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.
BRIEF BIOGRAPHICAL EXCERPTS
(Taken from the book, Infamous Lady)
EARLY YEARS (1560-1575)
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 (m. 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.
From the top: woodcut of the Báthory
family estate at Ecsed; Erzsébet's uncle,
István Báthory, King of Poland
From the top: portrait of
Orsolya Kanizsai Nádasdy,
belof Erzsébet's father-in-law,
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 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.
|19th Century photograph of
From the top: portrait of
Palatine György Thurzó;
portrait of King Mátyás II.
Báthory family church
The True Story of Countess Erzsébet Báthory
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
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
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.
|Illustration of Castle Sárvár in
|A portrait of Erzsébet's husband,
Count Ferenc Nádasdy
|Erzsébet's cousin, Gábor
Báthory, Voivod of
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