As a follow up to my last post, I figured I’d spend a little time on the life of Elizabeth Bathory—The Bloody Countess. The Countess has been popularized in modern Pulp Culture as many things, including: (a) the most prolific female serial killer in history, or (b) some kind of real life vampire, a la Vlad Tepes (generally perceived as the basis for Bram Stoker’s character of Dracula), and even (c) a misunderstood woman that took a fall to perpetuate misogynistic goals of a male dominated nobility, or (d) wrongfully convicted as a way to settle debts owed by the King to the Bathory family.
I won’t belabor the more mundane of these (because they don’t really advance interest in The Gothic tradition), more than to highlight the fact that there is much debate about her role in the nobility and her actual guilt for what she was ultimately sentenced by the King.
I am no historian, and I make no claim to build a supportable, academic account of the Countess here. This is merely an attempt to put into context the story discussed in my previous post.
The Bloody Countess lived from 1560 to 1614 in Hungary, where she was a member of the Bathory Family—a well-known and powerful Noble bloodline at the time. Her family, ironically (or not) enough, ruled over Transylvania, from where the Count in the Bram Stoker’s Dracula hailed.
She (and four others—presumably servants or other conspirators) was eventually accused of killing 80 women and girls, all of them young (though popular folklore has the numbers as high as 650). She was said to have tortured the women in many different ways, including accounts (though unsupported in any official documents) of using the iron maiden, strange bloodletting rituals and other sadistic devices. The most recreated and regurgitated story is of her draining and bathing in the blood from the girls, though the truth of this is anyone’s guess.
Motivations for the murders were said to range from the Vampiric (eternal life, or youth) to satisfying an insatiable sadistic pleasure, to dishing out punishments for disloyalty. The most interesting motivation from the perspective of The Gothic (though any of the motivations above could drive the madness in a Gothic antagonist) is the idea that she is driven by Vampiric needs (like Dracula or Varney) or at least through a Vampiric-like desire to stay young.
From a basic standpoint of theme, she is ready made for The Gothic.
- She is a clear representation of an old, barbaric aristocracy, the denegation of which, and fear of, is a Gothic staple.
- She lives (truly) in a dark, fortress atop a hill in a wooded countryside, overlooking a lonely township.
- Elizabeth is a depraved woman, stepping outside the bounds of the virtuous woman. She is punished for it in the end—locked up in a dark castle tower for the remainder of her existence.
- She could easily be cast as the antithesis of the nurturing role of women in Gothic Tradition, and, in the most Taboo of actions—the murdering of the virginal (the symbolism here cannot be missed) girls to feed her craven wantonness. The parallels between this and the vision of Lucy in Dracula feeding on the child are unmistakable.
- Fittingly, she is, in the end, defeated by the King (a progressive male figure) of Hungary—and his soldiers. Showing the mercy (and chivalry) that men of quality always demonstrate toward all (depraved or otherwise) women, he does not kill her, but imprisons her, alone with her demons, in her own tower, where she expires four years later.
If you are interested in reading about the Countess of Blood, there are several books about her. These are just a few (please keep in mind that to a great degree these are not necessarily scholarly work and some would be construed as historical fiction—I do not swear by the accuracy or quality of their content):
- Bathory: Memoir of a Countess, by A. Mordeaux
- Infamous Lady: the True Story of Countess Erzsebet Bathory, by Kimberly L. Craft.
- The Bloody Countess: Atrocities of Erzsebet Bathory, by Valentine Penrose and Alexander Trocchi.
Let me know your thoughts.