please her husband, and she spent half the day over her toilet. On one occasion, a lady's-maid saw something wrong in her head-dress, and as a recompense for observing it, received such a severe box on the ears that the blood gushed from her nose, and spurted on to her mistress's face. When the blood drops were washed off her face, her skin appeared much more beautiful—whiter and more transparent on the spots where the blood had been.”
Apparently, "Elizabeth formed the resolution to bathe her face and her whole body in human blood so as to enhance her beauty.” Her accomplices, he said, would catch the blood in a tub so that Erzsébet could “bathe at the hour of four in the morning. After the bath she appeared more beautiful than before.”
No official account mentions this bizarre behavior or fetish, and it’s more likely that she simply experienced a sexual thrill from seeing blood and/or used the blood for her rituals and ceremonies. Nevertheless, if the ledger with 650 names is what many believe it is, then no single person in the centuries to come surpassed her victim toll. Her reputation remains as one of the most bloodthirsty killers on record, in part because her noble status made her untouchable in a society that protected its aristocrats.

Current Notions

Melton points out in The Vampire Companion that no testimony was offered at Báthory’s trial regarding her supposed habit of bathing in the blood of her victims. No one raised the issue and no one reported it. Yet the records of the trial were sealed at the time so as not to embarrass the Hungarian aristocracy. No one among them was even allowed to mention her name.
Laszlo Turáczi collected the documents and folktales a century later and recorded them in his book. Melton says that it was this man who first suggested the countess’s gory bathing habits (Penrose says the account was from contemporary records), and his book appeared in Europe when there was widespread fear of vampires. How much of the tale was embellished is difficult to say. Although Erzsébet shows up in many accounts about “real” vampires, she never actually drank blood, to anyone’s knowledge—despite Penrose’s habit of calling her a vampire throughout his book. Nevertheless, she has been immortalized in fiction and film as a vampire.
During the 1980s, McNally published Dracula was a Woman: In Search of the Blood Countess of Transylvania. He claimed that Dracula author Bram Stoker had read about the countess in Sabine Baring-Gould’s 1865 The Book of Werewolves, which offered an account in the context of werewolf legends. McNally also suggested that some of that tale may have influenced Stoker to set his story in Transylvania. Since the drinking of blood appeared to help Dracula to become youthful, McNally argues that the folklore about Erzsébet Báthory’s own obsession with blood and youth may have come into Stoker’s calculations for his monster. “[Báthory’s] legend certainly played a major role in the creation of the character of Count Dracula,” he wrote. He also said that the character of Renfield, the “life-eater” bore strong similarities to the countess.
Dracula, Sense and Nonsense book
Dracula, Sense and Nonsense book
Yet scholar Elizabeth Miller, in Dracula: Sense and Nonsense, contradicts this notion. “Rubbish!” she insists. “Though a brief section on Báthory appears in one of Stoker’s source-texts [Baring-Gould], no evidence exists that he was influenced by it or even read it.” She claims the hypothetical link between Báthory and the character of Count Dracula derives from publications during the 1970s, notably Gabriel Ronay’s 1972 book, The Dracula Myth and Donald Glut’s 1971 True Vampires of History. Miller asserts that many critics assume that if Báthory is mentioned in one of Stoker’s sources, then he both read and was influenced by it. Having read Stoker’s notes herself, Miller claims that McNally is in error when he says that references to Báthory are in the notes. More likely, Miller goes on to suggest, he was influenced by Baring-Gould’s association between vampires and werewolves. Whether Erzébet Bathóry drank or bathed in blood, was obsessed with youth, or targeted young women for their skin, she certainly was a bloodthirsty tyrant even during a time when aristocrats were rarely called on the carpet for such deeds. Even disregarding tales gained through torture, the evidence from the many missing girls, testimony from damaged survivors, and the discovery of human remains all serve to underscore the charge of extreme torture and serial murder.


Baring-Gould, Sabine. The Book of Werewolves. London: Smith, Elder, 1865.
Codrescu, Andrei. The Blood Countess. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995.
Everitt, David. Human Monsters, New York: Contemporary Books, 1993.
Florescu, Radu & Raymond McNally. Dracula: Prince of Many Faces. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1989.
Glut, Donald. True Vampires in History. New York: HC Publishers. 1971.
McNally, Raymond. Dracula was a Woman: In Search of the Blood Countess of Transylvania. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1983.
Melton, Gordon. The Vampire Book. Detroit, MI: Visible Ink Press, 1994.
Miller, Elizabeth. Dracula: Sense and Nonsense. UK; Desert Island Books, 2000.
Penrose, Valentine. Trans, Alexander Trocchi. The Bloody Countess: Atrocities of Erzsébet Báthory. Creation Books, 2000/Calder & Boyers, 1970.
Wagener, Michael. Beiträge zur Philosophischen Anthropologie Vienna,1796.

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