BRIEF BIOGRAPHICAL EXCERPTS
(Taken from the book, Infamous Lady)
EARLY YEARS (1560-1575)
Erzsébet Báthory was born August 7, 1560 at the Ecsed family estate in Nyírbátor (Nagyecsed), Hungary. Nyírbátor served as the Báthory family seat, an administrative center, and family burial site. In fact, the Báthory family owned the town from the time of its Gutkeled ancestors in the late 1200's until the death of Gábor Báthory, Voivod of Transylvania, in 1613.
Erzsébet's parents came from two separate branches of the Báthory clan--György (c. 1522-1570) from the Ecsed branch, and Anna (1539 - c.1574) from the older Somlyó side of the family. Erzsébet had an older brother, István (1555-1605), a brother, Gábor (unfortunately, we have no dates of birth or death for him, or whether he was married or not--only his name, according to 19th century genealogist, Alexander v. Simolin), and two younger sisters, Zsofiá and Klara. Unfortunately, we do not know very much about her younger sisters, except that both Klara and Zsofiá married what might be called "middle-class" noblemen. Klara married Mihály Várdai, and Zsofiá married András Figedy and had at least two children, István and Borbála.
Erzsébet herself was raised a Calvinist by her mother. Anna Báthory belonged to the first group of high nobility who supported the Reformation in Hungary and was a generous benefactor, even founding a Protestant school in Erdöd. However, Erzsébet's uncle István, King of Poland, was a practicing Roman Catholic, and her uncle András was a Catholic cardinal who, on several occasions, served as an emissary to the Pope.
Mental illness may, indeed, have run in the family, particularly from inbreeding, but some of the alleged insanities--temper tantrums, swordplay in the house, or an unusual allegiance to a particular chair--were also typical of aristocratic eccentricities. It is known that Erzsébet suffered seizures and fits of rage as a child, however, and it is said that her father did, as well. In later years, her letters described both eye and head pain that caused her problems; likely, migraines and epilepsy.
We do know that Erzsébet received an outstanding education. She was trained in the classics, mathematics, and could read and write in Hungarian, Greek, Latin, German and even Slovak, the language of many of her servants. She wrote in the controlled style of one trained in the classics, including logic.
Young Erzsébet was what we would today call a "tomboy"; she demanded to be treated as well as her male relatives and staff. She enjoyed dressing up like a boy, studying like a boy, and playing boy's games, including fencing and horsemanship.
It was typical for a young girl of the nobility to become engaged in childhood and then spend her adolescence at the estate of her future in-laws. In the year 1571, the 11-year-old was engaged to 16-year-old Count Ferenc Nádasdy de Nádasd et Fogarasföld (1555-1604). The young count Nádasdy would go on to lead the armies of Hungary against Ottoman forces plaguing Central Europe at the time.
Some time before the conclusion of the marriage contract in December of 1572, she left her family home at Ecsed to travel to Sárvár, the main residence and family seat of the Nádasdy family. There, she was entrusted to the care of her future mother-in-law, Countess Orsolya Kanizsai Nádasdy.
THE NÁDASDY CHILDREN
By mid -1596, we know that Erzsébet Báthory had three living children: daughters Anna, Orsolya (Orsika), and Katalin (Kata), and that Erzsébet was pregnant with son András. Anna was born roughly in the year 1585, and Katalin approximately 1594. Orsika's year of birth was probably some time between that of Anna and Katalin, around 1590. In the latter half of 1596, son András was born, who lived briefly until 1603. In 1598, son Pál was also born. Some chronicles also indicate that the couple had another son, albeit a lesser-known child, named Miklós, although this cannot be confirmed at present. Records indicate that a certain Miklós Nádasdy married Countess Zsuzsanna Zrínyi. He might have been a cousin, however, as he was not named in the Countess' Will of 1610, and did not appear to be raised or tutored at Sárvár like the other children of Erzsébet and Ferenc Nádasdy.
Before the year 1605, Erzsébet Báthory surrounded herself with an intimate cohort of servants. In addition to Anna Darvolya, four others--an unusual mix of three old women and a disfigured boy--would come to serve as her chief torturers and even execution squad. The four included: a boy named János Újváry, known simply as Ficzkó; her children's wet nurse, the elderly widow Ilona Jó Nagy; an elderly friend of Ilona Jó, named Dorottya Szentes; and an elderly washerwoman named Katalin Beneczky.
Anna, Ilona Jó, Dorottya, Katalin and Ficzkó would collectively torture and kill dozens of children--almost exclusively servant girls between the ages of 10-14--in their administrative and supervisory roles over the Lady's Staff of young seamstresses, washerwomen, and kitchen maids. Physically, little girls were easy targets for old women and a boy to harass. All of the accomplices agreed that Anna Darvolya taught them how to torture and kill these children, and all agreed that Countess Báthory took a whip, cudgel, dagger, fire iron, needle, or cutting sheers to them, as well.
Ilona Jó stated that the Countess bit out pieces of flesh from the girls, but she also attacked them with knives and tortured them in various other ways. Dorottya agreed that Erzsébet bit the girls' faces and shoulders when she was indisposed and could not actually get out of bed to beat them. We also learn how she stuck needles under their fingernails before cutting off the digits of those who tried to remove the needles.
While history has embroidered portions of the Countess' infamy, she was still, however, torturing and killing servant girls. After his death in 1604, Ferenc' reputation and standing could no longer see her through these misdeeds. The Turks were still at large threatening her properties, and she no longer held any strings over Emperor, Crown and Church without him.
Indeed, if the Emperor raised an eye over her appearance at Court while still in mourning, even more eyes would be raised. In the coming years, the Countess made frequent trips back and forth to the Royal Treasury, each time demanding that the King repay the enormous debts owed to her deceased husband. Without Ferenc' steady supply of plundered goods or ransom fees, Erzsébet's funding started to dry up quickly, and she was becoming desperate. The Countess began selling off items in an attempt to raise cash.
We do know that the stress of being alone and vulnerable was catching up with the Countess. Although until the end she continued to play the grande dame, it does seem as thought she suffered from a mental breakdown. Outside of the public eye, she no longer cared what happened, simply living for the moment, seeking to indulge herself in any way possible and lashing out with a murderous rage when worried about money or imposed upon by outsiders or obligations.
During this time, the tension at Sárvár began to mount uncontrollably. It appears that the Lady Widow Nádasdy, now free of her husband's restraints, went on a killing spree. This time, however, without Ferenc' protection, increasing pressure was put on her both by the pastorship as well as her son's tutor, Imre Megyeri. Servants in her household would later testify that the death toll had now risen to nearly 200 murdered victims.
"Only God," one former servant declared, "knows an account of all of her crimes."
Although she had a right to spend the remainder of her life at Sárvár, Erzsébet essentially moved out around this time. With the exception of routine visits to inspect the various properties and winter holidays spent at Sárvár, she took up a nearly permanent residence now at her favorite country retreat, Castle Csejthe.
THE PROCEEDINGS AGAINST THE COUNTESS (1610)
By 1610, time was running out for Countess Báthory. Ironically, the man most responsible for whether she would live or die for her crimes was not the king or emperor but, rather, her family confidante, György Thurzó. When Thurzó finally rose to the status of Palatine in 1609, he became second in command to the king.
By March of that year, anonymous complaints and rumors of Countess Erzsébet Báthory's torturing and killing, including the murder of noble girls, had reached both György Thurzó and King Mátyás himself. Thurzó truly believed that Erzsébet's cousins, Gábor and Zsigmond, were stirring up a dangerous form of trouble that would ultimately threaten the interests of Hungarian landlords and nobles like himself; Gábor Báthory, in fact, would soon declare war on the Hapsburgs. And Erzsébet made it clear, on more than one occasion, that she supported her cousins against the king. That said, there was motivation on Thurzó's part, whether personally or as Palatine of Hungary, to curtail the power of the Báthory family in the interest of the nation.
Under orders from the king delivered on December 27th, Thurzó set out from Bratislava on a two-day ride to Csejthe. He was accompanied by Megyeri, Erzsébet's sons-in-law, Counts Drugeth de Homonnay and Zrínyi, and an armed escort. He and his men arrived on the night of December 29, 1610, prepared to apprehend Countess Erzsébet Báthory and her accomplices.
As György Thurzó's letter details, when his men entered Csejthe Manor that night, they found the bodies of dead or dying girls strewn about, all having suffered from torture: beaten, flogged, burned, and stabbed. Within a few hours, additional bodies and victims would be found within the castle itself.
At least 30 known witnesses--townspeople and servants of Thurzó--arrived to take part in what was clearly a long-awaited spectacle. The manor house located in town was thoroughly searched, and then the Countess was escorted up the hill to Castle Csejthe, accompanied by the crowd and party of armed men.
The old women and Ficzkó were taken in chains to Bytca for legal proceedings against them, while the Countess was held in Castle Csejthe.
THE FATE OF COUNTESS BÁTHORY (1611-1614)
Back at Castle Csejthe, still under house arrest, Countess Báthory embarked on a letter writing campaign to free herself. She sought both the assistance of her relative, Gábor Báthory, as well as the opportunity to put on the greatest performance of her life: namely, testifying to her own innocence. György Thurzó repeatedly denied her petitions to appear on her own behalf. She, in turn, accused him of not defending her honor.
At Thurzó's repeated urgings, the king finally conceded: Countess Báthory would not be brought to public trial. Thurzó immediately brokered a clever deal: in light of the evidence, he recommended his original sentence of perpetuis carceribus (life imprisonment) rather than the death penalty. By order of Parliament, the name of Erzsébet Báthory would never again be spoken in polite society.
Stonemasons arrived shortly thereafter to carry out her final sentence: she was never to be let out of confinement. On the night of Sunday, August 21, 1614, Countess Erzsébet Báthory was concerned about her poor circulation. She told her bodyguard, "Look, how cold my hands are!" Her attendant told her that it was nothing and that she should simply lie down. With that, she put her pillow under her legs. Commentators say that she passed away at two hours after midnight, but a letter from Stanislav Thurzó to his cousin, György, states that she was found dead in the morning.
According to a servant of her son, Pál Nádasdy, Erzsébet was buried at the church in Csejthe on November 25, 1614. Her remains were supposedly taken back to the Báthory family estate in 1617. Where she lies today, however, is something of a mystery: J. Branecky reported that on July 7, 1938, the crypt at the Csejthe church was opened but that the Countess' grave was not found. It is also claimed that in 1995, the Báthory family crypts at Nyírbátor were also opened. No remains of the Countess were found at that site, either.
From the top: woodcut of the Báthory family estate at Ecsed; illustration of Castle Sárvár in Erzsébet's time; portrait of Orsolya Kanizsai Nádasdy, Erzsébet's mother-in-law; portrait of Erzsébet's husband, Count Ferenc Nádasdy.
19th century photograph of Castle Csejthe.
From the top: portrait of Palatine György Thurzó; portrait of King Mátyás II.